Saturday, 31 May 2014

The Seven Deadlies

If you can stand to read one more post by me about the Isla Vista Killer (aka Psycho Single), then off you go to Catholic World Report. The big tragedy for the killer is that he could have turned from his sins and asked for forgiveness at any time. In fact, he managed to kick his video game addiction, so he was capable of saying "yes" to good and "no" to bad. Grace was waiting. Grace is waiting for us, too, if we're in need of it. All we need is to say yes to the voice that prompts us to realize "These sins I commit are rubbish!"

Meanwhile, I shall be working with my head down over my Polish translation all day. Although I complain, it's very rewarding, like Pilates for the intellect. If you are feeling bored and restless, and miss university or even just the fun of learning, I heartily recommend taking up, or improving, a second language. Language is a bottomless well of sweet water.

Friday, 30 May 2014

The Machine is Bad

I have to retranslate eleven paragraphs of my Theology of Woman essay because they are impossible for a Polish speaker to read and PPS's head almost blew up.

The Magic Polish Translation Machine is bad. Very, very bad. Apparently the paragraphs I did without the Machine are better than the Machine ones. There is no substitute for human + dictionary + verb book + grammar primer + 2.5 years of study.

But the other moral of the story is that a woman who decides to render her own English language essay into Polish has a fool for a translator. To quote B.A., "I cry."

When this is done, I'm not reading or writing anything above my grade level in Polish EVER AGAIN. I am sticking to Julek i Julka and memorizing the dialogues in the soap opera composed by my prof, and that is it. Well, hymns, songs and poems will still be okay, but no more translating myself. It hurts my brain and eats up all my time.

On the other hand, it can not be too widely known among English-to-Polish translators that I will find out if they are sloppy with my work.

(This is where you should all chime in, "Don't quit, Seraphic!")

Male Virginity is Good

Another rant about the latest Psycho Single, this time targeting columnists or sub-editors who call him "the virgin killer." What is up with that? If you think it is weird or funny that the unmarried USCSB killer was a virgin, then you are part of the cultural forces that shaped him.

I call all men who kill women because they are that bitter about being Single "Psycho Single", as a reminder to readers that bitterness is the Single's worst enemy and can ultimately drive him or her to do evil things.(It is the worst enemy of the childless, too.) But to bolster the USCSB killer's idea that virginity was weird and shameful by calling him "the virgin killer" is just disgusting. Way to inspire a few more men to commit suicide or even murder there, media.

Am I going completely around the bend or is the USA not still a largely Christian country? I spent five years in theology school, and as far as I can recall, Christian men and women are BOTH called to virginity before marriage. This is to say, to chastity in continence. Some moral theologians object to men being called virgins at all. It should be the NORM for every single man who has never married to not have had sex with someone else. This is Christian doctrine, and this is how it should be. So why is there a culture, even in countries dominated by Christians, that thinks it hilarious when men have NOT had sex at increasingly younger ages? And why is it allowed such a high place at the media table?

The poorer you are, the less well brought up, the more likely you are to freely lose your virginity at a young age. I believe this is the same for boys as for girls, in part because the carefully brought up, wealthier girls around them are more likely to say "No" and in part because such boys will be discouraged from asking at all. I didn't experience any pressure to put out until I was 18, and that was only because I was dating a non-virgin from the Middle East who thought all Western girls put out. After that I was blissfully free of such crap, as I spent the rest of my youthful social life with male feminists (long story), romantics and devout Catholic, Orthodox and Anglican boys who were most probably virgins themselves. I would be very surprised if they weren't. Fornication is a very big and scary sin--at least it was to MY crowd. When young Catholics describe to me today how easy, and how ego-boosting, it would be to take some girl home from a bar, I am overwhelmed with horror. But what about your immortal souls? And what about your future wives?

There's a very sweet scene in the Mel Gibson film Gallipoli (aka Why Australians Don't Worship Winston Churchill) in which a randy gang of soldiers go off to a brothel while their devoutly Christian pal demands "What will you say to your wives on your wedding nights?" They think this is hilarious and naturally [plot spoiler] he is killed, although that's a lot better than being captured and homosexually raped by the Turks, as tended to happen. Men rape men to show total dominance--the real root of fear of homosexuality, by the way.

I bring up this ugly fact about raped POWs because it reminds me that many of men's sexual problems have little to do with women and everything to do with other men. If your boyfriend is angry because you had sex when you were 20 with a college boyfriend but now practice chastity, it's not really because of you but because of that guy. Men are in constant competition with other guys, and the idea at being bested by some other guy, in love and sex, especially concerning the women they want, drives some men up the wall. This why least said, soonest mended, but also why such men need to be told "Our relationship is between you and ME and is not about other men, capisce? You carry on your masculine battle of all against all on your own time."

This seems to have been very true of Psycho Single, who thought that beautiful women were material possessions to show off in front of other guys. He was hierarchical about it, too. He thought blondes were more valuable, and he seems to have seen only "beautiful" women, whatever beautiful meant to him. Although he was a mixed race American in a Hollywood family, he seems to have felt inferior to tall, blonde men and superior to any other man of colour. He is outraged when his "ugly" roommate beds girls (although he takes some pleasure in his valuation of said girls as "ugly") and he just about goes insane when a black acquaintance brags that he lost his virginity with a white, blonde girl.

Psycho Single was a slave to the idea that virginity is disgraceful, which is why he turned out as he did. It is really too bad that nobody (as far as we know) made the argument that male virginity is GOOD. Male virginity shows moral strength. (After all, any man could lose his by going to the local brothel with $100 in his pocket. Duh.) It could be a sign of freedom from being a slave to one's own animal nature. It could suggest that the man privileges the intellect over the passions. It could also be a sign of having chosen to socialize only with principled women unlikely to seduce him. It could be a sign of commitment to some higher principle, like commitment to God. It could be a sign of respect for women so deep that he refuses to use any of them sexually or to unite himself with one without a permanent contract. It could be solidarity with the ancient tradition of virgin warriors; even today some coaches believe that celibacy improves athletic ability. Possibly an old coaches' tale, dating back to Samson and Delilah, or even Babylonian Enkidu, but I mention it anyway. Recall the coach in Rocky: "Women weaken legs!" If given a hard time by human baboons in the locker room, virgin men could shout, "Women weaken legs!" That might appease the misogynist impulses of the human baboon's heart.

At any rate, we have got to get rid of this idea that male virginity is any kind of giggle-worthy disgrace. It goes hand in hand with the disgusting idea that women are citadels to be conquered, either to feel good or to impress other men.

Thursday, 29 May 2014

Busy Day

What a busy day, poppets. First, it is the Feast of the Ascension, which is a Holy Day of Obligation in Scotland. However, the Edinburgh TLM began at 6:15 PM, which is when, on Thursdays, I leave my last-minute homework-doing cafe to go to Polish class. Well, naturally I did not want to skip Polish class. So this morning I walked swiftly to the 9:15 AM Novus Ordo at what, come to think of it, is our parish church. And I was vastly edified to discover that the church was full, thanks to the local school, and that the grey-haired folk band had preserved the hymns of my extreme youth, including "Shalom, My Friends," which I don't think I have heard since 1980. It was banned in Toronto as insensitive, or something.

Home at 10:45, I had just enough time to send off more paragraphs of pidgin Polish to Pretend Son before running around the block to Pilates class. I love Pilates class. Unfortunately, the nearby scale says I am now 9 stone 5.4, which means I have gained two pounds since I returned from Poland. What's with that?!

On the way home I went to the fishmonger's for fish and to the cheap supermarket for booze, bread and broccoli, And when I got home, I sat down and for a solid three hours wrote for actual money.

When that was done, I put on proper clothes and ran off to the bus stop. On the bus, I read a Polish story about a visit to the zoo, looking up the words I didn't know in my big yellow dictionary. Off the bus, I went to my last-minute homework-doing cafe, where I had a latte and differentiated between imperfective verbs and perfective verbs. At 6:15, when B.A. was safe in the bosom of the TLM, I toddled off to Polish class.

Polish class was very absorbing, and afterwards I met B.A. at a pub, where he sat with a very strong beer and the Times Literary Supplement. The beer was so big, that we missed the 9 o'clock bus home, and thus got home only at ten. So that is why there is no proper post today.

Wednesday, 28 May 2014

What Gets Published

Sorry to mention Psycho Single again, but it's not like he can enjoy it and I am struck by the irony that he has produced the first widely-read English-language memoir of someone born in 1991. Of course, few people are famous at the age of 22. Still, it annoys me that the first real glimpse I have had into the life experience of my friends' children's generation came thanks to P.S. All the more reason to encourage Catholic children to write. If I were Queen of the World, I would make every 22 year old practising Catholic spend this summer writing his or her autobiography, including all friends, favourite toys, favourite collections and favourite hymns.

Where P.S. threw up half-digested chunks of the manosphere, I would expect my Catholic subjects to channel G.K. Chesterton or JP2 or even Christopher West. Where P.S. bragged about red carpet premiers, I would hope for some bishop-sightings: "And there was Cardinal Dolan!" "And there was Bishop Schneider!"

You know who should write an autobiography? Super-cutie Paul Smeaton of SPUC. As a toddler he was blessed by Mother Teresa.

I was feeling guilty for not contributing to IP Novels for awhile, so I wrote a piece this morning about....wait for it....a Polish novel. Yes, I am sure you are amazed. However, this novel is about Kraków from the point of view of a Viennese psychiatrist who may be an intellectual but is as deep as a bathtub. I don't know if Ewa Lipska meant to make him some kind of Viennese lordling who comes to Kraków to sneer at the peasants and take refuge with rich, privileged people like himself, but that's what he is. On the one hand, you can see why he has a chip on his shoulder--the Second Republic's twenty-year affirmative action programs penalized Jews like his father--but on the other hand, left-wing types are usually embarrassed about despising the poor and unfortunate inhabitants of their vacation locations.

And now I feel guilty for beating up on Doctor Sefer because I met his creator, and she was delightful. Her eyes shone as she signed books, and she is certainly a wonderful writer. But unless someone writes a novel about Kraków from the majority Catholic Polish point of view--and it gets translated into English--people like my non-Polish poet friend (who loved the book) are going to swallow Sefer's p.o.v. hook line and sinker. This annoys me hugely.

