Friday, December 9, 2011

Let's Give Thanks to the Lord Above 'Cause Santa Claus Comes Tonight

Santa Claus and Christianity have rather a rocky relationship, don't they? Is he a saint? A decadant example of rampant commercialism? Does he encourage or erode faith in things neither seen nor heard? Are his gifts alms or mammon? It's no wonder that some Christians are rather skittish about the Old Man. Still, I consider myself a great Santa apologist. Here's why:

  • Santa Claus Knows That We're All God's Children. It's funny to think that being poor could have been such a stigma that the singer had to emphasize that Santa will love you even if you aren't rich. We've sort of come to take it for granted that gift reception shouldn't depend on wealth. There are enormous resources to mobilize all and any into providing "a Christmas" for the disadvantaged, and it's no accident that often these organizations are called Sub for Santa, or Santa's Helpers or an equivalent of that. Christian obligation to the poor fits in nicely to the Santa myth--everyone deserves to have not just what they need, but also what they want. While some kids may have a meager Christmas indeed, they wouldn't if Santa had his way. No, if Santa were running this show, if you aren't going to get any presents, it's not because you're poor, or because of who your parents are, but because you were naughty.
  • Be Good for Goodness' Sake. Admittedly, this is the element of Santa that I'm least comfortable with: good kids get gifts, but bad kids do not (and in some cultures, they get a sound beating, or the threat of it). In actuality, the material wealth of families matter in gift-reception (see above), but threat of reward and punishment is a part of the Santa myth--and of Christian doctrine. We don't really like to talk about heaven and hell, and especially not of a threat (it conjures images of a self-righteous Christian saying "do that and you'll go to hell), so we often talk about natural consequences. "You can't really be happy and sin," we say. But part of that is because blessings are stopped up through sin. Obey the commandments and prosper in the land. Hopefully, our goodness becomes something intrinsic rather than just a quid pro quo arrangement, but it's hard to see how doing good is its own reward all the time. Sometimes the reward or threat gets you through the day.
  • Leave a Peppermint Stick for Ol' Saint Nick. Santa wants to have a relationship with you. He wants your letters, wants you to leave a note with the cookies, wants you on his lap whispering in his ear. No one ever thought much about communication with the Easter Bunny. If Santa Claus isn't always checking in on you, it's because he lives so very far away. It's always about more than the Big Night, and I find that striking. He's an adult who wants to tend your needs, and unlike teachers, coaches or even parents, he had no other motive than making you happy. That's incredibly similar to what I imagine God's motives being.
  • Ho, ho, ho, Who Wouldn't Go?My favorite part about Santa is that he isn't your parents. He is, but he isn't. They can give their children all the gifts that they would like without any threat of appreciation or thanks. You don't even have to write him a card. Santa represents selfless service, the opportunity to give our alms not before men. Parents, especially, who sacrifice constantly for their children--not just for fun things like gifts and candy, but for heating bills and orthodontics--can pretend that they didn't sacrifice at all and that the children can just enjoy their gifts gratis. What applies to parents and children can apply to anyone. Want to donate money to a charity anonymously? Leave food for a struggling family? Santa is the perfect cover.

This isn't to say that I'm thrilled about all aspects of Santa-ism (he probably should lay off the cookies, and elf workshops sound distressingly like slave labor), but over all, I'm in the Old Man's corner.

Sunday, December 4, 2011


I was thinking about it this week and I realized that I'm happy with who I am, but not content. It's a really good place to be in, actually.

I adore setting goals. I make New Year's Resolutions. And new semester's. And right now I have three pages of sticker-chart hanging on my bathroom wall. (Yes, one of the rows is for "write in journal/blog.") It's nice to keep in mind the things that I want to do, the person that I want to become.

And I understand that, while my intentions may be good and my effort admirable, I probably won't make all of those goals. I might not get to the Serengeti before I turn 30 to cross it off my list. It's getting to the time of the year when I can look at the goals I made for 2011 and realize that I probably won't lose 10 pounds before Jan 1, nor will I pass my prospectus exam, unless the university system radically changes during finals week. And similarly this week there are several rows on the sticker chart that are relatively barren. "Don't eat after 8:00" for example, and "do >15 min. of service." I still think those are worthy goals, but for one reason or another, it didn't happen this week, and I think that's okay.

After all, there are some pretty cool ones I did keep: I'm a regular flosser for 3 weeks now, and I've been pretty good about reading the Book of Mormon, getting to bed by 11:00 pm, tidying up and, yes, writing something on here or in my journal. This year I did lose weight, and I did pass my field exam, and I cross several things off of my "30 before 30" list this year, including a traditional hike through the English countryside and making a wedding cake. I like to look back on these accomplishment and think about them.

So why do I do this? Why do I have to set a goal on Goodreads for books to read this year, or try to visit 10 Christian denominations while I'm in Texas, or read everything Shakespeare wrote? Part of me worries that this is a "list-worth" problem, that my self worth is tied up in doing good things, proving to others that I've done cool things. For example, I read all those books, but was it close enough? Did they enter into my soul?

I love even my failed goals, though, and I don't want to hate myself if I don't achieve a goal, or if I end up modifying that dream. One reason I love my failed goals is that something is better than nothing. Even though I only did creative writing 3 times this week, one of those days was an obsessive day where I pondered a lot and ended up with 11 single-spaced pages. Even though I only did service for 15 minutes, it's 15 minutes more than I perhaps would have without the reminder. I got something from it.

Another reason why I love even my failed goals is I think that the goals I set describe who I want to be, and who I want to be determines a lot about who I am. The half-marathon I ran this year represents my becoming an athlete, a runner, which, if you had asked my 14-year-old self (the one, may I point out, on the track & field team) if she was a runner, or wanted to be, I don't think she'd concur. But, after running a half-marathon was on my "someday" list for several years, I actually started running more often and longer and I did it. That one I achieved, yes, but there are many failed goals, like my plan to do 100 hours of service in the summer, that still represent a good change in my intentions, an ideal that means something to me.

Finally, I think goals represent a sort of optimism. I can get better. I will get better. Of course, ideally the goals that you set will fall into those business school acronyms and be properly specific, measurable, etc., but any goal (and a real goal, not just a fantasy) suggests a path from where I am to where I want to be, a path that exists, that's a possibility, and that's wonderfully reassuring.

Also, it helps when you get stickers everyday. I love stickers.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Diary of a Wii Fit Mii

What a great day! I started my morning with my standard run along the island. It's a good thing our island doesn't have any cars, because then it would be harder for everyone of us to go for a morning run. But then, who would be driving? Ha, ha. It was a great run. Guess who I saw? Everyone. Even old man Parkins was out there hitting the pavement, then fluffly grass, then pavement again. Do you know who else was there? Puppies. Lots of puppies. I love the herds of puppies that run around the island. It's so friendly.

After my run, I couldn't help but stand around the finish line and watch all the other people come in from their morning run. I clapped and clapped. I'm so proud of them for finishing. Sometimes I don't know which I enjoy more: running and waving to the people behind me, or standing and jumping up and down clapping.

When I finally got home, boy was I in for a treat! There was some crazy person walking a tightrope over my building! I kept frantically gesturing for my friends to come and see, but they never came to the window--I don't know why. It was especially exciting when that black blob tried to eat the tightrope walker--don't worry, she jumped over it!

After all that excitement, I was happy to enjoy watching some soothing hula hoop. I even threw a few hula hoops myself, after raising them up over my head. Great times.

And what would end the perfect day? Why, going to a step aerobics concert! I love watching that ensemble of diverse people rhythmically stepping on, then stepping off, then stepping on again onto a slightly raised surface! I got so caught up in it that I started clapping my stubs along with the rest of the audience--what entertainment!

