Thursday, May 31, 2012

THE BELLE OF AMHERST

from STREET OF CROCODILES, a 21-minute-long stop-motion animation short subject 
directed and produced by the Brothers Quay and released in 1986 
It's that little glint, that privileged look into a keyhole, and realizing suddenly that there's this little universe that's probably suffering and barely breathing, but it's pulsating, vibrating, with its own life. That in itself is a metaphor of the universe.
--The Brothers Quay, filmmakers

New England has a long tradition of solitaries: Robert Frost and his “road less traveled,” Henry David Thoreau in his cabin at Walden Pond; Nathaniel Hawthorne, whose family of origin lived together but ate dinner alone in their separate rooms.

Twice, I've paid homage to the queen of them all: Emily Dickinson, the poet who, near the latter part of her life, took to shutting herself up in her bedroom, seating visitors in a chair in the hall, and speaking to them through a barely-cracked door. Emily was a genius—I don’t use the term lightly—whose work I revered and of whom I’d read several biographies, identifying deeply with her losses, lacks (by all accounts, she was a life-long celibate), and hard-eyed religious longing.

“I like a look of Agony,/Because I know it’s true—” she wrote about the face of a dying friend; and she was so conversant with naked suffering that to another bereaved friend, she observed that to approach “The crucifix requires no glove.”

Dickinson’s former home and gardens, now a museum, are in the western Massachusetts town of Amherst. The brick house, painted pale yellow and built in 1813, features a veranda, a cupola, and a shaded lawn. In the Tour Center on my last visit (circa 2007), I learned a new Emily quote: “Narcotics cannot still the tooth that nibbles at the soul.” Emily called immortality her “Flood subject.” “Emily’s job is to think,” her sister Lavinia had said. Why that’s my job as well! I mused. Too bad no-one wanted to pay me for it.

Simply be within the four walls where she’d lived, and reflected, and written, was to be in a holy place. To look out the dining room windows she’d looked out of, even if the view wasn’t the same (the land across the street had originally been a field where her brother Austin grew hay for his horses, instead of wooded as it was now). To survey the living room and think of her writing, “There’s a certain Slant of light,” and “After great pain, a formal feeling comes” and “The Brain—is wider than the Sky.” To stand in the bedroom and imagine her observing the snakes, frogs, flies, flowers of which she’d made a universe, the Universe.

In the upstairs hallway stood a Plexiglas case displaying The White Dress: the garment in which Emily had apparently floated through the gardens and house; a reproduction of the sole surviving item of her clothing. Similarly,  to date but a single photo had been unearthed. A single dress, a single photograph; of the more than 1200 poems she’d written, less than a dozen published during her lifetime: icons of her themes of death, Immortality, thwarted desire.

I gazed out through the tops of the elms across the street.  How much, of necessity, we hold in. How violently we desire. From her chaste bedroom in Amherst, Emily had written:

Wild Nights – Wild Nights!
Were I with thee
Wild Nights should be
Our luxury!

Futile – the Winds –
To a Heart in port –
Done with the Compass –
Done with the Chart!

Rowing in Eden –
Ah, the Sea!
Might I but moor – Tonight –
In Thee!


EMILY DICKINSON'S BEDROOM

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

TREPIDATION AND ADVENTURES

MISSION SAN DIEGO DE ALCALA

photo: Kathy Wikman
I'm a poor and reluctant e-mail correspondent, as some of you know (partly because I would not be able to maintain the blog otherwise), but I often receive beautiful e-mails from others. Here's one that arrived the other day, from reader Kathy Wikman:

Hi Heather, Just thought I would share with you this photo, even though I'm sure you have been there yourself. Perhaps of greater interest, you were my inspiration for getting there in the first place...

For a lifetime I have struggled with a certain timidity of spirit which has produced (among lots of other things like -- a reluctance to speak out and risk offending anyone) a very real fear of going by myself someplace I have never been before. So when my employer (the V.A.) insisted that I attend an intensive clinical training last week in San Diego, I went with no small degree of trepidation. Prior to my departure, I did some "googling" for points of interest since I had never been there before. I was thrilled to find that the Mission San Diego de Alcala is located there and thought, "Maybe I can go there....."  Of course, there were lots of reasons to make it an "impossible" endeavor -- no car, don't know how to find it, training doesn't end until 4:30 each day, and ... no one to go with me.

