Thursday, 30 June 2011

Community Standards

Oh darlingses, I just took down my last post. I decided it wasn't up to community standards.

You know when your pal sends you a link, and at first you think it is hilarious, so you post it, but then you read the small print, and you think, hmm? So then you add a note saying of course you don't approve of this and that, and then you go shopping. And while you are shopping, you feel badly about the judgmental attitude on top of linking to the hilarious post, so then you go home and take it all down.

That's what I did.

And it made me thing about community standards, and why I thought most of you would find that link hilarious, and then why I thought many of you would also find it A Bit Much, especially when you came across some bad language and, in the comments, some crude ideas.

The Benedict XVI generation is in a bit of a bind, when it comes to community standards, for we cannot say, "If it's okay for your granny, it's okay for you" because some of our grannies are real rips. They say things like, "I may be 40 years older than my granddaughters, but I'm younger in spirit. Now excuse me, I have a hot date tonight."

Okay, my grannies weren't like that, but one was born in 1904 and the other around 1915, so they missed the Granny Sexual Revolution. My mum is an old-fashioned Catholic granny who bakes cookies, crochets sweaters and calls me up to report what the parish priest has done now. She ignored the Sexual Revolution in general, so it's no surprise she's ignoring the Granny one, too.

That said, I would say stuff in front of my mother I wouldn't say to young things like the greater part of you. The older I get, the more sentimental I get about unmarried girls, especially ones who have never dated, and the more careful I am about language and writing about Sex and the City and what have you. I know two nice Catholic men who enjoy torturing me by saying they only ever watched Sex and the City because they knew I had, and they wanted to find out what it was all about and what sort of woman I might be.

Yours is not the first generation to shake off the morals (or immorals) of previous generations. (When I say your generation I am, of course, ignoring most of it. I mean the Still Goes to Church Every Sunday segment of your generation.) The Victorians, whom the 20th century loved to beat up on, shook the dirt and dust of the 18th century off their feet. The 18th century was a lot ruder than the 19th, at least in public, which is why the earliest biographies of Jane Austen are so boring. Our Jane was a Georgian, not a Victorian, and therefore too much fun by her nephew's standards.

But however naughty the 18th century attitude towards sexuality, the attitude stemming from the second half of the 20th century is disspiriting and gross. The balladeers of the 18th century may have sung obscene songs in the street for pennies, but today's balladeers mix abject hatred and violence towards women with the obscenities. In the 18th century, you could be arrested for publishing pornography, but today's pornographers, professionals and an shockingly huge army of amateurs, spread it all over the internet.

So when I talk about community standards, I'm talking about standards consistent with the Catholic blogging community, particular that part that reads my blog. It a standard that says the current community standards of the UK, USA, Canada and Australia aren't good enough. We need a break from those community standards, and that's why I ditched my last post.


Tuesday, 28 June 2011

At Funeral Today

I was at Lauds and a Solemn Requiem Mass today, so I haven't much Single stuff to write about.

The elderly man for whom we prayed was sort of Single: after a very long separation, his wife had given him permission to take vows of celibacy, and he was a male religious. It's very complicated, but I assure you it was a happy and holy situation, and not only many members of his order but his whole family was at the Mass.

The man for whom we prayed lived alone, and I heard from one of his friends that, because his health was very poor, he would call his wife every morning to tell her he was still alive. And it struck me how unusual was this situation because it was so respectful and loving in a way we simply don't expect of separated spouses these days. It was decent.

There are (or were) still people in the world who, once they come to the conclusion that they can no longer live together, still care for each other regardless and still honour their marriage tie. It amazes and edifies me. It amazes me that there was a woman generous enough to allow her husband to become a male religious without demanding a divorce. It edifies me that she would be the person he called in the morning to say "I'm still alive."

I am overwhelmed, really,

I don't want to write any more about that, for these are not people I know very well, but for whom I have the greatest respect, and theirs is a private generation. Instead I'll write an account of an elderly lady I knew better, one who sat by her husband as he lay in a coma dying slowly of prostate cancer. He wasn't wearing his false teeth, obviously, so his poor gums were exposed to the air, drying out every time he breathed in. So this lady sat by him, putting gel on his gums so that he wouldn't suffer that discomfort.

These to me are two sterling examples of married love. Oh yes, young married couples are all very lovely and dewy and hopeful and happy. But it's old married love that inspires me. It's old spouses caring for each other, and being generous to each other, that brings tears to my eyes.

Have I mentioned recently that although one day my female Searching Single readers will be too old have babies, they'll never be too old to marry? And have I mentioned recently that romantic love, which so many of you long for, always leads to either heartbreak or widowhood?

One of these reminders is full of hope; the other is grave. Both are true.

Monday, 27 June 2011


Dziś moja książka Anielskie single pojawia się w Polsce, wydana nakładem wydawnictwa Homo Dei.

Czuję szczególną dumę, że moje słowa zostały przetłumaczone na język polski. Polacy, dzięki swojemu niezłomnemu przywiązaniu do Kościoła Chrystusowego, stanowią nację podziwianią przez wszystkich katolików na świecie. Polska jest krajem bł. Jana Pawła II, Jana Sobieskiego oraz niezliczonych bohaterów i męczenników katolickich; jest także krajem, który szczerze ukochał G.K. Chesterton, jeden z największych katolickich apologetów Anglii.

Istotę Anielskich singli stanowi przesłanie, że życie osoby niezamężnej może być wspaniała i święte, o ile nacechowane jest pokorą wobec Boga oraz otwartością na Jego wolę. Żyjąc w kulturze przekazującej, iż “jesteś nikim, jeśli nie jesteś kochany przez inną osobę’, katoliccy single winni być niesutannie uświadamiani, że także oni są głęboko kochani przez Boga. Tym, co nadaje życiu każdej osoby wartość, jest jej natura dziecka bożego, a nie małżeństwo lub celibat.

W Anielskich singlach dyskutuję o najważniejszych aspektach życia chrześcijańskiego singla: randkach, samotności, przyjaźni, rodzinie, dzieciach. Pewne zagadnienia mogą okazać się specyficzne dla zwyczajów kanadyjskich lub amerykańskich; niemniej jednak wierzę, że polski czytelnik będzie w stanie znaleźć w książce choć częściowe odzwierciedlenie jego trosk i pragnień.

Chciałabym serdecznie podziękować za Wasze zainteresowanie Anielskimi singlami. Do zobaczenia na kartach mojej książki!


In other words, the Polish edition of my book was released today, and I'm delighted!

Saturday, 25 June 2011

But Don't Worry So Much

I had an interesting conversation with a Single the other day about determining God's plan for you. It struck me that if you beg God over and over again to reveal His plan, you might not being giving Him a chance to get a word in edgewise. By asking so many questions, you won't be open to hearing answers. I know it might be difficult to ask your questions and then sit in absolute, empty-headed, trusting silence in front of the tabernacle or crucifix, but why not try?

Trinity Sunday has just passed, and the worst Trinity Sunday homily I ever heard included a bold declaration that the Trinity was not an unplumbable Mystery. But, actually, yes, the Trinity is an unplumbable mystery. (Where did he get his theology degree, I wonder. Out of a Cracker Jack box?) There is a lot of mystery in Christianity, simply because our reason is just not big enough to take in the ways of God. This is very difficult for those who have broken the first commandment and enshrined limited human reason as a god before Him, but it should not be difficult for us Christians.

God's plan is a mystery, and goodness knows how much of it we ever get to see, let alone understand. Usually we can do it only through hindsight and theological speculation. The liturgies and Gospels show evidence of the apostles, who lived through such mind-blowing events, grasping at ways to explain what just happened in a way that their initially Jewish and then pagan audiences could understand.

Whether or not is a good idea to look back and see what God was doing with your life is an open question. I have received a great deal of comfort from a hypothesis about the point of my PhD program. That was an awful time, and it resulted in illness, dropping out of the program and falling out of love with academic Catholic theology.

Because I was an A student, prayed a lot before I entered the program, felt rock solid and happy that academic theology was what God was calling me to do, and it all went wrong anyway, what was God's point?

Over the years, it occurred to me that God's point was not the PhD program itself, but for me to meet my housemate Ted (who is in My Book), who got me interested in blogging. I started a blog, and because I started a blog, I had a book published, made some friends, met my husband and helped a lot of people.

From an economic point of of view, this is pretty nutty. If I had completed the PhD and gotten an academic post (as grads of my program generally did), I would now be pulling down thousands of dollars, called by a title, getting one of the best seats in the syna--at the theological table, and a whole lot of other nice stuff. Instead, five years of ministerial and theological study ended up in a blog, for which I am paid exactly nothing.

However, I'm not starving to death because first my family and now my husband makes sure I don't. I'm doing more than okay. And, as I constantly remember, St. Ignatius of Loyola told the first Jesuits that they were not allowed to charge for their work. I got my theological education from the Jesuits. Jesuit institutions, understandably, now charge for their work. But it makes me think about how truly valuable is unpaid work.

