Sunday, December 16, 2012

A Closet Full of Sunday Clothes and Nothing to Wear

Okay, so today is pants-to-church day, which is, what? a movement? an outward expression of ideology? A cold-weather referendum? I'm not sure.


But I do know that I feel a little bullied into it. If I don't wear pants, am I an anti-feminist? Or am I someone who just bought a wool pencil skirt from Goodwill this week and kind of wanted to wear it? Can I claim ignorance on this thing or is it too late?

I wonder if my relationship to Mormon feminism or feminism in general isn't perhaps a little strained. I like to think of myself as heartily 3rd-wave, not old-school feminism. I recently read a book by an old-guard feminist, which I mostly agreed with but her philosophies (everyone is out to get us) and methods (a print magazine will solve the problem) seemed a little off-putting. I love Julia Kristeva's feminism, a feminism that isn't essentializing, and in many ways, what bothers me about many so-called feminists is that they want to re-make the female experience in their own image. I remember reading the Vagina Monologues, the later addition, and not only is Eve Ensler so smug in "speaking for womankind," but it took until the later version for her to include childbirth in the episodes of things that happen with a vagina. Hmm. Kind of a big deal for a lot of people, especially people who aren't just your circle of friends.

One of the things about 3rd-wave feminism that I like is that it recognizes that the experiences rich, white women have with their sex is different, sometimes dramatically different, than most of the women of the world. For instance, almost everyone on earth is against female gentile mutilation. That's oppression, but then, is wearing the hijab oppression? How about wearing a halter-top? Who gets to decide? It's not just a question of developed-vs-developing world feminism, but within rich, pluralistic societies or even within any society made up of individuals (read: all of them), there are going to be variances in what women count as the course of feminism, as with any philosophy or idea.

 I don't walk around all day thinking, "I'm a woman, I'm a woman, I'm a woman." I'm more likely to be defining myself by my course of study, my career, my religion, my hobbies and interests. In fact, it was kind of an ironic bristle when an African-American curator, encouraging me to write about the genius painter Henry Ossawa Tanner* in terms other than his race (I heartily agree), suggested "You could look at his portrayal of women." Pwhat? And why not his glazes? Or his expat status? Or his troubled apprenticeship with Thomas Eakins? (Okay, I totally wrote about that last one.) Just like Tanner consistently resisted being labeled a Negro artist, but wanted to be an American artist, or a religious artist, I don't want to be seen only in terms of my gender, but in terms of all the cool things I do and think. I want the right to define myself.

And so my easy answer is this: feminism, or in a wider-term, human rights, is about agency to make choices for yourself. Having the say to pursue, without being mocked, threatened, or under-compensated, a million choices for your own life--make cookies, play lacrosse, study gamma rays, go backpacking, wear pink, write ghost stories, teach Italian, work backstage or in the spotlight, enjoy slasher movies, enjoy romantic movies, wear pants, wear skirts.

Which brings me to my sartorial choices for the day. I don't have a problem with skirts. I like skirts. The 4--nope, Goodwill, so now 5--grey pencil skirts I own testify to that. I often wear skirts to work, for instance. I look good in skirts, because they look formal and they flatter my bulky upper-thighs and let me show off my often-tanned lower legs.  Yes, I have to keep my knees together in some of them, but my zombie-day costume demonstrates that I can run plenty good in a skirt (I ripped the tags off of 72 runners in less than 3 hours, including some elite runners). But this isn't about the relative merits of clothing that encases one leg at a time or clothing that encases both legs together, is it? It's about signalling my allegiance with a group.

And this is where my easy answer of feminism breaks down: we aren't just individuals making individual choices. We are constantly being acted upon by societal forces, both revolutionary and reactionary. If I wear a skirt, I may be aligning myself with patriarchy, tradition, and the unfounded, non-doctrinal tyranny of The Way Things Have Always Been. If I wear pants, I may be giving into the peer-pressure of all my feminist friends, or desiring to align myself with the cool, progressive element, or see myself as a part of a business-formal crusade. I myself become less myself.

This pants thing has demanded me to take sides, and to align myself to factions, rather than just opening my closet, choosing something comfy and pretty, festive, appropriately warm or cooling, goes well with shoes that I like, or puts me in a good mood, or that I just barely bought.


Maybe I will just wear a skirt with pants underneath. Or bloomers.




UPDATE: No one gets to tell me what to wear...grr... I'm wearing my new skirt.






* This Wikipedia article, too, is so restrictive because (1) Tanner was not the first African American artist to have international acclaim--there were other artists patronized by European royal families (2) Tanner's influence wasn't just on African American artists, but also on artists in general, including his American impressionism contemporaries and (3) that dumb restricting first line. Anyway, that is all.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

No Good November

It wasn't all a wash. I passed my prospectus exam, but after tears and frustration and several frantic morning writing sessions. I had a lovely interlude of 2 weeks on a cruise/in Italy where I didn't have much stress or frustration. But over all, November was not good to me:

(1) My computer gave up the ghost (fortunately, I back up all the time)

(2) My brand-new computer, which I bought to fix this one, was stolen out of my hands (a class J felony). Fortunately, I back up all the time. And didn't get knifed when I chased after him. And everyone, as I told the 15th customer service representative, has been nice. Yeah, he said, everyone but the guy who stole your laptop.

(3) Aforementioned prospectus stress

(4) My flight to the exceptional vacation and vacation exception was delayed hours and hours, I missed my connection flight, spent 6 hours in the Heathrow airport and then only got 6 hours sleep in my hostel (where I arrived at midnight) and 3 hours of walking around town before going to meet up with my siblings, which was stressful, too, because we didn't know how to find each other and feared the worst. Sheesh.

(5) My rat has breast cancer. I knew she was a short-lived animal when/ so I bought her, but I don't want to think about my little friend being in pain and suffering. I keep thinking that maybe I should have done something...maybe it's because of all the carcinogenic bits of bacon I kept feeding her.

(6) After zero progress with my crush I've given up pursuit and am willing to say, "if he doesn't like me, I won't like him." It was painful to like him so much, but at least there was hope.

(7) I was not a healthy eater and feel a little sick with myself. I went running and was sloppy. I used to be stronger than this.

But guess what? It's December now. I have an advent calendar full of fun on my wall and plans to go home, and parties to throw/attend, and lots of fun research to do, and a race coming up, and last night I danced with maybe five boys. Maybe six. 

Woohoo!

Sunday, November 4, 2012

In Defense of Going Through the Motions

I thought that the lesson in Institute was going to be on health, so I studied that this week. This week has been a bit of a spiritual trough: nothing testimony shaking, just meh. Prayers are okay, scripture study was okay, even going to the temple on the anniversary of me turning in my mission papers (missionverary) felt just okay. So let's combine these two ideas, the physical and spiritual health, and here's a breakthrough I've had:


Going through the motions is a necessary method of developing yourself.


