Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Writing My Own Obituary

Mary Leah Hedengren recently passed away due to natural causes. For example, a heart attack. Lots of people die from heart attacks, very suddenly, and sometimes without any previous medical symptoms. Or a brain aneurysm. That's another good one. She could have died from a brain aneurysm.

Anyway, the point isn't which natural cause it was, but that is was a natural cause. Totally natural. Au naturel, as the French would say. Natural as could be. More natural than the produce section in a hippie co-op. That natural. Nothing suspicious about it at all. Just your run-of-the-mill, completely possible, however tragic, naturally occurring natural causes.

Ms. Hedengren lived an entirely normal, not suspicious, totally safe life. She was born on September 11, 1984 in Provo, Utah, didn't do anything that might cause chagrin to any unsavory characters, and served a full-time mission for the LDS Church. She loved laughter, writing, and not getting involved in over her head in dangerous enterprises. She attended the University of Texas at Austin, taught English to her beloved class and that was it. Just that.

She is proceeded in her completely unforeseen but natural death by several other people who also died of natural causes. All these people were entirely unconnected to each other, only through coincidental relation to Ms. Hedengren. And through possible chance encounters on the street. But then, everyone bumps into strangers on the street all the time; it doesn't necessarily imply that there's some sort of connection between them. And it definitely doesn't imply that their deaths to natural causes were somehow part of a pattern.

She is survived by many loving family members and friends who shouldn't definitely not investigate the causes of her death, which were natural, so there would be nothing at all to investigate. Period.

As there can not be a casketed funeral, a memorial service will be held at the LDS chapel at 1260 W. 1150 N. Provo, Utah. Friends and family may visit and mourn, but certainly not discuss any suspicious circumstances of her demise. In lieu of flowers, please consider a donation to your favorite charity. Just not the police.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

The Fine Art of Procrastination

I'm a middling quantity procrastinator. An amaturcrastinator, as they say. But I think I have some useful quality procrastination tips.

Let us begin:

1. Don't procrastinate between something you love and something you hate. Either you can grade papers or you can work on your paper. Not grade papers or eat ice cream, because you know which one will win out.

2. If you must procrastinate with something you love, make it something kind of gross, and do it to excess. After 4 hours of reading People magazine, you'll be disgusted enough with yourself that writing a paper seems like a good change of pace.

3. Procrastination can be a fine creative method. Procrastinating by writing stories, drawing, etc. can inspire some of your best work. Your mind slips around looking for anything to keep you from filling out that application and sometimes it finds pure gold to distract you.

4.Two can procrastinate better than one. Visit someone who should be doing better things and you can distract each other. And if you think you might be ready to get back to work, they can hold you back and vice versa. And because you're helping each other procrastinate, working on building your relationship seems very, very important. (Note: this is especially useful if you are related to the person you're procrastinating with--then you can feel smug about "family time.")

5. Procrastinate with vigor. Don't dink around procrastination with 2 minutes here and 5 minutes there--no, take hours, the entire morning, this week. Then you'll feel like you did something (watched 3 seasons of Supernatural) instead of just drowning under a pile of quick Facebook checks and snack-preparing.

I hope these help you as much as they have helped me, especially in this busy Procrastinating Season. Happy Finals!

Sunday, November 7, 2010

There but for.

So it's Thanksgiving, when a young girl's heart turns to the destitute. In my neighborhood, we have a good congregation of homeless, because the street by my house connects the two major freeways. I always feel uncomfortable when they walk past my car, holding out a hand and a sign. There's the initial awkwardness of being panhandled, but also there's the awkwardness of being a Christian and, even more damningly, a Mormon.

In the Book of Mormon, King Benjamin said in no uncertain terms that we're beggars of Christ and that we can not ignore the destitute without jepardizing our own salvation. Of course, when this verse comes up in Sunday School, it always leads to some discussion of whether those who panhandle are really the worthy poor. Of course, I'm an economist at heart and so I'm skeptical of the incentive structure of panhandling generally. Am I paying off my guilt? Are the homeless earning money through emotional blackmail? And then I develop elaborate ethics and standards: eg, if they're a street musician, I pay up what I think they deserve because I like music a lot, and who cares if they spend it on booze? I don't worry about my dentist taking his pay and using it for self-destructive purposes. Some people have good "outs" in terms of what they give out--$5 gift cards, granola bars, water bottles.

Still, last month on a Sunday gathering of good people from my congregation, someone told the incredulous story of how they gave their really first-rate leftovers to the homeless until they once encountered a homeless guy selling chicken nuggets cheap--obviously the alms someone had given him. Again, the economic thought returns: we don't give people what they want, money, so they have to sell off the less liquid assets at a great reduction. Like selling food stamps, but really just selling food. That's not economical for the one buying the sandwich for the homeless guy and neither is it for the homeless guy who needs cash (whether for booze, drugs, bus fare, gluten-free food, insulin, or anything else on the spectrum of worthy or not). The person who happens to love getting cheap food from people without food handlers' permits, though, makes bank. Besides, since food is inelastic, couldn't the homeless person eat off of your donation and then have extra money available for drugs from cash donations?

So maybe I skip direct giving all together and just decide to give to a well-established homeless shelter/job training program/food bank. Easier said than done. And it's tough intentions when there's someone with hungry eyes staring at you. Right. Now. They should make out cards that say, "A donation has been made in your name to the Micah 6 Food Bank of Austin."

Speaking of which, I got to work at that food pantry this last week, which was a humanifying experience. Hmm, I think that's what bothers me: I become dehumanized into a source of money, and they become dehumanized into The Poor. Bagging groceries at the pantry, I could tell that some people wanted to just be ignored, the ones who weren't used to coming, but others were eager for hearing me ask questions like, "How do you like this bagged?" and "Did you find everything you need?" The ones that I made feeble attempts to communicate to in, say, Spanish or Sign Language were especially responsive. I liked working there a lot. I ought to go back. I want to go back, but it's hard to find the time to care as you really ought to care. It'd be easier to just give the panhandlers money and be done. Easier, but less comfortable.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

A Very Mary Sunday

First off, (I mean after the usual Sunday stuff, like translating for Natalia, a Russian sister in the family ward Relief Society), I was asked to give a talk in sacrament meeting. Don't get me wrong--not a problem. I love public speaking. This time, though, in addition to just mulling and then writing and outline and then winging it from the pulpit, I decided to try something new and actually write the talk down. Once, when I was a sophomore, someone asked me for a copy of my talk and I was obliged to admit that it was notes on a napkin. Not that I'm cocky enough to expect my 10 minute talk to go into circulation, but I wondered if I might experiment with the Spirit and seek the right words at my kitchen table in front of a computer, instead of the chapel in front of the congregation. Granted, this took a lot more time, hemming and reading aloud, trying to figure out the correct diction, but the plus side was, when, after the first speaker rambled just a little, the second speaker (who was actually quite remarkable and--I might add--working from an outline on a scratch piece of paper) went and then we sang all verses of "I Believe in Christ" and there was a high councilman on the stand who might be announced as a surprise speaker at all times, I was glad to have an excuse to stick to the length I had prepared.

It went well. I tried not to just read, but look up, and I did almost cry, but hopefully I didn't come across as overly emotional and afterwords, everyone told me how much they liked it. I never know what to say. "Thank you," of course, but then, I prayed a lot and I care about the subject--home and visiting teaching. So I tried to say something like, "Well, I worry about it." Home and visiting teaching, that is, and not speaking in church. Of course this leaves all my visiting teachees to feel like now I need to deliver the goods.

