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 a 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

Wednesday, August 6, 2014


"No great idea can vanish, even if it never reaches public circulation, even if it has been 'taken to the grave.' In the light of such a law, the drama and tragedy of a man's inner life never have unfolded in vain, even when played out in secret, unrecorded, uncelebrated by any novelist. The 'novel' which each individual has lived remains an incomparably greater composition than any that has ever been written down. Every one of us knows somehow that the content of his life is somewhere preserved and saved. Thus time, the transitoriness of the years, cannot affect its meaning and value. Having been is also a kind of being--perhaps the surest kind. And all effective action in life may, in this view, appear as a salvaging of possibilities by actualizing them. Though past, these possibilities are now safely ensconced in the past for all eternity, and time can no longer change them"...

--Viktor Frankl, The Doctor & The Soul

Tuesday, August 5, 2014


A few years ago PARCHED, my beloved first book, was cruelly remaindered. Meaning the sales weren't high enough to keep it in print, and folks could therefore only buy the book used.

I myself bought 300 copies or so but sold them all at talks, readings, and other events. Even I didn't have my own paperback copy anymore!

I kept badgering New American Library, the publisher, to give me the rights back, but the ebook sales were high enough so that time after time, they said no.

At last, earlier this year, I had a brainstorm. I described my INCREDIBLY SUCCESSFUL career to them and suggested that they put the book back in print.

And darned if they haven't done it!!

So for the many hundreds of thousands of you who have barely been able to eat or sleep, you can relax, log on to amazon, and purchase a brand new copy of PARCHED. $13.01 plus super shipping on orders over $35.

Sin, redemption, rehab. My tragicomic drinking story, in living color. It'll probably always be the favorite of my books.

For an excerpt, CLICK HERE.

Saturday, August 2, 2014


I notice the Holy Father's intentions for the month of July, 2014 were Lay Missionaries and Sports.

It's August now but the US Open will be coming up soon, and I do want to share possibly the best thing David Foster Wallace ever wrote: an article in the August 20, 2006 NYT entitled "Federer as Religious Experience."

An excerpt:

"He is, at 25, the best tennis player currently alive. Maybe the best ever. Bios and profiles abound. “60 Minutes” did a feature on him just last year. Anything you want to know about Mr. Roger N.M.I. Federer — his background, his home town of Basel, Switzerland, his parents’ sane and unexploitative support of his talent, his junior tennis career, his early problems with fragility and temper, his beloved junior coach, how that coach’s accidental death in 2002 both shattered and annealed Federer and helped make him what he now is, Federer’s 39 career singles titles, his eight Grand Slams, his unusually steady and mature commitment to the girlfriend who travels with him (which on the men’s tour is rare) and handles his affairs (which on the men’s tour is unheard of), his old-school stoicism and mental toughness and good sportsmanship and evident overall decency and thoughtfulness and charitable largess — it’s all just a Google search away. Knock yourself out.

This present article is more about a spectator’s experience of Federer, and its context. The specific thesis here is that if you’ve never seen the young man play live, and then do, in person, on the sacred grass of Wimbledon, through the literally withering heat and then wind and rain of the ’06 fortnight, then you are apt to have what one of the tournament’s press bus drivers describes as a “bloody near-religious experience.” It may be tempting, at first, to hear a phrase like this as just one more of the overheated tropes that people resort to to describe the feeling of Federer Moments. But the driver’s phrase turns out to be true — literally, for an instant ecstatically — though it takes some time and serious watching to see this truth emerge.

Beauty is not the goal of competitive sports, but high-level sports are a prime venue for the expression of human beauty. The relation is roughly that of courage to war.

The human beauty we’re talking about here is beauty of a particular type; it might be called kinetic beauty. Its power and appeal are universal. It has nothing to do with sex or cultural norms. What it seems to have to do with, really, is human beings' reconciliation with the fact of having a body."

There's much of DFW I can't read. But if he'd written nothing more than this one essay I would still have to bow my head before his supreme, almost otherworldly talent. It's an essay about suffering, the incarnation, and the sublime mystery of talent. And it could just as easily have been called "David Foster Wallace as Religious Experience."

Here's the whole piece.

Friday, August 1, 2014


I have been away from home over six weeks, still writing two weekly columns, and am now almost on my last legs.

Here's a book review of Fr. James Martin, S.J.'s latest: JESUS: A PILGRIMAGE.

An excerpt:

"Thus, we learn what Jesus ate: grains, vegetables, fruits, olives, lentil stew, salted fish, pita bread. We learn what Jesus wore: likely a tunic, loincloth and linen or woolen cloak. We learn of the abysmal sanitary conditions in first-century Nazareth. We learn, interestingly, that Jesus might have owned his own home (from which the friends of the paralytic possibly tore off the roof so as to lower him down to be healed).

“Jesus saw this!' Father Martin keeps thinking. 'Jesus saw this!' "

Visiting with my little sister today. On to Weston Priory!
Home August 8.