Saturday, 30 November 2013

Thanksgiving Day results

Okay, hello. I did not exactly have an avalanche of Thanksgiving emails yesterday! But perhaps those playing the Singles' Thanksgiving Survival Game did not know they were supposed to email, so the combox is open for American readers' Thanksgiving dinner stories and reports. So far it seems that the families of American are learning not to pick on Singles for their Singleness, at least at Thanksgiving dinner.

Kate P gets two points, not for watching her sister snuggle and worrying she'll become like her flaky Single aunt, but for her uncle's girlfriend's needlings. I considered taking one away because Kate P dissed her Single aunt, but there is no evidence she did this out loud. If she did, one point to Kate P, and one to her aunt.

Cordi gets a point because her three-year old cousin asked her if her brother was her boyfriend.

Anyone else?

I was not sick yesterday. (Someone is worried about my unusual Friday silence.) I was just very busy.

Update: Say, some of you have been hatin' on my future Queen because of her one-time-only see-through dress. Listen. I have had a look at this see-through dress and anyone who has ever worn a bikini cannot throw stones. The outfit, which the then Miss Middleton wore in a charity fashion show, is basically a bandeau bikini and with a super-fancy cover-up. I would not have worn it myself when I was 20 and squishy, but I definitely would have, for a charity fashion show, when I was 26 and wiry. (I would not have worn a bikini, as I found out when my then-perfect body and I went to Bikini Village to buy one and I chickened right out.) A fashion show is a fashion show. It is like being in a play. I wonder if ex-thespian B.A. was ever naked on stage? Let me yell out.

Oooh! He says he was once on stage clad only in a pair of boxer shorts. Well, I never.

Anyway, my point about dressing like the Duchess of Cambridge was to dress the way she does now. I wish all British girls did because, listen, some of them actually wear bikini-like outfits to clubs, even minus the super-fancy cover-up. And naturally you should not live with a man for years while you both dither about whether you should get married or not, even if the press did chase his mother around until she died rather horribly in a paparazzi-caused car crash.

Thursday, 28 November 2013

Clever as the Serpent, Mild as the Dove

Girls! It has come to my ears that some of you are still running amok, freaking out because you are not married, kissing the wrong men every Saturday night and generally being unseraphic. What is this nonsense? Do you not realize that I have worn the letters off the keys of my laptop in my concern for you? (B.A. cannot use it anymore, and I don't remember what letter is beside the G. Thank heavens for touch-typing muscle memory.)

Why, I ask, why are you so worried about your God-given Single state? And when will you come to the conclusion that running amok does not telegraph "winsomely marriageable" to the already marriage-shy bachelors of your land?

I am particularly annoyed by the making out with the wrong men every Saturday night thing. In churchy circles, where any kind of extramarital sexual behaviour is noted and discussed, this is fatal. Besides, it puts you at an extreme disadvantage, for although making out can make you feel attached to a guy, thanks to your female chemistry, it does not necessarily make a guy feel attached to you. Occasionally I get updates from a kissing bandit, and although he does not condemn his partners in snogging, he doesn't exactly praise them to the skies. Apparently there are girls he snogs and girls he worships as goddesses, and they are never the same girls. I am unsure as to whether he ever snogs the same snoggess more than once, but I suspect not.

When I think over the many women I know who have married, who I see are women getting on with life and behaving with calm and dignity, whatever they may have felt like inside. Well, maybe not my future mother and her pal waddling down Sussex Avenue in a jokey imitation of the heavily pregnant while my future father looked out the window and wondered what on earth they were doing. But definitely the women not related to me.

Intentional! You must be intentional! This means paying strict attention to what you are like in public and reining in your irrational impulses to weep because you have just discovered that your elementary school sweetheart, whom you have not seen in a decade, has been married for two years.

Making out with a man on the first date, or within two hours of meeting him, is akin to making out with a man from your job interview panel. He might be delighted, but you're so not getting the job. And it is as irrational to weep over the marriage of your long forgotten childhood sweetheart as it is to weep over the news that some other woman got the job you wanted so badly ten years ago.

For most of us, marriage is more optional than work, in that we need to work, not to get married, to live. And therefore we tend to listen to lectures about professionalism and get advice on our resumes and how to behave during a job interview. We are less likely nowadays to listen to what older women say about presenting ourselves as marriageable. It took jet lag for me to understand how devastatingly attractive men find it to be able to talk without constant female interruption.

I remember a rather fussy male teacher warning a thirteen year old classmate of mine named Kathleen that if she kept dressing like a punker, she was going to attract only punk rock kind of guys. And Kathleen, instead of moping, cheerily said that was great because she loved punk guys.

Mr Fussy was struck dumb, but I am grateful to him for his insight. If you dress and act according to a certain set of cultural values, you are going to attract the men most in tune with those cultural values. If you dress head to toe in vintage 1940s wear, you are going to attract men who are similarly slavish about vintage. If you act like a respectable woman from 1890, you are going attract those men who behave as though it were 1890 (which is great unless you enjoy voting). If you dress and act like the Duchess of Cambridge (that is, H.R.H. Kate), you are going to attract ambitious men who fancy themselves princes (future kings of industry, perhaps) in search of a princess. If you join the army, you'll probably marry a soldier. And if you behave inconsistently, making out on Saturday night and going to Mass on Sunday, you are going to attract similarly inconsistent men.

Pick who you want to be--the you who seems the most natural fit, the you God is calling you to be--and stick to the path. Stick to it calmly, deliberately and rationally. Pay attention to the impression you are making on others, and choose kindness over attention-seeking. Acknowledge your feelings, but govern them. Few men intentionally set out to marry a drama queen.

End of sermon.

Meanwhile, it's American Thanksgiving, so spare a thought for the American Singles in the bosoms of their families. Hopefully your fellow readers are looking forward avidly to their relations' personal remarks, each reference to their Single state worth a delicious point. I am dying to see how the bingo cards work out, too.

Wednesday, 27 November 2013

Cultural Stuff

Okay, so TOMORROW is American Thanksgiving Day. Thanks to my fellow non-Americans for your greetings to the Americans, to the married Americans' votes of support for the Single Americans and to the Single Americans who signed up for the annual Singles Thanksgiving Survival Game. Make sure you get your tallies to me either just before you go to bed tomorrow night or first thing on Friday morning, so I can post them before I go to bed on Friday night. (I'm on Greenwich Mean Time.) If you play the Orthogals' Single Clichés Bingo, too, take a photo of your card and send it in. Don't forget: the more your relations comment on your single state, the greater your chance of winning. But no cheating by wearing a grey tracksuit to dinner, etc. If a remark is addressed to all the Singles at the table, every participating Single gets a point.

If you manage to write down the more amusing of the comments word-for-word (keep pen, paper and bingo board hidden in the nearest bathroom), that would be awesome, too.

Thoughts of American Thanksgiving and its centrality in American life, even in these days of Obamacare and support for mass illegal immigration and the "Knock Out Game" and all kinds of hair-raising things that are none of my Canadian business, lead to thoughts about the importance of shared cultural stuff in marriage.

For some people, national or ethnic traditions are not a core value. As I live in the UK, I do not celebrate any Canadian holidays except Hallowe'en, which I recognize by carving a pumpkin and putting it in the window. I used to have a Hallowe'en party (with Canadian Thanksgiving food), but this proved impractical and led to squabbles with my Scottish husband, who could not understand my attachment to the most suspect of my national holidays when I gave up Dominion Day without turning a hair. The annual squabble ended, though, last year when we were in Poland, where the priests all think Hallowe'en is satanic and the people have much nicer, totally Catholic All Saints celebrations. So now I just carve a pumpkin (or squash) because if I didn't I would DIE.

My ethnic Christmas traditions are just as important as Mr. Jack O'Lantern, and every year I rise from my couch and bake the Christmas cake and wrap it in brandy-soaked cheesecloth because what kind of woman would I be if I didn't, eh? Three weeks later I get off the couch again and start baking Christmas cookies according to my mother's recipes and then on Christmas Eve itself, I am on the phone to my mother to review the Traditional Christmas Morning Bun situation. Then on Christmas Day I make exactly the same dinner my mother does and afterwards collapse, half-dead, into bed.

B.A., whose ideal Christmas would involve Midnight Mass and then a romantic getaway in the snowy Highland countryside, watches all this activity in trepidation and keeps his head down because although I saw reason about Hallowe'en, I will never, ever see reason about Christmas baking, which must be done or I am a failure as a woman and Christmas will be ruined.

Fortunately it has not escaped his notice that English Christmas conquered Scotland a long time ago, and the shops are full of Christmas cake, and the mammies or grannies of his fellow Brits make Christmas cake or Christmas pudding, and bake endless cookies, and cook ginormous Christmas dinners. Christmas food obsession is very British, so my attitude, if rather noisy-colonial, is also British and therefore normal.

Meanwhile, my mother's mother, her mother, her mother, and her mother, stretching back through the centuries, were all Scots of the east coast (very different from the west coast), and B.A.'s mother, her mother, her mother, and so on, were also all Scots of the east coast. Which seems to mean that I automatically make all the right remarks to all the east coast Scottish platitudes and understand that it is sinful to pay £80 for a dress in the High Street when I can get one for £8 in the charity shop. I'm told people on the west coast think it a matter of pride to spend a lot of money on something, but this is surely just anti-Glasgow propaganda.

What is the point of all this navel-gazing? Well, I am pondering the fact that even though I married a fellow across the ocean, we seem to be culturally compatible because although we don't share the same NATIONAL culture, we share the same ethnic culture. If B.A. gets all very Scottish patriarch, I recall stories of my grandfather behaving like that. Naturally it makes me cranky to think that I have married my grandfather (or, somtimes, his father), but at least it feels familiar and [east coast Scottish platitude].

