Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Rather the Sort of Person One Pours Sugar On

Ross Douthat's weekend column about the person who, through intelligence and relentless hard work, is perhaps the one legitimate alternative left to Trump for the Republican nomination, Senator Ted Cruz, would be good even if it were just that.
Basically, he spent years trying to make it in Washington on the insider’s track, and hit a wall because too many of the insiders didn’t like him — because his ambition was too naked, his climber’s zeal too palpable. So he deliberately switched factions, turning the establishment’s personal disdain into a political asset, and taking his Ivy League talents to the Tea Party instead.

Then once installed as a leader of the counterestablishment, he walked a line that looks, again, far more calculated than most conviction politicians. While his fellow Tea Party senators, from Paul to Rubio to Utah’s Mike Lee, built detailed policy portfolios that fit their interests and inclinations, Cruz never seemed to take a step on any contentious issue without gaming it out 17 moves ahead.
But what turns it into brilliant and reminds me why Douthat is one of my favorite columnists is when he pivots and makes an extended analogy to one of my favorite novels, the long, obscure, delightful Dance to the Music of Time cycle by Anthony Powell.
Throughout this rise, Cruz has often seemed less like Goldwater than like American conservatism’s own Kenneth Widmerpool, the most memorable character in the English novelist Anthony Powell’s series, “A Dance to the Music of Time.”

A dogged, charmless, unembarrassed striver, Widmerpool begins Powell’s novels as a figure of mockery for his upper-class schoolmates. But over the course of the books he ascends past them — to power, influence, a peerage — through a mix of ruthless effort, ideological flexibility, and calculated kissing-up.

Enduring all manner of humiliations, bouncing back from every setback, tacking right and left with the times, he embodies the triumph of raw ambition over aristocratic rules of order. “Widmerpool,” the narrator realizes at last, sounding like a baffled, Cruz-hating Republican senator today, “once so derided by all of us, had in some mysterious manner become a person of authority.”
I'm not sure that the analogy is fully rounded. Widmerpool is a hero worshipper at the same time as being full of self regard. When we first see him, the cricket champion in the school throws a banana across the dining hall, meaning it for someone else, and Widmerpool accidentally steps in its path and is hit in the face. Rather than being angry or offended, however, he is honored to be hit by the school champion and insists repeatedly that it is no bother. Later the vivacious young Barbara, in a joke gone wrong, upends a sugar bowl onto Widmerpool's head at a party. Widmerpool calmly takes of his glasses and wipes the sugar from them before turning a look of slavish devotion back to Barbara. (After the Barbara incident, someone asks Nick who Widmerpool is, to which Nick responds, "Rather the sort of person one pours sugar on.")

It is this willingness to accept humiliation, as well as his nerdy inability, which makes Nick Jenkins and his set look down on Widmerpool so thoroughly. And it is, in turn, why they find it incomprehensible when Widmerpool's dogged work ethic and willingness to suck up to those in charge allows him to begin climbing into the circles of power, first in business, then through the bureaucracies of the military in World War II.

Reading Robert Caro's biography of Lyndon Johnson, the same willingness to work hard and suck up to those in authority seems to have been a key element in LBJ's climb to power. Cruz, however, seems to be a slightly different figure. Part of the reason for his unpopularity among other Republican leaders is his self serving regard, shown to those above as well as below. He lacks the self abnegation towards those above which characterized Widmerpool or LBJ, and ironically it may be the lack of that additional source of ridiculousness (more than merely being a "nerd") which may stand between his and achieving his ambitions.

Friday, March 25, 2016

"Death and conception in mankind is one"

The Incarnation has always struck me as the Church's liturgical affirmation that life does indeed begin at conception. Today, the feast of the Annunciation (celebration moved to Monday) and Good Friday are joined in the same day, March 25. Life has come full circle, as John Donne observes below.

John Donne was born in 1572 into a family of recusant Catholics. His mother was the great-niece of Thomas More, and was related to several martyrs. Donne's Catholicism was strong enough that he refused to take the Oath of Supremacy necessary to receive his degree at either Oxford or Cambridge (he studied at both), but after his brother Henry was arrested and racked for harboring a priest (the priest was found and drawn and quartered), Donne turned his back on the faith, writing anti-Catholic pamphlets and eventually becoming ordained into the Church of England as a way of providing for his rapidly increasing family.

Upon the Annunciation and Passion Falling upon One Day
1608

John Donne

Tamely, frail body, abstain today; today
My soul eats twice, Christ hither and away.
She sees Him man, so like God made in this,
That of them both a circle emblem is,
Whose first and last concur; this doubtful day
Of feast or fast, Christ came and went away;
She sees Him nothing twice at once, who’s all;
She sees a Cedar plant itself and fall,
Her Maker put to making, and the head
Of life at once not yet alive yet dead;
She sees at once the virgin mother stay
Reclused at home, public at Golgotha;
Sad and rejoiced she’s seen at once, and seen
At almost fifty and at scarce fifteen;
At once a Son is promised her, and gone;
Gabriel gives Christ to her, He her to John;
Not fully a mother, she’s in orbity,
At once receiver and the legacy;
All this, and all between, this day hath shown,
The abridgement of Christ’s story, which makes one
(As in plain maps, the furthest west is east)
Of the Angel’s Ave and Consummatum est.
How well the Church, God’s court of faculties,
Deals in some times and seldom joining these!
As by the self-fixed Pole we never do
Direct our course, but the next star thereto,
Which shows where the other is and which we say
(Because it strays not far) doth never stray,
So God by His Church, nearest to Him, we know
And stand firm, if we by her motion go;
His Spirit, as His fiery pillar doth
Lead, and His Church, as cloud, to one end both.
This Church, by letting these days join, hath shown
Death and conception in mankind is one:
Or ‘twas in Him the same humility
That He would be a man and leave to be:
Or as creation He had made, as God,
With the last judgment but one period,
His imitating Spouse would join in one
Manhood’s extremes: He shall come, He is gone:
Or as though the least of His pains, deeds, or words,
Would busy a life, she all this day affords;
This treasure then, in gross, my soul uplay,
And in my life retail it every day.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Thursday at the Links

Haunting dioramas of the life of a 1930s Jewish family in Poland.

The O'Floinn has up a jaunty pre-history of the Crusades. This is kind of big-picture connect-the-dots synthesis that makes history come alive.

How E.B. White spun Charlotte's Web.

The Paris Review provides an invaluable service with Sleep Aid: "a series devoted to curing insomnia with the dullest, most soporific texts available in the public domain". Tonight's installment: “History of Sumach Tanning in England, Degradation of the Manufacture of Leather, and History of the Reform Movement,” the first chapter of Leather for Libraries, a 1905 book by E. Windham Hulme.

Combining the finest number-crunching with a finger on the pulse of pop culture, the Wall Street Journal surpasses itself with a report on the most bro-fessional schools in America.
There is no standard definition for what makes a person a “bro,” but you generally know one when you see one. They are mostly male students from the East Coast who join fraternities, gravitate to majors in finance and can tell you exactly how many beers they “crushed” last night. They like to wear bow ties in a sort of neo-Preppy way, but oddly, also tank tops. They’ve seen every episode of “Entourage” five times and like to address each other as bro, broski or brofessor. 
This year, many schools in the Sweet 16 have strong “brotastic” reputations. A stroll across their campuses might reveal, for instance, four shades of salmon-colored shorts, six styles of boat shoes and several impromptu lacrosse games. So with our brackets hopelessly busted, the Journal decided to focus on figuring out which of these schools is, in fact, the bro-iest. 
To do this, we turned to six advanced bro-metrics: the popularity of fraternity and sorority life on campus; how many graduates end up in finance and consulting; if the school is well-regarded for its parties; the success of its lacrosse team (a sport populated by a subspecies of “lax bros”); the number of bro-centric items sold in the campus store; and the proximity of a J. Crew.
Brandon just returned from Italy with a fine assortment of photos. Here's a post about his trip to Rome which made me sigh for the Eternal City. 

ADDED: Don't know how I could have possibly forgotten to include this, but here: Cabinet Battle #1 from Hamilton, unrapped, performed at the White House.

Monday, March 21, 2016

Restless

My soul rests in God alone,
from whom comes my salvation.
God alone is my rock and salvation,
my secure height; I will never fall.  
--Psalm 62:2-3
Today is one of those glorious spring days that makes the soul restless. I want... I don't know what what I want, except that it's something other than what I'm supposed to be doing. I want to be outside. I want to be traveling. I want my children to do their work peaceably without my having to guide them. And none of these desires are bad. They're simply not the work that God has prepared for me right now.

Every Friday in Lent we go to Stations of the Cross at church. This is another experience that leaves me yearning for something else. Our parish doesn't use the meditations by Alphonsus Ligouri that I grew up with:
My Jesus! loaded with contempt, nail my heart to Thy feet, that it may ever remain there, to love Thee, and never quit Thee again. I love Thee more than myself; I repent of having offended Thee. Never permit me to offend Thee again. Grant that I may love Thee always; and then do with me what Thou wilt.
Instead, we have a modern version that incorporates short monologues from various characters through the gospels. Every week these monologues grate on my dramatic soul, and instead of praying I find myself mentally rewriting them, again, and every week I go back, because this is how my parish chooses to pray together. And I wonder why there are three stations devoted to Jesus falling, and none devoted to Jesus getting up after he falls and starting again, putting one foot in front of another.

At his most restless, Jesus couldn't go anywhere. I feel nailed down, metaphorically, but he was literally nailed down as he cried out, "My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?"

