For Lent, I’m trying to write in my journal every day, pen and paper, for thirty minutes. Lately, I haven’t been able to compose anything online–because I’m distractible, and do that thing where I think I’m just going to check my favorite sites, and end up forgetting who and where I am, and whatever it was I wanted to write. What’s nice about writing on paper though is that without the delete and edit features of a computer, I am guaranteed to write imperfectly, without filter. And barring self-consciousness, the truth about my condition sometimes comes out in ways that surprise me.
Writing really does become a prayer–the examination of conscience–as I record boring events of the day as they actually happened, rather than some glossed up version of them. It’s brutal.
Things I’m noticing today: I eat too much. I’m hungry all the time, and if I had an initial weightless boom after the baby, it has come to a complete halt at a weight that shall not be committed to print. Big woman. I thought about doing a yoga video–did about five minutes and baby called. After calming her, she continued to call every five minutes, so that just as I was mentally cataloguing the merits of yoga (the stretch on my back, the guaranteed one hour in which I would NOT be eating) I gave up the ghost, picked up the baby and went to get a snack.
The idea of balance has become such cliche. Speaking of yoga, I picture the yogi on the back of the box of Special K touting the importance of a balanced breakfast. Have balance in your diet, in your exercise routine, in your relationships. It seems like such an easy virtue. It’s certainly an easy one to promote: Rather than giving up the things you love, balance says, “you need a little of everything.” Be middling. Don’t be a zealot. Don’t go into anything too deep, or you’ll be thrown off kilter.
But I’m feeling it now, the imbalance of letting one thing get out of control, the way it creeps over everything else, usurping first an hour there, an hour here, then it’s afternoon already? Pretty soon, you’re not even bothering with the balanced breakfast because the one thing has such a grip on your life. And as it comes, the one thing, the usurper, everything else goes–exercise, friendship, prayer. I’ll leave it to your imagination, what the one thing is for me.
It’s been a long time since I’ve felt the presence of God in my soul, since my mind was quiet enough for him to come to me. I’ve read my prayers, and recited my rotes, but I really have not put out in the deeps for a catch, since before I had the baby. It was before Christmas–those few nights in a row when I was sick, and never fell asleep, not even once, for three days running. On those nights I said the Rosary, every mystery, every night, like counting sheep. And it was lonely and dark, but he was there when it seemed like there was no other consolation.
In the morning, everything looked different. Not only had I been fishing in the wrong part of the lake prior to those nights, but the kitchen floor needed sweeping and it was time to pay the taxes again.
I think of Lent as a time to go deep again, just so I can see where I need more balance, but I hate the dark and lonely part.
Watched March of the Penguins on Valentine’s Day, which strikes me as a good movie for lovers–those dutiful penguins making their annual march for a mate, so sensitive in how they know their mate by voice, and yet the lives they hold are so tenuous– the fragile eggs, the fluffy babies that often don’t make it. I picture the mother coming back from the water with food for her chick only to find it dead: “You let the baby die while I was getting groceries?!” It’s every family’s nightmare. Love is such a risk. I try not to be neurotic about it.
I wonder about the difficulty of finding a good story on film lately. It seems that all of our present day dramas, if not about terrorism or high school, are taking place on screens. The dramatic effect of a bunch of people clicking keyboards and tapping Iphones just is not much. I wonder if this is why period dramas like Downton Abbey and Mad Men are doing so well. There comes a time when what is supposed to be shocking is actually pretty dull, and what’s really interesting is to imagine a world where people could be “ruined” by having sex out of wedlock, or in the case of the penguins, just by cracking their egg. Those are high dramatic stakes that are pretty easy to cross.
And then there is the difficulty of finding a good “Catholic” story. The modern Catholic is more likely to have been crushed by events in the Church in the last decade, and then crushed again, only to keep plugging away without triumphalism. Rather than facing martyrdom, or overcoming great odds to introduce faith to the nations, the modern saint’s great drama is just keeping the faith. Are those high stakes? Probably so.
To be a saint is to kill the self–no wonder I don’t want to do it. Still, it seems sainthood might hold some appeal for people of depressive tendencies. Look! You can escape the ego without actually dying a literal death! Just kill it, kill it again! Shut the computer. Put down the cigarette. Keep your opinions to yourself and forgive people. Forgive Stalin and Hitler and Father Maciel even if you have to stay up all night, meditating on the Cross in order to do it.
Oh death, where is thy sting? Just in the everyday business of life: I’m putting the cookie down.
My boys brought me a Valentine when they came home from their wrestling meet: a bag of peanut m&ms and a card that sounded an alarm when you opened it. “GET YOUR HANDS OFF THE CHOCOLATE, I REPEAT…” They were so proud of it. And I had cut some hearts out of construction paper to make valentines for them as well. I wrote their names, each in a different font and inscribed them with a message of love, each different and suited for the recipient. They immediately started comparing and trading.
My six year old said he was going to put every card he ever gets from me up on the mantle in his room, and then when I die, he’ll put them on my grave. So it’s all settled.