Thursday, June 22, 2017

Leave 'em wanting more

"There were mysteries, but only the devil had secrets."
-Alice Thomas Ellis

One of the things I find attractive about Catholicism is that it resists always giving clear-cut simplistic answers and, at some point, when you get down into nitty gritty bits about free will, human acts, and Divine Providence, we simply have to shrug and say "welp, it's a mystery!" ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Or else you can give yourself a headache à la Augustine who had to have God/an angel come and tell him "staaaahp it."

Recently, on Twitter, I got into a discussion about the nature of prayer:
- Whether God causes us to cause Him to effect things
- Whether God is immovable and we cannot cause Him to effect things in any sense

The tension with the second point (which I held and still hold but will be reading up on - there's an essay recommended to me as being pleasingly-Thomist -- I don't identify as a Thomist, tho. Just like Tommy Boy and it shows.) hinges on two things:
- Human acts correlate with effects BUT 
- These effects are not caused by Human acts 

If human acts do not cause these effects, what is the value of these human acts? There are ways to answer that question without robbing the human act of value - but I realized as I was going through this topic, that, in some sense, it didn't matter to me, practically speaking. Not that it doesn't matter in se, or that there is no right answer, or that there aren't implications depending on how you answer, but that whichever one it turns out to be will not affect how or whether I pray because it is so remote from my day-to-day life and the answer contains no proximate directive. And I'd hazard that few people would think the matter worth even a teeny crusade, though it might be worth a heated discussion at some Irish pub where you hurl friendly invectives at each other before going home while thinking the other person a bit stupid but nonetheless good-hearted.

But this sort of question about prayer is different from other sorts of questions:
- Whether it is permissible to use the death penalty in the US 
- Whether abortion is permissible or no
- Whether euthanasia is permissible or no 

And this sort of question about prayer is also different from these sets of questions:
- Whether there is a god / one or many gods 
- Whether Christ is God 
- Whether the Eucharist is Christ's Body and Blood

Answers to these questions have a direct bearing on human action and entail certain precepts: how we are to vote, how we are to worship, how we are to live. They are also, in a way, a bit easier to answer.

But it is a relief to admit that some realities are not easily boxed in, that there are questions which do not resolve easily, and that, sometimes, there is no satisfying answer, and that that's ok. There are mysteries. If it were otherwise, the world might not be as delightful.* 

As a child, I preferred shadows and hiddenness to the bright sun and exposed areas. If there is a dark secluded nook, what might be there? Maybe I could hide and there be found. Part of the joy comes in the seeking, part in the finding, part in being found.

It won't always be so in this way. In beatitude (should we reach it), we will contemplate the visage of God and be secure in Him, so there's some earthly aspect to the seeking that won't be present in heaven. What exactly heaven will be like, I dunno. God being infinite and human beings being finite there might still be a seeking of some kind but we will never thirst or feel an agonizing distance.

As we are, it is a mercy to have God hold some things from our human understanding. We are not held accountable for vastness of Divine Providence, there is sacred ground where we fear to tread but long to go, and we hand back to God our freely given trust and faith and He, in turn, gives us the gift of His infinite mystery.
...God is not absurd, if anything he is a mystery. The mystery, in its turn, is not irrational but is a superabundance of sense, of meaning, of truth. If, looking at the mystery, reason sees darkness, it is not because there is no light in the mystery, but rather because there is too much of it. -Benedict XVI
The world is better for that Mystery.


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*My words about delight come from a studied reflection, not a naive or flippant belief that all is faeries, puppies, and kittens. If y'all want background on where I come from, see here. Being bitter and angry is no fun.

More DnD Writing

Because I've been pressed for time, haven't done much writing this week. So here's throwin' at ya some more from my DnD homebrew!

I'm unsure if this out-of-context DnD makes much sense, but it's a sampling of fictive writing. What's below is only about half of what I'd written up for the town - the rest being either utilitarian (oh, look, a healing temple - how intriguing! -- though I have been building on the theme of Pelor having a brother Pyrite and there being a religious divide on who to worship) or reveals hidden bits of the story. There's the off-chance that a player might read this blog, so keeping some interesting parts excised.

--------------

The City of Blithedale
The city of Blithedale is immense. High stone walls and ramparts surround the city on both sides of the river. Arched bridges span the river at several points and cobblestone roads thread throughout. You arrive around 5pm, and the sun is slanting golden against the houses - cramped together in some places, but with a few buildings of clearly higher estate.  This city once housed some major military forces. Artillery still stands on the city walls. People are hustling, getting back from their jobs and going home. The streets are filled with an open-air market that wends its way back and forth. Carpet-sellers, food booths, butchers, vegetables, jewelry stands, clothing wares, antiques, and all other manners of goods are displayed and haggled over. A couple of chickens run by your feet and a few children. [Kids are attempting to pickpocket - any rogues with passive perception of 10+ in the party notice.]

--------------

Smithy
The Smithy is run by a dwarf called Oiltank Stain the Stinky Train. She’s not at work at the moment, but someone is using the forge to make iron daggers...lots and lots of daggers. He does not pay you any mind at all but is humming under his breath (Skyrim theme song).

[If asked, he comes from the town of Clavering. His name is Shovelhands and he came to Blithedale because he wanted to go to the Stabbawhay forest and hunt some orcs.]

Oiltank Stain has a forge, an anvil, sharpening stone, hammers, etc. Sells typical goods. Recently, people have been asking for more weapons - stockpiling them.

General Billage, head of this town’s garrison, came by earlier this week to get a bunch of weapons sharpened/armor cleaned/etc. Oiltank shrugs and says maybe it’s got something to do with the House of Wisdom -- strange things have been happening there, but, to be sure, SHE never sticks her nose into the supernatural.

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Gillygate Inn
Gillygate inn is run by a very sullen looking innkeeper called Krea. She is snapping at all the servers, arguing with her guests, and generally being unpleasant. She’s a dwarf wearing a plain brown skirt, a hip holster with a billy-club, and her brawny arms are bulging under her shirt and stylish crop jacket. She is wearing ridiculously large hoop earrings that are half as big as her face. 

She’s angry because her bae was sent off to the House of Wisdom and has not returned.

--------------

Lady Farfalee's House
The Lady Farfalee’s house sits in the more affluent neighborhood. Clearly, this member of the council has a rather garish taste. The building is painted turquoise, the door red, the guards have multiple useless feathers stuck in their functional helmets. Lady Farfalee is known for being incredibly chic, holding parties with exotic foodstuffs, and inviting all the rich citizens or celebrities in town to dine.

--------------

Lord Omnium’s Home

[If they approach during the day.]
You approach Lord Omnium’s home and two guards stop you.
“Lord Omnium is not seeing any visitors this evening,” the guard says politely. “If you would like to leave your name, perhaps you may be able to call tomorrow.”

-----

[If they approach during the night.]
You approach late at night and the guards let you in without even a question. Lord Omnium stands at his door and ushers you into his manor. There is a wide hall with doors leading off to various rooms, and a large staircase that leads to a higher level. Portraits of Lord Omnium’s ancestors hang across the wall and a few portraits of Lord Omnium and his wife Peronnell and son Sadon, King Potentate, and other members of the counsel (Lady Creatine, Lord Jarin, Lady Farfalee, and Lord Zalvador). The decor is understated, and elegant. Lord Omnium leads you up the wide staircase to the second level where it branches into two halls.

At the top of the staircase there is a portrait, taken many years ago, of the royal family: King Potentate, Queen Esme, and their children Merek the Brave and Thea the Wise. Lord Omnium pauses for a moment as he looks at the portrait and sighs [See tragic backstory of Merek the Brave.] before leading you down the hall and into a study room. Books line the walls - mostly, it seems, books on agronomy, accounting, and other things of that nature. There is a table with wines and liquors on it. He gestures towards it and said “please, help yourselves - you must be weary from your travels.”

[Players drive the interaction here - Lord Omnium asks them to investigate the House of Wisdom where strange things have been happening.]

--------------

Bookbinder Alley 
Blithedale was a center of learning before the great war broke out. Remnants of its past are still found in Bookbinder Alley where scholars used to go for their books and supplies before heading to the House of Wisdom for studies. The streets in this neighborhood are extremely narrow. No cart or horse could pass through these streets. Shop awnings stretch over the street and a few bookbinder shops are still open, with lanterns lit above their doors. One, in particular stands out: a shoppe called The Shambles. Through the hectagonal window-panes, you notice an old man hunched over a desk, his beard is overflowing and full, his clothes are all black (so that ink-stains don’t show), and he is mixing up a batch of something. Close to hand is a glass of red liquid that he sips from, from time to time, and occasionally consults a small pocket-watch as his ink pen makes scratching noises against the stretched sheep’s hide. There’s a cat that keeps trying to sit on the sheep’s hide and the owner absentmindedly pushes it off.

