Tuesday, July 7, 2015


photo credit:

Jon Spayde of St. Paul MN calls our attention to: Writers No-One Reads: Daniel Spoerri.

From wikipedia: "Daniel Spoerri (born 27 March 1930 in Galați) is a Swiss artist and writer born in Romania.[1] Spoerri is best known for his "snare-pictures," a type of assemblage or object art, in which he captures a group of objects, such as the remains of meals eaten by individuals, including the plates, silverware and glasses, all of which are fixed to the table or board, which is then displayed on a wall."

Spoerri is also known for his book An Anecdoted Topography of Chance.

Courtesy of this site from UC Santa Barbara:

"Daniel Spoerri: An Anecdoted Topography of Chance

In 1962 after a conversation with the poet Robert Filliou, Fluxus artist Daniel Spoerri mapped the objects lying at random on the table in his room, adding a rigorously scientific description of each. These objects subsequently evoked associations, memories, anecdotes; not only from the original author, but from his friends as well: a beguiling creation was born. Many of the principal participants of FLUXUS make an appearance (and texts by Higgins, Jouffroy, Kaprow, Restany, and Tinguely are included, among others). It is a novel of digressions in the manner of Tristram Shandy or Robbe-Grillet; it's a game, a poem, an encyclopaedia, a cabinet of wonders: a celebration of friendship and creativity."

The book is somewhat hard to find and generally quite expensive. Jon, however, unearthed a copy from Midway Books and sent it as a gift.

Shell debris, crumbs, a green Swingline stapler. Tangents about road trips, drunken parties, insults that may or may not have been forgiven, and a throughline of eggs.

A sample:

"Entry No. 2:

Pale-green egg cup of very light plastic standing on three tiny legs, bought with three others of different color last Saturday at the Uniprix five-and-ten on Avenue GÉNÉRAL LECLERC. I was in that quarter to cash a check for 706 francs, payable at a bank at No. 5 on that avenue, which ARTURO SCHWARZ (see No. 38, note ++) had sent me. Just opposite the bank is the Uniprix where I went to look for a lot of trinkets to give KICHKA'S sister, who was coming to celebrate her birthday with us in my room that afternoon. I gave her three of the egg cups, and the fourth one stayed in my room, and KICHKA, used it at noon today to eat her eggs (No. 1, 1a). Still in the egg cup is the shell of the egg that I bought this morning, along with three others for 35 centimes apiece, at the dairy store on the Place de la Contrescarpe, whose proprietor, at the end of the day, feeds his perishable leftovers to the neighborhood bums, who heap coarse insults on him when they don't find the leftovers to their liking. Tr. Note 1. Two of these eggs were eaten by BREMER this morning and the other by RENATE (No. 1). (Tr. Note 2)."

A book of marvels and surprises I will treasure.

Thank you, Jon.  

Sunday, July 5, 2015


Kevin ("Oh no, darling, that's a bathing ensemble") Jones is Curator of the FIDM/Fashiong Institute of Design and Merchandising Museum and Galleries.

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

FIDM (Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising) is a private college in Downtown L.A. offering majors in fashion design, interior design, merchandising and marketing and many others.

FIDM also features a museum and galleries that are open to the public.

Kevin Jones, curator, has been at his post for 15 years. Recently, accompanied by the very stylish Susan Aronson, long-time executive director of admissions, he gave me a tour.

“The FIDM collection is one of the most important in the country, with more than 15,000 pieces of historic dress, men’s and women’s, from 1800 to the present, as well as accessories, jewelry, fragrance packaging and ephemera.”


Thursday, July 2, 2015


"I believe that language and imagination, far from alienating us from nature, are our most powerful and natural tools for re-engaging with it... Culture isn't the opposite or contrary of nature. It's the interface between us and the non-human world, our species' semi-permeable membrane."*

--Richard MabeyNature Cure


Tuesday, June 30, 2015



"The current terms in which we describe our society, the contrasts with other societies by which we—of the “Western democracies”—eulogise it, only operate to deceive and stupefy us. To speak of ourselves as a Christian society, in contrast to that of Germany or Russia, is an abuse of terms. We mean only that we have a society in which no one is penalized for the formal profession of Christianity; but we conceal from ourselves the real values by which we live."

