Tuesday, November 29, 2011

A SUPPOSEDLY FUN THING I’M GOING TO DO EVERY YEAR UNTIL I DIE


That, of course, would be the annual opening of the boxes of Christmas decorations. The must of the old newspapers the ornaments are wrapped in, the lights a dead tangle of wire and plastic, everything hurriedly wrapped and put away (sad chore!) the previous year, the boxes lying all year dark and cold in the back of the closet, the pang of joy when I plug in the lights and my palm jumps with tiny flames: electric blue, ruby red, emerald green, pure burning white. The crèche from Africa: three hippos painted pink and black; brown clay figures wrapped in batik loincloths: the three wise men; Joseph with a ring through his nose; Mary's breasts bared; the baby Jesus in a basket. In the background a palm tree, a single triumphant green frond, a scrap of cotton cloth stiff with paint, attached with wire to a cardboard trunk.


The cloth and gilt dolls from India, the gold bow I found on the sidewalk in Salem, Massachusetts circa 1989, the straw angel we bought in the Dominican Republic, the terra cotta cherub from the late, lamented Claudia Laub's studio on Beverly Boulevard, the raffia star made by Sister Benedicta (R.I.P.), the stencilled Christmas tree on handmade red and green paper the L.A. Catholic Worker sent out one year as an invitation to their tree-trimming party. The teardrop bulb—sea blue and hot pink stripes—I bought at Yoken's gift shop in Portsmouth, New Hampshire the summer I stayed with Cousin Dickie at the beach house, the Guatemalan dough ornaments I bought on Water Street in Exeter one afternoon on my lunch break, the 3-D stars our Koreatown neighbor Michael made out of brown and gold gift wrap the year he died of AIDS, the Victorian decoupage balls I found in Little Tokyo, the two glossy green bunches of fake cherries I brought back from Cholula, Mexico, the lights I got at an after-Chrismas sale at the Thrifty's on Wilshire before it merged with Rite-Aid and moved to Vermont sometime after the divorce. a history of the places where I have lived, the countries from which I have been granted a safe return, the stream of family and friends who have buoyed me up, borne me along, given me the strength to endure.





The Advent calendar I bought at the 99-Cent Store several seasons back. December 1st: "The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light..."

"We can do no great things," said Mother Teresa. "Only small things with great love."


Monday, November 28, 2011

ADVENT WAITING...

FR. ALFRED DELP, 1907-1945
EXECUTED BY THE NAZIS
"My chains are now without any meaning,
because God found me worthy of the 'Vincula amoris' (chains of love)."
"Life means waiting, not Faust-like grasping, but waiting and being ready…Anyone who remains stuck, waiting in fearful expectation just to see whether or not he will survive, has not yet laid bare the innermost strata. For the fearful expectation was sent to us in order to remove our false sense of security and behind it is this other metaphysical waiting that is part of existence.”

"The deepest meaning of Advent cannot be understood by anyone who has not first experienced being terrified unto death about himself and his human prospects and likewise what is revealed within himself about the situation and constitution of man in general."

--Father Alfred Delp, died 1945, who was condemned to death in Germany during WWII.

I learned of Fr. Delp through Magnificat, and have just reserved his Prison Meditations at the library. I want to learn more about, and reflect more upon him, but for now here's an article by Michael Holman, S.J. (Fr. Delp was also a Jesuit priest, and took his final vows, handcuffed, in his cell).  "Faith in Jesus is very, very rare"...

A special order by Heinrich Himmler required that the remains of all prisoners executed in connection with the July 20 Plot be cremated, and their ashes scattered over the sewage fields. Fr. Delp was hung from a meat hook on February 2, 1945.




LOS ANGELES 2011

Sunday, November 27, 2011

AN OPIUM-ADDICTED SAINT!


This Addict Is a Saint
By Jim Manney

Posted: 22 Sep 2011 01:11 AM PDT

"A friend of mine recently sent me a unusual holy card.  It honors St. Mark Ji Tianxiang, a Chinese layman who was murdered in 1900, along with dozens of other Catholics in his village, in the vicious persecution of Christians during the Boxer rebellion.  That’s not the unusual thing.  The Church has canonized many martyrs, including many Chinese martyrs.  What’s unusual about St. Mark is that he was an opium addict who was barred from receiving the sacraments for the last 30 years of his life.

Mark couldn’t receive communion because his addiction was regarded as gravely sinful and scandalous.  He prayed for deliverance from his addiction, but deliverance never came.  Nevertheless he remained a believing Catholic.  At his trial he was given a chance to renounce his faith, but he refused. It is said that he sang the litany of the Blessed Virgin Mary as he was led to his execution.

Saints are exemplary people.  The Church creates them so we can learn from them.  So what can we learn from St. Mark Ji Tianxiang?

For starters, he shows that anybody can become a saint—even a man who was kicked out of the church for giving public scandal.  By canonizing him, the Church also signals a different attitude toward addiction than the one St. Mark’s pastors had a century ago.  Drug abuse is sinful, but addiction is also a disease of the mind and body.  Addicts today are not excluded from the sacraments because they are addicts.

