Friday, July 12, 2019



There are a lot of things I don't know and prefer not to know: one of them being the particulars of the buying, selling, and trading in human sperm and eggs for the purpose of engineering the conception of a human being.  

One day not long ago I had tea with the mother of a two-year-old daughter who, I'm still not sure I got this straight, had carried the child to term but was not biologically related to her. (Nor was the mother's boyfriend, the child's live-in acting father). Then, in case the kid ever felt the urge for a sibling, the mother (who btw I totally liked) had frozen a bunch of her eggs so as to dole one or more out to a surrogate in the future.

I know this stuff, and worse, goes on all the time. But how could anyone of reasonable good will and intelligence possibly believe that being born under such circumstances could fail to affect the innocent, unwitting child in unimaginably profound, cruel and far-reaching ways? How could anyone not instantly foresee a trauma to the child on a level and of a kind and degree never before experienced in human history? What much such a child feel upon reaching adulthood? 

Well now we know. In a beautifully-written and curated NYT photo essay, Eli Baden-Lasar, who was conceived by an anonymous sperm donor, was raised by "two mothers" and as it now turns out, has 32 (at last count) half-siblings, tells us: "I had this suspicious feeling that scientists were conducting an experiment, had taken a lunch break and then forgotten to check back."

"I felt both curious and anxious about these people and what they exactly meant to me. The sheer quantity of them gave me a feeling of having been mass-produced."

"If it was an experiment, the variables had not yielded some thrilling result. There had been no instant connection or unbreakable bond, and we easily lost touch when the program [to connect with other siblings] ended."

Reading Baden-Lasar's aching prose (and he's only 20); gazing into the haunted, uncertain faces of his half-siblings, all I could think was: These are the metaphorical counterparts of the immigrant children, living in deplorable conditions, who have been shamefully, reprehensibly, abandoned at our nation's border. 

Don't miss Joan Desmond's terrific National Catholic Register reflection on the subject: "A Family Portrait: Brothers, Sisters, Strangers." 

As Flannery O'Connor observed half a century ago: “[T]he moral sense has been bred out of certain sections of the population, like the wings have been bred off certain chickens to produce more white meat on them. This is a generation of wingless chickens, which I suppose is what Nietzsche meant when he said God was dead.”

Sydney Hall, 18, in her bedroom in Chichester, CT.
"I got in touch with the group about a year ago. I learned that
there are so many of them it's hard to feel included. I'm an only child
and was expecting a sibling relationship,
not just like, "Hey, cool, we have the same blood, whatever."
I told myself that it wasn't a big deal that I had siblings,
just to numb the pain."

Wednesday, July 10, 2019



"...I wish I liked Catholics more.'

"They seem just like other people."

"My dear Charles, that's exactly what they're not--particularly in this country, where they're so few. It's not just that they're a clique--as a matter of fact, they're at least four cliques all blackguarding each other half the time--but they've got an entirely different outlook on life; everything they think important is different from other people. They try and hide it as much as they can, but it comes out all the time."

--Evelyn Waugh, Brideshead Revisited


Sunday, July 7, 2019


I always forget to say when I'm going to be on the radio. So tune in tonight to "Amplify,"  KDKA Pittsburgh, 9-11 EST. Fr. Ron Lengwin and I will be discussing my new book, RAVISHED.

Meanwhile, here's how last week's arts and culture piece begins:

Tove Jansson (1914-2001), a Swedish-speaking Finnish writer and artist, is perhaps best known as the creator of the Moomins. These impish creatures and their adventures, featured in the numerous books that Jansson wrote and illustrated, have delighted children worldwide.

Born in Helsinki, Jansson was raised and formed by bohemian parents. Her father sculpted. Her mother, a painter, did illustrations for Garm, one of the few bravely anti-Fascist magazines in Finland in the years leading up to World War II.

She studied art in Stockholm, Helsinki, and Paris. Her love life was, let’s say, eventful.

In the summer of 1953, Jansson was commissioned to paint the altarpiece of Finland’s Teuva Church. The result was the “Ten Virgins” altarpiece, the only altar of her career. “I feel very competent when I glue gold,” she remarked of the project.

At the time, she was working on the book “Moominsummer Madness.” But the Moomins didn’t bring me to Jansson. What did was a strange and singular work called “The Summer Book,” written in 1972.

The story takes place on a small island over the space of a summer. There are other characters — a mostly absent father, an obnoxious child named Berenice. But the main action is between 6-year-old Sophia and her grandmother.

Here’s how the book, delectably, begins:

It was an early, very warm morning in July, and it had rained during the night. The bare granite steamed, the moss and crevices were drenched with moisture, and all the colors everywhere had deepened. Below the veranda, the vegetation in the morning shade was like a rainforest of lush, evil leaves and flowers, which she had to be careful not to break as she searched. She held one hand in front of her mouth and was constantly afraid of losing her balance.

“What are you doing?” asked little Sophia.

