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.

Sunday, May 28, 2023

en plein air

“Adopt the pace of nature.
Her secret is patience.”

~ Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nature

With an extremely rare weekday off, I chose to stay in town and write outdoors. Not only that, I decided to write on the Eastern Promenade- a writing perch I’ve enjoyed for many years, long before having to move from my home in a suddenly-gentrified West End building. Indeed, last autumn- until it got too cold- I walked to the “Prom” as often as possible, getting away from the puny apartment, just to be able to look upward. Going outdoors to write allows me to transcend “addresses,” and their confinement. People travel to Portland from great distances, to be able to perch along Casco Bay. The scenery continues to be inspiring to me, just as it was for me last month in the Berkshires. Getting out gets me away from oppressive and bland spaces, as well as from the static recirculating air of the workplace. “Retreat” needn’t mean extensive travels; it’s really about stepping back and away from structure and demands. I could be from anywhere and come here to write, at the same time as being from here (which I am) and forget about annoying confines. The outdoors also provide an escape from alienation. Open, and accessible spaces strike a needed contrast from offices, phones, and lit screens- allowing me to listen to my thoughts and make some notes. Skies provide a taste of ceilinglessness (and how cooperative that my typewriter doesn’t redden or rewrite my made-up words).

Writing at the Eastern Prom, which includes a busy playground, brings to mind the day camps that were lights to my adolescent summers in New York City. Asphalt jungle childhoods comprise scarce amounts of trees and clean grassy spaces for playing and perching. There was always a lot of broken glass to sidestep, along with other detritus I stopped seeing after moving here to Maine to begin college. No doubt, the air was a comparison I could immediately make, and since then has always been rolled into what I’ve come to know as “the outdoors.” But humble as it was, day camp gave me a taste of things easily taken for granted in northern New England. In the city, the change of context brought kids like me on long yellow school buses out to the lush and landscaped parks of Queens- namely Forest Park, and for a number of years Kissena Park. Hardly any of the other kids were from my neighborhood: the blighted and dangerous projects in Corona; they were from just about everywhere else. But we were all together, frolicking outside, jumping through sprinklers, and fanatically playing baseball every single day. We were easy to please, once we had time and space. Perhaps some of us retain those traits. There was no structure and no technology- even for the camp counselors that watched over us, also serving as our umpires through all those raucous ball games.

From my high school years:
Above: Greenway Terrace, Forest Hills, New York City
Below: High School of Art & Design cafeteria, as we all wondered what was really in those sandwiches.

I’m one of those adults that can still think very much as I did when I was ten. The ache to have time and space to muse, around those fettered and adversarial school days, resembles the ache to have time and space to muse between job tasks and inane meetings. Free time becomes increasingly costly. For most of us, liberation is rare and at best incremental. Reflecting back, childhood redemption arrived in an unwitting combination when I was 13. My year began as I completed rigorous and intense religious studies, thus declared an adult at that rather young age. In my naive determination, I survived my final year in what happened to be New York City’s most overcrowded public school, which went by the heartwarming name of I.S. 61. Its schoolyard was surrounded by housing projects and scrapyards. The city was a good 2 decades away from gentrifying, and my daily walks to school were imperiled by gangs and packs of feral dogs. Almost all the threatening and thrashing ended for me with the post-middle-school summer at a healthy summer camp in the mountains of Upstate New York, followed by my parents’ purchase of a house in a strikingly beautiful and safe neighborhood- still right in the city. And finally, still at age 13, I began my sojourn of secondary education at the High School of Art and Design, on the tony east side of Midtown Manhattan. A whole lot in a short year. My father gave me my first bicycle, enabling me to run a lot of errands, including grocery shopping. I explored all the streets of Forest Hills and contiguous neighborhoods, also toting my first camera- which had been a 13th birthday gift.

