Monday 31 August 2015

A Dating Manifesto

A coffee is just a coffee.
The old conventions about dating might have been restrictive, ageist and unfair, but at least we knew where we were. By "we" I mean people from English-speaking countries, for the kind of "I'll pick you up at 8" dating we associate with the 1950s was never universal. Young women in most places and times were watched like hawks by their caring (or tyrannical) families because the elders knew perfectly well that undisciplined sexual attraction is dangerous to happiness, and that vast numbers of men, young or old, were out for what they could get. It was generally assumed that young women wanted to get married and have babies, and this was seen as a good thing, and steps were taken by families to bring marriage-and-babies about.

Now it is no longer assumed that women want to get married and have babies, or that such desires are even good. Women are taught--via pop culture--to fear being tied down by marriage-and-children, and men are taught--also via pop culture--that wives, especially stay-at-homes--see their husbands as brain-dead bank machines. In my humble opinion, homilists ought to condemn television shows much more than they do.

Faithful Catholics complain in and out of season that sex and reproduction have been wrongly uncoupled from marriage, and they have. The more astute observe also that the unitive aspect of marriage has been insanely more stressed than the procreative in the post-Vatican II Church, with the inevitable and suspicious shrinkage of the Catholic family. However, the bright side of all this is that nobody is "on the shelf"  just because her fertility has taken its inevitable dive. It used to be that if you were Single at thirty-five (heck, thirty), people thought of you as an Old Maid, and your marriage prospects began to rely even more heavily on  your economic situation. If your parents died and left you their shop, well, the widower in the shop next door might suddenly find you more interesting. Charming. 

The good news of the reign of sex and companionate marriage is that no-one is deemed too old for marriage. The bad news, of course, is that many men aren't interested in marriage until women their age are too old--or almost too old--to have children. Occasionally readers tell me that it's not missing out on romance they fear most: it's missing out on having children. I  understand. At the same time, I very much hope readers do not settle for someone they do not passionately love and admire just to ensure they have children.

I meant this post to be about Coffee, Date 1 and Date 2, but I realize we need some background to this Coffee, Date 1 and Date 2.  And I suppose the most important consideration is economic. With the prevalence of no-fault divorce--and in Scotland the vast majority of divorces are instigated by women--many men are terrified of finding themselves the sole breadwinners for themselves, their wives and their children. And who can blame them? Say a man marries a woman and they agree that she will stay home and take care of the kids. If she decides to divorce him, he is on the hook for her support and the children's support, even if she is habitually beastly to him and poisons the children against him. He has to work for years (decades?) without all those nice things--being loved, cherished, honoured--he was promised on his wedding day. Therefore, it is not enough to convince men-in-general you are not the divorcing kind. It behooves you to show men-in-general that you can and will support yourself economically if need be.

Therefore before any consideration of dating, I highly recommend that you choose a trade or profession and get cracking. If you dream of being a stay-at-home mother, find a trade or profession that involves what you like most about homemaking. Pastry chef, for example. Early Childhood Education. Tailor. Carpenter. Gardener. Nurse. Get qualified. Get a job. Show yourself to be economically self-sufficient. I spent my youth planning aloud to become a university professor, and my admirers were sure this would come about. Faithful B.A. thinks I will make a mint as a writer one day. Goodness, I hope so.

Okay, so now you have interests and a trade or profession you are gunning towards or already practice. Excellent. Welcome to adulthood in the 21st century. Notice I couldn't give a stuff if you have a CAREER. Men aren't impressed by careers. They don't care what women do for a living, as long as it makes the women cheerful and not inclined to look down their noses at them for what they do.

Now you can go for coffee.


If someone asks you out for coffee, and you find him or her a reasonably interesting and pleasant human being, and you are Single, accept. (If you are married, there are many more qualifiers.) A coffee is just a coffee. It is always a compliment to be asked, for this person is willing to spend an hour with you. (Never assume a coffee will last more than an hour, and if female, end the coffee meeting within the hour.) While chatting, you may be able to establish if you have core values in common, and if there is anything you and this person have to offer each other. At very least, this person might come to a professional event you are planning, or is planning a professional event you find interesting. If you are a gardener, this person may know someone who needs a gardener.

The coffee time is much too soon to determine whether or not you are in love with the person. Indeed, if you are female, the idea of being in love with such an ordinary-looking man may make you laugh. And if you are in love with the person after just one coffee, you are not in love--you are infatuated. Unless you have corresponded for some time, or spoken to them several times before, you need a serious reality check. All the same, I hope you get asked out on a date.

Hopefully this date is at least ONE WEEK after the coffee.


If the person who asked you out for coffee asks you out again, don't ask yourself if would marry that person. 99% of the time, you wouldn't. After all, you have only had one coffee. You barely know them. It is way too early to think seriously about marriage, except to ponder if the man or woman belongs roughly to the KIND of person you would like to marry. Do you have anything in common? Do they share your core values? Have they already told you they hate children? Have they already expressed disappointment in anything you hold dear?

If your core value is Roman Catholicism--and I don't mean if it should be, I mean if it IS--don't accept a date from a non-Catholic or a non-practicing Catholic. Be blunt. "I'm sorry. I date only practicing  Catholics" is not that hard to say. It will hit a non-practicing Catholic upside the head, but no doubt that will be good for him/her. If you want to marry a Roman Catholic, there is no point dating non-Catholics. Coffee is just a coffee, but a date is a date.

Of course, you might be a Roman Catholic whose core value is something else. It might be your ethnic group. For example, you might think Polishness or Italianity the be-all and end-all of life, and although you may have been surprised to discover that the Polish-American/Italian-Australian across from you at the coffee table hasn't seen the inside of a Catholic church in years, you may feel inclined to go on a first date with him/her anyway.

Women: I firmly believe that any pleasant man who shares your core values deserves two dates before you give up on the idea of ever feeling physically attracted to him.

Men: Don't date girls you don't think are pretty. Don't ask them, and don't accept dates with them. Coffee, yes. A coffee is just a coffee. Network, network.

Almost nobody is at their best on a first date. However, I have a few first date rules:

1. It should be in a public place, never in a private home.

2. Be very careful of what you talk about. Talk about your core values, if you like, but don't spill your guts or express strong negative emotions. Don't, for the love of heaven, bring up the topics of marriage, children, or what kind of a parent you would make.

3. Don't drink too much.

4. For the purpose of this First Date, your life has been an unclouded oasis of joy. If he/she asks, you broke up with your ex-bf/gf because you really didn't have that much in common. That he/she killed your dog is something you may divulge much, much later. You don't want him/her to think you are the kind of person who has relationships with people who behave like that.

5. Listen and don't ignore red flags just because he/she is cute. For some reason, men love to tell you at least some of their bad stuff on the first date. If he's an alcoholic or thinks he may be one, he will very often tell you, or at least hint. Do not ignore this. When men tell you they are bad guys, they are not being modest or funny. They are bad guys. You cannot save them. Save yourself.

6. Don't lie about or hide your age. I've done that, and it's childish, stupid and dishonest. It's also a red flag. Nothing screams "ISSUE" like someone too ashamed to admit how old he or she is.

7. How he or she treats the server really is a good indication of how they treat people. All my adult life I have not wanted this to be true, but it is true.

8. However, just because he/she is a dork on the first date doesn't mean he/she is actually a dork. First dates often make people nervous, over-eager, and generally an embarrassment to everyone. And therefore, unless this person has revealed (consciously or unconsciously) to you that, although they share your core values, they have serious personality problems, you should go on Date 2. I don't care if there's no spark yet.

[Update: 9. If you're divorced-without-annulment and/or have children, the person across from you deserves to know that. Telling someone either fact on the first date may indeed mean there is no second date, for nothing so destroys the comfortable first date illusion that your life has been a cloudless oasis of joy. I am tempted to say you shouldn't tell them until the second date. However, I once found out the guy I was out with was divorced-without-annulment only on the second date, and I was furious. I felt like I had been tricked.]

Date 2 should ideally be no sooner than ONE WEEK after Date 1.