This truly is the best of all possible worlds.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

An Open Christmas Newsletter to the World

It's funny to me that there are people who hate the genre of the Christmas newsletter. They seem to hate it for two reasons: (a) it's superficial, trying to capture the entire year in MAX, one page, front-and-back, and (b) it's overly optimistic, phrasing even sad events as if they were fantastic ("Frank lost his job this year, which means more time to play with Kitty!"). I think that these are actually interesting genre conventions to work with. Think about it: how often do you write a summary of the entire year in your journal? How often are blogs just grumblefests? I say, bring on the newsletter. So without further ado, and apologies to those of you who will get this twice:

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year, all! This has been a great year for me, personally, and I hope it's been good to you, too.

I'm now in my second year of my PhD program down here in Austin, Texas. I'm getting far more comfortable down here and am getting used to the rhythms of the seasons (August=leave town or stay inside, November=go kayaking) as well as the unique culture of the hipster southwest. I went to my first music concert series in early November, and, earlier, I went to a taping of Austin City Limits. I bring my own bags to the grocery store in anticipation of the bag ban and I bought my first pair of skinny jeans this spring. I haven't bought Toms, though; the line must be drawn somewhere, usually around $70 canvas shoes.

School-wise, everything is going great. I read over 70 books this summer in anticipation of my field exam, where, naturally, my committee only asked me about one of them. Still, if you ever want to feel as though you really belong in a discipline, have someone make a canonical list and get cracking. I now finally know exactly what people are talking about when they mention Vygotsky and Feire and Murphy. Of course, this is all in addition to the standard school things I've been doing like taking great classes and teaching undergraduates writing, both of which I adore.

It hasn't all been work, though! I got into running this spring and in July I ran a half marathon with my sister, Emily. Granted, it was downhill and overcast, but it was still a wonderful experience. Five years ago, I wouldn't have thought I could do it. Now I'm gradually working on writing a novel. My friends and I meet each month for "Book Club"--where we write a book, not read one--and by the end of the next year we should have a full manuscript! There are plenty of things "I've always wanted to do" and it's great to actually do some of them.

(I considered a section here about my lack of relationship and encouraging other people to set me up with their brothers, cousins, classmates, etc. but decided that asking for favors in a newsletter was totally desperate)

I hope you have a wonderful holiday season! I enjoy and value our relationship, and the role that you have had in my life. Please keep me updated on how you're doing.

Best wishes,


Friday, November 25, 2011

Total Rant I Wrote at 6:00 am, to be taken with grain of salt.

During the weeks leading up to the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, there was a lot of discussion about changing social attitudes. A law that had been generous at its time for allowing gay soldiers to serve their country was now oppressive because soldiers weren’t as intolerant as once they were; many soldiers in the same barracks as openly gay men have teachers, aunts, friends who are also gay. The law could progress to match social attitudes.

There’s another place where Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell is still thriving, though: surrounding religion in public universities. One prominent class-discussion scholar calls the discussion of religion in academia “the last great taboo” and one of my professors described admitting her religious persuasion as “coming out of the closet.”

Why are we so anxious about the idea that academics can be religious? There’s a persuasive view in academia, like there once was about gays in the military, that all religious people fit an undesireable stereotype: unthinking, pushy, anti-intellectual. Sadly, to paraphrase the bumper sticker, when only anti-intellectual people openly identify as religious, the only religious people you’ll know will be anti-intellectual. I had a roomful of colleagues express utter shock to hear I was Mormon. In their comments was the underlying assumption that I didn’t fulfill their expectations of what a Mormon, or perhaps a person of faith should be.

This power of embodiment, of just being allowed to be who you are, is vital. Many people’s stereotypes are formed around a floating concept that isn’t actually present in the people around them. Whether in the Church’s “I’m a Mormon” campaign, or in the way soldier’s attitudes towards gay comrades changed with each openly gay person they actually knew, seeing the way lives are lived, the way we have more in common than not, is the most powerful force for acceptance. But not letting academics openly profess their faith, we are perpetuating hate and ignorance.

I’m not talking about preaching here. I’m talking about the way a room of PhD students freezes when I use the phrase “church potluck” in describing my weekend. Any admission of religion in a culture where we academics routinely sit around and mock the people who believe in the rapture or protest gay marriage is to open yourself up to the burden of prejudice. And do you want to know about the worst thing with our casual Evangelical-bashing? Many of our students come from that religious background. As professors, we’re comfortable calling our students idiots for believing what they believe. Some religions are more protected than others. Muslims are generally okay, because the Evangelicals in our minds are intolerant towards them, and Jews, if they’re not too religious. Mormons are probably not, because they’re all Republicans (there’s another whole blogpost in academic intolerance to the right-wing), and the worst of the worst are the many shades of Christianity right outside our door, particularly in the form of the Young Conservatives and the Texas Legislature.

The result is that ugly stereotypes are perpetuated and no one even knows that they’re stereotypes. One of my students recently wrote “Republicans and Christians would be against sex education” and she had a hard time believing that (a) those terms aren’t necessarily synonymous and (b) neither group is necessarily against sex ed. Another student wrote that “Christians all think that everyone’s going to hell.” No, we don’t. As a matter of fact, my religion says that very few, really bad people go to hell, and only then after multiple chances to repent. But I can’t say that. I have to just suggest that she is more thoughtful and research her audience. When I’m listing untenable, but still viable, claims, I can’t list the existence of God along with, for example, the declaration that all men are created equal or that animals deserve compassion. The most powerful evidence that I can give that religious people can be smart, articulate, restrained and tolerant is my ownself (aw, shucks) and I’m not able to share that.

I am, of course. (I think) there’s no law prohibiting me from letting my students, or my colleagues, know that I’m “openly” religious, but the social atmosphere is prohibitively icy. In addition to deep-rooted stereotypes, we’re terrified of anything like religious instruction going on. As Porthoro ???? points out, though, there is a crisis of religious ignorance in this generation. People seem to have no idea what Muslims actually believe, or who those guys with turbans are, or, as demonstrated when a cocky young thing graffitied “Jesus lives—Easter is cancelled,” the basic premises of Christianity.

This is a problem. First off, if college is about learning new things about the world around us, religion certainly out to be a part of that education, because it’s a big part of that world. And if college is also about expanding viewpoints and becoming tolerant, then people of all religious backgrounds should feel safe in identifying who they are. Finally, there are real dangers about our country becoming so alcoved that academics feel comfortable assuming they know what religious people think and religious people assuming they know what’s going on in the universities (yes, this door swings both ways).

I generally play my persona close to the chest. I don’t tell my students my political views (incidentally, I’m a registered “undeclared” who spends a week before elections with the League of Women Voters’ pamphlet) and I don’t talk about my personal life. But when, chatting with a sports journalist student, I mentioned that my school was the one whose player got ponytailed, there was a moment of tension as he put it together that I went to BYU, or when another student asked me what I did on a Saturday, and I answered kayaking, Comic Con, and church meeting, and of those three, Comic Con was not the most embarrassing.

Let’s just be cool about this, guys. That’s all I’m asking for, in the end.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Somethin' Pumpkin

Here are some random pictures from the season interspersed with my own October Project: learning new pumpkin-related recipes. Here's the line up.

Week one: Pumpkin Curry.

My first pumpkin attempt was so nice & tasty that I had it for lunch several days running. It's very orange.
(Here's Bastrop, where I got to haul chainsawed trees and sort through ashes, and move rubble. Sad, but nice to see all the people helping out.)