Friday, June 16, 2017

(b)Rambles

A priest-friend of mine (Hi Fr ---! I think you are still reading this?) shared an excerpt from a sermon of St. Anthony of Padua, a couple days ago, and highlighted this sentence: Actions speak louder than words; let your words teach and your actions speak.

There's usually a disconnect between actions and words, We say things that sound deliciously seraphic and, in the abstract, are keen on 'em. In practice...ehhhhh... maybe we'll start building a civilization of love some other day.

There's a second kind of disconnect when we say these things, think we're acting on them, and desiring to be faithful followers/witnesses of Christ. But, although we're sometimes good at separating the sin from the sinner, we're maybe not so good on separating the idea from the person.

So it is that you see people being all about respecting the dignity of others (ad nauseam, gag me with a spoon) while being completely down for Freaking The Eff Out and goin' at someone like a Spider Monkey when that someone begs to differ. The methods used to crush an opponent can be brutal and are sometimes the verbal equivalent of one of the gorier deaths in the Iliad.  I.e.:
Idomeneus skewered Erymas straight through the mouth, the merciless brazen spearpoint raking through, up under the brain to split his glistening skull - teeth shattered out, both eyes brimmed to the lids with a gush of blood and both nostrils spurting, mouth gaping, blowing convulsive sprays of blood and death’s dark cloud closed down around his corpse.
To stand for the good is to reject evil, to not capitulate to either its speculative or practical premises. Error has no rights.

But when you treat people as totems/emblems/visible manifestations of an idea, you identify, substantially, person and idea. In a righteous zeal to confront what is obviously a pig-headed notion, we transfer its being unsound, fallacious, or dangerous, to the person and let loose the with bilious indignation the hounds of heaven. Wrong beliefs smashed to a pulp! Opponent reduced to tears! A relationship damaged! Hooray! You win!?

People cannot be treated like ideas.

Some people do deserve a verbal beatdown, Homer-style. There was one man who insulted the Church in a vile way and I wanted to leap over the table and yell in his face. I only had time for one heated retort before a friend saw it would probably end Very Badly and abruptly, loudly, and decisively headed that off. It wigs people out when I get enraged because it happens so rarely, and friends hit panic-eject mode when that occurs. But there's a difference between being a Condescending Ass about religion (or about anything, really) and someone who is genuinely curious, seriously misinformed, or simply unable to reason well.

Look at comboxes (well, don’t – they're a bit depressing...except, actually, read this combox). In them, you find people trying to get across some point (could be an utterly nutty point, or just poorly articulated), getting piled on, and retreating in a high dudgeon (or persisting, insisting, and getting angrier by the second). Ho ho! We laugh at them. How stupid they are! But many (not all, and perhaps not most, but many) are not ill-meaning. They are reaching for truth and goodness, trynna share what they know, trynna to be helpful. Forcing them into a more radical corner as an intellectual exercise/sign of domination because their ideas or arguments are stupid ain't gonna do no one no good no how. Do you also rev the engine when an animal strays into the street, perchance? People are not their ideas, though ideas (especially about the good/final ends) shape action. I feel like a grasp of that distinction is slowly slipping away and we're becoming calloused and inclined to be callous-forming.

We also tend to forget the advantages that allow to converse in easy familiarity with, say, Aquinas, Benedict XVI, and old Church documents. Because it's easy for us does not mean it's easy for others.  Aquinas, quoting Boethius in the question on whether the existence of God is self-evident, reminds us "that there are some mental concepts self-evident only to the learned..." (ST IQ2A1) Well of course YOU know a number of finer philosophical or theological distinctions. But getting to truth for many entails a slow and weary struggle. Ya don't kick a fellow person on the same trail when they're dyin' of thirst. We'all's with access to books and t’eh internets, with the leisure to read, and the time we need to sit and reflect quietly, are blessed. Don't squander it. Hopefully, the more erudite (relative to wherever we’re at intellectually) aren't going to be treating us as manifestations of our ill-conceived and stupid ideas. And maybe, just maybe, God will accept our pitiful attempts and ideas and meanings in the spirit in which they're offered IF we accept the attempts of others in a similar way. 

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Further Quick Reflection

Regarding artists and their relation to goodness, it occurred to me that a better correlation might be:

Those who explore human action/moral matters should have some notion of the good.
Those who produce artefacts should have some notion of the beautiful.

A writer is an artist and, when treating of human actions (as opposed to documenting history/etc.), is dealing with characters who either believe that what they do is good/evil or with a character who rejects the notion of good itself and uses some other valuation system for determining action.

But if the author himself is ambivalent, it may do him a disservice when trying to capture a moral dilemma and full range of human responses/emotions. Which isn't to say that the author denies the phenomena of a dilemma (emotions, thought-processes, etc.), but he might not appreciate the soul-gripping-depths of those straddling heaven and hell.

I'm not sure if I'd assert that the atheist-turned-religious (or vice-versa) would be *best* able to put into words the whole-spectrum of characters in world-with and world-without God (which seems entailed from the above).

Maybe it's only that those with experience write about things in a way that resonates more with others who have had the same experience and perhaps authors might have enough imagination/sympathy to surmount the difficulty. Men write about women, women about men, saints about sinners, sinners about saints. By necessity, writers treat of characters who do and say things the author would never do or say, or hold positions the author himself would never dream of espousing. But being-woman or being-close-to-God yields a writing with familiarity, I'd imagine.

So perhaps it's sufficient to say that the author with experience of good and evil (which every human has) and a notion that these forces (though I hate to call evil a force -- evil is lacking and impotent) operate in human lives. And leading a life of virtue, having an eye to the good, might make one more sensitive to that, to those little reverberations of the soul, to its architectonic yearning for something beyond and greater. If you have an eye to the evil, eventually even good becomes tainted and all motives turn into ulterior and selfish ones  - even the man who desires beatitude would be scoffed at as having the ultimate selfish desire.

BUT this only serves to make me more confused in my mind. Clearly, I am not precisely qualified to construct a bridge between morality and art though I'm sure it's there and want to read more on it.

As to dancers and painters, I likewise think a correlation exists between a notion of the beautiful and their ars (and in my sleep-lacking state I'm imagine two people yelling at each other 'IT'S EITHER YOUR ARS OR MINE!'). not quite sure, yet, about this correlation, since a brief dip into notions of beauty reveals a split between transcendental, metaphysical, and aesthetic beauty and their relation to works of art. So, at most, for now, I'll hazard only that *some* notion of beauty is beneficial for an these artists to have. And that beauty does not equate with pretty.

Fin.

[If there are any recommendations for a direction to pursue in this respect, I'm all eyes.]

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Light Diffusion: Yesterday Morning


Hot and Spicy Lunch Post

Yesterday, I cut up some charred serrano peppers for a tomatillo salsa and got their juices smeared all over my hands and under my fingernails. Cooking tones down the spice, but my hands still were still afire afterwards. The salsa turned out edible, but wasn't the best I'd made. Tonight, I will doctor it up some more with additional raw onion, cilantro, and lime juice to make it taco-worthy 'cause it's Taco Tuesday. I'm not sure I can make much of a good post from that salsa.

UNLESS WE'RE TALKING DANCE SALSA!? (This was a post in the works -- the above is lead in...get it!?)

I started seriously-ish dancing when I was 16. I'm a decent amateur but nothing more, lacking the creative in-the-moment thought process/receptivity to music and exhibitionist tendencies that help make a great performance artist. I began with ballroom dancing which encompasses waltzes and fox-trots as well as the more passion-forward cha-cha, rumba, tango, etc. One Catholic boy I knew was appalled that I would even consider dancing with non-Catholics and he strongly (but vaguely) hinted that men at these disreputable dance halls would take advantage of me on the dance floor... somehow... because, apparently, only Catholic men act decently towards women. HAAAH! Even then, my experience proved him wrong.

[As an aside, a jarred memory: when I was *18* a Catholic guy-friend tentatively asked me if I *ahem* knew where to kick a man if they tried somfin funny. Should'a feigned ignorance. Missed opportunities.]

Corporeality is hard to deal with, in our fallen world: we're rational desirers dealing with darkened intellects and that little thing called concupiscence thrown into the mix. But, in my experience (purely as an amateur), framing the body as something-good and to-be-admired yields a greater delicacy towards and appreciation for it, not an inflaming of the urge to manipulate or exploit. Intimacy in forms of art can lead to a sort of tamping of the passions rather than acting as an irritant - "can" being an operative word since there are the perverse who don't allow themselves to be affected in this way.

