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Coming to you from Whole Foods….

Well, for the first time on this trip, I’m staying at a place with less-than optimal internet, which is ironic since this is the most expensive place in which I’ve stayed (which is not saying a whole lot, but still. It’s in a somewhat chi-chi part of town and the owner has the rental casita on a booster from the main house. Even if I plant myself right next to the contraption, photos still don’t load. Let’s see if Whole Foods comes through.)

Update: It did.

(And you wonder – why not just wait until tomorrow? Because I don’t know where I’ll be tomorrow – I may not have internet all day, at all – and I don’t want a huge backload of this type of writing. I have other things I need/want to do when I get home.)

Saturday morning was my last morning in the lovely, perfect Tiny House outside of Abiquiu, New Mexico. Here’s the listing – it’s not on the normal rental sites, but on a site geared more towards campers. Hipcamp features campsites, yes, but also lists lodgings that are perhaps on campsites (yurts, cabins, treehouses) and spots like this. It’s also on VRBO. I do believe that the gentleman who owns the property built the house and probably designed it as well. It’s cunning, smart, and cozy – and as you can see, the location can’t be beat.

Good-bye Tiny House!

I cleaned up, packed up and headed out to Mass.

Where?

Here.

As I mentioned somewhere – perhaps it was on Instagram – I’d discovered a couple of days before that since this parish, now St. Thomas the Apostle, was originally founded as St. Rose of Lima in the colonial period, her feastday (which was Monday) is celebrated with a fiesta, that begins with Mass in the ruins of the original mission.

Not something I’m going to miss, amiright?

There were probably 75 people there, mostly Hispanic. The Mass was in English, with all music in Spanish and the Agnus Dei in Latin. The priest was Vietnamese. It was a lovely Mass, in a beautiful, moving setting.

I was standing in the back, and there were probably twenty people behind and around me.

Followed by a procession – not Eucharistic, but with images of St. Rose and the Blessed Virgin – into town. It was escorted by folks on horseback and the fire department. It’s about a two mile journey, and I wasn’t going to walk it, so while I waited, I headed down to the Chamo River for a bit of a break.

The procession arrived – my position was from the parking lot of the famed Bode’s General Store – which is the main shopping stop in Abiquiu.

Up to the fiesta. The church, St. Thomas was open, so of course I took a look. As you can see, it’s peppered with images of both St. Thomas and St. Rose.

I understand the mayordomo is a common role in churches down here. Don’t you think it’s a good idea to have an official parish mayordomo instead of the unofficial jockeying for the spot that’s inevitable anyway?

To cap off an already very interesting morning, I discovered that the O’Keefe house and studio was doing special tours from 1-3. Abiquiu residents were free, and non-residents were asked to give a suggested $20 donation, which would then go to benefit the church. I’m in!

It was not the full tour, of course – more of a walk through with a docent, who gave the basics, but didn’t go in depth. I didn’t get any photo of her studio because there were a few people in there already. But I did get photos of her perfect mid-century mod sitting room – the rocks on her window sill are just part of O’Keefe’s rock collection, which she enjoyed rearranging and studying. The black door is a subject she painted quite a bit.

The setting is….unbelievable. And yes, inspiring.

And remember, it’s just around the corner from the Penitente Morada.

Time to hit the road south to Santa Fe. I stopped in Romero’s fruit stand to pick up some chile powder and some chili-sprinkled dried fruit, then kept going. My rental wouldn’t be ready until 4, so I continued to the Plaza, walked around a bit, got my bearings, saw the Cathedral exterior, where folks were arriving for Mass. Then back up to the rental, through clothes in the washing machine, and then….to the opera!

This was the last night of the season for the Santa Fe Opera, which is performed, of course, in this quite stunning setting, open to the west, so the setting sun provides a backdrop for at least part of the evening, and then twinkling lights for the rest. It’s a gorgeous place.

As I considered attending this performance, I noted that tickets were somewhat scarce, and of course, not cheap. I was willing to pay a couple hundred bucks for the tickets, but then read somewhere about standing room tickets – for $15. How to get them? It’s not on the website. Are they available just on the day? Is it a lottery? What’s up? So, I did the radical thing – called the box office.

“Oh, you can buy them now, over the phone,” she said.

Well, that’s a done deal, then.

There are maybe two dozen standing room spaces, and understand this is not a Globe Groundlings situation where you’re just standing in a crowd. There’s a designated area all along the back of the Orchestra seats – the mixing board is in the middle – with stands on which you can lean, and which also have the little translation screens. Really – I would definitely do it again.

I’m especially glad that I only paid $15 because…wow, this production was not good. This review expresses my reaction in a much more knowledgeable way than I could manage. It just did not work, although the second act was better than the first.

But you know what? It was 12 minutes from my rental, and hearing the singing and the music in that setting for that price is not something I’m going to complain about.

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…and I’ll take the low road. Or maybe I’ll take both

…except I wasn’t in Scotland, but in New Mexico of course.

Today, I got Taos out of my system. Again it’s late and I’m tired and I just got off the phone from a (good) 1-hour convo with new College Guy, so blogging all of this for you people is not my priority, especially since today I decided if I’m going to see the interior of any of these cool colonial churches I’m just going to have to – you know – go to Mass – and the closest one has Mass at 7am, and I’m 30 minutes away…well, this is going to be mostly a photo dump. Sorry, not sorry.

(Later: Not even a photo dump! Too tired. Sorry not sorry still)

I will say, though, that one of my many motivations for taking this (and other) trips is to figure out where I might want to establish a base in a couple of years – because, sorry Birmingham, Alabama, you’re not it – northern New Mexico, after two whole days, is looking pretty sweet.

There are two roads between Santa Fe and Taos: the low road and (surprise) the high road. The low road climbs up and the high road descends. It’s generally recommended to take the low road up for better views and then the high road coming down for the interesting stops along the way. So that’s what I did.

(If you want more photos and videos, check out Instagram, especially Stories at this point.)

Most of the photos I have to share are of churches. And that’s not just because religion is my jam. It’s because while the landscape is primo and the main attraction, the next most interesting thing to see are the churches.

Sorry, atheists.

My interest in seeing and recording these churches is not just because of a general “religion is my thing” or “history is cool” thing happening, eithre.

