Thursday, August 28, 2014


Today I thought you might like to see a demonstration of my amazing inability to finish a sentence!

This is a talk I gave at Family Theater Productions right here in Hollywood, C-A, a few months back.

My theme: Be not afraid to look like a loser! Good words of advice for all "creative" types. Or really, any of us.

Here's this week's Aleteia piece, Rosie Lee Tompkins' Quilts: The Sublime Art of a Northern California Recluse.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014


I was very gratified at the response to last week’s Aleteia post about taking the risk, as a Catholic, of losing friends. Thank you for your interest and for helping to disseminate the piece.

I was also moved to follow up, with the below piece which they chose not to post. So I’m putting it up here, as always groping to articulate that "In Christ there is no East or West" and that as soon as we start to equate  loyalty to Christ with loyalty to our country we are on shaky ground: theologically, morally, spiritually. 

I want to emphasize up front that I have been formed by the Office, the Sacrament of Reconciliation and daily Mass. Sometimes people will write to me and say, “I see you are the type that goes along with the Church but will very much welcome the ordination of women priests and the evolution of the sacrament of marriage,” and I’m like, “Actually, no, I wouldn’t welcome those things. I don’t think we need women priests; I think we need one person, man or woman, who actually follows Christ.”

Still, part of what prompted the piece was a Sunday homily I’d heard the week before. In it, the priest spoke first in Armageddon-like tones of the Iraqi extremists who were beheading children. Then he approvingly noted that we were bombing the heck out of them in order to “preserve our freedom.” Then in the intercessory prayers he led us in praying for world peace.

I was reminded of a recovering crack addict who said she used to smoke a pipe at four a.m., then, remembering she had to work the next day, lie down and pray, “God, please help me sleep.”

Peace is no deus ex machina that’s going to spontaneously materialize while on the one hand we’re supporting a government that is extremist in its own use of force, and on the other, we’re praying the Rosary.

I’m no theologian but isn’t it Catholicism 101 that the history of the world is the history of the coming, and now waiting for the Second Coming, of Christ? Isn’t it painfully obvious that our country is not built on Christ, but on some kind of vague prosperity, lust-to-dominate god that for over 300 years we have tried to bend to our will? Isn’t it a foregone conclusion that a house divided against itself cannot stand? Isn’t the question then not whether the United States will fall, but when?

If so, why do we waste so much time on mindless political-religious argument? The state has never been Christ’s realm. Given that I, too, am part of the system, my own question is how do I address the problem of suffering? How do I live out my faith to the smallest “hour” of my life? How do I continually develop my own conscience?

Lest this be mistaken for a “leftist” rant, I’ve had other, equally demoralizing experiences at monasteries, convents and retreat houses in which, in an effort to be welcoming and non-threatening, the folks have utterly de-sacramentalized the Mass. No holy water, no genuflection, no crossing in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, no recognizable penitential rite, no Creed. At one such place we were invited to face first north, then east, south and west while waving our hands about and intoning some kind of Native American incantation, after which, the priest (or whoever it was) simply held out a big tray of bread morsels and we were invited to saunter up and grab one. They apparently considered this a "renewal" of the liturgy, for advanced sophisticated types who are not attached to the fusty formulas of the “institutional” Church.

If I were interested in Native American spirituality I would have gone to a sweat lodge. If I thought Communion were a mere symbol of togetherness, I would have become a Protestant. Never had I been so aware of the treasure, of the absolute need, of the Truth with a capital T of the liturgy. This was an alternate form of the crackhead prayer, the delusion again being that any of us has the faintest hope of getting along together for five minutes without 1) deeply, regularly pondering the Word of God, as set forth in the Gospels; and 2) regularly partaking of the Real Body and Real Blood of Christ.

The fact is that left to my own devices, I couldn’t care less about Native Americans or anyone else—which is why I so desperately need the Sacraments.  I need to be reminded every day that the thing I want to do I don’t do, and the thing I don’t want to do, I do. I need to acknowledge that without supernatural help, I will remain forever conflicted, forever in bondage, forever isolated. I need to remember that Christ is both as close as my own heart and utterly unknowable. I need to eat his consecrated Flesh and drink his consecrated Blood. I need to see a naked body above the altar, nailed to the Cross.

