22 December 2007


tonight i drove home* between the full moon rising in the east and the sunset gleaming orangeredgold behind catalina in the west, the ocean emanating all the light it has soaked up and stored all day. and as i drove, i found myself declaring my love to the ocean. the light. the sun. the moon. the earth. and it made perfect sense to me why people worship the heavens and the earth.

*i'm house-, dog-, bird-, and turtle-sitting in laguna beach this week.

21 December 2007


so it's been more than a week that i've been coughing. and the cough doesn't seem to be going away. no matter how diligently i ply it with robitussin or how may hours of sleep i get (8+ the last three nights; heavenly). i'm even enduring a kissing-fast in an effort not to re-infect j(wh) (who seems to actually be getting better). for obvious reasons, i'm ready to stop coughing.

so this morning when i laid in bed hacking and then kept hacking through present-wrapping and email-checking, in spite of my robitussin-taking (i apparently have a thing for hyphens today), i thought i'd best go see a doctor. because maybe my less-cheery friends and family who keep telling me it's walking pneumonia or whooping cough (thanks deborah) may be right. and i actually articulated that thought--that i should go to the doctor--to j(wh). if i hadn't, i probably wouldn't have actually found the info about same-day appointments for grad students or made the phone call or found my insurance card so i could actually go see the doctor. he prodded until i made the call. which is a good thing. and here's why.

in my family, we have an inherent distrust of doctors. well, our parents do anyway. and the kids have inherited it a bit. we never had incredibly regular check-ups once we were older than 7 or 8 or so. doctors were people you saw when you had an emergency. which we did have. i broke my arm three times in 8 years. one of my brothers managed to get seven breaks all at once. and then there were all the various split chins, foreheads, and eyelids (yes, eyelids). and the BB's shot into fingers. and the fingers trimmed along with the hedges. so you see, we definitely know about emergencies and manage to trust doctors then. but for regular preventive health care? or for ordinary, run-of-the-mill sickness (more hyphens)? not so much. my parents have this weird phobia that going to the doctor will just make things worse.

an example. a few years ago my mom tripped and fell down about seven or eight stairs, landing on her head on the tile floor at the bottom. that was on friday evening. did she go to the doctor? after landing on tile on her head? no. of course not. why should she? it's just her head. my dad did take her to the doctor the next day, but still. and that's just one example. last year, my dad thought he had walking pneumonia. did he go to a doctor? no. he called a friend who happens to be an OB-GYN and talked him into prescribing antibiotics.

and then there are his ribs. which he thinks he cracked when he fell off his bike earlier this week. they hurt so bad that last night he grabbed his chest with a look of pain on his face. which naturally alarmed my mom and i, who immediately went into emergency mode. she was ready to run and catch him so he wouldn't fall and i was heading for the phone to call 911 as we asked what was wrong. his answer? 'i need to sneeze and it's going to hurt!' but of course he won't go to the doctor to find out if his ribs are actually broken or not. he just says they can't do anything about it so why go?

and that about sums up my parents' attitude about doctors. they can't make it better. and they'll probably make it worse. so why go? and i've managed to inherit a bit of that attitude. but apparently being able to kiss j(wh) again is a good enough reason to send me off to the doctor. that and shaking the cough, of course.

17 December 2007


i'm sick. and it stinks. it started with feeling feverish and a nasty headache. and rapidly developed into a chest cold until yesterday my throat felt like it was closing up so much that every swallow felt like i was forcing a spiked ball down my throat and i cough so much that i sound like any moment i'll hack up a lung. i've been sucking on ricola cough drops like they're going out of style. and i've finished off a bottle of nyquil and am approaching the bottom of my bottle of robitussin DM. last night i medicated myself, gargled some listerine (which actually seemed to help my throat), brushed my teeth and then coughed so hard i made myself throw up (TMI? maybe. but coughing so hard you throw up? that just sucks).

i hate the discomfort of being sick. but you know what i hate the most? losing my voice. i can't laugh--all i can do is hack out strange 'huh huh' sounds that j(wh) compares to butthead (of 'beavis and...'). which i'm sure sounds a bit insulting to people who don't realize i'm sick. and, worst of all, i can't sing. i skipped out on the messiah sing-along i was supposed to go to yesterday because even though i could have gone and enjoyed listening, it would have made me too sad to not be able to sing along. playing the piano for caroling quakers had me longing to sing as i played. so much that i actually tried, but all i could force out was a slightly cacophonous monotone version of silent night. and then i made the mistake of asking j(wh) to play regina spektor last night while i was grading and i just had to sing. i can't not sing when i listen to regina. so i did. in a rather husky, cracking tenor punctuated with hacking. i'm sure it wasn't pretty...

04 December 2007


yesterday i wore jeans and a t-shirt (layered over a berry pink tanktop) with my cordoroy jockey cap. the importance of which will be apparent in a moment. i met seymour for in-n-out. before heading out to run errands after lunch, i made a trip to the restroom. please note: i was in the women's room.

while i was standing at the counter washing my hands with my back to the door, a woman opened the door and started to enter only to stop abruptly and then leave. i thought nothing of it, other than to notice, and finished washing up and drying my hands. when i walked out of the women's room 30 seconds later, i saw the same woman come out of the men's room to head back to the women's room.

apparently when i'm wearing jeans, a T, and a hat, i look like a man from the back...

03 December 2007

in october, i went out with j(wh)--dinner, hot cocoa at my favorite local cafe, and lots of conversation. by the end of the night, i knew i'd like to go out with him again so his day-after follow-up email (which has become dating protocol in our e-world, i think) inviting me out again was a good thing. except it was an invitation to go swing dancing.

now, i haven't danced at all in probably 5 years. maybe more. and swing? i'd dabbled in it 15 years ago or so, but my version of swing was complete slop. and j(wh)--he actually knows how to dance. so the idea of going dancing with him was intimidating at best and scary at worst. i turned my 'no' into a joke and suggested alternatives.

so we've done some of the alternatives, but the dancing invite stayed open. until i finally decided to bite the bullet and put myself squarely outside my comfort zone. so last friday night i went dancing. an hour-and-a-half of basic swing classes first. then 4 hours of social dancing. and the only knowledge i had going in was a couple of 5-minute parking lot tutorials with j(wh) a couple of weeks ago.

the classes helped. a lot. it also helped that j(wh) knows what he's doing and danced with me periodically. it's amazing what i could learn when dancing with someone who knows the dance and is a good lead (as opposed to the guys with spaghetti arms--impossible to follow). it also helped that everyone was incredibly nice and put up with my beginner's ineptitude. everyone including one of my current students who showed up. i have to say, it's a bit odd to dance with a current student...

honestly i didn't know what to expect. i decided i'd go and try something new. and i decided i would just relax and enjoy myself. so i expected to have fun. but i didn't know what to expect beyond a fun evening.

what i found was exuberance. part of that comes from the music, which bursts with vibrant energy. part of it comes from the style of dance, which responds to the music's energy. but i think most of it came from the people. i danced a lot of the night (which surprised me, quite honestly; i've never been to a dance where i was asked to dance so much). but i sat out quite a few songs, too. which i enjoyed. because it let me watch people dancing. and it was so very evident how much they loved what they were doing. it looked and felt like a simple celebration of being alive. and i loved being part of it. i think i'm officially hooked...

