Saturday, September 25, 2010

[NOTE FROM BARB: Here is the outline for a talk I gave this weekend at the San Diego Christian Writers Guild Conference. Several people asked me for the notes, so I told them I'd post them.]

Who Is Your Audience? Writing What Your Soul Knows

for the San Diego Christian Writers Conference
September 25, 2010

II. This talk will have three parts.

A) Part One will talk about the question of what it means to write what you know.
B) Part Two will talk about the issue of commerciality. What is it to be commercial – to have mass appeal – such that editors or investors or producers will want to give you money?
C) Part Three will look at the particular moment we are in as writers who are disciples of the Lord and hopefully get some answer to Jesus’ query, “Can you not read the signs of the times?”

III. If there is anything that is clear, it’s that writing is more than any other art form, an attempt to communicate in an articulate way. The sole color on the pallet of the writer is words. Great writing moves immediately from being a rambling monologue, and becomes a dialogue with the reader’s heart and mind. The pictures you create with your words get matched to the reader’s memory and imagination, and he or she begins to edit and highlight and fill-out what you offer from his or her own experience. This happens more or less according to whatever level of history the reader brings to your work.

Having said this, I am not sure I believe I the idea of writing for a demographic. I do basically permit the idea of using fewer and more simpler words and plots for young children. But beyond that, if you are too concerned with writing “for a particular kind of person, you run the risk of pandering. (Except in certain kinds of very specific non-fiction situations: A book for recovering adult alcoholics, or a book for teachers, or a book on how to be a better gambler.)

Great writing is basically just great communication, and it understands that to last and to make a big impact, you should always speak to the reader's humanity, not to their particular moment. Flannery O’Connor was great because she mastered the art of writing from the inside of her readers. She was very conscious of human psychology and the dynamic process that a reader goes on in a story. She wasn’t thinking about writing for Southerners, or for academics, or even for Christians or unbelievers. She was writing to any one who was engaged in the activity of dodging Divine Grace. Basically all of us.

It would be an interesting meditation to consider what Jesus would find if he walked in to the average Christian Publishing House.

“Good Morning. Welcome to Faith House. We Save Your Stories So You Can Save the World.”

“Thank you. My name is Jesus. I’d like to speak to an editor.”

“Okay. Which editor would you like to see?”

“I’m sorry?”

“What kind of things to you write?”

“Mostly stories.”

“For whom?”

“I’m sorry?”

“For whom are your stories meant?”

“Um, humans?”

“Tell me one of your stories.”

“Oh, okay. Well, there was a man who had two sons. Now, the younger son ---“

“Oh, that’s young adult fiction. That’s Larry. First door down the hall.”

So, the Lord walks down the hall.

“Hello, Mr. Jesus, isn’t it? So I understand you have some stories for us. Tell me one.”

“Okay. One day, a man set off on the road to Jericho. But on the way, he was set upon by thieves. They beat him, stripped him and left him for dead –

“Whoa! Just a sec. This is a bit too much for the young adult market. What else do you have?”

“Well, I have one about a man who owns a vineyard that he had leased out to tenants. And when he sends his son to collect the rent, they kill him and –-

“Wait, wait, wait. There you go with that violence stuff again. It’s a bit too much of an edge for us. Do you have any stories where people don’t get killed?”

“Well, yes. I guess. I have one about a woman who loses her gold coin –“

“Great, great! That’s Family Stewardship!”

“And then, she sweeps her whole house to –“

This is Women’s Devotional. That’s Laura down the hall.”

IV. Start with clip from a movie that demonstrates this “writing to the human person” because it speaks to the whole broad audience out there. Tell me, who do you think is the audience of this piece? Here is the opening of “UP.”

V. If an editor tells you to write for a certain demographic, I would nod my head and conclude that they are asking me to be intentionally narrow in my focus. Narrowness is not a descriptor of great writing. (I don’t know about your church, but in the last thirty years mine has gone through an exhausting experimentation process of trying to make special services for “young people”. We’ve been dragged through the antechamber of musical and liturgical hell in pursuit of crowds of keening teenagers who might some day all proclaim with one enthusiastic voice, that this or that service is “cool.” Invariably, the young people demur and if pressed will shrug with a touch of embarrassment that the “Contemporary Worship Service music is kind of, well, lame.” We need to give them more credit that if kids are in Church, they are there as part of the Body of Worshippers and they are willing to join themselves to however the other sheep are bleating. We have a Gregorian Chant revival going on in the Catholic Church….

VI. Idea for this talk came from working with our Act One students – the “problem of commerciality.” Good editors always tell you two seemingly contradictory things:
A) Write what you know, AND
B) What you Write Must Be of Interest to the Market
C) These are not really contradictory

VII. Write What Your Heart Knows
A) What do they mean by, “Write what you know?” I was a nun. I worked in a fish market for a Mormon minister fisherman. I lived in the servants quarters of the Marble House in Newport. I have worked in Hollywood for ten years. I have a family member who is an alcoholic.
B) They mean at one level – DO YOUR HOMEWORK. On this level, editors are bemoaning the writers who literally haven’t earned their place at the table. The writer’s job is to do the research. It is to fill out a new world, or to add fresh details to a world we thought we knew so that we now see it in depth. Research is always doable. It helps me to set a script in Newport, RI because I have already done the research. Don’t set a script in a scuba diving school near the Great Barrier Reef unless you have done your research in the kind of people who become divers, intricacies of scuba gear, diving education approaches, ways divers die, how cool the underwater thing is, Australians, and the Great Barrier Reef. SO, WRITE WHAT YOU HAVE COME TO KNOW ABOUT.

C) But editors and their ilk mean more than this too. Write what you know is an appeal for you to basically write what your soul knows. I was tempted to say “heart” here, particularly because it sounds nice to say “Write What Your heart Knows,” but I mean more than just your emotions. Animals have emotions. Your soul, in the classical sense, is where your intellect, will and desires reside. Your soul is the place where your humanity lives. Write from that place. It is where you brood from – as opposed to just reason. It’s where you dream from. It’s where you suffer from. It’s where you feel remorse from. It is where you choose from. It is where you love from. It is where you pray from. If you write from that place, then you are speaking soul to soul with your reader. Not to “young adults” but to “young souls.” Not even to children but to “baby souls”. Speak to their fundamental condition not to their particular situation. What is it they yearn for? Of you write to kids as if they are yearning for the newest skinny jeans, or the latest iPod, you are dehumanizing them and they will disdain you. Rightly so. These are not truly the things for which a human soul yearns.

D) You speak to human souls through beauty. Using words to achieve wholeness, harmony and radiance are the primary task of the writer. We have to remind ourselves over and over, with Dostoevsky, that it is Beauty that will save the world. Not cleverness. Not cuteness. Not the mere witness to God. (I am going to give a talk this afternoon on What is the Beautiful.)

E) The philosopher Etienne Gilson says that beauty is in more than just wholeness, harmony and radiance. He says there is also style, originality and universality. Style has to do with talent. Originality has to do with a new thought. Universality has to do with the fact that it speaks to thoughtful people beyond their time or culture. Don’t write a jealous character until you have something unique to say about jealousy. Or at least, a fresh way of showing us how it looks when it is asking for the salt shaker at dinner. Don’t write about the power of art. Write about the way the purple paint feels on the fingers of the three year old as she smears it with wonder across the new white carpet in the living room. Don’t write about friendship until you have something profound to say about friendship. Or at least, how it looks on Joe’s seven year old face the first time his “ Mike” best friend opts to throw the ball to Matt the fourth grader instead of Joe.

