Wednesday, December 29, 2010

METAMORPHOSES. Or, Build a little birdhouse in your... lungs?

Ignore the simplistic commentary and just look at the weird, creepy-lovely sculptures. Via AC.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

KISS AND CRY: MY YEAR IN REVIEW. I'm spending the tail-tip of 2010 researching, re-reading, and watching figure skating instead of movies, so it should be safe to do the best-of now. I can always edit if something happens in the next five days.

Best books read (nonfiction): Jay Prosser, Second Skins: The Body Narratives of Transsexuality
Paul W. Kahn, Putting Liberalism in Its Place
Ellis Hanson, Decadence and Catholicism
Kathryn Edin and Maria Kefalas, Promises I Can Keep: Why Poor Women Put Motherhood Before Marriage
Joy Goodwin, The Second Mark: Courage, Corruption, And the Battle for Olympic Gold

Best books read (fiction/whatnot): Good grief, I read so little of this. 2011 will be so much better!
Joseph Conrad, Under Western Eyes
Janos Nyiri, Battlefields and Playgrounds
Fyodor Dostoevsky, The Idiot
Nalo Hopkinson, Brown Girl in the Ring
Edmund White, A Boy's Own Story

Best movies watched (for the first time): "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?"
"Police, Adjective"
"Spider Baby" (and more!)
"Salome" (1923) with the Silent Orchestra

also deserve mention, and I can't pick among them: "The Business of Fancydancing," "The Comedians," "Hidden Fortress." And I should say that my mind has returned to the rancid, cruel, sad "Deadgirl" many times since I watched it; I wrote about it briefly here and here.

Best theater: "Richard III" (Hole in the Wall Theater, New Britain, CT)--yes, I'm going to bat for this as the most committed, insightful, and just plain awesome show I saw this year.
"The New Jerusalem" (Theater J)
"Passing Strange" (Studio Theater)
"In the Red and Brown Water" (Studio Theater)
"Antony and Cleopatra" (Synetic Theater)

Best blog posts/series (six, not five, as is traditional)--super double extra gay this year, apparently: My series on Jay Prosser's book, which begins here.

My exchange with John Corvino on gay marriage: Ross Douthat, Andrew Sullivan, John Corvino, me, Corvino again, me again here and here.

Famous Authors' Texts from Last Night.

"Poker Face" (on the closet as a near occasion of sin). Prompted this exchange w/Jendi Reiter.

"Home and Dry" (what I think is the most beautiful argument for gay marriage).

"Order from Confusion Sprung" (my problems with the language of homosexuality as "intrinsically disordered). Much more here.

Best things I wrote (nonfiction, non-blog): "Live Through This":
To be a Catholic is to accept certain questions as things to be lived through rather than to be answered.


"The Great Unweaving":
I'm sitting outside a downtown Starbucks with two George Washington University undergraduates, talking about sex, politics, and religion. Michele Walk and Conor Joseph Rogers fit my stereotype of contemporary American college students. They're sincere, confident, and hyperaware of the ways in which they're different from their parents.

Michele and Conor also represent a growing demographic: They consider themselves both pro-life and supporters of gay marriage.


My Gay Catholic Whatnot piece for Reality magazine, available for 1.70EU here.

"Six Imperfect Metaphors for Conversion."

My review of the National Gallery of Art's Spanish sacred painting and sculpture exhibit (subscribers-only).

Also, I finished the novel. I'm looking for an agent, so if you have suggestions (or if you can help hook me up!) I would be deeply grateful. It's a queer coming-of-age story I guess, with stigmata geekery, feminism and its limits, and morning sickness. Lit-mainstream, if you can believe it.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

IF YOU HAVE CHRISTMAS DINNER ON CHRISTMAS EVE, as my family did this year, you may have leftovers already! Here's what I had for lunch.

ingredients: sixteen wonton wrappers (that's how many fit on my baking tray), cooked turkey (I used white meat because I like it less in sandwiches than dark), cranberry sauce, peeled and minced ginger, cream cheese, half a button mushroom chopped into fairly small pieces, fresh thyme, fresh rosemary, fresh sage, olive oil, and salt. You'll also want parchment paper, a baking tray, and a little bowl or cup of water.

how-to: Cover the tray with the paper. Set oven to desired temperature--I baked these at 375 for nine minutes, but as I always warn you, my oven runs very hot, so you should play around a little since you might need higher temperatures (425?) and/or a longer baking time.

Lay the wonton wrappers on the paper. Fill with all the other ingredients except for the oil and salt. You'll want to use the strongest ingredients sparingly (ginger and rosemary) and put in more of the mildest ingredients (turkey and cream cheese).

Dip your fingers in the water and start folding up the wontons. If you're awesome you can probably crimp the edges in some pretty pattern or something. I just kind of folded the edges in over the middle and then lightly compressed the bundles between my palms. Keep dipping as you go. If the wrappers tear and you can't smooth them over with a couple drops of water, you can tear off a bit of a spare wrapper and essentially make a bandage, but try not to use too much or you'll throw off the wrapper-to-filling balance.

Rub olive oil over the wontons and stick them in the oven. Bake them until they're cooked through and the bottoms are browned in spots and crispy. Salt to taste.

You're done! Let these cool a little--like Christmas in general, this dish requires a bit of patience. And I know this sounds a bit fiddly. But it is so delicious. Seriously, I can't even tell you how balanced and fantastic this is, herby and creamy, with several kinds of sweetness cut by the ginger and the tart cranberries. Just so, so tasty.
"REJOICE, O UNWEDDED BRIDE" in Greek, Ukrainian, and English. (Unfortunately the last link is probably the hardest to hear. If you hear the English in person it's amazing.)

Thursday, December 16, 2010

AN EDGE IS A PROMISE GOD WON'T MAKE: So you might as well work it like it's going out of business. I try not to inflict figure skating on you people but this is really... look, just try it. It's weird. You'll like it.
YOU BETTER WATCH OUT: Kindertrauma has a list of their favorite Christmas horror movies (and some lumps of coal to avoid)! Definitely check out the comments, too. I've already voiced my problem with Black Christmas--it doesn't actually say anything despite an exceptionally meaning-freighted symbolic alphabet--but I love that KT, like Sean Collins, groks that Eyes Wide Shut is best watched as a horror movie. I got that perspective from Collins and it really elevated my experience of the film.

In fact, arguing about EWS with Collins (a more patient person would link to all of our discussion, but I am lazy so here is my last post) made me acknowledge a major problem in how I sometimes write about artworks for this blog. I don't think I've been nearly attentive enough about restraining this tendency in myself: the tendency to summarize, to grade. To say, "This movie was fantastic in ways x, y, and z, but ultimately failed/succeeded because q."

It's that "ultimately" which I need to work harder to avoid. Art is not an exam! You don't pass or fail. Some of the reasons behind the "ultimately, yes" or "ultimately, no" impulse are good: Man is mortal and I already have several hundred dvds in my Netflix queue. And the pass/fail language can reflect an immediate emotional response to the movie: I know it did a lot of amazing stuff, but at the end I was left with a nagging sense of incompleteness, and it's that incompleteness which I want to explore or highlight in this post. (I think that's the main reason I used the pass/fail language w/r/t EWS.) But there's also a gross, ingrown-toenail motive to this language, where you (I) try to render magisterial judgment on the artwork instead of being mastered by it.

