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“Comes over one an absolute necessity to move.”

As I mentioned earlier in the week, I spent a few hours reading Sea and Sardinia by D.H. Lawrence.

There’s a “copy” on Gutenburg here which reproduces the illustrations from the original edition, and they are marvelous. I’d pay good money for those, I’ll tell you what.

Summary:

Sea and Sardinia is a travel book by the English writer D. H. Lawrence. It describes a brief excursion undertaken in January 1921 by Lawrence and his wife Frieda, a. k. a. Queen Bee, from Taormina in Sicily to the interior of Sardinia. They visited Cagliari, Mandas, Sorgono, and Nuoro. His visit to Nuoro was a kind of homage to Grazia Deledda but involved no personal encounter. Despite the brevity of his visit, Lawrence distils an essence of the island and its people that is still recognisable today. Extracts were originally printed in The Dial during October and November 1921 and the book was first published in New York, USA in 1921 by Thomas Seltzer, with illustrations by Jan Juta.

“Brief” is right – I could go back and count, but it seems to me they spent about four days – most of them in transit, either by boat, train or bus.

If you want a wonderfully-written take on the book, go to this NYTimes piece by Richard Cohen, in which he describes his and his wife’s attempt to retrace the Lawrence’s steps.

After a few days, there being “little to see” in Cagliari, the Lawrences moved north to Mandas on the interior railway, the Trenino Verde, a toylike affair that “pelts up hill and down dale … like a panting, small dog.” Alas, that train no longer operates in the off-season, so we rented a car, a betrayal of Lawrentian values — namely hunger, bad light, and sharing space with people who annoy you.

As I said, most of the Lawrence’s time on this trip is spent traveling. And yes, annoyed. They spend all day on a train or a bus, arrive at nightfall to a new place that seems, from afar, to be enticing and picturesque, but which they (at least DHL) find to be dreary with only horrendous food on the offer. (I was entertained by the fact that Lawrence describes each dreadful meal in detail, but the one good meal he has, he doesn’t tell us about, except to say it was excellent. It seems to me there’s a personality trait embedded there.)

Get up the next morning, find the next train.

So in that sense, it’s an odd travel book.  But because it’s Lawrence, it’s also quite fine. No, he won’t be telling me about the history and specifics of various sites, but he will have keenly observed every person on the train or in the dim dining room, and he scorns seeing the sites anyway. He is riding about, experiencing things, watching people, absorbing the landscape, and in the context of the crowded bus or raucous Epiphany celebration, working out other ideas, mostly here, about England, masculinity and modernity.

A hundred years ago, Lawrence was ill at ease with the homogenization of modernity. What he would say about the contemporary homogeneity-masquerading-as-diversity of the present day, I couldn’t imagine. And yes, it’s romanticized, even as he comes up against the harshness of life in Sardinia and Sicily. But I’ll end this post with a few relevant quotes and follow it up with a post bouncing something Lawrence says up against (surprise) liturgy.

The khaki to which he refers is the military issue from World War I that, of course, still formed a foundation of the now-civilian wardrobe.

Sometimes, in the distance one sees a black-and-white peasant riding lonely across a more open place, a tiny vivid figure. I like so much the proud instinct which makes a living creature distinguish itself from its background. I hate the rabbity khaki protection-colouration. A black-and-white peasant on his pony, only a dot in the distance beyond the foliage, still flashes and dominates the landscape. Ha-ha! proud mankind! There you ride! But alas, most of the men are still khaki-muffled, rabbit-indistinguishable, ignominious. The Italians look curiously rabbity in the grey-green uniform: just as our sand-colored khaki men look doggy. They seem to scuffle rather abased, ignominious on the earth. Give us back the scarlet and gold, and devil take the hindmost.


They talk and are very lively. And they have mediaeval faces, rusé, never really abandoning their defences for a moment, as a badger or a pole-cat never abandons its defences. There is none of the brotherliness and civilised simplicity. Each man knows he must guard himself and his own: each man knows the devil is behind the next bush. They have never known the post-Renaissance Jesus. Which is rather an eye-opener.

Not that they are suspicious or uneasy. On the contrary, noisy, assertive, vigorous presences. But with none of that implicit belief that everybody will be and ought to be good to them, which is the mark of our era. They don’t expect people to be good to them: they don’t want it. They remind me of half-wild dogs that will love and obey, but which won’t be handled. They won’t have their heads touched. And they won’t be fondled. One can almost hear the half-savage growl.


