Archive for the ‘Amy Welborn’ Category

Yes, it’s a thing. I’m amazed and gratified to report this: it’s a thing.

No, we didn’t start the blessing of the Bambinelli – I still am not sure who did, but it’s currently sponsored in Rome by a group called the Centro Oratori Romani. Here’s their poster for this year’s event:

Bambinelli Sunday

And somewhere along the line, Ann Engelhart heard about it, connected the practice with her own childhood appreciation of the Neapolitan presipi, particularly as experienced through the Christmas displays at the Met -and suggested a book.

More about how the book came to be. 

So here we are!




Every year, I try to note some of the places doing Bambinelli Sunday – here’s this year’s partial list – which starts, right here, with the Cathedral of St. Paul in Birmingham. The only order in this list is the order of search results. So here we go:

The Basilica of St. Mary in Minneapolis 

Divine Mercy, Hamden CT

St. Joseph, Mechanicsburg, PA

Liverpool Cathedral

Holy Spirit, Lubbock TX

St. Jude, Sandy Springs, GA

St. Gabriel School, Ontario, CA

Quinn Clooney Maghera Parish, Ireland

St. Francis of Assisi, St. Louis

Sacred Heart, Coronado, CO

Middleton Parish, Ireland

St. Catherine of Siena, Clearwater, FL

All Saints, Diocese of Plymouth, England

St. Senan’s, Diocese of Killaloe, Ireland

St. Augustine, Spokane

St. Bernadette, Westlake, OH

Ennis Cathedral Parish, Ireland

Nativity, Cincinnati

Killbritain Parish, Ireland

St. Edith, Livonia, MI

St. Brendan, Avalon, NJ

St. Brigid, Westbury, NY

St. Ferdinand, PA

St. Ignatius Loyola, NYC

St. Anne’s, Peterborough ON

Our Lady of Perpetual Succor, somewhere in Scotland

…And that’s all I have time to link.

Do a search for “Benedizione dei bambinelli” as well – you’ll come up with a slew. 

The point is that Advent and Christmas are about welcoming the Word of God into our lives – which means our homes. The blessing of the Bambinelli – which we bring from our homes and return there – is an embodiment of this.  As Pope Emeritus Benedict said in his 2008 prayer for the event:

God, our Father 
you so loved humankind 
that you sent us your only Son Jesus, 
born of the Virgin Mary, 
to save us and lead us back to you.

We pray that with your Blessing 
these images of Jesus, 
who is about to come among us, 
may be a sign of your presence and 
love in our homes.

Good Father, 
give your Blessing to us too, 
to our parents, to our families and 
to our friends.

Open our hearts, 
so that we may be able to 
receive Jesus in joy, 
always do what he asks 
and see him in all those 
who are in need of our love.

We ask you this in the name of Jesus, 
your beloved Son 
who comes to give the world peace.

He lives and reigns forever and ever. 




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Photo: NYTimes


On Saturday, a beatification ceremony, the first in a Muslim country:

“Humble builders of peace and heroic witnesses of Christian charity”, “whose courageous testimony is a source of hope for the Algerian Catholic community and a seed of dialogue for the whole of society”. This is how Pope Francis defined the 19 martyrs of Algeria yesterday at the Angelus, beatified on 8 December in Oran….

…The ceremony was celebrated by Cardinal Angelo Becciu, Prefect of the Congregation for the causes of saints and papal envoy.

The 19 blessed – 13 men religious, including one bishop, and 6 women religious – were killed between 1991 and 1996. The most atrocious affair is perhaps that of the seven monks of Tibhirine. Kidnapped on the night of March 26, 1996 in their monastery of Notre-Dame de l’Atlas, about sixty kilometers from Algiers, about two months later, on May 25, only their heads were found near Medea. Their story was also told in the film Men of God, in 2010.

The new blessed said Card. Becciu, “have announced the unconditional love of the Lord to the poor and the marginalized”. “Even though they were aware of the risk that besieged them, they courageously decided to remain in their place until the end.” “We too today – he continued – contemplating these new blesseds, are invited to rejoice and rejoice, because in them we see the mystery of eternal shine. the sanctity of God, one and three, which is re-proposed to us in a new actualization of the Gospel that these martyrs of ours have witnessed to the outpouring of blood “.


