Friday 31 July 2015

My First Day in Kraków

It's Polski Piątek, so unless you click away, y'all have to read about how I met the ancient city of Kraków, about which I don't remember hearing a single thing before I was informed that Homo Dei wanted to buy the Polish translation rights to Seraphic Singles.  Since then, of course, I have discovered it is a top tourist destination for cash-strapped Britons who want to go somewhere pretty and drink themselves blind. So I am exceeding smug that I have always gone there on business and never gotten drunk.

When I first went to Kraków--which is pronounced KRAK-oof, not KRAK-cow, incidentally--in October 2011, I was very nervous. I would have been utterly terrified, but I had spent some months learning such basic Polish phrases as "Dzień dobry", "Dziękuję" and the all-important, to a Canadian, "Przepraszam", which is what I thought you were supposed to say when you stepped on someone's foot on the bus. (In reality, people outside the British Commonwealth say either nothing in this circumstance or "Sorry", having caught the habit from embarrassing English-speaking tourists.) The sheer effort involved in mastering the pronunciation of  "Przepraszam" gave me some confidence.

When I landed at the Jan Pawel II airport, I was surprised by the warmth of the October night. Tomek, who came from Homo Dei to meet me, said that the phenomenon is called "Golden Polish autumn." He turned out to be as nervous about speaking English as I was about speaking Polish, for once we were in the car he turned to me with a look of abject humility and entreaty and said, "Please speak very slowly." Much later, I discovered he is completely fluent in Italian, and I could have saved him a lot of effort, poor man.

I was surprised by the excellence of both the airport and the roads to Kraków, for being a child of the Eighties, I assumed Poland would have its old ghastly Soviet-era infrastructure. It  actually does, in parts, but I hadn't found that out yet. In fact, my first trip to Poland was a dream of convenience and simplicity because my Polish hosts never let me out alone and treated me like a precious, innocent being from another planet who knew nothing of wicked earthly ways. The first bit of evidence I saw that there had ever been such a man as Stalin was the poorly constructed toilet seat in the minute łazienka in my room at the Redemptorists house: it kept falling off.

Early in the morning I was awoken by bells in the neighbouring red brick church, and I wondered if this was just for my Redemptorist hosts, or if all Poland rose as a body at 6:30 AM. When I craned my neck out the window, I saw a city with low roofs of black, red or grey, church spires and round white satellite dishes. There was only one high-rise, and it stood on the horizon, beside a crane. Beyond it was the shadowy outline of hills. A haze covered the entire city, and above it the sky was palest blue.

Tomek knocked on my door at 8 and took me down to the dining-room for breakfast. Breakfast was ham, tomato and cheese on bread and instant coffee, which I have since discovered is the standard Polish breakfast. The bread was fantastic--famously better than British bread--and the instant coffee was ... instant coffee. That said, I dream of the taste of that coffee because I drink instant coffee only in Poland, if that makes any sense.  I also dream of the taste of German coffee because it reminds me of my Frankfurt adventures. Can it be that I experience the world as one great variety of coffees? (Naturally, the taste of Canada is sold by Tim Horton's.)

After breakfast the day was divided into two parts: Homo Dei business and a tour of the city. The Homo Dei activities were quite exciting. I met staff--all women except Tomek--and toured white-painted, sunny offices. Then I sat down and signed a stack of books. This, naturally, had been my life's dream, and I thought about the child I used to be, imagining this moment. Of course, that child was a total anglophile, so she had imagined the scene in London. However, I was not complaining: I just cheerfully signed each book as Tomek handed it to me.

When Ula, then the general editor of eSPe magazine, arrived to interview me, Tomek skittered off to get us properly brewed coffee. We drank coffee and had a splendid chat, Ula being fluent in English (and German and goodness knows what else). She had dedicated an entire issue of her magazine to the Single Life. Then Tomek took photos of the staff, Ula and me, and I took a photo of them all, and then Tomek and Ula took me for a walking tour of Kraków.

I think I could write a book just on that one tour. In fact, I think "My First Day in Kraków" would make a good book, although completely different from Ewa Lipska's book Sefer, which is about an Austrian Jew's visit to his father's native Kraków. The contempt of Lipska's hero and his glitterati Kraków acquaintances for the average Catholic Pole is jaw-dropping, and when Lipska was in Edinburgh last summer, I asked her if perhaps the book could not be deemed rather anti-Polish. The translator communicated this to Sz. P. Lipska, and she replied that she had learned to appreciate Kraków through foreign eyes. Well, bloody hell, I have foreign eyes, and I would not write about Cracowians like that.

That said, when I walked through the historic Jewish quarter, I did so with a tremendous sense of unease. Tomek and Ula were very chatty about the tragic history of the area and pointed out the old Jewish secondary school (closed 1939), the kosher restaurants for Jewish tourists, the "working" synagogue and the kosher ice-cream stand. It was clear from what they said that there is tension among the ordinary Poles of Kraków and the thousands of Israeli and American tourists who come to the city to mourn their own or borrowed dead. Apparently, it is not clear to many of these tourists that Catholic Poles also suffered horrors in the war, and Ula wanted to make sure that I knew it. I assured her that I knew it, although I certainly didn't know it to the extent that I know now. And, very unfortunately, some tourists carry a huge chip on their shoulders for poor Jan and Maria Katolicki, who often understand English very well, and so know exactly what the tourists are saying about them.

Anyway, I was very happy to get out of the historic Jewish quarter and look at churches: Gothic, neo-Gothic, Baroque, Romanesque. Several of the great religious orders have their "own" churches--the Jesuits (Baroque, of course), the Dominicans, the Franciscans, the Augustinians. I saw at least two Franciscan ones. The second had lovely Młoda Polska (Polish Art Nouveau/Jugendstile) interiors, and fell totally in love with the Młoda Polska school of art.

We admired the Wisła (Vistula) river on the way to the great Cathedral at Wawel, and an iron sculpture of the "Red Dragon of Cracow" and its cave. Ula provided up such a detailed commentary about dragons, saints, blesseds, kings, queens, a girl king and John Paul II that my head was positively spinning. I thought it might fall off.

Really, I think we saw everything Tomek and Ula thought a foreign author should see on her first day in Kraków although they were surprised that I had no interest whatsoever in Schindler's factory. Apparently tourists always want to see Schindler's factory, but "I am not interested in Jews; I am interested in Catholics" said Seraphic with a bluntness that was positively Polish.

(I have always found it hard to explain to Central Europeans that my generation of Canadians already knows about the sufferings of European Jews because thousands of the survivors and/or their children came to Canada and by the 1980s were working very hard to keep the memory of the Shoah alive. Torontonians of my generation are extremely sensitive to anything that smacks of anti-Semitism, and any remark that might be construed as anti-Semitic leaves us quivering with horror. And by anti-Semitic, we mean anti-Jewish. Saying I was not interested in Jews was seriously thin-edge-of-the-wedge from a Toronto point of view, but it was necessary for my psychological health. I saw a lot of horrible footage when I was 18; seeing the actual tram stop--still in active service--from which Kraków's Jews were deported was extremely painful for me; imagine how it must feel for an actual Canadian Jew.)

So we saw theological faculty, and walked past the building where the Nazis shot all the Polish professors, and we must have seen the Wawel, although I didn't write about it. Or perhaps we didn't have time before we stopped on the ulice św. Tomasza (St. Thomas Ave.) for lunch in a self-service restaurant. I have since concluded that this joint does not provide the height of Polish cuisine, but at the time I found it all incredibly delicious, stuffing myself with żurek soup and stuffed cabbage leaves, having no idea how filling the żurek would be.

Then Tomek and Ula rolled me into the Main Market Square (Głowny Rynek), which they told me was the largest piazza in Europe, through the giant guildhall full of stalls of Polish crafts I promised myself to buy later, and past the wee round church dedicated to St. Adelbert (martyred by pagan Prussians, naturally) into Wedel, a glorious Viennese-style chocolate shop/cafe which had 16 different kinds of drinking chocolate available for 10 zl (£2) a cup.

It was in Wedel that I saw the super-model type of Polish girl the American manosphere (and homesick Polish men) go on about. She was a blonde to make a bishop kick a whole in a stained glass window, as Raymond Chandler would say. Maybe not a Polish bishop, naturally, but definitely a Polish altar server (who must all faint whenever she wanders into church). I imagined she would not be a waitress very long, for certainly a zillionaire would eventually walk in and carry her off with 2 kilos of chocolate.

My one encounter with the gritty reality of modern day Kraków, as Lipska's hero Sefer would have noted at once, was an altercation between the police and an artist. The artist had written the name of a saint in rock salt outside the Franciscan church with the Młoda Polska interiors, and two or three policemen were standing around objecting to this. The neighbours leaned out their baroque-style windowsills to watch and listen as the artist vehemently argued her case.

After that Tomek and I said good-bye to Ula and took the tram back to the Redemptorists' HQ. There I gave Tomek a bottle of Scotch and wrote in my room until well past dark. I see from my journal that I noted that there were no American, British or German chain-stores in the historic centre, that I saw no litter and very little grafitti (odd--I certainly have seen a lot there since), and that the overwhelming majority of tourists were white Europeans. Meanwhile, Kraków looked totally unique and, as I wrote, "wholly belonging to itself, not to bloody multinationals."

