Thursday, December 14, 2023

domine, ut videam

“When darkness falls; when nighttime is at its deepest,
and day seems far away; whenever we seem caught and blinded
by the powers and principalities of this present darkness,
there’s only one thing to do.
Turn on the light.

Many have said it across the years, in philosophy and stories,
in words of wisdom and song, and yet we are so quick to forget.
But there is a simple solution to the darkness of a room
in the middle of the night, of mind and heart,
of civilization and society. Reach for the flashlight,
for the word of hope, for the prayer.
Open the door to light, to grace, and to glory;
invite in the Light of the World, and allow that light
to chase away the shadows of nighttime fears.
Turn on the light.”

~ Carrie Gress, A Litany of Light

The paragraphs quoted above are reproduced with Dr. Gress’ permission; her text was given to me last April at the National Shrine of the Divine Mercy, when I spent a week there. That was my last significant time off from work. Such respite has not been possible since. Stresses and excessive fatigue have intensified my already longstanding insomnia. Not an easy topic, and I’ve been resisting any sort of permanency for a condition that must not last; just like a miserable housing situation. Let hardship generate needed motivation to transcend. Typical insomniac nights are restless. Imagine being at the conclusion of full and arduous workdays, yet unable to fall asleep- or remain asleep. None of the usual tactics help- from shutting down the lit screen early in the evening, to routines for bringing the day in for a landing, to reflective reading. I’ve always been told to walk around and have a glass of water, instead of tossing-and-turning in place. That doesn’t work, either. Listening to the radio is another repeatedly bad measure. The cast of culprits includes employment, housing, worries, regrets, frustrations, and other various obstacles. In this context, the Litany of Light I’ve quoted here offers a discipline to stem these daunting tides. “Turn on the light” is occasionally literal- so that I can write something down- and is more often metaphorical. As well, the discipline is not rigorous, but in forms of gentle reminders. Gentleness is surely not something experienced in daily life, not even in the boorishly cacophonous apartment building. Forms of gentleness worth my practicing include chaplets, prayers, and turning the light on- either by redirecting thoughts or by flashlight. This is to survive to see better days, and ahead of that to being open to seeing better. The biblical Bartimaeus miraculously received his sight by praying, Domine, ut videam, which means O God, help me to see!

The present state of my self-discipline is to refrain from fixating my sights far beyond the immediate. There is nothing easy about this, especially after pulling my own weight- and then some- for many, many vigilant years. But in rescinding my grasp, in modest increments, it becomes easier to sense the guiding consolations of saints and angels. It is essential for me to stay the course of good conscience, smart work, and responsibility- even though I’ve yet to see favorable results. I know enough not to expect favors, and I remember very well how my father would encourage me to keep at it: he’d say “Keep on stepping up and swinging the bat for the fences!” My wakeful and repeatedly fractured nights are riddled with reminders of how badly all my efforts are going, and I understand enough to consider my circumstances as an engulfing trial of as-yet-unknown duration. What I do know is the immediate, and the next right thing is what needs my attention; there’s nothing nebulous about that. Continuing to productively work is paralleled by continuing to network and search for better. Anguish serves to generate ambition.

Finding light in the darkness is a constant pursuit, yet paradoxically thinking about that very pursuit itself winds up helping me get back to sleep. I recently remembered something I’d do while on cherished travels such as pilgrimages: at the close of the day, I’d fall asleep while recalling the good things I experienced. With eyes closed, lying back, my thoughts would effortlessly return to the day’s scenery, people, sounds, tastes, and ideas. A grateful review of the day. Now under twin yokes of work duress and miserable housing, I try closing the day and gratefully asking, “what did I like today? What went well?” The temporary apartment is cramped, oppressive, and often invasively loud. When I’m wakefully clambering to look out from the windows, using a small flashlight to help me squeeze my way to pouring a glass of water during the midnight hours, I always notice the rare quiet. Working two careers that required the sharpest, clearest photo images, I marvel at the dusky, grainy, grey light of the hours long before dawn. My ache for better days and situations keeps me ambitiously working, and also keeps me awake at night.

During a recent sojourn at the Boston Athenaeum, I studied the 17th century text, Tender Counsel and Advice by way of Epistle, by pioneering Quaker William Penn. As always during my prized study days in the manuscripts room, I made numerous notes for my later reading. Providing his tender counsel, applying the Quaker emphasis to mind the Light, Penn bids the reader to walk in the holy Light of Christ, and thereby be preserved through all trials and difficulties on earthly life’s pilgrimage:

“For even Jesus was tempted and tried, and is therefore become our Captain, because he overcame. Neither be ye cast down, because the Lord sometimes seemeth to hide his Face from you, that you feel not always that Joy and Refreshment, that you sometimes enjoy. I know what work the Enemy maketh of these Withdrawings of the Lord. Perhaps he will insinuate, that God hath deserted you in his displeasure, that you must never expect to see him, that he will never come again: And by these and the like strategems, he will endeavour to shake your faith and hope, and distract you with fear, and to beget great jealousies and doubts in you; and by impatience and infidelity, frustrate your good beginnings.”

Reaching for light, along with recollecting positive experiences, help to uphold a sense of wonder to be able to look forward. As much as it runs against the grain of desolation, it is all the more essential to force the effort to stay hopeful. Trading consolations one morning with a colleague that is also a good friend, we compared how we wryly express our perseverance. In a comedic gruffness, looking up from a computer, my friend said, “I’m happy, dammit!” I replied with my sarcastic equalizer, “I’m being positive ‘til it kills me!” Even amidst austerity, there’s room for some kind of humor. Sarcasm, however, can detrimentally ingrain itself into one’s every perspective. I described catching and adjusting my own propensities as being similar to a car with misaligned wheels. With some focused consideration, I’ll steer my thoughts forward, preventing myself from swerving off the road. Balance and luminosity need one another, and all the more in dark and unmarked valleys. “For with you is the fountain of life,” wrote King David in the 36th Psalm; “In Your light we shall see light.” Philosophizing about the verse in the 5th century, Saint Augustine observed, “we are, and understand, because of divine illumination.” Have I got enough of this light of understanding, and do I obstruct the headlamps of guidance? As the matter of the heart is the heart of the matter, I try holding up my end of things with all I can provide. Sure, there’s grace, but typically it’s been costlier for me than it’s seemed to be for most everyone I know. Whether or not that’s true, with contrast being the mother of clarity, it honestly looks that way to me. Leaving such notions aside, and now insistently swerving away from them, the road ahead must include surrendering the failings and the incorrigibles. Living an ascended, resurrected life is needed for new beginnings. Let the way upward be lit by aspiration and gratitude.