My Rudge-Whitworth bicycle, which I purchased used for $20 to replace the new bicycle robbed from me by muggers.
Above: Photo I took in 1981, in New York City.
Below: Photo I took (I still have the Rudge) recently at Acadia National Park, Maine.

The bicycle symbolized freedom and an enduring sense of self-propulsion. I would joke about drinking a glass of milk, then bicycling the length of Queens Boulevard and over the 59th Street Bridge en route to a library I frequented on East 38th Street. All on one glass of milk, as I’d say. One afternoon, while bicycling with a neighbor through Flushing Meadow Park, I was accosted and mugged at knifepoint, forced off my shining new bicycle. I still remember this well, and can recall the sheer powerlessness of that event. At my summer job in a supermarket, I saved my earnings to buy another bicycle- a used one that I defiantly considered to be too ugly to draw any thug’s attention. I still have it today, driving it throughout the Portland area, including all the carriage roads in Acadia National Park. Self-sufficiency continues to be its own brand of liberation. Alas, and as I’ve learned, childish and childlike are really two different traits. At best, that early spirit endures by adaptation. As well, self-sufficiency shows its hard limits, particularly in the powerlessness of housing searches, employment scavenging, and economics. Recalling Saint Augustine, “I do not know what I do not know,” and thus I want to know what I don’t know. If there’s any way to improve things, it must begin with avoiding prior mistakes.

Outdoors on the 2nd floor terrace at the Boston Athenaeum.

How much of a factor are our interpretations that are based upon our subjective perceptions? Obviously, something entirely subjective is my taste for perching outside to write and read in 40-degree temperatures, which I find perfectly comfortable. Then there’s the fascinating aspect of how syntax plays a role in how we view and depict our discoveries. For example, traveling to a location with a variety of cameras allows me to photograph similar motifs with different formats. The images will look distinct from one another, based upon the tools I’m using. Same with writing: pencils, pens of varied construct, typewriters, and computers will each lead to results reflecting the tools’ influences. Within this is the example of journaling with a dip pen, requiring many regular pauses to re-ink the pen, while the mind continues its train of thought. Those pauses surely reflect what is written. I’ll often switch writing instruments, when I notice aridity in my words. Varying the vantage point is also as effective with writing as it is in photography. Getting outside amidst the swirl of nature permits for an appreciation of Emerson’s description about the patient paces of nature. Light, skies, and horizons will surely affect how I interpret what I see, and how I interpret my thoughts. In a similar sense, I write during my mid-day breaks inside the Archives stacks, as well as aboard lurching city buses. What I notice and the ensuing words are affected by their situations of notation.

When I’m not on the job, and I turn away from doomscrolling online searches for apartments and employment, while the blaring and trampling from upstairs disturbs the peace, I know to go outside. Beneath the skies, there are no upstairs. Life gets to return to looking open-ended as it did when my friends and I would lie on our backs in green and sunny Kissena Park, just talking and looking up at airplanes going to and from LaGuardia. The paces of nature are surely not those of such humans as those among us who use the expression, hurry-up-and-wait. Coaxing the inertia out of the wheels of progress is exhausting. During the thick of childhood, time slogged like a schoolday. It felt endless. In retrospect, that was a brief period of time- its space on my timeline diminishes as the adventure continues. Looking back exclaims the necessity of looking ahead. My decades of tireless efforts have yet to pave ways to my profoundest wishes, to exercising and really seeing my best abilities coming to fruition. How close is success? Is it completely out of reach? I’m daring to believe it isn’t, notwithstanding my scarce resources and lack of influence or allies. Echoing Saint Anselm’s prayer in the Proslogion, “I have still to do that for which I was made.” Yet, the stuff of eternity does not include accolades or material. The moment and all subsequent time stands for me to redeem. Knowing how to redeem liminal time is a daily and constant challenge. Having little more than faith and gumption, I’m left to heeldigging trust, insisting upon finding the sacred in the ordinary. Such thin rations need the light and rain of the outdoors, for the vines of latent presence to proliferate and provide.