VIII. What is Mass Appeal? My sister and her husband stand at the movie theater. They look up and read the movies. “What’s playing?” “Well, there’s an indie movie about two sisters who were abused—“ What else is playing? “Fire and Ice…” “That sounds interesting.” “It’s about two guys on a cooking show who .” “What else?” “There’s that new drama , House of Love and Pain.” “What else?” “Me, Myself and Irene.” “What’s that?” It’s a comedy – about a guy with split personalities. And they are both in love with the same woman.” That’s funny. Let’s try that.

IX. Commerciality – that is the quality that makes an editor shove other editors out of the way to have lunch with you, is found in the intersection of “What Your Soul Knows” with the most pressing cries of the world of this moment.

X. What is the cry of this world? Maybe start by asking what was the cry of the world in 1968? What were the mantras of the age? What are the mantras of this age? “Whatever.” “Don’t trust anybody over 50.” “My mother is my best friend.” “The American Dream is dead.” “That is so five minutes ago.”

XII. Having said all the above about opposing narrow demographics, it seems to me to be perfectly appropriate to size up the souls who are out there, so that you can address them with intentionality. We are living in a moment of generational change. Nobody is perfectly defined by their generation. They are defined by the choices they have made. It tells me almost nothing at all about him if you say that your character, Johnny is the son of a serial killer. In the same way, it tells me nothing if you say Suzy is the daughter of a pastor. You begin to tell me something about Johnny when you note that he generally slips his snack to the poor kid in the class.

XIII. I am thinking a lot about the choices made by many people in the Boomer Generation, and from a pastoral sense, what they need to hear now so that they will cleave to God in their final years.

A) The Boomer Soul reality: Disillusioned. They say things like, “I long for unconditional love, but it doesn’t exist. Life is a cruel joke.” “I wish I hadn’t had that choice.” “Don’t fret! Life begins at 70!” Many are coming around to tremendous guilt. Many are without real bonds of family because of divorce, abortion, various kinds of disassociation and clamoring after unfetteredness. What looks like being free in your vigorous years, looks very much like loneliness in your twilight years. Still outraged. Still fighting against the man. Probably, having their stored up riches jerked out from under them. Hence, very angry at how unfair it all is.

B) What do they need to hear? “While there is life, there is hope.” There is still time to be the elders. Accept that death is coming and prepare for it with grace and generosity. Don’t try to compete with those who have youth. Be unfashionable and slower and sicker and tired. Be gray haired and a little dry. Learn to pause and sit, and stop having to be looking to be recreating the Woodstock thing every other year in your life. Realize that it isn’t all about you, but that there is a lot of joy in making life about the people.

XIV. A) The Millenial reality: Worried. Unmotivated. Resentful. Entitled. Under-educated. Lazy. Impatient. Paralyzed. They are a generation that has been bred on having easy, fast solutions. (Airplane story.)

B) What do they need to hear? Perseverance is possible. Commitment is possible. Suffering is not the worst thing that can happen to you – the loss of your humanity is much worse. The best things take time. Think abut it. At a certain point, we are all equally unlovable to each other. We are only worth it to each other because we are worth it to God. Family is something that lasts through effort. Babies haven’t changed, even as mommies continue to change.

XIV. In conclusion, I would say that as writers, we shouldn’t try so hard to be relevant as if that was something outside of ourselves, over there on a shelf. The fundmental relevance is human nature. What it longs for. What it is innately directed towards. Your Our effort should be, as JPII expressed it, to create new epiphanies of beauty that will remind your readers what it is to be truly human. And make them long for their true nature. And love it in a way which will be gratitude to the Creator.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Have We Forgotten?

[Note from Barb: This is something I wrote in the weeks following 9/11. It seems appropriate to repost it now amidst the background of the 9/11 Mosque debate. I think it would have seemed insane to me then, that we are having this debate now. And I would have been right.]

"No One Here Is Working Today"

Annoyance: “This better not be a wrong number.” Negotiation: “Better a wrong number than bad news.” And finally amazement: So many thoughts can crowd the human mind so fast. Then, all of these get jumbled around in suspended animation until the voice on the other end settles things.

“Sorry to wake you. Turn on your TV. There has been a terrible accident in New York.” Susannah, a friend from the office was doing her part to rouse the West Coast. Hanging up, I flip on the television. If only I could have back a few more of those minutes before horror invaded and changed everything.

It is still early into the horror of 9-11, but I am already afraid of forgetting. The certainty that time deadens every sensation seems itself to be one more blow to add to the terrorist sucker-punch. Then, I am afraid of never forgetting. The thought that civilization could be forever altered by hate is a devastating concession to the negative. Civilizations should be substantially altered by the good – by the inventiveness of the human mind, or by a growth in understanding.

One of the towers of the World Trade Center billows smoke. Katie and Matt try to make sense of it for me. I’m not sure it’s worth waking up my roommate over. Someone’s stupidity and a lot of people end up dying. The 1993 WTC bombing flashes through my mind. “What is it with those buildings?” Mental note: Never accept a job in a landmark. Another plane trolls into the back of the other Tower. I see it before Matt. Because he doesn’t comment, I start to wonder if it really happened. Maybe it is a helicopter circling around. But then Matt starts to stammer. It has happened again. This is no accident.

9-11 has been called this generation’s Pearl Harbor. This comparison has to do with the shock that invaded American society, and then became a battle cry to marshall a nation. The resemblance stops there. How I envy the Greatest Generation their Pearl Harbor. The enemy was known. The task was clear. The end was in sight even by sunset on that first terrible day. America knew victory would be costly, but victory itself was never in doubt.

Still in our pajamas an hour later, my roommate and I watch quietly as both towers tumble down in quick jerks and starts. They look like dominoes. A lesson from childhood invades. As long as they are lined up, every domino will fall down. And they do. The perfect symmetry of the astonishing towers renders their complete collapse a certainty. I have an appointment this morning to edit together a video of ‘haunting moment’ film clips. I know with certainty that the Towers collapsing will haunt me till the end of my life. Calling to cancel the session, I find strange comfort in the dull grief of the receptionist who takes my message. “No, no one here is working today.” Could anything be so irrelevant as Hollywood? Will I ever again find a movie haunting?

The Hour of Heroes and Saints

Our street borders on the usually bustling region of the city known as the Hollywood hamlet. Tonight, there is an eerie stillness. Several pedestrians pass me on the sidewalk. Each time we avert our eyes from each other. We have all been surprised by grief and it is embarrassing to have been caught unawares. We were all buying and selling and going about our business, and meanwhile groups of people have been hating us and in their simmering anger have been plotting our deaths.
I have heard people say that 9-11 shattered our sense of security. Rather, 9-11 shattered our illusion of security. There can be no security in a world in which there is sin.

