Saturday, 30 April 2011

The White Dress Thing

Whether or not you are a virgin is nobody's business but your own.

I am repeating myself again, but I do not care. The world is sick, and one of its sicknesses is harping on whether women are virgins or not. This topic is a source of endless sniggers, and when a young woman I know chose to wear a gold rather than a white dress to her wedding, one of her female guests sniggered away. She thought the bride was revealing something about her life history. Actually, the bride just liked gold.

My first husband (to new readers: I'm not a widow; I had a a Church annulment) was obsessed with the fact that I was a virgin. You have no idea how much I wish this were a topic that had never come up. I can't remember how it did, although in Catholic circles at the time we were encouraged to be out and proud virgins, especially to non-Catholics. Although I suppose back then it gave comfort to other women to know we weren't "the only ones," what this did was alert every virgin-hunter within earshot.

There are at least two kinds of virgin-hunters. The worst kind is the one who enjoys destroying innocence and thinks he is doing something clever by "being the first." Canada's most notorious sex killer was like that. The other kind is the man who is obsessed with marrying "a virgin". In my eyes, such a fellow is somewhat akin to the woman who wants to marry "a millionaire." Both are valuing a human being for some thing they possess, not for themselves alone.

Anyway, Husband the First was indeed obsessed with the fact that I was a virgin. He mentioned it often, and he was quite interested in our choice of my wedding dress. He enjoyed saying that I, unlike so many other women, "deserved" to wear a white wedding dress. I probably agreed with this sentiment although perhaps it crossed my mind even then that no woman should be forced to confess the state of her hymen on the most public day of her life. He flipped through wedding dress magazines avidly.

His little pet name for me was "my virgin bride," and he called me that for about a year after we married. I hated it. He called me the Parthenona, too, which is one of the names of Athena, celebrating her virginity. I grew to hate that, too. It drove me crazy that my chief value to this person I had married was that I had been a virgin when I did so. And it grew clearer every day that he was horrified by my other, rather more telling, qualities, e.g. courage.

We lived not far from a neighbourhood with a significant incest problem. Neither of us knew that, of course. I found out years later. In short, a village with a terrible incest problem had emigrated, almost en masse, to Canada, and the problem continued there. I mention this to hammer home an unpleasant reality: not all women have the choice of "being virgins" when they marry. Some are seduced by male relations and told it is normal, and some are flat-out raped. The whole notion of "consent" to sexual activity is one scary ball of wax. Let's just say there's a sliding scale. Female virginity is probably more often a historical accident than it is a daily, virtuous moral choice.

Anyway, back to the white dress. The white wedding dress was popularized by Queen Victoria. Before Victoria, everyone just wore her best dress to get married in. There was a superstition that you ought not to get married in green, but beyond that, I can't think of any other pre-Victoria colour rule. And somehow white, which in India (for example) is the colour of mourning, became the western colour of virginity.

From a Catholic perspective, this should seem surprising. Our Lady is most frequently represented by the colour BLUE and in countless paintings she can be found wearing gold and pink as well. But I suppose white = virginity may derive from a sense that white = cleanliness = purity. The alb (albus (L): white) is a sign of Christian baptism. And in some Christian countries, or Chrisitian countries around the Mediterranean, it was once customary to inspect the wedding couple's bridal sheets, to see if the bride had been a virgin or not. (Ignorance of the fact that virgins do not, in fact, always bleed on their wedding nights has probably led to the completely pointless ruinations--and even murders--of thousands of women.)

Today we think inspecting or displaying bloody sheets is absolutely barbaric, but we are doing the exact same thing when we look at a beaming bride in all of her expensive finery and think "Hm. Does she DESERVE to wear that white dress?" It is so mean-spirited it makes me gnash my teeth.

A wedding dress represents not her past but the bride's feelings about her wedding day. A gorgeous white gown says nothing about her private history (which is hers alone), and everything about how she feels about starting a new life with her husband. A white dress, like a christening garment, means a new start. It means hope. It means whatever the past was like, the future is a clean page.

I know this firsthand because I wore a white dress to my second wedding. (So far only one person has been rude enough to question this decision.) I wore it because I did not want the shadow of Mr Virginity-Obsessed to mar my wedding. I wore it because that awful first marriage had been declared by the Church invalid. I wore it because I wanted to look beautiful to my husband and to be a worthy symbol of the Bride of Christ, the Church.

As far as I was concerned, my wedding was about a wonderful second chance: a new life with a completely unexpected (and perfect-for-me) husband. My mother made my dress, and we found the silk in a closing sale, so it cost the princely, extravagant sum of $80. We used lace from my first communion veil for my bridal veil. It all meant so much to me, the bride, on so many levels.

Thus I was made very uncomfortable by a snide remark about the Duchess of Cambridge, who wore a white gown to her wedding yesterday. The Duchess, unlike the late Princess of Wales, did not experience a whirlwind romance with her groom, but a ten year friendship that was probably sexually consumated years ago. Although this is not consistent with Christian teachings about marriage and sexuality, it does give the (mostly nominally Christian) British public a hope that this marriage will be both lasting and an inspiration. The Duchess's white gown was not some claim about her past but a symbol of her--and Britain's--hopes for the future.

Friday, 29 April 2011

Thoughts on the Royal Wedding

1. She really, really loves him. And vice versa. Neither is settling, and neither is rushing into a rash situation "to get it over with".

2. He has a job--more than one, actually--and he knows who he is.

3. Their families support them totally.

4. Her whole life will now be one of service. We won't see those parts as much as the appearances at friends' weddings and skiing holidays in Switzerland. However, most of the time, she will be going to duty after duty after duty, with cameras blinding her every time she steps out of the house. Every time.

5. Photographers and weirdos will dog her every step, and nasty-tongued comedians will make fun of her every chance they get.

6. I hope they will be at least as happy as I am. Ad multos annos.

Update (May 6): My own combox isn't allowing me to comment, so I will have to comment here. I note that some readers are unhappy that I am not embroidering a big 'F' for Fornication to sew onto the Duchess of Cambridge. There may be a cultural misunderstanding here. Although the Duchess of Cambridge is merely a "celebrity" to Americans, she is my future Queen. How Canadians like me--who derive not a little identity from Canadian (and therefore British) history--feel about our monarchs and their consorts may be a puzzle to Americans. However, let's just say that we are not particularly interested in chucking mud on them on their wedding day, if ever.

American readers might also not have realized that I will probably meet the Duchess of Cambridge one day, in the course of her duties and mine. She is not an imaginary character in a morality play. She is a living, breathing woman, serving the entire population of Great Britain (and to a certain extent the Commonwealth) in a very public way. Call me when Britney Spears embarks on a life of visiting hospitals and homes for the elderly. I live in Scotland, remember, and I move in many circles.

Meanwhile, I hope it is obvious that I do not think men and women should live together before they are married. However, in recent decades many Roman Catholic priests have told engaged couples that they can live together (usually for financial reasons) as long as they live together as "brother and sister." I don't know how likely it is that Catholics besotted with each other are strictly brotherly and sisterly, but neither do I personally know whether or not the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge lived together as brother and sister before they married. That they DID marry I think we can all agree is a very good thing. Neither had a good Catholic education; I think the traditional charitable phrase "invincible ignorance" might apply.

Incidentally, it was not the Archibishop of Canterbury who spoke so stupidly about cohabitation and milk and all that nonsense; it was some other Anglican bishop, and prior to the wedding. Normally I could not give two hoots what any Anglican bishop (except the very fine scripture scholar N.T. Wright) had to say, but give the Archb. of C. his due.

Finally, mote, beam: we all know the drill. For any more on the subject of purity, please see "Pure" in my book.

P.S. I deeply resent being accused of making excuses for, ahem, "celebrities."

Thursday, 28 April 2011

A Self-Fulfilling Prophecy

The name of a woman who openly declares her dislike of other woman was bandied about in a drawing room I was sitting in.

"I cannot stand it when women declare that they dislike all other women," I said. "They say they prefer the company of men as if men were somehow better."

"I thought all women hate other women. All the women I know do," said a man whose admiration of women is so subtle as to be invisible.

"Well, I don't," I declared. "I like most women, including the ones who claim they don't like women, and I try to get along with them all. Men, on the other hand," I added for the man's benefit, "are scarcely to be borne, and I don't know know why I bother."

I looked pointedly at the man across the room, who smirked in a superior sort of way. The only way to deal with men who slyly insult women-in-general over drawing-room drinks is to insult men-in-general right back. They enjoy it and stealthily plot out their next insult.

"Well, I like both men and women," said the woman next to me.

"You don't," rumbled the man. "You don't get on with women."

"I do," said my neighbour indignantly. "I get on with all sorts of women." She listed a number of women. "And I get along with Seraphic."

"Yes, she does," I said.

"Anyway," she continued. "I take people as they come. When I meet someone, I either get along with them or I don't, whether they are a man or a woman."

This struck me as sensible, and I said so.

As Lonergan would say (and Aquinas, once the terminology was explained, would agree), "Only the concrete is good." All this airy-fairy theorizing about "I like men-in-general" and "I hate women-in-general" means squat next to real, historical, lived experience. You meet a real, concrete person and you either like that person, or you don't.

This is becoming Men and Women Are Different Week because once again I have thought of a another difference. Men do not go around telling other men that they do not like men and much prefer the company of women, "who have the interesting conversations", but some women do go around telling other women that they do not like women and much prefer the company of men, who talk about philosophy and politics, etc., etc.