When I began taking figure-drawing classes, I kept pretty quiet so as to not scandalize the homeschooling group. Drawing men and women in the nood? How risqué! At the first class, I braced myself for the shocking reveal of full-frontal nudity which was morally questionable!? The model quietly disrobed behind a screen, came out and did some quick poses on an elevated platform, before adopting some classical poses for longer sketches. It was not provocative. I particularly remember one old plump woman sitting on a stool, her shoulders slumped forward as if she were tired from a long day and her white-grey hair in a messy-stringy-bun. She had rolls of fat on her stomach, her skin in other parts was flabby and wrinkled, yet there was about her a refined dignity and elegance that tugged at the heart. She was a fleshly woman - and that reality was good.

Dancing may provide a similar opportunity for realization of the human-being-ness of your dance-partner. When you social dance in Lindy Hop, you put yourself into an incredibly vulnerable physical position, particularly when you follow, so you must watch out for your partner. This is stressed (not necessarily in those words) in many ways in classes and interactions on the dance floor. Once you move beyond the beginner level (in which you are still fumbling to keep in all in the same head-space the triad of music, partner, and steps), you start to realize that there's another person you hold in your embrace and that this other person has a character of their own and, perhaps (likely), a different interpretation of the music. The dance turns into a conversation, into a crescendo of ideas-tied-to-music made manifest by limbs and lines. The other person is a person you create with, whose ideas you ratify and affirm, whose expression you complement or contrast to create a harmonious whole. You are sensitive to the other person - you attempt not to wound them either physically or creatively. You literally and figuratively should have their back.

Yeah, there are those who view social dancing as a pick-up scene and become proficient in the rudimentaries of dance solely in order to gain close-access -- or professional dancers who use their positions to take advantage of others, and so on. With the former, you can FEEL when the dance has ulterior motives: you know what's up.

With latter - as with any professional artist - it is easy to confuse rectitude of an ars with moral rectitude: because the creation is so beautiful, so likewise the creator. With God this may work as a persuasive argument, but not for man. (And I use the term 'creation' loosely, since only God, strictly speaking, creates.) So, in some ways, I suppose when an artist is acting qua-artist he is in some sense amoral, perhaps (I'm not entirely certain on this point - but an artist and the art-produced are separable)? Artists might have the ability to create beautiful things even with an ugly soul - but if you can't see what is good or even that there is good (I'm not talking about a formal understanding, but more like an idea-of-goodness-as-real), seems like it'd make it more difficult to portray both goodness and the depths of depravity. You might be able to relate instances of virtue and vice in vivid detail but not get at their significance except accidentally. Must examine this line further - it's not a formed opinion, but a hazarded one without the background supportive reading. I think I may have toyed with it before, but never pursued it seriously.

BACK TO SALSA! Catholics needn't be afraid of of closeness/intimacy in art. A repeated exposure to respectful treatment of and care for the bodies of others, a drawing-attention-to-goodness, isn't cause for knicker-knotting. Done properly, these forms of art (participated in as an amateur, at least) can help foster a better view of the corporeality of others as caught up in a whole and wholesome creation with a spark of the divine, worthy of respect and admiration. It makes the opposite less thinkable.

For now, not going to go into how some forms of dance deliberately pursue the body-presented-as-an-object-of-sexual-desire aspect (current burlesque/pole-dancing, for example), or about the more passionate/sensual dance forms (tangooooo!), or individual temperaments and characters which should avoid some things for the sake of their own soul --- 'cause those are separate cans'o'worms. Also, I fully realize that my experience is limited at best and what I've gotten out of my experiences aren't what others get or have gotten. So ymmv as an individual when you go out and draw or dance. But, perhaps not and this has probably already been thoroughly gone over elsewhere.

----
P.s. This is not another TOB see-people-as-subjects-not-objects-for-use. While that's true, it's also a horse that has been beaten to death and sounds like a nice platitude now. What helps the process of seeing people-as-subjects? It's not enough to simply affirm that we have inherent worth, we must also grow habituated to living that reality and the practice of art can help with that. That's what I'm nudging at.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Cold, Hard, Practical

I feel I'm veering too much into quasi-pious self-reflective sentimentalist-mouthful territory, so next few posts will be exterior-based or bits of fiction. Told someone the other day that I don't usually write fiction and realized that wasn't quite true since I do write for my DnD group. 

It's a bit different, though, since when you're writing a story for players you're not necessarily trying to write a good bit of fiction but aid the players in imagining a fictional world with opportunity for interaction and improv. Below is a sample of some fictional writing for a game I'm running as a DM.

Addendum: signing up for a creative writing class. I need some initial structure for getting started on fiction-writing.  


-------------------------------
Outside Gammage Hill:
You approach the City of Gammage Hill. On the outskirts of town, you espy a well-kept painting of a Golden Nymph with a few tasteful wisps of cloth and the lettering "Welcome to Gammage Hill." A low wall surrounds the city and a gate signals point of entry.

A (bored) guard in an ill-fitting helmet and sporting several days' worth of stubble steps in front of the gate and says: HO! What is your business in the town of Gammage Hill?

[Player exchanges - if a player retorts 'WHO'RE YOU CALLIN' A HO!? a bird poops on that player's head.]



If they head to Whim Woods after conversing with the guard:
The guard lazily leans against his post and chews a bit of baccy. You feel his remarkably keen green eyes follow you as you turn your back to him and head into Whim Woods.

 As you leave the outskirts of the city, the trees crowd around you – stark white  and mottled by brown or black spots (Aspen with bits of moss clinging like slugs to the side). They stand tall and thin, their yellowed leaves whispering as they drift down to blanket the earth. You hear small woodland creatures sporting around you and glimpse a family of foxes through the foliage. The smell of cold winter lingers as a promise on your nostrils. As you tramp along, you wonder about this woman with pre-shadowing, Shammy Tam. Suddenly [Roll against perception, as a group], loud guttural yells assault your ears as X men jump out from the bushes and attack you! [Encounter with thugs]

Shammy Tam's House: 
You come across a small house in the midst of a clearing. A tidy herb garden in front looks like it could use a watering. A gravel path leads up to the door. Over the lintel, a vine twists and snakes in a braided pattern (boogievilla – so called because it boogies in the wind). The vine is already brown.

Living Room
You open the door and stand for a second, stunned. Torn bits of cushion, ripped books, shattered glass bottles, and upended furniture [bench/table/bookcases] are strewn wildly around the room. Obviously, this was some sort of leisure/study room.

Bedroom
The bedroom looks undisturbed. There is a predominant theme of frogs going on. Carved wooden frogs of all shapes and sizes are positioned in the room (one is holding a cocktail glass) and the comforter even has embroidered frogs on it. A set of drawers are by the bed (full of breeches/tunics/undergarments/a few jewelry trinkets [frog earrings]), a book is on the drawers, and the bookcase is full of trashy romance novels including the famous "Her Desire" - part of the famous trilogy: Her Desire, His Desire, Its Desire.  There is a window with some potted plants that look like they need watering. The window is open, providing you with a view of the back of the house where you see a shack.

Back of House
In back, some ways removed from the house, there is a small rickety shack with a closed door that looks like it holds one person. ---- if they approach ---- a terrible stench hits you and you make a constitution saving throw.  ---- if they open the door ---- it’s an outhouse. An embroidered cloth hangs above the toilet ‘if you sprinkle when you tinkle, be a sweetie and wipe the seatie.’ A thick book is on the toilet seat (collected works of Tovsky) and about half the pages are ripped out.]

Kitchen
The kitchen appears to be undisturbed. There is a hearth with wood stacked next to it and a small wood table. It smells rich in here. Copper pans, braided garlic, and sides of cured meat hang from the ceiling. A set of shelves has some bags on it (rice/flour/etc.).

Thursday, June 08, 2017

I kinda love me some spiderwebs




A/S/L | Are you Fish or Fowl?

A meme made it's way through Twitter where ya like an image and then the poster of the image tells the world-at-large something about yourself. There were gentle good-naturedly ribbing anti-memes,  some memes that ran with the idea and built on it - unearthing tidbits of history or book recommendations - and a couple of anti-memes with teeth that struck me as, perhaps, over-hasty dismissals.