The martyrs include seven French Trappist monks kidnapped from a monastery at Tibhirine in 1996 and later beheaded, and French-born Bishop Pierre Claverie of Oran, who was blown up in the same year by a remote-controlled bomb fixed to his garage.

The monks’ story was treated in the film Of Gods and Men, which won the grand prize at its premiere at the Cannes Film Festival in 2010.

The other martyrs include six women religious and five other male religious killed between 1993 and 1996 as Algeria was locked in a 10-year-long armed conflict between government forces and extremist Islamic rebel groups; as many as 200,000 people died.

I wrote about the film Of Gods and Men here. 

If you have never seen it, do. (And/or read one of the books written about the monks of Tibhirine.) As I say in that post, the essential question at the heart of the film is: do we stay? 

Because they could have left – many people thought they should. They could have crossed the Mediterranean to safety in France, easily. How did they decide to stay? Why? That’s the question.

And, it turns out, that’s the question at the heart of a disciple, isn’t it. Here I am, Jesus, following you. I’m following you in the midst of this mess. Should I stay or go? What would you have me do?

How do we figure that out? As I said back then:

Each of the monks must work it out.  They each begin from a different place. Some determined to stay, others ready to leave, still others not so sure.  They talk, they pray, they think it over.

Je reste.

Here’s the thing about Of Gods and Men:  The life of the disciple of Jesus Christ is presented with great care, respect , and truth.  As a Facebook friend wrote, ” It is amazing to me that such a theologically pitch-perfect movie could ever get made.

For me,  the pitch-perfect note that sounded the most strongly were the very intense conversations about death. About how a Christian faces death. They say: We have given our lives to Christ. They are already his. And the statements of one of the monks that no,  he was not afraid of death for,  “I am a free man.”

(Read Galatians if you don’t get it.)

Je reste.





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Yesterday,  brought you the Immaculate Conception via the Monkees, today, it’s St. Juan Diego (whose feast is today, even though we won’t celebrate it because it’s, well..Sunday)  via a literary dog.

Perhaps some of you remember the 1990’s PBS series, Wishbone. My older kids grew up with it, and I confess, I loved it. The conceit? A dog daydreams about being a character in various works of literature. It was kind of crazy, but it actually worked.

And believe it or not, the show actually dramatized a religious narrative in Viva, Wishbone!  – which involved Our Lady of Guadalupe, in which our friend Wishbone portrays, yes, Juan Diego.

Now, the story deviates. I just watched a bit of the climax, and the whole roses/tilma thing is not presented as the traditional narrative would have it. So you might not want to use it as a catechetical tool.  But take a look on YouTube, and just remember a time – not so long ago – when even PBS portrayed religion as something other than the Opium of Particularly Stupid Bigots.

Access parts 2 & 3 via this link.

wishbone guadalupe

And remember – my book on the Blessed Virgin is still free for Kindle download today – up to midnight!

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I toss the same general post up every year. I don’t care. No need to search my brain for heartfelt spiritual metaphors from Daily Life™. When we have the Monkees!

Riu riu chiu, la guarda ribera;
Dios guardo el lobo de nuestra cordera,
Dios guardo el lobo de neustra cordera.

El lobo rabioso la quiso morder,
Mas Dios poderoso la supo defender;
Quisola hazer que no pudiese pecar,
Ni aun original esta Virgen no tuviera.

Riu, riu chiu…

Este qu’es nacido es el gran monarca,
Christo patriarca de carne vestido;
Hemos redemido con se hazer chiquito,
Aunqu’era infinito, finito se hiziera.


River, roaring river, guard our homes in safety,
God has kept the black wolf from our lamb, our Lady.
God has kept the black wolf from our lamb, our Lady.

Raging mad to bite her, there the wolf did steal,
But our God Almighty defended her with zeal.
Pure He wished to keep Her so She could never sin,
That first sin of man never touched the Virgin sainted.

River, roaring river…

He who’s now begotten is our mighty Monarch,
Christ, our Holy Father, in human flesh embodied.
He has brough atonement by being born so humble,
Though He is immortal, as mortal was created.

