On the Glory of St. Blog’s Parish

This is not a nostalgic look at the good ol’ days of Catholic blogging.  I first started blogging in late 2006, and sometime after that I met Dorian Speed, who gamely agreed to pose yesterday of our combined Monday-Tuesday penitential photo.  She is as fun in real-life as she is online, and since what we have in common is Catholic blogging, yesterday over coffee she posed the question: Do I miss the old days?

Yes and no.  I’m grateful for the old days.  There are things I miss about the old days.  But also I’m happy with Catholic online life in 2020.

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I started the century by discovering an online discussion forum that was mostly Catholic-moms, and twenty years later that group of friends is still together and still periodically meeting up in real life.  The old discussion forums were a great place for people who like debating, and I am one of that breed.

With that in mind, here’s some irony: As Facebook and Twitter have become the preferred stomping grounds for Catholic pundits of a certain age and sensibility, I find myself less interested in debating, and appreciate that those platforms are better suited to other types of conversations . . . and simultaneously I see other people make themselves miserable by immersing themselves in conflict there where they could so easily avoid it.

I say ironic because what I love about Facebook, Twitter, and other popular platforms I don’t use but which are similar in this regard, is that you can choose your conversation partners.  The old discussion forums and blog comboxes didn’t afford that luxury.  Now I can customize my discussion experience to avoid the people who make me crazy and spend comparatively more time with the people who make my life better.  I wish I had more control (I would like to see more photos of my nieces and nephews, less sloganeering), but I definitely don’t miss the days of the all-or-nothing online social experience.

It puzzles me that other people don’t just hit the “mute” or “hide” button when they tire of some acquaintance’s constant ranting. Then again, my favorite part of blogging is that no one has to read what I write.  It’s there if you want it, but I’m not imposing on anybody.

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One of the marks of a longtime internet presence is that you end up with all these weird artifacts of your changing use of the machines.  I like to read online.  There was a time when Google offered G+, a fantastic way of gathering and sharing online reading.  When that shut down I migrated to Feedly, but Feedly doesn’t offer a free tool for sharing your favorite things.  So I started @JenFitz_Reads on Twitter, not for the purposing of twittering, but just as a convenient way of keeping track of articles that I found useful in some way.  The feed sits in the sidebar of this blog, and it’s meant to be a source of interesting links for people who are bored.

BUT, guess what, it’s a pain to switch between Twitter accounts.  So over the past couple weeks as I have been entering into conversations on Twitter (which I do not normally do, but call it spring fever or additional penance or whatever you like), it’s been easier to use my “alternate” account rather than my “official” account (on which I do almost nothing other than automatically forward posts from a couple blogs).  So, um, that’s twisted and backwards.  We’re just going to live with that for a while.

***

Now let’s talk about those good ol’ days on St. Blog’s.

One thing I miss, as I told Dorian yesterday, are the days when Catholics of good will might be comparatively more liberal or conservative, but they were not quite so bitter. Angry? Oh yeah.  Outrage is the fuel that makes the internet go ’round.  We are not gentle people.  If we were peaceful souls, we’d clean our kitchens and paint landscapes and get dinner on the table on time for a change.  By definition St. Blog’s has always been the fortress and refuge of opinionated hotheads.  Over the past several years, though, unfortunately that superpower has taken on an unfortunate flavor for some otherwise decent folk who, I believe, do mean well.

I get the frustration.

It is hard to be a person who works for change — not just by writing, but by putting in hours of work on the ground in real life, day after day, year after year — and watches decades pass with large parts of the Church still locked up in the same old cluelessnees and corruption.  Good things are afoot in the Catholic Church, but if you don’t have a front seat on that work, or if you have too many dysfunctional (or in some cases even abusive) realities shoved in your face too often, it can eventually harden into jaded cynicism at best.  “Be the change you want to see” becomes the taunt of sacred overlords to their subjects.  It is a constant battle not to become bitter in such an environment, and far too many on St. Blog’s have surrendered to the temptation.  I get it.  I completely get it.

***

There is another topic that Dorian and other friends reminded me of in the last couple days: There was a time when people blogged for sheer love of it.  My favorite bloggers still do.

I’ve been writing since I was eight years old.  Used to drive my grandmother batty with my constant scribbling in the notebooks I carried around.  On those occasions when I find myself without a computer, I resort to a spiral notebook.  If there is no spiral notebook, I write on scrap paper.  I am honestly unclear on how people survived before the ready availability of writing materials.  Did you just go insane?  Or probably got the chores done, I guess. Until you went insane.

***
I like the state of the internet in 2020. Some people make themselves miserable by failing to use the mute button.  Some people make themselves miserable by obsessing over their “success” on the internet.  But none of that is necessary.  I’m very grateful for the many friends I’ve made online over the past twenty years. I’m very grateful for the many “real life” friends and family I can keep up with online who otherwise live too far away to stay in touch.  Life is good.