This is a sure-fire way to alienate other women, for most women think at least a little about philosophy and politics and don't think these subjects the property of men. Women also vaguely remember that our ancestresses had to fight for centuries to be taken seriously when they spoke about philosophy and politics. The woman who moans and groans about how trivial women are is to us a Quisling, pure and simple.

Whereas a man--or any man worth talking to--would take an analogous verbal attack (e.g. "There is no point in talking to men about feelings. You all have an EQ of zero") as a challenge or an excuse to dazzle the attacking woman with his brilliance, women aren't so easily charmed. We have enough people (e.g. Madison Avenue) telling us we're unattractive, unlikeable and stupid without some hoity toity madam adding to the din.

In such situations, we tend to close ranks and say mean things about Ms. I-Prefer-Men, which makes her dislike us all the more, just as it did in the playground 20 or 30 years before.

The horrible irony of the statement "I don't like women, and I much prefer the company of men" is that it does not ingratiate a woman with men any more than it ingratiates her with women. This may come as a horrible shock, but the kind of men who are at all marriageable do not enjoy hearing women decry women. Only men who really dislike women enjoy that, and men who very much dislike women do not usually make exceptions for women who dislike women.

So I would say to those women who love men so much that they wish to be found by them attractive as women to stop saying how much they themselves dislike women. The Blessed Virgin Mary is a woman, and I've yet to meet a devoutly Catholic bachelor who is not head-over-heels in love with her.

Update: This was sent to me by a pharmaceutical company's blog, and normally I wouldn't post it, but it happens to be about sunscreen. You know how I love to nag about sunscreen. In winter I wear a MAC tinted moisturizer with SPF 15, and in summer I wear SPF 30 lotion and, if I can find one, a hat. I must buy sunglasses today.

Wednesday, 27 April 2011

Men and Women are Different

As this blog is now over a year old and just recently collected more hits overall than my almost two-year-old Seraphic Goes To Scotland, I fear I may begin repeating myself. However, some things deserve to be repeated, and one of them is that men and women are different.

It would astonish Aristotle to know that aunties like me, in 2011, feel that we have to repeat over and over again that men and women are different. However, this is partly Aristotle's fault for claiming that women are "misbegotten men." This was an intensely brainless thing to say. Women are certainly not misbegotten men. We have nothing to do with men beyond belonging to the same species. Any attempt to conflate men and women inevitably leads men to conclude that women are mutants and vice versa.

This is particularly true when you are married. When you are married, living in a single family dwelling with one man, it becomes ever more clear that a man is not a woman. Men have different bodies, inside and out. Men feel pain differently. Men feel illness differently. Men think differently. Men find different things funny. Men prize other men for different things. Men dislike men for different things. Men prize women for different things. Men dislike women for different things.

Unless a woman can accept that her husband is fundamentally different from a woman in almost every way, she is going to get extremely frustrated with him, and he is going to feel unloved and unappreciated. Whenever I get frustrated with my husband, I ask myself if it is because I really need to talk to a woman right then. And, lo, it usually is. Women's weirdest idea about men is that men are somehow just ordinary women on the inside.

Men also have a lot of strange ideas about women, but only male medical researchers doing drug test trials seem to make the mistake of thinking women are just like men. Since men assault and kill men so much, it behooves them to know exactly who the men are, where they are, and what they are holding in their hands.

Because men and women are so different, there are different social rules for men and women. Some of these rules are simply unfair and do not lead to mutual flourishing. Others are extremely practical and do lead to mutual flourishing.

One social rule that I find extremely practical, although those who refuse to accept that men and women are different will find it unfair, is that women must never do household chores for men to whom they are neither married nor related but that men can fix all the tyres and toasters for whatever women they like, and remove any number of rodents and spiders without shame.

The reason for this is that men secretly despise unrelated women who cook and clean for them for nothing, and women do not despise unrelated men who will fix stuff and remove monsters simply out of the goodness of their hearts.*

If this seems shocking, the flip side is that men do not have a problem with women spending hours over their appearance before leaving the house, but that women have a problem with men doing the same. If a woman takes out a compact and quickly inspects her face at the table, men find it charming. If a man does the same, a woman is disgusted. I won't even go into how the men around feel about it.

One social rule that is neither practical nor conducive to flourishing is that women must wear either revealing or constrictive garments whereas men can just look smart, broadshouldered and comfortable. My mother, watching the original Star Trek, often mentioned that the heating system on the Enterprise must have been very strange, for the men wore heavy trousers and the women wore nylons.

Men will do many dumb things, but only ones with severe personal problems will put on shoes that are painful to walk in. Women don painful shoes all the darn time. We will also go into -20 degrees Celsius weather in nylon tights and skirts that barely cover our bottoms. And, having been liberated from corsets and then girdles, we now don Spanx or cheaper version of Spanx, and they hurt. The last time I wore a "waist shaper" I thought I would start bleeding internaly and die.

Why do we wear these stupid clothes? It is because we want to look "like women." Fair enough. As a woman who loves being a woman, I enjoy trying to look as womanly as possible. However, there are ways to do this that do not involve pain, spark terrorist backlash or lead to wry remarks about 'sensible shoes'. For example, a lacy mantilla at Mass sends the message that we are women, we like to be women, and we like men to be gentlemen, thanks.

I could go on like this forever, but that's quite enough for a single blogpost. To sum up, men and women are different. Thank you.

*In the end, Archie, not Reggie, married Veronica, not Betty. This is the truest thing ever to appear in a comic book.

Thanks for Crescat Donations!

Dear readers, thanks for contributing to the Crescat's Rome trip! I see that 5 Canadians, 31 Americans, 1 New Zealander or Australian, 2 Europeans and 1 inhabitant of Asia or Africa donated and mentioned that here. On the face of it, it looks like the Americans won.

HOWEVER, the USA has a population ten times the size of Canada. Thus, per capita, more Canadians donated than Americans. For American readers to have approximated the generosity of Canadians readers, 50 of them would have had to donated to the Crescat's fund.

NEVERTHELESS Americans have such a well-deserved reputation for generosity and are, indeed, amongst the world's best tippers, lightyears away from the instinctive Canadian impulse to give exactly 15% (unless service was bad), that I am sure they will not mind ceding this sadly unusual victory in generosity to their Canadian friends.


Meanwhile, I see that the Crescat now has over $400 U.S. to spend in Rome on fun things, which is considerably MORE than I have! The irony astounds me, so now go out there and buy more copies of my book. >:-(

Tuesday, 26 April 2011

One of Seraphic's Top Commandments

It was rather shocking, really. After [a certain supper party], I was asked by a hopeful bachelor if I would like to return in the morning and wash the glassware. Taken aback, I did not do much more than smile politely and think idly of what my husband might have to say if I did.


Personally, I enjoy a good blether with handsome young men over a hot soapy sink of dishes, but the politics of doing a-man-not-my-husband's dishes are so fraught with horror that I don't really know where to start.

My mother, who was at university in the 1960s, was generally tolerant about her non-religious friends sleeping with their boyfriends, but what really horrified her was the idea of "doing a man's laundry without benefit of clergy" which one of her girl friends actually did do.

Indeed, there does seem to be something seriously and fundamentally wrong with doing men's chores for them for free. If it is your job, and you are paid, well, carry on. But to do a wife's jobs--any of a wife's jobs--for a man when you are not married to him or related to him by blood is almost always demeaning. Yes, I make exceptions for the very old or the very ill, particularly if you have no romantic interest in Mr. Old or Mr. Ill whatsoever. But in general, uh uh.

So with all those "ifs" and "except", here is one of my top commandments for women: Never do housework for a man to whom you're neither related nor married.

Yes, it can be tempting. Yes, it's a nice thing to do. Yes, everybody loves Betty better than Veronica (except, ahem, Archie). Don't do housework for men for free. You'll regret it.

Monday, 25 April 2011

Happy Easter!

Happy Easter, everyone! I have a lot of work today, but I hope to chat with you soon!

Friday, 22 April 2011

Pray for Hilary White

My dears, today is Good Friday and I am sure many of you will go to church today. While you are there, would you kindly pray for a Single woman named Hilary Jane Margaret White? Some of you may have read her articles in LifeSiteNews or even in The Remnant. She had surgery for cancer yesterday,* and a priest has emailed me from Rome to say that she is "in a bad way."

Hilary is only 45 years old. She was orphaned many years ago. She is not married. She has no boyfriend. She has no children. She has a pugnacious faith in Christ and is one of the best prose stylists I know. She uses her talents for the Church and has for years fought for the right to life of babies born and unborn.

Hilary is the Vatican correspondent for LifeSiteNews and lives outside Rome. She loves her job very much, and I must say the idea of living in a small town outside Rome and then commuting into Rome to report on the latest European and Vatican news strikes me as a wonderful way of life for a Single woman--or even a married woman, so long as her husband could also find work in Rome.

Hilary has sparky sense of humour which led to her organizing The *OTHER* Roman Blognic, to which I will be going. I asked Hilary what I should bring her from Britain (where her parents were born), and she gave me a short shopping list. It included Bovril, and so now there is a bulbous jar of Bovril sitting over my kitchen sink, waiting to be packed.

This morning, this Good Friday morning, I am suddenly afraid that I might not have the chance to give Hilary her Bovril.

So, my dear readers, in your kindness, would you please all pray for Hilary, a very talented Catholic Single woman, both as soon as you read this and when you go to church this afternoon. Pray for her soul, that her friends be allowed to keep her some years longer and that she recovers rapidly from all her cancer treatment.

Here is one of her most recent articles.

