Wednesday, October 7, 2015


Here's a statue that caught my eye at Mass Sunday: St. Vincezo Pallotti, who I found upon reading up on him was small of stature with piercing blue eyes, had a heart for the poor, and "once dressed up as an old woman to hear the confession of a man who threatened 'to kill the first priest who came through the door.'" (!) (?)

I guess only in Rome as well could you have a two-hour conversation over coffee and then be asked: "So--have you seen Mary Magdalene's foot?"

I groped for a reply.
Which one?
No, why, did she lose it?

Whatever the case, I've seen it now, and thank you seminarian Michael Holmquist: it, or a relic of it, which is encased in about a size thirty-two bronze sculpture of a bare human foot, flanked by tall white candles, and set in a gilded alcove in a corner of the San Giovanni Battista dei Fiorentini (Saint John the Baptist of the Florentines) church.

Mary Magdalene's was the first foot to enter Christ's tomb after the Resurrection, just in case you're not up on your Easter stories..

News flash: I don't feel one bit kinder, more tolerant or holier here than I do anywhere else, not that I expected to.

But I am loving every second..


Sunday, October 4, 2015


Rome is full of spots like the above that make you think, Hey, let's fix this place up and I can live there!

Other differences from home: I went to make scrambled eggs the other morning and a cunning chicken feather was attached to the shell! Check out as well the delicious hunk of olive bread.

I totally, totally lucked out vis-a-vis the place where I actually am staying: The Pettinari Home in Campo de' Fiori. You can find it on airbnb.

It's on the third floor, on the courtyard side of a building that dates from the 1600's except with wifi, an espresso machine, a hot shower, and even a tiny washing machine that is just right for traveling.

Last night I was in bed or so I thought for the night when I was overcome by a sudden urge for ice cream. People, I threw on a pair of jeans and a wrap, dashed down to the street, walked a few yards to the local gelato joint, purchased a pineapple sorbet (3 euros), and strolled across the Ponte Sisto to the next bridge north and back around watching the moonlight on the Tiber!

a partial view from my window

window frame and curtain

there's a market steps from my door with cheese, meats, juice, cream, dried pasta, produce and
fresh bred

here is where I have spent an inordinate number of happy, HAPPY, hours

this used to be the oven

I arrived in Rome so bone-tired that I could have been hospitalized. Not just from the flight (LA to Dulles to FCO), which wasn't nearly as bad as I'd anticipated, but from the whole year of being displaced, of traveling, of speaking, of writing a weekly column, of what seemed like incessant, unremitting noise: leafblowers, boorish neighbors, dogs with loutish, coarse-mannered owners who, in the middle of a crowded city, don't know enough or care enough to train them.

Also, I'm a major introvert.

So part of what has been wonderful is that I haven't had to talk to anyone. What an unbelievable treat not to understand what anyone is saying, which I find goes a long, LONG, way toward cultivating goodwill.

What an incredible treat not to have to hear myself.

What an incredible treat to have the time and solitude to read.

Remember reading?

Some of my most treasured memories are of just such serendipitous interludes, often a single day, when "real" life was suspended. One was in Bangkok, probably twenty years ago now, where I'd gone to visit my brother Tim: the book was James Kelman's How Late It Was, How Late. A second was in Woodside, California, at a writer's residency. I'd been writing eight hours a day for weeks and one day I finally collapsed: that time it was Walker Percy's The Moviegoer. In Taos at another writer's residency, we were snowed in and for one whole luxuriously glorious day I lay in bed in my pajamas with Sense and Sensibility.

In Rome what I'll remember is lying in bed with a breeze coming through the window, and the gentle squawk of the seagulls, and Raymond Chandler's The Long Goodbye :

He swung around and gave me a vicious look. “You like it in jail?”
“It’s not too bad. You don’t meet the best people, but who the hell wants to?

Saturday, October 3, 2015


I know we've adapted the idea to some of our own cities-San Antonio, Sioux Falls, New York--but who knew the original river walk was along the Tiber?

My first night in Rome, I walked along it myself for a bit. My Campo de' Fiori studio, heaven on earth btw, is a long block from the Ponte Sisto, one of Rome's many beautiful bridges.