Anyway, we do worry that we will somehow mess up God's plan for us by making the wrong decision. But I say not to worry about that. God writes straight with crooked lines, as we are often told. Our Lord said "Seek ye first the Kingdom of God." Thus, if you do your best to obey His commandments, no matter what bad things happen or what good things do happen, somehow God's plan will unfold without interference from you. It will also happen in His own time, not yours, which is maddening, but He knows best.

The best gauge of what you should do, when it comes to state in life, volunteer work, friends and career, is what you want to do. We all struggle to do the right thing, but we very often know, deep down, what that right thing is. And the right thing is usually what we really do want. For example, there are girls who are tempted to sleep with the boyfriends they are in love with, even though deep down what they really want is to get married to men who are also in love with them, without committing mortal sins along the way. Sadly, a spirit of worry and pessimism tells them that this is hardly likely, if not impossible and "naive". The important battle is to fight off this spirit and all sinful desires so as to hear and protect the good desires central to our hearts.

We rip ourselves off all the time. I ripped myself off this morning by having only a cup of coffee for breakfast. (I'd better go now and eat something nutritious.) My unsolicited advice is not to rip yourselves off by settling for a sinful second best but to be faithful to Christ and the teachings of the Church. Do that and stop worrying about the future. When you're in the right place, doing the right job, friends with the right people, and in love with the right man or religious order, you'll know. You'll know because you'll feel very relaxed and happy and everything, for once, will seem easy.

Friday, 24 June 2011



(Imagine a whiny voice.)

Are you still out there? Should I submit something to Dappled Things?

I have a ghost story with a wicked cat and very beautiful Scottish Episcopalians.

Thursday, 23 June 2011

Speaking of Bitterness...

I've written two posts in the past 48 hours on the topic of childlessness. Since then I've had phone calls, a flurry of kind emails and comments, one kindly meant but obscene suggestion and an anonymous accusation of bitterness.

First of all, thanks for the loving concern.

Second, I want to assure you all that I'm fine. Yesterday I wrote my post, did some shopping and then rushed out to babysit the Youngest Member of the Parish so his parents could go to a concert. I invited a the Newest Single Gal of the Parish to join me, and we had a great time.

The YMOTP grinned at us (he has 2 teeth) like he couldn't believe his luck. First I build towers for him to knock down, and then I fed him a bowl of baby stuff. Next the NSGOTP read him story books, and then I changed his yucky diaper and put him in his sleeper. Then, according to instruction, we sang him the Salve Regina and put him down to sleep. He yelled for 10 minutes and then was out like a light.

His babysitters helped themselves to glasses of wine and yakked solidly until the parents came home. Indeed, it was awesome. Baby, girl talk and wine. All good. I've said it before, and I'll say it again: some scientists believe that women (unlike men) outlive their reproductive potential for decades because we are necessary to help other women with their babies. If a saber-toothed tiger chomped a mother-of-three, the other women in the village would rescue the babies and bring them up.

I love babies, so I enjoy caring for babies. I'm glad I sometimes have the opportunity, and I exult that one of my nephews and my niece are still in the baby stage. (Well, my nephew sort of is...)

Third, when I talk about the badness of bitterness, I am not doing this to insult people. I well remember that in high school "She's just bitter" was the most damning insult we could come up with. But that's not my purpose in talking about bitterness.

The problem with bitterness is that it makes you a less attractive and therefore lonelier and unhappier person. It works solidly against your chances of making new healthy friends and attracting healthy potential suitors. When I tell you to look out for bitterness, it's the equivalent of telling you to wrap up warmly on a cold and rainy day. It's not an insult. It's caring common sense.

Bitterness can also hurt a woman's chances of hanging out with babies. No mother in her right mind wants Mrs Bitter to keep an eye on her kids. And although I have failed on at least one occasion to keep my tongue between my teeth when a mum made comments about my oh-so-enviable child-free life, I think I've avoided becoming Mrs Bitter.

To speak up for the feelings of childless-not-by-choice women is not necessarily to give vent to bitterness or to make war on women with children. I have a mum, she has five kids, and I have no interest in beating up on mums. I hope I never have.

To stand up for the childless-not-by-choice is emotionally risky if you're in the same boat, but I deem it worth it if it helps other childless women feel less alone. What I don't like is having my words used against me to point out I'm not all that and a bag of chips, especially by a reader who has temporarily chosen anonymity.

I know I'm not all that and a bag of chips. I'm one gal who drags her sorry butt to confession. But I'm also a gal who lays her heart on her webpage to help other gals feel better. So just as you would think twice before admonishing a woman 20 years your senior in person about her sorrow, please think twice before you click the comment button.

Bottom line: if you're afraid to sign even your internet name, you shouldn't send the comment.

Update: Anonymous, stop having kittens. You wrote something dumb, you hurt my feelings, I flirted with the idea of shutting down the blog, and by tomorrow I'll have forgotten the whole thing. None of the readers know who you are.

Drop the "All Mothers Stand" Ritual

It's June, not May, so it's a little late in the year to be writing about this. However, it came up in the combox yesterday, and it occurred to me that I haven't done my massive denunciation recently.

When the Christian community gathers in churches on Sunday, she is there to worship God. She is not there to be entertained. She is not there to be applauded. She is not there to affirm the choir, or the children, or the priest in their musical, ontological or homiletic talents, such as they are. She is there to worship.

The world is a noisy place. The Eastern traditions, the Roman Catholic tradition, and the Anglo-Catholic tradition draw a line around the space where the world is left behind. The visual art, the gestures, the music, the silence all aid in creating the meditative atmosphere in which we worship. We bring our prayers locked within us, and we release them in the holy temple.

Some of those prayers are sad. If you read the Psalms attentively, you see that the Psalmist expresses a myriad of human emotions, not just joy. There is so much suffering in the world, not just in "the Global South" but in our own lives, however privileged they may seem.

The world is uncomfortable with suffering, and either exploits it for its own ends or covers it up. In Catholic churches, the crucifix and stations of the cross present suffering as something truly terrible yet something that can be healed and that is even potentially redemptive. Above all, we are not alone in our suffering; God through the Son suffered, too. So did Our Lady, and there is comfort in that because, as they say, misery loves company.

I will never forget one homily in which the priest, an enthusiastic speaker, declared that he wanted to take the parish statue of Our Lady of Sorrows and paint a smile on her face. For him there was no place for a doleful Mary; she didn't reflect the joy of the Resurrection.

I was horrified. Not too far from that church was a contemporary sculpture honouring men who had been badly hurt or killed in the steel trade; it was the figure of a man whose head had been caved in. It was a powerful, sorrowful and apt reminder of the hardships the townspeople had lived through and still lived through. Paint a smile on Our Lady of Sorrows, and of whom would widows, orphans and bereaved parents of fallen steelworkers ask intercession?

Unfortunately, our prayerful environments are often interrupted by worldly customs. I will mention only the habit of applauding people, as if Mass were a performance or a meeting in the town hall. I have no problem with "affirming the community", but I think this is better done afterwards in the parish hall. Mass is a time when the grieving seek solace, and worldly applause falls harshly on grieving ears.

Motherhood is not given as much respect as it was in the Victorian era. It is argued that motherhood was not given as much respect as it was in the Victorian era BEFORE the Victorian era. The Victorians were obsessed with motherhood, and one might argue that the first half of the 20th century was in rebellion against this. The 1950s interest in domesticity is often put down to servicemen returning to their professions, consumerism and, perhaps, replacing the millions who were lost in the war. And there was, again, a reaction against this, which turned into a frank devaluation of motherhood, thanks to widespread contraception and abortion. How many people do not give up their seats on the bus to expectant mothers now, inwardly sneering, "Well, that was her choice"?

Mothers, therefore, do need a renewal of respect and care. But I posit they need real respect and care throughout the year, not a round of applause during Mass on Mother's Day. Mother's Day is the one day mothers can expect a show of respect and care, normally from their own families. Meanwhile, it is a day fraught with pain and suffering for those who had or have terrible relationships with their own mothers and, of course, for women who have either never had, or who have lost, their children. We bring our pain with us to Mass, hoping to leave it at the foot of the Cross.

Most celibate priests said good-bye to any hope of biological fatherhood when they became priests. But there is a big, BIG difference between intentionally choosing to be childless and NOT choosing to be childless, but remaining childless anyway, just as there is a big, BIG difference between choosing to remain Single and finding yourself Single at 35. (I am always astonished by stories of elderly priests who muse over whether, if it were suddenly allowed, they'd choose to marry. They always assume someone would have them.) And, therefore, it never seems to occur to the priests who direct "the Mothers" to stand and be "affirmed" by "the community", that the women who must stay seated are crying inside.

