Tuesday, June 18, 2019

THE JOURNEY BACK HOME


DC METRO

Hey folks, here's the link to my conversion story on EWTN's "The Journey Home" with Marcus Grodi. Question: why does Marcus looks giant and why do I look like a midget?

Speaking of journeying home, I've been in DC all week and HAVE LOVED IT! I'm staying at the Dominican Priory (not to be confused with the Dominican House of Studies across from the National Shrine) and the priests and brothers have been magnificent. Tons of walking and sightseeing. All is much more beautiful, charming and graceful than I imagined.

Today I'm headed to Dumbarton Oaks and then tomorrow I fly home. My plane doesn't leave till 3:30 so I'm going to arrive at Dulles early, take advantage of one of the two United Club passes I get each year with my Visa, and relax with food and beverages before boarding and being whisked back to LA at a reasonable hour (instead of having to get up at 4 am and schlep in a twilight state to LAX as happens when you live on the West Coast and fly East).

Thanks to all the well-wishers who watched the show last night and wrote or texted.


EASTERN REDBUD
U.S. BOTANIC GARDEN

Saturday, June 15, 2019

THE JUBILEE MUSEUM


VESTMENTS, VESTMENTS EVERYWHERE...

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

Recently I got flown to Columbus, Ohio, to tape an episode of EWTN’s “The Journey Home” with Marcus Grodi. I never tire of telling my conversion story, so that was a treat.

And I’ve grown to love staying in a new town for a few days: walking, pondering, checking out the zeitgeist. Part of conversion, to me, is cultivating a curiosity about the world, a willingness to go to the edges and be an anonymous participant-observer.

So I booked an Airbnb for a few nights in a charming section south of downtown called German Village: cobblestone streets, brick townhouses, Schiller Park.

I strolled the first afternoon to the Audubon Preserve, an extension of the Scioto Mile, a walkway which runs from downtown along the river.

I took the free city bus up to the Short North Arts District, visited the famous North Market (akin to downtown LA’s Grand Central Market), and trolled the pleasantly jumbled shelves at The Book Loft, located in a pre-Civil War-era building that now houses 32 rooms of bargain books.

But my main field trip was to the Jubilee Museum, a one-of-a-kind, must-be-seen-to-be-believed establishment that somehow could only have arisen within the one, catholic, holy, and apostolic Church.

READ THE WHOLE PIECE HERE.


THE CONVENT ROOM--MY FAVORITE.

Friday, June 14, 2019

THE ONGOING SLOGGING JOURNEY


Hey folks,  my "Journey Home" conversation with Marcus Grodi will air this coming Monday, June 17.

You can watch it on Monday night at 8PM Eastern on EWTN, and if you don’t have cable, you can still view it for free at EWTN.com.

The full episode will then be available online--I'll post the link once I get it.

"Unchurched" was their term--it sounds kind of awful like pagan or Wiccan. I explained that if I converted from anything, it was alcoholism, and that I was simply suffering and a lost sheep. As usual in these kinds of discussions, I lost. Thanks so much for having me on, though!

A MOTH THAT LANDED ON MY PILLOWCASE
ONE RECENT NIGHT.
DO MOTHS BITE?

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

THE AVERAGE CROWD


ROBERT FRANK
DRUGSTORE, DETROIT, 1955

This then is how it is when God descends to men! The apparent folly and danger of it are so great that the just and orthodox prepare for legal condemnation. The event is not even clothed in the dignity of genuine poverty. That would also have been impressive, for side by side with the power of greatness there exists the moving or august power of poverty, which stirs by its own mysterious power. But it is not genuine poverty that accompanies Jesus--neither among his disciples nor in the cheering masses. It is simply the average crowd as it is to be found everywhere in workshop, store and street. Crowd in which we call could find our place--human reality, mediocrity bare of the pathos both of splendor and of misery.