I reach the corner impressed by the deathly quiet. I turn and face the row of restaurants expecting to see them all empty. But no, the street cafes all overflow with people. Solemn people. Grieving people. Frightened lonely people. Some few speak in hushed voices. As I pass along the sidewalk, hundreds follow me with their eyes. They too are out desperately seeking distraction.

Just up ahead, a young woman appears on the corner holding a lit candle. Must be an actress. Too thin. Too blond. A passing car lays on its horn in a sign of support. Before long, hundreds more stragglers join her vigil. They sing “God Bless America” crying and staring into the passing traffic. More and more cars add their horns to the strange cacophony. Once again I weep. But I am glad too. I suddenly feel close to these strangers.

My whole life I have never been able to bear “God Bless America” without tears. I have always thought it a curious quirk because I am not sentimental. Now, every hymn about God or country brings with it the sensation of holding back waves of emotion. It is so pathetic. “He had compassion on the crowd for they were like sheep without a shepherd.” I am so tired of weeping.

For the fourth time in two days, an Evangelical Protestant friend calls me with a variation on a single question. “What are we to do? What does the Catholic Church say?” I put my own confusion on auto-pilot. Somebody needs what was invested in me years ago. I draw on my Great Books education, once again grateful for my long-suffering professor’s insistence that thirteenth century philosophical principles are eternally relevant. I lay out for them the standards that the Church labels “Double Effect.” They are comforted.

Even in the horrible darkness inflicted by a brutal sucker-punch, Americans are still concerned to do what is right. Very striking in the aftermath is the universal desire of our people to respond with justice to injustice. There are few if any voices of revenge, and these are silenced immediately by the grief that has given to all of us a new gravity. This is not the time for reprisals.

For all her failures, the Church is still regarded as a voice of moral authority. Especially by those outside of her embrace. My non-Catholic friends call me because, as one put it, “I know the Catholic Church must have some teaching for times like this.” And he was right. We are allowed a proportional response. We are allowed to remove instruments of evil from children who would harm others through them, even if some die while we remove those instruments. We are not allowed vindictiveness. We are not allowed hate.

God only permitted this because in the span of eternity, He could handle it. He can weave out of it more good than evil in the long run. I have had a treasured bookmark since I was in the fourth grade. Mrs. Pierce, my religion teacher gave it to me and I have managed to hang onto it throughout the years. “The hour of crisis is also the hour of heroes and saints.” There were only a handful of evildoers. There are so many hundreds of heroes.

Will God Return to Us Now?

My friend Sylvia is a reporter and a friend of NYC’s Chief of Police. He told her months later that they knew by noon of the attack day that there would be no survivors to find in the rubble of the World Trade Center. The rescue efforts were a ruse instigated by Mayor Giulani to give the city time to get counselors in place and to let families adjust to the possibility of loss. I remember that Sylvia, who had lost a network news job in an Insider-like scenario, was as grateful as I for the lie.

I imagine 9-11 is better compared to Bull Run, or Gettysburg or any of the bloody battles of the Civil War. The enduring source of dull pain comes from the certainty that the enemy is not fighting for territory, but for ideology. It must have felt very futile to many Americans to fight over an idea like personhood. You can’t change a person’s mind by winning a battle. As long as one person is unconvinced, the evil lurks and has power. The Civil War did not resolve the issue of racism as the evils of Reconstruction and segregation proved. Legally, it took over a hundred years to realize the victory of Appomattox. How long both black and white America will suffer the long-term effects of slavery is anyone’s guess.

“The Pentagon? What is that about?” For the hundredth time this morning I am confused. “Alright, I’ve had enough. What the hell is going on?” I look at my roommate for answers but she has none. Neither does CNN, FOX, MSNBC or any of the networks. Waves of anger shake off the grip of shock. “Who did this? Why don’t they take credit for it?” We keep making trips to the refrigerator like movie fans at an all day horror marathon. Food is comforting.

Theoretically, an ideology could be stamped out by literally wiping out all of its adherents. Hence, the suggestion raised by some pundits that we should carpet bomb Afghan mountains. But who are we kidding? Who are the adherents of this kind of hatred against sky-scrapers and airline passengers? My sense is that they are many. I’ve been educated through the years by periodic news footage of Islamic boys dancing and chanting with rage at strange effigies and burning American flags. The impotence of their demonstrations has often struck me as obscene. Naked rage like any human nakedness should not be exposed in the marketplace.

Ideology can only be overcome by conversion. Conversion takes a long time and patience. You only bother to convert someone who is worth it to you. It is so much easier just to kill them. If only we could kill them all. But I am horrified by the thought even as it flashes across my mind. We wouldn’t kill them all even if we could. We are not them.

A reporter interviews a priest in front of the rubble. The priest’s black garb is strangely gray with the pulverized dust of the Towers. There are particles of thousands of people in that dust. After a few preliminary questions, the reporter forgets his training and his humanity spills out at the foot of the rubble mountain. “How could God let this happen, Father?” The priest is moved by the man’s grief and touches his arm. Just then, God interjects. Four firemen carry a wounded man on a stretcher in the background. The priest points at the pile of rubble, “This isn’t God.” He points at the rescuers and their burden, “That is.” The reporter weeps in a strange kind of relief, “Yes. You’re right. Thank you, Father.” I weep too. What has happened here?

I resent every effort to glean lessons from 9-11. We don’t sit at the mouth of hell for instruction. The only lesson is to convict us that there is a mouth of hell and that were it not for the presence of a greater good, we would all be swallowed by the darkness.

Prayer everywhere. Prayer on Capitol Hill. In a display that was unthinkable just a week ago, now Daschel, Kennedy, Lott and Armey linked arm-in-arm sing “God Bless America” on the Capitol steps. The President calls for national prayer services. Thousands of neophyte believers stream into the Church where I work for a time of prayer at noon on the 14th. The minister directs them to sing a song in one of the hymnals. In front of me, a row of leather clad professionals from the studio down the hill look at each other in confusion. “What is a hymnal?” I am weeping again.

Has God abandoned us? The bizarre spectacle of our public officials suddenly leading us all in prayer reveals the truth. We are not used to prayer in public. We have abandoned God. Will He return to us now? Are prayers issued in fear and terror heard? Will God be fooled? Ah, but He knows we are sheep. The Shepherd does not sneer at the sheep who bleat in fear during a storm.

It is finally night and the cameras in NYC relent in their ceaseless combing of Ground Zero. I need to distract myself until morning when we can count on more televised pictures to fill the hours. Walking outside, the loveliness of the warm L.A. evening strikes me as unfair and inappropriate. Just then a police helicopter surges overhead sweeping the street with a bright light. For the next several weeks, the helicopters are constantly overhead. Everyone who works in Hollywood is absolutely sure the industry is on a terrorist hit list somewhere. Lots of people in entertainment are weathering intense survivor guilt. “It’s our fault they hate us.”

God Bless America Indeed

Some last impressions of the time that I wish to never forget.

The President walks out alone to the mound at Yankee Stadium. Before the eyes of the world, he stands vulnerable. Takes his time, and sights the catcher and pitches a perfect strike to open the World Series…

Those firemen and policemen stay in Tower One even after Tower Two collapses. They continue to race upward. The gravelly last words of one such hero pours out of a brother’s walkie-talkie, “There are still people up there. We can’t leave them.”

The passengers on Flight 93 become aware that they are being used as human missiles. They take a vote.