One of my New Year's resolutions for this blog is to do specific and evocative reviews which nonetheless avoid the temptation to render pass/fail judgment. It's ultimately (!) a reductive approach to art. Eyes Wide Shut is a movie I'd love to watch again right now; it's a movie I think would reward repeated viewings. Sure, it has a diffuse and desultory midsection in which Tom Cruise searches for clues, and I stand behind my criticisms of the ending. But "I want to see this again, so I can discover more of what it's got" seems like the most important thing to say about it.
Abba Lot went to see Abba Joseph and said to him, 'Abba as far as I can I say my little office, I fast a little, I pray and meditate, I live in peace, and, as far as I can, I purify my thoughts. What else can I do?' Then the old man stood up and stretched his hands towards heaven. His fingers became like ten lamps of fire and he said to him, 'If you will, you can become all flame.'
--Sayings of the Desert Fathers; via For Keats' Sake, who notes an alternate and even more awesome translation/gloss

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

...In the same way, the greatest Christmas film of all time -- It's a Wonderful Life, directed by the Catholic Frank Capra -- takes our hero George Bailey through an odyssey of terror, too. It's interesting that fear seems to attend the story not because George is deeply wicked like Scrooge, but because it is a Christmas story; and Christmas stories, like the Easter story, properly take us from the joyful mysteries, through the sorrowful mysteries, to the glorious mysteries. George is not at all the tight-fisted hand at the grindstone, nor the squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous old sinner that Scrooge is. He is generous, kind, filled with a spirit of adventure, and willing to bear the responsibility for the Building and Loan and his family. He resists temptation to become the protégé of the Scrooge of Bedford Falls, Mr. Potter. So why does he have to undergo a baptism of fear and suffering?

the wood of the cradle is the wood of the Cross
THERE'S NO SUCH THING AS A FREE BEAUTY: Dappled Things, the Catholic literary magazine which accepted many of my earliest published short stories, really needs your financial help to continue. If you like what I write, just think how many other Catholic writers and artists are out there for you to discover! Daniel Mitsui, whose intricate black-and-white illustrations are like Graeme Chapman* + MC Escher = icons, is also offering an artwork exclusively for DT donors. (Uh, or at least he was last time I checked. You should ask them!)

[* ETA: Oh LOL! Graeme Base. Clearly my memory is pining for the fjords.]

I know with the economy so bad, it's tempting to neglect the arts in your giving. But you could, for example, get the Mitsui print or a DT subscription as a Christmas gift, thus feathering two birds with one dollar! And all of us need beauty, too, in order to live.

Survival is the least of my desires.
--Dorothy Allison
SEVERED ALLIANCE. If you get the joke in this post title, congratulations! You wasted your adolescence in the very best way possible.

Via JWB and Dreadnought.

Monday, December 13, 2010

CAT VS. ALLIGATOR(S). Is it just me or does somebody in the background say, "You know you're in the South"?

Sunday, December 12, 2010

KITCHEN ADVENTURES: I CARROT ABOUT YOU. (...Sorry.) Had a really good carrot soup for lunch. Washing dishes is my actual least-favorite household chore, so I did this as a one-pot even though I knew I could probably get better results if I, say, sauteed some carrots and onions in a pan first.

Instead, I just peeled some carrots and cut them into small pieces/slices. Those cooked in the pot w/some olive oil, and I peeled and minced some ginger and added that too. When I got bored with listening to the carrots cook, I squeezed a clementine over them and added chicken stock and (too much, I think) water. Then I brought it all to a boil, then a simmer, and kept it bubbling along until the carrots were tender, about 13 minutes. Then I blended it.

Then it got more cooking, now with spices!--garam masala, cumin (I know that's in g.m. but I wanted extra), cayenne, curry powder, salt, and freshly-ground black pepper, in about that order. Once I had it seasoned and cooked the way I wanted it, I feasted! I ate about half of it as-is and added a bit of sour cream to take down the heat and add creaminess for the final half.

As I said, I think this was too thin, especially before I added the sour cream. But the flavors were great, and I'll be making something like this again.
LOVE AND ROCKTOBER: THE ROUND-UP. Sean Collins's complete month-plus of posts about some of the greatest comics ever made... plus a "where should I start?" section. If you keep hearing about Love and Rockets and want to know whether the hype is justified, this is where you should go.
The Castroist emissary at the moment was called Sánchez Parodi, today Castro's Vice-Minister of Foreign Affairs. He might have been Parodi but he was not the target of my parodies. Parody is an act of love and those men are hideous.
--Mea Cuba

Saturday, December 04, 2010

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

PLEASE ALLOW ME TO INTRODUCE MYSELF...: Early on, I was convinced that Synetic Theater's adaptation of The Master and Margarita (showing at the Shakespeare Theater's Lansburgh through December 12, so go now!) would never work. Synetic, which typically does wordless dance/movement adaptations of classic texts, had two big things working against them: Their production has words, and takes place in front of an audience.

Both of these factors served to make the early parts of The Master feel really intensely unsubtle. Without the full context of Bulgakov's prose (which okay, I've only read in translation, but work with me here, people) and the privacy of one's own skull, the discussion of belief in God and the "seventh proof of God" (the Devil exists, therefore God must) felt heavy-handed.

However, by the end of the night I was once again completely on board with Synetic. Their total commitment to the portrayal of Soviet Moscow as a nightmare carnival probably had some personal resonance (much of the troop is made up of Georgian immigrants) and certainly had immense, sinister visual flair. They capture the novel's musical quality, in which motifs return and change key. They play up the Song of Songs aspect of Margarita's search for her Master, which I don't think I even noticed when I read the novel. And they hit hard on the Orwellian aspects of the novel, like the shifts in meaning of the final uses of the word "peace."

A really good, strongly horror-influenced, deeply Christian (or, more accurately, shaped around the space where Christianity would be) production. Recommended.
WINE INTO WATER. I have a review of Almost Christian: What the Faith of Our Teenagers Is Telling the American Church in the current Weekly Standard.
They are the same who appear in so many poems by Cavafy, where they turn up like lucky, unlucky days.
--Mea Cuba, on Mediterranean gigolos

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

AND PRETTY GIRLS MAKE...: Having just seen House of Gold, the JonBenet Ramsey play, I am not convinced that it adds anything to that one chapter from The Brothers Karamazov other than exploitation. Please do argue with me if you think differently, but for right now, I don't know why this needed to happen.

ETA: The preceding should not be taken as a slam on the actors (or the director except insofar as I question the decision to stage this at all), who were all serviceable to excellent. Kaaron Briscoe as JonBenet was exceptional.
This thread is like good theater: comedy, tragedy, pathos, an asshole getting thrown outdoors by someone in his underwear, and a cat who survived a fire.

I HAVE A THING about Gay Catholic Whatnot at the Washington Post's "On Faith" site. I think I'm trying to do too many things in too few words, and this piece is better on similar subjects, but if you want to see me get on my hind legs and go up against the Pope, there's your chance.
There was in 1959 a song of brief fashion but lasting receipts. "The fun is over," it said with exact precision and continued: "The Comandante arrived and commanded it to stop."
--Mea Cuba

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

For instance, nineteen-year-old Christina says, “Oh, yeah, my dad had failed as a father, but he was my father. He loved me, and it’s been very hard for me to try to build a relationship with him. I want to have a relationship with him, because you only get one dad. Even if your mom remarries, to a certain extent you only get one dad.”


(I don't think even adults really experience marriage as a "pure," free choice--nor should they. But even so, the difference between their choices and the terrified, dependent, sorry choices of the children are pretty notable.)
Now even the Soviet Union has attained a Utopian destiny: she is, like every Utopia, to be found nowhere.
--Guillermo Cabrera Infante, Mea Cuba (1968)

Thursday, November 18, 2010

I FORGOT TO POST THIS YESTERDAY, on her feast day, but here's the Jean Genet quote which is part of the reason I chose Elizabeth of Hungary as my patroness.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

But families, even if only the married couple, are not just close friends. In the family, we feel we are near to the deepest mysteries of life and death.
--Putting Liberalism in Its Place

Eh, you guys already know what I'll say about these lines: Given how elegiac the literature of friendship actually is, I don't think Kahn's attempt to exclude friendship from the life-or-death domain of familial love really works.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

TYPICAL GIRLS... ARE SO CONFUSING: Here are two X-Ray Spex songs I'd never heard until tonight! "Good Time Girl"; "Peace Meal." The latter is... bubble-gum vegetariana plus Heideggerian "factory farms are concentration camps" awfulness. All I can say is that the X-Ray Spex were usually a lot better than that. Still, I'm a completist with them.

