Reading Books Together: A Podcast with Deborah Brothers & John Paul Jaramillo
Music “Viv” by Joel Styzens from Relax Your Ears
For their first foray into book review podcasts, Deborah Brothers and John Paul Jaramillo feature the 2021 novel by Canadian-American author Ruth Ozeki, The Book of Form and Emptiness. They discuss aspects of postmodernism metafiction, Buddhism, and bildungsroman.
–Deborah Brothers holds a Ph.D. in English Studies and reviews books for Choice and The Lion and the Unicorn and her essays, fiction, and scholarly work have appeared in several publications.
–John Paul Jaramillo holds an MFA in Creative Writing and is the author of three books: The House of Order, Little Mocos, and Carlos Montoya.
Over the last six months I feel I am finally back on a consistent writing and reading schedule. Finally taking the time to free write chapters and ideas for short pieces I’ve been carrying around in my head. This working–this practice of writing–has also come to include meditation and free writing. And it’s all because of a workshop I attended while on sabbatical.
This past June I attended a workshop and meditation seminar I’ve been wanting to get to for some time. Natalie Goldberg’s New Mexico retreat and workshop was called Sit, Walk, Write. The focus of the workshop being meditation and writing practice–the practice of sitting and engaging with my notebook.
Where can I begin with how much wisdom and inspiration I brought home. I guess the main lesson from the books–Writing Down the Bones and The True Secret of Writing–is that of equanimity. The workshop focused on writer and artist stability through guided and unguided meditation. We also practiced walking meditation which is a practice I’ve enjoyed since being introduced years ago at a Buddhist seminar. Mostly we worked individually and in small groups writing to different selected prompts and then reading the work aloud.
I’ve been back from the workshop for months now and I still think of the lessons. As a writer who studied in an MFA program I am usually prone to hating prompts or exercise like this–I’m supposed to be beyond it. But the practice–approaching the work as practice–has become so vital and necessary to my creativity. And I’ve blogged here about the importance of free writing and I’ve emphasized with my students the importance of notes and iterations of work. But recently I’ve felt re-invigorated. And I’ve even brought together small groups of friends to sit and meditate and practice. The simple exercise of bringing together focused breathing exercises to calm the mind prior to a deep dive into my notebook has been so productive for me.
One thing we also discussed at the workshop and something I’ve been wrestling with after MFA grad school was how to continue exercises in creativity. We discussed how to discipline one’s self to produce but also to care for one’s self. Natalie Goldberg emphasized taking care outside of and beyond school. To put one’s mental heath before productivity and she stresses the idea of patience and practice. Practice makes practice she would say. She emphasized getting away from computers and the internet and rely on the mind and the notebook to get down thoughts, sitting and spending time with one’s thoughts and notes.
What I perhaps was most impressed with was the message from Goldberg beyond writing. She asserts this practice of meditation and understanding one’s mind goes beyond writing but to broader mental health and mental consistency. Sitting and writing to understand one’s mind is the more meaningful way to develop as a person and not just as a writer.