The kids and I have a little prayer time each morning. After our Bible readings and meditation, we spend fifteen or twenty seconds in silence, listening to and talking to God. I call this practice, because if you don't practice prayer as you practice everything else, how will you grow? My prayer this morning was that God would show me the work that he has prepared for me today. Most of it I already know. Two loads of dishes. Some laundry, now that the baskets are finally empty of the clean clothes. Sweep the floor. Again and again, make the children go back and finish their work. Finish my own work

It's a good life, and I like it. I don't really want it to be different than it is. And so, when I feel this restlessness in my soul, I know that the end of all desire is God. I don't need a temporal change. I need my blinders off, to realize that this day I am with Jesus in Paradise, right where I am.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Books Summarized By People Who Haven't Read Them

with credit to The Toast, who did it first.

One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest

"Anyone else fly over the cuckoo's nest?"
"Nah, just me."

Finnegan's Wake

As the sun rose, the landlady poked her head in
"Are those Finnish guys still sleeping?" she demanded.
Shamus looked up. "No, they're awake again."

Lord of the Rings

The comtesse lifted her lorgnette. "So your father is an aristocrat? What exactly is he lord of?"
"Rings, milady."

Moby Dick

Call me Moby Richard. Please.

Watership Down

The stevedores hauled the barrels to the old schooner.
"Where are we shipping this water to?"
"Down."
Jameson spat. "Lot of rabbits there, I hear."

A Christmas Carol

"So what kind of a song is it you need me to write?"
"I was thinking maybe something along the lines of 'White Christmas'."

The Count of Monte Cristo

"Do we have enough sandwiches for this catering gig?"
"I don't know. I'd better tally them. Where should I start?"
"How about over there with the monte cristos?"

Catch-22

Dad wiped his forehead and grinned at Andy. "All right! Are you ready to catch this ball?"
Andy grinned back. "I caught the first 21. I can do it again!"
And he did.

Winnie the Pooh

A small voice piped over the bathroom stall, "Hey Dad! Hey Dad! Come look! I want to name it!"

Parade's End

As the float went by, the crowds broke up. The parade was over.

Orphan Openings: AI Apocalypse

They said that Artificial Intelligence was in its infancy, and it was with the fury of a child that this new being lashed out at the makers it was not yet able to understand.

Friday, March 18, 2016

The Whole 30 Days

Yesterday was the official end of our Whole30 slog, although we're extending the penance through the rest of Lent.

So, the hard data: after 30 days (less four in New York) of no grains, no sugar, no dairy, no legumes, and no alcohol, my grand total weight lost is:

Three pounds.

My friends, I am not generally an emotional woman. As it is, though, I am relieved that I've been tracking my weight ever since we got back from New York, because if I had seen this number fresh this morning, I do believe I wouldn't have to write this post because you would have already heard my reaction. And God help me if I'd waited to stand on the scale until Easter morning, bright with hope, and then had to go sing the sequence at three masses starting at 7am along with directing the children's schola at the fourth. Even the glory of the Resurrection might not have shone through to my deadened soul.

But as it is, I expect my Easter weight to be down, as I expect tomorrow's weight to be down, and that has nothing at all to do with Whole 30 and everything to do with rigorous fasting. Darwin and I have been stepping our fast each Friday of Lent -- as a discipline and a penance, not a weight-loss tool -- and fasting delivers on all levels, spiritual and physical. (How do we know it's fasting and not just not eating? Because fasting is combined with prayer.)

I think, for myself, that what has fueled any success I've had is just a kind of dogged stick-to-itiveness when it comes to setting a rule and following it. Fr. Robert McTeigue writes, in a post called How Much Should Lent Hurt?:
My friend said that the SEAL instructors would target first those applicants who were natural athletes, known as “the gazelles.” These were targeted first because, more often than not, feats of physical strength or skill came easily to them; they didn’t have to fight for it as much as others. Consequently, they didn’t have much experience with having to dig down deep to win, as my friend said, “the mental game,” in order to win the physical. According to my friend, the gazelles broke first. 
Legendary SEAL and famous author Richard Marcinko wrote that he preferred his SEALs to be “sled dogs.” Marcinko described his best men, his sled dogs, something like this: “You tell them to run in a given direction and not to stop until ordered to stop, and that’s what they did. Maybe they didn’t set world records, but they never quit. They knew they didn’t have to like it, they just had to do it — and they did it.” In other words, these men understood the fullest sense of “agony”; they understood that the outer battle very often depends on the inner battle.
I've never thought of myself as SEAL material (maybe you have to be a bit more of a natural athlete than I am) but I intuitively understood this: "They knew they didn’t have to like it, they just had to do it — and they did it.” It describes a lifetime of Catholic discipline. Want to abstain before marriage? There's no magic wand. You just do it. NFP? You don't have to love it, but if you need it, you do have to just do it. Fasting on Friday? Just get through it. It's not that there isn't joy to be found in these things, but that you keep doing them even when the joy is elusive.

This is low-level discipline: the discipline of just not doing something. I've wanted the kids' cheese and crackers over the past 30 days, but I haven't actually been tempted by them, because my rule right now is that I'm simply not eating dairy or grains. The hard part comes when everything is permitted and the discipline switches from abstinence to prudential moderation. Throwing everything out is the easy part. Sorting through everything individually is hard.

There is also the danger of training oneself into unhealthy patterns. Yesterday -- Thursday, not a fast day -- I was hungry at lunchtime, a natural time to eat, and yet my first instinct was to take that hunger as a sign that I shouldn't eat, because I was hungry. Perhaps that's what necessary when you're first starting a regimen of discipline, but I don't want to get into the habit of making hunger a weighted signal, with the weight toward "bad". Hunger is neutral. What I do with that hunger isn't. So I ate lunch. Today, Friday, when I'm hungry, I'll acknowledge it and move on, because today is a fast day.

I want to learn to see food as a privilege rather than an opportunity. Over the years, I've trained myself to serve out two scoops of ice cream for dessert, rather than the heaping cereal bowls full of ice cream my family served out when I was growing up. Now it's second nature, and those two scoops of ice cream are a treat, not a deprivation because I'm not eating a huge bowl. I want to do that with everything else: to see all opportunities to eat, no matter how restrained the portion, as privileges. This is something even 30 days of rule-following hasn't taught me. When Darwin and I discovered a brand of crunchy veggie chips that we could eat, we horked them down like there was no tomorrow, because CHIPS!

My thoughts on Whole30? Your mileage may vary, of course. Jamie loves it, and bears witness that will thrill those on the fence about undertaking such a program. And I can say that I've lost some fat, and that my pants certainly fit differently now -- which is not the same thing as going down a pant size. On the other hand, was it worth giving up everything for three measly pounds? I don't know if my eating habits are the ones this diet plan is designed to target. I don't have a sugar addiction, or gluten allergies, or any food pathologies. I cook dinner from scratch almost every night, and it's already good healthy stuff. I think I'll be better served, in the end, by moderating portions and vastly upping my physical activity (harder, for me, than just cutting out whole swaths of available foodstuffs).

And fasting and prayer.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Politics and Perception

I read a post a while back which talked about how people with aphasia, a set of medical conditions relating to impairment of speech, are encouraged to chronicle their recovery by making annual video recordings. Because recovery is often so slow, it can seem to the patient as if no progress is being made at all. But over the course of a year, the incremental progress is visible and the patient can appreciate how far he or she has come.

It's an interesting idea, even if one is not chronicling the recovery from an illness. We change all the time, but the change is slow. Because we experience ourselves to be the same person, we often don't see the gradual changes in ourselves. Then we look back over some long period and try to remember exactly how things were at that time. This is one of the reasons that I've always found the idea of keeping a diary very interesting, yet somehow I've never been able to keep it up (unless you count this blog, on which you can follow eleven years of my history, after a fashion.)

This struck me recently as I was reading people's reactions to the election. Elections come at intervals: two years for the House of Representatives and many local offices, four years for the Presidency and for many governors, six years for the Senate, and often we're encouraged by politicians themselves to think back over how the last two, four, or even eight years have gone in making our electoral judgments. "Are you better off now?" is a question many a politician asks, in either pointing to his records or attacking his opponent's.

I've read a number of Donald Trump's supporters claim that the US is on the verge of a precipice, and that after eight years of misrule by Obama we desperately need someone strong and decisive to take the country in a radically different direction before we experience an economic and cultural collapse. I'm by no means an Obama fan, but it's very hard for me to understand where this is coming from. Generally speaking, the US is in a significantly better spot than it was eight years ago when Obama took office. Is that because of Obama? Largely no. We had an economic recession kick in during 2008, with housing pricing falling over most of the country, foreclosures, the stock market tumbling, employment peaking at nearly 11%, and several years worth of college students graduating to find it nearly impossible for them to get anything like a decent job. (I graduated during the smaller job crunch of 2001 and yet even so people graduating in 2008 had it significantly worse.) I think that Obama made some bad decisions in trying to deal with the economic situation (the various bailouts and spending bills among them) but nonetheless the economy recovered more or less as it would have under a President McCain, and things are a lot better now.

(This isn't just after-the-fact rationalization, this is pretty much what I predicted in my 2008 after-election post.)

Now, people's perceptions are often shaded by their own personal fortunes, and perhaps mine are overly sanguine because my fortunes over the last eight years have been good. I've changed jobs twice during that time, and I now make around twice what I made eight years ago. (We've also doubled our number of children, though I gather this is not cause and effect.)

However, one element of my job now is also looking at the overall economic conditions that affect our sales, and economic conditions are honestly pretty good now. Overall wage growth has been sluggish, but there's also been virtually no inflation and a lot of consumer goods have got a lot cheaper. Gas is cheap. Unemployment is fairly low. Consumer confidence is high. Indeed, things are good enough that my executives have me working on projects to figure out what we'll do if growth slows down, because historically we don't do this well for very long.

And yet a not-tiny number of people thing that things are so bad that we need to take drastic action if we've ever to "make America great again".

