Hold It All

Philosophy/Poetics/Politics

Category: Correspondence

A Thousand Letters Behind

Marcel Proust, Selected Letters, volume 4: 1918-1922
Edited by Philip Kolb, translated and with an introduction for Joanna Kilmartin

Months ago, I read volume 4 of Proust’s selected letters translated into English.  As the Buddhists highlight the power of an incalculable number of seeds (both positive and negative)  that find their way into our being, I think my very recent resumption of In Search of Lost Time (Proust’s seven novels, which I first read twenty years ago)  may be the fruit of  reading those several hundred pages of correspondence in the aftermath of the U.S. presidential election. Like Darren Crews in the novel Dear Layla Welcome to Palestine, I took refuge in Proust, who fortified me amid vexing  vicissitudes.

___________________

Some one-liners from Proust the correspondent:

“You’ve written me an adorable letter.”

“You’re a thousand times too good, but you greatly exaggerate.”

“Letters!  I must be over a thousand behind, alas.”

“I thank you, I admire you, I like you.”

“My health forbids my writing a single letter by hand.”

“Dear friend, I have a million things to say to you.” 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 »

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.

 

When We Were Young

The old days of Enneagram exchanges
The old days of “noisy contemplation”
The old days of Wendell Ford
The old days of the FSLN
The old days of Buzz Parsons
The old days of home-made spring rolls in Middletown
The old days of 319 Idlewylde Drive
The old nights of carpet burns
The old days of Corinto
The old days of Xela
The old days with you
When we were young

Learning by Heart, the Joy of Music, and the Power of the Prophetic

Dear Lauren,

I received your letter today about the online Good News class and your hand-written adaptation of Kipling’s famous poem. The fact that you have had “If” as a companion in your work and life at Casa Maria Catholic Worker reminds me of a short book I recently read. It’s titled, A Long Saturday, and it’s a translation of a series of interviews from French between  journalist Laure Adler and literary critic George Steiner.

Steiner was born in 1929. His father had the prescience to move his family out of Europe by 1940, thus escaping the Nazi juggernaut. He went to New York where his teachers included the noted Thomist philosopher Etienne Gilson (whom Dorothy Day probably read at some point!). He later studied at the University of Chicago, was a Rhodes Scholar, worked for The Economist awhile, then joined Princeton’s Center for Advanced Studies. He’s been at various elite universities for decades and published many books (on topics like Antigone, Tolstoy and Dostoevsky, translation, Homer). His contemporaries include Elie Wiesel and Noam Chomsky, and I’ve learned a lot from all three. Read the rest of this entry »

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After Cheese Cake

You spoil me, Maestra
One visit with you in French patisserieland
And I want a weekly dose of your thirty-four-year-old company:

You tango philosopher
You kinesthetic sage
You brunette buddha

But I can’t …
Always get what I want
So carpe-svaha-diem!

Average

It’s a practice
I’m pretty average at it

But compared to what
Or to whom?

Take Chomsky, for instance:
In the 1990s

He said that he spent
20-25 hours a week

Writing letters
This was in addition

To carrying on his linguistics work
And to doing all his political activities Read the rest of this entry »

The Power of Hummus and Hospitality

My friend Lindsey Weston sent me this letter in November of last year.  I am happy to share it with you.

lindsey-w1 Read the rest of this entry »