Me standing with Dorian Speed.

Our Photo Penance for Today: Dorian Speed and I standing together after coffee yesterday, early in the day before I devoted the next ten hours to wrestling with the beast.  It’s back in my editor’s hands this morning, Alleluia.

 

When You Can’t Shut Up About Evangelization & Discipleship

It turns out I have a lot to say on certain topics.

The start of my index of posts on Evangelization and Discipleship is now up here on this blog. I put it together because I happen to need to be reminded of things I kinda know but always forget.

The index is still in progress. I started by going through my posts at NewEvangelizers.com, then went through everything in the “Evangelization” category at my Patheos blog.  There’ll be more later, but for now we’ve got plenty.  The topmost section contains the basics, and I think I’ve managed to find all the posts I definitely wanted for the 101 pile.

Head’s up for the unaware: I can be a bit pointed.  The especially acerbic bits are down at the bottom of the page in a clearly-marked category of their own.  Don’t say you weren’t warned.  

Samaritan womans meets Jesus at the Well, by Annibate Carracci

Artwork: Annibale Carracci [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

Blog News You’d Hate To Miss

As Lent winds up, I’d like to let you know about some changes coming to the blog.

Those of you who’ve been reading me since the very beginning know that I’ve gone through a series of transitions as a writer.  I started out as an anonymous homeschool-blogger, just trying to share my experiences and get some practice writing for an audience.  Over the years I’ve been a contributor to other Catholic blogs, magazines, and books, as well as spearheading some projects of my own.

Variety and change are the name of the game.

With that in mind, and having had a week to reflect after the refreshing and fruitful retreat I took last weekend, now seems like the perfect day to share the changes you may see here.  What to look for in the future:

More Hands-On Experience.  Maybe it’s the coloring book rubbing off on me, maybe it’s all the art I post, but something’s having an effect.  From here on out, this is going to be primarily a craft blog.  I envision the bulk of the projects involving hot glue and day-glo pom poms.

Pom-Pom photo by Mvolz (Own work) [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons.  This is roughly what we’re going for, only with colors that are a little more searing.  These, glued to things.  Everything.

More Pop Culture.  Reader, you know how important evangelization is to me.  And every writer (myself excepted) seems to feel that the secret to evangelization is immersing oneself in the interests of the persons being evangelized.  I’m ready to take that advice.  For religious purposes, therefore, from now on when I’m not crafting, I’ll be keeping you updated on celebrity news, the NFL, and How The Gamecocks are Doing This Season.

We’ll continue talking about the weather, too, but that’s not a big change.

Less Depressing Arguing Stuff.   It took a lot of memes to get this through my head, but listen guys: Opinions on weighty matters are out of here like last year.  Giving a reason for your hope?  Some reasons are more equal than others, you know.  We’re going to focus on inspiring quotes from Anonymous. Where possible, I’ll provide an attribution to St. Francis of Assisi.  He probably said something like that anyway.

Same Great Sacred Art, Updated.  You already know I’m not much of a traditionalist — if it’s true, beautiful, good, and approved by the Church, I can work with it, new or old.  With that in mind, I’ll be sharing a lot more music videos.  Trap Masses, primarily.

As for Caravaggio?  Of course I’d never let that go.  But from now on, it’ll be all the great works of antiquity forward, but re-interpreted in the style of “Family Circus.”

You’re gonna love it.

Look for these great new blog experiences as often as once a year!

Welcome, Conspirators!

As the Catholic Conspiracy launches, here’s the 101 on this blog and what I’m doing.  You can make a meme out of this if you like, look at the answers and figure out suitable questions for yourself.

A. My name is Jennifer and I like to write.  I have sometimes gone minutes and minutes without thinking of something to write, but it doesn’t happen very often.  Like maybe it happened ten times in my life?  Ever? Okay, minute.  Minute and minute.

B. Why no, there’s not a combox.  There’s a com-group, and it’s on Facebook.  Join in if you like, you need not be Catholic to apply.  I’m not always there, but you can be.  There are people in the group whom you should meet.

C. The reason I am so sporadic in my internet attendance is because I am decrepit.  Sometimes I write about that.

D. My public writing is 99% Catholic non-fiction.  This post has a link to my archives around the Catholic blogging world.  I am still actively writing at Patheos as well.  For links to the books I’ve written and/or and contributed to, look at my publications page.  If you’re looking for the free PDF retreat workbook, look at my downloads page.

E. What will the relaunched Riparians be like?  Ha.  I tell you a mystery.  Riparians at the Gate is the non-anonymous successor to my first foray into blogging.  When I started writing at Patheos, rather than move everything over, I kept this place around for personal updates.