To the last Americans. De Toqueville had written two hundred years ago about this strange propensity of Americans, “They think that any problem can be solved if only they get together and take a vote.” They decide to die so that other Americans will be spared.

Freedom makes heroism possible. The essence of heroism is in exercising a choice. The hero’s choice is to prefer another’s life to his own. Aristotle wrote that because the state exists to allow men to become virtuous, freedom with all of its pitfalls must be preferred, because there is no virtue without choice. We had become cynical about our countrymen, but the events of 9-11 have surprised us all. We are still more than decadent. Our instincts are still to save life, to give to those in need, to draw together in times of tragedy, to do the right thing even when those who oppose us operate under no such limits.

One last recollection. It is late in September. Fairfax Boulevard is typically frenzied with traffic and pedestrians. Approaching a crowded cross street, I see a plastic car flag flapping through the air, landing in the middle of the intersection. And then a miracle happens. The car ahead of me stops in front of the green light. Hazard lights flash and then a middle-aged woman emerges grim and resolute. She makes her way toward the flag, walking in the center of the intersection. All the cars slide to a stop. Windows are rolled down and a gathering applause fills the air. The woman picks up the flag and pivoting around to all of us, she waves it high in the air. Car horns add quick pulses to the applause as she walks back to her car. As traffic starts up, I am weeping again.

Flags are our new vigil lights. Every flag that waves is suddenly a prayer that America will recall the blessings of God. Freedom, not license. Community not diversity. Prosperity to make virtue possible. Speech to utter the truth. Opportunity to advance human potential and achievement. God bless America indeed.

Fawn, Pander, Blather

It seems hugely anti-climactic to end my two year movie review silence for the likes of the new Julia Robert's soft-focus orgy Eat, Pray, Love. (Hmmmm... I'm a bit out of practice. Have I just tipped my hand a bit here as to how I felt about the film?)

The main flaw of the piece may proceed from the nature of the source material itself. The movie was preposterously, stylishly, Hollywood big-budgety, and insultingly banal. And while a scriptwriter always has the duty of making the source material better, still, sometimes, that is an impossible task. I mean, this is a book with a title that could be found scrawled as a caveman grunt on a Stone Age wall: "Me man thing. Me eat, do rain dance, have sex." (Call me judgmental, but I'm taking the tack that the "love" and "pray" presented in the movie are largely not. They're kind of pagan perversions of these activities. They did get the "eat" right, though, which has everything to do with the fact that that part of the film was in Italy, where they truly are geniuses with food. All the evidence is to the contrary that India and Bali are geniuses with the Deity and self-donation respectively. )

And, I'm not just complaining that the resolution (I can't bring myself to write "answers") that the movie offers is lame. The very questions that the film proposes to be asking are banal.

Eat, Pray, Love is not a journey of a woman in search of her soul. It's really the travelogue of tax deductions of a New York writer in search of a book.

So, granting that the "big questions" weren't really the preoccupation of anybody making this movie, it remains to ask, "Why?" Hummmmmmmm... What was really driving the making of Eat, Pray, Love? Let me meditate for a minute. Hummmmmmmmmmm....

Still thinking here. What were they thinking? Hummmmm......

Are you tracking with me?

This movie is possibly the most shameless star vehicle since Julia's self-aggrandizing stint in Ocean's 12 in which she played her goddessness self. She pulled a similar thing in Notting Hill, "I'm just a girl. Standing in front of a boy. Asking for him to love her." waves of intense nausea) but that movie had enough other stengths to salvage the project as a whole. (Please Julia, go to healthy irony school. Or, in other words, the anti-Iraq war crowd called. They want their earnestness back.) It was embarrassing to watch so much Hollywood talent go through this ultimately masturbatory exercise in celebration of the god Celebrity. Particularly painful because of the lack of irony that took in a movie purporting to be about a spiritual quest.

At its core, Eat, Pray, Love relates the tedious pilgrimage of a selfish, immature narcissist (don't think of that as a redundancy as much as an emphasis) who manages to evade true spirituality (in the sense of sacrifice and repentance) true connection with other persons (in the sense of sacrifice and repentance) and plot points (in the sense of sacrifice, and well, repentance.... Note to self: There's a great new talk on the core of the successful transformational story arc there....).

Thoughts that ran through my head while viewing.... "Her poor husband!"......"We have seen this scene already. Three times."....."When people reject the good God, they always make themselves a bad one."....."I never thought of chanting loudly as a way of drowning out the voice of your conscience.".... "She's a succubus."......"Did she just say that awful bad dialogue or was I dozing?"......"Need pasta."....."Something is wrong with a religion that leaves you toothless and unable to use a copy machine."...."Getting your friends to write checks is not a selfless act."....."Her husband should be glad he is rid of her."....

Should I talk about the false religion exemplified in the line from the film, "God is in me AS ME." No, God is in you to draw you to Him. We are not the Godhead. We aren't even headed for losing our identity in the Godhead because he loves us as individuals. When Oprah interviewed Julia for the movie she asked her, "So, what's your favorite food? What's your favorite pray?" as though every kind of prayer is fine as long as it makes you feel, what? Heard? Validated? Sated - the way the movie characters sate themselves with food and sex? My dark side had me imagining Julia answering, "Oh, well, I like to torture little animals while playing the soundtrack to Tommy." And Oprah would surely have responded with her wide eyes, "And does that work for you?"

See, your "favorite pray" is not neutral. It is good if it leads you to lay down your life for your friends. It is bad if it leads you to "forgive yourself" for abandoning your son, or your husband, or if it leads you to justify fornicating with a virtual stranger, or into concluding that basically you can do whatever you need to do as long as it floats your boat. God, please tell me I will live to see this Boomer lie scorned in the popular culture!

This movie is plodding, repetitive, and anti-climactic. There is an artificial inciting incident - the main character's festering narcissism erupts and makes her regurgitate her marriage vows - there is no character establishment - they seemd to think we woud be on the character's side because she is Julia...note to producers: ref. Mary Riley - there are no sub plots - there is no imagery - there is no suspense - there is nothing surprising - there is no ending, the audience torture just stops. Thank God, but really, inexcusable.

In summation, Eat, Pray, Love is a bad movie in terms of it's storytelling and in terms of what it says. Or, um, what it doesn't say. Or, um, that is, what it says really badly. Oh, just eat, pray, pass.

Monday, August 16, 2010

A Call to Common Sense

Now that Obama has weighed in on the mosque at Ground Zero, it seems to me that we all get to.

The gist of a lot of the left leaning blogs and pundits seems to be that people against the mosque are so full of fear and hate that we are willing to void our own Bill of Rights to stop it.

I think it is, well, hateful to acuse all people who are against the Ground Zero mosque of being simply full of hate. Isn’t that just repeating the same cycle of oversimplifying and demonizing which you are decrying?

It is far too dark a picture of America to contend that the 67% of people against the mosque are just consumed in hate and fear. There is so much more going on here. Namely, pain.

My mother used to say, “If you know someone has a sore toe, you should go out of your way not to step on it.” 9/11 is still much more than a sore toe. It is still a horror.

