Wednesday, October 22, 2014


What with my rich, full life of knitting scarves and looking out the window at the birds (Cooper's hawk in the fountain yesterday morning!), I've been a bit pressed for time.

So rather than writing an actual post, I think I will just continue this week with another recent response to a reader, this one remarking upon my photos and asking if I have any favorite photographers. As I did Monday, I've augmented a bit.

"Thanks so much! Just so you know, I had never owned a camera before four years ago when I started my blog. I bought a used Canon point and shoot from amazon and just started taking pictures...I still use the same camera and still know absolutely zero about the technical aspects of photography. I'm not bragging about it. I just haven't had the time or wherewithal to learn more. And I have not come close to exhausting the possibilities of the unassuming camera I own now.

I'm also far from an expert on photographers, though I do love to look at and ponder photographs. I like Garry Winogrand a lot. Saul Leiter, who apparently spent his entire career taking pictures within a two-block radius of his apt. in NY. Brassai, Henry Horenstein. Weegee. Lillian Bassman did some beautiful fashion photography. Edward Weston. I enjoyed the recent documentary on Vivian Maier and even more the documentary Bill Cunningham: New York.

People whose work and approach I can't stand are Cindy Sherman, Mary Ellen Mark, Robert Mapplethorpe. There's no real love in them and/or they glamorize degradation. Anyone who fetishizes people makes me crazy, who tries to wilfully portray people as vapid and ugly and grotesque and degraded and false on the one hand, or who sexually fetishizes bodies, or who poses people in fake ways to either make them look worse than they are or to make their suffering glamorous in some way, to prey on them, like Mary Ellen Marks and her series on the prostitutes in India.

Look at those rich beautiful colors on the walls and doors of the brothels! 

Look at that lustrous peacock green silk sari! Why that would look good on....ME!...

Then she purports to empathize with the plight of the prostitutes. If you're so empathetic, why don't YOU have sex with 26 men in one night? For seven rupees. Then there are the "nature" photographers who fetishize animals, who backlight and pose, say, elephants to sell sex or clothing or perfume. I'm against capital punishment on principle but I do feel such people should be shot.

I can't say how much my little amateur photo-taking has enriched my life. The camera is like a person or I should say the thing you're trying to photograph is like a person. Sometimes the leaf or flower or whatever is willing to yield itself up, and sometimes it isn't. If not, you have to move on. You never "capture" anything. The world gives itself to you and you just happen to be there to receive it. But to receive, you have to be willing to live in a lot of silence You have to be willing to stand still.

I wonder if things do not call to us, literally. I think it's one of the reasons I have always loved silence. I always have one ear out for the call from another world. You can't look at flowers and leaves and telephone wires and branches against the sky and fail to believe that trees, for example, have an inner life. Rocks have an inner life.

St. Paul observed that miracles are for unbelievers, not believers. I couldn't agree more. If you don't have the eyes to see the staggering, inexhaustible beauty with which we're surrounded, you're going to read the wrong thing into a "miracle," as in, say a vision of the Virgin Mary, when it does appear.

The operative point is never the miracle. It's how you bring the gratitude you feel at the ongoing miracle of creation out to the world. It's how you start seeing people with more love and compassion. It's how you change your life."


Monday, October 20, 2014



A month ago I wrote a post called "The Law of the Land Versus the Law of Our Hearts":

Shortly afterwards, I received an email from a woman who, like me, advocates against abortion. As she pointed out “Let your yes mean yes and your no mean no" [a reference to Matthew 5:37, to which I'd alluded in the piece] is difficult. Some of the questions she asked herself were whether the use of the “morning after pill” should be illegal; whether a woman who has an abortion in her 1st trimester should be tried for murder and executed for murder in a state that has the death penalty for murder; and if not, what civil penalty should she have to pay for her "crime against society." This woman herself couldn't bring herself to say abortion should be outlawed entirely. And she was troubled because she felt that most Catholics would say that her belief is not Catholic.

To craft an adequate reply would have taken days, which I didn't have. But I did feel called to respond, so I dashed off, and have now augmented a bit, the following:

"Thank you. Yes, let your yes mean yes and your no mean no can be difficult! Still, we can always say yes to mercy...

The thought of executing for murder a woman who's had an abortion horrifies me almost beyond belief. As a human being and a Catholic, part of being FOR life in all its forms means being absolutely opposed to capital punishment for any reason. To be against abortion but for capital punishment, especially for a woman who's had an abortion, is such a bizarre cognitive-dissonance inconsistency that it borders on the insane......and would be based on a real hatred of women...if that were the case, we should track down the father who acquiesced in or urged the abortion and kill him, too.

