28 December 2006

Homo Faber

So hanging out in the apartment alone is very conducive to blogging. This is a reply to Ben's post on technophobia in the older generation.

A factor you didn't list: a lot of older people don't see the need for computers in their lives. My grandmother is totally computer illiterate as in "can't check her email or use Word" illiterate. She does use a cell phone and she's a pretty active business person. (She and my aunt have a bridal store in Bountiful.) Lots of people in the family have offered to teach her the ropes, and she seems amiable to the idea.

However, I think the main factor that's keeping her from it is that she doesn't really see a need for it in her life. Email, you say? She already has a cell phone and more people over at her house everyday to talk to than she can handle. Photo sharing? The relatives bring over their scrapbooks or send her pics in the mail, and she can see everything else. News? That's what she takes the paper for. Specialized information? I think libraries are still in existence, with real, actual people to help you. No need for word processing or spreadsheets or blogging or games. There's simply no viable reason to learn how. In fact, I think the only reason my grandmother even contemplates it is that she would get to spend some time with her grandchildren as they teach her.

We young people are convinced that the elderly are missing out on something tremendously important, and maybe they are. But we forget that people got along fine before computers. Most of the things we do via computer can still be done by hand or by phone. What, in the end, are they really missing out on?

Really, the only true reason for the "older" people to learn computers is in order to land a job. Similarly to the immigrants-learning-English analogy, they will only learn what they need and nothing more. They don't need computers to have fun or be personally productive. They already know a rich, fulfilling way of life without it.

More and more I envy these people. I spend a lot of time on my computer, and I'm sure only 10-20% of it is productive. A lot of what I do on here is not very concrete. Wouldn't I rather be out in their world, producing tangible things? Cooking and sewing and crafting and making--this is one point where Karl Marx and I can agree. Isn't it more satisfying to be Man the Maker than Man the Thinker? Digital creation and data pushing just doesn't cut it.

Sock Monkeys

All right, Marisa, fine. Here's a blog post for you! I'm sorry it's been a while, but it's rather difficult to blog from home due to the dial-up 28.8k internet connection (bleh!). But now I'm back in Provo (for two days), so there's no excuse.

So I survived Christmas. It was extremely hectic because of how late finals went. I was on campus until 5:30pm on the Friday before because I still needed to finish my History of Rhetoric paper, but the paper turned out really well. The highlight of my research was finding this quote in a Mormon public-speaking book written in 1898:

[When we are in sacrament meeting,] one of three things happens: we sleep—blessed escape!—we wander, or we are mentally tortured. (N. L. Nelson, Preaching and Public Speaking, p. 6)
All the research for this paper was extremely interesting. It seems little has changed with regards to Mormon rhetoric. :D Doing this research has merely firmed up my belief in preparing beforehand to speak in church. We need to arrange our words so that they "offer the least resistance to [the Spirit’s] guidance" (Nelson, p. 435-436), so that our audience gets something besides warm fuzzies out of our 15-20 ramblings. As Nelson points out, if all I can say about your talk is that you expounded upon the gospel, I derive no more benefit than if I just stayed at home and read my scriptures. It is a testimony to the dedication of the LDS people that we continue to go to sacrament meeting despite its innanity.

(I guess it could be worse. I read some of Brigham Young's talks in the Journal of Discourses--hour-long talks with no focus! They just range from topic to topic with no apparent connection. Which is great, I guess, except if you are trying to do research on his opinions on public speaking and you have to look up 20 different talks, each with only one paragraph on speaking!)

But the research finally got done, and I drove home to SLC. By the time I got there, it was too late to go shopping, so I officially had one day to finish all of my Christmas shopping. Yay! Luckily, I purchased two CDs in the Black Friday madness that I could give to my parents, and I had already bought the yarn for the sock monkey hats for two of my brothers, so I only really had to look for 3 presents.

Speaking of those sock monkey hats, I hadn't actually started them. I had hoped to get time to make them during finals week, but it just didn't happen. (Cursed roommates wanting to do fun things!) When I wasn't out shopping, I was inside watching movies and frantically knitting away. I finally finished at 1 am on Christmas morning and dropped onto my bed exhausted (well, onto the couch, actually, since I don't have a room at home anymore *sniff*). But it was all worth it because my brothers absolutely loved the hats! I love them too--they are totally adorable (the hats, not my brothers . . . though they are pretty cute as well). Anyway, here you can see the finished products, as modeled by my youngest two brothers, Josh and Mike. I need to sew on some nostrils so that the brim will stop falling down, but other than that they are totally done.

I actually kinda want one myself. Would you people think I was odd to wear one on campus? They are 100% wool and very warm!

21 December 2006

Harry Potter and the . . . !

Alright, since I'm such a nice person, I won't spoil it for anyone who wants to go solve the puzzle themselves on JK Rowling's website, but the title of the seventh (and final) Harry Potter book is out! (Go here if you want to find out without all the work.)

Holy crap, I'm so excited! Now I have to go do some research on the title and look up the past time gaps between title release and book release. I swear, if it comes out while I am in England, I will dance for joy on the rooftops (wearing non-slip shoes, of course)!

16 December 2006

Random Notes

Yay for snow! That was pretty much the only thing that got me up for OChem this morning: the chance to be out in the snow before anyone else. :D

After taking my final and working in the WC for a few hours, I went over to hang out with Harold (the library, of course.) I was doing research for my paper on Mormon rhetoric in special collections, when suddenly I look up at the clock and it's 6 pm! I spent 5 hours in the HBLL without realizing it. How did that happen? I was supposed to go see a movie with Marisa at 4:45 . . . . Ah well. It is a happy day when what I'm reading on the microfilm is more exciting than a movie. Or maybe that's a bad thing.

So, apparently, intramural Quidditch is catching on at college campuses on the east coast. (If you're a BYU student, you can get the full article on ProQuest.) Anyone want to start a BYU squad? This could be awesome.

14 December 2006

Unsafe

Art is not safe,
Not safe at all.
If once you turn the key,
It grips your soul like a vice,
Shakes it like a rag-doll,
Putting windows and vaulted ceilings
Where you had only asked for wall paper
And a new coat of paint.

Wear your life jacket
And put up sea walls,
But so much as wet a toe—
It drags you under
Presses out old life
Filling your breath with new air.

Art is vivisection
Examining pulsing organs
Pushing and prodding
Watching your breath die.
I struggle to let it live
But every color I touch
Becomes white
Or brown like oatmeal.

Canon: A Parlor Game for the Liberally Educated

The object of Canon is to be the least well-read person in the group. (If this seems backwards to you, see the Pride Variation.) The first player names a literary work that they have not read which they think most of the other players will have read. This player scores one point for each person who has read the book. Reading a significant portion of the work counts. (The definition of "significant portion" is left to the group.) Play continues clockwise with each player naming one book until everyone is too ashamed of their ignorance to continue. The one with the most points wins?

Challenges: If a player names a book which you do not consider "canon," you may challenge their book. When a challenge occurs, the player who named the book must justify why they believe the book to be canon. The challenger can then rebut the speech, stating why the book is not a classic. The remaining players vote on whether the book is a classic or not. If the book is declared canon, the challenger loses a turn. If the book is declared not canonical, the player who named the book loses their turn.

Special Situations:

  • If everyone else in the room has read the book, the player receives double points on account of being shamelessly ignorant.
  • If no one else has read the book either, all other players receive a point.
  • If the classic named is originally written in a language other than English, a player scores an extra point for every player who has read the book in the original language, two points if the book was originally in Latin or ancient Greek.
  • If the player who names the book was supposed to have read it for a class and didn't, they receive an extra point for being a slacker. An additional point is awarded if they wrote an essay on it anyway.
  • If a player cannot think of a book, they may elicit suggestions from the other players, but may not pass.
Pride Variation: Invert the rules of the game to prove yourself the most educated person in the room. Score points for classics you have read that others have not. If you have read the book in the original language, get a bonus point. This version is not quite as enlightening, but still pretty fun.

This game has undergone extensive testing at the BYU Writing Center and proven to be a great deal of fun. It probably works best with a bunch of brilliant but insecure humanities students. Canon is a very cathartic game--there's much solace to be had in finding that the people you look up to are at least as ignorant as you are.

