Saturday, December 31, 2011


Surgery done.

It was very hard.

I didn't run away from the hospital at the last moment, but it was a close thing. Very close. When it came down to the wire, I felt like an animal backed into a corner of a cage. Only the knowledge that not going through with it would badly hurt others forced me through the barrier.

I think I'm going to be taking a break from blogging for a while. This has changed a lot of things for me, and I'm no longer completely sure who and what I am. Difficult to have anything to say to other people from that position.

Thank you again to everyone who prayed.

We will not know if cancer is over for another few weeks. When we have the verdict from the histology, I will post the results.

If the news is bad, I think I will be done with both blogging and treatment.


Tuesday, December 27, 2011


In hospital from 10 am tomorrow until I don't know when. I won't be available for visiting or much of anything for some time to come.

It is possible that news will be posted on Facebook.


Monday, December 26, 2011

Her Maj.


So glad she's ditched the tedious political correctness.


Saturday, December 24, 2011

Let's all play Diocesan Two-step

We've all done it, all been the recipient of it at one time or another...

- Catholic layman gets fed up with the disaster in the Church. Writes letter

- Letter ignored.

- Enterprising Layman sets up his own apostolate (like is says in Vatican II to do) and starts doing what he can to set things right.

- Local bishop gets wind of this from his pet heretical nun/vicar general/local priests or other deranged minions

- Bishop sends letter to Enterprising Layman telling him to knock all this Catholic stuff off or else...

- Layman asks for meeting with bishop to discuss it.

- Bishop ignores request.

- Layman carries on.

- Bishop sends more letters. Gets annoyed when letters ignored, issues press release telling Layman to stop and making sure all the world sees.

- Kerfuffle ensues in the media, layman asks for meeting with bishop, tells press.

- Bishop continues to ignore request for meeting and lets it be known that he is furious over the hundreds of calls and emails with which his office is suddenly flooded.

- Nuncio contacted... letters to Rome...


In recent years, however, the bishops have become vaguely aware of this thing called the "interwebs" or some such, and have been annoyed by swarms of people contacting their offices and upsetting the natural order of things by demanding meetings and action on various things. It is making their lives very difficult, I'm sure.

Bishops' favourite word for work like Michael's is "divisive". For some reason, they all think that the whole world is as terrified of the word as they are, and that it will induce laypeople to shut up and go with the flow.

Below is a classic, nay, textbook case illustrating this drearily familiar comedy routine.

In a press release
issued December 15 and signed by Communications officer Joe Kohn, the Archdiocese of Detroit states: “The Archdiocese has informed Mr. Voris and Real Catholic TV,, that it does not regard them as being authorized to use the word ‘Catholic’ to identify or promote their public activities."
[The correct response to this is to shrug. I am a Catholic layman, I am not opposing the Faith or obstructing the work of the bishop and I am acting according to the directives of the last Council and various papal encyclicals on the proper role of the laity. So, the only thing to say is, "Thank you very kindly, Bishop Vigneron, for your helpful advice. Be assured that I and my staff continue to include you and your intentions in our daily prayers, and we wish you and yours a very happy Christmas." Since the bishop has gone public, this letter should be produced on Enterprising Layman's website, along with a running tally of the number of formal requests for a meeting between Enterprising Layman and his spiritual father.]
Of note there are prominent ‘Catholic’ entities and even Catholic priests in the Archdiocese of Detroit directly flouting Church teaching without a comparable reprimand from the Archdiocese. One such entity is a group of priests of the Archdiocese who are publicly in favor of women’s ordination to the priesthood and against the Church’s teaching prohibiting contraception. The group is called “Elephants in the living room.”

There is however an interesting twist to this story. Michael Voris, while he may be the star of RealCatholicTV’s programming, is not the owner of the website. The owner is Marc Brammer who lives in South Bend Indiana in the diocese of Bishop Kevin Rhoades.

Brammer told LifeSiteNews, “I own I contracted with Michael Voris to produce video content for that website and I pay him for it. It is a business relationship between me and Michael. If all of a sudden now there’s this tussle over the use of the word ‘Catholic’ I’ll deal with it through competent ecclesial authority.”

Brammer noted that he had received a letter from the Archdiocese of Detroit acknowledging him as the owner of the website. He responded to that letter with a request for a meeting with the Archdiocese. He received no response. Brammer has not been asked by his bishop, Fort Wayne-South Bend Bishop Kevin Rhoades to cease using the word Catholic.

A LifeSiteNews request for an interview with the Archdiocese of Detroit was not returned, and the voice message noted that the office was on holiday till after Christmas.

The press release from the Archdiocese of Detroit notes, “The Church encourages the Christian faithful to promote or sustain a variety of apostolic undertakings but, nevertheless, prohibits any such undertaking from claiming the name Catholic without the consent of the competent ecclesiastical authority.”
[There is no law anywhere copyrighting the word "Catholic," nor is there any provision in canon law allowing a bishop to reprimand a layman in good standing with the Church for using the word publicly.]
The release adds, “For some time, the Archdiocese of Detroit has been in communication with Mr. Michael Voris and his media partner at Real Catholic TV regarding their prominent use of the word ‘Catholic’ in identifying and promoting their public activities disseminated from the enterprise’s production facility in Ferndale, Michigan.”

Voris says that communication was only one way – directives from the Archdiocese and refusal to meet with Voris or Brammer to discuss the matter. Voris told LifeSiteNews that he has requested a meeting with Archdiocesan officials seven times to discuss the matter, but each time he has been ignored or rebuffed.

According to its minutes, Elephants in the living room (the group of priests which publicly holds positions counter to Catholic teachings on women priests and contraception), met with Detroit Archbishop Allen Vigneron on February 1, 2011.

If you find yourself at loose ends during the holidays, perhaps you would enjoy playing the game too.

Archbishop Allen H. Vigneron
Chancery Building
Archdiocese of Detroit
1234 Washington Blvd.
Detroit, MI 48226

Phone: (313) 237-5800
Fax: (313) 237-4644

Friday, December 23, 2011

Homeless Waif Christmas dinner

Why is it SO difficult these days to get people to understand the need to RSVP to a party? Particularly a dinner party for which a lot of food needs to be bought well in advance.

Would the people who are planning to come on Sunday please let me know as soon as possible either on FB or here or by email.

Plenty of people have sent "regrets," but so far, the ones who have told me verbally they will come have not yet responded on FB. I'm already buying food, but so far I have no idea how much to get.

Please click the "attending" thing so I know in time.



Thursday, December 22, 2011

More contemporary art I don't hate

So, last night, I was having trouble sleeping and was cruising around the classical realist world on the net, and I came across this site.

I was looking all over her blog and drawings page and thinking, "Gosh! how could I ever learn to do this? Who could possibly teach it to me?"

Turns out the answer is, exactly who I'm studying with.

She was a student of Andrea's in New York.

Small art world.

She's still studying, but look what she can do!

Master copies...

Figure studies...

This is what she calls a "sketch"...

Ah, yah. My sketches don't look like this, I can tell you.

If there was one particular thing that I could be said to be interested in living for...


Wednesday, December 21, 2011


Another pic that comes from the wonderful Underpaintings site.

I want to start this post with a disclaimer. I'm not sure what we make of ideas like "intuition" as Catholics, but right up front, I want to make it clear that I don't believe in ESP or any of that quasi-occult/parapsychological stuff. I think somehow intuition is a real thing, though. I think sometimes God will give you a little hint about some things sometimes, for His own reasons that even those who are given these little hints don't know.

I know my stepfather Graham knew without a doubt that he would die young, and he did indeed die at 48. For many years, at least since my early 20s, I have had an equal conviction that I would die of cancer. I don't claim to have any sort of divinely inspired knowledge, but it's there very firmly and has never gone away. When I was diagnosed, I was horrified and almost blind with fear, but not surprised.

Yesterday, we a very comprehensive and fruitful meeting with one of the Gemelli's oncologists and things are settled for surgery to be booked in the week between Christmas and New Year's. Which is next week, now that I think of it. I got to ask all my questions and have, I hope, cleared up the communication problem by getting the cell phone number of the doctor who speaks English.

She was very surprised to hear that I had been left alone with no followup after chemo and said that this is certainly not normal practice. There was some speculation that this was the fault of the oncology secretary who does not speak more than two words of English and who therefore may have been avoiding dealing with me, a common Italian habit.

Nevertheless, things are cleared up for the moment. I got the doctor to fax my medical records to my GP here in Santa Marinella, got her assurance that I can call or text her with questions or problems any time. I also now have a back-up oncologist now who works in Civitavecchia who answers his phone, speaks English and has agreed to help if there are problems. So we hope that the difficulties with communication and support will be cleared up.

