Tuesday, February 24, 2009

In the New Economy, Everyone Will Be an Auteur

There are dozens, if not hundreds, of homemade Thomas the Tank Engine videos like the one above on Youtube. As my sister remarked, it's probably better to make one than to run a meth lab out of your kitchen.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Tears and the Singer

Before I got a better contract teaching music-academic subjects and class voice while completing my doctorate, I taught studio voice for three years in one of my university’s senior colleges. The intensity and immediacy of the studio relationship, as any serious student of singing knows, can be a kind of cauldron in which the worst habits – both vocal and personal – of the student (and sometimes of the teacher as well) rise to the surface and, at best, are skimmed off the top or pressure-cooked away, leaving the voice student with a simpler, more effective singing technique, and, sometimes, with a more loosely-held grasp on the neuroses and coping mechanisms that so often drive the singer in both her artistic and personal lives. It’s not unusual for tears to flow in the studio. I shed many when I was a young singer, and tried to wipe away those shed by my students when I was a young teacher.

One of the most remarkable experiences I had as a young singer, and one that I still don’t fully understand, took place during an opera workshop I performed in in Boston in the mid-1990s. One of my scenes was from the rarely-performed 1835 French grand opera La Juive (the Jewess) by Jacques-Fromental Halévy, a massive, sprawling, wonderful work which takes place in Constance, Switzerland during a persecution of the Jews in the early fifteenth century. Rachel, the daughter of a Jewish goldsmith, has fallen in love with Samuel, a young apprentice in her father’s shop, who returns her passion. It is revealed, however, that Samuel is none other than Prince Léopold, who has disguised himself as a Jew in order to court the beautiful Rachel. The punishment for sexual relations between Christians and Jews is death for both parties, and the lovers are sentenced and imprisoned. But Prince Léopold’s wife, the princess Eudoxie, goes to visit Rachel in prison and begs her to lie to the tribunal about her relationship with the prince, so that his sentence might be commuted to banishment. At first, Rachel refuses:

Moi! permettre qu'il vive?
Quand de la pauvre Juive
Il a brisé le coeur?
Non, que ma triste vie
Près de lui soit finie,
C'est là mon seul bonheur!

(I, permit that he live,
When he has broken the heart of this poor Jewish girl?
No! That I will end my sad life next to him
Is the only happiness left to me.)

Eudoxie, however, prevails upon her rival – the two women address each other as “mon ennemie” – by invoking the love they both harbor for the prince. Rachel finally agrees to declare Léopold’s innocence, saying, “Let it never be said that a Christian woman surpassed a Jewish woman” in mercy. The two then sing a rousing duet, "Dieu tutelaire, ah! reçois ma prière," to which my stage director referred as “women against the world” – the sort of scene that’s sung with the two sopranos flanking each other, bosoms thrust defiantly downstage. In the end, Rachel assures Eudoxie that she will die alone, and expresses her wish that the princess “live in peace.”

I (who a few years later would switch voice categories to mezzo-soprano) was cast as Eudoxie, the higher of the two soprano parts. This was not a stretch vocally; I had already sung Susanna in Le nozze di Figaro and the title role in Lucia di Lammermoor (the latter without the optional high E-flats in the mad scene). But for some reason, I found myself virtually unable to sing the scene. I marked during rehearsals, singing an octave down, until I could take it to my voice teacher and figure out what was going wrong and how to fix it.

The day of my lesson arrived. I brought the music to my teacher, and explained that I simply couldn’t sing it. She listened to a few excerpts, and then closed the piano and faced me squarely. What was it about the scene? she asked. What was it in the drama that was, essentially, choking me? As suddenly as if a pin had been pulled out of me, I began to cry and couldn’t stop, and couldn't tell why. When I had calmed down a little, we began to talk about the duet.

The scene was about the necessity of making a devastating sacrifice for a love which could never be satisfied nor honored. But I was Eudoxie, not Rachel – I was not the character from whom this dreadful sacrifice was required, so it made no sense that I was so personally affected.

