Monday, 30 September 2013

Polandball Has Discovering

Update: No, Polish Pretend Son did not hack my blog. Polandball is an internet phenomenon/joke that has been carrying on for almost five years. One of its enduring in-jokes/put-downs is "Poland cannot into space." It is very not PC (although SFW). But what interests me is that no-one claims authorship for their cartoons, which I think is cool, but does ring another death-knell for the hopes of creative types ("content providers") to earn a living wage.

Still Pretend Mothering

I have put one pretend son on the bus to catch his train for London, his real mother, and--ultimately--the seminary, but I still have another pretend son, so I am about to make pierogis.

Saturday's dinner made it quite clear which pretend son takes after which pretend parent because Pretend Papa and Seminarian Pretend Son talked of nothing but Anglo-Catholics and Anglo-Catholicism and Anglo-Catholic architects while Polish Pretend Son and I stared at them and willed them to talk about something else.

"Excuse me," I said at last. "This 'Mass' of which you speak. Ahem. Ahem."

"Oh, er, um, yes," said the shamefaced conversos duo at that side of the table while Polish Pretend Son snickered in a Cradle-Catholic way.

Then on Sunday, as I dragged B.A. from a party, B.A. was tremendously paternal, saying "Now you chaps needn't leave the party early on our behalf! You can return to the Historical House any time you like!" while I fussed and said "What rubbish! Never heard of such goings-on in my life." Complementarity in action, peeps.

Actually, it turns out that it was only about 11:30 PM, and not 12:30 AM because I forgot that all the clocks in that particular sitting-room are wrong, including the one on the chimney-piece, because I fell dead asleep after B.A.'s stirring rendition of "The Lost Chord." So perhaps I was too premature, and also a bit too tetchy---although that can be blamed on the Romanian śliwowica the Polish Pretend Son kept pouring in my glass.

B.A.'s imitation of Dame Clara is positively haunting.

Saturday, 28 September 2013

Imaginary Sons

I think somebody mentioned in the ever-lengthening series of comments in reply to "Do Mothers Have It All?" that the married childless can open their house to friends, or some such. That is quite true, if both married people are on board with this. Some married people think of their home as a fort, in which to barracade themselves with their spouse/hostage, who is made to watch really boring television from dinner to bed-time.

Fortunately B.A. and I agreed that--at least until we had children--part of our vocation as married people would be helping Single people. This means that B.A. is on board when he comes home to find slender young men drifting through his hallway, eating muffins prepared by his wife, who is cooking zealously in the kitchen while practicing Polish verbs. (The Single people we know tend to be Catholic, and Catholics in Edinburgh, particularly the ones having temporary housing crises, tend to be Poles.)

When I was a child, I thought it would be rather fun to be "Mrs Bhaer" aka Jo March from Little Women except that "Jo's boys" were nothing like the human piglets I knew. However, now I am grown up, and so are the temporary homeless Singles eating muffins, so it is indeed a bit like Jo's Boys minus the fulsome gratitude and German accent--except when B.A. imitates Adolf Hitler singing "Hooro My Nut Brown Maiden."

But when I was a child, I was used to there being a lot of people in the house, particularly younger people I was expected to keep an eye on, help with their shoes, etc., so it feels a bit odd to be alone in the Historical House with just one other person most of the time. So that is another reason to be happy when Singles and their suitcases land at my doorstep.

Today we get two Singles for the weekend, so I will soon break off and rush about making up beds and baking cookies for two imaginary sons, aged 25. In my set, we all act like we are the same age--an ever-youthful/sophisticated 33--so it is actually hard to imagine my imaginary sons as sons, especially when they are actually here. I always say "Oooh! It will be like having a son back from college," and then the imaginary son arrives and I am forced to reflect that even if I had had a baby at 16, there is no way he could have looked like that.

(Seraphic mulls various dimly remembered innocent high school boys with exotic names. "Miroslav...? No. Janek....? No. Tomislav....? No.")

I would love to put up photos of today's imaginary sons, but I already put up one of one of them as a Swashbuckling Protector, and none of you dashed north or across the sea to snaffle him, so he's going into the seminary. The other one has threatened to sue.

Friday, 27 September 2013

Bitterness is the Single's (and Childless's) Worst Enemy

Update: I detect a shocked silence in the combox, so I thought I'd better add that this is not about anyone in particular, least of all anyone whose views we discussed yesterday. It is a response to an email I received about how difficult it is to be a Seraphic Single when you are surrounded by Sarcastic Singles.


Five years ago I arrived in Scotland for a holiday, largely funded by readers who bought my self-published novellas or just threw money in my tip jar. And that is when I met Benedict Ambrose in person, plus the Historical House and the local Extraordinary Form of the Mass and modern-day Scotland. In short, my daily life was transformed almost beyond recognition five years ago today.

Amusingly, just like all my other readers upon meeting me, Benedict Ambrose launched into an explanation of why he was Single and told me all about his dating history, which would have made for a disastrous first date, had it been a date. Fortunately, though, it was not a date, but an "Auntie Seraphic Has Just Met Another Reader In Person" episode, so I went straight into Auntie Seraphic mode, which means listening very hard while simultaneously working out what my reader might need to ponder or do. And, frankly, what I thought what B.A. needed to do was to marry a nice Catholic girl who was into all his Extraordinary Form of the Mass weirdness. Fortunately, I didn't say that. (I was too tired, jet-lagged and culture-shocked to say much at all!)

What I really liked about B.A. (and still do, come to think of it) was his lack of bitterness. He was super-cheerful and pleasant to everyone around and never had a bad word to say about anybody. He did not complain at all, and indeed did not complain about anything or anybody for some time. Now he occasionally does get grouchy, but he's a human being and a Scot, and Scots are famously grouchy. Plus I personally am a volcano of resentment, and occasionally go into a tangent about the evils of American soi-disant Catholic academic theology that lasts about 72 hours at a stretch.

But he wasn't grouchy and I didn't voice my resentment when we met. And indeed since before then we only knew each other from our blogs, we already had first impressions firmly fixed in our heads: I thought he was clever, funny, kind although BEARDED (and I hated beards), and he thought I was pretty, funny and kind although possibly an AIRHEAD. (The perpetually sunny tone of my blog led him to think I might be an airhead.)Fortunately, as we all know, men do not immediately dismiss women who might be airheads, if they think we are pretty. They take us out for coffee to find out the truth.

