27 December 2008

This, My Friends, is an Ice Storm

I went to bed last night with the pitter patter of rain on the roof above my room at home.  Come morning my little town had been turned into a sheet of ice.  Now housebound, my dad and I put on our coats and hats and sneakers and skated our way to the park down the street to take some pictures.  This was the result: 

17 December 2008

Things that Make me go *headdesk*

  1. Parents who give their children names like Adolf Hitler for the sake of being unique (and then get confused when it makes people wonder)
  2. The media being so utterly predictable when they pick President Elect Obama as the Person of the Year.  I don't doubt that he deserves it - it was certainly an historic election.  But. . . really?  He hasn't even really done anything yet . . . 
  3. 7:00 A.M. shifts at work.  Ever.  But especially during finals week. 
  4. The media figuring out that communication in relationships makes a difference.
  5. Some of the ways that people manage to make money for charity.
  6. Students at BYU who are so sheltered they call the police when they see men with moustaches. . . and then find out that they are construction workers who are supposed to be where they are.  Or really. . . anything in BYU's Police Beat (the sheltered lives some people lead!)
  7. The best show on television being cancelled - though the commentary on the cancellation is pretty fantastic.
  8. Some of the things that made it through production.
  9. Other things that made it through production. 
  10. And just. . . what?!

05 December 2008

They're all a bunch of phonies

A few weeks ago I went on a date. Yup. I did it. I met a guy and flirted my way into giving a phone number out. And we went on a date. And he was nice. And I laughed and smiled and did what I was supposed to and generally had a decent time. He was (is?) a nice guy. But after it was all over I was a little ticked off at myself. Mainly because I wasn't being "me" at all. I was laughing at things that weren't funny. I was (shudder) giggling. I was dumbing myself down.

Another anecdote: At work today we had a discussion about an editorial in the paper about how girls shouldn't expect guys to be like men in the movies. I said that I think it's fair for girls to expect guys to be courteous and more sensitive every once in a while and that, on the reverse, it's fair for guys to expect girls to toughen up every now and then and be more adventurous (if they lean towards the sensitive side, I suppose). A bit of give and take on both sides. One of the guys in the office then went on about how that isn't entirely true, because most girls actually like a good action film but NO guy actually likes "chick" movies. He said that guys who watch those movies are only doing it because they want the girl to think they like it and (in the case of extra long BBC movies) doing it because it's an extended time in which they can sit next to a girl.

Now on to the point: I just finished reading Catcher in the Rye for my American Lit class. For those who aren't familiar (or need a bit of a reminder), narrator Holden Caulfield hates people who are putting on a show for an audience, essentially. He doesn't like people who "perform". They are "phonies". He seems to prefer people who are candid and as honest as they can be (though there are debates on this since he also puts on shows but. . . that's another essay for another day.)

I understand that dating requires a bit of give and take in personality. I understand that the majority of guys would rather not watch Pride and Prejudice with me - but is it going too far to say that there are NO guys out there who will appreciate a movie (no matter what genre) for the sake of the quality of the film? Does ALL of dating have to be a show? Sure, there is an element of performing - but does it have to be the main dish or can we pull it back to appetizer status? Do people know when the "performing" should start and the "genuine" relationship should begin?

I think this may be why I don't do it very often. Maybe I'm a bit like Holden in that sense - I value people who are confident enough in themselves to try new things but to also stand up for themselves. I don't exactly know where I'm going with this - but I will say that I'm tired of playing the dating "game". I don't want to go out with guys who are performing for me and misleading me as to who they are - and I don't want to do it for them in return. I want to get to know people - men and women - and see them for who they are. I want a deeper level of trust and honesty than that.

And this, I think, gets to the root of the problem with dating in Provo. There are too many options. Men and Women can shop around as much as they want to because there will always be someone better. They don't have to work hard for real relationships because there's always another ward, another apartment, another class, another social - and dozens of single people to meet there. They don't have to try hard at all. Everyone is so comfortable on a surface level, but I don't think many people around here are really all that comfortable with themselves. Which is why I'm packing up and heading out. That's right. After my first year of teaching (in which I am trapped in Provo) I'm going to move. I'm going to start my own adventure in the great wide world and see what happens. Not just in the relationship part of my life, but in the part of my life that is excited for change.

Long story short?

Look out world!

(Oh and, P.S. - to that boy I work with who thinks that no guy likes "chick" movies - I'm pretty sure you're wrong. Or in denial. Or both. Not that all "chick" movies are good - but by my definition of movies that are slightly more "girly" - there are plenty that have substance and quality that are good no matter how you look at them. Action movies that are just about action are no better than romances that are just about getting the couple together.)

((tirade over))

03 December 2008

Looking for a window

I have had a rather frustrating writing semester. I've written more than I have in a long time but I haven't really gone anywhere with it. And after a very frustrating interview yesterday with a well-meaning professor who kind of haphazardly told me that my writing isn't good and that I should stop writing about things I've done and write instead about who I am. . . which for me is rather difficult to separate. I don't know that I know what that means. How is it even possible to write about yourself without writing about what you do? Where you've been? It's a concept that I don't really understand.

I think he wants me to go into that "dark place" of myself or . . . something. I'm not really sure. The long and short of it is - I need a new audience for my writing in the very near future. I feel like I've reverted rather than pushed forward into a better place. And naturally this interview concluded with me having a minor breakdown since this was added to everything else I need to get done this week. Not really what I wanted to hear when I was already emotionally broken. So in an attempt to remedy all of this, I'm going to do something self indulgent and write about things that make me happy.

1. The Christmas tree in my living room: There's something so comforting and wonderful about a dark room with the light of Christmas in it. I have never been in a room lit by a Christmas tree that didn't make me the tiniest bit happier, even this time of year when things are stressful.

2. Waking up to a clean kitchen: Ok. So this doesn't happen very often. I have a roommate who likes to cook but not clean and I spend lots of time cleaning up as a result BUT, that said, even though I hate cleaning up after other people, there is something satisfying about doing dishes because of the visible improvement when you are done. I like a clean house. I do.

3. My DVD collection/Book collection: I get a great amount of ridiculous pleasure out of the fact that my DVDs and books are in exact alphabetical order. Yes. I'm actually really OCD about that, probably from several years of working at a bookstore.

4. Not waking up to an alarm. Again - this doesn't happen very often. But it's going to happen tomorrow. I'm skipping my two classes tomorrow because I might explode from stress if I don't and because I need sleep. Desperately.

5. The "Snow" theme of The Nutcracker: I don't know why but this song gives me utter and incomprehensible delight. The first time I saw it performed by Ballet West I was spellbound.

6. Live music: While we're on that theme - I love hearing music played by a live (good) orchestra with feeling. Orchestras that have put some emotion into what they are playing. They don't just sound good - they fill the room with positive vibes and spiritual uplift.

7. Walking outside in the snow: Haven't had the chance yet this year - it's been too warm. But at some point in the not too distant future I'm sure, it will snow here and then I will get the delight of looking out my window and putting a scarf on and indulging in the moods of the season.

8. Oranges: This Thanksgiving we were all talking about how great everything tasted when my grandma said something about how all she wants to do after she dies is to taste an orange. Due to an accident several years ago my grandma lost her sense of taste and smell - which is great for stinky diapers that you want changed but not so great when you want to enjoy your own cooking. I thought about it for about a half a second and realized that of all the tastes in the world I would miss, oranges would be near the top of that list. So would lots of other fruits. Raspberries. Strawberries. Grapefruit. It's such a little thing, really - we take it for granted but when I think about my grandma I am grateful for my sense of taste.

9. Photography: I haven't had many big adventures in my life, but I've had a few - and I love looking at the pictures I've taken to remind me of what it was like. I'm not a scrapbooker by any means. I'd rather spend money on pictures than eight hundred stickers to fill ten pages with one picture on them each. If I had to make a list of things that I would grab first in an emergency given time to pack, photos would be near the top of that list. The trouble would come afterwards in deciding which books and movies I couldn't live without! I'm so materialistic. . .

10. The sound of laptop keys: I know it's kind of strange, but ever since I was young I've had a few sounds that I really like. Fingers tapping to a rhythm of keys on a laptop keyboard or the sound that shoes make on pavement. I used to watch the beginning of The Sound of Music when the Von Trapp children are introduced for the singular pleasure of listening to their shoes on the floor.

06 November 2008

"I reserve the right to be fair."

