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I watched this tonight on the Criterion Channel. If you’ve hung around here for a while, you know that noir is one of my favorite genres, both in print and on film. I just find it fascinating expression of existential tension, both in general and in the context of mid-century, primarily post-war America. You can always find social anxieties and concerns expressed in genre films, whether they be action, westerns, science fiction or what have you.)

This was interesting, but not great. It’s Raymond Chandler’s only original script and (you will be shocked to hear) that the studio forced a change of the ending because didn’t want a serviceman depicted in a negative light. That’s not too much of a spoiler because there are three servicemen characters, and people, this is an almost 80-year old movie. I mean, don’t be mad, but guess what? Rhett leaves Scarlett and Rick makes Ilsa get on that plane.

Something I read offered that this movie could be seen as a precursor, in a way, to The Best Years of Our Lives, which came out a few months later. Of course the latter film is much better – a classic everyone should watch, today, if you can. I can see it – three servicemen just returned from the war, dealing with trauma, injury and family tensions. But of course Best Years is a deep-diving classic, while The Blue Dahlia is a relatively light, convoluted piece highly dependent on coincidence (Veronica Lake just happens to pick up a stranger on the road – who happens to be the trudging-in-the-rain Alan Ladd miles away from where her husband – a fantastic Howard da Silva – has had an affair with his wife. Sure, Raymond.)

That said, there’s a bit of snappy dialogue here and there, Alan Ladd is nice looking and short, William Bendix is traumatized, the female actors, including Veronica Lake are, as most female actors of the time except for the top tier tend to be, stiff. Doris Dowling’s screeching confession that no, her and Ladd’s son didn’t die of diphtheria during his tour – he died in a car accident! caused by her! drunk! driving! was not so much sad as incredible, in the literal sense. I mean, that’s a hard secret to keep, even when your husband is in the Pacific theater. Da Silva was the best part of the movie for me. Casually, confidently unctuous and thoroughly natural in his affect, he made the film.

Oh, and there’s this uncomfortable element – the Bendix character, as I said, has been injured. He’s got a plate in his skull, gets headaches, hallucinates a bit and reacts pretty violently to loud, jazzy music, which he shouts is “Monkey music!” Errr…Mr. Chandler? Really? Maybe that could have used a re-write, instead.

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The problem with the film adaptation of Dan Delillo’s White Noise?

There’s not enough of it.

White noise, that is.

Or spirituality for that matter, but we’ll get to that in a minute.

DeLillo’s book is (in part) about the landscape in which we postmoderns dwell, a landscape suffused with, well, white noise. A continual buzz of stimulation, information and entertainment that surrounds us, builds narratives and ultimately distract us from the issue that’s tormenting us all: death.

In Baumbagh’s film, while mostly watchable and entertaining in its own way – until the painful last third – we don’t pick up on that, we don’t sense that, we don’t hear or see any of that. It’s a mildly quirky suburban dramedy that resolves itself in near-sweetness, which the novel does not, at all. He captures the “white noise” of family life, but beyond that, no.  There’s really not much mystery here, and White Noise the novel is suffused with uncertainty and mystery. The most concrete example of this is the Toxic Event itself – its nature is never made clear or explicit in the novel, but in the film, oddly, it’s explained (a collision). I think that’s the movie’s biggest mistake, by far.

(There are others: Both Gerwig and Driver are a bit too young, Gerwig especially. In the movie, the youngest child, Wilder, is the offspring of the oft-married Jack and Babette, but in the novel, none of the children are fully related to anyone else in the family, which is important – the family is thoroughly postmodern – a collection of individuals. In the novel, Babette doesn’t appear in that last sequence of events.)

This isn’t a film I want to write about as much as I want to chew over it with someone else who’s seen it and also read the novel. There’s just a lot to say, notions and insights that emerge when I consider, not what the film includes, but what it doesn’t.

First off, please know that, um, I’d never read DeLillo before last week, when the coming film inspired me to check out the novel. It wasn’t as long as I expected, and I thought I’d knock it off fairly quickly, but that didn’t happen. It took me a good week to finish it, not because it’s impenetrable or dauntingly complex, but because it’s stuffed. I wouldn’t say it’s rich, either – just…stuffed.

And so I think this post will turn more on the novel than the film, with a bit of circling back at the end.

As I read White Noise I was put in mind of Walker Percy, and wondered if anyone had ever written comparing the two. A quick search didn’t turn up much, but yes: the vaguely apocalyptic landscape, the fractured family, the puzzled male protagonist, and – this is important – the medicalization of soul problems. When you are taking pills to ward off your fear of death, seems like that’s Percy territory.

Not surprisingly, I experienced White Noise (the novel) as not just a satire of contemporary American life, but also an exploration of spiritual presence and absence. Joshua Ferris lays it out quite well in this piece, so I’ll quote him. At length.

