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Well, it’s been a few days since we digested, so let’s go for it:

amy_welbornWriting:  I was in Living Faith last Sunday. Next appearance won’t be until the beginning of May.

Several blog posts – just scroll back for those. Lots of travel blathering to assuage my guilt about privilege and such. Dug up an old piece I wrote on St. Benedict the Black (Moor), posted that and discovered that I’ve been annoyed by the same things for a long time.

Lots of sitting around, staring and jotting notes.

Oh! The Loyola Kids Book of Signs and Symbols is a finalist for an “Excellence in Publishing Award” from the Association of Catholic Publishers. 

Listening:   Much Liszt and Ginastera still, but not as much Beethoven – we may be almost done with this particular piece for the year after last Saturday. Hopefully not img_20190409_200229completely done – that would mean he didn’t do well enough to advance to the state level – but we’ll see. Waiting for those results.

As that area of piano winds down, the jazz and organ levels up. Lots of listening to this this week – and for the next few weeks. 

Reading: All right, here we go. First, let’s do what’s in progress.

Rare for me, I purchased a brand new book, simply on the basis on a recommendation. I don’t remember where I saw this mentioned, but since it involved the Gospel of Mark – along with John, one of my two favorites – and seemed to take on some of my concerns, I was in: The Memoirs of St. Peter: A New Translation of the Gospel of Mark. 

Simply reading the introduction was a revelation and prompted me to regret, once again, the thrust of Biblical studies in the era in which I came of age – the 80’s and 90’s – rooted in the historical-critical method, aka – as it panned out for most of us –  skepticism. I suppose what we are seeing now needed that stage to exist. Perhaps this moment couldn’t have come to life without both the shaking of old pietistic assumptions as well as the hard contextual work of the historical-critical scholars, but still. What time wasted, what distance created between the reader and Christ by fixating us – even the lay reader via Bible studies and homiletics – on what Matthew is saying to his Jewish readers here and how it differs from what Luke is saying to his Gentile readers there. 

More as I go along.

I’ve read two novels since last we spoke on these matters:

Case Histories by Kate Atkinson

Why this and how? The typical rabbit-trail route. Browsing the “new releases” I came upon her TranscriptionIt looked mildly interesting, which led me to go to the “A’s” in the fiction section and see what else she’d written – a lot, as it turned out – so I plucked out a couple to try. I ended up starting with this one rather than the newest. It was..okay.

She writes well, and that’s why it wasn’t time wasted for me. I learned some things from reading her. But the novel wasn’t ultimately satisfying for me and led me to decide to just return the others I’d checked out and move on.

There are three mysteries introduced in the story, which end up being…sort of connected. I think what put me off was, first, I figured things out pretty early, and I never figure mysteries out. Maybe I’m just getting smarter, but I doubt that.

Secondly, there is a theme of abuse within a family which is treated rather lightly by surviving family members when it comes to light. The abuse was terrible, and I found the reaction of characters both unbelievable and – hate to use the word, but this is it – offensive.

My only other comment on the book is that once again  – Catholic themes and imagery pop up, and I wasn’t even looking for them – again. A family member ends up in a convent and while the treatment of this tumbles a little bit into caricature, and I honestly don’t think this person would have actually been accepted into religious life considering her issues and weirdness, still – there was a theme of contrition and doing penance for one’s sins that required a working out, and where do you go when you need to make that happen? Catholic Land, of course!

Now, for a much better, more serious book – The Blood of the Lamb by Peter de Vries. 

(The link goes to an archive.org version that you can “borrow.” The book is still in print, though and easy to find. )

As I mentioned the other day, de Vries was a favorite of my father’s and was quite popular in the 60’s. I’d never read anything by him, and this novel is a departure from his usual humorous work – although it has its moments as well.

I rarely, if ever suggest to you “You should read this book” –  simply because life is short, people’s tastes vary, and who am I?

But I’m going to make an exception here. I think you should read this book – if you’re interested in faith, period, but particularly faith and art.

Here’s an excellent essay from Image introducing de Vries, and particularly this book:

IT WAS AN ORDINARY autumn night in suburban Chicago when I received the most disturbing book I have ever read. I was seventeen, slouching in my bedroom making a half-hearted attempt at homework, my sweaty cross-country clothes festering on the floor. My father appeared at the doorway and handed me a yellowed paperback that looked at least a few decades old.

“You might like this,” he said.

It was The Blood of the Lamb by Peter De Vries. I had heard De Vries’s name for the first time only a few days earlier. It came up at the family dinner table, and as I learned about him, I couldn’t believe I hadn’t heard of him sooner. He was once a well-known satirist who published twenty-six novels, most of them commercially successful. He spent forty-three years as an editor at TheNew Yorker, his short stories appearing regularly in its pages. He enjoyed a privileged perch in the cultural landscape, friends with J.D. Salinger and James Thurber.

And he came from our people—the Dutch Calvinists of Chicago. He attended my religious high school and college. He grew up in the same South Side neighborhood as my grandmother, worshipping at the same church, Second Christian Reformed on Seventy-Second Street. According to a family story, he had dated her, or tried to date her. Or they shared a hymnal at a Sunday evening church service. By Dutch Calvinist standards, that’s practically second base.