I also marvel at St. Mark’s confidence in the mercy of God. He probably shared the village’s opinion of him—that he was serious sinner who was behaving terribly.  He must have felt despair in his futile struggles and perhaps some bitterness too. But he persevered in his faith.  I suspect that in his brokenness he met the suffering Christ.  In the end, he went to his death confidently, trusting that love would receive him.  May we all imitate St. Mark."

And may we all, IF POSSIBLE, put down the opium BEFORE we get martyred.

From Ignatian Spirituality. See also "The Addict Saint," by Max Lindenman (from which I cribbed the top photo). 


ST. MARK JI TIANXIANG

Friday, November 25, 2011

"COMING AWAKE IN LOVE": MY INTERVIEW IN DAPPLED THINGS

Here's my interview about the genesis and writing of Shirt of Flame in the current issue of Dappled Things: A Quarterly of Ideas, Art and Faith.

Get the inside story here!

Sample:
I also had a huge conflict over the cover, which I find intensely incongruent with my own sensibility, and especially with the sensibility and spirituality of St. Thérèse. It’s a chick-lit, pastel cover, designed to be bland and non-threatening, the only redeeming feature of which is that it is slightly—but only slightly—less offensive than the one originally proposed, which was a la-la-la New Age girl in a swirly dress floating through an acid-green, flower-strewn pasture. That kind of Disney Christ cover says nothing that can be argued with and also nothing that’s remotely truthful, compelling, interesting, challenging, original, or real. Spirituality to me is blood, sinew, tendon, a heart nailed to a cross.

So there! Thanks to editor Katy Carl and all best wishes to the lovely Dappled Things.

And thanks to my friends Julia and Aaron for having me, as they have for many years, at their Thanksgiving banquet...

FIVE OF THE TEN PUMPKIN PIES,
HOME-MADE BY JULIA,
THAT WE DROVE AROUND AND DISTRIBUTED TO FOLKS LIVING ON THE STREET
WEDNESDAY NIGHT

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

IN THANKSGIVING FOR MY NAME


"Eh! We're on the moor now sure enough," said Mrs. Medlock.

The carriage lamps shed a yellow light on a rough-looking road which seemed to be cut through bushes and low-growing things which ended in the great expanse of dark apparently spread out before and around them. A wind was rising and making a singular, wild, low, rushing sound.

"It's--it's not the sea, is it?" said Mary, looking around at her companion.

"No, not it," answered Mrs. Medlock. "Nor it isn't fields nor mountains, it's just miles and miles of wild land that nothing grows on but heather and gorse and broom, and nothing lives on it but wild ponies and sheep."

"I feel as if it might be the sea, if there were water on it," said Mary. "It sounds like the sea just now."

"That's the wind blowing through the bushes," Mrs. Medlock said. "It's a wild, dreary enough place to my mind, though there's plenty that lies it--particularly when the heather's in bloom."

--from The Secret Garden, by Frances Hodgson Burnett

HEATHER MOORS
ISLE OF ERISKA
photo: Dennis Hardley
I'm gonna be on Barbara DeMarco Barrett's radio show "Writers on Writing" today, live at 9 a.m. PST. Listen in while you mash your pumpkin here...

Monday, November 21, 2011

THE CLEANSING OF THE TEMPLE

CHRIST CLEANSING THE TEMPLE
EL GRECO, oil on panel, probably before 1570
"There is no worldly reward for our spiritual efforts. There isn't even a connection. The payoff for turning to God is more God, not more world."
--Hugh Prather

The Gospel reading Friday happened to be Luke's account of the cleansing of the temple: "Jesus entered the temple area and proceeded to drive out those who were selling things, saying to them, 'It is written, My house shall be a house of prayer, but you have made it a den of thieves.' ” [Luke 19: 45-46].

The Magnificat reflection (as so often, spot-on) was from German Dominican priest and mystical theologian Father Tauler (d. 1361):

Who were those who bought and sold in the Temple, and who are they that do so now?  And take notice that I am to speak only of those buyers and sellers in the temple who are good people, and who are nevertheless scourged out of His temple by the Lord; not gross sinners or such as are consciously in a state of mortal sin; and yet they are buyers and sellers. They are souls who, indeed, guard against grievous sins, and would do good works for God's glory; they fast and pray and keep vigils and do other good things. But what is their motive? It is that God would in return do good things to them, bestow on them the favors they wish. They are, therefore, self-seekers; they are merchandisers with God, as anyone can see. They give that they may get. They must traffic with our Lord. 

This is all of us of course. I wonder, though, if one of the holiest things a priest can do isn't to be kind to a fellow priest. I wonder if quite so many priests would be so wounded, so lonely, so prey to their compulsions, sexual and otherwise, if we all spent a little less time trying to evangelize everyone else and a little more time trying to evangelize ourselves. I wonder if the scandals would have been quite so scandalous if all along we had been trying to promote not so much the Church triumphant as the Church humble, poor, and meek; if we had been emphasizing that we are all complicit in the suffering of the world, that we are all broken, all fallen, all lonely, and that that is exactly why Christ came. He didn’t come so we could win. He didn’t come so we could vanquish our enemies. He didn’t come so we could have the flashiest churches, the biggest crowds, the best numbers.

