Thursday, April 21, 2016

A very brief post on the ongoing transgender bathroom debate

This week, a major retailer bravely faced the applause of the elite for declaring that any person is free to use any bathroom or changing area he or she feels like using while in that retailer's stores.

These "transgender bathroom policies," so they tell us, are all about diversity and inclusion. Unfortunately, that's not the whole story. They are also about opening up private spaces, especially private spaces used by women, to full access by any man who chooses to enter those spaces for any reason whatsoever.

As many as one in six women will be the victim of a significant sex crime, including rape, in her lifetime. Men who prey on vulnerable women are probably thrilled that it's now seen as impolite—or even illegal—to challenge them when they follow women or girls into a women's bathroom, locker room, or changing area. This will give them greater access to victims, without helping people who really identify as transgender much at all. 

Should fifty percent of the US population be put at constant risk so that a fraction of a percent (transgenders reportedly number about 0.2% of the population) can have their feelings validated? This isn't a diversity issue; it's a safety issue, and it's disappointing that in all the self-congratulatory posing of the elite there is no acknowledgement of that reality at all.

Monday, April 18, 2016

The Zen of living in harmony with the stuff you already own...

On Facebook the other day, I went into a mini-rant about those clickbait articles you see about how to fix all the storage problems in your house, get organized, and feel the waves of energy that come with decluttering. After pointing out that those articles expect you to have all sorts of things you don't have--not little, unimportant things like time and money, but big things like empty closets and spare bookshelves, spaces under nonexistent (in our house, anyway) staircases, empty wine crates, really tall ceilings (in order to hang all those DIY hooks, shelves, and physical dimension alteration devices), a collection of power tools that would make Bob Vila jealous, and a degree in structural engineering (well, maybe some of my readers have that last, but I certainly don't), I tossed off a suggestion: maybe somebody should write a series of articles along the lines of, "The Zen of living in harmony with the crap you already own and can't get rid of because you can't afford to replace it and you're sort of still using it on a daily basis, with bonus lessons on how not to swear when you trip over stuff."

Somebody suggested I do it. Since I'm very open to writing suggestions, and since I have been struggling to blog mainly because I can't think of ways to comment on the Big Important Issues of the Day that will be a) helpful, b) charitable, and c) devoid of substantial cursing, I thought it might be fun.

This, then, is the first of these posts.

Take a look, dear reader, at the main living areas of your house. Do you have more than four or five such areas, including the kitchen, and not including the space near the front door that you try to pretend is an actual room instead of part of a hallway? Are all of them spotlessly clean, beautifully decorated, harmoniously arranged, well-organized, with just a hint of vanilla spice and pixie dust in the atmosphere? Congratulations! This post is not for you.

If you have fewer than five living areas (we have three, here at the Manning house, including the kitchen), if you can't pretend your front entryway is a separate room even if you squint and try really, really hard to see it that way, if the living areas are what might be charitably described as "clean-ish," if the decoration style is best described as, "Well, bless your heart," if the furniture is arranged according to the ancient principle of "You can't take a step without falling," if "well-organized" means "I stuffed everything into that desk with the lid that closes, sort of, on a good day," and if the atmosphere of the home reminds visitors more of Vincent Price than Martha Stewart, then keep reading.

I'm not going to tell you how to fix any of it--not today, anyway. Truth is, I don't know. I tend to fluctuate between .pdf files of fiction writing and a different kind of PDF, one that stands for "Periodic Decluttering Frenzies." These PDFs are well-intentioned efforts to remove clutter by cleaning out closets and drawers, donating old books and media, and then, in theory, moving on to things like the kitchen cabinets and the garage and so on. I usually get through the clothing clean-out and my husband does the books and media thing, and then life starts happening (often before we've really finished), and the kitchen and garage get put off until next time. If there ever is one.