In my education classes recently we've been talking about how there are times when the "rules" have to bend to accommodate students with special needs. Students that have a hard life at home or have been ill or struggle intellectually, etc. That means that, although I will have a late-work policy as a teacher that will usually need strict adherence, there will be times when that policy will be adjusted depending on the needs of the individual. My classroom management teacher put it best when she told us that she puts the phrase "I reserve the right to be fair" on all of her disclosure documents at the beginning of the year.

Fair and equal are not the same thing. Equality implies that if I have five cookies and two children I will give each child exactly 2 1/2 cookies. It means that what you give one you must give another. True equality is very nearly a kind of covenant where one party gives exactly the same as he receives. It should include exact sameness in quantity, degree, value, rank and/or ability (see the Dictionary for elaboration). To be "fair" is not always the same as being equal. Fairness implies that you are free from bias or injustice - in the case of a teacher, being fair is looking after the needs of individual students.

Where am I going with this?

As this recent election came to a close I more or less decided that I did not care who got the presidency. Both President-Elect Obama and Senator McCain presented themselves well and with dignity and more or less each had something to offer the nation. I am glad to see that our nation has reached a point where we can elect a black man - and the fact that it was by such a large margin is impressive. Regardless of whether or not I agree with his politics, it is remarkable.

There was only one issue that I really cared about by the end of the election - the passing of Proposition 8 in California.

It's been frustrating for me to see how everything has come apart with Proposition 8 and the way people follow the counsels of the Prophet. On an internal level - it bothers me that members of the church have so openly and deliberately gone against the counsel of the Prophet and his counselors. I respect that everyone has different experience with the gay community. Being a theater-person myself, I've had a fair amount of experience myself. I empathize with the struggle. That said - when the prophet specifically asks for support on an issue; you should listen to him. If you raised your hand in support of him at the last General Conference, that means that you have sustained him as a seer and revelator - as one who knows more and sees more than we do because of that connection with God. If you have a testimony in the power of God to speak to man, specifically through his prophet, then you should recognize that regardless of personal experience or understanding - God must know what he is doing. This isn't part of the church's "political agenda" - this is the Prophet protecting the most sacred institution on earth - the family - and asking for our support.

Outside of the church it makes me feel ill to see the reactions that have been thrown around. The term "tolerance" has been completely misused. Those who do not support Proposition 8 ask for tolerance but do not give it - tolerance is a "fair, objective, and permissive attitude toward those whose opinions, practices, race, religion, nationality, etc., differ from one's own" It is defined as "freedom from bigotry". Look at the advertising that has happened. The church's support of Proposition 8 was all very positive. There is not ONE negative add bashing the other side that is supported with the church's name on it. But as I write this there are protests going on outside the LA temple. There was a commercial last week slandering the church's name that presented two "missionaries" raiding the home of a lesbian couple. The "missionaries" stole the wedding rings of the couple, tore their house apart, and ripped their marriage certificate into pieces.

Another example, non Prop-8 related: On Halloween there was a story on the news about a house in Hollywood (I think it was there) that had put up an effigy of Sarah Palin being hung. No one made a big deal about it - it was a political statement. If someone had done it with Barack Obama's image - it would have been considered racist.

The double standard is ridiculous. It makes me ill to watch how the church has been singled out because of our stance on this issue. The church is not slandering anyone. Our leaders have never once encouraged members to show bigotry towards homosexuals. We are encouraged to love all people, regardless of race, political affiliation, gender, sexual orientation, etc. If there are members of the church that go against that counsel, they are in the wrong. That said, the stance of the church on the sanctity of marriage will not and cannot change.

"Make no mistake about it, brothers and sisters, in the months and years ahead, events are likely to require each member to decide whether or not he will follow the First Presidency. Members will find it more difficult to halt longer between two opinions. President Marion G. Romney said, many years ago, that he had 'never hesitated to follow the counsel of the Authorities of the Church even though it crossed my social, professional or political life..'

"This is hard doctrine, but it is particularly vital doctrine in a society which is becoming more wicked. In short, brothers and sisters, not being ashamed of the gospel of Jesus Christ includes not being ashamed of the prophets of Jesus Christ. . . . Your discipleship may see the time when such religious convictions are discounted. . . . This new irreligious imperialism seeks to disallow certain opinions simply because those opinions grow out of religious convictions.

"Resistance to abortion will be seen as primitive. Concern over the institution of the family will be viewed as untrendy and unenlightened....

"Before the ultimate victory of the forces of righteousness, some skirmishes will be lost. Even in these, however, let us leave a record so that the choices are clear, letting others do as they will in the face of prophetic counsel.

"There will also be times, happily, when a minor defeat seems probable, but others will step forward, having been rallied to rightness by what we do. We will know the joy, on occasion, of having awakened a slumbering majority of the decent people of all races and creeds which was, till then, unconscious of itself.

"Jesus said that when the fig trees put forth their leaves, 'summer is nigh.' Thus warned that summer is upon us, let us not then complain of the heat."

From "A More Determined Discipleship" by Elder Neal A. Maxwell of the Presidency of the First Quorum of the Seventy. An address delivered at Brigham Young University, 10 October 1978.

22 October 2008

Therapy Session

. . . How can a novelist achieve atonement, when, with her absolute power of deciding outcomes, she is also God?
Atonement, Ian McEwan

Recently I've decided that I should feel no shame in calling myself a writer. I used to think that the term only applied to people who were known for their writing. People who made money off of it. people who were bound between covers and sold to the public for consumption and critique. But, as it happens, I've got two of those three down. I have been published. Once, mind you, but my name was printed in a magazine and the magazine is read world wide. I am now archived online. A short little essay but, there it is. And I've been paid for my writing. Nearly $2000 total. Not bad.

As a result of this re-adjustment of myself, I've been thinking more and more about a writer's role, and, consequently, the trouble I have in being an essayist. Because you do play God, really. You make solid something imaginary - and when that solidification comes from real events - you can run into some trouble. This constant attacking of a subject from different angles in an attempt to try and find "truth" - whatever that is. The past is plastic. By organizing it and putting words into the mouths of the people I write into my narratives, I play God. I give them emotions and opinions they may not have. I structure events to make them more aesthetically pleasing. I leave out what doesn't "fit" or goes too far or is, perhaps, too revealing.

This becomes especially tricky when you are writing for therapy - when you're writing to come to terms with something you either don't understand or don't really like. If you aren't careful you box up something complex and label it to make it simple. You categorize to eliminate the gray matter that doesn't make sense. Writing about life - trying to find truth through words - it's not an easy thing to do.

The quote that this post comes from is a book called Atonement. I found it completely fascinating. It stole my life away, really. The story - the prose - everything about it drove me mad with wishes that usually went along the lines of "why can't I write like that?!!" It's an interesting concept really - what happens when we zero in on one moment of our lives - just one - probably a big one - something we did that changed other people - and break it apart? Look at how - for good or for evil - we've influenced generations of people? And if it was wrong. . . if what you did is now past repair and you can't go back - how do you find atonement in that?

08 October 2008

Oh say, what is truth?

Follow up on last week: I was asked out again. This time by email. You can officially add that to the list of ways that should not be used on a first date (if you want to be classy). Furthermore, texting is also out. So is asking by proxy.

I've been thinking recently about modern LDS conceptions of what is "true" and what is "false" and I have more or less come to the conclusion that in many ways - those connotations are slowing us down. The gospel is so much more relative than we give it credit for. Really, I can't think of too many aspects of the gospel that - at least from my perspective - are absolute truth. What it comes down to is this list of basic principles:

1. The church is true.
2. President Monson is a living prophet of God.
3. I am a Child of God.
4. The Book of Mormon is the word of God.


Basic (crucial, but basic) hingepoints of the gospel that are either 100% true or 100% false. There's not another way around it for them.

But there is another huge part of our life that is a little more grey. We are told that we shall "know the truth, and the truth will set you free" - another name for Christ is "the truth" - so we are essentially trying to find truth our entire lives. We are trying to return to him. Our life is - or should be - a journey to find truth.

But these individual truths can change. I especially like the chapter in the D&C where it talks about the Apocrypha. Joseph was told that the Apocrypha had been corrupted by evil men - and that those who read it with the spirit would be uplifted by the elements of truth that it still contained. This, to me, speaks to the individual ways that each of us feel the spirit and live their lives.

