Thursday, September 13, 2018

Daily Mass musings

It's been three years since I stopped going to daily Mass, almost to the week. But I'm back! And nearly every day so far this week, something in the first reading has struck me as worthy of further reflection. And hey! I have a defunct blog I can resurrect, no strings attached, wooo!
Monday, from 1 Cor 5:
Do you not know that a little yeast leavens all the dough?
Clear out the old yeast, so that you may become a fresh batch of dough,
inasmuch as you are unleavened.
For our Paschal Lamb, Christ, has been sacrificed.
Therefore, let us celebrate the feast,
not with the old yeast, the yeast of malice and wickedness,
but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.
A friend pointed out recently that one problem with the "all the US bishops resign collectively" plan is that, whoever's resignations are accepted, they'll just be replaced with somebody else cut from the same cloth. No, we need a breath of fresh air. I would like for us to have new yeast, but until that's available, we'll have to make do with (we'll have to get to a place where we can manage with) unleavened bread. Healing/changing the underlying culture of secrecy and cover-up is the priority.
Tuesday, from 1 Cor 6:
Brothers and sisters:
How can any one of you with a case against another
dare to bring it to the unjust for judgment
instead of to the holy ones?
Heh, that's a dream! St Paul goes on to say about how "we will judge angels," so "why not everyday matters?" and like, yeah, that's a great ideal, Pauley, except that circumstances have shown us wildly unable to police ourselves, especially when it's those doing the judging who are the worse offenders.
(Yes, I find the cover-ups of the abuses to be a more heinous crime than the abuses themselves. Not more acutely painful to individual victims, but more problematic, more systemic, more broadly harmful, harder to fix.)
He goes on:
Why not rather put up with injustice?
Why not rather let yourselves be cheated?
Instead, you inflict injustice and cheat, and this to brothers.
Do you not know that the unjust will not inherit the Kingdom of God?
Oh, St Paul! Did you have any idea how many generations of people would use these words to spiritually abuse God's children? I mean, Scripture itself witnesses that its own words can be twisted (see Satan tempting Jesus in the desert), but how heartbreaking it is to hear these words and remember how many friends I've had to talk into recognizing their own dignity, their own worth in God's eyes!
Humility is a tricky virtue. "Seeing yourself as God sees you" is the definition that has always stuck in my memory—that means both the good and the bad, folks! But that's just the first problem. I've long favored a distinction between supernatural humility and natural (or ordinary) humility, which I think I keyed into after hearing one too many talks on St Louis de Montfort's 10 Virtues of Mary.
Supernatural humility is like when St Thérèse was washing dishes, and the sister washing with her had a knack for splashing the dirty water on Thérèse. Thérèse happily accepted this mortification—not because she was a horrible sinner and she deserved it (although yes, we all are, though it's important to simultaneously remember our  infinite worth as Children of God), but because this was a terrible annoyance that she could quietly offer up to her Beloved.
Ok, that's all well and good, but it never teaches Sister Splashy to be more considerate of others, which is a good and normal thing that we're all in a position to do, and that we're all rather called to do. Ordinary humility would, in that circumstance, kindly ask the other sister the be more careful—ideally, not out of one's own annoyance but out of a desire to help the other sister to be better, and even out of an understanding that one does not deserve to be so degraded.
Ok, I'm back, getting off the soapbox now. On to Wednesday, from 1 Cor 7:
In regard to virgins, I have no commandment from the Lord,
but I give my opinion as one who by the Lord's mercy is trustworthy....
Are you bound to a wife? Do not seek a separation.
Are you free of a wife? Then do not look for a wife.
Ah, this passage! The place I have most frequently heard people disagree with Scripture! "Well, we're allowed to, St Paul says so right there; it's his own personal opinion." As someone who's been looking for a husband for over ten years now, I obviously disagree with Paul's prudential judgment here, think he was a bit too wrapped up in the apocalypticism that expected the second coming within months or decades, not centuries or millennia.
But this "permitted disagreement" just puts me in mind of the previous day's passage, which has so often been used to bully others in Jesus' name. "Why not rather put up with injustice?" Because it depends on your motivation. Are you doing so because you feel stuck, worthless, like a doormat? Because someone else is telling you have to (even if getting out of a bad situation is within reach)? That's not the way the saints suffered. The saints willingly accepted above-and-beyond torment (often because no alternative was available), knowing that they deserved more, deserved better. Accepting the lies of your abuser is NOT the same as enduring suffering for the Kingdom. Even if your abuser is "only" gaslighting you; that's still toxic, and you still deserve better.
Today's passage, from 1 Cor 8, doesn't have an easy clip to quote, but it's talking about scruples (the plague of our era, although clearly not our era alone).
Paul is saying: No, obviously there's nothing objectively wrong with eating meat sacrificed to idols; idols are dumb and honestly not all that important. Buuuut some of your brethren really aren't strong enough yet to see that. Give them time, help them get there. But also, don't scandalize them by eating idol-meat in front of them. Be patient with their scruples.
This is fascinating to me, esp as I've grown less and less patient with scrupulosity and its causes. It makes sense, as patience and repeated gentle pushing of boundaries that one knows to be ridiculous even though they feel perfectly reasonable are the only methods I've really seen to be helpful in the fight against scruples (along with the support of loved ones, of course). But it just never clicked until today, not reeeeally, that St Paul is here both railing against scruples and giving a moral injunction to be kind to those suffering from them. How very gentle yet firm; how lovely.
Anyhow! Those are my two cents. (That's way more than two. My seventeen cents, perhaps?) Who knows? Maybe I'll blog again tomorrow; maybe I'll blog again in two more years. Proooobably it'll be somewhere in between, but I hold myself to absolutely no standard here. (Very freeing.)
PS – If I do come back to this any time soon, I'll have to update that header. It's not quiiiite right any longer...

