Thursday, December 26, 2013

More from the half-used bookshelves of M. L. Hedengren

Here are some more of the weird things I've found in my old notebooks. Ah, what a youth I was..!

Go child-- my mother said to me-- go and and wash the poop from your shoes.
Take paper towel and stick and hose and wash the poop from off your shoes.
For Adam's sake was all man curses that pleasures might a price demand
And for a day's wanterlust and romp, to spray one's treads out will suffice.
For simple pleasures, and carelessness, a simple recompense is made.
So go and use the outside hose and wash the poop from your shoes.

My lad, I'm glad you've some to stay
And watch the house while I'm away
Before I go, just let me say
Don't poke the monster.

If you're feeling bored and dull
Play hide and seek with the mad troll
or eat moat frogs until you're full
But don't poke the monster.

And if it's really dreadful weather
Tie medusa's heads together
and tickle her with griffen feather
But don't poke the monster.

Insist that Vlad become a cat. Then bat.
Then cat again, still cat, then bat, then cat,
until he's not sure where where he's at
But it's better to be a cabacacabacat
Then to poke the monster.

Made it's music you adore
You can join the banshee choir
For about as long as you endure
but don't poke the monster.

[I'm very sorry this one is unfinished, but I think we can all imagine what the logical next step in the narrative will be.]


Don't laugh--those roses
were for you.
Although it sems absurb--
like Stan and Ollie
at the rainy day
I really like holding your hand.
So I though--
perhaps half-mockingly--
I might bring you
some orange flowers
I though maybe
we could be in love.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

From an Unmarked Notebook on My Shelf

 Mr. Gimley was 64 years old, his mother peacefully passed away. Mr. Gimley mad ethe funeral arraignments, spoke at the eulogy and grieved the appropraite length of time.

Then he retired early from his high position at a successful insurance business, sold his house and his condo in Florida, and moved into the orphanage.

"Excuse me," said mean Mr. Stiles, the director of the orphanage, "you don't belong here."

"Excuse me," said Mr. Gimley, "I'm an orphan."

So Mr. Gimley ate gruel for breakfast .... and lunch.... and dinner.

He dressed in patched rags with torn hems.

He scrubbed the floors with a toothbrush.

He played stickball (but not as well as the other orphans)

He learned long division under kind Miss Stu and cheap walletmaking under mean Mr. Stiles.

When Christmas came, he savored every section of his orange, with was naturally his only present.

"Gee, Miss Stu," he said. "being an orphan sure is difficult."

"It is," said Miss Stu. "Everyone needs someone to take care of them."

"What if we just took care of each other?"

"That might work."

"I never thought of that when I was in my high position at a successful insurance business."

So Miss Stu and Mr. Gimley adopted each other (Miss Stu being an orphan herself) and the two of them adopted all of the other orphans and they all ate pizza instead of gruel & got pinatas every Friday and two puppies for Christmas and everyone was very happy, except Mr. Stiles, who did not get adopted, because he was not an orphan and so was sent home to his mother...

who made him eat gruel.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

The Run

This morning I woke up at around 5:15 am. This was because my upstairs neighbors were noisy, but mostly it's because of stress. We Hedengrens get insomnia from the other direction. None of this stress is that big--it's not like "how am I going to feed my babies?" stress or anything, but there's a lot and of different kinds.

Some of my stress is "good stuff happening" stress: visiting my brother, getting a visit from a friend, throwing an awesome Halloween party, getting invited to many good activities, planning a huge trip to Morocco.

Some of my stress is stress I've brought on myself, chickens coming home to roost, and are also pretty good: my novel's finishing up, I got a revise and resubmit on an article and an "accept with revisions" on a short story (I know, right?), and I'm applying to academic jobs as a "practice run." On top of this, I have all of these goals I set for myself, the number of hours of service I'd like to provide this semester, the the effort I'd like to make to be more friendly, even my desire to be more low-key and focus on those around me.