It is a horrific pastoral blunder, and it is nowhere in the rubrics.

I was not happy with the parish priest for wanting to slap a fake painted smile on Our Lady of Sorrows. But I will give him this: every Mother's Day he directed the ushers to give flowers to every adult woman entering the church, he preached on "spiritual motherhood", and he had every woman stand to be applauded.

Well, you know what I think about applause in church. But at least this priest didn't separate the women into the fertile sheep and the barren goats. For that, whether they know it or not, is what the liturgically-innovative priests' "All Mothers Stand" ritual does.

Say the black, do the red, and nobody will get hurt.

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Polish Preview

Hearty thanks to Berenike who made my day with this link! If you are Polish, you might enjoy sending it to your Polish-speaking friends and family.

The only word I understood without getting out my Canadian English copy was, fittingly, "Bog."

God's Plan vs My Plan

This time I thought I might be pregnant, but I was wrong again. How annoying is that? When you're Single and celibate, an absent period is merely weird, but when you're happily married, childless and forty, it could be evidence that another dream is coming true. But, of course, having been wrong before, I was determined not to get my hopes up. Having a crying fit every month gets tiresome.

The days ticked by. I told myself not to get my hopes up until Friday. On Friday I would be over a week late, and then I could buy a test. I buy the cheapest tests, because I refuse to spend £10 on a possible negative. Uh-uh. Then not only would I be sad, I'd be out £10.

So on Friday I bought a test and fought companionably over baby names with B.A. and took the test, which was negative. The instructions said to try again in 3 days, but you-know-what arrived a few hours later, so I haven't bothered. I went to bed early and pulled the duvet over my head.

Nobody mention naprotechnology in the combox or I will go insane. When you're a Catholic Canadian, going to British doctors, doctors forced by PC to have all the sensitivity of an Orange Day parade, is a nightmare. The first nurse I talked to stopped herself before the word "baby" could slip out and talked about "the fetus". I am supposed to have a blood test, not to see if there is too much of this or that in my system, but to prove I don't have a dread STD. Thanks so much. And despite the fact that I am the patient who presented myself to the system--and despite 40 years of my-body-my-choice sloganeering--we have to be "treated" for possible infertility "as a couple", which would entail my husband doing something that Catholic men must not do. This prohibition seemed not to occur to the doctor I spoke to, despite the fact that ROMAN CATHOLIC is firmly written on our registration cards.

Really, all I want to know at this stage is if it is too late for me, me the owner of my own particular, concrete and therefore unique reproductive system, to hope. Since the lady doctor only gave me five minutes of her precious, precious time, there was not enough time to get into that. Say what you want about the Canadian medical system, but my lady GP back home (whom I can no longer see as I am no longer a resident of Ontario) actually asked how I felt about things and talked to me about my health for up to an hour.

Anyway, I didn't mean to get into what is probably typical migrant terror of an alien new medical system. Back home, I'd be swanning into doctors' offices and the Marguerite Bourgeoys Family Centre with all the confidence in the world. But that still might not result in having a baby, which is what I want to write about.

You can't always get what you want. This is a very difficult lesson, especially for girls because we are told that we can. Our mothers, female teachers and female guidance counselors are full of stories about this jerk and that in their high schools who told them women can't be astrophysicists, and this inspires them to tell us we can do or be whatever we want as long as we work hard enough, and as long as we are smart enough. But as true as this may be for astrophysics, it means squat when it comes to marriage and babies. You can't work to make a specific guy fall in love with you, and you can't always just get pregnant when you want, especially when you are over 35.

Sure, you can do some things. If you're a timid little mouse who longs for marriage, but you never leave your room, you can work up the courage to leave your room. If you're a married lady in your twenties wondering why babies haven't come, you can have a chat with an Natural Family Planning nurse. That's just sensible. But sometimes after you have done all that you can morally do to become a likely marriage prospect or an expectant mum, you're left with the scary truth that it's not all up to you.

And then you pray. You pray not just for what you want, but that if you don't get what you want, you'll be happy anyway. You pray for an increase of faith and trust in God's plan. You pray that you will truly believe that He knows better than we do what is best for us, and you pray that His will be done.

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Detachment vs Despair

Detachment says, "Well, I'd like to get married/find the right religious order, and as far as I know I'm a happy, sociable person. So I'll leave it up to the Lord. He can do the hard work, and if He has another plan for me, I guess He knows best."

Despair says, "I'm NEVER getting married/into the right religious order because I am/men are/religious orders are [bad stuff]!"

I had an interesting comment today that reminded me of the badness of bitterness. If you haven't read my posts on bitterness, type "The Badness of Bitterness" into the search engine. Bitterness is the Single's enemy number one.

People like happy, confident people. The happier you are, the more relaxed you are, the more confident you are, the more attractive you will appear to those around you.

The most serene Church Lady in my childhood church was named Jeannie. As far as I know, Jeannie never married. She had a good training in some female-dominated profession--teaching or nursing, I forget which--worked her whole life, was a pillar of the local Polish community and of my parents' parish. She was a Extraordinary Minister of the Eucharist, and so sat up front, year in and year out, smiling. She was always smiling. It was like she had a radio transmitter in her head with which she was in constant contact with heaven.

Jeannie never married, but so what? She lived to a ripe old age, and appeared happy and tranquil and in touch with heaven to the end of her days, and died leaving her birth family with fond memories and an indelible impression on mere neighbours like me.

Buy My Book, Now in Polish

My Polish publisher asked if I would mention on my blog that Anielskie Singles hits the shelves on June 27. I would and it does.

It now looks like I myself will be going to Poland in October.

Meanwhile, my book is available in two kinds of English, Canadian (Seraphic Singles) and American (The Closet's All Mine), and you can still buy the version you like best at a nice Catholic bookshop near you, plus Indigo (in Canada) and also over the internet.

It was my Canadian publisher's idea to start up a Seraphic Singles blog again. I am sure it now is longer than my book!

Monday, 20 June 2011

Not Without a Ring

Getting a marriage proposal within two weeks of meeting Mr McRight is fantastic, but it does carry a small burden of social embarrassment. Since I have a foreign accent, dinner party guests at home and abroad ask how B.A. and I met. We tell them the story, and then guffaw nostalgically over the marriage-proposal-after-ten-days bit. The married people and the partner-free Singles laugh too, and the not-yet-married-but-living-with-their-boyfriends-since-heaven-knows-when women go ashen.

I hate that part.

The last time that happened I didn't notice until the boyfriend got up from his place at the table, ambled behind his girlfriend and began to give her a shoulder massage, as if to say, "I'm sorry you are stressed out that we're not even engaged when this strange and churchy couple got engaged after 10 days."

Listen, I'm forty years old, and I live in a cosmopolitan city, and I run around with different of sets of people, so I'm not naive about folks who live in sin. Some folks who live together without marriage actually stay do together. Sometimes they even get married, have kids, and dodge the statistical bullet that says people who live together before marriage are more likely to divorce. I know one woman who hung in there for ten long years and then got the rings, the dress and the baby. God bless her. I would have died a thousand deaths--at least two a week, so that's 1040.

This is something that I think a lot of men don't get. If a woman loves a man, really loves a man, she wants him for the rest of her life. And she wants him to want her for the rest of her life, more than she wants her own liver. Since I was sixteen years old (EEEK!) part of me wanted some man somewhere some day to say "YOU are the woman for me forever." Of course, when that actually happened, I revised this to wanting the RIGHT man to say it. And thus when I fell in love with B.A., I wanted him to say it, and thank goodness he did.

Therefore, it blows my mind that so many women, even Catholic women, will consent to "let's live together for awhile and see how it goes." No. I just don't believe in that. I believe in "I love you, and I want you so bad, I'd lose half my toes to frostbite to keep you, since you love me, too."

The problem is that women are afraid to say No to men they love--that or they think they are "strong", "sophisticated," "modern" women who can "do the sensible thing" and "move slowly to a commitment" when deep down they are interdependent, passionate, timeless women who want rings on their fingers, babies in the pram, and the same men in their beds for the next forty-five years. I mean, hello! We are not all totally screwed up/ rendered tough as nails by the divorce revolution.

Many women cry when their boyfriends propose. I think there's sometimes as much relief in those tears as there is joy. Thank God, thank God, he hasn't been lying all this time about loving me! Thank God, he isn't going to just pack up and leave one day after all! Me, I giggled. There were tourists everywhere, pretending nothing was going on. I had met the man in person, like, ten days before. It was hilarious.

Not so hilarious are women who wait month after month, year after year, for their live-in lovers to propose. "What's wrong?" they wonder. "What's wrong with 'Us'? What's wrong with him? What's wrong with me?" It is particularly terrible when the women come from traditional religious backgrounds and they are with men with traditional religious backgrounds. If you're a fourth-generation Communist and your parents never bothered to marry but are still together, than I guess it might not be such a big deal. But Jewish girls? Catholic girls? Brrr-rrr-rrrr!

