Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Friday, November 24, 2017

Be More Thankful, not Less

I wrote this yesterday, but it wasn't finished until today.  So as part of Thanksgiving weekend, you get to partake in the meal the day after the meal and the words I would wish to all who bother to read my blog a day late as well.   Happy Thanksgiving to each of you, even if you do not celebrate it. Thanks for being here, for being part of my life in whatever manner, and for all the blessings of life.  Thank you.  

Some people found it hard to celebrate this national holiday this year, the same way people struggle with prayer when things are hard, or refuse to push through an exercise or writng block. However, it is when we through an act of the will, engage in these activities, that we reveal whether we do something for the feeling or for the love of the thing itself.   So be more thankful, not less. 

Every year, we’re reminded to cultivate gratitude for our lives in this country where we hold greater rights than most people have throughout history. It doesn’t mean we’re perfect. It doesn’t mean we’re more virtuous, to a person or as a nation, only that we have been and continue to be blessed to live here.

We are.  We are. We are. We are.  That’s what we give thanks for, for being part of this great experiment, with all of its wrong turns and errors. We give thanks just the same for the privilege we hold, to be free, to vote, to have a system designed in theory though often not enforced or revealed through our actions, to promote each of us to fulfil our lives without fear of repression by the government. 

Thanksgiving is a time to remember this fact. Today, we give thanks for all that we have because we know, it wasn’t always thus, and isn’t now for so many.  We owe those who don’t have what we have today and every day, at least the obligation of gratitude for the blessings we hold and take for granted. 

Today, we have family because today we remember we are a family; with crazy uncles and cousins we don’t always see eye to eye with, with people we should know better, and people we sometimes feel we know too well. Today, we remember what holds us together, even as we work to remove, amend or heal what sets us at odds.  The giving of thanks in our hearts marked by a feast doesn’t mean we don’t have plenty of problems; problems which require solving, problems which seem intractable, problems which seem like they shouldn’t exist anymore, and yet do.  The thanksgiving is to remind us of where we’ve been and where we’re trying to go.   

Happy Thanksgiving. 

Piece on the Luminous Mystery

Hello everyone, hope you had a great Thanksgiving with your family.  I have a piece in the Register dealing with the Transfiguration. I hope you enjoy it.  This journey with my son's confirmation in mind keeps teaching me. 

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Breakfast Order

This morning, my twelve-year-old came to the table irritated.  We didn’t have full servings of anything. She could have half a bagel or one blueberry waffle, but she didn’t want either, she wanted two blueberry waffles.  I offered her both.  She sat feeling frustrated her brother beat her to breakfast. 
I knew this was merely “morning-I’m-too-young-to-have-coffee-and-I-still-need-to-eat-breakfast-itis,” but I’d have to break through her stubbornness first.  The best approach is deliberate wierdness, to take her off her mood.  

“How about one of each? It’s a very Catholic breakfast.” I said.
“What do you mean?”
“Well, you get a half a bagel and one waffle, so it’s a full breakfast, but it’s not either or. It’s both and.”  She gave a brief smile, but she wasn’t ready to concede yet. 

“I don’t want them.” She said. “I really want two waffles. This is only half a serving.”
“If you eat half a bagel and one waffle, it’s the same as a whole serving of breakfast, it’s just two component parts.”
“I don’t want part of a waffle breakfast.”
“You will get a whole waffle.”  I put it in the toaster.
“Don’t toast it too much, you’ll ruin it.”
“Then, it would be an awful waffle.”
“Yes.  Do I get butter and syrup?”
“Of course, how else would you eat a waffle? Happy with your breakfast?"

"Glad I could help.  Unfortunately, all waffleness will disappear once you eat it.  Though it might not be digested yet, it will no longer be a waffle.”
She looked at me, “Can I have half the bagel too?”  

I debated cutting the half a bagel in half, but opted to just serve her the rest of breakfast.

Monday, November 20, 2017


So, this week I made pumpkin chocolate chip muffins for my sophomore in college.  It became a family project. 

