Betty Duffy


Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Fall Break the good, the bad, the bloody...

I made a getaway plan for Joe and me over Fall break. Just one night, downtown. Bought tickets for Rachmaninoff, tapped into the giant well of hotel points accumulated over fourteen years of his being a traveling man. Because what is the benefit of getting older and richer in hotel points if you cannot occasionally have some marital repose at the JW? 

I had a short moment of glee remembering how just the symphony tickets alone would once have been the pinnacle of a half-year, and now, we are so awesome that the tickets are just the intermission between cocktails at the Libertine and whatever might follow. Ignore for a moment, that this getaway was still a half-year coming, and that whatever might have followed had to wait until morning, because I fell asleep during the intermission of our lavish intermission. Next year, I shall doff the cocktails, probably. Maybe the symphony tickets too.

But the leisure was fantastic. Perhaps the greatest blessing of getting older is being able to let go of every bone you're tempted to pick and just enjoy being together. There was a time when I might have seen such an occasion as an opportunity to bring up everything that irritated me over the past six months and try to work on it, which is not marital repose at all, but rather marital boot camp, and is better suited to less expensive venues.

Constructive criticism doesn't even work in writing workshops, or biannual job evaluations, or parental lectures, or, or, or…anything really--I say this as someone who has received constructive criticism and used it as an excuse to exit projects I knew were not going well, or to shore up my own obtuse reasons for continuing to be wrong.

So we let everything be right and good and a gift. I am satisfied.

We dropped tent on our marital retreat a few hours early when it was reported from Mom and Dad's that one of the boys had come down with a high fever. Turned out he had pneumonia. He's better now.

And then a couple days after that, Joe dropped a 500 pound well cover on his hand, and it peeled the skin on one of his fingers like a banana around the bone so that his finger tip looked a little like a pez dispenser. It was fixable.

And then a couple days after that, I realized I'd been about five days without nursing the baby, and that we were both doing alright, but I was sad. She's starting to talk too, which is a good thing, unless like some of the other kids (and perhaps her mother, too), she finds her voice never to be silent again.

Time marches on. Highs become lows, and then highs again. I was thinking recently about how I keep trying to tell stories about my moments of greatest darkness, and how those really are not my best stories, just furrows, really, that bring a finer picture into relief. I can't wait to see it.

At patheos, another furrowing: Goats, Robo-Christians, and God-people

Monday, October 20, 2014

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Studies in Sanctimony

Dear Son/ Ward,

Did I help you study? I don't remember. Actually, I didn't help you. I know that. But what a trippy little letter they had you write. We can feel awful together.


Tell your teacher that I made bread today.

HaHA! Who's the bad parent/guardian now?

Meanwhile, at Patheos:

Happy Fruits of the Papal Synod to Me!

People Before Things, in Life and in Death
This post is a part of the Patheos October Public Square roundtable on death and ritual.

Monday, October 13, 2014

The problem with October

I went to Adoration at my old neighborhood church across the street from our old house, which looks a hair crummier than it did when we lived in it. A woman named Betty from California paid cash for it, noting in her offer the portrait of Our Lady of Guadalupe which hung over the fire place, as if it elevated that particular house among all the other bungalows on the block--and maybe it did. 

Her son worked at the bar on the corner, J. Clyde's, open at 10 A.M. just up the road from Dreamweaver's Show club, which I was pleased to see had been demolished recently, though one purple painted wall still remained among the rubble, with only the word "dream" still legible.

Sitting in the chapel at my old church, I was reminded of all the things I used to pray for there, when I'd walk across the street in the middle of the night to the church during the first few years of our marriage. So many of the old sins are still with us, though subdued. Happily, very few of the old fears remain. We'll say most of those walls have tumbled, though the half idea still stands sentinel in my mind on my most vulnerable days.

