Thursday, September 30, 2010

Thursdays with My Mom's Side

Today was the funeral of my cousins' grandmother (the mother of my mother's sister's husband). She was also my grade school's librarian all nine years I was there (25 years total) and a simply marvelous woman.

Her prayer card says
O God, the Creator and Redeemer of all the faithful, grant the soul of Thy servant departed the remission of all her sins, that, through the devout prayers of Thy Church on earth, she may obtain that remission of pain, which she has ever desired, who livest and reignest, world without end. Amen

I therefore choose the below as the poem of the week:

"Funeral Blues" by W.H. Auden

Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone,
Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone,
Silence the pianos and with muffled drum
Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come.

Let aeroplanes circle moaning overhead
Scribbling on the sky the message He Is Dead,
Put crêpe bows round the white necks of the public doves,
Let the traffic policemen wear black cotton gloves.

He was my North, my South, my East and West,
My working week and my Sunday rest,
My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song;
I thought that love would last for ever: I was wrong.

The stars are not wanted now: put out every one;
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun;
Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood.
For nothing now can ever come to any good.

I love the first 11 lines (2 ¾ stanzas, to be precise), but not the last 5 (1 ¼ stanzas). The poem’s speaker is clearly desolate, which is understandable considering a loss, but does not reflect hope in any shape or form. Nothing good can come now? Ever? Auden grew up in an Anglo-Catholic family, but apparently lost his faith because he lost interest in religion. O’Connor says that "Faith is what someone knows to be true, whether they believe it or not." She also says, "The truth does not change according to our ability to stomach it."

It reminds me of a section from James Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, when Stephen Dedalus admits to his family friend Cranly that he has lost the Catholic faith (after saying he quarrelled with his mother over his refusal to do his Easter duty). But not because he doesn’t believe in the Catholic religion, but because he chooses not to:

— Do you believe in the eucharist? — Cranly asked.
— I do not — Stephen said.
— Do you disbelieve then 1
— I neither believe in it nor disbelieve in it — Stephen answered.
— Many persons have doubts, even religious persons, yet they overcome them or put them aside — Cranly said. — Are your doubts on that point too strong? —
— I do not wish to overcome them — Stephen answered.

And a bit later,

— And is that why you will not communicate — Cranly asked — because you are not sure of that too, because you feel that the host, too, may be the body and blood of the son of God and not a wafer of bread? And because you fear that it may be? —
— Yes — Stephen said quietly — I feel that and I also fear it.—
— I see.— Cranly said.
Stephen, struck by his tone of closure, reopened the discussion at once by saying:
— I fear many things: dogs, horses, firearms, the sea, thunderstorms, machinery, the country roads at night.—
— But why do you fear a bit of bread ? —
— I imagine — Stephen said — that there is a malevolent reality behind those things I say I fear.—

During the homily, Father O. reflected on how perfectly the readings (Psalms, Revelations, Luke) fit her; how they seemed to have been written for her, only thousands of years earlier. He spoke of her faith, especially towards the end, when she would continue to come to mass despite her weakness and cancer. He spoke of her beautiful and giving soul, and my former grade school offered a large book card in her honor. Her son Scott’s eulogy told of her love of her family, her community and her God. He spoke of his mother saying she and God would beat the cancer together.

That is the type of relationship God seeks with each of us: it is not parasitic, where we take and take while God continually gives; not facultative, because God is not just a good part of life, but a necessity; nor commensalism, because neither God or humanity can remain unaffected by the other; but symbiotic—a beneficial, mutual and long-term partnership.

The Christian funeral mass, despite the sadness of the physical loss of a person, is not a mournful occasion. The joy of knowing one’s loved one is no longer in pain and reunited with our Lord, as promised in Baptism, keeps hope high when the heart is heavy with grief. There is happiness in knowing we will all be reunited one say in Paradise, if we keep the faith, despite the odds of this world. Faith, like love, is not a feeling. It is action. It is hard, it is difficult, it is not always easy to understand, but the path is clear and the directions are provided, if one so chooses to follow.

Today was the first time I have seen my own grandmother upon moving back home. She and my grandfather took a trip out west to visit friends. They are my only alive set of grandparents, as my father’s mother is deceased and my father’s father is extremely ill. I arrived at the Church after my parents and saw them sitting near the front with my grandparents and one cousin's girlfriend. I genuflected into the pew, and as I was kneeling and praying before mass started, I heard her say, “Is that Julie? Julie is home? Julie is home!”

I looked up and over at her and smiled. Yes, yes I am.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Working Wednesdays

Today was my first day of work for my second post-collegiate job. I am technically still in my last week of my first job, but it was decided last night that I was going to start work today. I would have preferred next week, since I am currently in the epic process of cleaning up-and-out my old room.

My room at home is yellow, my favorite color. The three impressionists (two Monets and a Van Gogh) on the wall are being joined by two framed ballet prints; the walls are in the process of being stripped of all non-framed pictures, photography and school paraphanalia. Another bookcase is being added to support my ever-growing library (although a small stack of books are in the giving away pile, which lessens my guilt somehow of owning so many).

The furniture has been re-arranged. The room is absolutely trashed, but in an organized fashion. I removed all the books from the bookcases to move them into the alcove and my boxes from the move are stacked and waiting to be unpacked, which cannot happen till I re-load the bookcases and empty out my closet, which is currently filled with my siblings' clothes. Vivy has suggested creating a reading nook roo, which is such a lovely idea, I am only sorry I didn't think of it first!