River, roaring river…


Here’s a helpful video that someone put up with subtitles. 

And the Kingston Trio:

More from Fr. Steve Grunow on the song and the feast.

It’s a good day to download a free e-book on Mary – Mary and the Christian Life, which I wrote a few years ago, and is now out of print…you can have it!  Go here for the pdf download.

You can also get a Kindle version through Amazon – normally it’s .99 – but today it’s free. Go check it out!

Now for the good stuff, from someone who actually knows what he’s talking about…a few selections from “Father Benedict” – on this feast.



The light that shines from the figure of Mary also helps us to understand the true meaning of original sin. Indeed that relationship with God which sin truncates is fully alive and active in Mary. In her there is no opposition between God and her being: there is full communion, full understanding. There is a reciprocal “yes”: God to her and her to God. Mary is free from sin because she belongs entirely to God, she empties herself totally for him. She is full of his Grace and of his Love.

To conclude, the Doctrine of the Immaculate Conception of Mary expresses the certainty of faith that God’s promises have been fulfilled and that his Covenant does not fail but has produced a holy root from which came forth the blessed Fruit of the whole universe, Jesus the Saviour. The Immaculate Virgin shows that Grace can give rise to a response, that God’s fidelity can bring forth a true and good faith.

 And for even more substance from a homily he gave in 2005 on the feast – it was also the 40th anniversary of the closing of the Second Vatican Council.  It’s lengthy but SO worth it, an excellent reflection of what he has written elsewhere on it (for example, in this book):

But now we must ask ourselves:  What does “Mary, the Immaculate” mean? Does this title have something to tell us? Today, the liturgy illuminates the content of these words for us in two great images.

First of all comes the marvellous narrative of the annunciation of the Messiah’s coming to Mary, the Virgin of Nazareth. The Angel’s greeting is interwoven with threads from the Old Testament, especially from the Prophet Zephaniah. He shows that Mary, the humble provincial woman who comes from a priestly race and bears within her the great priestly patrimony of Israel, is “the holy remnant” of Israel to which the prophets referred in all the periods of trial and darkness.

In her is present the true Zion, the pure, living dwelling-place of God. In her the Lord dwells, in her he finds the place of his repose. She is the living house of God, who does not dwell in buildings of stone but in the heart of living man. She is the shoot which sprouts from the stump of David in the dark winter night of history. In her, the words of the Psalm are fulfilled:  “The earth has yielded its fruits” (Ps 67: 7).

She is the offshoot from which grew the tree of redemption and of the redeemed. God has not failed, as it might have seemed formerly at the beginning of history with Adam and Eve or during the period of the Babylonian Exile, and as it seemed anew in Mary’s time when Israel had become a people with no importance in an occupied region and with very few recognizable signs of its holiness.

God did not fail. In the humility of the house in Nazareth lived holy Israel, the pure remnant. God saved and saves his people. From the felled tree trunk Israel’s history shone out anew, becoming a living force that guides and pervades the world.

Mary is holy Israel:  she says “yes” to the Lord, she puts herself totally at his disposal and thus becomes the living temple of God.

The second image is much more difficult and obscure. This metaphor from the Book of Genesis speaks to us from a great historical distance and can only be explained with difficulty; only in the course of history has it been possible to develop a deeper understanding of what it refers to.

It was foretold that the struggle between humanity and the serpent, that is, between man and the forces of evil and death, would continue throughout history.

It was also foretold, however, that the “offspring” of a woman would one day triumph and would crush the head of the serpent to death; it was foretold that the offspring of the woman – and in this offspring the woman and the mother herself – would be victorious and that thus, through man, God would triumph.

If we set ourselves with the believing and praying Church to listen to this text, then we can begin to understand what original sin, inherited sin, is and also what the protection against this inherited sin is, what redemption is.

What picture does this passage show us? The human being does not trust God. Tempted by the serpent, he harbours the suspicion that in the end, God takes something away from his life, that God is a rival who curtails our freedom and that we will be fully human only when we have cast him aside; in brief, that only in this way can we fully achieve our freedom.

