Friday, February 5, 2016

THE ROSE BOWL FLEA MARKET


MY HOME DECOR CREDO:
YOU CAN NEVER HAVE TOO MANY TCHOTCHKES

I now live within a couple of miles of Pasadena's Rose Bowl. I don't give a hoot about footbowl (is that what they play there?) but once a month they have a gigantic flea market--the subject of this week's arts and culture piece, which begins:

If you believe, as I do, that everyone should own at least one battered tin peacock-green bread box, or a chipped enamel coffee pot of robin’s egg blue, then the Rose Bowl Flea Market is your place.

Held every second Sunday of the month at Pasadena’s Rose Bowl, the event bills itself as the most unusual flea market in the world.

There are booths specializing in everything from hand-embroidered vintage hankies to punk T-shirts to scissors. There are rugs, Roseville pottery, antique typewriters, sewing machines and record players.

There is patio furniture galore: wrought iron plant racks, filigree benches, café tables. There are made-to-order mid-century modern sofas and people who deliver.

READ THE WHOLE PIECE HERE.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

STALKING THE GAP WITH FR. MICHAEL FISH





One of Pasadena's main drags is called Orange Grove Blvd.
The groves are gone but all up and down the surrounding residential streets,
front and backyard trees glow with citrus. 

Often in L.A., I'll have a coffee date, or an appointment, before which I'll decide to do three or four errands. Sometimes the errands take longer than I anticipated and I can't complete all of them ("Lord, save me from being angry."). Other times the tracks are oiled and I sail through with time to spare.

What follows is twenty or thirty or forty minutes--a gap if you like, between the errands and the appointment. I've learned to love these ad hoc interludes. I can sit in my car listening to classical music and watching the leaves of sycamores or the faces of the people walking by or the sky. I can make a long-deferred phone call to a family member or friend. I can get out walk myself, probably my most frequently-exercised option. In this way I have communed with many unfamiliar tucked-away streets, neighborhoods, blocks of stores in my beloved adopted city.

These are little secret times that no-one knows or needs to know about when, in the midst of a city of ten million, I can be "alone with God."

In a way, all of life is a gap--between our births and our deaths--during which we experience all manner of other gaps. I, for one, seem always to be dying to some old identity--as the person who MUST be the favorite, as someone who "doesn't know how to garden" (more on this later!)--and hanging out, rather uneasily, in the gap before the birth of the new.

Not long ago, Fr. Michael Fish of the upper central California coast gave a Lenten mission at St. Monica's down here in Santa Monica, called "Stalking the Gap."

"Fr. Michael Fish, OSB, Cam, a monk of the New Camaldoli Hermitage, is a native of South Africa. At the age of 23 he joined the Redemptorist order and spent many of his 26 years with them. In 1997, responding to a persistent desire for a more contemplative way of life, he left the Redemptorists and South Africa and became a Camaldolese Benedictine at New Camaldoli Hermitage in Big Sur, Calif. Fr. Fish is now engaged in spiritual direction to guests and retreatants at the Hermitage as well as directing retreats."

A description: "In this talk, Fr. Fish shall delve into the aches, pain and sadness that are part of the human condition, the gaps. Participants will be led to see how ‘stalking these gaps’ relates to spirituality and can lead to a Divine encounter."

You can learn more about Fr. Michael, his Camino, prayer life, wisdom and insights HERE.

 A BIG SHOUT-OUT TO FR. PATRICK DOOLING OF THE MONTEREY CATHEDRAL FOR
INTRODUCING ME TO FR MICHAEL, HIS DEAR FRIEND!

Monday, February 1, 2016

RON ROLHEISER ON MY BOOK SHIRT OF FLAME: A YEAR WITH ST. THÉRÈSE OF LISIEUX



THE MYSTERY OF CARS AT NIGHT
JUST EAST OF N. LAKE AVE,
ALTADENA, CA


This morning I received an email from a friend reporting that Fr. Ron Rolheiser, whose writings on our holy longing/restless hearts have immeasurably consoled and sustained me, has devoted his most recent column to my book SHIRT OF FLAME: A YEAR WITH ST. THÉRÈSE OF LISIEUX.

