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Saturday, December 29, 2007

The sweetest gift

While I was out on my run today, a little boy (about two or three) with a red Santa hat on came up to me with his arms out, gave me a hug and said, "Merry Christmas." He was out walking with his Grandma and when I passed him again, he was riding in his wagon and so I waved and wished him, "Happy New Year."

Guest blogging at Deep Muck Big Rake

I was honored to be asked by Becky at Deep Muck Big Rake to guest blog today while she's on vacation. Check out my post here.

Happy New Year! Creative Ink will return next Wednesday.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Conversations on God and religion

Antonio Monda, a filmmaker, teacher at NYU film school and co-founder and artistic director of the literary festival Le Conversazioni, met with noted cultural figures (authors, artists, filmmakers and others) to talk about God and religion.

His book, Do You Believe? Conversations on God and Religion was published last month by Vintage Books. I read through it yesterday (it's very breezy) and found it raised some interesting points, but barely scratched the surface of the conversations.

This would have worked tremendously as an audio or visual project rather than a Q&A in print form. It would have been interesting to see Grace Paley or Saul Bellow or Martin Scorsese as they contemplated the questions and after I finished each brief conversation, I was left wanting much more.

Several themes emerged from the conversations with Paul Auster, Saul Bellow, Michael Cunningham, Nathan Englander, Jane Fonda, Richard Ford, Paula Fox, Jonathan Franzen, Spike Lee, Daniel Libeskind, David Lynch, Toni Morrison, Grace Paley, Salman Rushdie, Arthur Schlesinger Jr., Martin Scorsese, Derek Walcott and Elie Wiesel.

• Whether or not they believed Christ was the son of God, nearly all agreed that he was a great thinker.

• There was a great respect for believers even when those interviewed didn't believe and for those of other faiths.

• The power of redemption has the ability to transform humans.

• Most have some semblance of a spiritual life, but maintain skepticism about codified religion and in most cases "the church."

• While some mentioned the hazards of a Godless world (Nazism, Communism), nearly all mentioned the great evil, violence and destruction done in the name of religion.

• Many were asked of religious artists whose work they valued and three mentioned Flannery O'Connor, which was more than any other artist named.

• An overwhelming refusal to declare absolutes.

Some of Monda's key questions included:

Do you believe?

What is your image of God?

What was your religious upbringing?

What will happen after death?

Comment on Dostoyevsky's phrase, "If God doesn't exist, everything is permitted."

The comment that most reflects my own spiritual journey was made by Martin Scorsese in response to Monda asking, "Do you believe in God?":

"I think that my faith in God lies in my constant searching."

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

"Hard-liners for Jesus"

My concern isn't the rift that has opened between Republican political practice and the vision of the nation's Founders, who made very clear in the Constitution that there would be no religious test for officeholders in their enlightened new republic. Rather, it's the gap between the teachings of the Gospels and the preachings of the Gospel's Own Party that has widened past the point of absurdity, even as the ostensible Christianization of the party proceeds apace.
But if Bush can conform his advocacy of preemptive war with Jesus's Sermon on the Mount admonition to turn the other cheek, he's a more creative theologian than we have given him credit for.
Harold Myerson writing in today's Washington Post

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

The simple, higher task of co-existence

"We require higher tasks, because we do not recognise the height of those we have. Trying to be kind and honest seems an affair too simple and too inconsequential for gentlemen of our heroic mould; we had rather set ourselves to something bold, arduous, and conclusive; we had rather found a schism or suppress a heresy, cut off a hand or mortify an appetite. But the task before us, which is to co-endure with our existence, is rather one of microscopic fineness, and the heroism required is that of patience. There is no cutting of the Gordian knots of life; each must be smilingly unravelled."Robert Louis Stevenson, "A Christmas Sermon"

Friday, December 14, 2007

UB story: To bury the dead

From today's Catholic Universe Bulletin:
To bury the dead
St. Ignatius student pallbearers provide a dignified burial when there's no one else around
By Wendy A. Hoke

The sun is shining brightly on this Feast of All Saints. The air is crisp, but golden maple leaves cast a warm glow across the gently rolling field.

St. Ignatius High School students and teachers are gathered in the center near a grove of trees for a solemn service that on this day will honor those whom they have carried to their final resting place.

Driving down Green Road just north of Harvard, this spot could easily miss. It’s sandwiched between a golf course and a recycling center. A battered wooden fence and narrow asphalt drive appear to lead nowhere.

But this is holy ground.

Cleveland’s Potter’s Field, where tens of thousands of Jane and John Does are buried with little more than a small wooden stake, if anything, as a marker of their life on this earth.

The leaders of the Joseph of Arimathea Society—pallbearers for those who have no family or friends to perform the service—have chosen this place annually to remember those whom society has forgotten and to honor those whom they have served throughout the year.

Aside from a large stone that serves as a communal marker, there’s little known about the inhabitants of Potter’s Field and little evidence of this even being a cemetery save a torn plastic flag, a crude cross made of two twigs lashed together, a statue of St. Francis and some plastic flowers.

Leaders of the Joseph of Arimathea Society honor the place by reading the names of the people whose caskets they have carried. For every 20 names a single bell tolls.
Grant them eternal rest, O Lord, and may perpetual light shine on them forever, for you are rich in mercy.

Named for the man who requested Jesus’ body from Pontius Pilate for a proper burial, the Joseph of Arimathea Society grew out of the work of the Christian Action Team, the umbrella organization for service activities at St. Ignatius High School. “We wanted to have service in place that accomplishes all the corporal works of mercy,” explains Ed DeVenney, campus minister.

Various programs feed and clothe the poor, tend to the sick and visit the lonely, but team leaders wanted to do more.

In 2003, St. Ignatius was the first high school in the country to provide the pallbearer service. It has necessarily grown to become the largest extracurricular activity at the Near West Side school. “It’s even bigger than football,” DeVenney says.

Open only to juniors and seniors, students are restricted to serving only one funeral per semester to limit time out of the classroom. The society averages about two funerals per week and has upwards of 300 members.

In service to God
Five of the student pallbearers gather in the office of campus ministry for last-minute instructions. It is their first time as pallbearers and they are quiet.

“I want you to pray and remind yourselves what it is you’re doing today,” says DeVenney. “You’re in service to God and to Mrs. (Marian) Lombardo. She has no one left in her life and there will probably be very few people at the church.

“Be prayerful, participate in the mass and remember that sometimes your voices are the only voices in the congregation,” he says.

As the navy blue St. Ignatius High School van pulls up in front of St. Stephen’s Church on West 54th Street, the boys face the reality of their advisor's words. With the exception of a Greek Orthodox bishop, they are the only ones in attendance at this funeral.

Inside the vestibule, funeral director Jim Craciun gives them instructions as they rest a hand on the casket and move slowly up the aisle.

“Out of all the funerals I've gone to, the church has always been filled … The experience for me was very moving, and I was glad that I could help celebrate the life of this woman and carry her to her final resting place,” wrote senior Alex Robertson later on the group’s blog for reflection.

A smile and a 'thank you'
At St. Bridget Parish, Parma, other boys are serving as pallbearers for a man who had a wife and friends, but no one able to handle the casket.

At the sign of peace, they go to the widow and one by one offer a promise of prayers and a compassionate hand showing maturity beyond their years.

The response from people is sometimes surprising to them, as senior Tommy Edgehouse wrote on the blog: “As we walked into the funeral home, I saw something I didn't expect to see. A smile on someone's face. The daughter of the late Mrs. Kanik greeted us with open arms and a most gracious ‘thank you.’ ”

“We’re just regular kids doing the simple service of carrying a casket, but it becomes so much more than that,” explains senior leader Louie Delgadillo. “They are not going to be forgotten because we are there to remember.”

It’s the little moments that tend to stick with the students.

“This summer we did a funeral for a homeless person whose body had been in the morgue for more than a month,” says senior leader Jon Hatgas.

They were expecting no one to come, but through their work with Labre Ministry in serving the homeless people on the streets of Cleveland they were able to bring more people.

“We had about 10 cars in the procession and on the way to the cemetery people were talking about Shawn and their connection to him,” Hatgas says.

“I know that we are never alone in faith,” wrote Jon’s twin brother Jeff Hatgas of his experience at the same funeral on the blog.

Jim Skerl, who founded the ministry as part of his work with Christian Action Team says this is a good way to involve students in the service of their faith.