*Update: Now it appears that she has NOT yet had the operation, but her condition is indeed serious.

Thursday, 21 April 2011

A Day to Pray for Priests

Today is Holy Thursday. Two years ago, I gave an RCIA class a lecture on the Triduum. Actually sitting down and researching the Triduum made me a problematic RCIA lecturer because what I learned flew right in the face of the liturgies planned in that parish. The most obvious one was the significance of the washing of the feet. That women are invited (or pressured, as I once was) to have our feet washed seems like no big deal until you understand the meaning of the rite.

Here is the post I blogged in 2009. The principal difference between Holy Thursday 2009 and Holy Thursday 2011 is that I will be at a Holy Thursday Mass celebrated by an FSSP priest in Edinburgh, so everything will be done according to the Extraordinary Form of the Mass.

Oh, and I should add that the Eucharist is not yet the Eucharist without the Sacrifice of Good Friday. This was never, ever explained to me in theology school, and I still cannot explain it properly.


A Day to Pray for Priests

Today is Holy Thursday, and on this day we commemorate the founding of two sacraments: the Eucharist and the Priesthood.

Here are some remarks I gave to an RCIA class:

The rubrics of the liturgical foot-washing, or Mandatum, specify that priests should wash the feet of 12 men. (Before 1970, the men were clerics or poor men.) The priest would ritually wash the 12 men's feet, wipe them dry and kiss them. Today parishes, in a self-directed attempt to be "inclusive", ask women to be among the "twelve". It think this undercuts the sense of the Twelve's priesthood, or the sense that the foot washing is, in a way, something that priests do, and do for each other.

That said, Jesus' example is for all in this way: that all friends of Christ are called to serve others, even in ways that we think beneath our dignity. Mauriac writes, "[Jesus'] washing of the feet prefigured all the works of charity which would change the face of the world...Two families will spring up among the friends of Christ, [contemplative orders and active apostolates]." Contemplative orders meditate upon the Passion of Christ and watch with Him in the Garden all their lives long; active apostolates serve Him in the poor, the sick, the young, and the otherwise marginal. I know well-educated Jesuits who scrubbed the floors of AIDS hospices.

But not only are we asked to serve those with less power than ourselves. This, in a way, can be easy: one is in a position of strength. On Holy Thursday, Jesus said "A new commandment I give to you--that you love one another. By this will all men know that you are my disciples, that you have love for one another." And this means to me that I have to love not only the poor but men and women of my own social circumstances. I have to, to be blunt, love theologians who disagree with my theology and do things I consider awful to the Mass. And I admit that I struggle to be fair to... Well, there it is. And if a priest has to wash the feet of twelve other priests---Well, let's just say I bet that is harder, and more to the point, than washing the feet of random parishioners.

Sometimes priests give other priests a hard time. And sometimes I give priests a hard time. Goodness knows, I have got into loud arguments with at least two parish priests and objected loudly to the habits of two more. I have counselled a friend to blow the whistle on the much older priest whose crush on her made her feel uncomfortable. I advise that again in a heartbeat to someone I knew to be truthful and sane*, but I have been impatient with priests when I should have been more patient, and I have complained about priests when I should have been silent. (One cannot be silent, however, on priests who abuse their power or make advances. One talks, however, to the priest's superior, not to the papers.) But one thing that sets me apart from anti-Catholics (including "Catholic" anti-Catholics) is that I don't hate priests for being priests.

Many in the world hate priests for being priests. At its mildest and most pitiable, the hatred comes from women who feel rejected because they can't become priests themselves. Some people, hating God, hate priests because they see them as representatives of God. Some people, hating the Roman Catholic Church, hate priests because they see them as the agents of that Church. A dear priest I know, a good, good man, was once spat on in the streets of Toronto because he was in clericals.

Priests are men apart, and in some ways we need to treat them as such. Cradle Catholics like myself have strong mental reservations about getting too friendly with priests. When a good theology school buddy of mine got ordained, I stopped hugging him. Later, though, I resumed ye olde fraternal hugs because it occured to me that A) my buddy had enough loneliness in his life and B) there was exactly zero chance of my endangering his vocation. Although we have to remember to be modest around priests, we shouldn't shut them out of our friendship with pious masks.

I'm privileged to know and work with some really great priests. Some of them are my friends, and some of them I will always consider to be my dear teachers. Of course, there are other priests that I simply can't stand. However, in a pinch, I would hide them in my basement or--since I am moving into a historical house anyway--construct a comfortable priest hole simply because they are priests.

Have there been times when it has been harder to be a priest? Yes: we can be thankful that, in the West at least, priests are not being rounded up, tortured and killed. But now the West loves to mock celibacy, self-abdegnation, fasting, obedience, careful observation of ritual, and everything else that feeds the priestly life and helps it to flourish. Therefore, our priests today need our prayers and friendship more than ever before to help them become and remain happier and better priests.

So tonight at Mass, I'm going to pray for priests. The priestly significance of the footwashing ritual will, unfortunately, be shoved aside, for at my parish it will include non-priests doing the washing and, as is more and more common, people who can never become priests (women) receiving the washing. If the ritual were just about service (and indeed that is very important and holy in itself) and if the employment of non-priests and women were permitted by the 1970 Missal, I would have no problem with the adapted rite. However, we are in danger of forgetting that priests are special and taking away from their just dignity by sharing their special role with non-priests.

Update: I have been reminded that sometimes people, whether because they are unstable or manifestly wicked, make false accusations against priests. One famous case was that of the gay man who accused Cardinal Bernadin of Chicago. The man recanted his slander.

---Seraphic Meets Bridezilla, 2009

I hope you all have a blessed Holy Thursday. Special greetings to all priests who read this blog, if you have time to read it today!

Update: It may amuse you to know that at least one of the RCIA students was entirely freaked out by my presentation. (Hindsight being 20/20, I'm sorry about that.) She was horrified by the thought that a priest might kiss her feet, and the RCIA admin had to assure her that nobody would kiss her feet.

This points, of course, to something we'd rather ignore: handling and washing someone else's body is a very physical, intimate act, normally reserved (outside Finland, anyway) to the family or professional carers. Parents wash their young children, adult children wash their aged parents, and spouses occasionally wash each other for fun.

It is difficult to get ourselves into the mindset of the 1st century Mediterranean, where slaves washed feet, and people expected it. It may even be difficult to get ourselves into the mindset of a nurse, who washes people as part of her (or his) routine, or of a patient, who is resigned to it. I'll tell you this, though: I'd rather be washed by a female nurse than by a male nurse.

I'm assuming that priests as part of their priestly charism can get beyond all that kind of thing and simply wash each others feet. But I don't think we should force priests to set aside their natural modesty to handle women's feet, or women to set aside theirs to have their feet handled. I mean, really.

Update 2: Possibly finding it a teachable moment, one of the women who washed feet that evening in 2009 told me how very moving she found it. Tears sprang to her eyes, etc. Two years later, I finally know what the answer is to that, which is that our own subjective feelings of pleasure in doing those things that properly belong to priests mean squat. For all she knows, a little boy who was beginning to hear the Call saw her that night and thought, "Oh, so women do that too" and---wham. Ears shut to Call. One fewer priest in 2025 than we might have had.

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

Open for Chat

Poppets, after working hard all morning, I am going downtown to buy an Easter bonnet. I will leave the combox open so you can chat together if you like. Be good.

Tuesday, 19 April 2011

Auntie Seraphic & Shy in Cafe

Dear Auntie Seraphic,

Can you give me some tips on appearing more approachable to men?

Today I did not have to work so I went to lunch by myself at our local Catholic cafe. The young man behind the counter was new, and I got the sense that he thought I was cute as we chatted briefly and he took my order.

The cafe was fairly empty, but over the next half hour he walked past my table multiple times. He even left the counter to bring my food to my table, which was sweet and is not usually how they do it there. I may be reading way too much in to things, but I am wondering if there is anything I could have done to have made it easier for him to talk to me (if he even really wanted to).

I was pretty self-conscious the whole time because he is a nice-looking fellow, so I chose a table facing away from where he was standing and kept my nose buried in my book. I think The Rules say that a woman shouldn't even initiate eye contact with an interesting man (though I may be remembering incorrectly). I might be too shy to do so anyway.

I'm great at striking up new friendships with girls, but I just get nervous around boys. I probably appear to them to be stuck-up, but really I would love to talk to them if they would just go first. Any ideas for me?

Shy in Cafe

Dear Shy in Cafe,

Well, you know, it's not all up to us. Men have to do something, and if they don't, do we really want to get to know them anyway? (Well, I suppose we do, but that's a bit silly.)

I am not sure I agree with The Rules on that one. If a man might be TRYING to catch your eye, you should certainly look up and SMILE. Then put down your book. Books say, like nothing else, "Leave me alone, all men." This is very useful, but not when you actually WANT a man to approach.

The next time you go to this cafe, or feel a sense of connection with another nice young man working in a cafe, don't open your book at once. Take out a notebook and write or doodle instead. Look around the cafe and describe it or draw it. And don't turn your back on the nice man at the counter.

Looking alert, not hiding behind a book, smiling, and facing the company (not turning your back on it) should all convey a positive message. Obviously you should not do all this in a dodgy place, but really, the Catholic cafe is NOT a place where you should be reading books but MEETING people!

I hope this is helpful.

Grace and peace,

Monday, 18 April 2011

Anielskie Single

Poppets, I am very excited to announce that the Polish edition of Seraphic Singles is now in the catalogue of Homo Dei. It is called Anielskie Single, and basically every Single person in Poland should buy a copy, making the Redemptorists happy and rich.

