31 January 2007

Pandora's Stacks

"Others were busy in the lab, but who really cares what is in the stacks?" - Hugh Nibley

Okay, as if I don't have enough crazy projects to embark on this year, I just read pretty much the best thing ever in Hugh Nibley's An Intellectual Autobiography:

Berkeley was more of the same, with one difference--they had a library. I decided to put it all together in the stacks beginning at the southwest corner of the ninth level and working down to the northeast corner of the first level, book by book, stopping whenever something significant caught my eye. It took four years . . . .
I get chills just thinking about it: canvasing an entire library for fun. Is it possible? Well, BYU's library is a lot smaller than Berkeley's, it just might be. (Then again, Nibley did this in the 1930's. I wonder if there's a way to determine the size of the collections at that point. Hmm. I may have to fire off an email about that. But to who? Hmm.) And regardless of actual building size, five floors sounds much less intimidating than nine floors. I definitely don't have four years left here (then again maybe I do; you just never know).

I think I just might be crazy enough to try it. It just sounds so right: walking through the stacks, reading every title, pulling one out occasionally to peruse . . . . I'm resisting the urge to set up some complicated rules regarding how to go about making this managable--must read every title, can only check out one book per session, maximum of ten minutes for any book pulled off the shelves (stop! Stop!). As much as I like arbitrary rules, I think that would kind of ruin the purpose. On the other hand, arbitrary rules help us get things done.

Anyone else interested in the Nibley challenge? Think of it as NaNoWriMo for your inner reader. If we got enough of us together, maybe we could start a club.

Or a support group.

30 January 2007

A Sketch

At the BYU AML poetry reading. Jon brought up a really neat idea. Just as at art galleries they often display incomplete sketches, why not read poem fragments? The raw material of the art, not yet developed but that you can see the essence behind. So here's something that came to me tonight while writing something completely different:

Ah, to be a poet!
To work away the afternoons
Studying the constellations of humanity
Refluxing the laughter of the soul
And finally
Distilling the smell of green

Whoever thought a poetry easy
Has never tried

29 January 2007

Extra-curricular Reading

For some extra credit points on my completely arbitrary point scale, check out this afterward by Orson Scott Card to his novel Empire, which I am going to bump way up on my reading list:

It is part of human nature to regard as sane those people who share the worldview of the majority of society. Somehow, though, we have managed to divide ourselves into two different, mutually exclusive sanities. The people in each society reinforce each other in madness, believing unsubstantiated ideas that are often contradicted not only by each other but also by whatever objective evidence exists on the subject. Instead of having an ever-adapting civilization-wide consensus reality, we have became a nation of insane people able to see the madness only in the other side.

Does this lead, inevitably, to civil war? Of course not -- though it's hardly conducive to stable government or the long-term continuation of democracy. What inevitably arises from such division is the attempt by one group, utterly convinced of its rectitude, to use all coercive forces available to stamp out the opposing views.

Such an effort is, of course, a confession of madness. Suppression of other people's beliefs by force only comes about when you are deeply afraid that your own beliefs are wrong and you are desperate to keep anyone from challenging them. Oh, you may come up with rhetoric about how you are suppressing them for their own good or for the good of others, but people who are confident of their beliefs are content merely to offer and teach, not compel.

Wow. Can I just tell everyone how much I agree with OSC? Seriously, the man is a genius--meaning, of course, that he seems to think almost exactly like I do. This is great.

And this great testament to the importance of the church as an organization. Of course, only a business professor could have written it, but it's definitely a good answer to the worries I expressed last week. Of course, the Church is more than a service organization, but that is a substantial purpose of it. Plus there's a great anecdote in there about Mitt Romney:
The important point about the prior paragraph is that our experience was not unusual. Everyone in the congregation was similarly serving, not just accepting assignments to help, but seeking opportunities to help. We gave often, and received often. For example, a short time later our family had out-grown our small home, so we found a larger one and put the word out that we would appreciate any help in loading and unloading our rented moving truck. Among those who showed up that morning was Mitt Romney, now the governor of Massachusetts, who had just completed his unsuccessful campaign for the U.S. Senate in Massachusetts. Mitt had a broken collarbone, but for two hours traipsed between our home and the truck, carrying out whatever he could manage with his one good arm. That spirit is just in the air in the Mormon Church, week after week, year after year. The strong help the weak, and the weak help the strong, and nobody thinks about who is weak and who is strong. It creates an extraordinary spirit of mutual love, because as we work to help others who are in need, our love and respect for those we help intensifies.
He he!

Some Rules

So reading two romance novels (P&P and Unlikely Romance) in a short period of time is bad for my psyche, but it has made me think more about the nature of love. And you know what I've decided? I don't believe in love at first sight.

