Saturday, March 28, 2015
Marketing is not my forte but I do have a new book out and thus am making a stab:
To that end, this week's arts and culture column is entitled Called to the Outskirts: Stumble: Vice, Virtue and the Space Between. Click to read it.
Probably the best thing about the book is the foreword by Brian Doyle. Here it is:
"Listen, my friends, we have all read forewords that are fluffy or pompous or inane or insipid or pap or mere lists of the ingredients in the text to come. I refuse to write that sort of piece for Heather King, because Heather King is the most honest blistering succinct emotionally-naked blunt writer in headlong bruised pursuit of the holiness of Everything That Is that I know, and I am an ink-junkie who reads ravenously looking for writers that tell it real, that say real things with passion and humor and a healthy dose of raw humility.
If this was another kind of foreword I would use interesting prickly words here like alcoholic and barfly and divorced and breast cancer and you would conjure up a certain idea of the terrific essayist Heather King. And you would be right, I guess, for all those words are true enough about Heather. But you would also be utterly totally completely wrong, because all those words are not definitions of the terrific honest observer and storyteller Heather King; they are places she has been, parts of her, but there is a roaring urge for witness in Heather’s work that makes all those interesting thorny words mere signposts along her tumultuous road.
Why should you read this book? Because Heather King writes the kind of sizzling tart prose that Flannery O’Connor did. Heather King keeps trying to punch through the mere religiosity of Catholicism, and get down to the wild illogical unreasonable nonsensical furious genius of it, like Andre Dubus did. Heather King, like J.F. Powers and Ron Hansen and Alice McDermott, hands you bruised people trying with all their motley might to listen to the revolutionary message of the Christ and live by its awful implications.
Heather King would be an unforgettable character in a glorious novel by Mary Gordon about a brave wisp of a woman trying, against all sense and reason, to witness the One in every moment, and to live in the ferocious flame of the Love, and hold fast to hope and mercy in a world of blood and rape, except that Heather King is real, and in the ancient tradition of the essay she uses herself as reporter, as wick, as prism, as muddled guide through the dimness between us and the Coherent Mercy.
Why should you read this book? Because there are pieces and passages in here you will never forget, and they are brutally honest, and funny, and searing, and they will remind you that we are all on the suffering road, holding hands as best we can.
Also I think that if you, like me, have the slightest belief, deep in your bones and way past sense and reason, that there is a roaring Love, that there is a vast Mercy, that there is an inexplicable Imagination that breathed everything into being and set the stars to spin in the void, that there is a Force filled with fire and unquenchable tenderness, that the gaunt Jewish mystic who walked this dust two thousand years ago told no lies and Love is the law, then you should read this book, and then go read the rest of Heather’s essays. They are not only fine pieces of prose carpentry; that’s an easy compliment. The bigger and better compliment is that they are some sort of naked artless prayer, stories of a desperate brave relentless search for ways to crack the ego and walk into the light, to shed masks and disguises and habits and greed, and reach, shaking with fear and awe, for the miraculous Love everywhere available, if only we can find the humility and imagination and cheerful defiant courage to see it and sing it.
Which Heather does, in tart and wonderful ways. See for yourself."
Brian Doyle is the author of many books of essays and fiction, among them Mink River and Leaping and Grace Notes.
And he is a treasure.
Thank you for supporting my work!
Friday, March 27, 2015
I have been in the Seattle area all week and I have so many as-yet-unposted photos it's not even funny. Tuesday I went to Bainbridge, Wednesday I hung out downtown, among other places at Pike Place Market, and Thursday I took the ferry with my rental car to Vashon Island.
I was kind of scared of the ferry and actually thought it might be open to the somewhat frigid air but these things are like ocean liners! Huge and unbelievably comfortable, with room to stretch out, a ledge for your coffee, whole big seats yourself, and time to dream as you gaze out the window at the shoreline and gulls. The one to Vashon (less than 15 minutes) had half-finished jigsaw puzzles on some of the tables! So you could pitch in by placing a piece or two, and commuters maybe work on them each day. Plus a large gruff-voiced woman in a baseball cap who looks like a man takes your money, barks "Lane 1," and off you drive straight onto the boat! Couldn't be easier. Also this is interesting, you don't have to pay to go off the island. You only pay to go on.
