Monday, December 31, 2018



Ring out, wild bells, to the wild sky,
The flying cloud, the frosty light:
The year is dying in the night;
Ring out, wild bells, and let him die.

Ring out the old, ring in the new,
Ring, happy bells, across the snow:
The year is going, let him go;
Ring out the false, ring in the true.

Ring out the grief that saps the mind
For those that here we see no more;
Ring out the feud of rich and poor,
Ring in redress to all mankind.

Ring out a slowly dying cause,
And ancient forms of party strife;
Ring in the nobler modes of life,
With sweeter manners, purer laws.

Ring out the want, the care, the sin,
The faithless coldness of the times;
Ring out, ring out my mournful rhymes
But ring the fuller minstrel in.

Ring out false pride in place and blood,
The civic slander and the spite;
Ring in the love of truth and right,
Ring in the common love of good.

Ring out old shapes of foul disease;
Ring out the narrowing lust of gold;
Ring out the thousand wars of old,
Ring in the thousand years of peace.

Ring in the valiant man and free,
The larger heart, the kindlier hand;
Ring out the darkness of the land,
Ring in the Christ that is to be.

--Alfred, Lord Tennyson, 1850


Friday, December 28, 2018



The other day I watched a film called “Caught” (1949),by the great German-born director Max Ophüls. I’ve seen “The Earrings of Madame de” (1953) (originally at The Brattle in Harvard Square, circa 1979) and “Letter to an Unknown Woman” (1948) multiple times.

But “Caught” was new to me, and afterwards I thought to share with all ten of my readers some of the many movies I've enjoyed in 2018.

The Laemmle Playhouse 7 is right down the street from me, so I do see a certain number of first-run pictures.

But I'm also a sucker for black and white films from the 40s through 60s with evil femme fatales, sadistic husbands, conniving mistresses, deranged prison wardenesses, and demented DIY surgeons. I thrive on close-ups of faces, twisted with love, terror, and the anguish of betrayal especially, as was often the case in those pre-airbrushed days, when accompanied by bad teeth, clearly false facial hair, and (for the women) half-inch thick painted-on eyebrows.

The male lead in “Caught,” a pathologically money-hoarding multi-millionaire, was reportedly modeled on Howard Hughes. So of course I then had to brush up on Howard Hughes. At wiki I learned: “In 1958, Hughes told his aides that he wanted to screen some movies at a film studio near his home. He stayed in the studio's darkened screening room for more than four months, never leaving. He ate only chocolate bars and chicken and drank only milk, and was surrounded by dozens of Kleenex boxes that he continuously stacked and re-arranged.

He wrote detailed memos to his aides giving them explicit instructions neither to look at him nor speak to him unless spoken to. Throughout this period, Hughes sat fixated in his chair, often naked, continually watching movies. When he finally emerged in the summer of 1958, his hygiene was terrible.”

Substitute super-strong coffee for milk, black licorice Twizzlers for chocolate bars and chicken, and the edge of my hoodie sleeve for Kleenex (I do NOT watch movies naked!) and that person could have been me.

I mean doesn’t everyone spend around mid-November through mid-March holed up in his or her room catching up on all the films they missed during those pesky months filled with warmth and sun?

Somehow “Caught,” in which James Mason plays a doctor and the love interest of Barbara bel Geddes, led me to “The Seventh Veil”  (1945),which somehow led me to a couple of websites devoted exclusively to British cinema from the 60s “kitchen sink” era, which somehow led me to fandor, and all I can say now is God help me.

So far from that particular cache I’ve seen “Jungle Street” (1960), “Saturday Night Out” (1964), and the truly delicious “Blind Corner” (1963) (stellarly sinister wife of blind concert pianist plots with lover to kill him) and I am already thinking I should really limit myself to one or eight a week.

Here are a few other random films I’ve especially liked this past year:

Room at the Top (1959): (Laurence Harvey at his weaselly best)

Sweet Smell of Success (1957): (Burt Lancaster in iconic role of newspaper gossip columnist J.J. Hunsecker)

The Face of Another (1966): (creepy black and white Japanese existential drama; features skin-grafting)

Seconds (1966): (the gruesome dangers of man-made "rebirth," starring Rock Hudson)

Patterns (1956): (written by Rod Serling: the wages of corporate greed on soul)

Come Back, Little Sheba (1952): (Burt Lancaster as alcoholic husband, Shirley Booth as annoying but beloved wife)

Jet Storm (1959): (air travel in the days when people dressed up to fly, you could still smoke, and the TSA didn't pre-check passengers for bombs)

The Awful Dr. Orlof (1961): (former prison doctor, aided by blind henchman Morpho, abducts beautiful women from nightclubs and tries to use their skin (clearly a favorite theme) to repair his daughter's fire-scarred face)

The Browning Version (1951): (splendid British boarding school drama)

The Comedians (1967): (based on the Graham Greene novel, with Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor, sizzling).

The Pumpkin-Eater (1964): (philandering college professor husband encourages wife and mother  to have an abortion with devastating results. With Anne Bancroft and Peter Finch)

Phaedra (1962): (Beyond! An absolute must-see. Melina Mercouri and Anthony Perkins)

Which reminds me--There’s a seminarian who helps out at morning Mass and who looks exactly like Tony P. in “Psycho.”