The human being lives in the suspicion that God’s love creates a dependence and that he must rid himself of this dependency if he is to be fully himself. Man does not want to receive his existence and the fullness of his life from God.

He himself wants to obtain from the tree of knowledge the power to shape the world, to make himself a god, raising himself to God’s level, and to overcome death and darkness with his own efforts. He does not want to rely on love that to him seems untrustworthy; he relies solely on his own knowledge since it confers power upon him. Rather than on love, he sets his sights on power, with which he desires to take his own life autonomously in hand. And in doing so, he trusts in deceit rather than in truth and thereby sinks with his life into emptiness, into death.

Love is not dependence but a gift that makes us live. The freedom of a human being is the freedom of a limited being, and therefore is itself limited. We can possess it only as a shared freedom, in the communion of freedom:  only if we live in the right way, with one another and for one another, can freedom develop.

We live in the right way if we live in accordance with the truth of our being, and that is, in accordance with God’s will. For God’s will is not a law for the human being imposed from the outside and that constrains him, but the intrinsic measure of his nature, a measure that is engraved within him and makes him the image of God, hence, a free creature.

If we live in opposition to love and against the truth – in opposition to God – then we destroy one another and destroy the world. Then we do not find life but act in the interests of death. All this is recounted with immortal images in the history of the original fall of man and the expulsion of man from the earthly Paradise.

Dear brothers and sisters, if we sincerely reflect about ourselves and our history, we have to say that with this narrative is described not only the history of the beginning but the history of all times, and that we all carry within us a drop of the poison of that way of thinking, illustrated by the images in the Book of Genesis.

We call this drop of poison “original sin”. Precisely on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, we have a lurking suspicion that a person who does not sin must really be basically boring and that something is missing from his life:  the dramatic dimension of being autonomous; that the freedom to say no, to descend into the shadows of sin and to want to do things on one’s own is part of being truly human; that only then can we make the most of all the vastness and depth of our being men and women, of being truly ourselves; that we should put this freedom to the test, even in opposition to God, in order to become, in reality, fully ourselves.

In a word, we think that evil is basically good, we think that we need it, at least a little, in order to experience the fullness of being. We think that Mephistopheles – the tempter – is right when he says he is the power “that always wants evil and always does good” (J.W. von Goethe, Faust I, 3). We think that a little bargaining with evil, keeping for oneself a little freedom against God, is basically a good thing, perhaps even necessary.

If we look, however, at the world that surrounds us we can see that this is not so; in other words, that evil is always poisonous, does not uplift human beings but degrades and humiliates them. It does not make them any the greater, purer or wealthier, but harms and belittles them.

This is something we should indeed learn on the day of the Immaculate Conception:  the person who abandons himself totally in God’s hands does not become God’s puppet, a boring “yes man”; he does not lose his freedom. Only the person who entrusts himself totally to God finds true freedom, the great, creative immensity of the freedom of good.

The person who turns to God does not become smaller but greater, for through God and with God he becomes great, he becomes divine, he becomes truly himself. The person who puts himself in God’s hands does not distance himself from others, withdrawing into his private salvation; on the contrary, it is only then that his heart truly awakens and he becomes a sensitive, hence, benevolent and open person.

The closer a person is to God, the closer he is to people. We see this in Mary. The fact that she is totally with God is the reason why she is so close to human beings.

For this reason she can be the Mother of every consolation and every help, a Mother whom anyone can dare to address in any kind of need in weakness and in sin, for she has understanding for everything and is for everyone the open power of creative goodness.

In her, God has impressed his own image, the image of the One who follows the lost sheep even up into the mountains and among the briars and thornbushes of the sins of this world, letting himself be spiked by the crown of thorns of these sins in order to take the sheep on his shoulders and bring it home.

As a merciful Mother, Mary is the anticipated figure and everlasting portrait of the Son. Thus, we see that the image of the Sorrowful Virgin, of the Mother who shares her suffering and her love, is also a true image of the Immaculate Conception. Her heart was enlarged by being and feeling together with God. In her, God’s goodness came very close to us.


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7 Quick Takes

Happy feast of St. Ambrose! More on him here.