Anyway, I've been meeting people and visiting and being taken out to eat and peering over ferry schedules and google maps so have not had time to reflect/report back as I'd like.
I will say, however, that I'm staying at the Betty MacDonald Farm on Vashon and it is probably hands down my favorite place perhaps in the world. A woman named Judith Lawrence runs it and if you want to reserve a room, you have to call and talk to her so she can make sure you're not crazy or a whiner. I had a delightful half-hour talk with her on the phone before coming and she sent me an envelope with a hand-written note, brochures, maps and a ferry schedule with the appropriate routes high-lighted. When's the last time you got that kind of service from oh, say, the La Quinta Inn?
Anyway, I'm staying in the "Cedar Loft." It's the third floor of a gambrel-roofed barn in which one of my also all-time favorite writers, Betty MacDonald, used to use to raise chickens in. An entire wall of east-facing windows overlooks Puget Sound. There's a deck with chairs, tables, and a pair of binoculars. There are daffodils, tulips, flowering Asian pear trees, all manner of things I can't identify on the acres of grounds. The air is thick with birdsong. The loft is filled with kilim rugs, daybeds, stacks of books on Native Americans, gardens, birds, antiques, architecture, and of course Betty MacDonald who I don't have time to go into it but you should love, too!
|BABY FERN AND HORSE TAILS|
Truly, this is my kind of spot.
Tuesday, March 24, 2015
|THE FERRY FROM SEATTLE TO BAINBRIDGE ISLAND|
EXULTATION is the going
Of an inland soul to sea,—
Past the houses, past the headlands,
Into deep eternity!
Bred as we, among the mountains,
Can the sailor understand
The divine intoxication
Of the first league out from land?
Monday, March 23, 2015
|I SO WANT TO LIVE HERE! A MOSS-COVERED WINDOWLESS CABIN IN A GLEN.|
LOOK, EVEN THE CHIMNEY HAS MOSS ON TOP OF IT!
In it, everything is covered in moss!
|7th STATION OF THE CROSS|
|TWO WEEKS AGO I WAS I PALM SPRINGS.|
I FEEL LIKE I'VE GONE FROM THE DRYEST PLACE ON EARTH TO THE WETTEST.
I'm here for a week, during which I'll explore downtown and at least one of the islands (Vashon), and possibly Bainbridge as well.
But today I'm going to rest. Today I'm going to wander among the trees, walk down to the nearby bird sanctuary, and drink in the quiet
|MOSS, MOSS, THAT WILL MAKE THEM SLEEP...|
Friday, March 20, 2015
|LOOKS KINDA SCARY, DOESN'T IT?...|
Last week I got to interview the director of the L.A. Master Chorale, native Angeleno Grant Gershon.
He couldn't have been more helpful or accommodating. I enjoyed our conversation to pieces.
Here's how the piece begins:
The L.A. Master Chorale has been called “the most exciting chorus in the country” under the leadership of Grant Gershon by the L.A. Times.
Director Gershon, a native of Alhambra, is currently in his 14th season. Composer John Adams says, “Grant Gershon is one of those rarities we call ‘the complete musician.’ My respect for his musicality — for his conducting, his extraordinary musical intuition and his formidable ear — knows no bounds.”
For the 2014-2015 season, Gershon chose three pieces about the Passion: Richard Einhorn’s “The Passion of Joan of Arc,” Bach’s “St. Matthew Passion,” and for the weekend after Easter, “The Water Passion After St. Matthew” by Chinese composer Tan Dun.
“It’s quite a trio of contrasting pieces, sonically and emotionally,” Gershon observes. “They’ve been the pillars of our season this year.”
READ THE WHOLE PIECE HERE. AND RESERVE YOUR TICKET!
Thursday, March 19, 2015
“What do you desire?”
Response of an old Jewish woman
survivor of the Holocaust.
A terrible story.
But, how could one desire nothing?
‘What is your greatest desire?”
“Just to die.”
Tatiana still could not believe it.
Finally, “I have a desire…
but it is only a fantasy.
