Friday, August 17, 2007

I have a dream! That pro-life and pro-choice people can laugh together over the Verboten Comedy Routine

Great Idea # 589 - construct a stand-up comedy act around the silly arguments old-time feminists use for abortion.

Would it work? It did in a dream just now. A dream woman -- an archeo-typical middle-aged feminist from the abortion wars of the 70's -- came up to me asking me what criteria I was using to decide a presidential candidate. I looked her right in the face and answered, knowing it would get her goat, "Pro-life or pro-abortion. That's my only criteria." In real life, I have other criteria, but in the dream it felt wonderfully freeing to state this right up front to a dream interlocutor who obviously wanted to begin a nuanced conversation about politics, one that didn't include abortion as an issue at all.

She said, "So you are pro-life? Well, what if..."

And I went off on a whole riff about the inanity of the "what if" argument.

"I'm against capital punishment"

"But what if your daughter got kidnapped by a band of scurvy pirates, made to swab their decks during the day and service them sexually at night, and then they finally cut her up into little pieces and threw her out to sea. And then you caught them. What if that happened, huh, huh, wouldn't you want to see them hanged?"

It was great fun, in the dream, taking the absurd arguments people use for abortion and turning them into Denis Leary-type angry riffs on their hypocrisy, pointing out oh so cleverly through comedy what you can't get across through reasoned discourse.

It's sort of counter to Maisie Ward's rule for the Catholic Evidence Guild that you never insult your interlocutor, never get laughs from the audience by putting them down. But in street-corner apologetics, the interlocutor is real. In comedy it is just the straw man you create as a premise on which to base your comedy routine. Why not attack that guy? Straw men are low blows in a rational argument, but in stand-up comedy the comic returns time and again to the Well of the Straw Man for the raw material (the waters, if you will) out of which he or she creates the dark, rich, heady wine of comedy.

Would it work? Can dreams come true? .... now all I need is to find someone who can write a comedy routine. In my dream, I saw my son Mike dressed in the kind of perfectly tailored suit some large comedians wear on stage. He could do it, he's the wittiest person in the family. But in the dream, I started to tell him about my idea with great enthusiasm, and he completely lost the train of thought of something he'd been working on himself, because I interrupted him. He collapsed in a heap of deflating energy, and I told myself, "Dang, Rae, remember to pay attention to what your kids are doing before you start bombarding them with your enthusiasms." And I woke up.

In Xanadu did Kubla Khan
A stately pleasure-dome decree:
Where Alph, the sacred river, ran
Through caverns measureless to man
Down to a sunless sea.
Ah, the fertility of the dream-world.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Our Lady's Assumption, Maisie Ward, & the instructed heart

On this beautiful Feast of the Assumption, I am in Hickory, North Carolina as my extended summer vacation/road trip goes on and on. Ah, retirement! I am getting ready to return to Delaware with my good friend and fellow pious lady Diane Naylor, along with a trunk full of Catholic books for the business. Diane's mother died in January and her father has generously donated her extensive collection of books to the Pious Ladies Bookmobile. Debbie and I hope to bring Diane into the business in a more active capacity, and bring her into the 21st century with her first computer, which she will need to list books.

I plucked The Instructed Heart out of the wealth of books Diane's beloved mother left behind and read straight through most of it last night. It is one of Frank Sheed's last books, an explication of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. The first chapter is devoted to his wife, Maisie Ward, as a modern-day example of "the instructed heart", or the place where intellect and will unite.

She was an amazing woman. I am heartened to learn that during her sixties and seventies she was as active as in her younger life, forming and growing The Catholic Housing Aid Society from age 66-75, an effort to restore some of the loss of the 4 million homes in England during the bombings. She continued to write prolifically and kept her hand in at the Catholic Evidence Guild.

From her book To and Fro on the Earth, her husband quotes:

"Creation is at work everywhere, on a large scale occasionally,
but more significantly in small scale achievements by the hundred, by the
thousand. All over the world I have found small groups who are building a new
world in the shell of the one crumbling around us."

And, from The Splendor of the Rosary:

"Living with ideas is a wonderful thing -- for most of us it is not as habitual
a thing as it was with Chesterton. But anyone of us can try it, and I have been
trying it lately with the help of Chesterton, Fra Angelico, and a string of

"Reality was her continual search," he writes, "its finding her contentment. In people, in ideas, in moral ideas especially, she had a faultless ear for unreality, an instant recoil. All the same she could gaze steadily at it. 'There is in diabolical wickedness,' she notes, 'an element of the farcical.' "

Happy feast of the Assumption, one and all!

