Open doors

For Catholics this is the Year of Mercy, and in honor of it, special doors are standing open at cathedrals and major churches throughout the world, doors that are usually closed. There are red carpets, lintel inscriptions, ceremonies, pilgrimages. The doors are meant to be a promise of openness from our church, and an invitation to form or reform our relationship with God.

My dear little church isn't important enough to have such a door. Its not a cathedral. It's not a major landmark on the tourist trail. It's just a bright, airy place, recently renovated, with a community still growing into its new shape. We're just getting used to the new stained glass windows, and the walled garden is only now underway where there used to be waste ground. My pastor tweeted a picture of it this morning, all sand and dirt and new-laid paving stones.

Gardens. You can tell the core of the Christian narrative, the story arc of mercy, in three gardens: Eden, Gethsemane, and the garden with the empty tomb. And Lent is the time to work on the gardens of our hearts, to weed out the bad and prepare a space for the good, for the bright blooming of Easter. Even leaving aside seasonal considerations, it's a fitting time to be building the garden of our church.

I had an extra errand to run today before Mass (I go when I can; our daily Mass is luminous). So instead of approaching the building from the front, as I usually do, I cycled to it from the back, where the door to the garden stood open behind piles of sand and mulch.

I nearly fell off my bike, there behind my simple suburban church. The door. To the garden. Stood open.

Notions of importance and ceremonies aside, lintels and carpets notwithstanding, may the doors you seek be open, and admit you to the gardens you need to spend time in this Lent.

Voor katholieken is dit het Jaar van Barmhartigheid, ter ere waarvan speciale deuren openstaan in kathedralen en hoofdkerken overal ter wereld, deuren die anders gesloten blijven. Daar liggen de tapijten, daar vind je de inscripties op de bovendrempel, de plechtige vieringen, de bedevaarten. De deuren zijn bedoeld als aan belofte van openheid vanuit onze kerk, en een uitnodiging om onze relatie met God vorm te geven of te hervormen.

Mijn dierbare bescheiden kerk is niet belangrijk genoeg om zo'n deur te hebben. Zij is geen kathedraal. Zij is geen 'landmark' in het toeristische spoor. Zij is slechts een lumineuze, ijle plaats, kort geleden gerenoveerd, met een gemeenschap die nog steeds groeit in haar nieuwe gedaante. We raken gewend aan de nieuwe gebrandschilderde ramen, en de ommuurde tuin, waar woeste grond was, is eerst nu in ontwikkeling. Mijn pastor tweette vanmorgen daarvan een foto, zand en aarde en nieuw gelegde tegels.

Tuinen. Je kunt het hart van de Christelijke vertelling, de verhaalboog van barmhartigheid, in drie tuinen vertellen: Eden, Getsemane, en de tuin met het lege graf. En de Vasten is de tijd om te werken in de tuinen van onze harten, om het slechte uit te trekken en een plaats te bereiden voor het goede, voor de schitterende bloei van Pasen. Zelfs wanneer je de seizoensgebonden overwegingen terzijde laat, is het een geschikte tijd om te bouwen aan de tuin van onze kerk.

Vandaag moest ik nog een boodschap doen voor de Mis (ik ga wanneer ik kan; onze dagelijkse Mis is lichtend). In plaats van het gebouw aan de voorkant te naderen, zoals ik gewoon ben, kwam ik aanfietsen vanaf de achterzijde, waar achter hopen zand en schelpen de deur naar de tuin openstond.

Bijna viel ik van mijn fiets, daar achter mijn eenvoudige, suburban kerk. De deur. Naar de tuin. Stond open.

Alle noties van belangrijkheid en ceremonies terzijde geschoven, bovendorpels en tapijten ten spijt, mogen de deuren die je zoekt openstaan, en jou binnenvoeren in de tuinen die je nodig hebt om deze vastentijd in te verwijlen.

(translated into Dutch by Fr. Nico van der Peet for our parish website)

Silence in the hill-country

Mary arrived in the hill country of Judah, nauseated and exhausted with the first stage of pregnancy. She was still deeply unsettled from that night a few weeks before, from the angel, from the choice she had made, from the knowledge that nothing would ever be the same again. And Joseph...she wasn't ready to think about Joseph.

