The Reading Life/2

Emily, Lindsey, Katie

By the Blue Light of a Cell Phone
by Katie Consamus

Dr Chmiel,

I just flipped on CNN after getting home from rehearsal and immediately thought of our encounter on New Year’s Eve as I watched a saddening report on Gaza.

My immediate reaction was desolation and helplessness– so often my response these days as I watch the news.  But then I became happier when I remembered I had good news to share with you that I neglected to mention the other day. My apologies for my forgetfulness– my mind was already on the show I was rushing off to perform in.

But anyway. This holiday, while riding around in the tour van between shows, I was able to start and complete The Book of Mev I was so engrossed that I finished the last 100 pages of the book by the feeble blue light of my open cell phone late at night on the road. (It couldn’t wait until I got home, evidently, although I paid for it the next day with an eye strain headache. Haha.)

Social Justice as a course truly changed my entire perspective on life, and The Book of Mev only solidified my new perspectives into the deepest corners of my heart.

I am extremely grateful to you.

I have not yet processed my thoughts well enough to articulate an intelligible response to your book, but it is coming, and when I have come up with them, I will be sure to share them with you.

Thank you for sharing your words and your heart with your students and your readers.

Katie

This Leads to That and That Leads to This

Z Gorley studied with me
In a Social Justice class fall 2007

I learned that semester
How much Z loved poetry

Z kept a notebook of new words
Z’d come across and then make the words a part of them

Z seemed a soul-mate to Walt Whitman
So I gave Z his Library of America Poetry and Prose

That next spring semester
We decided to read poets together

Meet outside at Coffee Cartel
Share favorites, read aloud

One of the books we read
Was by Daisy Zamora

The Nicaraguan revolutionary and feminist
Her love poem to Father Ernesto Cardenal touched me

I remembered Cardenal from the 1980s
Minister of Culture under the Sandinistas

Friend of Thomas Merton
Latter day antagonist of Daniel Berrigan

So moved was I by Daisy’s poem
I began reading Cardenal

And I keep reading him
Early works

Revolutionary works
Cosmic mystical works

Even though I was reading him in translation
He helped free up my imagination

With his practice of exteriorismo
And montage holding it all

I had been stuck
On a writing project involving Palestine

Slowly I lightened up
Trusted instinct

Read The Doubtful Strait
and Zero Hour and Other Documentary Poems

Didn’t worry about logic
Or linearity

Read “Room 5600” 20 times
and Ernesto’s epistle to Dom Pedro Casaldáliga

And eventually Dear Layla
Welcome to Palestine emerged

In time for me to give it
To Reshma Rao

(Who with Mateo
Three times traveled to Palestine)

On the occasion of her graduation
From the SLU Medical School

I stop to consider: What if Z had taken
A different theology class that fall of 2007?

Today’s gratitudes
For Z and Daisy

Walt and Ernesto
Reshma and Mateo

“Why I Read the Bhagavad Gita”
by Katie Consamus

The Huffington Post calls her
“The Sunshine Goddess,”
But I just call her Anne-Margaret
And she is the reason I read
the Bhagavad Gita.

She told me once that her job as
a yoga teacher was to be
of service…
to say…

“I see you.”
“And you are loved.”
“You are here, and you are loved
unconditionally.”

And she told me once that when she
gives physical adjustments, she
makes sure that

First and foremost, the alignment
in the asana is safe for the student
But more importantly,
That she gives each touch with
healing
and love,
Knowing that for some students, this
hand on the foot or shoulder or
hip or neck or calf
May be the only time that anyone touches them all week.

Amazon.com calls her “Betsy Ribbentrop, PhD,”
But I just call her Betsy.
And she is the reason I read
the Bhagavad Gita.

She sat with me once as I wept
through meditation
In total nonjudgment
Radiating loving-kindness
compassion
peace
acceptance
Total and abundant acceptance
for me in a time of great
suffering as I wept
in public
in an otherwise
silent room.

Bones calls her “Mama,”
But I just call her Fannie.
And she is the reason I read
the Bhagavad Gita.

She gave me my first yoga home.
And she tattooed the most beautiful
robin’s nest on her back.
It was the largest tattoo I had ever
seen that was done all in one sitting.

