Sublimate your anger, $5 at a time

I won’t say who it is, because I don’t want to embarrass her, but someone recently told me about a new policy she developed for herself during the pandemic. Every time she started to get mad at someone for being selfish and irresponsible, and she wanted to righteously lash out and put them in their place , she would send a few dollars to the food pantry, instead.

At first I thought this was a sweet and good but somewhat random gesture: Instead of doing the bad thing (being mad), she was going to do the good thing (feeding the hungry). But I actually think there was actually something more interesting and meaningful going on: Something called sublimation.

Sublimation is when you take some undesirable urge and redirect the energy of it into something worthwhile and commendable. It is not repression, because you’re not denying that the urge is there, and you’re not pretending it doesn’t affect you. Instead, you’re acknowledging that the urge is powerful and forceful, and that you can’t make it just go away; so instead, you make it work for you.

The person in question felt an understandable rage and frustration when someone would rudely refuse to wear a mask, or would spread lies about vaccines, or would harass other people for complying with safety protocols. (Yes, these are all things that happen regularly.)

I think this anger qualifies as righteous anger, because these actions hurt vulnerable people the most. But she knew that following her heart by cussing them out or smacking them would just make things worse for everybody. So instead, she balled up her anger and used it to help vulnerable people. Thus the donation to the food pantry.

So it wasn’t just “do good instead of bad.” She took anger over someone hurting people, and used it to help people. The food pantry is great for this kind of thing, because there will always be poor people, and poor people will always need food (or even better, money so they can decide what kind of food to buy).

The thing about sublimation is not just that it makes good things come about, and it’s not just that it steers you away from crashing on the rocks of sin. It actually changes you. Here is where I recall one of the first really useful things I learned from my therapist years ago…Read the rest of my latest for The Catholic Weekly.
 
Photo by Intricate Explorer on Unsplash

Some vaccine incentives that would work on me

Here in the US, more than half the population is fully vaccinated against Covid.  In my state, it’s even higher. But in some regions, people are resisting getting the vaccine for a variety of reasons that range from understandable to supremely bogus.

I’ve read a few chin-stroking articles dedicated to teaching people how to overcome vaccine resistance, but a few state governments are cutting out the middle man and appealing to that most American of traits: Naked greed. It goes beyond the odd free donut here and car wash discount there. One state, for instance, is entering all vaccinated citizens into a lottery with a cash prize of a million dollars.

But these are strange times, and so many of our old values have been upended. Why not roll with that? If I hadn’t already signed up to get vaccinated within minutes of the announcement that I could, here are a few things that might get me off my keister and into the clinic line:

Flash your vaccine card, people have to wink at you. I may be the only one who would value this particular incentive, but I think winking is hilarious. It’s such an unnatural thing for most people to do with their faces, and it would keep me entertained through the darkest day.

The opportunity to access local birth records and fix the spelling of my kids’ friends’ names. I’m sorry. I know it’s insensitive and elitist. Blame the 5G chip. But still, phonics exists. Letters have meaning. It would benefit the entire community if no one was ever exposed to a Caedynne or a Jessieighkah every again.  Or a Rachael. I said what I said… Read the rest of my latest for The Catholic Weekly

 
Image: Tim Chambers, CC BY 2.5, via Wikimedia Commons

Our pandemic precautions were worth it — but yes, we have been harmed

With most of our family fully vaccinated and the rest getting there as soon as we can, we’ve been talking over what we can restore to our daily lives: Where we can go, what we can do, who we can get close to. Like so many people, we gave up a lot over the past year, and we’re now cautiously figuring out what we can start taking back.

I’m finding it fairly easy to assess activities and behaviors. We’re still leaning toward the cautious end (my most medically at-risk kids are either partially vaccinated or still unvaccinated), but we’ve pieced together what seems like a rational way to assess risk; and the light at the end of the tunnel gets brighter by the week, making it easier to wait patiently for the things that aren’t back to normal yet.

But I’m finding it harder to re-adjust my mental attitudes. I feel like parts of me have been permanently crippled by the psychological grind of what we had to do. I don’t have any regrets. But I’m facing the reality that what happened to us caused real harm.. Read the rest of my latest for The Catholic Weekly

Image by Ivan Radic via Flickr (Creative Commons)

Has the pandemic made you entirely too awesome? A quiz

Here we are, just about on the other side of the pandemic. Yes we are. Quiet, I said we are and I can’t hear anything else right now or I’m going to go completely out of my gourd.

