Thursday, November 14, 2019


I always laugh when people say "I hope you enjoyed your retreat!" or "your vacation!"

I do enjoy it, all of it, but my life and my travel are almost militarily disciplined and at all times retain a pilgrimage aspect. I often fast in my way, I always walk miles. This last trip to NYC was no exception.

And it was a beautiful trip.

Why, however, did I make it? Even I don't fully know.

Maybe my goal was simply to lay eyes on the faces of my friends: Patrick, Tim, Matthew, Anthony. Maybe it was so I could go to Mass and pray at St. Vincent Ferrer, surely one of the loveliest churches in NY, if not all of creation. Maybe it was to pay my biannual visit to the Conservancy Garden in the upper NE corner of Central Park.  Maybe it was to walk the streets of Manhattan (and Queens, and Brooklyn), and to leave a little of my body and blood there, and to pray for the people and places among whom I walked.

Maybe I just had to savor a taste of the East Coat autumn.

All of this was made easier by a $213 round trip ticket and the fact that, because I write for Magnificat, I'm allowed to stay at the Dominicans' Holy Name Building on E. 65th, around the corner from St. Vincent Ferrer, for a generously small stipend (as who but the wealthy could ever afford a Manhattan hotel for a week).

Never will I get over the miracle of travel, especially air travel. How is it possible that a person could awake in a bed on Lexington and 65th and on the same day retire for the night on a bed in Pasadena, California? I'm always super anxious, afraid I won't make it, or something will go wrong, the upside of that being insane gratitude for every "tiny" thing that goes right. Oh, the downtown Q train showed up as promised. Oh Penn Station is still there! Oh United is going to honor the boarding pass it issued me! Et cetera.

I write from the United Lounge next to Gate 74 C at Newark's Liberty Airport. I came early for my 1 pm flight, partly because I couldn't bear the suspense of knowing whether or not I'd make it from downtown Manhattan, and partly because you can get free juice, coffee and food here, plus your own space more or less to work in. (My United Visa provides me with two free passes a year).

Here are the moments I'll take home with me: after a freezing cold, blustery day in Brooklyn, first having a new head shot taken, then wandering around Prospect Park, the Brooklyn Museum and the Brooklyn Botanic Garden till I was shaking with cold and exhausted, stopping at the falafel truck on 65th and 3rd Avenue before returning to my room with a hot chocolate, a falafel plate with rice and salad, a warm piece of pita, and a rice pudding and DEVOURING the second best meal I had the whole week. Trembling with gratitude.

The best meal was at Morandi in the Village with my friend Tim, whose highly recommended first novel, Cornelius Sky, was published this year. The plan was for me to take him out but of course he insisted on taking me out, which I mention simply because I seem to be surrounded by people who give me 500% more than I ever seem to give them. The meal was stupendous but the meal took second place to the conversation, communion and camaraderie.

Tim is also a NYC Transit bus driver. His route begins at 72nd and Amsterdam at 5:07 on weekdays and takes him and his riders across Central Park and over to York. I met him at the beginning of his shift another day and rode over to Madison and that, too, was a huge treat.

Then there was the Brooklyn Museum, the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, the Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum (meh), Dia Beacon, the Noguchi Museum and the Socrates Sculpture Park.


Now I'm safe home, with major jet lag, and headed to Pershing Square in downtown LA this morning for the grand opening of ice-skating season.

Last night I gave a talk at the Valley Hunt Club (!) for the Pasadena chapter of Legatus.




Saturday, November 9, 2019



I've been in NYC the past week and my time has been rich, fruitful, and jam-packed.

It's also been a bit overshadowed by the visit I paid to the probate attorney the day before I left, which was also jam-packed but not in a fun way. (Not that NY has exactly been "fun" either--is anything, ever?--but that's a different discussion). 

Like perhaps most of us,  "admin" is not my favorite activity. But I've been trying hard to remember to be insanely grateful that I have anything, of any kind, TO administer.

To that end, I looked up the etymology  and found: "late 14c., aministren, later administren, "to manage as a steward, control or regulate on behalf of others," from Old French aministrer "help, aid, be of service to" (12c., Modern French administrer)."

Note: on behalf of others. So let me try to administer with patience and love.

Anyway, one of documents the attorney gave me was a sheet with six different situations, each more outlandish, hypothesizing gruesome medical situations, that just COULD come to pass.

Then you're supposed to choose which of about fifteen different medial treatments you'd want, or not want: thorny decisions that I am hardly in a position to make even now, in full possession of my faculties.

For example:

"If I am in a coma or persistent vegetative state and have no known hope of recovering awareness or higher mental functions: I want OR I do not want: Minor surgery: for example, removing part of an infected toe."