Then Sunday School where I tried desperately not to talk too much without looking like I wasn't supporting the teacher. Hard balance to walk.

Then Relief Society, where I wasn't anxious at all about the long announcements--for this one, too, I had prayed and prepared, but I was expecting plenty of sharing. Mostly we just read the story of the creation, shared what things we had done this week that we could "see it was good," and then I read a quote from Elder Holland's most recent conference address. I gave them a handout with "homework" encouraging them to see what they're doing right and not get overwhelmed and bore the testimony I had, although a little conscious of how often I've done this already. Then we moved the chairs back out of a circle and went home.

I don't teach again for 3 weeks. Hopefully by then they have regained their taste for me.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Aunty Mary's Guide to Being Sick


1. Stay home.

2. Sleep a lot.

3. Drink tons of fluids. (what else can you drink? morphasolids?) I favor hot herbal tea, crystal light, a couple of those truly nasty Airborne things.

4. Get better.







(5. Play four hours of Plants vs. Zombies.)

Thursday, October 7, 2010

In Praise of "In Praise of Folly"

I remember Erasmus as an European-history-question answer, but I had never really read his stuff until this last week. And now I have another dead man crush. As you might suspect, In Praise of Folly praises folly. (Well, aside from a side-jot to satirize religious hypocrites.) But folly's become a bit of a bosom-pal of mine recently, now that I'm letting myself be foolish in important ways. Erasmus I ain't, but here's my own addendum to the praise of folly.

1-Folly makes me audacious.

It's folly that keeps me from "keeping my fool mouth shut" when meeting influential people. It's folly that made me track Walter Benn Michaels to where he was eating lunch and folly made my little first-year-graduate-student self challenge his economic assumptions. Folly made me submit to journals way above me, conferences I don't belong in, contests I can't win, and positions I'm not qualified for. And though there's been plenty of falling on my face, now and again folly makes me more successful than I could have foolishly imagined.

2-Folly makes me happy.

I'm weird, but I like me. Yes, maybe I whistle a little when I walk to my car. Maybe I spent $20 and a weekend to paint the classroom I'll teach in for one semester. Maybe I went swimming at 10:00 pm in October, trying stunts like an underwater cartwheel or keeping one foot aloft, like a mast to the stars. Maybe I dissected an owl pellet on my lunch break, cutting it open with a plastic fork to look for the small bones of animals. But you know what? I had a good time. Folly might not be suave or graceful or societally normal, but I got joy from it.

3-Folly gives me room for faith.

"Choose faith," Elder...who? Cook? Christofferson? One of them...said. Sometimes it doesn't make sense right now, but choose faith. Erasmus gets at this at the end of his book: the wisdom of men is foolishness to God, but also the seemingly foolishness of God (I mean, "love your enemies"--really?) is actually the wisest thing men can think. My criticisms may yet prove foolishness, so allowing myself to be considered foolish may create future, eternal wisdom.

All of this is to say, I'm trying not to take myself so seriously here. Sometimes, as a first-semester PhD candidate, and as a new member of a single adult ward (with plenty of Mormon Venuses and Mormon Athenas), I wonder if I don't come off as ridiculous, as utterly foolish even. Erasmus suggests that's not such a big deal. And that's why I love him.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

School Shooting Holiday

This morning I laid out my sweater and jeans for school (I don't teach Tuesdays) and went for a run in the wonderful early spring weather. "This," I thought is going to be a good day. I went home, showered and dressed, and found out a shooter with an AK-47 has fired 10 rounds and then killed himself on the 6th floor of our library.

There's plenty lucky about this: lucky no one else got killed, or even injured; lucky the police responded so quickly and thoroughly, checking all the buildings for a possible second suspect; lucky the administration used text, email, and loudspeakers to keep people inside and safe. Still, it's a strange, haunting experience to have this happen at my school. I had joked with the IT guy about the doors that automatically lock and how it wasn't much security for a school shooting. At BYU one of our PA's taught us how to organize a room in lockdown, but more as a novetly than a skill we'd actually use. And I had wondered, pragmatically, perhaps, at every school shooting on the news how it felt to stay home from school because of a wacko with a gun.

It's odd. A little bit like getting the day off for a funeral; you think there ought to be more public mourning, more time thinking about what happened, more meditating, but how much can you really do in a day? Then you try to do something normal--your homework, watch a movie, clean the house, but your thoughts are distracted and strange. I've been caught between and osillating back and forth between being fine and not fine. I'm going to watch a movie now with a girl who was stuck in her office during lockdown. She texted me because she didn't want the theoretical second shooter to know she was in there. Now we'll watch a movie because we both have more time than we anticipated and little mind to focus on our studies.

Not a snow day. Something else.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Third Freshman Year

Okay, complete honest time: I have had a hard time adjusting to life here. I complain about the commute, the lack of creativity of bar culture, the bizarre gated-community city planning, the bait-and-switch of my coursework, the lackluster curriculum of the class I'm teaching, the dirth of good-looking and smart guys in my ward/institute class, everything. But you know what? I never have an easy freshman year.

Part of it is that I'm bad at adjusting to new places. Scratch that. I'm bad at adjusting to different life expectations. Growing up, for example. I wish I was cool and independent and vivacious, but I'm just really not. Each step is like pulling out a loosening tooth.

My most recent freshman year, when I first went to BYU, was far harder than it should have been. After all, my family was just down the road (and in their offices on campus) and I had plenty of friends both at college and PHS and I was raised around academia, around that very university. Still, I wasn't homesick--I was time sick. I felt tormented that as an adult now I was expected to take care of myself, manage my living expenses, avoid going home, and not let my roommates feel bad when I got to go home for Sunday dinners. I cried in the shower, so no one would know I was sad. Things got better after the first month: I figured out a balance between hiding at my folks' place and pretending I was at camp, unable to go home, and I assumed responsibility for what I could, still being willing to go to my folks' for help when I couldn't. My freshman year was tumultuous (my old car broke down that summer, I was rejected at call-backs for Divine Comedy, and I went to the hospital 3 times, which is 3 times more than I ever did in my life up to that point), but it was also wonderful--I bonded with my freshman year roommates (they made me a birthday cake that both broke and bound up my heart with unanticipated affection), had "pick-up line of the month" wall, hiked Timp and 80% of Arches, took Dr. Allen Christenson's Belle Epoch class, Science Colloquium with Griggs, Dibble and Evans, Dean Duncan's Children's Media class (upper division!), First-year Russian and hockey. I joined insight and felt valued and literary and made a few older friends. I went to dances, plays, an awful lot of International Cinema, and ward choir practice (with fully half of the ward). That first month or so was painful and strange, but somehow I settled in and made some friends that still haven't shook me and a lot of, cliche to say, good memories.

