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

Sunday, September 30, 2018

Trailer Madness: Homecoming

First, watch this:

And now behold, the fruit of a month's labor, and one intense weekend's scrambling: a shot-for-shot remake of the trailer for Spider-Man: Homecoming, starring the Darwin children, a friend, our house, the blue screen, and featuring a cameo by our big blue van.

Julia, the auteur, kept a spreadsheet of every shot, every line of dialogue, and the timing of each.

Darwin and I woke up to a frenzy of reshooting this morning because twelve shots had been deleted before being uploaded. But now the work is done and everyone is about to have celebratory M&Ms.

For fun, here's a side-by-side comparison of the two trailers. If it doesn't autoplay for you, click the professional trailer first to get the timing mostly right.

Saturday, September 29, 2018

Catharsis Isn't Coming

Let me start with one of those everyday dramas that every parent can understand. You are confronted with your offspring who has just torn pages out of a book, or hit his sister, or gone off downtown without telling you first. The child stands sullenly, chin jutted out, seemingly impervious to your words of righteous anger. Some deep instinct within you says: get a reaction. Keep pushing. Scold more loudly, or lay on more guilt, or impose some more severe punishment. Break through this child's sullen armor and show that you can get a change.

Deep down within us, there is an expectation that if only we can bring things to a crisis point, the point where the status quo breaks, then the change we are desperately seeking will occur, and we will feel satisfied. This is such a deep human belief that it is built into our rules for creating fiction. Fiction is, after all, a means by which we make sense of our world by creating a smaller one which operates according to our understanding of how the world should work in order to be truly satisfying. According to this pattern, the main character starts out wanting something, there are obstacles to that desire, the obstacles escalate and complicate. At last there is a peak of conflict. Suffering is endured. Losses are suffered. We feel pity and fear. But at last order prevails: the kingdom is saved, the couple comes together, the murderer is caught. All is made right, the conflict is resolved, and we feel satisfied.

And yet, real life almost never serves up these climactic moments ending in satisfaction.

This was striking me recently in reference to the scandals in the Catholic Church. A rising tide of indignation from the laity in the US has been demanding action from the Vatican: institute an apostolic visitation to the US to investigate clerical abuse; release documents relating to how long the Vatican has known about former-Cardinal McCarrick's sexual abuse of children, of seminarians, and of priests; take serious actions against clerics who are chronically violating their vows of celibacy.

At last it seemed as if there was a chink in the dam of seeming Vatican indifference. Cardinal DiNardo, the head of the USCCB, was after more than a month of waiting at last invited to meet with Pope Francis to discuss the situation. When the meeting happened, and the press photo of it released showed the pope and bishops laughing and seemingly having a good time, many were furious. It seemed yet another sign that the Church's leadership were not taking the crises of clerical immorality seriously.

That may all be so, or it may be the result of a PR photographer's idiotic judgement, but it got me thinking about what would seem like a satisfying reaction by the Vatican. If I stick within the realm of things that are remotely likely to happen, I have to be honest with myself: there are no satisfying solutions to this situation. At some level, as we seek resolution, we're seeking something that will right the injustices we've seen and felt. And yet, the injustices of this world are never fully righted this side of eternity.

I've pointed to fiction as offering the satisfaction of seeing wrongs righted that we always crave yet do not get often in real life. Yet perhaps that judgement is too simplistic. I'm reminded of a favorite movie of mine in high school: The Fugitive starring Harrison Ford and Tommy Lee Jones. I'm sure I watched it at least a dozen times, and it has a very satisfying ending. Dr. Kimble (Ford) successfully tracks down his wife's real killer and manages to cause the villain to confess in a way that allows the US marshal searching for him (Jones) to hear it. In the end, Dr. Kimble is clearly going to be exonerated. The guilty are punished. We, the audience, feel satisfaction.

And yet, would the main character Dr. Kimble feel that all is righted? His wife is still dead. His life in ruins. He's no longer believed to be his wife's killer, but in every other respect things are as bad as they were before. Perhaps at some level the reason we feel satisfaction at the end of the story is because the story has not happened to us. We see Sauron defeated, and we feel the world is made right, but we do not feel as Frodo does, broken to the point that he has to take shelter in the utter East. We feel resolution, but Arwen does not as she walks through empty Lorien, her husband dead and her kindred over the seas, leaving her to die alone.

