Thursday, January 31, 2019


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

David Kipen is a native Angeleno, former literature director for the National Endowment of the Arts, professor, critic, radio personality, and founder of the nonprofit Boyle Heights lending library Libros Schmibros.

But his greatest achievement may the splendid new book he compiled and edited: “Dear Los Angeles: The City In Diaries and Letters, 1542 to 2018.”

Rather than arrange the entries chronologically, Kipen hit upon a brilliant alternative: “I could start with January 1 and just work forward one day at a time, complementary trying to juxtapose a few passages for each date. One step forward, two centuries back — the perennial, quixotic spectacle of LA forever finding fresh mistakes to make.”

Thus, for any given day, you might get a padre roaming on horseback sizing up prospective mission sites, an account of meeting Greta Garbo at a cocktail party, and, say, on June 2, 1979, screenwriter Michael Palin’s evocative description of the city: “Low, flat, sprawling and laid-back — like a patient on a psychiatrist’s couch.”

The book opens, fittingly, with a passage from Judge Benjamin Hayes who on Jan. 1, 1853, wrote: “I have not yet seen a gold mine!”


Sunday, January 27, 2019




In an attempt, to partial avail, to escape the construction noise at my apartment, I took off last week for the Central Coast.

In Santa Maria I visited with my dear friends Tensie and Dennis and made an abortive attempt to purchase a cemetery plot in the adjacent hamlet of Guadalupe (that it was MLK Day had slipped my mind). However, we had a nice stroll about the graveyard which is surrounded by broccoli fields, the Amtrak station, and the bustle of the little coastal town, with rolling emerald green (from the recent rain) hills and the ocean beyond. I am both thrilled and at peace to think of my mortal remains being laid to rest there.

More to the point, we also had good, deep conversation and a delicious dinner and breakfast and I felt cared for, and restored, in a way that is beyond precious to me.

From there I motored up to Mission San Antonio which is 30 miles or so in from the 101 and breathtakingly beautiful. Though unfortunately in the midst of a military base. And during the day undergoing extremely loud renovation. I stayed two nights and the first night I was there totally alone! The hallway in the wing of former monks' cells where my room was looked and felt exactly like a set from The Shining and since the bathroom was down the hall, made night-time quite exciting.

The second night a large "former law enforcement" guy I'll called Rommell showed up, smelling strongly of alcohol, told me about his divorce, and lurked in the hall pacing up and down and braying loudly into his cell phone for a couple of hours. So that was a different kind of excitement. I had to flee to the church, kneel before the altar, and say the St. Michael the Archangel prayer.

Thus all was well.

After that I drove yet further north to the lovely small city of Monterey. Here I was graced to stay at a guest room in the rectory of the San Carlos Cathedral. I may be biased but to me, this is the most beautiful of all the mission churches I've seen (which is maybe ten, and that includes Carmel, which I also visited while in the area). Lovingly, meticulously, intelligently restored and I got to attend 7:45 Mass both mornings, once with retired Bishop Sylvester Ryan (deLIGHTful man!) and once with Fr. Patrick Dooling, beloved priest of the Monterey Diocese and forever kind and generous friend to Heather D. King.

I also made my way to a couple of gatherings of Monterey-area drunks. As usual, these good, solid, honest, funny, humble, bloodied-but-still-standing folks infused me with courage, strength, cheer and cups of strong, sludge-like coffee. Deep thanks to all at 519 Hartnell Street, as always to Tensie and Dennis, and of course to my dear Father Pat.




Sunday, January 20, 2019


"The logic of power demand[s] that triggers be pulled. It has no room for humanistic concerns and for the reasons of the heart. And how shall one solve this problem? How see that the killing goes on, without inner resistance, without "negative emotional reactions," without a guilty conscience? How transform a painful experience into a pleasant or at least endurable one? How totally adjust the consciousness of man to the logic of power?"

"We dream of peace. This is something new, for in the past we have thought victories more important. What we really loved was the death of our enemies. This is  the secret hidden under the fanfare of military parades and marches. They are liturgies of death, and the fascination they have exercised over us is an indication of how committed we have been to the worship of death."