“It’s interesting to see where God has led this ministry,” Skerl says, adding that it provides a chance for students to find their own goodness.

“We may not know their life story when we come to their funeral,” says senior leader Cameron Marcus, “but they are men and women of Christ and we share that in common.”

Hoke is a freelance writer.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

The Village is getting ink

Bay Village is such a tiny little bedroom community that it rarely registers a blip in the local, let alone national, media. Of course, that could change with Mayor Debbie Sutherland entering the race for Cuyahoga County Commissioner.

Today, however, there are two wonderful blips.

U.S. News & World Reports ranks Bay High School among the top high schools in the nation with a Silver Award.

At last Friday's basketball game against Vermilion, apparently the two student sections were engaged in a shout-out that escalated as each student body tried to one-up the other. Vermilion's fans shouted, "How's your football team?"

Bay students chanted back, "Let's take a test!" That even drew a smile from Principal Jim Cahoon who was keeping close watch on the student section.

Bay senior girls' hoop star and D-1 recruit Lindsey Lowrie and her parents, Bob and Lisa, grace the front page of today's Locker Room section. Hope you get a chance to read the article because her parents are the antithesis of today's hovering parents. They also own Java Bay coffee shop and happen to be two of the nicest people around. If you stop in for a cuppa, be sure to say hello.

Congrats to all!

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

So many conferences, so little time and money

Spring 2008 is ripe with some great writing conferences. I have planned all along to attend the American Society of Journalists and Authors (ASJA) conference in NYC in April, especially since I'll be able to take advantage of the member-only opportunities for the first time.

But there's also the Nieman Narrative Conference at Harvard, which takes place in Boston in March. This event used to take place in the fall, but with a change of directors it was pushed off until spring.

NYC or Boston? Hmmmm. Tough decisions. I've been to NYC three times in the past three years, but never to Boston. Though honestly, can you ever get enough of New York?

Given the expense of the cities involved, attending both is out of the question.

So do I go for the business of freelancing or the soul of writing?

My head tells me to go for the business, my heart wants the soulful stuff.

Do I want to network with people doing the kind of writing I most enjoy (narrative) or the people engaged in the kind of business model I most enjoy (freelance)?

I've been to ASJA before so I know generally what to expect from that experience. The work I got as a result of contacts made there in 2005 carries on today. I've heard mixed reviews about Nieman in the recent years, but it's also under new management this year.

I've also applied for a fellowship with the Peter Jennings Project for Journalists and the Constitution, run by the National Constitution Center. Given that I'm a freelancer without a beat I doubt I'll get the fellowship, but if I do that involves a trip to Philly in early March.

What to do, what to do...

Future of American Education Project

Announcement today from American Enterprise Institute.
Frederick M. Hess, AEI’s director of education policy studies, and Henry Olsen, director of AEI’s National Research Initiative, have announced a new AEI research effort to discover and promote original empirical work on K-12 school reform.

Codirected by Hess and Olsen, this education research project encompasses a wide range of important issues including federal education policy (such as No Child Left Behind), school governance, choice-based reform (such as vouchers, charter schools and tax incentives), school and district leadership, and teacher quality.

At the heart of this education research project is a working group consisting of twenty leading reform-minded U.S. researchers and educators. Trained in a variety of disciplines and approaching the challenges of K-12 reform from a range of perspectives, the working group will convene semiannually to suggest new lines of research, and to establish a respected forum for discussion of all new provocative K-12 education reform issues. The goal of the Future of American Education working group is not simply to rehash familiar arguments or to repackage previously published work, but to influence and encourage the national education debate for years to come. Its first meeting convened at AEI on December 12, 2007.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Harlan Ellison -- Pay the Writer

Warning, this film snippet contains foul language.

Ellison really brings home the argument of how amateur writers undercut professionals.

Monday, December 10, 2007

New editing project online

Editing exercises a slightly different set of writing muscles and I've had a lot of fun working them out in Catalyst-Ohio magazine: Independent Reporting on Urban Schools. The first issue I edited is available in PDF and online now. I'm working on the February/March and April/May issues as I write.

Friday, December 07, 2007

The necessity of writers

"A writer is dear and necessary for us only in the measure of which he reveals to us the inner workings of his very soul." — Leo Tolstoy

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Because I said so!

One of my fellow moms sent this video this afternoon. For all you moms out there, comedienne Anita Renfroe has condensed most momisms into a two and half minute tune set to the music of the William Tell Overture. If you search William Tell on iTunes it will bring up her video.

"The way station, the midwife" for reporters closes

There's a great little piece in the New York Observer about the closing of The New York Times Recording Room.

I'm surprised it hadn't already perished as e-mail and cell phones became tools nearly as important a pen and notebook. Still, there's a lot of history there and I sure hope someone at the NYT thinks to preserve for posterity.
Years ago, the Recording Room was, as Gay Talese put it to Off the Record, the “way station, the midwife” for foreign, national and even New York-based reporters who needed to phone in copy in a pinch. Without the aid of e-mail—let alone a laptop—the ability to dictate copy to a Recording Room operator was a reporter’s safety net, at a time when blowing deadlines and missing the morning paper carried a greater cost than it does in today’s electronic age.
Mr. Talese said he used the Recording Room for civil rights reporting in Alabama; Mr. (Arthur) Gelb said he used it to dictate reviews from Off Broadway plays from a phone booth on Second Avenue; and Mr. (Max) Frankel said he used the paper’s London Recording Room (which no longer exists) for his dispatches from Moscow. Mr. Frankel said he would take care to slur some of his sentences so as to foil the Soviet censor on the line.

Snowy morning

The view this morning from my little corner of the world. Kinda pretty, kinda peaceful.

"Yeah! I love snow. Snow makes me happy." — Michael Hoke, age 8

Monday, December 03, 2007

Should reporters credit bloggers?

An interesting column (and corresponding discussion) is taking place on Poynter about whether or not (and when) mainstream journalists should credit bloggers for material that informs a story on which they are working.

Here's the background on a story brewing in the Twin Cities as reported on Poynter by Maryn McKenna, a freelancer who has caught my attention with two great posts in a sometimes so-so e-media column:

On Nov. 29 and 30, Twin Cities blogger Ed Kohler posted (here and here) on an emerging story involving Minneapolis-based Target Corp.: Students doing viral marketing for Target on Facebook were asked to conceal their affiliation with the company. Kohler's posts hat-tipped and expanded on posts by University of Georgia senior Rosie Siman, who revealed the concealment on Oct. 8. (In an Oct. 9 update, Siman posted that she'd learned the administrator for the Target Rounders program claims the original request was a "miscommunication.")

A few minutes before midnight on Nov. 30 the Star-Tribune published its version of the story online. They also bannered it across the front page of the Dec. 1 paper. The story quoted Siman, Target and Target's marketing arm. It did not mention Kohler's blog; even though referred to Target being "outed in online blogs."

The question is: Should the Strib have named Kohler as a source in the story?

Reporters often gather a lot of material that never gets used in an actual story but often informs the final story in the way of background. There are even interviews with sources that never see print but that help the reporter to give a story more context for the reader.

However, in this case, it appears that the Strib learned of the story from Kohler, that he did deeper digging on this story when he realized the traditional media had missed it. In that case, he and his blog should have been at least referenced as the original source of the story. Give it the mainstream equivalent of a hat tip.

There's a squabble over whether or not Kohler was the original source of the story or whether he just furthered it along. Either way, I think reporters can't just grab material from bloggers without at least indicating where they found the information. At the very least, talk to the blogger via comments or offline, explain what you're working on and ask to chat further because it's possible and probably likely that the blogger has even more info and sources that he or she has not yet shared. It appears the Strib reporter did that, but then still neglected to attribute Kohler as a source.

Traditional reporters cannot be obtuse about the nature of such relationships. The net result of transparency and cooperative reporting is even stronger coverage of everything from politics to business, education to city hall.

The Minnesota Monitor (a cool site similar to what I'd like to see happen in Cleveland) picks up the argument here.

What do you think?

Should journalists credit bloggers? If so, under what circumstances?

Do you think reporters and bloggers should nurture source relationships?

Have you any experience doing so either as a journalist or a blogger?

Have you any experience working with a reporter or a blogger to improve coverage of certain issues?

Helllloooo.... anybody out there?

Ever get the feeling your e-mails are being blocked by some cyber Big Brother? E-mail traffic has been very light the past week and it gives me the creeps. I know my e-mail is working because I've chatted with a few friends and my assortment of daily news updates arrives on schedule. Work's been eerily quiet.

