The Journey Continues

I’ve had this blog for many years now — since about 2008, albeit it has gone through a number of iterations. It also started out as a blogspot url, but that’s irrelevant information caused by a sudden spate of reminiscing about my romantic first endeavors with the blog; by romantic, I mean they were heady days when I wrote about history (18th C) and books and waited patiently for my first blog comment. This was before I was on Facebook or Twitter. Blogger was it in those days, and I had no idea how to attract people to my site. I never really learned, to be honest. However, every time I’ve let it lapse, I’ve picked it up again because it’s my space to write, an open and public space, unlike Facebook. Thus, I won’t beat myself up about how busy I was over the fall semester, enough so that I dropped this old blog like a hot rock. I can pick it up now, if I so choose.

To give an update on my life, the busy fall led into the holidays, which then led into a serious funk I haven’t quite recovered from. It’s still there, caused by the start to a new year and not finishing all I’d set out to accomplish over 2019. I began asking myself what the point was to having all these life goals. I suspect the answer is that they’re inherently meaningful, but it’s difficult to convince the brain of that when it comes to doing work without a fixed, known payoff. Does anything have a fixed, known payoff? No. But there are more direct lines to success than writing books or creating paintings or sculpting statues on spec. The writing career wasn’t the only problem, though. I simply lost interest in all the things that I used to enjoy — reading, exercising, going to church (more on that in a minute), even walking the dog. I’ve been there before; it’s impossible to maintain a high level of interest in life at all times. I suppose I suffer from being too curious most of the time, which leads to burnout.

After doing nothing but the most basic activities for the first couple weeks of January, I determined to carry on in life: 1000 words a day on the novel I’ve been trying to finish for the last two years; exercise a little bit; take the dog for a walk; find some print books that would infuse my life with new ideas. And I’ve managed this. I’ve now written 20,000 words toward my end goal of completing my novel. It’s become a daily habit to write those words. The book is currently at about 95,000 and will need another 10k to finish it off. For the record, I will cut a good bit of that length. It will probably end up around 90k, which is a solid length for a novel. And yes, the exercise is happening at 30 minutes a day, along with a 30 minute walk outdoors. Oh, and I went back to history for my reading, which brings me joy. Yes, I still read spec fic. Yes, I probably have read yours and need to review it (way to keep it vague, right?). But history well-told is my particular happy place.

Habits are easy to make and difficult to break. Thus, I will slowly work my way to folding in more than 1000 words to my habit. I would like to post here more often, for example. I also have my cyber-punk break-dancing story I’d like to bring back from the grave, along with a book of short stories I’ve loosely titled Finding Jesus. I don’t mean for this to be a gospel tract type of book — I’m not even sure why I decided to call it that. It was inspired by a story I tried to write as 2019’s Christmas tale (it was too dark to hand out to family), which was about a man who’d grown up in a Christian home where his parents allowed him to be sexually molested as a child. The story is about his adult sexual fantasies and combatting them and eschewing evil. I know. Some Christmas story. That’s what all the stories are about, people who already know the gospel but “find Jesus” by turning away from darkness, such as the outright evil of pedophilia to abject pride. They aren’t morality tales, per se. Well, they might be a little bit. More so, they’re character-driven stories with a literary flair about human struggles. There was a time when literary stories were obsessed with dark subjects such as incest or pedophilia; my stories are along those lines, except they don’t dwell in postmodern darkness, but in the objective right and goodness that still exist in the universe.

Now to return to the subject of church. Losing joy in church is inevitable. Anything that’s practiced by rote becomes rote. On the other hand, I was actively going to Mass and then a Protestant church service with my family. I got burnt out on this exhausting combination rather than the churches individually. I still enjoy Mass because it’s quiet and reflective. I don’t know what to do about the latter, though it’s not much of an issue right now, as my family is burnt out on church, too. So I will continue to go to Mass. And that brings me to my final update: I will finally be confirmed in the Catholic church this Easter season. It’s finally going to happen! Perhaps 2020 will end up being a different kind of year, a year of adventures, rather than the middle-aged funk it was setting itself up to be.

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The Suffragette Madonna

In the early 1900s, the rhetoric against the suffragette movement was spot-on; one could almost say prophetic. Cartoonish images of women beating their husbands over their heads or abandoning their children to chaos were plastered on posters. I particularly like this one because it must have been a hard pill for many women to swallow:

It’s certainly not nice rhetoric, but the point wasn’t to be nice. The point was to rein society in from its continuous downward spiral. The scourge of mannish women had already long begun, and the political movement to give women the right to vote was the latest iteration of it. When only men had the right to vote, it was assumed they would be voting for the interests of their families. Giving women the right to vote would necessarily split the interests of the family; if the husbands and wives voted differently, their family votes would be neutralized. As there are more women than men in society due to female longevity, giving voting rights to women would ostensibly tip voting blocs in a different direction than the men of society might wish, thus leading to a society that is bent toward female interests. And, yes, a rather large majority of women do vote in step with each other, and their votes tend toward liberalism. There’s obviously a reason for this: liberalism brought us the feminist movement in the first place. The feminist movement brought us universal suffrage. Hence, universal suffrage is under the influence of liberalism and always has been.

