Three years later, he can see the irony, but in the moment, meditation turned out to trigger, not diffuse, his anxieties. "At one point," Salzman says, "my brother-in-law called to say he had heard an interview with a psychiatrist, and among his patients were Tibetan Buddhist monks in exile, who have panic attacks during meditation. Apparently, the trauma of having escaped from China comes out when they're most relaxed. Certainly for me, the worst thing I could do was to meditate or do tai chi. It would bring it on right away."
The turning point, Salzman notes, came after he had given up; in fact, it was the giving up that was the key. Away for a week in Idaho, alone with the family dog, he had a revelation: That everything was as it was supposed to be.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Sunday, February 26, 2012 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 4 News Desk 1 inches; 63 words Type of Material: Correction
Mark Salzman: In the Arts & Books section elsewhere in this edition, an article about author Mark Salzman says that his most recent book, "The Man in the Empty Boat," grew out of a performance piece he developed for Idaho's Squaw Valley Writers conference. The correct name is the Sun Valley Writers' Conference. The error was detected after the section went to press.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Sunday, March 04, 2012 Home Edition Sunday Calendar Part D Page 2 Calendar Desk 1 inches; 44 words Type of Material: Correction
Mark Salzman: A Feb. 26 article about author Mark Salzman said his most recent book, "The Man in the Empty Boat," grew out of a performance piece he developed for Idaho's Squaw Valley Writers conference. The correct name is the Sun Valley Writers' Conference.
This sounds simple, counterintuitive even, especially given what Salzman had gone through. And yet, what other choice did he have? "It was a vivid emotional and intellectual experience," he says, "where I felt, suddenly: Oh my gosh, I see what my mistake was all along. I believed that there was an invisible entity within me, an agent that truly had control over the ship. And when I came to feel that this didn't exist, it was like a gigantic knot finally came undone."
As for what that means, Salzman doesn't know, although he worries that his newfound equanimity might have a deleterious effect on his need to write. "I feel," he admits as he clears away the dishes, "that my primary identity isn't as a writer, it's as someone trying to figure out problems I can't escape. So if that's my central conflict -- and it's clearly the subject of all my books -- and now that central conflict has been resolved, what am I going to write about?"
For the moment, though, there's "The Man in the Empty Boat" and his excitement about publishing in a different way. The book comes with a print-on-demand option, but mostly it exists in the digital realm, and while this offers certain challenges (no book tour, no public events), it also opens up possibilities.
"A lot of people I know," Salzman says, "are threatened by the e-book thing, but I don't feel that. I think that what people want from physical books is going to endure. Digital books, it's just a different means and it serves different ends." Then, as if he were discussing his own journey: "Ideas get transferred. That's what it's all about. This is evolving on its own."