Take for example the way people worship on the Sabbath. There really aren't hard and fast "rules" about Sunday worship. We are instructed to keep the Sabbath Day holy, but never told how. In my family, that meant coming home after church, changing out of our nice clothes, playing games with each other, watching a movie, and maybe getting together with some of our close friends for dinner. Some of my friends have no screen-time on Sunday, they stay in church clothes all day, and only spend time with immediate and extended family. Is one of us "true" and the other "false"? No. We just feel the spirit in different ways. We build schema's for ourselves.

Another example: I find books and music and movies to be great spiritual builders for me. They make me want to be better. I find truth in the books that I read, even when they contain subject matter that may or may not make other people comfortable. I'm reading a book right now, for instance, called Atonement that is based on how the lives of everyone in the book change because one girl decides to blame the wrong person for a rape that she witnessed. It isn't an easy or light kind of read. But it has made me think quite a bit about choice and the consequences of our actions when we deliberately try to hurt people.

The movies I watch, again - I don't let the MPAA determine my conscience on this subject. There are movies of every rating that - to me - don't contain much substance or benefit at all. Lots of the kitchy LDS films through some of the more recent films by actors like Will Ferrill provide absolutely no substance for me. They entertain people, but don't necessarily do anything for them at the end of the day. I don't see the artistic value in it. It's my own standard of judgement. Then there are some rated R films that I've either seen all of or seen edited versions of that I have found much more benefit from. They make me think more than the latest LDS comedy on life as a single adult. (Item: I think we should use that term like we do with words that designate handicaps - "an adult that is single" instead of "single adult". I'd like to think that my single-ness doesn't define me.)

My point isn't that watching these movies or reading those books or worshiping your own way is bad or good - what I am saying is that I think our culture could do with a little bit more understanding. What is right for one person may not be right for another in terms of day to day life where we haven't been given direct instruction. And thank heaven we haven't - it's a higher law. We are not the Children of Israel.

In many ways, the application of the gospel is plastic. We each need to find our own way, so to speak. We all see truth differently. We have different perspectives and experiences. As far as I can tell - God is really the only being that can decern perfectly what is absolute truth or absolute false.

The point? We could all afford to be a little more patient with one another.

26 September 2008

"We're doing worst first dates."

I win! Ok, it was a minor league hockey game. He brought his brother, and when I went to the bathroom, the game ended and they forgot about me.
(Pam, "The Client", Season Two of The Office)

I work in an office full of many single people. We spend a lot of time talking about dating. This is really unique to BYU, I know, but what can you do? That potentially awful time of life where you're in a feast or a famine - it starts to feel a lot like clothes shopping to me. You go into the store with an idea of what you would like, but you grab lots of clothes anyway if they look like they might work/are the right price, and then you try them on in front of a mirror. Sometimes you get an opinion. If you're me you put them all back. Some people buy a ton. I don't know. Maybe the metaphor is flawed. But I've been thinking about what makes a good first date - and here's my list.

1. Short. I don't think there's much reason at all for a first date to go beyond an hour or so. It's really all you need. A nice event (ie, dinner) that involves talking to one another. Something that is planned but not over planned. I don't think it's fair for guys to put so much pressure on themselves to come up with WAY CREATIVE first dates. It puts undue pressure on the girl to say yes again and it takes too much effort on the part of the guy. Besides - after about an hour or so, you more or less know if you're interested in seeing that person again.

2. Promptness: This is the situation that inspired the post in the first place. Hypothetical Guy asks Hypothetical Girl out on a date. Girl says yes. Guy does not call girl for more than a month. Guy calls girl on a Wednesday for the following Friday. Girl says yes. Guy says that he will call girl on Thursday after he figures out what they are doing and that Girl should plan on something around 7:00 Friday. Girl does not hear from Guy until approximately 4:30 the following Friday. Girl not so cleverly tells Guy that she has other things to do. See - here's the thing. Maybe this is picky, but I don't really think so. If a guy is interested in the girl and he asks for her number - he has about a week (maybe two) of grace period with which to use the number. This doesn't mean that he has to take her out in that oneish week - but some kind of contact to let the girl know he is still interested would be nice. Furthermore, dates should be planned before calling to schedule, and the guy should followup. It's courteous. Not to mention that the girl needs to know how to dress/if she should eat/what time she will be back, etc. If this is me being anal, then so be it. But for a first date or so - spontaneous activities don't so much fly.

3. Groups are nice: I'm a big fan of first dates in groups, generally speaking. It takes pressure off everyone involved and kind of relaxes you into behaving more like yourself. At least it does for me. I always feel a little bit too much under the magnifying glass on a first date alone with someone I don't know all that well. If you've known the person longer, it wouldn't be a big deal.

4. Planned in advance: I mentioned this already in number two, but have something in mind already. Maybe even a few things. One of the nicest things a guy ever did for me on a first date proposal was options. He had two equally great (and unique but not over the top) ideas in mind and he let me choose. It was probably the best first date I ever went on.

5. Post date - if you're interested in going out again - you've got that two weekish grace period back. And say thank you, even if you aren't interested in going out again. I like it when I hear my roommates calling to thank their dates for taking time for them. Again - this is kind of picky, but it's about courtesy.

Long story short: It's all about courtesy on that first impression. So, sorry to the (Not so) Hypothetical Guy that I'm ditching on tonight. But I've got a paper due on Monday and about 300 pages of reading to do and. . . I'm not going to wait around for you to remember me.

17 September 2008

"I saw it. I saw it with my own eyes."

I return from my several week hiatus of blogging rather exhausted from the first few weeks of a new semester, but also rather happy to be back in school. Aside from one very monotonous class where I listen to a man tangent for two hours twice a week, my classes are quite satisfactory. They are also quite time consuming, hence the lack of blogging. I return a conquering hero having not completed all my homework for the night, but enough that I can afford a small break.

As part of the scholarship I won for creative writing I am required to take a creative writing class. Shocking, I know. I had signed up to take a class from a professor I haven't studied under before but I walked into class on the first day and she said something to the effect of "if you are here to write anything other than poetry, this isn't the class for you." Well. I have no desire to write poetry any more than she would have the desire to read it. Poetry is not, has never been, and never will be my forte. I just don't appreciate it as much. No big deal. The world has many poets.

So I've managed to get myself into a creative non-fiction writing class taught by the same professor who led my study abroad to England last year. Much of this class feels like it's starting over for me on things I don't really need, simply because I've been writing creative non-fiction for long enough now that I don't really need the introduction. So I've been using much of the class time to just work on my own stuff.

Much of that is because some of the discussions in the class have started driving me a bit mad. (Prepare yourself, I'm about to sound elitist and snobbish.) One discussion in particular that was frustrating to me is one that we had last week about exactly what creative non-fiction means. Because even though it is marked as "non-fiction", there really isn't such a thing as absolute truth in memory. It doesn't exist. Our "earliest memories" may or may not be real. The way we tell an experience may be different than exactly what happened. We consciously and subconsciously re-write the past all the time.

This makes some of them feel dishonest. Because the past has to have some kind of existence somewhere, right? Everything is present before the Lord - if nothing else, He has to have a record of the absolute real truth.

But does that matter for me? As a writer, does it matter if I tell the exact absolute truth as I saw it with my own eyes or is it more important to try and capture some other "essence" of my "memories"?

The funny thing is that when I try and write about the conflict in what truth is absolute and what truth I construct for myself - it frustrates me. I can't really define it. All I can really say is that when I write, if something feels honest to me, then I run with it. Even if I know that it isn't exactly true. Take my England essays for example - there were times when I would downplay or exaggerate certain elements of a story in order to bring out other more important points. The point of an essay isn't to put a stamp on this inanimate thing you have in your head - to put words to something that is wordless - it's the same as adapting a book to film. You have these two different mediums - mind and word - and you have to find a way to reconcile the two.

It makes me wonder, though, whether God will take into account, somehow, what our memories tell us. I'm sure there are several stories in my mind that are somehow not right thanks to time and space and perspective shifts - but does that matter?

The longer I think about the word 'truth' the more I feel that there aren't many 'truths' out there that are 'absolute' in the conventional connotation of the word.

26 August 2008

A Golden Chain

Kindness is a golden chain by which society is bound together.

Most of the time, I feel like I have a vocabulary that is adequate enough to describe just about everything. I have almost always been somewhat gifted with language. I don't say this to be cocky or conceited - I just recognize that an understanding and appreciation of language is one of the gifts I have been given from God. I feel a bit like Hermione Granger, really, in her firm belief that answers to any questions can be found in books. There are a few times, though, when answers cannot be found in books and emotions cannot be expressed in words. It isn't possible. There are not words in English or any other language to describe my gratitude right now for the experiences I have just had.

