Saturday, 22 January 2022

A Very Late Response to an Interesting Question

These days, whenever I'm doing something, it's because I'm not doing something else. It's a bit depressing. If I'm reading an Italian poem, it means I'm not reading a Polish story. If I'm typing this, it means I'm not at the gym. And therefore I wasn't that surprised when I saw I hadn't published a reader comment from this summer, let alone answered it. Here it is, from long-time reader Tiny Therese:

I recently watched a video where it mentioned how men can be intimidated by a woman's achievements. Other men may make fun of him for having a relationship with a woman more successful than him. It said the dream man would support her accomplishments and not feel threatened.

You've talked about being aware of how men truly are not how we want them to be. You say not to brag or compete with men outside of work and school. Don't talk about how you graduated from an Ivy League school unless asked about it. 

What if you strive for your dreams and what you're called to do, are humble, interested in what's going on in your man's life, and prioritize time with him, but he still resents your achievements? He scowls at you making more money than him, running for office, publishing a book, etc. He's stuck at a dead-end job and feels emasculated. Apart from saying, "I'm sorry you're going through that, dear. I want you to be happy and thrive," what could you do? 

My gut says to share in your partner's victories instead of being envious, but maybe there's something more I'm missing when it comes to male psychology.

I still stand by "Men are who they are and not who we want them to be," especially when deep down what we want them to be is women. This is not to say that men cannot become more empathetic and better listeners with time and circumstances, like decades of marriage and the horrible fear that comes along with having a daughter. But I am married to a very kind man who talks often of his mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother, and who is well-liked by women, and even so I have moments of acute frustration when I realise what I really need to do is speak to another woman. 

I also still stand by not competing with, or bragging about your accomplishments to, the men you know socially if you are interested in getting married. Men are in competition with each other all the time, and the big competitors may react to you as if you are another man if you exhibit this male behaviour. (Men suddenly thinking of women as if they were other men is also one of the many reasons you must never  punch a man first.) If the men around are less competitive types, they might think you're "out of their league." 

Amusingly, I am reminded of a conversation with a paleo-con Republican PhD candidate 15 years ago,  who greatly admired Ann Coulter.

"Is she single?" I asked, pondering that she might like my Republican friend.

"Is she single?!?! Ann Coulter is out of my league," he exclaimed, and so no Boston U. arm-candy for the still-single Ms. C, which is a shame, really, but it wasn't her fault. 

What are men looking for in a wife these days? I haven't thought about it recently, and I'm not sure that many men are looking for wives, but when they are, I imagine they want to marry someone who looks attractive, is nobody's fool, has interests of her own, is kind-hearted, a good listener, and will not end up resenting him for something. 

Tiny Therese is vague about the relationship between her hypothetical couple, but if the woman is merely dating the man, then she should drop him like a hot potato. "Call me when you've got your life together," is what she should say. "I don't want to be with you if you make me feel like a traitor for doing well."

If all goes well, he will get a better job and telephone in triumph to apologise and ask her out to dinner. If it doesn't goes well, she's rid of him and free to meet someone better. 

Why is such a talented, hard-working, and successful woman settling for second (or third) best in her personal life, is what I want to know. This is omething she should ask herself, and perhaps ask rhetorically of her sulky beau, too.

If the woman is married to the man, the answer is easier: shouting. Well, maybe not shouting, but some frank language such as spouses should be free to use with each other. 

"If you hate your job, quit and find another one. My money is our money, and I'm happy for you to take a break to find something else." 

"I am unhappy that you are not supporting me in this, and I would like to know why this is."  

"Tell you what, I'll tell my boss that I don't want to make more money than my husband, and so he should reduce my salary." 

"I celebrate your victories, and I am unhappy when you don't celebrate mine."

"I am very worried about you, and I think you should talk to a therapist." 

"I don't think you're a £$%& loser, and I don't give a £$%& what you do for a living."

