Sunday, January 24, 2010

Mirror Darkly

I've had a hankering for new glasses for a few months. It's been one of those covetous hankerings that just won't go away. My current glasses are 3 years old, were hideously expensive, and work perfectly fine. They will likely outlive me. But, still, in comes the hankering. The gnawing desire. The thought that will not die, the relentless "I want" that's crazy leagues from "I need." I love glasses. I would be an Elton John -- no, an Imelda Marcos -- of glasses if I gave free reign to glasslust.

So, yesterday, I drove to the opticians, new prescription in hand, to look at glasses. Not just any glasses. Round glasses. When I read, about a year ago, that "round glasses" were about to be in vogue again, I rejoiced. No more narrow squinty rectangles ! Huzzah ! Well, I am sorry to report that that optical fashionsta was wrong. Glasses are narrower than ever. And for those of us blessed with large heads, narrow squinty rectangles just will not do. You have to trust me on that one. Think "raccoon."

So to get ROUND glasses one must go to the Trendy, Upscale Mall and the Trendy, Upscale Glasses Store. That's where my current hideously-expensive-and-bound-to-outlive-me glasses came from. Yes, they sell scads of narrow glasses in every byzantine and sculptural variation one can imagine, but they also have a respectable selection of round glasses. That's what I, in my feverish Glasslust, was after.

I hadn't been to the Trendy Upscale Mall for years. As I headed toward the walkway from the parking garage, I noticed that Filene's had given way to Bloomingdale's in some variant of retail natural selection. The aerial walkway smelled of tobacco and perfume -- a female smell that tapped into my mother-and-aunt memory bank. But there was nothing motherly or auntish about what awaited me on the other side of the door. A shockwave of sound and light stopped me in my tracks.

I squinted. Things were too shiny. The music throbbed -- hypnotic, almost tuneless, like a heartbeat quickening with desire. To my left were three, headless silver torsos in blue bikinis. Reflected on the out-thrust, gleaming midriffs, my face, with its round glasses and gray hair, looked like that of an aging owl. An alarmed owl. I plunged into the alien environment, feeling a mix of terror and exhilaration. All around me were mannikins, draped in skimpy, expensive clothes, standing with the same posture, leading with the hips; the walls were plastered with outsized names of designers I'd never heard of, icons whose meanings I just could not read. I noticed a knot of giggling girls -- barely adolescent -- admiring a skimpy, sequined dress that two of them would just barely fill.

"Why," I thought, as terror overtook exhilaration, "This is all about sex ! Not just the subtext, but the text itself !"

Then I had an insight.

I've been listening to a series of RCIA podcasts, grappling as usual with my chronic and ever-relapsing Catholic Envy. I have been continuously struck by how absolutely everything the catechist is explicating leads to family -- to family of the One-Man-One-Woman-Having-Sex- Just-To-Procreate sort. Everything from the relationships within the Trinity to the relationship of Christ to the Church entrains a human marital and nuptial metaphor. It puzzled me, frankly, this hypertrophic attention to family matters.

Until I walked into Bloomingdale's and (crone that I am) remembered how much of life is about coupling. Attracting a mate. And mating with said mate. And realized (out-of-it dolt that I am) that the world cares more about coupling than about confronting the Big Ontologic Mystery Of Being Here At All, an activity for which (trust me) no special attire is needed. Except maybe round glasses. So little wonder Bloomingdale's and the Roman Catholic Church address so much secular and spiritual energy in this realm. As the saying goes, "Duh !"

I sprinted through the rest of Bloomingdale's toward the Trendy, Upscale Opticians. It was crowded. People were being fitted with trendy, upscale glasses, some narrow, some round. Dispirited and anxious, I scanned the racks of expensive eyewear. I tried on a few pairs of round glasses, peering myopically through their smudged lenses into a mirror that held the same gray-haired, alarmed owl who'd peered out at me from the silvery manikin abs. I put the glasses back on the rack. The flame of my glasslust had dwindled to a tiny spark. A gray haired man, probably even older than me, stood next to me, leaning against the wall. He looked tired, equally dispirited. Was this glasses thing of mine some cronische vestige of the mating-ritual-garbfest in Bloomingdale's ? Some yearning to appropriate something to my aging face that, short of plastic surgery, might make it look -- ok, I'll say it -- less old ?

I turned and left, deflated, but not defeated. After a half-hearted visit to the downscale glasses store in the downscale mall, where I was told that round glasses were not to be had in the World of Ordinary Optics, I located some round glasses in that Emporium Of Everything, the Internet. And almost bought them. But didn't. What stopped me ?

Disgust. Despair. Exasperation with myself. Stuff like that.

And how did my own church -- holy, catholic and apostolic despite the RC's begging to differ -- assist me with all this ?

The Bishop -- a monk with the SSJE -- was presiding today. His sermon ranged widely from parenting and community to relief in Haiti. There were 2 baptisms, of one young adult and our priest's infant daughter. So the day was all about family and youth, about the upsurge in new parishioners, young couples with families, about vitality, energy, engagement, networking, collaboration.

I grit my teeth and got through it.

And, since I hadn't spent all that money on round glasses that I didn't need, I spent some more on this.

Friday, January 15, 2010


I confess that, last weekend, I peeked ahead on the sacristy Kalendar, looking for purple. One can't speed up the turning of the liturgical year, but I couldn't help longing for the deep gloom of Lent. There's a stretch of green to traverse yet, but Lent is within sight, Lent, like a great gloomy hen under whose wings I long to huddle. Or maybe hide.

Winter has set in, frigid and bright; everything is frozen solid. One evening, recently, the west filled with the most astonishing, cold lavender, fringed with pink -- gate of heaven, star of the sea -- confronted with such a sky, who would not be flooded with compassion for humankind, the poor banished children of Eve ?

Later that evening, standing in line at the supermarket, I gazed at the tabloid headlines, at the racks of candy, at the prattling check-out TV that was competing with the Muzak. Celebrities, junk food, distraction. I had a sudden ictus of absurdity that made me wish I had not dispatched Dr Bouville and his new friend, the morose Curate of St Julian the Wanderer, to the Gehenna of Dead Blogs and dessicated twitter streams.

And yet. And yet.

There has been something obscene about all this -- this what ? -- display ? Even the word that describes it is louche. Blog. Blargh. Blugh. The sound of existential nausea & vomiting. Look at me. Reassure me I exist. Confirm me in my opinions, validate me in my biases, deem me special. Note how clever (or sensitive, witty, articulate, complicated, spiritual, learned, orthodox, heterodox, or totally adoxic) I am. And note, while you're at it, how humble I am !

There are fat motherlodes of triumphalism ramifying through these interwebs-of-blargh. Sectarian triumphalism, liturgical triumphalism, doctrinal triumphalism -- and the dominant modes of triumphalism are smugness, condescension, ridicule, disdain, self-aggrandizement.

It is all so much flatus masquerading as afflatus.

Mea culpa. Mea culpa. Mea maxima culpa.

Blargh. Blargh.

No wonder I am pining for Lent, for a sound shriving.

Note to mortal flesh: STFU.

Friday, January 01, 2010


Beyond the stubblefields,
between the sumac and the lean-to shed,
and beside the rusting plow
a compost heap --
dung, straw, gourds, stalks, leaves --
squats on a flat of ice and mud.
Fragrant smoke rises just so far.
New snow reaches and blankets the ground.
Lord, open my lips -- and my white breath ascends
just so far before it disappears
and snow falls past my teeth and tongue,
our corporate prayer,
a mass, an open grave.