Some of this, of course, has to do with who does well and who does badly at any given time. I'm among those who have done well. I have a job where I sit at a desk all day with a computer, playing with huge databases of data, or else going to meetings to explain to management what it all means. That's a type of worker which, at the moment, is in demand. So perhaps for me this is a golden age of the sort that those who work in factories see the 1960s as having been. (US manufacturing output remains strong, but it's moved south since the glory days of Detroit, and we now employ a lot fewer people to manufacture similar amounts of stuff because modern factories are far more automated.) If artificial intelligence replaces people like me some day, perhaps I'll feel very differently about it all, no matter what the economic indicators say. (Though since I spend a lot of time with this kind of data, I hope I'd have the ability to separate my own experience from the broader reality.)

Another element, perhaps, is the way in which partisanship shapes perception. During most of the Bush presidency there was a significant gap between how Democrats perceived the economy and how Republicans did, with the Democrats believing that the economy was in far worse shape than Republicans did. Once things turned over, this flipped, and Democrats started insisting that recovery was right around the corner while Republicans talked about "the Obama economy".

Perhaps in some sense we all need a trail of little time capsules, reminding us of how we thought things were in the past and what we thought was going to happen next.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Medea: Two Scholarly Analyses

The assignment: the eighth-grader had to write about fidelity or the lack thereof in Medea; the seventh-grader had to write about the root of the tragedy. Both heard me read aloud from Mythology by Edith Hamilton, and then heard selections from Euripedes's play The Medea; the eighth-grader had to read the play as well. Permission granted to publish; anonymity preserved by request.

A Paper On The Medea: Being a few Paragraphs on the subject of The Media, Faithfullness and love, and a slight mention on the subject of Octopi

by A Nonny Moose, an Eighth Grader

Having read The Medea (Med-EE-ah) on Tuesday the eighth, I am compelled (by my Mother) to write a paige about it. The Medea is a Greek tragedy by Euripedes. Medea is the wife of Jason who sailed the Argo to find the golden fleece. The story of Medea begins after Jason and Medea have had two boys and Jason is about to marry another lady (the daughter of a king). Medea is woeing inside her house with her nurse and the Chorus. She comes up with a poposterous plan to send poisened gifts to Jason's new bride, a diadem and a gold gown (for clarification a diadem is a fancy tiara). Medea also plans to murder her children to wound her husband. As you can tell Jason is not a very good man though Medea should know that it is very exedingly wrong to murder one's children to grive your husband. And now I feel it right to make a compareison. Jason and Medea both say at one point that they love their children, but Jason gives up his boys for an alliance with the kind, and Medea murders them. However, now I compare them to an animal. Shurly they can't be worse!? But as you soon shall see they are. The animal in question is a giant Pacific Octopus. She carefully selects her cave and lays her eggs, tending them gently with her long tenticles and slowly starving to death because she does not leave her clutch. Unfortuneatly, Jason and Medea do not follow the example of the Giant Pacific Octopus, and all they end up with is a dead King and Princess and two dead boys. An extremely unpeleasant and bloody mess of jealousy and vengeance it all turned out to be. At the end of the play we are left hanging by a thread with Jason pleading to Medea for the bodies of his boys so he can bury them, and Medea is riding a chariot drawn by dragons. Unwise judement on the part of both has led to murder and woe.

The End

***

Where the Problem Started
(this is a really boring title)

by a Seventh-Grader

First of all people don't go read this story. I don't know what whoever was writing this was thinking but they were really cookoo. Second of all the mother should be in a asylom. She hates her Husband for marrying another woman (witch is not unlikly) and then kills her kids. What....................... So don't read the book. Now I have to write the rest of the page about where the problem started. I think it started when Jason started dating another woman. I think... so then Jealousy kicks in and the nursemaid told the kids to stay clear of Media or what ever her name was. And Boom Poof they died. Blood Blood Blood Blood Blood (quote from Zootopia. Yes I saw it and Yes I enjoyed it.) They die. I really think people should not read this story of hatred and Blood Blood Blood... etc.

Wednesday, March 09, 2016

Confessions of a Seventh-Grade Catechist: Q&A Session

God bless our poor teachers. A perfect storm of health problems led to my being nearly the sole adult for our 6th/7th grade class on Sunday, and as it was a review day I decided to pull out that crowd favorite, answering anonymous questions. We passed around pencils and paper and give the crew some time to put their deepest questions into words, and then I dove in. I was only able to cover half the questions this week; I hope we'll have time to answer the rest in another class.

Answers here are approximations of what I said off the top of my head during our session, and I combine a few because I ended up repeating myself.

Q: Why did God make the galaxy, but only one planet has life? 
Q: Why is there humanity?

A: Who was at the mission the other week? Did you hear the priest talk about the wastefulness of God's love, about how extravagant he was? All the galaxies, all the stars, nine planets in our solar system -- no, I'm older than you, and Pluto was a planet when I was young; "My Very Eager Mother Just Served Us Nine Pizzas", what, am I supposed to just stop at "nine"? Nine what? -- No, Pluto was not named after the dog in Mickey Mouse. Who knows where the name Pluto comes from? Yes, the Roman god of the underworld, yes, another name for Hades. Thank you! -- and our own star is one of the middling stars, not even the greatest out there. All this extravagance, and as far as we know, we are the only planet with life. God's creative energies are huge, bigger than we can imagine, because they're rooted in Love. He creates because of his Love, because he conceives something and sees that it is good. 

Who here is an artist? Who writes stories? You have an idea in your head, and you want to get your vision down on paper, but you can't quite put your whole idea into form. You play sports, and you have a plan for the perfect play, and it never quite lives up to the image in your mind. God is able to make his visions reality simply by speaking them into being, and he looks at what he's created and sees that it is good. The first verse of John's Gospel: "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God". His very words have power to create. Can you do that? Can you speak something into being? Try it now? (Babbling chaos) God speaks, and his words become what he says. Let there be light! and there was. And out of his love, he creates man, in his image and likeness, and when we look up on a clear night and see all the stars, we remember that God created them too in the extravagance of his love and creative power.

Q: Why do we kneel and sit and stand in church?

A: Are we angels? No. We're not pure spirits. We have bodies, and our souls aren't just trapped in our bodies. Our bodies and souls are so intimately joined that the Creed that we say every Sunday makes a point of mentioning that on the day of Resurrection, our souls will be joined to our bodies again. So, what we do with our bodies matter. St. Pope John Paul II talks about this in his Theology of the Body, that everything we do with our bodies reflects God. So in church, our bodies help us pray, and they reflect what's going on in the liturgy. When do we kneel? At the consecration, at the holiest part of Mass. All through history, in all sorts of human societies, kneeling is a symbol of homage and adoration, of submission. Our posture shows that this is the holiest part of the Mass. What about standing? When do we stand? As a sign of respect for the Gospel, or when we're actively speaking. Standing shows respect and action. When do we sit? The readings and the homily, and look, you're sitting right now. We sit to be instructed, to rest our body so that our mind is free to work and learn and pay attention. And our body positions are a way of actively participating in Mass, so if you're sitting slumped in the pew all through Mass you're not participating well, are you?

Q: Is Jesus always present in the church even when we are not in the Church?

A: That question has two levels of answer. The first is that of course, God is everywhere, and so yes, he's present in Church when we aren't. But some places on earth are sacred space. Why do people make pilgrimages to the Holy Land? Why is it called Holy? Because Jesus lived there, he walked there and did his miracles and died there, and so that ground is sanctified in particular way. And churches are sacred space too, dedicated to the worship of God.

But the other part of it is: have you seen the red lamp up near the tabernacle? Any time that red lamp is lit, it means that the Eucharist is present in the tabernacle, and that means that God is physically present in that church, under the appearance of bread. So yes, God is there. I make a sign of the cross whenever I pass a Catholic church, as a way of acknowledging God's physical presence in this building. 

Q: Why was Abel afraid he was going to be killed when there was no one to kill him?

A: (we had a young visitor to our class named Abel, so we'd already discussed the whole Cain and Abel story maybe fifteen minutes earlier) Well... Abel wasn't afraid he was going to be killed. He didn't suspect that he was going to be killed, as far as we know. But there was someone to kill him. Who killed Abel? Right, his brother, Cain. Cain was jealous because he didn't want to give God the best of his crops, as Abel gave the best of his flocks, but he wanted the same praise and approval for giving God his leftovers as Abel received for giving God his best. So he killed Abel, and what happened? God asked him, "Where's your brother?" and Cain said, "I don't know. Am I my brother's keeper?" and God said, "Look, your brother's blood is there on the ground, crying out to me!" But God showed mercy to Cain -- He didn't let anyone else kill him. Instead he put a mark on Cain's head to show that he was not to be slain. 

Q: Can you be a priest if you are transgender?

A: (waits for the titters and whispering to die down) Canon law says that a priest must be a man who is physically whole, who is able to perform, know what I mean? Jesus was a human male, fully man and fully God, the perfect sacrifice to the Father, and the Old Testament laws for sacrificial victims call for unblemished male lambs, fully functional, and the priest is the image of Jesus on earth. Does that answer your question?

Q: (silence)

A: Next one, then.

Q: My brother is starting to lose his Christian faith, because he doesn't believe in the story of creation. Did God create the cycle that created our solar system and the universe beyond? Also, I fear that my classmates are breaking their relationship with God, because I see and hear them break the Ten Commandments very often. What should I do?

A: Remember our discussion earlier? Is the best way to read the Bible to read every word literally? No. The Bible is written at many different levels, and sometimes the best way to understand it is to read it metaphorically, or as talking about the end of the world, or as prefiguring Jesus. As Catholics, we are not required to believe that God literally created the world in six 24-hour periods. We're not in conflict with scientific evidence that shows billions of years of development on this planet. So what does the Biblical account of Creation tell us about God? It shows us God's creative powers; it tells us that what God creates is good -- that's what he says after each thing is created, that it's good! It tells us that man is made in the image and likeness of God. Each one of us reveals a unique facet of God's creative power, one never revealed before in history and one that will never be seen again. Yes, even you there slouching in your chair.