I am reading an interesting book by a former editor of Vogue. She was once in an on-again, off-again relationship with a writer who very much resented the attention she got as the editor of Vogue. Reader, she married him, which was a mistake, but at least she had the baby she so badly longed for.  
Since I watched most of Sex & the City years ago, I am reminded by Carrie's relationship with a novelist who broke up with her by post-it note. He resented her success (and superior knowledge of scrunchies), but at least he had enough awareness of himself to be horrified by this. Your faith in the wisdom of the S&TC screenwriters may vary, but I suspect they understood writers very well. I'll never forget the depths of rage and envy I fell into when I saw a photo of a university pal's first book. Yikes. 

Writers have a host of sinful tendencies I know only too well. Ambitious writers should probably not date other writers. 

Anyway, my conclusion is that sometimes a spouse (or anyone in what is supposed to be a loving relationship) needs to remind the other spouse that they are not in a competition but in a partnership. Although, in general, men are more competitive than women, I can well imagine modern women sulking because their husbands are Mr. Rah-Rah Executive whereas they are just at home with the children cleaning up spilled juice all day. In fact, I think that is the story of the second half of the 20th century.

This is why, by the way, I think Single Men Today---at least the ones from my broken-home generation--want to be with women with interests of their own so that they will not resent them for all the thing their mothers resented their fathers for. 

Update: Speaking of the Single life, this is the first time I've seen anything like the following. It seems very sensitive to the hurt Single people often feel. I approve.

Hi Dorothy, 

At Papier we believe Valentine’s is a day to celebrate all kinds of love. Love for friends, for family, parents and partners, and for yourself. But we appreciate it can be a sensitive occasion for some people, so we’re checking in to see if you would prefer to opt out of our Valentine’s Day reminders this year. 

If you'd like to opt out, click here and we'll sort it. 

You’ll still continue to receive all other things Papier so you won't miss out.

Best wishes,
Head of Customer Service

Friday, 21 January 2022

Grandma's Birthday

My grandmother Gladys would have been 107 today, which would have been too much to ask for, really, as she was a heavy smoker until she quit in her sixties. She made it to 87.

Of my extended family, she was the relative I knew best, probably because, after the death of my grandfather, she was the only one who lived in our neighbourhood, let alone our town. She came to visit on Sundays, walking from her own little house, striding along in chunky heels and a belted coat, beret on her head, and vinyl shopping bag in her hand. She brought us children cookies wrapped in kitchen paper, and they had a very faint flavour of cigarette smoke. 

It is amusing to think about European friends and acquaintances who remember fondly (and loudly and effusively) their grandmothers' cooking, when really, the only foodstuff I associate with my own Scottish-Canadian gran is those cookies, weak milky tea and Tang. Tang was an orange drink made from chemicals, and that is what Gladys would serve her grandchildren on the rare occasions we were at her house. 

My grandmother was also not one for sparkling conversations. She enjoyed listening to the radio, smoking and staring off into space. When at our house, she would wash the dishes, and now that I am closer grandmother age, I realise it gave her something to do. 

And needless to say, my grandmother was not a model of piety. She went to weddings and funerals, and that was about it for her church attendance. She identified as an Orangeman, which rather shocked the heck out of the eldest of her Catholic grandchildren. 

Meanwhile, she was slightly ambivalent about her grandmother role and resisted being recruited into babysitting the whole lot of us at once,  as it was too much for her Nerves. 

Thus, my grandmother rather blew up the grandmother stereotype. Nevertheless, I love her to death (and, obviously, beyond). I talk to her soul every Christmas Eve in the kitchen while I'm cooking, and I remember her on her birthday. Of course I pray for her every day. She once came to me in a dream to say that she was fine but missing us all. However, there is that Orange stuff so ... praying. 

