April 15, 2014

Snippets Tied with Asterisks

Saturday got by me in a flash-point of light. Highlight was a little trip to Middle Eastern restaurant in Columbus appended with a visit to a nature store nearby - a museum of fossils, crystals and seashells where I purchased a $15 unbroken geode and my wife used her Christmas gift certificate on a new supposedly grackle-proof bird feeder. (Seems the squirrels are now feasting on the idea.)

[The geode turned out to be bust, literally. Hardly any crystals.)

Started reading lushly of the (THE) Updike biography via free first chapter download on Kindle. Not sure I can pass that up and I immediately succumbed to Updike's latest, last book of poems because I'm morbidly interested in last words and testaments. He had a good line about self-righteous peaceniks at the time of the Iraq war. Here it is sans line breaks:
Vietnam's gaudy gear and mount their irreproachable high nags called Peace, Diplomacy, and Love. I think that love fuels war like gasoline, and crying peace curdles the ears of doves.
So a grand amount of reading on - wonder of wonders! - the first sunny, warm weekend since Pete Rose's 44 -game hitting streak, or at least in the vicinity. I got transfixed by a project to try to list, chronologically, movies, books, music, talk show host influences of the past. I wondered if perhaps Shirley Maclaine's spiritual memoir Out on a Limb set the groundwork for a later enlivening of Catholic faith. I wonder if her book didn't soften me as far as the unseen. The next big landmark was 1992's John Paul's Crossing the Threshold of Hope...

*

Saw painting of first Joyful mystery of the Rosary and it occurred to me that my thinking is flawed on the Annunciation. Rather than see it as God asking Mary for something of an imposition, a radical change in her life's plan, I saw it today as a marriage proposal! That's why Gabriel was on one knee before Mary, he was asking, on God's part, to marry Mary, to overshadow her spiritually and produce a baby with her. How beautiful is that?

Also deeply moving to hear Matthew's account of the Agony in the Garden, specifically a detail I'd never heard before, i.e. that Jesus not once but three times asked the Father if it were possible that this cup might pass.

I'm touched by Jesus being touched by the woman who anointed him with oil before his passion and death. There's something affecting about how even though he was God he still cared about the little things, little acts like that. Jesus appreciated human kindness for sure, human thoughtfulness, even if it wasn't something he needed. I would think that anointing him with perfume would not be something too important to Him, primarily because it seems like there was no need for it in a utilitarian way. Anointing wasn't needed, for example, to mask the smell of bodily corruption and there was no spiritual benefit. It seems something of a pious custom. But he could read hearts and surely saw what it meant to the woman too.

*

Wow does St. Jerome well articulate how Gnostics then and now disdain the flesh while attending it:
And yet I wonder why they who detract from the flesh live after the flesh, and cherish and delicately nurture that which is their enemy. Perhaps indeed they wish to fulfil the words of scripture: “love your enemies and bless them that persecute you.” I love the flesh, but I love it only when it is chaste, when it is virginal, when it is mortified by fasting: I love not its works but itself, that flesh which knows that it must be judged, and therefore dies as a martyr for Christ, which is scourged and torn asunder and burned with fire.
*

Listening to jazz, writing in the journal, anticipating the experiential (not just calendar-ic) beginning of spring. Read a line from a Jack Gilbert poem that reminds me of the novena to Blessed Margaret of Castello: “God wished Blessed Margaret blind from birth so that she could more clearly see the value of spiritual realities…”

The Gilbert poem goes,

“Best of all are the gardens; hidden places where they have burned down the buildings and kept the soil poor so the plants won't grow with vulgar abundance, Like the Japanese gardens made only of rocks and sand so that their beauty would not be obscured by appearances.”

April 10, 2014

Kick it Diarist Style

Jonah Goldberg goes diary style!:

In order to turn a grind into a groove, I'm going to kick it diarist style. “What is diarist style?” you ask…Well, diarist style isn't quite a column and it's not quite a “news"letter, but you just might get a slice of cantaloupe at the end, if by cantaloupe you mean something that only in the vaguest sense could be compared to a cantaloupe. A loose inspiration for my technique is the old "Diarist” feature in The New Republic of the 1980s; a bunch of unrelated observations very loosely hung together by a topic sentence that masquerades as an unbelievably forced segue.

*

Work battered me; I felt like Fort Sumpter. I was hog-tied and whip-corded by the rather complex programmatical computer program. It was tiring more so because of the unexpected nature of the task; I'd anticipated a short putt and ended up needing a long drive. And difficult to debug! This one gives up her secrets reluctantly, like Lake Superior giving up her dead. But 'twas at least an easy inaugural day of the workweek. Took it by the “smooth end of the handle” then, as Thomas Jefferson once advised.

While on elliptical read more of the excellent country music songwriter's book. Hilarious and a perfect spice in my reading repertoire. Need a funny, brainless book to liven up the mix much as “This Town” did for me earlier this year.

Then read more of O'Malley's history of Vatican II. The author is painfully biased on the side of the more progressive proponents of the Council but it's a decent read as far as information goes. You do get a sense of how difficult the key issues were and I think to a certain extent both sides can now say, “I told you so.”

