Finer Words…”Tense Present”


I received Bryan A. Garner’s new book, Nino and Me: My Unusual Friendship with Justice Antonin Scalia today.  As I have examined this book as I do most books I receive, I read the inside cover, the table of contents, the dedication, and the acknowledgements.  In this brief perusal, I have learned of the friendship Bryan Garner, David Foster Wallace and Justice Antonin Scalia.  Also, in this glance I learned of a beautiful essay written by David Foster Wallace, “Tense Present”, published in the Harper’s Magazine in 2001.  I hope you enjoy reading the essay for the first time or rereading it.  I hope Garner’s memoir is as fulfilling as the first ten minutes.



The Silence of the Empty Crib

The silence of the empty crib,

Foretells the silence of the tomb.

Eve who came not from Adam’s rib,

Prepared each bedd with love and broom.

The former an Advent of joy

The latter an Advent of rue.

We anticipate not a toy,

But the Savior who came for you.

Who is he that the world must wait?

Who is he that fishermen mourn?

He is the one who comes tonight.

He is the one who rose this morn.

Mary come see your babe the Christ.

Mary come see the risen Christ.

-Chris Teague


Spring and Fall

Spring and Fall

By Gerard Manley Hopkins

        to a young child

Márgarét, áre you gríeving

Over Goldengrove unleaving?

Leáves like the things of man, you

With your fresh thoughts care for, can you?

Ah! ás the heart grows older

It will come to such sights colder

By and by, nor spare a sigh

Though worlds of wanwood leafmeal lie;

And yet you wíll weep and know why.

Now no matter, child, the name:

Sórrow’s spríngs áre the same.

Nor mouth had, no nor mind, expressed

What heart heard of, ghost guessed:

It ís the blight man was born for,

It is Margaret you mourn for.

Gifts for a Father

Fives gift ideas that any father would smile upon receiving:

1.  A nice fountain pen and a bottle of ink.

Three places to begin your search: Levenger,, Dromgoole’s.

2.  A reliable fly-fishing pole.

Take a gander at these sites to find such a rod: Orvis, L.L. Bean,

3. A rugged manly journal for writing in the evening or to jot notes throughout the day.

Dig one up at Rogue Journals, Colsen Keane, Robert Mason.

4. The latest poetry collection by Wendell Berry.

5.  A good pipe and tobacco.

Procure such gifts at Pipes and Cigars, Smoking Pipes, the Briar Shoppe.

A Place Within- St. John Paul II

The Place Within
St. John Paul II
My place is in You, your place is in me.  Yet it is the place of all
men.  And I am not diminished by them in this place.  I am more
alone—more than if there were no one else—I am alone with
myself.  At the same time I am multiplied by them in the Cross
which stood on this place.  This multiplying with now diminishment
remains a mystery: the Cross goes against the current.  In it
numbers retreat before Man.
     In you—how did the Cross come to be?
     Now let us walk down the narrow steps as if down a tunnel
through a wall.  Those who once walked down the slope stopped
at the place where now there is a slab.  They anointed your body
and then laid it in a tomb.  Through your body you had a place
on earth, the outward place of the body you exchanged for a
place within, saying: “Take, all of you, and eat of this.”
     The tradition of that place within relates to all the outward
places on Earth to which I came on pilgrimage.  You chose this
place centuries ago—the place in which You gave yourself and accept me.

A Pope’s Poem



I have seen over the years a title of St. John Paul II’s poetry but never really looked for a copy.  Over Spring Break, I came across a copy of his poetry and few other books at a Half-Price Books store in Houston.  I cannot say enough about visiting and spending time in a brick and mortar book store.  I do 99% of my searches and research about authors and books beginning at, and end up doing about 90% of my book purchases there as well, but it is that 10% that I relish in spending time in a bookstore, particularly stores that focus in used books.  I always have my handy list available my God given noodle, but just in case I am stumped, I pull out my more immediate list I keep on Evernote or if I have gone through it and still have time to search further, I pull up my lists on


Cardinal Ratzinger (Pope Benedict XVI), in 2003 had a formal presentation at the Vatican of then Pope John Paul II’s poetry in which relating how inspiration of verse came to the poet pope from his preaching the Lenten retreat for Pope Paul VI and the Curia in 1976:

In this connection several sentences came to mind that were written by Karol Wojtyla in 1976 when he preached the retreat for Paul VI and the Curia.