Only one person ever loved me,
I no longer remember her face, only a silhouette.
I would give everything to be able to see her face.”
“Do you have a memory of her?”
“One day she gave me some little boots,
of white felt, that she had made.”
“How did she give them to you?”
“In the morning, she woke me up and she gave them to me.”
“Did she have you put them on?”
“Yes, she had me sit in a chair, she slipped them on my feet.”
“But how was she positioned…kneeling?”
“Yes, but what absurd questions you ask!
Anyway, yes, she was kneeling, to put them on me,
and she asked me if they fit…”
“Oh, Lord, I see my mother’s face.”
The most important question of all…
what is true encounter?
--adapted from an interview, Tatiana Caika, philosopher at Kiev Academy of Science
related by Aleksander Filonenko, Orthodox theologian
--sent by Scott Eagan of Madonna House in Combermere, Ontario
|I SAW THIS RAINBOW OVER THE MT. JACINTO RANGE THE OTHER AFTERNOON.|
IT WASN'T RAINING!
Off to Seattle tomorrow for a week. Have never been. Excited.
Sunday, March 15, 2015
|I HAVE NEVER BEEN ABLE ADEQUATELY TO CAPTURE THE QUALITY OF |
THE AFTERNOON, SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA LIGHT GLOWING THROUGH BOUGAINVILLEA.
BUT DAMN IT, I'M GOING TO KEEP TRYING.
Balm for my harried soul. Though my hay fever is acting up "something terrible" (as we say in New England), I am seriously thinking of moving here for the summer.
Before leaving, I grabbed a few books from the shelves of the place where I'm staying in LA: Colin Thubron's Siberia, L'Assommoir (The Drunk) by Victor Hugo, and a 2004 book by a Natacha Du Pont de Bie called Ant Egg Soup: The Adventures of a Food Tourist in Laos.
I've only so far read the latter and was delighted by de Bie's sense of adventure (frog eyes, scummy home-made wine, fiery chili peppers), her love for the party-hearty people of Laos, her avoidance of political correctness. She searches far and wide for authentic Laotian food and includes recipes.
A couple of excerpts:
"Bamboo is one of the oldest forms of plant life. There are over one thousand species and they flower with shocking infrequency; some flower only every seventy-five years, others (like Dendrocalamus strictus) every twenty to forty years, and one (Bambusa vulgaris) every one hundred and fifty years. But what's really peculiar about them is that their flowering is synchronised. All the individuals of a given species reproduce at the same time wherever they are located in the world, whether in the forests of Laos or in someone's oriental theme garden in Milton Keynes. I mean, how do they know?"
"America was never 'officially' at war with Laos, but as the Ho Chi Minh trail crossed the border of the two countries, they bombed it anyway to root out the Communists. The pilots' respect for Laos was so low that they used to dump excess bombs on Lao land when returning from Vietnamese raids, just to empty their load. As a result there were more bombs dropped in Laos than on the whole of Europe in the entire Second World War--three hundred thousand tons fell in Xieng Khoung Province alone. The results were catastrophic for the civilian population.
The CBU26 cluster bomb was most widely used (though twelve other kinds of clusters have been round)--a huge bomb-shell containing six hundred and seventy tennis-ball-sized bomblets, each of which contains three hundred metal fragments that strike people at such pressure and speed that they cause horrific damage. The main bombshell opens in midair, scattering the balls over a kilometre or more; ten to thirty percent did not detonate on impact.
Those undetonated bomblets are still lying around in their millions like super-landmines, buried under topsoil, hidden under leaves and grass. They get less stable as time passes. A sight touch and they go off. At least a hundred people a year are killed or injured in this way. Typically, the casualties are poverty-stricken farmers forced to clear new land but forty per cent are children and one-quarter of the deaths are toddlers who pick up the balls thinking they are toys. I found it hardly bearable to imagine."
