Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Possession Is Nine-Tenths of Something

Yesterday I started reading Glimpses of the Devil by M. Scott Peck. I picked this up at the library because Peck is a psychiatrist, so I thought he might have something interesting to say about evil.

After reading about three quarters of it, I can say that it’s relatively entertaining but not very convincing. Some of it is laughable. He picked up some idea (from Malachi Martin) that possessed people have remarkably smooth skin and unwrinkled faces. Oh give me a break. Demons as botox—everyone will want one.

It didn’t help that he laid the blame for his second patient’s possession on an “evil” book, Gods’ Man. From the way he talked about it, you’d think it was some arcane book of the occult. I looked it up and it turns out that it’s by Lynd Ward, one of our premier illustrators, and it does not have a history of destroying the lives of those who viewed it (and given that it sold very well, it got quite a viewing). The story, a parable of an artist selling his soul to the devil (which is the most pedestrian story ever—Faust, anyone?) is told entirely through woodcuts—no text. Looking at a few of the woodcuts from the book, I can’t see anything particularly malevolent. Goya’s “Disasters of War” collection was more viscerally disturbing. I felt like jumping under a bus after going though an exhibit of those drawings. And those weren’t parables at all. They were about real events.

Anyway, his credibility went kerplunk for me, because he obviously didn’t know anything about the history of the book or its creator. And he also got a lot of his info on exorcism from Malachi Martin, who seems to have been either a complete charlatan or just a manipulative bastard. Peck admits that he was himself manipulated, but he felt loved.  Isn’t that sweet?

Despite the fact that I think the book is shaky in its conclusions, I still found it pretty creepy. Both these women had been abused and had pushed that information way way back. That in itself is disquieting. I was also disturbed by Scott’s premise that a victim’s need to believe a lie (everything’s fine, nothing happened) lays her open to evil. That seems possible indeed.

The reason I’m interested in the topic of possession at all is because my mother went through a period of obsession with it. When The Exorcist came out, she was keen to take me to see it with her. I was six.

Think about that, how we strive to protect our children from seeing unsavory things, yet my mother wanted to take her six-year-old daughter to see a movie about the possession of a young girl.

Even at six I knew something was wrong with this arrangement and flat-out refused to go. The movie was re-released when I was thirteen, and this time I did go with my mom.

Big mistake

That movie terrified me. I cried. I put my hands over my eyes and cried. I wanted to leave, buy my mother was fascinated. She was weird fascinated. For a very very long time I was seriously frightened that I could become possessed. I was worried that I would become possessed and chop up my parents with axes.

There was a period of time when there was something seriously wrong with my mom. Beyond the schizophrenia or bipolar or whatever she had, which was bad enough. When I was quite young I had a dream that I walked into the bedroom and saw my mother, but then I also saw her in the bathroom. I had two mothers, and one was fake. The fake one had two snaps at the base of her neck. I was scared of her. That seems like a classic dream about having a mentally ill mom—there’s nice mom and there’s hallucinating paranoid mom.

But then there was this possession obsession. She bought a few books on the subject. She tried to talk with me about it. I suppose, since she heard voices, that she wondered if she was possessed. She seemed to imply that maybe I was. Or could be.

She went through a spell of buying True Detective magazines. If you’ve never encountered one of these, they are all about violence--describing violent acts in gloating, graphic detail. I picked one up once to see what she was reading and felt physically ill, and pretty freaked out that my mom devoured this trash.

She bought a Oija Board. This was something I stayed faaaaar away from. I had no interest in talking to dead people. I wanted dead people to stay faaaar away.

She bought me a collection of ghost stories. This was no innocent collection of folklore—these were horrible, lurid stories.  Of course, my mom did once choose to read as a bedtime story “The Tale-Tell Heart” by Edgar Allen Poe. Pleasant dreams, little one.

So I spent a good bit of childhood and adolescence scared out of my wits.  After I left home for college my mom lost her weird obsessions and started reading Aquinas and William James. Even her bipolar schizophrenia whatever seemed to go into remission for long stretches, so that by the time I was a mother she was just a sweet, intelligent woman who could have been happy studying in a seminary.

To this day I do not like the dark, and I will not look in mirrors in dark rooms. I will never watch The Exorcist again—I can’t even bear to hear any of the sound. I’m still uneasy about what might be under the bed. Seriously. Sometimes the memory of one of my biggest childhood fears—a hand coming out from under the bed to grab me—flashes through my mind and I experience the same irrational terror, despite logic and years of experience.

Friday, February 17, 2006


I always thought that RSVP had a very specific meaning.

My definition: You will phone to let me know your child will be attending Firecracker's birthday party, and you will also phone to let me know if your child will not be attending.

