30 September 2006

Conference Blog-cast: Part 2

By way of introduction, the Saturday afternoon session is pretty much my favorite session. Besides the sustaining of the General Authorities, most of my favorite talks have been given during the Saturday afternoon session.

Elder Robert D. Hales: Hey, how about that invitation to open our scriptures? I wish they would do that more in conference! I like that the preservation of language is up there on the priority list with genealogy and the gospel. ;D He he! Don't nibble on the scriptures. I think that saying deserves to be on a Deseret Book plaque. The scriptures are the most valuable way we have to learn the gospel. Even Christ taught his disciples using the scriptures. Even if we are out of touch with other members and living prophets, we can survive (for a time) on the scriptures. The gospel as an answer to terror.

Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin: I like learning about the personal lives of the apostles. If you're a BYU student, take Rel 333, Teachings of the Living Prophets, from Lloyd Newell. It'll change your General Conference experience. Nice English major joke! It's true that English majors sometimes have the worst spoken grammar, myself included. :D Good message in this talk--once we have someone close to us die, the doctrine of resurrection becomes so much more important to us. Our knowledge of it can give us rest.

Elaine S. Dalton (Second Councilor in the Young Women General Presidency): The story of Lamoni's father is one of my favorites. The idea of "I will give away all my sins to know thee" is so beautiful and important! Worthiness is hard, but "I can do hard things." Interesting idea of worthiness--immediate access to the Lord's blessings, rather than relying on mercy. Not sure if I quite agree with that . . . . I like this one better: "If we are worthy, we can not only enter the temple, but the temple can enter us." Worthiness is being in a state where your outlook on life can be guided by the Lord.

"High on a Mountain Top": Hey! The choir director is the second councilor in my Stake presidency! Go President Brenchley! This is why I should stop just listening on the radio. :P

Shane M. Bowen (Quorum of the Seventy): Wha . . . landfills? Are those allowed in General Conference? Oh, I see where he's going. I like the analogy: reclaim the garbage we have put into our lives; with the help of the Lord, we can transform our lives into something better. When someone has repented, don't bring up "old garbage" from the past. And choosing not to accept the atonement is like deciding to keep the landfill instead of the park. Very apt observation. He's probably a writer. :D

Daniel L. Johnson (Quorum of the Seventy): Tithing. You can't afford not to pay it. Shoot, this reminds me that I'm behind on my tithing. I always forget my check book. Snap. I better go do that now.

Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf: Power of righteous motives. I think it's very interesting to have an apostle who once lived in East Germany. English is a hard language! I guess I should stop complaining about my lack of ability to learn languages; look at Elder Uchtdorf! We just need the proper motivation. Maybe I have a hard time with Spanish because I don't like it. Perhaps I should sign up for that Japanese class . . . . Testimony is not logical! It is a collection of feelings and promptings that testify of truth. Testimony is something we have to work hard to acquire, cannot be given or bought. We must have our own.

Elder Richard G. Scott: Gospel is our safety net, our backup, that gives us peace and security. Your trials are not your life! Though they teach you important things, they are only stepping stones to further growth and development.

Conference Blog-cast: Part 1

Yes, that's right. I'm blogging about conference as it happens. :D Man, I am such a dork. But at least blogging conference will force me to pay attention and take some notes. It's sort of stream of consciousness, so I apologize for the lack of complete sentences and overabundance of punctuation.

President Gordon B. Hinckley: Good to see President Hinckley still feeling well, especially after the apocalytpic-feel of his closing talk at last conference. I admit, I was one of those who was worried that it was a farewell talk. Wow, 6,000 stake centers receiving church broadcasts? That's pretty amazing. I should really go check out the ground of the new temple up in SLC. I wonder if my house will end up in that temple district. Good point about needing more baptisms in North America. Have people here become too hardened to listen?

Elder Dallin H. Oaks: I always love Elder Oaks' talks a lot. He seems to hit right on the most current and relevant issues in the church. I liked his discussion on same-gender attraction in the church, something I've been thinking about ever since the whole Soul Force things. But really, the things he says have relevance to whatever we are struggling with. It's true that we concentrate too much on the causes of our problems, and not enough on just trying to solve them. We must also include the Savior in our attempts to get rid of our burdens. Too often we try to do it without him. Simply not possible.

Richard H. Winkel (Quorum of the Seventy): "When you enter the temple, you will love your family more." That's great! And so true--as we grow closer to the Lord, it has the great side-benefit of pulling us closer to all the people who matter to us. I like the Joseph Smith quote about wayward children. It's very comforting to me because of those people I know whose hearts are broken by their children's actions. The temple as a way of focusing our minds--de-stressing, if you will. The temple as a means of service--serving others is a way we can become like Christ.

Paul B. Pieper (Quorum of the Seventy): Ah, the standard nervous speaker jokes. :D Interesting topic: being a first-generation member of the church. Always hard to know how I should relate to these kind of talks. Most of my family lines go back to Nauvoo. Wow! More than half of the membership of the church are first generation members?!?! I never would have guessed it was that high. Hurrah for missionary work! I guess the advice he gives can apply to any member: be a good example to your family, do your family history work, stand up for what you believe. All good general advice. Impact of one small decision in our lives on the lives of hundreds of our descendants.

"Redeemer of Israel": Do you ever feel silly singing along with the words on the TV? And is it just me, or does the large size of the conference center actually have an impact on the coordination of the man leading the music and when we actually hear the notes?

David S. Baxter (Quorum of the Seventy): Holy cow! Scottish accent! Awesomeness! I (heart) Scots! Interesting to hear his accent mixed with the General Conference lilt. Another talk to new members . . . I guess I have to remember the other 50% of the church. :D Three principles--faith, service, endure to the end. "Live and act as though our faith was already deep"--very true! How we act has a huge impact on how we believe. Man, his accent makes me happy. "Live to lift burdens even when we ourselves feel weighed down." We often abandon faith just when it needs to be held onto most tightly. When we are in times of trouble, stay steady, keep up good habits.

Robert C. Oaks (Presidency of the Seventy): Charity = patience. Interesting interpretation. When you are feeling patient, it is so much easier to love people. If we are hurried, we get annoyed at the same little quirks that we find endearing when we are patient. In fact, the same things that annoy us are often the reason we are friends with those people. :D I like the dicotomy of being "slow to anger" and yet demanding righteousness of all those around us. Patience gives us the balance between justice and mercy: it shows us how to both demand goodness and yet be willing to wait for it because people take forever to change. Mobile impatience is the new word for road rage, okay? :D Um, what's with the video presentation? Conference is becoming more multi-media . . . . Ah, here comes the good part: how do we actually develop patience? Start to notice the patience and impatience in others. When we are alert enough to notice the behavior of others, we have more control over our own.

Elder M. Russell Ballard: Wow, 45 minutes left and only one speaker? No wonder he was waiting for a choir number! I think I remember this happening a few times in April Conference as well. Interesting. Eight simple words: Oh, be wise, what can I say more? Best advice we can give--after all we hope to teach people, it is their choice. It all depends on the choices they choose to make; nothing else matters. Don't become unbalanced in your church service: the programs of the church are good, but not nearly as important as the people you serve! Wow, I never thought this topic would make it to General Conference, but it is an extremely relevant problem in the church. So many are so obsessed with magnifying their callings that they miss the point. Six ways to avoid this:

  1. Focus on people, not programs. A wise leader will be able to use the programs to serve the people, not the people to serve the programs. Amen to that! Down with coordination meetings!
  2. Be innovative. See what's not working and change it--within the guidelines, of course. Magnifying is not the same as embellishing and complicating!
  3. Divide and Delegate! Home/Visiting teaching is about loving people, not numbers! Don't do the work for others, even if it means that sometimes the ball is dropped.
  4. Eliminate guilt. Catch others doing something right. Somethings are more important than your church calling.
  5. Allocate your time, income, and energy. No matter what your needs are, there is no such thing as "done." Very true. You can never be done, just do what's most important.
  6. Make sure the member can handle the calling you give them. Be considerate.
I think it's a bad sign when the apostles need to give us a talk advising us to be less obsessive in church service. Mormon-dom has become too full of perfectionists, worried about keeping up appearances. So many people--especially women--are beating themselves up beause they aren't doing their calling as well as Brother and Sister Jones. Amen, Elder Ballard, amen.

