Tuesday, September 29, 2015

EAGER TO LOVE



Here's a treat--and an invitation, and a challenge--from the website promoting the Richard Rohr book: Eager To Love: The Alternative Way of Francis of Assisi.

Listen to THIS TALK given on September 17 by my friend Tensie Hernandez.

Anything I might add would only detract.










Sunday, September 27, 2015

A TREMENDOUSLY STRONG SENSE OF THE HEREAFTER: PIANIST GLENN GOULD


This week's arts and culture piece is about one of my musical heroes and begins like this:

Glenn Gould (1932-1982) was a Canadian pianist, best-known as an interpreter of Bach.

In the documentary “Hereafter,” he makes an interesting and useful observation about freedom.

He says, “I have often thought I’d like to try my hand at being a prisoner. ... I have never understood the preoccupation with freedom as it is understood in the Western world. So far as I can see, freedom of movement usually has to do with mobility, and freedom of speech most frequently with socially-sanctioned verbal aggression. To be incarcerated would be a perfect test of inner mobility.”

Gould wasn’t promoting our grossly punitive prison industry. He was making an observation about the license to do as we please — no matter who is affected or hurt — that passes for freedom in our culture. He was talking about the freedom known to the follower of Christ: to respond — or not — to the invitation to leave everything behind and follow him.

READ THE WHOLE PIECE HERE.




Friday, September 25, 2015

ROME AND THE HUMAN FAMILY





I know there's been some small flurry of interest that Pope Francis has been in the U.S. next week.

A lesser-known news item: next week I am going to Rome!

This will be my first trip to Europe in 35 or 40 years. Last time, I was in no shape to appreciate to appreciate the art, the food, the churches, or really anything. So I'm excited.

Sister Maximilian Marie, O.P., has taken me under her wing and secured me a ticket to the Papal Mass on Oct. 4th that opens the Family Synod, and to the Oct. 14 Papal Audience (the Pope apparently holds a Papal Audience at 10 am each Wednesday he's in town). How great is that?

I have my new passport, my room, my guide books my copies of I, Claudius, John Varriano's A Literary Companion to Rome, A Traveller in Rome by H.V. Morton, and about fifty million suggestions to drink coffee at this cafe, visit this church, walk to that market, and not to on any account miss all kinds of things I'm sure I'll miss. The sisters are having me for Pranzano I think it's called (lunch) one day, and for tea another, and I may take a day trip to Assisi.

Also, I'm to have coffee with a delightful seminarian who generously angled to get me a Scavi tour.

Other than that, I just want to wander the streets (think of the pictures), go to Mass, take in the gardens, and pray with all my heart for the human family.

Every single day this yeas has been so packed, shaken down and overflowing,  I could write a book on it. I've been without a permanent address, mostly by choice, so that's been interesting.

My weekly arts and culture column is almost a full-time job. I take the honor and the responsibility seriously and the gift I receive in return--the people, the inspiration, the sense of a rich extra dimension--the Kingdom of God like yeast, all through the loaf--is stupendous.

I also have a new book out, and if all goes well, two more out next year, and my monthly column for Magnificat. The "Credible Witness" essays need to be submitted six months in advance and the line-up for 2016 includes many of my heroes: Dorothy Day, Franz Jaggerstatter, Fr. Stanley Rother, Fr. Ed Dowling.

Another big project: I'm co-writing the memoir of Kathleen Eaton-Bravo, founder and CEO of Obria, formerly known as BirthChoice, which brings free medical clinics to under-served communities with a focus on crisis pregnancies. She prefers the term "life-affirming" to "pro-life," tries to give the prospective mother every available option in favor of giving birth to the child, and believes in accepting, loving, and supporting the mother (and father), whether she chooses to have an abortion or not. To me, that's the crucial Christ-like link that's been missing in the terribly polarized pro-choice/pro-life battle. It's messy wading into these waters. There's no pat, ends-neatly-tied-up solution to any human situation. The solution is love.

So the project is inviting me to stretch on a number of different levels. To go to a place that's not safe and secure, where the labels disappear, where we consent to be vulnerable, misunderstood, and possibly shunned--by both "sides"--is the place on the outskirts where Christ stood.