Here we are, as I say, just about on the other side of the pandemic, and almost since day 1 of the lockdowns and restrictions, we’ve been hearing about people turning into slugs who no longer know how to carry on a conversation, drive a car, or put on pants. So many publications are focusing on people who’ve let their lives slither southward down the drain like an unguarded bowl of tapioca. But here at The Catholic Weekly, we do things a little differently.  Here, we turn our gimlet eye on the real villains of the pandemic. The people who used their  time too well.

I threw together a little quiz to help you assess whether you’ve officially gone too far and have allowed the global pandemic to make you entirely too awesome to live. 

Read the rest of my latest for The Catholic Weekly

 
Image via DepositPhotos

Treats for the poor

If you’re not living in dire poverty, you probably found yourself having recourse to little treats throughout this pandemic, to cheer yourself and your family up. Maybe you splurged on a tasty but extravagant snack or dessert, or something to brighten up the house, or a new book or movie or game you’ve been wanting. Little treats can’t fix the problem, but they can make it more tolerable.

It’s not that they’re hugely important in themselves, but they help because they remind us that, even though so much of our day is clouded and burdened with problems and anxiety, there is still good in the world, still sweetness, still calm, still satisfaction.

Little treats also remind us that we’re worth putting a little bit of effort into, and that our current state of misery and distress is not normal and not desirable, but should be remedied.

Well, my friends. Whether there’s a pandemic on or not, why not give little treats to the poor? Why not offer them small, unnecessary consolations, just because they’re poor, and that sucks, and it will cheer them up to have a little treat?

It’s very common for financially comfortable people to have a conscious or unconscious policy of denying even the smallest of treats to the poor. I think some folks don’t even realize they harbor these thoughts, but they believe deep down that it’s okay for comfortable people to give themselves little treats as a consolation when times are hard, but it’s somehow not okay for poor people to enjoy the same. That there’s something unhealthy or unhelpful or unseemly about the poor receiving any charity beyond the bare necessities.

Read the rest of my latest for The Catholic Weekly

Image by frankieleon via Flickr (Creative Commons)

10 ways to let the pandemic shape your Lent

Didn’t we just have Lent? Aren’t we going through it still?

It comes as a shock every year when I look at the calendar and see that it’s almost Ash Wednesday; but this year feels especially unreasonable. The pandemic and all its wretched offspring have made most of 2020 and all of the new year feel so very penitential.

Almost everyone I know has lost someone to COVID. And we’ve lost so many other things that make life pleasant and rich: Eating together, gathering with friends, traveling, visiting family. Many of us can’t even go back to Mass yet. Adoration isn’t safe; confession takes massive planning and coordination. Weddings and other sacraments have been postponed or sadly muted. Even if we haven’t lost anyone we love, we have all lost so much.

So when I think about what we will do for Lent this year, I feel dull and discouraged. What to do? I know intellectually that people throughout history have suffered through much tougher times, but that doesn’t make it easier to muster up any enthusiasm for the coming season of penitence.

The only sensible plan I can think of is to accept that the pandemic is going to make things different this year, and to lean into that. To try to accept our situation as a gift from God, and to use the pandemic as a framework for Lent.

Read the rest of my latest for The Catholic Weekly.

 
Image by mfbj from Pixabay

Things I hope my family is doing while I’m in quarantine

It’s usually infuriating to be “overtaken by events” — i.e., to have the news cycle rush ahead without you, so the timely article you’ve written becomes irrelevant before you have a chance to publish. Today, though, I’m thrilled to announce that my COVID test came back negative before I was able to submit the essay I wrote while waiting in quarantine.

But this means I can’t even lean on your sympathetic instincts and plead that you should read it anyway out of pity because I have COVID, because, uh, I don’t. So just do me a favor and pretend the time difference between Australia and the United States is even longer than 14 hours, and here you go.

So HERE I AM IN QUARANTINE [let’s say], and I’m lucky enough to have a house bursting with able-bodied adults who can easily handle everything I normally do, and who aren’t allowed to leave. Still, it’s hard for a mother to give over the reins of control, and I can’t help thinking about what’s going on beyond my bedroom door. I’m doing my best to keep busy with soothing, productive, restorative activities (shut up, Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame is too productive. It produces feelings of awesomeness), but part of my brain is keeping up a little list of things I hope they are doing while I’m in quarantine.

You think I’m going to say “I hope they are flossing every night!” or “I hope they are dusting behind the antimacassar, or I’ll know the reason why!” But no. This is a different kind of list.