“Only took two hours,” she said.
“Did it hurt?” I said.
“No,” she said. “I just breathed.

From a Nonagenarian
by Fred Zweig

Mark,

I finished reading your book yesterday. It has it all: a beautiful love story, heroic idealism, clarity. It is awesome in many respects. I am 93 years old and consider myself pretty tough-minded but it is the only book I remember reading that made me cry! Congratulations on your achievement.

With great appreciation,

Fred

Why Shakespeare Matters/2
By Katie Consamus

The first time I can recall reading Shakespeare was in ninth grade English. We were required to read Romeo & Juliet out of some benign English textbook full of whitewashed classics that someone on some board had once deemed relevant or important.

I read Romeo & Juliet silently to myself. I found it difficult to muddle through, I thought it was confusing, I didn’t know half of the words, the storyline was ridiculous, and the whole thing was just too damn long. I had been drilled in class on the rhythm and meter and how amazing it was going to be and blah-de-blah-de-blah, but honestly, to me, the whole thing seemed like a damn waste of time. In summation, I was bored, and I thought Romeo & Juliet was a piece of shit.

I had a similar experience two years later when reading The Tempest in World Lit. It’s a miracle I didn’t forever stay turned off of Shakespeare after these well-meaning but totally misguided English class experiences. If our educational system continues to have its way, young people everywhere will continue to be bored by Shakespeare, because there is a secret to it all that no one is telling the students: Shakespeare is not meant to be read silently and studied in a classroom.

If you read a Shakespeare play silently to yourself, you might very well be bored. I certainly am, every single time; I, Katie Consamus, Shakespeare Lover. I, Katie Consamus, an actor by trade, whose biggest career fantasy is to play Lady MacBeth in a dark and gory production full of blood and sweat and tears, finds silent, solo reading of anything by Shakespeare to be incredibly dull.

Shakespeare’s words are alive. But they don’t live on the page. They live in the body. And that is the secret.

The first time I realized this was the first time I was given permission to leave the footnotes and the lexicons behind. I just spoke his words aloud, mindfully, slowly, without agenda. And the words vibrated in my body, and I discovered they had a life. If you had asked me to, I wouldn’t necessarily have been able to define each word I said. But what I could do, from that moment on, was tell you how the words made me feel. I could tell you intuitively which part of my body each word inhabited, and I could tell you what that did to affect my mind, my energy, and my spirit.

Try it. Say all the sounds. Form the words slowly. Give all of the consonants the attention they deserve. Give all the vowels their full space, not just in your mouth but also in your body. Let your heart and throat be open. And don’t you dare mumble.

Blow, winds, and crack your cheeks! rage! blow!
You cataracts and hurricanoes, spout
Till you have drench’d our steeples, drown’d the cocks!
You sulphurous and thought-executing fires,
Vaunt-couriers to oak-cleaving thunderbolts,
Singe my white head! And thou, all-shaking thunder,
Smite flat the thick rotundity o’ the world!
Crack nature’s moulds, an germens spill at once,
That make ingrateful man!

Each plosive consonant gives me strength:

CRACK YOUR CHEEKS

STRIKE FLAT

Each open vowel makes me feel haunted and hollow:

BLOW

RAGE

DROWN’D THE COCKS

And then from here, without necessarily knowing the context, without knowing all of the plot, I am connected. I am connected to this person, and I become more connected to the plight of humankind. Because in my body (even if not in my brain yet), I am feeling something. I am feeling this man’s rage and pain. I am standing in his shoes without even trying, without even thinking. The words did it all for me. Everything was already in the text. I simply had to speak it, to allow it to unfold within me.

That is amazing.

And it doesn’t happen when you stare at the words on the page.

I don’t mean to dismiss here an academic approach to Shakespeare. Scholars study it, and their analysis and their lexicons and their dictionaries offer me insurmountable aid on my second (third, fourth, fifth, tenth, twentieth) look at a passage. But if I start with my brain instead of my body and my heart, I’m back in ninth grade English, hating Romeo & Juliet and losing out on the exploration of the genius that is Shakespeare.

Because, sure, he was a great wordsmith. He was very brainy with his skillful use of language and rhythm, and he uses an extensive vocabulary. But at the end of the day, he made up so many words. He made up words when he knew the feeling but not the answer, and we know what he meant by, sure, some suffixes or some Latin roots or blah-de-blah-de-blah… but mostly we know what he meant by how the vibration of the words feels in the body.