Because here’s another teaching of Catholicism 101: actions have consequences. For people who claim to be grounded in the Gospels, we seem to have skipped over, “How can you say to your brother, 'Brother, let me remove that splinter in your eye,' when you do not even notice the wooden beam in your own eye? You hypocrite! Remove the wooden beam from your eye first; then you will see clearly to remove the splinter in your brother's eye” [Luke 6:42]. For people who claim to know about sin, we vastly underestimate the terrible power of our own. For people who claim to know the universe is a battleground of the light versus the darkness, we seem strangely ignorant of the virus-like nature of the violence we perpetrate on our own and on the rest of the world.

Surely as followers of Christ, for example, we cannot share the hubris of the culture-at-large in thinking that we can found a country on the annihilation of a culture and a race, then go on to drop atomic bombs, operate remote-control drones that pick people off, often civilians, from thousands of miles away, and keep prisoners in 24-hour lockup for years on end—to name just a few of our contemporary practices—with no moral or spiritual repercussions. As the Puritans well knew, God will not be mocked.

So if we want to be part of the New Evangelization, perhaps in conjunction with our prayers for peace we could call for a national examination of conscience. Instead of panicking about the infidels, perhaps we could look inward and thoughtfully explore the link between abortion and war. Perhaps we could observe that as followers of Christ our focus is not so much on how to be good citizens as on how to be good neighbors—which would naturally include the refusal to own a gun that would kill one of them.

The point of allowing myself to see the truth about the economic, political, and military systems under which I live, in other words, is not to point the finger at those systems and exonerate myself. On the contrary, it's to see, how I contribute to the darkness. It’s to live in the almost unimaginable scandal that the only way to address that darkness is by the purification of my own heart. It’s to ponder the satanic magnitude of the darkness in order to better understand that everything I do, think and say "registers." It’s to constantly examine my daily interactions with others; to weed out my resentments, my fear, my shame; to stretch myself beyond my comfort zone, to ask uncomfortable questions, to consent not to know the answers; to risk censure; to to know I am often wrong, often straying, always weak.

“Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid” [John 14:27].

Peace, but not the peace of this world. As followers of Christ, in this world we are perpetually torn apart, driven, frantic, stricken, anxious, alone, anguished. On the move. Pilgrimaging, with nowhere to lay our heads.

Sometimes I think, along with Mary Magdalene, “They have taken my Lord and I know not where they have laid him.” But what do I know? I don’t have a corner on Christ, any more than you do.

And in the end, “Lord, to whom shall we go?” In the end, I say thank you to that priest who said Sunday Mass, thank you to all the many monks and nuns who have sheltered and fed me, thank you to God for letting me exist. Thank you for this land and for its shorelines, mountains, deserts, prairies and plains that I love so much.

I pray for peace, and for the courage to be ever more conscious of what authentic peace entails.

I pray to lay down my life for the Church that has been to me Mother, Father, Friend, Family, Spouse.

I pray, in this time of such darkness in the world, God, please help me sleep.


Sunday, August 24, 2014


"If ever there was a time when we can not only take the Sermon on the Mount literally if we want to, but can hardly avoid doing so, that time is now. If we believe that whatever we do to the least of His creatures is done to Christ, then now is the time to give to Christ everything that we are capable of. There are people all round us in need of everything; people who, like Him, have literally nowhere to lay their heads, who have no clothes, who have no food. There is not one of the corporal or spiritual works of mercy that is not now crying out to be done, not one that is out of our reach to do. The means, too, are at hand; if we cannot do them by ourselves there are organizations for everything, for receiving and giving clothes and money and food, for finding shelters and home and rest, and for all the other things that are needed; these organizations are not affairs of red tape, not that the need is here the response to it has come from human people who are out to spend themselves.

If fear and indignation can generate energy in us which can be turned not to hate of our enemy but to acts of love for those whom he was wounded and robbed, we have already taken a big step towards loving the enemy, too. These acts of love, this putting self last, this giving and serving, brace the strain of compassion and tenderness in us. Instead of becoming hard and acid we shall become gentle and sensitive; instead of inflicting yet another wound on the human race, we shall heal one. If all the energy, the spiritual adrenalin [sic; British spelling], give to us to face the war, is used up in acts of love, there will be nothing left to hate with, and, moreover, we shall cease to have the capacity for hate."

-Caryll Houselander, This War is the Passion


Friday, August 22, 2014


This week Chas Fleming, walking guru from our very own Silver Lake, tells the story of falling in love with LA through exploring and mapping its secret staircases. 

Here's how he starts:

“My first exposure to the staircases was as a kid in Pacific Palisades. My family had moved there from the South in 1966 when I was 10. Surfing, skateboarding, everything I’d seen on TV. And these public staircases I now know were built during the Depression. So my first exposure to the stairs was as a kid using them as they were designed to be used, which was as a way to cut down or up the hill to the beach.