It's true that it would be better if going to the gym I went full force, with love and passion, and it's likewise true that my prayers and obedience would be better, but not eating a cookie out of conviction and not eating a cookie out of habit cause similar results. I suspect --and realize that this is a nascent line of thought-- that when I am obedient or worshipful out of habit, I am also getting  benefits.

Sometimes going through the motions gets a bad rap, like it's insincere or something, but the motions must be gone through. It's better for me to do some half-hearted running out of habit than to sit on my butt, whole-heartedly desiring a healthier cardiovascular system. Regardless of your passion, actions are important sometimes.

Further, the habits that we develop typically come from passion that inspired those habits. I don't have to seethe with a burning passion for dental hygiene every time I brush or floss my teeth, but at some point I was convinced deeply that such things are worth doing on a regular basis. In almost every aspect of my life, from buckling my seatbelt to studying for school to going to church, I have habits that I don't think about each time I do them. It doesn't mean that I am less committed to them if each time I do them doesn't require me to dig deep and ask why. It may mean that I have made what is sometimes called a "higher-order choice" earlier, a commitment to safety, to education, to my God that I knew would include the formation of certain habits that would contribute to those commitments.

Actually it would be quite weird and possibly painful if each time I did something I had to first conjure up the deep desire to do so. It would be difficult to get through a day without the consistency that comes from "going through the motions" of things that I have already committed to. Things that are instinctive to me, like washing my hands after going to the bathroom or locking my front door would become choices I would have to consciously and passionately recommit myself to.

Now that being said, I think that while going through the motions is necessary once we've made those deep, abiding commitments, I do think remembering those commitments is a big deal. That's probably why in the Church we're constantly renewing covenants and trying to remember previous dealings with the Lord that inspired those commitments. Also, in school and in good health, it's nice to have a reminder of why you're doing what you're doing, whether that takes place in the form of a report card or a doctor's visit or a pep-talk about nutrition. These things reignite the fire that sometimes burns  with licking flames, and sometimes like a steady ember. It's best to have that abiding passion, but it's seldom realistic to expect it all the time, and it's just fine to keep going without it. Even necessary.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

We are the exception

I've been reading about the Byzantine Empire in this excellent book, and since my mind tends towards disaster and ruin, I was realizing how much we have taken our security and safety for granted.

Do you know how long it's been since we've had a drafting war? Fifty years.

Do you know how long it's been since we've experienced a pandemic? A hundred.

The last time battles were fought around the homes of our civilians? A hundred and fifty.

That's pretty remarkable. It used to be that massive government overthrow, ruinous droughts and breakdown of order were pretty regular occurrences, but we haven't had to worry much about any Hun or Bulgar or Mongol swooping in and raping and pillaging. I, as a scholar, don't have to sit at my perch, listening, praying for really terrible weather. In the margins of a 9th century manuscript, one scribe, maybe studying, maybe transcribing, wrote out this poem:

The wind is rough tonight
tossing the white combed ocean.
I need not dread fierce Vikings
crossing the Irish Sea.

Hurrah! It's terrible weather! No one gets burned alive and dismembered tonight!

We like ghost stories, I love ghost stories, and old places seem to have them hip-deep. Maybe that's because they've built up, but maybe that's because we forget how terrible life has been, how many people routinely died in farming and mining and childbirth. It's a wonder there aren't more ghosts, really. We are a singularly unhaunting generation.

Sumthun pumpkin 5-6

 Pumpkin Molasses Cookies

Monday, October 8, 2012

Sumthin' Pupkin #3-4

Pumpkin Oatmeal: with greek yogurt, nutmeg, allspice... mmmm




Thai onion soup: 1/2 cup coconut milk, 4 cups broth, yellow curry, cumin, 1/2 large onion, 1/2 cup pumpkin

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Sumthin' Pumpkin #2: pumpkin smoothie

I saw this smoothie on Pinterest, but when I made it this morning, it wasn't as wonderful as I hoped. It would probably be better with brown sugar added or a flavored yogurt. Still, it was pretty good and this bird seems to like it.


Pumpkin Smoothie;

1/2 cup pumpkin
1/2 cup greek yogurt (I'd go with vanilla in the future)
1 frozen banana
1 cup almond milk
pumpkin pie spices

Blend it up, drink it own.


Sumthin' Pumpkin #1: Pumpkin Ice Cream Chocolate Pie

Confession: I made this pie in September, because I couldn't wait for "Sumthin' Pumpkin Month." It's still really good.

Pumpkin Ice Cream Chocolate Pie

Step 1: melt chocolate bark and coat the bottom of a premade chocolate pie crust (I guess you could make it yourself if you wanted) This is important, because it keeps the crust from getting soggy.

Step 2: mix 1 cup of pumpkin with a quart of vanilla ice cream (I made my own ice cream with fat-free half-and-half, but that's a little excessive). Add 1/4 cup brown sugar and pumpkin pie spice to taste (I like it spicy!). Freeze.

Step 3: coat with Cool Whip, freeze and drizzle with more chocolate.

When you serve this, make sure to get it out around 20 minutes before serving so the ice cream isn't too hard. This is so good for a party or event when you can prepare it ahead in several steps in the days before.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Not a Pumpkin



In order to kick off Sumthin' Pumpkin' month, here are several pictures of food I have around the house which are not pumpkins.


Bell pepper, you are not a pumpkin!











Persimmon, you are not a pumpkin!






Oh, dear, sweet melon, I'm sorry, hun, but you are not a pumpkin...












Friday, September 21, 2012

Sports, games and physcial play

I never really went much in for sports, even when I was a kid. I might play a little recess soccer, and I did do both rec league soccer and modern dance, but I wasn't much in for going out for sports. Not wildly competitive, maybe.

Recently someone asked me why I work out and I made some lame response like that I need to work out to be healthy and look good. But then, that's not all of it.

It's fun to play physically.

A hike, playing tennis, kayaking, these are fun. Well, duh, you say, but let me finish--the motion itself is fun. Some people like competitions and games and achievement, and I love these things as much as the next person (I love a box to check off, you know, and Ieven play a running video game on my runs), but motion itself is fun. I remember when I was first learning how to play racket sports like tennis and racquetball how strange it was to make a swinging motion and have my reach so extended. I was hitting around a ball the other day and the sensation was such a surprise and a delight to be...well, natural to me. I was explaining the motion I make to kayak to someone, the way it comes from my abs and my shoulders, and it was so odd to conceptualize the motion, especially to someone who was very strong and active, but has little experience with to motion of paddling. Learning to dance, trying a new sport, they all remind me of that exhilaration of childhood when just feeling out what your body can do was thrill enough.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Politics

Well, it's high election season, which means SNL's Weekend Update is slightly more tired (did all of the good political jokes already get drilled for and burned up at The Daily Show and The Colbert Report?) and the leader of the free world has to divide his time between ensuring the safety of our embassies and shaking hands with vetted blue collar workers. Do I like this season?

*Sigh.* Maybe?