I derno. I fav'd those personal memes whenever I saw them come out. Since the whole thing wasn't (1) intrinsically sinful and was (2) indicative that the poster wants to share something with the world about themselves, why the deep-seated urge to respond with cynicism? 'cause dismissive cynicism was my first response, albeit, without an urge to vocalize it. But I've learned to distrust some of my immediate tendencies. "I like it because it appeals to my authoritarian nature," I explained to a friend about a proposed rule, "but that's why I don't think it's right."

If it ain't your thing, it ain't your thing. It ain't my thing-as-a-way-to-communicate, either, though I did enjoy reading the facts. The fav-to-fact ratio seems like it could let you in for some hurt if fav-responses are seen as correlating with self-worth or the care-others-have-for-you. The architectonic principle of this meme is problematic for me because of the potential human fall-out NOT because I see it as a meaningless search for connection or ego-stroking (though it could easily be both/either, depending on the poster). Such is the nature of social media.

I was hanging out with some girls a few weeks back, they decided to have a no-judgment space where everyone shared facts or secrets about themselves. That wasn't my thing, either, and I only shared inconsequential things - like the fact that I can burp at will (Why, hello, Gentlemen -- this Lady here is ACCOMPLISHED!). Afterwards, one of the girls, sensing my reserve, asked me what I thought of the whole thing and I replied honestly that "it's a strange way to share things about yourself."

But one girl shared something which would never be brought up in ordinary conversation yet was good for others to be aware of. It allowed an avenue of expression and a means of approach even if the method of conveyance was supremely artificial.

It was like a more personal faccia-a-faccia version of the meme. And, for at least one person, it was helpful. It reminded me a bit of confession, minus the sanctifying grace.

Not everyone is lucky enough to be surrounded by a robust community of people in whom they can easily confide, with whom they share interests, or who they can simply call up on a random night and ask if they want to go out to the pub and chug a beer. Sometimes you need a screaming box with ears or someone to pat you on the back and murmur inarticulate soothing things as you sob on their shoulder. If you can't get that in corporeality, you may seek it virtually. (Or you may seek it in both places. /logic training )

Virtual connections can be authentic connections, too. Some of my friendships originated first on the net and culminated with meeting the individuals in reality. (Hulloa, Fr ---, L---, and S---!) There IS another person sitting across the screen at a distance; your thoughts they might find interesting, your well-being they might care about. For sufferers of autoimmune diseases, for example, there are message boards where we share our struggles and disappointments, set-backs and successes. It is a virtual community, but it is a real one from which comfort and encouragement are derived. Sometimes a person, who you don't even know virtually, says something that brings an illuminating moment of hope or the simple affirmation that you are not alone. Someone across a distance holds you in their mind.

Online friendships can be transient - hastily formed, easily dropped. They can be superficial and based on utility or mutual-ego-stroking. And, here's the thing, it's sometimes hard to TELL what sort of friendship it is at first because everything on the internet is so...shifty. Who even is this other person on the other end of the line? Are they who they say they are? Is their concern or interest real? The only thing you have to go by are their words and their history and the network of friends they build around them. And that network and that history may appear or be equally fluid.

The face we present online is one we cultivate. Are you the Outspoken Truth-Sayer Sayin' It Like It Is, the SMH at All Modern Church-y Things and Especially Pope Francis, the Erudite Explainer, the Defiant Outlier, etc., etc.? Sometimes the face doesn't match the reality so it's hard to trust even those brazenly assumed.

Despite this, we sometimes open ourselves up to this group of relative strangers because it may feel like the only place where we can do so. Our immediate community is lacking somehow. And some of the faces online aren't gross distortions. The Person Who Cares About You might be someone who actually DOES care about you, who talks you out of a bad spot or who shares your joy when you make pancakes and they turn out perfectly fluuuffy.

Yes, there's certainly a problem of people sharing much too much of themselves on the internets before people who have no right or need to know that of which you speak -- and there's the issue of the two-faced.

But an operating assumption should be one of good-will about others' motives unless there exists sound evidence to the contrary. This person may be egotistical, may be seeking some short-lived pleasure of feeling-important, or...they might just think people care about them and their life or want to express something hard to put into other formats. Is that something objectionable? Do I need to knock them for that? Nah. So I fav on. It might not be the way for me (I prefer long rambling revelatory blog posts), but not everything has to be about me.
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This is the image, for reference. And I only saw a couple of dismissive memes, and, really, it's not SUCH a big deal. But I had a reaction and then a counter-reaction and started writing Thoughts and my other blog post is only hiccuping along whereas this one oiled out. You're welcome. 


Friday, June 02, 2017

Lnagugage

Currently cogitating:

Person A says: Your brows, madam, are on fleek.
Person B (Falstaff) says: "...thou hast the right arched beauty of the brow that becomes the
ship-tire, the tire-valiant, or  any tire of Venetian admittance."

Person A judges B to be stuck-up prick.
Person B judges A to be low-life scum.

Both persons are trying to compliment their lady's brows.

Both groups have developed parallel vocabulary and methods of expression.

Are they able to adequately evaluate the worth of a compliment (apart from the obvious...I mean, if someone is shouting at you "YO! CAN I HIT THAT!?! CAN I HIT THAT?!" you get the impression that you're looking good but that the compliment is defective)?

Aquinas says: quidquid recipitur ad modum recipientes recipitur. 

Take three persons and play for them:
1. A piece by Palestrina
2. A piece by Dr. Dre

The first person might understand and appreciate Palestrina but not be able to evaluate the merits of the rap song.

The second person might understand and appreciate Dr. Dre but not be able to evaluate the merits of the choral work.

The third person understands and appreciates both and it is only that third person who is able to make an evaluation as to their respective and comparable merits.

So...to what extent does one need to be versed in both traditions and their nuances in order to make an objective comparison and judgment?

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Addendum: the reason this question is interesting to me is because we make judgments based off of insufficient data all the time. Our intellects are amazing but we often confuse insufficient data with insufficient reason and reject accordingly (judgment and without enough apprehension). So, you get people hating a book or a genre without ever having tried to first understand it. It's from a foreign strain of thought.

It's also like missionary work - one prof said something like: "be sure that the other is able to recognize themselves in what you say of them" (which I'm sure is a riff from some Church document). How much do you need to understand in order to make a good semblance?

AND apropos video:

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

You're Not the Boss of Me Now - A Brief Review

I finished watching Master of None Season 2 yesterday and was...frustrated.


[Mild spoilers may follow.]

The entire thing comes SO CLOSE to posing deep questions about the nature of the way we live now - but shies off from a long and studied look, never solidly condemning, never solidly endorsing.

It leaves you feeling dissatisfied and a teeny bit rage-y.

As far as the basic plot goes, there isn't much to complain about, a prima vista.* It shows Dev searching for something greater, pursuing his passions, realizing on some level the vacuity of his lifestyle, and finding that what really he really desires is a relationship with his good ol' gorgeous Italian buddy Francesca.

That narrative doesn't capture how much depth there is to his revelation, though. One episode shows him going on multiple dates with women and how the grind of these repetitive motions leaves him hollow. Another episode finds him doing the same promo-takes on a dull show over and over again and how tiresome those are because his passion does not lie thataways.

He wants a food show with integrity and he wants a person with ...whom he can connect...? That seems to be the main given-reason, at any rate, and it sounds like WEAK SAUCE.

The carryover analogy fails a bit because the show seems to be trying to balance both that there is nothing inherently damaging about such transient use-driven relationships AND that for some people it's ok to desire something more lasting. It left me unpersuaded. I might, however, have been too ungenerous of an audience and needing extra convincing or more blatant "HEY, DUMMY,  HERE'S THE MORAL!" moments. But I did get a sense of both/and rather than either/or. I'm willing to be convinced otherwise.

But I was also not convinced that Dev as a character learned ANYTHING. True, at the end he says the equivalent of everything pales in comparison to her. But it doesn't suggest strongly why and seems more like a feeling than an articulated realization that his life lacks authentic human connection.

Which is another problem - many of the characters that surround Dev are really copies of himself with one facet or another exaggerated so that he can better define himself in their reflections. They speak, think, and act similarly and sometimes the caricature is so over-the-top (*cough*Arnold*cough*) that you don't feel like you're watching a person so much as a walking stage-prop -- like a skull an actor might pick up during a play to really emphasize that this dude here is Seriously Contemplating Mortality. If his life is empty, it's partly because the people around him are as well.

So he wants something more, but he doesn't seem to feel it too deeply, to let it really shake and move him to action. He's simply in a miasma of malaise and is a bit disgruntled but not too incredibly put out. At least, everything is so smooth and glib that by the end you're convinced he'd get over it after a few good sulks.