I wish I believed that the mosque would be an interfaith community center to promote love and understanding. The truth is, the principle driver behind the mosque has refused to condemn Hamas. He seemed in one statement to excuse the attacks of 9/11 as something America had earned by her foreign policy. A decade or so ago, a bunch of Muslims told us that they just wanted to learn how to fly airliners, so we taught them how. One of the hardest blows of the 9/11 tragedy was that they used our own open society against us. Dare we trust them again to use our own 1st amendment against us? Excuse me for being leery.

In an article in The Atlantic kind of pathetically called, "What Obama Meant to Say About the Mosque" (who says the elite media don't see themselves as defenders of Obama?), this liberal writer notes in an idealistic frenzy, "What could be a more powerful counter-argument to the idea that the West is warring with Islam than the American president endorsing the construction of a mosque a few blocks away from (our) sacred site?"

This writer is making the mistake of making the Islamic world in his own image: "What could be a more powerful counter-argument to the idea that the West is warring with Islam than the American president endorsing the construction of a mosque a few blocks away from a sacred site?....See, Islamic fundamentalists aren't engaging in an argument. They are engaging in jihad. Hearing Mayor Bloomberg say that the mosque would make Muslims around the world stop fearing us reminded me of Neville Chamberlain waiving an agreement from Hitler and proclaiming that, "We will have peace in our time!"

I was terribly impressed four years ago to visit the Holy Land. Beside nearly every Christian and Jewish holy site, the Muslims have built a mosque. These mosques scream the call to prayer five times a day and make quiet meditation and celebration of the mysteries of our faith nearly impossible. There are seven in the Old City of Jerusalem alone. They go off in syncopated fashion during the day and almost made me crazy. A member of the Knesset noted to me that the mosques are a provocation, and in the minds of the Islamic faithful, they are a sign of Islam’s domination over its enemies. Part of me thinks that a mosque at 9/11 would be a way of giving succor to the millions of Muslims who hate us as the great Satan and cheered the Towers going down.

I am less interested in whether Muslims have a right to build a mosque at 9/11. (And that they might is not as cut and dry as the appeal to 1st Amendment freedoms would have it seem. There is loads of legal precedent for individual property rights being ceded to the common good. You can’t build a bar on your property if there is a school nearby. My grandfather lost our family farm so Waterville, ME could build an airport. (They never actually did.) The Supreme Court ruling in Kelo a few years back said that property rights could be voided if a town could make more taxes by seizing the land and dedicating it to another use…) But whether there is a legal right to build it, this seems to me to not be the moment. The terrible grief and horror is still too fresh. America has not even rebuilt on the 9/11 site yet. The Freedom Tower is still on the drawing board. The Russian Orthodox Church that was destroyed at Ground Zero is still waiting to be rebuilt. It seems to me inappropriate that a mosque would come first.

It is too easy and even unkind to mistake the pain of our people for hate. The memory of those innocent people falling to the ground is still too raw.

Thursday, August 05, 2010

Another Nice Review

Here's a nice review of a book for which I wrote a chapter. They had some kind words for my piece:

Barbara Nicolosi’s chapter on shepherding artists was one of my favorites. She offers suggestions for identifying, teaching, nurturing, and challenging artists to pursue excellence in their field “for the general edification of the body of Christ and for the world,” because beauty and art, when done excellently, can “open a channel of revelation between God and man.”
Thanks to Arts Books.

Eden on West on JPII on TOB

You either know what I mean by that headline or you don't.

For those who do, there is a good discussion going on over at Sr. Lorraine's blog. The discussion centers around the Theology of the Body movement in the Catholic Church, and specifically, Christopher West's interpretation of John Paul II's work in the area of sexuality. The (great and case anybody wants to know what I think of her...) Dawn Eden has recently completed a Masters thesis critiquing Christopher West's work. Because West has attained to celebrity status in the American Catholic Church, Dawn's thesis is being met with what seems to me to be knee-jerk dismissal, and even hostility.

I don't really have too much of a dog in this race. The theology of sexuality is not my area of expertise or training. But, I did do a fairly rigorous study of JPII's writings on sexuality as regards art for my work in Hollywood. Also, I have been a catechetics teacher for ten years, and before that was a member of a religious community for ten years, and before that, I did study Catholic theology and philosophy for four years as an undergrad.

I am always leery of the panacea impulse in the Church. Bandwagons and circumspection don't often co-exist. I have used West's work with my catechumens, basically because they couldn't seem to plumb and appreciate JPII's work. Maybe that should have been a red flag right there. Maybe this subject isn't one that tends towards being popularized. Anyway, here is my comment from the discussion at Sr. Lorriane's blog.

I have found JPII's insights on shame to be brilliant and helpful. Love and Responsibility is a tough work, but I was very glad that I made myself plow through it. I have used many of his ideas with my students especially in the area of the ethics of using the human body in art. Unfortunately, unaided, very few students/catechumens are able to derive anything cohesive from the work. This opened the door for West to enter in and make himself a go-between. This seemed to me to be good - until the work of mediating became a whole cottage industry and West himself a celebrity needing to push past clarifying the Pope into waters he wasn't prepared by training to navigate.

I see West's efforts mainly helpful for people who are completely new to Catholicism, or who have been poorly catechized. He seems to have mastered over-simplification of teaching to people who are looking for that in the realm of sexual behavior. I teach RCIA and I know that very often, our catechumens just want to know what the Church says they can or can't do. Christopher West is there with a helpful list.

Success has encouraged Chris to push more and more into developing an always more populist approach to the Theology of the Body. I find the results of the straining after populism in some TOB speakers to be lacking in reverence, and even crass. As St. Paul said, "Some things should never be mentioned among you." I also like Emily Dickinson here: "They speak of hallowed things aloud, and embarrass my dog."

I would also suggest that the new evangelization doesn't mean finding a populist approach to dogma. My sense of what the Pope meant by the term is that we need to find new forums for the same message.

In the interests of putting something specific out there for people to debate.....I think one of West's most troubling over-simplifications surrounds the issue of the lack of conscious control that surrounds sex. In one talk I heard him give, Chris seemed to want to eliminate the loss of control as always being akin to the sin of lust. This is an error. There is a lack of control that humans can experience that proceeds from joy. Laughter is the same kind of lack of control. It isn't sinful for human beings to desire the lack of control that comes from joy.

But even this error isn't original to West. St. Augustine had the same fear of sexual desire. He wrote that Adam had perfect control of all of his body's functions. In other words, Adam never laughed?

Finally, one of the things that has made me circumspect about West's work is the way that it has been championed by the disciples of the now disgraced sexual pervert Fr. Maciel. Regnum Christi and Legion of Christ sycophants like the National Catholic Register have been a huge part of the cheering chorus for TOB and West. This isn't Chris' fault, but he would do well to extricate himself publicly from all the tentacles of the very bad tree of Maciel.

There is room in the Church for Dawn Eden and others to question and challenge any popular movement that purports to popularize Catholic theology.
I mean to impute no ill motives to West or TOB here. Basically just inviting more discussion. (If people can't do that without insults than they should delete their comments before I do.)

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Over 1,000,000 Served!

This blog just passed that rather cool benchmark. Thanks so all of you who have stopped by.

More soon.

