Friday, August 31, 2012


The Pula Arena (or amphitheatre, or coliseum),
in the Istrian city of Pula, Croatia.
Built in the 1st C. AD, it’s the sixth largest of 200 surviving Roman arenas.
photo: Bob R. of
as you may remember, I posted about the wonderful blog piran cafe, a trampfest, awhile back
-----Original Message-----
From: Ljiljana Jurinović
Sent: Thu, Aug 30, 2012 7:28 am
Subject: Heather King's Shirt of Flame - Croatian rights

Dear Sirs,

We are very much interested in the possibility of translating and publishing in Croatian language the book:

Shirt of Flame: A Year with St. Therese of Lisieux by Heather King.

 We would very much appreciate if you could send us a reading copy and a PDF or of the book, and to inform us generally what would be the conditions for a licence to translate and publish in Croatian language, for a print-run of 1000-1500 copies.

Let us introduce ourselves briefly:

We are VERBUM Publishing House from Croatia founded 20 years ago and and we are presently the leading Christian publisher in Croatia. Up to now we have translated and published books from a variety of credible authors, such as: Pope John Paul II, Joseph Ratzinger (Pope Benedict XVI), Christopher Dawson, Soeren Kierkegaard, George Bernanos, Sigrid Undset, Hans Sedlmayr, C. S. Lewis, G. K. Chesterton, T. S. Eliot, Joseph M. Bochenski, Josef Pieper, Romano Guardini, Nikolaj Berdjajev, Michel Schooyans, Peter Kreeft, Henri Daniel-Rops, Michael O'Brien, Donald de Marco-Benjamin Wiker, Amy Welborn, Gabriele Kuby, Dave Durand, Clayton C. Barbeau, Paul Witz, Louis de Wohl, Reginé Pernoud, Fr. Benedict Groeschel etc. (More on our editions please see on our web page

We have been successfully working with a number of international publishers, such as: Ignatius Press, Random House/Doubleday, Presses Universitaires de France, Editions du Jubilé, Sophia Institute Press, Ascention Press, Our Sunday Visitor, Curtis Brown, San Paolo, Rizzoli, Mondadori, Lion Hudson etc.

Looking forward to hearing from you and thanking you in advance, I remain

With best regards,

Ljiljana Jurinovic,
Executive Editor

VERBUM d.o.o.
Trumbiceva obala 12
21000 Split

Postscript: I never heard back.

again, photo courtesy of

Monday, August 27, 2012


Rita Simmonds is a friend, an award-winning poet, a wife, and a mother. We met a few years ago in New York.

I've always been struck by the way Rita's life, work, and vocation resist categorization. So a couple of weeks ago, after evening Mass at Our Mother of Good Counsel, I wandered the residential streets of Los Feliz talking to Rita via phone.

Me: Let’s just chat. I’m thinking I’ll run this August 28th because that was my parent’s wedding anniversary and it’s also the memorial of St. Augustine. Whose right eye offended him and he more or less plucked it out: love, lust, the holy longing. A good day to write of marriage.

Rita: August 28th is also the day of Frank’s surgery.

Oh good, we’ll all think of him…
Okay so the very first thing: you have to tell us about is when you had a nervous breakdown and Mother Teresa kicked you out of the Missionaries of Charity.

She didn’t kick me out. What happened was I joined right out of college.

And you’re a total cradle Catholic?

Yes, and I always believed. And I was always very ambitious spiritually. Very interested in my salvation. I saw there were temptations out there trying to sidetrack me but I always knew my purpose in life was to serve Him, that was always very, very clear. So at that time Mother Teresa was really the person who was out there, besides Pope John Paul II. She was really the one to watch, she was the one to follow, the one who caught everyone’s attention, especially those who were trying to follow the Church, to follow Christ. So I met up with the Sisters in the South Bronx, I was working at their summer camp. I met with Sr. Priscilla, who was the Regional Superior at the time. She invited me to do what they call a come-and-see, so I went and I was really taken with their life, and I loved it. I loved the prayer and I loved the total gift of self, that you would give every aspect of your life, all centered around Christ. Every gesture. We would wake up in the morning and we would say prayers as we put on our clothes. It was just amazing. The bell would ring; the bell was the voice of God. Chapel, whatever it was you had to do. I loved it, I really loved it for about the first year, and then it started getting really difficult.

What got difficult about it?

Um…it just became very…I didn’t know how to express myself in that climate any more. [laughing] It’s a very austere life. The one thing Sr. Frederick who ended up becoming the regional Superior, she said, “Sister, I think you need to serve God in freedom.” Instead of confined to that very disciplined lifestyle.

When you say austere, what do you mean? The food? The schedule?

You never sit on a couch, for example.

What do you sit on?

Benches, the floor. In the chapel, you sit on the floor. You wake up at 4:40 in the morning. You clean the floor every single day, you sweep and swab the floor. I don’t know about you, but I never wash my floor every single day.

I don’t even wash mine every month. Did they yell at you for laughing?

You can laugh in recreation, a lot, but I did get in trouble for breaking silence. I had another woman in there at the same time, she was actually the only woman in my Postulant group who moved on to the novitiate, and we used to crack each other up all the time and you weren’t supposed to be laughing in the stairwell…It was hard…I wasn’t really able to be formed there. I just didn’t really fit in after awhile.

So what happened?

Toward the end when things were getting really bad…first of all, I hate to cook, I’ve always hated cooking. I’ve never been a good cook, I’ve never enjoyed it. I had the responsibility of cooking lunch for all the sisters who were at the house on retreat. There were many, many sisters. So I had to make rice for them. And there were two different ways to make it and I wasn’t sure if I should…I didn’t know…I just didn’t know what I was doing, basically, and so I made a huge mess of the whole lunch. It was like ten minutes before the bell was going to ring for the Angelus and one of the professed sisters came downstairs to see how I was progressing and…I just told her that lunch wasn't anywhere near ready, that basically I didn’t know what I was doing. So she said, “Well here open this can of tomatoes.” So I went to open the can of tomatoes and it just splattered all over my white sari. And I just broke down…


I ran upstairs and into the bathroom and I locked myself in the bathroom and I would not come out. I just couldn’t do it anymore.

Think of the symbolism of the red and the white!…

That experience meant so much to me, was so precious to me, being with the Sisters, still to this day. Talking about Mother Teresa is like talking about my mother. She was really my spiritual mother.

So you met her?

Oh yes, I met her. I spoke to her a couple of times. I saw her privately twice.

And she was holy, right?

Oh yes. She was very small. She looked dead in your eye. She didn’t waste words. And she wanted to know who her sisters were and I think she was looking at me like, “Is this young woman suited to this life?” I really think she was looking at me and trying to help me. She had to do that. Her initial calling was among the Indian sisters. For an American to become part of that order is more difficult than for an Indian.

So you were in the bathroom and then what?

I was very nervous. I was afraid. I was shaking uncontrollably. I started having crazy thoughts about my eternal salvation, that I was going to go to hell. I mean this is not me. So I was obviously under some kind of duress. I just remember in the days afterward not wanting to go down to the chapel because I was crying too much and I had to go and I’d just cry, cry, cry. So it was very obvious to everyone that something was wrong with me. Also right around that time we were supposed to write a letter to Mother asking to go to the novitiate. I thought Maybe if I go to the novitiate things will get better. And Mother wrote back and said I’m giving you six more months as a postulant. And I thought, Oh no. I’ll never survive here six more months. And I just remember praying about it, and it was the first snowfall of the year, I remember seeing the kids outside the chapel window and they were frolicking in the snow and I just remember thinking, Oh I just want to do that. I just want to play in the snow. And so right then I was called in to speak to Sr. Frederick. And she said What do you want to do? And I said, “Sister, I think I want to leave.” And Sister said, “I think so, too.”