President James E. Faust - Oh good, Elder Ballard's not the last speaker. President Faust speaking from a chair. Marisa says the other apostles are probably jealous. :D What does it mean to be a disciple? We were discussing this the other day in my religion class. Discipleship in the ancient world implied a contract between teacher and pupil. In our case, the contract is entered into by baptism. We then promise to keep the commandments and to come every day to hear him. In return, the teacher--Christ--promises to teach us wisdom we could not acquire on our own. Aaah! President Faust is such an adorable old man when he smiles. :D

28 September 2006


It's a strange fact of writing that we often don't remember where elements of our style come from. For instance, I'm rereading The Silver Chair, which I haven't actually read since first grade. And it suddenly struck me that my fictional style as a child, and even somewhat now, was very imitative of CS Lewis. In particular, he tends to insert asides from the author in the first person. For instance:

"I'm not," said Eustance. "I swear I'm not. I swear by--by everything."

(When I was at school one would have said, "I swear by the Bible." But Bibles were not encouraged at Experiment House.)
What made Scrubb look so dingy (and Jill too, if she could only have seen herself) was the splendour of their surrounding. I had better describe them at once.
Yup, I definitely have a story I wrote back in second grade that contains all sorts of asides like that. At one point, I advise the reader to go get a drink of water, and procede to count to ten in order to give him time to do so. Hey, I was only seven. Anyway, I've been thinking of all the books I read when I was very young and trying to see how they have influenced my style. I think I tend to write my emotional climaxes in the same style as Madeleine L'Engle, and that I like disturbing twists--where something good suddenly becomes evil--much like Lois Lowry's The Giver.

Speaking of writing fiction, NaNoWriMo sign-ups should be starting on October 1st! Hurrah! I am so excited to make more time for writing. It's amazing what time you can find when you look for it. For instance, I just finished my essay for the homecoming essay contest (wish me luck!) in spite of the fact that I have two tests this week.

And on the subject of children's books, there are quite a few of my favorites currently being optioned for movies. Walden Media has the rights to The Dark is Rising, The Giver, and Bridge to Terabithia, and then there's Ender's Game and The Golden Compass. Of course, most of them will probably stay in development hell for a long time. (I've been following the Ender's Game movie since, oh, 2002-ish.) Now someone just needs to option The Westing Game and The Egypt Game, and pretty much my entire childhood library will be on film. A Wrinkle in Time is already a fairly decent TV mini-series. I like. I should buy the DVD. I have to agree with Joni on book movies--they're fabulous!

26 September 2006

Paradox of Tolerance

Really good forum today by Dr. Robert Putnam from Haaavard. I have to agree with Dr. Putnam's conclusion--a loss of social connectedness is so evident in the society I see around me. We've raised a society of people who don't seem to care about each other. The modern paradox is that we preach tolerance and diversity as the main points of a strict orthodoxy, and discriminate against anyone who expresses beliefs other than those two.

As a result, we've grown to think that we're more accepting while actually becoming more isolated from anyone who doesn't share our idiosincratic beliefs. The tolerance that modern society preaches is not one of unity, but one of solitude--you can have your beliefs over here, and I'll have mine over there, and then we can all get along. Sure, no conflict ensues, but there's a severe lack of what Dr. Putnam calls "bridging" social capital. People with different beliefs stay away from each other for fear of offending the master value, tolerance. No meaningful interaction can take place without a sincere expression of opinions. And since expressing non-universal beliefs has become taboo, the only people with whom we can interact are those who already share our values and lifestyle.

Tolerance has also made it worse when it does come to actually sharing our beliefs with each other. The ideas of tolerance and diversity are taught to children as self-evident, something that any rational being would accept. Other values have taken on this self-existing quality. In this century, things that were once beliefs and values have transformed into fact. We've been raised to think our beliefs are based on evidence, and that, given the evidence, our position is the only rational one. Thus, when we have to actually deal with differences of belief, we misinterpret wildly. Either the other side must be ignorant, in which case we must inform them, or they must be illogical and immoral, in which case we must campaign against them at any cost, without regard for right and wrong. It's much the same as the situation Gallileo faced: our community already knows what is true, so anyone who disagrees is ignorant, inaccurate, or demonic. There's no room for actual debate, only a vicious defense of our self-evident truths.

Frankly, I'm as disappointed as anyone that our philosophy of tolerance hasn't worked out better. Theoretically, it sounds like such a good idea, but in practice, it's quite difficult to carry out without the problems mentioned above. Even in our microsphere of Church culture, we see this. Theoretically, all political parties are compatible with church doctrine, and we should love each other as brothers and sisters in Christ. Yet, send me to almost any Mormon activity and I can easily identify which groups of people are LMs (Liberal Mormons), CMs (Conservative), and OMs (Orthodox). Ironic that tolerance has created so much division in our society.

I wish I could say I had the solution, but I'm not sure what it might be. I think it might have something to do with accepting the idea of an absolute truth, somehow avoiding the massive prejudices that come with that, and skipping straight to the phase where we all help each other to move towards that truth. But I could be wrong.

And . . .

Quote of the Day (brought to you today by Hogwarts, A History): "It struct me forcibly that he was right. 'They' had certainly 'spoiled me' at 'that Brigham Young Academy'--spoiled me as mother spoils her child--with kindness, encouragements, appreciation, charity--spoiled me so that I can never be content to take anything but the best the world has to give nor satisfied to give anything but the best that lies within me." -- Annie Pike Greenwood, non-Mormon student who wrote the lyrics to the BYU college song

25 September 2006

Honestly, Don't You Two Read?

I've decided to post something Harry Potter themed, in honor of the release of the first pictures from the fifth movie! Hurrah!

On Saturday before the General Relief Society meeting, I went shopping with my mom. I had my first experience with Taipan Trading. Holy Cow. I thought allowing my mother to enter Pier One was bad. Imagine a giant warehouse the size of your average Wal-Mart that sells only hud. (Oh, I guess it's Miller family vocab time: hud (n) useless, decorative object frequently the product of enrichment activities which, when strategically placed on a bookshelf, will exactly prevent you from pulling out the book you want.)

It was sort of surreal--I could walk from Christmas to Halloween to a country kitchen and back. So much hud in one place. But, But, BUT, they had fake vegetables there including radishes!! Now my Luna Lovegood costume will be complete just in time for Halloween season! Last summer, I couldn't find fake radishes anywhere; I have resorted to buying fresh radishes and making earrings out of them every time I 'need' to wear the costume. Needless to say, I am really excited about the prospect of not wearing large warm vegetables on my ears this year.

In other Harry Potter related analogies, I picked up Hogwarts, A History from the library. Okay, not really, but I did pick up a book of comprable size and content: Brigham Young University: A School of Destiny. (Woah, I almost typed density. Back to the Future moment.) It's a nice fat history of the first 100 years of BYU. Alright, not as fat as the four volume Brigham Young University: The First 100 Years, but it's no lightweight. Anyway, I've been wanting to buff up on BYU history since I had my testimony of BYU experience this summer. And also I'm thinking about entering the Brimhall Essay contest. But mostly, I just want to be able to pull out random BYU facts and say, "Honestly, hasn't anyone else read BYU: School of Destiny?"

