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Archive for the ‘fiction’ Category

You all know how this sort of entry begins: I was poking around the Internet looking for a public domain book to read

..and I found the first few pages of The Professor’s House by Willa Cather. It grabbed my interest, but it was late at night, so I made a mental note to see if the library had it.

And yes, it did.

Last night I settled down with it, and revisited, for the first time in a long time, that wonderful – wonderful – feeling of having a real book in hand and thinking, I’m going to read this tonight.  As in: read from beginning to end, start and finish, and long after everyone has gone to sleep, I’ll be in dialogue with an intelligent companion, listening to her story.

It is not a long book, but even so, I almost didn’t finish it – I got quite tired at the end, but did manage it, although the next day (today) I did have to refresh my memory with the last "amy welborn"few pages as to how it all came out.

It’s a bit of an odd book. It seems a touch cobbled together, which, in a way, it was, considering one element of the story took shape in Cather’s mind long before the framing story. The description on the cover of the edition I got from the library says The story of a cloistered scholar’s discover of his own soul through contact with the world of reality.

Well, okay. Sort of.

I really hate summarizing plots, so I will let someone else do that part of it. From Goodreads:

On the eve of his move to a new, more desirable residence, Professor Godfrey St. Peter finds himself in the shabby study of his former home. Surrounded by the comforting, familiar sights of his past, he surveys his life and the people he has loved — his wife Lillian, his daughters, and Tom Outland, his most outstanding student and once, his son-in-law to be. Enigmatic and courageous—and a tragic victim of the Great War — Tom has remained a source of inspiration to the professor. But he has also left behind him a troubling legacy which has brought betrayal and fracture to the women he loves most.

I experienced this novel as a meditation – a meditation on the relationship between scientific understanding, technological development and the rest of life. A meditation on the purpose of our life’s activities. It has a touch of idealized romanticism that almost makes it veer off-course, but not quite. The characters do not quite work as one-hundred percent realized human beings – they all seem to stand for something more than exist in the real world, but I found Cather’s writing powerful enough, especially in descriptions of landscape and the tenacity with which she excavates the professor’s inner life  – to let it go.

What I saw here were characters who have lost touch with the spiritual, not in the sense that they have lost faith mediated by religious institutions, but simply in that they are materialists: they have forgotten that life on earth and the earth itself are more than what our senses tell us.  We know more about how it all works and we can manipulate it with great efficiency and profit from what we do with the things of the earth, but none of that connects us with what is most real.

And although Cather herself was not Catholic, it is, as it usually is for her, Catholicism that offers the alternative. The rather mysterious inspiration for much of what happens, whom we know died in the Great War before the events of the novel commence, is Tom Outland, orphaned as a young man in  the Southwest. He is taken care of by a kind family, works hard for a railroad company, then has a profound spiritual epiphany out in the wilderness, when he encounters the remnants of ancient civilizations in a fictional place that was inspired by the cliff dwellings at Mesa Verde. That initially inchoate sensibility is then helped along and given form by a Belgian missionary priests who takes Tom under his wing and teaches him, simply Latin, the knowledge of which – and the readings in Virgil and so on he has done – are all he takes with him when he shows up at the professor’s house.

Even more importantly, I think, is the character of Augusta. She is a German seamstress who shares the attic space in the professor’s old house. She sews for the family during the day, and her patterns and dress form keep the professor company at night while he works there, his preferred space to that more formal study down in the family home. She is a sensible, forthright woman, and a Catholic.

The two of them have an understanding. The novel begins with the two of them bantering, and ends with them in the same room, one having rescued the other. They have both done good work in that room, with all of its flaws, a room that was less than ideal for both of them. What happens in between the first chapter and the final is the end of one stage of life, a recognition of its goodness and its limitations and a hint of how to move forward. For the professor, the Catholic seamstress represents a way:

If he had thought of Augusta sooner, he would have got up from the couch sooner. Her image would have at once suggested the proper action.

It is a bit of a challenge to unpack that without revealing what incident precedes it, and I actually saw it coming from the beginning…call it Chekov’s gas heater…but I don’t want to spoil it too much, in case you are moved to read the novel. The point is that nothing else in his life, not his loving family, not his successful career, prompted him to dig down and keep living – except for Augusta, sitting there with her prayer book.

The professor has come to a point in his life in which nothing in the present really engages him. He’s done. But, that glimmer:

There was still Augusta, however; a world full of Augustas, with whom one was outward bound.

I hasten to add that this is not romantic – Augusta functions as a symbol of the spiritual reality of life, a reality that is not about dreams or phantasms, but about the spiritual dimension of life – any life, even one spent stitching drapes, tending to a home, and faithfully, quietly, going to Mass.

The professor is changed. He’s not in ecstasy, he’s not George in It’s a Wonderful Life. He just knows something, he knows something real, and “At least, he felt the ground under his feet.”

