Hold It All

Philosophy/Poetics/Politics

What I’ve Learned from El Salvador by Maria Vazquez-Smith

since August 2011

1. I learned that life is unpredictable and cannot be controlled.

2. I learned that there is a wide, visible gap between life in the United States and life in the many developing countries around the world.

3. I learned that Spanish is easier to learn when trying to make friends, though still intimidating at times. I learned it is easier and dare I say, actually fun, to learn Spanish when talking sweetly to your life’s forever flame. I learned it is very frustrating to learn Spanish when trying to put the “right” words together to share something difficult, frustrating, deeply personal or confusing. It is equally as frustrating to learn Spanish when unable to understand someone’s deeply personal testimony or sharing of emotions, and also jokes. Man, I know I have missed some good jokes shared in Spanish.

4. I learned, just as Jim “Jaime” Lochhead told me before I left, that it really didn’t matter how bad my Spanish was. I still came back changed, re-arranged and broken in the best way.

5. I learned that lines can be blurred and borders are only imaginary. Deysi’s brother lives in Texas, probably not too far from my own family members. William has a family member in or around the DMV. Rosa’s daughter and I surely have walked the same streets in Baltimore.
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Dear “Hermana Ann”   by Maria Vazquez-Smith

Maria is taking a class with me based on The Book of Mev.  One of the weekly themes was Direct Address, and Maria wrote the following and gave me permission to share it.

Dear “Hermana Ann”                                                                                         September 12, 2017

Hello, my name is Maria Smith and I am a 2013 graduate of Saint Louis University. It has been a true honor getting to know you through The Book of Mev (as in your friend, Mev Puleo. Her husband,  Mark Chmiel, wrote a beautiful book that you’d enjoy. It includes people like you that make me proud to be a SLU alum). This afternoon, I read an excerpt that features you being interviewed by Mev. During the time of the interview, you were both in El Salvador, perhaps sitting outside somewhere. While I read the interview, I was sitting outside my office. I had just finished eating lunch and was taking a moment to breathe and sit in the sun before returning back to work. Read the rest of this entry »

Share the Wealth with Carolina and Christina: A Glimpse into Two Cubana-Americana’s Stories

Carolina Dominguez from Miami and Christina Arrom from Chicago, are Cubana-Americanas who were influenced by the stories of their parents, but especially their grandparents’ lives in Cuba.

After Carolina served with the Jesuit Volunteer Corps for two years in Belize City she moved to Chicago to study social work and work at an all girls high school. “Growing up in Miami allowed me to taste their stories and almost feel like I was in La Havana. However, leaving Miami and living in Italy and Central America allowed me to see how other people viewed Fidel Castro and the new relations between the U.S and Cuba. Working at both a geriatric urology center in the pulse of Little Havana and a poetry organization once back from Belize allowed me to witness the stories of patients who lived the exile, the Mariel Exodus and the title ‘Peter Pan kid.’ In attempt to understand and document this close history of my family I began to write poetry to try and delve into what being Cuban meant to me. Writing poetry about the stories I heard opened me up to write about my own story.”

Christina served with the Jesuit Volunteer Corps in San Antonio, Texas. She Read the rest of this entry »

Gita/Gandhi

Not agitated
By grief nor hankering after pleasure,
They livs free from lust and fear and anger.
Fettered no more by selfish attachments,
They  are not elated by good fortune
Nor depressed by bad. Such are the seers.
–Gita, chapter 2

Strength of numbers is the delight of the timid.
The valiant in spirit glory in fighting alone.
–Gandhi

__________

A man should reshape himself through the power of the will.
He should never let himself be degraded by self-will.
The will is the only friend of the Self,
And the will is the only enemy of the Self.
–Gita, chapter 6

Strength does not come from physical capacity.
It comes from an indomitable will.
–Gandhi

__________

Unerring in discrimination
Sovereign of the senses and passions
Free from the clamor of likes and dislikes…
–Gita, Chapter 18

Joy lies in the fight, in the attempt,
in the suffering involved,
not in the victory itself.
–Gandhi

 

–Translations by Eknath Easwaran

Darlene Submits a Serious Request

“Dear Dharma Teacher
Show me how
To yell mindfully”

–from novel-in-progress, Our Heroic and Ceaseless 24/7 Struggle against Tsuris

What Can You Tell the School Kids?

Svetlana Alexievich, Zinky Boys: Soviet Voices from the Afghanistan War, introduction by Larry Heinemann

 

Afgantsi (singular Afganets): Soviet veterans of the war

Even as Ken Burns’ new documentary on the Vietnam War airs, U.S. military forces have been in Afghanistan for almost sixteen years.  While Burns will likely have some focus on the antiwar movement in the U.S during the 1960s, it’s sobering that there has been nothing like an antiwar movement for this war.

Svetlana Alexievich wanted to hear the bitter truths, so she went around asking listening, recording, and creating Zinky Boys, first published in the Soviet Union in 1990. Winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2015, Alexievich produced this work on the USSR’s Afghanistan War that even today can serve as  a mirror to U.S. citizens or, in Kafka’s apt phrase,” an axe for the sea frozen inside us.”

What follows is a very small sample of the testimonies she evoked.