For myself, I am glad. I am glad that the era of love and oneness is over: hateful homogeneous world-oneness. I am glad that Russia flies back into savage Russianism, Scythism, savagely self-pivoting. I am glad that America is doing the same. I shall be glad when men hate their common, world-alike clothes, when they tear them up and clothe themselves fiercely for distinction, savage distinction, savage distinction against the rest of the creeping world: when America kicks the billy-cock and the collar-and-tie into limbo, and takes to her own national costume: when men fiercely react against looking all alike and being all alike, and betake themselves into vivid clan or nation-distinctions.

The era of love and oneness is over. The era of world-alike should be at an end. The other tide has set in. Men will set their bonnets at one another now, and fight themselves into separation and sharp distinction. The day of peace and oneness is over, the day of the great fight into multifariousness is at hand. Hasten the day, and save us from proletarian homogeneity and khaki all-alikeness.


I love my indomitable coarse men from mountain Sardinia, for their stocking-caps and their splendid, animal-bright stupidity. If only the last wave of all-alikeness won’t wash those superb crests, those caps, away.

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I had to go through this year’s posts in order to remember what I read for CWR’s The Best Books I Read in 2021. The books I pulled for that post are, yes, very good – not sure if they are the best, but I was pressed for time. Since I was doing the work, I decided to multitask.

We’ll start with books of 2021 today, then move to films and television shows tomorrow, and then just a highlights reel of sorts on each of the last days of the year.

Reminder: some posts on various topics are collected on pages linked at the top of this page.

So, the books of 2021. Not included are the many works of American literature I read and re-read as part of our homeschooling curriculum, unless I wrote at length about them. I’m sure there are a few I read that I didn’t bother to blog about, as well. The books are listed in the order I read them because I’m too lazy to organize them thematically or by genre.

Click on the header to get a look at the covers.

Vespers in Vienna. Two posts:

Here and here

Travels with a Donkey

Sachiko

Gringos

Two Friends

Looking Back on the Spanish War” (Orwell)

The Cold Millions

Pagan Spain – four (!) posts.

Here, here, here and here.

The House of Mirth

The Old Maid

Bunner Sisters

A High Wind in Jamaica

Estate sale stash and Philosopher’s Holiday

Philosopher’s Holiday

“Babylon Revisited

The Mountain Lion

Flesh and Blood – (1) and (2)

What Makes Sammy Run?

Klara and the Sun

The Mission House

The Boy in the Field

Another Country

That Summer in Paris (1) , (2) and (3)

Ruin and Renewal

Plunder

A Wreath for the Enem7 (1) and (2)

Trans

Irreversible Damage

The Gran Tour

Morningside Heights

Unsettled Ground

Bitter Orange

The Postman Always Rings Twice

Serenade

Double Indemnity

Mildred Pierce

Dread Journey

The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self ( I have a lot to say about this one, so naturally, I haven’t written a word)

Amsterdam

The Nickel Boys

Harlem Shuffle

Raft of Stars

Beowulf

Gawain and the Green Knight

Motley Stones

Original Prin and Dante’s Indiana

Canterbury Tales

To the Lighthouse

Crossroads (1) and (2)

Brighton Rock

Nightmare Alley

Mystic and Pilgrim: The Book and the World of Margery Kempe

Going to Church in Medieval England (1) —- (2) —–(3) —–-(4)

Saints and Sanctity

The Sharp Kid (by my son!)

Everyman

The Death of the Heart

Seasons of Celebration (1) and (2)

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Fabulous conversation between Jane Clare Jones, and Helen Joyce, the author of Trans reviewed here.

Jones is the author of a darkly humorous, but essentially accurate mock dialogue I’ve linked to before called The Annals of the TERF Wars.

It seems that I link to “must-reads” regularly, so perhaps the impact has been dissipated, but yeah, this is a must-read – if you want a relatively succinct look at the current conversation on this issue. Of course, you’d want to read the book – or one of several others out there – but if you don’t have time, this is a decent introduction – with the added value of Joyce explaining how she got interested in the issue, which includes the trajectory many of us have traveled – from puzzlement to sputtering rage at the stupidity of it all.

