Sunday, January 31, 2010

The Pain of Being Neither Fish nor Fowl

So here's the deal: I'm a lifelong mainline Protestant-- in fact a lifelong Presbyterian, and a Presbyterian of the old, staunch, traditional variety.

At the same time, since my late teens-- in other words, for the past 35 years-- I have been powerfully drawn to Roman Catholic spirituality. Yes, the greater depth, the deeper texture, the greater richness of it. Compared to Catholicism, Reformed spirituality is, even at its best, austere and rather threadbare; at its worst, a weak and watery gruel.

It would be no exaggeration to say that inwardly, in terms of spiritual practice, I have long been more than half Catholic. Catholic symbolism, smells and bells and prayer cards and home altars and statues and stations of the cross... Meditation, fasting, prayer to Mary and the saints...

For these past 35 years I've been praying the rosary; only a few family members and close friends know, it's not the sort of thing I'd reveal to most people in the church. For the past several years I've been wearing the brown scapular, and absolutely nobody but myself knows about it. I sometimes fear that if I were one day to pass out in public, they'd unbutton my shirt, find my medic alert dogtag and my scapular, and call a Catholic priest...

I repeat, I am a lifelong mainline Protestant, but...

At the same time, for a complicated tangle of reasons, it's quite unlikely that I will ever convert. I disagree with some of the claims of the Roman Catholic church, including the degree of authority it claims for itself and its papacy; my view of the church remains firmly Protestant. Theologically I'd be willing to concede that the Catholics got certain things right which Protestantism overall has gotten wrong; but also I think many Protestants have gotten certain things very much right on which Catholicism continues to stumble.

Also it helps greatly that there's a Presbyterian congregation several miles down the road from me, which is solid, staunch, traditional, and a genuinely loving bunch of people. Without them this Protestant/Catholic tension within me-- a tension to which even most people who know me fairly well have not a clue-- would be almost unendurable. As it is, I manage. Sort of. More or less. Neither fish nor fowl, I continue to limp along. There are many ways to be torn, and this is one of them.

Friday, January 29, 2010


I awaken from my winter torpor to note that Apple has released the iPad. Hmmmmm... Glitzy device. It's nifty, it's attractive, it's a neat idea, it's got that "cool" factor, as we've come to expect from Apple.

Though, you know, I can't see that the iPad does anything I'd want to do that I can't already do, and perhaps better and more easily, with my laptop. A fairly expensive high-end laptop, a ThinkPad T61, which I've got running under Linux. For many years now a laptop has been my main computer. The iPad is cool, and portable too. But I can already do everything I want, and portably, with my laptop. So... you get the idea.

Nonetheless, I suspect the iPad is going to be a smash hit. They're going to sell zillions of these things. The iPad does enough things well enough, things a lot of people want to do, that between cool and simple it's going to sell like hotcakes. Not everyone is a middle-aged geek running a maxed-out high-end laptop with Linux. Between cool and simple, the iPad is going to sell in the tens of millions: my informal prediction.

Sunday, January 24, 2010


Whenever I'm pretty much stuck at home due to inclement winter weather, you can pretty much bet that the first grocery item to run out will be the milk. I had enough milk for breakfast this morning; I ought to have enough for breakfast tomorrow. Beyond that, either I make the trek to town, and to the nearest source of groceries, or else I do without milk.

A minor annoyance, but when you live way out in the countryside, with town (and groceries) more than half an hour away, it's an annoyance not easily resolved in bad weather. Schools in the area closed early on Wednesday, and were closed due to weather the rest of the week. This weekend has been no better. Fortunately with the Internet I'm able to do a good portion of my work from home if need be. Not all of it, but a good portion.

Still, there's that nagging question of the milk. Like I say, when it comes to groceries the first thing to run out is usually the milk. Here's hoping the roads (including the gravel road on which I live) are passable by tomorrow.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Mister Pentecost

Think not that we are drunkards, as you suppose; for it is only 11:45 in the AM.

National January Month

January has been declared as National January Month.

Hey, beats declaring February as National January Month.

Monday, January 18, 2010

White Needle Frost

The past few days anything slender or strandlike outdoors has been coated white with bristling needles of frost. Just coated. White. Any branches, any bushes, any dead dry weeds or brush. White, like needles. Coated. It's like white needle frost.

Imagine every bare branch on a large spreading maple coated white. Every branch, tree after tree after tree. Brush in the ditch. Even wrought iron railings. And every, every, every tree. It's like this for miles around. White coating. White chocolate. White needle frost.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

There Are None So Blind

He was a longtime friend of mine. This was almost twenty years ago. He was an ardent man of the Left. And I remember the time I saw through him, through him and into the abyss with something akin to a sense of vertigo.

He was visiting me, and we were talking, as for many years we had been wont to do. And I happened to remark, just in passing, how I had noticed that people who were into ecology often used the word "planet." You know, in referring generally to the earth, and also sometimes in certain set phrases such as "save the planet."

I said, "Haven't you noticed that? How some people will often in connection with ecology use the word 'planet' a lot, or use phrases like 'saving the planet' or whatever?"