In my mind's eye, I see them chatting excitedly in Polish, and across their black clerical shirts run subtitles, like so:

--We have never had sales like this before!

--At this rate she will outsell Bernard Haring!

--Perhaps we should encourage her to write another book.

--We will offer her thousands and thousands of zloty.

I have no idea if the Polish Redemptorists ever say such things, but I would like them to say such things of me and my book, that is for sure.

Anyway, I have promised to come to Krakow if they like and sign copies and generally do whatever I can to encourage Poles to buy and enjoy my little book. The Redemptorists are already impressed because Urzsula nagged them about when the book is coming out (June), and they are glad that I mention it on my blog. I suspect they will be even gladder when I mention it on my blog in Polish.

The difficult part is that I don't speak or write Polish, and the words "Buy my wonderful Anielskie Single and you will laugh and be spiritually enriched" do not occur in the Berlitz phrase book.

So today I appeal to Polish readers who have already read my book in English or at very least my blog to write reviews in Polish in the combox below. I shall cut and paste and post them on a subsequent Polish-only post.

I know, I am so bossy. First I bleg money for Kat, and now I'm blegging Polish for reviews. However, soon things will be back to normal and I will post a fascinating letter or two or even tell you what happens next to Katie's gang at the University of Mysterious.

Saturday, 16 April 2011

Send the Crescat to Rome!

Gentle readers, I was not chosen for the Vatican blognic, wah wah wah. I weep. This doesn't mean I'm not going to Rome, though. One of the nice things about living in Edinburgh is that it means I live in Europe and therefore can get around Europe relatively cheaply. So I am going to Rome and to "The OTHER Blognic" organized by LifeSiteNews's Hilary White who, irony of ironies, was invited to THE Blognic after all.

Meanwhile, the Crescat--your fellow Single, reader and NCG--was ALSO invited to the Vatican's blognic. The thing is, she doesn't have much money.

Can you imagine being invited to a meeting at the Vatican and not having the airfare to go?

I mean, can you imagine?

So even though I generally want you to save your money to buy yet another copy of The Closet's All Mine or Seraphic Singles, today I am hoping you will send a little donation to Kat of The Crescat. If I have any money in my PayPal account, I am sending it straight to Kat.*

If it all works according to plan, she will be sleeping in the same flat where I will be sleeping, and it will be awesome, awesome, awesome if she can go.

P.S. I feel so strongly about this, I'm posting a poll so that readers may compete by nation to send Kat to Rome. If you only have $1 or £1 or 1 Euro to spare, and you want to spare it, marvellous! Pay the woman and then come back and tick the box for the glory of your nation/continent.

*I did, and I did!

Friday, 15 April 2011

Another Thought Experiment

What I hated most, when trying to discern my vocation and discerning that my vocation was to wait, was not knowing my marital fate. It was so annoying that something like that was beyond my control. So annoying. And readers occasionally email me with the same frustration, because they want to take a job in another country, but think it will mess up their marital chances, or live in a small town with a great job but no eligible men.

So I have a new thought experiment today. My question is, "What if an angel appeared before you and told you you would marry the perfect man for you, guaranteed?"

You: Yay!

Angel: When you're 51.

You: Fifty-one?!

Angel: Yes, behold.

You: But what about babies?

Angel: The perfect man for you will have really bad mumps at 27, so babies were never part of the plan.

You: Can't I meet him now, before he has mumps?

Angel: No, because he's not ready for you yet. He's living in a commune with a New Age instructor named Starflower.

You: Are you sure this is the perfect man for me?

Angel: I should inform you that not only is every angel his own species, every angel, having immediate knowledge of everything, is deficient in a sense of humour.

You: Okay, okay. But what am I supposed to do in the meantime?

Angel: What would you like to do?

So, poppets, imagine you are for sure getting married at 51. It will be a blow-out wedding. Your spouse will be the handsomest man you have ever clapped eyes on, etc. How are you going to spend your Single life?

Thursday, 14 April 2011

Auntie Seraphic & the Woosterish Cleric

The email was complex, so I will boil it down:

Dear Auntie Seraphic,

You should advise clerics on how to advise young women.

A Woosterish Cleric

Dear Woosterish Cleric,

I enjoyed your reference to P.G.Woodhouse's Bertie Wooster who, although a lifelong bachelor, was roped into speaking at a girls' school. I am also flattered to have been asked by a cleric to address clerics. I have never before seen myself in the light of a St. Catherine of Siena. Au contraire. Unbidden to my mind comes the memory of a carful of seminarians careening around the streets of a German city in the aftermath of Deutschland vs Sweden yelling "Wir fahren nach Berlin! Toll! Super! Prima!" And who was that red-haired woman wedged in the back seat chummily between beer-drinking seminarians both Polish and German? (Oh, look--badgers!)

Anyway, not all seminarians are so lucky to have been trained up in close proximity to foreign students and beer, so it is understandable that many good young priests are shy of young women. They hear many frightful stories, many of which are true, although rarely true of teenage girls, especially the cradle Catholics, who wouldn't flirt with a priest any more than they would flirt with a seven-year-old. The idea would simply disgust and horrify them. Really, the gals to watch out for are your own age, especially if unhappily married or chronically unhappy, period. That said, the 90 year old priest who told you women would chase a broom with a Roman collar on it was wrong, and my friends and I would like a word with him.

What a very North American beginning. In general, men in North America are not afraid of women, and when they are, they hide it by making aggressive and sarcastic remarks. In Britain men hide their fear of women by running away from them and taking refuge in philology and beer.

Priests don't have the option of running away, however. Take a deep breath and consider that although you had no idea what to say to girls when you were 14, you are no longer 14 but over 25. And although 14 year old girls were indeed smarter than you when you were 14, they are not smarter than you, aged 25+. Also, you are no longer just you, you are Father Somebody, with a strong accent on the Father. They don't see you (or just you), they see the collar; take some comfort from that. They also think you are OLD, old like teachers and the Pope; take some comfort from that, too.

As we were all told in "Introduction to Ministry", your job as a counsellor is not to advise but to LISTEN. And if you don't understand what you are hearing, you repeat back to the speaker what you think she has said, or ask her to clarify what she has said.

After she has said her piece, you start asking the questions that you think she should ask herself. Very often young women know in their heart of hearts the painful answer to their questions, but they want to ignore it.

Girl: And so when Maureen broke up with him, he came to my house, and we fooled around and stuff, and then the next day he was back with Maureen, and I keep calling him and he doesn't call back.

You: Maureen broke up with him, he came to your house, you fooled around and stuff, and the next day he was back with Maureen.

Girl (crying): Yeah. And I'm so mad because I keep calling and calling and he doesn't answer his phone.

You: How do you know he was back with Maureen?

Girl: Maureen told me herself.

You: Does she know he fooled around with you?

Girl: I don't know. I hope not. Maybe. Oh, maybe she does.

You: Do you think he might have told her?

Girl: Maybe.

You: Why do you think he would fool around with you when he was just going to end up with Maureen again?

Girl: I don't know. Because he's an arse?

You: Whatever he is, do you think he's good boyfriend material?

Girl: No! He's an ARSE. But I'm in love with him.

You: Why?

Girl: Oh, you wouldn't understand.

You: Well, I'd like to understand. Although the person who really has to understand is you.

Girl: Eh? What do you mean?

Et cetera. Anyway, this is the technique I learned for helping distraught people to come to their own conclusions. If young women come to you with pointed questions, then you give (or elicit from) them the straight answers you have learned from studying theology and apologetics day and night.

Girl: How come women can't be priests?

You: Er, do you wish you could be a priest?

Girl: Me? No! But I want to know how come women can't be priests.

You (secretly relieved): How come men can't be mothers?

Girl: Come on, I'm serious.

You: So am I. You tell me. How come men can't be mothers?

Girl: That's totally different. That's about biology!

You: So you're saying gender is just about biology.

Girl: Yeah.

You: You're saying there are no psychological differences between men and women.

Girl: Well, no, um. There are, obviously, but I don't see what that has to do with the priesthood.

You: Well, I'll tell you. But first, do you think there are spiritual differences between men and women?

Girl: Uh... No. How can there be?

You: Well, Thomas Aquinas says the soul is the form of the body, so if you have a female body, you have a female soul.

Girl: No way! I didn't know that.

Carry on, soldier.

The key, I think, is understanding when the young woman you're talking to is in the grip of emotion and when she is wrestling with an intellectual problem. In general, if she's talking about people, feelings, fooling around, she's in the grip of emotion. If she brings up a theological point, reason is her starting point.

That said, if she brings up a controversy, she may be be operating from reason, BUT do not surprised if reason crumbles and you're left with fury because she was really in the grip of emotion the whole time. That is why it is a good idea to gently check and make sure there is no intensely personal reason why she has brought up the controversy. You probably don't need me to tell you that in a classroom discussion, if a girl starts getting upset, the best thing you can do is say, "Why don't you come and see me after class?"

Another word of advice that comes to mind is to never assume anything about a young woman you don't know. She might be a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, or she might have only the foggiest notion of the facts of life. I know you are trained to quell curiosity, but if you really are confused by something, ask for clarification. Ask carefully.

Girl: And then we, you know.

You (secretly dreading worst): You...

Girl: You know.

You: You... Actually, I don't know.

Girl: We kissed!

You (secretly mostly relieved): What kind of a kiss?

Girl: On the cheek.

You (secretly entirely relieved): A nice affectionate gesture.

I hope this is helpful.

