Monday, 31 December 2012


I finally got B.A. to watch Harold and Maude.

B.A. did not like Harold and Maude. Harold and Maude does not make it to the Anglo-Catholic Conversion to Roman Catholicism (via Usus Antiqiuor) Top Film List.

"That was a hippy film," pronounced B.A., whose eyebrows were still in a tent shape. "That had hippy, hippy, hippy values!"

Later he said, "I still love you even though you like that film."

So now we are going to watch Two Fat Ladies.

Update: "It was bad hippy! It was evil hippy! It was at least irresponsible hippy!"

Update 2: Edinburgh Castle fireworks beautifully visible from warmth of sitting-room. No need to clamber about on nasty wet roof!

Love, Really

I hope you have something nice planned for New Year's Eve, for you will not be living any parties vicariously through me. B.A.'s idea was that we should sit on the roof and watch the fireworks exploding over Edinburgh Castle five miles away, but the idea fills me with vertiginous horror. The only other option is switching back between BBC Scotland and BBC Alba to watch the music, oh how exciting.

BBC Alba is the Gaelic channel, and therefore features what is probably more authentically Scottish music, at least in the minds of us boring Lowlanders otherwise stuck with The Proclaimers and Rod Stewart. There is fun to be had from guessing what the BBC Alba presenters are saying, e.g. "Och, Sean, it will be a surprise for Edinburgh when we launch our Highland independence movement, will it not, now?" "Och, aye, Angus, so it will, now." "I was thinking we ought to throw in our lot with Norway, so." "Och, aye, Sean. Better Oslo than those Sassenachs in Edinburgh. And now here's Rhodri MacTomais to sing 'A Cholla Ma Run'." Not much fun, but some.

I shall end the year's blogging by complaining about society's obsession with pair-bonding, especially at New Year's, when it is considered bad luck by some not to be kissed by somebody. At least the superstition is kind in that it doesn't say it has to be a boyfriend, husband or admirer who kisses you. It could be your mother. It could be your best friend. It could be the Jesuit scholastic in the car park outside the Newman Centre, and I will be forever grateful. Yay!

We have all kinds of relationships with all kinds of people, and if I were Queen of the World, I would pay pop singers to come up with songs to celebrate those relationships, too. For example, I think someone famous should compose and sing a song to celebrate that school principal and those teachers who died trying to protect their little students in Connecticut. At the gym I heard a song called something like "Let Me Love You Until You Learn to Love Yourself" which was the stupidest, most manipulative thing I have heard since I joined the gym and therefore started listening to Top 40 again. Why is there no song to celebrate the sacrificial love of teachers for their students?

Once upon a time there were lots of songs about Mother. Does no-one love Mother anymore? The only contemporary songs about Mother I can recall are Sinead O'Connor's "Nothing Compares to You" and Sting's "Mother", and neither is particularly heartwarming. Are there any heartwarming (not sad and regretful) songs about Dad? Besides "Boy Called Sue", I mean.

Amazingly enough, there is one great song that suggests the relationship between Seraphic Singles readers and beautiful me, which is "How Will I Know?" So thank you, Whitney Houston, and thank you for the cameo of your godmother Aretha Franklin, which underscores this argument.

There are so many relationships that just do not get enough attention and credit, and I blame this for the tendency of my readers to write in saying that they "aren't in a relationship." Readers might not be in love with anyone, but you certainly are in relationships. Some of these relationships are intense, and some of them are not, but even the non-intense ones may be crucially important. I have non-intense relationships with the tea ladies at after-Mass tea, and frankly I think they are important to my life. After-Mass tea is a crucial part of Trid social life in Edinburgh, and the tea ladies are crucial to After-Mass tea. After Mass, I must have my tea, and there the tea ladies are, pouring it out.

Just off the top of my head, I have relationships with my mum, my dad, my oldest brother, my youngest brother, my oldest sister, my youngest sister, my oldest nephew, my youngest nephew, my niece, my sister-in-law, my sister-in-law's family, and my youngest nephew and niece's nanny Alisha. Just because all these people are across the ocean from me does not lessen the importance of the relationships.

I have a number of relationships with family members who have died. These are quiet, but still important. I pray for my dead, and presumably they are praying for me. I hope so.

Then I have relationships with my mentors and top editor, also across the ocean, and with a number of publishing people in Poland, across the Channel and a whole lot of fields.

I have relationships with the former professors I keep up with, and who keep up with me.

I have relationships with my girl-friends back in Canada, although all but one of them is terrible at correspondence. TERRIBLE. But that is okay, though, because when I visit, we just pick up where we left off, which is how friendship often works.

I even have relationships with a few men friends back in Canada, which are very non-intense, and mostly involve the occasional text message and maybe running into each other when I am back in town.

And I have relationships with friends in Edinburgh. I have older friends, whom I ask for advice, and I have younger friends, to whom I give advice. I have friends I made myself, and I have friends I inherited from B.A. I have teeny, tiny friends, whom I occasionally babysit. I have fellow parishioners to say hello to, visitors to the parish to welcome, a priest to support, and a cardinal archbishop to pray for. I have readers to pray for, too, and to write for before the majority (Americans) wake up in the morning.

And of course I have fleeting relationships with whoever else comes into my life, which means people on the bus, in the street, in shops and in the Historical House when they come to fix the shower or look for bats.

And then there is B.A., who is my husband, and for the record, if B.A. were the only person I had a relationship with, I would go crazy, and so would he. A husband is not a one-stop-shopping department store of the heart. Falling in love is not the tremendous fix-all that the pop songs make it sound like. If you do not have good relationships with at least some family members, some friends, some colleagues, some neighbours, you are probably not going to have a good relationship with a romantic interest, even (especially?) if you are married to him.

Germaine Greer writes in "the whole woman" (1999) of women's overwhelming need to love, and if I remember correctly (my copy is still overseas), she uses as an example of this the older woman who knits endless jumpers and scarves for younger relations who don't want them. (Knitting is how she gets out the painful burden of love.) Greer also marvels at women who long to follow men around and be around them all the time. She notes that the role of mother has been eclipsed by the role of wife, but I note that women's relationships in which they are neither mother, wife or mistress are almost totally ignored by pop culture. The sexualization of teachers, for example, is no longer a tendency to be discouraged but a theme of chart-topping boy band songs.

And this is really too bad because it is terrible for women, particularly the ones who have affectionate dispositions, to have our longing for connection and affectionate exchange, to have our feelings of benevolence and care, mistaken for emotional (at very least) promiscuity.

It is natural for women to care for older people--it is not evidence of a mother or father complex. It is natural for women to like babies and children, particularly our charges--it is not because we have frustrated maternal instincts. It is natural for women to care for younger adults, particularly our students or proteges--it is not because we are Stiffler's mom or secretly conniving Madame de Meurteuils--at least, very few of us are. It is natural for women to talk to the neighbours. It is natural for women to seek new friends.

What is not natural is to wrap oneself up in one romantic relationship--real or imaginary--and expect that or any romantic relationship to be the answer to all of life's ills. And therefore this New Year's Eve, I invite you all to think about the warm and life-affirming real-life relationships you have RIGHT NOW. Let's not think about the relationships we don't have (for me that would be physical motherhood) but about the relationships we do have. And then let's say a short Te Deum of thanks for them.

Te Deum laudamus:
te Dominum confitemur.
Te aeternum Patrem
omnis terra veneratur.
Tibi omnes Angeli;
tibi caeli et universae Potestates;
Tibi Cherubim et Seraphim
incessabili voce proclamant:
Sanctus, Sanctus, Sanctus,
Dominus Deus Sabaoth.
Pleni sunt caeli et terra
maiestatis gloriae tuae.

Happy New Year, my little Singles!

Saturday, 29 December 2012

The Narcotics Post

Once upon a time, a young relative left for university. I forget if they asked for advice, or if I just gave it. I may have begun the discussion with "Listen, about clubs..."

I believe the young relation smirked and said something like, "Don't get drunk?"

And I said something distinctly unPauline like, "I don't care if you get drunk, as long as you're with your friends, and you are always with your friends until you get home, and as long as you always keep an eye on your glass. No, I want to say, Don't take club drugs. They're horrible and you never know what's really in them."

So the young relative took that advice with him or her to university, and is still alive and sane today.

I was brought up in an ordinary (if rather old-fashioned and divorce-free) middle-class family, and although I have had economic ups and downs and various social crises and professional disappointments, I have always been okay, and I am sure this has something to do with the fact that I have never touched cocaine, heroin or the various club drugs on offer in the fair streets of Toronto and Boston and presumably in Edinburgh, one-time AIDS capital of the UK (not Europe, that was Barcelona).

This is not to say that I have not drunk too much on occasion, for I certainly have, most memorably at one party when I was 21, although my best friend Trish remembers that incident better than I do. Oh dear, dear, dear. Nor have I left the room in horror when the grass has come out although I must say seeing a 6'2" guy felled by the stuff like a tree was rather scary.

This is merely to say that there seems to be some fearful alchemy in narcotics that removes whatever magical protection lifelong middle-class-ness seems to provide and can send you to an earthly hell, so I have not messed with them.

I also have not messed with them because I always wanted to keep the moral high ground for conversations about drugs with my children, if I had any. The Baby Boom generation looked a bit foolish when it tried to have serious conversations about drugs with its children because of all the stuff it did at college. My mother, however, told us at least five times that she had once been invited to a party where there had been marijuana, but she hadn't gone because she had just washed her hair and it was in curlers.

Hello, whatever, when I was seventeen, I was hearing about coke parties from my fellow barista down at the cafe. And although I had a keen desire to have wonderful adventures, I didn't want to go anywhere near coke parties, thanks all the same. It wasn't just that Regina in the Sweet Valley High books died right after her first wee snort. It was the nasty criminality around it all, plus the fact that coked-up men often get violent. And a priest called "The Junkie Priest" came to my high school to warn us in advance about crack, which (believe it or not) hadn't reached the streets of Toronto yet.