White Noise begins and ends with a ritual. The first is the cavalcade of station wagons arriving for the new school year, which Jack describes as a spectacle—“a brilliant event, invariably”—and which he has not missed in 21 years. It ends with the communal nightly pilgrimage to the highway overpass where he, his family and his neighbors witness the exalted sunsets that might be a temporary result of fallout from the toxic spill or something permanently deserving of awe. “[W]e don’t know whether we are watching in wonder or dread,” he says, as if commenting upon the entire phenomenon of white noise itself. In the end, neither he nor Delillo provides an answer.

Between these two rituals, the attentive reader encounters the high priest of Hitler Studies who tries to both evade and master death through his submersion in a “larger-than-death” figure; the ascetic-visionary-guru Murray Jay Siskind; the fundamentalist Alfonse Stompanato who discusses pop culture with the “closed logic of a religious zealot, one who kills for his beliefs”; amulets and vestments, like Jack’s copy of Mein Kampf, which he clutches to his chest at moments of discomfort, and his dark black glasses and heavy academic robe which bestow upon him “the dignity, significance and prestige” appropriate to priests; the rhetoric of exhortations as issued from some holy order found in Jack’s command “May the days be aimless. Let the seasons drift. Do not advance the action according to a plan”; amulets like the visor Denise wears day and night and later the protective mask Steffie refuses to take off; glossolalia; invocations (“Dacron, Orlon, Lycra Spandex,” “MasterCard, Visa, American Express”); the use of drugs, in this case not for ecstatic religious purposes but for death assuagement; numerology (“Is death odd-numbered?”); congregations, whether at the supermarket, on the overpass or in the classroom; superstitions (“It is the nature and pleasure of townspeople to distrust the city”); the miracle of Wilder’s unharmed tricycle ride across the freeway; and many other customs, rites and rituals, not only that of Friday-night TV, but Jack’s more “formal custom” afterwards of reading deeply into Hitler; the heavy visitation to the most photographed barn in America (“Being here is a kind of spiritual surrender… we’ve agreed to be part of a collective experience,” Murray tells Jack, elevating a scene typically presented as a lament about the simulation’s preeminence over the real—the photograph of the barn over the barn itself—to one of overt religious import that better explicates Josiah Royce than Jean Baudrillard), and finally Babette’s very secular custom, conspicuously occurring in the otherwise inactive Congregational church, of teaching the elderly how to stand, sit and walk, later upgraded to eating and drinking.

This overwhelming litany of how Delillo fleshes out traditional religious elements in the post-Christian world of White Noise is not exhaustive. He has done nothing short of scuttling the entirety of established religious systems only to remake one, full of the same structures and accoutrements, out of the stuff of American cultural life, very often out of the same white noise that doubles in the book as the agent of death against which those structures and accoutrements are intended to protect. The protective devices of this new pseudo-religion meet with mixed success in giving comfort to Jack Gladney as he struggles with his death fears, but no matter. Their domain is not so one-dimensional as to provide only protective devices. They also reveal to him glimpses of greater meaning, of awe and of transcendence. Above all, they reveal that Delillo goes beyond cultural assessment in White Noise to show—if we didn’t know it already from The Names—that he is a writer deeply, almost preternaturally attuned to the eternal human encounter with what constitutes the religious and the spiritual.


Yes, you’re reading that having watched the film and wondering…what?

In another article (somewhere), I read about the character of Wilder, the youngest child in the family. Those of you who have only watched the film will find my description unrecognizable. What’s in the film in general is very faithful the book – what makes the adaptation so unsatisfactory is what is left out, which is a lot of important elements: most of all, the sense of white noise and the spiritual ghosts, including what DeLillo gives us in Wilder.

In the movie, he’s just a young child who is carted around and only speaks once, and whose presence, his mother says, makes her happy.

In the novel he’s quite different. His silence is often commented upon – it is not clear whether his worldlessness is a choice or a disability. He does make noise, though – especially one day when he cries, weeps and wails from dawn to dusk. This is an important and lengthy interlude in the book. No one knows what to do. Wilder just cries and cries. They take him to the doctor. He keeps crying. But it’s not just crying. It’s a profound, deep keening – DeLillo uses the word – that his stepfather experiences, in part, as something profound with which he feels a desire to connect. In the midst of all the distracting white noise, here’s a deeply human noise coming from a real place, and so Jack, being a human, and being a human who thinks about death, senses it comes from a place where he might find…something. “It might not be so terrible to have to listen to this a while longer,” he thinks.

The family members’ responses and interactions with Wilder are almost like those of worshippers to a holy presence in their midst – they take care of him, they fawn over him, they respond to him ritually (yes yes yes yes). And in the end, when Wilder mounts his tricycle and rides across all the lanes of the highway without being harmed, we sense that he is, indeed, something special – even if that specialness resides in his innocence and, in the midst of a world that fears and denies death, his fearlessness.