Now, I say over and over that the most attractive qualities in men and women are confidence and joy. But I think I may need to emphasize that confidence is the MOST attractive quality in a man (followed by joy) whereas joy is the MOST attractive quality in a woman (followed by confidence). And true confidence doesn't need to wear brand names. For example, a confident guy or girl who went to Harvard doesn't need to make sure everyone knows that they went to Harvard. Harvard is just where they went to college and met some great people and had some great profs and ate amazing barbecue in Somerville, and it's part of the past now--"Tell me about you."

Joy makes people glow, and the more you do things you enjoy, and the more you think happy thoughts, and the more you distance yourself from negative circumstances and people, the more joyful you will be. No, you can't pretend evil doesn't exist--there are times when you have to stand and fight, write that letter or make that phone call--but you can fight it in a joyful way. ("One more into the breach, dear friends, once more!") I have a friend who never looks more joyful than when he is denouncing my heresies; he positively chuckles and the very sun shines more brightly and even though I want to kick him, I have to love him because A) he is totally without malice and B) he's just so cheerful about it. ("And there you are. Pom pom pom.")

Bitterness, of course, starts off as a delicious drug. For example, nothing gives me a kick like an over-the-top, well-written blog post that takes no prisoners--unless it's about me, in which case I scream like a banshee. And it can be such a relief when someone voices the cranky thought you are having but don't want to say, e.g. "Being Single sucks and if X stares at her engagement ring one more time, I'm going to drown her in the sink."

Now, you have a choice. You can be all goody-goody and say, "Oh, that's a terrible thing to say." Or you can guffaw and say "You hold her; I'll turn on the taps." Or you can squeeze your pal's arm sympathetically and say, "Let's blow this Popsicle stand and get a real drink." Guess which one I advocate?

The truth is that bitterness is indeed worse for us than a nice cocktail (mmm...what time is it? is it too early for a... yes) and it doesn't help us get what we want, whatever it is. It is much more likely to scare other people away or attract only those people who are themselves bitter and want permission to soak in it. (By the way, Kate, write in and tell me about the negative things people on CM said when you pointed out the joys of the Single state.)

And it occurs to me that bitterness gets in the way of people who want to help you carry the burden of your real sadness. Bitterness may make a mountain out of a molehill, but there's still that molehill to be addressed, and that is best done by people who really care about you, not by people who are just jonesin' for a shot of that good ol' bitterness-high.

It could be that the spiritual reason why I haven't had children and may never have children (and our economic/Historical House circumstances rule out adoption right now) is so that I can give 700 daily readers, or however more I get, assurance that life will still be worth living if you have, as I have, an unfulfilled desire for children. And it could be that the spiritual reason why you're still single is because... Well, I don't know. In hindsight (20/20), I think God wanted me to learn how to cope cheerfully with Singleness so I would write this blog and not get married until B.A. was ready to get married, which was probably not until he was received into the Church, shortly after he met me.

All the bitterness in the world would not have changed Immutable Providence and, indeed, it would have only got in the way. Most of my readers read, not to get a drug, but to feel happier, and although my cheerful tone made B.A. suspect I might be an airhead, it inspired him to invite me to Scotland.

And there you are. Pom pom pom.

Thursday, 26 September 2013

Do Mothers Have It All?

I am currently in a big how-did-my-career-dreams-end-up-like-this snit, so I probably focused on the wrong things while reading this article by Emily Stimpson. Mostly I am thinking, how come Emily (who writes about Single Life) turned her writing into "professional success" whereas I (who write about Single Life) have not? Seven shows with EWTN? I'm seriously impressed. Who does she know? Did she just call them up? Did she take the Catholic Match shilling? ARGH! I think she did.

But despite her success, Emily writes that she thinks everything she writes is ephemeral and means nothing in the long run because her blue eyes will not shine forth from a great-grandchild's face. This troubles me because every saint of the Classical world would shout, "Who cares? Children of the spirit are more important than children of the flesh! Arrrrrrrgh!" It also troubles me because now that nobody sews a big A on your chest for having a baby "on your own", having a baby "on your own" is a big enough temptation for Single professional women as it is. My goodness. When I was in theology school, a mother of two asked me if I would consider going down to a local bar on the right day of my cycle and "Just, you know..."

I wonder why men are not more terrified of women in bars than they are. EAVESDROPPERS! Stay away from women in bars!

The other thing that troubles me is that Emily (and, listen, in charity I am reminding you that this morning I envy Emily more than anyone on earth--writers envy each other, it is our besetting sin) is telling mothers that "they have it all" when she is not herself a mother and so can't possibly know what it is really like. As I wallow in my "What have I done with my life?" snit, I think of my own mother's frustrations with being a stay-at-home-mother-of-five-children-under-thirteen. She got married at age 23, which strikes me now as so young I am amazed, even though I hear a chorus of voices telling me this is still normal for Poland. (Twenty-THREE!)

In short, I am absolutely certain that my mother would have LOVED to have run away from the house, the children, the weekly grocery shop, the million shirts to be ironed, to write, speak and travel from time to time. Unfortunately, it would never have occurred to my mother that anyone would have been interested in what she wrote or had to say or in funding her travel. In the 1970s, nobody seemed to give a tinker's damn for housewives. Your value lay in how much money you made or how loud you were, and that was that.

That's when people should have been telling housewife-mothers how valuable their lives and work were. However, even so, there is the fact that 24 hour child-minding can be staggeringly boring, and if you are an intellectually honest woman like my mother, and really bad at lying, it is hard to hide from your children how staggeringly boring they are and how you wish you could have adult conversations beyond "I'll have 200 grams of the Black Forest ham." My mother is so much happier now that her children are adults, and two have married other adults, and now she is guaranteed adult conversation. My dad sent us all to university, too, so we all get the references to the things to which she thinks adults ought to get the references.

My mother also has a job now. I am not certain if it is a volunteer or a pin-money post, but she enjoys it. And she and my father travel a goodish bit. And I am tempted to say that my mother has it all, but only because--mark this--my parents are relatively well off--as well off as the average Canadian Baby Boomer couple could expect to be in their sixties if one made a good professional salary and the other was an incredibly good saver and manager of money. What my mother's life would have been like if my father had lost his job or died---well. I don't want to think about it.

