Showing posts from 2010

Writing My Own Obituary

Mary Leah Hedengren recently passed away due to natural causes. For example, a heart attack. Lots of people die from heart attacks, very suddenly, and sometimes without any previous medical symptoms. Or a brain aneurysm. That's another good one. She could have died from a brain aneurysm. Anyway, the point isn't which natural cause it was, but that is was a natural cause. Totally natural. Au naturel, as the French would say. Natural as could be. More natural than the produce section in a hippie co-op. That natural. Nothing suspicious about it at all. Just your run-of-the-mill, completely possible, however tragic, naturally occurring natural causes. Ms. Hedengren lived an entirely normal, not suspicious, totally safe life. She was born on September 11, 1984 in Provo, Utah, didn't do anything that might cause chagrin to any unsavory characters, and served a full-time mission for the LDS Church. She loved laughter, writing, and not getting involved in over her head in dangero

The Fine Art of Procrastination

I'm a middling quantity procrastinator. An amaturcrastinator, as they say. But I think I have some useful quality procrastination tips. Let us begin: 1. Don't procrastinate between something you love and something you hate. Either you can grade papers or you can work on your paper. Not grade papers or eat ice cream, because you know which one will win out. 2. If you must procrastinate with something you love, make it something kind of gross, and do it to excess. After 4 hours of reading People magazine, you'll be disgusted enough with yourself that writing a paper seems like a good change of pace. 3. Procrastination can be a fine creative method. Procrastinating by writing stories, drawing, etc. can inspire some of your best work. Your mind slips around looking for anything to keep you from filling out that application and sometimes it finds pure gold to distract you. 4.Two can procrastinate better than one. Visit someone who should be doing better things and you can di

There You Have It, Kids. And therefore....

There but for.

So it's Thanksgiving, when a young girl's heart turns to the destitute. In my neighborhood, we have a good congregation of homeless, because the street by my house connects the two major freeways. I always feel uncomfortable when they walk past my car, holding out a hand and a sign. There's the initial awkwardness of being panhandled, but also there's the awkwardness of being a Christian and, even more damningly, a Mormon. In the Book of Mormon, King Benjamin said in no uncertain terms that we're beggars of Christ and that we can not ignore the destitute without jepardizing our own salvation. Of course, when this verse comes up in Sunday School, it always leads to some discussion of whether those who panhandle are really the worthy poor. Of course, I'm an economist at heart and so I'm skeptical of the incentive structure of panhandling generally. Am I paying off my guilt? Are the homeless earning money through emotional blackmail? And then I develop elaborat

A Very Mary Sunday

First off, (I mean after the usual Sunday stuff, like translating for Natalia, a Russian sister in the family ward Relief Society), I was asked to give a talk in sacrament meeting. Don't get me wrong--not a problem. I love public speaking. This time, though, in addition to just mulling and then writing and outline and then winging it from the pulpit, I decided to try something new and actually write the talk down. Once, when I was a sophomore, someone asked me for a copy of my talk and I was obliged to admit that it was notes on a napkin. Not that I'm cocky enough to expect my 10 minute talk to go into circulation, but I wondered if I might experiment with the Spirit and seek the right words at my kitchen table in front of a computer, instead of the chapel in front of the congregation. Granted, this took a lot more time, hemming and reading aloud, trying to figure out the correct diction, but the plus side was, when, after the first speaker rambled just a little, the second spe

Aunty Mary's Guide to Being Sick

1. Stay home. 2. Sleep a lot. 3. Drink tons of fluids. (what else can you drink? morphasolids?) I favor hot herbal tea, crystal light, a couple of those truly nasty Airborne things. 4. Get better. (5. Play four hours of Plants vs. Zombies.)

In Praise of "In Praise of Folly"

I remember Erasmus as an European-history-question answer, but I had never really read his stuff until this last week. And now I have another dead man crush. As you might suspect, In Praise of Folly praises folly. (Well, aside from a side-jot to satirize religious hypocrites.) But folly's become a bit of a bosom-pal of mine recently, now that I'm letting myself be foolish in important ways. Erasmus I ain't, but here's my own addendum to the praise of folly. 1-Folly makes me audacious. It's folly that keeps me from "keeping my fool mouth shut" when meeting influential people. It's folly that made me track Walter Benn Michaels to where he was eating lunch and folly made my little first-year-graduate-student self challenge his economic assumptions. Folly made me submit to journals way above me, conferences I don't belong in, contests I can't win, and positions I'm not qualified for. And though there's been plenty of falling on my face,