Grace and peace,

P.S. Never give fashion or beauty advice beyond "it is kind to be modest". An elderly priest once told me my hair looked better one way than another, and I felt very, very creeped out.

Update: If any women have advice for priests in advising women, feel free to post it in the com box.

Update 2: A kindly cleric sent in these thoughts by Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman about his adventures in Ireland:

5. And the fifth chapter will narrate his misadventure at Waterford—-how he went to the Ursuline convent there and the Acting Superior determined he should see all the young ladies of the school, to the number of seventy, all dressed in blue, with medals on,—-some blue, some green, some red—-and how he found he had to make them a speech and how he puzzled and fussed himself what on earth he should say impromptu to a parcel of school-girls; and how, in his distress, he did make what he considered his best speech; and how, when it was ended, the Mother school-mistress did not know he had made it, or even begun it, and still asked for his speech. And how he would not, because he could not, make a second speech; and how, to make it up, he asked for a holiday for the girls; and how the Mother school-mistress flatly refused him, by reason (as he verily believes) because she would not recognise and accept his speech, and wanted another, and thought she had dressed up her girls for nothing; and how he nevertheless drank her raspberry vinegar, which much resembles a nun's anger, being a sweet acid, and how he thought to himself, it being his birthday, that he was full old to be forgiven if he could not at a moment act the spiritual jack pudding to a girls' school.

Wednesday, 13 April 2011

Sunscreen and Stats


Long-term readers may start thinking I'm obsessed with sunscreen but, darlings, you must wear sunscreen. You must also wear sunglasses and hats. I recommend sleeves in summer and also T-shirts with a very shallow scoop. I read somewhere that the only outdoor light that must ever fall upon your decolletage (i.e. chest) is moonbeams.

As you know, I don't believe there is much point chasing after men hoping that they will marry us. Uh-uh. But I do believe in doing those things that we can do to improve our lives, and one of those things is taking care of our skin when we are children, teens and younger adults so that we don't look like old boots or, worse, get skin cancer when we are middle-aged.

My letter-writers can attest that when they write in saying, "Auntie, I am turning 25, I'm Single, and I feel so old" I tell them to go look in the mirror and admire their 24 year old skin. My skin is not so bad because I have worn sunblock and hats and sleeves, but it cannot compare to the pearl-like glow of protected 24 year old skin. No way.

By the way, it is a myth that black girls don't need sunblock and can't get sunburnt. Simply everybody has to take responsibility for the health of her skin. You must resist peer pressure and mockery. Our church organist basks in the sun turning a sort of brick colour while making rude remarks about my "Goth make-up." I'll pray for him. No, seriously.

I know this is still true for India, Japan and the Caribbean and there the implications are disturbing, but once upon a time even white people prized pale, pale skin. If you look at Pre-Raphaelite paintings, for example, you will see a lot of red- or chestnut-haired ladies with enormous blue eyes and milk-coloured skin faintly stained with strawberry juice. Well, that's a lousy ideal if you're African, Indian, Sicilian or Japanese, but if you're a Celt or an Anglo-Saxon, you might consider rockin' that look. Otherwise old boot for you.

Do you know what is disturbing? Seeing women you haven't seen since they were 17 who are now 30-something. The implications of aging sock you right in the eyes, particularly since what goes first is the skin around your eyes. Lines shooting off from high school pals' eyes are enough to make you rush to the nearest mirror to see how your eyes are doing and---eek!

So, people: sunscreen, hats, sunglasses, sleeves and only moonbeams on your front. I wear an SPF 15 tinted moisturizer year round and slather on SPF 30 from the first hot day which, in Scotland, was April 10 this year.


I dream of mass appeal, so I craftily tried to find out if you-all are Extraordinary Form groupies like me, or mostly George Weigelian neo-cons, or devotees of America magazine, and if there were a good helping of Other People of Good Will and even a troll or two.

At the last moment, though, I thought of Berenike, who resists all attempts to shove her into any box that says anything more than "Catholic". So I gave her preferred option. And, wouldn't you know, 47 of the 99 public voters picked that one, fiercely resisting being called either a Mad Trad, a Cranky Conservative or a Looney Liberal.

I am edified that almost half my readers refuse to separate themselves from other Catholics by taking on a modifier, but on the other hand I am grateful to the 19 Mad Trads and 27 Cranky Conservatives who, with self-deprecating good humour, fell into my schemes. I was surprised and sad that I had no Looney Liberal voters, but then I emailed a certain reader and she enthusiastically embraced the title, which brings my voters up to 100. There were 6 non-Catholic People of Good Will, and no anti-Catholic trolls. I had an anti-Catholic troll, but that vote disappeared before the tally. So to recap, of 100 voting readers:

Solemn JUST Catholics are 47%
Cranky Conservatives are 27%
Mad Trads are 19%
Non-Catholic People of Good Will are 6%
Looney Liberals make up just 1%
And there are 0% Spying Anti-Catholic Trolls, which is just as well.

I don't know what this all means. For the sake of Catholic unity, I wish I had more tambourine bangers. However, to quote from the blurb on the back of the Canadian version of my book, Seraphic's "perspective is old-school Catholic..."

Kicking it old school, peeps!

Tuesday, 12 April 2011

What Not to Say to Childless Women

I do not claim to speak for all childless women, but I suspect I speak for all childless women over 33 when I say that there are three conversations we do not like to have: "When will you have children?", "Any minute now you will have children!" and "All MY Children."

1. When Will You Have Children?

Happily, no-one has been so insensitive since my wedding to ask when we will have children. That question belongs to my Single days, most memorably the night I celebrated having been accepted into a doctoral program. I had been offered a five-year fellowship, a biggish stipend, the works.

"How long will this take?" asked my sister, mother of one.

"Five years, maybe six," I said.

My sister's eyes bugged.

"But when will you have babies?" she demanded.

Suddenly all the fizzle went out of the celebration. I didn't even have a boyfriend, let alone a husband. Babies were the furthest issue from my mind. And this was not because I was a hard-nosed ambitious career woman vampire blah blah, but because I have a touching belief that one should attempt marriage before attempting conception.

Not everyone shares this belief, of course, and I remember talking with a single mother about my childlessness. She loved her children very much and felt sad that I didn't have any.

"Would you consider know...going out to a bar and...?"

No, I said, I wouldn't. I explained that that would be unethical behaviour. And I was, after all, completing a Master of Divinity degree.

2. Any Minute Now You Will Have Children!

There's a parish priest out there in Canada who might have woken up in a sweat from time to time because he was allowing a Catholic with an annulment to marry a man she had met only seven months previous to the wedding. And I'm sorry if he did, but we thought we would simply DIE if we didn't marry ASAP, and besides I was 38 and realized that this was our only and last chance to have children.

Two years later, no children. We share this in common with at least two other women I know who married after 35. (Don't you dare mention naprotechnology in the combox; I know. I'm scheduled for a blood test, etc.)

Our friends generally avoid this topic. However, there is one friend, a happy-go-lucky rambunctious 20-something Continental who is apparently clueless about the ravages of age and rushes in where Angles fear to tread.

"Married two years," he shouted. "Where's the baby? Come on! Time to get cracking!"

More recently, his thoughts on the topic were that I should go out dancing because when the babies come I won't be able to anymore. Soon I will have four children, and how will I like that, hah?

The sunny side of hearing such remarks is that my advanced age must not be apparent, and slathering myself with sunblock and wearing hats and sleeves on the beach has been worth all the trouble.

3. All MY Children

Motherhood is the greatest profession on earth. You know it. I know it. So it is very sad for us who do not get chosen by God to be the mothers, especially if we tried to do His will and did not just go out to a bar, etc.

While waiting to become wives and mothers, or mothers, we get on with our lives and finish degrees, get jobs, travel if we manage to save enough, write books, carve out careers, and all those other things. But many of us are reminded that we have inexplicably lost out when we get emails of acquaintances' ultrasound scans.

Now I have no problem with women framing their ultrasound scans, especially if they hang them at work, forcing the public to acknowledge that a fetus, no matter how funny-looking, is a baby. I, however, know that a fetus is a baby, and so I don't need to see the ultrasounds and I don't want to see the ultrasounds. I'd hate to see my own ultrasound; thank heaven they didn't have them in 1970/1.

Mums get a bad rap, and I am very pro-mother, and I'm the eldest of five and the proud auntie of three, so I am going to tread carefully here. Not all mothers are like this--my sister-in-law certainly is not--but some mums talk, write and think about nothing except their children. Some send mass emails to their former colleagues to update us all on the humour and genius of their children and nothing else. They include server-crashing photo files. Now I automatically delete the emails of those mums.

Super-Mummy is impossible to talk to because whenever you say anything, she brings the conversation back to her children.

S-M.: What have you been up to?

You: Well, I went to Paris to give a paper. It was fantas---

S-M.: Oh, you're so lucky. What with two children under two and another on the way, I don't even get time to read, let alone write papers! What was it about?

You: It was on Muriel Spark's interpretation of La Tour's painting of Job, and--

S-M.: I haven't been able to get to an art gallery in years! Oh well, I guess that's the price tag of having two children. I mean, three children. Sorry, Bumpie! I always call them Bumpie before they are born.

If you are Single and under 25, this is just boring and rude. If you are married and over 35, this is tantamount to incitement to violence.

Personally, I don't have time to listen to women with children moan about their lost opportunities. I won't allow my own mother to do it, so I'm certainly not going to stand for it from anyone else. I've lost plenty of opportunities; obviously babies had nothing to do with it. And my sister-in-law has two children under three, a medical practise, umpteen papers in umpteen journals, and time to go skiing. My sister, who has a six year old son, wanders about Latin America with him teaching English. They make their opportunities.