Monday, August 02, 2010

Turn, Turn, Turn

Here's the long version of my article on the Boomers and their cultural legacy. Thanks again to The Anchoress for coaxing this out of me.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Turn, Turn, Turn

It's been a couple of years since I have written anything for publication. There are a bunch of reasons for the sabbatical and maybe I'll get around to writing about it here before long.

But recently, I got a personal request from Elizabeth Scalia over at First Things to contribute to a series on Patheos about the future of religions. When I thought about the pastoral challenge for the Church in terms of the culture, it seemed clear that the biggest trend impacting art and storytelling is all wrapped up in the changing of the generational guards. Culturally, the Boomers are finally losing their clout and the Gen Xers and Millennials are struggling to define themselves. I'm suggesting that this will mean a two-sided pastoral challenge for the Church.

First is the effect on the gargantuan Boomer generation of a lifetime of listening almost exclusively to their own voices. The movies being created by and for the Boomers today are a very unentertaining mix of "Never regret! Life starts at 70!" and "Life is a cruel joke, ‘full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.'" Movies like It's Complicated showcase a bunch of grey hairs still acting badly, swallowing their shame, and ignoring their appropriate role as the wise mentors of the younger generations. The Dorian Greyish dark echo of this kind of story, are movies likeThere Will Be Blood and the chillingly titled No Country for Old Men, in which the characters' lives of narcissism and greed devolve into cynicism and brutality.
This article is a redacted version of a larger piece that will be coming out on another site shortly. The longer piece includes some yummy incendiary quotes from recent movies including this one between Millennial, Natalie and Boomer, Ryan, from Up in the Air.

Natalie: Would you stop condescending for one second? Or is that one of the principles of your bullshit philosophy?

Ryan: Bullshit philosophy?

Natalie: You’ve set up a way of life that basically makes it impossible for you to make human connections…. Jesus. I need to grow up? You’re a twelve year old! (From Up in the Air, written and directed by Jason Reitman)

I'll link to it when the whole thing is up.

I fully expect that this article will bring down a hard rain of indignant rebukes from Boomers. Which will kind of prove my point. Indignant denial has been raised to a high art form by the Woodstock generation. I should say that my piece is not meant to be an indictment of the whole generation. My task was considering the Boomers who have had the clout in the culture. I'm thinking mainly of the folks who "culturized" the Sexual Revolution - the angry, sneering, self-righteous, dogmatic folks for whom everything in storytelling and art (not to mention education, business and government) is politics and power. These are the folks who spent the better part of my life ridiculing me and my family and friends and advocating whatever allowed them to best live out the exhortation of the serpent, "But you shall be like god, deciding for yourself what is good and evil."

Here is the rest of the piece. Let me know what you think. Many thanks to Elizabeth Scalia for playing Barnabbas here.

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

National Day of Prayer for Hollywood


The Entertainment Industry and LA Churches are gathering together to PRAY!

Join us on May 6th, from 7:30 – 9:30pm. The evening’s prayer leaders include Pastor Lloyd Ogilvie, Dr. Greg Waybright, Rev. Rankin Wilbourne, and some entertainment industry professionals. There will also be incredible music, including The Hollywood Mass Choir and much more. We invite you to experience and participate in this gathering of prayer for our country, our state, our city, our churches and our media.

National Day of Prayer:
Thursday, May 6th
7:30 – 9:30pm,
Bel Air Presbyterian Church,
16221 Mulholland Drive, LA, CA 90029

The Entertainment Industry Christian ministries and the local LA Churches are partnering on THURSDAY, MAY 6th at Bel Air Presbyterian Church for a National Day of Prayer Celebration. The third annual partnering of industry professionals and local churches at Bel Air Pres. marks a growing unity of Christians in our city to gather together to pray for God’s blessings on His people.

For more information, list of Prayer Leaders, or directions,
visit or call 818.788.4210 x550

Act One Alumni Praise Report

Kudos and best wishes to Bob Martinez (WP-00) and his writing partner who recently sold their original screenplay, currently titled “Deathgames,” to the Motion Picture Corporation of America. Principle photography begins May 5th in Baton Rouge and stars Samuel L. Jackson, Kellan Lutz (of the “Twilight” saga) and Daniel Dae Kim (of “Lost”.) The movie is set to come out next year.

Everything is proceeding as I had foreseen.

Friday, April 30, 2010

At Focus on the Family...

What a lovely place and group of people. I spoke to a gathering of the staff and then did a few interviews. There will be a podcast coming up on Plugged In. Look for it somewhere here.

I'm off to CT tomorrow for a couple days and then on my way to Spain on Wednesday. There is a symposium being hosted by the Catholic University in Valencia next week, at which I will be speaking. My talk will be on heros and the movies. It will be a development of a talk I first gave a couple years ago to the San Diego Christian Writers Guild. I've been warming to the topic even more in recent years and am looking forward to presenting on the topic in Spain.

Eventually, I will get back to blogging regularly.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Boston Area: Cinematic Storytelling Workshop

Skip the BBQ on Memorial Day! Come and talk movie writing with us!

Thursday, April 22, 2010

See Barb in Boston!

If you are serious about writing and producing movies, skip the BBQ on Memorial Day and come up to Gordon College in Boston!

The Craft and Business of Cinematic Storytelling:
A Day-longWorkshop for Writers and Producers (And Those Who Want to Be)
Memorial Day, May 31, 2010, 9am-5pm

Gordon College, 255 Grapevine Road, Wenham, MA 01984

Featuring Hollywood writers, instructors and script consultants,
Charles Robert Carner and Barbara Nicolosi

- What makes a movie great and why does the world need them?
- How do you craft screen moments that will haunt the viewer?
- What’s the best way to introduce a character to the audience?
- What kind of ending sends the viewer spinning away satisfied and delighted?

It’s no secret. The global movie audience is starved for great stories. As the generations change in Hollywood, the impulse to find fresh storytelling voices has never been greater. And the opportunities for getting a movie made and out to the audience have never been broader. But if ten million YouTube movies have taught us anything, it’s that in the end, excellence of craft, talent, and a brilliant story will mean the difference between a few minutes of fame, and a lasting career in entertainment.

Lots of people talk about how to write great stories, but few thinkers bring the practical experience, broad societal vision, and dynamic articulation of Charles Robert Carner and Barbara Nicolosi. Together, they have over forty years of experience in Hollywood in producing, directing, screenwriting, script doctoring, and mentoring young filmmakers. For the first time, they will be together on a public stage in Boston, for an intense day that will delight anyone who loves the movies, and challenge to the next level anybody who wants to make a serious go at the craft of cinema storytelling.

Limited to thirty participants! Register today by emailing! (You will be sent an evite invitation.)