Progressives can say, “isn't this so much better, especially given Islam, how we're on the right side of religious liberty? And that Catholics are reading and studying the bible now? And that they can understand the Mass better? And that with less clericalism the flock is better set up to understand its duty to evangelize instead of just relying on priests?”

And the conservatives can say, “Oh didn't I tell you? Look at how we've stripped mystery from the Mass, decreased reverence, undermined the authority of church leaders! Look at the statistics on Mass attendance, vocations to the priesthood and religious life…How much good did Vatican II really do?”

*

I always read the Deuterocanonicals and wonder what, exactly, St. Jerome had against them. I always think of him as THE ultimate Bible expert given that he translated them from the original languages at such an early date in church history. I found this on the 'net so it has to be true:
In his later years St. Jerome did indeed accept the Deuterocanonical books of the Bible. In fact, he wound up strenuously defending their status as inspired Scripture, writing, “What sin have I committed if I followed the judgment of the churches? But he who brings charges against me for relating the objections that the Hebrews are wont to raise against the story of Susanna, the Son of the Three Children, and the story of Bel and the Dragon, which are not found in the Hebrew volume (ie. canon), proves that he is just a foolish sycophant. For I wasn't relating my own personal views, but rather the remarks that they [the Jews] are wont to make against us” (Against Rufinus 11:33 [A.D. 402]).
I always think I'd like to read some of the salty St. Jerome. He's got some of that St. Pio type of person in him, the type that tells it like it is and lets the chips fall where they may.

So I ran to my Logos app and found the letters of Jerome. Sweet! And I came across this immediately - loved the first line:
After shipwreck one has still a plank to cling to; [ed. note - A favourite metaphor with Jerome to describe the nature of Christian penitence.] and one may atone for sin by a frank confession. You have followed me when I have gone astray; follow me also now that I have been brought back. In youth we have wandered; now that we are old let us mend our ways. Let us unite our tears and our groans; let us weep together, and return to the Lord our Maker. Let us not wait for the repentance of the devil; for this is a vain anticipation and one that will drag us into the deep of hell. Life must be sought or lost here.
This is well-stated by St. Jerome:
Does any one wish to praise Origen? Let him praise him as I do. From his childhood he was a great man, and truly a martyr’s son....So greatly did he abhor sensuality that, out of a zeal for God but yet one not according to discernment, he castrated himself with a knife. Covetousness he trampled under foot. He knew the scriptures by heart and laboured hard day and night to explain their meaning. He delivered in church more than a thousand sermons, and published innumerable commentaries which he called tomes. These I now pass over, for it is not my purpose to catalogue his writings. Which of us can read all that he has written? and who can fail to admire is enthusiasm for the scriptures? If some one in the spirit of Judas the Zealot1 brings up to me his mistakes, he shall have his answer in the words of Horace:
'Tis true that sometimes Homer sleeps, but then
He’s not without excuse:
The fault is venial, for his work is long.
Let us not imitate the faults of one whose virtues we cannot equal.
*

Oh the occasional gold nugget I get from Lino Rulli's Catholic Guy show. Yesterday he talked about potentially having Greg Kinear on the show, an actor who is playing a role in an upcoming film based on the bestselling novel about the boy who went to Heaven. (I think the book is called “Heaven is Real”.) And co-host Fr. Kegron said that he doesn't want to read the book because it makes Heaven so much less mysterious. It makes too much like Earth! I much agree. Like the kid makes it sound like, “oh yeah and I saw Uncle Joe up there. He said to say, 'hi'”. And that you see your pets up there and all that and Lino said a funny and true thing about how for most people God is like number 5 or 6 on their list of who they want to see, after their kids or parents or grandparents or pets.

*

The weather is inching up towards fine-spiritedness. It definitely has its moments of late especially when the sun is out and the wind is down. Still not porch-sitting weather but I tried it out anyway for a few minutes. The grasp of winter is loosening its death-grip.

Meanwhile the Reds lose regularly as could be predicted by events beyond their control: very difficult opening schedule combined with too many injuries and the killer loss of Chu-Chu Soo.

*

Set up my new Google Chrome browser, thanks to Mozilla firing their chief for having done the unthinkable and contributed to an anti-gay marriage campaign. You can't make the intolerance up. I'm sure Google isn't any better than Mozilla but it was motivation enough to switch browsers. It was surprisingly enjoyable, setting up the bookmarks on the bookmark toolbar, organizing the favorites folder and playing with the new look and feel.

*

A nugget from the Rachel Cusk piece in The Paris Review:
The electric light, with the absolute darkness outside, made people look very fleshly and real, their detail so unmediated, so impersonal, so infinite. Each time the man with the baby passed, I saw the network of creases in his shorts, his freckled arms covered in coarse reddish fur, the pale, mounded skin of his midriff where his T-shirt had ridden up…

I thought about "look[ed] very fleshly and real, their detail so unmediated, so impersonal, so infinite" was similar to how people on the beach look with details not unlike her description of a fellow with "mounded skin of his midriff where his T-shirt had ridden up". And yet it's hard to see her interpretation of this. I see the beach as a sort of unexpected revealing, a small intimacy, what she sees as "impersonal" and "infinite". I do get the unmeditated part though. Unmediated by clothes.Ah and sad, but I think I'm going to have to give up The Americans. Way too much nudity.