Sunday, November 12, 2023


“The Spirit moves the faithful to plead
with sighs too deep for words by inspiring in them
a desire for the great and as yet unknown reality
that we look forward to with patience.
How can words express what we desire when it remains unknown?
If we were entirely ignorant of it we would not desire it;
again, we would not desire it or seek it with sighs,
if we were able to see it.”

~ Saint Augustine, The Spirit Pleads for Us.

Maybe you’re a bit like me, and your morning routines include tuning into the news of current events. If you know better than to do this, you’re much smarter than me. An old habit of mine for many years has been to wake-wash-dress-caffeinate with the radio tuned to the news. Added to the ensemble is online news and checking for messages. In recent years, the “ensemble” is more like a barrage to me. Invariably, I’ll glean just enough to know what’s happening and something about weather prognostication, increasingly choosing to begin the day with writing and reading. Indeed, lit screens are integral to each day- especially at work- and can be very useful, if not essential for connectivity, communication, and construction of resources. After all, I’ve been a blogger for 17 years, gratefully authoring essays, and the results have opened doors to extraordinary writing opportunities and fellowships. Simultaneously, considering the internet’s persistent abundance, controlling even a limited stream is equally essential for clarity of thought. Especially at the start of the demanding day. The pandemic era revealed to the isolated many that it is left to the individual to manage their own mental and spiritual health. And develop an intellectual, artistic life. Without such pursuits, it becomes even easier to be lulled into digital complacency. Days flow into months and years. “We have only so much time,” said a pastor friend of mine, “to gladden the hearts of those who make the journey with us.”

As I try experimenting with apportioning my sparse, unsold slivers of time, I’m minimizing media to make space for unfettered constructive thoughts. Making a few written notes in my journal, the words are re-read and built upon later in the day. Thoughts at daybreak seem as unimpeded as any I’ll have. Extending to my uttermost reaches to improve a desperate situation, I’m repeatedly writing about hope. A soul that hopes is one that aspires to see and inhabit better days. And persistent hope does not cease to seek ways to succeed. A living hope somehow generates its own adrenaline supply: a saturated strength, especially as it’s captivated by the unseen. Ideals may seem abstract, but conceptually striving efforts toward better work and housing are tangible motivations. Hope’s objects may be out of view, but these intentions are solid. Many individuals want to talk about their hopes, sharing them, even assisting others with theirs. Unfulfilled hopes drive many to the extremities of their abilities, becoming pleas for assistance, and further as outpourings of prayers.

A conscientious, focused suppliant turns the mind and thoughts to God. Contemplation essentially entails immersing the mind into the heart. Ancient wisdom as recorded in the Philokalia refers to prayer as “conversing with God, in reverent respect and hope.” Saint Dimitri wrote, “Collect all your thoughts: laying aside all worldly cares, direct your mind towards God.” As worries reflect fears, prayer reflects a driven hope. An aspiration that is anything but passive demands a paradoxical combination of persistence and surrender. And it must be lived, much more than observed. To be thwarted for many years at every turn is exhausting, yet still I counteract the weariness with increased striving. Navigating a careful balance between coasting and full-throttle intensity is a discipline in itself. A mystery, indeed, that is neither vague wishing nor obsessive grasping. Intent upon improvement, what lesson is there to be gleaned? Hope is essential, but perhaps one mustn’t hope too intensely? Wishing and hoarding are sentiments than run in opposite directions. We’re all susceptible to overthinking, particularly when straining to overcome deficiencies en route to goals. I surely know the dangers of the paralysis-of-analysis, yet I fall under them nonetheless. It’s a long, long haul and if improvements are merely incremental, they’re still positive factors.

Outside of such things as archival documentation (speaking from many years as a professional archivist), all that is past has ceased to pulsate: At best, it informs, whether we choose to look back a day or a decade. Trying to steer away from anxious wakefulness, my efforts are to channel thoughts to the immediate. Aware of juggling several unsustainable continua, I warn myself against pondering this. Just pursue and tack toward calmer waters. Endure and trust. I’ve witnessed countless friends burn out, and notwithstanding how much I’ve had in common with most of these fine souls, thus far I’ve avoided such straits and fates. Navigating as such by my wits doesn’t mean I’m better; it means I’m intent upon surviving to see and to live improvement. Competition is at all hands, and the last thing I’d ever want to do is damage my chances. Inevitably, the finest of hopes grow amidst discouraging, fruitless, and inhospitable thickets. And thus, the words hope and must are twinned by necessity.

Admittedly, treacherous shoals are far from limited to those offered by such outlets as those announcing what’s wrong and what’s deficient about us. There are parallel dangers in perfectionism, trend-chasing, and lack of compassion. “We’re human, all likewise God’s children,” wrote Josemaría Escrivá, “and we cannot think that life consists in building up a brilliant curriculum vitæ or an outstanding career. Ties of solidarity should bind us all and, besides, in the order of grace we are united by the supernatural bond of the Communion of Saints.” I read Escrivá’s remark while shivering at a deserted bus stop, admiring his big-picture view that inspires individuals to look beyond themselves. Has my manicured résumé really helped to pave a road for me? That’s the desired result, but so much of this entire odyssey reveals the limited control one person has over the critical complexities of living. Roadblocks attest to what cannot happen, but as with swerving away from dangers, these denials can become prompts toward magnanimity. One recent pared-down early morning, my gratitude came to mind that I’ve arrived at the impulse to ceaselessly look to God, and for the grace of perseverance. Manifestations of this type of grace, wrote Theophan the Recluse, “show itself on a person’s side in a yearning and aspiration towards God, and on God’s side in good intention, help, and protection.” At the very least, I am certain that God is. Perhaps there is more to that conviction than I’m able to comprehend now. In his work, Collations on the Hexaëmeron, Saint Bonaventure beautifully observed:

“The soul has to learn how to be willing and consistent. Grace lifts the soul above its own nature and effort, when grace elevates it to receive direct illuminations from God, which then become the subject of spiritual reflection and theological speculation.”