Date 2 is when people living according to my philosophies--how nice that would be--should decide where in the social order of their lives the "pleasant, shares my core values, has no scary issues" people across the bistro table from them belong. He/she may remain an acquaintance, or he/she may already be someone you think a friend or ally, or he/she may be someone you could fall in love with. Falling in love with someone in as few weeks as three is rare*, but I think three weeks--with no more than a meeting a week--is the minimum requirement in peacetime for determining whether a person is at all marriage material.

Naturally you are not going to tell the chap/girl on Date 2 what list you have put them on, for you are not going to put them there until you have had some time to mull. When he/she contacts you to ask/hint for Date 3, that is the time to tell them that you don't feel a spark, but you hope you will remain friends--and as such have coffee again eventually. Or, if you are overjoyed by their continued interest, you can just say yes.


Nota Bene: if you accept the third date only because you are lonely or flattered by the attention or for any other reason than that this person has made your marriage-potential short list, you are now leading him/her on. This is not cool. Break it off as soon as you realize your impure motives. Apologize. Accept the blame like a grown-up. Go to confession. Don't, however, marry anyone once you realize you don't want to marry him/her.


If female, do not bring up the future, marriage, children, or where this relationship is going for at least six months. If you really like the man, and you do these things, I will come to your house and beat you with a stick. The six month rule is for women over 30. If you are under 30, I would say wait a year. If he hasn't proposed in a year, it is time to clear your throat and ask delicate questions.

Being cynical, I think having sex with a guy before you are officially engaged  removes a very attractive incentive for him to propose marriage sooner rather than later, if ever. And of course all premarital sex, including between the merely engaged, is a serious sin. But putting the fear of eternal damnation to the side for a moment, I think having sex with a guy before you are officially engaged removes a very attractive incentive for him to propose marriage sooner rather than later, if ever. ** (Not that it kills all hope: if his friends are all getting married, he may think it is high time he married too.) As for anti-marriage principles, I know married Marxists. My friend Fishie (male) is absolutely convinced that when a man loves a woman, he marries her. End of.

And that is my current dating manifesto. How happy I am that I shall no longer date again. If B.A. should come to an untimely end, I shall fly to the Benedictines of Ryde and throw myself outside the cloister door, begging for entry.

*B.A. and I corresponded a bit and read each other's blogs religiously for months before we met. And we were old and wise and so thoroughly banged about by life we knew who we were and what we wanted.  Ordinarily, two-weeks-together-constantly-and-then-separated-for-months kills a holiday romance stone dead.

**This is not an attempt at morality but at psychology and common sense. If you think smart, self-respecting, non-Catholic girls just hop into bed with whoever at any stage of their relationship, think again.

Update: Meanwhile, do not repeat my cynical thought around an uncatechised man. There are some men that think they somehow have "a right" to premarital sex and that by dating them without intending to have premarital sex with them, women are trying to "control" or "manipulate" them into marriage. Try to avoid men like that; the concepts of Christian purity are probably beyond their shriveled-peanut brains.

One of the interesting hypocrisies of the PUA movement is that these men want to, er, sleep with all the women they can seduce, but then, if they should deign to marry, marry a woman who has had no or only one or two, er, partners. PUAs are such animals, I was delighted to discover one of their big gurus was recently chased out of a Montreal bar by a mob. Generally I am down on mob violence, but in this case: woot!

Update 2:  I return for a Reality Check. Although naturally I would like to be Queen of the World, these Coffee/Date 1/Date 2 rules are purely my own invention. I do not expect them to become the latest rage, even among Catholics. (I don't have that kind of clout.)  However, I think they are easily defensible. "But you went out for coffee with me!" makes for a rather feeble guilt trip, should a discouraged suitor/suitoress start to cry. (Repeat after me: "A coffee is just a coffee.") "You let me buy you dinner--twice!" is also rather feeble, and can easily be countered with, "Well, you invited me."

But I'm not really worried about tears and hurt feelings. I'm more worried about Single Girls saying "No" to the right boys too soon and "Yes" to the wrong boys long after a "No" was called for.

The hardest part will be the CLEAR and HONEST "No" to Date 3 (or Date 2, should the chap beat the server to a pulp, reveal he is an alcoholic, mention he is married, etc.) instead of hinting, hiding, qualifying, apologizing, disappearing and other cowardly behaviour we women are so good at. Just say it (or email it) .  Here is a sample letter:

Dear Scooter:

Thanks again for dinner! I got your message about Friday, and I have to say that although I enjoyed our dates, I don't feel that we are ever going to be more than friends. I wouldn't mind catching up over a coffee some time, since we diehard Traddies [Lefties, Trekkies, Georgette Heyer fans] ought to stick together, but I think accepting another dinner invitation would be unkind.

[Thoughtful You] 

Don't have a cow if, within minutes of receiving this email, he asks out another girl from your social circle. It's his right to do so, and your duty to yourself to tell anyone who asks what a great couple you think they might make. Incidentally, note the total lack of apology. You're just not that into him, and that's not your fault.

Update 3: My five male readers may be wondering what they can do to appear more physically attractive to  the pretty girls they ask out for coffee within three weeks. As most women are more imaginative than we are visual, you go out and do something manly and athletic before Coffee, Date 1 or Date 2, and when Prettiness asks what you have been up to, you can truthfully say "I climbed Ben Nevis" or "I played football in the park" or even "I shot a few hoops with my pals." This is particularly effective if you have a scholarly reputation.

Meanwhile, you never, ever, EVER mention sexual stuff during Coffee, Date 1 or Date 2.  If the poor Child of Mary, having an awkward First Date moment, asks you if you believe in premarital sex, you should say you believe it sometimes happens to other people.

And don't send the girl umpteen emails between appointments. Totally unnecessary and bad psychology. Short delays are important.

Your schedule: Coffee. Wait two days. Request Date 1  (scheduling it  at least a full week after the coffee).  Go on Date 1. Wait two days. Request Date 2 (scheduling it at least a full week after Date 1). Go on Date 2. Ponder if you want to date this girl again. Ponder for two days. If you do, request Date 3 (scheduling it at least a full week after Date 2). If you don't, you don't have to do anything until the inevitable email/text arrives. ("How's it going? What happened? Don't be a stranger!") If she turns you down for Date 3, you can cry (privately) and then thank your lucky stars she was that honest and respectful of your time and resources. A lesser woman would either have eaten your entire student loan or seemingly disappeared off the face of the earth.

UPDATE 4: Hello, Catholic Answers readers! Gladden the hearts of the sales staff at Ignatius Press and buy my book. Alternatively, startle Liguori into action by buying the Singles one  unless you are Polish, in which case proszę wzbogacić  the coffers of the Krakow Redemptorists. Support Catholic publishers today!

Sunday 30 August 2015

Sunday Serial Chapter 4

18th century Chinoiserie features!
And here is your weekly chapter, hopefully denuded of all the Inner Child's characteristic orthography.

Saturday 29 August 2015

Affirming Your Boundaries with a Smile

It's Seraphic Singles Saturday, and I hope I can rise to the challenges of guru-dom as I have been felled by a horrible head-cold. I am not feeling terrifically brainy right now, so it is a good thing I got the Dear Auntie Seraphic letter some undisclosed time ago.

To protect the identity of your fellow reader, I shall just tell the story. In short, she was chatting away after Mass, greeting strangers in her hospitable way, when a new young man asked her out for coffee. Remembering my dictum of "It's just coffee!", she said she'd be happy to meet for coffee, and they exchanged phone numbers, emails, etc.

But then the young man contacted her about having LUNCH. Your fellow reader froze. She had said yes to coffee, but now Mr New Guy was saying lunch.

Now, your fellow reader is a very busy woman and the only time she has to have lunch with people is on Sundays after Mass, a cherished time slot she dedicates to her friends every week. However, she felt honour-bound to have lunch with this chap, so suggested the following (not "this") Sunday.

Mr New Guy, after sending long and friendly emails to our heroine all week, turned up early to Mass on "this" Sunday, hovered at her elbow and made it clear that he expected her to sit with him. In the nicest way, she hinted that she would not be sitting with him but as usual with her friends. Nevertheless, he stressed his hope she would sit with him at Mass, joking about how to make himself more visible.  Our heroine felt awkward about the whole situation and very sorry she had agreed to lunch. She wrote to me to ask what she should do.