Yet in life, we have no choice but to be a character rather than a reader or watcher. We are not satisfied by the visual righting of wrongs, the moving of points from one column into another, we still feel the pangs of injustice, the wounds we acquired along the way. And so we don't feel the resolution that a reader or watcher might. We are left feeling unfulfilled.

When we try to push the drama to a higher pitch, hoping that somehow by creating more tension, more conflict, we will achieve the satisfaction and release of dramatic resolution, we don't get satisfaction, we get more pain, more wounds, more sense of incompleteness.

What then are we to do? Keep muddling on. Do the right thing at each moment, rather than fighting for some climactic battle during which good will triumph for all time. Try to replace the bitterness in our hearts with love. The work of Christianity is never over in this life. Our only victory is beyond death, when we hope to at last see all wrongs righted, be healed of all wounds, and be united forever with the one perfect Good.

Monday, September 24, 2018

Confessions of a Confirmation Catechist: New Year, New Class, Same Me

We're back in session! This year it's different: we have a curriculum with student workbooks and a teacher's manual and a separate confirmation curriculum with its own workbooks and manuals and journals. Classes are held to about 15 students, and I have an adult assistant with me. You happy now, MrsDarwin? You happy?

Well, I am glad. We're now required to submit lesson plans to the office a week before class, which does insure that I get planning done. And there are two other Confirmation classes, taught by good people I know, so we can coordinate and bounce ideas off of each other.

And so, with all this support, plus a lesson plan, plus a teacher's manual that almost has things scripted out, I had my students open their books to the first page of the first chapter, which discusses, amid graphics and text boxes, how St. Peter gave up everything to follow Christ, and how we were going to talk about the founding of the Church...

...and blanked. I stared at that page, and I had absolutely no words to say about it. I sat for about seven seconds, with almost no brain activity -- SEVEN SECONDS of dead air, count it out for yourself -- and thought, "Screw it." I knew that two pages further on, there was a brief summary of the themes of the Our Father, and I knew I could talk about that.

"Guys, let's flip over to page 5," I said. And for the next 40 minutes we went through the Our Father line by line, and God be praised, I did not freeze.

(When I say "we talked", I mean that I talked. My group of kids is not bad, or rude, or mouthy. They are silent. It is pulling teeth to get them to talk at all. I think that they'd rather have teeth pulled than volunteer an observation. It is what it is -- and it's okay if they feel like they don't know what to say. They're in class to learn, after all.)

(And as always, this is what I can dredge from my memory after the fact. Some sections feel more abbreviated than they were in class because I can't remember exactly what I said, or how I arrived at this point from that point. Caveat lector.)


Our Father: some of you have really excellent fathers, and some of you might have fathers that are not so great (no hands, please!), but all fathers have some kind of flaw. God is the model for every father, and he fulfills all the needs that your earthly father can't. In telling us to call him father, he's calling us his children. My little baby toddles up to his dad with his arms up and a big smile, saying, "Da! Da!" We're called to have that kind of love and trust in God our Father.

Who art in heaven: Earth is not all there is. Everyone knows that longing for something bigger, something better, something that's coming. You're at the age where you really feel that, the yearning for something. St. Augustine says, "Our hearts are restless, O Lord, until they rest in you." Heaven is our ultimate goal, and everything we do here on this Earth should be preparing us for heaven and for eternal life with God.

Hallowed be thy name: Anyone know the second commandment? "You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain." Do you know anyone who takes God's name in vain? Do you do it yourself? (No hands!) God is holy, set apart, perfect.  When you use his name as an oath, do you think he doesn't hear you? "I swear to God..." Do you really? Do you want God witnessing this statement? We are called to treat God's name as holy, and to remember his perfect holiness, and to live in holiness ourselves.