No, I'm not going to pretend to tell you how to organize your life (especially if it involves somehow finding vintage tin tubs that you can turn into storage ottomans, or similar nonsense). But I will tell you that it is possible to take a deep breath, look around at the place where you live, and come to terms with the stuff in it.

Let's say that it's possible to give one's housekeeping efforts a score or grade (it isn't, really, but for the sake of argument, let's pretend). Now, let's say that a score of 100 points is awarded to those houses in magazines that nobody ever lives in and that have no experience whatsoever of dust, let alone of toy clutter or baby spit-up or teenage baking efforts or any of those other joys of living.

"Well," you may be thinking to yourself, "if those houses get 100 points, then my score has to be in the fifties somewhere, if I'm lucky." But wait--it's more complicated than that.

Start with zero points. Now, give yourself five points for each person (including yourself) who lives in the home, if you are the person who is mainly in charge of cleaning and organizing things. Yes, often this will be mom, but there are some stay-at-home dads out there who have taken on these tasks and we don't want to leave them out. If you don't think you should give yourself five points for each person, ask yourself this question: do you pick up at least one item each day that each person has left out, dropped in a hamper, failed to put in the dishwasher, etc.? I'm probably being conservative with the "five point per person" rule.

Next, give yourself an additional five points for each child between the ages of three and ten. For babies younger than three, you get an extra ten points per child, with a bonus of ten more points if you have more than one child under age three right now. If you have had a baby in the past six months you get twenty-five additional points automatically.

Now, this one might be controversial, but here it is: if you are homeschooling, give yourself an additional five points per homeschooled child. Why? Because if you are homeschooling, then your children are home with you all day (unless you are all out together). This means that you can't clean while they are sitting in brightly-lit classrooms creating messes for other people to clean up; they are sitting at your kitchen table (or their desks, etc.) and the science projects and finger-painting are happening right there. It is significantly harder to clean around people than to clean when the people are gone, which is why corporations have whole cleaning crews that come in after hours, with maybe a handful of custodial workers to keep the bathrooms from becoming unfit for human use during the workday.

If you have any sort of issues that make cleaning difficult (physical handicaps, mental heath matters, chronic health conditions, etc.) add between ten and twenty points depending on how serious the impediment is.

Add on five more points for each daily task you usually complete (dinner? bath times for youngest children? lunches for working people or school kids? laundry? and so on).

Now, add up your score.

I bet it's higher than you thought it would be. I bet some of you have more than 100 points.

Look at your living areas again. In the grand scheme of things, does it really matter if the baby's board book section of the bookshelf is starting to look like some cardboard-eating zombies have gotten to it? Is it really worth lamenting over your inability to replace the kitchen floor again this year, even though the old vinyl flooring has some pretty deep grooves in it? Is it a problem that your refrigerator is cleverly hidden under mounds of printed recipes and children's artwork? Does your house actually look like a public health menace, or does it just look like people actually live in it--people, moreover, who are really dear to you and who matter more than a thousand Pinterest ideas and a million decluttering techniques?

Someday, when your children are grown up, your house will probably be the spotless and organized oasis of your dreams. But it will also be really quiet--at least, until the grandkids come over. Until then, unless you could be featured on an episode of "Hoarders," chances are that things really aren't as bad as you fear they are, and it will all get sorted out in the wash (so long as somebody puts those baskets of unfolded laundry away one of these days).

Of course, you may be tempted to jump on the "minimalism" bandwagon despite these positive thoughts...but that's a post for next time.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

A brief note

I do hope to resume some more regular--if sporadic--blogging soon.

But at the present time I am editing three different manuscripts with a view to self-publishing them; I am writing a new book during April's Camp NaNoWriMo; and I am approaching the finish line with our youngest daughter, who is about to graduate from homeschooling and go on to college (which means a lot of paperwork for both of us).

Your patience, as always, is treasured.

Monday, March 21, 2016

Speechless at the sight of Catholics uniting over Trump

I didn't actually intend to give up blogging for Lent; it just sort of turned out that way.