There are “plot points” that aren’t wrapped up. There’s not a lot of resolution here. But it’s a book that gave me quite a bit to think about as Cather roams through the professor’s consciousness, and then with him and the other characters through the upper Midwest, Europe and the Southwest. And there’s this, which you might appreciate – it’s from one of the professor’s lectures:

I don’t myself think much of science as a phase of human development. It has given us a lot of ingenious toys; they take our attention away from the real problems, of course, and since the problems are insoluble, I suppose we ought to be grateful for distraction. But the fact is, the human mind, the individual mind, has always been made more interesting by dwelling on the old riddles, even if it makes nothing of them. Science hasn’t given us any new amazements, except of the superficial kind we get from witnessing dexterity and sleight-of-hand. It hasn’t given us any richer pleasures, as the Renaissance did, nor any new sins-not one! Indeed, it takes our old ones away. It’s the laboratory, not the Lamb of God, that taketh away the sins of the world. You’ll agree there is not much thrill about a physiological sin. We were better off when even the prosaic matter of taking nourishment could have the magnificence of a sin. I don’t think you help people by making their conduct of no importance-you impoverish them. As long as every man and woman who crowded into the cathedrals on Easter Sunday was a principal in a gorgeous drama with God, glittering angels on one side and the shadows of evil coming and going on the other, life was a rich thing. The king and the beggar had the same chance at miracles and great temptations and revelations. And that’s what makes men happy, believing in the mystery and importance of their own little individual lives. It makes us happy to surround our creature needs and bodily instincts with as much pomp and circumstance as possible. Art and religion (they are the same thing, in the end, of course) have given man the only happiness he has ever had.

 

 

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 More

— 1 —

You might know Elizabeth Duffy  – writer, long-time blogger whose writings are now featured, not only on her own website, but at Image. 

Well, she’s got a new gig – along with two other women, she is making music as Sister Sinjin. They have an Advent/Christmas-themed album about to be released, and the music is lovely. Check them out here.

— 2 —

Some politics. Last week, I wrote about the election, encouraging readers to reacquaint themselves with the the ideals of separation of powers and limited government and consider what a good idea that is. A couple of related articles. First, from Reason (trigger: Libertarian)

In December 2007 presidential candidate Barack Obama told The Boston Globe that if he won the 2008 election, he would enter the White House committed to rolling back the sort of overreaching executive power that had characterized the presidency of George W. Bush. “The President is not above the law,” Obama insisted.

Once elected, however, President Obama began to sing a different sort of tune. “We’re not just going to be waiting for legislation,” Obama announced. “I’ve got a pen and I’ve got a phone…and I can use that pen to sign executive orders and take executive actions and administrative actions.”…

…..Perhaps you can see where I’m going with this. Once President-elect Donald Trump takes the oath of office in January 2017, he too will have a pen and a phone at his presidential fingertips. Should Trump grow weary of the constitutional limits placed upon him, and decide instead to ignore the Constitution and wield unilateral executive power, he won’t exactly have far to look if he wants to find a recent presidential role model to emulate.

— 3—

And this one – yes. I associate myself very strongly with this, by Michael Brennan Doughterty, in The Week – “How America’s Elections are Ruining America.” 

The presidential election increases our sense that all issues are national issues. Even people who say they are addicted to politics often have no idea what is happening in their state or county government.

Ask the 10 people around you at work about Donald Trump’s conversation with Billy Bush. All 10 will have an opinion.

Now ask those same 10 people who represents their district in their state’s lower chamber. You’d be lucky if a single one knows the name.

How in the world is a political system in which power is devolved to states through federalism supposed to work in an information environment like this?

One cause for the gigantism of our presidential election is the gigantism of the executive branch. The federal government employs more than 2 million people in the process of governing us. Our next president has to hire thousands of people just to take full possession of the office. Of course it is immensely powerful. And one problem for reforming the presidential election to make it tighter and shorter is that there is hardly anyone in the political class that stands to gain from doing so. The longer the campaign, the longer people get paid to work for it, or report on it. It’s easier to be seen and be hired for a nice job in journalism from the lowly position rewriting press releases about a presidential campaign than from your beat uncovering graft for a weekly newspaper in Wyoming.

But make no mistake: This system of long elections makes us more anxious, weakens bonds of civic trust and peace, debases the value of our citizenship, and corrupts journalism and our culture. And we’re going to start it all again before you recover from this one.

— 4 —

Today is the memorial of St. Rose-Philippine Duchesne. I really, really thought I had written about her…somewhere. In a book? Here? But apparently not. I must have researched her when I was teaching. Anyway, here’s her story from the Vatican website and here is a link to her shrine in St. Charles, Missouri, a fact which infuriates me because it shows how what I thought were Mad Travel Planning Skillz failed – we were in St. Charles a few years ago, and I had no idea this shrine was there. Grrr. I was so fixated on Lewis and Clark, I didn’t even look into the Catholic history…fail. 

A 70-day voyage across the Atlantic brought the five nuns to New Orleans, where they rested briefly with the Ursulines before resuming their travels in a paddlewheel steamer up the Mississippi to St. Louis.

The Bishop knew that they were coming but had no house in the city to accommodate the five nuns. A log cabin in St. Charles became the site of the first free school west of the Mississippi. That first year saw three little St. Louis girls come as boarders and 21 non-paying day students who came when they could during that long, bitter winter. The following summer the Bishop took the Religious of the Sacred Heart to Florissant, a village on the other side of the Missouri River, where they conducted their school and Mother Duchesne established her novitiate for the Society.

