Friday, March 28, 2014

Personal Essay: Growing Up As A Catholic Feminist

When I was thirteen-years-old in the spring of 1976, I faced a sacred rite of passage as a Roman Catholic girl.  I was about to make my Confirmation.  I spent the year prior studying and preparing to become an adult in my faith, and I took this very seriously.  Maybe even a little too seriously, since I was supposed to take this on faith.  I had anxiety about my Confirmation because I took exception to quite a few of The Church's practices and its theology. The priests kept telling me and my female peers that we could grow up and become a wife and mother or a nun.  The former meant Old School, Ephesians 5:22-24:

22 Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. 24 Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.

Submit!?  You have GOT to be joking! I was born just before the second-wave of feminism hit the United States.  My parents did their best to ensure that my innocence was intact, so I didn't actually know what sex was, let alone what women's reproductive rights were.  All I had been told by religious instructors about abortion was that it involved the murder of babies.  (It seemed to me if babies actually were being murdered then people outside the Catholic Church would be just as worked up as we were.)   I was a girl who had used her allowance to buy a subscription to Ms. Magazine in sixth grade.   My dreams involved attending and graduating from college, and embarking on a fabulous career.  I wasn't even interested in boys then, so marriage seemed like a trip to Mars.  It would be possible, but it would take a long time, and I hoped to be put into a state of suspended animation while I waited to find the right husband.

I didn't think becoming a nun would be a good fit for me either.  My mother had been thrown out of the Sisters of The Presentation in 1959 after being in the convent for one year because her asthma was so bad that they didn't think that she could truly have a life of service to the Lord.  I had a few distant cousins who were nuns, but they had vocations.  I wanted to have an occupation.  My plan was to become President of the United States.    So I was in a moral quandary.  How could I make my Confirmation if I didn't actually buy what The Church was selling?

I needed spiritual guidance.  My track record with the Catholic clergy was not that good initially.  While attending parochial school in Bayside Hills, Queens, our pastor, Monsignor McDonald, came into our second grade classroom.  He asked if anyone could say the Act of Contrition.  I raised my hand and waved it so hard I thought my arm would pop out of the socket.  Monsignor called on me.  I began:

"Oh my God, I am partially sorry for having offended Thee.  And I detest....
A voice boomed, "Sit DOWN, Maura Lynch!  That is incorrect!"  It was Monsignor McDonald.  

The Act of Contrition begins, "Oh my God, I am heartily sorry for having offended Thee."

My parents laughed when I recounted my tale of woe that night at dinner.  They understood that their seven-year-old daughter had mistaken one ten-dollar adverb for another.  The humorless Monsignor McDonald instilled so much fear in me that I thought he would prevent me from making my First Communion.  By some miracle and the intercession of my guardian angel, he did not.

Then, when I was in third grade, I went through the Sacrament of Penance, or, as it is commonly known, Confession.  Kneeling in that dark, cold box behind the thick velvet curtain, I struggled to remember whether being angry with my sister for cutting my Barbie's hair off was a mortal or a venial sin.  All too soon Monsignor McDonald slid the screen open, and began.  I trembled throughout because I wasn't sure if I would be able to recite the Act of Contrition when he was done.  The Monsignor would "absolve" me of my sins.  While I believed that God would forgive me always, Monsignor McDonald's angry, white caterpillar eyebrows and furrowed brow told me he and God did not.. 

In the 1970's, the Church in the U.S. got very groovy.  I played guitar and sang at folk Mass.  We Catholics now had the Sacrament of Reconciliation.  I would go into a small, lighted room and sit in a chair directly across from Father Richard.  He would greet me, and then make the sign of the cross.  Then he invited me to have trust in God.  This shocked me because The Church was more about commands and demands than invitations. He would read a short Bible passage, and then I would confess my sins.  Then, Father Richard would counsel me.  He would guide me to make better decisions so that I could accept God's mercy.  After I said the Act of Contrition (which I finally memorized), Father Richard would place his hand over my head and say the words of absolution.  He concluded by saying, "Give thanks to the Lord for he is good."  Father Richard channeled God's love and forgiveness to me just as surely as Monsignor McDonald had funneled God's wrath.

So I went to Father Richard with my dilemma.  How was I going to take on the mantle of adulthood and make my Confirmation if I had so many problems with the roles which the Church assigned to women?  He was a young priest, but he was assured as well as assuring.  "We do not know what God has in store for us in this life.  We must put our faith in the constancy of His love for all of His children.  If you do not receive the sacrament of Confirmation, you will not receive the Holy Spirit.  You will not have the full store of God's wisdom and understanding available to you."

