Betty Duffy

(Amateur)

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

I'm Afraid of Your Brain

Today I drove past the local Tattoo World and saw a man entering the shop with what looked like a painfully new and painfully ugly tattoo on his calf muscle. His leg was shaved and raw looking, and the art, a disturbingly graphic portrait of Anthony Hopkins as Hannibal Lector, wild eyed, with his mouth barred shut by a leather muzzle.

It occurred to me that if the “man of faith” is influential to those around him, the man who tattoos himself with images of notable cannibals is one of the least influential members of our society. “Hey people, I’m so into cannibalism that I have a tattoo of a cannibal on my calf muscle. Want to go out with me? Want to hire me to prepare your food or do your taxes?”

I’m sorry. No. I want to run away from you.

Like ancient cave drawings, tattoos tell a story. They are nearly always representational (I have yet to see the Jackson Pollack tattoo), giving an outward sign of what kind of a person the wearer might be. They are a form of social communication: “I am a Christian.” “I am a practitioner of Eastern Meditation.” “I am interested in serial killers.” Or in the case of a gal on my college cross country team whose turtle tattoo on her big toe peaked out of her Teva sandals, “I am a lover of congenial reptiles.”

What I resist about tattoos is that the impression made by the tattooed image can only fall short of the whole person.

Recently, I reread the Flannery O’Connor short story, “Parker’s Back.” For those who haven’t read it, the plot: A local ne’er-do-well who’s always had his way with the ladies, encounters an upright, though unattractive Christian girl. Unable to tolerate the sense of superiority she has over him in spite of her homeliness and humble circumstances, he marries her. She agrees to this ill-fated marriage, presumably to try her hand at saving him, even while she is aware that a woman of her bearing can’t expect much in the way of courtiers.

The marriage is a disaster. He’s unable to bring her down. She’s unable to bring him to the light. In an attempt to impress her, he decides to get a tattoo of the image of Jesus on his back. In the tattoo shop he is mesmerized by an iconic Byzantine Christ and wrongfully assumes that the tattoo would be beyond her reproach since it is the image of Christ himself. She however, considers the material image of God idolatry and kicks him out for good when she sees the tattoo.

I’d always placed more blame on Sarah (the woman in the story) because she rejects the notion that Christ can meet people in any human terms. Her god is so almighty and so untouchable that he would not allow himself to mingle with human beings. Conversely, Parker (the man in the story) discards the divinity of God by taming Christ into an image and extension of himself.

In this story we have an earthly god, and an almighty god, and never the two shall meet. Both characters hold tight to their heresies never realizing that they each hold only a partial truth, and that if they put their concepts of God together, they would begin to see the full picture of a God who is both human and divine.

But back to tattoos, because I think there’s a relationship between the tattoo addict who uses profane imagery to forward the idea that people are consumables, and Parker who used an image of Christ as a means to subdue a woman into loving him.

To use one’s own body as a canvas may seem some sort of artistic ideal. But as JPII pointed out, the opposite of love is use. To use oneself or anyone else as an object for any type of consumption is abuse. And the image put forward by the wearer, will inevitably fall short of the image God had in mind when he created that human being. How can any image inked on the skin possibly capture the divinity that God infuses into that soul?

I think about the images of the profane that I have seen in my life. I can remember things that I saw when I was twelve, fifteen, what have you. They made their stamp on my brain and there they will remain for the rest of my life. You have to wonder how submerged in the profane you would have to be to think that a tattoo of Hannibal Lector is a good idea.

It reminds me of that Will Smith movie, “I Am Legend,” where a plague attacks the world and turns human beings into something like a rabid dog that can only live in darkness. They spend their nights hunting for survivors to consume and infect.

I want to go up to the man with the tattoo and shake him by the shoulders and say, “Come out! Come out and live in the light! It will only kill the worst parts of you! But the good will live on!” I have the same feeling when I pass the giant window-less Casino that just went up near our house. “Come out People!! It’s beautiful out here!” To the porn addicts in their basement masturbatoriums: “Come out and live in the light!”

Be body AND soul.

But I’m scared. I’m scared not only of how a man with a cannibal tattoo might react to my supplication, but also of the images and dramas that play out in his head, the same way those old images of the profane continue to play out in mine.

Judgmental? Fine, I'm a Sarah.

Blogger's Remorse

I've been brushing up on "How to Win Friends and Influence People" and apparently talking about your B.O. is not a "to do." Hence, if you were lucky enough to check this blog yesterday, you read an exceedingly personal account of the stinkiness of the Duffy clan. Lucky you.

Monday, March 30, 2009

"Busy Old Fool, Unruly Sun" or "Openness to Life" or "Life Stinks and Then You Die"

Warning: It's cringeworthy


Rather than fulfilling the demands of the two-year-old who would have his breakfast, I lift the covers enough to invite him to join me in bed. The baby is still sleeping on one side of me, and now this little boy makes swooshing noises as he flies his matchbox airplane over our heads.

I lift my arm to cover my eyes and block out the sun for a few more minutes and smell the deodorant entrenched in the armpit of my husband’s t-shirt, in which I slept, mingling with my own ripe arms in need of a shower. My breath, thank God, I cannot smell, and evanescing from it all, last night’s pheromones, which my son, who brings his own bouquet to this scene, does not detect. He has syrup from yesterday’s pancakes crisp in his hair, a diaper that reeks of urine, his breath which has not yet begun to decay, commingling with the baby’s spit-up seeping into the mattress. Behind us, pillows turn bitter with the perspiration and drool deposited each night where my husband and I lay our heads.