I still remember that August week in Rehoboth--the week I turned thirteen, or maybe fourteen?--when I failed to learn to ride a bike, uselessly called out a t-shirt retailer on his homophobia, rode the Ferris wheel, entered the Haunted Mansion (it still smells the same ten years later), won a neon parrot at Skee-Ball, had a half-donut with a cigarette stuck in it for my birthday cake, purchased the black lipstick I would need for the coming year from the Halloween store, and bought my first X-Ray Spex cassette. Also wore a stuffed frog on my head, if photographic evidence can be trusted.
I PREFER SURREALITY...: I have an article on Gay Catholic Whatnot in the Irish magazine Reality. I think most of what I say will be familiar to longtime readers, but if you're newer, there might be good stuff you haven't seen yet. It's 1.70EU here.

Also, if you found me because of that article, check out the sidebar under "Sicut cervus: Resources on God and homosexuality," since those are all things I recommend.
Meaning exists in between mind and body, reason and desire. The structure of meaning is captured in the great Western metaphor of the "idea become flesh." The source of the idea become flesh is love: "God so loved the world" that the divine took on human form. Love is the source of meaning, and all meaning is miraculous. This is a world beyond the conceptual capacities of liberalism. Yet it is our world. The feverish turning from private to public, and public to private--the mixing and elision of the categories--characteristic of the self-reflection within the liberal state expresses just this disjunction between the experience of meaning and the categories of liberal thought. Because meaning is neither public nor private, neither mind nor body, liberalism ends in a hopeless confusion of categories as it tries to account for the experience of the political.
--Putting Liberalism in Its Place

I'm not sure how intelligible this paragraph is out of context, but I hope it will at least whet your appetite for Kahn's book, since it encapsulates some of his strengths (introducing love and meaning to a political discourse in which these terms are either taboo, or reduced to interest and reason respectively) and weaknesses (so far, he's contented to describe a sacralized politics without criticizing it, noting that it shares a side with fascism, or offering a possible hierarchy of authorities).

Thursday, November 11, 2010

KITCHEN ADVENTURES: EXCELLENT DECISION OF THE DAY. Set oven to 375 (though you will probably need it hotter). Dice turnips and toss with olive oil; place on foiled baking tray. Add cumin, cayenne, and salt. Roast until the skins are wrinkled and have begun to brown, and the inside is almost melt-in-your-mouth creamy. I needed maybe seven minutes. Say grace, plant face in dish.

...I mean, I don't think I've made any decisions today which were better than this one, I can tell you that.
FIGHTING BULLYING WITH BABIES. Fascinating and heartwarming.

Cross-posted at MarriageDebate, where you'll also find China celebrating Singles Day, a more-thorough-than-usual mainstream media look at black women who give birth out of wedlock, a painful report on trafficked women from North Korea, speculation about the housing bubble's effects on Chinese family culture, and reasons people have lavish weddings.
To begin, we must distinguish norms from meaning, staying within the rules from living a life experienced as one worth living. A person can live a morally proper life, in the sense of living within all of the moral rules that she acknowledges or that others use to evaluate her behavior, yet still live a life that appears to her to be desperately without meaning. ...

...Each of these oppositions marks a distinction between rules and identity. One wants not simply to be just, but to be someone.

--Putting Liberalism in Its Place

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

I think it's either about King Richard and King John, or Nixon and Kennedy, or both. (Definitely not about Saul and David, however.)

here you go
ASK ME, I WON'T SAY NO--HOW COULD I? I'm working on a book about Gay Catholic Whatnot, in a Q&A format. So this is your opportunity: Ask me anything, anything at all, and while I can't guarantee it will end up in the book I can guarantee that I will respond. I'm at and I want your questions, no matter how specific or weird or rough or inchoate.
If anything, the twentieth century has been marked by the apotheosis of the state, including liberal states.
--Paul W. Kahn, Putting Liberalism in Its Place

Monday, November 08, 2010

I’m trying to focus on the emotional response, the feeling, of reading Poison River because, frankly, it’s so overwhelming. But intellectually, I think this is Gilbert’s meatiest work as well.

UNDESIGNATED MOURNERS: Willard Moore replies to my posting of this post from Amy Ziettlow:
That seems a little strong, to say that we have "no exterior way to show grief." The poor build little memorials of plastic flowers, stuffed animals and candles; the rich endow memorial scholarships and awards; memorial websites are established; and graves are much better kept (and much more protected legally) than they were in the 18th and 19th century. We just don't express grief in our clothing, for whatever reason.

My response (lightly edited):
These are good points [...] but I do think there's something genuinely lost when we no
longer carry signals of our status as mourners around with us. A friend of mine lost his father several years back, and, because he came from a family in which this was traditional, he wore the black mourning band; I had no idea what it was, and teased him about it (yes, I realize there's a lesson here about keeping one's mouth shut), and while of course I was mortified when he explained, he did stop wearing it because no one around him knew what it signified. So there was no way to signal that he was one of the company of mourners. It's as if we've located grief outside ourselves, in the grave or the memorial site, compartmentalized it, when in fact of course it continues to walk around beside us.

The contemporary equivalent seems to be confined to younger people and poor people, who do get t-shirts silkscreened with pictures of their dead, and get tattoos. Even then, I think the voluntary nature of the gesture undercuts its power as a cultural signal.
LAN SAMANTHA CHANG'S CHOICE FOR "FIVE BEST NOVELS ABOUT FRIENDSHIP." I have never read any of these! A smorgasbord of recommendations!

Via MLY.
ICONICITY: Yesterday I went to the Meridian International Center's "Glory of Ukraine" exhibit, which focuses on icons but includes altar crosses, Bibles, and Ukrainian arts and crafts dating back to many millennia before the birth of Christ. It's a terrific exhibit, completely free, and if you're in the District area I highly recommend it. I may be writing about it a bit more for my Inside Catholic column.

Be sure to check out the directions before you go! The center is basically across the street from Malcolm X Park, but it's on a weird horseshoe-shaped street which turns into another street, so you have to operate on trust for a little while. Your religious metaphor: right there!

The center is open 2-5 pm Wed-Sun, and the exhibit will run through January 16.
KITCHEN ADVENTURES: TEST YOUR SWEET TOOTH. I truly love these savory baked wontons, and for a while now I've been wanting to try a dessert variation. I finally got around to it!

The basic procedure for making the wontons is exactly the same as the ginger/mushroom/garlic/cream cheese ones. For the filling I used peeled chopped pear (you have to peel European pears because their skins toughen up when they cook, or so the Internet tells me), cream cheese, cinnamon, and various combinations of cayenne, ginger, and rosemary. I gave them a very light sprinkle of salt before folding and oiling, which was a good idea.

The verdict: This was... actually too sweet for me. The pears become molten and supersweet when they cook, so there's no textural contrast with the cream cheese (although there's obviously a nice crunch on the wrappers). Moreover, the sweetness of the pear overwhelmed the cinnamon and cayenne, and to a lesser extent the cream cheese. The ginger and rosemary were able to hold their own a bit better, and the wontons with those ingredients were the tastiest (especially the ginger ones).

Sadly, I'm still looking for the perfect dessert wonton.

Monday, November 01, 2010

I know I just got finished explaining that biology is destiny in the Palomar stories. But what struck me upon rereading the material collected in this volume, dominated by the titular story of a serial killer’s stay in the town, is the power of ideas. Not emotional or sexual drives, even, like the web of lust and unrequited love surround Luba’s mother Maria in the suite of stories that forms the second half of the collection, but actual honest-to-god ideas. Tonantzin is literally driven mad — broken — by the late Cold War political apocalypticism of her criminal boyfriend. (He himself is freed from nihilism’s grip by a jailbird religious conversion, for all the good it does anyone.) Humberto is thrown so far off-kilter by his discovery of the avant-garde artistic tradition from the Impressionists onward that the impact, combined with his fear of the killer, drives him to abandon notions of right and wrong entirely in favor of the truth art can express. In both cases, this ends in disaster.