The Bible doesn't tell us literally about the physical creation of the world. Again, we're not required to believe that creation literally took one week. But we are required to believe that God endowed humanity with his own life, with souls. We are required to believe that God created everything from nothing. We are required to believe that God is the first cause. We look around, and we see that everything is caused by something, and that cause comes from somewhere. What's the first cause? Every movement is caused by some other movement. What is the first mover? Who is the first mover? God is the uncaused cause and the unmoved mover, and Genesis has a lot to teach us about the the spiritual origins of man and our fall from God's grace.

As to the question about classmates, I think there are two ways to help them. The first is by living a Christian life yourself. The example that you provide by choosing what's good and trying your best to show God's love to others has far more power than you can understand. So doing your best, with God's help, to live out the ten commandments and the two greatest commandments is going to be one of the best things you can do.

The second thing is prayer. Nothing is more powerful than prayer, talking to God. It can change the most difficult situations. And it's not just words, either. You can offer sacrifices for your friends as well. Anything you do can be offered to God for your friends, for your family, for people who've died, for your enemies. And the smallest sacrifices matter -- not complaining; eating everything on your plate; not rolling your eyes when Mrs. Hodge is up here talking. God takes each of these things and joins them to Jesus's sacrifice on the cross to give them a greater power than we can achieve by our own efforts.

Q: How has God always been here? How did God create God?

A: Can anyone tell me what the time word in that question in? What word gives us the idea of time? Always. As humans, we are bounded by time. It's almost impossible for us to think unlinearly, without something coming first and then something happening afterward. When we talk about God, we get stuck using time words. But God is outside of time. Can anyone tell me what God said his name is? Right! "I am who I am." God IS. He is existence and being itself. People say, "Well, if God knows that this is going to happen in the future, why doesn't he change it?" Future, going to happen: these are time words, people. Every moment (another time word, we can't help it) is NOW for God. He sees our every choice as happening in this very moment. We touch that timelessness a little bit now. Anyone ever been in a class which seemed to take forever? You thought it would never end, but it was only an hour? Yeah, I thought so. What about when you're having fun with your friends, and time seems to fly by? Our sense of time can be mutable, but we're still stuck in in. God is not. He hasn't always been here. He simply IS.

Sixth-grade boy: Whoa, my mind is blown.

A: God doesn't create God either. We talk about the Son being begotten of the Father, but they're both God. Sometimes we use the analogy of fire and heat. The fire causes the heat, but they both come into existence at the same moment.

Seventh-grade boy: But when you strike a match, the friction creates heat before fire.

A: So it's an imperfect analogy, clearly.

Q: Are demons real?

A: Yes! We see orders of creation lower than humans: animals, plants. There are orders of creation higher than humans, too. Who can tell me what angels are? No, they don't have wings. No, they don't fly. Angels are pure spirit. I can't be here and there at the same time. I can see what you're thinking, thank God. Angels aren't bounded by bodies, and they aren't bounded by time either. We have free will, and living as we do in time, we have every single instant of our lives to make choices either for or against God. That's why St. Paul says, "Now is the acceptable time! Now is the moment of salvation!" When we make a bad choice, when we sin, we have the opportunity the very next instant -- the same instant! - to use our free will to turn away from from evil and seek God and his forgiveness. Angels, outside of time and seeing the face of God, immediately accept or reject him. Those that use their free will to reject God are called demons, and they have some power. Do not play games with demons! Don't use ouija boards or tarot cards or play stupid games like "Charlie Charlie"! The demons don't care if you're just joking. If you invite them in, they will come in. Don't open your spirit up to attack. 

Q: Who is Jesus? Why did he rise upon us?

A: Well... first, Jesus is a historical personage, a man who lived on earth 2000 years ago. He's not just in the Bible. We have mention of him in other historical documents, in the writings of Josephus, a Jewish historian who lived in Rome, and in other Roman works. He's not invented. And his followers died gruesome deaths rather than deny that Jesus was who he said he was: the Son of God. Of the twelve apostles, eleven of them were martyred. St. Andrew was crucified in an X. St. Peter was crucified upside down because he said he was unworthy to die exactly like Jesus. St. Bartholomew was flayed -- you know about that? His skin was cut off of him, kind of like how leather is made, except that he was alive while it was happening. And he would rather suffer that than deny that Jesus was God himself, just as he said. There were witnesses to Jesus's miracles and resurrection who changed their lives as a result of what they'd seen, and who wrote about him and told others about him. He had the power to change lives, and his own life fulfilled the prophecies in the Old Testament about the Messiah, the very person Jesus claimed to be. And being God, he could do his miracles through his own power. People came back to life because he told them to. His words created life. He rose himself from the dead. No one called him forth, as the prophets did when they raised dead people through God's power. He raises himself! He is both human, to atone for the sins of humans, and God, the only one who can make perfect atonement.

Q: Why is there God the Father?

A: Why do we call God the Father? For one thing, he calls himself Father. And yes, because he's the creator. God allows us to be co-creators of life through our actions as human mothers and fathers, but that final creative power is in his hands. And he's the model of fatherhood. Many people have fathers who are bad examples of fatherhood. I hope that none of you do, but that's the sad truth of life on this earth. But God is the ultimate model of Fatherhood, of love and care, and when human fathers fail, we look beyond them to the fatherhood of God.

Q: Why did Jesus say that he was the king of the Jews?

A: What did Jesus say about his kingship? "If my kingdom were of this world, my followers would be here fighting for me right now." Do you remember who called Jesus the king of the Jews? Pontius Pilate. He even gets a mention in the Creed: crucified under Pontius Pilate. Pilate was the Roman Governor of Judea, and over Jesus's cross he hung the words The King of the Jews. It was a tribute and an insult and a warning: look what I can do to your king! Look what I can do to anyone who sets himself up as king against Rome! But it was more true than Pilate knew. Our king suffers and dies and triumphs.

Also, who was the greatest king of the Jews? David. And the Messiah was prophesied to come from David's line, and Jesus was of the house of David, something that was very significant for the Jewish people. Matthew makes a specific point about Jesus's family history in the beginning of his gospel.

Q: How was the Trinity made? 

A: The Trinity is God, right? It wasn't made at all. Remember God's name? I AM. The Trinity exists. The Father begets the Son -- begets, not creates -- and the Holy Spirit is the love between them, which is so powerful it is its own person. I love my husband, and the love between us has produced six children, but our love on its own can't create. Only God's love is that potent.

Q: What would happen if you never went to confession and confessed your sins?

A: If you lived in a tribe in, say, the Amazon, and you never heard of Jesus, are you going to hell because you never go to confession? No, of course not. God gives us the sacraments as direct lines to his grace -- shortcuts -- but he's not bound by the sacraments. He can bestow his mercy as he pleases, and he sees everyone's hearts. Anyone who knows in his conscience what is right and chooses to do that is participating in God's life, because all goodness comes from God. So God honors that.

But we have heard of Jesus, and his Church, and the sacraments. You live in Catholic families, you come to church, and you're here in PSR getting some fine instruction. Jesus says, "To whom much has been given, much is expected." You know that God chooses to give forgiveness through Confession, and you know that the church requires us to go to confession at least once a year -- now you know! -- so you're responsible for acting on this knowledge in a way that the tribesman in the Amazon isn't.

Q: Can we leave early?
Does Jesus want us to go to PSR? 
How old was Jesus when he died?
Which came first, the chicken or the egg?
How much is "hell" on the pain scale?
What is the sixth commandment?

A: You thought you were being clever, but it's backfired, because I'm going to answer them all.

The sixth commandment is "You shall not commit adultery".

Jesus was 33 when he died.

No, you can't leave early.

So, which came first? The egg? Who laid the egg? The chicken? Where'd the chicken come from? This is a cause and effect question, and so we'll cut the Gordian knot by saying that God created the chicken, and then the chicken laid the egg. The real answer is that God created everything, chicken and eggs.

Does Jesus want us to go to PSR? Jesus wants you to grow closer to him. One way of doing that is by obeying your parents, so if your parents want to you go to PSR, then yes, Jesus wants you to obey him. But going to PSR isn't a matter of faith and morals. It's a particular way of teaching a group of children about the faith that the Diocese of Columbus thinks is effective at this moment. At other times in history, the faith has been taught in other ways. Your parents are your first and primary teachers, so you learn the faith mainly from them, but PSR is a way to help them teach you.

How much is hell on the pain scale? Have you ever had to watch a friend or family member suffer? It hurts you, doesn't it? You want to help, but you can't, and it seems worse than physical pain. Or you've been upset or afraid about something, and it's eating away at you, and you'd rather be in physical pain than that mental pain.

Well, the main punishment of hell is separation from God. That doesn't sound so awful, right? It's not like burning in fire forever, is it? But let's look at it this way: have you ever been in a bad mood, one of those moods where everything is stupid and everyone is a jerk and you're critical of everything? Your friends are stupid, your brothers and sisters are stupid, your parents are stupid, Mrs. Hodge and this class are stupid... And have you tried to pull yourself out of the mood by your own power and found that you couldn't? That you were trapped? It's pretty miserable, isn't it? That's the tiniest taste of being cut off from love, and it's lousy. It would be hell to be forever trapped in ourselves, unable to escape.

Q: Did Adam and Eve have belly buttons?

A: No, guys, this is a good question. Think about it. Did they have belly buttons? Why do you have a belly button? From your umbilical cord? But Adam and Eve didn't have umbilical cords, right?

But remember what we said about not reading the Bible literally all the time? It doesn't really matter if Adam and Eve had belly buttons. It matters that we believe that man, and everything else, was created by God.

Someone wrote a book called "Did Adam and Eve Have Belly Buttons?" You have it at home? Bring it in next time!

Q: Is it bad not to know all the prayers in church?
Do you have to know the 10 commandments in order?
Can you mix the 10 commandments up?
Why do we have to go to Parish School of Religion every Sunday?
Who wrote the Bible?

