24 December 2012

The Summer of the Soul

2012 has been a somewhat hormonal year for me.

2010 was pretty much amazing.  I graduated from college officially (though I was done in 2009 - had to finish the internship).  I landed my biggest dream part in my very favorite musical.  I moved away from the bubble (well, at least to the edge of it) and bought my first new car.  I got a new job and made some incredible friends.  2010 rocked.

2011. . . not so much.  2011 was the year of depression and doubt and trouble.  I spent the majority of the year battling some hard core emotional trials and questioning virtually everything I thought I knew.  I came out of 2011 exhausted and with a very firm good riddance at the clock when the year switched over.

If 2010 and 2011 had a love child, it would be my 2012.  On the one hand, the year has been pretty stinking incredible.  I landed not one, but two of my dream roles.  One of those parts in particular changed my life forever and I will always, always be grateful beyond words to have been lucky enough to be part of that show with that cast.  I took an awesome trip to the south eastern section of the US with three of my favorite people.  I went through the temple for the first time, something I have been praying for since, oh, for as long as I can remember.  I was able to be with my brother when he got married to his sweet wife.  I came to terms with many of the struggles I had in 2011.  The first half of the year was basically perfect.

The second half was pretty close to hell.  Without going into details you don't need to know, work essentially took over my life in the worst way possible.  It left me emotionally beaten and drained.  Many of the things that were making my job so stressful are being resolved right now - I hope.  It's still a little uncertain.  But I can at least say that things are looking up, which is a relief.  But in the middle of it all, things were looking pretty bleak.  I considered leaving more than once.  Anything - anything - would be better than how things were.

There is a line in the song "Feels Like Christmas" from The Muppet Christmas Carol that I've always loved that carried me through this particular December.  Christmas and December are called the "summer of the soul".  What a beautiful image.  And it's true.  For me, right this moment, a thousand literal miles away from how hard things have been and surrounded by friends and family, I feel once again the magic of Christmas.  What a wonderful time of year this is!

I have nothing profound to say just now.  Mostly I want to read (it's not even for school!) and go to bed so that I can enjoy the day with my family tomorrow.  But on this Christmas Day to those of you who read my writing every now and then or regularly, I wish you the very happiest of Christmases and pray that you too will find summer for your soul, no matter your current (or future) circumstances.

As for me. . . well. . . there are some exciting things coming in the unlucky year of 2013 for this girl.  Stay tuned.

13 December 2012

The Sisterhood of the Pants

There's been a lot of uproar in my neck of the Facebook woods lately about an event taking place next Sunday encouraging women to wear pants to church.

For my non-Mormon friends out there who now think that we are even more puritanical than you had originally thought, it is the cultural tradition - particularly in America - for women to wear dresses or skirts to a Mormon church service.  It is a tradition passed down through our English ancestry that culturally promoted clothing in women as a sign of her marital status.  Women's clothing has always been subject to such ideas - you don't see it as much in the men.  The modern motto behind this tradition is that we wear other clothes throughout the week and that dressing up is a way to show respect to sacred meetings.  For women, this generally means a modest dress or skirt, for men it means dress slacks, a white shirt and tie.

Welcome to not the 1840s, girls.  
The issue then is coming from women who are hoping to change the cultural tradition of dresses and skirts being the only option for women.  The church itself has nothing that says it is required for women to wear them to church.  The exact wording in the handbook, in fact, makes a point of saying that "The Church has not attempted to indicate just how long women's or girls' dresses should be nor whether they should wear pant suits or other types of clothing."  But there are still some pretty violent cultural stigmas against the action - as seen in this particular article that highlights the arguments on both sides.

This is what they see in their heads.
Like the author of this article, I didn't really see what the big deal was.  Although I don't mind (and actually kind of enjoy) wearing skirts and dresses to church, I don't really care what other people around me wear on the whole.  I can think of many circumstances in which pants would be completely acceptable wear to church for practical reasons or otherwise.  A woman working in nursery, for example.  Or just because it's winter and the building is cold.  It makes sense.  And I think that, on the whole, most people agree with that fact.  Christianity is built on the foundation of loving (and not judging) your neighbor.

So why is it such a big deal?

I think it is because there is a bit of a conflict of standards.  We have days after major school dances where girls wear their prom dresses to church meetings and boys wear their tuxes.  Is that appropriate?  What about the boy passing the sacrament in an untucked and sloppy shirt?  Or super long hair?  Or the men or boys wearing sneakers?  Is it alright to pass the sacrament in a blue shirt instead of a white one?  What about those cheap Old Navy flip flops?  Are any of these alright?  I think most people would agree that they probably aren't the most respectful dress options in church - but do we accuse the girl showing up in her ball gown of going apostate or the boy with the long hair has going against his priesthood duties?

Feminism itself is such a huge buzzword in this culture.  I suppose I can see why.  The word itself conjures up some rather violent images of bra burning and man-hating women.  In a church that promotes traditional family structures, this can be a little unnerving.  It leads to a culture full of women who cannot say anything related to typical "feminist" ideas without being labeled as an extremist who wants to be equal to a man in every way, when that isn't always the case.

This is more accurate.
What they are really looking for in this particular case isn't really the pants.  To me it goes deeper than that.  It's the same stigma that comes from people who rather violently oppose infant girls in spaghetti strap sundresses in the summer time (as if an infant's shoulders are already arousing.)  It's the attitude that comes when we teach our young women that they should dress dress modestly so that men don't think bad thoughts and turn to pornography.  It's what makes stuff like this happen.  Suddenly the girl herself can become worried that she's a walking sin waiting to happen if she happens to choose a shirt some guy doesn't like.  And then women who have perfectly legitimate reasons for working outside the home, or for pursuing higher education, or for not having a huge family suddenly feel the need to justify everything and fight for it.

I think back on my own experiences.  After college I was ready to move to Seattle.  A good portion of that reason, honestly, was that I was hoping to get married.  I had heard from friends that the wards there were good.  I was tired of BYU Student wards and how transient they always are.  People move from one ward to the next always looking for the bigger fish.  I was hoping for something more steady. But that's not what the Lord had in mind for me.  I was told pretty firmly to stay in Utah.  And now I'm living in a small town where the closest single's ward includes primarily 18 year old teens living at home with their parents (some of which are former students of mine.)  I don't know why I'm being taken down the particular path I'm on.  I do know that I've battled through feeling guilty over not being married (or not wanting a large family, or loving my job) because of those cultural pressures.

So what does this have to do with pants in church?  It has to do with women wanting not to be equal to men by robbing them of their priesthood.  These are not women going apostate from the church.  Trying to make a positive change is not equivalent with any of these things, particularly when the change seems to be primarily cultural and not doctrinal. Women should be able to ask questions about their divine role in the universe without feeling badly about it.  We should be able to talk about our Heavenly Mother without feeling awkward or wrong.  We should be able to discuss what we think our Celestial experiences will be.  And we should be able to discuss them without being given the toss-off answers so often used.  We may not have the answers - but fear is not a productive or constructive or even respectful response to a legitimate question.
Relief Society

I won't be participating on Sunday.  At least not directly.  I am afraid that some of these women will find that wearing pants to church is morphing into an act of "rebellion" in mindset, which distracts from the spirit of church.  That shouldn't be the goal.  They aren't "rebelling" against the church - just trying to influence the culture.  At the same time, I return to what I said before: it shouldn't be a problem in the first place.  Cultural expectations that become doctrine are scary to me - especially when they lead to this kind of terrified extremism in response.