Now I know Father Richard wasn't playing me, but he certainly said the right words to the right young woman.  I didn't want to be cut off from any sort of wisdom and understanding.  After all, if I was going to be President of the United States, I needed total access to divine grace so that I could change the way the world treated women.  I made my Confirmation.  

Wednesday, March 26, 2014


Book Review:  FOAMERS:  THE PRIMAL AGE CHRONICLES by Justin Kassab
Kaylie Jones Books, March 25, 2014   ISBN:  978-1-61755-309-1 (trade paperback)

“Fear is an emotion indispensable for survival.”  -Hannah Arendt

People have been expecting and predicting the end of the world as long as people have been walking the earth.  We humans currently are terribly anxious due to the combination of the end of the second millennium on December 31, 1999, the advent of the Information Age, and the continuing advances of technology (especially those used for warfare and medicine).  Climate change is real, and our terrain is in a constant state of flux.  Is the end nigh?  Only time will tell. 

Novelist Justin Kassab, age twenty-six, manages to analyze, define and take control of the fear of the apocalypse in his extraordinary and impressive debut FOAMERS.  This is the first in The Primal Age Chronicles series, a blend of science fiction, dystopian, adventure, and coming-of-age literature.  Kassab has created characters in which the reader invests quite a lot emotionally.  The book is most definitely a page-turner, and Kassab is masterful in determining when to accelerate the pace and when to rein it in. The taut plot keeps you on the edge of your seat throughout the entire novel.

Set in the contemporary United States, a pandemic known as the Feline Flu has ravaged most the cities in the Northeast.  People ages fourteen to thirty seem to have a natural resistance to the flu.  A vaccine has just been released to the public, and ninety percent of the population has been inoculated.  Studying all of this very carefully from Central Pennsylvania is a young man named Kade, age twenty-four.  He has been schooled in personal disaster for most of his life.

His mother died from Huntington’s disease (HD), a neurodegenerative genetic disorder that affects muscle coordination and leads to cognitive decline and psychiatric problems*, and then death.  Kade, his twin brother Damian, and younger sister Ashton were all tested for the HD marker, but only Kade has it. Kade has been primary caretaker of his family, and did not pursue higher education after high school.  Damian left after their mother died, excelled in school, and now is a doctor doing medical research.  Their father died from the Feline Flu a year ago, and Kade has been taking care of seventeen-year-old Ashton.  Living with this Sword of Damocles took Kade’s drive from him.  What absorbs his time and intelligence is survivalism and disaster preparedness.  He shares his passion and obsession with his close-knit circle of friends:  Jem, Lucas, Mike, X, and Tiny (who is a young woman).  Kade has a plan for catastrophe, and a place in mind to where he and his friends and family can retreat. 

One morning Kade finds a handwritten note from his twin Damian in his mailbox.  Damian tells him that the Feline Flu vaccine is having disastrous effects on most of its recipients, either killing them or, for sixty percent, taking away their higher brain functions.  This latter group becomes less than human, experiencing pure rage, and turning them into murderous cannibals who foam a red liquid from their mouths.  Damian was the main medical researcher who developed the vaccine, and now he desperately is working to find a way to reverse its effects.  With this, Kade and his group put the plan into action and head north to Houghton College in New York State.  They will wait there for Damian.

The conflicts which they expect are not not the conflicts which they find.  There is conflict within the group, and Kade does not wear the mantle of leadership easily.  As their journey, both physically and metaphorically, continue, this sundry bunch of people exhibit both the best and the worst of themselves.  The biggest conflict of all is not the battle to survive, but the decision to abandon pre-pandemic “Old World” ways and embrace this new Primal Age.

While the novel addresses serious themes of life and death, survival and living, romantic love, and friendship, FOAMERS is an incredibly enjoyable, rousing read.  It has the engine of one of sports cars which Kade’s friend X is fond of stealing.  Kassab, who began as a screenwriter, is able to make the action jump off the page, and allows the reader to feel the ride.  He has an exciting career ahead of him, and this reader can scarcely wait for the second novel in The Primal Age Chronicles.

*Source:  Wikipedia

Monday, March 10, 2014

TV: True Detective - "Life's barely long enough to get good at one thing."

It's the day after the airing of the finale of True Detective, an 8-episode crime drama which had become the show which many hoped would define the zeitgeist of crime drama.  I see a lot of disappointed viewers and critics on the internet.  