Crack made cocaine affordable and even more addictive than usual. Whereas cocaine was trashy in a decadent evil rich people way, crack was trashy in a one-way-ticket to gutter and brothel way. And, no word of a lie, the only crack users I have ever to my knowledge met, were the extremely jittery shells of human beings who queued up before me at one of my government jobs for their support cheques. Their fingers were dyed black from burnt tinfoil or whatever it was. The cop standing by, apparently to protect me, made wisecracks about them and pointed out the prostitute among them. Have a nice day.

(I contrast in my mind this young Canadian cop with a young Slovak nun who worked with recovering heroin addicts in Europe, and his voyeuristic contempt with her compassionate love.)

Being involved in the Spoken Word scene in the 1990s, it was only a matter of time before Ecstasy (MDMA) came my way, although amusingly, when a poet turned up outside a club with a handful of the pills, he said somewhat apologetically that he hadn't brought me any, for he assumed a devout Catholic wouldn't take Ecstasy.

I don't think Ecstasy is mentioned in the Catechism, but as a matter of fact I had read up on the side effects of Ecstasy, and at the time everyone thought it could make you permanently depressed. ("And it was illegal," points out B.A., to whom I have read this post aloud.) Also, the poet looked so embarrassed, I patted him on the shoulder and said, No, no, that was quite all right, I had no interest in E. What I soon had interest in was ear plugs as, dear me, that rave was LOUD.

As for Edinburgh, I am about to shock local eavesdroppers by linking to the Guardian, but all you really have to do is recall Trainspotting to get an idea of how nasty life in Edinburgh can be if you are dumb or bored or depressed enough to get involved with heroin. Very occasionally I have seen a seriously strung out junkie staggering along Leith Walk or even--heaven help us--early Sunday morning on Heriot Row.

It's interesting how even drug-use has class implications. Alcohol is the most democratic. Cocaine is associated with successful (if louche) professionals like lawyers, film directors and poor Father Corapi. Crack is associated with the homeless, possibly because it generally makes you homeless. Heroin is associated with the formerly-working classes, thieves and prostitutes, possibly because it can make you a thief or prostitute. Marijuana is associated with slackers and students. E is associated with middle-class kids with money for clubs, particularly the ones who die after taking it. Gasoline fumes are associated with the poor, rural Innu.

As an urban Canadian who was in university for a very long time, I don't blink at booze or the occasional use of grass although I would go mental if my niece or nephews touched the first before they were 18 (except wine at home) and the second before they were 25. (And even then I might moan at them about the dangers of chronic use. "And it's illegal," says B.A.) I also think chronic users make lousy boyfriends--at very least for ambitious girls with places to go and people to see and babies to have.

I am not at all blase about the other stuff and, in fact, would not associate with anyone who used them, except in a professional capacity, as indeed I did when I was handing out the welfare cheques or reading funny stories at Spoken Word events. They are just too darned dangerous, they make people dangerous, and they funnel money to dangerous people.

As someone who drinks coffee and wine almost every day, and enjoys the occasional cocktail or glass of vodka, it would be hypocritical to condemn the human fascination with altering consciousness. However, anyone who thinks honestly has to admit that when short-term pleasures inspire long-term damage and human misery, not only to oneself but to society--of which the heroin-fuelled AIDs crisis in Edinburgh is but one example--it is best to give them a miss.

Nota Bene: B.A. keeps pointing out that it is illegal to consume illegal substances, and as Catholics we are obliged to follow just laws. I point out, however, that there are all kinds of substances that the law doesn't in fact cover, and we should avoid them anyway.

Update: Children in Britain are allowed by law to drink alcoholic beverages at home with their parents' consent once they are five. Five?

Friday, 28 December 2012

Long-Term Readers Who Retired from Singledom

This is a second post for the day, posted merely to satisfy my curiosity about something. How many of my long-term readers (i.e. started reading between 2006 and 2011) started reading my Singles blogs as a Single but have since married or taken permanent religious vows?

A critic once suggested that "Auntie Seraphic's poppets" never get married. Since I have received many notices of weddings--and even a wedding invitation (Thank you, Tess!)--this is clearly untrue. But how untrue is it, I wonder. Off the top of my head, Cleo, Shiraz, Aussie Girl, Kim P and Sheila have all gotten married. Boeciana has become a cloistered nun.

Anyway, if you're no-longer-single, but still reading, drop a line in the combox.

By the way I am putting up a new poll about my 18-27 demographic.

Four Parties in a Row...

Goodness me. I found myself crawling into bed after 2:30 AM yet again. It's a Christmas Party Marathon. Christmas Eve. Christmas. Feast of St. Stephen. Feast of St. John. Today is the Feast of the Holy Innocents, but I don't think B.A. and I are going to any parties. I'm going instead to my favourite cocktail bar for a Girl Drink.

Squinting back into the past, I am absolutely sure my parents did not go to many parties (or any cocktail bars), so I think all this partying--at least at my age--is an offshoot of being childless. (I'm mentioning childlessness again as it is something most of my Single readers and I still share and, indeed, something that you do risk if you wait past the age of 35 for The One--although how much worse if you marry The Zero at 25 and still don't have kids?)

Christmas is apparently a time of great gloom for many, so I think the best things anyone can do are to (A) plan ahead to ensure oneself and those under one's influence a happy, emotionally supported Christmas and (B) concentrate on what you have instead of on what you lack.

I have a lot of parties.

Not to be a Smug Scot, but parties are more fun here than they were in North America. I think this is because they have structure. The usual, North American stuff-everyone-in-the-same-room-and-pour-drink-into-them model just didn't work for me. What really work are dinner parties. Dinner parties involve a clear plan, easy rituals, procession, recession, a three part structure.

For example, dinner parties at the Historical House involve aperatifs in the sitting-room, then a procession to the dining-room for supper, and finally a recession back to the sitting-room, sometimes in two parts: if dinner conversation has been terrifically male-dominated, the ladies leave first, to be joined by the gentlemen when they have finally grown tired of what it was they were talking about and are curious to know what the ladies are talking about. Otherwise, we all leave for the sitting-room together.

Personally, I like to end a dinner party with a film, which breaks up the very long after-dinner drink fest, and adds something to think about.

Another wonderful after-dinner activity is to sing around the piano. There was singing around the piano after a dinner party I went to yesterday, and as we sang Christmas carols, this was particularly enjoyable, for us, if not for the neighbours.

I hasten to mention that life in North America and, indeed, Single Life, is perfectly suited to dinner parties. I had occasional dinner parties when I was in my early and mid-twenties, living with Mum and Dad: all I had to do to secure permission was say, "May I have a dinner party, Mum and Dad?" and make sure dining-room and kitchen were left cleaner than I found them. These dinner parties started at a later hour (say 8), which gave my family a chance to eat their own dinner.

As I had a large family, family dinners were arguably dinner parties in themselves. And this in itself is an incentive to those, like me, who grew up with a lot of people and now find themselves living with only one or two. It's a return to the normal life of childhood, with a lot more drink.

Update: The research on gender differences in conversation is incredibly interesting. The more women there are in a group, the more comfortable women feel speaking, apparently, and one Harvard study revealed that women students at Harvard were more likely to speak up in class if their lecturer was a woman.

What this suggests to me is that at work and school, women should do our best to assert ourselves in conversations and classroom discussions, but in private life to take more of a conversational back seat and become famous good listeners. It strikes me that the centuries-old libel that women talk too much is bandied about by some of the men who want to talk even more than they do and feel frustrated and hurt when they don't feel sufficiently listened to. Bless their little hearts.

Incidentally, we already know how useless it is to talk to 90% of the men of the world about their feelings, right? Just remember this is not because they don't have any; it's just that male feelings are not that connected to male knowledge and male speech, especially when the males are young.

Non-Reader: But how do you FEEL?

Honest Young Male: I don't know.

Non-Reader: What do you mean you don't know? How can you not know?

Honest Young Male: I don't know.

Non-Reader: But that's crazy! Meanwhile I NEED to KNOW how you FEEL!!!

Honest Young Male (extremely uncomfortable): I'm leaving.

Very often, the least helpful way to figure out how young men feel is to ask them.* It's a better idea to pay attention to both their body language and then what they do. I remember one young man getting dead drunk at a wedding while punching his male pals boisterously and glaring at the pretty girls and yelling "I'll never put my head in a noose!" Dear, dear, dear. What a lonely soul.

*I suspect this is much more true in dating relationships than in friendships. Although men are usually reluctant to tell you exactly how they feel about you, they often have no problem telling you how they feel about other girls, at least if they have no reason to believe you will get mad at them for it.

Thursday, 27 December 2012

Worse Than Drowning?

This post involves "It's a Wonderful Life" plot spoilers.

Last night a party from the Historical House went across the fields to the nearest Fellow Historical House (14th c, mostly rebuilt early 17th c) and watched most of "It's a Wonderful Life" before sitting down to St. Stephen's/Boxing Day supper.

B.A. had never seen "It's a Wonderful Life," and I hadn't seen it for well over a decade. B.A., who admittedly was well-primed with wine, thought it absolutely fantastic. I was struck by how very often Providence frustrates the hero's plans and how Mary actively worked against them by countering George's wishes with her own wishes. By the way, I know it looked like it worked for Mary, but playing "Buffalo Gals" on the stereo four years after singing it with your crush object is kind of pathetic. Also pathetic is embroidering a cushion with the drunken rantings of your crush object and leaving it where he can see it.