Helen: When I started writing the book, I could imagine that the words ‘man’ and ‘woman’ meant something that’s not quite the same as ‘adult human female’ and ‘adult human male.’ But you can’t do that with ‘male’ and ‘female.’ They have really very specific meanings which are by no means just human meanings. When you say that a male person can be female, you can get to literally anything from that, because that’s like ‘zero equals one.’ During the research I was reading philosophy papers, and I remember [in] one paper I got to page 20 or something, and then there was a sentence: “I take it as axiomatic that trans women are women.” I actually shouted out loud, “For fuck’s sake!” How can you do that? That’s just like saying, ‘I take it as axiomatic that zero equals one.’ You’d have to do a lot of work, at the very least, to say that trans women are women. When I started writing the book, I thought that I was going to have to put in an entire appendix on arguments [that] ‘trans women are women’ and why they don’t work. And in the end, I just thought: “You know what, these are so shit.” These people are not debating, they’re not talking about their ideas; they’re just putting it out there. And people aren’t saying anything, because they’re afraid they’ll say something wrong. So unsurprisingly, this is the most pathetically weak, appalling, stupid body of work I’ve ever seen. You know that I’m not an academic philosopher, I’m not a philosopher at all, and I can look at this, and say, “Oh, that’s where you went wrong. That’s where you said zero equals one.”

So the intellectual reason was just how appalling this stuff was. It actually intellectually offended me. And then the personal reason was seeing these girls. That night after the Detransition Advocacy Network, I sat there and I couldn’t sleep and I just thought, “Yeah, I’ve got to write the book.” Suddenly there were no more questions. It was very straightforward: “They are sterilizing gay kids. And if I write this book, they might sterilize fewer gay kids.” So that’s simple.

Jane: My perception is that the trans rights project isn’t being driven primarily by pharmaceutical interests, but rather by the desire for validation. But by this point these interests have very strongly attached themselves to it, because of the money in it.

Helen: Of course; that’s the way they work. The two biggest lobby groups in America are hospitals and pharma companies, so of course they’re lobbying on this now. But that’s opportunistic. They come in afterwards. The first impulse is definitely middle-aged men whose desire for validation as women is greater than anything else; that’s the ‘zero equals one.’ They’re the people who insist that you say that they’re women. And once you say that lie, everything else follows.

Jane: Yeah, everything else is collateral damage. I mean, I think women’s spaces are a prime target, because they serve this validation function … but the kids are collateral damage, because they serve as evidence for the notion that gender identity is an essence.

……

Jane: Maybe this is a good place to end, because I think this is one of the great accomplishments of your book. As you say, one of the ways that this entire thing has been enabled is because what they’re trying to do is so bonkers that it’s taken us a very long time to convince people that they are actually trying to do what we say they are. It’s very easy to just go, ‘Oh, those are crazy women, they’re screaming about nothing. They’re hysterical. They just hate trans people.’ And one of the great achievements of your book is that you’ve managed to document this movement and its objectives, and you’ve done it with such lucidity and grace that it’s very compelling, and convincing, and it doesn’t sound like it’s you being the bonkers one.

Helen: Yeah, and on the other side as well, it’s very hard for a woman to decide, *deep sigh,* ‘I’m now going to dedicate two years of my life to something that’s mad.’ I know you can sympathize because you’ve done it too, but can [the] general [public] sympathize with somebody who has a million better things to be doing with their time and actually has to spend time writing down why we shouldn’t be putting rapists in women’s prisons?

Jane: That’s what makes me so angry, that we have to spend all this energy explaining …

Helen: I. Have. Better. Things. To. Do. With. My. Life.

The maddest bit of the whole book – there were many mad bits, but the maddest bit was saying, ‘Darwin actually worked out why there are two sexes.’ Sexual selection caused there to be two reproductive strategies, two reproductive pathways, bodies shaped by and directed towards two types of reproductive strategies. That’s it. There’s no other definition. It’s the same definition right across the animal and plant kingdom. That’s that. And I think that saved me a lot of time and stupid effort, although, God knows, I had to put a lot of time and stupid effort into this book. I mean, in a way, it’s been intellectually very interesting. But it’s also been ridiculous. And quite a lot of people in journalism have said to me, ‘Look, this is all so stupid, why are you wasting your time on it? Is this what you want to be known for?’ But the thing is, it’s all very well to think that this is so mad that someone will stop it. Well, someone has to be the someone.

There are also interesting observations about how American culture and feminism have contributed to this movement.

Of course, I don’t agree with every iota of every point, and you know that I’d say there are dots that are not being connected in ways that would clarify a lot – but that’s the case with any discussion of any issue, isn’t it?

More of my posts on this here.

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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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amywelborn

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Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven?

…might just be one of my favorite Scripture verses. An arresting, pointed reminder.

Why are you standing around? What are you looking at?

In leaving, Jesus is profoundly present. Just before he left this earthly realm, he gave quite specific instructions…be my witnesses…make disciples of all nations. 