My deep interest is in faith, evangelization, truth, goodness, beauty – and also inculturation, colonization, and oppression. I think a lot about all of that historically and in the present. Going to these places, contemplating the history and trying to get a hold on the present – those are essential for me as I try to understand it all.

But for a blog post like this, you’re going to have to settle for the travelogue.

Oh, before I begin, let me say: I saw the exteriors of a lot of churches today, but the interiors of only two, only one of which I was allowed to photograph. Almost all of the churches I saw were locked – and that’s not something I’m going to complain about in this context. As I said on Instagram – these are fragile historical edifices in remote communities, all of which are still living parishes. If they are only open for liturgies and prayer times, that is completely understandable. You cannot leave 250-year old historic structures open to everyone and anyone with no security in this day and age. You just can’t.

Even before I left the area where my rental was located, I had the chance to consider some mission ruins.

My first night here, I’d gone out to the Family Dollar to find something to eat – my Tire Drama had left me no time for food, and while I normally don’t eat much anyway, I knew that if I didn’t get something in my system, there’d be trouble. So crackers and cream cheese from Family Dollar it was.

(I asked the guy – who looked like he’d know – if there was anywhere nearby to buy wine or some such. He told me about a nearby place [I didn’t go, by the way] and a customer, obviously a friend ,offered that he’d heard that some Family Dollars were starting to sell alcohol. “Not on my watch,” said my guy, who was also the manager. “I’ve got enough trouble with normal thievery, I don’t need people trying to steal booze….”)

Oh, yes.

Well, anyway, on my way out there, I noticed a cross by the side of the road, a cross lit up with a light on top. Nice, I thought.

Well, this morning I saw what the darkness of night had concealed. The cross stood with the ruins of the ancient St. Rose of Lima mission.

And then it was up to Taos:

Iconic, yes?

Well, I’ve got to call it a night with that. Let’s see if I can make that 7 am Mass….

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A day of driving, with a few stops along the way, one planned, the others impromptu, as it should be. That’s life: a mix of what you know and hope for is coming and then what you happen upon.

I had considered working Clear Creek Abbey into our July journey, but a friend who’s been there advised against it, saying that given the context and length of our trip, it would be too much of a detour – and she was right. It fit into this trip, though, so let’s go.

I had hoped to make Lauds at 5:45 am at Subiaco, but that didn’t happen. No excuses, it..just didn’t. I did manage to get up and out by about 6:45, with just a stop in the Abbey church while Mass was going on (I would be going to Mass later in the morning…if my plans worked out).

Here’s a bit more about Subiaco Abbey – it’s a Benedictine Abbey and boarding school for boys. If you are in Alabama, it’s similar to St. Bernard’s in Cullman, but larger – the abbey is definitely larger and the church is gorgeous.

They also have recently started a brewery and taproom! (Only open on Saturdays, sadly for me.)

Founded in 1877 – the history is here, and quite interesting. I stayed in the guest house, which of course regularly hosts retreats, but was I think essentially empty while I was there.  Reserving a room was very easy, everyone was quite hospitable, the place was quite nice and of course spotless. I didn’t eat any meals, but you can sign up and pay for that if you like.

I headed out about 6:45, drove in a semi-awake state over to Oklahoma and eventually – over a final stretch of gravel road – got to Clear Creek Monastery in time for their 10:00 Coventual Mass for the Queenship of Mary.

There is a lot of construction going on which impacts the upper church, although it took me a few minutes of sitting in there to figure out that no, Mass was not going to happen in this space, so perhaps I should find it – I saw some folks heading through a door in the back, followed them, went down some winding stairs, and there I was in the crypt.

I think there were about 30 monks there, plus 33 laity – 13 of whom were children. I assume a community of sorts is growing up around the monastery, which is on a beautiful piece of land which, you can see as you bump up the road, being cultivated and tended in various ways.

It was a Traditional Latin High Mass, of course.

Afterwards, I checked out the gift shop, saw Friendship with Jesus on the shelf, bought some bread (not great – the crumb was too crumbly and it had a hint of sweetness that I wasn’t expecting and don’t care for) and cheese – very good Gouda!!

(I have More Thoughts on the places I am visiting, but will store them up for later.)

Let’s hit the road again.

I had various scenarios in my head, but eventually decided that the best thing was to get as far as possible so I’d have to drive as little as possible on Tuesday. So I only made a couple of brief stops, both impromptu. I am, I reminded myself, driving back (although probably not the same way), so I can see Other Things then.

If you’ve driven that route, you know that one of the attractions is all the Route 66 stuff – I-40 runs alongside or replaced Route 66, so people like to see some of the remaining structures – gas stations and such – from the heyday, as well as some related museums. I…did none of that. But here’s what I did see:

I stopped for gas in Okemah, Oklahoma, saw a sign about Woody Guthrie, figured that what was there was about 2 minutes away from where I was standing, so of course:

There’s a little plaza set back from the sad downtown area dedicated to Guthrie, who was born and lived there through much of his childhood.

The childhood home is gone, but a tree standing there has been carved in memorial. I like it. It seems fitting.

(Remember, you can click on the photos and a bigger version pops up)

Moving on, of course I had to stop at the big cross in Groom – it might surprise you that in this land of evangelicals and mainliners, this was erected by an (independent) organization with a Catholic angle. But it was, as becomes very clear when you actually approach the cross and see it’s surrounded by the Stations of the Cross and there’s a Divine Mercy fountain. There’s a bit about the founder on the website, but not much that’s very specific. Stations of the Cross, Divine Mercy? Not Baptist, for sure.

There’s a bookstore/gift shop, but it was closed by the time I arrived.

One of my minor hobbyhorses is the wish that Catholics – local churches, religious orders, what have you –  would set up roadside shrines/rest stops along major highways and interstates. Well, here you go! Mega-sized!

Oh, I don’t have photos, but I also stopped at a rest stop outside Amarillo, which screamed, “THIS IS TEXAS WE ARE TEXAS AND WE ARE THE BIGGEST AND THE BEST.”  I mean – it was actually quite tasteful and beautiful, but it was certainly the most majestic state rest stop I’ve ever seen. Even the grills were shaped like Texas, though.

