12 February 2015

Conflict

Many years ago, my grandpa was serving an LDS mission in England.  Near the end of his mission he was hoping to spend some time touring Europe before heading home.  This was the 1950s, after all - travel to Europe was more rare and time consuming.  So my resourceful Grandpa came up with a plan.  He went to his superiors and asked for permission to fly home instead of taking the boat.  He offered to pay the difference in ticket price, but was turned down.  No missionaries flew home at this point.  It just wasn't the way things were done.  Making an exception for my grandpa seemed, perhaps, unfair to everyone else.  I don't know.  Regardless - it was a circumstance under which he could legitimately have decided to whine and complain.  He came up with a solution, didn't he?  What difference did it make?

Not my grandpa.

Grandpa is waaaay too resourceful and smart for that.  So he called the airline company and explained the situation.  There were hundreds of missionaries all over the world in a relatively predictable rotation of traveling.  If the company would consider it, they could cut the church a deal on ticket prices and get a steady stream of commercial travelers crossing both sides of the Atlantic and Pacific.  The company apparently thought this was an awesome deal and the end result was my grandpa getting his tour of Europe and being among the first missionaries to fly home.

Decades later, my mom found out that the high school drama competition line up for the year included a musical theater group doing songs from The Book of Mormon musical.  The musical itself is hotly debated among the LDS community, some saying that it's crass but more or less complimentary and the others saying that no amount of compliment can cover the overt mocking of things that the LDS community holds sacred.

My mom could have emailed the school or called the school or stormed into the school in offense, demanding that the mentor for the group pick a different musical.

Instead she called and asked if she could come in and talk with them about what Mormons really believe.  She went in and answered questions, shared her testimony, and left.  The group still performed, my mom didn't protest or whine or say anything else about it.

A few years later, my sister ends up in a class where the teacher shows a movie that makes her uncomfortable on one of the first days of class.  My parents discussed their concerns with the school, pulled my sister from the class, and moved on with life.

These stories have been pretty striking in my mind recently.

I used to believe that when you were an adult you were blessed with rational, mature behavior.  The ability to discuss conflict, to let things go, to approach disagreement with kindness and the assumption that those who see things differently than you do must have good reasons for doing so.  For acknowledging natural consequences for actions.  I have, of course, since learned that adults by age are not always adults by behavior, and that high school drama doesn't get left behind by graduation.

So excuse the humblebrag for a second, but today I am crazy happy and grateful to have been given so many examples of rational problem solving.  No need to hunt down the other side and continually vilify them.  Maybe I've been watching too much of the news lately.  Maybe it's that teaching is sometimes not only a thankless job but an utterly infuriating one.  Maybe I'm just tired to the point of being more irritated than normal by what I perceive to be irrational behavior.  Whatever the inspiration - I'm glad that I was given examples of individuals who don't back down, but instead find positive and even constructive ways to deal with conflict.  I'm sure there are people who think I'm a complete hypocrite for promoting myself as a mature or rational creature, and there are times when I'm not, but at least I have positive examples in my life to emulate.  Thank goodness for that.


29 January 2015

"Hey, Sexy!", 50 Shades, Leggings, and why I am a feminist.

"Hey, Sexy!"

I was picking something up at the mall after work.  It was winter so I was wearing a coat and scarf and long pants - skinny style khakis, but not crazy skinny.  Aside from wearing a hat, I was as covered proportionally skin wise as anyone could expect a person to be in the Middle East, much less Orem, Utah.  I was putting my purchase and purse in the car when a middle-aged man driving by leaned out his opened window and cat called at me.  "Heeeeey, sexy!" he cooed, clearly entertained.

50 Shades

I was standing in line at Ulta and saw a display for Fifty Shades of Grey inspired nail polish.  There are shades named things like "Romantically Involved" and "My Silk Tie", and the more disturbing "Dark Side of the Mood", "Shine For Me" and "Cement the Deal".  Apparently bondage and dominance and sadism and masochism are glamorous now.

Leggings

My facebook feed has been full of articles on leggings lately.  Apparently leggings (aka. yoga pants sometimes) are the latest hot button topic when it comes to what women should do with their clothing choices.  "They're too tight and too inappropriate in public," says one side.  "Just wear them at home!  In public they are an inappropriate temptation."