Saturday, May 13, 2023

misericordias domini

“A soul should be faithful to prayer despite torments,
dryness, and temptations; because oftentimes the realization
of God’s great plans depends mainly on such prayer.
If we do not persevere in such prayer,
we frustrate what the Lord wanted to do through us
or within us. Let every soul remember these words:
‘And being in anguish, He prayed more fervently’”

~ Saint Faustina, Diary, 872
[with reference to Luke 22:44].


During the recent three years, my hopes for returning to Stockbridge and the surrounding region in the Berkshires never left my thoughts. As it has become less of a health risk to congregate and travel in this present time of late-pandemic, there are more possibilities for roving and visiting. If we’re really out of the covid depths, how shall we consider the past several years? Writing in the first-person, I never stopped working or meeting expenses, soldiering on as what I call one of the working wounded. The effects of last year’s housing loss continue and things remain unresolved, having humble resources in an incurably gentrified part of the country. When I hurried out on the road two years ago to visit with my father in his final days- and then returning after his funeral- I drove through the Berkshires. There was no time to stop there, neither were there opportunities to lodge amidst all the pandemic protocols. The circumstances were anything but leisurely. My years of memories of southern Berkshire County and the National Shrine of the Divine Mercy, continued to provide inspiration. Along with physical health adversities and general economic hardships, the covid era has been marked by what the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services acknowledges as a national epidemic of loneliness and isolation. I’ve fallen back on every useful self-care strategy I’ve cultivated, even dating back to my childhood years. It’s of critical importance not to mind one’s own company and stay constructively balanced, especially at work.


Though I cannot claim to be an expert at self-discipline and motivation, at least I know to persevere. And I’m sure to write about it. When Le Cirque des Élephants upstairs starts pounding away and blaring me out of my thoughts, I grab my books, writing, and a chair- and flee outside. During rain and snow, I perch in the building’s entrance, bundled up, writing, and reading. It all merges with my devotions. When I think of Stockbridge, I always recall the Divine Mercy Chaplet, its austere eloquence and thoughtfulness of the needs of others. Others can also mean those who inconsiderately stomp on their neighbors. Everyone needs a prayer. The revered Chaplet as recorded by Saint Faustina in wartime Poland was taught to me by a colleague- Sister Sylvia Comer- about eighteen years ago. The devotion never left me, and it only intensified during quarantining, lockdowns, and coffee-breaks while working in isolation. Meditate upon the Passion, and pray for mercy to strengthen others and for oneself. Be mercy for others, especially when generosity and consolation are painfully elusive. San Juan de la Cruz, in 16th century Spain, famously taught “impart compassion where you do not find it, and then you will discover compassion.” Customarily, as observed by the Marian community in Stockbridge, the Chaplet is observed at 3pm, referred to as the hour of Divine Mercy. In recent years, my insomnia awakens me at 3am most every night, becoming my additional hour of Divine Mercy. It is included by many, and I do the same, as integral with the liturgy of the hours. About 2 ½ years ago, when the intensity of quarantining made it so I could hear a pin drop downtown, those portions of daily psalmody helped provide lifegiving structure.


Conversely, when I think of the Divine Mercy Chaplet, the environs of Stockbridge come to mind. The westernmost area of Massachusetts is contiguous to the higher elevations of southern Vermont and eastern New York State. The waterways and woods resemble parts of my home state of Maine, though without the coast that I see every day. Nonetheless, it is New England, complete with the unmarked, winding roads and very small towns. The site of the Shrine, Eden Hill, was the destination for the emigrating Polish religious community in 1943, and continues today as the much larger congregation of the Marian order who nurture the legacy of Saint Faustina. Her diary has been preserved and kept in print by the Marians. The community welcomes one and all, daily- including pilgrims such as myself. I’ve traveled there many times, always grateful for the place, prayer, and people as a complete experience of sanctuary.