*headdesk* No more geekiness for me. Um, so posts on the devotional last week and on the General RS meeting are forthcoming.

Progymnasmata: Chreia

This progymnasmata is a little harder to explain than that of the fable. There's a good description on BYU's rhetoric website which I discovered the other night. I'm going to need to go through that website. It looks really cool. Anyway, the chreia is basically an explication on a quote or action that demonstrates some principle--more direct in meaning than either a narrative or a fable. Anyway, here's mine, since I probably won't have any time to blog today.


C. S. Lewis is often cited as the non-Mormon most quoted during General Conference. His careful study and defense Christian beliefs make him an ideal source to appeal to for a clear and concise explication of many of the more subtle doctrines of the gospel. He is able to illuminate the principles behind principles which might otherwise seem irreducible. For example, on the subject of good and evil, C. S. Lewis once said, “Good is, so to speak, itself: badness is only spoiled goodness.” The purpose in doing good things is self-evident: people enjoy going good things because they are inherently rewarding. On the other hand, evil deeds are only a twisted method of trying to obtain a good reward. For example, a man may steal money in order to support his family or better afford other necessities. One who commits adultery is trying to find an alternate route to the love or pleasure once afforded him by other relations. Evil cannot function without a good impulse to pervert. Some deeply hardened souls may claim to do evil for its own sake, much as a righteous man does good deeds simply from his nature. But even in saying so, they admit the falseness of their position. To do evil for its own sake is to take pleasure in evil acts, but pleasure itself is a good and righteous motivation which the man has only perverted by connecting it to things from which he ought not to derive pleasure. Just as a boy attempting to avoid his school work tries to find a shorter route by copying off his neighbor, an evil man is attempting to shortcut to the rewards of goodness without putting in the effort necessary. In the war in heaven, was not Satan’s goal—the salvation of all men—a righteous end? Indeed, it is the same end sought by our Heavenly Father and many righteous prophets. The evil was not in Lucifer’s end, but in his method of achieving it. It is just as Alma tells his son in the Book of Mormon: those who do evil are seeking happiness (an obviously good thing) by doing that which is wicked and contrary to the nature of happiness. Thus we can fully see the illuminating simplicity of C. S. Lewis’ description of the nature of evil.


BTW, I skipped the second progymnasmata, narrative, because I just borrowed a narrative from one of my other blog posts. :D Yay for double counting!

24 September 2006

Come Closer

So, there'll probably be more than the usual number of posts today because I've got quite a few things to write. Since they all have to do with church stuff, I don't feel bad posting them all today.

I'm really enjoying my New Testament class. This could be because it's taught by Dr. Wilfred Griggs, another man high up there on my list of great religious thinkers (along with OSC, CSL, and Hugh Nibley--in fact, he had an office across from Nibley for several years). I really like the way he's chosen to structure his class. First, he treats each gospel as the individual testimony of a man writing to a certain audience. Sometimes I get really annoyed at the way we read the New Testament, and more generally the Bible, in Sunday School. This probably has something to do with being an English major. Everyone's always trying to see past the text, to use what's written down as a general outline of what really happened, focusing on historical events rather than the actual writings of the apostles and prophets. Most people realize that the texts are subjective, having been filtered through human beings, but too often we treat that as something we have to get around or past in order to get to meaning. I like the way Griggs approaches the New Testament because he sees this weakness as a strength. The way different men write about the life of Christ says something about themselves, their purpose, and their audience. If we examine it instead of trying to ignore it, we can learn so much more--again, a plug for the English major.

Also, Griggs is not like most of the religion faculty at BYU. Most faculty I've heard about grade on your ability to either regurgitate the insights they've shared with you in class, or memorize the content of the scriptures, or simply be able to find content in the scriptures, as with open book classes. I guess these are ways to go about grading a religion course, since it's impossible to grade on testimony, but I don't believe they're very good ways. Instead, Griggs grades on your ability to create your own insights, even/especially when they don't agree with his perspective. It's much more true to the way I see the scriptures working in real life. It's not about getting the "right" answer, but being able to get answers of inspiration through the interaction of the scriptures, the Holy Ghost, and your life.

Finally, I like the fact that he's not even going to try to cover all four gospels in class--he says, and I agree, that all you'd be able to get to would be superficial Sunday School stuff. When I was taking my fundamentals of literary criticism class, a teacher who had studied at a Jewish college came to teach our class on Maimonides' Guide for the Perplexed--interesting book by the way. She talked about taking a class wherein they were supposed to study Genesis. But, after a semester, they had barely finished chapter one! Now that's the kind of density with which we ought to study the gospel. (Not that I'm opposed to faster readings--a general overview is good--but in-depth readings get you a lot more.)

So our in-class discussions are only going to cover Matthew and Luke. But, so that we cover all the gospels, our two outside papers are on Mark and John. I usually hate writing religion papers--the Sunday School answers sound even more dull on paper--but I'm absolutely ecstatic about this one because it gives me a chance to really think about what each book is trying to accomplish.

I just finished reading through Mark, so I'll wrap up this post by giving you some of my thoughts on his gospel. Sorry that they're kind of still outline-y. I need to read through Mark again to refine my ideas.

  • Mark's thesis statement: Mark 1:1 "Jesus Christ, the Son of God"; specifically bearing testimony of Christ's divine nature, in opposition to the idea of Jesus as simply a great teacher or prophet.
  • Mark focuses on Christ's actions more than his doctrine (see Bible dictionary). Specific types of actions which seem to be more concentrated:
    • Confrontations with devils/evil spirits--they testify that He is the Christ. Account of the Legion of spirits cast into the swine much more detailed in Mark than Matt. Real opposition of evil to goodness of Christ.
    • Miracles--acknowledging his power and divinity. Also, authority over matter, life, and the elements.
  • Contrast between the Pharisees/Scribes and Christ: idle words versus actions. Pharisees concerned over specific, small doctrines and details. Christ paints righteousness with a much broader stroke.
  • Asking people to not tell about miracles--not be converted by heresay?
  • Parables in Mark are parables of how people act once they receive the gospel. Our testimonies shown through action.
  • Many implications that the gospel is for everyone--not just for the Jews, or the righteous.
Update: Additional posts have been scrapped for today. Stupid real life. :D

22 September 2006

Just Do It

In response to people (*coughJonicough*) complaining about not having enough time:

Stuff and nonsense. I don't want to hear a single thing about you being busy. I'm taking five upper-division courses and working 16 hours a week. Yet, this week, I still found the time to cook dinner every night, spend 4 hours at the CS Lewis Society booth (plus 2 hours passing out flyers), play Sardines in the library, watch Nova, start a prank war with the apartment across the way, and go to an enrichment activity. Oh, and I've posted on my blog almost everyday.

If there's one thing I've learned in the past few months, it's that complaining about being busy will get you nowhere. Either you're doing it or not.

One thing I highly suggest is taking into consideration exactly how much effort you need to put into your school work. Book of Liz, chapter 6, verse 12, "For what is a woman profited, if she shall gain straight A's, and lose her sanity? or what shall a woman give in exchange for a high GPA?" Really, especially with textbook reading, there's three levels of effort you can put in: comprehension, completion, and skim. Reading for comprehension is not necessarily the best level, especially when completion or skimming will do. See where you can cut back your efforts and still get reasonable returns.

My rule is the Pareto Principle. 20% of the work will get you 80% of the way there. 80% is a B-ish; how much of the other 80% of the work do you want to do? Is the extra 40% to get an A worth it when you could save hours and get an A-? It doesn't have to be perfect, just done. No, you won't have a 3.999999 GPA, but you'll hang in there around 3.6-7-ish. Which is perfectly fine.

Anyway, try not to stress out too much. You can't do everything, so stop trying to. It's extremely liberating. Only do what you need to do, then do what you want to do.