I had forgotten how intense that first day was, just as I forget how intense the majority of my Polish friends are until I am with one. Two-fifths of my Polish friends are incredibly right-wing, and two-fifths are so left-wing they greatly prefer the UK, and they are almost never British or Canadian, and therefore almost always foreign and surprising, as no doubt I am foreign and surprising to them.

Mostly I remember the beauty of the streets and buildings, which you can see for yourself in photos, and the food, which you can easily make yourself, if you lack a Polish restaurant or babcia.

Thursday 30 July 2015

Singles and Sorrow

As this phone conversation took place over seven years ago, consider the quotes a creative reconstruction. Basically, I was talking to my friend Ellen on the kitchen phone, and Ellen began to cry if she was not already crying. "I don't know what's wrong with me," she wailed. "I keep crying. I've been depressed and crying all week."

As usual, I had the answer. 

"It's because Lily just got engaged," I said. "It's normal to cry when your friends get engaged, especially when they're your housemate. On the one hand, we're happy for Lily. Of course, we are! But on the other hand, it sucks for us. First, we have to say good-bye to the way our friendship is now, and second, how come she's engaged and we're not? We're happy for her, but what about us? So we cry. Naturally."

"Oh my gosh, I think you're right," said Ellen, who was so shocked, she stopped crying. She even cheered up.  It's cheering to be told your sorrow is normal. Of course, you're sad. Of course. Nobody's sad because their friend is happy and in love. We just get sad because we know that with her happiness comes our loss of her as one of our fellow Single pals, plus the reminder of what we don't have. 

Amusingly, Lily was the first of my friends to marry a guy I thought was super-cute. I wouldn't want to marry him, but I do have to admit that had I met him before Lily, I would not have said no to dinner. I try not to mention this too often, of course. And seven or so years later, another one of my friends married the second guy among all these friends' men I thought was actually cute. I wouldn't want to marry him either, but what I am trying to get at is this: when your friend gets engaged, and you are crying, ask yourself this, "Do I want to marry that guy myself?" The answer, 90% of the time, is probably NO. As much as you like Scooter, and you are delighted he is making your friend so happy, you wouldn't want to go to bed with him yourself,  thanks. 

I am writing this today because I got an Auntie Seraphic letter from a Single who has friends who are pregnant, friends who are engaged, and friends with new boyfriends, and she feels left out. She's over thirty, too, so this is not like when you are nineteen and are just catastrophizing. When you're over thirty, when you feel left out, it's because you are, so far, left out. "Hey, what's going on here?" is a perfectly legitimate question to ask our Divine Creator. "You made me for marriage and children, and You haven't called me out of that to something greater, so what is going on here, Lord? What's up? What's going on? Where is he? What's the plan?"

And He's the One to ask because I simply do not know. I can offer a lot of hypotheses, but "They've all fallen victim to the love-destroying power of internet porn" doesn't wash when you're surrounded by happily engaged couples and young marrieds with babies on the way. Why them? Why not you? 
It is perfectly normal to ask these questions and then have a huge crying fit. Bring tissue to church. Cry away. Wail if you feel like it, and the church is empty. 

But then stop. Crying should cheer you up a bit, and now you need to build on that. Build the cheer. Call up a friend and make a girl-date for a movie you both want to see. Think of a physical activity you enjoy--even if that's just walking in the park--and do it, ASAP.  Go to the fabric shop and browse through the patterns. Go to the art gallery and learn something about the paintings in it. Go to the library and take out a book of the kind you never read: a layman's book on dinosaurs, if you haven't thought about dinos since you were seven, or a western. Go online and look at night-school courses. Buy a packet of crayons and a pad of paper at a dime store, and start drawing. It is natural to feel sad that you aren't married when you strongly feel you ought to be, but it is dangerous to feel sad all the time.

I'm not a psychiatrist (or a doctor or a lawyer or a canon lawyer), but I do have a mood disorder, and messing around with melancholia strikes me as just as dangerous as flirting with eating disorders. The last thing you want is full-blown depression. Crying is good for you, but crying all the time is not. You are the custodian of your own brain: keep it healthy.

If you aren't convinced that you should care for your brain for its own sake, consider this: men are most attracted to happy women. (Women are most attracted to confident men. I'd say "Confidence" is the second most attractive trait in women for men.) Men seem a bit terrified of female sorrow. Women may feel tenderly towards sorrow in other women, but men-in-general do not. "Issues," say men, and their eyes shoot back and forth like minnows trapped in a glass.

If you feel sad, you feel sad. But you don't have to be sad. You will not be rewarded for being sad. You will not get some kind of adult's cookie to cheer you up. And, let's face it, once you are over 12, the person primarily responsible for cheering you up is you. Figure out how to do it, and do it. There are people who, through sheer effort and imagination, manage to stay cheerful in jail.

Naturally you may ask yourself why you are Single, and why other women your age live with husbands and kids while you don't. My reader wrote, from the center of her heart, her most fervent and sacred cry: "I want a husband and family and don't understand what I am doing wrong. Why can other people have those things and not me?"  When I wrote back--late at night--I forgot to say this, but I will say it now, not as a reproof, but as comfort: "Because "a husband" and "a family" are not "things" that anyone "has." They are people, concrete people, and although people have certain tendencies as a group, concrete people, concrete individuals are unpredictable.

We all are born to families--and therefore we have families already, and we shouldn't consider them  as nothing compared to the families we want but don't even exist. We should celebrate them and thank God for them, e.g. "Dear God, thank you for my family, which is intact and not scattered, murdered and enslaved like too many Christian families in Syria and Iraq. O God, extend the mercy You have shown to me and mine to my brothers and sisters in the Middle East!"

We all have relationships with men, relationships including the rather offhand one we have with bus drivers, our next door neighbours, bloggers whose posts we comment on, and the evening security guard at night school. We have hundreds or thousands of mini-relationships, and some of these sprout into more substantial relationships. Aelianus at Laodicea began as a stranger leaving weird, critical comments accusing me of heresy on my blog, and a few weeks ago, he was staying in my spare room with his heavily pregnant wife. Although Aelianus is not his real name, he is a real guy, with a real history, and a real personality, which matched well enough with my history and my personality to result in him becoming my friend, the sort of friend who can always stay in the spare room, and for as long as he likes.

And then we don't all get married and have babies, and that's okay. Tracy was born with such serious disabilities that she remained "pre-verbal" for her entire life, just emitting shrieks and cries. She was happy just to have friends; I don't think she hadn't had any until she joined (or was adopted by) a L'Arche community. My friend Sister Mechtilde always wanted "something more" and found it in a Benedictine cloister. The late Miss Campbell of my parish lived to 94 without ever marrying; we were not close friends, but I know she was well-respected, and didn't want for friends, family and interesting pursuits.

As for the state of being childless, I live it, too, and I think it is preferable to losing a real live child that one has known and loved. I would rather be childless and have my nieces and nephews--who really exist and whom I actually know and love--than to lose one of them and then magically have my own--currently non-existent, totally imaginary and hypothetical--baby. No, thanks. What a horrible idea!

So the point of this sermon (which should probably be a second blog post) is the supreme value of the REAL and the FULFILLED over the IMAGINED and merely POTENTIAL. Instead of crying--except once in a while, as a kind of relief--over what relationships we don't have, we need to celebrate the relationships we do have and be deeply, deeply grateful for them.

Sorrow over singleness: it's normal to have a good old cry from time to time, but don't wallow. Wallowing is not good for you, and it won't bring happiness any faster. If you wallow so much that you get stuck in the mud-bath, go see your priest or consult a counselor. Full-blown depression is not romantically interesting; it sucks.

Wednesday 29 July 2015

Lessons about Singles at Swing

Yes, it's another post about swing-dancing. But I'm fascinated by swing-dancing, now that I think of swing-dancing as an art and not as a way to meet "the One." The emotional stakes are not so high. I can sit like a cushion on a chair all night, ignored by all, and then go home to my doting husband. I mention this not to rub it in, but to remind myself that I am in a much different situation from that of my Single readers.

Nevertheless, I do not like sitting like a cushion on a chair all night, ignored by all, so I practice as much as possible and take all the lessons my conscience says we can afford, because the number one way to get oneself asked to dance is to be a good dancer. Therefore last weekend I went to an all-day swing dance class, taught by two visiting Americans. Naturally, I learned about more than dancing.

First, I learned that there are TWO overlapping swing dancing communities in Edinburgh, including a host of people who can't make it out to my community's Wednesday nights. Second, I learned that there were a number of people from my own community who are so committed to improving their swing-dancing that they will dedicate a whole Saturday (and £35) to it. Third, I learned that the travelling Canadian who had come to Wednesday night had signed on for the Saturday, too--which must have taken advance planning, now that I think about it, as enrollment was limited. Fourth,  I learned that swing-dancing can be taught in a really sexist way.

Oh Edinburgh, Edinburgh. I appreciate the gentleness of your swing-dancing culture, and your constant emphasis on Leader and Follower and quiet assertion that man or woman can choose to be either. I praise you for this not because I think men and women are the same, but because Saturday reminded me of the strong disadvantages involved in being a Follower, especially when the Lead is a man.

