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


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.