21 September 2006

Five Ways I'm Odd

As if you needed more reasons to think I'm strange.

  1. I actually enjoy bureaucracy. Yup, there's something about having established procedures for everything that puts my mind at ease.
  2. I've reached to point where unsolvable math problems are a good thing. It means less work for me.
  3. I actually think about buying shirts like this, this, and this. Perhaps even this. Speaking of which, two times when I've worn my "Save Ginny" t-shirt to campus, people have actually stopped me to say they love Harry and the Potters too!
  4. I am extremely jealous that I didn't get to go and see the water quidditch final in Las Vegas this summer. Reminds me of muddy quidditch on the common in Boston. Go Punctuation Pixies!
  5. Our apartment is stealing couch cushions from our friends, one by one. You could be next.

20 September 2006


Well, if I'm going to recant, I might as well do it properly I guess.


That was a lie in which I said music has no power to change a life. For that might have been truly said, were music only the sounds of notes; but music also holds the power of words, and when combined with truly inspiring language, becomes a method of transforming the human heart more powerful than either on its own.

Alright, no more imitating Plato, I promise. It sounds too stilted anyway. I've just been wanting to use that line ever since I read it. :D Anyways, Marisa brings up a good point in her post when she uses the hymns as a counter-example to my blanket statement that "there's no way to get any specific message across" in music. I'll admit, this statement is a pretty good example of what I mean by a spherical chicken. I didn't bother to fully explain myself, when obviously explanation was needed. Contrary to what this statement seems to say, I love music. My roommates can attest to the fact that I can burst into random song from any phrase you give me.

Essentially, I see music as divided into a hierarchy. In the top of this tier is music with words. This is a category that hymns fall under, and I have to agree that a well-written hymn often has greater power to move the soul than anything else I know. The words to such a piece are poetry on their own--poetry is the predecessor of music in that it has rhythm and tonal qualities. Just ask someone who knows Greek to read the Illiad to you in the original tongue. (Thanks, Dr. Griggs!) There's a rhythm and pitch to the words that arises from the way the syllables are set just so. Music is merely an extension, an amplification of poetic qualities in this case, enhancing the meaning of the words that are there. Indeed, in one of my classes we theorized that Adamic probably has musical qualities to it which allow additional meaning to be conveyed outside the words. I would place music with words at a higher expressive level than even poetry by itself.

Next in my estimation comes music with a story. By story, I mean either that the music itself is a narrative (Peter and the Wolf, for example) or that has a history behind it (Cristofori’s Dream, or even Fur Elise). This music conveys a less specific meaning than music with words, and requires some outside knowledge in order to be enjoyed. When you listen to one of these pieces, you might think it is "nice" or interesting, but until you find out the story from an outside source, it's unlikely that you will gain the specific nuances of meaning intended. As you might deduce from this, the lowest music on my hierarchy is music without a story. Sure, it creates a general atmosphere, but you can't communicate any very specific idea with any hope that it will be reliably conveyed to your audience. You can create sadness, but not very well the distinction between grief, loneliness, and rejection. I believe these differences are important, so music without a story just seems useless to me.

My point I guess is that, as a form of expression, music is incomplete. Music is great at creating an atmosphere and even at painting a general scene. However, it is unable to provide a direct and specific message without the assistance of words. But I willingly grant that music can greatly enhance the power of words. Maybe the reason I get annoyed with it so often is because I don't really understand how to create it and why some pieces are more powerful than others, unlike words, which are more democratic because everyone can see how they work.

19 September 2006

Mixed Feelings

I'm glad I actually went to the devotional today instead of being a slacker. I have never been so simultaneously inspired, insulted, and infuriated--apparently those emotions are not mutually exclusive. A full blog review of the subject will have to wait until it's rebroadcast on Sunday, possibly sooner if it goes up on BYU Broadcasting before then. Suffice to say that his remarks reminded me of concepts from Abolition of Man by CS Lewis, "The Literate Family"--an old forum talk by Douglas H. Thayer--and, horrifyingly enough, Fascinating Womanhood. And yes, I am aware that the speaker was a seventy.

What else, what else . . . . Oh, interesting podcast brought to my attention by the Pre-Law office: Spirit in the Law is about being LDS and a lawyer. Interesting stuff. One more reason for me to get around to buying a memory card for my phone so I can start listening to podcasts on the go again.

18 September 2006

An Invitation

Woah, that double post on Friday must have completely knocked me out of the blogging gear for the weekend. Actually, not. We were just playing sardines again, this time in the library. Ah, well, I'm working on lowering my expectations for consistency anyway. It's good for me. :D

The other night we had a stake Relief Society fireside. During the first talk, the speaker made mention of a long passage of scripture on which she based her talk, and even gave us enough time to look it up. Yet no one pulled out their scriptures. But when the next speaker specifically invited us to pull out our scriptures and read along with her, almost everyone did. No one looked up the scripture during the first talk wasn't for lack of resources or lack of desire. The only difference between the two speakers was the invitation to open our scriptures. All of us had come prepared to read from our scriptures, and no doubt many of us wanted to do so. But nothing happened until a specific invitation was issued.

Which brings me to my philosophy on invitations. (Yes, I have one. I'm beginning to think I have too many theories and philosophies. Anyway . . .) People will rarely do anything, even something they really want to, unless you invite them to do it, not once, but twice. Yups. Theoretically, you should only need to ask people to do something once, especially if it's something they already want to do. Yet, if you issue a second invitation, you can usually double your attendance. And I think you get pretty good returns from third invitations, though fourth invitations tend to look desperate.

This lesson was solidified for me when I was on the ward "communications committee," otherwise known as the glorified directory- and flyer-making squad. You'd think announcing the thing over the pulpit and putting it in the program would be enough to make any decently conscious person aware of it, but no. The activities that we got flyers out for got attended. Those we didn't, well, didn't.

And like I said before, I don't believe this to be from a lack of desire to attend. I admit, there is something to the principle of inertia: objects at rest tend to stay at rest; people in routine tend to stay in routine; and people resist anything that breaks up their natural state. We don't like things taking away from "our time," as CS Lewis would say. From this we derive the other rule of invitations: invite early. The closer you get to the point of action, the less likely people are to change their plans, unless they are in an energetic mood.

Still, there are plenty of times when I've received a flyer for an activity I thought looked fun, but I didn't go because I was worried that it would be lame because no one else would know about it and go. I think double and triple invites make people assume that others are going, therefore making them more likely to go. Self-fulfilling prophecy, anyone?

Yeah, that was random, but really, so am I.

15 September 2006

Fly-By Advertising

So the other week, this helicopter was flying really close over our apartment complex. It didn't look like a scary black government helicopter, so our guess was that it was taking some sort of fly-by footage of the stadium for a football ad. Sure enough, Cosmo Cougar.

BYU's advertising techniques have been getting very interesting lately: all the new ads for stuff on the bookstore TVs (which are hilarious), Volleyopoly, . . . . um, I guess I can't really think of anything else. But I think it's amazing how sophisticated advertising is becoming, even on a college level. I wonder if they'll ever get into viral marketing?

Oh, and Marisa, I'll get to your comment about music soon. But if you do think music means something, you should help us work on finding the answer to this puzzle. Music skills could definitely come in handy.

14 September 2006

Speak of the Devil

Or, to completely contradict myself, someone needs to do a study of where in the world Utahns get their ideas about appropriate names. Witness:

Testimonial #1: A Tribute to Utah town names. I mean, really. Where do half of these come from?

Testimonial #2: Utah Baby Namer. Gross, gross, and more gross. Utahns have perfected the art of what I call the "three-syllable girl's name, preferably ending in a vowel with as many extraneous y's, l's, and awkward vowel combinations as possible," otherwise known as "would-fit-in-in-a-B-list-fantasy-novel."