His brow furrowed, his face went pale, and with the air of one who is treading very, very carefully on eggshells, he said, "No, no I haven't."

And at that point I saw through him, saw through a transparent man, as if looking down from forty stories up. Because it was horrifically clear that I was witnessing a man who, for whatever reason, was engaging in a very, very careful act of ideological self-protection. Denying to himself, or denying to me, or denying to me in an attempt to deny to himself, something that for some unfathomable reason he dasn't admit to himself.

Ecology. "Save the planet." Haven't you noticed how they use the word "planet" a lot?

What odd chink in his armor had I accidentally struck, that he went all pale and felt driven to such transparent naked rationalization in the face of such an incidental point? What would he have risked, what would he have forfeited had he admitted to himself that yes, he had noticed?

He stood there, all pale and shaken, looking like a man who had just seen a ghost.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Pillows in Bed

Mind you, I've always been strictly a one-pillow man. One pillow in bed, a pillow beneath my head, and that's it.

Until several weeks ago, when my hip was acting up. Hurt at most angles to sleep on it. So, there were a few chairs around the house that had excess pillows lying on them, and one night I purloined some of these pillows and redistributed them to my bed, where lying on them relieved the pain of an acting-up hip.

My hip is feeling fine now. But I can't get rid of them. The pillows, I mean.

Those pillows have taken up permanent residence in my bed, where I will find myself of a night lying with my hip on a pillow. Or with a pillow back behind my thighs, propping my legs up. Or, when I'm lying on my side, with a pillow in between my knees.

I don't know how this situation got so out of control. Or how I so succumbed to pillow decadence. But, seeing as I'm sleeping more soundly, to the tune of another several hours a night, I suspect those pillows aren't going anywhere any time soon.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Replacement Domino

Last summer I stumbled across a very nice set of dominoes in an antique store. Black dots on ivory tiles with maroon backs. Nothing earthshaking, but they were cheap, and nicer than usual, so I picked them up.

Not until I got home did I realize that one domino was missing from the set. (The four-two, in case you're wondering.) There were two extra double-blanks included with the set, for just such an eventuality, but I couldn't figure how to turn one of them into a four-two. So for the past six months that domino set has sat in a secluded corner, gathering dust.

Yesterday I was unexpectedly housebound due to a snowstorm. So at long last I tackled the job of turning a double-blank into a replacement four-two. Tried the solution I'd long been carrying in my head: make a paper stencil with the aid of a paper punch, tape it in place over the domino, and paint the dots with black enamel.

It didn't work.

No, the enamel ran and smeared beyond the confines of the stencil. I shoulda known better, I'm just not an arts and crafts type.

Then an idea struck me. I got a roll of black electrical tape, and with that paper punch I punched black domino-dots out of the electrical tape, carefully positioning each dot on the face of the domino. Took some careful positioning -- as well as almost losing a few sticky dots inside the paper punch -- but it worked. Very nicely.

Voila! A new four-two domino, and the set of dominoes is complete.

Thursday, January 7, 2010


When I was a kid, I never would've thought of eating oatmeal. Like something from a vanished prehistoric generation! Not that we ate other cereals for breakfast, my mother was too wise to allow that (one of the things she did do right). If we'd had cereal for breakfast at all, it would've been something like Quaker Oats. But we didn't, so we didn't.

In my student days, college, grad school, the perpetual poverty of student life, I ate oatmeal for breakfast. Every day. Because it was cheap and nutritious, and mainly because it was cheap. A handful of pocket change afforded me breakfast for a month. But after I abandoned academia, I gave up on oatmeal. Couldn't stand any more to eat what I'd had to eat for all those years.

Now that I'm getting old and grey, I find that I'm eating oatmeal again for breakfast. Every day. Because it's nutritious -- I no longer worry about cheap -- and it's compatible with my various ailments and health problems. Plus, I find in my dotage that there's something about the down-to-earth prehistoric simplicity of oatmeal that has grown on me. Much to my surprise, I enjoy the taste of oatmeal. I like it. I can easily devour a bowl of oatmeal for breakfast, oatmeal laced with milled flax seed, and come up wanting more. More oatmeal.

My more youthful selves never would've believed it.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Albert Camus

It was 50 years ago today -- January 4, 1960 -- that French writer Albert Camus died in a car accident. He was only 46.

I've always thought Camus was one of the good guys.

Friday, January 1, 2010


The sky didn't change. The world didn't change. But the calendar did.

2010. 1/1/10. Or 01/01/10, in that hideous new style, as if we didn't have the resources to format numerals in a world of computers, something I was quite well able to do in FORTRAN way back in the 1970s.

Time was, I stayed up on New Year's Eve at least till midnight. I was never much of a party type on New Year's Eve, but I did always make it a point of pride to stay up till midnight. But I must be getting older. Last night I went to bed early, and slept soundly all night long.

Today is a holiday in my schedule, and I intend to enjoy it as such. Rather weird to think of 2010 after a decade of double-noughts, or double-naughts, or double-oughts, or double-aughts. Then again, it was weird to think of 2000 after a lifetime of nineteen-hundreds.