My wise teacher disagreed. Eudoxie, she explained, makes the greater sacrifice. She humbles herself by going to visit the mistress – a Jewess, no less – of her beloved husband. She sacrifices her justified desire for revenge on both of them to beg her rival to dishonor herself in the hope that the life of the man they both love will be spared. She does this even though it means that he will be unjustly exonerated, and that she and their children will never see him again. She sacrifices her pride, her position, and her honor while extending her forgiveness to both Léopold and Rachel. When considered in this light, the brokenness and vulnerability of the humbled princess completely overwhelmed me, and, until I had worked it out, literally stopped my voice.

After that lesson, I never had any problems singing the scene. The performance, with a wonderful soprano colleague singing Rachel, was very effective. I remember that, during the "women against the world" section, one of my large, dangly earrings fell off, and I wasn’t sure quite what to do – kick it to the side? dash the other one to the stage too, as a gesture of solidarity with my barefoot, imprisoned rival? – so I just kept singing.

In our lesson, my voice teacher had also revealed to me a similar experience from her own life. Her son had been killed in the terrorist bombing of Pan Am flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, in 1988, and not long afterward she had to sing a program that included a group of songs about children by Elie Siegmeister (I have not identified the songs). The last song, she told me, was about a child saying goodbye, and my teacher told me that in each rehearsal, she cried so hard that she couldn’t finish the piece. The composer, who was present at these rehearsals, feared that she wouldn’t be able to make it through the performance. But when the day came, she sang it flawlessly.

To read the complete text of the scene from La Juive (in French), go here. To read more about the opera, whose main subject is the folly of prejudice, go here; be prepared for some shocking plot twists. To see and hear the duet sung by Annick Massis and the legendary Anna Caterina Antonacci in a production at the Opéra National de Paris from 2007 (sadly, a few very beautiful bars right near the end of the duet have been cut), go here.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

There and Back, Part 3: If I Were A Carpenter

I have never been the kind of person I've always found myself surrounded by, that is, the kind of person who has the assurance of certainty, whether it be in faith, order, justice, morality, or anything else. Those assured types who've surrounded me have not, I later discovered, always been right about what they believed, but their certainty was often enough to make me want to cling to them and follow them around in a chaotic world that made little sense to me. In this way, I stumbled and fell.

A marriage ending is often a tragedy. Although I'm married to a great man now, I will always feel marked by the failure of my first marriage. My grief over that loss, like my grief over other losses I've suffered, will not be resolved in this world. Like many people, I simply have to shoulder up my heart (to mix metaphors rather egregiously), even though it be battered by now into a completely unrecognizable shape, and go on giving thanks to God. The strangeness of my life, which is a sort of post-something-or-other kind of life that I am guessing is particular to converts or reverts, has nothing to do with the certainty of the people who surround me. It's nagging, haunted, mysterious, and wholly uncertain, and sometimes I feel like I speak a different language from those around me.

After my first marriage ended, I had a few relationships about which I was deeply serious and which I hoped would culminate in marriage, but which for various reasons did not. One was with a man who was a gifted crafstman, a carpenter who customized antique bars gleaned from old hotels and restaurants for private and business customers. He was sweet, shy and boyish, and not at all forthcoming about his life, so it took me a long time of piecing things together to get to know him well. By the time I had done so, I realized that he was hopelessly addicted to pot, and that he might have fathered the youngest child of a married couple with whom he was close friends. By that time, though, I was like one of the hapless, well-intentioned Jewish supporters of Bill Clinton that Jackie Mason once joked about. If Clinton came into this hall and shot a man dead right in front of you, he said to his Broadway audience, you would just shrug and say, "Everyone has to die sometime."

But A. had certainty. He was a committed vegan, as I found out the only time I gave a dinner party during our relationship, when I made bouillabaisse and he proudly declined to eat anything but bread (after the guests left, however, he furtively wolfed down a couple of bowls, which stymied me about his commitment to veganism, and should have stymied me even more, by inference, about his commitment to anything). He railed against the internal combustion engine, and yet he owned a vintage car that he reluctantly loved. His craftsmanship was of a very high order, and yet he ended up abandoning his business because of his certainty that making custom bars for rich people was immoral, his repulsion having to do both with wealth and with alcohol. And yet, after leaving his business, he went on to work sixteen-hour days at a pedicab stand in lower Manhattan without pay. I couldn't understand it, until I figured out that they were paying him in pot.