As a matter of fact, my pal told me she had wondered if everyone in Kraków was like the people in the book. If you read my latest IP Novel piece, you'll guess what I said. Leave a comment to gladden the editors and underscore the importance of their work!

Update: Polish Pretend Son, though having mixed feelings about his most recent appearance here on Seraphic Singles, has kindly edited yesterday's torture work and promised to do last weekend's, too. So here are some public thanks for dear PPS.

Update 2: "I think Saint Edith would support".... Flip, flip... Mysślę, że św. Edyta wspierałaby.... "A movement"...Flip, flip. Flip, flip. Tap, Tap. Tap, tap, tap. RUCH! .... to grant Polish mothers... Flip, flip...

Tuesday, 27 May 2014

One Last Thought about Psycho Single, and Then Complaining

Psycho Single hurt or killed twenty people, causing deep suffering to hundreds more: the friends and family of the hurt or murdered people. He has also frightened thousands of other people, especially the young women of southern California, who will doubtlessly worry about copycat killers, and perhaps his violence had even inspired more bitter men in their growing envy and hatred.

There's not a lot of good in this situation, but to paraphrase the jokey poster, at least his life may serve as a terrible warning to others.

I said yesterday that Psycho Single's hell--if he is in hell, which strikes me as not unlikely, as he committed suicide after attempting to kill dozens of people after knifing three men--might be to continue to have the same thoughts of envy, rage, fear and despair that tortured him throughout his short life. His hell, which he chose, began on earth and will continue elsewhere. In short, Psycho Single will continue to be Psycho Single for eternity. I cannot think of anything worse, and if I hadn't succeeded in banishing the thought, I would not have been able to sleep. If there was any mitigating factor, then perhaps his hell will ultimately be only his Purgatory. But otherwise what we have here is a textbook case of a mortal sin--envy--unchecked and unrepented leading to the destruction of a soul.

I write often about the badness of bitterness, and how bitterness is the Single's worst enemy. It truly is. Bitterness is hard to hide, and I could not believe the crap I read yesterday on why Psycho Single could not get a girlfriend. Someone at the American Thinker had the brass to say he was surprised because the kid was good-looking and had a BMW. He suggested it was because he was short, and women prefer tall men. Excuse me? WHAT?! Could it not have been the kid's bizarre behaviour in high school(which he wrote about, saying that negative attention was better than none) and then, as he got angrier and angrier, his weird smirks to himself, his hang-dog expressions, the dead eyes and all the other clues that a boy or man is a creep? And it is not like he tried very hard to make friends. He walked around Santa Barbara and sat outside cafes waiting for women to come and talk to him. (I am horribly reminded of the day, desperate to meet men, I walked all around Montreal and hung out around McGill campus to... And I actually published an article about this. In the Catholic Register. What was I thinkinnnnng?)

The best thing a Single can do is cultivate happiness, beginning with a big fake smile, if possible. Acting happy can trick your brain into thinking you are happy. And writing down everything you are grateful for works, too. I have a mood disorder, so I know perfectly well this is not enough for everyone, but for everyone who does not have a chronic, organic problem with depression (aka a tendency towards mental flu), there is nothing like looking on the bright side. If Psycho Single had said over and over again, "Girls liked me when I was a kid; girls could like me now" instead of hanging on to the memory of the pretty girl who pushed him at camp when he was 11, his story would have turned out differently.

The idea that you could be yourself as you are at death (or at your last minute of undiminished responsibility) for eternity scares the living daylights out of me. No wonder St. Paul exulted that it was no longer he who lived, it was Christ who lived in him! Do you want to be you as you are right now for all eternity? And what if you spent all eternity thinking about yourself and not about the glory of God? How terrible would that be? It would be like being trapped in a tiny room instead of experiencing an eternal moment of absolute joy. If you have no other reason to think about how delightful other people are, consider that one.

If I were an atheist, I would spend as much time as possible thinking about people I loved, so that when I died my last thought would be of them, love filling my heart. In fact, I remember feeling very frightened before one flight and, after (I hope) saying an Act of Contrition, I filled my mind with thoughts of my nephew Pirate. I immediately felt happier and resigned to possible death. I prayed for Baby Pirate. Now that I think about it, on my last trip to Poland, I was quite frightened again, and prayed that I didn't die right now, as the death of an aunt would be so awful for Pirate and his cousins Popcorn and Peanut at their age. However, I am not an atheist, and it occurs to me that the only way I might be fit for an eternity of contemplating God would be to spend more time contemplating God NOW. And that this may not be as hard as it sounds for anything beautiful reflects the beauty of God and anything wise the wisdom of God.

Well, let's close the book on that young man. The only lesson we can get from his life--he was not a gun nut, by the way--is that envy, if allowed to go unchecked, can destroy you and send you to hell when you are still alive. I have to get on with my life, which includes plans for a new book and, of course, my "Theology of Woman" translation.

Outrageously Polish Pretend Son says I am not allowed just to plug the English of my "Theology of Woman" essay into the online Magic Translation Machine. He says he will correct my work, but not the work of the machine. In fact, at first he said he refused to translate my second third for this reason.

He sprung this on me on the pub where we had Sunday Lunch, and I was crushed. As a writer, nothing frightens me more than the idea that I won't be able to finish something. And here was Polish Pretend Son refusing to help me with my translation, and then my Scottish Authentic Husband chiming in to ask why I was spending so much time on unpaid work anyway. Two men, Pretend Son and Authentic Husband, discouraging me from my already difficult work! Wah! Patriarchy! Wah!

Polish Pretend Son does not talk a lot. He prefers to throw verbal bombs and then sit back and watch with interest as his victim scurries around to find the right words to salvage the situation. B.A., however, talks quite a lot and hates any fuss, and so tries to discourage fuss with an avalanche of words.

I sat there trying to fight a battle on two fronts while Polish Pretend Son (tank) boomed "I will not correct the work of a MACHINE!" and B.A. (machine gun) babbled, "Darling I don't see why you need to do this. Why don't you tell them that if they want the translation they should pay for a translator. It is taking you weeks in which you should be doing something else...:"

Seraphic: Like working in the biscuit factory? This is what I do.

B.A.: ...and nonsense to be calling in favours, so why don't you...

Seraphic (to PPS): I read your thesis three times to make sure there wasn't a single mistake.

PPS (as if he were waiting for this obvious assault): The obvious difference is that my thesis wasn't written by a MACHINE.

Seraphic: My essay wasn't written by a machine! I am just plugging in paragraphs into the machine to be translated faster.


Seraphic: But I'm already correcting the machine! For example, where I want "tak jak" [just like] it puts "lubić" [to like]. So I correct that.

B.A.: But darling isn't there some other Pole you can get to correct your translation. How about...

Seraphic (seeing tactical opportunity, due to B.A.'s lack of knowledge of the battlefield): Well, not exactly because I want a good translation and Polish orthography....(She turns to PPS) Explain to him about Poles and Polish orthography.

PPS (says something about most Poles and Polish writing style he would never admit to saying, even though I would say the same thing about most anglophones and English writing style.)

Seraphic: So you see, it must be Polish Pretend Son! My name is going on this after all. (She thinks:) Oh woe is me!

Damn it, I forgot to cry! Why can I never remember this? The only way to win an argument with a Pole is either to kill him or to admit defeat and cry. And if PPS doesn't correct my translation, I probably will cry, only he won't be around to see it. Maybe I will bottle my tears and send them to London.

Update: Conversation with Julia in the combox has led me to the horrible revelation that Polish Pretend Son has temporarily morphed into Polish Pretend Dad. Uh oh. This means that not even tears will work, and I don't have recourse to a Pretend Polish Mother, so the only solution is abject obedience.

Oh wait. I do have a Pretend Polish Mother! Maryjo, Królowo Polski, módl się za nami!

Update 2: "What Saint Edith was proposing"... Flip, flip... Co św. Edyta proponowujewała... "was a radical departure from"... Flip, flip... było radykalne odstępstwo od..."the arguments around the Woman Question"... Flip, flip....

Monday, 26 May 2014

Still Reading about Psycho Single

Oh dear. I have been reading and writing about Psycho Single's autobiography. The blasted thing is that he was a good writer. The Psycho Single of the health club was not. I am left thinking, "You are a shameless, selfish whiner now"---I'm up to his 20th birthday--"and you'll be a cold-blooded killer in two years, but you can write, you little bast*rd."

He certainly has a phenomenal memory for names, games, places, dates, and his foreshadowing actually works. It's a moral struggle determining if it works because it works or because he stabbed or shot two dozen people. It's like the "Can I watch a Polanski film knowing what I know" issue on a GRAND SCALE.

I'm not saying the kid was a Polanski. (He's a good writer, not great. He definitely needed an editor and to drop some cliches, plus the manosphere garbage, but he had serious potential.) I'm saying that he could write, which is a rarer skill than you might think. The horrible and damnable irony is that the devil (my word, not his) told him the only way he could have value was to get a lot of money so as to attract girls If only he had stopped thinking about sex, money or himself for a moment to enjoy writing. He was good at it.

When bad people have talent, how do you talk about it? For this was a bad kid. This was a kid who cried to get what he wanted from his mother when he was seventeen years old and got it. And saw no shame in it when he wrote his autobiography.

This was a writer who could unstintingly admit that he was envious as a child, envious as a teen, envious as a young adult. He could admit that he was afraid of the dark. He could write about every time he cried, and that he cried every time a joyful time came to an end, and that visiting an even richer boy in France made him cry out against the injustice of the world, because this boy was so much richer than he, and had such cool friends, and so much sex. (But there would not have been any point sending him to El Salvador to count his blessings, for he was taken or sent to Morocco on occasion, and he despised it as a backwater instead of feeling fortunate not to be a poor kid there.)

But I will tell you what I hate even more than feeling conflicted over Psycho Killer's autobiography. It's seeing newspapers refer to him as "the virgin killer" as if they were making fun of him, not for being a killer but for being a virgin. This was the exact kind of anti-virgin sniggering that fuelled his hatred of the women who wouldn't give him sex and the men who "got" sex.

He was a spoiled selfish young man who wickedly stoked his hatred of the world until he was ready to begin killing as much of it as he could. He is not a poster child for modesty, to say the least. But since there is a major push against teenagers bullying teenagers with homosexual inclinations, how about a major push against anyone bullying people who are suspected of not having yet had sex? Bulling people because of their lack of sexual experience is a form of sexual harassment, and I'd like to see that written about more often!

