Friday, August 1, 2014

BOOK REVIEW: FR. JAMES MARTIN'S JESUS: A PILGRIMAGE



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.


Wednesday, July 30, 2014

THE WRITER HAS NO RIGHTS



THE LAST SUNSET, GLOUCESTER
ON BALANCE, A MONTH OF SUFFERING.
NOT WITHOUT JOY, BUT A MONTH OF SUFFERING.

I can't quite figure out where I got this quote or who wrote it. But I copied it out a while ago and have been pondered ever since.

In the photo on the front of Conversations with Flannery O’Connor her arms are bare, her lips a little chapped, her eyes large, penetrating, intelligent, and clear.  She never pandered, never flattered, never tried to smooth over. I realized today that she seemed to have no close friends, no confidante. As Richard Gilman said, "No writer I’ve known had such devotion to art, felt so much a conduit rather than a source, expected so little beyond internal satisfactions. Something she wrote in an essay reprinted here [in Mystery and Manners [?]] seems to me to convey an essential quality of her lonely, besieged, and unnoticed life and to be a motto for the risks she took and the things she made: 'The writer has no rights except those he forges for himself within his own work.' ” 

Here's this week's Aleteia column--"The Sorrowful Violence of Racism."

Monday, July 28, 2014

STREET ANGEL: A NEW BOOK BY MAGIE DOMINIC


A couple of years ago I posted on a stellar memoir: The Queen of Peace Room, by Magie Dominic.

Just to give you an idea of the breadth of Magie's intelligence, heart, and experience, here's an interview, with Open Book Ontario, called "On Writing."

From their website: "Magie Dominic is a Newfoundland writer and artist living in New York. Her poems and essays have appeared in numerous publications and her art has been exhibited in Toronto and New York. Magie's first memoir, The Queen of Peace Room, was shortlisted for the Canadian Women’s Studies Award, ForeWord magazine’s Book of the Year Award and the Judy Grahn Award...

Today, Magie speaks with Open Book about returning to her early days in Newfoundland, the importance of speaking your story and riding in a VW bus with Allen Ginsberg."

This is a writer who should be known far and wide. And now she has a new memoir, out July 24 from Wilfrid Laurier University Press, called Street Angel.
Magie has been gracious enough to share the opening pages of Street Angel with us.
I'm almost afraid to read the rest of the book--I mean that, of course, as a compliment.


Street Angel
Chapter One
SATURDAY Day One
(Excerpt)

