Month: September 2012

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JANET M. KING: OCTOBER 11, 1927-SEPTEMBER 25, 2012

age 20


Her patience at the airfield, in this world of machines and offices that is beyond her, waiting without a word, as old women have for millennia all over the world, waiting for the world to pass. And then very small, a bit broken, on the immense ground, toward the howling monsters, holding her well-combed hair with one hand…

Maman. What was her silence saying. What was this mute and smiling mouth screaming. We will be resurrected.

–Camus, Notebooks, 1951-1959

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THE HAPPINESS PARADOX

NIKOLAI GE
CRUCIFIXION, 1893

A couple of weeks ago, I received an email from Gretchen Rubin, creator of The Happiness Project.

I thought, How sweet, here is a darling housewife from Iowa. It turns out that Gretchen, indeed a wife and mother, lives on the upper East Side, is married to a hedge fund manager, and is a former lawyer who clerked for Sandra Day O’Connor.

It also turns out that The Happiness Project is an empire comprising, among other things, several books, a blog, discussion guides, resolution checklists, and a full slate of speaking engagements.

Happiness, and making a project out of it, are concepts that are somewhat foreign to me. Gretchen, however, also turns out to be  a St. Thérèse of Lisieux devotee and, having liked Shirt of Flame, she asked if I’d be interested in answering a few questions.

Of course I was.

Here they are.

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WHEN IN DOUBT, EAT

Mom is past swallowing but yesterday my little sister Meredith reported, the nurse held a sponge soaked in water to Mom’s mouth and for the first time in days, her lips moved.

“I thirst,” said Christ on the cross.

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THE STUDIO AS A KIND OF PSYCHOSIS

JOSEPH CORNELL‘S STUDIO
photo: Hans Namuth

“It is important to never forget how crazy painting is. People who buy paintings, or who write about them, tend to think painting begins in the cosmopolitan world of museums and art galleries, and that its meanings are explored in departments of art history. But painting is born in a smelly studio, where the painter works in isolation, for hours and even years on end. In order to produce the beautiful framed picture, the artist had to spend time shut up with oils and solvents,staring at glass or wooden surfaces smeared with pigments, trying to smear them onto other surfaces in turn…

For those reasons, the act of painting is a kind of insanity…Françoise Gilot tells the story of visiting Alberto Giacometti‘s atelier. He was working in clay, and his studio resembled his work:

The wooden walls seemed impregnated with the color of clay, almost to the point of being made out of clay. We were at the center of a world completely created by Giacometti, a world composed of clay…There was never the slightest color accent anywhere to interfere with the endless uniform gray that covered everything...

No one who has not experienced that condition can understand the wood feeling that accompanies it. When every possession is marked with paint, it is like giving up civilian clothes for jail house issue. The paint is like a rash, and no matter how careful a painter is, in the end it is impossible not to spread the disease to every belonging and each person who visits the studio….

Working in a studio means leaving the clean world of normal life and moving into a shadowy domain where everything bears the marks of the singular obsession. Outside the studio, furniture is clean and comfortable; inside, it is old and unpleasant. Outside, walls are monochrome or pleasantly patterned in wallpaper; inside, they are scarred with meaningless graffiti. Outside, floors can be mopped and vacuumed; inside, they build up layers of crusted paint that can only be scraped away or torn up with the floor itself. The studio is a necessary insanity. Perhaps writers have insanities of paper, or of erasers, but they cannot compare with the multicolored dementia caused by fluids and stone.”