I don't want to beat up on the poor American instructor, who is a really great dancer and no doubt a legend in the worldwide swing community, etc., so I will not get into the nitty-gritty of why I felt uncomfortable with his sexualization of swing-dancing, his nudge-nudge cries to the men to "use" their partners, etc. Instead I will coolly observe that the number one sin of male Leads is to blame their Followers for their own mistakes. And this is very much worth observing, if you are at swing-dancing to make friends.

Meanwhile, the two lessons about Singles I want to talk about today are 1. the brilliance of getting involved in a social-dancing community and 2. learning about men from the way they dance.

The travelling Canadian, in whom I took a patriotic interest, loves to travel and wherever he travels, he tries to go to swing-dancing. This is not unusual in swing-dancers, but it is brilliant.   I love to travel alone, but I hate staying in a foreign place alone, and  I always scurry back to my lodging before dark. During a long, ill-thought-out week in Florence, I went to daily Mass every day, so as to see the same people. They were mostly old ladies in surgical socks, but I was heartened when I saw on the third day that they were all watching to see if I would turn up again.

Well, I had the right idea, but social dancers take it even further: instead of merely being with like-minded people, they interact with them in a mutually agreeable activity. When next I am in Krakow, I will see if I can find a swing-dance night, for whatever my linguistic skills, I can certainly dance in Polish. It would give me something fun to do in the evening, and get me past that whole fear-of-foreign-darkness problem.

This leaping into a foreign dance scene is, once again, easier for Leaders than for Followers, for Leads always do the asking, whereas Followers are merely driven to it.  Because I ask Leaders to dance when nobody has asked me to dance for a bit, I know perfectly well that it must be intimidating to ask a Follower to dance. However, all Followers want to dance and most women are at a social dance because they want to dance. So Followers almost never say no, whereas Leads occasionally just moan and groan and say "It's too fast" or "I'm tired." I'm not sure, but I think sometimes Leads take revenge on not-so-skilled-yet Followers for daring to ask them to dance by flinging us wildly about the room. At any rate, I think very carefully before I ask one of the Lords of Creation to dance. "Is he a nice guy?" is uppermost on my mind.

But do not let me put you off the whole idea. If you can think of another worldwide, weekly social activity in which people share a skill that you think you might enjoy developing, then I recommend taking it up. The Canadian chap made at least three Facebook friends from the local swing-dance community, chatted a lot, danced a lot, and went to lunch with little me. (I invited, he paid--which was very handsome of him.) He is a good dancer--probably advanced-beginner, like me--and not at all egotistical about it.

This brings me to Lesson 2, which is that you can learn a lot about men from the way they dance--or rather, what they act like when they're dancing with you. I am tempted to lump them into groups:

1. The Blamer. The Blamer tells you whenever you have done something wrong, or even when you haven't. The Blamer says "Can I give you some tips?" and then gives you the tips before you have had a chance to say "No." This behaviour is banned in our Code of Conduct, but The Blamer needs no stinking Codes of Conducts.

As annoying as The Blamer is, he fascinates me because blaming women (and others) is the Ur sin of men. Adam did it. Even if it turns out the story of Adam-and-Eve wasn't exactly like it says in Genesis, it sure has the ring of authenticity when Adam says "The woman You gave me tempted me." It was HER fault. It was YOUR fault.  Happily for me, at the end of the evening, I get to go home to B.A. who is patience incarnate and generally passes over my multiple faults with no more than a sigh. He never blames me for his own faults, whatever they may be. (He must have some; maybe he saves them for work.)

2. The Diplomat. The Diplomat is a very good dancer, and he takes his role as a Lead extremely seriously, as if he belongs to the Lead-Knights of  Our Lady of Swing-Dancing. The Diplomat believes that a Lead's primary purpose in life is to make his Follower feel happy and confident on the dance floor. He gives strong and clear cues, he smiles at his partner, and he gauges whether or not his Follower is up to such advanced tricks as the Texas Tommy. He apologizes if he tries it, and she is not. "My fault!" says the Diplomat cheerily.  The Diplomat is, in fact, a self-appointed ambassador for the Nation of Swing, and so he continues to ask beginning Followers to dance, so that they too may become citizens of that happy country one day.

Naturally I love The Diplomat, and if he teaches classes, I take every single one. I also say, "Would you mind if I asked you for for some feedback?" and "Do you take private students?" and "Have you met my pretty friend Betsy?" Just kidding--so far--on that final statement. The best Diplomat I know already has a girlfriend.

3. The Nervous Recruit. The Nervous Recruit is sometimes also a Blamer, but happily he usually isn't. In fact, he is often a better dancer than he gives himself credit for. The Nervous Recruit is the most likely to wail "It's too fast" and "Maybe the next one." If he isn't a Blamer, all this nervousness suggests an attractive masculine humility. Meanwhile, the Follower has to make a difficult decision: does she start to lead a tiny bit? With a Nervous Recruit who suddenly forgetten all he has ever been taught, I think this can be a good idea. It's best to do it verbally. I think this is called "making suggestions"--not what he can do to become a better dancer--not your job--but what you can do together for the next two bars.

If the night is wearing on and nobody has asked me to dance for awhile, I will scan the chairs for a Nervous Recruit. Some of them would probably make strong-minded girls excellent boyfriends, ready to compromise on what film to see after the requisite face-saving bout of argumentation.

4. The Swing Obsessive. The Swing Obsessive has been dancing two nights a week every week for the past four hundred years, with or without a Follower: it obviously doesn't matter to him. If he wants to do the most complex routine at the fastest speeds, he's going to do it, dragging his poor Follower around with him as her eyes rattle in her head.

Avoid. Avoid. Avoid. Avoid. Avoid. Still, if you can get such a man to notice you for you, your evenings for the next fifty years are all planned out.

5. The Absent Beloved. The Absent Beloved is all the boyfriends and husbands who can't or won't dance and refuse to go to dance class. This is such a phenomenon that there is a popular swing-dance T-shirt featuring the motto "Why Can't My Boyfriend Dance?" This T-shirt, now that I think about it, could be a subtle way to inform all the men around that you are there only to dance. At any rate, The Absent Beloved is the man you really want to dance with, but you probably never shall. Weep weep.

Meanwhile, your chances of meeting your Future Beloved at Swing Dance may be small if your number one criteria is that he be Catholic and you live in a Protestant-majority country. Go to get out of your Catholic bubble and make friends. Meanwhile, I may start a league of Catholic swing-dancers. I am not sure how yet, but I will give the idea some thought. Perhaps we should start with some secret symbol. Hey! How about a gold crucifix on a gold chain?

6. The Perve.  I have never come across the Perve, but the longer you are in the swing community, the more you hear or--more likely, read--about him. The Perve can either be some lump who takes advantage of the close position of dancing to grope you, or he can be some charismatic teacher who grooms star-struck students for sex. The basic kind of Perve gets thrown out on his ear at once; all you have to do is tell the teachers or the dance organizers (e.g. the ticket-seller), and he is gone. The advanced kind can be avoided if you follow the simple maximum: "Never sleep with your teacher unless you have married him."

I suspect the basic Perve exists at all only because of the inequalities that seem to exist between Leads (usually men) and Followers (usually women), which should be minimized as much as possible. If you feel that you are being led around like a horse or a donkey or some other brute beast, you are doing it wrong. There are all sorts of things a Follower must do, and one is to keep one's shoulders back and upper arms strong, holding one's forearms in the same  position and clamping down gently but firmly on the Lead's arm. A Follower must also have the guts to say cheerfully "It would be easier if you put your hand higher on my back" if there is any doubt about where that hand is going. In my case, 100% of the time, the guy has just been a Nervous Recruit.

7. The Amusingly Elderly. One of the nice things about swing-dancing is that adults of all ages take it up. Therefore, no-one, no matter how young, should view it as a dire insult if an old man asks her to dance. The King of Swing, Frankie Manning, danced until he died in his nineties. The old guys may be great dancers; one of my favourite dance partners is a tiny Polish man who says, "This is how I learned it in Warsaw!" before doing whatever it was they were dancing in Warsaw in, like, 1955. He does it well, and it works with what I know, so it's all good, and I really hope he was not in the SB.

That said, there are men in their 60s (not their 70s and 80s, who giggle when they dance like they are cheating Father Time and getting away with it), who are bossy and boring and ask women 30 years younger than themselves for coffee and get humph-y when the women say "No." However, I have come across only one man like that, and I haven't seen him for a long time. Men who come to swing dance only to meet women either become interested in the dance for itself or disappear.

Goodness. It's past NOON! Alas, I feel I am on my way to becoming a different kind of Swing Obsessive.

Tuesday 28 July 2015

Poor Bishop Franz-Peter Tebartz van Elst

Okay for me....
Early today I found this article about Bishop Franz-Peter Tebartz van Elst by Religious News Service in my Toronto paper, The Catholic Register. It steamed me up because I had just read this article about the iconoclasm at New York's Church of Our Savior and noted all the financial and moral scandals foisted on the poor parishioners by Father Rutler's successor.  And I remembered that I had realized long ago that Bishop Tebartz van Elst had been made a scapegoat by doctrinal liberals in Germany (who are, believe me, in the majority in Hessen), and that I should do something to help him.
...but not for thee.