The poor old Canadian parish priest we bullied savagely during our pre-marriage interviews warned us that we might experience some cultural clashes, and he turned out to be right. Fourth generation Canadians of British descent are as American as we are British, a sort of hybrid, like our spelling. However, despite our arguments about self-promotion (e.g. sneaky British self-deprecation versus honest American boasting), B.A. and I understand each other pretty well. Of course it's more important that we share the same core values of Christ and His Church, but on the other hand, when it comes to the little things of daily life, the social interactions, the shopping, the cup of tea for the visitor, the farewell to the bus driver, the shared unspoken assumptions mean a lot, too.

Tuesday, 26 November 2013

Becoming Attracted to the Right Men

This is not a chastity lecture, and thank heavens because I don't like giving chastity lectures. This is also not a learned talk on sexuality because I am not qualified. (I got a good grade in my Sexual Ethics course, though.) It is definitely not a Grade A piece of theological work to which a bishop would stamp his imprimatur. However, it is an observation that you may have sexual tendencies that aren't helping you be the best woman you can be and you can change them. Some of them anyway. Perhaps gradually.

Sexual attraction has been the dominant religion of the Western world since 1963, and the television is its prophet. I heard a woman state quite happily on the television the other night that without the bisexual "Captain Jack" character on Russell T. Davies' 21st century take on "Doctor Who", British people would not be so supportive of "same-sex marriage." I don't know if "Will & Grace" was broadcast in Britain, but if it is true that television has such an effect on the British mind, I think "Will and Grace" might have a prior claim. "Doctor Who", incidentally, is still considered a children's show. It isn't--it has been stolen by grown-ups for grown-ups who loved it as children--but dashing Captain Jack and his dirty flirty talk was broadcast long before 9 PM all the same. As the fan enthused, the children of Britain saw Captain Jack, an exciting adventurous character they acted out in the schoolyards, kiss the Doctor passionately on the lips. There's no going back!

Incidentally, the Members of Scottish Parliament have voted in large numbers for the redefinition of marriage, and one of the few brave MSPs to vote against it wants assurances that Christian dissenters will not be punished, e.g. forbidden to foster or adopt children. This is a good idea because if the history of Scotland shows us anything, it is that those in the ruling-class religion persecute those in the larger minority religions. The Catholics oppressed the early Protestants. Then the Anglicans oppressed the Catholics and the Presbyterians. Then the Presbyterians oppressed the Anglicans and, until the 1980s, the Catholics. And my guess is that the newly ruling Sexual Attractarians will have all our guts for garters.

This adds spice to my mild observations that unbridled sexual attraction is not in itself a wonderful thing but fortunately you are in charge.

Reader Margaret asked about her tendency not to feel sexually attracted to anyone to whom she is not emotionally connected. My first thoughts were that this was wonderfully lucky and mature, and St. Augustine of Hippo is rejoicing for such a prelapsarian connection between reason and sexuality. But then Margaret mentioned that it has led her to become attracted to men with SSA. Well, depending on how deep-seated those SSA are, that's a recipe for disappointment and diminished self-confidence.

Interestingly, although Margaret laudably refused to define those men by an orientation label, she applied two to herself: demiromantic and demisexual. I looked these up on the internet, and the first thing I found was this. Whoever runs this website, he has a vested interest in categorizing and defining people by their sexual attractions. But Margaret doesn't have to define herself according to hers. She is she, unique and loved by God. And she might be happier if, instead of getting annoyed when a relative stranger gives her flowers, she appreciates how pretty the flowers are and that this man spent his own money on something he thought she would like. Unless he is an utter ass, he doesn't expect her love in return: just her good opinion of his gift.

Being annoyed by normal nice male behaviour was, unfortunately, a tendency I had to get over myself once upon a time.

When I look back over my own attractions, which began with a cartoon mouse when I was five or so, I see that they were random and irrational, and had little to do with who the people were, or their existence outside my blinding imagination. This may have been "normal", but it did not make me happy. Let's see. There was a small boy with very long, dark eyelashes who didn't like me at all. Then there was Frodo Baggins. Then there was a blond boy who, in hindsight, had the peevish expression of a Canada goose and didn't like me either. And there was a dark-eyed redhead with bunny teeth; he didn't like me. There was Prince Edward--then a blond university student whom, of course, I never met. There was a female camp counsellor--she had to give me a sort of Talk. All that was before high school, although my love for my camp counsellor continued into my first months of high school.

High school memory reveals another depressing list of random and irrational crushes on boys who had no interest in me. Really, I'm amazed at my almost total lack of analytical ability and understanding of the male psyche. When a nice boy in whom I had no interest showed interest in me, I was terribly annoyed. How dare he? I had courtship backwards, and when my mother tried to explain to me that women are not supposed to court men, i.e. badger men until they magically fell in love with you, I thought she was behind the times. Ah ha ha ha.

By university I had sort of got the message. I went out out with guys who liked me and made the first "real move" and that I liked okay and thought were flattering and cute, if ultimately not who I was looking for. (Those sorts I continued to pursue in my irrational way.) This was not my finest hour, and to say I was careless with my new-found power is an understatement. Mea maxima culpa. Let's skip ahead a decade. La la la.

Okay, so by the time I was in my thirties, I was less attracted to men by what they looked like and SEEMED like and more attracted to them by how intelligent and fun they actually were. This was an advance, one that probably came naturally with age. The problem was, I got attached to them before I knew their core values or if we were at all compatible in the long term. Although I had been burned horribly by marrying a non-Catholic who by the time we married hated my Catholicism, I had not learned that I had to marry a Catholic. And not just any Catholic but a GOOD Catholic making a sincere and free effort to work out his salvation.

Many of you complain that good Catholic guys are boring. Well, I certainly thought the same. None of the ones I knew from undergrad days seemed to be interested in things I was interested in, and they also seemed terribly prim. But then I went to theology school, and I met absolutely fantastic, intelligent, cultured, non-prim Catholic men. And every last one was off the market because they were Jesuits.

But that didn't matter. Just associating with fantastic, intelligent, cultured, non-prim Catholic men reset my inner compass. By the time I graduated, I was no longer attracted to men just because they were at all handsome or because they were grad school material. They also had to be Catholic and good OR, to reflect on my amusing German mid-life crisis, Catholic and in theology school. And this, I am happy to say, is the tendency that still holds sway in my life, although it certainly does not rule my life.

I'm 39++ and married; sexual attraction is no longer such a big deal, at least, not compared to my concrete, him-and-me-alone marriage. And thank heavens. It's terribly inconvenient when you're married, not to mention when you start to look like a wrinkled apple or Gollum. (Why oh why do we not all turn into Helen Mirren, weep weep?)

Oh dear. This has turned out to be all about me. Well, what I wanted to say is that you are not helpless before your feelings of attraction for "the wrong kind of men" or feelings of repulsion for nice men who are actually interested in getting to know you better, as irrational as their interest may seem to you. I don't know about changing a deep-seated "orientation"--although I've definitely heard of gays and lesbians "going straight" and of straight women forming lesbian attachments--but I do know you can change your attitudes, both consciously and unconsciously, by intentionally associating with the right kind of men.

Incidentally, I no longer think those "prim" men of my undergrad days are so prim. Hanging out with the right sort of men helped me to see that male modesty is more likely to be prudence than neurosis. Falling in with the wrong kind of men can influence you, too. No doubt Captain Jack inspired a few curious boys to see what forcing a kiss on a boy as uninterested as the Doctor might be like.

EXCITING UPDATE: I now blog for Ignatius Press on Tuesdays. Look, look!

Monday, 25 November 2013

Broken Engagements

A broken engagement usually equals disappointment, a unique dream that has died and a cherished friendship that has either been wounded or exterminated. Sometimes it signifies a betrayal. It is serious stuff.

It is serious if the man broke off the engagement (which a gentleman was never supposed to do), and it is serious if you broke off the engagement. Either way, it hurts. And, unfortunately, it represents HIGH DRAMA to all your mutual friends and relatives. Your nearest and dearest will be sorry and perhaps embarrassed, and many of your under-twenty-five friends will talk, shriek, speculate, shake their heads... Ugh.

This is why I recommend, from the bottom of my heart, that a broken engagement is a good reason for you to get out of Dodge. Now is the time to take a quick How-to-Teach-ESL course and move to rural Poland for six months. I'd suggest Japan except that it would be harder to get to Sunday Mass. If you are away from almost everyone you know, you will escape both the possibility that your broken engagement will be of interest to those who should not be interested and the possibility that people who should care don't care.

Another long-distance plan involves mission work in some country so desperately poor, your own problems will be put into perspective. Incidentally, don't do anything dangerous or life-changing or involves a commitment of more than six months. St. Ignatius of Loyola says that you should make no important decision when you are in a state of desolation, and very often after a broken engagement a person is in a state of desolation.

A safer option involves your aunt across the country or ocean. "Scooter and I broke up. It's over. Can I stay with you for a month to get my head together?" sounds perfectly reasonable to me, aunt of three, wife of Uncle Kindhearted.

Or if you really can't move away that long, see if you can take a holiday away somewhere, as in across a large body of water. Presumably there was a wedding budget; use some money for this.

At very least, you must take a week off work or school, as soon as you possibly can. And you must not contact your ex-fiance. You must not allow your ex-fiance to contact you. It is not time for closure. Closure after a broken engagement is not something you can make happen, particularly not within a week of the break. Closure may take months. If you broke up in October, you will feel just a little better in November, and then a little better in December (with a dip around Christmas), and then a little better in January. By April, you will be much better indeed. Look forward to April.

Wherever you go, I recommend hiring a therapist to listen to you talk. The etiquette books of yore held that a gentleman cannot say anything about a broken engagement, and a lady can speak of it only to one ladylike friend who can be trusted not to say anything to anyone else. These etiquette books were published long before Bridget Jones was a book, let alone a film. I think it is almost impossible to talk about a failed engagement to only one ladylike taciturn friend, and that there are only so many times she can listen to the same story before she starts screening your calls. Therefore, I think the addition of a shrink a very good idea. If you have little money, I recommend seeing if you can talk to someone at Catholic Family Services or your university's mental health services for a nominal sum. And, for the truly poor and distressed, there is always your favourite priest.