Oh, and I need new curtains. I have no clue where my curtains went.

So I have, as you can see, a lot to do. I haven't actually lived full-time at home since I was in high school or even part-time since my sophomore year of college. My living space has thus been serving as a family storage space. But Dad says, No time like the present! So I re-enter the work force, again.

Today was an orientation day. The major dynamics of the exchange business were discussed and explained. There is a lot of potential and the company is pretty cutting edge and innovative. I've always had an idea what exchanges are, but now that I am being versed, I like the way the company approaches and does them. This is a completely new field (for me) and it is so interesting connecting and comparing it to the newspaper industry. Both, for the most part, are still being run the same way they were run 10-20 years ago, before current and major changes in law and technology. Ergo, both need to change their staple business model or risk filing for Chapter 13 in the near future.

I won't fatigue you with the history and evolution of 1031 exchanges, but they've been around since 1921 and should be more basic parts of industry as a tax and money-saving expenditure, but people don't take the time to learn about their long-term effects when buying and selling, especially in terms of equiptment. Exchanges done right will end with paying less in taxes and on interest overall, which could be anywhere from thousands to billions of dollars, depending on the company and its size.

I have three huge binders I am currently reading through. One is Policy and Procedures (my favorite line is "No, the typewriter is not an urban legend and is not extinct. When certain forms have to be used that cannot run through our printers or when you have forms with duplicate/ triplicate copies, this is the machine to use."); one is 30 tabbed sections breaking down 1031 exchanges; the third, a slimmer binder, is current marketing. Plus another stack of papers. People like to scoff at my liberal arts education but look! It's helping me again! I know to digest, understand and analytically think about huge amounts of information. Yeah!

Today is also the feast of St. Michael the Archangel, who, along with the rest of the faithful angels, battled Lucifer and his followers in defense of Heaven. Catholic Encyclopedia says, according to Scripture, St. Michael has four purposes: to fight against Satan; to rescue the souls of the faithful from the power of the enemy, especially at the hour of death; to be the champion of God's people; and to call away from earth and bring men's souls to judgment.

Pope Leo XIII (the 257th pope, from 1878-1903) wrote a prayer for St. Michael's intercession after being given a vision after celebrating the mass. He saw evil spirits from Hell and their efforts to destroy the Church. But, in the midst of their malice, St. Michael the Archangel appeared and cast Satan and his minions back into Hell. The Pope therefore ordered to have the prayer recited after all low masses, which it happened until, unfortunately, it was lost in the wake of Vatican II. It is said most commonly now at the end of the rosary, but I do wish more parishes would say it after mass. St. Mary's, the parish I attended in Old Town two summers ago, did and it was such a powerful reminder about the reality of evil in the world and our purpose of guiding souls to God.

The prayer is Saint Michael the Archangel, defend us in battle, be our protection against the wickedness and snares of the devil. May God rebuke him we humbly pray; and do thou, O Prince of the Heavenly host, by the power of God, cast into hell Satan and all evil spirits who prowl about the world seeking the ruin of souls. Amen.

All in all: it is so good to be under one roof with my whole family again, and the nightly walks with Heidi are fabuloso. I'm even glad to be around the cats again! It's also most likely a good thing that I am at work today because my sister bought four seasons of Doctor Who (9th and 10th Doctors) off eBay and they arrived yesterday... one guess on what I would have been listening to/ watching while cleaning my room?

Oh, and fun fact of the day: if you ever wondered why the federal government now requires all businesses to report all purchases over $600, it's because of 1031 exchanges (passed in the country's latest and largest health care bill, of all places). Thanks, IRS!

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Workin' on Galley Proofs

"Like coyotes and roadrunners, writers and editors are natural enemies. Writers suspect that all editors are misanthropes who compensate for their crabbed lives and creative frustrations by exercising petty tyranny over the efforts of their literary betters. Editors, for their part, regard most writers as paranoid egomaniacs ungrateful for the selfless efforts that extract a modicum of literacy and coherence from unpromising texts."

—"Editor’s Notes" by James Nuechterlein (December 1996 issue of First Things)

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Happy Birthday, William Faulkner!

"I discovered that my own little postage stamp of native soil was worth writing about and that I would never live long enough to exhaust it, and by sublimating the actual into apocryphal I would have complete liberty to use whatever talent I might have to its absolute top."

"Be scared. You can’t help that. But don’t be afraid. Ain’t nothing in the woods going to hurt you unless you corner it, or it smells that you are afraid. A bear or a deer, too, has got to be scared of a coward the same as a brave man has got to be.
--from "The Bear"

"Our tragedy today is a general and universal physical fear so long sustained by now that we can even bear it. There are no longer problems of the spirit. There is only the question: When will I be blown up? Because of this, the young man or woman writing today has forgotten the problems of the human heart in conflict with itself which alone can make good writing because only that is worth writing about, worth the agony and the sweat. He must learn them again. He must teach himself that the basest of all things is to be afraid: and, teaching himself that, forget it forever, leaving no room in his workshop for anything but the old verities and truths of the heart, the universal truths lacking which any story is ephemeral and doomed — love and honor and pity and pride and compassion and sacrifice. Until he does so, he labors under a curse. He writes not of love but of lust, of defeats in which nobody loses anything of value, of victories without hope and, worst of all, without pity or compassion. His griefs grieve on no universal bones, leaving no scars. He writes not of the heart but of the glands.
--from his Nobel Prize for Literature acceptance speech, December 10, 1950

Thursday, September 23, 2010

30 Days Hath September

"Sweet Summer Days" by Dennis Caraher

The summer sun is nearly done
Frost will follow soon
Asters and chrysanthemums
Light up the afternoon

The dew is on long after dawn
Mornings are a haze
One swallow's song is holding on
In these fading sweet summer days.