When I was a child, I thought--and my classmates assumed--that we were rather poor. Ah ha ha ha! We weren't poor; for one thing, we lived in our own house. We just weren't consumers. And because we weren't consumers, my parents' so-called Golden Years are exactly that. In fact, I believe my mother now has it all, except--of course--youth and perfect health.

And there's the rub. Very few people start off rich when they're young. And very few people end up rich when they're old. And old age brings aches, pains, prescription drugs, insomnia--all kinds of things. The only sweeteners of old age that I can see are religious faith, money and family. And in countries where family means squat, you cannot rely on your children. And in an economy where, for the first time in history, American and Canadian children are expected to be worse off than their parents, you cannot rely on children to support you financially. And this is yet another reason why women must must must be rooted in reality and make their education and career decisions based not so much on dreams but on realities--realities than can be discovered with some research and expert opinion. (As for when to have children, science suggests that it's way hard if you start trying after age 35. And my mother loves to say, "I've had children at 24, and I've had children at 34. And at 24, it's easier.")

By the way, groundless fears are as dumb as groundless hopes. Instead of panicking that your education may have been useless, go talk to a professional career counsellor. No college education should be wasted; whatever communication skills they gave you will be useful to somebody.

Update: I will never write for a Catholic dating service because, to make a profit, Catholic dating services need Single people to feel badly about being Single. ("Don't be alone this Christmas!") And in her post, Emily denigrates her whole professional-single-lady career and holds up motherhood to a standard that goes even beyond Christian tradition. Could we always remember that the Catholic tradition holds up the lives of vowed religious, holds virginity preserved for the sake of the Kingdom, to be NUMERO UNO?

Update 2: I was going to say something snarky about the likelihood of your great-grandchildren sharing your recessive genes, but as a matter of fact I look a heck of a lot like my mother's father and not only do my great-grandfather's blue eyes shine from my face, his red hair springs from my head. So you never know. Meanwhile, I know next to nothing about his wife. My exciting great-grandmother was an unwed mother who fled Edinburgh with a bun in the oven, worked her whole life, never married and conveniently died before her savings ran out, at the age of 90. My Edinburgh ancestresses were reputedly all wicked working-class temptresses, and I love them.

Update 3: I think saving souls already made so much more important than making new ones, don't you? I'm darned sure St. Augustine did.

Wednesday, 25 September 2013

Letter from India

Every once in a while--er, a day--I think about my job qualifications and panic. Had I known I was going to emigrate to Scotland at the age of 38, I would not have gone to theology school. Women studying for the Anglican ministry used to stop Catholic girls coming out of classrooms and say, "I hope you don't mind my asking, but..."

I frequently kick myself for not having gone to translator's school, or copywriting school, or teacher school instead. But as it is, theological training is what I have, and Scotland is where I live, and so, believe it or not, the best thing I can think of to do right now is learn Polish.

This is not to discourage Catholic women who already are in theology school. If you are in Ireland, the USA or Canada, there are many more Catholics and therefore many more jobs for which M.Div. or a Masters in Theology prepares you. And, of course, when you live in your own countries, you develop contacts over the decades. There's a reason why new immigrants-with-PhDs end up driving cabs; it's because they have not developed networks of acquaintances who hire people. Alas that I cannot drive.

As usual, I was not rooted in reality when I tried to decide, post-divorce, what to do with my life. I kept thinking "academic career", even though I had no clue about the "academic career" job market, not to mention the absolute necessity, in the humanities, of getting along with powerful, neurotic people, which means possessing the abilities to keep your mouth shut and to dissemble your true thoughts--abilities I completely lack.

All this adds up to poor Auntie being one man away from a welfare cheque, as the saying goes. Well, actually, two. Every once in a while my father comes into the kitchen in the morning to find yet another recently unemployed child eating his "Fruit and Fibre" cereal.

These grim thoughts were inspired by this letter from India. Read it and pray for the writer because she certainly does not have my personal social safety nets.

Hello Aunty Seraphic,

I’m a long-time reader from India. Thank you for all the advice you selflessly provide every day for women such as me. It’s a huge comfort to read your positive uplifting posts, which are apt for me, since I really have nowhere else to turn for advice.

I have your book “The Closet’s all Mine,” which I ordered some years back and I loved it too.

I haven’t read the post about being offended by the term “spinster”. However, I do have one very event that occurred last week (actually several have occurred over the course of few years). Now, please keep in mind that I’m now a 34-year old Indian, who has never actually dated. Had no luck with the arranged marriage scenario; it did not help that I had a rare blood disorder and have had several medical complications.... It also didn’t help that I have dark skin, which automatically puts me in the “unattractive” category. Why, my alcoholic father, in one of his drunken rages, lashed out at me when I was 14, telling me I was so ugly that no fellow will want to marry me. Talk about prophecy.

Anyway, back to the spinster talk. I lead a small team of people at work, and my team and my new manager went out for lunch. My manager of course had assumed I was married since no one remains single past 28 in my country. When I told him otherwise, his expression turned to that of shock and the chaps in my team just laughed their head off. I was humiliated but there’s really no point in reacting. Thankfully, the topic was changed. As a woman in India, I have to deal with a lot of openly misogynistic behavior on a daily basis, and I think I’ve learned over the years to ignore such stuff. Very hard at the beginning, but really showing that you’re upset, only gives them more power over you and makes you look bitter and foolish.

Dear Aunty Seraphic, however, if there’s one piece of advice for young singles, which you can take from my life experience and weave it into a nice post, it is that young women should be clever enough to think of a good career option regardless of marriage. This is something I’m bitterly regretting now and is driving me to real depression.

I did not choose a very ambitious line, since I was pretty sure I was going to get married and hopefully have kids some days. Now, my career is a dead-end and I have very limited prospects and I really loathe my job now. Now a at 34, I don’t know if I should go to grad school and spend a whole bunch of money... I feel like I have dug myself into a sink hole, which I can’t seem to come out of and I feel like a real loser. As for marriage, there’s hardly any hope there. Eligible fellows are taken and I really have no opportunity to meet any.