Maybe this will be my project for ELang 322? But really, the horror of Utah naming deserves more attention than that.

No Love of Words

You might think that because I'm an English major that I have a love of words. If you had asked me a few weeks ago, I probably would have paused a bit and tentatively agreed with you. But the other day I was asked to write down my vision. Not for anything in particular, just in general, and what came out of my head was not at all what I had expected. I'll spare you the details, but the general idea was this: I want to spend my life helping people realize their potential, to use my talents to help them become more fully themselves.

This is a particularly odd mission for several reasons. First, as I've lamented several times, I'm not generally a people person--that is, people hold no innate attraction for me. So why I have this idea stuck in my head of doing something for other people for the rest of my life is beyond me. Also, English seems like a silly thing to be going into if you want to make an impact in the lives of people. Like Las Vegas, what goes on in the English department, tends to stay in the English department. As Katherine and I have discussed, not many people care about what English majors care about. Not that Chemistry is any better. Granted, science has a slightly more direct impact on your life than lit crit, but it's less suited to help with philosophical things like reaching your potential.

It started me thinking about what kind of impact I wanted to have on people's lives and how that relates to a love of writing and of words. What I've realized is that the words don't matter. Or, more precisely, that words matter tremendously, but not because of themselves. Let me explain by an example. Rhetoric, as I understand it, is the study of how you can put words together--how the practical relationships between words and ideas can be best exploited to convince someone to do something. But I have to agree with Plato's Phaedrus when he says that there's no point in teaching rhetoric unless we can also answer questions about what we should do with this power of words. Tools are useless unless we also teach "what," and "to whom," and "when," and "how much." If rhetoric, or words in general, aren't studied in conjunction with the truths they should convey, then who cares?

I also realized that many of the subjects I dislike lack this ability to convey truth. Music and dance have always seemed a little strange to me because there's no way to get any specific message across. A general message, yes, but overall it's difficult to have a melody change your perspective on life. Also, grammar and usage of English seem a little pointless to study. Yes, they can help convey meaning more precisely, but can studying the details of how paint is made get the Sistine Chapel painted? Granted, some knowledge of these things is necessary, but spending too much time on them and you miss the point entirely. Same thing with studying a foreign language. Too much time spent on the medium rather than the message.

For me there is no love of words, except in the power that words have to link two minds together. A well written novel or essay takes you through another person's logic and emotions. For one instant, you can be wholely understood by another person, to completely share their thoughts and feelings. Words are very much the power of God in that way--the ability to know and understand something independently animate and outside yourself. Maybe that's why I don't like debaters or purple prose or long-winded descriptions. There's no particular glory in an eloquent arrangement of letters; only the idea behind them matters to me. Words are simply words, but when they convey powerful ideas, they gain the power to change people.

Gorgias, in his Encomium of Helen, compares words to love because these two alone have the tools necessary to change the soul, to lift it up or bring it down.

I like that. No love of words, but words=love.

13 September 2006

Too True

The trouble with having an open mind, of course, is that people will insist on coming along and trying to put things in it.
- Terry Pratchett

12 September 2006

What's a Spherical Chicken?

So today I'm going to do something I've been meaning to do for a long time, that is, write a full explanation for the title of this blog.

When it comes to blog names, as Milton Glaser would say, just enough is more. Coming up with a title for a blog is sort of a pain. It's like picking an email address, only perhaps worse, because the people you give your email to already know you but your blog title may be your first impression to strangers. You don't want to pick anything too cliche and obvious, but also not anything too trendy and random. A blog name needs to be generic enough to fit the many moods of your blogging career, but be different enough to say something about you to the people who wander over to your blog from goodness knows where.

In titling this blog, I toyed around with a lot of different ideas, but finally settled on "Spherical Chickens." The name is derived from a classic physics joke, which I usually tell thusly:

A farmer noticed that his chickens were sick, and called in a biologist, a chemist, and a physicist to help diagnose the problem. The biologist observed the chickens, concluding, "I can tell you there's something wrong with your chickens, but I don't know what's causing it." The chemist took fluid samples from the chickens back to his lab, and returned saying, "I can tell you what's infecting your chickens, but I don't know how they got it." Meanwhile, the physicist had been sitting on the floor, scribbling maddly on several notebooks worth of paper. Suddenly, he jumped up, exclaiming, "I have the answer, but it only works for spherical chickens in a vaccuum."
Okay, okay, so it's not very funny, especially if you aren't in the middle of a physics class. But I think the joke has a good point: in all branches of knowledge, the only people who can be perfectly certain of all the answers are those who make vast simplifications and wildely inaccurate approximations. In my humanities classes we called them "vast over-generalizations," in chemistry "useful lies," and in physics simply "spherical chickens," but it's the same concept. In order to make any sense of the world, we must ignore and leave out a lot of inconvient details, or work only with very special cases that happen to work out.

In my writing, I find these sort of spherical chickens popping up a lot. I am not one who can be satisfied by mere criticism of other people's ideas; instead, I insist on creating my own theories and justifying some sort of positive assertion of truth, rather than a negative assertion of falsehood. But there's no way to account for all cases in every theory. There are a lot of underlying assumptions in everything I write. For example, I pity anyone not familiar with Mormon culture and more particularly with BYU culture who tries to read this blog, since it contains so many implicit references to these aspects of my life. Yet it would take much more time to explain the background behind these things than I actually have. So I tend to just leave these things unsaid, which of course leaves my writing wide open for attack. Basically, I count on a friendly audience who doesn't need me to justify my spherical chickens to them.

I've been pretty satisfied with my blog title, though I have thought of changing it to something like "Seeking Balance," since that seems to be the conclusion of so many of my blog entries. However, I've stuck with "Spherical Chickens" because, in addition to its higher meanings, it also gets across the fact that I am extremely odd. And random.

11 September 2006


for those who stand for courage and hope in the face of evil

The first word came from the teacher across the hall.
"A plane flew into the Trade Center." "An accident?"
"Where's the Trade Center?" "In New York, you idiot."

Fumbling for buttons
An institutional TV screen
A flash of images
A thunder of confusion
Once tall and straight,
Now torn and broken.

An announcement
Over the intercom
Switched the TV off.
They told us
Nothing would change.
They would continue on.

Papers fluttering through the air
Like a thousand shot birds
First quarter analyses
End-of-year reports
The bottom line
Raining down
A woman
At the

A grown man sitting on the street crying
Watching this scarred world being born
Pain and blood and screaming out for air.

Write, my history teacher says.
Write, because you will want to remember.
Write the day your world changed.

But as I begin,
I don't understand.
Somehow my pen fills the lines,
Committing the confusion to the page.
I can feel a shifting in the foundations of the world.
Then I know
Everything will change
But how can I continue on?

Amid the rumble,
Army, Navy, Marines

Shattered glass
Burnt steel
Broken concrete
There shall not be one stone upon another
That shall not be thrown down
As they sift through the pieces
Searching for a world
That seemed a thousand miles away
Contained in fragments of office equipment
And a wall of missing faces
Spilling over into the hall.

At that moment, we are no longer
Americans & Europeans & Asians & Africans &
Whites & Blacks & Latinos.
Americans caring about Americans--

Not Americans--

People caring about people.

We were all in New York that day
Anxiously gazing at news tickers
Full of Destruction

And when we felt we couldn't go on
This world born of fire might destroy us
There was also Good

Though the wounds of this new birth
Marred our minds, stilled our hearts,
Still that day, and everyday since,
We chose to
Switch the TV on.

Everything has changed
But we will continue on.

10 September 2006

Progymnasmata: Fable

So, for my History of Rhetoric class, we're doing the progymnasmata, a series of rhetorical exercises used in ancient Greece. The first exercise is to write a fable, which is harder that it looks. I really sort of like what I came up with, so I thought I'd share it with you all. You may be getting a few of these cop-out homework-as-blog-entries this semester, since blogging time has been severely eclipsed by homework time. Oh, and sorry about the lack of a creative title.