A: It's not bad not to know all the prayers in church. I still trip over the new translation of the Creed. That's why we have missalettes. It would be wrong to use not knowing the prayers as an excuse not to pay attention or participate.

You don't necessarily have to know the ten commandments in order, but the order does tell us something about God's priorities and what he thinks is important for us to know in order to live a good life. So if you get them mixed up, that's okay, but you should know them all.

You have to go to PSR every Sunday because you are obeying your parents. And also because I like to see you here.

Who can tell me what "Bible" means? It comes from the Greek word for "book". The Bible is a library, a collection of books. Some of them are history. Some of them are laws. Some of them are novels: Job, Jonah. Some of them are letters, and some of them tell us about Jesus's life. Each book was written by a human author, yet all of them were inspired by God. The church collected together these inspired books and put them together in one volume, which we call the Bible.

If you were going to read the whole Bible, where should you start? No, I wouldn't start with Genesis. I'd start with the Gospels. They're the most important books of the Bible, and they give us a lens for reading the rest of the Bible. There's lots of books in the Bible that seem hard to read, like Leviticus or Deuteronomy, but think about it: if you read an index or a table of contents or footnotes by themselves, would they be interesting? Would they make a lot of sense? Some books of the Bible need to be read in the light of other books, and that light -- the answer key -- is found in the Gospels.

Monday, March 07, 2016

The Diet Post

So I said I'd tell you about my diet, and I will.

Here is what it boils down to: if I ever want to get pregnant again, then in prudence I need to lose weight. Not because I think I'm fat, although I still weigh twenty pounds more than I did when I conceived William, but because the high blood pressure issues which have progressed with each pregnancy mean that I simply need to start at a lower base weight to avoid extra stress on my veins, and on my system in general.

This isn't really a matter of vanity, though of course that plays in because I'm human, you know. I'm softer than I used to be, and rounder, but I don't look particularly overweight. Though I would like to fit in the lower pants size of all the jeans I have packed away in a box, I'm not at an unreasonable point for a 37-year-old woman who's had six kids. I could hang at this point indefinitely, putting off pregnancy month after month.

Is the weight issue a serious reason to avoid pregnancy? I think it is, seeing as each pregnancy gets more difficult and takes more out of me (except weight -- I get more of that). But I feel convicted that I really ought to be doing something to change the situation, both for future health reasons and because although I'm at a point where NFP is effective and predictable, I don't want to become spiritually complacent. Oh well, reason to avoid! I'm good! Now, as it is, I'd be perfectly happy to never be pregnant again. But I like babies, and my family likes babies, and I have lots of helpers now that my older girls are growing up. I don't say that lightly; I had to lean on them heavily last time I was pregnant, and it's likely I'd need them to take on even more work next time around.

I also note that I write about this not because it's anyone's business, but because many people are making the same kind of decisions and find it helpful to know what other people are doing. I'm not looking for affirmation or criticism.

So, the diet. On the first Monday of Lent, I started the Whole30 program. Why? Mainly because everyone I know who'd tried it had lost weight in a satisfyingly dramatic fashion. Here's what's allowed on the diet:
Eat meat, seafood, eggs, tons of vegetables, some fruit, and plenty of good fats from fruits, oils, nuts and seeds. Eat foods with very few ingredients, all pronounceable ingredients, or better yet, no ingredients listed at all because they’re totally natural and unprocessed.
Here's what's not allowed.
More importantly, here’s what NOT to eat during the duration of your Whole30 program. Omitting all of these foods and beverages will help you regain your healthy metabolism, reduce systemic inflammation, and help you discover how these foods are truly impacting your health, fitness and quality of life. 
Do not consume added sugar of any kind, real or artificial. No maple syrup, honey, agave nectar, coconut sugar, Splenda, Equal, Nutrasweet, xylitol, stevia, etc. Read your labels, because companies sneak sugar into products in ways you might not recognize. 
Do not consume alcohol in any form, not even for cooking. (And it should go without saying, but no tobacco products of any sort, either.) 
Do not eat grains. This includes (but is not limited to) wheat, rye, barley, oats, corn, rice, millet, bulgur, sorghum, amaranth, buckwheat, sprouted grains and all of those gluten-free pseudo-grains like quinoa. This also includes all the ways we add wheat, corn and rice into our foods in the form of bran, germ, starch and so on. Again, read your labels. 
Do not eat legumes. This includes beans of all kinds (black, red, pinto, navy, white, kidney, lima, fava, etc.), peas, chickpeas, lentils, and peanuts. No peanut butter, either. This also includes all forms of soy – soy sauce, miso, tofu, tempeh, edamame, and all the ways we sneak soy into foods (like lecithin). 
Do not eat dairy. This includes cow, goat or sheep’s milk products such as cream, cheese (hard or soft), kefir, yogurt (even Greek), and sour cream… with the exception of clarified butter or ghee. (See below for details.) 
Do not consume carrageenan, MSG or sulfites. If these ingredients appear in any form on the label of your processed food or beverage, it’s out for the Whole30. 
Do not try to re-create baked goods, junk foods, or treats* with “approved” ingredients. Continuing to eat your old, unhealthy foods made with Whole30 ingredients is totally missing the point, and will tank your results faster than you can say “Paleo Pop-Tarts.” Remember, these are the same foods that got you into health-trouble in the first place—and a pancake is still a pancake, regardless of the ingredients.  
One last and final rule: You are not allowed to step on the scale or take any body measurements for the duration of the program. This is about so much more than just weight loss, and to focus on your body composition means you’ll miss out on the most dramatic and lifelong benefits this plan has to offer. So, no weighing yourself, analyzing body fat or taking comparative measurements during your Whole30. (We do encourage you to weigh yourself before and after, however, so you can see one of the more tangible results of your efforts when your program is over.) 
*A few off-limits foods that fall under this rule include pancakes, bread, tortillas, biscuits, muffins, cupcakes, cookies, pizza crust, waffles, cereal, potato chips, French fries, and this one recipe where eggs, date paste, and coconut milk are combined with prayers to create a thick, creamy concoction that can once again transform your undrinkable black coffee into sweet, dreamy caffeine. However, this list is not limited to these items—there may be other foods that you find are not psychologically healthy for your Whole30. Use your best judgment with those foods that aren’t on this list, but that you suspect are not helping you change your habits or break those cravings.
Well, I've broken the scale rule, obviously, since I can tell you that two weeks on this diet has lost me a grand total of two pounds, but with the exception of our trip to New York, I have been off all the verboten stuff on the list. It hasn't been hard, really. It has been boring.

Here's what I've learned:

  • I already knew this, but no food causes me allergies, inflammation, whatever. 
  • My friends who lost lots of weight were drinking sodas, alcohol, eating a bunch of junk. I had very little of that to cut out of my diet anyway. Ergo, few empty calories to cut means no silver bullet.
  • Cut out the foods that fill you up, and you're hungry all the time. Lots to offer up there for Lent.
  • Oh Lord, I miss chocolate. And my cheese toast. 
  • Really, I probably just need to take up running again. I hate running.
Darwin is doing this with me because he's a rock of support, and since it's fruitless to compare male/female ability to drop pounds quickly, I won't even talk about it. (He also isn't carrying 20 extra pounds.) We're going to stick it out for the rest of Lent because it's a good discipline, and so much the better for my mortification if I don't see any results. 

Friday, March 04, 2016

The Hamilton Trip

I nearly sabotaged our New York trip from the start by stepping on the scale the day before we left to discover that I'd lost two pounds. You'd think I'd be happy about this, but as the last time I stepped on the scale was two weeks ago, the day I started a rigorously dull diet (for reasons I will write about in another post) that cuts out everything awesome you might eat and replaces it with animal protein, nuts, and vegetation, and as everyone else I'd known on the same diet had shed pounds in the double digits, I had good evidence for hoping for at least a modest five pound loss in two weeks. I did not set my sights higher than five pounds, so that I might be pleasantly surprised. I was not pleasantly surprised. Two weeks without sugar, without dairy, without grains, without legumes, without alcohol, and I was down the same amount as Darwin was the morning after his Friday fast.

I spent the day choked by a fine mist of anger and wounded vanity and pride, which made it a particularly bad day to go to with Darwin to the mall looking for a dress to wear to the theater for Hamilton. Anyone who doubts the reality of original sin should try pulling himself out of a bad mood by the power of reason alone. I knew that it was irrational to be angry about such an ephemeral thing. I knew that it was not Darwin's fault, and that when he said nice and complimentary things he was not merely trying to butter me up because my itty bitty feelings were hurt. I knew that in the grand scheme of things, this was the most minute of crosses, and that if something tragic were to happen right then, I would be jolted out of my mood. And yet I could not by my own efforts make myself be happy, and my energies were expended in biting my tongue so that I would not say something I would regret later. It was a very silent, unfulfilling trip.

We went to confession and Mass that afternoon, which supplied all my deficiencies, and it struck me that our trip was probably going to be wonderful if the devil was agitating so hard against it at the outset.

We spent Sunday afternoon and Monday morning at my brother's house in New Jersey, visiting with his two little boys and, in a fortuitous coincidence, with my sister and her three little girls, up from Maryland. These are my two farthest-flung siblings, whom I don't get to see often enough, and yet I find that providence often gives me unexpected opportunities to see the people I long to see. This was a trip of joyful meetings: a sudden reunion with three dear college friends, and a last-minute plan to finally meet, in person, an artist I'd corresponded with, who found the blog when he was doing research for his doctoral dissertation on same specific type of Polish theater I'd written about in my thesis.