I went so far as to call AT&T tech support on Friday to make sure my e-mail settings were correct. Interestingly, I learned that AT&T is primarily a home service and so it automatically blocks things from some major domains that send out mass quantities of e-mails. If I could list the domains where I receive e-mail they could check to see that those are not blocked from my account. Could take a while. Ah, gee, thanks, but no.

Instead, I'm using my gmail account for work correspondence: wendyhoke(at)gmail(dot)com. Feel free to drop me a line to let me know it still works.

I should probably enjoy the momentary peace, but alas peace translates into no new assignments, which means no new paychecks. Writers are nothing if they are not needy and paranoid.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

When online works better than print

I can't believe I missed this when it first ran in The Washington Post last spring. It was only one of the most e-mailed articles in the history of The Washington Post online. All I can say is, "Wow!"

Magazine writer Gene Weingarten wrote an incredible narrative based on his experiment of putting world-renowned violinist Joshua Bell in street clothes inside the Metro station at L'Enfant Plaza. The experiment was to discover if daily commuters would know the difference between a street musician and a world-class musician.

A truly inspiring multimedia piece (with video, print and audio), it is an amazing reporting effort that is elevated further by Weingarten's masterful writing on why beauty and art matter in this world. It's a long piece, but well worth the read, the watching and the listening.

And such a worthy experiment! So many places to excerpt, but you really have to read and listen yourself. Here's something I found very interesting:
The poet Billy Collins once laughingly observed that all babies are born with a knowledge of poetry, because the lub-dub of the mother's heart is in iambic meter. Then, Collins said, life slowly starts to choke the poetry out of us. It may be true with music, too.

There was no ethnic or demographic pattern to distinguish the people who stayed to watch Bell, or the ones who gave money, from that vast majority who hurried on past, unheeding. Whites, blacks and Asians, young and old, men and women, were represented in all three groups. But the behavior of one demographic remained absolutely consistent. Every single time a child walked past, he or she tried to stop and watch. And every single time, a parent scooted the kid away.

(Bold is mine.)

This great sociological experiment even had Joshua Bell perplexed:

BELL ENDS "AVE MARIA" TO ANOTHER THUNDEROUS SILENCE, plays Manuel Ponce's sentimental "Estrellita," then a piece by Jules Massenet, and then begins a Bach gavotte, a joyful, frolicsome, lyrical dance. It's got an Old World delicacy to it; you can imagine it entertaining bewigged dancers at a Versailles ball, or -- in a lute, fiddle and fife version -- the boot-kicking peasants of a Pieter Bruegel painting.

Watching the video weeks later, Bell finds himself mystified by one thing only. He understands why he's not drawing a crowd, in the rush of a morning workday. But: "I'm surprised at the number of people who don't pay attention at all, as if I'm invisible. Because, you know what? I'm makin' a lot of noise!"

He is. You don't need to know music at all to appreciate the simple fact that there's a guy there, playing a violin that's throwing out a whole bucket of sound; at times, Bell's bowing is so intricate that you seem to be hearing two instruments playing in harmony. So those head-forward, quick-stepping passersby are a remarkable phenomenon.

Bell wonders whether their inattention may be deliberate: If you don't take visible note of the musician, you don't have to feel guilty about not forking over money; you're not complicit in a rip-off.

It may be true, but no one gave that explanation. People just said they were busy, had other things on their mind. Some who were on cellphones spoke louder as they passed Bell, to compete with that infernal racket.

I came to this article by way of AJR writer Charles Layton who wrote that Weingarten admits the story worked better online than in the print magazine. But what pushed me to read the link was Layton's lead:
If you want to see a lovely, soul-satisfying piece of journalism, one that might suggest near-future possibilities for newspapers in the age of the Internet, fire up your browser and go here.
Again I say, "Wow!"

Monday, November 26, 2007

Getting paid for online content at issue in writers' strike. Sound familiar?

NPR reported this morning that the Hollywood writers strike continues and the big contention for negotiations: how and if profits from new media can be shared.

The nut of this story is that work on the Internet is garnering profit in the form of ad dollars for which writers are not being paid but for which producers are earning revenue.

Writers contend that the strike is about the little guys. Sound familiar?

As I repeated often to the powers-that-be in the SPJ amicus debacle, writers are not the ones making a killing off of new media. Their demands appear simple. Residuals are very important to writers and they simply want to share in the profit with producers when producers make a profit.

Sounds simple enough, but there's always an analyst around to complicate the matter.

New media consultant Shelly Palmer: "The idea that you could tie percentages to one piece of creative makes all the sense in the world if you don't understand how producers produce and how studios produce and how the pool of risk capital is risked."

He contends that the failure to success ratio is figured into profits (implying that those profits are much less than writers believe), but of course how that is calculated is, well, nebulous.

Internet entertainment analyst Jim McQuivey: "What happens is that in the short run the producers taking their content to the Internet are actually making a very handsome profit and this is a little secret that they don't want everyone to know."

Well, of course. But then other analysts chalks it up to anxiety and uncertainty about where the revenue is coming from. Funny, I didn't hear anyone say there wasn't any revenue, just that they don't know where it's coming from. It's all very curious.

Writers are all for making that accounting process simple (call it select, focus, reduce applied to accounting): All the money goes to one place and whatever is left after expenses is paid to both producers and writers.

With the stakes this incredibly high, we're not holding our breath that this will be resolved soon.

"I don't remember a time when I think both sides needed to win more: If I was a writer, I wouldn't budge an inch. If I was a producer, I wouldn't budge an inch," says Palmer.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Giving thanks this week

Everyone once in a while I go through these extended work frenzies. Today, I emerge from a six-week-long period of hibernation and extended work. The fruits of that labor are just being revealed here and in publications. Some are still to come, others are a bit longer in the making, but I'm having fun with it all.

I hope you'll take a moment to see the updates I've made to the right margin. I've added some newer work there and a new category for the editing I'm doing these days. The NCAA Women's Final Four wrap-up book will be ready later this week, so I'll post about that on Monday. The Catalyst-Ohio editing work has been very rewarding. A trial editing assignment for the magazine has turned into a steady flow of work for the next few months.

In the spirit of the holiday, let me say I'm so thankful for the work I'm able to do—a real mix of things for love and money.

Time for friends
On Monday night, Dan and I met up with two of his good pals from college. I told him just to go and enjoy (Monday nights are crazy at our house), but they asked to see me, too. So I went along and was so glad I did. We had a great time with lots of laughs.

Bevy of birthdays
Thanksgiving is synonymous with birthdays in our house. My niece, Natalie, turns 5 tomorrow. On the Hoke side, my nephew Ted will be 16 next week and my niece Mary will be 15. And, of course, my own Ry Guy turns 15 on Friday. All of them have taken turns sharing their birthday with Thanksgiving.

Fifteen—yikes! Seems like yesterday. We'll be celebrating his birthday on the basketball court. Ryan opens his freshman basketball season at home against North Olmsted on Friday. It's a triple-header at Bay (with JV and varsity to follow). He's starting power forward. While he's not as big a fan of basketball as he is of football, he's just glad to be competing again after missing his entire football season to a broken collarbone.

Ryan was born under a football star. I went into labor with him on the day of the OSU/Michigan game. Danny had a bunch of buddies over to our Rocky River duplex for the game and his famous chili. I knew something was happening, but didn't want to alarm him out of his football reverie.

We wound up at the hospital around 4 the next morning. That Sunday was the Browns/Steelers game. Ryan took his sweet time in arriving—23 hours. He was a big boy—9 pounds, 14 ounces, 21 inches long born on his due date. He's still a big boy at 6' 1", though he's quite lanky these days. He's counting down until he can hit the weight room in March, giving up lacrosse in the spring, which he really loved to play, to prepare for football.

Oh how time does fly.

Happy Birthday, Ry! I'm so proud to be your mom.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Profile of Sister Carol Anne Smith in Magnificat magazine

The latest issue of Magnificat High School magazine [available as PDF] contains a profile I wrote about Sister Carol Anne Smith, who is now president of Mags. Here's the story below.

Sister Carol Anne Smith comes home to Magnificat
By Wendy A. Hoke

Sister Carol Anne Smith grew up on Cleveland’s west side blessed with the clarity of knowing from an early age that her life would be devoted to God. The oldest girl of seven children, Sister Carol Anne grew up in a home she describes as “full of unconditional love, happiness and joy.”

