25 April 2011

Ode to the Motherland

Hiking in Yorkshire

For me, I think, it started with a Fox.

A fox of the Robin Hood variety, that is. It was the accent that did it. And the debonaire style of rescuing fair vixens. And the arrogance. (And the cross. . . dressing. . .?)

What am I referring to? My hard core sense of Anglophilia and extreme love of England. It started with Robin Hood. It moved on next, I believe, to The Secret Garden. And so on and so on. I grew up thinking that England was, and would always be, the greatest place on earth. I was (am) convinced that I was born in the wrong country. I spent nearly the first two decades of my life wishing and praying that I would get the chance. But I knew (or suspected) that I'd never be able to see the England I wanted to see most of all - because most people go as tourists and see the requisite number of things in London and take the appropriate pictures and then move on - but that wasn't good enough. I wanted to walk through fields of sheep. I wanted to watch the sunset in Cornwall. I wanted to wake up in the morning and see the mist over the moors.

Then I found out about the England and Literature study abroad. I applied. I made it. Four years ago today, I boarded a plane and flew overseas for the first time in my life. And for two and a half wonderful months I lived that dream. I hiked through the Scottish Highlands, the Lake District, the Moors, the southern coast. I've seen more of England than the majority of the English.

Since the trip ended I have written about it in an essay that won me lots of money, I've talked about it more times than my family and friends would ever want to hear, and I've dreamed about going back. For today - I'll settle for some pictures in honor of my fellow Englanders and sing a round of "Will You Go, Lassie, Go" and the John Bennion song while eating a Magnum Bar.

Lake District
Robin in Wordsworth's Graveyard, Grasmere
Christ Church College, Oxford

Southern Coast
Kensington Gardens
On the beach in Weymouth.

Top of Ben Lomond

21 April 2011

Ode to Thespis

This blog post is not about anything profound. Occasionally I use this space to randomly send out my philosophies and ideas on life into the great void that is the interwebs, only rarely hearing anything at all about whether or not people care about what I say. It is the plague of the unambitious blogger, I suppose. If you want any real readership it requires more work.

But it hasn't stopped me from using this as an outlet to, at the very least, get my own thoughts in order and stated as clearly as I can. If people read it, well, that's part of why it's here. So, dear imaginary readers, if you are here, this one is a bit more indulgent.

I auditioned for a show yesterday.

Let me tell you a little bit about my life over the last year, and the magnitude of excitement I have over this audition will make more sense to you:

I have a rather consuming job. I teach, yes, but I'm also in the works right now of reviewing a business contract. I've got plans for a book that are going to be tackled this summer. I help manage and create an online school program for distance education students in the area. I don't know what spare time is any more. I've got my hand in so many pots that sometimes I feel quite disorganized and forgetful. In the great golden realms of memory, I seem to remember a time when I could keep track of all my students and what they needed to do and be days ahead in my planning. These days are, I think, gone for good.

Not that I am complaining. Quite the contrary: I love my job. I feel a great deal of satisfaction in the work that I do and hope that it actually makes a difference. But it has left me very little time to develop my own interests and abilities - at least during the months of September-May. To help counter this I set reading goals for myself and try to write as much as I can, but nothing - NOTHING - substitutes for those glorious months of rehearsal and performance.

This year, though, it didn't look like a show was going to work out. Nothing felt right. Every theater I looked at was doing a show I was either disinterested in or didn't feel good about auditioning for. So I turned my excitement towards a potential trip to Europe over the summer instead. Again - didn't work out. My summer was starting to look much like my school year - lots of work and planning. The only difference would be less time with students. Not different enough.

But then - the audition notice of audition notices. A show that I love, a good location, a good director, a good time. . . everything clicked into place. Five days after finding out about the audition, I went. I sang. My music cut out and I kept singing anyway. I got a very enthusiastic "wow!". I left the audition with winged feet and practically flew home.

Except, to a degree, I felt as though I'd left home. There are few places in the world I feel as comfortable as the theater. The thrill and joy of rehearsal. The energy of a performance. Even the anxiety I feel right now, waiting to hear about what happens next. (Do I get called back? Do I get the part? Do I get theater in my summer or was this all a strange detour on the road of where I'm going?) It's all part of that world that I love and adore so much.

So many of my greatest and most treasured memories are on the stage. The friends I've kept the longest. The experiences that have changed me as a person the most quickly.

I remember walking onto the stage where Music Man was going to be performed for the first time last year. I remember standing alone in the semi-lit auditorium and feeling my fingers tingle in anticipation and nervousness and glee. This, I thought, is my territory.

I used to think there would be a time in my life where theater would become just a distant, lovely sort of memory. But I have realized since that theater is something that I couldn't ever, ever give up without feeling a great deal of pain. Because theater - being on stage - it's part of who I am. It's not just a hobby or just a fling - it's in me.

Oh, theater. How I adore you.

(Now. . . please be kind to me again?. . .)

07 April 2011

Oh, the frailties of (looking like a) youth. . .

One of my earliest memories from my childhood was the very keen feeling of absolute frustration whenever anyone treated me like a child. To me, it always felt as though they thought me incompetent or insignificant or silly; but my ideas and realities were so real to me that I didn't understand why anyone would treat them without respect.

I think this is where some of my bossiness came from. Not so much now that I'm older, but I remember being quite forceful with my opinions when I was younger - mostly, I think, out of a desire to prove myself as worthy. I thought if I came across as smart then people would take me seriously.