12 December 2006

11 December 2006

Thought Stew

So I have a whole bunch of things to blog about, but school is currently consuming my life. And I do mean consuming in its fully literal sense. Once we hit reading day, things should slow down considerably. (I never work during finals' week (should that be possessive?), so I have a ton of free time.) Until then, I doubt I'll have time to pull together anything decent for you to read. But since I feel guilty leaving you out in the cold, consider this post a preview of things to come. Here's what's been occupying my mind:

  • I GOT INTO MY STUDY ABROAD!! I was so nervous, but it's really happening! I'm going to England in the spring to walk all over and write stuff. Joni is coming too, and it's going to be miraculous! I can't think of a better way to spend two months! Although, this does mean I have to get in shape for the hiking bit . . . drat.
  • I finished reading Style: Toward Clarity and Grace, and holy crap! it is amazing. I want to write about it in more detail later, but here's a two page summary of the book that I whipped out as part of my ELang final project. Hurrah for classes that motivate you to do what you already want to do. Sorry about the yucky formatting. No time for making it look better. Read it, or better yet, read the book. It will improve your consciousness of good writing. I can already feel a difference in how I think about things.
  • On Friday, I had an epiphanic moment in History of Rhetoric class: I found my philosopher! I've always found at least some truth in each philosopher I've read, but I also invariably find problems which make their philosophies unacceptable. On December 8, I discovered Kenneth Burke. His theory of dramatism explains exactly why I feel so uncomfortable with experimental fiction that tries to eliminate storytelling *coughVirginiaWoolfcough*. And he has a pyramid theory of rhetoric that almost exactly echoes my circle theory that I've been ranting about for so long! I almost gasped when the teacher introduced it to us. It was like someone read my thoughts and deemed them worthy. It made me want to sing for joy! (I know; I'm a nerd.) I'm now planning to read at least some of his works over the break. I'll write when I find out more.
  • Speaking of History of Rhetoric, I'm writing my final paper on early Mormon rhetoric. It's making me think a lot about the previous debate on what makes a good talk.
  • I'm planning out some Christmas personal essays. Hope you guys are up to some of my crummy attempts at dialog.
  • I saw Happy Feet over Thanksgiving break, which has strangely inspired an essay on dealing with the institutional Church in Mormon literature. I promise I'll explain later, though reading Orson Scott Card's review of the movie might help you see where I'm going. (The review is towards the end, but this column also has some stuff about Scotch tape and Bill Bryson, one of my favorite nonfiction authors, so you should just read the whole thing.)
  • Also, some thoughts on lit crit provoked by CS Lewis' essay "Fern Seed and Elephants" are in the works. For anyone keeping score in my creativity/criticism debate, creativity is beating the snot out of criticism, but we'll find some virtue in her yet.
  • And I promise I have a follow-up for Ben's rebuttal to my Santa post. I will defend Saint Nick to the end. "I believe in Santa Claus like I believe in love . . . ." (Maybe that's not so apt after the last two posts.)
And people wonder why I'm so distracted.

07 December 2006

Conclusion

The new Megatokyo comic makes a good conclusion to the last post, so here it is. :D Yea for emotional honesty . . . and learning about relationships through comic books.

Ah, the sad but the true.

And Facebook now has a browser toolbar. I have a bad feeling about this.

05 December 2006

Essence of Romance

One of the reasons I've always felt under-qualified to write fiction is my lack of experience in the most essential points of life. My life has been primarily academic: I eat, sleep, and breathe knowledge, school, and the like. There's not a whole lot of plot you can draw from that. As interesting as a novel full of intellectuals would be (I did think about writing one once), what a book really needs is life, life in all its myriad forms. There must be variation in experience and character.

All right, let me stop dancing around the issue: I never felt comfortable writing about love. There, I said it. I've never been the sort of person who was big about finding someone to crush on or flirt with. That's just never been part of my style. Other than a few dark periods, one of which revived this blog, I was okay with being that way. Romance wasn't something I felt a strong need for.

Frankly, I just didn't understand it at all. Love didn't seem all that desirable. I figured sometime it would just happen and then I would understand it, but I was in no rush to get to such a position. For some reason I had this idea in my head that having some sort of romantic experience would suddenly illuminate my understanding. The principle of experience seems to hold for everything else--it's difficult to understand everyday activities like sports or cooking unless you have practical experience. The same with academics--experience reading literary criticism yields better ability to understand further literary criticism.

How wrong I was.

Looking from this end of things, love still isn't very desireable, and that worries me a bit. I'd say romantic love is another one of those spherical chickens I so adore: quite easy and obvious to deal with if you gloss over the reality of it, but in any particular application, impossible to predict or explain. The best side to understand love from is the outside. Once you embroil yourself in it, extrication and even feigned objectivity are impossible. It's so ridiculously painful and impossible: any logical person would throw it away, like Plato says in the Phaedrus. And yet, we keep sticking around for it, writing songs about it, making millions off the royalties.

And I must disagree with Oscar Wilde: the very essence of romance is certainty, certainty that something can go on forever, despite all evidence that it doesn't. Or maybe Oscar Wilde was right, and the uncertainty inherent in romance is why I reject it. What I want is not any sort of thrill; I want the sort of romance you only see in couples who have been married for 40 years. A quiet knowledge, a day-to-day dependability, a soft completeness. Can't I just skip over the first bit?

Update: Ooh! Multimedia extension of my thoughts: the three most recent Megatokyo comics.

04 December 2006

Finding the Atonement

Too lazy to write anything new today, so here's an poem thing I threw together for the Christchild Fireside our ward had last night. The idea was to make something using your talents that you would give to Christ, then exchange the gifts with people in the ward. I hope I would do better than this if I was actually to write something for Christ, but this will have to do for now.

Sorry about the two days of poetry. I'm in an obscure mood lately. I've also become fairly obsessed with allusions to the scriptures. Is there a genre of poetry for people who simply rearrange and juxtapose preexisting scriptures? (Perhaps similar to this song?) If so, I have a great one involving John. I apologize for this being a really rough draft--I only had an hour to write it. It sounded better in my head, I think. The punctuation needs work. (It feels odd to say that, and actually mean it too.)



In welts rising--
from thrown stones
or stinging lashes.

Not in a lavish house or fine linen
but in a finger writing sins in the dirt
and washing them away with tears.

In those yearning to brush a hem,
looking down in shame
bound in chains,

Plucked from a bed of sin
straightway leaving entangling nets
beginning to till hardened souls,

Leaving the dead to bury themselves
in whitened sepulchers
and untended sheepfolds,

As disciples, ascending the mountain,
find more than a teacher
ready to lift and be lifted

On a tree--
a rain of blood
baptism to my soul.

The crown
plaited from
thorns of my flesh.

The vinegar
disappointment
and bitter loss.

The dice
of random fate
parting all.

The words:
"The King of the Jews"
interred under stony weight.

An angel rolls it back.
A scent of lingering spices:
He enters

In my heart--
a gentle whisper
salve of peace.

03 December 2006

The Mark of Reality

I was reading through an old writing notebook from senior year of high school and found this poem. I rather like it, and it expresses well some thoughts I've been having about our modern dependence on logic and scientific thinking.

If it runs through your hands
before you can grasp its purpose
it is a sign of reality.

Something so true and pure
cannot be contained in
plastic dixie cups.

A glimpse of reality
will leave you drained
but also overflowing.

Trying to trap it
will only release it.

02 December 2006

Perfect Day

Human emotions are a weird thing. (I know, I know, another famous understatement from Liz.) Sometimes it takes so little to swing our mood from joyous to depressed or vice versa. The wrong inflection in a voice throws us into doubt, but then a grade on an assignment sends us back up. Every little thing causes us to be tossed to and fro. At other times, a mood is inexplicably immovable, resistant to all outside forces--you could fail a test and not even notice it happened.

Yesterday was one of the latter days for me. For some inexplicable reason, I was up on a high that nothing could bring down. And strangely, everything that would have been bad turned out well. I woke up too late to purchase tickets to the BYU bowl game for my dad, but he managed to get some anyway. I hadn't finished my math homework, but then my rhetoric class got cancelled so I suddenly had time. I did poorly on a test, but miraculously the teacher decided to offer a make-up quiz. It was bizarre how everything went my way yesterday.

And then there was my miraculous timing. Since I was trying to figure out the bowl ticket thing in the morning, I was late to OChem, but I arrived just in time for the in-class quiz, which I wouldn't have been able to make up. Then just as I was leaving class, the computer repair place called to tell me my part had come in. (My power cord blew over Thanksgiving break, and I had been waiting for one to come in.) I ran into a couple of people just when I was thinking about them.

When I got home from school, I flipped on the TV to find an episode of Star Trek was just beginning! I had been dying to watch some TNG for quite a while. (It was even a Data episode, which is my favorite kind. They always deal with issues of what it means to be human--very interesting. To top off the goodness, the next episode was a time travel one!) I used the commerical break to go start some laundry, and just as I had finished loading the machines, a whole bunch of other people walked in. Had I been five minutes later, I would have been out of luck for at least an hour. All very small things, but put together, it made me feel like I had entered some strange twilight zone.

This whole experience begs the question: which is the cause and which is the effect? Does the quality of our day control our attitude, or is it our attitude that makes a day seem so wonderful? And if it's the latter, as I suspect it is, what is responsible for an inexplicably good attitude? You can try to convince yourself that today will be good, but it never seems to quite work as long as you're aware you're tricking yourself. A good day has to spring up on you suddenly.

Then again, there's something about good days that can be even worse than having a bad day. If you realize that you're having a good day, then you have to take care not to do anything that might break whatever magic controls these things. About noon yesterday when I realized things were going perfectly, I went into a minor panic. I was almost afraid to do anything that might risk shattering this mood. Perfection is a burden. When I was a kid, I would concentrate hard on making each day perfect, doing things in a ritual way to prevent anything uncertain from damaging the day. After a while, my mom used to tell me that I had to make five mistakes a day, just to keep me from obsessing about messing it up.

Like most good things, perfection only works in small doses. But when you have it, the power is intoxicating.

01 December 2006

Timing is Everything

Woah, I'm having the best timing in the world today. If you need anything done that requires impeccable timing, call me before the favor of the gods runs out.

Further elaboration pending.