But the gist of what she told me was not very encouraging and it has set me thinking about things. As we know, the last surgery showed that there were still cancerous cells in the area around the tissue they removed. the chemotherapy was only partially successful, with the tumour reduced in size but not as much as they had hoped and the cells still active. This means we have to go ahead with the large surgery. I will have all my reproductive organs out next week and they will be sent to the lab for more detailed examination. They are hoping that there will be no more evidence of cancer in the margins but there will be no way of knowing anything until they've taken it all out and had a look cell by cell.

If the cancer has spread into the organs past the uterus or in the lymph nodes in the parametrium, I will be facing more "procedures," whatever they may be. But this isn't so hopeful, because they weren't expecting to find cancer in the margins from the last surgery, and yet, there they were.

There is no way to tell without surgical removal of the suspect tissue whether the cancer has spread into other organs and systems. Micrometastases are too small to be detected by scans and can easily be missed by biopsies. In fact, they can only be found by removal of entire organs. I asked if there was a chance that there were micrometastases hiding anywhere else, and she admitted that the possiblity certainly exists. The only way that scans can tell is after the tiny single cells have started dividing and growing tumours and there is no predicting when or where that will happen.

The surgery back in May showed there were no cancer cells in the lymph nodes around the affected area and the PET scan I had showed that the metabolic activity surrounding the tumour is reduced since chemotherapy. Chemo's effects last for some time, (as I am reminded daily) so it is likely that the cancer is not developing or developing very fast. The doctor said it was "probably" safe to wait until after Christmas but said it would be unwise to leave the surgery any longer.

If there is cancer found in the margins after this surgery, the only thing left to do for the time being is more chemotherapy or radiotherapy. The cancer, however, has already shown itself to be chemo-resistant so if this surgery doesn't remove it entirely, there isn't a great deal they can do but dose me and wait for it to emerge somewhere else. Or not, as the case may be. If the cancer spreads to organs that I can't live without, there is only chemo, and as we have seen, there is only so much that can be expected of that.

Truth to tell, I am becoming less and less confident as we go along. Each time they have told me that the initial signs are positive, the actual examination has shown things to be worse than they had hoped.

A friend of mine has said "it's just fear" but I disagree. It is certainly an idea that I'm afraid of, but the idea itself was there first. I can't help thinking that I'm on a path to the end of my life.

For the first year after I was here, I was under the impression that I had been brought here by God to start a new happy life, possibly with marriage in the offing. But even then, I remember thinking that maybe it was not that I was here to start a nice new life, but to get myself safely to the end of the old one.

From the start, I never really thought of any plans to leave Italy. There has never been any exit strategy or end-date to my stay here, and no pressing reason to ever go anywhere else. And despite its infamous aggravations, this country is growing on me. It has taken me a while to get to the realisation, but I have no intention of ever leaving as long as it remains possible for me to live here legally.

I don't know when I started thinking I would probably die here, but it was fairly soon after I came. Really, it is hard to imagine a better place to do that and to live the last part of life. Beautiful Italy, by the seaside, surrounded with friends and upheld by the Church in a Catholic country.


I've said it and said it

The first assault was not contraception but easy divorce. It has made a world where commitment means nothing.


The 64 Bus

Everyone who has spent more than a week in Rome will be familiar with the number 64 bus that starts at San Pietro station, runs past the Vatican, crosses the Tiber and runs through the Centro, stopping at the Argentina tram stop and on up the hill to Termini train station.

If you get on it anywhere after the St. Peter's end of the loop, this is what it is like. We were trying to get home from the Quirinale the other night and that is closer to the Termini end of the route. We had to let six buses go by before there was one we could get on.

And then there's the gypsy pickpockets. There's a reason they call the 64 the Pickpocket Express, though I've been lucky so far.

Here's a tip for those staying in Santa Marinella: get any of the main route buses to Argentina, which is a major bus convergence point, and wait the extra few minutes for a number 70. This will take you up most of the route to Termini, but swings past Mary Major and takes you down to the other end of the Termini station. This will help you avoid all the horrors of the 64, the pickpockets, the sardine-packed crowds, and at the end save you a 10 minute walk down to the end of the station where the Civitavecchia/Pisa/Grosseto trains leave.

The 64 is somewhat notorious.

H/T to Vicky for the pic.


Cat in love

Winnie meets her true love... the space heater.


Beat the Man

A lot of Rome's museums won't let you take photos. I've learned to be quite adept at sneaking my camera around with my coat over my arm.

Vicky decided to stick it to The Man in her own way at the Lippi exhibition.


Monday, December 19, 2011

What else is art good for?

In Western societies, particularly in the post-colonial Anglo nations, we are suffering a terrible crisis of self-understanding. One of the things that struck me the hardest when I finally went back to England as an adult was that the English seemed to have forgotten how to be English. They have forgotten who they are. The older ones seemed to remember but appear to have learned to be ashamed of it. It was a very strange thing and I marked it at the time as a terrible evil. A society that doesn't have a self-understanding, doesn't have a sense of who and what it is, can't be one that will survive for long.

One of the things that art does, particularly painting, is to help define a cultural identity. For obvious reasons this is especially true of Italy. I'm still working my way around Vasari's Lives of Artists and it is clear that the world of painting for three of the most important centuries of art were utterly dominated by Italians (as we call them now).

But if we want to know who we are, how we think of things, how we see the world and what it means to us, painting is obviously the most direct and simple means. I think if the English were to revisit their artistic heritage, there would be great gains in re-establishing a solid national identity.

Make kids look at and understand Constable, Turner and Gainsborough. Familiarise them with Pre-Raphaelites. Once you have introduced them to the painters and their works, they will not be able to avoid also gaining a broader understanding of their own history and culture.

Art tells us how we see ourselves and our neighbours and how we should or could live. It shows us what life can look like from perspectives and times that we might never be able to experience personally. This can have a profound effect on a young mind. It certainly did to me. It immunised me against the cultural malaise and historical amnesia, all the social disaster that was coming throughout the 70s and 80s. It has helped me solidify my own self-understanding and helped to rescue me from that diseased anti-culture that has taken over the world since the 1960s.

It is in great part because of my knowledge of art history and the general cultural knowledge that came with it, that I have been able, in a way, to recapture or rebuild who I really am after fighting my way out of that toxic feminist/hippie fantasy world. And I see no reason that it could not do the same thing for whole cultures, entire societies that have been deracinated and have lost their identities.

When I first looked at the painting above, I thought, "This is me. Or at least it was. The painting seems to exactly depict my childhood and the core of who I was before the calamities of my adolescence and young adulthood made me forget it all."

Art can help you see yourself, the sort of person you are or could be or want to be. And it is true that a lot of my childhood looked exactly like this, right down to the little velvet dress with white lace cuffs. Only mine was brown. My mother made it for me when I was five and I remember the cuffs getting dirty on the London Underground.

Here's a little thing the class can do while I'm working on something else. A kind of art thought experiment for y'all. Look over at some of the art sites I've got on the sidebar. Underpaintings is a really good one, and see if there is a painting that strikes you as deeply. Find one that is a kind of picture of your inner self, your character. See what you come up with.

Sometimes it is a bit surprising and it is possible to learn things about yourself that you never knew by looking at art and measuring your reactions to it.

If you find one that is really good, share it with the rest of the class.


Sunday, December 18, 2011

The NICE Catholic bloggers

I'm glad I'm not the only one with serious reservations about Patheos, the home of the Nice Catholic Bloggers.

Dymphna has mentioned it too, and in reference to a friend of ours here at O's P.
I can't stand Patheos. It's like the Borg on Star Trek. It takes fun bloggers and turns them into drones. Being with Patheos has completely ruined the once delightful Anchoress and I just hope that Crescat doesn't change.

Cat is in my baddest of bad books right now after she wrote this piece of drooling, self-congratulatory, politically correct drivel. It was certainly a sign to me that the Patheos spirit of NewChurch compromise has her brain in its death claw.

But she's still someone I respect and like a lot and I've told her many times that her move to Patheos was going to be a disaster.

So I'm going to reiterate my long-time list of Rules To Live By in NewChurch and Modernity, primary among which is

Never join anything.

followed in no particular order by

Abolish everything.

Never found, start, organise or volunteer for anything.

Never trust anything Catholic that is less than 500 years old.

You can't kill people to solve your problems.

Only the real counts.

Reality is conservative. (Thanks Mrs. Thatcher)

No temptation is so great that it can't be resisted by running away.

Old things are better than new things.

Contrary to what everyone thinks, it actually is sometimes too late.


Ever worry about how much time you spend on the internet?

Yeah. Me too.

I'm re-reading Kenneth Clark's book Civilisation, the companion thing to his brilliant and ever-new 1960s BBC TV series examining the growth of Western Civilisation through its art. Or, I should say, I was reading it. Because, of course, it didn't take me long to figure out that the series is on YouTube. So guess which book is now sitting by my bed gathering dust?