The problem is that cultural change can't be mandated.  Not really.  And as one of my friends put it - it is really hard to walk the line between respect and change.  So to those who will be participating, you have my support.  As a woman living an unconventional path in the church, I appreciate you.

09 December 2012

Look at that face. . .

I have decided to embrace the inevitable and become a cat lady.

"Kitty. . . "
 Not an old one.  And not surrounded by too many, because that smells.  One is enough.  Maybe two.  And definitely hypoallergenic varieties or my dad will never come see me again, which would be sad because I love my dad.

"Rich kitty...?"
 (Dad, you'll know I'm mad at you if I ever get a non-hypoallergenic cat.  These lovely Balinese beauties are perfect for you.  Promise.)

"Hello!. . . Fluffy. . . "
 And, for the record, I would not be adverse to becoming a cat lady with a cat mister, but you can't buy them for a few hundred dollars.

"Kitty, kitty, kitty. . ."
 (At least not the breeds that clean up after their own poop.)

HOW could you resist that face?!!
. . . only I can't get one of them yet.  Not until I have my own place.  So I am feeding the cat hungry part of my soul by looking at pictures and it is. not. helping.  In the mean time, if you happen to come across any Balinese cat breeders looking to divest themselves of an adorable kitten in about two summers, then think to yourself "Self?  I know the perfect owner!" and give me a call.  Or a text.  Or a smoke signal.  

28 November 2012

Speechless

It's been a rough school year.  I won't go into details why - this isn't really the place for it.  But know that when I say rough, it's really a euphemism for hellish.

And then. . .

Our classes went on a field trip today.  It's my favorite trip of the year, this particular field trip.  It's always such an eye opening experience for students and I love the change that it brings to class.  Only one of my classes that has about 50 students in it had many not turn in their forms for one reason or another.  I couldn't find subs for a half day, and I felt bad asking my already overworked and stressed co-workers to cover for me when my co-teacher and other chaperones were perfectly capable of handling the group.  I wasn't going to be able to go on my favorite field trip.

And when word of this got out, within about ten minutes I had several incredible boys hunting down teachers that would be willing to take a few students into their room.  One girl brought her mother in to see me and she said that she would be willing to substitute for me.  I had several more emails over the next two days from parents telling me how sad their students were that I couldn't go and offering to substitute so I could go.

I don't know that I've ever been so touched in my life as I have been by my students this week.  They are kind, well meaning individuals who have so much to offer.  I am sometimes frustrated by them and by the silly mistakes they make, but I love them.  And this week I found out that they love me too.  When I told them I could go on the trip after all they cheered, while I - who rarely does so - wanted to cry.  What a beautiful, beautiful gift to have right now.  The knowledge that not only do I protect and stand up for my students, but that they protect and stand up for me.

I'm telling you, folks.  Teaching is a crazy profession.  I went into it so prepared and so naive.  I was prepared to work and prepared to manage and prepared to plan.  I was not prepared for the way these students would get under my skin and become small extensions of my family.  I am blessed - so, so blessed - to have the students I do.

26 November 2012

NEWSFLASH: I am not a Mommy.

Sometimes I feel like the world enjoys pointing out the obvious to me.  Today, for example, I had a well-meaning individual observe an interaction I had with a student from a distance of a few hundred feet, and then proceed to suggest how I could improve interactions with students.  "You're not a mom," said the well-meaning advice giver.  "So you don't understand."

This argument drives me nuts.

Really.

Because I am not a mommy.  I'm not hired to be a mommy.

Mommies are there for loving and encouraging and seeing the sun shine out of every little part of their child - even the part that poops.  They are wonderful.  I have a particularly great one, actually.  And when I need an emotional boost or a hug or a reminder that I'm not a waste of space, I have a mommy there to give me all of that attention.  And then she takes me out for lunch and buys me chocolate with salt in it (thanks mom!)

But I'm not a mommy.  I'm a coach.

This is what people see when I tell them I'm a coach, not a mom. 
I'm there to point out flaws and set deadlines.  I'm there to assign tasks and make goals for improvement.  I'm there to be the kind of observer that is allowed to be critical because if the child doesn't pass, it doesn't impact my welfare at all.  I'm lucky, actually - because I can put that kind of "fear" into a child in a way parents can't.  Kids generally know that their parents won't let them fall in life.  They know that the car won't actually turn around on the way to Disneyland, even if they're arguing.  If they don't get a job, there's mom.  If they can't afford a house, there's dad.  If they run out of food or need a nice meal - home is always waiting.  But I don't have to support the child financially if they don't move out on time or get into college.  And if I disappoint a student, or if a student is bothered by a rule, they are only with me for a few hours a week and can switch classes if they really want to.  You're stuck with family.  Teachers are temporary.  Families are forever.  My job is to find ways to be fair to 100 students at a time, not just three or four children.  And that sometimes means that people don't like me.  And that sometimes means that I'm not nice.  (Not that I'm always that way, by the way. I don't believe that yelling and fury are the answer to classroom management.  But I also believe in the power of saying "no" now and then.)

This is what it really looks like (most of the time.)

But that's not mean.  Not really.  Mean is more potent than the temporary pain of a late assignment.  When it comes down to it, my students know that I care about them.  I know because they tell me that I do.  And they're not wrong.  There are many of them that I consider, if not friends, and not my children, then colleagues.  There are many that I would love to set up with my sister because I think they're that amazing.  There are some so brilliant that I wish I had their future and potential.  Many of my choices have been made.  Their potential is still so, so fluid.  I wish I could show them how much I see and how excited I am for them.  I wish I could tell their parents how much I see and how excited I am for them.  They could take over the world, my kids.  And I love them.

But I'm a coach.  A teacher.  A barren one, currently - and there are strengths in that.  I have no doubt that I will learn more than I can imagine if I ever have the chance to sit on the other side of the Parent/Teacher Conference table - but to this well-meaning individual who seemed to be suggesting to me that by telling a student no (which, incidentally, I wasn't doing) that I wasn't being "helpful" and that I don't care about students - my response is simple:

BaHA!
We need both.  We need the mom who threatens to turn the car around and then doesn't.  That kind of mercy is a powerful thing.  But we also need a coach who gives you drills if you come to practice late.  It makes you stronger.  And I don't need to be a mom to see the benefit of both.  So stop making fun of my sad uterus.

This is disgusting.  

15 November 2012

Be Reverent!




A few days ago I helped chaperone a group of students to a modern dance concert performed by a local company.  The majority of the audience was made up of elementary students.  Small children in any kind of dance concert can be kind of interesting, especially if the concert is too long or there are boys dancing, but this concert was actually decently well structured for a younger crowd and they seemed to be enjoying themselves.  There were a few dances that were particularly silly and got the giggles going.  It was adorable.

