T-1

Until this little project launches:

What is Christian work, and how are we to do it? What does it mean to “do all to the glory of God”? Is there a way to approach work as a Christian, even if you don’t work in an ecclesial profession? Is the necessity of work part of Adam’s curse, or something else? And what does it all have to do with imago Dei, or being “made in the image of God”? Well, I can tell you the answers to all those questions, because I wrote a book about them. Lex Operandi, Lex Credendi: Dorothy L. Sayers’s Theology of Work releases as an ebook tomorrow (!), Feb 1 2023, and is also currently available for pre-order. Click here to see everywhere it’s listed for sale.

This little book began its life as my master’s thesis project, a two-year labour of love. One of the first classes I took for my degree was entitled “Tongued with Fire,” and examined the literary and theological legacies of three writers: Dorothy L. Sayers, C. S. Lewis, and T. S. Eliot. For my final paper I looked at DLS’s theology of work as exemplified by a particular character in one of her plays — and as I put together my research it became very clear that this was a much richer topic than a 10-page paper could ever hope to deal with. It stayed with me, and when it was time to choose my thesis topic, a greater exploration of this theme seemed the obvious choice.

Lex Operandi, Lex Credendi opens with a biographical sketch and evaluation of Sayers’s literary and theological legacy. It then traces the development of her theology of work through several major texts: the novel Gaudy Night, the stage play The Zeal of Thy House, her philisophical-theological book The Mind of the Maker, and a number of essays and radio broadcast addresses. I also draw heavily on her correspondence — she was an engaging and prolific letter-writer — which were edited and collected in four volumes by Dr. Barbara Reynolds. It’s all great stuff (I’m biased, I know — but!) and Sayers’s approach to the question of work is one that I think is useful to Christians and to the Church, solidly rooted in Biblical theology and also intensely practical.

And that is my news! I wrote a book. People can buy it. Ta-daa!

Nothing good happens on facebook

Of this I am convinced.

Longtime readers may remember a series of posts I wrote in 2018 — egad, it’s been five years already? — about my growing discomfort with social media and eventual decision to delete my facebook account entirely:

Old news, right? So why am I harping on this again now? It’s because about two years ago… I got sucked back in. I really did. In some ways I still can’t believe it, but there it is.

The trouble is that even though it seems that not especially many people actually like using the site, it’s seen as necessary because everyone else is still using it, which perpetuates the cycle of we’re here because we’re here, because we’re here, because we’re here… The pattern help resources for a tricky blanket I was making? On facebook. The parent association for Anselm and Perpetua’s school? On facebook. Local contractors? On facebook. The neighbourhood association? On facebook. The easiest way to find new library programming? On facebook. And because I wanted to be involved and in contact and at least a marginally informed local citizen, despite my misgivings, I went back. Now, it wasn’t a full embrace of the site. I used a fake name and had no friends. But still. There I was all the same.

For a while it was ok, although I noticed some changes since I had left in 2018, namely that it took about five too many clicks to get to my groups from the home page and that my feed was absolutely stuffed with ads impervious to any ad blocker I installed. But the more I used it, the more it felt like everything had been purposely designed to irritate. Trying to re-find a specific post you glimpsed in your feed? Irritating. Trying to force a group page to display posts chronologically instead of by recent engagement? Irritating. Having little to no control over the content that crosses your screen? Irritating. Reading a feed that’s 1/3 impossible-to-remove ads? Supremely irritating. I remember when facebook’s UX/UI was a lot friendlier (you know, back when I was walking to school uphill both ways). And then there’s the actual content I was seeing — there are some downsides to seeing what your neighbours think is worth arguing about with strangers[1] — and the whole thing put together meant that whenever I checked the site, I would log off in a worse mood than the one I started with.

A few days ago I came across a recent piece by Cory Doctorow, writing for Wired, which is ostensibly about TikTok but actually about how internet platforms die, a process he refers to as “enshittification.” Here’s the premise:

HERE IS HOW platforms die: First, they are good to their users; then they abuse their users to make things better for their business customers; finally, they abuse those business customers to claw back all the value for themselves. Then, they die.

https://www.wired.com/story/tiktok-platforms-cory-doctorow/

When I read his piece, it was like a gong rang somewhere back in my brain. Yes — this is exactly what has happened and is happening with facebook, over and above all the issues I had with it the first time I quit. It’s made things unpleasant for regular users — from what I understand it’s pretty bad for advertisers as well — and it’s not going to get better. It sucks now, and it’s going to keep sucking until it collapses. So why am I sticking around for that?