And that was it.

I even went back later and tried to speak to her. I was trying to make it in the world on my own and I really missed that life and I would go back to her and she’d day, No, you can’t come back unless you realize somehow that you made a mistake. That you could have done something differently and you didn’t. And I said Well I can’t say that because I tried as hard as I possibly could. So…

So from there you went?...

To my mother’s, my family, my mom and dad in upstate New York. My mother was devastated. I looked terrible.

How old were you at that point?


So you had this whole you thought you were going to be a religious and now you have your whole life ahead of you and you don’t know what you’re going to do with it, sort of.

Yeah, I had no idea. My mother said I want you to stay home for a month. You need to rest. So I did. But I was counting the days.

And you had how many brothers and sisters?

Um. Five brothers and four sisters.

Okay. And not a ton of money growing up, right.

No, not a lot of money. We always prayed the Rosary. We went to Mass on Sundays and Holy Days. My mother and father both taught us about our faith. And lived it.

And then you met Frank?

No! I didn’t meet Frank till I was in my late thirties.

Oh, okay, so fast forward then and tell us what you did in the intervening years till you met Frank.

Well I had a friend in college and we’d formed a pro-life club at Hofstra University. We’d become very good friends. So after my month at home I went to NYC to be close to my friends. And my friend Rich, who is now Fr. Rich, invited me to this group that was meeting at St. Patrick’s Cathedral at the time that was called Communion and Liberation. Basically from that time on I was very involved, still am involved, with CL.

Which is a lay movement?

Yes, and that’s where I was all those years. 1988 on. I hoped that I could…since I’d tried to become a nun and couldn’t, I suppose I thought Well I should try to get married. And all those years, I just never met anyone that was right for me or…I just didn’t find the right person.

And you were active in the pro-life movement all these years?

I was active in the pro-life movement, but once I got into CL, it was more all-encompassing, more total life, not just focused on one particular issue. It was more living the faith in every aspect of life. It was very similar to being in the Missionaries of Charity in a way. It took everything I had. And I really liked that. I’ve always liked that. I’ve always wanted to be totally and completely immersed in something. I met tons of people my age…

Wait, I want to back up. Didn’t you tell me there was a time…your politics were very right-wing, right?

Oh yes. Extremely right wing for quite a while.

Like when? What years?

Well I think when I met CL that started to change. That’s when I started to realize that following Christ is not following a political movement or even a good cause.

When you say right wing, what do you mean? You were pro-war…

Yeah. I didn’t think there was anything wrong with the death penalty, for example.

So you were kind of hard on criminals type of thing.

Yeah, I probably was. I mean it was just an ideology, it wasn’t really my heart. My heart was always compassionate. Of course that developed over the years. I mean if someone had come up to me and said Spare my life, I probably would have done it, but as far…I don’t know…I hadn’t thought it through very well but if you’d come up to me and asked Are you for capital punishment I would have said Oh yeah… So there was a split between what I thought and what was in my heart.

But then things started to change. When you’re hard core right-wing, you don’t care about making friends. You just want to throw the book at everybody, point the finger…I was making friends now and the Italians [the CL movement started in Milan] helped me to change my views. But I was very hard on myself and I was very hard on everyone else. That probably led to my unraveling, too. Because if I couldn’t do something well, I just felt terrible. I also had a terrible eating disorder, I was a compulsive overeater for awhile. But those things all started to change over the years when I really met the humanity of Christ in such a vibrant way. It wasn’t that I hadn’t met it in the Missionaries of Charity but I wasn’t in the right place with myself back then. Meeting people, valuing friendships…people wanted to know what I thought as much as what I’d experienced…no-one had ever wanted to know that before…

Okay, and then what happened?

Okay, mid-nineties I started to become interested in consecrated life in CL. They have a group called Memores Domini. And I lived in community with these consecrated women. We worked, I was a teacher, I taught ESL in the city university system.

Tell us what consecrated means. Your virginity, right, your sexuality?

Yeah, I was a novice. I hadn’t taken the promises—we don’t take vows, we make promises. I’d been there five years and it was approaching the time that I would make my profession.

And the promises would be?

Poverty, chastity, obedience.

Chastity, though, meaning, cause even married people are called to chastity, you’re not gonna have sex.


And you’re gonna be single.


So you’re mulling this over…

No, I was in it. I was living in a Memores Domini house for five years. And I’m preparing to make my profession.

So even though this is a lay movement…is this under the auspices of the Church?

Yeah, it’s a consecrated lay community…and it was similar in many ways to how I lived in the Missionaries of Charity. But anyway, I’m living in this group and I was also a member of a theater company called the Blackfriars. And there was a guy in the theater group, his name was David, and we became very good friends. And David worked with the homeless on the George Washington Bridge where he would help people get shelter, get off drugs or alcohol, whatever it was. And he wanted me to meet this guy Frank who he worked with. He said Frank is a really nice guy, but he needs friends. He needs real Christian, Catholic friends. He was raised Catholic but he had a troubled past. He was involved with homelessness also and crack. Supposedly he wasn’t using crack any more though that turned out not to be true.

And Frank is black.

Yes. His family’s from the Virgin Islands but he was born here so he’d be a black African-American. So I said, Sure, I’ll meet him, so I went to the bridge and Dave was there with Frank and they were both seeing people with problems. And Frank came over and I just said Hi, I’m Rita. Frank has a very nice way about him, a good way of communicating.

He’s a big guy, right?

He’s tall and at that time he was very skinny. He was wearing shoes that were too small. I remember him telling me, I’m having a hard time walking. I could see he was having a hard time. He was still living in a shelter. And I could see what Dave was saying, Frank really did need more than what he was getting in the way of friendship at the shelter.

Okay so let’s see if…the long and the short of it is that you and Frank are now married with two kids…how old are they?

Six and almost eight….

Okay, so just tell how they came about. You met, you courted…

Again, the same thing that had happened at the Missionaries of Charity began to happen at Memores Domini. I started to have a really hard time. Only this time it was much worse. I was much older; the stakes were a lot higher.

You had a hard time in what sense?

Just crying. Not functioning.

Okay, but why?

Because I think I was in the wrong place, but I didn’t have the courage…five years of my life, and I didn’t have the courage to ditch the whole thing and say This ain’t for me.

And why did you feel it wasn’t for you?

Because something was missing.

And what did you think was missing?

I think it was a man.

And you knew that.

No. I just knew I was so unhappy.

And this is before or after you met Frank?


Before. Okay. Interesting.

I was starting to…things were starting to get difficult. I think being in the theater, just being out there, exposed to different people and not living…having a little more freedom, I started to have greater longings, let’s say…

Were you thinking about children?

I really really tried to suppress that. But what happened was me and the women in the house went on vacation and I ruined the whole time for everybody. These were hard, hard-working women, we all were, and vacation time was really important, to just get a chance to rest. And I was so restless because I said This is not my idea of a vacation. And they said, Well, what is? And I said There should be children around. It’s not a vacation if you’re just laying on a beach, that just seems very…I was not comfortable with that. I wanted children around.

So it seemed kind of hedonistic, or just empty?

