Catherine Gammon

The composition is the thing seen by everyone living in the living they are doing, they are the composing of the composition that at the time they are living is the composition of the time in which they are living… Gertrude Stein

Launched and Surveilled

After a brief visit to Pittsburgh to see some friends—

dobra 3

here with Nancy, Rannigan, and Amy at Dobra tea

—and to launch Sorrow at the wonderful East End Book Exchange

 launch reading

—and a long day on the train back to New York, then a quick overnight with Heather and Nick and the splendid Cordelia (recently practicing the mokugyo at Brooklyn Zen Center)

Exif_JPEG_422

—I am now heading back to Wellspring House, a peaceful writing retreat in Ashfield, Massachusetts.

*

On the way to Penn Station a few hours ago, on the D train, I found myself noticing that of the people in my immediate vicinity (I counted twelve), seven were engaged with or plugged in to their electronic devices, the others engaged with old-fashioned devices—a book, a subway map, El Diario, a nail file & hand cream, and sleep—only one other person, like me, awake with nothing in hand.

This observation presented itself as a facebook post, although I could not at that moment connect to facebook, and then I thought that posting this observation on faceback (and also posting it here a few hours after the fact) would make me part of the surveillance apparatus of our time.

These thoughts may be in the foreground because I have been reading two very interesting and very different books on the subject of surveillance, Cypherpunks: Freedom and the Future of the Internet, by Julian Assange, with Jacob Appelbaum, Andy Muller-Maguhn, and Jeremie Zimmerman, and a recent book of literary scholarship that looks at Western cultural history on issues of privacy and observation, self and panopticon, The Watchman in Pieces: Surveillance, Literature, and Liberal Personhood, by David Rosen and Aaron Santesso.

Side by side, and in the context of the Edward Snowden revelations, these make fascinating reading. (I first read Cypherpunks last fall when it came out, and sad to say it reads much less abstractly now, these ten months later.)

*

One aspect of being surveilled is going out in public and presenting oneself—so that I found after the launch event some photos of myself reading  (thankfully distant and fuzzy but evenso looking, to my eye, rather dowdy and grim) appearing on facebook. (What? I look like that?)

Well, I do, apparently, the camera says so. Or maybe I think I still look like this?

with Ken et al

But no, just something in between—time to return to those Dobra photos…

Dobra1

Great thanks to everyone for all the generous support for the coming of Sorrow!

Necessary Fiction

Many thanks to Steve Himmer at Necessary Fiction for inviting this reflection on the genesis of Sorrow:  Research Notes: Sorrow

I just had an evening with the wonderful writers with me this week at Wellspring House and had the opportunity to read this small essay aloud. May every reading be so intimate and warm.

Now I’m counting down and packing up for an overnight in Brooklyn and making my way to Pittsburgh for the launch.

287272_2461785385747_1285585001_3001550_285944999_o

Saying thank you

Over the last few weeks I’ve been preparing for the imminent publication of my novel Sorrow by offering words of gratitude on Facebook to my publishers and to the wonderful writing women who have given words of praise for the book, Eve Ensler, Kellie Wells, and Toi Derricotte.

Following are my words of thanks, and their generous words of support.

From July 22

As publication day for Sorrow approaches I have the opportunity at last to celebrate the beautiful work given to this book by Jeff Condran and Robert Peluso, my wonderful publishers at Braddock Avenue Books, and to begin to express my gratitude to those who have given their voices in pre-publication support.

Today I want to send a shout out of thanks to Kellie Wells, author most recently of Fat Girl, Terrestrial, for these extraordinary words:

“What Sorrow illustrates with such dark and devastating beauty is that the heart that is forced out of innocence into terrible knowledge will one day utter its grief, and when it does, the sound, like its source, will be unimaginable. One of the many astonishing things about Catherine Gammon’s novel is the exacting emotional and psychological candor with which it is written. Never does the book blanch for the sake of false comfort; never does it allow the reader to dodge harrowing truths, those truths humanity most urgently needs to confront. It is a work of profound courage and integrity.”
– Kellie Wells, author of Fat Girl, Terrestrial

From July 26

As I pack and clean and prepare to say goodbye to Brooklyn, it’s time to pause and share an immeasurable thank you to the fabulous Eve Ensler for everything she is and does and just also now for these glowing words supporting Sorrow, out in two weeks from Braddock Avenue Books (and available for pre-order). Eve writes:

Sorrow is a devastating, gorgeous, impossible, unstoppable book—powered by unbearable desire, murder, a stunning turbulence of language and story. The real triumphs of this novel are Anita, Magda, Danny, Tomas, Cruz—people you will never forget even though tragedy, abuse, and circumstance did their best to render them invisible. A tour de force.”
– Eve Ensler, author of The Vagina Monologues and In the Body of the World

Huge gratitude, huge love, Eve.

