Friday, May 22, 2015

WALKING THE CAMINO WITH ANNIE O'NEIL AND PHIL VOLKER



For this week's arts and culture piece, I interviewed Los Angeleno Annie O'Neil, who has walked the Camino.

It begins:

"For those who have been living under a rock, the Camino de Santiago — also known as the Way of St. James — is a 500-mile ancient pilgrimage route that begins in southern France, crosses the Pyrenées, and snakes through Spain, ending at the spectacular cathedral in Santiago.

Annie O’Neil, a native of Los Angeles, had read of the Camino, was fascinated by the Camino, dreamed of the Camino. Then, one day in the fall of 2008, an old friend named Lydia Smith called out of the blue and said, “Have you ever heard of the Camino de Santiago?”

Smith was planning a documentary about folks who walk the Camino. Her plan was simply to go and let the Camino “provide.” But she needed someone to kick things off."

READ THE WHOLE PIECE HERE.




photos: Todd Pinckney, courtesy of “Phil’s Camino.”







Wednesday, May 20, 2015

BALLET AND TIME

NUREYEV AND FONTEYN

Continuing my little reflections on time:

"Ballet's relationship to time--the fact that the repertory, unanchored by text, is always vanishing, just as the dance image on the stage is always vanishing--forms a large part of the vividness and poignance of the art. We are always losing it, like life, and therefore we re-create it, mythologize it, in our minds."
--Joan Acocella, Twenty-Eight Artists and Two Saints, pp. 184-85[highly recommended].




"It's important to dance not just to the music, but to dance the music."

Do not miss the dying swan, minutes 35:40 to 39:15 or so.

Plisetskaya recently died at the age of 89.

Monday, May 18, 2015

TURNING TIME INTO LANGUAGE: THE WRITER'S FETISHISTIC RELATIONSHIP TO WORKING HOURS


BRENDAN BEHAN

In a recent piece on Anthony Trollope in The New Yorker, Adam Gopnik observed: "Writing is turning time into language, and all good writers have an elaborate, fetishistic relationship to their working hours."

And I thought it was only me!

In the library a couple of days later, I came across Daily Rituals: How Artists Work. Edited and with text by Martin Currey, the book is a compilation of short profiles of visual artists, composers, sculptors, and authors.

Here's Mozart:

"My hair is always done by six o'clock in the morning and by seven I am fully dressed. I then compose until nine. From nine to one I give lessons. Then I lunch, unless I am invited to some house where thy lunch at two or even three o'clock, as, for example, today and tomorrow at Countess Zichy's and Countess Thun's. I can never work before five or six o'clock in the evening, and even then I am often prevented by a concert. If I am not prevented, I compose until nine. I then go to my dear Constanze, though the joy of seeing one another is nearly always spoilt by her mother's bitter remarks..."

"Altogether I have so much to do that often I do not know whether I am on my head or my heels," he observed elsewhere to his father.

With the exception of my hair being done at six (or ever), I can relate.

Some people have set times; some wing it. Some can write only in the morning; others only at night. Certain common threads run through. A daily walk.  Strange or OCD eating habits. For some alcohol and tobacco, for others, coffee. A sharply curtailed social life. The hideous, never-ending burden of correspondence.

Constant tension.

"Beethoven rose at dawn and wasted little time in getting down to work. His breakfast was coffee, which he prepared himself with great care--he determined that there should be sixty beans per cup, and he often counted them out one by one for a precise dose. Then he sat at his desk and worked unto 2:00 or 3:00, taking the occasional break to walk outdoors, which aided his creativity."

Edward Abbey (American environmentalist and essayist, Desert Solitaire): "A writer must be hard to live with: when not working he is miserable and when he is working he is obsessed."

I was surprised to discover that many artists played cards at night. This made me feel a little better about my own Brain Jam habit (I'll only play the games rated "Hardest": screen name: "Scrapper"). By night-time my overheated brain needs a rest and winning at cards, even an elevated form of solitaire, serves to soothe my ravaged, always-behind-the-eight-ball psyche.

Some of the artists enjoyed getting together with fellow artists, often nightly, to discuss their work. But personally I'm with Catalan painter and sculptor Joan Miro (who, for you non-artistic types, was male):

"Merde! I absolutely detest all openings and parties! They're commercial, political, and everybody talks too much. They get on my tits!"