A reminder:

In this age of easy global media reach, in this age that celebrates individual achievement and impact, we are tempted to think that of course the ideal way to be obedient to Jesus’ instructions is to make a difference and set the world on fire.

Well, yes. Sort of.

But don’t forget where that starts.

It starts in our lives, in our particular state in life. It begins with, first, our own relationship with God, our own stance, our own openness, our own humility. And then the circles widens: family, neighbors, fellow workers.

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, hammering a nail?

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

That’s where it begins. But don’t be tempted to believe that because the witnessing begins in such an ordinary, small, quiet place, it ends there. It doesn’t. It never does. 

We all live hidden, “unhistoric” lives, lives hidden from the world, yet lives that change the world around us for good or ill in untold unknown ways. We have a choice—to live a hidden life of deceit or of integral holiness. Nothing is hidden from God, nor even man entirely.

The retelling from my Loyola Kids Book of Bible Stories. 

Click on each page for a fuller look. You can get the book here (not an Amazon link, btw).

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— 1 —

Happy New Year to you. Just a note on how life changes, and how time goes on in case you are wondering if you will ever be out of this or that stage of life…

Our New Year’s Eve? Well, besides the far-flung in NYC, Charleston and Louisville, all celebrating in their own ways, the three of us here spent the evening, first at Mass – two of us downtown at the Cathedral, and then the youngest playing at his parish job, driving himself now. After our Mass, College Guy drove off to meet up with friends, youngest drove from church to a friend’s house, then drove back here and walked down to a neighborhood friend’s house for the rest of the night.

And I sat and read Gogol and Don Quixote and listened to Mary Lou Williams.

How about that.

Just as no time is tricky to navigate, so, when it surprises you is so much…time.

— 2 —

Not much writing in this space this week. Te Deum is here. I was in Living Faith on Tuesday – and will return there in a couple of weeks. A new set of those is due Monday (for the July-August issue), so I’ll be working on those over the weekend, as well as planning out at least the first part of American Literature for the high schooler.

Although we might start with The Overcoat for some general work in symbolism and such. I spent so much time thinking about it…why let it just rest in my head? Might was well share the bounty…

I will say that I’ve been gratified and humbled over the past few days as I’ve received several notes regarding my 2020: A Book of Grace-Filled Days that wrapped up yesterday. Folks said they were actually sorry it had come to an end, and they appreciated what I had to share. So kind! It was not a super-fun book to write (just imagine writing almost 400 individual devotional entries…..) and I don’t plan on doing it again any time soon. Maybe in another ten years when more life has happened.

But it is so nice when people take time to write and let you know that your work was helpful to them in some way. Thank you!

(And I’ll just mention that it’s not out of print – still for sale, as are all past editions by other writers – including 2021, of course. No, the dates won’t match, but you can still buy it and match the feast days yourself. And no, I don’t profit from your purchase in any way – it’s the kind of work for which you’re paid a flat fee – no royalties. Just making the suggestion!)

— 3 —

Are you making resolutions? Well, here’s a Twitter thread featuring some of Dorothy Day’s New Year’s resolutions over the years.

Here’s 1960:

Image

More.

— 4 —

I recently discovered the Public Domain Review, which is such a treasure chest of fascinating, beautiful, interesting images and information.

Here’s a link to their top ten posts of the year. Including this post on 19th century Japanese firemen’s coats. Gorgeous.

— 5 —

What a lovely video this is, on Etsuro Sotoo, the Japanese stonemason who is now the Chief Sculptor at Sagrada Familia.

“Sotoo was motivated mainly by the opportunity to be exposed to stone,” says director David Cerqueiro, “and later by the admiration of the genius of Antoni Gaudí—back then a still-to-be-recognized figure of outstanding universal value.”

Known as quite a guarded and private character, Sotoo only granted Cerqueiro the opportunity to profile his life’s work after the director made several attempts to meet with him in person and over email. “Some of those attempts included having to attend mass at the basilica several times,” says the director. “The film briefly explores, tactfully but sincerely, the emotional inner workings behind a forty-year career devoted to one project.” 

Gaudí’s unfinished masterpiece continues to exercise its charms over Sotoo who converted to Catholicism so he could gain a deeper understanding of Gaudí’s genius and his relationship with God through architecture. “I discovered an artist profoundly driven by faith. Although encased by organized religion, his faith is more closely related to the transcendental aspirations of genuine art,” says the director. “That’s how I ended up with a subtle portrayal of an ontological inquiry, personified by a surprisingly little-known major artist who seems to be more preoccupied with the intrinsic moral legacy of his work than by its formal expression or its public recognition.”