I mean just try to wrap your mind around that. First, I thought, well for heaven's sake, no, at that point it's a little late to be worry about an infected toe. But then again, you don't just want to be lying there like a big hunk of gangrene. What if it were an infected leg? Or torso? Does a person feel pain in a vegetative state? On some level does he or she still want to "look nice?"

Situation B: "If I am in a coma and have a small but uncertain chance of regaining awareness and higher mental functioning: I want OR I do not want Chemotherapy: Drugs to fight cancer."

Well let's see. If I were in a coma, I probably wouldn't care all that much that I also had cancer. But what if I miraculously "came to," only to realize that if I had made the "right" decision, I wouldn't now have Stage 4 melanoma or whatever!?

Sitaution E: "I have an incurable chronic illness that causes physical suffering or minor mental disability and will ultimately cause death, and then I develop a life-threatening but reversible illness: I want OR I do not want Pain Medications: even if they dull consciousness and indirectly shorten my life."

I mean at that point I would want a quart of gin and/or a gun. Although in general I am for going through life (and death, for that matter) with as little pain medication as you can possibly muster. I like being awake, even though that means you're awake to suffering.

Because suffering invites us to ask the right questions, to figure out what is truly important in this crazy world, and to live accordingly.

And did you get
what you wanted from this life, even so?
I did.
And what did you want?
To call myself beloved, to feel myself
beloved on this earth.

--Raymond Carver

Me, too.




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

Mike Birbiglia is an American stand-up comic, writer, and producer with a raft of comedy albums and TV specials under his belt. “Sleepwalk With Me” (2012), his award-winning directorial film debut, started with a one-man off-Broadway show that he wrote, directed, and starred in.

In 2011, he launched and then toured worldwide with his second one-man show, “My Girlfriend’s Boyfriend.” Other credits include the 2016 comedy-drama film “Don’t Think Twice,” a recurring role in the Netflix web TV series “Orange Is the New Black,” and regular contributions to NPR’s “This American Life.”

Birbiglia grew up Catholic in Shrewsbury, Massachusetts, the youngest of four. He is married to poet Jennifer Hope Stein. The couple have a young daughter named Oona.

His “everyman” humor tends toward body image issues, fear of growing up, and the perennial divide between men and women.


Monday, November 4, 2019


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

Every good Californian knows of Hearst Castle, the ginormous house on an enchanted Central Coast hill built by publishing magnate William Randolph Hearst.

The estate at its height consisted of 250,000 acres, bought at 70 cents per. The property featured its own airfield, a mile-long pergola planted with fruits, vines, and espaliered trees, and a private zoo that was at the time the largest in the world.

A couple of weeks ago I traveled north, boarded the bus at the Visitor’s Center, and gawked for the 5-mile-long trip up the driveway. I was there for the special Art of San Simeon Tour, which costs a hundred bucks, has an eight-person max, and lasts 2 hours, 15 minutes.

We started at the 104-foot-long Neptune Pool, the third incarnation of this luxe water-frolicking venue (Hearst, who as a child asked his mother to buy him the Louvre, changed his mind often). We learned of the Vermont marble, the Roman Empire-era columns, the statues that are a mixture of the ancient and the modern.

Next stop was the eight-bedroom Spanish-Moorish “Casa del Sol”...


Thursday, October 31, 2019


I haven't much checked in as of late. This is in large part because I have many PROJECTS.

One: I am making a will! That's right: getting "my affairs" in order, a task upon which I've been procrastinating for probably five years. So the ball is rolling. That feels good. It's a lot of work.

Like just imagine someone having to come into your home or apartment once you croak and start having to try to figure things out. How do you get into her laptop? Where's her checking account? What about cell phone, wifi, electricity, title to car, pandora, Medicare? WHAT DO WE DO WITH ALL HER TCOTCHKES? I mean that's just one small facet. And I don't even own a piece of real estate!

Two: I'm updating my website/blog. Oh my God. Don't get me started. Wordpress. Even though I've hired someone, this has required hours and untold hours and the thing is not even remotely near to up and running. However, as my friend Geoff said, "We'll do this in stages." Geoff is a person of few words, which is perfect for someone like me, who will prattle endlessly and mindlessly on unless checked. Anyway, so there's that.

Three: The Garden. October and November are planting time in Southern California. I've been to the annual Theodore Payne sale, the annual fall Hahamongna Nursery sale, Lincoln Avenue Nursery for soil, and today I'm headed to Nuccio's, camellia capital of practically the world.

Four, I jaunted up to Hearst Castle last week or maybe it was the week before. And next week, I'm flying to NYC! There, I hope to visit the Louis Armstrong House Museum, the Noguchi Museum, and the Hewitt Cooper Design Museum, plus see a bunch of friends, plus go to Mass every chance I get at the gorgeous St. Vincent Ferrer, around the corner from which I'll be staying.

