How (and how not) to make rugelach for Hanukkah

Hey, it’s your friendly neighborhood Jew lady! It’s the first night of Hanukkah tonight, and I’m here to show you how to make rugelach (and what horrible errors to avoid). The fact that I kept on chugging even after screwing it up so many times tells you how good rugelach are.

Rugelach (pronounced “ROO-guh-lachhh,” possibly Yiddish for “little twists,”) are sticky little filled pastries, made of insanely rich, tender dough and rolled up with any kind of sweet filling you like. My favorite is apricot and walnut, but you can also use raspberry or any other fruit preserves, nuts-and-cinnamon, sour cherry, raisins, poppy seeds, even Nutella. A few years ago, for Thanksgivukkah, and I made pecan pie rugelach. Rugelach will work with you.

Other spellings: rugelakh, rugulach, rugalach, ruggalach, rogelach. These are all plurals. I don’t know what the singular is, because who could eat only one? This recipe is from my sister, Abby Tardiff, who reminds us that these freeze beautifully.

I’ll share the ingredients and very basic directions first, and then go through it step by step with photos and more detailed instructions. This recipe will make about eighty little pastries or more.

INGREDIENTS

Dough
Two sticks of butter (half a pound)
One 8-oz package of cream cheese
Two cups of flour
White sugar for rolling

Filling: 
Maybe 1/4 to 1/2 a cup of preserves or jam
1/2 to 1 cup finely chopped walnuts

You will also need parchment paper and a pizza cutter.

BASIC DIRECTIONS

Blend dough ingredients together. Roll dough into 6- 8 balls, cover, and chill them in fridge.
Roll chilled dough in sugar into a round. Add filling, leaving the center bare. Cut into triangles, roll from wide end, place on pan on parchment paper, and chill rugelach again.
Bake at 400 for 11-14 minutes.

Now here’s the more detailed instructions, with photos:

Blend the dough ingredients together until it’s smooth. This is not like pie crust dough; you can use the standing mixer and really manhandle it.

Divide and roll the dough into 6-8 balls, cover with plastic wrap, and chill in the fridge for at least half an hour. Chilling it should make the dough less sticky and easier to work with.

Preheat the oven to 350. Cover a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper. Rugelach get very messy while baking.

Sprinkle the counter (or a very large sheet pan, if you have it, to contain the mess) heavily with sugar.

Yep, you’re going to roll out the dough in sugar, rather than in flour. Roll it out as thin as you can, so it’s the size of a large dinner plate. I like to turn the dough over a few times while rolling it, so both sides get coated.

It doesn’t have to come out perfectly round.

Swizzle up your jam with a fork to make it more spreadable. Spread the filling and sprinkle the nuts all over the dough, leaving a circle in the middle bare.

You really just want a thin skim of filling, even less than what is shown here. Too much will bubble over and make a horrible mess. If you are using nuts, it’s also good to chop them finer than I did here, so they stay put.

You can make more than one kind of rugelach at a time. This pic shows too much filling, though, so don’t do that.

Cut it like a pizza into 16 triangles. I use a rolling pizza cutter. It helps to hold the center in place with one finger so the dough doesn’t curl up while you cut.

Roll each triangle up, starting from the wide end.

Put the rolled-up rugelach, tip down, on the pan covered with parchment paper. Leave at least two rugelach’s width between pastries. In this picture, I had put several batches in one pan to chill! Do not bake them this close together!

Chill them again for half an hour or more before baking. At this point, turn on the oven so it can preheat while the rugelach are chilling. You can make a ton of rugelach ahead of time and chill them all, then put them on pans in smaller batches to bake.

Bake them in the preheated oven for 11-14 minutes. They should be slightly golden on top.

They will leak a bit when baking. This is inevitable, and this is why you used parchment paper! Just let them cool for ten minutes or so before you peel them off the pan.

After much trial and error, I came out with three batches that turned out pretty good. Did I take pictures of them? No, I did not! I am very angry at myself. But you can get the general idea.

The finished rugelach will be slightly crisp on the outside, studded with sparkling sugar, and tender, sweet, and rich inside.

And now here are some horrible errors you can commit:

You can spread too much jam on and bake them too close together, so the filling will all leak out and form one solid platform of jam taffy with little rugelach islands trapped in it.

You can still eat them, but it cuts down considerably on how presentable they are. It’s only really a problem if you use too much filling, bake them too close together, and burn them, too:

I’m here to tell you that you can still eat them like this, if you break them apart. I did it for science.

