Editor's Blog

Joseph Wakelee-Lynch

LMU Magazine Online — The Next Step

December 6, 2016

Nothing gets better that stays the same. For several months, we’ve been working to improve and relaunch the LMU Magazine website that first appeared in July 2010. Our original release was touted for its simplicity, clear lines and easy navigation. While accurate, those qualities didn’t relieve us from the occasional experience of that our hands were tied when it came to presenting some of the most engaging and interesting content. And the old site had a feature or two that never quite took off.

The site you see now is our improved version of LMU Magazine as it exists online. As before, you’ll find not only the stories, photography and illustrations published in the award-winning print version of LMU Magazine but also videos, slideshows and interactive games, along with original content that enables LMU Magazine to address timely subjects that can’t wait on the print publishing schedule. In fact, our new site will render us better able to do justice to the photography for which LMU Magazine has become known.

Since LMU Magazine was unveiled in July 2010, the print publication has earned 40 awards in writing, design, photography and illustration from Graphis, SPD (Society of Publication Designers, UCDA (University and College Designers Association), CASE (Council for Advancement and Support of Education) and JAA (Jesuit Advancement Administrators). The magazine has been featured several times in Communication Arts. In the Graphis and SPD competitions, the magazine has competed against the top marketplace publications in the United States, from the Sunday New York Times Magazine to National Geographic and ESPN The Magazine. In annual CASE Circle of Excellence competitions, LMU Magazine has taken top honors in a category that includes magazines from Dartmouth, Middlebury, Oberlin, Denison and the College of Charleston, as well as institutions in Canada, the United Kingdom and Australia. We promise to continue to bring to online readers the same quality content that has earned LMU’s flagship publication a reputation as one of the best magazines being produced by a university today.

Please take a moment to browse our new site, take in a video, or mull some current political analysis. Let us know what you think, and thanks for stopping by.

A Ballade in a Minor Key

December 2, 2016

One of the highlights of the academic year for me is a piano recital by Wojciech Kocyan. To hear some of the world’s great music performed live by a virtuoso is a rare opportunity and gift.

Kocyan gave another of his annual concerts this past Saturday evening, on Nov. 19. Murphy Recital Hall was full, and members of the Los Angeles Polish community and his LMU students, who greeted him like a rock star, made up a significant part of the audience.

Born in Poland, Kocyan is clinical assistant professor of music in LMU’s College of Communication and Fine Arts. His is an unassuming title, though it fits Kocyan’s gentle, reflective demeanor. Pass him while walking on campus — wearing an open-collared shirt, corduroys, a satchel slung over his shoulder — and you’d likely guess he’s a grad student. I often think he looks lost in thought, but I imagine he’s lost in sheets and sheets of music. He makes me think that if I had the power to hear people’s thoughts, I’d spend my days at a music conservatory — to eavesdrop on the inspiring scores and compositions coming together in the minds of composers and performers.

Kocyan has performed around the world and conducted master classes in Hungary, Austria, Poland and France. He has recorded several cds, and his DUX cd titled “Skriabin Prokofiew Rachmaninow,” which features his renditions of pieces by Prokofiev, Scriabin and Rachmaninoff, was named one of the 50 best classical recording ever made by Gramophone in 2007. He has won awards in competitions for his performances of the work of Frederick Chopin and Ignacy Jan Paderewski, both fellow Poles. LMU’s clinical assistant professor of music is — it hardly needs to be said — quite accomplished.

I met Kocyan a few years ago, when I interviewed him for LMU Magazine. We met in a student lounge, not his office, and I found that relaxing. I also felt some apprehension: My piano instruction was limited. I studied for six years in elementary school from a retired Catholic nun, then for one more in college in Delaware with an accomplished piano major who was a senior, Chris Williams. In recital, Kocyan is likely to perform a Chopin ballade, one Beethoven’s major sonatas, or a portion of Messiaen’s “Vingt Regards sur L’Enfant Jesus.” These are big, exhausting pieces. My piano career peaked with Beethoven’s Op. 49, No. 2 sonata. I think of it as a piece that child prodigies perfect and leave behind at the age of 4.