Shakespeare understands human nature in all of its flawed and tarnished glory. He understands it viscerally, and when we experience his words viscerally, either reading them aloud ourselves or listening to someone else speak them, we gain a deeper understanding of ourselves and the world in which we live. I am a better, more compassionate person for my investigation of the human condition through the theatre, and William Shakespeare makes my job as an actor so damn easy; all I have to do is allow his text to do all the work for me.

And just for the hell of it, a few final thoughts to assuage my remaining 9th grade complaints about Romeo & Juliet:

Shakespeare’s plays are long. I’m not a purist, and I remain quite proud of and pleased with a 90 minute cutting of Hamlet that I performed in grad school. We lost some side-plots and even a few characters, but that’s evolution. If you have a whole cake and you’re only going to enjoy yourself if you eat a slice, just eat the slice, right? Don’t down the whole thing just to say you ate it. So why not let the same thing be true for Shakespeare? Take your journey a few pages at a time, or enjoy a condensed version. The words are still his, and they’ll still live in your body, and you’ll still learn something about your life or the world.

And as to Romeo & Juliet’s ridiculous plot? I’m expected to believe that thirteen year-old Juliet found her soulmate and is willing to die for him? “Oh my god, spare me the stupidity!” I recall thinking. Well this past June, I witnessed the marriage of my friends Tyler and Ellen, who met each other, true soulmates, at age thirteen. I was certainly proven wrong in the best way possible. And I will never roll my cynical eyes at love in any manifestation ever again.

Just in the Last Week or So

It came to my attention

That Tony Albrecht saw The Book of Mev on the Arandas’ bookshelves, borrowed it, and started reading it

Abbie Amico is going over Faces of Poverty Faces of Christ

Liz Vestal gave her sister Hannah The Book of Mev to read and she is

Nebu Kolenchery encouraged Lizzie Corcoran to read The Book of Mev and she did

Carol Becherer Wright found her mother’s copy of Faces of Poverty Faces of Christ at her sister’s home in Kentucky, and brought it back to Saint Louis to read

Cami read The Book of Mev for the third time over winter break and sent me a long letter about it

I Want To Be Your Friend
by Lindsey Weston

“Tell your friends everything. Give away all your secrets. Help Everyone!”
– Allen Ginsberg.

After reading Dear Layla I just want to be your friend.
And all of your friends’ friend.
And I want to talk to people that go places, and do things
And more importantly feel things.

I don’t really know how to thank you for sharing Dear Layla with me.
Thank you for being a wonderful writer.
Than you for being a wonderful sharer.
Thank you for deeming me worthy of reading something so beautiful.
Thank you for being a wonderful human…
Thank you.

Lindsey

Blurb
By Katie Consamus

A Page of Gratitude

Thank you, Katie Consamus, for responding pronto to my needy request for feedback. Whoosh, you delivered big time! I’m in a new phase of the journey, time to kick it like karate and finish this book/memoir/mishmash/collage! You’ve encouraged me with your words, like these…

“You know, I read Dear Layla on the train. If I remember correctly, I was on the Brooklyn-bound Q train en route to some obscure audition for some pretentious adaptation of some Ibsen play…”

“And when you wrote about Carla playing the saddest song she knew on the violin… I remembered that to be of service, I do not have to abandon my art. That it IS service.“

It’s true, I want to be your agent, so let me prove myself first on Facebook, where I will circulate your writings. Over the years, you’ve read me with energetic attentiveness, and I want to read you likewise–send me anything you’re working on, random scribbles, magnum opus you’re laboring over and under, bedside nightstand dream log entries, recipes from your great-aunt, list of favorite asanas, five ordinary places in NYC that expand your heart, three secrets you’ve not yet told to a living soul!

Send me the topics of your curiosity (unless Mev and Layla have worn you out!) and I will respond with brio: postcards, notes, letters, lists, villanelles.

Every person engaged in a writing or creative project needs to have a reader/friend/mirror/Muse like you.

I am stronger, happier, and saner because you’re in my life.

Mark

Katie Consamus

This page is part of my book, Dear Love of Comrades, which you can read here.

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