Abigail Rine Favale: Into the Deep

I do not know how to pronounce the author's last name,  and for that matter am not entirely certain about her middle name. This bothered me a bit every time I picked up the book, and is, obviously, bothering me a little right now. But it didn't prevent me from reading, enjoying, and admiring the book.

Subtitled "An Unlikely Catholic Conversion," this is the memoir of a young woman (now middle-aged, I guess) who grew up in a conservative evangelical family and subculture, partly rejected and partly drifted away from it in favor of academic feminism, and in time found her way to the Catholic Church.

That is an unusual but in its broad outline not exactly unheard-of story. Conversion stories in general are hardly rare, even conversion of many initially quite hostile to the faith; the propagation of the gospel begins with them. But they are all by nature somewhat similar, and are not necessarily of great interest to anyone except the convert and those who know him, including especially God. 

I had a personal reason for reading this one. I have my own unpublished, probably never-to-be-published, memoir, and a few years ago I queried a certain Catholic publisher about it. The editor replied courteously that although they have published conversion memoirs, they did not sell very well and he doesn't expect to publish any more such. Since then I've read a few that have manage to get into print in recent years and to get at least some attention from at least the Catholic press. I wanted to see what made them worthy of note.

Into the Deep is the most recent of these (most recently read, I mean, not published), and the best. That's not because it's necessarily the most intrinsically interesting story, but because it's told so well. It's quite well-written in the micro sense that the prose is well-crafted, and in the macro sense that the narrative is vivid and brings home a real sense of the author's experience. And also because her specific struggle involves matters that are very much part of our current cultural malaise: the nature and meaning of the sexes, the role of women in the world and in the Church, especially the confrontation of feminism and the Church. 

Back in the 1970s, when feminism--what I have since learned is known as second-wave feminism--was at its height, I was mildly intrigued by it and sympathetic to it. I thought then, and still think, that women in general are pretty wonderful, and that in many ways they get a bad deal. But I don't think I have many illusions about them, and I couldn't help being skeptical of what seemed to be one of feminism's assumptions: that apart from the obvious physical things there is no significant difference between the sexes. That this was false, I thought, should be obvious to anyone who looked at actual men and women. And I thought it would be a good thing if a feminist thinker would explore those differences deeply rather than try to dismiss or erase them. 

I didn't continue paying much attention for very long. The basic feminist doctrine seemed to be twofold: (1) men and women are exactly the same, except for those ways in which women are superior; (2) men and women should be treated in exactly the same way, expect for situations where it is to the advantage of women to be treated differently. This only caused me to be amused by the way feminism confirmed the stereotype of women as illogical. It certainly didn't help my perception that feminism was (and still is) zealous in political causes, most notably advocacy of abortion, that were at the time beginning to strike me as destructive. (I long ago moved past any ambivalence about their destructiveness.)

Well, here is a feminist, or at least former feminist, who has done the exploration which I had hoped to see. And it has led her precisely into the deep, into the profundity of sexual significance. Here was an important turning point:

Most of the time life moves at such a crawl that we remain blind to its constant change, but there are some experiences, like becoming a parent, that strike like lightning and, in just a flash, we are utterly altered.

This is what happened to me. When I first became pregnant, I was comfortable settled into my own unique brand of postmodern, feminist Christianity. I remember lounging on the couch amidst waves of nausea, watching news coverage of the controversial contraception mandate, rolling my eyes in anger and disgust at those regressive Catholic priests in their prim white collars, telling women what to do with their bodies.

Yet almost exactly two years later, I would be standing before such a priest at the Easter Vigil Mass, publicly confessing my desire to be received into the largest, oldest male-helmed institution in the world, the Roman Catholic Church.

Motherhood broke me open.

That breaking-open is of course among other things quite literally physical: a sensation and an experience that men can never know. The moment occurs less than one-third of the way through the book, so there is a great deal of road left to travel from here, and a great deal of reflection. There's a nice balance of the narrative and the abstract--of, to adapt the famous feminist catch-phrase, the personal and the theological. I recommend it both as a conversion memoir, and for that matter a memoir, period--I enjoyed the recounting of her early life--and as a venture into the rich topic of Catholicism and gender. 

IntoTheDeep3

I'm not keen on this cover. Apart from the fact that it's not especially appealing as a graphic, it suggests to me not conversion but a woman falling in love with a priest.

The venture continues with her new book, The Genesis of Gender, "a crash course of sorts, an insider’s look at the implicit worldview of gender theory, so people are better able to recognize the underlying claims that are being made." Here is an interview at Catholic World Report in which she discusses it.  Also at Catholic World Report, she demonstrates that she has by no means compromised her objections to some notions of feminine submission to male authoritarianism: she excoriates a book called Ask Your Husband, which seems to be an unwitting confirmation of secular feminism's view of Catholic thinking on this subject.

It seems to me that the current crisis in which enlightened opinion is no longer willing to say that a woman is an adult female human being is a fairly natural development from certain aspects of feminist thought. To their credit some feminists are willing to oppose it, which is hardly the first time that ideological revolutionaries have been horrified by some of the conclusions, theoretical and practical, drawn from their premises. It's going to be a long time before we settle down, culturally, but in the meantime Abigail Favale and others are doing very valuable work toward clearing up the very clouded waters.


Fun With Statistics

Which is more likely, that you will be killed by lightning or that you will be killed by an asteroid striking the earth?

As you have no doubt guessed, it's something of a trick question, with the obvious answer being wrong. It has to do with the probability of the event compared to the probability that it will kill you. The probability of my being struck by lightning is, obviously, much higher than the probability of an asteroid striking the earth. However, if the latter should happen, millions or billions will be killed, including me. So when you turn the statistical crank, apparently the odds are worse (for the individual) with the asteroid. 

