Hold It All

Category: Writing

Something I Had in Common with Philip Roth

As I sat there and watched him struggle to go on living, I tried to focus on what the tumor had done with him already. This wasn’t difficult, given that he looked on that stretcher as though by then he’d been through a hundred rounds with Joe Louis. I thought about the misery that was sure to come, provided he could even be kept alive on a respirator. I saw it all, all, and yet I had to sit there a very long time before I leaned as close to him as I could get and, with my lips to his sunken, ruined face, found it in me finally to whisper, “Dad, I’m going to have to let you go.” He’d been unconscious for several hours and couldn’t hear me, but, shocked, amazed, and weeping, I repeated it to him again and then again, until I believed it myself.

After that, all I could do was to follow his stretcher up to the room where they put him and sit by the bedside. Dying is work and he was a worker. Dying is horrible and my father was dying. I held his hand, which at least still felt like a hand; I stroked his forehead, which at least still looked like his forehead; and I said to him all sorts of things that he could no longer register. Luckily, there wasn’t anything I told him that morning that he didn’t already know.

–Philip Roth, Patrimony

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A Sangha with Tu Fu, Milarepa, Lady Murasaki, Li Ching-chao, Basho, and Jack Kerouac,

Anne Waldman and Andrew Schelling, editors, Disembodied Poetics:  Annals of the Jack Kerouac School

Rereading this collection  after many years, I’m struck by the following perspectives from various writers I noted then and that still rev me up now …

Until you assert yourself nothing ever happens to you.
Jack Kerouac

This underground vehicle [along with local, cosmopolitan, and diamond vehicles in Buddhism] has equipped itself to trade in marketplaces across the planet. Its riders include Tu Fu, Milarepa, Lady Murasaki, Li Ching-chao, Basho, and Jack Kerouac. It is a night-wandering caravan, loaded down with strange and desirable goods, the goods of Poetry, and it picks its way along the treacherous trade routes of History, generously alert to the perils and needs of our own epoch. One could call it by a Sanskrit term, kavyayana—the Poetry Vehicle. Here the gospel lyric comes to mind—You don’t need no ticket, you just get on board.
Andrew Schelling

There is perhaps the poet’s Bodhisattva vow: to be a bridge, a boat, a fountain pen, a typewriter, a publisher, a school to anyone who has need of these “vehicles”—not personally, mind you, that it’s my particular style bridge, made in my image, my brand of typewriter of poetry.
Anne Waldman Read the rest of this entry »

Three Questions

Gregg Krech, Naikan: Gratitude, Grace,  and the Japanese Art of Self-Reflection (Stone Bridge Press, 2001)

I learned of Naikan through consulting the bibliography of Patricia Ryan Madson’s book, Improv Wisdom.  Therein, she cited books on Constructive Living by  David K. Reynolds, and Gregg Krech’s manual on this “Japanese art of self-reflection,” which was the brainchild of Ishin Yoshimoto.

On retreats in Japan, one is encouraged to answer three questions about the most important people in our lives, typically beginning with one’s mother:
What have I received from my mother?
What have I given my mother?
What troubles and difficulties have I caused my mother?
The aim is to be factual, detailed and specific as possible in addressing the questions. Read the rest of this entry »

Like Staying up All Night with Your Best Friend

Allen Ginsberg, Allen Verbatim: Lectures on Poetry, Politics, Consciousness, edited by Gordon Ball

There are many influences that went into my creating Dear Layla Welcome to Palestine, and Allen Ginsberg was a major one. Here are quotations from reading Allen Verbatim in 2006, with my comments relating to subsequent Dear Layla project in brackets…

So what I do is try to forget entirely about the whole world of art and just get directly to the most economical—that is, the fastest, not most economical—the fastest and most direct expression of want it is I got in heart-mind. 107 [The chapters in novel are certainly economical!]

Start with what you desire, heart, instead of what you think you are supposed to do. 124 [E. once told me after she received my correspondence, “That’s the best love letter I’ve ever received.” That became the end of the novel many years later.]

… in which the prose sentence is completely personal, comes from the writer’s own person—his person defined as his body, his breathing rhythm, his actual talk. 153 [This is why this book of correspondences worked best for me.] Read the rest of this entry »

To Contend, To Enliven, To Distance, To Advocate, To Investigate, To Rally, To Prioritize, To Surprise

I’ve read Anne Waldman since 2001 (Fast Speaking Woman: Chants and Essays got me started). Her epics, poems, interviews, and edited anthologies (from the Kerouac School at Naropa) have stimulate and open up possibilities. One of her most engaging books is OUTRIDER: Poems, Essays, Interviews. For you, friends in the writing sangha, I offer the following passages:  May one or more of these be a goad, an encouragement, an invitation.

