by Cami Kasmerchak
I want nothing to do with you. I throw off your constrictive, binding shackles in order to pursue a fuller life. A life worth living. A life worth losing. I don’t want your fat steady paychecks or white picket fences. You can keep your stability and predictability and I’ll take my adventure and purposefulness. Come after me with worry and I’ll explain that you only need to worry if you won’t let me go. Then you can worry.
Clip the wings of a bird because you’re afraid it’ll fly away and won’t come back, and you’ll never know how high it can soar. Deny it of its inherent need to fly and it will forever resent you. Put it in a cage, tell it it’s pretty, and only take it out when it’s convenient and it will never sing for you.
Safety, do not mistake my rejection of you as a fleeting infatuation with recklessness. No, I indeed also reject such a temptation. I am leaving you behind because you lie. You tell me that if I cling to you I will be happy and satisfied and better off. No more am I enchanted by these blissfully empty promises.
With you I am safe. Without you I have the chance to be selfless. So, goodbye safety. I don’t think I’ll miss you.
The Glory of the Ordinary
There we sat at Café Ventana
Two hours on a Thursday afternoon
Me bringing up the memoir of Diane di Prima
You raving about Vivian Mayer’s photos
Me mentioning my ambivalence about metta some days
You sharing about your spiritual practice of lying on the floor and staring at your ceiling
Me telling you about Muhammad Ali back in Louisville when I was a kid
You regaling me with litany of all the “why nots?” you plan to embody
People leaving us alone
Not paying us any mind
And why should they?
Ah, the relief of being nobodies
Two hours on a Thursday afternoon
There we gave and received at Café Ventana
Jottings and Notes from Cami’s Share the Wealth
Cami Kasmerchak, Appalachian Summer: To the Mountains and Back, Sunday 24 February 2013
She talked about the “call” … reminds me of Margaret Wheatley: “The notion of vocation comes from spiritual and philosophical traditions. It describes a “call,” work that is given to us, that we are meant to do. We don’t decide what our vocation is, we receive it. It always originates from outside us. Therefore, we can’t talk about vocation or a calling without acknowledging that there is something going on beyond our narrow sense of self. It helps remind us that there’s more than just me, that we’re part of a larger and purpose-filled place. …Even if we don’t use the word vocation, most of us want to experience a sense of purpose to our lives. From a young age, and especially as we mature, people often express the feeling of life working through them, of believing there’s a reason for their existence. I always love to hear a young person say that they know there’s a reason why they’re here. I know that if they can hold onto that sense of purpose, they’ll be able to deal with whatever life experiences await them. If we don’t feel there’s a meaning to our lives, life’s difficulties can easily overwhelm and discourage us.”
Cami knows the reason why she was there.
Those three months “messed me up forever, and for good” … variation on Casa de la Solidaridad, “ruined for life” … ruined in the sense of going beyond a thoughtless, banal, middle-class, self-satisfied life
Dear Layla: How people’s lives intersect
Mev in Tijuana
“You don’t have time to hold grudges”
There, you place far less emphasis on appearance [fewer masks]
“The exhaustion made me smile” [Brandon]
Thought of Easwaran writing about Gandhi: “He visited their homes, came to know their families and how they lived. Gradually he began to forget about himself in trying to find time and resources to alleviate the sufferings of these people. They were his brothers and sisters; he identified with them more every day.”
The grind of school: “I was writing a paper I didn’t want to write, for a professor who didn’t want to read it.” Contrast this with being in Tennessee: “It was the best tired I ever felt.”
“We do the best with what we have, it’s not ideal, but we’re excited”
“The people don’t have a lot of things to take their time away from being together.” Our materialism we think will bring us happiness, but by putting blocks between us and others, it frustrates that primary condition for our happiness, being together.
“To live simply, beautifully and with good purpose”
“The perfect day with new/old friends!” What Courtney Barrett said to a SLU student eager to work and be productive “doing something for” Karen House, but that day, there was nothing to do and he was disappointed: “Why don’t you just come into the office and hang out with us?” [circa fall 2000]
Michael Harrington, The Other America
“What brings out the best in you? How are you pursuing it?”
Like Sarah Bollinger, this is Cami’s riff on Rev. Thurman quotation: “Don’t ask yourself what the world needs.
Ask yourself what makes you come alive and then go do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.” In Tennessee, Cami came fully alive.