Some people reproached the show because it contains "misogyny". The fictional world of True Detective is very much like "the real world," and the real world is fundamentally misogynistic.  The real world is a place where men have power over women.  Men are able to abuse, kidnap, rape and murder women and children, usually without ever being brought to justice.  The real world is a place where the rich have power over the poor, and where the truth very rarely is allowed to see the light of day. The real world is a place where true monsters exist.  This is the archetype theme of crime fiction.

Creator and show runner Nic Pizzolatto gave Detective Rust Cohle  intense philosophical jeremiads to recite.  Pizzolatto stated in interviews that these are based on the philosophies of Arthur Schopenhauer and of Friedrich Nietzsche.  Still others believed that the "mythology" of the show was not sufficiently honored .  Pizzolatto stated that these supernatural horror elements, a.k.a. the mythology of  the Yellow King, were tributes to writers Robert W. Chambers, H.P. Lovecraft, and Thomas Ligotti.  The metaphysical conjecture written by critics was fun to read, but I didn't think it would lead to the discovery of the murderer.  That was window dressing.

I am thoroughly satisfied with True Detective because this group of people got real good at one thing: creating an exceptional crime story.  The southern Louisiana setting is unique and raw, yet also chimerical. The plot--two Louisiana State Police CID homicide detectives catch a ritualistic homicide in 1995 which leads them to pursue a serial murderer who is part of a larger, powerful cult of murder--is stupendous. Nic Pizzolatto's writing is superb. The mystery is strong, and the plot turns are adept and sometimes jaw-dropping. Cary Joji Fukunaga's direction of the series translated the fetid and the beautiful, and the repulsive and the heroic components of the script to the screen.  The six-minute long take at the end of Episode 4, "Who Goes There," made the audience feel as if they too were in the gun-fight. Each acting role, no matter how small, was cast and performed impeccably. 

While both Matthew McConaughey as Rust Cohle and Woody Harrelson as Marty Hart are at the top of their game, neither portrays a particularly likeable character.  They are evenly matched in their self-destructive behavior. Much of the best dialogue consists of the harsh way they rip into one another. But you don't have to be likeable to be heroic.  Cohle and Hart are effective and masterful partners. While they may lash out at one another, they are a team who  risk it all in order to find out who the killer is.  The conflict isn't between Cohle and Hart, or between them and the Tuttles or even Errol Childress.  The conflict is between good and evil, between light and darkness, and between life and death.

"The world needs bad men.  We keep the other bad men from the door."

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Personal Essay: Preparation of the Believer

As I am named “Maura Lynch,” it won’t come as a great surprise to you that I am an Irish-American who was raised as a Roman Catholic.  While I am no longer a devout Catholic, I retain a great respect and solemn memories of the season of Lent.  I was born after the Second Vatican Council convened, so my generation was not inculcated in the harsh penance, self-denial and atonement which previous generations experienced during Lent.   Yet, growing up I wanted to be the best Catholic I could be.  So I did pray, and reflected thoroughly about the suffering and sacrifice Jesus Christ endured.  Every year Lent concludes after forty days with the joy of Easter, the celebration of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ three days after his crucifixion.  The death and resurrection of Christ is the central tenet of Christianity.  I remember how a priest taught us that we were preparing for the greatest celebration ever, and that it was especially important to be kind to others, and to perform good acts.  Even though it’s been decades since I have attended Mass regularly, I can still recite the recite the Nicene Creed. As a child I knew that the gravest part of the Creed was this passage:

For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate;
He suffered death and was buried.
On the third day He rose again
In accordance with the scriptures
He ascended into heaven
And is seated at the right hand of the Father.

Many scholars have written about the way the Roman Catholic Church appropriated previously pagan celebrations and symbols in order to make the conversion to Catholicism a smoother one.  My favorite is the co-option of spring, a time when nature revives after the fallow season of winter, and a time of fertility, as the time when Easter is celebrated.  And so, as today is Ash Wednesday, I am going to take the next forty days to develop a spiritual and creative reawakening for myself.  I have been using social media to promote other writers’ work and books.  This activity has brought me a good deal of enjoyment and gained me some exposure.  But hours preparing #FF posts, catalogued by genre, are hours I have not spent writing.  As a very wise and trusted mentor once said,

“How you spend your time is your spend your life.”

This time I spend writing may incur sacrifice in that some Twitter accounts may stop following me.  That's a small price to pay, for if I do not believe in myself first, how can I believe in others and support them with a full heart?  During my season of Lent there will be no self-denial, no penance, no atonement for focusing on what fulfills me.  I devote this time to a construction and celebration of a personal resurrection.