Wednesday, July 12, 2017

CPA AWARDS



MATILIJA POPPIES.
PASADENA CA'S LOWER ARROYO

Just fyi, I rec'd two CPA awards this year!

Catholic Press Association 2017:

1. M05a: BEST REGULAR COLUMN: Spiritual Life

First Place

Angelus, “The Crux" by Heather King

"Wonderful reporting work and writing behind this set of columns."


2. N11b: BEST REGULAR COLUMN: Spiritual Life

First Place, National Catholic Reporter, "Soul Seeing" — "Learning to soul-see the hard way" by Heather King; "When the soul sees desperate need, it does not turn away" by Bishop Gerald Kicanas; "Sunday's little sacraments" by Michael Leach

"A very challenging category. Each of these columns made a strong connection, and that's challenging to do with such a diverse group of topics. Well written, edited and executed. Sophisticated."



NOW THAT'S SOPHISTICATED

Sunday, July 9, 2017

DAWN'S EARLY LIGHT: A U.S. NATURALIZATION CEREMONY






For this week's arts and culture column, I dipped a (quickly withdrawn) toe into an arm of the U.S. government.

Here's how the piece begins:

I thought for the 4th of July I’d attend a U.S. naturalization ceremony.

These take place regularly in the Los Angeles area and are open to the public.

So on June 20, a bit before 9 a.m., I showed up at the Pasadena Convention Center. I had trouble finding parking and ended up next to St. Andrew Church on Raymond Avenue and sprinting the several blocks.

Everyone else had arrived an hour early so I was the only person in the airport-type security line. Inside, I found what looked to be the one remaining seat, in the uppermost row, beside a lovely man from India whose wife was being sworn in.

Looking around my immediate vicinity, I saw only one other Caucasian face.

On the stage were three tables, draped with bunting. “Celebrate citizenship, celebrate America” read a large screen. We heard “The Star-Spangled Banner” set to a jaunty military march.

Then a judge swept onto the stage, banged her gavel and announced that court was in session. Under Section 337 of the Immigration and Nationality Act, 967 people were about to be sworn in.

I registered scattered phrases. “I hereby declare, on oath, that I absolutely and entirely renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state or sovereignty … that I will bear arms on behalf of the United States when required by the law … that I will perform work of national importance under civilian direction when required by the law … without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion …”

Here my mind wandered and I began devising my own oath...

READ THE WHOLE PIECE HERE.

SCENES FROM THE DORLAND MOUNTAIN ARTS COLONY
TEMECULA, CA

Thursday, July 6, 2017

HOME--ALTHOUGH I'M AWAY--AT LAST


UNITY OF FORM, SHAPE, COLOR, DESIGN...




MORNING WISTERIA, INSIDE AND OUT

"I don't know what the effective ratio would be, but I've always had some sort of intuition that for every hour that you spend in the company of other human beings you need X number of hours alone. Now, what that X represents I don't really know; it might be two and seven-eighths or seven and two-eights, but it's a substantial ratio."
--Glenn Gould, from a conversation in Forever Young, by Jonathan Cott

Well I DO know what X is, Glenn. It's 1000.

Thank the Lord, I am getting in a few of those hours this week at the Dorland Mountain Arts Colony in Temecula, CA.

I have my own cabin, perched on top of a mountain. There is NO NOISE except for birds and insects. Every day, towards dusk, I walk up and down the long and very steep drive five times.

Other than that, I rise at dawn, pray, catch up on my work, and watch Wimbledon on Sling TV.

Then I wander outside and look at birds through my binoculars. Take a nap. Nibble crackers, cheese and stone fruit. Admire the sky. Say thank you, thank you, thank you. The prospect of not having to be anywhere or talk to anyone all day makes my heart SING.

Here's another quote from Cott's book, this one from Werner Herzog (I consider both Gould and Herzog special "friends"):

"I am obsessed with chickens. Take a close and very long look into the eyes of a chicken, and you'll see the most frightful kind of stupidity. Stupidity is always frightful. It's the devil: stupidity is the devil. Look in the eye of a chicken and then you'll know. It's the most horrifying, cannibalistic, and nightmarish creature in this world."




THESE ARE ALL DUSK


THESE DO NOT BEGIN TO CONVEY THE ARDUOUS JOURNEY
OF JUST ONE TREK UP AND DOWN THE DRIVE!