What is not pathetic is being a middle-aged Single librarian in glasses. The most--perhaps the only--annoying part of "It's a Wonderful Life" is the lead up to the awful revelation of what George Bailey's non-existence would have meant. (PLOT SPOILERS AHEAD!)

We go from random acquaintances of George, to the moral health of the town of Bedford Falls, to his brother, to his wife and kids. There seems to be a progression: Nick is nasty, not nice; George's old boss did 20 years in the joint for murder; Bedford Falls is not a nice family town but Las Vegas, New York; Violet has gone professional; Harry drowned at nine, which meant a whole lot of American sailors died (although, as no-one ever mentions, this also meant a bunch of German pilots survived--Jawohl!); Ma Bailey is a lonely, crabbed old landlady, and as for Mary--!

Ah, Mary. Not only did Harry Bailey drown at the age of nine, but Mary became an Old Maid and a Librarian and Near-Sighted. How Mary would have become near-sighted in the absence of George is one consequence left unexplained.

Possibly I am being unfair. The real horror is not that Mary is an Old Maid--and, incidentally, she could have married Sam Wainwright, although I admit it would have taken all his gold to gild the pill of having to listen to him shout "Hee-haw" for the next 50 years--but that she doesn't recognize George. Even Mary does not know George. And if Mary doesn't know George, Mary doesn't love George, which is terrifically sad for George, who loves Mary to distraction. Let us focus on that, especially if we are Single, and very especially if we are Single Librarians.

Anyway, it is no longer 1946, and none of us live in Bedford Falls, a place from which, we must remember, George Bailey was always longing to escape. So watch "It's a Wonderful Life" without a pang, and don't forget to giggle at Mary's mysteriously unexplained glasses.

Wednesday, 26 December 2012

Super-Trad (if Childless) Christmas

My electronic spy tells me that someone in the South of England who ought to be in the Central Belt of Scotland keeps checking my blog, so I suspect at least one person wants to know how Christmas is going for the Trids of Edinburgh, particularly the ones who drink gin and think about socks. So I shall write an account of a Super-Trad Young Fogey Trid Edinburgh Christmas.

Super-Trid Young Fogey Edinburgh Christmas at the Historical House began shortly after five on Christmas Eve when the first guest arrived for Wigilia supper. Wiglia is the Polish word for Vigil, and the Poles eat their big Christmas supper during this Vigil, before going to Midnight Mass. But as Advent used to be a fasting time, this is traditionally a meatless meal, featuring a lot of fish and pierogi.

The reason for this Historical House Wigilia supper was two-fold. First, most of our Single friends had somewhere else to eat on Christmas Day, so we tried to tempt them over for Christmas Eve instead. Second, I had a version of my usual conversation with the Lord of History, which went metaphorically like this:

Seraphic: Dear me, Christmas just around the corner. How nice it would be if You sent me a baby, Lord, hint hint.

Lord of History: Now that you mention it, I have a Polish student in his mid-twenties who needs somewhere to eat Christmas Eve Dinner, as his family is abroad and he won't be able to get a visa in time to join them.

Seraphic: That's sort of so not what I meant.

Lord of History: How sad to be Polish and alone in a foreign land on Christmas Eve. It's going to rain, too.

Seraphic: Okay, okay. What do Poles eat for Christmas?

Lord of History: A twelve course meatless meal.

Seraphic: What!?

Lord of History: Involving a lot of herring.

Seraphic: What!?

Lord of History: Plan ahead.

So I made a twelve course meatless mostly-Polish meal* for Christmas Eve, and great fun it was, too. As our table wasn't big enough to accommodate the diners, the traditional place setting for the potential stranger who arrives out of the night, and twelve dishes, I put the dishes out on a side table, and it all looked very impressive, and I was quite pleased with my uber-feminine cooking self.

(B.A., I should mention, made the salmon and rolled some of the pierogi dough. I discovered, at 4:45 PM, that I no longer had enough energy to roll pierogi dough. Thanks to the reader who suggested that at such times men ought to be allowed in the kitchen. Good call!)

So let me see. We had the reading from the Gospel of Luke instead of grace, and we ate an astonishing variety of things, including (of course) herring in two guises, and at ten an invited guest who had had too bad a cold to come to supper came with a hired van to whisk us away to Midnight Mass. First, however, I made her eat a little salmon and some barszcz, which is the correct spelling of borscht from a Polish point of view.

So off we went to Midnight Mass, where 44 Trids gathered to celebrate Baby Jesus and, amusingly, indulge for once in the Three Hymn Sandwich: a`British hymn I didn't know for the Procession to the Crib, "Adestes Fideles" during the Offertory, and "Hark the Herald" after the Recession. The servers were the Grizzled MC and the Marooned Polish Student as Thurifer (and Cross-bearer), as a reader in the South of England will be keenly interested to know. The candles were many and the vestments were gold.

By then the rain had stopped, and it was a clear, fine, mild moonlit night, such as Edinburgh had not known the last three Christmas Eves, believe me. The Trids therefore stood about cheerfully in the car park afterwards, exchanging Christmas greetings and mostly turning down pulls from the Marooned Polish Student's whisky flask. And then the Men's Schola and its Ladies' Auxiliary climbed into the van and were whisked away.

The McAmbroses arrived back at the Historical House at 2 AM, which gave me enough time to take the dough rising in the fridge out of the fridge and transform it into embryonic Traditional Christmas Chelsea Bun, leaving it in its baking tin to rise overnight. For such is the way of the Women of My Family. I went to bed at 3:30 AM, and got up at 9 AM to bake the precious thing. It turned out perfectly, i.e. exactly like my mother's. I had passed my own standard of Women of My Family Femininity, and therefore my superego acknowledged that I had the right to a happy Christmas.

The van returned on Christmas Morning for B.A., but I had no time for such pleasures as Christmas III Mass (Christmas II having been said at 9:30 to a congregation of one). No, no. For now it was time to wash the remaining dishes from Christmas I Supper and Christmas II Breakfast (the Bun), and to make Christmas III Supper. Perhaps if women understood that making three traditional Christmas meals in a row is in itself a kind of priesthood, we would not have so many unhappy Catholic women with bad haircuts rushing off to the Anglicans or excommunicated weirdos for a curious ritual they call ordination.

B.A. skipped the after Mass festivities to come home and labour over the turkey, the gravy and the potatoes. B.A. is a master roaster. No matter what else I do, I leave the cooking of meat and the roasting potatoes to him, for lo, he always gets them right. Instead I made the Traditional Christmas Trifle, the Traditional Christmas Vegetable Soup, the Traditional Christmas Curried Carrots and the Traditional Christmas Green Beans with Red Pepper and Toasted Almonds. Then I got dressed for dinner while B.A. entertained the Guests (Clerical and Polish) in the sitting-room with champagne and the sacred Bun.

Then there was great feasting and drinking and offering of the seven different kinds of desserts I seem to have made for my family of two (literally seven**) and a great deal of after-dinner conversation, into which I popped in and out, on account of having many dishes to wash.

Seraphic: St. Monica used to have trouble with that. As a child, she would steal sips of wine.

Cleric: Really?

Seraphic: Oh yes. St. Augustine wrote about her childhood sins as well as his own. You know, though, St. Monica was not just the weeping mother of the Confessions. In a lesser known work St. Augustine presented her as a great Christian Intellectual.

Assembled Trid Men: Oh? Ah. Mm.

Benedict Ambrose: Apparently it was her prayers that led to St. Augustine's conversion.

Seraphic: Yes, but that's the weeping mother in the Confessions, so that's not my point. My point is. My point. My point is that St. Monica was also a GREAT CHRISTIAN INTELLECTUAL!

Marooned Pole: Have more wine.

Seraphic: No, I'm going to wash more dishes.

And more dishes were washed, and more wine was drunk, and the clerical guest went home at a very prudent hour--about 9:30, gracious--and then the vodka came out. So there was vodka, and Belgian chocolates, and--oddly--the watching of a Polish film called Rejs (1970), and so ended the First Day of Christmas.

*Kutia, kompot, barszcz cierwony, uszka, śledzie w oleju, śledzie w śmietanie, pierogi ruskie, pierogi z grzybami i kapusta, łosoś, carrot-orange salad, kompot owece, makowiec. Wesołych Świąt!

**Christmas fruitcake, florentines, makowiec (poppy seed roll), kutia (wheat berry pudding), kompot (cooked dried fruit with honey), trifle, and Chelsea bun. There were also mince pies, brought by a guest.

Friday, 21 December 2012

Tweed & Merry Christmas

I was just reading a bit of snobby nonsense in the Telegraph by what looks like a twelve year old who goes to Cambridge University and clearly thinks Young Fogeys who don't go to Oxford or Cambridge--even the ones who go to St Andrews--are clearly envious of him. As a matter of fact, I am envious of him because he has got a blog in the online Telegraph. Why don't I have a blog in the online Telegraph? Does one have to throw oneself on the pavement before Damian Thompson, or is there a more dignified way to do it?

I am not envious of what appears to be Cambridge night life, which is apparently limited to going to some dive and drinking alcopop. Frankly, night life at the University of Toronto was better than that: on a Friday night the young Seraphic would put on her goth togs to go to candlelit cellars to drink terribly cheap wine, dance to Ministry and write horrible poetry by candlelight. Possibly some sneering junior hack will now accuse me of seething resentment for not having gone to the Sorbonne, but that is a risk I am willing to take.

It is odd that the nice young Englishman today cannot don a tweed jacket without someone shrieking about Brideshead Revisited, Charles, Sebastian and Oxford University. Tweed is a lovely fabric; we think quite highly of it in Scotland. Wool pullovers are also quite nice; we think quite highly of them in Scotland, too. Corduroy trousers in startling colours are a matter of taste, but one must admit that they are a nice change from the drear of grey or black denim one sees everywhere.

