Hold It All

Category: Courses

Share the Wealth: Summer Writing Class 2018

The unexamined life is not worth living.
—Socrates

I think it pisses God off if you walk by the color purple in a field somewhere and don’t notice it.
—Alice Walker

Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?
—Mary Oliver

I never travel without my diary. One should always have something sensational to read in the train.
–Oscar Wilde

For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you.
—Walt Whitman

 

For many years now, I’ve asked friends to “share the wealth,” typically after we have a potluck dinner together. For example, six years ago, I invited my friend Fatima Rhodes to tell us about her journey to become a better speaker of Modern Standard Arabic when she was in her forties. Nine months ago, I encouraged Laura Lapinski to hold forth about one of her life’s great passions, the cinema of Wes Anderson.

In this summer class, I invite you to get in touch with the wealth of your curiosity, travels, maxims, relationships, resiliency, antiwar speeches, polyglotism, culinary gusto, enthusiasm for Russian literature, political compromismo, penchant for rollercoasters, Chiapas seminars, book project in the making, sense of history, athleticism, biophilia, bibliophilia, talents, relatives, gifts, musical verve, progeny, legal acumen, vivid memories, and awakenings. By writing on such topics, we will be in a position to share first with people in the course, both those in the Wednesday night class and those joining us online. We will also consider how we may share with others beyond and after this class. Read the rest of this entry »

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Improv Wisdom: Spring Online Class 2018

There are people who prefer to say “Yes,” and there are people who prefer to say “No.” Those who say “Yes” are rewarded by the adventures they have, and those who say “No” are rewarded by the safety they attain. There are far more “No” sayers around than “Yes” sayers, but you can train one type to behave like the other.

–Keith Johnstone, author of Impro: Improvisation and the Theatre

Dear Friends,

Itching to say “yes” to something, but you’re not sure what?
Looking to be a part of a community of challenge, exuberance and encouragement?
Sensing an inner or an outer possibility for your life?

I invite you to consider joining us for an online course I am facilitating this spring, based on the book by Patricia Ryan Madson, Improv Wisdom: Don’t Prepare, Just Show Up.

In the prologue to her book, Patricia writes, “Improvisation is a metaphor, a path, and a system; it is a modus operandi that anyone can learn. Imagine a life brimming with spontaneity. See yourself coping effortlessly with a demanding boss, a tired child, a unexpected turn of fate. Hear yourself speaking at a meeting without a script. Feel yourself alive, poised and ready for any adventure. Learn simple techniques used for centuries by actors and musicians, and discover how to apply them to your life. The world of improv is a portal into mindfulness and magic.”
Read the rest of this entry »

Writing to Wake Up: A Course in Creativity and Community

Think about it: Even with all our sophisticated technologies and modes of communication, who feels as though there is enough time? And yet, we need time, as community activist Grace Lee Boggs has said, to “grow our souls”: Time to think, to explore, to share, to listen. We need time to be in touch with ourselves, each other, the world.

In this eight-week course, we will take time and use writing as a practice to wake up more fully. We will experience solitude, as writing is an individual journey. And we will extend solidarity, as writing can be a bridge to others.

Our basic text is Natalie Goldberg’s Writing down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within. We’ll practice separating the “creator” from the “editor” (critic) by doing non-stop, timed writings in notebooks or laptops. We will explore topics such as memory, dreams, work, obsessions, wonder, play, politics, friends, letting go, and much more. Each class will allow time for multiple writing sessions, paired exchange and large group sharing of writing, report backs on assignments, and quiet meditation. I will also offer provocations from poets, sages, artists, and prophets. 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 »

“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 »

At Home in the World: A Summer Writing Class 2017

Thich Nhat Hanh is regarded by many as one of the most skillful and pragmatic of spiritual teachers. In 2016 he published At Home in the World, a succinct autobiography of his ninety years of life in Vietnam and in exile. Filled with recollections, teachings, and practices, this book will be our guide for getting in touch with our own stories, wisdom, and resources for mindful living.

Thich Nhat Hanh has been a proponent of Engaged Buddhism for over sixty years. Martin Luther King, Jr. nominated him for the Nobel Peace Prize. He was a kindred spirit to the Catholic monk Thomas Merton and Jesuit activist Daniel Berrigan. He is the author of scores of books, including The Miracle of Mindfulness, Being Peace, and Living Buddha, Living Christ. He resides at his community, Plum Village, in France.

Each class session will allow for quiet time, discussion of the book, writing practices, and paired and group sharing. Suggestions will be offered for further writing and experiments in the week between classes. A class blog will be available for sharing the fruits of our reflection, exchange, and writing.