In coming back here and freshening up, one of my goals is to get back to more personal blogging.  Another is to get into Catholic stuff from a different angle than I’ll be doing at Patheos.  My final goal is top secret until I pull it off.  That’s my thought.

F.  People sometimes want to know what the name Riparians at the Gate is about.  I will tell you, because that’s your prize for being here on moving day.

  • It’s a weak pun off of “Barbarians at the Gate.”
  • The word riparian is because of all the -arian things I might be considered, that one is real. Met my husband on a river. Like to relax on a river. Really like rivers.  Fast ones, slow ones, but generally prefer narrower ones to wider ones.  In a pinch, any good creek will do.
  • Unlike some of the other blog names out there, Riparians at the Gate hadn’t been taken yet.

Those are enough reasons for now.  Here’s a nice river video.  It’s not me.  The spouse and I went out and scouted the route on the previous trip, and then I gave my seat to one of my offspring for the recording.

Yes, actually it was scary.  A little terror is good for the soul.

G.  So let’s talk about visceral reactions.  

I got to know Larry D. during our stint doing 3.5 takes, and the photo below is the one I’d use for posts for that. It warms my heart to look at that picture and think about doing a new thing with a pile of Catholic blogging friends who in some cases go pretty far back.

But the photo that totally makes my stomach go happy-wild is this one of our head-conspirator Rebbeca Frech’s daughter Ella getting air at the 2016 WCMX championships.  I think if you haven’t really done any mountain biking or BMX or WCMX or something like that, your body won’t be trained right to really feel the thing when you look at the photo.  But if you have done the thing, then you’ll look at that picture and your stomach will leap with excitement and you’ll be like, “Oh yeah.  That’s what we’re talking about.  Bring it.”

And that’s I think what the Conspiracy is — that moment when you’re really in the air with the Catholic faith, and the question of where or how you’ll land isn’t even on your mind, because hey — air time.

Photo by J. Fitz, all rights reserved.

 

So How’s it Going, Jen?

1. CatholicMom.com is temporarily under the weather, but when it comes back up (pray for Lisa Hendey’s sanity), my monthly homeschooling column should be there.  I talk about homeschooling-while-sick, but no handy tips, mostly just, “Yeah, my kids are awesome.”  I’ll link to the article when it recovers.

2. Prayer request for me: I’ve got two kids coughing and sneezing. Ordinary colds.  I’m keeping my distance.  I really, really, would be better off not catching this thing.  Recall: I’m already coughing just laughing or moving around too much.  Not in one of those dramatic, “time for the tear-jerking moment in the musical” ways, but still  . . . I’d just rather not go there. Whereever Me + Cold turns out to be.  Thanks.

(If I seem like I’m on social media a ton, instead of hovering over my children while they do their homework, it’s because yes, I’m trying to be in a different room than them. We’re in communication, yes we are.  School is happening, just more hands off than usual.)

3. Speaking of suffering, here’s a preview of my new blorg outpost:

The blog is still under construction, FYI.  Waiting on the header art, need to learn how disqus works, lots of little jobs. But I’m going ahead and getting a few posts up so that the living room isn’t empty when everyone comes over for the big housewarming party.

And yes, I discussed my assimilation situation with Larry D. and he said he’d pray for me.  (Um, seriously, I loved Larry’s Star Trek piece, which I can’t seem to find right now.  Larry & I are good friends online, and respectfully agree to disagree on the prudence of blorging.  Y’all: Larry’s got a special intention he needs prayed for, so regardless of your level of vexation regarding the blorg, say a prayer for him today?  Yes?  Thank you.)

I’ll announce again once the paint is dry and the curtains are hung.

4. What I do with my free time instead of watching infuriating television shows: I break into the spouse’s video editing software, and mostly don’t botch it that badly.  A few technical errors, but for my first attempt at making a movie without swearing or punching walls, I’m okay with it: Lord Have Mercy, There’s a Baby in my Church.

The artwork is from Wikimedia, and the soundtrack can be downloaded here, for free.  Pick the “Whitbourne Conf. Mass.”  Funny story: St. P’s did this twice, once on the weekend, and once for the Confirmation Mass, recorded with two different setups.  Jon asked me to pick which of the two I liked better.  I liked the sound on this recording better than the other, but I also really, really liked the babies.

St. Peter’s doesn’t usually put babies in their choir, but the bishop came, so they pulled out all the stops.