School Shooting Holiday

This morning I laid out my sweater and jeans for school (I don't teach Tuesdays) and went for a run in the wonderful early spring weather. "This," I thought is going to be a good day. I went home, showered and dressed, and found out a shooter with an AK-47 has fired 10 rounds and then killed himself on the 6th floor of our library. There's plenty lucky about this: lucky no one else got killed, or even injured; lucky the police responded so quickly and thoroughly, checking all the buildings for a possible second suspect; lucky the administration used text, email, and loudspeakers to keep people inside and safe. Still, it's a strange, haunting experience to have this happen at my school. I had joked with the IT guy about the doors that automatically lock and how it wasn't much security for a school shooting. At BYU one of our PA's taught us how to organize a room in lockdown, but more as a novetly than a skill we'd actually use. And I had wondered, pragm

Third Freshman Year

Okay, complete honest time: I have had a hard time adjusting to life here. I complain about the commute, the lack of creativity of bar culture, the bizarre gated-community city planning, the bait-and-switch of my coursework, the lackluster curriculum of the class I'm teaching, the dirth of good-looking and smart guys in my ward/institute class, everything. But you know what? I never have an easy freshman year. Part of it is that I'm bad at adjusting to new places. Scratch that. I'm bad at adjusting to different life expectations. Growing up, for example. I wish I was cool and independent and vivacious, but I'm just really not. Each step is like pulling out a loosening tooth. My most recent freshman year, when I first went to BYU, was far harder than it should have been. After all, my family was just down the road (and in their offices on campus) and I had plenty of friends both at college and PHS and I was raised around academia, around that very university. Still, I wa

Bertrum (Bertie/Birdie) Wooster

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


As a natural response to having watched the excellent French Cyrano de Burgerac movie, I've decided to get a bird. Back up. When I imagined myself in Austin, a new town, alone, friendless, newly indepenent, I always consoled myself with the fantasy of owning a gaudy parakeet named Bertie Wooster. I even emailed my future roommates to tell them of my intention. But then I arrived here and I had to buy a car, and my mom said, "focus on making human friends instead," and my sister said, "don't birds always stink?" and my roommate didn't say anything, but frowned a little (she had a French horn teacher who had a parrot that would always squawk if a student played the wrong note--she is unduly prejudiced.). In short, I got scared out of it. But then I was watching this brave, gallant sort and I thought, "really? really, I'm scared about maybe I'll have to change some newspaper and find a pet sitter and maybe, just maybe, I'll have to give awa

The Todo Monologues: Part 2

There is one word in Villanueva's Bootstraps that mentions Mormons. Literally just the word "Mormon." The context is that Mormons and American Jews operate in a middle ground called "autonomous minority groups"--distinct but mainstream. Not on the road to assimilation like immigrants, not in a caste they can't escape like minorities. I read it, wrote, "hey, that's me!" in the margins and figured that was it. Then in class, the one reference to autonmous groups comes up. "But they aren't discriminated against," said K. "Yes they are," I said. "Maybe Jews," she said, "but not Mormons." "Yes we are," I said. Luckily things moved on before it got too awkward (I'm not even sure that counted as "outing" as a Mormon), but I couldn't help thinking about it. Aside from Joseph Smith's martyrdom and the expulsion of Mormons from Illinois, there are people who are getting their h

The Todo Monologues: Part 1

At first I thought she was looking for someone who was standing behind me, the way she kept leading with her chin towards my right shoulder to talk into my ear. "Did you get your Masters?" Oh, it's me you're addressing...Yes, I did. "What school did you go to?" Brigham Young University, in Utah. "I thought so--I remember you from the listserv. And then when I saw you were drinking a Coke, I knew it was you. See, I grew up Mormon." But -- it was obvious from the way she was shouting towards my ear like we were inside the crowded bar instead on the outside porch, and the cigarette in her right hand-- she did not grow up to be a Mormon. "I know the culture you're coming from." I see; that's great. She told her name, and how it was a "typically Mormon name" and everyone at EFY had a name like hers and how she almost went to BYU, but something didn't work out, but she wanted to hear about the English department there. I