Considering the sanctity of the soul, and trying to remove as much that is deleterious as possible, mental and spiritual refuge must be carefully and judiciously replenished. Winnowing chaff and pursuing advancement, I’m reminded of the first Johannine epistle. To me, John is the archivist’s apostle, peppering his letters and his evangel with terms such as the record, that which he witnessed, and that which was written, as one connecting historicity, his younger audience, and his personal experience. “Test the spirits, beloved,” he wrote in chapter four, so that we can discern what is authentic and confirming of the gospel. He encouraged his faithful students with, you’ve overcome cruel spirits, because greater is the Holy Spirit within you, than that which circulates through the culture in our midst. A popular American financial institution advertises its credit card by asking, “what’s in your wallet?” Over two millennia ago, John asked his listeners and readers, “what’s within?” What’s enshrined in your sanctuary? Applying some language from the archival profession, “what’s your collection development policy?” and “what are your appraisal criteria?” Like stewarding multifaceted archives, being the curator of one’s soul implies confrontation of deciding what warrants preservation. At the same time, I’m maintaining room for growth on the shelves, leaving space for worthwhile acquisitions.

Thursday, October 26, 2023


“In the words of the psalm,
‘For with You is the fountain of life;
it is only in Your light that we see light.’

Human beings have no other secure standpoint
for being certain about anything at all.”

~ Douglas Dales, referencing Psalm 36 and Saint Bonaventure,
in Truth and Reality : The Wisdom of Saint Bonaventure.

My ongoing philosophical studies have continued to serve as healthful oases amidst chaos and setbacks. Such pursuits into contemplation also produce learning and constructive thoughts for me, as well as teaching material which I gladly share. With material needs as vital as housing and work in protracted fluidity, survival requires waystations in welcoming forms. As the Word is a lamp to my steps, so it is that in Divine light that I can discern light. Aspirations live in ethereal mists, and thus hopes are not always solid enough for my mortal self. A comfortable place to live and a really good job would do wonders to the morale, with all searches continuing as fibers in the general cord of the pursuit for improvement. This is not to say there aren’t present-moments to savour, because there are- both modest and grand. I’ve surely learned to constructively make do, under pared-down circumstances, throughout my working life. Yet I’ve never stopped hoping large and working ambitiously. It’s equal parts survival, fulfillment, and acknowledgment of the great teachers and mentors I’ve had.

Because my studies are self-directed, I’ll stay with a topic until I’ve covered enough ground to my satisfaction. This practice dates back to my beginnings with philosophy-teaching, in 2015, and intensified during the austerity of pandemic-era quarantining. Lifelines of learning and writing still stand as reliable constants and sources of mental strength. I chose to revisit Saint Bonaventure’s Itinerarium, which I had first studied as the severities of early 2020 set in. Now, following deep dives into the works and lives of Wyclif, Erasmus, Colet, and the Devotio Moderna, the 13th century Bonaventure appears to me as a proto-Renaissance thinker. He was also a university professor and a Franciscan, blending charism and pedagogy with “No one comes to wisdom except through grace... One does not come to contemplation except through perspicacious meditation, holy comportment, and devout prayer.” Bonaventure has some aspects of the scholasticism in his midst, balanced by his mysticism, with metaphysical statements such as, “We are led to re-enter ourselves, that is our mind... one cannot enter within, unless by means of Christ, who says I am the door... but we do not approach this door unless we believe...” Navigating thus far- from Bonaventure’s Itinerary, to some of his commentaries, to the Collations on the Hexaëmeron I continue finding more to nourish me, and will simply keep on reading. It’s as though I’m standing near The Seraphic Doctor himself, with reverent devotion.

Beginning in the middle of last year, I’ve had to function without a comforting home base- or as Dales observed (and quoted above), “a secure standpoint.” Between both work and housing instabilities, the vantage point is at once being between two dead-ends while also admitting that everything is up in the air. Thoughts of this reality at night are threatening. Thoughts of this at noon the next day almost seem exciting. But all thinking and activity take place amidst the din of instability and uncertainty; as much above it, as under it. Missing a physical, welcoming “home base,” that proverbial secure standpoint takes shape as a state of being during which I sense assurance. While frustratingly searching for a comfortable perch, I’ve thus far noticed ephemeral slivers of rest during times of study and writing: reading at bus stops, or sometimes late at night in the crunched hovel after the loud neighbors shut down, and writing during my thirty-minute lunch breaks, or outdoors any chance I get. Not terrible, making room for gratitude, but always too brief and just under the tension radar.

The Archives, 2023

For many years, I’ve called momentary intermissions tagging up which is a baseball expression describing a baserunner’s safely advancing amidst a play. During my 14 years of fulltime work in the pressured commercial photography field, I’d start days and find breathers “tagging up” at the counter of my studio darkroom. It was my base of operations, with two slick, imported Durst enlargers bolted to the surface, and filled with the tools of the custom photographic trade. To help me feel at ease during sickeningly stressful times, I decorated the place and had a small stereo system. Just about everyone I knew in the profession listened to music to keep up the pace of production; for me, it was new wave and opera. And I always had a thermos of coffee with me, as I do now. My memories of closing the darkroom door and gathering my wits for the next project come back to me when I do something similar- albeit in much shorter snippets, resetting during breaks in the archives. The building that housed my studio was torn down in 2016. Indeed, I photographed the demolition.

The Studio Darkroom, 1998

With the business and all the people who passed through the place as workers (many of whom I photographed), customers, friends, and vendors gone, I saw the large piles of debris frontloaded away in dump trucks. Six years later, I lost my home of nearly four decades, the building being converted into elite condos. These are now simply locations, their respective histories and lives syphoned out. They are past and gone, but here I am now and straining to look forward. Places such as cities or neighborhoods or buildings, I’ve learned, are stages. It’s about souls, more than about streets. Solid places to regroup thoughts and broaden perspectives are essentially replaced by points of reflection. My writing and reading are always with me, providing ready clefts of stability- lulls in the battle. Journaling affords the ability to write through trials and get them out of my system. Movements of conscience take time. In my journals, the term point de repère- which actually means a reference-point or a landmark- parallels how I’ve come to see moments as respite. And such metaphorical landmarks can be anywhere.

A better side of remembrance is to recollect what we’ve learned. An individual as vast and inspired as the Apostle Paul wrote of his occasional rearward glances coinciding with reminders to himself of graces along his arduous path. I call this stocktaking. What’s good? Even between two dead ends, a burgeoning life reaches heavenward. Managing to schedule my first weekday off in three months, I made it a reflective day. “What’s good” included appreciating the outdoors at midday, chatting with friends, putting something away in my savings account, getting a very long-overdue haircut. Simple and understated, yet somehow luxurious. Profoundly missing those twice-yearly retreats I’d make- before 2020- something I can do is to find bits of time on weekends to recollect and accentuate graces learned. Among numerous turns-of-phrases I’ve learned from the monks of Taizé (and I’ve written down many, as well as words from the monks of Weston Priory), is the expression almost nothing. In context, this is to say there is always something one can do, “even with very limited means, with almost nothing,” to progress on the voyage to sanctification, and to help others. “See what you can accomplish with almost nothing,” Brother Emile once said to me. I use this at work, always aware of the spiritual/material ambiguity. "With almost nothing, with very little,” Brother Roger taught, “we can live something beyond all our hopes, something that will never come to an end." A beautifully hopeful thought.