  1. I hope they are crunching all the things…

Read the rest of my latest for The Catholic Weekly

Image:https://www.needpix.com/photo/703020/eat-noodles-children-pasta-spaghetti-italian-food-noodle-dish-plate

The perfect quarantine movie: DETECTIVE DEE AND THE MYSTERY OF THE PHANTOM FLAME

Here I am in quarantine like a dummy. I have some symptoms that aren’t going away with reasonable treatment, so I’m getting tested for COVID tonight, and I’ll have the results in 48 hours. This is boring for me, but really hard on Damien, who has already been doing all of the driving because my dumb car is in the shop, and now he has to do everything else, too, and sleep on the couch. I sure hope I get a negative. I sure do. 

This note just slid under the door:

*sigh*

Here in NH, school is closed for Columbus Day and Indigenous People’s Day, which is how you do it if you know you’re not going to change anybody’s mind and you don’t want no trouble. My friend posted this link where you can enter your zip code and it will tell you which native tribes or nations originally lived there. Normally on this day I’d be starting the suppli around now, but I think in the future we may make a stab at cooking some sort of Abenaki-based meal on this day and have our Italian Feast on some other day. Damien and I both spent time in Rome and both love food and cooking, so we have to have a big Italian meal at some point. We’ll see. My current thinking, subject to change because I am human, is that the “Columbus was just 1490’s-style Hitler” stuff is dumb, and I see how it made sense to choose Columbus to celebrate in the 1860’s, when the word on the street was that Italians are barely human, much less real Americans; but that message isn’t urgent in 2020, whereas “don’t you go killing people” is, so it doesn’t make much sense to have a Columbus Day right now. It’s okay to change. And if you’re going to have a day to remind the world that people are real and important, then you really can’t make an argument against Indigenous Peoples Day. But, suppli. 

Anyway, gosh, all I meant to say was: Hey, we watched a really great movie last night, and you should watch it, too. 

DETECTIVE DEE AND THE MYSTERY OF THE PHANTOM FLAME (2010)

[Where to watch]

I cannot remember the last time I enjoyed a movie so thoroughly. Damien and I were both streaming it in different rooms, and we kept texting each other things like “meteor hammer!” and “magic deer!” and “spooky pandemonium!” and “WHAT!!!!” 

The story is a bit convoluted and I didn’t completely follow it, but that didn’t detract from the experience. A bunch of people are mysteriously burning up from the inside out, right before the new empress’ coronation, so she brings a celebrated detective out of exile to find out who’s doing it and how. You’re kept guessing the whole time about who’s on whose side, and why, and also, WHAT!!!!

Every single scene is completely gorgeous. The trailer makes it look a little depthless, but the actual movie draws you right in. There is tons of CGI, but it’s done in a style that makes you think fondly of those labor-of-love video games from the late 90’s, or of some completely bonkers amusement park ride where they went all in. 

I was trying to figure out what sets this movie apart from superhero movies that show you incredible worlds and heart-pounding action and insane special effects, and it’s just kinda dull and repellant after a while. Part of the difference is that, in Detective Dee, they also went all in with the stunts and costumes and sets and props, so you felt like you were being given something, rather than tricked into believing something. There’s something very generous about the way it was put together. Also, part of the plot involves sorting out what’s actually supernatural and what is trickery, so maybe that explicit awareness that there’s an important difference between real and fake factored into how the spectacle was presented. 

Anyway, it was witty, silly, exciting as heck, constantly surprising, scary, occasionally moving, and overall an immensely satisfying movie, with gripping characters. The empress is SO INTERESTING, and I’m now mulling over some of the themes of the story, because it wasn’t just all action and spectacle (although you could just sit back and enjoy the action and spectacle, and that’s plenty). One character is unwillingly plucked from a sort of underworld and keeps insisting that HE’S FINE, and doesn’t need to get involved. Another one keeps insisting “I HAVEN’T FAILED” even when… well, you’ll see. And the empress and Dee and the courtesan/assassin/shapeshifter Shangguan Wan’er have several conversations about what is and isn’t allowable or forgivable, when you have higher aims in mind and are trying to set the world right again. A lot of the movie is about the struggle between your personal desires and the greater good. Gosh, I loved Detective Dee. You love to see a hero who isn’t invincible or impenetrable, but who completely understands who he is and what he wants to accomplish in the world. 

As for the suitable audience: It does have subtitles (and a few of the translations are a little goofy, which adds to the charm). It’s violent, and some of the special effects are scary, so maybe ages 9 and up for that, depending on how sensitive they are; and there is a short “they almost had sex” scene, and then a discussion of that scene later. No naughty bits, and it turns out to be important to the plot. Overall less graphic and sleazy than Indiana Jones. There is also a character named “Donkey Wang,” and I was not entirely sure what they meant by that, but it was funny. 