— 1 —

It’s my least favorite time of the year. Yay. I mean, even with only two kids who aren’t engaged in an absurd amount of activities and a mom (me) who diligently follows a regime of minimalist lifestyle choices, it’s too much. Part of the reason, I think, is that our cycle of orthodontist appointments has landed us in this week as well, which just adds to the recital-first basketball game-work-exam-volunteer work carousel.

img_20181202_145952My pianist son has had a few obligations: a jazz recital last Sunday (video here on Instagram – I point it out to you because he’s actually….good. You might enjoy it), playing Mass at school, and a regular recital on Saturday. His basketball season starts up on Sunday. Other son has been working at the grocery store and has exams, although, as a senior, he is the beneficiary of the wonderful tradition of exemption: if you have an “A” – you’re exempt from a mid term or final. The exception is Calculus – I don’t know if he has an A in that one, but even if you do, the teacher requires everyone to take the exam. It makes sense – they’re preparing for the AP exam in the spring, anyway. So the upshot: He’s only got on mid-term to take. Good work, everyone!

— 2 —

Speaking of music, this is interesting. You may have heard of Bosendorfer pianos – one of their models is famous because it has 92, rather than the usual 88 keys. They’re very elite and quite expensive. Our local piano store features one on display for a very long time, and a few months ago when we went in I saw that it had a SOLD sign on it – the owner explained that a newly built local high school had purchased it and would be taking delivery soon. I was flabbergasted – a public school in Alabama purchasing a Bosendorfer? When there’s already a well-known public arts magnet school in the area?

Well, as the owner told me, the principal of this newly-built school (in an area a good 45 minutes south of Birmingham) is determined that his school will help students achieve as much in academics and the arts as it is expected to (in Alabama, of course) in athletics. So, and investment has been made.

Here’s a television news segment on the piano – the young man featured is also a student at the same studio where my son takes lessons.

Which of course leads to much thought on my part as to how a struggling tuition-dependent Catholic high school fits into this landscape and competes. The problem with too many schools is that they look at this and try to compete directly with it – well, most Catholic schools just can’t compete with a public system with access to local, state and federal funds. I wish this reality would lead to more hard, creative thinking on what a Catholic school can offer young people that’s unique and irreplaceable and doesn’t even cost a quarter million bucks…


Our Cathedral hosted the incorrupt heart of St. John Vianney over the past twenty-four hours. I went to noon Mass yesterday, and the church was full. I didn’t make it to Vespers last night (I was afraid rush hour traffic would make it challenging for me to get my kid from basketball on time if I tried to squeeze it in). The Cathedral’s Facebook page features photos and commentary – it was a great gift, I think – and I pray so especially for the local ministerial leadership of the diocese. 



You may recall that  last week I mentioned that Fr. Lambert Greenan, OP, had died. Fr. Lambert was the longest-ordained Dominican in the world, and was 101 when he died. The funeral was on Wednesday – I have an Instagram post on that here. 

Here is a longer obituary with many photos and a video from the Sister Servants, with whom Fr. Lambert lived for the last two decades of his life.

–5 —

Msgr. Charles Pope on church closings. This sentence is striking and should be on  the wall of every office in every chancery:

What are your five loaves and two fishes? What are your parish’s five loaves and two fishes? Not one Catholic parish should close in a neighborhood where people still live. 



Speaking of education, I know nothing about this, and it’s probably crazy, but this popped up on my feed this week – a developing unschooling village in Portugal?

Checks ticket prices to Lisbon.



All right, writing stuff:

Steve McEvoy ran a long interview with my writer son – you can enjoy it here. Just a reminder – if you are interested in reading David’s stories, I think they are all available on Kindle Unlimited – so if you have that, you can read them at no cost.

Reminder: my short story. 

Also: Advent may be well under way, and so you’re probably not looking for Advent resources – but Bambinelli Sunday is coming soon, so check that out!

(I’ll have a lengthier post on that tomorrow, as well.)

If you’d like to purchase any of my books for gifts, what I have on hand is listed here.


For more Quick Takes, visit This Ain’t the Lyceum!

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St. Ambrose, today.

He’s in the Loyola Kids Book of Saints, under “Saints are People Who Change Their Lives for God.” 

