Saturday, December 15, 2018



Here's how this week's arts and culture column begins:

All those holiday chestnuts — “The Nutcracker,” “It’s a Wonderful Life,” “’Twas the Night Before Christmas” — have stood the test of time for a reason.

Still, I usually try to avoid writing about them. And while we’re on the subject, for my money, you can hardly beat Dylan Thomas reading his own “A Child’s Christmas in Wales,” a work of art so unique that it defies labels: Short story? Memoir? Poetry?

Perhaps the king of them all, however, is Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol.”

By the early 1840s, Dickens (1812-1870) was an established novelist and journalist. Notoriously appalled by the working conditions of men, women, and children in Victorian England, he began what would become “A Christmas Carol” in October 1843.

He finished the manuscript in a feverish six weeks, later saying that as he walked the streets of London, the characters were “ever tugging at his coat sleeve, as if impatient for him to get back to his desk and continue the story of their lives.”


Wednesday, December 12, 2018


Yet as the Crawfords prolonged their stay and came to know Fanny and Edmund better and better, they began to get an inkling of everything that they'd been missing. Henry saw something In Edward that he wished he could find in himself, and something in Fanny that he wished he could have for himself. As for Mary, when she did at last tear herself away from Mansfield to pay a long-delayed visit to another friend, she had this to say to the heroine: "Mrs. Fraser has been my intimate friend for years. But I have not the least inclination to go near her. I can think only of the friends I am leaving...You have all so much more heart  among you, than one finds in the world at large." "Heart"--Mary's stammering attempt to name the things she was starting to learn how to value: moral seriousness, depth of feeling, constancy of purpose. Inner riches--things you can't buy, things you have to earn. The woman who'd thought she had everything was discovering just how destitute she really was.


Whereas Henry and the rest, always able to command amusement, were constantly dogged by the threat of boredom, Fanny had created a rich inner life for herself. The East room, her little space upstairs, was like a diorama of her mind, a place where she could always find "some pursuit, or some train of thought...Her plants, her books,...her writing desk,...her works of charity and ingenuity." She was quiet and shy, yes, but she had a lot going on beneath the surface. For that was the big surprise about her, one that it took me a very long time to see. Mary, lovely and charming, was far better able to incite emotions, but Fanny felt them that much more keenly. She may have been prudish and prim, but she was also, of all things, intensely passionate.

--William Deresiewicz, from A Jane Austen Education 

Monday, December 10, 2018


Here's how this week's arts and culture piece begins:

On two consecutive Sundays, December 9 and 16, at 7:30 p.m., the Los Angeles Children’s Chorus (LACC) will present what promises to be a bang-up program at the Pasadena Presbyterian Church.

“Winter Wonderland: Sounds of the Season” marks the first stand-alone program led by the Chorus’ new artistic director, internationally regarded choral conductor, clinician, and educator Fernando Malvar-Ruiz.

The entire chorus comprises 400 kids and seven choirs. Two hundred and fifty of them will perform in December’s programs.

Associate Artistic Director Mandy Brigham leads the Intermediate Choir, Diana Landis leads the Apprentice Choir, and Dr. Steven Kronauer conducts the Young Men’s Ensemble.

Malvar-Ruiz will conduct the Concert Choir, the Chamber Singers, and the new SATB Choir (soprano, alto, tenor, bass), the mixed-voice ensemble he established in August.

“They’re all quite different. The Concert Choir is a treble choir, which means high voices. It’s a mixed ensemble, meaning young boys and girls, and they all sing both soprano and alto.”


Thursday, December 6, 2018


I am glad you see the belief in [my stories] because it is there. The truth is my stories have been watered and fed by Dogma. I am a Catholic (not because it's advantageous to my writing but because I was born and brought up one) and at some point in my life I realized that not only was I a Catholic but that this was all I was, that I was a Catholic not like someone else would be a Baptist or a Methodist but like someone else would be an atheist. If my stories are complete it is because I see everything as beginning with original sin, taking in the Redemption, and reckoning on a final judgment. I have heard people say that all this stifles a writer, but that is foolishness; it only preserves your sense of mystery.