It was certainly an amusing show, because Ansari has talent, but it was not a great show.

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*a.k.a. Prima facie.

Forget-Me-Not-the-Have-Nots

He has sent me to bring good news to the afflicted,
to bind up the brokenhearted... (Is 61:1) 

When I was 6ish, busy with fashioning my own paper dolls (and putting centipedes and Jerusalem crickets in the same container in the hopes that they would FIGHT FIGHT FIGHT... I don't *think* I was a little psychopath [and, anyways, the bugs didn't fight]), I had a garden of weeds.

My mother was (still is) an avid amateur gardener. As spring came round, she'd roll up her sleeves, tie back her dark hair, and begin pulling out the weeds that had sprung up as the garden slumbered through the cold-ish season.

I'd see the limp heads of dandelions in the pile of discarded vegetation, the delicate leafy greens that never bore flowers but whose vibrant alluring verdancy forgave their lack, the flora no one wanted though they were exquisitely beautiful. I determined that I would save them because this was not fair. These weeds had grown up in those bits of dirt, allowed to live brief lives unmolested until their yellow glory burst forth or their leaves unfurled and stretched wide like yawns. Why did they need to make room for more stately flowers, especially just when they'd come into their own with the advent of spring?

There was small secluded corner in our garden and there I tended the earth as best I could. It was rocky with clumps of hardened dirt, so I dug out the rocks with my hands and smashed apart the dirt clumps. Voilà! The perfect spot.

I carefully planted the discarded weeds and hunted through the garden to find more to rescue before my mother did them violence. I'd whisper childish things to them as I watered about how they would be safe here and I would take care of them... a couple weeks later, my mother came upon my carefully tended little plot (how it appeared to me, though it likely looked like a hodgepodge play area) and TORE UP ALL MY WEEDS, THREW THEM AWAY, AND PLANTED IMPATIENS THERE INSTEAD. IMPATIENS!
This is not an analogy for gentrification.

Also, contrary to story-patterns, we did not then have a heart-to-heart talk and make the choice to plant things together or even to preserve the weeds in some fashion. NOPE. I became incensed, yelled at her, and nursed resentment as she, mystified by my anger, shrugged her shoulders and continued with her gardening.

Later, I left my paper dolls out amid the flowers and wandered away to play inside - she watered the garden and my paper dolls were reduced to grey mush including one in a pale green dress that I'd thought was utter perfection. 

There was MUCH for me to forgive that spring. 

My Irish through-n-through babysitter used to watch me and cluck despairingly: "Ach, Deirdre, born with a tear in 'er eye."

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'I tell you, to everyone who has, more will be given, but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away.' (Lk 19:26)

Some words in the Gospel have a harsh ring that jars. The parable of the talents is one that I understand, but which, on some level, I still fight with. Taken out of context, it looks like the weeds, the beggar on the street with holes in his socks and no jacket to cover his shivering exposed body, the senior with the fixed pension choosing between medicine, food, and housing, are just sheeet outta luck. It's Job who cries out in the face of his dirt-rubbing friends "...the tents of robbers are prosperous, and those who provoke God are secure...!" (12:6) 

The mail-room in my apartment complex also serves as a foyer where residents awkwardly scootch past each other to get at the elevator or mumble what might (?) be greetings as we check mail. I was peeking into the mailbox alongside a senior and we both had received a letter from the landlord. She took in trembling hands and said, haltingly: "I hope...this isn't another rent increase," before shuffling off to take the elevator up, her legs long past the time when steps were friendly paths instead of jagged biting death drops. 

The missive was letting all tenants know that there would be a cleaning of the junk in the garage and anything left unattended after x-date would be thrown away - but, still, there will be a letter about the rent increasing. Is this the sort of person who will have their pittance removed before being cast into the outer darkness? 

I identify with the servant who went and buried the talent told his master "I was afraid..." I am afraid so often. Afraid of myself and what I am capable of, afraid of what others think of me, afraid of being found insignificant, afraid of trying, afraid of failing. 

I GET the servant with the one talent in a way that I don't get the self-assured servants who, with casual acumen, simply go off and double what they were entrusted with...like it was nothing!

Again and again we hear in the bible "be not afraid..." It is the Lord who stills our fearful beating hearts into tranquility, who is refuge, who holds His hand outstretched for us to grasp because we are structurally mired in an abyss of desire for Him but. can't. get. there. on. our. own. (See Aquinas on worship if curious about this.) It is this same Lord that we fear. I'm not going to get into the two types of fear that we can have, 'cause that would make this ridiculously long. But the movement from the wrong sort of fear to the right sort of fear is...difficult. 

The parable isn't about material things, sure, yeah. It doesn't exactly pertain to the cases above except that the literality of it is borne out by our experiences. However, the physical can serve as a mirror for the spiritual. There are those paralyzed with fear by an impoverished understanding of God's mercy, who are allowed to wilt and wither and die.  

I've read and heard in homilies that we may feel some sympathy for the man with the one talent but, really, we shouldn't feel sympathy for him. It rings to me like Virgil rebuking Dante for having sympathy for the damned - and Virgil was not among the denizens of heaven so perhaps not exactly a 100% reliable guide as to the nature of grace (not that I'm even remotely suggesting universal salvation -- just that being moved to pity isn't something we should necessarily get knocked for). 

Whether or not we should feel sympathy for him, I do feel sympathy for him and for every creature that freezes in a panic before God, afraid and horrified by the two-faced quick-turning brutality of human justice that they see propagated about them, imagining that God is likewise. We need voices telling them, assuring each other, to fear not. 

Captain Obvious? Perhaps. But I'm not attempting any theological exposition that teeters on a diving board at the edge of a limpid pool of revelation.

When thinking of this (which I do now and then), the first line of a poem from Parker keeps sounding in my head: 

Bric-A-Brac, by Dorothy Parker 
Little things that no one needs --
Little things to joke about --
Little landscapes, done in beads.
Little morals, woven out,
Little wreaths of gilded grass,
Little brigs of whittled oak
Bottled painfully in glass;
These are made by lonely folk.

Lonely folk have lines of days
Long and faltering and thin;
Therefore -- little wax bouquets,
Prayers cut upon a pin,
Little maps of pinkish lands,
Little charts of curly seas,
Little plats of linen strands,
Little verses, such as these.

______________________
I feel like this writing is a bit sloppy and overly-sentimental. C'est la vie. 

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Capturing the Feel of Melancholia

In the bleak hours of the night when electric lights shine on a sterile empty room, there is no other soul to keep company - no veil, no pleading intermediary that can render testimony as to value. Arms that hold no future, vacant corners, empty bottles of wine meant to be drunk amidst friends who stumble, with arms linked, blindly home together exhaling the beery breath of humanity. Alien to self, alien to others, alien to this world. Other inaccessible worlds of possibility which you glimpse as you see fingers intertwined and steps sped or slowed as space is opened to embrace the other in their peculiarity. Possible worlds - but not yours. Barren skeletal emotions which have only the power to gather together all dreams...and put them on the hearth to burn.
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Not my usual fare, but branching out and trying something else. Too heavy-handed/derivative, though - wants a more delicate touch.  Also, am not at present melancholy - it is hard to be melancholy when secure in the knowledge of bacon waiting for you in the fridge. 

Friday, May 26, 2017

In Light of Eternity

An old Hispanic neighbor of ours is wont to take a woman's hand and gently give it a quick kiss as a form of greeting. Even now as he is passing from this world to the next, rambling in Spanish, he still performs this small gallantry with trembling hands when a woman enters the room. He places us out of the ordinary with a habitual gesture. [In your charity, please pray for his soul as his time is quite near.]
Living in Italy, my friends of the female persuasion and I discovered an odd thing. YEAH, the men make kiss-y sounds to get your attention and some tried to cop a feel on the bus, so we learned to stand defensively and use our elbows as barriers on buses so crowded that there was a strong suggestion of them listing to one side.

But the older men with white hair and wrinkled faces, sitting at the cafes all day with their friends to pass the time, would compliment us as we walked by. They would call us beautiful - and most meant it without sexual undertones. It was a simple acknowledgement. Priests and seminarians, too, would sometimes casually tell us that we looked lovely. It was Not A Big Deal. I'm sure that half of the story is the cooling of passions as the years furtively edge past or a dedication to a higher calling, but I don't think that's the whole story. 