Believe it or not, you can also get tired of waiting for them to bake, and turn on the broiler for “just a second” to brown up the tops, and then you forget to turn the broiler off before sliding the next batch in:

This, too, cuts down on their general attractiveness, as they become quite turdly.

Good luck! They’re a lot of work, but so worth it.

 

Axed from Amazon. Argh.

Well, this stinks. I got a letter from Amazon saying this:

Hello from the Associates Program,

We are writing to tell you that effective as of today’s date, Amazon is terminating your Associates account.  Under the terms of the Operating Agreement, we may terminate your account at any time, with or without cause.  This decision is final and not subject to appeal.

It is important that you immediately remove all Amazon Content from your Site(s).  Please be aware that any other accounts you have, or may open in the future, may be closed without payment of any fees.  Amazon reserves all other rights and claims.

Because you are not in compliance with the Operating Agreement, Amazon will not pay you any outstanding advertising fees related to your account.  Amazon exercises its right under the Operating Agreement to withhold fees based on violations, which include the following:

-You are incentivizing others to visit the Amazon Site by specifying that purchases made using your Special Links will help to support you or your website.

-You are encouraging customers to bookmark your Amazon links, as opposed to clicking through your Site to reach Amazon.

Thank you for your participation in the Amazon Associates Program.

Warmest Regards,

Amazon.com
http://www.amazon.com/associates

It was so weird and abrupt, I thought it might be fake (“Warmest Regards”??), but it’s not. I knew they changed their Terms of Service on Dec. 1, and I thought I was following the new guidelines, but apparently not. I understand the second guideline, but the first one they mentioned doesn’t even make sense to me.

Well, this is a pretty big kick in the teeth, especially now, when everyone’s buying tons of stuff. I’m telling you about it for three reasons.

One is, if you’re shopping on Amazon, please use someone else’s link! Lots of folks have Amazon Associates accounts, and it would be a shame to waste that money.

Two: If you have an Amazon Associate account that’s important to you, stop everything make sure you’re in compliance. They didn’t give me any warning whatsoever; they just shut it down.

Three: I’ve installed a PayPal button on the top right sidebar. I have really mixed feelings about this. I try to give people something for their money, so I was pretty happy about the Patreon system. I’m very aware that my patrons are essentially giving me gifts, for which I am very grateful! But at least folks got access to our goofy little podcast, and I could tell myself I wasn’t just begging. When I started putting ads on the site, I spent a lot of time hunting for the right ad agency, so as to avoid cluttering it up too much for readers. I hate begging. Hate it.

On the other hand, I don’t really know, at the moment, how we’re going to make up this lost income. It was real income, not just fun money. November to January is when I make the most money through Amazon, and all of that is just gone, even if I do somehow manage to get reinstated in the future. I’m looking into alternative affiliate programs, and I can push harder to get another book out sooner than I planned, and of course Damien can get yet another job. We’re not destitute, by any means, and there are many families needier than ours! But it’s a little nail-bitey just the same, and I did not sleep a lot last night.

So, argh argh argh, I guess if you had some cash dragging you down and you really wanted to get rid of it, and you sometimes enjoy my scribblings and bibblings, you could do worse than to click that button.

Thank you.

I’ll keep calling Amazon and trying to get reinstated, but I am not optimistic. They are just extremely big, and I’m just another blogger!

Argh.

Very inside basketball

The most amazing Twitter thread just happened. If you’re not familiar with NFP, probably just keep walking. Here’s how it happened:

First, Lauren the Great drives down the court:

with me giving a somewhat competent assist:

but no, it’s a block shot from Tommy Tighe!

It’s savage out there. No one can trash talk like Billings. And now Advent Friday sets a screen:

but then Sugar PLUM Jenny brings down the house with a dunk for the ages:

GOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAALLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLL.

Podcast 49: Not trying to hurry you (FREE PODCAST!)

I’m making today’s podcast free, just for the hell of it. Normally, podcasts are open to patrons who pledge $1 or more through Patreon. You are still highly encouraged to pledge. But this one is free, who can say why.

In this podcast, my husband Damien and I cover:

How to get motivated at work and not put people’s business cards in your mouth (unless you are Judge Judy);
a very fine story about boy, some other boys, some cement, and a microwave;
what Sr. Mary Immaculata saw when she went to check on my little brother on his circuitous route toward adulthood;
some choice moments with Edward G. Robinson and a certain rat;
For this story about bad sex writing, let me adjust the microphone, if you will;
Woop! Woop! That’s the sound of the . . . billiard racks, and other irrelevancies;
And the priest said, ” . . . well . . . .”
Damien denies having any knowledge of Mexican baloney;
Irish dogs and other unreliable sources;
an actual ankle-biter;
And a poem by Michael Lavers.

