52 Albums, Week 23: Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (The Beatles and George Martin)
52 Albums, Week 24: The Walking (Jane Siberry)

Sunday Night Journal, June 11, 2017

Over the past couple of weeks I've read a couple of interesting memoir-autobiography sorts of things, one new and one an old friend. The new one is Swimming With Scapulars by Matthew Lickona. I had heard of it when it was published ten years or so ago, and can't remember now what prompted me to read it--whether it was another of those saw-it-at-a-library-sale finds or I actually and deliberately bought it from some place like Amazon. At any rate I had been curious about it. I had the idea, based mostly on the title, that the author was a product of the super-orthodox sort of Catholic milieu which has flourished (or failed) here and there since the early 1980s or so, and had not entirely rejected it. I was interested in hearing what he had to say about it, good and bad, as he is not much older than the oldest of my children.

In my impression of the book I was partly wrong, as his experience of Catholicism in childhood and adolescence seems to have been a fairly typical contemporary American one, except that his parents were unusually serious and active in their parish. It was his own spiritual development that led him in a somewhat more traditionalist direction, wearing the scapular in his late teens, and attending Thomas Aquinas College. But he did this without taking the turn that similarly-minded people sometimes do, toward an attempt to escape as much as possible the influence of an increasingly hostile secular culture. So although the book was not exactly what I expected, it was as interesting as I had hoped. Lickona's approach to the faith, and to the stresses and strains of living it out in contemporary America, is down-to-earth and devoid of the tendency toward a slightly strained--or constrained--piety that one sometimes encounters in Catholic writing. 

The advertising for the book, such as the blurb at the publisher's site, makes a little too much of the fact that he is Not One Of Those Reactionaries--he listens to Nine Inch Nails! (kind of an old blurb I guess)--but the book is better than that. 

I really like the cover:


Matthew Lickona is one of the principal writers at the popular (I think) blog Korrektiv, which I would read if I didn't already spend way too much time reading things online. 

The other book, the old friend, is C.S. Lewis's Surprised by Joy. I had read it over thirty years ago, and I think once since then but still quite some time ago. I needed a couple of quotes from it for the book I'm writing, and, never having bought my own copy, checked it out of the library just to get those quotes. I ended up reading the whole thing, and enjoying it even more. There are several passages that are more dense philosophically than I recalled--I'm thinking of several toward the end of the book, where he's describing his movement from an acknowledgement that some sort of Spirit exists to an openness to the idea of the Christian God, and I think I must have just sailed over them without really grasping them before. This time around I'm more impressed than before with Lewis's erudition and intellectual rigor. In the unlikely case that you're a Lewis fan but haven't read this one, you should. 

I had forgotten how much time he spends describing his frustrating relationship with his father, whom he describes with a phrase I don't remember noticing before, but will not soon forget, as "a man not easily informed.... What he thought he had heard was never exactly what he had said." 

A few people are that way congenitally, very few in my experience. But in recent years politics seems to have induced the condition in many more. 

Whenever I read Lewis, and many others of the early-to-mid-20th century Christian writers, especially the British ones, I have a sense that these are my people. Never mind that I would have been only the most awkward sort of presence if I had ever, in violation of the limits of both time and space, found myself drinking in a pub with them; I can only hope I would have had the sense to keep my mouth shut. They are nevertheless the people I would most like to emulate in my thinking and writing, and whom I do in fact resemble, in a very small and distant way, in my thinking and general sensibility. As far as I know their kind no longer exists. They are of, roughly, my grandfather's generation, and now I'm a grandfather myself. That makes them antique, and me a sort of relic, too. Those writers will be as distant to my grandchildren as the Victorians were to me. Much of contemporary intellectual life, insofar as it comes to my attention, even Christian intellectual life, seems somewhat alien to me, so it's always something of a comfort to revisit these writers.


Two memorable remarks (unrelated to each other) I've seen on Facebook in recent days: 

Yes, it's poetry but it's beautiful.

I concur whole heatedly.


From watching five episodes of the American version of The Killing, I have learned that Seattle is the most dismal, dark, depressing city on the face of the earth. It's so dismal that people keep their homes and offices only half-lit. Perhaps it's an environmentalist thing: as long as a few 40-watt bulbs give you enough light that you can move around without stumbling over things, why contribute further to global warming?

