Scrambling around his scattered office, assistant professor of English Jess Row fiddled with the music streaming from his desk computer, followed by shuffling about a heap of haphazard papers. After the sudden surge of reorganization, he sat down and collected a sheer Zen-centeredness.
Since receiving his master’s of fine arts in creative writing from the University of Michigan in 2001, Row’s prose has been featured in a number of celebrated literary journals and has culminated in a collection of short stories, The Train to Lo Wu.
Although the author affirmed that achieving success in the world of writing has always been an aspiration, he quickly opted to modify the claim a bit: “It’s not an acquisition; it’s an ongoing process . a lifelong avocation,” he said.
Being named one of the “Best of Young American Novelists” by Granta Magazine, Row said he is honored, though he also considers it “sort of like a challenge to live up to. It’s a message like ‘don’t stop now.’ . It has the potential to be a heavy burden, sort of a double-edged sword. It’s almost like I want to forget the award and keep on going.”
Nevertheless, this current frame of mind was not always within reach. Growing up in a Unitarian family, young Row felt no particular connection to his faith. Upon entering college, he disclosed feeling “a lot of isolation and suffering. It wasn’t an entirely happy and joyful experience,” he said.
Fortunately, he eventually pulled himself out from the rut. “I have always thought of myself as having spiritual influences of some kind. . Zen was a natural form of rhyme that intuitively made sense,” he said.
During this year’s Wellness Week, Row had the opportunity to share his spiritual inspiration by leading a hands-on seminar that focused on guided meditation. In this session, the Dharma devotee revealed the importance of promoting concentration and relaxation. He pointed out how integrating this mentality into everyday life soothes the mind, body and soul.
Being that “stress has physiological causes in the body,” Row said, “(meditative practices) are especially good for your heart and circulation.” To benefit most from the Buddhist mindset, he advised, “pay attention to the world as it is right now, right in front of you.”
After graduating from Yale University in 1997 with a BA in English, Row relocated to Southeast Asia where he taught for two years at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. Upon asking what the most memorable aspect of this stretch of time was, Row responded, “It’s difficult to choose one experience.”
However, after taking a long pause to reflect, he evoked a vivid account of his arrival into the foreign destination.
On the day of his flight in August 1997, a major typhoon struck Hong Kong. He recalled crowding into an old airport and witnessing “clouds hanging at the tops of the buildings, literally descending into the city.” He described the inception as being inundated with “terror and wonder.”
“Getting out of the plane and getting hit by the warm wet air, the city enfolded me like a living thing; it was such a shock,” he said. “I felt like in a sense I would never leave. Actually, in a sense, part of me has never left.”