Friday, December 27, 2019

IN THIS PLACE CHRIST WANTS TO BE BORN



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

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

The reason why we are where we are this Christmas, in this house, family, office, workroom, hospital, or camp, is because it is here in this place that Christ wants to be born, from here that he wants his life to begin again in the world…We did not choose this place- Christ has chosen it. We did not choose these people—Christ has chosen them.”

--Caryll Houselander, The Mother of Christ
 
I’m not sure I ever chose LA. When I moved here in 1990, I was newly married. My brother, a contractor who lived in the South Bay, had given my then-husband and I tickets from Boston as a honeymoon gift. He’d offered Tim, a carpenter, a job.

LA was the last place that, as a lifelong New Englander, I ever thought I’d end up. Yet bit by bit the city, in all its unfathomable, sprawling mystery, grew on me. I underwent so many dark nights, so much searching and suffering here—not because LA is an especially harsh place; rather, because I’m human—that over time the very city came to be incorporated into my bones and blood, and vice versa.

In recovery programs, I’d experienced the fascinating phenomenon that I was not healed by people I had hand-picked, but by whoever happened to walk through the door on any given day. 

That rough concept of the Mystical Body prepared me well to come into the Church, which I did in 1996. So did the traits with which I seem to have emerged from the womb: my love of nature, my propensity for the outcast, the hypersensitivity that has made for so much pain but also for so much consolation and joy.  

READ THE WHOLE PIECE HERE.

Wednesday, December 25, 2019

LET EARTH RECEIVE HER KING

MERRY CHRISTMAS, LA STYLE...
 Oh the season of Advent has been deep. I find I'm spent. Not from buying presents, eating, or showing off/arguing/sniping on social media. Rather from the deep prayer of the last four weeks...

"The people who walk in darkness have seen a great light."

And then the Gospel today, the beginning of John: "The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world came to be through him, but the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, but his own people did not accept him."

True then, true now.

And yet--Joy to the world. The Lord has come.

Off to 12:30 Mass, then dinner with friends in the neighborhood.

My gratitude and love for your readership, your loyalty, your own questing spirits and hearts is boundless. Thank you, eternally, for walking with me on our PERILOUS journey!

Let's be extra nice to our families today.







Monday, December 23, 2019

THE TAILOR OF GLOUCESTER


But it is in the old story that all the beasts can talk in the night between Christmas Eve and Christmas Day in the morning (though there are very few folk that can hear them, or know what it is that they say).

When the Cathedral clock struck twelve there was an answer—like an echo of the chimes—and Simpkin heard it, and came out of the tailor’s door, and wandered about in the snow.

From all the roofs and gables and old wooden houses in Gloucester came a thousand merry voices singing the old Christmas rhymes—all the old songs that ever I heard of, and some that I don’t know, like Whittington’s bells.

Under the wooden eaves the starlings and sparrows sang of Christmas pies; the jackdaws woke up in the Cathedral tower; and although it was the middle of the night the throstles and robins sang; and air was quite full of little twittering tunes.

But it was all rather provoking to poor hungry Simpkin.

--Beatrix Potter, The Tailor of Gloucester


Thursday, December 19, 2019

DUST MOTES AND CIGARETTE SMOKE: A PAINTER WEIGHS IN FROM BROOKLYN...


From a reader:

Heather,

Painted some snow-filled pots two days ago in my icy backyard.
Beforehand I was thinking about the capitalism that is grinding up all
social cohesion and about the american-led war against all the
little/ancient societies of the globe. Thinking, what in god's name
can be done? How to fight back?

Then, during painting, how I would never want painting to be part of
any political struggle except on its own insignificant terms - just
observing/participating-in whatever little corner of existence I find
myself in - a fence, some brown reeds, steaming humps of snow.

And after: how it's really just us, the devil, Mary, and the child in
her womb in whatever little corner of the world we're in. And she
seems to know almost nothing, just a little corner of Palestine, not
even about sex. While the evil one seems to control everything, know
everything (is probably reading this email), twist everything…

But her victory is so obvious, so utter. Even the brilliant, huge
counter-refomormation paintings seem to miss how _completely_ she
crushes him (she's the one we call "terribilis," not him). Yet the
truth is shot like radiation through everyday material: the warm
shadow in the folds of a crumpled tissue, the broken pencil point left
on a church pew, dust motes in light, the microclimate of a hot
sidewalk. In short, our millennia-old, common existence, which we're
now mostly too busy to notice, but which menaces us and loves us
still.

