Monday, June 27, 2016


Christine Hale, friend of a dear friend, has a new book out in July: A Piece of Sky, A Grain of Rice: A Memoir in Four Meditations.

The four meditations are "What You Do Wrong," "Sky," "Lucky," and "Walk Fast, Keep Going."

And the advance praise says it better than I ever could:

"Christine Hale’s memoir A Piece of Sky, A Grain of Rice vividly and beautifully describes a chaotic life, and rather than the expected acceptance that accompanies a Buddhist memoir, this book finds several avenues out of pain, including tattoos, which come to represent the sometimes ragged fashion in which people are able to love. I couldn’t stop thinking about this book after I read it: the many startling scenes and places brought so vividly to life, the rich detail, and the remarkable (if deeply flawed) people who populate its pages. A candid, deeply absorbing tale."

--Debra Spark, author of Good for the Jews

"Christine Hale’s evocation of the bewildering complexities of life as a mother, daughter, wife (and ex-wife), and student of Buddhism is both a poem and a letter to those she has worked so long and hard to understand. On a journey that takes her through emotional and actual hurricanes, love and cruelty, urgent losses, and painful gains, she climbs to sometimes unnervingly high altitudes as she experiences “the joy and the sorrow of samsara.” In beautiful, clear language, Hale explores the wounds life gives us, the wounds we give ourselves, and the long process of healing."

--Sarah Stone, author of The True Sources of the Nile

"A Piece of Sky, A Grain of Rice is an exquisite engagement with those tough human questions that must be asked even if they can never be answered. Hale writes toward acceptance, every page brimming with honesty, insight, and deep understanding. A truly beautiful meditation in lovely, lively prose."

~Dinty W. Moore, author of The Mindful Writer: Noble Truths of the Writing Life

That "lovely, lively prose" makes the book worth reading, to my mind, even apart from the story. And the story is gripping. An introspective, bookish child born and raised in southern Appalachia. A mother given to anti-social passive-aggression and violent rages. A father who puts up with it--and also, in secret, forces sex and physically abuses. A disabled sister.

Through interweavings of memory and half-buried flashbacks, Hale tells the story of how she came to be who she is now: mother of an adult daughter "J" (now a medical doctor) and slightly younger son "B", student of Buddhism, author, creative writing teacher, seeker, pilgrim, wife.

The book is wonderful on the awkward raggediness of family life. One recurring theme is what comes to be a family ritual: Hale and her two children getting tattoos. They make a deal for each to accompany the other to a Tampa, Florida, tattoo parlor for "Lefty" to do his magic. Her daughter J, the last to take the plunge, steps into Lefty's chair for the first time one year right after Christmas. Afterward, Hale offers to treat the kids to dinner (she also, of course, pays for the tattoos).

"Christmas dinner after Christmas tattoo!" I hear myself chirp. They roll their eyes.

At my favorite Indian restaurant, seated two-facing me in a particularly uncomfortable vinyl booth, the seat too hard and the back too straight, I'm the only one eating. My children piddle and stir their entrees; they confess one after the other (in what seems to me callous disregard for my feelings) to having eaten in what seemed to them famished necessity) immediately before the tattoo.

The minute I've paid the check, J heads straight back to Lefty's to meet a guy friend who's become a tattoo addict, she explains, after witnessing the inking of her back--his third tattoo scheduled tonight. B is visibly impatient to get to the privacy of his room and answer all those mixed calls and text messages, and maybe make a pass at his homework.

Driving home alone after dropping B off at his dad's, I can't fail to notice how J is right, again: we never do anything together.

And I keep making mistakes I cannot fix.

Of a tropical hurricane that flattens a retirement community a mere hundred miles south, and spares her own home, she writes:

I understand I have learned something from what did not happen--although I have no words to label it. I know I ought to be ready to start my life over, with greater clarity and resolve. I have, after all, taken refuge and been spared. But all I really feel is wonder: my own open-ended amazement about how much we can't predict, how surprising life is, what happens to us, and what does not.

This embrace of paradox, the unknowable, the ever-unfolding surprise ending--life as unfinished symphony--is the central paradigm of course, of the Cross. In fact, in the one passage that made me wince,  Hale's house is in dire danger of being flooded from rising storm waters and she rejects, just a bit contemptuously, "petitioning the Methodist God of my youth to save me and my son."

 As a "good Buddhist," she writes, "[N]o-one except me had the responsibility or ability to save me and mine. I could face the question squarely, do what I could, and accept the outcome. Or I could panic, do nothing, blame someone else. My choice."