Cor ad cor loquitur: heart speaks to heart. Coming home on the plane last week I sat beside a middle-aged couple on their way to Hawaii: a woman with an injured foot and a guy who'd taken--had sacrificed himself by taking, I’d wager--the middle seat.

The woman spent the first hour fretting and complaining and digging endlessly and noisily into various cellophane bags of snacks and chomping away and carrying on. Then suddenly like a child she leaned over, snaked around her arm around the guy, laid her head against his chest, and fell asleep.

And I thought That is John on the breast of Christ at the Last Supper. That is the heart of our faith.

THE LAST SUPPER OF JESUS
ANDRÉ DERAIN, 1911

Thursday, November 17, 2011

MUNDELEIN, MUNDELEIN: MY VISIT WITH WORD ON FIRE

CHICAGO RIVER, PRE-PIZZA
HI, I'M A TOURIST!
THE WRIGLEY BUILDING
Welp, I am back safely from my trip to Illinois, and though Mundelein, Mundelein, may not have quite the ring of Chicago, Chicago, that is where I stayed, thirty miles north of the city at the seminary. I must say given half a chance I would change my gender, go back a few decades, and apply to study there to become a priest...For starters, there's a lake with a three-mile perimeter lined with graceful bridges and long views...there are Georgian brick buildings and meandering paths through the trees ("Margaret, are you grieving/Over Goldengrove unleaving"...). There was my room at the Conference Hall residency (built circa 1921(?)) in which I could easily make a life. Wide windowsill ledges on which to place your snacks and books, a delightfully clanky radiator you can crank up to high, a view of the quadrangle, a bathroom with spacious old sink, wooden medicine cabinet, and patinaed copper fixtures, a simple crucifix on the wall, and a gigantic "living room" (well-worn Schirmer's Mozart sonatas open on the grand piano) into which I padded in the morning to fetch my coffee...

I must give a special shout-out to Rozann Carter, administrative assistant and I don't know what all else (no title could describe the jack-of-all-trades duties that she, and it seems everyone else at Word on Fire Ministries, though they all have their specialties, performs). She stood by during a four-hour delay to pick me up at O'Hare, drove me downtown, showed me the Michigan Avenue environs highlights, feted me with a house salad (Chicagoans apparently put bacon bits in everything! I love that!) and a thin-crust mushroom and sausage at Lou Malnati's, and then ferried me at some ungodly hour to the seminary.

"Now where are the Great Lakes from here?" I asked at one point and was astounded to learn that Chicago is ON a Great Lake, thereby corroborating that I really need to get out more.

Rozann also deposited me at my door with this insane package of caramel popcorn, white chocolate covered pretzels, gummi bears, granola bars, Orbit gum, Starbucks Via (thank God), a darling package of hand-stamped flower-inked notebooks, and a print of Francisco de Zurburán's "The Bound Lamb" from the Prado. My ascetic bare-bones soul (I had subsisted the whole day on a $1.99 pack of dry whole wheat pita crisps and a bag of almonds) could hardly compute this largesse and it was all I could do to focus on my notes the next day before giving my two talks for the Word on Fire staff's "Day of Recollection." No flies on these folks. This is a crackerjack group who you can tell are working on all cylinders, all the time, and in fact were off the next day to Alabama so Fr. Barron could appear on EWTN.

THE DOORKNOB IN MY ROOM
But first, we enjoyed a lovely day together. I spoke (roughly) on the holy longing; on grace, desire, and mission; on the demand/invitation to love...I got to meet, at last, the delightful Fr. Steve Grunow, Fr. Barron's right-hand man. We'd been FB friends for months so it was a treat to meet him in the flesh and later that afternoon we managed a nice chat. In fact, I got a chance to chat with most of the dozen or so folks there who, to a person, were kind, insightful, and welcoming.

As for the good Father Robert Barron. he was energetic, interested, kind, smart, and funny: no small feat, especially as his popularity is skyrocketing as of late. His new Catholicism is selling like hotcakes, along with the DVD (which, btw, they gave me copy of! I left laden with gifts). He is booked to speak in all kinds of places--Cleveland, NYC, New Zealand--and more offers are pouring in. It's an exciting time for Word on Fire Ministries. I was humbled and honored and touched to be asked to speak and to feel a part, however tangentially, of his evangelization efforts.

More and more, I also see my greatest gift is to have been brought to my knees by alcoholism. Because before you are brought to your knees, you tend to think you are going to be able to manage and control by virtue of intellect backed by will power. You see other people fall and you think, That won't happen to me because I know how to manage and control. But we are not in control. And when I am really lucky, I remember that, and then I can take a walk around the lake at dusk: staggered by beauty, incoherent with thanks, mesmerized by the little crosses on top of the lamps that line the bridges, the squirrels, the crowns of the trees against the sky...






Friends of Word on Fire Liz and Chris Yore hosted us for dinner: fireplace, rare roast beef, tarte tatin and great conversation. "They knew him in the breaking of bread." Thus it has always been; thus it shall always be.