“Nothing,” her grandmother answered. “That is to say,” she added angrily, “I’m looking for my false teeth.”


Saturday, July 6, 2019



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

Echo Park, the LA neighborhood hard by downtown, boasts the largest lotus stand in the western United States.

The lake where the lotuses live began as a man-made reservoir back in 1868. A surrounding park and boathouse were completed by 1895. By 1907, more green space had been added by extending the park south to Temple and north to Bellevue.

The lotuses bloom each summer, usually peaking in early July.

And they’re surrounded by mystery, intrigue, and crime.

For starters, nobody really knows where the original flowers came from. One legend, never proven, holds that Angelus Temple missionaries, followers of Aimee Semple McPherson, brought the seeds back from China.

An 1889 LA Times article mentions that a J.C. Harvey planned to donate some Egyptian lotuses from the Nile to area parks, but the Echo Park flowers are not Egyptian lotuses, nor are they water lilies.

Instead, says landscape architect and certified arborist Michael O’Brien, “Nelumbo nucifera is native to South Asia to Australia and is grown in tropical climates around the world. As to where these plants came from, the source is lost in the mists of time.”

Though the exact date is unknown, the lotuses by all accounts first appeared in the lake during the 1920s. At the time, water gardens had become au courant citywide. So had Egyptology, exotic locales, and a vague Eastern-philosophy aesthetic.

A 1929 LA Times photo caption reads, “Right now the beds of lotus lilies in Echo Park, Los Angeles, are coming into perfection. These are the sacred lilies of India, symbols of immortality, and to the Hindu mind the most perfect of all flowers.”



Wednesday, July 3, 2019


One of the great things about my Pasadena neighborhood is that every other block or so you come upon one of those Little Free Libraries. I am constantly  returning books I've found in one Free Library to another Free Library (and adding new ones), trolling, and pouncing.

The one up on Atchison near El Molino has a wonderful smell of sun-warmed wood so that just opening the little latched door and sticking my head in for a deep draught is a thrill.

Clearly an editor or agent lives nearby as in this one I've found the galleys to Maria Sharapova's memoir Unstoppable,  the galleys of a very juicy biography of one of my literary heroines, Betty MacDonald, and the galleys to a whole bunch of other books that didn't grab me.

Every once in a while I'll happen upon the very, somewhat obscure title that's next on my list: The Road to Oxiana, for example, by Robert Byron. Then there are the books I've read but just kind of want to have a copy of around the apartment. Over the course of the last year or so I've scurried home with Lewis Hyde's The GiftNaked AND Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris, Kenneth Grahame's The Wind in the Willows, and several Charles Dickens novels.

Even the books I don't take home become friends. Seabiscuit has been in the box on the north side of Eldora for months, the one down on Oakland has a dozen Dorothy Sayers mysteries, and Ann Rule's If You Really Loved Me (VERY creepy father) clearly either gets perpetually passed around from library to library or is a super-popular book.

That one I did read--in fact, I went through an Ann Rule phase many years ago. I'm sorry to say I'm a sucker for true crime: one of my recent finds was Savage Grace, the story of the inventor-of-Bakelite family--ouch.

These things have a way of turning on you, though. The other night for example I grabbed Filthy Rich: The Billionaire's Sex Scandal, about a pedophile whose name I won't even bother to mention. Interestingly the thing has three authors, all of whom should be ashamed of themselves--not because of the subject but because it is so incredibly shabbily and shallowly written.

Well, serves me right. In the opening pages I learned that the perp wore or wears Stubbs & Wootton velvet slippers, which of course I had to google and now every single article I read online or on my phone has about 80 ads for these stupid slippers, which come with martini glasses for example embroidered on the instep.

I believe this is God's way of telling me to cut down on the trashy "entertainment." In fact I was going to a matinee of Midsommar today, which is apparently a super-gory, Scandinavian pagan-fest horror movie starring Florence Pugh (who I so loved in Fighting With My Family!)

But I've been feeling pretty bleak lately so perhaps not.

In fact Sunday at Mass I just sat there weeping, thinking Oh if only I could just crawl toward the tabernacle, rest my head there, and die. 

We have a new pastor at St. Andrew's and another new priest, Fr. Roberto, who said Mass this morning in the red robe of the martyrs as it is the feast day of St. (Doubting) Thomas. He, Father, was enthusiastic and tall and pointed out that we all have many times in our lives when we're like "Show me the wounds and then maybe I'll believe but in the meantime where the hell are you!!" and
I liked him a lot.

After Mass I was going to go straight to my car and have my morning barley-in-a Tupperware container before heading to the library as I am basically homeless during the day, but instead I actually did sit before the tabernacle, and prayed the Glorious Mysteries.

The church was dimly-lit and I looked down the pews and saw a few other scattered old people, heads bowed, and Christ on the cross and the candle burning in the red glass and that was when I thought Okay Lord, I guess I'll skip Midsommar.