But I see that I am late to the battle, for my pal Hilary White told the whole story--or the much bigger story anyway--months ago.  This is a must read for anyone interested in the Church in Germany, and all Catholics should be, for the Church in Germany is hugely, astonishingly, jaw-droppingly rich and therefore has a huge influence in the Church overall.

This does not mean, however, that Germany is a wonderful oasis of Catholicism. Ah ha ha ha! No. The churches are mostly empty. Some German Catholics pay the Church Tax--among all the other taxes levied on Germans--because they are good Catholics, I am certain, but others just so they can get hatched, matched and dispatched in a Catholic church, for if they don't pay up, they will be excommunicated.  Let me repeat that. If you do not pay the Church Tax in Germany, you will be excommunicated.

So where does the money go? We are, after all, talking billions of euros a year. The money goes towards restoring and preserving the historical churches and monasteries of Germany. They are absolutely beautiful, and a very good reason for going to Germany yourself. The money also goes towards good works--charity at home and abroad. Possibly some of it went into housing little me in Tebartz van Elst's own diocese the summer I studied in Germany. When I returned for a visit, I discovered they weren't allowing women to live in the seminary anymore, but I'm sure that had nothing to do with ME.

What I am not sure at all about is how many euros go into spreading the Gospel or, if I may sound a little backward, converting souls to the One True Faith, and among those souls I am primarily thinking of ones belonging to baptised Catholics. Naturally there are seminaries and theology schools and radio stations and magazines, but somehow all of those institutions have not convinced the Catholics of Germany that they should be at Mass on Sundays. (In contrast, billions of American dollars are doing an ace job of converting Catholic Latin America to Protestantism, and thanks to petro-dollars, the Saudis have been successfully spreading Wahaabism throughout the world.)

Nor have the institutions convinced the Catholic boys of Germany to become priests. When one of my German pals was ordained, he was put in charge of--if I have this right--ten (10) parish churches.* Meanwhile his parents did not want him to become a priest and tried to discourage him. They told him quite seriously that they feared priesthood would turn him into a homosexual. These were not mad-trad parents, either, steeped in the fears and beliefs of the 1950s. They were real Sixty-Eighters. So where on EARTH did they get an idea like that?

Of all the accusations levied at  Bishop Tebartz van Elst, living with his organist (as in the Church of Our Savior scandal) is not one of them. In fact, to return to Hilary's excellent article, Bishop Tebartz van Elst first attracted the ire of the German press by rebuking one of his priests for blessing a so-called "same sex union." After that, the German media began to follow him about and discovered that he was spending money like, well, a German bishop.  However, you would not know that from all the headlines shrieking about "the Bishop of Bling." I don't think the poor man actually does wear bling. The money was all towards building projects, and we are talking German builders here. German builders, German wages.  My German ex-boyfriend (bless him) once pantomimed crying at the thought of how much German plumbers charge.

Given the billions of euros being spent in the building projects of the German Church all the time, the ongoing crucifixion of Bishop Tebartz van Elst  seems a bit bizarre. I sincerely wonder if Bishop Tebartz van Elst hasn't become a sort of decoy for the German press to shoot at while people like Cardinal Marx are given a pass to overspend with impunity because, like the German media, they are doctrinal liberals.

Oh me, oh my, the Church in Europe. I was talking to another priest-pal who says he thinks the bishops have given up on the faith of Europe. If so, this is perfectly outrageous. Billions and billions and billions of German tax money, and the bishops have given up on Europe? Maybe they should stop building for a decade and pour the money into actual worship and convincing apologetics for the authentic Roman Catholic faith, not the innovations they are trying to foist on us.

*Lest you fear that my pal might have dropped dead of exhaustion, I shall remind you that although ten parishes may comprise a large area in Germany--and necessitate a lot of driving--they do not comprise thousands of active parishioners.

Update: I am starting to think there are powerful people in the Church actively trying to destroy the faith of Catholics, or at least discourage us from coming to Mass. Hilary, reading this, will choke on her tea, and say "Starting?" However, I grew up as a child in the 1970s and 1980s, and the parish priests I knew  were such good men, and the archbishops were held in such awe, that such a thing would never have occurred to me. When I began to hear, in high school, about perverted priests attacking boys and young men, I didn't think that was an attack on the faith so much as isolated individuals taking advantage of their position for sexual thrills.  And then all that lavender mafia stuff--well, birds of a feather flock together. However, when I consider situations like the Church of Our Savior in New York and in Our Lady of the Rosary in Blackfen, England, when a pastoral approach that was clearly fruitful was abandoned and even attacked outright, I really have to wonder: are there priests and bishops who actually and actively hate us? 

I mean, honestly. Our Lady of the Rosary was famous for its reverent liturgies, EF AND OF. Father Finigan gets moved, the new chap says he'll say the EF, the new chap stops saying the EF, the new chap leaves the priesthood and his pals rejoice with him on Facebook. Like, what?  

Saturday 25 July 2015

Searching Singles and Instant Message

When I was Single--and I was Single for a good LONG time--I never sent a text message. I cannot remember having a mobile phone in Canada at all. I realize that this must sound impossible, but I really don't remember having a mobile phone until BA gave me his old one in 2009.

Additionally, I was not on Facebook until very soon before I met B.A., who was not on Facebook.

Therefore I have no personal experience with texting and Facebook messaging when it comes to romantic relationships and dating.

Can anyone enlighten me and readers on whether texting and Facebook are a help or hindrance in the gentle cultivation of love? Also, any advice or tips would be welcome.

Sound off in the commbox! I'll be at a swing-dancing workshop until suppertime.

Friday 24 July 2015

Slub and Wesele

Today is Polski Piątek, so I will enthuse about the fact that I get to go to Polish Pretend Daughter's wedding after all! (PPD is no relation to PPS, incidentally. They are even from different towns.) At first I thought, I do not want to go to another wedding without Benedict Ambrose. And then I thought, And we have no money! But Benedict Ambrose decided we had enough money for me to go, so off I am going to another international wedding without my husband. On the one hand, weep weep. But on the other, Poland--yay!

So in Poland there are two words to denote the two events that comprise a wedding. There is the ceremony, which is called the ślub (shloop, from the word for "vows"), and the reception, which is called the wesele (veh-SEH-leh, from the word for "cheerful"). Polish weddings are as famous in Edinburgh as Italian weddings are in Toronto. In Toronto, you really want to be invited to the massive pot-latch that is the Italian-Canadian wedding. But in Edinburgh, one really wants to be invited to the traditional two-day Polish wedding jamboree in Poland.  

I was a bit worried about how I was going to get from the bride's church, where the ślub will be, to the countryside location of the wesele. When I mentioned this, the bride metaphorically smacked herself in the forehead and wrote something along the lines of, "Oh, forgot to tell the foreigners what all Poles know: there is always a bus to take guests without cars from the church to the hall."

Well, that's all right then! Now all I have to do is figure out where I am going to sleep the nights before the wedding morning, and the night after the wedding night before my cheap flight home. (The wedding night is sorted; I shall be farmed out to a relative upon whom I will practice my Polish.) Happily the bride's town is not too far from Kraków, not too far from Warsaw, and not all that horribly far from Wrocław. (Well, actually, it is a bit of a hike from Wrocław.)

However, I have two months to sort that out. For the present, I am going to memorize whole scripts of Polish small talk and lose ten pounds by returning to the 5-2 diet, which I foolishly gave up on last year after amazing results that have now disappeared.

Swing-dancing compliant!
Here is the dress I think I will wear to the ślub. My mummy just finished making it for me. We bought a black crinoline for it today although B.A. thinks a crinoline is Too Much for church. He thinks a black mantilla will look splendid with it, but Mum and I are thinking we might make a hat. 

Update: Calvinist Cath, who on the run-up to her 30th birthday was (if I remember correctly) feeling gloomily Single, and then was courted by post by a chap who spied her being all helpful and feminine--without a SCRAP of make-up--at the minister's dinner, and then got married in an intensely Calvinist service, has just given birth to a little boy. So congratulations to dear Cath and her husband. As Cath has been reading my blog since forever and a day, I feel that this is all a victory for Long Term Singles everywhere. 

Thursday 23 July 2015

Self Care for Singles

I had a letter recently from a Single who wondered how to make herself eat supper and go to bed at a decent hour when she becomes so distracted by electronic devices that the night flies by before she knows it. She thinks married women and mothers must be better at self care, and I thought, "Ha! Not necessarily."

I recommended that she set an alarm clock for 6 PM, and when it rang to leave her electronica and go into the kitchen. After cooking, she should sit at a proper table and eat her supper. She could also--I now add--reset the alarm clock for 9 PM, which is when she should stop being on the internet or watching television, if she wants to be asleep by 10 or 11. I should take my own advice for that one!

The idea for alarms telling you what to do comes from conventual life. Cloistered Nuns are the Single Women Par Excellence, and they take care of themselves by living a well-regulated day according to an ancient Rule of Life, sent from activity to activity by bells. As a result, they tend to be splendidly healthy and not peg out until they are quite old. I wish I could stick to a schedule the way they do, but they do all help each other, and there is the all-powerful bell. I supposed I should save my greatest admiration for well-regulated hermits.

Meanwhile, the best book I ever read on good self care for Singles is still Marjorie Hollis's Live Alone and Like It. It has all kinds of ideas I incorporated into my own Single life, especially the parts about eating and sleeping. It is so important to your morale to cook lovingly for yourself, and to set yourself a lovely place at the table, and to make your bedroom a wonderfully inviting place dedicated solely to sleep.