And it must be great fun to find socks and ties to go with them. There is a bit of a Sock War between the Young Fogeys of my parish, and I amuse myself on Sundays by comparing the day's contenders for the Sock Title. (In olden days a glimpse of sock was looked upon as quite a shock, but today--heaven knows--anything goes.) As a woman, I find it refreshing when men ponder their appearance with even a sliver of the attention women pay to our own. It shows appropriate humility and recognition that it takes something more than a shell suit to get the attention of today's young woman around town, unless she is one's lawyer.

It is also sad that anyone should find it laughable or evidence of Oxbridge envy if young people in the UK have dinner parties, especially if such parties end with port and cigars, and an example of pretentious excess if the women leave the table when these break out. But in my own house I leave the table when the port comes out, so that I can have a cozy chat with my women guests, undeterred by the presence of men from indulging in such subjects naturally of no interest to them, e.g. Lonergan's cognitional theory in the light of contemporary neuroscience.

Dinner parties are quite an enjoyable way of spending time, as are partner dancing, the opera, the concert hall, singing around the piano and, in fact, anything that people with any money at all enjoyed before the Second World War. I do not think Young Fogeys should be faulted for finding value in those things that are beautiful or tasty and take effort. Nor should they be mocked for choosing them over such contemporary horrors as alcopop--grain alcohol with sugar and artificial fruit flavouring--and grinding, if grinding occurs in UK clubs. The one and only reason for drinking alcopop is to get drunk as soon as possible, perhaps so as not to notice how very boring the club scene can be. As for grinding, it may happen in Edinburgh's notorious Espionage, but nobody will escort me there, so I can't tell you for sure.

The traitor in the latest film version of John Le Carre's Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy justifies his treason by saying that Britain had become "so ugly." The sad fact of modern life in the West is that much of convention has become ugly. The conventional clothes have become ugly. The conventional language is ugly. The conventional manners are often ugly. The conventional music is often ugly. The conventional courtship is ugly. The Telegraph column I read was ugly, perhaps deliberately so as to provoke an angry, and therefore voluminous, response. If ugliness is now conventional, then it is better to be unconventional. If that is to be a traitor to the modern world, then a happy traitor I shall be and assist the Young Fogeys in their treason by applauding their pursuits and admiring their socks.

And with that thought, I will wish you a merry Christmas and say good-bye for now. I have many things to do to ensure a merry Christmas for B.A. and our guests and me. I very much hope that your Christmas is a celebration of all that you have and not at all a reminder of what you lack. No matter who is not with us, God is with us.

Thursday, 20 December 2012

A Dawning Awareness

It it just me, or does NCR actually hate the Roman Catholic Church?

Never Help Them With Their Homework

Well here is a sad story to balance out all our Christmas cheer. If you are not in the mood for a sad story, off you go. It illustrates one of my most controversial if most heartfelt bits of advice, which is that no chore done by a Single woman on behalf of a Single man her own age goes unpunished.

I have thrown in a lot of imaginative detail to make the old story come alive.

Once upon a time in a university far, far away, there was a lovely Catholic Society, which had all the ordinary characters a university Catholic Society tends to have. Among them was the super-smart intellectual girl I will call Julia, the razor-sharp guy who couldn't spell, whom I will call Cyril, and the really sweet girl who had very little confidence in her own considerable intellectual abilities and the facial expression of a stunned infant. We shall call her Gladys, after my grandma.

Everybody in the Catholic Society thought that Julia and Cyril were a couple, and an intellectual power couple at that, in part because they fought so much. That Cath Soc was generally so amiable that it was assumed that only couples fought. I think one of their major arguments was if you could be a Catholic and yet vote whatever-is-was. Watching Julia and Cyril bicker was rather like watching a tennis match, I am told, as the witticisms were smacked back and forth across the table in the cafeteria or the pub or wherever everyone was that evening.

Occasionally one or the other would get so mad, that they would storm out of the pub (Cyril) or into the ladies' (Julia), and their friends would have to calm whichever down. However, more often than not, one could see Julia and Cyril in the library a few hours later with their heads together as Julia corrected the spelling on the rough draft of Cyril's latest dyslexic essay. After graduation, it was widely assumed, wedding bells would chime.

What nobody in Cath Soc knew was that Cyril had long ago told Julia that he could marry a girl only from his ethnic background because of the nasty things that had happened to people of his ethnic background and the resultant drop in their population. And Julia, who was smart about school, but not about men, thought this was (A) noble and romantic and (B) subject to change in her own case, as there was such a spark between Cyril and her. When Cyril could get over the whole ethnic thing and admit that he loved her, they would probably stop fighting so much.

And what Julia did not know was that sweet and meek Gladys looked one heck of a lot like Cyril's ex-girlfriend back home. Nor did she know that Cyril, whose spelling she had so laboriously fixed for years, often popped around to Gladys's, to give her advice on her own essays and assure her that she was not going to flunk out of college and hand her tissues when she cried. Gladys, incidentally, was one of those very few girl who looks pretty when she cries. Her face didn't go red and her nose didn't grip. Her big blue eyes just welled up and the tears sparkled on her long black eyelashes.


One of the girls in the group, who knew that Julia and Cyril were not, in fact, a couple, but did not know that Julia thought they were an unofficial couple, so little did Julia know about men, remarked to Julia what a nice couple Cyril and Gladys would make.

This candid opinion rather startled Julia, who had never thought about it before. She admitted that Cyril did like Gladys a lot, in a big brotherly kind of way, but explained that it was really important to Cyril to marry someone in his ethnic group.

But then Julia stewed because, come to think of it, Cyril had asked her what she thought of Gladys, and she had said enthusiastically that Gladys was the sweetest girl she knew and that the men were all crazy not to go out with her, and it was after that that Cyril had started paying a lot more attention to Gladys.

So really in a way it was partly Julia's fault doing when after graduation Cyril and Gladys got married. And the woman who told me this story said that although after the Cath Soc Christmas party in which Cyril and Gladys announced their engagement Julia got drunk out of her mind, she behaved really well at the wedding.

Take it away, Judy:

Wednesday, 19 December 2012

Feminism, Folly and Lorelei

I was reading Hilary's latest denunciation of feminism, by which I think she must mean second and third wave feminism, for Mary Wollstonecraft wrote "Vindication of the Rights of Women" in 1792 and John Stuart Mill wrote "The Subjection of Women" in 1869, and I don't think Hilary was thinking of the 18th and 19th centuries as much as the past sixty years.

Her reference to "simpering, murderous manipulativeness" did not remind me much of modern femininity because simpering, murdering and manipulation sound rather old school to me. I spent my youth in reading girls' adventure stories, ballet class, girls' ice hockey, the Girl Guide movement and what remained of a convent school, and it seems to me that when women are doing stuff we are interested in, especially when no men are watching, there isn't much room for simpering and manipulation. Simpering and manipulation belonged to the bad old days of elementary school where the girls didn't seem to have much to do but gossip about who liked whom.

And that's the thing about Hilary's daydream about going to the South Pole with Shackleton. Shackleton wouldn't have let her on board ship in a zillion years. It is feminism that says he ought to have.

For all their faults, first and second wave feminism were not about manipulating men. First wave feminism was about protecting women and children from men's lousy habits or abuse, and second wave feminism was about getting women better jobs, better job conditions and, admittedly, better sex with fewer strings attached. There was some dignity in both these movements. If shrill, they were (apart from the 'clump of cells' crap from the latter) honest (if naive) with a bit of starchiness that people find funny now. First wave feminism was anti-booze and second wave feminism was anti-porn, and third wave feminism kicked such starchiness to the kerb.

If we are going to blame feminism for feminine manipulation, then I think we can blame only third wave feminism for that. Only third wave feminism would stick women in spike heels and leotard costumes and call it empowering, or think it fine to be a walking incubator for a couple of men, and think that empowering, too. It's like the suffragettes, about to do a 180 on the subject of ab*rtion, shook hands with the Father of Lies and found themselves in bondage gear. It would be ridiculous if it weren't so sad. And I have to see examples of these women on MTV every time I go to the gym.

So it is refreshing to read about adventuresses who aren't at all high-minded about their adventurousness and exploit their feminine charms to get as much as they can out of men without the men ever feeling the slightest bit of resentment for it. Lorelei Lee of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes serenely navigates a world that preaches virtue while practicing vice; one wonders how she would have coped in a world (e.g. ours) in which vice was held to be virtue. But as it is, Lorelei flatters and seduces her way through the world, valuing men (American men in particular) for their habit of giving her things. And--mark you--she does it all wearing a pretty dress.

A sad fact of life is that unless you work very hard in your youth and are also lucky, you are not going to have the career of your dreams but a sometimes boring job. (Maybe this where third wave feminism came from. Working for a living--it can be boring!) I had quite a good boring job when I was 26--good money, pension--but the middle-aged women around me hated it and said they were only sticking with it because of their mortgages.

I imagine some of them would have traded places with Lorelei Lee, who took money and jewellery from men in exchange for making them feel good about themselves. Generally she seemed to make them feel good about themselves by appearing helpless in a world of wicked men and earnestly grateful for any help, not to mention jewellery, they could provide. Granted, she was also beautiful enough that when Howard Hawks thought about someone to play her in the movies, he decided on Marilyn Monroe.

I do not think Lorelei's gold-digging ways are consistent with either first or second wave feminism, for they represent nothing more than how to get as much as you can out of the patriarchy, when the patriarchy has most of the money. Those elements of third wave feminism, who think they can use their sexual charms to do the same thing even as they condemn the patriarchy, are rather pathetic compared to Lorelei. And although you would certainly never behave like Lorelei yourselves,* I think you would all enjoy reading her adventures.