Just for the record, no-one in this vale of tears holds the corner on facing questions squarely, acting decisively, taking responsibility and accepting whatever happens,

Which this gorgeous writer and deeply thoughtful, deeply sensitive human being, I'm sure would be the first to acknowledge.

Besides, that someone from such a traumatizing childhood could find her way to the writing that saved her--and as all good writing does, in turn helps to save us--is the real takeaway.

"Paralyzed silence--at the table, in the car, in the den while the television prattled: the default sound of my childhood. On the infrequent occasions my parents did speak expansively, they told and re-told Southern Gothic tales of people they'd known--not tragically dead--and places they'd lived or visited--now ruined. A scree of nostalgia rubbled every story's surface. When we traveled, we toured graveyards, battlefields, antebellum mansions. Much of what I saw was sealed under glass cases. Everything that mattered happened in past tense, way past. All of it reeked of loss. When I was very small we still visited relatives. They were old, wrinkled, eccentric, infirm or alcoholic...

[My parents] had been born defeated by their origins, the land where their people had always lived: beautiful and backwards Appalachia...My parents passed their defeat directly on to me; I didn't just inherit it, it was cultivated in me."  

Perhaps. But that some of us manage to transcend all that was inherited and cultivated in us as children, while still honoring and loving our parents for all they gave us, is some shaky kind of Resurrection.

But then the Resurrection is always shaky.

I'm sure there's a tattoo in that.

Friday, June 24, 2016



This week's arts and culture column is on a merry olde ensemble that sings madrigals.

Here's how it begins:

A few Sundays ago, I made my way toward Altadena, north of Pasadena. The neighborhood is lovely: up against the mountains, up above the city, quiet.

The homes were large, graceful and charmingly landscaped.

When I arrived, a woman in a medieval wench costume with a gigantic bosom and a feather wreath in her hair was sitting cross-legged in the driveway. “Welcome!” she said brightly — and I did feel welcome, right away.

Inside I felt as if I’d stepped onto the extras lot of the Errol Flynn “Three Musketeers” shoot. There were more wenches, in tightly-cinched corset-style bodices and long full skirts. There were men in leather jerkins, harlequin-style pantaloons, striped stockings and fawn-colored boots. Fringed, ruffled, medallioned — sporting an astonishing array of feather-bedecked headgear, the whole merry group toasted with another with tankards of what could only be mead.

This was The Briton Ensemble, whose work has been described by “Splash Magazine” as “madrigal magic.”


Tuesday, June 21, 2016



The above pix are from in and around the greenhouse, gardens and lily pond at Smith College in Northampton, MA.

Northampton has a wonderful, miles-long bike path. This was taken from a bridge off Main St. above the Connecticut River. My sister Little Meddy and I were out taking the air at dusk.

Above is a Japanese maple and below a white peony, both from my cousin Dickie's back yard on Ocean Boulevard in Rye, NH, at the magic hour.

Friday, June 17, 2016


This week's arts and culture column is on a personal friend of mine: Mr. Aaron Lipstadt, cylist extraordinaire.

Here's how the piece begins:

Aaron Lipstadt is 63, a TV director and a resident of Hollywood’s Bronson Canyon.

He also rides his bicycle just about everywhere.

Recently, he sat down at an Echo Park café and told how he came to his passion.

“I grew up in small-town Connecticut. My friends lived a mile, two miles away, so I’d ride my bike over. Then I went to college in Chicago during the ‘70s bike boom. I took my bike down to Kentucky one weekend and rode the back roads for three days. It was kind of the signal adventure of my life.

“Mapped it out: Lexington to Louisville. Camped. Asked this couple if I could pitch my tent in their yard. In the middle of the night I was almost blown away by a tornado. Ran across the field to their house. Saw the power go out. Their son came out and let me sleep in his truck. The next morning was beautiful. Clear, wind still blowing. The family invited me to breakfast. Made a fire. Dried my stuff. I was 20 or so. That hooked me on biking. I understood that cycling was an adventure.” By the early ‘80s, he and his wife Julia were living in Los Angeles.

“In the late 90’s, I went on the AIDS ride, San Francisco to L.A... 


Wednesday, June 15, 2016



Along with all people of decency, love and goodwill, I am sickened and shaken by the recent massacre in Orlando. I'm especially sickened that we allow our citizens to purchase assault rifles.

