Book Heaven

Where the world of books and life intersect

Location: South Amboy, New Jersey

I am deeply involved in trying to solve the discrepancy between being interested in zen and trying to acquire all the things I've been accumulating

Friday, July 28, 2006

A Motto To Live By

I was on yet another of my all too frequent search and recover missions. The object was not a missing comrade though but only a book. As always happens when I venture into the archives, the mission proved to be a failure. Instead of finding the book I’m looking for, I always seem to turn up the title I was looking for about three months ago. This time though something unusual surfaced.

I found a letter (circa mid-80s) from my favorite writer, Stirling Silliphant. Always a gracious man, he had written to thank me for something I had sent him. At the end of the letter he casually mentioned that he would be out of touch for a while because he was in the process of moving. He promised to send me his new address when he finally settled into his new location -- Thailand! I must admit that I stared at that letter for quite some time. How could one of the greatest screenwriters (In the Heat of the Night, The Towering Inferno, and many other classics) leave Hollywood for Bangkok? Well, the answer was right there. Silliphant was moving to Thailand to immerse himself in the Buddhist world.

That innocent comment had little effect at first but soon like all of Silliphant’s subtle messages it began to work on me. It eventually led to today’s several bookcases filled with books on Zen and Buddhism and while I consider myself far from enlightened I’m still silently thanking Silliphant (sadly no longer with us) for putting me on the right path. He seemed to have a great way of imparting an important message to you with little effort. Some of the seventy one episodes of ROUTE 66 that he wrote (quite possibly the greatest achievement in TV writing) are noteworthy purely on an entertainment level, but many of them had a message and it could range from drug addiction (Birdcage on My Foot) to the tragedy of unwanted children (Somehow It Gets To Be Tomorrow). Harlan Ellison was noted for his ability to write stories in bookstore windows, but you had the impression that you could lock Silliphant in a closet with a book of matches and when you opened the door he’d have a completed screenplay in hand.

I can no longer remember the context or the episode (time for a search and recover viewing) but in an episode of ROUTE 66, Buzz (George Maharis) says to Tod (Martin Milner), “Now there’s a motto a man can live by.” Well I really wish Silliphant were around to hear the motto I found in a book recently. I believe I already mentioned this in DAPA-EM, but this one is so good it bears reading every day. The quote is by Goethe and it appears in Robert D. Richardson's Henry Thoreau: A Life of the Mind (University of California Press, 1986):

To live within limits, to want one thing, or a very few things, very much and love them dearly, cling to them, survey them from every angle, become one with them --that is what makes the poet, the artist, the human being.

While we're in this spiritual mood, I stumbled onto a really interesting website the other day. I was reading one of the most enlightened of all magazines, Utne, and discovered a website for those among us who are searching for themselves (and who among us isn't?). If you go to, you'll find about a zillion people who are stumbling towards enlightenment (a great title for a book, and of course I've got a copy of it). I'll admit that the first couple of profiles I previewed didn't exactly inspire me but then I hit this one for Kate (she appears on the first page of profiles for good reason). Here's a taste of her story:

In the fall of 2003, I either sold or gave away all of my possessions except for about thirty boxes that I stored with a friend and what I could fit in my car. I left behind my friends, my work, my apartment, and the life I'd lived there for six years and headed out for a cabin on top of a mountain in Pulaski, Virginia with just me, my three cats, some clothes, several boxes of books, thirty different kinds of tea, and a newly acquired laptop and cell phone. I stayed on the mountain for six months.

Okay, we'll cut her a little slack for that laptop and cell phone. This is the twenty-first century after all. Time permitting, I think I'll follow Kate's exploits. I'm also in the process of following the adventures of another searcher who left it all behind. Elizabeth Gilbert had the house with the white picket fence but with the requisite 2.4 children staring her in the face, she decided it was time to head into the great unknown. "To find out who she really was and what she really wanted she got rid of her belongings, quit her job, left her loved ones behind and undertook a yearlong journey around the world, all alone." Her tale is chronicled in the highly recommended eat pray love: One Woman's Search For Everything Across Italy, India, and Indonesia (Viking, 2006). Right after Gilbert's wonderful book I moved on to Steve Kotler's West of Jesus: Surfing, Science and the Origins of Belief (Bloomsbury, 2006). "After suffering from lyme disease for two years, Kotler loses the perfect job, the perfect girl and much of what had been the perfect life. With nothing of any meaning left to him, Kotler sets out to surf around the world." (another silly dream of mine lived vicariously).

And coming up next time, a search of another kind altogether:

THE BURGLAR WHO STOLE MEDICAL JOURNALS (with apologies to Lawrence Block)


Blogger Bill said...

Great stuff, Andy. And having a letter from Stirling Silliphant is very cool. He was David Morrell's inspiration, as Morrell explained at LCC a year or so ago. I liked Silliphant's novels like Bronze Bell.

7:26 AM  
Blogger Frank Denton said...

I've been reading a lot about Buddhism for the last several years, particularly about Zen. If you haven't purchased Buddha or Bust by Perry Garfinkle you might look for it. And magazine lover that your are, you should try Shambala Sun, Buddhadharma, and Tricycle.

4:41 PM  
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6:39 PM  
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