Sometimes you just want your brain to shut off. But tonight I'll practice the piano, and read another couple of chapters of Brideshead Revisited and maybe watch something relatively tame, like The Strange Love of Martha Ivers or Jezebel.

I don't doubt for a second that Jesus, like me, is a huge Barbara Stanwyck and Bette Davis fan.


Monday, July 1, 2019


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

The desert in Joshua Tree is like a vast sea upon whose shore wash endless tidal waves of flotsam and jetsam.

Strolling about, you’re eventually seized by an uncontrollable urge to collect. After hours of silence and solitude, the thought suddenly arises: Why not spend a whole day — no, a week! — collecting nothing but, say, black lava-like rocks the size of a walnut? There are pieces of desert driftwood that resemble devil’s claws, chips of colored glass, worn smooth by wind and sand, and desiccated cactus skeletons.

As for the man-made detritus, what’s strange is the randomness. Why, in the middle of nowhere, a miniature beaded lamp shade, a corroded doll’s head, a derelict pair of Wahl hair clippers? Why, far from any dwelling, a brush dried stiff as concrete with orange paint, nestled at the base of a cholla?

The desert draws people from two very different ends of the spectrum. At one end are the despoilers: those who dump their garbage, tear up the earth with dirt bikes, or build meth labs.

Then there are people like Noah Purifoy (1917-2004), who over the course of many years in the desert collected piles of the kind of discarded junk described above, made art from it, and created the Outdoor Desert Art Museum of Assemblage Sculpture that is now visited by people from all over the world.


Monday, June 24, 2019


Not long ago I spotted a NYT op-ed headline reading “Pregnancy Kills. Abortion Saves Lives.” I didn’t bother reading the piece but I did think, Orwell’s 1984 has now truly come to pass. I thought, That’s right up there with “Guns Save Lives. Being Unarmed Kills.”

That afternoon while walking I came up with what I believe to be a brilliant idea, a kind of Gift of the Magi that, should it come to pass, might go a long way toward bringing the true security, love, and connection for which we all purportedly long.

It comes in the form of a question, or rather two questions:

To proponents of the right to gun ownership—Would you give up your “right to own guns” if it meant an end to abortion?

To proponents of the right to abortion—would you give up your “right to abortion” if it meant an end to private gun ownership?

The questions are a way of getting at the seemingly immovably entrenched views of gun ownership proponents and right-to-abortion proponents. Both positions are based on a very particular world view. Both views profess to be based in hard-eyed reality and both are based on fear—mostly of something that hasn’t happened, but may happen in the future.

The gun proponent’s motive, he or she will tell you, is to protect his family. The abortion rights proponent will tell you her motive is to protect the right to make decisions about her own body. Departing from either position would require an existential about-face, a re-examination of one’s entire purpose and place in the universal scheme.

Parsing out the ways in which the situations are distinguishable would be easy. But just as a theological-philosophical puzzle, the question is intriguing.

The left adheres to a gauzy, self-help notion that we are all connected. The right, the Christian and especially the Catholic, also purport to believe that we are all connected, in the Mystical Body of Christ. When one member is injured, all are injured. When one member is killed, the whole Body dies a little.

What if it were true—all of it? What if all acts really were “political” in the sense that everything we do, say or think affects every other person in the world, past, present and future? What hideous injury is caused by the destruction of a human life in the womb? What hideous collective injury is imposed by drone strikes, torture in subterranean chambers, millions of guns--designed to kill people and owned for the express purpose of killing people--hidden in the home, the car, on the body? All these supposedly invisible, unseen acts—and we haven’t even gotten to the harm caused by actually shooting and killing another human being—affect the Mystical Body in unimaginably destructive ways.

Christ was very clear on all of this. What is hidden will become visible; what was in darkness will come to light. You say adultery is wrong, I say even lusting (and coveting, and fear) in the heart will lead to evil. No-one knew better than Christ that the secret motives, sometimes inaccessible even to those of us who hold them, are where all hatred of our neighbor begins.

So if you own guns and your motive is truly to protect all human life (as opposed to say, fear of women, a sense of inadequacy, or addiction to (a false sense of) power)—would you give up your right to own guns if it meant an end to abortion?

Because if not, that means you value your right to own guns over the saving of millions of human lives.

And if you’re adamant about a woman’s right to abortion, would you give that up if it meant the guys (and women, but 62% of gun owners are men) would lay down their guns?

Because if not, that means you value your right to end your pregnancy over the lives (among many hundred thousands of others) of all the kids who have been killed and stand to be killed in school massacres.


Saturday, June 22, 2019



I am back from my trip to Washington DC and I am here to report that I ABSOLUTELY LOVED IT!!

I'm going to write a column for Angelus so will not elaborate here. But I can't resist posting these photos of flowers that, nourished by East Coast humidity, dew, and rain, looked good enough to eat.


Tuesday, June 18, 2019



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.


Saturday, June 15, 2019



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.