And, granted, some of my stress is bad: I'm helping friends through some rough times, my hard drive needs to be replaced, I haven't worked on my dissertation in weeks, and I've gained 4 lbs.

So it's nice to get up a go for a run, especially when I'm stressed. But because of good-stress visits, I didn't want to wake up my friend in the living room, so I couldn't find my phone (turns out I left it in my car), so I just took my house key and ran.

I just ran.

This was the first run where I haven't been doing anything but running since...maybe a year? I wasn't running a shelter dog who becomes more obedient with exercise. I wasn't earning money by betting against other people not going running. I wasn't  saving the fictional town of Abel from zombies. I wasn't even tracking my time and speed. I was just running.

It was perfect weather. Cool, but by no means cold, fresh, you know? The sky was just brightening, that bright, light purple blue, when I started, and goldened into a sunrise as I rounded the loop (which I know, from those previous runs, is around 3.78 miles. Give or take.) There weren't too many cars on the road, but there were two dog walkers and a woman smoking a cigarette at the bus stop. I told them, "Good morning," kind of because of my goal to be more friendly, but also because I was feeling good morning. It was a good run. My legs never got sore and I would kick my pace up a few times so I could feel it a little more in my lungs, but I never had to gasp and I never got cramps. I just felt great.

I kind of wish I had my phone to take a picture of this morning, but that would have ruined it. Even blogging about this kind of ruins it. It was just a run. It was good.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Blazon: My Awesome Body

So in light of the great talk in General Conference by Elder Nelson on bodies, I'd like to give a little shout out to my own body, which is pretty remarkable. I love the doctrine that body and spirit are soul and that our use of our bodies can determine our destinies. I like my body. Here are some specifics.

These are my legs. I'm very proud of them lately because when I went for a bike ride Saturday night, I fell trying to maneuver around a small child in the road. and do you know what my legs did? They got up. Nay, they sprang up and got on the bike again almost instantly. You may notice the bandaid on my left knee. I scraped a bit there and there's a bruise on my other leg and I didn't even notice until well into my ride. This, incidentally, is not the first time my remarkable legs have sprung up after a fall; just a couple of weeks ago, the exact same thing happened after I tripped on a root while running. Well done, legs, well done.

This is my right thumb. It's possible that I fractured my right thumb in December. Maybe I just tore or strained the soft tissue. But you know what? Even if I fractured it--my body knows how to heal itself! Crazy, huh? But my right thumb has gotten stronger and stronger and it doesn't really hurt anymore. It just gets better.

This is my waist. I didn't used to have a waist. You may notice how nicely it goes it and then out again. But then I ate healither and worked out more often and then--boom--a waist. This goes back to Eld. Nelson again because it took a lot of self-mastery to get here. Eld Nelson pointed out that no one managed their appetites perfectly and this is true of me. For instance, I just barely ate a big plate of pad thai. But we can still change. In fact, with prayer and the Atonement, we can change our very desires. I always hope my desires for raw cookie dough and Southeast Asian food will lesson.

But guess what? These are my fingernails. I have long been a biter and tearer of my nails, to the point where on the urging of one companion, I bought the nail polish that tastes bitter. But I still tore them. Until last year, around August, and that's when it changed. I don't know why, but I just stopped biting my nails. I was able to clean them better or something. Or I knew I was going to be seeing my mom and wanted to impress her with my non-bitten nails. Not that I don't sometimes still tear them, especially when I'm writing, but I used to only have nails over the quick and now it's typical for me to have all that little white tips. My desires have changed in terms of nail biting.

Hurrah for the body, my awesome body, and my connection to and support from this half of my soul.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Back to the Future. The Grim, Grim Future

So last week I got to watch Back to the Future for the first time since I was, I don't know, twelve. It's still a pretty great movie, and especially in the coming-of-age, sci-fi genre, with far more quotable moments than I remembered. It was a blast and a half.


