Friday, May 17, 2019



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

The first thing I turned to in the newspaper as a kid was Ann Landers’ advice column.

I couldn’t get enough — still can’t — of human dysfunction. The letters were longish but Ann’s advice was always succinct, practical, and to the point.

“You have every right to tell your in-laws that they cannot smoke in your home.”

“That child needs to be seen by a professional for evaluation.”

“Give Gloria notice — either she stops seeing that married man, or she will have to move out at the end of the month.”

My favorite was when Ann hit some prying busybody with the familiar zinger, MYOB: Mind Your Own Business.

Enter “Tiny Beautiful Things,” a book by mega-popular author Cheryl Strayed and now a play that was recently staged at the Pasadena Playhouse. Strayed wrote an anonymous advice column for a time under the pen name Sugar and, after revealing her identity, collected the letters into “Tiny Beautiful Things.”

Steve Almond, the writer who originally passed on the column to Strayed, calls her approach “radical empathy.”

That’s one way to put it: padding around her suburban kitchen in a hoodie and pajama bottoms, to my mind Sugar (played here by Nia Vardalos) makes every problem about herself: her grief over her mother’s death, her fling with heroin, the risks she’s so bravely taken (and that worked out, because look, here she is, the best-selling author of “Wild,” writing an advice column that will also be a bestseller!).



Tuesday, May 14, 2019



Further evidence of God's sense of humor: I am flying to Columbus, Ohio this coming Sunday to tape an episode of "The Journey Home" with EWTN's Marcus Grodi.

That's right. I'm going to hit the Eternal World Television Network Airwaves. (That's assuming the taping goes okay, which you never know).

I feel my own story would more aptly be titled "The Eternally Wandering Lost Sheep," but of course I'm honored to have been invited to tell it. I notice my mind this week has been mulling over potential ways to sound wise, deep, subtly subversive (whatever that might mean under the circumstances), and all kinds of other unsavory things best left to those who actually are wise, deep et cetera.

So my plan is to go to Confession Sat. night and let the chips fall where they way on Monday. I'm sure I'll be my usual semi-incoherent, weepy self, desperate to wedge in a funny line or two. And that will be fine. Let it be done unto me according to Thy word.

As much to the point, as soon as I learned I'd be flown into Columbus and back, I thought, Well what's Columbus like? Let me check it out. So I did a little research and found they have what sounds like a wonderful river walk, and the whole place is kind of wanderable, and the long and the short of it I will then be staying three days in a dear little airbnb near Schiller Park. (And yes, I will be visiting the Jubilee Museum).

"Greater love hath no man than to lay down one's life for one's friends." Being open, curious, participatory to me are part of laying down my life. Columbus resident Peg Matthews sent a beautiful note with tons of eating and cultural suggestions, and long-time reader the good Mary Beth Paul, also of the Columbus area, has pledged to pick me up and take me to Inniswood Gardens one day during my stay.

"He who loses his life shall find it." Because in the laying down, always we are met by those who are laying their lives down for us.

Saturday, May 11, 2019


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

“Behind the Bullet” is a documentary, directed and produced by Heidi Yewman, with the tagline: “4 Shooters. 4 Stories. A New Perspective on Gun Violence.”

Yewman is a graduate of Columbine High School and lost her former basketball coach Dave Sanders in the 1999 mass shooting. She’s since written a book, also called “Beyond the Bullet,” subtitled “Personal Stories of Gun Violence Aftermath.”

Still, she intentionally tried to keep her own bias out of it. “I want to have a conversation with people, especially gun owners, and I can’t do that if they’re feeling judged or preached to.”

Thus, the film offers no statistics till the closing credits. And its focus is not on people who have been shot, but rather the impact on those who have pulled the trigger.

The first person we meet is Christen McGinnes, who is putting on makeup and has clearly undergone some kind of major physical trauma. “One of the hardest things I had to face was not having a face,” she says. “The two years I couldn’t eat, talk or drink were the most difficult.”

McGinnes had bought a gun in case someone broke into her room. In a moment of profound emotional pain, she picked it up, went out on her balcony, prayed for forgiveness, and shot herself in the head.

She now works with other gunshot trauma victims, and at the time had undergone 45 surgeries. I had to close my eyes during Operation No. 46 shown in the film, but the point was well taken: This is what a gunshot does to a human face.

Says Yewman: “It was hard to find someone who had survived a suicide by gun, and who could and would talk about it. We spend a lot of time talking about school shootings, but the fact is that 60 percent of gun deaths are from suicide. So I felt I really should include one such story.”


Wednesday, May 8, 2019


Following my column about Clare Kipps' Sold for a Farthing (the story of a domesticated sparrow), I learned of another memoir of a "house bird." The protagonist of That Quail, Robert lived in Orleans, Massachusetts during the 1960s with a couple named Tom and Mildred Kienzle. The author was a neighbor.

Displacement of very small objects did not escape his notice. He was intimately acquainted with the objects in Mildred's dressing table, since he was usually on it when she was sitting there. But let a bottle of nail polish be left where it did not belong, as on the stand in the bathroom, and Robert's world was disturbed. He would stalk and call, stalk and call, until the situation was remedied...

[A]t about the same time...Robert gave up sleeping in the carton. At bedtime, which for Robert was usually about seven o'clock unless there happened to be company whom he did not want to miss, he signified that he was ready to go to sleep by getting up in a philodendron plant, which was on an end table. There he would make his sleepy sounds, pull up one leg, settle himself on the other, and with eyes closed, his head would droop. He was unmistakably tired. Someone was always there to pick him up and put him in the carton under his lamp. But one night he disappeared. He was found later on a high shelf in the dressing room off the big bedroom, should asleep on a red velvet pillbox hat. He looked so cozy that they left him there, and from then on that was it...Since the crown of the hat was soft, just his head was visible. When the light went on, he would open one eye, give a little purr of recognition, and go back to sleep. 