But there’s a counterpoint to the damage these ideas do.

UNMARKED: Amy Ziettlow at Family Scholars; especially appropriate for tomorrow's feast:
...A room on the back of the Overseer’s House contains a coffin from that time as well as mourning costumes and customs exhibits. I was most intrigued by this quote:
“Mourning, during the 18th and 19th centuries, was governed by a strict set of cultural rules. Clothing, in particular women’s clothing, was strictly dictated by cultural customs of the day. [...] Even children and children’s toys were not free from the cultural norms expected of those in mourning. Just as adult women, little girls were dressed in black, carried black fans, and even dressed their dolls in black garments. Clothing prescriptions went on for up to two years and in some cases women wore mourning garb their entire lives as a sign of absolute devotion to the deceased. Absurd by today’s standards, people of the day embraced these mourning customs to show that they mourned well.

The last sentence, which I put in italics, stuck with me. I was first intrigued by the use of the word “absurd” especially when the people of that time would probably think our total lack of public acknowledgement of a death absurd. I wonder what they would think about how their mourning costumes are perceived in today’s culture. How people who wear all black are considered to be “weird,” Goths, or witches in our culture. If a man were seen wearing a black arm band today, we’d call Homeland Security presuming that he is a member of a radical sect who is planning on bombing something. I can hear them calling from history, saying, “Well, I guess they don’t have to wear mourning colors or costumes since they have adapted and created a new public way to acknowledge loss and suffering.” Oh wait, we haven’t done that. We have no exterior way to show grief let alone show that we have mourned well.


Sunday, October 31, 2010

A LIST OF COSTUMES SEEN TONIGHT (THIS LIST IS NOT EXHAUSTIVE): Pirate, white guys as a cowboy and an Indian (...really?), kung-fu master (an actual Asian), man-vampire, lady-vampire (unrelated to previous), sexy bumblebee, sexy NYT crossword puzzle, something green on head, trashy black wig, bearded lady or possibly male nurse, Joker, heterosexual jellyfish couple, Captain America, flapper, Red King, a Democrat, possibly a spoiled child???, and my personal favorite, a satyr in a sport coat.

Friday, October 29, 2010

I ALWAYS REMEMBER MELCHISEDEC AS THE RAT WHO WAS A FRIEND TO SARA CREWE...: Oh, this is a lovely tribute to new priests. I didn't cry, because I don't generally, but I made some very pathetic noises at times. We need you! We love you, and at least in my case, even my reflexive anti-clericalism is a form of entitlement mentality, since whenever a priest is actually administering a sacrament I basically forget everything I ever disliked about bishops-in-general.

We need you, priests. Please don't let our uncertain flailing, as we try to find our own vocations, and our rightful criticism obscure that basic fact.

What a beautiful video. Please share it!
I THINK I POSTED THIS LAST YEAR, but come on, no one who loves I Walked with a Zombie as much as I do can possibly pass up this sock-hop REM tribute.
I grew up loving The Addams Family, without knowing quite why, until one day as an adult I realized: These people are an aristocratic, trad-Catholic homeschooling family trapped in a sterile Protestant suburb!


(and yeah, there's some Cat'lick triumphalism here as vs. both Protestants and Orthodox Christians. I think the piece is still worth reading even if you're in those camps--let Zmirak be Zmirak!--but you know your own annoyance-level best.)
ATTACK ADS OF THE FOUNDERS. Probably via Jesse Walker.
THE MUSIC STOPPED... AND SHE DIED! I'm listening to the first of two (so far) Halloween mixes at World of Wardcrap. My life is awesome right now.

Via Sean Collins.

EDITED to correct the name of the site, and also to note that the second mix is a lot less my thing than the first. The second mix has "Do They Know It's Halloween?" and "Scary Monsters and Super Creeps," both of which are fantastic, but it also does a lot more blending of movie clips with music (at least, I noticed it more), which does no justice to the music. I like "When the Man Comes Around" about three million times more than I like either the silly screams which interrupt it or the gross ironic-faux-Jamaican?-making-fun-of-unironic-faux-Jamaican thing it fades into.

So yeah: Listen to them both, but as an all-night mix I'd prefer the Daymage one.
And although biology is obviously among Beto's primary concerns, destiny is the operative word. I don't think the Palomarians have the ability to escape the way the Locas do. Not all of them need to escape, mind you--there's a lot of really warm and adorable and hilarious and awesome stuff going down in Palomar--but whatever walks alongside them in their lives is gonna walk alongside them till the very end.

I reconciled myself to my desire to secure for Gabe and Ana a respectability I myself was fleeing as fast as possible. I thought of all my old Beat friends from college who were now leading their kids off to Sunday School and dance class. I told myself that they--we!--were giving our kids a choice. If later they wanted to reject a middle-class status they could, but ninety-five percent of the world longed for the security and comfort we affected to scorn. And membership in the bourgeoisie was easy to lose but very hard to come by. I thought of all those classes for slum kids in which they were taught to give a firm handshake after a job interview and never lose eye contact during it. They learned to joke easily, combine casualness with respect, call a potential boss by his first name but show deference in surrendering to him the conversational lead, speak clearly and act sincerely--oh, these were all the skills we'd spent a lifetime acquiring unconsciously and now wanted to shed.
--The Farewell Symphony

I would kill for the thrill of first love; but also, for a short story written in exquisite-corpse back-and-forth form by Edmund White and Dorothy Allison. Someone with money, please make this happen.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

IT'S NICE TO TAKE A WALK IN THE RAIN: I finished Slings and Arrows. Not sure what to say to make you guys watch this terrific TV comedy set behind the scenes of a Canadian theater company, but I will say that along with all of the gallows humor (one of the main characters is a ghost and/or hallucination) there's a really compelling portrayal of leadership-through-chaos and its limits. Since this is the only kind of leadership I personally have ever exercised, I loved it!

It's available on Netflix Instant Viewing so if you're in the USA and have a decentish Internet connection you are in luck.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

OH RIGHT, I FORGOT ABOUT: "She’ll defend Catholic moralists one moment, but defend prostitutes and bad girls the next."

I knew I liked her for a reason. Now praise drunks!
SUSIE THEN REMOVED HER MASK/AND CAUSED A MIGHTY STIR: Just so everyone's clear, 1. Here are some of my favorite posts by Helen Rittelmeyer. These posts in no way exhaust her awesomeness; they merely give you what Lady Holliday in The Great Muppet Caper would call "a soupcon--Marie, I don't think we should chew gum!"

"Decadence, Christianity, And Oscar Wilde's Conversion to Catholicism." My own senior essay changed my life. If mine hadn't, hers might've.

"Toward a Bioethics of Love"

In defense of shame (my post against; but you should read hers first)

A review of three books I read (in part) because she owned them.

All my posts tagged w/her name

2. Apparently Todd Seavey lived twenty-and-some years without ever meeting an agent provocateur until Helen. His naivete, while potentially endearing when played by Joseph Cotten, should in no way impair your reading of her actual work, which is much more Marlene Dietrich than Anne Hathaway.
Since his humor never overturned his preconceptions it didn't take him or his listeners by surprise; no, it was a local affair, just a snarl in his mental traffic, not an accident.
--The Farewell Symphony

Thursday, October 14, 2010

"THE GREAT UNWEAVING": I have a long piece at Inside Catholic:
I'm sitting outside a downtown Starbucks with two George Washington University undergraduates, talking about sex, politics, and religion. Michele Walk and Conor Joseph Rogers fit my stereotype of contemporary American college students. They're sincere, confident, and hyperaware of the ways in which they're different from their parents.

Michele and Conor also represent a growing demographic: They consider themselves both pro-life and supporters of gay marriage.


Monday, October 11, 2010

2. Finally, after years of frustration, understanding what "Buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo" means.