He pursued me relentlessly at first, and, after I succumbed, spent two years trying to convince me that he didn't want a relationship. He told me his fantasy was of making a rough journey on foot through the wintry countryside at night and finding a little house with a light on and me inside, but it took me a while to understand that my function in this fantasy was to provide temporary respite before he lit out again. His family pressured him to marry me. I was miserable. I tried to become the hippie chick that I thought he wanted me to be. Around this time I ran into an acquaintance who asked bluntly, "What happened to you? You used to be so pretty."

Once a month, A. would come over to my apartment and spend the night transferring his money around via various automated telephone calls in order to avoid complete financial ruin. I later found out he'd applied for a credit card using my address (though not my identity, luckily) and soon maxed it out. After we broke up, he told me that his roommate had been putting off the IRS, who were looking for A., at the door. He also abandoned his beloved vintage car, taking the plates off and leaving it in a parking lot, because he couldn't afford the insurance; the last I heard, a homeless man was sleeping in it.

The last time I saw A. was in 2005, several years after our relationship ended. I was looking out the window of a bus going up Madison Avenue, and there he was right below me, gesturing dramatically in a right-hand turn signal from the seat of his pedicab as he made off down a side street. I was newly married and pregnant. I felt like I had dodged a particularly scary bullet.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

The Bat

I was reading about rationalism,
the kind of thing we do up north
in early winter, where the sun
leaves work for the day at 4:15

Maybe the world is intelligible
to the rational mind;
and maybe we light the lamps at dusk
for nothing...

Then I heard the wings overhead.

The cats and I chased the bat
in circles—living room, kitchen,
pantry, kitchen, living room...
At every turn it evaded us

like the identity of the third person
in the Trinity: the one
who spoke through the prophets,
the one who astounded Mary
by suddenly coming near.

-- Jane Kenyon, from Otherwise, © Graywolf Press, 1996.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Prayer Request

I've met several young women at Mass whose husbands all are brothers. One of them was expecting her fourth child in March. The baby, a little girl, was born yesterday, baptized, and died the same day. Please pray for her parents, S. and Z.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

"When I appear, the people hang . . . "

I had a conversation about minimalism with a colleague the other day, which caused me to remember that my piano used to belong to this wonderful singer (who also is a compassionate, soulful woman who has suffered great hardship).

This scene from John Adams's Nixon in China has a disturbing resonance with the recent conversations about Communism in the combox here.

Happy St. Valentine's Day

The writers one loves become our friends, and revisiting my beloved Laurie Colwin is like seeing a great friend again after many years, and finding that your conversation is as easy as if there had never been a pause in it. This is from her story "The Lone Pilgrim":

You get used to a condition of longing. Live with it over time and it becomes part of your household . . . . You cannot fantasize being married if you are married. Married to Gilbert, what would I long for? I would not even be able to long for him.

Woe to those who get what they desire. Fulfillment leaves an empty space where your old self used to be, the self that pines and broods and reflects. . . . The feelings you were used to abiding with are useless. The conditions you established for your happiness are met. That youthful light-headed feeling whose sharp side is much like hunger is of no more use to you.

You long for someone to love. You find him. You pine for him. Suddenly, you discover you are loved in return. You marry. Before you do, you count up the days you spent in other people's kitchens, at dinnner parties, putting other people's children to bed. You have basked in a sense of domesticity you have not created but enjoy. The Lone Pilgrim sits at the dinner parties of others, partakes, savors, and goes home in a taxi alone.

. . . . [N]ow the search has ended. Your imagined happiness is yours. Therefore, you lose your old bearings. On the one side is your happiness and on the other is your past -- the self you were used to, going through life alone, heir to your own experience. Once you commit yourself, everything changes and the rest of your life seems to you like a dark forest on the property you have recently acquired. It is yours, but still you are afraid to enter it, wondering what you might find: a little chapel, a stand of birches, wolves, snakes, the worst you can imagine, or the best. You take one timid step forward, but then you realize you are not alone. You take someone's hand . . . and strain through the darkness to see ahead.

