Betty Duffy


Tuesday, February 2, 2016

I think I have a problem...



My thirteen-year-old son had seen the Viagra commercials for years, but never understood what they meant, until finally, he asked what Viagra is and does, and I told him. Now he has this new vocabulary that includes the phrase “erectile dysfunction,” and another galaxy of humorous opportunities has opened to him.

He begins to explore the ever-present sexual subtext that exists just beyond child-consciousness. Dear Lord, the sex is everywhere. How many people are having it, this very minute? How many conversations, looks, and touches are about it, even when the word is never mentioned?

Fortunately, he still has much to learn and a lifetime to learn it—or not—which is also maybe an option. There’s a fair chance he won’t pick up on certain realms of sexual metaphor unless someone points them out to him. I don’t know if beyond a certain age, such would be a privation or a precious innocence.

Read the rest at Image

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Sad and rich

When my cousin became a Dominican sister, she gave away all of her belongings. My sister and I were invited to come and shop in her closet and salvage any clothes we wanted before they went to charity. More valuable items she bequeathed to family members, and I was the lucky recipient of a pretty pair of lapis lazuli earrings, as well as a Honda Civic, which I, in turn, drove to Rhode Island to discern my own calling to join a religious community there.

Ultimately, I didn’t stay, but I met my husband’s sister there, and she set me up with the man I would marry less than a year after my return.

I never had it in me to give away all that I own, such a sad and rich young woman was I.

So little has changed.

My husband and I have just cleaned out our attic. Everything that was in there is now gone, so that we might begin the process of converting it into another bedroom for the kids, who now sleep stacked like sardines in the two bedrooms upstairs.

What became clear as we went through the piles is that, contrary to all my big talk about detachment and anti-materialism, I’m the packrat in the family. I’m the one with fourteen Sterilite bins in the attic.

Among the items I threw away:

A fourth grade research paper on the Internal Combustion Engine.
A bag of plaques connoting high performance in brain game, journalism, cross-country, honor roll, and presidential fitness.
A box of cassette tapes, including The Smiths, The Cure, The Sugarcubes, and a variety of disintegrating mix tapes from old boyfriends.
A short story titled “Best Friends” by a nine-year-old author and illustrator who used orange magic marker for skin color.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Y'are what Y'eat

Any two-year-old will testify that while it may be possible to cobble together a few freshly acquired words in order to request a sippy-cup of milk, a tantrum will do the trick much faster. Meanwhile, frustrated parents may testify that while lullabies, rocking chairs, and bedtime stories eventually suffer that child to sleep, threats and spankings are more time efficient. Marriage Counselors testify that even in a healthy relationship, it takes five compliments to undo one harsh criticism.

Negative energy has tremendous power, more power–it would seem–than the still small voice of charity, and when we affirm what is negative it only gets stronger. We affirm it, not by granting it approval, but rather by devoting to it our fear, our attention, our time, and our words. Whatever we commit ourselves to is a tacit affirmation.

Monday, November 30, 2015

Too much pie

Ugh. Sometimes I wish that life were not dependent on chemistry, or on proportions, or on finding the right balances between how much pie is too much and will make you feel disgusted with yourself, and how much pie is too little, and will leave you feeling disgusted with life. I never get the chemistry of food, the proportions and balances on my pie plate quite right. Where is that happy center where pie is delicious and nourishing and makes your heart sing with the goodness of community and food and the pleasures of good taste? It is more elusive than many divine mysteries.

I could say the same of family, or more specifically: my husband's many brothers and their gathering around the bottle of Scotch. Where is the sweet spot at which point everyone is warm and happy to see one another? And why is it such a brief moment between that spot and the next pour, which always somehow tends towards deep family undergrowth and psychological magma that no one's very glad to have untapped. There's always a provocateur in the group urging the refilling of glasses. And another separate provocateur to ask dangerous questions. And yet a third provocateur who is a naturally loud talker and so unselfconsciously facilitates the raising of voices.