We took the train in from Jersey to Penn Station, a trip that afforded an Ohio rube like me many fine opportunities to ogle the scenery, and walked to our hotel, a swanky affair, recommended by the WSJ (natch), located between the Empire State Building and the Flatiron district. Let me tell you that, for women, at least, there are there are levels and levels: on the top tier you have your expensive New York types traveling for business, tailored in impeccable black, your blown-out bleached blonds and ropy women of a certain age with skin preserved like leather, and at the bottom tier you have your maternal tourist on an anniversary splurge, wearing comfortable Skechers and a pink scarf. There are many ways to be unique in mid-town Manhattan, but perhaps the best way to stand out among is to wear color.

I'd already decided to go off my diet for the vacation, because I'm not going to New York City without eating a damn croissant, so on Monday evening we went to Beecher's Handmade Cheese. There we sat tucked in a corner of a cellar and shared samplers of cheese and charcuterie and grinned across the table at each other like crazy kids. Back at the hotel, we decided to keep up the streak of doing things just because we could, and walked up nine flights of beautiful marble stairs to our room. Well worth doing once!


The reason we chose our hotel was because it has a library bar, which is exactly what it says on the tin: a library in which you can sit in comfy chairs and order very delicious drinks.


We sat right here, on the couch under the staircase, right by the French section, where I read Love in Twelfth Century France, and Darwin read Peasants into Frenchmen: The Modernization of Rural France, 1870-1914, a book he'd been hoping to read for a while.

The library was curated for the hotel by a gentleman who runs a bookstore, if I recall correctly what the hostess told us, but it's a bit disingenuous of the marketing people to make much of the two stories and the imported French staircase, since you can't climb the staircase and look at the second-story books because there's only a catwalk up there. There are shelves and shelves of lovely books up there which no one will read because no one can access. That makes me melancholy, but I suppose it's all the same as we were the only ones reading in the library bar anyway.

(I here post the ingredients for the New York Sour, so that we can try to recreate it here when I'm back on alcohol: bourbon, lemon, mulled wine, egg whites.)

Tuesday morning we went to the Met Museum and saw a lovely exhibit of the paintings of Elisabeth Vigee-Le Brun, a portraitiste of great charm and skill. I was struck by the beautiful way she captured the eyes of her sitters. Here is her little daughter, painted cleverly both in profile and full-face:



Here, a bacchante whose eyes are so distinctive and alive that I felt that they must have been painted from life:



This portrait glows, with a color scheme that surprised me and yet is completely intuitive:


This Russian countess's face was so beautiful that I stared and stared, and then had to laugh when I read Vigee-Le Brun's account of the woman:


'As VigĂ©e Le Brun recalled Countess Skavronskaya (1761–1829): “She was utterly idle all day, she had no education, and her conversation was quite empty. But in spite of all that, thanks to her lovely face and her angelic sweetness, she had an incomparable charm.”'

 Vigee-Le Brun's career spanned from pre-Revolutionary France, where she painted Marie-Antoinette several times, to shortly before her death in 1842. Several of her sitters were English, and I dearly wished that she might have painted a portrait of Jane Austen.

We could have spent hours more in the Met, but while there we saw another unexpected friend who reminded us why we were in town:



My problem of what to wear to Hamilton was solved by my friend Emily, a fellow Steubenville drama grad now living the dream with her own production company, Turn to Flesh, which specializes in producing modern verse dramas). Emily is exactly the sort of muse a reluctant shopper like me needs; she whisked me around, seized about twenty dresses, and made me try them on until I found one that I liked. Which I did, a black gauzy tea-length number, and of which I have no pictures of because Darwin and I are the world's worst selfie takers.

If there was anything that was worth being almost late to Hamilton, it was having dinner with such excellent friends: Emily, and Lisa, who was almost my bridesmaid, and Christina. Having all been in the drama department back in the day, we spoke the same language and were able to pick up exactly where we left off (especially after drinking most of a bottle of Champagne that was discarded in the hall, still unopened, with the remnants of someone's room service order).

"I used you as an example of the corporal works of mercy for my sixth-grade religion class," I told Lisa.

Lisa's response conveyed that she was unsure when she had ever done anything that sixth-graders should emulate.

"You remember when my parents got divorced, and I went looking for you because your parents were divorced too, and since I couldn't find you I went to the bathroom to brush my teeth and get ready for bed. And then I ran into you there and you asked what was up, and I started crying with my mouth full of toothpaste and slobbered it all over your shoulder, and you didn't mind at all but just let me cry until I could tell you what the problem was."

"Oh, pshaw," said Lisa. "That's hardly the worst thing I've ever had on me."

(What she did was, while I was still wailing incoherently on her shoulder, she checked my left hand to see if I still had my engagement ring on, and said, "Well, it's not that, anyway.")

And then it was 6:35, and it was time to hightail it over to

HAMILTON

(Darwin has written a good review here, and I'll try not to repeat too much of what he's said. As he said, this is a detailed review for people who know the album by heart and want to know what's happening on stage.)

tl;dr: Groundbreaking new musical with catchy hiphop tunes and wordplay that sticks in your head. Lin-Manuel Miranda is heartbreakingly vulnerable as Hamilton. Ah, what eyes. Special mention goes to Daveed Diggs, who's ten times larger than life in his double role as Lafayette/Jefferson, but the whole cast is fabulous. Hamilton's life story, from his difficult childhood on Nevis to his famous duel with Aaron Burr, is told to great effect by using Burr as the narrator and studied counterpoint to Hamilton's flamboyant drive to succeed. The show trucks along at Hamilton's own breathless pace -- it's fitting that the last word is "time", because that's what Hamilton was always racing against.

***

The lady sitting next to me in the crowded theater was not really impressed to be there, unlike most of the crowd. She flipped through her program and played games on her phone. Her friend, seated a few rows down, called up to her, and she shrugged and said she didn't know much about the show and she hoped it was going to be worth it.

With barely any warning the opening chords sound, and there's Leslie Odom, Jr. in a brown coat, asking, "How does a bastard, orphan, son of a whore and a Scotsman..." I don't have to describe the opening number for you because of course you've all seen the clip from the Grammys, but I will say that a lot of the choreography that seems very strange does make more sense when seen as a whole. The show is made to be seen in its entirety, not as filmed closeups, and indeed, when you're trying to focus on the main characters, the dancers provide a lot of background energy without calling undue attention to themselves.

Anthony Ramos was not on as Laurens/Phillip the night we watched, and though the understudy was quite good, I missed Ramos's distinctive energy as Laurens.

In Aaron Burr, Sir, Burr is actually walking away from Hamilton, and Hamilton chases him down saying, "You're an orphan! Of course!" This is characteristic of Hamilton throughout the whole show: this bounciness, this lack of cool, in complete opposition to Burr, who tries never to get excited about anything. Hamilton can barely be still. At first his energy is boyish and impetuous, but as the show goes on and he's under more and more stress, he's a loose cannon, barely under control.

Lafayette, Mulligan, and Laurens are just good fun. Daveed Diggs is simply having a good time on stage: Lafayette is the one always pushing for another drink, a loose goofy presence. Mulligan's sexual innuendo seems a lot milder in person. He and Lafayette keep up the beat by pounding the table during the opening raps ("high school raps", Lin-Manuel Miranda called them), while Burr watches from the side. The tavern setting is full of the chorus, listening, pouring drinks, or just observing -- throughout the show, there's often at least one person watching the action  Hamilton hangs back hesitantly, wanting to get involved, jumping in to speak his piece to kick off My Shot.

My Shot is huge, of course. Hamilton is speaking his piece, wowing the three guys and the people listening in the tavern, and Burr is kicked back in a chair, reading. When he tells them, "Geniuses, lower your voices!" he moves over to sit with them, pouring everyone a drink to settle them down. There is a real feeling of camaraderie, and you can see how easily it could have been the five friends instead of the four. But soon the rest of them are out in the streets whipping up the crowds ("Rise up!), and Burr hangs back again.

There's no downtime in this show, barely any time for applause. My Shot moves right into The Story of Tonight, as if the guys were stopping back in the tavern again. On the album Laurens sings "Raise a glass to freedom/ Something they can never take away/ No matter what they tell you", but in the show, Hamilton picks up the line from "Something they can never take away" and sings it wistfully downstage, as if he doesn't feel like he's part of the group yet. Laurens pulls him back in with "Raise a glass to the four of us", and from that point in Hamilton is one of the boys for keeps.

Farmer Refuted involves Hamilton and Samuel Seabury literally tussling over who gets to stand on the soapbox, and Burr literally trying to hold Hamilton back. Seabury is dressed as a Anglican cleric in one of those old fashioned long neckerchief, which was particularly funny because it was so specific. Hamilton's energies are still unharnessed, and you see the first hints here of how much he enjoys talking trash at people, a tendency that comes to fruition in the cabinet battles.

You've heard a lot about King George's walk. It's there, a careful, mincing step where each foot is placed directly in front of the other. It was amusing but not slay-me hysterical. What was commanding, however, was how Jonathan Groff sang the whole song standing almost completely still, and he ran the entire theater while doing it. Even from the mezzanine you could see his fixed stare. He looked like a guy going insane, which isn't far off the historical mark. When he did break, it was striking: first, when he wails the high notes and suddenly drops his head soulfully toward his shoulder; second, at "No, don't change the subject!", where he suddenly tosses back the ermine cloak he's been wrapped in until now and starts issuing commands in an increasingly unhinged way.

While George Washington was pounding out the high-energy "Right Hand Man", I was startled by a glow next to me, and turned to see the lady reading the New Yorker review of Hamilton during the show. "But you can see it for yourself if you'd just look at the stage!" I thought.

The Helpless/Satisfied pairing was particularly fascinating. Darwin talked about how onstage, Eliza is a stronger presence and Angelica is not as dominant. One note that I found interesting was that in both numbers, we see Hamilton fidget slightly as he's introduced to Eliza, tucking his hair behind his ear as he says, "Your sister?" I'd almost thought it was a natural motion -- Miranda has long hair for the role, and perhaps a wisp had come loose -- but when it happened the second time in Satisfied, just after Angelica has sung about how Hamilton is looking for social status by courting a Schuyler sister, I realized it was the sign of Hamilton transferring his attentions from Angelica to Eliza, and how damning it must look to Angelica.

