Friday Flotsam: Mental Health and Recent Reading

1. It’s been a rough week; at work we had one support person out on vacation and another got fired. Which meant it was just me and one other person on the phones.

Working the phones is not at all my skill set.

The long and the short is that I ended up with a bad case of burnout and, on advice from family, took the rest of the week off. No regrets on that; it feels good to rest.

Now I’ve got to decide what I’m going to do going forward.

2. The experience made me realize that I am not very good at making my emotional needs known; or even acknowledging that they are needs (and I honestly don’t like the term, it sounds too, well, needy). I feel like doing so, unless it is something absolutely undeniable (e.g. running a fever) is a sign of either selfishness or weakness.

If you’re like me (and I know I am), you’re not always sure how reliable your own emotional signals are, which means using them as a guide is a difficult line to walk. Like having a plane where the altimeter’s off. This is one reason why I hate being told to “try to have a good attitude;” that just makes it more confusing.

3. At Riders of Skaith’s recommendation, I pulled up the short story Captives of the Thieve-Star, by James H. Schmitz. It is a gloriously delightful read; exactly what you want from classic sci-fi. Stalwart, competent hero, snarky and equally competent heroine, numerous science-fiction conceits tossed off almost casually to add atmosphere, mysteries raised and left tantalizing unanswered, and so on.

Blended in is a very sweet and charming romance between the two leads; a give-and-take that hits the tone of a young married couple who are both very affectionate and still working out their precise dynamic (I also like the conceit that she’s of a race that is considerably shorter than average humans: more heroines should be fun-size).

Honestly, I’ll take washing-your-mouth-out-with-soap over gratuitous sex scenes any day.

Check it out!

4. I have started reading Sister Miriam Joseph Rauh’s book on The Trivium, and am finding it absolutely fascinating. This is an extremely dense book, as she systematically explains the Classical Method of education, the division of the different subjects, the reasoning behind them, and so on. I’m on the second chapter so far, which is entitled “The Nature and Function of Language”, and the good sister does not hold back on that: it’s a huge topic and she summarizes it thoroughly, including long passages of Aristotelian philosophy to explain the different kinds of concepts, the parts of the mind and how they function, the difference between special symbols (e.g. mathematical or scientific notation that are universal) and common ones (e.g. words in specific languages that must be translated between regions) and so on.

I couldn’t help contrasting this with the typical self-help book of today, where each chapter could be adequately summarized in a single paragraph, but is padded out by example after example and ‘study’ after ‘study’.

5. In so doing, it was a stark reminder to me of the Catholic mindset, which is something that we’ve honestly largely lost, even among faithful Catholics. I mean this tendency to take in, systematize, and categorize everything; to leave no smallest corner of reality unexamined and to ascribe it its own place in the hierarchy of being. This thing is of this class, which is distinguished by these characteristics. There is the science of Grammar – putting together words into proper sentences – and also the science of phonetics – putting sounds together to form words. And what is a word anyway? It is a sign of an idea, which can be divided…etc.

I love this trend, this desire to find out where everything belongs, to gather up every facet of human experience and beyond into a well-ordered kingdom of being.

6. Nor is it merely a matter of philosophizing; it extends to the habit of ritualizing and sanctifying all things and all endeavors, which is a core part of the Catholic approach to life.

This is, I think, one of the core differences with Protestants; the Protestant mindset sought to reduce religion to what it considered the essentials: which is to say, Scripture. They rejected the idea of using art and architecture to glorify God, or of invoking the Saints, praying for the dead, or applying special blessings and devotions for each occasion. They excluded the bulk of human activity and endeavor from God’s presence, seeking to create a kind of pure Holy of Holies in the soul, where there was God and God alone.

Except, when you exclude these things from God’s presence, you do not remove them. People will still pursue their daily work, make art, wage war, and so on. What you have done is to remove God from most of life; to separate Church and State within your own soul, so to speak. And when you separate Church and State, it is always the State that expands and the Church that loses (to the extent you can separate them, but that’s for another time).

Traditionally, the Catholic mindset is, on the other hand, to leave no smallest part of life unexamined and unconnected with religion. Let each craft have its own guild, and each guild its own church and patron Saint. Let each season be marked off by its own festivals and fasts, let each endeavor be offered up to God, let there be proper rules and rituals for each and all.

Unfortunately, we’ve mostly lost that over the past century or so, at least in the West, and have adopted the more Protestant habits of worship, which is to say, God can stay in His own corner to be paid a due and fair homage on Sundays, holy days, and special occasions, but otherwise it’d be gauche to make much of an issue of religion.

We really need to reclaim our Catholic mindset.

7. Also reading Cecil Chesterton’s biography of his celebrated brother, G.K. Chesterton: A Criticism. He very astutely both praises and criticizes GKC, pointing out both where he succeeds and where he fails. As a ‘classical Tory’ myself, I particularly enjoyed the chapter where he deconstructs GKC’s political philosophy, pointing out that in practical terms, he’s actually more like an old Tory (GKC’s love for the French Revolution is his biggest blot in my mind, one he shares with Belloc, who at least had the excuse that he was descended from revolutionaries and so was bound by family feeling to defend it).

It’s also inspiring to see a view of GKC’s meteoric rise as a journalist through his inimitably pugnacious-yet-jolly style and enormously prolific output. Not to mention rather amusing to get frequent references to “his promised book on Orthodoxy”, since said promised book is one of the author’s most celebrated accomplishments.

I will say that I am less of a Chestertonian than I once was, mostly because his extremely loose style of argumentation is not to my taste, but I still have a very high opinion of him and his works, as any man of taste ought to. His Ballad of the White Horse I consider one of the best and most important works of the twentieth century (said as if my opinion on the matter carried any weight at all).

In any case, the book is highly recommended to anyone with even a passing interest in Chestertonia (and what a jolly country that would be!), as well as just as a uniquely intimate and frank look at such a towering figure.

3 thoughts on “Friday Flotsam: Mental Health and Recent Reading

  1. 3.
    – 😀
    – Fun-size heroines require funner-sized heroes, mind you, so be careful what you wish for…
    – Schmitz really was a master of short stories with a fast pace and a dramatic twist ending, but he did it while still firmly keeping within the bounds of scifi, without pretending he was writing in any other genre.

    2. Tangential, but your physical health is connected to your mental health and having a way to concretely measure that is useful. Having a stress tracker widget that notices when you aren’t feeling that well and then actively dings to remind you that maybe you need to take a breather–or a break–helps me a lot. (Sometimes. At one point it did ask me if I needed to do a breathing exercise when I was standing between two angry short people. Not helpful in that case…)
    (I preach about fitbits to everyone. 🙂 )

    Liked by 1 person

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