Saturday, December 31, 2016

On My 2016

Hello again, blog! It's been a long while, despite my earlier resolution to return regularly. Ah, well! I am content with blogging whenever the mood strikes me, and it has struck me today. I wish to do a year in review of my personal/interior life in 2016 this morning, with the help of my calendar. Let's see what we've got!


I started the year with some really excellent fiction! I discovered both Robin McKinley and Chris Fox in January, whose books I will now buy just because I come across them, because I know I'll enjoy them someday. I also decided to gamble on Eve Tushnet's novel Amends (knowing only her nonfiction), which I not only tore through but which has stayed with me all year. I'm seriously considering a reread already. AND I discovered the Expanse series in January! Holy cow. Talk about can't-put-it-down sci-fi adventures with brilliant worldbuilding and fascinating characters.

But what went on off the page in January? We finally discovered the Epstein-Barr antibodies in my system; huzzah for a useful diagnosis!! Such a difference! I seem to have done a pretty good job at seeing the friends and family who are important to me on a fairly regular basis, despite still having pretty low energy. At work I'd finally reached the productive point of our Holy Land book at work; that was exciting, after that book had been on my desk for nearly a year with almost no progress. AND the Jets were almost in playoff contention for at least several days of January! Good times...


February is when I embarked upon my year of Shakespeare/theater project! And also when I saw what was arguably the best of the year's shows, Pericles at the Theatre for a New Audience in Brooklyn. (We've since gone back to that company for several other shows, all excellent. I'm basically sold on whatever they want to play for the rest of my NYC-area life.)

I also decided that I ought to become less bad at cooking in February, that cooking ought to be less painful a chore than cleaning the bathroom (totally wasn't). Immediately discovered that all my spices were expired, and dove headfirst into the world of fancy spices, taking my first trip to the wonderland that is Kalustyan's! AND my anemia passed enough that I finally got to stop taking those awful iron pills!!

We had a bizarre Ash Wednesday basketball game, but hey, there was something cool about a large portion of the audience still having our ashes, in fasting and abstinence while yet cheering on the team that we're committed to! The Pirates were good that season, too, which is very odd in my experience. :o


In March I finally pulled myself out of credit card debt! Wow, that feels like so long ago! I'd expected to be stuck for another 6mos or so, thanks to ordinary things I just couldn't do back when I'd had no energy, but no! I pulled it off in March! That was pretty exciting.

Also went to my first bar crawl ever in March! Was whiskey-themed, for St Paddy's Day, with my aunt, at her suggestion. Wouldn't have it any other way! And let's not forget a delightful visit to my dear sister! It was a pretty last-minute decision, as far as my decisions go, but an important one, to bring me into her life as a college kid for a weekend, to take me to all the important places and to see all the important people. It was a delightful, restful weekend.

AND SETON HALL WON THE BIG EAST TOURNAMENT!!! Bummed out of March Madness in the first round (who even was that who showed up in our uniforms that day, definitely not the team I'd been watching all season), but it hadn't been so exciting to be a Hall fan in so long!

Ooo, Holy Week at my parish was cool, the first year with one set of liturgies for the two churches! I will never get sick of liturgical processions across the UES. March was a busy month for freelance work, too; I proofed a couple friends' theses. Those are so much fun! The only way I read their works, realistically, and they're saved the trouble of detailing their footnotes &etc. Win-win. It's actually too bad I have no more friends in grad school who wouldn't do it all themselves. :(


April began with the return of the now-traditional Bacon Friday party! An excellent beginning. The next day I introduced (read: accidentally set up) two friends from whom I maaaaay be expecting to see a ring within months.

I had a delightful visit to DC, catching up with old friends from various periods of my life and generally enjoying people! Notably, experienced my first Brazilian steakhouse, which was every bit as glorious as people have been telling me they are for over a decade. Also, I hadn't enjoyed whiskey and cigars that much in a very long while! Company and context both make the experience.

By April I was cooking all my meals regularly, about one new meal a week. More importantly, my energy had returned to about a normal level! This doesn't sound like much, but it'd been over two years, so it was friggin huge.

I was still doing too much freelance work in April, BUT that was interrupted by another truly standout play! Death for Five Voices is a musical about medieval composer of liturgical polyphony Carlo Gesualdo... who, earlier in life, walked in on his wife and his best friend in flagrante and murders them brutally. So there was plenty of drama already present in the story! It was well acted, well directed, well written, etc., but more importantly to me, the music was a stunning synthesis of the principles of musical theater and the principles of vocal polyphony. I'm still a little upset I can't buy a cast recording. It was just exquisite!

I also voted in the Republican primary, which, as I sadly expected, was in many ways more important than the actual election, sigh. But happier topics: I finished Michael J Sullivan's Riyria Revelations in April -- yet another living authors whose books I will now buy without question or hesitation! This series is a fantasy epic starring an unlikely pair (thief/former assassin and soldier-with-a-heart-of-gold who take on impossible-seeming odd jobs), and I just can't praise them highly enough!


Heh, May featured the worst play of the year! It was a good idea, playwright/director, to pit Sherlock Holmes, Britain's best fictional detective, against Arsène Lupin, France's greatest gentleman thief! But you focused on the trappings (and on having your American actors put on bad, inconsistent, hard-to-understand accents) and completely lost sight of what is essentially excellent about each character. It was wise of you to run the play straight through, without intermission, because even I might not have come back...

By May I was thoroughly enjoying cooking! I took to it a LOT better than I'd ever expected! A new recipe or two each week, most of which were at least moderately successful.

A lot of good family time in May, including a fun road trip for my sister's graduation. Embarrassing moment: for the first time in my life, I completely forgot to pack underwear for a trip! :o At least it took almost 30yrs for that one. PTL for a convenient Target... But really, it was a lovely weekend, all the things a graduation weekend should be, I think. (With some stresses that have faded with time.)