The end of the movie is kind of disturbing. When Michael J. Fox comes back ( the future!), his city, the city that was clean and economically prosperous in the 1950s, is back to being graffittied and depressed. The sign that we know we're back in the 80s is that the Delorean distrupts a man sleeping under a newspaper by a park bench. Fox gets out of the car, sees the adult theater downtown, the boarded up shops and knows--he's home!

Some of this is just reflecting the rosy nostalgia for the 50s that is typical of the boomers, but I'd have hoped that some of that meddling in the past would have impacted the whole city's prospects. Even disturbingly, does the fact that the city is run-down now somehow relate to its having a black mayor, the one impact on the whole city (well, that and introducing "Johnny B. Goode" to the world) that Michael J. Fox's character directly creates? Oh dear.

But it's okay, because at least his mother is thin and his father is rich. Really. This is what he has accomplished. When he sees his mom for the first time, his initial comment is that she is thin, not even that she is sober, or happy, or anything else, but that she is thin. As for his father, the impressive thing isn't that he's written a sci-fi book (obviously a side project, because when it arrives, the characters say that it's his first book, and all that money? not from writing), but that they have gobs of money now, enough that Marty can have the huge, gas-guzzling truck he had been eying. His parents both fitting the ideal for their gender roles in the 80s, the only crowning touch is that they are also more lenient, eager for their son to take his girlfriend on a trip and giving him all the resources he wants to do so.

I know it's sci-fi, but there was something where the decade of greedy 80s rubbed the wrong way against my Millennial sensibilities. Instead of going back in time to improve his community, Marty just brings money and thinness into his family. I like my sci-fi broader minded than that.

Friday, June 28, 2013

Fat Jog-a-Dog

This is a very fat dog I walked today at Austin Pets Alive! It's so hot here that it's only in the early morning you can walk these dogs. This is probably one of the coolest things I do.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Don't Share the Road

Pardon the awkward selfie from my last long bike ride, especially because it doesn't really match my rant. On this ride, I ran out of sidewalk, so I rode the grass, not the asphalt. Wanna know why?

Bikes aren't cars.

I know the hard core types, especially in South Austin like to ride in the middle of the street, back peddling to stay upright at red lights with their little bubble helmets (if any) but bikes just aren't cars. Here's my list of complaints about why it's not reasonable to suggest that bikes just act like any other motorized vehicle.

1- We can't accelerate as fast as cars, which means that at traffic lights it might take us a little while to get up to the speeds that the people behind us are itching for.

2- We get tired. Sometimes this getting tired will mean that we can't go as fast, or accelerate, up hills, on tricky terrain. That's bad, but it's also bad because when people get tired, they get a little stupid. Getting tired when I'm biking along a river path means I end up skinned-kneed and wet. Getting tired around a bunch of cars going 35 mph means I could get killed.

3- Traffic laws aren't built with us in mind. Sure I know that we should come to a complete stop at stop signs, but it's hard to curb your momentum that much and it's hard to get started once you do. I know that's no excuse, but it makes me less inclined to keep those traffic laws, and then I'm putting myself in danger.

4- The dangers are more dangerous with us, because everyone else is in a steel cage while we are sitting atop little spidery things that go crunch. But it's hard for everyone on the road, bicyclists and drivers both, to realize that the risks that are slightly risky in a car (talking via bluetooth, running a yellow light, listening to loud music) are way, way, way more risky for us.

5-Cars are more annoying to us than to other motorists. Everyone else might be in little air-conditioned pods with noise-cancelling interiors and light background music, but bicyclists are fully exposed to the pollution, noise, heat and smell of traffic. This doesn't just make us sick, it makes us irritated and can impair our judgment as we navigate tricky traffic situations.