In 1828 the Jesuits built a parish church on the former (and present) school property and asked the Sacred Heart nuns to return to St. Charles—to that same log cabin which was known as the “Duquette Mansion” because it was the biggest house in town—and conduct the parish school. They did so and finally, in 1835, built their first brick building, which remains the center of the Academy of the Sacred Heart’s sprawling complex.

Mother Duchesne established other schools in Louisiana and Missouri. She was finally allowed to travel to Kansas at the age of 72 and made a very frustrating attempt at teaching the Indians. The Pottawatomi language proved even harder for her than English had been and so her superiors decided, after one year, that she should return to a more comfortable life in St. Charles. The lesson that she had taught the native Americans was a valuable one; the Indians called her Quakahkanumad (woman who prays always) and revered her for her deep devotion to “the Great Spirit

— 5 —.

In case you missed it, one of this week’s Living Faith devotionals was mine – November 16. 

— 6 —

Peace-of-mind suggestion: Every time you are tempted to fight about politics with someone on Facebook or Twitter…read a poem instead. 

Or the Bible.

Or this week’s grocery ads.

Anything  but that. Not the interest in politics (I’m obsessed, myself), but the arguing on social media about it. Nothing will come of it but ill-informed preening and virtue-signaling, and your time is better spent on …anything else.

— 7 —

Advent begins in a week!  The first Sunday of Advent is November 27.

 Here is the devotional I wrote for Liguori this year. It is perhaps too late to order them in bulk for your parish, but you can certainly order an individual copy – here (Amazon). 

Link to (Liguori site) English version.

daybreaks

Link to (Amazon site) Spanish version.

2016 Advent Devotional

Link to excerpts from Spanish version.

And an endorsement from Deacon Greg Kandra!

“This ravishing collection brings Advent and Christmas, literally, home. In brief essays that are by turns inspiring, surprising, and unexpectedly moving, Amy Welborn helps us see the coming of the Christ child in things we take for granted. This captivating little book is one to read, treasure, share, give—and read again!

But…do you want something…right now? Okay, how about this:

Here’s a digital version of the family Advent devotional I wrote for Creative Communications for the Parish. Only .99!

And don’t forget…Bambinelli Sunday. 

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

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— 1 —

It’s the feast of St. Martin of Tours! Let’s begin, as we often do, with the pastoral and clear catechesis of B16, from a 2007 Angelus talk:

Today, 11 November, the Church remembers St Martin, Bishop of Tours, one of the most celebrated and venerated Saints of Europe. Born of pagan parents in Pannonia, in what is today Hungary, he was directed by his father to a military career around the year 316. Still an adolescent, Martin came into contact with Christianity and, overcoming many difficulties, he enrolled as a catechumen in order to prepare for Baptism. He would receive the Sacrament in

"Amy welborn"

Unknown Artist, St. Martin of Tours, 16th cent.

his 20s, but he would still stay for a long time in the army, where he would give testimony of his new lifestyle: respectful and inclusive of all, he treated his attendant as a brother and avoided vulgar entertainment. Leaving military service, he went to Poitiers in France near the holy Bishop Hilary. He was ordained a deacon and priest by him, chose the monastic life and with some disciples established the oldest monastery known in Europe at Ligugé. About 10 years later, the Christians of Tours, who were without a Pastor, acclaimed him their Bishop. From that time, Martin dedicated himself with ardent zeal to the evangelization of the countryside and the formation of the clergy. While many miracles are attributed to him, St Martin is known most of all for an act of fraternal charity. While still a young soldier, he met a poor man on the street numb and trembling from the cold. He then took his own cloak and, cutting it in two with his sword, gave half to that man. Jesus appeared to him that night in a dream smiling, dressed in the same cloak.

Dear brothers and sisters, St Martin’s charitable gesture flows from the same logic that drove Jesus to multiply the loaves for the hungry crowd, but most of all to leave himself to humanity as food in the Eucharist, supreme Sign of God’s love, Sacramentum caritatis. It is the logic of sharing which he used to authentically explain love of neighbour. May St Martin help us to understand that only by means of a common commitment to sharing is it possible to respond to the great challenge of our times: to build a world of peace and justice where each person can live with dignity. This can be achieved if a world model of authentic solidarity prevails which assures to all inhabitants of the planet food, water, necessary medical treatment, and also work and energy resources as well as cultural benefits, scientific and technological knowledge.

Let us turn now to the Virgin Mary so that all Christians may be like St Martin, generous witnesses of the Gospel of love and tireless builders of jointly responsible sharing.