My freshman year before that was similarly tumultuous, although it didn't start out that way. When I first went to PHS, I was cowed by the size of the school, but excited by the many course and club offerings. Ms. Snyder's English class was easy and she thought I was clever. My junior high friends and I were all tight and eager to get involved in the wider world of high school drama. My expectations were, admittedly, frustrated, through the course of the year. Russian got canceled from PHS the day before classes started. I suffered a spiritual crisis in the midst of attending seminary. Most of the clubs I had anticipated were canceled. Worst of all, C., the leader of the junior high crowd, had gotten frustrated with trying to keep the peace with everyone in the group (now split between DMS and PHS), and so, when some of the people in the group found I was being arrogant and sarcastic, they decided instead to shun me. Because I wasn't good at reading people's signs, it wasn't until one of my longtime friends told me that we couldn't have a sleepover because she "needed to buy a journal" that I asked her if they were avoiding me. She told me, yes, she was. The next few weeks were bitter and terrible to me; it was the only time I literally lost sleep over a social problem. I couldn't talk with my family really, because they had seen my devotion to C through junior high as unequal and would have rather I hung out with different people anyway. But even P, who was and remains one of my closest friends, had been talked into simply avoiding me than telling my his grievances. It all worked its way out, as it does in these young, tender melodramas, with vehement notes and email and uneasy reconciliation. Some relationships were never fully repaired. Though I continued to be friends with C, I still felt awkward around her, even when we were in college. But while I stumbled through the end of the first year, things, again, improved. For the first time since elementary school, I was in school with my brother and he was kind to me and I knew his friends. Miss Cooper invited me to join her in Field Studies and I made some friends there. And in the fall of my sophomore year, I took Mr. Smith's AP European History and made some more friends there. And, somehow, I was re-befriended by the best of my old friends. I was not entirely deserted and ended up with a net increase of support.

All of this is to say both that I am unlucky in freshman years, so if I feel a little awkward, that's to be expected. This is also to say that my freshman years work out okay. I can anticipate great things this year among my insecurities; it's like in these situations that I can feel myself growing and changing. My BYU freshman year I often thought about my "core," my center, and what it was made of. When I was new to HS, my core was something thin, and soft, but tight, like twisted tissue paper. By my senior year, it was more like a roll of ribbon. In college, my core became sometime like wood, and now I am working on making myself something strong and flexible--titanium alloy or something. It would be a less painful process if I were less inclined to nostalgia, but it's worthwhile to remember that everything is not lost, no more than it was last time I thought it was.

Bertrum (Bertie/Birdie) Wooster


So far I haven't seen him eat, but I've changed the paper 3 times--each time I see a poop. He hasn't uttered a peep, but he also hasn't been aggressive when I stick my hand in.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Bird-Brained

As a natural response to having watched the excellent French Cyrano de Burgerac movie, I've decided to get a bird.

Back up. When I imagined myself in Austin, a new town, alone, friendless, newly indepenent, I always consoled myself with the fantasy of owning a gaudy parakeet named Bertie Wooster. I even emailed my future roommates to tell them of my intention. But then I arrived here and I had to buy a car, and my mom said, "focus on making human friends instead," and my sister said, "don't birds always stink?" and my roommate didn't say anything, but frowned a little (she had a French horn teacher who had a parrot that would always squawk if a student played the wrong note--she is unduly prejudiced.). In short, I got scared out of it.

But then I was watching this brave, gallant sort and I thought, "really? really, I'm scared about maybe I'll have to change some newspaper and find a pet sitter and maybe, just maybe, I'll have to give away my bird? How is it that a paperweight 5-minute/day pet is weighing so heavily on me?" So I'm going for it: I'm buying a bird. Don't even try to talk me out of it.

Now comes the worst part of it--what bird? I've spent several late nights researching online, and I don't know that I have any better idea. Some say parakeets live 5 years, some say twenty. Are finches ever happy alone? Do canaries hate people? How long are you expected to "play" with your bird each day? I'm wondering if I want a bird that will be more social, or quieter, or cheaper to care for, or tidier, or what. I had this same problem when I was deciding on a car--I researched enough to know pluses and minuses, but didn't know what pluses were really most important to me or what minuses were deal-breakers. I think I need to just go full ahead with a choice and remember that it doesn't really matter that much. It's just a bird.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

The Todo Monologues: Part 2

There is one word in Villanueva's Bootstraps that mentions Mormons. Literally just the word "Mormon." The context is that Mormons and American Jews operate in a middle ground called "autonomous minority groups"--distinct but mainstream. Not on the road to assimilation like immigrants, not in a caste they can't escape like minorities. I read it, wrote, "hey, that's me!" in the margins and figured that was it.

Then in class, the one reference to autonmous groups comes up. "But they aren't discriminated against," said K. "Yes they are," I said. "Maybe Jews," she said, "but not Mormons." "Yes we are," I said. Luckily things moved on before it got too awkward (I'm not even sure that counted as "outing" as a Mormon), but I couldn't help thinking about it.

Aside from Joseph Smith's martyrdom and the expulsion of Mormons from Illinois, there are people who are getting their houses egged over Prop 8, people being passed over for promotion, people who have to walk through a gauntlet of protesters just to worship freely, and even just that awkward air whenever it comes out that I'm a Mormon. We have been and are discriminated against. I don't push the issue, but I am irritated. Not mad, just irritated, like a blister in a shoe. This is example of the ethnic ignorance that Bootstraps is supposed to highlight, but it's not the time to pursue it. I understand a little, though, about how young Victor feels when he hears his heroes describe the "sneaky puertoricans" trying to run scams--uncomfortable, but unwilling to "out" that I feel uncomfortable. I haven't had many situations where I felt this way, which does show how Mormons are in a different category of minority, and I can't imagine how Villanueva and other "passing minorities" feel when these kinds of "present-company excluded" moments come hard and fast. Empathy. That's what I'm hoping to learn from this, even though I'm distracted for the rest of class and my heels snap unusually loudly when I climb down the stairs afterwords. I shouldn't be offended, and it's a new feeling for me.

Besides, Mormons don't usually play this game; it's not a competition of "the most oppressed minority wins." Obviously, we (and American Jews) have to good fortune of enjoying our distinctiveness (what I did on Sunday, ordering a coke during happy hour) without being completely unable to operate in the mainstream--no one has to know what I do Sundays, or why I prefer a soda. The Church doesn't play this game; they don't file slander lawsuits and they don't organize class actions. When do we get to fight back? Not today. Heck, I won't even explain my offense openly, even if it could be educational. Mostly, though, I think I don't defend my experience because it's not about me. It's not about Mormons. It's not even about the "autonomous minorities" off-handedly mentioned; it's about Villanueva's experience.

Some day I'll get my own say. It will probably be similar to Villanueva's--admitting my discomfort, trying to position myself in classes full of the "other" who think I'm the "other," marginalized in some sense. It will probably be just a little whiny, but maybe entertaining. Maybe even enlightening. I'll be sensitive to the majority, trying not to implicate anyone directly.

But even if the Church doesn't fight back as an entity, I want to leave people fair warning: discriminate against me, really discriminate in a legally significant way and I will destroy you to the best of my capacity. We don't deserve to be treated by academia as we are, which is similar to the way Villanueva describes. Autonomous minority or not, you don't treat people that way. We cheek-turn, but it only makes both sides (more conservative and more liberal) more cheeky. I wish I could be an activist.

But, really, this probably won't happen; it's not our way. Ours is a fleeting and apologetic offense to take.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

The Todo Monologues: Part 1

At first I thought she was looking for someone who was standing behind me, the way she kept leading with her chin towards my right shoulder to talk into my ear. "Did you get your Masters?" Oh, it's me you're addressing...Yes, I did. "What school did you go to?" Brigham Young University, in Utah. "I thought so--I remember you from the listserv. And then when I saw you were drinking a Coke, I knew it was you. See, I grew up Mormon."