***
Image: By Trailer screenshot, from DVD The Ten Commandments, 50th Anniversary Collection Paramount, 2006 (The Ten Commandments trailer) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Seasonal Readiness Level: Patti LaBelle

  1. It turns out my husband may have wanted a few pet turtles in an elaborate aquarium set-up for Christmas many years ago, but now he doesn’t. I really can’t bring myself to fault him for this. Back to square one.
  2.  This week, I heard a man say that it’s hypocritical and inappropriate to sing Christmas songs when there are poor, needy, people in the world who don’t even know where they’ll be spending the night.

3. Speaking of doozies, how in the name of all that is holly jolly did I never see this video from last year?

 

4. In the spirit of Advent, I took out all the parts of this post I was going to regret, and now it has 87 words.

5. I also spent some time this morning writing a wry parody of “Holly Jolly Chirstmas” which included a pointed send-up of Instrgram culture. “Where is it?” you ask? Oh, I threw it away. MERRY CHRISTMAS.

6. When I got my own site just over a year ago, I look’d at the internet with wild surmise and thought about all the amazing and brilliant things I could do with my newfound independence.

7. ??

 

 

Mom? Dad? I think I’m politiqueer.

What accounts for the growing number of young people who don’t identify as either male or female? My friends and I floated various theories in a recent conversation. Some thought there are too many freaky deaky chemicals in the water supply, and it’s messing with our hormones. Some thought it’s nothing new, and that people simply feel more free to accept and announce what they’ve always felt inside. Some think it’s the result of cultural pressure, and calling oneself “non-binary” or “asexual” or “gender fluid” are merely the newest way of irritating one’s parents and asserting one’s individuality, like growing hair long in the early 60’s, or wearing pants backwards in the 80’s.

And some, including me, thought it’s not only a combination of the above, but also sometimes a sign of good psychological health. Let me explain.

Some of the folks I see calling themselves neither male nor female present in such an aggressively counter-cultural way, they appear to set themselves irredeemably apart from anyone who values ordinary, bedrock principles like fidelity or monogamy. But under the strident “I’m not like you” exterior, most aren’t looking for anarchy or even libertinism. Many of them are saying something true and valuable. They are saying: “I reject the idea that you have to chose between being a girly girl or a macho man. I hate the notion that I have to sign on to spending my time obsessing over either makeup or sports. I don’t see myself primarily as always passive or as always aggressive. I reject both silly, simpering, bubbleheaded femininity and slavering, swaggering, manhandling masculinity.”

In other words, they’re not rejecting masculinity or femininity, so much as they are rejecting what 2017 is telling them it means to be male or female. 2017, in case you haven’t noticed, doesn’t know its ass from its elbow. So if people are opting out of a binary system that’s pure caricature, then opting out is the right thing to do. Certainly, it goes too far to say, “I’m not male or female,” but at very least, it’s a sign that folks are embracing the idea that who we are is more than just an assemblage of clothing and hobbies. They are rejecting constrictive, reductive, dehumanizing stereotypes, and that’s a good thing.

Okay! So this conversation came back to me this morning, as I listened to the talking heads on the news chatting about the Roy Moore election. Now that our president has openly endorsed Moore, the GOP has decided to go ahead and fund his campaign after all.

This move has left a good many voters in the lurch. A lot of folks who call themselves “republican” have lost their damn minds — but a lot haven’t. They hoped (because man is, at heart, irrationally optimistic) that the party of God, family, responsibility, and values would somehow find their way to saying, “Maybe let’s not rush to elect a likely sexual predator.”

A lot of voters, like me, are basically conservative. We reject abortion. We think marriage should be between one man and one woman. We only reluctantly accept divorce as a necessary evil. We think immigration should be approached with care and caution. We think gun ownership should be protected. We believe freedom of religion exists outside the walls of actual church buildings. We think America is special, and has something to offer the rest of the world.

But we reject the caricature of American conservatism, which says that you have a moral obligation to anyone who yammers about being “pro-life” when he wants a vote, but who has no qualms about crushing single mothers and their kids, the poor, the disabled, and the uninsured.
We reject the caricature of American conservatism that says marriage is holy and sacred when you’re selling cake, but if you’re a politician, then you can swing your dick wherever you like.
We reject the caricature of American conservatism that says it’s a crime against nature to have too much melanin in your skin or too much of an accent in your voice.
We reject the caricature of American conservatism that says the Bill of Rights is mainly about not getting in the way of evil men with an arsenal and a grievance.
We reject the caricature of American conservatism that believes in a young, flat earth populated by Muslim lizard people masquerading as secret Kenyans who hate Christmas.
We reject the caricature of American conservatism that says anything America does is good, right, and just, and we can teach the rest of the world to be like us by alienating our allies and nuking everyone else.