--Margaret A. Stanger, That Quail, Robert


Monday, May 6, 2019


Last fall I gave a talk in New Orleans to a group of women from the organization Theresians International. One of them recently emailed me this litany she subsequently wrote, based at least in part on my observation that some of the worst violence is the violence we do ourselves. 

I liked it so much that I asked permission to post it--thank you, Rosemary! 


Leader 1: We are pausing now to reflect on how violence may be a part of our lives.
First we invite you to read the litany in silence. Second we will read the litany together.

Leader 2:      For the times I have compared myself to others:  
All:                Wonderful Creator, help me to accept myself just as I am.

Leader 1:      For the times I have tried to be perfect
All:                Gentle One, help me to accept my limitations.

Leader 2:      For the times I have tried to be all things to all people
All:                Mother of My Heart, help me be true to myself.

Leader 1:      For the times I have failed to say “No” When “yes” was too much for me
All:                Compassionate One, help me to honor my needs.

Leader 2:      For the times I thought others actions were a reflection on me.
All:                Gracious Spirit, help me release them to live their own lives.

Leader 1:      For the times I berated myself for not being in shape.
All:                God of Struggle, help me to care gently for myself.

Leader 2:      For the times I berated myself for not being more involved
All:                Liberator, help me to do everything with love.

Leader 1:      For the times I thought I was failing in spiritual progress
All:                Seeker of Silence, help me to trust in you.

Leader 2:      For the times I thought I was not holy enough
All:                Spirit Within, deepen my awareness of your presence.

Written by Rosemary Simek
Inspired by Heather King


Friday, May 3, 2019


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

“Defiant Requiem” is both a documentary film and the name given to a multimedia concert drama, directed by Murry Sidlin, which was recently performed at UCLA’s Royce Hall.

The film features several former inmates of the Nazi concentration camp at Terezín, a concentration camp 30 miles north of Prague in the Czech Republic during World War II.

By September 1942, a town built for 6,000 held 60,000. There was never enough food. In a single year, half the population died from typhus.

Still, many of the inmates were intellectuals, artists, musicians.

Scholars began giving lectures on science, religion, psychology. Rabbis transformed a hidden room into a secret synagogue. The camp erupted into a thriving cultural center, “an academy of prisoners.”

When the transports east to an unknown fate began, inmate Rafael Schächter turned to one of his most precious possessions: a single score of Giuseppe Verdi’s Requiem Mass. A conductor, he decided to teach the inmates to play and sing what is universally acknowledged as one of the world’s most demanding choral pieces.

An outcry went out around the camp. Why pick a Catholic Mass when there are works by, say, Handel, on Jewish themes?

Because, explained Schächter, the Requiem takes as its central theme the notion of holy judgment. The “Dies Irae” (“Wrath of God”) runs:

“A written book shall be brought forth

which contains everything

for which the world will be judged.

And so when the Judge takes his seat

Whatever is hidden shall be made manifest,

Nothing shall remain unavenged.”


Tuesday, April 30, 2019



Am I alone in this, or are there certain saints you just can't cotton to?

God forgive me and I'm sure she's praying for me in heaven, but I cannot for the life of me for example get the appeal of St. Faustina and that corny Divine Mercy painting. She's always telling some anecdote where one of her sisters FOOLISHLY  as it turns out underestimated her, and then humble-bragging that Jesus appeared and anointed he for some special mission, using words that do not sound remotely in any way like those used by Our Savior in the Gospels.

Such as "My love deceives no one," and "Get to know God by contemplating his attributes" and "You will go back to earth, and there you will suffer much, but not for long; you will accomplish my will and my desires, and a faithful servant of mine will help you do this."

Jesus for one thing is a man of few words. Like to Mary Magdalene, in the Garden after the Resurrection, he said simply, "Mary." To St. Francis, "Rebuild my Church." To Saul, "Why dost thou persecutest me?" To Mother Teresa, oh I don't know, that thing on the train, "Help me out" or something like that. Plus he was never gratuitously cryptic. "A faithful servant of mine will help you do this," instantly gives rise to the obsessive thought, "Well, who already?"

 On the cross, he said, to Mary, "Woman, behold your son," and to John, "Behold your mother." He didn't leave them guessing.

Then there's Catherine of Siena who--I mean did she really have to drink the pus from her mother superior's cancerous breast? It's not so much that it grosses me out, but isn't it enough that we have to try to find affordable health insurance. and live in a culture where schoolchildren are being massacred by fellow gun-owning citizens, and accept the fact that Trader Joe's no longer carries fat-free creamer?

When I was in Rome a few years ago, some very nice nuns the way I remember it took me through  St. Catherine's quite beautiful church and I'm pretty sure urged me to kneel in her crypt which was under an altar of some kind I think...I felt pretty guilty and I'm sure apologized down there for not being crazy about her. I'm sure she's praying for me, too. Still, I find I rarely groove to her reflections.

The point being 1) what do I know? and 2) the whole beauty of the treasury of the Church's saints is that there is someone in there to appeal to everyone. I adore the Virgin Martyrs for example who I'm sure aren't everyone's cup of tea. And Christ no doubt speaks, when he does speak, in the language and words that are bound to resonate with the particular  heart he's addressing.

Like to me he kind of says, Hon, could you please try not to be QUITE so much of a crab, jerk, showoff, whiner, etc, as the case may be on any given day.

Pray for us, Sts. Faustina and Catherine of Siena!


Friday, April 26, 2019


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

Kathryn Kuhlman (1907-1976), a Methodist faith healer and born-again Christian, had a weekly program in the 1960s and ’70s that I sorely regret having missed.

How can you not love an evangelist who was married (briefly) to a man named Burroughs A. Waltrip of Dallas, and who was sued by her personal administrator for purportedly stashing away a million bucks in jewelry and another million in fine art?

Plus I actually agree with everything she says: “I, too, beLIEVE in miracles! I, too believe that Jesus Chrrrist is the very Son of the living God. I, too, believe that love is something you … DO!”