Her parents taught their children at an early age that they could not love what they did not know. Learning about God and prayer were a daily part of the family’s life. That strong faith and unconditional love carried her family through the loss of two children, including one brother, Johnny, who drowned in Lake Erie at age 3 and another brother, Willie, who was killed by a truck at age 15.

“Those kinds of tragedies can either break families apart or their faith can keep them going, which is what happened my family’s case,” she said, from her office as the new President of Magnificat High School.

“When Willie died, I had already made the decision to enter the convent and left for the motherhouse two months after his death. In those days when you left for religious life, you really left.”

Despite her conviction of God’s purpose for her, she describes leaving home as the hardest thing she ever did. “Our parents used to talk to us about our vocation in terms of God’s call to us. They never pressured us; they only told us that our response was to pray to know God’s call,” she said.

Very quietly and steadily she discerned a life in the Sisters of the Humility of Mary.

The sisters’ influence was strong during her high school days at Lourdes Academy. “I related to their joy and humanness and deep concern for others.”

She and her classmates were very involved with the issues of the times, namely the Civil Rights Movement and the Vietnam War. “I was editor of the school newspaper and got to interview Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr. We even chased Maria Von Trapp all over Cleveland one afternoon for an interview,” she recalled, laughing.

At 18, she left her then-grieving family to enter the convent in western Pennsylvania. She spent three years of her novitiate immersed in community life and theological study.

Vatican II was in full swing and Sister Carol Anne wore the habit less than one year before all religious communities moved to live more purposefully in the world in accordance with their founding purpose.

The 1960s were a time of great change and not everyone adjusted. “I used to feel for the older sisters who went through the change with such grace and dignity. They were wonderful role models.

“Our sisters were primarily involved in teaching and nursing. I knew I was not cut out to be nurse! I was always drawn to teaching. By the time I had to make my choice, we were able to express a preference. While I always loved little ones, I felt drawn to secondary education. These high school years are so precious and formative.”

Sister Carol Anne looks to this time in a young person’s life as a real privilege and significant responsibility. “High school teachers can have a powerful influence over students who, at this time in their lives, are more interested in outside influences,” she said.

When she was very young and in only her fourth year of teaching, she was asked to become part of the administration at Magnificat. Sister Carol Anne admits that whatever she saw as her life’s set course was changing. Even though she accepted the path that led to becoming assistant principal and then principal, she feels as if she’s never left teaching, serving as a mentor to many others.

Her success as principal at Magnificat led to her being called to a much larger community as Superintendent of Catholic Schools for the Diocese of Cleveland and Secretary for Education and Catechesis.

Working with Bishop Anthony Pilla reinforced in her the idea that we are here to be of service, which is the opportunity Sister Carol Anne now believes she’s been given as President of Magnificat.

“I see faithfulness—absolutely—in young women today. I’m so impressed by their awareness of Mary. She was a young girl, the same age as the girls here, when she was called by God,” she said.

“We are here to implement a mission which calls girls to imitate Mary. That the students grasp that is absolute; that they are challenged at every front is also absolutely true.”

She believes that young women are better prepared to meet these challenges when they witness others who allow God to work in their lives. The message in the Gospels and the call to Mary are indeed counter-cultural.

Tapping into the natural generosity and idealism in young people through service and campus ministry, which are the most popular activities at Magnificat, also helps to reinforce that message.

She’s confident in the work ahead. “I met with every single staff member and asked what makes Magnificat a wonderful place. They all responded, ‘It’s the students.’ Likewise, I met with juniors in groups of 20 and asked them about Magnificat’s strengths. They responded that the teachers care deeply about us.

“Students bring life to the school and I’m looking forward to meeting them. We want girls to understand their faith at the same level they understand AP calculus or British Lit. How can we settle for immature lives of faith?”

As president she will lead the Board, alumnae and the entire school community in fulfilling the mission of the school.

It’s a role that seems made for her.

“Sister Carol Anne has always been supportive of the educational mission of the Church, and she consistently demonstrates her commitment to Catholic education, her knowledge, her willingness to learn and her enthusiasm about the future of Catholic schools,” said Margaret Lyons, Secretary for Education/Superintendent for the Diocese of Cleveland.

“As a leader she exemplifies well her faith, her academic acuity, her professional and managerial expertise. She is an organized, honest, creative, strong and high-energy person,” Lyons said. “She possesses a graciousness that will be apparent to staff, families and students. She translates her personal grace into an atmosphere of hospitality and strong Catholic identity.”

Paul G. Clark, President, Northern Ohio Banking, National City Bank, said, “(Sister Carol Anne) is exceptional and effective and gracious about securing resources to support a mission. She’s an incredible fund raiser.”

Clark, who worked with her on the Alleluia Campaign to raise money for inner city Catholic Schools (they raised a record $1.3 million), believes her vow to her order and to teaching and her belief in young people is all coming together in her position at Magnificat.

“She is pure in her motives and desire to help young women learn and grow,” he said.

Clearly, the many qualities Sister Carol Anne brings to her new position are a blessing to the entire Magnificat community. It certainly is nice to have her home.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Fr. Joe story is online

The gospel of hope is available online. Yesterday I attended the Deo Gratias mass and reception at Parmadale. It's the annual muckety-muck brunch for big-time diocesan donors, but it also was the official recognition of Father Joseph McNulty, who received the Archbishop Hoban Award for Distinguished Service (and MY reason for being there).

Father Joe is the pastor at St. Augustine Parish on West 14th Street in Tremont. Many people know of St. Augustine's for its Hunger Center and ministries to the poor and homeless, but it also is home to thriving deaf and blind communities.

If you're looking for a spiritually enriching mass then I would recommend the 10 a.m. Sunday mass for the deaf. As you can see from the photo (left, by William Rieter), Father Joe signs the whole mass.

This is a big week for St. Augustine's as it serves thousands of meals at its Hunger Center, surrounding sites and to the homebound this Thanksgiving. Ironically, Father Joe told me that he resisted the idea of a Hunger Center nearly 30 years ago.

At Thanksgiving, the parish usually made up 300 to 400 turkey baskets to distribute to the community. “We were figuring on the same size crowd when we decided to serve the meal. However, that first meal we served 1,500 people. We weren’t prepared. I went to Kenny Kings and bought enough chicken to finish serving the day. Fortunately, the manager donated some of the food,” he says.

Volunteers have been cooking, slicing and freezing turkeys for weeks in preparation of Thursday's meal. Anyone can serve a plate of food at a hunger center, but if you want to make a difference in someone's life, consider sitting down and talking to them. It can change a life.

Sister Corita Ambro, who runs the Hunger Center, shared this story yesterday: One volunteer didn’t have much work to do so she suggested he sit and talk to a man having a meal in the Hunger Center. They talked and talked even after the meal ended. When they were finished, the man handed the volunteer a gun and said he had been so depressed that he was going to kill himself that day. But the volunteer, by taking the time to talk with him, convinced him that life was still worth living.

“God wanted that volunteer here,” says Father McNulty. “The real purpose for our work is the contact with people. We need the poor to meet others. It’s hard to have hope when the only people you see around you are those like you.”

On another but somewhat related noted: When I worked at Sun Newspapers in the early '90s, I often received lovely handwritten notes from the people about whom I wrote (along with my share of hate mail). This continued when I worked at Avenues magazine. But I've noticed that rarely do people bother to write a handwritten note these days. Heck, you're lucky to get an e-mail acknowledgment.

That's why I was so thankful to have received such a lovely thank you on Saturday from Sister Megan Dull for this story I wrote about her and her art. She wrote:
"Thank you for the article, But even more, thank you for the conversation that was the seed bed for what you wrote. The ideas & experiences flowed easily & opened up avenues to even wider thoughts. It's not often that that happens so richly! Then within the article you distilled so well the heart of all we bantered about for—what, 2 hours?!?"
Of course someone called to complain that Sister Megan was fostering goddess worship, pagan rituals and an image of St. Francis that is counter to the church. Her response to the criticism? Laughter. ("I've arrived! I'm controversial!) More evidence of the filters we bring to our consumption of the written word.

Friday, November 16, 2007

The gospel of hope

From today's Catholic Universe Bulletin:
The gosepl of hope
Father Joseph McNulty brings hope to the margins through St. Augustine’s diverse ministries
By Wendy A. Hoke

Father Joseph McNulty is preaching this Sunday morning on Luke's story of Zacchaeus. He paints the story of the tax collector who hid in a tree only to be called to open his home to Jesus not only with his words, but also with his hands.