Oh, and we reject Nazis and rapists, that kind of thing.

Since I reject all of these things, does that make me a liberal or a progressive? Not unless you’re insane.

But listen. Progressives are suffering their own descent into grotesque caricature. My progressive friends don’t have any friends in the white house right now, but they’re also not thrilled when they think of the backlash that’s likely to come next.

Remember, Americans love that pendulum swing. The moment Donald Trump is gone, a reactive voting populace will ram through some equal but opposite horror, who’ll undo all Trump’s bad deeds and replace them with a whole new set of equally bad deeds, but different ones. Read your history. This is what happens when a country allows something terrible to happen. It makes amends by lurching toward something even more terrible, but opposite.

When there’s a natural calamity — say, an earthquake or a tidal wave — there are the initial casualties, and then thousands more are left homeless in the aftermath. This is what’s happened politically. Trump vs. Clinton was an earthquake setting off a volcano, or a tidal wave triggering a mudslide, or Mothra vs.King Ghidorah, or whatever. There was no good guy to root for, but there sure were a lot of innocent bystanders left with nowhere to go after the monsters moved along.

So that’s me. I’m homeless. I’m a non-binary voter. I’m politiqueer, or something. I reject all the petty caricatures. I care about the Ten Commandments, and that’s why I reject Roy Moore. I care about women, and that’s why I reject [Margaret Sanger’s reanimated corpse, or whoever the dems will put up next].

You can’t make me say I’m on one grotesque side or the other grotesque side, and you can’t make me say that if I’m not one, I must be the other. As currently presented, neither one of them is anything worth being. There’s more to me than an assemblage of cruelty, extremism, and reflexive ideological posturing. Show me something good, and maybe I’ll vote for it. I’m a citizen of the United States of America, and I reject all the monsters.

***
Images: Destoroyah: Bandai Namco Entertainment America, CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=48781603
Gigan: Bandai Namco Entertainment Europe [CC BY 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
ballot: Pixabay https://pixabay.com/en/elections-vote-sheet-paper-pen-536656/

Mom? Dad? I think I’m politiqueer.

What accounts for the growing number of young people who don’t identify as either male or female? My friends and I floated various theories in a recent conversation. Some thought there are too many freaky deaky chemicals in the water supply, and it’s messing with our hormones. Some thought it’s nothing new, and that people simply feel more free to accept and announce what they’ve always felt inside. Some think it’s the result of cultural pressure, and calling oneself “non-binary” or “asexual” or “gender fluid” are merely the newest way of irritating one’s parents and asserting one’s individuality, like growing hair long in the early 60’s, or wearing pants backwards in the 80’s.

And some, including me, thought it’s not only a combination of the above, but also sometimes a sign of good psychological health. Let me explain.

Some of the folks I see calling themselves neither male nor female present in such an aggressively counter-cultural way, they appear to set themselves irredeemably apart from anyone who values ordinary, bedrock principles like fidelity or monogamy. But under the strident “I’m not like you” exterior, most aren’t looking for anarchy or even libertinism. Many of them are saying something true and valuable. They are saying: “I reject the idea that you have to chose between being a girly girl or a macho man. I hate the notion that I have to sign on to spending my time obsessing over either makeup or sports. I don’t see myself primarily as always passive or as always aggressive. I reject both silly, simpering, bubbleheaded femininity and slavering, swaggering, manhandling masculinity.”

In other words, they’re not rejecting masculinity or femininity, so much as they are rejecting what 2017 is telling them it means to be male or female. 2017, in case you haven’t noticed, doesn’t know its ass from its elbow. So if people are opting out of a binary system that’s pure caricature, then opting out is the right thing to do. Certainly, it goes too far to say, “I’m not male or female,” but at very least, it’s a sign that folks are embracing the idea that who we are is more than just an assemblage of clothing and hobbies. They are rejecting constrictive, reductive, dehumanizing stereotypes, and that’s a good thing.

Okay! So this conversation came back to me this morning, as I listened to the talking heads on the news chatting about the Roy Moore election. Now that our president has openly endorsed Moore, the GOP has decided to go ahead and fund his campaign after all.