Kocyan in his interview was thoughtful and precise. He said the artistry of a piece appeals to him more than its technical difficulty, though he takes satisfaction in performing highly challenging compositions. But I’ll never forget his answer to a question I intentionally closed with: “Is there one composer for whom you have such high regard that you believe your life would be different if he had never lived?” His answer was immediate: Mozart. I wasn’t as much struck by his regard for Mozart as by the fact that Kocyan answered immediately. He didn’t say, “Hmmm, a great question. I’ve never thought about that.” In other words — I’ve decided so, at any rate — for Kocyan the work of his musical predecessors shape his life at its core, and that he is quite aware of it. His present is peopled by figures from the past.

For his recital last week, Kocyan included three large works: Mozart’s Sonata in A minor, Chopin’s Ballade in G minor, and Beethoven’s “Waldstein” sonata. Chopin is my favorite — that he can convey both intense pain and sublime joy within just one or two measures is exquisite. I’m tempted to fantasize that Kocyan enjoys a subconscious connection to the composer because they are both Poles. But I don’t think so. When I began to learn Beethoven’s straightforward Op. 49, my teacher counseled me to not be discouraged that other students were deep into Beethoven’s “Pathétique” or “Appassionata.” “This is the sonata you are learning now, so learn it to fullest,” she said. “Play it to the best you can.” Kocyan seems always to take a moment of preparation before starting a Chopin ballade; I try to never miss it. Just before he places his fingers on the keyboard, he first looks down at his hands in his lap. It’s only a moment, not even two. Rather than calling on Chopin’s spirit, I imagine that it is, instead, Kocyan calling on his own: It’s a sign of his determination, his promise, to perform the composer’s work as best he can. It strikes me as a sign of his sense of responsibility to the piece, and perhaps to Chopin himself. It’s a moment of commitment. I should ask Kocyan; he would enjoy the question.

Pride and Humility

June 18, 2016

“Humility,” said T.S. Eliot, “is the most difficult of all virtues to achieve; nothing dies harder than the desire to think well of self.”

I think of humility as medication for pride, which is one of the seven deadly sins and maybe the biggest. Pride is a treatable affliction — it can be controlled reasonably well much of the time with humility’s topical ointment. But though humility may be therapeutic when applied to pride, it isn’t an antidote or cure. For most of us, vainglory, as pride is sometimes called, is a chronic, spiritually debilitating condition. What to do? “Exercise your humility regularly and avoid occasions, and near occasions, of tribute (sin)” — it’s easy to imagine a few Sisters of St. Joseph, who taught me in elementary school, admonishing me today with those words.

Despite having said that — Sister St. Dominic, patron saint of my writing career, forgive me for this — let me tell you that LMU Magazine received a bronze award for general excellence earlier this month in a national competition of university magazines. The Circle of Excellence Awards competition is hosted by CASE (Council for the Advancement and Support of Education), a professional association of college and university administrators. Magazines are first sorted by circulation, and our publication competes in the mid-range group — those with a circulation of 30,000–74,999. Judges consider each magazine’s objectives, content, writing, editing, layout and design, print quality, editorial content, photography, illustration, creative story ideas and effectiveness in serving its audience.

We submitted the summer 2014 (“Net Gain”) and winter 2014 (“Intertwined”) issues, and we shared the bronze award with Middlebury Magazine, published by Middlebury College. In their final report, the judges, who are anonymous, said they admired LMU Magazine’s layout, organization and wrap-around covers. Other winners in all three circulation groups included magazines from Johns Hopkins University, Oberlin College, Kenyon College, the University of Richmond, the Rhode Island School of Design and the University of California, Berkeley.

This year’s bronze, combined with last year’s gold in the same competition, marks the second year in a row LMU Magazine has finished in what I’d call a winners’ circle — those given a gold, silver or bronze award. To be so honored has occurred to only a handful of university magazines. That’s recognition our staff is proud of from professional and personal points of view. But I also hope — as a way of moderating my own vainglory — that the LMU community will take appropriate pride in knowing that in any conversation about universities with the best magazine, LMU will be discussed.

The Farm Round-Up

January 25, 2016

Yesterday, Jan. 24, Brenda (Kirsch) Frketich ’06 was included in a front-page Washington Post story about women farmers. She earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration at LMU and now runs Kirsch Family Farms, which has been in her family for four generations, in Oregon’s Willamette Valley. Written by Elizabeth Zach, the piece explores a handful of women-operated farms in New Mexico, Pennsylvania, California, Montana, and Oregon.