In the midst of all this, I have been following avidly and sorrowfully along, and praying in deep solidarity with the Kings Bay Plowshares 7, a collective voice crying in the wilderness against the hideous arsenal of weapons of mass destruction possessed and poised to be used by our government. They have coined the term "omnicide"--the killing of every person on earth, which these weapons have the power to do.

The seven were convicted on October 24 on all four counts with which they were charged, which were basically trespassing on and destroying government property. They broke into (which should itself should give us pause; these were unarmed people in their 50s and 60s with no inside info or contacts) and nonviolently and symbolically disarmed the Trident nuclear submarine base at Kings Bay, GA. Not one of the jury pool had a bias against nuclear weapons and the deliberations took a mere two hours.

Sentencing will be in 30-90 days. Fr. Steve Kelly, SJ, having refused bail, remains in jail where he has been for the last year and a half. 

You can read more about the insanity of nuclear weapons, the defendants and the case HERE. 

O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not!
--Matthew 23:37

Saturday, October 26, 2019



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

Midge Costin’s documentary, “Making Waves: The Art of Cinematic Sound,” is a fascinating and instructive peek into a world hitherto unknown to most of us.

The film traces the history of sound in film, examines the ways directors and sound designers work together, and features the latest discoveries and advances in sound technology, all while managing to remain warm, lively, and human.

Director-producer Costin is a graduate of USC Film School, a veteran, award-winning feature film sound editor in Hollywood, and the holder of the Kay Rose Endowed Chair in the Art of Sound Editing at the USC School of Cinematic Arts given by George Lucas in 2005. Producers-writers Bobette Buster and Karen Johnson round out the team.



Tuesday, October 22, 2019



I'm no unalloyed fan of Camille Paglia. Her embrace of the New Age and desire to be a man leave me cold.

On the other hand, I'm totally on board with her disdain for political-correctness-gone-awry and her recognition that without religion civilization is doomed.

I just came across a wonderful piece by Emily Esfahani Smith--"The Provocations of Camille Paglia"--in City Journal,  Summer, 2019.

Of Paglia's time at Yale in the 80s, when the thought of French "deconstructionists" Jacques Derrida, Jacques Lacan, and Michel Foucault held sway:

"But to Paglia, nothing was more important than saving the universities from the “soulless, beady-eyed careerists” who “cynically deny the possibility of meaning” in the great works of the past and have ruined the humanities with their “shallow, juvenile attitude toward culture.” During our conversation, Paglia called them “absolutely the most corrupt and evil individuals on the landscape.”


To Paglia, the antidote to this [despiritualized cynicism] is the kind of education she received at Harpur College, which counterbalances the sensory immediacy of pop with the philosophical depth of complex high art. But unless they deliberately seek them out, today’s students are rarely exposed to the greatest and most influential works of Western civilization. What they often encounter instead is a watered-down Marxism that sees the world in terms of society, politics, and economics—a materialistic philosophy that has no sense of the spiritual or sublime.

“That’s why they’re in a terrible fever and so emotional,” Paglia said. “There is a total vacuum in their view of life. They don’t have religion any longer. Religion teaches you metaphysics. It shows you how to examine yourself and ask questions about your relationship with the universe.” The Bible, she said, is “one of the greatest books ever written.”

Instead of finding meaning in religion or culture, today’s new generation has turned to politics. This, Paglia said, is “absolute idolatry.” Her students believe that “human happiness is possible through social reform—that utopia is possible.” A much better understanding of human nature is found in the great works of art and literature, which reveal “the tragic view of life.” The fact that Break, Blow, Burn became a national bestseller reveals that there is a craving for the kind of education Paglia is advocating.

The route to a renaissance in education and the arts, she argues, lies in the study of religion. “All art began as religion,” Paglia said in a debate at the Yale Political Union in 2017. Its metaphysics “frees the mind from parochial entrapment in the immediate social environment.” Its “stress on personal responsibility for the condition of the soul,” she added, “releases the individual from irrational blame of others.”


Saturday, October 19, 2019


"Flávio da Silva," Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, 1961, by Gordon Parks.
(© The Gordon Parks Foundation/J. Paul Getty Museum)

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

Through Nov. 10 at the Getty is a compelling exhibit based on the work of Gordon Parks, a Renaissance-man film director, writer, and photojournalist perhaps best known for his work for LIFE magazine.

President John F. Kennedy’s “Alliance for Progress,” launched in 1961, was an initiative designed to promote democracy and economic cooperation across Latin America and to forestall the spread of communism.

In March of that year, LIFE sent Parks to Rio de Janeiro with the assignment to document the country’s poverty.

At the time, the city’s more than 200 garbage-strewn favelas — hillside slum towns — were home to an estimated 700,000 people. The average per capita income was $289. Parks, a Kentucky native, had grown up poor himself, but had never seen destitution of such a degree and kind.