“The people I see think Jesus doesn’t want to come to them, that God would not forgive them. That’s not true,” he says to the congregation gathered at St. Augustine Parish. “There’s no person Jesus doesn’t want to be with. I find real hope in this story and I hope it helps you find hope for yourselves and also for those who feel very far from Jesus.”

This is the weekly Mass for the deaf at the parish in Cleveland's Tremont neighborhood and Father McNulty, pastor for 30 years, signs the entire Mass.

Petitions are offered for the poor, hurting, forgotten, shunned, sick, suffering, recovering and dying. But it's hope that Father McNulty and the many others who support the work of St. Augustine in its ministries to the deaf, blind, mentally ill, disabled, poor and homeless, build their life around.

“When we meet the poor we meet Christ. As a church we bring them a sense of hope that we truly love and are dedicated to them,” he says.

For his efforts and leadership, Father McNulty will receive the Archbishop Hoban Award for distinguished service to the Diocese of Cleveland this Sunday. It's the highest honor given by the diocese.

“I’m very honored to receive the award, but it’s really for all the people who work in our ministries here. So I am honored to receive it in their name,” he says.

The award will be presented at the Deo Gracias Mass and brunch at Parmadale. Mass begins at 10:00 a.m. with the program afterward.

St. Joseph Sister Corita Ambro, who has been at St. Augustine longer than Father McNulty, says the award is well deserved and long overdue.

“He goes far beyond his duty in caring for his people,” Sister Ambro says. “The Irish in him keeps him from being a hugger, but his heart is overwhelming.”

His philosophy is like that of St. Francis de Sales: If you’re praying and someone comes to the door, leave your prayer and go answer the door, says Sister Ambro.

She calls him a natural teacher and mediator. “He knows where the central road is and that’s where he’s going.”

One of eight children of Irish immigrants, Father McNulty grew up in St. Thomas Aquinas parish. He describes himself as a “lifer” having entered the seminary in high school, but his early exposure to the marginalized of society helped to influence his ministry.

“We were probably poor, but I didn’t know it,” he says, partly because his family had hope and a connection to others. “My dad had a cousin who was a divorced single mom and every week he would buy enough food for her and her child. Back then we called homeless people bums. My mom always fed them and also tried to give them advice. Both of my parents really inspired me."

Younger brother Dennis McNulty is director of disability services for Catholic Charities and plays bass guitar in the St. Augustine choir. He says that their parents gave all of the McNulty children a real sense of service to others.

"Prayer was central to our lives and church was central to our community," he says. "We have a keen sense of caring for people."

While in seminary Father McNulty worked for what was then called the welfare department and found that through working with the poor, he felt the strength of the gospel message.

“True poverty is when you don’t have the material or spiritual resources to have a sense of hope,” he says. “I don’t believe that physical poverty can overwhelm because you still have a connection to others that can help you beyond the material needs.

“Spiritually when you are so destroyed by poverty that you see no way out is far more devastating. The problem today is that we’re seeing entire families in this predicament. We try to give people a sense of hope and that takes time and contact. It’s hard to have hope when the only people you see around you are those like you.”

When he arrived at the West 14th Street parish in 1972 as an associate, he came as director of the apostolic for the deaf and hearing impaired. Father McNulty quickly learned of the generosity of spirit of the community he was appointed to serve.

“The deaf are a real community and they gather in that community. They know each other through generations. We’ve used that model with our other groups and as a tie-in to our ministry to the poor,” he says.

So many of St. Augustine’s ministries overlap. While he teaches American Sign Language classes to the general population, he also teaches an ASL class to the blind. He’s proud of the Alcoholic’s Anonymous community at St. Augustine and often tries to get visitors to the Hunger Center to give a meeting a try. Every year he does about 30 Fifth Steps with recovering alcoholics. (Admit to God, to ourselves and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.) And at least one AA meeting per week is interpreted for the deaf.

He doesn’t allow panhandling as a rule, but has been known to give spare change if he gets an honest story about how it will be spent, even if it’s for a 40-ounce beer.

Just keep him away from the turkeys. As a group of high school students unload frozen turkeys, he jokes that he is not encouraged to help with this particular ministry.

Instead, he is headed to Walsh Hall just behind the rectory for the twice-monthly meeting of St. Augustine Buckeye Deaf Seniors Citizens.

The deaf share not only a language, but also a culture, a passion for the St. Augustine community and a love for Father McNulty.

Speaking as he signs, Father McNulty reminds the seniors of the Bishop Richard G. Lennon’s upcoming visit and the reception following Mass. “You can ask him for a younger priest,” jokes Father McNulty. They smile and wave their hands in applause. “If you need a way to come to church, let us know.”

St. Augustine’s many communities and ministries have found a home, thanks to Father McNulty’s leadership.

As he distributes Communion at Mass, Father McNulty taps his chest twice, “The body of Christ.” Parishioners bring their hands out and then together in prayer to signify, “Amen.”

“Lord God, give us new hope through the Eucharist,” he concludes.

Hoke is a freelance writer.

Seeing colors in music

Staying in the musical theme today, I'm interested in reading this new book by Oliver Sacks, which explores how music occupies more area in our brains than language and the neurological outcomes of our inherent musicality.
"In Musicophilia, he examines the powers of music through the individual experiences of patients, musicians, and everyday people--from a man who is struck by lightning and suddenly inspired to become a pianist at the age of forty-two, to an entire group of children with Williams syndrome who are hypermusical from birth; from people with "amusia," to whom a symphony sounds like the clattering of pots and pans, to a man whose memory spans only seven seconds--for everything but music."
I stayed with my sister in Columbus this week. Her daughter, Natalie, who turns five on Thanksgiving, has some unusual musical qualities. She has perfect pitch and can drum incredibly complex rhythms, something she has done since she was very young. She often uses music to communicate. But her latest use of music is fascinating and something I'd like to explore further for an article.

Jen was telling me that she likes to listen to Enya on the way to school in the morning. This week Natalie told her mom that she wanted to listen to "The Red Song." Jen didn't know what she meant so she scanned through the CD until Natalie indicated she had the right one. She was happy with The Red Song, but when the next song came on, she told her mom, "I don't like The Blue Song."

Natalie sees colors in music. She's a fascinating little girl and I always wonder what she's thinking. Maybe this new book will provide some insight.

Feeling Good

There's this radio dead zone on Interstate 71 between exit 189 and about Delaware, Ohio, that makes me glad I carry my iPod. I'm not a proponent of driving with earbuds in, but I had to pass the time somehow on my way home from Columbus yesterday if only to keep me awake after a long two days of working over story drafts.

My musical tastes are eclectic, but when I'm driving I like to listen to bluesy, jazzy tunes I can really bellow. Course, I'd never be caught dead doing that in front of anyone. It's not that I can't carry a tune, because I can. I used to take voice lessons, I read music and quite frankly my sight-reading skills are still strong years after I quit putting them to regular use. It's just that it's a private thing, you know, between me and my car.

I never thought I'd find a better rendition of "Feelin' Good" than the one by Nina Simone, but the young Canadian crooner Michael Buble's version comes darned close.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Find the richness in life and others

"Develop an interest in life as you see it; the people, things, literature, music—the world is so rich, simply throbbing with rich treasures, beautiful souls and interesting people. Forget yourself." — Henry Miller

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Story behind "Pulitzer's Gold"

I love the story behind the story and so have added "Pulitzer's Gold: Behind the Prize for Public Service Journalism," by Roy Harris Jr. to my must-read list. Columbia Tribune has an article about the book, which is scheduled for January 2008 publication.
With compelling stories and photos, "Pulitzer’s Gold" tells how planning, talent, timing, dedicated newsrooms, supportive owners and sometimes luck can create stories that expose racism as well as governmental, environmental and corporate abuses.

Himself a journalist, Harris' idea for the book "began as a 'labor of love' when in 2002 Harris commemorated the 100th anniversary of his father’s birth with the presentation of a program on the Public Service awards at the Saint Louis University School of Law. His father, veteran reporter Roy Harris, who died in 1980, won the prize in 1950 and helped the Post-Dispatch gain three other gold medals between 1937 and 1948. To the author’s amazement, he found editors and reporters were not well-versed in their own newspaper’s legacy. Even the paper’s history booklet, once distributed to reporters, said almost nothing about the staffers who had worked on some of the newspaper’s biggest, award-winning projects."