Or maybe it's that at a time when dismal, dark, depressing crime dramas are popular, the makers of this one decided to make the dismalest, darkest, depressingest one of all? I'm a little sorry I started watching it, because now I have to finish it, and it's long. I suppose I could just read a synopsis. 

Speaking of this, and of last week's discussion of the dark-'n'-gritty Netflix series based on Anne of Green Gables: according to Eye of the Tiber, the USCCB is getting in on the trend: 

USCCB Announces Plans To Come Out With Dark, Gritty Reboot Of The Mass


A couple of weeks ago, apropos a wedding, I said that I pity more than envy the young now, and even fear for them a little. I thought of that again last weekend when I attended the ordination of now-Father Nick Napolitano at the Cathedral in Mobile. (You may be able to see a picture and read the diocesan paper's story here. I say "may" because the page wants you to install Adobe Flash, if you don't already have it, but it seems to more or less work without that.) I don't know him very well, but am acquainted with him because he's a friend of a couple of people in our Ordinariate group. It was Nick who, one memorable Sunday, was serving as thurifer, and in the recessional was swinging it in a circle (vertically). The chain broke, the thurible went flying, burning incense went flying, and the next few minutes were spent trying to put out a number of small fires in the carpet that covered the aisle. 

I believe Fr. Nick is younger than the youngest of our children, which makes it pretty odd to call him Father, though not a big step from the same experience with a priest who's roughly the age of our oldest. It's daunting to me to think that he may be a priest for another fifty years, and to think of the challenges he will face. It takes a great deal of courage to become a Catholic priest today. It always does, or should, but now along with the normal difficulties anti-Catholics now are ready and willing to call you a pedophile whenever you contradict some pet belief of theirs, or, even worse, get in the way of some part of their program. That would be hard to bear. God only knows what the climate will be like in another forty or fifty years. I'll be praying for Fr. Nick, and all priests.


I've finally posted an excerpt from the book I'm writing. I've pretty definitely settled on the title War in the Closed World. You can read the excerpt here for at least the next week or so. The excerpt consists of a partial preface and the first 5,000 or so words of the text. I'm at a somewhat frustrating point in the work. It's probably 85-90% complete in actual composition, and was so several months ago, but I'm writing in longhand, then transferring the text to the computer and revising as I go, and for various reasons, some my fault and some external, have made fairly slow progress at that. There are still a few significant bits to be written, mostly having to do with my high-school years. And there's a good bit to do in the way of organization and structure. Anyway, if you're interested in this project, I would very much appreciate having your opinion on this excerpt. You can comment on the page, or privately if you prefer (see the blog Profile page for my email address, or send me a private message on Facebook). The next excerpt will probably jump forward in time to my college/hippie years, so I can get some reaction to that part of the story. 

The book, in case you haven't heard me mention it before, is a sort of spiritual autobiography, but with a strong element of cultural history, as I try to get at the significance of what we call "the Sixties." I was serializing it here five or six years ago but decided that wasn't a good way to do it. 


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The Killing -- you'd be far better served to leave off the American version and just watch the original Danish one. It's much better, partly because the plot changes in the U.S. version make the story less believable and compelling. In my opinion the original is the equal of Broadchurch.

Looking forward to reading the excerpt from your book. I'm very glad you've stuck with it.

Yes, I remember you saying that, and I was holding out for the Danish version, but it still hasn't made it to Netflix. Seems like I checked Amazon at one time, too. So I decided to give this one a shot. I think I'm going to swear off dark-'n'-gritty crime dramas for a while after this but maybe I'll see the original of The Killing eventually.

Thank you. I'm ready to be done with it at this point.

But I'm supposed to be working.


It'll keep.:-)

"maybe I'll see the original of The Killing eventually"

Well, watching the American one won't spoil it for you, since the plots are fairly different.

RE: dark and gritty, those Ozu films I've watched are the polar opposite. I'm definitely going to check out more of his work.

Yes! I love those Ozu films. Many of them are very similar, but I don't care. I've watched maybe 10, maybe more. Have you seen any of his silent films, Rob?

Maclin, I saw that poetry comment and was--I don't know what I was a jaw-dropping event.


I just thought it was funny. Very funny. You mean you saw it here? Or did you see it on Facebook? That would be weird because it was from someone I'm reasonably certain you don't know. Or maybe I reacted to it. Don't remember doing that but I might have.

The darkness, as in physical absence of light, in The Killing is almost getting to be funny.