"Who cares about my clothing choices?!" says the other side.  "They're comfortable, and they're good for working out, and you should care more about your own clothes than you do mine."


Feminism

Growing up I had an aversion to the idea of feminism.  Culturally, it was the world I was raised in.  A world that told me that, while wanting women to vote was a good thing and equal pay was alright, in general we wanted women to raise children and men to work, and that was the right way to go.  That men and women were equal already and anyone still pursuing the movement were bra-burning nuts who were beating a dead horse and just making a fuss.

Now, to be clear, I don't ever remember anyone in my childhood demonstrating anything that would make me believe otherwise.  My father and mother are amazing examples of mutual love and respect. My grandparents and aunts and uncles are kind and generous to each other.  I think that because I was raised around such wonderful people, I believed that everyone was that lucky.  That I would spend my life treated that way, that my friends would too, and that was the beautiful post 80s world that I lived in.

Then, of course, things didn't turn out all Mrs. Cleaver for me.  I haven't really dated in ages.  (I haven't enjoyed dating, maybe, ever.)  I found a job that I love.  (That I don't want to give up.)  I found myself in that awkward older single life that used to be really unique but is growing in popularity.  (CNN says that five years ago, 43% of the population over 18 in the US was single.)

Being in that world shakes up the expected status quo a bit, and I started noticing some things that bothered me that I hadn't seen before:

1. Twilight culture: A story based on a girl who literally cannot function without her undead boyfriend.  I love a good Disney story as much as anyone else, and I'm not without twitterpated feels over gallant men saving their pretty women when they really need saving - but something about this Twilight thing felt different.  Those damsel in distress stories were often set in a time when women couldn't save themselves entirely.  But the 21st Century?  Really?  And people liked it?

2. A few years ago a student at BYU left a rather passive aggressive note to another student chiding her for wearing clothing that he deemed as having a "negative effect" on men.  The whole thing felt sour to me.  In the time it took for that boy to notice the girl, get attracted to her, and then get mad at her for being attracted to her enough to write her a note, leave it with her, and walk away - he could have just moved on.  She later posted a picture of what she was wearing.  It was cute.  She looked nice.  She didn't look (what I would deem) sexy or alluring or inappropriate.  I've worn things like that to teach in.

3. I started hearing stories of friends who would go jogging on bike trails by the University taking mace or pepper spray with them.  I found out that between 2011 and 2012, instances of rape in Utah went up by 44%.  I thought about all the times I would walk home from class with my keys in my fist, ready to hit at anyone who tried anything on me, tucking my ponytail into a hat or scarf because having long hair alone made me more vulnerable.  Realized that at a University that should, arguably, be one of the safest in the world, I was still scared.

And then the 50 Shades.  And the leggings.  And the cat-calling.

So this is why I'm a feminist. 

I'm a feminist because being cat-called out of a car or in the store or anywhere at all by a random person is not flattering or kind or appropriate.

I'm a feminist because I don't want my sister or my niece or my students or any of the girls I know to think for one second that the only way they are going to get a man is by allowing him to hurt them, physically, mentally, or emotionally.  I don't want them to feel afraid that if they don't let the man do what he wants, he will be less of a man.  I want them to be brave enough to say "No, I don't want that" whether the "that" is a date they aren't interested in, a kiss they don't want, a cereal they don't like, or something much worse.

I'm a feminist because I have respect for the choices of others.  If a person wants to work, stay at home, have ten children, have two children, marry, not marry,  wear pajama pants to Walmart, wear a Speedo to Walmart, wear a suit and top hat to Walmart, wear a ballgown to Walmart - doggonit it is their business.  It is a choice between them and God and if I try and throw myself into that conversation, then I am the one who needs to check my thinking.

I'm a feminist because I believe that in being strong, I help elevate everyone.  I teach boys that strong women are not intimidating or scary, they are interesting.  They are exciting.  They are helpful.  They help lift the burden so often placed on men to be responsible for everything.  They want men to feel welcome in spheres that they were practically banned from a century ago.  Because when women are strong, and men are strong, those strengths do not cancel each other out or forbid each other, they elevate.