*

Chinese spoken in next cube over;
they laugh in English.

*

Another from Cusk:
I remembered the way, when each of my sons was a baby, they would deliberately drop things from their high chair in order to watch them fall to the floor, an activity as delightful to them as its consequences were appalling. They would stare down at the fallen thing—a half-eaten rusk, or a plastic ball—and become increasingly agitated by its failure to return. Eventually they would begin to cry, and usually found that the fallen object came back to them by that route. It always surprised me that their response to this chain of events was to repeat it: as soon as the object was in their hands they would drop it again, leaning over to watch it fall. Their delight never lessened, nor did their distress. I always expected that at some point they would realize the distress was unnecessary and would choose to avoid it, but they never did. The memory of suffering had no effect whatever on what they elected to do: on the contrary, it compelled them to repeat it, for the suffering was the magic that caused the object to come back and for the delight in dropping it to become possible again. Had I refused to return it the very first time they dropped it, I suppose they would have learned something very different, though what that might have been I wasn’t sure.

So true, that imperviousness to suffering in babies and others. Reminds me of some who spend into debt relentlessly without being chastened despite bankruptcies. I suppose there is in addiction a sort of repeal of the normal cost-benefit analysis: addicts want what hurts them and makes them miserable (such as in the case of Heather King's alcoholism in which there was no joy in drinking) although admittedly perhaps there's still cost-benefit going on since to give up on the addiction is a different kind of ache, and a big one given the pain of drug withdrawal.

*

So heard a Dominican on XM radio talk about how the Church's Lenten disciplines are not prohibitions for the sake of the exercise of power but directional indicators, which are meant to turn us towards the good. The preacher said that most people today want a “freedom of indifference” rather than a “freedom of excellence”. The first kind of freedom is a freedom to do whatever you want without goal or meaning. The second kind is illustrated by the virtuoso piano player. The pianist became great through practice and that practice leads to the freedom to play great pieces.

*

Make the longish trek down to the barber I noticed tall skyscrapers of stone that showed darker streaks or patches where still damp with recent rain. I rather liked this human sort of thing, that buildings of inhuman height still bow before the Creator of rain by showing that evidence on their walls. As much as man may think he has tamed the environment even a simple thing like rain can alter the appearance of man's impressive works.

*

There's a Bible professor on Twitter who posted a snarky picture of Willie Wonka with the caption, “So, Jeremiah 29:11 is all about you? Remind me again about your time in the Babylonian Exile”.

The prof says “I use Jer 29:11 in my classes as an example about the importance of context.” (The verse goes, “For I know the plans I have for you… plans to prosper and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”)

It reminds me of one of my blog tags: “Can't I love Isaiah too?”, recognizing, of course, that my historical situation is different that Isaiah's intended audience.

But really what a killjoy the professor is, as well as those who posted the snarky picture. Isn't that verse applicable to everyone, or does God not know the plans for some and wish to harm others? I know it's easy to cherry pick Bible verses, but really the Bible has comforting verses for a reason.

*

They had Miss Development on the company radio show today. Development is pita (pain in the ass) in which we have to basically learn something new tangentially related to our job, etc.. It's a way to force you to feign interest in something you're not currently working on to check off some sort of activity that looks good on paper. But I like the “and/both” character of her answers: “We feel the employee owns his or her own development but we also expect supervisors to motivate and hold employees accountable.” Genius. Supervisors AND employees own their development. Why didn't I think of that? Reminds me of the classic “you have two number one priorities” line.

Then the host asked “what if someone is happy where they are and doesn't want to do development? Will that be used against him?” Again the pluperfect answer from a corporate perspective: “No, it won't be used against him but development is not optional.” A bit oxymoronic. How can this be?

I asked the following in the chat window: “How come development can't be seen more broadly, more in a liberal arts sense, such as taking a class in music appreciation, reading a classic novel, or learning a language?”

She said that was a good question but we need be focused on what can improve the bottom line more directly. Again predictable but I had to ask.

*

Tiredage! A non-word so let the lawsuits fly. The day was sprung early; I moved with alacrity from bed in order to imbibe in my rich reading life. Reading is the reason to get up in the morning, with coffee a close second.

Read Bill Luse's buddy's novel, Rick B's, and it's surprisingly engaging. The guy writes with verve; humorous and biting. There are some excellent images in there, such as referring to the cycle of unwed mothers begetting more of the same as the “apostolic succession of single mothers”. A character in the story refers to the lower class as “mean but loyal”. It surprises me how interesting the writing. Eccentric but in a pleasing way.

Also read more of the intriguing backstage look at country music titled Country Music Broke My Brain. And then all about George W. Bush's new painting career (googled for images of the paintings). So interesting. Bush's painting hobby seems like something I might want to take up when retired ala Churchill, Bush and Bill Luse. Seems like that's a retirement activity par excellence. It's interesting that Bush would go in that direction though. He seems not the type. As he said in an interview with his NBC-employed daughter, whoda thunk he would be a painter and she'd be working for the enema?

*

That Jennifer at Conversion Diary is normally pitch-perfect as far as understanding her audience, but I wonder if she's (over)plugging her book, ala Fr. James Martin. Doesn't even come out till the end of this month. On the other hand, I understand she's a new author and enthusiastic and in a blog you're going to write what's on your mind.