"I believe that there must be many persons who, like myself, were deeply shaken by the events of September, 1938 (in which the Munich Pact was signed and England and France gave in to Hitler’s demands to annex Czechoslovakia), in a way from which one does not recover; persons to whom that month brought a profounder realization of a general plight. It was not a disturbance of the understanding: the events themselves were not surprising Nor, as became increasingly evident, was our distress due merely to disagreement with the policy and behavior of the moment. The feeling which was new and unexpected was a feeling of humiliation, which seemed to demand an act of personal contrition, of humility, repentance and amendment; what had happened was something in which one was deeply implicated and responsible. It was not, I repeat, a criticism of the government, but a doubt of the validity of a civilization. We could not match conviction with conviction, we had no ideas with which we could either meet or oppose the ideas opposed to us. Was our society, which had always been so assured of its superiority and rectitude, so confident of its unexamined premises, assembled round anything more permanent than a congeries of banks, insurance companies and industries, and had it any beliefs more essential than a belief in compound interest and the maintenance of dividends?" 

--T.S Eliot, Christianityand Culture 


Sunday, June 28, 2015


For this week's arts and culture column, I interviewed Erika Cuellar and Richard Garcia, the amazing duo who head up the East L.A. non-profit Alma Backyard Farms.

Here's how the column begins:

“Re-claim lives. Re-purpose land. Re-imagine community.” That’s the motto of Alma Backyard Farms, an East L.A. non-profit that teaches recently released prisoners to grow, harvest and market local produce.

Erika Cuellar, 29, and Richard Garcia, 35, are the heart of the project. Erika grew up in South L.A. Richard was raised in the Hollywood area in a devoutly Catholic Filipino family.

Richard’s house on Alma Avenue, beautifully landscaped with native grasses and trees, doubles as the organization’s headquarters. We sit down in the back with a cup of tea. The adjacent vegetable garden features cauliflower, eggplant, Swiss chard, kale, onions and fennel — “the butterflies go crazy for it.”

As a seminarian (he’s since left), Richard worked with Jesuit priest Father Mike Kennedy to help establish a Restorative Justice Initiative. “Classically, restorative justice would be a face-to-face interaction healing with an attempt made on the part of both the offender and the victim. We were facilitating retreats in prison in the Ignatian tradition, giving a name to the contemplative experience that already existed among prisoners.”

I spent a leisurely, beautiful morning with Richard and Erika. It restored my soul.


photo credit: Paulina Forgette

photo credit: Paulina Forgette

photo credit: Paulina Forgette

photo credit: Becca Yee

Friday, June 26, 2015


One of the prides of my life is my little brother Joe, whose punk band, The Queers, has been going strong for decades.

Through him, I met his friend Ben Weasel (stage name) of Screeching Weasel, another punk band with a rabidly devoted following.

Several years ago I became godmother to his twin daughters. Since then, he and his wife have also had a son.

Ben's a Catholic convert.
He's a stay-at-home father to his three kids.
And over the course of the last several years, he's also written a rock opera, the first half of which is called "Baby Fat: Act One."

In conjunction with the release of the CD on May 26, Ben gave this interview to the Italian webzine Tempi.

Ben thrives on being provocative. Don't let it deprive you of a really good read, a fresh examination on the father-daughter relationship, and a thoughtful take on incorporating our faith into our work, whatever the work might consist of.

Here's an excerpt:

"I think that fifty years ago or a hundred years ago the sin of pride was understood a lot better than it is now. Now if we say pride we just think that somebody is arrogant. I think the real meaning is different. You can find it for example in The Heart of the Matter by Graham Greene, in which, at the and of the novel, Scobie commits this ultimate sin of suicide because he just decides that God can’t save him. It’s sort of a self-pitying attitude. He wants to be saved, but God cannot save him.

