50 Years with Tao

First, a bit of history —

When, in 1971, Gia-fu Feng and I were negotiating our Tao Te Ching contract with Random House, he wanted the book to be his, with me getting just a small one-time fee for the use of my photos to illustrate his translation. Somehow, I had the courage to stand up for myself, to value my own creativity and insist that we be compensated equally, dividing the royalties 50-50. I overcame any tendency to defer to a man, to a person who was 23 years my senior, and to an elder who was learned in an ancient tradition I did not think I understood.

cover of 25th anniversary edition of our Tao Te Ching – 1997

Some of the deference did creep back in over the years as this younger, white woman was often subtly questioned about my qualifications to speak with any authority about Tao Te Ching.

A next step — 

Starting with 1991 I have created Tao Calendars that feature excerpts from Tao Te Ching with my photos and Gia-fu’s calligraphy.

One evening in 2003, when the Tao Calendar publishers at Amber Lotus and I were riding in their car in Portland, Oregon (after dinner? or from the airport?), we had a conversation about what I might do next with Tao. They suggested I might have something to say about Tao having at that point been working with Tao Te Ching and Chuang Tsu for over 30 years.

So I got a small notebook, covered with Chinese-looking cloth, that I kept in my purse so I could make notes whenever I thought of something interesting about Tao. Looking again at those notes tonight for the first time in many years, I notice there was over and over a questioning of the use of words — this is built-in when dealing with Tao Te Ching that begins with what can be paraphrased as, “The Tao that can be told is not the real Tao; the name that can be named is not the true name.” That questioning also emerged from remnants of my old self-doubt — did I really have anything to say?

Many of the notes I made in this notebook over the next few months are now part of the text in my 2018 book, A Rainbow of Tao (initially the title was simply Rainbow Tao).

About 2006 – layout work for A Rainbow of Tao

After working for a couple of years on the words and photos in that book I set it aside about 2007, picking it up again about 2017, and finishing it in 2018.

Near the end of the book I wrote,  “I recently became aware that through all these years of work on the Tao books and calendars I have carried a nagging uncertainty as to the appropriateness of my doing this work, being a woman, having European ancestors, and knowing no Chinese at all — yet I did do the work.“ 


And now, 2021 — 

With sales of the annual Tao Calendar decreasing after a run of 31 years, a couple of days ago my publisher let me know they planned to discontinue the Tao Calendar after the 2022 edition that is currently in the works. My initial reaction was deep disappointment, then just letting it go, letting my work/play with Tao be a part of the past. I recalled this 2019 dream:

The next day, yesterday, I was again wanting the calendar to continue. I sent the publisher an email about marketing efforts I recently began to do, and suggested various ways we could keep the calendar alive.

This morning they called and we had a really good conversation — they are long-time friends. As we talked, my telling the dream about being a spiritual bum evoked great laughter.

This afternoon I got an email saying they will publish the 2023 edition. Decisions about later calendars will depend on the success of the 2022 edition. This now “old” woman who is about to enter her 80th year will take their marketing suggestion and learn how to share images in Instagram — using a desktop computer since I still resist getting a so-called “smart” phone. Doing this might even be fun!

a preview of the 2023 front cover – the 2022 edition will come before this!

I end this writing with gratitude to my friends at Amber Lotus for their support, past and present, as I learn yet again to let go of that which is to be let go and to treasure what is to remain. Thank you! 

See amberlotus.com for more Illuminating Spirit in the World

Gramp’s woodworking shop

When I was 7 in 1949, my maternal grandparents moved from Waltham, MA to a little house just two doors west of the home where I grew up in Topsfield, MA. My grandfather, Walter H. James, had retired in 1938 from being a mechanical engineering professor at MIT. His father and grandfather had been skilled cabinet-makers in Hampton and Portsmouth, NH. Gramp followed in their footsteps, making lots of furniture for family and friends — more on that in another post.

Much to my delight, Gramp often invited me into the woodworking shop he built off the back of the garage at their new home. I remember sitting on a sawdust-covered floor happily nailing together bits of wood he gave me.

Amazingly, about 70 years later, I still have this wooden truck I made there. I designed and made it myself about 1951 when I was 9. If I recall correctly, Gramp cut the round wheels on his band saw and also gave me occasional advice. It is a hybrid of a motorized truck and a horse-drawn wagon — I imagined the driver sitting on the block, though I did not make the shafts for hitching in a horse.

After Gramp died in 1963, my mother went through his journals and saved interesting pages like this one from 1951 where he wrote about my brother and me being in his shop.

That early familiarity with tools was a big part of my choosing to major in physics in college and then going on to a Ph.D. in physics. I think that in his last year or so Gramp did know I was majoring in physics.

And now at age 78 in 2021 I have in my cellar a modest little “shop” with my hand-tools neatly arrayed on the wall and other items in a wooden counter and cabinet actually made by Gramp about 1953 — they were in our family ski cabin in New Hampshire, and I got them when that kitchen was remodeled about 2001.

Gramp was also, like me, a photographer and a writer. See his photos and books on my website.

Walter H. James, age 76, with Jane English, age 7, in 1949

I smile with gratitude for this wonderful ancestor I have.

About the Earth Heart logo

— a 2019 post revisited as I revive my blog —

Back in 1984 when I was starting my own publishing business, I knew I needed a logo. It was immediately obvious to me that I would use the image of a grove of redwood trees growing out of a big red heart that I had painted on July 8, 1982, the image having come to me in a dream around that time.

I sat in my room for quite a while that morning, staring at the painting, asking it what its name was, a name I knew I would use for my business. When I thought “Earth Heart” I immediately knew that was the name.

The painting was a watercolor, but I needed a simple graphic image. It being back before I had a computer or a scanner, I traced the painting then inked the tracing for a simple line art version of the logo. Later, after I had a computer, I applied color to it — red, green, light and dark brown, and black. The images here are of the original painting, the line art, and the colored line art.

About 1989 when I was creating my first Earth Heart website (using HTML Editor 1.0) I had to choose a domain name. I first thought of earthheart.com but thought it was confusing — would there be one or two h’s in the middle of the name? So I settled on eheart.com, though now people still get confused on how to spell that — “eheart” or “ehart.” I tell them it is like “planet valentine” or “eheart“ like “email.”

Over the years I have had several people want to buy that domain name from me, one being a cardiologist who had invented some kind of electronic heart device. With my web URL by then printed in my many books and calendars, I of course said no. And just yesterday a tech support guy at the place that hosts this blog commented on what a good domain name it is.

That is the practical part of the story of Earth Heart. Now for more subtle aspects of it — to me the trees growing out of the heart are all my creative work that comes from my heart. The dark spaces in the middle of the grove are the mysterious unknown sources of inspiration.

This is my first blog post. Yesterday was quite a scramble for me learning how to make a blog. At 77, I feel like I am the proverbial “old dog learning new tricks” as I embark on this blog adventure. 

I thank you for traveling along with me.