For more, see "Secret War in Laos'; "Eternal Harvest: The Legacy of American Bombs in Laos"; and a January, 2015 piece from The Guardian: "Laos: Thousands suffering from the deadly aftermath of US bomb campaign."
|I CAN'T GET ENOUGH OF THESE COLORS.|
Friday, March 13, 2015
When I go to a museum, I don’t like to look at a hundred pictures for a short time. I like to look at one picture for a long time
I’ve often visited the Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena, for example, simply to stand before Vincent van Gogh’s The Mulberry Tree.
Van Gogh was notoriously obsessed with color. The Mulberry Tree includes olive green, ocher, burnt sienna, ivory, pale yellow, butter yellow, cobalt, forget-me-not blue, putty, taupe, sparrow, blue green, sea green, pea green, cedar green, chartreuse, chrome yellow, agave green, pine green.
The thickly laid-on paint has an almost incarnate quality. The branches of the mulberry tendril, swirl, quest, seek, reach. Against a Madonna-blue sky, the tree seems almost to be on fire.
The work was completed just five months before van Gogh’s suicide. He was at the mental asylum at St.-Rémy, where he’d committed himself in the spring of 1889 after the famous ear-cutting incident. In spite of periodic debilitating attacks, possibly from epilepsy, he was incredibly prolific during the year he spent there. .
He may have been mentally and emotionally fragile, but he was clearly in absolute command of his craft. His person was apparently untidy, his studio a volcanic mess, but his purity of heart shines through like the sun.
Van Gogh himself described his brushstrokes in the piece as “firm and interwoven with feeling, like a piece of music played with emotion.”
Van Gogh was a misfit and a lover of Christ from youth. His religious yearnings were central to his work.
Prior to his art career, he considered becoming a pastor and ministered to the coal miners of the Belgian Borinage. In his one surviving sermon, he wrote: “Our life is a pilgrim’s progress…And the pilgrim goes on, sorrowful but always rejoicing—sorrowful because it is so far off and the road so long; hopeful as he looks up to the eternal city far away, resplendent in the evening glow.”
His subjects were simple, homely: a pair of work boots, a group of peasants sharing a meal of roast potatoes and coffee. Deeply grounded in the Gospels, he painted over thirty works featuring The Sower. “One does not expect to get from life what one has already learned it cannot give; rather, one begins to see more clearly that life is only a kind of sowing time, and the harvest is not here,” he wrote in a letter to his art-dealer brother (and sole means of support) Theo. 
Many art critics see van Gogh’s religious leanings as the sign, or even the cause of, his insanity. In Van Gogh, Frank Elgar writes:
“During the year he remained at the asylum he produced another hundred and fifty pictures, and hundreds of drawings, working as one possessed, interrupted in his labor by three long crises, followed by painful prostrations. He painted Yellow Wheat, Starry Night, Asylum Grounds in Autumn, a few portraits including that of the Chief Superintendent of the Asylum, delirious landscapes, surging mountains, whirling suns, cypresses and olive trees twisted by heat. In compensation, rhythm became more intense: whirling arabesques, dismantled forms, perspective fleeing toward the horizon in a desperate riot of lines and colours. What he represented then on his canvases he seems to have seen through a vertigo of the imagination. The fire lit by his hand was communicated to his brain. A feeling of failure overwhelmed him. Could his works be inferior to those of the masters he admired?"
My own impression isn’t of a man beset by fear of failure but of a man on fire with the mysteries of suffering and love. While confined to the hospital at St.-Remy, van Gogh also painted three seldom-mentioned works: The Pietà, The Good Samaritan, and The Raising of Lazarus.
In fact, standing before The Mulberry Tree, I wonder if van Gogh was inspired by Luke 17:6: “If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, 'Be uprooted and planted in the sea,' and it will obey you.”
As for van Gogh: “Certainly, I do not believe that my type of insanity could be persecution mania, because my mind, in a state of excitement, always concerns itself with infinity and with everlasting life.”
Perhaps that longing for infinity is what draws me, again and again, to the paintings, the letters, the Christ-like arc of van Gogh’s short, tormented life. Perhaps his ability to channel his suffering into his work is why I tend to go to see The Mulberry Tree when I’m in emotional pain myself.
Van Gogh carried a life-long torch for his beautiful cousin Kee. His father and his uncle, Kee’s father—clergymen both—were violently opposed to the union. Kee herself did not return his love. He was too volatile, they all agreed, and too poor.