*

Thought about the ceaseless nature of a priest's work, how our priest gave us the “balm of Gilead” today in word and sacrament as he does every Sunday. There's a Sisyphean quality to Mass: the priest performs a ritual that appears to have a temporary effect in that spiritual muscles will tighten inexorably and there is thus a constant need for the softening agents of word and sacrament. Reminds me how my uncle, a priest, saw his homilies as useless given most people don't remember them very long. Unlike, say, constructing a building, which has a long-lasting tangibleness. But that's to judge by human standards and ignores the great reality that our bodies and spirits are creaturely and are designed by God to need refreshment, and the highest good is the human, not the material.

April 04, 2014

It's All Good Until Somebody Gets Hurt

Well, it took over a decade but I actually know someone who got taken in by Nigerian scammers.

Yes, the seemingly impossible has happened: my father-in-law's cousin is now $25,000 shy.  I'd like to know more but obviously it's a very sensitive subject.

It amazes me that this could happen this late in the email evolution/revolution, at a time most of us have been thoroughly conditioned to ignore mail that start like this (which I received this very day):
My Dearest One,

This is Miss Marina Sanzel from Trinidad & Tobago. I am writing from the hospital in Ivory Coast , therefore this mail is very urgent as you can see that I’m dying in the hospital which I don’t know what tomorrow will be.

I inherited some money ($2.5 Million) from my late father and I cannot think of anybody trying to kill me apart from my step mother in order to inherit the money, she is an Ivorian by nationality. 
That last sentence is a doozey.  "Some" money?  $2.5 million is some serious cash in my world.  And then the dramatic "I cannot think of anybody trying to kill me" with the quick reversal "apart from my stepmother".  Ah yes the evil stepmother trope. I think we need to kill that plot-line, too predictable.  But the beauty of it all is the sudden non-sequitor: "She is an Ivorian by nationality."

(Cue ominous music.) 

So is this supposed to mean something, as if Ivorians are not to be trusted? Or am I meant to stay tuned, the "Ivorian" a brilliant foreshadowing that will make sense later? I think you see by now the literary depth involved in these emails.  Later she writes:
Give 20% of the money to my servant Mathieu as he has been there for me through my illness and I have promised to support him in life. I want you to take him along with you to your country and establish him as your son.
Hey, wow! Now there's a plot twist.  You're not just getting money, you're gaining a son.

So these ruses must work else they would not exist. The word hasn't gotten out. You can never underestimate the limits of communication, that someone will not hear that there is such a thing as email scammers. If that "obvious" piece of information has not been universally communicated, what else hasn't? 

April 03, 2014

Columbus Seven Church Tour

Columbus Jubilee Museum:




  









So Saturday was the big ol' seven churches tour (“Sevenchurchtour.com” as Fr. W plugged early and often).  Off to big bus at St. Brendan's, which rolled towards our first stop at Holy Cross. Our priest-tour guide was quite a card, wearing a goofy hat with large bear ears.

I think he removed his hat for the Rosary we said on the way down, the Sorrowful mysteries for Lent. The tour was roughly in chronological order and so we started at the 1833 church Holy Cross. He gave an interesting history and we said a relevant prayer at this and all the subsequent churches.
The church was not overly impressive as far as art or architecture but explained this was an immigrant generation without much money and that you could see how much more ornate the second generation churches became. Second generation immigrants are among the wealthiest generation, he said, because they are bilingual.

He also talked about the Irish and German splitting, the Irish from Holy Cross heading off to St. Patrick's. He handled that intriguing subject of Irish/German relations straightforwardly, explaining people simply like to be with people similar to them. He illustrated this by saying in Rome, where he lived for four years, he could immediately tell the Americans from their clothes, shoes, and cockiness. He said he naturally fell in with fellow Americans even though he thinks he probably wouldn't have been chums if they'd been in the U.S.

Fr. W is a good self-promoter and not shy about expounding on his language skills (speaks fluent Italian) or time management skills. Definitely has some Bill O'Reilly in him, which my father noticed as well.

After Holy Cross we headed into a driving chill rain towards St. Patrick's, a rain that would accompany us everywhere in various manifestations of intensity and windiness.   Later churches toured included St. Mary's in German Village, St. Joseph's Cathedral, Holy Family, St. John the Baptist in Italian Village and then St. John the Evangelist – where a smashed vodka bottle rested by the side of the road and our bus driver helpfully kicked the glass out of the way. Rough part of town where “you don't want to be skipping at midnight” as Fr. W put it.

We had lunch near Holy Family, in the archdiocese Jubilee Museum where they “feed the body downstairs in the soup kitchen and the soul upstairs in the museum”. We arrived late to the auditorium since we had sat in the back of the bus and it looked like standing room but for a collection of ornate leather chairs around an oval glass table. It looked off-limit-y, but a lady who looked in charge said we could sit there and so we did and so we ended up with quick access to the box lunches and later the best tour guide, an opinionated and self-assured padre wearing old-style traditional clerical attire. Lunches were tasty if low on protein: ceasar chicken sandwiches, heavy on the bread, with potato chips, an apple and a cookie; later someone would end up with low glucose. Fr. W sat next to me; he wasn't overly talkative but I asked him why he didn't become a Dominican and he said he only briefly considered them and then added that he considered more seriously the Jesuit order due to liking St. Ignatius.

