Hold It All

Philosophy/Poetics/Politics

Month: June, 2017

The Good News of Giving and Receiving Books, 6.26.2017

Ten years ago, because of a Social Justice theology class, I got to know Melissa Banerjee, a Bengali-American.  It made sense to me to give her a hardback edition of the The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna.  Later on, after staying several weeks in India, she brought back to me Letters of Swami Vivekananda, Ramakrishna’s foremost disciple. Melissa inscribed the book this way: “Dr C., Hope this brings  you a small ‘piece’ of the peace I experienced at Sri Ramakrishna’s Mission and Math at Belur, Kolkata.”

This selection of Vivekananda’s letters  range from 1888 to 1902, and address members of his community as well as  Westerners eager to learn more about Indian spirituality.   The following is a small sample  of passages I noted of the swami’s observations, advice, exhortation, and insight…

On the Buddha: His greatness lies in his unrivaled sympathy. 18

Have faith in yourselves, great convictions are the mothers of great deeds.  64

Every soul is a sun covered over with clouds of ignorance, the difference between soul and soul is due to the difference in density of these layers of clouds.  69 Read the rest of this entry »

Mistake

Liberal filmmaker  Michael Moore infuriated some Vietnam veterans with his early May tweet that the U.S. should have national holiday on the date of the fall of Saigon, which should lead to  “a commitment to never make same mistake again.”

“Mistake” is a common shorthand used by liberals to refer to the U.S. destruction in Indochina—Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia.  Even veteran and antiwar critic John Kerry at the 1971 Winter Soldier hearings in Detroit asked this question, “How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?”

Was the My Lai massacre a mistake? Was Operation Speedy Express likewise?

Was U.S. torture of the Viet Cong  (a broad category) a miscalculation?

Were the 20 million bomb craters just one mistake after another? Read the rest of this entry »

Rachel’s Parenting Life

Rachel Kell is doing an on-line class with me (on Thich Nhat Hanh!). We had Social Justice class in spring 2003.  I asked her how her parenting life is going, after hearing Kate Heidemann Vandergriff describe parenting as “magical” and “exhausting.”

This is what Rachel shared with me…

Parenting life…I have thought about grabbing some moments several times throughout the day to respond to your request. Each time I would have had a different answer. Each time I was stopped by a more pressing “need”. Now the house is quiet because the children (5, 3, and 1) are sleeping. All their needs are being met by their own subconscious, and I am free to make a pizza from abandoned crust and remnants of toppings unfit for their own dinner. I have wine, which is more of a ritual than a beverage, a signal that my day is done and time is my own again. And I have a clearer mind that can see the day for what it was – another ordinary day filled with extraordinary moments. I watched Maeve’s dance moves and wiped Lucy’s nose. I counted steps taken, each one a new record. I swept up broken flower pots and remembered to water thirsty basil. I finally folded the laundry that sat stale in the dryer for a week while wondering why we hold onto things we can live without for 7 days. Read the rest of this entry »

The Best Minds of My Generation: For Rob Trousdale and Lindsey Trout Hughes

Re: Allen Ginsberg, The Best Minds of My Generation:A Literary History  of the Beats, edited by Bill Morgan

Dear Rob and Lindsey,

I’m grateful to you both for sharing your writing  with me and through me, to others—may these poems and pieces continue to animate  “Mayahana bodhisattvic compassionate empathy” (A. Ginsberg) in the years to come, ever reverberating through world wide web.

I recently finished Allen’s personal history of  his generation of writing comrades put together from his lectures at Naropa and Brooklyn College. I particularly enjoyed the many chapters on jack Kerouac and Gregory Corso, and want to share with you some passages that may offer you stimulation/encouragement/anamnesis for your own writing practice.

As prof, his method was “to read from the texts, read my favorite fragments or things that were important to us as a group at the time. Big sentences that knocked everybody out, that turned everybody on…. [the] gists [that were] historical epiphanies for us.” [11] Lindsey, as actor, think of the tens of thousands of lines you learned for your roles—you could regale us with  so many that would knock us out.

In commenting on Kerouac’s first novel, Ginsberg observed, “I think Kerouac was reading The Brothers Karamazov at the time, and so divided himself up somewhat similarly into Dostoevsky’s characters.”  I’m currently editing 400+ pages of manuscript material and find myself doing something similar.  [93]

Maybe you both have your versions of Kerouac’s scribbling away in notebooks: “These little notebooks provided raw materials of two kinds: diaristic details, like a reporter’s notes, about events at hand and an endless retracing in memory of all the events in his life, reaching back to his earliest childhood memories in Lowell.” [266]  I never tire of mentioning the exuberant text along these lines, Joe Brainard’s I Remember. Read the rest of this entry »

Call Me by My True Names

35 years ago today, I participated in the mass demonstration in New York City against nuclear arms. While there, I heard Vietnamese Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh read aloud this English translation of one of his poems.