I remember many years ago writing a long, impassioned letter in response to a piece I saw in a legal journal about the subject of criminalizing abortion. I don't have the letter, and I can't even remember which side the guy came down in. But I do remember pondering long and hard the issue of whether abortion should be criminalized and thinking No...The woman should be offered treatment and counseling if she wants it, not be put in prison, for the violence she's done is against herself. I know we could say that of all crimes but I do think abortion is in a class by itself. The malicious intent required for murder would be utterly missing. Only a psychopath would get pregnant on purpose so she could kill her baby, and the conditions under which a baby is conceived, unless rape or incest, are so far from malicious, no matter how hurried or casual. I think what partly appalls us about abortion is the terrible gulf between the way any child is conceived and the way it's destroyed: in a clinic, by a stranger...I think that's why if we're going to prosecute anyone, we rightly prosecute abortionists--what they do is done in the cool light of day, and for profit.

Women who've had abortions don't turn into murderers or go on killing sprees. In other words, the factors that figure into an abortion are entirely different than the factors that would generally motivate a murder: e.g., revenge, greed, profit--and that would be part of a criminal profile and a criminal pattern. The mind and heart of a woman who's had an abortion, in my case at least, and I suspect in many, many cases, are governed by shame, fear, and guilt, and of course there's absolutely nothing to be "gained" in the sense of profit or a wrong revenged...

I don't think of abortion as murder, unless possibly done in the last trimester. It's the destruction of a human life but to say it's the same as killing a fully-formed live human being is another inconsistency. It's not the same to crush a robin's egg and to shoot a robin. It's not the same to destroy a flat of seedlings as to wantonly mow down and uproot a garden that someone has put work and labor and love into for thirty years. Crushing an egg and destroying a flat of seedlings are still failures of love because they're on the spectrum, as are artificial birth control and the morning-after pill, of interfering with the process of creation, of destroying what would otherwise come to be, of living by our will instead of God's will. And a human life is worth more than many sparrows so is of course on an entirely different order than a flower seed or a robin's egg, no matter how precious those things are, too. The Church says If you're willing to enter through the narrow gate and truly follow Christ, this is what authentic love looks like. Just in case you were wondering,

Our prison system is already so overloaded, and I have so little faith that punishment for punishment's sake changes anything, no, I can't in any way see the prosecution of a woman who's had an abortion. Let our yes mean yes and our no mean no apply not to punishment, but to mercy, to love. That's the distinction between Fascism and Catholicism.

Our whole culture of violence, including the maintenance of a military that is larger than all the other militaries of the world combined, helps create an atmosphere in which destroying another human life, especially one you can't "see," seems logical, supportable, and sane. Mother Teresa said something like Stop abortion and you'd stop war and I think the reverse is also true. But try to get the men to lay down THEIR weapons. In a way, abortion is the one "weapon" women have in a world that favors men, nowhere more than in the creation of a child that ALWAYS falls to the woman to deal with. In which a man can conveniently disappear with no responsibility, no accountability, no repercussions. I'm not interested in tracking down the man. I'm interested in supporting the woman in as you say an economic and social climate in which as always she is left holding the bag.

If we're so appalled at the loss of human life, why do we so seldom give a second thought's to, say, the Iraqi soldier? Why is it wrong to destroy a fetus and okay to murder "the enemy?" Especially when it's a clear, egregious violation of Christ's most basic teaching: LOVE thine enemies?  Why do we not prosecute and execute soldiers and generals who have been responsible for the wanton destruction of human life on a scale that's almost unimaginable? Do you see the utter insanity of trying to solve violence with more violence? Do you see the hideous scapegoating and hatred of women inherent in the notion of prosecuting them while so many other perpetrators of violence not only go free, but have our whole-hearted support and encouragement? If we actually truly supported life in all its forms, if we actually said it's wrong to kill in any instance, if we were as vocally opposed to the violence of war and the violence of an economic system which ever more crushes the poor as we are to the violence of abortion, if we actually followed the teachings of Christ--maybe that's when things would begin to change. The goal of the follower of Christ is not to force other people to change; the goal of the follower of Christ is to change himself. But the Cross has never had a lot of followers. The Cross is not susceptible to being spread by viral youtubes. The Cross takes place invisibly, silently, in the minute-by-minute workings of the human conscience. And in today's marketing atmosphere, in and out of the Church, the Cross is less "popular" than ever. Christ is ever more silent, ever more unseen, ever more off camera.