EVERY SINGLE NIGHT WE SEE SUCH A DISPLAY! 


Monday, July 3, 2017

O BEAUTIFUL FOR PILGRIM FEET





 I try to focus on what I love rather than what I hate; on what's to celebrate instead of what's to bemoan; on the positive rather than the negative.

That is not through any native virtue of my own. It's because I am built down to my DNA to pick out what is scary, bad, or substandard in the other, in life. Left to my own devices, I would bitch and moan the whole day through.

This morning--the Feast of St. (Doubting) Thomas,  I was praying the Office and came across Psalm 64:

"Hear my voice, O God, as I complain,
guard my life from dread of the foe.
Hide me from the band of the wicked,
from the throng of those who do evil."

The word "complain" jumped out at me. Com=with. Plain clearly from plant, plea, Maybe complain means to bewail with, lament with.

I've been to three Masses recently at which we sang, without comment, without irony, "America, the Beautiful." Let's wave the flag, in other words, and pretend everything is great. Let's pretend that God actually approves of unbridled greed, unbridled militarism, unbridled narcissism, and willful blindness. That we are doing this before the altar on which Christ was crucified strikes me as close to blasphemy.

In yesterday's Gospel Christ said, "Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it...And whoever gives only a cup of cold water to one of these little ones to drink because the little one is a disciple--amen, I say to you, he will surely not lose his reward." [Matthew 10:37-42 was the whole reading].

In his homily, the priest at the mega-wealthy suburban parish I happened to be attending said, "I don't need a drop of water from you. I don't have to beg."  Well you are not a person of Christ then, I thought. He went on to speak of his incredibly popularity and how the way actual people in today's world show their love is by giving money, not an unnecessary and really mortifying drop of water. He gave the stats on how financial contributions had risen in the three years since he took over. He spent fifteen minutes describing the newly varnished pews, the lighting in the parking lot, the remote controls for the computers. He did not once mention Christ.

Then we sang "America, the Beautiful."

Driving back home, I thought, "I was thirsting and that priest did not have it in him to give me or any of us a single drop of real, living water."

In general, I subscribe to "If you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all."

But Christ himself, when appropriate, called a spade a spade. He called the Pharisees whited sepulchres. He chased the money-changers out of the temple. Cooperating with a lie never leads to "the fullness of charity," one of my favorite phrases in the Eucharistic Prayers.

That I share many of the unsavory character traits of any person whose behavior I abhor doesn't mean I'm not also called to evaluate that behavior. And anyone who truly loves his or her country has to be appalled at the moment beyond measure.

To that end, here's my recommended 4th of July reading: today's piece by NYT columnist Charles Blow entitled "The Hijacked American Presidency,

The good news is I am at the Dorland Mountain Arts Colony for the week--and not a moment too soon for some much-needed silence and solitude.


PURPLE MOUNTAIN' MAJESTIES
TEMECULA, CA







Friday, June 30, 2017

PANTSULA: THE COOLEST DANCE YOU'VE NEVER HEARD OF AT UCLA'S FOWLER MUSEUM


Chris Saunders (b. 1984, Johannesburg, South Africa)
Real Actions Pantsula - Orange Farm, South
© Chris Saunders


Chris Saunders (b. 1984, Johannesburg, South Africa)
Teboho Diphehlo (Tebza2000) - Intellectuals Pantsula - Soweto
© Chris Saunders


This week's arts and culture column gives a shout-out to UCLA's wonderful Fowler Museum in general and in particular to an exhibit on a dance  that originated in the townships of Johannesberg called PANTSULA.

Here's how the piece begins:

UCLA’s Fowler Museum is a gem. You’re always sure to see an exhibit that’s unusual, revivifying and interesting.

The museum focuses on art and cultural artifacts from Asia, the Pacific, Africa and the Americas, both historical and contemporary. If you’re mad, as I am, for masks, totems, puppets, jewelry, carved tusks, retablos, ex-votos and Japanese emas (votive offerings), this is your place. In fact, the chance to see Ghanian artist El Anatsui’s “Versatility,” a huge rippling tapestry of dull gold made entirely from the strung-together metal necks of liquor bottles, is in itself worth a trip across town.

Exhibits called “How to Make the Universe Right: The Art of Priests and Shamans in Vietnam and Southern China” and “Lineage Through Landscape: Tracing Egun in Brazil by Fran Siegel” will soon begin.