You can peek at the chapter here, at Google Books.

Almost six years ago, we did a spring break trip to Milan (freaky low airfare.  I’ll bet if you flew to Orlando that year for spring break and went to Disney, I spent less than you did on our trip.).  And of course, Milan=Ambrose.

(What you might not know is that Milan, as the center of Lombardy in northern Italy, has been the focus of so much attempted conquest and other warfare over the centures, has very little ancient, medieval or even Renaissance architecture or infrastructure.  The basilica of St. Ambrose is an anomaly in the city. Leonardo’s Last Supper barely survived the Allied bombing of WWII.)

But first, to the Duomo –
In the crypt of the Duomo – the baptistry where St. Ambrose baptized St. Augustine:

The Metro stop is nearby, and an underground corridor passes the baptistry.  You can peek out at the passengers rushing by, and if you are on the other side you could peek in to the baptistry – if you knew it was there.

A different type of modern transport juxtaposed with the ancient.   Some wheels from the city’s bike-sharing service in front of the Basilica of Sant’Ambrogio –

one of the four churches built by Ambrose. (of course what we see is not the original – but is the result of building and rebuilding on the site.)

In other places you can find photos of the body of St. Ambrose in the crypt.  I  didn’t take his photo though. I probably could have – a little girl stuck her camera right through the grate and got a shot of the vested skeleton and no one stopped her. But it just didn’t feel right to me. Maybe because the boys were with me and I didn’t want to model “getting a good shot” as even Step Two (after “pray”) in “What To do in the Presence of Important Saints’ Relics.”

B16 at a General Audience, speaking about St. Ambrose:

Dear brothers and sisters, I would like further to propose to you a sort of “patristic icon”, which, interpreted in the light of what we have said, effectively represents “the heart” of Ambrosian doctrine. In the sixth book of the Confessions, Augustine tells of his meeting with Ambrose, an encounter that was indisputably of great importance in the history of the Church. He writes in his text that whenever he went to see the Bishop of Milan, he would regularly find him taken up with catervae of people full of problems for whose needs he did his utmost. There was always a long queue waiting to talk to Ambrose, seeking in him consolation and hope. When Ambrose was not with them, with the people (and this happened for the space of the briefest of moments), he was either restoring his body with the necessary food or nourishing his spirit with reading. Here Augustine marvels because Ambrose read the Scriptures with his mouth shut, only with his eyes (cf. Confessions, 6, 3). Indeed, in the early Christian centuries reading was conceived of strictly for proclamation, and reading aloud also facilitated the reader’s understanding. That Ambrose could scan the pages with his eyes alone suggested to the admiring Augustine a rare ability for reading and familiarity with the Scriptures. Well, in that “reading under one’s breath”, where the heart is committed to achieving knowledge of the Word of God – this is the “icon” to which we are referring -, one can glimpse the method of Ambrosian catechesis; it is Scripture itself, intimately assimilated, which suggests the content to proclaim that will lead to the conversion of hearts.

Thus, with regard to the magisterium of Ambrose and of Augustine, catechesis is inseparable from witness of life. What I wrote on the theologian in the Introduction to Christianity might also be useful to the catechist. An educator in the faith cannot risk appearing like a sort of clown who recites a part “by profession”. Rather – to use an image dear to Origen, a writer who was particularly appreciated by Ambrose -, he must be like the beloved disciple who rested his head against his Master’s heart and there learned the way to think, speak and act. The true disciple is ultimately the one whose proclamation of the Gospel is the most credible and effective.

Like the Apostle John, Bishop Ambrose – who never tired of saying: “Omnia Christus est nobis! To us Christ is all!” – continues to be a genuine witness of the Lord. Let us thus conclude our Catechesis with his same words, full of love for Jesus: “Omnia Christus est nobis! If you have a wound to heal, he is the doctor; if you are parched by fever, he is the spring; if you are oppressed by injustice, he is justice; if you are in need of help, he is strength; if you fear death, he is life; if you desire Heaven, he is the way; if you are in the darkness, he is light…. Taste and see how good is the Lord:  blessed is the man who hopes in him!” (De Virginitate, 16, 99). Let us also hope in Christ. We shall thus be blessed and shall live in peace.