Update: I refer to making men feel good about themselves to get stuff. There is nothing inherently wrong with making men feel good about themselves for their own sake. I think this should be done on a regular basis, generally by finding things for them to do that are easy for them but harder for you, like removing the lid from the jam jar. It makes them feel good, and you get jam without spraining your wrist. If somehow a diamond bracelet comes your way thereby, I would be astonished, given these days of impoverishment, and you should give it back unless you want to marry the man.

Tuesday, 18 December 2012

Christmas Party Survival Guide

What I absolutely hated most about being Single, other than not knowing why I was Single when I was so obviously a splendid catch, was going home by myself after parties. Or work. Or anywhere really. But going home alone after parties really rankled. If I had ever learned to drive, I think it would have been different. I could have had a rockin' CD to go home with, and a heater to turn on, and protection from the hooded claw. On the other hand, I guess I wouldn't have been able to drink at the party. Hmm.

The solution to this is, quite obviously, taxi cabs. I think it absolutely worth it to factor taxi cabs into your December budget, particular if you have a nice fur wool coat and want to avoid being harassed by the avengers of the mink sheep family. It is also comforting if you can get a handsome young man to see you to your cab and say "Corby Hall, driver" (or wherever) in that commanding yet amiable voice handsome young men all seem to have in films. Then you can wrap yourself in your mink serviceable wool coat and settle back with a sigh of comfort. Make sure it's a real cab, mind you, with a driver who actually knows the neighbourhood.

Then you should have something really nice waiting for you at home. Home should be tidy, first of all, as it's so nice to come back to a tidy home. And you should have a clean nightgown or pyjamas and your robe set out instead of scrunched on the bathroom floor. And there should be a tempting new DVD set out, in case it is still early enough for a DVD when you return, and a delicious pot of barszcz in the fridge or good quality cocoa on the shelf. Hopefully you have warm slippers for outside bed and a hot water bottle for inside bed. Beside this bed should be a reading lamp and an uncomplicated book. (Recently my own uncomplicated book has been Gentlemen Prefer Blondes by Anita Loos. I heartily recommend it.)

My experience of life is that you have to take better care of yourself when you are Single than when you are married, unless you are unhappily married. In that case you must take very, very good care of yourself indeed. But that is a subject for a different blog altogether.

I see that I have started backward, i.e. when you leave the party. Well, in my end is my beginning. The beginning of a Christmas party is you preparing for when you leave the Christmas party. Having prepared your home to receive you from the party in its warmest embrace, you can now get yourself ready for the party, which means turning yourself into your best-looking version of you. It can be difficult to gauge what this is, but although I am much older than most of you, even I have moments when the image in the mirror passes my critical gaze.

At the party you greet whoever it is who lets you in, introducing yourself if the person doesn't know you, and repeating his/her name back when he/she tells you what it is. Then you silently associate this name with something about them, e.g. if his name is David and he is very well dressed, mentally dub him Dapper David. Then you find your host or hostess, who will hopefully introduce you to whoever they are speaking to (repeat name, make up association), and take away your coat, leaving you speaking to the new people.

In general at parties you should not talk to the same people for too long at first, but circulate. Circulating is made even more easy if you grab a plate of hors d'oeuvres and take it from conversation circle to conversation circle. (This, by the way, is a good way to get out of a boring conversation, including your own. If you see the eyes of your interlocutor glaze over, say "Would you like a coconut shrimp? I myself am dying for a coconut shrimp." Then lunge for the plate of coconut shrimp and carry it around like the goodwill ambassador for coconut shrimp.)

You can also ask the host if you can do anything, and you can listen for cues from your host or hostess for things he or she might like you to do. Thus, at a party earlier this month, I found myself with a dishtowel stuffed into the top of my new-to-me 1930s evening gown making pierogi with a very interesting woman painter.

It is perfectly acceptable for you to sit by yourself on one end of the sofa or in a chair with a drink in your hand and silently watch the proceedings. If someone sits beside you, it is acceptable for you to introduce yourself and memorize their name and ask an open question like, "And how do you know our host/hostess?" But if no-one does, then it can be great fun to watch the party dynamics and try to guess who likes whom. It is kindly to keep an eye out for someone even shyer than you--the girl whose arms are crossed and whose legs are wound around each other like a pretzel, for example--and to go over and talk to her/him. If he or she bolts, it's not you; it's him or her. The body language for "shy" is remarkably like the body language for "I've just discovered my lover is cheating on me, and I don't know how to react."

I would counsel you to be particularly careful of how much you drink when you go to a party unescorted and to never, ever be alone behind closed doors with a man you have just met. Beware of any man whose chatting up technique is to insult or confuse you. If any stranger insults or confuses you, it is time for the coconut shrimp manoeuvre. You might also want to complain to the host or hostess, which gives him or her the chance to say, "I don't even know who he is. Scooter brought him." Your amount of trust in any guest uninvited by the host or hostess should be zero.

It is the host's or hostess's job to make sure that nobody is harassed or made to feel uncomfortable at his or her party. However, not all hosts and hostesses are created equal, so if a word in the host's or hostess's ear does not result in a better time for you, then it is time to call Mr Taxi and return to the warmth and comfort of your home.

If, however, you feel you are having the opposite problem, i.e. that instead of getting too much attention, you are getting none, you can comfort yourself that there may be reasons for that beyond your control. For example, I know a beautiful woman who went to a party in a lovely black dress and opera gloves, and a young man of 24 said to their mutual friend, "Who is that girl in black?" and the mutual friend said, "That's a Married Woman", and so this young man never spoke to me her again.

Lastly, you do not have to go to every party to which you are invited. I know perfectly well that many Single girls go to parties they'd rather not go to in case this is the party in which they meet The One. Thank heavens I did not think like this, as my One was living across the ocean and never went to a party in my town until after he was engaged to me. The only point to parties, I think, is to eat and drink yummy things in the company of people you already know and like, in the expectation that you will meet other people your host or hostess knows and likes. If you have good reason to suspect that a party will be deadly dull, or that your host or hostess has spotty judgement when it comes to guests, then you can save on your cab fare and just stay home in your clean pyjamas to watch that tempting DVD and drink that yummy barszcz or chocolate.

Monday, 17 December 2012

(Relatively) Alone at Christmas

I am not sure how much "count your blessings" advice Singles can take at Christmas time. As I recall, Christmas is a lonely time of year to be Single. It is also a lonely time of year to be apart from your family, if you are an expat like me, but if you are a happily married expat, you can't really complain too much.

I definitely cannot complain too much because I keep thinking about all those families in Connecticut facing a first Christmas without those little children who were so looking forward to it (and, of course, the families of the murdered teachers). Sometimes I am sad that I have no children, but then something like what happened happens, and I think, nothing can be that sad. Yes, I am sure the families are grateful that they had their little ones for six or seven years, but... Eeek. I don't want to think about it anymore.

There is no such thing as a perfect Christmas. I wonder if we don't get the longing for a perfect Christmas confused with our longing for that truly perfect and everlasting Christmas we hopefully will one day see. As for romantic Christmases, I come from a big family so I have never associated Christmas with boy-girl romance but with family.

Before I got married to B.A., at Christmas I put being home to family above everything and everybody, except the Infant Jesus at Mass. Then I would walk miles to get to Midnight Mass and then miles more to be with my family on Christmas Day. I know this for sure because I have indeed walked at least one mile in the freezing cold dark night from a train station to get to Midnight Mass and then one and half miles from the subway station to get home to my family.

My first married Christmas, the only family around was B.A., and how I cried, poor man.

My second married Christmas, my parents and one brother and one sister came, so I was very happy.

My third married Christmas, the other sister and her son came, so I was again very happy, although more tired, as my mother wasn't there to do the toughest cooking jobs.

This married Christmas, my family isn't coming, and B.A. and I couldn't afford to go to Canada, so we are having Christmas Eve and Christmas Day dinners, having collected as many Single friends as have not got other Christmases to go to. This is not for them as much as it is for me, as the idea of Romantic Couple Christmas--me, B.A. and a chicken--is shockingly pagan to me. Valentine's Day is for couples. Christmas is for family, or if you haven't got any family, friends.

However, I am sympathetic to those Singles who watch romantic comedies set around Christmas time and think they are really missing something if they can't go mittened hand in gloved hand with a man to the local Christmas market and drink hot apple cider together. B.A. said he always felt cranky when he could not do Christmas market-y stuff hand-in-hand with somebody. Amusingly, although we have been to the Edinburgh Christmas market with family twice, we have never gone by ourselves. This hand-in-hand thing with mittens, gloves, snowflakes and apple cider never really happens, which is okay, since life is much richer and more joyful than anything Hollywood can come up with.

Saturday, 15 December 2012

Worldwide Culture of Death

People will use yesterday's massacre as another stick to beat the USA with, but I live within two hours' drive to Dunblane, so I won't be among them. There are massacres of innocent people in Europe, just as there are in the USA, and just as there have been in Canada. The common denominator is not gun laws but men who somehow think that their wish to kill innocent people is more important than anything. More important than life. More important than children's happiness.

The fool says in his heart, "There is no God."

The one good thing about yesterday is that women--teachers--put their bodies between a twenty-year killer and their under-eleven pupils. This is what adult women are supposed to do. Adult women are supposed to protect the very young and the very old. Adult men are supposed to help us and, oh yeah, protect us from men. This could mean from men like themselves. Men who shout "You're not going out dressed like that, young lady" aren't necessarily speaking solely from theoretical contemplation of other men.

I don't know why a twenty-year old boy would shoot his mother with her own guns and then drive to her school to shoot her kindergarten class* and anyone else, woman or child, who got in his way. Jealousy? A sense of entitlement? Anger over his parents' divorce? Entitlement, almost certainly.