So before you think I just hate bicycling commuting (a lie) or think that bicyclists should ride the sidewalks like eight-year-olds (an embarrassing truth), I think the best solution is to treat bicycle like bicycles not cars. This means dedicated bike lanes in the very least, but ideally, bike paths that aren't even connected with the road at all, with a nice swatch of green between us for safety and to decrease the amount of fumes that bicyclists have to suck on our way. At the very least, consider redesigning bike lanes in a way that discourages cars from parking in them or driving through them. Check out how Denmark arraigns their streets.
Isn't this clever? It goes bikes, parked cars, driving cars. This way the parked cars provide a safety (as well as noise and exhaust) buffer for the cyclists.

And here's the cool thing: if we redesign bike commuting options so that they are safer and more enjoyable, more people will choose to bike. Biking won't be a poor substitute for driving, but a viable transportation option with benefits, conditions and rhythms that reflect the nature of biking itself.

And biking is pretty darn fun.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Beach Blonde Popcorn

It's possible I'm an evil genius, but I'm a genius.

Beach Blonde Popcorn

2 Gallons of popped popcorn, kernels removed (or more depending on how sweet you like it)
half of the big container of white dipping chocolate
1/2 a bag of butterscotch chips
1/2 a bag of toffee chips

You know what to do:  spread the popcorn out on waxed paper, melt the dipping chocolate then spread it over the popcorn, toss in the toffee bits and butterscotch chips and coat evenly. Then promise yourself that you won't eat it while it's still not cool. Break that promise. Love life.

This is the popcorn I would have Cornecopia make if they hadn't changed their stupid rewards program. Now I only can earn IMAX tickets with my rewards. Lame. They're depriving the world of good popcorn.

Friday, March 29, 2013

I Like Myself Best When I...

So it's been rainy and I've been grumpy, but I do have a few things to be proud of this week:

1- I told the yoga teacher who had us listen to jarring music that while I normally like such music, I'd prefer something a little more mellow for the pm flow class instead of just passive aggressively holding it in.

2- When I stayed up WAY too late one night I used that time to clean out my drawers & filing cabinets.

3- I did go to bed on time one night this week.

4- I've gotten a little work done on my dissertation, even though it hasn't been always easy.

5- I graded all of my students' close readings in one day.

6- I went to happy hour with the admitted visiting students, even though it would have been easy to just go home.

7- I was able to say "no" to something I really wanted to do on Saturday because I knew I had prior commitments and I didn't want to over-schedule myself.

8-Had a really interesting, open and personable conversation with 2 of my colleagues about the religious climate on campus.

9-Bought and hung light-blocking curtains in my room AND returned all parts that I didn't need.

These are not inconsequential, but when I think about how "me-yugh" this week has felt, I'm able to better articulate the me I'd like to be, the person I like being best.

So, here's my list of what I like to see me doing:
  • Go to bed early, wake up early. Largely because when I wake up early I do these things: workout, write, study, read scriptures. When I go to bed late, I tend to do these things: eat crap, chain-watch TV on Netflix, make baked goods...okay, it's not all bad, but I always hate myself in the morning after I stay up to all hours alone with my low self-control.
  • Exercise & eat well. I think this goes along nicely with going to bed early. Rest, exercise and nutrition. I think it's cool that the Church recognizes a spirit-body connection, and I feel it in other aspects of my life, too, social and academic. I like myself a lot better when I'm taking care of my body.
  • Real pondering, real studying. When I took the bus to school 3-4 times a week, I blocked out the first half of the trip, probably 20 minutes, for scripture study, which was nice because I could look out the window and ponder, take notes on my phone's scriptures and listen to spiritual music. I can cross "scripture study" off my list in easier ways (this last week, I looked up a verse at a crosswalk and called it good), but I like when I'm actively engaged in a topic or question.
  • Work hard and get things done. These, sadly, are not synonymous. Sometimes I feel like I'm working, working, working, but I'm not making any progress--prospectus, anyone?--and while I know that it's nothing to do with me, per se, I don't feel as happy as when I can see clear improvement.
  • Make and maintain meaningful connections. I have a lot of acquaintances, but I love when things slip over into friendships. This doesn't happen without a lot of conversation, focused eye contact, remembering details about people's lives. A good low-multitasking conversation with my sister, for example, is much better than a lot of "mm"s and "is that so"s as I type to a colleague talking from across the room.
  • Keep my space clean. Whether it's my house, my office, or my car, I do feel better when my surroundings are tidy. It doesn't have to be 100% perfect, but I feel more energized and prepared when things are clean. If I spend just 10-15 minutes, my apartment is small enough that I can get some real cleaning in and I always feel better when I do.