I read her email, thought about it, went to sleep, woke up, read it again and ruled that she had grounds for saying she had double-booked for Sunday and had a prior obligation to her friends. Usually I would never suggest a woman break a date--except for reasons of safety or a family emergency--but in this case, it seemed to me that the longstanding permanent lunch date with friends was necessary to the mental health and flourishing of my hardworking reader. Besides, it was clear she didn't want to have lunch with this man, and only agreed to because she thought she "had" to.

I suggested that she apologize for the double-booking and say what would have been easier at the time, which is that she is too busy right now for new lunch engagements, but was open to having that coffee. And this, I felt, would be generous of her after the awkwardness of his Sunday importunity. The young man's behaviour suggested that he is lonely and desperate, and it is not nice when our fellow Catholics, new to our communities, are lonely and desperate. Naturally we do not want them to take a mile when we offer them an inch--a habit all too common to the socially awkward--but "I was a stranger and you welcomed Me" is something we all want to hear on Judgement Day.

The truth is, a longstanding member of a community--with a group of friends in it, with a weekly lunch date--has a confidence and social clout a newcomer does not have. Under this circumstances, it should be easy to say "Howdy, stranger" to someone new. However, it should also be easy to say, "Whoa. Steady on there. I'm happy to do X, but Y is inconvenient."

There are lots of kinds of Single people, but this story is about two kinds: the Single who grabs onto anyone friendly like he or she is drowning, and the Single who thinks he or she "HAS" to give up cherished time with friends or other beloved activities to "get out there" and "go on a date" if he or she is serious about wanting to be married. And here am I to say "Stop that" to both.

I've wailed dozens of times about all the time I wasted on dates when meanwhile the man I was meant to marry was across the ocean in Scotland.* However, I suppose all those dates helped make me the woman Benedict Ambrose fell in love with, not to mention a good source of dating advice. And one thing I have learned from Single-and-dating-ness is that you shouldn't go to boring parties just "to get out there." Meeting a fellow Catholic for a coffee because he is new and "I was a stranger..." is a good thing to do. But giving up much-loved girl-time to meet a stranger just in case he is the One--nope.

A coffee is just a coffee. Lunch with a stranger is a date. Whereas I think Searching Singles should have lots of coffees--even married Auntie Seraphic goes for coffee with Single pals, male and female--I don't think anyone HAS to go on a date with a stranger. Naturally, you don't HAVE to have that coffee either, although I think you should (unless the guy is a proven animal). First coffee, and if he's a nice Catholic boy you like okay as a friend, two dates before you decide you're just never going to click. (Rarely can you tell on the first date; few people are at their best on the first date.)

Let your coffee be coffee, and your lunch be lunch. If someone asks if you'd like to have coffee, and you say "All right!" and then he tries to change it to lunch/dinner/movie/trip and you feel nonplussed, simply say "No, thank you--too busy. But I wouldn't mind having that coffee." If he argues, he's a drip, and I give you full permission (not that you need it) to say, "I change my mind on that coffee. Clearly you're not the kind of man who respects boundaries."

*To be fair, the older I got, the more fun these dates tended to be, and I certainly ate a lot of very good meals and had a lot of interesting conversations. Credit where credit is due, and in hindsight I was a terrible, disloyal girlfriend before I was 24. In a book, I would have come to a bad end, dying of consumption like Ruby Gillis, but as you can see, I have not.

Friday 28 August 2015

Sitting on a Camel with Mr Tarkowski

Begins the excitement of Chapter 8 with a rush.
Today is Polski Piątek (Polish Friday), so you know what is coming. But if you think studying Polish is boring, fear not: I have a great post planned for Seraphic Singles Saturday. Meanwhile Catholic readers can guess how thrilling it is to read a verse of poetry by a certain Karol Wojtyła in his native language. Long before he was elected pope, the good priest-professor was a notable poet.

Yesterday I bribed yet another young Pole to listen to me read Polish aloud, this time with tea and cake. Teaching Auntie Seraphic how to speak Polish is becoming a national effort. The sixth Edinburgh Uni student to fall into my hands met me outside Peter's Yard (a Swedish café) yesterday morning, and we exchanged bright remarks in Polish before we sat down to W Pustyni i w puszczy.  I opened the book to Chapter 8--which I see I began on August 7--and began to read like this:

The night white-ned. The peo-ple had just seat-ed themselve on their cam-els, when suddenly they s-s-s-s-saw a des-ert wolf who-oo, with its tail hhhhh-idd-en under itss-sself, cross-ssed the ra-vine a hundred fee-eet from the car-a-van...

My teenage audience bore this patiently  and, when the hour was up, reflected cheerfully that Polish was really hard. She has read and spoken Polish all her short life, and I strongly suspect there were no non-Poles in her Polish A-level class in England, for she seemed surprised by my linguistic struggle.

Noc bladła. Ludzie mieli już siadać na wielbłądy, gdy nagle spostrzegli pustynnego wilka, który wtuliwszy ogon pod siebie przebiegł wąwóz o sto kroków od karawany...

"This is very old-fashioned language," she had eventually said, and my heart dropped to my robin's-egg-blue flats. I have been kinda sorta hoping that my travels with Staś and Nell (porwane dzieci) would help me with chit-chat this October when I go to Poland for a wedding. Admittedly, this was only a half-hearted hope, for unless I meet someone who been to North Africa, I am not likely to be asking questions about camels, desert foxes, ravines, caravans and--the most exciting part of Chapter 8--sandstorms.

 And indeed the wind was coming. In the distance it appeared like a dark cloud, which made itself ever bigger to the eyes and approached the caravan. It also moved around the closest waves of air and suddenly gusts began to turn the sand. Here and there it made funnels, as if someone had stirred up the surface of the desert with a stick. In some places were whirls just like columns, slender at the bottom and dispersing like feathers at the top. But everything lasted only for the blink of an eye. The cloud, which the leader of the camels first saw, came upon them with inconceivable speed. It walloped the people and beasts like the wing of a giant bird. In one moment, the eyes and ears of the travellers filled with dust. Clouds of dust hid the sky, hid the sun and darkness swallowed up the earth. The people began to lose sight, and even the nearest camels loomed as if in a fog. Not a leafy murmur--because there are no trees in the desert--but a roar of the gale drowned out the cries of the leader and the bellow of the beasts. The air stank with an odour that seemed like charcoal fumes.  The camels stood fast and turned away from the wind, stretching their long necks down, so that their nostrils were almost touching the sand. 

(I rzeczywiście wiatr nadchodził. W oddali pojawiła się jakby ciemna chmura, która czyniła się w oczach coraz wyższą i zbliżała się do karawany. Poruszyły się też naokół najbliższe fale powietrza i nagle podmuchy poczęły skręcać piasek. Tu i ówdzie tworzyły się lejki, jakby ktoś wiercił kijem powierzchnię pustyni. Miejscami wstawały chybkie wiry, podobne do kolumienek cienkich u spodu, a rozwianych jak pióropusze w górze. Ale wszystko to trwało przez jedno mgnienie oka. Chmura, którą pierwszy ujrzał przewodnik wielbłądów, nadleciała z niepojętą szybkością. W ludzi i zwierzęta uderzyło jakby skrzydło olbrzymiego ptaka. W jednej chwili oczy i usta jeźdźców napełniły się kurzawą. Tumany pyłu zakryły niebo, zakryły słońce i na świecie uczynił się mrok. Ludzie poczęli tracić się z oczu, a najbliższe nawet wielbłądy majaczyły jak we mgle. Nie szum — bo na pustyni nie ma drzew — ale huk wichru głuszył nawoływania przewodnika i ryk zwierząt. W powietrzu czuć było taką woń, jaką wydaje czad węgli. Wielbłądy stanęły i odwróciwszy się od wiatru, powyciągały długie szyje w dół, tak że nozdrza ich dotykały prawie piasku.)

