MUSINGS FROM A MYSTIC-COMIC

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EXISTENTIAL CRISES

TRANSITIONING FROM THE HERMITAGE

I SPENT THE ENTIRE LAST MONTH,
BESIDES EATING, SLEEPING, AND MY DAILY WALK,
IN THIS ROOM

Now that I’ve completed it, here’s what my month-long artist’s residency looked like:

Up at 5:30 for the stupendous sunrise, then prayer, then work, then usually 11:30 Mass, then lunch, then my chore of helping put away the dishes, then more work or a nap or a phone call, then the hour-long walk up the hill, then (often) Evening Prayer, then supper, then dishes, then reading or a movie.

Sometimes, to get really zany, I would leave the walk till AFTER SUPPER!

The sisters at the Monastery of St. Gertrude were wonderful, especially since I was basically a guest in their home, a fact of which I was at all times acutely aware. I did pretty darn well, for me. Did not get crabby, surly, sullen, impatient, sarcastic or snippy, a feat made possible ONLY by the fact that as I said, I spent 95% of the time by myself.

Another crazy stroke of luck: the other artist-in-residence was Dana Stevens of Brooklyn, NY, film critic for SLATE, a wonderful writer, and an all-around stellar human being.  Read more “TRANSITIONING FROM THE HERMITAGE”

ARTS

THE WILLIAM S. HART RANCH AND MUSEUM

NEWHALL, CA

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

William S. “Two-Gun Bill” Hart (1864-1946) was a silent film star. Wildly popular in their time, his movies tended to follow the same arc — he started out bad and ended up good.

Born in upstate New York, Hart began his career as a Shakespearean stage actor. His breakout film, “The Bargain,” opened in 1914, when he was 50 years old. In 1915 and 1916, he was voted the biggest money-making star in the U.S.

He built his retirement home in Newhall, near what is now the confluence of the 5 and the 114 freeways: “La Loma de los Vientos” — “The Hill of the Winds” — he called it. The architect was Arthur R. Kelly, whose other designs included the Wilshire Country Club in Hancock Park and what we now know as the Playboy Mansion. He specialized in the Spanish Colonial Revival style and completed the Newhall project around 1925.

When Hart died, he left all 265 acres to Los Angeles County, with the proviso that the house be converted into a museum, open to the public for free.

READ THE WHOLE PIECE HERE.

ARTS

GAUDÍ ON TECHNOLOGY

LA SAGRADA FAMILIA,
GAUDÍ’S MASTERPIECE
BARCELONA, SPAIN

I am winding down my intense month of work, silence, solitude, and prayer here at the Monastery of St. Gertrude.

Much of my time was spent refining and editing a little ms. I’ve been working up over the past couple of years: HARROWED: Misadventures in an Urban Garden. (Come on, who would not want to buy that!?)

Then, this past week, I was seized with the borderline manic, obsessive thought that I should revamp my entire website/blog. I’ve done many fine tunes, but the fact is that I’ve been maintaining this Blogger site for almost ten years!

And for about the last five, have been thinking of migrating over to WordPress, which has way fancier templates, widgets, gadgets, graphics et cetera.

As soon as I started investigating, I entered a vortex of possibilities, explorations, frustrations, excitement and fears. I’ll definitely need to hire someone to help me.

Read more “GAUDÍ ON TECHNOLOGY”

DIVINE INTOXICATION

THE THINGS I CANNOT CHANGE

SUNRISE

How quickly my time has gone at the Monastery of St. Gertrude.

I leave early next Saturday morning for four days in Boise, then down through Nevada to the Bristlecone Forest in the Eastern Sierras, a night in Independence, CA (home of Mary Austin, author of Land of Little Rain), then home.

The schedule here, which I’m free to follow or not, except if I want to eat, is roughly as follows: breakfast 7:30 to 8, Morning Prayer 8:30, Mass 11:30, Lunch 12:10, Evening Prayer 5:00, Supper 6:00.