So there you have it. That's all it takes: wake up early and workout, spend 20 minutes on scriptures, 15 minutes on cleaning, check a few things off my list and have a decent conversation. That doesn't seem like such an unobtainable road to happiness. It's funny that it should be so difficult to obtain.

What about you? What does it take for you to feel pleased with your day? What are you happiest when you're doing regularly in your life?

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Confessions of a Future "Racist"

We all agreed that Nobel laureate Nadine Gordimer was racist. At first, we hated her, but then, after I taught a lesson citing Gramsci and Memmi on cultural hegemony’s persistence in determining individual attitudes, we only pitied her. Poor well-meaning, white, liberal racist.
I opened up the class to include our discomforts in reading July’s People, a piece of speculative fiction written in 1980 about what the fall of Apartheid might look like. It’s a post-apocalyptic story where the apocalypse is Black Africans getting power. We read some sections where Gordimer describes the “descent” of her white protagonists as they adjust to life in a small, traditional Black village and shook our heads in appropriate discomfort. My French student said, “I’m not used to feeling white guilt, but this book, I definitely felt it while reading.” Maybe Gordimer was a white, liberal racist, but we could pity her.
            I told my students that the discomfort we have reading Gordimer, it may be because we see so clearly her own hypocrisy within her hegemonic culture, but it also exposes to us the possibility that we, too, are trapped in our own cultural hegemony in the 21st century. There weren’t as many takers on that idea. We wrote on the board, “no easy answers,” but we clung to them. Gordimer was a racist and we could see it clearly from our perspective. It’s harder to see outside of our own perspective.
My class doesn’t include any Black students. We have two and a half ethnically Indian American students, one French and one Australian international student, one half-Argentine and a lot of white, native Texans. I didn’t anticipate this class make up when I was creating my course reading list, consciously adding a Vietnamese poet, a Persian graphic artist, a Salvadoran experimental novelist and, of course, a South African speculative fictionist. When I taught first-year composition I always had very racially diverse classes, but my literature class is mostly white. But they are smart and they are sensitive—didn’t they see straight through Nadine Gordimer’s protagonists? Didn’t we have a good discussion in class touching on District 9, Nelson Mandela and a Disney original movie called The Color of Friendship? My students are not racists, not like Gordimer.
            When I got the close readings for July’s People, two of my star pupils had, inadvertently, I’m sure, betrayed how deeply entrenched a hegemonic system can be. One student wrote breezily, “In native culture, the men do not take orders from women, nor do they partake in preparing meals as cooking is a woman’s work.” I wrote in the margin, with a pencil, “Tread carefully—either get a source or textual evidence to avoid essentializing.” Another sensitive, excellent student, who had presented in class about July’s People being banned by both white and Black governments in South Africa, this thoughtful student wrote repeatedly about how the white family had “left civilization” when they came to the  traditional village.  My marginal notes were similarly discreet as before: I circled the word civilization and drew an arrow to “ooh, loaded term—how are you defining this?” In neither paper did I mention to my students that they were perhaps just as tied into their cultural perspectives as Gordimer had been thirty years ago.
            Maybe I should. After all, doesn’t one of my favorite professors, Diane Davis often repeat that education is a violence? Especially in talking about race to a room of white Texans, aren’t I responsible to shake up their worldviews? I once heard a presentation from one of my rhetoric conference buddies, Meta Carstarphen, a Black rhetorician, where Meta described different activities she does in class to force her freshmen to confront their white supremacy, some of which result in students crying. Should I make my students cry? At that same conference, Sharon Crowley, who is white, received a standing ovation when she spoke about how all white people are white supremacists, no matter what they say. The irony was subtle, if it was intended at all. I looked across the room from my standing perspective. There were hundreds of us and I could count only four darker faces, including Meta’s. All of us white people were decrying white privilege while doing nothing to counteract its obvious impact in our own academic field. I wondered: does exposing the racism of others give us a pass on confronting our own?
            Have my students only gone from rage to patronization of Nadine Gordimer because it lets them in the hero in the story of race? Although they benefit from white privileged and are subject to the strictures of their own hegemony, they can detach and insist on their (only relatively) more enlightened perspective. Isn’t this exactly what Nadine Gordimer has done in exposing her protagonists, Maureen and Bam Smales? And isn’t this what Maureen Smales have done in insisting that her husband be called “sir” instead of “master,” and allowing their Black servants greater privileges than the neighbors do?
In our culture being called a racist is one of the very worst things you can do.  Unlike fifty years ago, even racists don’t call themselves racists. In fact, most racist comments preface with, “I’m not racist, but…” If I were to tell my students that some of their sentences came off as racist, I don’t know if they would ever recover their former relationship of trust with me. Almost certainly not. I would be almost insulting them personally, rather than correcting the elements for their argument that seem to me to be problematic. I prefer for education to be a little violence, like sore muscles after a workout rather than wrenching my students limb-from-limb for their long-held assumptions and cultural norms.
It’s hard to not get caught in the Mobius Strip of hegemony determination when I consider my restrained response to my students’ writing. Am I restrained because I’m racist myself? Or am I restrained because I’m trying not to overcompensate because I’m racist? Like Gordimer, like my students, I have limits to my agency because of my background and training. But I believe that intents do matter. Even though Gordimer or Crowley or my students or I may be racist, we know enough to be hurt by being called racist. We want to not be racists and we’re quick to condemn anyone that we perceive as being racist. At one point in our class discussion on Gordimer’s hypocrisy, a student spoke up, “Maybe it’s not as bad to be a hypocrite because at least you know you want to be something else.” Maybe being a hypocrite is just half-achieved idealism. My purpose as a teacher isn’t to destroy that idealism; it’s to nurture it, train it and develop it into something better so that in thirty years, those future generations can look back at us and call us racists. I hope they only pity us.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Fear and Loathing in Viva Las Vegas