Politics is a term that is, like rhetoric, almost always used in a derogatory sense by lay thinkers. There's something down-and-dirty about the idea of having to go out and ask for people's votes, appealing, some say, to the lowest common denominator, that is, when the politicians aren't already appealing to the extremes of their own party during a primary. There's a lot of mucking around with broadly painted stereotypes, isolated incidents being expanded into character insight, hate and fear wielded like bludgeoning batons. It becomes like that old cynical saw about school spirit: excessive emotion on insignificant matters, like how close a vice president sits to a constituent, or the dumb one-off lines a candidate says in more or less private settings. There is, perhaps, a glut of information about what are ultimately insignificant things. Most ironically, the presidential election, because of the sheer numbers of voters and then because of the pre-communication age system of the electoral college, becomes the election that we know the most about and have the least say in.

But I love talking about ideas of politics. What do we, as a nation, as a group of people trying to work out consensus though contention, think about "the issues"? What issues do we even care about? Remember when everyone used to talk about guns in schools? There's just not the same level of discussion that there used to be. This is definitively a more "domestic issues" kind of election than 2008 was, when we needed to repair our international reputation. Economy is king, with a few domestic social issues thrown in. I'd love to hear more about which values we think are most important in our society: is security most important, or is entrepreneurial spirit? Should Latinos identify more with Republicans because of social issues or Democrats because of fiscal? What role should government have in something as private as reproductive health? These are all fun, West Wing-y questions that I like to see people, even ordinary people on the bus, thinking about. It's like the Christmas season of political thought.

In short, when I watch cable news, I dislike politics; when I listen to Shields and Brooks, I like politics.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

The Fifth Me

So they say that your cells are constantly being replaced, different cells at different rates, but the schoolyard estimate is roughly every seven years, you are a new person. Which means that on this, the eve of my 28th birthday, I'm am heading into my fifth iteration of Mary. It's a little bit like different Doctors on Dr. Who.  Everyone is different and the same. They have different companions. They have different quirks. Some of them have leather jackets. So what are the Classic Marys?

Here's how I see mes.

1) 0-6. Not much to say, but I've seen pictures. Got to be Rapunzel when placing with friends, got all my hair chopped off. Preferred X-Men to G. I. Joe when playing with the boys because who wants to be Scarlet every time? A lot of barefooting it over to the Cowles' and around the neighborhood in general. A little pet of her siblings, except her closet brother, for whom she is probably a pet peeve. I have a handprint I made in preschool somewhere, and I had a doll I named "Ahhh....cookie" and two imaginary friends: one named cougar and the other being the ghostbusters (collectively?).

2) 7-13.  Not, perhaps, my most graceful years, but imaginative ones. I played elaborate games with my friends based off an imaginary world called Allistar, which I had maps, histories, the whole shebang worked out for. Wrote a lot of collaborative/morbid/silly things and learned to rove in a gang of middle schoolers. Sometimes we danced to swing music in the basement. Aspiration: to be a spy. Lied all the time, but about insignificant things, like owning a horse somewhere. Hated to be called "cute," owned day-glow shorts (it was the 90s), bought my first cd (Fiddler on the Roof soundtrack), learned to watch TV that the rest of my family didn't (ER), began to realize that not everyone lives the same life I do.

3) 14-20. Ah, it would be nice to say that these were my blossoming years, but not so. Mostly awkward, but mostly very happy. Inherited my first car (LaVerne the LaSabre), and bought my first car (Fireball). Individual over-acheiving: swept a high school writing contest, Provo City Youth Government, drama, Mock Trial, Divine Comedy, inscape, even eeked through AP Calculus. Met people who hadn't known me my entire life and was able to subtly redefine myself.  Somehow became far more devout by the end of this cycle, and by the end was far more able to clean up nice and work well with others, both of which were less-than-stellar at the beginning. (I seem to remember wearing a lot of my older brother's old shirts in high school...) This Mary kept Figuring it All Out.

4) 21-27. I like this Mary best,  probably only because I'm closet to her/still her, but maybe because she keeps getting better (nothing against the other Marys). Life at the beginning of this Mary was very similar to at the end (school, apartment living, etc.), but better and better versions of that life. There have been milestones. Mission. Two degrees. Moving out of my hometown. Still, the range of changes here is quite smaller from the previous Mary, to say nothing of the first Mary, who started out incontinent and blubbering.

This fifth Mary, I suspect I'll like quite a lot as well. Hard to say where these little cells will be taking me, the thoughts they'll think, the things I'll do with the energy their mitochondria give me, the other bodily functions that'll keep me going another year. I'm excited to be this new Mary. I should get her some cake.


Sunday, September 2, 2012

Yeah, I made that

I can be freakin' crafty when I need to celebrate an administrative assistant.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Half-Way Point

I've just come back to Austin from a family semi-reunion at my sister's house with a little bit of time before school starts.

This is familiar.

Two years ago, my parents drove me down to Texas, left some boxes in my apartment, then we had a semi-reunion, after which I bought a car, they bought me some Ikea furniture and took me to Costco and then they drove away. Now, I've been here two years. The big, double-bag box of Quaker Oats my parents bought me is almost empty. Ditto with the enormous bottle of two-in-one shampoo/conditioner. My Ikea bamboo is, miraculously, still alive. (Okay, one stem of it.) I have a different roommate, and a different pet than when I moved here. The first roommate is married and a mother, the bird is dead. I have outlasted a pair of senior Institute missionaries, the grad students in my cohort who just wanted a Masters degree and the departmental secretary.

 I have run a half marathon; gone to Fun, Fun Fun and SXSW festivals; kayaked the lake; served as emergency preparedness leader, RS counselor, RS teacher and activities committee member; cleaned up Bastrop; presented at RSA and CCCC; been president of the UT chapter of RSA; lost weight; gotten published; gotten rejected--several times; gone on more dates in a row than ever; gone on a ghost tour of Austin; created a writing club; never successfully created a book club, but talked about it a lot; got a public library card; bought a bike; sold a bike; bought a bike; had the bike unsold to me; got a smart phone; gone to happy hours with my colleagues; gone swing dancing at the Fed;  met up with old friends in Austin; made new friends who left Austin; studied in the pool; went running outside in January; took a tango class; took a Croatian class; took my last class for a grade EVER; conducted research; participated in research; got my brain scanned for research; left town suddenly under sad circumstances; left town suddenly under happy circumstances; ate at the airport Salt Lick; saw my little newborn niece while she was still newborn; helped my sister move; helped a lot of people move; helped out at the Bishop's Storehouse; house sat for a wealthy family; swam in Barton Springs; spent a Thanksgiving alone; spent a Thanksgiving with my sister; spent a Santa Lucia Day with my sister; gotten a season's pass to Six Flags; taken a real Spring Break (albeit to England, not Cancun); discovered a gourmet popcorn shop; discovered a Bahn Mi shop; learned to tastefully decorate (at least the top of one bookshelf); sung first alto BY MYSELF in a choir;  filled up my walk in closet; cleaned out my walk-in closet; thrown a dozen parties including spinster, Halloween, Olympics, tea, Christmas ghost story, and movie-watching themed ones, all at my apartment, which I kept thinking I'd move out of, but now I think I never will.