We will meet on the following six Wednesdays: June 14, 21, and 28 and July 5, 12, and 19. You’ll need a copy of At Home in the World and a notebook or laptop. Our meeting time will be 6:30 p.m. to 8:15 at my home, 4514 Chouteau Avenue in Forest Park Southeast (63110).

Tuition is $135.00. An on-line class will also be available for those interested ($75.00). Email me if you want to join us: markjchmiel@gmail.com.


photo by Jim Forest

Coming Up

Friday 3 March: discussion of Svetlana Alexeievich, Secondhand Time: The Last of the Soviets, with Lori and Helen at Handlebar Restaurant

Saturday 4 March: sharing with sangha on In the Buddha’s Words: An Anthology of Discourses from the Pali Canon at Madalyn’s

Sunday 5 March: Share the Wealth with Tony Albrecht—the case for impeaching Donald Trump—at Savannah and Jessie’s

Wednesday 8 March: Spring Writing Class, Good News Variations, begins at New City School for eight weeks

 

The good news is still that I was able to visit Italy for a four-week honeymoon in 1992

The good news is still that I was able to visit Italy for a four-week honeymoon in 1992

Good News Variations: A Spring Writing Course 2017

Since mid-November, I’ve had exchanges with numerous  people who were consumed with dread at so much bad news in the news.   One afternoon, while walking in the Central West End, I was reminded of a poem by Vietnamese Zen teacher Thich Nhat Hanh that begins:  “The good news they do not print. The good news we do print. We have a special edition every moment, and we need you to read it.”   It occurred to me then that  a gathering of friends focused on these “special editions” would be a constructive use of time and energy.

This spring, join us to read, write, and circulate good news. Each week I will provide short, succinct reflections—from poets, activists, teachers, contemplatives, artists — on this theme and its variations, and we will together come up with writing topics to explore. Each session will provide  time for individual writing, paired exchanges, and a group forum. We will also have a course blog where we can post our writings and discover what others see as good news.

We meet eight consecutive Wednesdays, from March 8 to April 26, from 6:30 p.m. to 8:15 at New City School (5209 Waterman Boulevard 63109). Chris Wallach is hosting us in her first-grade classroom, and the school library may also be an option.  Tuition is $160. Read the rest of this entry »

Epistolary Ecstasy (Love Letters, Notes of Gratitude, Postcards with Brio): An Autumn Writing Class

“Dear God, I am fourteen years old. I am I have always been a good girl.
Maybe you can give me a sign letting me know what is happening to me.”
Alice Walker, The Color Purple

“And none will hear the postman’s knock
Without a quickening of the heart.
For who can bear to feel himself forgotten?”
~W.H. Auden

“Appreciation is the sacrament.”
—Allen Ginsberg

“A letter always seemed to me like immortality because
it is the mind alone without corporeal friend.”
—Emily Dickinson

“A real love letter is made of insight, understanding, and compassion. Otherwise it’s not a love letter. A true love letter can produce a transformation in the other person, and therefore in the world. But before it produces a transformation in the other person, it has to produce a transformation within us. Some letters may take the whole of our lifetime to write.”
—Thich Nhat Hanh

 

I am always delighted when I hear from one of my young friends that she is thrilled to get mail sent to her residence.  Such a grateful person is likely to thrill others by writing  letters to her friends. Read the rest of this entry »

Thank You, Dear Layla Writing Class, Spring 2016

Dear Friends

Thank you for coming to Tower Grove Place
Thank you for listening week after week
Thank you for becoming acquainted with each other
Thank you for meeting up with me, like at Kaldi’s on DeMun
Thank you for making laughter and insight and merriment and for facing woe and affliction
Thank you Patrick and Matthew for Ganesha and the WORLD on the wall and an abundance of Gemütlichkeit
Thank you for reading even two lines of Dear Layla Welcome to Palestine
Thank you first-timers for giving this a go
Thank you old-timers for hanging out again
Thank you for conversations here and around Saint Louis
Thank you for entering into writing silence
Thank you for sharing brilliant pieces (you know who you are)
Thank you for not sharing some pieces, privacy is important
Thank you for keeping it real by giving us snapshots of your one and only life
Thank you for your ambition and your modesty
Thank you for sharing your tears with me
Thank you for yawning
Thank you for your light-heartedness
Thank you for your gravitas
Thank you for teasing me
Thank you for asking advice
Thank you for showing up, saying yes, and enjoying the ride