Another savoured expression I learned in Taizé is to “live in the dynamic of the provisional.” Consistent with the positive practicality of seeing what one can do with a lively spirit and almost nothing. Consider the fluidity of the present as the provisional challenges individuals to exercise the dynamism inherent amidst our temporal situations- which can be improved as we find ways to improve our perspectives and abilities. Perhaps our most enduring landmarks are within, away from heavy demolition vehicles and exploitive developers. When our points of reference tend from the physical to the spiritual, their properties do have a dynamic in our provisional reality. Hardly the seclusion of a studio, or the coziness of a Victorian livingroom, I await the daily workbound bus in the East End while looking to the skies. It rains a lot here, and I deal with the uncanopied bus stops by wrapping my books in plastic and using a lined water-resistant satchel. Looking up, I’ve taken to musing about how landmarks live in our spirits. If they’re real and important enough, I’ll write about them. The cutting-edge is whether to be constructive or to eat my heart out; that’s quite a choice. “I know both how to be abased, and I know how to abound,” Paul observed as he addressed the Philippians. This comes to mind as I’ve watched many colleagues over the years burn out, while I try sensing the boundaries and do all I can to avoid becoming damaged goods. Keeping in good energies is essential in the reach for better days. “Pray without ceasing, and in all things give thanks,” wrote Paul to the Thessalonians. What supports our hopes? Causes can find me unwittingly, even at weatherbeaten bus stops, wielding my umbrella and a book with this grounding paragraph by Francisco Fernandez-Carvajal:

“We mustn’t forget that our greatest happiness and our most authentic good are not always those which we dream of and long for. It is difficult for us to see things in their true perspective: we can only take in a very small part of complete reality. We only see a tiny piece of reality that is here, in front of us. We are inclined to feel that earthly existence is the only real one and often consider our time on earth to be the period in which all our longings for perfect happiness ought to be fulfilled.”

Commenting about the determination of the humbled Zacchaeus (Luke 19), Bonaventure wrote, “it is the nature of genuine eagerness, which draws the soul to Christ, that even if obstacles are thrown in the way, its desire is not broken, but is the more enkindled.” Referring to my current studies as the Bonaventure Adventure, complete with a monthly day at the Boston Athenaeum library for replenishment, I’ve also made various side studies of his fellow Franciscans Saint Anthony and Saint Francis of Assisi. Comparing notes with a correspondent, I now know of the Franciscan Fr. Dolindo Ruotolo, whose extraordinary life gave the world a very simple devotional practice of openness to completely trusting the Holy Spirit within, called the Surrender Novena. The latter word means nine, as in nine consecutive days of focused meditation upon surrendering one’s will to God’s will. For example, in day eight’s reading, Ruotolo wrote in reflection of the Divine voice, “Repose in me, believing in my goodness, and I promise you by my love that if you say, You take care of it, I will take care of it all; I will console you, liberate you, and guide you.” I’ve been journeying through the past month with this compelling discipline. An elder friend of mine says it best: “Surrendering is so inviting; It sounds so easy until you try. Almost immediately after surrendering, you take up the problem and start dragging it around with you.” I couldn’t have expressed it better.

Surrendering one’s personal will and mortal navigational abilities to the very force of Creation is a formidable discipline that requires its own vigilance. In the throes of intense searching and applying, there must be surrender of all the subsequent worries. And there are many. What will happen? Why can’t this or that be so? What wrongs must I correct? To add to my counterbalance exemplified in Ruotolo’s prayer are those of Brother Roger in his essay, From Doubt to Humble Trusting:“Let your anxiety be transformed into the trust of faith.” And there are thick, embedded layers of anxiety. Consciously implementing this spiritual practice is the adjustment of a way of thinking and being, trying to surrender my attempts to control what is out of my influence, and not to fret. That is a major challenge. I can just hold up my end of things, searching and presenting as well as my experiences inform, always looking to improve my pitch. A devotional practice emphasizing humility and surrender causes- even forces- me to entrust my efforts to God. All at once, struggles expose limits, and defeats ignite more rallying to transcend. To cease is to fall backwards. Yet here again, surrender exhorts that I release all the worries that tend to follow my best attempts. Submit those carefully-phrased credentials at uploaded attachments, and then detach. The same trusting confidence in attaching files must go with detaching from the appealing ads. The prayers of surrender are about confiding, entrusting, and releasing fears and worries. Plenty still for me to learn, as I attentively correct my missteps and continue seeking a secure standpoint.

Friday, September 29, 2023

more than this

“I'm hearing right and wrong so clearly
There must be more than this.
It's only in uncertainty
That we're naked and alive.
I hear it through the rattle of a streetcar;
Hear it through the things you said.
I can get so scared.
Listen to the wind.”

~ Peter Gabriel, That Voice Again

Major efforts are composed of small measures. This often occurs to me, when in the throes of processing large archival aggregates out of many thousands of single components. Years are made of days which comprise hours. A friend talked about their job search, comparing it to throwing big rocks at a wall until it crumbles. That’s the desired outcome. Thinking of the present as an indefinite trial, linking unresolved days, generates its own brand of exhaustion that only loads more upon existing burdens. I try to avoid doing this, but like any forward-moving driver, I must check all gauges and mirrors. Patience in tribulation is essential in these staggering times.

Now 13 months into housing displacement and its accompanying instability, there remains no rest for the weary. As my friend with the wall metaphor, there isn’t a day without searching and inquiring. And constant, earnest prayers. It’s how I push back against oppression and thwarted hopes. Other vital tactics are to persevere in my studies and writing; these are solid sources of inspiration and means to higher goals. Such things are extremely hard to find; if you find literary sources, forms of creative expression, and devotions that uplift (instead of “dumb down”), hold fast to these things and grow with them. Keeping vigil for better situations parallels my interests in learning and trying to understand the broader world. For many years, I’ve started each day with radio-accompanied ablutions and coffee. During my graduate school years, that routine would typically begin at about 5am. In high school, it was New York City’s Newsradio88; life in Boston and its orbit got me into 1030-WBZ. Invariably, the repetition of basics and ads sends me to the checkerboard realm of religious radio. At the tops of hours, I bounce back to WBZ for much less-stilted news. Within that minefield, however, are a few edifying and useful homilists. Most of the preachers are terrible orators, sounding to my New Englander’s ears like something between auctioneers and Huckleberry Hound. But this professional archivist can separate wheat from chaff. Radios can always be switched off, too, as much as I’m intrigued to hear what’s out there.