Thy kingdom come: I asked whether Jesus had come to set up an earthly kingdom, and had one fellow volunteer that the church had once ruled on earth. So I talked about the dangers of the Church as an earthly kingdom, and said that anyway, when Jesus is first preaching the gospel, he says, "The kingdom of God is at hand." So where was it then, before the Church? God works in our soul and sets up his kingdom there, and that means that it can never be conquered. No matter what kind of earthly government you live under -- Roman occupation, Nazi Germany, Communist Russia, a democratic republic, a banana republic -- the kingdom of God is within you and cannot be taken from you.

Thy will be done: How can we even know God's will, anyway? How do we know what he asks of us? Jesus promised: I will not leave you orphans. God doesn't abandon us or make it impossible to know how we should live. He gives us laws and instructions, not because he is domineering or cruel but so that we can know what he wants. What is one of God's laws? Can anyone name something Jesus asked of us? Okay, how about the ten commandments? Anyone know one of those? Thou shalt not... steal, yes, thank you. Why does God command us not to steal? Because he likes to order us around and tell us what to do? Here's a story: a few years ago someone broke my husband's car window and stole his work backpack. What did the thief get? A work laptop that couldn't be unlocked, and three notebooks with several years' worth of research in them. Those notebooks were worthless to a thief, just a few hundred sheets of paper. To my husband, they were irreplaceable. When the thief stole them, he not only stole the physical property, but my husband's time and memories. There is no way to make amends for that. We often cannot fully repair the harm done by our sins. The wounds are too big for even an apology to cover. That's why God gives us laws. They help us, not just to not do bad things, but to begin to live as God wants us to, in love -- to be like him.

On earth as it is in heaven: I let this one pass because we already talked about heaven.

Give us this day our daily bread: We are not just souls trapped in a body. Our body and soul are intimately connected, so that what we do with one resonates in the other. What happens when you're hungry? You get hangry, cranky, your temper gets short, you lash out at other people, you might be tempted to steal. What we do with our bodies matter, and how we treat our own, and other people's bodies, matters. Your body is not just for use. Other people's bodies aren't just for use. You deserve always to be treated with dignity and respect, and you have an obligation to treat others that way. We ask for our physical needs to be met, and we try to meet others' physical needs. Have you contributed to a food drive? Bought school supplies for someone in need? Donated clothing? You're helping others. God cares about our bodies, and he wants us to ask for what we need.

And forgive us our trespasses: Jesus will never refuse us his mercy -- he wants to grant us mercy far more than we want to receive it. But we must ask for it, because asking for forgiveness and mercy means acknowledging our guilt. We don't get far without admitting that we're sinners, that we break things that we can't fix, that we hurt people willfully, and that we need God's mercy because only he is able to fully heal the wounds of sin.

As we forgive those who trespass against us: God's extending his mercy to us means that we don't get to hold grudges. It's said that we only love God as much as we love the person we love the least. That's a scary thought! But note that our forgiveness is linked to God's forgiveness -- we're not always humanly capable of extending forgiveness, so we tap into God's great ocean of mercy. All forgiveness comes from him.

And lead us not into evil: There were things I should have said about this, but most of them didn't occur to me until just now. And that was okay, because I'd filled my time and was able to spend the few remaining class moments covering some other things we needed to talk about, such as Pentecost and the Holy Spirit and the church.

Pentecost: Was everyone here baptized as an infant? No? Do you remember your baptism? A little? We've all been baptized and brought into God's family. So why do we need confirmation? Wasn't baptism good enough?

What happened after Jesus rose from the dead? He visits the apostles, shows them his hands and feet and his glorified body. They knew about crucifixion. It's an evil way to die, designed to cause suffering. And here they see him risen from the dead. And not just them -- Jesus appeared to many people after he was risen. He stayed with the apostles and taught them and strengthened them.

So what happened after Jesus left them and ascended back to heaven? Did they go right out and evangelize and teach and preach? No, they were cowering locked in a room. Even seeing God risen from the dead wasn't enough for them. They needed the Holy Spirit before they were even able to go out of that room. They could not start the Church on their own. Their human strength wasn't enough.

(Here I tried a slightly theological explanation of the Trinity, as opposed to the shamrock version, but I don't know how it went over, or if it was absorbed at all.)