            It’s 1956. “Tennessee Waltz” on the radio in the kitchen. Ingrid Bergman and Marilyn Monroe. The Russians are sending dogs into space and the dogs have spacesuits and helmets. Ed Sullivan and the show of shows. The Honeymooners on Saturday night. Pat Boone and Nat King Cole. Food rationing has ended in England. Lady and the Tramp and Peter Pan. Elvis Presley appears on TV but we’re not allowed to look at his legs. Polio shots in the school auditorium.
            It’s the summer between grade six and grade seven. I’m eleven years old. A June Saturday afternoon and I’m in my father’s blue Chevrolet, on a Newfoundland section of the Trans-Canada Highway, on my way to the home of my father’s brother and his wife and their two boys.
            My father has heavy snow chains attached to the car’s back bumper and the car drags them like the silver tail of a dragon—a dragon travelling at a moderate speed through occasional clouds of dust. Dragging chains from the back of a car prevents anyone in the car from having a sudden attack of car sickness. That’s the theory. The technique has never worked for me, but my father attaches the chains every time we go on a trip just in case this is the day that the technique may actually work. My father is always prepared. A look in front is better than two behind. My father also has a fully equipped glove compartment. Along with Band-Aids, flashlights, work gloves, and maps, there’s a bottle opener for sodas along the way. The glove compartment also has a supply of brochures—my father is a travelling paint salesman—and cards with all the amazing names for a single colour. Strips of cardboard with shades of white—Bone White, Glossy White, Matte White, Natural Ivory, Medium Ivory, Pure White, Pearl White, Off- White, White. My father is prepared for a sale right in the middle of the Trans-Canada Highway as it cuts through forest.
            My mother is in the front seat. When she was young she was breathtakingly beautiful. I’ve seen her in black-and-white photographs. Loved to go skating with friends—a graceful figure sailing on ice. She imagined herself a movie star. She smiled often when she was young. Her face is round like a moon and her skin is soft from sweet Jergens lotion. Thick, dark-brown hair. Average height, but she has an air of tallness. Fair Scottish skin. Greenish eyes like a cat. She wears lipstick the colour of pomegranate—Fire Engine Red. If the Chinese Communists ever come to our door to take us away, my mother will greet them in Fire Engine Red. She looks into mirrors as if she’s expecting something to happen—a stranger’s face to appear in the glass. Another person—someone she wants to scare or control. Then she does a last-minute flick of her hair, freshens her lipstick, and goes off into town, a whiff of Tweed perfume trailing behind. A part of her lingers. A part of her always remains.
            I’m in the back with a small bag. My suitcase is in the trunk next to the spare tire, crowbar, jumper cables, boxes of cookies, and samples of candy. My father is also a travelling confectionery salesman.
            I want to be somewhere else for a while—even just for a few days. Away from the madness of home and the nuns. But I’m not sure what I’m doing or why I’m doing it. I’ll be staying with my uncle and aunt for nine days, to take care of the two boys—one aged three, the other aged two. They’re both plump and lively, and I’m told that they’re both good as gold. Got the faces and eyes of angels.
            What am I afraid of? I ask myself. It’s the unknown. I’ll be in charge of two children’s lives and I’ve never been in charge of anything in the entire eleven years of my life. Maybe it’s anxiety more than actual fear.
            Fear—real, honest-to-God debilitating fear—is an affliction. My mother has the affliction. She lives in absolute fear. Of getting sick, of having an accident, of sounds in the night. She has a debilitating fear of the night. Night is the pinnacle of her affliction. She envisions long, creeping shadows of monsters. She fears a bogeyman under her bed except there is no bogeyman under her bed. She’s obsessed with a fear of cancer. My birthday is in July—I’m a Cancer. But my mother maintains that she’s the Cancer even though she’s a Leo. Fear plays a major part in everything she does. She fears the colour green. That fear has its roots in the Newfoundland fairies. Unlike fairies with magic wands, Newfoundland fairies can cause bodily harm. According to legend, they appeared after the great battle between Lucifer and the archangel Michael.
            There were angels in Newfoundland who remained neutral during the battle. When the fighting was over, they were forbidden from heaven because they hadn’t supported Michael, but they couldn’t be banished to hell because they hadn’t supported Lucifer. So they were forced to remain in Newfoundland and can work both evil and good.
            They’re called The Little People and they live at the edges of towns, in the woods. The only way to protect against their evil is to carry bread—fairy buns—when going into the woods, and to avoid the colour green. Many believe the bank crash of 1894 was caused because Newfoundland issued a green postage stamp that year.
            My mother never wears green and neither do I, nor does my father. There are no green curtains, linens, or dishes. Nothing green enters the house except plants.
            My mother fears going hungry. She fears not being smart enough or liked enough or pretty. When she has enough money, she makes a concoction with eggs and lets it harden on her face like a mask. If I come home after school and she’s still wearing the mask, I can’t ask a question because if she speaks, the mask will crack and the eggs will be wasted. She fears not being strong enough. My mother has so many fears that they’ve all collided and it’s made her crazy.
            When my parents were dating, both of their families—the Presbyterian Scots and the Lebanese Catholics—disapproved of their relationship, but primarily the Scots, and to such an extent that my mother had to leave home and move to a rooming house until she and my father were married. All because my father was Lebanese. In pictures he looks like a handsome movie star, but my mother was banished by her own family for wanting to marry him. Romeo and Juliet. My father and my mother. The Lebanese side of the family softened, but the Scots never did. Parts of the Scottish side of the family never entered our house, never walked through the gate. Every time they’re invited, they’re sick with the flu. If the Lebanese would keep to themselves that would be best for all concerned— that was the feeling among some in my mother’s family.
            My parents were married in 1943. Non-Catholic partners in marriage have to swear that they’ll raise their children in the Catholic faith and not in whatever their own religion might happen to be. That’s the rule and everyone, including my mother, abides by it.
            In 1943, Newfoundland was recovering from the poverty of the Great Depression, and its economic collapse was tragic. The main export was fish, and the prices for fish plunged. Malnutrition was widespread. People relied on the help of family and friends, but in most cases, one family was as destitute as another. It drove some people insane. I’m told there was no meat in the stores on the day I was born. I’m also told I was born close to midnight—almost the next day.
            The year of my birth was 1944. Germany had surrendered Paris, the Soviets had declared war on Bulgaria, the Newfoundland Field Regiment of the Royal Artillery landed in Normandy, Mount Vesuvius had erupted in Italy, and the top song was Bing Crosby’s “Swinging on a Star.” The world was filled with madness, sadness, and fear. World war, a second time. American bases in Newfoundland and U-boat threats offshore. Ads with soldiers selling toothpaste and Coke. Hitler.
            The SS Caribou, the Newfoundland ferry boat, torpedoed by German submarines off the Newfoundland coast—137 passengers perished. Mussolini. Detention camps. Concentration camps. Hiroshima. Nagasaki. More than 50 million people are killed worldwide—half of them civilians. Machine guns. Fighter bombers. Light bombers. Heavy bombers. Gasoline restrictions. Abbott and Costello. “White Christmas.” Rationed food.
             And somewhere in here I was at home and helping with the housework. I was polishing a wooden coffee table—had my own dusting rag and polishing wax. I’m four years old and polish the table until it’s glowing— until I can see my own round face in the wood. Then I climb up and stand on top of the oily surface and start to polish the window, slide off the table, onto the floor, and knock myself completely unconscious. I was told I was out for a very long time. I don’t know if it was seconds or months. No one defined it.