Update: I am at the point where he is whining that HE is the half-white descendant of British aristocracy and this black guy he has met is the descendant of slaves, so he, not the black guy, deserved to lose his virginity to a white blonde girl. On the one hand, I want to throw up. On the other hand, this is the kind of honesty that makes for good writing. Damn it!

Update 2: I have finished reading the whole thing. He concludes that he is "the true victim in this" and "the good guy". Meanwhile, I have just noticed that my baby toe is cut and my foot is stained with blood. How did that happen without me noticing? That's how compelling the whole horrible story is.

Someone needs to write a Catholic blog for Single men. There has got to be someone to tell men like Psycho Single that the be-all and end-all of life is not attracting women.

Sunday, 25 May 2014

Psycho Single Redux

What has happened in Santa Barbara California is horrible, and I feel terrible for the victims, their families and friends.

I suppose the first thing to say is that shootings by Single men motivated by frustration that they can't get girlfriends are rare. The last one I wrote about was the Health Club Shooter. And although the manosphere drips with bile, of course, I have very rarely been attacked online by bitter Single men. The only one I remember was Catholic and had decided I was a massive crypto-feminist man-hater, or something like that.

That said, the next time a somewhat bitter Single man tells me that the problem with women today is that we feel so ENTITLED, I may direct their attention to the latest Psycho Single. (I never name serial killers, and I wish nobody else did. That would remove one of their motives. The latest Psycho Single quite obviously planned out his posthumous fame.) Psycho Single felt so entitled, he described himself as the perfect guy. And, mixed-race himself, he went mad with envy and spite when he saw a dark-hued man with a pale-skinned woman.

Psycho Single read the manosphere, which sometimes encouraged him in his mingled desire for and hatred for women, but sometimes tried to slap him upside the head. Psycho Single was under the impression that since his looks, rich daddy and fancy car weren't enough, he would somehow have to make millions of dollars to get female attention. I wonder WHERE he got THIS idea.

I will not be put off with "he was just crazy" because I don't believe there is any such thing as "just crazy". Mental illness may interfere with freedom to make ethical choices, but it is not a free pass to hurt people. Anyway, if Psycho Single were that crazy, the phalanx of shrinks his parents hired would have caught it. And I'm assuming he would not have been legally able to purchase guns. Meanwhile, the vast majority of mentally ill people are not violent. As I myself was a virgin at 22, I feel perfectly sanguine about describing Psycho Single as not only a cold-blooded murderer but an outrageously selfish, self-obsessed whiner. Lots of people are virgins at 22, you jerk.

I am a relatively cynical married lady of 39++ who lives in Europe, and so although I myself am a practicing Catholic, I at first wondered why this rich youth did not just drive his fancy car to Santa Barbara's highest class version of the House of the Rising Sun. But my question was answered when I read that he did not want another female psychotherapist when his first moved away because paying a woman to listen to him "felt like prostitution." What unmitigated crap. What Psycho Single wanted was a woman who would listen to him for free, and sleep with him for free, and tell him he was marvelous for free. Paying professionals for help was not what he deserved.

There is also the irony that he looked down on prostitution but was quite okay with watching scenes of, and documentaries about, torture and then killing his roommates and random strangers. But I digress. This was not about sex but about wanting attention. Lots of attention. Lots and lots and lots of attention. And he thought girls OWED him attention because he was handsome (he thought) and had a rich father.

My guess is that there have always been men like this. The whole disgusting idea of doit de signeur comes to mind. Also coming to mind, as we have been talking about St. Maria Goretti recently, is the fact that Maria's mother was working for her attacker's father. Some boys just grow up thinking that they are better than others and therefore deserve more free stuff. And if they really don't get that women are people, people rather like themselves, they are going to see women (young, beautiful women, anyway) as free stuff they deserve, that the world owes them.

St. Maria's attacker was called Alessandro Serenelli, whom I do name, as Maria forgave him and after he got out of prison, he spent the rest of his life as a servant to the Capuchins. He wrote a testimony before he died. Here it is. Note my emphasis.

"I'm nearly 80 years old. I'm about to depart.

"Looking back at my past, I can see that in my early youth, I chose a bad path which led me to ruin myself.

"My behavior was influenced by print, mass-media and bad examples which are followed by the majority of young people without even thinking. And I did the same. I was not worried.

"There were a lot of generous and devoted people who surrounded me, but I paid no attention to them because a violent force blinded me and pushed me toward a wrong way of life.

"When I was 20 years-old, I committed a crime of passion. Now, that memory represents something horrible for me. Maria Goretti, now a Saint, was my good Angel, sent to me through Providence to guide and save me. I still have impressed upon my heart her words of rebuke and of pardon. She prayed for me, she interceded for her murderer. Thirty years of prison followed.

"If I had been of age, I would have spent all my life in prison. I accepted to be condemned because it was my own fault.

"Little Maria was really my light, my protectress; with her help, I behaved well during the 27 years of prison and tried to live honestly when I was again accepted among the members of society. The Brothers of St. Francis, Capuchins from Marche, welcomed me with angelic charity into their monastery as a brother, not as a servant. I've been living with their community for 24 years, and now I am serenely waiting to witness the vision of God, to hug my loved ones again, and to be next to my Guardian Angel and her dear mother, Assunta.

"I hope this letter that I wrote can teach others the happy lesson of avoiding evil and of always following the right path, like little children. I feel that religion with its precepts is not something we can live without, but rather it is the real comfort, the real strength in life and the only safe way in every circumstance, even the most painful ones of life."

Signature, Alessandro Serenelli

Saturday, 24 May 2014

My Cure for a Broken Heart

I got an email the other day that I am not at liberty to post. In short, it was by a brokenhearted woman who is dating again and thinks that in order to have a relationship with a new man, she must make herself "vulnerable." Now, "vulnus" means wound, and it strikes me that this woman needs to heal the wounds so recently inflicted on her heart before she does any such thing. And I am deeply suspicious of any view of male-female romance relationship that talks about a need to accept wounds anyway. The essence of trusting a guy with your heart is a deeply informed and correct opinion, formed over time, that the guy isn't going to reject you

If anything, the male-female romance relationship is the LAST relationship where you need to court vulnerability. Vulnerability is for mentors and protegees, bosses and employees, teachers and students, editors and the edited. When you hand over your intellectual work, or your creative work, or your paid work, to someone for evaluation, you are pretty darn vulnerable. And you have to take whatever is said by mentor, boss, teacher or editor on the chin. And mentor, boss, teacher or editor will have to field your reaction. It used to be said that men could accept that their work was something separate from themselves, but women took criticism of their work personally. I don't believe that: I think we ALL take it personally, and most of us have to work to A) become detached B) accept justifiable criticism.

"Don't despair when you see all the red," said Polish Pretend Son last night, as he prepared to embrace the beckoning Edinburgh night. He was talking about his correction of my "Teolgia Kobietości" essay, and since I have corrected the English in any number of essays, I thought, "Hey! That's my line!" I was highly amused, and this morning I am even more amused to read Polish Pretend Son's comments. The reasons for my wondeful detachment are that I completely trust Polish Pretend Son's opinions regarding Polish style, and at this point I have few expectations of my Polish prose. As Polish Pretend Son pointed out, there's quite a distance between reading Julek i Julka and translating theology into Polish.

But imagine if I were a great Polish stylist, and my ego was wrapped up in my ability to turn out Polish prose. Perhaps I had won a gold medal in university for it, or something. And, flushed with the compliments of my teachers and professors, I wrote a masterful book about the Polish countryside, and all over Poland, critics tore it to bits. My professors backtracked. My friends who said they liked my book were obviously lying. Would I, heartbroken, be handing over my essay to Polish Pretend Son within six months and snickering at the sea of red and the snarky remarks about my alleged linguistic feminism? No. I would be weeping in my coffee.

In short, if you get your heart smashed, the last thing you want to do is make it "vulnerable" to some man again. And you shouldn't want to. Your heart needs a good healing, it needs to be as detached from the opinions of strangers as I am from my Polish prose, and you need to get your equilibrium back before you pop back out into the world with an eye to attracting suitors. It takes as long as it takes. However, I think there is one way to speed things up.

Travel across a body of water, preferably an ocean. There are study programs and work programs for foreigners under 30, and if you are over 30, well, a ten day holiday in Tuscany, religiously saved for out of your earnings, can work wonders. Oh, and go alone. I forgot to mention that part. If going alone is too scary, sign up with a tour group you'll meet up with when you get there, wherever there is. The idea is to go away from the scene of your heartbreak into a totally new place, a place with no memories of the ex, and ample opportunities to put your adult skills of self-reliance to the test. (If you go with a female friend. you will talk to her about the ex, which defeats the purpose of this exercise.) If you are forced to speak another language, so much the better. Reading maps, asking strangers questions, finding food, finding shelter--your brain will be too crowded to contemplate your aching heart and every time you achieve something, you will feel like you have scored a goal.

"I have fallen in the shower, and I need some ice," said Seraphic, age 27, in Italian to a hotel receptionist over the phone somewhere outside Venice, and not only did the ice ease my aching limb, it soothed my wounded heart. Look what I can do!

If you really, really, cannot leave home now or within any imaginable length of time (but if in England, why not France? If in New England, why not Quebec?), then I recommend you find something new to do. Take a night school class, particularly in a language. Take a second job, part-time, somewhere you think is cool--cafe in an art gallery, office in a charity. Do something that speaks to your sense of adventure to remind it that romance is not the only adventure.

And I think this really goes to the heart of what was wrong with my attitude to romance when I was growing up. For a long time, romance was the only adventure for most women. If one doesn't work out, well then, start another. And another. And another. And unsurprisingly, this gets old. It gets boring. Serial monogamy, even if completely chaste, gets to be a drag. And if you are now shouting "Yes!" at the computer, then why not get off the old treadmill of romance? Find another adventure. Get out of Dodge. Take a night class. Get a second job. Try a martial art. Challenge yourself to something utterly new and absorbing. Not only will you heal, you'll grow.