Baumbach either didn’t understand or chose to ignore the spiritual implications of White Noise. It really is, as Ferris says, a book that invites us to look at and listen to the world around us and consider the possibility that we are still worshipping, we are still ritualizing, we still are looking for miracles and listening to sacred texts, and none of it seems to be helping.


I want to say something about the closing credits sequence. It’s a long (8-minute) stylized dance routine, involving all the characters, in the, bright, gleaming A & P. In White Noise, the supermarket functions in the same way the village church would – a gathering place, a place to build community, to fill one’s needs, to admire human ingenuity and creativity, but today, controlled and given, rather than evolved from who we are in an organic way. I suppose Baumbach conceived this sequence a way to communicate that. A supermarket scene closes out the novel, as well. But let’s look at the difference:

In the novel, the last chapter is composed of three scenes: Wilder with his tricycle, the gathering to watch the sunset, and then the supermarket. But what happens in the store? Well, the shelves have been rearranged. People – especially older people – are confused.

The supermarket shelves have been rearranged. It happened one day without warning. There is agitation and panic in the aisles, dismay in the faces of older shoppers.[…]They scrutinize the small print on packages, wary of a second level of betrayal. The men scan for stamped dates, the women for ingredients. Many have trouble making out the words. Smeared print, ghost images. In the altered shelves, the ambient roar, in the plain and heartless fact of their decline, they try to work their way through confusion. But in the end it doesn’t matter what they see or think they see. The terminals are equipped with holographic scanners, which decode the binary secret of every item, infallibly. This is the language of waves and radiation, or how the dead speak to the living. And this is where we wait together, regardless of our age, our carts stocked with brightly colored goods. A slowly moving line, satisfying, giving us time to glance at the tabloids in the racks. Everything we need that is not food or love is here in the tabloid racks. The tales of the supernatural and the extraterrestrial. The miracle vitamins, the cures for cancer, the remedies for obesity. The cults of the famous and the dead.”

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You know this is more for me than for you, right? It’s a convenient way to “file” these things. So here they are, all in one place. Click on the images to get to the page.

By Month:

2021 highlights here.

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I did this last year (Here’s one post, with links to all the others.) It’s a way for me to sort through things, retrieve ideas that might work for longer pieces in other spaces, make me feel horrible about my terrible memory (did I write that?) and so on. I don’t include posts on saints or travel here. The saints because I tend to re-run them, no apologies, and the travel posts because they are collected here. Gender-related posts here.  Book and movie takes, as well as links to other monthly highlights, at the end of this post.

All May posts here.


It also strikes me that intense discernment of “vocation” in the world is a luxury good, an expression of privilege. And in the modern world of self-fulfillment, quite often twisted into a baptized version of privileged “life journey,” and a way to avoid serving and meeting the needs of those right in front of us, right now.

There is a spiritually healthy way of talking about lay vocation in the world, I think, but it’s not a way that centers on personal fulfillment. It challenges us to ask: “What does the world need? What do the people in this world need? How can I help? How must I help?”

I will add that there have always been actually pastoral pastors and ministers who have listened to seekers’ and inquirers’ stories in the mode of the apostle Philip. They have been open to the presence of the seeker on the road. They’ve taken the time to instruct and answer their questions. And when the Spirit moves, they don’t hold up more and more hoops. They stop the chariot right there, and go find some water.

So there’s that.

But that’s what we’re here for, isn’t it? Not just for our family members, but for everyone. This thing we call love takes different forms in various circumstances, but always at the heart of it, it seems to me, are two things: presence and self-gift. That’s where the decision starts, the answer to the question begins.

Whatever you have, whatever you can give to who needs it at that moment…

…that’s what you do now.

To fulfill our duties in ordinary life, letting the love of Christ live and grow in us, bringing Christ to each and every interaction whether it be washing dishes, conducting a meeting, comforting a child, hammering a nail?

To do that? Even those quiet, ordinary tasks are ways to be his witnesses to all nations. 

There is great depth and richness in the imagery of sheep and shepherd, not reducible to simplistic allusions to gentleness and lambs, as appealing as that may be. It has profound historical resonance in relation to Israel and its kings. It is about intimacy and recognition and protection, for, if you think about it, the rod and staff of Psalm 23 are not decorative. They are for support, they are for warding off enemies. The critique of contemporary shepherds implicit in all of the Scripture readings is directed at their weakness and failure to protect the sheep.

Because, indeed, we’re not walled off from the broader culture. People enter into that sacred space carrying everything with them, and Christ seeks to redeem all of it.  So knowing that Mother’s Day permeates the culture, accepting it, but also accepting that motherhood and parenthood in general is far more complex than the greeting cards and commercials and even Super-Authentic-and-Relatable-Instagram-Influencers let on, and that people come bearing, not only motherhood-related joy, but motherhood-related pain as well – the Body of Christ embraces and takes it all in.