Though my blog receives about two page views a day and his I'm sure two million, I'll refrain from posting the piece in full and direct you to his site. It will also appear in his WORLD-WIDE SYNDICATED COLUMN next week.

The piece begins:

They say that the book you most need to read finds you when you most need to read it. I’ve had that experience many times, most recently with Heather King’s book, Shirt of Flame, A Year with Saint Therese of Lisieux.

The title of the book is borrowed from T. S. Eliot’s, Four Quartets, where he famously suggests that Love itself, God, is behind the torment we often feel in our fiery desires and that the burning we feel there is an “intolerable shirt of flame.”

King writes this book from a fiery context within her own life: She is a free-lance journalist and writer, single, divorced, an alcoholic in recovery, reconciling some darkness in her past, dealing with a paralyzing obsession because the man she is in love with will not respond to her, risking the financial stability of a career in law for the insecurity of being a free-lance writer, and struggling with the sense of being an outsider to normal family, marriage, and community, an orphan at all the banquets of life. And so she sets off for a year to immerse herself in one of the most intriguing saints of all time, Therese of Lisieux, in an attempt is to see whether Therese might be a moral and spiritual compass by which to sort out her own life. The result is a powerful, deeply insightful, adult, book.

Me, adult? There MUST be a God!

A thousand thanks to Fr. Rolheiser for taking the time and effort to give my humble offering a deep read.

READ THE WHOLE PIECE HERE.


ST. ELIZABETH OF HUNGARY
ALTADENA, CA

Saturday, January 30, 2016

LOVE AND REDEMPTION WITH THE LOS ANGELES BALLET


DON QUIXOTE
PABLO PICASSO, 1955Add caption
This week's arts and culture piece begins:

For the lover of literature, there are moments one never forgets. Even now, I can’t quite believe “they” killed certain protagonists: the grandmother in Flannery O’Connor’s “A Good Man is Hard to Find,” Anne Frank, Christ.

There’s another moment, unique unto itself: the deathbed revelation of “Don Quixote.”

Everyone knows how Cervantes’ story begins: a restless middle-aged hidalgo, steeped in tales of chivalry, leaves the security of home, sets out with his bumbling (yet surprisingly witty) squire Sancho Panza and a broken-down nag named Rocinante, and in an extended fit of madness (or is he mad?) tries to set the injustices of the world straight.

Published in two volumes (1605 and 1615), “Don Quixote” is widely agreed to be a Western classic and regularly appears on lists of the best works of fiction ever written.


READ THE WHOLE PIECE HERE.


"The pen is the tongue of the brain."
MIGUEL DE CERVANTES

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

CHANGE OF ADDRESS




"Anne had not wanted this visit to Uppercross to learn that a removal from one set of people to another, though at a distance of only three miles, will often include a total change of conversation, opinion, and idea."
--Jane Austen, Persuasion

As you may or may not know, I moved to a different part of greater Los Angeles in December, from the Silver Lake/Echo Park area where I'd been for the past five years to north Pasadena.

I must say it has thrown me for a bit of a loop. I know they say that moving is one of the seven biggest traumas (or something like that), but I sort of thought, Oh come now, a mere eight or ten miles?

But as Jane Austen knew 200 years ago, a very short distance can make a very big difference. First, there are the things that come up with any move: Where is the Post Office? Where can I get fresh fava beans? Where is the nearest 99-Cents-Only Store, Trader Joe's, Vons, Ralphs, mom-and-pop Armenian grocery store, nursery, bookstore, farmer's market, Staples? Where can I get picture hangers, a new kitchen wastebasket, potting soil, Drano? How to get the best deal on wifi (I am still using the personal hotspot on my iphone, talk about slow). I can only do so much, take in so much, process so much, move so fast in any given day.

I find my weekly arts and culture column is A LOT. I had two books out last year and will have two books out this year. I'm also helping someone else write a book, which is a major project.