Oh yes, terribly unromantic of me and all that, but you all knew that anyway. But seriously, I'll acknowledge that love at first sight may work for some people, but I think I'm just too logical for it. There are very few people I would judge as being completely unsuited to me at first meeting, and even fewer (read: none) who I would know were completely suited. People are way more complicated than that. I'm convinced love is not about what you bring in, but what you build together. Interaction and conversation are infinitely more telling than first appearances and impressions.

Which leads to the main point of this post. For some reason, I feel compelled to share my newly minted dating philosophy with you. What can I say: I'm a science person. I crave organization and lists! (Obviously, it's from a female perspective, but I think the inverse applications are pretty clear.)

1 (which is paramount) - If there's any physical involvement, you've clearly reached the decision point. Handholding is borderline, but anything beyond that means you should definitely be exclusive. Don't allow physical intimacy unless you're okay with being off the market (potentially for a long time).

2 - Until such point as a relationship is defined or #1 occurs, don't worry too much about going out with other guys. It's understood that you can do that. Don't put yourself on hold when you aren't actually on hold. Plus going on dates, by some bizarre principle of physics, seems to attract more dates.

3 - Unrequited love is pointless. If X is taking action and you feel there's potential, don't avoid going out with him just because you are crushing on Y. Relationships are two people things. If Y doesn't take some action, it's just not going to work. The weakest actual relationship beats the strongest UL anyday. (Plus, see #2. Jealousy is powerful motivation for hesitant males.) Don't allow some UL to prevent a relationship from growing.

4 - That said, avoid purposely creating jealousy or playing guys off of each other. That will only earn you a bad reputation and cause a sudden inversion of #2.

5 - The "Mini-Crush" philosophy (courtesy of Val): It's better to spread your affections out over multiple guys while you aren't in a relationship. It keeps you from obsessing over one guy too much and building unrealistic expectations. And, if one doesn't work out, it won't send you into a 2 month depression, cause you have back-up. :D

Oh, and--

6 - Follow your heart.

Yeah, that could be relevant. Maybe.

Okay, it feels really strange for me to write a dating philosophy. I think I need to go do some ritual cleansing or something.

25 January 2007

Thoughts--Now in Five Assorted Flavors!!

  • I think everyone with a blog will agree that we all need this "Blogito, Ergo Sum" t-shirt. Clearly, the Latin plus obscure philosophy plus internet culture equals cool, right? :D
  • Do they even make side-loading sheet protectors? Down with unnecessary specificity.
  • Telling lies about reading books is bad. Maybe these people need to play a little Canon to release their shame.
  • I just finished reading The Unlikely Romance of Kate Bjorkman on Tuesday. Why didn't someone tell me about this book before? (Joni, I'm looking at you!)
  • Everyone should come to the BYU AML poetry reading thing tonight at 7 pm in 3215 Wilk. I know all three of the poets, and they are amazing.

23 January 2007

Flat Heresy against Intellectualism

There is not a sound here anymore
Except the neighbors singing opera next door;
And I am in the closet reading books.
You know, I never could quite find another soul I understood.
--Peter Breinholt, "My Little Town"
Recently, I've been disturbed by the idea that becoming educated is necessary to receiving exaltation. It's an idea that seems to thrive at BYU, since education and salvation are so constantly on our minds. In the Doctrine & Covenants we're instructed many times to seek learning, but is this a commandment that is necessary for salvation or is it simply a suggestion of how to build the kingdom? And what is the relative importance of socializing--being with people for no other purpose than to be with them--as compared to education?

Don't get me wrong, I love education. I'm much more comfortable with a book or a pen in my hand than with people. It takes me a while to recover from the overload of being in a large gathering. But more and more I wonder if my preference for books and learning is just that: a preference. Is there anything inherently important about reading the classics or learning science? (Oh, the heresy!) Are academics really in any substantial way higher than anyone else?

The problem with intellectualism is that we are encouraged to increasingly isolate ourselves from the outside world until, in the end, we begin to think that what we do is actually important. In a way, it seems to me that devoting our lives to academia is just as pointless and arbitrary as those who devote their lives to sports or fashion or television, only perhaps more insidious because our obsessive hobby has the illusion of eternal significance. But in actuality, all any of these groups are really doing is learning a set of conventions that apply to only one thing--the rules of a game, the trends of the day, the jargon of the elite, a set of novels to allude to. These sets of things to learn and master have no more real importance than a toy, something to bide the time as we are tested.

Is that all education is? A hobby? I'm beginning to lean towards yes. It's something we do because we enjoy it, but I doubt the inherent virtue some people read into it. Most of what we learn is convention, and the rest can be gained in such a multitude of ways that it seems silly to claim it as unique. It's only a matter of taste, it seems.