1 chopped onion
1 can chicken bits
1 tablespoon yellow curry
1/2 cup yellow raisins
2 cups chopped carrots
1 raw sugar pumpkin, in big peices (like 1/4 a pumpkin each), seeds removed

In a crock-pot throw all ingredients, cook all day. Then scrape the soft pumpkin out of the shell (should be soft now), stir in and heat a little longer. The pumpkin makes the curry less kicky. Tis nice.

Week Two: Spice Pumpkin Seeds Party Mix
Gretchen says these are like crack. I altered another recipe and made them twice--once for practice and once for our Halloween party)
(6 Flags near Scooby Doo ride. The boy who took this picture was 14-ish and with his JROTC group.)

Cleaned, dried, roasted pumpkin seeds (325 degrees for 25 minutes and salt ought to do it)
3 cups corn chex
1 cup sugar
chili powder

Mix the sugar and spices together. Throw all ingredients in medium-hot skillet to caramelize and coat. When covered, place on wax paper to dry.

(At Diwali, this old man --back to us-- told me to go light some more candles, because Diwali is all about "catching the fire." Appropriately wise, mysterious kind old man.)

Week Three: Beef Pumpkin Stew

I made this for the missionaries for lunch. Of course it's like 80 degrees out, but it feels so homey and smells wonderful. If I lived close to a bakery, I'd serve it in those little pumpkin bread bowls. Feels like something Mom would make us eat to balance out all the candy.

2 lbs stew meat
1 large white onion
15 oz canned tomatoes
2 yams, peeled and chopped
1/2 cup yellow raisins
4 Carrots, ditto
cracked pepper, salt, oregano
1 sugar pumpkin, hollowed out

Brown beef and onion. Add water and other ingredients. Simmer for 4-6 hours. Put the whole mess in the pumpkin and then in the oven 350 deg. for another couple hours. When you scoop out the stew, scoop pumpkin with it.

(Here's my ringleader costume. Fun fact: I wear everything here pretty regularly, except the top hat and the whip.)

Week four: Pumpkin orange pie

(I haven't actually made this yet--it's for my last week, & tomorrow's ward party FHE. I'm psyched about it, though)

1/2 c pumpkin puree
2 Tbsp brown sugar
1 tsp pumpkin pie spice
3 cup vanilla frozen yogurt
choclate pie crust
1 1/2 c orange sherbert
whipped topping & oranges

Mix the first three and then add half the frozen yogurt. Put in chocolate pie crust. Then a layer of orange sherbert, then a later of the rest of the frozen yogurt. Finally, whipped topping and orange garnishes. I'm so excited about the pumpkin-orange combo. I'll let you know how it goes.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Over-impassioned Book Review of Globesity That Was Too Good for Just Goodreads

Two very cool things about this book:

1). Coming from a French and British perspective, it's already a little more "globesity expert" just from situated authority. Even better, while most of the research for this book /has/ taken place in the developed world, Delpeuch is quick to remind us that the obesity epidemic is going to hit the developing world like a freight train. Carrying lard. Old "high energy density" eating habits with new urbanized sedentary lives, plus an increased desire among the upwardly mobile for red meat and sweets create the bizarre world where in one country, in one city, in one household, there could be both radical undernourishment and dangerous over-eating.

2). The answers to the problem are also very European. "Stop telling fat people to be more puritan about food and exercise," this book declares, "and start changing their environments!" Frequently citing how the anti-smoking laws in England cut smoking rates, the suggestions at the end include a measly 1% tax on sugary bubbly (which Delpeuch claims wouldn't even affect sales), to more walkable new communities, to business-sponsored sports facilities. Make the trail easier! Take political action! Talk with your boss!

Although I'm wary of plenty of Delpeuch's claims (like that enjoying a diversity of food options--including fruits and veg--is a bad thing, and that people should eat only those things their culture has adapted to eat--which smacks of racism), I'm pretty convinced by much of his argument. If obesity is such a big deal and affects so many besides just those whom it afflicts, we ought to do something about it.

Take Austin's sidewalk problem for example. There is one corner of sidewalk on the way to the elementary school I run past. Let me say it again: one corner. The sidewalk disappears on one side into grass, someone's lawn and then fence, leaving you (or the school children) to brave the busy road full of barreling SUVs giving their children --what else?--rides to school. There is literally no way to let your kid walk to school with the injunction "don't walk in the street." My apartment complex is similar: although many people in my complex come from less car-obsessed cultures (like Pakistan, for example, or California), our complex has suddenly disappearing sidewalks and no lit walkways to and from the office building. People go out for a stroll through the parking lot.

Sometimes there are sidewalks, like in the Rutland neighborhood, but there are no lamp lights and people feel unsafe. I took the bus home a little later than usual and could barely make out the landmarks that herald my stop. Everything is dark and scary. Now, I know low rates of walking is the least of Rutland's poverty problems, but maybe we should at least take the basic steps of providing areas that are well-lit, safe and clean.

And the weird thing is that Austin prides itself in being "active," meaning that there are bike trails in parks that you can drive to (the park I like to use, Walnut Creek, has no access sidewalk. I run through the wild grasses, or sometimes on the road. I don't know what small children or people in a wheelchair would do.) and enjoy if you are rich. AND last year they approved a bill for more trails, all under the halo of that this will encourage more physical activity. As someone who uses the trail system several times a week, I voted against it. It seemed like a tax on poor people to benefit rich people. If we really were concerned with helping people be more active, we would, as Delpeuch suggests, stop making good health a hobby of those rich and vain enough to pursue it and make it an integrated part of everyday existance.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Field Exam Fairy

Scene: Upper floor Calhoun Hall. One MARY, in a black turtleneck and grey skirt, self-consciously businesslike, is pacing the halls looking over her notes of her field exam and reciting her impassioned introductory speech in her mind. Near ENGLISH OFFICE, a YOUNG MAN, tall, black, in trendy clothing. He appears to be looking for something.

MARY: Hey, are you looking for something?

YOUNG MAN: I think so, but I haven't found it.

MARY: I wouldn't be much use for you. [beat] I barely know this building myself. {nervous laughter}

YOUNG MAN: What's that? holds out his hand for papers

MARY: Oh, these are just the notes for my field exam. [she hesitates, then hands them over]

YOUNG MAN: [looking them over] Hmm, hmm, that the last page?

MARY: Uh, these are my notes for my presentation. [hands over the last sheet] It's about, you know, being a specialist and a generalist at the same time. In rhetoric.

YOUNG MAN: [still thoughtfully engrossed in the papers, then, looks up, soulfully, into MARY's eyes] I think you're going to be just fine.

MARY: Uh. Thanks. [She takes her papers back from him and takes a few steps towards the room where her committee is still meeting. Then, over her shoulder.] I hope you find what you're looking for.

YOUNG MAN: You too.

End scene

Sunday, October 16, 2011

15 Items I Am Unsure How to Store After Staying Up Until 3 am Cleaning My Desk

1: beanie baby chicken

2: brown-and-pink hand-dipped candle

3: external hard drive that doesn't (as far as I can tell) work at all

4: several almost-finished novelty post-its

5: money tree seed

6: little tiny gift box someone gave me a USB drive in

7: henna inking kit

8: pen shells with no cartridges in them

9: foreign coins

10: post-it notes sketching out (far distant) prospectus ideas

11: WWKBD (what would Kenneth Burke do) rubber bracelet

12: Ex Libris labels

13: National Zoo wildlife conservation sticker

14: roll of 200 smiley face stickers (red left only)

15: really cool headphones that only work if the cord's in just the right place

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Two Extremes (as usual) in Education

As I go from adviser to adviser at UT as well as BYU, I seem to get two theories of the PhD (and education in general): either you jump through the hoops and get it over with or else you take joy in the journey and let your ideas build and ferment. In economic terms, the first embraces the Spense signaling theory, which declares that getting degrees and letters after our names is just a way of demonstrating WHO we already are (smarty pants), while the latter suggests that education is an accumulation of human capital--you're actually learning something you couldn't have gotten somewhere else. If I buy into the former, I need to graduate as soon as possible, under the bar, to prove myself and then just rush into the career I've been long prepared for. If I buy into the latter, I should take my time.