That's not a "feminist" stance--one place I part way with feminism, or one branch of it, is the totally erroneous insistence that abortion is empowering, that abortion has no more repercussions than brushing one's teeth. That's the stance of Christ. And I guess really your question is one about separation of church and state. I'm not enough of a philosopher to know the finer points there but I'm enough of a lover of Christ to focus on the conversion of my heart, not politics. To vote for a politician who's for the NRA and against abortion makes no sense to me. It makes the anti-abortion stance utterly suspect. When the field is full of folks exhibiting such inconsistencies, when it's impossible to let my yes mean yes and my no mean no, I would rather not vote at all. Politics shifts the balance of power, perhaps, ever so slightly, and ever so temporarily, but as Dorothy Day said, we live in a dirty, rotten system.

So how do I love the people around me, regardless of the political climate, is my question. How do I support the pregnant woman who's contemplating an abortion, the young man who's thinking of joining the Army, the President of the U.S.? How do I live a life of the fullest possible integrity? How can I make my yes mean yes and my no mean no in MY life? The Mystical Body tells me that is what will change the world, one atom at a time.I can't force that on a system that is itself a kind of cognitive dissonance, that purports to be for freedom but that spies on its citizens, whose army is increasingly made up of paid mercenaries, in which violence has become a commodity. In the midst of that (especially, though under any circumstances), to prosecute a woman for having an abortion? Can't quite see it. Rather, let him who is without sin cast the first stone.

If we're really pro-life, we will be speaking out loudly and clearly not only agasint abortion, but against war, against our prison system, against our economic system. Otherwise, we're like whited sepulchres. Otherwise, we're laying down heavy burdens and not lifting a finger to help.

How to punish the woman who's had an abortion is a question that would not take up one iota of my brain or heart, which brings me back to my piece. The questions we ask as followers of Christ are very different than the questions asked by 'citizens.' The citizen wants to preserve his life; the follower of Christ is prepared to lose it...

The other night I was driving home and just as I was about to turn the corner to go up my street, a city bus pulled up and I had to stop in back of it. As I turned the corner, I got a glimpse of a woman who had just gotten off.  She was short, she was carrying a heavy pack, she was walking very slowly, as if she were exhausted. She had a slight limp. I have no idea who that woman was but I couldn't help thinking, What if that were me, and I were making nine bucks an hour, and had kids at home, and a husband who beat me, and I just found I was pregnant again? Nine bucks an hour, or even twenty bucks an hour in a city where a studio costs $1300 a month. Food, clothes, school, health care, dental.

And suddenly I saw myself in my nice little green Fiat, going up to my beautiful room to sleep in a comfortable bed. And I saw very, very clearly that at the end of the age, Christ is not going to ask, "Did you vote for the 'pro-life' candidate (who was also a billionaire warmonger)?" "Did you see to it that women who've had abortions were arrested, put on trial, imprisoned, or God forbid, executed?"

He's going to appear in the form of the pregnant woman earning minimum wage begging for a glass of water. He's going to appear in the form of the "enemy" soldier begging for a blanket. To me, he's going to appear in the form of my three unborn children, and I can only pray to let the rest of my life be worthy of them.

Because those people are Christ and that is who we will be judged by. That is who is going to decide whether we''ve earned a place with the sheep or with the goats. That is how and where we demonstrate that our yes means yes and our no means no--by how we think about, treat, and order our lives to "the least of these."

A friend recently sent me this piece, which articulates what I'm trying to say way more eloquently than I have.:


Leonardo Boff

Earthcharter Commission

It is hard to believe that some people defend abortion for abortion's sake. Abortion involves eliminating life or interfering in a vital process that culminates in human life. Personally I am against abortion because I love life in each of its phases and in all its forms.

But this does not blind me to a macabre reality that must not be ignored and which defies good sense and public authority. Each year nearly 800,000 clandestine abortions are performed in Brazil. Every two days a woman dies, victim of an improperly performed clandestine abortion.

This reality must be confronted, not by the police but with a responsible public health policy and a realistic sensibility. I consider the attitude of those who intransigently defend life in the embryo and do not adopt the same attitude facing the thousands of children abandoned in misery, without food or love, wandering in the streets of our cities, to be hypocritical, (Pharisaic). Life must be loved in all its forms and ages, and not only in its first awakening in the mother's womb. It behooves the State and all of society to create the conditions so that women generally will not need abortions.