Then again, there is a dull horror to the everyday - old wounds that
should have healed but haven't. STUPID misunderstandings that no
amount of explaining seems to be able to overcome. Anger buried and
exhumed. THe sudden awareness of lost years.

We don't live on light and dust motes alone, as much as I sometimes
wish we could. There is the whole social dimension. THe need for
justice. The need to keep talking, keep trying to understand and to
make clear. The Not Yet.

Anyway, here is a painting of a plant and some objects in my studio at
night. Thanks for your openness, your willingness to talk to
strangers, your beautiful photographs, and for LA (never been there
except to smoke a cigarette outside the Amtrak station - I'll never
forget the thickness of the light, smell of the plants and the heat of
the sidewalk!).

I'm also attaching the snow-filled pots mentioned above.

Merry Christmas!

Matt (brooklyn, ny)
See more at Matthew Kirby

Friday, December 13, 2019

PERSHING SQUARE ICE RINK

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

The Bai Holiday Ice Rink Pershing Square has returned for its 22nd anniversary season.

I know because I attended the grand opening, which took place from 11 to noon on Thursday, Nov. 14.

From top to bottom, the event, atmosphere, and zeitgeist were quintessential LA.

The setting: a balmy 67 degrees. The rink, at 532 S. Olive Street: surrounded by palm trees and skyscrapers. The main sponsor: Bai, an antioxidant infusion drink. Another sponsor: the North American tour of Disney’s “Frozen: The Broadway Musical.”

A chorus from Grand Arts High School, right down the street, gave us “Jingle Bells.”

READ THE WHOLE PIECE HERE.

Thursday, December 5, 2019

THE TOOLS FOR GOOD WORKS



The decorations are up, the Advent breviary is in use, I've descended into the psychic darkness that inevitably descends this time of year. While at the same time I'm filled with a sense of ragged, inexplicable joy.

I've also been reviewing, culling, and reformatting my posts, one by one, from the last ten years--so that is a task. I look forward to the updated website/blog being up in early 2020.

Meanwhile, here's the link to a recent podcast I did with Deal Hudson of Ave Maria Radio re my new book RAVISHED: Notes on Womanhood.

I've also been exploring the possibility of becoming a Benedictine oblate at St. Andrew's Abbey in the high desert outside LA.

Among the myriad other gifts (and responsibilities and obligations) such a commitment would engender is the fact that oblates can be buried in the abbey cemetery. This is a prospect that appeals to me deeply.

All around we hear the call to arms, to hatred, to violent action.

This morning I read the following in Esther de Waal's Seeking God: The Way of St. Benedict:

"St Benedict will not allow us to evade change, and he has no illusions about what is involved in facing up to growth. Conversatio is simply commitment to facing up to the demands of growth and change. One of the specific ways in which the Rule helps with this comes in Chapter 4, "The Tools for Good Works.' There are seventy-three of them, most of them short, sharp injunctions fired at us one after another, without even an opening paragraph. At the twenty-second St Benedict is saying, 'You are not to act in anger or nurse a grudge. Rid your heart of all deceit. Never give a hollow greeting of peace or turn away when someone needs your love.' "

THE CEMETERY AT ST. ANDREW'S ABBEY,
VALYERMO, CA

Friday, November 22, 2019

A GLASS PANEL HOMAGE TO LOCAL FIREFIGHTERS

THE THREE FRONT PANELS
credit: Robiee Ziegler

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

Artist Anne-Elizabeth Sobieski’s family lost their Pasadena home to fire when she was 17. “I was frozen. I don’t know how much time went by. We just watched as the roof fell in, and one by one, every room burned.”

Ever since, she’s had a special heart for firefighters. So perhaps it was only fitting that she was chosen by the LA County Department of Arts and Culture (formerly the LA County Arts Commission) to design the fused glass panels for the newly built Santa Clarita Fire Station 104.

“The county’s awarding of public art projects is really an outreach to the community, which I think is the most beautiful thing in the world. They provide arts education programs, fund teachers and individual artists, work with the incarcerated, give apprenticeship grants, and much more. They invite people like me who have never done a public project before.”

From the beginning, she had to consider how she needed to design the panels so they’d look well in glass. Judson Studios, based in Highland Park, is the oldest family-run stained-glass studio in America. She hired them to team up on the proposal and to fabricate the panels.