This summer I have been involved in a play that has brought many miracles to me. It is a testimony to me that my Savior is aware of me and what I need, and that he has guided me to places that I need to go. I would never have auditioned for this show on my own. I hadn't heard of it at all in the first place - but even if I had, I wouldn't have gone. The show is The Promised Land, a play about the first two books of Nephi in The Book of Mormon. Anyone who knows me even a little knows my thoughts on kitschy, sappy literature abundant in and around religious works of fiction/film/stage/etc. They bother me because they box everything that makes the gospel complex and intellectual and frame it into a nice, happy ending sort of picture. They don't take risks. They don't challenge anything.

My friend Rachel made me come with her to these auditions. Well. . . "made" is a bad word, I suppose. She encouraged me to go. I thought - what the heck. I hadn't been in a play for more than a year despite my many auditions, I didn't have anything else to do this summer, and if nothing else it would give me a chance to clog my pores with some stage make-up I have that would only have dried out more from lack of use if I didn't do another show soon. So I went. I got cast. It was the best thing that ever happened to me.

This isn't to say that the show didn't have its flaws. But I'm not here to advertise the show or talk about the story - the show is over now. I'm here to somehow attempt to express through words my gratitude to my friends, to my family, and to my God for literally pouring blessings down on me that I may or may not have "deserved" but certainly needed.

A bit of background: People think that because I am comfortable in social settings that I am a social person. This is not entirely true. Most nights I would rather read a book or watch a movie or work on an essay than make the effort to try and hang out with others. It's safer. I don't risk anything with a cup of tea and a book. Getting close to people is an emotional risk that is rather hard for me due to several experiences that don't need to be elaborated on here. That being said, I hold my friends very dear to me when I get them. In high school I had a group of friends draw me into their circle and build me up exactly when I needed them. Now most of them are married and gone and we don't talk much/at all any more. My group of study abroad friends are married and moving on as well. This play gave me the examples of a dozen or so people who are strong, genuine, generous people of the finest pedigree. I am honored to be considered one of them. I hope that we continue to spend time together even though the show is over.

The show struggled. Not because of a lack of talent, but because of several factors working against us. We were performing in a new theater. The venue is beautiful but largely unknown. The Olympics were easier to access and cheaper than the show. There was the stigma of religion to overcome. We ended up having several shows canceled, including one that my brother was supposed to attend. My brother has been through the mill the last few years. He really has. Details aren't necessary, but suffice it to say that of all the people I know, I wanted him to see it the most. He needed it. He needed to feel that spirit and be built up by the message. I was devastated when the show was canceled. But my wonderful, amazing friends banded together instead and found a way for him to come down. For two days I got to spend time with my brother and talk with him and show him around the city. He got to see the show twice. It was, quite literally, a miracle for both of us. I will never forget it.

So for whomever reads this, my point is this: if our spiritual growth depended only on reading scriptures and attending meetings like dutiful lemmings, then we would all be made monks. There is so much more to this life, and the next life than that. We are not here to just be spiritually prepared for heaven, we are here to be prepared for the social structure of heaven as well. The social structure and the culture of heaven - thank heaven they exist! I don't like the idea of spending the eternities only reading Ensign articles. Good books, good poetry, beautiful music, opportunities to make and build friendships - if they don't pepper the shelves of heaven's libraries and fill the rooms then I don't want to be there.

12 August 2008

Abort! Abort!

I just got back from a family vacation in Mexico early this morning. One thing I love most about my family is that we leave our vacations on good terms and still loving each other. Some families leave trips like this bitter enemies for the next two months until time and space start healing wounds. We're all so good natured that (usually) when things start imploding (or exploding) we just chuckle at the irony and chock it up for something to laugh at later. It's how the Dayleys travel.

One thing I noticed on this particular trip, though, is that plane travel seems to be kind of subtly reverting back to a very Titanic-esque order of business. At least on US Airways. For example, only first class is fed anything. The rest of the commoners have to pay more money to get a drop of water. I wonder if this still applies to screaming babies/airsick passengers.

Airsick passenger in Coach: I'm not feeling very well. I'm pretty sure I'm going to vomit into one of your pathetically small little bags if I don't get some ginger ale into my system soon. Do you have any. . .

Stewardess: Well, Sir/Ma'am, I would be happy to serve you whatever drink you like if you could give me $2. Then I will give you a US Airways commemorable Dixie Cup full of ginger ale to settle your upset stomach.

APIC: But I don't have any cash. Everyone knows that it's stupid to carry cash these days, and even if I did have cash it would probably not be $2 worth.

S: Well, I'm sorry Sir/Ma'am but our guidelines are quite clear - we are not allowed to serve beverages to coach class without a small fee under any circumstances.

APIC: You would prefer that I vomit all over your carpet?

S: Of course not Sir/Ma'am. But for a small fee we could upgrade the status of your complimentary vomit bag. We now provide them in three sizes and colors, as well as scented and unscented options . . .

APIC: But I don't have any money. You're going to have to clean all this -

S: Unfortunately, stewardesses are only in charge of cleaning up messes of any kind in First Class. If you would like me to clean up your vomit, I would be happy to do so for an additional $20. . .

All right. This is a small exaggeration, I admit. But only a small one.

Here are some other great things I saw on my way home yesterday:

1. There was so much humidity in the air in Puerto Vallarta that the plane we boarded was smoking. Seriously. It looked like they'd put dry ice into all the vents. I half expected to hear some kind of creepy music over the vents. I asked the stewardess about it and (after paying her a few quarters for her time) she told me that it was just the condensation and that there was no need to be worried. Very reassuring.

2. There was a woman walking around the Phoenix airport yesterday wearing something that looked like an old Shirley Temple costume (the short, ruffly tap dance skirt variety), pink cowboy boots, and sporting a fro. A big, curly, blondish fro. Amazing. I love people watching. Thank you to that woman, wherever she is, for brightening my day.

3. We waited on the tarmac in Phoenix for an hour (after an hour delay for weather) because the mechanic had to come check something before we could go. The crew did nothing to inform us as to why we were being delayed, so finally after about forty minutes, I asked. I was informed (after spotting her another couple of dollars for her time) that we were waiting for a mechanic to come and sign some paperwork. Apparently, one of the three bathrooms on the plane was out of order. We were still allowed to fly even if the bathroom was not functioning, we just had to have the mechanic come, confirm that the bathroom was broken, sign a paper confirming this fact, and then we would be allowed to go.

I'm being serious.

We waited for an hour for a signature.

Rest assured, though. All class distinction was maintained. The two or three people in first class were guaranteed exclusive use of their bathroom, and the fifty or so of the rest of us had to argue for time over the hole in the back. Phew!

29 July 2008

Introducing Pluckie, the Undead Vampire Chicken

This is a conversation I have had with several of my female friends in the last few days:

Me: "So, what are you doing Saturday morning? I don't have to be at the theater until around noon, so I think we should - "

Female Friend: (said with rather wide, ravenous eyes) BREAKING DAWN! BREAKING DAWN!

Me: "Oh, right. I forgot that the book was coming out this weekend. Thank heaven I no longer work at Barns and Noble - I will work for Harry Potter book releases but I would never want to spend several hours catering to a bunch of -"

Female Friend (now entering some kind of trance): BREAKING DAWN! BREAKING DAWN!!! IMHOTEP! BREAKING DAWN. . . (and it goes on while they slowly turn into dazed vampire/werewolf obsessed zombies. Eventually I leave).

I say this in jest, of course, since many of my female friends who will be spending their Friday night paying homage to their fandom are some of my favorite people. I love them. I respect their need to pay homage to fandoms, as I have done it many times over in this blog and elsewhere for the Potter-verse.

That being said, when I came across this parody/accurate prediction (UPDATE: Part II is now online) of what is likely to happen in the next book, I nearly spilled my guts out on the floor from laughing. Absolute brilliance, my friends. I don't know what is better, the descriptions of the "chapters" or the several comments from tweenagers who are confused about whether or not the guy is being serious.

So to my female friends - enjoy your love fest this weekend. I will be having a love fest of a different kind. Bring on a re-read of Sense and Sensibility or North and South - I'd take a Col Brandon, and Edward Ferras (not all Edwards are created equal, you know - this one can't read minds or there would be no plot) and a John Thornton any day. Much more interesting conversationalists, I think.