Oh well, there's always Vasari, who isn't on the net, as far as I can see (yes, I've looked). And when I start feeling better and get back to regular working hours, I'm going to start getting into Rome at least three or four days a week. Which means at least two hours a day of reading time. Which is how I got through the entire oeuvre of Jane Austen.



Friday, December 16, 2011


I've been thinking of making Winnie her own Facebook page.


Hero from Miguel Endara on Vimeo.

I'm never going to do this kind of drawing. It's cool and everything, but,

well, really!


Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Dear 16 year-old me,

I know no one in your life is going to tell you, hemmed around as you are with hippies and feminists and people addicted to The Lie, but you really need to know this:

Don't sleep around.

You will destroy your chances of marriage, crush your spiritual life, blight your happiness and wither your heart. You will kill your soul and warp your personality forever.

I know that you think it is the only thing that gives you any sense of being real and alive, but it is like drinking water that only makes you more thirsty. You will spend 30 years drowning in clinical depression, self-loathing and countless hundreds of nights convulsed with weeping. It will ruin you utterly.

By the time you start to wise up in your 20s, it will be too late to undo the damage. It will cause a mental, emotional and spiritual destruction down to the foundations of who you are, your total self-understanding. And you will spend the rest of your life trying to rebuild.

Oh, and you will catch HPV, which you won't know about until they tell you you've got cancer and they have to cut out your uterus and ovaries. This will happen at a time in your life when you think you have finally got things together and are starting to generate faint and distant hopes of a normal life. It will destroy your hesitant little dreams of married happiness that will hardly even have had a chance to blossom.

It will send you down a medical path that will take you far away from where you thought you were headed. This will happen at the exact moment when you thought you had finally managed to reconstruct your whole self. You will be forced to start again. You will have to downshift your expectations and to abandon the last shreds of hope that you will ever be able to fix the things that went wrong so long ago.

* ~ * ~ *

Ever wonder why I hate feminism so much?


Sunday, December 11, 2011

Brutalist by name, brutal by nature

Intelligent comment from the Adam Smith Institute on why the British Housing Estates need to be knocked down as soon as possible:
Opposition to post-war architecture tends to focus on aesthetic concerns. And, certainly, much of it is appalling ugly, almost to the point that merely looking at it fills you with despair. But its mostly deeply pernicious effect is surely the way in which it has affected people’s behaviour, by forcing them to live in an environment which is cold, desolate and practically inhuman. Naturally, I am not suggesting that post-war architecture caused the riots. But the idea that it was a contributory factor certainly has the ring of truth about it.

He mentions similar constructions in Italy.
Incidentally, the picture I’ve used here is not actually from a post-war London housing estate. It is a photo of the Vele di Scampia estate near Naples, which was the setting for the stunning, shocking film Gomorrah. If you’re sceptical about the social consequences of bad architecture, I’d challenge you to watch that film and, bearing in mind that it is based on real events, ask yourself whether many of the things depicted would be possible in a traditional street layout. For me, it’s a shining example of brutalist by name, brutal by nature.

I went down south with a bunch of friends last year to visit Monte Cassino and on the drive we had to go through some little towns that looked as if they had been built after the Second World War when some Italian government official decided to make the entire country into a suitable movie location for nihilist post-apocalyptic filmmaker. As a bonus, the population seemed to be practising to gain employment as zombie extras the same films.

I've never in my life seen any human dwelling more closely resembling a gargantuan garbage heap.

Scruton has quite a bit to say on the subj. Starting about 7:14


Lippi Exhibition

Went to see the Lippi exhibition at the Quirinale yesterday. Something the Rome-bound should know; most of the museums in town have incredible, world-class exhibitions and they're not expensive. It was ten Euros to get in to this one. You don't usually have to book tickets in advance, though this can help you to jump the queue.

The Lippi/Botticelli show at the pope's former house was, well, frankly amazing. The colours! The transparencies! The wee teeny details like the little bug eating a crust of bread, the meticulously rendered flowers so detailed you can identify the species. The faces of angels and saints glowing with otherworldly radiance. Oh. My. GOODness!

We saw

this one,

and this one

here's some details... here are the angels bigger...

and check out the books. Amazing!

and this one

this one...

Plus a bunch of drawings.

(There were a few Botticellis too, but they left me kind of.. meh...Lippi decidedly surpassed his former master.)

The colours... it's hard to describe. In fact, so much of their value is lost in reproductions, I think I might be joining the snobby school of thought that says never reproduce art in books or on the internet. There's so little point, it almost seems as if it would put people off rather than arouse interest.

A while ago, I was taken by a friend to the Borghese gallery and he knew there was a very famous work that we are all familiar with, but didn't warn me. At one point, after the Caravaggios and Raphaels and whatnot, he said, "Oh, you should go take a look in there..." I rounded the corner and there it was. I almost burst into tears. The present reality of the work was so much more than any photograph could possibly capture...

As a child, I spent hours poring over the pictures in art books, and was an early aficionado of the early Italian Renaissance artists, but living in such a remote place as British Columbia had few opportunities ever to see any real art. When I was 12, a traveling exhibition of the treasures of the tomb of King Tut came to Seattle, and my mother, though poor, was determined that I should get a chance to see it. I had of course seen any number of photographs of this, but when I cam face to face with it, I found it was almost shockingly different in reality.

When at last we got to the bookshop last night, (it was a really big show, on two floors of the gallery) we discovered that the exhibition's book, which was quite beautiful, was 40 Euros. Yikes! and since I'm a bit skint at the moment, I was going to get one of the other Lippi books. But after seeing the real thing, the reproductions just seemed so dark and colourless that I couldn't be bothered. Instead, I got a little postcard of the blue madonna, the one in the post below, and Vicky bought a poster of her head. But as I was looking at the paintings and thinking about how badly I wanted one, it became obvious that the only thing to do is to learn to make one.

All the big paintings were tempera on wood, a medium that gives utterly glowing colours. I don't know who teaches tempera, but as soon as I'm at a place where Andrea thinks I'm ready, I'm going to find someone who does it.

Towards the end of the first floor of the exhibition, Vicky stopped to draw the only statue in the show. I spend the time wandering back and forth taking mental pictures of the best bits of the best ones, a strange skill that I invented for myself after seeing the Tut exhibit. I have several images in my head now, of folds of glowing cloth, of almost invisible transparent draperies, of minutely rendered wrinkles on fingers, that I hope will stay in there forever.

I walked up and down in this room of wonders and thought, this makes me happy, like nothing else but love ever has.


Friday, December 09, 2011

Note to self

Do something normal this weekend, pretend that life is going ahead and that everything will turn out OK.

Go see that Lippi exhibition at the Quirinale.


Thursday, December 08, 2011

Do they hear themselves?

Just reading some of the pro-aborts little outbursts on why abortion in the US has to remain totally unrestricted.

Let's play a game! I'm going to paraphrase some of the real things real famous pro-abortion people have said in public and we can do a little deconstruction excercise. Come on! It'll be fun.

A white male rock star:
"1) If abortion had been illegal when my girlfriend became pregnant, I would not be in the position I'm in. My career would have been stalled at the outset. I would not have been able to tour around the world and see how other more liberal countries have handled this issue. I would not be speaking to you (the interviewer) today.

2) Maybe later I'll be able to support a child.

3) But free people must have the right to choose when the right time is.

4) This rule especially applies to poor people since welfare and public health programmes are inadequate to raise a child and public schools are overcrowded and underfunded."

1) My career is more important to me than human life, even the life of my own child. It is much more important to me to fulfill my personal jet-setting ambitions than be responsible for the care and protection of another human being.

2) Even though I am the lead of one of the world's most highly paid acts, I'm still unable to adequately support a child. By extension, I believe that anyone who makes less money than I should also not have children. Only the super rich should be allowed to have children because material poverty, which I define as being less than super rich, is worse than death.

3) The definition of being free is the freedom to kill another person with legal impunity whenever we want.

4) It is better for the poor that they be killed before birth than attend a public school or be dependent upon state benefits. Kill the poor.

* ~ *

A black Rap star: "Gold-digging women use pregnancy to trap rich men into either supporting them or paying for expensive abortions. Use condoms to prevent pregnancies."

Legal abortion is not for the safeguarding of the rights of women, it is to enable men to use them for sexual entertainment without consequences. But abortion can be more expensive than you realise, so in order to continue to use women as your own personal meat puppets, you should diligently use contraception.

* ~ *

Some kind of presenter (female, white) on MTV: "I am glad I had an abortion at 16, otherwise I would by now have a 20 year-old child.”

Being a mother is bad. Being a mother of a child who is a grownup would reveal that I'm old enough to have a 20 year-old child. And that would be bad.

* ~ *

What am I demonstrating here? That celebrities are shallow, selfish and materialistic? And stupid? Isn't that something we all know already?