Friday, 23 May 2014

Being Like Mary

Once you understand how prevalent sin is, the less you mind people observing that we're all sinners. Every movement away from God is a sin, and hardliner St. Augustine thought even stuff you do in your dreams is a sin, depending on how much your will is engaged in it. But not-so-serious sins, like (according to Augustine) that sexy dream, are called venial sins, and I was not happy when one of my BC professors declared that he didn't think there were such things as venial sins. Hmm.... So, I don't know, eating a slice of pizza you don't need is a morally neutral act? Or expressing your dislike for your daughter's outfit in imprudent terms is a mortal sin that drives a wedge between you and God, removable only by the sacrament of reconciliation? I don't think so.

Venial sins are almost inevitable in this wicked world, but fortunately they are wiped off your slate at Mass. Mortal sins, though, are not inevitable, and St. Maria Goretti took her parish priest very seriously when he said it would be better to die than to commit one. That said, there are legions of people, including in positions of trust in Catholic institutions, who will tell you that God's injunction against this mortal sin or that is merely "a man-made law." So far, I have heard this only about sins against purity. Nobody has yet told me that "Honour your father and mother" is a man-made law.

Anyway, not to be complacent about it, but if someone said, "Seraphic, you are a miserable sinner," I would have to say, "Damn straight." I would try not to get all humphy or say, "So are you, chum!"

But speaking as a married lady, I used to hate being told "Try to be like Our Lady" and "Try to be a good wife like Our Lady" and "Ask Our Lady's intercession that you might become more like her." First of all, Our Lady was spared from Original Sin. And then there is her perpetual virginity. I forget if I ever said flat out to whichever priest, "To be a good wife like Our Lady, I would have to ban my husband from my bed. Stop with the platitudes. Most married women can't be like Our Lady. The Holy Family is not like any other family in history, and it is tantamount to blasphemy to say that it is." Occasionally I argue with priests in the confessional, but actually I think I left this one alone. And I am glad, for actually the priests have been right.

To be a good wife like Our Lady does not mean literally to live a life of chastity-in-continence. It means living, thinking, speaking and acting in a manner consistent to what God has called you to be. Our Lady was called to be mother of Our Lord, and she dedicated her life to life to that task. Naturally, she did this as a woman, and at a time when society considered women most definitely second-rate. Mary always chose to do God's will, and Mary composed the great Magnificat. The more you really think about MARY, and not about her perpetual virginity and how unusual it was for a married lady, the more you see how she is to be emulated.

There has been a lot of writing on Mary through the ages. I didn't read much about her in theology school, however, as she had gone right out of fashion. I do not remember a single course in Mariology on offer. And really I hadn't much thought about Mary since that terrible afternoon years ago when, crushed by unhappiness as an unhappy wife, I desperately prayed the Memorare and then doubted the Blessed VIRGIN Mary could possibly understand what I was going through. Of course, the problem was not with Mary but my previously having identified with her status as a virgin. Poor young Seraphic.

Polish readers would be appalled to know how little Canadian and American Catholics are trained to think of Mary, and unless we had devoutly Marian parents or grandparents, our primary example of Marian devotion was John Paul II. It blew minds that "Totus Tuus" meant all Mary's, not all God's. What must the Protestants think?!?!? Oh woe, what a throwback to the Bad Old Days, grumble grumble. But as we didn't really focus on popes in my home, and I was defeated by JP's incomprehensible "Letter to the Youth of the World", I never understood what his Marian devotion was all about. As a pro-life activist, I prayed night rosaries, but without much Marian devotion. For me, the rosary was all about her Son.

But then, as an adult, I sat down and read Mulieris Dignitatem. I realized, first of all, that one reason why JP2 is so hard to read is that he thought in Polish, which has an entirely different sentence structure from English, and we have all been at the mercy of translators assuring whomever that they are fully bilingual in Polish and Latin, or Polish and English, etc. But more importantly, I really grasped the importance of Mary for all humanity. As I lectured in Kraków in 2012:

The text begins with Mary, who had such a crucial part to play in the most important moment of human history, the salvific event of the incarnation. Jan Paweł notes that Saint Paul, in saying that “God sent forth his son, born of a woman”(Gal 4:4), does not name Mary but underscores she was a woman (3). It is a woman at the centre of the salvific event. It is a woman who takes part in the dialogue of the Annunciation. It is a woman who “attains a union with God that exceeds all the expectations of the human spirit” (3). Never before had a human being been supernaturally elevated to union with God in Jesus Christ. And as the first person in such close union with God, Mary represents the humanity that belongs to all human beings, both men and women. But at the same time, of course, the union is between her own individual self and Jesus Christ, the union between mother and son.

And as for women, Mary dethrones Eve as the archetypal woman. Death came into the world through Eve, and women were not allowed to forget this, as if we were all carbon copies of Eve, capable of bringing disaster if we said boo to a goose. Mary, though, is the New Eve, as Christ is the New Adam; her "Yes" to God leads to the cancelling out of Eve's "No" when her Son redeems the world.

So now we women have a choice of models. Saint Edith Stein suggests choice is to between becoming a Temptress like Eve or a Mother like Mary. And this challenged me because I used to examine passport applications-- and applicants---and marvel at how differently 40+ women dealt with the ravages of time. In my youthful and 117 lb arrogance, I mentally divided them into the Hockey Moms, who had given up the battle, and the Glamour Queens, who were glorying in the fight. It was short hair vs bottle blonde, parka versus leopard print, soap and water versus maquillage. I knew which path I wanted to take, thanks very much. "La guerre? Yes sir!"

And as it happens, I am still on the side of looking your best and fighting a lazy tendency towards dowdiness. However, I am not on the side of Perpetual Sexiness and Being Found Desirable By All Men Possible. At least, I think it is wrong to belong to that side. I think it is a terrible temptation that needs to be resisted, especially in our current culture of infidelity and divorce. Once upon a time in the UK, working-class married women completely ostracized other working-class married women who tried to look sexy. Now.... Oh dear. I never really understood the expression mutton dressed as lamb until... La, la, la... Okay, I'll say it. Scottish hairdressers are really talented and don't charge a lot. They can give anyone the hair of a Swedish 20 year old. And so the busses and streets of Edinburgh a full of what look like Swedish 20 year olds until they turn around and you see that they are 50+ grandmothers with terrible skin and alcoholic noses.

Oh dear. How did I get there? Well, let's just say that it would never have occurred to Our Lady to try to look like a Swedish 20 year old. She would never have acknowledged there was any need for it. Her dignity as a woman was being the beloved daughter of God and her dignity as Mary of Nazareth was her call to be the Mother of God.

To be like Mary, then, is to recognize your own dignity as a woman, first as the daughter of God, and then according to your call to be what God has called you in particular to be. For my friend Lily that is to focus on her vocation as a wife and mother of two. For my friend Sister Berenike that is to strive to grow in holiness as a Benedictine novice. For my retired Single friend that is probably to grow in holiness as a good friend and example to others. For women in study, it is probably as Christian women called to study, in poverty, chastity and obedience to God. We are all called to the Evangelical Counsels, but they apply differently to different people, according to our states in life.

So if you do, don't get mad when a confessor hears your sexual sins and exhorts you to be more like Mary. He's not saying you are capable of her spotless purity; he's saying that she's a great model of feminine dignity and attentiveness to God. Go home and give Mulieris Dignitatem a read, and see if you can find "Woman" by Saint Edith Stein.

Thursday, 22 May 2014

St. Edith Stein/Sw. Edyta Stein

I have sent the following text to Polish Pretend Son for fixing, as it is probably incomprehensible to the vast majority of Poles. However, his computer is on the fritz, and he might not be able to do it. If any of my Polish readers would like to take a shot at turning it into proper Polish, that would be great. I asked B.A. if we could spare money for a proper translator, and to make a long story short, he said no.

This reminds me of a pal living in Continental Europe, an excellent writer, who refused to speak the local language. Why this was, was a mystery to many. Finally I told her it was because she was so wedded to her excellent, lyrical grasp of English that she hated the idea of sounding stupid in any other language. She giggled.

The sad part of language learning is that for a long time you are going to sound stupid to yourself, and possibly to others, although come to think of it I never think people learning English sound stupid. I always think they sound delightful and original. Poles with an imperfect grasp of English come up with some really cool sentences. And English stuffed into Polish sentence structures is awesome. Occasionally they will correct your English, too, as in the deathless "That's not a soup; that's a cream."

Well, that cheered me up. Here is my translation so far, with the English underneath:

Niektórzy mądrzy seminarzyści są zaproszeni przez swoich przełony na naukową filozofię zamiast kontynować ich szkolenia w zakresie teologii. Ale szkolenia w zakresie filozofii może pomogać komuś ostatecznie wezwany na Boga do zostania zawodowy theologiem zostać lepszym teologiem. Na przykład Św. Tomasz z Akwinu jest piewszym wielkim średniowieczynym teologiem który studiował dzieła z starożytny greckiego filozofa Arystoteles. Zarówno Św. Teresa Benedykta od Krzyża jako Św. Jan Paweł II studiowali prace dwudziestowiecznego niemieckiego filozofa Edmunda Husserla. Ponieważ Św. Tomasza przecztyał Arystoteles mógł dać Kościołowi swoją cudowną Summę Teologiae. Ponieważ Św. Teresa Benedykta od Krzyża i Św. Jan Paweł II studiował działa Husserla, potrafili dać światowi teologię kobietości. Szukali rozumieć co to jest Bóg uczy o kobietością. Zarówno w Piśmie Świętym jak w tworzeniu.

[Some clever seminarians are asked by their superiors to study philosophy instead of continuing their theological training. However, philosophical training can help someone ultimately called by God to become a professional theologian to become a better theologian. Saint Thomas Aquinas for example, is the first great mediaeval theologian to have studied the works of the Ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle. Both Saint Teresa Benedicta of the Cross and Saint Jan Paweł II studied the works of the 20th century German philosopher Edmund Husserl. Because Saint Thomas Aquinas studied Aristotle, he was able to give the Church his great Summa Theologiae. Because Saint Teresa Benedicta of the Cross and Saint Jan Paweł II studied Husserl, they were able to give the world a theology of woman. They sought to understand what it is God teaches about woman, both in Scriptures and through creation.]

CZ. 2

Święta Teresa Benedykta od Krzyża jest szerzej znana jako Św. Edyta Stein, i dla ułatwienia, będę ją nazwała Święta Edyta . Rozmowię Cię trochę o jej życiem a potem o jej teologią kobietości. Jestem pewna, że wiedzujecie więcej o życiem Św. Jana Pawła II niż ja, więc zamiast powtarzanie co słuchacie całe wasza życia, idę po prostu jego teologii kobietości.