Diane Archibald came to fetch me for the ride to the airport at 7:30 the next morning, but first I had a chance to walk out and look across the lake one more time. The water looked like molten gold and just as I turned to leave, five wild geese rose in unison and, mournfully honking, flew away. I swear they were saying: Come back again some day, come back...

For as St. Ignatius of Loyola said, Love is an exchange of gifts...

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

BACK TO HIGH SCHOOL: THE BELMONT SENTINEL


All we writers dream of one person--just one; is that too much to ask?--who totally "gets" us and our work. For some, that happens through a review in the New York Times or a National Book Award or maybe even a Pulitzer. Me, I just got written up by Graciela Espinoza in the Belmont (L.A. High School) Sentinel.

I wouldn't trade this for a review in the New York Times for anything on earth. 
T h e S e n t i n e l

Volume 88, Issue 1 ...The View from the Hilltoppers October/November 2011

By Graciela Espinoza
Opinion Editor

Essayist Heather King made a special appearance in Brad Valdez’s Advanced Placement English class to guide students through their transcendentalist reading, September 15.

“I loved the way she was deep and offered great explanations that helped my group,” said junior Julissa De La Cruz. “I understand the work much easier now.” According to Valdez, he chose King to talk to his students because of her intellect and success as a published writer. Valdez knew she would be a meaningful guide for the students as they faced the challenge of transcendentalist essays.

King hails from the coast of New Hampshire and relocated to Los Angeles in 1990. “I watched the Beverly Hillbillies a bunch of times so I told my husband, ‘let’s load up the car and move to California,’ ” said King. After enduring her share of suffering over the years, King found sobriety and became a lawyer. “My parents were finally so proud of me. People would say ‘good for you’ or ‘congratulations,’ but I was dying inside and just knew this was not what I was put on earth for so I quit my job,” recalled King.

According to King, she felt she was destined to become a writer. “People come to L.A. in a sense to lose and find themselves and that’s what happened to me. I quit my job, became a Catholic, and a writer. I’ve been here since 1990 and I’ve not regretted it one bit,” said King.

The students in Valdez’s class respected King’s commitment to her true calling. “I admire her bravery to quit her job as a lawyer and follow her passion for writing,” said junior Dayana Reyes. Junior Richard Kent appreciated the chance to learn from her expertise. “I want to go into the law profession and it was helpful to get feedback from her because she was a lawyer,” said Kent.

According to King, she found refuge in books during her tumultuous years.“I just lost my way and all during that time, I always had a stack of books,” said King. Books made her realize that she wasn’t the only human being who was suffering. “Books really saved me from killing myself in the darkest years of my life,” said King.

King’s love for books and determination led to her first published work. “I remember I burst into tears when I got the [acceptance] letter,” said King. “I literally fell to my knees and just sobbed and realized that if I died tomorrow, I would die happy,” said King with tears in her eyes.

The students in Valdez’s class were curious about King’s writing. “She told us her new book comes out in less than three weeks and I’d like to know what her books are about,” said junior Keila Alexis. King has published three memoirs. According to King, her first memoir, Parched, serves as a reminder that suffering leads to pain, pain to redemption, and redemption to compassion for others.

Her second memoir is called Redeemed. The book follows King’s spiritual quest as she quits her job, becomes a Catholic, and a writer. King writes about the isolation and confliction of the human soul, her marriage, the breast cancer that brought her close to the Virgin Mary, the wreckage of divorce, and the death of her father.

King spent 2009 wandering around Koreatown, Los Angeles, inspiring her third memoir entitled Shirt of Flame. “This book is more about finding the transcendent in what we encounter during the day, or the moment when we’re angry at our friend and suddenly our hearts open one more time and say, ‘I love that person so much. Forget it, who cares’ and you’re reconciled again,” explained King.

King left Belmont’s aspiring writers with words of advice. “As a writer, you open yourself to tons of criticism and rejection, to failure and disappointment,” she said “…but life is a paradox. The suffering is there, yet how can we not avoid that?” concluded King.

Can we pull together here and all hope that Graciela Espinoza wins the National Book Award herself one day?

Thanks, too, to photographer Andy Sandoval, to all the smart, hard-working, welcoming students in Room 247 who asked the most intelligent questions about David Foster Wallace's "Federer as Religious Experience," and of course, to Brad Valdez--aka Mister--Belmont High AP English teacher extraordinaire 


BELMONT HIGH
photo credit

Monday, November 14, 2011

GIVERS AND BEGGARS: CATHERINE OF SIENA

“There are inequalities in the order of grace, just as there are in the order of nature.
     We do not mean the inequalities that come from sin, from injustice, against which we ought to fight. What of the natural inequalities of men? Why do they exist? Saint Catherine of Siena says: so that each one may be, in regard to all the rest, both a giver and a beggar.”
--Cardinal Charles Journet, The Meaning of Grace

Near the Colorado line on a cross-country road trip a few years ago I stopped at a convenience store to use the restroom, glanced into the mirror, and realized that I looked like a member of the Donner party.  I’d been fancying myself a bold, brave seeker, but a middle-aged woman, alone in a grungy bathroom hundreds of miles from home and looking like hell was closer to the truth. The truth was that I had no particular emotional, financial, spiritual, or artistic support in my life, no guarantee that I’d be able to get a book out of this experience, as I hoped to [and in fact did not], no guarantee that the memoir I had coming out in a few months would sell [it did not], or that I would ever publish another one [I did!].