If you do not have a proper bedroom, but live in a bachelor/bedsitter, than I highly recommend a folding bed (like a futon), so you can transform your flat from a sitting room into a giant bedroom quite easily. But it is terribly important to have that night-time switch-over from "Awake" to "Sleep Now." If all you have is a Single bed, throw the pillow under it when you get up, spread a duvet or quilt over it and prop up cushions against the wall, to turn it into a couch.

Sometimes I think about my first bedsitter, and how much I loved it. It was wonderfully cheap, but it had a big bay window, such as I had always wanted, and was furnished with a round table, two chairs, and a standing cupboard for clothes. It had a tiny kitchen, and beside it a tiny bathroom with a real tub. I added a big futon, which I folded up every morning, and that was my little chez moi. I walked to the gym or work every morning, and walked back from work, and then walked to the boxing gym afterwards. My life involved a lot of walking. No wonder I was so thin. To be young is to be poor, n'est-ce pas?

Naturally another part of self care, besides cooking carefully and eating elegantly and going to bed in a cozy, attractive place, is to get enough exercise. Of course, it is also important not to get too much. If you can afford it, going to a gym just before work is very profitable. (If you can't afford it, go for a run, or a bike, or walk up and down a nearby hill.) Since you are barely awake when you push yourself out the door, an hour of exercise flies by before you know it. Eventually you go from sheer habit. And as you are entirely rested, you have no excuse not to go.

I had no television when I was Single, except when I lived with my parents. My grandmother was more of a radio person, and she told me that the radio was great company. I haven't really liked radio of company since I was a teenager listening to Top 40, so eventually I found a kind of company that I really liked--the tribe of students, young artists and assorted oddities who hung out at the Bauhaus Café in Hamilton, Ontario. I sat, nursed drinks, and wrote bad poetry at the bar while chatting with the other patrons. Goodness, how very 1920s-in-Paris that seems now.

I'm not sure now that this was the best sort of self care, but I was lonely, and I didn't have any Catholic friends in town, let alone intellectual Catholic gatherings, and this was 100% better than the salsa classes that made me want to stab myself in the heart with a fork and die. Meanwhile, one of the things that seems to be prevalent among Singles I know in their 20s and 30s is that they go out a lot. Swing dancing is packed with Singles, and the ones most passionate about swing-dancing are lucky, I think, to have found a passion that ensures that they will be around other people AND get exercise. No alcohol or buying of snacks as a sort of "table rent" in a café or bar is required.

Meanwhile, unless you really love living alone, there is no life requirement that you HAVE to love alone. The freedom that comes with living alone--rolling in from nights out at 3 AM--begins to pall after awhile, or after you are 25, unless, of course, you are indulging in a worldly and varied sex life. But if you are striving to live as a good Christian, then this isn't a consideration, and I recommend that you live with your family, only as a paying adult, not as a child, or club together with other Single friends to rent a house. You may find that the rewards of living with others outweighs the pleasures of living completely alone. Of course, as you get older, you may find that you prefer to have your own, very own, front door, shared only with your cat or dog.

Wednesday 22 July 2015

Late Night Art Report

1. Continued writing new story.
2. Went to the Botanical Garden with mother.
3. Bought seamed tights because...vintage!
4. Went to swing-dancing!
5. Danced a lot.

Tuesday 21 July 2015

B is for Benediction

Today is Traddy Tuesday, the day I get to enthuse all about traditional Catholic liturgy. Eventually I will get down to writing about other Catholic traditions that are being restored, but for now I shall stick to the lovely liturgy.

Almost everyone who goes to the Trad Mass has a Trad Mass story. My Trad Mass story beings with my moving uneasily from church to church in Toronto, trying to find a Mass that reflected the wonderful theology of Saint Thomas Aquinas. Before I went to theology school, my principal values were 1. decent music 2. charismatic priest. However, during theology school, I started to notice when homilies went awry and to get anxious when priests just made stuff up.

By the time I met Benedict Ambrose and his Schola of Merry Men, I was choosing from German Mass (reverent, couldn't understand the homilies of flaky travelling Austrians), my alma mater's Mass (trad hymns, homilies pitched to university folk) and Praise & Worship Mass at the Newman (lots of pals, lusty singing and dancing in the pews.) When I met Benedict Ambrose, he took me along to the local Extraordinary From, and I thought, "Wow. All this silence, but nobody fidgets." Meanwhile, I can't remember now, but the priest probably told us that the world hates our guts and the streets will run red with our martyred blood, and I thought "Now that's a homily."

Without any further ado, here is my third piece for the Prairie Messenger, Tablet of the Canadian Prairies.

The Gates of Heaven 

 When I was studying graduate theology in the USA, my favourite class was Christian Latin. My classmates were all undergraduates, and most of them translated rings around me. However, the challenges of the course created bonds of sympathy among us all, and some of my classmates invited me to join them at evening Benediction.
Pious devotions were not what one expected from that school, so I was surprised to hear that Benediction was offered. I was even more surprised when, on the appointed evening, I walked into the old stone chapel and saw so many undergraduates on their knees. Two dozen? Three dozen? I don’t remember. I do remember that there were many of them and that they all sang “O Salutaris Hostia” (O Saving Victim) and “Tantum Ergo Sacramentum” (Down in Adoration Falling) from memory. Not knowing these hymns, I felt old and slightly out of it.
The Franciscans claim that St. Francis of Assisi began the devotion of venerating the Blessed Sacrament outside of Mass. If true, this means the custom began before Francis’s death in 1226. Certainly the custom of elevating the Host during Mass dates from the early 13th century, inspiring a firm and popular belief that there is special merit in gazing at the Blessed Sacrament. After the institution of the Feast of Corpus Christi in 1246, carrying the Blessed Sacrament in processions became so popular among the people that bishops had to step in and regulate them.
There are many forms of Eucharistic adoration, and there are many variations in the details of the Exposition and Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament. Through the centuries and across the world, the common elements have been candles, incense, singing the “Tantum Ergo,” and blessing the people with the monstrance. Traditionally an afternoon or evening devotion, Benediction is said immediately after the 11:30 Mass at my parish every last Sunday of the month.
First, several candles—the required minimum was once ten—and a monstrance are placed on the altar. The priest takes a Host from the tabernacle and places it in the monstrance while the assembled, kneeling, faithful sing “O Salutaris Hostia.” Then we pray silently in the quiet or while the Gregorian chant choir sings. Contemporary guides suggest prayers, scriptural readings and even a homily, but my parish priest sticks to prayer and hymns. The important thing is that we have a chance to be truly open and present to the True Presence on the altar.
After this adoration, the kneeling priest takes the thurible, bows deeply and censes the monstrance while the choir and congregation sing “Tantum Ergo Sacramentum.” Then, after a short silence, the priest sings “Panem de caelo praestitisti ei” (Thou gavest them bread from heaven), and the people respond, “Omne delectamentum in se habentum” (Having within it all manner of sweetness).
Oremus,” sings the priest and prays the prayer of the Blessed Sacrament. Then, wrapped in an ornate piece of cloth called the humeral veil, he picks up the monstrance through the ends of the veil, turns to his right towards the people, and slowly and silently makes the sign of the cross over us. He turns to his right again to place the monstrance on the altar and genuflects. Then he backs away and kneels on the lowest step. Finally he leads the congregation in the Divine Praises, a devotion in reparation for profane speech. He utters each praise first, and we repeat it:
Blessed be God.
(Blessed be God.)
Blessed be His Holy Name.
Blessed be Jesus Christ, true God and true man.
Blessed be the name of Jesus
Blessed be His most sacred Heart…
After the Divine Praises, the priest gets up, takes the Host out of the monstrance and puts it back in the tabernacle while the choir and people sing “Laudate Dominum omnes gentes” (Praise the Lord, all people) or another suitable hymn.
Benediction is one of my favourite devotions for many reasons. First, it fosters a sense of reverence for the Blessed Sacrament in a time when it is handled by almost anyone and taken for granted. Second, the Divine Praises empower us to do something to make up for all the foul language and blasphemies we hear or say. Finally, the devotion reminds me of the night I went to a chapel and saw the next generation on its knees before the Blessed Sacrament. At that moment, I saw the future.

I admit I meant to shake up the grey-haired 68ers with my conclusion. How did I get away with this all?

NOTA BENE: The Extraordinary Form of the Mass offered in Edinburgh on Sundays is now at 12 NOON.

Wracam do Polski

Będę w Polsce od 1 do 6 pazdzierniku. W 3 X, będę w Kielce na ślub. Ale zanim również po weselu, jeszcze nie wiem. Mam nadzieję, że mogę kolegi i koleżanki odwiedzić!

Monday 20 July 2015

Wedding Survival Tips

This is well overdue, for wedding season has been upon us for a month or two. However, it will not be over for some months, and meanwhile weddings keep on happening to other people. They happen to other people with such great frequency that it is easy to assume that they will never happen to us, which is not particularly logical.  Not only did I get married within two years of losing all hope, so have umpteen formerly despairing Searching Single readers. So did Trad Bride, earlier this month, at the age of 40. And indeed I told her the only reason she wasn't married was that she never lived in the same place long enough and LO.