Wednesday, 19 January 2022


Cold morning yesterday. I bundled my ageing, aching self--had to go back to the physio, £60--out the door and walked to the gym. When I came back from the gym, I looked at the lumber and other refuse dumped on the scrub beside our building and suddenly remembered my attempt to plant bulbs there.

The ground had turned out to be too hard. I suspect there is concrete there and the dirt overlay just blew there over the years and life took hold, as it does. However, the land Benedict Ambrose and I (and the bank) actually own is soft, and so I planted bulbs around that. So when I walked around the corner of the building, I had a look at the place between our garden and the garden last door and found, despite the January cold, strong green shoots. 

I was so excited I took some photos. If you look very carefully at the above photo, you will see a green shoot among all those pebbles. 

New life in January is one of my favourite things in British living, and not just because I was born in January myself. My hometown is cold and snowy at this time of year; in fact, the snow is knee-deep there right now. Thus, it's always a little miracle when the bright white snowdrops appear against their rich green leaves in February.
I discovered during the 2020 lockdown that one of the things that cheered me up was seeing a new shoot in the vegetable garden. It was certainly worth the time, money, and effort involved in setting up this garden in the first place. So when I bought the bag of bulbs for the wasteland beside the building, I was doing two things: 1. rebelling against the Council who should be taking care of that land, but isn't and 2. investing for the the spring. 

My investment has already been rewarded by the sight of the shoots, and it will pay dividends in a few weeks. I am looking for similar rewards everywhere else I am making efforts: doing the very boring exercises assigned me by physiotherapists, lifting weights, running on the treadmill, writing down everything we spend, investing our savings, having laborious conversations in Italian and Polish, explaining comma conventions to my pupils. Unlike housework, these things actually lead to developments: stronger muscles and thus less pain, more money and thus less worry, greater fluency and thus less embarrassment, more accurate punctuation and thus the betterment of mankind. 

One day the COVID emergency (or lockdown emergency, if you prefer) will be over. Personally, I will zoom all over the world on aircrafts and trains to visit loved ones. And when I do, I will want to have something to show for this long quasi-confinement. The thought gives me a lot of hope, and this hope is nourished by all the little shoots, as it were, most recently the ones in the back garden. 

So to add a list of coping methods for this awful period in our lives:

1. Plant a garden, even if just on the windowsill.
2. Keep a spending diary and celebrate your monthly savings.
3. Put on your runners/trainers and walk every day until you can run.
4. Then run. 
5. Learn a language or some other difficult thing (like chess) and don't quit.
6. Teach someone something, even if it's just by starting a blog about it.

Also, think about trees. As I was in the gym, looking out the window and contemplating the autumn of my life (in fact, the exercise is partly about the winter being like a long, happy Christmas holiday, and not like a Toronto February), I contemplated trees and how they keep on sprouting leaves every spring. 

Saturday, 15 January 2022

A Life Well Lived

Today I had a Polish class over Skype. My tutor is in Kraków, and I am not. I know how to say "I miss Kraków" in Polish, so I said it. I also know how to ask if there is any snow there, so I asked that. (There isn't.)

But what I really wanted to talk about was a book my tutor recommended. In Polish it is called Początek, and in English it is called The Beautiful Mrs Seidenman. The author is Andrzej Szczypiorski, and the translator is Klara Glowczeska. And as I teach my students to do, I began to read the book from the very first page, which in this case contains the author's electric biography:

Andrzej Szczypiorski was born in Warsaw in 1924. He was captured during the uprising against the Germans in 1944 and was sent to a concentration camp. After the war he became one of Poland's leading writers, with eighteen widely translated novels to his credit. Increasingly engaged in opposition to the Communist regime, he was arrested along with other Solidarity leaders upon the imposition of martial law in December 1981 and kept in confinement until the following spring. In June 1989 he was elected to the Polish Senate. He was awarded the Austrian State Prize for European Literature in 1988. The Beautiful Mrs Seidenman, a bestseller throughout Europe, has been translated into fifteen languages. 