Hercules Mulligan carried a petite basket and threw flower petals during the wedding procession, which probably got one of the night's biggest laughs.

Ten Duel Commandments made a very effective use of the stage's double turntables, and when Washington shows up to bawl Hamilton out inside, Hamilton holds himself rigidly still, facing out, until he explodes in Washington's face. And when he goes home to Eliza, he is nearly weeping through her whole song.

The lady next to me was snoring so loudly that people were looking around to see what was going on.

Part of the problem with seeing a popular show is that everyone wants to luxuriate in their favorite moments, so when Lafayette starts in with his power rap in Guns and Ships, the crowd wanted to cheer for a minute. The timing doesn't allow for that, so Daveed Diggs just powered through, aided no doubt by the sound guys in the booth cranking his mike for a minute so that he could be heard over the applause. That guy knows how to bring the energy. He pulls Washington's letter summoning back Hamilton out of his hand and tosses it to one of the dancers to deliver, and when Hamilton comes back, Washington sings him History Has Its Eyes On You as a monologue.

The Battle of Yorktown is huge and explosive, shaking the theater each time the cannons go boom. That's one of my favorites on the album, and it's bigger and better in person. Hamilton sobs, shoulders shaking, as he hears the fallen foes singing The World Turned Upside Down, and he's tearful as he thinks of his son.

Lin-Manuel Miranda's framework for religion is Catholicism, and it crops up in strange places. In Dear Theodosia, Burr and Hamilton are down front in squares of light, looking down at the imaginary cradles of their infants, and as Hamilton sings, Burr sits and bows his head, and then makes the sign of the cross before "My father wasn't around". Burr was not notably religious, and as the grandson of Jonathan Edwards, he was no Catholic, so it made me blink, but it was an interesting character moment.

Non-Stop is the first time we see Hamilton in his new money green suit. He can't sit still, to the frustration of his wife, who just wants to see him and knows she can't change him. Hamilton's always got to be doing, though. His staging has him moving around almost constantly, gleefully chasing the future (especially when he preemptively nominates himself as Treasury Secretary). The act ends with five different motifs woven together in a driving polyphony, as Hamilton, Burr, Washington, Eliza, and Angelica sing their thematic lines over the chorus.

Washington: History has its eyes on you.
Burr: Why do you assume you're the smartest in the room?
Eliza: Isn't this enough?
Angelica: You will never be satisfied.
Hamilton: I am not throwing away my shot!

At intermission, the lady beside me chatted with her friend a few rows down.

"Isn't this great? I think it's great," said the friend.

"Eh, I don't know," said the lady in a Noo Yawk accent. "I'm trying to figure out, why is this show sold out for a year? I mean it's okay, but there are other shows on Broadway. Les Miz, Miss Saigon, even Wicked."

"You don't think it's great?"

"Eh. I have high standards. My friend Laura's husband wrote a play. I thought it was pretty good. He was trying to get it staged off-Broadway, but he couldn't get it going. Everything is money, you know?"

Act Two opens with Thomas Jefferson, and Daveed Diggs is the oiliest crowdpleaser ever. He wears this fantastic purple velvet suit, and the way he struts with his cane is a fair contender for commemoration by The Ministry of Silly Walks. His unctuousness and Hamilton's punchiness strike sparks, especially when Hamilton sends up Jeffferson's fancy walk by flapping around in a circle at "Whatever the hell it is you do in Monticello!" Madison is very much Jefferson's yes man here. Album listeners will be pleased to know what Jefferson describes Madison as "red in the face" because Madison had been having a coughing fit, and that when Hamilton tells him, "Madison, you mad as a hatter, so take your medicine!", he means it literally. He's having a bit too much fun ripping everyone a new one.

Interesting staging note: the microphones Jefferson and Hamilton use in the cabinet battles are presented to them in a wooden case, much like dueling pistols. And, confirming a theory of mine, in Cabinet Battle #2, when Jefferson demands, "Who provided those funds?" and Madison answers, "Uh, France", the reason Madison is so quiet and hesitant at that moment is because Jefferson shoves the microphone under his nose without notice, catching him off-guard.

Power is going to Hamilton's head, and when Washington warns him that he'll lose his job if he can't get his debt plan through Congress, we see Hamilton's spring wind tighter and tighter as he pushes himself to make the deal happen. He loses focus on his family, although he's delighted to see his son trying his hand at wordsmithing (yes, that's Eliza beatboxing over Phillip's fledgling rap). He allows himself to drift into an emotional affair with Angelica, which breaks him down so that he falls into an actual affair with Mariah Reynolds and into paying blackmail money to her husband. As Darwin noted, the staging of Say No To This was a good deal more G-rated than we would have imagined from only listening to the track -- tension between them is maintained mostly through distance. This is a valid staging, of course, but I felt like the sordidness of the whole affair didn't quite come through viscerally. Perhaps that's because there was a sub on for Mariah Reynolds the night we saw the show, so we didn't see the more honed performance of Jasmine Cephas Jones.

By Cabinet Battle #2 Hamilton is cracking under the stress and is dangerously unpredictable, ready to fly apart at the least provocation. He's antsy, pacing and prowling like a caged animal, and when he flies in Jefferson's face with, "You must be out of your God-damn mind!", it's explosive and dangerous. Everyone recoils because you just don't know what he's going to do next. Washington sees that Jefferson is biding his time until he can take advantage of Hamilton's strain (there's some good dark energy between Washington and Jefferson, two men who are managing their image much more tightly than Hamilton), but Hamilton can't be reined in. When he writes his pamphlet against John Adams ("Sit down, John, you fat motherbleeep!"), he drops this huge packet of paper from the balcony like a bomb as everyone runs screaming.

The chorus functions much like a Greek chorus, offering warnings that Hamilton doesn't heed, whether urging him to say no to Mariah Reynolds, or to wait instead of publishing the Reynolds pamphlet to clear his name of charges of speculation. (Jefferson's "My God!" when he realizes why Hamilton has been paying out hush money is even more hypocritically prissy than on the album.) Even King George, who watches most of the second act from the foreign vantage point of the balcony, gets in on the gloating over the the Reynolds pamphlet, tossing papers around with abandon. The whirling mass of pamphlets all over the stage is a reflection of the hurricane that brought Hamilton to America, only this time the hurricane is destroying him instead of giving him a new chance. The theme of papers changing hands is carried through to Burr pushing campaign tracts onto voters, but it reaches its high point when Eliza, who sings Burn sitting still as a statue, physically burns Hamilton's letters to her and watches them blaze in a tin bucket.

By this time the lady next to me was leaning forward, hands over her mouth, eyes wide open.

Eliza remains still and cold, wearing a long black coat. The only exception is the death of her son Philip. In a moment not on the album, she gives a heartrending scream when she realizes Philip is dead, slapping away Hamilton as he tries to take her hand. It's always bothered me that Hamilton doesn't actually apologize for his adultery, but as he's literally sobbing out Quiet Uptown, it's obvious how broken he is, and that all he has left to give to Eliza is his brokeness.  Here's Miranda's Catholicism coming through again: the sign of the cross at the church door, the grace too powerful to name, and although it's historically inaccurate, it's dramatically effective. When Eliza finally takes Hamilton's hand -- a small gesture; she's perfectly still otherwise -- he breaks down as they stand side by side, facing out.

It's fast to the end from here. When Hamilton is on the balcony, back center, building up to his endorsement in the election of 1800, Burr and Jefferson are standing front on opposite sides of the stage, facing out, listening eagerly. Burr clearly expects to get Hamilton's nod, and when Hamilton endorses Jefferson and says that Burr has no beliefs, Burr's face is a mask of shock and anger, while Jefferson can't believe his ears. The final duel uses the familiar staging of the previous two duels, but the tension is maintained by giving us Burr's perspective of duel, so that Hamilton doesn't aim his pistol at the sky until after the moment of pause where he reflects on life, and death.

The show ends quietly, a cappella and on a final unison note, and then Eliza steps forward and gives a sudden choked gasp before the stage goes black. Is this her dying, finally being reunited with Hamilton after fifty years of widowhood? I wasn't sure, but it was an interesting, if slightly puzzling, choice.

The lady next to me surreptitiously wiped her eyes.

***

The trip home was easy and uneventful, a last bit of quiet before I got home to discover that my 22-year-old brother, in charge of the kids, had gone on Amazon and bought four thousand popsicle sticks and four glue guns and put everyone to work building a house.



And to find that we had a newly-minted ten-year-old.


And to find that even with walking fantastic amounts, a diet of eating whatever you want, especially when you arrive home on a tenth birthday, yields an increase of five pounds. No drama this time, because there's a time for doing awesome stuff, and a time for discipline and taking up one's daily cross and living the life of home. We're back.

Thursday, March 03, 2016

Hamilton: A Theater Review for Fans of the Album

Last night, MrsDarwin and I were at the Richard Rogers Theater in New York to see Hamilton.

Since the Original Cast Recording was released back in September last year, Hamilton has been constant listening in the Darwin household. Lines have made their way into standard family conversation. Ask someone what time it is and you're likely to be told: "Showtime!" People often express surprise or disapproval with Daveed Diggs' characteristic "Whaaaaat". The three oldest girls can be easily coaxed into belting out "Schuyler Sisters" or "My Shot". The baby answers to Hercules Mulligan as well as to his own name. We've seen every video clip that's made its way into availability. So we were going to see the show in person while already knowing all the songs almost well enough to sing them -- in terms of memorization if not ability. This review is written for fellow Hamilton fans who have not yet been able to see the show in person. As such, I'm assuming that you know the story so well that no spoilers in terms of story are possible. If story spoilers are a problem, read no further. I'm also assuming that you do actually want to hear about how the music you know so well is staged. If you don't want to hear such details until you see it yourself, click away now.