Then came that first conversation in the doorway. On the one hand, knowing that Elizabeth and Zechariah believed her story not because it was she who told it, but because they knew it to be true, was a comfort. On the other, she was sick to death of words. She'd come to the house for quiet Elizabeth and silent Zechariah, not for prophecy and proclamation.

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Fangs and Fascination

We got into literary crossovers on Making Light, and someone suggested "Jane Austen's Interview with the Vampire". A couple of hours later, I awoke, logomadida, to find the following on my screen:

- o0o -

The family of Pointe du Lac had not long been settled in Louisiana, having emigrated from France some five years previously. Their house was elegant and well-appointed, built with the revenues of their indigo plantations beside the Mississippi River. The father, until his death, encouraged his wife and daughter in all the fashionable pursuits: visiting, and dancing, and playing on the harpsichord. After his passing, they continued much as they had during his life. The elder of the two sons, Louis, succeeded his sire in the management of the estate, which, though of a value to support the family in comfort, required a certain amount attention. Nevertheless, he too found time for the respectable pursuits of a country gentleman.

The fourth member of the reduced household, Louis's younger brother Paul, was of a more serious bent. Despite his mother's and sister's insistence, he preferred to remain in his rooms rather than join them on visits or expeditions of pleasure. His elder brother encouraged him in his pursuits, providing him with an oratory for his use and protecting him from the worst of their demands.

It was therefore a great scandal, and excited much comment in the community, when Paul fell to his death shortly after an argument with his brother. Pointe du Lac refused to give any account of the accident, but his conduct in the days leading up to the funeral was of such a nature as to arouse suspicion in even the most trusting of his neighbors. He was said to have stayed by his brother's remains for some time, and emerged distraught and troubled. His stiff demeanor during the ceremony was much observed and commented on, but few could agree whether he was paralyzed by an excess of emotion or entirely lacking in it.

Shortly after the tragedy, Pointe du Lac employed a firm of agents to manage the estate and removed with his mother and sister to New Orleans. However, the notoriety surrounding his brother's death was not so easily dispensed with. The entire family encountered a falling-off of invitations, particularly to the more select gatherings, and those they did attend were filled with the vulgarly curious and the coldly rude. Miss Pointe du Lac, with portion and beauty alike to recommend her, found herself bereft of suitors, while her mother sat alone more mornings than she hosted visitors.

Pointe du Lac, widely seen as the author of his family's troubles, ceased to pursue the life of a gentleman. He did not attend even those few parties to which he was invited, instead spending his time in the more disreputable establishments of the city. His remaining friends reported finding him in an unfortunate condition with increasing frequency. It was rumored that his debts were soon to outstrip the income from his estates. He was said to have provoked duels and refused to fight them.

It was to no one's surprise, then, and few people's disappointment, when his unconscious body was found outside of his door one morning. He was ill in a fashion that the family doctor was unable to diagnose, and was indeed held to be on the verge of death. Mme Pointe du Lac sent for a priest, and she and her daughter prepared to be bereaved for a third time. Their incipient grief was interrupted when Pointe du Lac, with an hysteric's strength, drove the priest violently from his bedchamber. Whether they preferred the embarrassment of the assault to the dread of his death is not clear, but Mme Pointe du Lac took to her bed after seeing the unfortunate cleric out.

Pointe du Lac heard of his mother's indisposition, along with his sister's less disabling—but no less painful—sufferings, when Miss Pointe du Lac attended him in his bedchamber that evening. "How could you treat Father Pierre in that fashion?" she cried. "You know that he will tell all of the neighbors that you meant to kill him, tho' he but tripped on our stairs."

"I did mean to kill him," replied her brother. "He was talking about Paul."

"Of course he was talking about Paul!" Miss Pointe du Lac wrung her cloth in the bowl of lavender water on the bedside table and bathed her brother's forehead with it. "There is no one in New Orleans who does not talk of Paul, and you, and what might have happened between the two of you! I vow, I hear nothing but Paul, Paul, Paul, all the day long! But need you make things worse with such behavior?"