Perhaps my experience can help some intelligent young NCG avoid this same folly. Please pray for me aunt Seraphic. I feel so abandoned.

Letter from India

I have replied to "Letter from India"--who, at 34, is most definitely not too old to learn a new trade--but have not yet heard back. What I have to say to you girls is "Learn. A. Trade." That trade may be trading. That trade may be sewing. That trade may be teaching schoolchildren. That trade may be pediatrics or computer programming. That trade may be hairdressing. Or plumbing. Or preparing tax returns. Or robotics. Or translation (for the UK, German is very hot right now). Or pharmacy. Pick something you think you would very much enjoy, that you do relatively easily and well, and that will make you money. Please don't sleep walk through an Arts degree and then go into debt for an Arts M.A. Sometimes I wonder if American academia hasn't turned into a pyramid scheme.

Which reminds me of a speech by the dean of one theology school I admired. He described its student body as a "pyramid": mostly women "on the bottom" and a few male religious "on top".

How I cried.

Update: And all you mothers, move heaven and earth so that your daughters are taught math properly. Girls not being able to do math should send off as many panic signals as boys not being able to read. Being able to do math means being able to do science which means being able to study pharmacy or any of the healing trades or computer science, which is where the highest-earning trades for women are. If your daughter otherwise loves school and does all her homework except math, then maybe the problem is not that she is "lazy." Not that I am bitter or had a psychotic math teacher who blighted the career prospects of two generations of women who still discuss her with loathing.

Update 2: This post is sufficiently negative that I should feel that I should add that great teachers and professors have outnumbered the bumblers. Also theology school led to blogging which led to helping a lot of people and meeting B.A. So I don't really regret going to theology school although, dagnabit, I really wish was earning a decent living, and I'm not because of my own poor risk-taking or not-rooted-in-reality choices.

Tuesday, 24 September 2013

Opportunity--Cold Ash

Well, now I am totally annoyed. I have pulled this morning's post because I did not do my research and actually posted the casting call for a company that is responsible for this show. They want to do one on NCGs next, and in my innocence I thought it would be like the BBC's sweet "Young Nuns." Ha.

Thanks to Marta for doing the research. Meanwhile, watch out, American Catholic girls, for a casting call near you. Unless of course you want to be televised in a bikini falling out of clubs as you get revenge on your pious Catholic grandmother for telling you not to dress like a ho. What a world.

A great comment from Nzie, somewhat edited, which disappeared with my post: "...[That media company] apparently made Breaking Amish, which caused a stir when it became apparent that all the people on the show who were "experiencing new things" and who they had plenty of footage of in Amish garb had all actually left the Amish community several years before and the show was scripted.

... If we could be sure [a proposed show about Catholic girls] be like that British show The Monastery (which was fantastic) in its tone, okay, but we just can't. I don't want to see a naive young NCG be used for other people's ends, or see us portrayed as freaks. Of course, by exempting ourselves we then let the story be told by others, and maybe some naive NCGs will be taken up in it. But I don't think it can be helped...

So much for that particular Eavesdropper who wrote to me. But I don't want to punish the other one, so here is his advert. Obviously Cold Ash is a lousy name for a Catholic retreat house, but that's not his fault. I shall recommend this retreat to local young Catholic trad-loving friends.


During the weekend of the 18-20 October 2013, Young Catholic Adults will be running a national weekend at Cold Ash Retreat Centre just up the road from Douai Abbey (which was booked up this year).

* It will be include the following Priests:- Fr Goddard FSSP, Fr de Malleray, Fr. Pearson O.P. and Br. Wilson O.S.B.
* There will be a Marian Procession, Rosaries, Sung/HighMass,  Confession and socials.
* Gregorian Chant Workshops will also be running, this year led by the Schola Gregoriana of Cambridge

Weekend rates: £99.00 for adults, £69.00 for Students and U/E ( weekends starts on Friday evening with supper and finish on Sunday after lunch.

Saturday night only - £60.00 for adults, £50.00 for Students and U/E Full Board

B & B - £35.00 for adults, £30.00 (for student - U/E) per day
Non - residential and full board - (Friday & Saturday) - £45.00 for adults, £40.00 for (for student - U/E) per day

Non residential (includes meals) - £30.00 for adults, £25.00 (for student - U/E) per day

Non residential & no meals - £20.00 for adults, £15.00 (for student - U/E) per day.

To download a booking form please see :-

For general enquiries about the weekend please ring Margaret on 07515 805015 or Damian on 07908105787.

How to get to Cold Ash Retreat Centre (near Thatcham, Berkshire)
Car - Roughly halfway between Reading and Newbury, Cold Ash Retreat Centre is within easy reach of these towns as well as London, Oxford, Bracknell, Winchester and Basingstoke. The A4 (Bath Road is a couple of miles and the M4 is just 4 miles away.

Trains - The nearest railway stations are Thatcham and Newbury, with a regular service on the line from Reading to Taunton. It's just c. 45 minutes from London Paddington. The local railway station, Thatcham, is a couple of miles away (and has plenty of taxis available). Timetables and other information are provided by

Buses - Weavaway operates a bus service from Newbury Town Centre via Thatcham Broadway to Tilehurst, which stops at Cold Ash along the way.

Monday, 23 September 2013

Seminary as an Excuse to Bail Out

Let all men who use the seminary as an excuse to dump the women they have trifled with be afflicted with horrible pimples!!! And may these pimples arrange themselves on their foreheads in a pattern spelling out very rude words!!!

For I have had yet another email from yet another Nice Catholic Girl who has been badly treated by a guy who got away with it because he "might have a priestly vocation"! He's now in the seminary, surprise, surprise. Will he by out by Christmas, or will he hang in there so he can date a different woman next summer?

I am not sure what part of "seduces and bamboozles women" adds up to "priestly vocation."

Oh, I want to scream.


The good news for the general Catholic population is that such men usually drop out of the seminary, either at Christmas or just before they are scheduled to take their diaconate vows; this way we don't end up with more priests with semi-girlfriends they keep at bay with pious words about their "celibacy."

If a guy has managed to get his hands under your blouse and yet tells you that he might have a priestly vocation, he deserves a ringing slap. If he slaps you back, your next move is to the computer to write to your parish priest or the rector of whatever seminary it is he wants to go to.

