This is a post that sounds like satire but is not. This is a post about cold, hard, liturgical reality: The best Catholics are the slackers.
That’s right friends. You agonize every year about whether you’re doing Advent, or Christmas, or Lent, or Easter just right, and you have the pictures on Pinterest to prove it. Dear, dear one, lose your life and you’ll find it. The best way to be liturgically on the ball is to drag through life barely holding your head above water.
Here are five proofs hidden in the couch cushions at the home of that friend who never invites you over because her life is such a trainwreck. Not kidding. This works. Especially #2.
#1 No new music.
New music is for people who have time to learn things. Now mind you, I don’t object to the odd innovator. But nothing says in step with the season like singing last millennium’s music. Or the millennium before that. If it was good enough for Advent 1016, it’s good enough for me.
#2 No gratuitous shopping trips.
Christmas is so commercial! they weep. Not if you don’t have the time, money, or energy to go the store, it’s not. You don’t have to be poor in the spirit, just poor in something that keeps you out of the mall. I’ve tried it both ways. Not shopping is better.
#3 No decorating and entertaining excess.
Yes love, we’ve heard all about how so very tired you are from all the time and energy you spend getting your house (and office, and wardrobe) just so for the holiday season, and how much work it was to put on your fabulous collection of carefully tailored parties (one for clients, one for employees, one for the neighbors, one for the close friends, one for the other friends, one for the friends who can’t be with the other friends . . .). Sweetie pie, if you were really tired? You wouldn’t be doing all that stuff.
You know how tired people entertain? By sleeping. That’s how. It’s very entertaining, try it sometime.
Liturgical tip: Start the season utterly exhausted, and you’ll never, ever have to wonder if you’re losing the “real meaning of Christmas” amid all your busyness.
#4 Your Christmas tree will always go up at exactly the right time.
This is the great thing about trees: They look great anywhere. Your Christmas tree might be sojourning in the forest all winter this year — that’s very contemplative, you know. But imagine for a moment that you mustered the wherewithal to drag a tree, or some inventive product that reminds the casual viewer of a tree, into your home this holiday season.
Some Catholics, under those circumstances, would have to worry: Have I done this too early? Too late? When exactly is the tree supposed to enter the home?
Not you, exhausted slacker friend! If it arrives early, it’s an Advent tree, or else it’s you managing to get something done ahead of a time for a change. If it comes in the 24th, hey, perfect!
But what if, say, you pull it off the neighbor’s curb on the 26th? You’re a shining example of good stewardship, both financial and environmental. Rejoice — you’ve been heralded in a century-and-change of papal encyclicals. Woohoo!
#5 No skimping on the fullness of the season.
What’s the big rush in taking down the Christmas decorations?
Would it really be the feast of the Presentation if there weren’t a few reminders of the Nativity artfully displayed about your home? What about the Annunciation, huh? Are you so spiritually adrift on the tides of the seasons that you’ve never noticed the parallel between the manger and the tomb? It might be easier to catch those connections if you weren’t so keen to whisk away your baby Jesus to His summer home in the attic.
And of course there would have been no Easter if we hadn’t had Christmas first. Leaving out your past-due decorations is like living every day of your life in a dusty, slightly dented, but arguably beatific living Gospel.
While organized, industrious people pack up their holiday spirit in order to bustle onto the next big source of ennui, we slackers bask in the glow of eternity, our living-rooms perpetually witness to timeless truths.
Happy Advent! And other seasons, too, while we’re at it.
65. By contrast, the link between the Lord’s Day and the day of rest in civil society has a meaning and importance which go beyond the distinctly Christian point of view. The alternation between work and rest, built into human nature, is willed by God himself, as appears in the creation story in the Book of Genesis (cf. 2:2-3; Ex 20:8-11): rest is something “sacred”, because it is man’s way of withdrawing from the sometimes excessively demanding cycle of earthly tasks in order to renew his awareness that everything is the work of God. . . .
66. Finally, it should not be forgotten that even in our own day work is very oppressive for many people, either because of miserable working conditions and long hours — especially in the poorer regions of the world — or because of the persistence in economically more developed societies of too many cases of injustice and exploitation of man by man. When, through the centuries, she has made laws concerning Sunday rest, (109) the Church has had in mind above all the work of servants and workers, certainly not because this work was any less worthy when compared to the spiritual requirements of Sunday observance, but rather because it needed greater regulation to lighten its burden and thus enable everyone to keep the Lord’s Day holy. In this matter, my predecessor Pope Leo XIII in his Encyclical Rerum Novarum spoke of Sunday rest as a worker’s right which the State must guarantee. (110)
FYI, Rerum Novarum is no commie pinko manifesto. Actually it’s an anti-communist manifesto. [And some other things, too.] Go read it sometime, it’s really fun. If you’re local, you can bait me into a conversation (bring the text, please) basically any time you want.
Anyway, the point for today is that Sunday rest, worship, and Christian fellowship are so important it just keeps coming up and coming up century, after century, after century. It’s like the Church just. won’t. shut-up. about it.
So let me tell you about my kid.
Woohoo! Gainful Employment!
I have this boy who can cook really well. Just last night I came home with a tray of chicken, pointed him to the grill, and he caused there to be dinner an hour later. So last summer we sent him out to find a job, and yes we all considered it providential when he got hired by the local sandwich shop. A few weeks of doing dishes and then on to cooking and he’s never left the kitchen. He’s still working there and everyone’s happy.
When he interviewed, he said up front that he had to have Sunday mornings off. Non-negotiable. Since this place gets most of its traffic on weekdays, the boss was good with that. But the restaurant is open Sundays, and so he does get assigned his share of Sunday afternoon-evening shifts.