Among the more scholarly and nonsectarian Christian resources are the broadcasts from Chicago’s Moody Institute. Recordings of the late Rev.Weirsbe’s brilliance, delivered with his gentle Midwestern lilt, continue to outshine almost all of what proliferates. The successor to Weirsbe is Moody’s Rev. Lutzer, also with an academic and folksy yarnspinning style, though much more stoic than his predecessors. Well, on a recent workday morning with hot water running and coffee on the bathtub’s edge, I caught one of Lutzer’s installments on his theme, Making the Best of a Bad Decision. I’ll add that many of us must make the best of other people’s bad decisions. Can I get an Amen? Back to Lutzer. Through the noise of first-thing scrubbing, I heard the radio voice beckon, “If you’re still alive, God isn’t through with you.” Surely he wants to encourage his listeners, but considering my state of affairs of recent years, I can easily look at those words ambiguously and through my snowballed sarcasm. Sometimes I do, yet the resultant bad feeling makes me take it back. Reverting to a bleary-eyed positive, my leanings reach inward and upward, through my imagination. That’s my supplicatosphere, which is the stratum immediately beneath clouds of unknowing. “Through with me,” in the wrong context, sounds threatening; but in a healthier frame of reference, my wish really is for Divine intervention. Why is grace deferred? Did I misstep? How am I supposed to know, if nobody tells me? Have I overstayed my welcome? Perhaps I’m inhabiting the very attempt to comprehend the meaning of hope.

While trying to glean insights about things eternal, I’m also constantly reckoning with the ways of mortals. Recently with my philosophy students, I taught about the Golden Rule, framing this in the context of ethics. Our group discussion, probing the time-honored “do unto others as you would have them do unto you” went right into dilemmas about what happens when there isn’t any reciprocity for our respectful acts. Do we keep on being honorable and forbearing, or do we conform to the hardball tactics that confront us? You can imagine our very lively Socratic forum discourse. Whatever we do, we need to choose our reactions and responses. Generally, there’s the trigger end, and there’s the barrel end. Are you the issuer, or are you the inflicted? When so many critical factors are out of our control, what is within a person’s reach? With each day, questions arise in my thoughts as to whether landlords, employers, and community leaders should care about their inhabitants and “stakeholders;” in a word, neighbors. Perhaps it’s unrealistic to expect such people of influence to care, as I care. Ever the cockeyed idealist, I believe everyone should care. That’s how things stand a chance of changing for the better. A genuine sense of respect, even in simple transactions, runs against the currents of pessimism.

Just the other day, I helped a researcher with a query so complex we needed to go back and forth rather extensively in order to unearth the actual question. Having some specifics that mutually made sense, I set about producing what I could find to help this fellow. In the midst of my retrievals, the man frustratedly stormed out of the research room. While I began putting the materials away, he returned and apologized. “I’m sorry,” he said, “I think this world of instant gratification has gotten to me.” He pointed disdainfully at his smartphone. After expressing my understanding, he sat down to read through what I had found, and we talked about his projects. His initial and abrupt impatience was disappointing, but his later presence of mind was impressive. In a handful of minutes, I witnessed metanoia- on both our accounts. Reflecting upon this, later in the day, I was reminded about a barely-known spiritual exercise called examination of conscience. I use parts of my daily journal writing for this purpose, considering such writing as the safest space for articulating thoughts. “Make an appraisal of the entire situation,” wrote Francisco Fernandez Carvajal, adding that we must know what means are available to us, and how to be faithful and thorough. In addition, we must also contemplate how we can remove obstructions in our intentions, as “knowledge of self is the first step the soul must take in order to arrive at the knowledge of God.”

Collecting and digesting knowledge comes very naturally to me, always taking notes. My notebooks become reference sources themselves and they’re great for me to reread when distractions throw my studies off course. These many pages of annotated gleanings remind me of the philosophical texts I’ve been so carefully reading, while struggling to prosper above the fray. As it is with examining my conscience, there must be focused intention to transform head-knowledge into heart-knowledge. What is there for me to learn, from my experiences? “When a person accepts a great undertaking,” as Carvajal recommended, “they must consider various possibilities and look for the opportune means for bringing the work to successful completion,” adding that “we have to be aware of what is lacking so that we can ask God confidently.” In my repeated recoveries from rejected applications, trying to figure out my deficiencies (because reasons are never specified), while left to figure things out I remind myself that more attempts will be accompanied by more failures. More at-bats increase the odds of striking out. Yet still, and even now as the setbacks persist unabated, my efforts continue and amplify. It’s imperative. The here-and-now is at once stifling, uninviting, and tentative; it’s more than enough to keep the search coals stoked. As an extension of my certainty that all we see is not all there is, during the present drudgery I’m convinced there is more than this, and the accumulation of my being is meant for better and more conducive circumstances.

Tuesday, September 5, 2023


“An apostle must not remain at the level of the mediocre.
God calls that person to be fully human in their actions,
and at the same time to reflect the freshness of eternal things.
That is why the apostle has to be a soul who has undergone
a long, patient, and heroic process of formation.”