That’s the kind of pride that I was interested in, the kind that causes a lot of people today to say, as they find out that you are religious: "Oh, I wish I could be religious too, I just can’t." The implication is: I’m just too smart for religion, I wish I could just be an idiot like you, and believe in God, because it would be so comforting… But it’s the exact opposite of the truth. Religion is not about comfort, actually it is supposed to make you very uncomfortable."

Right on, brother.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015


"Colors are the deeds and suffering of light."

Even though it's 115 degrees and I mean pretty much day and night, I am loving my time out here In Palm Springs. I don't have to talk to anyone hardly all day, and every day is full. 

Uninterrupted time for work is heaven, plus it is QUIET. I creep out to 7:30 am Mass which is in the Our Lady of Solitude parish hall in the summer and is peopled by about 20 people, 18 of whom regard me suspiciously, and the other two of whom appear to have Asperger's or be homeless. Again, love this. Being among people but not having to talk or interact with them is the introvert's dream. 

My main excitement is grapefruit foraging. Citrus season is past but the trees about the grounds of "my" condo complex are still bearing the occasional fruit which, when over-ripe and/or overcome by the punishingly hot sun, splat obligingly to the sidewalk. They are good eating--unbelievably sweet--and on my daily foray to the mailbox (another high point), I am constantly but constantly endeavoring to spot a stray or two, which I then ferry back at an accelerated rate of speed to my pad. 

After writing, playing the piano, answering email and phone calls, puttering, and cleaning up my person and general environs, I take a walk each day at about 5:30.

It is still insanely hot and I carry a big plastic container of what starts out as ice cubes and quickly transforms to warm water. Sometimes I walk to the "Wellness Park" on Tachevah, hard by "The Movie Colony." Sometimes I drive to Old Las Palmas and meander among the grand old Palm Springs Spanish Mediterraneans. And sometimes I troll the suburban streets north of Racquet Club Road between Palm Canyon and Indian Canyon. Whichever route I choose, it's devoid of pedestrians (and even mostly of cars) as without water a person would die within about five minutes' exposure to the sun.

I attend many meetings for people with alcoholism and many other meetings whose families have been affected by alcoholism, and a good thing, too, as not to put too fine a point on it, without them I would LOSE MY MIND. 

Many of these take place in an Episcopal church outbuilding "cooled" by a wan rotating fan. In attendance last night were several sweaty gay men, a woman I'll call Geena who looks like Olive Oyl and incessantly whines about her husband (they are recently separated and I can see why), and one late middle-aged woman in rolled-up jeans and a muscle shirt stained with SPF 50 who alternately rolls her eyes and cries (that would be me). 

There is much MUCH more. A woman with ENORMOUS breasts (on full display), a rhinestone cowboy hat, and bright orange lipstick, for example, who I came across in the course of my travels the other day. She was wheeling a baby stroller and though on the far side of 60 did not look like the grandmotherly type if you know what I mean. 

So I looked inside and there, sitting regally on a satin pillow, was a miniature white poodle with a sassy pink bow behind its ear. I cast around for something to say that wasn't insincere and settled on, "I love that you have your dog in a baby stroller." "Yes," the woman replied tenderly, gazing down a thrilling expanse of bare bust to her charge. "Baby has a bad back."

Wimbledon starts June 26. The guy whose condo I'm staying at has ESPN. 



“Color itself is a degree of darkness.”

Saturday, June 20, 2015



I could make a whole career out of plugging authors "no-one" reads, or in this case reads anymore.

One such author is the subject of this week's arts and culture column--which begins like this.

"As popular in her day as David Sedaris — and every bit as funny — Betty MacDonald (1908-1958) retains a small but devoted following of which I’m a proud member.

She’s perhaps best known as the author of “The Egg and I” (1945), the book that gave rise to the characters Ma and Pa Kettle.

But as the gap between the rich and the poor grows ever wider, the book I’m turning to again is called “Anybody Can Do Anything” (1950).