One thing that is a huge change is that I sort of can't get to any of my old haunts and the people I love without getting on a freeway, and the older I get, the less I like freeways. They are just too damn fast. Not that I can't be utterly impatient and on surface streets am prone to go faster than I probably should. But to go from 30 mph to 70 is something I want to take slow. Fifteen minutes seems about right, but of course as soon as you shoot off that on ramp, the race is on. I'm sure people don't go any faster or drive more aggressively than they ever have: it just seems that way. (And this has nothing to do with Los Angeles where, if anything (in my admittedly limited experience with other cities, but still)  drivers are less insane than, say, Boston or Atlanta).

Not to mention the freeways at night--super scary!!

So that means I'm either going to have to do more driving and be scared more than I want to be, or I'm going to have to change up my activities and schedule. And that's what I find really scary.

In fact, I think the real reason moving is "traumatic" is because a move requires a kind of change of identity. Of course we know we're not the four walls within which we live or the streets we drive or the store where we get out toothpaste and milk. But it may be that in a sense we are what we love. And when we have come to love a certain block where the jacarandas are especially lovely in spring, or the way we can get from the ATM to the library to the PO in five minutes, or the checkout lady at the Mexican market where we buy our toilet paper, we have to re-calibrate. There's a gap in the space between where we say goodbye to the old and before we learn to love the new.

And in the gap is a very unsettling sense of Who am I? Where am I? AM I?

Another thing that's surprised me is the difference in vegetation, in the sense of space and light from "down there" to "up here." Pasadena lies in the shadow of the San Gabriel mountains so winters are cooler and summers are hotter than even seven or eight miles south.  There's way more space and quiet, way longer views, way more deciduous trees. In my back yard alone are a persimmon tree, a lemon tree, a kumquat, an olive tree, black walnut trees and several old-growth camellias that are just coming into bloom.

The walking is primo--good sidewalks, endless residential streets shaded by overhanging trees. I've only begun to explore the many neighborhoods. I may have said I found a chapel attached to St. Elizabeth of Hungary, a half-hour walk from my apartment, that's open till 9 pm. So that's been a treat, to walk up there and just sit. Feel my fear. Feel my loneliness. Feel my gratitude, cautious excitement, joy. Fatigue.

I'm living in a big old Craftsman that's been divided into eight apartments so I have many neighbors. Jessie found my phone sitting by a plant on my balcony the other day where I'd left it in my haste to leave. He wrapped it in a piece of white computer paper and left it with a note by my door.

That made me feel really good. Conversations, opinions and ideas may change,
Kindness--and our response to it--remains eternal.








Friday, January 22, 2016

WHERE CHANCE MEETS NECESSITY: THE BOXES OF JOSEPH CORNELL




This week's arts and culture is on the fascinating NY artist, Joseph Cornell.

The piece begins like this:

Joseph Cornell (1903-1972) was eccentric and reclusive and went about NYC and environs collecting little bits and pieces of things: shells, old diaries, album covers. He felt there were certain objects that belonged together that had been separated, possibly by decades, and made otherworldly, magical assemblage boxes that purported to reunite them.

This idea of making connections, of reuniting things that have been lost or separated from each other is dear to the heart of a follower of the Gospels.

In the Parable of the Lost Sheep, Jesus says, “What man among you having a hundred sheep and losing one of them would not leave the 99 in the desert and go after the lost one until he finds it? And when he does find it, he sets it on his shoulders with great joy and, upon his arrival home, he calls together his friends and neighbors and says to them, ‘Rejoice with me because I have found my lost sheep’” (Luke 15: 4-6).



READ THE WHOLE PIECE HERE.


Sunday, January 17, 2016

SONGS FROM THE NORTH : BEYOND THE CULT OF THE KIMS



What with the clearly unbalanced head of North Korea's recent bombast, this week's arts and culture column is especially timely: a reflection on documentarian Soon-Mi Yoo's "Songs from the North."