I'm a feminist because I was raised to believe that I have divine nature, individual worth, choices that I am accountable for, the responsibility to do good works, to have integrity, faith, (and virtue - thought that was technically added after my time.  But whatever.  It's still good.)

I'm a feminist because although my world may not be all that horribly oppressive (I may get cat called but I can vote and I own my own house and have sole control of the remote and everything!) there are women in the world who are not as blessed as I am.  Women who have no rights, are abused, are abandoned, are mistreated.  It is my responsibility to help make the world better for them.  They are my sisters.

I'm a feminist because I am a human being who believes that all human beings, regardless of gender, deserve to be treated with dignity.  Which means, really, that the term feminist is only half accurate.  What it really means is humanist.  Or personist.  Or justtreateveryonekindlydoggonitist.  Whatever word you want to put there so that you can get the image of bra burning out of your head because I am not burning a bra of mine any time soon.

Oh - and to that guy who cat called at me tonight?


01 January 2015

Where I've Been, Content vs. Encouragement

Looking back at my blog this year I realize that I've done very little writing of consequence.  Even more strangely, I've realized that I wrote a heck of a lot more during the worst part of my year than I did when things actually started going well.  Some of that may be because while I have had a wealth (a wealth) of things to write about, I haven't felt quite ready to.  Or the parties involved other than myself deserve more courtesy than my writing about "the things" in a forum even as semi-(barely) public as this one is.

So I'll confess to being at a bit of a strange crossroads where I find myself with plenty of things I could write about but debating one what to pick and how to go about it.  Some ideas (writing about the quilt my grandma made me, for example) are safe and standard and will probably happen when I feel up to it.  Some are topics that feel already beaten to death in this venue even if there have been new developments in recent months (re: I started taking anti-depressants).  I could write about (and probably will) the saga of my new home-ownership life.  And then there are the things I would desperately like to write about but don't really feel like I should.  What's a girl to do?!

I'll start with something more journalistic, then.  My life, for the time being, needs to settle a bit before I can pick it apart again.

I recently finished teaching The Great Gatsby to one of my classes.  It's a book I'm still learning how to teach - it's a tricky one in part because of the molasses-in-winter writing chewiness but even more so because there are so few people in the story that you don't want to throw out a window by the time all the damage is done.  I persist in teaching it because it fits so well with the curriculum, but also because I'm a bit sadistic and think it's important to expose my coddled, conservative little crew to find value in things that aren't sugar coated.  Gatsby is a book I have to dare my students to love.  Every year I teach it I seem to catch a few more people with it.

One of the reasons I continue teaching the book even though it isn't universally popular is because, without fail, it brings about strong emotion.  I love books that spur passionate response - either positive or negative.  Usually I do my best to step back and allow students to feel those emotions with whatever strength they want.  I tell them, and I mean it, that I really don't care if they like something, but if they learn from it.  (With a book like Gatsby I add that if they leave the book wanting to be like any of the characters, that's when I'm a bit worried.)

Every once in a while I do feel like I need to step in - particularly when that passion is misguided in one way or another.  This time around it's a handful of students appalled with me for assigning such a book because of the way it "condones adultery and alcoholism" and a number of other vices presented in Gatsby.  I nearly grabbed the copies of the books these students had been reading to see if they'd managed to find some strange copy that ended differently than mine had.  Considering that characters involved in said bad behavior end up either dead or thoroughly disgusted by what's happened, I decided it was time to intervene.

There's this phenomenon in conservative culture that often suggests where media is concerned that including "content" (re: immoral behavior in one form or another) means an automatic condoning of said "content".  For example, I recently stumbled on a Facebook post a friend had commented on where the original writer went on a tirade about the recent release of Into the Woods and warned parents everywhere about how sin-filled it is because of adultery and suicide and other things that the writer found objectionable for children to be exposed to.  The writer didn't feel the need to include any information about how the moment of adultery in the story is almost immediately regretted (and some would interpret rather thoroughly punished as well), and that the "suicide" in question is non-existent in the movie and really more of an accident induced by mental illness than anything.  The writer also leaves out the lessons Into the Woods offers about overcoming challenges and being careful about what you wish for and the power of story.  No no - including the content was the same as condoning it, even though anyone who has seen Into the Woods should know otherwise.

