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.”