On the steps of the Cathedral of Fortaleza, I myself assisted a famished mother, begging and nursing her child with the blood of her breast. She had the figure of a pelican. Perplexed and filled with compassion, I took her to the house of Cardinal Dom Aloisio Lorscheider, where we gave her all the assistance possible. For such reasons abortions occur, always painful, that profoundly affect the psyche of the mother. I will narrate what Leon Bonaventure, the eminent psychoanalyst of the Jungian school wrote, and which was mentioned in his introduction to a book by another Jungian psychoanalyst, Italian Eva Pattis, titled, Abortion, lost and renewal: paradox in the search of feminine identity, (Aborto, pérdida y renovación: paradoja en la búsqueda de la identidad femenina, Paulus, 2001).

Leon Bonaventure relates, with the subtlety of a fine psychoanalyst for whom spirituality constitutes a source of integration and curing of the wounds of the soul:

A priest was confessing a woman who had aborted in the past. After listening to the confession, the priest asked her: “What name did you give to your child?” The woman, surprised, remained silent for a long time, because she had not given her child a name.
“So” –said the priest--, “we will give your child a name, and if you agree we will baptize him”. The woman nodded her head in agreement and they symbolically did it.

Afterwards, the priest made some reflections on the mystery of life: “life exists” –he said–, “that comes to the light of day to be lived in the Earth, for 10, 50, or 100 years. Other lives will never see the light of the Sun. In the Catholic Liturgical Calendar, December 28th is the feast of the Holy Innocents, the newly born who gratuitously died when the Divine Child was born in Bethlehem. May that day also be the feast day of your child".

And he continued, saying: “in the Christian tradition the birth of a child is always a gift from God, a blessing. It was a custom in the past to go to the temple to offer the child to God. It is never too late to offer your child to God”.

The priest ended by saying: “as a human being I cannot judge you. If you sinned against life, the very God of life can reconcile you with life. Go in peace. And live”» (p. 9).

Pope Francis always recommends mercy, understanding and tenderness in the relations between priests and the faithful. That priest lived avant la lettre those profoundly human values that also belong to the witness of the historical Jesus of Nazareth. May those values inspire other priests to have the same humanity.


Saturday, October 18, 2014


at the Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden
photo: Carrie Rosema

For this week's arts and culture piece in The Tidings, I took a field trip to a gem of a spot that should be better known: the Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden in Claremont.

"The garden comprises 86 acres of California native plants. I’ve seen the place in lush springs and full-bloom falls, but in Southern California’s current full-on drought, the garden is gorgeous in another way.

Fay’s Wildflower Meadow, for example, normally features a “spectacular wealth of wildflower species native to California.” Though the species at the moment are limited, the very sparseness makes the soft yellow of the evening primrose, the lambent orange of a few scattered California poppies, and the crisp gold of a desert marigold that much more striking"....


Wednesday, October 15, 2014


Brittany Maynard is a 29-year-old Californian who has an inoperable brain tumor, has moved to Oregon in order to take advantage of its assisted-suicide laws, and has created and invited a media frenzy by setting the date of November 1st (or thereabouts, it now appears) to kill herself.

She (very understandably) wants to avoid more suffering and pain. She wants to choose the day and the hour, go upstairs to her bedroom, put on some music she likes, and surrounded by family and friends, "die with dignity."

The neurologist and psychiatrist Victor Frankl survived the Nazi death camps to write the spiritual/existential classic Man's Search for Meaning. Frankl was hardly a believer in quack healing, facile answers, or miracle cures. He endured and survived the most grotesque, most evil, most carefully plotted and planned atrocity of the modern age.

In The Doctor and the Soul, another of his books, Frankl considered the subject of euthanasia.

"In life the opportunities to address oneself to this or that group of values vary from hour to hour. Sometimes life demands of us the realization of creative values; at other times we feel it necessary to turn to the category of experiential values. At one time we are called upon as it were, to enrich the world by our actions, another time to enrich ourselves by our experiences. Sometimes the demands of the hour may be fulfilled by an act, at another time by our surrendering to the glory of an experience. Man can be "obligated" to experience joy. In this sense a person sitting in a streetcar who has the opportunity to watch a wonderful sunset, or to breathe in the rich scent of flowering acacias, and who instead goes on reading his newspaper, could at such a moment be accused of being negligent toward his obligations.