And what about the prayers of gratitude? I think I was too tired for them back in the day. I had four babies in the five years we lived in that house. It was just about the only time in my life that I was mad at God--not because of the babies, but because of the way I felt all the time, achy, inflamed, quietly incubating, then manifesting in untidy ways. Now that I think of it, I really wasn't well, which is maybe why I don't go back to the old neighborhood very often. I still feel like I'm viewing the world through cataracts when I go there.

There was a hail storm shortly before we moved, giant hail which damaged the roof and the air conditioner. It knocked chunks out of the trim on the house, which my husband scrambled to repair before we closed on our new house. We used the insurance money to replace the roof, then opted to have a "comb out" on the air conditioner rather than a complete replacement, because we were leaving.

All of the work we did on that house felt like practice for where we are now. It was the first kitchen my husband made, the first bathroom redo. We refinished the wood floors ourselves and made so much dust I felt like the air and the ductwork there were forever after contaminated. But that could also have been my neurosis. Every October a damp smell emanated from the kitchen tiles and made me nauseous, because I was newly pregnant almost every October and sick. 

It's weird how those aversions stay with you forever. Even now sometimes in October I have what I can only call ghost-morning-sickness. You can leave the house that made you sick, and you can sell the car (which was the culprit in my last pregnancy), but you can't get rid of a whole month. Just try to enjoy the Fall color, with the knowledge that at the end of the month, another season will change.

One of the many things that strikes me as being wrong about living together before marriage on the premise that if it goes well, then the couple will tie the knot, is that practice and trial usually sounds awful. If it sounds perfect on the first run, then it's probably a good indication that some weird hoo-doo is at work, which will leave you stuck with unanticipated problems when the curtain is lifted. Marriage itself is actually a more realistic practice room for marriage, even if the practice period sounds like rot, even if there's no encouragement that the practice will eventually make perfect. It can still make something of considerable merit.

When the furnace went out on our current house last year, the furnace sales guy floated several options, one of them being the "investment furnace" for the house in which you intend to remain. 

"What do you think, you going to live here forever?" He asked. 

"We've been happy here," I answered, but we went with the next lower model to the investment furnace, on that old premise that you can get a pretty good wine, not by ordering the most expensive nor the least expensive, but something in the middle. There's room for aspiration if you want it, but in the meantime, there's plenty of warmth to be had.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014


The problem with having what Joni Mitchell calls, "the urge for going"-- is that I also have the urge for staying. Fall makes me want to travel. Or maybe, rather, it makes me want to read a book about travel. Or it makes me want to sit in the passenger seat of the car, alternately watching the cornfields go by, while reading a book. I want to go; I just don't want to arrive anywhere. And like hell do I want to pack. And I'd also like to skip over all the fights about whether or not the space in our car is efficiently utilized, and where the cooler should go, and who should have to sit in the middle. And I'd also like for smoking to not be bad for me so I can chain smoke and throw butts and apple cores out the window while someone else is driving and I'm reading. If we arrive anywhere, it would be nice to arrive at a sunset over fields of goldenrod. There is one such field across the street, and sunsets are pretty there, but the drive is anticlimactic. 

Monday, September 29, 2014


I know my feelings. I don't always know why I have them, but I can name them, and lately I've felt like my insides are supported by one of those toothpick bridges you make in 8th grade science class that crumble under the weight of a feather. Or maybe I'm a badly done egg drop experiment. My son made one a couple years ago out of a toilet paper stuffed styrofoam cup with a napkin parachute. Egg smashed.

It's probably not a good time to be making big decisions, but I keep having big ideas--like thinking I'm going to go whole hog on this cloister at home idea and start fasting, sing compline every day, make a schedule to dictate the will of God for my time, and maybe even take up some nice little painful penance.

But perhaps first, I should work on being nice to people, both in thought and in deed, beginning with my kids.

Everything is great with my kids as long as I let them do whatever they want. They free-balled the summer and now trying to get everyone up and moving every morning is like swimming in glue. One of the boys doesn't like his school shorts because they are not made of stinky mesh. He can't find his shoes, wants me to buy him a book and a phone, must do his homework on the computer, and doesn't want to run cross country unless Hans does too.