June ties with April for most theater -- 5 shows in each month! (This is why I say I've slowed down to two shows per month.) Including the first Shakespeare in the Park, which was just a ton of fun no matter how you slice it. Even waiting in line was just hours of playing games with friends! (Even if the show itself was the most uncomfortable Shakespeare has ever made me feel as a woman, to be thankfully contrasted with Lear in December.)

I lost weight in June! Completely unintentionally, I assure you, but hey, always a nice surprise! Only maybe 1/5 of what I gained from the mono, but whatever, it's still a good sign. This, too, was an excuse to buy more dresses (an excuse I never need!). I own a LOT of dresses, you guys!

And how could a forget a friggin great family wedding in June!! One of the cousins we never expected to marry, certainly not young, married a gal that we like way more than him (although we do like him, after all). Turns out, her family is Israeli Jewish (whereas I'd presumed they were NY Jewish), giving the wedding and reception a completely different character from what I'd expected! But an enormously fun one to me who loves to dance. And who doesn't love family shots? (I mean, plenty of people don't, but they're rare enough, and like 80% of the shots I've ever taken have been with family, so I find it fun, whatever.) It was a wonderful, wonderful event.


I let peer pressure get to me in July, and thus I survived my first ever camping trip! It wasn't so bad, actually. I mean, the bad parts were pretty miserable, but the whole "completely off the clock for days at a time" thing was great, as was the "s'mores every evening" thing. I am a sucker for fresh s'mores. Also good company and random sing-alongs. Basically, it was pretty great, and I'd do it again next year (but probably not more than annually).

And then came the WONC! Best vacation ever, with most of my favorite people! All those college friends who live far away but I'd be heartbroken if their kids didn't know me, those are the ones who come on this ever-2-or-3-years vacation, and it's just the best thing. This year the 7yo girl asked the 6yo boy if she could hold his hand, and then didn't let go of it for like a day and a half. The next day, he picked her some wildflowers! I'm basically hoping we get a first kiss on one of these vacations in the future; I don't even care whose kids it's between. It just feels so delightfully conspiratorial! But yeah, just a wonderful week relaxing where we can basically all take for granted an incredibly deep knowledge of one another. It's just beautiful.

A delightfully liberating realization I came to on the WONC: Never in my adult life have I cared less about being unmarried with no prospects! Probably this is a consequence of  having been sick for so long; I simply have no fucks left to give about all the things a gal is "supposed to" do according to some people. I've tried most of them at various times, and they didn't work. If God wants to put somebody in my life, He's gonna have to work at it (or else the guy is). I'm gonna focus on other things, like feeding myself and making my apartment less of a giant mess.

Bible study started back up in July, too! Spiritual works of mercy, man. I thought I knew them! Not really, though. Turns out, the whole shtick on these works of mercy is that you act not for your own needs or desires in the moment but for the genuine needs of the person in front of you, who knew? But after 7wks of reflecting on that, I feel like I'm finally beginning to have a sense of what it means to admonish the sinner, you know? to instruct the ignorant. It was just lovely. Huge turnout, too, almost too big for conversation! Good problem to have, but still.

And I capped off July by visiting my sister again! Charlotte's a great city, and her bunny is basically the greatest, smartest, softest pet ever (in my COMPLETELY unbiased opinion). Oh, also she's great and so is her boyfriend. I miss the bun, though.


Wow, a year is a long time! How do we still have so much left? Wow. I feel like things slowed down in August, though. Some cooking, some theater, some friend time... We tried to wean me off the antidepressants, then laughed and put me right back on the low dose, that happened in August. I think it's around this point when I began to realize that, while I have been feeling a thousand times more like myself, there still are some things to get to the bottom of, such as feeling anxious or low far more than before I got sick, and frequent headaches...

Oh! That's a thing I did in August! I embarked on a long overdue project of cooking the liturgical year, starting with an Algerian lentil soup for Monica and Augustine (did you know Hippo is in modern Algeria?). That was fun while it lasted (spoiler: kinda forgot about it after a couple months).

I also finally dug out the last of the mess in my apartment that was left in piles from the worst of my mono days! It takes many months to recover from 2yrs of not putting anything away because you just can't, and I really wanted to hit my 30th birthday with that clutter out of the way physically so that it could be out of the way psychologically.


In September I turned 30, woooooooooooooo! I was really looking forward to it, partly because it was a great excuse to throw TWO (back-to-back) really great parties, one in the city and one at my folks' place in Jersey, which a lot of people came to, but also I think because I've been feeling "old" for several years now, and that number changing gives me permission to express that without sounding completely obnoxious. But really, those parties were just delightful! I felt like I got to visit with everyone just a bit, and so many came!

Also in September, my first Improv Everywhere event! Their MP3 Experiment, which was delightful and which I very much hope to do again! If you watch the video, you can see me, red wig over face, in a gray dinosaur tshirt, just shy of 6m in.

I think it was in September that I tried to join the parish choir, but it just wasn't working, schedule-wise (very, very clearly). So sad! Trying to join and failing made me miss being in a choir even more than being out of a choir for almost three years already had.


Apparently it's not normal, when one stains an article of clothing, to think, "Aww, man! I guess the only thing for it is to tie-dye this," but that was the natural thought process to me! So in October I had a sleepover with my aunt, my dad's only sister, for the purpose of tie-dying my black-with-white-flowers(-and-pockets) dress. It was a lovely, relaxing visit of the kind one rarely gets as adults (because who can manage to carve out two whole days for visiting just one or two family members?). AND the dress looks glorious! Everyone thinks it came off the rack like that, and was a great find to begin with. Hehe!

I also had enormously too much fun with my Halloween costume! I wasn't able to come up with anything creative, so I recycled the carnival-gypsy idea of my childhood (although with fewer layers than when I did this in Chicago, because I'd've sweated through them all). The genius this time, though, was finding jewels to bedazzle my face with AND adding temporary tattoos! Especially tattooing my face. I maaaaaay have overdone it on the face tats...