28 November 2006

Why I Believe in Santa Claus

On our most recent black Friday shopping spree, my dad purchased a DVD-R machine. The subsequent Saturday and Sunday were spent figuring out how to make the darn thing work. After actually breaking down and reading the manual, things went along quite swimmingly, and we started transferring all of our old, recorded-from-TV Christmas specials from VHS to DVD. We got through "A Charlie Brown Christmas," "Mickey's Christmas Carol," "Frosty the Snowman," and "Little Drummer Boy" before arriving at what must be my favorite Christmas special of all time: "Yes, Virginia, There is a Santa Claus." Sure, it's cheesy (and cheap) animation, but the story is absolutely thrilling. I still get chills when I hear the narrator read Francis Church's response to Virginia's letter:

VIRGINIA, your little friends are wrong. They have been affected by the skepticism of a skeptical age. They do not believe except [what] they see. [. . .]

Yes, VIRGINIA, there is a Santa Claus. He exists certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy. Alas! How dreary would be the world if there were no Santa Claus! It would be as dreary as if there were no VIRGINIAS. There would be no childlike faith then, no poetry, no romance to make tolerable this existence. We should have no enjoyment, except in sense and sight. The eternal light which childhood fills the world would be extinguished.

Not believe in Santa Claus! You might as well not believe in fairies! You might get your papa to hire men to watch in all the chimneys on Christmas Eve to catch Santa Claus, but even if they did not see Santa Claus coming down, what would that prove? Nobody sees Santa Claus, but that is no sign that there is no Santa Claus. [. . .]

No Santa Claus! Thank GOD! He lives, and he lives forever. A thousand years from now, nay, ten times ten thousand years from now, he will continue to make glad the heart of childhood.
After reading those words, you might well imagine the shock I felt reading Ben's post on the Santa Myth. How could anyone believe encouraging belief in Santa Claus really be as dangerous as all that? Is Santa, in effect, the anti-Christ, in that he takes the place of the Savior in our holiday celebration?

Of course, you must have guessed my position on this issue by now, but humor me by allowing me to explicate further. No, I do not believe that encouraging children to believe in Santa Claus is wrong; on the contrary, my family is very strong about keeping up the Santa tradition. We hang signs that say, "This house believes," and threaten to take away presents from those who refuse to admit belief in Santa Claus. It's flat heresy to utter the words "Santa's not real" in our house.

In defence of this point of view, I would say these anti-Santa advocates have made one crucial mistake in their logic: they equate encouraging belief in the unreal with lying. I would argue that these are not the same at all, that while of course the second is wrong, the first is harmless, necessary, even healthy.

This willful suspension of disbelief is a wonderful and glorious part of our human experience. Besides Santa Claus, we see this technique commonly used with ghost stories and urban legends. A suspension of disbelief is necessary to maintaining these tales: who would enjoy listening to ghost stories without the narrator's insistance that they were real? The story cannot possibly have the same chilling effect if we know it is imaginary. Only when we are absolutely convinced that the story actually happened to someone's aunt's friend does it strike terror into our hearts.

The same way with Santa Claus: should we insist on asserting that Santa is completely fictional, the magical anticipation of Christmas morning would disappear. No child would anxiously look out the window, mistaking the blinking light of a satilite for the glow of Rudolph's nose, then dive into bed, furiously trying to sleep so she won't be caught awake when Santa comes. I look back on my true believing days with nostalgia and contentment. It is an experience that can be gained in no other way--to believe in something completely and utterly trivial. I maintain that it is a healthy and natural part of life, not to be disturbed because of rare and horrifying stories of children whose faith in Christ is damaged by Santa.

Of course, it is a pleasure that can be had only for a short while. When the dawn comes and the ghost-story teller reveals their craft, the magic is over. Once we first glimpse our Santa Claus presents in the storage closet, the opportunity for that magic in the world is gone. But simply because it cannot exist forever, should we shut down the experience entirely? No, no more than we would deny the beauty of a snowstorm or spring flowers because their presence was only temporary.

Additionally, this belief in Santa serves as a praticing ground for belief in Christ. If we can't believe in Santa Claus, who leaves us physical gifts every year, how can we find faith in Christ? It is essentially an exercise in what faith is--learning to believe without seeing. It's something that's difficult to gain experience in doing, and yet we must find a way to do it. Santa seems as good a method as any.

This aspect is, of course, what primarily concerns the anti-Santa league: isn't it wrong to have faith in something that doesn't exist? Aren't we setting kids up to believe that their faith in Christ will turn out the same way as their faith in Santa?

Obviously, I would argue no. We must develop faith in many things in this life which let us down--other people, for one. This practice faith is necessary. The world would be quite an awful place if we never trusted anyone. Of course we all recognize this faith should never supercede our faith in the one person who will never let us down, Christ. But when Christ told us not to trust in the arm of flesh, I much doubt that he meant we shouldn't trust other people. It's a warning of proportion, not absolutes.

As to the more general opposition of the materialistic and spiritual sides of Christmas, maybe I'm unique in that I've never had a problem with that. Even the materialistic gift-giving of Christmas was always redirected towards spiritual growth. For me, the search for the perfect gift--not just something that they want, but something that they need and that also says something about your special connection as family or friends--is as much an exercise in developing charity as any service project could be, perhaps more because it is undertaken not from necessity but from desire. When else will you spend hours in several different stores, thinking only of your friend and how much you love them?

And besides the gift-giving aspect, all of the other Christmas symbols, un-Christ-centered though they may be, serve to bind us together as a culture. We can laugh with almost anyone when we remember the terribly cheap animation of the Christmas specials or the tune of a familiar Christmas song. These things unify us across all other barriers--bridging social capital, if you will. And is not unity something Christ would have us develop? If we are not one, of course, we are not his.

That said, there's a very interesting Orson Scott Card Christmas short story called "Homeless in Hell," which is about the Santa issue. The message is one we can all agree on: the Santa tradition is a healthy and righteous thing, so long as it does not supercede Christ.

24 November 2006

Traa-di-shon! Tradition!

Yeah, I guess it’s been a while since I posted. Well, in case you didn’t catch it in the comments in Thursday’s post, my boyfriend and I broke up. So I’ve been trying to avoid doing too much thinking, which means a decrease in blog posts. Don’t worry, I’m feeling much better thanks to my amazing roommates, and of course there’s no cure for break-up blues like the holidays, so I’m back.

So about the holidays: I highly doubt if anyone could find a more tradition-bound family than mine at this time of year. Almost all of my mom’s siblings’ families live within an hour drive of my grandmother’s house in East Millcreek, so we get together a lot during the holidays. (More than usual—the extended family gets together at least twice a month as it is. I miss them when I’m stuck in Provo.) And the 30-40 of us can sure have a lot of fun. Who needs friends when you have family? Anyway, as a result of spending massive amounts of time together, traditions just seem to spring out of nowhere. Almost every single day of this season has its own special traditions.

The day before Thanksgiving is officially known as Pie Day in the Miller family. We fill the kitchen of my grandmother’s house with enough estrogen to scare away men for miles around. Large amounts of Chinese food are consumed as the pies are prepared for Thanksgiving and a Christmas movie plays in the background. This year we only needed sixteen pie crusts, a record low, I think. There was one year we made over 30 pies. In order to chill all the pie dough, we had to empty out the ice cube maker in the freezer. An unsuspecting uncle wandered in looking for a glass of water and ended up with a glass full of pie crust—in the Miller family, we have pie crust on tap!

Then Thanksgiving itself: we usually cook a couple turkeys in several different ways. My uncle Dennis, when he was alive, would always deep-fry a turkey. Holy cow is that good stuff! This year we had a brined turkey in addition to the normal roasted version. We usually have about 40 pounds of mashed potatoes—can’t risk running out. Lots of homemade rolls and cranberry sauce. But my favorite traditional food is rainbow jello. I made it this year—it takes about 3 hours—and it was really good.

After dinner, we laze around for a few hours. There’s usually a Christmas craft project—candy advent calendars this year—and football on the TV. Everyone continues snitching food, grazing as their stomachs settle down. In a few hours, we’ll clear everything off and set out the pies. Once we’ve all had pie, we officially open the Christmas season by singing along to “Sleigh Ride” by the Osmonds—not “Jingle Bells/Sleigh Ride,” the real “Sleigh Ride.” You can’t get it on CD. We had to get it transferred from the record. :D Anyway, we all sing at the top of our lungs, doing the air guitar and sliding up to high falsetto parts. It’s great! That song means Christmas and family in my mind. When I’m feeling homesick, I’ll turn it on, be it December or July. Then we draw names for the Christmas gift exchange.

My dad and I always do Black Friday shopping together. The last few hours of Thanksgiving day are spent perusing the newspaper ads, planning our attack strategy. This year we were up at 3:30 AM, outside Circuit City at 4, inside at 5, and out at 5:30. We did pretty well: I got a 1 GB SD memory card for $3, a 1 GB flash drive for $4, and a 7 megapixel digital camera for $130. We managed to also hit Target ($4 DVDs, newer releases too), FYE (the new Media Play—I picked up some new headphones and got to talk to a really interesting lady in the line. She works for the railroad.), and RC Willey (Marisa—we have a new DVD player! How much do you love me?). All in all, it was a pretty good year for the bargain hunters. To me, it’s like a game to plan the best strategy for dodging the crowds in the stores and to guess which items will go first. Yeah, it’s a little materialistic and, oh, insane, but then again, it’s way fun and I save a bunch of money.

