Monday, January 29, 2018



This week's arts and culture column reflects on a documentary in which old people (a term I, being one of them, much prefer to "seniors"--better yet, why not elders?) take to the tennis court, swimming pool, boxing ring, track, golf links and more.

Here's how it begins:

We’ve all heard it. Seventy is the new 50. You’re only as old as you feel.

Enter “Impossible Dreamers,” a documentary about competitive “senior” athletes.

The film opens with legendary golfer Gary Player, 80, distinguished silver hair neatly combed, hopping spryly onto a treadmill.

“Instead of spending money at the bar, and overeating, buy yourself a treadmill,” he suggests, pounding away. “Put it in your bathroom … all you do is spend five minutes in the morning, five minutes in the evening. It’ll be like the greatest miracle. …This is the best doctor in the world, right here.”

A mad gleam in his eye, he then goes into the “speed” portion of his workout, huffing and puffing like a demented steamboat.

Many of us live in apartments so — let’s say cozy — that the living room wouldn’t accommodate a treadmill, never mind in the bathroom.


Thursday, January 25, 2018


Here's a girl after my own heart: Japanese choreographer Kei Takei.

Here's an article about her.

“For my stone dances, I was just walking on the street one day and I found a sudden connection with a rock,” she said in a telephone interview from Tokyo.

She picked it up and could sense reverberations. “It’s like a creative message,” she said. “I follow it and see where it leads me.”

 Plus check out the totally weird felt tunic she's sporting!

I myself have been a teeny bit, and ever more, obsessed with rocks. It all started as I was planning my native plant garden and somehow came upon a whole cache of buried river rocks in the backyard of my Pasadena bungalow. I dug many of them up with my bare hands to lay out boundaries and line paths.

Also the ground itself is filled with smaller rocks of various sizes that are good for making little circles around the plants, so I started collecting them, in spackling compound buckets, too.

Then a friend gave me three beautiful stones he'd found on a hike in the mountains which I arranged on a window ledge in my kitchen.

Back to the garden, I made the acquaintance of pea gravel. And again by hand I painstakingly collected pebbles, slightly bigger than pea gravel, but smaller than a small rock, with which to line the area beneath the rose arbor.

Then I went out to Joshua Tree last year during Lent and stayed at a cabin without electricity and after about 14 hours, rock collecting came to seem like THE most absorbing activity imaginable.

Now I look for rocks wherever I go, and have come to consider them companions and friends.

Most recently, and this could turn out not to be a really great thing, I chanced upon a picture of a mobile made out of small rocks in which holes had been drilled.

Well! That fired my imagination. And let's just say I am now the proud owner of a Makita 18v cordless drill AND the "rotary tool" known as the Dremel, 3000 series.

I have also learned neither of those do a really wonderful and quick job of drilling through even a small stone. The youtubes say to hold the stone under water but can that be good, esp as the Dremel is not cordless?

Anyway, no matter for I have now discovered--copper wire! I envision all kinds of creations of seed pods, sea glass, small stones, pieces of driftwood and the Lord alone knows what else. The Dremel as well has myriad uses outside pebble-drilling and will come in handy not only in the pottery class (my second) I plan to take in the spring, but for removing foot callouses.

Plus I already did a little home repair job with my drill! So watch out.


Monday, January 22, 2018


Giselle and Rachel Cruising down the Malecón,
Havana, from the series Habana Libre, 2009,
copyright Michael Dweck

This week's arts and culture column reflects on a photography exhibit called "CUBA IS."

Here's how the piece begins:

The almost yearlong, greater-L.A.-wide Pacific Standard Time LA/LA Festival, showcasing Latin American and Latino art in L.A., officially ends this month.

But there’s still plenty to see, including, through March 4, an exhibit at the Annenberg Space for Photography called “Cuba Is.”

The images promise a peek inside and beyond “aspects of Cuba not easily accessed by foreigners, and sometimes not even by Cubans themselves.”

Well, sign me up.

It’s all here: Cuba’s indigenous African and European roots, the enforced exile of its citizens, its poverty, sugar cane fields, classic cars and love for ballet and baseball.

But what’s also here are race divisions, class conflicts, the uncertainty of the future and up-close-and-personal looks at people’s kitchens, bathrooms and bedrooms.


Man with Crocodile,
Ciénaga de Zapata, 2006
copyright Raul Cañibanoyou

Tuesday, January 16, 2018


LOUIS KAHN, 1901-1974

The subject of this week's arts and culture column is Louis Kahn--who was a genius architect, and also had a compelling personal life.