“He related the case of a physicist with whom he had carried on a long discussion, and at the end of it, had said to him: ‘from the point of view of my science and its method I’m an atheist …’ However, in a letter, the same man wrote: ‘Every time I find myself before the majesty of nature, of the mountains, I feel that HE exists'”.


Perusing the poetry collection over Spring Break as well as preparing for Holy Week, the poem “The Place Within” captivated my attention as to the Holy Father’s interior sight and his ability to draw a reader into the poet’s sight as well as be able to reflect on where that reader’s interior sight is pointing without the guide of these poetic words.

The Place Within
St. John Paul II
My place is in You, your place is in me.  Yet it is the place of all
men.  And I am not diminished by them in this place.  I am more
alone—more than if there were no one else—I am alone with
myself.  At the same time I am multiplied by them in the Cross
which stood on this place.  This multiplying with now diminishment
remains a mystery: the Cross goes against the current.  In it
numbers retreat before Man.
     In you—how did the Cross come to be?
     Now let us walk down the narrow steps as if down a tunnel
through a wall.  Those who once walked down the slope stopped
at the place where now there is a slab.  They anointed your body
and then laid it in a tomb.  Through your body you had a place
on earth, the outward place of the body you exchanged for a
place within, saying: “Take, all of you, and eat of this.”
     The tradition of that place within relates to all the outward
places on Earth to which I came on pilgrimage.  You chose this
place centuries ago—the place in which You gave yourself and accept me.





Manners, Barbarism, and the Presidency


Upon reading an Op-Ed in The Wall Street Journal by Neal Freeman reflecting on the birth of the William F. Buckley’s television show, The Firing Line.  He ponders the uniqueness of what Mr. Buckley was able to accomplish for more than 33 years and 1500 episodes, something that has not happened since nor is comparable on our vast cable news channels and even amongst the presidential candidates who all but one claim to truly know the intricacies of policy making.  I snickered and then even laughed aloud while I read Mr. Freeman’s reflection truly bringing Buckley back to life with a few large…over large and long words. Honestly, they were both short words but I had not a clue what they meant and had to use the dictionary. I enjoy using a dictionary, which usually moves me to ponder on other words that my eyes go over while searching for Mr. Buckley’s common vocabulary.  Mr. Freeman honors the time 50 years ago when Buckley made history running for mayor of New York City as he ponders the presidential primaries going on today.

Mr. Freeman’s reflections led to a few of my own: Stumbling into wonder and the seeds of an intellectual life…I remember vividly discovering In the midst of a dimly lit, musty smelling, Ye Olde Books, The local used bookstore I haunted with my mom in downtown Humble.  Where she and I would visit at least weekly to trade paperbacks for more paperbacks…and I was left to wander. I discovered three authors during my many visits that still influence me in some way: Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, J.R.R. Tolkien, and Barry Goldwater. I still read Doyle and Tolkien but have moved on from Goldwater to William F. Buckley (the transformation took about five years from ages 12 to 17).


I still wear my navy blue NR t-shirts that I purchased upon seeing them advertised in very small print in the back of my first NR issue received via my subscription. I am currently reading Buckley’s fiction and find my myself renewed and reinvigorated as a conservative…I learned early on through Russell Kirk and Bill Buckley that the duty as an American is to vote.  I vote today. When asked if I am a Democrat or Republican, I easily say neither.  Philosophically, I am a conservative as we all are by nature but I also made a reasoned choice early on in adulthood and have not wavered, even if my faculties of reason are more experienced and possibly less romantic.