–From a chapter entitled “The Studio As a Kind of Psychosis” in What Painting Is, by James Elkins

ALBERTO GIACOMMETTI IN HIS PARIS STUDIO,
1954
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ABANDONMENT TO DIVINE PROVIDENCE

detail: algae-festooned back yard fountain

“The divine life is neither seen nor felt, but there is never a moment when it is not acting in an unknown but very sure manner. It is hidden under such things as death of the body, damnation of the soul, and the general disorder of all earthly affairs. Faith is nourished and strengthened by these happenings. It cuts through them all and takes the hand of God, who keeps it alive through everything except sin. A faithful soul should always advance with confidence, regarding all these things as the disguise God assumes, for his immediate presence would terrify us. But God, who comforts the humble, always gives us, however great our feeling of desolation, an inner assurance that we need be afraid of nothing as long as we allow him to act and abandon ourselves to him. Although we are distressed at the loss of our beloved, we somehow feel that we still possess him, and in spite of all our troubles and disturbance, there is something deep-seated within us which keeps us steadfastly attached. to God. ‘Truly’ said Jacob, ‘God is in this place and I never knew it’ (Gen. 28:16).”

–Jean-Pierre de Caussade, Abandonment to Divine Providence

beargrass, around descanso and edgecliffe, silver lake l.a.

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SHOW TIME: MY LATEST MOVIE

Don’t laugh now: I have cobbled together a 31-minute movie.

Written, shot, directed, financed, and produced by yours truly, it consists of a talking-to-myself stream-of- consciousness reverie as I wander through my L.A. ‘hood of Silver Lake to St. Francis of Assisi on Micheltorena for Mass..

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OWEN SWAIN’S BLOG AND ART

Some of you may know/recognize the name Owen Swain. Owen has been on board with Shirt of Flame almost since its inception and has been a loyal supporter, an insightful commenter, and a man, Catholic, and artist (that’s his drawing above) of deep experience, talent and wisdom.

Through the months and over the two years, he’s tried his hand at various on-line endeavors, generously keeping me abreast of each one.

The other day Owen sent me this email:

“Dear Heather,

I feel a bit shy, a bit awkward and a bit weird but you’re not a celeb type Catholic and I am not a stalker or weirdo fan (dear God, I hope not) but I am going to dare to let you know, while not dropping my art blog at all, I have returned to writing on a blog. It’s very much a story. I tell you because I value your reading eye (not an editing eye but only the eye of an Internet friend) and I place no, zero, nada expectation on you. Not interested then you are not interested or too busy. No problem.

Breathe, OK

– the why of it is here.

– the current story is here.

– an opinion piece that drew little attention is here.

And that is what the writing is and will be like.

Brotherly love in-Christ,
Owen”

It’s good, good stuff. Here’s a sidebar describing the flavor of Owen’s blog, both/and: stories from one Catholic life:

good & bad
hope & doubt
jesus & mary
peter & paul
god & man
art & words
bible & tradition
faith & reason
bicycle & commuter
grace & works
new & old
love & hate
mercy & justice
holy & flawed
mystery & substance
catholic & christian
conscience & magesterium

I personally love ‘holy and flawed,’ though maybe that pairing’s redundant.

Check Owen out. We need more like him.

Thanks for your incredible generosity of spirit. And blessings on your work, drawings, writing, ministry, and life.

OWEN SWAIN
SELF-PORTRAIT
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CHURCHES AND CEMETERIES: NEW ORLEANS

ST. PATRICK’S CHURCH
CAMP STREET, NEW ORLEANS 

 To be angry with God means to realize at the deepest level, a place that is both physical and emotional at the same time, that the world is broken and not as it should be. Anger at God is protest against suffering. That suffering can be caused by social inequity and structural injustice, but it is also caused by personal losses, physical pain, and the reality of death, our own and that of others—this cruelty built into the human condition. To be angry at God, not in theory or idea, but in the body—the anger that rises up from the solar plexus and out through the arms and legs and mouth—is to pray, for it is to lay bare, in the most intimate way, the wounds of life felt deep in the body itself, to expose them as though open to the sun, to expose the deepest part of the self to God, that unknowable Other who lurks in wheat fields on the sun-baked high plains of Spain.