And the day after, everyone just wants to purge, whether it was the pie or the brothers that did the trick--there's a ritual cleansing that needs to take place. After Mass, I am going to the gym, and I'm going to watch several episodes of Parenthood on the treadmill, and wonder at how that imaginary family always finds the center line.

In other news, I have a piece up at Image from last week that I forgot to link:

The Tyrannical Self-gaze

Monday, November 23, 2015

Angry lady syndrome

Costumes, delicious food and old and new friends made for a delightful All Saints Day party that my kids and I enjoyed earlier this month. But as soon as I walked in the door and saw my husband—who didn’t come with us—still at work on his projects around the house, I was a little piqued.

He should have been there.

Other dads and husbands were there, demonstrating the importance of Catholic feast days to their kids, celebrating together as a family. It was true that my husband and I had already discussed the reasons why he needed to complete his projects while I took the kids, and I had been OK with those reasons. But something about seeing other Catholic families doing Catholic-y things together made me feel cheated and resentful.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

I'm not failing very well

Very pleased to have a post featured at Mind & Spirit, a magazine exploring the intersection of Faith and Psychology:

Beyond the Cult of Failure

When I first started blogging, many years ago, I had a pretty solid formula that always yielded good results (many shares and comments). I began a post by telling a story about some little failure in my life, a trial in housekeeping, or an anecdote about the kids embarrassing me. Often it was a failure in my Christian life.
I set up a soft conflict, that wasn’t really my fault—because clearly, I was awesome—but it allowed readers to relate to me when wild and crazy things just kept happening in life to humble me. Then, in the course of a thousand words or less, I set about learning a lesson from all the madness, some little nugget that readers could take away and apply to their own lives. 
It’s a pretty common formula really. You hear it in talks by motivational speakers of all kinds.
You hear it in homilies and sermons. You see it on commercials. There’s a reason the formula works, and why it’s used often to sell books, movies, theories, and thousands of other products.
It’s called The Pratfall Effect, which in social psychology is the tendency for otherwise competent people to seem more attractive after committing a light, socially acceptable blunder. In romantic comedy, it’s the beautiful heroine who trips on her way into a job interview, but still gets the job. It’s Steve Jobs undergoing trial and error on his rise to becoming one of the most successful entrepreneurs in the 21st Century. 
In the field of economics, risk-taking and low-casualty failures are common factors in the backstory of nearly every entrepreneurial success. And so we find maxims to “embrace failure,” and to “fail better” creeping into popular parlance, and Christian psychology as well. 
The wildly popular writer, speaker, researcher and story-teller, Brené Brown, author of Daring Greatly, and spiritual soul mate of Oprah Winfrey, begins herTED talk with an anecdote about her own life-changing failure. While studying shame, vulnerability, and authenticity, she discovers that her own life choices are not in accord with the outcome of her research. She has a breakdown, visits a therapist and ultimately embraces this dark moment, changing course in her career in perfect time to take her research and her message to an audience of millions. 
Brown’s story is an example of the pratfall effect in action. By sharing her own failure, Brown gains the trust of her listeners, and asserts that they, too, can embrace failure and vulnerability, and change the outcome of their lives. 
For Christians, there is both a grain of truth, and a pitfall in Brown’s message. The grain of truth is that acknowledging failure can be a spiritual turning point or a time of spiritual growth. The pitfall is believing that a subsequent success must validate us as people and Christian souls. In short, the cult of failure is often the cult of success in disguise. 

Read the Rest

Monday, October 5, 2015

A post about sex.

A lot of writing I've done in the past six months has piled up on my desktop. I haven't felt comfortable sharing it-- not sure why. The editor at Aleteia asked if I was interested in writing on the bizarre and troubling advent of sex robots, with a spiritual slant, maybe some insight from Pope Francis or JPII's, Theology of the Body, etc. As it happened, I had a piece already written that mentioned both Pope Francis and sex-bots, but from an entirely different angle. That piece went up at Aleteia today. The part about sex-bots was edited for length, ironically (Also, it was just weird.).

Here is "The Most Intimate Encounter: Called to Consummation"

For my next trick, I will be writing about the sixth stage of psychosexual development, being the spiritual.

Just kidding. Maybe.