Friday, February 25, 2005

 

Little whiffs of time
cigarette traces on windbreakers;
From lit edge of memories
linger nostalgia’s smoke.


Been pondering the past, prompted by reveries spun by internet revelations. What does it say that my favorite teacher was Mrs. H- and my favorite 5th grader was the blonde German Julie Ostendorf? That my 3/8ths German spoke loudly?

My formative experiences were all Teutonic. I found a second family two doors down in the K----'s, 2nd generation Germans. They had imbibed biblical criticism (made famous by 19th century Germans) - Mrs. K asked if I really believed in the Virgin birth and I looked at her like it was a trick question. He could rise from the dead but not be born without a human father? Yet they radiated an old country warmth and were immune to prejudice. Mrs. K’s favorite magazine was “Guideposts” - inspiration without dogma.

I remember high school band fondly. I recall pre-parade wet pavement, hypnotized by the glaring, shiny uniforms of the flag girls, as The Commodores' Three Times a Lady played softly in the background. I went through it without taking responsibility for anything, a completely passive participant in what life would bring. Learning to play tuba in high school teaches two things: one, don’t depend on me for the melody and two, a heavy load limits expectations so don’t expect high jumps...

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In the end it seems most spiritual books are barely disguised self-help books. True religious instruction, as found in St. Alphonsus is a good thing but many are full of platitudes. Platitudes kill religious books. The mantra of novels is don't tell me, show me. Well, the liturgy of Word & Eucharist show me. It's the difference between reading a clinical book about sex and experiencing it. In the end only the sacraments and the the bible are efficacious, because both contain assurance and Source.

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On the night before he suffered, he took bread, gave you thanks and praise…

Here cynicism coagulates and finds no mooring; thanks and praise given on the eve of hellacious pain! Time, a human construction, breaks before the Eucharist. Bound no more to wood, he binds to bread.

Do you know my pain? says the Theotokos, and I discover that I don’t know her pain. For you can only experience pain to the extent you have not hardened your heart, have not erected barriers, have not made yourself invulnerable to pain. And only Mary and Jesus can lay claim to perfect vulnerability.

Oh the long-sickness I experienced at St. John's! How it pierced to see the elderly couple a few rows in front of me, how the elderly man stands stock still every time in front of the Blessed Mother icon, how after Communion his wife cradled his face - or did he cradle hers? They meld in my mind, like one flesh.

There can be no substitute for childlikeness. The liturgy teaches that in actions, the bowing, the prostrations, the hymns. The elderly couple seemed innocent as children and it broke my heart that my wife might never know the beauty of a Byzantine liturgy and the Eucharist, or that our simplicity and innocence may never match theirs.

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Exact Words of a Spam Subject Header Received February 25, 2005

swizzle,
be careful using
Zydone
after smoking weed

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Thursday, February 24, 2005

 

I'm hyp-mo-tized by what you can find on the internet, how you can enflesh old ghosts. And though you can't see the most important thing about them - the state of their soul - you might be able to tell if they're married, where they live, perhaps their profession.

My 4th grade (Catholic school) teacher is now a massage therapist who signed a letter supporting a "woman Roman Catholic priest" (there's one for your oxymoron collection). She's also involved with a far left group called Gamaliel Foundation. She came of age during the '60s and is, like all of us, a creature of her time.

Another ghost was a girl I dated briefly in college who is now married to a guy with an Italian-sounding name. They live in Deerfield, Il, not far from Chicago, in a modest, sub-1000 square foot home.

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The desire to set a good example is perhaps not the best motivator for holiness. I'm always trundling along hoping to find my way to proper motivations. But I can't say that it doesn't spur me spiritually when I see a challenge ahead such as that of my soon-to-be sister-in-law, who calls herself a "recovering Catholic", pro-gay marriage, liberal, etc... A different sort of Christian, but apparently a believer. And the rub is that she probably has something to teach me - surely galling because I have too much pride. My sense is that I have to get in better shape spiritually if I'm to have any positive impact on my soon-to-be sister-in-law.