I seriously recommend not dating for six months. The temptation to win emotional intimacy with a cool new guy by telling him all about the last cool guy (which never, ever, works in real life) will probably be too much for you. Ignore everyone who tells you that when you fall off a horse, you have to get right back on. Relationships are not horses.

Above all, allow yourself to be sad. The natural healthy reaction to disappointment and loneliness is sadness. Sadness is not a disease. It is your right to be sad until you slowly begin to discover that you are happy. (If six months go by and you are still not happy, and indeed feel worse, I recommend you see at doctor about this at once. Sadness is not a disease, but depression is.)

So to recap:

1. Get some physical distance from the community where the engagement and break-up occurred for up to six months, if you can.
2. Do not contact your fiance or allow him to contact him, no matter how lonely either of you feels. Of course you feel lonely. Find other ways or people to help you carry the burden of your loneliness. Your OWN loneliness. You are not responsible for his loneliness; you can't help him.
3. Do your best not to tell everyone in the universe what happened. Instead, hire a therapist, see a counselor or talk to a priest. If you can afford only to talk to a priest, stuff some money in the poor box.
4. Don't date for six months.
5. Don't demand instant closure. Instead, own your sadness. Imagine your sadness is a wounded bird you are going to take care of until it can fly again. Don't feel ashamed to be sad. But don't hang onto the wounded bird when it is ready to fly away. If the wounded bird doesn't show any signs of healing, go to a doctor.

I hope this is helpful.

Taking Requests

I haven't the foggiest what to blog on today, so I'm taking requests.

Meanwhile, I'm also curious about your favourite Catholic authors, writing in English. When I say "Catholic authors" I am including Jennifer Paterson of the "Two Fat Ladies", who wrote a cookery column well-seasoned with Catholic devotions, but not Oscar Wilde, who wrote works of high literary genius, but converted to Roman Catholicism only on his deathbed. Let me know who you think I should be reading.

Saturday, 23 November 2013

The Dead Dutch Lady

My dear friend Marta sent me the following link with a note so terse I assumed it had moved her in some deep way.

The neighbours of a Rotterdam woman who lay dead in her home for 10 years have told Nos television they noticed nothing wrong.

‘We did not smell anything or see vermin,’ one neighbour told the broadcaster. Neighbours said they thought the woman had moved in with her daughter after she vanished.

Her body was found on Thursday after building workers alerted the police because the door was not being opened.
To be frank, the real victim in this story is the Dutch Pension Office. In short, Holland financed a big tomb for a decade, and filled the bank account of a woman no longer living. Or maybe not. Perhaps Dutch pensioners get a pittance and there's not much left after rent and electricity are subtracted. In that case, "filled" is an exaggeration.

This woman died at the age of 74 (unless it was 64) and alone. I wonder why the neighbours thought she had a daughter. Maybe moving in with a daughter is part of the Dutch lady life-cycle. At any rate, if this woman had a daughter alive, she was a flighty and irresponsible one, that's for sure.

The story is a tribute to Rotterdam in that Rotterdam people seem to mind their own business and, incidentally, not break into the homes of the elderly to steal their stuff. This Dutchwoman's house is akin to a pharaoh's pyramid; she awaited her resurrection surrounded with all her belongings. Now her bones will be burnt up or shoveled into the ground, which is not so romantic.

Now, yes, I assume she was Single. As neighbours assumed this woman had a daughter, my guess is that she was a widow rather than a never-married. However, most women end up widowed and therefore Single in the end, so this whole dying alone scenario is not that uncommon. Even if you are in hospital, you might die outside visiting hours. However, you won't be totally alone because you will have your guardian angel with you and Our Lady praying at this, your hour of death, just as you asked your whole life long.

Meanwhile, it may be that this Dutch lady rather enjoyed a solitary life. Elderly Catholic ladies who don't like quiet solitude should go to church every single day, for if they don't turn up one morning, the priest will send someone to check up on them.

The thing is, the dead Dutch lady was not lonely in those ten years her body lay where ever it lay. I prefer to think that she had a penchant for lovely white cotton night-dresses with lots of lace and had a gorgeous bedroom--perhaps with lots of red velvet and a beautiful vanity table with a silver brush set. And I like to think that before she lay herself down for what turned out to be her final sleep, she knelt and said her prayers and went to bed with a good book, and read about beautiful things before she nodded off and then, just before dawn broke, died peacefully. The morning sun that filtered through a crack in the velvet curtains lit up the peaceful, tranquil face of a handsome old lady, serene in death, surrounded by the silver-framed photographs of people and places she had loved.

The years went on, and the corpse underwent its natural metamorphosis, in a privacy as total as that of the grave, and the house was as silent, save for the gentle hum of the refrigerator and the distant swish of the traffic. The body lay in state in a luxury denied to kings while the soul went in search of her Saviour.

Friday, 22 November 2013

I Grow Old, I Grow Old

Although online I am officially 39++, I am frank about my age in real life. St. Augustine was against any kind of lying at all, even to save Catholics hiding in your cellar from Arians or to save St. Augustine from homosexual rape (his personal worst case scenario), so it seems rather frivolous to lie about one's age.

For many, many years there was a dictum that a lady never told her age (not even to her children), as if harlots and charwomen were shouting theirs from the rooftops. I think not. If anything only the harlot has a professional interest in dialing back the years. Why a lady should care is beyond me.

Well, almost beyond me. I was at a party in which an unmarried woman mentioned being over 35, and a man over 65 looked flummoxed, giggled and made some remark about pretending not to have heard that. Now on the one hand, he may have been told his whole life that a lady never tells her age and it is a horrible non-U social solecism for a woman ever so to do. But on the other hand, he might actually think that it is a personal tragedy for a woman to be over.... What? 35? 30? 19?

The tragic (or semi-tragic) thing about female aging is that our reproductive function packs it in some time between 35 and 50, about the time modern men start thinking it's time to stop dreaming about super-models and find a real companion, age 25. What a shock for these aging Romeos when they discover that they are merely the wicked rich old suitors of the fairy tales, not the handsome princes. Women over thirty are a lot more tolerant of baldness and belly fat than our dreaming younger sisters, and it is a sensible 30-something, 40-something or 50-something man who seeks his companion among women his own age.

Of course, some men like older women. B.A. almost always dated women older than he, and now he has married one (by 1.5 years). And it turns out I was teetering on the edge of peri-menopause, not that B.A. cares. (He cares only that I care.) And it's a good thing he doesn't care because it would be so much worse if he did. It's not like he can get an annulment, the dear man. No case. Rock solid sacramental marriage, complete with tangible fruits of the Holy Spirit. And no polygamy allowed. No Hagar in the kitchen.

And this is one reason why a Single lady should be honest about her age. If you are over 35, you may have a hard time getting pregnant. If you are under 35, you may have a hard time NOT getting pregnant! Men who want children--and marriage is primarily for having children--deserve a vague idea of what side of the line the available women are on.

Dear me, how angry I would be with me right now if I weren't married. Please allow me to mollify you by saying that men who don't want children have no business whatsoever going near women of childbearing age. The 25 year old who hates kids should stick to the over-40 set, who will snap him up as a status symbol more potent than a Kelly bag, or to hardcore Malthusians with tied tubes.

Another reason to be honest about age is the natural affinity between people of the same sub-generation. I once dated a man 10 years my senior, and I could wind him up by asking questions like "Who is Morrisey?" and "Peter Gabriel was in a band?!" (I never did grasp the spiritual importance of Morrisey, whoever he is.) And yesterday in Polish class, the only woman around my age and I laughed like loons at the lyrics of a Polish song while the innocent young merely looked bemused. The lyrics were as follows:

Ona już wie, już zna tę historię
że zona go nie rozumie, że wcale ze sobą nie śpią...

(She already knows, she already recognizes this story
that his wife doesn't understand him, that they never sleep together...)

Most of the class are shacked up with partnerami, and from their expressions I have to conclude that they have never heard of the old my-wife-doesn't-understand-me-we-never-sleep-together-I'll-divorce-her-for-you clichés. They are simply of a different generation, whereas the other 35+ and I are so familiar with these lines, we almost rolled on the floor to discover they were said (and may still be said) in Poland too. Oh, and the generation older than us might not have found them so funny, for they were the last to believe them. I suspect our generation was BORN ironic.

I have just popped out the door to ask B.A. who, after all, grew up in a whole other country from me, what generational things we have in common. B.A. suggested "an affinity for cheesy 1980s pop" and "we're the John Paul II generation" and that we probably have so many other things in common we don't even notice.

"Did you get the milk ration?" I demanded, for I lived in the UK as a kid and was one of the last to profit from the post-war drive to build up British baby bones. And, lo, B.A. DID get the milk ration, so although dated, we are dated together.

Incidentally, I always enjoy it when I mention my age and people say my skin doesn't look it. When it comes from saleswomen, I take it with a grain of salt, but when it came from my 24 year old hipster Polish tutor, I felt no salt was needed. How much better such candour than hinting I am much younger than I appear and seeing doubt and pity cross youthful faces. Eeek!

Book News: Reader Jennifer wrote a kindly review of Ceremony of Innocence in Australia's Kairos magazine, so I encourage her fellow Aussies to shell out the $2 and buy the latest issue (check page 32). Excitingly Jennifer mentions this very blog, observing that the themes of Ceremony of Innocence seem rather out of character. I loved that part best. Hee, hee, hee!

The truth is, cherubim, that I think about Singles stuff for max two hours a day (three if someone sends me an email), and the rest is all theology, mass migration, terrorism, liturgy, literature, thrillers, ecclesiastical news, politics, anarchy, 20th century history, 18th century Edinburgh, friend-gossip, Polish, cooking, baking, grocery shopping and (last of all) housework. That reminds me. I am starting a NEW BLOG at Ignatius Press Novels, and it will be under my actual name. I shall write there about Catholic Literature of all kinds. So stay tuned!