As a result, he misses out on a lot of the Sunday-afternoon Christian fellowship activities that happen in our area. He can’t do Sunday afternoon youth group events, and he ends up leaving early to get to work if a friend hosts, say, a relaxing family get-together. We have some Christian friends with a pile of kids who are getting trained now to cut the birthday cake by 3pm so Mr. Boy can sing, eat, and run. Everyone else can stick around for hours of heavenly conversation and camaraderie, exactly like St. John Paul II writes about, but the boy gets to go to work.
How Do You Use Your Servants?
The reason he gets to go work is because other people want to eat.
People need to eat. Every single day, even multiple times a day. There are situations in which people have good reasons to need to hire someone to prepare food for them on a Sunday, and many more situations in which people have good reasons to want someone to prepare that food.
There are other services we likewise avail ourselves of on a Sunday, for various good reasons. I do this. You’re not the only one.
When we do this, it causes the people we hire to work for us to lose a bit of their Sunday.
This is an Evangelization Problem
There are people like my boy who aren’t under a ton of pressure. Sunday is not a high-traffic day for his restaurant. He is only working part-time, and if he were fired for not being available when the boss wanted him, he’d still have his parents at home gainfully employed. He’s not supporting himself, let alone a family, on this job.
Other people aren’t so lucky. If they are Catholic, they end up scrambling just to find an hour to run into Mass sometime during the weekend. If they aren’t Catholic and you tried to invite them to join you for Mass, or RCIA, or that fun thing you do on Sundays, they’d chuckle-cough and say, “Yeah. Sure. I’ll let you know when I get an opening.”
It is extremely difficult to evangelize someone who literally cannot go to church.
You Only Control a Slice of the Problem
There are parts of this problem that you can’t control. Some services (medical, police) are non-negotiables. Unless you’re in charge of the hospital or what have you, you don’t decide what the shifts will look like; unless you’re in charge of the parish, you don’t decide whether Mass times will line up with the local police and hospital and pharmacy shifts.
If that’s not your responsibility, it just isn’t.
Likewise, you probably don’t set restaurant hours. You’re not the one who decided to keep the amusement park open until midnight and then re-open at 8AM. To a certain extent, you can’t control whether the worker-bees get an opening for Mass or not.
But you do control a small slice.
When you make the decision to go out to lunch after Mass, you are making the decision that two or three people will report to work a couple hours before you arrive, and they’ll stay on a couple hours after you leave. What does that do to their day?
It’s Dysautonomia Awareness month, and I’m hereby aware. Dr. Google can tell you all sorts of things, but my favorite link is to Living with Bob, FYI slight language warning (which I don’t approve of), but I like the assortment of information. When you visit Dr. Google and the major advocacy organizations, what you mostly hear about is POTS, to the point that some outfits equate the two. That’s sort of like equating “leg pain” with “broken femur.”
[FYI: You don’t want POTS. Or a broken femur.]
Dysautonomia, aka Autonomic Dysfunction, is when your autonomic nervous system doesn’t work right. That’s the part of your nervous system that does all the things you don’t have to think about and really don’t control. Any underlying illness or injury that affects the nervous system can cause autonomic dysfunction (MS, diabetes, lupus, spinal cord injury, etc.), and there are an assortment of disorders that have autonomic dysfunction as their chief complaint.
Since blogging is all about self-absorption, let’s talk about me.
Complaints, Complaints, Complaints
The most dramatic and pressing element of my dysautonomia is Inappropriate Sinus Tachycardia, which drama longtime readers know all about, check the archives. What happens is that on exertion my heart rate accelerates excessively, which leads to dramatic shortness of breath and an inability to do, well, anything. Conveniently I’m one of the people who responds very, very well to a low-dose beta blocker, so the symptoms are under control.
In everyday terms: One day on vacation last spring I forgot to take the beta blocker. After a leisurely breakfast, about noonish I started getting ready to go out and do something fun. Brushing teeth? HR of 120. In the shower? 140. In contrast, on the beta blocker, 120 would be my heart rate having just jogged up two flights of stairs carrying a full bookbag.
On the vacation story, once I noticed I’d obviously forgotten something, I went and took the beta blocker and was fine to go out and be a normal active person traipsing around the city all afternoon.
One of the things that people will say about these kinds of idiopathic tachycardias is that they must be due to “deconditioning.” When I first started with severe shortness of breath on exertion, I had just gotten home from a trip up north where I’d spent one morning climbing up and down a snowy hill sledding with the kids, no problems. You don’t decondition that quickly. Likewise, once I was diagnosed and treated, I went in the space of an hour (time it takes to make propranolol start working) from unable to walk an 1/8th of a mile slowly to doing laps at the school walking track as quickly and for as long as I liked.
I assure you that if you are so deconditioned that you can’t walk an 1/8th of a mile, the lowest available dose of a beta blocker will not instantly improve your conditioning by a factor of twenty. Dysautonomia is not deconditiong.
Stupid, Annoying, Incurable
Because the tachycardia responds so well to treatment, it’s not a significant problem as long as I’ve got access to the drugs. I would say the most debilitating and limiting symptom I have is that I will, intermittently, get lightheaded when talking.
It’s a sensation a lot like hyperventilation, and the effect is similarly cumulative — you can handle some amount of it, but eventually you have to quit. It’s a fairly common complaint among people who have POTS (which I don’t have, but which is a different tachycardia), and one that there is basically no discussion of in the literature that I can find.
I manage this symptom by daily reconsidering whether maybe I should have been a Carthusian. Just kidding. I’ve never even had chartreuse.
