Reflections on my Sixteenth Anniversary as a Producer for Sounds True, for Many Voices

Last week was my sixteenth anniversary of working for Sounds True. Anniversaries are a time of reflection for me. I like to step back and look at what I’m doing with my life.

As I’ve mentioned before, I have two lives. In one, I’m a producer for Sounds True, and I used to work with some writers or something. In my other life I’m a writer who works for an audio book company in Boulder. What that means for me is that every weekday I turn off my work computer at six, make supper, and turn on another computer and resume my other life.

I’m adamant about keeping my two lives separate, but last week I was being interviewed by a writer who has had some maddening experiences with publishers, and he wanted to know how someone like me—who was considered something of an iconoclast in writing circles (the name of my literary journal was FRICTION), who had a history of speaking “truth” to power, who named his avant-garde production company DADA Productions—had been able to survive 16 years in a publishing house. And I told him the following story:

Several years after I first began working for Sounds True, I was given recordings of a Great Spiritual Teacher from a retreat on metta, or lovingkindness. This was—at the time—the person I’d name when people asked me which living teacher I admired the most. So, as you can imagine, I was pretty psyched.

The first presentation was followed by a question-and-answer session, and a woman asked for advice on how to use lovingkindness for the suffering that surrounds an abortion. The Great Spiritual Teacher answered that, in this situation, there was limited benefit from lovingkindness, as any mother who could kill her own baby could not be fully human with a soul but an animal in human form.

OK, so, I don’t know, maybe he’s right—but I wasn’t willing to put that out into the world, for a lot of reasons. But it’s easy to cut out a question and answer, and this was only the beginning of what I considered a much bigger problem.

His central thesis was that coming home to an empty house was creating a generation of hungry ghosts who would search unsuccessfully through drugs and alcohol and premarital sex for the love they missed as children, and that nothing but metta would be able to repair the damage caused by the lack of a traditional household and a stay-at-home mom. Worse, as the week went on, it became clear to me that I would not be able to edit this thread out because everything he was teaching was rooted in his belief that the ills of the modern world could be laid at the feet of women abandoning their responsibilities, working outside the home, and divorcing their husbands.

Still, I questioned my responsibilities here. He had an opinion. I have a different opinion. Wasn’t I in effect censoring him and his idea solely because I didn’t like it? How can I presume to know more or better than he does when we disagree? Whoever’s right, the listeners should be given the opportunity to come to their own conclusions, instead of me preventing them from doing so. It wasn’t like that was the only thing he was talking about—why was I obsessing over one area of disagreement and letting that discolor the rest of the teachings?

And wasn’t this my failure as an editor—faced with a difficult job, I wanted out of the project instead? And I questioned my motives: what was I getting out of this? Was it a feeling of being empathetically superior to a Great Spiritual Teacher? Was this just another case of me trying to protect my younger sisters from our raging father?

Finally I went to Tami and explained why I felt we shouldn’t release this product, and she killed it, even though it meant the loss of a lot of money for us.

But I still wasn’t certain I’d done the right thing. After three months of feeling disappointed and discouraged, I was in the Catskills at Menla Mountain Retreat, recording a weekend workshop with Robert Thurman on the Tibetan Book of the Dead. During a question and answer period, a woman asked about what can be done to heal the suffering caused by an abortion, and I felt my whole body tense up.

Robert began by clearing his throat, blowing his nose into a handkerchief, taking a deep breath and shouting, “Well now!”—simultaneously stalling for time, trying to catch everyone’s attention, and clearing the air. Then he began talking very slowly, as if wanting to be certain he was not misunderstood.

“An abortion is a very serious thing. There are—and should be—serious consequences, for both mother and child. It is definitely an act against nature, as the way of nature is that once started, fertilization would result in a live birth. In fact, to impede this process in order to bring an end to a life already started is such a serious matter—especially when it is growing inside the woman who decides to end that life—that no mother could possibly reach that decision until after they have thought through every possible option and found this one to be the least damaging, for the child as well as herself.

“And if at a later date she looks back and wonders about what she has done, she must have compassion for herself first and remember how alone she was and how scared and uncertain. It is not fair to look back from a more mature station in life with all sorts of resources and options and judge your much younger self for behaving as she did, because at the time she made the best decision she could manage under the circumstances.

“And if you’re worried about the baby, if there was ever pain, there is pain no longer. That baby wanted to get born, so she got right back in line. And if your daughter was in the room today and you wanted to explain what you did, she’d say, ‘Who knows better than I how nobly you suffered for making that decision!’ And she would look at you and know by your joy that she has not been forgotten, and she would see in your tears how deeply you still love her.”

Now, if I worked for a company that overruled my gut feelings—no matter how poorly articulated or reactive—because of the potential loss of bags of money, you couldn’t pay me enough to work here. The other side of that is I have to compromise more than I’d like to. I have to accept decisions I don’t always agree with. I have to do things I don’t care for. There are times when I’m deeply disappointed in us. I’ve known for years exactly what I’d do tomorrow if I got fired, laid off, quit, or we went out of business. But I’m still here. Whenever it’s come to that, I’ve always decided that I can do more good here than anyplace else.

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