Hold It All

Category: Book of Mev

Powerless

The following is an excerpt from part 2 of The Book of Mev.

 

By mid-December, Mev had grown very quiet.  I’d estimated she was knocked out for 20 hours a day.  Was she asleep?  Did she dream?  Was she in aggravation?  Or was she just so doped up and out from all her medications?  What went on in her consciousness?  

I found it incredible to realize that less than two weeks before had been the Visitation Academy Award ceremony, at which Mev appeared with grace and dignity and that, in the near future, it would be Christmas.  I was always polishing  my penchant for understatement:  It sure didn’t feel like Christmas, even though our neighbors were kind enough to get us a tree and encourage other neighbors to bring ornaments.   Read the rest of this entry »

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Hair/2 (Letting Go/2)

The following is from The Book of Mev….

Hair/2
(Letting Go/2)

The next day we met with Dr. Friedberg, who recommended we see a couple of neurosurgeons to see what could be done about the brain tumor Mev evidently did have. The second one we saw, Dr. Robert Fink, shared the various options, and we decided that Mev should undergo a de-bulking surgery as soon as possible. We came to this decision on a Tuesday and the surgery was scheduled for three days later. Family began to arrive day after day to offer their support and love. Friends from the Jesuit School of Theology held an all-night prayer vigil for Mev the evening before her surgery, while at our apartment, Steve Kelly presided at a liturgy with much appreciated grace and calm. One of our friends, who wasn’t religious at all, came, and said to us afterward, “If all Masses or services were like this one, I could see why people would wanna go, even I was moved.”

That April Friday morning, Mev and I, her parents, her sisters, our friends in Berkeley and a few from St. Louis all arose at the early hour of 5 a.m. to make our way to the Alta Bates Hospital at the corner of Ashby and Telegraph Avenue in Berkeley. After checking in at the hospital, we prepared ourselves for a long, uncertain morning. One of the necessary preludes to the surgery was the shaving of Mev’s hair. Soon after that, she would be taken away for the surgery. I wanted to be with her as long as possible, so I stayed in an adjoining room as the nurse kindly and soothingly prepared Mev for a haircut unlike any other she had had. One of the hospital staff told me the previous day that nurses were quite sensitive and skilled in this part of their job, since many women about to have Mev’s kind of surgery would go to pieces at the thought of losing their hair. Mev appeared quite steady as I gave her a kiss before leaving her with the nurse for the few minutes it would take to cut off her hair. Read the rest of this entry »

“The Hebrew socialist revolution against the fascist national Golgotha”*

Notes on Eliot Katz, The Poetry and Politics of Allen Ginsberg

Example of George Steiner’s championing learning by heart: Ginsberg knew  hundreds of poems from memory [20]

In Dear Layla and Book of Mev: The multiple instances of  Clara’s “beautiful friendship,” as in theme of interpersonal solidarity, Part 3 of Howl  [84]  Maria Goreth and the elderly, Nora’s letter, Teka’s eulogy, Carla and Perry,  Sabine and Danesha, Layla and Perry…

Book of Mev and Dear Layla: Hold it all, again—don’t have to choose one or other—realism or surrealism, narrative or anti-narrative, elevated diction or American speech; can embrace multiple interests and mix them in original, personal, and surprising ways.  [90]  Kerouac’s advice: “Something that you feel will find its own form.” Read the rest of this entry »

How to Have Fun

Mev taught me something very important: She taught me that when you go to Ted Drewes you could mix all different kinds of frozen custard flavors together. I would never have dreamed of some of the possibilities she tried. Mev loved ice cream and she loved desserts – the richer the better, the more varied the better.

—Teka Childress, eulogy from 1996; quoted in The Book of Mev

A Beautiful Kaddish by Andrew Wimmer

I was writing in my Naikan notebook this morning, reflecting on some of what I’ve received from Andrew Wimmer. I remembered his “review” of The Book of Mev, and am happy to share it here.