I was born in a country with strict gun laws, and I live in a country with strict gun laws, but somehow I cannot blame the guns. (It's too late for the USA to get rid of them now anyway. It is awash with guns, and always has been, and Americans are stuck with them. You might as well try to rid Scotland of alcohol.)

I blame whatever it is that makes a boy or a man think he is justified in killing his neighbour, let alone his own mother, or a child, or several children. Where did he get that idea? Who told him? Was it advertisers constantly appealing to his ego or sex drive, or television constantly appealing to his ego or sex drive, or movies offering up dodgy models for emulation, or video games in which he is the omnipotent slayer of thousands, or music lyrics that encouraged him to feel hard done by and to take out his rage on people around him?

Was it television news showing Palestinians dragging dead Palestinians behind their motorcycles? Was it thousands upon thousands of images of human beings being brutalised in a hundred different ways?

Was it the constant stream of books and shows celebrating the glamour of evil? Vampires, for example, are not exactly hero material.

Was it the culture of easy divorce, of the importance of parents' personal lives at the expense of their children's happiness? Should divorce laws treat married people with kids the same married people without kids? Does anyone pledge to stay together "for the sake of the kids" anymore?

Was it Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins smirking from book jackets, selling thousands upon thousands of their copies of their message that only idiots fear God. There is no God, they claim. Life is short and ultimately meaningless. It doesn't matter what you do, kid, so have a good time. If you make your mark, maybe your name will live on.

Note that I don't name the killer. Please don't name him in the combox. I wish there was some way to prevent him from becoming a hero to other rebels with a cause or clue. Why, oh why, did pop culture ever make a fetish of those people?

Yesterday showed us a failure in civilization. As an aunt of three children under ten I am sickened and terrified that a privileged, educated young man could even think of killing the little children under his mother's care en masse, let alone do it. The only, only thing that keeps me from despairing is the news that women put their bodies between him and children and said "No." Unlike the survivors of their polar opposite, their survivors can hold up their heads at their funerals and say "My loved one lay down her life for another's child."

Update: The news reports have been changing the details daily. Now it seems that the Connecticut killer's mother was not the children's teacher. There are suggestions she once worked as a teacher's aid. And there are declarations that she had no direct links to the school. One lesson we can take home from this is that the media gets a lot of details wrong and when it doesn't know something, it makes it up, and hopes you will forget later.

Friday, 14 December 2012

A Great Natural Anti-Depressant

One very good thing I continued to do during the slow and painful transition from badly married to church-approved (with papers!) Single again was go to the gym. For a while there, that meant both gyms: the YMCA and the boxing club. Boxing and I parted ways, eventually, but I kept on going to the Y. And great was my joy when I went back to university and discovered that the use of both of the two big gyms was covered by my tuition. I went with the bigger one, the one Olympic athletes train in. Then I worked out an hour a day, every second day: half an hour on the treadmill or the step machine, and half an hour with the weights and weight machine. When I tired of the shenanigans of immature undergrads, I took advantage of the Women-Only hours. Generally it was me and the Muslim girls. Peace at last.

Sadly, when I went to Boston to do my PhD, I discovered that graduate students had to pay hefty fees to use the college gym. So I joined a commercial gym relatively nearby, but somehow--what with the weather being as cold as it was, and it not really fitting into my schedule, and not being able to make ends meet--I stopped going. I also gave up on ten (goodness!) years of low-fat habits and used Ben & Jerry's ice-cream as an anti-depressant until I dropped out of the PhD and my doctor put me on the real thing

Oh, my pills! I loved them. I got so much done. Listen, I love anti-depressants. Before I went on them, I was like, "Oh, I don't want to lose my personality, weep, weep" but afterwards, I was like "I love you, little pills!"

When I got engaged to B.A. the first thing the various doctors in my life said was to get off the little pills because there are few things worse for little baby brains--should you get pregnant--than my friends the pills. You have to give them up as soon as you get engaged, so that they can gradually leave your system. And at the time I gave them up without a care because B.A. is an anti-depressant in himself.

However, melancholy is the writer's lot, and I also have Nerves on top of it, and the practically pharmaceutical nature of falling in love wears off after three years, so B.A. and I decided that this time I really should go back to a gym and stick to an exercise regimen. So I have.

From failed experiments in this direction, we have learned that the most important aspect of a gym is that it be within a twenty minute walk of our house. After that it is important that the gym has everything I like--treadmill, row-machine, standing weights, free weights and stoical men who are serious about working out and so barely notice if women are around. Then it has to be affordable, which was a bit of a poser re: nearest gym until I discovered that it has a special, lower fee for those who come in only between 9 and 4. Yay!

One thing I noticed the first time I worked out in this gym is how mad my upper back was when I did chest flies. It shrieked a bit. I wondered why the heck that was, and I suspect it was from being at the computer for hours and hours a day. Fortunately, it is better now, or at least beaten into submission by the new exercise regimen formulated for me by an immensely wiry Scottish trainer.

Since I was Single for most of my serious gym-rat days, I was reminded of those days today, and it occurred to me that I would have been a lot worse off mentally, not to mention physically, if I had not worked out so much.

So today's Auntie Seraphic advice, keeping in mind that Auntie Seraphic is not a doctor, is to think about joining a gym, if you do not belong to one already. If money is an issue, see how much it costs to use your college gym or if the local YMCA has a sliding scale. Not to get all socialist here, but if governments were serious about universal health care, they would subsidize gym memberships and slap warning labels on chip shops, pie shops and burger joints. As a friend of mine with the Ministry of Health used to say, "An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure."

Thursday, 13 December 2012

But They Were Just Here!

So someone from The Economist was reading my blog yesterday, and lo and behold, here is an article in The Economist on trad-triddery! No mention of little me, of course, as I am just a teeny-weeny piece in the Tridentine puzzle. However, I am delighted that trid-trads are being called "the avant-garde." Hee hee!

Happy St Lucy's Day!

It's St Lucy's Day, and the third anniversary of this particular blog. So happy blogversary, and may your eyes be healthy and bright. I was going to say something about having a clear vision in life, but the philosopher Bernard Lonergan says "Knowing is not taking a good look," and so Lonerganians avoid sight analogies.

It is also my parents' wedding anniversary, so congratulations to my parents, and also to my brothers and sisters that we all grew up under the shelter of a happy, healthy, functional marriage. My husband didn't, as a matter of fact, so he is living testimony that you can still have a happy marriage yourself even if your parents didn't. But I am not as sweet-tempered as my husband, so I have to give my parents credit for instilling in me habits that come in very useful in married life, like handing out a lot of praise and avoiding any appearance of nagging.

Since this is a girl blog and because I hate suppressing thoughts, I would like to report that my mother's wedding dress was made of white wool trimmed with rabbit fur, and was cut from a Vogue pattern. The skirt came down to my mother's feet and had wide mediaeval sleeves. I don't think showed as much as my mother's collarbones. Instead of a veil (a veil would have looked stupid with wool), my mother wore a rabbit fur headband. She carried a bouquet of red poinsettia. She had a short blue cloak for outdoors. As a winter wedding ensemble, it rocked, and the photographs show my strangely young parents being dusted with snow outside the same church B.A. and I would marry in decades later.

My parents had their wedding on St. Lucy's Day to coincide with the university Christmas holidays, as my Dad was still a PhD student. Awww! They were so cute! (Of course they are still cute, but in a different way.)

Wednesday, 12 December 2012

This Blog is for GIRLS

Hello, Patheos people. The boys can go away now. Scoot, scoot, back into the vestry. Notice how this blog is pink with candy stripes? That's because I want men to think twice before being caught reading it at work or in the library.

NCBs Off Their Rocker

My right hand is still hurting despite the rest, so I may have to keep this short.

I was struck forceably by the testimony of a reader that she received angry emails from Catholic men excoriating her for being at university, where she represented a distraction to them. I'm presuming that this was not in Afghanistan or Pakistan but in the good old U.S. of A., whence 60% of my readers log on, so I was sore amazed.

The reader mentioned also that she was not asked out on dates or even seemingly noticed by non-Catholic undergraduates during her undergraduate career. The date part does not surprise me, as dating--sadly--is much more common to working adults than to students, now, students being more likely to just "hang out" or "hook up" or snog meaninglessly at parties. The "not noticed" part I chalk up to modesty and paying more attention to her work than to the men around and not having read the fascinating book on male body language I have on my shelves. (And very amusing it is, too!)

Incidentally a single NCB friend recently mentioned to me a meaningless snog he had had, and I felt rather indignant. What if the poor girl didn't think it was meaningless? And surely this is not the sort of thing Nice Catholic Married Ladies are supposed to be told? We may suspect that our single male friends might indulge in meaningless snogs, and we may even enjoy hearing about them through third parties ("No! He didn't! Really? What did she look like?"), but surely they themselves are supposed to be prudently silent about such carryings on.

Anyway, the comment left me wondering what I would do if I were twenty and, on the one hand, no men at university tried to get to know me and, on the other, my brothers in Christ were sending me lunatic emails about how I was a temptation to their purity, woe.

Oh, how tempted I would be to forward the lunatic emails to the Catholic chaplain. Ah ha ha ha! "Dear Father Pete, I was so upset by this email. It flies in the face of everything I read in Mulieris Dignitatem. Is this what Catholic men are all secretly thinking? Could it be true that the Church is anti-woman? I feel so discouraged; perhaps I should drop out."

However, that would be passive-aggressive, and there's no point in adding to Father Peter's grey hairs. The adult thing to do, I think, would be to address the lunatic emails head on with a short and concerned reply. "Dear Scooter, I was very surprised to read your email, especially in light of the following quotations from Mulieris Dignitatem and when we both have the example of Saint Teresa Benedicta of the Cross before us: [fully documented quotations]. I have done a thorough examination of conscience, and I honestly cannot recall any conscious effort on my part to lead you astray from the straight and narrow path (Matthew 7:13-14).