Away at College

One of the few disadvantages of growing up in a first-rate university town where your parents teach is that you don't really go away to college. Not that this is much of a disadvantage: you can come home for Sunday dinner, enjoy free room and board whenever it suits you, and your mom will pick you up and take care of you when you get really sick. No, I might go as far as to say that living in your alma mater's town has its advantages. Until you move away. Then you feel a little bit like a doofus. You have to think, "If I pack these rollerblades, I won't have much space, but if I don't pack them, it's not like I can run home and get them." And you can't borrow tools from your dad, so you finally have to go to Lowe's and pick some up. Fortunately, my parents came down here with me and helped "set me up." Boy, howdy did they, because I don't know how I could have put together all that Ikea furniture, and done that car shopping, and gotte

Summer Runs

This summer my sister and mom and I had a goal to run a 5k every month. We've done okay, but for August I had to sign up for a "virtual run." May's run was a benefit run for Now I Can! an NGO for kids who need physical therapy. June was the Weight Watcher's run (if you ever want a feel-good run, it's this one--every one gets a certificate of completion!). July's run, though, was just heartbreaking. It was called Conner's Run. The Conner in honor of whom the run was named was three or four years old in August when, after swimming, he decided to warm up by lying down on the hot asphalt in front of his house. His aunt, who I guess feels worse than I can imagine, backed over him. There was nothing the EMTs could do. Instead of just blaming each other, the family decided to make the anniversary of Conner's death a date to honor the emergency response departments. Besides the run itself, there were firetrucks with the ladders raised and a lifeflight heli

A Very Provo-fect Week. (ha)

This has been my last week and a half in my hometown of Provo (for 4 months, anyway), so I really rocked it. Check out all the Utah-y things I did: 1) Hiked Giles Ranch up South Fork Canyon. 2) Bean Museum audio tour. 3) Ran in a charity 5k (more on that later). 4) Ate BYU Creamery ice cream--Graham Canyon. 5) Went to a Peter Breinholt concert. 6) Threw a little apartment-party. 7) Walmart pedicure. 8) FHE cabbage ultimate frisbee (actually, I just watched). 9) TRC at the MTC where I lied to missionaries in Russian. 10) Provo temple trip. 11) Bought a BYU bumper sticker. 12) Visting teaching with Dunbabin. 13) Bike ride downtown. 14) Thai Ruby for lunch. 15) Movie at University Mall. 16) Long walk with dog by river. 17) Pioneer Day activity in park. 18) World-record water balloon fight. 19) Parade in Spanish Fork--lots of tractors, lots of trucks with little kids on the back. 20) Just lie in the hammock and look up at the trees of the backyard of my home. If you can think of quintessen

Me and Mini

I flew in to Minneapolis yesterday--my plane arrived at 12:00, I got to my hostel by 1:15--but my conference doesn't start until noon today, which means I have a little bit of time to do what I will. I hit the grocery store and then... THE MALL OF AMERICA. I had a really great time, but I'm glad I'm a short girl instead of a tall swarthy man because otherwise riding such rides as Jimmy Nuetron's Atomic Collider and Backyardigan Swing Along (hey, I love the giant swings) because, otherwise, I would have really come across as a creeper. I went shopping at H&M, and I guess there were some other stores there (psh...I guess!) and I had a grand old time. I got home too late to visit the Institute of Art, but too early to go to bed but that was perfect for... TALKING TO HOSTEL FOLK. (Which is very different from talking to hostile folk.) A Swede. A Welshman. An Australian. A Tamil Indian. And me. I told them I was the boring one, but actually, talking to them, I'm no

What You Get For Your Money

So some people have been asking what these projects are that I'm doing. I'm thrilled to give you the low-down on what good you can do. Here's what your money gets you: $12--Soccer ball and materials for an orphanage or residential school $35--Crafts for a school $45--A handwashing station for communities with poor sanitation (only about half of Belize has adequate sanitation) $125--A course in sanitation so that principles can be re-taught by mothers and fathers and teachers. $200--A community-use toilet. It sounds silly, but many diseases are spread by lack of good toilets. $250--An adobe stove to safely let out the lung-aching smoke of fire cooking. Whether you just like to know what the money goes for or if you want to sponsor an entire project (say, a toilet for your annoying brother), these numbers give you an idea of what it costs to make HELP projects a reality. In fact, if you donate these amounts and send me an email (or just post here), I'll make you up a han

HELP Belize

Everyone on this blog needs to know about this blog . I guess it also wouldn't hurt if they knew about this donation site, too. Le's do some gud!

Lack of Planner

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

?s for Rory

This came from a whale notebook from last summer. I was preparing for interviews for the Scrivener. 1. Hi. How are you? 2. What are your duties? 3. What have you learned as a secretary? 4. What are your pet peeves? 5. What would make your job easier? 6. What do you love about working here?

