Rain Dragon

I heard about Jon Raymond soon after moving to Portland in 1995. I came here to make a movie, and Jon had just made one. A feature based on the newspaper comic strip Crock. He shot his live action version of trails and tribulations of the hapless French Legion unit out in Sun River, using his friends as cast and crew.

I wanted to meet him. And since this was back in when Portland felt small I met him without much effort a few weeks later.

When I made my own feature film, about high school kids into fantasy role-playing games, I followed his example and used my own friends as cast and crew. I asked Jon to play an Orc for one of the epic battle sequences. He eagerly agreed, and played his Orc with both menace and dignity.

We cemented our friendship, I think, when we were featured in a Willamette Week article concerning young creative people in town. During the photo shoot we both naturally migrated to very back of the herd of 20 or so 20 something’s, farthest from the camera lens. Jon easily persuaded me to join him in slyly giving the camera the finger, which meant that we while were included in the article, we went missing from the front cover.

In the intervening 15 plus years I’ve watched Jon mature as a writer and artist. He’s written books, screenplays that have gotten produced, a few more I’ve had the privilege of reading that haven’t, and last year collaborated with Todd Haynes writing the Mildred Pierce HBO miniseries.

I’ve just now had the pleasure of reading an advanced copy of Rain Dragon, his new novel about a couple that moves to Oregon to work on an organic farm.

After telling him how much I loved the book, Jon shot back that I might be the perfect audience for the book.

And I suspect I am. For starters, I’m the kind of person who thinks working on an organic farm is ripe for comedy and satire, but I also kind of wish I had spent a year working one.

I’m also a fan of wonderfully well-written prose that’s evocative and lyrical, but isn’t afraid to be crass on occasion to make a point, all of which the book is. I also appreciate that the story is set in our world, not some literary construct. There are pop culture and contemporary references that not every reader will recognize, but that make the book real and relevant.

I also love how much Rain Dragon is about place. It’s about Oregon, physically, and anyone living here will recognize the landscape he describes. But it’s also about Oregon spiritually; the pioneering spirit and rugged independence are central themes.

But the lights really clicked on for me when I heard Jon being interviewed by one of my students, Boaz, on the pedal powered talk show.

Jon talked about how he felt envious of authors like Walker Percy and Graham Greene who incorporated their Catholic upbringing into their work, until he realized he had a faith of sorts to bring to his own work. Not a specific religion, but more as he describes it the “vibrations, synchronicity, and magical thinking” that informs the various belief systems and approaches to work and life folks experiment with out here.

He had my attention. As some of you know I’ve embarked on a side career in life coaching. I recently took a 2-day intensive course called Foundations for Coach Leadership, and this past Thursday I conducted my first client session. I had one another Friday.

Rain Dragon’s second half concerns itself with the organic farm’s foray into organizational management training, which is essentially corporate life coaching.

It’s safe to say the book arrived in my hands at the right time, or in the vernacular of Jon’s book, an instance of perfect synchronicity.

While I am now even more obviously the ideal audience, I think the book has a lot to offer everyone. There’s love, there’s loss, there’s drama, all the good stuff that make us turn the pages of a book.

But the organizational training aspect is what makes this book really unique. Not just for anyone interested in coaching, but anyone interested in how companies work and how the most innovative ones have captured our imaginations.

The workers of Rain Dragon put the employees of a timber company through a series of two-day encounters. They ask the corporate officers and middle managers of the timber giant the same questions every large, thinking corporate organization has been asking itself over these last few decades.

What kind of a culture should a company create? How do you get the best ideas out of our people? How best to optimize potential, improve morale, and resolve conflict? And ultimately is it enough to create a product or provide a service or does a company need to stand for or mean something bigger?

There are as many answers as there are CEO’s. But the answers West Coast companies are coming up with seem to be the ones getting all the ink. Think about Keen, Nike, Whole Foods, Umpqua Bank, eBay, Craig’s List, Amazon, Google, Instagram, even Wieden+Kennedy, where I work.

Think about Apple.

The same hippie capitalism that Steve Jobs and the founders of so many of these companies are playing with is, at least to me, the central concern of this book.

If you, like most of the reading world, has read or is reading the Steve Jobs book, read this book. Let me see if I can express that as more of a back of the book blurb.

“Rain Dragon is the literary companion to the Steve Jobs biography. It’s a rare and enlightening window onto the process of self-examination that happens when a company challenges it’s self to think about it’s self.”

Well done, Jon. I loved it.

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