Only then I heard it.  "Shhhh!!"

Students were complaining about it on the way home as well.  "I wish those kids hadn't been laughing. That was so disrespectful!"

"Why?" I asked.

"Because it's rude to laugh."

". . . it was funny."

"It was?"

The same thing happened to me several years ago at a BYU production of (I think) Two Gentlemen of Verona.    Something happened (probably a crude joke) and I laughed.

It was like I'd laughed in the middle of a wedding.  "SHH!"  Heads flipped in my direction and I was suddenly some kind of outcast.

"It was funny." I wanted to say.  "Just because you didn't get the gag, doesn't mean I can't laugh about it!"

I feel like people in my neck of the woods need a lesson on how to behave in the theater.  Growing up it was around hicks coming to the city in their ripped jeans and Budweiser t-shirts.  Here it's that theater is this "religious" experience, and in our religious vocabulary, that means we have to sit down and shut up and be sacred.

I don't like that.  I don't think reverence is exclusively linked with silence.  I think it's reverent and honorable to laugh when things are funny.  To sing with vigor.  (So help me I wish we had something more like a Southern Baptist gospel choir . . . )

There's a time and a place for respectful silence.  But I wish these kids hadn't been shut down and yelled at for thinking things were funny when they were, and the world would be a better place if people didn't treat the Bard like the Bible, and I think it would be awesome of people didn't treat the Bible with kid gloves.  We can treat sacred things sacredly without anesthetizing emotional response.

(Or forcing it, I suppose.  I don't understand the "I'm going to go to this movie and I'M GOING TO CRY SO HARD!!!" enthusiasm either.)

12 November 2012

The Power of Gratitude

Below is the text of a talk I gave in church last year about the power of gratitude.  My mom thought I should send it to the Ensign.  I never did - it's so long and not personal experience centered enough for a non general authority to send in.  But I thought I'd post it again here, as a reminder to myself, if nothing else.  Happy holiday season, dear blog reader. 


Between the 7th of September 1940 and the 10th of May in 1941, the city of London was bombed every night by the German Air Force.  Before the air raids ended, over 40,000 people were killed and more than a million homes were damaged or destroyed in the city.  Other important cities all over the UK were effected by the air raids as well.  It was a terrible, frightening time that left the city of London in a state of crisis.  

In an attempt to keep families safe, children were sent away from home and into the country or overseas where they would be protected from the attacks.  Those left in the city built shelters under ground and covered their windows with thick, black fabric so that no light would come in or out of the houses.  If the German Pilots couldn’t see where to hit, the chances of the city being damaged went down significantly.  There were few options - it was darkness, or certain death. 

In our lives today we are not being threatened with physical bombs but spiritual ones.  It is easy to look around and see the evil in the world as overpowering.  But this lifestyle - hiding away - is an extreme.  We are not meant to hide the light inside of our houses, the Savior commands us to be a city on a hill and He has commanded us to be grateful.  If we watch only the news, it would be easy to respond: “grateful for what?  This world is dark, people do terrible things to one another and die early deaths - I am going to stay inside my home without any technology at all for the rest of my life and hope that it all goes away.”  This attitude, however, is contradictory to the spirit of gratitude.  We need to engage with the world around us if we are to be truly grateful.

As I have thought about and read about the topic of gratitude in the last several weeks, I have seen from every source the constant theme of gratitude being more than an attitude but a lifestyle.  Sincere gratitude is more than saying “thank you” - though that is certainly a good thing to do.  A person living a life of gratitude sees through the literal and spiritual “air raid” climate and is able to find an abundance of peace and joy in the blessings of the gospel.  It is very tempting to hide from the darkness in the world, but the result of hiding means turning away light as well.  Hiding from the world is a symptom of ingratitude.

In a talk given in the April 2007 General Conference, former Relief Society President Bonnie D. Parkin describes gratitude as a “spirit-filled principle.  It opens our minds to a universe permeated with the richness of a living God.  Through it, we become spiritually aware of the wonder of the smallest things, which gladden our hearts with their messages of God’s love.  This grateful awareness heightens our sensitivity to divine direction.  When we communicate gratitude, we can be filled with the Spirit and connected to those around us and the Lord.”  Gratitude, then, is more than just a brief expression of thanks.  It is an enabling force.  When we live a life of gratitude, it becomes easier for us to see how many things we have to be grateful for.  Gratitude becomes a shield against the vices of pride and selfishness, and the key that unlocks the doors to faith, charity, and other virtues.  In other words, gratitude allows you to engage the world and shields you from its vices at the same time.

This is, I believe, why the Lord asks us to be grateful.  In fact, living with thanksgiving is a commandment.  Why might that be?  Personally, I find it hard to believe that the Lord commands us to be grateful because he selfishly wants our acknowledgement that He has given us everything.  Although I am sure that the Lord appreciates hearing our gratitude, I think He appreciates even more the effect that our gratitude has on us, and on others.  

The Doctrine and Covenants talks about this principle most clearly.  In section 46, the saints are told that doing all things with “prayer and thanksgiving” prevents you from being seduced by evil spirits.  In section 59 we learn that if we fast and pray with thanksgiving, the fulness of the earth is ours.  Living a life of gratitude empowers us to experience the world in safety.  When we give thanks, our blessings multiply literally, but our eyes are also opened to the wealth of blessings we have already had access to. For instance, when Christ fed the people on the hill with the loaves and fishes, he gave thanks before he started distributing the food.  It was after he had given thanks that the loaves and fishes were multiplied.  Living a life of gratitude multiplies our physical blessings, and opens our eyes to the blessings we already have in our lives.  When we are grateful, we see the hand of the Lord in the world around us, and the perceived power of wickedness diminishes by comparison.

In addition, expressing gratitude is the quickest and most efficient way I can think of to spread the love of Christ to others.  When a person expresses sincere gratitude for another, both leave the experience happier and more likely to repeat the action to someone else, and so on down the line until our homes, schools, and communities feel the lasting effects of a more optimistic and positive outlook.    

I have often been frustrated when a person has come to me and told me that I need to be grateful for my trials.  Although they are not wrong, this phrase is often used in a context that means we should look past a trial and move on or we are not being grateful, but I don’t believe that this is true.  Sincere gratitude is not synonymous with ignorance and naivety.  We do not have to be afraid of acknowledging when things are hard or sad.  In fact, our trials must be hard, or they are not a true blessing.  We should not gloss over our trials, or use gratitude as a way to belittle our trials.  In the Book of John, the Savior’s good friend Martha expressed concern for the health of her brother Lazarus.  Christ was on his way out of town and told Martha that Lazarus would be fine, even though he knew that Lazarus was already dead.  Upon his return to the city, Mary approached the Savior in tears over the death of her brother - although Christ knew that Lazarus would be brought back to life soon, he did not tell Mary to stop crying or ignore the pain she was feeling.  Instead he cried with her.  If he had ignored her feelings of pain, I do not doubt that she would still have been grateful for the return of her brother, but I do think that acknowledging both emotions gave greater credibility and strength to Mary and Martha.  