The possibility of realizing in a consistent series and in an almost dramatic manner all three categories of values was open to a patient the last phase of whose life took the following form. A young man lay in the hospital, suffering from an inoperable spinal tumor. He had long since had to abandon his profession; paralysis had handicapped his ability to work. There was for hi therefore no longer any chance to realize creative values. But even in this state the realm of experiential values remained open to him. He passed the time in stimulating conversations with other patients--entertaining them also, encouraging and consoling them. He devoted himself to reading good books, and especially to listening to good music on the radio. One day, however, he could no longer bear the pressure of the earphones, and his hands had become so paralyzed that he could no longer hold a book. Now his life took another turn; while before he had been compelled to withdraw from creative values to experiential values, he was forced now to make the further retreat to attitudinal values. How else shall we interpret his behavior--for he now set himself the role of adviser to his fellow sufferers, and in every way strove to be an exemplar to them. He bore his own suffering bravely. The day before his death--which he foresaw--he knew that the doctor on duty had been ordered to give him an injection of morphine at night. What did the sick man do? When the doctor came to see him on his afternoon round, the patient asked him to give him the injection in the evening--so that the doctor would not have to interrupt his night's rest just on his account.

Must we not ask ourselves now whether we are ever entitled to deprive an incurably ill patient of the chance to "die his death," the chance to fill his existence with meaning down to its last moment, even though the only realm of action open to him is the realizing of attitudinal values--the only variable the question of what attitude the patient, the "sufferer," takes toward his suffering when it reaches its climax and conclusion? The way he dies, insofar as it is really his death, is an integral part of his life; it rounds that life out to a meaningful totality. The problem we are touching on here is that of euthanasia, or "mercy killing." Euthanasia in the narrower and original sense of the word--providing an easy death--has never been a problem for doctors. That the doctor assuages the agonies of death by medication is taken for granted; determining the point at which such medication is indicated is merely a matter of tact and insight and needs no discussion of a basic and theoretical nature. But in addition to this, the attempt has repeatedly been made in various quarters to legalize the ending of lives supposedly no longer worth living.

In answer to such proposals we must first of all reply that it is not the doctor's province to sit in judgment on the value or lack of value of a human life. The task assigned to him by society is solely that of helping wherever he can, and alleviating pain where he must; of healing to the extent that he can, and nursing illness which is beyond cure. If patients and their near and dear were not convinced that the doctor takes this mandate seriously and literally, they would never trust him again A patient would never know whether the doctor was still coming to him as a helper--or as an executioner.

This position rests on principle and admits of no exceptions whatsoever. It applies to incurable diseases of the mind just as well as to incurable diseases of the body.

--Victor E. Frankl, M.D,, The Doctor and the Soul

At the middle of all this is a beautiful 29-year-old woman with an inoperable brain tumor. My first reaction is to say, "Oh my God, that is so awful, that is so hard. I'm so so sorry. That sucks." Personally I would not bear that bravely. I would bear it messily, with unspeakable fear. Still, as my friend Rita (whose husband has suffered for years with Stage 4 liver cancer) said, "Setting a date to kill yourself? There's no...vibration in that."

Another story broke last week: the story of Liberian student nurse Fatu Kekula whose family of five fell sick from Ebola, who pled in vain for medical help, who went out and bought boxes of plastic trash bags, plastic rain boots and dime-store medications and, against every voice around her that told her to save her own life, who told her she was crazy, cared for them herself. Only one--Alfred Wennie, 14, a cousin who the family had taken in--died.

After surviving this dreadful siege, the response of Fatu's mother was to mourn: “I cried. I said ‘It’s a shame on me, because I took somebody’s child, a relative’s child, and he died in my hands.’”

From an October 6, 2014, LA Times piece by Robyn Dixon:

[Kekula said]: “Doctors called and told me to leave them right alone and not go anywhere near them,” the 22-year-old nursing student said. “I couldn’t. They’re my only family.

“When your family get ill, you know that the virus is deadly. But your family is your family”...

“No one came near me. No one! I were all alone, all alone,” she said...

Around the clock, one or the other of them would be weakly calling Fatu for help. She dozed 15 minutes here, 30 minutes there.

“It was a bit difficult for me to sleep because all the time they would call me, maybe two of them would call me at the same time. Every time I would go into a dangerous room, I would dress up,” she said.

“The whole virus thing, it’s like carrying a baby in your hands, because it turns them into a child. You have to be sorry for them. You have to put yourself into the shoes of that person and ask yourself, ‘What if it were me?’”