Above, the cover of the book of the same title in which "The Lone Pilgrim" was published in 1981. The image is "Love Locked Out" (1889) by Anna Lea Merritt.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Will Dorothy Day Be Beatified? [UPDATED]

As some of my readers know, I have a special devotion to Dorothy Day (above, with her daughter Tamar). I am a member of her guild, and pray every day for her beatification, as well as for her help and guidance in my life. There are certain salient things we share that make her a natural intercessor for me: the left-wing background, the reckless bohemianism in New York City, the abortion, the divorce, the conversion.

At the same time (barring proven miracles), I have my doubts about her beatification coming within my lifetime, just because her ethos is so other in today's Catholic world. As everyone knows, this is a time of great struggle and polarization in the Catholic Church, not only over the usual issues (ordination of women, the administration of the sex abuse scandals), but also over overarching issues of the tone that the Church should adopt in the twenty-first century. While liberals want women and married men to be ordained and grave sins to be converted in the Catholic imagination into lesser ones, conservatives long for a return to the more clearly defined relationships between faithful, clergy, and country of the pre-Vatican II era. While liberals loved John Paul II for re-emphasizing Leo XIII's championing of the rights of workers and the poor, they were uncomfortable with his unstinting opposition to abortion and the commoditization of human life (as if such a stance were something new for the Church), and his suppression of liberation theology in the Third World. Likewise, while conservatives love Benedict XVI for his vocal defense of human life, his articulate othodoxy, and his lifting of the general restrictions against the Latin Mass, they try to downplay his harsh criticism of capitalism, which goes even further than that expressed by John Paul II in the 1981 encyclical Laborem Exercens (Benedict wrote, for instance, in his 2003 book Jesus of Nazareth of "the cruelty of capitalism that degrades man into merchandise" and "the dangers of wealth").

In my experience, which I'll blog about more when I get back to my "There and Back" series, Catholics in America -- mistakenly, I believe -- tend to align their commitment to their faith with their political beliefs, with both sides (i.e. liberal and conservative Catholics) feeling as if they're under siege according to the current sway of temporal political power in the nation. Right now, for instance, some conservative Catholics are hinting at impending victimization and ideological martyrdom under the Obama administration. Will it happen? God knows I hope not. I understand that they believe Obama's statements and actions on abortion while a state legislator and a senator betide the worst for Catholic doctors and laypeople. But I also know that it's human nature to impute unusual virtue and specialness to outsider and even victim status. It's early days to be making these prophecies.

But I'm interested here not in parsing the relationship of Catholics to the Obama administration, but in musing about my patroness, Servant of God Dorothy Day. Will she be beatified?

The late John Cardinal O'Connor, Archbishop of New York, was a great admirer of Day's, and vigorously promoted her cause. But how many Catholics today would be comfortable with a saint who tirelessly protested all and any wars, who was jailed many times, whose mission was not only to comfort the afflicted but also to afflict the comfortable? I do not mean this in any way to denigrate the valiant work of the pro-life movement to gain the rights of full personhood for the unborn, but it strikes me, in thinking about Dorothy Day, that it's a lot easier to love innocent babies than it is to love the unlovely, broken-down poor that she strove to love and serve. And yet this is where Day was doing Christ's work. Christ also afflicts the comfortable -- that is all of us -- by challenging, or, more accurately, commanding that we love those whom we're at best disinclined to love, and at worst horrified by. Love is very, very difficult; it's a lot easier and more fun to hate. Hate gives us the warm feeling of self-justification (or is that warmth really a hint of the fires of hell?). Love forces us down onto the level of those unlovable ones whom Christ commands us to serve. How many of us want to go there?

I remember slipping into a pew during Mass at Saint Patrick's Cathedral one day in 1991 during a lunch break from Sak's Fifth Avenue, where I was working as a cosmetics girl. Cardinal O'Connor was fulminating against the newly-begun first Iraq War. "This is NOT," he thundered, "a just war." How many American Catholics agreed with him then -- agree with him now? How many agree with John Paul II's and Benedict XVI's strong condemnation of the second Iraq War?