Saturday, May 16, 2015

THE BLOOD OF JESUS, A FILM BY SPENCER WILLIAMS



A STILL FROM THE BLOOD OF JESUS

The Village Voice’s J. Hoberman called the 1941 early black film The Blood of Jesus “a masterpiece of modern cinema that has scarcely lost its power to astonish.”

Written and directed by Spencer Williams, perhaps better known as the actor who played Andy in Amos 'n' Andy, the film recently screened in downtown L.A'.s REDCAT Theater.

Here's my report.

You can watch it yourself on youtube.

Friday, May 15, 2015

LOVE ONE ANOTHER--AND KEEP PAINTING

ST. DAMIEN by
MATTHEW KIRBY

You folks bowl me over, just in case you don't know.

I've been jammed with work these past several months: a new book, galleys for another book coming out in the fall, a new roster of "Credible Witnesses" for next year's monthly Magnificat column, an unexpected request of ten profiles for a Magnificat Year of Mercy collection for 2016, a couple of manuscripts I've been editing for others, a weekly arts and culture column which often requires a field trip; or driving across town, interviewing someone, transcribing the tape, and then shaping it down to an 800-word piece...

I'm generally very careful not to be "busy" in the sense of hardly a free moment (as opposed to intensely focused, in the sense of a conscious, intentional use of time that nonetheless allows for many hours that are not strictly scheduled or "owed" to others).

Given my druthers, I would probably spend many hours a day writing blog posts as the spirit moved. I've had many thoughts lately that have to do with time: time as in how I schedule the hours of my day, time as in life as hidden sacrifice, time as in mortality and eternity.

For now, they will have to wait, as I need to write a piece on Blessed Franz Jägerstätter.

But I can at least share this amazing painting by Matthew Kirby of Brooklyn, who sent it on after reading a recent post on St. Damien and the lepers. He writes: "It was supposed to be for these dinners for people with AIDS, but a priest said if I gave it to them they'd just stick it in a closet and forget about it. So he took it with the intention of brokering a sale. I'm sure it's now in a closet somewhere, which is perfect."

Talk about a life of hidden sacrifice! (Matthew, I mean (who is also a husband and father), not St. Damien, though of course him, too). Such beauty, such depth, such heart. [Check out more of Matthew's work here and here].

I can't always respond to the emails I receive as fully as I'd like. But I've never been more aware that as St. Ignatius of Loyola observed: "Love is an exchange of gifts."

Thank you for all you give me. I would perish without it.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

JUST ONE OF THE LITTLE PEOPLE




“When you finally discover that you are just one of the little people, don't conclude that this makes you special.”

--Madeleine Delbrel








I'm staying in an LA neighborhood called Angeleno Heights for a few weeks.
Saturday I set out on foot to an urban park I'd been meaning to visit for a couple of years: Vista Hermosa.

It's a gem--overlooking the 101 freeway, no less and I mean to write a piece about it soon.




THE SWOON-WORTHY MATILIJA POPPY,
ONE OF MY FAVORITES

Sunday, May 10, 2015

IN THE SANCTUARY OF OUTCASTS: ST. DAMIEN AND THE LEPERS



Happy Mother's Day.

Here's the beginning of this week's arts and culture piece.

"May 10 is the feast day of St. Damien (1840-1889). As a young priest, Father Damien made his life among the lepers at the colony of the Hawaiian island of Molokai — then contracted, and died of, leprosy himself.

He was canonized in 2009, and is also the unofficial patron of those suffering from HIV and AIDS.

“Not without fear and loathing,” Pope Benedict observed, “Father Damien made the choice to go on the island of Molokai in the service of lepers who were there, abandoned by all. So he exposed himself to the disease of which they suffered. With them he felt at home. The servant of the Word became a suffering servant, leper with the lepers, during the last four years of his life.”

Then and now, disfiguring diseases makes us uncomfortable. They bring us face to face with our mutilated hearts. They reveal to us how very little we are willing to suffer ourselves.

Books and films about those with Hansen’s Disease, as leprosy is now known, abound"...