Św. Edyta Stein urodziła się we Wrocławiu—wtedy nazywał Breslau—w 1891 r. Ona była najmłodszym dzieczkiem w niemieckiej żydowskiej rodzinie. Jej rodzice nie byli bogaci ale potem jej ojciec umarł, jej matka opanowała zarządzanie interesem rodzinnym i doszła do bogactwa. Pani Stein była pobożnej żydowką, ale jej córka Edyta szybko została ateistą.

Jako uczeń szkoły średniej i jako studentka na uniwersytecie Św. Edyta walczyła o głosy na kobiety. W tym czasu Wrocław był cześciąNiemiec, i tego nie do 1919 r, kiedy Edyta ma 28 lat, że e Niemki były uważane za równe mężczyznom zgodnie z prawem. Feminiści utrzymywali, że kobiety są całkowicie taki sam jak mężczyźni i dlatego powinien równać się. Tradycjonaliści utrzymywali, że kobiety różnią się kardynalnie od mężczyzn i dlatego nie powinien równać się. Konstytacja Niemiecka na 1919 r oświadczyła, że męczyżni i kobiety równają się zgodnie z prawem, ale nie zajmowała się pytaniem różnicy. Edyta siebie póżniej odpowie na to pytanie.
Rodzina Stein została dostać bogata, że Edyta i jej sióstra Erna mogły uczęszczać na uniwersytecie. Były wśród pierwszych kobiet zapisanych na uniwersytecie we Wrocławiu. Św. Edyta uczyła się psychologię, ale ostateccznie wątpiła, śe jego teorie są opieranew w istocie rzeczy. Podczas jej drugiego roku, odkryła pismo filozoficzne Edmunda Husserla i decydowała spędzić semestr przy studiowaniu z nim. Przyjechała do Gottingen na 1913 r i stała jednym z najlepszych studentów Husserla.

[Part 2:

Saint Teresa Benedicta of the Cross is better known as Saint Edith Stein, and for simplicity I will call her Saint Edith. I will tell you a little about her life and then about her theology of woman. I am sure you know more about the life of Saint Jan Paweł II than I do, so instead of repeating what you have heard all your lives, I will go straight to his theology of woman.

Saint Edith Stein was born in Wrocław—then called Breslau—in 1891. She was the youngest child in a German Jewish family. Her parents were not wealthy, but after her father died, her mother took over the management of the family business and became rich. Mrs Stein was a religious Jew, but her daughter Edith soon became an atheist.
As a secondary student and as a college student Saint Edith fought for votes for women. At that time Wrocław was part of Germany, and it was not until 1919, when Edith was 28, that German women were considered equal to men under the law. Feminists had argued that women were fundamentally the same as men and therefore should be equal. Traditionalists had argued that women were fundamentally different from men and therefore should not be equal. The 1919 German constitution declared that men and women were equal under the law, but did not address the question of difference. Edith would later answer that question herself.

The Stein family became rich enough that Edith and her sister Erna could go to university. They were among the first women to go to the University of Wrocław. Saint Edith studied psychology but eventually doubted its theories were based in truth. In her second year she discovered the philosophical writings of Edmund Husserl and decided to spend a semester studying with him. She arrived in Göttingen in 1913 and became one of Husserl’s best students. ]

Św. Edyta postanawiła zostać w Gottingen, ale jej studia przewano w 1914 r przez wybuch pierwsza wojny światowej. Wróciła do Wrocława dła kształczenia medycznego i została pielęgniarka. Spędziła cześci wojennego pielegniarstwa w szpitalu i innej cześci przy pracowaniu nad jej pracą doktorską. Osiągnęła tytuł doktora summa cum laude w 1916 r. Następnie została asystenką Husserla, zastępując w tej roli swoja kolegę Adolfe Renach, który także był studentem, ale wyruszyła na wojne.

Edyta była przywiążana Husserlowi ale miali frustrową relację pracującą. W 1918 r wróciła do jej rodziny we Wrocławiu kontynuować swoje dział. Coraz bardziej zainteresowana chrzeszijaństwem, chodziła do synagogi żydowskiej z maktą ale też do mszy świętiej na miejscowych kościele parafialnych. W 1921 odkryła autobiografię Św. Teresy z Avila u kolegów. Czytała nią w całe nocy I w rano powiedziała “To jest prawda.” Była ochrzczona w kościele rymskokatolicki w 1 stycznya 1922r.

Jej życie przemieniło się dramatycznie. Najpierw, jej chrzest stwarzało napięcia w swojej rodzinie, która już cierpiała przez wzrost wrażliwości antyżydowskiej Niemczech. Jakaś z jej rodziny uznawali konwersję Edyta jako zdrada, i jej matka martwiła się szczególnie. Drugi, Edyta zaczęła uczyć w szkoly uczennic i instytucie kobiet nauczycielski zarządzany przez dominikańskie siostry. Edyta była popularną nauczycielką, jednak znana być surowa i wymagająca. Śłubowała prywatne śluby ubóstwa, czystości i posłuszeństwa, i miała regularny plan modlitwy i mediacji. Jej naukowa praca teraz skupiła na takich katolickich pisarzach jak John Henry Newman i Sw. Tomasza z Akinu, i ona zaczęła być znana publicznie jako ważny katolicki myśliciel.

Jej największe pragnienie było zostać karmelitanką, jak Św. Teresa z Avila, ale jej przewodnicy duchowi nie pozwoliliby temu. Najpierw, nie pomyśleli, że Edyta była katoliczką wystarczająco długo. Drugi, wiedzieli, że to bolałoby żydowskiej matce Edyty. Na trzecim miejscu, pomyśleli, że Edith może pomagać Kościołowi więcej przez pozostawanie na świecie, pisanie i wygłaszanie wykładów. W 1927 zaczęła wygłaszać wykłady na temat kobiet i edukacji kobiet. Z podnoszeniem się niemieckiego narodowego socjalizmu, energicznie przytoczyła argumenty przeciw nazistowskiemu pomysłowi, że jedyny cel Kobiety miał mieć dzieci dla stanu. W 1931, objęła pozycję przy Pedagogicznym Instytucie Münster

[Saint Edith decided to stay in Göttingen, but her studies were interrupted in 1914 by the First World War. She returned to Wrocław for medical training and became a nurse. She spent part of the war nursing in a hospital and part working on her doctorate. She received her doctorate summa cum laude in 1916. Following this, she became Husserl’s personal assistant, replacing her friend and fellow student Adolf Renach, who was away fighting.

Edith was devoted to Husserl, but they had a frustrating work relationship. In 1918 she returned to her family in Wrocław to continue her own work. Increasingly interested in Christianity, she went to the Jewish synagogue with her mother but also to holy Mass at a local parish. In 1921 she found the autobiography of Saint Teresa of Avila at a friend’s home. She read it all night and in the morning said, “This is the truth.” She was baptized in the Roman Catholic Church on January 1, 1922.

Her life changed dramatically. First, her baptism created tensions within her family, which was already distressed by the rise of anti-Jewish feeling in Germany. Some of her family saw Edith’s conversion as a betrayal, and her mother was particularly upset. Second, Edith began to teach at a girls’ school and women’s teaching institute run by Dominican sisters. Edith was a popular teacher, though known to be strict and challenging. She took private vows of poverty, chastity and obedience, and had a regular schedule of prayer and mediation. Her scholarly work now focused on such Catholic writers as John Henry Newman and St. Thomas Aquinas, and she began to be known publicly as an important Catholic thinker.

Her dearest wish was to become a Carmelite nun, like Saint Teresa of Avila, but her spiritual directors would not allow this. First, they did not think Edith had been a Catholic long enough. Second, they knew this would cause great suffering to Edith’s Jewish mother. Third, they thought Edith could help the Church more by remaining in the world, writing and giving lectures. In 1927 she began giving lectures on women and women’s education. With the rise of German National Socialism, she vigorously argued against the Nazi idea that the sole purpose of Woman was to have babies for the state. In 1931, she took a position at the Pedagogical Institute in Münster.]

Wednesday, 21 May 2014

Women and Solitary Vices

I was asked the other day to comment upon women's use of internet p*rn and sexual sins committed alone, as one might delicately say in the confessional. The request left me thinking about the generation gap, and how the internet has transformed childhood. When I was a child, one had to protect one's child from the television. If something my parents thought their children shouldn't see began to happen on television, my parents sent us out of the room. ("Go brush your teeth!") So religiously did my parents do this, that when similar scenes, be they scary--I was sent out during "Jaws"--or sexual--I was sent out during "Brideshead Revisited", appear on British television, to this very day I quit the room. I must be like Pavlov's dog. Meanwhile, if something appears on British television that cannot be shown on Canadian television, I scream like a banshee until B.A. changes the channel.

I was strictly forbidden to read the stacks of paperback science fiction novels my mother brought home from the library, or anything in which one might discover p*rnographic or merely racy scenes. I disobeyed this injunction exactly once, I believe, and the spirited yet innocent aristocratic heroine was saved from her seducer at the last minute by her stern and vengeful brother or guardian or whatever he was anyway. (Although now that I think about it, I read a page or two of the copy of Princess Daisy being passed around Girl Guide camp.) So, it is a great irony that I have never, in fact, read a bodice-ripper, although eventually as an adult I did read the utterly forbidden Flashman series until I got bored with the sniggering hero.

As far as I recall, there was no internet in my life until 1990. My father was on the cutting edge of computers-and-linguistics or something like that, so we had a modem and a notepad with very long and elaborate code of instructions for calling up another computer and writing it an email. It took a long time, and the only pictures were of Space Invaders quality. Technically you could create pretty cross-stitched pictures out of Xs and send those, but it would take forever.

Thus, I had graduated from high school and possibly even had a BA and maybe even an MA before I ever heard of internet p*rn. And I didn't know women engaged in the solitary vice until my first week at university when I was welcomed with a big lamp post sticker announcing what percentage of women did. (What I remember best about Orientation Week was a series of photocopied pictures of men lip-locked to men and women lip-locked to women over the motto "Enjoying your Orientation?" I had never seen such photos before, and suddenly wondered if going to this university had been a terrible mistake.) I assumed the big sticker was lying because women are much purer then men, everybody knows that, etc., etc. I was nineteen, had only the most cursory grasp of the facts of life, and reality was what I wanted it to be.