"The people at the Post-Dispatch didn’t know much about Pulitzer Prize history and didn’t discuss the Public Service award, ... and they are the only ones to win five," said Harris, who as a copyboy in the 1960s occasionally delivered coffee to Joseph Pulitzer Jr.

He added,"I was amazed how little had been written about how these stories came to be.

"Momentary entries into people's lives"

"Momentary entries into people’s lives are interesting. And that’s unlike a doctor or a lawyer who have lots of boring and routine clients and patients. You get to get out. You go to work in the morning, the question is ‘What’s interesting? What’s going on? What don’t we know about? What has meaning? Where is this issue going to go?’ You are in the belly of the beast of real American life. Not too many people get to do that."
— Bob Woodward describing what he likes about journalism in the Fayetteville Observer.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Assignment: "War and Peace"

My reading patterns are hardly fixed, but in general I read more serious works in the winter. There's something about snuggling on the couch with my favorite sweater, blanket and book that lends itself to meatier material. Weekends seem not quite so hectic and therefore afford more time for digesting big themes.

Yesterday afternoon, I made my choice for this winter. My general rule is that books don't get shelved until they've been read (hence the stacks found in my bedroom and my office). I've read most of the books in the various bookshelves of my home with one big exception.

Sitting behind the glass hutch of an antique writing desk is a yellowed copy of Count Leo Tolstoy's, "War and Peace: Complete and Unabridged in One Volume." I picked it up a few years ago at a library book sale (one of the best sources of good reading material).

It's inscribed: "To Bob, With Love, Mother & Dad (Christmas 1960)." I'm not so sure Bob ever bothered to read the book. The pages are not dog-eared, passages are not underlined and it displays no evidence of having been read or even handled.

But it soon will.

In the absence of a book club at which I can openly discuss the work, I've decided to write about my progress and thoughts here. I do have some preliminary thoughts.

1) Size alone does not intimidate. My Modern Library version is 1,136 pages of tiny type. Besides I read Hermione Lee's epic biography of Edith Wharton this summer.

2) Russian themes do not intimidate. I've long been a fan of Russian literature: Chekov short stories, "One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich," "Dr. Zhivago," "Crime and Punishment" and, of course, "Anna Karenina."

3) Sweeping landscapes, war and politics, social mores and human love and folly make for fascinating storytelling and I do love a good story.

So I'm off, having read the first three chapters during which I'm trying to figure out who are all the main characters. If you'd like to join me in reading, I'd be happy to host discussion at Creative Ink. If not, I'll still be writing about and sharing along the way. Or if you've read the book and want to share your thoughts, please feel free to leave a comment.

Happy reading!

(Note: The cover shown here is not the same as my book. I got it from Amazon because my copy is too fat for my scanner.)

P.J. O'Rourke on distraction

2) How much time - if any - do you spend on the Web? Is it a distraction or a blessing?

I don’t even know which end of a computer one is supposed to gaze into. I’ve never used a computer. I do all my writing on an ancient IBM Selectric. And I do my research in books. Once in a while I’ll hire a college student to pull something off the Internet, if I need an up-to-the-minute statistic or a Lexis/Nexis search or that sort of thing. But that’s as far as my use of the Web goes. This is not because I am a Luddite. It’s because I have - as most writers do when they’re writing - super-severe Attention Deficit Disorder. I can be distracted by a dust mote, a loose cuff button, an unopened junk mail solicitation from The Dizziness From Standing Up Too Fast Fund. I once had a conversation with some fellow writers about this problem. One of them summarized it as, “Gosh doesn’t the top of the refrigerator need dusting?” If I had a computer I would do nothing but play with it all day.P.J. O'Rourke as interviewed by Dwight Garner on NYT's Paper Cuts blog.

America's founding more "patched and piebald" than planned

"[Historian/author Joseph] Ellis rescues his enterprise by going beyond the familiar critique of the founding to explore a point that remains underappreciated: that America was constructed to foster arguments, not to settle them." Jon Meacham reviewing "American Creation: Triumph and Tragedies at the Founding of the Republic," by Joseph J. Ellis in New York Times Sunday Book Review.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Eleanor the ornery campaigner

From "Great Expectations: The Troubled Lives of Political Families," by Noemie Emery:
"As if trying to show where his heart really was, Ted [Roosevelt Jr.] tried to campaign on his impressive war record and held flag-waving rallies surrounded by veterans. But he was fighting not only one, but two major enemies: [Alfred E.] Smith, a veteran campaigner and genuine success story from the Lower East Side of Manhattan, and his own father, whose galvanic memory made all around him seem dim by comparison, including, alas, his own sons. He was also damaged by an implied connection to one of the many scandals of the Harding administration, the transfer of oil leases at Teapot Dome in Wyoming that briefly had been under his control in the Navy Department but in which he had played no real part. It was at this point that Eleanor [Roosevelt] moved in for the kill, dressing a car in a papier-mache "teapot" in which she trailed Ted as he made campaign speeches, interrupting him with blasts of steam from its improvised "spout." On Election Day, Ted lost the state [New York] by a hundred thousand votes out of a three-million-vote total, and his dream of succeeding his father was shattered. Eleanor, for her part had emerged as a vengeful, and powerful, player. And Franklin's own rise had begun."

Thursday, November 08, 2007

No long-lasting love for newspaper Web sites

Freelancer Erik Sherman offers a bit of business advice for freelancers who had hoped to turn what used to be their steady newspaper print writing into steady newspaper Web writing. His advice? Forget it. Find another market for your work. His primary source is this study by Nielson/Net Ratings (PDF) and released by the Newspaper Association of America.
What that tells you is forget doing long stories for newspaper web sites. No one is reading them, because no one is spending enough time to do so. In fact, forget these as markets. When the New York Times web site is getting under 14,000 unique visitors a month, something is definitely going wrong. Even if it's getting five times that number, this is bad news.
The top five newspapers and their page views and average time per visit for the six-month period between March and August 2007 are:

Site / # Page Views Per Month / Average Time Per Visit Per Month

1. New York Times / 13,857 / 20 min. 20 sec.

2. Washington Post / 11,682 / 14 min. 14 sec.

3. USA Today / 9,186 / 10 min. 57 sec.

4. Wall Street Journal / 8,337 / 9 min. 55 sec.

5. Los Angeles Times / 4,992 / 12 min. 34 sec.

32. The Plain Dealer / 989 / 10 min. 55 sec.

What a cluster...

As I visit parishes, clergy and parishioners across the diocese as part of my work with the Catholic Universe Bulletin, I always inquire as to the progress of "clustering." (Call it my informal research.) For the non-Catholic readers, this is the charge from the Bishop, er, excuse me, Vibrant Life hooha to have groups of parishes meet to determine, based on demographics, finances and decreased supply of priests, who should close.

It's a process fraught with all manner of tensions, uncertain expectations, accusations, turf battles—you know, all the best that the Catholic church can muster. At some point, I'll go into more depth here about what the process and how it is or isn't working.

But let me leave you today with the closing of a good friend of mine who sits on one of these cluster committees:
Non-carborundum illigitimus te
(Don't let the bastards get you down.)

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

A date at the movies

I've made a date for myself next weekend to see the new film, Love in the Time of Cholera. The novel by Gabriel Garcia Marquez is one of my favorites, so beautiful, so haunting.

The teaser for the film, starring a mesmerizing Spanish actor Javier Bardem says, "How long would you wait for love?" The answer in this case is found in the last three lines of the book. The written story evokes such strong imagery—I've envisioned everything from the lush sepia of late 19th- and early 20th-century Cartagena to the scents of flowers, fruit, the sea air and love most of all—both young and old. I'm almost reluctant to see films of my favorite books for fear that a filmmaker's version won't align with my own. But this looks promising and it's been so long since I've been to the movies.

Anyway, if you've not read the book, I highly recommend doing so. Here's the opening sentence:
"It was inevitable: the scent of bitter almonds always reminded him of the fate of unrequited love."