I instantly saw you can walk along below and that not many people do. (I also learned you want to walk along the south/west side of the river. On the other side are homeless encampments where people poo on the ancient brick sidewalk and did not seem terribly overjoyed at my presence).

Anyway, I was jet-lagged beyond belief but managed to stagger down at twilight and mingle as who would want to miss even a minute of the wonder?



Tuesday, September 29, 2015


Here's a treat--and an invitation, and a challenge--from the website promoting the Richard Rohr book: Eager To Love: The Alternative Way of Francis of Assisi.

Listen to THIS TALK given on September 17 by my friend Tensie Hernandez.

Anything I might add would only detract.

Sunday, September 27, 2015


This week's arts and culture piece is about one of my musical heroes and begins like this:

Glenn Gould (1932-1982) was a Canadian pianist, best-known as an interpreter of Bach.

In the documentary “Hereafter,” he makes an interesting and useful observation about freedom.

He says, “I have often thought I’d like to try my hand at being a prisoner. ... I have never understood the preoccupation with freedom as it is understood in the Western world. So far as I can see, freedom of movement usually has to do with mobility, and freedom of speech most frequently with socially-sanctioned verbal aggression. To be incarcerated would be a perfect test of inner mobility.”

Gould wasn’t promoting our grossly punitive prison industry. He was making an observation about the license to do as we please — no matter who is affected or hurt — that passes for freedom in our culture. He was talking about the freedom known to the follower of Christ: to respond — or not — to the invitation to leave everything behind and follow him.


Friday, September 25, 2015


I know there's been some small flurry of interest that Pope Francis has been in the U.S. next week.

A lesser-known news item: next week I am going to Rome!

This will be my first trip to Europe in 35 or 40 years. Last time, I was in no shape to appreciate to appreciate the art, the food, the churches, or really anything. So I'm excited.

Sister Maximilian Marie, O.P., has taken me under her wing and secured me a ticket to the Papal Mass on Oct. 4th that opens the Family Synod, and to the Oct. 14 Papal Audience (the Pope apparently holds a Papal Audience at 10 am each Wednesday he's in town). How great is that?

I have my new passport, my room, my guide books my copies of I, Claudius, John Varriano's A Literary Companion to Rome, A Traveller in Rome by H.V. Morton, and about fifty million suggestions to drink coffee at this cafe, visit this church, walk to that market, and not to on any account miss all kinds of things I'm sure I'll miss. The sisters are having me for Pranzano I think it's called (lunch) one day, and for tea another, and I may take a day trip to Assisi.

Also, I'm to have coffee with a delightful seminarian who generously angled to get me a Scavi tour.

Other than that, I just want to wander the streets (think of the pictures), go to Mass, take in the gardens, and pray with all my heart for the human family.

Every single day this yeas has been so packed, shaken down and overflowing,  I could write a book on it. I've been without a permanent address, mostly by choice, so that's been interesting.

My weekly arts and culture column is almost a full-time job. I take the honor and the responsibility seriously and the gift I receive in return--the people, the inspiration, the sense of a rich extra dimension--the Kingdom of God like yeast, all through the loaf--is stupendous.

I also have a new book out, and if all goes well, two more out next year, and my monthly column for Magnificat. The "Credible Witness" essays need to be submitted six months in advance and the line-up for 2016 includes many of my heroes: Dorothy Day, Franz Jaggerstatter, Fr. Stanley Rother, Fr. Ed Dowling.

Another big project: I'm co-writing the memoir of Kathleen Eaton-Bravo, founder and CEO of Obria, formerly known as BirthChoice, which brings free medical clinics to under-served communities with a focus on crisis pregnancies. She prefers the term "life-affirming" to "pro-life," tries to give the prospective mother every available option in favor of giving birth to the child, and believes in accepting, loving, and supporting the mother (and father), whether she chooses to have an abortion or not. To me, that's the crucial Christ-like link that's been missing in the terribly polarized pro-choice/pro-life battle. It's messy wading into these waters. There's no pat, ends-neatly-tied-up solution to any human situation. The solution is love.