To a Catholic teenager of my generation, p*rn was something that on the top shelf at the corner store, which only adults could buy, or on a video tape available for rent in the back of the video store, in that room behind the curtain, where only adults [skeezy adults] could go. In short, it was hard to get. If we wanted information about sex, the safest and most private course of action was to go to the library and find Princess Daisy when the librarian wasn't looking. Scratch that. Easiest of all was to read the racier parts of the Good News Bible during class. Potiphar's Wife, people.

This is all to say that I don't have the foggiest clue about internet p*rn and female solitary vice. In terms of dirty books and movies, my mother, backed up by Father Robert J. Fox's "Prayers for Young Catholics", totally nuked any temptation in that direction when I was wee, but I know perfectly well many women consume erotic novels like potato chips. I wonder if that messes with their love for their husbands or what. Although I am told internet p*rn messes horribly with men's expectations and ability to be sexually satisfied with natural practices, I cannot imagine any woman demanding that her husband be more like a pirate or whatever. Not a middle-aged women, anyway. Middle-aged women have seen too many news items about pirates. And I believe the solitary vice creates rather than expels loneliness, if that is what that is all about.

In my M.Div. training we were told of the importance of referrals. So if you want advice about overcoming a porn habit and/or the solitary vice, I recommend that you find a female chastity blogger who writes about this. I completely understand women not wanting to talk to priests (i.e. men) about such things, but maybe your confessor could recommend a good book or a good website. And maybe some of your fellow readers here will know of some.

I am told that women struggling with porn habits worry that people will judge them more harshly than men with porn habits, as if there is something completely unfeminine about getting a sexual rush from images. Such an idea is pretty ridiculous, for all human beings by nature (albeit fallen nature) enjoy pleasurable sensations. Generations of women have had sexual responses to racy novels and racy films. So I imagine it is not uniquely "masculine" to get a rush from racy pictures and films on the internet. However, I think it is true that people are rather more frightened of disordered forms of women's sexuality than by the non-violent disordered forms of men's sexuality. (Women have, after all, been complaining about the latter for over three thousand years, while concealing the former so as not to be horribly punished.) And thus I do think people will judge religious women more harshly.* So unless you want to be an early pioneer in changing people's perceptions of women-of-faith and porn, I suggest women-of-faith with a porn habit be very careful about choosing confidantes. However, I don't think you should be derailing your efforts to wean yourself from sinful habits with worries that you are unfeminine or that professional counselors will think you are unfeminine.

*One of the drags about being a woman of faith is that people do expect more from you than from other women. For example, other women can move in with their boyfriends, and their friends and colleagues say "Congratulations!" However, if you are caught sneaking out of your boyfriend's house at 6 A.M., the knives come out. Still, this can be good for you. One of the best slaps-in-the-face I got about my then-slipping standards was from a fallen away Catholic, living in sin, who looked at me as though I had just advocated slowly torturing kittens to death. I'm very grateful to her. But what many post-Christians do not get is that Christians who screw up are not hypocrites but sinners. We go to church not because we are good but because God is good. We go to confession not because we are good but because we are bad and want forgiveness. The biggest difference is that Christians acknowledge that we are sinners and try to do better, whereas post-Christians are increasingly uncomfortable with the ideas of sin and forgiveness of sin at all. Because they don't believe in forgiveness, they assert that their own sins aren't sins. Regrets they have a few, but too few to mention. In Scotland, there's an ad for cheap funerals in which a lively chap asserts that at his funeral he wants them to play "My Way." B.A. hates this poster. I agree there's something satanic about it.

Tuesday, 20 May 2014

Dating 101 at Boston College

When I was at BC, losing the good fight against heresy and clinical depression, I spent a lot of time trying to suck up comfort at the big book lined room called the Lonergan Institute. There I met the wonderful Kerry Cr*nin, a fellow Single, who cared about students more than any other faculty member I met at BC.* She was ALL about the students. And even then she was simply gobsmacked at the BC hookup culture.

I think I was in the LI when an elderly professor giving a seminar on some chapter of some work of Lonergan described for us grad students what frosh parties at BC were like. Apparently these teenagers would meet in a dorm room with a keg of beer in it and drink until they had overcome enough of their religious and moral scruples, which someone had taught them to call inhibitions, to have sex with each other.

The professor seemed philosophical about this, as if the American teenagers whose parents were paying BC $40,000 a year to house and educate their children were monkeys or space aliens, not foolish young human beings whose behaviour could have damned their immortal souls to hell. Oh, I'm sorry. I forgot that the Church was completely wrong on that score until Vatican II when it returned to the purity of 34 AD and said God couldn't care less about your sexual choices and you go to hell only for such unforgivable crimes as racist abuse and sneering at the Koran. I'm sure this is written down somewhere, I'm totally sure. NOT.

I was horrified, not just by the teenage orgies but by the gentle acceptance of what was (when you consider the booze) criminal behaviour, and my horror only added to my depression. (That professor was actually quite a genius at saying exactly what was wrong and horrible about life at BC but then gently snickering. When you consider the power, prestige and profit of a tenured prof at BC, you can guess why. No skin off his nose, Jack. Not that I am ferociously bitter and have just remembered the ice-cream in the fridge or anything. But no. I am not going to eat the ice-cream because eating the ice-cream is why I left BC not just mentally ill but fatter.)

Anyway, when the soi-disant top Catholic university in New England is partly peopled by freshmen who **** each other at illegal drunken orgies on campus, it is nice to find out that someone has tried to do something about it. And it is not a surprise to me that that person is Kerry. Kerry is the only person at BC who makes me think the $40,000 spent by American parents on their 17 year old's first year at uni might actual be worth it.

What Kerry does is teach a course to the freshman about how to relate to each other and, in fact, to date. The latest news article on the subject of her brilliant course is here.

*That said, I was a grad student, i.e. a pawn/redshirt/cannon fodder in the departmental civil war. (My side lost a few months before I arrived, but there was still some mopping up action.) I met many undergrads who loved BC. Even deeply devout, orthodox students I met loved being undergrads at BC, though they kept hella clear of the theology department, except to see Prof Kreeft in the philosophy wing. I remember once talking to a heterodox colleague who was shaken to his core because one of the undergrads I knew had written something critical of heterodoxy in the student paper. It was against a proposed All Religious are Equal day, or something like that. My colleague, a very nice chap, a married man, well-liked by professors, was actually frightened and sad.

Update: Hmm. I see that I cannot summon a calm objective tone about BC even now. Let me see. It's May, so it has been exactly seven years since my brother drove me home. I'm still angry. Ignore me and talk about the article.

Monday, 19 May 2014

Auntie Seraphic and the Soon to Be "Single Mom"

This is truly one of my most unusual letters ever!


Dear Auntie Seraphic,

So I haven't found much info on this topic anywhere.

Yes, I think I've found a topic about singleness that you have not written about even once!

I will spare you the details but I'm a [woman in my late 20s] maybe about to accept custody of my x month old niece and almost y year old nephew. I love them dearly. I strongly suspect I'm their best option.

Many, many factors are directing this probable outcome but I won't go into them now.

One thing I've been wondering is this:

How does a single, Christian woman, who's never so much as been on a single date but HAS TWO KIDS go about navigating the world of still-hoping-to-be-married when the statistics show that the most dangerous person in the world to a child is the mother's boyfriend?

Not to mention the fact that two kids in tow makes one look married, or at least, divorced. Or someone who does not care about things like "marriage."

Because I'm sure not going to be going around telling everyone that these are "just my niece and nephew." [Seraphic's emphasis.]

And who would sign on to help provide for two little ones who aren't his and aren't technically his wife's children either? I mean, even the best type of man still gets a little nervous when women bring up children right away on the first date. What if right away on the first date, she brings up that she HAS children?

These kids have had my heart from the moment they were born. Also from the moment they were born, I knew Child Protective Services would likely one day be handing them over to me since my parents have always stated that they didn't want to raise children again and my sister and her husband have always exhibited certain parental type red flags.

I know enough about children to know dating will be out of the picture for a long time as I'm going to have to pretty much devote myself to them and allow them to get used to their new situation.

I know their needs are going to have to come first, and my life and my hopes of getting married are going to take a back seat.

But I'd also like to know (as I ponder this giant commitment and start preparing my heart for this type of parenthood) is there any hope? Or is this the end of all my hopes for getting married?

Will single women tell me when I am lonely and overwhelmed that I should just be grateful I have children at all? Will married women with children make room for me in their circles? Are there single moms who even have the time to spare to befriend another single "mom?"

What will the church think of a single woman walking in with two little ones and no husband?

So many questions! Is it terribly selfish of me to still be thinking of these things when I am needed by two little ones?

I am so willing to be there for my niece and nephew. I love them. Do I have to give up marriage for them?

I've been a nanny for seven years and I still work with kids at my current job. I'm not worried about the day to day care of kids. It's the everything else that scares me. I mean, it's overwhelming with two parents.

The probably soon to be newly single mom.

Dear Single Aunt,

The first thing I have to say is that you must be rooted in reality. These are not your children; these are your sister's children. You are not their unmarried mother. You are their aunt. Even if the court grants you custody, you will not be their mother. You will be their guardian. And their aunt.

I heartily ask you not to pretend to anyone that you are a single mother. Single mothers are stigmatized among men not because (or primarily because) they have children but because these women seem to have been rejected by men, or have rejected the father of their children. It is the shadow of the invisible and absent man who has sexually known the woman (and either abandoned her or been banished) that keeps men away or dismissive or disrespectful. Men get their cues for how to treat an individual woman from other men, and the idea of being banished from their own children frightens them. It is too bad that you will often be mistaken for a "single mother" by wary men, but the children calling you "Aunt" or "Auntie" will set them straight.

I think this is the most important thing I have to say. It will be wonderful, if sometimes frightening, to be the most important woman in the world to two small and helpless children. You do not need to co-opt the name "mother" to be this woman or to protect and raise them as well as you can.

Living a romantic, sentimental lie would in fact work against this God-given task. The most famous beloved aunt I can think of at the moment was The Beatles' John Lennon's Aunt Mimi.