Gaudi talked with God about something very big and profound. To this day, no one really knows what it was about.

-Etsuro Sotoo, Chief Sculptor, Sagrada Familia

— 6 —

Those of you who’ve followed me for a while know about the Sister Servants of Casa Maria here in Birmingham. A small order dedicated to prayer (of course) and retreat ministry – the also do catechesis of various kinds in parishes in the area.

They provided music for one of our Cathedral’s Sunday Vespers during Advent. You can listen here.

Both of my younger sons spent a few years serving Mass and Benediction at the convent, and we have another connection, as well – my college roommate from UT (the real one, in Knoxville) is a sister there.

They haven’t been able to have public Mass or retreats since March, of course, but I thought you’d enjoy reading their latest newsletter and taking a look at a couple of their videos – you might remember I posted a link to their offering of “I’ll Fly Away” a few months ago. This is simply of their Christmas preparation, with more at the linked Vimeo page.

— 7 —

Therefore, we can ask ourselves: what is the reason why some men see and find, while others do not? What opens the eyes and the heart? What is lacking in those who remain indifferent, in those who point out the road but do not move? We can answer: too much self-assurance, the claim to knowing reality, the presumption of having formulated a definitive judgment on everything closes them and makes their hearts insensitive to the newness of God. They are certain of the idea that they have formed of the world and no longer let themselves be involved in the intimacy of an adventure with a God who wants to meet them. They place their confidence in themselves rather than in him, and they do not think it possible that God could be so great as to make himself small so as to come really close to us.

Lastly, what they lack is authentic humility, which is able to submit to what is greater, but also authentic courage, which leads to belief in what is truly great even if it is manifested in a helpless Baby. They lack the evangelical capacity to be children at heart, to feel wonder, and to emerge from themselves in order to follow the path indicated by the star, the path of God. God has the power to open our eyes and to save us. Let us therefore ask him to give us a heart that is wise and innocent, that allows us to see the Star of his mercy, to proceed along his way, in order to find him and be flooded with the great light and true joy that he brought to this world. Amen.  Source

"amy welborn"

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— 1 —

Incoming: Screed.

Ah, well.

What’s up? Well, working on an audio element to support a textbook series, recorded a short video in support of a new family Lenten devotional from Creative Communications for the Parish, worked on some other stuff. I guess. Getting ready for Christmas, but of course that takes on a different tone and energy when it’s a stir-crazy you, a 16-year old, a 19-year old, with a 38-year old coming to visit than it did when everyone was small. I am a very last-minute person when it comes to Christmas, so yes, I guess we’ll get a tree up this weekend.

Once probably 25 years ago, or so, I was aghast when my (late) mother announced that she might not even want to put up a tree at Christmas that year. What? How can you? What are you saying???

Let’s just say…I get it. Time to pass the torch, and I’m pleased to say that the next generation (son/daughter-in-law – mostly the latter of course – and daughter/son-in-law) seem to have taken up that torch with firm hands and run with it. They are welcome to it!

Not much viewing – been watching Mad Men with College Guy for his first time. Almost done with season 1. We also watched My Favorite Wife – a favorite of mine which I’d watched with Kid #5 back in the Olden Days of early March right before College Guy came home for “Spring Break” …..hahahahahaha. So now it was his turn. Love the movie and find it fascinating for reasons I explain here.

Image result for my favorite wife tcm randolph gif

Movie Son continues his path of watching, watching, watching and then writing, writing, writing. He’s currently on a Fellini jag.

Now, these two characters (Gelsomina and Zampano) are at the center of the film, but it’s really Zampano’s story in the end. He’s left alone on a beach (the same beach that Gelsomina was found in the town and a similar beach to where the movie began) with nothing but the bitter feeling in his stomach that his loneliness and isolation at that time is entirely his own fault. He hasn’t changed, but he has come to a realization (I’ve read it as “ripened”, which I think is a good way to describe it). I’m not sure I would go so far as to call it a redemption, but it’s certainly redemptive. He doesn’t do anything to make up for his failings as a man responsible for a simple woman, but he does begin to understand his failings that led to his empty life. Gelsomina provided joy and happiness wherever she went, but she was never accepted, especially by Zampano who could have learned the most from her.

— 2 —

Here’s a diversion that looks intriguing, although I really can’t figure out how to do it. I’m waiting for one of the sons to come back home to figure it out for me.