~ Josemaria Escrivá, Furrow


Journaling steadily for a number of years invariably leads to something of a personal encyclopedia. I’ve also found the notebooks themselves amount to forms of portable refuge, with my written words constructing a unique, personal lexicon. It’s been as vital as ever to continue exercising my imagination, against such scarcities of opportunities. Envisioning and aspiring are both outworkings of faith, pushing against narrow confines in employment and lodging situations. These are also vantage-points from which I’ve incidentally developed expressions and ambitions. Alongside all hoping and criticizing are streams of nicknames and inventions. Deep-seated creativity simply cannot be held down. Speaking as a lifelong visual artist, imagery is essentially my first language which subsequently gets translated into words. And then there’s metaphor: that expandable world of allegory and multidimensional definitions. Inhabiting this present-day spartan culture of “smart” technology, subtlety is nearly extinct. As we’re lured away from lives of untethered thought, our abilities to understand become dulled. Blunt literalism thwarts the adventurousness of synthesis and musing.

the entirety of Woodfords Corner: Portland, Maine

Take, for example, the word crossroads as a concept. By definition an intersection of two roadways. Or maybe even paths. Perhaps more than two trails. Now we’ve already begun playing with words. In my region of New England, there are five-way and six-way intersections, often known as corners. That doesn’t really make sense, but those names- as we say here- are older than dirt. For me, a crossroads has as its primary definition a merging precipice of life direction. This past year since having lost my housing, due to the abrupt change in the building’s ownership, only intensified already-existing career and income tenuousness. At widened crossroads, the present finds itself in a watertreading context. Determined to rise above dead ends, I’m daily pondering and posing questions such as What don’t I know? and What should I recognize? Crossroads attest to limitations, but may also point to throughways. Rather than to regard crossroads as destinations, I’m considering them as points of decision to be followed by action. One may choose in favor of a direction, or choose away from other furrows. Carvajal described the path to holiness as passing through the way of the Passion, and that it is the basis of the Christian’s vocation. “If we want to rise up with Christ,” he wrote, “we have to accompany him on his journey to the cross.” If one is brought to a crossroads, vulnerable as that is, it has the potential strength of any starting-place. San Juan de la Cruz, in 16th century Spain, wrote of the soul choosing to join in the Divine work of creation, albeit “not yet fully as in the life to come, but nonetheless even now in a real and perceptible way.” Pleading with his very being in the Spiritual Canticle, Fray Juan asked:

“O my soul, created to enjoy such exquisite gifts, what are you doing, where is your life going? How wretched is the blindness of Adam’s children, if indeed we are blind to such a brilliant light and deaf to as insistent a voice.”

The text reminds me that perhaps something within my control is my willingness to see and hear beyond what is at the surface. Time is of the essence, and I’d be wise not to think much about what has already been lost.

resisting mediocrity

When I began teaching photography in a local art college, I was 22 and a fairly recent graduate myself. Having previously done some mentoring, I thought it would be a good idea to study the principles of art education. Learning plenty about preparation, lesson-plan creation, and outcomes, I got right into creating my own curricula. In response, my instructor told me that my lesson plans were too challenging. “Dumb it down,” went the criticism. I had never heard that expression before. What? People come to learn and go forth with new skills. I’m teaching for excellence. From semester one, I only designed lesson plans to train, edify, and inspire self-sufficiency for all students of all levels. It’s gone very well over many years, for legions of students; I’ve received service awards and recognition from multiple academic institutions. Instead of dumb down, I prefer smarten up, having too much respect for those I teach to cheapen the experience. And they have all responded with accomplishment and gratitude. There’s more than enough to water down our intellects; I’ve never wanted that for my own self.

at the Boston Athenaeum, with St. Bonaventure

Indeed, the pursuit of perfection is the enemy of what is good. That’s an axiom to always have in mind, aware of things such as purpose and practical limitations. The extreme opposite of appropriate completion is perfectionism. Between both extremes, there is elusive and subtle ground which demands patience. While not daring to consider myself exemplary, slipshod and slapdash have been anathema to me since childhood. Even in my adolescence, I was aware of how I’d bristle at the sight of neglect and sloppy work. Before my mature vocabulary, I’d call it “not caring.” At a job I had during college, a coworker used to say, “good enough for the government,” referring to the barest minimum to get something done. I had to ask him what that meant. Hearing expressions like that showed me how little I knew- and how suspicious I’d get when it came to principles that were strange to me. Though slightly less naïve now, while speaking with an old friend about job hunting, I heard myself say, “I’m not here to be mediocre.” Without some explanation, this might sound presumptuous. Simply put, it means I’m not putting in a halfhearted effort. I haven’t survived for the purpose of incompetence. The oft-cited Peter Principle which just about everyone has seen in various strengths, throughout their work lives, asserts how employees rise to the level of the mediocrity in their midst. “Dumb it down” to the status quo, is an example. Too many managers misinterpret leadership as the management of things and tasks, instead of the pastoral coaching of people. In his book, Furrow, Josemaria Escrivá exhorted that his readers must “refuse to come to terms with mediocrity.” Often, ripple effects play out in the idolization of meetings and placing statistics above service. Granted, numbers have their place, though I’m very far from being a technocrat. In helping professions, human aspects are of the greatest consequence- and the most memorable.


Many that struggle- including me- have seen our adversities intensify with the covid era. My working conditions remain in pandemic mode, as a department of one. The hypergentrification of southern Maine during the past four years has permanently altered the region. Dense enclaves of homeless encampments mushroom next to elite hotels and exclusive, gated housing. The ground I stand upon thins with every passing month, as city officials continue looking away. Treadmills point to crossroads.

the National Shrine of Saint Anthony: Arch Street, Boston

Over the years and to this day, I’ve been visiting the Saint Anthony Shrine during my writing and and reading days at the nearby Boston Athenaeum. The Franciscan brothers are always great to speak with, always welcoming. Coincidentally, for the past few years, I’ve been extensively studying the life and work of 13th century Franciscan philosopher Saint Bonaventure, developing a kindred devotion to him. Members of the Franciscan community invariably introduced me to Saint Anthony of Padua’s life and legacy. Anthony knew and worked with Saint Francis of Assisi; the former is nicknamed “the miracle saint.” True to form, this summer I’ve been reading biographies of Saint Anthony which I borrow from the Athenaeum, while continuing to study Bonaventure.

Saint Bonaventure medal, from the Franciscans.
An angel is delivering his hat.

The saints are standing with me at the crossroads. Two weeks ago, while awaiting the usual, perennially-late Metro bus en route to work, page 96 in Mary Purcell’s Saint Anthony and His Times beamed up to me, as I found the decisive moment in his life. The young Anthony chafed from misemployment to underemployment, yet never losing the vision of his vocation. The turning point happened as Anthony arrived at Monte Paolo to help with the community’s chores. There his path crossed with that of Friar Graziano, the monastery’s superior, who evidently listened and recognized something in Anthony’s demeanor and insight. The paragraph is pictured below:

from the book, "Saint Anthony and His Times," by Mary Purcell.

