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My Year of Dirt and Water

My Year of Dirt and Water

Journal of a Zen Monk’s Wife in Japan

Married to a Zen monk in training, an American woman in Japan chronicles her own year of growth and discovery.

In February 2004, when her American husband, a recently ordained Zen monk, leaves home to train for a year at a centuries-old Buddhist monastery, Tracy Franz embarks on her own year of Zen. An Alaskan alone—and lonely—in Japan, she begins to pay attention.

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. Her teacher instructs her to turn cup after cup—creating one failure after another. Past and present, East and West intertwine as Tracy is twice compelled to return home to Alaska to confront her mother’s newly diagnosed cancer and the ghosts of a devastating childhood.

Revolving through the days, My Year of Dirt and Water circles hard questions: What is love? What is art? What is practice? What do we do with the burden of suffering? The answers are formed and then unformed—a ceramic bowl born on the wheel and then returned again and again to dirt and water.
















5 x 8"












"Intriguing... Franz writes in elegantly understated journal entries, each with a satisfying heft, like a rustic wabi-sabi tea bowl."

The New York Times

"Tracy Franz's poignant memoir, My Year of Dirt and Water, is full of carefully observed details. . . what emerges is a discreet love story, but also an account of a woman discovering her own inner strength while living in Japan."

The Japan Times

"Franz lovingly introduces readers to the intimate parts of Japanese culture and society, while using what she’s learned to look honestly at her own life.”

—The Literary Review

"Franz’s beautifully crafted memoir... is both immediate and reflective, full of anecdotes from Franz’s daily life as a gaijin as well as meditations on time, love, culture, and more."

Politics and Prose Bookstore

"This is a book that, once begun, sends assumptions tumbling, one after the other.”

Kyoto Journal

"An evocative look at the expat experience in Japan. . ." 

Lion's Roar Magazine

"Franz matches restraint with reflexiveness, the precision of her self-awareness countered by her telling omissions."

The Millions

"While [Franz] profoundly misses her husband, this beautiful memoir is not about a woman waiting. She too is a student of Zen, of karate, of the Japanese language, and of traditional pottery."

—Pacific Rim Review of Books

"Franz has written a moving account of her experiences, not just what it’s like to be the wife of a Zen priest who is also a gaijin, but of what it’s like when you finally understand.”

Asian Review of Books

"The beauty of the descriptions will make you want to pick up your own clay, or more likely, search out whatever piece of Japanese culture lies closest to your heart." 

Ian Yates, GaijinPot

"My Year of Dirt and Water 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."

World Literature Today

"My Year of Dirt and Water incorporates Zen, pottery, living abroad, and Franz’s past and present with skillful delicacy, connecting these elements as if by analogy. Traversing territory defined by lack, My Year of Dirt and Water offers the singular pleasure of a story that 'obscures but is not obscured'."

Foreword Reviews

"The vivid and highly distilled prose drew me in from the beginning and gave me the pleasurable sense of a journey to a world different from my own."

Tricycle Magazine

My Year of Dirt and Water is a wonderfully intimate and brave work. . . The reader will be enriched by a sanctuary of words, by the author’s heartbeat and compassionate sense of beauty.”

Richard Gilbert, author of Poetry as Consciousness: Haiku Forests, Space of Mind, and an Ethics of Freedom (Keibunsha)

"Crisp, glittering, deep and probing..."

Dai-En Bennage, translator of Zen Seeds

"[Tracy Franz] is a warm, calm, and curious voice that allows us to see Japan in an accessible way."

Cannonball Read

"My Year of Dirt and Water turns out to be a narrative treat. Even the brief journal entries capture vibrant peeks into life in Japan—the good, the bad and the frustrating. From her pottery classes to family visits, Tracy Franz takes you to a sometimes magical and sometimes complex world, but one very much full in enriching experiences."

JQ Magazine

"My Year of Dirt and Water is filled with questions – on love and loneliness, on fulfillment and failure – and as Tracy ponders them (both behind and away from the potter’s wheel), it prompts a self-examination by the reader of their own state of awareness, happiness, and acceptance."

Uncovering Japan

"While waiting for her husband to complete his year of formal training, Tracy teaches English at a university for young women, takes pottery classes from a Japanese teacher (hence the dirt and water), and chips away at her meditation practice. Amidst it all, she keeps a daily journal that eventually becomes this book. Her lyrical prose and sense of moment bring each vignette to life."

Sumeru Press

"In a year apart from everyone she loves, Tracy Franz reconciles her feelings of loneliness and displacement into acceptance and trust. Keenly observed and lyrically told, her journal takes us deep into the spirit of Zen, where every place you stand is the monastery."

Karen Maezen Miller, author of Paradise in Plain Sight: Lessons from a Zen Garden

"It is a long poem, a string of koans and startling encounters, a clear dream of transmissions beyond words. And it is a remarkable love story that moved me to tears."

Bonnie Nadzam, author of Lamb and Lions, and co-author of Love in the Anthropocene

"A remarkable account of a woman's sojourn, largely in Japan, while her husband undergoes a year-long training session in a Zen Buddhist monastery. Difficult, disciplined, and interesting as the husband's training toward becoming a monk may be, it is the author's tale that has our attention here."

John Keeble, author of seven books, including The Shadows of Owls


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About the Author(s)

Tracy Franz

Tracy Franz

Her essays have most recently appeared in Lotus Petals in the Snow: Voices of Canadian Buddhist Women (Sumeru, 2016), Lion’s Roar, and Tricycle Magazine.

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