Hold It All


Category: Courses

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

Writing En Plein Air

Have you longed for the chance to sit outside and write while listening to the birds, smelling the sweetness of the grass and blooming trees, watching the beauty of the dancing trees, and feeling the warmth of the sun?  

Experience the joy of writing in the spirit of Mary Oliver, while surrounded by the beauty of our natural world during a class being hosted by Annie Fitzgerald and Chris Wallach.  During each class, time will be spent reading, writing, and sharing poetry outside.

 The Details:

-Four consecutive Saturdays:  Sept. 10, 17, 24, & Oct. 1

-Meeting from 2:00p to 4:00 pm with tea and snacks

-Chris W’s farm: 5 East Lake Rd.  Fenton, MO 63026  (a thirty minute drive from the city)

-Bring a notebook and pen for writing

-Tuition is $40 for 4 classes, or $12 for one class

-RSVP to Chris Wallach: cwallach@newcityschool.org  or Annie Fitzgerald: annmariefitzgerald@gmail.com  before the first class on September 10th.

Fenton Farmhouse Road


I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
With your one wild and precious life?

–Mary Oliver, from “The Summer Day”

Writing Rejuvenation–Summer 2016 Course

People tell you how much they like your writing, or how funny you are, or what rich experiences you’ve had.  But you often don’t see it that way.  You may feel stuck. Or you’re addicted to “shoulds.”  Or  self-doubt rules the day (and night). Or you start writing but forget about it after a couple of days.

I can relate.   It took me years of  befriending chaos while generating  hundreds of pages before I was able to revision, shape, edit, and, eventually,  publish a novel,  Dear Layla Welcome to Palestine.

I look back on those years with gratitude, as I encountered many writers who provided help along the path.  In this class, I want to pass on some of the  methods, practices, advice, themes and experiments I learned from writers such as Anne Waldman, Diane di Prima,  Ernesto Cardenal, Thich Nhat Hanh, and Ed Sanders (to name several). We’ll consider inspiration, collage, investigative poetics, correspondence, interviews, rants, prophetic interventions, slogans & precepts, remembrance of things past,  and more!

Each class session will have a theme, practices,  exercises and plenty of time to be quiet, write, listen, engage, and share.  You can use the class to jump-start an on-going writing practice, or  to re-commit to a project that you once wanted to send out into the world. Both locals and online participants can contribute to a class blog. Read the rest of this entry »

“Be in Love with Yr Life”*: A Spring On-Line Writing Course with The Book of Mev

It’s a book about living and loving and losing and being human through
all of it—thank you for helping me accept more of my own humanity.
Cami Kasmerchak

I’ve often noticed  how many readers recognize themselves in Mev Puleo’s words, say, from her letters and journals.  I’m reminded 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 on-line writing class, I invite you to read (or reread) and write off of stories, themes, and questions from The Book of Mev.

I hope that engagement with this particular text may give you insight and encouragement on a writing project you’re in the middle of or one you’ve long wanted to start.  It could be a series of letters to someone, a blog, a long and rambling essay,  a one-act play, a chapbook of poems about life in Wauwatosa.  You know what is inside you calling for more attention.

We’ll explore topics like being present, community, accompaniment, faith, spirituality, the state of the world, the state of our soul,  friends, mentors, teachers, creative arts (e.g., photography), travel, breakdowns, breakthroughs, solidarity, illness, celebrating, grieving, letting go, poetry, El Salvador, Palestine, Haiti, schools, gospels, letter-writing, gratitude, bearing witness, and much else.

Here are the specifics:

How Often: 8 weeks

Start and Stop: Monday 11 April-Monday 30 May

How Much: 60-75 minutes a week, more if you have the energy Read the rest of this entry »

Dear Isabel (Letter/2)

Sunday 21 June 2015

Dear Isabel

Page 2, paragraph 1

About your “fear of rejection”:  Do you have a “fear of attraction” as well?  I wonder how many people fell in love with you in the Big City in the last two years, or had mild (or obsessive) crushes on you.  Same for Central America.  Not that such a fear would be better than that of rejection, but I suspect there are qualities in you that others are drawn to, fairly consistently.  Am I wrong?

Don’t you have some of the BEST FRIENDS around?  Here’s an assignment YOU’LL NEVER FOLLOW THROUGH ON—1. Select five of your dearest friends; 2. ask each to email or text you five of your most wonderful traits; 3. give them a deadline; 4.  Collect and send to me for my archive.  But you can then regularly review  the list of 25 perceptions of your magical ways from those who are unabashedly biased  in their love for you.

Sure, all writers imitate other writers and as time passes we forget just how much we are indebted to them, because we’ve  internalized them, or what was good about their writing. In Dear Layla, Layla early on presents the “reading list” of books for her and the professor to read together; all the poetry ones she mentions are the works that the narrator gradually comes to assimilate so that the letter she reads has been shaped and informed, more or less, by said poets (Cardenal, obviously). Read the rest of this entry »