Thursday, October 17, 2019



Hi. I’m in Cambria on the California Central Coast, on terrible circadian rhythm where I get max five or six hours a night of sleep. No matter. Those are the things of this world. Had fugue state pleasant drive up yesterday on about four hours of sleep, wheeled into town, sprang into action, explored both the West and East villages, walked up hill to cemetery, bought a Virgin Mary mirrored vitrine at one of the approximately trillion and a half tcotchke shops, found my way to Airbnb for which I was and am insanely crazily grateful.

Up before dawn this morning to pray—realize I can in fact make the 9 o’clock Mass downtown and still make it to Hearst Castle for art tour by 10:20.

Nothing matters except Christ, the Sacraments, prayer. Without them, I can do nothing. Started to sink again into anger, self-pity, conflict, doubt re my apt. The workmen have now had ladder against my kitchen window, peering in and talking 8 hours a day while they scrape and paint, taking up driveway so forced to park in street. Really you have to laugh. The weeks before that they were against my bedroom window, and for the 8 months before that they were basically outside my living room window. Just for today let’s not worry about it esp as I’m NOT THERE.

Ok already, accept the things you cannot change. Ignatius of Antioch was thrown to the lions and pled with his friends not to try to tempt him with the world and its passing pleasures and proclaimed himself ready, willing and glad to be ground to wheat by the animals.

I’m finding I have more energy/strength than I allow, esp when not consumed by resentment which is why all that stuff is a temptation and so dangerous. Work around. Join the club of the human race.

Why should I have it easy? as Dorothy Day asked. I sincerely think Christ may have engineered the whole thing this way to get me to daily Mass—and the Blessed Sacrament.

Anyway, the view esp on Route 1 yesterday was lovely and I look forward to Hearst Castle and the art tour today—(have been sent by Angelus News to write column about). I mean how lucky can you be? But this is basically a work trip—I was going to spend another night and drive home Sat aiming to time it with Benedictine Oblate meeting (early reconnoitering) in the Valley but I think will leave tomorrow around 11 and just drive home, then go to Oblates Sat from there.

Meanwhile I'm right up the street from the Fiscalini Ranch Preserve and have not yet explored. Maybe I will let myself just take the one walk or maybe another tomorrow morning along the ocean. I always feel duty-bound to EMBRACE as much as I possibly can of whatever place I find myself in–which is a good rule of thumb, within reason.

Found book in airbnb by Marion Davies entitled The Times We Had: Life with William Randolph Hearst. Whole chapters on hilarity, extravagance, party-giving, celebrities at San Simeon/Hearst Castle. Apropos of the 120,000 Japanese-Americans rounded up, torn from their homes, displaced and interned during WWII, Davies observed:

"I didn't know what they were complaining about, because they had lovely menus in their camps; I had a copy of the menu. They had the most wonderful breakfasts, and chicken for luncheon, and anything they wanted at night. But still they were dissatisfied. They created a furor all the time, and it was a constant strain all during the war."

Saturday, October 12, 2019


photo: Craig Schwartz

This week's arts and culture column begins:

Here’s how Pasadena’s A Noise Within Theater pitches its latest production:

Pulitzer Prize winner August Wilson unfolds the African American legacy in the first chronological episode of his celebrated “American Century Cycle,” a soaring, mystical tale of a man desperate for redemption in 1904 Pittsburgh.

Aunt Ester, a 285-year-old “soul cleanser,” sends him on a spiritual journey that dissects the nature of freedom amid oppression and spurs him to take up the mantle of justice.

“Two hundred and eighty-five?” was my first thought upon reading the description of “Gem of the Ocean.” “This could go either way.”

But as director Gregg T. Daniel observes, “Memory insists that we go back and claim the past.” And in fact, Veralyn Jones pulls off the part beautifully. With long, white braids, a floor-length patchwork style skirt and a neat weskit, she manages to be both the timeless repository of ancient wisdom and thoroughly of her place and era.

Her feet ache, as they would, but she’s put-together, practical, and while not suffering fools gladly, compassionate. She’s not woo-woo, she doesn’t have a schtick, she doesn’t make lame jokes and stage-wink about her age and her heaping powers. She’s not a stereotype, in other words.

Consequently, you believe her character, the linchpin of the play, and you believe her.


Sunday, October 6, 2019


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

I spent mid-August to mid-September at a writer’s residency offered by the good sisters at the Monastery of St. Gertrude in Cottonwood, Idaho, population 923.

It was good to get away. But it also felt really, really good to be heading back to Southern California in my trusty Fiat 500.

En route, down through Boise, then 250 miles of breathtaking desert vistas to Winnemucca, Nevada, then hundreds of more miles the next morning, I made my way to a place I’ve wanted to visit for many years: the Ancient Bristlecone Forest in the Eastern Sierras.

Navigating there required several deserted back roads, the loss of all cell reception, and a 23-mile drive through the eastern portion of CA-168 W to White Mountain Road in what is technically Bishop, at which point there’s still 10-miles more of Inyo National Forest road to go, up, up, and up some more.