A short synopsis:

Don Wanderhope is , as the essay above says, from Dutch Calvinist stock, living in Chicago, when we first meet him, in the late 1920’s. His father runs a refuse company (common among Dutch Calvinists, according to this essay), and he grows to adulthood listening in on theological arguments, helping his father, going to school, discovering girls, and yearning for a different, more refined life.

Image result for blood of the lam de vriesHe gets into a bit of trouble with one girl (a hilarious scene – I mean, who can blame them for not anticipating the model home being shown on a Sunday evening?) but is spared from marrying her by a TB diagnosis. He goes to Colorado sanatorium (I always enjoy fictional sanatorium scenes because my mother had TB and spent time in one in New Hampshire in her youth – and remembered the time, in a way, as the best time of her life.) where he meets another girl, falls in love, but that ends and he heads back to Chicago, mostly healed (if he was ever really that ill at all) discovers his father in the beginning stages of dementia, goes to college, marries, moves to New York, works in advertising, has a daughter who eventually dies of leukemia.

I won’t say spoiler alert because everyone knows that the illness, suffering and death of the character’s daughter is the center of the novel – because it’s autobiographical. The novel was published a year after de Vries’ own 10-year old daughter died of leukemia, and oh, it is raw and painful and sorrowful.

So, no – if subject matter like that would be difficult for you to handle, you shouldn’t read it.

But if you can handle it, and you want to be immersed in a very honest, challenging exploration of faith and theodicy – pick it up.

Before I read it, I was under the impression that the book was the cry of an atheist soul, but it’s really not. It’s the cry of a suffering, loving soul who just doesn’t understand. It’s a dramatization of the question: You, a human parent, would do everything you could to alleviate your child’s suffering – why doesn’t God do the same for his own suffering children? This. Makes. No. Sense.

Jeffrey Frank, writing in The New Yorker in 2004 about De Vries’s legacy, calls the following hospital scenes “as unbearable as anything in modern literature.” I can’t say that he’s exaggerating. Don and Carol make a series of visits to a New York hospital, each time receiving assurances from her oncologist, Dr. Scoville, about his progress researching cures. De Vries charts the development of her leukemia in excruciating detail, tracking the cycles of remission and broken hopes, with each medication more desperate than the last.

Don joins the other parents in trying to preserve a sense of normalcy. They throw birthday parties and speak of returning to school in the fall. He watches a dying infant crawl the hallway “wearing a turban of surgical gauze, whom a passing nurse snatched up and returned to its crib.”

He describes these incidents as if laying out evidence against a heartless God. Here the book’s title becomes clear. It refers not to the blood of Jesus, the lamb of scripture, but to the young girl. Don’s innocent lamb is poisoned by her own blood.

When I read the book at seventeen, it was De Vries’s intensity that rattled me so deeply. The Blood of the Lamb attacked my community’s faith, furiously, from within. That’s something that Hitchens and the so-called New Atheists couldn’t do. We were taught to expect “the world” to mock our faith. But here was one of our own doing the same, and he struck me as funny, sophisticated, and intelligent in doing so. I felt an uncomfortable shiver of recognition, because I knew, even if it went unspoken, that our faith clashed with modern science, that our scriptures carried contradictions, and that religion often fueled as much bigotry as good in the world. I couldn’t defend the reasons for my faith against De Vries.

Returning to the book as an adult, I realize I misremembered two things. First, De Vries reserves as much rage for medical authorities as religious ones. When Dr. Scoville glibly tells him about the “exciting chase” of developing chemotherapy drugs, Wanderhope responds, “Do you believe in God as well as play at him?”

Second, I remembered Wanderhope as a settled unbeliever from his university days onward. Yet it’s clear that he keeps searching for divine guidance until the very end of his daughter’s life, even carrying a crucifix and medal of Saint Christopher. His retort to Dr. Scoville is a bitter joke, yet it’s also the question he can’t stop asking.

I’m going to close with a few quotes from the novel, but I want to point out something alluded to in what the essayist says here, something that is so interesting to me. De Vries’ background was solid Dutch Calvinist, and the theological discussions at the beginning take on faith in that context – predestination, and so on. But as the novel moves to New York, the religious context and imagery become very, very Catholic. The practical reason is that there’s a Catholic church on the way to the hospital. Wanderhope is always passing it and even stopping in. The crucifix outside the church becomes the focus of a final, enraged gesture.

Partly, I suppose because this reflects de Vries’ own actual experience, partly because well, Calvinists don’t have a lot of imagery that lends itself to dramatization of inner faith turmoil.

Once again. 

He resented such questions as people do who have thought a great deal about them. The superficial and slipshod have ready answers, but those looking this complex life straight in the eye acquire a wealth of perception so composed of delicately balanced contradictions that they dread, or resent, the call to couch any part of it in a bland generalization. The vanity (if not outrage) of trying to cage this dance of atoms in a single definition may give the weariness of age with the cry of youth for answers the appearance of boredom.

 

I made a tentative conclusion. It seemed from all of this that uppermost among human joys is the negative one of restoration: not going to the stars, but learning that one may stay where one is.

