On Writing Implements and the Soul

If there has been any joy to this winter, it was the death of my laptop. It had been on its last leg for some time. I purchased it when my now-kindergartner was a newborn. I wrote my doctoral dissertation on it. I dropped it in a grocery store parking lot on my way home from my first post-school job. I have received news of loss and gain on it.

But if I might speak like a conspirator in these days of technodoulia (< techne “technology” + doulia “slavery”), the despot long was on its last battery and its reign was cold and cruel. The laptop is dead, may it remain so.

Since I make my living by word, spoken (classroom) and written (scholarship), I had to make an inventory, like Robinson Crusoe, of the resources after my shipwreck. I had two typewriters. A SmithCorona electric that allowed me to rapidly type but made an awful beep every time it came across what its internal computer deemed a spelling error. For someone who writes on literature in a foreign language, this is beyond bearing. Ave atque Vale, SmithCorona.

Some ten years ago I found a 1941 Royal Aristocrat in an antique store in South Jersey. Thanks to the wonders of the internet, I was able to order myself a carton of ribbons that have lasted me a decade of intermittent letter writing, amusing notes, and one abandoned dramatization of The Man Who Was Thursday. But, in addition to the necessity of hen-pecking its keys, only a stern finger will produce a clean stroke. In this way, I am as free as Thor with Mjolnir to leave the Aristocrat where I please. For none can get it to type save me, and even then anything more than 1,000 words will leave my fingers sore for two days.

Since I was not ready to renounce my new won freedom from the black mirror, I knew I must move further back in time. If I was willing to adopt the typewriter, where I knew that I must retype my work electronically for publication, I saw no reason why I should not return to the pen and pencil.

So like the American Revolutionary, I have adopted a mixed constitution with three branches: pen and pencil (legislative), typewriter (judicial), and computer (executive). We shall see if I can maintain the balance of powers.

But an even better analogy struck me and I should think it worth reflection. I have compiled here a list of equivalents between modes of composition and beers:


Windows Desktop = Budweiser. None can solve the mystery of how we all hate it and yet it is found everywhere.

MacBook Air = Heineken. Who are you trying to fool?

Linux Computers = Cheap local brew. Good or bad, you love it because it is yours.

Electronic Typewriter = Miller Lite. Your grandpa drank it so this makes it legit, but yea, it’s pretty bad.

Manual Typewriter = PBR. I bet you those Buddy Holly glasses don’t even have a prescription in them.

Gel Pen = Stout. Thick and messy. Done well, it works for the right task. But I am suspicious of every day use.

Ball Point Pen = Coors. It’s basically the Windows of the pen world.

Fountain Pen = Abbey Ale. It can be either pretentious and cloying...or a wonder from days past.

Mechanical Pencil = Pale Ale. You are not going out of your way to share it, but it has a work-a-day utility to it.

#2 Pencil = Schmirnoff Ice?! Who even invited you to this party?

There are many dreadful omissions and I look to you, the reader, to flesh out the analogy in the combox. And if we are seeking to amend our habits and lives this Lent, posting something joyful and productive in a combox is a good start.


Who is Your Adventure?

“You are my greatest adventure.”

-Mr. Incredible

If you haven’t already read Jacob Machado’s One Step Guide to Going on an Adventure I highly recommend you do so here. His discussion of adventure as an unknown risk and not in accord with comfort or a desire to be in control is wonderful, and will be helpful to keep in mind as I attempt to expand the idea without regurgitating.

Being in the middle of a semester abroad, I am currently living what a vast majority would consider an adventure. I am living in a reformed monastery in the foothills of the Alps, studying philosophy and theology, and spending my weekends traveling all over Europe. I am experiencing different cultures every week, each one incredibly unique. I have spent weekends hiking through snow to frozen waterfalls and incredible views. I have learned how to navigate European train systems, and spent afternoons wandering through thousands of years of history.

What I have noticed, through all of these adventures, however, is that the experiences, in and of themselves, while beautiful, do not satisfy. What has elevated each one from experiences to check off my list to adventures is what I have learned about the people around me (including myself) in and through these experiences.

If you have ever taken the time to get to know someone, and I mean really get to know someone, you have experienced an adventure. Each time you learn something new about them, there is a new thrill. Each time you are vulnerable you take an unknown risk. Getting to know someone better, whether it is yourself or another, is what makes experiences, even the thrilling ones, adventures.