“African-Print Fashion Now! A Story of Taste, Globalization and Style,” a current exhibit that explores fashion as a powerful means of expressing individual and collective identity, runs through July 30.

And through Sept. 3, you can catch “Pantsula 4 LYF: Popular Dance and Fashion in Johannesburg.” (LYF is an initialism for “Live Your Freedom.”) Pantsula began in Johannesburg townships during the apartheid.

Photographer Chris Saunders, whose work graces the exhibit, began taking pictures of pantsula dancers for the 2010 dance edition of Colors magazine. What started out as a two-month assignment transformed into a six-year pilgrimage.


READ THE WHOLE PIECE HERE.

Chris Saunders (b. 1984, Johannesburg, South Africa)
Lenela Leballo (Lee) - Intellectuals Pantsula - Soweto
© Chris Saunders

Thursday, June 29, 2017

TRYING TO SAY GOD


I am back from the Notre Dame literary conference that took place over the weekend. "Trying to Say God" it was called.

Here's the talk I gave. 

Met with many wonderful people, among them Jessica Mesman Griffith (at last, in the flesh!) and Jonathan Ryan of Sick Pilgrim (the sponsoring organization: check out the stellar opening remarks by Bishop Flores on their June 23 post), Ken Garcia, international development person/extraordinary writer Laura Bramon, and my old friends Greg Camacho, Leticia Adams and Muireann Kelliher (Muireann is also an internat'l mover and shaker).

The two on-campus lakes--St. Joseph's and St. Mary's--were my sanctuary.

Many, many thanks to all who put this incredible event together and special thanks for having and welcoming me. I am humbled.

And I came home to tons more work.










WHAT SAYS GOD LOUDER--OR BETTER--THAN A LEAF?



Sunday, June 25, 2017

MY FRIEND IS ORDAINED A PRIEST

FR. TIM AND I THE NIGHT BEFORE

This week's arts and culture column concerns my little trip to Sioux Falls a few weeks ago.

Here's how it begins:

Recently I flew to Sioux Falls, South Dakota, to attend the ordination, my first ever, of Timothy J. Smith.

I met Father Tim, now 36, several years ago when he emailed me about a radio piece I’d done about my little brother’s punk band. Tim was a fan. We began a correspondence that flowered when we met in person in St. Paul when I was on tour with my first book.

In 2009, he converted.

And at 11 a.m. on June 2, 2017, he — along with five other men — was ordained a Catholic priest at St. Joseph Cathedral.

One Sioux Falls resident described the annual ordination as the hottest ticket in town. I proudly presented my gold stub and squeezed into the pew reserved for Tim’s friends.

Back in L.A., our own candidates were preparing to be ordained the next day. As anyone who attended knows, the Church pulls out all the stops. We had the bishop with miter and crozier, every priest in the diocese, nuns in full habit, deacons, seminarians, the Knights of Columbus with swords and purple plumed hats, candles and incense galore, and a choir section with horns.

The antiphon set the tone: “I call you friends, says the Lord, for I have made known to you all that the Father has told me” (John 15:15)

READ THE WHOLE PIECE HERE. 


"HELPING OUT" AT THE RECEPTION

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

SOUTH BEND-BOUND





GARDEN, CARMELITE MONASTERY,
MONTEREY, CA

I'm a bit overloaded on traveling this month.

First Sioux Falls, SD, then a lovely trip to Livermore, CA, to attend my nephew Allen's high school graduation. On the way home, I stopped in Monterey to visit with the one and only Fr. Pat Dooling. Fr. Pat said 9 am Sunday Mass at the Carmelite Monastery after which we repaired to breakfast with Miss Anne Breiling, she of the soon-to-open Shrine Coffee in Santa Cruz.

I stayed for two nights at an airbnb in the Monterey-adjacent town of Seaside which not to put too fine of a point on it, is kind of a dump. The good news is that my room was in by far the most charming dwelling--most charming building, or really sight, of any kind--in the entire town. Very tasteful with sisal rugs, antiques, and delightful gardens.

SUNSET OVER SEASIDE, CA

Tomorrow I'm headed to South Bend, Indiana, and a Catholic literary conference at Notre Dame entitled "Trying to Say God." I get to give the keynote address Friday night at 8, which is kind of past my bedtime but maybe with the time change and lots of coffee I'll be okay.