Thursday, 21 November 2013

The Best Approach to Internet Dating I Ever Saw

When it comes to romance, I paradoxically advocate both trusting in the Lord to show you the way AND thinking strategically about how you present yourself in public.

I have been thinking a lot about how Calvinist Cath made such a great impression on her future fiancé without doing anything except being herself. Since a tenet of respectable Scottish Presbyterianism is not drawing attention to oneself, a value my ex-Protestant Scottish-Canadian mother tried to bang into my own head, I conclude that the secret was to be herself in public, in a social life that attracted the sort of men looking for women who wear their attractions quietly. Scottish Catholics, I think, are more likely to go for noise, dash and flirtation, Scottish Catholics being mostly of Irish or Polish descent.

My views on Scotland, incidentally, are so controversial Britain's most amusing conservative weekly refused to publish them, thus delaying my career by umpteen years. Woe.

But to get down to the subject of the day, a reader I'll call N sent me a link to the following, and I loved it so much I watched the whole 20 minutes, simply rapt. Thank you very much to N.

Now first of all I admit that I have an almost obsequious respect for women who are good at math and number-crunching because I seem to have a sort of numerical dyslexia. However, through a great deal of suffering and spiritual effort, I have managed to grasp the discipline of rooting myself in reality. This woman can both number-crunch and stare reality coolly in the face.

Second, this hard-working woman used internet dating not as a fun distraction and easy substitute for talking to men face-to-face, but as a sharp-edged tool to meet only those men most likely to approximate the Perfect Man for Her. Note that her number one criterion was that he be Jewish or, as she put it, Jew...ish. She has an advantage in that, almost alone of secular people, secular Jews still put a very high premium on marriage, especially marriage within their own community.

Third, she limited her search to her OWN CITY. This meant that instead of having drug-like semi-imaginary online relationships, she met potential suitors face-to-face ASAP. It also meant, incidentally, that she was unwilling to cash in everything she had--her family, local friends, her work, her career prospects--for a relationship that may or may not have turned into marriage.

(In case you are are thinking, "But what about you?", I did not come to Scotland to see if B.A. would make a good potential husband but to meet British online friends in person and to write the last part of my "Aelianus" trilogy, The Historical House of Scotland. Falling in love with B.A. was a surprise, and I had to cancel a date with a local man when I got back to Toronto.)

Fourth, she sucked up her pride and adjusted her profile to make it more man-friendly. For some reason, men seem to think "fun" is much more important and attractive than "fluent in Japanese". Ours not to reason why.

I particularly enjoyed her how-many-Jews-in-Philadelphia number-crunching. For the sake of local Catholic readers, I would do some how-many-church-attending-Roman-Catholics-in-Edinburgh number-crunching, were I not almost GUARANTEED to get it wrong. And, to be absolutely frank, were I Single I would not use a Catholic website but a Ginger website because although she is a delight your poor Auntie is a niche interest, appealing mostly to men who have a red-head fixation. Basically I would be looking for all the church-attending Roman Catholic in Edinburgh with a weakness for red-heads. I wonder if there are any besides B.A.? I am pretty sure the Bangladeshi chef who hit on me on the bus that Sunday (did I mention...?) was not a church-attending Roman Catholic. (That said, there were over 211,000 Catholics in Bangladesh in 2005, and these days it would probably be a lot nicer for them to be in Edinburgh.)

Wednesday, 20 November 2013

Families Are Who They Are...

...and not necessarily who you want them to be.

Once upon a time, we got our ideas about reality from sermons, books and our elders, be those elders our mothers, our teachers or our superiors at work. Now most people get their ideas about reality from the television and the internet. Imagine if everyone in the West spent as much time in prayer and serious reading as we do watching television. That would be something.

That said, I got my ideas about family from books, and the principal book about a family that set my expectations of reality was Louisa Mae Alcott's Little Women. And in Little Women, the father is so WISE and the mother is so KIND and, even though the family is so POOR, Meg has to work as an upper servant (i.e. governess) and Jo as a professional companion to awful old Aunt March, they have a housekeeper. Jo and Amy have their clashes, but they are resolved and even when Amy gets what Jo ought to have had (in more instances than one!), instead of resenting this her whole life long, Jo is very understanding.

Little Women is a romance about the Alcott Family's life, so the reality will shock the stuffing out of anyone who thinks Little Women is real. First of all, the Marches/Alcotts were Unitarians and didn't believe in the divinity of Our Lord. Second, no Fritz came along to shame Louisa Mae/Jo out of writing penny dreadfuls, for she continued churning them out. Third, Bronson Alcott, who in Little Women seemed to be a sort of Methodist minister, started a commune so dire, Marmee dearest threatened to take the girls and go.

A re-write of Little Women to reflect their actual reality would be AWESOME! And there would even be a Polish angle because Louisa claims Laurie was based on a Pole named "Ladislav." (Has anyone done this yet?) All this said, I still think Louisa Mae Alcott is a great model for the contented Single Life, as long as you don't get entirely wrapped up in your father and die within two days of him.

My point is that if you get your idea of Ideal Family Life from television or 19th century children's fiction or Ralph Lauren adverts, you are naturally going to be disappointed with your own family. Time after time you return to the nest to discover that, although a bit of distance has done you good, they have not changed very much. You like what you liked before, and you are exasperated by whatever exasperated you before, and it may take you awhile to adjust to the family rhythms, if you can. Personally, I love going home to Mum and Dad. Although I am startled by the noise (human and television) at first, I enjoy the routines, the orderliness and the laundry system. Visits to my married brother are similarly noisy (human and toy) but fun and bracing. Oh, now I'm getting homesick. Wah.

I am fortunate in that I know exactly what my family is like, and I know that as families go mine is amazingly blessed, and I have no irrational expectations of perfection. Although we have our challenges, we are not dysfunctional, and I would LOVE to go home for Canadian Thanksgiving and/or Christmas, if it weren't so darned expensive. (I try to tempt my family over here, but they also find it darned expensive.)

But that's me. Some of you come from dysfunctional families, and go home for Thanksgiving or Christmas, hoping it will be better this year, and it never is. And my question for reflection is "Why go then?"

I have in my mind's eye a teary-eyed 50-something woman who keeps hoping year after year that her maternal and filial love and cooking will bring the whole family around the table where they will be delightful and humorous without being drunken or quarrelsome, even though drunken and quarrelsome is generally what they are. Time after time, she summons the same chemical mixture to her dining-room or kitchen and then weeps when, yet again, the house blows up. Her magic talisman, her Single daughter, did not work after all to avert the catastrophe, and she feels betrayed. So naturally she takes it out on her Single daughter, because if you can't take out your disappointment on your own daughter, whom CAN you take it out on?

If this sounds like your own mother, you may want to have a blunt conversation with her over the phone before you go home. Once you are grown up (particularly if you are no longer a financial dependent), you are in a position of strength vis-a-vis your elders' dysfunctions. You can say things like, "About Thanksgiving. I'm tired of the drunken free-for-all that happens after the pie, and this year, just so you know, I am leaving the minute the men start on the whisky. I've suffered through seeing my relations at their worst for twenty years, and I won't do it again. I'll go straight to the kitchen to wash the dishes, and then I'm going out."

Another option is to not go home at all, which will torpedo in advance your mother's or grandmother's fantasy that this year will be different, and she will have the Perfect Family Dinner. This may seem like an extreme measure, but I assure you it is physically possible. What you say is, "In light of the fact that two years ago A, B and C happened, and one year ago, X, Y, and Z happened, I will not be attending Thanksgiving Dinner this year." Then you don't.

In this scenario A,B,C, X,Y and Z are examples of real abuse, be it verbal, emotional, psychological or physical, either to you or to someone you love. You don't deserve abuse, and you don't deserve to see someone you love abused. If there is any likelihood that this is what you will suffer if you go home for Thanksgiving or Christmas, then please don't go home for Thanksgiving or Christmas. You may have friends in your own town who would love to have you for Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner, especially if they are Single or childless, and apparently many people find great contentment in serving Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner to the homeless. You might even book a room in the guest house of a monastery for the weekend, and enjoy the peace and the food for the soul.

Update: What I said in 2010.

Any Belgian Readers?

I'm trying to find shelter in Brussels for one of my globetrotting Pretend Sons. Anyone have any ideas? Where should the cash-strapped young Catholic gent go when he gets to Brussels?

Tuesday, 19 November 2013

American Singles' Thanksgiving Survival Game

Let us turn our eyes to our American sisters, for [NEXT] Thursday is their Thanksgiving Day, and many of them will find themselves deep in the bosom of their extended family being asked if they have found a "special fella" yet.

From my uncle's death until my nephew Pirate was a few months old, my family was entirely blue- and green-eyed, and we used to play this terrible game called "Everyone Stare at the Brown-Eyed Person." Perhaps in some subconscious attempt to add genetic variety to our family, my brothers and I dated people with dominant genes and actually brought them home for supper. (My sisters were understandably cagey about exposing their dates to our family.) The effect of having five pairs of blue eyes and two pairs of green boring into them must have been pretty awful for our dominant-gened guests. Deary me. You could have made it into a story about the Nazi occupation of France for children.

Gestapo: Tell us the location of the Resistance, or ve vill stare at you.

Brown-eyed Frenchman: Non! I weel nevair tell you. Nevair.

Gestapo: Ve vill see about that! Gentlemen, prepare to stare!

Frenchman: Non! Non! Not that blindeenng blue Teutoneek glare! Aaaah!

Single people attest that the same thing happens to them on such jolly family occasions as American Thanksgiving. Wonderful Aunt Tilly, who has been smiling sympathetically at her niece ever since she arrived, finally leans across the sweet potatoes with marshmallow dish and says, just as there is a lull in the conversation:

"So, dear. Find anyone SPECIAL yet?"

And then everyone at the table, including her 20 year old married cousin and cousin-in-law, stares at the poor Single until someone kind clears their throat and says, "Time enough for that!"

Then Aunt Tilly says "Yes, indeed," and the most dysfunctional person present says, "Don't leave it too long, though! After all, tick tick tick!"

