Setting the Right Intention with Morning Prayers: A Personal Liturgy

This is part 1 of a 3-part post I wrote for the Applied Jewish Spirituality blog about discovering the time and place for daily meditation in morning prayers.

My Hebrew name is Akiva ben Ariel. Akiva comes from Yaakov, ‘the follower’, in Genesis; Ariel being my father’s Hebrew name.

My dharma name is Kyojin, meaning ‘abiding in compassion’. I received it from my Zen teacher during jukai, a 700-year-old lay ordination ceremony, which culminated my years of study of Soto Zen Buddhism.

​These two spiritual names are not at odds. Continue reading…

 

Last Year in Jerusalem

In the summer of 2019, I was studying in an intensive program at the Conservative (Masorti) Yeshiva in Jerusalem. It turned out to be one of the most transformative experiences I’ve ever had. Here’s a brief account of my discoveries from that time.

Last year in Jerusalem… struck by a teaching of Rabbi Kook, explained to us passionately by Yiscah Smith, one of the yeshiva teachers. The Lord, she said, in creating you, has given you a unique spiritual path, and thus it is your religious (!) duty to follow your authentic path, and to remove any obstacles that might obstruct it. At once, my decade-long spiritual wanderings and the deepening faith are united; the exact junction of my life illuminated.

Last year in Jerusalem… hiking the hills in the Valley of the Cross near my home in Rehavia, the air heady with sage and fennel, much like the hills in Los Angeles, but the scent and the terrain somehow familiar to me deep within my bones.

Last year in Jerusalem… led into nigunim, wordless incantations sung acappella as a group, by the young, charismatic nigun teacher Joey Weisenberg. Our voices rise and fall, merge and separate, and after losing the count of repetitions (10th? 20th, 30th?), the measured, controlled sense of time falls aside, replaced by the sense of peace and shekhinah, the divine presence, right here in the heart of Jerusalem, which carries me like a cloud.

Last year in Jerusalem… transported 2,000 years back into the times of King Herod with a tour of underground tunnels, as I stand fifty feet below the crowded Old City on an excavated street running alongside the wall of the Temple. The street is narrow: I can physically touch the Temple wall with my right hand, and the stone beams of a house across with my left, while my feet are planted on the well-worn but intact cobblestone.
Who were my ancestors that would walk these steps bringing offerings to the Temple?
What offerings am I bringing?

Last year in Jerusalem… discovering the architecture of a Talmud page in a class taught by the charismatic Rabbi Joel Levy, and then battling over the meaning of each word, each phrase, with Sam, my havruta partner, as we join our skills – his in Hebrew and Aramaic, mine in literary analysis. And then the raucous discourse accumulated over centuries begins to take off the page: opinions, stories, fables, barbs flying back and forth and into outer space.

Basic color-coding of a Talmud page:

Mishnah (Palestine, 3rd century CE)
Gemara (Babylonia, 5th century CE)
Comments of Rashi (11th century, France)
Comments of the Tosafists (12th-13th cent., France/Germany)
Comments of R. Nissim ben Jacob (11th century, Tunisia)

Last year in Jerusalem… leading my first mincha (afternoon service) after a couple of weeks of basic training; my voice rough from a lingering cold, cutting the air of our study hall, which doubles as the yeshiva’s daytime synagogue. When after the first couple of lines, others are beginning to join in, I feel elevated because this is happening, the communal prayer – I can do it, I too can make it happen.

Last year in Jerusalem… a Shabbat dinner set on a balcony overlooking a winding, leafy street in Baka, a neighborhood southwest of the Old City. Our prayers, laughter, and the clicking of the wine glasses are echoing the prayers, laughter, and clicking of the wine glasses from the balconies next to ours and across the street. After dinner, our hosts take us for a stroll through the quiet, carless streets of a million-soul city, teens congregating in groups, adults conversing with each other, and I feel thankful for the experience and wistful to be in a place where this could be every Friday night.

Walking from the old City (L) to Baka (R)

Last year in Jerusalem… praying at the egalitarian section of the Wall by the Robinson’s Arch. Here, at sunrises on Wednesdays and at sundowns on Friday nights, away from the crowds and the hubbub of the gendered sections, I experience an intense sense of connection to the divine. With familiarity, my eye picks out one rectangular stone among many, the one with a subtly redder hue, as if beckoning me towards my unique, pre-determined path. If there is a spiritual center of the Universe, this is it, this is the ground zero.

Celebrating Int’l Family Equality Day with a Blog Post on FamilyEquality.org

Proud to share my guest blog post on the Family Equality website as part of the celebration of the International Family Equality Day (IFED 2020). To me as a gay parent, and a former refugee who has lived in different cultures, this cause – equal rights for LGBT families everywhere – is very dear to my heart.
Family Equality approached me for an essay a couple of months ago, and it has now gone live through its nationwide mailing list, Facebook, and Twitter. Take a look by clicking the photo below. Thank you for your time and sign up to stay in touch.
IFED Blog photo

 

AWP 2020 at the Break of the Pandemic: Article Published by California Writers Club

Just came out in the Spring 2020 issue of the bi-monthly California Writers Club Bulletin: my article “A Writers’ Convention That Almost Didn’t Happen” (excerpted on this site), a firsthand account of the #AWP20 congress that barely made it under the wire of the pandemic.