For a long time I was a "long, steady and intense" kind of girl. 18 credit hours a semester. Three semesters a year. I was 3 classes away from a 2nd major in economics and 2 away from a minor in film when I graduated. I took classes for fun. I scoffed at people who wanted to get GE's "out of the way" and graduate early. But now that I'm in grad school, I can see the appeal of wanting to finish--I want to apply for jobs. I want to have a career, not just be a perceptual student, doing essentially the same thing I've been doing for ten years (see my post of being unsettled). Also, I realize how much I've learned to teach myself. Some things, like learning Latin or statistics, are bone-crushing to try to do without deadlines and a teacher/tutor, but many things, like reading books in the field, thinking and talking about them, can take place if not on my own, then at least outside the classroom with similarly-minded people. I know how to learn.

The problem is,then, that I have advisers on both extremes on my field exam committee. So am I trying to get to my prospectus as soon as possible or letting my ideas slow-cook? I don't know. I do know that curiosity is my greatest academic virtue while diligence and consistence are my greatest failings. What do I do NOW to balance these? I don't just want to graduate, but I want to graduate prepared.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Mary Quite Contrary

I can pinpoint when I started writing online—in the summer between my 7th and 8th grade years. I know because my typing scores went from 24 words per minute to 50 or 60. I learned that I had to think, compose and write quickly in the chat rooms on the Microsoft Network (this was before a unified internet when people were either on MSN or AOL) and I also learned that people who judge you based on your spelling and grammar (“If you can’t even spell Freud, you must not know what you’re talking about.”). I also frequented a “discussion board” called The Shout, or something like that. The Shout was a site based in England for teenagers to start arguments from posts titled things like “Abortion???” Even though we often had the same arguments and no one was likely to change their position, I loved the chance to full-throttle argue with someone and I definitely screamed and cried and paced in front of that screen many a time.

I hit my most contrary phase around 8th grade. I wasn't big on fighting with my parents, but debating the "big ideas." Some of my friends were wary of "contention" and I was a little contentious, sometimes. Or often.

I keep telling people that I'm over it. There are a number of topics that I'm just exhausted about, gay marriage being foremost, I guess, and I just kind of step back and let the argument go on around without me. People aren't going to change their strongly held opinions any more than those British teenagers at the Shout were interested in nuanced argument.

That being said.

Sometimes when I hear people make a claim, I automatically want to defend the opposite. Government military humanitarianism is bad. Can't a bad peace be better than a good war? Charter schools will save education. What about private and religious schools the charters displace? Vanilla is the worst flavor of ice cream. What brand and variety of vanilla do you mean? It's a reaction. Honestly, I rarely care about the position I take.

In some sense it's a good thing that I learned about rhetoric as a field of study, and can place my eristic tendencies in context. I can identify what it is that I'm really arguing and analyze my interlocutors' positions and tactics. It's Shout without the shouting.

I recently got in my first Facebook debate and it's been wonderful. Mostly because those involved are smart, respectful and our argument doesn't really strike at the core of people's untenable beliefs. We're debating the virtues and vices TV watching. It's been lovely, and I think I'm learning quite a bit, but I also watch myself, carefully. This time it's for fun and everyone knows it. I must remember not to strike up arguments for fun when I'm the only one who enjoys it.

Sunday, September 18, 2011


I've had a good month for wildlife.

BATS! coming out of a bridge--seriously like a cloud.

ARMADILLO! I went on a run and I thought, "what a tacky yard decoration" and then it moved!

And vultures eating a road-killed cat.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Climb Every Mountain

The title of this post comes from one morning after Jamie Z. hiked Y Mt. and stood in front of our apartment, looking up at the Wasatch range humming to herself.

The Y Mt. hike is steep and fast (esp. with Gregory S.), so I think it was as hard physically as any time I've climbed Timp. It's also a heck of a lot prettier once you get past the Y and move around to the back of the mountain.
This is where I live!

Saturday, August 6, 2011

I saw Rise of the Planet of the Apes and Can't Stop Thinking About It.

I don't want to spoiler you all, but while James Franco thinks Planet of the Apes is about how evil money is, I think he's just a little biased in favor of his character. Money may be the root of all evil, but the road to hell is paved with good intentions. A lot of times, we think we're doing good, and I don't just mean tampering in God's domain (although I never thought apes were adorable until last night). I mean sometimes we just go in blind trying to do the best we can. Usually it works out. Sometimes it doesn't. Sometimes it leads to an army of super-apes.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Whereever You Go, There You Are

So I've been thinking a lot lately about FOMO, or Fear of Missing Out, supposedly a psychological anxiety increasingly endemic to our society of Facebook posts, photo texts, and, even, blogs like this one. Everyone, it seems, is going around telling everyone, "OMIGOSH, I'M HAVING THE BEST TIME EVER!!!!" and this is making us look around and think, "I thought I was happy, but maybe I could be even happier."

"Rebekah Nathan" discovered in My Freshman Year that young people posted pictures of them having THE BEST TIME EVER!!! on their dorm walls and kept trying to one-up each other. Picture of you kayaking? Well, here's a picture of me skydiving. A picture of you fishing down by the lake? Check out my picture fishing for Cuba...on a handmade boat...with George Clooney. Facebook encourages this kind of thing even more, consciously or unconsciously, because we need to defend out own way of life, especially those of us who are still in transition about what kind of life we're living.

Say someone posts about an AWESOME experience that they have and we don't. What do we do? Well, we stew and then we counter-attack with our own cheery coolness out on the web. Mothers counter-attack single women posting Venice pictures with pictures of their adorable children. Is snowboarding THE MOST FUN EVER or is surfing? Or giant lawn darts? Or alligator wrestling? Whatever it is, it's probably not the thing you're doing. And in the place where you use to live/go to college/work? They're having a blast without you--in fact, they keep sending you evites to events that you can't go to but are probably going to be SO FUN!!!

But you know what? Nothing is capslock fun all the time. Even the things you really, really want, they come with their own attendant difficulties. A. and her family wanted a baby and tried in vitro and really struggled, and the family fasted and prayed and put her name on the temple roll--and she got morning sickness. But she got pregnant. She's miserable, but it's the miserable that she long desired. I really wanted it to rain and prayed and fasted, and it rained and I got a lot of mosquito bites. And a staph infection. But, then, that's kind of the way it is with THE MOST FUN EVER...snowboarding takes time, skydiving takes money, being single is lonely, having kids is frustrating, lawn darts induce allergies. This isn't to be pessimistic. On the contrary, I feel a pretty big burden lifting knowing I don't have to have obscene amounts of fun, all the time.