24 July 2008

Excuse me for a second - I'm going to pass out.

I have been wanting to write an essay on this topic for a while but I haven't quite been able to work my head around it. The old essayist in me wants to create a giant metaphor out of everything but I feel like putting a bow on a box of thoughts isn't quite doing this topic justice. It's more complicated than that.

I'll explain.

But first, a story.

I went to a dermatologist yesterday for a few routine checks and things that aren't any of your business. Nothing big. They're putting me on an oral medication that would do great damage to a baby if I were to get pregnant in the next five months (ha!) so they are required by law to test my blood once every month until the end of the year. No big deal. Needles and blood don't bother me. I don't really like them, but I'm not mortally afraid of them. That being said, my appointment was at about 11:10. By the time I went in for lab work it was around noon. I hadn't eaten since seven that morning and even then it was just a bowl of cereal. Thanks to some genes from my mother, I have a kind of minor case of hypoglycemia that makes me feel somewhat shaky when I haven't eaten for a while. I also have low blood pressure, which makes my circulation somewhat poor and. . . basically it was a recipe for disaster. I walked into the room and thought -"I'm going to faint in here. They're going to take my blood, and I'm going to pass out. Shoot." I told them that I hadn't eaten and they said it wasn't that much blood and I'd be fine and. . . whatever. I knew I was going to faint. And I did. Not a very pleasant sensation on the whole and it left me completely out of it for the rest of the day. It takes me a while to get over these things.

I had a kind of morbid fascination with fainting when I was young (er. . . well, up until about last November) because it seemed like such a romantic thing to do. Anne Shirley had - once again - corrupted me with her use of the word "romance". But it really isn't very fun. Trust me on this.

The first time I fainted was last year the day before Thanksgiving. I had come up with my mom and my brothers to visit my grandmother in a care center that she was staying in while she recovered from extensive back surgery. My grandmother is one of the most giving, hard working people I've ever met - but there she was, looking rather yellow in nothing but one of those awful hospital gowns and a robe eating like a baby with my grandfather spoon feeding her what she could eat because she was too weak to lift the fork for herself. "You have served me for many years, Margie," he said, "It is a pleasure to be able to serve you now."

It was horrible and tragic. It was easily the first moment in my life when I have literally come to terms with mortality. Keep in mind that outside of my uncle (whom I didn't know very well) and my great grandparents (that I also didn't know very well) - no one in my immediate family has ever died. And none of them have - in my memory -ever been seriously ill either. One of my uncles had cancer when I was very young but I hardly remember that and we were living too far away to see what he went through. The idea of people I love being so ill scared me. I watched my grandfather feeding my grandmother and watched her struggle to gnaw on peaches I felt sick. It was about this point when I fainted. It was probably tied also to the lack of food I'd had that day - but if I was being honest I would attribute it more to the horror of seeing my grandmother so sick than my hunger.

I remember waking up rather late on Thanksgiving morning. I had hit my head on a bar of the hallway of the care center when I fainted and my head ached. I felt rather disoriented. I looked in the mirror of the bedroom I was staying in and my skin color looked exactly like my grandmothers.

The next day we went bowling. I heard my aunt laugh and I thought it was Grandma Newman. I saw my aunt's manicured nails and remembered that both my grandmothers make an effort to get their nails done before they go out. My Grandma Newman had gone to get hers done before she went in for surgery, even. Listening to my aunt talk reminded me of my grandmother - in the way she laughed and the way she phrased her words and the inflection she used. . .

I still haven't worked my head around it. If I were going to stamp a metaphor on all this I'd find a way to talk about the resilience of Newman women or something, or maybe my regret at not feeling as connected with my dad's side of the family as I do with my mother's. . . but that feels too forced. Maybe that's why I don't really feel ready to write anything about what happened yet - because the story doesn't really have an "ending". It was a short, fifteen minute period of time with little leading to it, or away from it. I'm still not sure what to make of it all - but I do know that at some point - this streak of mine will end. My family members will die or get sick - it happens to everyone. I'm just glad we have been blessed and protected thus far.

14 July 2008

If there is anything virtuous, lovely. . .

"When she came to the end of one life it must not be to face the next with the shrinking terror of something wholly different - something for which accustomed thought and ideal and aspiration had unfitted her. The little things of life, sweet and excellent in their place, must not be the things lived for; the highest must be south and followed; the life of heaven must be begun here on earth."
~Anne of the Island, Pg 108
I've been thinking quite a bit lately about what it means to be refined. It's such an interesting word. It is a word that implies a continual process. It is an active word. Somehow, for me, the phrase "personal improvement" or even phrases about trying to be better don't quite seem as (for lack of a better term) as refined as the word "refined".

As part of this new quest of mine to be a more refined sort of person, my mom sent me a talk given at at BYU devotional in 2006 by Douglas L. Callister called "Your Refined Heavenly Home". My mother knows me well. The talk is really incredible. Brother Callister did a beautiful job of describing how a refined person would behave. "The nearer we get to God," he says, "the more easily our spirits are touched by refined and beautiful things [...] Refinement is a companion to developed spirituality. Refinement and spirituality are two strings drawn by the same bow."

The portion of the talk that I enjoyed the most was about literature and speech (naturally). I remember having long discussions in some of my education classes about how only literary nuts (like me) will ever appreciate analyzing literature and "what does it really ever do for us" and "should we make our students do it when they're not getting anything out of it?". This hasn't ever exactly sat well with me - not just with literature but with all forms of media or information or whatever that get thrown at us. I get bothered by people who take things at face value or say that they "like" or "don't like" something without any reasoning one way or the other on why.

Take a guy I used to work with, for example. He all out hated the Harry Potter books. The reasoning he gave was that they were popular and he didn't want to read them for that reason. He said they were stupid and he just didn't like them. Now, this is ridiculous. If he didn't want to read them, all he had to say was that he didn't want to read them because they didn't sound interesting. But not wanting to read them on principle and then attacking them is not good enough, any more than saying that you love them "just. . . because they're. . . funny and stuff" is an acceptable answer. Shouldn't we be self aware enough to be able to express why we like what we do?

The ability to express ourselves well is something that is so key to being refined. Language is important. I say that not just as an English major who loves words, but as someone who has seen the difference in a life you can make by using words well or not so well. Brother Callister continues:
We will feel more comfortable in Heavenly Father's presence if we have developed proper habits of speech. We not only wish to see God's face "with pleasure," we want to open our mouths with confidence that our speech harmonizes with the refinement of heaven. We will thrill to hear exalted beings express their sublime thoughts in perfectly chosen words. I suppose that the language of heaven properly spoken, may approach a form of music. Did C.S. Lewis have this in mind when he wrote: 'Isn't it funny the way some combinations of words can give you - almost apart from their meaning - a thrill like music?'
This brings me back to the quote from the top of this entry. It's taken from a chapter in the third "Anne" book when Anne's old school chum Ruby Gillis is dying of consumption. Ruby's chief concern in dying is that heaven will feel so different than what she is used to, even if it is wonderful. Anne has to admit that Ruby is right. It will feel different for her because she has based her life on being frivolous and obsessed with beaux. What if, then, part of our preparation for Celestial life is not just in becoming more Christlike with characteristics of love or charity, etc.? We are meant to be good, well rounded and refined individuals. We are to make our lives and our homes beautiful "as reflected in the language, literature, art, music, and order of heaven." In other words, part of our preparation for meeting God comes in ways that may not be counted as strictly "spiritual". If we are to be like our Father in Heaven, we are to be a people of refinement who seek after things that are "virtuous, lovely, of good report or praiseworthy."

13 July 2008

A well read individual. . .

In case there was any doubt. Ha! This is a list of the top 100 printed books by Big Read (Thanks Marisa!) According to them, most adults have only read 6 on this list. You are supposed to bold the ones you have read and italicize the ones you intend to read. I am going to add commentary as well because . . . otherwise this would be boring for me.