We started dressing more nicely, acting differently - partly to blend in and partly because it's NICE to be called sweet, kind, and beautiful. 
That's something I miss here in the US. We rarely hear that we're beautiful (or handsome) except in romantic contexts or compliments passed along by our own sex/immediate family ('Lookin' sharp,' 'Hey gorgeous,' etc.). I don't even know that it's possible to have something so neutral here with our hyper-awareness of T'EH SEX. We're conditioned to a different kind of treatment on the one hand and afraid to give out impartial affirmation on the other. 

Incidentally, the other day, I was driving along and had a Moment because the car next to me had a Thundercats decal on it and was driven by a Handsome Man. "HOW DO I NOT COME ACROSS AS CAT-CALLING!?! I JUST WANT TO ACKNOWLEDGE THEIR FANDOM!" On closer inspection, it was not a Thundercats decal. Crisis averted. 

Catholics in the US react to the hyper-sexual culture but...well, we tend to react and concentrate our ideas about sexuality in bizarre and unhealthy ways. This goes for both men and women - though I generally only hear the women's side of things. I.e. Their experiences with some Catholic men were so WEIRD that one or two women I know *give up trying to date them*. And why? It's because instead of hearing simply that we're sweet, kind, and beautiful - same but other and acknowledging that somehow - we hear ALL manner of odd things about how we're supposed to behave and what we're supposed to believe because a spiritual dimension is given to e.v.e.r.y.t.h.i.n.g.

Sort of apropos (language warning, if that's a thing for you): 

We also get shunted into categories. I, for example, am told I give off the "Jane-Austen vibe" and can see Catholic men reacting to that in real life - also, to some degree, online - and afraid of being anything other than fastidiously polite and disaffected. I seldom go out of my way to make a concerted effort to disabuse that notion. I'm reserved around eligible men my age-ish. Sometimes I don't even SIT on the same couch as them -- which is weird because in dancing I might be pressed right up against the self-same men with no room for the Holy Spirit (not up top, not below! Haaah. Dancing.)...so, yes, weird dichotomy. Ironically, when I was a kid I used to be part of the "No Girls Allowed" club (as an honorary boy-member of sorts) and spent summers running about with boys at a summer camp we affectionately called: "Camp St. Lots-of-Fun." But we grew up and grew different.

Non-Catholic men I've dated don't really impose the same categories - they seem to approach things more straightforwardly even if afterwards things are twisty in other ways. The following relates most specifically to Catholics, tho. 

If categories are how you see men or women when you embark on dating, you will be (1)  dissatisfied and drop others one by one either because they don't fit into the categories you have in mind as ideal OR (2) because we're dissatisfied with the categories and people who seem to fit neatly into them seem too flat. For the former, I'm not referring to a dissimilarity of views or of humor but just plain ol': "she does not have correct ideas about Pope Francis - SO LONG, MODERNIST!"   ('cause you know they all about that lace, 'bout that lace, no rayon.) or "He's got a GUITAR and goes to PRAISE AND WORSHIP - I BET HE SINGS KUMBAYAAAAUGGGH!!!!"   The latter type of person (the second sort), however, seems to me to be a sign of growth even though it's admittedly rough on the people who are set aside as lacking and I *don't* think many people fit them so neatly as we imagine.

Getting to the realization that these categories and ideas are only useful up to a point can be...tricky. One Catholic man I met was full to bursting of categories/ideals/etc. and struggled mightily because he could not find a woman who Fit Them. He placed the blame on the strictures of Catholicism and left the Church because he REALLY wanted to be married but couldn't see how it was possible to find a suitable partner. To others, he claimed it was for different reasons. But, from our conversations, I gathered that those reasons found their source in seeing Catholicism as impractical in its demands regarding the ideal spouse - demands that were really fomented in his own imagination and reinforced by those he hung about with. I wasn't experienced enough then to articulate the distinction, even to myself, and helplessly watched him flail about in misery until he'd had enough and gave up.  

I think it IS that we're too serious about things. It's like every encounter with some strange other, every date, every exchange, is a life or death adventure that leads us to HEAVEN OR HELL. People need to dial down - just a bit - the whole discernment-esque mentality when it comes to dating: it places the end before us too immediately and we Freak Out. It's no wonder that we resort to categories/ideals amid the swirling notions of what it means to be Catholic man and what it means to be Catholic woman. There's so much at stake! HOW CAN WE BE EXPECTED TO ACT NORMAL!?! Angels and demons are everywhere! IS SHE A DISTRACTION FROM MY VOCATION OR  SOMEONE WHO CAN HELP ME GET TO HEAVEN!? IS SHE RITUALLY PURE!?! WHAT EVEN ARE HER VIEWS ON VODKA VERSUS GIN MARTINIS!?

Weird way to think about someone you've just met.

[Also, side-note, dramatically calling someone a 'distraction' when you talk of them, but you REALLY mean you're not into them, is a hurtful punk move and will make me want to slap you on behalf of whoever you're calling that. She must be relegated to a near-occasion-of-sin category? Really? It's not like she's sending you suggestive pics or trying to get you to do drugs or something!]

I mean, we're not entirely off-base. We must judge whether people we know are going to help or hinder our path to our final destination and exercise caution around questionable influences (Holy Association and whatnot). With some people, we can tell straight off what the deal is - views so incompatible or character so unlike that it causes strain or even danger. But we can't always make such snap judgments.

So it's not wrong to consider these things but maybe not...only those things? Perhaps don't let your mind immediately be set aflame with ponderous questions that bleed into the afterlife but see what kind of person they are first? If they're not some sort of romantic prospect, they may still be fascinating friends. If they're not a friendship prospect, you STILL owe them your freely given good will - don't toss rocks into their path that will make them stumble.

I am a fairly good dancer but not a great one. Dancers who are new are incredibly shy about their awkward bodies moving in unaccustomed ways in front of a stranger. So I smile. I laugh. I look into their eyes and theirs meet mine and they suddenly realize that this the person on their arm is not an antagonist. They begin to relax, to unbend, to try out new patterns of movement, to bring more of their personality and how they hear the music to the dance. They are encouraged. I don't think "you're bad dancer" and I don't act that way, either. 

Now when I see a man with a new hair-cut, or who has obviously spent some time choosing their clothes, or who has new shades, I try to compliment them and not dwell on The Grand Scheme of Things (zomg, will we now fall in love, get married, and have five thousand kids!? WHAT WILL WE NAME THEM!?). Before me, is another human being who looks mighty fly - that's the reality. So, yo, you look mighty fly. Before me is someone who is trying to be a better self even if in some small way.

Obviously, I don't run around like spreading compliments without discretion (you get a compliment! And you get a compliment! ERRBODY GETS A COMPLIMENT!!), but I try not to make things a Big Deal and be more laid-back about how I interact with and judge the opposite sex, to not squish them into different shapes, to capture that feel that I've felt from good men and pass it along gratefully. It's HARD and I fail constantly at it.

That may sound a bit...horrible... I mean, who wants a casual approach? 

On the other hand, who wants to immediately be judged in light of eternity? 


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NB: I realize that I'm harping on a bit about categories and suchlike recently, even if only incidentally. It's a topic that fascinates me because we act what we think and we often think in Platonic form-like ways even if the ideas we hold pertain to the strange thing that is man: body and soul. We're like children with those sorting blocks trying to fit the square into the circle slot and winding up just mashing the blocks together as we cry.

I'm also feeling dissatisfied. This post was sort of a reflection on this - there's some interaction a lot of Catholic men and women have with each other that isn't balanced and I'm trying to wiggle out what that is by taking good examples and seeing how they differ from bad ones. I don't think it's an entirely successful analysis and doesn't address why we're afraid to compliment. Too simplified and also uninspired writing in bits, but part of getting into the habit of writing and putting ideas out and refining them is...to write. So here it is in its imperfections. Fly little bird!

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Walking Home at Night

An older bit I wrote, from ~1 1/2 years ago. Consolidating little snippets of writing in one place. Also, I'm 5'1", hence the emphasis on someone else being smaller. My instincts are generally more fight-centered than flight-centered which is not always for the best.

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If I take one route home (using public transit), the bus drops me at an overpass that I must traverse. At night, there is little foot-traffic and enough deep shadows to make it unsettling and vaguely threatening. Tonight, I hopped off the bus and started across. Someone was keeping pace behind me. Speeding up my walking, I heard the person behind increase their speed as well. Glancing behind, I saw a figure, slightly smaller than I, in a hoodie that obscured their face. I sped up even more, almost running, to see if I was being followed. And the person behind sped up as well, with a shuffling gait. "Oh crap," I thought. "I'm about to get mugged...and by someone smaller!!!" So I suddenly stopped and turned around aggressively...