True to pilgrimage form, some major effort was needed long before taking to the road. My usual marathon-minded durability makes it unnecessary for me to test the understaffed workplace logistics. Requesting days off however, despite my overabundance of earned time, demands resourcefulness and diplomacy. In the general emergence from winter in my midst, I saw an unclaimed week and seized upon it. Getting the time approved, seeing to auto maintenance, and exchanging messages with my destination, the pull of pilgrimage became an imminent journey. I began assembling writing and reading material for the sojourn, and in the cramped hovel those items were visible to me each day- including unpacking the hat I bring with me on all my retreats. It has a seashell sewn to it, which is the badge of pilgrimage. And true to personal form, I continued working as industriously as usual, and with a small Divine Mercy icon at the side of my desk computer.

As road day drew closer, I realized I would be arriving in Stockbridge right on the Feast Day of the Divine Mercy. As providential as it sounds, it just happened that way- though it did inspire me to leave Maine earlier in the morning than planned. The highway travel was smooth, even with showers and mountain fog; after all it was a Sunday morning. Indexing across the car radio dial along the Massachusetts Turnpike, I picked up a broadcast with interviews of various Marian friars talking about the liturgical holiday, Saint Faustina, and welcoming listeners to the Shrine. As I typically do, I glanced at the radio and said, “on my way.’ It was a good thing I had found that station, as I began to see single-file traffic after exiting the highway in Lee, extending all the way to Stockbridge. Impressively, drivers were civilized and patient. I wondered, “Are these all pilgrims, too?” The radio station began broadcasting the outdoor church service from the Shrine, and finding a parking space in the thick of the village, I proceeded to ascend the steep hill, hearing the singing choir’s music, my steps parallel to fellow sturdy walkers. I later heard that at least 12,000 pilgrims were in attendance that day, surprising the resident community and all present. How wonderful to arrive in such festive contrast to the misery I managed to interrupt back in Maine.

Descending the Hill later, the village center in Stockbridge was replete with visitors, albeit too early for tourism season. Many café patrons and pedestrians were recognizably clergy and members of religious orders. The stately Red Lion Inn offered special rates for the week, and very thankfully I was able to lodge there, close to the Shrine. The 250-year-old Inn was in early-spring maintenance mode and thus uncrowded and very comfortably peaceful. The full-width front porch made for an added place of retreat for me, between Eden Hill, nearby hiking trails, and the village. My room in the Red Lion consolingly reminded me of my old place which I miss very much. I especially savoured the high ceilings and the Inn’s muffled ambience, reminding me of better days. Integral to the pilgrimage was the pleasant company of fellow guests, trading stories and insights. I made numerous notes, wrote letters to friends, enjoyed time to read, and visited with the resident cats.

above and below: Jack and Jane

the Housatonic River, in the Berkshires

At the Shrine’s book store, I asked for a volume of Saint Faustina’s words, “small enough for bus commuting.” The little book has since joined my twice-daily trek and coffee breaks. Throughout my week in Stockbridge, I was sure to be in attendance for Mass followed by the 3pm Divine Mercy Chaplet. There are many to be commemorated, especially Dad and Sister Sylvia. The days were calm and salubrious, replenishing me for me return to the world of struggle and uncertainty. I’ve learned over the years that pilgrimage not only comprises the return travel, but also proceeds on with every day and every task. It is essential to keep these in mind, with all the beautiful things I saw and heard- along with remembering the mountain air, as the pursuits of betterment and stability must continue.