{edited to eliminate inadvertent rudeness...}

30 November 2007

last week as i hurried across campus on the day before thanksgiving so i could get home and head up to l.a. with my mom and sister and nieces, i encountered this:

i glanced at it as i approached and then continued on my way before stopping to think about what it meant. and then it made me laugh so hard that i went back and took a picture of it. and sincerely hoped that whoever created this masterpiece of signage did it intentionally.

alas, the boring did not occur. nor did the occurring bore. because today looked like this:so no caution necessary. except to avoid puddles and streams while walking across campus. i do love a rainy day.

14 November 2007

more simple (and small) things that make me happy:
  • discovering that when my 2-year-old niece B plays wii and sees my mii, she repeats my name: 'amy, amy'
  • waking up smiling
  • long meandering conversations with a friend
  • my nieces wearing the hats and scarves i made them for christmas (in july)
  • walking into my favorite thai restaurant on a busy saturday night and being greeted as a friend by all the servers i know
  • knowing that saturday will bring family for a week-long thanksgiving visit--yay!
  • 'lively discussions' and 'fun exchanges'
  • fall in california--it feels a lot like summer, but it's different in little subtle ways
  • the anticipation of pumpkin pie and homemade rolls
  • having B tell me all about her snack and playing wii and her halloween costume on the phone; hearing her say 'i love you'
  • dates that involve wandering through bookstores
  • squeezing snapdragons so they snap
to be continued...

09 November 2007

every morning i wake up to NPR. which means that every morning i get a dose of politics. did the clinton campaign leave a tip or not? what shall we do about the alternative minimum tax? what will happen in pakistan? and is bhutto in cahoots with musharraf? i like being well-informed. but i have to say, it can be disheartening. there's not a day that goes by that i'm not frustrated with the state of american politics.

perhaps the biggest problem we have in our politics right now is that members of both sides of the political spectrum engage not with each other (liberals engaging with conservatives; republicans engaging with democrats) but rather with stereotypes of each other. rhetorically flamboyant engagements with straw men of the opposing political persuasion tend to sell better—both on the evening news and at the ballot box—than actual conversation and interaction. i listen to the “debate”--whether presidential or issue-driven--and recognize again that our politicians do not actually talk to each other; they talk, through soundbites, to their perceptions of their constituents (they don’t even actually talk to their constituents; only to what their advisers tell them their constituents are like). and i am frustrated. because no policy, either domestic or foreign, will succeed in furthering liberty and equality when those policies are designed to woo voters rather than to address problems, whether the policy has to do with health care or tax law or waging a war (and i think this is true of the fighting the war as much as it is of the protesting the war).

anyway. i’m pretty disgusted with american politics on both sides of the spectrum. my personal convictions line up with the liberal side of the spectrum on certain issues and the conservative side on others and the libertarian side on still others. i try to vote for candidates and measures that seem in best keeping with my convictions. it’s all i can do. well that and ending my day with a healthy dose of satire. thank you john stewart (and may the labor gods resolve the current WGA strike; if i have to survive much of the current presidential campaign without the release valve of political satire, i may just go bonkers).

06 November 2007

i think it's time to reinstate posts about recent discoveries. because there have been so many good ones lately. i'd list a bunch of the stuff i discovered in the bay area when i was up there, but i've already done that. so instead, this edition is dedicated to

  • the darjeeling limited. which i've actually seen twice now. an absolutely stunning film visually, full of vibrant colors and gorgeously shot. and funny. in many ways it's more understated than wes anderson's other movies. but that simply underscores its humor. it also draws attention to its realism, in spite of the absurdity of so much of its content. and, in true wes anderson style, it juxtaposes life and death, exuberance and tragedy, beautifully. and then there's the fact that i have crushes on both owen wilson and adrien brody. and who knew that adrien brody could be funny?
  • dan in real life. i love steve carrell, so that was all the incentive i needed to see this. and juliette binoche? she's wonderful. it was entertaining. not a great film. it's a romantic comedy and it has the problems so many romantic comedies have (implausible premises; too-fast falling in love). but it made me laugh. and that's really all i ask of my romantic comedies. that and a romance that makes me want to fall in love.
  • the jane austen book club. another romantic comedy, this time for austen-lovers. i read the book a few years ago and enjoyed it (though it's entirely entertainment reading; nothing serious--not even as serious as bridget jones's diary). the film was about the same--mostly fun, even if it lagged at moments. i do think it failed to translate some of the austen parallels the book made, which is too bad. but if you're an austen fan, it's worth seeing.
  • lars and the real girl. saw this one last night and thoroughly enjoyed it. lars is delusional and his family and friends go out of their way to turn his delusion into reality in an effort to help him. it had so much potential to become simply absurd, but the quality of the acting and the matter-of-fact presentation instead made it heartwarmingly funny. if you get a chance, see it; and don't read a plot summary before you do. just go. let yourself be surprised.
non-film. just because these two are too good not to list.
  • tamarind. which i ate for the first time today at thai nakorn. they served it up slightly sweetened, slightly salted, and spiced with chili powder of some sort. it was delicious.
  • public displays. as in public displays of affection. after the movie. who would have thought people made out under bright lights in the middle of a parking lot? i must admit that, given how chilly it was last night, it would be a good way to stay warm. and there's something a bit romantic about kissing out in the open...

05 November 2007

on the weekend, i asked a friend what his top five movies were. to which he responded first by groaning and then by pulling out his trio on which he has a list of 'top ten' movies (as well as a few other 'top ten' lists; in quotes because most of his lists exceeded ten). i found the idea of making 'top ten' lists, preserving them, and carrying them around amusing. and appealing. because i've found myself in that grasping-to-come-up-with-a-list of movies (books, museums, restaurants, or whatever other object you'd like) position more often than not. because the lists fluctuate--there's always more than five or ten; the ones i would include on my list shift based on any number of variables; and then there's the deer-in-the-headlights freeze that happens when i'm put on the spot to name my favorites, which happened later that night when my friend turned the question around on me. i think i could only name four favorite movies.

so i decided i'd do a series of 'top ten' lists on the blog. of various and sundry things, not just the usual suspects. but i think i'll start with one of the usual suspects. movies. of the 'serious' variety sometime in the future i'll post a list of the 'guilty pleasure' variety. not that the 'serious' ones have to be serious in content; just that they're what i would consider substantial in some way, rather than fluffy. with no further ado:

top ten(ish) 'serious' movies (or should i call them films?):

a room with a view: period piece, romance, and hilarious nudity. that's right, hilarious nudity.