 

The greatest experience open to man then is the recovery of the commonplace. Coffee in the morning and whiskeys in the evening again without fear. Books to read without that shadow falling across the page.

Dead drunk and cold-sober, he wandered out into the garden in the cool of the evening, awaiting the coming of the Lord.

There is a point when life, having showered us with jewels for nothing, begins to exact our life’s blood for paste.

And then, on a light note, this – reflecting the mid-1930’s. The content is more explicit now, but really, has anything changed? The pride in putting something stupid out there and selling it as a manifestation of some sort of artistic progress?

One summer when Carol was attending day camp, Greta had an affair with a man named Mel Carter. He was an Eastern publicity representative for a film studio, and often instructed dinner parties to which we went in those days with accounts of the movies’ coming of age. ‘We have a picture coming up,’ he said once, ‘in which a character says “son of a bitch.” Lots of exciting things are happening. Still, it’s only a beginning. Much remains to be done.’

 

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Today, we remember St. Francis of  Paola, an interesting saint. Here’s a good post from the Monastery of Christ in the Desert:

The immensely popular saint of Paola, Francis, born Francesco Martolilla, lived from 1416 to 1507. He was the founder of the Order of Minims (think here, “minimal” or “little” brothers) and was never ordained a priest. The name of the Order, Minims, refers to the members’ role as “the least of all the faithful,” as their founder expressed it. Humility was and is to be a hallmark of the Minims of Francis of Paola.

The Minim friars profess the traditional vows of poverty, chastity and obedience, as well as a fourth vow of abstinence from meat and other animal products, which includes eggs, butter, cheese and milk. In addition to friars, who are either priests or brothers, Francis of Paola also founded monasteries of contemplative nuns and a third order for people living in the world. One of the most famous members of the third order was the great French bishop of Geneva, Saint Francis de Sales. Just above the Paola sanctuary is a monastery of Minim nuns, eight in number. I was able to join them for Mass one morning during my visit to Paola.

Francis of Paola was canonized in 1519 by Pope Leo X and his feast day is April 2nd, the date of his death. Francis of Paola is patron of Calabria, as well as of boatmen, mariners and naval officers. He is much loved and venerated throughout Italy, but most especially, of course, in his birthplace of Paola.

Already a devout Catholic, in his adolescence Francis spent some time with Franciscan friars, partly in fulfillment of a vow made by his parents when he was cured of an eye ailment as a baby. After his year-long Franciscan experience, he made a pilgrimage with his parents to Assisi, passing through Rome, Loreto and a few hermitages along the way. This experience convinced Francis to become a hermit himself, which he did on his father’s estate and eventually at a small grotto on the hillside above the town of Paola next to the Isca waterfall and river that flows down to the ocean.

After several years alone in the cave by the waterfall and stream, in 1435 disciples began to come asking to share in the life Francis was living, desiring to dedicate themselves to prayer, fasting, work and contemplation, like Brother Francis of Paola. Eventually Francis and his followers founded a religious Order of hermits, at first called the Hermits of Saint Francis of Assisi, but later renamed the Order of Minims. The initials of the Order of Minims are O.M.

In 1483, when sixty-five years old, and with a reputation as a holy wonder-worker, Francis was called to the court of King Louis XI of France. The king was suffering from grave illness and hoped the holy hermit of Paola could bring about a cure. Instead, Francis was able to bring about the conversion of the king to a genuine Christian life. Francis of Paola remained in France for the next twenty-four years and died at Tours, on April 2nd, 1507, when he was ninety-one years old. He was buried in France. In 1562 the tomb of Francis of Paola was vandalized by Protestant Huguenots, who burned and scattered his bones. These were recovered by Catholic faithful and the relics distributed to various churches of Saint Francis of Paolo’s Order of Minims.

Now, one of the reasons I want to write about this St. Francis today is his connection with someone else very much on my mind right now – the great composer Franz Liszt.

Liszt being on my mind because the youngest son has been working on the piece Sposalizio for months and it’s my bones at this point. 

Liszt, of course, was a fascinating character who had deep and fraught ties to his Catholic faith.

Sposalizio, in fact, was inspired by a Raphael painting of the Wedding of the Virgin. 

Late in life, Liszt attempted to center his life more intentionally on faith (very complicated), moving to Rome and even taking minor orders. You can read about his spiritual journey here, in a piece by pianist Stephen HoughAlso, there is a great deal from a biography of Liszt available on Google Books here. He wrote a piano piece inspired by a legend of St. Francis of Paola:

amy_welborn3

 

More on Liszt’s religious works here.

 

Here’s a performance of the piece:

 

And for a change of pace and a scene that I, for one, can’t take my eyes off of – here’s a Finnish organist playing a organ transcription at St. Sulpice in Paris. The work of the Console Crew is fascinating, and given the fact that in playing in that space, all the audience can hear is the music and they don’t see anything, that Yamm! (or whatever) at 6.27 is entertaining:

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The introvert is recovering from over a week of not-solitude. I’ll get there.

MondayLast week was spring break in these parts, and we stuck around. Our one adventure was a day trip to Cheaha State Park, chronicled here. It was fine. Older son worked, younger son got a lot of music in, we had some family visitors. Nothing wrong with staying home and not spending a lot of money.

