Friend Friday

 It’s a sheer delight to host Dori Jones Yang today.  Dori and I shared and editor back in the day; we also managed to bump into each other on a hiking trail between Monterosso and Vernazza, in the Cinque Terra, this summer. Dori is an amazing and dedicated writer, as you will figure out from her post.

Dori Jones Yang

 For a long time, I was afraid to talk about my new wisdom book project. Each time I conducted an interview for it, I asked the person not to mention it to others. I wanted the whole project to be “under the radar” – just in case I never finished it, I guess. I didn’t know how I would structure the book – or if I was capable of it. Several of my loved ones doubted the project, wondering who might possibly be interested in reading it. Several times I lost heart and put it aside.

This new book project, after all, was totally outside my areas of expertise. A former business journalist, I had written a successful book about Starbucks. A history major who reported about China, I had written two historical novels set in China. After years as a mentor in schools, I wrote a children’s book about a girl from China struggling to learn English. Married to a Chinese immigrant, I compiled a book of oral histories of Chinese Americans in Seattle.
But wisdom? What credentials did I have to write about wisdom?

Yet I kept returning to the project, compelled to dig deeper.
One reason, I suppose, is that I felt unwise. Maybe that’s because I had been reading a lot about wisdom from the world’s great wisdom traditions and felt daunted. More likely, it’s because I was unsure how to handle some important relationships in my life, which kept veering off into annoyance or bitter words or huffy silences. Sigh.  At midlife, I thought I would be wiser than this. Many of my friends, about the same age as I am, are struggling with various life issues and feel the same.

Another reason I undertook this project is this: I know a marvelous bevy of older women I consider very wise. For years I have been watching and listening to these women, admiring them for their resilience and resourcefulness, their calmness and confidence. I aspire to be like them when I “grow up.”

So I put two and two together. I made up a list of twenty questions that my friends and I are grappling with at midlife. Among them: How do you get through tough times? Is happiness really a choice? What’s the best way to manage anger? How should parents interact with their adult children? Some tips, please, on dealing with difficult people! Where do you look for peace and inspiration?

Then I chose one woman and convinced her to sit down with me and answer these questions as well as she could. I captured her answers on audio recorder. Then I asked another. And another. None of these women considered themselves wise, although they were delighted that I thought so and were more than willing to share even painful, personal stories with me. At the end of each interview, my spirits soared. These women were humble and humorous, honest and open – and very articulate on these twenty topics.

So I pulled it all together in a book and – viola!  Actually, it was a lot harder than that. I struggled with how to pull together a book from this great material. In the end, I created a chapter from each of the twenty questions. Each chapter opens with some of my musings on why this question matters, followed by direct quotes from the interviews, and concludes with my “takeaways” – specific tips, mental tools, and refreshing insights.

I fell in love with the book that came out of this: Warm Cup of Wisdom: Inspirational Insights on Relationships and Life. Who else might possibly be interested in reading it? Men and women of all ages – all people who enjoy reflecting on themselves and others. I hope this book inspires readers to embark on “wisdom projects” of their own, interviewing wise ones in their lives. Wisdom can be found in ordinary people around us, if we dare to ask.

Now I enjoy talking about this book.  It’s a natural conversation-starter for book clubs, women’s groups, alumni reunions, and coffee klatches everywhere.  I can’t claim to be any wiser today than when I started. But I have some tools to use when I encounter bitter words or angry silences. And I have learned that seeking wisdom can be something we do with intention – a lifelong practice.

Dori Jones Yang is a genre-jumper who has written six books for adults and children on a wide variety of topics, including business, China, immigrants, Marco Polo, and wisdom. She spent eight years as a journalist for Business Week in Hong Kong, where she met and married her husband. They have a daughter named Emily and recently moved to a condo overlooking Lake Washington.

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  1. Rosi

    I loved reading “At midlife, I thought I would be wiser than this.” That is so true for me, and I am creeping rapidly past midlife. I really like the questions Dori represented here for her sage friends. This sounds like a wonderful book, and I will definitely be looking for it, especially with the holidays coming up. This should be a great success. Congratulations for going for it and getting this done!