Saint Bonaventure wrote about the soul’s itinerary en route to God, and referred to how our pilgrimage is “kindled by the desire for the heavenly country.” The difficult road ahead is fueled by nourishing experiences and contemplation. The painful absence of respite in these recent years has been profoundly felt, and I must find ways to keep well- even while searching for a healthy place to live, and for better work. Writing of life’s itinerary, Saint Bonaventure added, “the route is illuminative and the pilgrimage is adhered to by love of the destination; philosophy is to be engaged in the understanding of the stages by which progress may be made along the route.” Ascension is made in progressive steps as on an upward ladder, and his words accompanied me in the Berkshires as they do on my daily city streets and transactions.

studying the Itinerarium of Saint Bonaventure

During my week at the Shrine, following the afternoon’s liturgy, one of the Marian friars gave all of us in attendance his blessing. He also blessed the devotional articles of all in attendance, such as icons and rosaries. Then, in a well-placed teachable moment, he said to us, “don’t just go home and put these things away in a drawer: bless others! Think of the many people who wish they could be here, and also those who don’t want to be here.” Another officiant earlier in the week preached about exemplifying the meaning of these prayers. Indeed, the work I do with the public and as an educator permit for many opportunities to apply merciful perspectives and ways of communication, albeit in a merciless world. It is unbearable to countenance thoughts of being a lamp concealed under a barrel, after years of consistently intense hard work and persistent defeat. I know enough to remind myself that few are fortunate enough to realize their potential, and many have it far worse. Saint Faustina surely could not have known- and would not have wanted to know- the reach of her words and her example of resilient faith. Among the assorted prayers in her journals is one of gratitude for her ability to love God by whom she need not lower her ideals. She elaborated:

“Although the path is very thorny, I do not fear to go ahead. Even if a hailstorm of persecutions covers me; even if my friends forsake me, even if all things conspire against me, and the horizon grows dark; even if a raging storm breaks out, and I feel I am quite alone and must brave it all; still, fully at peace, I will trust in Your mercy, O my God, and my hope will not be disappointed.”

Thursday, April 13, 2023

lenten lands

“By the waters of Babylon,
there we sat down and wept,
when we remembered Zion...
How shall we sing the Lord’s song
in a foreign land?”

~ Psalm 137

indefinite lent

As with any season of commemoration, Lent is equal parts remembrance and lived practice which points ahead. Both aspects, as they may be internalized, envelop our own references. For example, an observer of this season, which by definition concludes on Easter may be compelled to inhabit the time of year, may be compelled to inhabit the time of year and match their daily lives’ paces with the forty days whose start is Ash Wednesday. Speaking from my continuum, last year during Lent my landlords of many years notified all of us in the building to be ready to leave due to an impending sale. It’s been a protracted season of purgation and penitence ever since. In Lenten fashion, the season is one of mournful anticipation and persistent reach. Unable to find a sliver of mercy in my own hometown through four months of nonstop, full-bore searching and personal campaigning, the desperation move I had to make was to a cramped, remote, and oppressively loud hovel. Neither peace, nor comfort, nor space to unpack. Life by the Babylonian waters now slogs through its eighth month. Alongside the Psalmist, how do I sing the Lord’s song in an unwelcoming place? Applying the self-talk I wrote about earlier this year, there is a lifeline in my insisting that the current and painful exile is finite. This is transitional and something has got to give, considering all this unwavering effort. Yet at the same time, I’m careful not to presume to be owed anything. My intention is to press on.

spring takes shape

“Hell is the place of unsatisfied cravings,” Warren Weirsbe astutely observed in one of his broadcasts. I am intimately aware of this, vigilantly navigating a wilderness replete with roadblocks. En route to crosstown errands and to work, it is impossible not to notice the juxtaposition of elite waterfront construction and desperate homelessness along sidewalks and highway ramps. Both extremes of the housing scale are in vividly plain sight. The work I do requires extemporaneously helping the public, joining together learning and people; that means maintaining grounded and positive perspectives. And to be sure, genuineness and compassion must go together. After all, I must practice what I preach, implementing this for myself, too. Daylight extends, and I’m better able to run away from the invasive and shellshocking racket from immediately above those oppressively low ceilings. The best way out I can imagine is by perseverance, physically and spiritually, despite not having results in view. The present imperative is to hoist my spirits into spring. Last weekend, while Le Cirque des Éléphants upstairs was at full blast, with chair and journal out on the sidewalk, my exasperated stare probed the skies. Then I noticed sparrows collecting twigs, flying off with them, up toward their burgeoning abodes. Creatures such as these- including humans- have yearning instincts aimed toward survival. I’m reading the signs and taking notes.