Sorry Texas, not staying this time. Instead, I moved on to a Better Call Saul episode, I guess.

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“This is a serious, violent incident that goes against ABA’s ends policies, values, and everything we believe and support. It is inexcusable”

Oh, my word, what happened? What did the American Booksellers’ Association do, for heaven’s sake?

Is everyone okay?

They included promotional material for this book in a mailing to independent bookstores.

Oh. Of course. Totally rational response on all sides.

Well, that pushed me over the edge. I’d been meaning to read this book since it was released, and of course, my local library wasn’t carrying it, and also unfortunately, the two local independent bookstores, of course, weren’t carrying it either, so it’s direct from the publisher for me.

Anyway, after taking in Trans over the weekend, I read Irreversible Damage yesterday, and here are my thoughts.

First, if you or anyone you know is beginning to confront these issues personally or in an institution in which they are involved, Trans and Irreversible Damage are good books to share as an introduction. I know there are others out there that I’ve not yet read, but these benefit from being more up-to-date than books even published just two years ago. This Trans Train moves quickly.

First of all, know that Shrier’s focus, as the title makes clear, is on girls and young women. She addresses general issues within transactivism, but it’s within the context of the social contagion of girls and young women seeking to renounce their female identity, embracing non-binary or male identity instead. So that means, for example, that the impact of male-to-female “transitioners” on traditionally female-only spaces in schools and sports is not closely addressed – because that’s not the purpose of the book.

It’s really about – why has there been this explosion in girls and young women seeking to identify out of femaleness in recent years?

Between 2016 and 2017 the number of gender surgeries for natal females in the U.S. quadrupled, with biological women suddenly accounting for—as we have seen—70 percent of all gender surgeries.

In 2007, there was one gender clinic in the United States. Today, there are well over fifty; Planned Parenthood, Kaiser, and Mayo all disburse testosterone, too. Many do so on a first visit, on an ‘informed consent’ basis; no referral or therapy required. The age of medical consent varies by state. In Oregon, it is fifteen.

And let me make clear, in case you’re wondering. Most of those “gender surgeries” are double mastectomies of healthy breasts. Very, very few female-to-male transitioners, especially young women, have what’s euphemistically called “bottom surgery” – construction of an artificial phallus, usually harvested from deep grafts of skin and other tissue (because it has to be living tissue with blood vessels and such or else it would just hang there and, you know…rot…which sometimes happens anyway) from the upper arm or thigh. You can understand why, just from the description.

Shrier is comprehensive. She talks, of course, to the young women themselves and their families, as well as therapists, physicians, plastic surgeons, educators, online influencers (very important), and detransitioners.

Her approach is not as linear as I expected. So, for example, she doesn’t lay out the gender vs. sex issue right at the beginning, or what is entailed in “transition” or the logical nonsense that “transition” embodies  – she approaches it all sideways, via personal stories, which is certainly different than, say, Joyce’s approach, but powerful in its own way.

What was most helpful to me were Shrier’s exploration of the whole notion of social contagion, as well as her chapters on trans online influencers (a new world to me) and gender curricula in schools.

My only critiques are that there are few more generalizations than I think are warranted, and I think the impact of pornography merits much more attention in this issue – as in the impact of pornography on males and their expectations of female appearance, presentation and sexual availability.

But other than those quibbles, it’s an excellent introduction to this corner of the phenomenon.

Shrier’s book might just leave the reader asking a few more questions of their own – most importantly – how have we failed our girls so catastrophically? What kind of world have we built in which girls feel so anxious about their existence as females that they feel that the solution to their problems is to cut off their breasts and fill their bodies with testosterone?

As Sasha Ayad put it to me, ‘A common response I get from female clients is something along these lines: “I don’t know exactly that I want to be a guy. I just know I don’t want to be a girl.””

And the fact – the fact – that mainstream secular feminists don’t see this as a problem – a crisis, even. As I wrote here:

Not like other girls.

So many of us have felt this. In the present moment, it’s a feeling that’s deepened and exacerbated by a culture in which the value of the individual is tied to appearance, and for females, the value of that appearance is linked to implied sexual interest and availability, and all of it – every bit of it – is woven through with pornography.

Who wouldn’t want to check out of that culture and what it demands and expects of females, especially young females?

Who wouldn’t want to say – no, not me. I’m not like that. Not like other girls. Let me the heck out.

Which is really, in this context, a cry from a sea filled with the drowning.

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Over the weekend, I read Trans by Helen Joyce. I wasn’t planning to read it because I thought – well, I’ve been immersed in these issues for a while and there’s probably little new in it to me. But then all the mess with the American Bookseller’s Association came down last week – in which including a sample of Abigail Shrier’s Irreversible Damage was met with weeping and gnashing of teeth by bookseller recipients and followed by an abject apology for the “violence” by the ABA, I decided to go ahead and spend some money to support these purveyors of violence.

And no, there’s not a ton new to me in the book, but it’s good to run through it presented in a cohesive manner, so here’s the thing – if this is an issue you’re in the least interested in or – especially – if you are involved in an organization or institution that is confronting these issues – including the Church – it’s an excellent book to read and pass on to others. Joyce – a writer for the Economist– goes through the history of this movement from the early 20th century to the present, and most importantly explains how the thinking about this matter has changed, accelerated greatly in recent years, from an idealistic conviction that by doing surgeries a man could “become” a woman to the current iteration – that “gender identity” is an almost spiritual reality unrelated to material reality of the body, and that if a person with male genitalia wants to be called and treated as a woman, society and the legal system must treat him as such.

Pretty crazy.

And as I keep saying – if you’re going to deal with these issues, you must understand this – that gender self-identity is the goal of this movement.

She touches on it all – the history, the wealth pushing this, the focus on children – all of it. It’s a good primer.

A few quotes then some comments:

Take, for example, an article for Therapy Route, an American website, by Mx Van Levy, a non-binary therapist, entitled ‘Why the term transition is transphobic’. The reason presented is that the word ‘transition’ is ‘based on the idea that gender looks a certain way and that people need to change from looking/sounding/acting/and more, a certain way for their identity to be respected . . . The reality is, we are who we are, and our outside appearance does not change who we are on the inside . . . The term transition implies that we were one gender and are now another. But that is not the case. We are and always have been our gender . . . changing how we look on the outside is not a transition.’