To me it did. Although to them it was important because they worked hard. I mean these were doctors, teachers, scientists….They were great. They were trying to make me happy but…they just couldn’t. After awhile I was just so miserable. Finally, Giorgio, who was the Superior from Italy, wrote me an email, because he knew I was suffering. I was seeing a psychiatrist, I was on anti-depressants, and nobody knew how to help me and finally in an email he said, Rita, just do those things that make you happy. The cross is not your business. That’s Jesus’s business. You choose the things that make you happy. So I said All right. And at this time Frank had gone through all this stuff, and we were in touch with each other…

Now had you been dating?

No. No. We were friends but he was gone. Frank had his own problems. He’d gone back to using crack…actually, he’d never stopped using crack, come to find out. He’d gotten to an all-time low. He wanted to kill himself. He wanted to jump in front of a subway. He wasn’t showing up at work, which wasn’t like him. So basically he ended up in a shelter, a rehab, and that was the last time he ever used drugs. And then we started writing letters, and we became friendly after that, but it was always me and Frank and Dave. It was always the three of us. Then, after I had my nervous breakdown and I couldn’t even work any more and was staying in a different [Memores Domini] house just to get a break and a change of scenery, and I got this call out of the blue from Frank saying “Where are you? What’s going on?” I really did appreciate that, his reaching out to me and I kind of told him, I didn’t want to tell him the whole story, I just said I was having a hard time. But at that time there was no romantic thing going on or anything like that.

Until one day months later I took a wrong turn home from jury duty and I ended up right in front of his job, because at that time he was working as a counselor in aftercare, he’d done very well in this rehab and then he was actually counseling drug addicts. So we just ran into each other accidentally and we just started talking and I think that was the beginning. When things started to get different between us. But up to that time I had never thought of any kind of relationship beyond friendship at all.

It was the wrong turn that was the right turn.

Yes. I was so mad at myself: how could I have taken the wrong bridge home from jury duty? But I remember we talked and afterward we looked at each other and he said, “You made my day. This is the best thing that’s happened to me all day.” And I thought Wow. Because I felt like such a loser! I was so depressed, I’m thinking I can’t even work, thank God I at least had jury duty to go to. And someone said to me, ‘You just made my day.’ When I felt like such a loser. I wasn’t making anyone’s day, I was making everyone miserable. First and foremost, myself. And I thought, Wow. That’s what I want. I want to be able to make someone’s day. I don’t want to be a liability; I want to be a help.

I think that was the beginning of it, when I felt I might be able to be of use to somebody. I felt so terrible about myself. Here I wanted to give my whole life to Christ. I’d always felt that. For as long as I could remember. And I just felt like I’m doing no service to anybody. So when someone said to me, You just made my day…I was so moved. And he was so sincere. And I was like What does he see? What could he possibly see? And so that was the beginning. And I knew after three months probably from that day…I knew that I was in love with him. And it was really terrifying.

Because first of all I knew I had to leave Memores Domini and that was a very difficult thing because I really loved them. The same with the Missionaries of Charity. I don’t have anything against them at all. I loved these women. They were like sisters to me. And yet, I had to go. Because I just could not find my happiness there.

So that was scary.

Yes, but Giorgio said to me, Do what it is that makes you happy and I thought Well, it makes me happy to talk to Frank on the phone. Because I make his day. And he means it. When he talks to me, he’s happy. And I’m happy, too.

And then it must have been scary cause there's also this thing of you’re white, he’s black; you're this girl who was going to be a nun, he’s a crackhead, or was. I mean the whole almost comical…

It was very intense because when I finally left Memores Domini, I thought Good, now Frank and I can finally start to date, you know, verify our relationship, he ran away from me! He just changed his tune…

And meanwhile, you’ve had a huge, totally unexpected turn in your life. A long, long way from thinking you’re going to be a nun in the Missionaries of Charity…

He said something very interesting to me that I’ll never forget. He said to me, Rita, for a man like me to be with a woman like you would be like climbing Mt. Everest. And I said to him—[almost whispers] But nothing is impossible for God. So we both knew that if we didn’t have God we wouldn’t make it. That was from the beginning. We both knew what was at stake.

You knew you’d need a ton of help.


And, if it’s okay, you saved yourself for the wedding night?

That I don’t want to…

Okay, the only reason I remotely bring it up, segueing into the marriage thing, is we’re taught that the more people you’ve slept with, the better, more or less…let me ask you this then. What was your view of the sacrament of marriage going in?

What was my view?

Vis-à-vis…you’re Catholic, and we’re called as Catholics not to have sex outside of marriage.

Well that was the Mt. Everest of our so-called courtship, the thing that we disagreed about most. That was the reason we broke up three times.

That’s a good way to put it.

He’ll back that up. We just could not see eye-to-eye. Forget about it. For me, it was hell.

But then you got married, so afterwards it was okay.

No! It was still difficult. Then it became difficult for him. He was like, Oh, so NOW it's okay for us to be together? He didn’t like these rules and regulations, that authority, that there was some kind of authority over him telling him what he could and couldn’t do, the way he saw it. So then it became difficult for him. It was not easy, but I learned a very important thing from that. What it really means to be with somebody in a marriage. And it’s work. It’s not like everybody says, try it out, see if the you and the person…no, it’s a work. It's a journey. It’s not something you can establish in a one-night stand.

I mean to be with another person, it takes work. It takes love. It takes sacrifice. And then we had to be open to children! We got married in the Catholic church. Frank didn’t expect to have more kids. He’s nine years older than me. He already had two grown children. He wasn’t ready to raise little kids. That was not in his mind or plan at all. So I said Well, we’re getting married in the Church, we need to say that we can accept children. We had one child right away. I mean I was already 40 so it was amazing. Then, a year and a half later, we had another child. [laughing] Frank was like, This is ridiculous.

Two boys, right?

Yes, Micah and Martin.

So Frank was like, This is ridiculous. ..

Yeah, he felt like an old guy having young kids. I didn’t even know being 40 if I'd be able to conceive…so it was a blessing. I saw it as a blessing. And then…I mean I come from a family of ten, I didn’t want to have just one kid. That’s what would have been ridiculous to me, and to have no kids would have been even more ridiculous. I couldn’t even imagine….I mean I said to Frank We don’t even have a lot in common, what are we going to talk about every day? If we don’t have kids we’re in trouble. [laughing]. I mean let’s be realistic here.

And don’t get me wrong. Frank was happy. He loves his kids. We actually practiced natural family planning and that didn’t work. It didn’t work because we didn’t do it right and then we did an even more advanced method called the Creighton model. So here I am 43 years old and I have to try not to conceive and we had to go to these more advanced classes…but this is what I mean, this is part of the whole thing…I mean here’s this guy who’s lived on the streets for many years. For him, sex, drugs, back then they all went together. And now we’re talking about abstaining on certain days…I mean this was just completely foreign to him. So off his radar.

So it’s been a stretch for both of you.

Yes. And for the one person to try and understand the other…very difficult. But I think that he gradually started to embrace Catholicism because of CL. He started becoming more involved, going to weekly meetings, started to have people around him, not just me, families, men, who were living the kind of life that we were trying to live. He saw that it was possible. And that made it much easier. Community made it much, much easier.

But still it’s work.

Yes, I mean…the work for me, I don’t know what he would say about this, but the work for me was persevering in what I knew was true.

With respect to?...the teachings of the Church, you mean.

Yeah, in that way. Without blaming him for not understanding. And really hanging in there, that’s a difficult thing, and also loving.

And how do you find motherhood?

I love being a mother, but it is difficult…

Cause you don’t like to cook for one thing.

No, I don’t like to cook, as the Missionaries of Charity will attest.

