Certain rules of writing are easier to memorize than to obey. One of the most basic ones is the importance of staying on topic. As a writer, it is tremendously difficult to remove a phrase you love or edit out a point about which you are passionate. When the words are completely extraneous, adding nothing to the story you are telling or the point you are making, their inclusion might say more about the author than about the topic.
Maureen Dowd’s recent NY Times column on actress turned nun, Dolores Hart, is a case in point. Despite achieving promising success as a young and attractive actress, Ms. Hart left Hollywood, choosing instead to take the vows of a Benedictine nun. She is newsworthy right now because a documentary of her life has been nominated for an Oscar. The contrast between the beautiful 24 year old who appeared with Elvis Presley and the elderly 73 year old mother prioress planning to attend the coming award ceremony certainly makes for absorbing reading.
The narrative, however, provides less human intrigue to me than the completely gratuitous paragraph which Maureen Dowd included in her article on the subject. I’m going to present a few quotes and ideas from the column. Let’s see if you can spot the ones that have nothing at all to do with Dolores Hart.
- In 1958, a friend suggested to the actress that she spend a few quiet days at the Abbey.
- The church cares more about banning contraception than about investigating child abuse.
- The church has an “antediluvian male hierarchy”
- The actress was engaged to be married when she realized she wanted to be a nun.
- The tabloids couldn’t believe that there wasn’t a hidden reason for Dolores Hart’s choice and reported a (false) rumor that she was pregnant.
It wasn’t terribly hard to choose numbers 2 and 3, was it? With this column Maureen Dowd intended to reveal something about Dolores Hart’s history and religious epiphany, but she ended up revealing much more about herself.