Here's how the piece begins:

Louis I. Kahn (1901-1974), one of the most well-known architects of the 20th century, died of a heart attack in Penn Station at the age of 73. He was nearly bankrupt and on his way home from India.

He was born in Estonia. His family moved 17 times in his first two years of life, a pattern that repeated during his own nomadic adulthood.

Kahn was short (5 feet 6 inches) with a gravelly voice and conspicuous facial scars from burns sustained as a child. He was also magnetically charismatic and an almost fanatically hard worker.

“He was not controllable,” people said of him. “He didn’t know day from night.”

Symmetry, order, principled, fundamental, primitive and exhilarating were some of the words used to describe his work.

“It’s important that you honor the material you use,” he once told a group of students. “You say to a brick, ‘What do you want, brick?’ and brick says to you, ‘I like an arch.’ ”


And don't miss Wendy Lesser's wonderful You Say to Brick.


Wednesday, January 10, 2018




"From my present point of view, the sky is the most important landscape, the sky reigns over all things, forever changing their aspect and making new spectacles of the most familiar sights.
--Auguste Rodin, Cathedrals of France

I found the quote in a wonderful book of photographs, by Jennifer Gough-Cooper of Rodin's work, called Apropos Rodin

Which in turn Geoff Dyer turned me onto (he also contributed an essay), I think in The Ongoing Moment.

I also learned from Geoff of photographer Miroslav Tichy, who is also well worth a look.

In fact, I wish I had time to write of all Geoff Dyer has given me, and to the world His But Beautiful is a book about jazz that you can read and be changed by even if you know next to nothing about jazz.

Then there is Zona, which is about his obsessive love for Tarkovsky's Stalker...but don't get me going.

I am headed out soon for my afternoon walk.

All I'm saying is that reading--a practice of steady, eclectic reading--has opened up universes for me, my whole life. And continues open up more. 

A few other books on my list right now are a biography of the late, great rock critic Lester Bangs called Let It Blurt, by Jim DeRogatis, Conrad Aiken's "Silent Snow, Secret Snow," and a book about Indian untouchables (there may be a more p.c. word now) called Ants Among Elephants by Sujatha Gidla, who actually grew up as one of this despised caste. Things are changing, apparently, and about time.

I have had approximately one hour of "free" time in my time at the Dorland Mountain Arts Colony, where I arrived last Tuesday. Every time I hear from someone from home, they say, "I hope you're enjoying your retreat."

I have to refrain from shrieking, "It is not a freaking RETREAT. It's a "residency." Where I have been working my ASS off since the moment I arrived."

My God! Do people know nothing of "the writing life?"  There's not just the writing. There's the collecting of pebbles, rocks, twigs, and seed pods. There's the incessant observation of the sky. There's the prayer, the stoking of the wood-fire, the sitting with one's head in one's hands, the inability to sleep because you so don't want to miss the stars, the coffee-drinking, the pacing, the talking to oneself, the practicing of the Haydn sonatas. The reading of the book on Rembrandt, the book on Illuminated Manuscripts, and the book on North Korea by Suki Kim, all for future columns.

Oh, okay, the NYT and the New Yorker blog.

The stretching exercises.

The looking through the binoculars at the acorn woodpecker.

The snatched watching of the Brisbane and now Sydney WTA tournaments. 

The realization, all over again, of how truly petty and touchy and impossible I am, and no wonder I'm  not married, and God, please don't hold my MYRIAD character defects against me.

No but seriously, I have only had to get into my car and drive, anywhere, once, the whole time I've been here, which was to Sunday Mass. So no driving, no social obligations, no dentist or doctor appointments, no "having" to talk to people (the bane of my introvert's existence), no food shopping even, as I stocked up before I came. Just enough phone calls to keep me involved and interested in the stream of life. But basically none of the stuff that makes life so unbelievably stressful.

This morning, walking down the hill, I realized that for the first time in probably years, my entire body did not ache. My back didn't hurt. More notably my neck, which lately has seemed more or less permanently crippled, did not hurt, or at least very much. So that was a treat.

Just then I spotted a whole cache of weird spiny sponge-like-looking objects that had clearly fallen from or been blown by a nearby tree, cactus, or shrub. Of course I had to nab a few.