In Faith of an Observer, Hugh Nibley says something to the effect of the following: that the only significant things we can learn to do in this life are to repent and to forgive. None of us is particularly wise, particularly clever; we're all pretty much ignorant, but the two things we can do are to repent and to forgive. Intelligence, cleverness, and learning in this life are all an illusion. (Sorry, I can't find a transcript, so my memory will have to serve.)

So, if the rest is just a hobby, we should focus on how to repent and how to forgive. How to develop the first is obvious. We must develop our faith, our relationship with God, and our ability to realize our own nothingness. As Church members, we all know this. Nothing new here.

It is the second that interests me: developing the ability to forgive others. How would one go about it? And this is where we come back to the real purpose of socializing. All of these other hobbies we pursue--the humanities, sports, television--are simply ritualized ways of going about our real business: getting to know people. And not just know people as in, "Yes, I do know Bob in accounting," but know people as in understanding what makes them tick. Because, it seems to me, we must completely understand a person before we can possibly forgive them. Great examples of this in the omni-present Ender's Game. Charity comes primarily through comprehension of the person. (Perhaps this explains the unconditional love of parents. They understand their children almost completely.)

And even beyond the importance of general socialization, there seems to be special value in getting to know people who aren't like us--bridging social capital, if you will. I have learned so much this year by living with Kami, my elementary education major roommate. Our tastes in literature will never mix: she is bored by my sci-fi/fantasy, I gag over her romance novels; I want high philosophy, she wants believable life. It took me a long time, but I finally accepted this difference as a difference. It has nothing to due with her intelligence or exposure to the classics; it's 100% a matter of pure, inexplicable taste. She's part of the reason I'm questioning the importance of intellectualism. I know she can be a wonderful, fulfilled, interesting person without laying a hand on the stuff that I would choose to make myself so. Then what matters about a person must go beyond our interests, and we must seek out those of other interests in order to find out what that is.

Which is where the Peter Breinholt song comes in. Reading books is great, but at some point we must break out of our closet (no queer theory implications intended) and go find out why the guy next door likes opera, because nothing is sadder in this life than narrowing our interests so keenly that we end our lives never quite finding another soul we understood.

(Sorry this is really rough and confusing. Please, PLEASE ask for clarifications because I'm trying to figure out how to explain better what I am thinking.

As an addendum, I highly recommend the movie Faith of an Observer to anyone who hasn't seen it. You can even watch it online. Though I think the parts with the ruins are much better on the big screen.)

21 January 2007

Some Completely Unrelated Thoughts

Okay, so the coolest thing ever. My roommate's writing to this missionary, right? She hasn't gotten a letter from him in a few weeks, so she's been a little . . . anxious. Anyway, the other day her mother called. Apparently, he had sent a letter to her at home over Christmas break. However, it just got there last week.

With a letter from homeland security, saying they searched her letter.

As I said, "That's so awesome! They think your missionary's a terrorist!" I want a letter from homeland security. *pout*

So, I always listen to audio books to go to sleep. It helps me turn my brain off. I can't be thinking and worrying about tomorrow if I just concentrate on the story. But there's always the problem of what to listen to. If I listen to something new, the plot can become too compelling and keep me awake for hours. If I listen to something old, it doesn't distract me enough.

I have finally solved the problem: for Christmas, I got the Book of Mormon on CD. There's always something new there. And if I end up staying awake, no problem, right?

Plus the narrator's voice is delightfully monotone.

We had a "kegger" for my 21st birthday. (Strictly non-alcoholic, of course.) Totally hilarious. It was awesome.

19 January 2007

The Problem of Perfection: Parts I & II

. . . or several problems rather, but I like the singular title's parallels to CS Lewis' The Problem of Pain. In many ways, the problems with pain and perfection are similar. Here are some specific issues of perfection I've been thinking about. Any commentary would be helpful, as I'm still undecided on most of them.

1. Perfection and the atonement: I finally got around to watching States of Grace the other week. Very interesting movie. Not quite how I would have done it, but then I didn't do it so I suppose I should expect that. Anyway, the critical point I got the first time through the movie was this: do we really believe in the atonement? In the Church, it sometimes seems that we are extremely comfortable with the idea of the atonement helping us with our weaknesses, our imperfections, and our minor mistakes. But when it comes to the truly awful sins, we seem to have a harder time of it. When we pass the threshold from careless mistakes into truly bad sins, it seems we would rather die than work it out--better to be dead than dishonored. We know we were wrong, but it seems now impossible to live down the fact that we made the wrong decision. We expect a certain degree of perfection out of ourselves. It's as if, past a certain point, we don't really believe that God could remember our sins no more. Or perhaps it is our neighbors we are worried about more than God.

One particular example is the idea we encourage in the Church that all women should marry an RM. (That's returned missionary for the two non-LDS readers I might have.) Now, of course I'm a fan of missions, and telling the young men they must go on missions or the girls will never marry them perhaps adds additional motivation (though probably not the most noble one). But after 19, when the mission was either served or not served, is this a fair requirement to keep holding up? Where does this leave men who were not worthy to go on missions? Do they become forever the social outcasts because at one point in their life they weren't worthy?

