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Philosophy/Poetics/Politics

Category: Courses

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 »

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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 »

“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 »

Writing Practice in Haiti, 2010

Occasionally, Sara Rendell asks me for some writing topics for her to take off on.  Thus, the following  email…

Tuesday 3 August 2010

Dear Sara,

Try these!

Looking at the moon at night in Haiti
What my papa was thinking when he was 19
My amazing mind
The most obsessed Haitian I’ve met is…
Lately, I’ve been worn out by______________________
Daily revelations
Kissing changes everything
I might write a book about Haiti…
It’s impossible to put Haitians on a pedestal because…
Marcel Proust: “There are perhaps no days of our childhood we lived so fully as those we believe we let slip by without having lived them, those we spent with a favorite book.” Comment…
2 projects I want to finish by 2011
3 questions I now want to ask my mama
4 people from here I’ll always remember with fondness
5 sentences in appreciation of Sean
Do I have one big passion? Or several smaller passions?
Do I need to be needed?
New habits I’ve developed since being in Haiti
I feel most powerful when…
Five things my parents did right

Dr C

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

“The one good thing about not seeing you is that I can write you letters.”
~Svetlana Alliluyeva

“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 »

A Proposal from Marilyn

Marilyn Vazquez
Dr. Chmiel
Western Culture
16 September 2016
Empathy Practicum

After considering what suffering concerns me most, I decided to center my Empathy Practicum on the struggles of the undocumented Hispanic and Latino population in the surrounding areas. I attended meetings for many clubs and organizations but the Latino Student Alliance (LSA) spoke to me personally because I am also undocumented. My practicum will focus on two key issues the undocumented population face: education and healthcare.
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