13 conversations about one thing: a compelling look at the random intersections of lives, with one of the most life-affirming moments i've seen on film.

the sweet hereafter: stunning. a searing look at tragedy, grief, and anger.

little miss sunshine: i laughed so hard in the theater that i cried, which almost never happens. and a wonderful critique of the beauty culture.

lost in translation: beautiful. and bill murray was shafted when he didn't win the academy award for best actor.

on the waterfront: the film that convinced me marlon brando is a great actor. 50's hollywood at its best.

pride & prejudice: maybe this should go on the guilty pleasure list, because i'm in love with darcy. but it's so very well done. and austen's novel is such an insightful look at human relationships. so 'serious' it is.

the royal tenenbaums: darkly hilarious. my first exposure to wes anderson.

in the company of men: dating games turned destructive. and in showing how destructive they are in extreme settings, it also shows their innate deceptiveness.

being there: i like to watch. don't miss it.

in the mood for love: visually gorgeous. i think it actually captures what love looks like. literally.

amadeus: such a wonderful film. a thoroughly entertaining examination of genius and desire.

29 October 2007

on the weekend, i made a mad-dash roadtrip up the coast and back with friends. we drove. we talked. we laughed. we feasted. we listened to music. we magically arrived everywhere at exactly the right time. we witnessed everything from horrific to incredible live music. we browsed bookshops. in short, we had a perfect three days. the details:

1000 miles: the oc to l.a. up the grapevine and through the central valley to mountain view. to san jose and palo alto. into the city (the city being san francisco). across the bay bridge to berkeley. through oakland and back to san jose. down the 101 to san luis obispo. on to santa barbara. back to l.a. and home to the oc.

gastronomic hedonism: singaporean dinner at the spice islands cafe in mountain view. the roti prata was divine and everything else yummy. brunch at country gourmet in mountain view. pumpkin pancakes with cranberry syrup and ginger butter. french toast (made with cinnamon streusel bread) topped with banana, almonds, and caramel rum syrup. an omlette with bacon, cheese, tomatoes, and roasted tomatillo salsa with sour cream and avocado. it was a flurry of shared dishes and expressions of delight. i've never had a more delicious brunch. i'm already planning a girls trip to the bay area just so i can take my mom and sisters there. brunch at yank sing for dim sum. i'd never done dim sum before and it took all of two minutes for me to fall in love with it. probably because we started with soup dumplings (another first for me) which were amazing. everything else was delicious, too, but i'm determined to find somewhere in so.cal to get soup dumplings. yummy. and we capped off the culinary indulgence with fabulous mexican food at a shack with a tent attached in santa barbara. i loved its quirky blue and white structure and its three-car parking lot as soon as i saw it. and the food was amazing. i envision driving to santa barbara for dinner in the future. it's that good.

music: the reason for the trip was the bridge school benefit concert organized annually by neil and pegi young. eight artists in seven hours. regina spektor, tegan and sara, my morning jacket, john mayer, tom waits, neil young, jerry lee lewis, and metallica. that's right. i can now say i've seen metallica live--something i never aspired or hoped to say. but it's humorous. they were horrific. it was, however, entertaining to watch. both them and their fans, who were sorely disappointed (the metal-head next to us called out "come on, metallica! make it worth my money!" i think the rest of the line-up left him cold). jerry lee lewis looked stiff--like if he moved too much he'd keel over dead on the spot. but that didn't keep him from being a dirty old man. and his penchant for putting his name into his songs was endearingly humorous. in spite of his obviously advancing age, he was fun. i had to leave during john mayer, who elicits an almost viscerally disgusted reaction in me (even if he is a good guitarist). and tegan and sara were only okay. but i loved regina (who i'm seeing again on wednesday). it was fun to see neil young, who has this very low-key but compelling stage presence. my morning jacket was fantastic--i'll be listening to more of them in the near future. and tom waits stole the show. the man is brilliant--as a lyricist and a performer. and i took a secret pleasure in all the teeny-bopper (whether actual teenager or older) john mayer fans being forced to listen to him.

bibliophilia: a quick trip to green apple books in the only unclaimed twenty minutes we had in the city. a drive-by of city lights books en route to dim sum. and a detour off the 101 to visit leon's in san luis obispo. can you tell we were a carful of book nuts?

college tour: some of us went to visit stanford (not me; i went to the airport to pick up george). we took a quick walk around berkeley. and we did a drive-through of cal poly san luis obispo's campus (the other reason for our detour there). there was also a bit of pointing out various schools from the road. because the big dangerous and our scapegoat (he really is unnecessarily blamed for too much) are looking at college options.

it was a wonderful weekend. i didn't want it to end. i've spent my day dealing with the let-down, wishing i was still immersed in music and laughter and conversation and friendship (with an occasional argument), driving through california's beautiful valleys and along the coast with occasional stops at bookshops and eateries. but i suppose every day can't be so perfect. i'm glad i had the ones i did have--they make mundane daily living much easier to deal with.

23 October 2007

tonight as i drove home the sun blazed redgold in the west, infusing the sky with warmth and light. it was stunning. but that beauty was born of the disastrous fires blazing to the east. which were in turn caused by my beautiful santa ana winds. this symbiosis between beauty and destruction haunts me. i look at my world and it is so beautiful. but it is so devastating. not just the physical world, but humanity, too. i believe community is unavoidable--that human beings are naturally social creatures who form bonds of beautiful intimacy and love. but i also believe that the very actions and words that forge those bonds isolate us. we use the gestures and actions of friendship to turn inward, to hunker down, and avoid the pain that interaction demands.

i do not know how to navigate that paradox. and today it has me feeling tired, eyes heavy with tears i do not want to shed, wishing i could take refuge in misanthropy. but i can't. because despite the destruction, the beauty is there--glaringly unavoidable. like the sun in the west, reflecting the fire in the east.