5.  People want to know how I’m doing. So, sometimes, do I.  What I know:

  • I feel perfectly normal as long as I’m sitting around.  I’m getting a lot of writing done.
  • Animated conversation kills me, but calm conversation is okay.  I thought I needed more boring friends.  I think I just need to not talk so loud, and listen more.
  • I cough when I laugh out loud.  This happens all the time, because of the people I live with.  I think it’s probably pretty safe.
  • I cough if I move around too much. I’m getting better at avoiding this.  I’m not sure if it’s from just breathing too deeply, or if it’s something more nefarious.
  • But a little bit of up and down, in moderation, isn’t a problem.  I’m getting better at figuring out what “in moderation” looks like, so I feel better and am less tired than a week ago.
  • Otherwise I’m totally normal. No problem with speed, balance, snarky comments, etc etc.
  • Actually I’m better than normal, since my other minor signs of decrepitude are all aggravated by walking around too much, and I’m nowhere near that level of activity.  Long term, of course, that’s a good way to die early.  But short term it’s pretty funny that being seriously ill = being not in pain, at all, unlike normal life in which a handful of minor aches are just everyday reality.

To do items for this week: Keeping aiming for that exact right combination of rest and activity, and avoid catching the girls’ colds.  Heart cath next week.

6. I’m not freaked out because, you know, catechist.  Forget the nonsense about facing serious illness with a “we can beat this!” attitude.  I mean sure, I’m all about that, and am doing my share to see it done. I strongly, strongly prefer being alive, thank you.  But sooner or later you’re going to drop dead.  Either you’re okay with that or you’re not.  Probably catechesis is not for you if the prospect of eternal life doesn’t take the edge off.

 

 

Sheengazing Awards 2014 – thank you, and you could vote

A hearty thank you to whomever nominated me for a Sheengazing award. When I got the e-mail I was puzzled, because my first thought was “Martin Sheen? I can’t even remember what movie it was . . .”   Oops.  That would be: Bishop Fulton.  If you happen to think that of all the under-appreciated blogs on the roster, mine is the best, feel free to vote for me.

The nice thing about being nominated to the UAB category, is that no matter where you end up in the final tally, you’re affirmed in your status as an under-appreciated person.  Am I the most under-appreciated?  The least appreciated of the under-appreciated?  Something in between?  We’ll know 9pm Monday.

Google Share Drama, Episode 3: Twitter

Ha.  Using my special idiot powers, I, um, forgot about Twitter.  Made myself a new twitter account JenFitz_Reads devoted to just tweeting links to stuff I’ve read and liked.  Put a feed in my sidebar, and of course those desperate to know what I’m reading can subscribe directly. [Update, if you already subscribe to my regular twitter compendium, I just set up the reading list to flow into that one.  So don’t follow both.]

A little clunkier than the old share button, but it works, and it double-works for things I find not in Reader.  (Or Bloglines, which I experimented with).  For the moment I’m using the Diigolet share button for things that don’t have a tweet button of their own.  Maybe there is an easier way?

We’ll see how it goes.

And yes.  OCD.  Must. promote. good. writing.  Quarter break ends soon.  The internet will be happier I’m sure.

Google-Share Drama, Episode 2

Here’s a link to the very helpful info Entropy recommended at Melissa Wiley’s site.  Some good ideas (in addition to what Julie & Sarah mentioned bleg combox.)  Hey and wow, another great blog to read while I’m at it.  Yay.

***

What’s the big deal about the Google change?  Here’s what I wrote in Melissa’s combox when I thanked her for the info:

Thank you for posting this!  I’m feeling the pain of not being able to share posts anymore.  I don’t like to do my topic-sharing on the social networks, because most of what I read and write about on the internet is politics and religion, two topics that don’t mesh well with my very diverse real-life set of friends. So I keep FB and the like purely cocktail-party talk, and if people want to know more about what I think, they can click on my website link.

I don’t have a double life on the internet anymore than I do in real life.  But I do try (no seriously, I do try) not to be a jerk and a bore.  My real-life friends are very kind, considerate people who make a point of not ramming some topic down my throat that I don’t care to debate.  I try to return the favor.  My friends on Facebook are real people I know in real life, people I respect and whose company I enjoy.   The link to this blog is on my facebook profile — if anyone wants to know what I think about death or taxes, they can click.  But they don’t have to.  I like it that way.

I debated whether maybe Google+ should be more like this blog and less like Facebook, and therefore, hey, yeah, fill it with links about politics and religion, why not?  But I don’t like that solution, for the same reason I don’t like (and therefore don’t do) flooding FB with Fr. L and Darwin and all the team.

And don’t tell me that Google+ promises to keep all my circles separate blah blah blah. I’ll believe it when I see it.  The general rule on the internet is that even when I try not to bore people by linking stuff in places it doesn’t belong, some clever inventor decides to combine it all anyway.  Also, I’m not looking for a new hobby.  So building up a thousand separate “circles” isn’t on my list.  If I do Google+ (and I suppose I probably will), you’ll all be in one very large circle.  Feels like a giant Girl Scout Camp ice-breaker activity.

Technical bleg – where’d the ‘share’ feature go in Google Reader?

Anyone have any advice on how to work around the sudden disappearance of the “share” feature in Google Reader?  I was really enjoying having a efficient way to point readers towards worthy posts by other people.  Got another feed reader you recommend?