Every year, thousands of writers travel to the annual Association of Writers and Writing Programs (AWP) conference, the largest literary convention in North America with an upwards of 10,000 attendees, 700 exhibitors, and 500 programmed events. This year, however, was special. The coronavirus pandemic cast doubt on this giant event until March 2, just two days before its start, when the organizers and the host city of San Antonio, TX, confirmed it was going forward . . .

A venerable California institution, California Writers Club, founded in 1909, is one of the nation’s oldest professional clubs for writers. The Bulletin itself was launched in 1913. With 22 branches throughout the state offering workshops, contests, and conferences, CWC “is dedicated to educating writers of all levels and disciplines in the craft of writing and in the marketing of their work.” Glad to be part of it.

#awp20 #awp2020 #AWPocalypse #CaliforniaWritersClub

AWP 2020: Two Panels and a Reading

Every year, thousands of writers travel to the annual Association of Writers and Writing Programs (AWP) conference, the largest literary convention in North America with an upwards of 10,000 attendees, 700 exhibitors, and 500 programmed events.

This year, however, was special. The coronavirus pandemic cast doubt on this giant event until March 2, just two days before its start, when the organizers and the host city of San Antonio, TX, confirmed it was going forward.

Despite many attendees’ choosing to stay home and the cancellations of up to a half panels – quickly dubbed on Instagram as #AWPocalypse – #AWP20 was still a vibrant event. Many panels reconstituted themselves with new panelists, while the readings and the Bookfair proceeded as planned.

I spoke on the panel “More Than Me: Memoirists Looking Outward,” which focused on memoir as a tool to spotlight larger social issues like the ethics of science and medicine, drug policy, race, sexuality, and, in my case, family formation and public adoption systems in America today. Our panel’s 200 attendees asked probing questions and stayed on afterwards to discuss the issues raised in our books. The panel was organized by Alia Volz (far right), and included (R-L) Barrie Jean Borich, Samuel Autman, Ming Holden, and me.

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The next day, I moderated another panel, called “Nurturing Future Danticats, Nabokovs, and Vuongs: Engaging Multilingual & ESL College Students in Creative Writing.” Counting a last-minute replacement of a non-attending panelist, our panel had four English instructors – Marlys Cervantes, Sharon Romero, Carla Sameth, and me – sharing working strategies on how to destigmatize these students’ voices and tailor writing pedagogies to their needs. Besides presenting the strategies and examples that we brought with us, we fielded some great questions from the audience of, roughly, 30.

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As a memoirist, I couldn’t miss the panels related to my field, but also some that satisfied my professional interests, such as how to finish a long-term writing project, keep the readers’ interested past the first 70 pages, or navigate the publishing world after a book deal.

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AWP is also a great place to have your writing heard. Friday, March 6, I read “When the County Is the Parent,” an essay excerpt from my memoir Dispositions, at the group reading of the AWP 2-Year College Creative Writing Caucus off-site. The reaction, just as when I read a portion of it at the memoir panel, was visceral, and I was asked numerous times when the book would finally be out.
This was a most unusual AWP, that barely made under the wire of the pandemic curfew, but still a deeply gratifying experience.

Upcoming Reading in San Antonio, TX, 3/6

Excited to be part of the AWP 2-Year College Creative Writing Caucus, during the AWP 2020 convention next week. A warm group of diverse writers from across the country – some published, some on their way to be published. If you are in San Antonio, please stop by.

Friday, March 6th, 2020, 4-6 PM
San Antonio College, Visual Arts Center (VAC) Room 120
1819 N. Main Ave., San Antonio, TX 78212

#awp20
@LIgoudin

 

AWP20 Panel on Engaging College Students in Creative Writing

If you are at AWP 2020 in San Antonio, please stop by our panel, which features five community college professors from across the country (California, Kansas, North Carolina, and Texas) sharing approaches and activities to involve these students in writing and cultivate their often underrepresented voices. Please see the panel description below.

AWP 2020 Conference

San Antonio, Texas
Henry B. González Convention Center
March 4–7, 2020

Nurturing Future Danticats, Nabokovs, and Vuongs:

Engaging Multilingual & ESL College Students in Creative Writing


Panel Number: S225
Date/Time: 1:45pm – 3:00pm on Saturday March 7, 2020
Location: Room 210A, Henry B. González Convention Center, Meeting Room Level

Multilingual and ESL students, a sizable segment of college populations, are traditionally underrepresented in writing courses. How do we help them develop their voices? How can we tailor writing pedagogies to their needs? Community college panelists from around the country (California, Kansas, North Carolina, and Texas) will offer various modalities that help engage these college students in creative writing, including teaching writing and publishing to migrant farmworkers, utilizing poetry translation in multilingual classrooms, refocusing grading policies to foster student creativity, and writing contest and journal inclusion.