Meanwhile, I myself love babies, and I am fascinated by my nephews and my niece. I am also good friends with The Youngest Parishioner, as I see him almost every week and am generally interested in all the young men of the parish anyway. I have tea with his mother, and we talk mostly about Catholic blogs, Catholic liturgy and the wickedness of academe. She is finishing her doctoral dissertation.

I am as interested in stranger babies as much as I am interested in stranger adults, which is not very much. I desire their good, of course, and have a vested interest in them becoming good, creative, helpful members of society. But, in general, they don't interest me all that much.

So there you go. I have spoken for the Childless Women of the world. We may not have children, but we certainly have feelings. Tread softly, for you tread on our dreams.

Monday, 11 April 2011

Roman Holiday

As yet I have not been invited by a Pontifical Commission to attend the May 2 blognic in Rome. But I have been invited to Hilary White's May 3 Roman blognic, and B.A. said it would be worth the price of my round-trip ticket just to go to that. (Father Z is also going, so if you are a blogger who thinks Father Z is the cat's pyjamas, you might find it worthwhile, too!)

I am going to Rome. And if, through the will of Providence, I am invited to the PCCS/PCCC blognic, I will already have my flight booked. Win-win! The one sad part is that B.A. can't come. Off I go to Italy on my own--again.

I first went to Italy 12 or 13 years ago. I was Single, but I was making good money, and I had longed to go to Italy since I took my first Italian class at the age of 15. I can still remember sitting at my desk getting my tongue around the "gn" in "gnocchi." Two years later, I was the only girl without an Italian surname taking the third and final year. We watched Il Gattapardo on video. We read Alberto Moravia's "Una Donna Sulla Testa" from a photocopy. I read it again yesterday--in a volume of racconti romani--on the bus to Mass and giggled.

In the late 1990s, grown up, Single and free, I saved for my Italian holiday and reviewed my Italian textbook in the evening. This came in handy for work because occasionally we had clients who spoke Italian but no English. Of course, most of them spoke Sicilian, not Italian, but we muddled cheerfully through. I am not, as a rule, "good" at languages. But I love the Italian language, and love takes you far.

Then off to Italy I went, under the protection of a tour company that catered to twenty-somethings.

I could write a book and probably will went I find my mysteriously missing Italian Trip Diary. At any rate, I soon found myself among 30 or more Americans, Britons, Canadians and Australians, many--if not most of whom--had Italian grandparents. Three of us spoke Italian--the Italian-Canadian girl, the Italian-Australian girl and I. Our tour group leader was an Englishwoman of perhaps 30 with a rocky relationship with the Italian bus driver/owner. On one memorable occasion, she called him a dago--a word which hitherto I had never heard but only seen written in books published before 1940.

The tour provided much hilarious insight into group dynamics. The Canadian girls gently but insidiously sneered at the more patriotic American boys. The Italian-American girls flocked around the Italian-American stockbroker from Manhatten. The Chinese-American girl went to bed with the blond British guy. The loudest American girl threw up on the bus the morning after the night before. I wandered off on my own, or with the Italian-Australian girl, to speak Italian to the locals. This alienated the Italian-American girls dancing attendence on their stockbroker and before I knew it, I had a Bad Reputation.

Twelve or thirteen years later, this still makes me giggle.

Travel provides you with treasures you can ponder for the rest of your life.

Rome was astonishingly alive and gave me within 15 minutes both a sunburn and the realization that I didn't understand Roman.

Florence blew me away with its beauty and the realization that I did understand Florentine.

Venice taught me never to go to Venice without someone you love and also that the further you are from St. Mark's Square, the cheaper the gelato.

Assisi taught me to avoid pilgrimage sites when 30 busloads of devout Europeans, e.g. Poles, are expected any minute.

Pompeii taught me never to just follow people around, for if they are bored and just go out the turnstyle, fascinated you will be stuck on the outside, mourning and weeping and gnashing your teeth.

Capri taught me that if you fail to climb the mountain on your own, and you ask at a rual auto shop for help, you will not necessarily be raped and killed. Sometimes you get a thrilling return trip to civilization on the back of a moped driven by a nice young man named Ettore.

Sorrento taught me that Italian men like to frequent tourist bars to chat up young foreign women, and that undercover cops carry concealed weapons, even when they are chatting up young foreign women at tourist bars. Also, at least one of Sorrento's undercover cops (who actually operated in Naples) at that time looked exactly like Marcus on Babylon 5. Also, taking three years of Italian was a very good decision on my part, leading to zany adventures like chatting with undercover drug cops in Sorrento and asking them to prove that they are undercover cops.

It was then, I believe, that I got my terrible reputation, although of course I went back to my hotel room with my just-joined-the-tour roommate, who was as drunk as a skunk, had tried and failed to pick up a man, cursed her Italian grandparents for never teaching her Italian, and said again and again, "I'm so proud of you, Roomie, out there, speaking Italian to men."

When you are a Single woman, if you don't have friends to stay with, I recommend tour groups for the young. However, I add the caveat that you must be prepared for the Eighth Grade factor and that unless you are going with a pilgrimage group, you will have to fight and scheme to get to Sunday Mass.

The Eighth Grade factor is the sad fact that some women never progress pass their Eighth Grade (or if Canadian, Grade Eight) take on social life. They huddle together, fight for male attention and create tight bonds by demonizing other, different, women.

If you find yourself a designated demon in a tour group, find your own ways of dealing with that. There's making at least one friend, striking out on your own whenever possible and even returning to your Eighth Grade job as teacher's pet. A born teacher's pet, I helped negotiate between my foul-mouthed English tour leader and the sulky Italian bus driver.

Saturday, 9 April 2011

Decadent European Locker Rooms! Eek!

Poppets, today I had a Most Uncomfortable Experience.

As it has been some five years since I have been in a proper gym, I met my husband B.A. at the local swimming baths (as they are called here), which has a gym and where he likes to bathe (which means swim) and sit in the Turkish baths for hours reading Private Eye and the London Review of Books. After he flashed his membership card and payed the fee for non-member me, he led me through a door to a damp corridor with a plastic-sock dispenser. The plastic socks were to go over one's shoes before going into the wet, smelly locker room.

"But this is the men's change room," I said, sticking to him like a rash.

"This is THE change room," he said. "The lockers are here and you change in the cubicles over there."

I looked over there. There were a number of cubicles, all with beige canvas curtains. There was a young "female attendant" mopping the nasty wet floor, and I could hear the sound of men's voices.

"Eeek!" I said.

I believe Wendy Shalit started her Modesty Revolution because of co-ed locker rooms and washrooms at her American college, but it never occured to me you could find such things in staid Scotland. Germany, sure. One expects nudity and pornographic ads for dishsoap and outrages of all kind in Germany. But not in Scotland.

Wet boys padded in, clad only in bathing trunks. One brushed past me as he made for his locker. I clutched my bundle of gym clothes and raced for a cubicle. I was greatly relieved when B.A.'s voice sounded in the cubicle beside me, but then a whole herd of men, BIG LOUD MEN, BIG LOUD MEN WEARING ALMOST NOTHING came tromping past my canvas curtain, their big feet slapping against the evil-smelling floor.

"Eeek!" I thought and from some domestic, wifely impulse, stuck one of my feet under the side of my cubicle into B.A.'s cubicle. At least one foot was safe.

I felt like Isabelle Archer, the heroine of Portrait of a Lady, and if you have read it, then you know how she feels about decadent Europe, and how awful it is when it springs its decadent surprises, like co-ed locker rooms at the indoor swimming pool, upon you.

Anyway, I pulled on my gym clothes as fast as I could, threw my street clothes in my locker and scuttled out of the locker room like a lobster on speed. The weight room, which featured men, but men decently covered up, was a welcome relief.

It turns out that the baths has a special woman-only locker room, what you and I would call "the women's locker room", upstairs so I will be using that from now on, thank you all the same.

When time came for me to change my clothes again, there were no men around, just boys, and I now realize why locker room talk is called "locker room talk", although as their voices hadn't changed yet, theirs was mostly "F--you, ye dirty manky bastirt!"

Anyway, be warned. Some of you may marry Europeans or people from other weird places, and so be on your guard against being led into both-gender locker rooms, because unless you were brought up with them, it will not feel like a both-gender locker room but THE MEN'S LOCKER ROOM. If you are a sports reporter, you'll probably feel okay. But if not--eek!

Friday, 8 April 2011

Blogmeet in Rome

Well, my dears, I have this off-topic post to bring you from Whispers in the Loggia.

As you can imagine, I am now dreaming of jet-setting off to Rome this May to be consulted (or lectured) by Cardinals. Ahhh....

I wonder whom they will pick! Of course, I just sent off my own wheedling application, and I would LOVE to be chosen. But with thousands of Catholics' blogs in the world, it would be like winning a lottery.

I'm just thinking about the big guns in the English-language blogging world, and I'm rather filled with awe. I'm imagining rubbing shoulders with The Anchoress, Mark Shea and Father Z. How cool would that be?

Imagine that a Cardinal is about to follow the link in my email to this site. Please write in the combox why you think I should be invited to the meeting!

Update: Oh dear. Nobody reads me on Fridays. Boo.

Update 2: Aw, come on... As I live in Scotland, I may actually have a shot.

Update 3: No Vatican invite yet, but looking at flights...

