Hold It All

Category: Writing

Share the Wealth with Linsey Stevens: Iphelia and Editing with the Gift of Feeling

What kind of work would you wake up in a hospital bed eager to do?
And how is editing like being a doula?

The first question is one I answered back in the fall of 2015. That summer, my husband and I had settled into first-time home ownership and I’d “leveled up” professionally, having moved from the Department of Social Services, where I’d been a Family Support caseworker, to Mercy, where I was hired on as a patient benefit and Medicaid advisor. My career seemed to be opening up before me and everything looked good on paper. But I was miserable. I was physically sick every day at work and I was unhappy even when I got home. I felt trapped in my life and was disappointed that I wasn’t shaping up to be the great social servant or public educator I was sure I should be.

I resigned from Mercy and went to work part-part time teaching children’s swim lessons. Like so many creators, I started side hustling: writing and editing for peanuts through a site called Upwork. Amidst the uncertainty, I realized I’d happily wake up in a hospital bed, ask for my laptop, and dive into editing another person’s writing. I’d found a professional passion and was ready to move on from the rescuer narrative that I had to be sacrificing myself in a certain setting to help others or assume my place in the world.

Over the last three years my journey as an editor, creator, and human being has unfolded in sometimes bumpy, but also fantastic ways. As doors have opened (more on that Sunday) so have windows—and my heart and mind. I’ve developed a close working relationship with Erick French, LCSW, author and illustrator of Iphelia: Awakening the Gift of Feeling and have been editing full time for HealthyWay Media, a women’s lifestyle and wellness brand, for over a year. Read the rest of this entry »

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Not a River-Like Novel; But a Novel Like Poetry, or Rather, a Narrative Poem, an Epos in Mosaic, a Kind of Arabesque Preoccupation

Over the weekend Lindsey asked me some questions about my writing process (such as, How long did it take you to write Book of Mev? Did you always know what the structure would be? How did you know when you stumbled upon the right form?). Naturally, I thought of Jack Kerouac’s line, “Something that you feel will find its own form.”

I also went back to Jack’s early journals, collected in Windblown World: Journals 1947-1951 (edited by Douglas Brinkley), which I first read a few months after the Mev book came out. Just today, I was revisiting Emerson, who wrote, “For only that book can we read which relates to me something that is already in my mind.” Here are some excerpts from the young Jack, which intrigued me and had illumined some things in my own mind back then and still do, in the present…

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This means seven months of ascetic gloom and labor—although doubt is no longer my devil, just sadness now. I think I will get this immense work done much sooner this way, to face up to it and finish it. 7

Look at your own work and say, ‘This is a novel after my own heart!’ Because that’s what it is anyway, and that’s the point—it’s worry that must be eliminated for the sake of individual force. 10

I wish I had the mental energy of ten great novelists! Or devise some way to get ‘the most out of myself,’ as Goethe did, without breaking down (as Goethe did) or without excessive asceticism leading to a blurring of impressions. 31

I say to these critics: ‘Don’t be assholes all your life.’ 34 Read the rest of this entry »

Gratitude for Demun Share the Wealth Writing Class

As the summer Share the Wealth Writing Class on Demun winds down, gratitude is, once again, an appropriate theme for meditation (quotations with page number are from Robert A. Emmons, Gratitude Works!).

“A French proverb states that gratitude is the memory of the heart ….Do you want to be a grateful person? Then remember to remember.” x

At the vibrant age of 49, Jenny has countless experiences-to-be-remembered-into poems ahead of her.

“Expect nothing, appreciate everything.” 21

The beauty of paintings and photos, the haimish spaciousness, all the windows, ah, the generosity of Marty and Jerry to open their home to us! Read the rest of this entry »

That Glow, That Yes!

Natalie Goldberg, Thunder and Lightning: Cracking Open the Writer’s Craft
30 September 2000

It’s clear to me today, anyway, that my Holy Contour of Life book will be a structure like Natalie’s: short, compressed, easy to read and reread, straightforward. I can continue to play with this. Because having “finished” the new version (how many versions have I had???) in which I fractured chronology, now it seems too disjointed and contrived, so I want to break it up further, maybe chronologically, but just keep it to two pages max.

Commentaries, yes, but creatively done, maybe with lists, found shit, short portions of letters (like mine to Peter Pfersick), journals, and articles. Weave them together. Like on riches and poverty: Set it up, find one quotation from GG interview, then one from Sobrino interview, then add a further comment, then use the photos.

Here in Thunder and Lightning, Natalie is still giving her Zen advice on writing as a spiritual practice … Writing Down the Bones, III (After Wild Mind being Bones II). She’s found what works for her, she’s just giving good advice coming out of her own vulnerable, wise experiences as a writer, a meditator, a slow walker, a Jew, a neurotic. “What if Natalie Goldberg were one of us? Just a shmo like one of us?”

And I read this, quelle surprise, only for insight on how to keep going with Book of Mev, Holy Contour of Life, My Fucking Memoir, whatever it’s to be entitled. And this book moves beyond writing practice to structure, craft, finishing a project. So what I note below may be useful in this process:
Read the rest of this entry »

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

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.”