It would do us well to remember that being an orthodox Catholic has nothing to do with being politically conservative (or liberal, for that matter). To be truly Catholic confounds those positions utterly. Dorothy Day was a daily Mass-goer who was completely in line with the Magisterium. She was, by this definition, a conservative Catholic.

May Servant of God Dorothy Day intercede for us.

UPDATE: For those who are interested, monthly Masses are held one Saturday each month at 9 AM in the Lady Chapel at Saint Patrick's Cathedral in New York City for the intentions of the Guild for Dorothy Day. The remaining dates this year are February 14, March 14, April 18, May 16, June 20, July 11, August 8, September 12, October 10, November 14, and December 12. If you are unable to attend, you may wish to unite with the Guild in prayer at those times.

UPDATE, 2/13/09:
Toby Danna has linked to this post and also to an essay by Paul Likoudis, news editor of The Wanderer, who makes the case that not only should Day be canonized, she should also be acclaimed as a Doctor of the Church. Read it here.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

"A Saint for Those Who Are Prisoners of Their Past"

Today is the feast day of recently canonized Saint Josephine Bakhita. Read her amazing story here. As Father Mark notes:

Looking to the future does not mean forgetting the past; it means transfiguring it. It means re-reading it with eyes of mercy in the light of faith. We need not remain slaves of our own histories, chained to the evil things, the hurtful things, the unjust things that happened ten, twenty, thirty, forty, fifty, or seventy-five years ago. There is another way: the way of those set free by love.

May Saint Josephine Bakhita, La madre moretta, pray for us.

Hat tip: Elena Maria Vidal at Tea at Trianon.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Not Everything Was Beautiful at the Ballet

I read an article in the New York Times today about the retirement of the last New York City Ballet dancer to be trained by George Balanchine, and was reminded of something an old ballet dancer friend told me. She said that abortion was a commonplace in the upper-level ballet companies; the dancers didn't want to take the Pill for fear that it might make them put on weight. One can't be blamed, in light of this, for seeing ballet as profoundly anti-woman.

Home Cooking

I've been re-reading one of my favorite books of all time, Home Cooking by the much-missed Laurie Colwin, a collection of essays that Colwin, a novelist, published in Gourmet magazine. One of the best of them, the nostalgic "Alone in the Kitchen with an Eggplant," has been reprinted in an anthology of the same title. You can read it here, on pages 15-22. It's wonderful.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Between the Wars [UPDATED]

[Update, 2/6/09: Janet quite rightly points out in the combox that the young Joseph Ratzinger was compelled to fight for the Third Reich, which is certainly not the case for today's "soldiers" for abortion rights. The young Joseph Ratzinger's desertion makes clear his opposition to the evil cause for which he was made to fight. No one, of course, compels Americans to fight against our weakest citizens. In my last paragraph below, I was merely wondering at the way that God sometimes nurtures great good and holiness from evil soil, and hoping that this might be the case with the most committed pro-choicers. But of course, we have to choose it.]


I went to Mass today in a little chapel near my new home. At the Prayer of the Faithful, the priest invited the congregation to voice their petitions. I was about to ask my fellow communicants to pray for my brothers to find work, but an elderly man offered the intention "For an end to the war . . . of abortion." I was struck by his analogy and forgot my prayer request, and indeed no one else mentioned their petitions after this one.

If abortion is a war, that means there are victims of two kinds, at least as we've come to define them: casualties and collateral damage. Collateral damage is damage that is incidental to the intended outcome of the war. If unwanted babies are the intended casualties of this war, then their mothers (and fathers, and grandparents, and on and on in ever-widening concentric circles) are the collateral damage. If we can't bring back the dead, at least, as in a war, we must bind up the wounds of those calamitously injured in it and work to reintroduce them into society.

And if this is a war, then there are generals, officers, infantry and foot-soldiers on both sides. There are, of course, the vocal and dedicated spokesmen (usually, on the pro-choice side, spokeswomen) who rally the rank and file and lead the troops in battle. But the commitment of the soldiers themselves to the cause for which they are fighting varies widely. Many people on the pro-choice side simply accept that abortion is legal and assume it's an uncontestable right; after all, when something is legal, one can usually safely assume that, if not in the interest of the common welfare, it's at least not something that will harm one's fellow citizens. These people might be induced to march in a rally, or might simply do nothing, as so many good Germans did.