I feel I can recuse myself from adult responsibilities for the rest of the evening.
I said, "My novel is purely autobiographical. Everything in it is exactly as it happened, moment by moment--sometimes even written down moments after the event. The main character bears my name. I'm writing it in order to persuade the love of my life to come back to me; I'm afraid it's going to be a very long book. That's the avant-garde technique I've invented: it's called realism."
--Edmund White, The Farewell Symphony

Sunday, October 10, 2010

KITCHEN ADVENTURES: DON'T BE SCANTY WITH THAT SCAMPI! So peeled and deveined shrimp are on sale right now at my local Whole Foods. I realize that you may scoff at this shortcut, but both of these meals were so delicious that I find it hard to care. Ridiculously easy, too!

First batch: Set oven for 375. Put baking dish inside to heat. Finely chopped garlic and rolled it in butter. Chopped one or two plum tomatoes and finely sliced about... half?... a yellow onion.

Baking dish came out. Shrimp went in, with tails on. Dotted them with the garlic butter. Tomatoes, onion, a splash of white wine, a splash of extra-virgin olive oil, and a few good squeezes of a lemon half also went in. That all went back into the oven.

Cook cook cook. When I heard it sizzling, I stirred it and added shredded fresh basil. Also put some slices of baguette in the toaster oven, toasted them, and buttered them.

About the time the buttered baguette was done, the shrimp was also pink and everything else was cooked. I combined everything and devoured it like a starving monster. (I discreetly piled the tails on an old receipt.)

Second batch: Second verse same as the first, except that I set the oven for 400, I used sourdough rolls instead of baguette, and I added dried oregano, salt, and a very small amount of peeled and finely-chopped fresh ginger to the mix. The result was phenomenal. The ginger was intriguing but not at all distracting (I used about a quarter-inch-by-quarter-inch knob, peeled and minced, for a quarter-pound of shrimp) and the sourdough was just delicious with the sweet shrimp and rich olive oil. I also cooked the veg for a bit longer, so the tomatoes started to shrivel back from their skins a bit; this was a good choice.

Note: My oven tends to heat MUCH faster than recipes think it should, so if I were you, I'd consider switching the 375 to 400 or the 400 to 425 or even 450. You want to be able to shrivel the tomato chunks a little bit before the bread finishes toasting.

Friday, October 08, 2010

"GAY AND CATHOLIC: WHAT THE CHURCH GETS RIGHT AND WRONG ABOUT BEING GAY." In which I am a "guest voice" at the Washington Post's On Faith site. My basic spiel, in almost exactly 750 words, and with a specific pitch to DC readers!
GHOSTS OF HOPPERS: Sean Collins's second review post in "Love and Rocktober"--his month-long series about Jaime and Gilbert (and sometimes Mario) Hernandez and the incredible comics they created--is even better than his first one. Comics vs. time, memory vs. death, backstory vs. change. Check out his posts... and read the comics.

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

YOU CAN HOLD ME ALL MY LIFE/BUT PARADISE CAN TAKE ME TWICE: Wesley Hill's book Washed and Waiting: Reflections on Christian Faithfulness and Homosexuality is one of the very, excruciatingly few worthwhile books on Gay Christian Whatnot. (I'm honestly not sure if I can think of any others besides Beyond Gay, about which see here and here.) It's a very quick read but very poignant. Hill basically tells his own story, with a focus on what the coming-out process is like for chaste Christians, and offers interludes on the life and work of Henri Nouwen and Gerard Manley Hopkins. (This parenthesis is me not talking about the significance of the fact that they were both Catholic.) I am not sure what to add to get you to read the book, other than to say that its focus on overcoming shame through accepting Christ's love seems especially pointed in light of the young gay men's suicides which have been so much in the news. Definitely recommended.
THE TORTURE GARDEN: The other place I went in LA was the Museum of Latin American Art in Long Beach. We went to the main galleries, where the most memorable things for me were the Warhol-riffing Cuban soup cans sardonically lauding "America's Favorite Revolution," and a... lenticular?... picture in which the shining girders and industrial debris shimmered and shifted, if you tilted your head, to reveal a small overlooked human being at the far corner of the frame.

But the current exhibit is what I really want to tell you all about. It's billed as landscape paintings by David Siqueiros, who apparently is better known (though not to me) as a muralist. But these aren't landscapes in any traditional sense. They were mostly painted from photographs or from the inside of the man's own head, rather than from nature; many were painted while he was in prison. Some are surreal, science-fiction scenes of bulbous future cities. Some are (often unsatisfying) allegories of various aspects of Mexican history and revolutionary politics.

But some are just horror. Black, churning waves; twisting shapes which could be trees or monsters or both; thick, lurid reds; martyred men and menacing ravines. The whole world has turned against itself in his art. It's frightening and it's impossible to look away from.

If you're in the area you really should check this out.
HEY, YOU WITH THE STARS IN YOUR EYES: I'll be quick because I know how few of you care! But All That Skate was amazing. Nothing can compare to the immediacy of live skating or the camaraderie of the live skating audience. So here are a few snapshots from a sparkly, incandescent, cheesy, hilarious, sublime evening. I am so grateful to all of these skaters for their performances.

I had heard that Shen & Zhao had pulled out of the LA show. So when the announcer said (something like), "They are the reigning Olympic champions in pairs skating...", I literally gasped. Words are inadequate; I can only say that their first program was one of my favorites, and their second gave me chills. They actually embody the danger in love every time they skate.

Stephane Lambiel and Michelle Kwan were the other showstoppers. Lambiel is just a joy to watch as he does these incomprehensibly brilliant spins, plays to the audience, sings along with his music, and generally looks like he's having the time of his life. The fair is a veritable smorgasbord, orgasbord, orgasbord, to him! (Here's a great Lambiel show program if you want to know what he's like.) I had never really connected with Kwan's skating before, despite acknowledging her prowess, but seeing her do some of the best jumps and spins and spirals in the show made me realize what a trouper she really is. I mean this in absolutely the best way: She was almost as good in ATS:LA2010 as she was in her Olympics exhibition skate back in 2002. Expressive and powerful and clean, every inch the role model Yu-Na Kim loves her as.

Ashley Wagner, and the pairs team of Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy, were both terrific. I'd never seen them before, and now I know I need to look them up on YouTube. Wagner, especially, skated like she had something to prove, and I respect that a lot.

Johnny Weir, my actual favorite skater in the history of ever, more or less fumbled his second program. He hurt his hip in rehearsal, and it showed. He had noticeably more verve in the group numbers. And you know, Weir on an off night still provides moments of genuine bliss due to his ability to connect with the audience and act. So while this really was an off night for him, it only strengthened my resolve to make sure I can scrape up the cash to see his next show on the East Coast.

(If you want to know why I'm so convinced that I will love the next Weir show I see, here are some links: a vastly better performance of "Poker Face" than the one he showed at ATSLA Day 1; the performance which hooked me on figure skating; his astounding "Swan" program; "Feeling Good," in which he absolutely owns the music and the emotion and the ice; "I Love You, I Hate You," in a performance I entirely love; and a performance to "Bad Romance" which is so awesome that it overcomes both my hatred of his furry lizard costume and my helpless dislike of Lady Gaga. And I would be happy to supply many more links to programs where you can watch Weir push skating forward. You're welcome!)

Monday, October 04, 2010

STILL RECOVERING from an amazing trip filled with logistical snafus (goodbye, cell phone) and wonderful visits with family, but distinctly unfilled with sleep. Tomorrow, expect at least three posts: a very quick report from All That Skate LA 2010 (short version: !!!!!!!!!!!), a brief review of Wesley Hill's Gay Christian Whatnot book, and a clarifying post about marriage and iconography, which is also a post about Promises I Can Keep: Why Poor Women Put Motherhood Before Marriage and is not a post about gay marriage.