We did a feature story on Brenda in our winter 2014 issue, written by Marc Covert, a writer who lives in Portland, who visited the property and gave readers an excellent piece full of the day-to-day details of life on a farm. (In fact, it was Marc who gave Elizabeth Zach the tip about Brenda and the Kirsch Family Farms.) We asked Marc to tell Brenda’s story, share the family history, describe well the monumental job that is family farming, touch on Brenda’s role as a leader in the family farming industry, make the readers feel they walked in the furrows, and do it all in only 1,400 words. It’s a masterful piece of writing.

I’ve often told friends of the magazine that some of our best pieces may take many months to go from idea to the press. This one was more than a year in the making, because we knew that the strongest article would have to include on-location, harvest-time photography by LMU Magazine photographer Jon Rou. In fact, we sent Jon to the wheat fields twice.

Take a look at the story, and don’t miss the link in the sidebar to a narrated slideshow featuring Brenda’s commentary and Jon’s amazing photos.

The Skyline and the Man

February 13, 2015

Today marked the passing of one of the most gracious public figures I have ever met: Stan Chambers. Over the course of six decades, Chambers become a symbol of the news business at its best as well as one of its most admired reporters.

Chambers attended Loyola University for three years and was part of the Air Force ROTC detachment before being instructed to transfer to USC for special courses. In 2008, after his book, “KTLA’s News at 10,” was published, I interviewed Chambers for the summer 2008 issue of the university’s magazine, then known as Vistas. I don’t think I have ever interviewed a more gracious and welcoming person. I met him in the KTLA studios, and he made me feel like I was an honored guest that day. Few people had Stan’s generosity of spirit.

When Maureen Pacino ’93, Glenn Cratty, then the university photographer, and I sat down to conceptualize a photo, we knew we wanted to avoid the predictable environs of a TV studio. Glenn said, “I know just the place: Kenneth Hahn State Recreation Area. There’s a great view of the skyline from there.” We asked, “How do you know?” Glenn, who now shoots in Colorado, used to scout L.A. in his free time, to build up in his brain a collection of visual backdrops for occasions like this. So we asked Stan to meet us there.

On a blustery afternoon, Stan drove up with his wife, Gege. We asked him to pose in the grass, near the edge of a hillside. The winds were strong enough that all four of us grew colder as the shoot wore on. As you may expect, Stan never complained, though I believe he felt the coldest of all. The shot we came away with is here. What you cannot see is that just to Stan’s left is Maureen on a small ladder directing a portable light on Stan. I’m a foot or two from her, chatting with Stan and trying my best to make the afternoon somewhat pleasurable for him. And Glenn is sprawled on his belly in the grass, some 70 feet away, with a telephoto lens, yelling his instructions to all in a voice loud enough to be heard above the wind. Gege wisely and warmly stayed in the car.

Stan later said that he liked the interview and especially loved the photo. He particularly appreciated that Glenn positioned him so that the tower of City Hall appears just by his right elbow. One of his strongest memories of the L.A. skyline is of how it looked before skyscrapers defined it. City Hall had always been an iconic symbol of Los Angeles to Stan Chambers.

(Photo by Glenn Cratty)

On Merton’s 100th Birthday

January 31, 2015

Today, January 31, 2015, marks the 100th anniversary of the birth of Thomas Merton, monk, writer, poet and peace activist who lead readers to discover faith, to discover Catholicism, simply through his words. James Martin, S.J., editor at large for America Magazine, has described his encounter with Merton through the monk’s autobiography. Martin, in fact, visited LMU in 2011, and I had a chance to interview him. We didn’t discuss Merton, though I’m certain the monk would’ve loved the fact that humor was a focus of the interview.