expectations and exodus season

There is an Eastertide because there is a Passover season. Few really understand this. The chronology of purging and displacement must give way to resurrection and new promise, biblically and personally. Perhaps your own penitential season has also run off the calendar; you’re far from alone. Exodus is a search and an offer away. There’s nothing passive about it, to be sure. Easier said than done. How near I am to significant discovery cannot be forecasted. But while all my efforts, strength, soul, and savvy are pointed toward tangible improvements, I’m toiling away and keeping watch. At work, tenuous and temporary as it’s always felt, my industrious engagement unquestionably continues, as well as refining my innovations. During this pandemic era, many workers have had to compromise dreams, possessions- even homes and jobs. At times it takes twisting both arms to try counting blessings. An effective distraction (and a useful one, too) has been to help others succeed at their projects. A praying person intercedes for those in need. Turning within is necessary, but there are dangers: there are haunting reams of denied dreams, rejected applications, and elusive housing opportunities. At least I know enough to persevere in forward directions and dare to expect improvement. Every day, heaven help me. Too many evenings, after long workdays, returning to the compartment sends me back outside again to escape the building’s noise. Lengthened daylight provides expansive visibility, and the higher temperatures allow me to perch in the open air for longer periods of time. Pedestrians are more apt to stop and chat. By being seen, a friendly cat- who happens to be my favorite neighbor- can easily find me and ask for treats. Albeit on a shoestring, how about being hopeful just for its own sake? This is also the season of Divine Mercy.

Sunday, March 26, 2023


“Naturally, we desire knowledge, happiness, and peace;
knowledge, since we see our thoughts curiously investigating
the sources of things: happiness, since each person
and indeed each animal acts with a view to procuring good
or avoiding evil: peace since the pursuit of knowledge
or that of happiness are not followed simply for
the sake of the pursuit but in order that the desire
in which it is born may be appeased by calm and repose.”

~ Etienne Gilson, The Philosophy of Saint Bonaventure, p.87


During difficult winter months, more energy than usual is needed for the basics. Getting from place to place is impaired by weather conditions, and overcoming such variables requires added time for car excavation, window-scraping, and idling the engine. Indeed, all symbolic to this writer. Trying to find hope amidst instability and unease tests all systems. It’s been taking a real stretch of the imagination to stay creative, ambitious, and sharp. There’s plenty to dull the senses and wits, in this present situation. Often, while I’m defrosting my windshield, I stare beyond treelines and rooftops- much as my aspirations set sights beyond the bland anguish of this winter in the East End. Where are the sources of cheer? Certainly not in the news. As much as I want to know the currents, I’ll wade in just enough, avoiding the misery of immersion. Without more than a pertinent acknowledgment, as I want to focus these words upon pursuits that raise my sense of vision, I’ll mention how my housing displacement (and continuing search for a place to live) prompts me to monitor economic news. Well, upon the ground of living in a perpetually depressed and intensely stratified region, the term recession is hardly distant; it’s been here a painfully long time. Atop years of toiling and producing in educational nonprofits, last year shoved me to this present brink. When articles ask readers to compare now with 12 months ago, I needn’t look far to recall living in 40% more space at 30% less rent in a beautiful place that was in a better neighborhood. Alas, it was sold and everyone had to leave. I know to avoid dwelling upon this much further, as trauma runs its course. This type of thing has been happening all over this city. I’m daring for something even better, while as yet unaware of its location.