"I am confused by what you have written about my denim jeans. American women have worn denim jeans for at least the past sixty years, and trousers since the 1930s. Speaking as a Catholic, I am distressed that one of my Catholic brothers may have been influenced by an Evangelical Protestant or even Islamic obsession with women's dress. There is no Catholic doctrine on women's dress. Perhaps you could read your email to me to your confessor or spiritual director, so that he could advise you. In Christ, etc."

Now, you may have objections to this email. First, it has come to my ears that the mere mention of John Paul II or his writings is not enough to check the excesses of wound-up Catholic male undergrads anymore. That's too bad because it sure was when I was an undergrad. So instead you may want to do a bit more digging and find something encouraging Benedict XVI or a pre-Vatican II pontiff has said about women or women's education. Second, this email has a very intellectual tone, and therefore may enrage Scooter, who probably thinks that women ought not to be intellectual. Still, it is a lot more dignified than saying, as I remember saying once myself, "No woman will ever want to marry you, for fear that she might have sons like you!"

Actually, though, the guy I said that to later asked my ex-boyfriend if he would mind if the guy asked me out. Still, I said that in person, not by email. We didn't send impassioned emails in those days. It took so long for the modem to connect, you were mad at nothing but the computer by the time you could put fingers to keys.

As for not being asked out on dates, my advice is to get beyond the whole idea that strangers will just ask you out as you sit in the library, working away. The thing to do, I seem to recall, is to join groups, and meet the friends of friends you have already, and to collar men after class to say, "I really liked the point you made about Spinoza" or "Sorry the prof was such an ass. I understood exactly what you meant."

Having taken a night school class this past term, I am struck by how many men I have met and had to do group work with. Of course, I am married and they are married, too, or at least have Polish girlfriends, which is why they are in my Polish night school class, but it strikes me now what an opportunity I squandered as an undergrad to make lots of male friends. And considering my terrible grades for the first two years (really: terrible), I might as well have been doing that, since I certainly wasn't doing much work.

Monday, 10 December 2012

Plumbing the Depths

Yesterday at Sunday Lunch I picked up an altar server's manual (published 1961) to discover its mysteries despite the jealous growl of one of the parish altar servers. Since I wrote my post about how we ought not to let men to define whether or not we are real women, or accept at face value their judgments of which women deserve what treatment, I have been pondering why it is that men make such definitions and judgments in the first place.

In general, human beings are rational so, in general, men are rational creatures. Why then are they so irrational about women? How is it that St. Gregory of Nyssa could say of his sister Macrina that she was so astonishingly bright and good a woman that it could hardly be said of her that she was a woman, but not make the conceptual jump that maybe this was because women are a lot brighter and better than his age gave us credit for?

The altar server's manual gave me a tiny clue. Although there was a hopeful chapter called "The Altar Server is a Christian Gentleman" the only women I found mentioned in this book were Mom and Sister, Sister being the Altar Server's schoolteacher. Possibly the idea in 1961 that the Altar Server would ever be tempted to snap the bra of the girl sitting in front of him (for example) was so outrageous, the author didn't think of it. And, anyway, this book seemed to assume that the fledgling altar boy was about ten.

My tiny clue was the hectoring tone of this very American book. It stressed that the Altar Server is not a weakling ("You're not a cream puff, are you?") and that he has important responsibilities and that he should be obedient and grateful to the authority figures he takes for granted. He eats because his father puts food on the table. He has clean laundry and attention because his mother loves him. Priests and nuns have given up their family and friends for him. Does he not realize all this? "When will you wake up?"

I hope I find the altar service manual for 1951, for I am sure it will give me more insight into my dad. Meanwhile, this guide made me ponder both that from a young age men are told not to be weak and that they are nagged a lot. Girls don't get nagged as much because we usually do what we are told from birth, cleverly associating love and cookies with obedience, whereas there seems to be some mechanism in boy brains that gets in the way of this connection. It is very hard for me to imagine what it would be like to be my nephew Pirate; the closest I can get is to imagine myself at his age, only high on caffeine and selectively deaf. WHOOT! WHOOT! WHOOT!COOKIES! AAA-AAA-AAA-AAA! I'M A HUMAN TORPEDO!! CAN WE GO TO THE PARK? CAN WE GO NOW? NOW? NOW? NOW?

(Imagining what it is like to be someone else is a fun activity, especially if they are in the same room as you. Try to imagine what the room looks like from their perspective, keeping in mind their height and their glasses, if any, and their lack of comprehension of things you might immediately have recognized, with a dash of colour-blindness for men, plus heightened awareness of who is wearing the lowest-cut dress, etc.)

This is not an incredibly original thought, but it strikes me that if you are brought up from birth being nagged at more than girls (which you think is unfair) and then told not to be weak (and girls are comparatively weak), you are going to be really angry when you discover one day that some of those privileged, weak girls now have power over you.

Some of these girls honestly don't know it, and you can either resent them for being so dumb or you can forgive them and feel protective of them.

But some of the girls know they have this power, and you know that they know it, and some of them even use this power for evil, which you realize even if they won't admit it (which they rarely do), but there's not much you can legally do about it, and that sucks.

That, incidentally, sums up the philosophy of the manosphere.

Men's resentment of the fact that women distract, frustrate and hurt them, and make them feel weak when the number one rule of manhood is Don't Be Weak, drives women crazy because much of the time we can't help how men feel. We especially can't help it when for whatever reason boys or men attach special sexual symbolism to us, as in the case of my poor elementary school classmate. The only sexually suggestive thing about her, as a child, was an unfortunate name, but that was enough to trigger whatever it was in the sadly influential chief class bully.

Meanwhile, I am not so thrilled that current immigration patterns mean I share public space with men who think women who don't wear Islamic dress are "uncovered meat." It's not enough just to wear knee-length skirts, elbow-length sleeves and cleavage-covering bodices anymore. Noooooo..... I don't wear a hijab, so I've got it coming to me if I walk into the wrong Parisian suburb. (That said, I got hassled yesterday by Scotsmen for what I was wearing, although presumably not because they thought it was suggestive of anything except Tory Bastards.)

And since women are just as worried about being called uncool or dowdy as we are about being called slutty, we are astonished when various men take exception to clothes we wear that most women wear, or that we wore as kids (e.g. denim shorts) and nobody complained.

Of course, sometimes we are not astonished by men's reactions because we have figured out the link between men's reactions to certain words, behaviour and clothes. It takes many of us decades longer than the rest of us to figure this out. And even then I doubt many of us really understand what kind of power we have to distract, frustrate and hurt because it is very hard for us to imagine what being a man looking at/dealing with a woman is like, especially when that woman is us.

For example, I am 39++ and was 140 lbs the last time I checked. According to almost all of world fiction plus all the fashion mags that ever were, absolutely nobody is supposed to be attracted to me any more; my husband is a lunatic, or something. And yet I got hit on by a Swedish hockey player at a party this year; life is exceedingly strange.

When it comes to dealing with women, most women are pretty smart. We know how to be cautious, we know what not to say, we know what to say, and by adulthood most of us know how to protect ourselves from women who want to take advantage of us some way. It is often a great surprise to realize that men do not know how to do that too.

And then, of course, no woman alive is perfect and sometimes we do try to control men, particularly when it comes to matters of the heart. Girls used to buy love potions from gypsies to make men fall in love with them; that wasn't very nice or respectful of the men's autonomy, was it? Brighter girls figure out more effective means, and use it either for good or, as I've mentioned, for evil.

We could no doubt argue for hours when influencing (to use a nicer word than controlling) men is for good or for evil, but I would say that there is quite a difference between sounding like Princess Leia ("Help me, Ben Kenobi! You're my only hope!") and hiking up your skirt on the highway to get a lift, if anyone actually ever did that in the history of the car.

Sunday, 9 December 2012

Small Shrill Shriek of Rage

I don't usually post on a Sunday, but having recently complained about being hassled on the dark street by non-Scots, it is only fair that I complain also about being hassled by Scots. Young, male, Edinburgh Scots. Team of two. Both taller than me.

Dear men of the world, just don't touch or talk to women you don't know out on the street after dark, okay? If you don't like what we're wearing, look in another direction. If you feel a need to fight a class war, and you feel tempted to start it with a woman wearing a fancy hat, go join the Communist Party or something. If you need to bully someone, hire a therapist to tell you why.

Obviously no woman who is just minding her own business walking from point A to point B at any time of day or night deserves to be harassed. But I must say I find it particularly annoying to be harassed before seven o'clock at night. Seven o'clock. Sure, at this time of year Edinburgh is pitch-black by five. But this does not give young men license to act like complete and total jerks.

At closing time--okay--the local women can plan for the fact that the jerk quotient goes up exponentially and put our don't-get-harassed-by-jerks plans into action. But it's really unfair to harass women at an hour we can reasonably assume ourselves to be safe from cretins.

The number one thing I detest about life in Edinburgh (and mostly I love life in Edinburgh) is how just wearing a hat makes me a target for the chippy kind of Scotsman who think hat = Margaret Thatcher or, perhaps, woman for whom his mother was a charlady. The class system--which unlike gender really is a semi-imaginary social construct--really gets on my nerves; can you not get over it? It's absolutely ridiculous. Some rugby player with a broken nose actually married one of the Queen's granddaughters. There is no such thing as the class system any more; leave me in peace to wear my vintage clothes as often as I like.

Update: Another shriek. Someone tried to destroy the icon of our Lady of Częstochowa at Jasna Góra today. Fortunately, it is covered with really good safety glass and was undamaged.

Saturday, 8 December 2012

Girl Girls

My right arm still really hurts, alas, so I will condense my "Pet" post into three sentence: I'm now officially not allowed to have a pet in the Historical House, so my baby substitute options are definitely limited. Does anyone know of a plant that is like a pet? Is there a plant that purrs, or is that only on Star Trek?