"But how do I make him propose?" demands the live-in lover--oh, sorry, partner*--secretly and in agony for fear someone might discover that she is not "strong", "sophisticated" and "modern" but a human female like most human females.

One advice book I know says to kick him out and not let him back in without a ring. If he comes back with a ring, take him back. If he doesn't come back, he was never yours in the first place, which sucks, but at least now you're eligible to meet someone serious. This is not something to say to a woman whose heart has been shattered into a thousand pieces, but it is true--or will be true once she can laugh again.

It makes me supremely angry when I hear a man dither over whether or not he should marry his devoted long-term girlfriend. I wonder where the man's mother and sisters are, and why they are not giving him hell. If one of my brothers announced he was moving in with a woman and there was no ring in sight, I would go mediaeval on his you-know-what. MEDIAEVAL. Why? Because I love my brothers, and I want them to be good men, and I want them to be happy, and to make other women who love them happy. That's what sisterhood really means.

But where other men are concerned, I bite my tongue and scram when I can because unless they're family or my very best friends, it's not my business. I long for this girlfriend or that to consult me, though. I sit at home willing her to call me up, which of course she would never do. But if she did, I would tell her to kick him out of their space, and not let him back in without a ring.

Unless they had kids. Once you have kids, your happiness doesn't come first anymore. Theirs does. And once you've made their bed as well as yours, poppets, you have to lie in it. And I'm really sorry. Be as happy as you can. Royal mistresses often lived happy, dignified lives, and now society doesn't treat ordinary bidie-in women and their kids like pariahs. It's almost like being married, I guess. Almost.

Have I mentioned there are situations way worse then being entirely Single? There are. There's being neither Single nor Married with your heart beating to the silent sound of its wailing.

*Scene: Edinburgh Airport, Friday, June 12, 1:30 PM

UK Border Agent: And is your partner in the UK right now?

Seraphic: My husband is, yes.

Saturday, 18 June 2011

Live--Okay, Not Live--At Notre Dame!

This is a video of my lecture at Notre Dame. I'm too embarrassed to watch it. You watch it if you want.

Dorothy Cummings McLean: “Waiting for Your Marching Orders: Staying Sane while Single" from NotreDameIdentityProject on Vimeo.


I had such a great time at Notre Dame, as I reported back in February. Everyone was really nice to me, and I even got my own temporary Personal Assistant. Her name is Holly, and she drove me places. Not even my husband drives me places, but that is because he never took his driving test.

Taking Liberties

Attn to sensitive: subject of sexual assault mentioned in this post.

The way to cultivate happiness about the outside world is to assume that most men are good men. As a matter of fact, men are more likely to be nice to women than they are to other men, which is the exact opposite of the men-are-out-to-get-us assumptions of late-20th century feminism.

Ginger wondering why men are nicer to her than women are at the ice-cream parlour where she works and over the phone at the lawyer's office where she also works reminded me of this. Men are nicer to Ginger, I posit, because she is a young woman, and most men are (1) programmed to be pleasant to young women and (2) don't feel in competition with them. Women (1) aren't and (2) very often do.

So that is my basic starting point. Most men are good men.

Saying most men are good implies that at least one man is bad and, poppets, there's more than one bad man out there 'cause I've dated two very bad men, and I've had some emails about even worse ones. And men can't take me to task for observing this, for it is men who feel the hand of fear grip their hearts when they realize their baby daughters aren't babies any more.

Once upon a time, gently brought up young girls weren't allowed to go anywhere by themselves. Unless they were out with their parents or brothers, they went out with their governess or their maid. This was not for their oppression but for their protection. Nowadays, many people assume that the law and fear of prison is enough to protect young girls, and that they can go anywhere and do anything without risk of seduction or rape. This is, of course, ridiculous, although the laws now make the lives of chambermaids considerably easier.

Rape is, of course, punishable (if the victim can bear to report it and have her attacker brought to trial). Seduction usually isn't (in this life). But the line between rape and seduction is sometimes blurry. If you ask me, sexual consent is a spectrum with a very fuzzy middle area. And as horrible as rape is, I hear being sweet-talked, used and then thrown out like a tissue isn't so great either.

Oh dear. What a downer. Let's move on. Let's talk about Facebook.

People often ask to be my Facebook friend. But I very, VERY rarely become the Facebook friend of someone I have never met. I'm so out there when I write, writing both for Catholic Toronto for money and the Catholics and/or Singles of the World for free, that I protect my privacy on Facebook. I also protect my physical space. I won't go so far as to say that I never talk to strangers, but I certainly never put my private life in the hands of strangers. This is particularly true of male strangers. Unless we've been introduced, I usually don't want to talk to a male stranger. (The local customs of blethery Scotland mean, of course, that I end up talking to older male strangers at bus stops, but I'm married now, and that makes a HUGE difference.)

So the first way I protect myself, as a woman, is to reject Facebook invitations from strangers, particularly strange men. Oh, and I'd rather slam the lid of my laptop computer on my hand than try to Facebook befriend a man I barely know.

The second way I protect myself is to reject dodgy blog comments. My dear ladies, for you are mostly ladies, you would not believe some of the comments I reject, for I try to reject them before you can see them. The worst ones come from men, including Catholic men who think they are righteous before God. Some men think they can come swaggering in here telling me what's what, but they are wrong. There are only four men I have to listen to: my husband, my father, my priest and my editor. All other men can take their scoldings and their "how dare you's" and jump in a lake. I don't permit such liberties.

I treat dodgy comments the way we are to treat obscene phone calls. I say nothing and merely end the call. I hit the reject button. Robbed of seeing their words in print, the men go away. Ta-dah!

The third way I protect myself is with my invisible cloak of reserve. I'm not sure when or where I got it, but it means I am very rarely approached by men. I think I radiate a sort of "If you mess with me, I will rip off your face" signal. It helps to have a keen, smug self-regard, good posture, sense of style and the ability to be nasty to nasty people. Too many girls are trapped by the belief that if they are nice and gentle to everyone, no matter how wicked, they will be okay. No. Not true.

The fourth way I protect myself is not letting male strangers or acquaintances in my living space. This is slightly anachronistic because now I am married, and it is also slightly impossible because I live in a Historical House of National Importance and occasionally curators, workmen, bat conservationists et alia come up the stairs unannounced. Once I was in a bath towel; I was most annoyed, but the definition of a lady is a woman who can make a visitor feel at ease even when she has been surprised in the bath, so I had a crack at it before giving my husband hell for not warning me in advance.

Male friends almost never call when my husband is away, but that's a propriety thing. I am not worried about my male friends, who are all my husband's friends also.

I once went just about out of my mind when a female visitor to my Boston flat, a visitor with persistent bad judgement about men, invited a local man into it. She had met him on some distant holiday some month before, and I had never met him. I came home to find this man coming out of my bedroom.

"Excuse me," I demanded with (I hope) tones of ice. "What are you doing in my bedroom?"

"X said I could go in there," quoth he.

X was in the kitchen. She went on to invite her friend for dinner with us.

I took X outside for a Word, the principal theme being "Never invite men into my space." And I did not give a tinker's damn what her dodgy-looking friend thought about it.

The fifth way I protect myself is to be very careful about female friends who hang out with dodgy men. I don't shelve my self-protection for their sakes. There are women who come down with dodgy men the way other women come down with colds. It's very sad, but I have never been able to figure out how to solve that problem. I do like or love the female friends, but I can't stand some of their men friends. The way to deal, of course, is to treat the men friends warily and then to protest at their first sign of badness or weirdness, whether it is making obscene jokes or appearing before me in their underpants or a dress.* Having bus or taxi fare on hand is essential at such moments. Frankly, the best protest I can think of is a timely cry of "TAXI!"

By the way, I should also mention that some nice men have some very not nice male friends, men who act like great guys around other men, but when alone with a woman, the mask comes off. Keep an eye out for those guys, and if one behaves inappropriately towards you, get the heck out of Dodge, and call up your mutual friend to tell him he shouldn't be introducing a guy like that to his female friends. If he's a good guy, he'll be mortified and apologetic, for being a good guy, he doesn't want to be thought of as a bad guy by association.

Finally, and I think most importantly, I am not afraid of hurting strange men's feelings. As a tiny woman, I always but ALWAYS trump them in the victim sweepstakes, so they can't hold anything--race, class, age, mental health--over me. I care about what my family, friends and readers think of my soul, but that's it. All the general public deserves is a view of a tastefully dressed, recently washed woman who doesn't screech, hoot or reel drunkenly before it or make long, boring calls on her mobile phone. If someone thinks I am racist, classist or homophobic because I get off an elevator early, that's his/her problem, not mine.