--Rubem Alves, Tomorrow's Child

"Dragged a black Sgt named Pitt from under flaming Jeep overturned on Hwy. 3. His hands burned off. Kept asking if Jesus would come. 'Will he? Will he?' Over and over, repeating. I told him, By and by."

From the journal of Major Milton Felder, USAF
April 9, 1969
My Lai, South Vietnam"

--Thomas S. Klise, The Last Western

“The greatest purveyor of violence in the world (today) is my own government.”
--Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Friday, January 18, 2019


I have written at length of Thérèse of Lisieux's famous Christmas Eve conversion.

This year I had a little one of my own! I write about it HERE.

Headed up to the Central Coast for the week--wishing you all peace, hope and joy.

Wednesday, January 16, 2019


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

I spend so much time alone, pondering and praying, that I sometimes forget much of the world holds very different views than I do.

The other day, for example, while talking to a secular friend, I (very unwisely) burst forth with an impassioned description of an essay I was working on.

“It’s about womanhood, and how really the heart of what is best and most glorious about women is their ability to bring new life into the world! You don’t have to be an actual mother, obviously, but the heart of a mother! I can’t get behind this cold-blooded, aggressive fury that seems to be the overriding emotion of today’s ‘feminists.’ ”

Silence. Then — “I can’t say I agree with you. I think it’s fantastic that so many women have been elected to office recently.”

“Well, yes, or rather maybe. Because if they come at their jobs with the same adversarial, power-driven tactics they purport to despise in men, we’re just going to have the formerly oppressed as the new oppressors.”

It devolved from there. My friend thought everything was going to be solved by the new class of warrior women, and I could not be moved from my view of the culture as on every level virulently anti-life.



Friday, January 11, 2019



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

What with the recent Nativity of Christ, the feast of the Holy Family, and the solemnity of Mary, Mother of God, “The Notion of Family” at the California African American Museum (CAAM) seems especially timely.

The exhibit comprises artworks from the 19th through the 21st centuries and runs through March 3.

If you haven’t visited CAAM, you really should. (Its Jan. 21 Martin Luther King Jr. festivities would be a good place to start). CAAM is down in Exposition Park, a neighbor of the Museum of Natural History and the California Science Center.

The building is sharp-looking, expansive, and smart (as is its website). The exhibits, this one overseen by Vida L. Brown, visual arts curator and program manager, are beautifully designed to intrigue without overwhelming.

Though this is the smallest of those currently on view, to me it packs the most intense punch.

Paintings, prints, photographs, assemblages, and sculptures chart “a trajectory of African American family and togetherness over generations.” The impression is of a culture formed around steadfast endurance, community, storytelling, music, and food.

A palpable rootedness to heart and earth. A slow-burning ember of tears and of rage. The lash marks of generational trauma, and a majestic, near-explosive refusal to be overcome by it.


Thursday, January 10, 2019


From a piece by Andrew Sullivan from New York Magazine, dated December 7, 2018, entitled "America's New Religions":

"For many, especially the young, discovering a new meaning in the midst of the fallen world is thrilling. And social-justice ideology does everything a religion should. It offers an account of the whole: that human life and society and any kind of truth must be seen entirely as a function of social power structures, in which various groups have spent all of human existence oppressing other groups. And it provides a set of practices to resist and reverse this interlocking web of oppression — from regulating the workplace and policing the classroom to checking your own sin and even seeking to control language itself. I think of non-PC gaffes as the equivalent of old swear words. Like the puritans who were agape when someone said “goddamn,” the new faithful are scandalized when someone says something “problematic.” Another commonality of the zealot then and now: humorlessness."


"Knowing who we are, it would be really ridiculous
if we kept humour out of our loving.
We are all clowns though we don't always find it easy 
to laugh at our own clowning.

Lord, I love you more than general;
but in this brief particular minute I love this English cigarette
more...maybe even this Gauloise.

Lord, I give you my life, my whole life...
but not this small portion of my life, these three minutes...
when I'm not particularly keen on going to work. 