The holidays are sort of a weird time for me. Usually, I value my alone time a lot. I'm quite "solitary as an oyster." (You better know where that's from.) But during Christmas, I can't get enough of people. I just want to be around them. We don't necessarily have to do anything; it's enough just to be. To quote a Christmas classic: "I’m crowded, but at least I’m loved."

18 November 2006

Job Satisfaction and Football

Today I went to the game with my dad, my grandma, and my brother, and the coolest thing happened. My brother and I were sitting the student section, and between plays, this guy five people down from us turns to me and says, "You work at the Writing Center, right?"

"Um, yeah. I thought I recognized you from somewhere."

"You helped me write a really awesome paper last semester. I totally got an A on it. You guys rock!"

"Thanks."

"I just figured you'd like to know, since you guys probably don't get a lot of feedback on the results."

I love my job.

I've also decided I really enjoy football games. I don't know why, since my knowledge of the sport is limited to what a down is and that it's good to move forward and not back. I just like watching it. Football and basketball are the two sports I can actually stand to watch for their entire duration. If I wasn't such a cheapskate, I would probably buy the all-sports pass just for the football tickets. :D

And did anyone else think that all the fans waving little white towels sort of looked like they were doing the hosanna shout, like at a temple dedication? . . . Okay, maybe that's just me.

17 November 2006

Snowflakes

Wow! I just found SnowDays, via a link from Orson Scott Card's column. This looks like a really good time waster. :D

Meditation on Christ through Art

For a small moment have I forsaken thee; but with great mercies will I gather thee.
In a little wrath I hid my face from thee for a moment; but with everlasting kindness will I have mercy on thee, saith the LORD thy Redeemer.
For the mountains shall depart, and the hills be removed; but my kindness shall not depart from thee, neither shall the covenant of my peace be removed, saith the LORD that hath mercy on thee.
- Isaiah 54:7-8,10
I've just come back from visiting to new "Beholding Salvation" exhibit at the MoA. It was such an amazing exhibit: my words are certainly inadequate to describe it, but I can't resist the attempt.

The experience was breathtaking. I have a certain fascination with Christian art. Something about the iconography of it all is so very attractive. I get chills just hearing the names of the typical scenes: the annunciation, the nativity, the adoration, the last supper, the stations of the cross, the passion, the pieta. Knowing the little details about the traditional symbols--enclosed gardens for Mary, keys for Peter, an eagle for John, nails for Thomas--makes them that more meaningful. The power of symbols, and art in general, cannot be overestimated. And seeing all these different ways of looking at the Savior is amazing.

I particularly liked the tomb and resurrection rooms at the end of the exhibit. The life-size dead Christ is harrowing. And I know I'll spend many hours the next few semesters contemplating "Jesus and Mary, After." Very haunting and powerful. And "Christ at the Pool of Bethesda" . . . something just clicks inside me when I see it. I also really like the two more abstract paintings--the one with the red and white cloth and three bowls and the one with two chairs--full of all sorts of meanings.

In the passion room, one of the little plaques defined the word "passion" as meaning to suffer or to submit, very interesting to consider in the context of our modern use of the word passion. When we have a passion for something, we suffer not only when it is gone, but also while we are with it. Love, as some have pointed out to me, is not something that's very pleasant to have. People in love are often miserable, especially when they are separated from their beloved. Love involves connecting your happiness to something outside and beyond your control. To love as Christ loves is to willingly submit to that pain and then rise triumphant again.

And you can feel that intense love in this exhibit. The second I walked in, I had a feeling of complete comfort and safety. It was as though even taking the time to be in a place where I could contemplate the Savior had afforded me the comfort and protection He promises us. In those paintings and sculptures, I truly felt enfolded in the arms of my Savior--safe from loneliness and fear. I longed to simply sit there for hours, feeling that warmth and contemplating the atonement in my life.

This exhibit caused me to remember something about the atonement that I tend to forget. The atonement is not only for our past: it is for now. It is not only for our sins, but also for our triumphs; not only for our sorrows, but also for our joys. Christ reaches out to us in so many ways to enfold our minds and our hearts, to lift us up not only out of sin but onto higher and better things. I feel His influence in my life in everything I do from the worshipful to the mundane, and because of it, everything I do expands out to become more than I intended, more than I could do on my own.

16 November 2006

Stability and Writing

As Katherine points out, the conversations we have during downtimes at the writing center are interesting, to say the least. Today, for instance, two of my coworkers and I covered in a single conversation topics ranging from psychologists (necessary, helpful, or evil?), the relationship of guilt and stress to achievement, the role of mothers and the problems therein, and whether insanity/instability is a necessary part of being a brilliant writer.

It's on this last point that I'm still sorting out my thoughts. The consensus seemed to be that you can be a good writer and a normal person, but most of the best writers will be tragically unstable and unhappy. Now, I acknowledge there's a definite correlation between an unhappy personal life and brilliant writing--look up the biography of the majority of canonical writers and you'll find a host of cruel families, unhappy love lives, suicidal tendencies, and anything else you'd care to imagine.

Yet I can't bring myself to believe there's necessarily a connection between the two. As anyone with a basic knowledge of statistics will note, a correlation between two variables says nothing about which causes which, or if a causal relationship even exists. The most current example would be the hilarious campaign revolving around the correlation between reduced amounts of piracy and increases in global temperatures. Clearly, it makes no logical sense to say one brings about the other, though the correlation is evident. If there’s any connection at all, they're probably both influenced by some hidden variable, say technological advances. So the fact that many great writers have been unstable is, at best, only anecdotal evidence of some connection between the two factors. (Granted, in the English department, anecdotal evidence is pretty much what we do. But indulge the science portion of my brain for a moment.)

Continuing the statistical analogy, I wonder if the relationship between brilliant writers and tortured writers comes by means of a hidden variable, namely, writers are always better when they have something essential to write about. No matter how eloquent your prose, if your topics are shallow or trivial, it's simply not going to become "great." Interesting and amusing, certainly, but great writing must inherently deal with the great matters of human existence. And a tortured personal life does certainly bring about a wealth of vital topics. All human beings, at one point or another, doubt their sanity, deal with failed relationships, and distrust the fairness of the universe, so these topics make the level of greatness more easily accessible. However, insanity or instability is by no means the only method of arriving at vitally important material. Religious devotion, scholarly study, and everyday observation can also bring about the consideration of humanity in all its forms.

In fact, writing driven by instability seems to me to be limiting rather than enabling. Writers motivated by personal angst are stuck within a realm of self, continually confronting the same issues of self-concept and depression in their writing, never able to move on to something of greater scope. Granted, there is infinity to explore within ourselves, but infinity also exists outside ourselves. Ought we to neglect one for the other? Introspection certainly has its place, but it’s not the only thing to write about. But I guess that’s my personal bias--I prefer considering the broad human condition rather than the local.

Another factor is the confusion of the esoteric with the brilliant. Just because something is hard to understand does not make it good writing. It's (relatively) easy to write something so esoteric that it seems profound because no one else can get it. It's a much more difficult and worthwhile task to write something so intensely clear and powerful that everyone knows exactly what you mean from the second they read it. And not something on low level, either. You must take an abstract, difficult concept and make it so obvious, clear, and simple without letting your audience know. (See, of course, CS Lewis.) In my opinion, this was the original function of poetry, and by extension literature: not to be obtuse and mysterious, but to be so dazzlingly clear as to appear prototypical. This is one problem I have in my own writing. It would be so easy to write something mysterious--pregant with general feeling but lacking a specific message. But I'd rather spend the time to make my meaning painfully specific and clear, clear enough to unite the minds of the writer and the reader for one moment. (I know this is a large enough heresy against the English department that it might take another post to fully justify, but work with me.)

But the most pressing reason that I reject this idea is that I simply don't believe that the goals of being a brilliant writer and a happy, fulfilled individual should be mutually exclusive. For me, creating art is a part of the gospel, one method of our pursuit of divine and eternal knowledge, creation on a small scale. I can’t believe that anything as good, true, and healthy as art could be incompatible with joy and happiness. It feels unnatural and untrue.

15 November 2006

Diversions

Ah, humor is all around us. Check out this NPR interview with the guys who do the voice-overs for political attack ads. I really like their 'negative' readings of the nursery rhymes. :D Humpty Dumpty is indeed a waste of tax-payers' dollars.

And from the do-it-yourself page at Despair.com, some words of truth:

apt15

14 November 2006

Politics

Fine, fine. I'll follow the crowd, though I must admit to being mildly suprised . . . . I guess this explains why Not Too Pensive, Katherine, and I can't agree in an argument. But we'd make a great joke: A capitalist, a socialist, and a totalitarian walk into a blog . . . .

I guess I shouldn't be that surprised, since my group in Honors 201 decided that Christ would be totalitarian dictator. (Long story.)

You are a

Social Conservative
(26% permissive)

and an...

