Monday, April 30, 2018



This week's arts and culture column begins like this:

“Everything Is Terrible” [EIT] is the name of a tongue-in-cheek outfit that collates cringe-worthy clips from 1970s and ’80s TV shows and films and cobbles them together into “documentaries” on various themes.

Or as they put it, EIT “is the internet sensation video collective responsible for some of this millennium’s most intriguing and mind melting videos.”

Recently, one of their shows at downtown LA’s Regent Theater, called “The Great Satan,” caught my eye.

The Regent bills itself as a “vintage 1914 cinema recreated as an indie concert hall & performance space with a bar & pizzeria.”

“Well, I will just venture out with the hipsters,” I thought. “See what’s what with the DTLA ‘art scene.’ ”


Thursday, April 26, 2018


"God is the present tense. That’s why it’s so hard to seize the moment. God is the eternal now. We either chase the past or escape into the future, place our whole hope in the future. Whereas faith, hope, and love must ripen in the present. That’s why we ignore time, waste it, kill it. We’re killing God."

"I felt like crying, but I denied myself that pleasure, since Janek was supposed to come over. But he called to say he couldn’t come because he was washing the dachshund, who was going to see Monika Zeromska’s dog tomorrow. A major event. So I cry, corporeal, not spiritual tears. My voice is swollen on the phone.

'Child!' says Mrs. Z."

"The tomb is a gate. No one saw Christ rise from the dead. With good reason. Everything on “faith.” God always hides in a cloak of uncertainty."

--Anna Kamienska, From A Nest of Quiet: A Notebook 


Sunday, April 22, 2018


This week's arts and culture column begins like this:

L’Arche is many things — a sanctuary for the developmentally disabled in which they and their assistants, as they are called, live together as members of the community. 

An international federation that has spread throughout 37 countries and 149 communities. A sign. A paradox. A sticking point.

A mystery, based on Jean
 Vanier’s abiding beliefs: that the disabled are not burdens but rather teachers, that our strength as human beings lies not in our worldly accomplishments, but rather in our vulnerability.

Vanier has written more than 30 books, and travels worldwide to give retreats, visit fellow houses, encourage and teach. But he makes his home at (and is still a member of) the original L’Arche community, Le Val Fleuri, in Trosly-Breuil, France.

“Summer in the Forest,” the 2018 documentary directed by Randall Wright, is so named because of the sunlight-dappled forest that lies adjacent to that community.


Saturday, April 14, 2018



This week's arts and culture piece begins:

Flannery O’Connor ordered her life to her vocation, and she found in suffering the key Christian mystery

The Easter season seems a fitting time to pay tribute to the American short story writer and novelist Flannery O’Connor.

O’Connor (1925-1964) was an only child who grew up in Savannah, Georgia, and whose father died of lupus. As a young woman she studied at the prestigious Iowa Workshop.

On the verge of a promising literary career, she contracted lupus herself and returned to the family dairy farm in Milledgeville, Georgia, to live out her remaining days with her mother, Regina.

A devout Catholic in the overwhelmingly evangelical Protestant South, O’Connor referred to herself as a “hillbilly Thomist” and often read a page or two from the “Summa Theologica” before going to bed. She never married.

Closely observing the family members, neighbors and farmhands with whom she came in contact every day, she wrote stories — about intellectual pride, the perils of secular humanism and the violence of grace — that even today have the power to shock.

In “Good Country People,” Hulga, a would-be nihilist home from college, is seduced by a traveling Bible salesman who steals her wooden leg.

In the novel “Wise Blood,” backwoods prophet Hazel Motes blinds himself with quicklime.

“Jesus thrown everything off balance,” notes The Misfit, the escaped convict in perhaps O’Connor’s best-known short story, “A Good Man is Hard to Find.” Then he shoots the whole family, including the grandmother.

In this culture where “everyone’s a writer” and reality show celebrities, porn stars and disgraced athletes dash off a “memoir” in a week or two, it’s worth reflecting on the qualities of a real writer.


Wednesday, April 11, 2018


Over Lent, I recorded a couple of podcasts with Deal W. Hudson, host of the show "Church and Culture."