You don't have to "believe" to see there is a world of difference between the attitudinal values-the approach to life and to death--of Brittany Maynard and Fatu Kekula.

But you'd have to be a liar to claim there is no difference.

And you'd long ago have to have killed your own soul to claim that the difference doesn't matter.

Monday, October 13, 2014


From an article entitled 'The Four Great Loves of Gerard Manley Hopkins" in Recours au Poème, by Joseph J. Feeney.

"Hopkins loved nature’s beauty, and described it with rare skill and vivid images.  At 19, he wrote in his Oxford diary of “moonlight hanging or dropping on treetops like blue cobweb.”  At 21, he noted how “over the green water of the river...swallows [were] shooting, blue and purple above and shewing their amber-tinged breasts..., their flight unsteady with wagging wings.”  Lying awake one night, he saw lightning “coloured violet...but afterwards sometimes yellow, sometimes red and blue.”  He watched young lambs in springtime “toss and if it were the earth that flung them, not themselves.”  Whether describing moonlight, birds, lightning, or cavorting lambs, Hopkins always sought the exact detail and the accurate, fresh word: “blue cobweb,” “wagging wings,” “toss and toss.”  Loving nature, he wanted to make nature’s beauty permanent—at least in the words and images of his notebook.

He also loved the shapes of nature.  Clouds were “repeatedly formed in horizontal ribs.  At a distance their straightness of line was wonderful.  In passing overhead...the splits [were] fretted with lacy curves and honeycomb work.”  He noted the “curves and close folding” of tulip petals, and at his grandparents' home in Croydon the lawn had “half-circle curves of the scythe in parallel ranks.”  Even hailstones intrigued him, being “shaped like the cut of diamonds called brilliants.”  Loving nature, Hopkins loved its very shapes--its uniqueness of form.  This fascination with uniqueness, spurred by the philosophy of the medieval Duns Scotus, brought Hopkins to his famous concept of “inscape”—a word he created to express both an object's external shape and its “inner core of individuality.”

Sunday, October 12, 2014


This week's Tidings piece is called Catholic Worker Dennis Apel and His U.S. Supreme Court Case.

Guadalupe is a tucked-away town in Santa Barbara County, 175 miles from the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels, the northwestern-most community of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles.

Dennis Apel and his wife Tensie Hernandez started the Guadalupe Catholic Worker in 1996. Supported solely by donations, they distribute food and clothing to the farm workers of the Central Coast. They operate a free clinic. And from the beginning, vigiling at nearby Vandenberg Air Force Base has been part of their practice.

“The base calls what we do protesting,” says Dennis from Beatitude House. “We call it vigiling. Vigiling is a sitting with, a being with while you’re waiting for something to change. Generally our signs would be non-confrontational. The biggest banner we have says, ‘Have Our Weapons Brought Us Peace?’


Friday, October 10, 2014


Bash technology all you want; it is just amazing what turns up on your iphone during yet another night of fractured sleep.

Wednesday, for example, through a Hansel-and-Gretel-like trail of literary and artistic crumbs (okay, mixed with a burst of "lena dunham not funny," "lena dunham insufferable" "lena dunham hack writer"), around 2:53 a.m. I came across Russian abstract painter Wassily Kandinsky's book of prose-poems and woodcuts: Sounds (Klänge, for all you German speakers).

From wikipedia:

"Kandinsky employs a method borrowed from young children's early attempts at speech; through constant repetition and babbling words are emptied of their meaning, so that only the pure sound remains. It is Kandinsky's aim to uncover this "pure sound" of language, the sound which 'sets the soul vibrating.' [FN omitted]"

Often this kind of thing (Gertrude Stein, for example) makes me retch. But I read on to find this:

Blue, Blue got up, got up and fell.
Sharp, Thin whistled and shoved, but didn't get through.
From every corner came a humming.
FatBrown got stuck - it seemed for all eternity.
———————————It seemed. It seemed.
You must open your arms wider.
————————————Wider. Wider.
And you must cover your face with red cloth.
And maybe it hasn't shifted yet at all: it's just that you've shifted.
White leap after white leap.
And after this white leap another white leap.
And in this white leap a white leap. In every white leap a white leap.
But that's not good at all, that you don't see the gloom: in the gloom is
——— where it is.
That's where everything begins. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
With a. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Crash. . . . . . . . . . . . . .


Strangely consoled, I put aside my phone, turned my naked face to the window, and slept.