Economic Liberal
(38% permissive)

You are best described as a:

Totalitarian










Link: The Politics Test on Ok Cupid
Also: The OkCupid Dating Persona Test

13 November 2006

Audio Reviews

When I was in high school, I had a half-hour commute to school. I would always listen to KSL's news program in the morning and Sean Hannity in the afternoons. (Don't worry: I've since repented of my Sean Hannity addiction.) I really enjoyed it because it took no extra effort and I always felt highly informed. I really miss the news now that I walk to school instead of driving. It felt so . . . productive.

I've been trying to revive my audio addiction with podcasts. This would probably work better if I actually went out and bought an Mp3 player, or at least some memory for my cell phone's audio player. (Hey! Black Friday is coming. Maybe I'll buy some this year, if the sales are good enough and I don't sleep through my alarm.) But there's some pretty good stuff out there, even if it's hard to find. Here's a run down of my current must-listen list:

  • Ask a Ninja - Um, hello? Random advice from ninjas? Ninature golfing and ninterships? Okay, so it's not informative, but whatever. It's still hilarious and the video is fairly well done. :D I highly recommend the "Pirates 2" review--even if you haven't seen the movie.
  • BYU Recent Talks - For obvious reasons.
  • Grammar Girl - More like "Usage Girl" but I can see the need to go for the alliteration. Anyway, Grammar Girl covers all sorts of fun usage issues. This week it was whether "woman" can be used as an adjective, as in "Nancy Pelosi is the first woman speaker of the house." (Answer: No. You wouldn't say call someone a "man physician." Plus we have a perfectly good adjective for this already: female. I didn't used to care about this until I created my amazing handout on sexist language for ELang 322. Now I find it very interesting . . . .) The podcast is very well done, and she does her research on usage issues. I may not switch from using "that" to "who" because of it, but it's still interesting to know.
  • Mr. Manners - Run by the same people as Grammar Girl, and it's just as high quality. Very interesting perspectives on manners. Only two episodes so far. The first--on toasting--was academically interesting, although not very applicable, but I highly recommend the second episode, which is on (of all things) holding doors open! Mr. Manners expresses my view on the subject much more clearly than I was able to. He even discusses how to deal with "anti-chivalry doors!" (Apparently, don't bother, unless it's a date or the person is unable to open the door themselves. Then, don't rush for the second door; simply say, "Please, allow me," so that the person knows your intentions. Hyper-adorable!)
  • Pottercast - Yes, a 90-minute news program every week about Harry Potter. I bet you didn't know there was that much to say. Oh, there is. Plus, it has the inestimable John Noe. Horcri, indeed.
And in un-podcast-related media, check out Will It Blend. My uncle is representing this guy in a copyright lawsuit, and his videos are hilarious. I really like the golf balls one. :D

12 November 2006

Knocking on the Door

I had an interesting idea for a short story in Relief Society today. It's a sort of allegory using passing a course as a metaphor for faith, works, and the atonement. I know, it sounds cliche, but at least I'm writing about what I know. :D

Anyway, it's turning out fairly well, but this story has had the annoying complication of forcing me to work through my evasion of going to see professors. Basically, I hate asking for help or dealing with people who know more than me. Observe this only slightly fictionalized chain of thought that goes through my head when I go to see a professor:

Later that day, she pulled out her syllabus and found the location of the instructor’s office. She circled it determinately with her ballpoint pen and set forth to the office building. As she walked down the stern hallway, important professors rushed back and forth on their academic errands. Bulletin boards hung on the walls, explaining the research projects of various professors, but the language was so complicated that she didn’t understand a word of it. Even the jokes and comic strips—posted on various professors’ doors to make them more inviting—only confused her.

And then, suddenly, there it was: the instructor’s door. She reached out her hand to knock, but then paused. She felt so out of place. There weren’t any other students here, only the professors. They all knew so much more than her that it seemed hopeless that she should even attempt to reach their level. Too much had happened before she had even been born—eons and eons of history, of experiment, of thought—so much material and not enough time to learn it all. How could they possibly expect her to sort through all the knowledge of humanity and, in addition, create something new? Compared to the problems of the centuries, the instructor would think all of her questions and worries so small and insignificant. He probably couldn’t remember what it was like not to know these things, and it would be a waste of his time to teach her. If she couldn’t understand these little things, she was just a lost cause, not worth the training that it would take to get her to a higher level. Who actually visited the instructor anyway? She was in college. She was supposed to be old enough to do things on her own. It was her responsibility. Knocking on the door would mean admitting she couldn’t do it, that she was a failure, that she was not prepared.

Just as she was about to turn away, the door swung backward beneath her hand. Standing in the doorway was the instructor, with a knowing, but friendly, smile on his face.

“I’ve been waiting for someone to come,” he said, motioning her inside. Embarrassed to be caught in her hesitation, she slumped into the seat in front of the instructor’s desk. He sat back in the swivel chair behind the desk, leaning back with his hands in his lap. “You know, I sit in my office so many hours a day, and yet so few of my students seem to find their way up here.”

“I didn’t want you to know I couldn’t do it on my own.”

“You weren’t meant to do it on your own.”

Now, I do usually get the jokes on the professors' doors, but the rest is pretty much true. Sometimes I think it would have been so much easier to have been born in an earlier century, when there was less to learn and more to discover. And I know the professors are really there to help us learn, but I simply can't get it drilled into my mind. Going to see a professor always seems like an admission of failure on my part. It's like a bluffing game in which I finally have to admit I don't have all the right cards. And I hate it. I guess it's mostly pride, since I build my identity on knowing things. :D

Anyone else follow this train of thought? Any suggestions on asking for help?

10 November 2006

Middle Woman

Ah-Cheu was a woman of the great kingdom of Ch'in, a land of hills and valleys, a land of great wealth and dire poverty. But Ah-Cheu was a middle person, neither rich nor poor, neither old nor young, and her husband's farm was half in the valley and half on the hill. Ah-Cheu has a sister older than her, and a sister younger than her, and one lived thirty leagues to the north, and the other lived thirty leagues to the south. "I am a middle woman," Ah-Cheu boasted once, but her husband's mother rebuked her, saying, "Evil comes to the middle, and good goes out to the edges."
-"Middle Woman," Orson Scott Card
I guess the real thing I was getting at in my "Insecurities of a Jack" post is that lately I feel like a middle woman, moreso at this point in my life than at other times. I'm neither entirely ignorant nor astoundingly intellectual, neither committed science geek or philosophical humanities student, neither flamingly liberal or staunchly conservative. I don't read the cannon classics or the pulp fiction, but in between. I'm envious of those who can be obsessive fans of something, for I find myself on the borders between fandom and normality. I am a middle woman.

It's not that I don't have firm opinions, because I do. It's just that most of them happen to be firmly in the middle. Everything I've learned has lead me to believe that's where the truth is (see the Circle Theory). But to the people out on the edges, I appear wishy-washy and bland.

In theory, it's a great place to be. The middle is more objective, the middle can try anything, the middle can camoflage itself. But it feels so fake. I'm on the fringes of so many different communities, but part of none of them. Gamers, anime fans, science researchers, English researchers, high culture, low culture, political culture--I've got enough of each to understand what they are talking about, but I never really get out there and commit myself. I balance on the edges, watching and observing.

Which brings me to the excerpt from "Middle Woman." I love the story overall, but I've always wondered about that line: "Evil comes to the middle, and good goes out to the edges." It simply doesn't make sense to me. Good comes to all the edges, no matter how different they are, leaving out only the middle, which is a little like all of them?

And then I wonder if it has something to do with the parable of the unjust steward. Am I only in the middle because I lack the zeal or courage to settle on a direction and move out towards it? Does evil come to the middle because it is afraid?

09 November 2006

Meta-Post

Hey, you! Yes, you. I know you're reading this blog. Or rather, I don't, and that's why I want some information out of you.

Basically, I spent an hour or two converting my blog over to Blogger-Beta. While doing so, I got to reread a lot of my old posts, and now I'm in the mood to move the furniture around in my metaphorical blogging room. I'm doing some brainstorming about the nature of this blog--reconsidering what it's all about--and I'm looking for some feedback from you, my presumably existant readers.

The main idea that I've been toying with is creating some sort of regular schedule of topics. For instance, Tuesdays have already informally become BYU devotional/forum days, when I comment on the BYU speech of the day. Literary essays and science/technology essays could fill another two days. Saturdays might be for serial long essays, including some of my dwindling essay series like "In Defense of the English Major" and "Thoughts on Homosexuality," along with some new topics I've been thinking about like "A Mormon Literature" and "Storyingtelling and Science."

But are you guys at all interested in hearing about more stuff like that? How about my more esoteric posts--the ones focused on my life rather than on idealistic issues? I sometimes wonder if anyone cares to read those or if you simply find them boring. Or maybe it's the other way around, and you'd rather hear more about me and less about my philosophies.

So, fire me off a comment. At the very least, just write a three word comment letting me know you're lurking out there. I recognize that the point of the internet is that I don't know if you read this or not, but the curiosity is overwhelming me. Do it 'cause you love me? Please? If you're feeling up to it, you could also let me know what you think of my blog:

  • What do you like best? What needs to change?
  • What do you think about a regular schedule of topics? Good? Boring?
  • What topics do you enjoy hearing about from me?
By the way, you don't have to be a Blogger user to comment. You can simply select the "other" option on the comment page. :D

Oh dear. Posts like this always seem so awkward. What if no one replies? X-(

On to the Beta

Hey, Blogger Beta finally decided to work! Now I can have tags! Hurray, hurray. Being the organization freak that I am, I feel the need to go back and add tags to old posts, so I apologize in advance to anyone subscribed to the feed. It may get a little repetitive this weekend. :D There's not too many posts--118--so it shouldn't take terribly long.