Some of it was just real life stuff--bronchitis, tomorrow's root canal (gulp), spring in Texas...although we have, luckily, missed the local storm damage so far and I've also learned NOT to put the winter clothes away and pack up the heavy comforters just because we have a misleading, teasing week or four of temperatures in the 80s. That doesn't mean it's really spring yet, as our 37 degree low outdoor temperature a night or two ago pointed out quite emphatically.

But some of it was being in just a bit of a dry spell. I've been focusing on my fiction writing, but I've never really had trouble before switching from a day of writing or editing fiction to composing a blog post about real things. I think the problem is that right now the real things are, well, kind of depressing.

Take religion, for instance. On the one hand you have Catholics whose idea of good liturgy involves liturgical dance and whose main complaint with Pope Francis is that he's too conservative (e.g., he hasn't ordained women or anything). On the other hand you have Catholics who are melting down over the change in the rubrics for Holy Thursday (some of them claiming, apparently seriously, that from "time immemorial" the Church has only allowed male feet to be washed at Holy Thursday Mass--not realizing that the foot-washing was only incorporated into the Mass in the 1950s--and others insisting that the Holy Spirit created the custom of male-only foot washing because this act of Our Lord's can only refer to the ordained priesthood, and that what the Holy Spirit inspired not even the pope can change...). Even a simple thing like Pope Francis deciding to make use of Instagram becomes a cultural flash point, with Catholics on one side applauding his apparent coolness, and at least one Catholic on the other responding to His Holiness' first photo (with the pope's message: "Pray for me,") by declaring that "pray for me" wasn't a request (?) and that he personally would be praying for Pope Emeritus Benedict instead.

Or take politics, if you'd rather (I'm increasingly of the opinion that in America today taking politics seriously, or at all, can only be safely done by those already insane, but you may have a different opinion). On the Democrat side, Hillary Clinton's cakewalk to the nomination might have turned into a pie-throwing contest, except that her super-delegates have the superpower to protect her from any actual challenges emanating from Bernie Sanders' campaign; and on the Republican side--well, what is there to say, except that Donald Trump has the ability to make past candidates look almost good by comparison, because while several recent Republicans could have tied for the title of the "More Hair than Wit" candidate, Trump is all hair and...well, I won't say it, but you know I'm thinking it.

And then you add in the odd spectacle of dittohead CAPE Catholics who wouldn't know a Latin motet if it assaulted them in a church parking lot, weekly O.F. Catholics who think a biretta is something that requires ammunition and a gun license, and serious E.F. Catholics who sweetly and modestly display their liturgical superiority in comment boxes all over the Internet, all joining hands in a grand "Kumbaya" of support for a thrice-married millionaire who wants to build a wall between the US and Mexico, ban Muslims from entering the US, who supports capital punishment and torture, and who has a rather unpleasant tendency to speak slightingly of women and vulgarly of everything. On the one hand, I suppose it's slightly comforting to realize that there are, apparently, points of unity among such dissimilar groups of Catholics; on the other, one could wish that Catholics in America could agree to lay aside their liturgical differences and work together without needing to unite behind the kind of person who says that he'd be his own foreign policy adviser, and that sort of thing.

So I suspect that though I may think of my recent inactivity as a dry spell or "blogger's block," I really think I've just been rather speechless at the sight of Catholics uniting over Trump. It's one of those moments when you can't even imagine what to say.

But at least we haven't reached the point in the election when not only Catholics of all sorts, but serious Christians and other people of faith, will start to argue that we have a moral duty to vote for Trump because failing to do so is the exact same thing as voting for Hillary. Hopefully I'll be over my "blogger's block" by then, because that's the sort of thing one can't let go without challenging it.

Thursday, March 3, 2016

A Smijj of Conflict--now available!

I'm hoping to get back to blogging more regularly soon, now that I'm (finally) getting over the winter bug I've been dealing with for three weeks now.