Fortunately, I've more or less grown out of the bossy side. I won't deny that my opinionated personality probably comes off as being a bit brash or harsh to those who aren't used to me, but I've learned to control it and temper it better as I've learned to read people more. Even so, I still have a huge amount of trouble keeping my frustration under wraps when people treat me like a child.

For example, today I was teased about graduating from high school last week. (Har har.)

A few weeks ago the high counselor for my ward spoke about how much he loves the youth of the church. (I'm sorry - I'm a college grad, working full time, living entirely on my own income about 1000 miles from my parents. I'm not a youth.)

I had a conversation with a boy a while ago in which the phrase: "What? I thought you were 19!" was uttered. (Seriously? Do I not date much because I look approximately five years younger than I am, which means men who should be in my dating pool don't ask me out because they think I'm barely legal?!)

I recognize that there will come a time in my life when I enjoy looking younger than I am. I look forward to that day. At the moment it's just frustrating.

04 April 2011

Leisure, Business, Amusement

In the high school humanities class I help teach we spent some time this year talking about Aristotle's theory on how you should balance your time. It leads to some fairly interesting discussions about how each of these categories (leisure, business, and amusement) are necessary and needed in your life when used in proper balance.

By definition, business is the stuff you take care of to stay alive. This doesn't just mean a job, though it could - typically business is stuff that you don't inherently like or dislike, you just do it because you like the result. Like brushing your teeth, for example - most people don't brush their teeth for the fun of it, they brush their teeth because they like the clean teeth/peppermint aftertaste. But the action of brushing teeth alone is not one that people typically have a huge opinion one way or the other about. Business can include things you don't enjoy as well, but ultimately business is about basic survival.

Amusement is typically a bit more mindless - it's purpose, according to Aristotle, is to give you a break so that your work (business) is more productive. This is the kind of thing most people do to unwind when they get done with a day of work. Taking a walk. Watching a sitcom. Taking a short nap. Reading a silly book. Amusement is good for you, but only if it doesn't take away from your productivity as a human being.

Leisure, then, is the best parts of amusement so long as those elements uplift and inspire your mind. Leisure is time that is nobly occupied. It is time for your mind and creative powers to be free to explore.

I mention all of this because of a conversation I had recently with someone who mentioned that they loved movies that left them feeling entertained. I could hardly fault this person. Heaven knows I love a good book or movie and enjoy feeling entertained, but I realized a long time ago that that isn't quite good enough for me. I've reached a point in my life where movies that are mindless or books that are poorly written are not even amusing to me. I'd much rather read something or watch something I can talk about.

I suppose this could give off the impression that I'm a bit of a snob, and maybe that's true. But I actually think it makes me more diverse. Where some people get corralled into one genre ("I like chick flicks"/"I like action movies"/"I like romance novels"/"I like country music"), I do not. I'll watch or read just about anything if it makes me think. The artistry is the greatest trump card. And I think this is important, because this mentality so often feeds modern Mormon culture.

Modern Utah Valley/Mormon culture is particularly happy-clappy about happy, pretty endings. I find this kind of intriguing since The Book of Mormon is not a particularly happy book. (Actually, it skips over all the happy parts pretty quickly.) But, in spite of that, it's an incredibly uplifting and inspiring book. I suppose this is another essay for another time.

I guess the real point in all of this is that one of the greatest joys I get in my life is in finding things that make me think. Escapism just doesn't do it for me the way it occasionally did when I was younger. And while I'm certainly not above watching something just because it's a good amount of fun (a latest obsession has been BBCs Merlin - available on Hulu right now) - I'm also not in a place where the greatest goal I have with the way I spend my time is just to leave feeling temporarily entertained.

Maybe this is why I have such trouble being social sometimes. . .

To Be or to Do?

Last week I had a very curious conversation with a parent who had a kid doing a decent amount of make-up work. My perspective on this make-up work was that it would be something akin to personal tutoring and a chance for the student to actually learn what they had missed over the term. The parent quite bluntly told me that they would be satisfied if the student just turned things in so that the checklist could be completed and taken care of and signed off and gold starred and whatever. I was more than a little miffed by this; probably because it was directly related to writing and I get frustrated when people insult the amount of work it takes to be even half-way decent at writing. But I was more frustrated than that for a completely different reason, which was stated much more eloquently than I ever could this weekend during the Sunday afternoon session of the LDS General Conference by Lynn G. Robbins (follow the link for a video - the talk will be available in text form soon.)

Elder Robbins talked about the difference between to-do lists and to-be lists. In essence, it's very easy to check things off a to-do list when you're grocery shopping or attacking things to do at work, but not so easy when it relates to actually becoming someone. (The example he used was, if I remember right, being a better husband. Not something you can be 'done' with.) I found myself half wanting to shout at the screen: "ARE YOU HEARING THIS, DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION?!!!" It was exactly what I was trying to tell this mother.

See, the modern education world will say up and down that they are about turning students into life-long learners and that they are educating people and individuals not just groups of robots, but you'd be hard pressed to recognize that in the way most assessments are structured. Any more you have to have mathematical proof for learning - good judgment just doesn't fly. But people aren't to-do lists, and 'becoming' is an eternal process. It's one of the parts of Mormon doctrine that bewilders and interests me the most - that God can be a perfect being while still eternally progressing. So while there are definitely things that can be mastered once and for all (I don't ever have to re-learn the sum of 2+3, for example), there are many, many more things of even greater importance that are never mastered or finished.

In other news, I love General Conference.