I've had some good times here.

When I flew home from the semi-reunion, I knew I had friends here that I would be hanging out with, going to the Texas Rollergirls game, eating pizza at the same place we went to after Austin Comic Con, heading back to the car down Sixth Street, running up the steps to my apartment in a torrential Texas rainstorm. I kind of get this place.

When I moved here, I thought, "what a judgmental, pretentious town! Like high school's pressure to be cool, but constantly." I thought I wasn't on this town's wavelength. My friend Kj Evans has a theory that some cities click and some cities do not, and while I'm always telling this theory to others, I'm not sure I believe it. Maybe I've changed or maybe I've come to know the city better, but I feel like Austin is a part of my life now, and will be forever. When I graduate, for the rest of my academic career, I'll wear burnt orange at graduation. This will define part of me, this time I've spent here.

But it's not over yet. After all, I am only halfway through the enormous Costco bottle of vitamins my parents bought me. Also, my program.

I have no idea what the next two years will hold for me. I know there will be a trip with my sister's family around Thanksgiving, and my prospectus defense, and a couple of conferences I'm committed to. I suspect that I'll write and wrestle over my dissertation and go through that terrifying job-market process. There will be more parties. I'll teach in the spring and AD in earnest at the writing center for the next two years. I'll be running more, maybe even a marathon, but certainly the Run for Your Life zombie run.

But who knows? I certainly had no idea that my first roommate would get married and have a baby (well, in her belly) within a year of moving in with me. I didn't know that one of my friends would drop out of grad school and move to Germany. I didn't know that my sister who lived in San Antonio would be moving to Boston. I'm pretty sure they didn't know that these changes would come to them like this, either.

It's not inconceivable that I could get married, and/or drop out, and/or move far away. This could possibly not even be my half-way point and maybe I'll be here much longer or much shorter than my original freshman/sophomore/junior/senior of grad school plan.

But right now, looking back on these last two years, I like what I've done, and looking at who I am now, I like what I've become. The future, out there measured in dwindling bulk supplies and the rhythm of reunions and partings, leaves me hushed, solemn, awed.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Late Afternoon

Man, late afternoon is such a hard time for me. I'm so up-and-at-em in the morning, I frown at the sluggards coming in 10 minutes late to work, I'm focused like a razor, I'm crossing things off my list left and right....

Then 3 o'clock comes around.

I like to think I was conditioned from elementary school days, but maybe it's just plain old blood sugar cycles, but I become essentially useless from 3-5 ish. My eyes gloss over the page. I open and shut Word windows. I type a few lines. But I'm not top of my game.

To compensate for this, I try to schedule classes (teaching and taking) during this time as well as any hourly or on-call work I need to do. That way I'm doing something without having to self-motivate. Unfortunately, I think this makes me just a little more stupid and slow in my classes. There was a time when I would have Monday Afternoon Movies and just give up on my afternoons, write it off and get back to work in the evenings, but that feels so weak, so slackerish.

What do you recommend? what's kind of productive for the afternoons without expecting my brain* to be firing on all cylinders. Whoever fixes my afternoon dilemma will receive a princely/princessly reward, via electronic land.











*I should note also, my body is weak. If I try to go to the gym or run, I tire easily and feel slightly gross.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Proven Mary Happy-makers

I handed my co-worker a torn tab of paper. "Look," I said, "easiest study ever--all you need to do is answer some questions about your mood and they pay you." The email and phone number were from the university. "All you need to do is not be clinically depressed."

"Oh," she said, and handed it back.

I am a happy person. I don't take credit for this: I'm lucky enough to not suffer from crippling chemical imbalances, I have a strong network of family and friends, and I haven't even encountered any major disappointments or setbacks in my life (knock on wood). But sometimes I think people think I'm faking it or over-the-top, but I really do walk around with a smile on my face all the time. I generally love my work, my friends, my life.

That's not to say I haven't had rough times: I've have "off-days" and "down days" and when I first moved to Austin I was definitely less than chipper about the life transition (I don't do life transitions particularly well, generally). But, man, I'm generally happy. In fact, sometimes the worse things are, the happier I am, because it's a more intense experience and funny story to tell.

But here, generally speaking, are the things that make me happier than usual:

1- sunshine. When the weather's bad, I'm far more likely to have a "down day" than when it's sunny, which is funny, because I love a good rainstorm and I tell myself that Portland, or St. Petersburg, is my ideal weather. I think that it's all about moderation, but there's definitley a pattern of happy and sun for me.

2- working out. The more stressed I am, the less time I have for exercise, the more panicky and busy, the more I need to work out. It clears my mind and, as a happy perk, I may have the lowest threshold of "runner's high" ever. As some of my friends can attest, there is often dancing after (or during) a good race, and even if I'm just pleasantly exhausted rather than straight-up giddy, I feel at peace.

3- talking with people. Especially my family, especially my good friends, can give me such perspective. Even when I'm just griping at them and not really getting solutions or advice, I always feel better that there are people who will listen to me break down a little. Even if it's not a stressful dumping, but just a checking in or checking up, I feel much better with regular chats.

4-living the life I've always meant to live. Okay, this sounds intense, but it's not. It's just about fulfilling expectations, even if they're low. When I was going to sleep before reporting to the MTC, I thought about how I'd make scrambled eggs as a missionary because they're quick and tasty and cheap. And every time I made scrambled eggs on my mission I was a little happier, because I was "living the dream." Ditto with any of the weird expectations and goals I've had for my life: reading academic books in the pool last summer, meeting with my adviser at a coffee shop this semester, driving my cute little car around, briefly owning a parakeet named Bertie Wooster, going skiing during Christmas break... if I set an expectation and fulfill it, I feel like a million bucks.

What's kind of satisfying is that many of these things have been clinically proven to help lessen depression, so I guess my getting happy off them is not really a shocker. Still, it may explain why sometimes I'm just skipping through the daisies with a big smile some days.


Sunday, July 22, 2012

Let's Be Cool, Guys, Let's Be Cool

[A fetching young woman, MARY, pulls out a soap box and climbs on]

Hey, everyone, let's be cool about relationships.

Let's be cool about dating. It's just a date. It's a 1-3 hour commitment. It's dinner, which you have to eat anyway, or it's a show, which you'd like to do anyway. It's a walk downtown and a $2 ice cream. It's not that much of a commitment. You could date every week, every day, and I'm not convinced it would be that much of an impact on your time or resources.

Let's be cool about going out. Sometimes people go on more than one date with a person. Sometimes they step out together. She's not wearing his letterman jacket, he's not putting her in his phone as his emergency contact. Their parents aren't mentioning the datee by name in prayers. It's okay.

Let's be cool about being in a relationship. It's not marriage. It's not eternity. It's just trying things out, taking things as they go, having a good time and anticipating more good times.