He had long ago become disillusioned with all institutional churches. “That does not keep me for having a terrible need of—shall the say the world—religion. Then I go out at night to paint the stars.”
Monday, March 9, 2015
|PALM SPRINGS POWER-PROVIDING|
WINDMILLS IN THE DARK
|WAS FRIDAY A FULL MOON?|
Whoa, well I had a bit of a scare Friday evening around 8. I had left LA in rush hour for what I knew and didn't really mind would be a long drive to Palm Springs. As I have many times before, I was poised to spend a week to ten days at the house of my friend Christine, who by the way deserves an all-star hospitality medal.
Anyway, I left in the light, around 4:00 and was approaching in the dark, around 8 (Palm Springs is about 100 miles from LA, giving you an idea of the traffic). The ride is a straight shot on the 10 freeway, and after you at last exit the 10, you get on Route 111, which is a divided highway, two lanes both sides, which goes for a dozen pretty much deserted miles into the smallish city of Palm Springs.
I did notice the "Check left rear tire" light had come on a few miles back, but that comes on fairly frequently to tell me my air is low. So I thought well I will put air in as soon as I get to Palm Springs, I knew just the gas station. I was thinking how cool the windmills looked, lit up red in the dark. I was admiring the full or almost full moon. I was contemplating the little meal of feta cheese and olives and carrot ginger soup and bread sticks I would put together in Christine's blessed kitchen, as I was starving and had to pee and my back was killing me and it had been a long week, a long day--I'd rented a storage space and a U-Haul and friends had helped me move the rest of my stuff out of the house in Silver Lake where I'd lived for four years--in fact, a long few months.
Out of the blue, I started to hear that dreaded sound and feel that signals a flat--bump, bump, bump. And then, without warning, my car went utterly, completely out of control and began berserkly fishtailing in what felt like fifty yards in either direction. Steer into the skid I remember thinking (though maybe that's only on ice), but nothing I did--I'm sure I tried to slam on the brakes, and I was desperately trying to steer the thing back on course--made a particle of difference.
I know there was a car a short distance back, cause I'd checked my rear view mirror a few seconds before, but apparently the person or persons sailed on by as when I came to rest what seemed like five minutes but was probably five seconds later neatly and safely in an empty parking area, the car was nowhere to be seen.
I got out, shaking, to look at the tire and saw it was not flat. It had sheared completely off the rim, as if cut the whole way around with a jagged serrated knife.
I got back in the car and put on my flashers. A bunch more other cars passed. I just sat there quietly for several long minutes, feeling my heart beat and saying Jesus Christ over and over not as a swear, but as a greeting and a thank you.
|MY VEHICLE MIRACULOUSLY CAME TO REST IN THE WELL-LIT PARKING LOT OF THIS|
OFF ROAD QUADS RENTAL PLACE,
ONE OF ONLY TWO OR THREE COMMERCIAL ESTABLISHMENTS
ON THE TEN OR TWELVE MILES OF ROUTE 111 COMING INTO PALM SPRINGS
And then I called AAA Plus, checked my manual for spare tire info, took all my bags out of the trunk area so the guy could get to the tire easily, and started slowly packing the parking lot in the dark in a hyper-sensitive state of looking at the stars and feeling stunned to be alive. That was when I started realizing, Oh my God, if that had happened on the 10, I'd be dead and probably so would a few other people. I remembered the two rosaries I have twined around my rear view mirror and how I always touch them and make the sign of the cross when I got onto the freeway and how about ten miles back I'd realized I hadn't done that this trip and touched them and made the sign of the cross then.
I thought about how faith isn't superstition. Faith isn't voodoo. Faith doesn't protect you from evil and from harm and from being killed in a car accident. Faith just makes you grateful for any good that happens, for any time you're not hurt. Faith makes every time you fetch up safe seem like a miracle.
If it's your time, it's your time. Apparently it wasn't mine, yet.
But I am kind of shaken up. They have to order a special tire, which won't be in till Wednesday, so I won't be going to the qualifying day at the annual Indian Wells tennis tournament which is kind of a ritual each early March but that's okay.