While some might argue that women also vote for the interests of their family, female suffrage was not necessary except to push individual interests (which, ironically, become collectivist interests; see above). If a family representative is already voting for the interests of the family, there is no reason for another person to do this unless the person in question only cares for her own interests. Putting aside the cruel “meme” above about unwanted women becoming ugly suffragettes, it would have been perhaps smarter to grant voting rights to all heads of households, as determined by tax status, instead of wantonly giving every person over a certain age the privilege of “speaking their minds in the ballot box”. This would have given spinsters who bought or inherited property a vote for her household interests. But we’re so far past this point now it’s hardly worth discussing what would’ve been better (though far from perfect) if we’d had the same kind of forethought as those creating the anti-suffragette posters.

The slippery slope was always there; it was always real. There is no slippery slope fallacy when it comes to tearing out the cornerstones of society. I just switched metaphors, but the point still remains that things are going to come crumbling down when foundations are destroyed. Of course, there are actual slippery slope fallacies. I like to call them Handmaid’s Tale Fallacies because they’re based off fictional mental worlds that have never existed.

Just look at the Suffragette Madonna! This is the reality we currently live under, when being a woman or man doesn’t uniquely bring something to the world. The image is literally happening right now; women with facial hair are giving birth to babies and proclaiming it in the news as though a woman with a womb on testosterone is somehow a miraculous being. Our modern day delusions are destroying our souls, and this poster artist predicted it over a century ago. Notice that the man is surrounded by a laurel leaf crown — a regular Apollo, uselessly chasing his love, Daphne, while she taunts him and runs away from him. Eventually, she appeals to her daddy figure to fix her Apollo problem, and he turns her into a tree. A tree. Apollo is still such a chump, though, that he vows to care for Daphne always and forever, despite her being made of wood and bearing nothing fruitful for him but the leaves he can form into a wilted crown.

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The Incorruptible and the Dead


Dear God, please don’t let me be too hungry or too thirsty. Help me to please my mother. And help me to please You. — St. Germaine Cousin

St. Germaine Cousin’s feast day is on June 15, which goes to show how long I’ve been compiling essais to write on my blog. Most never get written. However, ever since I read the above quote in my daily Bible reading (which always begins with a famous quote by a saint of the day), St. Germaine’s story has haunted me.

When operating off of habits, it’s easy to unthinkingly complete each daily tic. Reading the Bible shouldn’t be that way, but it too often is. Thankfully, my mind is often caught by an oddity or some good old-fashioned violence, which the Bible is full of. On this day, my mind was caught by the obvious childlike tone of the saintly quote. This usually means the saint died as a child. It’s a good bet. As much as we might feel preserved in our modern day lives, life is and always has involved death. Life is a series of races that must be won in order to move on to the next level: infancy; childhood; young adulthood.

These aforementioned three phases used to be very shaky, a clumsy dance between life and death. The high risk of infant mortality was followed by a more stable yet still precarious childhood. The teenage or very young adult phase was a little more stable than what followed, with the risks of dying in warfare or childbearing for men and women respectively. Once past these phases, a person could live to a good old age. But there were (and are) no guarantees.

We put a lot of faith in our modern medical system; we think we can cheat death, or at the least delay the inevitable for a long, long time. Yet, infants still die. And children still die, as do expectant mothers and soldiers who go off to war. Just the other day, when I was picking up a few items late at night at Walgreens, I noticed the checker was acting in an extraordinary manner, making weird noises, speaking ghostly words to the customers and then ducking below the counter so we couldn’t see her. She was obviously entertaining herself — laughing all the while — but I didn’t find out why until I purchased my goods. Life was short, she said, and her best friend’s baby had just died that morning. Why waste time acting normal?

Going back to St. Germaine, it turns out she didn’t die as a child. Rather, she died at the age of 22 after a hard, impoverished life as a sickly shepherdess with a withered hand. Although her family had a homestead, her stepmother hated her and forced her to go out to work tending sheep and to sleep in a stable. Because of her circumstances, she possessed the kind of humility and patience most of us need in order to see God’s hand in our lives. Her life story is incredible due to the miraculous ways God preserved her during her too few years on earth, as well as the way in which she gave what little she had to the poor. However, her death was perhaps even more incredible than her life.