1. Pride and Prejudice - Jane Austen (Sense and Sensibility is my favorite, though)
2. The Lord of the Rings - JRR Tolkien (Love it. I'm so excited to take my senior capstone course on it.)
3. Jane Eyre - Charlotte Bronte (The new movie that came out with Toby Stevens is FANTASTIC)
4. The Harry Potter Series JK Rowling (I should probably bold this one several more times - I've read them more than I can count. And. . . I'm listening to the sixth book again right now. Keeper Tryouts. Hermione is a sneaky little witch. . . )
5. To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee (Didn't actually like this one all that much though. . . )
6. The Bible
7. Wuthering Heights - Emily Bronte (This one is half bolded because I started and never finished. I don't know if that counts)
8. Nineteen Eighty Four - George Orwell (One of the most thought provoking books I've ever read)
9. His Dark Materials - Philip Pullman (Again, only partly bolded because I never finished the series, but I read all of the first book and enjoyed it. Not as good as Harry Potter)
10. Great Expectations - Charles Dickens (No, but I've read others by Dickens)
11. Little Women - Louisa M Alcott (And all the sequels. I went through a Little Women phase, no thanks to Christian Bale for being crush-worthy. Hehe)
12. Tess of the D’Urbervilles - Thomas Hardy (Still can't figure out why I like this book as much as I do. It's so dark!)
13. Catch 22 - Joseph Heller
14. Complete Works of Shakespeare (Has anyone really read everything by Shakespeare? I've read most of his plays that are worth reading.)
15. Rebecca - Daphne Du Maurier
16. The Hobbit - JRR Tolkien
17. Birdsong - Sebastian Faulks
18. Catcher in the Rye - JD Salinger
19. The Time Traveller’s Wife - Audrey Niffenegger
20. Middlemarch - George Eliot (Every last freaking word. Holy cow. This book was a chore.)
21. Gone With The Wind - Margaret Mitchell
22. The Great Gatsby - F Scott Fitzgerald (I worship at Fitzgerald's feet. The man had such command over language!)
23. Bleak House - Charles Dickens
24. War and Peace - Leo Tolstoy
25. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy - Douglas Adams (Ha! Genius. I love British Humor)
26. Brideshead Revisited - Evelyn Waugh
27. Crime and Punishment - Fyodor Dostoyevsky
28. Grapes of Wrath - John Steinbeck
29. Alice in Wonderland - Lewis Carroll (One of the first classics I remember buying for myself)
30. The Wind in the Willows - Kenneth Grahame
31. Anna Karenina - Leo Tolstoy
32. David Copperfield - Charles Dickens (Not my favorite, but still fairly enjoyable.)
33. Chronicles of Narnia - CS Lewis (I still knock on the backs of wardrobes)
34. Emma - Jane Austen (Some people really don't like Emma, but I enjoy her even with all of her flaws)
35. Persuasion - Jane Austen (I know! One of the great tragedies of my literary life. But I WILL read it. I own it)
36. The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe - CS Lewis (Er. . . I'm confused. *looks at number 33*)
37. The Kite Runner - Khaled Hosseini
38. Captain Corelli’s Mandolin - Louis De Bernieres
39. Memoirs of a Geisha - Arthur Golden
40. Winnie the Pooh - AA Milne (Another one of the first classics I bought)
41. Animal Farm - George Orwell
42. The Da Vinci Code - Dan Brown (Started and never finished. I thought it was a piece of literary trash even if the story was interesting. Horribly written)
43. One Hundred Years of Solitude - Gabriel Garcia Marquez
44. A Prayer for Owen Meaney - John Irving
45. The Woman in White - Wilkie Collins
46. Anne of Green Gables - LM Montgomery (My favorite book. EVER.)
47. Far From The Madding Crowd - Thomas Hardy
48. The Handmaid’s Tale - Margaret Atwood
49. Lord of the Flies - William Golding
50. Atonement - Ian McEwan (Man, I need to read this one. It looks amazing.)
51. Life of Pi - Yann Martel
52. Dune - Frank Herbert
53. Cold Comfort Farm - Stella Gibbons
54. Sense and Sensibility - Jane Austen (Yay! There it is. Oh Col. Brandon, take me away. . . . I'm only a little kidding)
55. A Suitable Boy - Vikram Seth
56. The Shadow of the Wind - Carlos Ruiz Zafon
57. A Tale Of Two Cities - Charles Dickens
58. Brave New World - Aldous Huxley
59. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time - Mark Haddon (That book blew my mind. Such incredible writing, and the story was killer)
60. Love In The Time Of Cholera - Gabriel Garcia Marquez
61. Of Mice and Men - John Steinbeck
62. Lolita - Vladimir Nabokov Nabokov
63. The Secret History - Donna Tartt
64. The Lovely Bones - Alice Sebold (I kind of want to read this one and kind of don't. I haven't decided yet.)
65. Count of Monte Cristo - Alexandre Dumas (I started and never finished when I was in high school but I want to give it another go)
66. On The Road - Jack Kerouac
67. Jude the Obscure - Thomas Hardy
68. Bridget Jones’ Diary - Helen Fielding
69. Midnight’s Children - Salman Rushdie
70. Moby Dick - Herman Melville
71. Oliver Twist - Charles Dickens (My favorite Dickens book)
72. Dracula - Bram Stoker
73. The Secret Garden - Frances Hodgson Burnett (One of the books that has changed my life.)
74. Notes From A Small Island - Bill Bryson (I loved this book, but I'm mad that Bryson wrote it because he stole my thunder after going to England last year. This is the book I would like to have written if he hadn't beaten me to it.)
75. Ulysses - James Joyce
76. The Bell Jar - Sylvia Plath
77. Swallows and Amazons - Arthur Ransome
78. Germinal - Emile Zola
79. Vanity Fair - William Makepeace Thackeray (I hated this movie)
80. Possession - AS Byatt
81. A Christmas Carol - Charles Dickens
82. Cloud Atlas - David Mitchell
83. The Color Purple - Alice Walker
84. The Remains of the Day - Kazuo Ishiguro
85. Madame Bovary - Gustave Flaubert
86. A Fine Balance - Rohinton Mistry .
87. Charlotte’s Web - EB White (This book was a huge part of my childhood. I had a piggy bank named Wilbur that I would sing to.)
88. The Five People You Meet In Heaven - Mitch Albom (I don't really have any desire to read this book at all. It sounds too sentimental and indulgent to me)
89. Adventures of Sherlock Holmes - Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (I'm debating on if this is worth reading or not)
90. The Faraway Tree Collection - Enid Blyton
91. Heart of Darkness - Joseph Conrad
92. The Little Prince - Antoine De Saint-Exupery
93. The Wasp Factory - Iain Banks
94. Watership Down - Richard Adams
95. A Confederacy of Dunces - John Kennedy Toole
96. A Town Like Alice - Nevil Shute -
97. The Three Musketeers - Alexandre Dumas
98. Hamlet - William Shakespeare (One too many times.)
99. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory - Roald Dahl (Yay! But Matilda was better.)
100. Les Miserables - Victor Hugo

Total Read:32. Though, to be fair, "The Harry Potter Series" Is not one book. Nor is The Lord of the Rings or The Chronicles of Narnia. So, subtracting one for LWW being listed twice, that takes my total from 31 to 48. It also takes this list from 100 to 116. So ha.

Total Planning to Read:24. Note that most of these are American Lit. Figures that most of the books I've read on this lit are British, isn't it? I'm such an Anglophile. I'll probably knock off several on this list when I take my American Lit classes this next year.

Books that aren't on this list that I wish would be:
  1. Enders Game
  2. North and South
  3. The Giver
  4. The House of Mirth
  5. Importance of Being Earnest
  6. A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius

07 July 2008

"I give unto men weakness. . . "

First off - you may have noticed that lovely new little counter of visitors to my blog! It's pretty. And it has all sorts of cool features like a world map to show me how far my blog is reaching and how long people stay when they visit, etc. Don't let the high numbers fool you, though, I'm pretty sure that most people who stop by stay for less than a second when they realize that it's just a blog and not some super cool analysis. In case you were wondering, the two most searched entries are both movie reviews - one on Harry Potter (and I'm pretty sure those searches aren't intentional) and one on Narnia (which comes from people looking up the quote online). In any case, I will wave to my international non-readers and thank them for stopping by. And I highly recommend the counter. "It is so choice. If you have the means, I highly suggest picking one up."

This post will be slightly more religious than usual. I've been thinking quite a bit recently about the way that people kind of view God as a tyrant who has a bad day at work and needs to be pacified by the Savior so that he doesn't take out that anger on us.

Let me explain.