The only men who belong in the seminary are men who respect women and can be trusted around women. These do not include men who pressure women into sexual activity or lead women into thinking they will marry them and then suddenly pull the rug out from under the women's feet.

If a woman chases a guy or pressures him sexually, and he takes off to the seminary--okay, fair enough. She should ice her psychic bruises and promise God to be a better girl. But if a guy chases a girl or pressures her sexually and then takes off to the seminary so he doesn't have to introduce the girl to his parents or what have you, then he is a real jerk, not a romantic victim of called-by-God-ness.

And he's not even original because I get so many letters about pre-seminarians, seminarians, and in-between-ians that I am working out a General Theory of Seminarians. And I thank God for whichever good men, men who do respect women and can be trusted around women, can be found in the seminaries.

Saturday, 21 September 2013

Friday Night

 "So do you go out in the evenings?" asked my pal, currently in Southeast Asia, over Skype.

She has kids, so there may have been wistfulness in that question, but the answer was basically "Ha, ha, ha!" because the vast majority of husbands, from what I've ever heard, including my mother's and my own, don't go out in the evenings. I don't think the vast majority of English-speaking husbands have gone out in the evenings since the invention of the radio. They come home and either turn on the TV or the computer, and you chat to them briefly over dinner, and then it's the TV or the computer again.

And I don't mind. That's what I grew up with. For me the revolution was figuring out I could go out in the evenings on my own, if I had a good reason, and so I go to Polish class. Why this was such a revolution is a question, though, since my mother has always gone out at night to her Catholic Women's League meetings. I guess, though, that Polish class lacks the CWL's gravitas. Nobody prays. And there are men. How very weird.

But as a matter of fact, B.A. and I did go out last night, to a dinner party. And it was a very good dinner party, involving sherry, red wine, dessert wine, port and song. I'm sorry I had the port (I usually don't) because it gave me the headache I woke up with this morning.

There were nine people at this party, and at least eight of them don't have any children, and the ninth has a mobility scooter, so if she does have children, they are certainly grown up by now.

I am sure the other partiers would all think this was an extraordinary thought to be having during the party, for we didn't talk about children at all. We talked about the new Archbishop of Edinburgh, and someone's trip to Berlin, and excitement at work, and the biography of an interesting person and someone's attempt to master reading German. But there was something about going to a godson's wedding, and something about thinking someone had a daughter when she meant something else entirely, and I thought, "How odd, how odd, to have the long chain of my ancestors stop here, with me."

Being someone who thinks deliberately sterile marriages are shocking and yet does not have any children is darned ironic. On the one hand, I champion the whole beautiful human project of men and women looking outside their families for a spouse and to graft new families onto the old. On the other, I haven't managed to make a new family to graft onto the old, and from an outsider's point of view, B.A. and I look like any other couple who would rather have a lot of fun and pursue our hobbies, etc., etc.

That's rather a drag, but there are heavier crosses to bear, that's for sure, and it is a great mercy that B.A. and I know so many other childless religious people. And I mention it to assuage any panic Single childless readers may be feeling about what on earth you are going to do if you don't have children. In my case, I carry on and make friends with people who share my childless circumstances and make the most of them. No doubt many of the younger ones will find spouses, have children and move on, but not all will (e.g. future priests), and the older ones are tough old birds who may well outlive me.

As a matter of fact, the long chain of my ancestors does not stop with me but has continued to three little people, more proof that one of the best presents your parents can give you is a brother or sister. The childless women I feel sorriest for are those who have no siblings or siblings not particularly interested in having children.

Still, I imagine that these are the childless women least likely to find themselves alone in huge, child-centred parties, where they are made to feel like sexless drones. The childless make excellent company for the childless, especially when we all agree that children are marvellous and we all, sometimes, sigh a little sigh.

This Goes For Everybody

And amusing and surprisingly helpful piece in the Onion.

Friday, 20 September 2013

Private Forum Re: Spinsters

If anyone was hurt by recent public remarks about spinsters and bachelors, I would be happy to discuss them privately by email, to give them some context.

Always Our Brothers

I've been blogging for almost seven years, and something that I've noticed about my Single readers is that most of you want to get married. You like men. Actually, most of you love men. Which makes it all the more disappointing when men behave badly.

I'm sorry to mention men behaving badly so soon in the post because the whole POINT of the post is to talk about understanding men--insofar as billions of people can be understood in terms of their maleness. Still, it seems to me that men embracing what it is to be men includes a rejection of what it is to be women, and sometimes this slops over into actual hostility towards women.

Strangely enough, playful hostility towards women doesn't necessarily hurt a guy's popularity. I was vastly amused, while watching King Kong, to watch the flirtation technique of the romantic lead (not the gorilla but a sailor who admires Fay Wray) which mostly consisted of him saying he wasn't used to having women aboard ship and women can't help being trouble. For some reason many women like this whereas "Oh you men" never, ever worked for me.

However, the real stuff is quite yucky, and for some reason the coldest example of it that comes to mind--quite beyond local half-wits shrieking "Woo!" out car windows to see me jump--is a parish priest in Boston looking at me with eyes of ice after a mutual acquaintance introduced me to him as "She's studying theology at Boston College."

"Why?" snarled the priest, and it was not very nice. I know a lot of priests who would be similarly unimpressed with the idea of studying theology at Boston College, but they would open their eyes really wide and wail "Boston COLLEGE?", not close their eyes halfway like a cartoon villain and spit out, "Why?"

And then there are two of the scariest horror films known to womankind, The Company of Men and (not for unmarried girls or the sensitive EVER) Kids. But now I am seriously getting away from the point of my post which is that there are the legions of good men who like women and wish women would like them, or at very least leave them alone to do what they are good at or just speak nicely to them.

An Eavesdropper sent me a link to a video of feminists, male and female, at the University of Toronto milling about and being rude to strangers while trying to prevent fellow students from listening to a lecture about misandry.

I was moved when I saw a young man close to tears saying that he wanted to hear this lecture on men's issues because he wanted to know why two of his friends had committed suicide, one after the other. And, indeed, if the face of poverty is feminine, the face of suicide is certainly masculine.