As an aunt, you do not have to worry about men rejecting you for being a "single mother". However, of course you will be have to be extra careful about the company that you keep because your first responsibility will be to the innocent, helpless children in your care. This means not inviting men home or introducing a boyfriend to these children unless you know him to be a good, non-abusive man, and you and he have established a firm commitment.

I wish you and the children all the best, and I will pray for the children's parents. How awful it must be to have one's children taken away; their problems must be terrible crosses to bear.

Grace and peace,

As an aunt, I have very strong feelings about the primacy of parents. When a small child, for fun, said "I'm going to call you Mommy," I heartily discouraged her. For one thing, her own mother was in earshot, and I thought her feelings would be hurt. (My Pretend Sons are over 25, so I don't think my absurd claims will annoy their real mothers. I hope they don't inspire them to present me with a bill for their admirable educations.) St Edith Stein wrote about women doing what is needful without making a fuss. Stepping in to help another woman raise her children when she is unable or forbidden to do so is one of those times.

As for the bliss of being called "Mommy", my never-married great-grandmother gave birth around 1915 (1918?), and to hide this, told everyone she had adopted the child and brought her up to call her "Auntie". In those days, being the daughter of an unmarried mother was a severe social handicap. Thus, my great-grandmother made what we might consider the unthinkable sacrifice of never being called "mother" by her own, deeply loved, child. She was "Auntie" to us all to the day she died. She still is "Auntie" in our prayers. What a woman she was!

My final thought is that there is no "just" about a niece or nephew to the childless. My niece and nephews are, as far as I am concerned, the most important children on earth. Standing in a toy shop recently, trying to remember what toys I liked best when I was four, I felt an overwhelming wave of love for my niece. I pray that her parents will live long, happy, healthy lives and that my niece will be an elderly woman when she sees them to the grave. And may I go first. Sum primogenita, Domine. Dignus et justus fuerit.

Update: I see that I have been remiss and never answered the ultimate question. No, no single parent or guardian of children has to give up his or her dreams of becoming married. The biggest difference, one that both a birth parent and a court-appointed guardian share, is that he or she has to be even more careful about who he or she meets and about his or her social behaviour than singles without children.

But I will reiterate that the single mother, to this very day, has a social hurdle the single aunt or other guardian does not have. People are more likely to see the single mother as a plucky (or easily exploited) victim of bad luck/bad choices/bad men/circumstances. The voluntary guardian is more likely to get the praise without the pity. Of course people will often admire their own friends and relations who are single mothers--and appreciate their daily sacrifices-- but there is no spontaneous "Good for you!" from society as a whole. I have a friend who dated a woman who adopted her sister's child, and if I remember correctly, she was discussed in awed tones, as if she were Superwoman.

Saturday, 17 May 2014

Where There's a "Wola", There's a Way

There are some things in life we cannot control. Most of us, for example, are not very good at controlling other people's hearts and minds. However, when it comes to our intellectual faculties, there is a lot we can do. Of course, when it is difficult, we have to really want to do it. For example, since January I have wanted to lose weight and do a proper Spring Cleaning of our flat. I have lost at least 14 pounds, but I have not done a proper Spring Cleaning of our flat. I suspect this is because I really wanted to lose weight, but I didn't really want to get on my hands and knees and scrub. Mea culpa (whack), mea culpa (whack), mea maxima, maxima culpa (whack, whack).

Another thing I really, really want to do is become fluent in Polish, for various reasons, including wanting to know what it is like when one's brain makes the switch into second-language fluency. However, as I don't live in Poland, or in a Polish-speaking household, and am over thirty, I expect this fluency to take some time. Meanwhile, I promised Alicja over at Dzielne Niewasty (Brave Women) to translate my speech about Saint Edith Stein into Polish, and eleven days later I have stopped procrastinating and have begun this difficult task.

Here are the original two paragraphs:

The concept of “theology” may sound complicated, but it is very simple. St. Ambrose of Milan defined theology as “faith seeking understanding.” Any time you seek to understand a truth of faith, you are doing theology; you are a theologian. Every Catholic who believes what the Church teaches and seeks to understand what it is that he believes is a theologian.

However, there are men and women who dedicate their entire lives to reading the works of the greatest, most insightful Catholic theologians, who themselves had read the work of major and minor theologians before them. Seminarians must read theology, but only a few priests are allowed to dedicate their lives to studying and writing it. The same is true for many religious sisters, and few lay men and women can both study theology full-time and support their families.

And here is the first draft of my translation. I am sure it is riddled with errors, and I will send it to Polish Pretend Son, begging him to fix it.

Pojęcie teologii może wydawać skomplikowane, ale to jest bardzo proste. Sw. Ambroży z Mediolanu zdefiniał teologię jako "wiara w poszukiwaniu rozumienia." Kiedykolwiek szukacie rozumieć prawdę wiary, robiscie teologię--wy jestecie teologami. Każdy Katolik który wierszy co który uczy Kościół i szuka rozumieć który co to jest że on wierzy jest teologiem.

Jednak są mężczyzny i kobiety którzy poświęcają ich całe życia czytaniu książk najwielkszych, najwnikliwszych katolickich teologów, którze siebie odczytać książky głownych i niewielkich teologów przed nimi. Seminarzyści muszą studiować teologię ale tylko kilku kapłanom wolno poświęcić ich życia studiowaniu i pisanie tego. To samo jest prawdziwe dla wielu zakonnic, i niewielu świecki może zarówno się uczyć teologię na pełnym etacie, jak utrzymywać ich rodziny.

Oh heavens. Two and a half years of study, two dictionaries and two verb handbooks went into that. But it's like losing weight: there are no overnight solutions. And I did it in less than an hour, so that is a vast improvement!

Friday, 16 May 2014

The Lazy Girl's Diet

I am not a doctor, and Seraphic Singles should never be taken as a substitute for medical advice. Or spiritual advice. Or as a substitute for anything really, save blogs that claim Singledom is wicked/terrible/pathetic/unbiblical.


"I want a diet where I don't have to DO anything," wailed a young house guest of ours, who complained she had put on two kilos since her arrival.

"The Fast Diet is perfect," I said. "All you have to do is not eat."

And really it is that simple. Since January 10th, I have fasted two days a week--eating only 500 (or thereabouts) calories on these two fasting days. I am not sure what weight I started at, but the scale said 10 stone 2 (142 lbs) on January 23, and 9 stone 2 (128 lbs) on May 15. That's one stone (14 lbs or 6.5 kg) gone in 16 weeks. [N.B. I am 5'2".]

Ha! Not exactly the 1-2 lbs a week suggested by the Fast Diet (aka the 5-2 Diet), but I am not complaining. Well, not yet. I will complain later today about feeling hungry and being tired of drinking herbal tea. Today is FRIDAY, and my usual fasting days are Wednesdays and Fridays. Oh, for the happy Wednesday I can start chowing down on Wednesdays again. I will be fasting on Fridays, however, for the rest of my life.

The Fast Diet suggests Mondays and Thursdays as fasting days because people are less likely to be invited to parties those days. It also claims the founder of the Muslim religion fasted on Mondays and Thursdays, as if the other 94% of Britain might believe or be inspired by that. Personally, I think about all the Christians, especially Eastern Orthodox Christians, who always fast on Wednesdays and Fridays, especially Greek Orthodox monks. If Greek Orthodox monks can do it every Wednesday and Friday out of love for God, I reason, surely Roman Catholic I can do it for purely selfish reasons. Nothing like a little ecumenical rivalry, eh? And if there is a party on Friday, I just fast that Saturday instead.

My selfish reasons are to look better, to stave off dread disease and to get the long-term benefits of fasting, which apparently include defense against age-related dementia. I used not to be afraid of dementia, but then I found out dementia can include being terrified. That sounds awful, and not like the blissed-out torpor and mental trips back into the past I was hoping for. Blah!

Having lost fewer than sixteen ounces a week, I an attest that the Fast Diet is not a quick fix. And indeed I may have helped it along by actually increasing my exercise. For example, I go to the gym at least one day a week for a lovely Pilates class and a 20 minute run (or, more challenging, intervals) on the treadmill. And sometimes I do Pilates at home with a free lesson on Youtube. And while in Poland I walked rather a lot.

Muscle weighs more than fat, so it could be that Pilates is actually slowing the weight loss, albeit in a good way. The true test of slimming is not the scale but your favourite skinny dress. My favourite skinny dress now fits, so I have asked my mother to bring my dodgy black spandex jumpsuit from Toronto when she comes to Scotland on holiday. I cannot remember why I bought it or imagine where I could wear it now. Not to Mass, that's for sure.

One of the beauties of the Fast Diet is that it is free. No memberships, no meetings, no pills, no powders, no special food. Just 500 calories for two non-consecutive days a week. My typical fast day involves oatmeal porridge with blueberries in the morning and a fillet of salmon with a pile of veg in the evening. I drink black coffee, water, and an awful lot of herbal tea. When I feel hungry, I offer it up for those who are hungry because they have no access to food and then have another mug of herbal tea.

Naturally B.A. and I do pay for my gym membership. However, exercise can be free, and you can find many free Pilate classes on Youtube. In fact, I didn't really enjoy my gym Pilates classes until I began doing Pilates outside of class. So it turns out that the weight-loss industry is, or should be, doomed. The answer to the most discussed quandary of Western female life comes free of charge. Unless you have an eating disorder, or a history of eating disorders, or are a child, teen, pregnant, etc., check out the Fast Diet online.

Update: In case you are wondering, I just eat whatever and whenever I want on the other five days, although I have cut back on sugar and eliminated almost all processed foods. I have added high-fat (but unsalted) seeds and nuts instead. Yum! Apparently given my habits I should be eating only 1642 calories on non-fast days, but I cannot be bothered to count.

Thursday, 15 May 2014

Sharing Public Spaces

Yesterday we got into a bit of a debate in the combox over what is a compliment and what constitutes an attack.

And this is good debate to have. Let's thrash it out.

Before we do, though, I want to underscore that this is about public spaces, like the bus or the main street. Somewhere where there are other people around. This is not about parties or or empty classrooms or elevators or an alley. When you are alone in a small enclosed space with a strange man--or a potentially violent woman--you need to be.... Actually, I don't recommend ever being alone behind closed doors with a strange man or a potentially violent woman.