I feel so bad for the people in Montecito who were killed in this week's mudslide. I've been on retreat there, and attended Mass at their beautiful mission church, and hiked in the hills above, many times over the years.

Here's what the sky looked like this morning in Temecula, after the rains here.

Sunday, January 7, 2018


photographs from the hill i walk every day--
or turner paintings!?

I just finished a wonderful book: Reading with Patrick by Michelle Kuo.

From a thumbnail New Yorker review:

"The author, a Harvard-educated child of Taiwanese immigrants, volunteered for Teach for America in a small town in the Arkansas Delta. In this memoir, she recounts arriving determined to empower her students through the study of black American literature and civil-rights politics. Sobered by the challenges she encounters, she leaves the program at the end of her commitment, only to return, guilt-stricken, when a former student, Patrick, is arrested for murder. As he awaits trial, the two resume their lessons"...

Kuo came to the Delta thinking to energize her black students, to educate them to the way their race has been so cruelly bowed down, to rouse them to action. She showed them photos of lynchings, which were passed around in horrified silence until one boy put his head down on his desk (a punishable offense in Kuo's classroom) and mumbled, "Nobody want to see that." She introduced them to Malcolm X--they were bored. Obama also elicited yawns. She shoved at them all manner of scholarly, political and historical material (Patrick at one point ventured that the Civil War--"Was that the one where the slaves freed?"--began in 1940): no discernible effect.

Deciding to try one last time, she introduced Lorraine Hansberry's A Raisin in the Sun.

"It was a hit. The angry banter between Walter and Ruth, husband and wife, got laughs. Their complaints about living in a crowded house got nods. Ruth's despair over discovering she's pregnant made the room go silent. And the students universally loved the grandmother. All seemed to know her. Born in Mississippi and religious, she scolded her son for wanting to start a liquor store, slapped her daughter for saying there is no God, and yelled at her daughter-in-law for wanting an abortion.. As I assigned parts, the students clamored to be cast in her role. 'She don't play,' they said admiringly."

I've been out in a cabin in Temecula since Tuesday, in silence and solitude, and when I read that passage, tears sprang to my eyes. One, because to write a story, to be able to write a story, takes everything a person has. All his or her time, energy, heart, muscle, memory. And two, isn't it interesting that the poorest of the poor, the recipients of generations of unspeakable violence, oppression and trauma, still have a truer moral compass than many of us who would now "free" them?

Yesterday I saw an acorn woodpecker on the kindling pile. His head, a splash of blood-red, was like a longed-for love letter.

Let's invite everyone to, or back to, the table. Then and only then will we be able to say, "Free at last, free at last, thank God almighty, we are free at last."

farewell. sublime Christmas season, until Advent 2018...
may we all be magi... 

White people can sing spirituals, too! this was the closing hymn at St. Catherine's 8 am Epiphany Mass--

Wednesday, January 3, 2018



Yesterday morning I took down the Christmas decorations.

I would have left them up through the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord, this year the day after the Solemnity of the Epiphany, when the liturgical season of Christmas officially ends and we re-enter "Ordinary Time."

But I'd booked an 11-day stay at the Dorland Mountain Arts Colony, January 2 through January 13. I could arrive anytime after 2 and was planning on an ETA of 2:01.

And I wanted to come home, after the residency was finished, to a fresh start and fresh year.

So, I took down the decorations. It was like striking a stage set--this apartment, in particular my little prayer corner, where I'd spent so many mornings and evenings the previous month in the semi-dark with my Advent calendars and candles and incense and lights and cards and bulbs and garlands and wreath. Hoping, Praying. Waiting. Watching.

I took my time, which is not always like me. I often use my purported desire to "give a good account of myself" at the end of the day to engage in slightly frenetic activity. I like to think adhering to a timetable that is not totally of my own devising and that often puts my time and energy at the disposal of others in a way I wouldn't have chosen myself builds faith, or love, or at the very least, character.

But I think a lot of the time I'm just trying to mask the terrible existential pain of the human condition and thus devise extra tasks and deadlines.

However, I had done a huge watering of my garden and ridiculously large collection of plants the day before. I had a good head start on my packing. So I took my time taking down and re-stowing the Christmas decorations. And the couple of hours turned out to be the most special, liminal, somehow sacred hours I've spent at home in quite some time.

One of the things I have is a ton of vintage mercury glass bulbs, some as tiny as a pea, that have their own ancient cardboard nests with a little depression for every single bulb. I could of course throw the nests out and just dump these tiny items in a baggie. But no--I loved putting each and every one in its little bed for another year--cerise, teal, parrot green, silver, burnished gold.

