Hold It All

Tag: The Book of Mev

Festival of Kissing, Festival of Touching

Eduardo Galeano, The Book of Embraces

Marginalia and Notes, February 2001

I read this book because, like Arenas’s The Color of Summer, it exemplifies a style and structure that I wish to adapt for my second book: short, compressed, packed chapters, thematically linked over the course of the book by numbers, with ample illustrations, mixing autobiography, journalism, “theology,” history, lyricism.

Addition to Jack Kerouac, shorter, the better. Consider, fracturing further currently long chapters.

A part of me died with him. A part of him lives with me. [What for a dedication page?]

Think of all the words I can include, with examples, in my Lexicon chapters.

Depending on layout and format, consider using little photos (of Mev, even) .

Tell my story; no, tell your story.

Do some chapters, like his The Function of the Reader, on “Reading.”

NB: keep the chapters short. 23

Chapter: Voice. And, Voiceless. Check synonyms. Read the rest of this entry »


This Pilgrimage of the Heart

I first read the seven volumes of Marcel Proust’s In Search of Lost Time spring through autumn of 1997.  A couple of years later, I read the collection of Proust’s essays in On Art & Literature: 1896-1919. Looking back over my notes on the text, I can see how significant Proust was for me in the two works (Mev, Layla)  that came after my Elie Wiesel book, on which I was  working at the time of this reading.  I was particularly drawn to Proust’s criticism of the French critic Sainte-Beuve.

Should I make it a novel, or a philosophical study — am I a novelist?

Every day I set less store on intellect.

And if intellect only ranks second in the hierarchy of virtues, intellect alone is able to proclaim that the first place must be given to instinct.

At the same time I put myself in tune with those other realities for which solitude whets the appetite, and whose possibility, whose reality, gives a value to life:  the women one does not know.

[Sainte-Beuve’s method] ignores what a very slight degree of self-acquaintance teaches us:  that a book is the product of  a different self from the self we manifest in our habits, in our social life, in our vices.  If we would try to understand that particular self, it is by searching  our own bosoms, and trying to reconstruct it there, that we may arrive at it.  Nothing can exempt us from this pilgrimage of the heart.

One regards oneself as no more than the trustee, who from one moment to the next may disappear, of an intellectual hoard which will disappear with him; and one would like to say check to one’s previous idleness or force of inertia by obeying that noble commandment of Christ’s in the Gospel of Saint John:  Work while ye have the light.” Read the rest of this entry »

Today’s Mail: From Rob Trousdale

From the Archives: Hello from Camden!

Hey Dr. Chmiel! Hope the new school year is treating you well! I thought of you the other day because I was perusing my bookcase (which, by the way, I’m doing JVC in Camden, NJ this year, so we have a stocked bookcase of a bagillion different cool books) and I came across Faces of Poverty with the wonderful Mev Puleo as its photographer! It made me really excited because as I was reading The Book of Mev, I had always wanted to see the book that she had worked on… Anyway, just thought I’d let you know that Mev has a presence in Camden! (It was also cool to see that one of the pictures she took was in Camden! It’s the one with the two billboards, one of Virginia Slims and the other about praying…)

Have a good weekend!!

Stephanie Kirvus

Dear Isabel (Letter/7)

Friday 26 June 2015

Dear Isabel

Happy Friday, you’ve finished one week at the new job.

Page 8, top paragraph 

I take back what I said yesterday about boycotting the word “solidarity.”  That first sentence should be tweeted world-wide.  Well expressed.

Page 8, paragraph 2

Solidarity is analogous to a committed relationship; sure, both are “rife with potential for violating the dignity of those [communities or significant others]” we yearn to “join” and  honor.

How and when did you “join” specific Salvadoran communities when you lived there?  Was there a rite of passage, was it official, informal, no big deal?  Was it acknowledged by one particular person or a whole group?

Also, could you join those communities at a distance, say, when you were at grad school? I remember a Buddhist referring to her “floating transnational sangha.”  Or were you objectively and subjectively already part of such communities WHILE YOU WERE IN GRAD SCHOOL?

Agnes Heller, a European philosopher had an essay on civic virtues I read back in the 1990s.  Some short excerpts (she’s secular; it may  be that—still— solidarity in Salvador has a faint (or full) religious tint to it):

There are two kinds— in-group and universal fellow-feeling.

Solidarity = “a readiness to translate the feeling of brotherliness and sisterliness  into acts of support for those groups, movements or other collectivities which are intent on reducing the level of violence, domination or force in political and social institutions.”

“The virtue of solidarity thus defined, does not include unqualified support for the in-group (nor for that matter, any other group or movement); rather it excludes unqualified support.”

“Practicing the virtue of solidarity requires a gesture of active help.  Whenever someone we are familiar with becomes the victim of domination, violence, force or injustice of any kind, we must lend our support to the cause of the victim with civic courage.  Indeed, we must do even more:  we have to stand by the victim with advice, and give the persecuted shelter against the persecutors in a gesture of solidarity.  Those who fail to lend such support fall short of all that the virtue of solidarity implies.  Solidarity is a virtue which pertain to the quality of life to the same extent as radical tolerance or civic courage are.”

Can you easily name (not for me, but for yourself) some times when you overstepped your bounds in the communities you are connected to by solidarity?  Again, we fail in our committed relationships in countless ways both “subtle” and overt.  That’s why, in Book of Mev,  I mentioned in Part Two that people who wanted “to help out” at our home had to be willing to fuck up— a lot—if they wanted to be part of that scene (where, to quote you from earlier in the letter, “… because vulnerability is easier if every day feels like the last. — or like it’s a last for someone.”)  Fucking up is ordinary, not to say we should be lackadaisical; in a situation like Salvador, with linguistic, cultural, and social differences, fucking up would be as frequent as the number of cigarettes the baddest-ass activist smokes in a day.