(Admittedly, this is in part because guys don't usually muck around with drugs but just get the horrible job done with bullet, rope or gravity. My high school put the boots to the romance of pretty suicide by informing us girls that corpses excrete feces and urine onto the sheets, a very helpful image that has stuck with me for over twenty years. All the same, young men die in frightening numbers, in accidents, suicide and homicide. If I had teenage sons, I'd be scared silly.)

Here's the video. Lots of the F-word, so not safe for work or little brothers. How I loathe attacks on freedom of speech on campus. If there's one place anybody should be able to say (say, not shout) anything he likes (e.g. dear Eamonn Duffy praising Benedict XVI*), it should be in a lecture hall on campus.

Eavesdroppers are invited to post today. Please use clean language and remember that many readers are very young.

*He did this at BC while I was there, and WHAT a kerfuffle!

Thursday, 19 September 2013

Let Justice Roll

From an email I just sent:

I've never thought lads who shout out the windows of moving cars to startle ladies were that swift, but the lad who shrieked at me from the passenger side of one of your vans on his way to X today at 14:10 struck me as particularly stupid.  

I just thought I'd let you know what the public face of your business looks like today.

Sincerely, &c. 

Update: Justice rolled. Two apologetic emails from the company, and then a phone call from a supervisor to say that he had carried out the investigation and impressed upon the lads, including the malefactor, how unacceptable such behaviour is.

And, also in the spirit of justice, I informed my husband of this excellent phone call because, as a matter of fact, that business does business with the Historical House.

The moral of the story is that it is worth calling thoughtless young men--or the people who employ them--to account, and if you do, women's lives might become a little better and the young men a little

Gdańsk Redux

A Canadian poet read this column and told me there was a blank verse poem of about 120 lines hidden in it. He dared me to find it.

Well, I am not a poet, but I have a lot of respect for that one, so I opened the file and had a look. The poem was there, so I tried to lift it out of the article, like a skeleton from a fish.

When I got it out, I sent my poem to the poet. He said it was vivid and painful and matters, so I'm posting it here. You'll recognize some of it from a blog post.

The poem matters because the West has a blank spot in its memory when it comes to the Polish experience of the Second World War. Poland was the wounded soldier whose buddies left him behind enemy lines. We don't like to remember that the Allies did that; it tarnishes our shiny stories of heroism and grandeur and triumph over a totalitarian nightmare. That our forgotten war buddy suffered another one...Well... Hiroshima seems so much more important. And perhaps the violence of victory hurts us less that the acknowledgment that the biggest winner was Stalin.

To add insult to injury, some people in the West speak as though the Poles were at all responsible to what happened to the Jews in Poland once the Nazis were in charge. The name for this is "blood libel", and I suspect it is mixed up with fear and resentment of Poland's Catholicism. It is definitely mixed up with ignorance of Polish history and of how Poles existed as a people "without a country" for centuries.

But here is the blank verse poem that was once a column:
                                            In Gdańsk
                                                    by DCM

English is the lingua franca of the young of Europe;
perhaps they forget it is understood by older people, too.
Or so I thought as Marta and I walked along the Motława River
one evening behind a young foreign tourist determined
to impress upon the young man to her right
how sexually liberated she was.
Her voice was shrill; it carried.
“I don’t believe in marriage,” she bragged.
“People ask me how you can be 22 and not married, but I don’t need
marriage for sex. I have boyfriends.”
The young man, who seemed more interested
in the silent girl to his right,
asked the loud girl
in quieter tones
what she believed in.
“I believe in freedom,” she snapped and
I thought, “Oh, honey.”

Gdańsk is a city of memorials to freedom,
to Polish freedom lost
and to Polish freedom won.
There is the memorial at Westerplatte
where the German Navy opened fire
and at the Polish Post Office where
at that very hour
the SS also attacked.
There is the Gdańsk shipyard
where the Solidarity movement was born
and St. Bridget's Church
where tortured steel shows how its chaplain died.

Every child in Canada is taught that
six million Jews were killed
between Hitler's rise to power and the end of the Second World War.
But although we may be told that
three million of those Jews came from Poland
and that Auschwitz was in Poland
(Occupied Poland),
we are not usually told that 
three million Poles
mostly Catholics
were killed alongside the Jews 
and that the Nazis' ultimate plan for the Poles 
was to make them slaves.

Actual slaves.
To work in the fields
and in factories
and down mines
and as domestic help.

And this is why
secondary schooling
and post-secondary studies
were banned for Poles
in Occupied Poland.
And why
Polish professors
were rounded up and shot.
And why
since the Soviets were in cahoots with the Nazis
at the start of the war
22,000 Polish officers,
basically, the aristocracy,
were murdered,
most infamously but not only in Katyn Forest.

Officers, aristocrats and professors:
not only were they lousy slave material,
they were proof that the Poles had
a culture of their own,
an inconvenient truth
troublesome to both Moscow and Berlin.

That P on the shirt worn by St. Maximilian Kolbe in the icons
does not stand for "Political"
--that's the red triangle--
or "Priest."
It stands for "Pole".

The Nazis did not wish to wipe out all the Poles;
they just wanted their
beautiful and strategic country
and to use the Poles
(as mentioned above)
to till it
and mine it
and serve the German settlers the Nazis would send out there
once the war was won.
However, the Nazis did want to exterminate all the 
troublesome Poles,
even simple peasants
who would hide Jewish neighbours out of kindness,
so when a Pole was caught hiding a Jew,
the Pole and his or her entire family were
and all.

But the Poles were not enslaved long-term

not exactly

because the Nazis were defeated and

Occupied Poland was liberated by the Soviet Union

albeit in the same way the Soviet Union generally liberated countries: 

with strings attached.

Poland was run by a Communist Polish criminal gang

controlled by the Soviet Union until 1990,

when the gang ceased to be either

Communist or controlled by the Soviet Union

although, depending upon whom you talk to,

it might still be quite criminal.

History lies heavily on the city of Gdańsk,
and it was beginning to lie heavily on
By the time I got to the twisted sculpture
commemorating murdered Father Popiełuszko,
I was ready to throw myself
down on the floor of Swiętej Brygidy and weep.
And this is why I was so aggrieved
the next evening
at the young lady who called her sex life

Freedom, I wanted to tell her,
is not taking off your clothes and having sex with any guy
just because you want to.
Women have almost always been able to do that;
it’s talk about it afterwards that got you into trouble,
and not usually with the police.