There’s something comforting in all of this good stink. Like leaves rotting around the base of a tree, the artifacts of the body are dropped and left to decay, a testimony that life, well lived, has and continues to take place here.

There will be time for perfection later, for charming coverlets, and dustless corners. One of these days, we will stop breaking things, stop knicking the wood floors and smearing the walls and countertops. The house will be sterilized of our presence here, bleached out for someone else to envision some “dull, sublunary” modes of repose within these walls.


H/T John Donne
“Valediction Forbidding Mourning”
“The Sun Rising”

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Marge Calling

I woke up this morning with a frog in my throat. My voice sounds like I’ve been a two-pack-a-day smoker for the past twenty years, which gives the impression that I am wise and jaded. I love it.

I had a girlfriend in college who had nodules on her vocal chords that made her voice raspy all the time. How cool is that, to arrive at college at the age of 18 with a voice that testifies to your wisdom and jadedness? There was nothing to prove, no need to misbehave. The voice did all the dirty work of saying, “I’ve been through hell.”

I want to call people so they can ask, “Are you alright?” And I can say ever-so-casually, “Yes, I’m fine. I haven’t been sleeping… but… You know how it is.” The subliminal message: “I’m going through hell. But I’m strong. I can take it. It’s just this voice that gives me away, dammit. Sorry you have to witness my suffering, because if it weren’t for this voice, I would keep it entirely to myself.”

So if the phone rings at your house, and upon hearing the first, “Hey,” you think “Why is Marge Simpson calling me?” Think twice. It’s probably me.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Quicks: Au Naturale

Hosted at Conversion Diary


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Of all the varied fragrances of Spring, the smell of Skunk ranks among my favorites. It’s so chocolaty, so coffee-ish, so brisk. I’ve been walking every day past a corner marked by skunk and the pungency never wanes. Each day is just as crisp as it was the day before, and each day I think, “Someone just brewed some strong coffee.” But no, it’s skunk. If that quality of long-lastingness, could be bottled, though not necessarily the specific fragrance, I think someone could make a killing.

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Today we took the kids to Wright Patterson Airforce Museum for their Spring Break. I didn't expect to be as interested as I was in looking at three hangar's worth of airplanes, artifacts and flight paraphernalia. The museum is not only a history of flight, but a history of the wars of this century. And I think that recognizing how quickly air machines metamorphosed, from a flight of fancy for men who wanted to touch the sky, into an angel of death to those on the ground helped me to identify in myself a latent fear of flying.

I have always felt anxiety when flying, not just from a fear of crashing, but from an innate feeling that there is something unnatural about being untethered in the air. I've never thought of flight as being something inherently evil, or something that God would not allow--and yet, there is such a strong connection between flight and deadliness. A one-man bomber can take thousands of lives. Commercial jets... well, we've seen how those work.

My anxiety about flight prompted me to call Dr. Laura several years ago for advice on whether or not to travel with my husband on a business trip to California. I was pregnant with our second child, and nursing our first, and the hormonal combination intensified my anxieties so that getting on a plane seemed an impossibility. Not to mention that only a couple of months had passed since 9/11. My husband and I were in the car hashing out the reasons for me to go or stay, and we decided to let Dr. Laura settle it.

I don’t know what made me think the Dr. would side with me. She’s never met a caller she liked. She tactfully suggested that I wean my baby and face my fears for the benefit of our marriage. I hung up the phone and tactfully suggested to my husband that Dr. Laura is full of sh__ and that we were perfectly capable of making decisions that affect our marriage and children on our own.


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Inspired by the beautiful photos that many of my friends take, I have been doing a little dabbling in artsy macro photos. Here is proof that if you have the right camera (in this case, my parents' cannon elph) you could probably transform the darkest corner of my bathroom floor into a thing of beauty.







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This has nothing to do with nature, but I remember saying the Rosary with my husband's family before we were married, and all the boys in the family, in an attempt to make the decades go faster, would say their half of the Hail Mary as fast as they could. My Mother-in-law, who always led the Rosary, would compensate for their speed by saying her half of the Hail Mary as slowly and expressively as possible. No one would openly acknowledge the tug-of-war that was taking place. My Mother-in-law wouldn't even open her eyes, she just slowed down in equal relation to their speed.

HAIL... MARY... FULL... OF... GRACE... THE LORD... IS WITH THEE... BLESSED... ARE THOU... AMONG WOMEN... AND BLESSED... IS THE FRUIT... OF YOUR WOMB... JESUS.

HolyMaryMotherofGodprayforussinnersnowandatthehourofourdeath.

For Lent, my husband and I have been trying to say the Rosary with our kids at night before bedtime, and my boys are doing the same thing that their uncles did. I, however, am going with it. They want to go fast? We can go fast. In fact, in my private prayer, I prefer to say the Rosary at a nice clip, in order to get into the rhythm of it, so I can concentrate on the meditative aspect of the Mysteries. I know my kids are not meditating at this point, but rather, reciting. But I hope that the speed and rhythm will make the Rosary a soothing experience for them at the least.

