Betty Duffy

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Check this out:

My friend Gabe Harley is interviewed in Mc Sweeney's this week in their odd or unusual jobs series. He runs a recording studio in the middle of nowhere Indiana. You can listen to his music here.

And here is Matthew Lickona's latest work from Korrektiv Press, first in a series on the lives of famous Catholics, the exceptionally entertaining and provocative play, Surfing with Mel.

Oh, and here is one of my best friends from college, who's living in a window for banned books week.

...and here, is one of my housemates in England, who's now a New York Times best selling author of lots and lots of books, but mostly notably, monster mash-ups of Jane Austen and Tolstoy.

And here is one of my favorite writing profs interviewed in The Atlantic for  his new crime novel, The Next Right Thing.

And here is my college roommate singing in her own music video, a song from her album, Wake Up Love.

Now, I'm going to go to bed for the rest of the afternoon with my existential crisis.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

An elegy for bad habits

I'm missing cigarette smoking, not the burning sensation in your throat as you inhale, but the smell of it, the meditative aspect of sitting in cool weather, breathing fire. I miss the rebellion of getting in my car, lighting a cigarette and speeding at night on the interstate. There's something about smoking that makes you feel sort of loosey-goosey, whether you really are or not. 

When I was smoking, I pitied those who didn't, with their always willing tendency to take offense at second-hand smoke via victimized coughing episodes, squinting eyes, and hands waving in front of their faces. Weaklings. Theirs seemed like a sterile, puritan life absent of uninterrupted moments of wondering, and fragrance, good or bad.

When you smoke, smells are everywhere, on your fingers, in your hair, in the car, in your clothes. Smoke mingled freely with certain perfumes I wore, Lou-lou, namely--which came in a blue and red bottle reminiscent in itself of wine and smoke, and the dark velvet interior of the cigar bar my husband and I used to go to when we were dating. There we engaged in life-changing conversations over many, many cigarettes, and what we couldn't work out quickly was softened by the always hopeful suggestion, "Let's smoke on it."

Of course, there's cancer, which turns all pleasure into a threat, and there are children, who still have not recovered from the scandal of catching me smoking out our bathroom window one terrible evening when my husband was out of town. And there are wrinkles and emphysema, and the image of a little fetus in my belly puffing on a cigarette, and thousands of other reasons not to smoke. 

But right now, and it's probably because of pregnancy, I'm just hungry for a more fragrant life. The later trimesters, for me, are a complete reversal of the first, when I wanted to eliminate all odors. Now I want scented candles, colognes, food on the stove, good soaps, leather, tobacco, and cinnamon. What I have, however, is a damp basement, a pile of tennis shoes by the front door, a suspected apple core rotting under the seats in the car, and a dog (We're dog sitting while my parents visit my sister in Guam).

My brother and sister-in-law were in town this weekend, which brought many Duffys and their spouses to our house Saturday night for a bonfire. While gatherings of my husband's siblings used to be one big puff of smoke and bravado, political and religious arguments and a multi-lateral campaign for the ear of the group using the weapons of voice volume and refusal to breath between sentences, we've all mellowed out quite a bit. Three of us are pregnant, a one-time political junkie claimed ignorance of the Republican candidate for president this year, and the only remaining smoker in the group now smokes E cigarettes.

Of all signs that the end of the world is near, the E-Cig, to me, is the greatest signifier. When questioned about the little neon blue glow in the night that has replaced his former flames, my brother-in-law said, "It's great. I can do it in my cube. I can do it on an airplane or in a restaurant. Everyone in my office is hooked on them. I can even blow vapor rings." He illustrated for effect. "Plus, one of these lasts longer than a pack of cigarettes, and you can puff on it all night without having your lungs burn up."

"So you can't OD?"

"It's just nicotine. So yeah, one time I threw up, after like ten straight hours, but that's not the norm."

So, I tried it. Heavier than a cigarette, made of metal, tastes a tiny bit like a Dunhill, but mostly like…vapor. It's cold in your hand, no sizzle on the inhale, and it only comes to an end when you choose, or when the batteries run out. I can see if you have a real nicotine addiction, that the E-cig might be a more healthful alternative than smoking or chewing tobacco. But the nicotine was never the draw for me. And if everything else was the draw, but most especially, the devil-may-care mood of having a deadly habit, well, the E-cigarette is just too darn perky and clean. There's no rebellion in it.