We have a great deal of travel coming up – still trying to figure out the parameters of Spain in June – and of course, there’s next year Roadschooling, so yeah.

Anyway, to a digest.

Watching: Lots of basketball, of course. People around here are ecstatic about Auburn, but the Vol and Gator in this house keep their distance.

We did watch the film Inception – which I’d never seen. I hadn’t intended to watch it, either, partly because I don’t like Leo, but also because I was convinced that I would end up simply letting confusing images wash over me for two hours. But I ended up sitting there, anyway, and mostly understood it, but it also left me mostly indifferent to the characters’ fates – I mean…they were in mental spaces, right?  

It was mildly thought-provoking on the subject of the power of ideas, which was, I suppose, the intention. The youngest came into my room some time after the movie was over, puzzling over one aspect of it, and said, I just can’t stop thinking about it…

To which, of course, I had to respond…So..it’s like someone implanted it in your brain???

In this category, I suppose I’ll put the two minutes it took to watch the trailer to the new Mary Magdalene movie. Here it is.

Just FYI, this movie has been out for a year in other countries, so reviews are easy to find. Here’s one from the Australian Catholic Conference and here’s one from an independent Catholic website.

My take, just from the trailer? I’m up for Joaquin Phoenix as Jesus, but I’d also probably watch Joaquin Phoenix as  Queen Elizabeth, so take that into consideration. But of course, from the trailer and the reviews, the movie seems to get a zillion things wrong or weirdly interpreted. The effect of this seems to be, as it so often is, the ironic outcome of trying to be more contemporary, less traditional and straying from the narrative as we have it is a flattening of the story that buries the truly radical nature of both Jesus’ treatment of women and his message in general.

It’s an interesting take – Luke tells us that MM was possessed by seven demons (the number seven being, in part, symbolic of completeness). Jesus freed her from those demons and in response, she followed him – but not alone. In Luke 8, she’s described as being a part of a group of women who became disciples. The movie renders this “possession” as a social construct: MM doesn’t want to follow traditional female norms, so, of course, everyone thinks she’s crazy.

As I said – sticking with the Scriptures would seem to me to be far more compelling.

Hey! Here’s a book on Mary Magdalene!

Cooking: Since we didn’t travel for spring break, we traveled through area restaurants. I didn’t cook much, but the kitchen is seeing life again today.  For some reason, I keep thinking I’m out of celery when I go to the grocery store, but I never am, so one of the goals for today is Use All the Celery.

A thrilling prospect for my customers, I’m sure.

Reading: 

My son on some weird movie. 

It’s almost like there is a lesson, and that there is evil in the world that can’t be accommodated. Invite the evil in, treat it kindly, and it will still have no objective other than to destroy you. The only thing to do is to prevent evil from coming into your house.

Over the weekend, I read the novel Talk to Me by John Kenney. Why this? The usual – I was in the “new books” section of the library, read the description and the blurbs, and felt it might be worth a look. It was – a very quick read that I finished in the space of twenty-four hours and enjoyed quite a bit.

The plot: A nationally-known and beloved television news anchorman is recorded doing something bad just before a broadcast. Nothing sexual, just – very abusive and hurtful. Of course, it goes viral, and the book is about contemporary internet culture and society through the prism of that fallout. It’s complicated and enriched by family matters – the anchor’s adult daughter works for a Buzzfeed – type outfit and has her own deep issues with her father. If the plot only existed on the level of viral video, memes and comments sections, we wouldn’t have much here. But the family and relational elements give it a necessary and even moving depth and raise questions quite fundamental to this whole wretched scene – as in: why can’t we just live in privacy and peace….well…why don’t we live like this? Why do we choose to subject ourselves to the online life and how does it change us?

The book is easy and amusing and, as I said, even moving at points. What interested me, as it would, is that ONCE AGAIN, a fictional protagonist accesses hints of a way forward in this terrible situation via the sounds, symbols and just simple existence of Catholic things. It’s not ham-handed or painfully direct, but it’s definitely there. His thoughts about seeking forgiveness coalesce as he stumbles into a church, and then a sense of his unity with struggling, weak humanity comes to him as he’s walking around the city, observing people…with Gregorian chant playing in his earbuds.

Trust it. Trust that faith we’ve been given, try to live it and let it live in the world. People are looking for it.

Writing: 

Back to work. I have Living Faith stuff due this week. 

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— 1 —

Today’s the feast of the Chair of St. Peter.

Last year, I was in Living Faith on that day. Here’s the devotion I wrote:

Do not lord it over those assigned to you, but be examples to the flock.

– 1 Peter 5:3

When I think about each of the important older people in my life (all deceased because I’m one of the older ones now), all are associated with a chair.

My father’s preferred spot was his desk chair in his study. My mother spent her days in her comfortable chair in the corner, surrounded by books. My great-aunt was not to be disturbed as she watched afternoon soap operas from her wingback chair. My grandfather had his leather-covered lounger, its arms dotted with holes burned by cigars.

From their chairs, they observed, they gathered, they taught and they provided a focus for the life around them. There was wisdom in those chairs.

I’m grateful for the gift of Peter, our rock. From his chair–the sign of a teacher–he and his successors gather and unify us in our focus on the One who called him–and all of us.