The Spirit came to give his gifts to the church as a whole. In confirmation, you receive the spirit individually. Your own unique talents and gifts -- you as a completely unique person, never before seen and never to be replicated -- are revealed and strengthened and sealed in the Spirit.

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Getting Better and Worse with Age

When I was a young mother, drowning in small children, I looked back on my days of studying theater as a kind of golden heyday. There I was in the thick of it, living in the theater, breathing drama, studying acting and history and stagecraft, doing what I loved. But all that was in the past, of course, and now my future was to be living vicariously through my children.

Here I am now, not quite 40, with my oldest 16 and my youngest 1, playing the blushing ingenue in our community theater's production of The Front Page. I have more fun on stage now than I did in college, because I'm not so worried about what people think of me. It's okay if I look silly, or fall on my face, or if I try my best and it's not enough. Being okay with being mostly competent at something often gives people the courage and the ability to move being mostly competent, or so I've found.

This is an example of the way someone can get better with age. Acting is easier for me now than it was when I was 20 years younger and 50 pounds lighter, because I have the confidence and the life experience to put into practice what I learned as theory. And isn't it nice to be wiser and more mature and to finally have some real technique?

And yet I'm also finding that skills I used to have seem to be slipping away from me. (And I don't mean walking up the stairs without my knees cracking.) In years past as I've taught my religion class, the words seemed to come to me. I was overflowing with ways to explain various concepts or an apt story to illustrate the day's topic. I was able to draw out quieter children or keep the chattier ones engaged (or at least mostly on topic). Maybe I had the energy of youth, I don't know.

Last year seemed to drain that from me. We had our first religion class of the year this past Sunday, and I felt myself struggling. Now we have smaller classes and a complete curriculum -- student workbooks, teacher manuals, journals, supplemental materials, craft supplies for the asking, -- and even with all this support (an entirely scripted lesson if I wanted!) I was grasping for words, feeling my stories fall flat, unable to breech the silence of the eighth-grader who wants nothing more than not to participate in class. Perhaps this is all subjective, but my teaching mojo certainly gives every impression of seeping out of the cracks. I've been looking for years for a sign that I can step away from being a catechist, and if the year continues this way, I may have found it.

Another thing that has slipped away from me is any tolerance for the enthusiasms of the inexperienced. I never volunteer to be one of those people that new homeschoolers can ask their questions, because that sort of thing turns me into the most miserable curmudgeon. There's nothing wrong, I suppose, with wanting your four-year-old to be reading chapter books, or with being distressed that your toddler doesn't share your love for your favorite fantasy series and won't listen through the read-aloud. There's nothing wrong with wanting to provide a structured day to a houseful of kids under 8. I just don't have the patience for it anymore.

This is possibly the other side of the coin for me. I tried hard to get my first four-year-old to read. I wanted to Do The Things. Since then I've had five other four-year-olds, and one still yet to be four, and the thought of implementing more fuss in my life is wearisome. Alas, this doesn't give me compassion for folks full of pep about starting out and wanting to ask all the questions. I feel exasperated at the thought of people actually looking to make more work for themselves, to the point where I have to avoid these kinds of conversations lest I break a bruised reed or quench a smoldering wick. In this regard, age and experience haven't made me more graceful. They have made me hard and brittle.

There is a lie of progress, that we all get better with age, that our best selves are shaped and refined with the years. Maturity does wonders for people, of course, but talent and strength can peak and wane with time. And there's no discounting the cyclical nature of loves, and the situational grace that's withdrawn as circumstances change. New vices come with age, but so do new virtues. And all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.

Saturday, September 15, 2018

The Tie that Binds

An acquaintance of mine, from my homeschooling group, had a little boy last week. I saw the photos when he was born -- a sweet, tiny, soft fellow, perfect in every detail.

Today she is burying him. I'm going to the funeral this morning.

If today isn't the worst day of your life, give thanks to God. And please pray for M. and for baby Sebastian, and for his grieving family. If you have some small trouble today, please offer it for them. I'm offering my own literal pain in the neck -- caused by sleeping next to my own tumbly, snuggly, 14-month-old -- for these friends, and for all whose pain can never be assuaged in this life.