Worry the essential library. Write what you would want to read. Utopian poetics, what you want to read. 15

A good idea: Contemplative education. Non-competitive education. 17

Maker of books she might be. Maker of schools. 23

Encourage street corner culture. What happens below the radar. 27

Nowhere to go again but the library. 29

To contend, to enliven, to distance, to advocate, to investigate, to rally, to prioritize, to surprise. 31

To vocalize. To mouth the impossible. 31

I have declared in one manifesto, a writing beyond gender, and have tried to inspire a poet’s Bodhisattva Vow, in which one becomes a bridge, a path, a shelter, whatever is required, for others. And one reads and studies and performs… for the benefit of others. 46 Read the rest of this entry »

Congratulations to Jason Makansi!

Friends, I highly recommend Jason’s novel–here’s a blurb I wrote for it…  “Religious texts aver that to save one life is akin to saving the entire world. The beauty of Jason Makansi’s novel is in its intricate depiction of the coming together of three people to save a fourth. Taking the reader from Syria to Guantanamo to the American Midwest, The Moment Before is an extended meditation on friendship and fidelity amid the United States government’s ongoing war on terrorism.”

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 »

“True Happiness and Joy”

Egyptian novelist Naguib Mahfouz received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1988.  He was the author of 40 novels, 350 short stories, and five plays.  When I was in Palestine in 2003, I would read his Cairo Trilogy at night.  Much later, when we were reading Arab Writers in Translation during and after the Arab Spring, we read his short novel, Karnak Café.

An interesting introduction to Mahfouz can be found in Mohamed Salmawy’s collection,  Naguib Mahfouz at Sidi Gaber:  Reflections of a Nobel Laureate, 1994-2001 (American University in Cairo Press, 2004).  I recently completed a class during which we discussed the relationships among reading, remembering, and writing.  One old-fashioned practice  is keeping a commonplace book of significant excepts from one’s reading.  The following passages from Salmawy and Mahfouz’s exchanges now make their way into my commonplace book, to serve as reminder, inspiration, and goad.

____________________

I have read voraciously throughout my life. Every time I was interested in a subject – and my interests were always diverse – I would read everything I could lay my hands on, however remotely related. I would go to the National Library to read the classics, and regularly frequented the bookstores that sold works in modern literature. I read novels, of course, but also history, philosophy, politics, science…. Human curiosity is limitless, but one life is nowhere near enough to satisfy it.  12

“Writing” – expressing my ideas and thoughts – is, for me, the moment when the ink begins to flow through the pen and onto the paper. I know of no other way.  20  Read the rest of this entry »

Three Hours in the Morning

In Talking with Sartre, U.S. professor John Gerassi explores a fascinating range of subjects with the French intellectual, writer, and activist.  At the book’s conclusion, Gerassi writes, “What we must do instead, he said, is commit ourselves over and over again. No act is pure. All acts are choices, which alienate some. No one can live without dirty hands. To be simply opposed is also to be responsible for not being in favor, for not advocating change. To fall back on the proposition that human actions are predetermined is to renounce mankind. No writer can accept the totalitarianism implied by ‘human nature.’ If he writes, he wants to change the world—and himself. Writing is an act. It is commitment.”   Throughout,  I became particularly intrigued by Sartre’s musings and reflections on the writing life…

Projects don’t exclude death—projects are the antithesis of death. That’s an important difference. The project is an act. Writing is an act. My projects right now: the next part of CDR. Then I think I want to write my political testament.  16

I never changed in my being: I am what I am and write. 30

Once one decides to be a writer, one’s conception of life, one’s whole being changes. … travel, experience as many different circumstances as possible. Go into every world. Go see how the pimps live in Constantinople. Why Constantinople? There are pimps right here, around the corner. Because travel, experience, give a richness to the writing. All adventures help, including sexual adventures, love, et cetera….A writer has to choose the false against the true. When you decided to be a writer, you couldn’t make that choice because you wanted a revolution, you worked for a revolution. I was nothing but what I wrote. You had a goal. I was my goal. 34 Read the rest of this entry »

When It Comes to My Novel, Dear Layla Welcome to Palestine, Elie Wiesel Took the Words Right out of My Mouth

I no longer see literature as an art or entertainment. For me literature must fulfill a certain mission in categories of history and justice. Literature is the art of correcting injustices. If there is nothing else I can do, I write a book. This is precisely the task of the witness today, of the modern storyteller, of the Jewish writer. We use words to try to alter the course of events, to save people from humiliation or death.

–Elie Wiesel, Against Silence, edited by Irving Abrahamson, v. 3, p. 116