Why the heavenly messengers challenge those of us still on earth, are you just standing here? He’s told you what to do …move on and out and get going!

So it’s an appropriate day, it seems, to talk about a unique way in which evangelists in the past took that challenge to heart and, instead of just sitting around wondering what to do – actually did something creative to share the Good News.

***Spoiler alert: it’s a method that was eventually banned by bishops. Of course. ***


January 2022 Highlights

February 2022 Highlights

March 2022 Highlights

April 2022 Highlights

May 2022 Highlights

June 2022 Highlights

July/August 2022 Highlights

September 2022 Highlights

October 2022 Highlights

November and December 2022 Highlights

Books of 2022

Movies and Television of 2022

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As I said before, saints’ days, most holy days and special topics (movies, books, gender, TC, synod) are and will be collected elsewhere. These posts are taking it month-by-month. More links at the end of the post.

No Greater Commandment (6/3)

But most of the rest of it is a manifestation of us privileged Westerners justifying career goals, personal aspirations, vanity and lifestyle, wearing it like the inspirational t-shirt we picked up on Etsy and comfortably leaning on it like our favorite inspirational pillow.

There’s not a thing wrong with seeking to flourish…thrive…follow your dreams….be your best self. But it’s not the Gospel, and it’s the Gospel of sacrificial love that we’re invited to put at the center of our lives every day, even as every day, we’re also tempted to replace it with something else.

Salt, Light, etc. (6/8)

It’s a tricky line to walk, as I’ve written before, countless times. We do have unique gifts that we’re called to use. It’s the purpose of those gifts – to turn over to the Lord’s will. But the temptation to put ourselves – without discerning our own temptations – at the center, rather than Christ, is a temptation as old as James and John’s request to sit at Jesus’ right hand right after he’d predicted his Passion.

Good. Now do clerics. (6/11)

Then throw 21st century social media, a decades-long focus on personality as the core appeal of the globe-trotting papacy, the temptation to power-trip, messiah complexes and the assumption that evangelization=establishing a personal connection with a really cool person, and oy….

Give me Flannery’s ideal, instead, any day:

An Ode (6/14)

An aspirational, achievement-oriented culture seeds anxiety as pervasive as the mushrooms in my yard this morning. Especially among the young. In addition, more pertinent to this writer’s point, are the heightened expectations of the Awesome Excitement and Fulfillment we’re all due – because that’s what we see everyone else experiencing, right? And isn’t our God an Awesome God? And if He’s around, and we’re right with him, shouldn’t we always feel Awesome, too?

A church that doesn’t fight this, a church that, in its institutions and official and unofficial spokespeople, feeds this is not truly counter-cultural.

Counter-cultural is remembering the lilies of the field, the whispers to Elijah, a teen girl’s fiat in a backwater village, a priest’s angelic encounter in the midst of his dull routine duties, a traveling evangelist mending tents. Counter-cultural is reminding ourselves of our creaturehood and that we only see through a glass darkly right now, and God is not about emotion but about trust that yes, He lives, in this moment, here, no matter how ordinary and even no matter how sad. Counter-cultural is encouraging, above all, the holiness borne of living in that actuality, wiping newborn bottoms and holding aged, frail, cool hands, pushing a wheelchair, sweeping a floor, listening when you’d rather not and, as Parker says, forgiving the idiots, even yourself.

Seeds (6/14)

Apertif…soutane…genuflect? (6/18)

Here I am, a 60-year old woman, writing a few things, tending to the people in her life in 2021, contemplating words noted down from a dead Palestinian scholar from a book written by a Canadian around the time I was born about the Writing Life in Paris circa 1929, around the time my mother was born. In Canada.

Almost a hundred years.

I don’t know what the connection means. I can’t explain, can’t think of a cozy, succinct circle to draw. All I know is that I like it.

I like the actual piece of paper and the photograph printed on paper surprising me, fluttering to the ground from the book made of paper that I bought in a garage in a real house from real people – the daughters, maybe, or granddaughters of the man in the picture – a mile or so from my real house – that somehow connects me to those people, and then to Palestine, to Paris, to Toronto, to all kinds of people, real people, trying to make sense of life, and caring enough about it all to leave their questions, if not their answers, behind for me to find.

ineffable…profligate….

genuflect (?)

Keep Listening (6/23)

Abram’s home was in a land of idols. Of anxious worship directed at man-made objects of stone and wood, at the forces of nature, the points of light in the sky.

And in the midst of this time and place in which no sane person would have done anything else but shape his life according to these objects and forces, God spoke to Abram.

