14 May 2013

25 in 25

Happy Birthday to Me!

Today I give to you 25 things I've learned in the last year in order of how I think of them.  This will, I hope, make you as wise as me someday:

1. Healthy food tastes better when you're 25 than it did when you're 20.  In fact, it tastes so much better that given the choice between ice cream and red peppers I will almost always choose peppers.

They always welcome me like this.  No joke!
2. Night is still infinitely preferable to morning, but there's a switch that goes off in your brain on your 25th birthday that suddenly makes 2:00 AM very very late.  Also, several years of a regular work schedule will make it impossible for you to sleep in past 8:00 AM, which, when you're still childless, is just unfair.

3. Sometimes you still don't feel like you could possibly be a responsible adult.  Like when you walk around your old college campus or when you go to IHOP in your bloomers after a show.

4. The stranger the food combination looks on the menu, the better it will probably taste.  (Pear and gorgonzola cheese on pork.  Trust me.)

5. That being 25 and single with (two) good jobs means that you have the incredible luxury and privilege of traveling wherever you want, including Disneyland.

6. Also, going to Disneyland is always fun, and no matter how old you are the Peter Pan ride will always make you want to cry a little and walking down Main Street will make you want to skip.

Still pretty sure my letter got lost in the mail.  That's alright.
I'm fine getting it late.  
7. Flying a kite is magical.

8. How important it is to shut down your email when you leave work.  People will understand if you don't answer until morning, and if they don't, they're probably going to be just as big of a jerk at 10:00 PM as they are at 8:30 AM.

9. That seeing a teenager succeed and say something awesome or do something kind or have ridiculous amounts of potential is incredibly rewarding.

10. Also - that I definitely picked the right career path.

11. That a part of me will probably always live in Neverland, Hogwarts, Narnia and Avonlea.  I'll never completely say goodbye to Sherwood or Camelot exactly.  Also I'm not going to try to.  I like my imagination, thank you very much.

12. That not all adults act like adults in the good way.  There are still plenty of oddly petty and grudge-holding people out there.  I don't want to be one of them.

13. That I have some serious work to do if I'm ever going to get to all the books I want to read and re-read before I die.  Also, that there better be books in heaven.  There is no end to the number of times I want to read Anne of Green Gables.  Or Little Women.  Or Sense and Sensibility.  Or. . .

14. There is almost nothing better in this world than hearing beautiful music played live.

15. That I have a pretty incredible set of parents and siblings and extended family.  For the most part, we all get along.  That's so, so rare.  And so lucky.
Alarm = little panda.  Me = big panda.

16. That your work environment can be a living hell with the wrong boss - and heaven if you have the right one.

17. That letting go is sometimes more important than holding on - especially when it comes to annoyance.

18.  That spending all morning devouring a good book is not wasted time, even if it means you're behind on a hundred other things.  You'll be happier doing the rest if you took the time to get away.

19. That my day is infinitely better when my bed is made and I feel pretty.  Taking the time I need to get ready in the morning is worth it, even on Saturday when no one really sees it.

20. That I will probably never be anywhere on time in the morning.  Mornings are the devil.

How I read books.  No joke.  More than one at once.
21. That taking yourself on a date somewhere you like is time and money well spent.  The company is infinitely better (and better looking) than the jerk who ignores you at the symphony or the boring one at the bookstore or the creepers.

22. That no one is immune of an identity crisis.  No one understands themselves as much as they pretend to, and generally you win out by giving people the benefit of the doubt.

23. That I can keep learning without the help of professors and assignments and classes, but it takes more discipline and it's important to surround myself with smart people who can help me talk through ideas.  I still can't learn as well as an island as I can with a group.

24. There is very little in this world that a fresh out of the oven chocolate chip cookie can't solve.  (Especially with the ratio of cookie to chip is in favor of cookie.)

Now I want one.
25. I am more capable, more smart, more kind, more gracious and more talented than I sometimes give myself credit for.  I can do hard things.  I can do more and be better.  I am not a failure.  I am flawed, but not wasted.  Weak, but not powerless.  I have the power to be better than I am, but what I am is still pretty good.

09 May 2013

Oh Say, What is Truth?

The word "true" gives me a headache.

Growing up, I used the word like I was handing out Halloween candy - freely and to anyone (or anything) that came to the door.  "I know the scriptures are true" I would say in testimony meetings.  "I know the church is true".  "I know the prophet is true".  The word "true" was applied to dozens of things and ideas and people and I felt it.  I felt it.

As a child, I designated truth as anything that was not false.  It was a clean, nice, straightforward definition.  The answer was either right or wrong.  The choice was either good or bad.  There was no middle ground when it came down to it.  No room for a "but what if. . . ?"  There was no grey area in which truths and falsehoods could co-habitate.  It was all or nothing, baby.