08 November 2006

Insecurities of a Jack

There are only two kinds of people who are really fascinating: people who know absolutely everything, and people who know absolutely nothing.
- Oscar Wilde
Ever since I was five years old, I've known what I wanted to do with my life. No, not in terms of a career or practical goals--if you've been reading this blog, you may have noticed I still have no idea what I want in that area. I'm talking about a bigger, more general picture. I have one of those: when I started school, I decided my goal was to know everything.

In the ensuing years, I've been confronted many times with the fact that this goal is not precisely realistic. But that hasn't stopped me from trying. Evidence: majoring in Chemistry and English, watching PBS all the time, surfing Wikipedia, and reading *gasp* non-fiction in my spare time.

And in general, I like my way of doing things--gathering random bits of knowledge and stringing them together so they catch the light of truth in new ways. I'm personally not in favor of our current system of education, wherein we teach people more and more about less and less. In the end, society ends up with a bunch of people who excel in their one little area, but are so entrenched in their dogma that they have difficultly seeing the connections and applications to other areas. And since the rest of us are equally busy in our little cells of knowledge, we can't learn from anything the others find. It seems to me to be a very inefficient method of discovering knowledge. (Yes, I realize there's some necessity for specialization in order to get in deep enough to really push the envelope, but I think we take it too far.)

Gathering knowledge from all these different areas has allowed me to think and learn in so many different ways. However, there's a definite problem with being a jack of all trades, and master of none. And that is that I feel very insecure about my knowledge. I know just enough in almost any area (excepting perhaps music) to know exactly how ignorant I actually am. I feel fine holding a conversation with someone who isn't familiar with the subject, but if I'm forced into a conversation in someone else's area of expertise--almost everything is--then I'm junk. I'm good at thinking about all sorts of problems, but I lack the well of facts necessary to match wits with someone who knows the territory. Sometimes I can get around this problem by drawing analogies to other areas of knowledge that they aren't as familiar with, but sometimes not.

It's quite disconcerting because I know I'm a knowledgeable, intelligent person, and yet so many times, I find myself stuck on the listening end of a rant because I lack the specialization to combat it. So irritating, yet I still feel no desire to specialize. Somewhere inside I'm absolutely convinced that I just need more time to gather more facts, that I'll eventually find an end to my quest for knowledge of everything.

But it seems an awfully long way away.

07 November 2006

Feeling Hypocritical

Oh man. I feel like such a hypocrite having to write this, but NaNoWriMo is all shot to hell. After all of my harassing people to do it with me, I've had to cut and run. I feel sort of lame about that, but I promise I have a good excuse. First, I've been sick all weekend, which killed the majority of my writing time. I'm so miserably far behind that I despair of catching up. And second, well, there's a boy. But that's all I'm going to say about that. Posting personal stuff on a blog is always odd, so if you want to know more, you'll just have to ask. Plus, he'll probably read this. :P

In a way, I'm sort of relieved about this. As I started writing a novel, I just didn't get the same sort of spark that I've been getting lately from essay writing. I kept looking wistfully at my blog, wanting to write some essays even though I'd sworn it off for NaNoWriMo. I guess it's my fate to be a non-fiction writer.

So to those of you still going on in NaNoWriMo, do good for me. Er, well. Do well. Darn usage class. I can't even use good as an adverb anymore.

On to a second reason I'm feeling hypocritical. I didn't vote today. Spare me the rotten tomatoes. It feels terribly hypocritical after my rant about voting in the primaries. The problem is that I'm still registered to vote at home in SLC. I was busy all day until 5 pm, and given current amounts of homework, there was no way I could justify spending two hours and a quarter tank of gas to get up there.

I guess I really should just register to vote down in Utah County, but that's my Salt Lake County pride showing through. Registering down here would be too much of an affront to my identity. I am not a Happy Valley person; I'm just not.

Well, now that I feel thoroughly despicable, I guess I can get on with writing those essays.

01 November 2006

NaNo Sentence of the Day #1

The opening sentence of my novel:

"The first thing that made Kira realize today would be different was the smell coming from the kitchen tents."

In good news, I totally had a brain storm in terms of plot, characters, and all that this morning during New Testament. Hurrah! I was getting a more than a little worried that I'd have nothing to write about! Move over, Necessity. Arbitrary deadlines are the new mother of invention.

31 October 2006

Farewell, My Friends

So, this is my final blog entry before NaNoWriMo starts. I make no guarantees about the regularity of any blog entries for the next month. I'm going to try to do a "Best Sentence of the Day" thing--which may sprout into "Worst Sentence of the Day" or perhaps "Clunkiest Dialogue of the Day." But even that may fail spectacularly. And in terms of content, the only way you will get any substance is if I get terribly frustrated and need to rant about it. So it may be in your best interests to simply ignore anything I write for the next month. Show up around December 1st for your regularly scheduled programming.

Hey, in all the time you free up from not reading my strange ramblings, maybe you can write your own novel!

Or not.

10 Reasons Why I Am INSANE for Attempting to Write a Novel this Month
10. November is the beginning of holiday season. I'm supposed to be able to spend lots of time goofing off with my family.
9. I have no plot--only a vague sketch of a basis for a fantasy world. Really vague.
8. More importantly, I have no characters. Nope. None.
7. The last time I completed a work of fiction was . . . 6th grade. For reals.
6. And that was completely derivative of Princess Bride.
5. Um, homework. Midterms. Math. Chemistry.
4. Recently, I've actually come to like nonfiction a lot better than fiction. Why in the world am I trying to fight that?
3. The type of novels I usually like involve a lot of preplanning and thought.
2. I've never written any fiction that I actually am proud of. (See #7.)
1. Really, what sane person can write a novel in a month?!?

As my favorite anime says, "she is truly doomed." Wish me luck, people! Donations of novel-friendly food (no stickies or greasies) are accepted.

29 October 2006

More of the Same

Typical controversial BYU political discussion over at Katherine's blog. What interests me is not the issue at hand, but the attitudes taken by the participants. The statements in particular that bother me:

Anonymous #2: Instead I hear a young BYU college kid that is more concerned about being trendy or rebellious than actually standing up for what you believe.
Katherine: . . . For many (most?) people saluting the flag has become a thoughtless act. I'm not convinced that the numerous people I passed who were flirting and giggling or engaged in full conversation while standing with their hands over their hearts were respecting and appreciating the symbolism of the flag and the anthem any more than I was.
I have two problems with these statements, which I view as the same attitude just in different clothing. First, the actions of the crowd have little bearing on whether a specific action is right or wrong. A#2, I know from reliable sources who you are, and you don't know Katherine. Until you know if she belongs to said group, the actions of that group are irrelevant to her personally. Same goes for what Katherine says. Whether or not those people are appreciating their national symbol has no effect on whether it is moral or not for you not to do so. Both of these are arguments based on what other people are doing, which we should have learned in elementary school has little impact on what our standards should be.

Problem two is these two attitudes represent the most unconstructive stereotypes of Mormon liberals and Mormon conservatives towards each other. Noticing these stereotypes was one of the things which caused me to start blogging in the first place. As Katherine shows, liberals have the idea that all conservatives are airheads who are simply following what their parents taught them and can't think for themselves. Equally bad is A#2's attitude that all liberals at BYU are only liberal because they want to stand out and rebel from their parents, that their beliefs are based on social pressures not understanding.

I've been put into both holes lately, and let me tell you, neither stereotype is justified. Yes, there are people on either side of the block who don't care, but they really aren't the ones you should be addressing, are they? I continue to advocate that until we drop these stereotypes and consider the opposition as real, rational people, there will be no progress towards the truth. We must act as though our opposition has the same information we do and has put exactly as much thought into their position as we have. Then and only then do we have a true basis for discussion. Even if it appears they don't, there's no use arguing with someone who doesn't have a level of thought to their opinions anyway. We must combat the ideal enemy if we want truth. Combating the enemy's flaws only wins the debate, not the heart. (And if the heart isn't your goal, I have no help for you.)

Stake Presidency

I love my stake presidency. A lot. So much that I am considering stalking them into their home wards after a) they are released and b) I get too old/married to live in Singles' Wards. (Of course, this will probably never happen, since I thoroughly intend to live in downtown SLC if possible, and certainly not anywhere in Utah County.) But let me quickly describe them in all their awesomeness:

  • President Larsen -- Amazingly humble, and yet not as annoying as most of the people you know who are trying to be humble. Just the right amounts of humorous self-effacement, deference, and silent dignity. I personally think this man is closer to true humility than anyone I know.
  • President Brenchley -- Choir director for the Orem Institute, he manages to incorporate hymns into his talks without making you want to giggle. He has this great speaking style that makes me think of a 19th century preacher, complete with loud rebuking and hand gestures. Picture a voice thundering out the following catchphrase while pounding on the pulpit: "We do not stand for the hymns of Zion, unless specifically invited to do so."
  • President Keech -- Tonight I figured out the perfect description for President Keech: a modern Cicero, complete with brilliant legal abilities (he clerked at the Supreme Court) and a very strange voice. His talks are always intensely personal and doctrinal, yet up-to-date. At tonight's fireside, he advocated we use the "Indiana Jones" method when faced with the unknown. This is the same guy who showed a clip from Hitch as part of our Sunday school lesson at ward conference. Certainly knows his audience and how to appropriately incorporate outside sources.
I've never felt as close to any local authority figures in the church as I have to these men. They are truly called of God, and I know they are the ones I need to be hearing from at this time in my life. I really don't know why I'm blogging this. I just feel the need to share my impressions of these amazing men.