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Not Marvelous

Image result for mrs. maisel


Last year, I watched all of Amazon’s award-winning and extravagantly-praised The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. It didn’t strike me as marvelous. Here’s what I wrote:

I did watch all of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel last week and I wouldn’t recommend it. I had watched the pilot in the spring, found it annoying and disappointing and predictable, but decided to give the series another chance.  Well, that was aggravating. Not quite at a hate-watch level, but more at the: I really want this to be better, so I’ll keep watching hoping that happens. It didn’t. Very pretty to look at with rich period detail, but generally superficial both in human terms and in relation to the culture it purported to present. I’ve never watched a nanosecond of The Gilmore Girls, so I didn’t come to it as a fan of that show, but I was very open to the concept – upper-class 50’s Jewish housewife discovers a flair for stand-up comedy – but what emerges is not recognizably authentic in any way. I wasn’t watching people, I was watching a script being recited and cultural caricatures being embodied. Mad Men had its weaknesses, but the one thing it did right was the character of Peggy Olson, who began the series as a mousy, naive secretary, and ended it as a confident copy-writer, a transformation that was earned and authentic every step of the way. I wasn’t expecting that level of work here, but I was hoping for something a little closer than I got.

A new season has just dropped this week, and I started watching it. I am excited to report that the show and I have graduated – to the hate-watch level. So that’s exciting!

As the first episode began with a fluid deep-dive through an meticulously detailed recreation of a 1950’s department store until we meet our heroine, relegated to the basement switchboard, I was reminded of one of the questions that constantly nagged me during the first season: how much money did they spend on the aesthetics? And why go to all of this trouble if the show itself is so mediocre?

Well, the answer is probably obvious: to overwhelm the viewer with aesthetics, so maybe they won’t notice the writing and plotting, which ranges all the way from awkward to terrible with a sledgehammer:

Here’s the card of a psychiatrist who’s just moved to New York from Boston. He’s done wonders for my friend Sylvia Plath.

There’s nothing wrong with diverting froth, especially beautifully produced diverting froth. But here’s my problem with Mrs. Maisel: It’s supposed to be about truth. About finding authenticity and living it. After all, when we first meet Midge Maisel, she’s a wealthy young married woman, who, among other things, measures her thighs every morning and rises early every morning to put on her face before her husband awakens us, lest he see her without makeup.

You know what? A woman like that could make a journey from leading that kind of life to enjoying a surprising career as a subversive, foul-mothed comic in the early 60’s, and it would be a fun ride, that journey. But Mrs. Maisel isn’t giving us that. Instead, it’s shoveling ethnic and social stereotypes at us with every scene change, overwhelming us with artfully choreographed camera swooping and rapid-fire ridiculous dialogue, and it’s not even attempting to show how that journey could happen in a real way.


In short: if a show presents itself about finding one’s truth (to use a phrase), the least it could do is be truthful – about people, about personal dynamics and yes, about the past it’s purporting to recreate. Or if irony is the goal – actually be ironic.

So a couple of points that really irritated me after watching four episodes last night:

  • Midge Maisel is deeply privileged. Wealthy and comfortable even in the midst of awkward and sometimes painful personal matters. But in one of her big moments – in a comedy show where she’s been slowly pushed further and further to end of the line by a succession of mediocre male comics, she says,

But men – those over there and men in general – they run around telling everyone that women aren’t funny. Only men are funny. Now, think about this – comedy is fueled by oppression, by the lack of power, by abandonment and humiliation. Now, who the hell does that describe more than women?

Sure, Midge’s entrance into standup was, indeed fueled by her humiliation at the hands of her cheating husband, but there is not a single thing about the rest of her life that speaks “oppression” nor an awareness that anywhere else in the world, other than the basement of a club in the Village, a woman might be demeaned. In fact, she revels in this privilege – I’m thinking of a scene in the episode where the family packs up to go to the Catskills for two months. Movers have brought up racks and racks of her and her mother’s clothes for them to choose their wardrobe from, she’s giddy with excitement, especially at the prospect of entering, and she assumes, winning the bikini contest again.