The Jesuit philosopher Bernard Lonergan taught that knowledge is a three-step process encompassing Experience, Understanding and JUDGEMENT. Being judgemental, therefore, is a GOOD THING, as long as you are using your reason. NOT being judgemental is insane and even suicidal. You use your judgement before you cross the road, so why not use your judgement when deciding whether or not a man is worth a single second of your time?

When I flip through my mental rolodex of the men with whom I enjoy spending time, I note that all of the non-priest ones--including B.A.--were friends of friends before I met them. I have made many female friends who were strangers to all--in fact, I pride myself on being welcoming to female strangers--but this is not true of the men to whom I now care to speak.

(By the way, not all priests are good men. Almost all of my seminarian/priest classmates were great guys, but not all priests are. Watch out, especially when abroad or among ones foreign to your country, since they may have weird ideas about women who look like you. If, in a non-pastoral situation and apropos of nothing, a priest tells you celibacy is really difficult, say good-bye. "Celibacy is really difficult" is the bad priest's mating call.)

*True story. Same guy. When I suggested to my hostess that he put something on over his underpants, he came back quite unselfconsciously wearing a lady's dress.

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

Hello from Italy!

Good morning, my little Singles! Here I am in Italy, and you can read of my adventures on my other blog. My other blog is full of crankiness about church architecture, etc., so it might not entirely be your cup of tea. However, you might find Hilary's and my adventures amusing. And I don't have time to blog on two blogs!

I thought about writing a post called "Rule 1: Stay Away From Bad Men," but as yet I have not had time.

Saturday, 11 June 2011

Grazie Ed A Presto

I have just written a bunch of thank you postcards to wing their way to Switzerland, Australia and the US of A to say thanks to my lovely patronesses and patron who donated towards the noble cause of me sitting by the Mediterranean for five days with your fellow Single Hilary. I leave for Italy tomorrow at dawn.

Hilary informs me that her boiler has started leaking gas, so its long life is over, and there will be no hot water.

If this isn't a concept for a reality show, I don't know what is.

Two Canadian Catholic journalists, two attitudes towards women, one cancerous tumour, one Italian flat, no hot water. A friendship made in heaven or a murder spawned in hell? Stay tuned to "Ladies in Lazio"!

Of course, if I am lucky, I will turn it all into a heart-warming book that will win the Orange Prize.

I will return to this lovely site when I can. It depends on Hilary's computer, really. In the meantime, take care of your beautiful selves and stay seraphic!

Getting Along with Girls for Girls

This is may be the most controversial aspect of life I write about on this blog. I am not kidding. Women feel hurt by men, sure, and men feel hurt by women, you bet, but there is no hurt like the emotional hurt women inflict on women, wittingly or unwittingly. And that's an understatement.

If you ascribe to the stone age model of gender relations, which I rather do, you can easily imagine the women back at the camp grinding up meal together, farming, tending to babies and generally inventing civilisation while the men go off to hunt.

No doubt someone has conveniently discovered (or will conveniently discover) that in caveman times there was a race of Superwomen Better Than All The Other Women who also went off to hunt, brave loners for whom all the other hunters lusted, etc: "By Dadga and the Three-headed One, Siobhaedd, you are different from all other womankind upon whom I look with scorn from my manly heights. Become thou the captainess of my hunters."

Anyway, that's cool for Siobheadd, but for some reason it doesn't endear her to the other women. Why not, eh? Why do they not admire her like the Chief and all the other hunters? Well, for one thing, the gals back at the camp don't have a tiny, sometimes barely perceptible voice working its way through their bloodstreams saying "Gosh, Siobheadd is A WOMAN. I wonder if she'd ever sleep with me?" And also they don't like it that Siobheadd is hanging with their husbands all day because, unlike Siobheadd, they can hear that tiny voice burbling away.

In general, and I found this out the hard way, women are collectivists. As a sex, we could have taught the Soviets a thing or two. Unless we are homeschooled, we go from home to schoolyard and eventually form cliques, just about the time boys naturally decide they don't want to play with us any more, unless they have been caught and drugged with Ritalin into submission.

(Okay, I actually don't know what Ritalin does to little boys. But I do know that it is normal for many if not most boys to not want to play with girls for a few years.)

Personally, I was a complete failure at schoolyard collectivism. This had a lot to do with my parents, who did not believe in children watching television, chewing gum, wearing trendy clothes, listening to rock music or reading comic books, unless written in French. This may sound great, but unfortunately I believe that abstinence from all these things was not a lifestyle choice but a sign that I was a cut above everyone else. And it was this, I think, not the absence of Motorhead from my life, that made the schoolyard a living hell.

There I was, the young aesthete alone with the vulgar herd, wondering why the vulgar herd, with its mindless entertainments, corrupted tastes, obscene language, degraded trendy clothes and, quite often, wrongful assumption that "being Italian" was something to brag about, didn't like me.

My only friends at elementary school were an unusually amiable girl liked by everyone and a fellow freak, but for some strange reason, I got along very well with girls at Brownies, ballet class and, eventually, the parish youth group.

(Wait a minute--why? Hypotheses: Rather unfortunate male-female dynamic at school upped ante? One to two hours a week of the Young Aesthete's company was bearable, even bracing? Edwardian Brownies philosophy jived well with neo-Edwardian upbringing? Physical and emotional suffering of ballet created bonds?)

Then I went to high school, and the sun of female friendship shone like never before. By the tenth grade, I had figured out how to get along with enough women to form a collective. But it wasn't until I was in my mid-twenties that I learned how to get along in any collective. This was because I had taken my B.A. degree, which I honestly thought made me a better person than women who went to community college, and it took me quite a while to get over myself.

When I first joined the adult lady workforce, I was horrified by the recipe-and-horoscope culture. I definitely thought I was TOO GOOD for that. But eventually I found myself making the recipes, and discovering that they were good. I still have Sharon's pumpkin cheesecake recipe somewhere and, lo, it is very good.

In short I discovered that it is okay to talk recipes and possibly even star signs with women without losing the part of me that prefers dogmatic theology and T.S. Eliot. And, in fact, I have discovered that it is this discovery that makes me a nice person to be around.

Getting along with other women is a lot like inter-religious dialogue. If you want to have a decent inter-religious dialogue, you have to obey some ground rules.

The first ground rule of inter-religious dialogue is that you're not allowed to try to bully your interlocutors into admitting that they are wrong and you are right. The second is that you're not allowed to stress that your religion is better than theirs. The third is that you don't TELL them what they believe, but that you ASK them what they believe and LISTEN to the answers. The fourth is that you don't stress your differences: you always begin with what you have in common. If you're talking to Jews, your beginning point might be Moses. If you're talking to Muslims, your beginning point might be Adam or Noah. If you're talking to Buddhists, your beginning point might be respect for life.

Okay, so the rules of getting along with women are as such:

1. Don't try to dominate your fellow women. And try your best not to look like that's what you are trying to do. Rough and boisterous humour, e.g. saying "Wow! You got hit with the ugly stick today!" is not a good idea.

2. Don't ever, EVER give another woman the impression you think you are fundamentally better than she is. It used to be a class marker in Britain how a woman spoke to women whose husbands or fathers had humbler jobs than her husband or father. Aristocratic ladies (supposedly) spoke in an easy, friendly, confident fashion, and middle-class ladies, eager to differentiate themselves from the Common Herd, often made the fearful solecism of sounding snotty and rude. "She's a real lady" didn't necessarily mean a woman from a posh background; it meant a woman with exquisitely good manners--which doesn't mean acting like you have a poker up your butt, but acting like everyone you speak to is enormously important, likeable and interesting.

3. There are women who enjoy a good intellectual argument, and there are women who don't. 99% of the time, keep your opinion about another woman's life or conduct--unless it affects you directly--locked up in your teeming brain. If she asks what you think, and you have reason to believe she won't turn it into World War III, tell her in the gentlest possible terms. But if she gets mad, point out that she asked. If she's your friend, eventually she will stop being mad. If she tries to turn the collective against you, point out the unfairness of this behaviour because "she asked for my opinion, and I gave it in the gentlest possible terms." And if you have a reputation for minding your own business, and the collective shares your opinion anyway, it will probably rule in your favour, and tell Miss Thinner Skin Than She Thought to grow up.

4. Stress your similarities. If you like pie, graciously accept the pie recipe. If you were born in late February, admit that you're a Pisces. If you have been felled by cramps, ask the woman next to you if she has any painkillers. If the dreaded woman-dividing subject of abortion comes up, stress that you feel awful for girls who are frightened when they find themselves pregnant and mention the (pro-life) places in town that help these girls out. Then (if appropriate, and if it really is okay to be having this conversation at work, etc.) mention the babies. And for heaven's sake, always remember that there may be a woman with a scarred heart, soul and womb in earshot, so pick your words wisely--not only for her sake, but for yours.