18 October 2007

i am addicted to npr. or public radio, if you'd rather be generic (i do, after all, love some non-npr programs--this american life and the world, for instance). every single morning i wake up to one of l.a.'s two public radio stations. and i generally listen for at least half an hour before i drag my body out of bed. then there's the listening while getting ready in the morning. and the listening while driving every time i drive anywhere. and the listening while cleaning. any day without a healthy dose of public radio is just incomplete.

like i said: i'm addicted. and here's why. this morning's dose included the following:

strikes in france in response to sarkozy's efforts at labor reform.

the status of the new u.s. command in africa, with an account of china's burgeoning influence there. which highlighted yet again the way in which limited natural resources dictate foreign policy.

the ongoing debate over bush's veto of the recent schip bill.

the u.s. (non-)response to iraqi refugees.

just a sampling of the various u.s. and world news stories, covered with npr's usual evenhandedness. but that's not all. i also got:

an account of the hannah montana phenomenon ($2000 for a ticket to a hannah montana concert?! crazy parents and damn scalpers).

a report on anthropological discoveries of evidence of human civilization from 160,000 years ago.

in other words, interesting stories about culture and society in all their incarnations. and that's not all. npr coverage is eclectic and interesting and intelligent.

now i realize i could get most of these stories elsewhere. but internet news irritates me. too many banner ads, too much visual distraction, and most of it is poorly written. television news is a travesty of playing to the audience and mindless repetition. and other radio news just gives me a headache with all its bells and whistles and grating newscaster voices. plus none of them give me the other stories npr gave me this morning:

the woman arrested by her cop-neighbor because, when her toilet backed up, she cursed in her own home. never fear--the aclu has taken up her cause asserting a constitutional right to curse in one's own home. hilarious. especially when you stop to wonder what the hell went through that neighbor's head. all i can assume is there was a pre-existing tension; because really--how could you arrest your neighbor for swearing in her own home and not realize it is not a neighborly thing to do? not to mention the ridiculousness of turning cursing in one's own home into a constitutional matter (it is constitutionally protected speech, but did we really need to involve the law in order to determine that?).

and (my favorite) the woman who was minding her own business, washing her hands in her bathroom, when a 7-foot python popped its head out of the toilet next to her. she screamed. then called the plumber (the plumber?!) to take care of the problem. apparently the plumber helped her out, but i can't help but wonder about that. do all plumbers have to deal with large reptiles showing up in toilets? or is that just a new york city phenomenon? is there special training plumbers get for how to deal with large, potentially dangerous sewer critters? and how exactly does one extract a 7-foot python from the plumbing through a toilet?

and now you know why i'm addicted to npr. wouldn't your day be better, too, if it started with hearing such stories?

11 October 2007

about a month ago, i helped run a training workshop for grad students teaching literature for the first time. my cohort was out of town for a wedding the two days immediately before the workshop. and my parents, who i had been counting on to take me to costco to get some materials, were also out of town. all of which resulted in me running around on my own, begging favors from friends, and left me generally a bit frazzled. on sunday afternoon my right foot started hurting and by the end of the evening my foot was swollen and hurt so badly that i was limping. this was A Bad Thing, as i had to be on my feet much of the next two days, not to mention hauling all kinds of stuff between my car and the classroom. in tears i called seymour and asked if he would come give me a blessing. which he did, along with mbn. and then they helped me wrap up the last minute details i still needed to finish. i actually ended up in bed before 1 in the morning.

monday was a long day and my foot was aching and swollen by the time i got home. but i had to do some prep for the workshop the next day. and my parents were coming home, so i needed to do a bit of cleaning. my time was limited and i knew my foot couldn't handle too much, so i made my list of tasks in my head and set about accomplishing them as efficiently as i could. no movement was wasted. every trip from one room to another served multiple purposes. complete economy of motion. i was in that mode where mind and body and purpose flowed together so smoothly that the only way to describe it is harmony. i have these moments occasionally and they feel like perfection. everything fitting together to make a whole that is more than merely the sum of its parts. there's a feeling of grace, of blessedness, that comes, leaving me feeling like life makes sense, even if the work i'm doing is as menial as dishes and laundry and taking out the trash.

as i reflected on that feeling, i thought back to the morning i spent at fallingwater in august. the building is such a work of absolute harmony that it seems wrong to call it a building. everything, from the glorious design to the building materials, works together to manifest perfection. there was absolutely no detail too mundane for wright to consider so that it would add to the being of his creation. this is true of all of wright's work. for instance, at the pope-leighey house, wright used long horizontal lines to reinforce the design and to add a sense of spaciousness to what is a very small building. in laying the bricks, the mortar that ran horizontally was recessed a good half an inch inset from the front of the bricks, while the mortar that ran vertically was flush with the bricks, allowing the shadows cast by the bricks into the recessed horizontal mortar to create long lines. wright even dictated that the screws used in the building be flathead rather than phillips and they were to be turned so the groove on the head of the screw formed a horizontal line.

fallingwater is full of gorgeous details that contribute to its harmony. the boulder around which wright built the house jutting up to form a rough hearth in the primary living space of the house. the stone floors inside polished so they look like the stones of the terraces when they are wet. the glass corner of the house opening out so the corner disappears altogether, breaking the box of the room, the house refusing to inter its occupants in a living tomb. the low ceilings and vast stretches of glass directing the eye out to the beauty of the forest. how could anyone live in such an environment and not find herself existing more often in that state of harmony that i find only so rarely?

in my mind, wright's magnificent masterpiece is akin to the gorgeous perfection of beethoven's symphonies--beings in their own right, full of life and beauty that can make the world better. when i left fallingwater that day, i resolved to go back. as often as i can. to immerse myself again in a place where all of the best of humanity and nature work together to manifest god's glory.

09 October 2007

being a byu alum, i get the byu magazine every so often. sometimes i pick it up and peruse it. occasionally i read an article or two. usually it just sits in my pile of mail until it gets thrown away. tonight i started sorting through my pile of mail (i always have a pile of mail; i hate mail; i wish people would just not send me stuff; unless they're people i know and love; then they can send me stuff) and ran across the byu magazine. and when i read the cover blurb 'jane clayson lands her dream job: mother,' some sick masochistic part of me turned to page 22 to read the article.

it's all about jane clayson who becomes jane johnson. perhaps that's reductive, but the article's attempt to represent rhetorically the shift from single to married by referring to the single jane as clayson and the married jane as johnson does call attention to that shift. it was a bizarre editorial decision--one that caused more confusion than anything. and it made the difference between unmarried and married sound almost jekyll-and-hyde.

anyway. back to the regularly scheduled programming. here's the reader's digest version: jane goes to byu expecting to graduate and get married. jane graduates but doesn't get married. jane becomes award-winning, nationally known television journalist. jane realizes that 'real life' has begun, even though she's not married. jane gets married. jane quits working. jane has babies. jane has epiphany: 'mothers matter.' (yes, that's the epiphany: 'mothers matter.')

it's a lovely story. really. i'm happy that this talented woman had the opportunity not only to find such professional success but also to fall in love and marry and have children.

but dammit. don't tell me i'm a mother simply by virtue of the fact that i have breasts, a vagina, a uterus, and ovaries. i am a woman. i am not a mother. and i don't care how much mental gymnastics you do, you're not going to convince me otherwise. but clayson (or should it be johnson?) tries: 'i want every woman to feel in her soul that among the many important things that women do, mothering is the most important thing, whether a woman biologically bears a child or not.'

