What is genius but the faculty of seizing and turning to account everything that strikes us? … The greatest genius will never be worth much if he pretends to draw exclusively from his own resources…. Every one of my writings has been furnished to me by a thousand different persons, a thousand different things.
In the last couple of years, I have found myself asking two simple questions, Why do we read? Why do we write? One context for this curiosity is my facilitating classes of writing and reading, in homes and on-line. If you, too, want or need to engage in such self-examination, I recommend biographer Robert D. Richardson’s First We Read, Then We Write: Emerson on the Creative Process. You may find your own riches, as I have in what follows…
RDR: He glanced at thousands of books. He read carefully many hundreds that caught his attention. He returned over and over to a favorite few, including Montaigne, Plutarch, Plato, Plotinus, Goethe, de Stael, and Wordsworth.
RWE: It seemed to me as if I had written [Montaigne’s Essays] myself in some former life. … No book before or since was ever so much to me as that.
RWE: Each of the books I read invades me, displaces me. Read the rest of this entry »
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 »
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 »
Samuel Beckett’s novel, Murphy,
sold exactly six copies
in its first year of publication.
adapted, Eliot Weinberger, Written Reaction
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.”  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. 
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.”  I never tire of mentioning the exuberant text along these lines, Joe Brainard’s I Remember. Read the rest of this entry »
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: firstname.lastname@example.org.
I first read this in August 2005, a seed
Dear Layla came out in 2015, fruit
That is why I want to use short chapters, each with verselike heading, and very many such chapters; slowly, deeply, moodily unfolding the moody story and its long outreaching voyage into strange space. And to run up a pace of such short chapters till they are like a string of pearls. Not a river-like novel; but a novel like poetry, or rather, a narrative poem, an epos in mosaic, a Kind of Arabesque preoccupation…free to wander from the laws of the “novel” as laid down by Austens and Fieldings into an area of greater spiritual pith (which cannot be reached without this technical device, for me, anyway) where the Wm. Blakes and Melvilles and even spotty, short-chaptered Celine, dwell.
Jack Kerouac, Windblown World:Journals 1947-1951, edited by Douglas Brinkley
Yesterday I was rereading Chilean poet Nicanor Parra’s After-Dinner Declarations, which I first read in 2013, and came across this page with my scribbles:
In Dear Layla Welcome to Palestine, these scribbles became this chapter:
Postcard from Gaza/1
I’d rather be preoccupied with your daily routine
Than be occupied with this occupation
At least for ten minutes
Write me when you have a second
Tell me the names of the bones I use
In the process of writing you this postcard