— 2 —

Appropriate for theY St. Martin is also mentioned in the 2005 encyclical, Deus Caritas Est:

Finally, let us consider the saints, who exercised charity in an exemplary way. Our thoughts turn especially to Martin of Tours († 397), the soldier who became a monk and a bishop: he is almost like an icon, illustrating the irreplaceable value of the individual testimony to charity. At the gates of Amiens, Martin gave half of his cloak to a poor man: Jesus himself, that night, appeared to him in a dream wearing that cloak, confirming the permanent validity of the Gospel saying: “I was naked and you clothed me … as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me” (Mt 25:36, 40).[36] Yet in the history of the Church, how many other testimonies to charity could be quoted! In particular, the entire monastic movement, from its origins with Saint Anthony the Abbot († 356), expresses an immense service of charity towards neighbour. In his encounter “face to face” with the God who is Love, the monk senses the impelling need to transform his whole life into service of neighbour, in addition to service of God. This explains the great emphasis on hospitality, refuge and care of the infirm in the vicinity of the monasteries. It also explains the immense initiatives of human welfare and Christian formation, aimed above all at the very poor, who became the object of care firstly for the monastic and mendicant orders, and later for the various male and female religious institutes all through the history of the Church. The figures of saints such as Francis of Assisi, Ignatius of Loyola, John of God, Camillus of Lellis, Vincent de Paul, Louise de Marillac, Giuseppe B. Cottolengo, John Bosco, Luigi Orione, Teresa of Calcutta to name but a few—stand out as lasting models of social charity for all people of good will. The saints are the true bearers of light within history, for they are men and women of faith, hope and love.

 

— 3—

The Life of St. Martin written by a contemporary and defender, Sulpitius Severus:

ACCORDINGLY, at a certain period, when he had nothing except his arms and his simple military dress, in the middle of winter, a winter which had shown itself more severe than ordinary, so that the extreme cold was proving fatal to many, he happened to meet at the gate of the city of Amiens a poor man destitute of clothing. He was entreating those that passed by to have compassion upon him, but all passed the wretched man without notice, when Martin, that man full of God, recognized that a being to whom others showed no pity, was, in that respect, left to him. Yet, what should he do? He had nothing except the cloak in which he was clad, for he had already parted with the rest of his garments for similar purposes. Taking, therefore, his sword with which he was girt, he divided his cloak into two equal parts, and gave one part to the poor man, while he again clothed himself with the remainder. Upon this, some of the by-standers laughed, because he was now an unsightly object, and stood out as but partly dressed. Many, however, who were of sounder understanding, groaned deeply because they themselves had done nothing similar. They especially felt this, because, being possessed of more than Martin, they could have clothed the poor man without reducing themselves to nakedness. In the following night, when Martin had resigned himself to sleep, he had a vision of Christ arrayed in that part of his cloak with which he had clothed the poor man. He contemplated the Lord with the greatest attention, and was told to own as his the robe which he had given. Ere long, he heard Jesus saying with a clear voice to the multitude of angels standing round — “Martin, who is still but a catechumen, clothed me with this robe.” The Lord, truly mindful of his own words (who had said when on earth — “Inasmuch as ye have done these things to one of the least of these, ye have done them unto me”), declared that he himself had been clothed in that poor man; and to confirm the testimony he bore to so good a deed, he condescended to show him himself in that very dress which the poor man had received. After this vision the sainted man was not puffed up with human glory, but, acknowledging the goodness of God in what had been done, and being now of the age of twenty years, he hastened to receive baptism. He did not, however, all at once, retire from military service, yielding to the entreaties of his tribune, whom he admitted to be his familiar tent-companion.[11] For the tribune promised that, after the period of his office had expired, he too would retire from the world. Martin, kept back by the expectation of this event, continued, although but in name, to act the part of a soldier, for nearly two years after he had received baptism.

The whole thing is fairly short and quite interesting to read – as I read this ancient documents, what I am always looking for is commonalities – of human nature, of belief, of human choices and reactions. Consider the reactions of the bystanders described in the passage above.

Has anything really changed?

Underneath all that is “new” for us…has anything fundamental about who we are and the redemption for which we yearn really changed?

— 4 —

Martin of Tours
By Charles L. O’Donnell

“AS I today was wayfaring”—
Holy, Holy, Holy!—low—
Said Christ in heaven’s evening—
The Holies yet more hushed and slow—
“I met a knight upon the road;
A plumed charger he bestrode.

“He saw the beggar that was I—
Holy, Holy, Holy!—long—
Head and foot one beggary—
Holy, Holy, Holy!—song— 
One that shivered in the cold
While his horse trailed cloth of gold.

“Down he leaped, his sword outdrawn—
Holy, Holy, Holy!—swells—
Cleaved his cloak, laid half upon—
Holy! now a peal of bells—
Shoulders that the cross had spanned;
And I think he kissed my hand.

“Then he passed the road along,
Holy, Holy, Holy!—laud— 
Caroling a knightly song—
Holy! in the face of God.
Yea, Father, by Thy sovereign name,
Begging is a goodly game.”

 

— 5 —.

The author of the poemwas a priest, and not only a priest and a poet but a scholar and president of Notre Dame. Well.

Restoration

From these dead leaves the winds have caught
And on the brown earth fling,
Yea, from their dust, new hosts shall rise
At the trumpet call of Spring.

Thus may the winds our ashes take,
But in that far dusk dim,
When God’s eye hath burnt up the worlds,
This flesh shall stand with Him.

— 6 —

Restoration

From these dead leaves the winds have caught
And on the brown earth fling,
Yea, from their dust, new hosts shall rise
At the trumpet call of Spring.

Thus may the winds our ashes take,
But in that far dusk dim,
When God’s eye hath burnt up the worlds,
This flesh shall stand with Him.