...to find myself looking into the face of an old Asian woman who'd been running after me because she was scared of the path at night. "I'm coming with you!!!" she cried. And we went the rest of the way together, chatting amiably. She apparently waits for nice looking people to cross over with.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Let Our Voices Blend With Theirs

Gentleness, meekness, mildness - these are things vaunted in word but often ridiculed or rejected (even if only in thought) when encountered. The meek are deemed weak or sentimental and perhaps even simple-minded because they shun the frenetic activities of the aggressive and power-driven.

My mind marches along at a slow pace, turning things over and over again, like checking and double-checking to make sure the stove is off and the door locked. It does not launch like a firework into the sky, sending down dazzling rains of light - it's like a slug that gropes and flinches away from pointy rocks and salt, leaving a trail of slime to show its path: where it came from and the direction it's headed in. You can track its progress and watch its binary operations. I can't keep pace with frenzy. It feels unnatural.

We desire to be loved and admired, praised and emulated. Our words and works we want propagated but we are seldom satisfied to enter into harmonious melodies with others. The strident voice is the one heard - the one that shouts louder, which is most out of tune, standing apart from all the rest. That is the one we often remember.

And we listen to it time and again. The forceful are called clever in our encounters and we point to them and say they speak truths because they speak in high contrast. Their rhetoric pulls us into the eddies of their different worldviews and their agility of mind and strength of conviction sway us. Truth is a clarion call, isn't it? A mark of truth is that it cuts?

We start to mimic, to grow coarser and less forgiving as we emulate the sharp. I see men and women begin to simplify their ideas and their voices until they all sound alike even when meaning to be opposites. And their likeness is all harsh cries and subjugation. It's like when a group sings a copyrighted song SO BADLY that YouTube doesn't even flag it as a copyright infringement: its algorithm can't figure out what the tune is.

There is the echo chamber of us surrounding ourselves with those who hold similar views as we back-pat ourselves. There's also the cage we impose on ourselves by echoing others. It's not that we need to be original - one of my professors once told a class to not even both trying since everything we thought and would write had been thought and written before. But we do need to be authentic.  (Heideggerian language sometimes will out.)

Very few of us, I'd like to imagine, *really* get off on calling people dumb, telling them to fuck off, or, worse, damn them to hell. But I see, for example (a mild example that I've seen happen time and again), people with kindly dispositions slide from swearing in acronyms (wtf, wtaf, etc.), to explicit swearing, to caricatures of the people whose attention they're trying to catch or whose fame they covet. It often isn't *them* and it's not *who they are* and it's not *their voice.* It's a corruption.

I DON'T have an issue with swearing (or vulgarity!) so long as it doesn't profane what is good or holy...and sometimes find it a bit boring when used badly. My grandmother saw Gone With the Wind in theaters remembers vividly the gasp that came from the audience at the line "Frankly my dear, I don't give a damn." That damn had solidity and weight, rhetorical impact and measure. If you're going to damn, make it good for heaven's sake!

But when those with hearts clamoring to find out and think the best of people find that this is Not How Things Are Done By Those In The Spotlight, they slowly stifle better impulses and shush the flames of charity. Reluctantly at first, they begin to change and small inroads are made until force of habit kicks in and they begin to relish this newfound cacophony since they, too, are being Noticed or are in the company of the Noticed. And their hearts become like duckweed on a pond - drifting here and there, seeking attention (everyone knows duck-weed is diva-like, yes?), becoming closed and indifferent.

The meek and gentle have no such allures. Theirs is a quiet and deep-abiding character that is not turned easily and which springs from deeper sources and has oak-like roots. Meekness seems to keep a slower pace in some ways and its very mildness is seen as a disgrace or, what seems like the greater sin, boring. A line from Whit Stillman's movie Metropolitan comes to mind:
It's incredible the eagerness of girls like you to justify the worst bastards imaginable as being sensitive and shy. But if any guy who really was shy dared talk to you, you wouldn't give him the time of day. Your eyes would glaze over.
But the gentle have strength: the strength to shore up, to refuse to be sowers of discord, the courage to pursue the promptings of the Holy Spirit. As Augustine says:
You wish to possess the earth now; take heed lest you be possessed by it. If you be meek, you will possess it; if ungentle, you will be possessed by it...For this is to be meek, not to resist your God. (Sermon 3 on the New Testament, emphasis added)
And if God calls you to be a preacher with words of fire, that is one thing. And if God calls you to be a mother who soothes her child, that's another. In hearkening to His voice, in diminishing like John the Baptist, we become more authentically ourselves: we blend our voice with those of the angelic hosts. We should not seek to assert our voice aggressively but to be conduits of the Holy Spirit.

"If today you hear His voice, harden not your hearts."

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NB, I am heavily influenced by this quote of Graham Greene: "I want men to admire me, but that's a trick you learn in school - a movement of the eyes, a tone of voice, a touch of the hand on the shoulder or the head. If they think you admire them, they will admire you because of your good taste, and when they admire you, you have an illusion for a moment that there's something to admire."

Also heavily influenced by re-reading Servais Pinckaers on the Beatitudes in his Sources of Christian Ethics.

Am also sort of using gentle and meek interchangeably - I know their senses are different, but they're similar. **shrugs**

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Living in Denial

Trad Catholic
Catholic Socialist
Catholic Libertarian
Normie Catholic
Weird Catholic
Leftist Catholic
Catholic Republican
Catholic Democrat
Communist Catholic

This one has a little car.
THAT one has a little star!
Say! What a lot of Catholics there are.

When I was at Cal, I colluded with a fellow student to bring a contingent of students into contact with the extraordinary form of the Mass. We'd drive them over, help 'em get used to the weird missals, and whisper warm encouraging things when their eyes glazed over at the 1 1/2 hour mark, surreptitiously dabbing away the drool trickling from their slackened mouths.

That's little exaggeration - going to a completely new (to you) liturgy can be draining. When a friend brought me to some Eastern Rite Mass, I practically fainted. He helpfully clutched my elbow for awhile in case I decided a reverent face-plant was in order. So many new sensory inputs, so much difference, is daze-inducing to the detail-oriented.

After one Mass (we'd made this a regular offering to students, and I think we went for maybe 4 months in a row, 1x/month?), a regular approached me with a smile asking if I was thinking of becoming a regular, too. Her mantilla-framed face froze as I told her that I was happy with the Ordinary Form. She *turned her back on me* and left without another word (perhaps she mumbled an "oh"? Maybe.), leaving me a solitary stunned outcast.

Literally bringing people to the extraordinary form of the Mass couldn't satiate her - I must conform to just and only this, leaving no room in my heart for anything else. It certainly felt like there was no space in that woman's heart for me à la Ordinary Form - or maybe she had IBS and I totally misinterpreted her frozen face of horror as she had a bowel movement and one of those LITERAL "CRAP!!! I'M NOT WEARING DEPENDS!!!" moments and had to waddle away. MAYBE.

That didn't stop me from bringing people to the extraordinary form, but it remained with me as a formative perception.

I hate being labeled and often hate labels. Flannery O'Connor hated labels. She's good company. Sort of spicy and acerbic but with a warm pulse - leaves you feeling like she's trying to shove your begrudging body in the right direction with a wry grimace-smile.

Catholics have a different kinda substance. The indelible mark(s) that we're sealed with re-configures our soul and thus our form and thus our body and thus our substance. They remain with us in the afterlife (so I've read). What that really means in theological terms, I'm not entirely sure, since I studied philosophy not theology, ya know? But it suggests to me that in some sense being a member of the Church is what we are and not an aggregation of the things we have done or what Mass we attend or what political party we adhere to.

Living up to our baptismal vows, remaining in communion with the Church, is a different matter. If you do not say "CREDO" to the fundamental truths, if you assent in intellect but spurn in will, if you deliberately face off against the Catholic Church like a forçado, well, then, you're still under her authority but not necessarily in communion.

I KNOW this is a pretty poor blush on the whole thing and that writers from Saint Bellarmine to John Paul the Great deal with the Church as the mystical body and make profound observations regarding its body and soul / being of the body / being of the soul of the Church, and how people fall into those categories. But bear with me - I'm aiming at something so don't focus on where I go wrong or where I'm the equivalent of a kindergartener spouting things about Kierkegaard -- I'm trying to wave my hand at something. Focus on that. Kthxendaside.

Probably, I would be identified as a Leftist Catholic, but would never and have never identified myself as anything but "Catholic." I suspect some might also say I'm a normie Catholics, perhaps. (I'm still not quite sure what the extension of that term is, but it seems pejorative.) To be Catholic is enough for me. The additional descriptors aren't substance-y enough but we often treat them as if they were, tho. You must BE a Republican if you are to call yourself a Catholic. You are CATHOLIC if you attend the extraordinary form of the Mass. Etc.

