In 1974 I read Robert M. Pirsig’s Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. At the time I had two jobs. I was a part-time elementary school art teacher three days a week. The other two days I worked at a gift/plant/macrame-stuff/hippy-ish shop called Exit on Main Street.
I learned a lot about plants. Thanks to the experience I know the philodendron on our screened in porch is infested with mealybugs.
The store was located in the front rooms of an 1870’s house located on Main Street in Newark, Delaware. The owners, Walt and Jeanie Rykers, lived above. Walt was extremely deep. He smoked a lot of pot and shared complex philosophical ideas I pretended to understand.
Walt recommended I read the popular new novel, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. I bought a copy and dutifully suffered through all 540 pages during quiet times at the store. If you don’t know the book I’ll give you a short synopsis, lifted from the back cover.
“Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance is a powerful, moving, and penetrating examination of how we live…and a breathtaking meditation on how to live better. Here is the book that transformed a generation: an unforgettable narration of a summer motorcycle trip across America’s Northwest, undertaken by a father and son.”
During all this traveling, the Narrator weaves together observations about life, the story of the struggles of a shadowy character called Phaedrus, and the day-to-day details of the trip. There is something of a mystery surrounding Phaedrus’ connection to the Narrator. As the book unfolds, this mystery is resolved, and readers learn that Phaedrus is the name he gives to himself to represent his life before he had a nervous breakdown and underwent a radical psychiatric procedure called Annihilation ECS. The story of Phaedrus is a story within the overall story.
In 1974 I was way in over my head with all this metaphysical stuff. Possibly life simply hadn’t weathered me enough to absorb Zen’s profound truths.
I’ve recently embraced the concept of manifesting my reality through the power of positive thinking. While stumbling about online, looking for more books delving into this notion, I was re-acquainted with Robert Pirsig’s novel. I clicked on Amazon Prime and three seconds later the book was in my mailbox.
During those three seconds I read a bit about the author’s personal experience with clinical depression. In 1974 I hadn’t had my own similar experience. I thought possibly now I’d “get” the book.
The book arrived. I sat down, reading glasses perched on my nose, thinking cap on my head and attempted to absorb its concepts. I got as far as page 87. I may be older, but I’m not any deeper. I’ve considered carrying the book around with me to Starbucks and public parks, creating the illusion of being a philosophical wizard. Too much work. Instead I picked up People Magazine.
When I ordered my copy, I also bought the book for my son. He, like I, is on a positive thinking journey. My copy arrived a few days before Amazon tracking expected his copy to be delivered. I sent him an email stating, “Book coming. Sorry…if you can figure this stuff out you are way more hooked into the universe than I am.” I’m betting he off-loads the book to an unsuspecting friend. I would.
If any of you zillions of readers out there read and understood Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance please don’t tell me. I’ll feel like a dunce.