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Several years ago, I planted somewhere around thirty trees on our property. Some of them were fruiting trees, some flowering, some were hardwoods. I joined the Arbor Day foundation under two different identities so that I could get the ten free trees twice over. I spent all of October digging holes in the yard in which to plant my trees. I spent a fortune in mulch, bark wraps, weed circles and time release fertilizers. I trudged through the snow in the winter months to be sure the trees were surviving. For a few moments in my twisted consciousness, the trees were my children, the offspring of my tender love and care that required protection from my biological children.

My sentinel was not constant enough, for one day, I looked out in the yard, to see my sons with a visiting chum, waving the orange handled fiskars over one of my trees. I ran out to survey the damage, and they had cut every last tree down to the soil. The wrath that played out in my brain was worthy of an R rating and trip to Confession. But I recovered and the children were not harmed.

I ordered some new trees, not saplings this time, but some more established fruit trees. I joined Arbor Day two more times and put all of the saplings together in my flower garden until they get bigger. This year, there are buds on the fruit trees, and God willing, there will be fruit.

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There are few offenses that make me angrier than plant vandalism. Our old house was on a corner in a neighborhood where there were regular break-ins and petty theft. I parked my car on the street, and rather than replacing the window every few months, I just left the doors unlocked. Occasionally, I'd get in my car to find that the glove box had been rustled through, but I kept nothing of value in there. I felt like I had a friendly relationship with the thieves--here's my open car and my spare change, if I'm stupid enough to leave it, it's yours. I didn't get angry about it.

But one day I was talking on the phone and I looked out the window to see a rusty van pull up by the house, and a washed-out hippy sort of man jumped out, ran to my garden and yanked out my poppies by the root. He then ran back to his van and drove off.

"I've been robbed! I've got to go!" I said to whomever I was talking to. I hung up and immediately called 911 to report a property theft. Needless to say, the police had better things to do with their time, but I felt like my time--the time I'd spent cultivating seeds, watering, mulching, dividing and admiring--had all been stolen along with that plant.

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Said a priest in regards to my flimsy Lenton practice: "Through sacrifice, we die to live. Don't sacrifice, and you just die."

Monday, March 23, 2009

The Public Life of the Family

A couple weeks ago, my husband and I had an argument. Things escalated, yadda, yadda, and before we knew it, three days of monosyllabic conversation sans eye contact had ensued.

Then the phone rang. It was my friend Pedge inviting us over to play cards with her and her husband. I agreed, procured a babysitter, and said to my husband, “Do you want to make up so we can go play Euchre?”

Naturally, the fight could not go on. What merit is there in duking it out in the foxhole when you could have a babysitter for the kids, a few beers, and friends (or are we the only ones so desperate for a social life that we will forget what inspired three days of conflict for an invitation to play cards?)?

I’m concerned about this article by Susan McWilliams that discusses how public consumption of beer has diminished, while private consumption of both alchohol and bottled water has increased. She suggests this trend means that people no longer remove from their homes to engage in civic discourse (hence they no longer need social lubricants).

She rightly points out that our politics have suffered from indifference to the public sphere, but I think likewise, the family suffers from its insularity. Not saying that the family requires beer in order to survive, but families must look outward, and be in relationship with other families for the health of marriages and their children.

Being in public together helps spouses to fall in love with one another again, to be allies in a foreign land. Many conflicts that seem “worth it” when there’s nothing better to do, pale in comparison to a party (and my husband no longer feels hijacked into being my one-man cocktail party).

For the first five years of our marriage, my husband and I had various in-laws living with us. Wherever we found room, in the attic, the basement, a spare bedroom, we housed in-laws and siblings while they worked temporary jobs, paid off debts, awaited their upcoming nuptials, etc. We decided before we got married that we always wanted to have an open door, that we would never turn people away, or say that it wasn’t a good time for their visit.

Those years were full of good times. There was always a crowd gathered on our front porch in the evening, having drinks and arguments, engaging in conversation. And believe it or not, we studied for those conversations, read books and the news, etc so that we'd know what we were talking about. I remember one night, falling asleep and thinking "These are the glory days." I knew it wouldn't last--that people would move on and start their own families and our home would cease to be the hub of activity.

When I became pregnant with our fourth child in four years, I began to lose patience with the fact that Uncle Bonehead left cigarette butts in our front yard and Uncle Snoodle always finished off our milk requiring me to take my children on another trip to the grocery. I started calculating the added cost to our grocery bill when unexpected guests dropped in at dinner time. I totaled up the amount of rent we could have charged. My husband and I had to have our arguments in whispered voices. I wanted to cut loose, and walk from my bedroom to the bathroom with no clothes on. I wanted to lay my pregnant body down on the couch and ignore my kids without anyone thinking less of me. I wanted my "right to privacy" (notice how many “I’s” there are in this paragraph).

So I kicked out the last remaining sibling in our basement (Uncle Snoodle to my kids), and my husband and I moved out of town. Of course there were other considerations for this move, like having a yard and a garden, giving our growing family more space, getting away from less savory elements of urban life. But I also felt unable, at the time, to keep our door open.

In hindsight, I see that my negativity was probably due to the cyclical fatigue of recurrent babymaking rather than the public life. If I had invested my energy in asking for help rather than brooding, I might have made a better go of it, and wouldn't now bemoan my loneliness so often. I want everyone to come back, move in, be here with me--though as expected they have all moved on to their own marriages and lives.

My aunt is fond of saying that "independence is obnoxious." Having dependence on others or living in community is how people rightly find their place and vocation in life. In community we serve others. In community we must discipline ourselves. In community we learn to forgive others’ faults so we can move on to brighter horizons like card games with friends.