How difficult it is to recognize the self-revealing God! How difficult to steer clear of the scandal to the worldly sense of propriety and righteousness!

--Romano Guardini, The Lord, from Part V, Chapter 1, "Entry Into Jerusalem"

Saw a wonderful documentary over the weekend on the photographer Robert Frank (best known for his 1958 volume "The Americans"): "Leaving Home, Coming Home."

Speaking of leaving home, I am taking off tomorrow for Washington DC where I hope to straighten things out once and for all. I mean enough's enough!

No seriously, I'll be staying at the Dominican Priory and plan to creep about to museums, gardens and churches and in some small, probably doomed way, have a teeny bit of a "vacation." I mean when you are single-handedly holding the burden of the world on your shoulders, it is kind of a dereliction of duty to take "time off!" I really do need a long nap, and am madly looking forward to my visit.

I could care less about the White House or Lincoln Memorial of any of that stuff. Dumbarton Oaks is more my speed.


ROBERT FRANK
HOBOKEN, NEW JERSEY, 1955

Saturday, June 8, 2019

MISADVENTURES AT MISSION SAN ANTONIO DE PADUA






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

More than 20 years ago my (now ex-) husband and I took a road trip to Big Sur, cutting off the 101 north of Paso Robles to take the scenic Nacimiento-Fergusson Road. Then newly Catholic, I swooned when we came across what at that point was the largely abandoned, picturesquely derelict Mission San Antonio de Padua.

We stopped there to picnic, basking in the quiet and birdsong. Not long after, I learned that the Mission was undergoing renovation and that retreat rooms would soon be available. Ever since, I’d had it in the back of my mind to return to this enchanting place.

A few months ago, I finally reserved a room for three nights, made the trek from Pasadena, and prepared to fulfill my dream. The Mission is 30 miles or so from the 101 and the landscape is breathtakingly beautiful. It’s also undergoing a noisy retrofitting and directly abuts a military base that seemed to have grown exponentially since our earlier visit.

The suggested donation is a reasonable 60 bucks a night. You bring your own food — there’s a fridge, coffee-maker and microwave. Behind a locked gate were the central courtyard, where volunteers worked the rose garden, a lovely church, and dorm rooms.

I arrived around 3 p.m., settled in, and reconnoitered the grounds. Here I learned about the Salinan Indians the missionaries met when they arrived in the 1770s, and whom they stayed to try to convert. You can still see the remains of the Mission Well, the Brick Kiln, the Mission Reservoir, and the “Temescal” (“Mission Sweat-house”).

READ THE WHOLE PIECE HERE.


SUNRISE AT THE MISSION

Sunday, June 2, 2019

RAVISHED, ANOTHER EXCERPT

BUY IT
Monday, June 3, I'll be on Jon Leonetti in the Morning on Iowa Catholic Radio, 7:15 am CT. 1150 AM 88.5 FM 94.5 FM. Discussing my new book RAVISHED.