If you are desperate to think about something other than current events, this movie will fix you right up. It truly felt like a gift. The story, or at least the characters, are apparently based loosely on actual history from the Tang dynasty, which just makes it better. AND, there are two others! Detective Dee and the Four Heavenly Kings(2018), and Young Detective Dee: Rise of the Sea Dragon(2013). I see a new fandom rising in our house. 

If you’re still taking this seriously, you’re not alone

Tonight I am making a huge amount of manicotti with fresh herbs, garlic bread and salad, and a fancy cake decorated with melted candies meant to look like flames. Three of my daughters have new dresses and shoes, and there are wrapped presents waiting for them. What’s the occasion? Oh, nothing.

Really, nothing. Three of our kids were supposed to be confirmed tonight, but one of them has a cold. Probably. Or maybe it’s COVID. The protocol for school is to stay home if you have fever, congestion, cough, sore throat, nausea, diarrhea, or basically any other symptom, and then either get a negative COVID test, or else stay home for ten days after onset of symptoms, as long as no other symptoms develop. Come to think of it, Damien and I both have colds, too. A confirmation Mass is definitely long enough for us to pass along whatever it is we have to someone else. Even if it is not COVID and it’s just a cold, we might give it to someone who then feels the need to stay home from work for ten days or fourteen days until they find out if it is COVID, and maybe that would be a huge burden for them. So we’re staying home, and no Fisher kids will be confirmed this year.

But I’ve been confirmed, and so has my husband. The gifts of the Holy Spirit we received are wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety, and fear of the Lord, and we’re calling on at least three or four of those to make this decision. We don’t really think we have COVID, but if everyone made decisions based on letting themselves wiggle out of protocols, then we’d  . . . uhhh . . . we’d have a pandemic on our hands. Yeah. 

I’m not trying to persuade anyone to take the virus seriously. I see people in town claiming no one’s really sick, that touchless thermometers are frying your pineal gland, that masks are part of a satanic ritual, etc. etc. You can’t talk to people who believe this stuff, and I’m not even going to try.

Instead, I’m talking to people who do take the virus seriously, and are starting to feel insane, because they feel all alone. The sourdough togetherness fest is all over. No more evening balcony concerts; no more friendly baskets of sanitized books and treats for the housebound. People are wearing masks when they’re absolutely forced to, and they’re not COVID deniers, but they sure aren’t acting like anything much has changed. They’re going to parties, sneezing on produce, having sleepovers, hugging friends. I see it every day.  That waitress who sent our son into quarantine for over a week was spotted hanging out in crowded bars while she waited for her test results to come back. Maybe she heard that people her age are just hard wired to be sociable, and it’s just not reasonable to expect people in their 20’s to modify their behavior for the sake of others. And anyway, she eventually got a negative, so what’s the big deal?

You see and hear enough stuff like this, and you can really start to doubt yourself. Is it really necessary to miss out on so much? Are we being a little bit paranoid?  Are all these efforts even doing anything worthwhile?

Hello. I see you, as they say. You are not alone. You are doing the right thing. I don’t even have any great words of encouragement for you, because I’m feeling pretty beaten down, myself. But I’m here. We’re making these assessments every single day, and we’re missing out on all kinds of stuff, because we think it’s the right thing to do, and we’ll keep on doggedly doing it as long as we think it’s necessary.

So if you’re making these wretched, unpopular choices and feeling completely alone, you’re not. There’s always the friggin’ Fishers doing it, too, feeling stupid and paranoid and discouraged, but still doing it. So there’s that. I’d make you some garlic bread if I could. 

And that’s all I got. Come, Holy Spirit. Come get some garlic bread, because I made plenty.

Returning to school? Don’t worry: It’s impossible

When I first started home schooling, my mother told me, “You know, the thing about home schooling is that it’s impossible.”

She was not only experienced but a pioneer, one of the first in the region to even attempt such a thing as home schooling. So she knew what she was talking about. But a ray of sunshine she was not.

It was the last thing I wanted to hear, that my new plan was impossible. Who could wake up each morning and willingly set out to do a thing that cannot be done? I knew I was born to home school my children. We would be courageous explorers on the sea of ideas, ravenous guests at a banquet of wisdom and culture. My children’s 12 years of school would be only the beginning of their education, and they would graduate with a lifelong thirst for learning.

Well, we did make a sundial one time. And a bean mosaic. All my kids can read and add and tell jokes, and no one has once suggested they would be better off learning how to make brooms. After six years of home schooling, we realized it was time for a change, and since then, we have tried private school, charter school, public school and this coming year, parochial school. We have at least dipped our toes into just about every form of educating children, and guess what we learned?

Read the rest of my latest for America Magazine.