Not to put too fine a point on it, but a childless, partnerless, middle-aged woman is in some sense a beggar. I had to beg companionship on that trip, beg human contact, beg conversation, and if not beg food, beg the sacrament of a shared meal (often when I would “rather” have been alone), beg a moment of shared awe. Beg for someone to say along with me, Isn’t life beautiful? Beg for someone to understand when I asked, In spite of all its conflict and pain, would you trade a minute of it for anything? Beg not to be pitied. Beg to be forgiven for allowing others to mean more to me than I meant to them. Beg for the full value of what I was doing to be treasured while knowing that it wasn’t going to be, not knowing whether God himself saw its value.

Part of the tension I'm called to hold when in pain is to resist my impulse toward isolation; to stay connected with others. As a matter of humility, I must interact with others. I must stay connected to the material: food, faces. I have to acknowledge my own terrible need; I have to continue to give, even if all I have to give is my puny presence, even if I feel that I have and am nothing.


One fascinating manifestation of the miracle of the loaves and fishes is that wounded people can help other wounded people in a way "well" people can't. I first noticed this phenomenon back in '86 when I was in rehab. The people in white coats with their certificates and degrees were useful enough in their way, but they were not who I or any of the other drunks/addicts there truly wanted to hear. We wanted to hear from another person who had suffered. We wanted to hear from another person who was coming back from the dead. We wanted to hear from someone who needed us as much as we needed them.

For a well person to give is nice enough in its way, but for a person who's suffering to give is sublime. With the person complete in and of himself who doesn't need anything, the giving only goes in one direction. When the wounded person gives, there is a completion, a participation, a flow out and in, an exchange. We suffer, we beg, we share what little we have, and in the vulnerability, lo and behold, there is something for us. We get to be part of the feast. We get to eat, too. Even St. Maximilian Kolbe, who offered himself up to starve in another man's place at Auschwitz, got to "eat." Because you can be sure since the moment he died he has been sitting with the other martyrs, saints, and lovers of Christ at the very head of the banquet table.

Christ draws us lonely people close; he has a whole constituent of lonely-hearts. We move through life not knowing, not quite daring to believe, and yet we believe anyway.

In The Eden Project, Jungian analyst James Hollis observes that fear is the great motivator and that we tend to deal with fear in three main ways: by becoming a caretaker, by becoming aggressive, or by withdrawing (I  like to do all three, often at once). And that, interestingly, one other way we can sublimate fear, if we’re lucky enough, is through love itself. Sometimes our soul enlarges to the point where we’re willing to open ourselves to the power of the other, to the capacity of the other to wound us. “The magnanimous person,” Aristotle called such a soul: the one with a big enough sense of self to allow the other to be the other, and simultaneously to risk opening to the other--because inherent in enlarging the soul is that the risk is no longer quite so precarious.

On my walk the other day I saw a black man, a young man, by his bike, just a normal human being with one pants leg rolled up and a Vons bag slung over his handlebars, and I swear I almost stopped and said to him: Would you just put your arms around me for a minute? We don’t have to say anything, but would you just hold me in your arms?

I wonder what would happen if we all did that for each other--and for ourselves. I have no doubt AT ALL that the world would be instantly, utterly, saved.


Sunday, November 13, 2011

ALL THAT REMAINS: THE STORY OF TAKASHI NAGAI

DR. TAKASHI NAGAI
1908-1951
Dear Ms. King,
My name is Ian Higgins and I am writing to you because, along with my brother Dominic, I am currently making a movie on the life of Christian convert, peace activist and survivor of the Nagasaki atomic bombing, Dr. Takashi Nagai – a man who may soon be made a saint, but we need the help and support of Catholic communities around the world.
Any mention on a blog site such as yours would be a really great way to spread the word and generate the support that we badly need.
All That Remains is a remarkable true story of the power of faith which will utilize state of the art special effects, live-action dramatic reconstructions and computer generated animation, alongside candid and intimate interviews with friends and family of Dr. Nagai, as well as other survivors of the atomic bombing, in order to take our audience on a personal journey alongside Dr. Nagai, as he embarks on his life changing quest for “the ultimate truth”.
We have some amazing people on board, helping us to tell his story, including the University of Nagasaki, his grace Archbishop Joseph Mitsuaki Takami and Fr. Paul Glynn, author of the acclaimed biography on Dr. Nagai, “A Song for Nagasaki”.

