23 December 2009

Merry Christmas From Randall

It's been forever and a day since I wrote anything. Not just here, but anywhere. I told my students recently that when I'm not a teacher I'm also a writer but lately that's started to feel less and less honest. I haven't written anything really for myself in the essay/story department for ages. I'll consider this repentance.

'Tis the season for strange student gifts. It's something that I've looked forward to for a long time. One of the benefits of being a teacher, I thought, was an influx of cool Christmas giftage this time of year. I watched as other teacher's desks filled up with gift cards and huge bags full of stuff and lotions they don't need. I would glance in my box as I came and left each day, hoping for some surprise tucked away inside of it. I'd watch students come in, checking for signs of wrapping paper.
I got (almost) no dice. Some (very amazing) students brought in some Diet Coke to help keep me awake during class (bless them.) One student brought in an orange (love oranges). I got a mouse pad (?!) for my computer and a little dragon picture frame with a nice quote in it, but that was about it. For days now I've been thinking 'Alright. Don't be ridiculous. You don't really need your students to give you junk to feel validated as a teacher. You don't need lotion and you don't scrapbook and you don't want to take their money.' But there was a very selfish little pit in my conscience that wanted to puff out a lower lip and say "but I like gift cards!"

Here's the best part of the story, though. All selfishness and wishful thinking aside, one thing did happen that made me laugh. One (female) student brought in some kind of homemade treat that I thoroughly enjoyed yesterday while traveling home when I took a look at the tag attached to said bag of treats. "Merry Christmas From Randall".

Who the heck is Randall?

Ah, the joys of re-gifting.

(I'll just have to build them up big time for my birthday?)

08 November 2009

Locked Out

I've been having some issues with the managers of my apartment. Last year everything was just peachy. We got along. We were buddies. We had a water heater break, and got it replaced within twenty four hours. We made suggestions for repairs and they were considered respectfully and often honored. Things were good.

Then new people came in and old people moved out and now we don't get on so well. I was charged a ridiculous amount for a cleaning check that I did do. We were told that someone came in to clean our apartment for us, but that was a complete lie. I was treated like a petulant child and grew very annoyed at said managers. You'll have to forgive me: in the five years I've lived in BYU housing I have never once failed a cleaning check or turned in rent late. Ever. So this was especially irksome, even though after this year I won't be in BYU housing and it won't matter.

But, ah, revenge is occasionally sweet.

Recently we had a new lock installed on our door. One of the fancy-shmancy key pad-like ones. Ours has a little key pad and a knob that you manually turn that will lock or unlock the place. Apparently it's for increased security. And, if that's what they're going for, then it works, since most of the time you can't unlock the darn thing. Something inside the mechanismals of the keypad doesn't catch the lock. Very frustrating.

We called our managers about this the day the thing was installed. They sent someone to fix it. They blamed the locksmith. We called the locksmith. They came, and blamed it on the door. We called the managers again. They came and blamed it on the locksmith. They said they would call the locksmith.

Essentially, both teams have washed their hands of us, and we still can't get in.

So another problem crops up: our vacuum breaks. They come to collect said broken vacuum to "fix" it. Several days later, they call and complain to us that they tried to return the vacuum but could not get in our apartment because they couldn't unlock the darn thing.

We did not feel bad.

We then left a message with them in return expressing our sorrow that they, too, had not been able to open the darn door. We then expressed our concern that they wouldn't be able to get into our apartment for our soon to be returning cleaning check season.

Ooooh, how I adore irony. Especially when it is at the expense of people who deserve to be on the bad end of it.

16 October 2009

I believe

This is going to be a very different type of blog post than I normally do. Normally I like to write about the weird or strange things going on in my life, or write about discussions I've had with people that I thought were particularly good, or generally just have a good time. I haven't talked all that much about my faith or my religion. Not that this post is going to be a downer, it's just spurned on by something not that great.

Last night I was watching TV, getting cookies made to send to my brother on his mission and half-heartedly grading papers when I got a message on Facebook (of all places) from an old friend telling me that one of our mutual friends from high school had killed herself on Tuesday. I think I should be clear that, for the most part, the telling of the information in that particular way without any preamble or titling the message "bad news" or something almost took me by more surprise than the message did. What's more, I've lost touch with both of these people since I left home, so I don't feel as though I was personally responsible or feel like I'm in any huge emotional breakdown mode. What it has done, though, is brought back many memories of when my uncle killed himself nearly ten years ago.

It's also brought back memories of how horrible my junior high and high school years would have been if not for this wonderful group of friends who pulled me through. This particular girl was always happy. She had a beautiful smile and a wonderful sense of humor. She welcomed me in without question. Unlike so many other people, I rarely heard her join in with joking about others or backbiting. She was gracious and kind. In recent years, I know she'd been suffering with a lot of depression. As I said before, I don't know how long this went on - and I definitely hadn't imagined it to be so extreme that death would feel like the best option - but I know that she's found a release from that pain.

The culture of my church can be very secretive when it comes to "skeletons in the closet". I'm not entirely sure of why this is, but I've experienced it in my own family and seen it in others. Someone struggles with something that isn't "kosher". It's alright to struggle with certain things, but more embarrassing to struggle with others. I think that depression is one of those "others" - I don't think many members of the church recognize it as legitimate suffering. I think many people assume that if a person would just pray more, or get a blessing that life would just come up roses again. That feeling sad or lonely is only something that can be spurred on by sinful behavior. That my uncle and this dear friend are wrong and have no hope for recovery.

I can't believe that. I won't believe that. I've felt it. Depression runs in my family and I have been there. Not to the extreme of my uncle, but there are days when I feel as though I am suffocating under some invisible weight. Days when I would rather close the door to my room and be alone than see anyone. Days when I get angry about little things that don't matter. I don't know why the Lord made me this way, but He did. The wonderful thing, though, is that He's also given me the wonderful gift of faith.

I want to be clear when I say that what I'm getting at is in no way supposed to lead to the assumption that my friend was not doing these things. I would have a hard time believing that of her. All I am saying is that for me, when things get hard, my first reaction is always to turn to the Lord. Always. Thanks to the example of my parents who trained me so well, I turn to the gospel when I need help, and I find answers that are sent with peace and reassurance, even if the answer is only to endure a little longer before things get better again.

I love my faith. I can't imagine life being livable without it. I am amazed and humbled at the knowledge that I have a Savior who would die for me and a Father in Heaven who loves me and knows me enough to have given me the life that I have. I know that after I die I will be with Him, and with the rest of my family (and friends) forever - and that is the best feeling in the world, even when everything else seems wrong.

14 October 2009

Is that a euphemism?

Euphemism: (n) the substitution of an agreeable or inoffensive expression for one that may offend or suggest something unpleasant.

Spotted in student writing this week -

"Bella walked down the stairs during her wedding. They cut the cake, left on the honeymoon, and sailed to the island called Isle Esme, and yeah. . . Bella got hurt. (Edward) made her breakfast."


30 August 2009

"Miss Newman, I have a question!"

For those of you who may not have known, I started teaching school two weeks ago. It is exhausting for more than one reason. The hours alone are hard because I have never, ever, been a morning person, and I hate going to bed early. I have still found, thus far, that it is something that I mostly enjoy. It is a job that allows me a certain degree of freedom. I get to talk about books all day, which is great. I get to organize and color code and, most importantly, I get the chance to help (hopefully) some students believe a little more in themselves than they would have if they hadn't been in my class. It's frightening and exciting and fun and obnoxious and any number of things all in one day. But, like I said, I mostly like it.

There is one thing that tends to frustrate me more than other things, though, and that is the repetition. The school I am working at was shortsighted enough not to give their students planners. I don't understand this. When I was in school we were given planners every year starting in 5th or 6th grade so that we could learn to write down our assignments. It's no wonder, really, that so many of my students forget to turn things in: they have no where to write it down.