Joseph Smith and his companions experienced something similar in Liberty Jail.  By this point in Joseph’s life, he was very well versed in the language of persecution.  He was 33 years old - 19 years had passed since he had the first vision.  He had been tarred and feathered, driven out of several cities, jailed before - he was no stranger to trials.  But the conditions at Liberty and the persecution of the Saints outside was so bad at this point that even Joseph begged the Lord to release him.  The Lord’s response to Joseph was that his trials would give him experience and be good for him.  The Lord knew, and Joseph learned again, that if trials are not hard for us, we do not grow, and the power of our gratitude is less potent.  

To ignore feelings of sorrow, pain, or frustration, then, creates a shallow expression of gratitude - gratitude becomes an anesthetic; a numbing force that hides you from the opportunity to feel both sorrow and joy.  Our gratitude becomes more meaningful when it is not an escape, but a choice.  The Buddhists would call this “Right Mindfulness”.  To be in a state of right mindfulness means that you have obtained the ability to gain greater control of your thoughts so that your perceptions are less impulsive or naive.  Without right mindfulness, a person is quick to judge and assume that their immediate judgment is correct.  This might encourage us to see darkness where there is really light to be found, or not to experience the darkness in favor of a dimmed light.

In the 13th Article of Faith we read that “if there is anything virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy, we seek after these things.”  Gratitude works as a tool to help us find those things in a dark world without being overcome by evil in our search.  As members of the church, then, we should be working to bring anything virtuous, lovely, of good report or praiseworthy into our lives.  We cannot be afraid of the world.  We must trust that our Heavenly Father sent us to this world knowing that it would be good for us, and good enough for us.  Hiding from the world He has given us can be a form of ingratitude.  It is true that we are surrounded by literal and symbolic wars against living a righteous life, but when we live a life of gratitude we gain confidence in the power and protection of the Lord, and begin seeing how everything that comes in our life is an opportunity to be sincerely grateful.

09 November 2012

First Snowfall

My second year of college I had a job working on the south end of campus.  I lived north of campus, which meant about a two mile walk home every night.  I had a love-hate relationship with that walk.  Some days I just wanted to be home.  It took about a half an hour, and it seemed like such wasted time. If the weather was particularly hot or cold it was annoying.  But some nights, some nights it was a joy.

One such night happened shortly after Christmas when I had returned back to school to get in a few days of work before classes started to earn some extra cash.  I was going on a study abroad and needed money.  It meant a week alone in my apartment, which was both strangely lonely and also strangely awesome because I got to watch what I wanted and listen to music when I wanted and everything was always clean.  I didn't have to worry about classes, though, so I would work the closing shift at work and then walk home that night.

One such night it was snowing.  And it was a glorious, beautiful Utah snow.  Snow in the midwest doesn't get big and fluffy like this snow.  It's grainy and sandy and scratches your face.  This snow was exactly what snow was supposed to look like.  It was Narnia.  It was snow in chunks the size of a quarter.  It was falling fast.  Everything was still and quiet in the way it can only be when it snows that way.  Glorious.

This is what I thought it looked like.
So, being the "appropriate" person that I am, the only thing to do was to turn on my iPod and listen to The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe soundtrack, and whipped out my umbrella.  (I remember having to shake the snow off of it a few times because it was so thick and heavy.  THAT's how awesome the snow was.)  I completely forgot how cold and wet my feet were (this was before I had discovered the amazingness of boots and skinny jeans), and didn't mind at all how long the walk was.  If I couldn't get to Narnia through wardrobes, then I may as well imagine myself there to bide some time on the walk home, right?!

As I approached my apartment I saw some people outside the building throwing snowballs at each other.  I smiled at them, feeling rather patronizing in my head.  Oh, you juvenile people.  Throwing snowballs.  I've just been enjoying the best walk home of my life.

I got inside, took off my shoes, and went to go change out of my sopping jeans when I looked in the mirror and saw not the appropriately picturesque romantic heroine I had been imagining myself to be, but this:

Which, apparently, is some kind of desirable make-up  trick.

Oh well.  

Happy first snow, everyone!  May we enjoy beautiful snows and romantic walks. . .until January.  When it should all go away and be nice again.

08 November 2012

What's in a Name?


I've got a quick, fun one for you today. 

When I was in high school, I wanted to become a Creative Writing teacher.  This was, in part, because I hero-worshiped my own teacher, who was genius.  I thought it would, without doubt, be the best class ever because people chose to be there, so they'd want to be there.  I pictured a room full of eager people drinking up every word I said as though I were the god of writing.  It would be wonderful. 

When I was at BYU and in education classes, they would have us write often about the classes we'd like to teach.  I always wrote down Creative Writing.  Every time.  And every time, just about everyone else did too.  Suddenly I realized: the Creative Writing teaching position would be given to maybe one teacher in any given school.  I'd probably have to work my way up the ladder.  

And now, by some awesome stroke of luck (or was it?) I ended up at a school my second year of teaching that decided to offer a Creative Writing class that I would teach.  Score! 

Now I'm in my third year of teaching Creative Writing classes.  I love it.  Mostly.  There's a bit of a battle to get kids to realize that they have to (gasp!) write in a writing class, but it's still a pretty great gig.  And there are some days when I really do get to bask in the awesomeness of having students take everything I say as gospel.  

Next Tuesday, they are going to learn the gospel of names. 

See, we've entered our fiction unit.  They've created characters.  They live in Utah.  Which means their character names are something like this: 





Not. Everyone. Does. This.  

I consider it part of my civic duty to assist in naming characters normally.  Or at the very least, readably.  Also, since I can't stop crazy parents in nursery wards of hospitals, I may as well save the billions of potential fictional people from an unpronounceable death.  And if you haven't watched that video yet, then do, because it's fantastic.

07 November 2012

Gloom, Doom and Destruction

My Facebook feed exploded this morning.

I'm sure yours did as well.  If you're like me, it was rather entertaining to watch.  Declarations of the end of the world, the end of justice, the beginning of an era led by the anti-Christ. . . it's all pretty bleak looking.

And, in all honesty, as a moderate who voted conservative, I had a healthy bit of my own disappointment this morning as well.  My guy lost.  The guy I didn't agree with so much won.  I have some concerns (debt, foreign policy, health care, education, taxes) that I'm more than a little wary about.  There are some moral differences between the President and myself that concern me as well.  But I think there is a difference between productive disagreement and non-productive bitching.

For example:

A number of people started posting scriptural references and quotes from prophets as a means of proving what seemed to me a rather foreboding, taunting, occasionally arrogant point.  It reminds me of Dave Barry's article "How to Win Arguments".  He talks about how the one argument that no one can argue with is if you say "that sounds like something Hitler would say!"  People are using scripture in the same way - as a means to both open and close the argument without possible opposing points of view - because you can't argue with God.