Convinced every event has a deeper meaning, I'm pondering. It is QUIET out here, which is the first quiet I've experienced in months without having to brace/prepare/cope for a work thing or a moving thing or a life thing.
I have been saying yes to too much. Time to say no to more activity, yes to some rest.
|MY TRUSTY FIAT|
Friday, March 6, 2015
|AGAVE AND SUCCULENT AT THE MAGIC HOUR...|
The Sisters of the Good Shepherd were originally founded in 1641 in France to help prostituted women and are now serving in 72 countries.
“Almost all of our work — worldwide — is with women and children, most of whom have been abused or exploited in some way — trafficking victims, runaways, domestic violence. One in three women worldwide will be abused at some point in her lifetime,” said Sister Anne Kelley, executive director of the Good Shepherd Shelter in Los Angeles, adding that close to 98% of prostituted women were sexually abused as children.
The sisters have been serving in Los Angeles for 111 years. Initially they cared for abused children and runaways but changed their program in 1977 to serve mothers and children who were victims of domestic violence. The Sisters saw from the beginning that the way to stem the violence was to change the home. Good Shepherd Shelter was one of the first of three in the whole country for victims of domestic violence.
“These guys are very charming,” Sister Anne explains of the batterers. “That’s how they get the girl in the first place. Then they get possessive. It’s not about anger. It’s about control.”
READ THE WHOLE PIECE HERE.
Wednesday, March 4, 2015
I've been giving a Lenten mission consisting of a series of three talks, on three consecutive nights, for the parishioners at St. Margaret Mary and St. Denis in Westwood, Massachusetts.
I'm been holed up in Room 415 of the Holiday Inn in Dedham and I must say I have not enjoyed this much silence and solitude since early December. After two solid months of jackhammers and drills literally beneath my bedroom, I made a temporary move to to a place where it turned out they were rehabbing the house directly across the street. After five weeks of more daily noise, they finally stopped for one day--then started up at the place two places up.
The day before I flew to Boston, I went to the downtown LA Cathedral, desperate for ten minutes of silence, and headed straight for the Blessed Sacrament Chapel. I kid you not, the air was immediately split by the monstrously loud sound of drills, the whine of electric saws, the shouts of workmen. I don't know what was going on, and didn't have the heart to even investigate. I said the Office for the Dead for my brother Joe's friend Scott, aka Tulu, who was found dead of a heroin overdose last week in Kittery, Maine. And then I left.
That's not a complaint, cause as we all know we are FASTING FROM COMPLAINING DURING LENT. It's by way of a windup to why these three days at the Dedham Holiday Inn have been balm for my unnerved soul. Not that they've been days of rest. I have to prepare for my talks, write a column, look for a permanent apartment from afar, arrange to move my stuff into storage, answer emails, return phone calls, schedule interviews. I've made an appearance at Mass, two on Sunday, each of the days I've been here. I'm going to Watertown today to appear on Catholic TV's "This Is the Day" and to record several "blinks" (short videos).
But at least I've been able to do all that without the high incessant whine of a power vac or a buzzsaw or a jackhammer. I've woken early and been able to just sit with Christ and process the events of the past few months.
Months of incessant work, activity, punctuated every so often by a piercing stab of joy. A yellow bird in Ocotepeque, Honduras. Monday's sunrise. A moment yesterday where, alone in the fitness room, I grabbed the remote, turned off all three blaring TVs, and gazed in wonder at the gilt-edged vesper clouds.
I'm undergoing a period of darkness and trial and I know to the core of my being that God is with me, and that the detachment from worldly things--control, rest, ease--couldn't happen any other way.
All is grace, as St. Therese said.
And glory be to God for the Holiday Inn.
|THESE ARE SOME IMPRESSIONISTIC SHOTS OF THE HOLIDAY INN IN PORTSMOUTH, NH|
THAT I TOOK WHEN MY MOTHER WAS SICK FROM THE NEARBY AMERICA'S BEST VALUE.
BUDGET HOTELS HAVE BEEN GOOD TO ME.
IT'S SNOWING, I PRAY I GET OUT OF OF LOGAN THIS MORNING!