Sidenote: although, don't you think blogs are often, if anything, a little more melancholy than real life? all that musing, I suppose

Thursday, June 16, 2011


So according to a recent study out of Northwestern, minority kids use media 4 1/2 hours more than white kids. Turns out that they're also early adapters--using iPhones' new features--and listen to more music. Is that such a bad thing? I mean, this isn't 1970 when listen to music meant sitting down with LPs. I may be pulling up the average a little, but here was my day when I read about this study:

7:30-9:00 morning weight training, listening to music 1/2 hours, listening to Planet Money and Get Fit Guy podcasts, some shimmying
9:00-9:30 Showering, eating breakfast, reading the news on iPhone, 20 minutes
9:30- 10:30 Bus ride, 1 hr reading
10:30-12:00 Library, 1 1/2 hr reading
12:00-12:30 Lunch break. Also, walking around campus listening to music, 15 minutes
12:30-1:30 Internet--answering email, checking Facebook, looking up a Wikipedia article about Lizzie Borden
1:30-2:30 Library reading
2:30-3:30 Bus ride, on iPhone reading news, getting health tips from Jullian Michaels, flashcards, reading this article on PsycExplorer app
3:30-4:30 Pushing Daisies 1 hr TV
4:30-5:30 Reading in the pool
5:30-6:30 Dinner, cleaning while listening to music. After dinner stroll, listening to Chesteron mysteries from Librivox
7:00-7:30 Driving to activity, listening to podcast

Look at that--nearly 12 hours of the mediated life! I'm not saying that all of the kids are going around listening to Stuff You Should Know and checking the BBC app for news updates, but media use is relatively neutral.

Relatively. You may notice the dirth of social interaction (Facebook excepting) in that stretch of day. Sometimes I feel like I know Michael Brit or BJ Harrison or the Planet Money guys better than the people sitting next to me on the bus. Not that I'd be certain get all chatty with them, but maybe without so much media, I might. I'm glad to listen to other smart, rich people like me in my books and apps and podcasts, but I should learn something about the people around me.

The other concern is that I'm such a good consumer of all this media that it can be kind of paralyzing in terms of being a contributor of it. I tried to read for Librivox, once, but my inadequacies made me so nervous that my track ended up tinny and over-produced. I notice that I blog less than I did two years ago. I write less, in general, I think. I'm not saying that all of that is because of paralyzing media overload, but it may be related.

I don't know--is the unmediated life more worth living?

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Solo Austin Adventure

I must have texted a dozen people. Easily a dozen. No one, though, wanted to go to Roller Derby. This is partially my fault--I didn't let enough people know about it early enough and I didn't realize that this would be the last game I could go to this summer. But I had just met with M. nee M., who went to UT for her grad work and now is married with two wonderful daughters, and we discussed living the full life, so I decided I could go all by myself.

So I took myself on a Saturday date.

First I went to the library to return a book. Then I took a lovely long walk down to the convention center (read: was deceived by Google Maps as to its proximity). But on my way I ran into some British tourists, which reminded me to be a tourist in my own city. I witnessed a rally on the steps of the Capital. I read the historical markers. I wandered downtown to flat track derby.It was less like Whip It and more like a cute, minor-league baseball game. People chatted with their beers. Little kids ran around the bleachers. The husbands of the Hell Marys (punch-punch-punch-Hell, yeah!) all had "Widower" t-shirts, vuvuzelas, and homemade signs for their sweeties. The derby girls themselves we all having a good time. They were a physiognomically diverse group, but all seemed to have fairly respectable jobs. In fact, they were celebrating teachers that night and several of the players were elementary teachers themselves. For their tough names most of them behaved just like rec-level athletes--competitive, team-oriented, but rule-abiding and fun. Of course the best part of derby is choosing your name. I got to watch Smarty Pants (jersey number 4.0), Skank (jersey number C34), and Acute Angel (jersey number < 90*). And then I bought a t-shirt.

Of course they had a electronic musician in a bear suit. Also, free Soy Joys. So really, an Austin original. But I was getting kind of tired and I wanted to walk home before it got dark so, not having to wait for anyone else, I left when I felt like it.

Walking back down 6th street, I saw plenty of evidence as to the Republic of Texas biker rally. Turns out that 6th street bars appeal to biker clubs. For dinner I went to Pita Pit. Turns out Pita Pit doesn't appeal to biker clubs. The teenagers there said things had been kind of slow. "We're bringing a fly back to life," the older black kid said when I ask him about some excited comments he had made to the skinny little white kid with the faintly purple streaks in his hair. The purple-haired pierced kid explained to me that if you drowned a fly, you could bring it back to life by covering it in salt. "Makes you wonder," he said philosophically, "if they really drowned." They were such eager naturalists and made my black-bean whole-wheat pita with such relish that I couldn't help telling them that you can make a fly buzz around in circles if you tear off one of the very small halteres on the back. Perhaps it will lead only to further cruelty, but their enthusiasm for learning made up for any fouls to come.

So I took my pita and ate on my route back to the car. The light, by now, was truly lovely.
That was not the most magical thing of the day, though. The most magical was seeing a white squirrel.In UT lore, if you see a white squirrel on your way to take a test, you'll pass, even if you didn't study at all. It's the last resort of the indolent student. I don't have any tests, but I'm holding on to this picture for later.

I had an awful good time by myself. Could have been better with others, of course, but I wouldn't have given this evening up at all. One of the people I texted texted back that he had been on a date. I was almost hurt, but then I thought, "If I hadn't gone to the derby and just stayed home watching a movie, he would have gone on that date anyway." Hmm. cf previous post, I guess.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Going in and Getting Out

There are some books and movies that take you to a dark place. And there are other movies that can get you out again. Sometimes it's correcting a philosophy, sometimes it's just a different perspective. Often it has to be the same kind of story, or an alternative view on the same thing. For example...

In Out
The Call of the Wild White Fang
The Road Peace like a River
Night Man's Search for Meaning
Whip It An Education
Tess of the D'Urbervilles The Silent Partner
All My Sons The Moon is Down

Does anyone else have suggestions of books, movies, plays that counterbalance each other nicely?

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Switching Tracks

Now I'm not saying that there aren't any other weird times in a person's life. The last ten years of old age when you've already written your will and planned your funeral have to be crazy, as do the middle "Men of a Certain Age" years when you realize that you aren't young in any stretch of the word any more. But young adulthood, real young adulthood, is truly bizarre.

For my purposes I'd like to define this period as ranging from the last couple years of one's terminal education until settling down stage. There are probably other indicators, but this is the the strange vagrant period between youth "being on track" (fourth grade comes after third grade, school follows summer, the people you see every evening around you are your family) and adult "being on track" (one year at your job follows another, you acquire seniority and climb the ranks, the people you see every evening around you are your family). We're unsettled gypsy wanderers, and what's more, we're starting to get sick of it.

The up-in-the-air of it can be kind of fun and kind of startling, but also exhausting. A year ago from the beginning of this month, I had no idea what state, or even country, I would be living in by now. If all had gone according to the plans of nine months ago, I'd be living with L. C. right now, but a year ago this week she met a boy. Now she's married and has a baby in the belly. If all had gone according to the plans of three months ago, I'd be moving out of this apartment to live closer to campus with E. R. Instead, she's decided to quit her PhD, take a job in translation in Germany, and pursue a boy she's long loved from afar (several time zones, in fact). I make my own plans, three year ones, in fact, but it's shattering how shaky such plans can be.

I'm fortunate to still be in my grad program. Many around me are finishing up school, poking around for jobs, wondering where they should settle. One friend told me that she's going to just move to Seattle. "Seattle seems like a cool place and I could a get a job there as well as anywhere," she said. Why not? I know several people who moved to Austin for the same reasons. And if you settle, do you settle?

If you take a job in business instead of becoming a writer, are you denying the muse, as Mom's old professor once said? If you buy your own house, or move out of the singles' ward, or get a cat, are you consigning yourself to spinster/bachelorhood? Is it possible to be considered a grown up without a 401(k) job and a family of your own or are you still just drifting along until the next cool job teaching English overseas, or moving to a cool new town, or backpacking service trip, or going back to school for another couple of years?