HERE'S AN EXCERPT:
PREFACE

I’m an ex-gutter drunk who graduated from law school in a blackout, sobered up, quit my job as a Beverly Hills litigation attorney, converted to Catholicism, and in the mid-1990’s embarked on the precarious life of a creative writer. My history includes promiscuity, abortions, adultery, a 14-year marriage that ended in divorce, and a life-long tendency toward romantic obsession.
Divorced, childless, single, aging, as a woman, in and out of the Church, I often feel I have nowhere to lay my head.
In and out of the Church as well, I’m also often challenged by my fellow women to be angrier. “How can you belong to a church that won’t allow female priests?” for example, is a question I hear often. The short answer is because Christ set it up that way. The long answer is that just because men do something women should be able to do it, and vice versa, is a notion that strikes me as moronic. I want to glorify womanhood, not water it down. Any woman who wants to be a priest for the right reasons—which is to die to self, to serve—will already have naturally ordered her life so as to be acting in a priestly capacity.
 Beneath the anger is fear. Beneath the anger is the one fact we’re really not “allowed” to say: that we long with all our hearts for the male gaze. To live with the tension of not having that gaze returned with the intensity we ache for, or maybe at all—and to react with patience, kindness, and creative nonviolence, while still loving men—that is the way of the real warrior and the real feminist.
So is trying to be kind, understanding, and compassionate to all women: the pregnant teenager, the trans recovering alcoholic, the gun-toting, home-schooling Republican.
 To hold such tension, all our lives, is the way of suffering. Not dumb, wearily-resigned suffering, but active, conscious suffering. “Stay awake!” said Christ. And before we start pointing the finger at everyone else, let’s remember that, being human, every one of us comes to the table with our egos, our agendas, our wounds. Even those of us sufficiently well-educated, well-traveled, and well-experienced perhaps to consider ourselves above the fray come with deep vulnerabilities and fears: that we’re not pretty enough, thin enough, loud enough, quiet enough. To acknowledge our vulnerabilities and fears—and to devote our lives to trying to live fully with many of them intact—is the way of strength, not weakness.     
Many of us come with a hard-wired propensity to “pick” and then to compulsively pursue emotionally unavailable men.
For most of my life, I’ve counted myself squarely among that last group. In fact, to have longed for a man and never to have had a truly reciprocal, healthy loving relationship with a man---partly because I’ve been blueprinted for another vocation, partly because my own temperament has engineered against it—is my deepest, tenderest wound.
My “failure” at romance is the part of my story that tends to make me feel most ashamed, humiliated, exiled, and like a loser. It touches upon my fear that I’m not worthy of love nor capable of loving others. It goes to the heart of my womanhood and my humanity.
To accept this reality—to have come to see my situation, even, as a strange grace—has been a long, painful crucifixion. But to have suffered the wound these last three decades without anesthesia—no matter how lonely, frustrated, and crazy I’ve felt; never knowing how long the suffering might last—has formed in me, at last, something useful, something eternal.
I want to tell the story of those years of purification.  
I want to tell of what has been the adventure, the pilgrimage, the gamble of my life.
Here’s what I’ve learned: Our deepest identity does not lie in our gender, our sexual orientation, our wounds.
            Our identity lies in Christ.


Friday, May 31, 2019

LA'S INTERNATIONAL PRINTING MUSEUM



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

The International Printing Museum, located at 315 W. Torrance Blvd., Carson, is open Saturdays only, 10-4. I visited on an open house day that culminated in the screening of the documentary “Endless Letterpress.”

The spot is a throwback to another era. First, the smell: a homey combination of ink, paper, and wood, grandmother’s attic. Older guys in vests, newsboys’ visors, and denim aprons feed paper into hand-cranked presses.

Lining the walls are grainy black and white photos of printing press days gone by. Stacks of narrow, long wooden drawers are filled with lead slugs of type: Roman, Antique, Gothic.

The museum hosts frequent events. “Inside the Box: Clamshell Boxes and Antiquarian Books”; “Krazy Krafts Day” for the kids.

They’re trying to raise $20,000 to save a rare 1905 Heidelberg Cylinder Press, one of eight in the world. (Don’t miss the annual International Printing Museum and Los Angeles Printers Fair, which this year will take place over the course of the weekend of October 19-20.)

But the heart of the museum consists in its Ernest A. Lindler Collection, touted as “one of the world’s largest and finest collections of working antique presses.”

READ THE WHOLE PIECE HERE.

THE SMELL OF FRESH INK IS INTOXICATING!

Friday, May 24, 2019

RAVISHED: NOTES ON WOMANHOOD

BUY MY NEW BOOK!
AND TELL A FRIEND...


My arts and culture column this week purports to be an excerpt from my new book: RAVISHED: Notes on Womanhood. Except they changed the title of the piece, switched out the cover for another image, removed the link, and neglected to actually mention the title of the book.