Then I thought about all your journeys to various places "adventuring" all by yourself. That was the extra "push" I needed. I hired a cab, made arrangements to leave 10" early from training, and made it to Mass in that marvelous old building on Thursday at 5:30. I wish I had words to describe the feeling of peace that blessed me the minute I knelt in the pew.

Thank you Heather. Look at the seeds you sowed. I just wanted to share with you a bit of the harvest.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

THE SANCTIFYING POWER OF ABJECTION: MONEY, PART II

window with barbed wire
Amargosa Opera House
photo: Bill MacIver
Two weeks back, I posted about my "money wound," for lack of a better phrase. Folks responded in a way that was so Christ-like and helpful and sane ("the sanctifying power of abjection" is drawn from one of the comments) that I've been living and breathing a big thank you ever since…all along I've been thinking the blog is a way to give of myself, but maybe the real deal is I've somehow created a space for you all to hold and help me…

In  a way, everything is in place for me: I'm organized, disciplined, conscientious, persevering. I quit the high-paying job to "follow my dream." I get that life is basically about being of service. But winding through it all like a serpent is the shame and the terror around money. No matter how much or how little money I have, I'll have a compulsive 'strategy' around it. I have no faith at all that more money will come in. My default mechanism is to self-deprive, work harder (there's a big difference, I'm discovering, between working and earning), isolate more, and spend less.

As I said in my under-earning piece in The Fix, if a course in money management were the problem, I'd be there, just as, if a course in public morals and health were the answer to my drinking problem, I would have been there twenty-five years ago, too. But for some of us, the wound goes way deeper than management; the wound is a compulsion, an addiction, an organizing principle that in some ways takes the place of God.

Maybe that's why the comment that struck closest was Carie's: "Heather, I am so resonating with your pulsing dilemma, and throw faith and 'what, exactly, is faithfulness' into the mix and I come up with panic attacks. I've struggled with shame and anxiety about money all my life - the thrift store shopping and terror of entering an actual high-end department store, and then at the same time terrified of a chunk of inheritance that weighs like a glowering bully, and terrified of the future and the certainty of living alone in a cardboard box at the end of it all. My dear husband brings me back to the center when he gently asks, 'Yes, but if you were living alone in a cardboard box under a bridge somewhere, could you still share the love of Jesus with the person next to you?' You know what, I think I could."

Hansel & Gretel GFO 2008
Jennifer Holloway as Hansel; Adriana Kucerova as Gretel

Photo: Mike Hoban
For some of us, the problem centers on a very old story, or series of stories. This is where all addiction gets cunning, baffling, powerful. Because the story I've been telling myself is partly true and partly a gigantic delusion...The story I've been telling myself is I am willing to sacrifice for my art. I am just a little bit different from other people in that my wants are fewer and simpler. I don't need the things other people do--a house, a relationship, health insurance--because I'm so spiritual.

There's nothing  more "spiritual" than earning a living that allows a person to have a salary, benefits, vacations,  and a decent allowance for clothing, food, shelter, and transportation. To that end, I've been taking many "actions"--among them building a new website for my editing/creative consulting business which I plan to unveil momentarily!

More and more, I see the Gospels are really about a psychic change, a transformation beneath the level of consciousness.

me, age circa 3
Verily I say unto you, Except you be converted,
and become as little children,
you shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven... 
[Mt. 18:3]
I'm shooting to be re-born sometime around mid-June.

Friday, May 25, 2012

COLORS AND LIGHT

"THANK GOD FOR YELLOW OCHRE, CADMIUM RED MEDIUM,
AND PERMANENT GREEN LIGHT."
--Philip Guston
Silver Lake Blvd. and Parkman, LA









MICHAEL LEVINE,
OLD SCHOOL UPHOLSTERY AND DRAPERY FABRIC,
MAPLE ST., DOWNTOWN L.A.
I'M GOING TO MAKE NEW CURTAINS FOR MY ROOM OUT OF THIS.
THEY SAY GREEN IS THE COLOR OF HOPE! 

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

THE QUEEN IN GOLD OF OPHIR


Never let it be said that I do nothing but schlep around back alleys scavenging for discarded clothing, appliances, and beverages. No indeedy. Last Saturday, for instance, I motored right up Benedict Canyon Drive to the (Annie) Stein residence (Annie runs a mentoring program for foster care girls called Hershe Girls) to attend a show/sale of my friend Hilary Beane's jewelry.

Hilary may be the only person I know for whom the adjective "fabulous" 100% applies. I mean, really, where is Irving Penn when you need him?