Oh the horror! And this is a NICE family, where everyone gets along and nobody gets off their heads drunk and has fistfights on the front lawn. (I shall discuss the dilemma of dysfunction tomorrow.)

To help American Singles get through Thanksgiving, I long ago devised a wonderful GAME. It's an easy game. In short, American readers count how many times their relations allude to their Single status and then report their tally here on Black Friday. Obviously this game depends on the honour system. To make it extra fun this year, you have to pledge to join the American Singles' Thanksgiving Survival Game on the poll in the margin. And on Black Friday*, I want a full report in the combox. The game begins as soon as you wake up on Thanksgiving morning and ends when you retire to your bedroom that night.

Incidentally, in the little anecdote above, the Single gets TWO points: one for Aunt Tilly, and one for Mr Tick Tick Tick.

This is our traditional game. Those who want to add a new game, might be interested in the Orthogals' Single Bingo board. Simply print out the bingo board and hide it under the bathroom sink, and whenever a relation says one of the clichés give yourself a point for the bingo AND for the Singles' Thanksgiving Survival game. When you get a chance, mark the bingo board. If you can figure out how to do it, photograph your Singles' bingo board and send it to me by email on Black Friday. Then I will announce who has won Singles' Bingo.

The beauty of the games, of course, is that they turn your relatives' conversational crimes into delicious and delightful points. In past years, sisters have actually competed with each other for the most points, although naturally this competition is entirely passive, like playing the lottery. I bet one could get the edge over another by wearing grey or 1980s-style glasses or anything that might goad Aunt Tilly into saying "You'll never get a fella if you dress like that." However, I am ruling that if this is done deliberately, it is cheating.

*Black Friday, the day after the third Thursday in November (i.e. American Thanksgiving) is the day Americans begin their Christmas shopping in earnest, and so the businesses "in the red" finally turn a profit and are, therefore, "in the black." I encourage readers to post their results first thing in the morning of Black Friday, because I'm on Greenwich Mean Time and will be dead asleep before y'all come home with your loot.

Book News: Great new reviews on Amazon and Goodreads, for which I thank the reviewers from my heart. Don't forget that although women buy most of the novels, men like thrillers, so my novel makes a good present for men and women alike! I hasten to say that Ceremony of Innocence is not for children, as it has grown-up themes, scary scenes and enough irony to build a battleship.

But to paraphrase Saint Francis of Assisi, let there be a 21st Century Catholic Literary Renaissance, and let it begin with ME. ;-)

First Book Update: Oh, and of course Seraphic Singles/The Closet's All Mine/Anielskie Single makes a great gift from one Single woman to another!

Monday, 18 November 2013

Long-Term Reader to Wed

I am delighted to announce that Calvinist Cath is engaged to be married in the spring. I am extra delighted because I have been invited to attend and the church is merely a bus-ride away and thus I will have all the fun of seeing Cath in her wedding dress. Cath dislikes being a centre of attention, so I am hoping that Providence wills her to enjoy it even if for just one day.

Now despite this dislike of the spotlight, Cath gave me permission to announce her pending adieu to the Single Life, and I am glad because her story is very romantic and inspiring and even 19th century. In short, she was minding her own business, working and going to church and not drawing attention to herself, reading and thinking and visiting family and having occasional coffees with me, whose blog she has read since (we think) 2007, when she got a LETTER right out of the blue. The letter was from a young man who had seen her during a visit to her Edinburgh church community, and what Calvinist Cath thought was, "I'm too old for this drama."

However, she wrote back politely, and I would bet the grocery money her letter included Presbyterian theology, and the upshot is that despite her initial reaction of blah, she eventually found herself drawing a sketch of her wedding dress on a paper napkin in Café Rouge until she gave up and I took over.

The moral of this story, on which I think we both, trad-leaning Catholic and trad Presbyterian, can agree, is to trust in the working of Providence.

In case that sentence inspired a massive "yes but", I will point out that Cath has been reading my blog since 2007 and got engaged in 2013, so that is almost six whole years of reading a Singles blog before ceasing to be entirely Single. And I started my blogs in late 2006 (age 35) and got engaged, to the shock of all, in late 2008. So there you go. There is just no telling with Providence. He knows what He is doing, and we don't, so the best policy is to pray and do His will and strive to be a loyal and authentic member of our faith community, no matter how small that community might be.

Saturday, 16 November 2013

Attention New Yorkers...

My sister-in-law is in NYC this week and wants to buy Ceremony of Innocence. (She probably won't find it in French-speaking Quebec.) Barnes and Noble will order it in, but it's not on their shelves. (The shock!) She's thinking Christian bookstore, but I am thinking more narrowly "Catholic bookstore." Does anyone in NYC know the addresses for the big Catholic bookstores are (D of St P, for example) and/or who in NYC is carrying C of I?

Prom Dress

I have a cold, and my head feels like it is stuffed with cotton. I haven't been outdoors in over 36 hours, poor me. At 1:30 PM or so, I will swath myself in wool and meet Calvinist Cath for a coffee in town, but at the moment I am in no fit state for pontificating on the world, Single Life, enjoying every day as it comes--although I will say that the great thing about a bad cold is that it gives you a great excuse to lie in bed all day, sipping tea. And yesterday B.A. was away at a glamorous conference in York, so I could approximate the Single woman's experience of lying in bed all day with a cold. For example, I had to get up to make my own supper. Solidarity!

But I cannot go a whole Saturday without a blog post, so I thought it would be amusing if we all reminisced about our prom dresses, or our grad formal dress, or simply our most important non-wedding dress ever.

So as you know I was a teenager in the 1980s, keeping detailed diaries, and actually I looked up to see what I was doing when my Polish Pretend Son was born and, depending on the hour of his birth, I was either at the local boys' Catholic school Christmas dance, sleeping off my exhaustion from same, or writing all about it. History does not relate if I afterwards had a good read of seventeen magazine, which in the 1980s was still literate, but I might have for I was a huge seventeen magazine fan. I wish I could tell you that I was a seriously intellectual teenager, reading Joyce and writing my own version of Ulysseys, but that would be a big lie. Until the pro-life movement came along, I was all about Star Trek, seventeen magazine, my crush objects, Top 40 and Le Chateau. (That said, before I turned 19 I could read Alberto Moravia in the original Italian, and Jean Anouilh en francais. Credit where credit is due.)

Anyway, I have never forgotten a six page advert in seventeen magazine for Jessica McClintock prom dresses. I must have drooled over it a thousand times. And I also drooled over an advert for a lavender sweater-dress, worn by a flame-haired model. The flame-haired model had brown eyes, and the flame was probably dye, but I decided that lavender was the colour for red-heads like me. Now that I have had my colours done, I am pretty sure it isn't. Lavender is for green-eyed brunettes like my baby sister and makes me look ill. However, my ideal prom dress (or Formal dress, as Canadians didn't call our graduation dances "the prom" in the 1980s) was a lavender Jessica McClintock dress, WHICH I GOT because my mother and I went to the fabric store and bought a Jessica McClintock pattern. (See photo.)

I wonder if the Eavesdroppers are still reading. Do you think Eavesdroppers have any clue how really important this is?

My dear mother has three daughters and became rather an expert at formal dresses. If I had been brighter about clothes, I would have made my mother sew me stuff night and day instead of mooning around the cheap knock-offs at Le Chateau. But to give my teen self some credit, I did realize that the dresses my mother made were of a much, MUCH better quality than the prom dresses in the mall. So I set my mother to whipping up the lavender creation, which was of a lavender gauze with a white rose pattern over lavender taffeta, with a princess bodice, a full ankle-length skirt and a sort of bandeau around the shoulders, to make up for the lack of sleeves. (I think my mother put her foot down re: strapless although she relented on this issue by Daughter No. 3.)

The formal itself was not terrifically memorable except that my date and I went to a party at a crisis pregnancy centre beforehand, and this led to one of our male friends sulking. He had badly wanted me to ask him to my grad formal, even though he was not at all romantically inclined towards me, for the sheer compliment of it, plus the girls' school Formal glamour. He thought we had turned up at "The Way Inn" to taunt him, but honestly it was because we didn't want to miss the party. Also, going to any kind of "before party" was a big deal, and the Cool Kids had invited me to theirs, but I had seen Carrie and feared what had happened to her might befall me.

So really the high point of the Formal was, of course, the dress. I believe I even had satin shoes (flat) dyed to match. Aw.

Okay, your turn. Reminisce about a dress in the combox, please. And in case you are wondering, no, I do not at all regret having been a teenager in the 1980s. Yes, the haircuts were terrible, but the music was great and there was no twerking.

Friday, 15 November 2013

Auntie Seraphic & Scared of Kissing

Dear Auntie,

Hi. Your post today about chastity and deep kissing prompted me to finally research something that's niggled at my brain: can HPV be transmitted through deep kissing?

According to a Sept 2013 fact sheet by the CDC on oral HPV, the jury is still out. Some studies say yes. Some say no. There is no test, nor concrete understanding about how it is transmitted.

Then this Harvard Health blog says yes, yes it can.

That article confirmed my train of thought: if guy performs certain activities on infected woman or deeply kisses woman who'd done things to infected guy, then deeply kisses you...well...virus...fluids exchanged...

*Throws self on fainting couch and sobs.*

There's no test. I've made mistakes...not THE mistake, but made kissing mistakes with at least one guy who's admitted he wasn't a virgin. (He volunteered this information, thinking I'd want to know, in case that was a break-up-able offense. I said it wasn't, but pressuring me or being "THAT guy" would be.) So I didn't ask details. I forget how it came up but I had asked something about mono (I think he was down with a cold), and he said, "Oh, no I'd tell you if I had that."

But again. There is no test. This was 2 years ago and I am asymptomatic, thank God. But still. Ugh.

Never again. And to make matters worse, the CDC says that trials showed that the vaccine offered limited to know protection to women older than 26. I'm 28. I didn't get it when it first came out because I wanted to wait to see how it fared in the general population. Even if I convinced my doctor to give it to me, insurance won't cover it.