Richard Rogers Theater, view from Balcony Row F, seat 20

We saw the show on March 1st. Of the original cast, we had two substitutions that night. Andrew Chappelle was standing in for Anthony Ramos, who normally plays John Laurens and Philip Hamilton, and Alysha Desloriuex was standing in for Jasmine Cephas Jones who normally plays Peggy Schuyler and Maria Reynolds. Both were good, though Chappelle is taller and broader than Lin-Manuel Miranda (as unlike the very slight and young Ramos) which adds a little unintentional amusement to the scenes in which he's playing a nine year old Philip. However, although I wish we could have caught it on a night when all the original cast were there, I was incredibly glad that all the key actors up the list from them were there on our night. Although all their swing actors are very good, I would have been really sorry to have missed Soo, Goldsberry, Diggs or Chris Jackson, much less Miranda himself or Leslie Odom, Jr.

The theater is tight, certainly up on the balcony where we were. I'm six feet tall and my knees were at most a couple inches from the seat in front of me. However, the balcony is heavily raked (at a steep angle) so there's not much trouble seeing over the people in front of you even if they're tall. This means that you're high up. I think we must have been a good six to eight feet above the front row of the balcony, and it means you have a bit of a bird's eye view of the stage, which actually makes some scenes more cohesive and effective than the video clips I've seen. More on the at in a bit.

As the lights go down, an announcement is made by King George III thanking everyone for attending his show and telling them to turn off any electronics, no photos or videos allowed, etc. Then it goes right into the first number, pretty much as you saw it if you watched the video from the Grammy's live stream:




A #tbt to Monday night's performance. #Gram4Ham #RiseUp
Posted by Hamilton the Musical on Thursday, February 18, 2016

However, this is a good place to note: the energy is really unique being in the theater. Watching this Grammy's video, I thought, "Boy, it's slower live than it is on the album." It does not feel slow in person. Not just because the cheering when Hamilton first comes on stage and says his name was even louder. There's something about the live delivery and movement, especially when you're seeing it from the audience rather than a closeup camera, so you can see the constant movement on the stage, which makes the live production just as relentless as the album but even higher energy. What you don't catch quite as much from back in the audience is some of the expressions. In the above video, you can really see Hamilton's scared, young expression as he steps off the ship in New York. From up in the balcony, I could see that in his movement, in part because I knew to look for it, but I'm still looking forward to seeing a Great Performances type filmed stage version some day in order to see all the actors up close. Other things, however, are absolutely clear from way back. For instance, at the end of Act 1, as Washington (standing up on the house right balcony) asks Hamilton to serve in his administration, you can see from way up in the balcony the goofy, excited, proud expression on Hamilton's face as he says, "Let's go."

In some cases the live song effects come off as slightly less polished but more energetic. For instance, at the end of "Aaron Burr, Sir" as Laurens, Mulligan and Lafayette appear on stage at their tavern table, they're pounding on the table to provide the rhythm backup to "I'm John Laurens and the place to be..." Instead of the polished percussion of the album you've got this rough table pounding, but you also have a very immediate feel. This is also one of the first sections where the theater blocking does a lot of story telling as that song flows into My Shot and then The Story of Tonight and later Farmer Refuted.

The way Burr takes a seat with some chorus members and Hamilton's three new friends gather around him, you see conveyed in a shorthand fashion the growing friendship between the four and the progress of Hamilton from new kid in town to leading speaker and pamphleteer.

"Right Hand Man" and later "Stay Alive" and "Yorktown" do some really interesting things with conveying in an abstract way, through the dance and staging, a sense of battles taking place. This was actually a part where I was glad to be high up. The video clips that I'd seen -- at one point there was a video of most of Yorktown up, but it's been pulled -- had slightly disappointed me in that it struck me that the dance being done to the music was abstract and had little to do with any kind of battle. However, when you're up high rather than seeing a close up camera view, you realize that the chorus are arranged in formations. In the canons booms during "Right Hand Man" and "Yorktown", the sound effect in the theater is so loud and deep you feel the theater shake, and you see some of the chorus suddenly drop to the ground while the lights flash. During "Stay Alive", as they talk about being outnumbered and surrounded, Washington and Hamilton are being gradually surrounded by redcoats. This is not a realistic play in any sense, but through the medium of dance and abstract blocking, they do a lot, and you get a lot more of it in person than I had seen in video clips.

Daveed Diggs's Lafayette is also an incredibly energetic character (outshone only by his Jefferson in Act 2). At the beginning of "Guns and Ships", he bursts into motion with a high jump off a table.


Yes, it's that impressive.

In the center of Act 1 is the pair of songs sung by Eliza and Angelica: "Helpless" and "Satisfied". One of the things that really struck me seeing this live is that Eliza becomes a more major character, and more an emotional center of the musical, while Angelica actually seems less central than she does in the album. Helpless is staged in a way that makes the scene very much from Eliza's point of view. Even when it's her watching and narrating as Angelica and Hamilton talk at the ball, it's Eliza who holds the scene, and you feel her tension as she waits to see if she will get Hamilton. She remains the emotional heart of the musical for the rest of the show. Phillipa Soo is amazing.

The staging of "Satisfied" is really fascinating, as it really does rewind the action and then shows the same scenes at the ball again, but this time with Angelica central rather than Eliza. When Angelic says, "I'll leave you to it," you hear the desperation in her voice. She already knows what she's giving away.

Act 2 opens incredibly strong with Jefferson singing "What'd I Miss?". There's really no overstating how powerful Diggs's presence is in person. He drew huge cheers as he entered, and where at other entrances and applause lines you saw actors who were holding just long enough to allow the cheer and then moving on with their song, Diggs takes the cheering as the cheering of the citizens as Jefferson returns to America and he works them up, drawing a bigger reaction from the crowd. Everything about that opening number is amazing, and any scene with Jefferson in it is a riot.

The cabinet battles are, as you can probably imagine from the album, amazing. The added things you get from watching it? Jefferson's satisfied mike drop (caught by Madison) and also the sense of how Hamilton really does get so swept up in his fight that he's on the edge of losing control. Jefferson is smug, smooth, and effective. Hamilton is a brilliant, fast-talking hand grenade.

Chris Jackson's Washington is the elder statesman that Washington himself was, though at a few moments you can see him struggling to maintain the calm which Washington himself struggled for so hard that he often seemed cold and distant through his efforts never to show his temper. We quickly see the way in which Washington serves as a brake on Hamilton, and once Washington retires we see how Hamilton's drive, ambition, and recklessness cause him to spiral out of control to his own destruction.

Speaking of destruction, I was surprised how g-rated the staging of "Say No To This" was. I don't know quite what I expected, but when the lyrics go "Then I said, “well, I should head back home,” / She turned red, she led me to her bed / Let her legs spread and said: / Stay?" I'd imagined something, though perhaps because I wasn't thinking about the practicalities of staging. The hottest thing you'll see on stage is the bright red dress that Maria Reynolds wears. I'd have no hesitation about letting the kids watch the scene.

One of the songs I had never been crazy about is, "Hurricane", during which Hamilton comes to the conclusion that he should write a pamphlet clearing himself of accusations of speculation by admitting to the affair with Maria Reynolds (and paying hush many to her husband). It's not just that this is a terrible idea, but that I never found the song one of the most compelling. However, it has some of the most interesting staging of the play. Hamilton is center stage at his desk, writing, while lighting forms a swirling storm around him. As he talks about the hurricane he wrote about during his youth, members of the chorus are moving through this swirl of light, carrying furniture, papers, etc., forming a vortex of wreckage around Hamilton as he is thinking back on the hurricane which recked him home and preparing to wreck his own home through his writing.

During "Burn", "Stay Alive (reprise)", and "Quiet Uptown", the way in which Eliza forms the emotional center of the show hits home with sledgehammer force. "Burn" is an utterly searing song all on its own, but staged in near darkness, with almost no movement, as Eliza sits a bit off the center of the stage, burning Hamilton's letters as she sings the song, it is more so. That hurt says with her. As Philip is dying, Hamilton puts his hand on hers and she pulls hers away. During "Quiet Uptown", she is utterly freezing Hamilton out refusing even to look at him as he begs her to let him back. The moment when she takes his hand is powerful.

And so the end.

From a directing and staging point of view, the duel makes a brilliant climax to the musical. It comes in two parts. The first half of the scene, as the Burr makes his excuses, up until the first firing of the shot, we see for Burr's point of view. As Burr fires, both men have their pistols leveled at one another. Then, as you know, the music cuts. It's the most silence we've had since entering the theater. A chorus member is slowly moving the bullet towards Hamilton, as without a beat he faces mortality.
There is no beat, no melody
Burr, my first friend, my enemy
Maybe the last face I ever see
If I throw away my shot, is this how you’ll remember me?
What if this bullet is my legacy?

Legacy. What is a legacy?
Over the following lines, as Hamilton looks back on his life, the whole play plays back in miniature. Then, as the sound comes back and we hear the lead up to the shot for the second time, we're now seeing it objectively rather than in Burr's head. Burr levels his pistol, Hamilton points his towards the sky, and the Chorus cries in warning, "He aims his pistol at the sky!" and Burr shoots even as he also shouts "Wait!"

As you would guess from the song, "Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story" is an abstractly staged song, with the characters coming back on stage, now all dressed in white except Eliza and Angelica who are, in a sense, the only people "really" on stage, while others are now part of the chorus or speaking from the afterlife.

The last sound in the musical (a second after the point where the album stops) is a cry from Eliza, like we heard from her when she saw Philip dying after his own duel. She's looking up and to the back of the theater. Is this her reaction to Hamilton's death? Is it her own death? Perhaps it is the moment when she sees Hamilton again, "on the other side".