The Squirrel and the Cat

In a small park in a quiet town, there lived a squirrel and a cat. During the heat of the summer, the park was often visited by people from the town going on picnics, who would stop to feed the cat with the scraps left over from their feast. The cat soon warmed to the park goers and became a particular favorite of the children who frequented the playground. But the squirrel did not stop to enjoy the company and generosity of the people in the park. Instead, he spent the summer rushing around from tree to tree busily gathering more food for the approaching winter.

When the summer ended, the squirrel had worked so hard that he had collected enough food to last not only for this winter, but for many winters to come. The cat, on the other hand, had no such stores to fall back on. As the winter waxed on, the squirrel was happy and content with his store of nuts, while the cat rummaged through garbage cans for food, and very often went hungry.

But, one bitter cold day in January, some children came to play in the park, and they took pity on the cat, taking him home to live with them in comfort. Meanwhile, the squirrel survived the winter on his supply of nuts, but when the spring came, he discovered that the surplus he worked so hard to gather had rotted during the winter, leaving him to spend the next summer as he had all the previous ones. So, though it is good to work hard, it is still better to have friends.


In other news, I passed my pre-requisite test for Math 302 on Friday! Certainly not with flying colors, but enough that I feel good about taking the class. Also, I've started reading Richmond Lattimore's translation of the Gospels for my New Testament class. I think I have to agree with Dr. Griggs in saying that he does a beautiful job with the language: understandable yet poetic and as close to the original syntax as possible.

Apt 15 Quote of the Day-ish: "I'm not Marisa." - Marisa (Figure that one out. :P)

09 September 2006

Carp the Diem

Tonight I did something I've been meaning to do since I came to BYU. I played Sardines in the HFAC. Oh yeah. I can definitely recommend it for anyone who's never tried it. Although, the HFAC is extremely creepy late at night. Lots of long dark corridors, stages full of maze-like exits and entrances, under-construction staircases, trumpet music coming from practice rooms . . . . stupid people jumping out at you from behind things.

I am a huge fan of crazy games like this. If you ever need a good idea for an activity, I highly recommend Sardines, or alternately Backwards Scavenger Hunt.

07 September 2006

Standard Issue

There's a problem with dating in the church.

I'm aware this is the understatement of the century. What I mean to say is, there's a particular problem with dating in the church that's been on my mind lately. It's basically the problem of where we draw the line within the church. Let me explain: I can't remember where I read this lately--I think it might have been by Orson Scott Card--but outside observers have remarked that Mormonism is a faith with few strongly held universal beliefs.

I know, at first this can be rather shocking to us, but at some levels it is certainly true. Yes, the LDS Church has pretty clear conceptions on the most important points of our doctrine--the plan of salvation, the atonement, priesthood authority, necessary ordinances, etc.--but when you get away from the main doctrines necessary to salvation, there's a lot more wiggle room. Political beliefs, Sunday observance, media standards, and more are all left up to the choice of the individual, and you get faithful Latter-day Saints at all parts of the spectrum (well, almost all anyway).

And for the most part, we manage to tolerate each other within the church. Granted, we all believe that there is one true standard, but usually we're humble enough to realize that we have little way of knowing whether that standard is closer to ours or the next person's. We're content to let each person within the church follow the guidance of the Spirit towards the truth, even though the path may look extremely different for different people.

This is all fine and dandy most of the time. But then we reach a problem. It's called marriage. Alright, I couldn't resist that one. I promise I'm not usually this pessimistic. Anyway, the problem in marriage is that it's not a commandment you keep by yourself. It requires the agreement of two faithful church members on one set of standards in which to raise their children. Given the number of possible variations of beliefs within the church, I think it's highly unlikely that any person could manage to find someone who they are attracted to who has precisely the same set of standards.

Now, it's much easier to tolerate differences in standards when you aren't close to people. What do you care what the person across the row from you in sacrament meeting believes? Unfortunately, in dating, you become a lot closer to a person (again with the understatement) and standard differences begin to become a problem. The more liberal person begins to feel looked down on by the conservative one; the conservative one acts more self-righteous than they intend to; and things just go downhill from there.

I've heard some pretty terrible break up stories come from this problem--horrible DTR lines like "I can't feel the Spirit in your apartment," girls breaking up with guys they really like because they felt looked down on. Well, let me be frank (as opposed to Bob): the specific problem I've noticed is guys (, at BYU, among the people I hang out with,) being a lot more conservative than girls. Maybe this has something to do with the mission thing. Maybe it's just that men tend to be more gung-ho and focused on a single goal than women.

I don't know what it is, but it is really annoying me lately, and frankly I don't know what to do about it. Lately, it's seemed like if I meet a guy who has my standards, we really have nothing in common, but if I meet a guy who seems perfect for me, he's way more conservative than I am. I don't know that I want to hold out waiting for both to show up in one person, but how am I supposed to choose which is more important? Do I change my standards because of someone else? Even if it's revising them "upward," it still doesn't feel like the right thing to do. Married people/relationship gurus out there, any suggestions on dealing with this?

Of course, this is all sadly hypothetical. Well, mostly.

On a less serious note . . .
Apt 15 Quote of the Day: "Grammar is lazy."

05 September 2006

A Return to Normalcy

As normal as it gets at BYU anyway. Whew, I forgot how nice it is to be in school. Besides New Year's Eve and the end of the school year, there's nothing I like better than the first week of school. Don't you just love Provo in the fall? Boquets of newly sharpened pencils . . . .

Movie quotes aside, there's nothing that invigorates me like collecting syllabi and making new productivity goals. And this year I've tried to be a little more realistic about what I can accomplish. One of the pieces of advice for oldest children I found in my recent birth order research was that oldest children need to relax their expectations for themselves a little, to be happy with what they do accomplish instead of depressed at where they fall short. As I've been applying this method, I've noticed an opposite change from what I expected: I've become more productive instead of less. I think that lowering my expectations for myself has also lowered the activation energy (sorry about the chem analogy) it takes for me to start doing something. Since I don't need to spend as much time recovering between activities and worrying about not getting everything done, I can actually exceed my expectations and have a wonderful time. Why didn't someone tell me about this paradox earlier?

Along with the new school year came New Student Orientation, which I volunteered at last weekend. I suppose it counts as a service activity, and a pretty impressive one, clocking in at about 36 hours of time during the last few days you have to make money for school. But really, I do it purely for selfish reasons. First, I like schedules and bureaucracy, so I fit in very well with the routine of NSO. Second, where else can you get an instant group of friends and a social schedule given to you on a platter? NSO is my way of forcing me to have a social life. :D However, the most important reason is really that NSO gets me pumped up to go to BYU again. I've been listening to the NSO CD that I made, which includes a mix I made of Switchfoot's "Dare You to Move" and a bunch of quotes about BYU by President Hinckley, President Samuelson, and BYU radio. It's pretty much an amazing piece, for someone with no experience or musical ear.

That CD also has a really great talk by President Hinckley, "The BYU Experience," which I think every BYU student should listen to regularly, along with "Out of Your Experience Here." These two talks have shaped my philosophy of BYU which goes something like this:

  1. Your first priority at BYU ought to be to be grateful, both for the tithing that is spent to subsidize your education (up to 70% of costs, according to my sources) and for the opportunity to study in a place that invites the Spirit.
  2. In keeping with this gratitude, you should work hard in your classes, striving to really learn something rather than just to pass. Additionally, we should not learn anything without the Spirit with us.
  3. Unlike most other universities, the mission of BYU goes beyond the "can-opener" approach; rather than just providing a gateway to a better job, BYU seeks to help us grow as individuals both spiritually and socially. As a result, our spiritual devotions and our social experiences should be equally important with our academic studies.
Alright, soapbox over. But you should really read those talks. Good good stuff. Oh, and did I mention that the calculus is coming back to me much faster than I thought? I went to my first review session for the pre-test for Math 302 today, and I just kept remembering everything that they talked about! Hurrah! That relieves a lot of anxiety about that class.