— 2 —

Tomorrow’s the feast of St. Polycarp:
He is in my Loyola Kids’ Book of Saints.  

—3–

Here’s Terry Teachout on Accessibility and its Discontents

I feel the same way, which is why I don’t have a smartphone. What’s more, I know that my ability to concentrate—to cut myself free from what I once called in this space the tentacles of dailiness—has been diminished by my use of Twitter and Facebook. Josef Pieper said it: “Leisure is a form of that stillness that is the necessary preparation for accepting reality; only the person who is still can hear, and whoever is not still, cannot hear.” To be on line is the opposite of being still.

–4–

What does a conductor listen to as his country falls apart?

Here’s an interview with our Alabama Symphony conductor, Carlos Izcaray, who is Venezuelan:

At the top of his playlist? The turbulent “Symphony No. 10,” by Soviet-era composer Dmitri Shostakovich.

“This is a piece that was written just after the death of one of the worst tyrants in history, Stalin, and of course, Shostakovich had to endure many, many years under this regime,” Izcaray (@izcaray) tells Here & Now’s Peter O’Dowd. “The movement … the second one, it’s got this militaristic, highly volcanic energy to it, that is very much attuned to the frustration that many of us Venezuelans feel. And if you listen to the end of the piece, there is hope at the end of the storm.”

That storm is a personal one for Izcaray. In 2004, he was kidnapped, detained and tortured by the Hugo Chávez regime.

“I went through very bad mistreatment of all sorts, physical and psychological, [I was] threatened to death,” says Izcaray, who also now conducts the American Youth Symphony in Los Angeles. “And what I went through is what many people are going through now in Venezuela. We’re talking about students who are leading the marches, we’re talking about political prisoners.”

Izcaray’s detention caused him to spiral into a “depressive state.” But through music, he was slowly able to rebuild his life.

“I was going to have my big debut with the National Symphony Orchestra as a conductor. Everything was shattered,” Izcaray says. “But after a brief period of just darkness, my friends and my family, my father especially, brought music back to the equation for me. It was a way to heal — both literally and physically, because I had nerve damage in my arm. Playing the cello — I’m a cellist — so by playing music, I got better.

“I think that since then I’ve understood many of the layers that were, until then, not discovered by me — the power of music.”

Interview Highlights

On the Francis Poulenc composition “Four Motets on a Christmas Theme”

“This is a piece that, to me, every time I listen to it, I just — it’s like rediscovering the miracle that is music. It’s a spiritual peace, it’s just sheer beauty. I just think this piece elevates me to a different frequency. [It’s] hard to describe it, and it’s just a couple of minutes long. But I really think that Francis Poulenc captured the most intimate and profound elements of what it is to be a human being and this relationship with music.”

–5 —

Don’t forget Weird Catholic!

–6-

Son #2 continues to post film reviews several times a week.

Summer Interlude (Bergman)

1776

The Homeseman

Follow him on Twitter

 

–7–

Sexagesima Sunday this week:

 

amy-welborn

I’ve created a Lent page here.

 

For more Quick Takes, visit This Ain’t the Lyceum!

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ThursdayThis is just going to be a digest day. I need a break from Big Blogging Thoughts. I have a story I really want to finish a first draft of this week because another one has started popping up in my head, fighting for time. I’ll return to gendered thinking on Friday. Maybe this afternoon is this morning is fruitful.

So:

Watching: Unfortunately, I spent a couple of hours night before last rewatching Mad Men again. I say “unfortunately” because I’ve already seen these episodes at least twice, so there’s no valid reason for me to spend some of my brief, valuable time here on earth with those people again.

But then it’s season 6 and we get Boss Peggy and the genius casting of Harry Hamlin as Cutler and Bob Benson.  And great, great lines like Roger Sterling,  trying to sort through his feelings about his mother’s death with his therapist:

“My mother loved me in some completely pointless way and it’s gone. So there it is. She gave me my last new experience. And now I know that all I’m going to be doing from here on is losing everything.” 

So, yeah, I got sucked in.

Stayed up too late. Again.

Reading: 

In recent New Yorker issues (checked out from the library) – an article on Nashville hot chicken – mostly about Prince’s, the establishment at the heart of it, but comparing it with latecomers, most notably the small chain Hattie B’s. We have an Hattie B’s near our house, and my youngest loves it. He probably would eat there every day if he could. Interesting to me was the cultural appropriation angle to the story – Prince’s being African-American owned and Hattie B’s started by white guys.  But – I have to say – going to the Hattie B’s near my house is one of the most diverse experiences in a diverse part of town in a diverse city.  Always a slight edge to African-American customers, usually an Asian group and most of the time at least one customer in a hijab.

This story by Emma Cline – evocative and depressing, which is fine, because life can be that way.

As I noted earlier in the week, I finished The Woman in White. Inspired by this post by Eve Tushnet, I started The Comedians  –  one of the few Greene novels I’d not yet read.

Oh – and you might remember that earlier in the week we were reading The Comedy of Errors in anticipation of seeing a production this Friday. Well, scratch that. Turns out the production is in a very small theater and is sold out. Sad!

amy_welborn_Writing: 

I was in Living Faith yesterday. Here’s the driver who was the subject. Bought with his own hard-earned money.