Thursday, 7 April 2011

Psychodrama Revisited

Before I get into this post, I want to make two caveats and a philosophical point.

The first caveat is that I think it a very bad idea for women to tell stories of men who were bad to them, especially to other men. These stories should be told to best friends, confessors and therapists, but not to eligible men. I am telling this story because I am married now, and B.A. vaguely knows the one-line version anyway.

The second caveat is that I think men are the caffeine in the cappuccino of life, so please nobody think that I am a manhater because I am not. I can spend whole quarters of an hour staring at a handsome man before he gets mad and demands, "What?" Occasionally I bake men pies and things. Men are often great fun, and if they are boring, one can think about something else, nodding occasionally and murmuring, "Gracious!"

The philosophical point is that straw can be spun into gold, if by straw you mean a painful experience and by gold you mean a nugget of precious wisdom you can take from the experience to help other people. The gold nugget of this story is that I learned what kind of woman I did not want to be. Another gold nugget, that I did not realize until later, is that our enemies can help us as much as our friends.

Once upon a time, I dated a bad hat. I met him in church a few years after being introduced to him and his girlfriend. His girlfriend was 10 years older than him and thus 11 years older than me. They had been together for years but, after a lot of fighting about why he would not move in with her, they took a break.

When I saw him in church, I was very much hoping to find a NCB with a good education. And lo, there was a man in church whom I knew to have a good education. Ascertaining--I forget how--that he was no longer with his long-term older girlfriend, I asked him out to my favourite restaurant.

At the restaurant, he told me all about himself and I listened to barely a word. I had it in my head that this good-looking man was the NCB I was looking for, and when the Bad Hat said that he had a drinking problem, I decided that he was exaggerating. Drinking problems did not fit in with my plans. When the Bad Hat told me that he was a bad guy, and gave me a few examples that would turn your hair grey, I decided that he was reformed. Reformed sinner could fit in with my plans. I was not rooted in reality back then.

The Bat Hat was rather charmed with my rosy-eyed view of him, especially as his ex-girlfriend despised him. (She wanted him, but she despised him.) Also, as I later realized, there was no better way for him to torture his ex-girlfriend than to date someone under 30. She was 40 and thought she was past baby-having age, and this made her feel absolutely terrible. She had been very beautiful as a younger woman and feared aging, especially aging alone.

Well, to skip over my rapid descent into co-dependency and to turn a novel-worthy psychodrama into a mere blogpost, I eventually told the Bad Hat that I would not marry him unless he went to AA. He went straight back to his ex-girlfriend. After a delightful night, he came to visit me and told me all about it. I threw him out, and then he spent a delightful weekend at his re-girlfriend's cottage. I went almost out of my mind.

In the course of our relationship, in which the Bat Hat had told me an awful lot about his ex (now re-), I had learned some secrets he had been very careful that she not find out. So I decided to enlighten her. I called her up and invited her out for tea. This was, I hasten to point out, years before I went to theology school.

On the day of our tea, I went to the hairdresser and had my hair put into two neat new braids. I had my nails coloured, I believe, "Pistol-packing pink." I won't say I looked twelve, but I was channeling twelve. I looked as young and dewy as an vengeful almost-30 divorcee can look. And then I went out to tea, terrified.

SHE arrived, slim in blue jeans, long brown hair barely touched with grey. I was super-slim myself back then, but if you put her at 40 and me at 40 together, she would win the beauty contest, that's for sure. Along with being slim and beautiful, she had a successful career and her own house and admiring colleagues, and all that I, at 29, thought I would ever want. She also had my now ex-boyfriend, too.

I ordered tea. She ordered a glass of wine. And as soon as she ordered the wine, I realized that she was terrified. I am not sure why. Maybe being summoned to tea by the 29 year old ex-girlfriend of your boyfriend is in itself terrifying. Or maybe she was torn between hating my guts and pitying me as a mere child. At any rate, she was rattled and she ordered wine.

It was a long conversation. I wrote it all down as soon as I got home, and no doubt it still lingers in a box somewhere across the ocean. I showed it to a very wise friend, and the very wise friend was angered by it and said, "She was patronizing you."

However, I don't remember that. What I remember is that she told me I could do better than she could when it came to men.

"You're not even thirty, are you?" she demanded.

I shook my head.

She explained how old she was and how she couldn't expect to find anyone better than the Bad Hat, and she had dated another man on their break, but the Bat Hat was better-looking and younger and although he was a bad man she was willing to put up with that.

The Bad Hat was not just an alcoholic. The Bad Hat was also someone who said, in an astonishing confession, "I like to hurt the people who love me." So when I say he was a bad man, and I report that she said he was a bad man, I am not making that up. It's a statement of fact.

So I sat across the table at this beautiful, successful older woman who thought she couldn't do better than a self-loathing, person-hurting, bad man-alcoholic, and I thought, "I don't want to be her when I'm forty."

And when she got up to go, she said, "I want you to remember this conversation when you're my age, and try to understand what it was like for me to talk to you like this."

Well, I'm her age now. I don't have her looks or her career or her success, but I could not care less because there is no way in God's little green earth that I would be romantically involved with an alcoholic, let alone an alcoholic who was also a bad man.

It isn't the high point of my life that the twenty-something girls who show up occasionally to our Mass are prettier than me. And, sure, reading fertility stuff is not my idea of a good time. But I rarely was the best looking girl in the room when I was 29 (as far as I know) and I don't think being fertility-challeged at 40 is a massive tragedy. A little sad, sure, but not a tragedy. And, above all, I respect the man I'm with. He's a good man. A very good man. And I know perfectly well that if I couldn't have a good man, I'd rather not have any man at all.

I suppose she found it humiliating. And if so, I'm sorry. She could have turned down my tea invitation, but she didn't. She also could have kicked her ex-boyfriend to the kerb when he came crawling back, but she didn't. I did; she didn't. And that, not age, not fertility, was the biggest difference between us.

A few years later, I was in a different city. I was toddling down the street when, through the glass door of a restaurant, I saw the Bad Hat's back. If you are ever in love with someone, no matter how badly it ends, you will know his back when you see it. It was definitely him, and he was at a table with an old woman. My heart banged in that uncomfortable, embarrassed, outraged way it does when you see an ex-boyfriend, and the old woman looked up.

It wasn't an old woman. It was her. She looked like hell. Four, five more years of the Bad Hat had etched themselves on her face.

I've been ditched for much older women twice. Both times I wept and raged and carried on. And both times I lived to bless the names of the women who replaced me. They struggled for years with a man's alcoholism. Perhaps they both took bullets for me.

Wednesday, 6 April 2011

Vanessa Discerns

The news that Vanessa van der Post and Mike Machowski had agreed to be Vocation Discernment Partners swept through the most self-consciously Catholic part of the student body. There was much discussion in dorms and dining-halls of what a Vocation Discernment Partner really was, and if this was just Mike's excuse to get close to Vanessa, or just Vanessa's excuse to get close to Mike. An extra frisson was added to the news of the day when Sandra Lee, being told of the unlikely alliance, choked on her cereal and fled to parts unknown. By lunchtime it was all over campus that little Sandra liked Mike.

"Oh, I don't think so," said Vanessa. "She barely registers that he's alive."

"Ha," said red-haired Petra, cutting up her chicken cutlet. "You didn't see her face this morning when Robert told us the news."

"I didn't need to see her face," said Vanessa tranquilly. "Anyway, it wasn't registering dismay. It was probably registering guilt."

She crushed a handful of crackers into her soup.

Petra exchanged a glance with Rob, who shrugged.

"Guilt?" repeated Petra.

"Yes," said Vanessa. "Guilt."

She stirred her soup meditatively.

"Quite a lot of people suffer from it."

Rob laughed nervously.

"Don't you?" he asked.

Vanessa tasted her soup.

"Don't ask that question unless you're willing to answer it yourself, Rob," she said. "It's more of a conversation for your Vocation Discernment Partner."

"I don't have a Vocation Discernment Partner," said Rob.

"Oh," said Vanessa, looking at Petra, who dropped her eyes, and looking at Rob again. "I thought you did. Especially since you're thinking about the priesthood."

"Kind of thinking," said Rob, looking nervously at Petra, who kept her eyes resolutely on her cutlet.

"Hmmm," said Vanessa. "That sounds like a lonely process. Just you and....The Infinite. You must have a great prayer life."

"Uh, well," said Rob. "There's room for improvement, I guess."

He looked vastly relieved when Anne sat down beside him.

"Hey, Anne."

"Hey, people," said Anne. She looked squarely at Vanessa.

"So Mike found a VDP after all."

Vanessa smiled sweetly.

"Yes, he did. I feel very honoured. It's an enormous responsibility. Mike's a great guy. He could be a priest, he could be a husband, he could be a monk, he could be called to devote his life to a major career, where vows might be a hinderance. It's all his to discover, and I'll be with him every step of the way."

"It could take years," said Anne.

"Hooray for the internet," said Vanessa. "Of course, if I find my vocation first, the deal's off."


"Well, when I find it, I won't have time for Mike anymore, will I? But in the meantime, I haven't, so I can still offer the gift of service."

"Hmm," said Anne. "That's very noble of you."

"Thank you," said Vanessa.

She flashed her teeth in a grin and rapidly sipped her soup.

"It's still tinned, but it's better than usual," she said.

"I don't quite understand," said Petra, still looking at her plate. "How does this VDP thing work? Is there a booklet about it?"

"I don't know about booklets," said Vanessa, "but in half an hour I'm going to meet up with Mike and talk about Casti Connubii."