Bill Buckley is someone who I still want to be when I grow up.  A moment of contrast, I would say happened to me just a few days ago.  I state clearly and believe that this moment of recognition is not of growth, maturity, or progress but possibly of barbarism, demise and self-destruction. I am currently teaching Middle Ages history to fourth grade boys.  One of the elements of the course is to exam the virtue and vices of leaders and the people as a whole of the society in which we study; examples of the our subjects include, the Romans, the Franks, the Vikings, the Gupta Empire of India, the beginning and growth of Islam and such leaders as Justinian, Mohammed, Eric the Red, William the Conqueror, Charles the Hammer, and Charlemagne. We ponder whom should we emulate and why.  We ponder and discuss who is not worthy for us to follow or learn from and why…and most of the time we see the good and bad in leaders. My hope is that the boys recognize the good and noble actions of men and how they were human, thus not perfect.

Since it is February, I take time out of our normal curriculum to study our greatest President, George Washington. We are in the midst of his early life, which we spend the most time reading and discussing who George Washington up to the early days of the American Revolution.  We will wrap up the war itself and his presidency in a briefer manner as I hope to leave the interest and desire to know him for their own studies and the years to come in middle school.


My fourth graders are taking an in depth reading and study of Washington’s Rules of Civility, which he studied when is he was about 13 years old. They were a resource for young men to learn etiquette and manners in the company of others. The history of these “rules” is that they come from a French Jesuit curriculum of the 17th century.  We do not know how they came to be part of an English curriculum much less in the colonies of America in 1700’s.  Perhaps Washington’s tutor had a French educational background.  Washington would not only study the “Rules” for their own sake but used them as a tool to translate them from Latin to English and back Latin.  Insignificant as this line of study may appear, this is probably the highest form of formal education that Washington received, due to the early death of father.   He also read Roman plays and Plutarch but not much more beyond the bible itself.  Yet, his self-restraint, service toward others and his country has not been surpassed.  This is a man all should admire and study, but particularly those who are receiving an education in America.

I asked a few colleagues after the recent Republican presidential debate held in Houston, TX, if they assigned to their seventh and eighth grade students to watch it.  Before they could answer, I continued and said the assignment should be that the day after such a debate the students should then seek to treat all their parents, teachers and friends as the candidates did each other.   The decorum of the faculty lunchroom was almost turned into one of chaos and a riot.

Has America moved beyond the principles in which we were we founded? Have we progressed and the 18th century is now quaint? Perhaps, we are mistaking barbarism, licentiousness and just a lack of manners what we are supposed to become?

Neal Freeman’s Op-Ed can be found at


Brief Thoughts on “The Reagan I Knew”


Some brief thoughts on the latest book I finished.  Since January, I have introduced myself to the fiction writings of William F. Buckley.  I have been reading and/or listening to his novels and non-fiction.  Today, I finished listening to Buckley’s The Reagan I Knew. Buckley’s prose continues to impress me, even after his death.

I recommend this book for two reasons which there could easily be more: 1. Listening to Buckley’s narrative and personal letters is so unique and truly pushes one (or at least me) to improve one’s writing skill; 2. We learn and even participate in the friendship between William F. Buckley and the Reagan Family.

One theme and one story to tantalize you: the ongoing theme throughout the letters both of Buckley and the Reagan’s is a reference to the city and movie Casablanca.  There are some of the letters that in Buckley’s writing style, I was almost scandalized in how he would make mention of running off to Casablanca with Mrs. Reagan. The letters both to and from President Reagan opens the reader/listener to him as a person in terms of politics but more so on his actual thought on policy and crises he lived or guided our country through.
William F. Buckley, Jr., Conservative Party candidate running for the office of Mayor of New York City, is shown outside the Overseas Press Club on Oct. 20, 1965.  (AP Photo)

William F. Buckley, Jr.