One thing I’ve discovered is that minus the urban noise, and driving the freeways, my days here are pretty much the way they are at home. I wake early; spend an hour or two in prayer, spiritual reading, and gazing out the window; shower, eat a bowl of cereal, and for the rest of the morning work (have been editing a book I want to call HARROWED: The Misadventures of An Urban Gardener, plus working on columns for Magnificat and Angelus, plus mapping out my arts and culture schedule for the fall, plus contemplating revamping my website/blog, reading, and watching movies). Read more “THE THINGS I CANNOT CHANGE”

DIVINE INTOXICATION

NEWS FROM THE MONASTERY OF ST. GERTRUDE

I’m winding up my third week of an artist’s residency here at the Monastery of St. Gertrude (Benedictine women) in Cottonwood, Idaho.

The sisters have a vegetable garden and a fruit orchard. We have apricot and raspberry preserves, plus stewed cherries, at every meal. The other day they put up 41 gallons of applesauce (from a variety called Yellow Transparent). They have a pantry full of gleaming quart glass jars of pears, peaches, and plums.

The other day whilst wandering the grounds I happened upon another couple of trees, not in the orchard, laden with small, roundish, juicy-looking fruit: on one tree purple-red; on the other golden. Were they Rainier cherries? I wondered. And more to the point, why wasn’t anyone picking them? Read more “NEWS FROM THE MONASTERY OF ST. GERTRUDE”

CULTURE

VOICES FROM CHERNOBYL

GRAFFITI ADORNS A WALL IN THE GHOST CITY OF PRIPYAT NEAR THE
FOURTH NUCLEAR REACTOR (BACKGROUND) AT THE FORMER CHERNOBYL NUCLEAR POWER PLANT, SITE OF THE WORLD’S WORST NUCLEAR DISASTER. (SERGEI SUPINSKY/AFP/GETTY
IMAGES)

In this month of the anniversary of the U.S. bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki:

MONOLOGUE ABOUT A SONG WITHOUT WORDS

“I’ll get down on my knees to beg you—please, find our Anna Sushko. She lived in our village. In Kozhushki. Her name is Anna Sushko. I’ll tell you how she looked, and you’ll type it up. She has a hump, and she was mute from birth. She lived by herself. She was sixty. During the time of the transfer they put her in an ambulance and drove her off somewhere. She never learned how to read, so we never got any letters from her. The lonely and the sick were put in special places. They hid them. But no one knows where. Write this down . . .

The whole village took care of her, like she was a little girl. Someone would chop wood for her, someone else would bring milk. Someone would sit in the house with her for an evening, heat the stove. Two years we all lived in other places, then we came back to our houses. Tell her that her house is still there.

The roof is still there, the windows. Everything that’s broken or been stolen, we can fix. If you just tell us her address, where she’s living and suffering, we’ll go there and bring her back. So that she won’t die of sorrow. I beg you. An innocent spirit is suffering among strangers.

There’s one other thing about her, I forgot. When some thing hurts, she sings this song. There aren’t any words, it’s just her voice. She can’t talk. When something hurts, she just sings: A-a-a. It makes you feel sad.”

–Svetlana Alexievich. Voices from Chernobyl: The Oral History of a Nuclear Disaster, winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award.

Alexievich won the 2015 Nobel Prize in Literature, “for her polyphonic Writings, a monument to suffering and courage in our time.”

 

DIVINE INTOXICATION

AVOIDANCE OF FANTASY

SUNRISE FROM MY STUDIO AT
THE MONASTERY OF ST. GERTRUDE, COTTONWOOD, IDAHO

Here’s an interview I did with Aleteia last week re my new book, RAVISHED: Notes on Womanhood.

*****

“Christ has asked me to “die” so that I can really begin to live now. This is what the fourth gospel calls abundant life. It is a new and fuller life; it means not so much any external difference as a different quality of life.