I thought about it a little more and realised that everything I was going to facebook for, I could get somewhere else. It was just functioning as an aggregator, and not even a good one! If I need crochet pattern help, I can go to reddit or ravelry. My kids’ school sends out announcements through their learning management system. I can read news stories at the source. I can make a habit of checking the library calendar from time to time. I’d already reconciled myself to things like missing out on friends’ baby pictures, but with the way the newsfeed works these days, I probably would have missed them anyway. I keep in touch with people via email, or text, or messaging apps, or (believe it or not) actual phone calls. There is literally no reason for me to keep using facebook, and a lot of good ones not to.

So I deleted my account. Again. And this time — I mean it.

[1]All I’m saying is that the rail line has been here since 1890, so if you don’t like hearing train whistles or engines, maybe don’t buy a house next to them. Thanks for coming to my TED talk.

“Obituary” (a poem)

When my grandfather died two autumns ago, I wrote some poems about it because that’s part of how I process things, and I started thinking about obituaries. There’s something absurdly reductive about them — trying to sum up an entire human life in a few inches of newspaper copy. Even the most well-written obits can only scratch the surface.

And then I thought — what if I leaned into that? What if I tried to push that inherent absurdity further? I had been wanting to try my hand at blackout poetry, which is a form where you take a found text and choose words from it to form a poem, blacking everything else out. And so that’s what I did with my grandfather’s obituary, which ended up, in this new version, a scant eight words long. They don’t say much, but for those who knew him, they unlock a greater recognition. And maybe that’s the point.

Obituary” has been published by Months to Years in their Winter 2023 edition. (The page has a partial image in the header, so make sure to scroll down to see the whole thing.)

In which we go to the symphony

We are just lately back from an outing to the symphony — the kids’ first time going and my first in far, far too long — where our local orchestra performed Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf as part of its children’s concert series. We had a minor snafu when it turned out that Tertia isn’t heavy enough to keep a theatre seat from folding up on her (!) but once she was safely installed on my lap instead, all was well. There’s something very fun about seeing a performance in a room full of children! And all of the wiggling and murmuring and in-seat or aisle dancing that would get you some dirty looks at an adult concert were just evidence of the audience’s very honest engagement with what was going on. It was great fun, and Anselm and Perpetua left the theatre talking about when we could go to another one.

I had half-forgotten what a difference it makes to be right there where music is being made, not listening to it through the mediating factors of digital compression and electronic speakers. The brass was so warm, the strings so lush, the cellos and the kettle drums so menacing. A recording approximates that — and don’t get me wrong, I am very grateful for recording tech — but it doesn’t replace it. (I think vinyl records are supposed to be closer to the sound experience of live music? I don’t know; I haven’t heard a real vinyl record more than once or twice in my life.) Live music has a presence to it that’s easier to feel than to explain. I’d missed that without even realizing it.

Beyond that, it was just really nice to get out and experience something new in our city; although we’ve been here nearly four years, the timing was such that we’ve barely scratched the surface in terms of what there is to do. I conceived Tertia just a month or two after we moved, and between a difficult pregnancy and a single vehicle that my husband needed for work, it was hard to get out and do things with Anselm and Perpetua. And then Tertia was born just a week or two before the first lockdowns back in 2020 and, well, you know. Between pandemic restrictions and inertia, we just kind of lost the habit of going out. My parents visited us after Christmas for a few days and I realised that it was the first time Tertia had ever been left in the care of someone who wasn’t her parent. Which is wild! (She was fine; I was an unexpected wreck.) Anselm and Perpetua had babysitters and went to church nurseries well before their first birthdays. But when you have a baby during a global pandemic… things change, sometimes in ways you don’t notice until much later.

All of which to say: it was a great experience for all of us — for the kids to see a real orchestra, for my husband and I to remember that events and attractions, um, exist — and I think there will definitely be more concerts in our future.

How to Read a Poem

My poem “How to Read a Poem” is now available in the Winter 2023 edition of Plainsongs. You may purchase a print or digital edition here.

The poem is an extended metaphor, which maybe is not actually that helpful for people who don’t already read poetry! But if you don’t and would like to start, let me direct you to a post of mine from 2018: How to Start Reading Poetry. I firmly believe that just about everyone loved poetry as a child, until school beat it out of them — and that that same love can be regained. Maybe this will be the year!