Well, that was exciting, and why I manage to keep reading. In Desert and in Wilderness is nothing if not plot-driven. It is much more thrilling than Polish in Four Weeks, which reader Sprachmeister tells me he had some success with. However, Polish in Four Weeks is about a bickering boyfriend and girlfriend, and the girl's new suitor, and her roommate, and an Anglo-Pole named John, whose Polish relations think it is high time he got married. Although pretty interesting for a teach-yourself language course, this is not as interesting as being kidnapped by agents of a 19th century Islamic terrorist and carted across the desert on camels.

I read through three pages yesterday--Chapter 8 is finished at last--but I stopped so as to give myself time to catch up with the vocabulary, a slower, much more painstaking process. I was in the cafeteria of the National Portrait Gallery at the time, and I had two hours to kill before my pre-opera drink, so I went to Waterstones on George Street to read Rose Petal Jam.

I have longed for Rose Petal Jam for months and months, but always thought it too expensive to buy. It is a simply beautiful book--a superior kind of coffee-table book--full of memories of a happy childhood in Lower Silesia in the 1960s until the 1980s, and then of contemporary travels, interspersed with excellent recipes, gorgeous photographs and snippets of Polish poems.  Apparently nostalgia is contagious, for as I sat there in Waterstones, gobbling the whole thing up while hoping the salespeople wouldn't notice, the book made me want to cry. Sentimental tears sprang to my Anglo-Saxon eyes. Am I getting old, or what?

 And now there is a second volume, called Sugared Orange, which now I also want. Oh, dear me.  But I will have to manage it somehow, for I feel I owe Beata Zatorska  a few shekels. Authors shouldn't take advantage of other authors by reading their books for free. Libraries are one thing, but stolen hours in a bookshop quite another.

Thursday 27 August 2015

Pinkerton, that jerk!

I've just returned from Opera Bohemia's Thursday night performance of Madame Butterfly for the Edinburgh Festival. It was really very good. Normally when I go to an opera in Edinburgh, I think with longing of dear old Toronto and the Canadian Opera Company. However, Opera Bohemia was excellent.

I had forgotten what a louse Pinkerton is. Pinkerton, in case you have forgotten, is the American naval officer who goes to Nagasaki and "marries" a beautiful Japanese girl named Cio-Cio-San. Cio-Cio-San thinks they're married; however, there's something about that Japanese wedding that apparently isn't binding, even if the American Consul puts in an appearance. So when Pinkerton goes off home--er. Well, don't want to ruin the plot. However, Old Pinky is giggling about temporary marriages from Act 1 Scene 1, quite as if he were paraphrasing American sex tourists he's read on the manosphere.

By the end of the opera, a church full of Edinburghers was sniffling away and wiping its eyes. Och, aye.

My one complaint is the translation of moglie (Act 3)  as "partner." Puh-lease. I know this is Scotland in 2015, and we hate to make the bidie-ins feel second-best, but moglie means "wife." There are still wives in Scotland, and some of us refuse to refer to ourselves as "partners". Meanwhile the whole point of Madame Butterfly is wife-ness and not-wife-ness, and what happens when your wife thinks she is your wife but you think she is your "partner".

Wednesday 26 August 2015

The Healing Calm of the New Town

Embra! Ancestral city!
You are like wealth.
Only she who has found you late
(as if by stealth)
in life can your charms rate
most adequately.

 That is my  homage to Adam Mickiewicz's "Inwokacja" in his epic poem Pan Tadeusz. I think it is quite funny, but then I spent a hour every morning one Christmas holiday in the countryside memorizing the "Inwokacja." Why ask way?

"Embra" is one local pronunciation of the great capital of Scotland, but I don't suggest you use it yourselves. Canadians with Scottish grandparents and/or great-grandparents tend to call it "Edinbura" or "Edinbra." Only Americans tourists or Canadians without Scottish great-grandparents call it "Edin-borrow." I know a German who calls it "Edynbayrg," and it is officially "Edynburg" in Polish. 

Edinburgh is one of the most beautiful cities in the English-speaking world. It may actually BE the most beautiful city in the English-speaking world. I couldn't say myself, but I would not be surprised. It is certainly the most beautiful city in the English-speaking world I have been to, and I have been to Bath, Oxford and Cambridge (and Cambridge, MA). 

As a tiny child I lived in Cambridge (England), and the year created a little Cambridge-Eden in my memory. This had almost nowt to do with the glorious university architecture. As a tiny child, I took all that sort of thing in my stride. My family lived in student housing near the Botanical Gardens, and I believe where we lived used to be part of the Botanical Gardens. At any rate, it had woods and meadows and, if no real pond, then certainly a raised duck pond.  But I was not blind to all architecture, for one day when leaving some house with my parents I looked up at the door and saw either in it or above it a window of this shape: 

That window made such an impression on me that I have loved the top-half of a circle passionately all my life. Being the eldest of five, I got to play with wooden blocks for many, many years, and my favourite was the one, the only, the unique half moon shape cut out of one of the rectangles. (The resultant arch was my second-favourite block.) As the block box didn't have much in the way of architectural trimmings, our grand designs were either Georgian or strictly postmodern. 

Alas, there is not much Georgian architecture left in my native Toronto. The Americans invaded and burned it down in  1813, and then there were various Great Fires, and since the Great Fire of 1904, Torontonians haven't given two ticks for preserving their historical architecture.  If there is a really loud outcry, a  giant truck comes along and takes the building away to land deemed less valuable than the land it is sitting on. Toronto self-cannibalizes to this day. 

So imagine my joy to live now in beautiful Edinburgh, where old buildings are cherished and loved and preserved and miraculously spared by German bombers in World Wars both I and II. Edinburgh's "New Town" (with the partial exception of Princes Street, which was almost destroyed by the Spirit of Vat--I mean, by the rage for Brutalism) is a beautifully preserved Georgian masterpiece with half-moon "fan lights" topping doors up and down the cobbled streets. 

I live not in the New Town, but on one of Edinburgh's very edges. There is no fan light over the door of the Historical House, alas. (Not that I'm complaining, exactly. The House is pre-Georgian, after all.) However, I have many opportunities to go to the New Town, and do. And if I am alone and have time to walk through the streets--especially any time between 9 and 5 on a weekday--the straight lines and curved half-moons fill me with calm and optimism. 

Tuesday 25 August 2015

Mad Trad 7: F is for Fish on Friday

Servant of God Catherine Doherty (photo by Thomas Merton)
Good morning! It's Traddy Tuesday, the day I riff on traditions held dear by Catholics not interested
in singing a New Church into being. I was at lunch with a bunch of such like-minded Catholics a couple of Sundays ago, and a red-haired chap rose unsteadily to his feet and drank a toast to us and our reactionary views. Honestly, we are just a bunch of unhelpful counter-revolutionaries, and no doubt we would be first up against the wall were our critics not so totally opposed to the death penalty--for people who make it out of the delivery room in one piece, that is.

That said, even we are lightweights in regards to the ancient Christian practice of fasting. When it comes to fasting, we Latins are WIMPS compared to the Greeks. Servant of God Catherine de Hueck Doherty was shocked and stunned when she converted from Russian Orthodoxy to the Roman Catholic Church and discovered that not even pre-V2 Catholic priests fasted that much, never mind the laity. And as we can all see, there are an awful lot of obese Catholic priests.

My friend Berenike once told me with great loyalty and strictness that "A fat priest is the pride of his village," but I think this says more about the generosity of the village than the spiritual well-being of the priest.  My own pastor is rumoured to live on nothing but soup. This is probably untrue, but such pious legends stiffen the resolve of traditional Latins not wanting to feel like lightweights next to the strictly fasting Greeks.

Servant of God Catherine de Hueck Doherty is a hero of social justice activists in Canada, so it is odd that fasting gets a bad rap there. It is especially odd when you consider that periodically "Fasting for the Third World" comes into fashion, and you are invited to pay £5 for a lunch of rice and gloomily contemplate what it would be like to have to eat it every day. However, I heartily doubt anyone in the Third World eats plain unsalted Uncle Ben's Converted Rice. Paying £5 for bowl of scrumptious basmati cooked by a Pakistani grandmother would be something more like. Meanwhile, the best fasting food I can think of is AIR.