It's my belief that young women should search for someone who's worthy now, regardless of what they were doing at that point in their life. Not serving a mission doesn't necessarily indicate their current personal state, just as a past mission doesn't guarantee their righteousness. It seems to me hypocritical to say the atonement can change us, and yet to set our standards for people somewhere in the past. Which is why RM is only on my "would be nice to have" list and not my "must have" list, which instead has "worthy, faithful priesthood holder."

Then again, past behavior can sometimes be an indicator of future problems. Do you see my dilemma? Where do we draw the line between being forgiving of mistakes and being careful not to be burned twice?

2. Perfection of the Church as an institution: Are we as Church members are we required to believe the Church as an institution is perfect? I'm not certain as to the answer to this question. There are different levels at which we could criticize the Church. The first would be criticizing the doctrines of the Church, which for me is pretty easy to throw out as unacceptable. But just down from that we have criticizing the GAs. My opinion on this is less solid. Obviously, where it coincides with criticizing doctrine, it is dangerous. Still I'm not convinced that because God will never allow them to lead us astray means they are infallible. (Hopefully I'll be able to clear up my opinion on this when my Hugh Nibley class gets around to reading his article "Criticizing the Brethren.")

Just down from this level, we have criticizing the programs of the Church. For example, I am really not a fan of the Young Women's program. In fact, I pretty much think the personal progress program is absurd, possibly immoral. It seems to me like it's only real purpose would be to force spiritual growth in the youth, which we know is impossible. So it ends up just being a set of hoops to jump through so you can have your spirituality recognized before the rest of the ward. Can we say scribes and Pharisees? I know I grew a lot spiritually during the YW years of my life, but little of that growth was connected to the program. It was too restrictive, too generic, and too artificial. And yet, my mom still feels disappointed that I didn't get the YW medallion, even though I arguably knew a lot more about the gospel than some girls who did. (Gosh, that sounds prideful. Please don't take it the wrong way.) I just didn't feel the need to jump through the hoops to obtain a necklace as proof that I had a testimony. It just feels all wrong. (I'll make a similar argument against the scouting program.) But is it wrong of me to make this criticism? I don't think so. Church programs change all the time, and we sometimes forget that. They are not (at least in form) necessary to salvation.

And what about criticizing Church business deals? I regularly ridicule Deseret Book, and I am extremely suspicious of their buyout of Seagull--a monopoly on LDS merchandise can only lead to roads I hope we don't go down. What about the City Creek Center deal?

In general, the gospel is perfect, but people are not. The Church seems to be somewhere in the crossroads between the two. God will not allow the church to be led astray, but does that mean the church will always be perfectly correct or does this mean that in overall doctrine we will always be safe?

This is getting too long, even for me. Expect problems 3 & 4 in a little bit . . . .

18 January 2007

Being Other than I Am

Like Ben, I've been thinking recently about other ethnicities I would like to be if I weren't the Scottish/English/German European mutt that I am. No seriously, I thought about it for several hours on Saturday. And the winners are:

  1. Jewish - Nice minor sounding music and cool traditional dances. (Okay, so I base this on Fiddler on the Roof. So sue me.) Also, they can totally pull off being sarcastic all the time and sound humorous rather than mean or jaded. "And this I'm supposed to believe? Oi vey." Great consonant combinations as well: schmuck, schlep, schmendrick. Plus, I've officially decided it would be ten times more convenient to have the Sabbath be on Saturday. I mean, on Saturday I'm still recovering from the school/work week. By Sunday, I'm ready to go, but it's Sunday, so no working allowed. Clearly, the Sabbath should be moved to Saturday for my convenience.
  2. Japanese - Probably mostly because petite with dark hair is about as far away from six-feet and blond as you can get. No, seriously, I love the aesthetics of Japanese culture. If you haven't seen Memoirs of a Geisha yet, you really ought to. There's just such a sense of appreciating beauty and simplicity in Japanese culture. Granted, all that fish would take some getting used to. (I probably also wouldn't mind being Chinese. I guess I just feel like I would fit in better as an Asian.)
  3. Russian - Um, snow! Yay! Also, Dostoevsky, cool music, and sweet accent.
  4. Scottish - Okay, this is sort of cheap, since I am partially Scottish. (My last name is Muir, for heaven sake.) But I'd love to be a lot more Scottish than I actually am. Again, awesome accent, lots of plaid, and those great Scottish sports . . . Kaber toss anyone? Plus, you get to be from the place the Romans were to wussy to come conquer. :D
  5. Canadian - All the American-ness without actually being American, eh?

Insert the PC disclaimers here. Please don't hate me.