In the end, it is always two human beings. Can I reach out my hand to my brother, to my sister, and say: Tell my your story? Can I listen?...

Here's the link to a piece called "The Man in the Skirt: The Church as Field Hospital." It was inspired by a cross-dresser I saw almost every day at Mass this past summer.

Somehow it's in the spirit of the message of Pope Francis--which is straight, rock-bottom, from the Gospels.




ECHO PARK BOULEVARD,
HEADING SOUTH FROM CERRO GORDO
FALL COMES TO L.A.!

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

SHRINE COFFEE



The folks on California's Central Coast have been good to me.

Most especially, these include 1) the one and only Fr. Patrick Dooling. Fr. Pat had me up to speak last year at the Monterey Cathedral, then lent me his family home in Capitola for several days; and 2) Anne Breiling of Aptos. Anne hosted me at her home on a road trip to the Lost Coast of California a couple of years ago and, like Fr. Pat (they are friends) has loyally supported my work.

Looks like I'll be up that way speaking again during Lent, 2016.

More to the point here, Anne is spearheading a groovy new coffee shop/community gathering place at the beautiful Shrine of St Joseph, overlooking a gorgeous stretch of the Pacific in Santa Cruz.

Check out the youtube above and the Shrine Coffee crowd-funding website here. As you can see, this looks like a first-class operation.

Community gathering places--and great coffee to keep the conversation flowing--are just what we need.

Convert/conversation: same root word. Meaning, "turn around; send in a different direction."


Sunday, September 20, 2015

Q AND A WITH PATHEOS RE MY NEW BOOK: STRIPPED






The folks over at the Patheos Book Club have been kind enough to launch a discussion about my new book: Stripped: At the Intersection of Cancer, Culture and Christ.

An excerpt from the Q and A:

Your faith was integral to your journey through the cancer diagnosis and treatment. Can you say a bit more about that, for those who have yet to read the book? How did your faith accompany you in this journey?

My faith is integral to everything. Christ is the ground of my being. So he walked with me, accompanied me, as he does everywhere.

Just briefly. I was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2000 and I ended up going against medical advice and declining chemo, radiation, and a heavy-duty estrogen drug called Tamoxifen. I did a ton of research and a lot of praying, and I consulted friends and spiritual advisors I trust. And in the end, my inner sense was that those harsh treatments would do more harm than good for my Stage 1, Grade 1 cancer. So I had the tumor surgically removed, out-patient, and that was it. I just kept living my life the way I’d been living it for years. And now fifteen more years have passed. I just turned 63. I don’t eat crap but I’m not obsessed with eating only organic. I adore gluten. I don’t take pills of any kind, not even vitamins.

But Stripped is in no way an anti-medicine screed. It’s an invitation to ask ourselves what Master we serve. That doesn’t mean the choice is between Jesus and the doctors. No, no, no. The question is whether we’re going to serve the master of fear or the Master of love. Do we have the courage to follow our own hearts over an authority figure: a doctor, a coach, a politician, a parent, a spouse, a friend, a religious or spiritual figure who may or may not be speaking with real authority?

Are we going to mindlessly serve a culture that is increasingly based on the commodification of the human body, the human person?

I didn’t see my cancer a blessing—please!—but I did see it as a mystery. To consent to live in mystery, not to know all the answers, is another kind of poverty. The world sees any kind of poverty as cause for ridicule. Loser! But Christ’s kingdom is not of this world”...

READ THE FULL INTERVIEW HERE.

And HERE'S THE LINK to the full book club, with links to the Q and A, an essay called "Fifteen Years After," the beginnings of the roundtable, and other content.

SCENES FROM ECHO PARK LAKE



Friday, September 18, 2015

UCAN ZIPPERS



FROM LEFT TO RIGHT,
MALAN, PAUL AND HYRUM LAI
credit: LA Weekly
 For this week's arts and culture column, I took a field trip to a zipper factory!
Here's how the piece begins:

UCAN Zippers, a family-owned business near Downtown L.A., is one of only four full-service zipper manufacturers in the country.