i appreciate the sentiment. i feel all warm and fuzzy that jane (and sherri dew and numerous others like them) recognizes that the church's emphasis on motherhood for women leaves single and childless women feeling inadequate on some level. but has it ever occurred to them that perhaps the answer is to authenticate other life paths for women? to acknowledge that women have incredible contributions to make outside of motherhood?

i am a nurturer. i love children. i'm patient and kind and loving towards all of my nieces and nephews. i adore them. but i spend very little time with them. and while i know for a fact that they love me and that i have helped shape their characters in some ways, i also know that i'm not much of a presence in their lives. am i to understand that mothering is the most important work i do, when easily 90% of my time is spent completely apart from children? what does that mean about the rest of my time? is it really all that much to ask that the value of my work and life be acknowledged without trying to shove it through a mother-shaped hole?

please, jane clayson johnson (and anyone else who's made the error of trying to convince themselves and others that every woman is a mother)--please have enough decency to honor all the work women do, not just the work they do as mothers. don't tell me i am a mother in some misguided effort to make me feel better about the fact that i'm unmarried and childless. instead, look me in the eye and see me for who and what i am: a woman of god who is using the gifts she's been given to make as much beauty and goodness as she can.

06 October 2007

about six years ago, i spent an evening sitting outside a friend's room on UVA's campus, talking with him as the sun went down. we'd taken a study break, ostensibly to watch the sunset, but our break lasted long after dark as we talked. for some reason our conversation wandered onto the topic of girls and beauty and before i knew it i was crying. because of the painful knowledge i had as a girl of 8 and 10 and 16 and every age in between that i was ugly. skinny yes. but ugly. because even six years ago, at the age of 25, i still only felt beautiful in flashes. but mostly i was crying because of my beautiful nieces and knowing that they, too, would experience that pain. being told in every way imaginable that they were not beautiful enough. that if only they could poke and prod and cut and snip and paint and dye and conceal and smooth and style enough, maybe--just maybe--they would be beautiful enough to be loved. it starts when they're so young. and it never stops.

i've blogged before about my perception of my own beauty. i am mostly comfortable with my appearance. i don't spend a lot of time trying to conform to preconceived ideas of what it means to be beautiful. but the pain of not being beautiful enough still lurks. mostly it has to do with the fact that i don't date. i can't help but think, in some of the dark moments when i wonder what's wrong with me, that if only i were beautiful--more fit, more striking, more sexy--then maybe men would be interested. i don't know why this thought process happens. maybe i really haven't accepted my body the way it is. maybe that awkward, gangly eight-year-old is still trapped inside me, looking in a mirror trying to figure out how to smile with a mouth that's just too big. or maybe it's easier to believe it's my body, and not my mind and my soul, that is unattractive. maybe wishing i was beautiful enough to attract some interest is just a defense mechanism meant to stave off the infinitely darker pain of wondering what's wrong with my self, rather than merely what's wrong with my body.

my tears six years ago ended happily, with my friend taking my hand and telling me how beautiful he thought i was. an articulation of an attraction that we had both felt since the day we met and which had been growing for months. a beginning of a relationship that left me happier than any other i've ever had. but i wish the cause of those tears didn't exist. i wish somehow we could let our girls simply be without cramming a beauty myth down their throats at every turn. so take a moment and watch a bit of what i'm talking about.

and yes. i realize the irony of that being a product of the very beauty industry it critiques. but honestly i'm desperate enough for something to change that i'll accept any consciousness-raising tool no matter where it comes from. even if it comes in the shape of advertising...

16 September 2007

i finished the third book in the saga of bella and edward this morning. which is probably a good thing, since reading them made me adopt a somewhat vampirish existence. i ate brunch on thursday at 10:30 and a snack about 2:30. but then i started reading before eating dinner and i just read and read and stayed up all night (til 6:30 friday morning) to finish new moon. and of course after my four or so hours of sleep friday morning (wearing an eye mask to keep out the light--first time and it worked great), i had to start the third one. i didn't eat again until a snack around 4:00 and dinner around 6:30 on friday. and after my eight hour trip to l.a. (to see pink martini in concert, which was fabulous), i stayed up til 3:30 reading more. apparently i was obsessed enough with edward to adopt his sleepless, foodless lifestyle...

they're not great literature. but they were great reads. if you want a little vampire romance (and even if you're not sold on the whole vampire thing), they're definitely fun. a more extensive review to come (when it's not 12:45 a.m. after two nights of little sleep).

14 September 2007

i'm in love with edward cullen. yesterday, before my five hours of poetry, i picked up stephanie meyer's twilight and read the first chapter. i liked it. but i had to read poetry. today, after working all morning and then an afternoon appointment, i decided to go back to barnes & noble to read more poetry. but first i thought i'd read one more chapter in twilight. five hours later, i finished the book head-over-heels in love with its undead hero. and now it's 11:41 p.m. and i have a drive to and from l.a. to make tomorrow and work to do in the morning. and i really shouldn't start new moon. but edward's kiss beckons...

13 September 2007

this afternoon i read poetry. all afternoon. working on the syllabus for a class i've never taught before. shakespeare. donne. marvel. finch. keats. bradstreet. wordsworth. shelley. coleridge. wheatley. emerson. behn. among others. (tomorrow i get to do the 19th and 20th centuries--yay!) i love it. and it intimidates the hell out of me. i fluctuate between excitement and feeling terrified. but mostly i'm excited.

i made a point of reading poems by george herbert today. i've always loved herbert, but before today it was an academic kind of love. it was the way he made the shape of his poems and their meanings coincide. i've long been fascinated by texts which use their physicality to create layers of meaning, so discovering herbert was one of the highlights of the rather boring early british lit survey course i took as an undergrad (the other highlight was my professor, who regularly wore suspenders with pigs on them and who did a spot-on thomas s. monson impression).

today i loved herbert for much more than his form. "prayer (I)," in which he describes prayer as "the soul in paraphrase," "Christ-side-piercing spear," "Heaven in ordinary," and "something understood." the image of man as "brittle crazy glass" given, through the grace of god, the "glorious and transcendent place, / To be a window" in god's temple. herbert's poetry is achingly beautiful--full of a spiritual insight so pointed it pierces through layers of obscuring fear and self-delusion.

i particularly loved "denial." i'll type it here, but you should follow the link to see it's format (if only i could figure out how to format things better through blogger).


When my devotions could not pierce
Thy silent ears,
Then was my heart broken, as was my verse;
My breast was full of fears
And disorder.

My bent thoughts, like a brittle bow,
Did fly asunder:
Each took his way; some would to pleasures go,
Some to the wars and thunder
Of alarms.

'As good go anywhere,' they say,
'As to benumb
Both knees and heart, in crying night and day,
Come, come, my God, O come!
But no hearing.'

O that thou shouldst give dust a tongue
To cry to thee,
And then not hear it crying! All day long
My heart was in my knee,
But no hearing.