I’d already driven close to six hours that day, so I was especially grateful to wheel into the parking lot of the Schulman Grove Visitor’s Center. (Edmund Schulman, Ph.D., 1908-1958, was a University of Arizona dendrochronologist with a background in astronomy who, entirely sensibly to my mind, related cosmic events to the science of tree-ring dating).

At 10,000 feet the warmth of the sun was overlain with the faint chill of early fall and the fresh, dreamy scent of pine.


Friday, October 4, 2019


"But most vivid of all in my memory was the encounter with Dad's friend, the Polish father from the Catholic mission at Old Mkushi. He caught me by the shoulders just as I was making my way into the garden for the photographs, as if he had an urgent message to impart. 'The first year is hard, and after that it gets worse,' he said, his mouth so close to my ear that I could smell the red-dust-infused scent of his river-washed, sun-dried clothes. I laughed at him, excusing his sentiment as the meaningless words of a celibate East European was has lived too long in the Zambian bush. 'No really, it's true,' he insisted. 'I should know. I've been married to God for fifty years.' "

--Alexandra Fuller, from Leaving Before the Rains Come

I've just discovered Fuller, started with Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight and have read straight on through three more of her memoirs, with Travel Light, Move Fast on hold at the library. A beautiful and train-wreck compelling writer.

Saturday, September 28, 2019



Last week I was talking to my dear friend Greg Camacho, of San Antonio, Texas. During the course of our conversation, he said "I was looking for one of your books the other day and saw the title Fools for Christ. Which looks like it's hot off the press. Did you bring out a new book and NOT EVEN MENTION IT?"

"Well, kind of.  I published my womanhood book, RAVISHED, around the same time, both on amazon's self-publishing platform, so I thought I'd wait a bit to talk about this one"...

Apparently the time has come. I hired a designer, Rowan Moore-Seifred of DoubleMRanch Design, and the interior layout is every bit as compelling as the cover.

Here's a description:

Fifty Divine Eccentric Artists, Martyrs, Stigmatists, and Unsung Saints

To read yourself or give to friends: fifty short essays on notable Catholics, across the ages! Two criteria: the subject can’t (yet) have been canonized, and he or she has to be dead.

Some are hardly known. Jacqueline de Decker, for example, wore a neck brace, drove a red convertible, and hung out with prostitutes in her native Belgium. She also offered herself as a victim soul to help Mother Teresa.

Some should be better known: Mother Antonia Brenner, a Beverly Hills socialite, went off to live in La Mesa, a notorious Mexican prison, and spent the rest of her life ministering to the inmates. Jacques Fesch, a movie-star handsome French murderer, was condemned to death and wrote a stirring conversion memoir—Notes from the Scaffold—before being guillotined.

There are medieval nuns, a Carmelite dishwasher monk, and modern day martyrs.

There are artists: novelists Flannery O’Connor and Walker Percy, film-maker Robert Bresson, actor Sir Alec Guinness (a daily communicant; who knew?).

There are divine eccentrics: Bartolo Longo, ex-Satanist priest. Marthe Robin, who supposedly never slept, survived for 40 years on the Eucharist, and received the stigmata each Friday.

“Here comes everybody,” as James Joyce quipped of the Church.

Glory be to God.
And here's a link in which I've included a few excerpts.

I do think this would make a lovely CHRISTMAS GIFT. 

Thursday, September 26, 2019



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

Toward the end of World War II, an unknown U.S. serviceman, stationed in India, took over a hundred black-and-white photographs of the people and life in rural West Bengal.

Decades later, Chicago-based artists Alan Teller and Jerri Zbiral bought an estate-sale shoebox of photos and negatives, a treasure trove that would forever link their destinies to that unknown soldier’s.

Through Jan. 26, 2020, an exhibit called “Following the Box” at the Pacific Asia Museum in Pasadena, features 12 contemporary artists, two American and 10 Indian, who have been inspired by the photographs to create works of their own.

Each artist was given digital and/or print copies of the photographs and asked to incorporate, deconstruct, or in some way imaginatively spin off of them.

Disciplines include painting, photography, film, mixed-media, installation, graphic arts, graphic novels, book art and folk art.


Thursday, September 19, 2019



It's not in trouble here.  I have hit the ground running upon returning from my month in Idaho and week-long road trip on either end, have fallen in love with LA all over again, and am obsessed with migrating (eventually) to a new website.

The light in September! Every day I am torn, and from about three pm on, would easily simply sit on my balcony and drink it all in till the sun goes down.


I love women. In fact it's because I do love us that I feel we have veered somewhat off track. I think the woman who wrote the below is onto something.