This move has left a good many voters in the lurch. A lot of folks who call themselves “republican” have lost their damn minds — but a lot haven’t. They hoped (because man is, at heart, irrationally optimistic) that the party of God, family, responsibility, and values would somehow find their way to saying, “Maybe let’s not rush to elect a likely sexual predator.”

A lot of voters, like me, are basically conservative. We reject abortion. We think marriage should be between one man and one woman. We only reluctantly accept divorce as a necessary evil. We think immigration should be approached with care and caution. We think gun ownership should be protected. We believe freedom of religion exists outside the walls of actual church buildings. We think America is special, and has something to offer the rest of the world.

But we reject the caricature of American conservatism, which says that you have a moral obligation to anyone who yammers about being “pro-life” when he wants a vote, but who has no qualms about crushing single mothers and their kids, the poor, the disabled, and the uninsured.
We reject the caricature of American conservatism that says marriage is holy and sacred when you’re selling cake, but if you’re a politician, then you can swing your dick wherever you like.
We reject the caricature of American conservatism that says it’s a crime against nature to have too much melanin in your skin or too much of an accent in your voice.
We reject the caricature of American conservatism that says the Bill of Rights is mainly about not getting in the way of evil men with an arsenal and a grievance.
We reject the caricature of American conservatism that believes in a young, flat earth populated by Muslim lizard people masquerading as secret Kenyans who hate Christmas.
We reject the caricature of American conservatism that says anything America does is good, right, and just, and we can teach the rest of the world to be like us by alienating our allies and nuking everyone else.

Oh, and we reject Nazis and rapists, that kind of thing.

Since I reject all of these things, does that make me a liberal or a progressive? Not unless you’re insane.

But listen. Progressives are suffering their own descent into grotesque caricature. My progressive friends don’t have any friends in the white house right now, but they’re also not thrilled when they think of the backlash that’s likely to come next.

Remember, Americans love that pendulum swing. The moment Donald Trump is gone, a reactive voting populace will ram through some equal but opposite horror, who’ll undo all Trump’s bad deeds and replace them with a whole new set of equally bad deeds, but different ones. Read your history. This is what happens when a country allows something terrible to happen. It makes amends by lurching toward something even more terrible, but opposite.

When there’s a natural calamity — say, an earthquake or a tidal wave — there are the initial casualties, and then thousands more are left homeless in the aftermath. This is what’s happened politically. Trump vs. Clinton was an earthquake setting off a volcano, or a tidal wave triggering a mudslide, or Mothra vs.King Ghidorah, or whatever. There was no good guy to root for, but there sure were a lot of innocent bystanders left with nowhere to go after the monsters moved along.

So that’s me. I’m homeless. I’m a non-binary voter. I’m politiqueer, or something. I reject all the petty caricatures. I care about the Ten Commandments, and that’s why I reject Roy Moore. I care about women, and that’s why I reject [Margaret Sanger’s reanimated corpse, or whoever the dems will put up next].

You can’t make me say I’m on one grotesque side or the other grotesque side, and you can’t make me say that if I’m not one, I must be the other. As currently presented, neither one of them is anything worth being. There’s more to me than an assemblage of cruelty, extremism, and reflexive ideological posturing. Show me something good, and maybe I’ll vote for it. I’m a citizen of the United States of America, and I reject all the monsters.

***
Images: Destoroyah: Bandai Namco Entertainment America, CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=48781603
Gigan: Bandai Namco Entertainment Europe [CC BY 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
ballot: Pixabay https://pixabay.com/en/elections-vote-sheet-paper-pen-536656/

Is Catholic publishing sexist?

If women want to succeed in business, politics, or entertainment, they have to put out. The sexual revolution didn’t create this state of affairs; it only gave plausible deniability to predators who’ve been doing their thing since long before the 60’s.

It’s only now, in 2017, that society is listening to women’s age-old complaints of institutional sexism, and it’s only now that corporations are cracking down on the male predators they employ. Whether this response is a passing mood or a lasting change, it’s too soon to say.

Is the Catholic working world different?

I don’t know if I can bear to dig too deeply into this question. Certainly, countless Catholic men have discovered that a combination of authority and spirituality makes a fine snare for the vulnerable. The priest sex abuse scandal, especially the ongoing Legion of Christ debacle, illustrates that horror all too well. And, just as in the secular world, many Catholics will excuse and forgive predators and discredit their accusers, and will blame women and young people for tempting and seducing those who prey on them.

But what about in the Catholic working world that extends beyond the actual Church? Are women constrained more than men? If women want to succeed, are they expected to behave in a certain way? Or are Catholics better than the secular world?