In the meantime, why not check out Sean Collins, who has designated this month "Love and Rocktober"? He's doing a series of posts on the amazing comics series, and if you've ever wondered what the hype is about, Sean might be a good guide since he was a tough sell at first.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

"CALIFORNIA DREAMING." Probably my favorite performance from one of my favorite skaters. I will be in LA all weekend, with an overnight Sunday/Monday flight home, so expect absolutely no posting until at least Monday night. Not sure what I'll have for you then, but I will try to keep my All That Skate fannishness to a dull roar. Again, do email me if you're in the area and want to have coffee, since it looks like that will be happening, most likely on Sunday afternoon.
YESTERDAY, WHEN I WAS MAD: Photos of DC in the late '80s. Dream City. Via PES.
DOWNED CITY RISE: The third picture (the one with the birds) is a gorgeous expression of one of the things I love most about Daredevil. I think I'm going to have to pick this thing up.

Via Sean Collins.

Monday, September 27, 2010

KEEP THE ASPIDISTRA FLYING: (edited to add links, itals, and tags, but nothing else) OK, as promised, a reply to John Corvino. It's long so it will be broken into two posts. In this post, a tiny bit on biological relatedness, and a really long bit on iconography; in the next post, sexual regulation.

First, I feel very silly. I'd actually read the column on biological fatherhood which Corvino wrote earlier, and to which he links in his reply, and I wish I'd reread it before writing my post. I truly don't think he can separate the case for gay marriage from the case against honoring biological ties (or the case for donor conception) as cleanly as he'd like to, but that's a complex argument which I'm not entirely sure how to articulate right now. One philosophical claim is that I'm not sure why heterosexual couples get to be really important and interesting in—to use Catholic jargon—their procreative function, but remain banal and Just One Kind of Couple Among Others in their unitive function. One claim about rhetoric is that I've very frequently been told that gay marriage is great because how dare you say adoptive families, or stepfamilies, or single parents who make sure their kids have “male role models,” are missing anything at all? ...But I should say that the previous sentence could easily be turned back on me, since I hate so much of the rhetoric deployed against gay marriage.

And the more important point for this specific discussion is that I should have engaged with Corvino's actual position, and not what I projected on to him. That was ridiculously sloppy and gross, and I truly apologize for it. You should read his column and think about how we can honor both biological ties and families formed in other ways, since that's the question he's grappling with and it's obviously an important one.

Now, Corvino to me on sex difference as iconic rather than practical or contingent:
It’s hard to respond to that, except to note that it depends on a radically different worldview from mine: As I see it, of the many important purposes of marriage, iconography is pretty low on the list.

I value marriage because of the concrete ways in which it recognizes and fortifies families, helping them to sustain relationships that do them—and society—palpable good. It serves people’s deep needs for intimacy, care, support in childrearing, and
so on. Gay and lesbian people have those needs, too.

So if it’s a choice between marriage-as-iconography and marriage-as-meeting-concrete-needs, I’d pick the latter every time.

I think we're talking past each other here a bit. Let me first state what I think iconography does for society, then why I think the primary benefits of marriage are often due to its iconographic rather than practical nature, and then how this relates to marriage as the union of man and woman.

Iconography is how a culture inspires its members to meet common goals without using the police power. Iconography is how a culture gets its members to long to do the right thing, rather than coercing them into obeying the laws. (Thus the iconographic nature of marriage actually skyrockets in importance when forced marriage is outlawed and legal penalties for premarital or extramarital sex are rescinded.)

There is no government in which iconography does not play a major role. How articulate a culture is about its own iconography, and the content of that iconography, determines (this is just off the top of my head, and only counting stuff where government gets involved): what is taught in public schools, where conscientious objection is allowed and where it is not, what is a religion and what is a scam, what is charity and what is politics, how people describe their desire for public service or military service, and what's in the national anthem.

A quick interlude: I'm in the middle of Paul W. Kahn's Putting Liberalism in Its Place. Kahn, himself apparently a liberal, is nonetheless concerned with mapping the limits of liberal philosophy and the “here there be dragons” areas outside those limits. His basic thesis is that liberalism thinks in the categories of reason/discourse and desire (/choice/self-expression), but is baffled by the categories of honor, sacrifice, and love/personal loyalty.

And my claim here is that social order, rule-utilitarian maximization of happiness, reason (which IMO in the liberal mind gets defined instrumentally, as “the thing which helps us get to rule-utilitarianism,” when they bother to define it at all rather than simply relying on how they were raised and saying that that's reasonable and everyone else is crazy), and choice are not the only goals toward which a government may orient itself. In fact, with Kahn, I'd argue that no government in the history of ever has actually oriented itself only around these goals, without incorporating notions of beauty, sublimity, nature, honor, and similarly illiberal things.

(I should note that I have at least one huge problem with Kahn so far, but I'll get to that when I've finished the book!)

I wonder if one way to put why Corvino and I haven't yet “achieved disagreement” on this issue is the following: I believe that there are no fully secular arguments. I believe that eventually we hit rock bottom and you have to start talking in terms of whom or Whom you love, and what you believe to be the facts about human nature which we shouldn't change even if we can, even if they hurt. And these claims about love and nature are, if not entirely or explicitly religious, still very, very close to religion. Yet a pluralist society rightly seeks to postpone hitting this rock bottom as long as possible, and often, rightly, recuses itself from judging between competing systems of love and nature.

But I think that because it is so universally attested, in the law and liturgy and art and popular culture of societies with such a vastly divergent array of religious beliefs, the iconic status of sex difference is not sectarian and lies several steps above the rock bottom. My impression, which could be entirely wrong, is that Corvino sees this iconographic claim as on the rock bottom, where a pluralist society ought not descend, or at best a half-step above it.

Okay, but why is marriage an important arena for iconography?

My beliefs here are strongly influenced by my work at the pregnancy center. The women there so often long for marriage with a poignancy I can barely describe. They do not expect practical benefits to outweigh practical drawbacks. The practical benefits provided by (occasionally) slightly greater social support are counterbalanced by the threat that they will lose their government aid, and that they will find it much harder to leave a man who becomes abusive, addicted, incarcerated, or otherwise unacceptable. The benefits of marriage are, for them, primarily about what it will do for their sense of self, which is a result of its iconographic power.

And also, my beliefs here are strongly influenced by, like, being gay. Gay couples long for marriage not solely—and often not primarily, as the rejection of civil unions suggests—for the practical benefits. I do not mean in any way to denigrate the importance of e.g. being able to make medical decisions for an incapacitated partner. The practical benefits are real. But the benefits I talked about in my “Home and Dry” post, of home and honor, are entirely a result of marriage's iconic status. And I think that these benefits lie close to the heart of the push for gay marriage rather than alternative kinship forms. (The other reason for “gay marriage, not alternative kinship forms” is that modern folk, to our great detriment, stripped away the social and legal recognition and honor which once accrued to forms of kinship such as friendship and godparenthood. This is bad. Because we can only understand kinship in terms of marriage and parenthood, we can only understand gay relationships as either marriages, or not really kin at all. This is the false dichotomy Corvino should be attacking!)

Okay, but so, marriage is really important, people long for it, I get that. What does that have to do with sex difference?

Let me throw out three thoughts here. 1. What's past is prologue. Even societies which found ways of honoring some forms of homosexual relationships have not considered those relationships interchangeable with marriage, or a form of marriage, until very recently. This means that 99 44/100ths of our marital iconography is geared toward the needs and desires and images of heterosexual couples. I think for anyone with even a smattering of Hayekian humility in the face of the past, this overwhelming persistence of heterosexual marital imagery should give pause.

2.I complained here about Julia Kristeva's attempt to separate “biological” from “biographical” life. But I think she's gesturing toward or elaborating on a real insight: The stories we tell about our biology can deeply affect how we use our bodies. Therefore if we misunderstand which aspects of our bodily differences are iconic and which are merely necessary, we will very likely misunderstand how we should respond to those differences, how we should act in our bodies. So, since I already believe that sex difference is iconic in a way which very few other differences could ever approach, for all the reasons I gave in the links in that last post... it's important to me that we get the iconography right.