My eyes glaze over at the phrases "culture wars," "identity politics" and "gender studies." RAVISHED is my love letter to the Church for bringing me to full flower as a woman and as a human being.  

Here's the back jacket copy:

Single, childless, I went in the fall of  2015 to Rome for the Synod on the Family.

My model was Catholic Worker co-founder Dorothy Day who during the Second Vatican Council, sailed from NYC by freight boat, took a room in the poor quarter of the city, and for ten days fasted on bread and water and prayed.

It wasn’t exactly like that for me. Still, I ate simply. I more or less kept silence. I walked along the banks of the Tiber, and pondered.

I thought of how Dorothy had given up the love of her life, an atheist who objected to the baptism of the child they’d conceived. She laid down her life for the poor, the marginalized, the hungry. She remained celibate for the rest of her life.

I thought of how the word “mother” comes from the same root as matter. I pondered the line from Luke’s Gospel where the women who followed Christ “ministered unto him of their substance.”

From their matter, their essence. Their bodies and blood.

These essays are part of my own body and blood that have been poured out—through a lifetime of romantic anguish, a divorce, three abortions, and since the mid-‘90s, a fervent and ongoing conversion.

I can’t find a place for myself—as a woman, as a human being—in contemporary culture. My own movement would be called #AllOfUs. For any man or woman who feels the same—take this book. And eat.   


And here's this week's piece, in full.

This past Mother’s Day at Mass, the priest said, “Would all the mothers please stand? And that includes not just those who have physically given birth, but all those who are spiritual mothers.”

I myself was not up to mothering. Can anyone imagine a more heroic, difficult, higher calling? I bow before the steady nerves, courage, drive, patience, long-suffering, forbearance, discernment; the capacity for love and the capacity for suffering that even “bad” mothers demonstrate!

I’m not a mother but I admire and support mothers, I have the heart of a mother, and I’m “mother,” in my way, to many.

I owe that to the Church, to Christ, and so I stood with the others.

Always, no matter our station in life, the Church gives us a place at the table. Consequently, I don’t feel oppressed. I don’t feel angry. I don’t feel perpetually injured, victimized, and aggrieved. I feel more or less like I’m doing what I was put on earth to do.

HERE'S AN EXCERPT:


THE EIGHTH STATION OF THE CROSS

I grew up on the coast of New Hampshire. Since childhood, I’ve been captivated by the ocean. Since childhood, I’ve felt compelled by the infinite horizon.

My first kiss was near the ocean.

I first told a guy “I love you” while walking along the shore of the ocean.

In 1990, newly sober, newly married, I moved to another ocean, another shore. In 1996, I converted to Catholicism and came into the Church. In 1999, my father died. In 2000, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. In 2001, I was divorced and had my marriage annulled. In 2010, I sought healing for the abortions I’d had over twenty years before. In 2012, my mother died.
For years, I’d set aside an hour or two each morning for prayer. I read, pondered, and wrote about the Way, the Truth and the Life of Christ. I devoted many hours a week to staying sober and helping another alcoholic to achieve sobriety.

And in July, 2014, I decided to go back to the coast of Massachusetts, general site of my deepest childhood, sexual, and emotional wounds. I signed up to do a 30-day retreat, based on the spiritual exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola.

A few days in, I was walking a footpath in the woods when I came upon the Stations of the Cross.

I’d prayed the Stations many times over the years, usually during Lent, without paying especially close attention. But recently I’d felt moved to buy a little laminated card, imprinted with the appropriate numbers and prayers, which I happened to be carrying in my back pocket. I’d thought, dimly, to commit all fourteen to memory. This particular Stations consisted of simple, open-faced wooden boxes with small metal bas-reliefs: Station One: Jesus Is Condemned to Death. Station Two: Jesus Takes Up His Cross.

Each was nailed to a tree and the trees formed a double row: a kind of grassy allée that ran down to the ocean. The woods were alive with the sound of birdsong, the skittering of small mammals, the low hum of insects.