The reason I ask is, marriage is basically ordered to children and therefore a marriage needs to be open to them….of course I’ve never had kids…but just as this there’s this kind of fairy-tale cultural overlay to marriage there’s a fairy-tale cultural overlay to motherhood. We just love our children to death and we cuddle and everything’s beautiful. It seems to me having children would also be a crucible, just like marriage.

I’ve met mothers who are a lot less stressed out than me and they have a lot more kids too... Just amazing.

Right. They seem to be born to it.

But also I’ve felt very keenly that the culture we live in does not welcome children. It’s a contraceptive mentality that dominates. If you have a child, it’s your choice, so you have to deal with all the problems that come with it, in spite of what Hilary Clinton said, “It takes a village.” I also started so late. So I lived so many years without kids that all of a sudden. Being older and the energy it takes to take care of kids, constantly.

Especially after having a life of your own.

And I also had a lot of religious training. I remember someone asked my friend Jonathan [who’s a father,] Jonathan, when do you have time for personal prayer? Jonathan said jokingly, Uh, between three and four in the morning.

So I was used to a life of silence where I prayed and I studied and I wrote my poetry…that was my life and all of sudden you can’t do that anymore. I mean now that they’re older and in school I’m starting to be able to. But when your kid’s hungry and wants to eat you can’t say…

Hold on, let me finish this stanza…

Or read my Office, or whatever it is. So it was an adjustment because I really believed my way of “holiness” was the best way but you have to adjust that and say No, feeding my child IS praying the Office. Taking care of my husband IS writing my poem. It was a huge adjustment in that sense.

Also I was used to going out to work every day. I mean I don’t miss that that much, but…

Just so people know, Frank works and he’s…

He’s a doorman.

In Manhattan.


And he works the night shift.


We were talking a couple of weeks ago about your anniversary. He wanted to go out, just the two of you, and…

Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with a husband and wife going out on their own. That’s a beautiful thing and I think husbands and wives should do that. I’m not against that at all. I just feel at this particular point in my life…but I guess I’ve always felt this…it’s consistent with the way I’ve always been. I just want my life to be a total gift. And I want it to be shared with everyone. So when we went out for our anniversary I said Let’s invite our family and friends. Who are able to be there with us. Because our marriage has a task. And it’s not just me and you staring at each other and getting what we can from each other to fulfill our needs. It’s something that I desire to live with others. And I enjoy the fact that people want to be with my husband, to be with him, to share their lives with him also. It’s not just me. I don’t have to possess every minute of his time; he doesn’t have to be paying attention every minute to me and the kids.

So that kind of grasping possession that ruins a lot of marriages, that we all hate, especially guys…

Right, has to go. And it’s not like I wasn’t insecure in the beginning, especially since…we got married, we came from two very different places. Just being married…I’d never been married before, I didn’t know what to expect, I didn’t even know what emotions were going to come out of me. It was all very new for me.

How old were you when you got married?

39, almost 40. At first, I had moments of insecurity where I’d get jealous if he were talking to another woman. But as time rolled on, I saw people really love my husband. And they love him because they see Christ in him. I know how important it is…I desire for the world to meet Christ. And if the world can meet Christ through my husband, and I can facilitate that in some way, that makes me happy. I don’t need to possess him all for myself.

At the same time, of course, it’s not like you’re out cheating on each other. In another way, the boundary is very firm.

I think when…a Christian, Catholic, sacramental marriage, and maybe all marriages in some way, I don’t know, but I can speak from my own experience, we are at the service of the Church. Our lives together, I feel very strongly because I wouldn’t be happy any other way, our lives together have a task. We have a task as a couple. And that really is to live Christ. To build the kingdom of God. And you can’t do that if you are sucking the life blood out of the other person, and if you don’t trust the other person. But you don’t even think of that after awhile. What’s important is the task of the relationship.

Plus you have kids. And kids, as we were saying the other day, without kids you can bolt when conflict arises. But kids make it so you have to work it out.

Yeah. There’s a lot more at stake. You love these kids and that’s part of the task.

And when I say task, I want to say it in a positive sense. We’re thrown into the world and why the hell am I here? To have a task is a wonderful thing. To have a purpose. We need it. And it’s not enough for me to say, Oh, I have a really nice husband and really cute kids and we’re going to buy a house and…no, that’s not what I want. I want my whole family to be building the kingdom of God. I don’t know how that’s going to happen. I can’t predict that…I mean I hope and pray my children will love the Church and have the desire I have and that my husband has. But I don’t know that. Nonetheless it’s a wonderful thing to be able to give your life for another, for the greater good. I wouldn’t be happy any other way, I just wouldn’t. To make life about how much I can accumulate for myself and my family, that would be a real drag. I wouldn’t know what the point was. Because my heart, my desire is so great I just could never live like that.

That’s beautiful. You were saying the other day that feminism isn’t the way to come into our full womanhood; Christ is.

[long pause]. Something my husband told me, I don’t know if I’ve told you this, this is something new that he said to me recently. When we were struggling in our courtship if you can call it that, he gave me a really hard time. And he was going through a lot. Getting off drugs, trying to start his new life, and he had had many many relationships with women. And he did not trust women for anything. At all. And when we started dating, I was in a very vulnerable position. Because I was really scared. I thought I would never get married. And I would never have children. And that put me in a very vulnerable position. What the hell was I going to do with my life? I’d been ousted already…no, ousted isn’t the word: I’d failed already in two consecrated endeavors…and I really wanted a task, a vocation, like I was saying, a purpose, a direction. And so I was kind of nutty. Because the more he gave me a hard time and pulled away from me, the more crazy I got.

So after you started dating, he kind of disappeared.

Yeah, for awhile. And the other day he said As crazy as you were, I saw the humanity of Christ in you. He said Remember, I did not trust a single woman any more. But as crazy as you were, the humanity of Christ is what led me to trust.

So his heart was really open.

He said That’s how I encountered Christ. The person of Christ, in the flesh. So it didn’t even matter that you were nutty.

And what do you mean when you say nutty, you mean just kind of calling him and stalking him and stuff?

Yeah, like calling him all the time and crying like crazy every time I felt like he was rejecting me. But I was very very vulnerable. I couldn’t bear to be rejected. It was just so painful. This longing was real. I was longing for my vocation because I’d been trying so hard for so many years. I felt like I was finally going to be put where I belonged. And I had to have that answer. I couldn’t live without it. And it made me nuts, it made me crazy that I was so close to it and it felt like it was moving away from me. And he couldn’t understand that and at the same time he couldn’t get rid of me because there was something so true…He told me later that he was saying to himself, What am I doing with this woman, she’s so crazy. And then he said, But wait a minute, I’m crazy, too! He realized we were both extremely weak. And it was only Christ who was going to be able to pull us through. But it required that kind of surrender.

On both your parts.

Yeah. On my part more of a patience, more of a trust. I had to be patient and trust that sooner or later he was gonna marry me. And on his part he had to trust that he was going to marry me. That he wasn’t going to screw it up. Because Christ was going to sustain us. And he told me he’s very proud. That’s one of the things he’s most proud of in life, that he’s been married for nine years! And he’s got two children. He’s providing for them. I mean he is so happy about that! He always tells me that. And every time we have an anniversary he’ll say you know, however many years it is, Now we’ve been married seven, eight, nine years! Joy. It’s a victory. He's climbed Mt. Everest!

Our culture tells us that happiness lies in unbridled freedom, in license. So it’s interesting that it instead lies not in being chained to something, but as you say in having a task. Around which everything becomes ordered. And then…”My yoke is easy and my burden light.” Even though…it’s sacrifice.