Facebook. I was thinking it was a comment on something David Mills said, but maybe not. I definitely saw it.


That would be extremely weird if it appeared in two places independently. Do you remember what poet was involved? The one I saw was sort of a vaguely middle-eastern name that I didn't recognize, not Gibran or Rumi.

I don't know whether "wholeheatedly" was just a typo or deliberate. Clever if it was the latter.

I agree with Rob G that the original Danish 'Killing' is on a parvwith Broadchurch. I have not seen the American rendition and have no desire to do so

Great blurb by Fr. Neuhaus on the cover of Swimming with Scapulars -- "living Catholicism as though it were true".

Yes, that's a good way to put it. Very authentic-seeming.

I definitely would not recommend the American version of The Killing. Not that it's badly done exactly but it's...over the top seems the wrong term for something that's just relentlessly down. Not that it's extremely violent or gruesome or perverted--no worse than many others in that respect. And it's pretty slow-moving, taking time to really wallow in everybody's misery. Maybe if I hadn't recently watched Low Winter Sun, but...I'm getting tired of these crime dramas where not only the victims and the criminals and all their families and friends are miserable, but the detectives are, too.

"I'm getting tired of these crime dramas where not only the victims and the criminals and all their families and friends are miserable, but the detectives are, too."

The one recent exception to this that I've watched is 'Shetland.' Detective Jimmy Perez has his issues, but he's a fairly normal guy, and likable, as opposed to dark and morose. But the mysteries themselves are far from cozy, so the shows aren't fluff either.

Yes, I've seen those. I'd say the same of the Vera series, which I've seen all of, unless there is a set which hasn't been released in the U.S. yet. They get somewhat formulaic after a while, which is pretty hard to avoid if a series goes on for very long. And Vera has, as you say, "her issues," but her life isn't a running disaster as is the case with the cops in some of the other shows we've talked about. It's not necessarily an artistically bad choice, but like I said I'm pretty tired of it now. I mean, when you have a very painful story, like the murder of a teenaged girl and are already emphasizing its impact on her family, do you really need to have the detective's life be a painful unraveling mess, too?

"They get somewhat formulaic after a while, which is pretty hard to avoid if a series goes on for very long."

True. Did you see the season of Shetland that was one extended story over six episodes, instead of three self-contained ones? That was pretty good. It had Ciaran Hinds as one of the suspects.

Ozu: Janet, I've seen only three so far -- Late Spring, Early Summer, and Tokyo Story. I am going to keep watching though. I like him as much as I like Kurosawa, but in a very different way.

Has anyone seen Zhang Yimou's 'Coming Home'? It's the one he did before 'The Great Wall'.

Very different.

52 Movies, Week 39. ;-) I love that movie.


I've been watching Numb3rs. The detectives are two brothers, one an FBI agent (Rob Morrow from Northern Exposure) and the other a Math genius who uses math to help his brother solve crimes (David Krumholtz who is totally unfamiliar to me). They spend a lot of time with their widowed father, who is played by Judd Hirsch.

It is not the greatest show that ever was, and I can seldom follow the math stuff,but I am enjoying it. The relationship between the three is great--just enough tension to make it interesting, but no toxicity, and I like the other characters, too. There are some ugly crimes, but what you see is not horribly grisly.


Yes, I've seen all the Shetland episodes, though I don't remember much about an specific story except that there was a longish one, which I guess is the one you're referring to. To tell you the truth I remember the scenery as much as anything.

Weird, Janet. Totally forgot about that. And I even commented! :-)

Wei is me.

But not Woe, I hope?

It's still early.

Wei is me.

I think that might be cultural appropriation. You better be careful.


I do want to say something about this post, hopefully tomorrow, but for the moment I wanted to post a link to Camille Paglia speaking a great deal of truth about Trump terrorism and trans-gender issues. She makes the point, which to me has been the most compelling argument against trans-gender surgery, that no matter how much surgery one has or how many hormones one takes, he/she is still a man/woman in every cell of his/her body.


I started reading that earlier today and got interrupted. I'll finish it tomorrow. Paglia is great at times.

As for the transgender business: some kind of madness has taken hold of a large number of people. I wonder what they say about Paglia. Of course she's been making people angry for 25 years or so.

In my mind the name of your books is "War at the end of the World." I cannot rid myself of this misconception.


Maybe when it's been on the best-seller lists for a while...?


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