Learning Scheme

This week I'm cleaning out my room and old notebooks. Everyday I'm posting some random things I've written. Today, from a book that must date to my junior high days (when I wanted to be called Penn-with-two-n's among my friends, I found some academic plans from freshman year of college). Very easy Every month submit something list of several BYU student publications The 2nd of every month Moderately hard Stay on campus 8-4 - study pants off -exercise (gym lockers) -read -study groups -listen to good music -walks with friends -International Cinema -Write letters A couple of pages of lists of my favorite Russian composers, a key to Morse Code the Greek alphabet. Probably missing the "Very Hard" title page . 3 alphabets besides my own 4 constellations in: Winter Spring Summer Fall 3 hymns may accompany Identify 74 birds Memorize 3 Shakespearean poems finally, in a different pen: Now is the time to be decent and kind Who are you? Must prepare to meet God today Qu

The Highlights

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

10 Million Dollars

As part of the process that starts with my graduation and speeds up with my mom's disapproval, I've started cleaning out my bedroom. This includes starting to throw out half-used spiral notebooks. Flipping through these notebooks, I discovered useless musings, half-formed ideas and pointless lists: in short, hard-copy blog posts. So in honor of graduation, I'll be sharing something I found in the piles every day this week. This week, a gem titled "10 Million Dollars," probably circa 2004. And now, without further etc. 1. University hopping--never endingly at Oxford and Harvard & just collect degrees in things. 2. Make an orphanage in Russia after my own design, be benevolent dictator. 3. Arm a small revolution in a Central American country. Get Soviet Realist portraits made of myself. 4. Buy up the art from crowded, unair-conditioned European museums. Give it to BYU's Museum of Art. Get invited to galas. 5.Big old Chekov-esque orchard and let the fruit get


It's almost 4:00 am. This is my fourth or fifth time up. I tried watching TV, a little warm milk, reading "The Metaphors We Live By," the works. It may be the Coke I drank tonight, but I think it's clear: I've got springsomnia. This happens every spring, especially when I'm not taking classes, not working. I lay awake at the end of the school year, thinking about what I'm going to do this summer. This sounds like a very prudent thing to do, but not at 4:00 am, not four hours before I'm due to give a final, and not when the summer plans tend towards the absurd. That's the funny thing about springsomnia--nothing seems to make sense in the morning. In the evening, though, you're thinking, "This is the year I'm going to grow corn in the garden...and take up bocce...and learn Italian...and write a tour guide to BYU bathrooms...and hike Timp...twice..." And by a decent hour, you're wondering how you expect to do any of this, especia

Cue "Good Riddence" and Vitamin C

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

The Dregs

Wow. That was the worst BYU production I've seen in a long time. In fact, I'm kind of surprised that the director was able to enough unattractive, tone-deaf bad actors to stage As You Like It . How bad was it? Let me count the ways. 1. Muddled concept. According to the dramaturge, this production was inspired by Eastern European coups. And homeless people? And, judging by the costumes and accents, cowboys and hipsters and biker gangs. And the prologue told us that this takes place in the United States. What now? The hodgepodge was a mess, with no clear direction or theme. Instead, it was as if the director had suffered indecision and just thrown every modernization concept into one production. In the program, she admits that when someone asked her if she was going to portray this play as romantic comedy or political commentary, she replied, "Why choose one over the other?" The answer, Ms. Mellon, is well illustrated by this disaster of a play. 2. Terrible casting. I

Ninja Week

I've decided this week is ninja week. Celebrate with me. Ninja-y Things I've Done Today: -wore a black sweatshirt and sandals -ate sushi -listened to a podcast about ninjas -trained like a ninja (lots of balance and kicking at the gym) -bled--okay, at a blood drive It's just just about what you do for ninja week--it's about your ninjattitude. Whatever you do ask yourself: how would a ninja do this?

Who Be Beck? Julie B. Beck

Turns out that Julie B. Beck lives in the same ward as the people who run our stake, so this last week we got President Beck fireside! I was actually really impressed with it. I say "actually" because when I was in the MTC she came to conduct a "Relief Society" with all the sisters and she kept doing really annoying things like asking an open-ended question looking for a specific answer. ("How can we become closer to Christ?" "Service?" "No.") But this fireside was like the complete opposite. She started out by doing a sort of survey of the sisters. How many of us were RMs? How many of us were converts? How many of us were from outside the US? How many of us were going through difficult challenges? ("Only half? Well, just wait," she said.) Then she told us that we're doing this by the Spirit and opened the floor for questions. Straight off the bat, someone asks about getting married. Beck responded with vigor and optimism.