To yearn for a culture more sympathetic to our sense of truth and reality is reasonable, and to work to shape it is as well, and perhaps even necessary.

But just as we let life pass us by if we are constantly waiting for the perfect moment to act or we declare that we are just living for the weekend to come or for the kids to move out or for retirement – we’re closing our hearts to God’s usually startling invitation right now – if we convince ourselves that God’s reach is constrained by the world’s weakness, sin and misdirection.

Or even our own, right?

The Fatal Contrast (6/18)

Hardly any of us, no matter how many solid individual bishops we know of, have much faith in the American bishops as a group. I’m just here to point out that this is nothing new. And the emancipation of enslaved peoples is a good way to understand that.

Just pick up any objective (aka, non-triumphalist) history of the Church in the United States and you will read that the leadership of the American Church (along with most Catholics south and north) stood in opposition to abolition of slavery and anything but gradual – very gradual – emancipation. I’m not going to rehash all that history here. It’s easily available. Last month, I highlighted this good, brief article in The Catholic Thing on the subject.



Books of 2021

Movies of 2021

Traditiones Custodes

2021 Highlights: January

2021 Highlights: February

2021 Highlights: March

2021 Highlights: April

2021 Highlights: May

2021 Highlights: June

2021 Highlights: July

2021 Highlights: August

2021 Highlights: September

2021 Highlights: October

2021 Highlights: November

2021 Highlights: December

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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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—1 —

First off, new book this week – the Great Adventure Kids Catholic Bible Chronicle. More on it here.

— 2 —

Today? A funeral. No, not for anyone I know – Musician Son is playing organ at a funeral in a parish across town. Blessed Sacrament, which is, in my mind, the most beautiful church in this diocese. It’s the home of the main Latin Mass community.

(Forgive the Instagram captions – from Thursday’s practice.)

— 3 —

Here’s a page with the parish’s history. Construction was finished in 1930, but the interior decor dates to the mid-1950’s.

— 4 —

Last night we headed to our local independent film venue, Sidewalk Film, to see The Killing of Two Lovers produced by and starring Clayne Crawford, who was a featured role in one of the best television series of the decade, Rectify. He also had an ill-fated stint on the television reboot of Lethal Weapon, co-starring Daman Wayans from which he was, er, fired.

Crawford is from Alabama – Clay, which is east of here. And he was there at the screening and did a Q & A afterwards – which is why I wanted to go and take, especially, one of the two still living here, who has a strong interest in film and filmmaking. And it was worth it – this was an extremely low-budget production (30K) filmed over 12 days in a tiny town in Utah – and most valuable was Crawford’s exploration of the limits – but also the benefits – of working on a shoestring.

— 5 –

I’m going to have some Catholic-related Juneteenth content coming up later today, I hope. But until then, here’s a link from 2019 featuring interviews conducted by the Federal Writer’s Project/ WPA in the 1930’s, with formerly enslaved people – the article ran in the Montgomery paper on Jefferson Davis’ birthday that year, a day which, absurdly, is still celebrated as a state holiday in Alabama.

— 6 —

Here’s more about the project from the Atlantic.

— 7 —

Okay, let’s end with this. As much hate as I direct towards social media, yeah, yeah, I know good can come of it. Lots of good. Of course!

Here’s an example – a local (Birmingham area) young woman who fosters teens. Her TikTok is a treasure trove of advocacy and information – her philosophy about fostering teens, what she does, how she provides for them, why she fosters and lots of encouragement to others. Really worth checking out – the world is full of folks doing really good things for other humans. To the extent that social media can share their good news – okay, okay, it can be a good thing. I guess.

For more Quick Takes, Visit This Ain’t the Lyceum

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Via another blog, I happened upon this trailer for a new movie streaming or showing somewhere. It stars Justin Timberlake and it’s about this ex-con who returns to his southern (of course) hometown and somehow ends up taking care of a young boy who’s having troubles because (you know it) he wants to wear dresses.

Justin Timberlake Stars as in 'Palmer' Trailer - Rolling Stone

It’s the next step from the Magical Negro and the Magical Gay – the Magical Non-Gender-Conforming-Minor (not creepy at all) , who showers wisdom, self-understanding and tolerance upon all in his now very Magic Circle.

And yes, the trailer enraged me. But not, perhaps for the reasons you expect. It enraged me, not for the boys, who can and will do whatever they want and then profit while the rest of the world praises them for it, whether starting wars or wearing dresses, for that’s the way of the world – no, not so much for the boys.

But for the girls.

I’ve only watched the trailer, and that’s all I’ll ever watch, and perhaps I’m off base, and perhaps the movie tells a different, more subtle story, but this is what I got from the trailer.