The last thing I will mention is that women are not only collective, we are competitive. Being competitive and collective at the same time is very difficult. It is a headache. And the number one competition, one that pits sister against sister, friend against friend, daughter against mother (sadly), is the competition for men. There is no easier way to alienate other women than to make a huge and obvious effort to dominate the attention of another woman's man, even, sometimes, your dad.* Even if you don't want a guy, and are just trying to make him laugh or accept you as one of the guys, you can seriously anger his wife, girlfriend and other women around.

I will never forget watching a woman, a stranger, a friend of a friend, show up at a party in a ludicrously inappropriate and immodest dress. I was there with B.A., at the time my fiance, and it was the first time in my life I felt personally insulted by another woman's dress. Her huge breasts dominated the room, a room of close female friends, their boyfriends, husbands and fiances. The collective was collectively, if silently, outraged, and it broke its silence later when it was reported that The Stranger had done her best to flirt with one of the boyfriends.

Now, this is where someone or other (possibly Hilary) will jump in to comment that this is why she can't stand other women. But I will point out that drawing together into a wall to defend against attacks from strangers who want what's yours is not uniquely female behaviour.

To sum up, speaking as someone who took a long and painful time learning how to get along with other women, if you don't like other women, it's not really our problem. Most of us could care less. It's yours. It's yours because life is tough, and sometimes you really need other women around. As great as men can be, they can never quite understand what it is to be a woman, and sometimes someone who does is who you need around right then.

*Shocker! Some women can deal with going grey and saggy just when their own daughters are blooming into gorgeous roses, and some women can't. Nobody likes to talk about this, but it can be a source of horrible tension and division between mothers and daughters. The bright side of being 40 is that I am already falling apart, so if I had a daughter at 41, by the time my daughter was 20, I'd be like, "What a pretty girl! Did I EVER look like that? many years ago... can't remember..."

Friday, 10 June 2011

First Century!

I woke up this morning and discovered I have 100 Google "Followers". How exciting! Thank you for reading.

Thursday, 9 June 2011

"You'll Never Get Married If..."

The lady in this photograph got married yesterday. She is 46 years old. Her husband is a very normal looking Scots civil servant in his 60s. He has no piercings.

I've seen this lady dozens of times on my way down Edinburgh's Royal Mile. She's a fixture, selling jewellery and posing for photographs with tourists.

Discuss in the combox. Kindly, though. From everything I've ever heard or seen, she's a nice lady.

Update: May I just get the ball rolling by pointing out that she is at least 15 years younger than he is. The more I see of life, the more I think men think women 15 years younger than they, no matter how kooky, are simply adorable.

Photo by George Gastin.

Wednesday, 8 June 2011

The Mass Poll

Once upon a time I had a very exciting meeting in a publisher's office. It had a model boat, I believe, and a view of the harbour. I sat very straight, drank coffee and was just on the respectable side of giddy.

"Who is the audience for this book?" asked the publisher.

"The average Seraphic Singles reader is female, Single, American, between the ages of 19 and 40, at university or university educated," I said. "She is almost always female, and she is almost always a Roman Catholic. She is usually in her twenties and early thirties, because as a matter of fact most people in the USA get married at least once, usually by 40."

You have no idea how high I got just rattling that off to my publisher. It was all true, and I knew it was all true because of the polls I posted that year.

One of the first rules in writing is "Know your audience." Whenever you write anything, you must consider your audience. And, goodness knows, I find you all fascinating because what kind of people turn up every week or every day to read my effusive typings?

This is not only a personal question or a vocational question, it is a professional question. The biggest headache for a writer (if she has food and shelter) is having her stuff turned down because she has sent it to the wrong place.

Anyway, this time I wanted to find out how many of your were Latin Mass nuts like me, and how many were going to the Ordinary Form, and how many would admit to skipping off, and if the Other Readers of Good Will were still hanging in there.

First, 145 readers responded.

Of the 145:

135 went to Mass that Sunday.

111 went to Mass in a vernacular language that Sunday.

24 went to Mass in Latin.

Nobody went to Mass in another ancient language. I was thinking Old Slavonic or Coptic or Greek.

1 person was sick.

4 were skiving. I will give them the benefit of the doubt and suggest that they were actually sick or travelling or tending small babies. If not, to the confessional with them. Easy peasy:

Them: "Bless me Father for I have sinned; it has been a long time since my last confession. Since that time I skipped off Mass X time(s) and for this and for all the sins of my past life that I've forgotten I am truly sorry."

Priest: "That's it?"

Them (thinking very hard but their minds have gone blank): "Yep."

Priest: "Well, um, you oughtn't to skip off Mass."

Them (deeply sorrowful): "I know, Father."

Priest: "Say an Act of Contrition."

Them (reading off card): "O my God, I am truly sorry.." Etc.

Then if they are lucky they will get a penance right away, and if they are not they will get a tremendously long feel-good lecture that somehow makes them feel worse instead of that lightness of heart the sacrament usually brings. Incidentally, Jesuits often like you to ponder Scripture passages for your penance, so bring a Bible if you're going to a Jesuit.

5 were Other Readers of Good Will who like answering polls. How nice it would be if they came to Mass, too, hint, hint. (But don't go up for Communion because that is A BIG DEAL for which you have to be Catholic, prepared, shriven, etc.)


Okay, so my voters are mostly Catholic, and you mostly did not skip off Mass, which is sadly what most baptized Catholics in the West do week after week. I think in Canada that is around 70%. Yikes. Still that is better than 85% which I think describes France.

Most of my readers go to Mass in a vernacular language, which is not a surprise, and indeed a relief as I am trying for some breadth here. But seventeen percent of those who went to Mass did go to Mass in Latin, which is in itself suggestive. Seventeen percent strikes me as a lot for a liturgy that barely survived the 1970s.

And I still have some non-Catholic readers whom I greatly prize, as one prizes all jewels, for their rarity!

Tuesday, 7 June 2011

Two Rejections

Darlinges, I have been holding out on you.

It is my policy to tell you whenever I get a book or an article rejected, so that you can see (A) that rejection doesn't end at the altar and (B) that everyone gets rejected and we just keep going.

Last week I had one article (written on spec) rejected, and this week I had one solicited article rejected. I lost half a month's pay when that happened.

But that's how life is.

Yes, I'm Entitled

Update: No, Western women do NOT necessarily make terrible wives. Belated hellos to the hordes that trampled hither from Fisheaters and The Pulpit. Hi there, and buy my book! American, Canadian and Polish editions available. See margin.


I mentioned on Facebook that I was enjoying Eat, Pray, Love and was staggered by the negative response. Okay, Eat, Pray, Love is not a Catholic book. It even takes three or four swipes at Catholicism. The third section, which I hadn't got to yet, is pornographic. But the passion of the response shocked me. I mean, it's just Elizabeth Gilbert's memoirs. So she sold 5 million copies. I'm envious, too, but not angry about it.*

The most surprising comment came from an American man, a Chinese-American man.

"Fitting for an American princess," he wrote.

I blinked. I'd regularly heard the rather dodgy expression "JAP", "Jewish American Princess", years ago, but never "American princess."

"She was brought up on a Midwestern Protestant Christmas tree farm," I wrote back. "Hardly a princess."

"It's used wrt the attitude of entitlement, not the amount of property or status of nobility," he replied. "Surprised you haven't heard it used this way yet. It's a common complaint about Western women."

Western women.

Suddenly I was back in My Worst Theology Class Ever, listening in shock as the Asian-American Jesuit beside me declared "White women make bad wives."

"By whom?" I snarled and wrote it into the Facebook stream.

But I regretted it. The 'R' word loomed and I didn't want to mix it up with my old pal. So I told him he didn't have to answer that. But he did.

"By whom? A lot of men (including me). You'll see it on websites about marriage and dating frequented by men."

"Ooo" I wrote. "What are these websites? I've been wondering why Seraphic Singles has so few male visitors these days!"

In response, he sent me this link to a piece by Kay Hymowitz and suggested I google to find men's responses.

Well, I did and, girls, it's not pretty. You know how I keep telling you you won't always like it when you find out what men are thinking? It's definitely true.

I thought Kay Hymowitz's piece was thoughtful and even sympathetic to men, drawing upon sociological detail and historical factors to explain why 55% of Americans have not married by age 30. Yes, she observes that huge numbers of American men in their 20s aren't exactly grown-ups, but you'd have to be blind, deaf and dumb not to notice that.

However, in response to Hymowitz, male bloggers and commentators went crazy. Typically, they attacked Hymowitz's appearance. In the crudest and most inventive terms they could think up, they called contemporary American women a pack of sluts. They accused women like Hymowitz of just wanting a man to support them. It was as if she had become the lightning rod for Frustrated American Man's contempt for Contemporary American Woman.

Google at your own risk. But I'll tell you something. Reading all that abuse was not as bad as being the only white woman in an American classroom as I listened to a future priest say "White women make bad wives."