Even so, I do what I can to remind them. We have certain due dates that happen every week. We have a vocabulary test every Thursday. They have a reading log due every Friday. I keep both of these due dates on the board all week in red so that they are seen. We repeat these due dates before they leave class.

We do this repetition with lots of things. Papers I hand out. Worksheets. Procedures. We repeat over and over again because there is always someone spacing out or not paying attention.
And yet there are still questions about things we've reviewed. "Wait, what am I supposed to do with this worksheet?"/"We had a reading log due today?! You never told me! I never got one of those logs!" The impatient part of me wants to take that student to the board and make them point out where I write down assignments every day so that they can see it. I want to tell them that it is not my job to give them worksheets whenever they miss them, but theirs. I want to start charging a dime for every worksheet I have to re-give.

But then that little voice in my head that sounds like Liam Neeson says "Joni. . . how often do I have to repeat things for you?" And then, feeling both guilty and humbled, I repeat directions again because it is not fair of me to be impatient with my poor, overwhelmed brood after only a few weeks of new responsibility. They will learn to take directions better, and I will learn to give them more efficiently. And in the mean time, I will learn to take directions better myself.

(Small side note: I have also started an anonymous teacher blog that I update somewhat more frequently than this one. If you are interested in reading said anonymous blog and promise not to give me away so that I don't get sued and all that jazz, let me know, and I would be happy to send you the link.)

04 August 2009

In touch with their inner Oprah

On the flight home from England I had a plethora of time at my fingertips in which to watch some of the greatest movies currently off market including the latest Dragon Ball Z and Duplicity. Our plane was older and didn't have the handy TV on the back of the other person's seat feature so I had little say in the matter. The only movie I had even the slightest amount of interest in was He's Just Not That Into You, a movie that was funny at times, disturbing in others, and overall rather insulting to single women as every woman in the movie - EVERY woman - was pathetic and desperate and stupid.

It's something that's kind of bothered me ever since. I've realized that one of the biggest problems of being an imaginative female who likes to read is that every literary hero - or nearly every literary hero - that I "fell in love with" growing up (or heroes that my friends love) - were written by a woman.

Think about it.

(That Vampire)

Heck, even Harry Potter could probably go on that list to an extent. All the men who are held up in modern woman-dom were penned by women. And re-penned by women, because, let's face it, that kind of speech perfection is not obtained in one editing.

And the more I think about it, the more dangerous it feels. Or, at least, the more potentially dangerous it feels. Take, for example, the following links:

Normal Mormon Husband
is a favorite blogger of mine, and he wrote this post a while ago about how he's decided that women are obsessed with (That Vampire) because he is, in fact, a woman. Debate this joke as you will, but when I stumbled upon the response these girls had in a "That Vampire" lexicon, I started to get more than a little concerned. These girls defend this fictional character as though their lives depended on it. They speak about him not just out of literary admiration, but out of a kind of obsession that borders on something that seems rather unhealthy - at least to me. (For example: "lmao that was entertaining, but not entirely accurate…i would just like to point out that bella notices consistently throughout Twilight that Edward does not talk like a normal teenager; you wanna know why??? BECAUSE HE WAS BORN IN 1901!!! of course his vocabulary is more refined than your average male! he is almost a century old, and he was born in a time when men WERE generally more “refined”…tsk tsk tsk, this man needs to do his research!!!")

Granted, this is coming from the girl who has admittedly read Harry Potter and Anne of Green Gables more times than I am years old (by a lot) - but I would like to think that I do know the difference between fiction and reality - between fun trivia and not letting "dreams" get in the way of "reality."

I guess, then, that this post is almost the antithesis to my previous post: dreams (or dream men) are all fine and good, but I think the female population would do well to remember that carefully constructed and edited men in breeches no longer exist, and may not have ever existed. It is not fair to the "less-fair sex" to expect the unexpectable.

It reminds me of a scene from an episode of Road to Avonlea in which the town has been half taken over with obsession over a Valentine's dance at the hotel. Background: Boy named Gus asks girl named Felicity. Felicity says 'yes of course'. Boy named Arthur also asks Felicity. Felicity says she's already going with someone else, but thank you very much, and proceeds to be happy about two men fighting over her. New girl named Suzette moves temporarily into the hotel and causes a bit of a stir because she falls for Gus.

About half way through the episode, Gus shows up to see Felicity at home and to apologize for something. Felicity brings up Suzette's flirting with Gus. Gus says "Well, she may be a lot prettier than you, Felicity, but that doesn't matter to me!"

Felicity slams the door in his face.

In the background you hear Felicity's mother say "Felicity - if you slam the door on every boy who puts his foot in his mouth, you're going to need iron hinges."

I guess, then, my point is this: I wonder at how many girls (or boys) have built up ideals for themselves that don't exist, and end up passing by perfectly good opportunities because they are too besotted with something fictional. I don't think it's fair for either side to expect perfection in their companion. I would certainly hope that, if I ever say something stupid (I know, dream big,) or don't look my best, or make a mistake, that my guy won't think less of me, any more than I hope that I would do the same for him. It's all a matter of perspective and patience - recognizing that sometimes our dreams should be altered to fit reality - and coming to the realization that, in the end, reality is often better then some kind of sterile, fantastical dream.

30 July 2009

"A Full-fledged Schoolma'am."

This week supplied me with two things I never thought would actually happen. The first is that my keys have, for the first time since I actually got a key, outnumbered the key chains I have. I have five keys now and only four key chains. What is frightening about those keys makes up the second thing I never thought would happen: I have keys to a school, the school alarm system, and my own classroom.

What the heck is this?! When did I grow up enough to have keys to a school?!

I feel very much like Wendy in Peter Pan at the end of Act One when Peter has just been wounded and the two of them are stuck on Marooner's Rock. Peter looks at Wendy and says "Do you think you can fly without me?" Wendy's instant reaction is "No! I'm just a beginner!"

Only the funny thing in this case is that, for the most part, and probably out of naivety, I do feel ready to teach on my own. It's that growing up thing I'm not ready to do yet. I like my Peter Pan fantasies, thank you very much.

I also feel very much like Anne right before she goes to college. She has a conversation with Gilbert about the various "well meaning" individuals she's come across in the days before they leave, each of whom have bits of advice for her, generally leaning toward "Oh, you're so cute and young and innocent. Have fun watching your dreams shatter!"

Well, Anne, welcome to the club. In the last few months I have had a plethora of well meaning people kindly tell me under no uncertain terms that my first year of teaching will involve nothing but shattered ideals, late nights, devil children, and patches of missing hair on my scalp. Each time this happens, there is generally a good deal of "knowing smiles" in which I can practically hear the individual(s) saying things in their heads like 'oh, she's so cute, I wish I were that young and innocent.'

Frankly I'm sick of it.

I GET it. I get that entering the "big girl world", particularly in my line of work, involves a certain amount of disillusionment and reality checking, but how is that any different from any other job? I don't want the pity of everyone in the world when I say with pride that I am a teacher. Nor do I think that "reality" is as bad as people keep claiming it to be. Why must "dreams" always be intangible and "reality" always be based on the lowest most miserable parts of life that we all dread? (And for that matter, since when do the last four years of my life not constitute as "real" because they didn't involve working full time?)

So take that, naysayers. I like my life, thank you very much. And what's more, I don't intend to hate teaching. I also don't intend to give up on dreaming. I'd be as good as dead if I forgot to dream every once in a while.

19 July 2009

The Adventures of Gary, Programme Seller/Photo Police

Once upon a time in a far off place called England, in a small town called London, in a theatre called the Criterion, there was a show being performed. This show required that ushers kindly direct people to take their seats. These ushers were also granted the notable task of selling programmes to their patrons for a mere £8 a book. This lovely, shiny book gave information on the cast and supplied a number of ads and photos that made the £8 suddenly seem like a waste of money, but it was the job of the ushers to ensure that those £8 were made and pocketed and no refunds given.