Survival is more than necessary in order to settle here-and-now responsibilities; it’s also the way to steer toward better horizons. Having to keep on working and contending with expenses, while making an emergency relocation, served to maintain focus. Fear, however, does little to nurture creative energy. Threatening, litigious language abounds- reminding me of how meanness can trickle all the way down to simple transactions and what could otherwise be good-faith agreements. Once more, it is vital to keep finding ways to be motivated by a vision of goodness, over and above the baser goading by impersonal threat. Some of us, even now, continue in our idealism. My previous landlord, may he rest in peace, was a dentist whose office was below my apartment. He was born in that building and my predecessor in “apartment 2" was his mother. When he handed the keys to my twenty year old self, he said to me: “We have one rule in this building; it’s the Golden Rule. You know what that is, right?” I quoted it to him, “Do unto others as you’d have them do unto you,” to which he responded, “that’s right, you know it,” patting my shoulder. That’s all that was needed, and in so many ways it’s the most essential of ethical rules.

A less-ancient saying goes as follows: “Everything is a teachable moment, if we’re willing to be taught.” Though it’s been a strain, dear readers, I’ve been wrenching myself through daily uncertainties, discomfort, and desolation at all hands to learn what I can in this. Revealing how relative these things can be, several months ago during a mid-workday cancellation my director told me I could go home any time I wanted. I replied that I preferred being at work. “The Compartment” is no home to me, and I described that to him. We had a good and relaxed conversation in the empty hallway, and I gratefully kept on working. Better things are surely ahead, and each day is a day closer. Even my mustard seed’s worth of faith is enough to convince me of that. Keep the pursuits in mind. I’m in this life to create, to inspire, to foster the Golden Rule. And that’s just for starters, just like persevering in my work and sanctifying each task and interaction.


As severely as the city of Portland has hollowed itself with its gentrification, I still manage to bump into friends on the streets. “Whatcha reading?” a fellow West End refugee asked, stopping to greet me at my spartan bus stop. Closing my book, I held it up, and my friend said “Philosophy. That’s heavy.” I defended my vice by saying, “Saint Bonaventure; he’s keeping me from jumping off the bridge.” There must be pursuits to raise sights and spirits. Creative projects are just about impossible in cramped and oppressive living quarters, not to mention the daily and nightly stomping and sound system racket penetrating ceilings and walls. But... during my coffee break in the middle of my 8-hour workdays I can scribble a few notes, and late at night when the stampeding herds cease I can steal a few more moments to write and read more philosophy. I’ve invested in a strange “white-noise” machine that has a setting that imitates the sounds of rainstorms. And this returns me to those windchilled bus stops. Just for now, I persist in my insistence. On better days, the wincing and cringing become pointers to remind me of the progress of time. This is surely transitional. I’m wagering my life on it, and my philosopher saints will ride shotgun with me.

Such pursuits as the arts and philosophical studies may appear as goals, but these are indeed means. Bonaventure’s responses to the Sentences of Peter Lombard include the observation that we will not find our fulfilling achievements in the finite. “Our desire tends beyond each finite goodness toward and beyond another finite goodness.” In his enduring Itinerarium, Bonaventure wrote, “To follow the way of the soul towards God means to strive with all one’s strength to live a human life as close as possible to that of the blessed in Heaven.” Reflecting upon Bonaventure, Etienne Gilson wrote of the itinerary’s road as illuminative, and the pilgrimage is adhered to by love of the destination. A brilliant member of my staff whom I mourned last year liked to say, the saints are always teaching us. And I like quoting how she used to tell me this, Elaine surely being among those saints. Submerged in an undefined and intensely anxious time of instability and discomfort, such means as writing, the study and teaching of philosophy, spiritual devotions, and productivity on the job serve to maintain my sanity. I meant what I’d said to my friend at the bus stop. The itinerary trims the undivided highway margin between humiliation and humility. The latter is necessary for the exploration of philosophical truths, admitting that reason alone cannot achieve its object unaided, submitting to the Light which irradiates and moves the conscience.