Well, I think as Christians we are hard-wired to give of ourselves completely. We can’t help it.

As humans!

As humans but I think as Christians ontologically, by virtue of our baptism, a grain of seed…unless a seed falls to the ground and dies it remains alone. But if it dies it yields a rich harvest. So I think by virtue of our baptism, that is something we can’t help. We long to give of ourselves completely. To die to ourselves so that something new can be born. And for me it’s very real, the desire that I have to give of myself, to be a complete gift. You know yesterday when you were talking about Ruth Burrows, was it Ruth Burrows, that Carmelite?


You were talking about how she says when we pray, it’s really God taking the initiative. It’s really Him. It’s not what we do, but what He does. And that really struck me and I was thinking about that and thinking about that. What is that, what is that? And I was thinking when I say to my husband or to anybody, I love you, I mean it. I, I, love you. And yet who is able to say that, really? Only Christ can say that. So then who is “I”?

I live now not I, but Christ lives in me…

Yeah, but it’s not like Christ jumps out of us. It’s not like he’s some energy that’s released from us.

It’s not like Invasion of the Body Snatchers…

No, he becomes one with our I. I love you and I really love you. Who loves you? It’s me, it’s Rita. But it’s also Christ.

It’s fascinating because we don’t lose our individuality. We’re not all squished into this amorphous faceless mass of humanity. Instead we’re actually brought to the height of our uniqueness through disappearing in Christ.

Yeah. He grows in us. He becomes the definition of our I. I don’t think it’s right when you say to someone Jesus loves you. No, I love you.

And we’re not the same. Rita is not Heather is not Frank is not Micah is not Martin.

No, but we’re part of the same thing. Because what Frank said, he saw Christ’s humanity in me, he saw the love Christ had for him in me. But it’s me that loves. And it’s Christ that he loves. I mean we are so entwined.

I think that’s a really great place to end. “We are so entwined.” That’s perfect.


Saturday, August 25, 2012


I've not yet reported on one of the most heartening, stimulating, warm-spirited, community-building events in recent memory. I refer, of course, to the creative 'ROUND-TABLE' I hosted at my (well, my housemate's, but I do live here) beautiful abode last Sunday.

I was not all that sure what a "round-table" is, but a few months ago I heard a guy say he'd kicked one off many years ago at a time when he'd been out of work: just as a way not to lose his sanity, just as a way to stay in touch, just as a way not to be overly alone and overly scared. Which, I, for one, am an danger of  every day and have been all my life.

So I liked the whole sound of it. I like the word round and I like the word table. There are certain words that go together in an invitational way: fellow and ship, club and house, round and table.  And the more I said it to myself, the more I liked it. Round-table, round-table, round-table...

Still,  many such ideas flit across my fevered brain each week, day, hour. Flit in and flit out, as the fear factor tends to rear up and squelch all fun. Thoughts crowd in such as: People will think it's lame, no-one will come, they'll come but they won't talk, they'll talk for too long, I feel like it now but I won't feel like it then, what should we have for food, indoors or out, what day, what time, what if I get stuck cleaning up a giant mess, what if it's too much trouble, what if no-one has a good time but me, what if everyone has a good time but me? Et cetera.

Now that I'm 60, though, I sort of have to say--Really? I'm afraid I won't be popular? It's a little late for that, isn't it?

Thus it was that at 2 p.m., a delightful assortment of folk started trailing in. Tom B. brought two jam jars of the most unbelievably delicious home-made-by-his-sister syrups--one cantaloupe-ginger-mint, one watermelon-fig-basil--that you mix with Pellegrino and make spritzers out of. Judy, my garden designer friend, bought a bag of fancy brown butter cookies that have been written up in the NY Times from Cayucos on the Central Coast. My friend Terry bought luscious fresh figs from her garden. My friend Joan bought a pound of butter, which I'd asked her to. Patrick (vegan) brought salsa and vegetable chips. I'd made a brown basmati rice I guess it was a salad with  dried apricots and pistachios, and a peach kuchen from the Tassajara Bread Book which should be on the top ten easiest, classic and best summer desserts of all time.

Food wasn't the main point but there was just enough for everyone to nibble on and I loved the whole serendipitous, Southern-California bounty let's see what turns up effect. The syrups made our drinks pretty colors of rose and pale orange-red which somehow was just festive and just right.

Anyway, it was boiling hot out so we opened all the French doors and formed a circle in the living room and  proceeded from person to person telling about ourselves and our work. We spoke of how landscape forms the creative imagination, of childhood, of dreams deferred, dreams fulfilled, transitions, hopes, plans, doubts, fears.  We spoke of aging and acting, of loss of balance due to alcoholic neuropathy, of thinking THIS is the thing that's going to finally break everything wide open and of course it never is.

There were 11 of us, we went for an hour and a half, and the whole time to me was fascinating. There were old friends, there were newer friends, there was one person I'd never met before other than to say hi. There were people from very different creative endeavors, at very different points in their careers.  There were tears, wounds, hopes, dreams, fears, regrets, tales of childhood, laughs. There were people from what I sometimes think of as the two parts of my life, even though it's really all one, which is to say my Catholic part and my sober drunk part, and for me that was best of all, getting to bring my friends together, to share my friends with each other.

And as always when you take a risk , and when love is the underlying drive, something larger than and way more than the sum of all of us--which is saying something, as this was a pretty stellar group--wafted in, through, and over the room. Something that to me said: You have always wanted something like this and you've been waiting all your life for someone else to initiate it. It is hard to be vulnerable! It is hard to take a risk, to risk failing, falling flat, looking foolish. But the only really foolish thing would have been having the idea and not following through.

The second one's scheduled for September 23. Start gathering your mint.

Postscript: We had three round-tables and then the momentun petered out.

Thursday, August 23, 2012


The Lunatic Express by Carl Hoffman is a fascinating read.

From the book jacket:

Indonesian ferry sinks. Peruvian bus plunges off cliff. Kenyan train attacked by mobs. Whenever he picked up a newspaper, journalist and award-winning travel writer Carl Hoffman noticed these news bulletins and was struck by how far removed the idea of tourism--travel as the pursuit of pleasure--is from the reality of most people's experience. Curious and intrepid reporter that he is, off he went, spending five months circumnavigating the globe by its most perilous means of transportation: the statistically most dangerous airlines, the most crowded ferries, the slowest buses, and the deadliest trains. His goal: to understand what travel means to more than 99 percent of the world's population in the furthest reaches of the planet.

It's my favorite kind of book, which is to say a human book. One of the best passages comes near the end. Hoffman's traveled through South America, Africa, Indonesia, China, Russia, Afghanistan. After months on the road, he's finally home. He decides to take a Greyhound, which is how the poorest of the poor travel in the U.S., from L.A. to his home in D.C.