Here's Part 1, March 24. 

Here's Part 2, March 31.

At the end of Part 2, I give a bit of my take on, or perhaps I should say against, the cultural concept of "wellness."

By which I mean the "Wellness" (the very word annoys me) Industry.

It drives me insane when the marketers get a hold of a simple, natural, instinctive human desire such as to connect or be healthy or enjoy the outdoors and turn it into a whole spectrum of consumer products such that no one can say hello any more except through FB, or take, say, a simple walk without thinking they need to first buy the right shoes, hat, jacket, water bottle, earphones, odometer and all sorts of other utterly unnecessary paraphernalia.

Huxley described this very phenomenon at the beginning of Brave New World.

Children in the totalitarian society he described are conditioned from birth, by means of painful electric shocks,  to hate flowers and books.

Books and loud noises, flowers and electric shocks–already in the infant mind these couples were compromisingly linked; and after two hundred repetitions of the same or a similar lesson would be wedded indissolubly. What man has joined, nature is powerless to put asunder.

"They'll grow up with what the psychologists used to call an 'instinctive' hatred of books and flowers. Reflexes unalterably conditioned. They'll be safe from books and botany all their lives." The Director turned to his nurses. "Take them away again."

Still yelling, the khaki babies were loaded on to their dumb-waiters and wheeled out, leaving behind them the smell of sour milk and a most welcome silence.

One of the students held up his hand; and though he could see quite well why you couldn't have lower-cast people wasting the Community's time over books, and that there was always the risk of their reading something which might undesirably decondition one of their reflexes, yet … well, he couldn't understand about the flowers. Why go to the trouble of making it psychologically impossible for Deltas to like flowers?

Patiently the D.H.C. explained. If the children were made to scream at the sight of a rose, that was on grounds of high economic policy. Not so very long ago (a century or thereabouts), Gammas, Deltas, even Epsilons, had been conditioned to like flowers–flowers in particular and wild nature in general. The idea was to make them want to be going out into the country at every available opportunity, and so compel them to consume transport.

"And didn't they consume transport?" asked the student.

"Quite a lot," the D.H.C. replied. "But nothing else."

Primroses and landscapes, he pointed out, have one grave defect: they are gratuitous. A love of nature keeps no factories busy. It was decided to abolish the love of nature, at any rate among the lower classes; to abolish the love of nature, but not the tendency to consume transport. For of course it was essential that they should keep on going to the country, even though they hated it. The problem was to find an economically sounder reason for consuming transport than a mere affection for primroses and landscapes. It was duly found.

"We condition the masses to hate the country," concluded the Director. "But simultaneously we condition them to love all country sports. At the same time, we see to it that all country sports shall entail the use of elaborate apparatus. So that they consume manufactured articles as well as transport. Hence those electric shocks."

"I see," said the student, and was silent, lost in admiration.

Here is my "health" regimen. For years I belonged to the working-class 24 Hour Fitness in K'town. I think it was 13 bucks a month. Now I belong to the working-class 24 Hour Fitness in Altadena, which through Medicare sets me back 20 bucks a month. Between that, frequent long walks, for a long time weekly stints of tennis, and some free weights at home, I have been perfectly healthy and presentable enough so that people don't flee in horror for decades, knock on wood and all glory to God. I did have a small bout with cancer in 2000, went AMA, refused chemo and radiation and still have both breasts and my health, thank you.

The upshot is that at almost 66,  I weigh the same as I did in high school, 120 give or take. I take no prescription medications--and that includes psychotropics. In fact, I have never taken so much as an antidepressant and trust me if anyone qualifies, I do. Ditto anti-anxiety medication. (Of course I was a falling-down blackout drunk for 20 years--but even then I took no "outside" medications, if only because I sensed that if I ingested one more "foreign" substance, I'd keel over and die on the spot).

I have no special equipment. I don't own a pair of scales or even a full-length mirror, not that I don't like to admire myself!

I'm not anti-medicine but I'm anti- thinking like or being treated like a lemming.