This boy-child is outcast and bullied because he:

  • Spends times with the girls, affecting dance moves like a drag queen
  • Plays with a Barbie
  • Joyfully imitates the moves of girl cheerleaders
  • Viewing some Disney-type princess cartoon declares that not only can he be one of them, he can be the first like him to be one of them.

It’s unclear from the trailer whether the issue is that the boy wants to become a girl or if he wants to remain a boy but be free! to do “girl things” and present in “girl ways.”

I don’t care. Any or all of those choices are repulsive, and again, it’s not because the story presents the (stupid) story of a boy who wants to do them.

It’s repulsive because of what it all says about girls.

I’m going to keep repeating this until I drop. The transgender moment is a war against females. It is built on rigid gender stereotypes and ultimately communicates that women are better off as men and men make the best women.

This, the trailer implies, is Girl World: A world of young human beings defined by fey, coy, sexualized dance moves, of cheering on males in athletic combat, of dressing up dolls with unrealizable physiques and, of course, ruled by wide-eyed, curvaceous (but not too curvaceous) princesses.

And oh! Let us pity and cheer on the brave, misunderstood person with a penis who simply seeks to enter this enchanting and fun Land of Cute!

Screw this. I am so tired of this. Exhausted. Confounded. As I’ve written before. Absolutely confounded.

Come on, little boy, do you want to learn about Girl World? Here. Listen up. Look. Watch.

Girl World is a place where there’s blood, and pain and, more often than you would expect, fear.

It’s a place where most of us, for most of our lives, bleed and cramp and are emotionally tossed up and plunged downward regularly, once a month, for days. I once had to leave a final exam in college – right in the middle – the pain was unendurable. And that, my young friend, was a normal month, a regular, bloody, body-bending part of life.

And when the time of bleeding stops, in Girl World, it’s a time of heat and racing hearts and depression and dryness and more, different kinds of pain.

What else happens in Girl World? We grow people inside of us, and through history, have died in great numbers as we strove to push those people through our bodies. When we survive, we spend years giving suck to those people we’ve grown and birthed, but not at leisure, but hours every day while keeping at the hard work of our life in the world, whether that be in fields or at the hearth or the office. All day, every day. And night.

Oh, Girl World. That place where human beings called girls and women can’t walk down a street, can’t sit in a café or bar alone without being catcalled, bothered or worse.

Girl World, A History: Are you a girl? Can’t vote, can’t own property, can’t live outside of male supervision. But you can wear makeup if you want! You go!

So no, little boy, you can never be a part of that even if you wear a dress and learn to swivel those hips, and I suspect, knowing the truth, you probably don’t want to. You just want to play, to perform, to act, to act out – something. Some loss, some desire, some yearning that’s real, even if the solution the world presents you is not.

And damn the culture and society that lets you believe that this imaginary Girl World of Cute and Princesses and Cheering on the Boys, wiggling asses, jiggling breasts and shiny clothes is the place for you – or for anyone – to live and pretend.

So yes, the Girl World of this kind of garbage infuriates me because it’s not about the real lives of girls and women, but about fantasies that serve other, more nefarious ends – economically, culturally, and personally.

But it infuriates me for the real girls of the very real Girl World, not only because it devalues their unique experience, but also because it reinforces that insidious, horrendous definition of femaleness that I thought we had killed off, but has resurrected, so bizarrely, over the past two decades, it seems.

I like swiveling my hips, playing with dolls, cheerleading and princesses – it’s my ticket to Girl World!

I’ll give you your ticket to Girl World. Here you go. And now, what do you see? The young female human beings who actually do have tickets to the real Girl World – don’t be fooled. Don’t get off at the Potemkin village they’re selling you. Wait a little longer. You’ll see who lives here.

Where do we start?

Athletes, astronauts, governors, senators, vice-presidents, prime ministers, colonels, captains and generals,

EPSON MFP image

scientists, CEOS and plant managers, engineers, attorneys, nurses, doctors, surgeons, homemakers, ministers, teachers, farmers, cashiers, archaeologists, pilots, chefs, coaches, nuns and artists….and that’s only the beginning.

These females – these real, biological females who live in this Girl World – the real one – are just like you. They’re short, tall, thin, heavy, have high voices or speak in low tones, giggle or guffaw, laugh a lot or just when something is really darkly funny, think princesses are wonderful or think they’re silly or never think about them all, love cheering, love playing on the field or even both, want to have kids, can’t stand kids, wear makeup and go without, spend time on their hair or get it cut twice a year, wear dresses sometimes, all the time or never, maybe want to be cute or maybe don’t give a damn.

So sorry, young dude. Affecting a cute demeanor doesn’t get you into Girl World. And a culture that encourages you is telling you a lie. But of course, those hurt the worst by the bizarre, insistent lie of the performative, superficialities of this supercute, glittery, hip-swiveling, chest-thrusting, pouty-lipped land of cheering, dancing pink-encased princesses are, of course, as always.…girls.