Everyone was late to school this morning since he was suffering all his usual maladies, and then he forgot all his books and binders at home, so I made a second trip. Baby fussed all night cause she is still not night-weaned, and Joe and I bore it out this morning, neither of us willing to get out of bed until the last possible moment. It was a grouchy two drives to school.

Making that left turn into the school parking lot takes ten minutes since all the buses have to go out in a line, and every single morning there's an old man walking his two fat dogs, carrying his little grocery bag of turds and inching his way into the parking lot, making brazen use of his pedestrian's right of way. It's just what the whole mix needs. I am pro-pedestrian for the most part, and make brazen use of my own right of way all the time, especially on country roads on which I have been duly advised not to walk--because they're dangerous. But I live on them. They're mine. This man does not live in the school parking lot. 

There's another walking lady who makes the entire circumference of the Ville every morning. Eight to 13 miles a day, "But I mix it up, change my route a little each day to be safe." And yet she is still one of the most visible people in town. If someone wanted to find and kidnap her, they would most certainly know where to look. Anywhere, really. She will pass if you sit still long enough. I strike up occasional conversations with the walking lady just to see… or to share that I walk too… or you know, just to mention perfunctorily that we might want to walk together some time, even though we don't. Walking ladies want to be left alone. 

The talking lady is the parking lot fixture I find most disturbing in the earliest hours. She always looks ready to go somewhere, dressed up, hair fluffed, make-up on, and every morning she pulls her Nissan Armada up to some other car in the parking lot, sticks her smiling face out the window and starts having animated conversations with the driver of the other car. At first I thought she was making carpool arrangements, but she'd still be sitting there yakking after I made it through the loop dropping off my kids, which sometimes seems to take a long time. "Why does that woman have to talk so damn much? What could she possibly have to say?" I'm afraid I said it out loud to the boys, and they let me know that that is exactly what my husband says about me when he's been waiting in the car for 15 minutes after Mass.

What he doesn't realize is that sometimes I have to have conversations even I don't want to have because I am the mother of our children. I think that may be one of the nice things about being a man is that no one expects a man to stand around chatting. If he's there voluntarily, that's fine, but if he's already in the car after church, also fine. 

One of my son's former classmates showed herself at Mass recently, grown about five inches since last year. She's thirteen with a winking way of talking: "I see you out walking all the time," she said. "You book it."

The thing is, I really don't book it, so any reference to speed walking could only be offered in a patronizing way, and since I haven't seen this girl in over a year--I had uncharitable feelings. There's a certain brazen unawareness in new adolescence that is perhaps too eager to make light of one's elders. Like all of my irritations-- I have manifested it myself.  I just hadn't realized until then, that I'd become an elder. My cousins and I used to do grandma imitations. I have also spoken as a young girl with too much familiarity towards my friends' parents, but it is the rare girl who can elicit a genuine laugh out of it. I wasn't one of them.

I wanted to tell this girl: call me in a couple decades when you have a right to patronize someone who's over twice your age. I'll laugh with you then and do a parody of myself and how I "book it." But for now, I'm the walking lady. And you can shut up.

Thursday, September 25, 2014


Blah blah blah blogging, not sure why I'm doing it right now, except I've got a loose tongue. Otherwise, too much other stuff going on in my life that I need to be taking care of, and that I really do want to take care of. Still nothing feels quite as good as letting her rip on the keyboard, something short, something manageable, something that I can fold into a thousand words or less, something that doesn't change once I think I've figured it out.

Six thousand words, twelve thousand words, sixty thousand--that's hard. There's no beginning, middle and end there. You're just cracking a mystery and it explodes beneath your feet, like trying, unsuccessfully, to dismantle a bomb.

But a thousand words--that's a nice little cube of reason in an unreasonable world, the dollhouse of the mind.