I have a very complicated relationship with Las Vegas, and by Las Vegas I don't mean the normal, real-people Las Vegas, I mean WOOO-HOOOOO, LAS VEGAS!! like girls in straw cowboy hats and little short shorts leaning out the window of a Hertz rental car at 2:00 am while stuck in traffic on the Strip. I like regular Las Vegas, the pretty landscaping of the temple, the good people I've met from there. But Woo-hoo, Las Vegas?

I have a sympathy for it, even an affection. That being said, I wouldn't touch it. It's almost exactly the same way I feel about a stray dog in the third world.

I spent this last week in Las Vegas at a convention for the College Composition and Communication group. English teachers.

Here's our tattoo offer:

And here's the sweet party up in the Stratosphere, a hotel best described as "scrappy." We did have a DJ and bright lights and lots of food.
 Speaking of food, here is some of the many unhealthy foods of which I partook:

But I love this town, weirdly. There are so many interesting people. The obviously high guy who did my temporary tattoo when I was there for Divine Comedy tour, the homeless guy asking me for a smoke while I was running (while I was running), the flocks of hen parties stumbling around in their high heels with absurd drinks in their hands.

And everything is carefully curated. This, for example, is Caesars Palace (There is no apostrophe and that drives me a just a little crazy, unless it's the palace of multiple Caesars and the word is being used as an adjective, like writers strike. Again, English teacher conference.) But it is beautiful. I mean, the classy casinos are. In the Bellagio, we listened to a harpist and flautist play Edvard Grieg while we took tea in a flower garden over looking a butterfly sanctuary.