But not if we don’t want to be….

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—1 —

Well, here we are. Just a few days until the Return. The Return to College. For a few months, we hope, and not just for a few weeks, as College Guy pessimistically predicts. As I keep saying, I’m optimistic.

We’ll see.

School for the other one is slowly picking up speed – to be interrupted by travel next week, to be sure, but getting a little more organized nonetheless. This week has seen meetings with Algebra 2 and Latin tutors as well as a piano lesson. We talked over plans for literature and history study. Looked at photos posted by the private high school most of his friends attend, saw all the images of people in single file in masks looking at each other from behind plexiglass in the lunchroom, and if there were any lingering questions, they were answered. “We’re good. Thanks.”

— 2 —

There’s been a bit of blogging this past week. Here’s a review of a novel called Followers and another of a novel, which I liked quite a bit, called Nothing to See Here. 

All done on a new laptop. I have a desktop, which is my preference for working, but I needed a new laptop – for a couple of years I’d been depending on a Chromebook we’d had to buy for Son #4’s high school career – and I hate Chromebooks. I mean, just hate. I love small laptops – that’s not the issue. The issue is the dependence on the cloud and the Internet and Google and all of that. And the fact that if you forget your passwords, it just might wipe the device of all local data on it – which happened to me last summer in Spain after I’d written a short piece for the Catholic Herald, but before I’d sent it in.  Cue new scene with me sitting on the floor in a hotel room in Caceres, Spain at 6 am, fuming (and worse) attempting to reconstruct and rewrite.

Plus, we needed a better, more dependable machine for Kid #5’s academics, such as they are. We don’t do a lot of screen stuff, and no remote classes of any sort, but you never know. Might as well have something decent, just in case.

Anyway, new computers are sweet.

— 3 —

I mentioned before that my book sales, like everyone else’s, have been impacted by this virus and responses to it – namely, no big gift-giving binges around Easter and the Spring Sacramental Season. But, as I noted, since mid-May, sales have been slowly but steadily edging back up. It’s really interesting. I’m still behind last year, but every week since mid-May, sales this year have topped the equivalent week last year, sometimes more than doubling the number of units sold.  The Loyola Kids Book of Heroes is now even with total sales from the same period last year (by the measure I have access to through Amazon Author portal – which doesn’t record all sales.). I think parishes that didn’t have big First Communion or Confirmation celebrations when they normally do have been having them in smaller batches through the summer, and people have purchased gifts for that – and then you throw in the increase in people doing homeschooling, and there you go.

So, yeah, if you know anyone who’s interested or in need of good titles for homeschooling catechism for children or young people, do consider pointing them my way –here’s a link to the Loyola Kids Books and here’s a link to the Prove It titles for teens. 

Today: St. Maximilian Kolbe. In the Loyola Kids Book of Saints.

"amy welborn"

 

— 4 —

From William Newton:

One of the most famous works of art rescued from the Nazis by the Monuments Men is, of course, “The Adoration of the Mystic Lamb”, more commonly known as “The Ghent Altarpiece”, a 15th-century masterpiece by the Van Eyck brothers that resides in St. Bravo’s Cathedral in the Belgian city of Ghent. Readers will recall that recently, a number of ill-informed commentators and meme-makers criticized the recent cleaning and restoration of the piece, because the face of the Lamb came out looking more humanoid and less lamb-like. After an exhaustive review, experts from the University of Antwerp and the National Gallery of Art have concluded that the Van Eycks did, in fact, intend to have the Lamb – who symbolizes Christ Himself – display the (to modern eyes) slightly disturbing face that we see gazing out at us now. It may be a late Medieval convention with respect to how to portray animals, since similar faces appear among the horses in one of the other panels of the altarpiece, or it may be that one or both of the Van Eycks intentionally wanted to have the viewer thrown a bit off-balance when praying or meditating before the image.

— 5 –

I meant, but forgot to mention last week, that the Cathedral parish held a celebration on August 2, bringing the traditional way of celebrating Our Lady of the Snows from St. Mary Major in Rome down here to Birmingham. That is – letting white rose petals fall from the ceiling.

More here.

 

(And yes, the Cathedral has been having Mass with full ceremony since April/May – no congregational singing, every other pew roped off, etc., but a full music program – you can see the orders of worship here.)

This next Sunday’s Mass, for example– Viadana’s Missa l’Hora Passa. 

— 6 —

From the New Yorker, on two new biographies of Poulenc:

Both accounts undermine the popular image of Poulenc—carefully cultivated by the man himself—as the epitome of Parisian suavity and ebullience. He was, in fact, a turbulent, even tortured character: sometimes arrogant, sometimes self-castigating, sometimes lovable, sometimes impossible. That complexity only adds to the interest of the music. The critic Claude Rostand famously commented that Poulenc was a combination of “moine et voyou”—monk and rogue. Many of the composer’s works fall cleanly into one category or the other, but some of the strongest fuse the two personalities in one. The Organ Concerto (1938) interlaces brimstone dissonances with rollicking fairground strains. The Gloria (1959-60) exudes an almost scandalous joy, as if a crowd of drunken angels were dancing down the boulevards.