It’s about Seattle during the Depression and Betty’s wacky family — they’re all back home, living with their chain-smoking, novel-reading, mild-mannered mother — which is headed up by the oldest sibling, Mary, and how Mary gets Betty, who is divorced with two young daughters, a succession of odd jobs for which Betty is completely and utterly unqualified.

Here’s the conversation that ensues after Mary announces to Betty that she’s volunteered her for a job 'at the Western Insurance Company being private secretary to a perfectly darling man named Welton Brown' ”...


Thursday, June 18, 2015


I've been reflecting on the difference between being a doormat, which we're never called to do, and turning the other cheek.

We're never called to say It's okay to abuse me. An example would be depriving ourselves of peace of mind or a humane living in order to supply our alcoholic kid, spouse, parent, or friend with drinking money, a place to live, and/or legal representation even though the person clearly has no desire or intention to get help and also starts attacking us when the help isn't forthcoming--or even sometimes when it is. (I use this example because it's played out so many times in my own life).

We should be open to discussion but we get to choose our discussions. If you want to try to convince me that watching bad TV is a good use of my time, for example, I simply can't enter in. If you want to tell me that you watch bad TV but "they" watch their own form of bad TV, too, I can't enter in. 

That is a gulf on the question of how we move and live and have our being in--as well as our responsibility to--the cosmos so wide there is no way we are going to bridge it on that particular issue. 

To turn the other cheek, by contrast, has to do with then refraining from trying to set the other person straight. 

Turning the other cheek means consenting to be misunderstood, minimized, and/or thought badly of, and that's why it goes against the grain. 

I'll give you an example. I just wrote a piece about the observatory at Mt. Wilson. I heard from an astronomer there and he copied the email to a priest who also has a deep interest in astronomy and and has been connected to the Observatory over the years. The priest writes to the other guy (who then copied me), "She wrongly attributed the Big Bang to Hubble. It was Georges LeMaitre." 

Now everything in me wanted to respond, "Well, I got all my info from the Mt. Wilson Obsevatory website, the tape that played at the 150-inch telescope, and the placards on the grounds so if I got it wrong, they got it wrong." 

But what purpose would that have served except to "set the guy straight?" To tell him he was wrong to notice the error. To emphasize that I am actually quite conscientious. To establish that I, though a rank layperson, did my homework. What I really wanted to say was, "Okay, but who formulated the Big Bang theory wasn't remotely the point! Didn't you notice the heart of the piece: the contemplative insight, the wonder, the awe, the literary excellence?"....

Instead, I wrote simply, "Thank you for the correction, Father."

That is not being a doormat. Being a doormat would have been to respond, "Oh my God, I could just die. What a stupid egregious error, please forgive me! Of course I know nothing of astronomy while you are an expert. I don't even deserve to write." Et cetera.  

And because (for once in my life) I exercised restraint of tongue and pen, I really was able to feel thankful. I got to realize that I am deeply attached to my opinions; why shouldn't everyone else be? If I get to notice what I notice, why shouldn't everyone else get to notice what they notice? To an astronomer, the error WOULD have been gross.  
Like all sound spiritual practices, turning the other cheek leads to self-discovery. Turning the other cheek helps me to realize that I am argumentative, defensive, and take things personally. I badly want to be right, to triumph, to lord it over, to be vindicated, to win. 

And the minute I start trying to win, man, I am like a dog with a bone. I will obsessively construct arguments in my head. I will build my case point by point. 

I will ruin my day.  

Maybe more to the point, I remember that I am afraid. I am lonely. I feel vulnerable. I am often cowardly.

So on my blog, in all my work and life, I can't try to set the other person straight. . 

I can only say how things have panned out for me and why (with the "why" always grounded in my understanding  and experience of the Gospels).  

The same principle of turning the other cheek was at work in a well-known incident told by Therese of Lisieux in The Story of a Soul. Behind Therese in chapel (where the nuns gathered several times a day, with seats assigned for life) sat an elderly nun who made a hideously annoying sound, "like two shells scraping together," apparently by clicking her rosary against her teeth. Therese trained herself, literally sweating with the effort, not to turn around and glare at the woman. 