So if we all know this, why do we hang on their every word? Why do the idiotic and frankly evil things that come out of their mouths subsequently pop out of the mouths of the ordinary 17 year-old kids who follow them?

I feel a bout of cultural cognitive dissonance coming on...


Wednesday, December 07, 2011

A prayer

Learned this week that I'm still sick. Really sick.

Tried to get back to life a bit and go to art class this week but just couldn't manage it. Andrea's studio, in an important and historic 16th century building close to the Piazza del Popolo is also at the bottom of a kind of transit sink hole. The easiest and fastest way to get there is to take the train to San Pietro station and either hoof it across the Big Piazza and cross the river on the Ponte Cavour, or you can take a bus from the stazione down the hill, past the big dome and over the river and walk through the little windey streets from the bus loop near the Angel bridge.

Either way its a good brisk 20 or 30 minute walk, and invariably no matter how cool the weather is I am drenched with sweat and out of breath by the time I get there. I usually have a little ten-minute sit-down on the studio terrace and a glass of water before starting and am OK, but this Monday I just couldn't get untired. But since Andrea is going away for a few months and this will be the last chance I get for a while, I thought it would be silly to just turn around and go home again.

Besides, I'd brought my computer with me and had the ambition to go to the office and get some work done after class. It's been so long since I've had a normal day, I just really wanted a smidgen of my regular life. But it didn't work out.

In class, we stand in front of the easel about two arms lengths away and the technique involves taking a measurement from that distance and then walking the step or two forward to make the mark on the paper. Classes are three hours and it can be pretty tiring. By the end of it, I usually am pretty happy to sit down at my desk for the rest of the day.

But this week it really became clear how much the chemo has taken out of me. It looks too as if the poison drugs have damaged my ovaries, and I've been having rather severe symptoms of premature menopause. This means a constant undulation: hot/cold/hot/cold/hot/cold. Overwhelming heat, sweat pouring off me, red faced and panting and five minutes later shivering and chilled. This amusing routine going on about three or four times an hour, 24 hours a day. The preamble of nausea, dizziness and heart palpitations lets me know when one is coming on. Stress brings it on and as you may imagine, it makes it rather harder than usual to concentrate.

The neuropathy is aggravated by being tired and by the end of two hours of class, my feet were on fire, with pain spreading up my legs. The pain of neuropathy is multifaceted, and a big part of it is the feeling that one's toes and fingers are swelling up and getting ready to explode. When it's bad, touching anything hard, like turning a key in a lock or winding a clock, feels like your fingers have a "funny bone" in them, all the nerves cringe together as though getting an electric shock. Some days holding the pencil is a bit of work by itself.

Despite all this, and despite it making me a little cranky and ill-humoured, I got to the end of class, but was a bit of a wreck. After, I had to do a couple of little chores, cutting up some large sheets of paper so I could get them home in my folder. But before doing that, I ran out to the farmacia to buy some paracetomol, known in the US as extra strength Tylenol, to back up the drugs that were obviously not up to the task that day. We're still working on adjusting the new pain meds, with too much turning me into a zombie and too little leaving me in pain by mid afternoon. It works pretty well if I'm not doing too much in the day. And some days, for no particular reason the whole thing just flares up. The doctor said if the meds stop working too soon, I can back them up with paracetomol, but it doesn't work terribly well.

When I was getting ready to go home, Andrea said, "So, on a scale of one to ten, how much pain are you in?" About six, maybe six and a half. Not screaming agony by any means, but bad enough to make everything no fun at all.

Bit of a mess, is the long and the short of it and this week it all kind of came to a head.

So Monday afternoon, I was done in by two o'clock and just had to go home. Hot/cold flashes every fifteen minutes notwithstanding, I was falling asleep on the train and went to bed more or less instantly after getting home. On Tuesday morning, it really hit me just how sick I'd got. Up only for a few hours in the morning for a cup of tea; back to bed by two-thirty. Up for a while in the evening, and me n' Vick watched the Fellowship of the Ring. Had some dinner and went back to bed. When you're spaced out and sick, in pain and on narcotic meds, the day just sort of floats by in a kind of weird droopy haze.

A day in bed, though, did me a world of good and this morning I had enough perk to go to the doctor and report that things are really not going terribly well. The good news is that my local GP is really terrific and has been a huge support in all this awfulness. He is setting me up with an oncologist who speaks English and will be able to tell me what's going on. I can get the Gemelli to give him my medical records and he can explain things and keep a closer eye on me and my doings than the staff at the hospital can. Obviously I should have done this months ago, but I was mostly expecting to be starting to recover by now. I'm only just now learning that chemo often doesn't work that way, new symptoms and side effects can appear months and sometimes even years after the last cycle is over. Something I'd have known about if the Gemelli doctors were as interested in keeping me informed as they are in doctoring me... it's been a bit of a bone of contention so far.

My appointment this morning did a lot to put my mind at ease. Things are going to get worked out. The things that are happening now are debilitating and awful, but not life threatening and can be treated successfully. They're going to go away and be under control. Things are going to get worked out.

I left the doctor's office and walked out into the late morning sunshine. In early December it's a beautiful warm, breezy autumnal day, absolutely perfect. Cool air, warm sun, nice little breeze off the sea bringing in sweet damp that's just like home. The autumn rains that started this year quite late, in November, have given us our annual "second spring," with all the grass that goes brown and sere in our ferocious summers, coming up again green and soft, flowers nodding over the tops of garden walls, happy children kicking the soccer ball around in the school yard.

I came out of the office and was still woozy and wobbly, but quite a bit mended and didn't want to go straight home. I took a slow walk up the Via Aurelia, the Roman road that runs through the centro of S. Marinella, and ended up going down to the castle and the marina. There's a promontory there, where, on a clear day, with your back to the old Odescalchi castle, you can see nearly all the way down to Rome, with the other castle at Santa Severa gleaming in the sun, a stern old fortress warding off marauding Saracen pirates.

Behind the castle, that is built on top of the foundations of a Roman senator's country villa, there is another little beach, hidden from the great running of the Rome tourists in the summer, with patches of black volcanic sand, big bulges of sandstone coming out of the ground all weathered into undulating Art Nouveau shapes, and logs to lean your back against. Just like home. This beach is on a little cove and is sheltered from the wind and only a few beautiful white neoclassical villas nestling in the shrubbery and trees on the hill.

I sat down on the sand and turned my face into the breeze and just breathed. It felt like the first time in days.

I'm scheduled to have surgery next week. I am hoping to get a consultation with this new oncologist before then. I know the Gemelli doctors know what they're doing and I'm pretty confident that the surgery will be the end of the cancer. I am also growing in confidence that the difficulties the surgery will create can be dealt with.

Things are pretty hopeful, but I've been terribly afraid. Cancer is unpredictable, and no one can possibly say for sure if all this is going to work. The news about the micrometastases in the margins after the last surgery has really shaken me. I'm deeply frightened by the thought that this might mean the cancer is anywhere and there is no way to tell until it is too late.

I've been praying for a lot of things but, and this might surprise you, I have yet to simply ask to be delivered from cancer. For the treatment to work.

I walked along this little hidden beach and finally knew that I really wanted to live. At least for a few more years.

"Lord, I'd just like to ask if I can please get past this and live for a while longer. I am OK with it if you have other plans, but I'd just like to get it out there.

"Things are really nice right now, and maybe for the first time. I've got such good work, and such nice friends and I've finally figured out for the most part how to get on in life. And honestly, I'd really just like to enjoy it for a bit, if that's OK.

"I think I can handle the long term consequences of the surgery and still have a bit of a nice life. I don't even mind if things are a little reduced in scale from now on. I can deal with living a little smaller and a little slower. But I think I've got a chance to be happy for a while and I'd like to try it."

I've been getting a lot of messages via email and Facebook in response to my last few Meaning of Life posts and I'd like to let y'all know that it has actually been really helpful, so thanks. I know that a great many of you have been praying (some have even paid money to get large numbers of other people to pray too, entire convents of nuns) so I thought I'd let you know that I'm getting to a sort of peace with the whole thing.

Don't get me wrong; I certainly have my little screeching moments of mindless panic, but they're fewer, shorter and easier to stop now, even without the application of the frying pan to the head. It might surprise some to know that the whole cancer experience has in many ways been beneficial. As a news writer, I know how important a deadline can be to your productivity. The saints and famous spiritual writers always say the same thing: keep your eye fixed on the reality of death. And cancer certainly has a way of making that impossible to avoid.

I'm finding my way through it. Maybe in a somewhat muddled and inefficient way, but I'm getting there and it is in no small part due to the support I've had from friends, readers and colleagues.




Note to self

Do Christmas cards this weekend.