[W]hen you present a pathetic situation, you have to let it speak entirely for itself. I mean you have to present it and leave it alone. You have to let the things in the story do the talking. I mean that, as author, you can't force it and I think you tend to force it in your story, every now and then. The first thing is to see the people at every minute. You get into the old man's mind before you let us know exactly what he looks like. You have got to learn to paint with words. Have the old man there first so that the reader can't escape him. This is something that it has taken me a long time to learn. Ford Madox Ford said you couldn't have somebody sell a newspaper in a story unless you said what he looked like. You have to learn to do this unobtrusively of course.

--Flannery O'Connor

Sunday, December 2, 2018


I actually had several people ask me last week if I "observed" Black Friday.

Are you kidding me?

I don't even like to shop during the rest of the year. And why on God's green earth would I need any new "electronics?"

Above, for example, is my "sound system," purchased from (the now defunct) Circuit City for probably 40 bucks probably 10 years ago. It plugs into the wall. On it, I can perch my ipod nano circa generation 2 or so on which, again several years ago, I painstakingly loaded all my downloaded CDs. Then I figured out how to do the "artwork" and paired a cool photo I'd taken somewhere on my travels with each album.

Unfortunately I think I got dishwater on the thing awhile ago cause now the ipod has no display and when I turn on my...machine (I'm seriously not sure what it's called and feel free to bid on what at this point should by all rights be a valuable antique), the ipod makes a weird beeping noise, like a sickly alarm clock, but still, amazingly, plays. I can forward to the next song but I have no control over what song or in what order. So surprise me! It's like having a radio back in the old days, when we took what was aired as it came. Doo de doo. Music!

I can also hit the button "Open" and a little door slides back and can put in one of the many CDs I still own and cherish, many of them home-burned, from the olden days. I mean enough's enough. I did move on, with much reluctance, from my Walkman but how much music does one person need? Plus I tend to listen to the same album (esp if classical) over and over, which I'm sure is some form of OCD of perhaps just laziness.

Anyway, I am perfectly happy as is and actually listen to most of my music in the car or at the gym (does everyone know about freegal?). So I spent the day after Thanksgiving as I prefer to call it feeling grateful, writing, taking a long walk, going to Mass, seeing the new Aretha F documentary "Amazing Grace," and in happy anticipation of Advent.

Then the next day someone mentioned something called "Giving Tuesday." Seriously, I don't even want to know. The very sound of one more branded, hashtagged, facebooked, crowd-funded, mob mentality day made me want to lie down and take a long nap.

St. Teresa of Calcutta once observed: "I don’t want you to give to us from your abundance. I don’t need money from your abundance. I ask that you share in our work. I ask that you lend your hands in understanding. Come and help care for our needy. Come and see…I want you to give with the attitude of that little boy who said, ‘I will not eat sugar for three days. I will give it to Mother Teresa.’ "

Like most of us I'm sure, I gladly and humbly donate to natural disaster victims, the war-torn, the hungry, the needy, both far and near. But no sugar--for THREE DAYS!? Let's not go overboard...

Here's a documentary about Russian pianist Maria Yudina, who would give all her money to the poor and live with her cats in a freezing garret, practicing in the cold...

Thursday, November 29, 2018


“If this is how You treat your friends, it is no wonder You have so few!”
--St Teresa of Avila, to God, allegedly after falling off her horse into the mud.

“In the age of social media, virtue is not defined by how compassionately you act. Virtue is defined by how vehemently you react to that which you find offensive. Virtue involves the self-display of a certain indignant sensibility, and anybody who doesn’t display that sensibility is morally suspect.”

--David Brooks from a NYT op-ed dated November 26, 2018


"If there is a virtue, I repeat, that is desperately needed in the life and the work of the Church today--as it is needed in the world today--that virtue is joy. In one of the bleakest developments of modern times, Christians have suddenly become a people without humor. By a singularly unhappy chance, followers of Christ in particular have lost, please God only momentarily, the gift of laughter. The world is faced more and more--in routine daily life, in the mass media, in our leaders--with sarcastic people, stridently indignant people speaking in glib phrases with a certain acid cleverness; but people without humor...