Therefore my soul lay out of sight,
Untuned, unstrung:
My feeble spirit, unable to look right,
Like a nipped blossom, hung

O cheer and tune my heartless breast,
Defer no time;
That so thy favors granting my request,
They and my mind may chime,
And mend my rhyme.

so many times i've felt this. the frustration. the anger. the sorrow. of asking and seeking and begging. 'but no hearing.' but i always come back. because when i am 'unable to look right,' i know the only answer is to go to god and ask him to mend me. to 'cheer and tune my heartless breast' so that in granting that favor--the favor of re-tuning my spirit--i can align my will with his, rather than continuing to let my imperfect vision control what i seek.

herbert captures this perfectly. the anger that masks the anguish. and, when neither the anger nor the anguish gets me anywhere, the quiet turning back to god. and, god willing, for a time it's peace not denial that colors my relationship with him.

06 September 2007

my first obsession is with books. i think i've spent some time in a bookstore everyday for the last week, with the one exception of sunday. it's been hot as hades here, so when my upstairs room and office reach the point of sweltering, i abandon the house and relax in the cool comfort of a bookstore cafe to read. with an occasional foray into the aisles to browse, of course. because i couldn't sit in a bookstore and not browse. sometimes to buy (a great introduction to prosody by stephen fry; a new blank book with a black and white cover with just the right flexibility; a novel by a new author that promises to be delightful). other times just to look and think and soak in all the promise of books.

but books are not my only obsession. i also have a thing for shoes. and this year, my birthday has been an exercise in podiatric indulgence. a pedicure, since i missed out on one when my sisters were here and ever since i've had a hankering to have flowers on my toes. i stopped painting my toe nails a few years ago. i'm not sure why. i've always loved painted toe nails. they look like summer. so this year, i started again. mostly red. occasionally pink. and now with flowers.

and then, a few hours after my first indulgence, i wandered into a t.j. maxx to look for a new bookbag that would handle carrying a computer. i found the bookbag (it's going to save my back this year). and then i found my next indulgence: green, orange, and gold flats with birds on them. just the right splash of color to make jeans fun. and good for hurrying across campus to make it to my class on time.

that was last week--a little pre-birthday anticipatory indulgence. and then my parents gave me cash, in a card that advised i kick off my shoes for my birthday, and then go buy more. so i did. i've been needing new tennis shoes, so i headed to nordstrom rack where i'd seen good tennis shoes for good prices and found a pair. the problem with the rack is that i have to browse all the shoes to find what i'm looking for. which of course meant i found more than just tennis shoes...

my first pair of blue suede shoes--a bit reminiscent of my sister's blue suede docs, which i always loved (and really, this post is dedicated to her; i know she understands this particular obsession of mine). so comfortable i could be on my feet for hours and not feel it. i now understand the taste for keen shoes.

and then there was the real indulgence. the cole haan distressed blue leather sling back platform 4-inch heels with peep toes to show off those gorgeous nails. it was love at first sight. and luckily (for me? for the shoes?) they are comfortable. comfortable enough for me to wear them when i dress up. because love at first sight and fabulosity notwithstanding, i won't buy shoes if they're not comfortable enough to wear.
happy birthday me.

31 August 2007

so i've been trying to think of a word. one word to describe how i felt five minutes into the T ride into boston two weeks ago. lust occurred to me, but while lust captures the strong desire of the feeling, it's too superficial. maybe need. because there are things missing in my life that i think i could find there. which also made me think of longing. but even that doesn't really capture the comfort of the feeling. which takes me to

belonging. because all it took was sitting on the T, riding towards the city, to feel right. like i was back in a place that fit. the funny thing is that i didn't live there long--less than a year. and i wasn't happy for two-thirds of the time i was there. but even when i was unhappy, boston felt good. like a home waiting for me to build it. a place that spoke to me and where i could exist without fighting to find myself.

someday i hope one of the many colleges and universities there will have a job for me. and then i'll move back and live just far enough from work that i have to ride the T. so i can start my day with a brisk walk and half an hour of reading. and i'll walk to 90% of my destinations. and my world will be full of history and trees without having to search them out. and while i know that a place can't guarantee happiness, i also know that being somewhere that fits can make building happiness a little bit easier.

thanks to my sister for making a six-hour roundtrip drive in a day so i could get a little taste of boston.

30 August 2007

tonight i went to a movie. alone. (honestly, why do people refuse to go to a movie alone? it can be a social outing. but in the end, it's sitting in a theater watching a film. where's the need to have someone sitting next to you while you do it?)

i sat down in the middle of a preview. it was a bit violent. and then watched four or five more previews, all of which were violent. i was particularly disturbed by the preview for a new kevin bacon pic called death sentence, which opens tomorrow. all about a man who sees his son get killed in a gas station, identifies the killer, and then--when the killer gets off cause the case against him is too weak--takes matters into his own hands by killing his son's killer himself. which in turn starts a gang war, only it's just against him not against another gang (one man against all that is evil; it's like the quintessential american story in some ways). what bothered me so much about it was the way it justified a normal person turning into a crazy-eyed, butched-up, super-killer (three hyphens in a row; pretty nice, huh?) in the name of vigilante justice.

now, i wasn't really surprised by the violent previews. i was there to see the bourne ultimatum, after all (yes, i do actually go to the theater to see action flicks). but as i watched all the murder and mayhem on the screen during the previews, i wondered to myself why it is we go see such violence over and over.

well i got my answer when i left the theater after the movie...

i walked out of the theater energized. got in my little honda civic and the minute i was behind the wheel, shifting gears as i headed down macarthur towards home, i just knew that if necessary i could slam the car into reverse, spin wildly out of control only to reassert control in order to weave through head-on traffic. or drive my car at high speeds off a roof, jump out, trick a few people into shooting each other rather than me, steal a police car, and survive a deadly crash. just so i could jump off...well, i suppose i won't spoil the ending for anyone who hasn't seen it yet.

and i don't even have all that much testosterone in my system.
so here's the reader's digest version of my last month (longer bits about some of this to come):

a week spent with family. 15 to 20 people staying with us. wall-to-wall sleeping arrangements. lots of laughter and fun.

a niece being stung by a sting ray complete with a trip to the life guard station and an infection that developed a week later.

late nights talking.

flying cross-country with my sister, brother-in-law and their two girls. M and B sharing the seat next to me on the plane to watch a movie.

rescuing a small frog from sure death by lawn mower.

delicious desserts from mrs. london's in saratoga springs.

babysitting so J & R could celebrate their anniversary. complete with "pat pat" and playing with friends.

a picnic in a park complete with visiting (and surreptitiously feeding) the ducks, riding the carousel (twice), and making wishes in the pond.