3.I don't want to instrumentalize beauty or sublimity. I believe that the practical, biological differences between men and women are, in themselves, largely responsible for the nature and importance of marriage. But the existence of this institution, which acknowledges and responds to la difference, is valuable in itself. As an analogy: The honor gay couples are seeking for their love, when they work for gay marriage, will produce practical benefits in terms of social support. But it's also valuable in itself.

I think our basic job right now, as a society, is to find ways of honoring nonmarital kinship without conflating it with marriage. This is basically an iconographic task, and gay marriage works against it.
RULES OF THE GAME: Corvino to me, on why marriage will still be sexually-regulatory even where homosexual couples are included: “Here Tushnet proffers the usual false dilemma: either marriage is solely male-female or else it 'means whatever you want it to mean.' But there’s plenty of reasonable middle ground between those polar (and false) alternatives.”

I don't know if Gabriel Rotello coined the term “sexual ecology,” and I haven't read his book of that title. But it seems to me really obvious that heterosexual, gay, and lesbian couples have different sexual ecologies. (This is true even when the heterosexual couple is infertile or quite old, because men and women are very differently-situated due to the complex interactions of biological differences and cultural expectations.) Those differing ecologies seem very likely to me to develop different rules, because they face different needs with different urgencies. I think Andrew Sullivan and the guys in this study are closer to the mark than Corvino when they suggest that gay marriage shifts the norms of monogamy in complex ways we don't yet fully understand.

Put the same point another way: I find it fairly easy to understand why an infertile heterosexual couple, or a heterosexual couple in which both husband and wife are 80 years old, should nonetheless be sexually exclusive. I find it fairly easy to understand why heterosexuals should avoid premarital sex to the best of their ability (even though I realize that, human nature being what it is, this restraint will be scattershot at best). I am not sure how I would argue against safe-sane-consensual open gay relationships (especially when there are no children in the household) or how I would argue for abstinence until gay marriage. (I've talked with a couple of people who do hold the latter position, though they seemed a bit embarrassed by it!) The case against wild promiscuity, which is partly practical due to health concerns and partly philosophical due to concerns about the fragmentation of the self, is not really the same as the case for complete sexual exclusivity.

So maybe what I'm really asking—and this is not, or not solely, a question for Corvino but for those who share his “lots of differences matter in a marriage/sexual difference is not crucial” position—is whether they, too, distinguish between the rules and norms by which the infertile heterosexual couple should abide and the rules and norms by which the gay couple or lesbian couple should abide. Also, do they think that the urgency of these sexual norms is different for infertile heterosexual couples and gay or lesbian couples, and therefore the stringency of the norms should be different? If they do, then the word “marriage” no longer expresses a set of sexual norms, but rather at least two conflicting sets.

If they don't, then I'd like to know whether a) they are expecting gay/lesbian couples to play by fairly strict rules in which sex before or outside of marriage is frowned upon, i.e. do they accept the “rollback, not containment” approach to marriage for every couple?,

b) they would like couples to assess their own fertility and other risks (e.g. the risks inherent in women's vulnerability in heterosexual relationships) and abide by the rules of the risk-category into which they fall?,

c) they expect marriage to remain sexually-regulatory while maintaining a sort of internally “separate but equal” situation in which heterosexual couples play by the stringent rules while gay/lesbian couples work out different norms?,

or d) some mix of all of the above depending on where you live/which subcultures you belong to, or some other option I can't think of right now?

I strongly suspect that a) will be rejected by most gay people, b) overestimates humans' rationality and ability to accurately assess their own risks (this inability is what we have social institutions and iconography for—I'm reminded of the friend who remarked, when someone asked him what time our debating society was meeting, “It's meeting at 7.45, because it always meets at 7.45. Traditions are how people who can't remember anything manage their lives!”), and c) is an unstable situation in which, again, “marriage” per se implies no especial set of sexual norms.

(You may say that this last situation is precisely the one in which we find ourselves today. See previous post re: that's a bug not a feature, aka I want rollback not containment.)

Saturday, September 25, 2010

"I WANTED TO THROTTLE A SWAN." Slings and Arrows, a comedy set in a Canadian theater company, is available on Netflix Instant Viewing. Why have I not watched this already? Why aren't you watching it right now?
PASTORS, ETC., IN POOR AREAS: I'm working on a piece for Commonweal about couples who get married in church, in order to be married in the eyes of God, but don't register with the state because they would lose welfare benefits (inc apartments, health benefits etc). If you know anyone who has done this, or if you know pastors who may have performed these weddings, could you encourage them to get in touch with me? My email is on the sidebar there, and if you email me, I'll send you my cell phone number. Because the legal status of these marriages is somewhat doubtful, I'd be willing to offer various degrees of anonymity (first name only, or something like that).

Thank you, and of course, please pass this around!
WRITTEN BY THE VICTORS: JWB notes that I might want to inform readers that my Weekly Standard review of Red Families vs. Blue Families is now available to nonsubscribers. I did not know that!

So you can read it here. As I said before, I don't think I nailed the problems with the book, but the review might still be worth reading. Please politely ignore the way I completely fuddled the rich man/CAMEL/eye of needle metaphor at the end! Or laugh mercilessly at my incompetence... you know, whatever floats your cup of tea.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

And I never meant to blogwatch, all I had was the will to survive...

Wow, it's been a while since I've done one of these.

Balkinization: The only book by a Supreme Court justice you will ever need to read.

Mark Oppenheimer notes that he is blogging a lot more now, so if you liked his profile of me in the NYTimes you might check him out. Yale, religion in America, and whatever other bees roost in his bonnet.

Sean Collins has a great tribute to the Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark books. I'd forgotten those amazing titles. "Somebody Fell from Aloft"... shiver.

And I know posting has been sparse at MarriageDebate, but after midnight I'm going to put up just a cornucopia of links on everything from breaking the cycle of divorce to "America's one-child policy" to why you should not have a baby with a dude you found on Craigslist.

I am still going to reply to John Corvino. This week has been difficult (and I could use your prayers, if you pray). Stay tuned....
POLL: 1 IN 5 AMERICANS BELIEVE OBAMA IS A CACTUS. Real posting soon, but for now, have something which made me laugh. Via PES I think.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

CAPTAIN'S LOG, SUPPLEMENTAL: I only wish I could make all my confessions in the captain's-log format.
"No country lives as blithely or as uneasily with the opposed ideals of orgy and restriction as America."
--David Thomson, via Wesley Hill (buy his book! which I will read soon!)

Friday, September 17, 2010

"GAY MARRIAGE, STRAIGHT MARRIAGE, AND LA DIFFERENCE": John Corvino replies to my post on marriage and sex difference. I will put up a small and partial reply later tonight, and possibly more later, but I wanted to get the link up there now.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

RANKLE. Nosferatu and also the Smiths. I don't even know.
HOME AND DRY: Hello and welcome, if you got here via Andrew Sullivan. You want this post. And now the promised follow-up, in which I talk about what I think the most beautiful argument is in favor of gay marriage: It gives gay people a home.

Sullivan's written about this quite a lot, of course. Both he (in Love Undetectable, I'm pretty sure) and Jonathan Rauch (in Gay Marriage) have described, briefly and without self-pity, really intense childhood exchanges with their mothers. I don't recall the exact wording of Rauch's story off the top of my head, but I do remember Sullivan's. From memory, thus possibly a bit off: He asked his mother if God really sees everything, and she said yes, at which point he replied, "Well then there's no hope for me."

I mean... a little kid.

And I've written before about how I experienced some fairly intense childhood alienation of basically exactly that kind. I felt like I had no place in the world and couldn't have one--shouldn't have one, hadn't earned love or self-respect. Becoming Catholic, I should say, was in part about accepting that I could be loved by Someone who genuinely knew everything about me. In order to be really Catholic you have to accept healing and love, and there are times when that's very hard for me, still; it's still somewhat baffling to think that I might be made in the image of God. (I mean, what does that make God?)