Cami = clarity, calm
Dear Dr. C,
This is a long time coming, but I’ve put off writing this because I want to say it right. Then again, if I’ve learned anything from you and Natalie Goldberg, it’s that I must write and not care how it comes out. So here it goes:
This winter break was the third time I’ve picked up and read The Book of Mev. My first year at SLU right after we had met, Nebu and I would read random passages out loud with our friend Michelle in an abandoned dorm room. The book was a real life love story—something more accessible and affirming than the fairytales of youth. The second time I actually read it cover to cover. I was working for the Appalachian Service Project, and finally finished it the semester I returned to SLU (after that summer). It was a rough year, but diving into The Book of Mev was eye-opening. Mev gave me hope that the things I was thinking and feeling didn’t make me crazy or unrealistic or ignorant. That time I was re-reading the book in paperback form. It is interesting the flip through those pages and look at what I underlined or commented on—it is very telling to where I was. But this winter I wanted to come to The Book of Mev fresh. I wanted to have a new experience with it. So, I read from the hard cover copy that you had sent to me my second summer working for the Appalachian Service Project. Coming to it with new eyes was amazing. I experienced a whole new level to it that I didn’t before. I have so many thoughts about The Book of Mev, so forgive me of the following don’t flow from one experience/thought of it to the next.
What a loss to the world for all of those who never met Mev, including me. What a privilege to meet her through your writing. Her talk of an “intellectual vocation” on page 42 kept me from dropping out of school my sophomore year. Every time I couldn’t fathom why my parents and I were spending so much money on tuition I would flip to that page and read it. Through reading of past world events I have come to realize just how clueless I am of historical and current events. The Book of Mev puts into words thoughts, emotions, musings, etc. I’ve had, but didn’t know how to express. In many of her journals, Mev would put into words the formless aches of my heart, the tumbling struggles of my mind, and the silent screamings of my soul. I didn’t know how someone I’ve never met could influence me so much. Both you and Mev are so honest in this book that it hurts in the best way possible. Her reflections on photography have made me question my approach to it and also reaffirmed the necessity of sharing images.
The distinction between “photography of the world” versus “photography for the world” has inspired me to pull out my camera and continue in moments of hesitation. The struggle with comfortable faith and faith that isn’t easy any more is one I’ve encountered and one I still continue to reflect upon. On pages 97-98 it goes through some gathas, and Mev mentions that “it doesn’t feel like such a wonderful moment.” I have to adopt the “only moment” gatha when I don’t feel the wonderful moments. While reading about Mev’s travels and struggles I was able to re-experience my own travels and struggles more deeply and in a new way. This book doesn’t just take you along as an observant companion—it pulls you into it and into yourself. You can’t escape the pages without re-examining, without reflection. “We have to enflesh God” (p. 190)—Yes, I do… now how? Mev gives me a few ideas and examples.
The thing about reading The Book of Mev this time was that I knew the raw emotion, loss, and heartbreak that was coming so truthfully and beautifully laid out on the pages from Part 2 on And I wanted to dwell in a world with Mev as long as possible. I would put the book aside for a few days just to prolong it. And yet what a privilege it was to read Part 2 and beyond. And not have it sugar-coated. And to sob for the loss of a woman I will never meet.
Presence can be a prayer—thanks for teaching me that I don’t always have to know what to say or even say anything at all.
I think “Holy Rage” is one of the best phrases I’ve ever encountered. I wish I had been smart enough to beat the shit out of pillows instead of holding it all in—then again you introduced me to my “Holy Rage” stage of writing. To each her own.
One of my favorite, probably my favorite picture, included in the book is on page 264: Mev with a shaved head wrapped in a blanket. So beautiful, so vibrant, so playful, so defiant, so humorous, so pleased, so Mev. When you mentioned reading while driving I had to smile—I’ve choreographed dances while driving, focusing more on music and movement than the road. Walked to class while reading, read in class something completely unrelated to class, even read/written in a movie theatre.
p. 314 “with one sustaining truth you knew you needed but could not yet name.” Yes. This is what The Book of Mev has been for me.
Fuck yeah for having women pallbearers.
“She became the poor she loved.” — And she continues to love.
“I was exposing myself and others to the emotional vomit” … something I’ve thought about…. a lot… thank you for sharing this… for sharing Mev.
It’s a book about living and loving and losing and being human through all of it—thank you for helping me accept more of my own humanity.
Mev was depth over breadth.
Mev was “against all odds.”
Mev was all in.
Mev was living proof.
Mev is teaching me how to do all of this.
I don’t think I will ever be able to adequately describe my experience(s) reading The Book of Mev, but at least I have now tried.
“Some things are profound enough to interrupt our lives.” May I remember this. May I not avert my eyes and ears.
May I follow her example.
P.S. I just re-read this whole thing and holy shit. It’s like the inside of my mind—colliding thoughts. Next time I’ll shoot for eloquence.
I wouldn’t say this to just anyone
I want to offer you something
It would make no impression on most people
They’d forget it one-and-a-half seconds later
But you’re different
I think you’d be interested
I have held your notebook
I have heard your voice
I have seen you possessed when scribbling
I have picked up your exuberant bibliophile vibe
(Tell me now, are you equally exuberant
When it comes to upper-level econ classes?)
This is something that could change your life
(It’s changing mine)
It could be a bell of mindfulness
Bringing you back to your true Polish-American syncretic self
What I have to share—
Let me know when you want to go to Left Bank Books
This page is part of my book, Dear Love of Comrades, which you can read here.