What really happens is that if I’m particularly feeling it, I just avoid talking to people. This is a tad socially awkward. Alternately, I talk to people and secretly resent them for being a person that I’m talking to (tad immature); or I feel guilty for making my brain hurt having so much fun (tad scrupulous), because it does take a toll on my ability to do other things as the day wears on.
Much like the way people who get migraines or stomach aches don’t necessarily have those symptoms 24/7, sometimes I’m just fine. So that’s even more socially awkward, because one day I might be, say, subbing teaching a class with no difficulties, and another day I might want to hide from people because they persist with this crazy idea about talking to each other.
On a medium day I can get away with pacing myself. I do better if I’m the one choosing how quickly I talk and if I’m alternating with someone else. So a phone call to my grandmother works great; group Rosary not so much. On a medium day I might sing most of the best two hymns at church, but with a certain amount of lip-syncing interspersed because the pace is still more than the brain can take.
Simple, Manageable Paths to Insanity
The reason I’m writing today, mid-awareness-month, is not just because I’m procrastinating on other work (true) but because I was made suddenly re-aware of one of last year’s most interesting developments.
What’s happened is that we are now, thank you Hurricane Matthew, having beautiful southern autumn weather. Lows in the 50’s, highs in the 70’s, huge clear blue skys, low humidity, you can’t ask for anything more idyllic. This morning I dropped off the 5th grader at school and then picked up a few groceries on the way home, perfectly comfortable in jeans and a long-sleeved t-shirt. Sitting in the shade in the early morning, you wanted a flannel shirt — remember it was in the 90’s a week ago, so we southerners get a flannel shirt pass, thanks.
But let me emphasize: This weather is PERFECTLY COMFORTABLE. Important to the story.
So anyway, later in the day I laid down for a quick nap (because: procrastination makes me sleepy, ha). The bedroom was a comfortable 70 degrees. I’m wearing jeans, socks, long sleeve t-shirt, flannel shirt. All clothing is that perfect fit for temperature regulation, not-to-tight-not-too-loose. No gaps at the waist or ankles or anything. On top of this, because we humans cool down when we sleep, I pull on blankets.
Not just any blankets: A down comforter, and on top of that a synthetic comforter. You are now thinking to yourself this girl’s going to wake up a sweaty mess in half an hour.
Nope. It’s fall! We’re down to a brisk SEVENTY DEGREES! So it’s time to resume . . . the thing where we wake up shivering immediately upon falling asleep.
No, Really, I Can Do Winter
I spent many decades camping in the winter. When the huge ice storm hit twelve years ago, and we had no power for a week and the house was 45 degrees inside? No problem. I won’t say I enjoyed it, but we all slept great. I know how to sleep in cold weather.
What’s happening with the dysautonomia is that my body temperature drops too quickly when I fall asleep. In the summer, it’s not a problem — hence the fact that I had two comforters on the bed even though it was in the 90’s last week. Humans intuitively grab the amount of bedding they need, that’s a basic survival instinct.
I don’t have persistent hypothermia (which happens to some people). My body will eventually warm up the clothing and bedding and I’ll be just fine all night. But because of the steep temperature drop on falling asleep, I’ll go through three or four attempts at sleeping before I can stay asleep.
This will make you feel like an insane person.
You will remember that sometimes when it’s very cold, people will wake up in the middle of the night looking for more blankets. And then you will have to remind yourself: Those people aren’t going from perfectly-comfortable to body-shaking-shivering in the minute it takes to drift off to sleep. Under a lot of blankets. When it is seventy degrees in the room.
The Insanity of Dysautonomia
The maddening part of autonomic dysfunction is that every thing that happens is something that your body might also do under normal circumstances. People get hot or cold. Heart rates go up or down. Something like getting dizzy talking or singing? Hyperventilation happens. You have to remind yourself that gosh, no one else in church is begging the organist to slow down so we don’t all pass out. Every. Single. Hymn. in the hymnal isn’t some manic composer’s effort to see how many people have the breath to pull it off.
It’s not normal for an ordinary Sunday service to feel like some kind of survival-themed reality show. Last Congregant Standing — Do You Have What It Takes To Sing All Four Verses?!!
But humans adapt marvelously, and this only makes you feel crazier. You get used to the idea of needing an external heat source* in order to not be shivering on a seventy degree day. You get used to the idea of assessing how much conversation your brain can take before you really have to stop. You lose track of the fact that other people aren’t constantly managing all this weird stuff.
There’s more to complain about, but I’ll stop there. To summarize: Dysautonomia is a condition whereby your autonomic nervous system has gone off its rocker and is trying to take you with it. The end.
*For an external heat source, think electric blanket or heated mattress pad. Basically it converts your autumnal weather back into summer in the area adjacent to your body. If you also happen to need an extra two hours of sleep in the winter months because of the energy it takes to keep your body warm, if you religiously use such a heat source whenever you are sitting or lying still, it can buy you a couple more hours of wakefulness.
Today I was subbing for my daughter’s apologetics class, and thought I’d share the letter I sent home to parents, since it covers topics that come up online a bunch. You blog readers don’t get to see the whiteboard photo referenced below because it has students’ names on it from a chart we made at the top of the hour, and I’m not smart enough to figure out how to blur them out of the image. For your viewing pleasure, I’ve posted completely different photos at the bottom. Close your eyes and imagine a whiteboard of illegible black scrawl instead, and you’ll know everything you need to know.
Attached is the photo of the whiteboard from apologetics at the end of class. Parents, the kids were starting to get the general concepts we went over, but were still having a hard time articulating the key ideas and applying them. It might be helpful for you to have them go through the picture with you and tell you, as best they can, what it is everything refers to. For your convenience I’ve written all the text in slightly illegible lettering so that students have to rely on their memory to fill in the indecipherable bits — you’re welcome.