It’s becoming more rare, in mainstream Catholicism, for women to be shamed and castigated for simply working outside the home, but sexist attitudes are still pervasive in more conservative circles. Even in online groups specifically dedicated to supporting Catholic working moms, the very members of that group will sometimes suggest that, if a working woman is struggling in any way, maybe the Holy Spirit is telling her to quit work (or to trade in her actual career for an MLM scam).

In some professional Catholic circles, if you do your work, meet your deadlines, and don’t cause scandal, your work is respected, whether you’re male or female. But in other circles, you’ll still hear that it’s actually wrong for women to go to college. I reject the tired notion that the Catholic male priesthood is evidence of systemic sexism, but it’s undeniable that Catholics use the male priesthood to justify that sexism.

You’ll hear that it’s just to pay women less than men, because men are supposed to be the breadwinners, and women who work are robbing men of opportunities (and their manhood). You’ll hear the word “feminine” used as a synonym for “shoddy, inferior, and trite.” You’ll hear that women are, as a species, too emotional and flighty to contribute much of intellectual value.

My personal experience is limited. I only know what I’ve seen and what I’ve read in Crisis and from the Catholic authors at The Federalist. But one thing I’ve actually lived is Catholic publishing, and here’s what I learned:

You can say whatever you want in your Catholic lady book, as long as it’s 90% uplifting, joyful, and encouraging, amen.

Did you ever wonder why I initially self-published my book about NFP? It’s because I approached several Catholic publishers (with the NFP book and with previous book pitches in the same vein), and they told me my book was too dark, too negative, too discouraging, too snarky, too problematic. It frankly acknowledged the struggles of living the faith, and that was unacceptable. It might possibly lead people astray. No one claimed it was was heterodox. It simply wasn’t joyful enough.

I thought they were wrong. So I published it myself, as an ebook. It was exceedingly popular, and then Catholic publishers — including more than one that had rejected my proposal for the very same manuscript — approached me, looking for printing rights. It seemed there was a market for my problematic negativity after all. (And yes, I cackled like Yosemite Sam as the offers poured in.)

Now, once upon a time, Catholic readers tolerated something less than joy-joy-joy from women writers. Dorothy Day, Maisie Ward, Caryll Housleander, and even the humorists Jean Kerr and Erma Bombeck spring to mind as non-saints who acknowledged that Catholic woman could find Christ in other places besides kitchen sinks, nurseries, and fields of daisies. (Note that Kerr, Day, and Bombeck were published by secular presses, and Ward started her own company to publish her work, Houselander’s, and others’.)

Today, Heather King, Eve Tushnet, Leah Libresco, Emily Stimpson, Jennifer Fulwiler, Amy Wellborn, Sherry Weddell, Leah Perrault, and Elizabeth Scalia come to mind as Catholic female authors who don’t shy away from troubling questions. I’d be interested to know whether they felt constrained to uphold a certain image of Catholic womanhood, or if they felt free to speak their minds.

Whatever their answer, my own experience is undeniable, and it left a mark. Catholic women writers aren’t required to put out. Instead, they’re all too often required to stuff down. Stuff down anything ugly, anything problematic, anything risky, anything that doesn’t end up with an edifying bow on top.

I’m not naive. Catholic publishers bear a responsibility under which secular publishers do not labor. Catholic publishers must, like everyone else, know and please their audience; but there’s more. What if they publish something by an author who’s so gritty, authentic, and honest that, two weeks after the book debuts, it’s revealed that the author has slid past authenticity and straight into debauchery? A secular publisher doesn’t want to get caught out promoting an author who turns out to be a liar or a pervert, and a Catholic publisher doesn’t want to get stuck with six thousand copies of a Catholic book by someone who doesn’t act remotely like a Catholic.  What Catholic publisher in its right mind would take that risk?

Well, they might, if the author is a man.

In our conversation of several weeks ago, Jessica Mesman Griffith told me that several years ago, she pitched a memoir to Loyola Press. The name inspired by her daughter’s pretend game which involved the seasick pilgrims on the Mayflower. Together, they drew stick figure pilgrims with X’s for eyes, suffering through their strange journey.