So I had my little card, and I was going along, praying. And at Station Eight—“Jesus Speaks to the Women”—I was unexpectedly overcome. Between the second and third time that he fell, Jesus spoke to the women.

I’d never reflected that, according to tradition, the women were the last people Christ met before he fell to the ground beneath his burden, was stripped of his garments and was nailed to the cross. We all like to look good in front of the opposite sex, but at that point he would have been at his absolute worst: his weakest, his most vulnerable, his most physically grotesque. And yet he stopped. He spoke to the women.

Who better understood weakness, vulnerability, the fear of looking unattractive, the desire to love and be loved, than Jesus? Who, in other words, better understood women than Christ?

Jesus spoke to the women. He was speaking still. He’d been speaking to me, personally, all along.

The intensity of my reaction shocked me. I felt a stab of melting intimacy, a rock-bottom sense that as an aging, childless, spouseless woman, I was wanted and needed and loved, by him at least, if not by the world.

It may have been the first time I definitively realized that my long, long, pilgrimage toward purity of heart, purity of motives, the slow burning away of all in me that was self-absorbed, self-obsessed, and selfish was not just about me; not even primarily about me.

It was the moment I realized that for over two decades, I’d been writing about and trying to work out what it means to be a woman walking with Christ.

It was the moment I thought: I should collect those thoughts into a book.

A week later, I noticed a huge bull’s-eye rash on my stomach, went to the ER, and was diagnosed with Lyme disease.

Very funny, Jesus. I’m pretty sure that deer tick bit me while I was kneeling in the woods, weeping.

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

BLOODY BUT UNBOWED

WELCOME TO MY WORLD
photo: Mary Beth Paul

The above was taken at a glacial kettle (basically, a bog) outside Columbus, Ohio.  I met my Columbus pal at Corpus Christi this morning for 8:30 Mass and then she took me for breakfast to the Fox in the Snow and then we went and visited some of the "habitats" outside the city. In the course of our three walks, we saw two herons, one pretty long snake, several turtles and frogs, a red-winged blackbird and a whole bunch of squirrels. She, my friend Mary Beth, recently spied a muskrat at the glacial kettle.

This afternoon I'm going to visit The Book Loft.

Then I fly back to LA early in the morning.

"The Journey Home," speaking of home, taping went fine and the episode should air in a month or so; will post here when the time comes.


Friday, May 17, 2019

TINY BEAUTIFUL THINGS

THE ONE AND ONLY ANN LANDERS

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

The first thing I turned to in the newspaper as a kid was Ann Landers’ advice column.

I couldn’t get enough — still can’t — of human dysfunction. The letters were longish but Ann’s advice was always succinct, practical, and to the point.

“You have every right to tell your in-laws that they cannot smoke in your home.”

“That child needs to be seen by a professional for evaluation.”

“Give Gloria notice — either she stops seeing that married man, or she will have to move out at the end of the month.”

My favorite was when Ann hit some prying busybody with the familiar zinger, MYOB: Mind Your Own Business.

Enter “Tiny Beautiful Things,” a book by mega-popular author Cheryl Strayed and now a play that was recently staged at the Pasadena Playhouse. Strayed wrote an anonymous advice column for a time under the pen name Sugar and, after revealing her identity, collected the letters into “Tiny Beautiful Things.”

Steve Almond, the writer who originally passed on the column to Strayed, calls her approach “radical empathy.”

That’s one way to put it: padding around her suburban kitchen in a hoodie and pajama bottoms, to my mind Sugar (played here by Nia Vardalos) makes every problem about herself: her grief over her mother’s death, her fling with heroin, the risks she’s so bravely taken (and that worked out, because look, here she is, the best-selling author of “Wild,” writing an advice column that will also be a bestseller!).

READ THE WHOLE PIECE HERE.



OH PLEASE