Specific Topics to be covered:

- Should it Be a Book or a Movie? : Elements of a Great Screen Story
- Creating Haunting Moments on the Screen
- Creating Rich, Intriguing and Compelling Characters
- Movies that Really End and Don’t Just Stop
- The Current Commercial Landscape
- How to Get Started As a Screenwriter or Producer
- The Ethics and Societal Meaning of the Movies

Cost for the Workshop, 9:00am – 5:00-pm
- $125 per person
- $100 for students with ID
- (Optional) $15 lunch
- (Optional) $25 for fifteen minute one on one meeting

Barbara Nicolosi is an screenwriter and has an M.A. in Cinema from Northwestern University. She is the co-writer of the 2011 Lionsgate/MGM release Mary, Mother of the Christ, wrote Polosuasion for IMMI Pictures in Beverly Hills, and is currently writing Fatima, Miracle and Message for Origin Entertainment of Manhattan Beach, CA. She is an Adjunct professor of cinema in the Seaver Graduate School at Pepperdine University, in Malibu, CA and lectures on cinema and screenwriting at universities and conferences around the world. Barbara was the Founding Director, and is now the Chair, Emeritus of the acclaimed Act One program in Hollywood, CA. As such, she has been instrumental in launching hundreds of young people into Hollywood careers as writers, producers and executives. Barbara has also worked in the industry as a Director of Project Development, a documentary researcher, a theater producer, and as a consultant on features and television shows including The Passion of the Christ, A Foreign Affair, and Saving Grace. She is the co-editor of the 2006 Baker Books release Behind the Screen: Hollywood Insiders on Faith and Culture.

Charles Robert Carner was the valedictorian of his film school class at Columbia College in Chicago, before movie to Los Angeles for a long and successful career as a writer, director and producer for both television and the big screen. He has personally written over fifty screenplays, and has directed twelve of his projects for some of Hollywood’s top companies. Some of Charlie’s credits as a writer and director include, the Lionsgate 2008 release, “Witless Protection,” the award-winning Showtime feature, “The Fixer,” and one of the highest rated cable movies of all time, “Crossfire Trail,” for TNT. He has been a jury member for the Angelus Awards Student Film Festival, and is a member of both the Writers Guild of America and the Directors Guild of America, and is on the Board of the City of Angels Film Festival and Family Theater Productions in Hollywood.

Directions to Gordon
From Points West:
- Take an east-bound highway (e.g., Mass Turnpike, Route 90) to Route 95 North
- Stay on Route 95 North until it separates from Route 128
- Take Route 128 North towards Gloucester, passing through Peabody, Danvers and Beverly
- Take Exit 17, Grapevine Road
- Turn left at end of ramp, going 0.6 mile to main entrance

From Points North:
- Take Route 95 South to Route 128 North
- Remain on Route 128 North, passing through Peabody, Danvers and Beverly
- Take Exit 17, Grapevine Road
- Turn left at end of ramp, going 0.6 mile to main entrance

From Points South:
- Stay on Route 95 North until it separates from Route 128.
- Take Route 128 North towards Gloucester, passing through Peabody, Danvers and Beverly
- Take Exit 17, Grapevine Road
- Turn left at end of ramp, going 0.6 mile to main entrance

From Logan Airport:
- Leaving the Boston/Logan Airport, look for signs for 93 North
- Take 93 North to Route 95 North
Follow the directions (above) for "From Points South"

Another Act One Alumni Movie!

Dear Snowpeople --

Well in case you were wondering — finally — there are SNOWMEN in the forecast!

We have been “officially” invited, and SNOWMEN has just been “officially” accepted to make it’s WORLD PREMIERE this Saturday, April 24th at the TRIBECA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL.

SNOWMEN was one of 5500 entries and the only family film of the 85 films selected.

Below are all the screening times, location and demographic breakdowns for Tribeca. Would love you to pass along and invite any friends/family/associates/Studio Execs/wealthy investors/fans/facebook stalkers etc who might be in the greater NY area.

Saturday, April 24, 2:00 pm, SVA 1 333 West 23rd Street (between 8th and 9th Avenues) New York, NY 10011 (Silas): Seats 479 In competition for the “Audience Award”. This will be our “premiere” screening and will have Ray Liotta, Josh Flitter and Bobby Coleman(other cast TBA) in attendance. We need this screening to be filled! A small private party is TBD.

Sunday, April 25, 12:00 pm, VEC-01 Village East Cinemas (VEC) 181 Second Avenue (at 12th Street) New York, NY 10003: Seats 370 In competition for the “Audience Award”. Stars Ray Liotta and Bobby Coleman will be in attendance.

Thursday, April 29, 2:30 pm Village East Theater 3 Village East Cinemas (VEC) 181 Second Avenue (at 12th Street) New York, NY 10003: Seats 155. In competition for the “Audience Award”. Rob Kirbyson will be in attendance. This screening is a smaller setting for those who would benefit from a more intimate experience of the film.

To purchase tickets:

Let's support Robert Kirbyson and his first feature film DEBUT!

Our director Rob Kirbyson just finished building the new website. Yes, he writes, directs...and designs websites. It's here

The festival put up a transcribed interview with Rob on their website. (The festival is tracking hits to this link so every click counts. Thanks!)

Meet Robert Kirbyson, director of the TFF 2010 family film Snowmen, a sweet movie that is one of the few TFF 2010 films perfect for families!

More info here:

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Movie Night

Dear Popcorn Lovers,

It's that time again. You're invited to another Fourth Friday Movie Night this Friday, April 23rd. This one's a little different.

We'll be watching the Allen Wolf movie In My Sleep on it's opening night.

Executive produced by an Act One faculty member and connected in various ways with the Act One community, the film is described by The Hollywood Reporter as "a well-stirred titillation that will appeal to twenty-something audiences and movie-buff viewers who appreciate the pursued-pursuer, Hitchcockian style of suspense."

Instead of meeting at the Act One Office, we'll be meeting at the Laemmle Sunset 5, 8000 Sunset Blvd in West Hollywood, 90046:


It's probably a good idea to get tickets in advance, just in case it's sold out.

Buy ($11) tickets here:

Let's try to meet in the lobby at 6:40, 30 minutes before the show. Let me know if you're coming so I can look for you.

Hope to see all ya'll there.

Act One staff

Saturday, April 03, 2010

Still Stirring it Up

Here is an interview that I did a few months ago for the web site Patheos. I expect lots of email for suggesting that EWTN and CBN are doing more harm to the Church culturally than Hustler and Big Love.

Bring it on.

Some newish thoughts here as I have been in semi-interview retirement this past year and have had time to put some things together. Here's a new one:

I am a political animal in many ways. It's a big hobby for me. But I have, with the rest of my generation, almost completely lost confidence that real good in society can be achieved through politics. I don't think that's the pathway to lasting good. I think that politics can clear the field for good to be done, but I don't think it actually achieves anything. I think culture is what creates good in the world. That's the realm of the artist: the storyteller, the musician, the poet. And I see myself as a storyteller.

Also some of my favorite beasts to beat. Like this familiar and (beloved) psychoses:

Things are changing, too. The boomers are dying and ceding power, and the power is going into the very troubled, introspective hands of the Generation Xers, people like Jason Reitman, who made Juno and what I consider this year's best film, Up in the Air. These folks are completely ambivalent about the promises of the sexual revolution. They don't have other options, but they know the way they were raised was wrong.

You're starting to see this in so many movies. I think four or five of this year's academy award nominees are very hopeful pictures. They're seeded with hope, not infected with the kind of cynicism that the boomer generation had come to. The boomers, after exhausting themselves with every kind of sexual license and permissiveness and me-centeredness, basically had come out with a "whatever" attitude in their movies. That is not the spirit of the Gen-Xers

Thanks much to the very patient Timothy Dalrympal for transcribing my hour-long rant.