But we are also offering the opportunity for other Christians to get involved and help us make this film, t
he people who understand the power of faith, the people who want films that hold meaning for them.  
For more info and ways to help please visit our indiegogo page:
The countdown as already begun on our campaign, so any help you could offer would be gratefully appreciated!
A more in-depth synopsis of the movie is available on request.
Our Facebook page:
In closing, I would like to thank you for taking the time to read my email.
Yours sincerely,
 Ian Higgins
Major Oak Entertainment Ltd
DR. NAGAI CONFINED TO HIS BED

Thursday, November 10, 2011

LAUNDRY TIPS!: THE DIY WASHING MACHINE

NANA (R.I.P.), MY PATERNAL GRANDMOTHER,
BEHIND HER HOUSE IN RYE, NEW HAMPSHIRE.
NOTE THE WORK GLOVES AND HOE (RAKE?)
DON'T MESS WITH NANA
NANA PROBABLY SCRUBBED THAT SHEET BY HAND
WITH FELS NAPTHA AND ELBOW GREASE
A couple of weeks ago I held a lovely dinner party--a subject unto itself I'll perhaps describe elsewhere (like in the book I'm determined to write next about food)--but for now, everyone knows one of the best parts of any party is the post-mortem. After the dishes were cleared (after the dishes where DONE, actually, by my friend Ellen), and everyone else had left, I commandeered my two friends Donald and Dave for the task and we settled in for a nice chat.

Donald and Dave had never met before but it turns out they live in the same L.A. neighborhood., have both spent considerable time in Mexico, and know all the same cheap Eagle Rock and Highland Park markets. ("The Super! [pronounced Su-PAIR] Do you go to the one up on York or"..."No, the produces is all wilted there by Sunday night. I like the one on Division better"...

Like me, most of my friends...let's just say enjoy a good bargain. So at some point I thought, as a kind of joke, to mention an item a reader had brought to my attention a few weeks before: the Zeer pot, a "five-dollar refrigerator" made by nesting two terra cotta pots, pouring sand in between, wetting the sand (and I gather spending a good part of the day keeping the sand wet), and covering the whole with a jute rag.

"So who needs a fridge!" I wound up, thinking they'd get a kick out of the thought of employing sub-Sahara food-cooling methods in the middle of Los Angeles. Not in the least. I looked from one to the other. Both were leaning  forward, rapt, their eyes agleam with interest...

"I guess I can tell you guys..." Donald was then moved to offer. "Well...lately I've become obsessed with how to do laundry without a washing machine"...

Dave and I fell upon this (perhaps at first glance arcane) notion without hesitation. "The laundromat's so expensive." "I miss hanging my clothes out on the line." "Is it me or do the clothes not even get clean any more?"

Dave and Donald went deep into conversation over their respective experiences with washboards in Mexico, and Donald explained that his (rather extensive) research had revealed that the operative dynamic in effective clothes-washing is not, as is commonly believed, scrubbing, but rather agitation. The idea is to loosen the dirt, gently agitate, then let the dirt float away...To that end, there are actually people, for instance, who put their dirty duds in a barrel of water, hoist it onto the bed of a pickup, and take a drive around some bumpy desert roads.

For Los Angelenos this would require about forty bucks in gas (plus the purchase of a pickup) so I filed that idea away while Dave delivered a paean to Dr. Bronner's soap, which for years he has used to wash his clothes, his dishes and himself. Donald gave an exegesis on the wonders of borax (great for clothes AND makes your dishes sparkle--cheap, too; they sell it at the Super). I gave a short homage to my mother who refused to use a dryer (electricity bill) even in New Hampshire winters, and insisted on hanging the laundry out in wind chill factors of twenty below, lending our clothes (and especially towels) an interesting papier mâché effect...

THE POINT BEING we all need to have lots and lots of dinner parties! In this way, we can broaden our horizons, meet new friends, get closer to our neighbors, our food, our clothing, and our world.

Here's a portion of the correspondence that ensued.

On Tuesday, November 1, 2011 (three days post-party):
From Donald:
Hi Dave and Heather,
I have now become an official devotee of Dr. Bronner. What a deal- such a little goes a long way, cuts the grease and smells good too. Doesn't get much better. Here is the web site I found with all the alternative washing info- there is a whole sub-culture of machineless washers out there. Who knew?
http://www.off-grid.net/2010/04/22/diy-washing-machine-and-homemade-laundry-soap/
She mentions Mrs. Stewarts bluing which I remember my grandma using- she had a funny story about dying her hair blue with it - and that was way before punk... . I tried some in my whites but I didn't notice a bit of difference. I think it is better left to science projects and hair dye.

Happy washing,
Donald

DIY washing machine and homemade laundry soap
by TREASUREGIFT on APRIL 22, 2010 - 98 Comments in OFF-GRID 101SELF-SUFFICIENCYWATERWRETHA

What do you get when you combine a 5 gallon bucket and a toilet plunger? An off grid washing machine. Well, maybe not a machine in the traditional sense, unless you consider my hands the motor. This is something I have been wanting to make for quite some time now. The other day while I was in town, I saw a toilet plunger on the shelf and put it in my cart. I also picked up 3 bottles of Mrs Stewart’s bluing, I’ll explain more about that in a bit.