The Lais are Taiwanese-American and live in Rowland Heights. Hyrum, the youngest of three brothers, recently gave me the grand tour.

“My father started the business 26 years ago. His original distribution area was the Mountain West: Utah, California, Arizona, Nevada. He took that acronym — UCAN — for the name of his company.

“My older brother Malan and I used to work here during the summer doing inventory. Hot, sweaty, we hated it. We said, ‘We’ll never work here.’ But when Malan graduated from college, our father said, ‘Give me a year.’ Malan started as a driver, worked his way into production, and now pretty much runs the show.”

Hyrum majored in advertising. He was working at an L.A. agency when his parents set out for a year and a half of overseas mission work. “They said, ‘Hyrum, will you come over and help your brother?’”

Eighteen months turned into 10 years.


READ THE WHOLE PIECE HERE.



credit: UCAN Zippers

credit: Bianca Yarber

credit: UCAN Zippers



Tuesday, September 15, 2015

PRESS RELEASE FOR STRIPPED: MY NEW BOOK

SEARING! 


Here's the press release from Loyola Press. publisher of my JUST-RELEASED new book. Kelly Hughes did a bang-up job and I thank her.

In conjunction with which, Loyola shilled for me and I just got invited to give a talk next February at that gigantic Religious Ed. Congress held at the Anaheim Convention Center each year.

I hope to speak on the vocation of the Catholic writer.

Heather King’s Memoir Stripped Offers Searing Look at
the Intersection of Cancer, Culture and Christ

Writer Heather King, a former barfly and a Catholic convert, brings her sharp wit and passionate faith to the story of her experience with cancer, a story that is about much more than the cells gone rogue in her breast. Stripped (Loyola Press, $14.95 paper, September 1, 2015) is a spiritual guide for those times when life bombards us with existential questions, and a critique of the American medical system and our ill-chosen cultural metaphors.

Cancer is a life-altering event that pushes us to reorder priorities, reassess values, and perhaps rethink our faith. A diagnosed tumor forced King to this crisis of mortality. Rather than declare “war” on cancer, she examined the medical evidence, and brought God into her decision-making—even if it meant going against established medical advice by refusing further treatment.

Disturbed by the war metaphor used in medicine and so many other areas of life, King refuses to buy into our culture’s “collective, complete denial of death.” Cancer language invokes battles and being a fighter, but King says “the gung ho American spirit that was always trying to win seemed to be deeply misguided, and never more so when people tried to drag God into the equation.”

The cancer nightmare—biopsy, the shock of diagnosis, surgery, making a treatment decision—was exacerbated by modern medicine. King, a former attorney, says “the medical profession ran exactly the same way the legal profession did: on fear, greed, apathy and a deep desire to have as little personal interaction as possible.”

King asserts that she is not anti-medicine, however. “I knew that to link cancer treatments with war was a stretch. But nonviolence is not only, or even primarily, a stance toward war. Nonviolence is a stance toward life.”
Cancer stripped everything down to essential questions: how did she want to live? How did she want to die? The conventional medical approach to cancer —“we poison you, burn you, but it’s a small price to pay to survive”—forced her to consider what it truly means to survive. King’s Christian faith compels her to offer her death to the world, when the time comes.

King was already a survivor, of years of hard living that included alcoholism and promiscuity. When she sobered up in the late ‘80s, “I no longer wanted to be anesthetized. Call it grace, call it the hand of God, call it a miracle—I had no trouble calling a miracle.” She married (and later, divorced), passed the California bar, began working as an attorney, ditched that to devote herself to writing, and became an “unabashed, straight-up Catholic.” Her conversion took hold as she met the Christ of the gospels, who, she discovered to her astonishment, “acted with unerring honesty, integrity, intelligence, courage, and above all, love, a kind of love that was always counterintuitive and of an entirely different order than the hearts and flowers love of Hallmark cards.”

King was extraordinarily lucky, she acknowledges. “Maybe more than we know, the potential for healing lies within ourselves. Not necessarily physical healing, but the spiritual healing by which we learn that the real tragedy is to die with our truest song unsung — to die without recognizing that our suffering has meaning,” she says.