"The idea that men don’t have to think about the things women think about—but should!—is at the heart of feminism’s complaints today. It is at once a silly and impossible demand. It requires that we not only reorient society to accommodate all of women’s desires but that we rewire men’s brains to share all of women’s concerns.

This is a game men cannot win. Having been twisted into pretzels to be supportive and thoughtful and to limit their ambitions to make room for those of their wives, men in the American elite are now being publicly blamed for the fact that their wives cannot turn off their consciences, their sense of obligation to their children, and the nagging sense that maybe making money and having things aren’t the most rewarding things to do with your life...

Feminism has already largely corrected everything it can possibly correct, including the behavior of men. So now what?

Fourth-wave feminists are living through a period in which feminist dreams have become reality. And they are finding that reality unpleasant...

Maybe we shouldn’t be surprised. Feminism may have delivered greater freedom for women, but it has never delivered greater happiness. In fact, longitudinal surveys suggest that women are less satisfied with their lives today than they were a few decades ago. Having more choices—as we all do in an age where Amazon can bring thousands of brands of shampoo to our doorstep tomorrow and Facebook allows us to pick among 17 different gender identities—does not make our lives richer...

This is not a problem that feminism or any political or social movement can solve. It is not a problem at all. It is the human condition." [italics mine].

-Naomi Schaeffer Riley, from a Commentary piece entitled "Feminism Is In Trouble"

Check out my newest book, RAVISHED: NOTES ON WOMANHOOD if the spirit moves, as well.

Wednesday, September 11, 2019


Now that I've completed it, here's what my month-long artist's residency looked like:

Up at 5:30 for the stupendous sunrise, then prayer, then work, then usually 11:30 Mass, then lunch, then my chore of helping put away the dishes, then more work or a nap or a phone call, then the hour-long walk up the hill, then (often) Evening Prayer, then supper, then dishes, then reading or a movie.

Sometimes, to get really zany, I would leave the walk till AFTER SUPPER!

The sisters at the Monastery of St. Gertrude were wonderful, especially since I was basically a guest in their home, a fact of which I was at all times acutely aware. I did pretty darn well, for me. Did not get crabby, surly, sullen, impatient, sarcastic or snippy, a feat made possible ONLY by the fact that as I said, I spent 95% of the time by myself.

Another crazy stroke of luck: the other artist-in-residence was Dana Stevens of Brooklyn, NY, film critic for SLATE, a wonderful writer, and an all-around stellar human being.

Dana REALLY never got crabby, sullen, or sarcastic, and instead exhibited a refreshing and unflagging curiosity about all things prairie, Benedictine spirituality, and the mysteries of the monastery building which were legion and included working dumbwaiters, a beauty parlor, a Halloween costume room, a craft room, a sewing room, a pantry the size of my bedroom at home filled with shelves of homemade preserves, a library, a former infirmary, an "old kitchen" with two huge gleaming cast-iron woodstoves, a lab where soaps and balms are made, the room with Sr. Placida's antique bookbinder, and more.

As it was, and though we were constantly snooping about, we barely scratched the surface.

Having now experienced a few "transition" days in Boise before heading out later today t begin the drive back to LA, I realize I barely "relaxed" for a single hour while I was there. Not that I didn't sit in the morning staring out the window, but I was generally planning my work day (how could it be that even in a monastery, there weren't enough hours!?). I was so thrilled to have silence, solitude, and a relatively uninterrupted day that I wanted to take advantage of every second to work.

More to the point, I realize now, I really, really did not want to feel.

is the rough translation



My 80-year-old Cousin Dickie died last March. The last remaining "family homestead" (built by my paternal grandfather on Rye Beach, NH, and much visited and beloved by all my siblings and I as kids and beyond) has been sold, the proceeds divided, and as often happens during such times, some old wounds were reopened--and now await healing.

Plus it's fall already, and WHAT HAPPENED TO 2019!? I know they say time seems to pass more quickly the older you get, but this is ridiculous! I tend to want to cling to all people, places, and things--Wait, where are you going? I didn't get a chance to FULLY drink you in! 

But that's not the way reality works. Reality rushes in, relentlessly, one second marching on to another...

Now I'm enjoying (among many other things), the Boise River Greenbelt, a genius urban feature that should be adopted across the land...

Tomorrow I'll head south, stopping once again in Winnemucca, NV (about the only place on a long stretch between Boise and the Eastern Sierras), then to the Bristlecone Forest, and Friday--home.

Being away has made me appreciate my beloved LA all over again.

I will hit the ground running, with a memorial AND an end-of-summer party the very next day.

I can't wait to see my garden--and to play the piano.


Sunday, September 8, 2019


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

William S. “Two-Gun Bill” Hart (1864-1946) was a silent film star. Wildly popular in their time, his movies tended to follow the same arc — he started out bad and ended up good.