Don’t say that I will depart tomorrow–
even today I am still arriving. Read the rest of this entry »

Seeing the World/1 [from The Book of Mev]

The second week of that Summer Program at Maryknoll, Mev made an announcement after one of the morning sessions that she was going to present some of her photographs in a slideshow/meditation on a night when there was no scheduled speaker.  Curious about what made this self-promoting impresario tick, I wanted to attend.  Her slideshow, with taped instrumental music to establish a contemplative mood, was a welcome relief from the intense, sometimes strangely cerebral presentations during the day about global liberation theology, the suffering of the poor, and the consequent responsibility of U.S. citizens.  She presented a series of her photos from her travels in Brazil, Mexico, Haiti and Russia, and, as I confronted the faces of Mev’s subjects, I was reminded of one of my favorite poems, Thich Nhat Hahn’s “Please Call Me by My True Names,” especially the concluding lines:

Please call me by my true names,
so I can wake up
and the door of my heart
could be left open,
the door of compassion.

Her meditation lasted about 15 minutes, leading the group of 20 into an awareness that our discussions during the day ultimately were about flesh and blood people, with names, faces, histories, heartaches, resilience and desires.  Afterwards, feeling hesitant to speak directly to Mev, I went up to my room and began to write out Nhat Hanh’s poem, since I had learned it by heart years before and often used it for a morning meditation. I also wrote a note of thanks to her for the presentation, and I pinned the note and poem for her on the community bulletin board.  This was safe, spiritual flirting.

Read the rest of this entry »

Good Clean Fun

My friend Te Martin shared this photo of  a Diane di Prima broadside she encountered on her travels…

 

 

The Beatitude of Playing Bach

Arnold Steinhardt, Violin Dreams, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2006

Like the hundreds of other people who had gathered at Saint Pius V Church for Dan Horkheimer’s funeral last August, I was moving between despair and disbelief in trying to assimilate the fact of his murder.  As I walked into the church, I saw at a distance a familiar face—Cece Weinkauff, who was playing violin before the Mass.  Eleven and a half years earlier when she was 14, Cece played Massenet’s Meditation at Mev’s funeral in Saint Francis Xavier College Church.

A few weeks later, she and I visited at Kayak’s on Skinker.  She enthusiastically recommended Arnold Steinhardt, Violin Dreams, which I promptly ordered and read. It’s a captivating memoir detailing his quest for the perfect violin, his journey to becoming  a world-class violinist, and his routines and rituals, such as carrying photos of the greats in his violin case to remind him of the nobility of his calling (like Heifetz). There’s so much in the book he doesn’t address, as it evidently isn’t relevant to his dream life, his real life, that is, his immersion in violins, their power, pedigrees, “personalities,” and magic. Read the rest of this entry »

The Good News, 6.4.2017: This Leads to That and That Leads to This

A couple years ago, Andrew Long suggested to one of his Barat Academy  students that she read The Book of Mev.   So she did.  And through social media we got in touch.  She just finished her first year at George Washington University, and it has been a delight to have visits and exchange correspondence with Liz Burkemper.

 

Lexical Luxury

Take such words as “A poor man.” How many expressions are there in English for poor? You can say: “a poor man, a pauper, a beggar, a mendicant, a panhandler,” and this exhausts all that can be said about it. But in Yiddish you can say: “A poor schlemiel, a begging schlimazel, a pauper with dimples, a schnorrer multiplied by eight, a schlepper by the grace of God, an alms collector with a mission, a delegate from the Holy Land, a messenger from a Yeshiva, a miracle worker without a following, a Rabbi without a congregation, a poorhouse resident, a hungerman, a flying wanderer, a warden for his own needs, a squire with a hole, a barefoot count, an owner of a cabbage head, a bag carrier, a house-to-house visitor, dressed in seven coats of poverty, a crumb-catcher, a bone-picker, a plate licker, a daily observer of the Yom Kippur fast,” and more.

–Isaac Bashevis Singer, quoted in Florence Noiville’s Isaac B. Singer: A Life, p.86.

 

–Comprehensive English-Yiddish Dictionary, edited by Gitil Schaechter-Viswanath and Paul Glasser