I reposted a piece  on Flannery O’Connor’s book reviews on Medium. 

Here’s another son’s take on the film The Passion of Joan of Arc. Follow him on Twitter to keep updated on his movie posts and writing progress.

Joan’s eyes are wide with innocence as she navigates her interrogators’ questions, making them seem alternatively foolish and unserious. It’s both Joan’s strength and fragility, all told through Falconetti’s performance, that sells the conflict. We are with her from the beginning to the end, and it’s quite an emotional journey.

And of course, two long-winded blog posts. Just click back to the links at the top of this post for those.

Listening:

I stopped in Chick-Fil-A last night to pick up food for Son #4 since it’s Son #5’s church-thing-night where they feed him. I noticed this gaggle of women in there, all dressed in similar outfits – a little Boho, each wearing black hats with rims. They were clearly evoking someone or something and they sure were stoked, but I had no idea about who or what.

Shrugs. Gets a #8 Meal. 

After I got him his food, I headed back downtown. My destination was this concert – a free piano concert, an annual tradition at our Birmingham Museum of Art. M and I had attended last year. It was too bad he couldn’t go this year – but, hey – it was free and in the same vicinity as his church thing, so why not use that hour in an elevated way instead of killing time on a screen?

Well, traffic was horrendous. I was reasonably certain that the 2017 Van Cliburn competition silver medalist wasn’t attracting that kind of audience, so as I stopped at a light with a river of red taillights in front of me, I tried to figure out what was going on –

Ah – 

Fleetwood Mac 

Now it all comes together, not least the Stevie Nicks fan club in Chick-Fil-A. 

Well, I finally found parking a few blocks from the museum – really, I should have just parked at the Cathedral – and hustled down there. As I walked in the front door, applause echoed through the building, much louder than it should have been – the museum as a large auditorium on the ground floor, and this was just up the stairs, right in front of me.

And sure enough, the space that usually holds the tables for the museum’s restaurant was filled instead with rows of chairs with a baby grand at the head. As they were explaining as I snuck in the back, the piano in the auditorium was broken, they were unable to fix it, so here they were.

It was a lovely concert – although being in the back row on a floor that wasn’t graded meant that of course I couldn’t see anything. Which was fine – it forced me to really listen in a closer way.

He played:

César Franck | Harold Bauer Prélude, Fugue et Variation, op. 18

Johann Sebastian Bach Toccata in C Minor, BWV 911

Ludwig van Beethoven Sonata No. 31 in A-flat Major, op. 110

I will say that listening to my son play his pieces dozens, if not hundreds of times, has taught me a great deal about music and made listening in concert settings – which I always enjoyed anyway – even more interesting.

Contemporary Catholic motherhood talk is still miles better than secular talk, but still, it tends to miss a few beats, I think. The talk is still all about me. About how motherhood makes me a better person.

Well, it does, yes.

But the most amazing thing about motherhood – about parenthood – is the gift of cooperating with God, even unintentionally and accidentally – in putting unique human beings into the world, people with interests and gifts and their own weird journeys.

And, to bring it back around to a self-centered bullseye on this Valentine’s Day – how that expands our world, doesn’t it? To help create a community in which you’re enriched and grow by engaging with all that they engage with – their sports, their movies, their music, their work experiences, their people.

Who would we be without them?

 

 

 

 

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— 1 —

If you only come here on Fridays, scroll back a bit for reports on last weekend, which included a wonderful Rorate Mass at the Cathedral of St. Paul in Birmingham as well as Bambinelli Sunday.

If you’re interested, here are the music programs for the Cathedral’s upcoming liturgies, which will include the praying of the Office of Readings before Midnight Mass.

Here’s the general list of the music at all liturgies (links)

Here’s the Order of Worship (pdf) for Midnight Mass. 

  • We welcome you to our solemn Midnight Mass. This sung Mass is sung by Cathedral Choir; this year’s Mass ordinary is Tomas Luis de Victoria’s famous Missa “O Magnum Mysterium”, one of the most famous Masses of the high Renaissance. Also presented is the motet “O magnum mysterium” by the same composer, along with the various Gregorian chant propers of the day.

  • This year, the 11:15PM prelude is replaced by the celebration of sung Office of Readings from the Liturgy of the Hours. This office (for Christmas Day) recalls the offices of Vigils and Matins, from which the Office of Readings is derived. Consisting of a number of psalms, readings, and responsories, this is a beautiful way to prepare for the celebration of the Christmas season. It concludes with a sung, solemn Te Deum.

  • Between the Office of Readings and Midnight Mass, Cathedral Choir will present Ihr lieben Christen, freut euch nun/Good Christians, rejoice, BuxWV 51, by Dietrich Buxtehude. This important sacred work, composed for the Sunday evening “Abendlied” Vespers services that Buxtehude began for the Marienkirche in Hamburg, alternates between instrumental, choral, and solo movements, and is an the ancestor of J.S. Bach’s transcendent cantatas.

 

— 2 —

These quick takes will function as a digest of sorts as well.

(Again, for those of you who only come on Fridays, a few days of each week, I attempt a “digest” of what I’m watching/reading/listening to.