So this means that, ladies, we need  to let things be what they are instead of blowing them out of proportion. We need to enjoy the moment we're in, whether that's flirting at stake conference or engaged-with-a-ring. Gents, that means it's okay for you, too, to just enjoy where you are on the relationship. You can ask a girl out even if you don't know her that well. Arguably, that's how you get to know her. You can ask a girl out for fewer than 6 hours, you can spend less than $50, and you don't have to invent the most Creative, Crazy, Spiritual date ever. It's okay.

Mums and Dads, well, you already know what I'm going to say--don't push, either direction, let things be what they are. And that goes also for church leaders.

Friends, be friends. Be with the couple in whatever stage they're in, and let them interact with you in natural ways. Be honest with them as a couple and with your friend. Don't put too much pressure on the couple. On the other hand, examine your motivations if you want to encourage your friend to break it off. Sometimes people need an outside opinion when they're caught up in the moment, but be cool about this relationship: would you let your friend have a roommate like this? or a lab partner? or a friend? This is, in some ways, another relationship, and don't get blinded by the romance in not telling your friend if they're being jerked around. It's okay. On the other hand, don't get all possessive if someone asked out someone else besides you.  If they asked your friend out, that doesn't mean they're engaged. It doesn't even mean that you can't still be interested. Remember, what I said about it just being a date? It's cool.

Over all, my friends, this should be fun.

[She climbs down, leaves the mic on the soap box, and goes home.]


Friday, July 20, 2012

Arithmatic of humanity

Between this (we knew him, but didn't like him, even before) and this (made what should have been happy, tragic), a bunch of my friends keep thinking, "man, humanity is sad, sad, sad." I want to restore faith in humanity for them, but how?

Does it require big acts of kindness to counter-act big acts of violence and hate? Or is the quiet, well-lived life that keeps plodding along trying to to its best, enough? Today on the radio, the old-timey radio station was commercial- and pledge-free because of "a friend in North Austin" and a bunch of my friends are pitching in to buy diapers for low-income mothers.I want to do grand acts of kindness, but I don't know if I can, right now. Does that count in the balance?

Is faith in humanity a series of bank transactions, deposits and withdrawals, so that acts of cruelty and callousness must be counter-acted by well-meaning patsies who have to try to buoy up humanity well enough to keep Q (or almost any alien) from justifiably destroying us? I'm kind of thinking one Kiva loan isn't going to be enough to hold it off.

Maybe. In The Brothers Karamotzov, there's a story told about a mean lady whose only act of kindness is giving a beggar an onion and it's that onion that keeps her from being dragged off to hell. So how small of a good act can we do to restore humanity's faith in humanity? What good is good enough? What can be done? What will be done?

Monday, July 16, 2012

Let's Get Personal, Statements

In the summer, in the writing center, we see a lot of personal statements. Lots.

In this world on fill-in-the-blank and bubble sheets and searchable resumes, the personal statement becomes this one little nugget of, well, personality. You get to write for them, even if just a couple of pages, and you get to write about what's important to you. There are a lot of cynical views about the personal statement: it's just a way of keeping out the riff-raff who can't pay to have their writing vetted by a professional; it's just a way to increase the diversity of the school without out-right asking about race; it's just another hoop to make people jump through. All of those things are probably true, but, still, think about the core of it: Personal. Statement.

Chills, I tell you, chills. And the very same things that make me hate writing a personal statement are the same things that make me love reading them, and helping other people write them. Why are you the way you are? What experiences led to you wanting to pursuing the job, or the school, or the field that you're in? Who have been the more important influences in your life? These are heady questions. And, by the way, you need to write about them in a way that is charming, but professional, heartfelt, but not sloppy, confident, but not arrogant. It's a difficult, difficult thing to do, but what do you have, in the ideal? A statement about who you are, at core, and what matters to you. At their best, personal statements dig deep, getting at honest emotions and conflicted experiences. Once I helped a guy who, it was evident immediately, was only going to dental school because his mother wanted him to be  doctor and he didn't have the stomach for medicine. It was a fascinating read, but he was so resistant to explaining his motives, digging deep enough to see the truth. How different from a friend of mine whose personal statement I read where she openly confessed that she wanted to be a plastic surgeon, and didn't think that there was anything less noble about making people look beautiful than doing reconstructive face surgery. She didn't want to pretend that she was going into plastic surgery for burn victims--she wanted to recreate Kate Moss. It was so fresh and lively and true.

When was the last time you wrote a personal statement? Usually you're so stressed out about the whole application process and worrying about what your audience wants to hear (quite rightfully--these people have a clear set of expectations for the kind of people they see at their school/internship/job), so you don't really get a chance to sit down and think about this seriously.

Can a personal statement be a mission statement, writ large? Which experiences have been truly transformative? I would like to write a personal statement, see it as so useful, but I know it will hurt and requite a lot of revisioning and essentializing, so I'm scared to make the attempt again. I wrote a teaching statement this last spring for a contest (I didn't win, but I was a finalist), and it was that process again. Mulling. Doubting. Talking myself up and then tearing myself down again. It was lovely and terrible. I'd much rather have a good view on yours. I'll sit down next to you (I don't like to work by email), and it's possible that I will make you cry, but we'll go down that weird personal statement road together. It's a good road to walk down.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Why I like Kayaking So Much

This summer I bought the "10 punches for the price of 8" punchcard at my local kayak dock. Why? Because I love being out on the water, especially along the shore, watching the cranes and herons startle up, the turtles sunning on the logs, the dragonflies skimming over the water. But also because I like the company. Each punch I've been getting out with someone that I've been meaning to talk to, someone who I see in passing at church and always intend to invite to chat about something, but rarely see, or someone that I only ever see in large groups. Kayaking, though, offers the perfect one-on-one time. Consider:

* It's an event. You can invite someone kayaking, but if you invite someone, say, on a walk, it seems like snoresville.

* It's semi-active. You're paddling around and can feel good about yourself for getting out and getting some fresh air and exercise.

* It's Austin-y. Some of the people I've been going out with have never been kayaking out here despite having lived in Austin for some time and they all say that they've always wanted to go. It's nice to be there with someone for their bucket list.

*It's quiet. It's not like chatting over a movie or even in the back corner of a party. For the 1 hour that the punch gets you there are no claims on your attention other than the person you're talking to and the splashes of swan wings and unbalanced paddleboarders.

*You're together...kind of. In two single kayaks, you can chat to each other without screaming, but you can also separate. If you like hugging the shore (as I often do) and they like riding the current, that's okay. You can talk, but you can also just... be. There's not pressure to gab constantly because you can be straining at the paddles or just admiring the light on the bridge.

* You're in a swimsuit, in the sun. Which is just plain pleasant.

I've gotten to know some acquaintances, and even some friends, quite well through just an hour on Town Lake. The summer's half over and my punch card is half full, but I'm looking forward to more kayak adventures. If you're interested, please feel free to call me up and I'll grab my swimsuit, my shades and my towel and we'll go. I'd be thrilled to.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

This is My Brain




Last week I saw an advertisment on the UT listserv asking for right-handed, native English speaking research subjects willing to get an MRI. Heck, yeah!