Martin’s life, and that of many others, was changed by Merton’s autobiography, “The Seven Story Mountain.” I have to confess that I started reading the book — I was in my 20s at the time — but I didn’t finish it. I often have wondered if I should feel ashamed of that, as if it demonstrates a lack of intelligence, or a lack of faith. On the other hand, a biography of Merton that I also began, and finished, at about the same age, is a book I’ve always treasured: “The Seven Mountains of Thomas Merton,” by Michael Mott. That volume is where I first read of Merton’s epiphany moment at the corner of 4th and Walnut, during a visit to Louisville:

“In Louisville, at the corner of Fourth and Walnut, in the center of the shopping district, I was suddenly overwhelmed with the realization that I loved all those people, that they were mine and I theirs, that we could not be alien to one another even though we were total strangers. It was like waking from a dream of separateness, of spurious self-isolation in a special world, the world of renunciation and supposed holiness … This sense of liberation from an illusory difference was such a relief and such a joy to me that I almost laughed out loud … I have the immense joy of being man, a member of a race in which God Himself became incarnate. As if the sorrows and stupidities of the human condition could overwhelm me, now I realize what we all are. And if only everybody could realize this! But it cannot be explained. There is no way of telling people that they are all walking around shining like the sun.” (“Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander,” by Thomas Merton)

I don’t believe Merton’s insight is only for the mystics, or saints, among us. On a few occasions, usually in cities, I’ve stopped on a corner of an intersection and thought to myself, “Everyone I see is loved. Everyone is redeemable. Wow, I get it. I think I know what Merton meant.” That moment strikes me as the closest we, or I, can come to seeing with God’s eyes. The world’s troubles, in our time as well as Merton’s, are ever-present, unavoidable. For a reason I cannot explain, we seem to need to stop and look for the ever-present good, for what it is that joins us all.

Here is one of my favorite poems by Thomas Merton, written in memory of his younger brother, John Paul Merton, who served in the Royal Canadian Air Force and died from injuries suffered in a plane crash over the English Channel in April 1943. You can find the poem in “Selected Poems of Thomas Merton,” published by New Directions.

For My Brother: Reported Missing in Action, 1943

Sweet brother, if I do not sleep
My eyes are flowers for your tomb;
And if I cannot eat my bread,
My fasts shall live like willows where you died.
If in the heat I find no water for my thirst,
My thirst shall turn to springs for you, poor traveller.

Where, in what desolate and smokey country,
Lies your poor body, lost and dead?
And in what landscape of disaster
Has your unhappy spirit lost its road?

Come, in my labor find a resting place
And in my sorrows lay your head,
Or rather take my life and blood
And buy yourself a better bed—
Or take my breath and take my death
And buy yourself a better rest.

When all the men of war are shot
And flags have fallen into dust,
Your cross and mine shall tell men still
Christ died on each, for both of us.

For in the wreckage of your April Christ lies slain,
And Christ weeps in the ruins of my spring:
The money of Whose tears shall fall
Into your weak and friendless hand,
And buy you back to your own land:

The silence of Whose tears shall fall
Like bells upon your alien tomb.
Hear them and come: they call you home.

The River Journey of 1959

January 27, 2015

We learned this week that freelance writer Sandra Millers Younger hauled in an award for LMU Magazine on the strength of her writing. Younger wrote “Operation Huck Finn,” a feature in our fall 2013 issue about a group of students who in 1959 reenacted Huck Finn’s fictional trip down the Mississippi River in Mark Twain’s “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.”

Younger received the bronze award for Best Article of the Year in the 2015 CASE District VII Circle of Excellence Awards. CASE (Council for the Advancement and Support of Education) is an international association of educational institutions. District VII is the region that includes institutions from Arizona, California, Guam, Hawaii, Nevada, the Northern Mariana Islands, and Utah.

Part of the story’s attraction, simply as an idea, was the familiarity of its subject matter: Alumni who studied American literature at any point in the past six decades probably read the novel. If they hadn’t, then they probably did in high school. Also, there’s something impulsive about the trip, which likely arose out of the same spirit that makes it hard to resist perfect pranks. Combine that with the students’ meticulous commitment to detail needed to actually plan and organize the trip, and you have a story with timeless appeal and several very sharp hooks.