So the project is inviting me to stretch on a number of different levels. To go to a place that's not safe and secure, where the labels disappear, where we consent to be vulnerable, misunderstood, and possibly shunned--by both "sides"--is the place on the outskirts where Christ stood.

In the end, it is always two human beings. Can I reach out my hand to my brother, to my sister, and say: Tell my your story? Can I listen?...

Here's the link to a piece called "The Man in the Skirt: The Church as Field Hospital." It was inspired by a cross-dresser I saw almost every day at Mass this past summer.

Somehow it's in the spirit of the message of Pope Francis--which is straight, rock-bottom, from the Gospels.


Wednesday, September 23, 2015


The folks on California's Central Coast have been good to me.

Most especially, these include 1) the one and only Fr. Patrick Dooling. Fr. Pat had me up to speak last year at the Monterey Cathedral, then lent me his family home in Capitola for several days; and 2) Anne Breiling of Aptos. Anne hosted me at her home on a road trip to the Lost Coast of California a couple of years ago and, like Fr. Pat (they are friends) has loyally supported my work.

Looks like I'll be up that way speaking again during Lent, 2016.

More to the point here, Anne is spearheading a groovy new coffee shop/community gathering place at the beautiful Shrine of St Joseph, overlooking a gorgeous stretch of the Pacific in Santa Cruz.

Check out the youtube above and the Shrine Coffee crowd-funding website here. As you can see, this looks like a first-class operation.

Community gathering places--and great coffee to keep the conversation flowing--are just what we need.

Convert/conversation: same root word. Meaning, "turn around; send in a different direction."

Sunday, September 20, 2015


The folks over at the Patheos Book Club have been kind enough to launch a discussion about my new book: Stripped: At the Intersection of Cancer, Culture and Christ.

An excerpt from the Q and A:

Your faith was integral to your journey through the cancer diagnosis and treatment. Can you say a bit more about that, for those who have yet to read the book? How did your faith accompany you in this journey?

My faith is integral to everything. Christ is the ground of my being. So he walked with me, accompanied me, as he does everywhere.

Just briefly. I was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2000 and I ended up going against medical advice and declining chemo, radiation, and a heavy-duty estrogen drug called Tamoxifen. I did a ton of research and a lot of praying, and I consulted friends and spiritual advisors I trust. And in the end, my inner sense was that those harsh treatments would do more harm than good for my Stage 1, Grade 1 cancer. So I had the tumor surgically removed, out-patient, and that was it. I just kept living my life the way I’d been living it for years. And now fifteen more years have passed. I just turned 63. I don’t eat crap but I’m not obsessed with eating only organic. I adore gluten. I don’t take pills of any kind, not even vitamins.

But Stripped is in no way an anti-medicine screed. It’s an invitation to ask ourselves what Master we serve. That doesn’t mean the choice is between Jesus and the doctors. No, no, no. The question is whether we’re going to serve the master of fear or the Master of love. Do we have the courage to follow our own hearts over an authority figure: a doctor, a coach, a politician, a parent, a spouse, a friend, a religious or spiritual figure who may or may not be speaking with real authority?

Are we going to mindlessly serve a culture that is increasingly based on the commodification of the human body, the human person?

I didn’t see my cancer a blessing—please!—but I did see it as a mystery. To consent to live in mystery, not to know all the answers, is another kind of poverty. The world sees any kind of poverty as cause for ridicule. Loser! But Christ’s kingdom is not of this world”...


And HERE'S THE LINK to the full book club, with links to the Q and A, an essay called "Fifteen Years After," the beginnings of the roundtable, and other content.


Friday, September 18, 2015


credit: LA Weekly
 For this week's arts and culture column, I took a field trip to a zipper factory!
Here's how the piece begins:

UCAN Zippers, a family-owned business near Downtown L.A., is one of only four full-service zipper manufacturers in the country.

The Lais are Taiwanese-American and live in Rowland Heights. Hyrum, the youngest of three brothers, recently gave me the grand tour.

“My father started the business 26 years ago. His original distribution area was the Mountain West: Utah, California, Arizona, Nevada. He took that acronym — UCAN — for the name of his company.