Blob Opera.

Google's Blob Opera is a weird and wonderful experiment - CNET

— 3 —

Notes on this week’s American lit reading. First, some Walt Whitman. What did we emphasize? His self-understanding of himself as an American poet, what he was trying to express about America and then, more broadly, about the human experience. Also his engagement with Eastern thought.

I many not be on his wavelength on every point, but I found great simpatico in his vision of the communion of human beings and their experiences over space and time, as well as the cumulative impact of an individual’s experiences on her life.

So:

Crossing Brooklyn Ferry:

The similitudes of the past and those of the future,
The glories strung like beads on my smallest sights and hearings, on the walk in the street and the passage over the river,
The current rushing so swiftly and swimming with me far away,
The others that are to follow me, the ties between me and them,
The certainty of others, the life, love, sight, hearing of others.

Others will enter the gates of the ferry and cross from shore to shore,
Others will watch the run of the flood-tide,
Others will see the shipping of Manhattan north and west, and the heights of Brooklyn to the south and east,
Others will see the islands large and small;
Fifty years hence, others will see them as they cross, the sun half an hour high,
A hundred years hence, or ever so many hundred years hence, others will see them,
Will enjoy the sunset, the pouring-in of the flood-tide, the falling-back to the sea of the ebb-tide.

— 4 —

And on the second point, There Was a Child Went Forth Every Day:

THERE was a child went forth every day,
And the first object he look’d upon, that object he became,

And that object became part of him for the day or a certain part
of the day,
Or for many years or stretching cycles of years.

The early lilacs became part of this child,
And grass and white and red morning-glories, and white and red
clover, and the song of the phoebe-bird,
And the Third-month lambs and the sow’s pink-faint litter, and
the mare’s foal and the cow’s calf,
And the noisy brood of the barnyard or by the mire of the pond-
side,

And the fish suspending themselves so curiously below there, and
the beautiful curious liquid,
And the water-plants with their graceful flat heads, all became part
of him.

— 5 —

And, to finish up the “semester,” such as it is around here, we decided to leave chronology behind and go seasonal instead, reading Truman Capote’s “A Christmas Memory,” which – in case you’ve never read it – you can read here.

A lovely, moving piece, rich with imagery and suggestion as well as rock-solid details that put you right in the presence of these two outcasts, the seven-year old child and his only friend, his elderly cousin.

An interesting note. I have the most recent edition of the Norton Anthology of American Literature, 1865 to the present – three fat volumes purchased for College Guy’s class in the spring, but retained and not resold because I knew we’d be using it in the homeschool. Capote’s not in it – at all. I mean, I get it, I suppose. He’s not a “serious” writer, but how does one define that? His writing certainly had an impact. I don’t like In Cold Blood for a lot of reasons, but no matter what I think of the book, it did have an enormous influence on American writing, and I think it’s an impact that should be discussed. I mean, there’s an excerpt from Nathanael West’s The Day of the Locust in the anthology, for pete’s sake – a seminal work in some ways, but indifferently, awkwardly written – not even close to the quality of what Capote was capable of in his best work.

Odd.

— 6 —

My own current read, separate from school? The Complete Henry Bech by John Updike. Why? In the library, desperate for an actual book-on-paper to read, with an armful of non-fiction, I came upon the U’s in fiction and decided to give Updike a go again. I read Rabbit, Run and at least one other Rabbit book in high school (not for high school, but in high school, plucked from my parents’ bookshelves), and then his very good In the Beauty of the Lilies , about America’s loss of (Protestant) faith, when it was published. I do remember Bech is Back from those same parental bookshelves, but never had a real interest in the books, believing that thinly disguised autobiography of a privileged, randy male writer was not my cup of tea.

Well, I don’t know what my final verdict will be, but I’m enjoying it far more than I expected. Updike’s prose overcomes much of my prejudices.

His mother. He had taken her death as a bump in his road, an inconvenience in his busy postwar reconstruction of himself. He had seen death in war and had learned to sneer at its perennial melodrama. He had denied his mother’s death the reality it must have had to her, this chasm that numbed as it swallowed; and now it was swallowing him. He had scarcely mourned. No one sat shivah. No Kaddish had been said. Six thousand years of observance had been overturned in Bech.

— 7 —

Here’s the Fourth Sunday of Advent approaching, with the Gospel narrative of the Annunciation.

From the Loyola Kids Book of Bible Stories

EPSON MFP image

From the Loyola Kids Book of Catholic Signs and Symbols

EPSON MFP image

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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

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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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