Tuesday, November 25, 2014

News You Can't Use: On The Meaning of Faith, Transgender Saints, and Waking Up a Yankee

Bloggers comment on breaking news items, but I was never interested in news. Politics is not in my DNA. I usually hear the news when it’s olds.

I hear the news only after whatever broke has been patched together into an artifact over which people are already bickering.

Still, I read stuff on-line that catches my eye. And in that catching of my eye there's something interesting. It tells me about myself and my experience of the world. How I relate to my world.

Three items caught my eye today.

They involve David Godine, Leslie Feinberg, and Pablo Sandoval. Unless you're a niche publisher, a member of the transgender community, or a baseball fan, you may not have heard of them. Or care.

I care, and I love the world, which is why I write.

Item #1: David Godine is a legend in the Boston book publishing community. At one time, as founder-publisher of Commonwealth Editions, I was a legend in my own mind in the Boston book publishing community. So David and I have some common ground.

Though I never got to know him, he seemed a friendly-enough crank obsessed with book design. What struck me in the piece that caught my eye this morning (H/T Prufrock), was not that David Godine was in the news but why. Years ago, because he is also interested in books as literature, Godine became the first American publisher of the French author Patrick Modiano. In October 2014 Patrick Modiano won the Nobel Prize in Literature. Where once Godine couldn't sell warehoused copies of Modiano "for landfill in Chicago," now all these years later he is profiting.

It occurs to me that publishing is an ongoing act of faith in your authors and in your own judgment. It's a lot like being a writer. It's a lot like taking more than two years (so far) to hammer out a memoir of your religious conversion, as I am doing, and keep hammering. You believe in what you're doing, the world tells you you're a crank, and then one day the phone rings.

Or doesn't. Faith never flinches.

Item #2: An item in the New York Times on line this morning noted, "Leslie Feinberg, Writer and Transgender Activist, Dies at 65." Why was this the only link I followed from the Times feed to the story itself?

I did not know who Leslie Feinberg was. I did not know that Feinberg was a woman who identified as a man. I did not know that ze (hir preferred pronoun to indicate hir gender, as is hir) was the author of Stone Butch Blues.

All I know is, there I was reading the article. Don't even begin to try to figure that out.

What struck me most about the article was a reference to a nonfiction work by the late author: "Feinberg's books included two nonfiction studies of gender issues, 'Transgender Warriors: Making History from Joan of Arc to Dennis Rodman' and — "

Hold it right there, Sister, Brother, Sibling, whatever. Joan of Arc transgendered? 

Joan of Arc was one of three saints who led me to the Catholic Church. I revere her memory and everything about her life, which I have studied in some detail, including her decision to wear men's clothing and armaments (long story). The idea that Joan of Arc is somehow a hero for the transgendered community was a new one for me, however.

But not an unpleasant one.

I thought immediately of the Camino de Santiago, which is being turned from a Catholic pilgrimage into a bullet point on the life checklist of "cultural tourists." Viewed from one angle, that is unfortunate. Walking the Camino myself in 2012, I was aware of how commercial it has become. And I have come to celebrate that.

Just as I celebrate Joan of Arc, transgender warrior.

Because—though you may bemoan Catholic culture being subsumed by popular culture, such that we can't even use the term Christmas any longer—I believe that, in the long view, it's just the other way around.

I believe that Catholic culture is so wonderful and life-giving a force that, no matter how commercial the world may become, or how immersed in secular and/or gender politics, the world can't ignore it.

And Catholic culture will endure and even triumph, as it has for two thousand years. Name me a longer.

Item #3: When did the Red Sox become the Yankees? Yesterday, my hometown team signed the two biggest bats on the free-agent market: Pablo Sandoval (top) and Hanley Ramirez (left), in an act combining calculated risk-taking and monumental hubris.

This is the kind of thing the Yankees used to do. When I read the news on my iPad this morning, I felt like I had woken up a Yankee fan, not a Red Sox.

I became a Red Sox fan following 1967. I was a Twins fan before that. If you know what happened the last weekend of the regular season in 1967, you may begin to understand why I switched allegiances.

Following the Red Sox from 1967 until 2004, when they finally won the World Series, was always like rooting for David against Goliath (a/k/a the Yankees). With owner George Steinbrenner's checkbook, the Bronx Bombers always signed three free agents for the Red Sox' one. And they won and won and won.

Now in 2015, with owner John Henry's checkbook handy, the Red Sox are going for their fourth World Series title in twelve years.

I have just finished listening to the chapter in James Martin's Jesus: A Pilgrimage about the Sermon on the Mount. What a great explanation of Blessed are the poor! 

The poor are indeed blessed. Everywhere but baseball.

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