I have no real sense of why I associated that sense of alienation with my sexual orientation. One obvious possibility is homophobia; I certainly don't remember ever hearing anything antigay until I was in junior high, and my parents had gay friends etc etc, but it's impossible to prove that I wasn't somehow affected by subtler and pervasive cultural bigotry. Anyway, point being, I've said many times that it was such a relief to come out to myself because it seemed like I could finally explain that alienation in toto; and because being gay wasn't something I thought anyone should be ashamed of, I could finally put all of that unhappiness and sense of homelessness behind me! I don't know that this relief is especially common for gay teens, but I do think a lot of gay people did have that childhood sense of intense separation, of being cast out.

And since virtually all gay people are raised by heterosexuals, the home in which we grew up doesn't provide obvious models for the kind of relationships we want to form. It's hard for us to know how our own love stories can fit in to our family story, the family model we grew up with. (Yes, I realize that a lot of straight people can say the same thing, but walk with me here for a moment.)

Gay marriage promises that, for those of us lucky enough to grow up with parents in a loving/good-enough marriage, we truly can fit our own futures and dreams into the family story we grew up with. We can step into our parents' shoes. You all know that I think this promise is based on some really false beliefs about sex difference and family structure, but believe me, I feel the power and attraction of the promise.

And this longing for home is one reason the Church's silences, clinical language, and general lameness w/r/t speaking to actual gay people is so frustrating. Because the truest and best alternative to the home promised by gay marriage is precisely the home promised by Christ, the loving embrace of the Holy Family. When I say that the cure for alienation is in kneeling at the altar rail, this is not especially believable if the actual Catholics you've known were clueless at best and bullying at worst.

Anyway, I continue to believe all the stuff I've said in prior posts about gay marriage, but I thought it was important to throw this out there as well. The longing for home is even more powerful to me, and even more beautiful, than the longing for honor which also animates the gay-marriage movement.

Monday, September 13, 2010

UNZIP MY BODY, TAKE MY HEART OUT: I'm still thinking about that conversation on gay marriage between Ross Douthat and Andrew Sullivan, in which my Busted Halo interview played a supporting role. Specifically, I'm still thinking about this John Corvino column written in response to me and Douthat. I'm still not sure how to structure this post or its argument, so I think what I'll do is put four ideas on the table, and see what happens. The first two are mainly about men and women, and the last two are mainly about the biological connection between parents and children.

1. Some girls are bigger than others. Corvino's main point seems to be, Yes, men and women are obviously different in ways which are very important in marriage. And therefore gay, lesbian, and heterosexual relationships are going to be different in ways important to marriage as well.

But there are a lot of important differences! A cross-class marriage, for example, will face different challenges from a marriage of two people from similar economic backgrounds. An interfaith marriage faces different challenges from those faced by a Jewish marriage. A marriage of two opposite-sex octogenarians faces different challenges from those faced by two opposite-sex 18-year-olds. And so on.

...And I think that perspective requires one to believe that sex difference is One Difference Among Others, not (I know I always trot out this phrase) la difference. It requires one to believe that sex difference is not iconic, that there is no such thing as what Maggie Gallagher trenchantly calls "bringing the two halves of humanity together," since humanity does not come in two halves. I've written here about why I do believe sex difference is iconic, here about why that belief does not require specific gender roles e.g. boys don't cry, and here about why that belief is (at least in the Bible, and the Catholic faith!) prior to and distinct from the very obvious and important fact of procreation. I genuinely believe that sex difference is sublime in a way that age difference, for example, is not. Its sublimity stems in part, though I think only in part, from its danger, its potential for horror, and its simultaneous potential for exceptional beauty. Acknowledging the role of sex difference in marriage and sexuality is good and beautiful, whereas acknowledging the role of age difference (for example) is merely necessary.

2. Newsweek/Newspeak. If lots and lots of differences are as important to marriage as sex differences, or sex differences are as unimportant to marriage as lots and lots of differences, it's exceptionally difficult to understand how marriage could be an institution which regulates sex at all.

I mean, if "love is love is love," if love makes a family, then surely sexless relationships could be as completely marriage as anything else, no? I don't even think you need to go to the "why does number of partners matter when sex of partner doesn't?" place (although you probably could; the typical Jonathan Rauch-type case against polygamy applies the harm principle, understood as "which kinds of marriages tend toward liberal democracy and which tend toward patriarchal authoritarianism," in a way which invites the government to judge whether e.g. vows to "love, honor, and obey" are anti-American), since there are lots of examples of loving relationships where the harm principle doesn't seem to do any work at all in distinguishing these relationships from marriage: friendship, for example, or polyamory. (The harms from polyamory can be dismissed as speculative just as easily as the harms from motherless or fatherless gay households, by trotting out children who grew up in these families and did just fine. They do exist.)

I think Corvino's approach ultimately leads to the really depressing Newsweek "debate" about marriage, in which all parties agree that marriage means whatever you want it to mean--whatever rules you personally believe necessary to fit the specific needs and specific challenges of your relationship, since no differences are intensely and iconically important. Here, marriage is desirable precisely because it promises honor without regulation. I don't think that's sustainable. But I also don't think it's very admirable.

The obvious comeback at this point is to say that contemporary marriage doesn't meet the unique needs and challenges of heterosexuals and their children. I think that's not entirely true--culture and tradition are more powerful than we think, and I don't think the pro-marriage Newsweek writers will be able to sustain their genderless view of marriage for very long--but it's importantly true. The biggest problem in the USA, I think, is that marriage is no longer viewed as an institution which should regulate sex before marriage. (Here, have some depressing statistics about religious affiliation, beliefs about sex, and premarital sexual activity.) But the obvious comeback-to-the-comeback is that if you care about marriage, or if you care about the children which intercourse bizarrely continues to produce without our consent, you should be seeking rollback rather than mere containment of the non-regulatory marriage culture.

3. Shadows searching for what cast them. I feel like--and this is an intuition, not the conclusion of a syllogism--John Corvino's column comes from a worldview which reduces men and women, in their sexual and familial aspect, to functions. If we can figure out the function of a father, we can replace biological fathers with father figures or male role models and no harm done. A fatherless family need not be a family with anything missing.

I think this worldview denigrates the importance of the body. Our physicality--our incarnation--goes far beyond function. That's why kids who grew up with really amazing, sacrificial stepfathers or father figures or male role models, or adoptive parents, very often express both intense gratitude toward the people who loved and raised them, and intense longing or anger or sorrow toward the biological parents who didn't, or who loved intermittently and from afar. It's possible (I know this, because it happens) to both honor non-biological parents and yearn for the connection of DNA, of flesh. Something is missing when parental love is separated from the fleshly, sweaty, physical union which created the child.

4. I am the least resilient person I know. I know that not all adopted children, not all stepparented children, not all children of single parents feel this loss especially keenly! My point is solely that there are two spectra on which we can assess the emotions and coping strategies of children raised without one or more of their biological parents.

One is resilience. Resilience is a good thing in itself. It signals flexibility, a future-oriented worldview, an ability to "make do" or "muddle through" or "eat bitterness" or focus on gratitude for what is there rather than sorrow for what is not.

But the other is what I'm going to call aesthetic sensitivity. I'm calling it that because I think attention to the meaning of the physical is essentially a function of the aesthetic sense. People who feel the loss of the biological parent most keenly are, I think, expressing an insight--not a weakness, not a handicap created by their culture, but an insight into what it is to be human.

These are two separate spectra. Someone can be both intensely sensitive to the loss of the biological parent, and extremely resilient. Someone can be really flailing or self-pitying, and not at all interested in the biological connection. But just as resilience is a good thing in itself, so a deep sense of the importance of physical, fleshly relatedness is a good thing in itself. The "family diversity" movement tends to praise resilience and downplay or even denigrate what I'm calling aesthetic sensitivity. It's hard to avoid the conclusion that they do this because resilience makes the adults' lives easier and the other thing does not.