Which brings me to “Faith Healer,” by Irish playwright Brian Friel, at the Odyssey Theater Ensemble in West LA through May 12.

Director Ron Sossi (also the Odyssey’s artistic director) describes the play as “at once a Rashomon type mystery, a delving into talent versus sham and, ultimately, a uniquely metaphysical view of life” — well, sign me up!

Brian Friel (1929-2015), perhaps best known for “Dancing at Lughnasa,” wrote prodigiously and is considered one of Ireland’s most prominent contemporary playwrights. “Faith Healer” premiered in 1979 and comprises four monologues.



Friday, April 19, 2019



I am eating a large slice of three-day-old bread, sitting in my room with the fan turned up in a feeble attempt to drown out the construction noise in the apt above mine, and thinking of
Christ, scourged, bloody, exhausted, thirsty, being nailed to a cross on Mt. Calvary.

I'm also contemplating how I can complete the cleanup I've committed to at one one of many meetings in ten minutes flat later today, then race to St. Andrew's for the Good Friday service at 1:30.

Wonderful reflections in Magnificat this Holy Week.

From the First Station of the Via Matris--The Way of Our Sorrowful Mother (modeled on the Via Crucis, or Way of the Cross)--by Fr. Peter John Cameron. The First Station is The Prophecy of Simeon at the Presentation, when Christ as an infant was presented at the Temple to be consecrated to God, and Simeon, an elderly prophet, told Mary: "And you yourself a sword will pierce so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed."

"What Mary is promised on this joyous day is sorrow. How many of us come to God with presuppositions, prejucides and presumptions about how life should be. We are cursed with the desire to bend destiny to our own way of  seeing things, our skewed expectations. Left to ourselves, we idolize our urge to establish meaning and value as we would like them to be. We wonder: How can humiliation, contradiction, persecution, privation, pain, betrayal, suffering, or loss in any way contribute to our happiness? There are the very thoughts that the pierced heart of Mary lays bare for us."

And from the First Station of the Via Crucis: Jesus is Condemned to Death, by Monsignor Charles Fink:

"Lord life seems very unfair at times, and we are apt to feel sorry for ourselves. Why do others get recognition when we do not? Why do the evil prosper while we, trying to be good, barely make ends meet? Why do things so often go not as we would like them to? Lord, when such questions arise to haunt us, let us find comfort in you--perfect innocence, unjustly condemned. Let us remember that ever since the Fall of Adam, life has been, and ever will be unfair; that we are called to be good not for immediate good but because you are good; that if we are treated unfairly, it is nothing compared to the unfairness with which you were treated; and that the response is not "Why me, Lord?" bur rather, "Lord, I know that you are with me in this trial."

It's true--I tend not to be terribly surprised when life treats others unjustly; but I'm always shocked when life treats me unjustly. I like to think my role is to comfort, console and support those who have been treated unjustly--seldom does it occur to me that my role is to cast my lot with the rest of humanity/the Mystical Body, and put up with being treated unjustly myself.

It's always a comfort to know I'm not doing anything "wrong." I haven't failed at being a good manager and controller. I've just one more time been shown that all the managing and controlling in the world doesn't prevail one iota against the human condition, against reality.

And this from last night, Holy Thursday:

"One day [Christ] said to Saint Catherine of Siena: "I take thy heart from thee and give thee mine."

Ponder THAT for a moment--as Christ commends his spirit to God and, in the final Agony, breathes his last.


Monday, April 15, 2019


Another reading tip: Christiane Ritter's A Woman in the Polar Night.

Here's the Kirkus Review:

The isolation of Arctic Spitsbergen which Mrs. Ritter faced with her husband for a long season brought unique trials and joys. In pensive prose she unfolds the fierce glory of the Arctic as she watched the waning of the light, walked through December no-man's-mist into the eerie splendor of perpetual, brilliant night, waited through storm in the solitary Gray Hook hut for the return of her husband. Pitting human strength against the forces of nature in a simple issue of survival, she acquired the ""polar mentality"" peculiar to the place, an immense calm and acceptance of life-rhythms. With the spring came the pack-ice and the bears, foxes and seals for food and pelt -- having seen a dead world, she rejoiced in the miracle of life. Unusual, thoughtful, this has beauty in the simple expression of immense interior experience.

The season in question occurred in the mid-1930s, on the island of Spitsbergen above Norway. Christiane arrived in July. After massive packing and preparation, the long boat journey from Austria, the trepidation and excitement, the entry into "unpeopled land...montains, glaciers, blue rocks, white ice," and the prospect of getting to see her husband who she hasn't seen in months, Hermann greets her with a "There you are then," and laughs quietly. They then travel by Norwegian steamer for another day and night toward the Gray Hook coast, though "I have not the least idea in what direction we are traveling or where we are."

"My husband then reveals that there is to be another man with us for the winter." In a teeny cabin, in the middle of literally nowhere!

Christiane is not one for whining nor self-pity and a good thing. She learns to cook and eat seal, ptarmigan, eider ducks whose severed heads are used for bait to catch foxes. Carcasses, skeletons and skins in varying states of decay litter the yard and are festooned over the roof.  At one point Hermann and Karl, the third guy, take off to hunt leaving her alone for thirteen days while an Arctic storm rages.

Having been advised that a daily walk is essential, she goes out in gale force winds, gets down on all fours and crawls around the cabin twenty times, ten times clockwise, ten times counterclockwise. When the men aren't out hunting (she learns to shoot, too), the three of them sew, mend, launder, knit, bake, and play patience with a deck of soot-blackened cards.

First, it's light all the time, then, slowly, it becomes dark all the time--for months. The beauty, ever-changing, is indescribable. But the Arctic is not for the faint of heart or psyche.

"Today the heavens are shining in the blue light of the vanished day. In the north a red-yellow moon stands out against a bank of fog. Like the reflection of a distant conflagration the northern lights, growing steadily more visible, drift in subdued reddish gleams across the sky. Moonlight and Arctic light are warm and glowing in contrast to the cold blue of the sky...[T]he spur of the mountain stretching in front of it is in shadow. It looks as though the jaws of hell had opened behind the shadowed mountain wall, outlining its massive bulk with a diabolical glare. 