— 7 —

Advent begins in about two weeks. The first Sunday of Advent is November 27.

Still time to order resources for your parish or school! Just.
Here is the devotional I wrote for Liguori this year.

Link to English version.

daybreaks

Link to Spanish version.

2016 Advent Devotional

Link to excerpts from Spanish version.

And an endorsement from Deacon Greg Kandra!

“This ravishing collection brings Advent and Christmas, literally, home. In brief essays that are by turns inspiring, surprising, and unexpectedly moving, Amy Welborn helps us see the coming of the Christ child in things we take for granted. This captivating little book is one to read, treasure, share, give—and read again.

 

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

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Seven Quick Takes

— 1 —

 

It is the best time of the year in this part of the world. Daytime highs in the 80’s and low 90’s , evening temperatures in the 60’s. No mosquitoes – perhaps because it hasn’t rained in a month, it seems. I don’t mourn their absence. It makes sitting outside under that crescent moon, finding Venus and Saturn, the only way you want to spend your evening.

— 2 —

Our Charleston people have evacuated. They were going to come here, but they both work for companies with offices in another, inland city, so they’re going to be put up in that spot for the duration by the company, waiting with millions of others to return, dreading what they’ll find.

Returning from travel, that last mile or so before getting home always has my insides in knots. I dread pulling up to the house. What will greet me? Will we have been broken into? Will a tree be on my roof? A flood in the kitchen?

(Nothing like that has ever happened, by the way. And having good neighbors who would communicate with you if, well, a tree fell on your house, takes away the worry, if you’re rational about it. Which is not always easy to be.)

Anyway, imagine how that dread is multiplied by coming home after a hurricane has moved through.

 

— 3 —

 

We got a new piano. Finally. I had the slightest twinge of sentiment as the old one was loaded up and carted away..but really only a twinge of a twinge, if there is such a thing. It was not that I didn’t want to replace it. Of course I did. It was terrible, and my son, who is quite talented and promised that indeed, he is all in with the piano stuff – deserved something better to play. It was just that feeling of letting go of something that had been in my life for decades. My grandmother had given it to me probably around 1970, I imagine because my parents convinced her to fund it. It was a Storey and Clark spinet, which is not even made any more and which, experts agree, was not a good piano.

Honestly, why I had hauled that thing around the country for thirty years, I don’t even know. For what it cost to move it, I probably could have just bought a new/used piano at every stop, and sold it again when it was time to move on.

But now…we have a decent one. We also have it upstairs, and not in the basement. When we first moved into this house three years ago, it was just the path of least resistance to put the piano in the basement, which, because the house is built on a slope, is actually ground level. It just slipped right in.

In piano shopping, I had been apologizing for this, not that any of the salesmen were demanding explanations, much less apologies, but one did tell me that if there is no moisture problem, a basement is not the worst place for a piano. After moisture, temperature variation is the enemy of good piano health, and since the temperature in basements tends to be more consistent than other areas of a home..it can work.

But we just wanted the piano up out of the Lego Emporium and up where we spend most of our time. (Yes, I think Lego Days might be approaching twilight…can it be true?) I had explained the front door situation to the guy at the piano store and he assured me it would be fine. In retrospect, I see that I probably should have taken a photograph and shown him. For when the delivery men arrived, they took one look at the slope of those measly five steps and the angles up past them and said…Nope.

O…kay.

What aboimg_20161006_231003.jpgut the back patio? I had mentioned this to the piano salesmen and he said that no, since there was a large patch of yard that would have to be navigated, that wouldn’t work. The piano would have to be brought over a paved surface – it would sink in the ground.

The delivery guys said he was wrong. They had an all-terrain dolly that would do the job, no problem. But they didn’t have it with them, and would have to go get it. Which they did, and an hour later, there it was.

It’s so much better. My son is really enjoying it, and guess who else is playing again? Yeah, me. It’s such a better instrument, plus it’s upstairs…I’m back in business, and even re-ordered that book of Gershwin piano music that was waylaid either in Williamsburg or Germany – where ever my daughter took it that time she took it.

 — 4 —

Well, I couldn’t put it off any longer, so we have embarked on Orthodontic Adventure #4 for my family. It’s been a while – ten years, I guess. I was going to let #4 Kid take care of it on his own when he became an adult, since the issues seemed cosmetic to me, and not that serious. But then this summer, a couple of teeth started trying to come in…unsuccessfully…and it became clear that this wasn’t just cosmetic. And that I am not qualified to diagnose teeth.

But man, I hate orthodontic practices. I hate the buzz of profiteering cheerfulness, I hate the matching polo shirts, I hate the little fountains and beige tones.

So when I heard that an acquaintance of mine was a huge fan of the local university’s dental school clinic, which includes an orthodontic section, I was intrigued.

And, after two appointments, I’m a fan, too.

First, it’s about half the cost of private treatment. That cost must be paid up front, but I’m telling you – when I walked away from that desk, knowing that the next couple of years or so were paid for, from records to retainers..it was a great feeling.