So I go down to this itty bitty shack at the East Pickle Research campus and wait (I'm there early) for the nice young grad students to let me in, administer a short survey and release form, and hand me a pair of scrubs to change into.

I keep trying not to fall asleep. Far from my days of high school claustrophobia, here I have a big cozy blanket on, a dark room, earplugs (the MRI is noisy) and essentially pjs on. One of the grad students is cute. I try to think about the cards that they flash above me and make my responses on a multiple-choice answer box taped to my thigh. I really want to impress the team looking at my brain in their cubicle outside the room so I try my very best, and I think I'm quite good at the memory games.

After 2 hours, they let me change back into my clothes and remind me to come again on Monday. Monday, I go through the process again, much faster, because it's a shorter test.

Then they pay me! I didn't know they would pay me. I think I saw somewhere something like $25 dollars, but they meant $25 an hour! So I made, so to speak, $150 lying on my back. I would have done it for free. Didn't I get a free MRI? (A $2000 savings!) Didn't I get to be part of Science? Didn't I get to flirt like a fiend with the intense-eyed researcher? What a sweet gig this was.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

10 Things I Have Always Liked and Anticipate Continuing to Always Like So Don't Even Try to Stop Me

1. ghost stories
2. red clothes
3. Paul Simon
4. Russian language & culture
5. ice cream
6. late-night, small-group talks on How to Save the World
7. service activities
8. writing my own creative work
9. mad schemes and plans that I probably won't implement, but like to think about
10. making lists

10 Things I Was Too Darn Stubborn to Appreciate Until I Got Talked into Trying Them and Consequently Enjoy (Or: Things I've Changed My Mind About)

1. small talk
2. Jane Austen books
3. the color pink
4. Buffy the Vampire Slayer
5. Capt. Kirk
6. distance running
7. universal health care
8. shooting guns
9. "sweet" people
10....appropriately enough: flip-flops

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Summer Livin'

I have discussed, on more than one occasion here on this blog, my deep and abiding love for summer work. I think I have been conditioned from the summer school field studies, and camps that summer is not the time for relaxation, but for different and creative endeavors. This week marks the first full week of Real Summer, which comes after all my roving and traveling is over. (Although here are some exciting pictures from my roving and traveling:



)

These are are besides the point because now it's time to SUMMER WORK! Zany schemes! New effort! Last summer was lovely because I read around 70 academic books for my field exam, mostly in the pool. This summer I get to work 20 hours a week mostly planning the training, administration  and research of the writing center. Additionally I'm working out and losing weight (what, you forgot about that post?), volunteering at the Bishops' Storehouse, meeting with my advisers, finishing my research project, and learning how to podcast about rhetoric. I want to keep up my foreign languages, play more with my friends and co-religionists,  work on my novel, memorize more things, and catch up to my Goodreads goals.

Speaking of which, and speaking of which in another way, I read this book for work (yeah!) this week. The thesis is that reality may be broken because it doesn't offer what games offer: feedback, collaboration, community, achievement, fun failure, epic scale, etc. This hits right into my box-checking tendencies. Yes, it's fun to go to museums (like the Philadelphia museum of art above), but it's even more fun if you set a master-goal of seeing all ten of the best museums of art before you turn 30. That's kind of how I approach summer, as series of challenges that are different from the boring ones of the rest of the school year. There's space to play, and to reinvent yourself, and summer work it.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Nature Red in Its Abundance

I came home and slept in my childhood room and the first night I heard all the stritchy-stratchies above my head, I thought, "Got to be birds, please not rats, just birds." I opened my window that morning and dried grass fell in at the frame. Birds.

There was a nest. Not just a nest, but baby birds above my head, in the attic, and they had to go. We had to kill them.

The second night, after all this had been ascertained, I slept in the basement.

I went for a run in the mountains the day we had to take them out. I didn't want to be in the house.

And isn't that funny? I'm not a vegetarian. I know that animals die, sometimes not even out of strictest need. We're just one generation removed from the time when kittens were thrown into the river. Have we gotten squeamish? Ought we to have? I'm not too sensitive to know that there is a lot of death involved in life, but I want to be far away from it. I don't want to push out the nest myself. I don't want to see the slaughter.

Good luck on that. On my run, I saw two or three dead baby mice on the asphalt trail. Roadkill. I guess some bicyclists were going downhill really fast and hit them. Probably it happened in dusk when the little ones were scurrying about, and there are plenty of after-work bicyclists.

Nature produces a lot. A lot of baby mice, a lot of baby birds. Too many, in fact, if you read your Darwin. I always think of Darwin in the spring, when the birds are singing and there're so many flowers blooming. I think of his riverbank, in the last paragraph of the Origin of Species, which he describes as teaming with life, but in an unromantic struggle for survival and propagation.

Little babies die. We had to decapitate the baby birds when they didn't die from the fall out of the attic above my childhood bedroom. It's one of the more scarring things our family has done had ever done. But we did it.

If it helps any, they were starlings, which are wonderfully called a "bird of perdition", an invasive species that drives out songbirds native to our region.  These birds need to die. They should die. If we were a less squeamish people, we'd hold contests to kill them. But that doesn't make it easy when you see a mama bird sitting at a screen, chirping for her babies.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Coming Out (At the Seams)


My name is Mary and I'm  overweight. For some reason, that's like coming out of the closet to write (and publish) but it's obvious. I mean, you see me and, while it might not be the first thing you notice, it is a thing you notice. It's a distinguishing characteristic, even, but to talk about to it people makes them feel awkward. Here was a conversation I had with my friend, Size 4:

Me: I want to try Crossfit this summer, but I'm worried that as a heavier person--
4: You're not a heavier person.
Me: Well, as a larger person--
4: No, you're not larger. You're just fine.
Me: No, [Size 4] I am, and I know that, and it's okay.

For some reason if you say aloud what everyone can already see, then they're worried that you have self-esteem issues or loving your body issues or something. I don't. I'm just overweight. I am above the government determined range of healthy weights for my height (which is a pretty generous range anyway) and I am statistically more at risk for everything from heart disease to breast cancer to infertility. It's a problem. I could probably talk more openly about high blood pressure resulting from being overweight than actually being overweight.

Isn't that bizarre? I mean, every magazine is screaming about this or that weight loss scheme, but among young people, among young larger people, it's taboo.

Guys, I like my body. A lot. See that picture up there? I may be flaunting a totally awesome farmer's tan, but I ran a 5k  at around an 8 minute mile (24:41, if you're curious.) just a few minutes before that photo. I can kayak and dance (meh--kind of) and climb mountains and take the groceries up to my 2nd floor apartment. I think my body's pretty great. But that doesn't mean that I have to satisfied with where I am. I need to change. I've started changing the past 2-3 years, but I probably should have started earlier. Maybe you and I should have had this conversation earlier.