These are scenes not made for human eyes. The drama of the polar world sinking slowly into shadow is played out in utter silence and remoteness. The scenes are charged with sorcery."

Then she learns of another danger: becoming moonstruck:

"It is full moon. No European can have any idea of what this means on the smooth frozen surface of the earth. It is as though we were dissolving in moonlight, as though the moonlight were eating us up. It makes no difference when we go back into the hut under the snow after a moonlight trip. The light seems to follow us everywhere. One's entire consciousness is penetrated by the brightness; it is as though we were being drawn into the moon itself...Neither the walls of the hut nor the roof of snow can dispel my fancy that I am moonlight myself, gliding along the glittering spines and ridges of the mountains, through the white valleys...

"Now Chrissie has got rar,"* says Karl, shaking his head.  "Ishavet kaller. ** You must be reasonable."

*Rar--the strangeness which overcomes many who spend the winter in polar regions.
** Ishavet kaller--the Arctic calls. This is what the Spitsbergen hunters say when one of their comrades, for mysterious reasons of his own, throws himself into the sea, an occurrence that is still authentically reported today (the book was published in 1938).

Weird, right?

I have a version of kar at home that consists of occasionally wanting to lie down, leave a note saying, "Wake me when it's over" and swallow a whole huge bunch of sleeping pills.

But no: of all weeks, no. Whatever our own suffering, we must stay awake for an hour with Christ as he undergoes the Agony in the Garden at Gethsemane.

Blessed Holy Week to all. 


Friday, April 12, 2019


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

Nothing brings me more joy than sharing a little-known book. Here is one such hidden treasure: “Sold for a Farthing,” by Clare Kipps (1953).

Kipps was an air raid warden in London. Her husband died in 1940. Two weeks later she found an injured sparrow on her front stoop.

“Feeling that if a new-born infant is left outside one’s doorstep something should be done about it, I picked it up, wrapped it in warm flannel and, sitting over the kitchen fire, endeavored for several hours to revive it. After I had succeeded in opening its soft beak … I propped it open with a spent match and dripped one drop of warm milk every minute down its little throat.”

The bird had a deformed leg and one wing set at an odd angle. Knowing that releasing him into the wild would mean certain death, she proceeded to nurse him back to health. A mutual bond was formed and the two ended up living in a kind of strange, quasi-conjugal bliss for the next 12 years.

At first Kipps had to learn not to step on, disturb, or inadvertently crush the sparrow. Though the bird was tamed, Kipps, to her credit, never viewed him as a pet. She viewed him as an equal, a creation of God: an individual unlike any other, worthy of observation, respect, and love. Her aim was to call the bird as high as its capacities and gifts allowed.


Tuesday, April 9, 2019


"The more unintelligent a man is, the less mysterious existence seems to him."
--Arthur Schopenhauer

Also, Schopenhauer argued, the higher your tolerance for noise, the lower your intelligence. Piggybacking on my post of last week--because stupid people don't think.

Plus how would you like to live in this Manhattan neighborhood? Where Rich Neighbors Are Digging a Basement Pool in Their $100 Million Brownstone, and the "extremely loud and incredibly expensive renovations have shattered a formerly quiet residential block." One elderly man who had lived in his apartment for years DIED in the midst of this unholy cacophony.

I'm doing slightly better since my last post, and I will leave the subject after this.

But what I don't understand is how any thinking human being could impose such noise on another. I would as soon hack off a man's arm with a machete as creep up under his window and blast a leaf-blower, or subject a renter to six months of daily construction noise, or explode my basement to put in a swimming pool. I do think we prepare our place in the afterlife here on earth and--let's just leave it at that.

I barely even know who Schopenhauer is but I learned of his quote about noise from the above NYT article and look--here is a whole delightful essay on the subject!

In his day, the bane of his existence was the incessant cracking of whips over horses and other poor animals--so at least we can be grateful we're past that.

Here's how the essay begins:

Kant has written a treatise on The Vital Powers; but I should like to write a dirge on them, since their lavish use in the form of knocking, hammering, and tumbling things about has made the whole of my life a daily torment. Certainly there are people, nay, very many, who will smile at this, because they are not sensitive to noise; it is precisely these people, however, who are not sensitive to argument, thought, poetry or art, in short, to any kind of intellectual impression: a fact to be assigned to the coarse quality and strong texture of their brain tissues. On the other hand, in the biographies or in other records of the personal utterances of almost all great writers, I find complaints of the pain that noise has occasioned to intellectual men. For example, in the case of Kant, Goethe, Lichtenberg, Jean Paul; and indeed when no mention is made of the matter it is merely because the context did not lead up to it. I should explain the subject we are treating in this way: If a big diamond is cut up into pieces, it immediately loses its value as a whole; or if an army is scattered or divided into small bodies, it loses all its power; and in the same way a great intellect has no more power than an ordinary one as soon as it is interrupted, disturbed, distracted, or diverted; for its superiority entails that it concentrates all its strength on one point and object, just as a concave mirror concentrates all the rays of light thrown upon it. Noisy interruption prevents this concentration. This is why the most eminent intellects have always been strongly averse to any kind of disturbance, interruption and distraction, and above everything to that violent interruption which is caused by noise; other people do not take any particular notice of this sort of thing. The most intelligent of all the European nations has called “Never interrupt” the eleventh commandment. But noise is the most impertinent of all interruptions, for it not only interrupts our own thoughts but disperses them. Where, however, there is nothing to interrupt, noise naturally will not be felt particularly. Sometimes a trifling but incessant noise torments and disturbs me for a time, and before I become distinctly conscious of it I feel it merely as the effort of thinking becomes more difficult, just as I should feel a weight on my foot; then I realise what it is.