It is a small price to pay to get dressed before you leave your room. And keeping arguments at a low pitch is good for everyone. No one wants to be the yelling family on the block, the one that slams doors, and peels out of the driveway at all hours of the night. "Keep your voice down. Don’t yell at the children or the neighbors might hear." And so the public life protects children and marriages in roundabout ways, because we care about what people think, and we're motivated by engaging with other people.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Keeping Track of the Lasagna

The other day, as is often the case, my husband and I were both doing several things at once. Among those things, I had the job of putting a ready-made lasagna into a preheated oven for dinner. I preheated the oven and went about my work, only to come back an hour later to find the lasagna still sitting uncooked on top of the stove. It does no good to preheat the oven if you fail to insert the food, so I inserted the food and went back to work. An hour later, I remembered the food, which by now was overcooked.

You might ask in unison with my husband, “How hard is it to keep track of the lasagna?”

And the answer is that right now, I find keeping track of the lasagna next to impossible. I’ve had a busy week, which is unusual for me because I make a habit of keeping my calendar very clear. I’m a commitment-phobe and a last minute person, but apparently, a couple weeks ago I got crazy and did a bunch of long range planning that left me with about two meetings a day all week long. Unfortunately, thinking requires a modicum of leisure, which is a luxury I haven’t had lately…and so goes the lasagna, along with quite a few other things, like writing.

I’ve sat down several nights this week after the kids were in bed to write and found that I’ve had absolutely nothing to say besides, “I’m busy.” As things begin to slow down, it becomes clear that not only am I busy, I have entered a fallow period. Nothing’s happening in my brain, no seeds germinating, no ideas to hash out. The scales have tipped in the direction of action rather than thought.

But as they say, writers write, so I continue to go through the motions of sitting down to put pen to paper. The good thing about times like these is that I can look back on older pieces that never hit the mark and see them objectively, with the eyes of a critic or editor, rather than with the passionate conviction that inspired the first words on paper.

I feel liberated from my words. I’m free to rewrite them if necessary, or ignore them all together and read someone else’s words for a change.

When I’m in a creative period, or one in which I have a lot to say, I find editing a chore. And hence, my writing is hurried, overly emotional, and often lacking in qualities that make good writing, good writing.

I took a fiction writing class a couple years ago at a nearby university, and while I’ve come to terms with the fact that I’m not a fiction writer, I learned a few lessons in that class that are invaluable for any kind of writing. Editing is not just a verbal cleansing or a punctuation checkpoint. If I have the opportunity in my writing to use humor, metaphor, or anecdote, why would I not avail myself of those resources? And if something’s not working, no matter how attached I am to the turn of phrase, the joke, or metaphor, it must go.

It takes a clear head to make those decisions: joke needed here, but not that joke, metaphor, yes, but not one that has no bearing on the main idea. Which brings me back to the lasagna: apparently my head is clear, but not clear enough to cut the lasagna, so it’s staying in this post whether it works or not.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Zig Zag Wager

I’m tired of hearing the word “crisis.” Crisis. Crisis. Crisis. It almost seems like wish fulfillment. Everyone knows the dire situation we’re in. If I read the Drudge Report every day, I feel pretty certain the world will end before the year’s out. However, if I remain in blissful ignorance, the cosmos can cave in on me, take me by complete surprise…and I’ll be ready for it.

Yes, I’m ready for it.

Last week I was not ready for it. Last week I went to the store and stocked up on a thirty day supply of dry goods, because some preacher in New York suggested I do so. I made a special effort to talk to the couple at church who have made known that they have an underground bunker on their property. Last week, I argued with my husband about saving every dime we earn rather than continuing to invest in our plummeting mutual fund.

He said, “When everyone else bails, we’re going to buy. When they zig, we’re going to zag.”

“But we need to put away some cash for the apocalypse," I said, picturing my family, having been looted of the little we’re worth, chained in someone else’s pantry, waiting to be cannibalized a la Cormac Mc Carthy’s The Road. (HATED that book, by the way. Very bad feelings.)

“Oh, you’re right,” said my husband. “I forgot to factor in the apocalypse when I was doing the budget.”

For the first time in my lifetime, I have been existentially afraid. The worst thing about my fear is that I really love my life right now. Everyone goes through dark and light phases in their lives. The miracle of my current existence is that I’ve suddenly, for no apparent reason, become satisfied with simple pleasures. I like to sit and watch my kids playing in the yard. They crack me up. I like the onslaught of Spring. I have post pregnancy endorphins, and energy. Life feels like a bowl of jelly beans after a long cold winter of wishing time would pass more quickly and that my kids would get out of my personal space. Life as we know it can’t end now. It’s just getting good, and this goodness must be sustained regardless of the current economic CRISIS, and the threat of foreign bad guys obtaining nuclear arms.

In a remarkable case of kismet, I woke up to do my morning prayers one morning last week, and read this:

Psalm 49
Why should I fear in evil days…?

…For no man can buy his own ransom,
or pay a price to God for his life.
The ransom of his soul is beyond him.
He cannot buy life without end,
Nor avoid coming to the grave.

One of the many great things about being Catholic, is that every year during Lent, we get to prepare for the apocalypse (WOOHOO!). When Wilkerson gave his warning about fires in New York, my husband said, “The thing is, why would God give that prophesy to a Baptist?” (Don't be offended. That's how he jokes.)