However, weddings can be tricky when we are still zigzagging between hope and despair, so here is my handy-dandy guide to surviving them.

1. The wedding is not all about you. It is all about the bride and groom. If you don't want to go, you don't have to go--unless one of them is a close relation or one of your best friends. Then you have to go--if you can afford to go, of course. (Don't beggar yourself because your favourite cousin has decided to have a dream wedding in Tahiti.) Everyone else will rejoice at getting a nice present and crossing your name off the caterer's list. One less mouth to feed.

2. If you want to go, go. Dress to the nines. Look your absolute best. I am still quite pleased thinking about how good I looked at that first wedding I went to after my divorce. I still have the shimmering copper dress. I should ever fit that dress again. Sigh, sigh. Still, I looked fantastic.

3. However, do not be amazed if, halfway through the reception, you suddenly feel an enormous sadness erupting in your chest. I call this phenomenon Single Person's Wedding Angst, and well I remember the first time I got it. It was, in fact, at the first wedding I was ever invited to, and I think I was 20, and even had a boyfriend at the time, and I couldn't imagine why I felt so sad. But I did. Of course, it could have been the gentle whining of the tape player. It gave us nothing but Pachebel's Canon in D and other chestnuts, and when one guest tried to substitute something livelier, the groom stalked over and put Pachebel's Canon in D back on. I was at a table of Protestant cousins still shell-shocked by the priest's homily--requested by bride and groom--against artificial birth control. One of them quite seriously called the oft-repeated tune "Pack on, Belle." Hell is other wedding guests.

3. If you cannot immediately cheer yourself up, go home. Thank the bride's mother or the groom's mother, or both, for the invitation, and get out of Dodge. Her wedding day is one of the most psychologically sensitive times for a woman, and if the bride thinks you were miserable at her wedding, she may brood on it for years. Smile, smile, smile, joke, joke, joke, dance, dance, dance--TAXI!

4. If you aren't driving--and unless this was a dry event, you shouldn't be--take a cab, not the bus. Few wedding things are as depressing as going home from a wedding in all your finery in a bus. The taxi cab should make you feel a bit special, like a film star in a limo, and be cheering in itself.

5. Have a nice treat waiting for you at home. I recommend splurging on some snacky thing, like ice-cream, and a DVD you have long wanted to see. Put on clean pyjamas and a thick pair of clean socks. Settle down with the cat, or if no cat, large pillow.

6. If you are the bride, stop thinking about your Single friends and if they are miserable or not. This is especially important if you have spent the last two or three years blogging endlessly about Single life. As the bride, your job is to be happy and say nice things about your groom at every opportunity, and thank your parents for everything and just generally personify the Church as the Bride of Christ.

Saturday 18 July 2015

Core Values

I was reading a letter to a British "Agony Uncle" from an English culturally Christian widower who wants to marry a Muslim lady in the Middle East he met over the internet. She wants to stay Muslim, but although she wants him to stay Christian, and they want to have children, they for some reason think they can't get married. How-do-we-raise-the-children doesn't seem to be the problem, for he talks only about not wanting the children to be born out of wedlock.

It all seems very odd to me. I don't know where she's from, but in the UK there is no ban on Christian men marrying Muslim women, or even on Muslim men marrying Christian women, which I suspect may be less of a problem in the Middle East.

The "Agony Uncle", being unusually thick, suggested that the cultural Christian Englishman become a Muslim. I would love to know what he would say to a Protestant pal whose Polish girlfriend's family was having kittens because he wasn't a Catholic. "So just become a Catholic, what's the big deal?" is not what I would say, and I am a Catholic. Of course, being a Catholic, I don't think the way to enter married life is by telling huge public lies about what you believe.

Marriage is tough enough without people with conflicting values entering into them. Romeo and Juliet were so much the same that it was actually stupid that their fathers didn't get along. They were around the same age, they were the same religion, they were the same colour, the same nationality,  the same social class, they spoke the same language and they were from the same town. Shakespeare's point was how stupid and petty their fathers' feud was, not that thwarting your parents' hopes for your future marriage is incredibly noble. There was absolutely no reason for Romeo and Juliet not to have gotten married; they would have been fine. Even dull.

It is an ENTIRELY different play from West Side Story, which was about poor white native-born Americans and Puerto Rican immigrants disputing over a slum.  Incidentally, the most hilarious line in West Side Story is Bernardo's dismissal of Tony's citizenship, Tony being "really a Polack."*

Although just a throwaway line, it does suggest that Maria and Tony had something other than love-at-first-sight in common, which is that they shared the same religion. In the film they basically get married in that dress shop. Although illicit, I would argue with a canon lawyer that the marriage was valid. Okay, it's not entirely a desert island scenario. But the intent was there. It was almost certainly consummated, too.

Romeo and Juliet, who were upper-class teenagers, and Maria and Tony, who were just nice half-educated working-class Catholics, shared CORE VALUES. I am not sure the English widower of the letter and his online Middle Eastern Muslim sweetheart also share core values. He doesn't seem to think his Christianity is a core value (style over substance is how he put it), and certainly neither does the Agony Uncle. However, it would seem that his sweetie considers being Muslim one of her core values, which makes me wonder why she wants to marry a Christian Englishman. Maybe it isn't Islam but her family--which she will be able to bring to the UK, incidentally, if she marries this man--that is the core value, and they are shouting, "Nae Christians!!!"

I am no fan of mixed marriage, but the contemporary Roman Catholic Church in Canada sure seems to be, and it was with great shock that I discovered that mixed marriage was NOT considered some kind of ideal.

When I was in my early twenties, the significance that you needed a dispensation to marry a non-Catholic Christian and TWO dispensations to marry a non-Christian was lost on me. It never occurred to me to ask "A dispensation from what?" So imagine my shock and horror when I, engaged to a Protestant, discovered in an old book--written by Father Robert J Fox, I believe--that there is a Church law that Catholics must not marry non-Catholics. That's what the dispensation is from, and the reason for the dispensation is supposed to be the assumption that the Catholic party is so head-over-heels, he or she will stop going to Church if she isn't allowed to marry his or her non-Catholic sweetie.

Well, I'll be. I was very troubled by this, as I certainly loved my faith more than the guy, but I thought my faith exulted in Catholics marrying non-Catholics, for it was an outward sign of growing Christian Unity, etc., etc., blah, blah, blah.  I wonder how many guys signing off on those dispensations were born from mixed marriages because if there is anything I--a veteran now of two marriages--can think of more challenging to a Catholic's faith, it's marrying a non-Catholic.

(Incidentally, I went exclusively to ordinary Mass before I met B.A, and now I go almost exclusively to the Traditional Latin Mass. Currently, former Anglo-Catholic B.A. reads me the Anglican Coverdale Psalms before bed. Guess who has the most religious influence in my house?)

However, there are Catholics whose core values do not include agreement on religious matters in the home, and therefore these Catholics will probably be happier in mixed marriages than Catholics who thrive on agreement in religious matters in the home. I also know Catholics Who Really Care who are married to Protestants Who Don't Really Care, and they seem happy.

My home-point is that you cannot be happy married to someone if your Core Values conflict. "The kids should be Catholic" as a core value is always going to conflict with "The kids should be something else", and so if you strongly believe your kids should be Catholic, you must not marry a man who strongly believes they should be something else.

One of the least-thought-out things the contemporary Church did to Catholics entering a mixed marriage was drop the insistence that the non-Catholic party swear to help raise the kids Catholic. Apparently it was decided that error does indeed have rights, and that it was unfair to the non-Catholic party to have to swear the same oath as his/her Catholic intended. Well, hell. That is a stroke against Christian Unity right there. Nothing like the non-Catholic party turning to the Catholic, when all is said and done, and saying, "Well, YOU swore to raise the kids Catholic, but I didn't, and I that means I can thwart you every step of the way."

Not that I'm bitter.

Another thing the Church could do, since I'm on a roll here, is take very seriously the possibility that a devout Catholic is being pressured into marriage with a non-Catholic. Why would a devout Catholic want to marry a non-Catholic anyway, the savvy priest should ask himself. Marriage is hard enough--Catholicism is hard enough these days--without marrying someone who doesn't believe what Catholics believe about marriage, sexuality and family life. So why....?  When asking the question about free will, the priest should be dead serious, and treat the question seriously, like there's a real possibility the bride/groom thinks the groom/bride will commit suicide/murder if she/he doesn't marry him/her.

However, if the Catholic party is a cultural Catholic, tra la, and only darkens the door of the church so that he/she can get married in it, then the disparity is not such a big deal. Possibly his/her real core values are vegetarianism and being kind to animals, and these are shared by his/her post-Protestant lover. If so, terrific, and maybe their shared love for creation will lead them together to a greater appreciation for the Author of Creation.

Oh, and all this to say, don't be so tough on the Catholic guys you know from your parishes or FSSP missions. Yes, you may find them disappointing right now, but after awhile, you may grow to cherish them. After all, many of them share your core values.

*As this is, in North America, considered a terrible racial slur, imagine my shock when I discovered that the Polish word for a Pole is, in fact, "Polak." Unfortunately for my giggling Inner Child, I have few opportunities to use it, because if you say someone is one, you have to put it in the Instrumental Case, i.e. Adam jest polakiem.