I thought all this was wonderful and told my tutor so. He listened to me politely, and then said what I dreaded he would say, which was, "Okay, so you know, he is really disliked by the Polish right wing because..." 

Then followed Szczypiorski's disqualifications from a slap on the back from the Polish right wing: he fought with the Communists during the Uprising, he mentioned pre-war Polish anti-Semitism in his books, he became a Calvinist, there are documents suggesting he denounced people in the 1950s... All the usual stuff that makes Polish Pretend Son yell, "You read [Konwicki, Dehnel, Szczypiorski]!?!? Who told you to read [Konwicki, Dehnel, Szczypiorski]?!?!?! 

Naturally, this is part of the rich, colourful woven tapestry of internecine Polish struggles, and although it is distressing, the hatred of Poles for Poles with different politics is awe-inspiring in that they care enough to hate them. I simply cannot imagine shouting at a non-Canadian for reading, for example, Timothy Findlay's Not Wanted on the Voyage or Margaret Atwood's A Handmaid's Tale or even (snork, snork) Madeleine L'Engel's Marian Engel's Bear. Indeed, the one and only Canadian writer I have ever actually hated is Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, whose only writing I know of is his tasteless eulogy for his father, and that is because le petit Justin is destroying my country with his stupid COVID measures and corrupting my fellow Canadians with his diatribes against so-called "anti-vaxxers."  

I have just erased a passage about the perfidy of le petit Justin as I don't want to get off topic. 

To remain on topic, The Beautiful Mrs Seidenman is about Warsaw during the last German Occupation but also follows the lives of the characters who survive this Occupation into the communist era, the youngest of them up to 1981 or so. It tells a lot of hard truths, some that the Polish right don't like mentioned, like the anti-Semitism of ONR, and some that Americans would find embarrassing and even incredible, like the Jews who survived (for a time) by turning in other Jews. 

It also looks at very different characters who were (or could have been) in Occupied Warsaw in 1943: a bright Jewish student; a village girl-turned-prostitute; a poor Catholic tailor suddenly rich because his Jewish boss left everything in his care; an anti-Semitic nun who risks death rescuing Jewish children; a crook who robs Jews fleeing the Ghetto; a crook who rescues Jews, and maybe not just for the money; an ethnic German working for the Polish Underground; the local German commandant; a suddenly impoverished Polish aristocrat; a mathematics professor... and, of course, the beautiful Mrs Seidenman and her youthful admirer Paweł. 

"Every Canadian schoolchild should read this book," I told my tutor. "When we learned about the war, we learned it only from the Canadian, American, and British points of view." 

I could be wrong, of course. In Grade 8 there may have been at least a mention of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, the Warsaw Uprising, the German-speakers in Romania, Czech and everywhere else east of the Oder running like hell for the west, and the over 20 million Soviets who died before that. However, what I remember is VE Day-Hiroshima-Nagasaki-VJ Day-there-will-be-a-test-on-Friday. And I suppose there were things they just really didn't want to tell us because we were just kids. Could anything be worse than Auschwitz? Sadly, yes. 

Incidentally, the curriculum was strong on how badly Japanese-Canadians were treated by the Canadian government (and they certainly were) and on how awful it was not to be killed immediately in Hiroshima and Nagasaki (which was true), but it was weak on talking about the treatment of Canadian soldiers (like my Uncle Sandy) in the Japanese death camps, possibly because they thought we couldn't cope with the complexity of all that. 

But, you know, this brings me back to thoughts of le petit Justin and his ludicrous painting of Canadians who are reluctant to get the swiftly-developed-COVID-jabs as racists and misogynists who endanger him and his children. He's my age, he's had roughly the same education: he knows better than that. But meanwhile I encourage you to read The Beautiful Mrs Seidenman (or, if you can, Początek) to find out what it might have been like for you to have been in Warsaw in 1943. 