Her initial proposal focused on the landscape, the history of Santa Clarita, and the community for whom fire tends to be traumatizing.

READ THE WHOLE PIECE HERE.



Thursday, November 14, 2019

THE SRIRACHA SAUCE EMPIRE


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

Sriracha sauce is a crown jewel of Southern California foodie culture.

You’ve seen the plastic bottles. They’re filled with bright red sauce, emblazoned with a rooster, stamped with text in English, Spanish, Vietnamese and Chinese, and topped by a green squirt cap. For many, this blazing hot chili product is a staple condiment.

Enter David Tran, CEO and founder of Huy Fong Foods. In 1979, Tran fled communist Vietnam on a Taiwanese freighter named Huey Fong. “I didn’t have a plan,” he says. He came to the U.S. because we were the only place that would have him. He ended up naming his Sriracha empire after that boat.

He washed up in the LA area and decided to try his hand at hot sauce.

He was born in 1945, the Year of the Rooster. So he bought a blue Chevy van, stenciled his own rooster logo on the side, and drove his first bottles to Asian restaurants and markets around town.

Over time he grew his company from a 5,000-square-foot facility in Chinatown (1980), to a 68,000-square-foot facility in Rosemead (1987), to its current state-of-the-art 650,000-square-foot compound in Irwindale (2010).

READ THE WHOLE PIECE HERE.


COAST TO COAST


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.

The fun NEVER STOPS.

RICHARD SERRA, DIA: BEACON

CENTRAL PARK AROUND E. 66TH, DUSK

Saturday, November 9, 2019

DECISIONS, DECISIONS



IN THE COURTYARD AND INSIDE THE NOGUCHI MUSEUM

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.


SOCRATES SCULPTURE PARK
QUEENS

MIKE BIRBIGLIA'S "THE NEW ONE"

COME ON, MIKE, I BET YOU CAN AFFORD BETTER TOYS THAN THESE! 

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.

READ THE WHOLE PIECE HERE.

Monday, November 4, 2019

A FIELD TRIP TO HEARST CASTLE




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”...

READ THE WHOLE PIECE HERE.




Thursday, October 31, 2019

PROJECTS AND PLOWSHARES



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

"MAKING WAVES: THE ART OF CINEMATIC SOUND"


OSCAR-NOMINATED RE-RECORDING MIXER 
ANNA BEHLMER AT HER CONSOLE

CECE HALL CUTTING "TOP GUN"
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.

READ THE WHOLE PIECE HERE.

THE GREAT WALTER MURCH





Tuesday, October 22, 2019

THE PROVOCATIONS OF CAMILLE PAGLIA

CHIAM SOUTINE, c. 1919
WOMAN IN A RED BLOUSE

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.”

READ THE WHOLE PIECE HERE.




Saturday, October 19, 2019

GORDON PARKS: THE FLÁVIO STORY AT THE GETTY

"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.


READ THE WHOLE PIECE HERE.

Thursday, October 17, 2019

CAMBRIA


MARION DAVIES, HEARST'S MISTRESS.

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

AUGUST WILSON'S "GEM OF THE OCEAN"

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.

READ THE WHOLE PIECE HERE.


Sunday, October 6, 2019

THE ANCIENT BRISTLECONE PINE FOREST






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.

READ THE WHOLE PIECE HERE.



Friday, October 4, 2019

ON MARRIAGE: LEAVING BEFORE THE RAINS COME




"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

FOOLS FOR CHRIST

BUY IT!

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:

FOOLS FOR CHRIST:
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

"FOLLOWING THE BOX" AT THE PACIFIC ASIA MUSEUM

SUNANDINI BANARJEE,
FROM A SERIES OF 5, UNTITLED,
DIGITAL COLLAGE PRINTED ON ARCHIVAL PAPER

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.

READ THE WHOLE PIECE HERE.

Thursday, September 19, 2019

FEMINISM IS IN TROUBLE

WHITE MOUNTAIN ROAD, BISHOP CA
EASTERN SIERRAS/THE ANCIENT BRISTLECONE PINE FOREST.
I STOPPED HERE ON THE WAY BACK TO LA.

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.




THESE ARE FROM THE MARY DE DECKER NATIVE PLANT GARDEN
IN INDEPENDENCE, CA, ONE OF MY ALL-TIME FAVORITE SMALL TOWNS

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.