Unraveling Pope Francis and the Mystery of the Absent Nuns

As I get older, I find that I know even less about everything than I thought I did, but in this case I’m pretty sure I’m smarter than the Pope.

Or more likely, he was joking in his voicemail when he asked what was keeping a group of Carmelite nuns so busy they couldn’t take his call.

They are Carmelite nuns. It was mid-day. They were saying the mid-day Divine Office, a prayer all fully professed religious must say every day or it’s a for real, straight up SIN. Like a serious enough sin that if one nun is a coma, the other nuns will go in and pray it with her, just in case.

Which is an extremely boring answer to an extremely interesting question.

To make up for inserting tedious facts into this conversation, I’m sharing the story of why if you had tried to call me, one Friday morning when I was a nun, I wouldn’t have been able to come to the phone. This is also 100 percent fact, but I think you’ll find it a bit more interesting since I was pretty much the world’s worst nun.


This is me Sister Mercy, when I was a Missionary of Charity aspirant. Do I look innocent? I was trying.

This is me Sister Mercy, when I was a Missionary of Charity aspirant. Do I look innocent? I was trying.

“…every minute of our nun lives was spent scrutinizing our actions for selfish motives, or engaging in some type of manual labor or self-flagellation. I guess the idea was that if we just worked hard enough, and hated ourselves enough, we wouldn’t have much time or energy for any particular friendships.

“Particular friendship” is the convent euphemism for nun on nun action. The measures they took to prevent this type of behavior bordered on ludicrous. We were exhausted. We smelled awful. We wore multiple layers of complicated clothes. At 4:40 a.m. it was completely dark when the first bell of the morning rang to wake us, but we could only get dressed after we had pulled the top sheet completely clear of our respective beds and each nun had created a makeshift tent to cover every single one of our sexy body parts. Even our hands were supposed to be under the sheet. At that time of morning, who could have a lucid thought, let alone a lusty one?

But despite the harshness of our life, or perhaps because of it, I became more deeply in touch with my sapphic nature. The constant and close proximity to these other tough-ass nuns, united by a deep purpose and living life on the most basic level I found I was as horny as…well, a repressed baby dyke in a convent, I suppose.

When we were supposed to be meditating I’d be imagining a very fey Jesus wearing a pink chiffon scarf in addition to his hipster sandals and white robe and leaning me over just…so. One of Sister Milagro’s (our aspirant mistress) favorite lunch table conversation starters was, “How did you experience Jesus this morning in meditation sisters?” I was always stuck for an answer. Jesus was supposed to be our spouse, but I was fairly certain that didn’t include gender bending physical fantasies that might have even included a rear entry component.

Talking when I was supposed to be praying

Maybe if I would have talked less and prayed more, my convent experience would have been more successful. Maybe.

I wasn’t the only nun who dealt with carnal feelings that emerged out of our distinctly spiritual life. One morning when I was cleaning the upstairs bathrooms in the part of the convent that was used a homeless shelter, I was bent a the tub, scrubbing it with a tiny bit of steel wool. I straightened up to rinse my hands –the lye and Ajax combination that the nuns swore by was lethal to both lungs and skin– and felt a presence very close behind me.

It was Sister Maria Shanista, a professed sister with whom I was often paired for visiting. She leaned into me and whispered “Where is it? The woman’s one.”

I stopped scrubbing.

“The woman’s one?”

She pointed to an area near the middle of her body. At first I thought she was gesturing to the large crucifix the professed sisters all wore tucked into their waistband. But then she added, “People touch it,” she said, “and it feels nice?”

I didn’t want to admit that I had been touching mine to make it feel nice every spare moment I had since I’d walked in the convent doors. Sometimes even during the fifteen minute nap we took every afternoon. Even though we slept in a collective dorm with beds merely inches apart, I huddled under my seven blankets believing they concealed my actions.

I nodded in response to Sister Shanista’s not quite a question query.

“That’s a mortal sin,” she whispered., very very close into my ear.

I wasn’t sure if she was accusing me or asking me. Convent guidelines held that we were supposed to pray the rosary aloud whenever we were working in order to, “elevate our minds to God and help avoid useless chatter,” or, as in this case, to keep an aspirant from getting herself into even deeper shit than she was already in by preventing impromptu anatomy lessons.

I pulled out my rosary.

“The first sorrowful mystery,” I began, aware of the irony of my choice. The first sorrowful mystery, I thought, was not The Agony of Jesus in the Garden, but rather that this thirty-year-old woman did not know where her clit was.

BOX SORROWFUL MYSTERYAs I started the Apostles’ Creed, I realized could no longer see Sister Shanista’s right hand.

She had parted her clothing and was clearly groping around trying to locate the topic of conversation. Since we wore no less than four layers between our skin and the outside world, this was not an easy feat. She was close enough to touch me, and she reached over, grabbed my chin hard and made me look at her.

“Where?” she demanded.

“I don’t know, everyone is different. But it’s not far from where you pee. It feels different when you touch it than any other place on your body.”

And then, without realizing it, I made that two-fingered universal gesture for female masturbation which even if done somewhat hesitantly is a very good communicator of the type of touch one’s clit generally needs to provide immediate pleasure. Especially when you’re working with a very motivated learner, which apparently I was.

I watched Sister Shanista’s face turn pink in surprise and pleasure and I suddenly found myself sitting on the side of the tub because my legs were shaking. Because I didn’t know what else to do, I resumed praying the rosary.

I was not even through the first decade when Sister Shanista became completely silent, her whole body turned very red and her face took on a very specific countenance. That look was familiar, I realized, because she had the same expression when she took communion.