04 September 2006

On Holiday?

Labor Day's a funny name for a holiday where you don't do anything. I know, I know, it's a tribute to the labor movement. Whatever. It's definitely just another excuse for being lazy, as Scrooge would say. And I can defintely say I have taken full advantage of that opportunity this Labor Day. But, after all this laziness, I feel very ready to go back to school.

Someone remind me of that in about two weeks. :D

03 September 2006

In Defense of the English Major, Part II: Dealing with Evil

Thy mind, O man! if thou wilt lead a soul unto salvation, must stretch as high as the utmost heavens, and search into and contemplate the darkest abyss, and the broad expanse of eternity--thou must commune with God.
-Joseph Smith, Jr.

"Shall I sit down and read the Bible, the Book of Mormon, and the Book of Covenants all the time?” says one. Yes, if you please and when you have done, you may be nothing but a sectarian after all. It is your duty to study to know everything upon the face of the earth in addition to reading those books. We should not only study good, and its effects upon our race, but also evil and its consequences.
-Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses, 2:93-94
(In Defense of the English Major, Part I, is related to this post, but not necessary for understanding this post. It deals mostly with the issue of whether lit crit is meaningful or not.)

Some recent posts on Ben's blog have brought to the surface of my mind one of the other issues that plagues the image of the English major, which is that of the subject matter they are called to deal with in their literature. The English department is one of the more dangerous departments on campus when it comes to objectionable material. (Other dangerous departments include the fine arts and art history.) We often read material in novels which would be considered objectionable in recreational reading. How do I justify reading books filled with violence, crude language, rape, and explicit sexuality?

Well, this post originally started as an attempt to explain logically and definitively exactly what types of literature I consider appropriate and those which I don't, and why. And for the sake of being explicit, here's a quick and dirty (no pun intended) rundown in that direction:
  1. First, like Katherine, I believe there must be some meaning behind the objectionable material in order to make it appropriate. Books and movies that are violent or crude simply for the sake of such, of course I can't watch. They are idiotic and inane, and I have not part in them mostly because of their thoughtlessness and lightmindedness, and only secondarily because of their obscenity. But oftentimes portrayals of immoral things are used in order to make a valid and important point. Immoral things are often powerful life experiences, oftentimes evil, yes, but nonetheless powerful and important. They deal with real issues of real people. A person seriously seeking to understand life must seek to understand all its aspects, not just those that are pleasant or common.
  2. Second, I agree with Sean's comment in that I can't hold other people's expression to the same standard as I hold myself. Wait, I've phrased that incorrectly. I do believe things like swearing, violence, and sexual humor are usually immoral and not becoming to anyone. However, just because I don't like their method of expression does not mean I should ignore their opinion. Indeed, I can't afford to ignore their philosophy. I always look for the meaning behind what they are saying and doing. However imperfectly or offensively they may have said it, their thoughts, I eventually find, are not so different from ones I might have, and often mean the same thing as the truth I have arrived at some other way. As a result of understanding their lives, I can either build on my own store of truth or learn pitfalls in logic to avoid. I can learn from their negative example what is wrong, but I can also gather the grains of truth that provide meaning in their lives.
  3. Though it is true that even the portrayal of immoral things can get them stuck in your head, it's what you choose to do with them that is important. If my understanding of the Atonement is correct, the Savior has seen, heard, and experienced all these things, and additionally has a clear recollection of them. Yet do we say the Savior is evil because he has all of these evil experiences inside His head? Absolutely not, because we know he's not seeking to imitate them. He sees them for what they are and uses his knowledge of them for righteous purposes. To draw a more secular analogy, it's like the ridiculous people who want to ban Harry Potter because it portrays wizardry and some pretty evil things. Let's look at the message behind it, rather than the surface impressions. Some novels portray some pretty horrible things, but do so in pursuit of truth. Likewise, some novels stay in the safe zone as to crude things, but their final message is still one of evil and despair. Message matters considerably more than content, to me at least.
  4. That said, of course we should not take in more objectionable material than necessary to gain an understanding of 1) why these things are evil, 2)how Satan uses these things as tools to our downfall, 3) why humanity is drawn to these things, and 4) any truth that might be hidden behind these painful experiences. Again, we should seek the guidance of the Spirit in knowing which things are worth viewing because of the truth they express, and which are too filthy to be worth our trouble. Also, we should be wary of letting these worldly things hold greater sway in our lives than the truths we can learn from the gospel.
Now that those "spherical chickens" are out there for anyone to pop, let's get to what I see as the real heart of the matter. In thinking about this issue, I've realized that the real reason I feel comfortable reading and seeing things that others would find objectionable is not found in this logical train of arguments. The real reason I feel okay--actually, I don't just feel okay, but I actually feel a desire to read these things--is because of my uncle.

Alright, not because of my uncle per say, but because of the chain of emotion and truth that his story stands for in my life. Let me explain. I had an uncle who really lived what the world would consider the high life. He was a wealthy man working in the world of finance, closing lots of big deals and raking in tons of money. He went to wild parties, spent time with lots of beautiful women, took vacations often, lots of expensive clothes, sports equipment, huge house, etc. He had pretty blatantly rejected the religious values taught to him by my grandparents. Then, on 9/11, his business crashed along with the trade centers, sending him spiraling into a world of alcohol and depression. Our family lovingly worked with him to try to pull him out of both of these things, and at some times he really seemed to be doing better. But eventually, he died unexpectedly of alcohol-related causes.

Now, to your standard religious audience, his story could serve as a great example of how those who live the way of the world are living a lie and of how it will eventually come back and destroy them. And I feel sad to admit that I felt sort of vindicated when I saw what my uncle had become, because his success in spite of his immoral behavior had always rubbed me the wrong way. I felt that his downfall justified my righteous living.

But then I went to his funeral, and my whole perspective changed. All anyone could talk about at the funeral was how generous and considerate my uncle was. He was always giving his money away to those in need, and not in small quantities either. The story that touched me the most was from after his business had failed and he had lost everything. At this same time, one of my other uncles was laid-off and his family was struggling financially. One day, my troubled uncle showed up at their door and handed them a sum of money that he could ill afford, considering he was unemployed. Where I saw only immoral decisions and poor choices, these people had seen through to his good heart.

It hit me like a flash of lightening: no person is worthless. No person is without a moral compass. Even those who seem to reject everything that I would regard as true and good have some shred of the light of Christ in their lives. It's what keeps them living from day to day, gives them direction, and may eventually lead them to the truth. A person has to work extremely hard to be completely free from the light of Christ. (One of the nice things about being a Mormon is that I get to believe that very few people will actually go to hell.) As I see it, these small moral compasses within people are what will eventually draw them to the gospel. Conversely, to people at a higher level than me, it may look as though I have no morals, that I am so useless in the cause of good as to be hardly worth bothering about. We cannot divide people into good and evil because no person is wholely one way or the other. We all carry some measure of offensive, immoral things inside ourselves. Is your opinion completely invalid because of the imperfections you have?

You see, portrayal of evil is only a problem when we see at as something outside ourselves. From that perspective, we can safely say, "I already know how wrong those people are, so I don't need to see what they are doing to themselves and others. I wouldn't do it myself and it can only bring me down." But, when we realize that the people perpetrating this evil are actually part of humanity, part of us, then the reason for the portrayal of it comes to life: we must understand what led these people to become this way, and what redeeming qualities they have which might allow us to lead them out. When we come to see these people as our brothers and sisters, then we feel the need to read about them, to understand them, in order to see some way to keep ourselves out of their position and to find a way to help them to the better place we've found.