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Wednesday, February 23, 2005

 

Smockmama serves a fragrant reminisce: "as memory serves, my girlhood pretty much sucked, but the day my third grade teacher, mrs. ewing, presented me with the 'most loving' award was pretty cool. i asked her if i could go home with her and she just laughed this beautiful laugh. i wonder to this day if she had any idea that my request was sincere."

I had a crush on my fourth grade teacher, Mrs. H-. It was during a time when Secrets-Could-Not-Be-Told, in a land where pride was everything and the only thing to fear was cooties itself.

I was outed by a classmate at the lunchtable. I was never given to displays of anger, but I exploded and pounded that pint of chocolate milk (this was the pre-2% days I might add) against the table, causing it to splash everyone within a few yards. I stomped out of the cafeteria leaving a lunch uneaten, something that has never happened before or since.

I had promised to dedicate my first book to Mrs. H- but it was never the same between us. The anti-tank defenses went up; I would not give any classmate the satisfaction of finding that their truth was indeed truth.

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Tuesday, February 22, 2005

 

I know Hillary Clinton is shameless opportunist and that her "come to Jesus" moment regarding abortion mostly likely comes not from conviction but from a desire to appeal to Red Staters, but gosh darn it I can't help but like that she is at least mouthing the words. Doesn't mean I'll ever vote for her but the fact that she "gets it" - i.e. gets that the '04 election was in part about the fact that Americans didn't want to be led by a president who seemed to have no compunction about killing unborn children - is somehow impressive.

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I tell myself I watch COPS as an exercise in seeing the image and likeness of God in folks where He is ...shall we say...obscured greatly.

Of course that sounds like the Baptist lady saying she's taking her whiskey for medicinal reasons only...

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Psalm 22 is unsurpassingly beautiful, so beautiful I try not to read it too much else it lose its specialness. It is the meatiest of Psalms, a foreshadowing of the suffering savior and much more.

You who fear the LORD, praise him!...For he did not despise or abhor the affliction of the afflicted.

Great consolation that God can look upon the ugly and not look away in horror.

Before him shall bow all who go down into the dust...

Was not Ash Wednesday's reading about those who would sit in ash? If we go down into the dust and sit in the ash then this prayer assures of our bowing before Him which enables our rising.

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I used to like reading the blog "Bookslut", at least until Jessa got a partner, somebody named Michael who is pluperfectly annoying. Every other post is f--k this or f--k that. Such unlikeability hasn't been seen since Attila the Hun dined alone.

The biggest shock of my youth was learning that erudition and goodness did not go together, that wisdom and book-reading were often mutually exclusive. The lesson over and over is relearnt: unless we be as little children...

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"Queen Victoria, who, far from being repressed and frigid, possessed that rare form of female maturity that enables a woman to love a man more than a child. In a letter to her oldest daughter she freely admitted: 'I often grudged you children being always there, when I longed to be alone with dearest Papa. Those are always my happiest moments.'

American men are desperate for women like this, but what they get is a self-inflated neurotic growling Joan Crawford's signature line: 'I'll do anything for those kids, ya hear me? Anything!'"

- Florence King

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Sunday, February 20, 2005

 

Sigh... My taste in art is limited; limited mostly to nekkid women. Landscapes, they're okay. Portraits, worth a passing glance. But when I pass the beauty of the outdoor sculpture at Darby's Courtyard, the artwork by Jack Greaves of a fountain of naiads, well, I get that. That sort of art I understand! I understand the startling beauty and intrinsic artistry of the female body.

I'm surprised there is no picture of it on the web, at least none that I could find. Because words will fail. But it is a pleasing blend of the old world and the modern, the beautiful hair of one of the naiads seems to take flight just as the water takes flight and just as the birds that loft from the naiads's hair take flight. Their bodies arch in innocent poses astride the fountain, their legs apart.

Like the sun, I can't look at it too long. In fact that's part of the reason I can't describe it better, because I've never looked at it too long. It creates the sort of sexual hunger that Lord knows I don't need any more of.