The tour of the museum was fabulous. I'd looked around at the dumpy auditorium where we ate and it looked like a forlorn junk store saddled with Catholic kitsch. I thought the museum would be similar, or at the very least small, but it was capacious as the day is long and filled with striking rooms full of books and art. (One was a “nun room”!?) The priest guide was entertaining and well-spoken and gave a spicy defense of Catholicism against Jewish and Protestant naysayers. He also mentioned something I should've realized: that there is no such thing as a “traditional Gaelic Mass” as the Irishfest advertises given that the Mass was in Latin for practically a millennium.

In the beginning he made a plea for funds that was off-putting and overly pushy, going so far as to make fun of a guy who placed a ten dollar bill in his hands as if he was doing the good padre a favor. But the museum itself won me over, as well as his enthusiastic tour talk. He spoke surprisingly emotionally about St. Peter's, a church on Fifth Avenue that had met its demise around 1970 when a lot of parishioner houses were swept away by the installation of Interstate 71. His long defense against those who said the church was demolished due to I-70 seemed curiously eccentric and overkill, yet he had gigantic visual aids showing the church property before and after I-71.

Much too soon that part was over and we headed into the cruel rain towards an Italian church I'd never seen before. Very colorful, with a bright blue-sky ceiling. Then off to Fr. W's home church, St. John the Evangelist, a handsome one modeled after many a church in Germany. Fr. W then said Mass for our group using the homily to tell us about the church and his role in it but also inspirational in how the destruction of the main stained glass window in the back led to the church's eventual restoration and how God does similarly with our souls.

On the way home we picked up Outback and then a generous happy hour followed by downer of a movie starring Matthew McCaughney titled “The Dallas Buyer's Club”. The 94% favorable rating swayed me too much. As someone wrote in a major publication, we are living in the golden age of television, not movies, and I for one would much rather see Justify or Nashville than anything at the local movie joint.

*

Was buoyed by the surprising news that my wife's niece is becoming a Catholic this Easter. Am reminded of the Flannery O'Connor's words about a voluntary conversion being a miracle and indeed with all the gloom and doom of the state of the world it's just always an amazing thing to see anybody converting. I'm curious at what brought her to this point, especially given that you can't convert without “supreme effort”, i.e. going to RCIA classes for a long, long time. That would seem to make converting to the Catholic Church a far more impressive thing than, say, getting married, since you can do that on a whim, in Vegas, in ten minutes. No barrier to entry to marriage and I wonder if the Catholic Church is the only non-educational institution that requires a barrier to entry with no financial reward. My workplace, for example, has a barrier to entry - usually a college degree of some sort - but they pay you. Clubs and organizations offer free or very cheap membership dues.

My wife was invited to the Easter Vigil; she doesn't want to stay for the whole thing but I do; the Easter Vigil is a bit long and brutal unless someone you know is being initiated into the Church (such as my sister-in-law a year or two ago) and then it's inspiring.

I wonder what impact, if any, my own wedding had on my wife's niece. Was it her first Catholic Mass? She would've been maybe 16 then. I think she might've been the one who received Communion illicitly but I can't recall. I wonder if Fr. G had planted a tiny, tiny seed in his dramatic, idiosyncratic narration of the Words of Institution. Stranger things have happened!

Later went for the obligatory run even though legs and lungs were DOA. A forced march, as it were. Went so slow that confused dogs were unsure, for barking purposes, whether I was running or walking....

Diaristic Wanderings


So the day was maelstrom-y, though with a crazily juxtaposition of peace during which my mind bloomed with the agate of sleep; I pictured a luminescent blue sea that became caramelized as stone that I could carry in my pocket. I drifted off, drifted in....

Great was the much-needed exhilarating run, a good half-hour, running free. The first five or ten minutes were great. The last five or ten minutes were great. It was the middle, oh, fifteen that sucked. In mid-stream I was too tired from the beginning and had not yet reached the fabled runner's high. Perhaps a metaphor for the spiritual life: we start with consolations galore, we go through a long period of grind, then we achieve the Beatific vision. If all goes well.

*

I feel like I want to subscribe to The Paris Review permanently, such is my affection for something so refreshingly apolitical and free of news. It's likely a phase, an infatuation, but I'm certainly picking it more than I ever did the New Yorker. Life's too short to read about politics and there seems a greater depth to fiction, suffused with a dreamy quality.

The story by Rachel Cusk has been riveting. She seems a pessimist by experience; she's recently divorced and her writing is suffused with that sensibility of loss and suffering.
“Sometimes it seems that life is a series of punishments for moments of unawareness, that one forges one's own destiny by what one doesn't notice or feel compassion for; that what you don't know and don't make the effort to understand will become the very thing you're forced into knowledge of. While I spoke, [he] looked more and more aghast. That is a terrible notion only a Catholic could come up with…”
But really, is not the paragraph above a pluperfect retelling of the moral of the parable of the rich man and Lazarus?