We flew across the ocean
Some fell into the sea
God will choose what we will lose
Though we may disagree

We come here to be mended
That we may find our way
We pray that there's redemption
In these fading sweet summer days

Summer months comfort us
The sun comes with sustenance
We live for its lingering light

Days slip away from us
Katydids and crickets hush
We drift into lengthening night.

We were once our children
Too soon they will be us
All they ask, a simple task:
"Remember how it was".

We hold them close, we let them go
We watch them fly away
And if we trust, they'll come to us
In these fading sweet summer days

Stars they are innumerable
We'll never know them all
But nature's not immutable
Every star will fall

And one day, I'll return to thee
And all that will remain
Is the beauty and the certainty
of these fading sweet summer days

Today is firstly the newly engaged Julia's golden birthday and secondly, the first day of fall, thanks to the autumnal equinox (when sun is directly above equator and the length of day and night are equal). 

It's also the feast day of St. Padre Pio, the first priest in Church history to bear the stigmata. He died on this date in 1968 and over 100,000 people attended his funeral. He said, among other brilliant things, "Humility and charity go hand in hand. The one glorifies, the other sanctifies." and "Pray, hope, and don't worry. Worry is useless. God is merciful and will hear your prayer." He was canonized in June 2002 by Pope John Paul II.

“Why does this age seek a sign?” - Believing even in darkness by St. Padre Pio

The Holy Spirit tells us: Don’t let your mind succumb to temptation and sorrow, for joy of the heart is life for the soul. Sorrow is no good for anything and causes our spiritual death.

It happens sometimes that the darkness of trial overwhelms your soul’s heaven; but this darkness is light! Thanks to it, you believe even in darkness; the mind feels lost, it fears no longer being able to see, no longer understanding anything. But this is the moment when the Lord speaks and makes himself present to the soul; and the soul listens, understands and loves in the fear of God. So don’t wait for Tabor to “see” God when you are already contemplating him on Sinai.

Progress in the joy of a sincere heart that is wide open. And if it is impossible for you to keep that happiness, at least don’t lose courage and keep all your trust in God.

Happy Thursday, friends! 

Monday, September 20, 2010

One of the 3 Hillsdale Engagements this weekend... some things never change!

This past weekend, one of my dearest friends got engaged to Matt, one of the kindest and most awesome guys ever. To say I am excited is an understatement.

Matt, her now fiance, is from the Chicago 'burbs too. They are in the same parish, although it was more through their parents matchmaking that they got to know each other. He surprised Julia on her way to confession on late Saturday afternoon. Then they went to 5 p.m. mass together and after mass, they prayed for a while until everyone was gone from the church. Then he proposed to her in the aisle. I can't think of a more perfect place for Julia to have been proposed at, or by a better guy. Maybe in Italy or at the Vatican, but that seems a little over the top. He said he felt bad crashing our Hillsdale weekend together, but I say, the more the merrier! Especially when fantastic engagements are afoot.

Julia and I met at mass too, our sophomore year. We had both been invited to Sigma Chi's formal and of the entire formal group, but only four of us went to mass the next morning. I didn't know her before that (she is a Pi Phi and I'm a Kappa), but we became friends in Birzer's Civil War class the following semester and besties after going to Notre Dame for research purposes.

When I called my family last night on my drive home, I told my 12-year-old brother the news, and he asked, "Is he Italian? Because nothing less will do!" I laughed and said no, even better-- he's Irish! Just like us. He said that would do too. So now Matt has Julia's parents approval, my approval and my 12-year-old brother's approval. Oh, and Julia's too, which I suppose is important.

My weekend at Hillsdale was short, but really wonderful. I saw more people than I planned; it was nice that so many people were excited to see me. I have a couple friends doing an extra semester, and am pretty close with a decent number of underclassmen and Kappas, as well as former professors and their families.

I especially loved the time I spent with my former advisor's family. I went to the five-year-old's soccer game in the morning, had dinner at their house that night and sat with them at mass in the morning. I am especially popular with the 3 and 5-year old, whom I carried and held hands with going up to communion. They rotated climbing into my lap and having me hold them during mass. It was really adorable. One of the funniest parts was after mass, though, happened when I was walking with the whole family to their van and the 3-year-old wouldn't get in the car.

"If you don't get in the car," said my advisor, "Julie is going to take you back to Ohio with her."

"Okay!" he said, and wrapped his body around my leg.

The ducklings (my collective nickname for my advisor's five kids) treat me like a human jungle gym, so I am surprised my body isn't sore today from having them climb all over me. Their favorite thing to do is flips (I hold their hands and bend my knees a bit for balance, and then they "climb" up my legs toward my torso and then flip over! They love it). I also found out that my siblings taught the kids how to play Mafia at my graduation night dinner and now they're teaching their cousins how to play. Glad we've been such a good influence on them! I owe the ducklings a round of hide and seek the next time I come in town. And let me tell you: ducklings never forget promises like that.