We spoke of Tahitian pearls, bezels, black diamonds, people who trigger deep childhood wounds (i.e. everyone), Vietnamese noodles, and money.




I am putting a totally cool linked silver bracelet on the wish list for my 60th birthday. Because truly, if not now, when?

like this, but silver! 
As Dostoevsky said, "The world will be saved by beauty. Which means Hil is definitely saving the world.

All thy garments smell of myrrh, and aloes, and cassia, out of the ivory palaces, whereby they have made thee glad.

Kings' daughters were among thy honourable women: upon thy right hand did stand the queen in gold of Ophir.
--Psalm 45:8-9


For more of Hilary's stunning jewelry, visit Hilary Beane Design.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

MY INTERVIEW TODAY AT WORD ON FIRE

Word on Fire Ministries is running a series on non-legislative approaches to abortion this week. To wit:

Culture of Life: Introduction


This week, the Word on Fire blog writers explore expressions of the Culture of Life that go beyond the political in order to demonstrate the necessary creativity of a culture-changing phenomenon. Father Steve Grunow introduces the week of posts with a short reflection upon culture and the pro-life movement at large.
Read the whole INTRO here

Here's an excerpt from the piece by the very smart and very well-prepared Kerry Trotter that emerged from the conversation we had a few weeks ago:

Through counseling King was invited to pursue a relationship with the children she lost, give them names, personalities, neuroses ("One is still pissed off at me," she quipped), and a place in the universe.

“With this subject, you could not articulate the depth of the sorrow,” she said. “It’s when you get way, way down that you are in the garden of Gethsemene with Christ.”

Read the whole piece here.

ALSO upcoming:

May 22, 2012, Tuesday, 12-1 ET (re-broadcast Sunday May 26 4-5 ET), tune in to  "Pathways of Learning" with Sr. Marie Pappas at SiriusXM Radio. Sister Marie and I will discuss St. Thérèse, Shirt of Flame, and life.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

BILL W.: AN INTERVIEW WITH THE MAKERS OF THE NEW DOCUMENTARY ON THE CO-FOUNDER OF AA



Bill W.: The First Intimate Documentary
The AA co-founder had to wait 40 years after his death for an up-close and personal documentary, complete with a never-before-seen archival trove. The filmmakers explain what took so long.

By Heather King
05/16/12
thefix.com

In 1999, AA co-founder Bill Wilson was listed by Time magazine in its “100 Persons of the Century” issue. Amazingly, however, we have very little on film about his life and work. There are two Hallmark productions: 1989’s My Name Is Bill W., which tells his story, and 2010’s When Love Is Not Enough, which tells the story of his wife, Lois Wilson, a co-founder of Al-Anon Family Groups. There’s a 1946 “March of Time” newsreel, with photos or footage of AA’s offices but not of the man himself.

Enter producer Dan Carracino and director Kevin Hanlon (both of Page 124 Productions) who, way back in 2003, became fascinated both by Bill’s story and by the phenomenon of AA. Almost a decade in the making, their documentary, Bill W., opens Friday in a host of theaters in New York City, New Jersey, Orange County and Los Angeles.

Neither of you are alcoholics. Why Bill Wilson?

Kevin Hanlon: Dan and I have been friends since high school and always wanted to make a film together. About eight years ago we got serious about it and at that time I just happened to be reading Ernest Kurtz’s book about AA history, Not-God. I found it to be a page-turner—from the first scene where Kurtz describes Bill W. and Ebby [Thacher, an old drinking buddy of Bill’s and, by some accounts, his eventual sponsor] sitting at the kitchen table in front of a bottle of gin, I wanted to know who this guy was and what happened.

Read the rest here!...

*Friends and fans. I'm gonna put off that sequel money-post till next week. But it's a-comin...

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

BLUEBONNET SPRING



I was gonna put up a piece today I wrote for The Fix about the new documentary, Bill W., but I'm not seeing it, nor hearing from the editor over there.

So my mind has turned to May of '10 when I found myself tooling up the Gulf Coast Highway in Texas--well, actually Route 77, which is apparently a major drug-, gun-, money-, poached game- (everyone in that part of Texas--man, woman, and child--seemed to hunt), and people-running corridor--and listening to this Nanci Griffth tape I'd had for ages.  I didn't see a ton of bluebonnets but it was a thrill to actually be in the place the song was about. And of course, in a way, it's about everyplace...

"And when he dies 
he says he'll catch some blackbird's wing
Then she will fly away to Heaven, 
come some sweet bluebonnet spring"...