Film as meditation

Paul Pearson, director of the Merton Center at Bellarmine University in Louisville, Ky., forwarded this announcement about a new film about the Carthusian order.
On November 15, in Pasteur Hall, Room 102 at 7:00 p.m., there will be a screening of "Le Grand Silence" (U.S. title: "Into Great Silence,") Paul Groninger's film documentary about a Carthusian monastery in the French Alps. It's an award-winning and moving documentary. The movie is free of charge.
Here's the synopsis from "Into Great Silence":
Nestled deep in the postcard-perfect French Alps, the Grande Chartreuse is considered one of the world’s most ascetic monasteries. In 1984, German filmmaker Philip Gröning wrote to the Carthusian order for permission to make a documentary about them. They said they would get back to him. Sixteen years later, they were ready. Gröning, sans crew or artificial lighting, lived in the monks’ quarters for six months—filming their daily prayers, tasks, rituals and rare outdoor excursions. This transcendent, closely observed film seeks to embody a monastery, rather than simply depict one—it has no score, no voiceover and no archival footage. What remains is stunningly elemental: time, space and light. One of the most mesmerizing and poetic chronicles of spirituality ever created, INTO GREAT SILENCE dissolves the border between screen and audience with a total immersion into the hush of monastic life. More meditation than documentary, it’s a rare, transformative theatrical experience for all.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Save the date: PWLGC is on the move

I hope you'll join me and other Northeast Ohio writers for the inaugural holiday bash of The Poets' & Writers' League. "A Work in Progress" is a gala event to be held from 7 to 10 p.m. on Saturday, December 8, 2007, in PWLGC's new home in the Artcraft Building, located at 2570 Superior Avenue (Suite 203). Here's the skinny on the move from Judith Mansour-Thomas, the new executive director.

The League Is Moving!

On December 1, 2007, the Poets' & Writers' League of Greater Cleveland will move from the Fairhill Road townhouse, also known as the Lit Center, to the ArtCraft Building at 2570 Superior Avenue, (Suite 203) near downtown. After seven wonderful years at the Lit, we have made the decision, along with many other small to mid-size arts organizations, to commit to the revitalization of the Midtown Arts District of Cleveland.

In our lovely, new 1,600-square-foot, renovated-warehouse-but-gallery-like space (you can tell I like descriptive writing, no?), we will offer a cadre of fabulous new classes and workshops and host readings by the area's finest writers and poets. We will also host special events—some will be exclusive for PWLGC members and/or Ohio Writer subscribers, some will be open to the general public (well ... word lovers, anyway), some will cater to readers, and all will, I hope, invigorate Northeast Ohio's thriving and diverse literary arts community.

With a new home, centrally located for east-siders, west-siders, and those who do not live in our river-divided city, we hope that you will visit, and visit often. Your continued support of the PWLGC is now more important than ever, if we are to place local literary talent on the national landscape.

Join me, along with the PWLGC Board of Directors, in celebrating this exciting new phase of our growth. On the evening of December 8, we will host "A Work in Progress," the grand opening of our new home, so please save the date. Plan to join us for drinks, food, and merry making. See you soon!


Judith Mansour-Thomas
Executive Director

Monday, November 05, 2007

Thoughts from across the pond

With many deadlines in the next three weeks, it's likely that my presence here will be minimal. In between editing and writing today, I thought I'd share these two quotes found today on my Google homepage:

This one seems more important today than at any time in history. 'Tis duly noted Sir Arthur.
"I never guess. It is a capital mistake to theorize before one has data. Insensibly one begins to twist facts to suit theories, instead of theories to suit facts." — Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
And in the wonderfully dark and sometimes-violent way in which the Irish can speak, I give you Samuel Beckett:
"Let me go to hell, that's all I ask, and to go on cursing them there, and them look down and hear me, that might take some of the shine off their bliss." — Samuel Beckett

Thursday, November 01, 2007

What happens to the mid-career journalist?

Fellowships, sabbatical, grad school—all those things sound like wonderful opportunities to me at age 40. I am what's commonly referred to as the "mid-career journalist," though I can tell you that after nearly 20 years, I've got a lot of career still ahead.

I'm smart, resourceful, experienced, well-read and innovative. But I am not the stuff of newspapers today. Here's why, according to a piece by Maryn McKenna.
It's true: Reporters must be entrepreneurial on their own behalf and look for opportunities to innovate. But a problem -- and this is not a new observation -- is that the traditional layered organization of newsrooms is structurally hostile to innovation. (Context: I currently do magazine freelance and work at a Web site, but spent 20 years at four newspapers, exiting a year ago.) It's incredibly hard for journalists who are trying to innovate to push a Web-related idea up the ladder. The answer might seem to be to try it yourself -- but at some papers, personal, non-paper blogs are explicitly forbidden, or must be pre-approved and vetted.

New journalistic opportunities appear to be developing around local and hyperlocal coverage. But the news profession generally denigrates local news -- not just at newspapers, but through our entire reward system. Who's the aspirational model in j-schools: William Allen White, or Woodward & Bernstein? John Fetterman, or Seymour Hirsch?

When they hear "hyperlocal," most mid-career people also hear some extra unspoken words attached: "...and short." That's an obvious deterrent: No one older than, say, 38 went into and stuck with journalism because their ultimate career aspiration was tapping out neighborhood shorts in the front seat of their car.

Here's the opportunity that's being missed: The central issue for writers isn't where the story is, local or national; it's how rich the story is, and how deep they are allowed to go. People stay in journalism because it lets them exercise particular talents as fact finders and storytellers, and that exercise gives them joy. (God knows no one stays for the money.)

(Emphasis is mine.)

Amen! Richness, depth, detail, story...those are the values for which I strive in my work.

Turned off by chocolate?

Ugh! Today is one of those running around days and having just walked in the door—starving—I reached for a couple Milky Ways from the kids' Halloween loot. I ate two in a hurry and now feel sick, I mean really repulsed.

I'm very fond of dark chocolate and haven't had milk chocolate in ages. Maybe it's just that my taste buds run more toward the bitter than the creamy, gooey mess of milk chocolate. Ugh!

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Wide Open is closed shut

Let me add my voice to the cacophony of bloggers lamenting the events of the past 24 hours that resulted in the implosion of The Plain Dealer's experiment with bloggers on its Web site.

I'll let Jill, Jeff and Tom explain the details of what happened. In a nutshell, the PD did not think through this Wide Open experiment with bloggers. It held the bloggers (whom it hired to write in a partisan fashion about the issues) to the same standards to which it would hold newsroom journalists.

I won't presume to speak for the four bloggers who participated, but my guess is if the PD wanted them to work as "journalists" they would have been less likely to join in the experiment. Their charge was fundamentally different from those working in the newsroom. They were paid for their partisan views and those views (two conservative, two liberal) were supposedly balanced. It was naive of the PD editors to believe that partisan bloggers would not have contributed to or worked for some campaign.

The PD has a bigger problem on its hands in that the public, specifically the blogging public, has discovered how political power holds sway over editorial product. That's a PR problem for Ohio's Largest Daily. No matter how valid or invalid were Congressman Steven LaTourette's complaints, the public perception is that the PD caved because a public official, who should have a thicker skin about such things, whined about unfair treatment.

I'll be honest. I'm not a political blogger and I rarely spend much time reading political blogs. They are not my cup of tea. For the most part, my dissatisfaction in the experiment largely stems from the reality that the arguments routinely fell along partisan lines. I find reading such diatribes tiresome and not informative enough to convince one way or another to support any one side.

There were exceptions—moments when real, honest, authentic dialogue took place and it usually revolved around issues other than politics, such as religion. Of course one could argue that the religious questions were also political, but the comments really tried to dig deeper into the why, which made compelling reading. Credit is due to the four bloggers who took those issues and addressed them in such an intelligent fashion.

Maybe the experiment started with the wrong kind of blogger. Politics are always fraught with questions of ethics, conflict and bias. Some of the best political blogging, after all, comes from people within the political system. I've not had a problem with blogger transparency on this issue, but I know others have.

Maybe what the PD should've done was start such a new/old media experiment with more feature-ish topics—books, food, arts, education, religion.

I had high hopes that such a collaboration would work. Hopefully, this doesn't turn traditional media off of the experiment for good, but rather provides lessons for how to do better in the future.

UPDATE: Here are some links to more on this story:

Poynter Institute E-Media Tidbits

Bad American


Daily Bellwether

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Love it when...

...a story I'm working on that I was maybe lukewarm on at first turns out to be filled with the surprises that get the creative juices flowing. It's one of the reasons why I love writing people profiles, and it's one of the reasons why I try NOT to prejudge a story.