I used to be very frightened of strangers, especially male strangers. This did not show on my face, for from an early age I schooled it into a mask of confidence, and it could look cheerful or sardonic, depending on the circumstance. As a child I was frightened of dogs, too, but learned that the safest thing to do was not run away or smell afraid. Looking confident is a survival skill, and etched on my memory is the episode in which I gazed at a streetkid between me and the kitchen door and said in a steady voice, "That's a very big knife you have there."

The streetkid's name was Stretch, and he was not a kid, really, but a twenty-something who had been brought home by my flatmate because she had (and has) a good and generous heart and was naive about the destitute. The destitute community, like any other community, has its sinners and its saints, its villains and its victims. The destitute, as Servant of God Dorothy Day could have told you, are not lovable ragamuffins out of a Dickens' novel. The destitute person I liked best, when I worked for the Ontario government, was really very dangerous when off his meds.

Well, anyway, my flatmate invited dear old Stretch home, thinking to give him a bed, only it became clear Stretch thought she meant her bed, and before long I received a frightened phone call at my then-fiancé's from my friend trying to explain the situation while Stretch listened in. Neither she nor I knew Stretch had a knife strapped around his leg, or I would not have gone home alone.

So flashforward to the kitchen, and Stretch casually unwinding the wrappings from his leg to reveal his shiny knife, and I remarking on the size of the knife, and also saying I hoped Stretch never had cause to use it.

"Don't worry," said Stretch. "I only use it when I feel threatened."

Great, I thought as my heart pounded like feet down a staircase. And here I am trying to throw you out.

This story seems to be running away with my post. To make the scary story short, it was made clear to Stretch that he wasn't getting any, and he left. My then-flatmate and I were 24 years old. She burst into tears.

The moral of the story is not to bring a male stranger into your home, or to find yourself alone with a male stranger behind closed doors, no matter how sorry you feel for him, no matter how much privilege you think you have compared to him, no matter how pale you are or how dark he is, or how native you are or how foreign he is. If inspired to give a homeless man a meal, invite him to McDonald's, or volunteer at a shelter.

Now back to public spaces.

There's an Ontario woman named Gwen Jac*bs who got mad because men were allowed to mow their lawns shirtless, but women weren't. Women were, of course, allowed to mow their lawn in a bikini top, but that wasn't enough for Gwen. Gwen organized a rally in which Ontario women marched down a main street topless to show... Well, I am not sure what. Aggression towards the law against women going topless in public, I guess.

Men lined the road with video cameras. Ick! I was disgusted. The men seemed disgusting. The whole thing was disgusting. The women were... Well, not disgusting, but possibly stupid. Or not stupid and merely fighting a battle for the Great Lie that gender is merely a social construct and that, given enough "education", there will no longer be gender at all.

And I wonder if the men weren't fighting a battle, too--a battle against the over-sexualization of public spaces. We see film clips of men driving into lampposts with the introduction of the miniskirt. Absolutely hilarious, unless you're the men who have driven their cars into lamp posts, or their wives, or their frightened children. Sure, women could tell men, "Stop being so distracted by naked breasts!" And men could tell us, in return, "Stop menstruating."

I bring this up to point out that public space belongs to both men and women and that men, too, can suffer from the opposite sex behaving aggressively.

Of course, men can be unpleasantly chippy about it, too. For example, if I wear a vintage hat, I am not aggressively trying to assert that I am socially a cut above the residents of Roughmillar or Roughbrae. However, this is indeed how wearing a vintage hat can be understood. I think it sucks that I have to tailor what I wear to the boring, tasteless and conformist community standard of the Rough Bus, but there you go. I don't want to look aggressive. A vintage hat on the Rough Bus is aggressive, smelling of Tories and Margaret Thatcher.

In Toronto the community standard for buses is quite different. It isn't about what you wear but about how loud or talkative you are. We don't like loud or talkative people on the bus or train, especially early in the morning. Women dread some man just starting a conversation on the bus. What the heck is wrong with him!? Why is he talkingggg???? And why to meeeeeee????

In Edinburgh, however, it is perfectly normal for strangers to chat with each other. I have had to get over my Toronto dread of talking to strangers on the bus, so as to be a good citizen of Edinburgh. And so I ended up having a conversation on the bus on Tuesday with man who got on at Rough Towers. He had a very small head, and I thought he might not be "all there", but he observed that I was reading a Polish dictionary, and I admitted I was learning Polish, and he told me he had a 15 hour shift, and I said that was a pity on such a sunny day, and that there was an Italian proverb that if you want to be happy for life, become a gardener. "I like a bit of gardening," he said, wistfully, and not surprisingly, as British men garden in their millions. We blethered on in this neighbourly fashion until I said "Here's me" and we wished each other a nice day.

I would have been amazed, at 24, to see my 40-something self chatting away like an Edinburgh wifie to a man with a very small head. But this is merely because at 24 I had not yet figured out that the great majority of men, of every intelligence and condition, are decent chaps who would do anything for a quiet life, and that the yahoos and fiends, some of whom have graduate educations, are a decided minority.

Of course there are yahoos and probably fiends on Edinburgh streets. A gang of passing foreign men (probably Polish, alas) made a snatch at my friend and shoved my head as we walked passed them one evening. My friend evaded them, an I shouted "Hey!", but there as no policeman about, so what could be do? Our boundaries had most definitely been violated, but short of learning how to say "God will punish you" in Polish for the next time this happens, there was nothing we could do. Gangs of drunken young men are dangerous, have been dangerous, and always will be dangerous. Avoid them at all costs.

And then there were the toads who shouted at me from a speeding panel van, so helpfully emblazoned with the names of their employers. They needed a rap over the knuckles, and they got it.

But these are just yahoos. The fiends are sneakier and rarer.

I agree absolutely, and I will always maintain, that women need to assess every social situation with a stranger, be he a man or be she a woman who seems "off". Worries that he/she will think you're a racist or a snob or a phobe of some sort or another should not factor hugely in your assessment. If you get weird vibes from a guy in an elevator, get off, and if you stay on anyway just because he's from a different race from you, don't give yourself a pat on the back afterwards. If you think no man harbours racist beliefs against women of your race, you're incredibly sheltered and one day your luck may run out.

However, an elevator has closed doors. It is an uncomfortable space on the border of public and private. In public space, in daylight, I maintain that there is more room to relax and, to be frank, for charity. If I hear "Hey! Nice hair!" I say "Thank you", even if there was a chance the guy was being ironic. If he was, I'm throwing his irony in his face. If he meant me to feel insulted, I chose to feel flattered instead. And meanwhile, he is probably so dumb that before the power of the female smile he will forget that he was being ironic and feel a boost to his mood. I know I am wonderful and unique, dear neighbour. Have a nice day!

Wednesday, 14 May 2014

Enjoy the Tributes

Attracting men is not the meaning of female life, and sometimes it is a pain in the neck. As a teenage girl I did not exactly appreciate being catcalled by construction workers, for example. Of course, I was probably not attracting them as much as attracting their attention, and the shouting was their way of entertaining each other or asserting their masculinity or whatever.

I suppose the most annoying thing, when I was a teenager, was attracting the boys I didn't have a crush on instead of the boy I did have a crush on. In some cases, it wasn't just annoying but scary. Who are you, and why are you interested in me? What are you up to? Stay away! And it's not like these were bad guys. They just didn't fit my mental template of "boyfriend material."

It was rather different at university, I remember, because I rather liked my admirers. The problem there was knowing how to discourage them firmly instead of trying to be friends and swithering over whether I should date them anyway, and if I should break up with my current boyfriend. Oh, the DRAMA. Meanwhile, if you had told me I seemed to be popular with men I would have laughed. ME? You must be kidding.

Readers often write in to say you have never been on a date, or that you never get attention from men, and then later in the very same email, you describe the two lousy dates you have been on and the unwanted attention you have received from men. Hello. Is there some new, hip alternative meaning for "never"?

Given my own college-era not-rooted-in-reality-ness, I suspect a kind of young-woman absolutism, if that's the word I want, at play. In this situation, reality is not determined by what IS but by what sounds most dramatic. ALL men notice you, or NO men notice you. Both are equally likely to be untrue, unless you are over 40 and have deliberately cultivated invisibility, or are any age and wander about naked, or are the only person of your race in town. (I saw a grand total of two black guys in Kraków, one in a Dominican habit, and one a French tourist.)

So. Let's get this straight. If you are under forty, some men notice you. Guaranteed. Whether they do any more than notice, however, is entirely up to them, and this has much to do with their cultural circumstances. Toronto is a cold, overcrowded city where people want their space and are never sure who can speak English anyway, so your chances of being chatted up in Toronto except by the most outgoing (or crazy) guys are relatively low. Edinburgh is a warm-hearted, small city where people enjoy a good blether, so all you have to do is walk into a pub. Glasgow even more so. (In Glasgow, people will butt into private conversations to tell you what they think. Glasgow is hilarious.)

Now it is true that many of the guys who notice you and then decide to say something are not the guys you would have picked yourself, often because they do not match the "Perfect Boyfriend" template in your head. They might be too old, or too young, or too plain, or too abrupt, or too poor, or too posh. Whatever. But they aren't asking to be your boyfriend, are they? They are just acknowledging your existence. Apparently you look pretty or sympathetic or interesting. If it's just you and he, and if he's not smirking horribly or showing off for other men, it's a compliment. It's a human interaction. It's a good thing. Smile, accept the compliment and move on. He'll probably forget you in ten minutes, but that doesn't matter.

The older I get, the more I appreciate these compliments. I even find them vastly amusing because surely I am an old married lady now, come on. And when the tributes come, they come from such wide variety of non-boyfriend types. Okay, I admit I do occasionally get icked out by ancient Lotharios, but that's not because they're ancient but because they are (or were) Lotharios. But I certainly I enjoy being addressed as "my darleeng" by the fat man at the polski sklep, and the hope-tinged remarks of a Bangladeshi chef on the bus make me giggle even now.

You could, of course, argue that these little tributes from men you don't want are just another reminder of how you have not been chosen by a man you do want. But this strikes me as masochistic. You could just as easily assume that because because men you don't want find you noticeable that it is exceedingly likely that one day a man you DO want will notice you too. And I recommend that you think just that. It will make you happier, and nothing makes a woman more attractive than happiness.

Happiness is most definitely a state of mind. Cultivate it like flowers in a garden.