Sunday, July 27, 2014

WINDING UP/WINDING DOWN




FADING RHODODENDRONS

In an hour, I'll meet with my spiritual director, the good Fr. Greg, and my 30-day silence will be over. Not that I have much of desire to talk. And though we've been in silence here, I've visited with family, hung out with the local alkies, chatted with the folks in the ER, and have made my way out to cell reception many times during this month-long Ignatian retreat for phone conversations.

Still, it has been a real retreat.

I'm not sure what, if anything, I've "learned." That will come later, if at all.

Yesterday, though, sitting on the wide expanse of lawn that leads down to the ocean, I did have a moment where I thought: What if love, real love, the love God has for us, is so utterly beyond our limited comprehension, so completely other than our little categories and systems and weighing and measuring and fears that?....

I know myself so well--my petty jealousies and resentments, my quickness to judge, my cowardice--that it seems impossible God could love me. But I thought of how much I love the world, for all its pain; how I love the flowers and birds and wind and clouds and light; how I love certain people and in my better moments, all people.

And I realized I couldn't possibly generate that love by myself. That upsurge of emotion and feeling; the willingness to suffer in order to share the beauty: those come from somewhere beyond me. I don't have the words so the best I can say is God is the source of that urge, that willingness. And why or how could God implant the love for beauty in our hearts unless he has that love himself--for all the beauty of creation--including us?

What if every hair on our heads really were numbered?


NILES POND LILY PADS

What if God loved me not only as much as I love him, but infinitely MORE?


SUNRISE,
FROM FIRST LIGHT, A DAILY THREE-HOUR EXTRAVAGANZA

What if, as Meister Eckhart said, "God is greater than God?"...

SUNSET

We retreatants will be "processing" for the next couple of days. That'll be fun, to hear what other people have experienced, reflected upon, "seen"...

ANOTHER KING OF BEAUTY:
MY SOON-TO-BE-16, 6' 3 NEPHEW ALLEN.
I WAS THERE WHEN HE WAS BORN!
HALIBUT POINT, ROCKPORT, MA

Friday, July 25, 2014

GEOFF CORDNER: ULTRA-MARATHONER

© GEOFF CORDNER
KNEE: GEOFF CORDNER
Getting to celebrate THE people I admire is my dream come true.

This week's arts and culture column features our/L.A.'s very own photographer/blogger/ultra-marathoner Geoff Cordner. 54 years old and the guy runs 100 MILES AT A STRETCH. Through some of the most difficult terrain in California.

Plus he can beautifully articulate his experience and thought. AND he can write.
Check out THE INTERVIEW.
And check out Geoff's blog, SLOW TWITCH JOURNAL.


BISHOP HIGH SIERRA 100K
© GEOFF CORDNER
LET'S PITCH IN AND BUY GEOFF SOME BAND-AIDS!

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

BIG LIFE



Here's the beginning of this week's Aleteia piece:

"What is it with these people who go around saying, “My life is FABulous. I have a BIG LIFE.” As my friend Josh says: "What are you, a foreign dignitary? Are you a sheik?"

My friend Lisa has a slightly different take on such folks: "You have a BIG LIFE? Well, get away from me, then, cause you’re in the way of my teeny, cramped life of struggle, loneliness, and pain!"

Read THE PIECE HERE.




I PAID MY CAR INSURANCE AND RAN THE CARPET SWEEPER AROUND MY ROOM TODAY.
DOES THAT QUALIFY AS BIG?

Monday, July 21, 2014

AT THE BOATYARD

KEELHAUL 'IM!
Here I am playing make-believe on my brother Geordie's 48-foot commercial fishing vessel, the Brittany Lynn--which just happens to be docked in Gloucester, MA, the very town in which I've been staying.

My dear friend Ellen treated me to breakfast the day before my birthday, and she, too, took a turn at the wheel.