A character in her story says he writes everyday of his childhood in order to “recall it piece by piece, every little detail.” In the character's case due to his happy childhood. Funny but I don't know if I had a happy childhood or not. I think back and it seems a mixed bag. I felt certainly a lack of control and autonomy. I had a perfectionist mindset that bedeviled me at certain times, of frustrations. I recall of course many fights with my sister, the cutthroat world of high school popularity that seemed just beyond my reach, just elusive enough to tantalize. If I just tried harder perhaps I could be popular, which was the take of my cheerleader (and uber-popular) cousin Kathy. (Who was in my class and thus in the know.) Glen DuBruck (always teased as “Glenda Bruck”) was a case study for popularity; he transformed himself between 10th and 11th grade into a social climber and climb he did. From nerd to bird.

I suppose childhood doesn't include adolescence and thus I'm mixing memories. Childhood, well, who doesn't have a happy childhood? Even those who suffer often don't think of it being suffering at the time given they have nothing to compare it to.  The famous line about being poor but not knowing you were poor. The resiliency of youth is apparent - how many pre-teens get diagnosed with depression or commit suicide? Almost none, suggesting childhood is a special state of bliss.

I remember clearly the speed of childhood, of moving fast, of unadulterated joy in the simple game of tag, of sprinting! I miss sprinting, sprinting with legs of freshly made sinews, of the sheer and present joy of motion unimpeded. I miss feeling like a dolphin in water, of how simply diving off a two-foot diving board was a craved feeling. Oh did we exult in movement as kids while the elderly spend their dotage in dread of it!

Still, I like the idea of recording my childhood perhaps because it is a perishable resource, perishing in my mind as we speak. Already I've forgotten so much … I wish much I've have recorded what I could recall years ago. I would love to recover at least a chronology of major events in my young life: to see where the “markers” of deep feeling occurred.

March 28, 2014

More from Cusk's Paris Review Story


I suppose, I said, it is one definition of love, the belief in something only the two of you can see, and in this case it proved to be an impermanent basis for living.  Without their shared story the two children began to argue, and where their playing had brought them away from the world,  making them unreachable for hours at a time, their arguments brought the constantly back to it. They would come to me or their father, seeking intervention and justice, they began to set greater store by facts, by what had been done and said, and to build the case for themselves and against one another. It was hard, I said, not to see this transposition from love to factuality as the mirror of other things that were happening in our household at that time.

March 27, 2014

Let's Play....Why's My Bookbag or E-reader Equivalent So Heavy


 Snippets from a Paris Review short story:
I said that I thought that most of us didn't know how truly good or bad we were, and most of us would not be sufficiently tested to find out.
…they watch the brightly lit family scene inside. Looking through the window, the two of them saw different things, Heathcliff what he fears and hates and Cathy what she desires and feels deprives of. But neither of them can see things as they really are.
And of those two ways of living - living in the moment and living outside it - which was the more real?

From Jack Gilbert: 
I try to see in what is left of the light down there the two I was. The ghost of the boy in high school just before I became myself. The other is the ghost of the times later when I could fall in love: the first time, and three years after that for eight years, and the last time ten years after. I feel a great tenderness for all the dozen ghosts down there trying to remain what they were... It puzzles me that I care so much for the ghost of the boy in high school, since I am not interested in those times. But I know why the other one frightens me. He is the question about whether the loves were phantoms of what existed as appearance only. I know how easily they come, summoned by our yearning. I realize the luminosity can be a product of our heart’s furnace. It would erase my life to find I made it up.
From Karl Ove's novel "My Struggle": 
“This is all about purity, nothing less. Through and through. Asceticism. Don’t be corrupted by TV or the newspapers, eat as little as possible. 
          *
...and if it didn’t turn out the way we had imagined, that made us rage against the state if a tsunami came and you didn’t receive immediate help. How pathetic was that? Become embittered if you didn’t get the job you had merited. And this was the thinking that meant the fall was no longer a possibility, except for the very weakest, because you could always get money, and pure existence, one where you stand face-to-face with a life-threatening emergency or peril, had been completely eliminated. This was the thinking that had spawned a culture in which the greatest mediocrities, warm and with a well-fed stomach, trumpeted their cheap platitudes, thus allowing writers such as Lars Saabye Christensen or whoever to be worshipped as if Virgil himself were sitting on the sofa and telling us whether he had used a pen or a typewriter or a computer and what times of the day he wrote. 
Getting things to run smoothly, working to achieve a lack of resistance, this is the antithesis of art’s essence, it is the antithesis of wisdom, which is based on restricting or being restricted.
Sometimes I thought the longing for the terrain we had grown up with was biological, somehow rooted in us, that the instinct that could make a cat roam for several hundred kilometers to find the place it came from also functioned in us, the human animal, on a par with other deeply archaic currents within us.
*
From there we moved onto Stefan Zweig’s The World of Yesterday, the fantastic portrait of the turn of the last century, when age and gravity and not youth and beauty were desirable, and all young people tried to look middle-aged with their stomachs, watch chains, cigars and bald patches.

“When I read Lucretius it’s all about the magnificence of the world. And that, the magnificence of the world, is of course a baroque concept. It died with the baroque age. It’s about things. The physicality of things. Animals. Trees. Fish. If you’re sorry that action has disappeared, I’m sorry the world has disappeared. The physicality of it. We only have pictures of it. 