But to move from fasting to abstinence, I am terrible bored by people who tell me that "fish is a luxury" and "I hate meat, so giving it up on Fridays is meaningless." Fish is not necessary a luxury; it certainly isn't if it comes frozen in a box or mashed up in a tin, and  if you live by the sea, the fresh version can indeed be cheaper than meat. B.A. and I eat cheap Scottish salmon at least once a week whereas beef is a very rare treat. I admire vegetarians, those champion abstainers, so when they shrill that Friday abstinence traditions seem empty to them, I praise them for their 24/7 abstinence. Meanwhile, if they consumed nothing on Friday but bread and water, they might benefit.

Okay, so without any further ado, torn from the pages of the Prairie Messenger, is:

Friday Fish

When I was an undergraduate, I joined the university mediaeval drama society. At a Friday night cast party, my hostess offered me a meaty canapé.
“No, thank you,” I said.
“Oh,” said my hostess. “Are you a vegetarian?”
I hesitated. Catholicism was not the favourite religion of university dramatic societies, and at least one campus newspaper was loud in its contempt of my Catholic college. I wasn’t sure how to word my explanation, so I seized on hers.
“Only on Fridays,” I said.
My hostess laughed.
“We just play at being mediaeval,” she said. “You’re the real thing.”
Yes and no. The disciplines of fasting and abstinence from meat are so ancient and so widespread that they cannot strictly be called mediaeval or uniquely Catholic. Every year Canadian newspapers report sympathetically on the Ramadan daylight fast of Islam, the Yom Kippur fast of the Jews and the strict Lenten fast of the Eastern Orthodox churches. Meanwhile, society in general used to be more circumspect in its eating habits, abstaining from snacking because it didn’t want to spoil its appetite.
Nevertheless, Roman Catholics derive no little amount of communal identity from penitential dietary practises. Historian Eamonn Duffy, no conservative, mourns in his Faith of our Fathers the “effective abolition” of such disciplines in 1966, calling it:

“… a radical discontinuity within Catholic tradition, a decisive break with the past. The ritual observance of dietary rules—fasting and abstinence from meat in Lent, and abstinence from meat and meat products every Friday, as well as the Eucharistic fast from midnight before the reception of Communion—were as much defining marks of Catholicism before the Council, as abstention from pork is a defining characteristic of Judaism. The Friday abstinence in particular was a focus of Catholic identity which transcended class and education barriers, and which united ‘good’ and ‘bad’ Catholics in a single eloquent observance … Friday abstinence has been replaced by a genteel and totally individualistic injunction to do some penitential act on a Friday—an injunction, incidentally, which most Catholics know nothing about. What had been a corporate mark of identity has been marginalized into an individualistic option.

This is, perhaps, overly pessimistic. Paul VI’s Apostolic Constitution on Penance (1966) doesn’t discourage fasting and abstinence as much as it encourages Christians to observe penitential prayer and alms-giving with the same zeal. It asks local bishops to determine the appropriate laws of fasting and abstinence for their people. Meanwhile, the Code of Canon Law of 1983 states that “abstinence from meat, or from some other food as determined by the Episcopal Conference, is to be observed on all Fridays, unless a solemnity should fall on a Friday. Abstinence and fasting are to be observed on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday” (1251). It was about 1983 when my mother, the Episcopal Conference at our house, gave up on the “individualistic option” and brought back Friday fish.
Oh ye saints! Those orange baked fish triangles of doom! The idea behind abstaining from meat is that meat is a delicacy that human beings crave; nobody could crave the frozen fish fillets that we had, with oven fries and peas, Friday after Friday for our sins, until at last someone rebelled and tastier, less penitential, fishy fare appeared. Meanwhile, it had been banged into my head, and the heads of friends with similar mothers, that Friday, like Sunday, was a special day that we shared as Catholics. It still gives us, in a very physical way, a sense of being Church together.

 But identity, of course, is besides the point. The point is to do penance and to grow closer to God through growing less attached to worldly pleasures. Christians are bound by divine law to do penance, which we do in reparation for our own sins and for the sins of others. It is fitting to do this by sacrificing food because by doing so we remember that, as much as we need food, we need God even more. Meanwhile, fasting has traditionally been associated with overcoming temptations towards other sins and with spiritual combat in general. Our Lord himself fasted for forty days before his temptation (Matthew 4:1-2) and advised his followers to pray and fast before attempting to exorcise demons (Matthew 17:17-20).

In Canada, the minimum requirements are abstinence from all food and drink save water and medicine for an hour before Communion, abstinence from meat or performance of another “good action” on most Fridays, and abstinence from meat and fasting (which means eating no more than one meal and two collations) on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. We are encouraged, of course, to do more than the minimum. Our Eastern Orthodox brethren must find our minimum hilarious.

Monday 24 August 2015

Internet Dating Update

Well, cherubs, I have not attempted Internet Dating since 2008, so I imagine I am completely out of touch. Naturally, having recently written about it, I am acquainted with the concept of the "Tinder App" and how it must be putting a serious dent in the world's oldest profession. Why rent the hooker when you can bed one for free? What these women think they are doing, or why they think they should be doing it, or how they can derive much satisfaction from it, is simply beyond me.

However, never mind them. I am curious about Single Catholics' chaste attempts to make friends and find love online. (Naturally I hope you are spending as much time attempting to make friends as to find love because one normally leads to the other.)

How is it going? I know I grump about dating websites exploiting lonely Catholics ("Alone this Easter/Christmas/Assumption Day? You don't have to be!"), but nobody knows better than I how the internet has opened up new opportunities to make friends and find potential spouses. Personally, my favourite method is to write a daily blog and take an interest in my readers. You girls are always welcome to inform me when you will be in town and suggest a cup of coffee. Meeting female readers is always great fun. Men readers provide more of a social challenge, so maybe you should just turn up to After-Mass Tea at the local Extraordinary Form. One came by yesterday; I was astonished to discover that he had quoted me in some seminary assignment. This knowledge made my day. What must the footnote have looked like?!

Anyway, I have guests coming over, so I must fly about baking a cake and tidying the Historical Attic Flat, so you chime in with your reflections and advice about using Catholic dating websites and other internet media to win friends and impress potential spouses.

As you may remember, my principal advice has always been: MEET SOON. MEET IN A PUBLIC PLACE. I could also add "Google-stalk the so-and-so until you have exhausted every link," for that is certainly what I would do. Be in no doubt of that!

Sunday 23 August 2015

Your Sunday Serial

Chapter 3 of the orthograph-normative edition of The Bodis Riper here.

Saturday 22 August 2015

Happy Birthday to B.A.!

So happy birthday to the bloke who totally ruined any chance of me making a living as a Professional Single. I was all set, but then he came along and invited me to stay with him should I ever go to Scotland, etc.

In light of our conversation yesterday, I observe that  B.A. is nothing like a hero in a Jane Austen novel.  For example:

1. He was born in the late twentieth century
2. in Scotland,
3. a descendant of whalers and millworkers,
4. to quarreling young parents who divorced
5. and was brought up speaking dialect until
6. his accent was scrubbed by the Scottish Episcopalian Church
7. which led to him learning how to be funny
8.  so as not to be beaten up by his working-class peers in the school yard although
9. a social window opened long enough for boys like him to go
10.  to an old Scottish university where he ended up
11. teaching philosophy until
12. taking a job at the Historical House where he now
13. lives, the Historical House being a bigger than a parsonage but smaller than Pemberley,
14. with his Catholic wife, being himself a convert to Roman Catholicism.

Actually, I suppose if B.A. were like any character in a Jane Austen novel, he might be like Mr Bingley, but only in so far as they share a sweetness of temper. (B.A. is much cleverer and much less easily influenced than Mr Bingley.) He might also be like Mr Bennett in that he prefers to stay shut up in his library than to go out dancing.

I am searching through my mind for a character in a book who enthusiastically and wholeheartedly encouraged his wife to make a career out of writing, but I really can't think of one. However, B.A. is a vast improvement over all men in literature, in part because he is real.

Sienkiewicz Progress Report

Yesterday I planned to write a Polski Piątek (Polish Friday) piece for all the language lovers, but I didn't get home until really late. So here it is this morning.

