It’s a Book about Living and Loving and Losing and Being Human through All of It by Cami Kasmerchak

by Mark Chmiel

Dear Dr. C,

This is a long time coming, but I’ve put off writing this because I want to say it right. Then again, if I’ve learned anything from you and Natalie Goldberg, it’s that I must write and not care how it comes out. So here it goes:

This winter break was the third time I’ve picked up and read The Book of Mev. My first year at SLU right after we had met, Nebu and I would read random passages out loud with our friend Michelle in an abandoned dorm room. The book was a real life love story—something more accessible and affirming than the fairytales of youth. The second time I actually read it cover to cover. I was working for the Appalachian Service Project, and finally finished it the semester I returned to SLU (after that summer). It was a rough year, but diving into The Book of Mev was eye-opening. Mev gave me hope that the things I was thinking and feeling didn’t make me crazy or unrealistic or ignorant. That time I was re-reading the book in paperback form. It is interesting the flip through those pages and look at what I underlined or commented on—it is every telling to where I was. But this winter I wanted to come to The Book of Mev fresh.  I wanted to have a new experience with it. So, I read from the hard cover copy that you and sent to me my second summer working for the Appalachian Service Project. Coming to it with new eyes was amazing. I experienced a whole new level to it that I didn’t before. I have so many thoughts about The Book of Mev, so forgive me of the following don’t flow from one experience/thought of it to the next.

What a loss to the world for all of those who never met Mev, including me. What a privilege to meet her through your writing. Her talk of an “intellectual vocation” on page 42 kept me from dropping out of school my sophomore year. Every time I couldn’t fathom why my parents and I were spending so much money on tuition I would flip to that page and read it. Through reading of past world events I have come to realize just how clueless I am of historical and current events. The Book of Mev puts into words thoughts, emotions, musings,  etc. I’ve had, but didn’t know how to express. In many of her journals, Mev would put into words the formless aches of my heart, the tumbling struggles of my mind, and the silent screamings of my soul. I didn’t know how someone I’ve never met could influence me so much. Both you and Mev are so honest in this book that it hurts in the best way possible. Her reflections on photography have made me question my approach to it and also reaffirmed the necessity of sharing images.

The distinction between “photography of the world” versus “photography for the world” has inspired me to pull out my camera and continue in moments of hesitation. The struggle with comfortable faith and faith that isn’t easy any more is one I’ve encountered and one I still continue to reflect upon.  On pages 97-98 it goes through some gathas, and Mev mentions that “it doesn’t feel like such a wonderful moment.” I have to adopt the “only moment” gatha when I don’t feel the wonderful moments. While reading about Mev’s travels and struggles I was able to re-experience my own travels and struggles more deeply and in a new way. This book doesn’t just take you along as an observant companion—it pulls you into it and into yourself.  You can’t escape the pages without re-examining, without reflection. “We have to enflesh God” (p. 190)—Yes, I do… now how? Mev gives me a few ideas and examples.

The thing about reading The Book of Mev this time was that I knew the raw emotion, loss, and heartbreak that was coming so truthfully and beautifully laid out on the pages from Part 2 on And I wanted to dwell in a world with Mev as long as possible. I would put the book aside for a few days just to prolong it. And yet what a privilege it was to read Part 2 and beyond. And not have it sugar-coated. And to sob for the loss of a woman I will never meet.

Presence can be a prayer—thanks for teaching me that I don’t always have to know what to say or even say anything at all.

I think “Holy Rage” is one of the best phrases I’ve ever encountered. I wish I had been smart enough to beat the shit out of pillows instead of holding it all in—then again you introduced me to my “Holy Rage” stage of writing. To each her own.One of my favorite, probably my favorite picture, included in the book is on page 264: Mev with a shaved head wrapped in a blanket. So beautiful, so vibrant, so playful, so defiant, so humorous, so pleased, so Mev. When you mentioned reading while driving I had to smile—I’ve choreographed dances while driving, focusing more on music and movement than the road. Walked to class while reading, read in class something completely unrelated to class, even read/written in a movie theatre.

p. 314 “with one sustaining truth you knew you needed but could not yet name.” Yes. This is what The Book of Mev has been for me.

Fuck yeah for having women pallbearers.

“She became the poor she loved.” — And she continues to love.

“I was exposing myself and others to the emotional vomit” … something I’ve thought about…. a lot… than you for sharing this… for sharing Mev.

It’s a book about living and loving and losing and being human through all of it—thank you for helping me accept more of my own humanity.

Mev was depth over breadth.

Mev was”against all odds.”

Mev was all in.

Mev was living proof.

Mev is teaching me how to do all of this.

I don’t think I will ever be able to adequately describe my experience(s) reading The Book of Mev, but at least I have now tried.

“Some things are profound enough to interrupt our lives.” May I remember this. May I not avert my eyes and ears. May I follow her example.

Thank you.


P.S. I just re-read this whole thing and holy shit. It’s like the inside of my mind-colliding thoughts. Next time I’ll shoot for eloquence.