Then, armed with these descriptors, some of us stand shoulder to shoulder with our associates and get all down and tribal and funky. All who agree with us are within a protective bubble of civility. All who are outside are open to the worst epithets. What this person says is not just reasonable - the person himself is obviously erudite, has a good character, deserves standing applause. What THAT OTHER PERSON says is not just unreasonable - the person himself is obviously a peon, lacks any semblance of internal thought processes, and should be cursed unto the nth generation. Plus, their kids are ugly. And fat. And he looks like a goat. HA HA, OH SNAP.

What some (many?) people really mean by such requirement statements for Catholicism is: in order to be in union with the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church, you must be x/y/z. We also see the phrase: "You cannot be Catholic and a/b/c" which has similar shorthand except it deals with the denial of a conjunction.

"You cannot be Catholic and pro-choice." Fine.
"You cannot be Catholic and support euthanasia." Fine.
"You cannot be Catholic and deny the divinity of Christ." Fine.
"You cannot be Catholic (in the USA) without being a Republican." Er.....

The first three things are not a positive affirmation of a position with an identity, but a denial. I'm ok with denial. I live in denial. What makes me uncomfortable is when identity statements are made about human institutions, transitory forms of liturgy, or political ideologies -- and that is the basis used for grouping ourselves within the Church and FIGHTING WITH EACH OTHER.

I'm not saying that these labels are without use -- but that some of the ways in which we use them are less than helpful and fuel for unnecessary division. We're members of the same Church, the mystical Body of Christ, claimed for Him through the same waters of baptism. To be Catholic defies, in some ways, defies such descriptors - it is so grand and there are so many rooms.

My, how we Christians love each other, eh?

[Thanks to mah friend Dr. Tan from Divine Wedgie who looked at this post to make sure I wasn't saying theologically unsound stupid stuff.]

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Topical Application

These are the subjects marinating in my head:
- Prone to Failure (Ambition, Commonality, First Followers)
- Knowing and Doing (Formal Necessity's Need)
- Catholic Tribalism (Are Descriptors Necessary?)
- Faux Appreciation of Gentleness (Judas Paying Lip-Service)
- Being in the Weeds (Considerations of Smaller Things)

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

A Bit Odd, But It Works

Took (my first) hip hop class awhile back with my sister and...I'm putting my experience here because I WANT TO even though it happened earlier this year.

-------------------

Dance instructors sometimes use word phrases as mnemonic devices for sequences of movement.

The teacher for this Hip Hop lesson asked the class: "So we're all adults here, right?" Everyone nodded and he continued: "...what I use to help me remember this is 'Bee Gees dancing naked in the living room'" For the rest of the class, that's how I practiced it. My sister later corrected me - it was actually "bitches", not "Bee Gees", and I was vaguely disappointed.

Trickle-Down Effect

Something hard for me to articulate to myself (but which I'm attempting to do, to clarify my own thinking) is how being gentle and being fierce are compatible in our dealings with others. Do we flow along like the quiet nurturing brook or thunder like the waterfall, cracking trees, pulling boulders from banks, and hurtling everything into the foamy-foam below: what floats may pass, what shatters then sinks will perish? 

It's something I see running about the web, too, framed in terms of rebuking the sinner:

P1: Be gentle with them.
P2: Go nuclear on their ass.

This tension is not between being conventionally nice and not-nice as in pleasant and unpleasant. People being rebuked isn't exactly something we doodle into our calendars and surround with hearts and swirls in colored ink. Because we like to reduce things to simpler terms, we tend to think of gentleness and nuclear as nice and not-nice and, then, as pleasant and unpleasant. The terms shift from a focus on treatment-of-people to how-our-treatment-of-people-makes-us-feel. I'm not sure that entirely makes sense as I've written it, but there's some subtle under-the-table-term-dodgery that seems to be going on and something gets lost in translation.

ANYWAYS, a good clue in resolving this tension might be found in depictions of saints. If we're the Church Militant, then what are the weapons that these saints used?

St. Nicholas had his fist to punch the heretic, St. Faustina her chaplet, Mother Teresa her hands to caress, Aquinas a flaming brand to chase the prostitute, St. Dominic the Rosary...there's a whole medley of saintly examples that run a gamut of behaviors from meekness to violence.

In our dealings with others, there is self and an other: it's between two  distinct persons. It's curious to me that we are not especially keen to reflect on ourselves as the source of an action or the other as the recipient but are, instead, quick to point to examples as guides. We like to dish it out, but not to take it so much, eh? But those were particular people in particular circumstances dealing with particular individuals. What is it that creates harmony between them all and provides a unifying explanation?

The nexus lies in the order of charity: are our actions rooted in Christ, are they fruits of virtue, are they a dynamic outpouring of love? The person who is united to Christ is able to discern the correct course of action in dealings with others in relation to our final end, at least to some degree. Since human knowledge is imperfect we go off of particular known circumstances and we can unwittingly err unless we have divine inspiration.

Knowledge is a powerful thing and where there is sin there is a sinner. We see a someone who has become a drunkard and we know they are drinking because they have suffered an immense blow and we treat them differently (I hope!) than the profligate wastrel who left his wife and children and spends all his time stumbling from bar to bar. Is the other person showing signs of sorrow? Is the other person manifesting malicious intent? There are so many considerations when we look at individuals that shape how we deal with them. This isn't an exciting observation. Most Catholics could probably tell you exactly what Canon 915 is about, for example, but it's not always acknowledged in theoretical dealings with less-ostentatious cases.

Or, on the side of self, we might know that we have a particularly irascible character and can turn into a wall of fury when dealing with certain persons - either because we've had it up to here with their crap OR because the subject at hand is one that particularly inflames us. Fraternal correction can then turn into a non-fraternal beat-down. We often get an unholy itch to kick someone when they're down (it's really the best time to do it, if you think about it), to lay it on thiccckkk, to be sure that the other person realizes just what an infinitesimal little blight they are on this glorious golden universe. Prudence might whisper: step away, you arse.

Human beings have the immense fight of mastering our passions, by the grace of God, and so when we deal with others it's not shocking that we can miss the sweet spot of excellence in action.  Both P1 and P2 may both be warning against opposite dangers that we can fall into (or they may simply be trying to justify their cruel treatment of others/etc. - there's many a man [and woman] who has hidden behind a mask of sanctity). Don't be too gentle with someone who needs rousing and don't be too aggressive with someone who needs a gentle hand.

So I guess the answer is: become a saint, desire God above all things, and let your actions flow from an active life of grace. Then in our dealings with others, we have the freedom to act with excellence, to discern with a clear(er) vision given our own self and an other what is the best path to our final end and theirs. I'm sure there are jumps and gaps in my logic here, but after 10+ hours of work and suchlike, GIVE THOU ME A BREAK.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Snowflakes in Winter

When I was perhaps 11 and my sister was 9, our Dad would often take us skiing in the winter, driving the 4 hours out to Lake Tahoe, and letting us wander the resorts so long as we stuck in a pair. We were both fairly competent and would tackle the occasional Black Diamond run or two together.

On one particularly clear day, my little sister slipped while we were close to a dangerous near-vertical drop. She fell on her stomach, face towards me, and slowly slid towards her inevitable doom, reaching out her hands, crying out my name repeatedly, begging me to help her as she scrabbled desperately to gain some purchase on the icy incline.

I planted my ski poles, not five feet away from her, and laughed.

She was in no danger. I could see that she was sliding down a fairly gentle slope that ended in a wide flat ledge before the perilous drop really began. The contrast between her perceived and actual danger amused me.

As her small form slid further down and away, her eyes filled with horror and disbelief: her protector, her friend, her big sister, would not even stretch out a hand but simply stood back positively relishing her imminent demise. What sick cruel joke was this? 

It took her awhile to get over that, even once she understood that she'd been in no actual danger. It left such a lasting impression that she still sometimes brings it up.

If our reflex reaction is to laugh at others when they are scared because of perceived danger (real or imagined) that'll probably come back to haunt you later. Episodes like that have the potential of sticking with people more than rational argumentation - they only see a hideous laughing visage and the danger seems to become worse because you can't trust the people around you to act with compassion.

There is a huge amount of stupidity in the world. But we're fighting against principalities and powers - not against people. Stupidity doesn't need to be coddled because it's not a person and sometimes laughter might be a good response when someone says something incredibly obtuse. But it should be a measured and deliberate response to the stupidity versus a reflexive and default position that conflates person and position.