In this, as in much else, the activists do not by any means speak for all trans people. But it is the activists’ version of the ideology that is in the ascendant, and that is being codified into laws.

And that’s what I keep telling you. This is not a niche issue. When local, state and federal jurisdictions declare, under pressure and lobbying, that one’s self-declared gender identity trumps biological sex in access to accommodations, and your daughter’s school, in an effort to just avoid lawsuits, declares all restrooms and changing rooms unisex …..you’ll see.

Democrat-controlled states and cities, however, continued to write self-ID into laws and regulations, both in schools and elsewhere. To give a typical example, an anti-discrimination law passed in New York City in 2019 defines sex as ‘a combination of chromosomes, hormones, internal and external reproductive organs, facial hair, vocal pitch, development of breasts, gender identity, and other characteristics’. When these do not align, it says, ‘gender identity is the primary determinant of a person’s sex.’

Such goals are worthy ones, but they are not what mainstream transactivism is about. What campaigners mean by ‘trans rights’ is gender self-identification: that trans people be treated in every circumstance as members of the sex they identify with, rather than the sex they actually are……

This is not a human right at all. It is a demand that everyone else lose their rights to single-sex spaces, services and activities. And in its requirement that everyone else accept trans people’s subjective beliefs as objective reality, it is akin to a new state religion….

But mainstream transactivism does none of this. It works largely towards two ends: ensuring that male people can access female spaces; and removing barriers to cross-sex hormones and surgeries, even in childhood. These are not the needs of people on low incomes at risk of poor health. They are the desires of rich, powerful males who want to be classed as women. Everything I have written about – the harm to children’s bodies; the loss of women’s privacy; the destruction of women’s sports; and the perversion of language – is collateral damage.

One business sector, in particular, has benefited from transactivism: health care. Helping gender-dysphoric people feel comfortable in their bodies makes no one much money; turning them into lifelong patients is highly profitable.

Now a couple of comments:

First, Joyce makes the decision to use preferred-gender pronouns in this book, which I suppose I understand. The book will be controversial and cancel-able enough without Joyce being accused of murdering trans people by using their dead pronouns or whatever.

Secondly, on matters of more substance.

Joyce’s understanding of the foundation and motivation behind the trans movement reflects, of course, her own worldview. How can it be any different? But as such, it’s lacking a certain philosophical weight. That is, an honest confrontation with the changes in sexuality in general over the past century – most specifically the development and universal use of artificial contraception – the stripping of function from the reproductive system, which leaves us – human beings – in a performative space and not much more.

She inches close at times, but still is pretty far away:

Someone who rarely engages with nature or exerts themselves physically will be predisposed towards body-denialism. And if you spend a lot of time playing computer games, you will have become accustomed to identifying with avatars who can be altered on a whim…

Absolutely. But there’s more, isn’t there?

As I wrote – gee, two years ago tomorrow (odd) in a post:

Right before I wrote all those posts in February, I read this obscure sociological study of an early 20th century Quebec community called St. Denis. I wrote about it here, and had intended to bounce some gender stuff off what I read there, but it slipped on by, and here we are.

So as I read about this community, which, like most traditional communities, there were some sex-related roles and functions – most related to childbearing, child-care and general strength –  and many duties shared across both sexes – running farms, homes and businesses – I contemplated how the question of figuring out if you were male or female would fly in that culture.

Hahahaha.

Just, maybe, look down? Bien sur?

Oh, sure, there are always edges and odd places where people who don’t feel quite right, who can’t feel as if they fit – live and breathe and struggle. Sure. Always and everywhere. But in general, the question is not fraught. Why? Because you can’t strip your body of its natural reproductive functions, and while people certainly were normal and did what they could and what they believed was licit to engage their sexuality without conceiving (or confessed when they tripped up) – you can see that in a community where people have to work dawn to dusk in order to survive, where much of that work is physical, where people are always having babies and those babies need care, including nourishment from female breasts, where physical strength and endurance is needed for all sorts of work that sustains the community –

there’s no time or space for someone to stare at the moon and think….wow…I feel so girlish this evening. I do think I might have a Lady-Brain in this boy body I was assigned at birth.

So – part one. Affluence, privilege and procreation-free sexuality.

Finally:

What Joyce – and other feminist thinkers opposing the trans movement – are unable to confront is the relationship of this nonsense, on a deep level, to abortion.

Because of course, opposing transactivism is about continually bringing out the facts of material, biological reality and emphasizing the point that no matter what you think or desire – you are who you are. A castrated man with breast implants and an electrolysized face is still a man. Our opinions and desires don’t determine reality.

And nor do our opinions change the reality of a person’s race or ethnicity. Nor do our opinions change the reality of a person’s age. Nor do our opinions change the reality of the rights due to a human being, no matter what age, and no matter where they reside – outside the womb – or deep inside.

So there’s a certain amount of frantic flailing that runs, as an undercurrent, in the work of anti-transactivists. It’s almost as if they can’t understand how this is happening – when from another perspective, it’s very clear: in culture in which sexuality has become performative and preborn human beings are treated as diseased organs, well yes – it becomes quite possible to enshrine, in law, the notion that whatever you think you are – you just are.

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A lot of us know the feeling. We’ve had it since girlhood, and for many of us, it’s never gone away.

Not like other girls.

I wasn’t a so-called “tomboy” as a girl, and as I’ve written before, growing up in the 60’s-70’s – well, the so-called “gender divide” wasn’t actually that wide for kids. I just don’t recall a whole lot of pink or sparkly stuff in anyone’s childhood back then. As I’ve said before, my main memory is of brown-backgrounded plaids, turtlenecks, and bikes.

I was also raised an only child in an academic household. Not hippie liberal, but, at least at the beginning, solid Kennedy Democrats (who, like many, as time went on, transitioned into Reagan democrats and who know what they’d be now if they were alive, which they haven’t been, for a while.) who raised me mostly to be able to articulate my opinions and live a life of the mind. My mother would have termed herself an old-school feminist: think Amelia Earhart and Rosalind Russell. But, then, that’s a repeat.