Also today, my son is going to a birthday party for a friend who's turning 10. These friends are from the same homeschooling group. Many of the same parents who are going to the funeral this morning will be meeting again in the afternoon to celebrate double digits and watch their children laughing and singing and generally acting like dopes, which is about the definition of being ten.

If today isn't the best day of your life, please know that it will, it must get better. And offer your troubles for Miss A., a sweet, funny girl turning 10, and for all her carefree friends this afternoon.

We are joined in this strange bond of humanity, in which your pain, though it is always and inseparably yours, can be shared by me, and my joys, even though they are always and inseparably mine, can be shared by you. My sorrow can be offered for your joy, and my joy can inflected by your sorrow. Here I have mentioned some people you didn't know existed, and without knowing them you can be united to them in prayer and sacrifice, through Jesus's great sacrifice which binds us all together.

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Scandal and Truth

The day after the explosive news of Archbishop Vigano's 11-page testimony alleging that Pope Francis had known of former-Cardinal McCarrick's sexual abuse of seminarians and priests under his control, and yet seen fit to make him a key adviser and follow his recommendations in filling US sees, I went to mass, as usual on a Sunday. I went, tired, short of sleep, and dispirited, but I went, because we go not for the institutional Church but for God. And if there's one time we need God, it is when the failures of his followers are so evident.

After mass, I was talking to some friends in the parking lot. One of them thanked me for my links on social media over the prior twenty-four hours covering the scandal.

I found myself wondering: What kind of favor was I doing people by making them aware of this stuff. Here were people active in the parish, devout, whom my online ruminations had ended up showing the full ugliness of the institutional church over the last day. A level of vileness which had kept me up at intervals during the prior night, and had distracted me all through mass. Was I making the world a worse place by sharing such things, by knowing such things? Wasn't the real church the parish we were in, the sacrament we had just received? Why did I feel it necessary to follow the doings far away in Rome, by people whom I will probably never meet?

There's some truth in this. I've said before on occasion: Catholicism is a great faith but a terrible hobby. Following too much of the gossip and faction side of the church can be damaging to one's faith, and if it damages your faith to follow such things you shouldn't do it. Christ is truly present on the altar, but rather obscured in comment boxes. If reading about the insider doings of the church is likely to drive you away, you should't read about them.

But of course, the problem here is not paying attention. In some places, there may be a certain illusory peace to be found in shutting one's eyes and ears to the news and retreating into the sacraments of one's own parish. But the real problem is that our shepherds have not been paying attention to their true mission.

This is part of what I've found so dispiriting about this whole thing, which I can't help thinking of as the falling action of the current papacy. In my naive initial reactions to Pope Francis, it seemed to me that although Francis might not have the focus on intellectual writing and liturgy which had appealed to me in John Paul II and Benedict XVI, that with him we were seeing a focus on the simple message of Christ's love and our need for Christ which might be just what we as the modern world and church needed to hear at this time. The modern world is self regarding. One of the standard attacks on belief we read these days is the question "Is God good enough to be worthy of our belief? Does he measure up to our enlightened standards?" It takes something startling to remind the modern world that we ourselves are in need of Christ's salvation, not the other way round.

Over the last five years I've slowly become less positive about the current papacy, mostly out of concern about its approach to marriage and the ability of us laity to actually pursue virtue. And yet it still seemed to me that lurking out there, waiting for it to become a focus again, was that early emphasis on our need for Christ.

That's the sense in which this round of scandal strikes to deeply to the heart of what the church and the papacy should be.

Our duty, first and foremost, is to lead to Christ, to a life of virtue, to holiness. Our first duty is not to fundraising. It is not to diplomatic missions. It is to heaven.

And so the idea, increasingly confirmed, that Francis from the beginning knew that McCarrick was worldly cleric who was (at the least) chronically unfaithful to his vows, and yet saw him as a useful tool for "his mission" in the world and his new papacy. A pope cannot take the view that "he may be an SOB, but he's our SOB" the way that a corrupt government or corporation might. And yet that seems to be exactly the devils bargain that was made.
"I guess the Lord isn't done with me yet," [McCarrick] told the pope.

"Or the devil doesn't have your accommodations ready!" Francis shot back with a laugh.