And you know what? That gets old. It'd be nice to have a real, permanent home of your own. (Because when you stay at your folks' place for longer than a week or two, your old friends are busy with their jobs and families, the family ward asks why you're still around, and your family start to suggest ways for you to get out and about.) It'd be nice to have a sense of stability, know where you were going to be, and with whom you'll be living in a year. I know nothing is certain in this world of change, but it's even less certain in the world of honest-to-goodness young adults.

In some ways, we're crippled by our capacities. We're smart. We're good. We had a strong sense of the need for dedication and duty to something, but we don't know what. We're full of potential in a world full of excellent opportunities, worthy causes and good choices. It's so difficult to choose something and go with it, and what if it doesn't turn out? Was it the wrong choice and we should go in another direction? These questions haunt us as we try again and again to figure out our identities and missions.

I'm not saying it's entirely gloomy; in fact, it can be a little exciting at at times. I'm just pointing out how weird it is, even from the inside. So be nice to us. Don't ask us awkward questions about things that we know we need to do (get married, get a job) because we want to do those things. Don't make us feel guilty about wanting to go backwards a little and enjoy the stability of home or school again, because we already do. And if we think we know what we want to do with our lives, for heaven's sake, help us to it, because we have enough doubt and second-guessing anyway. Our lives are weird, and we know it.

The Way It Goes

First you think you don't need to journal because you blog.

Then you think you don't need to blog because you write long email.

Then you think you don't need to write long email because you Facebook.

Next think you know, you're expecting your posterity to go through your planner for insight.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Faith in (Pop) Culture II

...but you know? No one's eternal life ever rested on a movie or a pop band. In the words of a pop band that thought they were hot stuff but is now part of the cultural fizzle of the 90s: please don't put your life in the hands of a rock and roll band/ and throw it all away.

The sublime of art, it can make you feel, but after that? You have to get up. You've got to start doing something for someone. Art can direct us to places we haven't been before, but there's nowhere that says artists have things figured out better than any of the rest of us. Someone's capacity to write a song that yanks out your heart isn't necessarily correlated with their knowledge of perfect truths that will bring you personally the joy you seek. If you meet Bob Dylan on the side of the road, to paraphrase the 70s book, kill him.

Art and film will access in you what you already have. Ranking Pixar films with my sister, we had a stand-off over whether Finding Nemo or Ratatouille was the better film. I told her how moving I found Ratatouille's gentle condemnation of criticism. It worked for me as an English major, as a writer. She told me how Finding Nemo struck all of her best parenting instincts and fears. We both couldn't see the sublime in each other's film, in part because those films' sublimity was half provided by us already. We were attune to receive the force of the messages we had been internally seeing anyway.

I wonder if this isn't related to the fact that grumpy people find things to complain about and critical people find things to be critical over and loving people find things to love.

I wonder also how this fits into "virtuous, lovely, of good report or praiseworthy." Maybe these qualifying works of art inspire us to be better people; maybe they just remind us of the better people we've known we could be.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Positive Graffiti

Yet another thing to love about Austin: upbeat graffiti!

(Love your neighbor)

(Never Surrender)

(Love the Life You Live, Live the Life You Love)

And, of course...

It's not Banksy, but it does me good.

Sunday, April 17, 2011


Went to CCCC's with my mom again. So much good times. Here're photos!

Oh, dorky English teachers!

Dessert night at the hotel!
And a close-up of that pile of gooey goodness! There were cherries, Baby Ruth bars, cherries and caramel sauce besides the sweet tortillas, ice cream and chocolate sauce.

Also, I guess I heard some good presentations on writing...

Friday, April 1, 2011

Faith in (Pop) Culture

I thought I was jaded. Maybe I had grown out of it. Maybe I had just been exposed to too much. Or I was out of practice. But the idea that when I was in junior high I would lie on a couch in the dark listening to a song over and over again, or could be moved to reconsider my life because of a movie has seems so far away for a couple of years.

I thought I had a good run. I had listened to songs that made me want to be in love, painted several pictures of the lead singer of a band, had actors and directors that I thought really knew me (aside from the ones that actually really knew me). And while I didn't just shrug off the way that I had felt back then, I didn't know if I could feel so strongly right now.

I mean, sure I liked Iron Man okay and, to a disappointing lesser extent, Iron Man 2 ,and Cage the Elephant. Yeah, I went through a phase where I watched almost all of CW's Supernatural (but on TNT--I'm not an animal). But was I ever deeply moved? Entertained, delighted, hyped up a little, but not really moved.

That was all in the past, the good ol' Lord of the Rings, vintage Eels, the heart of the Harry Potter books and About A Boy days. They all were sublime, which Longinus reminds us comes of a sudden, like a divine lightning bolt, or, in terms of C. S. Lewis' "joy" creates a sweet longing for something better. I felt like I was either deeper or entertainment was more shallow. I wasn't anticipating anything, not like how I had anticipated the next Lord of the Rings movie or Zwan's single, glorious album. After last summer's run of {ack!} Katy Perry, Lady Gaga, and the A-Team, no wonder I was jaded. Even the best movies and music, like Inception, are cool, but not soul-shaking in the way, to keep it in perspective, Momento or Dark Knight were.

Enter the past week. I saw this movie, which I meant to see, just out of curiosity, when I saw the preview (in the dollar movie). It was really pretty beautiful. Also my brother introduced me to The Decemberists, whose new album makes me want to be a better person. Then I went on Apple trailers and guess what? I'm excited about some movies coming out. Not, heaven help me, Hop or The Hangover 2, but Super 8 and Captain America, even.*

I expect to be moved. I want to be changed.

*You may notice a lack of books here. I don't have any books I'm anticipating right now. Not with baited breath, I guess. So get on it, people.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

You Must Bear Your Brother's Burden Within Reason

After a week-long hike through the charming English countryside with my brother and sister-in-law I had a charming 7 hour flight home. The movie options were somewhat limited, so I watched three movies, two of which were about brothers and sisters passionately loyal to their siblings (the third was Monsters Inc, but that's just good entertainment).

In Conviction, Hilary Swank's character believes her lovable nogoodnik brother is innocent of the murder he's been accused of, so she decides to become a lawyer to overturn his conviction. Which means she has to go to law school. Which means she has to go to college. Which means she has to get her GED. (In other debates, I suspect Swank represents the kind of college student who perhaps doesn't need a lot of GE courses...) She never once entertains the idea that her sometimes violently angry brother might actually have committed the crime as she not only goes to school, but suffers economically, emotionally and even loses her husband and sons in her effort.

On the other channel of the itty-bitty screen, I watched some movie with Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson on a revenge rampage to kill off the gang of criminals that killed his brother when he and his brother were in a gang of criminals. Lots of criminals. He guns them down, attacks them with ice picks, the whole gambit. He doesn't care how these scumbags live now, any more than he cares about the assassin and police tailing him. He's just going to drive that lonely highway in his Chevy Impala until he kills them all or gets killed himself. No one gets away with shooting his brother.

Watching these, I wonder what the limits of my fraternal loyal are. I mean, I certainly enjoyed spending time with my brother and I'd certain help him out if he needed emotional, financial, etc. help. I'd babysit as a live-in nanny, say, or pull strings to get him a job, or maybe even get in a fight with someone who wanted to fight him. But could I go on a killing spree to avenge his death? Probably not. Partially this is because he wouldn't want that kind of tribute. Could I dedicate (possibly ruin) my life and family to the faint hope of his innocence and exoneration? If my Dave were falsely imprisoned, of course, but if I had a brother as violent and unpredictable , with a criminal history as long as Hilary Swank's brother's? I don't know.