But -- it was obvious from the way she was shouting towards my ear like we were inside the crowded bar instead on the outside porch, and the cigarette in her right hand-- she did not grow up to be a Mormon. "I know the culture you're coming from." I see; that's great. She told her name, and how it was a "typically Mormon name" and everyone at EFY had a name like hers and how she almost went to BYU, but something didn't work out, but she wanted to hear about the English department there. I loved it, but I was in rhetoric, of course. "We should talk sometime." That would be nice; we could have lunch. We should chat. "Don't worry, I'm not going to try to make you smoke a cigarette or anything." Ah, thank you. We'll be sure to talk.

I should have said something like, "And I'll try not to make you come back to church," which might have been witty. Glad I didn't, though, because I can't promise that I won't. I was going home at the time, granted, and she was a couple of beers into happy hour, also granted, but she did scare me just a little. I'm scared of becoming someone who "grew up Mormon" and while I believed her assertion that she wouldn't force me into smoking ("Inhale! Inhale, curse you!"), I wasn't sure that she didn't want to chat with me in order to tell me that the LDS Church was patriarchal and oppressive and narrow-minded, etc. Not that I can't handle a little criticism, but I'm not eager to set a dinner date for it, either. I'd rather just talk about things other than my religion with most of my fellow scholars.

Except as I got home and finished writing a postcard of the Prodigal Son for a student of mine serving a mission that I began to think less on the defensive. She sought me out. Maybe she wants a pretext to preach at me, but maybe she wants a pretext to have me preach. Maybe she wants to have a connection to something that used to (maybe) be important to her. Maybe she just misses being around Mormons. I don't know. I am, though, pretty sure she's not terribly fascinated in the departmental workings of our English program. Why assume the negative, as another slightly loose colleague had pointed out in another context. Instead of always assuming that everyone's rolling their eyes and preparing the tar-and-feathers, why can't I be as comfortable talking about my background as a Mormon as I am talking about my background as a part-Swede, or a comedian, or a rhetorician? Not everyone is waiting to pounce.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Away at College

One of the few disadvantages of growing up in a first-rate university town where your parents teach is that you don't really go away to college. Not that this is much of a disadvantage: you can come home for Sunday dinner, enjoy free room and board whenever it suits you, and your mom will pick you up and take care of you when you get really sick. No, I might go as far as to say that living in your alma mater's town has its advantages.

Until you move away.

Then you feel a little bit like a doofus. You have to think, "If I pack these rollerblades, I won't have much space, but if I don't pack them, it's not like I can run home and get them." And you can't borrow tools from your dad, so you finally have to go to Lowe's and pick some up. Fortunately, my parents came down here with me and helped "set me up." Boy, howdy did they, because I don't know how I could have put together all that Ikea furniture, and done that car shopping, and gotten groceries by myself. Except some people do. I guess the effect of living in your hometown while you go to school is maybe that you can hold on to a piece of your adolescence a bit longer.

And, siblings of mine who may be reading this, it's not just that I'm the spoiled youngest. Students nationwide are more connected with their parents. Students at Michigan called home an average of 13 times a week (and this article is almost complete negative about it). Myself, I've never really been a teenage rebel or trying to assert my independence. I like help when I need it.

So I thought it would be really hard to come out here are try to do things on my own, things I never had to do in Provo, like try to make an entirely new set of friends (aside from my roommate, with whom I communicated by email, I didn't know a single person under 50 in Austin) or be The Mormon. Granted, this is day 1.5, so I may not be able to assess my ability, but I'm doing okay for myself. I bought contact solution at the SuperTarget. I got down to campus for a book discussion by myself (and a GPS, I'll admit). I went to dinner with my roommate's old mission buddies and we talked until 10:00 or later. Things are okay so far.

But I wonder how so many freshmen manage to do this so young. Newfound admiration.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Summer Runs

This summer my sister and mom and I had a goal to run a 5k every month. We've done okay, but for August I had to sign up for a "virtual run." May's run was a benefit run for Now I Can! an NGO for kids who need physical therapy. June was the Weight Watcher's run (if you ever want a feel-good run, it's this one--every one gets a certificate of completion!). July's run, though, was just heartbreaking.

It was called Conner's Run. The Conner in honor of whom the run was named was three or four years old in August when, after swimming, he decided to warm up by lying down on the hot asphalt in front of his house. His aunt, who I guess feels worse than I can imagine, backed over him. There was nothing the EMTs could do. Instead of just blaming each other, the family decided to make the anniversary of Conner's death a date to honor the emergency response departments. Besides the run itself, there were firetrucks with the ladders raised and a lifeflight helicopter and half a dozen carnival games at the start of the run. Along the way there were hand-made signs encouraging us to give high 5 to a cop or hug a fireman, but there were also these tragic pictures of a little blond boy dressed up like a pirate, or in his Sunday clothes, or with balloons. We ran right past his house, and his family was all standing outside. It was a good show of support, and one of the most community-oriented things I've ever seen (Mom asked someone where the finish line was located and they said, "You know where Sandy Fisher lives?"). Everyone was there for love of the family.

Now as much as I love this, I think: this family had money. And friends. And community. What about all the kids who die needlessly and get no memorial at all? I can't fault Conner's family for arraigning a lovely tribute, but I guess I need to remember that it represents a lot of mistakes, a lot of accidents, and a lot of tragedy.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

A Very Provo-fect Week. (ha)

This has been my last week and a half in my hometown of Provo (for 4 months, anyway), so I really rocked it. Check out all the Utah-y things I did:

1) Hiked Giles Ranch up South Fork Canyon.

2) Bean Museum audio tour.

3) Ran in a charity 5k (more on that later).

4) Ate BYU Creamery ice cream--Graham Canyon.

5) Went to a Peter Breinholt concert.

6) Threw a little apartment-party.

7) Walmart pedicure.

8) FHE cabbage ultimate frisbee (actually, I just watched).

9) TRC at the MTC where I lied to missionaries in Russian.

10) Provo temple trip.

11) Bought a BYU bumper sticker.

12) Visting teaching with Dunbabin.

13) Bike ride downtown.

14) Thai Ruby for lunch.

15) Movie at University Mall.

16) Long walk with dog by river.

17) Pioneer Day activity in park.

18) World-record water balloon fight.

19) Parade in Spanish Fork--lots of tractors, lots of trucks with little kids on the back.

20) Just lie in the hammock and look up at the trees of the backyard of my home.


If you can think of quintessentially Provo things that I missed, that's okay; you can tell me, because I am coming back, but I'm still very pleased with my Utah adventures. I'll let you know soon about my forthcoming Texas adventures.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Me and Mini

I flew in to Minneapolis yesterday--my plane arrived at 12:00, I got to my hostel by 1:15--but my conference doesn't start until noon today, which means I have a little bit of time to do what I will.

I hit the grocery store and then...
THE MALL OF AMERICA.

I had a really great time, but I'm glad I'm a short girl instead of a tall swarthy man because otherwise riding such rides as Jimmy Nuetron's Atomic Collider and Backyardigan Swing Along (hey, I love the giant swings) because, otherwise, I would have really come across as a creeper. I went shopping at H&M, and I guess there were some other stores there (psh...I guess!) and I had a grand old time. I got home too late to visit the Institute of Art, but too early to go to bed but that was perfect for...
TALKING TO HOSTEL FOLK.

