June 27, 2010

A questionable bio: Our editor-at-large's long trip around the Buddhist block (and a few visits to the chopping block)

andrew cooper, tricycle editor at largeWe always ask for an author's bio when we run an article in the magazine and we usually get something pretty straightforward. Sometimes, the bios are too long (think cv), or include mild forms of self-promotion ("you can read more about her at her website"), or sometimes they are too spare ("he is a writer..." or "he lives with his dog"). But a few years back I received a bio of another order and wasn't quite sure what to do with it. I ended up killing it and asked for something more conventional. The writer (now our editor-at-large, pictured right) was Andrew Cooper, and although he whined a bit, something told me he knew he wouldn't get away with it—but in fact, he almost did.

It was unique as bios go, and probably unacceptable everywhere but at the Onion. It occurs to me now that I can run it, just not in print. I can rationalize it by telling you that in the spirit of transparency, I'll let you know a little more about the people who put out Tricycle.

But wait—I've asked Andy to give his own take as I've given mine. Here it is, you can decide for yourself whether I did the right thing:

When my first article was published in Tricycle, I was asked to submit, as are all authors, a brief biographical sketch. I decided to write two: one would be the Buddhist biographical boilerplate, but the second would be a parody of the standard formula. The parody was fun to write, but I got carried away and made it way too long even to be considered. Some things have changed since this was written. I work at Tricycle, for one thing, and we moved to Olympia, Washington, several years ago. Still, I felt it might be fun to take it out of mothballs and share with readers of this blog. Everyone’s got a story to tell, right, so it might as well be weird one.

"Andrew Cooper was introduced to the Buddhist practice of vipassana meditation in the early 1970s , and for several years was an associate at the meditation firm of Goldstein Salzberg Kornfield and Schwartz. Realizing he was not on track to attain nirvana, or "make partner," he went to Boulder, Colorado, to study under the direction of the Tibetan master Chogyam Trunngpa, Rinpoche. Two years later, he left Boulder under a dark cloud, when it was discovered that, having confused the Five Buddha Families of vajrayana Buddhism with the five New York families of organized crime, he had spent countless hours fruitlessly trying to visualize the blue-hued, thousand-armed figure of Carlo Gambino floating above his head.

Mr. Cooper's next stop was the Zen Center of Los Angeles, where for seven years he practiced under the tutelage of Taizan Maezumi, Roshi. During his time as a staff member at ZCLA, Mr. Cooper directed the center's publishing program and founded and edited the seminal journal The Ten Directions. Eventually he was fired.

Mr. Cooper was among the original instigators of the Buddhist Peace Fellowship. In the mid-1980s, he organized Thich Nhat Hanh's first two teaching tours of the U.S., and served as his personal assistant. During Mr. Cooper's tenure as head of the board of directors, he helped steer BPF into a prolonged period of acute organizational crisis. Then he retired.

In an effort to minimize the damage done to the Buddhadharma, all sentient beings, and himself, Mr. Cooper took up the life of a civilian. Today he lives in Oakland, California, with his wife, Liz, and their daughter, Alana, where he works as an editor and writer.

I mentioned in an earlier post he'd been around since the Buddhist stone age. Now you know why.

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Alan's picture

"... helped steer XYZ into a prolonged period of acute organizational crisis ..."

The story of my life! I don't know know why my colleagues keep assigning me to more and more committees. I also don't know why these committees never seem to schedule any meetings. Hmm.

be's picture

I think it was quite witty and understatedly funny. "Blessed are those who can laugh at themselves, for they shall never cease to be amused."

Gaz's picture

I think you did the right thing - as funny as it is, the comments here show that not everyone would appreciate the irony of a line as brilliant as "In an effort to minimize the damage done to the Buddhadharma, all sentient beings, and himself, Mr. Cooper took up the life of a civilian"...


Maura's picture

That is funny, self-deprecating, kind, and barbed, in its way. I'm glad you have him among your editors--Buddhism can get intolerant and unkind when it starts to take itself too seriously.

Storm's picture

Weak as a parody, and if that's the best Andrew can do, he might want to stick to a more serious tone. Meanwhile, if you really do want a humorous Buddhist writer, you have my email address...

pacificpsych's picture

If there's anything wrong with it, it's that the satire is too toned down, or that it's slightly off the mark and manages to miss the funny bone. Other than that - lighten up, will y'all? What's up with being scared to laugh?