The post that I've wanted to write for days is about young men who will tell you that you are not a "real" woman for some reason, and how you should correct and ignore them.

First of all, although some young men may think they are being very objective when they formulate theories about women and femininity, they aren't. So if a man tells you you aren't very feminine, you can take this as saying more about his subjective impressions of reality than about you, even if you are a tanker trucker.

Boys' and men's irrational and subjective thoughts about women can be very damaging to the female psyche, as we naturally want to get along with men, and many of us are prone to self-doubt. The most terrible and extreme example I know of is a little girl whose inevitable but horrible elementary school nickname was, through no fault of her own, "Whore." This poor girl was one of the girls singled out for the elementary sexual experiences of the boys in my class, and was the most despised.

As I scroll through my memory for the usual reasons an innocent girl gets tarred with the "class slut" label--the first to get breasts, willingness to curse, the crime of listening to the wrong music or wearing the wrong clothes, the rumour of an older boyfriend--all I can see is the fact that this girl's nickname was "Whore." That's it. That is why, according to the spirit that ruled my classroom, she could be treated like crap.

And, incidentally, I was too wrapped up in my own problems to think very much about this girl at the time, and it was only after someone else in my class--a girl who had been treated with affection and respect by the boys--told me about seeing her years later, that it occurred to me how much she must have suffered. (In short, the first woman saw the second, turned white as a sheet, and crossed the road.)

My own painful brush with irrational male categories of femininity occurred when I was a teenager, the sort of Dumb Smart Girl who does boys' homework for them because they seem so desperate and only she can save them. I hung out with fellow baby neo-conservatives in a movement where the very word "feminist" was hated, and because I argued the feminist cause, I was considered perhaps a bit of a loose cannon. As luck would have it, my most vociferous critic was the boy I helped with his homework most. He wanted to be seen as an intellectual, and he certainly wasn't one, so I suppose it is no wonder that he hated my guts. Very irrationally, I was quite fond of him and wanted him to like me. (Sigh.)

He was the kind of boy who puts on chivalry like his older brother's jacket and one day bragged at a party that he always treated girls very well.

"But what about Seraphic?" demanded my friend. "You don't treat her very well."

"Oh," scoffed Mr Chivalry. "Seraphic's not a girl girl."

My therapist became very familiar with this story. Possibly my readers are already familiar with this story. Unfortunately, this is one of the defining stories of my life. And why, I ask, did I allow the stupid remark of a teenage dirtbag who begged and pleaded for me to fix his stupid essays to bother me quite that much?

And I suppose I must have thought boys were allowed to define who the "real" girls were, and as generations of women believed, that the greatest feminine accomplishment is to "make boys like you," and so, if you failed in this, you weren't that feminine.

How terrible. And how untrue. But that is enough for today because of my poor arm.

Friday, 7 December 2012

Video Christmas Card

I sent 20 Christmas cards today, mostly overseas, so now I am in a Christmassy mood, even though of course it is still Advent and vaguely penitential and blah, blah, Catholic content, blah. I'm just finishing off the bottle of likier czekoladowy; nobody talk to me about penance until it's done.

I have also been in a rather 1980s mood, too, in part because of thinking about all those great 1980s fashions I spent all my allowance on back in the 1980s. There was a big 1960s revival going on much of the time, so a lot of my allowance went towards minis and sleeveless turtlenecks. I had a black-and-green sleeveless turtleneck with a zipper. It was the bomb, baby. Speaking of which, back then we thought the Eastern Bloc might actually drop THE Bomb on us, and also that it was at all credible that Elton John might actually fall in desperate, forbidden love with a sultry Russian border guard named Nikita. Really, it was a time of simultaneous innocence and pointless dread.

One of the songs that almost always got played in the 80s at Catholic high school dances, which were for me the most anticipated events in what the Soviet half of the arms race might have made a short life, was "The Power of Love" by Frankie Goes to Hollywood. If you didn't get asked to dance to "The Power of Love", the song represented the gloomiest four minute stretches of your life to date. Never mind "the hooded claw" the singer promised to protect us from. What about the next four minutes of acute wallflowerdom? Bloody hellck.

So you can imagine my shock and joy many, many years later when I finally saw the video to "The Power of Love" and discovered that it was not about romantic, boy-girl, are-you-going-to-the-dance-on-Friday love at all:

Update: Okay, here's the doleful pre-nuclear apocalyptic anthem of my generation. The creepy thing is that although 1989 meant that nobody would drop the Bomb on us after all, it also meant that NATO would in ten years bomb my principal 1987 crush object's hometown to smithereens. When that final horror was going on I was working in a government office, the resident unofficial expert on the changing borders of former Yugoslavia: "I'm sorry, sir, but Canada does not recognize the Republic of Serbian Krajina." Ugh. (Shudder.) Let's see if there's any more Christmassy likier czekoladowy in the bottle.

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

sto lat

left hand starting to get cranky too..

well, it is the 25th anniversary of the b. college christmas dance of 1987, adjusting for the time difference. this was not the most exciting dance of my high school career, but in high school my creed was not yet 'vissi d'arte' but 'girls just want to have fun', so its importance loomed large in my consciousness at that time and of course i wrote a report in my diary.

and here is where i am most exceedingly cross with my teenage self. instead of infusing the custard of the report with the vanilla pod of 1980s cultural detail, i mostly listed who didn't go and who did. some of the boys i seemed to have danced with i simply cannot recall. they are merely names without even the association of a shiny 80s shirt. i suppose the slavonic names give an indication of immigration patterns, but come on. i didn't as much as mention the songs played, although i did mention U2 so now a faint recollection of "With or Without You" comes to mind. and i see now (as i do a close reading) that i danced this solemn ballad with my principal crush object--result!

what saves the entry as any kind of historical record is my sketch of my dance outfit. if you are an eavesdropper you are now about to be even more bored, but this is for girls and girls tend to love this stuff. when my friend lily got engaged i asked her what she was wearing and she said 'i knew you would ask' and told me in detail.

anyway my outfit, mostly purchased at a shop for teenagers called le chateau, involved big gold square earrings, a black turtleneck, a red plaid miniskirt, contrasting red plaid tights and brand new black ballet flats. so if any eavesdropper happened to have been born--far far away--during the b. college christmas dance of 1987, you may have been purple and screaming, but i looked fabulous.

Update: Scotland, 2012, 1:01 AM. Returned from party in Edinburgh's New Town. Very 1930s long black dress, black net stockings, black pumps with feathers, feather hair-clip, black opera gloves, grandmother's diamond dinner ring, MAC lipstick (Russian Red), mink coat. Many Slavonic names, indicating migration patterns, or at least Edinburgh as student destination. Quality and quantity of vodka has vastly improved since days of extreme youth.

Now recognize "Miłość Ci wszystko wybaczy" as easily as solemn U2 ballads and helped to make the pierogi, both of which actions would have been extremely unpredictable in 1987. Cab fare £16, and I do not want to think what that was worth 25 years ago. Eeek. Sincerely hope parish youth whom I convinced to supply protective services felt spiritual reward inherent in seeing parish lady into cab. Cab driver indigenous to Scotland. Night bitterly cold so 21st century global warming disaster not in evidence. Vaguely recall leaving lipstick prints on just about everyone who crossed path in last hour except cab driver who was protected by plexiglass screen.

Tuesday, 4 December 2012

is patriarchy archy?

it must be nice to be able to think without writing. indeed it might be nice not to think at all, which is one of the wonders of meditation, including christian. however i find not thinking almost impossible especially when people make provocative statements and not writing painful when i think. so it is a good thing i have a left hand.

i have been thinking about patriarchy for many reasons, particularly because there still persist social contracts between men and women. the most obvious one that many of us women rely on every time we leave the house after dark is the understanding that men will not take advantage of the fact that we are smaller and weaker and attack us.

this used to be a contract between men and other men, of course, as men thought women derived our value from our relation to them. and indeed we can see today something of this attitude in men who feel it their responsibility to see certain women and not others home after dark.

i would say that is more meritorious for a man to see a stranger or chance acquaintance home, for she has no claim on his protective services whatsoever. a man more naturally wants to protect someone belonging to his family or group, whatever that group might be, from harm. and it must be a good feeling to know that your mere presence makes a woman happier and enforces your status in a group. as an occasional chaperone and sometimes rescuer of younger women i can guess.

i use the expression 'protective services' intentionally because i have recently read anarchist arguments against minarchist thoughts about the minimal state. the minimal state arises from from a perceived need from protection from violence, in which as a woman (a short one) who is forbidden by the state to carry a handgun, i am naturally interested. if there were no state i would certainly carry a handgun because, although statistics are on my side, any sexual attack--such as are not unknown in my neighbourhood--would be unthinkingly devastating to my psyche. it is for this reason that i never walk home through the woods after dark by myself but arrange to meet my husband at the bus stop.

from a patriarchal perspective i suppose i would ask how men should be rewarded for their protective services. i might answer back that, beyond the emotional satisfactions of doing a good deed, their reward could be sheer gratitude that they themselves are relatively--relatively--free from danger of attack in peace-time, particularly--outside prison--of sexual violation, at least now that they are adult males. i do not think they deserve a complex system in which they make all the decisions and get all the education and eat all the pies.

at any rate it seems to me that as long as women are in danger of sexual attack--and a breakdown of society--see Tahrir Square for a peacetime exanple--seems inevitably to lead to sexual attack--women will always need protective services and from those services will inevitable arise a state, even if that state is only patriarchy. the only way i can imagine a stateless society in which women flourish is one in which we are armed and prepared to kill an attacker. the problem then is if women can actually do this without great psychic damage.