I received a hardback and paperback of Dear Layla in today’s mail. Saw on Amazon that the e-book is available.

Let’s be the solidarity we wish to see in the world.



Ann M 1993

Ann Manganaro, SL and colleagues; Guarjila Clinic; El Salvador; January 1993

photo by Mev Puleo

Dear Isabel (Letter/1)

Saturday 20 June 2015

Dear Isabel

What an honor to receive your letter.

It could be published AS IS on a blog.

You could give it as A TED Talk. (18 minutes!) Read the rest of this entry »

Photography as a Way of Life

for Oliver, Cami, and Julie

Sebastião Salgado, From my Land to the Planet
Contrasto, 2014


I first heard the name of Sebastião Salgado from Mev in the early 1990s.  She esteemed him more than any other living photographer, as he embodied  a secular “preferential option for the poor.”  Mev wished to  make a similar option, precisely as a photo-journalist and theology student.  The Struggle is One, her book about the liberationist church in Brazil (Salgado’s homeland),  was one expression of her commitment.

Given your interest in and commitment to photography, I wanted to share a bit with you from Salgado’s recent autobiography, From my Land to the Planet.  The book was put together by Isabelle Francq, who interviewed Salgado during a very busy period of his life.  The book necessarily goes into much greater detail than what is suggested in Mev’s interview with him from 1993, which is one of the “Seeing the World” chapters in The Book of Mev. I think you will find a lot in this book that stimulates your imagination and photographic praxis.

Salgado and his girlfriend Lelia became politically involved in the days of the Brazilian military dictatorship (her uncle was a founder of the Brazilian Communist Party).  But as things heated up there,  they choose to leave the country for France. Salgado was trained early on as an economist.  But he grew to love the adventure of taking photographs much more than writing detailed reports on countries  like Rwanda, Kenya and Uganda. The couple, eventually to marry,  used their savings to invest in the best possible photographic equipment.   He began to see this work  less as being journalistically au courant and more as investing time to listen to  people and community’s “long-term stories.”

This is one of the aspects of Salgado’s work that most impressed Mev:  His willingness to be immersed in the communities where he was taking photos.  He reflected on this path:  “Totally integrated with his surroundings, the photographer knows that he is going to witness something unexpected. When he merges into the landscape, into that particular situation, the construction of the image eventually emerges before his eyes. But in order to see it, he has to be part of what is happening. Then, all the elements will start to play in his favor.”   He lived for a year and a half in the Sahel during the famine.  He got to know the people through the organizations working with them.  This reminded me of how Mev would make connections with the local Catholic church (and Maryknoll Missionaries), say, in Brazil, and through them meet people and become familiar with their struggles. Read the rest of this entry »

Email from Jaime in El Salvador

I have an internship in El Salvador this summer and was visiting the Casa during the beatification of Romero. The house was full of The Struggle is One books and I met a Nicaraguan volunteer who was very familiar with The Book of Mev.

“Be in Love with Yr Life”*: A Spring Writing Course

Like Sontag and Beseda, many of us are tempted to be intolerant of the ambiguity and intimidated by the risks of photography and other art forms.  Ultimately, I believe we are most daunted by the mystery, the question, the possibility:  “It could be us.”  Through my own photography I strive to bridge the distant worlds of our small globe.  I contemplate the mystery:  It is us.
–Mev Puleo

This spring will mark ten years since The Book of Mev was published.  Over the years I’ve been gratified by the responses to that story, from people I’ve known a long time and those I just met. It appears the book has encouraged some people on different aspects of their journeys.

I’ve often noticed  how many readers recognize themselves in Mev’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.”

For this spring’s writing class, I invite you to read (or reread) and write off of stories, themes, and questions from The Book of Mev. Read the rest of this entry »

Taking Sides

Carol, you posted, “Alas, Mark, must we always ‘Take sides’–or is there a middle way?”

You know the Buddha would say there’s a middle way, for sure.

You saw what Dom Pedro did, no “ifs, ands or buts,” he took sides with the exploited against the exploiters.

Thich Nhat Hanh says not to take sides, but help each side see the suffering of the other side. Although when he was living in Vietnam, he and his School of Youth for Social Service did take the side of the war victims in the South, they even distributed peace literature (his poems), which were seen as subversive by the government of South Vietnam. Some of the Buddhists protested the repression and violence of the U.S.-backed Saigon governments, other Buddhists didn’t.

Desmond Tutu said, “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality.”

Regarding the issue of “always ” taking a side, Fr. Daniel Berrigan said, “What you understand depends on where you stand.”  We can only stand in so many places, understand only so many situations.  We’re limited that way, but these experiences (and relationships) can open us, can even challenge us to gain greater clarity.  So, for example, I am sure you have heard–because you have been friends and have stood with and by her–many stories from Nadia about what systematic oppression the Palestinians have faced for decades at the hands of Israel, with strong U.S. backing. I suspect she would agree strongly with Archbishop Tutu: Palestinians wouldn’t appreciate our neutrality, when they are being dispossessed, bombed to smithereens, and denied their most elementary rights.

We each always have 24 hours a day to apportion among many valuable aspects of our personal and collective lives.  The prophetic tradition, out of which Dom Pedro, Archbishop Tutu, and Fr. Berrigan come, typically disturbs our peace with how we usually allocate those hours.  But then Thich Nhat Hanh would  say if you’re going to work for peace, you have to be peace.

Last thing I’ll mention: In The Book of Mev, I included two chapters on sitting: one on the need to sit still (Thich Nhat Hanh) and the other on the need not to sit still, given the state of the world (the prophetic, via George Steiner).  We each have to figure out this balance of sitting still (being peace) and not sitting still (when others are suffering).