So I guess the point of me emailing you is to give you more reason to counsel against making out. And that younger women under 26 should really discern if they should get the vaccination that offers some (but only actually a little) protection. Because take it from me...the older you get, the less likely you'll find a man who's made no..mistakes..and is actually compatible with you. Le sigh.

Scared of Kissing

Dear Scared of Kissing,

Fortunately, it may be that transmitting HPV by saliva is very rare. And fortunately, most HPVs go away on their own in two years without doing any damage. It's terrible that there's as yet no general test for HPVs. Apparently women over 30 can be tested for it, if that's any comfort.

I don't want to scare readers rigid, but we all deserve the facts. It kills me that people say things like, "Well, teenagers are going to [make out, have sex, rape sheep] anyway" when, actually, few people tell teenagers that they can get HPV (and therefore a heightened chance of cancer) through all kinds of "safe" activities, including so-called "safe sex" with a condom. If we lived in a society where pop culture actually reflected REALITY, e.g. that the only risk-free sex is between married, faithful virgins-at-marriage, most teenagers would do nothing. (How many teenagers smoke now?) Unfortunately, pop culture is just one big advert for sex, and even romance novelists with nice young virgin heroines feature heroes who have most definitely been around the block. Yeah, I'm looking at you, Georgette Heyer.

No wonder young nuns live to be a hundred and ten when the rest of us don't. Well, as for me, I just keep going for a cervical smear every two years or so, as the state advises. I really ought to go back to the super-healthy diet of my 20s because otherwise the Big C might get me, and I'd rather it didn't. Fortunately, I almost never smoke.

The biggest problem I can see with all this knowledge we have now got is that it can lead us to reject almost all men as husbands out of fear of eventual cancer. And I suppose it may lead to super-chaste people who do get HPV-linked cancer to blame their poor not-as-chaste spouses. But the thing is, no-one told us when we were teens. Or, at least, no-one convinced us as teens. Or we were convinced as teens, but not as college students because condoms were being shoved at us, and lots of our friends were having sex, and none of them had died from it (yet). If someone had told me at 19 that just making out with my boyfriend was unchaste behaviour, I would have been really mad. Archie comics, hello.

We are all, in our way, victims of the Sexual Revolution, a battle lost by our parents and grandparents, if they were even on the Catholic side. But even before the Sexual Revolution, there was a lot of ignorance about HPV. I think we should embrace (metaphorically speaking) those of our generations who at very least want something better in a spirit of solidarity. And all formerly sexually active fiancés and fiancées should get tested for whichever STDs before marriage.

Sadly, as you say, there is as yet no general test for HPV. Fortunately, as far as I understand it, the risks of contracting HPV from deep kissing are slight, as are the risks of HPV turning into cancer, especially if you don't smoke.

And this is where my brother would want me to say that I am not a medical doctor and anything I say on "Seraphic Singles" is not a valid substitute for consulting a medical doctor.

Grace and peace,

This is one of those depressing moments where you realize that Church teaching is smarter than you, and you should have listened and accepted like a little lamb instead of turning yourself into mental pretzels trying to determine what "no deliberate excitation of the sexual appetite" actually meant. It meant you weren't supposed to be making out with your boyfriends, Young Seraphic, you flibbertigibbet.

Thursday, 14 November 2013

Standing with Thomas Peters Day

I haven't been reading Father Z lately, so I saw this only now. I shall now throw in a few shekels. They're almost at their goal.

You may remember Thomas Peters as "American Papist." My friend Half-Pint had a serious blog-crush on him, but he got married before she could meet him. Isn't that the way?

Anyway, soon after his wedding day, Thomas broke his neck swimming, poor man. His family is collecting donations to help pay for his medical care.

First Boyfriend Worries

Being married and childless, I don't have much of an interest in chastity books and related materials. As far as I'm concerned, that's for Single people and worried parents. Of course I dimly recall all kinds of weird physical yearnings when I was a teenager that I wouldn't have talked about even if someone had put lit matches under my toenails. Fortunately my ancient family physician had warned me about the most dramatic evidences of said yearnings, so they didn't scare me to death.

But I have had an email from a reader who is kind of scared because now she has a boyfriend and although the boyfriend is a perfect gentleman, her physical reactions to him, whether he's there are not, are dramatic. So she asked me if there was some Catholic-positive book out there she could read, and I was stumped

Can you readers recommend any good Catholic (or completely non-ideological) books on sexual feelings and reactions? I don't think we're talking about Theology of the Body (or Bawdy, depending on how you feel about C.W.) as much as we are talking a down-to-earth, your body does this because, you feel that way because, sort of book, minus the yucky here's-how-you-insert-a-diaphragm illustrations.

One of the more annoying aspects of life is that chastity arguments sound laughably reasonable and noble, etc., etc., until you are in a mutually agreeable dating relationship. All kinds of absolutely delightful, pious girls go from "I would NEVER..." to "La dee dah, let's change the topic. I don't want to talk about it." I suspect this is because nobody tells us that making out is a gateway drug. MAKING-OUT IS A GATEWAY DRUG. It is not super-innocent like it appears in Archie comics. I don't care if everyone makes out. Everyone who gets the chance probably does make out. (Sudden hypocritical sadness at thought of high school crushes I didn't make out with. oh, now it's gone and I feel a sense of undeserved virtue.) However, making-out is not conducive to chastity. If someone asked ME "How far can we go?", I would say "Cheek-kissing, hugs and holding hands."

Was I that prudent before I got married? No. Am I sorry? Yes. You should all try to be better than me. Save more money, too. And wear sunscreen. And keep in mind that sex can give you cancer.

Anyway, the point of this post is helpful books for my reader. So if you can recommend one, please mention it in the combox.

So How's The Book Doing?

The other day I was interviewed over Google "Hangout on Air", and it was rather funny as neither interviewer nor I had ever used it before. There I was, simply covered in slap ("paint"), whacking away at keys on my computer with loud damns while across the sea my interviewer stared into his web-camera and began to sing. I could hear him, but he couldn't hear me, but at last I got my computer sorted, so he could begin.

"So how's the book doing?" he asked.

Well, what a stumper of a question. Those Canadian boys are tough.

The thing about living in an attic in a 17th century house in the central belt of Scotland is that I am rather isolated from the majority of my readership, who live in Canada and the United States. If I were in Toronto, I could rush about seeing if my book were in the shops, and offer to do readings, and go on the Michael Coren Show, and charm the Paulines, and generally get in everyone's face. Actually, I hope to do all that in February, after buying a super-cheap round-trip ticket. (This means another Seraphic Singles Toronto Valentine's Day meet-up, by the way!)

I am vaguely known in the Catholic subculture of Toronto, thanks mostly to my column, but in Scotland, no. My biggest claim to fame in my Scottish neighbourhood is having spilled a container of single cream all over myself in the Co-op grocery store and therefore getting to see the staff loo behind the doors to the back. (The back of the Co-op, I was fascinated to see, is almost as big as the front.) At any rate, the idea of going to an Edinburgh Blackwell's or Waterstones and saying, "Hey, how about I come and do a reading here?" is intimidating beyond words. As you may recall, I tried to get in with the local writing scene, but the atheist pride and Catholic-bashing in the first group I tried was just too relentless and I chickened out. It's one thing in Toronto, where it's just fashionable; it's quite another thing in Scotland, where memories of sectarianism still linger and David Hume is THE poster boy for the Scottish Enlightenment.

That said, I suppose I should start emailing people at the various British periodicals to see if anyone has read my book yet. The biggest challenge is actually getting people with free copies to READ the book. And that is sad because, IMHO, if you read page 1, you are going to keep reading. The next biggest challenge is to get people to WRITE about the book, so I am most terrifically grateful to you who have already left Amazon and Goodreads reviews, Twittered and mentioned it on your blog. Apparently there was a review in Oklahoma's Sooner Catholic, too, but it is not in the online edition.*

Incidentally, my friend Deb says that Ceremony of Innocence would make a great Book Group read because everyone could talk about the issues--and there are all kinds, political and literary--late into the night.

Meanwhile, Rose, the Ignatius press PR woman assigned to the case, has been doing a great job getting me radio interviews. So far I have done two radio interviews, and I will have one on November 21 with Holy Spirit Radio in New Jersey and another on November 25 by Nebraska's Spirit Catholic Radio, both interviews to be recorded and played later in the week. Then there's my Catholic Register video interview which will go online, if the picture quality is good enough.

But what I told my video interviewer is that the book had been out for less than a month, so I didn't know how it was doing, but I had sold over 84 copies to my blog readers. He didn't look too impressed, but I was impressed because my average blog reader is a Single woman in university, and when I was a Single woman in university, I did not have much of an entertainment budget. Also, most of my writer friends back home are poets, and their own print runs are 200 copies. If I can sell 200 copies by Christmas to my blog readers, I will be able to look Clara in the eye in February.

Incidentally, I love photos of my books in faraway shops, so if you happen to see Ceremony, snap a photo of you and Ceremony in the shop, and then send it to me, I will certainly put it on my blog!

*Actually, that one's not out yet.

Wednesday, 13 November 2013

A Solution to the Catholic Teacher Problem

Okay, I guess it isn't just Vocations Week here on Seraphic Singles; it's Nun Week. Since most of you want to get married and have babies--and why not? I almost always did---you may be getting impatient. But hey, after seven years of blogging, it's time I had a Nun Week, you know?

As we all know, Catholic education for girls used to done mostly by women religious. When I was in theology school, I heard a lot of moaning that these women were mostly under-educated and really didn't know much beyond what they had to teach infants and some of them walloped babies, etc., etc.* Incidentally, my mother used to be a Protestant, and she says teachers walloped children at her "public" (state) school, too. Walloping children is what almost all teachers used to do. Even Anne of Green Gables at last broke down and feruled bad little Anthony Pye. Of course some of these teachers, lay or religious, Catholic, Protestant and Freethinker, were probably sadistic jerks, and I don't quite get why there have been no class action suits against Britain's most notorious/famous public schools.