“I never thought about them again till decades later when we were living in Silver Lake.
Read the piece and about his book HERE: Secret Stairs: A Guide to the Historic Staircases of Los Angeles.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014


Here'a an excerpt from this week's Aleteia post: "Being Catholic Means You May Lose Friends."

"When Christ hung out with the prostitutes and the tax-payers, he wasn’t saying Let’s trade dirty jokes and gossip. He didn’t meet them at their level in that way. He met them at their level by loving them as they were and also calling them higher. You love people by seeing their terrible hunger and thirst (which means getting deeply in touch with our own), by inviting them to contribute, by showing them they have an integral, vitally important mission. By making and showing them great art and great humor, born of a path that is long, rocky, lonely and hard.

I lost my marriage in part because I converted. I quit my job as a lawyer because I converted. I’m not sure I lost friends, but I may have lost a certain closeness with certain friends. That Catholicism is constantly misinterpreted, misunderstood, maligned, scorned, despised, spat upon I can accept. What bothers me more is the view of Catholicism as mindless eccentricity."

I go on to say why I couldn't vote either Democrat OR Republican in the last Presidential election--and observe that often, the friends I stand to lose are CATHOLIC...

Over two thousand shares, so something hit a nerve, or a heart...

I'm finding that, just as there's a "magic hour" toward dusk, in LA at least, there's a magic hour in the morning. Should we coin the word "twidawn"?....

I became enchanted last week with the shadows cast around 7 a.m. by a camellia bush against the pale gray adjacent wall of our back yard cottage.

My pulsating joy at being home, being alive, being, continues...

Monday, August 18, 2014


Nothing makes me happier, hardly, than a big pile of books by my bed.

Right now that includes On Writing by Stephen King, The Faraway Nearby by Rebecca Solnit, Likeness and Presence: A History of the Image Before the Era of Art (about icons), by Hans Belting, Prayer by Hans Urs von Balthasar, Broken Vessels (an old favorite) by Andre Dubus, and Edward Hirsch's The Demon and the Angel.

The one I'm actually reading, and taking my time on, is The Accidental Masterpiece: On the Art of Life and Vice Versa, by Michael Kimmelman. (Which I learned about from Altoon Sultan's excellent blog, Studio and Garden: she posted on the chapter about the painter Pierre Bonnard and his possibly pathological but art-generating relationship with his muse, Marthe de Meligny).

Anyway, The Accidental Masterpiece is one of my favorite kind of books, meandering about to various subjects (The Quilts of Gee's Bend, the paintings of Chardin), touching on all kinds of things I know a little about and now want to know more (Donald Judd and Marfa, Texas; Grunewald's Isenheim Altarpiece), and introducing me to people I've never heard of (painter Horace Pippin, Michael HeizerCharlotte Salomon, who quietly, more or less invisibly created a "roughly 1.300-page quasi-fictional diary of text and pictures," then died at Auschwitz).

QUILT (4 BLOCK STRIPS), c. 1960,
78 x 73 INCHES,

One of Kimmelman's best reflections is on Chardin. Here's an excerpt: 

"The art historian Michael Baxandall has pointed out how, by causing viewers to linger over his various little objects, Chardin was subtly devising works that have multiple points of focus, and thereby expressing contemporaneous theories about how we do not take in complex space all at once but instead piece together the accumulated perception of different colors and shapes...

We are a society of families surrounded by the objects we have accumulated, which can become part of the family, too. We become more or less attached to these things, as to pets and people. All writers about Chardin point out that a small and specific pictorial family reappears again and again in his art, a family of cups and pans. We recognize them as we do friends after a while. Chardin's attendance on their condition, and by extension our attendance, because of the eloquence of his painting, can be so loving and complete that it approaches transference. Henri Cartier-Bresson, the photographer, who spent his last decades monkishly drawing copies of Chardin's and other artists' paintings in the Louvre, pointed out that in Chardin's famous picture of a dead ray  hanging gutted from a hook, the ray looked as if it were crucified. This dovetails with Proust's equally fantastic metaphor for the ray as 'the nave of a polychrome cathedral.' Somehow even Chardin's pictures of food prompt thoughts of God." 


Saturday, August 16, 2014


As you may know, I write a weekly column on arts, culture, faith and life for The Tidings, the newspaper of the Archdiocese of L.A. This week's begins:

I first bought The Diary of Anne Frank for a dime at a church rummage sale in North Hampton, New Hampshire. I was 10, and when I finished, I went around for weeks thinking, I can’t believe they killed her. That Nazi death camp was my first introduction to real evil. I’m not over it yet. I hope I never will be.