Before that, though, I wanted to finish up a different project, one that I've been promising for a while now. That's right: the fourth book in my Tales of Telmaja series, A Smijj of Conflict, is finally available for sale!

I don't think I've done this before, but I'd like to ask a favor of my blog readers. Two favors, actually--first, can you help me spread the word about this book and the Tales of Telmaja series? I write with children ages 8 to 13 in mind (though I have adult readers who enjoy the books as well), and I take seriously the idea that children's fiction should be suitable for children. My books don't contain inappropriate sexual content, and while a certain amount of violence is going to be inevitable in a series that deals with a galactic war to end slavery I try very hard to maintain a level of restraint instead of being too graphic. But what motivates me most of all is the desire to write good, imaginative adventure stories for a part of the children's fiction market that I honestly think is underserved these days, those middle-school readers who aren't terribly amused by booger jokes, toilet humor and endless tales of the classroom, but who aren't yet ready to read most of the books on the Young Adult shelf (especially the ones in the Teen Paranormal Romance section).

And the other favor I'm asking is directed at those wonderful people who have bought and read Books 1-3 in the Tales of Telmaja series: would you consider leaving a review at Amazon of one or more of the books? I've had lots of positive feedback from readers directly, but I'd love it if some of you who enjoy these stories would take a minute to post something on Amazon (and it goes without saying that if you have negative or critical thoughts those are fine, too--any honest review is welcome!).

Many thanks!

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Giving the pope the benefit of the doubt

First off: I'm still here! I didn't intentionally give up blogging for Lent. I've just been sick and sort of missed the first two weeks of Lent this year.

Now that I'm on the mend, though, I wanted to comment on some recent events, such as that time when a pope made an off-the-cuff comment that seemed to apply that he was in favor of something that the Church strongly opposes, and the Catholic blogosphere rushed to his defense and cleared up the controversy...oh, my mistake. That wasn't recent; that was when an off-the-cuff quote from Pope Benedict XVI got taken out of context by the media who spun it as the pope's approval of condom use in some circumstances, when it was, of course, (as Fr. Z said in the link above) nothing of the sort.

Funnily enough, nobody called it "popesplaining" or whatever the term of the day is back then; it was obvious that Pope Benedict XVI had been taken out of context and misunderstood, and the Catholic blogosphere didn't go nuts trying to prove that, no, really, BXVI was trying to approve of condoms in a sneaky or stealthy way because he was really a modernist or something. Instead, as I recall, the whole incident was taken as yet more proof that the media really does not get anything about religion right, and is always breathlessly reporting "news" which turns out to be nothing of the sort, especially when it comes to traditional faiths that still hold the line against the approved and trendy modern forms of sin.

When I read the transcript of Pope Francis' recent plane interview I noticed a few things right away. First, despite the news articles, the reporter never said the word "contraception." Instead, the reporter asked whether the Church would condone avoiding pregnancies as a "lesser evil" than abortion. One can almost sense a kind of frustration in the pope's answer as he explains, as popes have been deliberately and carefully explaining for decades now, that abortion can't ever be put into a "lesser evil" sort of construct in the first place--for what could be more evil than depriving an innocent human being of his or her life? What I see when I read that answer is a pope doing his best--for the umpteen millionth time--to make it absolutely, positively, abundantly clear that abortion isn't some sort of "Catholic sin," like eating meat on purpose on a Lenten Friday or failing to attend Mass on a Holy Day of Obligation without a valid reason to miss it. Rather, abortion is a crime against humanity that can never be condoned regardless of the circumstances.

True, His Holiness goes on to say that avoiding pregnancy is not an absolute evil. I wish he had taken the opportunity to speak about how the means used are what is important, and to remind those worried about Zika or anything else that the Church permits NFP or other natural methods of spacing births to married couples; I also wish that he'd left the sort of off-topic example of what nuns might or might not theoretically have been permitted in cases where rape was a grave risk alone--but I think that was more of a "theoretical moral theology misfire" than any deliberate or intentional message, especially when you consider that Pope Francis, like every other recent pope, has made it quite clear that the Church's teachings against contraception are here to stay.