I write from the Pasadena Central Library and am thinking I should leave these good people some money in my will. Even filled with homeless people, the place is way quieter than my apartment.

In fact, I wonder if the homeless don't come here for some quiet, too.

Friday, April 5, 2019



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

The Adventurers’ Club of Los Angeles, established in 1921, is a private men’s club that occasionally opens its doors to ladies for an evening that includes dinner and a lecture. I attended on one such recent night and found myself thrust into a delightful warp of time and culture.

Located at the juncture of the 5 and the 110, the club is situated in a Lincoln Heights neighborhood of pool halls and nail salons. Skirting the prostitutes plying their wares on Broadway, you go up a set of stairs and find yourself plunged into a space with the decor and feel of the silent-movie era.

Edgar Rice Burroughs might have spoken here, or Roald Amundsen, polar explorer, who probably actually did speak here, given that he was a member (#188A).

A very nice man named Matthew, who at 32 is the second-youngest member of the club, gave me a tour. My head reeled: a stuffed polar bear shot by Steven L. Rose on March 13, 1965, in the Chukchi Sea; a zebra skin splayed across the dining room wall; laminated newspaper articles with headlines such as, “Nile Conqueror Recounts Thrills,” LA Times Sept. 13, 1951; “Peter DePaolo, Indy 500 Winner, Dead at 82,” LA Times, Nov. 27, 1980.

Names I was afraid to admit I’d never heard of were dropped in hushed and worshipping tones: Doolittle (Jimmy Doolittle, #800, General, USAF); MacCready (Paul MacCready, #959, designer of the first man-powered plane to cross the English Channel).



Monday, April 1, 2019



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

A few years ago a friend gave me a book called “The Life of Christ in Woodcuts” by James Reid — per the jacket one of “a host of maverick artists” from the early 20th century who “introduced the idea of the graphic novel, a story told exclusively with wood engravings.”

Originally brought out in 1930, the book was republished in 2009 by Dover Press.

“Glory be to God,” wrote poet Gerard Manley Hopkins for “All things counter, original, spare, strange.” I can hardly think of a better description of the person of Christ, nor of a more eloquent portrayal of that strangeness than that to be found in Reid’s work.

These beautiful, highly accomplished woodcuts make for a deeply moving book. Without using a single word, Reid somehow manages to convey the whole sweep of Christ’s birth, life, death, and resurrection. Interestingly, the cuts are not even titled: instead, the book is divided into four sections: “The Infant,” “The Boy,” “The Son of Man” and “The Messiah.”

A sorrow and a deep silence seem to surround Christ, starting in infancy and continuing throughout his exile on earth: the flight into Egypt, the garden of Gethsemane, the deposition before Pilate, the crowning with thorns.

One of my favorite blocks is of Christ as a young man, watching from afar as the other young people are pairing up, walking arm in arm around town.

Though only the back of his head is visible, you can see the idea forming: "Oh, that looks lovely. That is one of the highest callings for a human being, marriage and children! … And somehow … I am meant to live out another mystery"...


Friday, March 29, 2019



“Would it not be impossible for us to avoid evangelizing if the Gospel is in our skin, our hands, our hearts, and our heads? We are indeed obliged to say why we are trying to be what we want to be, and trying not to be what we don’t want to be…Clearly we have to make our presence in the world a casual, fragile presence, a presence that is constantly ready for new departures, or which plunges down roots without knowing from day to day how long they will remain there. This happens because we know that God alone calls, gives faith, and saves, that none of us have any real authority….It is possible that no one will respond to this call…ever. We could get a mouthful of failure.”

-- Madeleine Delbrêl

Lent is interesting this year, mainly because, three weeks in, I'm realizing I'm kind of in Lent all the time.

I'm almost always hungry, for starters, mostly because I am in some teeny sense homeless! I eat two meals a day in my car. Breakfast is barley, almonds and raisins out of a Tupperware container, and lunch comes out of the plastic bag I lug everywhere I go that contains rice cakes, almonds, prunes or dried figs and a jagged hunk of hard cheese.

It's been like that since late November when my landlord and property manager came to my door one afternoon, announced "The guys are coming tomorrow to do a little work on the apartment upstairs. One week, maybe two."

March 28 and "the guys" (three to four pickup trucks each day, four to five guys tramping past my door from 7:20 am on, making inner quiet or work of any kind impossible) are still there, six days a week, 8 to 4, with absolutely no end in sight. Soon going into the fifth month. Bandsaws, hammering, drilling, stomping, dragging, pounding.

Believe me, I have let it be known, in several ways, at various times, that the construction interferes with the "quiet enjoyment" (legal term) I'm supposedly allowed to expect as a tenant. In return for the rent I pay each month. Which last time I checked is supposed to cover 24 hours a day, not just 16.

The last such time was when I foolishly neglected to run around like a chicken with my head cut off in the morning--which is, or used to be, the best, my favorite time of day, my time for prayer, my time to gather myself--in order to pray anyway, however badly, do household chores, take a shower, make my bed, warm up my barley, pack up a tea, lunch, a cold drink, my laptop, mouse and cord, phone and whatever I'm working on in order to be out of the house at 8 a.m., prepared to be gone until 4.

Oh wait, actually I had done all that but on the day in question I had to come home on some errand and outside the door to the hallway sounded like an airplane runway. Deafening, grinding noise. The hallway! For God's SAKE! So I called the property manager and said, "WTF!!!" except I didn't use the initials. I said, "This is insane!"  I said, "I have to leave my f-ing apartment every f-ing day from 8 to 4. 1 I can't sleep, I can't work, I can't rest, I can't have anyone over, I can't take a nap. WHEN IS THIS GOING TO END!!!???"

He told me to call the landlord. So I did, and I was like Lazarus at the gate, covered in sores, begging for a drop of water. I said in so many words, This is wrong legally, morally and humanly. You're entitled to do reasonable improvements on your property but five months is not reasonable. I said please for the love of God take pity on me. I said I'm a 66-year old woman and you're putting me out of my own home for 8 hours a day. He couldn't have cared less of course (though he was also courteous and patient and let me not forget to mention the very nice movie theater and bookstore gift certificates he gave me several months ago).

