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.
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).
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!
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”