17 January 2007

Ja, Må Du Hon Leva

Happy birthday to me! Hurray for being 21 and Mormon--all of the feeling older and none of the supposed benefits thereof. :D

(PS. The title is the beginning of the Swedish Happy Birthday song. My dad sings it to us every year.)

14 January 2007

Writing Tears

I’ve mentioned before that I’m horrible at journal writing, and this weekend was the perfect example: today I finally wrote in my journal about when Nick broke up with me. This happened in November, people.

Okay, so that was only partially due to my slacker journal keeping abilities. Partially, of course, it was a move to avoid making it reality. If you don’t write something down, you can still change your point of view later, and no one ever has to know it was any different. (Ah! the appeal, the illusion of consistency!) But once it’s written in your journal, it might as well be carved in stone: it happened. You thought it, and you can’t change it. Oh, you can change your mind, yes, but you will still know that at one point you did think that. You’ve committed who you were at that point to the page, preserved it forever in amber, a monument to your naiveté, your stupidity, your inexperience.

Which is why I hesitate to write about potential romantic involvements—boys, crushes, dates—in my journal, even though they would be arguably the most important thing to write about. Sure, if they turn out to be The One (somehow, you can tell that should have capital letters), then it would be nice to have all of the play-by-play recorded somewhere so that you can whip it out for the grandchildren 40 years down the road. But things don’t work out, what do you have left? Sure, theoretically we should live without regrets and be able to reminisce about past loves without being disheartened. *snort* Yeah, that’s likely. It mostly ends up feeling painful, or pointless, depending on which side you were on, and you’d just rather forget it all.

I look back at my last journal, the first one I ever filled up completely. One particular boy—who never noticed me and probably will never notice me and who probably wouldn’t have worked out if he did—has about, oh, 30 pages all to himself. 30! And nothing even happened! (Nick has 17.) And these are not small pages. What am I supposed to do with them now? I flip past them on the way to the next blank page and they just make me feel sad. For a second, I feel the hope, and then I remember that it came crashing down in the end. The whole emotional rollercoaster compressed into the instant I pick up my journal. Who needs that kind of emotional stress?

Another thing I’ve noticed while catching up the journal: I don’t cry over boys, or people in general. I haven’t ever cried over Nick, nor that other hopeless boy, nor any other that I recall. Yet those of you who know me know that I am easily moved to tears. I’ve cried in almost every English class I’ve ever taken—wait, scratch the almost, because I can't think of any exceptions. I cry in church; I cry when I feel inspired; I cry in presentations; I cry in interviews; I cry when I write anything; I cry when I debate; I cry when I talk about books, for goodness’ sake. Tears have become my truth detectors. They’re how I know something is real. If I don't cry at least once a day, I'm probably not even awake. I’m addicted to tears, and yet I can’t seem to shed a single one over something I'm actually supposed to cry over.

I can think of two possible explanations for this. First, perhaps I was never really that emotionally attached to these situations. Maybe I was just going through the motions I saw in chick flicks. More and more I think there’s something to the argument that they are unhealthy for women to watch.

Or maybe I really am incapable of connecting with people on the same level as I connect to ideas. My tears seem to have become inextricably tied up with my quest for knowledge even as they have receded from my connections to people. Perhaps I have fallen in love with ideas to the point where people cannot possibly captivate me on the same level.

Maybe this is a problem.

12 January 2007

Strange Pilgrims and Story Theories

As I wrote about a while back, I've recently become concerned with the (apparently inverse) connection between personal happiness and artistic value. Not only does this apply to the author, but it also seems to come through in the nature of fiction. Books with happy, or at least fulfilling, endings tend to be looked down on by the artistic establishment, especially in recent years. Think of the frustrated endings of most Modern (the period, I mean: 1914-1960-ish) pieces, for instance, "The Love Song of J Alfred Prufrock". Don't get me wrong, it's one of my favorite poems, and yet there's no denying the complete lack of resolution. Something seems to tell us that this is inherently more beautiful than "and they all lived happily ever after."

And frankly, I don't like it. It creates a separation between what is popular and what is artistically good. In my personal time, I prefer to read modern drivel rather than the classics, mostly because I want a satisfying, empathetic ending. But I can't mention any of these books when I want to talk about "serious literature." Same thing with music: most people just want something they can empathize with; the ambiguous nature of most "high art" music leaves people feeling artistic, but not necessarily personally touched. Is there no way to unite the popular and the classics into one art again?

I say yes, and I have two sources from which this idea is derived: first, CS Lewis's The Pilgrim's Regress, and second, a relatively new movie called Stranger than Fiction. (I'll try not to spoil the movie here, since you all should go see it.) From these two, I've constructed my new theory of story based on longing and resolution. Basically, there are three types of story. The first is the aforementioned "happily ever after" story: it begins by developing a sense of longing and by the end of the book it is fulfilled. Girl meets boy, girl falls in love with boy, boy and girl get together. The end. In Pilgrim's Regress, this shows up as Jack's attempt to reach the Island through lust: you feel a longing, so you take action on it, but then it's over. Once the need is fulfilled, you are nowhere different than where you started. This is the bulk of pulp fiction, inconsequential pieces resulting in no higher meaning.