When I was in high school, I took a World Literature class from a fabulous teacher.  One unit that still stands out in my mind was a unit where we read several creation stories and flood stories.  Nearly every corner of the world has these stories, we were taught - and our job was to guess why.  We read the story of Noah and the Ark compared to folk tales involving turtle shells and Zeus' angry flood to get rid of the extravagant Bronze Age, and others.  The flood stories fascinated me especially.  It made sense that so many cultures would want to know where the beginning of everything fit - but flood stories?  According to how I'd been brought up, Noah and his family (and their menagerie) were the only survivors of the flood.  Shouldn't there be only one story?  Only one truth?  What if there had been many different flood interpretations - were those stories still valid?  Were they also true?

Later, in college, I took an Anthropology class from a professor who had grown up more or less in a mortuary.  Her father was the mortician and she had found the experience so interesting that she had gone on to study birth and burial rights with an emphasis on East Asian experience.  She told dozens of stories including one about a family who had a dead body in the back room of their house for ages until they could afford an expensive funeral for her - they had ancient royal blood in their family and, though they were impoverished now, had to provide a certain standard of funeral.

The story that stood out to me most, though, was one about a woman she met who had converted to Christianity.  Christianity was rare in that particular location where Buddhism and other local belief systems reined supreme, so my professor had asked the woman what it was that had told her that Christianity was right.  "I had a great pain behind my forehead," the woman had responded, pointing to a spot between her eyes.  "And I knew it was true."

Come to find out, the woman had been raised to believe that great spiritual experiences give a person headaches.  It was a far cry from the "warm fuzzy feelings" I'd been told about all my life.  But since I, too, believed in Christianity - could I also stretch my beliefs beyond fuzzies and into headaches to conduits of truth discovery?  Where were headaches in scripture?

Then there were bigger problems: what about truths that weren't "real" per-say?  If truth and lies are the equivalent of non-fiction and fiction, then it suggests that anything that doesn't exist in the concrete, tangible places isn't true, or at least cannot promote or produce truth.  This doesn't seem quite right either - Christ himself taught through parables - fictional stories that represent good virtues.  I had myself seen hundreds of movies and books, listened to hours of music, pretended to be someone else in theater - some of these experiences made truths clearer to me than any "real" experiences.  Were the truths taught via. Jane Eyre or Ender's Game or Charlotte's Web any less valid than truths learned from the time I spent not reading?   

One of my classes has just finished reading Life of Pi, a book based on the premise that the stories we tell - about our own lives, and about our faith - are part of what bring us to God.  The character Pi Patel is thrown into rather horrific circumstances that involve being stuck on a lifeboat with a tiger.  At the end of the story when Pi has finally reached land and the authorities are questioning him, he tells them two versions of his story: the one he's told the entire book, and a rather more disturbing one.  Although it is never verified - it is suggested that this second more awful version is the "true" version.  The version that has been told the entire book is the version that Pi has been telling himself to help cope with the awful things he has seen.  It is a story that enables him to try and move beyond tragedy - it is the story that allows him to understand the meaning of his experience and what he can learn from it.  In much the same way that we, when faced with things we don't understand, try to predict why God might be "doing this to us", Pi has constructed a highly symbolic tale that he determines is more true than reality because it is the story that changes him more.

One parent disagreed with this analysis.  "Pi's fabrication does not relate a more profound reality," he wrote.  "The story was not about truth, but about storytelling.  The problem I see with it is that if the truth doesn't matter, then any story is as good as any other story.  Or any story is as meaningless as any other."

"No!" I wanted to shout.  "The truth does matter!  It is everything."  And then I would, if I could, tell him how much I need stories in my life.  How much we all do.  How stories of Mormon Pioneers remind me of my heritage, and stories of my childhood make me laugh, and how stories of a desperate prostitute doing all she can to save her child inspires me to never give up and how stories of magical wardrobes teach me about the purpose of my life.  I would tell him about how the Book of the Dead teaches me not to fear dying, and the writings of Confucius teach me to be patient with myself and others, and the stories of Peter remind me that even flawed sinners like me can become great. That the Olympics remind me of the essential qualities of human goodness and that Claire de Lune taught me how to feel.  I would tell him that the story of springtime bursting into life again after an awful winter is awe inspiring to me.  And I would tell him, more than anything, that all of these things have brought me closer to God.

I don't fault this parent for being frustrated with the end of Pi, but I do ache for him.  I ache because, from my perspective, the world is full of stories.  From how we interpret the events around us to less spontaneous, more artistic and refined variations - they matter.  And they change us, and they make us better.  And they teach us to empathize with perspectives that are not ours.  Is that not a less limiting definition of truth?  Truth is more - so much more - than simple exact reality or total fantasy.