But the Catholic Church has always been zagging when others are zigging. We need look no further than the daily readings of the Church during Lent if we want to know how to prepare for the end times. We get this prophesy every year. During the roaring 20s, the Great Depression, the Dot Com Bubble, and now an economic downturn, the message is the same:

“You are dust and unto dust you shall return.”

“Repent, the Kingdom of God is at hand.”

“No man can buy his own ransom.”

Wilkerson suggests that the world has become so bad that we deserve God's judgement which he prophesies will be fire in the streets of New York. The Word of God suggests that God's mercy endures forever, that we do not know the day or the hour, but as Christians, we can be happy about dying if we live in His presence every day.

I wish I could say that my faith is so strong that I never doubt the existence of Heaven. If I falter when it comes to yearning for death, at the very least I am zagging right along with the Church. I count on His mercy for the rest.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Quick Takes: Home Edition

Hosted by Conversion Diary


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Several years ago I joined the YMCA at fifty bucks a month with two hours of babysitting per diem included. I sucked the marrow out of those two hours of the day, sometimes plodding along the treadmill while reading a magazine, showering and blow-drying my hair each day, and spending any leftover minutes reading a novel in the women’s dressing room.

I’m not ashamed to admit that the YMCA saved our lives during that little stretch when I had three pre-schoolers at home, and it wasn’t bad for my figure either. Though I’ll never forget the day my friend, Pedge, said to me, “If your butt gets any smaller Betty, you’re going to end up pregnant.” Ding ding—too late. I’d taken a positive pregnancy test that morning (that was kid #4). It’s been all downhill for my butt since then—as evidenced by that yoga picture.

We've since moved, and the only gym round these parts charges for childcare per head. With five kids, the cost is prohibitive, so I have to get comfortable with being home again during the day.


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I’m always looking for an opportunity to grasp my coffee mug and say the word, “patina” and so I do every afternoon around four o’clock when the sun comes through this window.


I’ve decided that one of the keys to getting through life as a stay-at-home mom, is to make my house someplace I can stand to be. And while the rest of my house may depress me in its need for a dusting or a disinfecting, this corner never fails to delight.

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One of the joys of having a handy husband is that when you walk into our cheery entryway, rather than being greeted by a coat rack, or settee on which to remove your boots, you are greeted by this:



Nothing says "welcome" like a miter saw, especially one large enough for a beheading.

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The miter saw is in the entry way because several month ago, our pipes froze and flooded our kitchen. A water mitigation service appointed by the insurance company came and gutted our kitchen with sledgehammers in a period of about thirty minutes. They then departed and were not heard from again.

One is not too hasty to hire another water mitigation service to do the repairs, especially when a handy husband figures he can take the insurance money, do all the work himself, and still have enough left over to purchase a giant miter saw.

One of these days, I'll post a picture of the completed project.

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We're all artists here. My husband is a woodworker in his spare time. My oldest son is a tattoo artist.

Here's a picture of the rooster at my parents' farm that my six-year-old did:

I love that picture.



My daughter, however, has crossed the line in her enthusiasm for art.

Some might call this downright vandalism.

My husband and I have wondered if we should just become those cool kind of parents who let their kids draw on the walls (windows, doors, furniture...her creativity knows no limits).




We could have her scrub it off with a magic eraser, but my mother-in-law sent me an urgent chain email letting me know that they are toxic for kids to use.


What would you do with this kid?


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Here are the lyrics to a song my boys sing at their school Mass:

In these days of Lenten Journey
We have seen and we have heard
The sound that every heart makes
(Something something…)


Here is their revised version:

In these days of Lenten Journey
We have seen and we have heard
The sound that every fart makes
In a lake of turds.


Special thanks goes once again to Garret G. I know MY children would never use such words.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

A Good Man is Hard to Find

I don’t think it’s very becoming when middle aged hausfraus swoon over gents who aren’t their husbands. And yet…there’s this guy at my Church, who it cannot be denied, IS the Marlboro Man. He has sunburned crow’s feet around his eyes, mud on his boots, and that inverse triangle figure of a man who could carry the world on his shoulders. When he walks up the aisle to take his pew, you can see the collective heads of the Parish, male and female, discretely oscillating in his direction.

What’s notable about this guy, aside from the fact that he is a gem to look at, is that he is at Church, not just on Sundays, but most nights of the week as well. He is a woman’s dream come true: the manly man who kneels.

I’ve seen this quote going around a lot lately: “A woman’s heart should be so buried in Christ that a man has to seek Him to find her.” But as I considered this quote the other day, it made me sort of depressed, because it has not been my experience that a man will go that far to seek a woman. Let’s just say it: men are often slower to embrace their faith than women are. Even (and often especially) when a Godly woman beckons him to Church, he can be as slow and stubborn as a mule.

But in overlooking his faith, the Modern Man has overlooked one of the most powerful aphrodisiacs of all time. If you turned this quote around, “A man’s heart should be so buried in Christ that a woman has to seek Him to find him,” the man would be batting off women left and right.

I remember in college making up a list with one of my girlfriends of all the qualities we were looking for in a guy. Neither one of us were exceptionally faithful Catholics at the time, and yet a “faithful” man was at the top of our list. Nevertheless, I graduated from college with the disillusioned belief that virtuous men were only to be found in books, monasteries, and marriages.