It seems to me that, if lovingly presented with the truth, some of these soldiers might lay down their arms and work instead toward the creation of a more just society, in which all lives are valued equally. Many of them care deeply about justice in the abstract, and abortion rights have become firmly entrenched in the public mind as one of the freedoms that should be guaranteed by our hyper-individualistic society; like the good Germans, these soldiers are unquestioning.

But soldiers can have changes of heart; and soldiers, after the war, must be rehabilitated. One German conscript, for instance, who deserted from the Wehrmacht is now Pope Benedict XVI.

How I Stopped Worrying and Learned to Love that Little Black Dress

My life in the frozen north was briefly interrupted today when I received the J. Peterman catalogue (or Owner's Manual, as it's called on the cover) in the mail. I didn't even know this catalogue was still being published. It's a hoot to read, and I'm sure the copywriters have fun writing it: the clothes, pictured in line drawings and watercolors, are advertised not as clothes, but as cultural tokens meant to evoke nostalgic associatons in the minds of upscale, literate consumers.

There is, for instance, the "Swan Pond" blouse, whose fictional narrative concerns Truman Capote musing upon a coterie of heiresses and Hemingway ex-wives at the now-defunct high-society New York restaurant La Côte Basque in 1960. There is the ensemble in which "you" (most of these descriptions are written in the second-person singular) manage to attract the groom, Lord Randolph, at an English aristocratic country wedding, and there is the "Russian Navy" shirt ("Watch the news on TV tonight. If they're wearing striped shirts like this, it's the Russian Navy. Unless you see a dark-eyed girl paddling a green boat and her boyfriend laughs and smokes and laughs and his cigarette is slightly less than one inch long . . . then it's France"). I was just about to throw it into the recycling bin when I saw a story, about a black dress, entitled "The New Music." Imagine my surprise when it turned out to be about the premiere of John Adams's Doctor Atomic.

"The San Francisco Opera House is exactly the same," the ad copy goes. "Same coffered ceiling, same sweeping balconies, but the music isn't."

"J. Peterman" then goes on to describe the opera:

Long recitations from declassified government files and the Bhagavad Gita set to trilling, clattering, pulsing sounds, atonal explosions and lyrical flights.

You made it through Parsifal, Peterman, I keeep reminding myself.

Then I notice her next to me . . . . The sight of her in this dress
[the black dress pictured in the catalogue] is almost enough to persuade me to give Schönberg a second chance.

He then describes the 1940s-style organza dress, finishing with a flourish: "Kitty Oppenheimer stuck out there on that plateau in New Mexico would have killed for a chance to wear it."

I'm not quite sure how to unpack the fact that John Adams's masterful opera is being used as a foil in a catalogue to sell high-end clothing, and a negative foil at that. I suppose it's a sign of hipness to evoke the work, and another such sign not to like it. The musicologist Richard Taruskin, in this long but excellent article in The New Republic, notes the phenomenon, current since the 1960s, of the intellegentsia (though well-versed in and appreciative of the serious and avant-garde in literature, painting, and philosophy) taking a perverse pride in knowing little-to-nothing about classical music (including twentieth- and twenty-first-century art music). Art music, as J. Peterman reminds us in his catalogue, is not hip; cultural elites today vaunt their knowledge not of new art music, but of popular music from various eras, some of which they profess to like for "ironic," rather than sincere reasons; i.e., not for its merits, but for its lack of them.

The irony here is that Doctor Atomic is not an atonal work at all, and certainly nothing like Schönberg. That, and the fact that I would love to have that dress myself.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

There and Back, Part 2: Culture Wars

When Barack Obama made his infamous gaffe on the campaign trail about people in depressed small towns clinging to religion out of "bitterness," I'm sure many in my old circle nodded their heads emphatically. I have neither the means nor the desire to judge Obama's own religious commitment, but his clear subtext was that these bitter folk cling not to religion generically, but to Christianity specifically (we may as well admit that the notion of the small-town Buddhist or Jew clinging to his faith out of bitterness just doesn't make sense to us culturally). In his comment, Obama further conflated this clinging to religion with an apparently similar clinging to guns, as well as to "antipathy to people who aren’t like [the ones who cling] or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations."