Here he is:

We hit Vegas that afternoon, and America seemed like the saddest place I'd seen in months. The worst, most dangerous conveyances in the world always had a mix of people on them, people bursting with life and color and friendliness. In Peru or Mali or Bangladesh everyone was poor. The few rich people flew; everybody else took a ferry or a bus or a train and they prepared for the journey with their carefully wrapped boxes and containers of rice, and the stream of fresh food for pennies was ubiquitous....I thought of Moolchand, poor as dirt, buying me tea; of Fardus, feeding me fresh coconuts from his yard and dreaming of Las Vegas. But this was Vegas. This was America, the dream itself. And it looked like a place cracking, peeling, coming apart at the seams. Who would invite me to their house for lunch? Who even had a  home? When we'd passed temples on the Blueline, Moolchand had prayed; Khalid prayed constantly, for me, for our safety; the men and women to whom he gave money gave us prayers back. Moussa had made tea in the vestibule of the train in Mali, and handed it all around to whoever wanted a cup. Rokibal in Bangladesh had wanted to know everything about me, and Ranjit, the bus driver in the poorest state of India, had given me his red velvet pillow. Wakiba and David had begged me to come home with them after twenty hours of fighting Naoribi traffic, and fed me in a house that had no kitchen and no bathroom. The conditions were deplorable sometimes. Dirty. Hot. Crowded. Groaningly uncomfortable. Dangerous. But all those people had been so filled with generosity and spirit, curiosity about a stranger, and they all in some way had felt connected in a way they didn't even realize to a larger society, culture, family. But the people around me seemed alone, disconnected; what bound them to each other? To America? What was America? We were a bus of lost souls in a country that itself seemed without a soul. 

By the way, forty miles outside D.C. the bus broke down. Steerage on leaky ships, suicidally over-crowded Indian subways, heaterless trucks minus a tire or two: the transport might have been late, the transport might have been slow, the transport might have been filthy--but it was the first and only time on Hoffman's trip that a conveyance actually failed to reach its destination.

photo: Gloria Baker Feinstein
check out Gloria's blog

Tuesday, August 21, 2012


The other morning I was just about to get in the shower when my phone rang. My brother Ross, I could see, calling from New Hampshire.

"Hey Roscoe," I picked up.

"Hi Heather," a boy's pre-pubescent voice piped up.

"Allen!" [Ross's soon-to-be-14-year-old son]. What's up?"

"Welp I got a whole bunch of new fish! I have black moors, we have red should see 'em swimming around in there, they're so pretty!"

"I knew about the turtles, but you have an aquarium now?"

"Yup, 20-gallon tank, we have little plants, we have rocks. They love it in there. Look up black moor online, you'll see what I mean." I googled black moor and as I was oohing and aahing, he said, "I'll send you some pictures."

We talked about goldfish and fantails and snapping turtles and dwarf frogs. We talked about Nana and I told him about my birthday party. We talked about his birthday on August 23rd and that he's starting school on the 27th. Eighth grade; he's excited.

"That's the great thing about school. You're always really really excited when it gets out and then you're always really really excited to go back."

"Yeah....maybe next time you come back here, you can see my fish"...

We hung up, and I thought about how next year his voice will have changed. I thought about the crab shell collection and the junior search-and-rescue missions and the sno-cone business, and about how much sheer kick-ass joy this kid has brought into our lives. I thought about how there is really not one single call I would rather get in the world than a call from my 14-year-old nephew--than my nephew at any age--telling me about his fish.

Sunday, August 19, 2012


 I will be giving two talks in Natchez, Mississippi, on Saturday, September 8, at an event sponsored by:

The Natchez Council for Arts & Culture
Birthday Celebration for our Blessed Mother
Evangelization 2012
September 7-9, 2012
Monmouth Plantation
Natchez, Miss.

For more information email or call 601-446-7700.


"The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit" [John 3:8].

These days, I never know where I'm going to end up...


Friday, August 17, 2012


From the Jaguar Reporter, Vol. II, North Hampton Jr. High School, Jan. 1966

"Do You Belong in the Theater?"
by Heather King

"The title for this year for our annual Junior High play is The Haunted Tea Room by Anne Coulter-Martens.

This year the play will be a comedy-mystery. There will be nine characters as opposed to the twenty-seven of last year. Help will be needed with make-up, scenery, publicity, ticket sales, etc. These jobs give even the worst actors a chance to contribute to the play."

Wednesday, August 15, 2012


Here is a beautiful interview with Carmelite contemplative nun Ruth Burrows.

And an excerpt from her Essence of Prayer, about which I have a very strong feeling I'll be sharing more later:

Many people carry a romantic notion of Carmel. For those who enter it this is quickly destroyed. Almost always there is the shock, the scandal almost, of ordinariness. In Teresa [of Avila]'s thought this blessed ordinariness is where God is, where we meet him and surrender to him. The sole 'specialness' of Carmel is simply to isolate the essential ingredients and live them in an intense, absolute way for the sake of all. It may seem a far cry from Carmelite nun to politician, civil servant, actress, or mother of a growing family. Speaking spiritually, there is no difference. Their lives are made up of the same ingredients; all have the same path to holiness.

this flower looks big but was actually minuscule!
check out that little wrinkled looks-like-a-brain bud
on a tree on Coronado Terrace in Echo Park
From The Mystical Doctrine of St. John of the Cross, with an introduction by the Very Rev. R.H.J. Steuart, S.J. (Sheed & Ward, London, first published 1934):

O souls that seek your own ease and comfort, if you knew how necessary for a high state is suffering, and how profitable suffering and mortification are for attaining to God's great blessings, you would never seek for comfort anywhere...This is the way God deals with those whom it is His will to exalt: He suffers them to be tempted, afflicted, tormented, and chastened, inwardly and outwardly, to the utmost limit of their strength, that He may deify them, unite them to Himself in His wisdom, which is the highest state.

St. Francis of Assisi on an interesting form of DIY exorcism, from The Little Flowers of St. Francis, trans. from the Latin and the Italian by Raphael Brown:

"But when the devil says to you again, 'You are damned,' St. Francis said, "you answer him confidently, 'Open your mouth--and I will [empty my bowels] in it!' And let it be a sign to you that he is the devil taht when you say those words, he will immediately go away. You should also have known that he was the devil because he hardened your heart to everything that is good, for that is exactly his job. But the Blessed Christ never hardens the heart of the faithful man but rather softens it, as He says through the Prophet: 'I will take away your heart of stone and will give you a heart of flesh.' "

From The Science of the Cross, by Edith Stein, trans. by Josephine Koeppel, O.C.D.:

Even worse than the misuse of pictures is the imperfection with which "one is accustomed to use a rosary. One rarely meets someone who does not show some weakness in this regard. They want the rosary to be made in one style rather than another, or that it be of this color or that metal rather than another....Will God hear the prayer more readily if it is prayed with this or that rosary? It is after all only important that one prays with a simple and pure heart, that one aims only to please God."

one of my favorite rosaries is from my friend Frank Crean,
who gave it to me just after his wife Louise died

Monday, August 13, 2012


I have become a“crafter!” 

It all started with what I hoped to be the cost-saving measure of making rubber-stamp Christmas cards last year (which ended up setting me back about 250 bucks) and from there went on to knitting, curtain-making, several dinner parties, and now I’m thinking maybe I will try my hand at a couple of pillows. I don’t even need to put a zipper in, I'm thinking, just buy the foam or down thing and some material and baste the fourth side. When they start getting shabby, I’ll make more!

The curtains, green-gold organza with swirls, were many weeks in the execution. I had to shop, plowing online through zillions of possible selections for the material, thread, pins, a tape measure, and then I had to learn how to use my dear housemate's sewing machine (I gave mine away three years ago in an ill-advised faux St. Francis of Assisi "paring down") on which I promptly broke the needle. 

My mother was an expert seamstress and I was a miserable pupil. I wanted the finished product without having to go through the long hours of painstaking trial, error, and work.  

Still, re my curtains, I thoroughly enjoyed kneeling, turning the fabric under, pinning, humming, and saying, "Oh shoot" when one panel of a pair turned out to be five inches shorter than the other...You would not want to examine my curtains up close--they look like they were done by a blind person--but I am happy with them and my plan is to remedy all imperfections by sewing a nice length of tassel fringe along the bottom.  