Let me be clear: I fully respect and support and encourage everyone in any time of discouragement or concern no matter how big or small to turn to their religious leaders for guidance and courage.  It is a very valid and good thing to do.  I do not, however, support turning scriptures into a weapon used to preach gloom, doom and destruction.  Particularly when, at least as far as the leaders of my church have been involved, the response to this election has been one that encourages good will and moving forward with faith.  And as far as I know, the only people in the world who have the right to preach destruction of the world are the living prophets and apostles.  If Noah wants to tell everyone they're going to drown in a flood if they don't get on the ship, more power to him.  I'll pack my bags.  But I am not qualified or authorized to do the same as Noah.

No.  It is our job as Mormons, Catholics, Jews, Muslims, whatever - to encourage and lift others.  Especially now.  It does us no good to turn our religious beliefs into a threat or a source of contention.

(And - just saying - but the number of people I've seen/heard of "defriending" each other because of political discussion is laughable.  This country was founded on political debate.  If you can't handle it, then don't dish it out.  And know that I laugh at you a little when you go off in a huff because someone disagrees with you.  If we don't disagree once in a while, how will we learn?  And if you're like me and actually enjoy the chance to hash out the issues, let's not let this be the end, shall we?)

06 November 2012

A Sense of Urgency

Education through osmosis. 
Today I want to write about urgency.  Not about the pending election results (though heaven knows I'll be glued to the screen all night).  I want to write what I wish, almost more than anything, that my students would understand.

I teach at a charter school.  Those unfamiliar with the education world imagine that charter school is synonymous with a private school and assume I'm either making a huge amount of money (which I'm not) or that we aren't subject to state and federal education mandates (which we are).  I actually had to explain the way charter schools work about eight times to the guy selling my my contract with Verizon so I could get my state employee discount (17%!) a few months ago.

For those of you unaware, a charter school is a publicly funded school beholden to all the same laws and standards given to a normal public school, but without the umbrella of the teacher's unions.  The biggest difference is typically based on the size and style of education.  You'll also see charter schools that focus on particular studies (arts and sciences, usually).  In a large city, getting into a charter school is typically a huge deal - an active decision by parents and students who want to give their child a better chance at escaping the violent, gang ridden over crowding in the schools they are zoned for.  It's a nice alternative to costly private schools.  As seen in documentaries like Waiting for Superman - these families have to submit themselves to the lottery that will determine acceptance.  Charter schools can't pick and choose who comes through application like private schools can.

In Utah, though, charters generally serve a slightly different purpose.  In my experience, families that gravitate towards charter schools here generally do so for one of the following reasons:

1. They believe the public schools are a hive of scum and villainy and would like their child to be in a more conservative environment.

2. Their child is particularly awkward socially and parents hope that a smaller school will create closer bonds of friendships a little more easily.

3. The child is particularly far behind academically, but the parent believes that the public school assessment is incorrect and that the student needs a different kind of learning environment.  (Sometimes these parents also believe that their child is a closet Einstein.)

4. Smaller class sizes.

5. They believe their child has particular gifts in an area that the school specializes (or claims to specialize) in.

Not on this list, as far as I can tell in my interaction with parents or students is the belief that charter schools here lead to a better chance of getting an education that will lead to an excellent college.  This isn't to say that these students don't anticipate being college bound, but the primary motivations that I can see generally lean towards being more social than academic, at least in Utah.  (This isn't to say that I don't work with families who are looking for a good education as a motivator - it's just that in Utah it's typically not because they don't believe the public schools will keep them from college.  From what I see, it's usually more the style of teaching or philosophy on education in the school than a desire for escaping inadequate education elsewhere.)

Those who are in the "academic-know" generally respond quite favorably when I tell them I teach at a charter.  They've seen Waiting for Superman or watched other documentaries and imagine that my students are eager educational beavers gobbling up everything I give them.

And you know what?  Some of them are.  Some of them have an incredible sense of urgency about their education.  They work hard for it.  If they're not getting it from me, they'll get it from somewhere.  They'll strive and seek and find and not yield.  And I am proud of them.  And I am honored to be a part of their lives.

But the culture around here is not terribly "panicked" about the future.

I realized this most profoundly at the commencement ceremonies for my school last May.  I watched the graduating class walk across the stage to receive their diplomas as their destinations after high school were read.  Of those graduating, I counted only three students attending schools that require any kind of application where grades and letters of recommendation will matter.  The remaining students are going to small state schools, community colleges, online schools, beauty schools. . . or no where.  Most were going no where.

I recognize that in this time of the world, a college education is not necessary for either success or for education.  There are thousands of educational paths to take that are nontraditional and glorious now.  The world is so much more accessible than it used to be.  I sincerely hope that these students are moving in that direction.

But I fear for them.  I fear for them because they live in an environment where so often, everything is placed in their laps.  Today we had an assembly about our sister school in Africa where students walk ten miles on empty stomachs to go to a school.  Some will spend the night on their desks instead of braving the walk home.  Twenty three of them managed to get accepted to colleges last year.  These students take their college entrance exams in English - their third language.  It's incredible.  How much more should we as leaders of the free world feel a sense of duty to educate and to seek after knowledge in a world where we have the luxury of not walking so far?  Of doing so on a full stomach?  (Or at least partially full.  Thanks a ton, Michelle.)

BRING BACK FRIZZLE!
If I had my druthers, I'd shout from every housetop I could, and in the ear of every politician I could find and tell them that for the love of all that is holy: the solution to invigorating our students is not with more bubble sheets, more standardized tests, and more worksheets.  When was the last time you filled out a worksheet in school that changed your life and excited you?  If students are going to feel a sense of urgency, they need an environment in which they are free to make mistakes and get messy.  Where it's not about finding the one right answer, it's about finding infinite possibilities.  They need a government that isn't so darn concerned about competing with Chinese math students.  So what if China is doing better in math and science?  This is the country that invented the iPod.  And television.  And Google.  And Pixar.  We don't need a small room of people figuring out solutions to education problems: we need an entire nation of people liberated enough to think for themselves.

But you know what?  The world isn't perfect.  And that may never happen.  But that's no excuse.  The world is at our fingertips.  Literally.  Anyone with a smart phone can get a college level education if they are diligent enough.  It's time to stop waiting for politicians to make our education better.  It's time to just be educated.  No excuses.

31 October 2012

Song Understudies



A few weeks ago at the oh, so pleasurable experience I had in Cedar City, (I can still smell it), I neglected to tell the whole story.  I am here to rectify the situation.

When you are sitting in a theater being accosted by gag-worthy smells (one of my friends was quoted as saying "I didn't realize how fecal it was") - we needed to find a way to distract ourselves.  The four of us left behind realized more or less at the same time that the option of feeling spiritual uplift or the desire to overthrow a government or any other variation of profound thought was a lost cause.  We needed something else to get us through the show.

I'm going to take credit for starting it.  In the middle of listening to Marius and Cosette sing about how much they love each other even though they just met each other and it was crazy, maybe - I got a certain obnoxious song stuck in my head and leaned over to one of my friends to say: "Hey - they should sing this instead."

Friend laughed and replied: "They have understudies for actors.  They should have understudies for songs.  You know.  Because sometimes they just don't want to be sung."

