What is genius but the faculty of seizing and turning to account everything that strikes us? … The greatest genius will never be worth much if he pretends to draw exclusively from his own resources…. Every one of my writings has been furnished to me by a thousand different persons, a thousand different things.
In the last couple of years, I have found myself asking two simple questions, Why do we read? Why do we write? One context for this curiosity is my facilitating classes of writing and reading, in homes and on-line. If you, too, want or need to engage in such self-examination, I recommend biographer Robert D. Richardson’s First We Read, Then We Write: Emerson on the Creative Process. You may find your own riches, as I have in what follows…
RDR: He glanced at thousands of books. He read carefully many hundreds that caught his attention. He returned over and over to a favorite few, including Montaigne, Plutarch, Plato, Plotinus, Goethe, de Stael, and Wordsworth.
RWE: It seemed to me as if I had written [Montaigne’s Essays] myself in some former life. … No book before or since was ever so much to me as that.
RWE: Each of the books I read invades me, displaces me. Read the rest of this entry »
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.
Read the rest of this entry »
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 »
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.
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.
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.
–Translations by Eknath Easwaran
“Dear Dharma Teacher
Show me how
To yell mindfully”
–from novel-in-progress, Our Heroic and Ceaseless 24/7 Struggle against Tsuris
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 »