First of all, Henryk Sienkiewicz is the man who wrote Quo Vadis--you know, the one about the captured princess who is stolen from her loving adoptive Roman parents by Nero to give to Lygia's handsome but selfish admirer Marcus. Saints Peter and Paul feature, as well as Lygia's ginormous bodyguard. Rome burns; Christians suffer. If you haven't read the book, you may have seen the film. Both made Sienkiewicz temporarily world-famous.

Sienkiewicz (sh'yen--K'YAY-veetch, you're welcome) was part of the 19th century Polish cultural revival, the Poles still being extremely miserable and annoyed at having lost their lands to the Russians, Austrians and Germans. One of the few things they still had was their language. Therefore Polish literature was very important in keeping Polish self-esteem alive, and as a matter of fact Quo Vadis is not just an adventure story, it is an allegory about Poland. 

Sienkiewicz wrote a number of  historical novels that Poles still like to read and turn into films. The first one that comes galloping to mind is Ogniem i mieczem  (With Fire and Sword) because I have director Jerzy Hoffman's version and watched it with a party of men until the clouds of testosterone grew too oppressive and I fled to my bedchamber. Mostly what I got out of this  film was that in the 17th century Poles still dressed like Vikings in a snowstorm. One day I will try watching it again. 

Meanwhile, I am reading Sien--oh, heck, let's call him Henryk. I'm reading Henryk's one novel for children, W Pustyni i W Puszczy (In the Desert and the Wilderness), writing the date at the bottom of each page I finish reading. The first page (5) is marked June 19, and on August 15 I finished page 42. Sadly, I have not managed to read a page every day since June 19, but I'll tell you why. It's because I still have to look up every second word, that's why. 

Poland is very hard to defend because it is flat. If you can cross the Baltic Sea to Gdansk or the mountains to the south and kill millions of angry Poles before they can kill you, you could conquer Poland relatively easily. The Polish language, however, is full of mountain ranges, plunging valleys, treacherous marshes, silent quicksand, barbed wire, sea monsters and carnivorous plants. When approached by a foreigner, it covers itself with a slippery goo derived from beetroot juice so that the words slide out of the foreigner's head as quickly as the foreigner shoves them in. After four years of study, I still can't speak the blessed thing.  Or won't, anyway--except to fellow foreign students of Polish. Alas.

But one thing I can do is read Polish and get the general gist of it. To actually understand it word for word, I still need the dictionary. And so frustrated was I with all the physical labour of looking up words in my heavy Langenscheidt Premium Słownik polsko-angielski/angielsko-polski that I cut it in half. Snip, snip, snip. Then I taped the back cover to the first half and affixed tabs to all the letters, so I could see immediately where they were without having to flip around so much. Then I made a dictionary of my own out of a little hardback notebook, affixing more alphabetic tabs. This way I can write down the words I don't know, so that if I see them again and can't remember what they mean, I can just look them up in my mini-słownik.

So here is my new process:

1. Read page of story. Write date at bottom.
2. Read page again, underlining all the words I don't understand.
3. Read page again, looking up all the underscored words as they come up and writing them down in my mini-słownik.

This takes an agonizingly long time. See, for example, a passage I decoded yesterday:

Do południa pędzili prawie bez wytchnienia, ale gdy słońce wzbiło się wysoko na niebo i poczęło przypiekać, wielbłądy, które z natury mało się pocą, oblały się jednak potem i bieg ich stał się znacznie wolniejszy. Karawanę otoczyły znowu skały i osypiska. Wąwozy, które w czasie deszczów zmieniają się w łożyska strumieni, czyli tzw. khory, zdarzały się coraz częściej. Beduini zatrzymali się na koniec w jednym z nich, całkiem ukrytym wśród skał. Lecz zaledwie zsiedli z wielbłądów, podnieśli krzyk i rzucili się naprzód, schylając się co chwila i ciskając przed siebie kamieniami. Stasiowi, który jeszcze nie zsunął się z siodła, przedstawił się dziwny widok. Oto spośród suchych krzaków porastających dno khoru wysunął się duży wąż i wijąc się z szybkością błyskawicy między okruchami skał, umykał do jakiejś znanej sobie kryjówki. Beduini ścigali go zaciekle, a na pomoc im poskoczył Gebhr z nożem w ręku. Ale z powodu nierówności gruntu zarówno trudno trafić było węża kamieniem, jak przygwoździć go nożem — wkrótce też wrócili wszyscy trzej z widocznym w twarzach przestrachem.

wzbiło się         -  it [the sun] had risen
przypiekać       -  to broil 
się pocą             - they [the camels] sweat
oblały się          - they [the camels] were covered 
bieg                    - run (noun)
znacznie           - significantly
otoczyły            - they [rocks and scree] surrounded
osypiska           - scree
w łożyska         - into the riverbed
strumieni         - of a stream
tzw.                     - called, so-called  
zdarzały się      - they [the ravines] occurred
zatrzymali się  - they [the Beduins] stopped
wśród                    - among
zaledwie             - as soon as, barely
zsiedli                   - they dismounted
podnieśli            - they raised
schylając się      - bending down
ciskając                - hurling
zsunął się             - he [Stan] slipped
z siodła                - from the saddle
krzaków              -  the bushes
porastających   - overgrowing
wysunął się        - he [the snake] came out
wijąc się              - writhing
błyskawicy         - lightning (adj.)
okruchami        - fragments, crumbs
umykał                - he [the snake] fled
znanej                 - known
kryjówki             - hiding place
ścigali                  - they [the Beduin] chased
zaciekle               - fiercely
poskoczył            - he [Gebhr] sprang
nierówności      - unevenness
gruntu                 - of the ground
zarówno              - both
trafić                     - to hit
przygwoździć   - to pin down
z widocznym    - with visible [terror]

However, as I was looking these all up in a dictionary, not Google Translate, I had to mentally think about what they would look like in their most standard forms--the nouns all in the nominative case, and the verbs all in the imperfect infinitive. I wrote all the ones I could find down. The ones I couldn't, I have discovered right now on Google Translate.  So now we see that the passage could be rendered in English as: 

Until noon they hurried on almost without a break, but when the sun rose high in the sky and began to broil, the camels which by nature perspire little were nevertheless covered in sweat and their run became significantly slower. Rocks and scree again surrounded the caravan. The ravines, which in rainy season became riverbeds, called 'khors', occurred ever more often.  The Beduin stopped at last in one of them, totally hidden among the rocks. But they had barely dismounted their camels when they raised a cry and moved forward, bending all the while and hurling stones before them. A strange sight met Stan, who had not yet slipped from his saddle. There from among the dry bushes overgrowing the bottom of the khor emerged a big snake, and wriggling with lightning speed between the fragments of rock, he fled to some hiding-place known to him. The Beduin pursued him fiercely, and Gebhr sprang to help them with a knife in his hand. But because of the unevenness of the ground, it was difficult both to hit the snake with stones and to pin him with the knife--soon also all three returned with terror visible on their faces. 

Looking up all the words, my angels, for a passage which is (in English) only 200 words, took me AN HOUR.  Still, I suppose this is how we learn. Hour by hour, word by word. 

Notice how the snake is "he." The Polish word for snake is masculine, and turning animals back into "it" feels like a betrayal of the author's Polish point of view. 

Thursday 20 August 2015

Why Men Aren't Lord Sheringham et al

The Ninth Laird of Auchinleck. Not safe in taxis.
I took Georgette Heyer's Friday's Child off the shelf the other evening. In case you don't remember,
it's the one where Lord Sheringham, aka Sherry, marries a 17 year old girl named Hero in a fit of pique because the lovely Isabella Milborne won't have him. Also, Sherry won't get his inheritance until he is 25 unless he marries. So Sherry, whose gambling debts are oppressive, picks up little Hero--otherwise doomed to become a minor teacher/drudge at a girls' school in Bath--and carries her off to London. Hero, who knows nothing of the facts of life, has always had a crush on Sherry, so is absolutely delighted.

I forget how many pages in Sherry first slaps Hero. I can't remember if it is before or after he buys her a mountain of new garments, or even if it is before or after he marries her. However, Sherry slapped Hero when they were children, and he slaps her now.