–Kerry Egan, from Fumbling: A Pilgrimage Tale of Love, Grief, and Spiritual Renewal of the Camino de Santiago

LAFAYETTE CEMETERY
WASHINGTON AVENUE, NEW ORLEANS, GARDEN DISTRICT

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THE FRENCH QUARTER AND THE GARDEN DISTRICT

PEW AND CANDLES
IMMACULATE CONCEPTION CHURCH
BARONNE STREET, NEW ORLEANS

Here are two interesting facts I’ve learned about the historical city of New Orleans.

The city features a phenomenon known as drive-through daiquiri stands. People are allowed not only to walk about the streets but to get behind the wheels of their cars while swilling hard liquor!  I spoke to a local lawyer and he confirmed this makes for many unfortunate accidents.

When a storm’s coming and everyone hunkers down, breaks out the booze and food, and starts partying, the ensuing period is known as a “hurrication.”

I had pictured the French Quarter as a charming section of widely-spaced homes with wrought-iron porches and a bit of mild debauchery down Bourbon St. In fact, it’s in the middle of a large city and is more like Coney Island, if every street in Coney Island were a fifty-year-old stage set for A Streetcar Named Desire, dotted with voodoo and liquor stores, and under construction. And it was legal to walk down the street and drive your car while swilling booze. And had St. Louis Cathedral in the middle of it, skinny guys in muscle shirts sitting on benches playing sax, and a black man dressed in white tie and tails standing stock still in the hot sun for several minutes, with a Scotty on a leash and a bucket for change as some kind of tourist draw.

Then I went to the Garden District and wandered happily about for a few hours. Now this is my kind of place: wide, shady streets, secret gardens, balconies, stained glass, mansions with 20-feet high shrines to the Virgin Mary draped with cheap beads (they hand you a strand of these beads as you deplane at Louis Armstrong Airport and after that, you see them everywhere, chiefly lying on the sidewalk amidst piles of dead leaves), and a Starbucks on the corner of Washington and Magazine. Of course being a tourist you see a mere zillionth, and probably a contorted zillionth at that, of what it is to actually live in the city. I shudder to think what people experience when they come to my city and take a brief gander.

Anyway, I went back yesterday, and walked the part around Jackson, and geared up for another talk I’m giving today at a luncheon for the friends of my hostess Hedy K. Boelte at one of Hedy’s houses on the Pearl River in Mississippi. I forgot to say Hedy and her husband live on 50,000 acres–that’s apparently 20 miles long–on the banks of the Mississippi in Natchez that they’ve made into, among other things, a bird sanctuary. Which I also got to see, or part of it.

So I am being treated like royalty and I am also way out of my comfort/familiarity zone, and in definite departure from my daily schedule, and that is generally a good thing, at least for awhile. I met a gal yesterday and she talked about how when she was eight, she developed a very strict schedule for her time: 15 minutes for this, 15 minutes for that, brushing her teeth, homework, supper, putting away her toys, the bus ride home from school: all were factored in and she laboriously hand-wrote out the schedule and posted it on her wall.

And then one day the bus was late. And she literally had a semi-psychotic break. In front of all the other kids. Let’s just say I could relate. After that, she took the schedule down, as we all have to, in one way or the other. Every day.

thank you for welcoming me to New Orleans!

A SECOND FLOOR DORMER WITH BROKEN-DOWN
SOMETHING OR OTHERS, DRAPED WITH BEADS

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FAULKNER COUNTRY

I spoke at a conference at the Monmouth Plantation in Natchez, Mississippi over the weekend. In a downtown coffee shop yesterday, I met a woman who did her Ph.D. dissertation on Flannery O’Connor. I made the sign of the cross, then grasped her hand as if it were a first-class relic.

What was really interesting, though, was not having a spare moment to myself for approx. 52 hours other than when I was sleeping.

There’s a passage in Ryszard Kapuscinski’s The Shadow of the Sun about the capacity of the people of Africa to wait, in their case, for the bus, or village official, or rain. Apparently they go into a kind of fugue state, a kind of inward gathering or reserves, not moving, not breathing, not rising to relieve themselves.

Though appearing (I hope) to be fully functioning, I more or less felt/feel that way myself.

.