McCarrick loves to tell that story, because he loves to tell good stories and because he has a sense of humor as keen as the pope's. But the exchange also says a lot about the improbable renaissance McCarrick is enjoying as he prepares to celebrate his 84th birthday in July.
McCarrick travels regularly to the Middle East and was in the Holy Land for Francis' visit in May. "The bad ones, they never die!" the pope teased McCarrick again when he saw him. [source]
This failure by our shepherds is not some kind of distraction that we can turn away from in order to focus on our core mission. It is a betrayal of our core mission. We cannot teach virtue by shielding and perpetuating vice. That's what makes the betrayal here so deep. Contrary to the initial hope we would be shown a new emphasis on Christ, we have been shown instead a nest of vipers. Evil has been used to attempt to accomplish good, and thus even the good has been corrupted.

Monday, September 10, 2018

Bathrooms of the Rich and Famous

UPDATED with photos by popular request! Most of these were taken when we were first looking at the house, so if the bathroom looks clean and unlived-in, that's why.

Welcome to this episode of Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous Bloggers. Hi, I'm MrsDarwin. I live in a house with five (5) bathrooms, so I have clearly achieved the American dream. Come, let's have a look around.


Before we painted over the Insanity Green.

1. Downstairs powder room. This cozy little chamber, tucked underneath what used to be the backstairs, features a toilet that doesn't start running unless you lift the lid of the tank and jiggle it. You use the toilet, jiggle the lid, wash your hands, pat your hair, and then the potty is ready to flush. Luxury!


Photo from when we were looking at the house -- I've never owned a wicker wastebasket in my life. The ugly wooden lights by the mirror are still there, alas.
Check out the three shower heads and multiple faucets!

Bonus shot of the bathroom window, in which the lead caming has so warped over 90 years that we have gaps in between panes. We've never actually taken down the storm window here.


2. The master bath. This bathroom, en suite with the master bedroom, features a tiled shower with the top technology of 1929 -- an unprecedented three-headed shower, with the heads stacked vertically so that no part of you has to be cold. Unfortunately, we've never been able to use it since the shower pan is cracked, and repairing it would mean busting tile out of a concrete bed. Currently holds baby's bathtub (unused) and random toys. The glass door doesn't actually latch.

The sink is a vintage pedestal model. There are no flat surfaces -- everything on the sides (toothpaste, soap, mug, etc.) eventually rolls down into the sink. Six people brush their teeth in this bathroom. Glamorous!

This is what the plaster looks like today. It's usually hidden behind the shelf casting the shadow.

3. The Jack and Jill bathroom between the front and back bedroom. This spacious charmer has glazed green tile and what's left of the plaster is painted yellow. The elbow pipe under the sink drips, but no fear -- the elegant plastic bucket underneath catches all the water and makes a pleasant "plink". The shower handle is stiff and sprays you with cold water while you're pressing with all your strength to move it to "hot". This bathroom has no overhead light, but you'll adjust, and your pupils will grow larger in the process. Fabulous!


4. The guest bathroom. Herbert Hoover probably used this bathroom in the 50s! Vintage basketweave black and white floor tiles complement square pink wall tiles. This was the shower everyone in the house used, until something went down the unprotected drain and caused it to back up. The plumber is coming again on Wednesday. Heated by radiator which doesn't work, and also by a ceramic wall heater which blew out two years ago, and usually by a radiator plugged into a two-prong extension cord plugged into the bedroom. The electrician won't return my calls. Fantastic!


Okay, so it's not exactly zero entry, but believe me, water doesn't respect the minimal shower floor lip.

5. The attic bathroom. Home of the cat boxes and a unique zero entry shower. Don't go barefoot! The toilet is situated before a square window in the gable. You'll have a charming view over the neighborhood, and in winter and fall, the neighborhood will also have a charming view. Scenic!


Bonus! 6. The old toilet stall in the basement. Upholstered in yellow vinyl quilted with tacks. Hook and eye latch -- on the outside. The water has been shut off to this toilet, but it still managed to back up a few years ago. The perfect shooting location for your low-budget horror film -- dank and atmospheric. Ambiance!

Make me an offer, folks.