Caryll Houselander, of whom I'm a huge fan, believed we should all have a little handicraft. She worked with traumatized children and was always teaching them how to carve animals out of wood or make papier mache masks or paint icons and she saw how the work soothed and calmed and stimulated and delighted and helped bring the children back to the land of the living. 

I am not very handy and yet I have come to treasure the hours I spend on my amateurish projects. We all have a deep urge to create, to make something out of nothing, to see some physical form take shape. Flannery O'Connor also believed a writer should cultivate at least one other art. For her, it was painting, which she was actually good at. So there is something here as well about the fact that we need to let our minds lie fallow every so often; to "see" with another eye than the one we use for our main work. 

Really, I am building a nest. I live pretty much in one large room and day by day, week by week, month by month, in two years it has become almost a living thing on its own. The light now filters through sheer green curtains on all sides, making everything seem fresh and hopeful and new.

Saturday, August 11, 2012


Last year, PBS released a four-hour documentary series entitled "Forgiveness: A Time to Love and a Time to Hate."

Directed and written by  Helen Whitney, the series is well worth watching. Forgiveness is wisely framed as a question, not an issue. Still, I wonder: IS there a time to hate? There is certainly a time--often a long, long time--to mourn, to grieve, to be bewildered, to be bereft, to be crushed, to rage at your enemies, to question existence, to doubt God. But the danger in hatred, it seems to me, is that you tend to forget all the hateful things you've done and continue to do yourself.

As is so often the case, Caryll Houselander sheds some some light:

There are as many ways in which self can die out of our love as there are loves in the world, but there is one which we need to think of very much to-day: forgiveness. It is strange to say that we discover Christ in one another by forgiving one another. Perhaps this is because we have a wrong conception of forgiveness. So often, alas, as we use it, it is condescension following upon condemnation. But it should not be. It should be the most direct way of healing a wound. It goes beyond all possible explanations and all possible misunderstandings. It does not even ask to be understood.

Nothing could work more against the discovery of the lost Child in another than to foster bitterness against someone we love or to have an enemy.

Christ is utterly sinless; if someone has injured us, it cannot be the Christ in him that has injured us. But no one can do a wrong without wounding himself. Sin always wounds the sinner, but Christ has taken this great wounding to Himself. All His wounds, all His suffering, the whole of His passion, is the wounding of sin--ours the sinning: His the redeeming wound of our sin.

Forgiveness, then, is a reaching out to comfort and heal that wound in our friend which Christ in him bears because of the wrong he did to us: to forgive is to ask Christ to forgive us. "Forgive and you shall be forgiven."

So, too, to be forgiven. When we ask and give forgiveness, we discover Christ's redeeming wounds in one another. And when we ask the Father to forgive us, He discovers the Child who was lost in us. He sees the shining wounds of Mary's Son, the lost Child in the human race come back to Him. And God forgives.

--Caryll Houselander, from The Reed of God

Thursday, August 9, 2012


This world then is word, expression, news of God.
--Gerard Manley Hopkins

May 3, 1866

Ashes are out, only tufted with their fringy blooms. Hedges springing richly. Elms in small leaf, with more or less opacity. White poplars most beautiful in small grey crisp spray-like leaf. Cowslips capriciously colouring meadows in creamy drifts. Bluebells, purple orchis. Over the green water of the river passing the slums of the town and under its bridges swallows shooting, blue and purple above and shewing their amber-tinged breasts reflected in the water, their flight unsteady with wagging wings and leaning first to one side then the other. Peewits flying. Towards sunset the sky partly swept, as often with moist white cloud, tailing off across which are morsels of grey-black woolly clouds. Sun seemed to make a bright liquid hole in this, its texture had an upward northerly sweep or drift from the W, marked softly in grey. Dog violets. Eastward after sunset range of clouds rising in bulky heads moulded softly in tufts or branches of snow--so it looks--and membered somewhat elaborately, rose-coloured. Notice often imperfect fairy rings. Apple and other fruit blossomed beautifully...

July 7
Walked a new way at Finchley and saw Mr. Bickersteth on bridge over the Brent. On a windy day the leaves of trees, e.g. the plane, get and keep a certain pose of turning up from the pitch of the wind. Gable-shaped droop of firs, yews etc like that of an open hand from the wrist.

July 11
Oaks differ much, and much turns on the broadness of the leaf, the narrower giving the crisped and starry and Catherine-wheel forms, the broader the flat-pieced mailed or shard-covered ones, in which it is possible to see composition in dips etc on wider bases than the single knot or cluster. But I shall study them further....

July 13
I know now too what a tinkling brook is.

March 12, 1870
A fine sunset: the higher sky dead clear blue bridged by a broad slant causeway rising from right to left of wisped or grass cloud, the wisps lying across; the sundown yellow, moist with light but ending at the top in a foam of delicate white pearling and spotted with big tufts of cloud in colour russet between brown and purple but edged with brassy light. But what I note it all for is this: before I had always taken the sunset and the sun as quite out of gauge with each other, as indeed physically they are, for the eye after looking at the sun is blunted to everything else and if you look at the rest of the sunset you must cover the sun, but today I inscaped them together and made the sun the true eye and ace of the whole, as it is. It was all active and tossing out light and started as strongly forward from the field as a long stone or a boss in the knop of the chalice-stem: it is indeed by stalling it so that it falls into scape with the sky.

The next morning a heavy fall of snow. It tufted and toed the firs and yews and went on to load them till they were taxed beyond their spring. The limes, elms, and Turkey-oaks it crisped beautifully as with young leaf. Looking at the elms from underneath you saw every wave in every twig (become by this the wire-like stem to a finger of snow) and to the hangers and flying sprays it restored, to the eye, the inscapes they had lost. They were beautifully brought out against the sky, which was on one side dead blue, on the other washed with gold.

At sunset the sun a crimson fireball, above one or two knots of rosy cloud middled with purple. After that, frost for two days.

July 19, 1872
Stepped into a barn of ours, a great shadowy barn, where the hay had been stacked on either side, and looking at the great rudely arched timberframes--principals(?) and tie-beams, which make them look like bold big As with the cross-bar high up--I thought how sadly beauty of inscape was unknown and buried away from simple people and yet how near at hand it was if they had eyes to see it and it could be called out everywhere again...

April 8, 1873
The ashtree growing in the corner of the garden was felled. It was lopped first: I heard the sound and looking out and seeing it maimed there came at that moment a great pang and I wished to die and not to see the inscapes of the world destroyed any more

From the Journals of G.M. Hopkins, found in The Poetry of Earth, ed. by E.D.H. Johnson

Tuesday, August 7, 2012


I have a JOB! A three-hour-a-week job (Saturday mornings 9 to noon) I agonized over taking as it will SEVERELY cut into my personal schedule.

The job is teaching three consecutive 13-week sessions of the Master Rewrite Class at the L.A. Writers Lab for novelist/screenwriter Al Watt. Al got a giant advance for his excellent first novel, Diamond Dogs.

He has laid out his ideas in The 90-Day Novel, The 90-Day Rewrite, and the upcoming The 90-Day Screenplay and The 90-Day Play.

Here's the Q and A Al posted n the L.A. Writers Lab website:

Your new book is entitled Shirt of Flame: A Year with St. Thérèse of Lisieux. Can you give us a brief synopsis of the book?