(Which is very different from talking to hostile folk.) A Swede. A Welshman. An Australian. A Tamil Indian. And me. I told them I was the boring one, but actually, talking to them, I'm not too poorly traveled. Also, I got to start talking about the Church, by way of BYU, but I got as far as "there are so many of us at BYU that we have church meetings in the classrooms" and "BYU's president is kind of like a pastor, but you see, the organization of the Church is we have a a prophet--" and then we were interrupted because someone had to go pay for another night and we didn't really pick it up. I'm anxious about spreading the gospel in part because of a L. Tom Perry talk I listened to on the bus that said that most people don't have a clue of what Mormons really believe, and it's partially our fault because we don't speak up. I semi-spoke up, but then, I didn't insist we continue talking about Mormonism when the Indian came back and instead of explaining that I don't like Family Guy and South Park, I changed the subject to bemoan Simpson's late glory. Well, I can be a coward, but as long as I keep trying, I guess. Anyway, I was stomped last night (late night+early flight=9:45 exhaustion), but I couldn't sleep right away because I was nervous about how I had/hadn't represented the Church. No worries because...

I WOKE UP EARLY.
Because this room has no overhead lights, just thin white drapes over the windows to let in the sun, I woke up at around 6:20. I guess that's a good sign for when the conference starts in earnest and I need to be gone by 7:30, but today the museum doesn't even open until 10:00. I got up, enjoyed a nice run (although my iPod wasn't working, which is always a downer) through the shady streets of this neighborhood--the kids in hijabs at the busstops, the signs reminding cars where to park on even and odd plow days, the little houses pretending they're fairytale castles--got back and enjoyed a leisurely getting dressed and breakfast and Russian scripture study and...

I HAVE NOTHING TO DO.
I have an hour until the museum opens. Most people are still asleep or just getting up.
I'd lie down and take a little nap, but I don't want to mess up my hair and eye makeup, which look so nice for this time of day. I don't want to become one of those people who "travel," but then spend most of their time on the internet, watching music videos (although I did enjoy this one from Danger Mouse and that guy from the Shins this morning). I'm glad to have this non-conference time here to actually enjoy the city. Maybe part of that enjoyment comes by just hanging out in the hostel.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

What You Get For Your Money

So some people have been asking what these projects are that I'm doing. I'm thrilled to give you the low-down on what good you can do. Here's what your money gets you:

$12--Soccer ball and materials for an orphanage or residential school
$35--Crafts for a school
$45--A handwashing station for communities with poor sanitation (only about half of Belize has adequate sanitation)
$125--A course in sanitation so that principles can be re-taught by mothers and fathers and teachers.
$200--A community-use toilet. It sounds silly, but many diseases are spread by lack of good toilets.
$250--An adobe stove to safely let out the lung-aching smoke of fire cooking.


Whether you just like to know what the money goes for or if you want to sponsor an entire project (say, a toilet for your annoying brother), these numbers give you an idea of what it costs to make HELP projects a reality.
In fact, if you donate these amounts and send me an email (or just post here), I'll make you up a handsome card like this:


A donation of $ 125 has been made in your name. This amount funds a sanitation course in a community to empower the poor to help their families, living longer, happier and healthier lives.



Man, that sounds like a much better present than dry, rubbery sausages or another tie.

HELP Belize

Everyone on this blog needs to know about this blog.

I guess it also wouldn't hurt if they knew about this donation site, too.


Le's do some gud!

Monday, May 10, 2010

Lack of Planner

I hate it when I lose my planner. I have the vague sense that I have a lot to do, and an undefined worry that I've already forgotten something. Nuts.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

?s for Rory

This came from a whale notebook from last summer. I was preparing for interviews for the Scrivener.

1. Hi. How are you?

2. What are your duties?

3. What have you learned as a secretary?

4. What are your pet peeves?

5. What would make your job easier?

6. What do you love about working here?

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Learning Scheme

This week I'm cleaning out my room and old notebooks. Everyday I'm posting some random things I've written. Today, from a book that must date to my junior high days (when I wanted to be called Penn-with-two-n's among my friends, I found some academic plans from freshman year of college).


Very easy

Every month submit something

list of several BYU student publications

The 2nd of every month

Moderately hard

Stay on campus 8-4
-
study pants off
-exercise (gym lockers)
-read
-study groups
-listen to good music
-walks with friends
-International Cinema
-Write letters

A couple of pages of lists of my favorite Russian composers, a key to Morse Code the Greek alphabet. Probably missing the "Very Hard" title page.

3 alphabets besides my own

4 constellations in:
Winter
Spring
Summer
Fall

3 hymns may accompany
Identify 74 birds
Memorize 3 Shakespearean poems

finally, in a different pen:

Now is the time to be decent and kind
Who are you?
Must prepare to meet God today


Quite heartening to see how I've always been ambitious. Quite saddening to see how little of this I've accomplished. Very, very adorable.



Friday, April 23, 2010

The Highlights

Best moments of my graduate experience at BYU:

+ Holding up "Your Great" signs when Lynn Truss visited.
+ RSA Conference @ Penn State
+Crashing Walter Benn Michael's dinner and getting him to admit that Dierdre McCloskey thinks his economist are faulty
+Reading Wilkinson's personal (and extensive) files.
+Researching identification in Divine Comedy audience members and RMMLA conference
+ Publishing my volume of poetry
+Working on the Scrivener
+Writing my novel
+CCCCs with my mom in San Francisco

10 Million Dollars

As part of the process that starts with my graduation and speeds up with my mom's disapproval, I've started cleaning out my bedroom. This includes starting to throw out half-used spiral notebooks. Flipping through these notebooks, I discovered useless musings, half-formed ideas and pointless lists: in short, hard-copy blog posts.

So in honor of graduation, I'll be sharing something I found in the piles every day this week. This week, a gem titled "10 Million Dollars," probably circa 2004. And now, without further etc.


1. University hopping--never endingly at Oxford and Harvard & just collect degrees in things.
2. Make an orphanage in Russia after my own design, be benevolent dictator.
3. Arm a small revolution in a Central American country. Get Soviet Realist portraits made of myself.
4. Buy up the art from crowded, unair-conditioned European museums. Give it to BYU's Museum of Art. Get invited to galas.
5.Big old Chekov-esque orchard and let the fruit get stolen and go rancid or patronize gypsies and be a symbol of the tragic aristocracy.
6.Two words: plastic surgury

Monday, April 19, 2010

Springsomnia


It's almost 4:00 am. This is my fourth or fifth time up. I tried watching TV, a little warm milk, reading "The Metaphors We Live By," the works. It may be the Coke I drank tonight, but I think it's clear: I've got springsomnia.

This happens every spring, especially when I'm not taking classes, not working. I lay awake at the end of the school year, thinking about what I'm going to do this summer. This sounds like a very prudent thing to do, but not at 4:00 am, not four hours before I'm due to give a final, and not when the summer plans tend towards the absurd.

That's the funny thing about springsomnia--nothing seems to make sense in the morning. In the evening, though, you're thinking, "This is the year I'm going to grow corn in the garden...and take up bocce...and learn Italian...and write a tour guide to BYU bathrooms...and hike Timp...twice..." And by a decent hour, you're wondering how you expect to do any of this, especially considering that you barely did your homeworking and visiting teaching during the school year. At least you were full of dreams (metaphorically, of course, literally, you barely got 1 1/2 hours of sleep).

