Blowing Zen:
Finding an Authentic Life

Book Tour Update

by Ray Brooks

Three years ago Dianne and I arrivedhome from the Himalayan region of India with what we thought wasa half decent manuscript which we had entitled Blowing Zen.Two week's home and not a clue what to do with the now shrinkrapped, manuscript, I began asking around. "Forget it Ray.You have to know someone in the publishing game, was a commonresponse." "No chance Ray. There are thousands of booksout there and anyway, who,d wanna, read a book about the shakahoochi?"came another piece of advice. But it wasn,t all negative feedback. "Self publish it Ray and sell it to the thirteen shakuhachiplayers out there. I,ll give you ten bucks for the movie rights.""Send it to an agent. They,ll tell you if it has any commercialvalue." Commercial value sounded ugly but I knew he was right.Within a week I found an agent in New York who saw its potential,and after a couple of minor adjustments to the manuscript thebook was sold to H. J. Kramer. Twelve months later, BlowingZen, with the subtitle Finding an Authentic Life, added, Kramerreleased Blowing Zen, to good reviews.

Dianne and I would play a part in therelease by going on a four-month book tour of the United Statesand the West Coast of Canada, organized by the publishing company.We mapped out our route, insisting on only going to warm areas,bought a V W camper van and loaded up. Our first stop was TaosNM. Heh! We're British, we didn,t know it would be covered insnow in January and freezing! After a five-day drive down fromVictoria, British Columbia, we were snowed out and no one turnedup at the first event. Our next event was in a bookstore in Albuquerque,this time it was a full house and there was standing room only.I,m glad you weren,t there! My performance was horrendous. Mymouth was dry, my hands shook, and my playing was awful. I mumbledon about the book, cracking jokes like a stand up comedian, thentried to play some more. Relief came when I asked if anyone hadany questions. Hands shot up. It was during this period that mynervousness began to disappear, and was not to return to thatdegree for the rest of the trip. In hindsight, I realized thatmy ego was getting in the way and separating me from the audience.It wasn,t until the question period that this division droppedaway. Dianne helped save the day at that first performance/readingby expertly stepping in and focusing/summarizing Blowing Zen,for the audience, and then prompting me into talking about myexperiences. She is now included in all the events and quite rightlyso, her subtle and crucial presence permeates the story of BlowingZen, and her editing skills and creative input helped to bringit to fruition. After Albuquerque I relaxed and opened up to includethe audience, breaking down the barriers with the sound of theshakuhachi and stories people could relate too.

Wedid forty events in all. The turn out was great and to my delightmany shakuhachi teachers and students attended. Some were evengenerous enough to come to each of my events in the bay area.Dianne and I thank you all for your support - it made such a difference.

The tour eventually brought us to Kayoand Monty Levenson's home in Willits or "Montyland",as Dianne likes to call the area. We were definitely ready forthe Levenson's hospitality after living in a camper van for twoand a half months. If you haven't met Monty and his family yourshakuhachi experience isn't complete. He and his family are alldelightful and remarkable individuals. Upon examining my flutes,Monty's expert eye and ear noted that they could both use someadjustments. He was exactly right, and could immediately identifyhow I had, over the year's put up with, and adapted my playingto suit the flutes. My 1.8 and 2.3 jump up an octave on Ro ifI,m not careful. Monty went inside and fixed the problem on bothof them within a couple of hours, even rebuilding the mouthpieceof the 2.3. If you're having similar troubles, get in touch with"magic, Monty". Take your flute down to "Montyland",on the pretense you don't want to let it out of your sight. You'lllove it there.

The four-month trip was tough goingat times, but we had lots of encouragement along the way. Peoplee-mailed me from all over the states saying they had enjoyed thebook and were getting back into their particular pursuit, thistime, without the goal of "I must". ChristopherBlasdel,s email congratulating me on the book arrived duringa particularly rough few days of events gave us a great moraleboost. I was performing in some of the giant Barnes & Noblesand Borders bookshops. The groups were small, the weather wasterrible and we hadn't had a hot shower for days! Peter Ross emailedsaying he would rally his students to come and see the "hermitshakuhachi player", in a rare performance in Seattle! Therewere excellent articles from BruceJones and Robert Jonas.H J Kramer emailed us saying that Blowing Zen, had beenreleased in Germany. Haland Linda Kramer of H J Kramer came to the Mill Valley event andFoster Reed the president of New Albion Records and producer ofmy CD Hollow Bell, cameout to see us in San Francisco.

Blowing Zen,has been out about four months to date and has gone to a secondprinting. Now there,s talk of a movie. The book seems to havea life of its own. My hope is that it brings many new playersto this incredible breathing tool and that the book helps to keepshakuhachi thriving.

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