Most ushers did their job faithfully. But Gary was not satisfied with his job. Not quite. There had to be more he could do for the theatre, he thought. Yes, making the theatre money was important. The show could not go on without it! But Gary knew that the theatre was sacred. That the proper respect must be shown. He took it upon himself, then, to do what he could to preserve the sanctity of the lovely pink cushioned theatre.

So, dressed in his purple shirted uniform with his nicely shaggy hair, Gary would turn on his flash radar every evening and, at the slightest irregularity in light, rush to the offender and demand that the camera be put immediately away.

On one evening, however, Gary met his match. Gary met an individual not only practiced in taking pictures without flash, but also excited about the prospect of taking a picture of Gary to put on her blog to include with her story that she had entitled "The Adventures of Gary, Programme Seller/Photo Police" already in her head. She envisioned dozens of pictures of Gary leaping, flying over seats to put his hand in front of cameras. Abandoning his post by the door to soar over guests to teach them a lesson about nice buildings. Images of Gary's annoyed face as he saw a flash go off on the balcony above or the floor below, to which he had no access. It would be beautiful. Glorious. Hilarious. People would laugh.

But alas, the camera battery ran out, thus leading the offensive would be picture taker to decide that Gary was in fact Super Gary and had the ability to suck the life out of any person in the room who would go behind his back and commit such a misdeed while on his watch.

Gary, I solemnly swear never to cross you again. Or attempt to cross you.

10 July 2009

(Dirty, smoky place that it is, I can't wait to leave it. . . )

My overall assessment is summed up quite nicely by Fanny Thornton of North and South fame. Parts of Dublin were lovely, and other parts reminded me quite nicely that it is a city to be enjoyed by smokers, drinkers, and "loose women" so to speak. Nice little virginal Mormon women enjoy Dublin in a way that is unlike the way that most other people enjoy Dublin. It was a very nice city that I don't miss is all. If/when I go back to Ireland, I think I'll make time for some of the other cities as well.

The saga that is getting to Edinburgh would take several pages to do justice to, so I'll fill you in on the most important points and let you fill in the blanks:
  1. If you book a ticket for the 19th of July, you won't be able to fly on the 9th (Asenath may or may not have been left behind in Dublin overnight. No worries, she's here now.)
  2. If you put your hair up with bobby pins, you set off metal detectors and have to be searched (me.)
  3. If you put your hair up with bobby pins and you set of metal detectors and have to be searched, then you will probably also lose your ticket in the process.
  4. If you lose your ticket, then walk up and down the terminal, go to the bathroom, and continue walking up and down the terminal, then you will probably return to your chair only to feel said ticket slide down your jacket arm (. . . still not sure how that happened)

Point?: We're all in Edinburgh now and excited to go explore the city. With any luck, nothing else will happen and we'll all make it safely to Keswick tomorrow.

08 July 2009

"Umm. . . hi?"

Here's a quick funny story for the day.

Today was the "We've got to see everything we can!" day and involved a plethora of museums and busses and picture taking sessions. There are many gems of entertainment value to be had in these experiences (re: posing with the Oscar Wilde statue), but my favorite happened at the IMMA (Irish Museum of Modern Art.)

We were just about to leave. I was still wandering down the hallway when Asenath decided she needed the toilet. I decided I'd go too a few seconds after she went in, just because public loos are kind of a rare thing in this part of the world. It's all about foresight. So I go in. I see two stalls and know that she must be in one of them, right? So I say "hiiiii." And go into my stall.

She doesn't say anything.

I think "she must not have known it was me, whatever," and finish my business. By the time I'm done, she's already outside talking with Shannon who is laughing.

"Asenath came out of the bathroom and said 'so this weird person came in and said hiiiiii to me while I was in the bathroom'."

Shannon looks at her and says, "Asenath, that was Joni."

So now whenever something strange happens, someone says 'hiiiii'.

Maybe you had to be there?

07 July 2009

Today's message is brought to you from the Emerald Isle

That's right. I made it. I'm not dead, I'm not drunk, and (although I'm certainly jet lagged), I haven't been dumb enough to get myself arrested or pulled over. Unlike the man in the car near Christ Church Cathedral who was pulled over by a couple of Policemen on horses. Most amazing thing I've seen in my life. Suddenly my career as a teacher seemed even less exciting. What is the noble calling of teaching youth compared with the excitement of a high speed chase on horseback?!

It's good to be back. I'm not competant enough at the moment to write anything incredibly philosophical, so I'm just going to say that every time I remember something I love about this part of the world I get a little more giddy. "Fruit corners! I forgot about those! We have to get one!!" "Oh, I forgot all about black currant juice." Little things. Mostly related to food.

We spent most of the day walking around to keep ourselves from falling prey to sleep too early. Thus far we've done well. I am proud of us. Lots of walking reminds me of the last trip which is good and sore feet remind me even more of the last trip which isn't quite as good but still ok. The hostel is cramped but friendly enough. Other than not having to pay for internet here, nothing much seems to have changed in the method of traveling.

Tomorrow's plan is booked: Try to make it through two or three museums, go to Trinity College and see the Book of Kells, find out what the "Newman House" looks like, go look at the famine monument and Dublin Castle and, after that's all done, go pub hopping at Temple Bar and listen to some live music.

My general reaction to Dublin itself is fairly positive. It's kind of ecclectic as a city. I can't figure it out. I don't think it's a city I would want to live in, just visit. Parts of it are clean and "classic" as far as European architecture goes. Other parts are distinctly square and kind of retro. And there are so many people. They're everywhere. Thank heaven the driving part of our trip is going to be in Oxford and not here - Oxford doesn't scare me nearly as much.

Fast fact for the day: One of the walls in Christ Church is off by 18 centimeters (almost half a meter) because of a structural flaw. It's kind of funny to look at it and go "oh, that's a nice cathedral, it looks like most of the other cathedrals I've been in", and then look again and go ". . . wait. . . " Pretty funny. I'm not sure how well the pictures I took capture it, but it's been fun.

So there it is. Update number one on the crazy random college trip of a lifetime. We're all fed. We don't have the swine flu. We have a roommate but she's a she and she's Asian so she's been very quiet and clean thus far which is nice. I'd feel bad if some bloke showed up with a bunch of Mormon women to out number him.

04 July 2009

I interupt my regular display of Anglophilia to bring you a Patriotic display of affection. . .

. . . for the Muppets and all of their amazingness. Watch. Enjoy. I felt more patriotic at the thought that, if nothing else, I live in a country that provides me with entertainment as amazing as this.

29 June 2009

"I'm a damsel, I'm in distress, I can handle it. Have a nice day."

This post will not mean anything to the five or six people who frequent my blog, nor, probably, the random people who come by every once in a while. Therefore, this post is going to be a selfish one. I'm allowed. It's my blog. To quote an old roommate, "I do what I want!"

For almost as long as I can remember I have had a bit of an obsession with Robin Hood. It was that darn FOX and his incredible accent. I couldn't help myself! Even as a strapping young lass of three or four I recognized the power of a good, sexy British accent. So when I found out that the BBC was doing another re-telling of the legend a few years ago I got really excited. Since the cartoon I hadn't ever really seen a version of Robin Hood that I was particularly fond of (re: Kevin Costner's ghastly turn as a very American outlaw.) But this time I had a bit more hope, mainly because Richard Armitage was beyond brilliant in North and South and I was anxious to see him take a turn as the evil Guy of Gisborne.

So I watched. And it was delightful. It was completely ridiculous, of course. Strange camera angles and eyeliner and lines like "You are on probation!" or "I shot the sheriff!"/"No, you shot the deputy." It was a complete joke. It was beyond historically inaccurate. But I didn't really care, because that wasn't the point. It was good hearted fun with fine acting and an under riding theme of good winning out in spite of all odds. David and Goliath at its best and most cheeky.