Today I am going to finish working on my grant proposal because, once I am done, my boss says I can go. It's nice and weird at the same time. I'm really leaving. The family is coming up till this weekend to get the last of my stuff/ furniture, so I am looking forward to getting my affairs in order, writing letters to people based on who will appreciate my Sunday Funnies stamps, sleeping [more] and reading. So I am essentially receiving a short but paid vacation.

Oh, and I'm going to start writing a speech about Julia for next October, when I will be a bridesmaid in her wedding. I think I'll start by telling the story about the night before we left for the March For Life junior year, and the two bottles of wine we consumed, even though we had to be at the bus by 4:30 a.m. Or when we used to make our bananas into bananaphones. Or champagne nights in the Arb. Or our retreat in Ann Arbor with the amazing Dominican Mary, Mother of the Eucharist nuns. Or the night Bear and I met Matt for the first time in Chicago at the Elephant and Castle, and teased him the entire time. Or our epic quest for a hotdog in D.C. Or--well, I shan't spoil the all surprises. After all, what are besties for?

Friday, September 17, 2010

Happy U.S. Constitution Day!

My gchat status today says, HAPPY CONSTITUTION DAY! “To live under the American Constitution is the greatest political privilege that was ever accorded to the human race.” --Calvin Coolidge

and then has this video, which my friend Brandon (who works at Heritage) made:

I went to a small, conservative liberal arts college for four years, where my love of the Constitution and other Founding documents of this country only grew under my study and understanding of them. (I was also an American Studies major, so my study of them was frequent and dense.)

You can imagine, therefore, my surprise, when a friend of mine asked me, "Is the Constitution that great?"

After firmly telling him, "Yes, it is!", I reflected on the very question and its source. He went to a large public university very different than my alma mater. We've had some interesting talks about American politics, the Founders, the country's purpose and I have come to the conclusion that his and most people's own interpretations of the Founding and the Constitution, as is proved in economics and politics, is clearly for their own self-interest.

Now, there is nothing permanent in self-interest. There is nothing noble or beautiful or worthwhile in self-interest. Interest, for example, in a secular culture.

They (unclear antecedent referring mostly to legions of revisionist historians and citizens) say that because Thomas Jefferson was a deist- and because he made one comment in a letter about there being a separation of church and state- this is reason to secularize the culture and make the separation American Dogma. They ignore the majority of very religious men who helped found this country- who put in a clause allowing men of all religions to freely practice, but not to replace or override Christianity. They only use the Constitution as a leverage, and not as a guide. The President, for example, recently mentioned the Constitution and said he was endorsing it.

Endorsing it? Honey, this ain't no election season. The Constitution is here to stay.

There are fine lines at risk in today's political sphere. Social issues are being pushed out the door in favor of lower taxes and reducing spending. Now, I am all for that. States' rights are imperative for the health of the country. But I do not think anyone is neutral on the social issues. It is not neutral to be for same-sex marriage. It is not neutral to support abortion. That is taking a stand, sometimes in a passive way by saying, "I'm not personally for it, but I'm for a woman's choice." Right. That's taking a stand on the issue. But people don't want to touch them anymore, or be on the "wrong side" because that could kill their chances at elected office. Or so the media likes to says.

In President Washington's "Farewell Address," he said religion and morality are necessary conditions of the preservation of free government. Today, religion is pushed aside and belittled, and morality is relative to the person instead of reflective of truth. But the Founders didn't think so. The Constitution upholds the law, but it cannot account for the individual actions of men, which is why religion is so needed in the public sphere. Not, obviously, to use the law to enforce religion's views, but as law de facto. Again, a fine line perhaps, but a needed one.

The Constitution is great because it upholds a permanency and grants liberty and justice for all. We as Americans might see that as a right, but others in the world see that as a privilege, a grace, and a threat.

I could go on, but to end, here's a few quotes by the Founding Fathers. I think they already said it best:

"We have no government armed with power capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion. Avarice, ambition, revenge or gallantry, would break the strongest cords of our Constitution as a whale goes through a net. Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other."
--John Adams

"The Constitution is not an instrument for the government to restrain the people, it is an instrument for the people to restrain the government."
-- Patrick Henry

"Can the liberties of a nation be sure when we remove their only firm basis: a conviction in the minds of the people that these liberties are a gift from God?"
-- Thomas Jefferson

"Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, Religion and morality are indispensable supports. In vain would that man claim the tribute of Patriotism, who should labour to subvert these great Pillars of human happiness, these firmest props of the duties of Men and citizens. The mere Politician, equally with the pious man ought to respect and to cherish them. A volume could not trace all their connections with private and public felicity. Let it simply be asked where is the security for property, for reputation, for life, if the sense of religious obligation desert the oaths, which are the instruments of investigation in Courts of Justice? And let us with caution indulge the supposition, that morality can be maintained without religion. Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education on minds of peculiar structure, reason and experience both forbid us to expect that National morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle."
--George Washington

"As long as the reason of man continues fallible, and he is at liberty to exercise it, different opinions will be formed. As long as the connection subsists between his reason and his self-love, his opinions and his passions will have a reciprocal influence on each other."
--James Madison

And just for good measure, here is an Imprimis on "The Character of George Washington" by Richard Brookhiser.