He wears a pristine white alb, neatly belted at the waist, and as I pass by him kneeling at his prie-dieu after the Eucharist, I always half-expect him to look up and say “…Mother?”

Monday, December 24, 2018


I still send out Christmas cards and happily, a bunch of my friends still send them to me. 

Also happily, the greetings are often accompanied by some crackerjack reflections. Below is a small sampling. 


“Christ used the flesh and blood of Mary for his life on earth, the Word of love was uttered in her heartbeat. Christ used his own body to utter his love on earth; his perfectly real body, with bone and sinew and blood and tears; Christ uses our bodies to express his love on earth, our humanity.

“A Christian life is a sacramental life, it is not a life lived only in the mind, only by the soul; through the bodies of men and women Christ toils and endures and rejoices and loves and dies; in them he is increased, set free, imprisoned, restrained. In them he is crucified and buried and rises from the dead.

“Our humanity is the substance of the sacramental life of Christ in us, like the wheat for the host, like the grape for the chalice.

“Christ works his love through material as well as spiritual things. Into his worship, following his own lead, the Church, his Church, brings material things, pure wax, flame, oil, salt, gold, water, linen, the voices of people, the gestures and actions of people, our own souls and bodies—the substance of our flesh and blood. All this is consistent with the incarnation, when Christ took the human nature of Our Lady to be himself.”

~Caryll Houselander, from The Comforting of Christ


“What has changed the face of the earth? Christian humility and the manger of Jesus Christ…. There is, then, no humiliation or poverty which the manger cannot turn into glory for us,” and, “no greatness or high position which the manger should not render suspect to us.”

--Blessed William Joseph Chaminade, founder of the Marianists


"It is Christmas. Light the candles. They have more right to exist than the darkness. In Christmas, God says to us,: 'I am there. I am with you. I am your life. I am your gloom and I am your joy. Do not be afraid to be happy!' "

--Fr. Karl Rahner


From a post entitled "Lead with Beauty" by Dr. Tom Neal, from his blog Neal Obstat: Theological Opinings.

"I have mentioned before here a priest I knew back in the late 1980’s, Fr. Albert. He was in his 90’s and in a nursing home. A really remarkable man, as testified to by so many who knew him over the years. Over the course of one summer, I visited him every weekday morning for Mass at 6:00 a.m. He and I alone in his room, with the Holy Sacrifice being offered on his food tray. Those were absolutely remarkable days for me that exercised an enormous influence in shaping me into the man I would become.

I remember one day during the consecration, Fr. Al was overcome with emotion and paused for at least two minutes after he set down the chalice. He said, “Oh, your love! How you love. How I love you! I could die of joy…” I felt embarrassed to be there, such a terrifyingly intimate moment. Then I thought of his 55 years in active ministry before he was forced by a stroke to retire. How much he had seen, endured. And after all that time he was like this. Not callous, bitter, cynical, apathetic — but joyful, in love."


Whatever our circumstances, may we all be joyful in love today. With thanks and love to all my readers--don't get in any family fights!


Sunday, December 23, 2018


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

In this season of waiting, I think of Samuel Beckett’s “Waiting for Godot,” the Chinese novelist Ha Jin’s “Waiting,” and T. S. Eliot’s “Wait Without Hope”: “I said to my soul, be still and wait without hope, for hope would be hope for the wrong thing. …”

We wait for the results of the biopsy, the door to open, the phone to ring, for the sun to come up, the curtain to rise, the check to clear, the flowers to bloom, the egg to hatch, for the pain to stop, for Christmas eve, to fall asleep.

One thing we don’t wait for — can’t “wait” for — is to wake up. Maybe in his mercy God gave us sleep because without a seven- to eight-hour break every day from the tension of perpetual waiting, we’d break down. Maybe he needs us to get out of the way for at least a third of the time, with our fear and fretting and scheming and “work,” so he can give us what we need for free.

As Psalm 127 has it:

“In vain is your earlier rising,

your going later to rest,

you who toil for the bread you eat;

when he pours gifts on his beloved while they slumber.”

I once saw an exhibit of artwork from the early 1900s by patients at a German insane asylum. One framed piece consisted of a sheet of cheap paper on which was written in pencil the same phrase over and over and over, from left to right, and from top to bottom: line after line after overlapping line.

The artist, it turned out, was a woman in her 30s named Emma Hauck who had been diagnosed with terminal dementia praecox (schizophrenia). She was writing to her husband Mark: “Sweetheart Come,” the placard read.


The Brothers Quay, stop-motion animators, did a short film called "In Absentia" based on Hauck.

The image above is a still from it, and there's a low-quality version of it here.

Here's a clip from another of their better-known films.

Two more days till Christmas--I've been in church a lot.

Friday, December 21, 2018


Whoa, is it me or does time go by SO FAST!?

My body is back in September or so, thinking oh the pomegranates will be out soon and then the shorter days of October and--is it possible?--then the holidays!