Friday, May 8, 2015

ON BEING SOBER 28 YEARS TODAY



"[M]y transformed state and feeling [after a period of excruciatingly painful illness] were, I suspect, very close to what Nietzsche experienced after a period of illness and expressed so lyrically in The Gay Science:
'Gratitude pours forth continually, as if the unexpected had just happened—the gratitude of a convalescent—for convalescence was unexpected…. The rejoicing of strength that is returning, of a reawakened faith in a tomorrow and the day after tomorrow, of a sudden sense and anticipation of a future, of impending adventures, of seas that are open again.' "

--Oliver Sacks, from an essay entitled "A General Feeling of Disorder" in The April 23. 2015 issue of The New York Review of Books


Wednesday, May 6, 2015

THE ROAD GETS NARROWER







To be a follower of Christ, or even to observe and be conflicted by and troubled about the ways of "the world"--which we should, as the whole clawing-your-way-to-the-top thing is a ghastly lie--means that all around we are going to see the sleek, the smug, the well-fed, the "successful" who are seemingly achieving power, property and prestige effortlessly. We, on the other hand, are always a bit behind the eight ball. We serve a different master so we're stopping along the way to help the person we see beaten and bloody by the side of the road, or to marvel at a hummingbird nest. We're periodically going off to a lonely place to pray. We're forever anguished and stricken because we're forever yearning, seeking, longing: "Here we have no lasting city; we seek a home that is yet to come." Our sleep is seldom untroubled; our "schedule" is being forever interrupted.

Our day is rarely free of work and interpersonal conflict. The more integrity we have, the more painful when the people around us often seem to have so little of it.

That doesn't preclude also living in a strange kind of joy and peace. But it is very lonely and can be almost unbearably frustrating, discouraging and exhausting. Worse, in my case at least, it can give rise to a low-level resentment and self-pity.

Gratitude and a sense of humor are the antidotes. With a sense of humor, I remember that I, of all people, have hardly in my life modeled integrity. With gratitude, I can join Flannery O'Connor who observed--while suffering from the lupus that would kill her--"I can, with one eye squinted, take it all as a blessing."

Here'a a poem recently sent on by one of my most faithful and long-standing readers, Thomas DeFreitas of Arlington, Massachusetts. Tom is a poet himself. You can peruse and buy some of his many books HERE.

THE ROAD

Because our lives are cowardly and sly,
Because we do not dare to take or give,
Because we scowl and pass each other by,
We do not live; we do not dare to live.

We dive, each man, into his secret house,
And bolt the door, and listen in affright,
Each timid man beside a timid spouse,
With timid children huddled out of sight.

Kissing in secret, fighting secretly!
We crawl and hide like vermin in a hole,
Under the bravery of sun and sky,
We flash our meannesses of face and soul.

Let us go out and walk upon the road,
And quit for evermore the brick-built den,
And lock and key, the hidden, shy abode
That separates us from our fellow men.

And by contagion of the sun we may
Catch at a spark from that primeval fire,
And learn that we are better than our clay,
And equal to the peaks of our desire.

--James Stephens



SCENES FROM THE GARDEN AT THE GETTY CENTER
BRENTWOOD, LOS ANGELES


Monday, May 4, 2015

MOTHER TERESA ON PROFESSIONALISM




From a reader:

"Some years ago, Mother Teresa was asked by a reporter one day, “What is your biggest problem?” Without a moment of hesitation, Mother Teresa answered with one word: “Professionalism.” She said: “Here are these servants of Jesus who care for the poorest of the poor. I have one who just went off and came back with her medical degree. Others have come back with registered nurse degrees. Another with a master’s in social work… and when they came back with their degrees… their first question always is, ‘Where is my office?’ Then she said, ‘But you know what I do? I send them over to the House of the Dying where they simply hold the hands of dying people for six months and after that, they’re ready to be servants again.’”

--[Victor D. Pentz, “Take This Job and Love It” Protestant Hour Sermon, (3/14/2005), p.3.] This was the greatness of Mother Teresa… her unflinching commitment to stay connected to Christ’s Servant Mentality.

FROM A FIELD TRIP TO THE MT. WILSON OBSERVATORY
LAST WEEK