That in mind, Into the Woods is more moral than other shows that no one complains about.  Say, Hello Dolly!, which is all about guys seducing and lying to girls just to get a kiss.  And the guys get that kiss and never (so far as we know) get punished for their deception.  They actually get rewarded for it (they get promoted!)  Or what about Aladdin?  Boy lies to get a girl and even after the girl finds out the truth, he gets her.  The lie is rewarded.  Don't get me started on Phantom of the Opera.

The point, then, is that we've got to stop teaching what Dumbledore would call "fear of a name".  The world adultery or sex or violence or slander or whatever other word you want to pick taken out of context means nothing - just some squiggles on a page or screen.  When we teach or encourage fear of something without understanding what it is, we risk lying about what something really promotes or encourages.  Imagine, for example, how easy it would be to list all the awful "content" options in Les Miserables - prostitution and deception, thievery and suicide - it's full of any number of sins.  It's not until you take into context the reason behind each action that you realize that the actions aren't necessarily condoned, but they do need to be understood.

So, dear students, feel free to hate me for giving you Lord of the Flies, or Animal Farm, or The Great Gatsby.  I'm #sorrynotsorry if they make you uncomfortable, mainly because they should make you uncomfortable.  But don't think they're making you uncomfortable because they are condoning what's going on.  Far from it.  You can learn from tragedy.  (The vast majority of you do so every time you read The Book of Mormon, after all, which skips over all the years of happiness.)

11 September 2014

The Flag

Our school had a flag changing ceremony outside today in honor of 9/11.  While I watched, several postcards of images came to mind.

Algebra


One was me in my Algebra class, hearing rumors.  "A plane hit the World Trade Center."  "The World Trade Center was bombed."  "A plane accidentally hit the World Trade Center!"

The what?  I hadn't ever been to New York.  Hadn't ever paid enough attention to business or architecture to really understand what that meant.  Not wanting to appear ignorant, I talked about it along with everyone else in hushed tones.

After we said The Pledge, our teacher turned on the news.  I think he had it on mute.  I remember watching moments after he turned on the TV as a second plane flew into the second tower.

The rest of the day was a blur of watching the planes hit the towers on a repeated reel over and over and over again.  The school was buzzing with conversation.  Looking back, I remember feeling sick over the whole thing but not really understanding why.  Maybe it was my American confidence stepping in and assuring me that, in the end, none of this would matter because we would "win".  Whatever that meant.


Paris


After a few months in England, my friend Liz and I were exploring Paris.  While the rest of her family was at Disneyland Paris, we were determined to continue our cultural exploration no matter our youth or inexperience or the language barrier.  Liz with her virtually nonexistent French and me with my long ago two years of meagerly attempted high school French roamed streets without a map in search of art museums and churches.  We came across the US Embassy.  Perhaps it was the lack of hearing much English that day (which always makes me feel terribly claustrophobic and crippled), but I've never been so happy to see a piece of fabric in my life.


Schoolhouse





For several years I spent my summer playing make believe.  Dressed in period clothing, I would go sit in the school house of a local museum designed to teach about country life during the late 1800s.  Some were assigned to houses or stores and had people to socialize with.  I was the schoolmarm, left to my own devices until the replacement volunteer came along.  I didn't mind.  Armed with knowledge gleaned from years of obsession over Anne of Green Gables and Little House on the Prairie, I knew my duties.  The schoolhouse was set outside of the main part of town and, as a result, often forgotten by tourists.  As a result, I would regularly be left for hours without any connection to humans, but I would still carefully go about my responsibilities.  I would open each window in the hopes of a nice breeze.  I would sweep the floor and brush away cobwebs.  I would make sure that the slates were neatly stacked and the books organized by grade and the slate pencils put away.  Often I would write my name on the board.  (Often I would write "Ann" just so I could add the "e".)

The task I remember most was that of raising and lowering the flag outside the school at the beginning and end of each shift.  There was something peaceful about this task.

This is what I thought about most this morning.  I watched a group of scouts professionally and carefully raise the flag and felt a bit jealous.  Every year this task is carried out by boys.  My feminist heart protested, and remembered the way I would carry the flag outside each day and raise it alone, taking great care to make sure that it didn't touch the ground.  Later, I would lower it and fold it as well as I could by myself.  It wasn't as professional or formal as the ceremony today, but the reverence of doing this by myself felt important.