A few weeks ago in relief society our wonderful president wrote on the board "I am enough, I have always been enough, and I will always be enough." We had an interesting discussion that brought me to a conclusion: God is not mad at me for sinning. Nor is he mad at me for being weak. Because he made me that way. He gave me - and everyone else - weaknesses. He expects us to fail, in a sense. That doesn't necessarily mean he likes it - what parent likes to see their child make mistakes? But I don't think that's the point. We are given weakness that we can be humble.

Yet another one of the great dichotomies in the gospel. Multiply and replenish the earth but don't eat the fruit. Be perfect, but I'm going to give you weakness.

I love it when the gospel makes me think.

01 July 2008

"Three cheers for Miss Shirley, winner of the Avery!"

I grew up on Anne of Green Gables. Literally, it's one of my first memories. I used to act out scenes in my living room. I had almost the entire movie memorized before I reached the second grade. Anne wasn't just my "bosom friend", she was a part of me.

I'm rather defensive of her. I very selfishly believe that no one on earth understands her and relates to her more than I do. We are like one person and no one will ever be able to convince me otherwise. And it isn't even just being alike in personality - our lives have mirrored in very funny and interesting ways.

If you want a full list, I can give it to you but here is the most obvious one:

A few months ago I submitted (without a ton of hope) a piece I've been working on to a creative writing contest for undergraduate students offered by BYU. It was a piece I've been working on for a while but was somewhat frustrated with because it didn't really have a "home". But I thought it had merit so I submitted it thinking that I didn't have anything to lose.

So for those Anne-fans out there - I have just won my Avery. That's right. I am now Miss Newman, winner of the Kagel and Blessing scholarship - $1875 worth of tuition for two semesters. If you could jump through your computer screen and into mine you would see a massive amount of jumping up and down and screaming.

So, for those of you who are interested, posted below are portions of my prize winning essay. The full piece is 9 pages long and too big for a blog, so if you want to read the full thing, send me your email and I'll send it on to you. And I promise my next post will be less of an add for my amazing writing skills and more analysis-oriented. I already have plans. Enjoy!

The Mostly-Imagined Real Wanderings of a Kindred Soul Abroad

In which I become an impressionist.

I was sitting on a bench in a park near our hostel in Keswick with my new drawing pencils out. It was a stupid buy but I had to do it. In my head, I had decided that my England experience wouldn’t be complete until I’d drawn something. Every other girl on the trip was drawing like mad in their journals and it looked so artistic and why wasn’t I doing it? So I spent a half an hour in the store searching for exactly the right kind of pencils even though whatever I drew with them would inevitably be horrible because I am an artistic cripple. And they were all utter rubbish. I was right, which is fairly irritating. In my head, real travelers are the ones who are able to draw the places they’ve been to, not just snap a photo like a tourist and move on. It doesn’t take much time or talent to operate most digital cameras.

After the trip was over that box of very expensive colored pencils joined the rest of my over priced art supplies in a box under my bed. I will probably never use them again. But I have such a weak spot for art supplies! They look so alluring in their tubes and boxes. They are my Achilles heel. Or one of them, at least. I have many heels.

Actually, it isn’t even just art supplies I have a weakness for. Office supply stores are the death of me because new pens and blank notebooks are like Christmas. I love blank sheets of paper waiting to be written on. There’s something really exciting about watching a piece of notebook paper fill with words or a canvas with dabs of paint. If only my canvases would look more like art and less like a prize for the refrigerator of a merciful mother who will pity my attempts at greatness.

I think part of my subconscious associates good art with good tools that come from shiny metal boxes. That if I continue to buy these very cool professional pencils, then my less than mediocre sketching skills will suddenly improve, because I don’t have the patience to wait for them to get better. And what was my excuse that time? I had imagined that maybe being in Europe would suddenly fuel the senses between my mind and my fingertips with extra romance and artistic talent. It seemed appropriate. Europe and art. They go together, right? I had needed some kind of justification for how much they cost.

The idea that purchasing professional drawing pencils will turn me into an artist is as illogical as believing that running at a real vault will transform me into a gymnast (though I have entertained that idea as well). I took several art classes in high school and in all of them I was more than usually horrible at drawing. I hate it because being able to draw seems like such a romantic and appropriate accomplishment. Something Jane Austen’s stock of men would approve of. Except Darcy. Darcy’s the kind of hero who would only approve of a certain kind of art if it was done well and I don’t think our tastes would match. Darcy and I don’t get along. Not that I don’t think he’s amazing in his own broody way, but I’m not about to fall at his fictional feet any time soon. Though, now that I think of it, putting on this display of false accomplishments is rather like something Mary Bennett would do. I never aspired to be Elizabeth, but I didn’t aspire to be Mary either. Well. That’s rather disturbing. I’d rather be Elizabeth and get the broody rich hero with the nice house than be Mary and annoy the heck out of everyone and end up pining for Mr. Collins the rest of my life. That would be a fate worse than having the chorus of “Yellow Submarine” play in my head for eternity.

For the first week after I bought the pencils at the shop in Keswick, I used them almost every day in my journal at the risk of feeling guilty spending so much money on something I won’t use later. During that week, they turned into multi-colored swords slowly massacring the mountains that I decided to draw. They did a pretty clean job of it, too. Every stroke on the pages of my journal made the land bleed in agony. No depth? Check. Horrible blending? Check, check. Not recognizable as a mountain? I fail. F minus minus. The details got progressively worse as I moved from hill to hill through the pages because my patience in sketching exactly what I saw wore thin quickly. No matter how hard I tried I simply could not take those very real mountains and make them seem like anything more than a muddled bunch of colors on my paper. The hill on the farthest right of the page in Keswick, for example, is mostly a blob of scratchy frustrated greenish brown with a dash of yellow for good measure. If anyone ever looks through my journal and sees the drawings I will tell them that I was going for some kind of impressionist interpretation with an allusion to a child-like view of . . . never mind. I’ll just tell them I found some kid on the side of the road and asked them to draw in my pretty book. Then they’ll think it’s cute instead of embarrassing. I’ll call the kid Neville. I will tell them that Neville sat and talked to me for a half an hour and thought I was brilliant and that before he left we were the greatest of friends. I’ll tell them that Neville even broke the rules of British conduct and voluntarily gave me a hug. In public.

Of course, in the middle of my despair at being such a wretched artist, I managed to work up another story for myself. It helped me feel better. Because I was drawing I decided to imagine that I was an art student. Bottom of my class, no doubt, but with the proper amount of visual deliberation over what I was drawing I could pretend that I was Renoir. Only female. And English. Fortunately, I am much better at acting than I am at drawing. I looked up at the mountain. I squinted and deliberated for an appropriate amount of time. I looked down at my box of shiny pencils and select a darkish green one. I tenderly removed it from the box. I looked at the mountain for more squinting deliberation. I carefully picked a spot on the paper and then drew something resembling a line. I looked from the page to the mountain and back several times. All artists do this. Pretending to be an artist is exactly the same as someone taking a notebook to a café to write. You don’t actually have to do anything, just look like you are and the other patrons will appreciate the atmosphere, and you’ll go home feeling as though you’ve accomplished something for society. You have preserved part of that wonderful tradition of making café’s an arty, cultured place to be. I know several people who only go to café’s for this reason. They buy their designer coffee and sit in a corner listening to the jazzy-generic music for hours discussing really important theoretical things like . . . global warming or the state of the economy in relatively loud voices so that everyone else in the room can admire their intelligence and culture.

I know because I’ve done it.

In which I blend into the sky.

I don’t know what I imagined Tennyson Downs looking like before we hiked there. I’d never even heard of them before. I guessed that they would have to be nice because they were associated with Tennyson, but I’d never seen a ‘down’ before, so going to Tennyson Downs that night was a completely new experience. It’s only about a mile from where we were staying that night – not very far at all. Our leader John had said that it was a beautiful place to watch the sunset, and I trusted him and his expertise from leading the program before. Besides - anything that’s good enough for Tennyson is good enough for me. John was right, though. That wide, quiet place is beautiful. The Downs are an open stretch of grass overlooking the water on the top of a hill. Put that way it sounds so simple, but the Downs are simple. You hike up through some trees and then suddenly the trees stop and you just see an open stretch of land like a plateau and a gigantic Celtic cross marking the land in Tennyson’s honor. A blank canvas with Tennyson’s seal of approval on it.

The wind felt like it was blowing right through me. As though I was something slightly more than ghost but less than human and I could feel the air inside me, not just around me. I was part of the air and surrounded by it at the same time.