Reading Round-Up: November & December 2022

It’s always hard to judge when I should start writing up my December round-up post. As we edge past Christmas and toward the new year, I start to wonder: can I finish this last book by the 31st? Should I wait until January? The answer for 2022 is a definite no — I’ve got a good 400 pages to go and that is not happening today. So without further ado, my last two months of reading:

November:

  • Mary Poppins Returns (P. L. Travers)
  • The Burning Page (Genevieve Cogman)
  • The Lost Plot (Genevieve Cogman)
  • The Mortal Word (Genevieve Cogman)
  • The Secret Chapter (Genevieve Cogman)
  • The Dark Archive (Genevieve Cogman)
  • The Untold Story (Genevieve Cogman)

December:

  • Shepherds Abiding (Jan Karon)
  • How to Manage Your Home Without Losing Your Mind (Dana K. White)
  • Something Wilder (Christina Lauren)
  • Rattle #77 — Tribute to Translation
  • A Christmas Carol (Charles Dickens)
  • The Firm (John Grisham)
  • Decluttering at the Speed of Life (Dana K. White)
  • The Machine Stops (E. M. Forster)

After reading P. L. Travers’s sequel to Mary Poppins, which was as bizarre and delightful as the first, I dove headfirst into the rest of Genevieve Cogman’s The Invisible Library series (I read the first one in October). This was an incredibly engrossing series, and I was very happy that my library had electronic copies of all of them so that I never had to wait for the next one! It wrapped up in a very satisfying way, tying up the loose ends and following through on clues established all the way back in the first book. A++ would read again.

I started December in a Christmassy mood with Jan Karon’s Shepherds Abiding, a shorter addition to the Mitford canon. Father Tim works on restoring an antique Nativity crèche as a surprise for his wife, as he and the other Mitford residents prepare to celebrate Christmas. It’s sweet and comfortable reading, just like the rest of Karon’s sprawling series. Dickens’s A Christmas Carol scratched a similar itch for me — though no matter how often I read it or watch one of the film adaptations, the Tiny Tim switcheroo still makes me cry.

Something Wilder was a departure from Christina Lauren’s usual M.O., which was surprising and fun. It’s still a romance, but it’s also a thriller involving puzzles, manslaughter, multiple gunfights and hostage situations, and searching for Butch Cassidy’s lost treasure stash in Utah’s labyrinthine slot canyons. It certainly was “something wilder” and I hope to read more from Lauren in this vein. 

The Machine Stops was simultaneously one of the best and the very worst book I read this month. Forster’s sci-fi novella was first published in 1909 and is set in a world where humanity’s needs are wholly provided for and overseen by a vast Machine. All of human experience is mediated by the Machine, and the story’s parallels to a world dominated by social media and the almighty algorithms are… spookily prescient.  That’s what made it one of the best books. It was the worst book this month because my edition had very obviously been neither copy edited nor proofread, and was absolutely riddled with errors. It was outrageously sloppy, and my reading experience was frustrating-bordering-on-enraging. (If you want to read a clean copy, there are several ebook formats available for free here.)

I enjoy Grisham novels, most of them at any rate — but especially in his earlier books like The Firm I can’t help but laugh/sigh at his hilariously terrible understanding and descriptions of female anatomy. This one contains gems like “The [woman’s] breasts were resting comfortably on the table” (just… what? no! those words don’t go together) and this absolute masterpiece:

She coughed, a hacking, irritating cough which reddened her face and gyrated her huge breasts until they bounced dangerously close to the typewriter keys.

Ladies, if you ever find your breasts gyrating off your keyboard — or anywhere else, for that matter — you need (1) a better bra and (2) to make an appointment with your doctor. 

Moving on!

The two Dana K. White books were really clutch for me this month. Clutter and organization is something I’ve struggled with my entire life, and I’ve tried and failed many different systems and methods over the years. But with Dana I’ve found something that just works for my brain, not just with the system she uses but also just helping me to reframe the way I think about these things. Like how it’s a process, not a project; and you can clean and declutter without making a bigger mess in the first place; and how the goal is not “finished” (house stuff will never be finished; I will be doing dishes and laundry for ever and ever amen) but “better” and “less”. And that sometimes (a lot of the time) the problem is not that we don’t have a good organizational system, the problem is that we just have too much stuff. On that note I took about seven boxes to Goodwill this month and have another two ready to go… and I don’t think anyone in the family has even noticed what’s left the house. (If that’s not a sure sign of “too much,” I don’t know what is!)

I’ve been recommending her books in person to people when it won’t come across as a passive-aggressive dig at the state of their home — but as I cannot see your home, dear reader, consider this recommendation a gift rather than censure. These books are so helpful. Start with How to Manage Your Home Without Losing Your Mind.

Rattle, as ever, remains one of the best poetry magazines going, and well worth the annual subscription fee.

And that’s a wrap. Happy New Year!