Heather King is a Catholic convert with several books, among them Parched, Redeemed, Shirt of Flame, Poor Baby, and Stumble: Virtue, Vice and the Space Between. She writes a weekly column on arts and culture for The Tidings, lives in Los Angeles, and blogs at www.heather-king.com.

# # #

Stripped: At the Intersection of Cancer, Christ, and Culture
by Heather King
Loyola Press
ISBN 978-0-8294-4262-5
5.5 x 8.5 Paperback
232 Pages
$14.95
September, 2015

Contact: Kelly Hughes, 312-280-8126
kelly@dechanthughes.com



Friday, September 11, 2015

GRIST & TOLL: AN URBAN FLOUR MILL



This week's arts and culture piece begins like this:

Nan Kohler is the founder-proprietor of L.A.’s sole artisanal stone mill. Grist & Toll is located in a small industrial complex at the south end of Pasadena’s Arroyo Parkway.

Nan grew up in Missouri. She’s been an avid home baker her whole life. She was in the wine industry for six years. She’s used to thinking about agriculture and terroir and growing seasons.

“We know our peaches, we know our heirloom tomatoes, but we’re still missing that connection with wheat. We need to develop a palate for wheat, the way we have for coffee and wine. Different types of wheat have different flavors, baking characteristics and aromas. And nobody’s been talking about it for a long, long, time.”

Almost every city grew up around a mill. The first commercial building in L.A. was Capitol Milling. The oldest building in all of Southern California is El Molino Viejo. “Farming, wheat, baking and bread were part of daily life. The mill was a natural epicenter for newsgathering, information-sharing and fellowship.”


READ THE WHOLE PIECE HERE. 

SHEPHERDS AND SHEPHERDESSESS



Here I am, giving Bishop-Elect Robert Barron some spiritual direction last Monday night.

No, seriously, I attended the Vesper service at the downtown L.A. cathedral last Monday, the night before our three new auxiliary bishops were ordained, and it was lovely.

While there, I ran into Linda Dakin-Grimm, who is a corporate lawyer and big mover-and-shaker in the Church.

Linda and I first met a few years ago over coffee at the Casbah Cafe. At that point, she was looking to donate some spare change to the tune of well let's say I gather a considerable sum to a worthy cause.

I know an opening when I see one. I didn't think of the poor, the suffering, the war-torn, the needy, the marginalized, the hungry of the world and then discard them. I'm not THAT crass!

No indeed. In my usual selfless way, I didn't think of those people AT ALL. I went straight to my own personal favorite cause and suggested to Linda that she might want to support my blog.

Linda, however, had bigger fish to fry and went on to support several Catholic high schools in LA and I think just had a library named after her and is underwriting some huge project in Peru and I don't know what all else. She does good work!

Anyway, Linda, seeing me hang about the fringes in my usual misfit way after Vespers, took pity on me and "put me on the list" for the post-ordination dinner Tuesday evening at the Omni. That made me happy as I love a free meal and it is nice to be included.

Then, out in the courtyard of the Cathedral, I met these three nuns, from the Servants of Mary, who live in the West Adams neighborhood of L.A. and who go to the sick and dying IN THEIR HOMES and take care of them: clean the person (they are nurses), the house, feed the pets, water the plants. Pray of course. Bring the Eucharist to those who are Catholic.

This particular group their hours were 8:30 pm to 6 am. So they sit vigil in a sense ALL NIGHT. I asked, "How do the people find you?"

"Oh, they just call"...

They take no money for their services and they will go regardless of race, religion, socioeconomic status, age, or illness of the person in need. They were lively and vibrant and cheerful and had a sense of humor. They wore the full habit.

I was very moved by these unheralded, almost completely anonymous nuns, and their ministry. Before going to sleep that night, I thought about how different people have different watches, and that 24/7 in our crazy city (and world of course) someone with a heart is perpetually at the wheel...

At the Omni the next night, I knew absolutely no-one besides Rozann Carter of Bishop Barron's Word on Fire Ministries. Fr. John Muir of Phoenix who I had met for all of two minutes the night before, and Fr. Jarlath Cunnane, who is an A-1 human being and a bosom friend of one of the other new bishops, Bishop David O'Connell, and who I met when he was the priest at St Thomas the Apostle in Pico-Union and I was a lecter.