Secondly, the whole process is very interesting. You have a resident assigned to you, and he or she works under a supervising orthodontist. In the initial assessment, the resident worked alone at first, and sketched out a treatment plan. Then the supervisor came in. He asked, “So what’s your treatment plan?” But then he stopped and continued, “No, don’t tell me. Let me look, then I’ll sketch out a plan, and we’ll compare.” Which is what they did, and it was fascinating to observe the teaching that was going on – and good for my son to see it to, to see that this is not magic, nor is it cut-and dried and always obvious. Medical treatment of any kind is not just a matter of matching items from different columns, and it’s good for him to observe that process.

— 5 

I read two novels over the past week. I enjoyed both as light reading that’s a little though-provoking.

I’ll begin with the one I enjoyed less – The Leftovers by Tom Perotta. Perotta is the author of Election and Little Children, both of which are very good and have been made into great movies. The Leftovers has been adapted by HBO as a series – two seasons have aired (I haven’t watched it.).

The novel is about the aftermath of a Rapture-like event,in which about 2% of the world’s population just…disappeared. There’s never any explanation given of the event, and since we enter the story three years after it occurred, we don’t see the characters wondering about it themselves – when we meet them, they are simply trying to cope, to deal, to move on.

So what the book is about is grief and loss. Really, that’s it. It’s about how human beings live with the reality of loss. What the characters of this novel live with in a very focused way is what all of us live with: this or that person was here one day, and then gone the next. What does that mean for my life? Do I dishoner that person by “moving on?” What about if I discover that person wasn’t who I thought he or she was? Where can I find meaning? How is respectful or even possible to live a “normal” life, knowing that people – including yourself – will someday be gone?

It was okay. The choice to not make the “why” or “where did they go” an issue is intended, I suppose, to put the emphasis on the responses of the leftovers. This makes a sort of sense, but the ultimate effect, I felt, was a flattening of the events of the book. It really was just about a bunch of people responding to the losses of loved ones in various ways, but because the peculiar circumstances are not an issue, there seems to be no reason why the loss couldn’t have been via a flu epidemic or chemical leak.

It was an interesting device to explore grief, but done in, I fear, by a kind of spiritual and intellectual reserve.

6–

Much- much –  better was the quirky novel Amp’d. I won’t say, “I recommend it,” because I don’t say that – people have different tastes, and recommending books usually gets the recommender in trouble from someone who imagines they will be getting one thing because they have an image in their mind of what kind of person they believe the recommender to be, but of course they actually have no idea, and the book is in fact quite different from what they expected, and possibly has swears and drugs in it, and maybe sex. Surprised and disappointed email to follow.

So. Don’t read this book.

It’s the story of a guy – Aaron – who has lost his arm in an car accident and returned to his father’s house to recuperate and figure out what to do with his life. It was funny – often hilarious, and just page after page of succinct, on-point observations. Making frequent appearances are a pet alligator, Cancer Boy and various lost and seeking friends and family members, as well as the fish Aaron is hired to count as part of a ..fish counting project. Also a presenter of short radio bits on scientific trivia, and the content of these bits is simply perfect. You can hear the voice as you read.

I think the best way to communicate what the book is about is to tell you that it begins and ends with lists. It begins with a list called “Things you can’t do with one arm” and ends with “Things I never did with two arms.” The second list is far more intriguing , and there’s the point, right there.

You know what? Everything is better with humor in it. Even life-affirming lessons. Especially life-affirming lessons.

— 7 —

Melanie Bettinelli recommends a children’s books…and it looks great!

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Seven Quick Takes

— 1 —

Happy feast of St. Jerome!

I had a lengthy post about him last year. Go here for that. Don’t forget – he’s in the Loyola Kids Book of Saints. 

And coming up next week…St. Francis. Do you have Adventures in Assisi? 

 

— 2 —

Well. That was a day. 

That would be today. It was pretty crazy, and I was tempted at points to be irritated that I was not “getting anything done.”

But of course I was getting it done. I was seeing new things, reflecting upon them, and encountering interesting people. All life, all fodder, all worth taking in.

It started with chickens.

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I’m part of a small group that purchases free-range organic tuxedo-wearing, non-smoking, teetotling  chickens from a farm about an hour north of here. We take turns with the once-a-month pickup. I was scheduled to go in October, but the September driver fell ill, so we switched. It’s all for the best. I’ll be starting the last stages of the next Big Project at that point, and I won’t want to take a day to drive to Hartselle, Alabama to get chickens at that stage in the process, I’m sure.

Last year when it was my turn, my homeschooler and I went up, but we got a late start and so didn’t have time to see anything else that might be in the neighborhood.  This year, even though I’m sadly on my own, I decided to try to get away earlier and see the sights. What sights could there be, you ask?

Well, Hartselle has a cute little main street filled with antique shops and few cafes – I’m guessing it’s postioned itself as an afternoon antiquing destination for folks from Huntsville – or even those driving down to the Gulf Coast on 65.

The green storefront marks a pool hall. When I walked by the open door early afternoon on a Thursday, there were quite a few older fellows in there, shooting pool and sitting along the wall, watching.