That's all for now. I'm going to celebrate Constitution Day by driving up to Hillsdale for the weekend. I am so excited! Oh, and I was on the radio this morning for a story I broke, right before Scott Rasmussen. I also just realized I'm wearing red (headband), white (shirt) and blue (jumper) on Constitution Day! I am so American (Studies)! :)

Happy Friday!

Thursday, September 16, 2010

C'est Finis

I have done the deed: I have quit my job. I turned in my two weeks notice this morning. My stomach was doing great gymnastic feats before I told my boss, expecting something horrible to happen. Nothing besides questions, really. Quitting my job feels decadent during a recession, but it is time to go. I was hired at my family business, and I am really excited about that. It's a new field, but it's one that plays to my strengths and one that I am interested in pursuing long-term.

It has been a good experience overall. A few of my stories got picked up by policy wonks and traditional media, and today I broke a story. I am especially sorry to leave my office mate; we have become very good friends these past five months, and I will miss seeing her everyday in the Batcave. I am also sorry to miss the next state legislative session, because I was really looking forward to reporting on that and getting to know the reps, senators and their aides.

This announcement may be a surprise to some of you, especially considering I love writing. I'm not going to stop; I honestly do not think I would know how to stop writing. I'm getting published more too, which is encouraging. I'll miss the rush of daily articles and the excitement of journalism, but I'm not going to miss this job.

Winnie the Pooh said, "You're braver than you believe, and stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think." I thought of that quote last week when my landlord stopped by to show my apartment and he asked where I was moving.

"Home," I said. "I like this apartment and I like my actual job as a reporter, but there are other factors involved."

"Good for you," he said in his thick Irish accent. "Too many people say, stick it out, it will only get better. I say, bullshit. Get out and do something else. Too many people don't get out. Too many people don't live. I admire your willingness to leave."

I have to admit, I was a little surprised by him saying that. Maybe because that was the first time I had met him (his wife showed the apartment to me originally), but it probed me into thinking more about life and the choices that go with it. I liked his directness. We still live in a free country and if we're unhappy with our lives, it's up to ourselves to make it better, be it by improving relationships with others, changing careers, or looking at the sky instead of the ground.

The poem of the week is therefore "Bravado" by Robert Frost:

Have I not walked without an upward look
Of caution under stars that very well
Might not have missed me when they shot and fell?
It was a risk I had to take--and took.

And a second poem, for good measure:

"Invictus" by William Ernest Henley

Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the Pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds, and shall find, me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.

Let the new adventure begin!

Friday, September 10, 2010

C is for Cookie

A hilarious excerpt from "The Salmon of Doubt: Hitchhiking the Galaxy One Last Time" by Douglas Adams, author of"Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy":

"Cookies" Douglas Adams

This actually did happen to a real person, and the real person was me. I had gone to catch a train. This was April 1976, in Cambridge, U.K. I was a bit early for the train. I'd gotten the time of the train wrong.

I went to get myself a newspaper to do the crossword, and a cup of coffee and a packet of cookies. I went and sat at a table.

I want you to picture the scene. It's very important that you get this very clear in your mind.

Here's the table, newspaper, cup of coffee, packet of cookies. There's a guy sitting opposite me, perfectly ordinary-looking guy wearing a business suit, carrying a briefcase.

It didn't look like he was going to do anything weird. What he did was this: he suddenly leaned across, picked up the packet of cookies, tore it open, took one out, and ate it.

Now this, I have to say, is the sort of thing the British are very bad at dealing with. There's nothing in our background, upbringing, or education that teaches you how to deal with someone who in broad daylight has just stolen your cookies.

You know what would happen if this had been South Central Los Angeles. There would have very quickly been gunfire, helicopters coming in, CNN, you know. . . But in the end, I did what any red-blooded Englishman would do: I ignored it. And I stared at the newspaper, took a sip of coffee, tried to do a clue in the newspaper, couldn't do anything, and thought, what am I going to do?

In the end I thought, nothing for it, I'll just have to go for it, and I tried very hard not to notice the fact that the packet was already mysteriously opened. I took out a cookie for myself. I thought, that settled him. But it hadn't because a moment or two later he did it again. He took another cookie.

Having not mentioned it the first time, it was somehow even harder to raise the subject the second time around. "Excuse me, I couldn't help but notice . . ." I mean, it doesn't really work.

We went through the whole packet like this. When I say the whole packet, I mean there were only about eight cookies, but it felt like a lifetime. He took one, I took one, he took one, I took one. Finally, when we got to the end, he stood up and walked away.

Well, we exchanged meaningful looks, then he walked away, and I breathed a sigh of relief and sat back. A moment or two later the train was coming in, so I tossed back the rest of my coffee, stood up, picked up the newspaper, and underneath the newspaper were my cookies.

The thing I like particularly about this story is the sensation that somewhere in England there has been wandering around for the last quarter-century a perfectly ordinary guy who's had the same exact story, only he doesn't have the punch line.

My landlady e-mailed me today and my apartment has been re-rented. Te Deum! Less than a week after being posted- have I mentioned my apartment is tres chic? My soon-to-be-former apartment, that is; I start packing tonight. Dad is coming up Saturday and Sunday for the first two loads. I had to cancel plans with friends tonight because there is no way I can go out and get packed before tomorrow, but such is life. This also means what needs to happen next week has to happen, and will. I am counting the days...!