A Diary By Any Other Name




So yesterday was the long anticipated day: the “magic” pile of found money in my amazon.com account as part of the ebook settlement. Unfortunately the euphoria of finding the email awarding me money for books was somewhat undermined by the small sum: $27.39. Somehow I'd anticipated over $100, and many of my fellow Kindlers did find amounts of $100, $180, even (supposedly!) $587. (That dude spends way too much on books or is a good liar.)

I think part of it is that I didn't buy too many bestsellers between '10 and '12, and that's where you get up to 30% of the book's value. For other books it's much less. And I buy books from religious publishers like Ignatius Press, which obviously weren't involved in the lawsuit.

Still $27 is $27 and I went on a spending “spree” and I picked up George Will's new book on baseball and Wrigley Field.  I also got the biography of Bozelle, the flamboyant conservative crusader. Was tempted by a James Joyce biography but ended up requested that one from the library, as well as a big new book on Pete Rose (how much more can be said??)

So that was fun while it lasted.

*

You can't live on bread alone, but some have lived on prayer alone or so the hagiographers say. I've been trying to live off the spiritual high of Monday night's spiritual reading but it's Thursday so it must be Denmark. You can gin that stuff up; you have to let go and let God.

I'm still edified by a single word in John's gospel the other day: “wearied”. As in Christ was wearied by a journey (on foot). Somehow I tend to have this picture of Jesus as being without stress/strain until Holy Thursday and Good Friday. As if he might've simply snap his fingers and bi-locate if he wanted to be, in this case at the scene of the Samaritan woman at the well. But of course that's not what his miracles were about. They weren't for himself but for others.

That Jesus was tired is even more telling in John's gospel since John so likes to emphasize His divinity rather than his humanity (going so far as to ex-nay the part about Simon of Cyrene helping carry the cross). “I don't need no stinkin' help!” is the gibe I get from John's gospel: which is one of the reasons I like John's gospel. I always tend to error on the side of my patron saint, St. Thomas the Apostle, in assuming that natural processes rule the roost.

The high point of the day was around 1pm: Mass at lunch with its pleasing metanoia - followed by lasagna capped by “found” cookies, chocolate chip, scarfed via a co-worker the other day and residing in all their latent power, in my desk. A “look what I found” rebound if there ever was one.

At 2 there was one of those content-free leader chats that tend to amuse me for their content-free nature. I participated, answering the question “What is something that makes your work environment less satisfying?”, saying it was this uber-focus on engagement scores. One of the leaders had the perfect response, perfect for the Orwellian reply: “Yes, we've heard from employees tired of the word 'engagement' which is why we're avoiding it and emphasizing what we can do to make the work environment better.”  In other words, let's get at engagement by calling it something else. Somewhere there's a Dilbert cartoon….

*

On diaries: I kept one for 4 months back 40 years ago when I was 10 years old. Over that period of time we see:

    * Number of babysitting nights: 10 -- (3 Linda, one Mark C. and the rest me)
    * Average payment I received for babysitting:  12.5 cents
    * Average payment I received for snow shoveling: 50 cents
    * Number of pizza nights: 14
    * Number of fights between my sis and me: 2
    * Number of times Dad went through red light that "wasn't red": 1
    * Times bro got paddled/ broke something/ was on TV and got sick: once each
    * Times Mom's friends/family came over: 5
    * Times Dad's family/friends came over (excluding his father): 1

Entry 40 years ago today:


After school I went straight to Joe 's on his bus. We practiced are play called, "Another dull day at school". Then Joe, Rusty, Tom M., and I played football against Maureeen's brother and Tami's brother. Mom went to buy Jeannie a Easter-suit. 

Jump that shark baby!

March 26, 2014

Ahhhh.....



The interior of Rizzoli bookstore on West 57th Street in Manhattan. 

March 20, 2014

Stuff Mostly Unrelated but Tied Together By Helpful Asterisks

My beer coaster with Kindle backdrop

The gospel the other day could be read not only as criticism of the Pharisees but, if reversed, the characteristics of God?:
“Observe all things whatsoever they [the Pharisees] tell you, but do not follow their example. For they preach but they do not practice. They tie up heavy burdens and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they will not lift a finger to move them. All their works are performed to be seen…They love places of honor at banquets, seats of honor in synagogues, greetings in marketplaces…

Reversing we have:
Observe all things whatsoever God tells you, and follow His example. For He practices what He preaches. His burden is light and He'll help to carry it. Many of his works are performed in secret, not to be seen…He loves places of honor at soup kitchens, seats of honor at sinner's houses.

*

I feel like I'm in full “shark” mode, book-wise. Am hungry for text and hungry not just for the ineluctable delights of Kindle but also hungering for print editions as well, especially for classics. Burton's 17th-century classic Anatomy of Melancholy is on my short list, even more so given the high praise of Dr. Johnson (who said it was one of the few books he could read in the morning and smile, he apparently having a disgruntled morning disposition). Then too it'd be nice to have Joyce's Ulysses as well as a Chesterton Complete Works edition (though Ignatius Press's offerings are lame to the extreme - ugly paperbacks! At least if you're going to do paperbacks made them attractive, i.e. use gloss.)