I'm in awe of those who are spiritually mature enough to be able to be neither Puritans nor Epicureans, those who can enjoy that type of art without stumbling. The fountain I described is aesthetically beautiful; one can look at it, unlike pornography, with aesthetic satisfaction rather than bodily hunger. For me it is an odd mixture of both - it triggers a bodily response while also triggering an "appreciation response" (for want of a better term). I understand that the bodily response is natural and therefore amoral, i.e. neither moral nor immoral, but I also understand that that bodily response is not without cost in the form of a subterranean hunger that likely won't immediately, or even perhaps intermediately, be satisfied.

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Friday, February 18, 2005

 

Fictional Friday

I can hear the Oirish music now and it’s impossible to suppress a grin or a foot from pedallin’ to the chune. Do I feel anticipatory reverbations of St. Patrick’s Day? I’m hungry for it, I know it! I haven’t visited the olde sod in awhile and I need a fix. There’s a pipe in the corner and over there’s a fiddle player and over yonder a lass tipplin’ a Jameson – does her beau know what she's doin'? There’s a sprightliness to the air as the tune carries to the next room where you hear the sudden break of clapping.

I’m drinking straight Gaelic and I can’t understand a word it’s sayin’. I can’t get close enough to my homeland, where my bones ache to be buried! There my ancestors are playing jigs and reels the whole day long, there in West Ireland singing their genetically familiar speech. Every day is a festival there, there in Heaven, there where even the soil is clean and the whisper of the Irish Sea sings in the speakers. There where a ‘tousand varieties of green play off the Connemara sky. The tinwhistles whistle whilst farmers till peat that doesn’t even need be dug for! It pops up like toasted rolls.

Everything in West Ireland is named Ballythis or Ballythat. It lends a bit of lyricism, the little “eee” sound in the middle of every country town. I visit the sea town of BallyBrae where the crashing water meets stone huts eight-hundred years old and it’s unbearable not to visit them, not to visit as it was then, not to visit my ancient 'cestors, not to attend their Mass and share their God-joy!

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To those who loathe the bourgeoisie,
I offer this advice to thee:
Get very rich or very poor,
And you won't be bourgeois anymore.
- Clifford D. May

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I read the bible with one difficulty: I always pull for the underdog. I even manage some pity for Judas. I feel sorry for those Jews who didn’t recognize Jesus as the savior. I feel sorry for all those before Christ who had to live by the onerous Law and how they weren’t new creations in Christ but old wine in old wineskins. I feel sorry for the all the pagans who lived outside Israel or before her time or who didn't have the Ark of the Covenant. For those who weren’t the Chosen People.

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Honorary Dick

Emailer to NRO:

"I teach at a community college in Tennessee. So help me, I saw a male faculty member wearing an "Honorary Vagina" sticker on his shirt the other day. What is happening to us? Please protect my identity."

You can't make this stuff up.

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A friend made a good point today that the "advent of radio and popular music has turned America into a nation of "feelers" instead of "thinkers". The point of music -any music - is to stir emotions one way or the other. Today, we Americans never turn it off, and are constantly emoting or craving the emotion that music stimulates."

Very interesting. Tolkein was said not to listen to anything composed after the 16th or 17th century. The cool music of the Classical Period (like Mozart, Bach) was less designed to stir emotions than the romantic music of Beethoven, which was all about feelings. G. Gordon Liddy says he won't listen to anything other than martial music like John Philip Sousa and the band ABBA (if you can believe that) because so much of modern music has a negative effect on his psyche.

John Derbyshire of NRO (an Anglican) is reading a book describing the unbelieveable excellence of the 13th century. In everything, art, architecture, religion. It seems like Christendom peaked there and then the Black Plague came and, well, look out below.

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Thursday, February 17, 2005

 

I feel a tinge of survivor's guilt, having just gotten an excellent job rating. I feel like a husband who hits his wife, causing his wife only to love him the more.

It goes to show that life either isn't fair or they have low standards. But I'm grateful, grateful to land in such a place where I'm appreciated and not overworked. Not a bad combination...

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I’m chagrined to learn, thirty years too late, that John Denver wasn’t the best formative influence. His music was close enough to church music (at least in the ‘70s) and I felt the comfort personality-wise: he wasn’t David Bowie or Ozzie Osbourne. But...