Oh yes--it was after they were married, for silly Hero, who understands that men like Sherry have girlfriends as well as wives, even though she still doesn't know what they do with either, saw a lady on stage flutter her eyelashes at Lord Sheringham, lost her head, and asked him if that was his "opera dancer." Because Georgette Heyer's world is one of preposterous hypocrisy, wives are never supposed to admit to knowing about their husbands' mistresses, so it's all a hilarious joke that the innocent bride has just done so. Sherry has thus lost face, and so when he gets Hero home, he wallops her.

I had forgotten that there was domestic abuse in Georgette Heyer although of course we all know there are other kinds of violence, especially attempted murder, aka duelling. Duelling is fun in books, but rather horrible in real life, as I found out in my early twenties when I asked an admirer to do something about the teasing I was getting from another. All that happened on that occasion was that Admirer 1 suddenly grabbed the arm of Admirer 2, and the tension was so awful, I instantly repented. I have an amateur's interest in boxing, but any woman who enjoys the sight of men fighting over her should go and talk about that with a priest. Ick.

Of course, women have very little to do with the duelling in Georgette Heyer's novels: it is all about men's relationships with each other. Quite a lot of things women think are about them are actually about men's relationships with each other. The man in Dubai who recently stopped life guards from rescuing his drowning daughter probably didn't hate his daughter. He was just worried about losing face in front of other men--possibly even the life guards. It seems absolutely insane to me that some men keep their "honour" on the skin of their female relations, but there you go. Again this may sound very romantic in books, but in real life it is horrible.

"Hero" incidentally, is the name of a girl in Shakespeare who feigned death because her admirer had believed an accusation that she had had sex. I forget if Viscountess Sheringham will also suffer such an outrageous libel--so far she is still as "innocent as a newborn lamb"--but no doubt we are supposed to suspect it. Sherry has no interest in bedding a nicely brought up seventeen year old just because his society, religion and the law says he has the right to do so. He might slap the girl like a naughty child (as one did when Georgette was writing all this stuff) but unless they "fall in love," forget about the fun stuff.  I suppose there may be men like this, but I am hard pressed to imagine that they are also the ones who bed high-class prostitutes, gamble away fortunes and drive extremely dangerously--as Sherry certainly does.


The principal thing about Georgette Heyer's men is that we don't know any men anything like them, unless we hang out with men who are also multi-millionaries, e.g. professional footballers, and footballers usually come from the working classes. Sometimes I amuse myself by imagining which rung of the Heyer class ladder I would land on, and the closest I can come up with is that I am the daughter of a university don who has married my Lord of Historical House's secretary, a clever man of humble origin who through sheer intelligence and determination, etc., etc. I spend my days writing letters and chastizing my few female servants, giggling with snobbish joy when the spinster daughter of my Lord of Historical House deigns to drop by for a cup of tea. However, such ordinary people never feature in Heyer's landscape, which is populated only by a staggeringly rich oligarchy, a few rich middle-class people, shopkeepers, servants, prostitutes of various rank, peasants and chavs who give gin to their babies who shut them up.

Heyer was brilliant at description, but she was not particularly interested in the full reality of Georgian England, in which a very small (but very rich) group of people rode roughshod over everyone else, their massive fortunes created by the work of real or virtual slaves. And of course it would not be as much fun to read about Hero's new wardrobe if we could see the conditions in which the frothy lace was made. We do not want to imagine ourselves as the lacemaker, be she in a factory or in a hovel, dying of TB while slowly going blind. No! We want to imagine ourselves as Hero, just seventeen, as innocent as a newborn lamb, and valued for this quality by our handsome husband who gives us tons of elegant stuff--silk dresses, jewellery, carriages--and by all his snazzy friends.

Well, that's okay. That's okay unless we start expecting men to actually act like Georgian aristocrats, or expecting them to act towards us as if we were Georgian aristocrats ourselves. If I were not to move from my seat but to go back in time to Georgian days, I might very well overhear James Boswell below me downstairs, and if so I would immediately change out of my pjs into some proper clothes and lock myself in my room, lest Boswell come upstairs looking for some middle-class, middle-aged lady action. Oor Jimmie wisnae fussy, aye.

The drawback of being  lifelong bookworms is that we compare men of real life to the men of books and find the men of real life wanting. Our books teach us a code of behaviour that no longer exists, if it ever did exist. Our books can also brainwash us into adopting the point of view of people who are not on our side. Sometimes I wonder why, despite having voted SNP, I am such a terrible Tory at heart, and I suspect it has something to do with Rosemary Sutcliffe, Georgette Heyer, Agatha Christie, Evelyn Waugh and just about every author I admire who had enough leisure time to write amusing sex-free books. As a child I was naturally not permitted to read books with sex in them,  and as a devout Catholic, I generally don't want to, which meant the vast majority of books I read were published before 1960.

Goodness. What a long post. If you're still with me, sound off in the combox about your favourite heroes of literature and if you have ever met real men anything like them at all. I think at best we have met a number of hobbits, perhaps Frodo. When I first came to Edinburgh, I met a lot of people who I thought were just like people in books, but since then I have reflected this was just because they spoke like British people in British books. That said, characters from Trainspotting occasionally take the Rough Bus and I've overheard Begby in Easter Road Stadium.

Update: My mum says deconstructing Georgette Heyer is harsh. I found this message after I had gobbled the rest of Friday's Child and downed a stiff G&T, so I feel a tad guilty. However, too many women think Austen's and Heyer's fantasies are somehow Really True, so here am I to say they are not. If you want to live in Georgian England, with servants, luscious silk garments, etc., may I suggest Bangladesh? But  I'm afraid the class disparities are rather more obvious there than they are in the works of our glorious J & G.

Wednesday 19 August 2015


Then throw yourself out the window, loser.
Sending stories to magazines and newspapers is hard. Sending stories to competitions is not just hard, it's often expensive. I sent two stories to a famous British competition one year, and it was simply agonizing. When I put down £2 for a lottery ticket, that's a bit of fun. When my dearly beloved story, plus £10, is the lottery ticket, that's something else.

I entered my first competitions in high school. The topic of one was multiculturalism, and being a contrarian, I sent in a story about trying to assert my Canadian identity over an ersatz loyalty to the Ireland and Scotland my ancestors wouldn't have recognized. Unfortunately, the villain of the story was too recognizably one of the teachers--a nun, to boot--and so the publication of this story was greeted with a studied silence by my school, save for the teacher  (not the villain) who gleefully informed me that I had annoyed everyone but her. 

But even worse--for I was sad that I had annoyed my teachers--I entered a competition with a long short story about Roman Britain and waited and waited and waited and waited for a response until the teacher into whose care I had placed it confessed that she had forgotten to send it. I am not sure a rejection letter would have hurt more, but you never know. 

Then I joined the pro-life movement, and that was it for my literary career until university, when I tentatively sent two poems to the most literate college newspaper, and they actually printed one. I was delighted, but then something I sent to a university annual didn't make it in, and I lost heart. No doubt it didn't help that I was suffering from full-blown (if undiagnosed) depression and failing half my courses. Meditating day and night on the dismemberment of unborn babies was not good for my mental health.  

 I had some vague notion that, having been so good at stories in elementary school, writing as a grown-up was either going to be a cake-walk or completely impossible. My teenage diaries are full of despair on this point. Was I always going to write "rubbish" (which I now know was a very credible beginning), or would I ever attain the heights achieved by Real Writers? Bizarrely, it did not occur to me to apply to the university creative writing program, and clashes with a whiny creative writing teacher ("Now... girrrrrrls!") convinced me that writing could not be taught. I would write nothing but rubbish until by some magic I wrote Hemingway.  Goodness, if mental anguish were all it took to be a writer, I would be Hemingway. 

Meanwhile I thought I would be discovered by some helpful mentor--this would also happen by magic--and be encouraged and fostered along. This did not happen. Does this ever happen? Yes, I imagine it might--in creative writing programs. One thing I have discovered about mentors, having found some in my thirties, is that they respond with joy to talent. All professors hate marking essays, and so when they find a good essay--a well-written essay--they almost cry with joy.  Something similar applies to newspaper editors--possibly particularly Catholic newspaper editors--coping with the slush pile. However, all a professor owes you is a grade, and all the editor owes you--if he takes your unsolicited piece--is the fee. If your professor or editor calls you into his office to tell you that you have talent, but you have to quit with the adverbs, that's supererogatory. That's a gift. 