It's hard to remember that this is all funded by the Wheel of Fortune-themed slot machines in the bowels of the casino.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

The Quilt I Won't Make

This last month, after spending sweat, tears and $14.00 in supplies to make a tiny jean picnic quilt, I realized that it's just not worth it. Which is a hard thing to realize when you consider that I've carefully saved, cut up, and moved my t-shirt squares to Texas on the hope that finally, finally I was going to make my sentimental college t-shirt quilt.

This is the face of my BYU physics professor. Someone in class did the art and collected quotes for the t-shirt.

Aw.....Divine Comedy t-shirt. The big pink one.

Turns out sentimentality is a pain. So I took pictures of the squares I cared about and then {wince, grimmace} threw them away. My great aunt Dona would maybe be disappointed, but probably not. I have a good job, I can buy blankets, and I get frustrated when they don't turn out, and even when they do turn out--they're just okay.

So there you have it. I don't have a t-shirt quilt. I just have the memories. What do you think? Is stuff just clutter? Do you remember better when you have physical evidence kicking around? What knickknacks do you let yourself keep and what do you toss?

Sunday, February 10, 2013

The Famous People I Don't Know

Once I was crossing at the light and overheard a conversation ahead of me.

"Do you remember Sean Maher?"


"That hot guy from Firefly--the doctor."

"Oh yeah."

"I had such a crush on him and would totally be his girlfriend--but he's gay!"

"Oh no way! Dang it!"

I smiled to myself, but I really wanted to tell these girls: I don't think the thing keeping you from being Sean Maher's girlfriend is his sexual orientation. I'm not sure exactly which circles she runs in, but from the conversation, it doesn't sound like she is hanging out with Sean and his friends on the weekend, going to the fro-yo place, and playing Mario Kart in the dorm lobby. But then, we talk about celebrities, I think, as types.

  • Pink is the party girl with the heart of gold, the best friend from junior high you stick with even after you've become radically different people.

  • Kate Middleton is the bratty, but beautiful, old high school over-achiever that you kind of secretly hope will fail even while basking in her successes.
  • Britney's the hot-mess you stay hopeful for, the one who, every time something normal happens, you say, "She's just doing so well."

  • Lindsay Lohan is the hot-mess that you wish would have a talk with Britney Spears, who is descending into non-hotness, and who reminds you of trouble-cousins you keep away from the open bar at family celebrations.

  • Adele and Taylor Swift are both the girls you want to see settle into happiness, although their goodness and talent seem perceptually thwarted by bad luck and misturns.

These types become part of our conversation and our obsession because they are familiar to us. We can imagine how the types would react to certain situations, our sympathies extend to them according to our commitment to those types, and we can imagine ourselves as their girlfriends, friends, parents and siblings. In some ways, they work like the towering figures of the Trojan war: instead of repeat stories about Helen, Menalaus, Ajax and Odysseus, we tell repeat stories about Jennifer Afflack and Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt and Tom Cruise.

Now that's all very well and good for types, but what about actual celebrities? The ones who, as I write this on a Sunday morning, are asleep on the west coast, maybe snoring, maybe drolling, and on the the east coast maybe eating eggs, or flossing, or maybe flipping through the DVR. I know it's nothing new to say "Stars--they're just like us!" but they kind of are in a lot of basic ways. How odd that someone can be an archetype and a person at the same time.

Some people get weird when they meet a celebrity. I probably would if I knew they were a celebrity. But probably I wouldn't recognize them. If we were, like, on the bus together or they were walking down the street, I probably wouldn't go over and say hi because I don't say hi to random people on the bus or on the street. If we were, say, at a party standing by the punchbowl together, or in the grocery store trying to find out why the dried fruit section doesn't have cherries (answer: it's in the baking section), then I'd talk to them just like a regular person. Probably because I'm pretty face-blind and I can't connect someone out of context. I think my family may have this problem in general.