"I confess, dear sister, I was not thinking of your social trials when I did it." She cried out at this, but Pointe du Lac refused to discuss the matter further. In time, as tired by worry as by irritation, she laid her head on the table and dozed beside the bed.

Shortly after she fell asleep, a gentlemen entered the room through the patio doors. He was tall and slightly built, with pale skin and blond hair falling to his shoulders. He saw that Pointe du Lac was awake, and approached the bed.

"I see that there is no one here in a position to introduce me to your acquaintance, so I will have to perform the office myself. I am Lestat de Lioncourt, and we have, after a fashion, already met."

- o0o -

Originally posted on Making Light


No frozen ground-swell damages my wall,
And all the warrens have been hunted out.
My neighbor's apples withered in the drought,
While since the fire I've got no pines at all.
What woods are left are never filled with snow,
Nor crossed by grassy paths just wanting wear.
I seldom stop; the thought that strikes me there
Is how I rue that no more hemlocks grow.
Some say the world will end in fire, while some
In water that erodes the shore defense.
From what I've seen so far of man's good sense,
I doubt it matters much. The end will come.
So all our wealth and words will wash away
Or burn to ash. For nothing gold can stay.

(Originally posted on a thread on climate change on Making Light)

Supporting the Lurkers in the Emails: the Onstage Version

[This is an edited version of a post that I put up earlier, but have friendslocked in order to create a freer space for discussion. I'd like to still have this piece of thinking publicly visible; thus the repost. If you are not on my flist and think you should be for that discussion, contact me.]

If I'm a conscious ally of anyone on the internet, it's people who grew up in dysfunctional or abusive families. I'm in private correspondence with a fair number of people in that situation in the fannish community, loosely construed.

Of course, different people deal with such upbringings differently, but a non-trivial number of the people I correspond with have PTSD from various childhood situations. Most of them have triggers around verbal or physical violence, or both.

A good number of the people who learned as children* that verbal violence leads inescapably to physical violence find $THINGFails to be trigger-rich environments. When the $THINGFail discussion sweeps by them on the way to some other target, they tend to be shaken, sometimes for days on end. When they are even arguably the target of the $THINGFail, the reactions are much worse. People freeze up, or lash out, or do both in alternation. People break, and don't heal afterwards.

Now, I am aware of the term "tone argument", and I think it's an extremely valuable conversational tool. It's a good description of one way that people's experiences and perspectives can be devalued because they cannot maintain some idealized emotional detachment about matters that affect their lives. It's a diagnosis of a conversational ill that damages both the discourse and the people participating in it (for clarity: the ill does the damage, not the diagnosis).

Unfortunately, as implicit permission to be as angry as you like in the debate, it's also the doorway to triggering a different kind of damage. Not everyone can put their "big girl pants" on and suck up whatever tone gets used in these discussions; some people find themselves dropped into the middle of PTSD episodes because of them. Nor can everyone apologize when challenged by a large crowd†; some people are too busy reliving earlier abuse.

These people don't tend to put their hands up and say, "Wait, stop! I'm triggering here!" either. One doesn't admit weakness, frailty, vulnerability in the midst of these things. That's another lesson from being abused: showing weakness is just an invitation for the hurt to become more targeted, more effective, more damaging.

And it doesn't go away when the storm passes, because this is the internet. The hurtful words are still there, and if one triggered when they were written, one triggers again when rereading them, or even considering rereading them. For some of my friends, there is no way out of the maze except to leave the community altogether. Some have. Others have considered it.

Basically, there is a difficult balance to be struck between those who would pay a cost for suppressing their anger and those who would pay a cost for encountering it unbridled. My concern is that, in the standards of discourse that currently operate, that latter cost is completely off the books. People don't pretend that anger is easy to deal with, but they do assume that it's possible for everyone because it's hard but possible for them. And that is simply not true.

If the essence of privilege is not understanding that the world looks different to people different than you, then the fact that the tone argument (loosely construed, in other words, any mention of anger) is an automatic derail is a privileged protocol. But there's not even a name for the privilege of not having PTSD.