So where should you expect encouragement to come from? Well, if you are lucky, it comes from your friends and family--although don't demand too much from your friends and family as they may inadvertently discourage you instead.  Also, you can drive them nuts by asking them for their honest opinion and then seething like a blowtorch after they give it. (I wonder if musicians have this problem. Actually, DO other craftsmen ask their family's opinion on anything? "Hey, Mum, what do you think of this plumbing job?" "Well, I'm glad you used copper piping, but I can see the joins." "What do you MEAN!?")  Writers are like cats. Purr, purr, purr, scratch, chomp.

If you are supremely lucky, you marry someone so supportive he has more faith in your writing than you do, and thinks you should do nothing from 9 to 5 but write, and he blames anyone but you when this garners very little income. 

However, the best thing you can do is to decide you don't need anyone else's encouragement and just speed ahead.  You have to reach into that place in your brain which, despite all evidence to the contrary, remains smugly certain that you are a literary genius. For me this is, naturally, the Inner Child, whose supreme confidence and abject selfishness (wat do yoo meen owter adult i am shokked yoo now yoo owe me a treet) are invaluable in the writing of fiction, for otherwise I wouldn't do it. I would just blog all day. Any encouragement you get from others is jam, and very nice of them indeed.  

Naturally a very useful form of encouragement is buying your favourite authors' books, so if you haven't already, be a love and order a copy of Ceremony of Innocence (by ME, don't buy the wrong one by accident) or, if Polish, Anielskie Single. Meanwhile, I will get back to working on the new stuff, so those who have already read C of I will have something else of mine to read. Should any of the magazines to which I am submitting accept any of my stories, I shall certainly tell you. 

Update: Regarding Facebook. Occasionally readers invite me to become their Facebook friend. This is flattering, and eventually I get around to replying. I have begun use Facebook to write notes to writers and artists whose work I admire, too. However, it is my policy not to accept anyone as a Facebook friend whom I have not met in person, unless I have corresponded with him or her elsewhere on Facebook, she or he being a friend of friends (e.g. the Polish-American Rabelais, Artur Sebastian Rosman). This puts me in the strange position of being a Facebook friend of a certain Anthony of Warsaw, whom I met this spring, and not his cousin Urszula of Buffalo, who has been reading my blog for years. (Hello!) However, as a handful of readers can attest, I always do my best to meet any readers who drop by Edinburgh. 

Tuesday 18 August 2015

Mad Trad 6: E is for Eucharist

No role, lack of inclusion.
"As a lay pastoral associate... I am disappointed that the Prairie Messenger would decide to have a column whose goal or hope is to share a past generation's perceived Catholic tradition/heritage... Is this necessary or even marginally helpful to those challenged and angered by church structure, authority and tradition in the wake of clergy sexual abuse scandals?... When Dorothy Cummings McLean shares her own perspective on Catholic heritage, is she also going to include an explanation on the lack of inclusion and role that women had in a pre-Vatican II church?"  

Hello! It's Traddie Tuesday, the day I wax lyrical on traditional Catholic doctrine and praxis. Currently I have been posting my old Prairie Messenger columns, hoping they will find a more congenial audience. When I run out, I will write the last twelve I planned for the column. Knowing Canadian Catholic politics, I didn't think I'd have the chance to write more than 26.

It was great fun writing for The Prairie Messenger, waiting to be fired. That doesn't sound very professional, and I certainly didn't want to be fired. However, I had already been through the grinding wheels of the Spirit of Vatican II (not to be confused with the Holy Spirit), and you only die once. After that, you pop up every time you get knocked down again, like an inflatable clown.

No role, lack of inclusion.
Having been granted the opportunity, I preached traditional Catholicism to the unconverted as well as I could, in 800 word doses. Needless to say, there was opposition, and the courageous editor found herself having to justify to friends the inclusion of my writings in the paper. It was just all too clear that I was not singing a New Church into being.

Singing the New Song is expected of graduates of Canadian theology schools, and life can be very interesting for those graduates who discover that they are traditionalists who love the Church and are not interested in exchanging her for a new one. One of them told me he understood that he would have to suffer for the rest of his life, and I believe him. Nevertheless, time is on our side, to say nothing of all the devotions we have picked out of the recycling bin.

A Hard Teaching

It was twenty years ago. I was a teenager, picketing an abortion clinic with my friends. Across the street were fans of the clinic, hoping to outstay us. Who could hold out longer? It was a dreary game, especially on cold days.
“It’s Holy Thursday,” shouted an abortion clinic supporter. “Shouldn’t you be in church?”
There were various jeers from their side of the street and then:
“You know what? They eat their God. Ewwwwww!”
“Very truly, I tell you,” Jesus had said almost two thousand years before, in front of a rather different but still restive crowd, “unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Those who eat my blood and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them on the last day; for my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them” (John 6: 52-56).
Cannibalism, then as now, was considered disgusting. Some of Jesus’s own disciples started murmuring, “This is a hard teaching; who can accept it?” They took his words literally, and Jesus did not say they had misunderstood. Many of them left. The Twelve, however, stayed.
Today many Catholics are confused about the Holy Eucharist, but the Church’s teaching has not changed. Like the Orthodox Church, and not like the reformed traditions, faith-filled Catholics hold that during the Eucharistic celebration, the bread and wine, “by the words of Christ and the invocation of the Holy Spirit become Christ’s Body and Blood” (CCC 1324). The body, blood, soul and divinity of Jesus Christ are present in the consecrated host and chalice. “This is my body” said Jesus at the Last Supper according to Matthew, Mark, Luke and Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians. “This is my blood.”
“Whoever, therefore,” says St. Paul, “eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be answerable for the body and blood of the Lord. Examine yourselves, and only then eat of the bread and drink of the cup” (1 Cor 11:27-28).
St. Justin Martyr, in his letter to the Roman Senate around 150 AD, denies that the Eucharist is merely bread and wine but the flesh and blood of Jesus made flesh. He explains, “… [T]his food is called among us Εὐχαριστία [Eucharist], of which no one is allowed to partake but the [person] who believes that the things which we teach are true, and who has been washed with the washing that is for the remission of sins, and unto regeneration, and who is so living as Christ has enjoined. For not as common bread and common drink do we receive these; but in like manner as Jesus Christ our Saviour, having been made flesh by the Word of God, had both flesh and blood for our salvation, so likewise have we been taught that the food which is blessed by the prayer of His word, and from which our blood and flesh by transmutation are nourished, is the flesh and blood of that Jesus who was made flesh” (Apology, 1, 66).
The Eucharist is also the symbol of our one-ness in the Lord. We Catholics, Orthodox and (in an imperfect way, which precludes their reception of the Holy Eucharist) other Christians are, symbolically, the Body of Christ. Perhaps this was underemphasized before I was born; it is certainly stressed now. At times this focus on us, the symbolic Body of Christ, has been at the expense of reverence towards the literal Body of Christ.
This irreverence is unfortunate and unnecessary. There is no war between the symbol and the sacrament. Meanwhile, whereas we can see the community, our imperfect senses cannot see either the humanity or the divinity in Holy Communion. We rely on faith. Irreverence erodes faith. Reverence fosters it.
St. Thomas Aquinas wrote a reverent hymn to the Holy Eucharist called “Adoro Te Devote.” I love it because it confronts the divide between our senses and our faith. Here are two verses of one translation:
O Godhead hid, devoutly I adore Thee,
Who truly art within the forms before me;
To Thee my heart I bow with bended knee,
As failing quite in contemplating Thee.

Sight, touch, and taste in Thee are each deceived;
The ear alone most safely is believed:
I believe all the Son of God has spoken,
Than Truth's own word there is no truer token.

Apparently belief in the True Presence of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist is on the wane. If this is true, Catholics are being failed by our priests, our catechists and, dare I say it, our liturgists, too.
No role.