She refrained, in other words, from setting the other nun straight. 

If you think it's easy, try it. It is just as hard now as -but no harder than--it was In Christ's time. 

I wonder if this capacity to turn the other cheek is not very much behind Christ's--"Blessed are the peacemakers." 

*Postscript: Later in the day, I rec'd a lovely email from the priest (Monsignor, actually) saying how much he liked the piece. Good thing I didn't shoot my mouth off!


Tuesday, June 16, 2015


After reflecting during the past several days on the natural frames made by windows, the wonder of trees, and spending our lives somewhere other than in front of a television screen, I read an essay about a British painter, mostly unknown (though probably better known now) named Stephen Taylor that somehow tied all those thoughts together.  

The essay appears in a book by Alain de Botton called The Pleasures and the Sorrows of Work (I also recommend de Botton's wonderful The Art of Travel).

Some excerpts:

"Stephen Taylor has spent much of the last two years in a wheat field in East Anglia repeatedly painting the same oak tree under a range of different lights and weathers. He was out in two feet of snow last winter and this summer, at three in the morning, he lay on his back tracing the upper branches of the tree by the light of a solstice moon"...

On a typical summer's day, this unknown middle-aged artist is loading his car, ready for work, by seven in the morning. He lives in a dilapidated terraced house in the centre of Colchester, a town of one hundred thousand inhabitants, ninety kilometres north-east of London. His sagging, dented Citroen has reached a state of decrepitude so advanced that it seems set for immortality. Across the back seats, strewn as if the vehicle had just been involved in a head-on collision, are canvases, easels, insect repellant, old sandwiches, a bag of brushes and a box of paints. There is also a suitcase jammed with scarves and jumpers, for outdoor paiinters tend to know the story of how Cezanne caught a chill one morning while painting a sparrow in a field in Aix-en-Provence--and was dead by early sunset"...


"Taylor first came across the tree five years ago, when he was out for a walk in the countryside following the death of his girlfriend. After stopping to rest against the fence which runs beside it, he was overpowered by a feeling that something in this very ordinary tree was crying out to be set down to paint, and that if he could only do it justice, his life would in indistinct ways be redeemed, and its hardships sublimated. 

It is not unusual for Taylor to forget to eat while he is working...

Taylor is tormented by a sense of responsibility for the appearance of things. He can be kept awake at night by what he sees as an injustice in the colour of wheat or an uneasy fault line between two patches of sky. His work frequently puts him in a tense, silent mood, in which he can be seen walking the streets of Colchester. His concerns are difficult for others to feel sympathetic about, however, for few of us are primed to feel generous toward a misery caused by a pigment incorrectly applied across an unremunerative piece of stretched cloth.

His progress is slow: he can spend five months on a canvas measuring twenty centimeters square. But his painstaking approach is in truth the legacy of over twenty years of research. It took him three years just to determine how best to render the movement of wheat in a gust of wind, and even longer to become proficient in colour. Whereas a decade ago he would have used at least ten shades of green to paint the tree's foliage, he now relies on only three, and yet his leaves appear all the more luxuriantly dense and mobile for this reduction in complexity. 

Taylor found his teachers on museum walls"...


"It is the close of an exceptionally hot summer's day. Taylor is outside in his field, preparing to work through the night...

As the night wears on, the human world gradually recedes, leaving Taylor alone with insects and the play of moonlight on wheat. He sees his art as born out of, and hoping to inspire, reverence for all that is unlike us and exceeds us. He never wanted to paint the work of people, their factories, streets or electricity circuit boards. His attention was drawn to that which, because we did not build it, we must make a particular effort of empathy and imagination to understand, to a natural environment that is uniquely unpredictable, for it is literally unforeseen. His devoted look at a tree is an attempt to push the self aside and recognise all that is other and beyond us--starting with this ancient-looking hulk in the gloom, with its erratic branches, thousands of stiff little leaves and remarkable lack of any direct connection to the human drama."

--Alain de Botton, The Pleasures and the Sorrows of Work, from Chapter VI, "Painting

stream of living water