When cocktail hour was over, I thus had to approach a table of complete strangers and ask if I could join them, a practice I have come to see as quite valuable toward the formation of a grateful and humble soul.

A totally dear man with a large silver cross around his neck patted the seat next to him and said "Sit right down." Thus turned out to be (Auxiliary) Bishop Eduardo Nevares of Phoenix and he could not have been more welcoming or helpful. Also at the table were several sisters from a convent called Disciples of the Divine Master (I'm pretty sure), and a couple from Downey, CA.

Linda, ambassadress that she is, graciously came by my table to embrace me and introduce me around a bit.

,I'd serendipitously grabbed the table directly in front of the lectern and had a bird's-eye view of the short post-dinner talk given by each of the three new aux. bishops. One told Irish jokes, one sang part of "Danny Boy," and they all said "Pray for us."  I consider that a very auspicious start.

I'm not big on crowds, pomp or circumstance but I also totally appreciated and enjoyed being there to welcome these three fine priests as they embark on the next leg of their journey. We're graced to have them.

And I can't stop thinking about those Servants of Mary, Ministers to the Sick, keeping their around-the-clock unseen watch.

THE SERVANTS OF MARY AT THE BEACH


Wednesday, September 9, 2015

SAFETY TIP: "YOU, SIR, IN THE BLUE JACKET"


"[E]xplaining the dangers of modern urban life in less ominous terms does not dispel them. And as the world's populations move increasingly to the cities—half of all humanity will be city dwellers within ten years—there will be a growing need to reduce those dangers. Fortunately, our newfound understanding of the bystander "apathy" process offers real hope. Armed with this scientific knowledge, an emergency victim can increase enormously the chances of receiving aid from others. The key is the realization that groups of bystanders fail to help because the bystanders are unsure rather than unkind. They don't help because they are unsure of whether an emergency actually exists and whether they are responsible for taking action. When they are sure of their responsibilities for intervening in a clear emergency, people are exceedingly responsive!
      
Once it is understood that the enemy is not some unmanageable societal condition like urban depersonalization but is, instead, the simple state of uncertainty, it becomes possible for emergency victims to take specific steps to protect themselves by reducing the bystanders' uncertainty. Imagine, for example, you are spending a summer afternoon at a music concert in the park. As the concert ends and people begin leaving, you notice a slight numbness in one arm but dismiss it as nothing to be alarmed about. Yet, while moving with the crowd to the distant parking areas, you feel the numbness spreading down to your hand and up one side of your face. Feeling disoriented, you decide to sit against a tree for a moment to rest. Soon you realize that something is drastically wrong. Sitting down has not helped; in fact, the control and coordination of your muscles has worsened to the point that you are starting to have difficulty moving your mouth and tongue to speak. You try to get up but can't. A terrifying thought rushes  to mind: "Oh, God, I'm having a stroke!" Groups of people are passing by and most are paying you no attention. The few who notice the odd way you are slumped against the tree or the strange look on your face check the social evidence around them and, seeing that no one else is reacting with concern, walk on past convinced that nothing is wrong.

Were you to find yourself in such a predicament, what could you do to overcome the odds against receiving help? Because your physical abilities would be deteriorating, time would be crucial. If, before you could summon aid, you lost your speech or mobility or consciousness, your chances for assistance and for recovery would plunge drastically. It would be essential to try to request help quickly. But what would the most effective form of that request be? Moans, groans, or outcries probably would not do. They might bring you some attention, but they would not provide enough information to assure passersby that a true emergency existed.




If mere outcries are unlikely to produce help from the passing crowd, perhaps you should be more specific. Indeed, you need to do more than try to gain attention; you should call out clearly your need for assistance. You must not allow bystanders to define your situation as a nonemergency. Use the word "Help" to cry out your need for emergency aid. And don't worry about being wrong. Embarrassment is a villain to be crushed here. In the context of a possible stroke, you cannot afford to be worried about the awkwardness of overestimating your problem. The difference in cost is that between a moment of embarrassment and possible death or lifelong paralysis.