None of this is in the book, since I was subbing for our regular teacher (Mrs. K) and just working off notes from a different apologetics class I taught a few years ago. But it’s all important stuff and well worth mastering if you enjoy life as a sane person.
Key ideas to draw out of your child:
1) Objective vs. Subjective truth. In apologetics, we need to be able to listen and identify when the person we’re talking with doesn’t understand the difference between unchangeable truths and those facts that are genuinely a matter of opinion, experience, etc. We need to be able to *explain* the difference between subjective and objective facts to friends who don’t realize there is a difference, or don’t realize when they are treating an objective matter as a subjective one. We need to know whether a given statement is a matter of subjective opinion or objective truth.
2) Types of evidence. There are different types of evidence for different types of things. Scientific laws, or laws of nature, are discovered and proven using the assorted tools of science to verify repeatable tests and observations. The facts about historic events and persons are established using the types of evidence that apply to persons and facts. You can’t, for example, do a series of scientific tests to know that Christopher Columbus existed — but you can collect historical evidence for that fact. We need to be able to know, therefore, what *kind* of evidence is suited to proving which kinds of facts. Because God is a Person, and because God acts in history, the types of evidence we are looking for are the sorts of evidence we use for determining historical events and the existence of persons.
In apologetics we need to be able to identify when someone we are listening to has the notion that God is a force of nature that should be subject to scientific evidence, and clarify and explain that God is a person and therefore a different type of evidence is valid. We want to be able to walk our friend through the rational, evidence-based types of proof that one would use in determining whether or not a person exists or an event took place. A useful tool is to walk the person through the types of evidence for or against their own existence.
Not on the board, but an important idea which we discussed in class: Faith is the action of taking the evidence we’ve gathered and using it to come to a conclusion. I can gather all kinds of evidence about the existence of gravity or the existence of Christopher Columbus, but ultimately if I believe in either of those, it is an act of faith. My faith isn’t separate from and certainly not opposing evidence and reason; rather it is the follow-on to gathering evidence and using my reason. Think of it as the third step: Evidence + Reason (logic) + Faith = Belief.
I might be a person who comes to faith easily, requiring very little evidence and logical analysis before I take the leap of faith. For example: I believe in asteroids even though I’ve never had any personal experience with one, and know almost nothing about them. I have an even stronger faith in the existence and power of tornadoes, which I’ve also never seen, because I’ve got even more evidence and experience and knowledge about them — even though all my knowledge is second- or third- hand. Ultimately, though, if I wanted to disbelieve in their existence, I could. Faith is the leap I make to assert that I do in fact believe in these things.
I might, in contrast, be a very skeptical person. Imagine if I decided I would only accept a belief in tornadoes after extensive study and firsthand experience. All the same, even if I were very skeptical, if I’m a rational person there will be some level of evidence that is eventually sufficient to allow me to make the leap of faith and affirm that yes, tornadoes do exist. I can be very skeptical — that is, be a person who requires large amounts of evidence and long periods of logical analysis (reasoning) prior to coming to faith, but still make a decision to affirm or deny a fact. Faith is the act of affirming or denying facts.
[I didn’t use tornadoes or asteroids as examples in class, so that’s new fodder for you in chatting with your child.]
We acknowledged as well, in class, that there are people who simply refuse to accept any level evidence. In class we imagined someone who might, for example, dismiss my (Mrs. Fitz’s) existence, even if they met me in person, on account of how perhaps it was a hallucination, or an actor was paid to pretend to be me, or some other thing. Likewise you could imagine someone explaining away the existence of tornadoes by offering some alternate theory of why they thought they saw a dark whirlwind and heard loud noise right before their possessions were blown away. In apologetics it’s important that we distinguish between someone who is simply looking for more evidence to work through rationally prior to coming to a conclusion, versus those who would never be satisfied with any level of evidence, because they have made a decision in advance about the truth of this or that assertion.
(We didn’t practice this, but a good method for finding out where someone stands on this is just to ask them. Listening is the #1 skill in apologetics.)
Finally, a point that came up in class a couple times is that in apologetics we must be very precise. Please assure your students that in class it’s good to be brave in discussing ideas even if you aren’t sure of the right terms or facts; we will simply pause and clarify definitions as necessary. We learned the word omniscient, and affirmed that none of us humans are omniscient, so it’s okay if you have to acknowledge you don’t know something, and it’s okay if your friends help you clear up any misunderstandings you have.
The kids started school! 3/4’s are being farmed out to TOTAL STRANGERS, and 1/4 is home with me, thriving in the silence that comes from emptying the house each day. So I was offline for a bit, focusing on the transition and all that.
Then 1/4 of the children came down with the wicked nasty evil virus you don’t want. Thank goodness it was the homeschooled child, I think I would have cried if I had to pull a kid out of school for a week with an uncontrollable fever during the child’s first week of school ever ever ever. Instead: Documentaries were watched.
Then 1/2 of the parents caught it (me). Not as badly, actually! More tropical depression than cat 5 hurricane.
So all that sucked up three weeks right there! Whoohoo!
I’m doing better now, thanks for asking, but am having to catch up on all the regular-life business that got neglected, and continue the transition to school year activities. (Example: This week, I’m going to REMEMBER THAT ORCHESTRA STARTED and actually bring my children! That will be neat! Teachers love it when you do that.)
That’s all I’ve got time to say now. Headed to Adoration this afternoon while a child is at PE, and as always I keep my readers in my prayers! I will write soon, I think.
PS: Let me just say that if you have the option of sending your child to a good Catholic school or a good Catholic homeschool? Do that.
I learned three things from lectoring yesterday at my niece’s wedding, and a fourth I don’t want to forget.
