What or Who Are Your Patron Writer-Saints by Teresa Carmody

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I’ve been living with Kathy Acker for awhile now. With her writing, her ghost, a number of her personal objects. Like her dining room table (now at Anna Joy Springer’s house in Los Angeles). Or her desk (in Matias Viegener’s storage, but soon going to the new KA Reading Room at the University of Cologne). Here is a photo of her table lamp in my bedroom in Florida. My first seminar paper in phd school was on her Don Quixote, and more recently I finished an essay for a forthcoming French anthology edited by Val Rauzier.

So I’m thinking about Kathy and also about patron saints. Because Kathy is one of those writers that people love to call a saint (and of course she wrote about saints, hello Saint Simeon). In Sarah McCarry’s description of Matias Viegener’s wonderful chapbook, The Assassination of Kathy Acker, she names Kathy as the “ferocious and magnificent patron saint of the queer, the fearless, and the furious.” In “Situations,” Arnold Kemp writes about how Kathy visited him in a dream (such a saint-like thing to do) and “stayed a long time.” She gave instructions, exercises, and was “accompanied by black, French, elegantly long and agile dancers,” who became, along with Kathy, Kemp’s tutors. This reminds me of St. Magdalena de’Pazzi’s visions in narrative and love. Or Alexis Pauline Gumbs’ amazing book, Spill: scenes of black feminist fugitivity, which is a poetic experiment written through the work of Hortense Spiller (another saint, or elder, and Alexis Pauline Gumbs is one of the most brilliant writers working in that liminal space of the archive, the ancestors, what’s held in breath between).

Traditionally, a patron saint is one who protects and provides heavenly intercession on behalf of a person or a group of people. The group of people may share a living place, an occupation, or a condition. Saint Agatha, patron saint of breast cancer, comforts suffering humans while calling forth the energetic forces that bring healing or transmutation. St. Teresa of Avila is the patron saint of many situations and places—including bodily illnesses and the loss of parents, but also Požega, Croatia; Spain; and Talisay City, Cebu. As a writer and theologian, St Teresa is also a language-place you can go to, i.e., when you read The Interior Castle, you enter the space of her writing. (btw: In Dalia Rosetti’s forthcoming SUEÑOS Y PESADILLAS, the narrator finds herself in Teresa’s castle, where there are lesbians, sex, flirtations and more… very exciting!)

So here is my question:

What if the writers you keep returning to are your patron saints? In other words, they want to help and protect you, guide you, push you further into your reason for being, which is also your writing. Or art. Your visionary work. These writers aren’t parents you need to slay or some other competition (which is how capitalism encourages us to see each other). But your council. If they goad you, it’s for a purpose. I’ve learned so much from writers who initially agitated, annoyed, or even infuriated me. I mean, really, Gertrude? What are you trying to say?

I count Kathy as one such writer. For me, she’s the patron saint of honesty. Of self-authority. Of radical illegibility. I often approach her books like I do the bible: I let go of the illusion of comprehension (the idea that I can “get” the story), and look instead at whatever line is shining through.

Here is a prompt:

Pick a writer (or artist) you’ve repeatedly returned to. One who has haunted you. Preferably a dead one, as saints are most powerful when they are orchestrating miracles from the other side. What have you learned from this writer-artist? List it all (or as much as you can): the elements of craft, of energy, of affect, what they do with language, image, how they lived while also writing/making. Who they read, and who or what you met while reading them. Let this figure be your tutor-saint of messy lessons. List it all and when you’re done, sit with your mess-list for 24 or 48 hours, adding but not deleting. Then write a poem or a prayer, a letter or a story: thank your patron artist-writer-saint and call on their care.

Hello, #ProcessNotes by Teresa Carmody

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During a psychic reading at Hotel Cassadaga, Aylah (who insists she’s a scientist because she is) told me I should start a blog. That was many months ago, and only recently, on a trip to Buenos Aires to scout for our June 2019 MFA of the Americas residency, did the idea for the blog come together. Also, it’s more than a blog. I’ve started an Instagram. There will be videos. But let me back up slightly and lay out what happened and when.

October 28: I went for tea with Marcello Dansey and Guido Ignatti. To their charming flat in Recoleta. We’d met before; they’d been to my house in Los Angeles during the 2015 &Now Festival. We talked and laughed about many things concerning art and life and love, and Marcello said he’s become increasingly mystical. Me too, I exclaimed. Before the night was over, I’d given Marcello a writing prompt for a story he wants to write, but every time he sits down, the mind goes into overdrive. Hypercritical drive. Welcome to a writer’s life, I said. I’ve been tricking my mind into writing for several years now. Also: meditating, practicing mindfulness, pulling cards.

The writing prompt: Write a sentence. One that has a slight summary quality, or that captures the unspoken desire of your character/s. Use each word in that first sentences as the first word in each subsequent paragraph. So if your sentence is nine words long, you’ll eventually have a nine-paragraph story. And the story will also be an explication of the sentence, which runs vertically as well as horizontally.

Example:A New Writing Friend,” published on The Collagist. (Note: in my story collection, I’ve renamed this piece “What Starts with a Beginning.”)

October 29: I met Eduardo Costa for tea, another 5 pm appointment. We stayed together for 7 hours, talking about love and life and art and mysticism, again. He said: you’re the kind of person who has things (as in signs and energies) come to you. Yes, I agreed. Not because I’m so special; rather, I’ve been training myself to pay attention to that which is always already there. This, to me, is writing. You can do it, too.

November 2: I met Pola Oloixariac at a cafe in Palermo. We talked about writing and publishing, her upcoming visit to our MFA program, and her new weekly column in the newspaper. We talked about blogging and how horrible FB is. We said it’s time to bring back the blog. We laughed and said, Bring back the blog!

November 4: Flying home, I had a layover in Houston. There was a storm, and we had to stop in Austin, refuel and wait for the storm to pass. I missed my first flight and was automatically booked for another. On that one, I shared a row with Kendra and her six-year-old son, Jackson. I am generally not one to talk with strangers on airplanes, but Jackson had many things to tell me, and Kendra started asked what I was reading and why I would periodically make marks in the book. I was reading Savage Theories, Pola’s book. We began talking. Kendra is a life coach. Videos, she said, have made all the difference. She wants to write a book. I gave her a writing prompt (will save that for another post), and we talked about my writing. And then we began mapping this: Process Notes: Writing, Practice, Grow, Repeat.

Writing has changed my life. It’s one of the scariest and most vulnerable things I do. It’s my way of making sense of my experiences. Of being alive and of reading: the world and other creatures, including texts. To me, writing is a spiritual practice. Through writing I have experienced grace.

This then: notes on the process of writing. Writing prompts. From reading and from life. From other writers. Because writing never happens alone.