Saturday, December 03, 2011

Art, vocation and holiness

(Warning: another ridiculously long, boring post on art, writing, vocation and the Meaning of Life. Cringeworthy sharing ahead. I don't know what value all this could be to others, but for me to write about this is really just a means of thinking out loud. If you are like me and despise the sharing thing, go here.)

I think the post I did a few days ago about art, writing and vocation, has given rise to a number of erroneous assumptions on the part of several readers.

I appreciate the pep-talks and advice (particularly the ones from Steve J. and Ted and Audrey), but that wasn't what I was looking for. I suppose it may have seemed somewhat gloomy, but I don't actually feel particularly gloomy. I have my little moments when it all seems to hit me at once and I kind of freak out, and there are people around standing ready with the frying pan for such moments.

Gloomy comes and goes and I'll admit to being pretty scared by some of the prospects in front of me, but mostly what I feel is eager to get on with things. To get The Bad Scary done with so I can hurry up and get to the rest of it. However, it is extremely likely that I do have a prospect in front of me, which is itself a huge thing.

The medical things are big and serious, and it is true that there is a real chance that my life expectancy has been shortened. But it is going to carry on, at least for a while, so the crucial question becomes how best to spend it given what I've got now.

A lot of the time, we're tempted to think that we'll start doing whatever thing we're supposed to be doing once all the proper pieces are lined up, when all the resources are in place and things are properly prepared. But I've realised recently that for a lot of us, there isn't going to be any more auspicious a situation. What I've got now is all I'm going to have to work with, and the time has come to move forward.

And that was the point of that post. I'm not in despair, and I'm don't think my life up to this point has been a waste. Not sure how people got that idea, but it ain't so.

But I have definitely been thinking Big Life Thoughts: work, vocation, the pursuit of God's will in the here and now. Cancer, and I suppose other big life-threatening health crises, has a way of making you focus your attention inward. It makes you do a lot of re-evaluating, and re-examining. In general, the results of this have been positive. I feel I'm in the right place, am going the right way, generally pointing in the right direction. Now, on with things. Do more of what I was doing. More and better, more involved work. More art. More museums. More Italy. More more more. For various reasons, I have held back. I don't want to change anything, but to grasp the things I've already got in life less timidly.

With that troublesome post, what I really wanted to do was initiate a discussion on the nature of art, whether from the point of view of the spiritual life it a thing worthy of a person's whole and undivided attention, whether it has the potential to be a sanctifying occupation. Whether it might be considered a *kind of* substitute for a particular vocation, that is, for a vowed state in life. Of course, I knew the answer when I asked the question, but I thought it worth thinking and talking about anyway.

A lot of the difficulty in talking about these things is the confusion of terms. In general colloquial English, the word 'vocation' has come to be used very loosely, as in "a thing you do that is very important to you and to which you seem naturally suited". When we talk about vocation, we really just mean a job that is terribly important, either to you personally or to the world at large.

We usually also mean for it to be something that is itself a good thing, something of benefit to others and something for which one needs a certain amount of innate talent (whatever that is) or at least for which one has a natural aptitude. It is probably most often applied in this sense to the medical professions. To some people, (and I may be among these) writing is thought of as a vocation. But to others, any work that is particularly loved is their 'vocation'.

I once asked a class of young Catholics preparing for their Confirmation what they wanted to do with their lives. Nearly all of them said they wanted to go to university. Upon further questioning, not one of these had any notion at all what he wanted to study. None of them had any particular interest in any academic subject. The goal was simply "to go to university". Only one kid said he wanted to be a plumber. I asked him why, and he said that it was what his dad did and he thought it was fun and interesting and would make him a good living. I told the class that this kid was the most likely to be happy of any of them. It could be suggested that this kid's vocation was plumbing, but only if you were using the term in its modern, secular and loosey goosey way.

But we know by this time that I don't use language that way. Precision is good. If I were talking about those subjects, it would be an error to use the term 'vocation'. Properly speaking this is 'occupation,' work, one of the three cornerstones of a balanced life (the others being family and the spiritual life).

But vocation is something very specific. A vowed state in life specifically for the pursuit of holiness in a special way following the Evangelical Counsels or withing marriage vows. A vocation is something that gives your work its context and to some degree at least, its direction. It forms the framework in which you do the work you do, whatever it is. It is very common among Christians to make the mistake of thinking that "vocation" means the same thing as "work" or occupation.

This error, the conflating of work with vocation, by the way, has been the core of the disaster in the Religious Life in the Church since the '60s. Women who wanted to do a particular work went into religious life. This helped them to mash the two things together, a vocation and the work done within it. One does not have a vocation to be a teacher or a nurse, but to the religious life, a state of perpetual celibacy under the three vows of poverty, chastity and obedience.

Technically, your marriage and your family are your vocation, the state in life to which you were called by God and for which you undertook vows. Two things by definition that can't be vocations are work and the single life: no vows for either. The "single life" that the NewChurchy types like to talk about is really no state at all, it is the condition out of which one is called.

I don't propose that God is "calling" me or anyone to painting or writing as a substitute for a genuine vocation, or as a consolation prize for a failed vocation, for having dithered too long.

I recounted the details of my medical condition and prospects merely to update readers and impress upon them that the question is no longer abstract and academic for me. I wrote below that the seriousness of cancer, the physical consequences of chemotherapy, total hysterectomy and premature menopause and its long-term treatment, are prompting me to think more pointedly about the value of what I am doing and want to do, what I am hoping to do and what I wish I could do and fear I don't have time for.

The question, "What do I want to be doing when I die?" has, until now, been totally abstract, something to be discussed with a few friends late in the evening somewhere between the after-dinner Amaro to the middle of the first bottle of grappa. Catholic spiritual writers, including many of the saints, have always exhorted their disciples to keep the awful reality of death immediately before their eyes. The question is one that all Christians are supposed to ask themselves seriously all the time. Christ Himself put it at the centre of much of His own teaching. Don't be caught napping, partying or goofing off when the Master of the house comes calling. Don't be fussing over building new grain towers to house all your bumper harvests... "Thou fool, this night..."

I want to be clear that I consider it to have been a grace to have been so forthrightly and inarguably forced to re-evaluate. I also consider it to have been Providential that I started studying art in at least a semi-serious way before the cancer thing descended. It has opened up something new and unexpected in my life.

We know there are some occupations that are more ordered towards contemplation, though of course, there is no reason to think that a plumber could not be a saint. I am also not making the mistake that artists are necessarily more holy or "spiritual" than ordinary mortals. (A quick look at this man's work and this man's life, should be enough to dispel this idea.) But there are aspects to art (and here I am using the term more broadly to include writing) that seem to point to it being naturally ordered to the contemplative life. For one thing, both painting and writing can only be pursued in solitude. You can't write when someone is nattering at you. But the visual arts of painting and drawing, I believe, are naturally and uniquely more outward-seeking than writing and it is this outward gaze that I think makes visual art more innately similar to the pursuit of God in the contemplative life.

I mean that when I'm drawing a subject, I am necessarily concentrating on something totally outside myself, something that is only useful as a subject by being completely itself and not subject to change by me. Drawing is an inherently other-oriented pursuit, much more so than writing.

It has the flavour of obedience about it. When you are drawing a subject, you are in a way giving up the pursuit of your own will and passing it over to follow a reality outside your will or desires. The thing you are drawing is itself; your goal is merely to reflect or depict it accurately for others.

Betty Edwards, of Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain fame, has observed what happens to a person's brain while he is in the act of drawing an external subject. She notes, and I have observed this myself, that it is difficult to talk while you are drawing. That is, while you are actually in the process of looking at a subject and deciding where to put a mark on the paper. It is also difficult to understand what others are saying while your brain is in its drawing state. You have to stop and shake your brain a bit and ask the person to repeat what he has said.

I think that drawing and religious contemplation are related somehow, and that there might be something in the act of drawing that is perhaps even related to a state of ecstasy in which the person is swept up out of this world entirely, and out of all self-involvement for a few moments, a state of perfect, self-forgetting contemplation of the Total Other.

There is a terrible trap into which solitary people can fall, to have your life become the pursuit of personal whims, to orient it towards the self. Human beings need a social context, we need to be accountable to others. We need to have other people around to bump up against, to learn where the boundaries of self are. So of course, there is this about painting and writing that tend to cause problems.

I've had people in various venues, here and elsewhere, say "But what's wrong with what you're doing now?" and of course, the answer is, nothing whatever. But one's work is not a vocation; it can only have the scope of an occupation. No work is never going to be enough by itself to sustain a person spiritually and it cannot form the whole framework of a life.

I know that I am not capable of being a "monk in the world". In fact, the nature of what I do, the actual stuff I write about, is such that, left to itself, it can be morally and spiritually crushing.

At the risk of sounding like I'm issuing a rabbity disclaimer, I do want to say that I am tremendously fortunate. Throughout my childhood, I had assumed that I would make my living writing. My mother started teaching me the mechanics of it when she was herself still a school teacher, when I was about six. But as I got older, I began to realise that this is a difficult thing to achieve.