I looked forward to it every week. For the entire first season I would wait up almost all night while the files downloaded onto my computer because people hadn't quite figured out You Tube yet. By second season I could watch the show almost immediately after it showed up in Britain. It was all that kept me moving during the Fall Semester. I considered it my personal mission to spread the Robin Hood love to all of my friends. We instigated "Robin Hood Thursdays" where a band of England-Happy, Lovesick like girls would get together and eat dinner and rewind that one part over and over again for the sheer pleasure of watching Robin do something cheeky or Marian say something biting (usually both).

At the heart of it all was Marian. If there was one thing I learned while I was watching the show for the first two seasons, it was that even if the show was called Robin Hood, it was really Marian's show. Everything revolved around her. She stole nearly every scene she was in for one simple reason: she represents everything Robin fights for. She is hope, she is determination, she is integrity and honor. Since Marian's introduction into the Robin Hood legend 300 some-odd years ago, the story has been hers. The story simply does not work without her.

And this Marian was particularly wonderful. She was a good balance of strong and weak. She was proactive in helping her community. She was occasionally soft and gentle, occasionally not. She was independent but, in the end, recognized that heroes are not as strong alone as they are when they are united with others who share common goals. She was a damsel occasionally in distress but who was capable of saving herself but also capable of a great deal of love. She was a wonderful role model in a media-world of shallow women who are either in constant need of rescuing or far too harsh to really claim the title of woman at all.

It is, quite frankly, the reason why Arwen gained a larger role in The Lord of the Rings films - Aragorn, like Robin, is charged with a large task (save the world.) But until the task is made personal, until they have a reason to fight that is more specific, neither Robin nor Aragorn can really be heroic. These men need women because it narrows the scope at the same time it expands it - saving the world becomes more than duty, it becomes "I need to save the world because then I can be with _______." Good writers realize this. Lily Potter, anyone? Her sacrifice was not to save the entire wizarding world (though it did), her sacrifice was to save her son (even if it was unintentional.)

So this is where the rub comes in. For some reason, for some wild, great, unknown reason, the writers of this show decided that it would be prudent to run Marian through with a broadsword. They tried to be creative and run the show without her - see what would happen if Robin lost his main squeeze, so to speak. Really, you can almost understand where they're coming from. Retelling the same story over again isn't really worth it unless you add something new to the mix. You have to be a bit unconventional. But there are lines that can't be crossed in that unconventionalism. Killing off the symbol of hope is one of those lines.

The writers of the show could have killed off anyone - and I mean anyone - other than Marian and the show would have survived. They could have run that same sword through ROBIN and the show would have continued without all that much of a hitch.

But all of this has become almost secondary to what I realized recently when I was thinking a bit more about why all of this has bothered me. I think part of it rests in my own desperation to believe that there really are happy endings. I think part of it is in my frustration that even at the time of Marian's death in the show there was no sign of peace with Robin. What sort of message does the show send by killing Marian off after all the addendums she had on when she would actually marry Robin? What kind of message is it to show a dying Robin and a ghost Marian only able to actually find real happiness when they're both dead and can't do anything about the troubles in England which, by the way, don't improve?

More specifically, what kind of message does it send to the girls out there who (cough, like me, cough) are trying to find out what it means to be a strong woman - both firm and kind, both direct but gentle, independent and dependent. It's such a hard balance to find. It bothers me that a family show, a show that appealed to just as many (if not more) women than men would so carelessly and thoughtlessly "murder" not just a physical body but a whole regiment of ideas on womanhood. In a television world where women are belittled and ill-treated, it was nice, for once, to see a truly strong woman portrayed on screen. A woman who really was a good counterpart for Robin.

You see, I don't watch movies or read books because I want to be reminded that sometimes things don't work out and sometimes people don't manage happiness in life or that sometimes people get run through with a broadsword. I watch movies and read books because I want to be reminded that sometimes things do work out. And sometimes people are happy. And sometimes good does win in spite of seemingly insurmountable odds.

So darn you, writers of a formerly wonderful show that lost all of its spark and fun and started taking itself too seriously and managed to kill off everyone (almost literally.) What a sad, horrible commentary in a world that desperately needs to believe in the possibility of heroes again.

22 June 2009

"All the scholarships in the world can't make up for the lack of it."

Two posts in as many days? I must be out of school.

The title for the post comes from a scene in Anne of Green Gables when Anne (at the stout age of sixteen) tells Aunt Josephine that she's become too practical for romance. The rather more wise Aunt Jo tells Anne to "save a little room in her life" for romance again.

I say this because of a few experiences I've had recently that have been grading on my nerves. I've just finished my undergrad at the Y and am in the process of getting ready to teach in the fall. It's a stressful and exciting process but I'm looking forward to putting my training into practice and seeing what comes of it.

When I tell people this my general reaction is fairly positive, but every so often I'll come across well meaning people who say pleasant things like "Oh, everyone starts out so idealistic!" and "soon you'll just be saying 'Everyone be quiet!' all the time," or (my favorite), "You'll lose all of those dreams, but you'll do great."

How is that for encouragement? Now, I have grown up around educators. Nearly every (competent) teacher I ever had (starting in about the third grade) has taken the time to tell either me or my mother that I would be a good teacher. When I was four I sat down all of my friends at my own birthday party to read them a story. I've done theater for a long time and I'm used to being in front of an audience. I know how to take criticism in that kind of an environment, and I'm used to adapting my performance. I don't expect to be perfect in my first or fortieth year of teaching, but I certainly don't expect to fall on my backside like all of these well meaning people want to imply. And how sad would it be for me to walk into my classroom on the first day of school next year with absolutely no ambition or drive or excitement at all? I am standing at the beginning of a new adventure, and even though I know I'll make mistakes, I also fully intend to see this through and I don't intend to hate it all the time.

These little incidents of pessimism to me reflect a great deal on the way modern society tries to prepare people for "reality" - a "reality" that is completely separate from hopes and dreams and any other kind of idealism. Reality is dirty and gritty and hard, so suck it up and deal with it, pal, because that's life.

It makes me admire my parents and other family members all the more for maintaining optimism and laughter in spite of struggles. Because why shouldn't we look on the bright side of life? I'm getting tired of these proverbial pats on the back that tell me when I'm older and wiser I'll understand and aren't I cute for still dreaming? I'm tired of those knowing smiles from adults who find my ideas endearing and my goals for life impractical. I'd be as good as dead if I had nothing left to dream about. I'd sure as heck never get married or have kids if all I relied on were statistics and horrible news articles about the recent split of the John and Kate Plus 8 clan - and I'd never be a teacher in the first place if I gave any mind to costs of living compared with average salary.

I guess the haphazard point I'm trying to reach is thank heaven for the gospel. If it weren't for the reassurance of the Lord, there's no way I'd even believe in romance any more. If it weren't for the understanding of the Holy Ghost, I'd be terrified of learning how to be a teacher come August and September. And for all my ignorance and dreaming and cute little fancies, I do know that when I'm caught and don't know what to do, then I have a partner who knows more about my students (and my future spouse) than I do - and that I won't be left without help. So to all of those people who keep trying to drag me down, quit raining on my parade and keep your hands off my head, thank you very much.

21 June 2009

"They should have taken the bus."

I saw Up yesterday with my family. That makes time number three, by the way. Pixar is completely brilliant. If you haven't seen it, go, and stop reading now because I make no promises about spoiling things.

The movie is not what I expected it to be. Granted, I don't know what anyone really expects from a movie that was advertised as a film about a guy who hooks up balloons to his house, but the best thing about Pixar films may be the fact that I never know exactly what kind of movie I'm going to get going in. The advertising is a little deceptive.

