Thursday, 18 May 2017


Image result for zen and the art of motorcycle maintenance

I was ill in April with a virus called CMV unfortunately and missed the fact that Robert M Pirsig had passed.
He of course wrote the cult bestseller Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. Wasn’t a cult bestseller when I bought it; in fact I have met hardly anyone who has read it or even knows what it is about, certainly never met a woman who has read it. Forty-three BTL Comments in The Guardian Obituary section, compared to one-thousand four-hundred [so far] for Ian Brady; sounds about right.
He is supposed to have noted that in the English language, it only takes 26 letters to describe the whole universe. I only read that today but what a singular, insightful remark it is. He left school with an IQ of 170 apparently. He doesn’t seem to have done very much with it however; wrote papers, lectured, argued, got married, got divorced. His son, around whom the book is structured, died tragically young. An IQ of 170 isn’t going to help with that. Then he wrote ZAMM, his life’s achievement. 

My Dad didn’t pass much on and he certainly wasn’t ‘Wan o’ they Intillectyuals’, as his Glasgow family would have said but as a teenager I vividly recall him telling me once that, ‘if a job was worth doing, it was worth doing well’. I had agreed to clear out the garage for some extra pocket-money but it was a hot day and hard work and . . . and I didn’t do a very good job; didn’t finish it in fact. I had not realised at the time but his words actually changed the way I saw the world.

So, ten years later when I came to Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, I had effectively been briefed on its central message:  ‘if a job is worth doing, it is worth doing well’. Try your best, aim for quality, every time.

I think it came along at the right time for me. Not that I had forgotten my father’s advice but God, was it hard to implement especially since I seemed to be the only one on the team trying to do things the right way. It works in Japan where everyone is on the same wavelength, you aren’t pushing water up-hill all the time but here in our greedy me-me-me society it is near-impossible to actively practice what you preach.

And of course that led in a very few years to doing my own thing: starting my own business where I could achieve the standards, the quality that I held to be important. It wasn’t easy it was hard, everyone ripping off my ideas but life was/is hard and I could cope with what was thrown at me because I wasn’t having to adapt constantly to someone else’s rules.

At Nissan, where you are expected to embrace the work ethic and I quote here from their website:

Diversity of backgrounds and perspectives, teamwork, motivating each other to do our best, and having a willingness to do whatever it takes to achieve our goals, are all hallmarks of what it’s like to work at Nissan.

It’s so much more simple. Everyone is on the same page. If personal growth, creativity and working alongside colleagues in a team are not your thing, then leave.

I’ve just gone downstairs and yes, of course I still have my original copy, and yes it’s a First Addition Corgi 1976. That was the year I met my wife. That was the year I travelled overland to Kathmandu in Nepal. That was the year I almost died of Typhoid Fever. Driven by Pirsig? I don’t think so but for sure, influenced deeply by ‘if a job is worth doing, it is worth doing well’. I’ve frequently wondered if one thing led to another: I always went the extra mile it seems to me now. If we stopped at an Oasis, I would climb a nearby hill or range to see what could be seen while my companions would shelter under any available structure to get out from under the sun and the 120deg F temperatures. What a pain in the arse I must have been but I knew I would never pass this way again and wanted to taste everything, see everything, devour everything.

And as a result, I almost killed myself.

When I came back, I became interested in Zen philosophy and wisdom and read everything I could about its belief systems. Went to classes and groups; meditated. Again, one thing leads to another; it is only now that I see looking back that I wanted Kiri and her family to be Zen Buddhists. I didn’t make it up: for years I was pretty taken by the whole of dualistic religious thought and of Taoist philosophy and belief systems.
But not now. Life overtakes you.


1 comment:

  1. I read Zen and the Art of Maintenance many years ago, and I think a lot of women did. But that may have been a California thing. It was and to some degree still remains a kind of staple here, at least if my many years as a bookseller is any indication.