Soooo. . . we made a list.  Sometimes it was something like: "I dare you to find a song from Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat that will fit in this show."  And sometimes it just came to us.  But we were laughing pretty hard.  I'm sure the people next to us thought we were nuts/sacrilegious or something but whatever.  You gotta do what you gotta do.

The rules, if there were any, were that the song substitutions had to be snarky.  Nothing that would actually fit.  You know - how every show has a love song or an "I'm alone" song so that's just boring.  If you're going to have a song understudy, it should be with some pizzaz.  Sometimes it's the irony of the attitude.  Sometimes it's the lyrics themselves that relate.  But snark is a must.

Here are some of my favorites from our list.  It may help if you know the songs from Les Mis.


May you find as much enjoyment out of this as we did.  I hope.  And if you have any ideas you should send them my way.  Not just for Les Mis but for everything.  We can start a revolution, folks.  This could be big.  Just remember that I started it.

Or. . . maybe you had to be there. 

30 October 2012

Going Out

Sometimes I feel like I live at school.

And considering how huge and spacious and windowed my classroom and adjoining office space are, you'd think that spending said huge amounts of hours there would not be a big deal but today they were a big deal.  I wanted out.  I had thought about staying for the school arts Halloween concert but that was still a few hours away and I couldn't bear to be there for another building.  So out it was.

But out to what exactly?

My ever absent boyfriend/fiance/husband?  (There are only so many times I can watch ((insert BBC TV series here)) before it doesn't count anymore/ever.)

Rehearsal? (Wish I had time for one.)

A cup of tea and the book I've been reading?  (All my books are for school right now.  Too much annotation needs doing to be relaxing.)

A bubble bath?  (Hate them.  Cold, dirty water is not appealing and I don't like being naked.)

My life has become work and more work and. . .more work.  I suppose that's what happens when you're teaching far too many classes and own your own business on top of all that.

After a trip to the store for some half decent frozen pizza (because I'm too exhausted to cook and have worn out all of my other eat-out options long ago - it's what happens when you do theater. . . ) I realized that although I could totally use a night just sitting alone in my room and falling asleep by 9:00. . . I didn't want that.  I wanted people.  But all of my people were at school.

So back I went.  I saw the last half of the concert.  I socialized with other teachers and parents and former cast mates from the YCTIWY crowd and reminisced about the summer and planned for the next few shows on the docket.  And I found again that even though maintaining relationships and contact with people isn't exactly my forte, I am grateful for the people in my life that make it worth living when I would otherwise be drowning in a sea of confused homophones and strangely formatted papers and over pretentious short stories.

The papers aren't going anywhere.  (Seriously, though.  I keep putting off looking at them.)  There will always be more books to prepare.  (Good thing I pick not crappy ones.)  But in the meantime - I'm grateful for friends.

24 October 2012

Like a Veal

This is what they think I do.

Teach.  Verb.  "To impart knowledge of or skill in, to give instruction."

I get mad at my students when they start an essay with a dictionary definition, especially when they are giving a definition that is obvious or doesn't add to what they're trying to say.  But this time, surprising as it may be, it is relevant. 

I have had the following conversation in one form or another on several occasions with parents and students.  It goes as follows:

Student/Parent: I am/my child is dropping your Creative Writing class. 

Me: Oh, I'm sorry to hear that.  (Aside: sometimes.)  Why?

Student/Parent: I am/my child is a free spirit.  They don't like being told what to write, they thought they would just be able to write fun stories in your class.  

My response to this is generally a polite "Thank you, hope you/your child enjoys whatever class they transfer into."  My internal response, though, is always rather bewildered. 

Let me explain.  I have been thinking about this for a while because it's kind of bugging me.  In no other class that I can think of do parents or students expect not to be taught something.  You join an art class, you expect the teacher to give you some new techniques to try.  You join a French class, you assume that teacher is going to give you vocabulary and speaking lessons.  Basketball.  You expect drills.  English - you expect the teacher to instruct you in better grammar and organization/presentation of ideas.  Math.  Science.  Theater.  You expect those kind of things. 

But not so with Creative Writing.  People seem to think that Creative Writing is a class in which I, as a teacher, will sit in my rolly chair like a veal and smile and give cookies to students who write stories and put them up on the refrigerator in my office with a gold star on them for all the world to see.  They don't expect me to give prompts, to give lessons, to corral ideas into something manageable in a few pages.  It's the only class I teach where people are surprised that I'm teaching.  Like it's this revolutionary idea that writing well, particularly for beginning writers, requires some instruction.

That kind of teaching would be absurd in other classes.  Can you imagine a parent coming to a violin teacher that has been carefully instructing classes about scales before allowing them to touch, say, Mahler, and have the parent pull the student because the student just wants to play for fun and doesn't care how pretty it sounds?  No.  

Anyway.  Random post for a random day.  Here's another random thought: people tell me I'll go straight to heaven because I teach junior high.  I tell them no.  It's not me.  It's the beginning orchestra teachers.  They get dibs.  And I know this because last year my room was next to the beginning orchestra room.  

22 October 2012

Review: The Casual Vacancy

Disclaimer: This is, as clearly stated above, a review of the new JK Rowling novel, The Casual Vacancy.  Not too many overt plot point spoilers, but read at your own risk. 

To be honest, I feel a little strange writing this review now.  Not, I mean, right this very second.  I mean now, nearly a month since the book came out.  I've never read a JK Rowling book in more than 24 hours before.  Something is not. right.  But, I suppose, if Harry himself has to grow up and take on adult responsibilities than I probably ought to as well.  Gone are the days when I could stay up until well past 4:00 AM with a book.  At least not until summer comes around again, and even then I start falling asleep.  Gosh that makes me feel old.

But in my defense, The Casual Vacancy isn't really that type of book.  Not quite the quick moving, action oriented fare that I'm used to from Rowling.  It's a much more traditional British-style novel with emphasis on character development over plot.  I found myself having to read and re-read sections of the first few chapters just to re-orient myself to the novel.  It looked and felt and smelled like Rowling but something was just different.  It took some time. To be honest, I'm still not entirely sure after 500 pages that I'm entirely used to it.  For one thing, the narrative was much choppier and harder to follow.  Potter sits comfortably in Harry's head most of the time.  Vacancy jumps between one character to the next often without much transition making it hard to keep track of who is who.  There are a huge number of characters to keep track of as well - at least 20 to rotate through - I'm not entirely sure I managed to keep track of everyone.  It wasn't as smooth a narrative as I generally see from Rowling.

The Casual Vacancy is, in many ways, similar to Potter.  There is a huge amount of character development that is rewarding and allows for the reader (in a very Atticus Finch like way) to be careful about judging characters too quickly for their actions.  It also has a definite sense of dark humor and an underlying push for good virtues and strong choices in the face of difficult odds that certainly resonated through Hogwarts.  Only there's really nothing terribly magical in the towns of Pagford and Yarvil.  The obstacles to overcome are not symbolic dementors or bad teachers with cruel quills or dragons protecting their eggs- these are very real challenges of drugs and affairs and broken families and children who despise their parents and, in some cases, vice versa.  There was a rather nice bit of symbolism in a different kind of ghost, but that was about as close as the book ever got to the symbolic power of the Potter books- everything is was quite raw.