Such joy in the Church is not at all inconsistent with full recognition of the suffering or privation that are the tragic aspects of the human condition. It does not render the devout insensible to these or unwilling to do their part in remedying them, but it does preserve them from the absurd air of personal offense which the reformers invariably bring to their reaction to evil in the universe or inadequacy in its inhabitants. The joy that the Church sings was the joy of Jesus Crucified."

--John Cardinal Wright, from the Foreword to Illustrissimi: Letters from Pope John Paul I


“I see God’s hand so palpably in everything that almost—almost I fear they won’t kill me in these adventures.”

--Blessed Miguel Agustín Pro, Jesuit priest (1891-1927), before being  shot by a Mexican firing squad for his faith. 

Blessed Miguel comforted one of his quaking executioners,
refused a blindfold,
and died crying, "Viva Cristo Rey!"--Long live Christ the King.

Tuesday, November 27, 2018


"Impossible--not even conceivable--that a Muslim, on making the mandatory, once-in-a-lifetime pilgrimage to Mecca, could be disappointed. That is the essential difference between religious and secular pilgrimage: the latter always has the potential to disappoint."

--Geoff Dyer, White Sands, from the chapter, "Where? What? Where?" p.15

"Maybe men like [builder of the Watt Towers Simon] Rodia have to exist in a state of something like sustained desperation, to be devoid of other options, even the most common one of all: the support of a marriage, happy or otherwise. 'Those with "something to fall back on" invariably fall back on it,' writes David Mamet. 'They intended to all along. That is why they provided themselves with it. But those with no alternative see the world differently.'."

--Geoff Dyer, White Sands, from the chapter, "The Ballad of Jimmy Garrison," p.199


Sunday, November 25, 2018


copyright Jonas Kulikauskas

Here's how this weeks's arts and culture piece begins:

Jonas Kulikauskas’ black and white photographs strike a delicate balance between ‘nature’ and man

“Yosemite People” (A Thousand Words Press, $55), is the work of award-winning LA photographer and artist Jonas Kulikauskas.

“My parents were Lithuanian refugees from World War II. Both of them lived in displaced persons’ camps in Germany for four years. They often had to uproot and move from one location to another. So that’s deep in my genes.

“For years I’ve set aside the first week of the new year as a time of special reflection, partly because January 4 is my sobriety date.”

For Y2K, he went to Zion in Utah.

Zion is packed in summer and relatively empty in winter.

He liked the phenomenon. He liked mingling with the locals. He liked that after he’d gone a few times, he had a sense of belonging.

He went to Zion every January for the next 13 years.

But in 2014 he was ready for a change. So on New Year’s Day he ended up at the Ahwahnee Hotel in Yosemite Valley.

He was struck one morning by the sight of a dining hall server carefully shaking out, laying in place, and smoothing the creases of a white tablecloth. He got a perfectly framed shot of her back with a view through the opposite 16-foot window of filigreed trees.

He ended up returning more than 20 times in the next two years — “to bring his street photography to the wilderness,” as he puts it.


copyright Jonas Kulikauskas

Thursday, November 22, 2018





 Excerpts from the liturgy for Tuesday, November 20:

"Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, then I will enter his house and dine with him, and he with me."

-Revelation 3:20

When he reached the place, Jesus looked up and said, "Zacchaeus, come down quickly, for today I must stay at your house." And he came down quickly, and received him with joy.

-Luke 19:5-6

Reflecting on the readings in the pre-dawn dark of my apartment earlier this week, I thought of how I kind of love household chores, and keeping my little space cozy and ship-shape, and how I have always wanted to keep a place set for the uninvited guest.

In the twenty-odd years I've been a Catholic, I could count on one hand the times an uninvited guest has come. But no matter--because in a way I keep my house prepared for Christ.

Thus, if he did come and knock, he would know instantly he was in the "right" place. The little throne in the corner (a seat on the sofa: my prayer corner that I'd immediately cede), with a candle, incense, a book of the Psalms he loved and of stories about him, his teachings, his life, death, and resurrection.

There are pictures of him and his mother all over the place--a statue of him pointing to his Sacred Heart on my desk--carvings of him nailed to the Cross where his love for mankind was consummated.

There are prayer cards above the lintels of some of his favorite friends--Sister Benedicta of the Cross, St. Therese of Lisieux, St. Oscar Romero, St. Dymphna, patron saint of the mentally ill. There's music, again by some of his dearest friends: Beethoven, Bach, Glenn Gould, Billie Holiday.