But growing up, what’s also true is that when it came to feelings of “fitting in” – while I did have close female friends and a female bestie at every stage – in terms of groups – group talk, group thinking, group interests – I never did fit in with the girls. I was always more comfortable with the boys. I’ve thought a lot about this over the years, and I think much of it has to do with the ways girls are socialized, which perhaps reflects most girl’s instinctive interests. I don’t want to dive too deeply into this, but to consider, reflect on the traditional boys’ and girls’ toys – girls’ toys tend to be related to life in the home and boys’ toys tend to be related to life outside the home.

And so it was with conversation and the wisecracks that’s a part of pre-teen and teen life in school. I wasn’t interested in talking about boyfriends or clothes or makeup (not that that was much of a thing in the 70’s) or social life. But the boys? The boys I hung out with – most of us worked on the school newspaper, and that was our main hang-out time – talked politics and issues – probably not very intelligently, and no, this was no Agora and who knows what they talked about when I wasn’t around – it was probably disgusting – but honestly, it was all just so more interesting with the boys than it was with the girls. An argument, in a way, for single-sex schools, where no doubt, if I’d worked on the school newspaper, I would have been with like-minded young women who were deep into arguing about the ERA and Jimmy Carter, too.

And I had short hair!

Gee. Was I trans?

This is a big topic of conversation in gender critical circles. Women my age down to the mid-20’s musing how as girls we didn’t feel “like other girls” and never felt quite a part of intensive Girl World Life – maybe even excluded. For various reasons, of course. Some, like me just had no interest in what the girls in our lives were fixated on – others were “tomboys,” others athletic, others bullied by Mean Girls, and so on.

What would culture say about us today? What would we be pressured to feel and do?

Because, guess what? It wasn’t great. Yes, I did feel left out. Yes, I was resentful at times. Yes, I did wonder if there was something “off” about me as a female. I didn’t wish to be other than what I was, though. I was content with my interests. But still. In that context – small Catholic high school of mostly white Catholics in the South in the 70’s – I didn’t feel completely comfortable.

But did anyone? Does anyone who’s 15 feel at ease, comfortable and “themselves?”

It seems that of late, the most popular way of signaling I’m not like other girls is to declare oneself non-binary. Every day a new celebrity takes to Instagram to change pronouns. The latest, today, is Emma Corin, a British actress who plays Princess Diana in The Crown. (I don’t watch it, sorry.)

A couple of days ago, she posted an image of herself in a makeshift binder, but in the text, tags a company that makes binders – an account with almost 200K followers.

What’s a binder? It’s a wrap to compress breasts. To nothing, preferably.

“Designed with the true you in mind.”

It’s more than a bit ironic that Corin plays Diana, who lived her adult life in a subculture of high intensity and expectations, some of which was related to her sex. It’s almost a natural progression.

I saw this on Twitter the other day, and though it was apt:

Not like other girls.

So many of us have felt this. In the present moment, it’s a feeling that’s deepened and exacerbated by a culture in which the value of the individual is tied to appearance, and for females, the value of that appearance is linked to implied sexual interest and availability, and all of it – every bit of it – is woven through with pornography.

Who wouldn’t want to check out of that culture and what it demands and expects of females, especially young females?

Who wouldn’t want to say – no, not me. I’m not like that. Not like other girls. Let me the heck out.

Which is really, in this context, a cry from a sea filled with the drowning.

So, I will run with this internalized misogyny – for that’s what it is, full stop – to the nearest “gender-affirming” clinic that will suppress my estrogen, give me testosterone instead, I’ll research mastectomies and hysterectomies and set up a Go Fund Me for it all.

But even if I don’t want to go that far, I’ll still want the world to know that no, I’m not like other girls, so I will ….cut my hair (cut my hair? Really?) and then maybe I will wrap my breasts tightly – so tightly I’m at risk of hurting my lungs – and press, press, press down so that these things on my chest – these things that apparently stand between me and being treated as just – a person – will be gone. Just gone.

Do you want to have evidence of the failure of 2nd and 3rd wave feminism? This. That this – young women by the thousands in the West seeking to suppress and amputate the visible signs of their sex, and saying I’m not a “she” anymore …Just “they.” I’m “they” – not “she” – please not “she” – isn’t seen as the crisis that it is.

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Over the past half-decade or so, blogs – which along with discussion boards of various types, had long provided the main venues for conversation and expression on the Internet – have been thoroughly usurped by social media: Snapchat, TikTok, Instagram, Twitter and Facebook, primarily. And probably others my aged self isn’t aware of.

I use three of those, but minimally. I’ve had TikTok on my phone a couple of times, but deleted it. I know that my younger two sons (19 and 16) and their crowd pretty much only use Snapchat to communicate – rather than texting, even.

I generally don’t engage in “discussion” on any of them, unless it’s on a post by someone I actually, really know in some sense. And I don’t stay long. And I haven’t accepted new Facebook friends in years.

From the beginning of their rise – among my middle-age set, that is – I’ve maintained a distance, in terms of time and energy, from these platforms. I had an intuition from the beginning that there was something about them that didn’t serve my purpose in being online, and really, in the end, primarily served the owners of the platforms themselves.

And here’s what I eventually concluded. It’s rather challenging for me to put into words. Let’s see how I do. I’m going to focus on Instagram and Facebook because as problematic as Twitter is, it doesn’t share quite the same issues, and I think most of the “self-expression” energy these days is on those platforms, as well as TikTok, which I am not as familiar with. And guess what, Instagram is now owned by Facebook, so surprise – they have the same limitations.

First off, I want to acknowledge the given – that all of these platforms exploit the human desire to argue, score points and have the last word. These platforms, especially Facebook and Twitter have made themselves essential in spreading news and information. I mean – how did you arrive here anyway? Yeah.

They exploit our aspirations and our desires and our need for community and our attention-seeking instincts. They are deliberately addictive. Those are problems, but they are not the problems I’m going to explore here. This isn’t about sharing family photos. It’s about producing content that you hope will impact people and that you believe is meaningful beyond the present moment.

Let’s be concrete. Say I want to write a microblog on Instagram, a couple hundred heartfelt words attached to a pretty picture. Great. People will read it…

If they follow me…

If it happens to come on their feed by way of the platform’s current algorithm.