And when I went to look up my "rights" (again), I found that in Pasadena anyway (which has no rent control laws) I really don't have any. The landlord (who is also a lawyer) actually does not need to give you notice that he's planning to do construction on the place, does not need to give an end date, does not have to (though he or she could certainly opt to) reduce your rent. In fact, though I've put probably 4 grand and countless hours of labor and love into creating a beautiful back garden (which both improves his property and allows him to charge higher rents), he has raised my rent (as he's allowed to by law) both years I've lived here and I expect will do so again at any minute.

Such is the life of a renter, or this renter. And though I know landlords and homeowners have many nightmare tales from their p.o.v., I mention this at all because really I have never once since I started writing had a quiet, consistently "safe" place to work. And I am coming to see either that's because 1) due to my blocks, limitations, and neuroses, I am truly incompetent to secure the same for myself 2) it's "supposed" to be that way, or 3) both.

Which in turn I mention because--it is really the conceit of my life that given the many freedoms I enjoy, that I'm unencumbered if that's the word by spouse and/or children, and that I have worked since the age of 13, I at the very least "deserve," and if I don't deserve should be able to wrangle, a small space to live that is not a source of incessant conflict and dread.

But apparently that is not to be. Yes, I could move--with all the trauma, upheaval, expense and more loss of rest, rest and quiet that entails. And I am 1000% sure that wherever I moved they would the next day decide to tear down the apartment complex beside me and erect a new one (this happened to me, twice, during my tenure in Koreatown), or trim every tree within a half mile radius with chainsaws (this has happened a number of times where I live now), or re-do the sewer up and down the street (that happened at my last apartment, a city job that took the better part of a year).

This morning the whole of Mass was overshadowed by the sound of a leaf blower.

We think we can engineer our happiness and peace but we can't. No matter how many political "freedoms" we're granted, no matter how many man-made "rights," no matter how technologically advanced. There is no peace but in Christ. There is no "progress" but toward love in Christ. The breakdowns we see around us on every level--politically, ecologically, financially, personally; the breakdown of the family, the rage, the public vitriol, the private loneliness and angst are the  predictable and inevitable manifestations of the spiritual bankruptcy that comes from trying to go the human condition alone.

I mean it's bad enough when you're NOT trying to go it alone!

So back to Lent. Hungry, tired, lonely, arid, angry, frustrated. Don't want to burden my friends, for they've heard it all before. I'm trying to fast from candy--how's that for pathetic? I mean from a bunch of other things, too: swearing, bad-mouthing, complaining, criticizing, offering unsolicited advice, jumping to conclusions, talking too much. Doing a bad job at all. Why is that any time I decide to watch my swearing I begin cursing like a stevedore? But what really hurts is the candy! I swear I'm a much nicer person, or find it easier to be a nice person, on 3 or 4 daily Swizzlers and maybe a couple of Andes mints.

Bright spots: 5-year-old neighbor Lev. Who knows right where the candy drawer is and toddled up the stairs to my apartment the other day clutching two grimy quarters and a baggie of Cheese Puffs to offer in exchange for his own handful of loot. Would NOT take the quarters back.

Mass of course and the good news is that since it behooves me to be out of the apt by 8 anyway, I have made it to the 8:15 at St. Andrew's just about every day. Homeless man there (how hard is it for HIM?) in whose pew I can anonymously drop some cash when he's in line for Communion.

The Pasadena public library from where (Central Branch) I write this.

Huntington Gardens, an oasis, a sanctuary. Thank you.

My own garden, which I'm kind of mad at because I don't want to leave it and it is a labor of love that I do in some sense for the world and that therefore keeps me there, tethered to a place that hurts me and causes me to suffer.

My legs, my lungs, my eyes. my ears.

My car, often the only place where I can hope for any silence or peace. I can't describe the number of moments these past months I have found myself pulled over by the side of the road or in some parking lot, eating out of my bag of "snacks" like a feral animal, fitfully praying a Rosary, nearly weeping with gratitude at a moment of warmth from the sun or a snatch of birdsong or just a moment where I'm not racing to get from one place to another or meet a deadline or reply to an email or answer a phone call from someone in need. Waiting for 4 o'clock so I can go home.

I had such a moment this morning as I sat eating my barley and waiting for the St. Andrew's Pastoral Center to open because I wanted to request a Mass intention for the repose of the soul of my cousin Dickie. The young woman at the counter had such a beautiful smile and was so kind. Also I picked up a prayer card for St. Joseph Labre who apparently voluntarily became a kind of semi-crazy street person and gave up money, friends and home for the love of his brothers and sisters.

"Yeah but I don't WANT to give up my home," I told God, back in my car.

"We are all rather blessed in our deprivations, if we allow ourselves to be," said Flannery O'Connor.


Monday, March 25, 2019



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

“Welcome to Tennis Paradise” reads the flower-encrusted archway over the entrance to the Indian Wells Tennis Garden.

And for once in this culture of fake news, that’s not total hyperbole.

A bit of backstory: One day at a time, for more than 30 years, I have surrendered my addiction to alcohol. But nature abhors a vacuum, and one of the things that has sprung up in its stead is a fervent — an unkind person might call it obsessive — interest in women’s professional tennis.

I started by acquainting myself with the four annual “grand slams” — the Australian Open in January (hard court), Roland Garros aka the French Open in June (clay), Wimbledon (grass) in July, and the U.S. Open (hard court) right around Labor Day.

Then, slowly, God help me, I came to understand that the tournament schedule lasts, with the exception of December, the whole year. I learned the difference between a Premier Mandatory, Premier 5, Premier, and International Tournament. I pored over the WTA ranking system.

I downloaded an app — ATP/WTA Live — that delivers live scores, daily schedules and for every match the bios — height, weight, place of birth, current residence (why so many in Monte Carlo and Geneva? Ah — tax purposes!), WTA ranking, total career money earned (fascinating!) and previous record between any given two players.