This book contains multitudes.

Among other things,
 some beautiful faces, a spear through the heart,
Chomsky transformed,
and a bunch of hearts and minds wrapped in a tumor.

This is a book about the untimely death
 of Mev Puleo, a promising photojournalist, 
theologian, and seeker of the truth.

“Blessed are those who mourn.”
And mourn they do.

If you want hagiography, the life of the smiling girl with the camera who goes to Latin America and
 saves everybody, forget it. Read the rest of this entry »

Our Bliss with Books: A Fall Writing and Reading Course

I have sometimes dreamt that when the Day of Judgment dawns and the great conquerors and lawyers and statesmen come to receive their rewards — their crowns, their laurels, their names carved indelibly upon imperishable marble — the Almighty will turn to Peter and will say, not without a certain envy when He sees us coming with our books under our arms, ‘Look, these need no reward.  We have nothing to give them.  They have loved reading.’”

—Virginia Woolf

____________________

In this fall writing and reading course we will explore ways of deepening our reading practice, reflecting on our reading history, and sharing with others  the fruits of our reading.  Themes we will consider include:  courtesy and answerability, the canon and the syllabus, intensive and extensive reading, commonplace books (paper and digital), learning by heart, skimming, browsing, planning and spontaneity,  slow reading, a saturation  job, being a scholar of words, Kafka’s Axe, grateful dependence on translators, the joy of recommendation, and more.

Each session will  feature one or more themes, and allow time for individual writing, paired exchange, and open forum. We’ll also discuss Alberto Manguel’s A History of Reading.

Between class sessions, participants will post reflections, lists, questions, responses, and recommendations at a class blog. Read the rest of this entry »

Thirty Years Ago

Mev, roof of Jesuit Hall, SLU, circa 1987, photo by John Kavanaugh

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 »

Those Blasts of a Trumpet

I’ve recently finished reading Robert Richardson’s engrossing biography, Emerson: The Mind on Fire. The author regularly highlights the exuberant reading Emerson did throughout his life. Robertson not only identifies authors and titles of what Emerson read; he also notes how Emerson read. Twice, Robertson quotes Goethe, a dramatic influence on Emerson: “What is genius but the faculty of seizing and turning to account any thing that strikes us… every one of my writings has been furnished to me by a thousand different persons, a thousand different things.” Emerson was a proponent of skimming books:  “The glance reveals what the gaze obscures. Somewhere the author has hidden his message. Find it, and skip the paragraphs that do not talk to you.”  Read the rest of this entry »

“Be in Love with Yr Life” — A Online Summer Writing Course with The Book of Mev*

From time to time I’ve learned how some readers of The Book of Mev recognize themselves in Mev Puleo’s words, say, from her letters and journals. They remind of the French novelist Marcel Proust, who wrote: “In reality every reader is, while she is reading, the reader of her own self. The writer’s work is merely a kind of optical instrument which he offers to the reader to enable her to discern what, without this book, she could perhaps never have perceived in herself.”

In this late summer-early fall writing class, I invite you to read (or reread) and write off of stories, themes, and questions from The Book of Mev. We’ll explore topics like being present, community, accompaniment, faith, spirituality, the state of the world, the state of the soul,  friends, mentors, teachers, creative arts (e.g., photography), travel, breakdowns, breakthroughs, illness, celebrating, grieving, letting go, poetry, El Salvador, Palestine, Haiti, schools, gospels, letter-writing, gratitude, bearing witness, and much else.

We go  for eight sessions,  from Sunday 20 August to Sunday 8 October.  Each Sunday I will email participants an agenda  to direct reading, writing, and sharing in the week ahead.

Time Commitment:  You’ll need approximately 1 to 2 hours a week, more if you have the energy.  It’s not necessary to do an entire agenda in one sitting; feel free to space it out over the week. Read the rest of this entry »