No personal stake in our vices? No interest in our politics? We talked a little bit about how social networking has killed some of our relationships, because people we like in real life act doofusy online in an election year, getting on Facebook to shout out righteous-sounding opinions that are certain either to go unchallenged or to be misunderstood, and the heated debates that once took place around bonfires into the wee hours of the morning have lost their appeal. Everyone's burnt out. It's all lost its fragrance. Or maybe we're just getting old.

In any case, the pregnant ladies went to bed early, the men drank to semi-sober exhaustion, and this morning I'm thinking about alternatives to cigarettes for olfactory comfort. A friend of mine sells essential oils, and I sampled her frankincense the other day, put a dash under my nose, and rubbed some on the bottom of my feet (as instructed). It smells like Chrism oil, like new-born-baby-head, and had me going around the rest of the day to people in my family, saying, "Here, smell my finger." No takers. Their loss, but I think I've found my new vice.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

New kitchen table...

...coming my way, compliments of Monsieur Duffy.

Curly cherry boards for the top.
 Bought the wood about five years ago. Finally get to bring it from the barn into the house.

In the Spring, he finished our bed.

So lovely...

...and so quiet.

Merci mon amour.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

A Zoolander Moment

At Patheos today, I'm writing about all the nice things good looks can get you, and the one thing it can't.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

How to market abortion drugs?

It's a terrible quandary, but here's a pretty good idea of how not to market them:

Went to the OB-gyn today, and on the wall there was one of those posters that you're supposed to read to determine if you are in an abusive relationship:

Question 1: Does your partner ever force you to have sex when you don't want to? 
Question 2: Does your partner ever sabotage your birth control or refuse to wear a condom? 
Question 3: Does your partner ever attempt to get you pregnant when you don't want to be?

Leaving aside any Catholic viewpoint on birth control:

"If you answered yes to any of the above questions..." 

I just assumed they would confirm that you are indeed in an abusive relationship, and you should get out of it, now.

But, no:

"Talk to your doctor about the morning after pill to avoid an unwanted pregnancy."

Of course, at the very bottom, in small font, was an abuse hotline--but does anyone else see a problem here?

Monday, September 10, 2012

Weekend Diary

I walk almost every day on the same route, through a park, over the highway, around a corner, across the river, and out between the cornfields to the brick house, and then back again. It's about three miles roundtrip, and it's a predictable walk, for the most part, from the particular cars that I pass, to the point at which I will finish saying the Rosary and put in my headphones to listen to music.

It's predictable except for about three minutes of it, crossing the approximately 200 meters that constitute the bridge over the river. What makes this stretch unpredictable, is that I suspect there's a hidden culture residing down below along the riverbanks, a culture that consists of fishermen, transients, meth cookers, and the kind of people who dump whole la-Z-Boy couches out of the backs of their pick-ups over the rail of the bridge onto the banks of the river below.

Sometimes I smell cigarette smoke wafting up from under the bridge. Sometimes I see blankets arranged and rearranged on the couch that has sat there in the lower brush for going on seven years. Sometimes trucks are parked in the farmer's alley-way with styrofoam coolers in the back, and I can follow foot trails through the day-lilies heading down to the river bank for a catch.

And occasionally--every very weird once in awhile, there's a random dude sitting on the bridge rail, shirtless, sweaty, his moped (not a motorcycle) parked nearby, and he's watching something, I suspect, but otherwise, just occupied with looking very creepy while I pass.  He does sort of a weird lunge with the railing at the apex of his crotch, and he says, "Great day for a walk, isn't it?" as though he just finished exercising, but it still sounds so much like a cover for, "I'm just sitting here, being creepy," or "Ho-hum, please pay no attention to the illegal activity taking place behind, below, and to the right of me."

I realize my imagination can get away with me. It's very possible that the guy just got hot riding his moped and decided to pull over and take in the splendors of nature. The river is very scenic, especially now that it's rained once or twice and there's actually some water in it.

But sometimes, approaching the bridge, I really do feel like a character in a horror movie, when the scary music has already begun, and the next victim knows deep in her bones that she should not proceed to the half-open door just ahead of her--that her doom awaits on the other side--but she still just keeps going.