The thing is that it is not hard at all to put the pope's answer in the most charitable light possible, just like most of us did with Benedict XVI when the media was screaming in all caps the totally improbable news that "Pope gives Church's blessing to condoms for gay sex workers!!" and similarly ludicrous spins on what he actually did say. The question then becomes: why are so many Catholics apparently so willing to see every off-the-cuff remark of Pope Francis' as proof positive that he's a secret stealth modernist heretic anti-Pope out to undermine the True Church and usher in the New World Order, the Antichrist, and the Apocalypse?

There are several answers to this, ranging from our American fondness for conspiracy theories to the scars inflicted during forty years of unremitting liturgical war (and as much as I appreciate good liturgy, we have reached the point where yelling, "But they started it!" is no longer an effective strategy) that have left us unwilling to trust anyone who sort of reminds us of Father Nicefellow who was nice to everybody except people who wanted to pray the rosary in public or actually liked statues, and that sort of thing (though I hasten to point out that Pope Francis has a deep devotion to the rosary himself, and I wouldn't think he minds statues particularly either--he just sort of talks like Father Nicefellow on occasion).  And all of that is part of it.

But I think there's something else at work here, and it shows up when Pope Francis says other things, such as this:
Thank God he said I was a politician because Aristotle defined the human person as 'animal politicus.' At least I am a human person. As to whether I am a pawn, well, maybe, I don't know. I'll leave that up to your judgment and that of the people. And then, a person who thinks only about building walls, wherever they may be, and not building bridges, is not Christian. This is not in the Gospel. As far as what you said about whether I would advise to vote or not to vote, I am not going to get involved in that. I say only that this man is not Christian if he has said things like that. We must see if he said things in that way and in this I give the benefit of the doubt.
When it comes to taking a pro-immigrant stance, Pope Francis' words here are really mild. He says that someone who is only interested in building walls and not bridges isn't acting like a Christian. But from that mild statement I have heard Catholics and other Christians insisting that the pope opposes border security and wants America to allow every illegal immigrant who can make it across our borders to move in and take our hard-earned stuff and import terrorists and take away our jobs and our Social Security and our money and our things that we've earned all by ourselves by our hard work and we shouldn't have to hand our money and goods over to lazy no-good immigrants or homeless people or welfare recipients or...

Nobody thinks that illegal immigration is the same thing as legal immigration, and nobody I know of thinks we have to have completely open borders with no laws whatsoever--not even the Church, who in asking for greater compassion for those already here is not demanding a repeal of all laws governing lawful immigration. But there's a troubling attitude behind much of the outrage against Pope Francis' words regarding a border wall, an attitude that is part pride, part greed and part fear--and the main aspect of the fear is that illegal immigrants are all out to take away our material goods, coupled with a prideful belief that we earned those goods totally by the sweat of our brows and not, perhaps, because we were born into a prosperous nation at a time in history when it was possible to earn a decent living and "get ahead," so to speak, none of which is really our own doing at all.

A sad thing, to me, is that this attitude of pride and greed and fear often comes from some of the same Catholics who fully accept the Church's teaching against contraception and who would never dream of using artificial birth control. They can't seem to see that the same combination of pride mixed with greed and fear is often responsible for other Catholics rejecting Church teaching against birth control and using it. For those Catholic couples, the unplanned child is like the illegal immigrant: a hostile stranger who is coming among them to take away not only their material goods but also that prideful belief that we have full control over our own earthly lives. Fear of that stranger/child causes contracepting Catholics to put up their own walls, built of latex or chemicals; and fear of that child can even lead to abortion when despite the wall of "protection" the child is discovered living in the womb.