From July 31

From the deep, productive peace of Wellspring House in Ashfield, Massachusetts, a final word of gratitude for the gift of early praise for Sorrow, today to the incomparable Toi Derricotte for this generous offering:

“Think of a female Dostoevsky. Think of a female Raskolnikov. Gammon’s modern turn on the classic tale takes us into the mind, heart and soul of a woman who has been the victim of sexual abuse in childhood; but, in so doing, she illuminates the dynamics of power and redemption to which we are universally subject. Sorrow is a stunning page-turner and unforgettable.”
– Toi Derricotte, author of The Black Notebooks and The Undertaker’s Daughter

Immeasurable gratitude to you all

Sorrow is available for pre-order at http://shop.braddockavenuebooks.com/shop/braddock/sorrow.html
For free pre-order shipping use the discount code: GAMMON

pre-order SORROW

Ready for pre-order … http://shop.braddockavenuebooks.com/shop/braddock/sorrow.html

Free shipping on all pre-orders, use the code Gammon at checkout…

And here’s a photo of the ARC…

sorrow ARC

 

 

We have a cover…

sorrowcompE.indd

 

 

 

 

 

Coming soon…

IMG_3450

July 21 in Brooklyn, Writing As A Wisdom Project at Brooklyn Zen Center, a playful day of writing and reflection.

August 8, publication launch and reading from my novel Sorrow at East End Book Exchange, on Liberty Avenue in Pittsburgh

August 13, publication of Sorrow with Braddock Avenue Books

August 24, New York publication party and reading at Brooklyn Zen Center

More news to follow.

Mara For Our Time

This week throughout the world Buddhists commemorate the passing of Shakyamuni Buddha into Parinirvana—both death and final enlightenment, complete and perfect cessation.

In the story told of Shakyamuni’s passing there is a moment when a demonic Mara visits to tell him it’s time for him to die.

The Buddha replies that Mara should not worry, his life will end in three months’ time.

Catherine's Shuso Invitation Spring 10

I recently watched a short, chilling, beautiful, often harsh, possibly demonic film called Obey—artfully assembled by British filmmaker Temujin Doran from images available on the web and based on the book Death of the Liberal Class by Chris Hedges.

The Vimeo description says the film “charts the rise of the Corporate State, and examines the future of obedience in a world of unfettered capitalism, global-isation, staggering inequality and environmental change.”

More on the film can be found at the wonderful BrainPickings by Maria Popova.

The artistry used to raise these issues in many ways duplicates, on a very sophisticated level, the tendencies of propaganda it critiques, although clearly to different ends. In the words of one of the comments (posted by Tim Shaker) on the Vimeo page, “This film raises some issues that desperately need more public awareness, but uses the same emotional-programming scare tactics that it criticizes. Not to say preaching to the choir doesn’t play a part too though.”

As a Buddhist I don’t quite feel a perfect fit with the “choir” possibly being preached to, but at the same time the film’s radical reading of the global situation resonates with my own thinking—at its harshest, darkest, bleakest.

I believe—or think I believe—that if we wish to act beneficially in response to the suffering of this world, this world, we have to find in ourselves a response that includes and can move beyond the impasse this critique articulates.

Exif_JPEG_422

It occurred to me this morning, as we prepare here in Brooklyn for our Parinirvana observance, that in some ways the truth visualized and spoken in the harshness and beauty of Obey is the voice of Mara—not the voice of a Mara who lies or hates or tempts or destroys but the voice of Mara as one’s own shadow, the Mara who is telling us it is time for us to die, and also the Mara who asks, when the young Shakyamuni is giving total effort to realizing awakening, “Who do you think you are to think you can do this?”

Shakyamuni’s response was to touch the earth—an expression of interconnec-tedness with all life, a request to the earth to bear witness to his effort—and in so doing he awoke and became the Buddha.

Ultimately this film, and my own many Maras, move me to ask, “Who do I think I am that I think I can do anything about this?”

337919_2461791065889_1285585001_3001560_1421801259_o

The answer is I don’t, I can’t. But I would like to find a way to touch the earth in the face of this question, in the face of this chilling, beautiful, often harsh, possibly demonic thinking, which is not false, but incomplete. I would like to find a way to touch the earth that allows me to continue, moment by moment, to ask What is it? and What then must we do?

I would like to frame my answer, any answer I may receive, enact, let go of, over and over, in the practice of the bodhisattva vows.

I have been making an effort to study this question through careful study of Eihei Dogen’s verses for arousing the bodhisattva vows, the Eihei Koso Hotsuganmon, from the Shobogenzo fascicle “Keisei Sanshoku” (“Valley Streams, Mountain Colors”).

A talk I gave on the beginning of the Eihei Koso was recorded at Glastonbury, U.K., in November 2012. It lays out, I hope, some ways to frame the question and can be accessed with this link:

https://docs.google.com/file/d/0ByWfrb0MPtrSaW91UWpXNDFqbGs/edit

The talk gets nowhere near an answer. But I hope the frame helps us to begin.