Oh the sense of doom is everywhere. It's nearing the end of 2012, which according to a John Cusack movie I watched, just might signify the end of the world, and at about that time I'll be having a baby ("Woe to those who are pregnant and to those who are nursing babies in those days."). Contentious election season is upon us, the economy is supposed to dip again, and I cross a scary bridge every day on my walk. What else could I work myself up about?

Something sort of interesting happened to me recently--a strange coincidence--being that at this time last year I began my retreat for total consecration to Jesus through Mary according to the teaching of St Louis de Montfort. I have to admit, that I sort of forgot over the year exactly what that consecration entailed. Once or twice, it had crossed my mind to revisit the whole business--but it wasn't a high priority for me.


My friend Irene accidentally purchased three copies of a book called '33 Days to Morning Glory' which is sort of a new, more streamlined approach to Marian Consecration by Father Michael Gaitley, who also penned the book, 'Consoling the Heart of Jesus.' Irene apparently ordered the book on Amazon, then forgot she had done so, and bought two more copies at a bookstore. She gave one copy to Pedge, and then when the other copy arrived in the mail, she passed it on to me.

So, I started reading it Friday night, and began the process of renewing my consecration, which is perfectly timed to occur on the feast of Our Lady of the Rosary, in October, which is the same day I completed my consecration last year.

I love it when things work out like that. I didn't ask for a sign, and it may well just be a coincidence. The four seasons, after all, repeat themselves every year too. It's put me back on track, however, in a way that nothing else I've tried lately has done--given me the assurance of efficacy in my prayer life. The most efficient way to become like Jesus is through Mary--it's one of those tropes you hear all the time, and wonder now, how, how is that so?

I picture Mary like a short order cook in Heaven, taking in all the orders, collecting ingredients, then distributing the food to the hungriest patrons first--and I'm there in the background, getting eggs out of the fridge and handing them to her, or something, bringing in the choicest veggies from my garden. Some of them are harder to part with than others--the biggest ripest tomato, I sort of want to save for myself. But the cooks always eat last, and while you might feel hungry in the interim, it's a very good feeling at the end of the day.

It's so much better than having an over-abundance of veggies and a bunch of kids who don't want to eat them, and you know you've got to process them all quickly or they'll go bad, and inevitably, some of them do. So much pressure. Such a wide margin for failure.

It's sort of a silly metaphor, I know, but just to complete the whole picture, I need to say that God is the proprietor of the restaurant, so we're doing his work--and by signing up to assist Mary, I get to partake in a small part of the goods and work of Heaven right now, where I'd otherwise just be spinning my wheels and hoping to get a foot in the door at the end of my life.

Pedge had tickets to the PGA tournament at Crooked Stick this weekend, so...guess who got to go sit on the eighteenth hole and watch a steady succession of golf celebrities arrive to sink a little white ball. I am the least likely candidate for an invitation to a PGA tournament, because I've played maybe one game of golf in my life (on my husband mine's first date), and I have no idea who any of the players are, or why they're important, or even what their scores indicate.

But! I saw famous people! A real-live sex addict named Chigger or Tiger something.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012


I've been feeling, lately, like I need to go on a retreat, or like I just need a bit of monasticism in my life, some order, a rule. As Kate says in The Moviegoer, "What I want is to believe in someone completely and then do what he wants me to do."

Part of my new longing for a Resurrected Christ-- rather than the one that hangs eternally on the Cross-- is a recognition that I'm going to have to get up. I'm going to have to start doing stuff. And not just finding vague ways to fill my time until the end of the world. I hate that feeling of having a free afternoon, knowing I've got to milk it for all it's worth, and finding that the only thing my community has to offer is an upscale mall. What a bust.

"Doing stuff" in pursuit of the Resurrection, or the Kingdom of God on Earth, seems to mean the practice of pious works.

I know we've heard this out of Betty Duffy before. I can look back through my archives at all the different times I've revved up my engine and gotten ready to start. Holiness has always been just an arm's length away, and I don't know how many times I've announced that now, at last, the time has come, for me to reach out and grab it.

The truth is, I have a slippery grip. I've grabbed at it, I've gotten hold of it, I've played with it, and then for one reason or another, I've let it go. Holiness, like sin, is more like a state I pass through on my way to my next confession or my next fall, whichever comes first.