Also: my latest book review in TWT on Glenn C. Arbery's 'The Southern Critics'

Happy Friday!

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Put on Your Best, Boys

From the September 2010 issue of The New Criterion:

"In-school suspension" by Ernest Hilbert

We sweated and dozed like barbarians
In a deer-hide tent at the height of spring's
Roasting heat, crowded in for various
Affronts, crimes, and faults. When one among us

Was handed, from the disciplinarian's
Office, a pink paper slip, listing things
He'd done that were deemed truly nefarious
(To us hilarious) and to say he was

Expelled altogether from school, he heaved
The heavy 1950s stapler from
Our minder's desk and hammered the paper
To his head. The first two staples rebounded

And clicked on the tiles. We were almost relieved
When the third clinched, pressed deeper by his thumb,
And seized Subcutaneous hold. This caper
Did it: We were, for once, astounded.

With the form draped over one eye, he smiled
For us, turning slowly in the humidity,
A satanic clown, our own Spartacus,
For a sparkling second we won't forget.

We roared and roared in our hot galley, piled
Up laughs till they hid any stab of pity.
We all knew he wouldn't even be missed
As, clutched by the wrist, he loosed one last threat

And was hauled from the room and the door boomed
Shut. We never saw him again. One by one,
We turned our faced downward and resumed,
With the dust he'd raised churning in the sun.

This issue has a really wonderful argument against building the GQ Mosque so close to the WTC site as well, in the Notes & Comments section. I highly recommend reading the three well-written pages.

My friend Ariel is currently down in Texas. She's working at a high school. This comes from her latest blog post and I thought it would be fun to see the results here too:

My last consideration for you, and for myself, is about a poem I came across while cleaning out some old folders in my office. They were stacks of poems written by seniors from the past three or four years. They were given the following format and asked to supply their own, personal answers. I'm working on my own and I would love to see what ya'll would write for yourselves. I challenge you to try it and share!

Biography of an Artist

First Name
Four traits that describe character (3 items)
Relative of_________________ (3 items or people(s))
Lover of __________________ (3 items)
Who feels _________________ (3 items)
Who needs ________________ (3 items)
Who fears _________________ (3 items)
Who gives _________________
Who would like to see_________
Resident of _________________
Last Name

Note: your answers can be in simple list format, or sentences with semicolons/commas 

Bona fortuna! I can't wait to read y'alls responses. :) 

Oh, and Ben- Vivian introduced this song to me:

You could always use a healthy dose of American anything, I am sure, while in Tours. I think the song's sound is just beautiful and if the lyrics were a literary genre, Southern Gothic. I don't even like country music in most circumstances, but I'm a big fan of the mandolin and their use of Tennyson's "Lady of Shalott" imagery.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Food, Glorious Food!

I made the smoke alarm go off in my apartment today. I was just making dinner. No, nothing was burning. It all turned out delicious, in fact. That was the most confusing part, and it reminded me how much I have to learn about the culinary arts-- starting with how in the heck one turns off a smoke detector.

I was home Monday for a long Labor Day weekend and my baby sister cooked part of our lunch. The noodles part, to be exact. My "baby" sister is 11 years old. I call her Boo-Boo. Boo, for short. Her other nicknames include Meg, Doodle and Baby (the family joke is that she'll be 37 and drinking sweet tea, straight out of a Faulkner novel, still being called "Baby").

The point is, she was cooking. Noodles. Not very hard, but it impressed me. I burned noodles when I was her age. She just let the water boil over.

The first time I cooked by myself, I made cookies. By age 11, our family had bloated to 8, so I doubled the batch because I was positive the cookies were going to be so delicious that my huge family would devour them all. I wanted them to have lots of cookies to eat, not just one or two to taste. Here's what happened instead: I did double the recipe, except for one ingredient. I forgot whether I had added this certain ingredient, so I added it again.

Bad move. The ingredient was baking soda. The cookies tasted like tin foil. I was heartbroken, to say the least, and my family still brings it up, 11 years later. Thanks, guys.

In my defense, I've vastly improved since my first cooking venture. My specialty is grilled cheese. I kid you not. My aforementioned baby sister actually requested Julie's Grilled Cheese for her birthday dinner a few years ago. In grade school, I got really good at desserts, like Lemon Squares. High school marked a high for learning lots of foods like pasta because I was running nearly every day. Last summer in D.C., I ventured into cooking meat and fish with olive oil. I also made a divine peach and blueberry cobbler from scratch.

My second defense is this: I've never really had to cook. Dinner was ready for me when I got home every night from practice in high school. I was on the meal plan at college. In D.C., my meals wavered from raisins to pb&j sandwiches. I didn't eat out all the time, but I ate much more on the go. There was hardly time to actually cook for myself besides Sunday, which is when I would cook for the week. A few of my closest friends from college were in D.C. that summer, as well as a couple GW and CN friends, and the handful of people I randomly met and befriended. Dinner plans were always in order; and if not dinner, then drinking, and that is always rather filling.

I have to admit: D.C. lulled me into a false sense of security about meeting people after college. I met people all the time out East. I was hardly wanting for plans, particularly dinner plans. Eating is an individual activity, but it's so much better with others. Eating alone, as I do most nights here, is almost pointless. I don't mind it--crave the alone time now, honestly--but it is a dull activity to make dinner for one's self. I'd rather be feeding others than cooking for one.