In fact, all of the above is in spite of, or perhaps because, of the fact that I also have a life-long, chronic illness: alcoholism.  Because I'm grateful, I tend to my body without, I hope, being fussy or fetishistic about it. Because I'm grateful, I know the condition of my innermost heart is way more important than good physical health, which is in many ways a crapshoot.

Because of my alcoholism and the spiritual solution with which I've treated it for 31 years, I have a visceral, violent aversion to our profit-based, human-being-as-commodity "healthcare" system.

Recently, for example, I learned I had high cholesterol (though everything else is top-notch). My doctor sent an email saying I could pick up my Lipitor script at the pharmacy. Not a word of further info. No discussion of diet. No mention of the fact that once you start taking statins, you can basically never stop.

So as with my cancer, I'm doing my own research, my own praying, my own inner call-to-arms. I'm eating lots more barley, quinoa and other grains, lots more vegetables, lots more fish. And if I die of a heart attack (God forbid), so be it and maybe the good Lord was sparing me from Alzheimer's.

Meanwhile I make sure to regularly get off by myself (this includes while I'm at home in my own apt), take long walks, ponder the mysteries of nature, human relations, and the universe.

While I'm on the subject, here is another pet peeve: at church when they quit offering the chalice during flu season. Are you kidding me? People of faith have died from cholera, bubonic plague, leprosy while serving the sick and suffering. We're supposed to be willing to lay down our lives! [See. e.g,, this rousing biography of St. Camillus]. We'd take our own health over a chance to partake of the Blood of Christ? Wusses!

"Healthy people don't need a doctor; sick people do," said Christ.  I know the ways I'm "well"--every one of them a boundless, unmerited grace--but I really know the many, many ways I'm sick. Grateful as I am for Kaiser, I thus appeal for real healing to the Great Physician.

And continue in many ways to be sick, and continue in many ways to suffer.

Because that is what it is to be a human being.

I'm reading Dr. Victoria Sweet's Slow Medicine, a follow-up to her splendid God's Hotel. Highly recommended.


Sunday, April 8, 2018



This week's arts and culture column begins like this:

The Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra (LACO) has been proclaimed “America’s finest chamber orchestra” (Public Radio International), “LA’s most unintimidating chamber music experience” (Los Angeles Magazine), “resplendent” (Los Angeles Times) and “one of the world’s great chamber orchestras” (KUSC Classical FM).

The 2017-18 season marks LACO’s 50th anniversary. Its new “In Focus” series aims “to provide insights into the chamber music repertoire through the lens of LACO artists in an intimate setting.”

Curated by Concertmaster Margaret Batjer, LACO artists will serve as “musical tour guides” through the pieces, and NPR’s Renée Montagne will lead a short post-concert discussion.

In April, the series will highlight two sublime chamber works: Mozart’s “Quintet in A Major for Clarinet and Strings” (1789) and Brahms’ “Clarinet Quintet in B Minor” (1891). A clarinet quintet is a work composed for one clarinet and a string quartet.

The concerts will take place at 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday, April 4, 2018, at The Huntington Library and Gardens in San Marino, and at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday, April 5, 2018, at the Moss Theater in Santa Monica.

Both will feature Joshua Ranz, principal clarinet of LACO and also of the New West Symphony.

Raised in New York, Ranz and his wife, the oboist Lelie Resnick, met while both were playing for the Honolulu Symphony.

They moved to LA in 1999. Since then, Ranz has been hailed by the Los Angeles Times for his “stunning artistry.” He performs regularly with the LA Philharmonic and has recorded more than 100 soundtracks for leading Hollywood composers.

Preparing for our interview, I did a little research. The clarinet is said to have been invented around 1700 by German instrument maker J.C. Denner, I learned. It was based on the “chalumeau,” a Renaissance shepherd’s instrument with a range of but a single octave.

But what really fascinated me was the fact that Ranz is married to an oboist. So straightaway after getting him on the phone I asked, “So is there a certain personality attached to certain instruments?”

“I’d say oboists — I do think my wife is an exception — can tend to be a bit uptight, and with good reason,” he said. “Oboists are obsessed with finding the right reed. We clarinet players, with a single-reed instrument as opposed to their two, are just partially obsessed.”


Wednesday, April 4, 2018


Do you ever feel that other people aren't interested, at all, in the same things you are?