In fact, the pomegranates are long gone, the persimmons are on their last gasp, the narcissi are blooming, Christmas is less than a week away, and the Rose Bowl parade (to which I give the widest possible berth) is around the corner.

All bets are off in December, no matter how much I tell myself I'm going to keep it "quiet" this year. Besides the food for Christmas dinner, I do zero shopping. So the stress, if that's the word, isn't from hanging out in stores. It's from being called, day after day, from my introvert's grotto. At some point, I simply give myself over to it and accept that I'm going to be in a fugue state pretty much till 2019.

On top of it, three weeks ago of course the landlord decided to start rehabbing the apartment directly above mine. This, he estimated would take a week--maybe two at the most. Substitute "year" for "week" and you'd be more in the ballpark. I don't really mind, except that I can't take a nap during the day which plays havoc with my nervous system. Even if I weren't going to take a nap, I like to know I COULD take a nap if I wanted to. Since I know I can't, I don't sleep.

I have matured this past year, though, so instead of complain of such trivialities, I like to fasten upon a completely arbitrary "project" and become utterly obsessed with it, to the exclusion of all else in my life and the world. Last week, for example, I realized the sidebars of my blog for some unknown reason weren't appearing on the individual Pages.

What followed were two feverish eight-hour-plus days during which I managed completely randomly to get the sidebars to display but in the process removed pretty much the whole template. So I had to go back and piece everything together (many more hours) and then it turned out the top line of my Pages Text Tabs were TRANSPARENT or shadowed or some very unseemly feature that of course not one person on earth besides me would notice or care about. So that was another project (which I never satisfactorily resolved and had to change them to white, which I don't even like).

Which brings me to today's winter solstice. Yes! The days are going to start getting longer. I love that in the midst of darkness is the hope of light, and that the clear long days of June in turn carry the seed of darkness.

I treasure the weeks during which we prepare our hearts liturgically and with prayer for the birth of a baby: again, a pinpoint of light in these seemingly extra-dark times.

Last week I accompanied one of my brothers to a medical diagnostic appointment that took place at 4 p.m.. We'd planned to grab a bite to eat, but afterwards neither of us much felt like going into a restaurant. So we went to his local MacDonald's and he got a drive-through of what I learned is his usual order: a large coffee with six creamers on the side. Then we wheeled into what turned out to be his favorite spot in the parking lot, a middle space right near the trash receptacle and also it turned out, hard by an overhead sodium light.

I loved glimpsing this slice of his daily life. The sun was setting, all midnight blue, gold and rose, and the sodium light shone down on us in a weird halo effect and there my brother and I sat, in the Second Week of Advent, howling as he recounted the awkwardness of what had just occurred in the examining room, swapping stories of childhood, and marveling that we had both found our way from the coast of New Hampshire to Southern California.

Stunned, as we all are the older we get, by the passage of time. As the psalmist observes:

Our life is over like a sigh.
Our span is seventy years
or eighty for those who are strong.

And most of these are emptiness and pain.
They pass swiftly and we are gone.

But in the meantime, we get to have moments--unbidden, outwardly unremarkable--when the heavens open for a moment, the veil is lifted, and in the midst of a world that seems ever more bent on destroying itself, we know we that we are loved. And perhaps what's more important, that we are  capable of love.

Who knew the high point of my Advent would occur hemmed in by ugly suburbia, in the middle of a MacDonald's parking lot, in a car with my little (6'2") brother?

Maybe that's the contemporary version of a manger.

Wednesday, December 19, 2018



"Now he comes to be born in the narrowness of our lives, to be incarnate in us, to give his love to the world through us, through our flesh and blood. That is one meaning of the Incarnation.

The reason why we are where we are this Christmas, in this house, family, office, workroom, hospital, or camp, is because it is here in this place that Christ wants to be born, from here that he wants his life to begin again in the world.

The reason why we are with these particular people is because it is precisely to these people that Christ wants us to give his love. This year we are his trustees for these people; he has put his love for them into our hands, into our hearts. We did not choose this place- Christ has chosen it. We did not choose these people- Christ has chosen them.

We are asked one thing: to have the humility and courage to open the secret place of our heart to Christ, conscious though we are that it is as derelict as the stable, and that his light will reveal the mouse and the spider.

It may have been puzzling, even to Mary, how Christ was giving his life to the whole world in the obscurity of Bethlehem, but enough for her that this was his way. It still is, and he himself is the way, the only way to our peace.

Because the Word of God was humble as the bleating of a lamb, lost along the darkness, today the voices of men and angels are a great choir singing in the light, “Lamb of God, you take away the sin of the world, give us peace.”

--Caryll Houselander


Monday, December 17, 2018



Here's the link to a piece of mine just up on behalf of the St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Shrine--it's about the mystery of Confession, and of the Church. As Flannery O'Connor observed (of the Church, of life): “To expect too much is to have a sentimental view of life and this is a softness that ends in bitterness.”

Here's another little piece I worked up on Sheryl Lyons, Esq. of Lafayette, Louisiana, who, on my recent trip to New Orleans on behalf of Theresians International, had my back big-time. 

Sisterhood is powerful.


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...