Sure, people might call you names,
but that's not like not being allowed to go to high school
because you're a Pole, is it?
It's not like shutting the curtains on May Day because
if your child looks out the window at the tanks rolling past,
the police will come upstairs and beat up your husband.

But of course I didn’t say anything.
Canadians don’t do that; it’s rude.
Instead I thought about my friend beside me
who, when she was a little girl,
stood at the gates of the shipyard with her father.

Marta didn’t say anything either.

I think she was praying. 

Wednesday, 18 September 2013

A Terrible Addiction

Goodness gracious. So today in the Telegraph journalist Byrony Gordon admits to having been seduced, after a long and intense campaign, by Russell Brand.

Russell Brand is famous in the UK for seducing ladies. I think he is also a musician or a comedian or a radio DJ or something like that, but mostly he is known for convincing ladies to go to bed with him. Soon after he got fired from a job for making an abusive and obscene call to an elderly actor, I saw a sheet hanging out an Edinburgh window scribbled with something like, "You can stay with me, Russell."

Russell Brand is also famous for having married Katie Perry, a rock star. Katie Perry actually impinges more on my life because she appears on the TV at my health club, singing okay dance tunes in trampy costumes. He apparently ended their marriage by text message. If true, this strikes me as cowardly. Meanwhile, I met B.A. almost five years ago, and I think it is sad that RB has robbed himself of the experience of sticking to one person, through thick and thin, birthdays and squabbles, for five years.

He has now been seen around with another famous lady, and I feel sorry for him because I think he must be in the grip of a terrible compulsion: he seems to be addicted to the early euphoria of love.

When I did my M.A. in English Literature, I took a course called "Irony" and it made an enormous impression on me. There is an arguments that the opera Don Giovanni is deeply ironic, and we watched snippets of a film version that underscored this. The opera presented the Don, not as a jolly seducer of woman, admirable because he is powerful, rich and handsome, but as an increasingly pathetic slave to compulsion. There was a wordless scene with a pretty fourteen year old who stares coolly at the Don, and the Don looks back from some internal hell.

Promiscuity does not strike me as normal, "secular" behaviour. Promiscuity strikes me as a form of insanity. Going gangbusters after a woman, with phone calls and goofy behaviour, only to dump her shortly after she is "won" also strikes me as a form of insanity.

Normal guys, said the nice campus police officer at the sexual harassment office, as I sat there, trembling like a leaf, give up at the first, second or third "No." They don't usually carry on their seduction campaign for weeks on end. And, I have discovered, a not so subtle mention of (or visit from) the police can put an end to the shenanigans of those who do.  Ms Gordon jokes about having either to go out with Russell Brand or get a restraining order, but actually it's not that funny.

We talk about alcoholics being controlled "by the bottle",  but there is no help for alcoholics before they stop putting the blame on "the bottle" or anything or anyone else besides on their compulsions. And I don't think there is much help for promiscuous people either before they stop putting the blame on "women" or "smooth dudes" for their sexual compulsions. And, frankly, although I'm no longer afraid of alcoholics, but I am afraid of compulsively promiscuous people. If Russell Brand fixed his glittering, dark-eyed gaze on me at a party (whose?), I would run. Coat, husband, taxi.

According to Slate--and I won't link in case any of you are teenagers because the article definitely contains TMI:

The average American man has had more partners than the average American woman. Recent CDC data shows that men between the ages of 25 and 44 reported having slept with a median of six women, while women in the same age bracket said they had slept with a median of four men.  And while more than 27 percent of men ages 25 to 44 have had sex with more than 15 women, only about 10 percent of their female peers have had sex with more than 15 men.
Math is my very rockiest subject, but what I am trying to say is that it isn't normal even for "secular" people to sleep around*, and I think the numbers reflect that. (28% of American men is still fewer than a third of American men.) Of course it is a shame that human beings aren't as monogamous/monandrous as swans, but "six/four" isn't the Sodom-and-Gomorrah tally I was expecting when I googled the topic.

*How might an American woman aged 44 have slept with four men? Well, here is one plausible scenario. She lost her virginity in high school to a steady boyfriend after much earnest discussion and a trip to the doctor to be kitted out with the Pill. She broke up with the steady boyfriend shortly after they went to college. She slept with her college beau after more earnest discussion and blood tests. They broke up. She married the next guy. They divorced when she was 39. Now she's got a "partner" after some internet dating of guys who really didn't strike her fancy. Total: four. Whereas, as Catholics--and a lot of girls at my high school would have committed group suicide rather than suffer such a polyandrous fate--we have a serious problem with premarital sex, you'll notice that (in this scenario) there is at least some form of long-term commitment.

I cannot stress enough to Catholic girls that non-Catholic girls ALSO have reasons to be careful about premarital sex and therefore ALSO make informed, if often different, decisions about it. And they too have the capacity to feel disgusted/judgmental/shocked about other women's sexual decisions. Don't confess your sexual sins, large or small, to a "secular" girl assuming she will be more "tolerant"than a Catholic friend. She might be, or she might not be. Whisper, whisper, whisper, how could she, that's just not right, whisper, whisper, shhh, here she comes, giggle.

Tuesday, 17 September 2013

Auntie Seraphic & Had a Lousy Date

This is the saddest thing I have read since I read about the poor baby elephant whose mother stomped on it. It's just so.... What is wrong with the world? Argh! Sexual Revolution, I hate you so much!

Note to men: Girls won't slap you. Women don't slap men anymore. We're afraid if we slap you, you will punch our lights out. (That said, I have been known to take that risk.)

Dear Auntie Seraphic,

I'm not really asking for advice, now that it's after the fact, so much as relating a story thinking you may have some advice to cull from it and post on your blog for other girls, since I wish I had had some (or a reminder, if you've posted on this already) beforehand!

I recently started a new job, and there was an orientation meeting for all the new hires.  There was a guy there, with whom I didn't have much interaction during the meeting.  But on our lunch break lunch, we both ended up at the same fast food place.  He was sitting at a table nearby, and because we were supposed to sort of know each other, and because I thought it'd be nice to get to know someone, I went over to his table. 

So, we chatted a bit-- the normal "get-to-know-you" stuff like where we had lived previous to our current town, previous jobs, that sort of thing... 