The one story that I will mention, which I will not be able to give it its due is Buckley’s presentation of President Reagan succumbing to Alzheimer’s.  As I was listening to letters post his presidency into the 1990’s I was waiting for the shoe to drop about President Reagan leaving public life due to his illness.  If I remember correctly, Buckley writes a letter almost in a tone of Don Quixote taking on the windmills, inviting President Reagan to attend an event sponsored by Rush Limbaugh and National Review.  The event would honor and celebrate the leadership of President Reagan.  Buckley goes into detail of the event and draws you into its planning.  In response to his letter, Nancy writes that President Reagan is no longer well enough to attend such a function.  Buckley then makes note about 9 months later, President Reagan released a letter to the American people concerning his withdrawal from public life.  Buckley takes the reader one more step into the personal situation contemplating the question, when did the President begin to have such moments? The reader almost does not want to know such intimate knowledge. Buckley gives both a personal reflection and then an anecdote from someone else who knew Reagan as long as Buckley himself concerning Reagan having a clouded moment.  I will not spoil it for you, but go and read or listen to the book, you will not be disappointed in writing style and its subject.

Art that Lifts the Soul- Spectacular Rubens


I cannot say that I have intentionally visited a particular museum exhibit more once, but the “Spectacular Rubens” exhibit was the first in which I visited on three separate occasions. It still was not enough.

The density, of what some might say of my Neanderthal head, limits the penetration of many things, and this is true of an understanding of fine art.  I can honestly say that the “Spectacular Rubens” exhibit, which visited three museums penetrated my head and moved my heart.  

The J. Paul Getty Museum has a web page and video to its restoration. Articles from the Wall Street Journal and the Houston Press may give a critic’s eye, but definitely do not let it taint you from the beauty of the art.  I recommend reading a description of a different Rubens exhibit that includes short summaries of each work of art and corresponding images, this will allow assist you in s small way to engage the unique transcendence of his art.  At the exhibit, I was most impressed with the straight factual information panels that were at the sides of the paintings and in front of the tapestries.  They were historically factual and related the religious images within the context of each work.  There was no bias, either for or against the Reformation and Counter-Reformation, in which this art was commissioned and finished.

As a Christian the art lifts you toward the transcendent in a most fulfilling and wonder filled way. I was asked by Another patron inquired of me some information regarding the work entitled the “Defenders of the Eucharist”.  He asked me why the piece was named that as he overheard me explaining it to my children.  I spoke briefly on the Reformation and how the saints represented in the painting can be read and studied to understand, at least intellectually, the truths of the Catholic Church- as Christianity begun by Christ himself.   Saints are a physical and practical example of how the Christian faith has been and continues to be “lived out” on earth.  Saints depicted in the painting are St. Jerome, St. Norbert, St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Clare of Assisi, St. Gregory the Great, St. Ambrose, and St. Augustine of Hippo, all are known for their devotion of the Eucharist and Jerome, particularly is known for the translating the Bible into Latin.


America’s everyday culture lacks the religious architecture and art that can be seen throughout Europe.  Perhaps we could be number with such works as part of our everyday…but seeing those tapestries hung along a museum wall made me think I had entered a sacred space.  I recommend such exhibits when they visit your local museum or on your family vacation this summer.

A Bibliophile Laments the Closing of Stores, the Loss of Community

I woke up this past Sunday morning to learn of another bookstore closing…some may call it a loss due to the global economy or even the free market at work. Hearing about the closing of La Hune in Paris (a friend tagged me in her Facebook post, so that I might read and comment on Adam Gopnik’s New Yorker article) brought to mind a sadness and concern that I had just felt recently no more than 1/2 mile from our house on Memorial Day weekend Long Lost Friends bookstore closed down after 20 years of serving the community.

In this two sentences there are a few key words that I would like to expound on why local bookstores are important: “Global Economy”, “Paris”, “Community”.

“Global Economy”
Some are inclined to think the free market is doing its share by choosing online retailers over brick and mortar operations. Customers see large brick and mortar chain bookstores struggling, Borders closed operations a few years ago and Barnes and Noble seems to have discount books, their editions, and what is the latest top sellers, beyond that you cannot find a book that does not fit in those categories; if you are looking for a hardback it is going to be in the new release section or something like the professional books, such as business and self-help. These large stores are no longer the visual future that we saw in the movie “You Got Mail.” Yet is really making a profit, and are books, printed or digital, carrying the load? Convenience within our “busy” lives may be the hidden driving force, along with a growth of individualism.
Online retailers are not overwhelming brick and mortar in books sales but it is the overhead that assists the online market. Long Lost Friends bookstore closed down the street from me and is going online to continue to sell their inventory until it is gone. What we currently find in a resurgence of coffee shops, thanks to Starbucks and the sitcom, “Friends”, is where community or socialization is happening over a cup of coffee with a few people reading. (I am currently in a Starbucks writing). Where do you go to learn about a book or books you should read, especially over these summer months…the latest blog? It is us choosing to be alone, at a coffee shop or in our home on our computers in our virtual worlds, that is more significant than the online bookstores. Why does every Barnes & Noble have a cafe, so you can come get a “cup of joe” and by the way look for a book…it is not the Global Economy that is the main drive in the slow death of independent bookstores but rather our inward narcissistic turning that moves us away from going to and hanging out in our bookstores, barbershops and other such places.

