The Ghosts of Easters Past, Present and Future

As I write this reflection, it’s late morning on April 15. A fresh pour of coffee sits to my left — as does Queen Fiona, comfortably napping on her pillow — and to my right, an open window admits the hums and chirps of a serene spring Saturday on a quiet side street in the heart of Grand Rapids, Michigan. As if by the product of elven magic, the trees have budded seemingly overnight; in fact, several trees across the street already appear to be mostly leafed. It’s peaceful, which means it’s a good time to write.
Last night was not peaceful. I just couldn’t get comfortable, so I kept waking up and at one point, I even decamped to the couch. Right around 4 a.m., when the thunderstorm rolled past. During the stretches of wakefulness last night, a few thoughts about life, Easter and everything bubbled within the soft grey goo betwixt my earholes.
Allow me to share.

Easter Past

At some point, the “Easter” of my childhood transformed from a family-themed chocolate festival into a religious duty. This ghost of memory asserted itself for the first time about a week ago, after I had mentioned to my friend Patrick that I had written a short essay that will be included in the forthcoming book provisionally titled Staying Catholic When You’ve Been Hurt in the Church, edited by Eve Tushnet and published through Wipf+Stock’s Cascade Press. A central motif in that essay, which addressed my experience in the diocesan vocations program in the early 2000s, focused on one central event: A brief moment of spiritual clarity obtained, interestingly, around noon on Good Friday, 2000, at the Legion of Christ novitiate in Cheshire, Connecticut.
That experience proved to be a pivot point of sorts. Before it, Easter was more of a family event: There’d be a luscious feast and chocolate bunnies and happy memories. And, yes, Easter Mass — but a church service was a small price to pay for all the fun and food.
After Cheshire, and as I got more deeply involved in the religious discipline of the Church, the “family stuff” yielded to spiritual renewal. I actually looked forward to Lent and its period of reflection and rejuvenation. I did retreats. I went to penance services. I prayed the Stations of the Cross. The Triduum presented a busy yet fulfilling experience: Although as chief sacristan and parochial master of ceremonies for my parish I was constantly on the go, I found my centering moments in the little places. Like the period of Eucharistic adoration on Thursday night, or the chance to take a pew with my breviary while the decorators planned where they were going to place the lilies. Or just sitting by the tabernacle after the 11:30 Mass on Easter Sunday, the church empty and everyone gone, to just be.

Easter Present

Yet it barely registered that this week was Holy Week.
The ghost of Easter Present whispers — barely audibly — that a lot of stuff changed in 2008, and over that year, religious discipline took a mighty fall. The nine-year anniversary of that transition draws nigh.
Divide 2008 into thirds. Late winter and early spring saw me twitchy. I wanted a change. That’s the period when I first started thinking about long-term life goals, and even achieved some by earning my open-water dive certification. But it wasn’t enough, so I began to think more actively about my social network. The late-spring-to-late-summer period witnessed a veritable explosion of new friends, new experiences and a wildly chaotic summer-long encounter with love, sex and dating.
The allure of hedonism, the restlessness of my early 30s and a changing portfolio of habits and goals pulled me away from the Church and toward a radically different lifestyle. By the end of the year, I had stopped regular religious observation. It wasn’t deliberate, and it wasn’t even so much a loss of faith — more like a paradigm shifting without a clutch. I drew more and more comfort from the (admittedly misguided) belief that I could have my cake and eat it, too, by simply invoking St. Augustine’s logic of “Lord, make me holy … but not yet.”
So this is the world I currently inhabit: Not faithless, not anti-Church, but largely absent from the public celebrations of the Church. Untethered, perhaps.

Easter Future

The ghost of Easter Future asks: What path may a person take to remain faithful, if that path isn’t perfectly consistent with the disciplinary norms of the Church? I suspect I’m being presented with a trick question, because the orthodox answer is delightfully concise.
It’s partially the Augustine factor, and partially a function of asserting a quasi-gnostic, quasi-individualistic ethos to justify one’s disengagement from the ordinary discipline of the Church. You know the drill: “I’m smarter than the average bear, therefore the rituals that guide the rubes are beneath me; after all, I have access to a higher understanding of Truth.”
The funny thing is, I love ritual. Yet in all of my travels across the diocese, I have yet to find a priest who (a) does ritual well, and (b) offers homilies that aren’t either solipsistic or trite or both. So an essential part of the Mass is missing, and I must supply it for myself. The temptation is to say that I can supply it on my own time.
So the ghost challenges me to think about Easter Future:

  • By putting aside a smarmy over-reliance on Augustinian thinking.
  • By putting aside the arrogance that cleaves a person from the daily life of the Church.
  • By re-orienting life’s burdens to ensure adequate time for spiritual growth.