Yesterday I had a visitor, Mr. Anthony Santella of NYC. Anthony helped me plant my two five-gallon Joseph's Coat climbing roses on either side of the sea-green paint-peeling vintage wrought iron trellis. We are enjoying a freakish heat wave in Pasadena and when we took the roses, which I'd been frantically watering lest they wilt, out of their black plastic pots, the soil literally steamed.

Anthony was a joy. Prior to planting, we sat at my dining room table and nibbled and yakked for several hours on a variety of subjects. He has a PhD in computer science and works at Sloan Kettering mapping the nervous system of worms.

Here's a little bio I just picked up online: "I am a post doctoral fellow at Sloan Kettering Institute working on image analysis and visualization of large in vivo microscopy data sets.  The first goal here is to reduce terabytes of images of embryonic development to the manageable form of segmented nuclei and cellular lineages. Then comes the harder problem of analyzing and understanding the result.  I am also interested in visualization methods that aid interpretation of these data sets by highlighting important developmental events."

"I graduated from the Computer Science Department in May 2005 with a certificate in Cognitive Science.  Broadly, my  areas of interest include: graphics, computer-human interaction, and computer and human vision.  My larger interests include the visual arts and the influence of technology on society, especially the underprivileged and marginalized." 

So you can imagine the conversation was lively.

One thing I learned is that you can store your urine in jars and after a while it makes good fertilizer for your garden.

I return home Sunday and am home till Saturday, when I leave for 10 days at the Dorland Mountain Arts Colony in Temecula, CA.

Here I hope to see and talk to no-one--while I process June.

FAIRY-KISSED GERANIUMS,
NORTH GARFIELD AVE.
PASADENA, CA



SCENES OF HOME

Friday, June 16, 2017

LIGHT UPON THE SCAFFOLD: THE PRISON LETTERS OF JACQUES FESCH



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

Servant of God Jacques Fesch (1930-1957), a murderer who spent three years and eight months in solitary confinement, experienced a profound conversion before his execution by guillotine in a French prison.

“Light Upon the Scaffold: The Prison Letters of Jacques Fesch,” edited by Augustin-Michel Lemonnier and translated by Matthew J. O’Connell, is the title of his collected prison letters.

Jacques’ father, a bank director, was dominating, cynical and virulently atheistic. His mother was weak. Worse, the two neither loved nor respected one another. Thus Jacques had little moral and no religious guidance.

As an adult, Jacques was lazy, a sensualist and a dreamer. He married his wife, Pierrette, already pregnant, in a civil ceremony and soon left her. The murder took place during a botched robbery attempt, part of a plan to buy a boat and sail to Polynesia.

Jacques was arrested and held in solitary confinement at La Santé Prison in Paris. Though he originally spurned the prison chaplain, the two gradually became close. An old, loyal friend was ordained a priest during Jacques’ incarceration and visited frequently. Jacques’ lawyer, Baudet, was an ardent Catholic.


READ THE WHOLE PIECE HERE. 

Friday, June 9, 2017

CHERRY HILL PICK-YOUR-OWN FAMILY FARM




For this week's arts and culture piece, I went and picked my own damn cherries!

Here's how the piece begins:

Ever since my first spring in Los Angeles 27 years ago, my heart sings at the opening of cherry season. And every year for about the last 20, I have told myself I’m going to take a field trip and pick my own.

This year I finally did. One good place to start is the town of Leona Valley, outside Palmdale, which is a kind of cherry mecca.

Even before embarking, I could see it was a whole other world up there. The farm stands sell local farm-fresh honey and eggs. The names of the cherry varieties conjured visions of Tuscany: Tartarian, Tieton, Chelan, Lapins.

There were many orchards to choose from. One website proclaimed in bold letters: “Remember, we have a $5 per person minimum purchase and we do not allow eating the cherries while picking in the orchard. Pick, pay then eat!”

I was almost tempted to visit that one just to see how the rule was enforced. Did a guy with a cattle prod wander around zapping anyone caught sneaking a stray Rainier? Did a gal in a Smokey’s hat patrol the orchard with a bullhorn, braying, “You, clad weirdly in black and clutching a rosary, I saw you scarf that Bing!”


READ THE WHOLE PIECE HERE.