There's no question: Vacancy is a very adult book.  And by adult, I mean adult.  The language is incredibly harsh and doesn't let up from start to finish.  Most of the characters in this book are leading lives that are not moral at all.  Although I thought the payoff of the book was able to overcome the harsh material, it is not something to be taken lightly if you choose to read it.  It's a far cry from Potter and I'd probably (definitely) get into huge amounts of trouble if I recommended it to any of my students.  I was reading it while working at the BYU football game a few weeks ago and had one game-goer ask me if he'd have to see his bishop after reading it.  Well, no.  I don't think so.  But the characters in the book certainly need to.  Read with caution if you don't like (or can't tollerate) that sort of thing.

There was so much talk before the book was published about how Rowling would never be able to top or compete with herself after the success of Potter, and that's probably true.  It also really doesn't matter.  She can write whatever she wants now and be successful or not successful and it won't make an ounce of difference to her financial situation.  So I can understand her desire to break the mold away from Potter.  I did wonder several times as I read through Vacancy, though, whether or not all that language and crass behavior was really necessary to prove her point, or really all that true to who she seems to be.  I don't fault an author for swearing when the words are right, and I would never presume to tell an author only to write characters leading nice, moral lives.  Some of my favorite books (Lord of the Flies, 1984, Catcher in the Rye) are predominantly about characters with either a poor understanding of what a moral life generally involves or have a blatant disregard for that kind of lifestyle.  But there were a handful of times as I read Vacancy where I wondered if "that word" was the right word, or if "that scene" was the only way to portray what was needed for the characters.  Was she going for shock value?  To prove to people that she can write more than just for children and teenagers?  I think there are better ways to do so than through that much content.  Sometimes it felt a bit like a Disney child star taking on a rated R film just to prove that they're grown up now, instead of just nicely transitioning out of Disney and into other projects.  I wished she wouldn't try so hard to prove herself.

That said, the payoff at the end of the book is worth it.  The final images in particular were so striking that my patience and persistant belief that Rowling wouldn't write something that didn't pay off was certainly rewarded.  It just took much more patience from me as a reader to get to that point.  The best compliment I can pay this book, or any book, is that I am still thinking about it.  Honestly, it's left me profoundly grateful for an atonement that covers not only sins, but also considers the circumstances around us and our own perspective on the choices we have to make.  We are told that the Lord does not just look at the outward appearance - he looks at our heart.  At our intents.  We are asked to become perfect in an imperfect world with imperfect abilities of perception.  We do the best we can with what we know, with what we can see, and can then be incredibly relieved and overjoyed when we know that those times when we fall short, sometimes through no fault of our own, it will still work out.

Overall, I'm glad that I read it.  It was a good, interesting read and I'm excited to see what she comes up with next.  But I'm not quite jumping out of my skin with excitement about it.  Parts of it were completely brilliant.  Parts were a bit overboard.  The flow of the story was weak.  Hopefully her next foray in the Post-Potterverse will be a bit more balanced.

12 October 2012

I Miserables

It was a happy, quiet-ish night at the theater.  After an afternoon of some glorious Shakespeare, I was prepared to enjoy one of the greatest war-horse musicals there is in the beautiful Randall Theater in Cedar City, Utah: Les Miserables.  After visiting the loo, I joined my friends and sat in the very back row, ready to enjoy the musical that Utahns worship as Celestial, even though it's primarily about whores and prostitution and thieves breaking the law.

About five minutes before the show started, an usher came and gestured for three members of our group of seven to come with her.  This was confusing.  Had they done something wrong?  No.  They had been reseated.  Somehow in a completely sold out house, they had managed to scrape free seats on the main floor.  Lucky. 

Ah well.  I moved over, closer to the rest of my group.

"Can't you smell it?"

I was confused.  ". . . smell what?"

"Be glad.  That's why they left." 

Oh.  Well, I couldn't smell it so it didn't matter.  I'd enjoy the show.

But then psychosomatic smells started to taunt my nose.  Then some not so psychosomatic smells.  I was definitely smelling something.  Possibly the group in front of me hadn't showered in a while.  Maybe they were particularly method audience members wanting to give me the true French Revolution experience.  Or maybe they were decaying.  Certainly they had something truly foul for dinner that night on top of these previous offenses.  I pulled out a bottle of peppermint oil from my purse and spread the love to the rest of my group. 

Only that just cleared my sinuses and made it easier for me to smell the others.  Ick.

During intermission we contemplated asking to be reseated as well, but there was no hope.  The theater was booked, and no one walks out of Les Mis.  So we returned to find the great offender taking off her sweater.  This did not help. 

There was only one thing to be done.  All four of us shielded our nose with scarves, coats and shirts.  I was doing double duty like a bat or a vampire with one hand holding up my coat over my nose and one hand holding the peppermint oil bottle a scant millimeter away from my nose at all times.  The others contemplated the benefits of hot tamale nose plugs.  I very nearly shouted to the stage "NO YOU DON'T!" when Thenardier sang of getting used to the smell in the sewers. 

I had to ask those who had dodged the smell bullet afterward if the show was good.  Apparently it was excellent.  Then those of us who had survived the back row regaled our story of olfactory woe to much laughter that was sure to have confused theatergoers who had felt uplifted and edified by the experience.  To celebrate our survival we decided to go buy some ice cream.  I contemplated snorting said ice cream.  Also, I'm probably going to have to put my coat in a plastic bag in the basement for a few weeks like you do with lice so as to avoid the spread of such an accostation of the senses.

Thank goodness I've seen this show before.

19 September 2012

The Budding Activist

Joni = Elizabeth

(Thanks for the inspiration, CJane.)

It was really an accident that I ended up in England that summer.  I had wanted to go on a study abroad but was only working part time.  I was on the "Newman Family Scholarship" at that time - get good grades and you get your tuition and books covered.  As a result, I felt rather beholden to my parents and regretted asking for any financial boost.  So when Liz came up to me after class one day buzzing with excitement about this program and how it was perfect, I was a little surprised.

"This is a hiking trip, Liz.  We aren't really the outdoorsy type."

"But it's only day hikes.  And there aren't as many mountains there as here.  And it's England.  And we'd get to go everywhere.  It's all about reading and writing and England.  It's perfect."

How could I argue?

So with approval and a financial plan from home (I have the best parents ever), I went in to be interviewed for the program.

John Bennion didn't really strike me as the outdoorsy type either.  His organized chaos style office, mild mannered, bumbling presentation rather confused me.  I wasn't sure of what to do with him.  He explained to me that they were looking at roughly five different categories in determining whether or not I was a good fit for the program.  Things like how the courses would assist in my degree.  My writing experience.  My general interest.  My physical preparation.  I passed with flying colors in all areas but one.  Physical preparation, naturally.  Bennion didn't consider the mile or so walk from campus to my apartment each day quite adequate, even though it required a pretty steep uphill climb each morning.