I don't have a solution to this. On bad days, I wonder if that cost to our larger community, our occasionally dysfunctional family of fandom, really matters to everyone. Maybe people think it's OK that voices are lost to the choir, not because of what they say but because they can't take the protocols of discourse. There's certainly a whole lot of "don't care" out there right now. On good days, I hope that the commonality of our goals—equality, free discussion, truth, hope and love—will somehow prevail.

Until then, I'm still supporting the lurkers in the e-mails.

Nota Bene: You may think you know who this is about. You're probably wrong; not all of my correspondents are otherwise-known associates of mine, and few of my closer friends have discussed this matter with me in these terms. This could describe anyone who has melted down, freaked out, or frozen up in these sorts of discussions.

* Or, indeed, later; some people encounter enough abuse after childhood to end up with PTSD.

† Even a friendly, kindly crowd bent on explaining rather than accusing can be overwhelming and upsetting; it's like standing in front of a fire hose. And the outliers, the already angry, and the plain old griefers who gather like vultures to these conflicts can seem representative when one is under the dogpile.

I always think of you on boats

I always think of you on boats,
Remember you on river ferries
Among the cycles and the coats.

The breeze is singing minor notes:
A tune whose timbre never varies.
I always think of you on boats.

Above the deck, a seagull floats,
Its cries the windstorm steals and buries
Among the cycles and the coats.

A single drop of rain denotes
That summer comfort never tarries.
I always think of you on boats.

Inside the cabin, sun strikes motes
Of dust the autumn windstorm carries
Among the cycles and the coats.

At last to dock the ferry floats
To journey's end, as winter harries.
I always think of you on boats
Among the cycles and the coats.

(I don't usually do villanelles. Oh, well.)

Dreamwidth code?

OK, yeah, not so much for the posting of stuff (I barely post here, even), but for the reading of comments and the commenting and the desperate feeling that I'm LEFT OUT OF TEH KOOL STUFF...anyone have a code they're willing to pass on?

Then, at last, at last, I tell you, I will be in with the hip kids! I am sure that good-looking celebrities will seek me out purely to swoon at my feet, and the moonpath will appear to me even on cloudy nights. I will have three wishes, and I will wish for (1) three more wishes, (2) Geert Wilders' hair to go floppy, and (3) unbelievable luck for whoever gives me a Dreamwidth code.

I can hardly wait.

Tentacle porn sonnet

Haven't written a sonnet in a while, but this one just fell out of the keyboard.

The family was mortified, of course.
His wife surprised him, coming up behind
him quietly. She thought she wouldn't mind
If he was surfing porn, but this was worse.
He minimized the window, stammered out
Excuses: "Only once, it doesn't mean
A thing, and it just popped up on the screen!"
And then he turned all serious, the lout.
He straightened up his tentacles and said,
"I love you, but I love these women more.
I slip myself into their hidden caves
And Kraken-like, create such mighty waves
That they are shipwrecked, storm-tossed on their shore.
I dream at night of skin devoid of suckers
I'm one of them, my dear: the human-fuckers."

Posted on Making Light

Safety briefings, Tom Bombadil style

Written for a parlor game post for Making Light:

Hey now passengers, look up here and listen,
Time for safety-talk, nothing to be missing!
First the safety belt, buckled up and pulled tight
Open with a latch-lift, steel shining moon-bright.

On this airplane, eightfold are the ways out:
Front and back and over-wings we point out.
Watch and learn, and may I just remind you
That your nearest one may lie behind you.

If the cabin's dark, gaze you down at the floor
Lights will shine out, make a path to the door.
Leave all bags behind, take no stabbing heel-shoes
Jump, don't sit down, or the slides as rafts use.

Now beneath your seat a life vest
Put on just so, double bows will hold best.
Light and whistle, tube to take a breath-draft
Don't inflate it till you leave the aircraft!

Hid above you, masks in their compartments
But if air grows thin in these apartments
They'll drop swiftly. Fit your own as I've shown
Then when you're safe, help those only half-grown.

On this airplane, none may smoke their pipe-weed
And you must obey the crew as they need.
If there's safety knowledge that you still lack
See the card that sits inside your seat back.

Now is time for you to stow your cases
Under or over, fitting in their spaces.
Seat backs, tables, all should be upright now
Toys off, phones off, ready for our flight now!