You see, St. Germaine is one of Catholicism’s “incorruptible” saints. Some forty years after her death, her body was found to be perfectly preserved. As with a number of other “incorruptible” saints, her body was put on display in a lead casket. This seems a grisly practice on one hand, but on another, it’s a glimpse into the place we’ll all end up — that is, death. At the same time, it’s a glimpse into the place we should all wish to end up — that is, in God’s grace, having changed into our incorruptible forms.

When somebody close to us dies, it’s possible to cross mental and spiritual boundaries, to see life with a renewed filter. Yet, our culture doesn’t prefer to look at death squarely in the eye. We hide it away, bury it, and act irrationally when we can’t cope with our losses. You probably know what I mean: most who’ve reached my age have watched relatives and friends cling to inheritances that don’t belong to them or cut off ties to their closest family members simply because they can’t cope with the death of a loved one.

I think about the incorruptible saints when I see this kind of pettiness. I think of the nuns who care for the bodies of the incorruptible still on display. I used italics above regarding the use of “incorruptible” because they really aren’t. Yes, they might have been for a period of time, due to environmental factors, but there is no perpetuity to the preserved corpses. The people who practically live with these dead saints understand this — or I should hope so. The purpose is a bit less ephemeral than the physical body itself. It’s an image that captures the clumsy dance between life and death into an ornate stillness, a beautiful husk of a human in a gilded cage. It’s an image that whispers what we don’t understand about the nature of the soul.

St. Germaine’s incorruptible body was thrown into a grave and desecrated with lime by a handful of revolutionaries during the French Revolution; despite that, after the Revolution, her body was found to still be otherwise preserved where the lime hadn’t eaten her away. To me, that is the most incredible and startling part of the story. Remember, the French Revolution was the people’s act of rebellion against their religion. It was the moment the French people rejected the church. Yet, the church persists regardless of humanity’s petty little attempts to mar it. Staring unflinchingly at the church is about like looking into the face of death. Our modern-day, post-revolutionary culture may find the scrutiny difficult, but that doesn’t alter the essence of the church, the human temporal aspect, or the eternal aspect that is wedded to God.

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A Reminder of God’s Grace

I have not been feeling well. I’ve stopped working on my book, stopped blogging, settled into the bare minimum that’s required to survive. When I get like this physically, it naturally affects my mental state as well. I start thinking with nihilism instead of the stabilizing stoicism* that’s more natural to my soul. My world stagnates because I don’t keep pushing forward, except to do the work I’m paid for and to care for my family. I don’t like to be in this base survivor state, but I’m often so tired that my needs cease to matter.

And then God mysteriously shows me that they do, in fact, matter. Putting peripheral issues aside, little unimportant matters such as suddenly having a few new clothing items to wear (actually, they’re important, but I pretend they aren’t), I was ignoring my need to see a doctor and finally finish joining the Catholic church.

A couple years ago, I was dropped from the local medical community when my problems weren’t immediately diagnosable. You can’t just dial up a specialist here and make an appointment. They call you. That’s fine; I don’t like all the fuss anyway. Then late last fall, when I forced myself to attend a church event despite how awful I felt, a woman recommended her doctor to me. She raved about him, how he figures everything out. But I didn’t believe her and refused to make the effort, until this summer when I took my children to see him instead. At my daughter’s appointment, the doctor spontaneously decided to examine me as a new patient, too, and set it up so I could get lab tests tomorrow. I’m sure he doesn’t figure everything out; however, I understand now why she said that. He listens and then runs appropriate tests.

I really hate bureaucracy. Really hate it. I don’t like jumping through hoops. This is something you have to do regarding education, medicine, and (apparently) the Catholic church. In a twist of positive turning points, a good friend (whom I should have asked upfront) procured my last convalidation witness statement for me. I now have them all, but the thought of making an appointment with my parish priest hadn’t yet gone beyond the thought…until today. In fact, I was still thinking about it and avoiding making the call when the phone in my hand started to ring. It was the parish office, informing me the priest wanted me to make an appointment.

I told the secretary I’d finally managed to gather all my witness statements and was just thinking of calling for an appointment when she called me.

“Fr Jarek must be a mind reader,” she said.

It was a light quip. Underneath, and unstated, was a different understanding: the priest is in communion with the same God who has promised never to leave me — or any of his sheep — alone.

I already know God generally expects us to be responsible and act on our own behalves; I would never have attended RCIA if I hadn’t made the first phone call two years ago. Also, I wouldn’t have been in the doctor’s office at all if I’d ignored my children’s needs. Still, God is far from being a cold, distant pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps parent. He pulls up those who lack the strength to pull themselves up; that’s actually the basis of the gospel. Sometimes, when he intervenes for us in the physical world, he’s reminding us of what he’s done for us spiritually, too.