_________________________

The author: I ask myself, and  others too, this single question: how has the courage in each of us been extinguished? How have ‘they’ managed to turn our ordinary boys into killers, and do whatever they  want with the rest of us? But I’m not here to judge what I’ve seen and heard. My aim is simply to reflect the world as it really is. Getting to grips with this war today means facing much wider issues, issues of life and death of humanity. Man has finally achieved the ambition of being able to kill us all at a stroke.  10

A Private: One time, our column was going through a kishlak when the leading vehicle broke down. The driver got out and lifted the bonnet—and a boy, about ten years old, rushed out and stabbed him in the back, just where the heart is. The soldier fell over the motor. We turned that boy into a sieve. If we’d been ordered to, we’d have turned the whole village to dust. 16-17

A Soldier: They killed my friend. Later I saw some of them laughing and having a good time. Whenever I see a lot of them together, now, I start shooting. I shot up an Afghan wedding, I got the happy couple, the bride and groom. I’m not sorry for them—I’ve lost my friend.  6

A Private, Gunlayer:  We didn’t want to know anything about anything. We were soldiers in a war. We were completely cut off from Afghan life—the locals weren’t allowed to set foot in our army compound. All we knew about them was that they wanted to kill or injure us, and we were keen to stay alive. 118 Read the rest of this entry »

Imagining Dubya Writing Barack

I came across the following when browsing Ralph Nader’s book, Return to Sender: Unanswered Letters to the President, 2001-2015.  Ralph is not holding his breath that Obama’s successor will be any different.

 

After nearly two years out, I can imagine George W. Bush writing his successor the following letter:

Dear President Obama:

As you know I’ve been peddling my book Decision Points and while doing interviews, people ask me what I think of the job you’re doing. My answer is the same: He deserves to make decisions without criticism from me. It’s a tough enough job as it is.

But their inquiries did prompt me to write you to privately express my continual admiration for the job you are doing. Amazing! I say “privately” because making my sentiments public would not do either of us any good, if you know what I mean.

First, I can scarcely believe my good fortune as to how your foreign and military policies—”continuity” was the word used recently by my good friend, Joe Lieberman—has protected my legacy. More than protected, you’ve proven yourself just as able—and I may say sometimes even more so—to “kick ass” as my Daddy used to say.

My pleasant surprise is darn near limitless. Your Justice Department has not pursued any actions against my people—not to mention Dick Cheney and I—that the civil liberties and human rights crowd keep baying for you to do. Read the rest of this entry »

Share the Wealth with Rhodi Celaj and Kestrel Smoot: Fernweh!

Fernweh (Noun)
Wanderlust means the desire to travel. Fernweh elevates that urge to a need; The opposite of homesickness.

I was once told that one of the most valuable things people can do in life is travel to a place they are unfamiliar with and get lost. By doing so, one has the ability to explore and discover things for themselves that they would have never noticed if their eyes were glued to a map.

Today we will listen to Rhodi and Kestrel as they share stories of how they got “lost” during their study abroad experiences in order to delve deeper into the culture and country they were living in.

Rhodi Celaj is a third year Accounting and Financial Services major. In the Spring of 2017, she studied at the Richmond American International University in London. Rhodi likes to travel and try different foods from around the world. Rhodi plans to use her experience from learning about other cultures and promote and integrate the value of diversity in the workplace in her future career.

Kestrel Smoot is a junior Pre-Occupational Therapy (Psychology)/ International Studies double major at Maryville University. She studied abroad for a semester at Freie Universität in Berlin, Germany. In her free time, she enjoys traveling, eating pizza, going on walks and taking pictures.

Join us!
Sunday 17 September
Potluck dinner begins at 6:00 p.m.
Kestrel and Rhodi begin sharing at 6:45
At the home of Lina, Sandra, Sarah, and Kine
Pine 15 (one of the Hilltop Apartments)
On the campus of Maryville University

Shoreditch, located in east London, is filled with culture in all aspects whether it’s street art or food. All you need when you are in Shoreditch is the desire to wander and explore.

1967

Today’s Email:  “Thank you for signing up for the [New York Times]  Vietnam ’67 newsletter. Over the course of the next year, we’ll examine the participation of the United States in the long war in Southeast Asia. The Vietnam ’67 newsletter will arrive in your inbox weekly.”

“Participation”
“Long War”

Journalist Bernard Fall writing in 1967: “It is Viet-Nam as a cultural and historic entity which is threatened with extinction. While its lovely land has been battered into a moonscape by the massive engine of modern war,  its cultural identity has been assaulted by a combination of Communism in the North and superficial Americanization in the South.”

“Extinction”
“Moonscape”

Yiddish Writers/4

I looked at myself in the mirror. A skeleton stared back at me.

Nothing but skin and bone.

It was the image of myself after death. It was at that instant that the will to live awakened within me.

Without knowing why, I raised my fist and shattered the glass, along with the image it held. I lost consciousness.

After I got better, I stayed in bed for several days, jotting down notes for the work that you, dear reader, now hold in your hands.

But…

…Today, ten years after Buchenwald, I realize that the world forgets. Germany is a sovereign state. The German army has been reborn. Ilse Koch, the sadist of Buchenwald, is a happy wife and mother. War criminals stroll in the streets of Hamburg and Munich. The past has been erased, buried. Read the rest of this entry »