I guess all of this musing about limits of loyalty is all theoretical, and I'm probably more loyal than I think. In fact, in ordinary things, I'm very loyal, not letting people talk bad about my family members and calling periodically and supporting their goals and projects however I can. But these movies made me wonder how deep I could go if called upon to do so.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Arrival Protocol

Okay, so here's me getting bossy again, but I was thinking about how I return from a trip and how to do this best. Here's my free advice, and you get what you paid for. You don't want to be overwhelmed and depressed by coming home, but you want to return peaceful, refreshed and happy to be in your normal life again with such good memories. To ensure this, I think a successful reentry from a trip requires as much planning and care as heading out. That starts even before you've left.

Before the Trip:
  • Get someone to feed the pets, get the mail, etc. You don't want to return to disaster.
  • Clean house, including making the bed & having some clean clothes. You want to come back and see your home at its best and you don't want to have to do dishes or pick up before you can rest after a hard day of travel.
  • Clear out any perishables, but have some non-perishable food ready in the cupboard. With airlines being so stingy these days, you'll probably be hungry when you come back, but too tired to go out.

Immediately upon Return:
  • Shower. Morning or night, even if you're way tired. This should be one of first things you do. You'll feel better, more at home, and you won't carry all the germs of you picked up on the trip and flight. Also, this may be the first time in a while that you've had some good "naked time," so look for moles, rashes, ticks or anything you might not have noticed while changing in your sleeping bag by flashlight.
  • Dump your laundry. Yeah, I don't even sort it, but really--if you rinsed it in bathroom sinks and sludged through mud it in, I'm guessing it's not dry clean only. And usually clothes are a big part of our luggage so unpacking won't be such a chore in the future.
  • Clean out electronic noise. Delete spam email and irrelevant texts all at once. You'll find it makes reentry so much less daunting without all that extra stuff clambering for your attention. You can deal with the important matters latter, but just commit yourself to deleting the special deals from J. Crew and evites to parties you missed.
Within 24 Hours:
  • Label or post photos. Even if you felt like you'll never forget your trip, you may find yourself frowning over a thatched cottage or pile of ruins thinking, "there was some reason why I needed to photograph this, what was it?" Labeling while you're fresh also helps you to digest your trip, reflecting on the whole experience.
  • Talk about it. Maybe while picking up your mail with a good friend or just calling your mom, find someone who is willing to listen to you talk for awhile about your experiences. It doesn't have to be a two-hour debriefing with slides, but you'll find that several weeks down the way, you most remember the stories you told about your trip soon after your trip. Describing the tropical bird that swooped down on you or the old lady who sold you garlic in the street cements those memories in your mind.
  • Thank all the little people. As soon as you can, send thank you notes to those who watched your house or financial supported your volunteer efforts or inspired your packing lists. It's nice, too, if you have some little gifts, like exotic candies or photographs, to send. Don't forget to post reviews on Trip Adviser or for the good experiences you have. The people who work in tourism live and die by reviews.
  • Enjoy your home. Just walk around an reacquaint yourself with the books on your shelf, the ingredients in your cupboard, the view from your window. When I came home from this England walking tour, I looked in my closet and was awed by how many pairs of shoes I had to choose from. Everything will seem sparkly and new after your trip.
  • Unpack. The longer you leave everything in your bag, the less likely you are to find things you need, or look at what you brought home. Are all those ticket stubs worth keeping? Do you really want to keep that grocery bag from Taiwan? Which toiletries belong in your bathroom and which go in the 72 hour/gym kit? Get everything out and start airing out your likely smelling bags.

Over the Next Week:
  • Do what you can do at home. To keep my mind off how much I want to travel some more or how I miss the people I met, I like to cook a little, or go for a bike ride, or do something that I took for granted before my trip but is now new and fresh.
  • Embrace work. Answer all those email, finish up that homework, plan that may seem like unpleasant drudgery, but remind yourself why you went into your line of work in the first place. Think about what you contribute to the good in the world and to your organizations. Ponder how what you've learned about gratitude or nature or humanity changes the way you do your work. My travel to radically different cultures has made me a more sympathetic teacher for my international students, and personally engaging with historic areas has eased my anachronistic thinking in my research.
  • Share with others. Don't be a snob, but there will probably be a lot of people asking you about your trip. Invite a few of them over to enjoy a meal you discovered on your journey and look at a (brief!) selection of pictures.. Don't make this a party all about you, but engage others in the questions and ideas you encountered. They can help you make sense of your experiences and see it with new eyes.
  • Keep contact. Facebook or email all those people you met and promised to touch back with. It's great to get a Facebook update from a Canadian I met in a hostel, or our Belizean cook long after we parted ways. Remind your new friends of where you met, so they don't think some creeper ended up with their email address. By contacting them soon, you'll minimize the likelihood of losing those bonds forever.
  • Adventure locally. There are plenty of good experiences to have even at home in the afternoons and evenings. Invite over friends for a movie night. Go to a restaurant you love. Visit a museum in town. You might even make plans for the weekend to hike a local trail or take a historic walk. Remind yourself that just because your trip is over, the good times don't have to come to an end.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

The (Not Such an) Emergency Kit

Far be it from me to use this forum to prescribe ways of living (except when I do), but sometimes I think we get the wrong idea about emergency preparedness. The point isn't that the world is about to end and we all need several 75 lb bags of wheat in our basements. The point is that we better be careful and prepared to be self-sufficient.

My brother-in-law once gave a genius talk about how there are 3 kinds of emergencies:
1) the world is going to end and, honestly, your wheat probably isn't going to save you, so better focus on being spiritually prepared to meet your maker
2) you're in a tough economic place for a long time and really what you need is money and good credit (and probably also some food storage, clothes, gardening and handiman skills, etc.)
3) something unexpected happens and it takes 2-3 days for Red Cross to show up and in the meantime, you and your family needs food, water, diapers (depending on age) and depends (depending on age).

This is pretty clever advice, but I'd like to talk about emergency level 4: when you're just too lazy and cheap. I've stocked the back of my VW Golf with a backpack and a half case of water for convenience, and, frankly, I've gotten a lot more use out of my 72-hrs kit than I would have if I had planned only for emergencies. In fact, I've probably gotten 72 hours of use out of it. Here's what I pack:

1-Food. Sometimes it's not the end of the world, but you did forget to pack a lunch. I like to pack nuts and dried fruit because they hold me over, are reasonably healthy and can withstand heat and cold pretty well.
2-Water. Ditto, really, but I mostly "rotate" my water because I don't like the way Austin tap water tastes (I'm sorry! I just haven't gotten use to it yet!).
3- Money. Yes, sometimes I drive my car and then realize I left my wallet (and license) at home. I pack a little cash ($10-20), a credit card and some valid, but rarely used, ids (my ISIC card, for example) just in case the lady at the donut shop wants to check on my credit card. Rarely happens. But the cash often comes in handy for a donation at the dinosaur museum or photobooth pictures.
4- Clothes. I used to just pack scrubbies, but under the non-emergency guidance, I now only pack what I would wear in public. Still, I pack jeans and a t-shirt for situations like when I used my emergency pants when I wanted to trim hedges, but was wearing a skirt. I've on-again-off again packed PJs, too, because sometimes sleepovers happen, but I often don't change at sleepovers. Instead, though, I do like to have...
5-Workout clothes. In case I have a couple hours and the gym is right there and
6-Shoes. Sneakers, usually, what with the workout clothes, but I've had hiking boots back there in the winter in Utah. Well, in the summer, too, when I might want to go for a hike after teaching in heels.
7-Leatherman. Man, I use this all the time. Screwdriver, knife. Some might say that usually when I use it I need it in my home, but then I ask: when am I home but my car is not? Now I always know where it is and don't have to search for it and if I ever need a can opener at school, I'm set.
8- Medicine. Day-quil, ibuprofin, baby aspirin, Pepto... I've made a lot of sick people happier and I've helped myself many a time.
9-Medical miscellany. Band-aids (used often) to CPR kit (thankfully never used), I have a lot of small random first aid stuff. I feel good having this, but I also like having my Red Cross handbook to refer to in case I do have to do something about a jellyfish poisoning. Oy, and my epipen. Important and relevant to a funny story I can never repeat.
10- Pen and paper. Important for leaving notes. Also for taking notes when you forgot to check for a pen in your bag this morning. Business cards, too, are useful to have so you can give someone your number in a hurry.
11- Kleenex and hand wipes. Tre useful.
12-Rope. I once wished I had rope in my car when we were sledding and trying to get back up a hill of solid ice. Ever since then I carry a roll of thin, strong rope. I haven't had much occasion to use it, but it feels pretty useful.
13- Toiletries. Should go along with the exercise stuff, but I often need to use a little emergency make up when I was in a hurry to get out the door and then arrive with a few minutes to spare. Again, try to pack stuff you'd actually use. And soap and shampoo from hotels works great for this. And lady products are super useful, too. Also, toothpaste and a toothbrush for sleepovers.
14- Playing cards, scriptures, mad libs. Because sometimes boredom is the enemy.
15-Gas. Okay, so this isn't in the kit, but it's a standard emergency preparedness thing that's also great for non-emergencies. If I always have a half tank of gas, I can always get down to 6 Flags (but not always back). I don't have to worry about if I have enough gas for something. If this seems like a weird thing to keep up, just make one day a week your "gas up and clean car" day. I make it Friday so I'm ready for adventures.
16- Flashlight. From Raid-over-Russia games to exploring a cave to taking a night walk by a busy street to finding an earring back, very, very useful. I like the windup kind so I don't have to worry about batteries.
17- Standard, wilderness-y things. Poncho, emergency whistle, matches, compass. You might never use them, you might find reasons to use them (the matches came in handy lighting New Year's fireworks a few years ago), but you'll feel better and smugger having them.
18- Blankie. Sudden cold spell at a star party or sudden urge to picnic, a good t-shirt-and-jean quilt is pretty useful in the back of the car.

After you build a not-so-emergency kit, keep thinking about what you wish you had in a certain situation, and then add that. I like to listen to music, so I keep a cheap, beat-up iPod shuffle and headphones in my trunk. I sometimes have random temple urges, so I keep my temple bag in the trunk. I sometimes for forget people's birthdays and holidays, so sometimes I keep a few note cards and cheap gifts, like pencils and yo-yo's, in my kit, too.

If you believe it, everything here fits into one backpack, minus the temple bag, half-tray of water, blanket and gas. (And hiking boots, when that's what I have.) Once you set it up, though, you need to keep it. It's a good rule of thumb to pull everything out and see what you need to restock, rotate or throw out every 6 months. I like to do it at Conference time, between sessions. This also works well because you can stock up on warm socks and herbal tea packets around October conference, and Clariton and flip flops in April.

I find that I not only make up for my absent-mindedness, but I actually live life better carrying around this bag of stuff. I do more because I can do more. I live life more abundantly.

Sunday, February 13, 2011


There is probably no color in the Crayola box with which I have so complicated a relationship as pink. Hot pink. Blush. Rose. Tickle-me-pink. All of them, really. When I was a little girl (and don't make jokes about a trip to Switzerland, because the emphasis here is on /little/), I had very, very short hair. Oft I was mistaken for a boy. So I clung to evidences like the pink lace on my black hightops (it was the 80s) for a while, but then kind of gave up and went the tomboy route. I could look cool, but not cute. I was the bodyguard, not the princess in make-believe. And I did not wear pink.

My mom protested, of course, that I looked so pretty in pink. And the kicker is: I do. I have that blonde hair, the blue eyes, and whether my skin is creamy pale or sun-cancered tan, my complexion looks great in pink. Especially pale pinks. Especially all pinks.

But no. No, no, no. I wore a blue prom dress, red t-shirts, even, somehow, an entire palette of earthtones for a season, but no pink.

Then there was the pink-and-orange skirt. Is there such thing as a life-changing skirt? Perhaps, if you're willing to allow that your life can change in more-or-less insignificant ways. And this skirt sold me on pink. Combined with orange, pink wasn't girly or weak--it was pop and spunk and--dare I say--sassy. So I became sold on pink-and-orange.

It's not just the skirt, though. Somewhere in the early years of college, I began to realize that you didn't have to choose between being smart and beautiful. Being "girly" didn't bridge some small gap between being weak and being a girl You could be the princess who is her own bodyguard, or, as my niece puts it, "a princess with four guns." In the Girl Power days of Spice Girls, I think I had equated strong girls with freakish imbeciles, but emerging into an academic world of all types, I saw that embracing your femininity (I can't believe I just used that word sincerely) didn't have to mean denying your capacities, quirks, or priorities to fit a mold of what is feminine.

So this last Christmas break I crossed several things of my "30 before 30" list, including "sew a skirt out of nice fabric" and "make a wedding-style cake." I'm proud of these accomplishments because they are just as meaningful and difficult as "run a 5k a month for a whole 4-month summer" and "read everything Shakespeare wrote." Pursuing these "girly" activities doesn't undermine me as a scholar or whatever, but merely represent another dimension of my personality, freely entered into.

Last Friday was the Pink Dance. Everyone was supposed to wear pink. I walked past my pink sheets, and pink wall decals (granted, my room is--you guessed it--pink and orange) and checked in my closet, where I found a pink skirt, a pink t-shirt, two pairs of pink-accented sneakers, three pink scarves, pink flip flops, and a pink running shirt,which is not to mention all the pink jewelry, hairclips, socks, etc. Even so, I went out to the quinceanera store and bought a tea-length pink dress and pink Converses. What can I say? I look good in pink.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

What Ever Happened to Miss Independent?

So I'm about to go home (to Texas) after a nice 1 1/2 month long vacation at home (in Utah) and I'm thinking: it's been dang nice to have my mom made me dinner, and buy all the food, and pick up my shoes, and my dad offers to buy my clothes, and drives me places, and my brother...does stuff for me, too, and shouldn't I be more, you know, independent?

I'm 26 and single, which means in my culture that you still sit at the kiddie table. I have a (part-time) job and I go to (graduate) school, so I'm pretty much doing what I've always been my fam helps me out sometimes. I'm kind of okay with this.

Don't get me wrong: I'm righteously indignant when I read about failure-to-launch types who enjoy an extended adolescence free from responsibilities to their parents or a future family, who don't work, really, or prepare for work, who just cruise. I work hard, manage my money, take extra jobs, watch my spending, and try to seek out new friends for emotional support. Still, sometimes I need my family to lend me a hand. Can there be a spectrum between having our parents pay for everything and pick up our messes and being entirely divorced from them?

My friend A didn't eat breakfast and lunch when he was short of cash to avoid accepting a loan for his family. D, another close friend, took out a loan from a "payday loan" place to cover his first house's down payment while he waited for his stock sale to clear (and he will never, never, never, let his in-laws or parents know he did it). Some of my friends are selling blood, couch-surfing, and spending a load on babysitters to avoid imposing on their parents. This strikes me as a little over the edge. Can't we let people do nice things for us? Even when they're our parents?