 I'd packed them in a tin and my twelve year old wrote her a note. 

Dear Marta,

Hope you like these muffins we made. There are twelve.

Love Rita.

Her brother came by and decided to make his own note. 

I ate one. --Peter
Her father wrote a note.  "I didn't.  True love. --Dad"

Her sister Faith came by and added an additional note.  "I counted.  There are still eleven.  Love you, Faith." 

and before I could pack them off, one last brother gave his two cents.

"Faith counted wrong. There are ten." --Love Will.  

I counted before  I shipped them off. There were eleven.  When did I become the straight man in my family?

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Today's postings...

So it's Thursday, and I have a piece each week at  I hope you like it. 

I also have work over at the Register. Yes, I'm taking on the folks who make policy decisions over in Southbend, Indiana, with respect to discussing Catholic identity. 

Friday, November 10, 2017

Today's piece over at the Register

Hello everyone.  I'd love to tell you things are slowing down but they seem to be speeding up.  This week included filling out the FAFSA, two teacher parent conferences, a meeting at the school, teaching CCD, preparing a son for state championships (running), and laundry.  I also dealt with cleaning out one closet, (finding the infamous 42 shoes without mates), and learning that Anna-Maria knows describing words.  She told me all she knew for ten minutes straight while I drove to pick up in afternoon traffic.  I love her so, but my heart sank when she announced she also knew numbers had no end, and did I want to know how she could prove it.   Parenting is often an endurance test, but more than that, it's a constant lesson on how to love more, even when we don't think we have anything to give, which brings me to my latest at the Register, dealing the Presentation at the Temple.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Origin of a Specious Argument Testing my Certifiability

Three hours and forty-seven minutes later, I have an answer.
Not one to act impulsively, I didn't come to this decision over night. Originally, I wanted a teaching certificate. My original teaching license expired in the year 2000. However, I thought having a bachelor's degree in English, a master's in Special Education and an additional 33 hours of doctoral work might make it possible to get certified again at a later date.
I won't mention the state I live in, except to say it was until recently, the state of the unbearably naive. Presuming past credentials held any merit, and past experience counted for squat, I presented my materials and received notice, I'd be tested. A year and a half, four tests and 300 plus dollars later, I still require additional proof I'm not the human equivalent of a pet rock.
I called the state. The conversation when something like this:
"We can't certify you."
"I'm already certified in Texas in Special Education."
"Yes. And you did your student teaching in Special Education."
"So I'd have to do student teaching in English to be certified in English?"
"That's one way."
"But I have a degree, a double major in English literature and writing, so shouldn't my certification in teaching apply?"
"If you were certified in Texas in English." I hung up to call my home state.
I called back.
"Hello, it's me again. If I take the test in English in the Lone Star state, they'll certify me to teach English there."
"That might work but it would take longer. You'd have to be certified there before you could be certified here."
"So my options are take the English for Texas, wait for their certification which would then make me eligible for certification here, but my Special Education certification there doesn't make me eligible for the Special Education certification here because I haven't taken the test here?"
"But the website says there is state reciprocity for teaching licenses."
"There is...after you take the test."
I squelched the idea of asking the person, "Do you even want people to teach English anymore or is this some sort of put on?"
Going to the standard test website which could smell my money before I typed in the three initials of the site, I spent twenty minutes convincing it I was who I said I was, before it let me get to the final "Shut up and take my money" button. I pushed. The site told me, "I'm sorry, there seems to be some technical problem." I called and the woman told me to use a different browser and she'd walk me through it, but after the first two hours of hassle, my people skills having eroded to something below civil. I concluded the universe in all its wisdom didn't want me in the classroom. It wanted something different.
I vowed to become a one woman vigilante against bureaucracy, Yes. I'm going to turn to a life of crime. It's simpler. There's no paperwork. I don't mind late nights if I can sleep late and I won't have to deal with becoming certified if I'm certifiable, and thus was born a new rogue superhero; Cert Denied.

*Editor's note:  Signed up for the test...taking it in January.  