I downloaded another app called Time Snap so I could sync, as need be, with the clocks in Dubai, Qatar, Singapore, St. Petersburg, Stuttgart, Prague, Tokyo, Wuhan. I started sleeping fitfully when an exciting middle-of-the-night PST match was taking place halfway across the world.



Friday, March 22, 2019



One of our favorite relatives, known to me as Cousin Dickie, died last Friday.

Here's the obit I worked up:

Richard G. King, 80, of 1459 Ocean Boulevard died on March 15 after a long illness.

Born on July 11, 1938, in Danvers, MA, Richard came as a child to live in Rye Beach [NH] with his paternal grandparents, Jeanne and Richard G. King, Sr. He never left.

A long-time member of the Bricklayers’ Union, Richard also worked variously as a house cleaner, landscaper, handyman, and dishwasher at Portsmouth’s Metro Restaurant.

As well, he faithfully cared for both his grandmothers through their respective last long years.

Richard had an encyclopedic knowledge of the sale price of every home up and down Ocean Boulevard from approximately 1955 on, a special affinity for the Early Bird Special at Betty’s Kitchen, and a virulent aversion to Rye Beach motorcycle traffic and the current inhabitant of the White House.

He played the organ and sang a killer version of “O Holy Night” on Christmas Eve.

But his real heart was for gardening. Each fall he unearthed his treasured dahlia bulbs, wrapped them in old pages of "The Portsmouth Herald," and put them up in the cellar till spring. He had a patch of unusual pink lilies-of-the-valley, several prize irises, and a champion peony bed. “They don’t talk back to you,” he once observed of his blooms. “And if you care for them—they sing!”

He is survived by sister Nancy King-Morelli of Laconia, NH, and by cousins Allen K. King, Sr. of Los Angeles, CA, Heather D. King of Pasadena, CA, Joseph P. King of Marietta, GA, Ross J. King of Alhambra, CA, Geordie H. King of Eliot, ME, Timothy F. King of Rye Beach—Richard’s caretaker during his last years—Richard Tessier of Portsmouth, and Meredith A. King of Northampton, MA.

Funeral services will be held at Buckminster Chapel in Portsmouth.


Wednesday, March 20, 2019


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

From a recent email sent by my little brother Joe: “Hey aged relative — do you have [our brother] Ross’s address? I bought Allen [our nephew] a signed 8-by-10 glossy of Martin Milner from ‘Adam-12.’ I know he likes the show.”

Me: “Who’s Martin Milner?”

Joe: “Martin Milner? Are you tripping? Pete Malloy from Adam-12? The greatest cop show in the history of TV? Late ’60s, early ’70s? It was produced by Jack Webb, so there’s all sorts of killer episodes of stoned hippy parents who beat their children to death or let them drown while they’re smoking marijuana cigarettes. Funny as hell.”

My own TV watching came to a screeching halt right around the time “Mr. Ed” completed its run. Still, I dearly wish my brother (who heads up a punk band called The Queers) lived in LA.

For here’s a fun thing to do on the Westside: The Paley Center for Media, smack in the middle of Beverly Hills.


Tuesday, March 12, 2019


"The Church is the one thing that saves a man from the degrading servitude of being a child of his time."
-- G.K. Chesterton

“Love alone is credible.”
― Hans Urs von Balthasar


Saturday, March 9, 2019


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

Jane Brox has written, elegiacally, of growing up on her family’s Massachusetts apple farm in “Here and Nowhere Else,” “Five Thousand Days Like This One,” and “Clearing the Land.” Her nonfiction book on the evolution of artificial light is the aptly named “Brilliant.”

Her newest work — fitting for Lent — is called “Silence: A Social History of One of the Least Understood Elements of Our Lives.”

The first takeaway (perhaps unintended) is a new awareness of the hideous tortures imposed by humans upon other humans in the name of “correction.”

Brox opens with Philadelphia’s Eastern State Penitentiary, established in 1829 as an experiment in prison rehabilitation. Each cell was essentially what we would today term a Special Housing Unit (SHU).

“[D]uring the period of their confinement, no one shall see or hear, or be seen or heard by any other human being,” ran a portion of the prison’s mission statement.

Brox goes on to compare this kind of punitive silence with the silence of the monastic cloister. And to her credit, she doesn't come entirely down on either side!


Thursday, March 7, 2019


I just finished an extraordinary memoir, Running for the Hills: Growing Up on my Mother's Sheep Farm in Wales by Horatio Clare.

Like many people I know, Clare grew up with a gloriously eccentric (sometimes bordering on scary) parent (the father left soon after the mother, Horatio, and his younger brother moved to a very isolated farm). They had no money nor TV but tons of books...and nature..."[T]hough I have learned of the dangers that attend and await romantic people, that bipolar breed, the certain failure, the heartbreak--theirs and others'--and the loneliness, I cannot quite wish that they, or I, had been otherwise. If life is hills and valleys, then let the hills be high"...

Here's his description of the place they found after the boys had grown up, the mother's heart had been shattered by a later-in-life lost love, and the farm became too much: "In the end we found a large old house, half derelict, half comfortable, which had not been much messed around. It had the thick walls and the old-ship feeling of the farm. It had an old apple orchard, and there were kind neighbors nearby. Jack's cottage was just across the garden."

I don't know Jack, of course, but no matter: that is my dream house.

Tuesday, March 5, 2019



"I tell you, Edward," said my father with some severity, "we must judge men not so much by what they do, as by what they make us feel that they have it in them to do. If a man has done enough either in painting, music or the affairs of life, to make me feel that I might trust him in an emergency he has done enough. It is not by what a man has actually put upon his canvas, nor yet by the acts which he has set down, so to speak, upon the canvas of his life that I will judge him, but by what he makes me feel that he felt and aimed at. If he has made me feel that he felt those things to be loveable which I hold loveable myself I ask no more; his grammar may have been imperfect, but still I have understood him; he and I are en rapport; and I say again, Edward, that old Pontifex was not only an able man, but one of the very ablest men I ever knew."