Sure, people can read it, but what if it strikes them as something worth keeping and sharing? They can easily share it with folks within the platform, who might take two seconds to read it and then…scroll on. Share with someone not on Instagram or Facebook? A little more challenging. Save it? less easily with those outside. They can archive it – within the app. Or I guess they can send themselves a link to share. Do you want to find a post on a certain topic? No luck unless the poster has hashtagged it with the specific hashtag you’re looking for.

And Facebook? Same. With the complication that my experience in Facebook is that posts – even your own posts that you want to revisit – are incredibly difficult to find. The search features on both apps are almost useless and are subject to change.

And of course, this is no accident.

There is a reason these platforms make it difficult to search and share posts beyond their system. They want to keep you inside, in that loop.

They make it super easy to create. You don’t have to know any code, you don’t have to think about design. You just type in the blank that’s provided for you, and the platform handles the rest.

And – I might add – it’s free. There is no financial cost to use it. It’s free.

What a deal!

But of course your space on these platforms is not actually your space, in any sense. Your posts can be removed for any reason. The rules governing your presence and content are not made by you – they’re made by the platform, and change all the time. Your ability to share what you create is directed in ways the platform determines, and to me, this has always been the feature of these platforms that’s given me pause, even more than the possibility of removal.

We’ve all seen it. For example, on my Facebook feed, no matter how I fiddle with the settings, I always see posts from the same people, few of whom I’ve ever interacted with, and hardly ever see posts coming through from people I actually know. Plus ads. Lots and lots of ads. I’m guessing Instagram is the same way, but I’ve long stepped away from any general perusal of Instagram – there are a few people – family and real-life friends – whose posts I see because I purposely seek them out – and that’s it.

What’s the most frequent complaint about these platforms from users? Besides trying to find ways to do paragraphs in Instagram, of course? It’s all about the feed – They’re not letting me see what I’m really interested in.

Oh.

Then maybe, go find what you’re interested in….somewhere else.

And further, the platforms – all of them – are designed to exploit your ego and desire for attention. They make it seemingly easy to get attention because of the ease of posting. Then the closed nature of the systems – which are presented as if they are for the sake of your safety and privacy –  move the user to prioritize churning out posts that get more attention from other users, always, always fighting that algorithm.

In short: these platforms get us in by making creating and sharing within the platform easy and free. But what you post speeds by the reader, is difficult to hold on to, is designed to be most easily shared within the platform, therefore bringing in new users.

 They’re for brand establishing, attention gathering and impression making. They’re really not for thoughtfulness, for nuance, for exploring. You don’t sit with these posts and save them and come back to them. You note them, maybe comment, nod and scroll on.

The content is, moreover, going to be shaped by the platform. Not in the sense of outright censorship or shadowbanning or restrictions, but, well, simply because as the Man said, the medium is the message.

If Facebook is the place you want to see and be seen, you’ll shape your content to what Facebook privileges and with what the Facebook audience values. Same with any of the platforms, just as with all media.

I wrote 800-word faith-n-life columns for years, and the shape and rhythm of those columns became second nature: incident – tension – hopeful and inspiring, perhaps self-deprecating resolution.  I thought in 800-word chunks and in daily life, was keenly aware, always on the lookout for the inspirational moment.

These platforms are no different from any other medium in that regard – columns, traditional news stories, essays – the medium is the message.

Which is fine. But given the transitory nature of these platforms – the ease of posting, but then the difficulties of finding and keeping, not to speak of the privacy and data issues – is it worth my time?  

Maybe it’s worth yours. Maybe you’re trying to do what I suggested above – establish a brand, get attention and make an impression. Go for it. Spend your time on it. I’m questioning the means, and yes, I’m questioning the message, too.

All digital media is ephemeral, including this space. No doubt about that. It can all be gone tomorrow. The systems could go down, the servers melt, or whatever they might do. Censorship and deplatforming exists everywhere from WordPress to Blogger to Reddit. No illusions there.

But the unique thing about social media platforms that has discouraged me from engaging to much on them is the clear sense that those spaces are not mine and that I’m a servant of the platform. We, as we’ve been told over and over again, are the product. My Instagram account exists the way it exists not to benefit me or even those who might read me there, but to benefit Instagram. The space doesn’t encourage staying, keeping or maintaining or searching. It privileges the present moment and then scrolling on. It also privileges making connections and placing information in them – that make it very hard to let go. All my memories are on Facebook! I can’t quit!

I know that some people have what they see as meaningful presences on these platforms. I’m always glad to see a wry Dorian Speed post or Ann Engelhart teaching me about watercolor. It’s become, annoyingly, the way I keep up with local businesses – is  Paramount or Rougaroux open today? Just check the Gram. When I’m about to go on a trip and want to double check the weather conditions, I often do a search for recent posts from that location to see what it looks like over there and what folks are wearing. So no, I’m not immune.

Communication. We have to do it. We want to do it. We’re called to do it.

Information is to be shared, discussed and acted upon.

But on whose terms? Who is really shaping the content and reach of the message I think I want to send?

The whole thing is ephemeral. All of it. Not just on our screens, either.

I’ve written dozens, if not hundreds of columns. I didn’t keep them. I doubt anyone did. They were written, read, made their impact, such as it was, and are gone. I’ve written books, some of which still sell decently, some of which are out of print. I hate to think of how many blog posts I’ve written. Again – typed out, published, and probably forgotten, even by me. None of it was written in total freedom, either. There were editors and audiences and publishing needs that determined what I wrote and was finally published under my name. And no question that publishers have, from time immemorial, profited from writers’ work in a skewed, unjust way. So in a sense, this is more of the same. But is it? That’s what I’m trying to work out here.

The world is fleeting. Our words, our thoughts are as dust. But ironically, that doesn’t make them pointless. What is the best use of these fleeting limited signs and symbols that we use to express our deepest yearnings and truest selves? How shall we use them in a way that actually does communicate our value and their significance, even as we acknowledge that they – and we – are like straw?

For the ephemeral nature of social media, and its use of us and our experiences as the product, enthusiastically offered just so we can be seen and heard, seems different to me. It seems to put into question the time spent on it, both creating and scrolling.