There really are not many people in the world who can say they make their a living at writing, nor at an occupation that is so obviously ordered towards the good. My "day job" is to work towards the restoration of all that is good, true and noble in Christian society using writing, a skill for which I've been trained since childhood. I can't imagine giving it up, it has become so much a part of who I am.

But occupation and vocation, while they overlap, are two separate issues. My work can only be part of the picture, and without a true vocation, without the greater context and framework, it has to be balanced somehow.

A vocation encompasses the entire person, including work. And it is this framework that I have found missing. I think I remember the moment when I finally decided against the religious life and for what I am doing now. This is what I mean when I suggest that mine was what was once called a "failed" vocation.

What does God offer to people who turn down His best gifts? Not marriage, it seems. So, a life lived alone, without the context of a community of others, whether family or a religious community... how to live in such a situation in a way that pleases God. This is what is exercising my mind at the moment, apart from medical concerns.

People have said to me, "You should just be happy and content with the knowledge that what you do is saving innocent lives..." But I know nothing about that and it is not for me to know. I hate to burst whatever illusion bubbles there may be about my motives, but a life isn't lived like that. One may have noble motives, but real life can't be lived on those heights. Real life is lived in the grubby, prosaic day to day.

But I also think it is a mistake to try to make such lofty ideals into the daily sustenance. If I were to try to keep them before me as a reason to do my work, I would quickly run out of juice. I've known a lot of pro-life activists who do this, but I know that I would very quickly succumb to the machinations of my ego if I were to try it. I can't afford to think of myself as anything but a writer. As a writer, I strive to tell the truth as clearly as I can on subjects that are, I believe, of universal importance. What the final result of this work might be is out of my hands, and really isn't my business anyway.

I once had a conversation with an archbishop about this work, and described it as "pushing the rock". I've been instructed to push the rock. Not to get it to the top of the hill. Whether it rolls down the hill every day and I have to start again at the bottom is no business of mine. My job is merely to push it.

I am not a crusader by nature and I find such language to be at best distracting. I did not get into the pro-life movement because I thought it was a vocation. It was simply the most obvious answer to a puzzle, a kind of mathematical equation. I only have one life, it would be a waste to do with it anything less than the most important thing I can think of. I spent many years trying to understand what was wrong with the world, and when I did, what I should do with myself simply became self-evident. It was no more dramatic than that.

So, to the friends asking, "What's wrong with what you're doing?" I respond simply that there's nothing wrong with it at all, but it is incomplete. What I need now are the other pieces of the picture. If the three cornerstones of a balanced lay life, that is the totality of one's vocation in life, are the spiritual life, work and family (as Benedict put it, ora et labora et vita communis) how can I find a substitute for the third thing in a life lived in solitude?


Friday, December 02, 2011

Hair update

Woke up the other day and my hair was all pushed up on top. Tried to figure out what it reminded me of, then I went on the train into the City and looked at the teenage boys, and it came to me:

Fauxhawk!!! Auugh!

So I have started using some kind of weird waxy gel stuff to hold it down on top. Proof enough even for me that it really is coming back.

Cain't even hardly see my scalp no more.

For comparison,

this is the back of my head in the last week of October. know...


Thursday, December 01, 2011

True Joy

I've said this before, I think. When I'm in the studio concentrating on putting marks on paper, everything else that is going on recedes into the background, my mind becomes quiet and the usual howling mob of worries sit down en masse and goes to sleep in the corner like a good dog. I don't know if I would quite call it "true joy," being a religious person I know that I can hope for something even better than this in the future. But it certainly is the closest thing to peace I've ever experienced. Even prayer seems busy and worried in comparison.

Judith Kudlow is the lady who founded the Harlem Studio in New York with Andrea. She still teaches there.

Andrea has told me that I am ready to take the cast drawing class in April when she gets back from Australia.

This pleaseth me. But it launched me into a spiral of anxiety because I immediately thought, "I might not be here. I might die. Or I might still be doing the cancer thing."

My brain is not my friend.


Wednesday, November 30, 2011

What do the EU, Mad Cow Disease and Stradavarius have in common?

Thought you'd already thought of all the ways the EU is ruining everything?

Think again.

Musicians have warned that the works of Purcell, Handel, Vivaldi and Bach may never again be heard as their composers intended – because of EU rules to stop people catching "mad cow disease" from their instruments.


Freaking out

vb (adverb)
Informal to be or cause to be in a heightened emotional state, such as that of fear, anger, or excitement.

Who knows exactly why it happens, when it will hit and what will set it off.

Total strangers emailing me and telling me all about their horrifying medical conditions...and offering to move into my house... The prospect of having my lady parts removed and turning into a strangely mutilated zombie... Spending the rest of my life on drugs... Inexplicable exhaustion... Weird sleep disturbances... Chemo drugs eating my endocrine system... Oh yeah, and the fun chronic pain thing...

Who knows...

I made soup and Vicky made salad. Feel slightly better. Now going to watch some TV.

Just been working our way through Community. It's weird enough to distract anyone.


Dear well-meaning people out there in internet land:

if you, your sister, your mother or any other person you know have had a hysterectomy or any related surgery, please don't tell me about it. It may seem awful, but I really don't want to know. Please don't tell me how horrible it was, how painful it was. Please don't tell me how long it took to recover or the huge dramatic life changes that came as a result. Please don't tell me you know how I'm feeling. It mostly just makes me freak out more.

And please, unless you actually know me in real life, not just in your imagination from having read my blog or articles, please, PLEASE don't offer to come to my house to help me through it. This includes people I've communicated with exclusively through email. If you think you know me because I've responded to a couple of emails, I need you to understand that we are not fast friends. I know you mean to be helpful, but it really just comes across as weird and slightly creepy. (If you think this is aimed at you alone, you're wrong. I've received several such offers.)

Sorry, but the list of people I want this kind of help from is extremely short. It might seem from the blog that I'm really all peachycheery but this is not the case.


I know you mean well, but your sharing is really not having a very good result.

So, just hold back, OK?


More contemporary art I don't hate

Check this guy out.

Jakub Kujawa

Mostly when you say "contemporary art," I start smirking and making jokes about nailing chairs to walls. But there are a few people out there who manage to combine classical technique with modern style and create, dare I say it, real art.

As opposed to bulls---. (Government-subsidised bulls----, I might add.)


In other news...

It looks like the revolution in the Church really is finally over, in the US, at least. With this new crop of younguns, we might hope that when the current batch of decrepit hippies has died off, there might actually be some improvement. In twenty years or so, I predict, the Barque may start righting itself.

(Wait, am I feeling sunny and optimistic today? What's going on? Is it the drugs?)


For your entertainment...

Yeah, the lyrics never meant anything. I wish someone had told my hippie mother that the Beatles never had anything to say either.


Subsidiarity a natural part of human society?

I think I've said before that when the Superstate dies, as it will soon, people and local institutions will step in. Human beings are naturally tribal/herd animals. I have long thought that it is socialism and Statism that has created a kind of artificial callousness that will evaporate the instant it becomes again an unavoidable necessity for people to start looking after each other.

And I think it has already started. In Greece, the EU-imposed "austerity measures" may (or possibly may not) have resulted in the government rebalancing the books (we are talking about the Greeks, after all) but it has effectively put a stop to the common use of the Euro in parts of Greece where people have learned that if they want to keep eating, they have to do something else. This really does illustrate the wide gap between what the EU oligarchs want and what the actual people who live in the countries they rule need to keep their daily lives running.
Prices have been slashed, but customers are few.

Fisherman Christos Xegandakis laughs bitterly. He says business is so bad, it's time to start swapping goods.

"Give me two kilos of potatoes, and I give you a kilo of fish," he says. "Why not?

Indeed, many in debt-ridden Greece — where radical austerity measures have led to soaring unemployment, business closures and a credit crunch — are doing just that: turning to a simpler form of commerce, bartering.

~ * ~ * ~

And here's a little afterthought.

In a few places in Greece the barter system has evolved rather quickly into a system of local small currency that may end up replacing the national adherence to the Euro. It's kind of reminiscent of the Greek plays actually. The Eurocrats forced the Greek government to accept the colossal bail-out package on acceptance of economic controls and "austerity measures". This was in order to "save the Euro" and to prevent Greece from falling back into its previous economic ways and reinstating the Drachma. In what might be a perfectly Greek irony, this action has forced local governments and small businesses to effectively abandon the Euro as the functioning currency.

Volos is also one of several Greek towns with a more formal type of barter network, which uses a currency called Local Alternative Unit, or TEM in Greek. One TEM is equal in value to one euro.