Middle-aged ex-lawyer, sober drunk, Catholic convert, resident of 2009 Koreatown, Los Angeles, "walks" for a year with cloistered French Carmelite nun who died of TB in 1897, at the age of 24, with no pain medication, crying "I love Him!" In one way, truly, St. Thérèse and I were the odd couple. Outwardly, we’d led very different lives. But I was attracted to her Mary Magdalene bleeding heart—which she managed to channel into a white-hot flame in this outwardly completely unremarkable way. No-one thought there was anything remotely noteworthy about her during her life. That alone is a theme dear to the heart of a writer, or this writer…

What led you to become a Catholic?

A complete crisis of meaning. I was sober, married, and working as a Beverly Hills lawyer and I began to realize….this cannot be all there is. I cannot have gotten sober to argue motions for the rest of my life...I began to ask the deepest questions of our existence: Why am I here? What is my purpose on earth? What is the meaning of suffering? I think we all have a sense of mission; we sense that we were put here to complete some task that no-one else could. I began to ask what that might be, and to look for a companion—companion comes from the Latin: cum pane: with bread…I realized our journey on earth is a pilgrimage. And that the goal is to become fully human…to me, religion is a stance toward reality. It’s not something extra I tack on to life: it’s the ground of life…

Did you always want to be a writer?

Always. Writing had been the secret call of my heart since I’d first learned to read. I couldn’t get to it till I was 40, partly because of my drinking, partly out of terror. I viewed writers as akin to gods. In fact, my crisis of meaning was also a crisis of vocation. I quit my job as a lawyer, started to write, and became a Catholic almost at the same time.

Do you remember the first thing that you wrote?

The very first thing I remember writing was a story in seventh grade entitled “And Then—Darkness.” It’s about a princess who defies her father, falls deeply in love with the “lowly gardener,” and after her father has the gardener executed by drowning, rows out in her little boat and drowns herself in solidarity…Seventh grade! The template for my future was already in place. I truly believe we’re blueprinted with these shadows we’ll spend the rest of our lives working out.

What does your writing day look like?

I’m a New Englander by birth and an early riser. So my ideal writing day consists of getting up around 6, sitting with my coffee for an hour or so meditating, praying, as I call it, pondering. There’s a certain state I can access, or to which I’m given access, where—connections reveal themselves, is maybe the best way I can put. And then three or four hours of uninterrupted time…that to me is heaven. Not that it happens every day, especially the uninterrupted part. But through a combination of drivenness, guilt, and the fact that I would always rather be writing than anything else on earth, I usually get to my desk, even if it’s only for an hour, every day. And as we know, the rest of the day is, or can be, “writing,” too…I have a bunch of yellow legal pads—I did take away something from my days as an attorney—and I’m constantly jotting down ideas, book recommendations, insights, reflections, thoughts…

Can you tell us what you’re working on now?

I have a blog to which I devote a semi-ridiculous amount of time. I write of everyday mysticism, the utter weirdness of the leaf on the sidewalk, the face glimpsed fleetingly through a window, the cadmium red doorframe, my own ongoing triggers, annoyances, blocks, daily traumas and epiphanies, joys. The link between transcendence and art. I get to showcase everything from Joseph Cornell’s boxes to the poetry of Gerard Manley Hopkins to the prose poems of Portland, Oregon writer Leanne Grabel who wrote a beautiful book called Badgirls about the creative writing class she taught at a juvenile facility…It’s a blog about the writing life, which is to say life, period. And L.A. is a city rich in paradox, and paradox, too, is life…

Beyond that, my agent has a ms. about my bout with cancer back in 2000, my decision to forego chemo and radiation, the whole brush with death, my deepening conversion and subsequent divorce. The Thin Place, it’s called. (I wanted to call it Stripped, but she thought that was too harsh, and/or would sound like I’d written a book about pole-dancing). I’m working on a proposal for a book about money weirdness—I come from Yankee, almost pathological “thrift”. So self-deprivation, compulsive under-earning, the perpetual dilemma of cash flow and the creative life.

What book is currently on your bedside table?

Oh man, I never have one book; I have a stack or two. The stack will always contain a few old favorites: e.g., a compendium of the food writer M.F.K, Fisher, Catherine de Hueck Doherty’s Strannik, the collected stories of Flannery O’Connor. In addition, right now I have Astonishments, by the Polish poet Anna Kamienska, Gaston Bachelard’s The Poetics of Space, The Song of the Cold by Edith Sitwell (birthday gift). I just read Katherine Boo’s Beyond the Beautiful Forevers, about life in a Mumbai, airport-adjacent, sewage-lake slum that, by my lights, may be the book of the year.

If you could have dinner with anyone in history, who would it be?

Well it would be a dinner PARTY. One nice guest list would be St. Francis of Assisi, Kafka, Emily Dickinson, Caryll Houselander, Flannery O’Connor, Janis Joplin, Werner Herzog, Robert Bresson, and Beethoven.

Are you looking forward to teaching the 90-Day Rewrite workshop?

I really am. I love wrestling with the dynamics of story, plot, conflict, character. I’m happy to think of a fuller, richer writing community. And without doubt I’ll learn at least as much from my students and their mss. as they’ll learn from me…

What should writers be doing to prepare for the Rewrite Workshop?

Shave their heads, rend their garments, fast…no seriously, just rest up. Read. Go to the origami exhibit at the Japanese American museum. Their work will percolate below the level of consciousness. It’s summer.

What is the best advice you ever received?

“Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” [Matthew 6:19-21].

Sunday, August 5, 2012


Saturday night, I hosted a dinner party.

Here's the menu:

Romesco with Flatbread and Fennel Spears
Marinated Peppers and Eggplant
Ricotta Gnocchi with Chantarelles (except I couldn't find chantarelles and so used portobellos), Sweet Corn and Sage Brown Butter
Heirloom Tomato Salad with Burrata, Torn Croutons and Opal Basil
Green Cabbage with Sweet Corn and Bacon
Cornmeal Shortcakes with Peaches, Mint, and Soured Cream
(recipes courtesy of Sunday Suppers at Lucques, by Suzanne Goin)

The romesco alone involved soaking, peeling and seeding ten dried ancho chiles, frying a piece of rustic bread in oil, roasting almonds and hazelnuts in the oven, squeezing lemons, and I can't remember what all else except that all told by the end of the day I used almost an entire bottle of olive oil.  I always like to throw in one item that will amp up the angst level about as high as it can go, for instance, grilling an expensive cut of meat when I have no idea how to grill, or in this case, making gnocchi from scratch which in case you've never tried it takes approximately from 8 until one on a Friday night. I consider the entire enterprise a big ole act of love and in between obsessing about upcoming travel plans whiled away the hours praying individually for all the people who were going to come.

Who when they did come brought flowers, baklava, The Science of the Cross by Edith Stein, bambo orchid cuttings, Moroccan slippers, a jar of truffle oil, and two very cool bottles of pomegranate and blood orange limonata. We discussed Scientology, Landmark, Joan Crawford (reminder: every ten years or so you HAVE to re-watch Whatever Happened to Baby Jane, which I just did and it is really, still, pretty genius). Lisa G. held forth on a very cruel incident where, on the way to a funeral, she got a $1017 ticket for using her cell phone trying to get directions and not having her insurance card, the upside of which was that she is now an expert on L.A. traffic citations and gave us all a tutorial on (check it out, Angelenos).


After swapping stories on nightmare travel companions, we decided someone should write a book on stories about how people travel together: the relationships that have kindled, the relationships that ended, the sometimes glorious, sometimes frightening things you learn about people you thought you knew well, including spouses..

I got to introduce different people from different worlds in my life to each other, which is always a thrill.


We had a blast. Everyone stayed till midnight. And if you can't cook all day and stay up late once in awhile in summer--what's summer for?...