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— 3 —

 

What interested me most of all was Hartselle’s most well-known son, whom I’d just read about the night before – William Bradford Huie. Huie, born in Hartselle, returned to live there later in life and is buried there, and was a fairly well-known and sometimes controversial journalist and novelist of the mid-20th century. He graduated from the University of Alabama, and then went to write for magazines like Look and Colliers and served as editor of the American Mercury, H.L. Mencken’s magazine.

Huie had an infallible eye for an important story, and in 1955, this instinct led him to one of the most controversial pieces of his career. In August of that year, 14-year-old Emmett Till, a black youth from Chicago, was murdered in the Mississippi Delta in retaliation for his alleged sexual advances toward a white woman. His killers, two white half-brothers, were acquitted by an all-white jury. Shortly after their acquittal, Huie, with the financial backing of Look magazine, paid the two men for their story, in which they admitted to the murder, a controversial practice sometimes derided as “checkbook journalism.” The Till case set the tone for much of the remainder of Huie’s career, which gravitated to race-related crimes and some of the most notorious murders of the civil rights movement, including the murders of the three civil rights workers in Mississippi during Freedom Summer (Three Lives for Mississippi), as well as the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. (He Slew the Dreamer). In both cases, Huie claimed to have paid sources, including Martin Luther King’s accused assassin, James Earl Ray, for their stories, a practice for which he was frequently criticized.
In 1957, Huie moved back to Alabama to live full-time and continued to work as a freelance writer for the rest of his life. Ruth Huie died in 1973, and in 1977 he married his second wife, Martha Hunt Robertson ofGuntersville. His work on race-related crimes and his frequent and outspoken criticism ofGovernor George Wallace made him a continuing source of controversy, and although he was a commercial success, he was not always popular among his fellow Alabamians. In 1967, Huie’s public outspokenness led to a much-publicized

His most well-known books are, I’d say, the novel The Americanization of Emily (made into a film starring Julie Andrews and James Garner) and the nonfiction The Execution of Private Slovik – which tells the story of the only American WWII deserter to be executed, and which was made into a made-for-TV movie starting Martin Sheen.

From Hartselle, Alabama!

Appropriately enough, the library is named after him.

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And it houses an exhibit on his life and work – the “archives.” The library is in a former bank building so these archives are…in the old vault.  I want my life to be memorialized in a bank vault, for sure.

 — 4 —

And then I got the chickens.

And then I saw the IronMan.

He’s probably over a hundred years old and was forged as an advertisement for VegeCal – an Alabama-produced liver tonic with 12% alcohol content.

Raced back to town, delivered chickens, got one kid, dropped him at piano, raced to another school to get two more, took them home, then back to piano to get the first one, back home..cooked dinner. Yes, cooked– I had prepared some bacon this morning and made Spaghetti Carbonara – once you do the bacon, it takes 15 minutes – and then it was back out to the Homewood Library to see…

 

— 5 

Ben Hatke!

Ben is the author illustrator of so many charming picture books and graphic novels. Zita the Space Girl has just been optioned for film. Ben’s on tour mostly promoting his new graphic novel Mighty Jack, and he also read his very fun picture book Nobody Likes a Goblin.   He had spoken at a couple of schools today and was doing this library session before moving on to Wichita – go see him if you are there!  It was great to meet him and have my 12-year old who carries around many stories in his head hear a different take on the creative process.

And…in my haste, I didn’t get any photos. Unbelievable. Well, here are the books I bought and that Ben signed…

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6–

I have three adult children. They live in different parts of the country and have very different lives and schedules. One is married with a child and does data analysis (I think). One is in law school. The oldest  works in television. I don’t think they communicate on a daily basis.

But here’s what happens with intriguing frequency.

One of them calls me to talk. About 75% of the time, either another one will call right after I’m finished with the first one, or the call waiting from them will start beeping in the middle of the first call.  And once that’s over, there’s another very high probability that the third one – whichever one is left – will call me within two or three hours.

I cannot tell you how many times that’s happened. It’s so strange. 

— 7 —

Advent is coming…….tell your parish coordinator people. There will be a Spanish-language edition as well. 

Advent 2016 Daily Devotional

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Seven Quick Takes

— 1 —

Looks like Fall Project is definitely a go. I’ll start work in earnest next week, with a deadline of mid-November.

"amy welborn"

— 2 —

It’s September! That means if you are in parish, school  or diocesan ministry you are definitely thinking about Advent now. Well, think about this – the daily devotional I wrote for Liguori Press. It will be available in a month, and in Spanish, too. So check it out and spread the word. 

— 3 —

 

School’s going fine. Cuneiform tablets are being made by some, element symbols being memorized by others, and I think life is starting to flow a little more smoothly now. We do need this weekend, though.

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(Via snapchat – amywelborn2)

 

 — 4 —

Recent reads:

Tonight I dashed through Maugham’s novella Up at the Villa. It’s slight, melodramatic, with rather unbelievable stock characters doing foolish (and worse) things. Obviously not Maugham’s best, but not a waste of an hour of my life, Vols and Hoosiers winning in the background.

They made a movie of it back in 2000 starring Kristin Scott Thomas (I saw that and I thought..of course) and Sean Pean (What?).  From the trailer, it looks dreadful and A.O. Scott says as much in his review. The trailer also tells me that the film goes in a slightly different direction that Maugham’s story, but life is too short for me to bother to find out why or how.

