My Year of Dirt and Water is a record of that journey. Allowed only occasional and formal visits to see her cloistered husband, Tracy teaches English, studies Japanese, and devotes herself to making pottery.
My Year of Dirt and Water is an intriguing addition to this shelf, not just because its author is a woman. Like many gaijin memoirists, Tracy Franz writes of her determined but stumbling pursuit of traditional Japanese disciplines, in her case, pottery and Soto Zen Buddhism. But the primary reason for her extended sojourn in Japan is her tall American husband, formerly Garrett, now Koun, recently ordained as a Zen priest and now spending a year as a cloistered monk in a Kyushu temple. His motivation — a deep commitment to Buddhist service — is clear, or at least as clear as Zen paradox allows. Hers is harder to define ... a love story, a recovery narrative, a knowingly futile attempt to penetrate 'a nation that takes great pride in its impenetrability' — is the same kind of thing. It demands attention, and defies understanding.
Throughout this memoir, Franz matches restraint with reflexiveness, crafting a narrative equally filled with the luminous particular and the telling omission. Death and impermanence—Zen’s secret heart—are very present. As the year unfolds, absence becomes a type of expansiveness as Franz identifies and learns the texture and shape of her loneliness. While being out of context becomes a pleasure for her, it also draws her attention to the subtle differences between refusal, acceptance, and letting go.
In March 2004 Tracy Franz began a journal to document a period of separation from her husband, a Zen monk spending a year at a six-hundred-year-old Buddhist monastery in Japan. The year is a journey for her as much as for her husband, and she immerses herself in reflection and meditation, occupying herself with her job as a teacher and with her hobby, crafting Japanese pottery. Throughout the book, loneliness is a constant companion for Franz, something that she encounters in a myriad of forms ... takes readers on a personal journey of reflection, posing questions that are larger than the life in which they arose. The very act of reading this journal is meditative, prompting a profound stillness worth experiencing and definitely worth recommending.