Not surprisingly, I ultimately married a man with whom I could share my faith (once I found it), and I just happened to get lucky that he’s handsome, funny, intelligent, and a good provider to boot. But before I met him, I went through a period when I had no faith that I could share my faith with any man. I would have dated a toad if he were a good Catholic.

The man of faith has more influence than he knows, especially if he’s good looking. A consequence of this Marlboro man spending his social times at Church is that other manly men feel comfortable doing the same. Church is no longer just a place for old folks and nerds. Our Parish is undergoing an awakening where young attractive couples and singles actually want to be there. Of course Christ is at the heart of this renewal, but it doesn’t hurt to see attractive people at Church.

I would even go so far as to say that attractive people have a responsibility to be present in their Churches. If you’re blessed with good looks, wouldn’t you rather reach the end of your life with a group of people who followed your charisma and beauty to Heaven rather than Hell?

Maybe I’m just a shallow sucker for good looking people, but it’s food for thought.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Rush Limbaugh: You're in Hot Water Now!!!

If you don’t listen to Rush Limbaugh, I don’t blame you. I’m a conservative and his voice is like a gong in my ear. But while I was driving today, flipping through the channels, I heard the voice of Rush saying “Vatican” so I stopped to see what he was up to.

Turns out the Vatican newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano, published a piece in which the author (who was a woman, and not the Pope—Rush seems to have missed that point), said that the washing machine has done more to liberate women than the birth control pill (sound familiar?).

But Rush was filling his air time with lots of huffing and puffing about how he respects women, and how this crazy ode to a modern appliance (one that many of us could not live without), supports gender stereotypes. The Vatican should know better, and should not try to be a funny guy (or funny girl, for that matter) because gender stereotypes are evil and so are people who downplay the importance of the contraceptive pill, which is the savior of all women. The stereotype that the Vatican consists of a bunch of crusty out-of-touch old men is fair game, however.

My first thought was, “Oh shit. Rush is really going to try and run for office.” He’s pandering to women. A call to my friend Pedge, pointed me in the direction of this article, in which Rush asked why women don’t like him, and the author, Ellen Goodman, outlined the answer for him. So to kiss up to the ladies, Rush will perpetuate the stereotype that having children is the worst thing that could happen to women.

Is it really so offbase to suggest that the washing machine liberates women more than the pill? Think about it: washing clothes by hand EVERY DAY OF YOUR LIFE vs. having a kid, putting him in daycare and being done with him when he’s about 18, or having a kid and putting him up for adoption, or having a kid and being surprised by how much joy he brings to your life and not ever wanting him to leave home. We have lost touch with how much work our foremothers really had to do to survive. Would women have even dreamed of working outside the home without the washing machine? They would not have had the time. Why is that an unacceptable observation to make? Virginia Woolf said as much in "A Room of One's Own."

Not to mention the fact that there are other ways of regulating birth beside birth control and abortion.

It looks like the Vatican gets to play scapegoat again. Rush wants female listeners and he’ll do anything to get them, including creating a straw man argument against gender stereotypes at the expense of a sense of humor and the Catholic Church (two things I cherish highly). Hence, one more reason not to let Rush take over the Republican Party.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Nights in Ro-Duffy!

Last night was movie night at the Duffy's, and because the guy at the movie store was able to convince my husband that "Nights in Rodanthe" was "not as much of a chick-flick as you might think," we spent the evening with Richard Gere and Diane Lane, reunited in that sizzling chemistry that made "Unfaithful" such a hit. Well, Nights in Rodanthe was not a conventional chick flick, it's a new breed of chick flick created with the special needs in mind of the More Magazine generation (that's you, Mom). The primary purpose of this genre is liberating middle aged women from the patriarchal confines of suffocating marriages that stripped them of their creativity and true selves.

When the movie begins, we learn that Diane Lane's husband wants to come home from his adulterous relationship and work things out. Their two kids want them to get back together as well. But no, it's time for Diane to do something for herself because she's been a good mother and faithful wife for too long. No more! She's going to go help out a girlfriend by operating her inn by the sea while her friend is off on a love vacation with her boy toy. You see, a mysterious stranger (Richard Gere) will pay any price to stay at the inn on this particular weekend, when it was going to be closed.

It's worth noting that mousy, suburban Diane's unlikely friend represents a new stereotype in modern cinema and pop novels: the independent, hyper-orgasmic, earthy, creative black woman with a deep affinity for various pagan gods. We saw how the women of Sue Monk Kidd's "The Secret Life of Bees" turned Our Lady into a pagan she-god of independence and creative fertility. If I had to guess, this stereotype was inspired by Oprah, but it's getting a little tired already. Naturally, Diane's friend would never suggest that she go back to that crazy institution of marriage where people you love can hurt you, and you still have to look at them day after day. What Diane really needs is to get laid. And that's exactly what she's about to do.

That mysterious stranger at the inn does not remain mysterious for long. He has garden variety baggage: a failed marriage, a bad relationship with his son, a career that turned sour. And he's here at the inn to work it all out, which means, he needs to get laid too. And so Diane and Dick set about their work in a classic "falling in love and doing it" musical interlude.

Here, my husband interjects: "PUT YOUR CLOTHES ON, SENIOR CITIZENS!!!"

I reply: "We need to be opening our hearts to senior love. By the time we can do it with abandon, we'll be senior citizens too." (Inside joke for practitioners of NFP)

My husband: "I hate these people."