Friday 17 July 2015

Polish report

Quick update: I have read up to Chapter VII of W Pustyni i w puszczy , and I am also reading an Agatha Christie novel translated into Polish. Today I wrote 800 words of Polish prose. That's it!

Thursday 16 July 2015

Eight Day Love Affair

Bear is scared.
I got an "Auntie Seraphic" letter recently, but it was written by someone worried about someone else, so I won't post it. Instead I will reduce it to the story it described, which is a very, very old story, repeated again and again throughout Catholic campuses and youth groups all over the English-speaking world. The story, as always, has three acts:

Act 1. Boy meets girl, and he is CRAZY about her. He tells her how truly amazing she is on the first date. He holds her hand, hugs her, kisses her, etc. They have three dates in three days. The girl has never felt so happy in her life, and he says he's never felt so happy in his life.  He literally says she is literally the Girl of his Dreams.

Act 2. Girl tells the boy her deepest, most personal, most private feelings, either by email or in person, but usually by email. She tells him that up until she met him, boys had treated her like crap. They had cheated on her, or pressured her, or dumped her for other girls, and just generally made her feel terrible, but he has changed all that, and showed her what a real man is. She is just so grateful. Thank him. Thank him. Thank him. God bless him and keep him forever.

Act. 3. Boy emails girl to tell him that he wants to "take it slow" for now. Maybe something will develop in the future, but for now they should just ease into things. Boy disappears for three days. Zero radio contact. Boy emerges from oblivion to "like" something she says on Facebook. Girl cries a lot and wonders what happened.

Okay, the emailing and Facebook part is new. In my salad days we wrote 16-page letters and left phone messages when we knew they were out. However, the Crazy-Affectionate Guy/Grateful Girl/Disappearance of Guy dynamic has been around forever.

I was in pain, my little Singles, when I read of the latest version of this story because it couldn't have happened two nicer kids. Unless you count their parents, who apparently never taught them how to behave around the opposite sex, there was no villain at all. It was just a psychic accident waiting to happen. It was Completely Naive Girl and Complete Naive Boy out for a spin in on the freeway of love without either having learned how to drive.

It reminded me that it was time once again to underscore one of the most annoying traits in the normal male psyche, and it is a guy's desire to be stopped from going too far when going too far is his idea in the first place. It is also time to remind girls not to push for total emotional intimacy in the first week of dating, or to presume that a young man will become even more glued to your side when he hears that all other men his age apparently think you are the runt of the litter.

Commentary on Act 1. The guy is crazy about the girl. Great. Why, though? Is it who she is, or who he thinks she is? It is in her best interests (and his, not that he knows that) to tell him to take it easy until they know each other better. Meanwhile, she has work to do, hobbies to pursue, friends, family, chores, etc. Therefore, although she really likes him, she should tell him that she can only see him ONCE this week, so that he understands that she is not  [just] God's gift to him, but a student/worker, with needs and interests of her own, other friends, a family and responsibilities. Her time, like his time, is valuable, and she is delighted he has room for her in his life, and she has room for him, too, although right now not so much. Three dates in three days is 2.5 dates too many. 

Meanwhile, I am sorry to say this, but it seems that guys can make out every night with a different girl and forget all their names by Monday. They do not have the same body chemistry as women and therefore don't fall in love with a girl--even a nice girl who is nice to them--just because they made out. However, women are in danger of falling in love with a guy--even a jerk guy who is a jerk to them--just because they made out. Alas. It's sad, but I have come to the conclusion it was nature's gift to cavewomen who got dragged home by cavemen they didn't even know.

The reason why you don't kiss boys on the first date, or first week, is so your discernment isn't stolen from you by your hormones. Your hormones don't want you to marry Mr Right. Your hormones want you to reproduce, ASAP.  Making out is a gateway drug. There, I said it again.

Commentary on Act 2. Young men long to be one of the guys. They generally want to be thought of by other men as normal. They want what other men want because other men want it. They measure their masculinity by the masculinity of other men. At the same time, young men compete with each other, and they look for ways they up-one each other. "You might be richer than me, but I have a hot girlfriend, ha ha." Never underestimate how important the opinion of other men is for young men while they are still sorting out the transition from boy to man.

This is why you DO NOT tell young man that other men have treated you like crap. You want your young man to assume that other men think as highly of you as he does, and he's really lucky that for some mysterious reason, you like him better than them. It's probably his [whatever he thinks he bests other men at].

What a shock to discover that the Girl of his Dreams is not universally acclaimed as a Dream Girl but might actually be the kind of girl who gets picked last for, or dropped first from, the team. Whoops.

Also? The depths of feminine passion can scare the living daylights of a guy not actually Bronwell Bronte, let alone some 24 year old. Imagine some 24 year old who still makes minimum wage realizing that he has become responsible for the happiness of the Girl of his Dreams who turns out to be not entirely dream-like but awfully REAL. Mommmm-ieeeeee!

Commentary on Act 3. So now the poor schnook is terrified. He did say all those things to that girl, and she seems to have taken him seriously, and so now what? Last Sunday morning,  he would have walked a mile for one of her smiles, and this Sunday morning he is hiding under his pillow wondering where else he can go to Mass. He is very confused. Do you have to marry a girl just so you don't join the long line of guys who dumped her?  And because he is a guy--a young guy--he will inevitably come to the conclusion that it's all "her fault."

All women everywhere should play a drinking game in which we all take a slug whenever a guy, whose fault something obviously is, says "This is your/her fault."  On the other hand, allegedly one-out-of-three women in England has had an [A-word], so it's not like women-in-general have this massive moral high ground anymore. Incidentally, I know of a little American lady with lots of fetal livers for sale.

My friend McK, who is now Father McK, once said--as a young man in my kitchen in Boston--that he was afraid to date girls (or to kiss a girl, I forget), in case he "went too far and she didn't stop" him. He blushed when he said that; he was a tremendous blusher.  He was one of these guys who think it's great when women slap a guy who "gets fresh", wonder why more of them don't do it, and are horrified to discover it's mostly because women are terrified the guy will punch them out.

Anyway, I think (in concert with the authors of the 1990s publishing phenomenon The Rules) that on some level, nice young men, honourable young men, want to be stopped from running through the course of a love affair in eight days, which the too-much-too-soon types  almost certainly will do, unless stopped. (My favourite image of this phenomenon is of the dog who finds the dog food bag open and eats and eats and eats until he vomits. Poor dog.)  They won't want to rush through True Love Forever in eight days, and they won't believe this is what will happen if the girl doesn't throw speed bumps in the way, but this is indeed what happens.

The upshot is two unhappy people, both of whom would have been a lot better off if they had exercised a little prudence and self-control, both wondering how much each is to blame. Meanwhile, the best thing the girl can do is to back off entirely  until the boy has emerged completely from his man-cave, where he is hiding, and treat him rather more aloofly from now on.

Main Take-away Points

1. Don't make-out on the first date. Or the second. Or the third.
2. Don't go on three dates in one week. Give him time to recover and, ideally, pine.
3. They need to pine. It's good for them. They don't think it is, but it is.
4. Don't tell young men your most intimate thoughts and secrets unless it's been months, marriage is in the air, and it's a make-or-break-he'll-find-out-one-day-better-hear-it-from-me situation.
5. Never tell eligible young men other men are rotten to you. The reason why you broke up with the last guy is that you didn't really have much in common.
6. Never write an email you wouldn't want read at your funeral. (Do as I say, not as I do.)
7. If he disappears after hearing your most intimate thoughts and secrets, don't go looking. He is sitting in his young man cave, licking his paws and shivering. Oooh! Scary women! Scary Real Life! Scary, scary! And I, for one, don't blame him. He probably used to wear Spiderman jammies.

Wednesday 15 July 2015

Rorate Caeli doesn't like your spaghetti straps

La. I haven't posted anything on clothes for a wee while, so here you go. Enjoy!

Yes, total click bait. If I ever start a cult, all members will wear elbow-length sleeves, and knee- length skirts or shorts or skorts with socks or stockings. Even the boys. That way absolutely nobody in western countries can accuse my cult-members of sartorial immodesty.

I have yet to work out if the men should be allowed to wear shirts to their wrists or actual trousers all the way to their feet. Maybe we could have a trouser/ankle-length skirt, sleeve-to-wrist, dress uniform. I just do not understand WHY it has become a societal norm for women to show our legs when men don't. It used to be the other way around. As for arms, how come women show so much arm when men don't?

I just saw a graduation photo: five young men in black-tie dress, all covered up to the chin. Of their skin, only hands and faces could be see. They were with a fellow graduand,  a girl in a sleeveless, strapless, skin-tight mini-dress. Why do women choose to go almost naked when men go covered from neck to wrist to shoe? And vice versa? Why, why?

Hands, forearms, shins, calves, neck, face, cult members! That's it!

Pondering the Audience

Well, I am 50, 200 words into a manuscript of short stories. So far I have eleven stories, and I think I should add one or two more.

The stories are all tales of the supernatural. They are populated by spooks and monsters. They also all take place in Edinburgh, or to an Edinburgher. A surprising numbers of the characters go to church on Sundays, but then some of the characters are Catholics, and some of them are Protestants either married to Catholics or who lived before 1970. The Scottish Episcopalian characters, of course, think they are Catholics. Naturally if I'm going to dare to write about Anglicans, they are doing to be terribly, dizzily High.