Related image

Watching: Tonight (Thursday) we watched The Killing – Kubrick’s first Hollywood movie. Great stuff – short and not-sweet at all. A marvelous array of character actors, including Tim Carey’s bizarre turn as the puppy-stroking sharpshooter Nikki, whose interactions with a parking attendant also flesh out the era’s racial politics in quick strokes, and Elisha Cook Jr., weak link in the plan from start to finish, but who comes out with the most arresting and iconic final shots.

Image result for the killing kubrick

(That was after they went and saw the Spiderman cartoon in the afternoon, which they said was really good.)

I’m hoping to watch Roma over the next week some time.

—3–

Reading: I read a really terrible novel this week. It’s a new novel by a living writer (well, duh) and it’s not like I know this person or anything, but I still don’t feel quite right about trashing it by title. It struck me as weak after the first twenty pages and probably almost worthless after the next, but I kept on reading. Partly because it was short, and a short genre novel – it’s like sitting and watching television for an hour or so. Which is probably not the best use of my time, but there I was.

It had a Catholic – not theme, but hook – and the author obviously had some knowledge of Catholic things – the lingo was correct (sort of like the Mystery Catholic who writes for The Onion) and, okay I take that back – I guess there was  sort of redemption thread happening, but wow. The writing was stilted and repetitive, plotting was coarse and characterization wasn’t even an option, it seems.

Why did I keep reading it?

To encourage myself to keep writing. 

Mostly.

Also reading a lot about Seville. Spain.

–4–

Writing: Speaking of which. Got an invitation to work on a small project that will be due at the end of January.

My guys will be gone for a few days over Christmas, and in the time I’m not in Charleston, I’ll be here, hopefully finishing up story #2 and maybe thinking more about longer fiction. I have something started – I just don’t know if what I envision is doable. By me, at least.

We’ll see.

–5 —

All right, we’ll finish up with links.

Perhaps you’ve heard about the Der Spiegel writer who is in big, big trouble. Deservedly. 

Seriously, if you haven’t, read this Medium takedown of his “report” on Smalltown, USA and be amazed and perhaps even enraged. 

Yes, this guy is a piece of work and an extreme example of journalistic malpractice, but after a zillion years on the planet, I’ve learned to view any piece of reportage that claims  to paint a picture of a place or movement with skepticism from the ground up.

Where does that leave us? I’m not sure. Probably where we’ve always been all along, just trying to figure out the truth.

–6–

This is an entertaining Twitter feed: Terrible Maps.

–7–

I’m usually allergic to year-end roundup things, but you might find useful bits here: 18 Pieces of Goodness in Pop Culture in 2018. 

It’s the memorial of St. Peter Canisius. Read about him here. 

 

 

For more Quick Takes, visit This Ain’t the Lyceum!

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MondayGood morning, all. What a weekend. What a week on the horizon. And it’s only going to intensify over the next month before midterm elections hit us, and then we’ll have weeks of sorting through that….

My survival technique? Keep with what you want to follow, but prioritize real life in encountering people face-to-face.  Read old books. Look up and around and out the window. Say your prayers.

Anyway:

Reading:

The Burglar is one of the more astonishing books I’ve read in recent years. Not because it was magnificent, but because it the overall impact was so unexpected. What Goodis was trying to do was so unusual. It’s a book that I’m not going to be able to stop thinking about for a while, nor do I want to put it out of my head, either. It’s giving me much to think about –  mostly about how existential questions get filtered through pop culture in surprising ways.

I wrote about author David Goodis here. The Burglar is also in the Library of America collection, along with Dark Passage. This time, the protagonist is not innocent or unjustly accused – he’s a professional thief – but the novel is really not about his thieving. It’s about why he’s a thief, the sense of honor that binds him to the people he’s with and shapes his life, and ultimately it’s about the source and potential price of being faithful to one’s code of honor.

And because it’s mid-century, and because it’s noir, it’s a bleak, tight work in which we’re pondering a man who’s pondering the cold reality of being, in the end, alone. And dead.

What I can’t stop thinking about is that The Burglar has some fairly Deep Thoughts coursing through it and some evocative writing, all bound up in this package:

amy-welborn

The last two chapters are quite astonishing, really, and I keep imagining the reaction of the reader who picked up this paperback at the five-and-dime, settled down for a pulpy scorcher of a read, and ends up with our protagonist and the young woman he’s bound by honor to protect out in the inky-dark ocean off Atlantic City in an extended scene that is really a metaphor for life’s forces and our choices combining and pulling us down, down, down.

The plot is: Nat Harbin is a professional thief in his early 30’s. He’d gotten into the business when, as a starving teen orphan, he’d been picked up hitchhiking by a pro who had a young daughter. Eventually the pro is killed during a job and Harbin, the girl and two other men gradually form a family of sorts, a family in which each individual has a burglaring specialty. We meet them in the midst of a huge heist of a stash of emeralds from a Philadelphia mansion. What ends up happening is that a dirty cop decides to take advantage of the situation, enlists a woman named Della to ensnare Harbin, all with the end of getting the emeralds themselves.

