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On Pronouns, and Blowing Your Nose

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Back in the Middle Ages--according to J.S. Mill--it was possible to be an individual. Not. Any. More.

As Mill argued in his On Liberty(1859):
In sober truth, whatever homage may be professed, or even paid, to real or supposed mental superiority, the general tendency of things throughout the world is to render mediocrity the ascendent power among mankind.  In ancient history, in the middle ages, and in a diminishing degree through the long transition from feudality to the present time, the individual was a power in himself; and if he had either great talents or a high social position, he was a considerable power.  At present individuals are lost in the crowd. In politics it is almost a triviality to say that public opinion now rules the world. The only power deserving the name is that of masses, and of governments while they make themselves the organ of the tendencies and instincts of masses. Mill’s contemporary Jacob Burckhardt begged to disagree. Publishing his Die Cultur der Renaiss…

Self-Authoring Meta-Tale

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“I will tell you the tale of Tinúviel,” said Strider, “in brief--for it is a long tale of which the end is not known...” It was not the thing that I expected to find most difficult about doing Professor Peterson’s Self-Authoring Present: Virtues and Faults.

Confessing my sins to the world? No problem! I have been doing that on this blog for nine years now, which is why I started after Easter with my Faults, to get warmed up. Plus, it seemed appropriate to do a confessional novena, having been newly confirmed as a Catholic. Writing about my Virtues after Pentecost was more challenging. I have a hard time seeing my strengths as strengths. I tend to want to change them into Faults so as not to feel like I am bragging.

But writing stories to illustrate my Virtues and Vices? That should have been easy! Like a good Franciscan preacher, I know the value of exempla. Except, it seems, when it comes to my own life.

I have spent my life “self-authoring” in one guise or another. The diary that I …

Why I Study Mary

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Recommended reading! Read on...

Signal Virtue: Right Rule

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Virtue: Love order and regularity

Describe an experience: Please write a short story (approximately 1,000 characters) about a time in your life when this positive trait or virtue contributed to or created a situation that had a positive impact on your life.
It is how I finished my second book this last year. Brief regular sessions of writing, no more than six or seven hours per day, and even that was pushing it. I know because I kept a record, clocking myself in and out every day.

Ideally, I would have stopped at four hours a day, but last summer I was on fire. Only once or twice, however, did I push myself beyond seven hours in a day. For the most part I kept myself to five or six.

I used a similar discipline to finish my dissertation (I have those time cards somewhere) and my first book. It was my dissertation advisor who gave me the idea of time cards. But it was Professor Boice’s advice about recovering from writer’s block that solidified the practice.

Not everything benefits from …

Signal Virtue: Me, Myself, and I

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Virtue: Am comfortable alone

Describe an experience: Please write a short story (approximately 1,000 characters) about a time in your life when this positive trait or virtue contributed to or created a situation that had a positive impact on your life.
There’s a reason I find it hard to think in stories. Stories involve other people, and I spend most of my time alone.

Not completely alone. Like a good medieval scholar, I have a dog, who sleeps while I’m reading or writing, barks at every hint of intrusion, and is ecstatically happy to go outside and chase the squirrels in our backyard while I watch Jordan Peterson videos on my iPad.

But mostly I am alone, except when I take my dog for a walk or, during term, when I have to teach.

I have spent whole years of my life almost completely alone. The years I was working on my dissertation. The years I was working on my second book. (While I was working on my first book, I had a year--nine months--at the National Humanities Center, which was s…

Signal Virtue: Play Bow

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Virtue: Have a lot of insight into myself and others

Describe an experience: Please write a short story (approximately 1,000 characters) about a time in your life when this positive trait or virtue contributed to or created a situation that had a positive impact on your life.
I know what you’re thinking. Actually, quite often, I do.

Not because I am good at reading minds. Looking at people, I more often than not see them as terrifyingly opaque. But then I say something that seems true to me, and they respond: “I’ve thought that, too.”

It happens regularly now with readers of my blog. I confess something that feels embarrassingly personal, and they write me: “Thank you for expressing what I have often felt, but could not put into words.”

It makes me wonder who this “I” is that I keep writing about.

Professor Peterson was talking recently (at least, in my listening history) about the reasons that the Logos had to become incarnate in the person Jesus of Nazareth. (I think it was in one of…

Signal Virtue: Beauty and the Beast

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Virtue: Feel enough shame if I do something stupid so I won’t do it again

Describe an experience: Please write a short story (approximately 1,000 characters) about a time in your life when this positive trait or virtue contributed to or created a situation that had a positive impact on your life.
I cheated on my first husband. (Ha! That got your attention.)

It was twenty-six years ago. I was young, as was my lover. We got married three years later, after waiting out the period during which according to the law in the U.K. I could ask for a divorce. We are still married now. But I did it. We did it. He was already married, too, but his wife sued for divorce immediately.

The whole town knew about it, it was hardly a secret. This was academia, after all. They were in the same department. After I left my first husband for my lover, I didn't talk to anyone else except on the telephone for the better part of a year. It did wonders for getting my dissertation written. Not so much for my s…

Signal Virtue: Catechizing, with Love

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Virtue: Feel others’ emotions

Describe an experience: Please write a short story (approximately 1,000 characters) about a time in your life when this positive trait or virtue contributed to or created a situation that had a positive impact on your life.
I could tell instantly that I had made a mistake.

The class was a small one, discussion-format rather than lecture. He had been one of the students most engaged, always eager to contribute to the discussion. It’s tricky when you get students like that. They find it easy to talk, but the more you call on them when they put their hands up, the less the other students feel compelled--or able--to contribute.

So I called him on it, indirectly, by nudging the others: “Don‘t make John have to be the one to answer!” He fell back in his chair so that I couldn’t see him anymore. And didn’t put his hand up again for days.

Some students are more sensitive than others when I push back in class, but this was a particularly bad moment for me. The whol…

Signal Virtue: Cold as Ice

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Virtue: Will not forgive easily if betrayed or deceived

Describe an experience: Please write a short story (approximately 1,000 characters) about a time in your life when this positive trait or virtue contributed to or created a situation that had a positive impact on your life.
I’ve told you how I have a problem with trust. My father betrayed my mother, my siblings, and me by leaving our mother for a younger woman when I was eleven, my sister was nine, and my brother was seven.

I like to think that Dad’s betrayal made me tough, able to detect deception a mile away, but thinking about it now, I am not so sure. Mainly because I can think of so many other times in my life when I have felt betrayed or deceived.

Like the time when he... or when she... or when they...  Or that time when friends... or when colleagues... or when relatives...  It is hard to pick just one to tell a story about. Because, of course, I don’t want to tell you any of them.

Partly, I pretend, because to tell you woul…

Signal Virtue: The Most Offensive Game

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Virtue: Am difficult to offend

Describe an experience: Please write a short story (approximately 1,000 characters) about a time in your life when this positive trait or virtue contributed to or created a situation that had a positive impact on your life.
I am not sure I know what it means to be offended. Maybe I should look it up.

According to my MacBook Dictionary, “to offend” means “(1) to cause to feel upset, annoyed or resentful...be displeasing to... (2) commit an illegal act...break a commonly accepted rule or principle.” It comes from the Latin offendere, “to strike against.”

What kinds of things make me feel “upset, annoyed or resentful”? Bad-mouthing America as systemically flawed. Relentless jokes from my academic colleagues about Trump. Sermons about “white privilege.”

Do I take such strikes personally? Yes and no. I have in the past year or so realized how viscerally I identify as American, more particularly, American in the way that the Scots-Irish do. Not as “white” (God …