I believe that the women religious of days of yore were undereducated with the same fervour I believe that Emperor Constantine ruined the Christian church, and it was all increasingly downhill for Catholics until The New Pentecost of 1962, i.e. no fervour at all. One of the charms of religious life is that it gives you a lot of time for serious reading. And when she was in Carmel, Saint Edith Stein was perfectly willing to stop her intellectual work and just scrub the floor, but her wise superior eventually told her to stop scrubbing and go back to writing. When the Allies bombed her convent, the nuns and townsfolk scurried about saving her papers. (Mention that the next time people tell you the Catholic Church hates women.)

Nowadays, of course, most Catholic teachers are not sisters but layfolk, men and women, and in Canada and the UK, they get paid really well. In Ontario their pensions are fantastic. When my sister got a job with a Catholic board, I almost cried with happiness. Stable job for life, good pension, and it's an elementary school in X, so no drugs-and-sex problems to depress her. Also, my sister goes to Mass and comes from a Mass-attending Catholic family, so she is actually, you know, Catholic.

A woman I know here in Scotland is now homeschooling her children, so that they will have a Catholic education. Previously, she had sent them to Catholic schools. However, this ended when she discovered that (A) the "Catholic" teachers openly mocked principles of the Catholic faith and (B) the other "Catholic" kids made fun of her children for going to Mass on Sundays. Let's just say I was not shaken to the core with shock. That kind of thing happens back home in Canada, too, believe me.

But I don't want to dust all lay Catholic teachers with the same chalk-brush. My guess is that there are tens of thousands of Catholic teachers who are loyal to the Catholic faith, and tens of thousands more who would be loyal to the faith if priests and theologians stopped with the wink-wink-nudge-nudge stuff about sex, birth control, divorce, Mass attendence, "Rome" and the entire history of the Church between Constantine and 1962, except where it suits them (Hildegard! Mary Ward! St Francis in the dungeon! St. Ignatius in prison! Catholic Worker!). Still, how many Catholic parents are brave enough, or have the power to establish, what kind of Catholic teacher has the ears of their tiny tots or beautifully hulking adolescent from 9 AM to 3:00 PM?

I will now amaze you all by stating that my plan, if I had daughters, was not to send them to Catholic school at all but to, by hook or crook or harvested kidney, get them into one of the last surviving private girls' schools in Edinburgh and oversee their religious instruction myself. I would encourage them to make friends with girls from other devout families, be those families Presbyterian, Jewish, Catholic or Muslim. Anything rather than have them inoculated against the faith in a local Catholic school. A little bit of Catholicism can inoculate a child from the real, full-blown thing.

Naturally I would have preferred to send these sadly non-existent daughters to a proper convent school run by nuns, where not only would they have a Catholic education without any wink-wink-nudge-nudge, but examples of women who, unlike their mother, can get by in life without clandestine trips to the MAC counter and base flattery of anyone handsome in trousers. (A more serious-minded girl in the Ontario Students for Life movement dismissed me as "a party girl", and, alas, 'tis true, 'tis true. La la.)

But there aren't any proper convent schools within miles and miles because most of them have closed down, due not only to a lack of women religious to run them, but the new interest of women religious in advanced university degrees and proper careers. I once met a woman religious, from a once-famous teaching order, who worked in a factory as an engineer by day and returned to her apartment by night, which she may or may not have shared with another woman religious. I remember her because she was the bitterest nun I ever met in my life. She really hated the bishop of her diocese and felt marginalized by him, etc., etc. Amusingly, I had been experiencing a little tug towards religious life, but she cleared that right up.

Her memory makes me wonder if she might not have been happier as a science teacher in a girls' school, living in a proper, polished convent with a dozen or more nuns instead of one or none, singing Lauds and Vespers and cutting capers at Recreation. She might have inspired hundreds of girls to become engineers and tens of girls to become science-teaching women religious. Instead of longing with angry passion to be on the Bishop's advisory committee, she might have felt somewhat indifferent to the Bishop, or seen him as the much-prayed-for figurehead who preferred seedy cake with his tea, in contrast to the last one, a fiend for chocolate.

You can see where I am going with this. Yes. As usual, I am calling for Catholic Revolution, or Counter-Revolution, or the Restoration, whichever you like to call it. The thing to do, and many good girls are doing this, bless them, is to join real, solid, teaching orders with a healthy, loving attitude towards their spiritual ancestresses, not just the apparently super-feminist-and-rebellious-and-prophetic foundress. And those married Catholics in the near vicinity, if they won't actually starve to death, could make the sacrifices Catholics used to make for their children, to send their children to these nuns and to help out the nuns in any way they can, remembering always that they themselves are the primary educators of their children.

And now that I have said all that, I think I will find out if there IS a single good teaching order left in Scotland, so I can send them some money for their school.

*This is not to denigrate the sufferings of those who really did fall into the hands of horrible women in dysfunctional communities. To this very day, children end up in the hands of wicked adults who do unspeakable things while other adults turn a blind eye. Now that most of us know about this possibility, we can thoroughly scrub both kinds of behaviour--the abuse and the turning a blind eye--out of our societies.

Reminder to the Archdiocese

I felt it was time once again to write about Single Life for for the CR. It would be fantastic if all unmarried priests preached once a year on the gifts and struggles of the Single Life. Priests who do not belong to religious orders probably have fantastic insights that would be very helpful to other Single people. Nowadays, a lot of priests live alone--one man in a house meant for five or more. How do they cope with that? How do they have chaste friendships? What keeps them off the bottle? How do they plan for retirement? Thousands of Catholic long-term Singles would love to know.

Tuesday, 12 November 2013

Supernatural in the Natural

This is turning into Vocations Week at Seraphic Singles, so I will have to be careful. Many of you are in college or uni, so you may already be suffering from Vocations Awareness Fatigue. I really don't like the "Job Fair" approach to advertising the religious life. I bet it would be much more effective if nuns and monks just put their habits back on and were visible 365 days of the year, as part of ordinary life.

My grandparents bought their first television in 1953 so that they could watch the Coronation. Basically everyone in the British Commonwealth who had enough money did that. (I don't know what inspired Americans to buy a television set, but in Canada it was definitely the Coronation.) Catholics have always had a rich visual culture, but after television and mass advertising--who-hoo! The past three generations of western human life have been all about seeing dramatic, stirring and/or beautiful sights. You would think that the orders would get that Hollywood directors keep dressing their nun-and-monk characters in habits because they look good, grab viewers' attention, and identify the nuns and monks at once as Catholic nuns and monks. Yet the traditional (so to speak) excuse for rejecting the habit is, "When people looked at me, they didn't think about God, they thought about the habit."

First of all, how does Sister Rejected the Habit know what people were thinking, or if thoughts about the habit didn't lead eventually to thoughts about God?* Second, people are even less likely to think about God when seeing an elderly lady with a short blow-dried haircut in a business suit. Incidentally, there is no garb more becoming to an elderly woman than a full-on old-fashioned Benedictine habit. It looks good on young women, too. They all look so dignified, and all you can glean about their looks is their posture, their hands and their round and beaming faces.

But I am going off-topic because what I really want to say is that it would be a lot more natural if we were aware of all the states in life as children and teens and grew up with visual and everyday reminders that there are contemplative orders; active orders; consecrated virgins in convents or out in the world; devout, chaste Singles dedicating their lives to humanitarian missions or to ordinary professions; married people with many children; married people with only a few or two children; married people through sad circumstances with only one child or no children at all; priests and bishops. And I don't mean just books and films from before 1963 showing these people. I mean contemporary, up-to-date reminders, presented in a positive fashion, and not just the minute we all turn 18.

Naturally those of us who go to Mass see priests at least once a week and see bishops from time to time. But we don't often see recognizable nuns, or young nuns, so no wonder women start feeling "left out." The associate pastor of one parish I frequented was a nun, and my goodness, was she mannish in her pantsuit. Sorry to be so shallow, but I am a child of my television-watching generation, and she would have looked so much more attractive, and so much less like a wannabe-priest, had she been wearing a habit. And as I said yesterday, anyone who longs to see women take charge in church should listen to cloistered nuns sing the Office. How sad that so few of us have had that chance! Vite, vite! Grab your best buddy, a car and a map and find some to listen to.

As a matter of fact, when I started elementary school, the principal was a sister--the last sister ever to be principal at that school--and at four I thought she was wonderful. When she was given a retirement send-off, I cried inconsolably and had to be taken to her office. It is the only evidence that I was a child mystic: presumably I was mourning the twilight of a formerly great teaching order and the centrality of nuns in the lives of generations of Catholic children.

And this was important because Vocation doesn't show up in a vacuum. If you're like me, you grew up thinking a Vocation happens in the same way as Samuel heard the voice of the Lord in the Temple. You know what I mean. You'd be sleeping on your little bed, surrounded by dolls and stuffed (woolly) animals, and suddenly you'd hear a voice saying your name, and you'd wake up, and nobody would be there, so you'd fall asleep again. But then the voice would say your name again, and you'd wake up, and LO! The voice would tell you that you were supposed to rise up and go at once to Convent X in City Y, and you'd have to do it whether you wanted to or not. Oh, woe! How terrible the voice of the Lord; holy is His Name. When I was 20 I was busily praying, "Oh God, please don't call me to the Single Life. Please, please, please!" What a nice trusting relationship I had with the Lord--not.

Anyway, I am sure God does sometimes call people with such bolts from the blue, but I suspect that these are very rare. He is much more likely to bump you along the path of history and circumstance, leading you naturally and through all kinds of friendly people to the way He wants you to go. My friend ex-Berenike is in the same abbey as her dear friend ex-Boeciana who conceived a love for the Benedictine Rule by studying mediaeval history as a then-Presbyterian. And I met B.A. because while writing her PhD thesis, Boeciana read my blog, and got Berenike hooked on it, and she got Aelianus hooked on it, and I became pals with them and wrote about them, and so Aelianus' pal B.A. started reading my blog.