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

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

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

When I heard that Mike Leff was in the hospital for advanced cancer, I knew I wanted to get him a card. After all, he was the nice, Hawaiian t-shirted academic who had made me feel so at easy during my initiation into the world of rhetorical academia this summer at the RSA institute. I liked him a lot and wanted to let him know that I was thinking of him, so I went down to bookstore with all the cash in my wallet to look for a card for him. Turns out all of the get-well cards assume two things: (1) You're not well because of either injury or virus and (2) you're going to get well. I didn't know that he was. Some of the cards were too flippant--hope this sexy nurse fixes you up, har, har--and others were too sentimental--a sleepy-looking puppy, I recall. It reminded me of an article I had just read in the New Yorker about what bad grievers we are in this society--extremely uncomfortable with the idea of death before it happens and somehow expected to get right over it once

Yeah...That'll Work


What I Like About Me

My students are writing resumes and cover letters. I've just finished applying to my last PhD program. I think, all-in-all, this could be a pretty good time to get in some shameless self-esteem booting. I make my students finish this sentence: "I freakin' rock because..." They find it really hard. It is hard to toot your own horn. But here goes: 1. I have predictable favorite foods: popcorn, diet coke with lime, fresca, margarita pizza, gum, yogurt. 2. I make lists like this one. I make a lot of lists. I'm always trying to improve myself, define myself, relate myself to the world through lists. 3. I'm funny. Not just being "on" as a comedian, but in conversations, teaching, even academic writing. It just adds a little spice to things. 4. I like to try new things. I'm curious about stuff, so I go to lectures I don't have to go to, play new sports, buy new hair products. 5. I try. Typically, I'll apply for something, submit to something,

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

Halfway through the second syringe of blood, emptying into the vein in the back of his mouth, Dennis's eyes widened suddenly and his stomped his foot against the floor. Of course, Dr. Shultz couldn't stop until the syringe was empty, and then he drew the needle out, pulled back his gloved hand from deep within the vampire's mouth and waited for him to speak. "What," Dennis gasped out, cletching his chest. "Is that?" The other vampires, who had already received the second infusion nodded. They probably had also had the question, but Dennis was the leader and they usually let Dennis speak first. "It's probably your heart starting up again," Dr. Shultz explained. "It may be a little rusty, so the first few pumps can be surprising." "But it's so loud ," Dennis insisted. "I mean, I can hear it. Can you all hear it?" He looked around at the small cadre of vampires. "I can hear all of theirs." "It&#

Crass and Tawdry in Los Vegas

After my first trip to Los Vegas, I came home and bore my testimony about how if there can be a beautiful, holy temple in crass and tawdry Los Vegas, any of us can keep ourselves pure and unspotted from the world. Unfortunately, all anyone remembers of that testimony is that I used the words "crass" and "tawdry." The guy in my ward who's from Los Vegas still gives me greif over it. But you know what? I'm sticking with crass and tawdry. A couple of girls in DC got asked to drinks at a nightclub after repeated (and falsely) insisting that they were 17-year-olds from Arizona. Another person in our group was asked if she had an ecstasy to share with her interlocutor. The streets here are literally paved with porn and I can't begin to describe the t-shirts they sell here. Even the things that are beautiful--the Bellagio fountains, Caesar's palace, the rainstorm in the middle of the Miracle Mile Shops--are all facades, spectacle built on and supporting of

Carpe Thursday

Margaret brought this to my attention, which made me start thinking about day-seizing. Thursday, perhaps. I got out my "Winter 2010 Schedule" Word document and figured that I could spare Thursday afternoons and evenings between 12 and 8 for wild shenanigannism and hijinks.* I started making a list in my planner of things I was to seize from my diem: peaks I haven't hiked, pedicures I haven't gotten, and a lot of International Cinema I've missed. This year I'll do the things I want. Then I started thinking about the things I've done this year. I've pretty much been doing what I want all along. I have this year ...kayaked in the Potomac around Roosevelt Island, ...spent a few days in Tempe with Jen and Paul on a whim (And went to the No Doubt concert while there), ...went to a Gogol Bordello concert with Jen and Linsey, ...gone to Disneyland for my birthday--and on a a school day too! ...been ice skating, played racquetball, took a Hip Hop Hustle aerob