“My older brother Malan and I used to work here during the summer doing inventory. Hot, sweaty, we hated it. We said, ‘We’ll never work here.’ But when Malan graduated from college, our father said, ‘Give me a year.’ Malan started as a driver, worked his way into production, and now pretty much runs the show.”

Hyrum majored in advertising. He was working at an L.A. agency when his parents set out for a year and a half of overseas mission work. “They said, ‘Hyrum, will you come over and help your brother?’”

Eighteen months turned into 10 years.


credit: UCAN Zippers

credit: Bianca Yarber

credit: UCAN Zippers

Tuesday, September 15, 2015



Here's the press release from Loyola Press. publisher of my JUST-RELEASED new book. Kelly Hughes did a bang-up job and I thank her.

In conjunction with which, Loyola shilled for me and I just got invited to give a talk next February at that gigantic Religious Ed. Congress held at the Anaheim Convention Center each year.

I hope to speak on the vocation of the Catholic writer.

Heather King’s Memoir Stripped Offers Searing Look at
the Intersection of Cancer, Culture and Christ

Writer Heather King, a former barfly and a Catholic convert, brings her sharp wit and passionate faith to the story of her experience with cancer, a story that is about much more than the cells gone rogue in her breast. Stripped (Loyola Press, $14.95 paper, September 1, 2015) is a spiritual guide for those times when life bombards us with existential questions, and a critique of the American medical system and our ill-chosen cultural metaphors.

Cancer is a life-altering event that pushes us to reorder priorities, reassess values, and perhaps rethink our faith. A diagnosed tumor forced King to this crisis of mortality. Rather than declare “war” on cancer, she examined the medical evidence, and brought God into her decision-making—even if it meant going against established medical advice by refusing further treatment.

Disturbed by the war metaphor used in medicine and so many other areas of life, King refuses to buy into our culture’s “collective, complete denial of death.” Cancer language invokes battles and being a fighter, but King says “the gung ho American spirit that was always trying to win seemed to be deeply misguided, and never more so when people tried to drag God into the equation.”

The cancer nightmare—biopsy, the shock of diagnosis, surgery, making a treatment decision—was exacerbated by modern medicine. King, a former attorney, says “the medical profession ran exactly the same way the legal profession did: on fear, greed, apathy and a deep desire to have as little personal interaction as possible.”

King asserts that she is not anti-medicine, however. “I knew that to link cancer treatments with war was a stretch. But nonviolence is not only, or even primarily, a stance toward war. Nonviolence is a stance toward life.”
Cancer stripped everything down to essential questions: how did she want to live? How did she want to die? The conventional medical approach to cancer —“we poison you, burn you, but it’s a small price to pay to survive”—forced her to consider what it truly means to survive. King’s Christian faith compels her to offer her death to the world, when the time comes.

King was already a survivor, of years of hard living that included alcoholism and promiscuity. When she sobered up in the late ‘80s, “I no longer wanted to be anesthetized. Call it grace, call it the hand of God, call it a miracle—I had no trouble calling a miracle.” She married (and later, divorced), passed the California bar, began working as an attorney, ditched that to devote herself to writing, and became an “unabashed, straight-up Catholic.” Her conversion took hold as she met the Christ of the gospels, who, she discovered to her astonishment, “acted with unerring honesty, integrity, intelligence, courage, and above all, love, a kind of love that was always counterintuitive and of an entirely different order than the hearts and flowers love of Hallmark cards.”

King was extraordinarily lucky, she acknowledges. “Maybe more than we know, the potential for healing lies within ourselves. Not necessarily physical healing, but the spiritual healing by which we learn that the real tragedy is to die with our truest song unsung — to die without recognizing that our suffering has meaning,” she says.

Heather King is a Catholic convert with several books, among them Parched, Redeemed, Shirt of Flame, Poor Baby, and Stumble: Virtue, Vice and the Space Between. She writes a weekly column on arts and culture for The Tidings, lives in Los Angeles, and blogs at

# # #

Stripped: At the Intersection of Cancer, Christ, and Culture
by Heather King
Loyola Press
ISBN 978-0-8294-4262-5
5.5 x 8.5 Paperback
232 Pages
September, 2015

Contact: Kelly Hughes, 312-280-8126