The definitions I'm assuming other people are using:
Option 1: I will phone you only if I know for sure we won't be there. But I don't know for sure. My kid might be bored that day.
Option 2: If I don't phone it means we'll be there. Maybe.
Option 3: If I don't phone it means we won't be coming. Probably.
Option 4: I will call you the day of the party and ask if it's too late to RSVP.
Option 5: haven't met you so I don't have to RSVP.
Option 6: Huh?

I hope someone of the 20 or so people I invited actually show up.


Well, exactly one child showed up. Luckily, Firecracker didn't seem to care. And it was just McDonald's.

The suggestions to call would be great, except that schools don't release phone numbers. And of course I have never met any of these parents. When would I? I work. So do they, I imagine. And there aren't many (make that any) after hours events. DramaQueen's teacher had the foresight to get permission from all the parents during orientation and gave us each a sheet of names and numbers. Of course, all DramaQueen's classmates RSVP'd to her party.

But it didn't much matter. Firecracker had a great time climbing through the McDonald's playground with her friend.

Monday, February 13, 2006


I ran across a post today on conversion at Thoughts on the Way to the Abbey. I found it compelling because I never had any blinding flash of light conversion experience. Conversion seems like a rather slow and not always pleasant process, and accepting Christ as savior is just the beginning. I was “saved” at the age of seven or eight, when I didn’t have much understanding of what it meant, and then life led me away from faith and then I started inching up to it again. Anthony quotes a monk, Father Simeon, in his post. Here is what he says:

Father Simeon said that if conversion means anything,it must mean that your life is not going to be the same. If your life is basically the same after you said some words or something, you have not been converted. He said that he sometimes wonders when he hears people talk about their conversions, and he wants to ask them, "Is your life any different apart from a few added on religious observances? Has your life been disrupted?"

Has it disrupted mine? I have to admit that I very much like to be comfortable. I wonder how much conversion actually disrupts the lives of most Christians. I witnessed a lot of emotional walks to the altar. People get caught up in the emotionalism of being saved--but as for fruit . . .

I was also captured by the idea of marriage as conversion:
He said everyone who has been married for very long has been called to conversion, because that's what marriage is, a call to conversion, though people seldom see it that way, and that may be a reason so many marriages fail. We enter marriage with the idea that "this person will enhance my life." Father Simeon says, "What, like a new Lexus will enhance your life?" And notice the emphasis on "my" life. Marriage is no longer my life, but our life.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Happy Birthday, Firecracker!

Firecracker is four today. She'll have a party later in the month, but tonight we celebrated with cupcakes piled hight with pink and white frosting. The girls have been buzzing with sugar all evening.

When Firecracker was born, she weighed only 1 lb, 15 oz. She wasn't much bigger than the Beanie Babies that the nurses used to prop up the various tubes that fed and oxygenated her. She was born at 26 weeks, and we didn't know if she would live, or if she would survive but have serious physical or mental problems. The doctors told us to prepare for a rollercoaster ride. But from her first days Firecracker was fiesty, and she made it through her two-month hospital stay with very few issues.

Some problems developed later--seizures, hypothyroid, asthma, learning delays. Tomorrow Dear Husband and I meet with her IEP team to discuss the strategy for next year. She has made dramatic progress over the past few months, but her language skills are nowhere near those of most four-year-olds. She can understand at a four-year-old level, but speaks (just barely) like a three-year-old.

Firecracker is such an affectionate child, lavish with hugs and kisses. She has never met a caretaker she couldn't charm. She runs after them saying "Big hug!" and they break out into smiles. DramaQueen is very protective of her, and Firecracker is pretty possesive of DramaQueen. When she can't find her, Firecracker says, "Where's my Bish?" (She can't pronounce DramaQueen's name, so this is her radically short version.)

Firecracker loves baby dolls, trains, Bob the Builder, and toy cars. She insists that all her clothes have pockets (which she stuffs with toy cars). When she's excited she pumps her arms up and down, shouting "Huwway! Huwway!" When she laughs, her whole body laughs.

Happy birthday, little Firecracker, little miracle.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

The Number 12

Yesterday at the daycare after-school program, the teacher noticed that DramaQueen was writing down a number sequence

12, 24, 36, 48

so she explained how the sequence works and how to continue it.

All evening DramaQueen, using two-and-a-half hands, added 12 to increasingly large numbers until she got to 156. Then she started over again. She was very excited and pleased as punch with herself.

I don’t know how she ran across this sequence. And why 12? That’s an unwieldy number to manipulate when you have to use your fingers to add. I don’t think she understands that you can manipulate all numbers the same way. She just really likes 12.