BASICALLY, A BOAT IS NO PLACE FOR GIRLS
MY HEARTY SEA-GOING NEPHEW JERROD
I've had a bit of a bout of Lyme Disease as you may know, and this morning, Monday, is the first morning in almost three weeks where I at last feel "good." The whole time I've been pondering the unbelievable grace, mercy, and gift of the sound health I usually enjoy. I never exactly take it for granted but maybe you have to feel bad once in a while to ponder the mystery of the zillions of people on earth who NEVER wake up feeling good. Who never feel "100%." And who never complain...In heaven, they will be at the very front of the pack, dragging their crutches and feeding tubes, lending a helping hand to the others, trying to hold their wobbly heads up straight so their crowns don't slip off...

On "Week Three" of the Spiritual Exercises. The Passion...I'm a little bit homesick.

OUR BELOVED CAPTAIN GEORDIE

Saturday, July 19, 2014

ON MY 62nd BIRTHDAY

MY FATHER AND ME,
RYE BEACH, NH, SEPTEMBER 1952.
 A MOMENT THAT STILL EXISTS, OUT ON SOME COSMIC TWIG....

“One of the more delightful mysteries of sound came when the astronauts on one of our early spaceships heard a program of nostalgic music over their sound system and radioed NASA to thank whoever it was who had sent them the program. From NASA came the rather baffled reply that they had sent the astronauts no such program and knew nothing about it.

This phenomenon triggered a good deal of interest and research: who had beamed the music to the astronauts? What was its source? All the radio and TV programs all over the country that day and hour were checked out, and none of them was responsible for the music the astronauts had so enjoyed. Further research. Could they all have imagined hearing a nonexistent program of old popular songs? Was it a kind of mass hallucination? It seemed highly unlikely. Research finally revealed that that particular program had been broadcast in the 1930s.

How do you explain it? You don’t…

Time is to be treasured, worked with, never ignored. As the astrophysicists understand time now, it is not like a river, flowing in one direction, but more like a tree, with great branches and smaller limbs and twigs which may make it possible for us to move from one branch to another, as did Jesus and Moses and Elijah, as did St. Andrew and St. Francis when they talked with each other in that light of love which transcends all restrictions of time.”


--Madeleine L’Engle, Walking on Water


Thursday, July 17, 2014

WHAT IS YOUR STORY? TELL ME YOUR PAIN




Welp, it's official: I do indeed have Lyme Disease! I'm pretty sure I know just when that varmint deer tick latched onto me, too: one late afternoon when I was out walking and, afraid I'd be late for Mass, made a shortcut through an overgrown thicket of sumac, beach roses, and New England coastal scrub that was no doubt lousy with insects. These ticks are the size of a POPPY SEED, which, come on, who's going to notice one of those draining the blood out of, in this case, my pore stomach? Anyway, the eventually foot-wide circular rash that developed, plus debilitating flu-like symptoms, I did notice.

So the other morn I hied myself to the local ER, where the doctor took one look and cheerfully announced, "Yup, you've got it." I'm proud to say my rash was so classically formed that he called in his (one) colleague to show it off. Anyway, the folks at Addison Gilbert Hospital (thank you, Dr. Pasquarello) could not have been more helpful and kind, I'm on antibiotics for three weeks, and I am NOT going to re-read that New Yorker article of a few months ago. It's not a big deal. I very much appreciate all your thoughts and prayers. The chief thing that's come out of it is renewed and bottomless gratitude for my usual good health. And to be reflecting for many hours a day on how to better know, love and serve Christ--again, just right.

The title of this week's Aleteia post--I swear I didn't plan it this way--is What Is Your Story? Tell Me Your Pain.

beach rose

Monday, July 14, 2014

VOLES AND TICKS



I spend a lot of time sitting in a lawn chair and gazing out to sea here at Eastern Point. And though we retreatants are in silence, I have managed to make a friend. The best I can figure, he's a vole, and below is the opening to his burrow. Small, with dark brown glossy fur and beady eyes the size of a large pinhead, the creature is preternaturally fast. Apparently voles have many predators but I don't know what would be quick enough to catch the little critter as the slightest movement sends him scuttling at the speed of light back to his den. He seems nervous, easily startled. Needless to say, we get along well and I'm convinced he views me as a trusted and loyal friend.

Meanwhile I fear a rude and ill-mannered tick has given me a good nip and with it, Lyme Disease. I'm not even kidding! I have the bull's eye rash and flu symptoms and am headed to the ER tomorrow.  I am one of those obnoxious people who considers myself impervious to germs, viruses, and rapacious predators of all kinds so I don't want to say it serves me right, as that would be mean. But I don't think I've been to the ER since I lived in Boston 30 years ago.

Everyone has to take their turn.