I’m writing this post because it’s too easy for me to get into the smug individualistic mindset of the lone cowgirl*: I don’t need help; I do everything myself. Or as Mr. Incredible once said, Fly home, Buddy, I work alone. The truth is I can’t do everything myself. Pretending otherwise just leads to despair. And sickness, obviously.

If my miracles seem small to you, that’s fine. They aren’t small to me, and that’s what matters. Also, you have to admit that a doctor suddenly deciding to examine the accompanying adult of his patient on the spot is at least extraordinarily unusual.

*Stable stoic and lone cowgirl — I sound like two different characters from a romantic western. Snort.

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This Is a Public Service Announcement

I watched a couple of public service “commercials” from the late fifties or early sixties the other day. One was about poor Bill, and why he had a stomachache. He’d rushed through his meals to be onto better things like recess, and then consumed candy and soda after school because he hadn’t eaten enough. Poor Bill. He sure learned his lesson! A healthy body requires a relaxed eating environment full of nutritious food, which gives strength and energy for outdoor activities.

The other was about effective discussion between married couples. This video started off showing two couple having a similar fight. One couple was very passionate and did a lot of yelling; the other argued with lowered tones and refinement. Immediately, I was rooting for the passionate couple. If you’re going to fight, you might as well mean what you’re fighting about. Back in the day, I had a similar reaction to parenting advice books that recommended corporal punishment be administered when the parents weren’t emotional. While I understood the reasoning — they’re trying to prevent child abuse — unemotionally spanking kids out of a sense of codified rules for punishment is mildly psychopathic, if not just unnatural. Honestly, I thought the video would promote the civilized couple, but then it took a more focused look at each.

The emotional, shouting couple eventually found humor in their situation and laughed at themselves and came to a compromise. They were able to do this because they were okay with expressing their emotions, the full range of them, including humor. The refined couple, on the other hand, had their egos invested in the argument. The man, in his quiet unemotional way, called his wife stupid and incapable of rational decision making. The woman hit back with proud boasting about how capable she was, insinuating she was better at her job than her husband was at his, but eventually she cracked and started crying because he wouldn’t listen to her. That couple, for all their lack of passion, truly hurt each other, hitting “below the belt” with their words.

The voiceover explained how both couples could have done things better, yes, even the passionate couple. But I have to admit I was surprised that it turned the tables on my expected result. That video was made sixty or more years ago. Nowadays, I can’t imagine a public service announcement on marital disputes going that direction; however, I’ve only really seen this type of video in Christian circles, where hyper unemotional discourse is lauded as the proper discourse, and not just regarding our personal relationships, but our relationship with and to God. It’s a weird put-on in modern-day Christianity, an aftereffect of enlightenment rationalism circling outward into all parts of our lives.

Earlier today, I rejoined Facebook because I wanted to be part of a closed group. I had no interest in the nonsense that would automatically show up in my feed when clicking over to the group. Yet, there it was. And it was the same people saying the same things, including the group of Reformed Christian men who used to regularly (and apparently still do) mock any input a woman makes as being the dirtiest of all dirty words: emotional. Then the Christian women would chime in, backbiting their own sex to get in good with the unemotional guys, so they, too, could join the club. I hurriedly moved over to the closed group and beat myself up a little for rejoining the dumb beast where nobody ever changes but posts the same damn thoughts for years ad infinitum.

Here is my public service announcement: for a start, stop stagnating. The other part is simply insight: just because you feel unemotional, doesn’t mean you have a greater handle on the truth or are anywise rational. This is a mistake many people make. It’s similar to the self-referential bias of the high IQ person, who assumes, wrongly, that any thought running through his head is brilliant. Unemotional people, in a similar way, assume that whatever they think is well-reasoned. They assume this in both cases because they’ve left their thoughts unexamined. The high IQ person, however, is probably (yes, probably, not definitely) capable of brilliant thought, whereas there is no correlation between suppressed emotions and an ability to reason. Hence, unemotional discourse does not always lead to truth.

Despite our best efforts to pretend otherwise, human beings are emotional creatures, both male and female. Even when they pretend to have no emotions, they still make decisions based off their unacknowledged emotions. Ultimately, this is why the passionate couple was able to find their way back to loving each other. They didn’t waste time pretending they didn’t have feelings — for their own opinions, and for each other. The civil couple, on the other hand, couldn’t acknowledge their feelings and instead wasted their time being cruel.

About Bill, though. Sometimes what we need is a good healthful sandwich, a glass of milk, and some sunshine. If we accomplished that, maybe we would subvert the arguments in the first place. That’s the last of my public service announcements for the day.

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