A youtube that accompanied a 2013 MOMA exhibit on Sounds.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014


first-grade red-eared slider on the rock to the right

boojum tree

“My fight for sculpture uses up all of my time and strength, and even then I lose.”

Monday I made a field trip to the Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden, 45 minutes east of downtown LA. I aimed to write a column on the garden for The Tidings (which I'll work up separately).

My "process"--as is true, I'd wager, for any writer--or painter or composer or sculptor--is a mystery, perhaps most of all to myself. This much I am realizing: an almost ridiculous amount of energy and effort go into the column each week.

First, I prepare myself emotionally and spiritually, building to a kind of trembling excitement. In this case, I didn't want to know too much in advance. I'd been to the garden before. But I'm not going to write a "review," or an informational piece, or a guide to the garden. I'm going to go to the garden and have an experience.

That's where the excitement comes in, because I can't force or create the experience--but if I don't have an experience, I can't write the piece. To write a straight, bloodless, fact piece--by, for instance, simply visiting the website and embellishing a bit--would be the equivalent for me of taking a job in a munitions factory. You have to give way, way more. You have to incarnate the garden. You have to see the whole thing as a sacred obligation.

The morning of my field trip I packed everything but a passport: a sweater, though it was sweltering, an extra pair of shoes, reading material, an iced tea AND an iced coffee (don't ask). I'd debated internally for two or three days in advance as to when to leave so as to avoid rush hour, then finally, fervid with angst, set off at the peak hour of 8:30. Miraculously, the 10 East (heading the "right" way, i.e. out of town) was smooth sailing.  En route, I listened to Bach 2 and 3 Part Inventions (Andras Schiff). The music's important, too.

The garden comprises 86 acres of California native plants: gorgeous, even in Southern California's current full-on drought. There's Fay's Wildflower Garden, and the Cultivar Garden, and the Indian Hill Mesa and the Magnificent Oak.

But what you do, I figured out after an hour or so,  is you go beyond. You keep walking and you’ll find a mile-long trail that on a 100-degree weekday noon is completely deserted. Chaparral, junipers, lowish-lying scrub, blue blue sky and in the distance to the north, the mountains. Gnarled tree branches against the sky, many in their death throes that, even in their dry, parched state, had a beauty and dignity.

I have never mastered the art of packing. My mind skips over what might actually be needed into some other realm and thus I will leave the snacks in the car and instead bring E. H. Gombrich's The Story of Art which even in paperback, weighs around five pounds. This, too, is part of the process. I just feel safe with a book. I don't necessarily have to read it, but I need to carry it. I need to have it near.

So I was slogging along in the boiling sun: starving, carrying a pack that some would call needlessly heavy, but quite happy nonetheless.

And in the midst of this sere but somehow lush landscape was a little clearing; a little happening I almost missed (and maybe the heavy pack slowed me down just enough so I didn't miss it?).

You have to walk off the main path to reach it which in the heat of full noon was not my first inclination.

But I did, and came upon a laminated card, tacked to a wooden post and faded to almost invisible by the sun. “Cedar Point: The Opening Gateway," it read. "Calocedrus decurrens, site-specific rocks, by Joshua Kreutzer."

The card continued:

“I saw the intense, dramatic lean of the existing cedar, and how the path found itself meandering just underneath the tall spike. It triggered memory of two nearby fallen cedars discovered earlier. I envisioned tall spikes, opposing each other, and the pathway winding between them, almost as if within a vaulted cathedral. ...I wanted the tall spikes to appear free standing, as if nothing was holding them up. The deciduous Quercus Garryana [Oregon White Oak] will bloom and lose their leaves seasonally, which will periodically alter the appearance and experience for the everyday visitor. As you enter “Cedar Point,” observe the crossing spikes become an opening gateway.”

Hunh? I thought. And then I walked along this path that was barely a path and started to see what the guy meant. There were five spires, three on one side and two on the other, and they did form a kind of arch. And Kreutzer (who I later googled, and could find nothing) had sort of beautifully, randomly but lovingly piled rocks--six- to eight-inch rounded, weather-beaten, brown, gray, ocher, and speckled rocks--around the bottom of the trunks of three of the cedars and along part of the path.

Just walking along you'd hardly notice the cedars, and the cathedral-like arch they formed--but he had.

Someone had noticed these California Incense Cedars, whose sun-bleached, leafless spires against the blue sky, now appeared to be dead. Someone had thought to pile rocks around their trunks.