And this isn’t treated ironically, nor is there any meaningful interplay between Midge’s still strong-fascination with appearance and disinterest in anyone’s life but her own and her clarion call about comedy and “oppression.”

Image result for marvelous maisel season 2

I’m saying – this could work, it could be interesting and ironic  and challenging – it could even happen within the limitations of a sitcom –  but really, it’s just silly and even insulting.

  • Now, a small point, but one that really bugs me – there’s a lot more I could critique, but honestly, I have to think to myself, how much of my time is this show worth? Answer: not much.

Anyway, quick plot summary: Midge’s parents, played by the wonderful Tony Shaloub and Marin Hinkel, hit a rough patch in their relationship this season, leading to Rose, the mother’s running off to Paris in the first episode (like I said – privilege. It also bugged me that none of those Paris scenes featured French music. Anyway.) She returns after she and her husband have spent a few life-altering weeks in Paris, and he’s agreed to help her audit art classes at Columbia and take dance lessons with her. Hurray.

This leads to a plot point in which we see middle-aged Rose with the other female art students at Columbia (where her husband is a professor) – being shocked by male nudity and then having a heartfelt discussion in which Rose advises these young women that there is really no reason for them to be pursuing degrees in art: there are no men in the department, there’s no future for them in academia (there are no female professors!), there’s really no point in trying to be an artist – she knew of two in Paris and one of them killed herself – and honestly, if they’re in college to get a man, they should just be in the business school – where the men are.

This leads to a meeting with a dean of some sort who wants Rose to stop auditing classes because of the impact she’s having on the women – not a consciousness-raising impact, mind you, but one which moves a bunch of them to transfer to the business school. Of course, her husband intervenes, and all’s well.

Again, if this were presented as a wrong-headed move on sheltered, over-protected Rose’s part, that would be one thing. But it’s not. It’s totally presented as a reflection of The Way Things Were For Women in 1959.


My word, I’m so tired of this. Tired of false narratives about history, in particular.

Yes. Women were minorities in almost all professions except for education and nursing. Yes. Women who entered male-dominated professions faced discrimination and belittlement. Yes. Most higher education was gender-segregated through much of the twentieth-century. Columbia – the college in question – didn’t go co-ed until 1983.

But guess what?

(Besides the many, many great, well-known and even at the time respected female artists of the early to mid-20th century…)

In this particular case – the “what” – is  called – Barnard.

Founded in 1889, Barnard was the only college in New York City, and one of the few in the nation, where women could receive the same rigorous and challenging education available to men. The College was named after educator, mathematician, and tenth president of Columbia College, Frederick A.P. Barnard, who argued unsuccessfully for the admission of women to Columbia University. The school’s founding, however, is largely due to the rallying efforts of Annie Nathan Meyer, a student and writer who was equally dissatisfied with Columbia’s stance, and staunchly committed to the education of women. She joined forces with a small group of her peers to petition the University Trustees for an affiliated self-sustaining liberal arts women’s college, and in two years accomplished what she had set out to do.

This plot point, where a large group of giddy, sheltered, mostly man-seeking art female art students at Columbia are discouraged from their studies by the bad news brought to them by Mrs. Maisel is an insult to the shape of history. I mean. Here’s the 1959 (the year the show is set) Barnard College Bowl Team which, among other victories that year, beat all-male Notre Dame 230-110. 


Women enrolled at Barnard/Columbia in 1959: probably not skittish husband-hunters with no interest in their actual fields of study. Probably. 

Wouldn’t it have been more interesting and even deeply, darkly humorous, to have Rose’s chirpy advice born of privilege and nurtured in her own bubble turned on its head by a bunch of wry, skeptical, hopeful young women?

 Here’s my point: You could have a show with characters who live in bubbles shaped by misogyny and sexism and privilege, trying to break that bubble, trying to find a bigger truth, dealing with their own unhappiness and limitations, and seeing how all of that shapes the course of a career and a life. It could be funny and ironic and it could even look fabulous. Or, you could have a complete fantasy of a show like Mrs. Maisel,  and I suppose that would be fun, too – but when you try present your show as a character’s journey to authenticity –

….try harder to be authentic. Just a little. Just a little. 



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