This is probably never more sharp than for Up, which, for all intents and purposes, isn't really a kids film. Sure, there are some gimmicky moments that are certainly geared for a younger audience, but, on the whole, the film is very adult in nature. Carl begins life as a would-be explorer. His adventures with a blue balloon take him to the somewhat more elaborate "ship" of Ellie - a girl who shares his obsession with explorer Charles Muntz but happens to be more bold in the way she goes about life. The two form a friendship that ends in a marriage and a wonderful life together. In perhaps the most brilliant two minutes of film I have seen in years, the audience views what must be at least forty to fifty years of marriage and the ups and downs they have - setting up house - picnics - wanting to have children but not being able to - planning trips to Paradise Falls that never quite make it because of other expenses, and Ellie's eventual death. In the three times I've seen the film now, I'm still amazed at how quickly the audience goes from laughing hysterically to complete and total silence. Even the youngest kids in the room know that something has shifted thanks to the score (well done, Michael Giacchino.) It's beautiful and heartbreaking - and they never make it to Paradise Falls. Ellie's lifelong dream of setting up house in the middle of no where never quite got fulfilled and Carl is left alone.

It is partly because of this that he gets the idea to balloon his house to Venezuela. The rest of the movie follows as Carl tries desperately to walk his house (literally) over to Paradise Falls along with stow-away Wilderness Explorer Russell who has never been really camping a day in his life but wants to earn his "assisting the elderly" badge. Russell is worthy of a completely different blog post so for now, I'm going to stick to one of my favorite moments in the film - as they're walking through the woods, Russell mentions to Carl that the wilderness is different than he expected, and that he's decided that the boring stuff is what he likes more, because he remembers it. He talks about going to get ice cream with his father and counting cars that go by the shop based on colors.

This relates to a moment in the film when Carl comes across Ellie's "Adventure Book" near the end of the film. At the beginning of the film she shows Carl the "Stuff I'm Going to Do" section - a blank part of the book where she was planning on filling in all her adventures. For almost the entire movie, that little blank section of scrap-book was the source of all of Carl's guilt. But then he actually looks at the pages and sees that Ellie has filled them in with all the "boring" stuff. Eating dinner. Picnics. Reading together. Everything that they did for day to day life. Her adventure - grand as it had begun when she was a kid - had shifted into something more fulfilling.

This idea of adventures being better in the every-day part of life has been on my mind quite a bit lately. I've been thinking about the goals I have for myself and the way that most people see those goals as wasting my education or a chance for a good career. But then I think about my family - I think about the parts of my family that I love the most. I love that my dad goes out of his way, even on Father's Day, to make breakfast for us before church. I love sitting with everyone half piled on the same couch so that we can watch old family videos and eat popcorn together. I even love being piled into the same small van for endless road trips around the country. We don't have the most elaborate family adventures together, but it's never mattered because the trip itself isn't as important as just spending time together.

So to the small child in front of me who proclaimed after Carl and Russell should have taken the bus to avoid the storm that tossed their make-shift hot air balloon house around - you might be right. But where would be the fun in that? And where would be the movie in that? Carl's lesson at the end is a lesson well learned - when we get where we thought we always wanted to be, we end up sitting in our easy chair and saying. . . "now what?" Unless, of course, the journey is seen as an important part of the destination.

01 June 2009

Look Harder

This summer has been a busy one (hence the complete lack of posting.) I've been going to class and working almost full time, preparing to go to England next month and thinking about my curriculum for the fall (not too much - the idea of getting ready to teach kind of scares the heck out of me.) Along with all of this, though, I've found the time to read about ten books in the last month. I bought a bunch at a sale the school bookstore was having and - miracle of miracles - all of them have been fantastic. I pulled each book at random off the shelves proving that, for the most part, you can actually judge a book by the quality of the cover!

My most recent read has been The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart. The book is funny and exciting and well crafted - everything in the book is a set up and a pay off by the end. The characters are distinct and each has a different talent that comes in handy at the end. I was very pleasantly surprised by how much I liked it. It's what would have happened if The Series of Unfortunate Events had been written more intelligently and with less pessimism.

Which, actually, brings me quite nicely to my point for the day. After I finished the first book I picked up the sequel. At the beginning of this book, Reynie (the main character) is having a discussion with Mr. Benedict about how frustrating it is to see that the world still has not changed much since their adventures in the previous novel. This is part of the conversation they have:

"Let me ask you: Have you ever had a dream in which, having spied a deadly
snake at your feet, you suddenly begin to see snakes everywhere - suddenly
realize, in fact, that you're surrounded by them?"

Reynie was surprised. "I have had that dream. It's a

"Indeed. And it strikes me as being rather like when a person first
realizes the extent of wickedness in the world. That vision can become
all-consuming - and in a way, it, too, is a nightmare, by which I mean that it
is not quite a proper assessment of the state of things. For someone as
observant as you, Reynie, deadly serpents always catch the eye. But if you
find that serpents are all you see, you may not be looking hard

The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Perilous
Trenton Lee Stewart
Paperback Edition, 37-38

I don't know if there's really anything else to add to what Mr. Benedict put so well. I have been trying recently to be better at focusing on the positive parts of my life. I'm trying not to gossip so much or be so quick to join in on negative conversation. It's true that there is no situation we can be in that complaining won't make it worse. The news is really, really good at the complaining thing. It all reminds me of that scene from Newsies where Jack is talking to Davy's family about headlines that make newspapers sell - they need words like "nude", "corpse" . . . etc. The people that complain, those squeaky wheels, get more attention than the wheels that are functioning just fine under the current pressure.
Semi-short post shorter: Always look on the bright side of life.

15 April 2009

Literary Elitists are Boneheads

NOTE: You can view an updated version of this essay here.

This post is for catharsis. Catharsis that I desperately need after a semester with a certain professor so dreadful that I have to get one last essay (albeit unsent) to defend myself. Seeing as said professor grades on whether or not she agrees with our opinions. . .

We read nine books this semester. Or rather, we were assigned to read nine books this semester. I read six (which, by the way, is saying something. A-type personalities like me usually fight through all the books but. . . I just couldn't bring myself to do it this time.) One of the books really touched me. I thought it was well written and interesting, the story of the main character reminded me of parts of my own past. So I presented this professor with the idea that I would like to write the response paper for that particular book as a creative non-fiction essay instead. She approved the idea. I turned in my essay a few weeks later with a one page explanation about how much I had enjoyed the book and how I couldn't bring myself to dissect it as I did other books. I included the following quote:

The elitists are such boneheads they think literature exists to be admired. Wrong. Literature exists to create memories so true and important that we allow them to become part of ourselves, shaping our future actions because we remember that once someone we admired did this, and someone we hated and feared did that.

Literature matters only to the degree that it shapes and changes human behavior by making the audience wish to be better because they read it.

It becomes importantly bad only to the degree that it entices the audience to revel in actions and memories that debase the culture that embraces it.

Next to that, questions of how one literary work influences other literary works, or how the manner of writing measures up to the tastes of some elite group are so trivial that you marvel that someone who went to college could ever think they mattered more.
Orson Scott Card, July 29, 2007, "Uncle Orson Reviews Everything"

This is a quote that has stuck with me pretty strongly over the last few years. It's a survival quote, really, as an English major. As someone who really does enjoy analyzing literature, it is important for me to be able to step back and just enjoy reading for the sake of it. After this quote I wrote "This is why I wrote my essay in this particular way. To attempt in some small way to explain why literature is important - not in the way that it can change the world and influence social movements, but in the power it has to change the way that individuals think and behave."

Now, I knew this was going to be somewhat risky. Said professor is, after all, a literary elitist. She is the elite of the elitists. I've never, ever, in my life, ever, met a professor so fully entrenched in literary elitism. So yes. It was a risk. But the book we were reading (Mr. Pip by Lloyd Jones) is all about how the reading of Great Expectations changes a young girl and how Mr. Pip as a character means so much to her. I figured that, in spite of the jab towards people who suffer from a rampant case of English Major's Disease, she was a fair enough person that she would see that the quote was actually supporting the lesson taught by the book she assigned in the first place.