Sunday, May 13, 2012

WHERE DID I GO?



Dear God! I must say I have not been entirely well. I have been so far out of my normal routine and therefore "out of my comfort zone" (which, under the best of circumstances is about 5'5" tall and three feet wide) that I'm not sure what's going on.

You may or may not have caught my recent piece in The Fix: Under-earners Unite! That describes/explains at least some of my current upheaval, and it is all around something with which we are all semi-obsessed, but hardly ever actually talk about: money.

What I'm seeing is most of us so do not want to be horrible consumers and greed-infected Wall Streeters that we can go to another, in its way equally unhealthy, extreme. We can take Christ's message that "as ye do unto the least of these, so ye do unto me" to mean that we should choose our own martrydom and insist upon being one of "the least of these"--in the wrong way--ourselves. We all bring massive childhood baggage about money, holiness, success, fear, loyalty to our families of origin with us into adulthood. And we have very little guidance--not from our families, not from our schools, definitely not from our culture--as to how to manage money, earn money, think about money, relate to money. Thus many of us--okay, I--have shame around money, secrecy around money, a love-hate conflict with money, and an almost neurotic fear when it comes to money: of having too little; of having too much.

I could have gone along in my living-on-1500-dollars-a-month, no-health-insurance, no-vacations, no-separate-accounts-for-personal-and business way indefinitely, but reality jarred something loose and so, way WAY against my better judgment, will, and personal desire, I'm devoting a lot of energy and time to seeking help in this area.

It's going to be a long--in fact, life-long--haul. All my ideas about my spirituality, my progress, God's will for me are being upended. I feel very lost. I feel afraid I won't be able to write anymore because no matter which way I have tried, the truth is I have not been making a living wage from my writing (I live mostly off a "nest egg" I saved up from lawyering that in some sense has become my Higher Power). I see my resistance to change--I'm like the paralytic by the pool whining, "Nobody will take me in!" with Christ at my side patiently asking, "Yes, but do you really want to go in? Do you really want to leave your mat?"...

On top of it, my pore mother is fading. I was so grateful to spend last week with her, but there were of course many emotions as well, and leaving her was wrenching.

This morning I was cleaning my desk and I came across a little card a friend sent me years ago. It's a quote from Dorothy Day: "I always had a sense of being followed, of being desired, a sense of hope and expectation." I thought, Well I haven't. I've had a sense of abandonment and failure and pulsating, electric fear. I threw the card in the wastebasket and started crying.

And then I went to Mass.
DETAIL, ISENHEIM ALTARPIECE
MATTHIAS GRÜNEWALD, 1506-1515

Saturday, May 12, 2012

HAPPY MOTHER'S DAY





In Memoriam M.K.H., 1911-1984


When all the others were away at Mass
I was all hers as we peeled potatoes.
They broke the silence, let fall one by one
Like solder weeping off the soldering iron:
Cold comforts set between us, things to share
Gleaming in a bucket of clean water.
And again let fall. Little pleasant splashes
From each other's work would bring us to our senses.

So while the parish priest at her bedside
Went hammer and tongs at the prayers for the dying
And some were responding and some crying
I remembered her head bent towards my head,
Her breath in mine, our fluent dipping knives--
Never closer the whole rest of our lives.

--Seamus Heaney


Mom is recovering from a fall that left the whole left side of her face bruised.
She never complains.

Friday, May 11, 2012

PRAYING FOR RAIN: A NOTE FROM NEW MEXICO

Today we have a beautiful guest post from the beautiful, whip-smart, deeply spiritual Rozann Carter, who is the Creative Director at Word on Fire Ministries (you can see why). These good folks often re-run my Shirt of Flame posts and now I have called in the favor and they have graciously granted permission to re-run this post of Rozann's.

You can see the original post here and more of the great WOF blog here.

Having just returned to Chicago from the small, rural New Mexican community where she grew up, Rozann Carter reflects on the differences between urban and rural Catholicism-- on display within a simple, fervent prayer for rain.


O God, in Whom we live move and have our being, grant us sufficient rain, so that, being supplied with what sustains us in this present life, we may seek more confidently what sustains us for eternity. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God for ever and ever.
 -taken from the Roman Missal of the Catholic Church, special prayers For Civil Needs

Mounted on the post of the barb-wire fence that separates the front yard from the pasture is a rain gauge. When the first crest of a thunderhead is visible on the horizon, when the phone lines are busy with local farmers and ranchers dialing up their neighbors 20 minutes further west to see the scope of what is rolling in, while families are anticipating the post-rain, deep-breathing, prayerfully giddy backporch session that is hopefully to come, that rain gauge sits—a quiet, inanimate, unaware receptacle of the palpable hopes of an entire community—hopes grounded in an inch-worth of measured drops of water.

