Hold It All

Philosophy/Poetics/Politics

How to Have Fun

Mev taught me something very important: She taught me that when you go to Ted Drewes you could mix all different kinds of frozen custard flavors together. I would never have dreamed of some of the possibilities she tried. Mev loved ice cream and she loved desserts – the richer the better, the more varied the better.

—Teka Childress, eulogy from 1996; quoted in The Book of Mev

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Gatha for Yoshifuji and Me

Breathing in, we don’t know the future.
Breathing out, we smile.

A Beautiful Kaddish by Andrew Wimmer

I was writing in my Naikan notebook this morning, reflecting on some of what I’ve received from Andrew Wimmer. I remembered his “review” of The Book of Mev, and am happy to share it here.

This book contains multitudes.

Among other things,
 some beautiful faces, a spear through the heart,
Chomsky transformed,
and a bunch of hearts and minds wrapped in a tumor.

This is a book about the untimely death
 of Mev Puleo, a promising photojournalist, 
theologian, and seeker of the truth.

“Blessed are those who mourn.”
And mourn they do.

If you want hagiography, the life of the smiling girl with the camera who goes to Latin America and
 saves everybody, forget it. Read the rest of this entry »

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

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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 »

The Most Precious Treasure

Meditation teacher Eknath Easwaran distinguished between two kinds of  spiritual reading: instruction and inspiration.  While he believes it makes sense to limit your instructions to one teacher/lineage/path, you can fruitfully read from all religious traditions for inspiration.

In that spirit, I  offer gleanings from three Japanese Zen teachers I’ve recently encountered.  Perhaps one of these passages will speak to you…

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By meeting what you are faced with right now, though, in this very instant, completely without judgment or evaluation, you can transcend by far all question of cause and effect. You may be working in the kitchen or sweeping the garden or cleaning the toilet or laboring for somebody else, but you do it without consideration of its relative merit. That means simple doing with all your might, becoming one with whatever situation in which you find yourself in this instant. I would like for you to clearly know that there is this other way of living your life.

To believe in  your teacher, in your seniors, in the tradition, is in other words, to believe in yourself. You must puzzle out your unripeness.

Again and again I returned to the take-off point; over and over I reiterated my original resolve. I believe that courage is upholding what you have once decided to do and enduring all troubles encountered along the way. To sustain and carry out that original intention—just this, in itself—is real courage. Read the rest of this entry »

“I’ll Never Know, in the Silence You Don’t Know, You Must Go On, I Can’t Go On, I’ll Go On”

Working on a kind of sequel to Dear Layla Welcome to Palestine, I am imagining a character named Bella Levenshteyn, who in her twenties devotes herself to learning Yiddish, the language of her ancestors.  At one point, she confides to Perry that she once went on a  five-week reading binge of the essays, poems, articles, and reviews by  Yankev Glatshteyn, the foremost U.S.Yiddish writer in the middle of the 20th century.

I’ve been reading several recent works of scholarship on that period, and found some stimulating provocations in Anita Norich’s work, Discovering Exile:  Yiddish and Jewish American Culture during the Holocaust.

The following  passages may inform, or work themselves—somehow— into my story.

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People are quite familiar with the conventional label for the Nazi genocide of the Jews, “the Holocaust.”  Norich considers the period well before that word assumed its ascendancy: “Under increasing pressure of news from the war front and silence from home, Yiddish writers re-imagined modernism, the Enlightenment, political engagement, literary conventions, and symbolic language.  The destruction of European Jewry was called by its Yiddish name, khurbn, before it was known as the Holocaust, before the numbers of dead were revealed, even before the concentration camps were built. What Yiddish-speaking Jews meant by khurbn … was a long history of disasters into which the rise of Hitler, the Nuremberg Laws, Kristallnacht, and a host of other disastrous events could fit.  The particularities of Nazism’s rise were not, at the time, perceived as unique, unparalleled, or apocalyptic by the people against whom they were directed.” Read the rest of this entry »

“I Want to Write a Song Like Dylan…”*

November 1987 I attended the world premiere of Louisville band Led Pelvis in Lexington, Kentucky.

Led pelvis

*from “Country Metal”

Saturday 7 October– Share the Wealth with Laura Lapinski: The Films of Wes Anderson

Laura Lapinski, a graduate student in psychology at SIUE, is doing her Share the Wealth on film director Wes Anderson this Saturday. For those interested in joining us, here’s some background from Laura…

Wes Anderson is an American film writer and director. I find him truly unique and remarkable. His individual style is exclusive for a few reasons. One main difference is the cinematography style Anderson uses. To move from scene to scene, he transitions by actually moving the camera directly into the next scene. Its a simple thing yet so original. Wes Anderson movies are aggressively quirky. This is my one of my favorite things about them. The aesthetic involved in each film is similar and unmistakable. The films somehow give off a vintage and modern vibe at the same time.

To me the absolute best thing about Wes Andersons films are the characters. All of the protagonists and most of the supporting characters in any given Wes film are a work of genius. Every one being a specifically strange yet endearing person. These characters are so special and you can’t help but wish they were real and you could track them down. I have been asked many times how to categorize a Wes Anderson film and the truth is I can’t. They are simply in a caliber all their own. In my book, each film could fall into at least two or more genres. Below I have included some suggestions with examples of themes for perusing. You could choose to check one or multiple out before October although I highly recommend watching them all at some point in your life. Read the rest of this entry »

Yiddish Writers/5

I have often felt the instead of writing my autobiography I would like to write the biography of my poems. I mean, tell the life story of some of my poems…

–H. Leivick

Thirty Years Ago

Mev, roof of Jesuit Hall, SLU, circa 1987, photo by John Kavanaugh