There are books about different aspects of his life, and about our lives as we try to follow him. There are books by David Sedaris and Betty MacDonald, in case he needed a laugh, Raymond Chandler, Charles Dickens, Dostoevsky, Paul Elie, Robert Bresson, Flannery O'Connor, Georges Bernanos, and tons of others

There's food and drink in the fridge, plenty of coffee, ice, first aid cream, Band-Aids, a hot water bottle, an extra toothbrush, a new cake of soap, fresh towels.

There's a phone charger and a laptop, in case he wanted to catch up on his email. There are envelopes, stamps, pens and cards in case he felt like writing thank-you notes.

I'd of course sleep on the couch and give him my bed. There he would have a nice down comforter, a good reading light, a rosary of purple glass beads, a print of his treasured intimate St. Martin de Porres, tending the sick and feeding the mice, fairy lights strung around the ceiling to remind him of the moon and the stars which he arranged, a painting of the Brooklyn skyline by another of his (and my) friends, Matthew Kirby, who is still on his earthly journey,  over the headboard. 

There are Post-Its in case he came upon a passage in a book he wanted to mark and copy out later, Benadryl in case he was suffering from hay fever or insomnia, cherry cough drops.

Outside, there's a west-facing balcony with a table and two chairs, shaded by bamboo blinds, strung with gold Chinese lantern lights, and overflowing with agaves, succulents, and homemade mobiles of seedpods,and pebbles where he could sit and watch the sunset.

There's a garden! For no-one responds to a garden like Christ. He observed the mustard seed, the lilies of the field, the mulberry tree, the fig tree, the olive. He wept tears of blood  the night before he died in the Garden at Gethsemane. He met Mary Magdalene in a garden after his Resurrection: "Mary." "Rabboni!"

In a way, I have tended my garden, lost in thought and prayer, for the last three years simply so that, should Christ come to visit, I could welcome him there; could invite him to sit beneath the Joseph's Coat climbing rose trellis; could share with him how I, too, love the plants and bushes and flowers and trees and butterflies and bees that the Father created.

There are a number of ways to experience Thanksgiving You can say it's a secular, essentially commercial, holiday so who cares? You can say it's just another day, so why participate?

Or you can think, How interesting that as we head into the dark, short days of winter, so many of us instinctively feel moved to gather around a table, with family or friends or, for that matter, strangers, and to light a lamp against the dark, and to remember, if even for a fleeting second, how lucky we are

I count myself among the latter group.

Because the fact is Christ knocked at my door a long time ago. I came down quickly and have received him with joy ever since.


Monday, November 19, 2018



C. 1860. 

Here's how this week's arts and culture column begins:

The USC Pacific Asia Museum, which includes representative examples of art from Asia and the Pacific Islands spanning more than 4,000 years, is just west of Old Town Pasadena.

To step into the courtyard, hard to do by busy Los Robles Avenue, is to step into a quieter, more ancient world. Green-glazed roof tiles, pagoda windows, decorative archways. The faint whiff of incense.

Through Jan. 6, 2019, the museum is featuring a splendid exhibit: “Ceremonies and Celebrations,” comprising textile treasures from its permanent collection. Because of their fragile nature, the treasures are displayed sparingly.

The exhibit is arranged by themes of identity and meaning rather than geography. So India mingles with Bhutan mingles with China mingles with India and beyond.

Upon entering, you’re greeted by a fantastic outfit that turns out to be a fireman’s jacket. Geometrically cut and styled out of a heavy mesh velvet fabric, the colors are indigo blue and taupe, and the back features a large insignia identifying the man’s brigade.

From pre-modern Japan, the jacket was worn with close-fitting trousers, gloves and a hood, marking the wearer out as a practitioner of his honorable livelihood. When fighting a fire, the jacket was worn inside out to reveal an unadorned side and first soaked to protect against embers and flame.

Once the fire was extinguished, the fireman again reversed the jacket as a sign of success.

Who doesn’t want to know such things! And who wouldn’t want to wear this jacket — sumptuous, stylish, classic, and classy — on, say, a Sunday morning while reading in bed?