Salt Institute for Documentary Studies

Located in Portland, Maine, the Salt Institute for Documentary Studies offers a 15-week immersion program for advanced undergraduate and graduate students in documentary writing, photography, or radio.
This blog is an update of current Salt students insights and musings.


No Praise. No Blame. Just so.

I've been spending quite a lot of time up in
Waterville at the Convent of the Blessed Sacrament,
interviewing sisters one at a time. Last week, I
spent a good afternoon with Sister Elizabeth Madden.
We sat for a few hours recounting her past with me
inquiring about her decision to join a religious
order. She invited me to lunch and I enjoyed my time
at the long wooden table, getting to know the other
sisters. One older woman, Sister Mary Emmanuel (who
must be around 90), sat hunched at the end of the
table. I had to scream in order for her to understand
our conversation (reminded me of my dear Oma). She
remembered to me that she once had a "lovely Jewish
friend" and asked whether I was religious. I
mentioned to the sisters that my mother used to
encourage me to sample different religious services if
I was curious. I used to go to Spanish mass with my
good friend Andrea and her mother (one of my other
mothers, I like to say) Ligia. My only instructions
were: "Don't kneel. Don't take communion." Sweet
Andrea used to sit in the pew with me when the rest of
the Church was kneeling. I'll never forget those
moments and I thank my mother for encouraging such
exploration. If anything, it helped me to better
understand my own traditions and my own Jewish religious
identity. The sisters were amazed by my mother's
openness and noted that "she is quite a woman." Of
course, I agreed. :)

We enjoyed chatting and at the end of our lunch, I was
not sure how to say goodbye, A handshake? A hug? A
kiss on the cheek? I decided an affectionate grab of
the shoulder would be most appropriate. As I lay my
hand on the bony Sister Mary Emmanuel, she grabbed it
and lay it across her cheek, kissing it before finally

Very moved, I knelt down to speak face to face:
"Sister Mary Emmanuel, I'll see you next week."

"You never know dear. You never know."

Her smile was radiant and I couldn't help but nod.

Sister Elizabeth and I spent our last hour together
discussing "the tragedy" of 1996. She was in the
other North American convent in Pueblo, Colorado at
the time of the murders. She remembers being
interviewed by an ABC affiliate reporter who asked:

"Don't you hate this man? This man who killed your
sisters...Don't you hate him?"

She responded: "How can I hate him? I don't even know

She looked at me after recounting this story,
obviously concerned about the young reporter: "He must
have been very young, dear."

My last question for Sister Elizabeth rounded out our
late afternoon conversation about forgiveness. I
wondered if she had a verse or a saying or a mantra
that she visited when experiencing trouble forgiving.

Within three minutes of my asking, she responded: "I
actually love this Buddhist quote...and I cannot
remember the writer. It is very simple. She sat up
straight and cleared her throat before saying....

No praise. No blame. Just so.

No praise. No blame. Just so."

She repeated it three times and I think I must have
been holding my breath. After she finished, I let out
a huge sigh and pushed stop. An incredible interview
to say the very least.

Instead of attaching a radio piece this week, I want
you to explore one of my favorite new websites. is a phenomenal site that blends
photography and audio to tell stories. With pieces
ranging from issues in Africa to drugs in NYC, this is
a website you should visit often.

I have signed up for a "soundslides" workshop here at
Salt which will teach me the software to create such
pieces as these; a new and very exciting webtool that
I hope to be able to use in my work.

Check it out at:

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