Plunger with holes
This primitive prototype washing machine started out as a 5 gallon bucket and the plunger. I handed the plunger to PB and asked him to cut some holes in the plunger, that makes it easier to plunge the clothes without making tons of bubbles and a big mess. I left it up to PB to decide how to cut the holes and in what shape. He took it downstairs for a few minutes, then brought it back to me, he handed me the plunger with 3, perfectly round, quarter sized holes. he handed me the rubber plugs that came from those centers.

Off Grid Washing Machine
I had a few socks and a couple of thermal shirts, all white, that needed to be washed. I put them in the bucket, filled it with enough water to cover the clothes by a few inches, added some homemade laundry soap (recipe to follow) and began to plunge. It worked like a charm. But of course, PB is never happy with prototypes, he wants to improve things, so he decided that a lid was in order, the lid would keep the water from splashing about as I plunged the clothes. We didn’t have a lid for the bucket, at least not one we wanted to cut a hole in. PB found another 5 gallon bucket, it had a bad place in the bottom, but it had a screw on lid. PB cut the bottom off that bucket and slid it into the first bucket, it fit like a charm.

Lid with hole

Next, PB cut a hole in the screw on lid, he created a gasket using a prescription pill bottle, that keeps the plunger handle straight and keeps any water from splashing out of the hole in the top. Since the bucket is several inches taller now, the handle for the plunger wasn’t long enough, so PB removed the original handle and replaced it with a longer handle. Now I can put the whole thing on the floor and plunge from a standing position, I get more power to my stroke now. It works great!...


There's more on rinsing, wringing, hanging out to dry, and making your own soap you can read here....


On Tuesday, November 1, 2011:
From me: 

Oh wow, this is super exciting [though it did later cross my mind that the prescription pill bottle from which PB fashioned a gasket had perhaps held Thorazine]... Now for the question: what is washing soda (and where do you get it) as opposed to baking soda?

On Tuesday, November 1 2011:

From Dave:
Heather and Donald, Thanks Donald for the link, I read many of the posts on the site and its so funny how many people are in correspondence about laundry! The good Dr. Bronner also makes the best bar soap, good for spot cleaning, general duty and maybe for laundry powder... it also rinses better than any bar soap I have ever used. Someone also told me once about freshening clothes between washes using some combination of Vodka and water, a costumers trick. The solution may have a funny name, but I couldn't find it online. [Author's note: sure enough, a google search for "vodka costumers" yielded this article entitled "Removing Odors from Smelly Belly Dance Costumes"]. I wont be using that particular solution, but a bit of laundry avoidance lore. I also like Fels- Naptha bar soap which is available at Vons, or was a couple of years ago. It is a harsher soap by far, I used it for cleaning brushes when I painted with oils. Great for heavy washing. Good Evening! Dave

On Wednesday, November 2, 2011:
From me:
What I'm thinking as well, and an avenue we haven't yet explored, is--bark clothing! Or maybe animal skins. Then we wouldn't have to launder at all...

On Wednesday, November 2, 2011:
From Dave:
From Harper's Magazine, July 2010: "By the time of Nero, the saving of urine had become an institution in the Roman Empire. In the vast apartment blocks where much of the capital's population lived, people urinated into small pots that, when full, were emptied into much larger vessels beneath the building's stairs. When away from home, a Roman could pay to use a public latrine and relieve himself among the figures of gods, or for no charge at all, he could pause at a street corner and use the vessels there, provided by the guild of fullers. From these vessels, as well as from the latrines, the fullers of the empire- urine conservationists perhaps unrivaled in the history of the world- gathered together Rome's urine into large basins, and in these basins men and boys used their feet to trample clean the city's woolen garments. As evidence of the degree to which this system of saving urine had become an integral part of Roman life, we know that after Nero's flight from Rome, after he is said to have recited Homer and cut his own throat, Vespassian took his place and levied his infamous vectigal urinae, the urine tax." -Cutter Wood

Thursday, November 3, 2011:
From me:
Now THAT'S recycling! Between the vodka-freshened shirts and the laundered-in-urine sweaters....wait....that's how I used to smell when I drank!....

URINE-COLLECTING VESSELS?
OR MAYBE JUST COOL COLUMNS (?)
ROMAN SETTLEMENT OF BARCINO:
EXCAVATED RUINS BENEATH THE CITY OF BARCELONA
photo, info re Museum of History of the City of Barcelona, 
and Roman urine-collecting corroboration:
Earprint Productions
CIVIC LAUNDRY, ROMAN SETTLEMENT OF BARCINO:
photo: Earprint Productions
Sunday, November 6, 2011:
From Donald
Years ago I read about this Roman habit of collecting urine. I had heard that urine was used to manufacture a kind of bleach that the fullers used.I didn't know that they used it directly for washing woolens- I can only imagine that all that collecting, storing and washing in the stuff must have leant an interesting odor to the city- and the washer men probably never suffered from athlete's foot.

I'm going to stop at that very handy segue into what I hope to be my next installment of Depression era tips: HOME HEALTH REMEDIES.

For now: Happy agitating!