I do.

Recently, for example, I have breathlessly reported to several friends something like the following:

"I am completely obsessed with this South African woman I just learned of, now dead, named Helen Martins who was an eccentric and a recluse and built a place over the course of several decades called Owl House! Covered every surface with colored ground glass, then added mirrors, zillions of candles, and a weird mummy-like sculpture with one cloven hoof that lay on the floor in the middle of everything She had had two abortions which haunted her. Had a series of black workmen who helped her and carried on a decades-long affair with a married man who would not leave his wife. When she was finished with the house, began a bizarre sculpture garden with cement camels, cats, temples, mythical figures. Made a sign out of wire--"This is My House"--that she hung on the fence, then in her 80s drank caustic soda--lye--and killed herself! Wonderful book by Sue Imrie Ross that I retrieved from interlibrary loan. Fascinating! Female psyche that did not quite become integrated"...

Now if someone told that to me, I would be like, "Oh excuse me I have to use the bathroom" and would be in there madly scrolling through my phone to get more info and at the soonest possible opportunity, would read/watch every single thing about such a compelling, bizarre, paradoxical, tragic, mystifying figure that I could get my hands on. 

As is true of much of what I breathlessly report, however, I have not been able to drum up much interest. 

That's okay! It is good to have our own little things that set us on fire.  


HELEN MARTINS (1897-1976)


Monday, April 2, 2018


Who among us does not find the inn of Emmaus to be a familiar abode? Who has not walked this road one evening when all seemed lost? Christ died in us. They had taken him from us: the world, philosophers and scholars, our passion. There was no more Jesus for us on the earth. We were following a way, and someone was walking by our side. We were alone and we were not alone. It is evening. Here's an open door, the darkness of a room where the fireplace sheds light upon the clay floor and makes the shadows move. O broken bread! O breaking of the bread accomplished in spite of so much misery. 'Stay with us…the day declineth…'

The day declineth, life is coming to a close. Childhood seems further away than the beginning of the world; and our lost youth means no more to us than the last sound in the dead trees in some strange wood.

'And they drew night to the village whither they were going, and himself made as though he would go further; and they pressed him, saying, 'Stay with us, for evening approacheth and already the day declineth.' So he went in to stay with them. And it came to pass when he had reclined at table with them, that he took the bread and blessed and broke and handed it to them. And their eyes were opened and they recognized him and he vanished from them. And they said to one another, 'Was not our heart burning within us whilst he spoke to us on the way, whilst he laid open to us the scriptures?'

Another time Kephas, Thomas, Nathanael, James and John were fishing. They had come back to their Sea of Tiberias, to their boat, to their nets. ("They have settled down," their families must have thought.) They caught nothing. A stranger told them to cast down their nets on the right side. They caught so many fish that John suddenly understood. "It is the Lord! Peter, it is the Lord!" And Peter immediately cast himself in the sea the sooner to reach his Beloved. He was there, upon the shore. It was indeed He. Some embers were smoking. The sun dried Peter's garments. They cooked their fish; they ate of the bread that Jesus gave them, and they did not even ask: Who art thou? One was never entirely certain that it was He. But yes, my God, it was Thou, it was indeed Thou who asked the question (how familiar it is to us! alas how rare the answer!):

"Simon, son of John, lovest thou me more than do these?"

"Yea, Lord, thou knowest I love thee..."

"Feed my lambs..."

Three times this dialogue passed back and forth on the shore of the lake. Then Jesus moved off a little way and Peter followed him; and John a little after him, as if he had lost his privileged place of the "most loved," as though the risen Lord no longer gave way to the preference of his heart. Nevertheless, he uttered to the son of Zebedee those mysterious words which were to make the other disciples believe that John would not know death. And when, several weeks later, Jesus tore himself from the midst of the disciples, ascended, and was dissolved in light, it was no final departure. Already he was lying in ambush at the turn of the road which went from Jerusalem to Damascus, watching for Saul, his beloved persecutor. Thenceforth in the destiny of every man there was to be this God who lies in wait.

François Mauriac, Life of Jesus (1936), ch. 27.