— 5 

Earlier in the week, I read another Mauriac I checked out of the library – The Frontenacs which seems to be called The Frontenac Mystery in most English language editions.  The Frontenacs are a family, and while they are, as is usually the case in Mauriac, flawed and limited  by money and propriety concerns, the takeaway here is a bit less mournful than usual. Unfortunately, that means that the book itself feels lighter, the characters more sketchily drawn and the ultimate sentiment more…sentimental. I wouldn’t recommend it unless you are determined to Read All the Mauriac.

Weekend reading will be The Razor’s Edge. 

(Go to a post earlier this week on The Good Companions, if you are interested.)

6–

If you want a long, jaw-dropping read, take a look at this LA Times series (running through Saturday) about the Stanford Law-graduate married couple who planted drugs in the PTA president’s car because they decided she’d dissed their son in aftercare.

 

— 7 —

 

I was poking around looking for some historical material on ad orientem and related matters and ran across this archive of the Catholic Northwest Progress newspaper (Archdiocese of Seattle). There are any number of reasons you might find it interesting, but I was looking for what people were told about the Mass changes and how they were reported. For that, look in the issues of late 1964-1965.

Interested in Mother Teresa material? Here’s my blog post on her – and what I wrote about her in the Loyola Kids Book of Heroes – from earlier this week. 

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I finished this over a week ago, but am just now getting some time to write about it.

A thoroughly enjoyable, even absorbing book.

Long. So be prepared. The copy I read was 640 pages.

The story fills those pages, though, and it was great to have a book to settle into in the evenings, knowing that I’d be carried along but with more to look forward to tomorrow.

As I mentioned before, The Good Companions was an enormous best-seller in England when it was published in 1929. It’s the story of a “concert party” or pierrot troupe, which was a variety traveling entertainment company, very popular and common between the wars.

It takes a bit – about a third of the book – before we meet that troupe, named the “Dinky Doos” at that point. No, before that, we are immersed in the stories of three very different people whose paths will cross with each other, and eventually with the performers, changing their lives in the way chance encounters at the end of winding paths do.

Jesiah Oakroyd is a Yorkshire worker – a mechanic of some sort with a challenging family life and a hankering for the road.  Fear that he’s being accused of a crime and the actual reality of being fired from his job inspire him to set out and see what he can see.

Elizabeth Trant is a woman in her mid-30’s who has spent her adult life caring for her "good companions"recently deceased father. We meet her as the estate is being auctioned off and she senses the opportunity for change. This potential change is moved along by a visit from her nephew Hilary (whose accounts of his intellectual set – the “Statics” – is priceless), who leaves her his car.

Finally, there’s Inigo Jollifant, a young man with literary aspirations and musical talent who teaches in possibly the worst public school in England. After offending the wife of the headmaster one too many times, he, too, sets off late one night, determined to experience The Road and write something Literary about it.

These three experience various adventures, misfortunes and accidents that bring them all to the same place, which happens to be the same place that the members of the Dinky Doos are sadly gathered, having been abandoned and financially wiped out by their former manager.

And so, within a short time, characters respond to their inner promptings: to be of use, to do something brave and different, to meet a need, to have a lark – and The Good Companions are born.

Now, this isn’t a deep work of social commentary or the most profound character study ever penned, but it does pain a detailed picture of the England between the wars as well as the lives of a bunch of quite different people, all clearly and affectionately drawn. To get a taste, here’s a minor character who’s courting one of the female members of the troupe. His name is Dulver, and he’s a hotelier:

He was a bachelor about forty who liked to clothe his pink plumpness in sporting tweeds, wore a fair clipped moustache, and looked at the world out of prominent light-blue eyes that had about them a kind of hard amiability. His manner and phraseology suggested the confidential, but his voice was loud and carried far and he made full use of it, so that he always gave the odd impression that he was bellowing out his innermost secrets. Actually, however, he had no difficulty in keeping to himself whatever was best known only to himself, and was in reality a far more astute man of business than he appeared to be, like all the Dulvers, who for several generations now had been ordering drinks all round and slapping everybody on the back and talking at the top of their voices while they quietly contrived to feather their nests….

I can’t tell you how much I love, admire and envy that kind of quick sketch of character-drawing, and this book is full of that sort of thing.

I found The Good Companions a very satisfying read, and not without moments of authentic human emotion. The end is very satisfying, with a bit of closure, but also a reminder that the future and even the present is a mystery for all of us, whether we live in flesh and blood, on the stage or in a book:

In this place, whether we call it Bruddersford or Pittford Falls, perfection is not to be found, neither in men nor in the lot they are offered, to say nothing of the tales we tell of them, these hints and guesses, words in the air and gesticulating shadows, these stumbling chronicles of a dream of life.

(The novel has been adapted many times for film, stage and television. There’s a 1933 version with John Gielgud as Inigo that you can watch in chunks on YouTube. There’s a 1950’s film adaptation in which the action is moved to the present day, and the trailer is one of the more deeply painful things I’ve ever watched. I’d like to get my hands on the BBC series adaptation – it looks sort of fun, but then I don’t think I want to spend 9 hours watching it…life does go on, after all.)

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