I've wondered sometimes if holiness is just an idea I keep around for rainy days, when I feel restless and stupid, and I wonder what I'm going to do with myself--well, I've got that old novel I could work on, or I could pursue some pious works (better yet, I could write a novel about the pursuit of pious works). Having my future better self in a drawer to pull out keeps me from feeling like a complete waste of a person. Don't cut me down yet, Lord, I'm just getting started (again).

Or perhaps I have trouble pursuing piety, because it sounds, to be honest, a bit dull, or like the labor of stuffed shirts who go around fraternally correcting people on the internet. Does the pursuit of piety automatically make you unsympathetic? Does it make you too ethereal and spiritual to ever really meet people on a personal level?

I've known too many practitioners of pious works who, maybe out of fear of temptation, or a wish not to be sullied, or a stubborn personal need to point out others' immorality, have blocked out of their lives the very people who most needed their companionship and understanding.

How many conflicts lately have you witnessed among fellow Christians, who seem to be at odds over some nonexistent incoherence between faithfulness and charity? The ones rooting for charity appear to have softened the lines between good and evil, while the ones rooting for faithfulness and piety have thrown kindness under the bus.

If there really is a line to be drawn between faithfulness and charity, I think it's just human nature to want to side with the nice guy over the right guy, which leads to speculation that maybe the right guy is somehow just as wrong as his opponent. Maybe everybody's doing it wrong.

The meditation today in Magnificat blew my mind a little. From Father Jean-Pierre de Caussade: "What is there among creatures that can resist the force of a faithful, gentle, and humble soul?"

The word that most jumped out at me there was "force." Why do I always think that to really make an impression you have to do it with a blunt object? But gentleness and humility make deeper impressions on others than the most enlightened arguments.

"What is Lucifer? He is a brilliant intelligence, the most enlightened of all, but an intelligence discontented with God and his order..."

At least for me, the discontent starts with little things, like the effort of keeping and picking up a home, even though home life is the nucleus of my family, the stability of my kids, and clearly the law of God in my life. I would like to sit around having enlightened thoughts about pursuing the Resurection, and yet, "The more lights, knowledge and general capacity a person has the more he is to be feared, if he has not the foundation of piety which consists in contentment with God and his will."

Piety is contentment--Humility. Will I stoop to pick up the clutter on my floor? Will I do it day after day, several times a day, and be happy with it?

I'd prefer to think of nobler ways to be holy--something more like telling people when they are in error of God's law (because I love them so much and would hate for them to taste hellfire, that is). But it's usually not productive, especially when I need direction myself.

So yes, a rule. I want to follow a rule of life with a schedule that tells me when to pray and when to stoop and when to write. I want to believe that this rule for my life comes directly from the Resurrected Christ and that it matters eternally whether or not I follow it. I want to follow it humbly and contentedly all the rest of the days of my life [or at least until I reinvent myself in middle age]--(joking).

I'll let you know how it goes... if it goes well.

Sunday, September 2, 2012


Once upon a time on the internet, someone posted portions of my chapter from "Style Sex and Substance" on their blog.

This quote (among others) was used:

Any time two adults proceed in a game of Twister, they’re going to need a sense of humor.

As a result, the following comment showed up on that blog:

(comment edited for length)

" for the game Twister, which was mentioned–is that really a game that should be played by anyone other than little kids? Am I the only one who sees in that game a near occasion of serious sin, at least for young men? I mean, come on, if we saw people acting like that away from the Twister board we would put an immediate stop to it.

So I wonder–have people just gone insane? Have we, as Catholics, just become blind? Do we really want to be like Our Lady, or St. Joseph, or any other Saint? Or…purest of the pure–Jesus? Read about what St. Gemma Galgani was told by Jesus, Mary, and her Guardian Angel. It was the opposite of ‘listen to rock music, play twister, read books about sexuality, wear clothing that shows off your legs,""

What I love about this comment is, as my sister-in-law pointed out, how he sums up my worldview as "listen to rock music, play twister, read books about sexuality, wear clothing that shows off your legs."

He nailed it. No day for me is complete without a book about sex and a game of Twister.

The charge against me is worldliness, and over the course of a long, hot summer, pregnant with my sixth child, I've realized that he's right. My last blog post was about rock music. The post before that was about swimsuits. All I think about is stuff stuff stuff and Twister.

I read recently that St Theresa of Avila once had a similar preoccupation with romance novels--she thought they might be the one thing that put her under a staircase in hell. Supposedly, she toiled away as a mediocre nun until she was 38 years old, and then realized that these THINGS, were not obstacles to Heaven. They were not some kind of litmus test that marks you out as a bad or good person, whether you wear short skirts or spend too much time chastising people on the internet.