It’s unfair to judge him. Fame is something few can handle and thererfore to be devoutly avoided; the decades of the ’60s and ‘70s were bru-tile on family values. But Denver taught me that feelings are all that matter. Is it ironic he died in an adrenalin rush? Did he not live for that glandular product? I followed him from Nature to Annie to alcohol to E.S.T...Was he not searching for Christ? Funny, the biggest lies are the ones you don’t even notice? And the biggest lesson he taught was the one he may've never learned: that the only Therapy is the one you can't summon on your own. You can only ask.

He sang of his wife Annie: "You fill up my senses...." Can you honestly be surprised they divorced?


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Wednesday, February 16, 2005

 

I was reading another St Blogger who put modesty aside and frankly said his ideas were worthy of a St. Blog's award. I couldn't disagree with him on the merits since he appears to know what he's talking about. But I just thought he was setting his goals a bit low. A St. Blog Award? Isn't this like the ribbon you get for finishing a 5K? Being noticed by paid media is what I think he ought be aiming for, but inasmuch as his ideas can bring light and positive influence.

I think Jonah Goldberg of the Corner understands this. His recent reaction to Robin Wright's response to one of his posts was telling. Robin Wright is a "big swinging" in the Old Media. I think she writes for theNY Times but I could be mistaken. Anyway, Goldberg wrote that he impressed by her rebuttal but more impressed by the fact that she took the time to respond. It was a tiny watershed in blogging history: Robin Wright emailed a blogger. As bloggers, we know we are off-off Broadway. We are the poor of the publishing world at least in the sense of poorly paid.

Perhaps my initial negative reaction to this st. blogger was tainted by a proprietary interest in the mediocrity of the blogosphere, in the "finally, a home for me!" sense. In a way professors are the aristocracy of the blog world since they do get paid for their ideas.Which is why I was surprised and impressed by how Bill Luse has underplayed his credentials. Sneaky, he is. Wouldn't want to play him in golf either.

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Mom tells me that her brother Bill read “every word of the book” but understood only half of them. I use too many unfamiliar words goes the consensus. That might be so, but it’s those words that keep it interesting to me. Other reactions have been radio silence, which, obviously, are preferable to negative commentary. Butwho am I writing to or more precisely for? It recalls my missives to Grandma – over time it occurred to me (and surely to her) that I was writing for myself more than to her.

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Novelistic ambitions are hardly novel. Nor am I particularly well-suited for writing one. They require stories with people, and stories never interested me like ideas, and people? Well, people…people who need people…are the luckiest people in the world. That’s what I knew of people.

I liked the joy of words and the joy of ideas but not esoteric ideas. I knew nothing of philosophy so I couldn’t be an Iris Murdoch who was able to make books of only words and ideas but lacking flesh & blood.

The idea of writing a dime novel seemed beneath me, though if you can’t write the alternative how can the former be beneath you?

“I see dead people” goes the line from the Sixth Sense. Well, I like dead people. They are winsomely quiet, make no demands and there is no way for me to muck up my relationship with them. They are in a place where any negative thoughts I might harbor against them are forgiven instantly. There is such a sense of relaxation in a relationship frozen in time with only the ambering nostalgia making things appear better and better in retrospect. And I’m not nearly as bad as the character in TC Boyle’s “World’s End” who peppers his sandwiches with ancestral dirt.


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I left college devoid of ambition and completely focused on twin goals: early retirement and travel. I rejected society utterly, all of its pomps and works, its toiling over trivialities. I was with Thoreau on this one: What have I to do with society? It had arranged itself so vulgarly that I felt no responsibility. Reading about the past led me to see that the present as inferior in all the crucial ways. We’d traded our birthright for better denistry.

A funny thing happened on my way to the woods. The on-going, life-changing event of religious conversion. This ate at the Thoreauian impulses; the purpose of life was not retirement, was not ease, was not travel. The purpose of life was what He says. And the goals are what He wants. Perhaps rejection of society was not what God ordered. And the bible is replete with instances where ones natural deficiencies are not to be taken as the final word.

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Desperately Seeking Retirement
   
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