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

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
For free pre-order shipping use the discount code: GAMMON


pre-order SORROW

Ready for pre-order …

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…







Coming soon…


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.


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?”


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:

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

Summer Retreat at Green Gulch Farm

A four-day writing workshop retreat at San Francisco Zen Center’s Green Gulch Farm …

Writing As A Wisdom Project, August 15-19, led by Catherine Gammon, combines a relaxed meditation schedule and teachings from the Zen tradition with the practice of imaginative writing.

Engaging playfully with language as an opportunity to receive, express, study, and reveal our own presently arising body and mind, we will write together from prompts, and read aloud, listen, and respond to one another’s words. Our writings and responses are explorations, and our conversations are based in imaginative and emotional insight rather than craft or editorial critique. Our time together will be intimate and playful, and will offer everyone opportunities for participation and discussion.

Our daily schedule will include meditation, dharma teaching, writing and group discussion, as well as free time for rest, reading, and walking in the farm and garden, to nearby Muir Beach, and in the surrounding hills.

Full registration details here.

Writing As A Wisdom Project will also be offered in Pittsburgh on June 30 at Stillpoint in Lawrenceville, at Marblehead Zen Center in Marblehead, MA on July 15, and at Brooklyn Zen Center, on July 22.

Occupy Climate Reality

Does your local Occupy movement recognize the climate crisis that 100% of us face (or refuse to face)?

I’m thinking sensitivity to this issue varies locality by locality.

The Ventana Wilderness fire arrives at Tassajara, 2008

System Change Not Climate ChangeI saw this great slogan and call coming out of Occupy Vancouver in response to the climate conference happening at present in Durban, South Africa. There is an Occupy Cop17 already in progress there, and Democracy Now will be broadcasting live from the conference all of next week. It’s time to draw the connections.

Transition has been looking at the relationship of peak oil and climate change to economies, justice, and war and peace for some years before the economic meltdown. Transition saw it coming. Is there a conversation going on between Transition and your local Occupation? (Links at Transition Network, Transition Culture, Transition US.)

I ask these questions because I think I see sometimes a narrowness of focus, as if Occupy were a campaign, defining itself by just a handful of issues, not the movement it seemed to be from the start, a movement awakening hope and addressing our profound planetary interconnection and state of risk, and I wonder if this appearance of narrowness is happening everywhere, or is just the particular flavor I see, or the flavor concocted by the limitations of my own observing and impatient mind.

I’m about to leave  for California for a month of residential Zen practice at San Francisco Zen Center’s Green Gulch Farm. Before I go I would like to share two short views of the planet relative to fracking, not here in the Marcellus Shale, but in South Africa and in France. These videos give image to what is being done to this radiant earth, the catastrophe taking place in our name, in the name of our being able to use our computers and refrigerate our food and drive our cars and watch a movie that comes in the mail from Netflix and get on an airplane and fly halfway around the world, or even just across the country. If we think we are not complicit in this we are not paying attention. These film images are to weep for, but they also show people making efforts to make a change.

We always ask how, and we don’t know how, and sometimes we leap into what and into action too soon. Before we ask how, maybe we have to open our eyes to the present situation, maybe we have to become willing to see.

Fracking in France                Fracking in South Africa

First we have to weep, I think, for the beauty of what we are losing. And after that maybe we can laugh with the beauty of what we can do together to change.