Later, before the meeting ended, he asked if he could give me his number.  He was pretty cute and seemed like a nice guy (a little over-the-top gentlemanly, even), so I took his and went ahead and gave him mine as well.  I was pretty excited and flattered about it, and hoped he would call or text at least some time that week. 

Well, he texted me later that evening. I was surprised, but still happy to be receiving attention from someone I would consider dating.  He continued texting me over the next couple days until he said, "It would be nice to see you again," and asked me to go to dinner and a movie with him that weekend.  This seems innocuous enough, but I think such a standard date may have been a small, red flag in retrospect. 

Well, I was very excited. I even bought a new dress.  He offered to pick me up, but I declined and we agreed to meet at the theater. 

Now, I just want to remind you that I have met this person once before in my entire life, and the sum of our conversations could fit within 45 minutes, excluding texts. But the first thing he did when he saw me was hug me. I don't like being touched by people I don't know well, but I told myself that that is probably a normal thing to do, so I went with it.  Then, when I turned to walk toward the ticket booth, he walked next to me and put his hand on my lower back/hip.  I literally jumped and tripped because it was so surprising.  But I didn't know what to do, and I didn't know if I didn't like it, or if I was just not used to it, so again, I went with it. 

But, Auntie Seraphic, the boy did not [fail to] have some hand on me for more than a few seconds the rest of the night.  I could barely walk. During the movie, he immediately put his arm around me and stroked my arm the entire movie.  But again, I wasn't sure if I disliked it because it was objectively weird, or if I disliked it because I have deep-seeded issues with intimacy.

After the movie, we went to dinner, and it was incredibly awkward.  We didn't have much to say to each other, and I was bored out of my mind. He made a comment that implied he took my taciturnity for shyness rather than boredom, which wasn't totally off base as I can be pretty shy when I am not comfortable with a person. He asked if we could get together again the NEXT DAY. 

After dinner, he walked me to my car, and as we were saying our "goodnights" and "thank yous," he leaned in for a kiss. And I kissed him back. But it wasn't just a sweet peck; there was tongue. And I just kind of stood there, wondering when he was going to be done and trying to decide if I was enjoying it or not, and wondering if we were bothering the other people in the parking lot. 

After I pulled away, I didn't say anything and just started to get in my car. He made the quip, "mind if I get in there with you?" and I said, "Haaah. No." And I left.  I was near tears on the drive home, because I was so disappointed, and felt so guilty that I didn't like him. 

He texted me later, calling me sweetheart, and asking when we could get together again.  I never responded. Mostly because the next day, I had sunk into a depression coma and stayed in bed most of the day, feeling like a bad person because I didn't stop him when I should have, and wondering if there was something wrong with me for not enjoying his attention. If it needs to be said, I am not terribly experienced in formal dating. I've had boyfriends, but they always evolved naturally, out of friendship. "Dating" in the 1950s sense, is fairly foreign to me. 

It wasn't until I talked to some friends who were in unanimous agreement that his behavior was objectively weird and creepy, and that he shouldn't have put me in a position where I would have had to tell him I was uncomfortable in the first place, that I started feeling less awful about it. 

One friend made a great point that this guy didn't treat me like a human being who he was trying to get to know and earn the privileges he took, but he treated me like a DATE. As if he had a script for how "dates" are "supposed" to go, and just followed that. That's what I meant when I said the standard Dinner and a Movie Date was a little bitty red flag. 

I don't think this guy was predatory; I think he was just confused.  I ended up writing him a very succinct text telling him I would prefer not to go out with him again, because I didn't feel a spark, and because I thought he came on too strong for a first date. 

So, I have definitely learned from this... Mostly, to not be so compliant, and that I don't need to fool myself into believing I enjoy attention that I only think I should enjoy.  That it's okay to not be into someone who is into me, and that a bad date isn't the end of the world. But I also decided I really don't like dating. It seems so unnatural to me! I really prefer my more "European" approach to relationships that grow naturally out of friendship. I don't think I will go on a date with a stranger like that again any time soon. 

Anyway, if you have any other thoughts, I'd love to hear them.

Had a Lousy Date

Dear HALD,

I am so sorry that happened to you. I think the worst part was you just allowing this stranger to keep touching you, thinking that maybe you were "supposed" to enjoy it. Nobody has the right to touch you without your permission, and it is very odd for a complete stranger to think he can do it without asking. It would be unusual (and perhaps disturbing) for a young woman to enjoy any young mn she barely knows stroking her in a dark room for two hours. And personally I really HATE the hand-on-the-back routine, which is so patronizing--the big man pushing the little lady in the direction he wants her to go.  

I can't even begin to imagine what was going through the man's head, but I think your friends were right. Perhaps he wasn't thinking of you as "you" but as "A Girl." And it is indeed like all he knows about Girls is what he sees on TV and in the movies. 

The story is so sad that it strikes me that many readers could profit from reading it, so I'd like to put it on the blog, if I may.   I think what all girls could stand to learn is how to get out of hugging someone, and how to speak up and say, "Hey, it's a little soon for that" AS SOON AS they feel an unwanted touch. It can be so hard to do this comfortably and graciously. And your friends are right: men shouldn't put us in this embarrassing position. But who is going to tell them? Their parents? They certainly aren't going to learn it from Great God Television.

Another thought that comes to mind is that we can always say "No" to "dinner and a movie". As a first date. We can always say no, and we SHOULD say no to anything that surprises us or makes us feel uncomfortable. In future if a cute stranger asks you to "dinner and a movie" as a first date, you are well within your rights to say, "No, thank you. But what about a coffee?" 

I hope this is helpful. And I hope you don't jump a mile the next time you are asked on a date in a "traditional" way. I'm not sure "dinner and a movie" is a red flag in itself--I guess it depends on the cultural context, or if the guy sounds like he got the idea out of a comic book. 

Just have a game plan: ask yourself what you're comfortable with, suggest a "low time commitment" first date and hold out your hand for a handshake before anyone comes at you with a hug. Look anyone in the eye when they do something to you you don't like, and tell them you don't like it.

Again, I'm very sorry you had such an uncomfortable experience. It almost hurts me personally that your response to this unlikable guy was to feel guilty for not liking him. 

Grace and peace,