I'm thinking of drawing a map of Edinburgh, with numbers to match all the neighbourhoods in which the ghostly horrors happen. One happens to an Edinburgher in Poland, however, so that leaves me with a design problem. Hmm. Should I mark in the airport? I think I'll just mark the hapless heroine's Bruntsfield flat.

This morning I finished typing the last handwritten story yet to be typed and sent off the file to a priest. I hope he likes this one. He found the last one I sent a bit too tame. He was hoping the hero would suffer a gruesome fate, but for once I stayed my hand. Generally I kick my characters around mercilessly, but that one reminded me too much of B.A.

"Why ghost stories?" you (and perhaps, later, editors) will ask. And the reason stares out at me from a shelf: my husband's large collection of ghost stories. In that section of the linen closet-turned-library can be found the supernatural tales of E.F, A.C. and R.H. Benson, Edith Wharton, Charles Dickens, M.R. James and a host of others. (Saki is elsewhere, beside Sir Walter Scott.)  Benedict Ambrose shares this taste for classic horror fiction with at least two others in the Schola, and my Edinburgh story-writing career began with write stories for them. Later I wrote two or three Edinburgh stories for Polish friends. One of the stories was in actual Polish; I can hardly believe I finished it: three thousand words of extremely dubious literary value.

Some stories have been more successful than others. There was one about bees that I liked, but it fell flat among the intended audience. Then the one with quite a lot of suicide in it seemed to worry the recipient, to whom I dedicated it as a birthday present. The one about a friend's future wife travelling through time to get him to stop smoking eventually caused a row. And then there are all the half-finished stories, lolling leglessly on the hard drive. "The Polish Countess," which was quite ingenious, having reversed the sexes of all my church friends and sent them back to the early 19th century, never got beyond the titular countess and her English flatmate fighting over closet space. Too bad.

Many writers talk about writing the books they would have liked to have read as children, but actually I had no shortage of books I liked to read as a child. Mostly what I like to do is get ideas onto a piece of paper and amuse myself by writing funny dialogues. However, dialogues I find funny are not necessary of interest to anyone else, and I find it much more satisfying to get other people to laugh. Or to cry. I don't know what other kinds of artists are up to, but writers are rotten little manipulators, trying to fool you into thinking that what is going on on the page is REALLY REAL. We want to make you turn pages, and to laugh, or to cry, or to shiver, and to stay up all night reading and generally be controlled by our vision.

Therefore, the wise author ponders WHO the story she is writing is FOR, and to tailor her story for her audience.

In other Art Thoughts (for it is Artistic Wednesday), last night I dreamed my parents had a party in a large apartment with a wooden floor suitable for swing-dancing. To my great excitement, Fred Astaire was present, but some socially awkward friends of my parents had commandeered the stereo equipment and would play nothing but country music. I woke up feeling deeply disappointed.

Tuesday 14 July 2015

This Will Ruin Your Day

I am sorry, but I think every adult in the western world should know about it. So obviously not little brother safe if your brother can read.

In the 1980s, I read some cyber-punk stories. Those were really scary, really cynical stories about what the future might be like. One was about a guy who had had so many children through donating sperm that he wasn't sure how many children he had had, and he couldn't be sure the women he picked up for a good time weren't own his daughters. This is worse.

Incidentally, my American readers' president, the former Junior Senator from Illinois, voted against a ban on so-called "partial birth" you-know-what on more than one occasion. I wonder if someone hadn't explain to him the commercial value of such butchery.

Update: I guess the whatsit-rights people have to go beyond "It's just a clump of cell" now. Now they'll have to say "It's just a clump of tissue--with a head, liver, lungs..."

Mad Trad 2 "A is for Asperges"

Today is Traddy Tuesday, and I am all in a flutter as I have almost finished my next book--a collection of short stories--and have submitted a story to Dappled Things. My guts are all a-churning because naturally I want to repay my husband for all his goodness and hard work keeping me in food and shoes, but being a writer is not the easiest way to do that.

When you gamble your whole life on an securing an academic career, you sometimes lose everything before you get up from the table. You stumble to the doors, not believing it, but it is true: you have lost. Moral of story: if you are a devout Catholic of traditionalist inclinations, do NOT attempt a career in academic theology unless you are A) a priest or B) extremely mentally tough. If, however, you are a closet skeptic or think Elisabeth Schussler-Fiorenza is the greatest thing since sliced bread, you can have the mental toughness of a camomile and you will still be okay. You can repent on your deathbed after a wonderful life of colleagues, students, snazzy restaurants and holidays abroad. 

Mind you, I loved my M.Div. years. They made me who I am today. I adored my professors. But I should have gone to translation school instead. Wah. Hindsight is 20/20, which is why y'all read my blog. 

Still, it could be that I am called to be a mild sort of economic Victim Soul and my job is to wave the flag of orthodox Catholicism even as my toes poke through my Christmas socks. So without any more self-pity, here is the second column I submitted to Prairie Messenger

Hyssop, Snow and Water

 As it takes over an hour to reach my beloved Extraordinary Form of the Mass on Sunday mornings, I am glad that it does not begin at once. Breathless, I need time to calm down and inwardly prepare. Most Sundays our Mass is preceded by the Asperges, the solemn sprinkling with holy water. This is a beautiful ritual recalling our baptism, Jewish purification rituals and Moses sprinkling the Israelites with the blood of sacrifice. Dating from the ninth century at latest, the Asperges was performed before principal Masses on Sundays until 1970.

In the Asperges ceremony, our priest comes into the nave dressed in a cope, but not his chasuble or maniple, as the Asperges is not part of Mass. He follows a thurifer to the altar; the thurifer carries a vessel of holy water and the sprinkler, called an aspergillum. The sanctuary party genuflects while the priest bows low. Then all kneel. The MC takes the aspergillum from the thurifer, dips it in the holy water and gives it to our priest. The priest takes it and, in 13th century plainchant, sings Asperges me (“You will sprinkle me…”).

As he begins to sprinkle the altar and the sanctuary party, the choir and congregation burst into the rest of the verse: … Domine, hyssopo, et mundabor; lavabis me et super nivem dealbabor (“…Lord, with hyssop, and I shall be clean; you will wash me and I shall be whiter than snow.”) This is Psalm 51:7; the organist alone sings Psalm 51:1: Miserere mei Deus secundum magnam misericordiam tuam (“Have mercy on me, God, according to your great mercy”). The choir and people then sing a doxology and, as the priest starts down the aisle to sprinkle them, repeat Psalm 51:7. When the priest has finished sprinkling, he returns to the altar.

Ostende nobis, Domine, misericordiam tuam. (“Show us, O Lord, thy mercy”), he prays.
Et salutare tuum da nobis (“And grant us thy salvation”), add the people.
The priest sings, Domine, exaudi orationem meam (“O Lord, hear our prayer”).
We sing, Et clamor meus ad te veniat (“And let my cry come until Thee”).
Dominus vobiscum (“The Lord be with you”), sings the priest.
Et cum spiritu (“And with thy spirit”), we reply.
Oremus (“Let us pray”), directs the priest, and then in Latin sings, “Graciously hear us, O Holy Lord, Father Almighty, Eternal God; and vouchsafe to send down from heaven thy holy angel, that he may watch over, foster, safeguard, abide with and defend all who dwell in this house. Through Christ Our Lord.”
“Amen,” we sing, and then sit as the priest puts on his chasuble and maniple for Mass.

In Eastertide we sing the Vidi Aquam (“I saw water”) instead of the Psalm 51 verses. It derives from Ezekiel 17:1 and alludes both to the water that poured from the wound in the side of our crucified Lord and to our baptism. The music dates from the 10th century.

As we have both Latin and English nicely typed out in the red missals available at the back of the church, the ritual is easy to follow. And I love it for many reasons. It is a way of cleansing the mind and heart before approaching the mystery and awe of Mass. The holy water cleans off the dust, as it were, and the distractions of the world outside. The hyssop of Psalm 51, a forerunner of the aspergillum, was used to sprinkle water in ancient Jewish purification rituals, and so I think of the ancient Hebrew faith. The prayers to be cleaned of and protected from sin remind me both of my failings and of God’s mercy. Finally, as I sing and feel the water on my forehead, I feel a deep connection to all those Catholics who, for over a thousand years, sang and felt the same things.

The Ordinary Form of the Mass contains a Rite of Blessing and Sprinkling Water. Although I have never seen this done, the Sacramentary of 1975 allows for its use in lieu of the Penitential Rite. What I have seen in the Ordinary Form is the Easter Sunday sprinkling after we renew our baptismal vows. The priest often uses a pine branch, which strikes me as a fitting, Canadian substitute for hyssop; for us the smell of pine, like the sight of new snow and running water, suggests refreshing cleanliness.

If you would like to see and hear the traditional Asperges, you can find it easily on    

The editor cut out that last sentence, but it is both true and the only place most Canadian Catholics born after 1971 will ever see the Asperges. Meanwhile, there is absolutely nothing in my column about social justice, so you can imagine the wailing from Saskatchewan. After my first "Mad Trad" column, I got an impassioned email from an M.Div. schoolmate out West begging me to stay strong. I think he was thinking about what might happen to him if he had written it. I had nothing to lose.