Someone has actually worked out the math. Obviously some assumptions have to be made about the likelihood of a killer asteroid strike, but his seem to be reasonable. He comes up with a 1 in 700,000 chance of death by asteroid, whereas 1 in 1,000,000 seems to be a generally accepted rough value for being struck by lightning. And since most people who are struck by lightning survive (I did not know that until yesterday), the odds against death by lightning are even greater. And they vary a lot depending on where you live. 

And here's an interesting list of the top ten asteroid strikes in the history of the planet. Notice that the two most recent were roughly 35 million years ago, while the others are separated by tens or hundreds of millions of years.

If you had survived the Popagia strike of 35.7 million years ago, you might have thought with relief "Well, we should have at least another twenty million years before this happens again." Imagine your dismay when the Chesapeake Bay strike shows up almost immediately, only .7 million years later. I think that's another statistical misconception, similar to the one that makes a gambler think that he's due for a win after a string of losses. 

These speculations follow from a Facebook discussion about this meme:

CavemenAndAsteroids

I call it temporal distancing and it's my chosen strategy for avoiding death by asteroid.


Two Albums by Beach House

Although I liked what I had heard of this band, I hadn't really given them a close listen until recently, when I finally followed up on Rob G's praise of them here. I had heard some of their self-titled first album back when it was released in 2006. Those were the glory days of cheap MP3s, and the two tracks I have, "Auburn and Ivory," and "Master of None," were probably free. I liked them well enough but, apparently, not enough to buy the album. Here's "Master of None":

A few years later I heard a track, "Norway," from their second album, Teen Dream, and it was similar. Apparently I liked it better, because I flagged it with four stars. Still, I didn't  buy the album. I may have intended to, but I was trying to drink from a firehouse of music, and didn't follow up on everything that I liked.

I mention this history because one of the interesting things about the band is that they are still working in recognizably the same basic style, and it only got better, at least up to the point where I've listened to them: Bloom from 2012 and Thank Your Lucky Stars from 2015. I've had these for a while, but, as I mentioned, had not given them a serious listen. The production has grown more lush, melodies more sweeping and memorable, the instrumentation more varied, the vocals more powerful, assured, and versatile. But it's recognizably the same band, working in the same slow, dreamy style. Here's "Myth," the opening track of Bloom:

And "Majorette," the opener of Thank Your Lucky Stars:

Well, I'm sold. I like these two albums immensely. There is not much to be said for ranking one over the other in any sort of detached critical way. My personal preference is for Lucky Stars, but I think it's a matter of personal taste, and I might well change my mind, depending on which one I'm listening to. 

It's a rich, spacious sound, dreamy but grounded. Tempos are rarely quicker than a sort of andante. I've heard it described as ethereal but I think it's more earthy than that. It's a very electronic sound, but without being, on the the one hand, cold, as in the effects seemingly deliberately sought by synth-pop bands, or, on the other hand, simply canned, the way the bits of contemporary pop I hear tend to sound--calculated, like canned laughter. The presence of electric guitars that sound like guitars helps.

It's basically a two-person band consisting of Victoria LeGrand, the vocalist, and Alex Scally. Apart from the vocals, I don't have any idea who's responsible for what, though my guess is that LeGrand is the main lyricist, as they're somehow very feminine-sounding. I don't know who's responsible for the big heart-grabbing melodies. I do know that LeGrand's rich warm voice, which can be soft and pretty or big and strong, is the centerpiece of the sound, and a lesser or different vocalist would make for lesser or different work. Probably lesser, I would guess.

The lyrics are, to my taste, a little on the weak side, mostly somewhat vague if not cryptic references to (presumably) private situations. However, they don't suffer from a defect which I noticed in another album I was listening to recently (more about that one later): they remain fairly concrete, even if their apparent connection to personal relationships is obscure; they don't discuss, but feel via concrete images--in the best 20th century style, I suppose you could say.

There have been two more albums since Lucky Stars7 and Once Twice Melody. As a reviewer of the most recent album at AllMusic says

Beach House's style is so distinctive that it's a small miracle Victoria Legrand and Alex Scally continue to find ways to keep their music fresh.

They do indeed, and I'm looking forward to hearing their more recent work.

The image in the "Majorette" video is cropped way down for some reason. It's the cover of Lucky Stars, and here's the full cover, which I'm including mainly because I find it so charming:

BeachHouse-ThankYourLuckyStars

When I first saw it, I thought Oh, a picture of Victoria LeGrand as a child--that's sweet. That was immediately followed by You dummy, that looks to be from the '50s. You're in your boomer time trap again: LeGrand of course is of my children's generation. Turns out the picture is of her mother. And turns out that they're a distinguished French musical family: Michel Legrand is Victoria's uncle, and her aunt, Christina, was a part of the Swingle Singers, who made a name for themselves in the '60s with jazzy a capella arrangements of classical works. I had not thought about them for quite a long time, but discovering this relationship caused me to give them another listen. And they're still good. (Contrary to my initial supposition, the name "Swingle" does not refer to the swing in their arrangements, but, by happy chance, was the surname of the man, Ward Swingle, who, so to speak, invented them.)

One of the tags which both AllMusic and Wikipedia attach to the group is is "dream pop," which is also the description applied to the Lynch/Cruise/Badalamenti sound, of which I have often spoken here. In a fairly broad way Beach House is similar, but much less dark and weird. But the last track on Lucky Stars, "Somewhere Tonight," would fit right in. I mean, the title alone suggests it.