I am no French bookstore enthusiast but on my first visit to Paris and on my subsequent visits, I made sure to visit Shakespeare & Co. bookstore. And yes, I am such a bibliophile that when I watch movies that take place in Paris, I am looking through the background to see not only where I have been, but to see Shakespeare & Co. I did not look for nor see the bookstore in a movie before my first visit, but I read articles, essays, memoirs, and even novels whose author at made reference to Shakespeare & Co. It was my interest in James Joyce and then the Bloomsbury writers that peaked my interest of the place. I probably have seen a few movies only to see the bookstore and what books they had on the shelves, such as Before Sunset. Over the years I have visited cities and even towns to see what kind of independent bookstores they had, which opened the city or town to me. One person who is always open to talking is a bookstore clerk, especially in local stores. To gain a sense of what the community is like and even to learn more about what books to read, because the clerk is always a reader and will recommend a book or two based in your genre or author of preference. I did not visit La Hune or even try to visit a French library upon my visits there, but I think I do know a little more about Paris beyond the literature that I had previously read, including my Frommer’s guide from experience of being there and perusing of a local bookstore.img_1158

It is a community that keeps local businesses thriving. When I first entered Long Lost Friends, I saw a few pictures on the wall and certificates of schools and teachers thanking the store for their support of a particular school or class. What happens when the local diner, bookstore, or barbershop does not support a little league team. Actually, does little league still exist. With traveling hand picked teams chosen from a city of over 4 million, no wonder, we need to take 10 year olds around the state or across state lines to compete against equal competition. Even the the idea of a traveling team removes one from community and begins our focus on ourselves, it is exactly what we are teaching our children to think of themselves and make sure they are the with their level not with neighbors or friends from down the street. Local businesses are not the mainstay of 20th century America, and I am not advocating a return to your roots and hometown or suburb in which you were raised. It is our choice not to have a local bookstore and other such businesses. One of the tag lines to tell you teenager today as they walk out of the door with friends, is “make good choices”. So how about we use that same phrase in ourselves, make good choices, those for your family and community? When was the last time you had a bookstore find or order a book for you? It has been too long for me…now the closest local bookstore, not Half-Price, but Twice Told Tales about 5 miles from my house. Is it a treasure trove? No, but it is my local bookstore that I will visit and have my children purchase their own books.

Civilization’s End
I sometimes tell parents or undergraduate students that our current generation is reading more worldwide than in any other time in history. It is a true statement. Rather the reading is not exclusive to newspapers, magazines, and BOOKS, but all the reading we currently do, web surfing: blogs, ads, Facebook, Twitter, SnapChat, WhatApp! and texting. I will not lay out an argument but to say that newspapers and magazines are questionable reading today, you can imagine what my thoughts are concerning everything that is current in our reading. Facts: We are reading. We are engaging each other in social media, yet we are struggling to root ourselves, physically and psychologically. Post WWII, our grandparents could move and make themselves anywhere in the U.S., thus Americans were no longer rooted to their place of birth. The late 20th century we have had trouble with rooting ourselves with just one person, and today we cannot root ourselves interiorly and know who and what we are.

Think small, think local, build a relationship with someone whom you want to spend the rest of your life, have children, build friendships, ones that last with those who are struggling as you are…this is what Edmund Burke called a platoon. It is in our platoons that Civilization will not end. Good-bye, La Hune and Long Lost Friends…

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