For about the millionth time that term, I made a protest. Where, I wanted to know, did this guy get the idea that white women made bad wives? There followed a lot of circumstantial evidence about one unhappy Asian male-white female marriage, plus the revelation that his mother would understand if he left the SJ but not if he married a white woman. He detailed what his mother thought of white women, e.g. lazy, money-grubbing, disobedient, disrespectful, promiscuous, etc.

"Does your mother even know any white women?" I demanded.

He thought about that and chuckled.

"Actually, I don't think she does. But she watches a lot of soap operas."

I learned more about racism through that theology class than I thought a white person could. And I learned something about sexism, too, and how much crap women from some non-Western cultures have to put up with. If women in some cultures are told that, in stark contrast to their brothers, they are entitled to absolutely nothing and that they should be grateful for anything they get then, yeah, Western women are going to look mighty entitled.

Eat, Pray, Love begins with Elizabeth Gilbert on her bathroom floor crying her heart out night after night. She has severe depression. She and her husband own a beautiful house, and she has a successful magazine writing career. She has published three books by age 35. She is the major breadwinner and--FYI--far from being a money-grubber, she hands over EVERYTHING but her royalties and future earnings to her ex-husband (who wanted the royalties, too) in their divorce.

She never explains why exactly their marriage collapsed and why divorce was so necessary to her sanity and happiness, and since she was never a Catholic and had no children, and since I was divorced once myself, I'm willing to cut her some major slack on the D-word. I have no problem saying that Elizabeth Gilbert was entitled to get up off the bathroom floor and have a decent night's sleep. As she is an American, I believe her national constitution entitles her to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Happiness.

Some women have no idea they have a right to the pursuit of happiness. And for many a woman, the greatest earthly happiness she can imagine is to marry a good man who loves her, to have his children and to raise them in comfort. In short, to be simultaneously utterly vulnerable and safely protected.

A few years ago I blogged what I wanted in a man. I wanted an educated man who had a job he enjoyed with a salary big enough to support himself and me, if I were unemployed, and our children, if we had any. I wanted a Catholic man who went to church.

A guy commented that I sure wanted a lot. But, newsflash, I wanted no more than what my mother got. My baby boomer, university-educated, property-owning, Scottish-Canadian housewife mother who--fortunately for me--ditched a fiance back in the 1960s because he bought clothing on credit. Financially irresponsible, decided my future mother. She gave him the old heave-ho and married a future university professor. Good call.

One might argue that my mother was in her early twenties, so she was worth a heck of a lot more on the marriage market than thirty-something, divorced me. However, I stuck to my guns. If I married a man, I would want him to have a job he enjoyed and that paid him a family wage because I would only ever marry a happy man who respects himself, and where I come from, a poorly paid man, or a man who hates his job, is not happy and does not respect himself.

And lo. Here I sit, in my nightie, the epitome of what some guys really, really hate. My husband is at work, working. I am at home, writing. My husband thinks I'm beautiful, but even my grandmother would only go so far as to say I'm striking, and that was before I gained 20 pounds and turned forty. No doubt there dozens of men out there who, if they dared, would tell my husband he could have done better. There'd be no point in telling them that this staying home writing while my husband supported me gig was his idea.

But they can go soak their heads. My husband is happy. And so am I.

*I didn't see the movie. I have no idea how the movie portrays Gilbert's marriage. Before anyone gets worried, I should say that I do not approve of "lifestyle divorce" if that odd phrase means "get divorced so I can go to Bali and have sex with handsome ex-pats."

Update: Now that I've been clicking around a lot, I see that Eat, Pray, Love was hugely controversial and caused a massive flare-up in the American front of the War Between the Sexes. Thus, I should probably say what I liked and didn't like about it.

First, EG is two years older than I am, and I admired her work ethic and talent. The woman can write. (I have a moral quirk in that I cut men and women who can write a lot of slack. Graham Greene was in some ways a simply awful man and a very bad Catholic. But he could write.)

Second, I know what it is like to cry my heart out on the bathroom floor wondering if I will ever stop crying, and to not know if staying or leaving would be worse.

Third, I very much enjoyed the Roman section because I, too, have an impractical love for the Italian language, only I indulged it when I was a teenager. I enjoyed her descriptions of Italy very much and would love to know where in Naples she got that pizza.

Fourth, I very much enjoyed the Indian section because I, too, have experimented with meditation--Christian meditation. Christianity has an ancient, wonderful, holy contemplative tradition. One of the most wonderful aspects of the Extraordinary Mass are the deep, contemplative silences.

Fifth, I thought her search for God very sincere. The heartfelt cry for help on the bathroom floor was completely believable, and I was astonished when I read how she wrote dialogues with herself (or with God) in a notebook because I have done that, too.

So far so good. But then she went to Bali.

The Bali section is drenched with self-indulgence rather more cloying than that of the Italian section. The Italian section was about enjoying things, God's gifts, like art, language and food. But the Bali section was about enjoying people as things. Suddenly the book seemed a trifle infantile, as if a breathless little girl was adding more and more to her big fantasy.."...and then I made my new bestest friend's, a very poor but beautiful medicine woman's, dream come true...and then I met a handsome prince and we.. and we... and we DID IT...and then... and then...he said we could try to live all over the world!"

A Roman friend claims that the operative word for Rome is "Sex" but as a matter of fact this is more like to be the word that sums up Bali, where EG's Balinese friends obsess on the subject. They encourage her to take a lover, and once she takes up her birthright in the ex-pat community, the reader knows it is only a matter of time. After one false start, and after one heartfelt refusal to have an affair with him, EG succumbs to a 52 year old Brazilian, in true romance novel fashion, i.e. he masterfully tells her to have sex with him, and she does.

Then follows more romance novel type stuff to make the average woman panic about her own sexual present or future: their bodies fit together perfectly ("Don't they always?"), she has four orgasms a day ("Is there something wrong if I don't?"), etc., etc.

Needless to say, I don't recommend Section 3 to my readers.

The story in which she emails all her friends around the world asking for money to buy a house for a Balinese single mother is EGREGIOUSLY Oprah and an artistic error that is only partially redeemed by her devastation when she realizes that her lovely friend has a crooked streak. It all reminds me of Aristotle's dictum that you can be friends only with an equal, and a very successful (if temporarily broke) American woman who thinks that a poor, divorced, Balinese single mother is her equal is fooling herself, but not the Balinese woman.

There is also an obsession with personal appearance in the Bali section, an obsession shared by EG's Balinese friends. Her medicine man pal is credited with making magic paintings that render a client more beautiful. And when I got to that bit of the book, I realized why this book was guaranteed to sell five million copies to women. It has EVERYTHING except a 17th century house outside Edinburgh.

It has endless food, which helps a scrawny EG put on only a healthy amount of weight. It has exotic, attractive, easily made friends of both sexes. It has travel. It has mystic experiences. It has magic. It has a wise medicine man who informs EG that, formerly ugly, she is now pretty. It has incandescent sex. It has philanthropy. It has sweet little girls. It has babies. It has a 50-something silverback male gorilla/Brazilian who worships EG and why not? She's 17 years his junior, and that's usually how 50-something men roll.

In short, it's a beach read that--to my surprise--is now a cultural phenomenon evoking comments of disgust from my Facebook friends.

Saturday, 4 June 2011

Were You Homeschooled?

I've been hearing a lot about homeschooling lately. With the collapse of traditional Catholic identity, not to mention catechesis, I know a lot of folks lost faith in ordinary Catholic schools. I taught in a parent-run school myself, once upon a time.

Home-schooling, parent-run schools and new, private Catholic schools of impeachable orthodoxy sound like a great alternative to schools steeped in the culture of death.* However, I wonder how such schools prepare girls and boys for life outside their schools. I went to an ordinary Catholic girls school, and university life hit me for a loop. What happens to the girl who is taught at home? Has she got the tools to cope with a sometimes very nasty, sometimes pornographic society?

As for orthodox Catholic universities, I've heard of kids at Steubenville musing, "How do people who don't go to Steubenville stay Catholic?" That's a good question, but my question is "How do kids who graduate from Steubenville cope outside Steubenville?"

So today, dear readers, I would love to hear from those who were homeschooled. How did you feel when your home studies were done and you went to work or to college? How are you doing? What are you glad of and what do you regret?

Anonymous comments will be accepted today.

*Non-Catholic readers, this does not mean you. "Culture of death" is theological shorthand for suicidal tendencies in contemporary society, used by John Paul II.

Update: There's a school poll in the margin.

Friday, 3 June 2011

What to Wear? What to Wear?

***Warning: This post may upset survivors of sexual assault. First it mentions rape and myths about rape, but then it talks about issues around women's clothing and how people judge us on our clothing. These are two separate issues, but you might find the juxtaposition unsettling.***

You will no doubt be unsurprised to hear that I will not be marching in Edinburgh's SlutWalk on June 18th. This is not because I am okay with rape--I hate rape.