Update: A small rant. Every anglophone Canadian my age read The Diary of Anne Frank in school. And naturally many of us bragged we would have hid Anne ourselves. Some of us may even have wondered aloud--not knowing that this could mean an instant death sentence for Poles and their entire families (if not for the blonde-and-blue-eyed Dutch)--why more people didn't hide the Jews from the Nazis. Well, ask yourselves this: if your unvaccinated-with-COVID-vaccine nurse friend is fired from her job (as is happening everywhere), robbed of her savings through fines on so-called "anti-vaxxers" (as are being introduced in Quebec), and has nowhere to go, would you take her in or are you too scared of dying? 

Update 2: Sincere apologies to the memories of Madeleine L'Engle and Marian Engel for getting their names mixed up!

Tuesday, 11 January 2022

The Locked Door

The Catholics who go to the archdiocese-approved Traditional Latin Mass every week are not ecstatic to be leaving our old wooden home. However, as I'm mentioned, there have been tensions with people who don't go to our Mass and consider church and hall exclusively their own. I was speaking the other day with someone who knows both groups, and he was so sure that the tensions have abated in recent years that I didn't have the heart to tell him this story. 

Before Sunday Mass this week, I slipped into the hall to turn on the hot water machine. Last week I didn't turn it on, and the earlier Mass group didn't either as, "for seasonal reasons," they weren't having their coffee hour. Thus, I discovered that the machine needs time to warm up, and it does not just gush out boiling hot at once. This is an issue when you have to set out the tea for dozens of people in 10 minutes or less. 

Anyway, I glanced in the window of the hall as I went towards the door, and there were three or so masked women counting money. I assumed they had not robbed a bank but were officially totting up the proceeds of the offertory baskets. I knew that they had not had tea this Sunday either, and the hot water machine in the kitchen was cold and dark. After turning the machine on, I left  a little note on it asking the ladies not to turn it off. 

Right. So word had gotten out that we are leaving the little wooden church, and people who attend the TLM but rarely joined the regulars. They streamed up the drive, past the hall, and into the church. I gave up counting at the congregation at 100; someone else counted 110. 

There were many children, of course. I found one of these children, attended by his veiled mother, at the door of the church hall, desperate for the loo, after Father had covered the chalice, my personal signal for skiddoodling to the hall. The church hall door had been locked. 

"Oh, what good timing," the mother rejoiced as I appeared. "They must not have known we had Mass today."

"I'm sure they did," I said grimly as I fished in my handbag for the magic and sacred Key of Hall Access.  

I unlocked the door and marched in. Mother and child disappeared into a loo. I began to set out tea for the multitude and had no more time to ponder the door locked against us. 

I have time now, however. 

Perhaps, not having had tea (nor breathed freely in over an hour), an absentminded key holder assumed we were not having tea and forgot that human beings need access to loos, even during the Traditional Latin Mass. It could be that, so few children attending the earlier Mass, she could not imagine that so many children attend the later. It is very possible that, being a woman of iron-clad habit, she did not realise this is not a universal gift. At any rate, I can imagine a set of charitable explanations for the locked door, any of which might be true. And certainly a locked door does not have the same drama as a hysterical parish council member shrieking "Just get out! Get out!" 

Still, there's a symbolic solidity about a locked door and a distressed mother and child on the wrong side of it. But, happily, there's a symbolic solidity also to a key. And as this is not a spiritual but a physical key, it belongs (for the rest of the month) to ME. 

Is there, in the theology of the Priesthood of the Laity, space for the Papacy of the Tea Lady? 

Write 250 words, citing the Second Vatican Council. Use both sides of the paper if necessary. 

UPDATE: Morning_star, that is indeed still my email, so write away! 

Sunday, 9 January 2022

A Faith that Does Justice

On the one hand, I am grateful for the 13 years I have gone to Mass at the maybe-NOT-so-little wooden structure in the west end of Edinburgh. On the other hand, I am not pleased that the little community of Catholics who love the Traditional Latin Mass has been asked to leave--but for reasons that will hopefully disappear as the weeks go by. 