12 August 2014

You Are the Pan

One of the most entertaining and awkward experiences of my life is when I've talked with audiences after performances I've given.  I'm always slightly entertained and creeped out by the well meaning and enthusiastic people who have wanted to set me up on dates, for example, and I've had to smile and think "You know that really wasn't me. . .  I mean, it was - but those words and actions weren't mine.  You know that. . . right?"

In some ways it's a compliment to me.  That people who watch me are convinced enough that the person I was portraying had real emotions and motivations.  That's basically the goal of any actor.  But on the other hand, it's a bit awkward and can lead to some confusion when the line between my out of theater reality and in theater performance is misunderstood.

***

It's a strange thing to mourn the death of a celebrity - especially one that seemed to become everyone's favorite uncle, imaginary father, and most beloved teacher.  Like many others have said about the death of Robin Williams - it's like a part of my childhood, a very happy part of my childhood, was just snuffed out, and no amount of clapping can bring it back.

And what makes it so hard is that this time it was snuffed out by Mr. Williams himself.  It's no wonder people are reacting so passionately.  How could someone known for his humor and incredible way of diving all in to everything he did be so desperately depressed and everyone not know it?  What is wrong with this world?!

Suicide is a topic rather close to my heart.  Not all that long ago, I wrote about how there is always a better answer, a better way.  And I still believe that.  I still believe, and always will, that suicide of a loved one is one of the hardest things a person can live through.  I honestly can't think of anything worse than being close to someone who ends their own life.  The grief is unbelievable.

But after reading Matt Walsh's assessment of the situation, I feel the need to elaborate and add to what I originally said.

Do I believe that suicide is a bad solution?  Yes.

Do I believe that suicide is a selfish solution?  Yes - at least from the perspective of those left behind.

But I will never ever feel anything but incredible sorrow for a person who makes that "selfish" decision.

So if you are close to someone (or feel close to someone) who has chosen to take their life, be angry.  Be as angry and as sad and as hurt as you need to feel because that grief is real and justified.  But please don't dismiss or condemn the pain of the person who actually died.  I know there are people out there who have killed themselves for cowardly reasons or as a cry for attention gone wrong, but I also know that there are people out there who are suffering from depression and pain so keen that it absolutely changes perception of reality, and it is not my job to assess the motivations of others.  My heart just aches for people who reach a point of such despair and anguish that the only option that offers any possibility of relief is to just be done.  The mere thought of what it would be to feel that kind of darkness is suffocatingly sad.

Is their choice still selfish?  Perhaps.  But I pray that these poor souls find relief and freedom that they, I'm sure, spent years fighting to find.  I have no doubt in my mind whatsoever that there is peace available and healing given to those who have suffered so keenly.

And Mr. Williams?

I didn't know you.  But I knew Mork.  And I knew Mr. Keating.  And I knew Peter Banning and Mrs. Doubtfire and a pretty lovable Genie and so many others - and I am so incredibly grateful for the influence they had (and will continue to have) on me.  It may seem trite to feel so tenderly toward this fictional stock of characters, but I am so touched and impressed and moved by your genius.  I didn't know you, but I know your work, and that work is beautiful.  I am so honored to have been one of millions who have been blessed to witness your incredible talent and I pray that you are aware of the great influence you had, and that you are finding the peace you so deserve, because no one, no one asks for depression - perhaps most especially those that love to laugh as much as you did.  And to me - you will always be the Pan.





Edited to add: I've struggled over the use of the word "selfishness" to describe suicide for a while.  I continue to use it because the word denotes caring for yourself above the caring of others, which is true of suicide, but I would suggest that selfishness as an attitude in this case (and in other cases of extreme depression) should perhaps not be given such a perpetually negative connotation.  I'm struggling with this because I don't want to glorify or justify or promote suicide in any way as a good solution, but I'm not sure what other word is appropriate.  What I'd like to do is to help people take their focus (or their dismissal) off of however much selfishness is or isn't in any given case of suicide, and instead help people to acknowledge and pity those who feel such despair, so that we can learn to help them better long before they even reach that place.  I simply don't understand what good comes from blaming and condemning any soul so deep in despair that they can see no light.