What we had going on here, and still going on here, is the supernatural as a golden thread through the natural events and relationships of Christian life. Boeciana found her vocation by reading about Benedictines, and I found my husband through Boeciana and her friends, and Berenike found her vocation through her friendship with Boeciana. My friend El found her husband at our friend Lily's wedding, and Lily found her husband at some event at the university church.

It seems to have taken the Lord a long time to bump me into place, but now that I think about it, I didn't give Him much to work with, being so mistrusting and pessimistic when I was 20, and not really open to His plans until I had my "It's Okay to Be Single" revelation in my mid-thirties (Feast of St. Jude the Patron of Lost Causes) and washing the dishes. That was one of the places were the gold of the supernatural showed through the silver of the natural, too.

*In Norman Jewison's Moonstruck Loretta (Cher) buys an expensive new outfit for a date with her fiance's brother and bumps into a trio of habited nuns. Loretta's expression shows that her conscience has suffered a big fat pang. See what Jewison did there? Yeah. Is Loretta thinking about the habit? No.

Monday, 11 November 2013

An Utterly Awesome Option

Okay, I was Single for a really long time, and none of my crush objects fell for me in high school, so even when I was nineteen I hated people asking me if I had ever considered being a nun. I felt extremely cheesed off, as if what these people, arms entwined around the waists of spouses or partners in at least minor sexual sins, were saying was, "Listen, we all know you'll never get a man, so why not just give up now?"

HOWEVER I am just back from a weekend spent visiting an enclosed order of nuns, and I would be really furious with everyone, including my teenage self, who spoke, thought or acted like nun life is second-rate, were I not so blissed out from being around such beauty from Friday Vespers until after Saturday Vespers.

B.A. and I were at the abbey to see a blogger-pal, once known online as Boeciana, take her final vows as a Benedictine and to sneak a peak at our other blogger-pal Berenike, who disappeared behind the big wooden doors a year ago without so much as a party or a "toodle-oo!" Lots of other people wanted to see them, too, so forty or so ordinary non-professed types crowded into the people's tiny transept in the abbey church.

The abbey church is set up so that ordinary non-nun layfolk can access the church by an outside door. We sit in this aforementioned transept, and so look at the altar sideways. The altar is on a platform in the sanctuary, which priests can get to by going through the gate in the low black altar rail in the people's transept. The sanctuary is divided from the nave, which is enclosed and thus just for the nuns, by a tall screen of ornate black metal bars. This tall screen has gates, too. The nuns process into the nave through big wooden doors to the convent. The priests can't go into the nave. They give communion from the sanctuary.

Essentially, we were all in an inverted L shape, with a place in the church assigned to everyone according to our state in life. The priest or priests and any altar server can see the nuns, but the public can see them only if we cleverly snaffle the pews on the far left of the mini-transept, and then we can see them only as they come through the convent doors. They then disappear somewhere out of view of the transept, and the most beautiful Gregorian chant you have ever heard in your puff rings out from the nave.

Women who have a hankering to be priests could be cured, I think, if they attended the Office or Mass in this Benedictine convent because, my goodness gracious me, talk about "women's active participation." Whew! Obviously, one has to pay attention when the priest or bishop is speaking and to the Canon, but when the nuns sing, it is like a visitation of angels.

Naturally the Benedictines at this abbey all wear proper Benedictine habit of black robes and white wimples, with black veils on the professed nuns, and white veils on the novices. They have brown leather belts and black slippers. Most of them wear glasses and look about nineteen, unless they are over 60, in which case they look perhaps 45. And also at this Abbey, even thought it is not an Old Rite sort of place, all the Offices and Mass and the Professions are in Latin. (We the people are provided with programs with both Latin and English.) The nuns are all taught how to sing, and sing they do with the sweetness and clarity of silver bells. It is their principal job, after all.

The Profession, i.e. the Sister who used to be Boeciana taking her final vows, was more beautiful, holy, dignified and joyful than any wedding I have ever seen in my life. Really, I am on the brink of floods of tears thinking about it now. The gates of the sanctuary were opened, and the Bishop sang (not too well, but you know how it is): "Veni, filia, audi me, timorem Domini docebo te." (Come, daughter, listen to me, and I will teach you fear of the Lord.)

And then the most beautiful female voice I had ever heard, sang the Latin for "Now with all my heart I follow You; it is You I fear, and Your face I long to see. Oh Lord, do not disappoint me; deal with me gently and according to the greatness of your Mercy."

And then there there came into the sanctuary a tall, slim nun with glasses, a white veil and a lit candle, with two nuns with black veils as attendants, looking expectantly at the bishop. Her song was so plaintive that I was surprised that, when the Bishop asked her (in Latin) if she wanted to be "more intimately consecrated to God by the bond of the monastic profession," her "Volo" was so strong and confident. Indeed, it was almost droll. I remembered then that this particular nun had gone to Oxford and later got a doctorate in history.

Her spoken responses and vows were clear and confident; her sung prayers were super-feminine--really, it was a devastating combination. And then there was the Rite of Consecration of Virgins, which most definitely emphasized that virginity is beautiful and not a burden or a joke, and the sister-who-was-Boeciana lay down flat on her face like a priest being ordained while everyone except the Protestant guests sang the Litany of the Saints.

Now at that moment, my happiness for the Sister-who-once-was-Boeciana, who was radiant and had been smiling with pure joy, was shot through a bit with regret for Seraphic-who-used-to-be-a-virgin-herself. Fortunately, I didn't cease to be one until the first time I was married, although I made out like a bandit, alas, alas, nobody told me it was wrong, etc. However, it still seems all a bit of a shame and a waste, especially as I never had any children, and it would have been a lot better to have been where the sister-who-was-once-Boeciana was lying now. Obviously the older and more worldly I got, the less of a good fit I was for a Benedictine convent, but that is entirely my own fault. Fortunately, Benedict Ambrose was right beside me, so I wasn't too sad. If you end up a divorced-and-annulled sardonic storyteller like me, a nice husband like Benedict Ambrose is an amazing gift displaying the great mercy and generosity of God. I really have no right to complain for myself ever again.

So I was not overwhelmed with regret, just a tiny bit ticked off that nobody told me or, at least, that nobody outside of a book every told me that a traditional Benedictine profession is more beautiful than a wedding, and that every Catholic teenage girl should at least visit a cloistered community of Catholic nuns to see if she is attracted to their life. Heaven knows how many women long for men's love only because we are told over and over again that there is nothing better than that in this whole world, except maybe the love of children. Meanwhile, there was a child in the transept being noisy and naughty throughout the Mass and Profession, a wonderful reminder that marriage and children are not without headaches. Indeed, some young mother or father didn't get to see as much as she or he wished, for the howls disappeared outdoors--in the rain.

How it rained! And how cold was the visitors' hallway! There the priests, monks, marrieds and singles stood around eating a buffet lunch and waiting for it to be time for the "Festive Recreation." The Benedictine nuns, being cloistered, were having their own lunch in the mysterious depths of the convent, and didn't make an appearance until after 2 PM. At some point the doors to the visitors' half of the "Large Parlour" were opened, and I caught sight of some jolly nuns waving and smiling at me from behind the grille--not mesh like a confession grille, but tall, gilt-painted bars set into a waist-height wooden wall, sort of like at an old fashioned bank. So I zipped in and tried to catch the eye of white-veiled Berenike and, failing, chatted with Sister Mary D--, who had read my "The Flyer's Ring" and possibly even "The Bodis Riper," gracious.

Eventually the other people of the world crowded in, and we sat and watched the Festive Recreation through the bars. The sisters read us poetry and comic monologues, sang songs and played instruments. And when the little show was over, there was a rush to the grille, as if two lots of iron filings flying to the sides of a magnet, and a long line of nuns chatted eagerly with an eager crowd of world. The nuns all looked very well and happy. I can't decide, though, if this is because they always look like that, or because seeing such a big crowd of old friends and new people was a hilarious treat. Still, the nun-who-was-once-Boeciana has been there for about six years, and she was obviously eager to promise to spend the rest of her life there, so I suspect they usually look like that.

Such hand-shakings, and face-kissings, and news-exchangings! After all our travels, I was feeling very tired, so eventually I just sat and gazed at my two nun friends, especially Berenike, whom I love so much, and at other visiting friends, whom I see so rarely. The two sisters were allowed to stay as long as they liked, so we got to see and talk to them until shortly before Vespers, when off they flew.

And then some of us visitors left, but many of us stayed for Vespers and, for Benedict Ambrose and I, last glances (for now) at our friends and to hear the nuns sing so beautifully. This time, I recognized the other sisters, too, and recollected little bits of information I had got from them. One of the younger sisters had not gone to university, but had entered at age 19. An older one had entered 12 years ago, after working as a secretary. Another young one had, I think, gone to the University of Saint Andrews and entered after graduation. I wished I had asked more of them what they had done before they entered, so that I could tell all of you.

For here comes the pitch. I love B.A. and I like being married, and I have a pretty easy life because B.A. is so generous and easy-going. But I recognize that it is a very worldly life, especially because we haven't been given any children to sacrifice for. We don't make a lot of money, so we don't have worldly hobbies: our wild vacation paradises are Kraków and Rome where we spend a goodly amount of time in churches, as you can imagine. We both feel lucky that we managed to meet each other, and this was literally because Boeciana and Berenike read my blog and became my friends, which is to say, the intercession of the sort of women who become nuns. We know perfectly well that we are not as good as the most God-centred of our friends, and we are very lucky that they like us so much.

I think it would be awesome if more young women had the encouragement to at least VISIT a community of cloistered nuns. Everybody in the universe encourages you to do this or that to attract a husband, but the best husband any woman could ever have is the Man who is wedded to us, the Church. And all you have to do to attract this Man, is to pray to Him and strive to do His will. And if you think you would enjoy a life of praising Him and living with women who think the same way you do--not to mention living in a beautiful place where the ugliness of modern life can't get you--then I encourage you to follow up on this feeling in a concrete, active way.