The piece begins:

North Korea is perhaps the most secretive, least-known country on earth. A totalitarian dictatorship, its cult of personality has elevated three generations of the Kim family, starting with Kim Il Sung (1912-1994), to the status of gods.

Soon-Mi Yoo, a professor of film and video at the Massachusetts College of Arts, grew up in South Korea. At REDCAT recently, she introduced the documentary she directed and edited, “Songs from the North.”

“As a child, North Korea was always in our consciousness. Threats, propaganda. We were so close yet North Korea was a world away.”

The film took four years to make. She visited North Korea three times, in 2010, 2011 and 2014.

Even so, the country remained “a mysterious place.” Like all visitors, she was closely monitored, accompanied at all times by minders, and taken to the same few sites to which foreigners are allowed access.


READ THE WHOLE PIECE HERE.



Thursday, January 14, 2016

GOODBYE CHRISTMAS TREE LANE


I may have said I got started late on Christmas this year and I have had a hard time letting go of the magic.

Right up the street from where I live in Pasadena is an historic landmark/local institution: Santa Rosa Avenue colloquially known as Christmas Tree Lane. Some rich guy in the early part of last century saw some giant deodars on his travels and decided to try to re-create the effect near his Altadena (the town just north of Pasadena) compound. Or something like that. You can read the history and more here.

Anyway, every year the city lights up this .7 mile swath. The last night this year was Jan. 4 which I missed being en route from Boston at the time--I had walked by but not up the lane earlier in the season. But then for some reason they lit the trees one last night, on January 7, and at dusk I walked up Los Robles (The Oaks) to Woodbury and made my way up the whole stretch.

Afterwards, I did manage to take down my own lights, and the two Advent calendars, the vintage bulbs, the scads of cards, candles, scavenged bits of ribbon and tinsel, the clay cherub with a green grosgrain bow, rescued from some long-ago present, around his waist.

I decided to leave up the glass birds all year.
Just to remind myself of that place, deep in every human heart, where it is Christmas all the time.





fare thee well till december 2016, God willing!

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

HOMESICK






I was in my homeland of New Hampshire over New Year's and for whatever reason, "transitioning" back has been difficult!

I hadn't been home in a year and half so maybe that made everything and everybody seem extra precious: the ocean, the Christmas lights, the snow.

Sunday afternoon, January 3, I walked around Strawbery Banke in Portsmouth. I always seem to find myself at least once when I'm home creeping past the old Portsmouth Hospital (now I think police HQ) where I was born. The wreaths and garlands and lights on the graceful old Colonial homes, and the bay as a backdrop, were lovely.

On a quiet side road, I became entranced with the way the afternoon light showcased the above branch of dried flowers (or maybe it was "just" a weed).




Then there were these dear animal prints and stray solitary grasses erupting through the ice-glossed snow.

A hush fell--and then a Squirrel came through.


Saturday, January 9, 2016

FELICIA, JOHNNY AND SOREN: AN ADOPTION STORY



Part of the fun of writing an arts and culture column is the opportunity to celebrate people I love.

This week's story, about a couple from LA who adopted a kid from deep Appalachia, is a case in point.

It begins:

Johnny Goraj is a singer-songwriter. His wife Felicia is a pediatric nurse.

They met at Children’s Hospital in L.A., where John was working as a trauma tech.

“We somehow saw each other as human beings rather than through a veil of lust or obsession,” Johnny says. Felicia continues, “I saw his spirit and he saw mine. Even though we had a 10-year age gap, I thought, ‘This person is full of love and someone I want to be around.’ “

Felicia had been raised Protestant. Johnny’s a cradle Catholic. Almost from the time they met until they got married, they went to Mass together every Sunday.

“I was always drawn to working with kids, but marriage and children had never been on my radar,” says Felicia. “Not until I met Johnny did I trust anyone enough to make that commitment, to enter into the sacrament, to raise a child together. That was miraculous to me. That was a conversion.”


READ THE WHOLE PIECE HERE.


one incarnation of
THE HOLY FAMILY