But even a resounding call for help is not your most effective tactic. Although it may reduce bystanders' doubts about whether a real emergency exists, it will not remove several other important uncertainties within each onlooker's mind: What kind of aid is required here? Should I be the one to provide the aid, or should someone more qualified do it? Has someone else already gone to get professional help, or is it my responsibility? While the bystanders stand gawking at you and grappling with these questions, time vital to your survival could be slipping away.

Clearly, then, as a victim you must do more than alert bystanders to your need for emergency assistance; you must also remove their uncertainties about how that assistance should be provided and who should provide it. But what would be the most efficient and reliable way to do so?

Based on the research findings we have seen, my advice would be to isolate one individual from the crowd: Stare, speak, and point directly at that person and no one else: "You, sir, in the blue jacket, I need help. Call an ambulance." With that one utterance you should dispel all the uncertainties that might prevent or delay help. With that one statement you will have put the man in the blue jacket in the role of "rescuer." He should now understand that emergency aid is needed; he should understand that he, not someone else, is responsible for providing the aid; and, finally, he should understand exactly how to provide it. All the scientific evidence indicates that the result should be quick, effective assistance.

In general, then, your best strategy when in need of emergency help is to reduce the uncertainties of those around you concerning your condition and their responsibilities. Be as precise as possible about your need for aid. Do not allow bystanders to come to their own conclusions because, especially in a crowd, the principle of social proof and the consequent pluralistic ignorance effect might well cause them to view your situation as a nonemergency.
      
And request assistance of a single individual from the group of onlookers. Fight the natural tendency to make a general request for help. Pick out one person and assign the task to that individual. Otherwise, it is too easy for everyone in the crowd to assume that someone else should help, will help, or has helped. Of all the techniques in this book designed to produce compliance with a request, this one may be the most important to remember. After all, the failure of your request for emergency aid could have severe personal consequences."
      
--Robert B. Cialdini, Influence: Science and Practice, 5th ed. pp. 115-116


SCENES FROM A NIGHT WALK,
ECHO PARK, L.A.

Monday, September 7, 2015

ON THE ORDINATION OF L.A.'S THREE NEW AUXILIARY BISHOPS


Praying Man (L'Homme en prière)

c. 1921 CHAIM SOUTINE

"The story of Soutine is too true to be believed," [novelist Waldemer] George [who wrote the first serious study of the painter]. "It is a story for Charlie Chaplin,"  a Cinderella story of transformation from darkness into poverty into wealth and recognition. George felt forced to set it down, he said, so that he could place Soutine "in his exact ambiance, this ambiance of deep despair that shapes his soul."

George described Soutine as a painter who "pushes aside all norms transgresses the limits of logic, breaks all chains, tears all ropes..what is the meaning of this art," George went on, "whose origin is impossible to establish, that knows no law nor national influence nor guiding principles, that is not linked to any tradition? Art of exile or even barbarian art? I defy anyone to discover the line of descent of Soutine." George acknowledged a resemblance to the work of van Gogh but denied that Soutine was a follower of the Dutch painter.

And then in probably the most persuasive words of his study, George concluded that Soutine painted without any "studies of style or plans for perfection...Each of his works looks like a hemorrhage," the critic said. "Before portraying his soul, the painter spits out all his blood, and each rivulet of blood gives birth to a vision that is new, singularly intense, tragic and painful"...

Soutine had spent some time in the kosher butcher shop in Smilovitichi [the Russian town where he was born and raised] and kept at least one memory from those days. "Once I saw the village butcher slice the neck of a bird and drain the blood out of it," he recalled. "I wanted to cry out, but his joyful expression caught the sound in my throat. This cry, I always feel it is there...When I painted the beef carcass it was still this cry that I wanted to liberate. I have still not succeeded."


--Stanley Meisler, Shocking Paris: Soutine, Chagall and the Outsiders of Montparnasse



Flayed Rabbit (Rabbit skinned)

c. 1921 CHAIM SOUTINE


Young Girl in Red Blouse (La Petite fille en rouge)

c. 1919 CHAIM SOUTINE

"When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them because they were bewildered and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd."
--Matthew 9:36

Friday, September 4, 2015

THE MUSEUM OF JURASSIC TECHNOLOGY


TROUVELOT HALLWAY AT THE, MUSEUM OF JURASSIC TECHNOLOGY
credit: MJT

This week's art and culture piece is on a place I especially treasure: the weird and wonderful Museum of Jurassic Technology.

