Today is the Feast of Saints Michael, Gabriel and Raphael — or, as it was once called, Michaelmas. (Head on over to the eponymousCarrots for Michaelmas for ideas to celebrate this feast!) It’s a day that has assumed ever-increasing significance for me as a Christian disciple, wife and mother.
Throughout my adolescence and first few years of adulthood, I was oblivious to, if not in outright denial of, spiritual warfare. Oh, sure, I had an acute conscience, I believed in right and wrong, and, as I strove to choose the right, I often experienced inertia, anxiety, doubt, despair and all manner of interior struggle — but I still had a vague sense that my spiritual difficulties stemmed solely from my own concupiscence and sinfulness.
Actually, I probably didn’t even think in terms that close to the truth (after all, my spiritual difficulties did and do stem largely from my own fallen nature!). Had you asked me at the time why I struggled interiorly, I would have either balked entirely or confidently spouted psychobabble about past “traumas” (Spoiler: I’ve really never suffered any!).*
When I was 11 years old and encountered the Rule of Saint Benedict for the first time, I promptly adapted the idea of “a rule of life” to my own particular circumstances and churned out a little document I dubbed “The Kristinian Rule.”
The rule admonished me to pray three times a day (hey, like the Didache!), to practice piano for two hours daily and to finish my evenings with some kind of “wholesome” hobby like “embroidering.” (I don’t recall how faithful I was at following all of it, but I know for a fact I rarely got in my full two hours of piano practice!) One of these days, I’ll dig out that old rule and publish it; I think you’d get a kick out of it.
At the time, I thought I was highly original in doing this. Obviously, I was very young.
As I’ve written before, I’m fond of periodicals. A very few, I recommend and endorse — but I read a wider variety than I recommend. My own mama and the Oilman’s mother both know this and pass along the magazines to which they subscribe.
In this way, the September issues of WSJ and 405 magazine came to reside temporarily in my periodicals tray. Last weekend, I browsed both. As I did, I was reminded yet again of the sweep and allure of self-styled “culture,” that affected, self-conscious, stilted, self-referential realm of celebrity, whether national or local.
All of the true elements of culture are there — art, architecture, music, food, literature, beauty — and, yet, it all rings false to me somehow, smacks of self-importance, insecurity and desperation. Its self-proclaimed highest aspiration — to be original — all too often amounts to nothing more than its negative, which is not to be derivative, not to be imitative.
In a passage of the Aeneid that reminded me of Proverbs 31, Virgil speaks of “that hour a housewife rises.” It’s pretty clear from the context that that hour is early:
And then,/ when the first deep rest had driven sleep away/ and the chariot of Night had wheeled past mid-career,/ that hour a housewife rises, faced with scratching out/ a living with loom and Minerva’s homespun crafts,/ and rakes the ashes first to awake the sleeping fires,/ adding night to her working hours, and sets her women/ toiling on at the long day’s chores by torchlight –/ and all to keep the bed of her husband chaste/ and rear her little boys — so early, briskly,/ in such good time the fire-god rises up/ from his downy bed to labor at his forge.
At first, I was inclined to dismiss these lines — as I once dismissed Proverbs 31 — as a hopelessly unattainable ideal. To work from (before) sunup to (after) sundown, apparently never slackening or complaining? Impossible!
To me, it’s still summer — and it will be until at least Sept. 22, which is officially the Autumnal Equinox. Unlike mothers of school-aged children, I have no reason to submit to the arbitrarily-imposed feeling of fall that a return to the school routine brings. I go primarily by the weather — and, by that metric, in Oklahoma, summer sometimes lasts through October!
Once upon a time, I, too, was impatient for pungent hot coffee, crisper air and cooler temperatures. I’d refresh my scarves, sweaters and ankle boots far too prematurely — and then find myself embittered when relentless heat dictated that I not yet wear them.
Then, I had babies. As they’ve changed so much else, Sweet Potato and Mint Julep have changed even the change of seasons. No longer is summer — those months of miserable, sweltering heat! — a season to be suffered or, better, avoided entirely with iced tea, an armchair, a book and air conditioning (although I’ll still take that combination any chance I get!). No, with children, summer is fun — just as I remember it was when I was a child myself!
