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.

Monday, February 18, 2019



I have never had much of an urge to visit Washington. Seats of power, military might, and people in business suits--not my thing. 

What does draw me is a cheap place to stay, free museums, public gardens and friends.

Thus I've planned a week-long jaunt June 12-19. I've amassed enough frequent flyer miles so my ticket cost only $11.60. I'll be staying at the Dominican priory, close to the Basilica of the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, where I hope to pray for one and all, near and far, living, unborn and dead. 

I'm also thinking to let it be known I'll be in town, just on the off chance anyone might be interested in employing me to give a talk. Since airfare and lodging are on me, you might get a bargain out of the deal, too!

Either way, I very much look forward to my visit. Everyone says the city is beautiful. 


Saturday, February 16, 2019



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

Steve Trovato has been called a jazz master, a superpicker, and a blues and rock virtuoso. He’s a longtime professor at the Studio Guitar and Contemporary Popular Music Performance Departments at USC.

He’s produced his own albums, created dozens of instructional videos and lesson books, won numerous awards, and been recognized internationally. He plays four or five gigs a week around greater LA.

“Music is what I do. It’s all I do.”

But when we got together recently to talk, he didn’t focus on his accomplishments. He talked about what had made him a musician.

“When I was growing up in New Jersey, we weren’t allowed to talk. Joy, sadness: all emotion was off limits.” There was trauma. There was violence.

He was allowed to play the piano. He got pretty good at it. But at 12 or so, watching bands on Ed Sullivan, he noticed the girls weren’t going crazy for the piano players.

He badgered his father into buying him a $26 guitar. He practiced for 10, 12 hours a day.

“I woke up with the guitar next to me on the bed. I played all day, went to sleep with the guitar, woke up and did it all over again. Week after week, month after month. I practiced like that for at least eight or 10 years.”

He learned to talk and express his emotions, to communicate, through music.


Steve is a friend of mine, I'm proud to say. Getting to sit down and talk with him was a treat.

Thursday, February 14, 2019



Whoops, I see I skipped a week and unintentionally omitted my arts and culture column from Feb. 1st.

Here's how it begins:

I’d been looking forward to “Outliers and American Vanguard Art at LACMA” (through March 17) for weeks.

And let me say up front that if you’re really interested in outliers, I’d suggest “Raw Creation: Outsider Art and Beyond” (available at the Los Angeles Public Library).

Author John Maizels has a heart for the artists, and an ear and eye for the strangeness of their vocations.

As British art historian Roger Cardinal points out in the Introduction, “Maizels writes with equal zest about drawings, paintings, sculptures, assemblages and performances. … However, what matters is not any material variability of scale but the central fact of the omnipresence of the maker within any true artwork. …

“Maizels is quick to show that there is no discovery without context, no context without complexity, and no complexity without the need for empathetic understanding.”

Context, understanding, and empathy are in large part what the LACMA exhibit lacks. For starters, there is little to no information, personal or otherwise, about the bulk of the artists. For that, apparently, the guard informed me, you have to take a tour. But if you have to take a tour, and sign up in advance, why not put that up on the website rather than spring it on the visitor who, like me, likely has a two-hour window?

As it was, I blundered through, overwhelmed by the size and underwhelmed by the fact that the exhibit’s focus on the way outsider art has come to be appropriated and marketed by the avant-garde consistently overshadows the oddness, mysterious apartness and genius of the artists themselves.



Monday, February 11, 2019


Here's the first paragraph of a wonderful review of  Kenneth Garcia's new memoir, Pilgrim River. Garcia is Associate Director of the Institute for Scholarship in the Liberal Arts at the University of Notre Dame.

"The wise know there are many paths to God. Ken Garcia’s wildly circuitous route stands as lusty evidence that the Deity is abidingly patient and forgiving. Pilgrim River is not just a spiritual memoir, as the title claims, but an autobiographical narrative that says as much about God’s devotion to the earth’s lost sheep as about the author’s hunt for the divine in a profane yet mysteriously sacred world. In fact, the God of Garcia’s telling is more dance partner than passive destination."

Here's the link to the rest of the review.