I cooked a lot of things in October, according to my records. Which is kind of funny, because October is also when I gave myself my first second-degree burns (turns out, tossing a chunk of stew meat into a puddle of hot oil wasn't my brightest plan)! My poor pharmacist friend got a lot of texts from me that month...


I'm glad we started this month with a day pilgrimage to the Divine Mercy shrine in western Mass., because oh boy do we need it! The convert friend I went with had never been on a pilgrimage before! Which seems crazy to me, but really, had I ever been on a pilgrimage (besides the March for Life) before Steubenville? No, of course I hadn't. Whatever. Regardless, prayers and sacraments and a holy place and edifying conversation and surprise vespers with the brothers... It was good. :)

Perhaps November is when my interest in cooking waned? It doesn't appear that I cooked a single new dish all month, wow. I mean, November was an odd month emotionally. Not that Clinton winning the election would have been sunshine and roses, but Trump winning was a helluva gut punch, and one I was very unprepared for. I had just observed a week prior that every time I thought this election season had hit rock bottom, it proved me wrong, and here it went again! For most elections, the most painful parts end when the uncertainty/possibilities are gone, but nope! This only got worse. And I was lucky! Nobody on my feeds was vindictive or angry. But I am attracted to other people's pain; I absorb it, learn from it, pray for it, empathize with it. And so facebook became a toxic place for me, which made me sad.

But on Christ the King Sunday at Mass I was struck with an idea (as one often is at Mass, or is that just me?), and once Mass ended I hurriedly started jotting down ideas... A month and a half later, I confidently assess this idea as genuinely from God, based on the fruit it's borne. Each day, I've asked facebook a silly/ridiculous/unimportant question, just to get people talking about things other than their fears, their angers, the ways they feel hurt by "the other side." On slow days, I've gotten only 20 replies; some days I've gotten over 70! And I can't tell you how many people have privately thanked me for doing these (so I'm not sure I'm ever allowed to stop haha). It's really been a gift, though, and I'm so grateful for this way that God is permitting me to encounter other people.


December began with a day spent with my "aunt" and "cousins" -- you know, not related, but absolutely grew up together, still send them Christmas presents, etc. Extended family despite not technically being family. Well, the one cousin I hadn't seen in, I dunno, 8 years? It just felt like a lovely reunion, seeing them all together after so long. Small but sweet.

Family has been in closer touch than usual this December, a consequence of my grandmother's impressive car accident of the beginning of the month. She'll make a full recovery eventually, but in the meantime, she's got a lot of casts and braces for the nurses to attend to, and we're making sure she gets multiple visits and phone calls daily, which is a lot to coordinate. Everyone's good about it, though, which is wonderful. I am so grateful for my family, on both sides!

Sad to say, my happy run has ended, and after over a year scot-free, I've again been afflicted with a crush! It boggles the mind how much of one's brain/time can be taken up by repetitions of the same imaginary future conversations with the same boy, especially in a case like this where I think we'd be a poor match long-term but simply desire his friendship. I mean, it's bearing positive fruit, because he's pious as all get-out, but...

Happier news! I've also had more caroling this December than any Advent since, I dunno, high school? Just a lot of parties with caroling. It's been delightful! AND I finally went to the Messiah Sing-In at Lincoln Center. Basically, the more I sing, the more I crave more singing, so it's great that 2017 has a lovely Catholic chorale for me to join!

The theater has continued to please, and while this month's whitewashed Mikado feels like it was (almost) redeemed by April's excellent King and I, June's good-but-weird Shrew was redeemed by December's genderbent King Lear! I never realized what a naturally feminist play it is, just because the storyline is so much about Lear's daughters! Wonderful show, fun to know people involved, just excellent.


I cannot handle people's inability to communicate across ideological/experiential differences! How is it that we can't even hear each other? We not only fail to correctly assess what's important to "the other side" but we diminish them often to the point of depersonalizing them. True, they don't see our points, the things that are important to us. That doesn't mean we should be as bad and ignore their points! Oy.

Would it kill the left to consider that MAYBE not everyone who voted for Trump is racist? That maybe there were other issues at play, and some people weighed his bigotry with other things and it came out to be a lesser problem for them?

Would it kill the right to admit that HEY, hate crimes have gone up in the weeks since Trump's election? That maybe there ARE people who are happy for the opportunity to dehumanize and harm others for reasons of bigotry? That perhaps the reason why some people are whining loudly about their concerns is because they tried speaking softly and no one listened?


That being said, human beings have seemed interested in encountering one another, in moving forward, sometimes even in building bridges. And hey, those of us who are scared about Trump's presidency? We should have extra opportunities for service and advocacy! #worksofmercy

But seriously, people are wonderful, and my life has been full of great people. Family, friends near and far, ministry people, even co-workers! Not to mention the many humans I know from the internets. No matter what happens in a given time period, no matter how shitty a year may seem, it's still full of graces and blessings.

To anyone who actually made it this far, kudos to you! I really wrote this for myself, but hey, that's what the internet's for, right? I know this would be more interesting if I went back and added photos, but let's be honest, I've already spent 3h on this, so, pass. :)

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

On Fiction, Perspective, and the Culture Wars

I've been thinking a lot lately about fiction, and how we process it.

A couple weeks ago, some friends and I went to see Fiddler on the Roof (absolutely phenomenal, btw). While chatting at intermission, I mocked myself, declaring that I should have counted how many times I cried in that first act. One friend replied, "I know, the wedding was so sad!" 

Oh. Yeah, didn't cry at the wedding, even though, yes, it was very sad. No, what made me tear up was every moment when someone took the risk of being vulnerable to tell someone they love something important, something that would be horrible if that person took it poorly. (And when someone listened to a loved one saying something difficult, good or bad.)

Watched Captain America: Civil War this week (barely spoilers ahead, only for the general conceit of the film). It was a fantastic movie, and I spent most of it not quite tense but distinctly uncomfortable, concerned--convinced--that one of these beloved characters would do something they'd regret and not be able to take back.