The Museum of Tolerance recently opened a new interactive exhibit, called simply “Anne,” billed as “a 60-minute experience” that “brings Anne’s story to life through immersive environments, multimedia presentations and intriguing displays.”

Along the entrance hallway, a blown-up photo of Anne faces a window giving on to the Hollywood Hills. She loved the movies and always longed to see where they were made. At last, her wish has come true...



Wednesday, August 13, 2014


Whoops, I see I neglected to post this morning.

Over at Aleteia, they inevitably change the title I've given to my weekly post which drives me crazy. This week's column is about what makes a good story: namely, death and resurrection. Hence, "the greatest story ever told"...

I am continuing to bask in the freedom of my very own place once again. I'll tell you what I missed unbelievably and that is my piano. Plucking out Beethoven, Haydn, and Mozart sonatas is key to my mental and emotional health.

Speaking of which, here's a photo of St. Dymphna, and some other atmospheric religious-fanatic pix I took around my room last night.

Plus it's hot and dry here in L.A. which aside from the fact that we're in a drought, I love. Nothing makes me happier than the windows thrown open and not even having to put on a sweater, even at night.

Am watching Finding Vivian Maier. And have a stack of good books.


Monday, August 11, 2014


Wow. I am back home and let's just say that was a looonnng seven weeks.

Here was a typical conversation. Other Person: "Where are you from?" Me, brightly: "I'm visiting from L.A." Other Person: Visible shudder. Like "Oh, we thought you were spiritual. We thought you were one of us."

At first I laughed it off but by the end, when I'd run out of reading material, lost my psalter, had no current Magnificat,  no cell reception, no wifi and found myself "on retreat" in a HOUSE with THREE OTHER PEOPLE I started narrowing my eyes, braying "I love L.A.," and adding, "There's a reason TEN MILLION people live there. I always feel folks who can't understand that Los Angeles is beautiful have some kind of SEVERELY DEFECTIVE VISION"...

I have many other observations I will keep to myself. I did sincerely love Vermont (a special thanks to Altoon Sultan for our splendid afternoon together) and--call me shallow--I also cannot possibly describe how happy I am to be back in my room with a plate of fresh peaches, figs, raspberries, blueberries, and St. Andre cheese; iced coffee MY WAY; and a pile of back New Yorkers, a stack of books fresh from the library, and netflix merrily streaming.

My sleep cycle is completely off and last night at 2 I watched the excellent Harry Dean Stanton: Partly Fiction. Now I'm on to Afternoon of a Faun: Tanaquil le Clercq (gorgeous ballerina who got polio, never danced again, and lived till 71).

Oh life is tough.

The best part of my trip was seeing my family, and of course I felt very sad and solemn winding up my time away.

Here are some shots of the last night in sublime Weston, VT. A thousand thanks to all the many, many people who welcomed, counseled, consoled, fed, and sheltered me along the way.

I will be back!

Friday, August 8, 2014



August 6th and 9th, 1945, were the dates when the United States dropped atomic bombs upon, respectively, Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

To that end, this week's arts and culture column is on Japanese novelist, essayist, and Nobel  Prize winner Kenzaburo Ōe.

Ōe and his wife chose to ignore the doctors who told them to abort their son. Hikari was born in 1963 with severe developmentally disabilities.

The Ōes went on to have two more children, and the most helpless, the least efficient, became the unlikely “star” around whom the family constellated. Kenzaburō Ōe went on to write novels, essays and memoirs around the central theme of his disabled son — this great fact, this “personal matter” — that has shaped his work, thought, and life.

Ōe has another abiding concern: the events of August, 1945.

“People say that I’ve been writing about the same things over and over again ever since — my son Hikari and Hiroshima…. I read a lot of literature, I think about a lot of things, but at the base of it all is Hikari and Hiroshima.”


"All day people poured into Asano Park, This private estate was far enough away from the explosion so that its bamboos, pines, laurel, and maples were still alive, and the green place invited refugees—partly because they believed that if the Americans came back, they would bomb only the buildings; partly because the foliage seemed a center of coolness and life, and the estate’s exquisitely precise rock gardens, with their quiet pools and arching bridges, were very Japanese, normal, secure; and also partly (according to some who were there) because of an irresistible, atavistic urge to hide under leaves."
--John Hersey, Hiroshima