I hate rape. I loathe rape. All civilized people loathe rape. Civilization has always loathed rape, which is why there have always been laws against it. These laws have needed to be expanded and nuanced, and they have been.

There are a number of myths about rape. One is that a woman is most likely to be raped by a stranger. She is not. She is much more likely to be raped by someone she knows. In fact, she is most likely to be raped as a minor by someone in her own family circle, e.g. Mom's boyfriend. That's horrible news, but that is the truth. And the next most likely scenario is that a woman is raped by her own boyfriend or husband. That's what the statistics say. Then there's acquaintance rape.

Therefore, the most important way in which a woman can protect herself from way is to stay away from really lousy guys. She doesn't date them. She doesn't marry them. She doesn't let them in the house or her apartment. She doesn't find herself alone with them. She doesn't drink with them. She doesn't assume that because a guy is her age, a young guy, that he is a safe guy to be around.

What women wear is really kind of beside the point, when it comes to rape. Wearing fishnet stockings and a tiny skirt is probably NOT going to attract a rapist, most of the time. Women singled out for rape might be wearing something modest. I know of a young woman who was kidnapped wearing her Catholic high school uniform. She was raped and murdered.

[Now I'm going to talk about clothes. If you are uncomfortable reading about "responsible dress" for women, you don't have to read on. It's okay to feel that way. Go read something fun. Father Z, for example!]

Sexy outfits will get you attention, however, and it may not be of a positive kind. You may find yourself having to talk to the kind of guy you would rather not talk to and having to turn down the kind of invitation you'd rather not get and hearing yourself called names you'd rather not be called. The problem with dressing provocatively, IMHO, is that it provokes. That's why it's called dressing provocatively.

Now this will boggle your minds but since the beginning of recorded history men have been on the lookout for women who will have sex with them without too much fuss. And for six thousand years they have been trying to figure out which women amongst all the other women those were. And, conveniently enough, the intentionally not-fussy women of every era figured a way to signal their lack of fussiness although until recently they normally wanted to be paid for it.

Clothes are not just protective shelter from the elements. Clothes are code--they're almost as readable as a tattoo. And if you get "I'm a moron" tattooed on yourself in the belief the Chinese characters really say "Jade Princess", don't be surprised if Chinese people giggle when they see you. If you dress like a hooker or a groupie, don't be surprised if some guy tries to find out if you act like one, too. Tell him to scram, sure, and scream your lungs out if he doesn't get the message, but don't be surprised if some two-bit lothario tries his luck.

In all the screaming and yelling about a Toronto cop who advised women to avoid dressing like "sluts", what strikes me most is that women were seriously upset that he used that word. And, hey, it's not a nice word. Twenty years ago girls in my high school didn't use that word. It was considered too bad a word to use. The closest I remember anyone getting was "putana." Yep. Such-and-such was so shocked when she saw So-and-so making out with This-or-that outside St. Something's Choir School, she declared that only a putana would do that.

So although we didn't use that word, we sure knew the concept, and we believed the concept. In short, we thought being a slut (or a putana) was a bad thing to be. And we didn't think it was just a lady who enjoyed sex, because we assumed married ladies--so free from worry about being called names or thrown out like used tissue--enjoyed sex. No. We definitely thought it was a woman who used her sexuality in a harmful way that hurt herself and society in the long run.

As we were not women who used our sexuality in harmful ways that hurt ourselves and society in the long run, we were not much interested in looking like them either. And, back in 1986, what we thought they looked like was Madonna the Rock Star. Not all rock stars looked like Madonna, and if you look at other stars back then, you will see them in big oversized shirts and men's fedoras. Our style icon was Molly Ringwald.

I feel about a million years old admitting that.

Anyway, suffice it to say that standards have changed, and although women are not walking around Ontario with their entire chests exposed, a right for which a lady named Gwen Jacobs marched topless (as captured by dozens of men with video cameras), women today seem to think it okay to dress in blatantly sexually provocative costumes. And there are American girls who have found it necessary to begin campaigns demanding fashionable clothing that is modest.

I am against rape, and I am also against women and men using their sexuality in harmful ways that hurt themselves and society. Promiscuity is a serious problem, leading to widespread disease, rampant abortion, a devaluation of marriage, a devaluation of human life, a devaluation of romantic love, a devaluation of any kind of love, and heaven knows what else. And the current definition of slut is "a promiscuous woman", except among gay men who use it to insult each other, as I heard one day in a Toronto church. (Long story.) So I am not taking part in anything called a SlutWalk.

I wrote up my thoughts on SlutWalk for my paper, the Catholic Register, and unsurprisingly it was critiqued. Suggest women ought to take some responsibility for what we wear, and people will have kittens. It is very hard to get across the point that rape is besides the point: women simply should not dress in clothes that send out the "I'm easy" code if they want to avoid negative ATTENTION. Not rape. ATTENTION. And not just attention. JUDGEMENT. How do you explain that to a 'Womyn's Studies' student?

If some women are furious that there are people in the world who think badly of promiscuity and think a slut is a bad thing to be, that that's just too bad. Promiscuity is bad. A slut--a promiscuous woman--is a bad thing to be. It's an insane thing to be, given the prevalence of sexual diseases and the severe emotional damage promiscuity can do to you. It's a selfish thing to be, given the damage promiscuity does to society.

Meanwhile, in response to the "football shirt/private property" argument, I wouldn't wear my Hibernians shirt anywhere in the entire city of Glasgow, just to be safe. It wouldn't be my fault if some idiot hit me in a pub, and it wouldn't be my fault if some idiot hit me in the street. But either way it would be careless of me to simply ignore the realities of living in a country where clothes+football+sectarianism can equal a split lip.

Update: You know, the whole premise of Snog, Marry and Avoid is that people judge you by your appearance.

Update 2: This is a topic that is really hard to get right. There are two issues going on. The first is rape and how it can be prevented. The second is "What does it mean to be a responsible, flourishing woman helping society to flourish?"

Rape is so horrible that it makes survivors extremely upset if they feel that they are being blamed in any way for their attack. I would never, ever blame a rape survivor. I have worked with rape survivors. Rape survivors--and women assaulted by priests--have told me their stories, and I honour their feelings and feel honoured that they shared them with me. Nobody is to blame for being raped or sexually assaulted.

It has been suggested that I write about the first topic, and I think I will after I consult with a professional in the field of rape prevention.

The second topic is the one that I am really writing about: how does a woman responsibly present herself in public? Can we even talk about it? Men don't wear codpieces any more; why do women wear push-up bras and tiny shirts?

And the problem with this post is the same problem with SlutWalk--how it brings the two topics too closely together. Do 'sluts' deserve to be raped? Absolutely not. Does a T-shirt reading FCUK or what some people call "F*** me shoes" (stilettos) or a necklace reading "Yes I Do" really invite a man violently assault a woman? No!

But, at the same time--or not at the same time, for to mention them at the same time frightens and upsets many people--we have a duty to determine if what we--men and women--wear helps society flourish or is part of that society's decline. And this is not just sexy clothes, I'm talking about. It's sloppy clothes to church, it's burkhas in Hyde Park, it's men wearing baseball caps indoors, it's men dressed in orange sashes marching through Catholic neighbourhoods, it's a man wearing a Celtics shirt to attract the attention of a man in a Rangers shirt. Quite apart and separate from the horror of rape--which rarely has anything to do with clothes--what we wear matters.

Update 3: Thanks to the reader who suggested ways I could improve this post.

Thursday, 2 June 2011

To Rome on June 12!

More thanks to readers who have made it easier for me to get to Rome to see Hilary. So far my patronesses (for they are all women so far) have donated $10, $15, $25, $50 and $50. This means that my round-trip flight to and from Ciampino ($135) is paid for, as is a third of my cab fare to Edinburgh airport.

Despite various suggests I go to Birmingham, I am simply not bussing it to Birmingham. That would take longer than it would to fly to Ciampino! And Ciampino is only about 20 minutes outside of Rome.

June 12 is Pentecost, and how happy was I to discover that the parish of Santissima Trinita, which is cared for by the Fraternity of the Priests of Saint Peter, has Sunday evening mass in the Extraordinary Form? Hooray!

Today is Ascension Day, and I hope you are all having a nice one. B.A. and I just got back from Mass.

Wednesday, 1 June 2011

Maybe Warsaw & Maybe Krakow

I have eye-strain alongside a nasty old headache, so no long blogs from me today. Instead I will just say that I may appear on radio in Warsaw and Krakow in late June or early July. I don't know if that means actually BEING in Warsaw and Krakow, but I wouldn't mind appearing there in person, as long as I can figure out the super-cheap Edinburgh-Poland-Edinburgh routes.