After the bulbs, there are two creches: one of whittled wood that my friend Patrick gave me and that goes in a black zippered bag--I kissed each figure goodnight--and another fashioned roughly of clay that comes from Africa--each of these figures gets wrapped in black tissue paper and placed tenderly in a special paper bag with the palm tree and its green pipe cleaner foliage going in last.

There's the paper snowflake, somewhat permanently squished, that my nephew Allen made for me, as well as a paper bag and sparkles "ornament" that hangs every year by a length of red ribbon from a doorknob.

And on and on it goes--the terra cotta Italian angel that got dropped one year and now has a super-glued torso, inexpertly disguised by a length of striped green grosgrain ribbon. The teardrop-shaped striped bulb of magenta and green I bought years ago at the gift store of Yoken's Restaurant ("Thar she blows!") in Rye NH after dining, the way I remember it, with Nana and Cousin Dickie. The creme de la creme cards saved from year to year that are arranged on top of each of four door lintels. Every year a new ornament or garland or two or three.

For every item, a blessing bestowed until next Christmas.

Anyway, after I had labored, cleaning and dusting and sweeping as I went along, I got everything, as I do each year, easily, into two medium sized cardboard boxes. A whole world in two not even very large boxes.

And when I started packing in earnest, for my trip, the reflection continued. There are four main categories when I travel: Books and work material, food, clothing and toiletries, in descending order of importance. Just as my Christmas fits into two boxes, really my entire existence, apart from my car, would fit into a 5 by 10 storage space. In fact for almost five years, my stuff WAS in a 5 by 10 storage space, and there was some room left over.

I've bought some furniture since then, but my apartment probably tops out at 600 square feet, not counting the balcony which is crammed with succulents and agaves. Then there's my native plant garden, which is a huge part of my existence but is not "mine" as I'm a renter, clearly,

The point is that the whole construction is a kind of "portable kingdom" (the phrase is from the exiled German Jewish poet Heinrich Heine). Emily Dickinson, another poet, wrote: "The Brain--is wider than the Sky," and my real world is inside. It's my curiosity, my questions, my conflicts, my reflections, my prayer, my hopes, my fears, my memories, my experiences, my many journeys, my love.

So much packed into one smallish person! Which is of course true of all of us.

I thought about how someone else would come in to my little apartment in which every single object is cherished, tenderly cared for, observed and sweep it away with a rough fist into the garbage bin. What to me is an empire, the fruit of a lifetime of battle scars, a living monument to the ongoing crucifixion and ongoing resurrection,  would be, to someone focused on money and bling, trash.

I thought about what will happen to it after I die. How even a friend who loves me could, and should, for we must make room for the next person!--clear my painstakingly-created place in an afternoon.

I got everything packed, and the drive was smooth, and after my 2:08 arrival, I got settled in, and went for a walk at dusk.

I came back to an email from a friend of a wonderful, deeply talented artist and deep man of faith about whom I'd written a column last year, Tomasz is the artist's name. His 12-year-old daughter Grace, and her mother, had been killed in a car accident on Christmas Day. Could I pray for him?

In my cabin, I lit a candle and prayed the Office of the Dead for his daughter and ex-wife.

And I knew all over again how right I had been, that morning, to take the time to lay each of those tiny bulbs in their nests, and to wish them goodnight.


Monday, January 1, 2018



Happy New Year!

This week's arts and culture column is on a pop-up, currently on exhibit in downtown LA's Arts District, called The Museum of Failure.

Here's how the piece begins:

Are you, like me, casting back over your year thinking you’d hoped to be just a tad more forgiving, more disciplined, more patient, more kind?

If so, take heart. Through February 4, in downtown’s A + D Architecture and Design Museum, is a pop-up called “The Museum of Failure.”

Launched by Swedish “psychologist and innovative researcher” Dr. Samuel West, the museum focuses on often hilariously ill-conceived marketing schemes.

The commentary is tongue-in-cheek. Each product is rated in four areas: Innovation, Design, Implementation and Fail-O-Meter.

The first artifact — surprise — is an Edsel which, except for the unfortunate flesh-colored Band-Aid paint job, to my mind was actually kind of cool. People apparently didn’t like that the controls were centered in the middle of the steering wheel, however, or the fact that they didn’t work.