Catholics can, and should, debate the best ways to go forward when it comes to illegal immigration (and bearing in mind that some people are injured or killed just trying to get here, which is something we ought not to take lightly). But we ought to go forward in light of Christian principles, and to remember that the Lord we follow said that we ought to love our neighbor (and He didn't restrict that love based on geography). If our objection to illegal immigrants is based on a prideful sense that we have earned everything we have plus a greed to keep all of our blessings for ourselves and a fear that the immigrant will join the widow and the orphan and the poor and the homeless as people we ought to be concerned about and be willing to help even with our material blessings, then we aren't, as the pope said, being Christian about them at all.

I honestly think that at least part of the reason so many don't want to give Pope Francis the same benefit of the doubt that many did automatically give to Pope Benedict XVI is because it would be a lot easier on us if we could believe that Pope Francis was a modernist or a heretic or an anti-Pope or some such thing--because if he were any of those, we could ignore him when he reminds us that it's not Catholic to see our brothers and sisters as leeches or bloodsuckers or threats to our (material) security just because they happen to be in need, or in this country illegally, or out of work, or living on the street. We Americans are awfully inclined to forget that God alone gives us what we have, and that seeing ourselves as the authors of our own destinies and the absolute rulers of our own tiny material kingdoms is a form of idolatry, of a kind that the pope's namesake especially rejected when St. Francis threw off his material goods for the sake of the true kingdom.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

About that Doritos commercial...

Yes, I'm late talking about this one. But it didn't seem appropriate to be writing about chips on Ash Wednesday, and I have a feeling this may get a bit snarky...

So, you all know by now about that Doritos (tm) commercial, the one showing an about-to-be born baby in utero being all fascinated by the snack his dad is holding. The ad was one of a few finalists in Doritos' annual "Crash the Super Bowl" contest, in which ordinary people, fans of the product, submit ad ideas and then get a chance to make the actual commercial. (This year's grand prize winner was actually the "Doritos Dogs" commercial, not the "Ultrasound" one.)

The ultrasound commercial ended up being at the center of controversy. On the one hand, the reality-challenged folks at NARAL decried the commercial for "humanizing" the "fetus" (who is in fact a real human and who is presently a nine-month-old boy named Freddy); on the other, pro-life Americans decided that for the moment Doritos (tm) are the official chip of the pro-life movement, at least until the corporate giant does something that angers us again.

Teapots and tempests, certainly, but here's the shocking part: I actually liked that ad.

The cool kids at Aleteia and on Facebook and elsewhere can snicker into their sleeves at my naiveté, if they want. But it was sort of nice to see an ad where a human fetus is not only not a disposable blob of tissue, but is actually a person, capable of needs and desires. Sure, it's exaggeration--the humorous kind, also called hyperbole--to imagine an unborn child wanting a mass-produced snack item. But having had the experience myself of holding a sweet little baby only five months older than that unborn child in the ad on my lap at a party, and having said five-month-old suddenly dive-bomb a mini-eclair I was holding, and then perform the acrobatic feat of consuming as much of it as possible before I could remove it while simultaneously shooting me a dirty look that said, plain as day, "You've been hiding the Good Stuff!"--well, it's not all that far off the mark.

What's even nicer is that enough people in America voted for this fan-produced (note: not cynical corporate giant-produced) commercial for it to end up one of the three finalists in the contest. NARAL and their ilk would like to believe that most of America shares their shuddering horror at the mere thought of an unborn child in utero, but clearly that's not the case. Quite a lot of us actually like human children, even the unborn ones, and are ready to chuckle at a humorous ad like this one without worrying that someone, somewhere, might humanize a fetus and then next thing you know she might decide against offing her unborn offspring via abortion (horrors!).

So, no, this was not some watershed moment in the pro-life movement--except that I can't really imagine a similar commercial being made by a fan and then actually making it to the finals in a contest like this one back twenty years ago, when people like Gloria Steinem and Madeline Albright had more than mere delusions of relevance. But it was, at least to me, a bit of good fun, and probably the first time in history that an adorable baby boy had his acting debut while still in utero. What's not to like about that?