"So you're starting with marriage," snapped Anne. "Interesting."

"Isn't it?" said Vanessa. "From a couple of things Mike dropped yesterday, I'm guessing that's the right starting point."

The entire table stopped chewing. Petra looked up from her plate.

"Well, I'm done," said Vanessa, picking up her tray. "See you all later."

She sashayed to the kitchen hatch and, depositing her tray, went out. As she did, two senior guys coming in looked back at her. One started off in her direction and, laughing, his buddy pulled him back by the arm.

"Vanessa," thought Anne, "is a total rhymes with itch."

"Mike's a lucky bastard," said Rob.

"What?" asked Petra.

"Nothing," said Rob. He stood up. "Gotta go."

"Fine," said Petra. "See you."

"See you! See you, Anne."

"See you, Rob."

As Rob passed, he grabbed Petra's shoulder. She winced.

"You can do better, you know," said Anne.

"I don't want to talk about it," said Petra.

Vanessa strode along the campus to the library and looked up Casti Connubii on the internet. She skimmed the document until she found what she was looking for, and then she smiled. Hitting 'print', she logged off and retrieved her copy from the printer. Then she went to the library coffee shop, where she found Mike waiting.

"Hey," said Mike, standing.

"Very good," said Vanessa. "You remembered!"

"Yeah," said Mike. "Always stand when a lady comes into the room."



"And pull out her chair."

"Oh yeah," said Mike. He pulled out Vanessa's chair.

"Thank you," said Vanessa.

"You know, I'm really grateful," said Mike. "That Katie must think she's all that and a bag of chips. When I asked her to be my VDP, she looked at me like I was an axe-murderer or something."

"I remember you mentioning that last night," said Vanessa.

"It was like I had asked her something completely unreasonable. I mean, who does she think she is?"

"You have to wonder," said Vanessa.

"It's, like, we're supposed to be discerning our vocations. We pray for vocations all the time. So here I am, stepping up to the plate, offering to discern my vocation properly, being open-minded, and she looks at me like I'm totally psycho."

"Did she?" said Vanessa.

"She did," said Mike.

"This seems to have annoyed you."

"Damn straight it annoyed me. I can't get it out of my head."

"You can't get her out of your head?"

"Yeah, she really made me mad."

One day, Vanessa hoped, she would meet a man she could not read like a book. But in the meantime, she was going to amuse herself.

"Well," she said. "It's probably just as well that she isn't your VDP because--just between you and me--I don't think she's orthodox."

Mike looked stunned.

"Oh," he said, flushing. "I didn't mean... I don't think... I mean, of course she's orthodox. I mean, that's why I asked her in the first place. I mean, she has to be orthodox."

"She might think she's orthodox," said Vanessa brightly. "And if she isn't, it isn't her fault. She's just been badly catechized. But I suspect--and again, this is strictly between you and me--that she has an overly romantic view of marriage."

"Oh. Uh. Really?"

"Yes," said Vanessa, sighing sadly. "I see it all the time. It's one of the things that most drives me crazy about women, incidentally. But I'm pretty sure Katie puts too much of an emphasis on that passing affection of sense of spirit expressly condemned by Casti Connubii."

"What's that?"

"Well," said Vanessa. "I'm not sure, exactly, but maybe we can figure it out from the document."

To be continued...

Tuesday, 5 April 2011

My Take on Concupiscence

There are a number of definitions for concupiscence. My first professor of moral theology (which our school called Christian Ethics) did not like concupiscence to be reduced to sexual desire, or eros, with which he had no problem. He was very pro-eros, a word he expanded to mean our desire to get outside ourselves, to reach out to the rest of creation. He would probably deem a healthy interest in field grass erotic. An interest in field grass that consumed your life and soul, however (like killing people for their collections of rare field grasses) he would find an example of concupiscence.

Anyway, he took a Thomist attitude towards concupiscence, and although my notes are in a closet across the ocean, I suspect he said something like what I am going to write now, which is that concupiscence is wanting more than your fair share of something.

Having said that, I will hasten to say that very often people do not get their fair share, and so they have to fight for justice and get their fair share. But just as often, we are given something God has allocated, enough for our flourishing, and then we want more.

The image that comes to mind is a mother cutting up a chocolate cake for her children. The biggest, oldest child gets the biggest piece because he has the biggest appetite. The smallest child gets the smallest piece. The child with a slight allergy to strawberries does not get a piece with a strawberry on it. The child who has to wait an hour after digesting dinner before eating chocolate will get his cake later than the others, and so on.

Now, in a perfect world, the children would sit quietly at the table, trusting in their mother's ability to know what is best for them and to serve them their special piece of cake in due time. However, in my image, the children do not live in a perfect world but are infected with concupiscence and so long to fall upon the cake as soon as their mother's back is turned, and start munching away in great, greedy handfuls, even before they have finished their dinner.

To extend this analogy, I suppose the mother sometimes decides to pretend not to see this mad orgy of cake-eating, and allows her children to suffer the ill-effects of their own concupiscence. Sin, as Sister Wilfreda said back in Gr. 9 Religion, has its own built-in consequences. So the children become terribly ill, and we hope they have learned their lesson and do not increase their miseries by searching the larder for another cake to devour, hoping rather irrationally for a better outcome.

It is a very strange thing in human nature that we always want more. I was first struck by this as a teenager when a man I worked with described all the things he had bought and all the things he wanted to buy. I pointed out that he had a lot of stuff already, and he said, eyes twinkling and yet dead serious, "But I want MORE!"

When I was much younger, I was not satisfied with being admired by only one young man. I wanted lots and lots of young men to admire me, at least three. This is now, thank heavens, not such a concern. As long as my husband admires me, that is enough, and if other men do, too, then that is a nice bonus. It helps to be forty.

However, there are still other things that I want more and more of, definitely more than my fair share. Chocolate cream pie, for example. If I make a chocolate cream pie for a dinner party, I am usually left with half of it afterwards, and so I eat rather more of it than I should for breakfast and lunch. This is supremely irrational behaviour, so why do I do it?

I also enjoy more than my fair share of sleep, coffee, reading blogs and resting from housework. Also irrational. I blame concupiscence.

One thing I notice about some readers who write in is that they are positively longing to start romantic relationships with young men before the young men have given the obvious sign that they would like to be in a romantic relationship. I suffered from this myself for a decade or three, so I find it very interesting. Also interesting are the many excuses readers come up with to continue pursuing a man who has no obvious interest in them. I did that, too, and I wonder what that is all about. Is it like being determined to eat the wrong piece of cake?

You can guess where I'm going here. Could it be that, by chasing men, particularly those men who show not a whit of interest in them, really, women are manifesting a form of concupiscence? And could it be that, by lazily not bothering to get to know real women, but instead messing around with internet porn or solely-internet relationships, men are manifesting another (and worse) form of concupiscence? Both situations show irrational desire and the desire for more that one's allocated share of something.

Monday, 4 April 2011

Post-Party Prostration

Darlinges, I have been to two more parties since I wrote. I am utterly exhausted and have a meelyon dishes to wash. So chat happily in the combox. Here is a topic: Those of us born after 1985 have learned from the mistakes of the generations born between 1940 and 1975.

Go for it, future of the human race!

Saturday, 2 April 2011

Dinner Party Contrasts

Last night we had a dinner party of three married couples. We rarely have a party that is all married couples because we have so many Single friends. And we very rarely have a dinner party in which religious observances are not discussed. Last night religious observances were not discussed. Dinner was entirely veg, but not just because it was Lent and a Friday but because there was a vegetarian present.

I don't think "Charles, King and Martyr" (a major hero of Anglo-Catholics and former Anglo-Catholics turned Roman Catholics) got even a mention--although, come to think of it, I think B.A. did sneak him in. But nobody else was interested in C, K & M. Nope. The Charles who got most of the attention was Bonnie Prince Charlie. You know, people say haggis is just for tourists, and then you find yourself eating it all the time. And people act like Bonnie Prince Charlie is just a sad story for romantic Americans to weep over, and then he gets mentioned at the table over and over again. In Scotland, the '45 never, ever means 1945 and victory. It always means 1745 and defeat.

Absolutely none of the married people present had children. Eeryone talked about politics and their interesting careers. Well, I did not talk about politics--because what I know about Scottish politics you could stuff in a bug's nostril--and I did not talk about my interesting career because it didn't fit in with the other interesting careers. But it was fascinating to hear the rapid-fire chat of people right in the swim of ordinary Scottish life.

The other stark contrast was that B.A. made the pudding. Usually I make the pudding. We had roasted Portobello mushrooms, pasta with roasted aubergine (eggplant) sauce, and bread-and-butter pudding. We ate everything, right down to the traces of pudding stuck to the baking dish. That is how good B.A.'s bread-and-butter-pudding is.

We skipped the whole port ritual because of the very high ratio of socialists in the room. Socialism and segregation of the sexes are not compatable. But that was okay because we had whiskey instead.

I am trying to think of what any of this might have to do with the Single life. Hmm... Not much. Our married guests and Single guests tend to have the same interests we do, really. There is no reason why anyone should not mix up their dinner arrangements and have single people as well as married people, as long as the irreligious are not bored terribly by the religious, or the socialists insulted by the Old Tories, or the rich sneered at by the poor.

And we don't witness that contrast between Married people going home together and Single people wandering out alone. Our Single guests tend not to wander out alone because dark woods lie between the Historical House and the road. They leave in twos or threes, so as not to be attacked by imaginary killers or the very real foxes and bats. When I was Single, leaving parties by myself was the worst.