When Pope Francis and/or his advisors wrote Traditionis Custodes and its ancillary "Responses," I don't think they were thinking of the tens or hundreds of thousands of Catholics who would be expelled from parish churches--in some cases their own parish churches--and sent to less accessible buildings. I don't know what they were thinking of, actually, and I have begun to make discreet inquiries. Suffice it to say for now, the idea that TC is a response to a few noisy American social media stars is treated as risible in Rome. 

This week it was brought home to me how difficult this transition is likely to be--and how little thought  given to the most vulnerable members of our community--and I burst into tears. The part of me that was so upset was not the Over-40 TLM-goer who reads Dr. Kwasniewski's books and tells him in print to put in indices. The part of me that cried was the under-35 M.Div. student at a Canadian Jesuit college that proclaimed a "Faith that Does Justice." I don't expect all Catholics to appreciate the TLM, but I do expect Catholics to consider the needs of disabled people, babies and children.   

A Polish-American pal who thinks of himself as a moderate crypto-trad contacted me on Facebook to tell me that Catholics are supposed to suffer and Catholics who are deprived of what they had before should welcome their suffering. I described the suffering of one vulnerable member of our community and suggested that she had quite a lot of suffering to be getting on with without being robbed of her opportunity to go to the Mass she has loved all her life. My Polish-American pal had no response to that. 

Once again I feel rather hampered in my attempt to underscore that Catholics who love the Traditional Latin Mass are all real, live, flesh-and-blood people and not an amorphous, slightly unpleasant mass. The problem is that every one of these real, flesh-and-blood people deserve their privacy, and not every Catholic, let alone Catholics who love the TLM, enjoys sharing his or her life in print. 

But I think I can say (again) that most of the Catholics I know who love the Traditional Latin Mass in my diocese also take part in the wider life of the Church in Edinburgh. We are not exclusive. We are not a cult. Many of us go to confession to diocesan priests. Most of us go to other Masses in the diocese when we can't get to the TLM, or for some other reason. Some of us get involved in social justice initiatives. Some go to lectures. Some go to youth groups or the university chaplaincy. 

In fact, some of us aren't actually even Catholics (yet): I can think of at least two members of our community  who belong to the Lutheran/Calvinist tradition.They don't seem to be "taking instruction," but they come nevertheless.   

Meanwhile, before the pandemic, there were about 142,000 Catholics who went to Sunday Mass in Scotland. (If you're wondering where I got that figure, about 15% of Scotland is Catholic, so that's 750,000. Then before 2010, there was a report that about 19% of those Scottish Catholics went to Mass regularly. So that's 142,000--BEFORE the pandemic. Goodness knows how many have returned.) Apparently 12% of the City of Edinburgh is Catholic (thank you, Ireland, thank you, Poland), so that's 60,000, and 19% of that is 11,400.  

That puts the 110 people who came to our TLM today in some perspective. Sure, a drop in the bucket in the Church worldwide. Maybe a bigger drop in the City of Edinburgh, though.  

Today I looked around at the large group of laity at coffee hour and only three--at most--were over 60. No-one there today was over 70. This is quite a change from when I first came to Edinburgh as a 30-something. Back then, there were not so many children running around and scarfing up cookies almost as fast as the tea ladies put them out. Why our community has grown and changed might interest a sociologist of religion. Myself, I'm mainly interested in ensuring no-one is left behind.  

Monday, 3 January 2022

I join the gym

Today Benedict Ambrose and I walked to our nearest gym, where I filled in some paperwork, and he didn't. B.A. toddled off to run a couple of errands, and I rowed on the rowing machine for 5 minutes before braving the weight room. 

I noted my reps on a grocery store receipt, and now I have ordered a proper weightlifting notebook. 

So begins my Year of Getting Back Into Shape.