Griffith told me:

I always wanted to do something with that title. It was so resonant with what my own spiritual life was like. I’d had this private dream to start a publishing house. I was really inspired by Sheed and Ward, loved reading about their philosophy of publishing and their approach.
I wanted something for Catholic writers where you didn’t have orthodoxy policing. I wanted a space where people would be Catholic, or cultural Catholics, or lapsed Catholics, where we could talk about beautiful things that inspired us.
Loyola declined the book, and the project was put on the back burner. Mesman then met Jonathan Ryan when he was acquisitions editor at Ave Maria Press. In December of 2015, she agreed to co-blog with him at Patheos, and they decided the name “Sick Pilgrim” (again drawing on her daughter’s game) would work well.  The blog, and the accompanying online discussion and support group, took off and developed a wildly devoted following.
Griffith says:
That’s when Loyola came back and said to pitch the book again, but with Jonathan as co-author. Even though it was the exact same book and same title. They said the male voice brings something special.
She emphasized that phrase several times. “The male voice brings something special.” Griffith said:
I recoiled. But, you’re a writer, you’re broke, someone offers you money . . . you do it. It was essays I had already written, about my spiritual life, my background, how I came back to the Church as an adult. I saw how [the blog and group] Sick Pilgrim was affecting people in a good way. I felt like it was its own kind of ministry for people who feel excluded. I saw people coming back to the Church, just from having another voice out there saying, “Whatever, I messed up, and I still go [to Mass].” The good outweighed the bad, even though I was reluctant. 
 And so Griffith agreed to co-author the book with Ryan. It was her idea, her essays, and her title, drawn from her life. But, Griffith says, Loyola didn’t want to publish it unless there was a man involved.
Then, in November of 2017, less than a month after the book debuted, it was spiked . . .  because that same man was involved.
This is just one example. And my own experience is just another example. And what I read in comment boxes is just what I read in comment boxes — those are all just more examples.

After a while, you have to wonder how many isolated examples there can be, before they form a pattern spelling out “Catholic publishing is still sexist.”

So you tell me. Is there a problem in Catholic publishing, or in the Catholic working world at large? Are women allowed to admit to being human beings with complex, untidy experiences? Are women expected to conform to ideals of womanhood, while men are given more latitude? If there’s a problem, is it getting better?  What do you think?

***

EDIT and clarification, 12/7/17: After some justifiable criticism, I have taken out a few sentences that referenced an essay by Jody Bottum. The essay wasn’t actually a good example of what I’m talking about, and bringing it up distracted from the point of this essay. I don’t blame Bottum for being annoyed to be dragged into it.

I did frame my essay as a question, and I wish I had made it more clear it was a sincere one, not a rhetorical one. Several people have answered by suggesting that the more prevalent problem is Catholic publishers being unwilling to publish anything that’s too risky (by way of being honest, not-altogether-tidy, etc.), whether it’s written by a man or a woman.

It happens that women are probably more likely than men to accommodate their editors by toning things down, trimming away the darker stuff, and adding a tidy bow. The result is that women authors get published plenty, but what they publish tends to be more facile and shallow than what men publish. But there can be reasonable argument as to whether that’s due to sexism or more complicated issues.

Image: Detail from photo by Andrew Toskin via Flickr (Creative Commons)

Protected: Podcast #48: Accidentally unnamed

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Are all men sitting ducks in this cultural climate?

The great 2017 Advent Calendar of Workplace Pervs continues to reveal creep after creep, day after day.

And I am astonished. Not because I had no idea such things went on in the working world, but because the story has not blown over yet. I thought there would be a flurry of high-profile accusations after Harvey Weinstein, and then the herd would get bored and move along to graze elsewhere. Instead, the story endures, as it should.

Predictably, the longer it stays in the headlines, the more I hear a growing panic among some men (and some women, too): Isn’t this going too far? It seems like a man can lose his job just because some woman makes an accusation! We all have targets on our backs now! No man is safe.

Let’s take a closer look at this fear. How rational is it?

First: If it’s recent headlines that are making you nervous, let’s recall that every single man who was fired for inappropriate sexual behavior is accused of doing something very serious. Matt Lauer didn’t get the axe for calling someone “hon.” Al Franken isn’t under fire because he had dust in his eye, but some lady thought he was winking. These men are not accused of accidents, misunderstandings, or fleeting comments made in a weak moment of poor judgment.

They are accused of committing overtly sexual acts, of repeatedly using their power to do predatory things to the bodies of women, just because they thought they could get away with it.

So let’s dispense with the idea that phalanxes of men are losing their livelihoods over trivial accusations. At least in the high profile cases we’ve been seeing, that simply isn’t what’s happening.

Second: Nobody fires a star without solid evidence he’s guilty. These guys have the best contracts money can buy. No news channel or Hollywood studio is going to risk being sued for firing their top guy for no good reason. Think about it: If they fired someone, it’s because they know they have an airtight case. They investigate the claims and find out if they are plausible, if the accuser is credible, and if there is a pattern.