26 October 2006

Scientific Romance

Last night I was watching Nova again, particularly Einstein's Big Idea. (Yes, I'm a nerd, get over that. It's faster than reading the book it was based on.) Can I just say this is about the most adorable scientific documentary I have ever seen? And I really do mean it. The program covers the lives of all the scientists whose discoveries contributed to the formation of E=MC^2. The science was mostly stuff I knew anyway, but the lives of the scientists utterly fascinate me.

And here's where we come to the title of the post, as I particularly liked the portrayal of the romantic lives of these scientists. Yes, it's probably mostly made up, but it was so adorable! Antoine Lavoisier working side-by-side with his wife, the downfall of Emilie du Ch√Ętelet--a French physicist--who died in childbirth, and Lise Meitner's tragic near-relationship with her co-worker Otto Hahn, who would eventually steal her Nobel Prize. Of course, the best was Einstein's courtship of his wife. I mean, who couldn't find this romantic:

ALBERT EINSTEIN: What would I see if I rode on a beam of light?

MILEVA MARIC: What? A beam of light? By what method do you propose to ride on this beam of light?

ALBERT EINSTEIN: The method is not important. Let us just imagine we two are young, radical, bohemian experimenters, hand in hand, on a journey to the outer reaches of the universe, and we are riding on the front of a wave of light.

MILEVA MARIC: I really don't know what you are suggesting, Herr Einstein. Do you wish to hold my hand or ridicule me?

ALBERT EINSTEIN: Ridicule you? No, never. I merely want you to help me to understand. What would we see, do you think, if we were together, and we sped up and up until we caught up to the front of a beam of light? What would we see?

Uh, okay, maybe you just have to see it. But I think it's adorable. This may be because I also think Einstein is adorable. But maybe that's just because I love IQ. But who doesn't?

Which brings me to the real point of this post. As I said earlier, I've recently discovered an affinity for chick flicks. But not just any chick flicks. I like chick flicks about nerds. My most recent favorite mushy crap is the story about Ender's parents meeting from Orson Scott Card's First Meetings. Any guy who would do what John Paul Wiggin does is pretty amazing. He'd certainly have my attention. :D

25 October 2006

Snow Happy

It SNOWED today! For most people, this is bad news. Snow means wearing coats, walking to school in wet shoes, and just plain being cold. I, on the other hand, adore snow. Snow was exactly what I needed today. I've been feeling depressed lately--turns out, snow is the perfect cure. So, in honor of this tender mercy, I give you:

25+1 reasons to like snow

  1. the way snow muffles all the sounds
  2. making snowmen (or snow dinosaurs)
  3. dying the snow colors with food coloring
  4. snow angels
  5. snowball fights
  6. sliding down hills
  7. skiing!!
  8. everything is white and clean (for a while at least)
  9. purity
  10. contemplative atmosphere
  11. fluffy!
  12. eating snow
  13. catching snowflakes on your tongue
  14. sweaters
  15. scarves and hats
  16. fireplaces
  17. hot chocolate (not just for breakfast anymore)
  18. cold people + warm blankets = cuddling!
  19. Christmas songs (or at least I feel less guilty about singing them)
  20. Christmas lights reflecting off the white sheets
  21. snow means my birthday is coming!
  22. icicles!
  23. the "thawing-out" feeling after coming in from the cold
  24. driving in newly fallen snow
  25. doing donuts in the parking lot
  26. watching the flakes melt in your hand

In other news, less than one week left until NaNoWriMo starts! Gah!

The Solution

The only thing that sustains one through life is the consciousness of the immense inferiority of everybody else, and this is a feeling that I have always cultivated.
- Oscar Wilde

24 October 2006

Inconclusion

On delicate wings
soaring through clouds
or as a fallen leaf
headed for earth.

Soaring through clouds
unmarked glass,
headed for earth
perhaps paradise?

Unmarked glass:
poison
perhaps paradise
an enigmatic liquid

Poison
distilled from
an enigmatic liquid
deep in the mind

Distilled from
dying wishes
deep in the mind
heavy as stone

Dying wishes
on delicate wings:
heavy as stone,
or as a fallen leaf.



(P.S. If anyone recognizes the form of this poem, tell me! A high school teacher showed it to me once. Now I love it, but I have no idea what it is called. Maybe I'll make up my own name for it.)

23 October 2006

Some Reasons Why I Love Being a Student

  1. Free food. I have discovered, so long as I am moderately aware of campus events and freakishly early, I can get 3-4 free meals a week just from existing on campus.
  2. Free candy. Ditto.
  3. Pretending to be all scholarly. :D I was sitting on the floor in the hall of the BNSN this evening, doing some last minute cramming for my O-Chem test while eating a salad. There were a whole bunch of little kids in the building since it's National Chemistry Week. (Happy Mole Day!) As they walked by to go see the Chemistry magic show, they would all sort of stare at me like I was some kind of weirdo--Exhibit A: Hard Working College Student. Yeah, just you wait, children. Soon you will know the agony of midterms. Seriously, though, I am such a poser when it comes to studying. If I'm forced to accomplish something, it better look twice as hard as it actually is.
  4. Signing up for classes. Which I did today. Specifically, this morning at 6 AM. I always wake up early to sign up for classes, even though I'm basically guaranteed to get whatever I want with my slew of IB credit (167 credits and two years left! Ha ha!). Anyway, winter semester is going to rock--O-Chem, Writing Creative Nonfiction, and SHAKESPEARE! Now I feel all trunky about this semester.
  5. Signing up for a class in order to be required to read some of the stuff on your personal "to read" list. I just signed up for the Hugh Nibley class taught by the honors department. I guess it's as close as I'm going to get to the Mormon lit class, which the English department never seems to teach.

20 October 2006

Seeking Greatness

The other day, the idea of the "great Mormon writer" resurfaced in my mind via Ben's post on this quote:

The first great Mormon writer will be excommunicated from the Church for his writing.
Interesting. Like Ben and Richard Dutcher, I have to say I hope it isn't so. I have to trust that this community of faithful believers will not only have room for something great, but be an ideal starting point for such greatness. However, I can see where the quote is coming from, and I think there's some sad truth to this perspective. If you substitute "excommunicated from the Church" with "scorned by the Church community," you would be hitting much closer to the truth.

I guess I should start by defining what we mean by the great Mormon author (GMA) because there are many possible definitions. The obvious observations would be such a GMA must be a writer of renown who is Mormon. But beyond that, who is their audience, and for what purpose do they write? Here are the basic possibilities, as I see them:
  1. Mormon audience, faith promoting--This GMA writes the ultimate novel about the typical Mormon family. They affirm the good things in our community, cause us to weep when the children of their character fall away from the church, and basically make us feel warm and fuzzy when we read them. Think Deseret-Book-style fiction: The Work and the Glory would be the prototypical work of this GMA.
  2. Mormon audience, theological--This GMA gives us great analysis of our beliefs and the scriptures and may or may not also be a GA (General Authority). This is the category of writers like Hugh Nibley and CS Lewis (if he were Mormon).
  3. Mormon audience, community analysis--This GMA analyzes the foilbles of the Mormon community from a faith-based perspective. They are able to write critically with issues like social snobbery and homosexuality in the church, all without losing their faithful perspective. They would deal with our doubts and fears as Church members and portray us in all of our imperfection with an eye to correcting these problems.
  4. General audience, proselytizing--This GMA writes the great American novel about Mormonism. It is so great that it convinces even the most hardened skeptics to look into the Church further. It tells the tale of Mormon belief in such a way that the world can understand what it means to be a Mormon.
  5. General audience, literary--A normal great writer who simply happens to also be Mormon. Their works are read throughout the country/world by believers and non-believers to great acclaim. A knowledge of Mormonism is neither necessary to read their works nor gained from doing so.
In all likelihood, the GMA must fulfill all of these functions in some way. They are all important aspects of what it means to be a writer from any community. The problem is that certain of these functions are more easily acceptable to the Church community than others. Obviously, numbers 1 and 4 can be done fairly easily without offending anyone within the Church, except that perhaps someone doesn't like your portrayal of Joseph Smith. Number 5 is problematic because many within the Church would see you as being ashamed of your faith if you shoot for a general audience without any intent to convert.

But numbers 2 and 3 are, I think, where the original quote is coming from. Theological writings, outside of officially authorized Church literature, are a very delicate balance in the LDS community. Do we really have room in our society for someone like CS Lewis, whose theological writings are mostly logic based rather than scripture or modern prophets? I have yet to read any good logic-based theology from any LDS author, mostly because our beliefs center so much on authority (ethos, if you will). Yes, we have people with scholarly authority like Hugh Nibley, but even those types are viewed warily from inside the establishment. Many people are worried these things, as Ben says, get too scholarly and therefore detract from testimony and revelation. The GMA would have to hit the right balance in order to not alienate the rest of the Church.