I will consider this challenge.

Sundry Updates

Enough about Easter. Here are other things of note:

  1. Next weekend I’ll speak at the Get Published! conference in Holland. Attendance is free; the event is coordinated by MiFiWriters. Should be a ton of fun; I’m sitting on one panel and leading another (on query letters). Last year’s event was great.
  2. I’m also privileged to speak at the UntitledTown Book and Author Festival in Green Bay, Wisconsin in a few weeks. I’ll be leading a discussion about how aspiring authors should get started with small presses and literary journals. Lots of fabulous speakers lined up for the three-day event, including Margaret Atwood.
  3. And twice in the next month I’ll be off to the Chicagoland area, once for our quarterly NAHQ board meetings and once to speak about health data analytics to the Illinois Association for Healthcare Quality at that group’s annual educational conference.
  4. Lots going on at the Great Lakes Commonwealth of Letters, not least of which is a massive renovation to our website. As board treasurer, I’ve been focused on that piece of the adjustment, although many more exciting changes will be announced very soon.
  5. I’ve been plugging away at Caffeinated Press. Working through a handful of manuscripts, which is great, but sweet mother of potatoes it’s been a slog. Partially because my attention has been divided a thousand ways from Sunday.
  6. Looks like another Vegas trip is on the horizon.
  7. I’m pleased to report that Ziggy the Cat — one of the two neighborhood felines who frequent Jason’s outdoor Café de Meowmix — appears to be doing much better. She’s gaining weight and her fur loss has reversed. I think she was abandoned last summer. I’ve been looking out for her. Sweet kitty, although a bit of a bully to the other café patrons.
  8. Got to enjoy a wonderful “day off” a few weeks ago. My friend AmyJo hosted an all-day marathon of the extended edition of the Lord of the Rings trilogy. After 11.5 hours, several cocktails and a revolving-door of guests … it was great.

All for now.

View from the Butt-End of August

A bit of trivia to kick off the post: I had attempted a server version upgrade several weeks ago but the process borked in the middle of an interactive shell session. Short version: I had to restore from a backup, but backups had been inoperative (who knew?) for a month, so today I re-posted all the stuff I had originally uploaded in July and August. The content was, theoretically, lost, except I subscribe to my own RSS feed, so Feedly kept a full-text version of everything. Cut-and-paste FTW. Although, I didn’t bother re-creating the original posts’ cover images. Anyway, I’ve been silent here a few weeks (in fact, the site was down thanks to hopelessly broken Apache and MySQL discrepancies) because I just didn’t have the time to fiddle with it. As of tonight, problem solved.

Some updates:

  • Birthday. In less than three weeks, I turn 40. I’m surprised by my own serenity at the prospect.
  • CafPress posts. I had, while the site here was under the weather, posted two things at Caffeinated Press — a primer on literary citizenship titled 8 Ways to Engage with the Local Liteary Community, and a brief screed about The Sarcastic Narrator.
  • Book sales. I trekked to Novi a few weeks ago to attend the Rust City Book Con. Disappointing. Literally no sales, because the convention had almost zero attendees. Today, however, AmyJo and I manned the booth at the Made in Michigan Pop-Up Market, a monthly event at Downtown Market. Had gangbusters sales, and learned a ton about product sales from AmyJo, who in the real world is, well, a sales executive. (Of course, if you want to support local literary excellence, you can buy our stuff online. I’ll even ship it to you.)
  • Submissions. Speaking of books, a ton of writing opportunities are open, and since I’ve been fiddling with poems and short stories lately — a bit of pre-bedtime relaxation with adult libations and fuzzy felines — I’ve actually got a somewhat well-curated slush pile to draw from. Fancy that.
  • Chicago. The NAHQ board meetings went well. The trip was surprisingly fast — I blew through Chicago on I-90 in record time, in both directions — and the agenda flowed smoothly. Plus, I got to see my old friend Tony, from Illinois, for a cocktail one evening.
  • Departures at PH. Our ongoing transitions have left my team in a bit of a mess. One person was promoted and transferred, while another resigned. Never a dull moment. But I am now in the market for a data analyst and welcome recommendations.
  • Life after Norovirus. Weeks after being ill, my appetite hasn’t recovered. Down 8 lbs., and counting.