As VP of the I Love Food Club* for the past 12+ years, I say (off-the-record, mind you) that food is overrated. I don't particularly enjoy eating. I like that it gives me nutrition for my body to function well, and I love the taste of whatever I am enjoying, but the physical act of eating? Eh. One does not give a dinner party just to feed the participants. One, however, does it to invite over friends for excellent conversation and the enjoyment of the amiable company, and perhaps even the anticipation and fun of cleaning and dressing up one's dining area. The food is an important part too, but one does not look forward to eating. One looks forward to the time spent.

Unless, of course, you're an orphan in Oliver Twist:

I'm moving home later this month and the food aspect of the move is exciting; that is, I am excited to eat with the family again. We have family dinner every night, where we say grace and everyone goes around the table highlighting their day. It may sound mundane, but I simply can't wait. It was great eating with people in college, where meals really helped cultivate community, but that is not here. Not having to shop for groceries will be nice too!

In the meantime, I enjoy the freedom to eat when and what I please, read my New Yorker book of food reviews, and will try to avoid setting off the smoke alarm again before I move-- but no promises!

*The I Love Food Club was established by my cousin Sarah (President) and sister Kato (Secretary/ Treasurer) when we were very small. I don't remember the date, but definitely early 1990s. We recently initiated in two new members: my mom and Sarah's sister's son Stetson, who has the chubbiest and cutest cheeks. We are currently accepting applications, but the waiting list is long.

Monday, September 6, 2010

What is Your Favorite Color?

"Grown-ups love figures. When you tell them that you have made a new friend, they never ask you any questions about essential matters. They never say to you, "What does his voice sound like? What games does he love best? Does he collect butterflies?" Instead, they demand: "How old is he? How many brothers has he? How much does he weigh? How much money does his father make?" Only from these figures do they think they have learned anything about him."
- from Antoine de Saint-Exupery's 'The Little Prince'

My oldest friend (far right) and me (far left).

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Homeless in Columbus

On Tuesday, I filed my article earlier than usual, so I went downstairs to the bank and then CVS for batteries for my tape recorder. On the way back, I stopped by a street vendor selling the latest issue of "Street Speech," the newspaper of and for Columbus's homeless. I try to buy it every 2 weeks it comes out to help. It certainly isn't for the reading material.

I've become friends with one homeless guy near my office because I say hi to him, ask him how he's doing, etc. Most people just walk by. My friend Lissa used to tell me not to say 'hi' to people all the time, but there's nothing wrong with acknowledging a fellow being. Obviously, don't be obnoxious about it, but I think if someone reaches out to you, it's polite to return the greeting.

My friend wasn't around that day however, so when I saw another man selling the paper, I gave him my dollar and asked him how his day was going.

"Just fine," he said, and introduced himself, extending his hand. I smiled and accepted it, was pleased that he had a solid handshake, and introduced myself.

"I've got a poem on page 6," he said. "You should read it."

"I sure will," I said, wished him a good day, and went back to the office.

I don't know what kind of poem I was expecting. He's most-likely 40 years old, black, male, homeless and very gracious. I keep re-reading it. I don't know why it chills me so, but I think it is such a heart-breaking poem.

Being homeless is a difficult cross to bear. It can carry a lot of personal baggage. I always wonder how people end up homeless, why, and where their family and friends are. Last summer in D.C., a priest told a story during a homily about volunteering at a homeless shelter and having the homeless man he was helping give a bath tell him he wasn't loving him enough. The priest realized it was true and the Holy Spirit filled his heart with compassion. He washed the man and loved him. He went back to the head priest saying he had met Christ that day! And he was so dirty!

Homeless people are people too. It's not enough to give them charity if you're not going to act charitable towards them. I can't quite tell you how their eyes light up when they are treated like an equal, be it as small as saying hello, or the mutual respectful attitude. Most of the time I don't have any cash on me, but I still make eye contact and say hello. I watch a lot of people ignore them. That bothers me. People want a lot of change in the world and a lot of problems fixed, but I don't know if they don't have the manners to truly do it.

This kind of interaction with people goes beyond homeless people. I had a person tell me recently that I should watch how a person treats others, not me. It is through other relationships and observations that the person's true nature will emerge. Recent events brought me to Genesis 50:20- "Even though you meant harm to me, God meant it for good, to achieve his present end, the survival of many people."

Today's poem of the week is by the homeless man I bought a paper from:

"Why Do The Good Die Young"
by Mark Hudson

At the age of 2 why did he die young, and the very next day he saw no sun.
Why, why do I wonder but can't realize, why my son "Lil Mark" won't open his eyes.
Lord, please let me know, please let me know, why did my just have to go???
At an age so young you'd never expect, why a kid so innocent had a sudden death.
I try to understand it every single day, why did the good Lord take you away?
Well one day we'll meet up in the sky, then my beloved son you can tell me WHY
-why did you die so young???

Have a wonderful Labor Day weekend! And count your blessings.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

What's Fall Without New School Supplies?

Today four* of my closest friends had their last first day at Hillsdale. One is an actual senior, one is student-teaching, and two have one semester to complete due to time-taken-off during the regular four-year gauntlet.