People sign up for free on the barter network's website, where they can post ads on what they can offer or what they want. Members exchange goods and services — for example, English and computer lessons, baby-sitting and plumbing repairs, medical visits and car-pooling — amassing TEM credit into an online account.

Some shops also accept TEMs, in the form of vouchers that function like checks.

Optician Klita Dimitriadis explains how it works. On a pair of 100-euro glasses, she'll take 30 percent in the alternative currency. She needs the 70 euros, she explains, in order to pay her employees, taxes and rent.

Dimitriadis then spends her TEMs at a monthly open-air farmers market, or in exchange for other services.

Over the past year, TEM members in Volos have grown from a few dozen to more than 500, and the movement has attracted Athens' attention. In September, parliament passed a law giving barter networks nonprofit status.

The Volos municipality also actively encourages the TEM network. Mayor Panos Skotiniotis says initiatives like these are particularly valuable at a time when the economic crisis is dismantling so many social benefits.

"This is a substitution for the welfare state, and that is why this municipality is encouraging it and wants it to grow," he says.

It looks like the vast EU superstate is coming to a premature end, and the more it tightens its grip, the more local systems will slip through its fingers. Its balloon of hot rhetoric and leftist Fantasy bursting before it is really off the ground.

At the same time, the European population is generally aging, and fast. Italy's overall fertility rate has leveled off at about 1.3, the death-spiral, lowest-low rate from which, historically, no society has ever recovered. Ever. And while all this is going on, European countries are still wrapped in the warm, fluffy, all-embracing welfare state, a system that cannot survive the demographic implosion that has already begun and is now irreversible.

Could it be possible that the principle of subsidiarity, the idea that people will look after their own and their neighbours if they have to, is really a universal aspect of human society that is inherent? That has been artificially suppressed by the growth over the last two hundred years of the overweening State? One that is now re-asserting itself as that system collapses?

The spectre of the failure of the Welfare State is something that really exercises the mind of the left. Universal abortion, the use of economic coercion to enforce sterilisation programmes on brown people in the developing world, tax penalties for families in which one parent stays home to look after the kids, the state throwing parents in prison who want to teach their children at home... none of this bothers them in the least. But the impending collapse of the Welfare State has them all in a tizzy. And rightly so, indeed. What will happen to our indigent poor? What about the older people who are retired but not rich, who live in council housing and rely on a government pension to keep them in tea and biscuits? And (here's the biggie) what about health care?

I've had a few conversations with doctors recently about the system of universal "free" medical care in Italy. In this country there is a two-tiered system, a phrase that fills Canadian leftists (ie: "Canadians") with terror. "A two-tier system?!! But that means The Rich (faugh!) will get better health care than The Poor (me)!" But in fact, the system works pretty well in this country with private care serving to siphon off a lot of the pressure on the public system.

I actually appreciate the double system quite a bit. My private GP gives routine discounts to people who are wholly without private insurance, as I am, and has given me several consultations for nothing where I've gone in to ask for his opinions and advice on medications and treatments. In the early part, when I was enormously stressed at the diagnosis, I woke up one morning with my back completely seized up. He gave me a prescription for lorazepam to control panic attacks and get my sleep back to normal. And then he offered a discount on an accupuncture treatment to fix my back. He's been a huge support and I'm more than happy to pay cash for his invaluable services. I figure if a guy spends 15 years in university learning ways to help people, he pretty much deserves to be paid.

One of the doctors on one of my little trips to the Gemelli emergency room told me (after she had assured me, again, that the symptoms I was experiencing were just the normal thing after chemo) that in her 6 hour shift in the pronto soccorso that afternoon, she would see about 20 or 25 people, almost none of whom would have anything wrong with them. She said that most people coming in there on their own steam (not the ones brought in on gurneys, obviously) came there because they knew that under the Italian system, they could see a doctor for free. She said that this kind of abuse of the system is likely to bring the whole thing down. If the people who came to the PS who had absolutely nothing wrong with them were charged just 20 Euros each per visit, it would pay back a huge portion of the costs and would serve to discourage people coming in for trivial reasons. If, she suggested, there really is something medical that needs doing (as there was in my case) then the system should treat that person either for free or with user fees that were scaled to the his income.

It sounded pretty reasonable to me. But the idea that health care and welfare are simply a universal human right that everyone should have for nothing is a big part of the problem in Europe. Everyone really does want the state to be Nanny.

To be honest, most of my treatment has been on the public dime, first with the NHS and now with the Italian national service. If I'd been paying the whole fare for surgery and chemo, I would have had a debt for the saving of my life that would have taken the rest of it to pay back. One that would have made student loans look like chicken feed.

When I was diagnosed with cancer, I was paying for a lot of doctor's appointments, tests and scans myself and it certainly wasn't cheap. A lot of them were subsidised but the user fee was still fairly substantial, particularly when you're having a lot of them. If the MRI actually costs 1500 Euros and I pay 150, I figure I'm getting a pretty good deal. What do I have a job for if not to pay for things I need? But on the double system, I've been able to take a little more control of things. When we were working out the treatment plan, the Gemelli told me that they couldn't schedule me for an MRI at the hospital. But I was able to go to a private diagnostic clinic and get the tests anyway, and quite promptly.

You guys helped a lot, too, and this is more or less my point. People want to help each other and will when help is asked and when the circumstances make it possible to help. One of the biggest failings of socialism is that it makes it difficult, if not impossible, for individuals to help each other. No one can be allowed to get in the way of the State's interference in and control of the lives of its subjects.

I don't really know how it would work without some kind of government-paid health care system. I know that in the US the problem is not a small one. Back in the days when national governments were thinking about putting in national systems, health care was not nearly so expensive. We didn't know how to treat cancer and a lot more people died of it and things like chronic heart disease, diabetes etc. My great grandfather's brother died in the 1890s after a horse stepped on his foot and he developed septicemia. It doesn't need to cost as much as it does and there is a lot of waste in health care these days, particularly when it is run by government and the money just seems to flow for nothing from some magic source up in the sky. But the fact is that our modern "miraculous" medical interventions are expensive. Chemo costs a bundle.

In the 1930s, I'm thinking that even the arch-commie (and eugenicist, by the way) Tommy Douglas didn't think that his nationalised health care system was going to eat so much of Canada's GDP as it does today. No one envisioned it.

But I think apart from the Big medical expenses like chemo and heart surgery, people really can pay for a fair bit of what they get from doctors. Maybe the collapse of our massive, top-heavy national welfare systems will force local solutions that national, centralised governments are constitutionally incapable of conceiving. I, of all people, have no desire to see only wealthy people cured of cancer, but the reality is that the system we have now, that everyone seems to think of as some kind of birthright, is going to end. And soon. It seems to me that a solution can be found only when we are absolutely up against it and are forced to find one.

And I do think that such a subsidiar-ized, ground-level solution will be found because, exceptions notwithstanding, people actually do care about each other and want to help.


Sunday, November 27, 2011

Why do we love still life?

I still really haven't quite figured out the answer to why still life affects me so powerfully emotionally. These ones really do it.

Giovanna Garzoni (1600-1670).

Since I started the art thing, I have had the thought I wanted to do a series of formal Botanicals of the flora and fauna native to Santa Marinella. It's been one of my big art goals. Love Botanicals.

H/T to Andrea.


Wednesday, November 23, 2011

They're COMING!!!

The secret to their evil is that they manage to be both cute and creepy at the same time. So I'm watching this, and I'm thinking, naturally, "GAAAAAHHHH!!!" but also, "Oh, the poor little thing...someone please help it to the next pond!" That is its power, its evil mind-control power to make you, though fully aware of its evil While. It's. Crawling. Towards. You. feel sorry for it. '


There's another one on YT that shows a giant octopus on the floor of a fish market trying to get away that I just can't watch.

H/T to Zach


Saturday, November 19, 2011

What do you want to be doing when you die?

In the first few months of cancer, I was led to believe that this was not going to be a huge, permanent, life-changing thing. It was presented to me by several doctors as something that could be easily and quickly dealt with, with minimal long-term effects. I was told that "the tumour is small and localised" that it could be "removed easily with a small surgery," that I will be past it by mid-summer, that I would not have to have chemo, that permanently life-changing surgery would not be necessary.

One by one these assertions and assumptions have turned out to have been false. No one lied to me, exactly, but of course everyone wanted to put the best possible face on things. But in the last few months, each of these assurances have fallen by the wayside, opening up worse long-term prognoses, more radical interventions and fewer choices.

When it started, I was led to believe that I could leave it behind, that at some point I would be able to say, "It's over," and that life could carry on as it had before. But the core of the information we had from the doctors last week was that this is never going to be over. It is going to create a deeply altered life for me and my life will now never return to what it was.

For some years, of course, I have been looking at the things I am doing and thinking about how to live the second half of my life. This was just because I'm 45. But since the walls of cancer have closed slowly around me, narrowing my choices, my thoughts have become more acute, more immediate. There seems to be no doubt that the cancer and its treatment have greatly shortened my life expectancy.