Born in upstate New York, Hart began his career as a Shakespearean stage actor. His breakout film, “The Bargain,” opened in 1914, when he was 50 years old. In 1915 and 1916, he was voted the biggest money-making star in the U.S.

He built his retirement home in Newhall, near what is now the confluence of the 5 and the 114 freeways: “La Loma de los Vientos” — “The Hill of the Winds” — he called it. The architect was Arthur R. Kelly, whose other designs included the Wilshire Country Club in Hancock Park and what we now know as the Playboy Mansion. He specialized in the Spanish Colonial Revival style and completed the Newhall project around 1925.

When Hart died, he left all 265 acres to Los Angeles County, with the proviso that the house be converted into a museum, open to the public for free.



Thursday, September 5, 2019



I am winding down my intense month of work, silence, solitude, and prayer here at the Monastery of St. Gertrude.

Much of my time was spent refining and editing a little ms. I've been working up over the past couple of years: HARROWED: Misadventures in an Urban Garden. (Come on, who would not want to buy that!?)

Then, this past week, I was seized with the borderline manic, obsessive thought that I should revamp my entire website/blog. I've done many fine tunes, but the fact is that I've been maintaining this Blogger site for almost ten years!

And for about the last five, have been thinking of migrating over to Wordpress, which has way fancier templates, widgets, gadgets, graphics et cetera.

As soon as I started investigating, I entered a vortex of possibilities, explorations, frustrations, excitement and fears. I'll definitely need to hire someone to help me.

And I've also been thinking a lot about how I kind of pride myself on my home-made-ishness, which is fine except that "pride" may be the operative word. I tend impatiently to think, Okay, I have some small obligation to "get my stuff out there," but I am going to spend MOST of my time on what I enjoy: the writing itself, the pondering, the wandering.

I tend to think of my "online presence," such as it is, in other words, as a box I need to check off.

Whereas now, I'm thinking more, why not view a revamped website and blog as a project in itself, the equivalent almost of a book? Why not invite someone who knows what he's doing (I have someone in mind already, and yes, it's a man!) and collaborate? Why not look at the "face" I present to the world as its own work of art? (Not that I haven't thought that all along, but I could definitely give 100% to it instead of maybe 68 or so).

I've had my domain,, hooked up to here,, so you've been able to find me either place.

While the new site is under construction, which will probably be months, I'll continue to post and update news and events here, at shirtofflame.


In connection with all of the above, the below is from a talk entitled "RELIGIOUS SENSE AND ART: The human person’s aspiration toward beauty: A yearning for the ideal" given by Crossroads Cultural Center on March 8, 2010.

The speaker is Etsuro Sotoo, a Japanese sculptor strongly influenced by Gaudí and a convert to Catholicism

"No one knows what the future will bring. But it’s clear that Gaudí was headed in a direction completely different from the way mankind has progressed up to this point, and somewhat different from the way we are headed now. For example, buildings are built in opposition to the force of gravity. In New York today, people have build the most amazing buildings, but they’re really built against gravity; they don’t use the power of gravity.

Gaudí believed that the sun, the air, water, and even gravity, exist for us; that people are born from them. He believed that we and gravity are not enemies, but must be friends, and that this is the future. How long can we continue to fight against nature? Shouldn’t we instead use the power of nature to its fullest, use it 100%? Isn’t that the path people should take?

In order to not fight against gravity, Gaudí created his structures like an inverted suspended thread. In other words, by taking a formation designed by gravity and turning it upside down, he was able to use the power of design in his construction. By turning it upside down, gravity supports the structure. Can you understand this? It’s difficult to visualize, but it’s very simple. There are many people in the world who say they understand Gaudí. But he’s so simple that he is difficult to understand. That is Gaudí.

Gaudí believed in love. In his words, “First there is love, then technology.” Aren’t we completely dependent on technology? But the future is not in technology. If we were to proceed only with technology, how long would it be before mankind perished? What has brought us to this point has been friendship, the love of the family, love between people: because we value the heart. This is what has enabled us to live to this point. If we lose our hearts, if we choose to abandon love, then mankind will perish someday."

Saturday, August 31, 2019



How quickly my time has gone at the Monastery of St. Gertrude.

I leave early next Saturday morning for four days in Boise, then down through Nevada to the Bristlecone Forest in the Eastern Sierras, a night in Independence, CA (home of Mary Austin, author of Land of Little Rain), then home.

The schedule here, which I'm free to follow or not, except if I want to eat, is roughly as follows: breakfast 7:30 to 8, Morning Prayer 8:30, Mass 11:30, Lunch 12:10, Evening Prayer 5:00, Supper 6:00.

One thing I've discovered is that minus the urban noise, and driving the freeways, my days here are pretty much the way they are at home. I wake early; spend an hour or two in prayer, spiritual reading, and gazing out the window; shower, eat a bowl of cereal, and for the rest of the morning work (have been editing a book I want to call HARROWED: The Misadventures of An Urban Gardener, plus working on columns for Magnificat and Angelus, plus mapping out my arts and culture schedule for the fall, plus contemplating revamping my website/blog, reading, and watching movies).