The first is that the same old readings are never the same and never old. First and second readings were the two most popular Catholic wedding choices going, Genesis and Corinthians. You’ve heard them so many times you think you know them by heart (though you probably don’t).
But this time, standing before this couple, certain words pop out and resound and suddenly make sense in a way that almost feels like they were waiting all these millennia for the right two people to come along and make you say, “Aha! So that’s what this reading is about!”
It’s always like this when you pray the Scriptures, because you aren’t reading some old story, you are stepping into an interaction between the eternal and the pressing present.
Second: If you can only pray one prayer, try the Litany of Humility. I’m not convinced it’s even necessary to pray the thing all that often, because it’s that powerful of a prayer. Something that struck me as I was reading through the “Love is . . .” series in Corinthians 13 is that all the different aspects of love are fruits of humility. Thus the litany is a two-fer: You can quash your miserable ego and accidentally find yourself becoming a loving person into the bargain.
Try it. You’ll hate it. Until you don’t.
Thirdly, about that liturgy! The Catholic liturgy is extraordinarily dense, and thus exquisitely suited for use by we the extraordinarily dense. I could not help but notice how little anything at all depended on we the people present doing the work, other than that we show up and do it. I don’t mean that it’s anything-goes for the humans: When we cooperate with God, making the effort to know what we’re doing and do it as well as we’re able, the liturgy is better. It’s always better when you work with God rather than against or apart from Him.
I think because I was up there reading (which I only really do at family weddings and funerals), I was more conscious than usual of the part we humans bring to the Mass, and this allowed me to see how much we humans aren’t the ones bringing it. God does the work, we cooperate. The Catholic liturgy is in this way completely opposite of anything else.
And the fourth thing that’s so hard to get through thick human skulls:
We try all the other things. We go on and on and on about how we have to do all the other things, because the one thing needed just won’t cut it, quit being so pie-in-the-sky.
But of course, there is pie in the sky, which changes everything. The Persons putting on that party know their business. We dense ones have all these other methods for chasing after human happiness, and it turns out there’s just that one thing that always works. Never fails.
So my feast of St. Lawrence* resolution is to try the one thing.
What’s with the radio silence? Let me just tell you.
But first, the reason I’m breaking it: My friend Sarah Reinhard asked me to blog on Theology of the Body stuff in the lead-up to this fall’sTheology of the Body Congress, which you should attend if you have the opportunity. The line-up of speakers is stellar, and yes I would go myself if I possibly could. So put that on your calendar.
The expression Theology of the Body among Catholics is a bit of a code word for, “Let’s talk about sex now.” I usually stick to code on these things. But there’s more to your body than just the parts and processes that make you a boy or a girl, as Susan Windley-Daoust will remind you periodically. I’m going to write not-about-sex today, and come back to racier topics here and over at Patheos in the next few weeks.
Now back on topic. A little Applied Theology and the answer to the question, “Why on earth has Jen Fitz completely dropped off the internet?”
Short answer is: I’m not doing as well, physically, as I would need to be doing in order to both take care of my primary vocation (marriage, parenthood) and this secondary vocation as a writer. So first things get to be first, and the rest has to wait.
The very, very, long answer:
But here is something completely cool, because God is like this: Just in time for me to have something someone really wants me to write about (instead of just me running my mouth off, which is my usual niche), I can totally sit at the computer and not be light-headed! Isn’t that cool?! I keep forgetting this new fact, and thus my e-mail is way behind. June was a pretty long month, computing-wise.
I theorize in part it was positional, which means I probably need to rearrange the workstation. Here’s an interesting link about cartoid sinus hypersensitivity, which might cause you to suspect I’m really an old man just posing as a pleasantly-plump middle-aged housewife, but you’ve seen the photos, so whom do you believe? Sports Illustrated or my cartoid sinus barocepter? Anyway, my parlor-trick for June was that I could drop my pulse twenty points just by, um, taking my pulse. No true cartoid sinus massage needed, just touch the thing.
It quit doing that, though, as far as I can tell.
Some other interesting body-things for this summer:
Dang it I can’t talk anymore again. The speaking-part works fine, don’t panic, it’s the getting light-headed while I do it that is at about 80% of the time. This is pretty common in tachycardia-themed autonomic dysfunction. (POTS people talk about this all the time in conversation, even though it never seems to make any list of medical descriptions, not sure why there’s that disconnect in the medical literature.) 80% isn’t 100%. On a good day I’m completely normal, on a lousy day I’ve given up even lip-syncing at Mass.
–> Autonomic dysfunction creates these weird eddies of backward expectations. Mass is pretty much my least pleasant activity, because it involves sitting still then standing still, with positional head changes (bad — I keep being reminded not to bow the head, just don’t do it), combined with talking. So on a miserable Sunday I can feel extremely overwhelmingly bad by the end of the hour. But because the problem is not at all with my heart’s ability to pump blood or my blood’s ability to hold oxygen, I’m the person who’s desperate to lay down while standing still, but will then escape without difficulty at full speed to the car and feel better as a result of the vigorous activity.
Basically I have this cardiovascular problem that makes being still feel worse and being active feel better.
Patients might be able to muster adequate energy for periods of time but it is usually short-lived and they tire quickly, not unlike a battery that discharges too rapidly. . . . A period of rest or sleep is generally required before energy levels are restored. Following rest a patient may demonstrate apparently normal stamina and a clinician will not detect weakness on examination . . . .
This is me completely: Do something, then flop on the floor utterly exhausted, and then in a bit I’m fine again. Happens hour-by-hour, and then also from day-to-day. More on that below.