"Only by being tough-minded have writers gotten anyplace in this business"

The last minute and a half of this video provides a great commentary on writers. Although he's talking about the Writers Guild as it relates to screenwriters, Marc Norman (he of the Oscar-winning screenplay "Shakespeare in Love) also provides an interesting commentary on how writers, and what they value in terms of job satisfaction, differ from other employees.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Three days, three books, three reviews

On my desk this morning are three books I've read since Monday. I'm not sure to what I should attribute my sudden surge in reading. I've learned not to question it and just run with it when it strikes. I guess with UPS dropping off upcoming titles, some of them proved too irresistible not to dive into.

"Sister Wendy on Prayer," by Sister Wendy Beckett
Harmony Books (November 6, 2007), 144 pages

If you only know of Sister Wendy Beckett from her PBS/BBC series on art, you should get to know her through this book. Writing about prayer is so difficult because it is so individual. She begins by letting readers know just what a struggle it was to write this book.

But her struggle works, particularly near the end and she finds her sea legs and writes simply and logically about prayer.

I'll admit that my interest in reading this slim volume is personal indeed. I've always felt a failure at prayer. I'm not one to sit still for an hour and allow myself to be with God. I'm always trying to multi-task my way through.

Sister Wendy writes, "It is not difficult to intellectualize about prayer. Like love, beauty and motherhood, it quickly sets our eloquence aflow. It is not difficult, but it is perfectly futile." She goes further to suggest that it can even be harmful.


Because writing, thinking, talking, reading and longing for prayer keeps us from actually praying. She challenges us to discover what it is we really want from prayer. Because the fundamental reason for prayer—and what makes it so simple—is that we want to be possessed by God.

"Knock and it shall be opened to you." God doesn't want to trick us so prayer is the last thing we should feel discouraged about.

Throughout her book, Sister Wendy refers to a selection of paintings that for her speak of prayer. Those paintings are in the book and she describes, in her wonderfully accessible way, how those paintings describe various aspects of prayer.

Her writing is challenging in places. Do we make room for prayer in our lives? Is it a priority? Or is it something we try to fit in while doing other things (as it has traditionally been for me). But she also explains its utter simplicity. Here are a few of my favorites:

On peace:
"All too often people say, 'I was too sick to pray' or 'I was too worried to pray.' Rather we should say, 'My prayer today is of a sick and worried person.' It is you God wants to take to Himself in prayer, and if that is a you with shingles or a you with marriage problems, He is compassionate toward His child, but does not demand that the reality of life be discarded. You cannot step out of your real life with all its tensions into 'a peace.' God does not want you to. It would be a state of unreality."
On penance:
"One sometimes gets the impression that these saints were canonized because of their physical penances. Forget about love and prayer: one can deduce these, the reasoning goes, from the extremes to which they brought their bodies. Fast until you faint? You must love God. Go without sleep? Ah, what devotion! Today we are more dubious about these penitential extravaganzas. We still love them; we are deeply impressed by them. They still seem to bear their own credentials blazing bright on their foreheads, yet we have perhaps come to realize the element here of the extraordinary, the UFO, that essentially impresses us, not because it comes from God, but because it is bizarre, a seemingly spiritual version of the poltergeist. True faith is something very much deeper."
On holiness:
"To be perfect is to be complete. God is perfect in that He is completely the Godhead. There is one God and He is completely Himself. But there is not one humanity. We are all human in different ways. And, for us, perfection—to me rather an off-putting noun—can mean only becoming completely what we are meant to be. Each of us is called to an individual fulfillment that only God understands."
But enough "talk" about prayer.

"Black Olives," by Martha Tod Dudman
Simon & Schuster (February 5, 2008), 192 pages

If I remember correctly, this was one of those books I checked off on my reviewer checklist. I'm not usually one to review fiction, but the theme of middle-aged love appealed to me.

"Black Olives" is a fast read, but it's emotional and unpleasant in places. It reads more like a short story than a novel in that it involves one evening in time, albeit with glances back at a 10-year relationship.

Nine months after their painful breakup, Victoria spots her ex-boyfriend while looking at the olive bar of the Maine grocery store where they live. She's thrown into a panic because she wanted to see him again when SHE was ready. David, the boyfriend, doesn't see her because he's too busy getting his coffee beans.

In an unlikely (though who am I to say?) turn of events, she compulsively goes to his unlocked car in the parking lot and climbs into the back seat under his sweaters, rain gear and other stuff piled on the floor. She's inhaling the smell of him, when the actual him gets into the car.

She's stuck and rides with him to several more spots before he eventually arrives at his home. She gets out of the car and stays in the garage until he leaves again, which is when she walks through his home.

Throughout this episode she is visiting the places and spaces of their relationship. She's not an altogether appealing person, but neither is he. They are both divorced with children from previous marriages. At the point of the story they are also both in their 50s, he with a grandchild and she with two grown children.

He wants to marry her and she doesn't want to be tied down. They maintain separate homes and lives yet still share a decade together. There's, I suppose, is a modern relationship, but he wants more.

Most of the novel is an interior monologue and she replays the scenes of their life together. Maybe she's trying to figure out at what point things went south. And maybe she's trying to identify where she could have responded differently. There are times when the tone is downright annoying. She becomes that friend you dread who goes on and on about sour relationship. But like a train wreck, you read on because truly this could be any of us. While Victoria shows us a secure businesswoman and mother, she becomes insecure in her love life, questioning everything including whether or not she should have bought sexier panties.

That insecurity comes to her at the moment of the breakup, when she begins questioning him and herself about events in their relationship.
"And then I thought—well, if she just has brown hair, and she doesn't even have big breasts, then what's the point of it? What could she have? What could it be that would make that particular vagina, that pair of eyes, that set of lips, any better/different/sexier than the ones I've got?
"Does she know about me?" I asked him.

"Yes," he said. But what would he have told her? Not the dear things. Not the big things. He wouldn't have told her about the time, after my operation, when I lay in the hospital bed in Bangor and he sat there all day long with his laptop and book, just being there in the room with me so that, whenever I rolled out of the fog of my opiated stupor, he was right there, with his familiar shirt on, with his laptop, sitting in the hospital chair.

You're still here, I said. I didn't know what time it was. Time had gotten all blurry and strange and stretched out by the drugs and the pain in between the drugs.

Of course, he told me, looking up. Where else would I be? he asked me. And I knew he would always be there, right there in the room with me."
It's a revelation to her that she has become what she dreaded in others. And only after that point of self-discovery can she truly begin to move on with her life.

A Thousand Splendid Suns, by Khaled Hosseini
Riverhead Books (May 2007), 367 pages

It's not the writing, though it is simple and straightforward, it's the story that moved me quickly through "A Thousand Splendid Suns." While the story happens largely in my lifetime, it seems almost from another century. The differences between my years and those of Mariam and Laila are incomparable.

That the story takes place in Afghanistan—a place where my earliest knowledge of its existence was sitting in Mr. Hatfield's sixth-grade classroom at Brantner Elementary in Cincinnati, watching as Soviet tanks invaded—is so central to the events of today and yet still so foreign makes it even more compelling.

It's a breezy read interrupted with some disturbing violence. In his first novel, "The Kite Runner," Hosseini presented some coincidences, which were frankly too hard to imagine ever happening. That's storytelling laziness. It's my primary problem with authors like Dan Brown, who drive you through a fast-paced interesting narrative only to neatly wrap up the details with a mix of uninspired and unrealistic coincidences.

There's a little of that here, but it's not nearly so offensive. In the end, this story contains more of the hope—for women and for a country—than Hossein's first book. A good story.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

A slab of sadness

Wanted to share this excerpt from an as-yet-to-be-released novel I'm reading called Black Olives by Martha Tod Dudman, coming in February 2008 from Simon & Schuster.
"What did other people do? I wondered. Losing spouses to divorce, to Alzheimer's, to death? How do they survive after such enormous losses? That sudden, abrupt amputation and then after that, everything off-kilter forever. How do you walk without that arm you're so used to? How do you keep your balance? The sharp pain that feels unending, without dimension, limitless, and then the ache and the ache and the ache that goes on and on; that comes in a wave and recedes and comes back and then comes back again. It was underneath everything—that sadness. Right under all the surface emotions: delight, detail, determination. There it was—the sadness—a big, spongy slab of it.

Why did I still think that happiness was something I could acquire—like a new dress? Why did I think happiness would just come to me if I behaved myself, worked hard, ate right, kept clean and got enough exercise? Happiness comes when you least expect it, not on order."