My hands were freezing. It made my handwriting turn into an even clumsier scrawl because I had to put on my gloves to keep out the cold. I’d moved away from the rest of the group because I wanted to be alone. The wind blocked out the noise of everything but Brooke’s didgeridoo, lambs bleating in the distance, and a few birds soaring above the ocean to the left of where I was sitting. I wanted to dream for a bit. I can’t dream on nights like that one when there is too much going on.

In the distance I could see the lights of the town starting to flicker, breaking through the black ground and coming through the mist like stars. I imagined that I was sitting on a patch of grass in the middle of space, surrounded on all sides by stars. I imagined that the old legend is true, and that the night sky is a blanket with pinprick holes in it so that the light of heaven can shine down on people while they sleep.

I kept getting distracted by reality. The sound of the ocean drew my thoughts like a magnet. The sea was a deep steel-colored grey meeting with the sky. The farther to the left I looked, the harder it was to see the distinction between air and water. It was as though someone had taken their thumb to the canvass and smudged the difference so that the sky and the water blended together into one flesh. It was beautiful. I tried to take a picture of it but it wasn’t any good. Sunsets can’t be captured on film. Moments like that one just have to be experienced. You have to pay attention.

That’s why I moved away from the others. Over my shoulder I could see them starting to huddle in groups to talk or watch the stars come out. With the wind running through my ears the sounds were diminished and I was free to think. My mind has more room to wander without other bodies and other thoughts getting in the way. I put my journal in my bag after it got too cold to write and lay down onto the grass to look up at the stars. It’s a strange feeling, being alone in such a wide space with the stars towering above you. I felt like everything and nothing all at the same time. I thought about falling asleep there. I thought about curling up with my bag as a pillow to watch for the little pin pricks of heaven coming through.

In which I swallow the world.

I have decided that there are different kinds of air in Tintagel. There is the air that is cold and sharp and it bolts down through your throat giving you the same kind of feeling you get after a long run. Then there is the air that is cold, but calm and almost sleepy. It flows through your body like the waves of the tide coming in and out. Maybe the air depends on the time of day. My second night in Tintagel, I ventured outside to watch the sunset. The air was brisk but calm. It lulled me into a feeling of comfort in spite of the chill. I started to imagine that my feet were growing roots into the ground so that I could stay there forever.

Our hostel was located near the edge of a cliff on the southern coast. Wildflowers grew in clumps around the slanted rocks and the water changed from deep blue to white as it beat rhythmically against the land. The sun was starting to set in the west, casting orange light against the cliffs to the left, turning them to what would probably be called red, though that is only part of the way true.

I wish I could write colors as honestly as I see them. I take pictures of the land, but I don’t know that it could ever do justice to what I see. How can I explain what it looks like? Words don’t go far enough. It’s like one of the lines from the song Candlelight Carol by Robert Shaw; “How do you capture the wind on the water?” How do I describe this place when the only words that come to mind are ‘hill’ and ‘cliff’ when where I was sitting wasn’t quite either? How do I write down the colors I saw and the contrasts between the blues and the oranges and the greens and browns and whites and grays? I’ve decided that it was one of those times that just had to be lived deliberately. I finished my entry and put my journal down in the grass. I can’t write in moments like that one. I’m afraid if I spend time writing I will get so caught up in words that I will miss something important, some other lesson that the wind and the flowers want to teach.

Looking at the cliffs and hearing the ocean made me imagine that I was back on Prince Edward Island where the cliffs near the sea also burn a bright red. Next to England, PEI is my favorite place on earth. It is my safe place. It is where my mind dreams of when I want to feel completely uninhibited. Before I’d even seen the beaches and fields and trees it was a haven of comfort to me when I felt like people were being critical of me. I went there with my mother and a family friend with her two daughters. The island is located just off the coast of Nova Scotia and is a popular pilgrimage for fans of the Anne of Green Gables series because the books are set there. Every year the population of the Island triples between the end of June and mid-August. Fortunately, we went at the beginning of June and had Cavendish Beach and the rest of the island all to ourselves for a week. We would walk from our cottage every day (and night) to explore and sit and talk. I would usually migrate away from my mom and the others after a while. I would find a spot to write. Then I would close my eyes and smell the sea and listen to the symphony of natural sound around me in utter contentment. I remember sitting alone one night at my favorite spot on the beach with my journal out and my hair down, thinking about how horrid and ruined the beauty of the spot would seem if it was crowded with women in skimpy bikinis or dogs playing Frisbee with their owners. People who thought they knew and understood Anne or her creator better than I do. People who assumed that they understood real beauty. While I was there, my beach was a temple to the part of me that lives and breathes two separate ways, each running along side each other between a dream and reality. I am both sense and sensibility. I am realistic and romantic.

The sound of the waves pulled me back to England. I looked away from the cliffs and back at the sky and my thoughts shifted to an old myth from India about a young boy god who had to go live with a herd of cows because of a jealous uncle who wanted to kill him. The uncle was afraid that his nephew would try to take over heaven. The boy looked exactly like everyone else on the outside, but if you looked down his throat you would be able to see the whole universe somehow.

I wish I could be like that boy. Not because I want to have my uncle plotting my murder, but because I want to capture places and moments. I want to find a way to take these places with me because pictures and words are so dead and empty compared to all the life embodied in this place. Maybe if I were to purse my lips and suck in my breath the universe would funnel into my mouth and lodge itself in my throat for safekeeping. Then whenever I want to I can pick Tintagel or Tennyson Downs or the moors out of my mouth and fly myself back.

I lay down on the ground, imagining instead that my body would absorb the dirt and the grass and the wildflowers and the air through osmosis until the dirt was imbedded in my skin and the wildflowers in my heart and the air in my blood.

17 June 2008

"Exercising the right not to walk. . . "

My mom told me that the last post I wrote made her feel depressed. I suppose that's what happens when you title something "failure". All those negative connotations. But I promise you I'm doing alright. I'm doing really well, actually. Thanks to a bit of inspiration and a kind friend I'm involved in a play and have found about a dozen new friends to hang out with. And with the end of the term rapidly approaching, my stress level will go down significantly by the end of the week. Yay!

For my Teaching Writing class right now I'm working on a unit on Individualism. The idea is that students will improve their narrative writing skills. Granted - the unit may never actually come to pass. I would need a fairly large supply of books and/or a school district that allows me to ask students to purchase their own copies of books. I have divided the students into three different lit circles, each studying two different books that address the different aspects of/challenges inherent to being an individual. There's House on Mango Street and Night for individuality and family relationships/culture clashes, The Giver and Stargirl for individuality vs. conformity, and The Outsiders and The Chocolate War for individuality and oppression of your peers. These are all really incredible books largely based on personal experience (with the potential exceptions of The Giver and Stargirl) and I think it has the potential to be a really good, interesting unit once I iron out the specifics.

The trouble I'm having with all this intellectually is that I don't really have my mind wrapped around this whole concept of what it means to be an individual yet myself. It's driving me crazy, actually - because there isn't an "answer" to any of my questions. Is it good or bad to be an "individual"? What does it mean to be an individual anyway? Surely there's someone out there in the void or wide expanses of past/future people that thinks the way I do? Is anyone truly unique? And what about the people who "go against the grain" but really just end up running with the crowd? What's so bad about conforming? Robert Frost talks about how taking the road less traveled makes all the difference, but is the road less traveled always the best road?

I think this is going to be another one of those concepts that I don't fully understand until I have a nice long chat with the powers that be after I die. There seem to be so many conflicts. Because you don't want to conform for the sake of conformity any more than you want to go against the grain for the sake of being different. This whole idea of disturbing the universe presented in The Chocolate War, for example - the main character of this book ends up into a kind of isolation of his peers because he "disturbs" that status quo. Is it worth being so "different" that you don't have any camaraderie? It reminds me of the movie About a Boy and the theme of no man being an island.

Bah. Now I'm just frustrating myself some more. I think in the end this whole concept of being an "individual" - whatever that means - is maybe more at the cusp of our existence than we give it credit for. We can spend our whole lives defining and re-defining ourselves in relation to the way we think or in relation to our position among our peers or in our jobs or. . . whatever other social circles we run in. It's a lesson in generally being more socially aware and recognizing the consequences of our actions and our power for change. Sucking our individual marrows out of life but not choking on the bone. We need to know our own limits.

I don't think any of this made sense. That's what happens when I try to think this early in the morning.