I don’t know whether or not I have a mitochondrial disorder (very difficult to diagnose) but I get this, too:
Impaired oxidative phosphorylation [don’t know my cause] not only causes muscle fatigue but also muscle cramping with or without tenderness, or a feeling of extreme heaviness in the muscles. These symptoms are especially severe in those muscle groups being used, and patients often complain of discomfort in the legs or even muscle spasms.The discomfort may be felt immediately following the activity or later on, waking up the patient from sleep.
Funny story: I mentioned to a relatively new acquaintance that I’m prone to decrepitude, and the question she asked was, “So are you basically in pain all the time?”
The answer is that at this writing, no I am not. But I have picked up what is turning out to be mild-but-intractable intermittent pain (in my legs, if you’re curious), and yes it keeps me from sleeping well, and yes, I’ve tried all the things, and the things help quite a lot. (Other than deep breathing to relax, like the kind that works so well for childbirth — used to be my go-to, but now it just gives me a headache. Which stinks, because it’s a good method if your autonomic nervous system functions properly.) But I think it’s very funny because the words “every day” and “intractable” do apply even if the pain itself is not very bad. So if you use those adjectives, it sounds way worse than it is. I think most other people can also use those adjectives.
[By “intractable” I mean “intractable using means that don’t require a prescription.” I haven’t gotten around to being bothered enough to plead for the good drugs. So no, nothing to worry about at this time.]
And this cracked me up, because every receptionist I’ve ever met knows this about me now:
Exercise intolerance is not restricted to the large muscle groups in the body but can also involve the small muscles. Writing can be a challenge; too much writing leads to fatigue and/or cramping or spasms. The quality of penmanship can be observed to deteriorate over the course of a writing assignment with letter formation becoming more erratic and messy.
This is why you don’t want to receive handwritten correspondence from me. Nothing new, story of my life. Interestingly, I always take handwritten notes in classes, and if I don’t have a computer I’ll do my other writing longhand — but the writing degenerates fast into this baseline scrawl that’s just barely legible to me, and only because I already know what’s written there. Once it gets down to worst-level, I can sustain it for a long time.
And one last one which caught my attention, from the same source:
. . . Debilitating fatigue can occur with infectious illnesses, may outlast the other symptoms of the infection, and the recovery time can be very prolonged.
This thing I hate. I never know whether a cold is going to cost me a few days or six weeks. Weirdly, I used to go into nasty bronchitis every few years following a cold, and knock on wood that hasn’t been a problem lately. I just get all the fatigue. (Um, and I always have a cough. So, gosh, I don’t know. Don’t make me laugh and we’re good.)
Exercise does help. The supreme challenge is in figuring out how much to do. Too little, and you sleep poorly and lose conditioning. Too much, unfortunately, is not evident during the exercise. I can work out and feel great and be sure I’ve figured out a great balance between rest and exercise, and then at the end of the week completely collapse and require days and days of recovery before I’m functional again.
–> The convenient thing here is that I can in fact borrow time. If I know I want to be up for something, I can plan ahead, build up reserves, stretch them during the event through the clever use of pharmaceuticals, and plan to pay back afterwards. Difficulty being that the mortgage interest is steep. There’s no getting more out of the body than it has to give.
The inconvenience is that all the things I do are exercise, but some exercises are more valuable than others. So if I want to work on my core muscle strength, which is key to preventing the injuries to which I am prone, then I have to not work on helping you out with that thing you wanted me to do. Your thing is also exercise, but it’s a lower priority exercises, so out it goes.
Yes, I tried that thing you suggested.Not being snarky there. I’ve had a number of good friends recommend possible ways to improve the situation, and some of the ideas have been very helpful. (Even if the idea came after I’d already come across that suggestion and tried it, and thus could immediately report, “Yes! Thanks! That does help! Excellent idea, glad you mentioned it!”) Some things people have suggested and that I tried did not help for the reason proposed (I am not, for example, allergic to wheat) but do help for a different reason (minimizing wheat products makes more room in the diet for intensely potassium-rich foods, which help a ton).
So a thing that’s got me occupied this summer is obsessively managing all the micro-factors that can make the situation as better as possible. I think (but can’t be certain) that I’ve got the diet tuned to a spot where I can happily live off the things I seem to do best with, but also get away with deviating from the Ideal Thing at food-themed social events and no disaster ensues. If all that proves to be true, I’ll chat about it later. It might be just lucky coincidence.
Meanwhile, here’s the surprise of the summer:
It took me a long, long time to figure this out. Here’s the difficulty: The heat doesn’t bother me.
I live in a warm climate. I don’t mind being sweaty. I know how to dress for the heat, how to acclimatize as the hot season arrives, and how to get the most use out of a hot day. Since I cultivated these skills, I’ve never had any difficulty with the heat whatsoever, other than some mild irritation about the truly obnoxious portion of sauna-season, which you just have to deal with and move on. I even know the trick about watching for Seasonal Affective Disorder when the heat starts getting so annoying you hide indoors despite yourself. (Same solution as per winter – bright light & vitamin D).
The problem I had in figuring out this one is that (a) I’m still functional above the temperatures when people from up north start whining profusely, (b) I still don’t mind the heat or being hot, and (c) since I have any number of other things that also make me feel terrible, it’s not like I was able to say to myself, “Gee, I feel wonderful all the time except if I’m someplace hot.”
It’s a perfectly manageable problem, it just came as a bit of a surprise. Amusingly, my cold intolerance is getting worse, too.
The hardest thing: Not being able to concentrate. Since I’m a master-complainer, I don’t know that we’d call this my “chief complaint.” But it’s certainly my loudest. As in: If I told you I NEEDED the house to be QUIET so I could do this thing, that’s what I meant so please go OUTSIDE. This is the #1 reason I haven’t been writing. I’m home all day with four kids. There’s noise. There are interruptions. Note that my entire career as a writer has been carried out under these exact same conditions.