Line by line, I’m advancing through the Aeneid. I’m still not even halfway done, but I’m in no hurry. Just trying to deepen my cultural knowledge, refine my capacity for concentration and remember what is essentially human. So, no deadline (you know, like I’d have if I were trying to do something really important like pass an exam or obtain a degree. Ha!).
Anyway, Hera has just whipped Allecto into a frenzy and she, in turn, has provoked war between the Latins and Rutulians on the one side and the Trojans on the other. The Latins and Rutulians promptly lined up additional allies, leaving Aeneas overwhelmed and sick at heart, but old River Tiber in a dream sped him to seek alliance with Evander’s Acadians and he’s subsequently done so.
Prior to the outbreak of war, though, the witness of King Latinus (as his name suggests, the king of the Latins) particularly moved me. He knows — through a prophecy from his father, Faunus — that his daughter, Lavinia, is destined to marry a stranger. He perceives quickly that Aeneas is the answer to that prophecy, so he welcomes Aeneas and the Trojans to his realm, with these words:
Any time I’m up against a writing deadline, I suddenly experience an irresistible, imperative urge to read — preferably periodicals. This is not — I repeat, not! — procrastination. No, no, it’s very much a part of “my process.”
To read other, freshly-published articles reminds me that it is possible to put words to the page — and, further, to do it in a way that actually inspires, refines and elevates the thoughts of others. (Not that I do that! The other writers I read do that!) In other words, reading stokes my own writing ambitions.
It also allows new words to percolate in my mind as I prepare to write — or reminds me of old ones just waiting to be dusted off and displayed again “on the shelf” of a new lede sentence (see what I did there?). Lacrimae rerum. Apotheosis. Intransigent. Probity. Koan. “Slyly seditious.” Felicitous words and phrases that might serendipitously suit a purpose of my own someday …
In my last post, I cynically observed that we ought to expect ongoing attacks from ISIS soldiers. Nevertheless, last night, when the Oilman told me of the brutal murder of Father Jacques Hamel at the hands of an adolescent ISIS terrorist, I couldn’t breathe for a moment. This felt the closest to home yet.
At least a couple of times a week, Sweet Potato, Mint Julep and I attend a sparsely populated daily Mass in a Catholic Church. We went today, in fact. We go because we cannot be anything more nor less than what we are — creatures of the Creator — and because we long to be creatures who acknowledge Him, who love Him, who accept gratefully all that He so freely gives us.
In the Mass, He gives us His very self — body, blood, soul and divinity — and we receive Him hungrily, like the beggars we are. It’s a banquet to which all are invited, an exchange of gifts, and the simplest, sublimest celebration we could possibly attend — so why not go more than once a week?
The details are gory and horrific, and their suppression by government authorities and the media worrisome and disturbing. What else don’t we know?
On the one hand, I can understand the decision not to disclose such jubilant cruelty. Rather than stiffen the resolve of freedom-loving peoples to resist ISIS terrorism, triumphant evil like that might actually weaken our resolve. I think of the test that suggested 90 percent of 13-year-old Italians would readily cave to terrorist demands if an ISIS member showed up at the door and demanded conversion to Islam.
Last night, I wrapped up a very protracted and belabored attempt to write a “think piece” about the canard that women don’t receive equal pay for equal work (one of just two freelance assignments I’ve accepted since Mint Julep was born!). It was the sort of piece that I would have churned out in an hour or two at most in the past — but, in my current circumstances, it absorbed nearly every naptime for at least a week.
It occurred to me that I am a fitting illustration of the very subject I aimed to address: Among many other explanations for the persistent pay gap, women are more likely to pause their career to care for children and adults — and such career interruptions often cause professional skills to atrophy. Atrophied skills, in turn, diminish a person’s career capital if and when he or she does return to the workforce.
All of which is to say: I’d voluntarily exit the workforce again and again and again to care for Sweet Potato and Mint Julep, but I do miss writing. Then, I remembered that I established this space as a way “to practice writing regularly again.” Surely, something is better than nothing — even if no one reads it.