The second type of story is the current artistic standard. Since we can't reach greater heights through the fulfillment of longing, they say, obviously it is the longing itself, and not the fulfillment, that is artistic. So they avoid resolution, prolonging the desire until it is acute, then cutting it off without fulfillment. That way, the modern artist says, it lives on untouched forever. Returning to Pilgrim's Regress, Jack falls in "love" with Media, but she warns him they cannot consumate their love or else the spell will be broken. Finally, she must kill herself in order to maintain the pure beauty of their love without any damage by the "brown girls" of lust. Likewise, in Stranger than Fiction, the Professor points out that the book can only be a masterpiece if Harold Crick dies. If he lives, it's just another transformation story. If he dies, it's a tragically beautiful commentary on life. If the "Lady of Shalott" were to get together with Lancelot at the end of the poem, it would lose all artistic value. There is no way to have the cake and eat it too. And so modern art says we must starve to death in order to truly appreciate our food.

But there is a third way, a way that both fulfills and allows our eternal longing, or rather progression, to continue. I won't ruin the end of Stranger than Fiction, but in it, we see the third way out, which looks remarkably like Christ even in this decidedly secular film. CS Lewis, of course, makes it explicit in Pilgrim's Regress. Only in and through God can we simultaneously have both complete fulfillment and continually longing to be better. In terms of storytelling, this means the kind of longing and fulfillment where the fulfillment is only the beginning of a new journey, yet the same journey.

Often, we can make the jump from first to third level storytelling in love stories, which is perhaps why they are so popular: the newly forged couple continues their journey through life, but now together rather than apart. Their progression together never becomes stale, though we have the satisfaction now, and in the future. And perhaps this is also why many artistic types fail to recognize this form of storytelling. The distinction between the "happily ever after" and the "happily forever after" is difficult to make, and many stories that strive for it fall flat. But when we reach it, it's so much more dazzling that anything that could be written on merely prolonged longing, because it is the only real story--of us, Christ, and eternal progression.

(And seriously, take your favorite English major to see Stranger than Fiction, before it leaves the dollar theaters. Barring that, take me! I'm up for seeing it 2, 6, 10 more times. It makes the impractical literary theory I study a matter of life or death. :D Give me a call if you're going!)

10 January 2007

Homeschooling and Social Responsibility

Here's a comment I wrote on Ben's homeschooling post that got out of hand. So I'm stealing it for myself. :D

First, on the social ease aspect: I’m middling on this one. Most homeschoolers I know are fairly normal, not totally inept in any way. However, there’s always that aura of something different about them that you can somehow tell they weren’t raised in the public school system. I’m not certain how to pinpoint it yet, but when I meet homeschoolers I can usually tell before it comes up. I’m not sure if it’s a good thing or a bad thing yet, but it certainly is different.

As for qualifications on teaching on different subjects, I have to agree with you that it would be one of the best parts of homeschooling to be able to learn along with your kids. However, I do worry that it could cause problems if your interests differ from your children’s too significantly. Could a practical accountant who refuses to read books (like my dad) really teach a child who loved literature? Of course, in this case, we have my English major mother to balance it out, but there still is a distinct possibility that your child will love subjects you think useless. What if the parents aren’t motivated to learn the subjects?

But my main qualm with homeschooling is that it seems so selfish. I mean, I realize trying to protect your children from worldly influences and bad teaching is a good thing. However, what happens to the children whose parents aren’t educated? Are they just stuck? It seems like reverting back to older times when your education was mainly based on what your parents knew/could afford to teach you.

A public school system is a huge achievement for society. If all the best and brightest and most motivated go to homeschool, where does that leave children born to those who don’t care? Without those bright children to interact with, is it back to the uneducated slums? Without morally grounded children, will schools turn into dens of violence?

I guess I see it as a social responsibility issue. I am part of society, therefore I must invest myself in it. As Church members, we are not supposed to be of the world, but we are supposed to be in it. If we all leave and go form our Zion without everyone else, we have failed in our purpose, though our own lives become perfect and ideal. As appealing as it might be to do homeschooling (and I admit it sounds like fun to me), I will seek out good schools for my children and do my best to help the local schools succeed. I will campaign for less homework, so that my kids have time to pursue other interests as well.

I just don’t see homeschooling as a viable option for any developed society, and I care too much about what happens to society to abandon it like that.

Mind Map: Through the Text

They say you can tell a lot about a person by asking whether they dream in color or in black and white—something about the vividness of their imagination or whatnot. I sometimes wonder about what this means for me because, as far as I can tell, I don’t dream in images at all. I dream in text.