Younger’s treatment impressed me as soon as I read her draft. Its tone was comfortably both light-hearted and serious, a balance I find very difficult to achieve. She captured the students’ adventurousness: A charismatic professor sought volunteers for a ludicrous idea, and six students raised their hands. How many parents lost sleep during that journey? Also, the group included a Mexican American, Carlos Salazar, and a Japanese American, Alan Kumamoto, both in the class of 1962, and Younger conveyed the undertone of racial tension that they sensed while traveling through some parts of Missouri. Best of all, she introduced into her text short segments of Twain’s novel — Huck’s comments — that helped frame the August 1959 journey. Here’s my favorite:

“It would a been a miserable business to have any unfriendliness on the raft; for what you want, above all things, on a raft, is for everybody to be satisfied, and feel right and kind towards the others.”

I thought that was brilliantly used. Thanks, and congratulations, to Sandra Millers Younger.

The Work of Ponzi

January 23, 2015

Working as an editor can often seem a gray existence. Sometimes I go for weeks with my nose buried in text, the stuff that makes the pages turn gray. If the universe of the publishing profession could be expressed geographically, I’d say most editors’ lifetimes are lived out in Seattle. I like Seattle quite a lot, actually, and it’s one of my favorite places to visit. But, like Seattleites, editors respond when the sun breaks through into a dull afternoon. It’s a glorious moment.

For me, bright light cuts through the clouds when an illustration for an insightful piece of writing arrives weeks into the editorial process. It was a glorious day, then, when we received Emiliano Ponzi’s illustration for an essay by Allan Figueroa Deck, S.J., about the significance of the election of Pope Francis.

Ponzi’s work is a stunning, sublime statement that exquisitely expresses much of Deck’s commentary as well as the heart of the newest successor to Peter only months into his pontificate. Francis’ pastoral gifts have been evident from the moment he stepped out onto the balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica after his selection. When Maureen Pacino ’93, LMU Magazine’s creative director, called me into her office, I knew in minutes that the story headline had to be “Assisi Road.”

I could compose choruses of praise to Ponzi’s art. But better is to point to his work. The new edition of Communication Arts magazine, a premier publication in the world of design, profiles him in its latest edition and includes several of his illustrations. The illustration the editors chose to introduce their nine-page, in-depth feature about this internationally known artist is the one that first appeared in LMU Magazine.

Take a look. The range of Ponzi’s imagery is inspiring. And the story — yeah, the good-old gray text — is an excellent piece of writing that gives an insightful look into the mind and intentions of a wonderful artist.

90 Percent Luck

November 21, 2014

As I read about the death of writer and director Mike Nichols this past week, I was reminded of the broad pedigree of his work: films including “The Graduate,” “Catch-22” “Carnal Knowledge,” “Silkwood,” and “Charlie Wilson’s War”; theater productions including “Uncle Vanya,” “HurlyBurly” and “Spamalot”; and television works such as “Wit” and “Angels in America.”

Not long ago, I came across some of his comic routines with Elaine May. It’s been said there were no comedians like them, and watching their “Mother and Son Skit” decades after it was performed is as funny now as anything on TV today. Just as appealing are the generosity of spirit and the sense of teamwork that May and Nichols exuded when working together.

I put in a call about Nichols to actor Brian Avery ’63 because I remembered his telling me that he worked with the famous director. Avery had come to campus this past spring to help LMU Magazine produce a video of recitations of Chaucer’s Prologue. Reciting the passage has been a rite of passage for LMU English majors for longer than most of us have been alive. He said then that he was cast in a crucial role as Katherine Ross’ groom in the now-classic Mike Nichols’ film “The Graduate.” Yes, it’s Avery who is left at the altar at the film’s famous conclusion. It’s hard to forget the scene, and just as hard to forget when someone tells you he’s the guy who gets jilted.

Avery remembers first encounter as a young actor with Nichols. Under contract to Universal, he was instructed to meet Nichols at the Paramount studios about a role in a film. He walked into a room with director Nichols, screenplay writer Buck Henry, casting director Lynn Stalmaster, and producer Lawrence Turman. “Mike and I just started talking, and we got on,” Avery recalls. “After a while, Nichols turns to Buck Henry and says, ‘Wouldn’t he be great opposite Dustin?’ It was the first time I’d heard the word Dustin — he was unknown then.”

Turns out that Avery concurs with most everything that’s been written about Nichols since his death on Nov. 19. “I never saw him get angry. I never saw him be unkind to anybody. He was a joy to be around.”