Apparently not.

Today was our final. I got my portfolio back with the top page of this essay (not the rest of the nine pages of it, which, by the way, I strongly suspect she didn't read) and an A- on it. The only comment is to the side of this quote and it reads in part: "Not true. This is a very silly remark. See if you can figure out why?"

So, literary elitist professor in the BYU English department, here is my response:

No. No, I don't think it's a silly remark. In fact, I think the fact that you can't see how important it is that books touch people on an individual level shows how blind you can be as a professor. You are a smart woman. I respect that. But how else are literary movements or social movements supposed to begin if not by individuals who read a book that is so moving and important to them that it changes the way they behave? Card's idea is not "silly" - it is incredibly poignant. I do not want to be the kind of teacher next year and years following that expects my students to read because finding metaphors and symbols is fun. I want my students to read for the pleasure of it. I want them to read because when you cannot travel physically it is a relief to travel mentally. People refer to "escapist" literature as a bad thing, but I don't know if that is always true. There is a place in this world for literary analysis. Heaven knows I enjoy it. But I don't read to analyze sentence structure or symbols. I read because I can't help myself. I read because reading is more a part of me than my own blood. I read because the characters I love have changed me, because they are my friends. If you are narrow minded enough to think otherwise, then it's a mercy you aren't teaching Junior High. They would eat you alive.

Catharsis over. As for you, Mr. Card, if you happen to stumble upon this at any point by some freak chance, this A- was well worth the satisfaction of knowing that I finally managed to touch a nerve in this woman. And you're completely right. Literary elitists are boneheads. And that particular bonehead didn't comment on my writing at all and gave your words an A-.

14 April 2009

Susan Boyle, when I jump the pond, I'll vote for you.

Here's one for everyone who thinks the world is against them.  Utterly incredible.  You Tube won't let me embed it, but trust me.  You want to click here.

12 April 2009

We read to know we're not alone.

I had an interesting discussion last night about the role of fiction that I don't think I was altogether prepared for.  I don't even remember how the topic came up, but I do remember saying something along the lines of how I hope there are good fiction books in heaven otherwise I don't think I want to go there.  And I mean good fiction.  Fiction that isn't necessarily about people in the church kind of fiction.  I don't want my only option to be Charly by Jack Weyland.  

The person I was having this conversation with didn't seem altogether convinced.  Maybe as a non-English major he just hadn't considered it, which is fine.  From what I can tell in the brief amount of time I spent with him (it was on a double date - he wasn't my date) he seemed pretty well put together and nice enough to laugh when I inadvertently managed to be more sarcastic than I intended to be (which was more often than it probably should have been.  Need to work on that.)  Really, I think this is something that I think about quite a bit simply because so much of my life revolves around reading and fiction.  

So I'd like to elaborate on that now.  I still think there will be fiction in heaven.  And I don't think we're going to be limited to certain kinds of fiction either.  I have this idea that God has sent us to this earth to build and to create and to hone the talents He has given us, and that these talents will be used in the next life as well.  I don't think that seems unreasonable.  Why shouldn't books continue?  I think that books, and fiction books/stories/etc. especially, provide another way for people to learn to become more like the Savior.  Let me explain: 

First of all, the Savior taught in parables.  He taught in parables because the stories could be understood on multiple levels.  In that way, I think, the best fiction of our day can serve the same purpose.  One of my favorite sections of the Doctrine & Covenants is about the apocrypha, where the Lord says that if you read it with the right spirit you will find truth - that not all of it is right, but that you can be uplifted.  There is a connection here in that stories help people to see things from different perspectives that they had not considered before. 

I was also reminded of 1st Nephi 19 when we are instructed to "liken the scriptures unto (ourselves)."  We are told to take these stories and apply them to our own lives.  "This is like when _______ had to do ______, I should try _______ to solve my own problem."  In that way, we are taking stories that are part of our culture and pulling from them lessons we need to know.  This is how other stories work - only in this case the stories are "physically true" as opposed to the stories that were "created truth."  

When it comes down to it, I think it is a matter of the Lord recognizing that people learn in different ways.  All things testify of Christ, but that doesn't mean we all recognize those ways.  We think differently.  We feel the spirit differently.  Those who are adept with science and math (unlike me) can look at the universe and the way it all fits together and know that God is in it.  I don't see those connections.  But I do see those connections in humanity in the books I read.  I learn by reading.  By putting myself into the fictional feet of other people.  Ender Wiggen.  Harry Potter.  Anne Shirley.  Jane Eyre.  Briony Tallis.  Lucy Pevensie.  Tom Sawyer.  Etc.  The lessons I have learned about humanity and perseverance from these good (and occasionally not so good) "people" could not have been created in other ways.  There is a place for storytelling in the universe.  An important place.  And while I admit to a definite bias as an English Teacher, and understand that there are many other ways to learn and to draw closer to the Lord, I will argue until I am blue in the face that fiction is important and that I don't believe it is only a mortal tool of learning.  Heaven wouldn't be much of a heaven at all if there wasn't entertainment.  Theater and music.  Discovery.  Moments of peace and reflection.  The sheer pleasure of sitting on a quiet beach with a book so gripping you simply can't put it down.

16 March 2009

Nothing distracts reading a test more than reading a book.

In case you hadn't already figured it out by the title of my blog, I'm a bit of an Anne of Green Gables obsessor. That is putting it very lightly. I will fight tooth and nail with anyone, anyone, who dares claim a stronger relationship to Anne than I have (I've done it before. It's not pretty, and I do win.) I have grown up with her and rather than going into the details of this comparison, take my word for it. We are two peas in a literary pod.

As such, I generally enjoy finding ways to compare my life to my semi-fictional friend. It happened this weekend when I took the Praxis: an exam set out to prove that I am (or will be) worth my salt as a teacher. In other words: I have to know more than the average high schooler. The whole time I was there I imagined myself in that hall Anne goes to for the entrance examination to Queens. That was much more satisfactory than taking the actual test.

Here's how it works:

BYU and UVU students (apparently) do some kind of school switch for the exam. Since the exam started at 7:30 in the morning (my favorite hour of the day), I got up at 6:00 (my other favorite hour) to eat and get dressed and generally wake myself up. I armed myself with two #2 pencils with good erasers, a book to read during down time, a water bottle to keep myself awake and to keep myself from coughing, cough drops and gum to help as well, and some kleenex (since I wasn't about to use the scratchy non-lotiony school kind.) Let it never be said that I go anywhere unprepared, especially to tests.

This is where things get odd.

For those of you who will be taking the Praxis at some point in your life, let this serve as a warning.

Our room was divided into half English Education and half Elementary Education majors. This is important because the Elementary Education majors have calculators that feature prominently later in the scene. We are told that this is a very important test that will influence our future lives and that if we don't pass our entire educational career will have been for NOTHING. It is serious, and should be treated seriously. I am officially humbled.

We are then told that the test is two hours long, that we are not allowed to leave unless we have an absolute bathroom emergency. I have to keep my horrible driver's license picture on my desk at all times (for what, exactly?) and nothing else. We are not allowed to eat, drink, or chew gum. If we do, we will spill on our tests, and then they will not be scan-able and we will fail. Food? I understand. Water? I look around. I don't see any open glasses. Just water bottles. And gum? That doesn't make any sense at all. If you're dumb enough to accidentally spit your gum into the middle of your test, you probably wouldn't have passed anyway.

Then comes the bad news.

We must stay in our seats for the duration of the test. Even if everyone finishes in the first five minutes, we have to stay for the full two hours. And when we are finished, we are not allowed to read. When I ask instructor number one about this, she tells me that reading is a distraction. (Insert eyebrow raise here.)