Saturday, November 4, 2017

World Series Poem

Last year, I wrote a poem about the Cubs in Game Seven as it played out, line by line.  It helped that while I rooted for the Cubs, I didn't have a stake in the outcome, only the poetry.  This year, I gave my heart to the Astros, the first team I ever saw play.   They had an epic series, but my son also needed to have us shepherd him through applying for college, so I couldn't devote my attentions to either my muse or the game. 

That being said...

The Astros of Houston,
in 2017,
when the bats show up
there's no one better
they're the best that's been.

I don't have fancy words
and they didn't have fancy plays
but the Astros, they're World Champions
and that buzz will last for days.

The bases were loaded for the Dodgers
more times than I can count
but when it mattered, when we needed it
the Astros got the batters out.

Five runs seemed like too few
after epic games of 13-12.
But LA went quietly into the night
and so we now begin our revels. 

Congratulations Houston!
Texas proud and Texas strong!
Congratulations to all who willed it
and believed in you all along.

Enjoy this moment.
Walk a bit taller,
and let the pennant fly.
We're the champions, we're the champions, we're the champions!
that nobody can deny. 

Congrats Astros, World Series Champions of 2017!

What is the More?

Last week we introduced students to a memoir in which the main character (before the age of nine), started a house fire, experienced being beaten half to death, abandonment at an orphanage, starvation,  life threatening hatred based on his race, and became addicted to alcohol.  My high school charges dubbed the first two chapters of this story, “Boring.”  At which point, I wondered “What in heaven’s name would be considered interesting?”  

In my brain, the narrative formed, “The teenager stared at her phone. She received fifteen text messages and a funny gif. No one harassed her about staring at the small hand-held device in her hand. She drifted through school, not noticing the passage of time.”  Call me optimistic, but I don’t think anyone fifty years from now would find a memoir filled with “Lol’s” and emoticons as riveting or as soul scalding as the sufferings and deprivations of Richard Wright’s childhood.  Such a book would read like the Odyssey written by one of the Lotus eaters.  Something happened, then, something else did.

The question struck a nerve and wouldn’t let go.  What would catch their attention?  What would hold it? 

I listened to students in the writing lab talk.  They planned to see “Thor, Ragnarok” this weekend.  Wondering if they knew the Norse mythology behind the film, I checked the times for movie myself and asked. They didn’t.  Thor, Loki, Ragnarock were merely constructs of the Marvel Universe, like Iron Man, Captain America and the Hulk.   They knew the origins from the movies, but not the reasoning behind these creations.  They didn’t view Captain America as a patriotic icon or the Hulk as an example of the destructive power of unchecked anger.

As the fantasy worlds become more real, we, the actual actors exploring these fake places via our culure, are becoming less interesting. Our world’s myths become stories without purpose or intent other than to amuse, rather like contests set up by the “Grand Champion” in the movie.  Escape in heroic movies works for a time, like staring at the phone.   Each subsequent addition to the Superhero epic genre, charms less and bores more, because it becomes only a story about a person having powers. Even the victors in the arena, (if they have any reflective capacity whatsoever) grow weary of the constant fight which must by necessity become more epic, more vital, more collossal in scale and consequently, less interesting.  Rather like facebook friendships based solely on mutual agreement in all things, interaction leaves the participant overstimulated and oddly bored, starving for something deeper without knowing what or why. Good stories never tell only the story you read.  Good stories always leave a deeper mark, like real friendships, real jobs and real romances. 

How do we get the students to the more? To the meaning?  To the marrow? What would it take to break open these words and make the world more visible? How do we break the spell of the false siren of the internet (and I realize the irony of blogging this question), and replace it with the sound of genuine souls singing?  I don't know the answer, but I do know, for every teacher, for every parent, and for every director of every film yet to come into our collective culture, that's the real question we should be asking.  How do we make a story which reveals the universal in the minute, and which carries weight and a story arc that moves people out of wanting merely to be entertained and diverted for a few minutes? 

What is the more that we're either not putting in the words, or which they are not hearing? 

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