I’m enjoying an extended vacation for Labor Day, so more later. ‘Til then, stay safe out there.

Stuff Lately

Been a while since I’ve done an omnibus update.

  • The new job is going well. I like my new boss and my new co-workers, and I’m being mentally challenged in exciting new ways. Plus, I’m off the hamster wheel of mundane report requests.
  • Snowball has been pleasant. My “pet” feral cat stops by once or twice a week for food. Now that her kittens have dispersed, she has been downright domestic with me. On Friday, for example, she ate her fill then came down the attic stairs to get pet. She didn’t need food, she just wanted some attention.
  • The Detroit trip was a success. Yesterday I embarked upon a whirlwind tour of the three Detroit casinos. Tony, Degenerate Johnny, Alaric and I drove to the Churchill’s in Southfield for a tasty cigar — I enjoyed the Fuente Fuente Opus X double corona with a dram of Glenfiddich 15-year single-malt Scotch — then we made our way into Beirut Detroit. The city’s reputation didn’t disappoint: We passed a fully involved car fire on the shoulder of I-696. Our casino trip started at Greektown (mediocre) then moved to Motor City (better, with a surprisingly decent buffet) then MGM Grand Detroit (lovely).  We had to route through some of the more unpleasant parts of the Arsenal of Democracy — something chilling in the vacant, burned-out homes and buildings, something ominous in 10-story buildings covered ground-to-roof in graffiti. George Will is right: Detroit’s decline isn’t primarily financial, it’s cultural.
  • I’m still crabby about the broken window. See last post.
  • Been busy on the social front. I missed today’s writer’s potluck in Grand Haven on account of the damage to my vehicle. This past week, I had drinks with Jared, and last week I had dinner with Alaric. Tony and I have done a bit of show recording, too.

Miscellaneous Updates from Late September

A few items of note from the recent past:

  • Rick and Sondra stopped by last night to watch the sixth series finale of Doctor Who. They also dropped by a few weeks ago for the wrap-up of Torchwood. It’s always fun having them visit.
  • A few days after getting my HTC HD7 phone, I was part of the first wave to get the Windows Phone 7.5 Mango update. I love this phone — the live tiles are fabulous, the OS is snappy and fluid, data (like status updates) aggregate in one place, and the battery life is a major improvement over my Samsung Epic. Three cheers for Microsoft.
  • Spent most of last week doing a boatload of editing for Demand Media. The Tech Beta content channel (a partnership with Salon) was unusually full of stuff to review, and most of it was of uniformly high quality, so editing was a breeze.
  • ArtPrize hums along. Or, rather, ho-hums along; the major criticism this year is that the artists seem to be playing to the lowest common denominator among the voting public, so the art has been either too cautious, too insipid, or too juvenile.
  • The office gang is planning another Chicago trip, this time for Oct. 24. Should be nicer than last year’s frigid December get-away. We will do the Amtrak thing and spend the day eating, shopping and telling jokes. Should be fun.
  • I’ve started keeping a diary, in OneNote. More like a chron log, but still.
  • Visited my mom yesterday — retrieved some of my last boxes from her shed, as well as a “family heirloom” table that’s now in my living room. Plus, Gunner (her German Shepherd) was thrilled to see me.
  • This weekend has been unusually productive, which is nice. Although I still hate doing laundry. I did get caught up on reading — RSS feeds, magazines, Twitter, etc. The WP7 helps but so does sitting on the back porch with my TouchPad with a cigar or pipe and a glass of Scotch.
  • Now that it’s October, I’m getting mildly irritated that the Michigan Secretary of State *still* hasn’t sent my renewal tabs. I ordered them weeks ago, but … nada. Looks like an in-person visit at the local branch office from now on.

All for now. Enjoy the day.