Along the way, there are encounters that escalate the way they do only in noir and in the movies, life compressed into meaningful gazes across restaurants, quick cab rides and blunt statements of desire. Every time I read a noir novel, I can’t help but hear the male protagonist speak in Humphrey Bogart’s voice. Typical of Goodis, there is also this intense deep-dive into the protagonist’s consciousness, a commitment to show us what it’s like to see, feel and think.

The thing was purely a matter of timing. To know just when to walk out. And he knew as sure as he was sitting here, this was the time to walk out. Right now. To tell the driver to stop the cab. To open the door and slide out, and walk away, and keep walking.

She held him there. He didn’t know how she was doing it, but she held him there as though she had him tied hand and foot. She had him trapped there in the cab, and he looked at her with hate.

“Why?” she said. “Why the look?”

He couldn’t answer.

She said, “You frightened?” Without moving, she seemed to lean toward him. “Do I frighten you, Nat?”

“You antagonize me.”

“Listen, Nat—”

“Shut up,” he said. “Let me think about this.”

She nodded slowly, exaggerating the nod. He saw her profile, the quiet line of her brow and nose and chin, the semi-delicate line of her jaw, the cigarette an inch or two away from her lips, and the smoke of the cigarette. Then he took his eyes and pulled them away from Della, and then without looking at Della, he was seeing her. The ride to the library took up a little more than twenty minutes, and they weren’t saying a word to each other, yet it was as though they talked to each other constantly
through the ride. The cab pulled up in front of the library and neither of them moved. The driver said they were at the library, and neither of them moved. The driver shrugged and let the motor idle and sat there, waiting.

After a while, the driver said, “Well, what’s it gonna be?”

“The way it’s got to be,” she said. As she floated her body toward Harbin, she gave the driver an address.

What’s it gonna be? The way it’s got to be. 

Well.

What are we doing all of this for, this life business? These choices? Ever wonder? Harbin tries to convince Gladden to pursue a plan, even though it might take months:

She stared at the backboard behind Harbin’s head. “Emeralds,” she said. “Chunks of green glass.”

In a desperate situation, Harbin’s dealing with an antagonist who is probably going to kill him if he gets a chance. I was struck by this simple metaphor that succinctly captures an internal dynamic:

There was a sudden hysteria in Hacket’s tone and Harbin grabbed at it as though it were a rope dangling toward him with quicksand the only other thing around.

The dialogue in this moment – actually a dreadful moment – made me laugh out loud. Someone has a clear sense of reality:

As Della walked in, her eyes were pulled to the red on the floor and Baylock’s dead face resting against the shiny red. She turned away quickly from that. She waited until Hacket had closed the door and then she stared at him. Her voice was low and quivered just a little. “What are you, a lunatic?”

Hacket stood looking at the door. “I couldn’t help it.”

“That means you’re a lunatic.” 

And then this, in which our protagonist expresses his essential solitude and the power of the crowd:

“One thing for certain. We didn’t do it. I wanted those three cops to live. I wanted Dohmer to live. I wanted Baylock to live. For Christ’s sake,” he said, and he saw her gesture, telling him to talk lower, “I never wanted anyone to die.” He stared ahead, at the people seated in the pavilion, the people on the boardwalk, and indicating them, he said, “I swear I have nothing against them. Not a thing. Look at them. All of them. I like them. I really like them, even though they hate my guts.” His voice went very low. “Yours too.”

“They don’t know we’re alive.”

“They’ll know it if we’re caught. That’s when it starts. When we get grabbed. When we’re locked up. That’s when they know. It tells them how good they are and how bad we are.”

If you check out other reviews of this book at Goodreads, you’ll find similar reactions.

On the boardwalk, he approached the hotel, he saw the sun hitting the silvery rail that separated the raised boards from the beach. There were a lot of people on the beach and most of them wore bathing suits. The beach was white-yellow under the sun. He looked at the ocean and it was flat and passive, with the heavy heat coming down on it, giving it the look of hot green metal. The waves were small and seemed to lack enthusiasm as they came up against the beach. In the water the bathers moved slowly, without much enjoyment, getting wet but not cool. He knew the water was warm and sticky and probably very dirty from the storm of Saturday night. Even so, he told himself, he would like to be in there in the ocean with the bathers, and maybe he and Gladden would have themselves a swim before leaving Atlantic City. The thought was an extreme sort of optimism but he repeated the thought and kept repeating it as he moved toward the entrance of the hotel.

I was going to take a break from all of this, but then I started Nightfall last night and was reeled in, both by the initial mystery, but also by the very real, affectionate relationship between a police detective and his wife – which warms my heart, but also fills me with dread because I’m thinking this can’t end well, because nothing ends well in this world.

Writing: I worked on the short story all weekend, pulled together some of the travel posts (see the page above) and tried to unravel All the Problems. Strangely, they remain knotted. I’ll be in Living Faith on Wednesday. Go here for that. 

Listening: My son’s jazz teacher gave him “Brother Can You Spare a Dime” to work on, with the Dave Brubeck variations on the same to listen to. It’s a beautiful thing, this Brubeck – he winds through some standard jazz stylings, then works out an invention/fugue type thing and then something that sounds a little like Liszt. So we’ve been listening a lot to that.

 

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