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Primetime Proverbs 1

My sister-in-law Gerry gave me a bunch of books to take back for my Pious Ladies Bookmobile from my recent stop in Chicago. One of them is Primetime Proverbs: A Book of TV Quotes by Jack Mingo and John Javna. Gerry thinks I gave it to her as a gift but I don't remember and she's not sure. But it has tickled my fancy & brought back so many good memories as I've been browsing it that I think she must be right.

Lou Grant: "Not much of a crowd here."
Ted Baxter: "I know. If it were my funeral, this place would be packed."
Murray Slaughter: "That's right, Ted. It's just a matter of giving the public what they want."

Joe vs the Volcano - my first YouTube video

A reporter once asked me what was my favorite Catholic film, and I said, "Joe vs. the Volcano." I don't think he quite got it, nor did my friends for whom I played it on a Christifideles report. But to me, this movie is all about The Theology of the Body and the Catholic understanding of love, sex and marriage.

This video is one I did for a National Film Retreat a few years ago. It's 9 minutes long so dig in and watch. Maybe it will make you want to go out and see the whole movie.

Did I mention that I love Joe vs. the Volcano??

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

No cell phones, emails, iPods, not a single luxury...

... like Robinson Crusoe, they're primitive as can be...

Danna L. Walker, an associate professor of journalism at American University, assigned her students to one day with no electronic media as a required assignment for an Understanding Mass Media course.

A couple of exerpts:

"Can we eat?" someone asked, to laughter.

IN RETROSPECT, PERHAPS THAT LAST QUESTION WASN'T AS RIDICULOUS AS IT SOUNDED. Eighteen- to 20-year-olds know in their hearts that electronic media are nearly as dear to their lives as physical nourishment. They have vague memories of a time before iTunes, personalized ring tones, Facebook, Google, Rocketboom, "MySpace: The Movie" and But like their contemporaries, the Olsen twins, whom they watched grow up in the media, they are no longer innocent. They have tasted the pleasures brought by binary code, and, like most of us, they're not into deprivation.

Could my students, in fact, survive "the grueling pain that was the 24-hour, e-media fast," as one self-described iPod and computer addict would later write in her paper?

BACK IN WECHSLER THEATER AFTER SPRING BREAK, with my students' ordeal over and their papers written, I asked them to tell me what had occurred in their lives for 24 media-free hours.

"What was good about it?" I asked, somewhat hopefully.

"Your cellphone, like, it always rings at the most inopportune times, so it was nice for a day to not have it constantly ringing," someone piped up.

Said another: "The peace and quiet. I realized how I depended on e-media because I don't pick up a newspaper. The way I get my news is either talk to people or watch TV."

"Every single one of these people in here," one student said, looking around the classroom, "we can't deal with silence anymore. We always have to have at least two things going on, whether it's the TV or the computer or iPod or cellphone."

On they went, as I scribbled down their comments.

"I really felt productive. I thought that I would just be, ah, no stress. But I was nonstop all day, cleaning, cooking, weed-whacking, yardwork."

Two students spent extra time with their mothers. They wouldn't elaborate in front of their peers, but one wrote later in his paper: "My mother is thrilled that I'm doing this fast. To her it means I get to spend the day with her. I bite, and we walk into town for some brunch. I draw out the brunch as long as possible."

Many students said they got out more than usual. If they heard someone leaving from across the dormitory hall, they jumped at the chance to join in. A lot of them said they got more sleep, some luxuriating in a rare afternoon nap, and enjoyed reading a book.

They had to be creative about everyday activities. "I actually had to go out and get a newspaper, which I don't normally do," one student said. "It wasn't that bad, but I almost felt like I wasn't getting all the news" without Internet updates.

"I realized I couldn't be around any of my friends because they weren't willing to do this with me. They would blast the radio if I was in the car or try to make me play video games," said another.

Some had their friends hide their cellphones, and one put Post-it notes around saying, "NO TECHNOLOGY," to avoid reflexive TV and Internet use.

Read The Longest Day

Saturday, August 04, 2007

It was a dark and stormy rosary

This entry was runner-up in the Bulwer-Lytton First Line of Story competition, Detective category.

She'd been strangled with a rosary -- not a run-of-the-mill rosary like you might get at a Catholic bookstore where Hail Marys are two for a quarter and indulgences are included on the back flap of the May issue of "Nuns and Roses" magazine -- but a fancy heirloom rosary with pearls, rubies, and a solid gold cross, a rosary with attitude, the kind of rosary that said, "Get your Jehovah's Witness butt off my front porch."

Mark Schweizer
Hopkinsville, KY