Monday, March 08, 2010

For the Beauty of the Church

Just released! I have a chapter in this book called something like "Identifying Real Artists and Ways to Shepherd Them." The book was based on a series of talks given at a wonderful symposium held a few Springs ago on Austin, TX. The book was compiled by the gracious and astute David Taylor and includes talks by great thinkers like Jeremy Begbe, Andy Crouch, Eugene Peterson. (The only real question is, what yours truly is doing in a book with all of them!?)

Here is an excerpt of my chapter, more of which is posted at David's blog:

As a precursor to answering this question, I want to lay out a few ideas about the nature of the beautiful, because beauty is the terrain of real artists, and one way to recognize them is if they dwell in this terrain….

Thomas Aquinas gave a definition of the beautiful that is still helpful and relevant seven centuries later. The beautiful, he said, is “wholeness, harmony, and radiance,” and these define the terrain of the artist.

Wholeness means nothing is missing. All parts are present, suggesting completeness. No one looks at the Pietà and says, “You know, Mary needs just a little more fringe around her veil. Oh well.” Or, people don’t listen to Mozart’s Ave Verum and say, “Needs another high G in there. Oh well.” There’s something about these works that suggest completeness. Wholeness also means there is nothing extra, nothing gratuitous that isn’t an essential part of the whole. Isn’t that one of the primary complaints about so many movies? “Gratuitous sex and violence.” That is, too often there is no context for these things in a project, so it feels to the audience like they were just slapped in there to try and distract from some flaw in the storytelling. A beautiful work has nothing gratuitous.

And what do we get from wholeness? We are all creatures who have been cut off from our source. There is always a partial emptiness, a longing that can only be filled by divine love. As St. Augustine wrote in his Confessions, “You have made us for yourself, O God, and our hearts are restless until they rest in You.” We yearn to cleave to the One, and when we experience completeness, we have a sense of being at home and at rest. So the beautiful gives us a sense of peace….

Anyway, if you are interested in how the Church got where she is with banality and the arts, and if you would like the beginnings of rumination about finding our way back to the beautiful, check out the book here.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Act One Inaugurates Movie Discussion Nights!

Hey Friends!

You are warmly invited to the inaugural Fourth Friday Movie Night at Act One.

It will be a relaxed and casual evening this Friday, February 26th at 7:30 pm.

We are going to watch Shadowlands, a movie based on a true story about C.S. Lewis. It stars Anthony Hopkins as C.S. Lewis and Debra Winger as Joy Gresham, the "feisty, abrasive New York divorcee whose sharp-edged, no-nonsense attitudes take Lewis by surprise."

We'll gather at the Act One office and watch the movie on the projector screen.

Beer and snacks will be plentiful. (Especially if you RSVP!)

Feel bring to bring your dinner if you are coming straight from work. We'll start the movie after some catch-up time.

This is not just for Act One alumni - please bring friends and significant others.

Reply to let me know if you are planning to come so I know how much food to get and how many chairs we'll need.

Act One Office: 2690 North Beachwood Drive, LA, CA 90058.

Looking forward to seeing you!

RSVP to Genevieve at Act One at 323-464-0815.

Monday, February 08, 2010

See Barb in Reno

I'm speaking to a group in Reno, this Thursday. It's the Catholic Busines Club and their meeting is at an ungodly hour - like 7am - for breakfast. They tell me you don't have to be in the club to attend the breakfast and speech.

Info here.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Announcing "Bump"

Here's a message I was forwarded by some friends. I am pleased to help get the word out.

In 1973, The U.S. Supreme Court gave women a choice. Thirty-seven years later, we're giving them a voice.

Yellow Line Studio announces the premiere of BUMP+, a web series that follows three women facing crisis pregnancies. The pilot is scheduled to launch on Friday, January 22, 2010. Thirteen episodes will follow in February and March; and the final cliffhanger is so unpredictable, even the writers and producers don't know how the series will end.

From Juno and Bella to Glee and Desperate Housewives, a woman's right to choose has been explored across the media landscape. What makes BUMP+different? We're letting the viewers decide how our characters' stories will end. We've opened the official website to comments and invited people to share their personal stories. Our team will craft the final episodes, including the ultimate decision about each pregnancy, based on audience feedback. This isn't a moral or political statement - it's an experiment to see if story can succeed where nearly four decades of angry rhetoric and political posturing have failed.

That experiment is already underway at A trailer for the pilot has attracted several comments and personal stories from viewers; and theYouTube, Facebook and Twitter following is growing quickly; and as someone with a strong commitment to quality, thought provoking entertainment, we'd like to invite you and your audience to be part of it. For more information, or to schedule an interview with members of the BUMP+ creative team, please contact me personally using the email address or phone number below, or visit our website.

Watch the episodes. Share your story. Join the conversation.


Lauri Deason, Marketing/Publicity


Thursday, January 07, 2010

New York Encounter

I am happy to spread the word of this event. I generally admire the Communion and Liberation movement.


Dear Friends,

I am very proud to invite you to the “New York Encounter” a weekend-long cultural festival of four exceptional events taking place on the weekend of January 16th.

“New York Encounter” - New York’s most “widely anticipated yearly cultural event” is organized by Communion and Liberation - the Catholic movement that organizes the annual Way of the Cross over the Brooklyn Bridge on Good Friday - and the Crossroads Cultural Center taking place the weekend of January 16th. Summaries of each presentation are below and details are available on the attached flier and at the New York Encounter website:

The “New York Encounter” cultural festival opens with a presentation on the Rimini Meeting - a week-long public cultural Catholic event that has been taking place in Italy for 30 years - at the New York Marriot Marquis hotel in Times Square on Saturday, January 16th at 8:30 pm. The presentation is titled: Rimini Meeting for Friendship Among Peoples: An Extraordinary Example of Faith lived in the Public Square. This event is free and open to the public.

On Sunday, January 17th at 2:30pm, there will be a presentation on “Charity.” The presentation - “Charity: Is It Possible to Live This Way?” - is a discussion on charity in light of the newly published third volume of Msgr. Luigi Giussani’s book Is It Possible to live This Way?” The presentation will take place at the New York Marriott Marquis in Times Square and the speakers are: author and columnist Msgr. Lorenzo Albacete; Fr. Julian Carron, President of the Fraternity of Communion and Liberation; and Dr. Stanley Hauerwas, theologian at the Divinity School of Duke University. This event is free and open to the public.

On Sunday evening at 8:00pm, Carl Theodor Dreyer’s silent film masterpiece, The Passion of Joan of Arc, will be shown at the New York Marriott Marquis hotel in Times Square. The film will be accompanied by the Metro Chamber Orchestra and the Communion and Liberation choir. Tickets for this rare presentation are a modest $30 and can be ordered

New York Encounter will close with a presentation on literature titled “Words and the ‘I’: How Literature Helps Us to judge the world and our Experience.” The presentation will take place on Monday, January 18 at 10:00am at the Hyatt Regency in Jersey City at 2 Exchange Place. Travel to the Hyatt Regency is as simple as taking a short 15 minute Path train ride from the World Trade Center site in downtown Manhattan. This event is free and open to the public.

I urge you to “come and see” how Christ continues to manifest His magnetic beauty in the annual “New York Encounter”cultural festival!

In Christ,

Henry Artis