“Sometimes callers from a distance invade my solitude, and it is on these occasions that I realise how absolutely alone each individual is, and how far away from his neighbour; and while they talk (generally about babies, past, present, and to come), I fall to wondering at the vast and impassable distance that separates one’s own soul from the soul of the person sitting in the next chair. I am speaking of comparative strangers, people who are forced to stay a certain time by the eccentricities of trains, and in whose presence you grope about after common interests and shrink back into your shell on finding that you have none. Then a frost slowly settles down on me and I grow each minute more benumbed and speechless, and the babies feel the frost in the air and look vacant, and the callers go through the usual form of wondering who they most take after, generally settling the question by saying that the May baby, who is the beauty, is like her father, and that the two more or less plain ones are the image of me, and this decision, though I know it of old and am sure it is coming, never fails to depress me as much as though I heard it for the first time. The babies are very little and inoffensive and good, and it is hard that they should be used as a means of filling up gaps in conversation, and their features pulled to pieces one by one, and all their weak points noted and criticised, while they stand smiling shyly in the operator’s face, their very smile drawing forth comments on the shape of their mouths; but, after all, it does not occur very often, and they are one of those few interests one has in common with other people, as everybody seems to have babies. A garden, I have discovered, is by no means a fruitful topic, and it is amazing how few persons really love theirs — they all pretend they do, but you can hear by the very tone of their voice what a lukewarm affection it is. About June their interest is at its warmest, nourished by agreeable supplies of strawberries and roses; but on reflection I don’t know a single person within twenty miles who really cares for his garden, or has discovered the treasures of happiness that are buried in it, and are to be found if sought for diligently, and if needs be with tears. It is after these rare calls that I experience the only moments of depression from which I ever suffer, and then I am angry at myself, a well-nourished person, for allowing even a single precious hour of life to be spoil: by anything so indifferent. That is the worst of being fed enough, and clothed enough, and warmed enough, and of having everything you can reasonably desire — on the least provocation you are made uncomfortable and unhappy by such abstract discomforts as being shut out from a nearer approach to your neighbour’s soul; which is on the face of it foolish, the probability being that he hasn’t got one.”
My former student, then client, and now beloved friend Karin Esterhammer has just released her first book!
After job losses and the housing crash, the author and her family leave L.A. to start over in a most unlikely place: a nine-foot-wide back-alley house in one of Ho Chi Minh City’s poorest districts, where neighbors unabashedly stare into windows, generously share their barbecued rat, keep cockroaches for luck, and ultimately help her find joy without Western trappings.
Karin Esterhammer was an editor, writer, and travel columnist at the Los Angeles Times for fifteen years. She’s been published in the Chicago Tribune, the Baltimore Sun, and other publications. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband, son, and three cats.
Karin and I worked long and hard on this manuscript (she did 99.5% of the work and I did .5).
Her courage, perseverance, grit and love in sticking with the book and finding a publisher were an inspiration to me.
The book is funny, poignant, and true. It will bring you deep into the sights, sounds and smells of the back alleys of Vietnam, and into the hearts of its “ordinary” people.
May it become a raging bestseller.
|ONE OF MY HEROES, MISS KARIN ESTERHAMMER
BUY HER BOOK HERE!
If you’re interested in engaging me to edit YOUR manuscript, visit HEATHER KING EDITING.
This week’s arts and culture column is a bit of a synopsis of the conference I attended in late June.
Here’s how the piece begins:
June was a traveling month. I wound up my itinerary with a conference at the University of Notre Dame entitled “Trying to Say ‘God’: Re-Enchanting Catholic Literature.”
The conference was spearheaded by Sick Pilgrim, a Patheos blog around which a lively community has formed. “Sick Pilgrim is a collection of young(ish), restless and Catholic writers who are Orthodox and Weird.” [Addendum: SP was a key player from the start, and they did a magnificent job of recruiting and publicizing, but I was remiss in failing to add that the conception, funding, and primary implementation came from Notre Dame, which effort was coordinated by the indefatigable Ken Garcia].
Isn’t that redundant?
But far be it for me to quibble. Sick Pilgrim co-founder, the wonderful writer Jessica Mesman Griffith, invited me to give the Friday evening keynote address.
That was a huge honor I felt keenly.
As anyone who’s been to Notre Dame knows, the campus is stupendous. Within two minutes, you’re thinking, “Whoa, someone here has some major dough.” There are two lakes, a world-famous grotto, a fall-to-your-knees basilica and lots of shaded walking paths.
|LATE AFTERNOON BIRTHDAY ROSES|
|DETAIL, THE LUMINOUS MYSTERIES
WILLIAM FRANK, EMIL FREI & ASSOCIATES
ST. EUGENE CHURCH, OKLAHOMA CITY, OK
Whoops, here’s a piece I forgot to post from several weeks back.
This week’s arts and culture piece came about when I met Professor of Philosophy William (Bill) Frank at a conference in Portsmouth, RI last summer. He not only presented me with a FIVE-leaf clover he’d found wandering the grounds: he told me about his son Will, a stained glass artist.
Here’s how the piece begins:
William Frank is Artist in Residence with Emil Frei & Associates, a St. Louis stained-glass studio. His extensive portfolio of selected large-scale projects includes churches, hospitals and schools.
He and his wife Jane live in “a tiny 950-square-foot house with chickens in the back,” not far from the studio. They have four kids: Ruth, 7, Clement, 5, Peter, 3, and Joseph, 1.
“Living with little kids like I do, when I’m designing I’m more attentive to how a little kid might perceive what’s in the church,” he said. “Kids are just as if not more capable of perceiving and understanding a picture as adults are. They might not know which Bible verse the story comes from. But they get it.”
Will himself grew up the youngest of five.
“We were surrounded by original artwork. Abstract expressionist paintings, religious in content, by my maternal grandmother [Geraldine Chicherio]. And icons my parents picked up on trips to Greece. Having religious art with a family connection was deeply influential. I was formed to know that the best work comes from someone who personally feels it.”
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
“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|
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 more “DAWN’S EARLY LIGHT: A U.S. NATURALIZATION CEREMONY”
|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 54. Read more “HOME–ALTHOUGH I’M AWAY–AT LAST”
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.