My sister worked in a resthome when she was in high school. One day, she was caring for a woman, when a man came in to visit his ex-mother-in-law.

"Oh, I'll be done in a minute," she said.

"Okay," he said.

"You looking really familiar," she said.

"I'm Robert Redford."

"No, that's not it," she said. "Did you ever teach at Provo High?"

"No, I'm Robert Redford."

She finished up and then went outside and recognized the name. Robert. Redford. Everyone in Provo has a Robert Redford story, but I don't know how many of them involve people denying him to his face.

So I don't think I could date or be friends with a celebrity as a celebrity. Maybe as a person. But in my mind, of course, the types of these celebrities are mirrored in many of the people around me.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Pig Man Coming Back

(I wrote a long email with friends about the Prodigal Son. It was so long that I'm repeating it here.)

Why are we talking like the prodigal son got shafted? He never got shafted; didn't his father tell him "Son, thou art ever with me and all that I have is thine"? This is huge because:
(1) "Son"--the Prodigal wanted to be a servant and was flummoxed that he got to be a son. Here the father reaffirms to the Other Brother that he is a Son; he's still got that honored role
(2) "thou art ever with me" There's a talk by Eld Eyring (I can't find it online, but it's in his "to draw closer to God" collection of discourses) where he talked about his mission companion. He had a companion who was, like, 70 years old, had been inactive for something like 50 of those. Little Eld Eyring was teaching a lesson on repentance and said something like, "you can repent and be just as good--isn't my companion just as good now that he's repented?" Anyway, later his companion said, "don't use me as an example. Yes, I know my soul is clean, but I lost a lot. I lost raising children in the church. I lost serving in many callings. I lost much revelation and comfort. So now I know I'm in good standing with God, but I'm not just as good as if I hadn't ever been inactive."
Same thing here, I think. The Prodigal had to endure many of the natural consequences of his sin, becoming destitute, lonely and hungry. We know he was homeless because he had to join himself as a lowest servant to have a chance at survival. We know he was friendless because "no man gave him." We know he was starving because he "would have" eaten husks, but even that he couldn't do (possibly because his master cared more for the pigs that for him). While the Father gives him a fatted calf and a party, he can't take away the years spent homeless, starving and lonely.

While I think the Other Brother is maybe exaggerating about never having had a kid with his friends, I'm pretty certain that his father (remember, who's so generous that he would give "bread enough and to spare" to his servants) never let the Other Brother starve. I'm pretty sure he enjoyed the bounty of the fruitful fields he was working, the safety of the house where the party was happening, and the constant support and company of the relations* and servants playing music and dancing inside. Most importantly, he enjoys the company of the Father being "ever with" him.
(3) "all that I have is thine" This is where the parable meaning and literal meaning part ways a little: in earthly inheritance, if you spent it, it's gone, and there's a set amount to go around; in heavenly economy, both sons can inherit "all that [the Father] hath." The Other Brother doesn't have to grudge his brother a fatted calf, because all the calves are his. And all the cows. And all the steers. And all the goats, pigs, parakeets, outhouses, tambourines, corkscrews, spare lumber, and abacuses (abaci?). He will become like his father, because he will be the owner of this great estate; the desire is that he will also become like his father because he will be generous and kind towards those who have erred and repented.

Even though I'm arguing that the parable promises more to the Other Brother than we think, I agree that Jon is absolutely right that this parable is really kicking the hypocrits to the curb, especially because we read that these parables about lost things all come after the Pharisees  criticize Christ for eating with alleged sinners. These are the ultimate tithes of mint and ignoring weightier matters inspirations. There's definitely a warning in how the story ends suddenly, as if Christ were saying, "Okay, here's what the Father says to the Other Brother--what are you guys going to say back to Him?"

*I'm betting there are plenty of sisters, cousins and in-laws implied in this story. Maybe the Other Brother even has a wife, or at least reputable options in the neighborhood.