--Samuel Butler, The Way of All Flesh

Friday, March 1, 2019


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

If there is one museum exhibit to see this year, I cast my vote for “Pontormo: Miraculous Encounters,” at the Getty. Its centerpiece is an exquisite rendering of the “Visitation.”

The Saturday I went traffic was horrible, getting into the Getty lot and finding a space took almost half an hour, and rather than stand for God knows how long more in the TSA-style security line through which visitors now have to pass simply to get on the tram, I opted to walk up the hill.

En route, I thought about how the whole experience of getting to our beloved Getty is a microcosm of our lives as Angelenos: the car, the beauty crossed with hardship, frustration, hope, and if we’re lucky, gratitude.

I thought of the “Visitation’s” backstory: how the angel Gabriel “overshadowed” the Virgin Mary, her question — “But how can this be?” — her sublime yes. Pregnant with Christ, she’d set out on foot, traversing “the hill country” to visit her aged cousin Elizabeth who, way past childbearing age, at the time was also miraculously pregnant.

To know the backstory is to know that Elizabeth was bearing into the world John the Baptist, who would say of Christ, “He must increase, and I must decrease,” who would be a voice crying out in the wilderness, and who would be beheaded in prison at the behest of a harlot and her mother.


Thursday, February 28, 2019


"It is one thing to worship Christ as the perfection of human
nature in the Incarnation. It is quite another to recognize and
welcome him "in every kind of imperfect, unlikely, and-assessed
by our own vanity-unsuitable human creature." But, [Houselander] insists,
there is "no kind of person through whom Christ will not love the
world." In particular, he chooses to dwell within those from whom
the "mediocre shrink . . . people in whom suffering is stripped
naked in all its ugliness, and whose suffering cannot be cured by
our charity.... Like the disciples in the garden we prefer to shut
our eyes rather than to enter into this suffering without being
able to hide or alleviate it. "

--Robin Maas, from "Caryll Houselander: An Appreciation"

Friday, February 22, 2019



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

In his day, Robinson Jeffers (1887-1962) was one of the nation’s best-loved poets.

He was known mainly for his epic Greek-style poems, modern-day tragedies based on California’s central coast.

He toiled in obscurity, then hit it big around the age of 37, when “Tamar and Other Poems” became a best-seller. Six years later, he was on the cover of Time.

He and his wife, Una, came to Carmel in 1914. After their twin sons were born in 1916, they bought land on an isolated, wind-swept promontory. There were no paved roads, no trees, no neighbors.

Jeffers began hauling stones up the hill from the beach by hand. With no written plans and no formal training in architecture or construction, he built an English garden-style cottage (later expanded) and, from 1920-1924, an adjacent tower of granite.

Tor House he called it, “tor” being a Celtic word meaning “outcropping of rock.”

Today you can take a docent-led tour of Tor House and Hawk Tower on Fridays or Saturdays, reservations required.

Here, you can learn all about the Jeffers’ backstory, which began with a scandal (Una was married when they met; her ex-husband, an LA lawyer, ended up building his own stone house right down the street).


Thursday, February 21, 2019


"Unhindered by the guards, we stood by the barbed-wire fence which separated our compound from the men's, and gazed spellbound at the long line of men who passed before us--silent, with bowed heads, plodding wearily in prison boots similar to ours. Their uniforms were also similar, but their trousers with the brown stripes were even more like convicts' garb than our skirts. Although one might have thought the men were stronger than we were, they seemed somehow defenseless and we all felt a maternal pity for them. They stood up to pain so badly--this was every woman's opinion--and they would not know how to mend anything or be able to wash their clothes on the sly as we could with our light things...Above all, they were our husbands and brothers, deprived of our care in this terrible place. As someone expressed it, quoting from one of Ehrenburg's early novels, "The poor dears have no one to sew their buttons on for them."

Each face seemed to me to resemble my huband's; I was so tense my head ached. All of us were straining to try to find our loved ones. Suddenly one of the men at last noticed us and cried out:

"Look, the women! Our women!"

What happened next was indescribable. It was as if some strong electric current had flashed across the barbed wire. It was clear at that moment how alike, deep down, all human beings are. All the feelings that had been suppressed during two year of prison, all that each one of us had borne solitarily in himself or herself, gushed to the surface and mingled in a flood that seemed to be both within us and around us. The men and women were shouting and reaching out to each other. Almost all were sobbing aloud.

"You poor loves you poor darlings! Cheer up, be brave, be strong!" Such were the words that were shouted both ways across the wire....

The next stage was the throwing of "presents" across the wire. The emotional tension on both sides needed an outlet in action: we each longed to give something, but we had no proper possessions to give. So one heard:

"Take my towel. It's not too badly torn!"
"Girls! Anybody want this pot? I made it from a prison mug I stole."
"Here, take this bread. You're so thin after the journey!"

There were also violent cases of love at first sight. As if by magic, these almost disembodied human beings recovered their sensibility, which had been dulled by such cruel sufferings. Tomorrow or the day after, they would be led off in different directions and never see one another again. But today they gazed feverishly into each other's eyes through the rusty barbed wire, and talked and talked...

I have never in my life seen more sublimely unselfish love than that which was shown in those fleeting romances between strangers--perhaps because, in their case, love indeed was linked with death.

----Eugenia Semyonovna Ginzburg, Journey Into the Whirlwind (trans. Paul Stevenson and Max Hayward)

Ginzburg (1904-1977) was a mother, wife, educator, journalist and dedicated Communist who was caught up in the Stalinist purges starting in 1934. She spent two years in solitary and 18 at hard labor in the notorious gulag at Kolyma.

The above scene took place at a Siberian transit station where both female and male inmates, recently released from solitary confinement, interrogation, and in many cases torture,  were being transported to draconian work camps.