I am trying not to be jealous right now.

I am failing miserably.

Last night, my Big and I went out to dinner with two fellow Kappas. We all met through the fraternity but have become friends on our own. I like that Emily knows I prefer [good] beer to liquor and that she laughs recalling me order a margarita, take two or three sips and casually ask Claire if she'd like it. (I must have had a momentary memory lapse when I ordered it, because I abhor tequila.) I like that Claire and I now share a joke about the waiter who chased me out of the restaurant to give me my container of mac and cheese I had left on the table. I like how close Big and I have gotten post-college.

Living apart from those college friends closest to me has taught me how much I appreciate and depend on them. Humans are meant to live in community. They may be individuals with free will and volition, but people cannot be completely self-reliant. I was reading an article yesterday from the latest American Scholar entitled "Voices of a Nation." It was about American writers defining what is the American book, and thus, the American spirit. The article gave too much credit Emerson and Thoreau (the Transcendentalists always get all the cheers). Melville and Hawthorne are given their due beside Henry James (whose literature mostly involved Americans overseas, I feel like that should not count). 

The community of writers mentioned is important to examine just as the exclusion of some. I say, for example, the mere mention of Willa Cather is not enough to cut it in an article on American literature. She is, after all, one of the best writers of the West- of those who left security, of those who had adventures and souls- and she would know a thing or two about community too. I also think Robert Frost has a few things to add to the conversation as well, like the virtues of a wall and the need of being versed in country things- but he was not mentioned. I am aghast to say Faulkner was not mentioned once in the article and he is certainly a culturally-defining American writer. (How can this be?!) 

Community is not just interactions with people. It's not an abstract idea, either. The Southern writers exemplified this best. Community is a choice. One can choose to be in community or to isolate one's self. One does not have to be friends with everyone, but one does need to freely cooperate in order to succeed. Hillsdale is an example of community. Because it fosters such an attitude, it brings out the best of relationships- that is, friendship and the nurturing of kindred spirits. 

Bear and I had our dance parties. She tolerated my "song of the week" on repeat. WC was there to make fun of me after I opened a bottle of beer, took a sip and immediately had to put my mouth over the top because the beer would foam up nearly every time. MS let me collapse on his floor, even when he was busy. DF and I would dress up extra-nicely when we were tired because we pulled multiple graveyard shifts and no one needed to know. We would know, though. There's a bond of gchatting at 5 a.m., asking how a paper is going. Bets and Panda would come across the hall to lie on our floor to talk, pray and laugh. Walks with Vivy to and through the graveyard will be sorely missed. Proximity to Cup and Lis will never be less than a state's length or width now, instead of across the hall or up a flight of stairs. I want to babysit the Ducklings again and let them treat me like a human jungle gym while playing soccer or reading books on the coach.

To be clear, I don't want to go back to college. Four years was long enough. But the town of Hillsdale's silly motto - "It's the People!" - echoes in the chambers. I just wish we were all together again. College friends are important because they partake in four formational years of one's life. Even if you (the reader, the former college student, etc.) do not stay close with all of them, they've helped form you. They're part of who you are. Even the bad experiences, people and feelings play into character formation- maybe even a little bit more than the good ones. It is through suffering that one truly knows one's self.

College was fun. College was tough. It taught me to really think. It's ruined me, in a way. I am not satisfied with most arguments. I always want to know more, read more, learn more, discuss more. It allowed me to meet individuals I never would have met otherwise and for that, I am grateful.

It's time, therefore, I take my own advice. This morning, I wished DF a happy last first day and told him not to immanentize the eschaton. A bit of an American Studies inside joke, but it is also a reference to our favorite pal Eric Voegelin and a good point. It essentially means, don't try to create Heaven on Earth. It makes me think of the Jewish saying at the end of Seder, "Next year in Jerusalem!"; that is, we won't ever all be together in the same place for an extended period of time until, perhaps, Paradise. Not counting weddings, homecomings and trips, etc., obviously, but even then, those visits more than likely won't be in toto. I shouldn't want it, either. College is an artificial environment and can be misleading. People can't stay stagnant if they are to actually live their lives.

So I happily receive little messages from underclassmen telling me they miss me. I send goofy messages to friends. I write the article of the day (union employees picketing the union, oh the irony!). I think of the days when I too shall return to school. I muse about the virtues of crayons and colored pencils. I sip coffee. I watch the picketers a couple blocks away from my corner office window with a view. In short, my life goes on. I already had my last first day of college, and it was great.

And since you're still reading: watch this. It is awesome. I know it just happened a few days ago, but this would have been GREAT to include in my thesis:

Happy September first! Yes, fall is fast approaching. Today, in 1939, Nazi Germany invaded Poland, starting WWII. Here's W.H. Auden's poem "September 1, 1939" to commemorate the occasion.

Three more good reads:
Archbishop Charles Chaput's address from August 24: "Living within the truth: Religious liberty and Catholic mission in the new order of the world"
2. An uncreative title but good article: "Black Man Goes to Glenn Beck's Rally"
3. H/T to Mike: "How to use an escalator in DC" - Hilarious! (Oh, those were the days!)

Happy Wednesday! And remember: Virtus Tentamine Gaudet! :)

What's a college education without crayons?

*Ben, you not included because you're not physically on Hillsdale's campus. You're in France! But happy last first day of college to you too, dear friend!