The Savior has seen and experienced all the evil in the world, both as the victim and the perpetrator. How can we truly become like Him unless we seek to understand the suffering and the malice and the ignorant mistakes of others? I do not believe that it is possible to gain charity for these people until we reach out to them with an understanding head and a sympathetic heart. This unconditional love does not deny that what it portrayed is evil, but it still loves the person underneath--the love of truth that is at the heart of each person. Then we can truly call out to them and say, "I understand your truth. Even underneath all those layers of immoral behavior, I can see your heart. Let me expand on it with what I have, and together we can progress towards that truth that neither of us have, until the brightest day."

02 September 2006

Changing Your Birth Order

Another thing I've been doing whilst the blog was down is some research on the birth order/sibling theory of personality. By research, of course, I mean some random browsing on the internet, an article from the July 10th Time magazine, and some obscure popular psychology book from my mom's collection. For anyone who's not familiar with it, or couldn't guess, here's some basic personality types based on your birth order:

  • Oldest Children - Parents often have high expectations for the first child, especially since they have little to no experience of what raising a child actually means. This means that the oldest is often treated like a mini-adult, with high expectations for behavior and responsibility. As a result, oldest children tend to have high standards for themselves, and a perfectionistic streak a mile wide.
  • Middle Children - The novelty of having a child is worn off, but the special position of baby of the family is given to someone else. This leaves the middle child striving for a way to make themselves stand out from the pack. Middle children vary widely, but you can usually see how they choose activities and traits purposely opposite their older siblings. Middle children also usually end up with good negociating skills, since they must mediate the authoritative streak of the oldest and the baby princess attitude of the youngest.
  • Youngest Children - Obviously, the baby of the family gets a lot of attention, which often leads to outgoing, manipulative little superstars. They have a wide variety of examples to choose from in their older siblings, and therefore don't the same differentiation complex that the middle children do. As a result, they often don't take life very seriously and just want to have fun, trusting that everything will just work out in the end.
  • Only Children - All the high pressure of the oldest child with all of the attention and drama of the youngest child put together. Perfectionistic complexes blended with people manipulation skills and a sunny exterior.
Any of you who know me at all might have noticed I fit the classic oldest child stereotype: I love rules, I'm obsessed with doing well, I care about how others see me, and I take life very seriously. But most people aren't as perfectly cookie-cutter as we sometimes seem, and this is one of the weaknesses behind the birth order theory. Not all young children are self-destructive rebels or baby princesses, and not all middle children are insecure and forgotten. And the genders of the children in the family also matter: both the oldest boy and girl can end up with the first-born complex, but an only girl in a family of boys can easily end up with a youngest child mentality, regardless of birth order. What I'm try to say is you can only predict the influences from the outcome, not the outcome from the influences. I can't take someone's family situation and try to figure out how they will turn out based on that, but I can take their current personality and family situation and draw correllations between the two.

However, in my mind, there's another very useful way to use these three personality types, and that is to see them as different sides to your own personality that you need to keep in balance. Instead of "oldest," "middle," and "youngest" personalities, I've decided to see them as three different desires that change how we mold ourselves: our desire to be successful; our desire to be a different, unique individual; and our desire for fun and attention. Too much of any one of these can be bad--perfectionism leads to low self-esteem and depression, a desire to be different causes us to be contrary and hard to get along with, and an obession with attention leads us to be easily swayed by peer pressure and caught in bad relationships. None of these desires should be pursued to the exclusion of the others, but rather in harmony to create a whole person.

I'll go back to me as an example. As I said before, I'm your classic first born personality, but I also see traits I have of the other two. I resist doing classic girly things as a way to differentiate myself from the crowd, and I love playing random ubiquitous games where I can be crazy and outgoing. But I've allowed my middle and youngest child sides to be overwhelmed by my oldest child perfectionistic desires. I think my life could be a lot happier if I learned to let go of at least some of my high expectations for myself and take on some more traits from the other personalities. I've been working on being more "youngest child" lately, and I think it's helping me a lot. I feel less stressed and more interested in other people. It's good stuff.

01 September 2006

Here I Come Back From the Dead

Hallelujiah!!! After many, many frantic emails to the Blogger Team, my blog has been salvaged from the crushing jaws of the Blogger Beta switch-over. And it couldn't have come at a better time. My blog withdrawal symptoms--composing blog entries in my head on my way to work, strong urges to write long comments on other people's blogs, cursing Blogger (even Google on occasion) in my spare time--were getting so bad that I was about to do something drastic like switch over to another blogging site. I don't think I could have faced a new school year without this outlet, so good timing, Blogger support. (I think I'm probably addicted to Blogger.)

So here's a run down of some of the insane things that have been going on during the downtime.

Trapped by weddings
- People around me should stop getting married. It makes me depressed. *pout* But really. Two of my cousins got married this month, plus several couples in our ward got engaged and/or married, and "Someday" from The Wedding Singer musical (track 2 on the sample player) has been stuck in my head for the last week. I seem to be surrounded by weddings and I don't like it one bit. I know it's odd, but I've yet to encounter this problem at BYU--somehow I made it through two years unscathed by the marital influence of Happy Valley. Now all of these weddings are suddenly contributing to a strange transformation in my life, that is, I'm becoming a hopeless romantic. I'm trying really hard to resist it, but I feel a bizarre compulsion to read romance novels (which my collection appears to be lacking in--why in the world do I only own classics and fantasies?) and watch chick flicks (ditto). This whole business annoys me to no end, since I've always thought romantics were a little out of touch with reality. Now that I'm becoming one of them, I know I was wrong: romantics are a lot out of touch with reality. Reality, come back! I need you! Snap me out of it, because at this rate I will either become insanely depressed or insanely flirtatious, and I don't think anyone wants to see either of those.

Writing fiction
- I've still only made it about half way through "Swan Song," but hopefully I'll get to spend some good hours writing on Labor Day and finish that up. It's probably going to end up a little too long to post here, but if you guys are interested in reading the rest, let me know and maybe I'll, I dunno, make it downloadable from my BYU webspace or something. And I've generated a few other short story ideas that I'm going to work on after that's over. This is really exciting, since the last time I wrote something creative and entirely fictional was . . . elementary school? Yup, I think so. I just didn't feel like I could write fiction; I didn't know where to begin. But after actually, you know, trying it, it's not that hard.

- Speaking of fiction, my withdrawal period from blogging made me realize how much I really enjoy writing--not just for self-analysis and communication and that, but real creative writing. And I don't do nearly enough of that. Through some random internet surfing way too late at night involving massive amounts of sugar-derived energy, I've made the decision to participate in National Novel Writing Month 2006 (affectionately known as NaNoWriMo). Yes, this November I am going to complete a novel of 50,000+ words in less that a month. While still in classes. Right after midterms. And working 15 hours a week. Ha ha, I am insane. Try to stop me. No, no, don't try to stop me. In fact, I challenge anyone who reads this blog who has ever thought about writing a novel to participate with me. Don't be one of those "someday" novel writers--the best time to write is now! You don't need experience or a plot. Just sheer will power. Do it with me! Plus, I need a support group to force me to write--we're talking the equivalent of four single-spaced pages a day in order to finish. :D

But I really like the concept behind NaNoWriMo: force yourself to write, and don't think too hard about how crappy your writing is. I like this quote from a review of No Plot? No Problem!:

The key is to lower your expectations "from 'best-seller' to 'would not make someone vomit,' " says Baty [founder of NaNoWriMo], who maintains that stress and a deadline are important parts of writing.
True that. If you just do it, it will get better. And I've already got an interesting idea for the novel. So I'm set to go. Hurrah!

Bonus points if you can figure out where the title of this post comes from.