There was no-one out here now. The air wafted the fragrance of sweetgrass, warm pine needles, sage. A desiccated leaf spiraled from the branch of a tree to the ground. I thought of the nine-year-old girl I recently read about who, shunned by her family, was dying from Ebola alone on the side of the road in Liberia. I thought of the immigrants who die trying to cross over from Mexico. I thought of how incredibly lucky I was to be able to walk through a garden on a Monday. on any day, and of how because I am so lucky, I don’t mind suffering a teeny bit. It was good to be hungry, and to walk through the far reaches of the garden in the hot sun, and to be carrying a book that if I had any "sense" I wouldn't be carrying.

I want to be worthy to write about what I love and what's important to me.

In the garden, I took pictures, tape-recorded my thoughts, shot a (really bad) video of the Cedar Gateway. I was there almost four hours. I drank it in. I talked out loud to myself. I prayed. I cried.

On the way home I stopped at JTYH in Rosemead or scallion pancakes and knife-cut noodles with seafood. Cause let's never forget, the food's important, too.

I won't write about Cedar Point, or this particular facet of my field trip for The Tidings, if for no other reason than the 800-word max. I get so excited before actually sitting down to write a piece for which I've gathered information, conducted an interview, had an "experience," that my heart is in my throat. I'll take several more hours to sift through the brochures, to transcribe the tapes, to "descend" as I call it, into the material.

Five minutes after I've submitted the piece, I'll start the process all over again; I'll begin mulling the following week's piece.

There's nothing "efficient" about the way I work. It requires a huge amount of solitude. It requires getting very quiet.  It requires drawing upon everything that's in me: everything I've read, heard, thought, felt, suffered. It makes me extremely impatient with distractions, interruptions, noise, small talk. It's probably ruined me to be any kind of consistent companion to another.

Last Sunday's LA Times carried an obituary of Nati Cano, born in 1933, "whose famed Los Angeles-based group Mariachi los Camperos de Nati Cano played top concert venues around the world."

"The mariachi plays kind of imperfect," Cano was quoted as saying, "and for a musician not used to it, it is difficult because it is imperfect. If you just write it on a sheet, it is impossible to interpret, because it comes from a style way back. You almost have to be born with it. I'm not sure you can learn it at a university."

That's how I feel about my writing.

Monday, October 6, 2014


"I wanted to be a priest. However I soon realized that my real vocation, my real calling, was the movies. I don’t really see a conflict between the church and the movies, the sacred and the profane. Obviously, there are major differences, but I can also see great similarities between a church and a movie house."

-Martin Scorcese

That's the opening quote from a splendid essay by Vince Passaro called "Scorcese on the Cross: America's Last Best Tragedian,"

It was published in the August, 2011 issue of Harper's and was chosen, as it darn well should have been, for the annual Best Spiritual Writing series edited by Phil Zaleski.

Passaro writes: "[F]or any mid-twentieth-century child with a dramatic sensibility and a seriously Catholic upbringing, no narrative can ever surpass the Passion, nor can any scene approach the Crucifixion for its depiction of agony and transcendence. The details of Jesus's final moments are especially haunting, none more so than the cry of abandonment recorded in Matthew and Mark....We were taught that the power of the divine, an unimaginable breadth of knowledge and potency, could reside in human suffering."

Amen. I myself have found an inexhaustible mother lode in my own.

And I can't wait to share more of it as a panelist for “Faith in Our Contemporary Culture,” a two-hour symposium sponsored by St. John’s Seminary of Camarillo, California, that will take place Thursday, October 16, 7 p.m., at the American Film Institute Theater right here in Hollywood!

"Carrying forward the bridging message of Pope Francis," reads the blurb, "this will be the first in a series of 'conversations' designed to engage people of all faiths throughout the archdiocese in discussions of the entertainment-based cultural issues of our time." So there!

They even offered to send a "car" to pick me up. I said, "Will there be snacks?"

Other panelists will include the dear and great comic/writer/podcaster Tom WilsonJoe Ferullo, Senior Vice President, Programming CBS Television Network; and Father Jim Clarke, Director of Spiritual Formation at St. John’s. Joe Garner will moderate.

communing with a silk floss tree

Be there or be square. And read that Passaro essay! 

Saturday, October 4, 2014


Tree, always in the middle
of everything that surrounds it [...]

Tree, that (who knows?)
may be thinking there inside

--Rainer Maria Rilke, from "Le Moyer"