I hate them too. You may be asking yourself at this point why we didn't just turn the movie off, and that is a good question. The answer is that I have a naive and unquenchable thirst for redemption in the movies, and I am still holding onto hope that both Diane and Dick's marriages can be repaired after this token sexual re-awakening. But it's hard to watch people you hate fall in love, and believe me, it's not just because they're old. I think it's the screenplay that's the problem. So I'm going to take a stab at this scene, where a shaw-clad Diane Lane, spent and glowing from her weekend in bed, has to say good-bye to her mysterious new lover who needs now to go address his baggage:

Diane struggles against the wind to hold onto her shaw. She makes many eye-brow tweaking expressions of sadness while she holds her hands to her heart in disbelief that her new lover is departing.

Gere gets into his car and begins to drive away.

Cut to Gere, inside his car. He stops at the end of the driveway, looks meangingfully down at his lap. He purses his lips. He thinks to himself, but does not say, "This is CRAZY!" He shakes his head in surrender then recklessly backs up his car, jumps out and passionately embraces Diane.


Notice there are no words to this drama. Just ACTING!!! ACTING of the finest variety, with close-ups and hand gestures and music!


SPOILER ALERT: To wrap things up, Gere writes many letters to Diane while he is away, being a man changed by good sex, and patching up his relationship with his son. In the meantime, Diane goes home, tells her husband off (and she is still married, by the way), reads her lover's letters, and takes up woodworking. Then tragically, on the night before the two lovers are to be reunited, Gere dies in a mudslide. Yes, a mudslide. Cue tears.

But this story isn't over yet, because Diane's bitchy daughter is about to be transformed as well, by another great dramatic convention: The Catatonic Mother. Bitchy Daughter, who used to only snarl and yell at her mother knows something's up because her mother, who used to roll her eyes helplessly at her bad behavior, now only stares off into space for days on end. So, Bitchy Daughter waits patiently, taking care of the house and rubbing her mother's shoulder, until one sunny day, sitting out on their front porch, Diane's ready to talk.

Bitchy Daughter: "I used to want you and Dad to get back together, but now I know how he hurt you and I wouldn't dream of asking you to do such a thing. So go ahead and tell me why you're catatonic because I've learned a lot during these days of neglect and I think I'm ready to hear about your sex life."

Diane: "Well, Bitchy Daughter, I can see that you've changed since I went MIA, so I too am ready to tell you about my sex life. You see, there's another kind of love besides sacramental married love. It's called adulterous illicit sex. And now, your father and I both have experienced it to catastrophic effect, and I wouldn't have it any other way."

...and curtain.

BRAVO!!!!!

Friday, March 6, 2009

We're So Proud of Our Son!

My oldest child is an entrepreneur. Being the good Catholic mother that I am, I had hopes that he might show an early aptitude for the priesthood, a certain spiritual acuity that might necessitate sending him off to Latin School once he turns about thirteen, on orders from the Bishop. Then we could, in a sense, brush the dust off our hands and, you know, call it a day on that kid. But that's just the way mothers work: get the kids married off as soon as possible. If he were a girl, I'd be arranging a marriage with one of the nearby Lords.

My husband thinks differently. Being the good mechanical engineer that he is, he has been observing the dexterity with which this child of ours has used his hands, and declared him "brain surgeon" at around the age of 18 months. Sitting in his high chair, our son was never happier than when he could use his index finger and thumb like precision instruments to arrange the frozen peas on his tray.

Yet, it appears we shall both be disappointed. Our son has chosen to follow in the footsteps of his aunt, an accomplished salesperson, with an incredible fondness for accumulating the greenbacks.

Before our son will have much success, we need to impart the lesson that "finding" money is not the same as "earning" money. Each day when my husband comes home, to change out of his monkey suit, my son is never far behind, collecting the stray dimes that scatter from his upturned pockets. Our son is rarely dissappointed when he is the first to check under the cushions on the couch after my husband has finished watching the "This Old House" hour on TV. I give the impression that my husband is a leaky piggy bank, and that's more or less accurate, but he's not the only source of my son's income. The other day, I discovered the mite box on the counter had mysteriously been emptied of all the change I had collected by following my husband around the house. And when I went to look for it in my son's cash box, there I discovered enough change to feed several African children for a week.

Yesterday, when we had an electrician at our house to do some work, my son wanted to watch. The electrician jokingly told him that it would cost him a dollar, and my son said, "That's OK. I have tons of money! I'm a tattoo salesman!"

Sadly, it's true.



This fabulous Medieval fort that my in-laws made for all kinds of imaginative battles with the toy knights has been turned into a tattoo parlour with a broader selection of skeleton tattoos than that of "Dr. Feelgood's Tattoo Parlour" on East Tenth Street.

By drawing his designs on paper towels with a marker, he then presses the artwork to the skin, wets the towel, and voila! The tattoo is transferred. Now he has the younger kids doing all the dirty work of finding spare change with which to buy their tattoos, and he collects their dues by plying his trade within the bowels of Tattoo World.

He even talked my husband into purchasing some skin art, which wasn't cheap.