What happens therefore is that I drift through the day doing tasks that are super-easy, and then if I find myself in some unexpected situation like trying to cook while other people are in the room, it’s alarming to everyone just how badly things go (until I communicate my distress so emphatically that everyone goes and hides). And then I go back to easy things, and wonder why things that take my full attention just never get done.
So that’s the answer to the perennial, “How’s it going, Jen?” topic on this blog. I’ll emphasize here that as much I just used my crotchety trans-old lady powers to moan about the ailment for very many words, it’s not as bad as all that. But here’s a story that sort of sums up the situation:
Yesterday I was halfway through this post when I had to leave and get ready to go to a social thing at the lake. Sunday had been horrible, Monday was not that great, and Tuesday wasn’t impressing me. I was only going to this thing because (a) I wanted to go to it, and (b) my kids really, really, really wanted to go to it, and they’d done all the things I told them they had to do if they wanted to go.
So we went. And I was fine. Dreamy fine. No problems. Felt completely normal for the full three hours I was there, conversing, walking around, standing around, watching kids, etc. Some of the time, I’m completely, totally fine.
Moments like that can make you think you’re crazy. Maybe I just need to relax at the lake more often? Two reality checks:
Part of being fine was that I aggressively managed as many factors (fluid intake, electrolytes, staying out of the direct sun) as I could.
If it comes as a surprise to you that you went to an enjoyable, relaxing, time-limited social event and had no experience of illness during all three hours, probably the fact that this was an unexpected occurrence tells you something.
So we can add this to my list of signs something is not normal: If you get to where it’s a surprising occurrence when you feel well, we can infer that there’s a problem.
And dang my legs were like lead when I dropped a kid off at VBS this morning. So yeah, CAWOG. I’m rolling with it.
I figured since this was the All About Me post, if you made it this far you’re the type of person who wants to see my new haircut. (Hi Mom!) The third one is me posing in front of the dog’s blanket, which is still hanging up to dry on the screen porch a week after I told a kid to put it there. I guess it’s dry now. But I needed the contrast because I kept getting photos where the new haircut looked exactly like the SI photo shoot.
Meanwhile, on the question of whether life is worth living when it isn’t everything you’d always imagined, reprinted below is what I wrote two years ago today on the horrible expression, “I got my life back!” Let’s just say that most people who use that expression didn’t actually experience the separation of body from soul.
PSA, if you get this blog via e-mail or feed-reader: All these links above I shared in my twitter reading-feed, which you can see easily, and any number of other good links, by clicking to through to jenniferfitz.com and cruising the sidebar.
At this writing, I am the poster child for Better Living Through Chemistry. If we were to rely on a drug-ad cliche to sum up the post-prescription transformation, one might reach for the old reliable, “I got my life back!”
And that would be nonsense.
I’m not ungrateful, I’m tremendously grateful. I’m thoroughly enjoying this dramatic change in circumstance. I certainly don’t mean to squash the happiness of anyone who’s experienced some similar reprieve. Nor would I ever dismiss the genuine suffering — far greater than anything I’ve experienced — that others endure with no such relief.
But here’s what: My life has been here all along.
It didn’t go anywhere when I was at my sickest. I was living my life. And don’t understand me to mean, “I was finding happiness in small things!” or “I realized that time with my children was such a treasure!” Oh please. I’ve always been easily amused, and I have the bunny ears to prove it. I wouldn’t choose to spend all day every day with my children if I hadn’t treasured them from the get-go.*
My life is bigger than a collection of accomplishments and abilities and happy moments. Laying very still in a big machine in a cold room, praying abbreviated rosaries to pass the time because I can’t keep track of ten Hail Mary’s without beads or fingers, but I can keep track of three? That’s my life. Part of it, anyhow. Doing routine tasks with no music, no singing, because I needed every ounce of concentration to get the work done? Life. My life. Walking oh-so-slowly 1/16th of a mile around the indoor walking track because the little girls want to go run during their sister’s volleyball practice, but no going up on the track without an adult? Mine. All mine.
When you divide your life into the parts that you’ll claim ownership to and the parts that you reject, you steal from yourself. You miss out on a chance to be everything that you could be. Some of the parts no sane man would choose, but there they are, unchosen but endowed all the same. Are you going to live them, or are you going to waste them?
Bigger on the Inside than the Outside
It matters because we are formed by what we do and what we choose. Given our fallen world, what our bodies do reflects our inner lives imperfectly. The effort to pray, poorly, comes out like so much failure when your body is not cooperating. The effort to work, to think, to love, all of it looks like so much worthlessness. And then one day — in this life or the next — suddenly your body behaves itself, and you discover your soul was growing stronger through all that effort. Effort that seemed, like walking uphill on a too-fast treadmill, to be getting you nowhere but miserable.
The paradox of redemption is that every good is to be sought, but no evil is to be wasted. We work, diligently, for what is good. For healing. For an end to poverty. For peace. For the good of souls everywhere. We become more like Christ the more we work for that good. And yet, like Christ, an integral part of our life on earth is making even the evil be good.
*No aspersions being cast on parents who find their children are best treasured as they get on and off the school bus. Lots of ways to treasure those darlings. Mine do well at home. Except when they don’t.
I want to show you my daughter’s handiwork and explain how it got this way, because it’s a story about what parenting really is. When you are comparing your crazy life to some glossy home magazine spread, but it’s a real home inhabited by real people, I want you to understand that it didn’t come from nowhere.
So this is my backyard:
Isn’t it gorgeous! That’s the little grilling area off the kitchen. My daughter (age 14) completely overhauled this space a few weeks ago, with the help of her sisters. It was her response to the three of them being kicked outside until they’d cleaned the place up, on account of their not being able to be quiet inside for even one hour while I took a nap.