No blame--I probably didn't want to have it either. But now that I'm here, I need you here. Remember my herd mentality? Can you all be my sugar angels on my shoulder telling me to put the Bismark doughnut down? Can you all plan activities that don't revolve entirely around cookies and movies? Maybe we could go for a walk or something. Can I bring carrots to the ward potluck instead of competing with the dozen desserts that take a table the size of the main course's table?  Again, no blame here or anything. Many of you guys are super supportive and many of you are trying to be healthy yourself. (Sometimes I get the impression that everyone's trying to pawn sweets off on their visiting teachees.) Let's just be cool about this and help each other out. Let's just get this out in the open.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Camping and hiking and friends and husbands

I like being outdoors. I have a 10-punch card for kayaking. I own two pairs of lightweight khaki pants, boots, and Tevas. I subscribe to a magazine called Outside. I do not, however, spend as much time outside as I would like.

Maybe it's a safety thing. My folks didn't like the idea of me hiking Y mountain alone, or backpacking Europe, and it's not just a girl thing--everyone's been told about the importance of the buddy system and many S&R reports start out with someone going out by themselves. At home I would sometimes go trail running with my dog on the expectation that this counted as a person, and maybe he would go for help. I think that might be expecting a lot from a guy who continues to be flummoxed by a frisbee.

But I think a lot of it is a momentum thing. Being outdoorsy takes some effort: you need to reserve the campsite and pack the GORP and plan the route and drive to the park. It's hard to do that for just yourself and it's even harder to do that when the gang is all having a movie night tonight. I'm sort of my own person, and I've gone kayaking by myself, and I always run by myself, but I have noticed that when my friends or roommates like shopping, or watching reality TV, I spend more time at the factory outlets or watching Say Yes to the Dress.

Which, as always, brings me to my singleness.

While going through the housing list with someone looking for a roommate, we saw a gentleman moving into our ward who was outdoorsy. He like mountain biking and fly-fishing. She said, "oh, great, he's the right age, but I don't know if I'm outdoorsy enough for him." "I donno," I said, "we don't have to be the exact same person." Which I think is true.

But then this weekend, hiking and camping with 20 of the best friends and co-religionists that one could hope to have, I was thinking about the pull that we all have on each other. If I married (or even dated) a guy who was outdoorsy, I'd engage more with my outdoorsy side. If I dated a guy who liked movies, I'd engage more with my movie side. I've seen some of my friends develop new interests and talents as they marry, and some accentuate interests they've already had (you know who you are). We all have influence.

That's why everyone wants to marry up, I think. Not that we want someone who will drag us to heaven on their shirttails, but because we want to people who bring out the "we" we want to be, we're prepared to be, we see ourselves being, but sometimes can't motivate ourselves to be. And hopefully we have in influence on our own friends & dating partners to help them to be the person they want to be. I know this sounds cliched in all that "someone who helps you be your best self" stuff, but it's kind of a realization that I'm just beginning to get.

I don't have to be the same person as my friends. It's been good for me to have friends who have introduced me to fashion, Dr. Who, board games, indie bands, artisan cheeses, and political persuasions in all directions. (You all know who you are in this list.) But it's also been good for me to have friends that have helped me become more myself, or more the kinds of selves that I want to see myself being.

Last night, when I went to bed way too early on accident after a up-roarously enjoyable camp-out with my friends and coreligionists, I dreamed I was married. I felt that push-pull of influence and admiration, and it was good.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Sunday morning moment of panic

Fact: If I've worked hard on Saturday, I enjoy Sunday immensely.
Fact: If I haven't worked hard on Saturday, Sunday makes me a little anxious.

I should have worked on revising my article more, yesterday. Then I'd feel better about coming back to school from Spring Break, not with everything done that I need to/want do, but just with at least one project completed. Especially because next week is a half week and I go to a conference. So much time slipping through the cracks. I need to meet with my adviser and revise my prospectus outline (perhaps drastically) and finish revising my article and transcribing my research and all the stuff that I kind of thought I'd be able to do with an entire week cleared of work and classes. Really, though, I think a lot of my anxiety right now comes from not doing much Saturday work from Monday to Saturday. Even if I were to go full force, I wouldn't finish everything I'd like to. Things just take more time than you anticipate; that's life and that's especially taking work home with you.


But it does depress Sunday a little bit. The commandment, the full one, reads "Six days shalt thou labor and do all thy work but on the seventh..." see? Not "Six days thou shalt dink around and maybe put in a couple hours here and there, but mostly watch Dr. Who and make cookies and take long road trips." I'd like to feel totally fulfilled about the work I've done, but here's a partial list of what non-work I've done that I'm proud of:

-helped a friend without a place to stay to sleep on my couch 2 nights in a row.
-took another friend errand shopping to help her stay on task
-kayaking with one of those people you keep telling you'll hang out with and then don't
-drove down (2 hours) to A&M to pick up an (electronic) book I need for my research.
-went to Gretchen's cousin's band at SXSW
-went to 2 free big concerts and 2 free smaller ones
-got to spend time with my sister's family here in Austin--the first time they've been here for any amount of time, and they're shortly to leave
-got to do a good reading and comments on a friend's memoirs

I don't think these are bad things to have done. In fact, many of them are pretty noble. But it doesn't help me now.

I love the Sabbath. Part of this comes from trail-and-error of what makes me feel most holy. Having a day set apart to work on reflection (long walks, making goals, writing in journals) and revelation (reading scriptures, talking about ideas in Church and before) and relationships (calling home, visiting teaching, writing letters)--why, it just makes the same sense as having a time devoted to getting all my work done at school.

I know not everyone keeps the Sabbath in the same way, and, frankly, that's one of my favorite things about it. My own trial and error with the Spirit has helped me to see what works best for me, and it might not work for everyone else. 10 years I didn't care about working on the Sabbath--I did a lot of AP Art History work on Sunday, I remember, because it was the "wonders of man" and doing chemistry on Sunday was "the wonders of the universe." But overtime I discovered that for me, doing school work on Sunday made me feel worried, and decreased me energy and zest for my work on Monday--I wasn't truly "rested." Over time, though, I've become stricter, cutting back on the secular work I do on Sunday while also stepping up my efforts to actively do good for my family, friends, community and self. And over all, I've been very pleased with the results

Which is what is difficult about moments like this. Will working for a half hour on my schoolwork make me more anxious and worldly, unable to get it all done still and unable to get into the things which matter right now? Or is it like doing the dishes, something that must be done to give me a little more peace and order?

I kind of expected that at this point I'd have a clear sense of clever, wise answer, because that's what typically happens when I blog, but I don't have one. I might just have to make this one of those trial and error sort of things. I mean, obviously I wasn't this anxious about my work yesterday. Whatever I decide, I'll figure out something about my work habits, the way that I feel the Spirit, my standard grad-student anxieties, and the boundaries I set in my life.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Visiting the Coptic Church Day

Yesterday I went to the Coptic Christian Church more or less blind because the internet had failed to prepare me adaquately. There was a humorous exchange of clergymen talking about what to wear, but nothing for women, so here's a guide for you, should you choose to visit:

1- bring a headscarf. Like Eastern Orthodoxy, you'll need to over your hair during the service. A small scarf will do.