Discussed the movie with three friends. #1 discussed scenes, characters, legitimate concerns presented and imperfect ways they could have been dealt with, etc., with great nuance (as per usual). #2 was extremely annoyed at Tony, could conscience no reason whatsoever to be on Team Iron Man; obviously Cap was right, as always. #3 admittedly isn't a big fan of Cap, and found him completely unsympathetic because he went rogue and didn't try to compromise or communicate, didn't at all see that he didn't have the time or opportunity to do much of either.

These latter two conversations have stayed with me, not because they impact how I think of these loved ones, but because they worry me. If we can't "see the other side" in a fictional problem, how can we possibly hope to navigate thorny real-life problems?

There's just about nothing in this world I hate more than the culture wars. They divide us so harshly, we don't even notice that we're demonizing (or at least patronizing) real people on the other side, people who may or may not have seen the same data, but who came to a different conclusion. We see agenda, we see malice, we see stupidity.

Yes, there is some agenda, some malice, some stupidity, always. But most of the time, the people "on the other side" are real people trying to fix legitimate problems, even if their proposed solution seems to cause more problems.

I should have some kind of conclusion here, but I don't. All I have are misgivings. Kyrie, eleison.

Friday, April 22, 2016

On Thoughtfulness

I've been in an uncommonly pensive mood lately. No, pensive is not quite the right word, as it connotes almost-brooding. I've just been thoughtful. Keeping everyday things close to my heart, but thinking about them more often, more deeply. Feeling them more clearly. Yes, my current novel is thoroughly excellent, but it might not be just the author's skillful characterization that's inspired tears a number of times this hundred pages or so. I suppose I'm vulnerable? Which is probably a good place to be, going into a retreat.

Life can be so overwhelming! There is so much to see, so much to do, so many people to love and care for. Freed from the shackles of disease, I can finally pursue a hobby! But only one. The other two vying for my time (let alone the many yet to be considered!) have to take a backseat until the period I set for this hobby is over, which is frustrating, and feels like I'm back to where I was months ago. Really, I'm not; I just (as always) want to do too many things.

Still, I'm grateful that my everyday life is not plagued by any of the heavy crosses I see around me; even if, at the same time, I am beginning to truly long for a romance. Previously, the longing was really a more practical desire for a life partner, someone to support and make plans (and children) with. That would still be great, but the aching begins for the sort of whirlwind of feelings described by so many, through so many media. An interesting change, and I'm not sure what may have sparked it. With this shift, though, comes an acceptance of a life other than the stay-at-home-mom one I've always dreamed of. Again, not especially positive or negative, just interesting.

Well! There is something relaxing about posting a fairly stream-of-consciousness blog. I've got a few half-written posts that I may return to soon. But in the meantime: I leave you with some absurdly fluffy puppies, because my sister and deprived-dog-lover friends are apparently rubbing off on me.


Thursday, March 17, 2016

A lovely hymn I can never use: On the gemstones in the walls of the New Jerusalem

Regarding Revelation 21:18-20:
The wall was constructed of jasper, while the city was pure gold, clear as glass. The foundations of the city wall were decorated with every precious stone; the first course of stones was jasper, the second sapphire, the third chalcedony, the fourth emerald, the fifth sardonyx, the sixth carnelian, the seventh chrysolite, the eighth beryl, the ninth topaz, the tenth chrysoprase, the eleventh hyacinth, and the twelfth amethyst.

 Translator's commentary:
The twelve foundation stones of the Apocalypse gave rise, as might be expected, to an infinite variety of mystical interpretations. Marbodus wrote a short contmentary on the prose that we are considering,

Sing to the tune of Faith of Our Fathers.

Ye of the heav’nly country, sing
The praise and honor of your King
The raiser to its glorious height
Of that celestial city bright,
In whose fair building stand displayed
The gems for twelve foundations laid.

The deep green hue of jasper saith
How flourishing the estate of Faith,
Which, in all them that perfect be
Shall never wither utterly,
In whose firm keeping safe we fight
With Satan's wile and Satan's might.

The azure light of sapphire stone
Resembles that celestial throne·:
A symbol of each simple heart
That grasps in hope the better part :
Whose life each holy deed combines,
And in the light of virtue shines.

Like fire, though pale in outward show,
Chalcedony at length shall glow;
Carried abroad, its radiance streams:
At home, in shade it hides its gleams:
It marks their holiness and grace
Who do good deeds in secret place.

The emerald burns, intensely bright,
With radiance of an olive light :
This is the faith that highest shines,
No deed of charity declines,
And seeks no rest, and shuns no strife,
In working out a holy life.

Sardonyx, with its threefold hue,
Sets forth the inner man to view;
Where dark humility is seen,
And chastity with snow-white sheen,
And scarlet marks his joy to bleed
In martyrdom, if faith shall need.

The sardius, with its purple red
Sets forth their merits who have bled:
The martyr band, now blest above,
That agonized for Jesus’ love:
The sixth foundation, not in vain,
The Cross's mystery to explain.

The golden colored chrysolite
Flashes forth sparkles on the night:
Its mystic hues the life reflect
Of men with perfect wisdom decked,
Who shine, in this dark world, like gold,
Through that blest Spirit sevenfold.

The sunshine on the sea displays
The wat’ry beryl’s fainter rays:
Of those in this world's wisdom wise
The thoughts and hopes it signifies :
Who long to live more fully blest,
With mystic peace of endless rest.

Beyond all gems the topaz rare
Hath value therefore past compare;
It shines, albeit of colour grey,
Clear as a fair ethereal ray:
And notes the part of them that live
The solid life contemplative.

Some Council, decked in purple state
The chrysoprase doth imitate:
In the fair tint its face that decks
'Tis intertinged with golden specks:
This is the perfect love, that knows
Kindest return to sternest foes.