exploring the hyde collection (a local art treasure only about 20 minutes from J & R's house), where we fell in love with works by degas, rubens, picasso, rembrandt, among others.

discovering rock hill bakehouse cafe, home of the best chicken salad sandwich i've ever eaten. and, to top it all off, the best cookies i've ever eaten. (and then there was the boylan's diet creme soda--so tasty). have i mentioned that i love bakeries?

a day trip to boston, with stops in concord, at the isabella stewart gardner museum, faneuil hall, the north end, and harvard square.

a roadtrip south to visit our brother and his wife and family.

two days in deep creek, maryland, full of fun and rainstorms.

an excursion to fallingwater. which confirmed to me frank lloyd wright's absolute genius.

a couple of days in virginia with children playing and action movies.

finally finishing a school project that i let hang over my head for way too long...

a horse and buggy ride through saratoga springs on an absolutely gorgeous summer night.

a meandering drive through glens falls in an effort to retrace our steps to the rock hill bakehouse only to be thwarted when we got there and discovered they were inexplicably closed for the day.

a long trip home to the tune of wilco in anticipation of their concert (which i went to last night).

and throughout it all, lots of laughter and conversation and beautiful little children.

29 August 2007

after living out of a suitcase for seven-plus weeks, i came home last night. and it was perfectly lovely sleeping in my own bed (no more twin beds, air mattresses, futons [though that particular futon is more comfortable than most of the beds i've slept in], or back-breaking hide-a-beds). i've had lots of adventures in the last three weeks. i thought i'd take the time to post from my sister's house while i was gone, but when it came right down to it i was either writing the project i needed to write to finish my last course (yay!) or playing with my family. so the blog (and the guest posting at fMh) have been ignored. i'll be catching up in the next few days. art, food, architecture, darling nieces and nephews, and tripping alarms. not to mention nearly tripping over my own two feet in the middle of a street in front of on-coming traffic, which (naturally) resulted in near-hysterical laughter.

i'm glad to be home (though i miss J&R and their beautiful girls already).

11 August 2007

in june, i went to the mormon women's rocky mountain retreat (i think that's what it was called) with caroline and brooke. while we were there i not only ate the best carrot cake i've ever encountered (i really should have gotten that recipe), i also met fMh Lisa who was there to talk about the beginnings and evolution of feminist Mormon housewives, which she started in 2004. lisa's a riot (as were her blogging buddies, who were also at the retreat). and i love what she's done with fMh. when she invited me to guest blog on fMh a few weeks ago, i happily agreed. i've started my stint blogging over there. i imagine it will continue for a few weeks. if you're interested, please check it out.

28 July 2007

two years ago, my sister and her husband began what would become a very long process to adopt children from haiti. a couple of weeks ago, they finally got word that K's passport had been signed (she's the first of the three children they're adopting). which means they could be traveling as soon as two weeks from now. we're all superexcited to have K home and part of our family. and yesterday (i think it was just yesterday), they received word that M and R's paperwork had been signed out of IBESR (haitian social services office that has to approve adoptions). maybe they'll be traveling back to haiti again in the next six months (or, dare i say it, even sooner?).

anticipating traveling to haiti soon to pick up K, tasha contacted the orphanage where K lives and to find out what they need. they've asked for very simple things: sheets, shoes, and clothes. tasha added watches to that list (one of the caretakers asked for tasha's watch last time she was there). if you'd like to help provide shoes, clothes, sheets, or watches for orphans and their caretakers in haiti, you can send donations to tasha through her company at:

QuicKutz, Inc.
1365 West 1250 South
Suite 100
Orem, UT 84058

mark your package or envelope "Haiti Donation".

you can send either the items on the list or cash (please look at the more detailed list on tasha's blog). any cash donated will either purchase items to be taken to the orphanage or pay baggage fees to fly the items down. please send donations by August 7.

any help you can give will make a difference for these beautiful children. thanks.

23 July 2007

in the last week, i have:

1. kicked the corner of an open cupboard door. which hurt like hell. then, later that day, spent five hours on my feet (at a concert and waiting in line to get into the qwik-e-mart). by the end of the evening i was limping.

2. kicked a brick while wearing flipflops (with my other foot). which resulted in skinned up toes. apparently it's dangerous to walk in the dark.

3. jammed my pinkie finger on a cement wall while trying to catch myself after kicking the brick (if you've emailed me in the last several days and i haven't written back, it's because i'm only now getting back to typing fluently; my last post was picked out one letter at a time; i'll be trying to catch up today).

4. scraped back the skin at the base of a fingernail (on the other hand). it hurt far out of proportion to the size of the wound. this is what i get for jamming my hand into spaces that are obviously a little too small. repeatedly. but it was in pursuit of a good cause--a clean room for my siblings to stay in this week when they visit.

5. and jammed a pin into the pad at the base of my index finger. which didn't hurt, but resulted in a surprising amount of blood.

so now that i've inflicted injury on both hands and both feet, i'm trying to decide if that's a sign that i'll be injury free next week in the mountains or that i've suddenly become accident-prone and really shouldn't take on something like a week in the wilderness. maybe if i get up there and hurt myself sufficiently i can guilt my brothers into carrying my pack...

20 July 2007

last night was was an evening of nearly perfect sensory perception. first feasting on ethiopian food. and eating ethiopian feels like feasting, with the food served communally on a large platter and eaten with fingers. and i think yedoro wot is just about culinary divinity. and after eating our fill, it was ryan adams in concert at the wilshire. which was fantastic (in spite of a somewhat lackluster crowd).

i love ryan adams' music. he's an incredible songwriter and he has a gorgeous voice. last night he was on. two hours of incredible music. and he completely belied his reputation as something of a pompous ass. instead he was personable and funny. he sat on a stool with the band rather than taking center stage in a spotlight (except for the closing song 'goodnight hollywood boulevard'). and when he introduced the band, he ended by saying "we're the cardinals."

the thing that moved the concert into the realm of the magical for me was its color. the set opened with the stage glowing blue, ten or twelve lanterns suspended over the stage catching and intensifying the color created by the other lights. throughout the concert the colors shifted from blue to green to gold. red and pink. aqua and fuchsia. orange and purple. and the lanterns gleamed, reflecting the colors or casting their own. about halfway through the concert, when the whole theater seemed infused with orange light, i knew that this was the closest i'd ever been--and may ever be--to synaesthesia.

14 July 2007

my last 48 hours have been full of eclectic culture. here's the run-down, in brief (i'll write more about a few of these later):

thursday evening:
  • incredible ethiopian food for dinner at merkato in l.a.'s little ethiopia.
  • followed by a run up beverly and sunset to the echo where we hoped to catch dr. dog in concert. the show was, unfortunately, sold out. but driving through the neighborhood and hanging out in front of the club for an hour gave me a taste of the l.a. hipster crowd.
  • topped off with a conversation about the relativism of cultural values and right and wrong.

