The Zen Master Passes On

Robert M. Pirsig, the author of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance:  An Inquiry Into Values, died on Monday at age 88.  It is sad news for those of us for whom Pirsig’s book — an intriguing combination of travel writing, novelized autobiography, rumination about various facets of modern society, and study of motorcycle mechanics — was an important, shaping rite of passage when we first read it.

pic0904-pirsig002I was introduced to Zen by Uncle Mack, who told me that I absolutely needed to read this book.  (To provide some context, he also told me at about the same time that I needed to read Watership Down, which told the tale of rabbits in southern England who had their own language and liked to silflay under the moon.)  Because I am a dutiful nephew, I of course read Zen, and it forcefully struck an inner nerve.

The arc of the book, which tells the rambling story of a man struggling with mental illness who takes his son on a long motorcycle trip and along the way realizes that he and his son will always deal with those issues, was interesting, but what really got me were Pirsig’s miniature lectures, which he called chautauquas, that were interspersed throughout the book.  The lectures reflected a way of looking at and thinking about the world that really had an impact on me.  One concept in particular — that “quality” is a kind of independent characteristic that can be recognized by people intuitively, without training, and should always be the ultimate goal of whatever you are doing, whether it is writing, living, or repairing a motorcycle — has been hugely influential and is a concept that I have returned to again and again.

I wasn’t the only person touched by Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.  It was a kind of phenomenon in the ’70s, and according to the New York Times obituary linked above it has been cited as a personally influential book by the likes of basketball player and coach Phil Jackson, Star Trek star William Shatner, and others.  It was Pirsig’s first book, and he later recounted that it was rejected by 121 publishing houses before William Morrow finally put it in print.  Pirsig’s persistence was rewarded when Zen sold a million copies in its first year — many, no doubt, due to the insistence of friendly uncles — and sold millions more in the years since.

I will always be grateful to Robert M. Pirsig for writing this book.

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Gold Soul

I’ve written before about the Platinum Stylist, the dedicated professional and perfectionist who cuts my hair and gives me a head and shoulder massage, mini-facial, and hot towel treatment to boot.  She’s an exuberant personality, and our appointments always end up being fun encounters where I walk away relaxed, refreshed, and with the best haircut you could possibly get anywhere.

static1.squarespaceThe Platinum Stylist’s real name is Alyssa Rowland, and at our appointment on Thursday she told me that she’s starting up a new consulting business.  (Fortunately for me and the rest of her coterie of intensely loyal clients, she’ll continue to cut and style hair.)  The Platinum Stylist is maintaining her association with precious metals by calling her company Gold Soul, and you can read about it and the services it offers here.  Its focus will be on helping and motivating people to provide exceptional customer service — something that the Platinum Stylist does as a matter of course.

I wanted to give Alyssa a shout-out and a plug because she practices what she preaches when it comes to going the extra mile and because I think anybody who has the guts and moxie to start and run their own business deserves a boost and a pat on the back.  Entrepreneurs who believe in what they can offer make the capitalist world go round.  I also think, though, that Alyssa and Gold Soul, with their emphasis on service and quality, have identified something important that is increasingly lacking in modern commerce.  With goods and products becoming more and more commoditized and “self-serve” the new normal, it’s pretty rare to have any kind of positive service experience these days.  And yet, don’t we find instances where we have received fine personal service far more satisfying than the now-standard fare of sterile, rushed, generic treatment?

ashanti20gold20dish20late2019th20centuryMy conversation with Alyssa and Gold Soul’s website remind me once again of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, a hugely influential book for me that I wrote about in one of my very first postings for the Webner family blog, more than seven years ago.  The author, Robert Pirsig, posited that “quality” was a kind of innate characteristic that people could recognize in just about anything — be it art, writing, or hair styling — even if they hadn’t been trained in art criticism or didn’t hold a Ph.D in literature.  The core concepts of “quality,” such as care and attention to detail, come shining through.

Although I’ve not seen one of Alyssa’s Gold Soul presentations, I have no hesitation in saying that I am completely confident that they are great.  She’s just that kind of person.  If you work for a business that is looking to up its game in the customer service department, it would be worth your while to give Alyssa and Gold Soul a call.