The azure jacinth comes between
The brighter and the dimmer sheen:
The ardour of whose varied ray
Is changed with every changing day:
Th’angelic life it brings to view
Attempered with discretion due.

Last in the Holy City set
With hue of glorious violet,
Forth from the amethyst are rolled
Sparks crimson-bright, and flames of gold:
The humble heart it signifies
That with its dying Maater dies.

These stones, arrayed in goodly row
Set forth the deeds of men below:
The various tints that there have place
The multiplicity of grace.
Who in himself such grace displays
May shine with these in endless rays .

Jerusalem, dear peaceful land!
These for thy twelve foundations stand ;
Blessed and nigh to God is he
Who shall be counted worthy thee!
That Guardian slumbereth not, nor sleeps,
Who in his charge thy turrets keeps.

King of the heavenly city blest!
Grant that thy servants may have rest,
This changeful life for ever past,
And consort with thy saints at last:
That we, with all the choir above,
May sing thy power and praise thy love!

Cibes coelestis patriae, Marbodus, d. 1125, tr. John Mason Neale in Medieval Hymns and Sequences, 1863, alt. Public domain.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

On Bad Hymns

When you become a professional at something many of your friends are amateurs at, your pet peeves change, big time. Most notably, the amateur's expression of their pet peeves, which are no longer yours, drive you nuts.

Today's iteration? Bad hymns.

Not bad music-related puns, bad hymns.
Sure, those in the the collection complained about here aren't our best: Gather Us In; City of God; Lord of the Dance; All Are Welcome; and Mary, Did You Know? But there are so many that are so much worse! I understand, pet peeve, sung too often, etc. But take a gander at a few choice verses here:

Sing we of the modern city,
Scene alike of joy and stress;
Sing we of its nameless people
In their urban wilderness.
Into endless rows of houses
Life is set a millionfold,
Life expressed in human beings
Daily born and growing old.
                  from Sing We of the Modern City
A nice try, but:
Lord, the demons are still thriving
In the grey cells of the mind:
Tyrant voices, shrill and driving,
Twisted thoughts that grip and bind,
Doubts that stir the heart to panic,
Fears distorting reason's sight,
Guilt that makes our loving frantic,
Dreams that cloud the soul with fright.
                     from Silence! Frenzied Unclean Spirit
Culturally offensive yet trying to be progressive:
Remember all the people
Who live in far off lands
In strange and lovely cities
Or roam the desert sands,
Or farm the mountain pastures
Or till the endless plains
Where children wade through rice fields
And watch the camel trains.
                     from Remember All the People
Merely inane/reductive:
With Jesus for hero, for teacher and friend,
The world to the purpose of God shall ascend:
Then learn we that gospel of love to obey,
Till sickness and want and disputes pass away.
                      from With Jesus for Hero
Yes, bringing our work up to God (rather than bringing him down to our work) is good, but...:
Lord of cable, Lord of rail,
Lord of motorway and mail,
Lord of rocket, Lord of flight,
Lord of soaring satellite,
Lord of lightning’s livid line,
All the world of speed is thine!
                     from God of Concrete, God of Steel
And, of course, the uncontested (in my opinion) winner: Giant Love Ball Song by Carey Landry (earworm warning!).

So, pardon me if I don't really care that you're sick of singing On Eagles' Wings. You know what? At least that one's based on Scripture.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

On Goals, and a Lack Thereof

The problem is not so much 29 and single with no prospects.

The problem is more that most of my good friends are living my dream (stay-at-home-motherhood), and have been for about five years now.

Yep, I know. Still want it.

The problem is that I don't have any goals left besides motherhood:

Get an interesting advanced degree: √

Live in or near a couple great cities: Chicago (outside), Atlanta, NYC, √

Travel to interesting places: A dozen or so countries in Europe, one in the Middle East, and 38/50 states, before running out of money? √

Get published in an academic journal: √

Get published in not-an-academic-journal: √

Present a paper at a conference: √

Work for a(n arch)diocese: √

Work in publishing: √

So! I need to develop some life goals. No ideas how to do this.

I've got some small goals:

Shape up finances to a not-so-terrible place (depressing)

Get apartment to a not-so-messy place (depressing)

Get less terrible at cooking (depressing, and more importantly neverending)

Read voraciously (great fun, but there's no threshold to achieve here)

Maybe do some Shakespeare-related thing for his quadricentenary this year?

I have, in fact, NEVER regretted attending a Shakespeare play.

None of these provide overall motivation, though. None of them help me combat the feeling that I'm just filling time until my "real" life starts.

This would be so much easier if I had any career ambition whatsoever!

Anyway, suggestions are welcome, both for new goals themselves and for how to brainstorm/find new goals.

Until next time!

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Hey look! I'm back! And feeling a bit like a different Claire

I think I've reached a point in life when I need to blog again. I consume so much of other people's writings -- mostly stories, but a lot of random thoughts and brief articles, too -- I need to start producing some of my own.

Even apart from that, I find myself in ways I never thought I'd be: 

Living in NYC!

This was taken less than 2mi from my home (by not me)
29 and single with no prospects, and more or less settling down nonetheless.

Fighting various small-but-persistent health problems. 

My faith at a different, quieter, hopefully deeper level, at 11.5y and counting of intentional discipleship. 

An extrovert who has grown into the introvert problem of sometimes being suddenly Done With People while still out with people. 

Someone with a fantastic network of friendships rooted in Christ, who yet still struggles with and ponders about loneliness on a fundamental human level. 

A career woman with no interest in a career, who has trouble finding new life goals to set. 

A person unwilling to pick up and move again, because I've done that far too often already, and because it'd require something really good for me to move away from family again.

A reasonably fervent sports fan! Who knows sadly few fellow fans to discuss them with. A surprisingly common attitude among my friends is: "I love that you love sports! I have no interest in them myself, but it'so so unexpected in you, yet it suits you at the same time." That's quite charming, but doesn't help me suss out who to root for to win the AFC this year, besides anyone who's not the Patriots. (I think I'm going for the Chiefs, FWIW. I like Kansas/Kansans.)