So, now a new kind of question, a new set of questions, has been taking up my attention. No longer, "Is this what I should be doing?" but "What do I want to be doing when I die?" because whatever that is, I'd better be getting on with it right away. I think there is no more "some day" for me.

Medically, the more I learn, the worse it sounds. First, I will also have to undergo monitoring tests for many years, if not for the rest of my life to watch for the cancer coming back. The surgery (that I'll probably be having in the next couple of weeks) will greatly reduce the risk that the cancer I have now will recur, but not eliminate it. Nothing can do that. They can reduce the chances by removing all the organs that could now be affected, but there is no way to know if micrometasteses have spread into the surrounding organs and tissues. For that, we can only wait and watch carefully.

What they told me, in effect, was that there is no way to know, no way at all, to be certain, that cancer will not kill me some time in the next five years. All of the possible choices for treatment will render me permanently dependent on medical interventions and at significantly increased risk of a wide array of health threats.

Then, the surgery will render me sterile and induce premature menopause, symptoms of which are more sudden and more severe than it would be if it were natural. My Dorian Gray moment is at hand. The ovaries and uterus continue producing low levels of hormones throughout a woman's lifespan. Removing them all will produce a much more severe and abrupt cessation of normal functions and set of symptoms than anyone normally experiences. It seems that hormone replacement therapy can mitigate some but not all of these.

Further, the treatments to reduce these side effects, that I will have to undertake immediately and for at least ten to fifteen years, come themselves with a set of side effects and increased risks that, ironically, include cancer as well as nasty stuff like thrombosis, stroke and heart disease.

Put simply, I really cannot expect my life to be a long one. And between the new medical realities and the general circumstances of my life and background, I can't help but think that a short life would not entirely be a bad thing. I will leave behind a great many friends, but almost no family, and no one at all who is dependent on me.

I am a believing Catholic and that means that I look forward to the next life to be the better one. And as the medical condition worsens, I have no qualms about admitting that having less and less to lose as we go along is maybe also no bad thing. Releasing and relinquishing life and the things in it, including things long hoped-for but now unlikely ever to materialise, is something we all have to do eventually, and it's better to have less baggage to carry. John Muggeridge taught me that as I watched him let go of things in the last weeks of his life.

But that question, "What do I want to be doing when I die?" has begun to loom very large in my mind since they told me the news last week. It is obvious that I am not now doing it. Whatever I need to be doing when my life is over, I'm not doing now.

To be blunt, I am now extremely unlikely ever to be married. And I am incapable of ever being a mother. No religious order will take me, even if I still had the slightest spark of an idea I would want to be taken by them, which I don't. One of the things that cancer has finally put an end to, therefore, is the vocation question. I don't have one. And whether I ever did is now moot.

The "single life," never desired, always a repellent thought, is what I've got and will have. I have never believed this NewChurch drivel about the "single life" being a vocation in itself. The multiple catastrophes of universal divorce, the "sexual revolution," the ruin of the family and the abortion and contraceptive cultures have simply demolished the possibility of marriage for a huge number of us. I would venture to say that these things have ruined the hopes of marriage or the religious life for most of the people of my generation. We are simply so damaged as to be incapable of fulfilling the married or religious life. This kind of happiness and hope is something many of us simply cannot have, and all the blither about the glories of "the single life" falls upon our ears like a cruel jeer. I hope the fad dies out in the Church quickly.

If you can't choose it, if it is something that can be forced unwanted upon you by circumstances you can't control, it is not a state in life, but a mistake. I suffer from no delusions that a life lived without any sort of ontological connections can be inherently sanctifying, which is what a vocation to a particular state in life is for. If unmarried, unvowed people want to be holy, they have to do something else.

So the question remains, what, therefore, can be the next step down? No sanctifying state of life. No ontological context. Only me, and an "occupation," the doing of some thing that will not rule out a holy life. Of course, it could simply be that I can just carry on doing what I'm doing. I am set up now to live a fairly happy life, as long as it is likely to be short anyway. But it has become clear that I'm not now doing what I want to be doing when I die.

Lately I have been asking some priest friends, who I think have not really understood why the question is important, whether art can be taken as a sufficient substitute for a failed vocation. My question has mostly been dismissed with a terse answer. But I've been thinking about it a great deal.

What can I do with the second half of my life (or perhaps last third or fifth) that will give glory to God, that will occupy me and that is suited to a life that will largely be lived alone?

The only thing that makes me hesitate (apart from financial constraints) is time. I am looking very hard at the admissions page of the website of the Florence Academy of Art, which is the centre of the renewal of the arts of drawing, painting and sculpture. It is probably the best art school in the world. My current instructor, Andrea Smith, trained and taught there for several years. Nearly all of the leading classical realists studied there or studied with people who studied there. Most of the schools that are involved in the restoration of these traditions were founded as offshoots.

But it takes three years to complete the programme, and of course, years more to grow into maturity in this work. When I started studying nearly two years ago now, I thought I had time. Now I think I probably don't.

But that question is still in there: "What do I want to be doing when I die?"

Is the mere pursuit of this, without any guarantee I'll reach the goal, a worthy thing to die doing? I might very well die in the middle of the course. What would be the value in starting something I likely haven't the time to finish? Can I indulge in this pursuit, knowing I will likely not finish it, while the world comes crashing down around us? Is it selfish?

But there comes at time when you no longer have any room to fool about with life.

I'm thinking about it.


Friday, November 18, 2011

The Five Slogans

Some years ago, I started taking pro-life apologetics training courses in which I was taught how to make the case against abortion, staying strictly away from feelings ("feewings") religion or personal preferences.

I've talked before about S.L.E.D. and if you missed it, go here. I'm not going through it all again.

But I post the link to this thing in the Martlet, the student paper of the University of Victoria, (Yaaaaay!) where the Sled thing was used fairly effectively. It is interesting to note how far and how fast Scott's stuff is spreading in Canada, probably mostly due to the work of these two people (and now all their little friends) who founded this organisation (Watch out, scary pics on the opening page of this site). (We all took the course together in ... um... can't remember, maybe about 2000?... and the Canadian org. was formed while we all sat around the coffee table in a cabin on an island in the middle of a lake in New Jersey. It was fun.)

But I thought the most interesting part of the Martlet thing were the comments. A number of people chimed in saying why the argument against abortion is invalid. Fair enough. We believe in freedom of speech around here, (Ha ha!, not really...) and I note that the pro-aborts' arguments have been quite effectively addressed by others writing in. (Which is the point of this post ... which I keep forgetting.)

All the things they said are things that Scott listed as the same things people ALWAYS say in defence of abortion. Scott told us that they absolutely never come up with any other ones. (And the fun bit is that they really, really think they are being great independent thinkers, thinking these things up for themselves. Really!)

But I'm not kidding when I say they always say the exact same things. A.L.W.A.Y.S. and E.X.A.C.T.L.Y. the same things. It's amazing. I've been keeping track. On the few occasions I have been able to stomach reading this stuff, that is. Frankly, in recent years, it has really bored the crap out of me.

But when he told us, I thought Scott had to be exaggerating. It just seems impossible that an entire cultural movement (perhaps anti-cultural), one that has resulted in the deaths of 50 million people in the US alone, and is responsible for putting bajillions of dollars into the greedy blood-soaked mitts of the abortion industrialists.

All those lives, and just five slogans. Five.

- woman has a right to choose

- abortion should be a decision between a woman and her doctor

- woman has a right to bodily autonomy/privacy

- you can't bring unwanted/poor children into the world

- I wouldn't have an/am personally opposed to abortion, but I can't impose my personal beliefs on others (also, when you're standing on the sidewalk with a sign, "How DARE YOU try to impose your beliefs on MEEEE!!!! EVIL FACIST!"...)

All others, or actually "others," are just variations on this. Really. Try it yourself. The "rape exception" thing, the "overpopulation" thing, the "abortion is safer than childbirth thing," the "foetus is just potential life" thing, the "violinist" thing, etcetera, etcetera ad nauseum....whatevs.

One of my all time favourite bits of nonsense is the variation that starts, "if you don't have a uterus, you can't have an opinion..."

Rilly, I'm not even making it up...
"If you do not have a uterus, I don't believe you have any right to dictate what my body can and will be used for in regarding to pregnancy. I am not an incubator, I am a human being with rights to my own body and my own choices..."
blah blah blabbity blahblahblah...

(It's amazing, but even more, she goes on...

"Also, I believe it is most likely safe to assume you don't have a uterus. Therefore, why do you think you should have any say on a uterus bearer's body? I say UTERUS BEARER, because not all women have a uterus, and not all people with a uterus are women...."



Srlsly. They're all on the list. Go check it out. Think of it as a training exercise.