So the test starts. Feeling somewhat cheeky, I ask to go to the bathroom half an hour into the test because I am more than half way done already, and bored with answering questions. I take my time.

I come back in and finish the rest of my test with nearly an hour to spare. I take a nap. I go to the bathroom again. I sit down and write on the back of my test booklet the following list:

Things that are more distracting than reading:
  1. The boy sitting behind me and to my left who persists in bouncing his feet on the ground, and who has the noisiest marking pencil ever.
  2. The calculators. I think the Elementary Education Department has trained their students to believe that the louder they press the keys, the more correct their answer will be.
  3. The clock on the wall that gives a little buzz every couple of minutes.
  4. The pages turning in the test booklets that people are (wait for it): reading.
  5. Instructor #1 at the front of the room. . . (wait for it again). . . reading.
  6. Instructor #2 who leaves the room every fifteen minutes or so and then comes back in for no apparent reason.
So there it is. Nothing distracts reading a test more than. . . reading a book.

02 March 2009

I'm not the other woman, I just came here with a guy who met up with a girl. . .

I decided that I would be more bold than normal yesterday. More bold than normal means that I was dropping hints toward a certain individual of the male gender that I am interested in getting to know. Not in the "I'm really interested in being your girlfriend" way, necessarily, more in the "I don't find you boring and I think it'd be fun to talk with you some more" way. So I mentioned to said male-specimen that I'd like to go up to the fireside but didn't want to drive, was he going? And he said yes he was going and would I like a ride? And I said yes, what a clever idea.

All was going just swimmingly until said male got a phone call from an unknown (to me) individual when we got inside the Mariott Center. This person happened to be a female. This person also happened to be a female that male specimen is interested in and has been out with several times.


Male asked me if it would be awkward. Inside my head I am screaming "YES. Do you even have to think about asking that question to know that answer?! Because if you have to think about it then seriously. . ." But instead I politely smiled and said "No, I don't care, whatever you'd prefer" because what am I supposed to say and in we went. Me. Him. Girl. Girl's friends. And I can't even imagine how awkward it must be for her to have him show up with me. Good grief. The best laid plans indeed!

So this got me thinking. I think everyone in the world has had awkward dating stories. My mother says that they go away more or less when you meet the right person. I hope so.

In the mean time, I am going to cope by laughing at another strange situation (unfortunately) all revolving around one person. Sure hope said person doesn't read this. . .

The scene: I am seventeen. I am also sick. Home alone in my pajamas and bathrobe watching Anne of Green Gables or some other "bonnet movie" because that is what a sick girl ought to do. I get a phone call. Boy has something for me. I tell boy I am sick. He says it won't be long, do you care if I stop by? I say. . . ok. . .

Boy comes. I stand in doorway so that boy will not come in. Boy hands me a box and leaves. The conversation lasts no more than two minutes. I retreat back to the living room, pause the movie and open the box.

Inside is the "Evenstar" necklace from Lord of the Rings. Not a fake one. The real one. The $100+ one that comes in a box with a certificate in it. The one that symbolizes Arwen's immortality. The one that Aragorn wears for years in an attempt to hold on to that flame of their undying love for each other. Very possibly the most conspicuous piece of jewelry in that movie for someone without elven ears to wear including the ring.

And he has not given it to me on any holiday that I'm aware of. Christmas is several months ago. My birthday is not for a couple more months. We are certainly not dating and. . . what the heck was that supposed to mean?! Is he giving me his immortality?!

I put the necklace in the back of the top drawer of my dresser. It stays there untouched for many years until one day I am getting a ride home from boy. He says "so. . . did you ever wear that necklace I gave you?"

". . . No."

(Insert long silence here.)

25 February 2009

No, Dr. Dermatologist, I do not want your high powered drug.

The scene: Dermatologist's office in an undisclosed location.
The players: Myself (known as UL - Unfortunate Lilymaid), Dr. Dermatologist (DD) and his assistant (We'll call her Pam, just for kicks.)
The time: approximately 8:45 AM, 25 February 2009

At Open: UL is sitting Down Stage Right in a semi-comfortable chair reading The Life of Pi, wishing she were asleep or studying for a test that she must take later that day.

Enter DD and Pam from Up Stage Left.

DD: Hello! What are you reading?

UL: The Life of Pi

DD: I think I've heard of it but I don't know that I've ever read it.

UL: That's nice.

DD pulls up a chair and looks intensely at UL's face.

DD: Have you ever considered taking an ultra-powerful but very expensive drug that will dry out your skin and make you moody and require monthly blood testing and is harder to prescribe than most narcotics but clears up face problems in 5 out of 6 of my patients? (Drug will hence forth be known as "accutane" or simply "ultra-powerful drug")

UL: Yes, you spoke to me about that last time.

DD: Let me ask you something. How old are you?

UL: I will be continuing in early twentysomethingdom next May.

DD: Are you dating? Planning on getting married? Pregnant?

UL: No, still no, definitely without question no.

DD: Then now is the perfect time to take the ultra-powerful drug! Your not all that horrible skin will be really super horrible, but no one will care because they are not dating you. And then when someone does finally date you, you will be free of such cares!

UL: See, I've done some research into this ultra-powerful drug and everyone else who has been on it had skin issues about six times worse than mine.

(Pam is currently typing on the computer. UL concludes that Pam is either taking notes on the conversation, checking her Facebook, or chatting with "Jim" through google chat.)

DD: Well, yes. This is true. But you have a spot right there (points to the two zits currently taking up residence on UL's right temple) that could be cleared up FOREVER with this ultra-powerful drug. If you were my daughter I would take you by the collar and shake you and tell you that you had to get on this drug now! You're probably really glad you're not my daughter, right?

UL: (nods, but is really thinking "Nofreakingkidding.")

DD: So, what do you think? Not that you're not a lovely girl, but that little spot on your face is driving me crazy and the only way we can get rid of it and make you truly beautiful is with ultra-powerful drug treatment.

UL: (starting to be somewhat annoyed/put out): No thank you.

DD: Are you sure? Because most girls' acne disappears by the time they're 20. And if it continues beyond then, they are most certainly doomed to suffer from adult acne until they are 54 and hit menopause.

UL: (He's not met many of my friends. And since when is 20 the magic number?) Actually, I'm pretty happy with what I'm taking right now.

DD: Alright. Well, when you change your mind, here is my card.

In other news, UL is currently in the market for a dermatologist who is equally as good natured as current DD but perhaps not quite so quick to jump the gun on last resort drug use.

15 February 2009

Not Quite Valentine's Day Musings

I spent Valentine's with my grandparents this year. I probably should have gone to my ward Valentine's Day Dance but for some reason I'm feeling stubborn and would rather spend my time lounging around in my pajamas. Which is more or less what I've done all day. I watched all four hours of Jane Eyre this morning. Mr. Rochester is utterly wonderful.

Which leads me to a long-overdue blog post. I've been sitting in front of the computer for about two hours trying to decide between watching a movie on Hulu and (I know, you can mock me later), rifling through various fan-fictions I used to obsess over a few years ago. I got a good laugh at myself and decided I ought to do something more productive.

Partly due to the season and partly because of a (brief) increase in romantic activity in my life I've been thinking about the curse of being single in Provo. It all reminds me of one of Bill Cosby's sketches where he says something about how parents love their children but they want to get them OUT of the house. That is, as far as I can tell, a common experience in the Single's Ward life. Not all wards, mind you. My ward right now isn't nearly as bad as some I've been in. But in the Facebook universe we live in where people can advertise their relationship status to infinite numbers of people with the click of a mouse, it's starting to feel like we're creating our own tabloid lives with a relationship obsessed audience. If you're single people expect you to either be defensive about it and to make fun of your status in an attempt to say you don't care(guilty) or expect you to mope or . . . I don't know. And if you're dating someone, wahoo! Congratulations! How long has it been? Have you looked at rings yet? What kind of cake are you getting?