I think that it means above all the avoidance of fantasy. I also suspect, though I really cannot be quite sure, that is is one of God’s gifts to us as we grow older, that in the second half of our lives the paschal mystery touches us more closely. As our bodies become less strong, and our faculties begin to fail, we are forced to recognize what diminishment may mean, and we have to accept the many things that we will never do, the many doors now closed to us.”

–Esther de Waal, Living With Contradictions

DUSK
AND SUNSET….
ARTS

DANCING AT THE VATICAN

BRENDA LARA
From Buenos Aires. At 15 years of age, Brendae suffers from Juvenile Huntington’s (JHD). She lost her Father to HD on her last birthday after her Mother had left, unable to cope. She’s been cared for by her aunt Norma Lara ever since.

The subject of this week’s arts and culture column is a documentary that addresses an especially cruel illness: Huntington’s Disease.

Here’s how the piece begins:

“Dancing at the Vatican,” a 38-minute documentary directed by Brian Moore and produced by Amanda Spencer, showcases the plight of those suffering from Huntington’s disease (HD), a progressive neurological disorder. A parent with HD has a 50/50 chance of passing it on to his or her offspring.

The film is narrated by Emmy award-winning former NBC-TV foreign correspondent Charles Sabine, an asymptomatic HD carrier whose two beautiful young daughters accompany him to Rome.

HD causes progressive degeneration of nerve cells in the brain. Its symptoms include uncontrolled movements (the accompanying jerking and twitching is known as chorea), emotional problems, and loss of cognition. The disorder is genetic and it is fatal.

HD can strike anyone and anywhere: Folk singer Woody Guthrie purportedly died of it. But in an even crueler twist of fate, it concentrates in certain places around the globe, and they are mostly poor.

Barranquitas, Venezuela, in the Lake Maracaibo region, is one such place. Chile and Peru also have dense clusters of HD. Dilia Oviedo Guillén, from a village in Colombia, watched her husband and five children die of the disease. She now devotes her life, 24 hours a day, to nursing four more adult children who suffer from HD.

READ THE WHOLE PIECE HERE.

EXISTENTIAL CRISES

COTTONWOOD, IDAHO

Living in relative silence and solitude is interesting.

I see that a lot of the “noise” for which I blame the world is really noise inside of me!

“Christ has asked me to “die” so that I can really begin to live now. This is what the fourth Gospel calls abundant life. It is a new and fuller life; it means not so much any external difference as a different quality of life.”

–Esther de Waal, Living with Contradictions

THE TRAGICOMEDY OF THE CROSS

WHAT WE ARE

MONASTERY OF ST. GERTRUDE
COTTONWOOD, IDAHO
WEST (BACK) FACADE OF SANCTUARY

“[I]t is true, for better or worse, that we affect others in the last resort by what we are. From us too power will go forth in our small measure, to heal or to hurt, in accordance with our state of being. Too easily we forget this central fact of life: that always and inevitably we are affecting other people. We think too exclusively in material terms; we forget the power of spirit. We think too exclusively in terms of outward activity; we forget the power of being. If we are filled with egoism, hatred, the dark forces of life, then we spread darkness and bitterness about us whatever we may do or say. If we are filled with love then it is light and joy that go forth from us and affect the world even though we may be remote from human contacts. We know what it means to be lapped in the love of another human being, to be energized by it, healed, strengthened, renewed: we have to see that that is true of the whole world, the battleground of those opposing forces, partly a haunted house where evil that was done long ago lingers and is active, partly holy ground where the influence of love lingers on, to the healing of humanity. We have to think of the simple saints, the hermits in their cells, and see them for what they really are: playing a major part in the world’s destiny, in the shaping of the world’s future, simply because they are love-filled and love goes forth from them. To spread that kind of influence is the first duty of the christian [sic] in the world in which he lives.”

–Gerald Vann, OP,  The Pain of Christ