Top of Ben Lomond
So I found myself suddenly accepted.  Along with approximately 25 other people - primarily single girls - I prepared myself to spend a summer overseas.  We were a decently diverse bunch.  Stemming from all over the country we were loud and imaginative and determined and theatrical and quirky and so, so obsessed with chocolate.  Not such a bad way to spend a summer.  We toured estates and hiked for miles (and miles and miles when we got lost) and joked about how many twelve year old boys we could take down before they took us down.  We saw plays and talked about whether or not we'd be naked in heaven.  We took pilgrimages to important literary locations and ate. everything.  It remains the time in my life that I would go back to without question if I could possibly revisit it again.  It was the most perfect summer I ever had.

Now, I had grown up in the theater and surrounded by those who believed differently than I did.  I considered myself decently aware of the world and not just tolerant but accepting of different ideas.  Until this summer, though, I had not ever really come into any amount of real, open contact with Mormons who asked questions.  In retrospect, I find this a little sad.  The very foundation of my faith is built on asking questions.  Joseph Smith founded the church at all because he had questions.  The entire Doctrine and Covenants is based on asking questions and expecting answers to them.  But now I was surrounded by people not satisfied with accepting everything that was given to them.  They wanted to know.

Food on the go. 
I was never one of those people.  If you had asked my eighteen year old self what I wanted from life, I would tell you that I expected to get my degree, marry my junior year of college, teach for approximately three years and have a baby in the mean time.  I would be pregnant again by the end of my third year of teaching and then quit to stay at home like a good Mormon woman should.

And let me clarify, I don't think there is anything particularly wrong with that option.  I still don't.  I have many friends, including those I met on this trip, that followed a path similar to the one described and they have been very happy with that choice.

It wasn't until I went on this trip that I realized that I had other options.  That I, as a woman, as a Mormon woman, had choices.

I learned from Liz Knight and her totally refined wanderlust.  She had been everywhere and seen everything and had done it with a backpack and a lack for apparent care on how it all looked.  After the trip was over she rented a car and went where the wind took her.  My obsessively organized mind was shocked at how free that sounded.  I wanted to see the world for myself.  All of it.

The beginning of Aed the Whelpe.  Epic penny flute band.
I learned from Mel and her intense love of learning and refinement and class.  I learned how to be kind from Mel too, who was struggling with many of the things I was.  We fought.  We misunderstood.  And after it all became fast and longstanding friends.

I learned from Laura with her quiet strength and quirky sense of humor.  She was engaged and trying to  plan a wedding while there.  I respected how comfortable she seemed to be with who she was.

I learned from Bennion.  Bennion who, like Grandpa Sycamore in You Can't Take it With You never ever criticized my way of life, only questioned it.  He helped me to see how many possibilities the world holds.  Helped me to both love and challenge myself.

Brooke loves Stonehenge. 
I learned from Brooke.  Brooke, who was the most radical Mormon I had ever known.  Who had a nose ring and swore and had a fascination for the pagan heritage England holds.  Who saw everything as spiritual.  Who fought hard - so hard - for her faith.  Who wanted to believe even in the face of doubt.  Who faced her doubts head on instead of running from them.  Who asked and studied and thought more deeply than anyone I'd ever known.


While I was in England, I don't think I realized how badly I needed those other women (and Bennion) in my life.  Because my life, as it happens, never even had the chance to follow the traditional path I had outlined for myself.  A profound strain of introvert in my blood has made me a horrible dater.  Supreme independence hasn't helped either.  And I realized that if I only ever had a few children instead of a large family it would probably be better for my mental health.  I realized that I love teaching.  I realized that sometimes the Lord has a path for you that others will never understand.

Strapping the man himself into a corset.  Good sport.
I realized that if I were ever to be truly happy as a traditional Mormon woman with my food storage and diapers - it was going to have to be a choice I made willingly.  I realized that it wasn't enough to just accept everything that was given to me.  I realized that the apostles of the church meant it when they told us to pray and ask for answers to prayers.  I realized that I wasn't crazy to feel the spirit when I read novels or saw movies or picked sheep poo off my boots.

I learned how very important it was for me to have a personal relationship with the Lord.  And I learned how sweet, how very sweet, it is to discover that relationship.

13 September 2012

Rare?

I had a discussion with someone recently in which I was told that I am rare.  Not like. . . undercooked meat or precious ruby rare.  Rare in the thinly veiled euphemistic and slightly nicer than saying weird kind of rare.

It kind of ticked me off.

Under context of this conversation, it was being suggested to me that teenagers want nothing more from life than to have fun and be loved.  And while I don't doubt that these things are part of a true teenager (or human) experience, I tried to explain that as a teenager, and particularly as a student, teachers who spend their time wanting me to feel good about myself just pissed me off and teachers who only wanted to have fun were even worse because I wanted to not waste my time.

"Well, that's rare."

Is it?

Maybe I'm just delusional.  I would never claim to be exactly normal.  I have particular tastes and strange quirks that don't really make sense to some people.  Sometimes I'm super social and sometimes I want to book a trip to the middle of no where for a week just to escape everything (which I nearly did last week, by the way).  Sometimes I'm hard to read.  I'm super confident and open about some things, but private about weird things that people wouldn't expect me to be private about.  I get that.

And I'm also not saying that I liked teachers who didn't have fun with me.  But the kind of fun we had wasn't stupid games or trite things that didn't matter - fun came from a really great debate or talking about a book that had changed my life.  It came from a teacher I knew I could trust enough to share opinions with and have them be respected.  A teacher who respected me and trusted me to excel. Fun and learning were interdependent, not the antithesis of each other.

I don't think that I was unique as a student.  I think I was unique, perhaps, in how aware I was as a student of wanting to learn and not wanting my time to be wasted.  But in the time I've spent with teenagers over the last three plus school years, I've not had too much experience with teenagers who appreciate adults treating them like incapable, lecherous liars that just want to have fun all the time.  To be honest, I find that kind of insulting.  And I think they do too.  It's why I do my best to tell my students how capable they are.  It's why I dare them to come up with a better assignment than I do.  And you know what?  Every time I've had a student come up with a different assessment tool than the one I give them - theirs is better.  Every. Time. 

Hugh Nibley tells a story of a man who inherits a mansion and spends his time holed up in broom cupboards.  Sometimes I think modern education gives guided tours of the broom cupboard.  As soon as a student gets interested in any other room in the educated mansion, we drug them or punish them or force them into classes they don't want to take and force them into assignments that waste their life.  (Let's be serious.  Did you ever fill out a worksheet that changed your life?)

Oh, and in case you think I'm crazy, I had to stop writing this for a moment because a student came in to vent to me about a silly assignment they were given that will legitimately waste their time.  She's a cultured, brilliant, capable individual that will one day give me someone to brag about knowing, I'm sure of it.  And I can remember a conversation I had with another student lately that was frustrated with a teacher using a classroom management tool that would be decently successful in an elementary school but is somewhat juvenile and insulting for a junior in high school.  And I'll remember the friends I had in high school and college who would pride ourselves on taking stupid assignments from our teachers and doing them twice: once the way we wanted to, and once the way they wanted us to.  And then gloat over the way the teacher would praise our ability to grasp a concept that everyone else had failed to master, when we knew that in reality it had only taken us about five minutes.