To the left, behind the grape vines growing up around the mailbox, is the famous green castle. When it was first built the castle looked like this:
That’s the top two stories, and in the photo above you’re looking at a portion of the bottom floor. It’s a bit worn down now, and we’ve replaced boards and added shade over the years. We built it because we only had this teeny-tiny strip of private, fenced backyard area when our kids were little, so we had to build up-not-out for the play structure.
Part of parenting is using the talents you have (my husband did the carpentry) and the resources you have to give your kids some space to grow. This is what we had to give.
Even after this month’s clean-up, there’s still some trashy-looking stuff behind those red doors, but at least it’s down to all purposeful trash. An example is an upside-down plastic flower pot that serves as a table during “City,” the kids’ economics game that is the successor to the even trashier (literally) “Medieval Game.” They make up all kinds of sociological experiments when I kick them outside.
More history . . . See this cute wooden bridge leading to the seating area?
We went to Las Vegas to visit my parents some years ago, and in the early morning while it was still cool out, we’d walk around the neighborhood. The front yard landscaping in suburban Las Vegas is incredible – just gorgeous. The kids took photos of yard ideas, because they wanted a pretty yard. One thing they all liked was a wooden bridge over a rock riverbed formation. Superhusband built them this bridge for the play yard, and it connects to a second patio where we have a laundry sink. That area is not very pretty, though it’s now 90% less trashy than it was a month ago.
Lesson in parenting: We’ve had all these moments where the kids recognize and appreciate beauty, and we build on that . . . and our yard is still mostly trashed. They’re still kids. Their aspirations exceed their self-discipline. We’re still tired parents who don’t make them clean up enough. But slowly the beauty-to-trash ratio improves, year by year.
Here’s some lemon balm my daughter totally stole out of my part of the yard, and put into a terra cotta pot she also stole. I’m good with that, she didn’t mess anything up.
I love to garden, but I basically stink at it. My kids have variable amounts of love of gardening, but it’s not like we’re this amazing family out singing hymns while we hoe all afternoon in the pumpkin patch or something. We buy plants or seeds, stick them in the ground, and most of what we plant dies of drought or flood or some horrible fungus you don’t want me to describe. But a few things survive, and we learn more about what will grow in our actual yard (the garden books are wrong and the internet is wronger), and slowly it fills with things that aren’t entirely dead or pestilent.
Every living plant you see in these photos was a gamble. Life is a gamble. You just keep trying things.
Aren’t these hanging cacti adorable? They are a little freaky if you look closely, because they are leftovers from a life science lab on grafting plants. She has to have franken-cacti because non-school plants are expensive. She took kimchi jars (I know! We buy it! We don’t make our own!) and sawed off the tops, then made the hanging knotwork out of string that came from who-knows-where.
If you want a kid who does DIY’s, you have to let that kid just raid the supplies and try stuff. This is how my home gets trashed. Yes, my home is mostly-trashed in the pursuit of either beauty or laziness, one or the other.
We fought bitterly over where she was allowed to hang her hanging candles. All supplies totally stolen from other parts of the house or yard. Hobby Lobby made zero money on this one.
Look at this pretty sitting area! I got those curtains cheap when the girls were little, and they get used when you want to hang pretty curtains someplace — like if you’re having a princess-themed birthday party or something. They are hanging over the clothes rods and clothes lines that were our attempt to make a place to store all our whitewater gear, but it didn’t work out and was a fetid mess. Blech.
I still don’t know what to do with the whitewater gear. It’s piled in my laundry room waiting for a new home.
All furnishings and accessories in this photo were raided from another part of the house or yard. In some cases there was a weak attempt at either covering up the gaping hole or putting an almost-as-good item in place (like: a bathmat set down by the front door where that rug used to be).
Also, I got yelled at because that rustic wooden box had yucky insects in it. It was super disgusting, I agree with her there — but she totally wanted me to drop everything and decontaminate just so she could have her coffee table. Darling, part of growing up is learning to battle insects all on your own, thanks.
Final thing: The monogrammed pillow. That was made by the 14-year-old express for this project.
Let me explain to you about this.
My kids have had virtually unfettered access to sewing supplies, including a varying number of rescued sewing machines, over the years. Prior to the massive clean-out, this porch was heaped with a crazy-mountain of every kind of craft thing. I don’t even have any sewing things, at all, any more, because my children have stolen them so diligently that now it’s easier to just make them do the sewing, done. (I was never any good at it anyway).
If you want kids who craft — who really get good at developing their own style (I never, ever, monogram anything, no child picked up that habit from me), and thinking up a project and giving it a try, and eventually get to where they’re producing good adult-quality work — you have to let them make a mess.
Maybe you’re good at having them clean up after, maybe you’re not. (I’m not.) But you have to give them space, and let them experiment, and not be horrible about insisting every project be perfect all the time. As I write this, my nine-year-old is baking cupcakes. I just stay out of the room, and she can come ask me questions, and I’ll help her with putting things in and out of the oven when the time comes. If they don’t turn out — whatever. It was only cupcakes.
I let my kids play with paint, and now when I needed a patio table re-painted, I could trust a child to paint it as well as anybody. I let my kids play with food, and now my son cooks dinner as his primary household chore. My kids aren’t perfect. Everything they do doesn’t turn out golden every time. When my daughter took these photos, she carefully framed them to not show the less-pretty parts of our life.
That’s real life: Part beauty, part mess. Sometimes you really need to pay attention to the mess, and sometimes you need to sit back and enjoy the beautiful.
Photos by E. Fitz, used with permission, copyright 2016 all rights reserved.