Yes, text. Text seems to permeate my life, and not just when I’m reading books either, though I’m sure that’s how it began. I knit in my spare time, and each pattern I make is like a story. The decreases and increases, purls and knits lead inevitably to one end, one message, interplaying off of each other just as characters in a book. As I study chemistry, each particle, molecule, solution has a purpose, an end to achieve, and a specific character. I couldn’t tell you what any of them look like or what they are used for, but I could tell you what they are like. Beyond the illusion of appearances, I see an intention, a will. When I listen to music, I don’t really hear the notes or the beat (thus my complete lack of dancing ability). I hear the lyrics, the words, the text. When I listen to music, I don’t rock to the rhythm; I contemplate meaning. When I sing, I’m not really singing; I’m telling the story of my soul.

And I guess that’s where the dreaming in text comes back in. I can’t seem to experience anything directly. I don’t get the actual pictures, no sense of 3D space. But I see through my two-dimensional textual glass, sometimes darkly, sometimes more sharply than any reality. I hear the dialogue tags, letting me know what people really mean with their words. I see the character descriptions, where physical and spiritual traits intertwine. And I can be confident that every detail I am given will be significant, that the gun in Act I will be fired before the end of the play, that the identity of anyone I notice will be revealed before the finale. Every word is filled with intent: it means something.

This effect spills over into my waking life: I experience life as a story. Just as in fiction, every detail has meaning. People’s looks reflect their character, either directly or ironically. The pathetic fallacy of the weather is a matter of course. Above all, the cause and effect of all events are carefully crafted by a purposeful author who has something to say to me.

Sometimes I think the author of my life is me, and I attach significance to the events and people around me, discarding all details that don’t directly influence the course of my narrative. I must synthesize all these seemingly meaningless details into something more, something that says something.

But at other times I clearly see that the author cannot be me. There are too many variables, too many other narrators. It is then that I see God, not in color, or in black and white, but in text, speaking and acting through me and the millions of other characters on His stage. Denying His existence would be purposeless. But as I seek out His will, I occasionally catch a glimpse of the entire narrative. For a second, the world is infused with more significance than my little story could ever give it. It is then that I see the real dream, the vast story arc of life stretching out before me reaching to an eternal destination just over the horizon.

07 January 2007


"One of the most serious human defects in all ages is procrastination, an unwillingness to accept personal responsibilities now." - President Spencer W. Kimball

06 January 2007

Insert Clever Title Here

In keeping with my writerly goals, I've been working on a personal essay today. I thought some of you might be interested since I have some avid Jane Austen fanatics in my audience. So here's the first few paragraphs.

I always tell people that I am one of the few women who doesn’t swoon over Jane Austen. Her novels just never seemed to click for me, I’d say, tiny dramas of men and women, carrying on their meaningless lives of dancing and gossip. I hear my female relatives debating the relative merits of Pride and Prejudice versus Sense and Sensibility and expressing their disappointment with Emma, and something inside me just shuts off. When the other girls in our young women’s group would giggle over Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth, I would roll my eyes and pretend to be somewhere else. I make it a point to avoid seeing all the movie adaptations or memorizing all of the couples therein.

And yet when I do pick up one of her novels, I find my disdain is a lie. Not to say, of course, that Jane Austen is one of my favorite authors ever. Her novels lack many elements of my ideal story—long philosophical conversations, huge internal monologues, a driving adventure of discovery, that pivotal moment of epiphanic truth—but when I look at her writings for what they are, I can see that they are good in their own way. They serve their purpose, one crucial to their time period, and they do it with a little flair and humor. I even find myself occasionally empathizing with her characters. Overall, they certainly aren’t the worst things I’ve ever read. As I look out on the prospect of rereading Pride and Prejudice for a class this semester, I even find myself feeling a little nostalgia for the story, though I’ve only read it once.

Do you want to know the truth? Jane Austen terrifies me.

I am afraid of Jane Austen, probably most specifically of Pride and Prejudice, but also of her and of all she represents. Jane Austen is the classic novelist of femininity. Two women who have never met before can instantly strike up a kinship as they reminisce over their first exposure to the original goddess of chic lit and debate over whether Colin Firth or Matthew Macfadyen makes the better Darcy. It is an oblique sisterhood shared in those Victorian pages, where one only has to mention that a potential suitor is such a Mr. Collins to be instantly understood and sympathized with. It is giggles, sleepovers, girl talk, drama, makeovers. It is a world I strove to shut myself out of, or rather shut out of myself. Admitting I feel any connection to what Austen writes sends my sense of identity trembling into a corner.
What do you think? Interested? It gets more rough and more personal after that, but I think I like it thus far.

