Q. How would you describe your life in only 8 words?
A. Staggering toward mindfulness. (With five words left over!)
Q. What is your motto or maxim?
A. Everyday mindfulness.
Q. How would you describe perfect happiness?
A. I have a Buddhist prayer tacked up on my wall: May all sentient beings have happiness and the causes of happiness. May all sentient beings be free from suffering and the causes of suffering. May all sentient beings never be separated from the happiness that knows no suffering. May all sentient beings abide in equanimity, free from attachment and anger that hold some close and others distant. In truth, I have no idea what perfect happiness is or whether it's possible to attain. But if it is possible, I suspect that these four aspirations point the way to it.
Q. What’s your greatest fear?
A. I have a primal fear of earthquakes.
Q. If you could be anywhere in the world right now, where would you choose to be?
A. I would love so much to return to Beijing. Although I wouldn't complain about waking up in Rome.
Q. With whom in history do you most identify?
A. Henry David Thoreau
Q. Which living person do you most admire?
A. Nelson Mandela
Q. What are your most overused words or phrases?
A. "On a certain level..."
Q. What do you regret most?
A. Not having continued to study music formally after high school
Q. If you could acquire any talent, what would it be?
A. A photographic memory...is that a "talent?"
Q. What is your greatest achievement?
A. Making myself into a good-enough father to my two sons.
Q. What’s your greatest flaw?
A. I am more afraid of my fellow human beings than I need to be.
Q. What’s your best quality?
A. An ability to accept others non-judgmentally.
Q. If you could be any person or thing, who or what would it be?
A. I wish I could be John Linnell of They Might Be Giants.
Q. What trait is most noticeable about you?
Q. Who is your favorite fictional hero?
A. Tristram Shandy
Q. Who is your favorite fictional villain?
A. Satan in Paradise Lost
Q. If you could meet any historical character, who would it be and what would you say to him or her?
A. I would love to be able to sit down and have a conversation with Joseph Smith, the founder of the Mormon religion in which I was raised. He's one of the most enigmatic characters in American history. To non-believers he's nothing more than a charlatan; to believers he's a genuine prophet of God. Personally, I don't think that he was either a prophet or a mere charlatan. I want to know (it's a psychotherapist's question) how he held himself in his own mind. I would be so curious to know whether he was capable of authentically reporting his own experience, or whether he was caught up in performing the role that he had created for himself that he could no longer escape from its confines. I suspect that it would be an exceptionally aggravating conversation, but I would love to have it anyway. If nothing else, it might help me fulfill my long-held fantasy of writing an opera about his life.
Q. What is your biggest pet peeve?
A. Noise! I'm ridiculously sound-sensitive. I constantly dream about ways to re-capture control of my sound environment.
Q. What is your favorite occupation, when you’re not writing?
A. Composing and playing music, followed closely by fly-fishing and cooking.
Q. What’s your fantasy profession?
A. I've often wished I could work the early morning shift in a bakery.
Q. What 3 personal qualities are most important to you?
A. Authenticity, honesty, compassion.
Q. If you could eat only one thing for the rest of your days, what would it be?
A. Chinese steamed sea-bass with ginger and scallions.
Q. What are your 5 favorite songs?
A. At this particular moment: "Boys and Girls in America" by The Hold Steady, "Coyote" by Joni Mitchell, "Salvese Quien Pueda" by Juana Molina, "Ana Ng" by They Might Be Giants, and "Hide and Seek" by Imogen Heap.