We made very awkward eye contact for several moments.

“For the love of Jesus,” she said, her face still very, very red.

“For the love of Jesus,” I agreed.

We resumed cleaning and praying the rosary, and never spoke of it again.

In the eyes of the Church, my actions were definitely a mortal sin. But my conscience tells me it was a corporal work of mercy.


Want to hear more about my life as a nun? You can read Sunday Morning In the Convent, Mostly In Pictures right here. But for the whole hilarious sad and sometimes sexy affair, you should get your own copy of Freak of Nurture.

Six Dubiously Constructive Ways to Beat Blizzard Boredom

If you’ve read my latest book Freak of Nurture, or been around me for more than 45 seconds, you already know that I grew up in Wisconsin pre-global warming. Thus, there was snowcover from November until March, I sometimes went to school on a snowmobile, and a polar bear was my best friend.*

My EXTREME FAMILY: SIBLING EDITION (I am the youngest of seven) and I knew that if we bugged our parental units too much, they’d be reminded “Hey, what’s the use of having a herd of kids if you’re not using them for free labor.” We would be then assigned some horrible chore that only rural parents can devise for their offspring, invariably involving muck, poo (those are related in some cases), cleaning, clearing, being outside in the subzero cold or even–one long winter–handling a great deal of rapidly rotting homemade sauerkraut.

So we became tiny annoying experts at creating ways of amusing ourselves, something that has come in handy since I’ve been in seclusion while in recovery from my (hilarious) knee replacement.  If you were you not blessed with a childhood in which the penalty for muttering “I’m bored” was a chore that might lead to acquiring antibiotic resistant cabbage pox, don’t worry. I’ve got some suggestions to share with you:

1. Bundle up, head outside to where local children have been playing and turn their snow angels into snow devils. There are lots of ways to do this: you can apply food coloring, paprika, or laminated witty evil captions, or my favorite, simply lay down a piece of beef liver where the snow angel’s liver would be. Don’t bother to do this where pets are permitted off leash or you will be engaged in an different activity called Turning Snow Angels Into Places Where Places Dogs Fight and Every Dog Owner In the Neighborhood Gets Mad at You.

Do not worry about traumatizing children with this action. Children love gross things, even That Certain Type of Park Slope Child Who Has Had the Soul Parented Out of Them. In fact, these children especially need access to practical jokes involving rotting meat. Your action alone may save them from a lifetime of insufferability. Which is not a word but should be.

2. While you are waiting outside to see if local bloggers to come take photos of your snow devils and make you an anonymous viral superstar, you’ll need something to occupy your brain besides: “I am so so so so so so cold. Is this weather cold enough to kill me? Will it lower my sperm count? Make me lose IQ points? Develop a cat allergy? Why did my parents get divorced? Was it because my snow angels weren’t good enough?Man, it’s so cold” etc etc.

Your next boredom fighter task is pick a sibling and craft a conversation in which you can drive them to homicidal rage using an extremely limited number of texts. For example:


3. Frozen? Bloggers never showed? Go back inside and watch Will and Grace with your friend who has a doctorate in queer studies.

Okay that’s a joke.

You should never ever ever ever watch Will and Grace with your friend who has a doctorate in queer studies.

4. Text all your friends asking to borrow their netflix streaming login and passcode . Log in but don’t create a separate username. Then pick 20 movies that your friend would HATE and watch the first five minutes of each of them. Assign them a five star rating.

Their Netflix recommendation algorithm will be off forever.

It's one thing for Netflix to think you like Spongebob Squarepants. It's another thing to be accused of finding him "hopelessly romantic."

It’s one thing for Netflix to think you like Spongebob Squarepants. It’s another thing to be accused of finding him “hopelessly romantic.”

5. Watch  the pilot of Showtime’s  new series Masters of Sex with the audio muted while you stream the audio from any episode of Big Bang Theory. Much like the mystery that is Amazing Grace sung to the tune of the Gilligan’s Island theme song**, you will be amazed at the nerd-synchronicity that results.

6. Make affirmation cards that will help your friends work through their most difficult faults and foibles. Snail mail the cards to them.

Anonymously. Of course.

Anonymously. Of course.

Once you’ve affirmed all your friends, move along to your favorite celebrities.

Obviously this card is headed to Miley Cyrus.

Obviously this card is headed to Miley Cyrus.

If these don’t seem practical, you know what else you could do? Just go ahead and order Freak of Nurture. If you get the ebook it’s only like three clicks between you and starting the first chaper! It’s really funny, and also kind of sad, and maybe you will absolutely hate parts of it. But I promise you will not be bored.

*Only one of these claims is a lie.

**It really works. Try it.

New York Release: In a funeral home, naturally….

Guess what? We’ve got a time & place for the New York release of FREAK OF NURTURE and it’s going to be off.the.chain.

Sealy Cuyler Funeral Home (aka the Bright Green Funeral Home by the Franklin Avenue Shuttle Stop) is kind enough to let us use their space for the book reading; we’ll have a number of interesting and entertaining guest readers and then we’ll have a reception at a nearby venue (no food or drink in funeral places, that’s a Department of Health thing, which makes sense).

Here’s the details:







The first review is in….

Damn. This is a nice one.

“Nothing anytime, anywhere can be funnier than real life happenings and this is what Dunham does—she tells us real stories from her life that really get us laughing and I have to admit that I had to put the book down several times because I was laughing that hard. Yet in all of the humor there is a serious message about being oneself and while we laugh we also learn and not many writers have the ability to make us do that.”

                        -Amos Lassen, read the rest of the review here