Anyway, I'm really excited for this semester. Both of my English classes, as well as the Hugh Nibley class, appear to be fairly student-led, which is great. I'm excited to get to explore my own ideas. Prof. Bennion, the one in charge of my Study Abroad, has been sending us all sorts of stuff about the importance of story and its connection to life to prepare for our English Novel class this semester, and it's exactly the sort of thing I want to write about. I'm totally stoked! Yay!

03 January 2007

Some More Firsts

Then again, 2007 already has plenty of firsts in it, for being less than a week old. For instance, the first time I've worn contacts, the first time in over a year I've cut my hair, the first time I've ever donated hair, the first time (in a long time) that my hair as been this short, all of which are showcased in this picture. Ten inches off! I think I have to go back to middle school to remember my hair being this length. It's so weird.

Hope it doesn't freak the family or the roommates out too much.

01 January 2007

Reflection & Resolution

I'm a thorough believer in New Year's resolutions. Actually, I believe in new start resolutions any time you feel motivated to do them. There's something very human about putting your life into perspective and looking for changes. As rhetoric class taught me, so much of what man is is based around our ability to tell stories: we are the ones with the logos, the ability to make up causes and effects, to say why and attempt an answer. And New Year's resolutions are a form of that story telling. We look at our lives to determine what's causing problems for us and decide how we should fix it. Even the repetitiveness of our goals is an important part of that. To double quote myself, humanity is inherently optimistic because even in a situation which we have faced a thousand times and failed, we always see the possibility for success.

As for my story, this has been a very interesting year for me. Lot of first things happened this year: the first time I really hated someone (in a long time anyway), the first time I finished an entire journal, the first semester I really loved all my classes, the first time I seriously thought about being a writer (as a career), the first time I fell in (and out) of love. I certainly picked the right year to become more serious about writing because this year has needed recording. (Or is it the seriousness about writing that has caused the changes?) So many learning experiences and new things . . . I'm a very different person than I was when I stepped into 2006. I think I've become more confident, more ambitious, and more open than I was before. I've had my share of pain and devastation this year, and yet I still continue on, even when sometimes I don't know the reasons.

That's the reflection; now about the resolution. The New Year's goals we make often more about being than doing. We resolve to be in better shape, to be kinder, to be an harder worker. Granted, these state of being goals are connected to actions--working out, doing nice things, putting forth more effort--but they are essentially connected to a desire to change who we are. In the past, my goals have definitely fit this pattern. I think this could be because of the "cleanse the inner vessel first" mentality I gained from reading Covey's Seven Habits. I've never felt like I could act externally until I fixed up the inner workings.

Now, I'm not saying this perspective is bad because it's obviously necessary to secure yourself some semblance of consistence and identity before you can do things. But if I had to pull one lesson from this year, it would be "You are never ready." You will never feel like you are on top of everything, but that doesn't mean you should stand still until you are. Sometimes, the only way to get on top of everything you have is to add more.

So this year, yes, I'm making all of my usual self-improvement "becoming" goals I've been making since I was eight: eating right, exercising more, reading my scriptures, etc. But I'm going to try to focus on doing something more and see if that doesn't help the rest fall into place. So this is my goal: 2007 will be the Year of the Writer. This year, I will find out if it could be possible for me to consider writing as a serious career. I've made a commitment to submit at least one piece for publication somewhere each month, to set aside eight hours a week for personal, non-school related writing projects, and to keep a writing notebook again. This goal scares me like none other, and putting it up here is just inviting you all to mock me when I drop it. (No one is allowed to mention the NaNoWriMo incident.) But maybe public mockery is the only real motivation. To quote another aspiring writer in the Little Women musical,

Here I go
And there's no turning back
My great adventure has begun
I may be small
But I've got giant plans
To shine as greatly as the sun

I will blaze until I find my time and place
I will be fearless,
Surrendering modesty and grace
I will not disappear without a trace
I'll shout and start a riot
Be anything but quiet
Christopher Columbus
I'll be Astonishing

At Last

Seven Lessons for the New Year

  1. A hearty stomach can stomach many lies. Or digest a chisel. Whichever.
  2. When a man is wealthy, he boils the pot. Nope, I don’t get it either, but apparently the Jamaicans do.
  3. The horse will see the corn when he looks at the corn. Obviously.
  4. Peter Breinholt singing with the Mo Tab for President Hinckley’s devotional—the apocalypse is at hand.
  5. If you accidentally light a firework in your basement, don’t try to put it out by throwing it in the toilet. A lot of blue smoke will inevitably follow. If you do it anyway, invest heavily in Febreeze.
  6. If you pour massive amounts of time and money into your geeky passion, you will end up in the Rose Parade. Sounds like a deal to me.
  7. Never try to write without a good sound effects guy. How can you write a decent story until you know what a mutant pterodactyl having his brains imploded by a lone bagpiper sounds like? Honestly.
A more serious post to follow.