MUSEUM OF HISTORY OF THE CITY OF BARCELONA
photo: Earprint Productions

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

FR. ROBERT BARRON'S CATHOLICISM: A JOURNEY TO THE HEART OF FAITH


I'm happy to say I have in hand a copy of Catholicism: A Journey to the Heart of Faith by Fr. Robert Barron of Word on Fire Ministries (inscribed and sent by the good Father himself!).

When I first opened its creamy pages (with an insert of glossy color plates in the middle, like all the very best books you read as a child), I thought Oh I am not going to make one mark on this special tome. I am going for once to leave this pristine. Within five minutes I had my pen out, and was madly bracketing, underlining, making stars and N.B.'s and exclamation points, and sticking little Post-Its on ever other page.

Fr. Barron is an author, HIGHLY-EDUCATED scholar, and evangelist, and his book (out September 6) is at once an introduction, overview, and invitation for those who don't know much about, but may be interested in, Catholicism; and a deepening, widening, and heightening for those of us who are interested already.

From the jacket flap: "Starting from the essential foundations of Jesus Christ's Incarnation, life, and teaching, Father Barron moves through the defining elements of Catholicism--from the sacraments, worship, and prayer, to Mary, the apostles, and saints, to grace, salvation, heaven and hell--using his distinct and dynamic grasp of art, literature, architecture, personal stories, Scripture, theology, philosophy, and history to present the church to the world."

That, plus there's a photo of the Cologne Cathedral that alone...I mean there has to be something greater than ourselves because how could mere mortals make something so beautiful, how could they want to make something so beautiful, otherwise?...

COLOGNE CATHEDRAL
Photo: Robert Harding
With chapter titles like " 'That Than Which Nothing Greater Can Be Thought': The Ineffable Mystery of God," "Our Tainted Nature's Solitary Boast: Mary, the Mother of God," and "A Vast Company of Witnesses: The Communion of Saints" (with profiles of Katherine Drexel, Thérèse of Lisieux, Edith Stein, and Mother Teresa of Calcutta), you can dig in anywhere and find choice meat.

Herewith a small sampling:

"But let us consider another way of construing freedom, one more in line with biblical sensibilities. On this interpretation, freedom is not primarily a choice, but rather the shaping of desire so as to make the achievement of the good first possible and then effortless."

"Therefore someone who has ordered himself fundamentally toward God is, ipso facto, a peacemaker, for he will necessarily channel the metaphysical energy that draws things and people together."

"In Pope Leo's text [Leo XIII's Rerum novarium of 1891] Maurin [Peter Maurin, co-founder of the lay Catholic Worker movement] found the line 'once the demands of necessity and propriety have been met, the rest that one owns belongs to the poor'"...

"The twentieth-century theologian Karl Rahner commented that ' "God" is the last sound we should make before falling silent' "...

"...God does not wrestle a rival into submission, for he has no rival; nor does he intervene to shape matter according to his aggressive will, for there is no matter that confronts him. Rather, through a sheerly nonviolent, nonintrusive, non-interruptive act of speech, God gives rise to the whole of finite reality: 'Let there be light, and there was light'..."

"At her trial on trumped-up charges, Saint Joan of Arc was asked for her understanding of the relationship between Christ and his church. This is how she responded: 'About Jesus Christ and the church, I know only this: they're simply one thing and we shouldn't complicate the matter.' As an articulation of the peculiarly Catholic sense of the church, it would be hard to improve on that."

CHURCH OF THE HOLY SEPULCHRE, Chapel of Calvary
Photo: Medioimages/Photodisc
"Aristotle said that the best activities are the most useless...In this sense, the most useless activity of all is the celebration of the Liturgy, which is another way of saying that it is the most important thing we could possibly do."

Of Mother Teresa of Calcutta's decision to sever her formal ties to the Loreto Sisters so she could found her own community:

"In April of 1948, after several years of testing and waiting, canonical approval came from Rome, and Mother Teresa said to the archbiship simply, 'Can I go to the slums now?'
     In the first weeks and months of her new life, Mother experienced terrible bouts of loneliness, depression, and discouragement--and an accompanying desire to return to the relative comfort and security of the Loreto Sisters. But she persevered, for she knew that she had to become like the poor in every way--both physically and psychologically--in order to serve them effectively."

From "The Dark Night," by St. John of the Cross:

I abandoned and forgot myself,
laying my face on my Beloved;
all things ceased; I went out by myself,
leaving my cares,
forgotten among the lilies.

(trans. Kieran Kavanaugh and Otilio Rodriguez)

Fr. Barron is engaging, funny, whip-smart, and peculiarly posed to go mano-a-mano (his "weapons" charity, truth, love!) with the youngish, often angry, seekers/attackers of Christianity who are drawn in particular to his youtube videos and for whom he has a genuine affection. Way thin-skinned myself, I often have trouble under similar circumstances remembering that the attack inures to Christ, not me.

But Fr. Barron--he gets it completely.

"As I have mentioned many times throughout this book, Christianity is not a philosophy or a universal mysticism. It is, first, a relationship with Jesus of Nazareth"...

DETAIL ISENHEIM ALTARPIECE
MATTHIAS GRÜNEWALD, 1515