“Evidently, Graziano reasoned, God never meant this light to be hidden under a bushel.” Anthony was far from “just a dishwasher,” that his prior managers deemed “worthless.” Graziano today would’ve been called a “talent recruiter,” having identified and promoted the burgeoning future saint of Padua revered around the world. There was much more to savor than my lurching and lumbering bus ride lasted. I shared my scan of the book’s paragraph on a career social media page, suggesting it as reading for managers, recruiters, and human resources professionals. Everything depends upon connections, and the most meaningful, productive results are borne from such human aspects as perception and active compassion. I’d love my own version of a Graziano, and maybe you would, too. It would be as fulfilling to be a Graziano for others. I’m reminded once again of how it was said of Escrivá that he would arrive at gatherings of his community and say, “I am here to listen.” These studies and devotions add substance and fortitude to these harsh times. Reading and writing, always in tandem, as I navigate the day’s furrow; each day a restart from where I am.

Friday, August 18, 2023

o paradiso

“O paradiso, dal onda uscito;
Fiorente suol, splendido suol.
In voi rapito io son.
Tu m'appartieni.
O nuovo mondo.”

{“O Paradise, emerging from the sea,
Flowering earth, brilliant sun,
You entrance me.
You belong to me.
Oh new world.”}

~ Giacomo Meyerbeer, L’Africaine.

It has been extraordinarily difficult to write. Indeed, there are no shortages of ideas, structured thoughts, and experiences. Arnold Toynbee famously (and infamously) observed how people in places like northern New England must consume so much energy and time grappling with protracted winters, their innovations and industriousness are severely limited. As a Mainer, I’ve typically taken exception to such underestimation. At the same time, the harshness of my surrounding culture has driven me to the brink. Housing and sustaining employment have never been as tenuous as they are presently. Globally, we’ve all become accustomed with the concept of sustainability; there are also surely personal implications and applications. Individually, I am making every honest effort to search for better situations, networking and offering marketable skills. Parallel to Toynbee’s observation, when I’m not fulfilling commitments, I’m tailoring credentials in response to announcements. And praying with my every ounce for welcoming developments. All of which prevents me from being as innovative and industrious as I’d like.

My father gave me a life’s worth of anecdotes and consolations for the journey. From that ethereal encyclopedia is a story he loved about how legendary operatic tenor Enrico Caruso sang for convicts in prisons to console them. The prisoners would ask Caruso to sing the poignant aria O Paradiso for them. It is an impassioned song of longing, of heartache for better places and times. The sense of incarceration can take a variety of forms and even places. We become aware of this, as we find ourselves driven by the longings of our hearts. The Welsh expression, hiraeth, represents yearning for the place of one’s home. There is surely a homesickness for the kind of welcome and belonging one has yet to see, but faith says that it exists. Or, it will exist. I would not be so driven from within, if I did not believe an as-yet-elusive welcome will really find me.

Spending five-sevenths of my time working in windowless confines, I make sure to be outdoors as much as possible, even if just to read or write on the tiny steps of the cramped and rackety apartment house. Waiting twice-daily for buses always includes gazing to the skies. O Paradiso, when do things finally let up and improve? The bus commute is short in duration, and I’ve taken to reading brief essays during the rides. Through the past year, I’ve been studying the books I collected called In Conversation with God, by Francisco Fernandez-Carvajal. Each of his lectionary day’s reflections are divided into thirds; they are substantial and thought-provoking. Good reading always helps me stretch my mind, transcending the numbing tedium. One recent doldrummy morning, I read Carvajal’s sendup of the pearl of great value (Matthew 13), and immediately recognized how he, as I do- interprets this as being about one’s vocational calling. The realm of God, as the Gospel reads, compares to a field whose buried treasure inspires a person to sell everything they have to purchase that land- just as a merchant of pearls sold all he had to buy the pearl of great value he recognized. In Carvajal’s words:

The discovery of the pearl presupposes a great amount of effort, a search, while the treasure buried in the field seems to have been discovered almost by accident... Many find their vocation almost without looking. Other people are restless in their hearts until they find the pearl of great value... After the pearl has been discovered or the treasure found, one more step is required. It is the personal response- identical in both parables. The man “went and sold all that he had and bought it.” Generosity and detachment are indispensable conditions for perseverance in a vocation.

A discovery so profound brings together all the disparate parts of a person’s life. It’s why I’ve never stopped hunting and applying- ever since I was still in graduate school. Walking from the bus to the workplace, I saw two colleagues, and we spoke about the biblical parables. Beyond their intrigue that I read such things on the bus, we had a great chat about what each of us considers to be the pearl of great value in our lives. But we all agreed that one must be “all in,” and dive headfirst toward our highest priorities. We all want to practice our best gifts.

Within tirelessly searching for a better situation is a staggering need for respite. I toiled at my job throughout the pandemic, even taking on extra duties to stay employed. The recent several years decimated many workplaces, including mine. At my end of things, the covid era continues- albeit with last year’s return of public interactions- yet still as a staff of one person for 43 months and counting. In late-April, after begging for a week’s coverage, I was able to make a long-awaited retreat; I used to do such things twice a year, for spiritual health and to renew creative energies. I used to travel. I used to live comfortably in an apartment I could afford. Those days are past. My accrued 230 hours of earned PTO are essentially made of Monopoly money. The unacceptability of present conditions urges me onward, intensifying my aspirations. Granted, I’m not so self-centered as to be ungrateful for any good that is, because there are blessings to count. But the need for stability and basic peacefulness continues to be urgent. Unable to find respite, or much of any quiet in an oppressively loud and cramped apartment, I find ways to try resetting through contemplation in the liminal spaces between obligations and pursuits. Again, I know enough to be grateful, and in this case it’s for things like books and writing materials. Now spending half my earnings on rent, I’ve invented ways to make toast and coffee more interesting.

It has been requiring all my survival skills, to find that pearl of great value, being fully tilted toward better horizons. Flitting around is not a luxury available to me, or to many other workers. Recently, while answering questions about projects and describing achievements to an administrator, I was asked “What are you doing here?” Though a high compliment, it left me very perplexed. I used to hear that when I was in the art field, as though one can be “too good” for their milieu. It’s reminiscent of the lyric in Billy Joel’s Piano Man, his famous song about his former life as a lounge entertainer: “they sit at the bar and put bread in my jar; And say man what are you doin' here?” As it is my habit, I broke the tension of that comment by quoting the song. Along with the parable about the pearl of great value, a biblical passage that is always at the fore of my thoughts is the exhortation that a light is never meant to be stuffed under a bushel: No one, when they light a candle, puts it in a secret place. It’s put on a lamp-stand so that others can see the light (Luke 11:33). Vocations must be applied to real life. I’ve been living a life of investing all I’ve got into abilities meant to be shared; knowledge meant to be imparted. A powerful sense of vocation redoubles the ferocity of my search.