Here's what I've got so far: From now until the end of May, I'll finish the Darkwater Grammar, volunteer at the Downtown flower plant-a-thon, participate in Brian's reading group, finish Wimmer's project (finally!), hike Timp caves, run a 5k or two. All the while, I'll be studying Spanish, because I want to go to Belize after my RSA conference to spend 6 weeks with an international aid/vacation program because I have a lot of money and no plans. Then with my last month or so I'll fondly spend time with my family, maybe go to Oregon/Washington with them to visit my old summer place, or head down the beach for a while, and then pack up and head out to Austin in a caravan of all the crap I've accumulated over the years. That seems perfectly reasonable for a summer.


...right?

Friday, April 9, 2010

Cue "Good Riddence" and Vitamin C

Ah, the end of my BYUness.

I haven't really thought much about it, probably because I'm prone to nostalgia, even in the moment of nostaling: I cried my last week of high school. I hate the idea of moving on, leaving things, forgetting things. I'll turn in my last paper of BYU. I'll clean out my graduate instructor cubicle. I'll have to prepare to live far away from all my friends and family, in a place where I don't know the age and ownership of almost every building. Sigh...

Friday, April 2, 2010

The Dregs

Wow. That was the worst BYU production I've seen in a long time. In fact, I'm kind of surprised that the director was able to enough unattractive, tone-deaf bad actors to stage As You Like It. How bad was it? Let me count the ways.

1. Muddled concept.
According to the dramaturge, this production was inspired by Eastern European coups. And homeless people? And, judging by the costumes and accents, cowboys and hipsters and biker gangs. And the prologue told us that this takes place in the United States. What now? The hodgepodge was a mess, with no clear direction or theme. Instead, it was as if the director had suffered indecision and just thrown every modernization concept into one production. In the program, she admits that when someone asked her if she was going to portray this play as romantic comedy or political commentary, she replied, "Why choose one over the other?" The answer, Ms. Mellon, is well illustrated by this disaster of a play.

2. Terrible casting.
In addition to not coming up with a clear direction, Ms. Mellon was evidently scraping the bottom of the BYU acting bucket when she cast. Now, in her defense, she was compelled to include as many seniors as possible, especially those many upperclassmen who admit in their cast bios that this is their first BYU production (ow!), but do we have to shell out $14 a pop in order to see leading ladies who are a foot taller than their romantic interests, and strikingly unattractive shepherdesses, and (and this is rather shocking) the entire Mellon family, including husband and, in a departure from tradition stagings of As You Like It, even her children. What? Has childcare really become that expensive?

3. A wretched lead.
It's hard to not take the opportunity to single out Ashley Bonner as the shining pinnacle of bad casting. Unfortunately, she also played Rosalind, the lead. At one point in the play, the evil Duke forbids his daughter to associated with Rosalind because "she is too subtle." Ah, if only. Ms. Bonner was subtle to the same degree as a air raid, and roughly as shrill. She meloacted her way through Shakespeare's witty lines with such extremes of response that it's surprising that she didn't fling herself off the stage in paroxysms of overacting. In her defense: you could hear her from the balcony and brought to the role the natural appearance of a man.*

4. A tone-deaf supporting lady.
Anne Shakespeare, as Celia, was correctly shorter than Ms. Bonner. If this had been a normal production, she could have acted her way through. Unfortunately, Ms. Mellon decided to inflict Ms. Shakespeare with two solos, the audience being caught in the unfortunate crossfire between her singing and the actual notes. Somewhere, the entire band of Death Cab for Cutie is weeping. And not for the typical reasons.

5. Shameless pandering.
Poor Death Cab was drawn into this play, and probably not willingly, thanks to fair use laws. Bright Eyes and Ingrid Michelson were also misused at various places in the production, but I'm afraid it didn't necessarily add much to the play except for all of the students who where attending to fullfill a class requirement were able to sit up and say, "hey, I know that song." (Not that they did that often--I watched two young students around me get comfy and doze off after a few minutes of darkness.) Misusing popular music may be low, but not as low as exploiting the children. Aside from an allusion to Jaques' famous "stages of life" speech, the small children that were constantly being paraded about appeared to serve no other function than try to distract from the childishness of the adult actors. Throw a few pop songs and three-year-olds in a play and the audience is sure to love it, right? Oh. And there was a singalong and dancing on the stage at the end. Only if they had thrown in a few Jones sodas could it have been more shameless.

6. Poor stagecraft.
Aside from the major faults, there was a cascade of minor ones that added to the whole jumbled effect of the production. The actors didn't know their lines (and this was the final night!). They spoke right over any laughter or applause that the audience offered them, often rushing through three or four lines without so much as a pause. They muttered and spoke quickly or levied heavy pauses in. Awkward places that. Didn't make sense. The stage fighting was laughable. At first, we though it was stylistic, but then it became obvious that comedy was not the intention. I watched Ms. Shakespeare raise a flat palm perpendicular to her chest before issuing the line that would evoke a "slap" from her father. It's okay to fake a slap, but do you need to prepare for two or three seconds before? It's not a fault of her ladylike disinclination to violence; the wrestlers weren't much better as they grunted before they were hit and kept a solid foot and a half between foot and stomach, hand and face. People tripped over sets, knocked into each other on accident, dropped things. It was sloppy all around.

Over all, it was outclassed by high school productions I have seen, and while I am disgusted that BYU's drama department would hoist this on an unsuspecting public (and season ticket holders), it did give me a giddy joy of criticism that I haven't had since the awful staging of Beggar's Opera in 2003, but without the well-designed costumes and "shocking" morals. Incidentally, As You Like It was concerned that we were going to be offended by the violence and double-entendres, even suggesting that this production was no appropriate for children under thirteen. There was no disclaimer for how immorally bad the quality would be.






*Now, I would feel some remorse over this characterization, if I didn't have it on good authority that Ms. Bonner was not as gracious a principal as behooves someone who lists only hailing from Texas on her bio. Having a prima donna in a production is never pleasant. It is far less pleasant when she is sub-prima.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Ninja Week

I've decided this week is ninja week. Celebrate with me.

Ninja-y Things I've Done Today:

-wore a black sweatshirt and sandals
-ate sushi
-listened to a podcast about ninjas
-trained like a ninja (lots of balance and kicking at the gym)
-bled--okay, at a blood drive




It's just just about what you do for ninja week--it's about your ninjattitude. Whatever you do ask yourself: how would a ninja do this?

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Who Be Beck? Julie B. Beck

Turns out that Julie B. Beck lives in the same ward as the people who run our stake, so this last week we got President Beck fireside! I was actually really impressed with it. I say "actually" because when I was in the MTC she came to conduct a "Relief Society" with all the sisters and she kept doing really annoying things like asking an open-ended question looking for a specific answer. ("How can we become closer to Christ?" "Service?" "No.") But this fireside was like the complete opposite.

She started out by doing a sort of survey of the sisters. How many of us were RMs? How many of us were converts? How many of us were from outside the US? How many of us were going through difficult challenges? ("Only half? Well, just wait," she said.) Then she told us that we're doing this by the Spirit and opened the floor for questions.

Straight off the bat, someone asks about getting married. Beck responded with vigor and optimism. This is not the time for us to be skeptical and scared. She asked us how old we were. She scoffed. She told us that "if you have faith, the Lord will feed you faith. If you doubt, Satan will open more doubts." Rousing stuff, really.