Please, God. Please let it rain.

And so they wait, day after day, watching the local weather channel with religious devotion for an often-disappointing percentage chance… and then the sky for a sign that the “real Weatherman” is more merciful thanKFDA’s Doppler Dave. They make plan A’s and plan B’s based on the news, selling the cattle for another week of wind, tumbleweeds and dirt; holding onto the herd upon the prediction of a gully-washer. They talk at the coffee shop (the kind with Cain’s Drip and Mini-Moos cream) about what they’ll do when the grass doesn’t grow and only the noxious “loco weed” survives, about the inordinate number of grasshoppers that are eating up the remaining stalks… and then, with lightness and joyful carrying-on, about how the local football team just whipped a 3A school across the Oklahoma line.

And they go to Mass. They bring their humble and fervent pleas for provision; they arrive with a sense of being utterly susceptible and powerless to muster up a rain cloud on their own accord; they fortify themselves with weighty back-up-- their children, who have been given specific directives to keep petitioning, keep praying, keep giving thanks.  (The cycle of desperate hope and resignation/elation that accompanies this rain-prayer was on hilarious display in my family growing up. My cousin Kyle, upon making the connection that rain meant a “happy dad” and after a few confusing mornings of 3+ inch rains and no puddles, was discovered making the rounds filling up the rain gauges with a water hose.)

The orientation of rural communities around the cycle of the seasons, the weather and the type of Divine blessing that calls to mind the Israelites’ “manna in the desert” creates a specific type of spirituality. There is a seriousness, a depth of dependency, and a daily resignation to the will of God that occurs in rural life which is difficult to replicate. I returned to Chicago last week after having spent a long weekend at home in Northeast New Mexico amidst the highs and lows of the agricultural Spring, more aware than ever before of this contrast.

Urban Catholicism, mind you, is a grace-infused, organizing force that defines neighborhoods, serves as a means for acquiring healthcare and education, and populates carnival-style block parties. It makes a city into a community and organizes initiatives to make free-time valuable (eternally valuable) for those with little to none of it. It holds the common good in high esteem and boldly participates in both local and global corporal works of mercy to elevate this good. It provides a place of worship, of repose, and of embodiment of the Kingdom of God, very much amidst the imposing forces of a hostile culture.

Rural Catholicism, on the other hand, has a different organizing dynamic. The rural Catholic Church, especially if it exists in an agricultural community, is place of gathering, not so much to unite a varied prayer, but to pray a common prayer in unison.  It’s a pinnacle experience bringing together career, community and faith. Its liturgy is positioned at the end of another week of county-sweeping forecasts, of community-wide fulfillment or disappointment, of answered prayers or the resignation that there is a deeper lesson to be learned in the seemingly unnoticed appeals.

Within the mystique of the pastoral, the perception of being idyllic, serene, and simple, and even the criticism of being disconnected from the societal and cultural milieus of the day, there is something of rural life that gets at the heart of what it means to know one’s place vis-à-vis God. The daily necessity of fervent supplication creates an almost monastic, beggar’s mentality that orients one around the all-powerful, other-ness of Providence in humble submission, while still pleading for his very personal intervention, as if He calls forth blades of grass in the same way that he numbers the hairs on one’s head and names the sparrows.

The rural Church exemplifies a necessary reorientation of priorities, the temporal in service of the eternal, in the midst (and for the good) of the entire community. The Old Testament nature of this daily trust keeps one humbly and thankfully dependent, in a proactive and yet submissive way, which is the prerequisite for true sanctity.

The lesson to be learned from the rural church is contained within this dynamic of praying for rain. Within the interior identification of what it is that we physically need, what we may take for granted but simply cannot live without, we recognize that we are fundamentally a beholden people. We are dependent on a God who reiterates that our fervent supplication does more for us than for Him, a God whose mercy, severe at times, is exercised with our ultimate good in mind. He sends the rain in due time, but during that passing time, he glories in the spiritual transformation that comes only by way of the recognition of a need so intense that it cannot be filled by our own power, but so daily that it must be constantly reckoned with. 

Would that we were all this vulnerable… always.

Please God, let it rain.