Someone who hasn't gotten her shit together enough to send out Christmas cards in at least three years.

Oh yeah, and who has lost nearly all reservations about using coarse language, except of course in particular situations.

Someone who's not only unscandalized but unsurprised by various parish/diocesan/whatever happenings that cause faithful co-workers twice my age to FREAK OUT. I suppose I'm jaded in a certain respect?

Someone whose perspective has changed on a lot of things. Who gladly acknowledges objective right and wrong, but is more worried about an individual's culpability and vulnerabilities.

Someone who has increasingly seen places where the feminists actually get it right, enough so this no longer scares/disturbs her.

Someone who doesn't (can't) attend daily Mass, but prays Matins, Lauds, and Vespers daily.

Someone who's not in any kind of liturgical choir! Seriously, I haven't been out of a choir for more than a couple months since my age was in the single digits.

Enormously more conservative with both physical and verbal affection than in years past. Much preferring to demonstrate the same enormous amounts of love by implementing in life the great maxim of the visual arts: Show, don't tell. (Ok, tell sometimes, but only sometimes, and probably pretty concisely.)

Who watches a LOT of tv! And keeps pretty current on movies, too. So many great stories to watch these days!

Mostly wears hats for the enjoyment of other people, or to be easily identifiable publicly, and rarely for my own sake anymore.

Travels only a moderate amount, no longer flying someplace at least one weekend a month.

Who has recently begun to experience that horrible feeling -- when an acquaintance gets engaged, feeling fundamentally sad or resentful or frustrated, despite desiring to feel happy for her, who is truly delightful, and good for her.

Not only do I accept dates categorically unless the guy is unavailable, creepy, or far too old, but I straight up ask guys out myself when I have moderate interest! A date is just a date. And how else are you supposed to get in a decent conversation with somebody to see if there's any interest there?

Empathy runs especially high for those whose difficult experiences I don't share, whose sensitivities, whose "normal" others often transgress out of misinformation or obliviousness. I try to be aware of my own shortcomings in this regard, but I'm sure I do imperfectly.

Vulnerable is more difficult than it used to be.

I see others, often friends, speak of their job or their hobbies with passion, and am a bit envious. I don't know how to access equivalent passion/excitement in myself.

Thanks to my very-long commute, I read at least 20,000 pages a year. The vast majority of that is fiction, which is simply glorious!

* * *

I mean, plenty of things are still constant. I'm every bit as Catholic as I've ever been! I'm still broke. Still love stories, and love people even more. Still have great fun planning parties and other events in great detail. And unorganized writing turns into disorganized stream-of-consciousness pretty easily.

Heh. And what I intend to be a small note still turns out to be more than twice as long as I'd intended. Some things never change...

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

New Favorite Ash Wednesday Hymn

Sing to the tune of The Glory of These Forty Days:

It is the time of solemn fast:
The mournful days of Lent are here,
The priests and people weep aloud,
The temple echoes with their tears.

But all defy the wrath of God
And all the grieving words deceive,
Unless repentant hearts are true
And contrite in our shame we grieve.

In vain our foreheads mark’d with ash,
In vain the bow’d and beaten breast,
Unless true sorrow for our sins
Our very soul marks with distress.

With hearts thus Broken by our sins,
Before our God, then let us fall,
Who, knowing all our wicked faults,
Demands no punishment at all.

O righteous Judge! O God Most High!
Withhold the forfeit we should pay,
And give both time for true reform
And grace to help us change our way.

Grant us a harvest from our fast,
O, high and blessed Trinity,
Which we may reap in heav’n with you,
O, one and perfect Unity.

Solemne nos jejunii, Paris Breviary, XVIII, tr. John-Julian, OJN, 1997. © 1998 Order of Julian of Norwich. All rights reserved.

Monday, January 19, 2015

On Lovecraft and My Catholic Worldview

A few months ago, I bit the bullet and read my first H.P. Lovecraft story, the novella At the Mountains of Madness. I'd been hearing about Lovecraft for years, and knew he was well-respected by later authors and quite beloved by many, so I figured it was about time.

Bonus points to whoever correctly identifies
the number of eyes on this book cover.
Boy was I wrong!

It was a new-to-me kind of frustrating, because I could tell that I was supposed to be terrified (or at least anxious or creeped out), yet the only emotion I could muster was impatience.

I asked around, to try and understand what I was missing, but all replies suggested that while Lovecraft's mythos is phenomenal, he could have done with an editor. Ok, fine. Forgot about it for a while.

Those eldritch wall paintings are more interesting than wallpaper, at least.

But last week I stumbled upon a virtual book club reading this very book, so I thought I'd ask them if they could convince me of Lovecraft's genius, and their responses were thorough and helpful.

I should consider Lovecraft in his own time, they said, based on the way scientific researched changed their understanding of reality. Okay:
The TL;DR version is that when Lovecraft was born the sun was thought to be, at absolute most, around 20 million years old. When he was an adult we had discovered that the sun was powered by fusion and was around 4.5 BILLION years old. As a child Lovecraft thought the universe consisted of the milky way, around a million stars total, and a few blurry things no one knew what were. As an adult it was known that a) the milky way contained closer to 100 BILLION stars and b) all those weird blurry things were in fact galaxies as large as the milky way.
The cosmos expanded during Lovecraft's life at a rate comparable to the rate of expansion of available data storage during my life. I was born in late 1964. In 1973, the total manufactured fixed disk storage capacity in the United States was on the order of 100Gb. 40 years later, it's really hard to buy hard disks that small; hard disk storage currently costs on the order of 4 cents per gigabyte, giving our 1973 USA's installed hard disk capacity a value of around $5.
Ok, that IS a pretty huge series of changes. But what makes this terrifying? I needed someone to point it out to me. [Spoilers ahead, but plot isn't necessarily the point with Lovecraft, so whatever.]
Now think back to At the Mountains of Madness. The horror is not that the Elder Things, these half-plants / half-animals that have been hibernating for millions of years might come to once again re-inhabit the Earth, it's that even this wondrous creatures, to whom we are nothing more than ants, were themselves wiped out by something even bigger, more awesome, and more terrifying than they were.
Okay! That I can wrap my head around! But I still can't get my emotions there. I can appreciate his creations from an artistic standpoint, but they still don't creep me out.