Here's a spot-on piece by Adam Gopnik of The New Yorker who, to his great credit, has written consistently and eloquently of the insanity of our permissive gun laws.

A priest friend sent the below piece along yesterday.


Today I write with a heavy heart arising from the tragedy which occurred in the early morning hours yesterday at a Gay, Lesbian, Transgender night club in Orlando, our neighbor to the east. Yesterday, the best I could muster was to send these words by text message to my brother, Bishop John Noonan, bishop of Orlando: “John, I am so sorry. With love to and for all.” Today with a new dawn, I once again have some thoughts which I wish to share.

Our founding parents had no knowledge of assault rifles which are intended to be weapons of mass destruction. In crafting the second amendment to the Constitution which I affirm, they thought only of the most awkward of pistols and heavy shotguns. I suspect they are turning in their graves if they can but glimpse at what their words now protect. It is long past time to ban the sale of all assault weapons whose use should be available only to the armed forces. If one is truly pro-life, then embrace this issue also and work for the elimination of sales to those who would turn them on innocents.

Second, sadly it is religion, including our own, which targets, mostly verbally, and also often breeds contempt for gays, lesbians and transgender people. Attacks today on LGBT men and women often plant the seed of contempt, then hatred, which can ultimately lead to violence. Those women and men who were mowed down early yesterday morning were all made in the image and likeness of God. We teach that. We should believe that. We must stand for that. Without yet knowing who perpetrated the PULSE mass murders, when I saw the Imam come forward at a press conference yesterday morning, I knew that somewhere in the story there would be a search to find religious roots. While deranged people do senseless things, all of us observe, judge and act from some kind of religious background. Singling out people for victimization because of their religion, their sexual orientation, their nationality must be offensive to God’s ears. It has to stop also.

Third, responding by barring people of Muslim only faith from entering the country solely because of their stated faith until they can be checked out is un-American, even in these most challenging of times and situations. There are as many good, peace loving and God fearing Muslims to be found as Catholics or Methodists or Mormons or Seventh Day Adventists. The devil and devilish intent escape no religious iteration.

Will we ever learn? I hope so but until the above three points are taken seriously by society, sadly, tragically, we can expect more Orlandos. May the souls of those faithful departed who met their God early Sunday morning rest in peace, and those recovering from deep wounds heal, help and hope.

+ Bishop Robert Lynch, St. Petersburg


Tuesday, June 14, 2016


I think it's official--my photo-taking now focuses exclusively on flowers. I like to take fifty or sixty shots of the same small area of blooms. And I truly believe my little camera is magic. The flowers know I love them and thus reveal themselves.

These are of a single dogwood tree on the grounds of Portsmouth (RI) Abbey, which overlooks the ocean, where I spent last weekend.


Sunday, June 12, 2016


Hello people, I'm in Portsmouth, RI!

This week's arts and culture piece is about L.A. artist Ramiro Gomez.

Here's how it begins:

Marta was the cleaning lady of the woman who owned the house in Silver Lake — my roommate — where I lived from 2010 to 2014. Every other Wednesday, Marta arrived at noon and stayed until 8 p.m.

I myself have never had a cleaning lady. Even though Marta was younger than me, she triggered all the unresolved guilt and sorrow and pride I had for my own mother, who also never had a cleaning lady (that was with eight kids), for my bricklayer father and for the fact that I escaped the blue-collar life for the writing life.

Marta didn’t clean my little wing (bedroom/office and bathroom), but the whole time she was there I felt I should be asking if I could pitch in. I’d be sitting in my room with the fan on, a glass of iced tea and a basket of fresh figs writing about the Crucifixion while she was out in the blazing sun emptying the mop bucket.

Artist Ramiro Gomez was born in 1968 in San Bernardino to (then) undocumented parents from Mexico. His father drove trucks; his mother was a janitor at the same high school from which she’d graduated.

An introspective kid who showed talent in drawing early on, he adored his grandmother Nina, was “nannied” by his aunts and grandmother and himself frequently babysat for his sisters and cousins.

He won a partial scholarship to Cal Arts...


Monday, June 6, 2016


Whoa.  I can't believe I grew these dear fragrant sweet peas from seed!

The crop isn't actually that good. Tons of foliage; not a ton of flowers. Still, they were incandescent the other early eve in the vesper light. I could have taken hundreds of pictures of these three small vases of flowers.

I'm thrilled they bloomed before I take off for back East in a few days. My friend Patrick who'll be staying at my place can enjoy them, too.