The reason I bring all this up (yet again) is because of a discussion we had in one of my classes on Friday about the way girls in the church are educated and the huge dichotomy it brings up, especially in such a concentrated area of people scrounging around for their mate. I can't speak for boys of the church (obviously), but it seems to me that most of the girls and single women of the church are taught that their virtue and worth is greater when they are virgins. Who hasn't been to a lesson where a well meaning teacher has chewed up a piece of gum and then offered it to someone by way of object lesson. "No one wants your chewed gum." Ouch. Not that I'm condoning sexual promiscuity. But there is this extreme that is rather stifling - a tug of war between one definition of chastity as being equal to virginity and the push to graduate from Single's Ward High eternally tied. But everything should happen in the right time and the right place. Isn't that a better definition of chastity? Participating in activities at the right time and in the right place?

Which is my point for the day. It's no wonder so many girls I know are simultaneously obsessed with dating and completely terrified of it as well. The pressure from outside forces and the ever illusive Facebook status change and online relationship obsessed stalkerazzi wanting to know your every move is huge. If you let it get to you. (Her relationship status changed! Oh no! I wonder what happened?! I'm going to send messages to half of her friends to figure out why.) (Again. . . probably guilty. No one is immune!)

Sure - it would be great to have celebrated Valentine's Day with my sweetheart, but there will be many years ahead of me at some point for that. I am happy with where I am. I'm excited for what the next year has in store for me. I have a family that loves me and good friends. With that in mind, I wish you all a belated Happy Valentine's Day and hope that whatever your situation, you spent it with people you love.

21 January 2009

Wise Courage

Last night I sat in front of my computer for about three hours typing out an outline of an article for my Post-Modern American Literature class, (which, incidentally, involves reading four books by non-American writers. Go figure.) Our current project does involve an American author - we are reading The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien.

The article I was outlining discusses a re-definition of what makes a person courageous. "Courage," argues literary critic Carl Horner, "cannot be separated from wisdom, temperance, and justice." (See "Challenging the Law of Courage and Heroic Identification in Tim O'Brien's If I Die in a Combat Zone and The Things They Carried for more.) In other words, courage doesn't exist in a vacuum. It is influenced by our social constructs of how events should proceed, how courage should look as opposed to what it is, an intangible concept we've given a face to.

It's a division of virtue easily mistaken for something else - do people act out of self-sacrifice because they are afraid of looking afraid and really come off looking courageous, in spite of their mindless agression? Horner argues that most men aren't nearly afraid of death as they are of going home cowards, at least in a war setting. Ultimately, Horner conceeds to O'Brien's definition - "if we are not thinking, we are not human. If we are not thinking, by extension we are not brave in the human dimension. Proper courage is wise courage."

The word "courage" has come up several times in the last few weeks and months in emails and articles and books and whatever else I've read and listend to. One incident that stands out particularly strongly involves and email from a friend saying that going against the church on Proposition 8 is a courageous thing to do because it goes against the norm in Utah. To an extent he is right. It would, by dictionary definition, take a certain amount of courage to go against the masses on the issue - but is it the kind of courage that I want to have? What quality of courage do I want to obtain?

The reason I'm writing about this is, perhaps a bit predictable in light of the events yesterday. I watched the news along with everyone else that has a scrap of patriotism and respect for our country and celebrated the fact that our country has, at least for now, some hope for the future and a small scrap of dignity to cling to on the world scene. But something I saw bothered me. Images of the mass crowds of people in the Mall booing images of President Bush and cheering as his plane left Washington. These are, presumably, the same people who have been telling McCain supporters to suck it up and accept President Obama and give him respect as the choice of the nation.

I don't agree with everything President Bush did. I don't think he is a perfect man or a perfect leader. Nor do I think it is fair to blame everything on him, or to blame everything on Congress. But I do think he is a good man. The popular view of Bush being an illiterate unintelligent monkey who led our country down that dark path of recession and war due to his mindlessness drives me crazy. It is unfair and not true. Wherever the "blame" lies for all this, it isn't just on one man. It is on far too many things that are out of anyone's control.

So at this time of transition, I tip my virtual hat to President Bush for doing all he could in the last eight years to do what he could with what he is given. As my President, he deserves respect. As a good man and a human being, he deserves to maintain his dignity. It will be interesting to see what the next four(+) years bring to our country and whether or not the popular opinion of President Obama shifts at all.

01 January 2009

How many (almost) college graduates does it take to find a Starbucks?

This is the story of a girl on a mission.  Her small sister had not been dreaming of sugar plums over the yule-tide season, she had been dreaming of figure skates and graceful feats of athleticism  on a sheet of ice.  The loving mother of these two girls, being a kind hearted soul, decided to promise the smaller one that, at some point before she returned to school, the family would embark on an ice skating adventure of fun and joy.  
This would have been much more easily accomplished if everyone else was as excited about said adventure as the small one was.  Older brother managed to get out of it by flying home early.  The rest of the family seemed doomed to the journey, however begrudgingly. 
On the day of the trip, Mother, older sister, small sister and small sister's friend drove in one car with Father and (no longer that small) younger brother drove in the other car to meet at the indoor ice-arena at approximately 2:00 PM (1400 Hours.)  This plan went swimmingly (if a little late) until the female vehicle realized that the arena, which had been open for a similar trip the previous New Year was closed.  Mother and older sister were ready to go home.  Small sister and friend were very disappointed.  Small sister was close to tears until Mother decided to suggest an even colder idea: the outdoor ice arena down town!  Brilliant! cried the younger passengers.  Wonderful! Smashing!  Please, lets!
This is the part where the boys get out of the adventure in favor of watching bowl games.  Older sister begins to see the benefit of competitive sports.  
So older sister drove the car down town and eventually (an hour later) found said over-crowded very small ice arena playing loud rock music and containing a plethora of people including two Mennonite girls, teenaged boys and girls attempting to flirt, skating students attempting to skate, and men dragged in by their wives away from their respective bowl games wearing jackets and hats to support their teams instead.  
To compensate for the cold and the fact that older sister had only dressed for indoor skating, she decided to go in search of a Starbucks to buy a warm drink of the chocolate variety.  Surely there would be one!  Or three!  Or twelve!  Within four city blocks alone!  It could not be so very difficult!

Older sister drove up and down a plethora of city streets in an attempt to find Starbucks.  Mother had told her that there was one near where her father worked but she could not see it.  She determined that either 1) she needed glasses; 2) she needed to be a wizard to see it; or 3) Mother was crazy.  After driving around without success down nearly every street in the down town area that seemed remotely safe, older sister decided to go to another coffee place a little farther away.  Other coffee place had, as she recalled, a nice variety of sandwiches and quiches and other snacks as well, since she had not eaten her noon meal yet.  This pleasant thought in mind, older sister found that the delightful coffee shop that had held all her hopes and dreams was closed.  Not just for today, but for every day.  Hopes and dreams were shattered.  There was (very nearly) weeping, wailing, and gnashing of teeth. 
Older sister decided that she was tired of driving around and that she should stop wasting gas in Mother's car.  As she was driving back, through the hazy waves of the hot drink-free desert, an oasis was seen on the corner - a Starbucks!  At last!  Older sister had found some luck!  She parked by a meter and went in.  There was no line.  She ordered one grande and one tall beverage for herself and for her mother.  The cashier said "Mayhaps may I interest you in something else?"  Older sister wished she had interest in another drink simply because he used the word "mayhaps".  Roughly $6.37 later, older sister is back in the car and on her way back to the outdoor ice block.  Things are looking up.  Especially when small sister's friend announces that her feet hurt and she is almost ready to go.  

Thank you, Starbucks.  Thank you.