They were distractions.

Maybe, just maybe, I haven't been corrupted by my preoccupation with worldly things, but rather, I've been blinded by Twister and rock music to some of the potential rewards holiness might have to offer.

We had a visiting priest a couple weeks ago at our Parish, a monk from the local seminary, and in his plea for support for his seminarians, he noted that one of the many important roles priests perform for the Church, is to keep agitating for the Kingdom of Heaven, to provide a certain amount of torment among the flock that prevents us from becoming too preoccupied with the things of this world.

And the things of this world are legion. Yes, they include sex, bad books, stupid games, our clothes, the internet, and the rude behavior of other people. Also the summer's heat, depression, fatigue, fear, anxiety about the future, misery over the past, interpersonal conflict, and obsession with performance in our Christian vocations. You cannot be a human being without bumping into the things of this world, because we're soul and body, living for a term in a material world.

The thing I just realized this evening, after watching a segment from Father Barron's Catholicism series, in which he noted that Christ took all the darkness of the world onto himself, is that the particular things of this world that really take hold of me are not actually Twister and short skirts, but maybe too much comfort with the darkness that I'm really not supposed to carry.

I've spent the summer feeling terrible and thinking about the Cross. I've imagined naming this baby St. John, whether it's a boy or a girl because it is the fruit of my own little dark night of the soul.

Well, sometimes you're really blue, and there's nothing you can do about it. Sometimes you're in the dark, however, because that's just where you like to be.

I've always favored Crucifixion art to Resurrection art.  The latter is too often cheesy and unbelievable, whereas blood and death are real--they are of this world. It's comforting to realize that God suffered them too, but it's worldly to imagine that suffering is where the story of God's action in our lives ends.

My current worldly distraction may actually be the Cross itself. I don't go far enough in my faith. Preoccupation with death and suffering is a preoccupation with worldly things, and I have embraced them with gusto.

But I have failed to see the end of the story--how Christ takes our suffering onto himself, and then transforms it in ways I cannot imagine.

Sanctity always has two parts--the part we perform, which includes offering, and attempting to ascend to Christ's example, and the part that Christ performs, where he descends to earth and changes us in unfathomable ways.

I don't get to ascend to Heaven like Christ did. He has to take me there, and I suspect that whole surrender-process will be very challenging and confusing.

“Mary’s confusion at the Annunciation reflects her spiritual poverty. We always experience confusion and perplexity when God descends into our lives. These purifications are passive—God is causing the growth by bringing about some crisis in our lives, in the Church, etc. We use these experiences as a trampoline to bounce off of and land in the arms of Jesus.”

“Sanctity is not moral perfection, or success (a heresy of Americanism, he said), or psychic maturity, all of which are focused on the self. Instead, it is the meeting of our weakness with God, who loves us.”

--Father Giertych, theologian of the papal household

The big surprise about Christianity is that we don't gain Heaven by gritting our teeth through hell on earth. We are loved into it. And when we love back, Heaven becomes present on earth. Faith and pious works to the exclusion of worldly things, becomes less difficult. The Resurrection begins to feel real.

Saturday, September 1, 2012


I herald the end of August! I smell burning things at night and in the morning I wake up cold. I love Fall.

I'm reminded of simpler times, when all I looked for in a man was a full beard, four-wheel drive, and an acoustic guitar, and all I wanted in a song was a plaintive or whispering vocal, a cricket track, and a badly played violin. So, I've made a playlist to accompany the old nomadic urge to pack up belongings, eat outdoors, and follow the sun as it distances itself from the world.

Personally, I'm not going anywhere this Fall, so I'll probably only use it to clean house.

Keren Ann: Not Going Anywhere


Radiohead: Give up the Ghost

Vashti Bunyan: Come Wind Come Rain

Morphine: In Spite of Me

REM: You are Everything

Joni Mitchell: Urge for Going

Camper Van Beethoven: All Her Favorite Fruit

The Reivers: Star Telegram

The Replacements: Sadly Beautiful

Robert Plant and Allison Kraus: Please Read the Letter
(This one works better if you avoid looking at Robert Plant in the video.)

Rufus Wainwright: Beautiful Child

Iron and Wine: Naked as we Came