She dealt similarly adroitly to questions women had about working and raising a family ("you choose eternal life... some women work and get off track, some work and are going straight the Celestial Kingdom"), divorce ("Temple marriage is a chance; some people blow it"), academic and career success ("When we die, we aren't buried with our credentials [...] it's not all about getting ahead and beating someone else"), lightmindedness ("don't be silly women [...] use the brain and the Spirit you were given to make right choices") and she even addressed the miniskirts-and-leggings question with grace and tact--she changed it into a policy question into a principles question.

"Where are they wearing these leggings?" she asked. The girl thought about it: "Uh....on their legs?" But then Beck talked about why we dress the way we do for Church, and reverence for covenants, and principles and by the time the answer was over, the question was no longer just about fashion and modesty.

I was floored. Of all abilities, I am most impressed by someone who is able to give a smart answer to a dumb question. Dean Duncan is very good at this. So is Sherri Dew, as I found out when she came to BYU to talk about publishing and someone asked a question that essentially boiled down to "Isn't Harry Potter awesome?" I don't remember her response, but it was respectful and edifying for everyone in attendance. I remember thinking, "How'd she learn to do that?" From this Julie B Beck fireside, looks like being a representative of the general auxilories helps a lot. It's cool to have watched someone learn from their calling even when it's a very visible calling. Hurrah for eternal progression!

Monday, February 15, 2010

My Day As A Victorian British Man (In honor of a day of leisure)

I woke up somewhat earlier than I am accustomed, and immediately put on my slippers and went to the lounge to read a little Aristotle. Thus I spent the morning, aside from a brief jaunt down to the gymnasium for my customary calisthenics. At noon, Miss Tamarin Hooper and Miss Erin Kulesus called, spending half and hour to discuss theological matters. Then, after a spot of dinner, I applied myself to my manuscript, appealing somewhat more to my readers. This occupied me for the great part of the afternoon, until my head throbbed with mental excursion. Since the weather has been so typically Londonian, I figured that I could take an early evening constitutional through the precinct without damaging my tender throat, which has been sore of late. So, tying my scarf in the fashionable manner and donning my hat, I enjoyed a stroll past the local townhouses and homes. Being much refreshed, I returned, enjoyed a spot of soup and reapplied myself again to my labors until the Monday night social hour at the home of Mr. James Reed. A good time was had by all. Then a bit more of Aristotle and then to retire early.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

They Don't Really Make a Card For This Sort of Thing

When I heard that Mike Leff was in the hospital for advanced cancer, I knew I wanted to get him a card. After all, he was the nice, Hawaiian t-shirted academic who had made me feel so at easy during my initiation into the world of rhetorical academia this summer at the RSA institute. I liked him a lot and wanted to let him know that I was thinking of him, so I went down to bookstore with all the cash in my wallet to look for a card for him.

Turns out all of the get-well cards assume two things: (1) You're not well because of either injury or virus and (2) you're going to get well. I didn't know that he was. Some of the cards were too flippant--hope this sexy nurse fixes you up, har, har--and others were too sentimental--a sleepy-looking puppy, I recall. It reminded me of an article I had just read in the New Yorker about what bad grievers we are in this society--extremely uncomfortable with the idea of death before it happens and somehow expected to get right over it once it comes to our loved ones. The card selection reflected this. Not that I'm looking for a wide selection of "I'm sorry you're dying" cards, but if we trust a card to express our tenderest feelings of love (and, with Valentine's coming up, there were plenty of those), couldn't someone make a sort of pre-sympathy card for those who know that they're on the way out? I even considered a "farewell" card briefly, but it seemed entirely too grim, especially because I wasn't sure of his prognosis. Besides, the farewell card was black.

Finally I settled on a some-what old-fashioned image of two bean-people that had the words "Bean thinking of you" written below. It seemed just weird enough to not be discouraging without being too cheeky, but, as it turned out, I was 18 cents of sales tax short, so I told myself I'd buy one after class.

Checking my email before class so that I could open up my students' reading quiz, I noticed Jack Selzer had sent a message informing us that Mike passed away suddenly. "Oh my gosh," I said out loud, and the students who were there early looked up, but didn't ask any questions. Still, I was staggered and was grateful to have the time it took for them to take a quiz so that I could regain my composure.

Sent a card today. Just a blank one with a landscape on the front. Turns out it's just condolences.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Monday, February 1, 2010

What I Like About Me

My students are writing resumes and cover letters. I've just finished applying to my last PhD program. I think, all-in-all, this could be a pretty good time to get in some shameless self-esteem booting. I make my students finish this sentence: "I freakin' rock because..." They find it really hard. It is hard to toot your own horn. But here goes:

1. I have predictable favorite foods: popcorn, diet coke with lime, fresca, margarita pizza, gum, yogurt.

2. I make lists like this one. I make a lot of lists. I'm always trying to improve myself, define myself, relate myself to the world through lists.

3. I'm funny. Not just being "on" as a comedian, but in conversations, teaching, even academic writing. It just adds a little spice to things.

4. I like to try new things. I'm curious about stuff, so I go to lectures I don't have to go to, play new sports, buy new hair products.

5. I try. Typically, I'll apply for something, submit to something, and generally put myself out there. Nothing ventured, nothing gained, eh?

6. I've improved. Comparing the way I dress now to junior high, even high school, I have come a long, long way in the world of personal hygiene and aesthetics. When I was in elementary school, I wasn't much of an innocent, laughing at vulgar and, frankly, racist jokes that I would never tolerate now.

7. I don't tell people about everything I do. (I can't elaborate on this one, obviously.)

8. I sing in the shower. And the parking lot. And mowing the lawn. And if I think no one's around.

9. I'm creative. (I can't think of any other way to put it...ha!)

10. I'm a dang good public speaker. Of course, I can't take total credit for this, but I'm comfortable in front of crowds and I like working out a little speech or a talk or a lesson. Generally speaking, I can balance the time, include attention-grabbers and get to the heart of the matter.


That seems like enough for one ego-massaging post. Feels good, though. I highly recommend this practice to anyone on a Monday morning.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

The Joys of Humanhood (based on a dream I had last night)

Halfway through the second syringe of blood, emptying into the vein in the back of his mouth, Dennis's eyes widened suddenly and his stomped his foot against the floor. Of course, Dr. Shultz couldn't stop until the syringe was empty, and then he drew the needle out, pulled back his gloved hand from deep within the vampire's mouth and waited for him to speak.

"What," Dennis gasped out, cletching his chest. "Is that?"

The other vampires, who had already received the second infusion nodded. They probably had also had the question, but Dennis was the leader and they usually let Dennis speak first.

"It's probably your heart starting up again," Dr. Shultz explained. "It may be a little rusty, so the first few pumps can be surprising."

"But it's so loud," Dennis insisted. "I mean, I can hear it. Can you all hear it?" He looked around at the small cadre of vampires. "I can hear all of theirs."

"It's just because you're not used to it," said Dr. Shultz. "It will begin to fade into the background and you won't notice it."

"Hard to believe that! Not notice this thumping--and the breathing?" Dennis rolled his eyes and the other vampires nodded their assent, adding their own low murmurs to support him. "Really, I feel like I have to shout over the noises of my own body."