Background

Non-native and multilingual speakers constitute a large segment and often are a majority on community college campuses these days. Traditionally, colleges offered concurrent curricular tracks leading to Freshman Composition (transfer-level English course), which serves as a benchmark for community college graduation and university transfer, as well as a pre-requisite for most literature and writing courses.

Despite different paths to language proficiency, in linguistic terms, second language acquisition, at the advanced stage and in formal learning settings, in many aspects, merges with first language acquisition in many aspects (Igoudin 2017). Reasons for such convergence include:

  • Advanced SL learners are bilingual, sharing, at the very least, beginning and intermediate grammar and a wide range of vocabulary – shared lexicogrammar.
  • Native English population in community colleges is largely bilingual too.
  • The line between these two populations is blurred, leading to, for example, the Generation 1.5 phenomenon.

One other unfortunate commonality among these multilingual students is their assumed lack of ability – perceived both internally and externally – to express themselves creatively in English, leading to their underrepresentation in creating writing courses and activities.

Their English language proficiency appears to be an obstacle, but is it really?

Historically, multilingual writers flourished in English: from Chinua Achebe, Joseph Conrad, Kahlil Gibran, Vladimir Nabokov, or William Saroyan of the past to Edwidge Danticat, Junot Diaz, Masha Gessen, or Ocean Vuong of today. What can be done to engage these new generations of multilingual speakers in English writing?

This Panel’s Contribution

The panelists will share successful strategies from around the country to destigmatize these writers’ voices and to engage them in creative writing.

Some of the questions proposed for discussion are:

  • What are multilingual students’ challenges in engaging in creative writing?
  • What practices can be used to help them overcome such challenges and start writing?
  • How do they perceive writing in English vs. how do the others perceive their writing?
  • What does it mean to have a voice?
  • How do these students’ voices fit in today’s sociopolitical and literary environments?

Panel Participants

Emma Burcart is a graduate of the Antioch University Los Angeles MFA program. She teaches composition and creative writing at a community college in rural North Carolina, where she also heads up the creative writing club on campus.

Marlys Cervantes serves as Department Chair of Humanities & Communication and director of the Creative Writing Program at Cowley College in Arkansas City, Kansas. She teaches literature and writing courses, as well as serving as co-director of the Multi-Cultural Scholars Program. Contact: marlys.cervantes@cowley.edu

Sharon Coleman teaches creative writing at Berkeley City College. She directs the journal, Milvia Street. She’s a contributing editor at Poetry Flash, a member of the Northern California Book Reviewers, and a curator the reading series Lyrics & Dirges. She was nominated twice for a Pushcart Prize.

Daniel Rios-Lopera holds a degree in Audiovisual Communications and a Creative Writing MFA from the University of Texas in El Paso. He´s a Spanish, English, and Creative Writing teacher in different universities in El Paso area. Daniel also serves as Director of Memorias del Silencio, Creative Writing Workshops for Immigrant Farmworkers

Panel Moderator

Lane Igoudin, MA, PhD, is a non-fiction writer and Associate Professor of English/ESL at Los Angeles City College, where he teaches writing, reading, and linguistics, and a recent Andrew W. Mellon Fellow with the Humanities Division of UCLA. His memoir Born in the Shadow of the Court is under contract with the University of Wisconsin Press. Contact: laneigoudin@gmail.com

 

Speaking Out on Gay Parenting and Writing at Lambda LitFest

Loved being on the panel “Our Families, Our Stories: Writing and Parenting in the Trenches” at 2019 Lambda LitFest and reading there the opening of my book Dispositions. From a lesbian Mom with a child from a short-lived straight marriage, to a pioneering, single HIV-positive Dad, to two gay Moms raising their kids, each with her own, unique path, to our story, we presented a wide range of moving parenting experiences.

To me, the last 15 years have also been an experience of being both in and outside the traditional parenting narrative. What sets gay male parenting apart is that it is a 100% intentional endeavor. We have fought an uphill fight, and have come a long way. In 2019, our right to parent is a reality, but any way you look at it, parenting remains of little interest to many within our community. And it’s fine because it’s how it should be: intentional, not a slip-up, a by-product, or a means to end. LambdaLitFest1 9-27-19 (Final)

    #lambdaliterary

Lambda LitFest Writing/Parenting Panel

Please come to our panel “Our Families, Our Stories: Writing and Parenting in the Trenches” at Lambda Literary Festival. Here’s the panel description:

For those LGBTQ writers who are parents, the realities of parenthood intersects at every level of the professional author experience. Queer parents are often intentional in creating their families and in how they position their identities as writers, from craft to publication and marketing. Markedly so when you define yourself as other than a traditional “parent” and know how much words matter.
This interdisciplinary program features diverse authors who have published in multiple genres in magazines and books. The queer parenting experience is historically underrepresented and is now a rising area of focus in literary publishing.
Panelists will talk about how they both write about and interrogate some of the assumptions of parenting today.
Readings (fiction/memoir/poetry), followed by discussion.

    #lambdaliterary

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