To be professionally connected with places and people that want to use and benefit from my willing energies and abilities is akin to finding the field beneath which there is lifegiving treasure. Perhaps it’s a two-way street: could the opportunities be seeking me? The glutted Northeast has a job market that mirrors its housing market, with too few places for too many people. Here, the term recruitment is a misnomer. Positions dedicated to talent acquisition essentially manage tidal waves. Those in positions of managing applications for both employment and housing do not need to recruit; rather, they are passive recipients of overabundance. Sufficient work and respectable living space are life’s basics. Those who seek improvements are relegated to begging. For readers that are fortunately not in such straits, extreme versions of this can be seen on medians of urban thoroughfares and alongside municipal parking areas. Even applicants who have addresses must paddle in the open oceans of online resumé-parsing upload tools, engaging in games of a perfectionism that may not be statistically attainable. Recruiters and committees that want perfect might not like such individuals who don’t want to be taught anything. Indeed, imperfect has its qualities! Data-slurping analytics cannot account for a person’s character, which in real life, is everyone’s lasting impression.

Indeed, a crossroads is no place to root oneself and take up residence. Since losing my housing last year, along with witnessing similarities among many people, I’ve really seen in an intensely troubling way how temporal life becomes. Living in a poorly-governed and chronically-depressed city, I’ve surely watched waves of friends and institutions respond to recessions by moving away. Immediately after art college, I went right to work locally and full-time, trading on my photographic printing and teaching skills; from that peculiar vantage point, I saw my former classmates leave. I managed to continue working straight through the post-stock-market-crash 1990s, even paying off my student loans. Graduate school followed, requiring the first 15 years of the 2000s to completely pay off my masters degree loans, also amidst more recessions and broadbased downsizes and departures around me. Wholesale gentrification is the worst scourge I’ve seen, in comparison to forty years of constant recession I’ve lived through in Maine. Smallmindedness looks quaint to visitors, but to locals it is a merciless betrayal. Indeed, it’s a big world, a short life, and I join numerous surviving neighbors on vigilant lookout for what’s next and where the welcoming fields and pearls of great value may be found. Today I helped a man with his research and books; he described to me how he had been living in his car for 14 years. I asked him about how he dealt with the winters, and he responded by saying he has several sleeping bags. “It’s all about hunkering down,” he said, “and praying to fall asleep.” O Paradiso, may God’s will be done on earth as it is in Heaven.

Monday, July 17, 2023

higher ground

“My heart has no desire to stay
Where doubts arise and fears dismay;
Though some may dwell where these abound,
My prayer, my aim, is higher ground.

Lord, lift me up, and let me stand
By faith, on heaven’s tableland;
A higher plane than I have found,
Lord, plant my feet on higher ground.”

~ Johnson Oatman, Jr., Higher Ground.

My recent seven weeks since last publishing an essay have been engulfed in survival mode. Woven into tirelessly working my job and seeking better fortunes is the unending marathon of searching for a place to live that would permit liberation from the loud, cramped hovel of this past year. At least I can report to you that I’ve been writing in my journal daily, either beneath layers of “white noise”- including a fan, a mechanism that produces sounds that imitate ocean waves, and my radio tuned to classical music, to try thinking above the incessant upstairs antics of Le Cirque des Eléphants, or very late at night when the boors bed themselves. But I write, and on better nights and portions of weekends I study philosophy. I’ve also continued teaching. And indeed I report to work, always putting in a thorough day of productivity and service. The nightmare of miserable and overpriced housing has yet to end. I assure you, dear readers, I am doing every honest thing in my power to remedy this. Sometimes it’s an employment interview, most other times it’s an apartment viewing- the latter now resembling candidate interviews- but I’ve yet to find success. Far too much energy and time have been lost, not just in the past year of housing hell, but many of us can look back at the covid years as having destroyed more than our creative and community lives, but also the dynamics of our cities.

I have just enough presence of mind to remember my gratitude for having gotten away for a week’s pilgrimage in spring to the Berkshires. The photographs I made during the sojourn are good reminders. It was something of a serendipitous fluke to find three people to cover my workplace shifts, and that my arrival in Stockbridge was exactly on the Feast Day of the Divine Mercy. I knew that I needed to gather up whatever energy and grace I could find, so that I could dig even harder into scouring for a place to live. Safe, Spacious, and Civilized, as my tireless networking tends to include. Because last summer’s desperation-searching ended in defeat, the scouring never stopped. I vowed not to endure a repeat of last year. But here it comes, with its scythe, as time runs out again. Numerous Maine residents are doing battle with a similar plight, thrown beneath the merciless wheels of hypergentrification. I’m no longer surprised at the tone-deafness of elected leaders; they all have what they need, thus they do not relate as they vote themselves pay raises. I’ve spoken with countless people about housing in the past 14 months, and listen to as many stories. There are the willing who are unable to help, but there are the able who are unwilling to help. The latter category is lulled by that ubiquitous wagon-circling prevalent in this culture; the most shocking instances of this I’ve had to wince through have been from, of all things, influential religious leaders who should know better. And it’s not that I ask for anyone to pay my expenses; what I request are leads and referrals. Networking. Are we parts of solutions, or are we parts of the problem? Who will dare to be tangibly caring? Who wants to really live the Golden Rule?

seen in Stockbridge, MA.

Trying to stretch the imaginations of the ignorant, I ask professional ministers to join me in praying- at the very least (as inspiration may follow) for the homeless and the displaced. There are many. This region’s larger parishes are in the suburbs, though they tend to use the name Portland, despite having nothing to do with what they perceive as the city’s benighted unwashed. Well aware of my own level of unabated trauma (noticeable when the racket from upstairs drives me outside the building in all weather), I am physically wrenched when I speak with and see people that have no place to call home. Not wanting to be exploitive, I chose not to take photos of the “tent cities,” along local roadways. It momentarily suffices to describe rows and clusters of plastic canopies in highway gullies, thick with mud, the occupants’ spare clothing draped over chainlink bordering a commuter “park-and-ride” lot, amidst piles and piles of detritus. It is a constant heartache to see. These souls could be any one of us. A handful of people try to be helpful, namely a friend and pastor who connects homeless veterans with transitional housing in a motel. A social worker and housing advocate I spoke with referred to people like me as rent-burdened, which means an excess of 30% of my income (for me, it’s more like 50%) goes to pay rent. I tell friends that the search for better, peaceful housing is the search for higher ground to be able to find some form of healing while continuing to work and aspiring for stability and comfort. I don’t dare predict anything.