— 7 —

My son watched all of Alfred Hitchcock’s films. All of them. Here’s his ranking. 

o-ALFRED-HITCHCOCK-GUN-facebook-750x400

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

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I read two novels this week – in print! Thank you, libraries!

The first, Blackwood , by Michael Farris Smith, is a Southern Gothic type novel that didn’t quite work for me.  The central, driving tension did: how we cope with what we have done and what we have failed to do – and what has been done to us. Basically (and I’ll say it outright, since it’s the opening scene of the book) – a man, who, as a boy, witnessed his father’s last moments of life, a suicide. (But I’ll hold something back here, since its reveal is a good, jolting shock) – He spends his life wondering about his own role and bearing wounds of childhood trauma that even precedes his father’s death.

And I’ll say, that the way in which all of this circles around at the end is, indeed, grace-filled and redemptive, and even surprisingly so.

But the other part of the story is gothic, haunted, creepy, with kudzu as the metaphor and strange, damaged, damaging people doing strange deeds under the vines. Life is being choked out, the doings are hidden, and, it seems, nothing short of burning it all down will rid the world of the evil.

I mean, okay. And it was pretty readable, albeit sad, but the Gothic-ness was a little labored for me.

So let’s move on to Followers, which was more interesting, but flawed as well.

amy_welbornHere, we jump between time zones, so to speak: the recent past (2015/6) and the future (2051). In the recent past, we focus on Orla and Floss – one aspiring writer, stuck on a celebrity blog who believes she can and will do better and more, and the other an aspiring celebrity with all of the self-regard and conniving that aspiring celebrities generally have. And so, they join forces in order to reach those planets of fame and fortune.

In the future, we have Marlow, who has been raised in a place called Constellation, which is essentially a 24-hour Land of Social Media, where everyone’s lives are lived online, so to speak, in front of millions of followers.

Somewhere in between the two eras was a mysterious (for most of the book) disaster referred to as “The Spill” – which seemed to have wiped out the internet and the means of communication and information sharing that we know today, and the reaction to which scared everyone off the Internet,  which then allowed the government to step in and take control of it all. The Spill and the aftermath also made devices as we know them today, obsolete – replacing them with “Devices” that are implanted in the wrist and feed everything – thoughts, information, images – directly to the brain, confusing the individual as to what he or she is generating and what’s coming from outside.

Pretty complicated, but it mostly works, although I felt it was a bit long. Author Megan Angelo casts a healthy critical eye over the power of social media and the Internet, and what it does to us as individuals and the kind of culture it builds and supports.

Ellis thought so, too. “Hold on!” he said, waving his hands. “Save it, Mar. This is your authentic reaction to becoming a mother. You’ve gotta share it with your followers.” He opened the bathroom door and prodded her out, to where she could be seen. 

It’s about the hunger to influence, to matter in a big way, to feel important, and to do so by getting people interested in you or your narrative. I think the novel does a good job of exploring this in an imaginative way, skewering what highly merits being skewered, but there’s a missing piece. The focus is on characters who hunger for the influence –  but just as interesting to me is what makes that possible: the hunger to be influenced. What drives, not just those who want followers, but the followers themselves. That’s the other part of the dynamic and it could use some skewering, too.

But for the most part, Followers is a pretty entertaining, sharp look at the power of the Internet and social media, and how stupid it all is, and how, in the end, it distances us from the Real – as in this really quite beautiful and true passage:

Where could Marlow possibly be, besides, where she’d been told to go?

Here. Here, cutting through choppy, silt-filled water, away from all of them and closer to the truth. Marlow had been taught that being watched put food on the table, that there wasn’t a better way to live. But she had seen, on the sidewalks of New York, all the happy nobodies — people whose days weren’t built around lengthening the trail of attention spans floating behind them. They were paunchy and muttering and somehow more alive, and they made Marlow feel sorry for Floss and Ellis, with their endless performing, and Honey, with her army of dark-hearted disciples. They might have had all the followers, but they were never finished chasing.

Marlow was done being looked at. Now she was doing the looking, and finally seeing things differently. She found, in the sunrise, all the colors the pills had kept from her for years: a shade of orange she loved. A yellow that reminded her of when it was her favorite. A pink that might have been fine after all. She was hearing something, too, in the space her device used to fill: a brand-new voice inside her head, telling her to keep going. 

She leaned over the boat’s railing, into the spray, and listened to the voice. She was almost positive it sounded like herself. 

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