In the midst of a pilgrimage to Rome, I was invited to join a few friends at a dinner with a former Franciscan student living and studying in the city. At first it was just exciting to think about going to a Roman apartment and having homemade Italian food. What was incredible, though, was that after a dinner filled with talk about studies in humanities, she decided to walk us around Rome, showing us her favorite sites. It was exciting to see the city at night, with someone who knows the way. As she talked, incredible turned to indescribable, and I saw the city through her eyes. As she told us how she ended up in Rome, I began to see everything the city was to her, and the whole night came alive. Through getting to know her, wandering the streets of Rome, though they were familiar by this point, became an adventure.

As communal creatures, the fact that learning about others is what makes an adventure means that not only do we desire adventure, we need it. We need to be drawn out of our comfort zone and into the hearts and minds of others. We need to be challenged in our beliefs, our thoughts, and our skills so that they might become stronger. We need to come to know others and ourselves so that we may come to know Christ. And it all starts with the One Step Guide to Going on an Adventure.

I would like to propose, however, before signing off, that we must be careful in this discussion not to undervalue stereotypically adventurous experiences. It was not until traveling that I could see the areas in which my spirit of adventure had started to atrophy. It wasn’t until wandering the streets of Rome on someone else’s timetable that I could see in what areas my need for control was affecting me. It was being the only two awake on an overnight train that encouraged me to be a little more vulnerable with a new friend. It was jumping into a random pick up game of volleyball in an Italian schoolyard that reminded me I need to cultivate my spirit of adventure.

And so, my friends, let us be adventurers, in all senses, keeping adventures themselves and the spirit of adventure each in perspective, so that we might live fully that adventure we are called to, a life lived in Christ. 

Ordered Time of the Church

It is Friday of the first week of ordinary time. Welcome! We are past the whirlwind that surrounds Christmas and the new year. We are not yet to the penitential season of Lent where we all gird our loins; dress is sack cloth, bathe in ash, and the most difficult of all -- fast from chocolate. We surely won’t see Easter décor in stores until the shelves are purged of pink and red hearts and overpriced Valentine’s Day chocolate. No, here we are in the midst of ordinary time. Does that mean however, that we are in the midst of insignificant, inconsequential or even 'boring' time? NO! By heavens no, ordinary time is wonderfully and gloriously ordered to the praise reverence and Glory of God.

What does ordinary time mean? Is it simply a boring mundane period of drudgery, a time of bland continuation? Or, perhaps, is it more? By jove! I believe we've asked the right question. Is there more to the word ordinary than our normal interpretation of the term.

All too often we interpret ordinary as lesser. Less significant, less entertaining, less exciting. This is however a bad interpretation. Ordinary, as used in the Church vernacular comes from the Latin ordinalis. In English, ordinalis means something akin to "Being numbered in a sequence." It is the Latin root from which we get the word ordered. When we use the term ordinary in the Church we are referring to order. Priests are the ordinary Eucharistic ministers. The priest consecrates the host and feeds the Church. There is nothing mundane about that, but it is ordinary in the order of God’s gifts in the sacraments. Baptism is our ordinary means to eternal life by which we are cleansed from original sin, but baptism is far from being unimportant or insignificant.

The prefix “extra-“ is added to the word ordinary. Extra means “outside of.” Therefore, extraordinary means “outside of the ordinary.”  We have extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion. By the mercy and mystery of God there may be extraordinary avenues of salvation through Jesus outside of baptism. The presence of these extraordinary realities does not make the ordinary less significant. Often, the ordinary is more significant because it is ordered so.

So what does this mean for ordinary time? It means that we are living in the ordered life of the Church. In Advent we have a season of anticipatory repentance awaiting hopefully the coming of Christ. The Christmas season is the celebration of the Incarnation. Lent is the great penitential season preparing to enter into the Paschal mystery of Jesus. Easter is the celebration of Christ’s resurrection from the dead and defeat of death. Ordinary time however encompasses this all. It is the time of the liturgical year when we are neither explicitly feasting or fasting, but rather we are ordered to the entirety of the mystery of God. The extraordinary seasons of Advent, Christmas, Lent and Easter direct us to recall and reflect on special and specific mysteries of the life of Christ. Ordinary time invites us to enter into contemplation and anticipation of the beatific vision in heaven toward which we all ought to be ordered.

The more we learn of the ordered nature of the Church, ordered to the praise reverence and honoring of God while awaiting the second coming of Christ, the more we realize the depth, beauty and wisdom of the Church. There is a wealth of spiritual knowledge in the liturgical year of the Church and I will highlight many of these in articles to come.

Until then, friends, join me in ordinary time while we strive to ever more order ourselves toward God and eternity!