Anyway my Bible-mania is spreading. The proximate cause of this itch was receiving a Folio magazine. (I checked Anatomy of Melancholy on the Folio Society website and it's $180!  No way Jose.)

*

I love the poetry of Isaiah! I dipped into it a bit in the spectacularly gorgeous Oxford edition. It sings, it singes! Yes the prophet does both!

Read a bit of Chesterton's poetry this morning. Dreamy. Certainly uneven but still there's a vivid image here and there and coupled with a Christian underpinning, something rare in most poetry I come across.

*

Somehow I'm not surprised that the 13th century interlocutor of St. Christina the Astonishing didn't reveal the details of Heaven, Hell and Purgatory as seen in Christina's vision. Somehow it seems like God holds these sorts of secrets close to His vest for obvious reasons (i.e. to discourage presumption or despair). We can speculate and some visionaries have given us numbers of a sort: most folks in Purgatory, some few to Heaven and significant group to Hell. Ah but wouldn't that be a bit prosaic, and thus unlike God, for us to die and find the reasonably predictable outcome of the above ratios? Isn't that too human a judgment? Wouldn't it be far more surprising to see 80-90-100% go to Heaven or, heaven forbid, those numbers going to Hell? I remember reading a Medjugorje seer quote those approximate numbers and felt almost disappointed. But ultimately I guess I don't understand how everyone can be going to Heaven when we've already seen in the angelic world a significant host choosing the devil and Hell. It seems unlikely that humans are somehow exempted from the awful cost of free will.

(On that happy note...let's end on something more positive:)

March 17, 2014

Ponders



This, from Kevin Williamson's “End is Near” book, seems almost crazy if to be believed:
It would take very little for the twenty-first-century American to replicate the standard of living in the alleged golden age of the 1950s—the median income was only $10,000 a year in today’s dollars, meaning that a full-time job at the minimum wage today (with two weeks off every year) would produce an income in excess of the typical household income in the 1950s.
I guess it shows how poverty is so relative, relative to what others are consuming. The flip side of this factoid is if we Christians did live near 1950s levels we could do so incredibly more for churches and charitable causes.

I ran it by an econ-philiac and he said:
I’ve heard that before from the Cato institute. Standards of living are an apples to oranges comparison. You assume everyone has to have an iphone and 2 cars and viola, you have poverty. 
*

Another fascinating read was still reading how train wreck'd Detroit came about. I suppose it's a confluence of issues, much like how the Roman Empire fell. The “gun”, to make an analogy, seems to have been the decline of the auto industry. The “trigger” was the African-American unrest and reverse racism, starting with the riots of '67. Williamson quotes Ghandi as saying any self-respecting country will prefer bad self-government to good government by a foreign power, and then adds that Detroit followed this dictum “but its motivating factor was racism, not nationalism.”

And the trigger for Detroit black racism appears to be 1940s-era white prejudice and police racism. The governor at the time wanted to build a housing project for black defense workers in an ethnically Polish neighborhood and there was an uproar in the white community.

From another book on Detroit, written by a Jew, there's an interesting take on the struggle between writing off people as simply products of their environment versus holding them accountable for their own actions.  Forgiveness is much easier when we simply ascribe faults to environmental factors even if it might be patronizing. But isn't there something positive to be said for ease of forgiveness (even at the possible expense of truth?), especially in light of the degradation of modern Detroit's misery (mostly caused by a lack of forgiveness)?  The author talks about a deep friendship with a black kid he knew named Charles and how Charles ended up betraying him:
I knew Charles; I knew him well enough to blame him, personally, for betraying our friendship and his own nature. And yet, despite this knowledge, I gradually came to see what happened in the same impersonal way my [liberal, detached] classmates did. What can you expect? I asked myself. It’s not his fault, it’s the way society made him. It was the easiest way of understanding what had happened, a thought that helped me forgive Charles and dismiss him from my life.
*

I wonder why 2-year olds (although that's a generalization given my familiarity with only two two-year olds) find the simple light game we play so much fun. It goes like this: they switch on the light and I cheer. They turn off the light and I frown and make a sad face.

My hunch is it's due to one of two factors. One is that they feel empowered: they can make grandpa happy or sad based on the power of their actions. That can't be too familiar a thing for them! Second, more doubtfully perhaps, they feel empathy (although empathy is rarely shown by delight, ha). They empathize with someone being subject to another's whims.

*
 
I like Word Among Us!:
God has a plan for you. So often, we reduce that plan to the things we have to do, like spending time in prayer, confessing sin, sharing our faith, or serving at our parish. Of course, these are all good things, and we should seek God’s guidance in them. But they are all small parts of God’s greatest plan: to fill us with his divine life and usher us into the glory of heaven!
We know that the call to holiness can be challenging at times. But it’s not always supposed to be hard. Sometimes it means gazing into the night sky and thinking about God’s goodness. Sometimes it means enjoying a family gathering. At its heart, holiness is a deep assurance that God is with you at all times, whether you are experiencing prosperity or hardship, joy or struggle.

March 15, 2014

Like Shy Animals

I remember the night
on the blank Atlantic
looking up at a sudden host of stars
like deer grazing freely
where man couldn't hurt them.