2- wear comfy shoes and clear your schedule. The entire service is around 3 hours long. Most of that will be standing (although you can sit during the sermon).

3-don't take communion. Only baptized members are welcome to communion, which you'll notice that they do shoeless, like Moses did before divinity.

4-dress nice-ish. There's a wide range of clothes--some folks (guys and girls) are in jeans, while some are dressed in suits. Pants are okay for women to wear, but it's probably better to stray on the side of formal and modest. No one wore shorts or very short skirts.

5-be comfortably with being confused. Some of the service might take place in Coptic or Arabic as many of the older people might not know English. Most Coptics in my visit were Egyptian, or generation 1.5.

6-sit with others of your same sex. Women will be on the side with the picture of Christ, and men on the side with the picture of Mary. In both cases, women sit on the right hand of the men.

7-get ready for a sensory experience. The music, which is only chanting, one cymbol and one triangle, is really layered and complex. The incense was wonderful, too, and I could smell it in my clothes and hair afterwards. Also, I got a big splash of holy water through my veil. (This proves I am not a demon or vampire.)

8-everyone is friendly. The guy who is being ordained a priest next week took time from his preparations to give me the low-down on how the service would progress (readings from the epistles, from Acts, and from the Gospels; lots of standing; the priest chooses which loaf of bread for the communion and the remaining loaves are given to all the people after the service--I love this, incidentally). Another, older woman, introduced me to people before and after the service, including a younger woman whom I could follow throughout the service on when to pray, stand or sit in silent prayer. After wards, we had lunch. Everyone was extremely hospitable.

My one sadness is that I didn't know how to donate to the church. They never passed the plate and I didn't see any prominent boxes for donations. I wish I had asked because it was a wonderful congregation and I want to support them.

But don't take my word for it--go see for yourself!

(LaVar Burton will sue now.)

February/March

Well, February was a wash.

It wasn't all wrenching heart-ache, although there was some of that and it wasn't all nerve-straining stress, although there was a little of that, too.

I've always tried to make the best of the month, but it never quite turns out. It's nice when you get Presidents' Day off (UT doesn't) and I do like my mom and her birthday quite a deal, but still have a difficult time with the month. I'm bored of it being cold, and if there's snow (there isn't any here), it's all slush. If there isn't snow, the days change so rapidly.

But March!

March is always green calendars and kites in my mind, which is probably the result of years of construction-paper die-cuts from childhood. It's little tiny white flowers, and whole sprays of yellow ones. It's "nature's first green" gold and waking up to birdsong and a cool breeze through a warm day. I like March.


I like things beginning, like spring, or the school year, or a new calling, or friendship. I am less good as the Februaries of my life.

If I marry and have a daughter, I'd like to name her Diligence because I need more diligence in my life. I have enthusiasm and creativity out the back door, but to keep at something, even when it's something I like, I need to grit my teeth, set a regimen and look towards completion and the start of something new.

I started a novel last September and cruised through several chapters, but now it's a drag to get a half-dozen pages out. I started a dance class of my dreams, but cut two classes. I'm finally taking Croatian, but I haven't done my homework for Monday yet. Even spring gets old.

But I'm not a flake. I do get things done, given a deadline and enough things that I dread doing even more. I've gotten two degrees. I wrote my Master's thesis. I took my field exam. I trained for and ran a half marathon. I've gotten past the thrill of new friendships and matured them into genuine life-long friends. I wrote that first novel. I can stay out the Februaries through consistent effort, renewed perspective and..what else? Grace, to some degree, in the "ennobling power" sense. And I will be Sabbath enough to point out that "enduring the end" is almost raised to ordinance level in my religion.

I'm not sure how I do it or how'll I do it, but I hope I do. I hope I stick to the things that matter. Of the failed persistence enterprises (reading books aloud for Librivox, actually getting through all 30 days of Jillian Michaels' shred, dozens of aborted writing projects), I do get done some of the better ones.

March, as they say, March 4.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Mary and the End of the World

So it's 2012, which, if you believe some Mayan conspiracy folks and a terrible disaster movie, portends the end of the world. Naturally, the end of the world has been on my mind lately. I read World War Z, which is a great zombie book, in one day on my brother's insistence. The other book I read over winter break was A Distant Mirror, which eerily mirrored not just World War I, but also World War Z. Both of these books remind me of Holocaust books, especially Schindler's List, which are gripping and painful because (a) people are incredible skum-balls and (b) people are incredibly noble.

And most disasters--from ice storms to ends of the world like the the plague-- equally impact the good and the bad. In other words, we're all in this together. The rain and nuclear fallout descend equally on the righteous and the wicked. It's a fact that I noticed when I was reading 3rd Nephi concurrent with World War Z. Those people that Christ heals when he comes in glory? Many of them were probably injured during the calamities leading up to his coming. Recall that the people who survived were not overly cheerful about their survival. I imagine some of those people thought, "Couldn't you just have not dropped that bolder on me in the first place?" Unfortunately it doesn't get to work that way. Even the Second Coming, it looks pretty clear that the saints are going to have to suffer alongside the sinners for a while. You don't get raptured on Day One.

So we have to be prepared for that. I, especially, have to work on that preparation because no sooner did I get home (actually, sooner--in the airport) than I got called to be Ward Emergency Specialist, which is a unique challenge in a singles' ward anyway. We're transient. We don't have large reserves of food, and often, we are in the poorest times of our lives. We usually have family in areas that won't be affected by a tornado, or hurricane, or whatever. It's a fun puzzle for me to figure out how to help people to be prepared. I even came up with lectures, field trips and prizes for preparedness. (Give a mouse a calling...)

Turns out that not only is this overkill, but actually our ward theme for this year is kind of The World's Probably Not Going to End, but If It Were Would You Be Prepared? The idea being that if we procrastinate repentance, being the sort of people we want to be and just living, then we're falling far short. We want to be living good lives now, and getting prepared for whatever may come, which includes spiritual, emotional, physical, and zombie-shooting preparedness.

The biggest part of the this preparation, the scariest part to me, is when it comes down to survival, will I be as noble as I'd like to be? I don't want to be the one pushing people out of the lifeboat. I don't even want to be the person who's sweetly hysterical and incompetent. No, man, I want to be the freakin' action hero of disaster. I want to save others, have a plan, have materials, and occasionally throw out a roundhouse kick. I want there to be a made-for-TV movie based on my actions in a disaster situation.

I'm scared I won't be that person. I'm scared I'll be all "Eh, maybe I'll just die now." Sometimes I feel that way now when, for example, there's a rerun of 30 Rock or if vending machine soda costs a dollar. I need to prepare myself for that. And it takes a lot more than just some water bottles in the back of my car.

Monday, January 2, 2012

New Year's Posters

For my New Year's resolutions this year I made a series of propaganda posters to motivate me...