I was raised in an ultra-progressive Catholic home, if that's not an oxymoron, and in my life I have known many who grew up in similar circumstances. In our minds, there were species and degrees of religious belief, and our Christianity and that of the bitter, clinging small-towners couldn't have been more un-alike.

In another statement that caused a great deal of consternation on the right, Barack Obama declared that, if one of his daughters became pregnant outside of marriage, he wouldn't want to see her "punished with a baby." That sentiment was nothing new to me, having grown up hearing that the ultimate goal of the Christian right was to punish women for their sexuality by forcing them to face up to its consequences by bearing unwanted children, clearly an outrageous injustice. When I was married the first time, my father disapproved. As he told me, he was afraid I was going to have children and ruin my life. Little did he know that my first husband and I had aborted our only child a year earlier, an event upon which our entire relationship was essentially predicated.

This really is how liberal intellectuals tend to construe it: the right to free sexuality should be an unbridled one. As for the consequences, they can be taken care of, and any threat to the taking care of them is something to be fought against. For all the lip service paid to the interest of the community, liberal ideology, on this point at least, is anticommunitarianism in its essence. It is individualism taken to its most extreme expression, to the point that it makes enemies of a mother and her child.

And yes, liberal believers do look down on conservative believers as anti-intellectuals who parse everything in black and white for fear of the wonderful shades of gray that they, the liberal believers, are brave enough to discern and embrace.

Oh, and in case you're wondering, the reason I agreed to that abortion is that I wanted him to love me. Where, I wonder, is the freedom in that?

Monday, February 2, 2009


I've been tagged again - this time, I sheepishly admit, with a blog award. Toby at Astonished, Yet at Home! has very kindly given me the Premio Dardo (which, if you've sung any eigthteenth-century Italian opera, you'll know means "arrow prize") Award, which "acknowledges the effort of a particular blogger to transmit cultural, ethical, literary and personal values in his or her writing." Toby explains his choice of me among fourteen other bloggers thus:

"Pentimento is a doctor of music whose posts are deeply spiritual and intellectually informed. The grace with which she writes about abortion is unparallelled in the Catholic blogosphere."

I'm humbled by this. Thank you, Toby.

Now . . . the rules of the award require that I accept the award and post about it, along with the name and blog link of the colleague who's granted it. But then there is another rule which I am going to violate, requiring that I pass the award along to fifteen other bloggers "worthy of this acknowledgment." I don't think I actually know fifteen other bloggers who are treading these waters, and, though there are some widely-read blogs that no doubt deserve the acknowledgment, I'd rather pass it on to some of my favorite "smaller" blogs, so my list is going to be short and simple.

1. Retired Waif, who writes with sensitivity, grace, and wit about the ethics of illness, disability, and motherhood, as well as the spiritual quest and other not-so-everyday matters.

2. Brenda at The Crazy Stable, a Catholic Brooklynite feminist for life. I love her politics, her aesthetics, and her literary sensibility, which calls to mind that of a Catholic Laurie Colwin. What the heck, I love huh.

3. Fallen Sparrow, who I think of as a brother blogger. Fallen writes about the dark road he's traveled (and still is traveling) to satisfy his deep thirst for God with a beauty that's disarming and an honesty that can be excruciating.

4. Pat McNamara at McNamara's Blog, a historian whose blog is a reverent treasure trove of lore about Catholic life in nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century America.

5. Mrs. T at Fine Old Famly, a poet, essayist, and homeschooling mother. There are so many reasons I would like to give the award to her blog, and I feel inadequate to the task of describing them all; you'll have to read her yourself to understand. Not only does she write superlatively, but the ethos of her blog combines a deeply compassionate humanity, a love for and ease within the intellectual life, and a devotion to God, her vocation, and her family that I greatly admire.

I also want to acknowledge all my blogging colleagues, both known and unknown to me, who are working to create a culture of love and beauty on the web.