The piece starts like this:

The Museum of Jurassic Technology, located in Culver City, was founded by David Hildebrand Wilson and Diana Drake Wilson (husband and wife). It traveled for several years before settling on Venice Boulevard in late 1987.

The introduction on the museum’s website begins: “The Museum of Jurassic Technology in Los Angeles, California, is an educational institution dedicated to the advancement of knowledge and the public appreciation of the Lower Jurassic.”

The Wikipedia entry adds: “The factual claims of many of the museum’s exhibits strain credibility, provoking an array of interpretations from commentators.”

In laywoman’s terms, the MJT is simultaneously utterly serious, utterly tongue-in-cheek, and a kind of elaborate gift/puzzle/koan.



READ THE WHOLE ;PIECE HERE.


MADELENA DELANI ROOM AT THE MUSEUM OF JURASSIC TECHNOLOGY
credit: MJT

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

PABLO NERUDA ON GIFTS AND ART


downtown l.a. from lemoyne st. in echo park

In an essay called “Childhood and Poetry,” Pablo Neruda once speculated on the origins of his work. Neruda was raised in Temuco, a frontier town in southern Chile. To be born in Temuco in 1904 must have been a little like being born in Oregon a hundred years ago. Rainy and mountainous, “Temuco was the farthest outpost in Chilean life in the southern territories,” Neruda tells us in his memoirs. He remembers the main street as lined with hardware stores, which, since the local population couldn’t read, hung out eye-catching signs: “an enormous saw, a giant cooking pot, a Cyclopean padlock, a mammoth spoon. Farther along the street, shoe stores—a colossal boot.” Neruda’s father worked on the railway. Their home, like others, had about it something of the air of a settlers’ temporary camp: kegs of nails, tools, and saddles lay about in unfinished rooms and under half-completed stairways.

Playing in the lot behind the house one day when he was still a little boy, Neruda discovered a hole in a fence board. "I looked through the hole and saw a landscape like that behind our house, uncared for, and wild. I moved back a few steps, because I sensed vaguely that something was about to happen. All of a sudden a hand appeared---a tiny hand of a boy about my own age. By the time I came close again, the hand was gone, and in its place there was a marvellous white toy sheep.

"The sheep's wool was faded. Its wheels had escaped. All of this only made it more authentic. I had never seen such a wonderful sheep. I looked back through the hole but the boy had disappeared. I went in the house and brought out a measure of my own: a pine cone, opened, full of odor and resin, which I adored. I set it down in the same spot and went off with the sheep.

"I never saw either the hand or the boy again. And I have never seen a sheep like that either. The toy I lost finally in a fire. But even now...whenever I pass a toyshop, I look furtively into the window. It's no use. They don't make sheep like that anymore."

Neruda has commented on this incident several times. "This exchange of gifts---mysterious---settled deep inside me like a sedimentary deposit," he once remarked in an interview. And he associates the exchange with his poetry. "I have been a lucky man. To feel the intimacy of brothers is a marvellous thing in life. To feel the love of people whom we love is a fire that feeds our life. But to feel the affection that come from those whom we do not know, from those unknown to us, who are watching over our sleep and solitude, over our dangers and our weaknesses---that is something still greater and more beautiful because it widens out the boundaries of our being, and unites all living things.

"That exchange brought home to me for the first time a precious idea: that all humanity is somehow together...It won't surprise you then that I have attempted to give something resiny, earthlike, and fragrant in exchange for human brotherhood...

"This is the great lesson I learned in my childhood, in the backyard of a lonely house. Maybe it was nothing but a game two boys played who didn't know each other and wanted to pass to the other some good things of life. Yet maybe this small and mysterious exchange of gifts remained inside me also, deep and indestructible, giving my poetry light."


--Lewis Hyde, from "The Gift"


a cactus broken into blossom
on the gift of the world to me:
a night walk.