Then Mass, lunch, help with dishes (the month-long artist's residency is free; the sisters ask only that I help put away dishes after lunch and supper). Then I'll take a nap if did not get enough sleep, which is usually, and/or work for an hour or two more, answer emails, maybe call or answer a call from a family member or friend (I can get cell reception in my studio but not outside).

Then generally I join the sisters for Evening Prayer, then supper, dishes, and an hour-long, fairly strenuous walk up the hill behind the monastery to the cemetery and on up to a lovely clearing where you can survey the valley below and the setting sun.

En route I'll pray a Rosary, pick some wildflowers for a glass on my desk, and upon returning, read or watch a movie. There is plenty in between of reading the NYT,, and

A few readers, with whom I sympathize completely, commented recently about the difficulty many of us have in settling down, quitting ourselves of distractions, feeling guilty for reading or listening to podcasts or watching TV or movies.

One thing I see out here is how even though I pride myself on working hard, the fact is I work, I mean really work, as in sitting down, focusing, and doing the beast-of-burden, insufferably slow toil of, say, writing a column for maybe two hours a day, three if I'm lucky.

On the other hand, that's not bad. It's pretty much what I'm capable of: mentally, emotionally, and even physically. A certain kind of stamina is required consistently to write--and I do think that diminishes a bit as we age.

But the real stamina and toil for me consists in forever "remembering" that my work--and everything that goes into it--is the way I've been given to love God with all my heart, all my soul, all my strength. That doesn't mean, I realize, that my work is any good. It doesn't mean it's going to bring me worldly success, security or attention. It means I'm called to be faithful to it.

I also need to remember I have a chronic mental-emotional illness--alcoholism--and that my main job, even before writing, is to treat it on a daily basis. Also, I'm an extreme introvert. Not "having" to talk to people here for more than an hour a day has been heaven, and a breeze.

If I can stay straight on all that, I find I'm way less bothered by feelings of guilt, the urge to second-guess myself, and/or resentment at others who are "doing" more, seemingly getting more attention and love, and are clearly more "holy." I don't have to be quite so quick to justify or defend myself and my life in my head.

Early in my stay, a visual artist who was passing through remarked at dinner: "I'm so torn. With all the horrible things going on in the world, I'm really starting to question whether it's okay for me to spend all my time making art."

I kept my big mouth shut, especially since she'd hardly asked my opinion, but I did think: Of course art helps alleviate the suffering of the world. Of course our desire for, and efforts toward, goodness, truth and beauty matter absolutely. If I did not think art basically holds the world together, I wouldn't have devoted my life to it.

Also of course I need only hear, for example, that, say, a friend of a friend is entering his 16th month in jail, awaiting trial for trespassing at a nuclear weapons facility, to be thrown into an abyss of self-doubt. If I had faith the size of a mustard seed, I, too, would be in prison! I, too, would be doing something noble and self-sacrificing and important!

If I've made any progress at all, it may be that now it takes hours instead of days to remember that I am doing something important--for me, the most important thing in the world. I remember the Flannery O'Connor quote that gave me "permission" to quit my job as a lawyer almost 25 years ago now: "We are not judged by what we are basically. We are judged by how hard we use what we have been given. Success means nothing to the Lord, nor gracefulness."

Every time I think I have the cross down, I discover all over again that I don't. Suffering, for love of Christ, helps heal the world. But so, under the right circumstances (which only we can discern, which is why that hour or two of prayer in the morning is ESSENTIAL) do watching films, gabbing with our friends, listening to podcasts, buying a new pair of shoes. If joy, fun, and praise don't do honor to Christ, we're left with masochism, and a competition to see who can suffer most.

Whereas once we're grounded in him, and more or less clear on what we were put on earth for--as St. Augustine said, "Love, and do what thou wilt."

Plus it's summer already! Or was...

Plus the less I think about myself and my "progress," in any way and on any level, the way better for me and everyone else in this vale of tears.

"Living a full and overflowing life does not rest in bodily health, in circumstances, nor in seeing God's work succeed, but in the perfect understanding of God, and in the same fellowship and oneness with him that Jesus Himself enjoyed. But the first thing that will hinder this joy is the subtle irritability caused by giving too much thought to our circumstances."
--Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest, August 31

"Reading a book, visiting a museum, wandering out to people-watch at the park. Though we purport to value artists and romanticize their muses, the aforementioned activities aren’t often recognized as work."
--Bonnie Tsui, from a June 19, 2019 NYT op-ed piece called "You Are Doing Something Important When You Aren’t Doing Anything"

"How beautiful it is to do nothing and then rest afterward."
--Spanish Proverb

Happy Labor Day!