So not only are these men accused of serious offenses, but the accusations must have merit. If they didn’t have merit, no corporation in its right mind would run the risk of being sued for wrongful termination. Think about it: Someone who works for NBC installed that secret door lock button for Matt Lauer. They already knew what he was up to. They fired him because they’ve had tons of evidence for years, and it suddenly became fashionable to act on it, that’s all.

Nevertheless, I have some sympathy for men. America is not known for its temperance. We do tend to overcompensate; and so, yes, from some quarters, there are calls for all men to suffer. One woman said on Twitter that she didn’t care if innocent men get unjustly accused, since so many women have suffered injustice (and one writer says a major news outlet tried to get her to argue that men do not deserve due process.). So I can understand how even a completely innocent man might feel some unease, wondering if they’ll get swept up in an undiscerning mob that started out seeking justice but ends up just looking for blood.

So how should an innocent man behave in the workplace? Is there anything he can do to remove even the possibility of being accused unjustly, without acting like an alien?

My friend Kate Cousino suggests implementing The Rock Test, in which men simply visualize women as Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, and then magically find themselves taking no liberties whatsoever. Ta dah!

For a more nuanced approach, I’ll turn the rest of this essay over to another friend, a man who is a finance director at a large company. Here’s what he says:

I’m a guy who manages a team which for the last three years has been composed entirely of women, so I’ve thought about harassment type issues a fair amount well before this whole blow up.

Does this mean that I refuse to mentor or be alone with women? No. 

What do I watch myself most carefully on? I don’t make comments about how people working for me are dressed. Yes, this took a little work at first. With a guy, if he comes in particularly well dressed some day, I might joke, “What, interviewing for another job?” With a woman, if I wasn’t conscious of these things, I might have been tempted to say something like, “Wow, you’re looking fancy today!” But you know what? I’m glad that I’ve trained myself out of saying that kind of thing. The women who work for me don’t need to know my opinions on their fashion, and several years in it is an important aspect of the comfort we all have with each other that there is zero sense of tension on the team. They shouldn’t be thinking about what I’ll think about what they’re wearing anyway.

If I want to lean over someone to do something on her computer, I ask her first. And that’s not awkward, because honestly, I wouldn’t get that physically close to a guy normally either.

I don’t worry about meeting alone with a woman on my team in a conference room or in an office, but like virtually any corporate office building all our rooms have windows so there’s no fear of being out of sight.

And though I’ve traveled with one or more of my female employees, it would frankly never have occurred to me to ask of them to meet me in a my room. It’s always convenient to meet in the coffee shop, lobby, or restaurant. My room is private and so is theirs.

Honestly, it’s not hard, I’m not scared, and while some of the habits I’ve formed took some deliberation at first I think that they’ve actually turned out to make it easier for us to all feel comfortable and have a very low stress team dynamic. 

Over the top precautions are not necessary, and sensible ones are actually helpful in allowing you to work with people of the opposite sex without anyone feeling uncomfortable.

Makes sense to me.

Do you notice how, once he got used to taking these precautions, it actually became easier for everyone to work together? I could actually feel my shoulders relaxing as I imagined working in an environment like this. If is truly your goal to get work done at work, then there can be no objection to adopting these guidelines. You may need to tweak them for your individual job. Hey, at least you get to tweak something.

A final note. It is true that many men are, for the first time, becoming hyper aware of the potential sexual connotations of their working relationships with women. One woman told me, with outrage and incredulity, that her male friends now felt the need to leave the door open when they were alone with a woman in a room.

To this, I say . . . oh, well? It does not seem to me to be overly burdensome to expect men to think twice about the things that many women have to think of all day long.

I am not a paranoiac, and I do not feel as if I’m under constant threat of rape when I leave my home. And yet there are precautions that I take habitually, that I have taken ten thousand times since hitting puberty, just because I am a woman. I have to think about leaving my drink unattended. I have to think about looking around me when I cross a parking lot. I do not go out alone at night. I do not run alone without my cell phone. I am on high alert when I step into an elevator with a man. I am careful about what kinds of jokes I make around men, lest they get the wrong idea. I think about what I am projecting by what I wear. I will sometimes walk out of my way in the supermarket, rather than pass through a group of men whose eyes I don’t like. It’s not especially burdensome. It’s just life.

If minor precautions like this become part of the life of men for the first time in history, I say again, “Oh, well.” If women can survive thinking twice about relationships, then men can, too.

And if innocent men resent having to work so hard to protect themselves in the current cultural climate, then who should they blame?  Women who fear being preyed on? Or the predatory men who gave them reason to fear?