When I was propositioned, I told him that ladies don't get tattoos, though perhaps he could talk his grandfather into reserving his bicep for a dancing naked lady tattoo. It would look great with that Popeye anchor on his forearm.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Stay-home Moms: the new Creative Class

From a letter to a friend of mine:

I'm not saying that women all have to be stay-at-home BettyCrockers. In fact, I have yet to meet a woman who really relishes all the crap (literally) taking care of kids involves. My sister and I were just talking last night about how annoying it can be to have literary or scholarly ambitions at the same time we want to offer our kids the best foundation for life we can think of. She actually does home school her six kids, but just turned down a teaching position at Old Dominion University near where she lives, because her husband's in the navy and she can't schedule around his schedule. But hey, we get to stay home, write poetry and novels we'll never send out, and read them to each other over the phone. This is a luxury and I personally wouldn't trade it for the world (though I wouldn't mind actually getting published). Doesn't make me any more or less Catholic. In a different set of circumstances, I probably would get a job--indeed, I've had one before.”


I have a complicated relationship with feminism. I am vehemently pro-woman. But as I’ve mentioned before, feminism’s pro-woman is not my pro-woman. I’m told by people who seem to know what they’re talking about, that there are a variety of “feminisms,” yet I’ve always been on the wrong side of the feminism du jour.

Can’t I say that I’m a feminist who is pro-life and anti-contraception, and who really wants more women to stay home during the day, so I have some Momrades with whom to play Bridge, drink Bloody Marys and eat mixed nuts? It seems disingenuous. So while I’m happy to vote and if I ever have another job, pay would be nice [though I am in a field (writing) where beggars can’t be choosers], I can pretty confidently say that I’m not a feminist. I’m over it, and I’ve been over it since, like, the nineties.

And yet, I have had countless conversations with women, who are educated—usually an unfinished graduate degree to their credit—who feel a knee-jerk reaction to apologize for staying home with their kids, while they simultaneously espouse feminism as the bearer of many great opportunities (of which they choose not to take advantage).

At this moment in history when motherhood is no longer the logical outcome of a sexual relationship (a fact related to feminism, homosexuality, and contraception), staying home with our kids is just another "lifestyle choice" on par, or even less than other more "dignified" careers. What I argue now, is that the advent of many modern conveniences has opened up the aesthetic liberation of stay-at-home motherhood, giving it a new dignity that I find preferable to any other career I might have pursued.

It’s taboo to mention that I happen to have some time on my hands. I’m supposed to be so harried and frazzled that I have no time for showering, and any spare time I must fill with excessive doting on my children. The truth is, I can be as harried as I want to be. If I want to run around with all five of my kids to soccer practices and PTO meetings, I can do it, and make my life, and the lives of everyone around me something akin to hell on earth. I can polish the toilet every day with a toothbrush, but no one’s life actually depends on my doing these things.

Therefore, if I manage my time correctly, I can read, write, cook, pray, clean, sleep, and still have a hefty chunk of time to spend on my kids. The stay-at-home mom struggles less with being overworked, than with a kind of boredom or intellectual acedia. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

Without a room of one’s own, without a housekeeper, without a lot of money, without sacrificing the well-being of one’s kids, the stay-at-home mom can exercise the freedoms of the creative class, if we allow ourselves. My room of my own is my head, and I inhabit it with varying degrees of contentment all day every day. All I have to do is put my findings down on paper.

I for one am going to quit thinking of myself as a witless nobody confined to a life of vacuums and diapers. I prefer to think of myself as a British aristocrat without the quail eggs and castles. I spent some time with a group of wealthy British Socialists at Oxford, who brazenly proclaimed that their Oxford education was solely for the purpose of finding interesting things to say at dinner parties. So here, my blog is my dinner party. My unfinished graduate degree is a lifetime supply of quail eggs.

In summation: Motherhood already has an inherent dignity because it is the biological design of women to be mothers, but in a worldly sense, mothering our kids is a pretty good deal. What I want to know is why we are still apologizing for following the natural design of our hearts and bodies? Why are we still yearning to be the workhorses of the boardroom, the bedroom, and the kitchen? It feels counterintuitive.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Beautiful Metaphors

I have a thing for beauty, and a thing for words, and a thing for God. So I love it when religion makes use of literary devices like beautiful metaphors to offer a greater understanding of God. But sometimes I am perplexed by how pop culture turns those metaphors on their heads.

I was talking to my friend, Pedge, today, who recently went to a talk at her Parish on the Theology of the Body. If you are not familiar with the Theology of the Body, please become familiar with it, because it contains some of the most beautiful metaphors I've ever heard (it's the best attempt at turning sex into poetry I've encountered). Pedge told me today about one such metaphor. Here it is: God created man in his own image, so when he first created Adam, he was both male and female, or androgynous.

It makes sense that the image of God would be both male and female. God separated the sexes, taking Adam's rib and creating woman, which caused Adam to proclaim, "This is bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh." The two are then reunited in "one flesh" in marriage.

Now, here comes pop culture to turn it all upside down. If both man and woman are the image of God, then what in the hell is pornography? Think of all the sweaty guys hiding out in their basements with the blue light of the computer screen illuminating their perverse homage to the image of God. It's perplexing.

My theory is that you can identify an ethical slippery slope by what it does to our time worn metaphors. Think of what abortion does to our metaphor of the womb as a safe place. What does in vitro fertilization do to a "fertile imagination" (talk about "planting ideas")? What do absentee fathers do to our "fatherland"? What about GMOs and the "seeds we sow" or the "new crop" of children we're raising? I could go on and on.

There's a bit of truth in the symbolisms we've used over the years in our poetry and prose. And I must say that there are some disturbing changes taking place in the land of metaphor. Personally, I would much prefer for my husband to call me "Flesh of my flesh" than "My ho." (Though in real life, hell might freeze over before he seriously calls me either one.)