Saturday, December 15, 2018



Here's how this week's arts and culture column begins:

All those holiday chestnuts — “The Nutcracker,” “It’s a Wonderful Life,” “’Twas the Night Before Christmas” — have stood the test of time for a reason.

Still, I usually try to avoid writing about them. And while we’re on the subject, for my money, you can hardly beat Dylan Thomas reading his own “A Child’s Christmas in Wales,” a work of art so unique that it defies labels: Short story? Memoir? Poetry?

Perhaps the king of them all, however, is Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol.”

By the early 1840s, Dickens (1812-1870) was an established novelist and journalist. Notoriously appalled by the working conditions of men, women, and children in Victorian England, he began what would become “A Christmas Carol” in October 1843.

He finished the manuscript in a feverish six weeks, later saying that as he walked the streets of London, the characters were “ever tugging at his coat sleeve, as if impatient for him to get back to his desk and continue the story of their lives.”


Wednesday, December 12, 2018


Yet as the Crawfords prolonged their stay and came to know Fanny and Edmund better and better, they began to get an inkling of everything that they'd been missing. Henry saw something In Edward that he wished he could find in himself, and something in Fanny that he wished he could have for himself. As for Mary, when she did at last tear herself away from Mansfield to pay a long-delayed visit to another friend, she had this to say to the heroine: "Mrs. Fraser has been my intimate friend for years. But I have not the least inclination to go near her. I can think only of the friends I am leaving...You have all so much more heart  among you, than one finds in the world at large." "Heart"--Mary's stammering attempt to name the things she was starting to learn how to value: moral seriousness, depth of feeling, constancy of purpose. Inner riches--things you can't buy, things you have to earn. The woman who'd thought she had everything was discovering just how destitute she really was.


Whereas Henry and the rest, always able to command amusement, were constantly dogged by the threat of boredom, Fanny had created a rich inner life for herself. The East room, her little space upstairs, was like a diorama of her mind, a place where she could always find "some pursuit, or some train of thought...Her plants, her books,...her writing desk,...her works of charity and ingenuity." She was quiet and shy, yes, but she had a lot going on beneath the surface. For that was the big surprise about her, one that it took me a very long time to see. Mary, lovely and charming, was far better able to incite emotions, but Fanny felt them that much more keenly. She may have been prudish and prim, but she was also, of all things, intensely passionate.

--William Deresiewicz, from A Jane Austen Education 

Monday, December 10, 2018


Here's how this week's arts and culture piece begins:

On two consecutive Sundays, December 9 and 16, at 7:30 p.m., the Los Angeles Children’s Chorus (LACC) will present what promises to be a bang-up program at the Pasadena Presbyterian Church.

“Winter Wonderland: Sounds of the Season” marks the first stand-alone program led by the Chorus’ new artistic director, internationally regarded choral conductor, clinician, and educator Fernando Malvar-Ruiz.

The entire chorus comprises 400 kids and seven choirs. Two hundred and fifty of them will perform in December’s programs.

Associate Artistic Director Mandy Brigham leads the Intermediate Choir, Diana Landis leads the Apprentice Choir, and Dr. Steven Kronauer conducts the Young Men’s Ensemble.

Malvar-Ruiz will conduct the Concert Choir, the Chamber Singers, and the new SATB Choir (soprano, alto, tenor, bass), the mixed-voice ensemble he established in August.

“They’re all quite different. The Concert Choir is a treble choir, which means high voices. It’s a mixed ensemble, meaning young boys and girls, and they all sing both soprano and alto.”


Thursday, December 6, 2018


I am glad you see the belief in [my stories] because it is there. The truth is my stories have been watered and fed by Dogma. I am a Catholic (not because it's advantageous to my writing but because I was born and brought up one) and at some point in my life I realized that not only was I a Catholic but that this was all I was, that I was a Catholic not like someone else would be a Baptist or a Methodist but like someone else would be an atheist. If my stories are complete it is because I see everything as beginning with original sin, taking in the Redemption, and reckoning on a final judgment. I have heard people say that all this stifles a writer, but that is foolishness; it only preserves your sense of mystery.

[W]hen you present a pathetic situation, you have to let it speak entirely for itself. I mean you have to present it and leave it alone. You have to let the things in the story do the talking. I mean that, as author, you can't force it and I think you tend to force it in your story, every now and then. The first thing is to see the people at every minute. You get into the old man's mind before you let us know exactly what he looks like. You have got to learn to paint with words. Have the old man there first so that the reader can't escape him. This is something that it has taken me a long time to learn. Ford Madox Ford said you couldn't have somebody sell a newspaper in a story unless you said what he looked like. You have to learn to do this unobtrusively of course.

--Flannery O'Connor

Sunday, December 2, 2018


I actually had several people ask me last week if I "observed" Black Friday.

Are you kidding me?

I don't even like to shop during the rest of the year. And why on God's green earth would I need any new "electronics?"

Above, for example, is my "sound system," purchased from (the now defunct) Circuit City for probably 40 bucks probably 10 years ago. It plugs into the wall. On it, I can perch my ipod nano circa generation 2 or so on which, again several years ago, I painstakingly loaded all my downloaded CDs. Then I figured out how to do the "artwork" and paired a cool photo I'd taken somewhere on my travels with each album.

Unfortunately I think I got dishwater on the thing awhile ago cause now the ipod has no display and when I turn on my...machine (I'm seriously not sure what it's called and feel free to bid on what at this point should by all rights be a valuable antique), the ipod makes a weird beeping noise, like a sickly alarm clock, but still, amazingly, plays. I can forward to the next song but I have no control over what song or in what order. So surprise me! It's like having a radio back in the old days, when we took what was aired as it came. Doo de doo. Music!

I can also hit the button "Open" and a little door slides back and can put in one of the many CDs I still own and cherish, many of them home-burned, from the olden days. I mean enough's enough. I did move on, with much reluctance, from my Walkman but how much music does one person need? Plus I tend to listen to the same album (esp if classical) over and over, which I'm sure is some form of OCD of perhaps just laziness.

Anyway, I am perfectly happy as is and actually listen to most of my music in the car or at the gym (does everyone know about freegal?). So I spent the day after Thanksgiving as I prefer to call it feeling grateful, writing, taking a long walk, going to Mass, seeing the new Aretha F documentary "Amazing Grace," and in happy anticipation of Advent.

Then the next day someone mentioned something called "Giving Tuesday." Seriously, I don't even want to know. The very sound of one more branded, hashtagged, facebooked, crowd-funded, mob mentality day made me want to lie down and take a long nap.

St. Teresa of Calcutta once observed: "I don’t want you to give to us from your abundance. I don’t need money from your abundance. I ask that you share in our work. I ask that you lend your hands in understanding. Come and help care for our needy. Come and see…I want you to give with the attitude of that little boy who said, ‘I will not eat sugar for three days. I will give it to Mother Teresa.’ "

Like most of us I'm sure, I gladly and humbly donate to natural disaster victims, the war-torn, the hungry, the needy, both far and near. But no sugar--for THREE DAYS!? Let's not go overboard...

Here's a documentary about Russian pianist Maria Yudina, who would give all her money to the poor and live with her cats in a freezing garret, practicing in the cold...