Although they are still unsettling to look at.

This disconnect between brain and emotions simmered on the back burner of my mind for a few days, until finally, after returning from a wonderful retreat, it hit me:

What completely undercuts the eldritch horror of Lovecraft's world and creatures is Catholic theology!

Sorry not sorry. Couldn't resist!

Now, I've read explicitly atheistic authors before, but none were trying to terrify, so it's hard to compare. And no wonder Lovecraft's creatures do inspire so much fear; the world they represent is precisely the opposite of that in which our all-loving God has not only created but redeemed us!

Think about it. At the heart of Christian theology is that God, who needs nothing, created us just because he wanted to love us. Then he actually took on human weakness and died violently, painfully, so as to redeem not only all humanity, but each human being! His love for each one of us is profound especially in light of the enormity of the cosmos!

This image is not to scale.

It's all so enormous and grand! And we are so small, so short-lived. And yet, what dignity we are afforded, by virtue of the incarnation!

All this, just for a chance to spend eternity with you!

Angels, the only non-human sentient species mentioned in Scripture and Tradition, are metaphysically superior to us, being pure spirit--and we are explicitly praised as higher than the angels! How could any species, no matter how powerful, compete with love like that!?

You may be gigantic, powerful, ugly, and brutal, but you cannot deprive me
of the life that really matters, so why should I fear you? (cf. Mt 10:28)

Deus Pater, qui creavit omnium, miserere nobis.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

What I'm Reading Wednesday, #1 (Thursday just doesn't have that alliteration...)

So I've been thinking about this What I'm Reading Wednesday thing Liz keeps doing, and, knowing that I wouldn't actually write anything unless I committed myself by telling her yesterday, guess what I did? So I'm cutting my usual lunchtime tv break short and actually exercising my brain a bit...

1. Dear and Glorious Physician by Taylor Caldwell

My mom has been mentioning this book and how much she enjoyed reading for about as long as I can remember, so it's continually been on the back burner throughout my life--much like how, when I first watched Monty Python and the Holy Grail, I felt like the Black Knight was a beloved but deceased family member, based on how many times Dad had told hist story.

Apart from her completely inspecific high praise, however, I had absolutely no idea what to expect from this book. I was hooked by about page 15 (of 600), and could hardly put it down from that point forward! (Warning: minute spoilers ahead)

Beginning in Lucanus' childhood, Caldwell weaves a thoroughly-researched (even if fictional), compelling biography. Her characters remind you that, while God revealed himself fully to the Jews, there were always Gentiles aware of his existence; you also see the way that one man could impact the world, even without television or internet. Cultural prejudices are shown in what seems to me to be a realistic manner... and the familiar gospel stories are woven into the text and the lives of its characters so well!

Apart from one obvious misinterpretation that belies her Protestant theology (but what else should one expect re: the Eucharist?), and the silly insistence upon describing both Jesus and Mary as golden-haired and pale-skinned, I recommend this book very whole-heartedly. I can barely imagine how I managed to live so long and never have anyone else trying to sell me on reading it!

NB: Probably not for younger than teenagers, based on just a scene or two. Important ones, though.

TL;DR: If you're over 16 and a Catholic, how on earth have you managed not to read this book yet!?!? Do it. Seriously.

2. The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum, read by Anne Hathaway

As an American born in the late 20th century, of course I know the film version of the Wizard of Oz quite well. So when this came in Audible's "Daily Deal," I decided to give it a go, having been quite pleased with previous titles in their A-List Collection, and being curious about what the film adapted from the original text.

This was no exception! Hathaway's narrator voice did make me feel like I was participating in Storytime with the Queen of Genovia—which was definitely not a negative feature!—and the sheer range of accents, lisps, and other vocal tricks she used to differentiate the many characters was quite effective and impressive. I always knew who was speaking before they were identified, even the bit parts.

TL;DR: Great story, superbly narrated, and fun to revisit!

3. Smoke and Mirrors: Short Fictions and Illusions by Neil Gaiman

Upon the high recommendation of some friends whose artistic taste I quite respect, I started to read some Neil Gaiman novels—mostly via Audible, where he narrates his own stories. He's excellent at blurring the line between fantasy and reality, and also remarkably good at creepy. His bad guys, for instance, aren't just evil—they actually make your skin crawl with their, well, creepiness. Clearly my own articulation skills pale in comparison. :)

Anyway, my parents, with unexpected coordination, combined their powers and got me this book of his short stories, and they've been just fascinating! I've been reading just one nearly every day, which gives me plenty of time to digest each one. Because he doesn't have the taboos my moral code gives me re: sex, it's a lot more prevalent (and sometimes more depraved) than what I would otherwise expose myself to—which turns out to be quite okay in small doses, and thought-provoking.

TL;DR: Fascinating, slightly outside my comfort zone, enjoyable, completely unique. I'm a fan.

So, uhh... I guess there are more of these on Jessica's blog? Whoo!

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Reason #583.6 Why I Love Terry Pratchett

A brief quotation from his 2007 novel Making Money (yes, the footnote—the whole purpose of this post—is found in the book itself). The context here is an argumentative sort of town hall meeting.

"As' chairman of the, Merchant's' Guild gentlemen may, I point out that these thing's represent a valuable labor force in this' city—" said Mr. Robert Parker.*

*As a member of the Ancient and Venerable Order of Greengrocers, Mr. Parker was honor-bound never to put his punctuation in the right place.
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