And here's one of my favorite passages from the book:

"The Catholic Church--with its seemingly intractable flaws and its resistance to reform and change, yet, simultaneously, with its rich spiritual and theological tradition and its openness to grace, which it strives to mediate to a world in need of it--became a home, a sort of base camp from which I have launched explorations and that I have returned to for rest and sustenance. A home full of flawed people with whom you nevertheless have an unbreakable bond because you are joined in a sacramental family, even when you dislike one another. The Church, like most of us, is a wayward pilgrim in search of holiness and salvation."

A beautifully written story of an ongoing search and ongoing struggle. Highly recommended.

Friday, February 8, 2019


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

“Leaning Into the Wind” is a 2018 documentary about Andy Goldsworthy, a self-proclaimed “British sculptor, photographer and environmentalist producing site-specific sculpture and land art situated in natural and urban settings.”

Goldsworthy does things like lie on the sidewalk when it rains so that, when he gets up, he leaves a body-shaped dry spot; or covers his hands with painstakingly applied bright red autumn leaves, then dips them in the river and lets the leaves wash away; or sculpts a skinny meandering white line across a stone wall with wool from the sheep who graze the adjacent fields.

You may or may not respond to this. I absolutely do. (Though I may have liked his last film, “Rivers and Tides,” even better). But however you feel about his art, you have to admit that this good man is alive and vital and questing, questing, questing.

He was formed as a boy working on farms: stacking bales, harvesting wild oats, hefting stones. Gathering, cutting, building, stacking.

“There are a lot of contradictions in what I make.” When he was younger, he was more sure of how to describe what he does. But the passage of time, losses, and deaths tend to soften and anneal.

“Now it’s more — nature is everywhere so why even mention it? When I’m working in the city, I’m working with nature. When I’m working with myself I’m working with nature. It isn’t so clear any more.”


Tuesday, February 5, 2019


David "Chim" Seymour/Magnum Images
Tereska, in a residence for disturbed children, after drawing a picture of “home” on the blackboard, Poland, 1948

Talks and Homilies of the Elder Zosima
from The Brothers Karamazov
- Fyodor Dostoevsky -

Young man, young woman, do not forget to pray.

Each time you pray, if you do so sincerely, there will be a flash of a new feeling in it, and a new thought as well, one you did not know before, which will give you new courage; and you will understand that prayer is an awakening.

Remember also: every day and wherever you can, repeat within yourself: “Lord, have mercy upon all who come before me today.” For every hour and every moment thousands of people leave their life on this earth, and their souls come before the Lord – and so many of them part with the earth in isolation, unknown to to anyone, in sadness and in sorrow that no one will mourn for them, or even know whether they had lived or not.

And so, perhaps from the other end of the earth, your prayer for his or her repose will rise up to the Lord, though you did not know them at all, nor they you.

How moving it is for their soul, coming in fear before the Lord, to feel at that moment that someone is praying for them, too, that there is still a human being on earth who loves them.

And God, too, will look upon you both with more mercy, for if even you so pitied them, how much more will He who is infinitely more merciful and loving than you are.

And He will forgive them for your sake.

Children, do not be afraid of men’s sin, love man also for his sin, for this likeness of God’s love is the height of love on earth.

Love all of God’s creation, both the whole of it and every grain of sand. Love every leaf, every ray of God’s light. Love the animals, love plants, love each thing.

If you love each thing, you will perceive the mystery of God in all things. Once you have perceived it, you will begin tirelessly to perceive more and more of it every day.

And you will come at last to love the whole world with an entire, universal love.

Love the animals: God gave them the rudiments of thought and an untroubled joy. Do not trouble nor torment them, do not take their joy from them, do not go against God’s purpose. Man, do not exalt yourself above the animals: they are sinless.

Love children especially, for they, too, are sinless, like angels, and live to bring us to tenderness and the purification of our hearts and as a sort of example for us.

Always resolve to take men’s sin and your own by humble love. If you do so, you will be able to overcome the whole world.

A loving humility is a terrible power, the most powerful of all, nothing compares with it.

Keep company with yourself and look to yourself every day and hour, every minute, that your image be ever gracious.

My friends, ask gladness from God. Be glad as children, as birds in the sky.