Dr. Shultz smiled to himself. He was looking forward to explaining flatulence to the vampire, but that would have to be a later lesson in being human. "This must be very exciting for you, I'm sure, but we're not quite done yet; we have one more infusion to go before you are fully and genuinely human. Now do you need just one moment to catch your newly found breath, or are you ready for the last needle?"

"Of course, of course, doctor, you must be on a schedule--trying to rush us out like this...what is it? Do you have another appointment of vampires coming in later? Or perhaps something much more important than just a handful of supernatural immortals?" Dennis could mock if he wanted, but he was still one injection away from being human again, so he left it at that and let Dr. Schultz change gloves and begin once more to empty enormous syringes of stale blood into thin vein behind the palentine velum.

As with the first two injections, this one went rather smoothly, except for one instance when the gag reflex of young teenage vampire unexpected kicked in and Dr. Shultz found himself sprayed in the face with who-knows-what kind of stomach content. The poor girl apologized profusely afterwords, by the dumbstruck expressions on the faces of the other vampires lightened the mood for him immensely as he wiped off his face and explained that it was quite all right, just a natural reaction, probably should have expected it. The last two left looked terrified that the same thing would happen to them, but they couldn't back out with Dennis already having received the third transfusion.

In fact, Dennis was already walking slowly around the office, picking up tongue despensors, cotton balls, glossy brochures and rubbing them between his fingers. "This is incredible," he said while Dr. Shultz was just finishing up the last injection. "Who knew that humans could feel so much?"

"You probably could have guessed; after all, you were human once. You've probably just forgotten it."

Dennis scoffed lowly while running his fingertips down a glass cabinet. "'I was human once.' I doubt it, or if I was, I've long forgotten it."

Dr. Shultz drew out the needle somewhat hastily and the vampire whose mouth he was in uttered an impromptu "Ow!" and then, startled, looked around at the others for approval. "Sorry about that," Shultz said to him, then turned to Dennis. "Well, you'll probably be remembering it soon. Being human will come back to you--like riding a bike."

"I never ride bikes," Dennis said. Pretentious undead git.

"Anyway, these next couple of days should be fun. You'll learn what it's like to be human--perhaps not a dashing and mysterious as a vampire, but it has its perks." He opened his filing cabinet and took out a stack of taupe-colored pages. He had made these up himself last night in preparation and, because he had a sense of humor, he used the same format on his computer that he used to explain mono and strep throat to patients. "These sheets should explain some of your follow-up concerns about rejoining the human race." He handed one to each of the vampires who immediately began studying it. "If you have any major concerns, of course, don't hesitate to call me on my cell--I've included the number on the bottom--but do consider first checking this sheet and observing those around you: many things you find strange may be quite natural after all."

"We know more about humans that you think we do," Dennis said. "We do have quite...intimate association with your people."

Dr. Shultz surpressed a shudder from the chill in Dennis' voice, but he smiled cheerily. "I'm sure you do. Speaking of which, now that you're off a ...liquid diet, you might enjoy engaging in the process of eating. I think you'll find it one of the more pleasant surprises of being human. I highly recommend Blue Tree Place on 8th--it's a nice west coast fusion place that will let you spread a little of that long-hoarded cash around."

Some of the vampires were taking notes, but Dennis caught the hint and went to his bag to removed a stack of bills. "I hope this will be sufficient for your efforts, doctor. We'll see you again in a few days, yes?"

"Yes, I hope so. Take care of yourselves out there: it's a dangerous world and, after all, you're only human."

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Crass and Tawdry in Los Vegas

After my first trip to Los Vegas, I came home and bore my testimony about how if there can be a beautiful, holy temple in crass and tawdry Los Vegas, any of us can keep ourselves pure and unspotted from the world. Unfortunately, all anyone remembers of that testimony is that I used the words "crass" and "tawdry." The guy in my ward who's from Los Vegas still gives me greif over it.

But you know what? I'm sticking with crass and tawdry. A couple of girls in DC got asked to drinks at a nightclub after repeated (and falsely) insisting that they were 17-year-olds from Arizona. Another person in our group was asked if she had an ecstasy to share with her interlocutor. The streets here are literally paved with porn and I can't begin to describe the t-shirts they sell here. Even the things that are beautiful--the Bellagio fountains, Caesar's palace, the rainstorm in the middle of the Miracle Mile Shops--are all facades, spectacle built on and supporting of greed, lust, and selfishness.

But I know that there's a lot of good here. Here's something: I got a temporary henna tattoo at one of the storefronts out in front of the Travelodge from a guy that I'm willing to describe as "sketchy." He wore a straw-snakeskin cowboy hat and had tattoos (real ones) snaking down his arms and crawling up his neck. In his garbage were several empty cans of alcopop and I could smell in on his breath as he leaned over my shoulder to trace my bird in ink. He kept muttering, giving low, repeating groans, and, while I can't prove that they were track marks, he definitely had a couple of dots of blood over veins on the top of his arms, which I know from physiology is a next step once your inner arms are scarred up.

Yet, maybe it was the fact that he was working on a part of my shoulder that few people see, much less touch, but I really felt a deep kinship with this guy. I could even say I love him, in that vague, undirected, love-of-humanity kind of way. What I really want to do is tell him that he's a son of God, who lived in the presence of God and was sent by God's love to earth. I want to tell him that he will live forever. But this is crazy stuff--this is what street preachers do. I don't even have, for example, a Book of Mormon to give him, not even a passalong card. I kind of have in my mind that I'll write him a thank-you note for the good job (and free touch up) he did on my temptatt and drop in there how loved he is of God but I don't even know his name. And I am scared.

But all of these people here, even the crass and tawdry ones, down inside, they have souls. That's pretty wonderful.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Carpe Thursday

Margaret brought this to my attention, which made me start thinking about day-seizing. Thursday, perhaps. I got out my "Winter 2010 Schedule" Word document and figured that I could spare Thursday afternoons and evenings between 12 and 8 for wild shenanigannism and hijinks.* I started making a list in my planner of things I was to seize from my diem: peaks I haven't hiked, pedicures I haven't gotten, and a lot of International Cinema I've missed. This year I'll do the things I want.

Then I started thinking about the things I've done this year. I've pretty much been doing what I want all along. I have this year

...kayaked in the Potomac around Roosevelt Island,

...spent a few days in Tempe with Jen and Paul on a whim (And went to the No Doubt concert while there),

...went to a Gogol Bordello concert with Jen and Linsey,

...gone to Disneyland for my birthday--and on a a school day too!

...been ice skating, played racquetball, took a Hip Hop Hustle aerobics class, and learned to play tennis,

...invented an imaginary roommate, outfitted her room and pranked Heather for more than 2 weeks into thinking "Amber Cox" was real, and then

...adopted a "memorial flowerbed" on Center Street in honor of aforementioned fake roommate,

...doorbell-ditched a lot of cookies, flowers and soup at my neighbors' houses,

...went caroling along the street and at the widows/widowers in my ward (with treats, too!),

...took a run down to the cemetery on Halloween day--in costume,

...held a talent show at the Old Folks' Home wherein I participated in several talents, including a Coke-bottle choir,

... went to a Pilgrim Feast on Thanksgiving and a cabin retreat for Christmas (thanks Mom!)

...wrote a novel and

... bought a new,shiny, superlight laptop.


On the flip side I still have my peer review research, RMMLA paper, thesis and Dr. Wimmer's project to do. So may its time I stop gathering rosebuds and make sure that I'm getting the haymaking done.