In that world, we only matter to the extent that we fill in the blanks, and what we put in those blanks is only seen if we work hard to learn the rules the Powers have established (today), shape our content to satisfy, not only their rules, but their intentions and priorities that they’ve figured out will get us coming back again and again…for now.

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I’m going to be writing a little bit about the Internet and social media every day this week.

“A little bit” and “every day” are nothing more than a probably pointless attempt at self-discipline. This is the kind of knotty issue I do contemplate every day and that might lead me sit for hours in front of the computer hashing out ridiculously long walls of text. So I’m going to limit myself. And sitting here, it’s 9:15 am – I am committing to publish this by 10. AM. Let’s see how I do.

Strange times, what with social media bannings and excommunications and attempts to even deny upstarts and dissidents a framework for their businesses. There’s a lot to unpack here, a challenging task because of the almost frantic narrative shaping that’s happening. We really don’t know – as usual. I have my suspicions. I think the core of what’s happening, both in Congress and in Big Tech, is an effort to strip Trump of his power immediately,  before 1/20, not because they seriously think he will have a second term, but because of what he can still do in the next couple of weeks: namely declassify, pardon and issue executive orders (as Pompeo did regarding Taiwan in the last couple of days.)

We’ll see.

That’s not my subject today, anyway.

And yes, what is “actually happening” in the United States government is more important the Internet/social media treatment of it, but they are also intimately connected.

I also want to be very clear on something else: there are serious issues here, related to repression of information and news, and the greater power that has concentrated in a few hands as other news sources have disappeared. That’s not my subject today.

Over the past couple of days, the calls to Follow Me on [Alternative Platform] have heightened. I don’t spend a lot of time on Facebook (and hardly any at all commenting or “discussing”), but every other post, it seems, over the past few days has been invitations to migrate, declarations of cancellation and so on.

Valerie Cherish Take 3 GIF by The Comeback HBO - Find & Share on GIPHY

I won’t be following anyone on to any new platforms. Not a one. In fact, this is a clarifying moment for me. It’s time to take a few more steps away. I’m in the process of stripping down my FB presence – they don’t make it easy, that’s for sure. It might take a few weeks, but in the end, I’ll still have a FB page, but it will only have a week’s worth of posts on it at a time – and none of those personal, just links from here.

(My only concern – and the reason I’m taking time – is to catch personal photos or anecdotes I might have posted there, but not saved elsewhere.)


Before this (yes) wall o’ text, let me just give you an abstract. Maybe save you some time:

If you’re frustrated by the limitations of social media, discern why. Maybe it’s not time to find another, more acceptable form of social media. Maybe it’s time to turn away.

Pay attention, come to me;

listen, and your soul will live.

-Today’s first reading. Isaiah 55

Let me offer a little spiritual perspective. Limited, as usual. Perhaps even wrong – not unusual. But perhaps it might help one or two of you.

When we live, shaped by a framework of Catholic spirituality, we live in tension – an acknowledged tension between radical acceptance of God’s will and acceptance of God’s call to courageously plunge into the world and, with his help, affect radical change.

I think following the latter path correctly is totally dependent on embracing the former.

And in traditional Catholic spirituality, acceptance of God’s will in my life means approaching a particular event or circumstance, not with a reflexive reaction of rejection or outrage or determination to do what I did before, but rather of calm watching and listening.

What’s happening here? What is God teaching me through this? How can I grow through this? What does this invite me to embrace that’s good and from God? What elements of my life or the world is it revealing to me I should turn from or change?

So, in the wake of great loss – say, a death – you can rage and grieve – and there is a place for that – but then there is a point at which such emotions become an exhausting treadmill, not to speak of a rejection of God’s will, and it’s time to take a look at life, not as you want it to be, but as it is.

How can I grow closer to God now, not despite this, but through this?

For that – lest we forget – is why we’re here. Not to make our voices heard, not to right earthly injustices, but to grow in holiness. We may do that through those other efforts, but our first reason for existence stems from the fact that God created us, God loves us, and wants us to love him and dwell with him forever.

So when something happens – good, bad, indifferent – our call is to stop, look and listen, set our egos aside, and say….what does this reveal? About my sins? About my temptations? About my love of God and neighbor?

So much for no wall of text.

Anyway. All that is to say – in a moment like this, I find it really ironic that as we have spent years fretting and clucking over the mostly negative impact of particularly social media on our individual and social lives – the minute the true face of these powers is revealed, so many of us respond by….trying to find another way to remain in their caves.

What about this? What about seeing this as a clarifying moment and girding your loins and actually leaving the cave?

Maybe begin with the following. First recognize that this internet/social media loop is not random. It didn’t just happen. Like marketing, it’s designed.

It’s designed to elevate and harness various aspects of human personality and behavior, not for the benefit of society, not for your personal benefit, but for their profit.

There’s no nobility here. There’s no idealism. It’s about money and power, period.

It’s about using particular types of energy that make you tick, like you’re a cog in a machine.

  • First, and most obviously, you’ve given up your data. All of it. It’s there, from your Social Security number to what you searched for on Ebay just now. It’s all there.

But of more interest to me is how this ecosystem engages and exploits:

  • Our curiosity
  • Our nosiness
  • Our anxiety
  • Our loneliness
  • Our aspirations
  • Our desires
  • Our tribalism
  • Our anger
  • Our ego
  • Our creativity
  • Our drive for change
  • Our desire for freedom

Yes, the Internet can help us direct our good qualities in positive ways. But I think it’s clear, particularly in the context of the authoritarian ecosystem this is turning out to be, it’s mostly a negative and it’s time to leave it behind, as much as we can.

For it is good and natural to:

  • Want to know and understand
  • Feel as if I belong
  • Know that I’m not alone in my views, interests and loyalties
  • Express myself
  • Connect
  • Play
  • Share what I know
  • Share my gifts

How does social media exploit these good, even holy aspirations and desires and turn them into destructive, demeaning dross?

Double Indemnity

So as with anything else – we look to this digital empire and we must discern. It’s true of any moment, of any situation – there is a neutral aspect to it, there is the potential for positive outcomes, and there is always, no matter what, temptation. Temptation to let our qualities, both good and bad, be used for the sake of another’s profit and power.