Lord, for you I would win over this city, 
France, the universe.
I would wear myself to a frazzle
working for your kingdom...
but I can't bear listening to this person 
telling me her petty irritations
for the hundredth time.

Yes, we are the heroes of this slapstick comic opera
and normally the audience that we are playing to
is ourselves.
But this is not the end of the story. 

When we have discovered this priceless comedian,
when we have left with a great roar of laughter
as we have told the funny story that is our life,
we may be tempted to throw ourselves
without more ado
into our careers as a clown, a career for which, after all,
it appears that we have considerable talent.

We would be tempted to think that this was not 
a matter of grave importance and that alongside
the high quality people, the strong and the saints
there would be room for a few clowns and fools
and that this would hardly upset God.
Admittedly this role is not a very exalted one
but nor is it a very demanding one
and this is in its favor.

It is at this point that we ought to recall
that God has not created us for human loving
but for that eternal awesome love
with which he loves everything
that he has ever created.

We should also accept his love
not as a large-hearted magnificent partner
but as the idiot beneficiary of it that we are,
devoid both of charm and basic loyalty. 

And in this adventure of Mercy
we are asked to give whatever we can
until we have nothing left.
We are even asked to laugh
when the gift that we make is defective
whether because of failure, filth or impurity. 

But we are asked also to be full of wonder
with tears of thanksgiving and joy
before this inexhaustible treasure
that flows into us from God's heart.

It is at this intersection 
of laughter and joy
that we find a peace 
beyond all confusion.

--Madeleine Delbrêl (1904-1964),  French Catholic author, poet, social activist and mystic,
from The Joy of Believing


Monday, January 7, 2019



"Woodseers are insects which I dare say you know very well whether it be the proper name I don't know this what we call them & that you know is sufficient for us--they lye in little white notts of spittle on the backs of leaves & flowers. How they come I don't know but they are always seen plentiful in moist weathe--& are one of the shepherds weather glasses. When the head of the insect is seen upward it is said to token fine weather when downward on the contrary wet may be expected."

--John Clare (1793-1864)

Friday, January 4, 2019



[A] certain German-speaking Trappist abbey in the last century was smothered with frescoes of the most alarming kind. Symbols of death and dissolution confronted the eye at every turn, and in the refectory the beckoning torso of a painted skeleton, equipped with an hour glass and a scythe, leant, with the terrifying archness of a forgotten guest, across the coping of a wall on which were inscribed the words: Tonight, maybe?

--Patrick Leigh Fermor, A Time to Keep Silence

And Jacob awaked out of his sleep, and he said: ‘Surely the LORD is in this place; and I knew it not.’ And he was afraid, and said: ‘How full of awe is this place! this is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.’

— Genesis 28:16-17

Wednesday, January 2, 2019


For the paperback, please go with amazon 
as the direct seller (you'll get PRIME free shipping), 
as that way the royalty goes to me. Or of course there's kindle. 

I have re-acquired the rights to my beloved cancer memoir, STRIPPED!

Here's a page with an audio excerpt and the opening chapter. 

This is a really I must say worthy book that I had originally self-published, and that was then bought by Loyola Press. Which was very kind of them, except that they changed the subtitle and interpolated a cover that I just could never get behind.

So now, at my request, they have declared their version out of print, the rights have reverted to me, and STRIPPED: Cancer, Culture and the Cloud of Unknowing with fab cover and interior design by Rowan Moore-Seifred of DoubleMRanch Design is up and running!

However, disentangling the two titles and the many formats in which the book is available on amazon was kind of nightmarish. I spent so much time talking to various folks in India, sending emails to Customer Care, and double-clicking arcane links to vile used booksellers whose "nearly new" stock amazon allows them to sell as new and thus undersell the author, that I have knocked seven dollars off the price and, left the whole thing to God.

The upshot of amazon's marketing model is that they get 70% or more of the royalties and I (and every other author who self-publishes with them), make about 2 bucks a paperback book as opposed to one buck with an outside publisher. So I was gratified to note that Jeff Bezos and his wife recently coughed up 15 million bucks to be divided among three Catholic charities. You're welcome!