Number 3, social commentary, is an even more dangerous category. I think in Mormonism we are naturally disposed to dislike criticism of our society for two reasons. First, because of the extensive social programs of the church, it's difficult to separate societal issues from doctrinal issues. Second, just from our history of being persecuted, we've become slightly oversensitive to any criticism at all. It's difficult for us the see the line there. Anyway, this is almost certainly where the quote is coming from. Social critics from within Mormon culture almost always end up being pushed to the outside--Robert Kirby, even some of Orson Scott Card. It seems to be impossible to be a mainstream Mormon and also a social critic. The GMA would have to manage to do both, or fulfill this quote by being pushed out.

Of course, if the GMA moves too far out, they can lose their faith, or at least their identification with the community of faith. And the GMA can never be someone outside the community--they must never try to be a neutral observer. A GMA has a vested interest in the community; they are part of us.

(On a side note, as I wrote up these categories, I can see the case for Orson Scott Card as the GMA taking shape. He has major works in most of the categories:
  1. Mormon audience, faith promoting: Saints, Women of Genesis
  2. Mormon audience, theological: some essays--this is definitely a weak point; we have yet to see a Mere Mormonism from him.
  3. Mormon audience, community analysis: "Hypocrites of Homosexuality," A Storyteller in Zion
  4. General audience, proselytizing: perhaps the Alvin Maker series; also a weak point, according to some; personal beliefs incorporated into his works, but no great converting novel.
  5. General audience, literary: Ender's Game, short stories
And he has been able to maintain his faith while also writing critically about it. Really, perhaps the only thing that holds him back from obtaining this title is that he lacks great literature about the doctrines of the Church (nos. 2 and 4). However, I personally see these as more minor functions of the GMA, so I would say OSC is, if not THE GMA, at least as close as we have gotten.)

18 October 2006

Warm Fuzzies!

Ha ha! My sister posted a link to this on her blog, and I couldn't pass up the opportunity to spread the happiness. Warm fuzzies!!!

This book was a huge part of my childhood. It's just one of those strange family culture things. Like watching Fraggle Rock, playing the VCR version of Clue ("Not Chinese. French Food." "Pizza!") or reading The Rain Babies or Big Sister, Little Sister ("Here, blow."). They're important, and when someone else has actually heard of them, it's a huge connection. Everytime I meet someone who actually likes Fraggle Rock, it's an instant twenty bonus points in my completely arbitrary point system. Also, no matter how cheesy they are (the BBC Narnia movies anyone?), you still take them entirely seriously because of what they symbolize in your life.

A Week+ without Blog Posts

Um, yeah, sorry about that. I've been sick, dazed, swamped with homework, shopping in Park City, etc. So, here's some stuff that should have been posted, but wasn't.

Forum Notes (10/10/06)
Wow! That forum was completely amazing. If you didn't watch it, you should be greatly ashamed. And then you should go watch it.

I really liked his idea of the "mobilization of moderation." I can't remember where I heard this statistic--perhaps in a US government class--but most people in the US will self-identify as moderate, and yet when time comes to do something about it, we go for the extremes. I think this problem comes from a lack of trust for "the other side." In theory, we know that most of us think in the middle, but just to be save, better to stay as far away from their side as possible. We really need to mobilize a moderate middle that's really willing to compromise and work together.

I also felt very validated that he mentioned an idea I blogged about for the last forum--that what we mistake for tolerance in our society is really apathy. The real path to tolerance is not through losing any standard of correct behavior. Rather the opposite: we must hold to a standard as firm as any. The real key to tolerance is charity, Christ-like love, in which we can care about and love everyone in such a way that we are always seeking the best for them. We view no one as our enemy, only as misguided friends.

And next week (24th) is also a forum. Interesting. I thought they only had forums once a month. Oh well. I like forums way better than devotionals anyway. Devotionals = Sunday school. Forums = clever discussion of scholarly topics that can apply to the gospel.

Divine Comedy Show (10/13/06)
I am a huge advocate of Divine Comedy. I think what they do is good for the BYU student body. At a university where everything we do is viewed with eternal perspective, we sometimes get too serious about things that don't particularly matter. We mistake our culture for our doctrine.

Humor is definitely a power tool for social commentary (see Robert Kirby, SLTrib columnist). And Divine Comedy does it well. There were quite a few skits employing the stereotypes of liberal and conservative Mormons, which I thought were hysterical. The portrayals were overdone just to the point where you realize how silly we are for categorizing people in these ways. The Boy Scout merit badge skit was simply awesome: the book burning merit badge, liberal spotting merit badge, and polygamy merit badge were my favorites. :D Nice skit playing off of the recent "offended by dance" letter in the Daily Universe, featuring the "Guide for when to be Offended, Mormon Edition." It's only funny because it's true. This is the kind of humor that can really do something powerful. It changes how people act and think.

Dating Comments (10/15/06)
It's pretty much established canon in our stake that the Sunday school lesson during ward conference will be a lecture on dating. No, it's not as bad as it sounds. Last year's was wonderful: we got to watch a clip from Hitch, and then have President Keech tell us the we should go on more frequent dates with less pressure. His focus was that we have shrunk the "dating continum" such that asking a girl on a first date has become almost synonymous with capital-D Dating, which is only a small step away from being engaged. We need to spread it back out, so that a first date is just that: a date. (I admit to being guilty of perpetuating this problem, but that's another story.)

Anyway, this year's was equally good, though a little more serious since it was President Brenchley, but still. Here's the highlights reel: "Brethren, we want you to be going on one date a week for the rest of your lives." (The feminist side of me wishes he would have extended such a challenge to the women, but then I remember how much I hate asking guys out and go back to my traditionalist senses. Anyway, theoretically, if all guys asked someone out once a week, this should work out to one date per girl. Unfortunately, I can attest this is not the case.) Remember Elder Oaks' 3 P's of dating: paired off, planned ahead, payed for. (Of course, "payed for" doesn't necessarily mean spending money. The implication, though, is an activity that one person is in charge of arranging for. If there's money involved, it shouldn't be "hang-out style"--everyone pays for themselves--at least until significantly later in the process.) Get to work! What's wrong with spending time and money on getting to know a person, even if you don't intend to marry them?

Excellent Idea (10/17/06)
Speaking of dating, I'm always on the look out for fun and random things to do, but I think the idea of a improvisational desert night tops out as the best idea in recent memory. Yes, it even tops sardines in the HFAC and graveyard games in the Provo cemetary. Given my organized nature, I feel compelled to create an organized version of the rules. Try it out! This could be the new . . . tupperware party? Alright, that sounds lame. Nevermind, because this is definitely cool.

Improv Desert Night
Players: 4 individuals/pairs/teams

Equipment:
Basic cooking supplies, specifically flour, sugar (white, brown, powdered), butter, oil, milk, eggs, baking powder/soda, salt, cornstarch and vanilla, in quanities large enough for four recipies
Cooking equipment, including mixing bowls, saucepans, whisks, spoons, and pans
1 kitchen
1 secret ingredient per team, in quantities large enough for four recipes
1 cookbook per team
10 dollars per team

1. Select a time and place for the desert night. Find the largest kitchen area you can.
2. Before the event, compile and circulate a "Prefer Not" list for secret ingredients. Survey the participants for allergies and general dislikes. Encourage participants to be kind and not choose anything on this list as a secret ingredient.
3. Before the event, each team should choose a secret ingredient, Iron Chef style, which each team will be challenged to include in their dessert (eg. graham crackers, cranberries, peanut butter). Keep this a secret from the other teams.
4. Each team should bring a reasonable quantity of their secret ingredient to the event--enough to make four recipes of a size to serve everyone in attendance. On game day, once all teams have arrived, have each team announce its secret ingredient.
5. Teams will then have a short brainstorming session (10-15 min) to decide what type of desert they would like to attempt. The goal is to include as many of the secret ingredients as possible. Each team can use its own cookbook for ideas, but no one elses. Don't rely too much on the cookbook. Come up with unique creations. No spying!
6. After brainstorming has finished, head to the grocery store for a ten minute, ten dollar shopping trip. If a team needs any ingredients for its recipe other than the basic cooking supplies and the secret ingredients, this is the time to get them. Don't forget specialized cooking supplies. Ten minutes only! Those who are late will be severely mocked.
7. Back at the kitchen, the cooking madness begins! Teams have one hour to finish their dessert. Stovetop and oven space is first-come, first serve.
8. If at any time any team's recipe needs help, they may shout "May the Kitchen Gods have mercy on my spatula!" The other teams may choose to help them out or ignore their pitiful pleas. There's no reward or punishment for doing so.
9. When the time limit is up, each desert will be sampled by all. Each team will be scored on a scale from 1 to 4 (1=worst, 4=best) in the following areas:

  • Use of Secret Ingredients (one point for each used)
  • Tastiness
  • Presentation
  • Creativity
  • Sportsmanship
10. The team with the most points wins! Bask in your bragging rights as the master desert chefs!