As you can see, this isn’t so much a comment of the events over the past week, but more a nudge offered about how to approach the moment. To stand apart from the events, whether they be in Washington or on the screen in your hand, and to consider how truth is being served by the events and how they are used, and to consider what how this digital ecosystem is tempting us, what it’s delivering and who is ultimately benefiting.

To consider how they are all exploiting you, your anger, your idealism, your anxiety, and even your desire for change.

And how do we get out? What do we do?

We look at the good aspects of life that we hoped were served by this ecosystem – and perhaps were and are – and we consider two points in relation to that:

  • What is the cost of finding community, self-expression and so on in the context of this digital/social media world?
  • What temptations does this digital world touch and exploit in me?

All that  – yes – wall of text – is to say – here’s this moment. It’s clarifying even as it’s very confusing. Perhaps it makes sense to respond by finding another outlet that won’t exploit both your worst and best instincts and censor you when you violate the chosen narrative.

Or perhaps….it doesn’t make any sense at all.

9:56. Made it!

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I tell you, it’s coming.

I’ve been telling you for years, when it comes to social media, put not your trust in princes.

This has nothing to do with political preferences, but with other issues I’ve been contemplating, in my usual haphazard way, for years, and which I’ll set down later today.

Here.

Not in an Instagram or Facebook post. Not on Twitter. Not on a podcast or a YouTube video.

Here.

Yes, this space is prone to censorship and deplatforming as well. We’ve seen it. One of the best “Gender Critical” (i.e. anti-trans movement) blogs was completely removed from WordPress a couple of years ago. Including the archives, I believe. Google owns Blogger. You know what that means.

But for the moment, this is what it’s always been. Mostly mine.

For the moment, at least.

Update: How strange, but appropriate to see news, right after posting this, that Kathy Shaidle, pioneering blogger, both in general and in the Catholic arena, has died:

Following a tedious rendezvous with ovarian cancer, Kathy Shaidle has died, wishing she’d spent more time at the office.

Her tombstone reads: GET OFF MY LAWN! 

She is relieved she won’t have to update her LinkedIn profile, shave her legs, or hear “Creep” by Radiohead ever again. Some may even be jealous that she’s getting out of enduring a Biden presidency. 

Kathy was a writer, author, columnist and blogging pioneer, as proud of her first book’s Governor General’s Award nomination as of her stint as “Ed Anger” for the Weekly World News. A target for “cancel” culture before the term was coined, she was denounced by all the best people, sometimes for contradictory reasons

 


We’ll start easy.

So this happened.

Amy Welborn

(Ladder next to piano is part of our very professional setup for the remote piano lessons. Guitar is his own purchase with his organ-playing money.)

Someone was giving it away. Saw it on (okay….I know…shut up) FB Marketplace. As it happens, the family lives just a few houses down from our house before this one – just a couple of miles away. No way we could transport it ourselves, so I figured paying someone to move it + free fully operational organ (- one key, as you can see below) still = pretty good deal.

And for the record, these small organs from the 60’s and 70’s are items which, these days, you can really only give away. They have zero resale value. In fact, one organist discussion board I read said that the benches have more resale value than the instrument themselves – and yes, it’s a nice looking bench.

Organ Guy is delighted. It only has one octave of pedals, which makes it less than optimal for home practice for church pieces, but at least he can work with the manuals. And he’s having fun doing it. I had wondered before getting it, if it was really worth it, considering that he has a pretty nice digital keyboard already, but I can already see that yes, it’s different, with other, good reasons to decide to spend time with it, rather than the new shiny keyboard.

He remains noncommittal on a music career, but he does enjoy it, spends a lot of time practicing and then fooling around with various instruments, so as far as I’m concerned it’s money well spent.

Actually, my goal is for him to fill our house with sounds like this.

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IMG_20200220_144512

 

I’ll be posting snippets and observations from our NYC trip last week over the next few days.

(No, I don’t take a blog/social media break for Lent. This is my work, so…no.)

One of the many highlights of our trip was the opportunity, on Thursday afternoon, for my organist son to meet and play the historic (built in 1868)  Erben Organ in the Old Saint Patrick’s Cathedral.

Here’s the website for the organization supporting maintenance and restoration of the organ.

And the Cathedral website.

Lana, of the Friends of the Erben Organ, was very generous with her time. She met us in the afternoon after we’d stuffed ourselves in not one, but two different Chinatown spots, talked to us about the history of the instrument, showed us the distinct factors of this type of tracker organ, led us around the back to see the innards, both in rest and in motion as she played, and then let my son play – no organ shoes were packed, so it was socks on the pedals.

For those of you not familiar with organs – and I don’t claim to be familiar, just vaguely aware – most organs, even pipe organs, that you see and hear today are electric and/or digital – since the two major actions of the organ – the movement of the air through the pipes and the connecting between the keys and the valves – are powered by electricity.

Of course, before the advent of electricity, this wasn’t possible. So organs were entirely mechanical. The key/valve action was by tracker action, and the air moved through the pipes by human-powered bellows.

(You may have seen old, smaller “pump” organs – in which the organist has to manually, with his or her foot, pump a large pedal to keep air flowing through the instrument. In larger organs, it would take another person to do so – in the case of the Erben Organ, there was a large wheel at the back to turn that would activate the bellows. Now, that element is electrically powered.)

There are pros and cons to electrical v. tracker action organs. My limited understanding is that an ideal instrument is a combination of both.

Playing an historic tracker action organ certainly is a different experience than playing a modern digital pipe organ, though. As my son said, he had to work a lot harder to produce sound (because of the force required to push the keys, in contrast to the light touch required for an electrical instrument), and because of that, the experience was more like playing a piano – which he, honestly, prefers to organ – than his usual instrument at church/work.

The pipe organ really is an amazing instrument – when you think about the large pipe organs that were being built even in the 14th and 15th centuries, the level of technological skill and knowledge required is astonishing.

Here’s the Facebook post on the afternoon, and here’s the Instagram post from the Friends, and from me, which includes a bit of video.

Please support them if you can – and support all your local church musicians and sacred music endeavors!

 

 

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