Alms to Oblivion: My decade in writing

Alms to Oblivion: My decade in writing December 16, 2020

Which I’m doing a year late, apparently, because I didn’t bother before. Anyway this is my attempt to assess what I’ve written since 2010. This list is only articles, not blog posts, but if you’d like a couple shots of my weirder writing I still enjoy Famous Authors’ Texts from Last Night and that post where I got sort of galumphingly poetic about figure skating. Oh, and actually, this post about the mysticism of Story of O.

Top 10 Articles by Me Since 2010

10. “The Botany Club: Gay Kids in Catholic Schools.” Listed here not because it’s my best work in the Gay Catholic Whatnot realm (my recent Washington Post piece has better priorities and does more in a shorter space) but because it’s the first place I articulated the need for something more than “a vocation of ‘no,'” and that was important for pretty much all of my later work on this subject. As well as, like, my life!

9. “Out of Line: ‘Sticking It to the Man’ and the Pulp Revolution.” A fun piece that includes several of my favorite refrains, inc. “What we call ‘literary realism’ is just the experiences of the safe and privileged,” “Order is chaos,” and, “Don’t write about the politics or pop culture of the ’70s – ’90s until you can draw a graph of the homicide rate freehand.”

8. “Love That Goes Unnamed” (which I wanted them to call, “Blue Moon”). A tribute to Desert Hearts (never let anybody tell you there are no good lesbian films!) and also an attempt to identify the religious failures that produced it.

7. “Order, Chaos, Peace.” A postmortem for a conservative movement; possibly worth reading in tandem with my essay on Ravelstein.

6. “Notes from the Gift Shop of the Dead.” I don’t usually think this scathing tone is good for the character of a journalist or her readers but every now and then you should break the glass and get the axe. Anyway, I went to the Museum of Crime and Punishment, for my sins.

5. “Ursula de Jesus and the fortress of patience.” I write a lot about the places where humility and self-hatred bleed into one another. Those places appear more often, I think, in the lives of Christians who suffer oppression at the hands of other Christians–as with this Franciscan mystic, who was held in slavery by Franciscan nuns.

4. “Intimacy, joy, and relief: A painting reveals the heart of penance.” All of my top five articles are basically just the same article over and over, purity of heart is to say exactly one thing, but this piece is a short and v. v. artsy and heartfelt version.

3. “What memoir reveals.” Or, Can there be a feminism of humility? Whose life is it, anyway?

2. “Is Everybody Female?” Not yet, but they should be!–or, reading a queer-theory agent provacateuse and comedienne in the company of St. Bernard.

1. “The value of public penance in the age of clerical abuse, mass incarceration, and #metoo.” An argument that you and I should be acting more like medieval penitents. Some of the earlier pieces on this list have better prose but this one is the service journalism that asks some questions I’m still exploring. Not my first venture into these waters and won’t be my last, as peace through humiliation continues to be my only policy brief.

Since 2010 I’ve also published one nonfiction book, one edited anthology, and two novels. I’m saying this in part because when I was desperate to quit drinking I was also terrified that I wouldn’t be able to write sober. Instead, in my first year of sobriety I drafted what became Gay and Catholic and Amends, and have followed them up with the other two books, plus a sequel to G&C which is much better than its predecessor and is scheduled for publication next fall, and a third novel draft currently passing through the many stomachs of the editorial cow. (To be… excreted onto delighted readers later? This was not the metaphor with which to prove my writing ability.) Anyway, I’m grateful that I was able to reach a point where I said, I will quit drinking even if it ends my ability to do something I love. That no-expectations mindset will get you through a lot. But I’m also very grateful that sobriety gave me what I feared it would take away.


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