I asked Avery how he felt when he landed an early-career role with Nichols as director. Ninety percent of the business is luck, he replied, some of it bad. Avery once passed up a role in “Auntie Mame” with Angela Lansbury, he recalled, to do a TV pilot with Filmways, which had a string of successes: “Mister Ed,” “The Beverly Hillbillies,” “Petticoat Junction,” “Green Acres” and “The Addams Family.” “Auntie Mame” ran for five years; his pilot, which looked a sure thing, wasn’t picked up. So Avery has always felt lucky to appear in “The Graduate,” and later in Nichols’ “The Fortune.”

“Mike Nichols was bright, joyous and fun,” Avery says. “He stimulated you. When you were on the set you knew you had his support. He was just waiting for you to show him what you could do. I did the best work of my life with Mike.”

In the photo above, Brian Avery appears in his role as Carl Smith and Katherine Ross as Elaine Robinson in “The Graduate.”

Shouldering the Mantle

January 16, 2014

When I was growing up in a mostly Irish Catholic neighborhood of Philadelphia, my best friend and I practiced saying Mass in his basement. We not only imagined ourselves as priests, we talked about someday becoming saints.

My calling to ordained life dissipated before high school, but I remain fascinated, and wistful, about friends who enter the priesthood or become nuns. When Brendan Busse ’99, M.A. ’11 told me a few years ago that he was about to enter the Society of Jesus, I felt envy.

Brendan now teaches at Seattle University, but he was an LMU campus minister when I met him about seven years ago. One day he told me about an unusual retreat: He took a group of students to a Skid Row shelter in downtown Los Angeles for a weekend-long encounter with homeless people and poverty in America. I asked him to write an article about it, and, secretly, I desired his job.

That first piece of writing led to several more: a reflection on his Jesuit pilgrimage, a meditation on the meaning of Advent and, most recently, his commentary on World Youth Day. I don’t see Brendan often these days. I’m not his closest friend, but I do feel an important bond with him, rooted in the common experience of trying to write about religious experiences.

Fortunately, I can keep track of Brendan’s adventures, and his writing, through a blog he maintains. He and other Jesuits started a website called The Jesuit Post, which, says Paddy Gilger, S.J., editor-in-chief, is about “Jesus, politics and pop culture.” Brendan is one of several contributing writers. His best stuff is thoughtful, wise, descriptive, self-deprecating and inviting. The world needs writers like Brendan.

My friend is several years along his path toward ordination. I sometimes wonder how the mantle that is the choice he took upon his shoulders now feels. (If it’s causing mild discomfort, Ignatius would probably say that’s a good sign.) Brendan’s choice could present him with decades of dedicated service to others, grace-filled entry into lives of hundreds, in catastrophes and epiphanies, and countless opportunities to find God in anyone. Such a life — if well-lived, I think — would give you a smile on your deathbed.

That’s the kind of life I imagined when my friend and I pretended to be priests, when receiving and accepting a call wasn’t a rare event, at least not in my Saint Anne’s neighborhood. But conditions have changed since the mid-1960s. The number of priests and nuns has plummeted, as we know. The workload of the Society of Jesus, the Sisters of St. Joseph, and the Religious of the Sacred Heart of Mary is no lighter than before. Yet, there are fewer to shoulder it. Living out the religious vocation today seems to carry an added responsibility: to transmit the vocation — including the work — to those with no call to ordination.

It is often said that the heart of Ignatian spirituality can be found in the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius. Randy Roche, S.J., director of LMU’s Center for Ignatian Spirituality, will tell you that the exercises were never intended for the sole use of the ordained; they’re intended to be useful to anyone. I think religious orders rooted in Ignatius’ view of the world have an advantage in transmitting the vocation, because they do not call a few to enjoy a rare honor or exclusive status in the world. I imagine them saying, “Take what we, somehow, have been given, and receive it yourself.”

Brendan’s writing at The Jesuit Post will intrigue me because the site is another place where he will live out his choice, comfortably or not. If Brendan had come to me 40 years ago to ask what I thought about his joining the Jesuits, I would’ve replied, “Can you meet the standard?” Today I’d answer, “Can you make Ignatians of the rest of us?”

(Photo by Joe August ’13)