  • a day spent perusing photos ranging from the 1930s to the 1970s. just think of the biggest game of concentration you've ever seen, in which i try to remember miniscule details in order to sort a few hundred photos of people i don't know. it was an interesting tour through 20th century clothing, interior decorating, and automobiles.
  • dinner at the house of blues, with a predominately southern flair: pan-seared voodoo shrimp with rosemary corn bread, cajun meatloaf with mashed potatoes, sweet potato fries, chocolate cake, and raspberry apple breadpudding (and a few samplings of ribs, fried chicken, and jambalaya).
  • stephen stills in concert at the house of blues with a crowd made up mostly of aging hippies and 60s protesters.
  • ending with a middle-of-the-night stop at the kwik-e-mart at venice and sepulveda. alas, they were out of buzz cola and krusty-o's, but we did enjoy blue squishees and pink donuts with sprinkles.

  • a drive across the west side of l.a. and into downtown.
  • my first trip to a raumen shop. daikokuya in l.a.'s little tokyo (the geffen contemporary is in little tokyo). it's supposed to be the best raumen shop in l.a. i loved it.
  • followed by a stop in fugetsu-do for mochi. this place has been in business, owned and operated by the same family, since 1903. i got one white mochi with strawberry inside and one lime mochi. delicious.
  • another long drive across town, this time ending up at the beverly center. think enormous shopping mall. i wanted to try on a dress JP pointed out to me in a catalog. found the dress but it fit funny, so i didn't indulge.

you can see that it's been a wild mix of foods, places, and experiences the last few days. as i was driving back across town this afternoon, i was thinking about the simple variety of experiences and it struck me that such variety is perfectly representative of l.a. as a city. i've spent a lot of time in london (lived there for four months), boston (lived there for a year), d.c. (visited so many times i couldn't count), and new york (annual visits for about five years running). and i don't think any of them is quite as eclectic as l.a. while they certainly all offer amazing diversity and a huge variety of experiences--as much variety as l.a.--, they all have something of a unified feel to them. boston is historic. new york is colossal. d.c. is governmental. london is cultured. los angeles is eclectic.

now i realize none of those cities can be reduced to a single word. i know they're all wonderfully various. but none of them has quite the same feeling of hundreds of disparate elements together forming a single metropolis that l.a. does. i love that about l.a. the diversity that is just there without necessarily calling attention to itself. like a city cobbled together out of anything at hand, refusing to be classified or even to fit an idea of what a city is.

09 July 2007

last night i made my first trip of the summer to the hollywood bowl (first and hopefully not last, since the bowl will be hosting a variety of interesting artists this summer). and what a fantastic line-up. the evening started with band of horses, whose performance made me want to go home and listen more. i started listening to them a few months ago and liked their album, but i've been a little obsessed with wilco and arcade fire this spring, so everyone else has gotten short shrift. their live performance underscored their music's lyricism--a lyricism that is beautiful and soulful without being self-indulgent. and left me anticipating their new album (i think they said it's due out in october).

they were followed up by andrew bird with his fantastic whistling abilities. i suppose anyone who can whistle has fantastic abilities compared to me (can't whistle to save my life), but he can whistle a tune while accompanying himself on guitar or violin or glockenspiel. which seems pretty fantastic to me. but his fantastic ability isn't limited to whistling and playing. his lyrics are fanciful, full of understated magic. and his performance, with a crazy contraption that looked like two old-school phonograph trumpets attached to each other whirling around behind him, reinforced that magic. i'm not sure exactly what the contraption did to the sound, but i'm sure it was there for more than visual effect...

the headliners last night, and the reason we went (though band of horses and andrew bird added to the appeal), were the decemberists. they played with the l.a. phil. which was interesting. i'd not seen a rock band play with a philharmonic before. i liked it. there were moments when the sound was a bit out of balance. but the decemberists' music is so vibrantly orchestral that having all those horns and a harp and strings behind them didn't detract from the music at all. the orchestra, the beautiful summer night, the music, and the band all combined to make for a magical night.

no small part of that magic was due to their singer, colin meloy, who is a pure delight. his performance had me laughing--that laughter that must be let out because you've seen something so beautiful that you can't keep it inside. his exuberance was infectious. his antics during the encore--a jaunt around the semicircle wall in front of the stage complete with mimed guitar solo played in tandem with chris funk, asking the crowd to indulge him by waving their cell phones--had the crowd begging for more.

as we walked out last night, down the long hill to find our bus back to the car, i felt at complete peace with the world. there's something so beautifully human about music--about thousands of people gathering, singing, cheering for something as ephemeral as a song. a celebration of being. i don't ever want to go without it again.

06 July 2007

the makings of a lovely day.
  • a traffic-free freeway making the trip to LAX a breeze
  • discovering a new bakery in westwood
  • at which i ate a yummy chicken pesto sandwich with fresh mozarella
  • the humanity shining in the face of the homeless man we met in line at diddy riese
  • overcoming my usual awkwardness when conversing with a homeless person to joke with him about calling me joan of arc
  • munching on a scrumptious ice cream sandwich while walking down sunny l.a. streets
  • easy conversation with a friend
  • realizing how well i know my 20th century literary history and criticism
  • rediscovering the exhilaration of playing beethoven's pathetique
  • a new ryan adams album to accompany room cleaning
  • sweaters stacked neatly in place
  • anticipating a movie with friends

04 July 2007

so just a few words on fatness.

in the interest of full disclosure, let me start by saying i'm not a fat person. i carry a few extra pounds lately. between 15 and 20, depending on the time of day and what i've eaten recently. those extra pounds keep me from wearing some of my clothes. more importantly, they indicate a basic absence of healthy living. but i'm not fat. i don't say that in order to preempt any misconceptions about what i look like. i say it because part of where i'm coming from in what i have to say on this matter has to do with overcoming my own prejudices as someone who has always been either skinny or at least on the thin side of average. more on that in a moment.

back to the topic at hand. fatness. about five years ago, i worked for my sister's company. we had a sales guy who worked with us. funny, funny guy. and super nice. everyone loved him. including all of his customers. and among those customers were a couple of women who owned a store in california. and these women were fat. not chubby. not a bit overweight. they were fat. and they would bring this guy brownies when they saw him at tradeshows and flirt every chance they got. i'm sure they had a bit of a crush on him. he was that kind of guy--a bit geeky, but just so nice and so funny that it didn't matter that he wasn't dreamy. and one day this sales guy and his sales guy buddies were joking about these women and their weight. and it just fried me. so i very snidely (and loudly) commented to no one in particular that it takes oh so much wit and intelligence to crack a joke at the expense of the fat girl. which shut him up pretty quickly.

i have a long history of coming to the defense of the chubby kid. for instance, when i was nine or ten there was a girl i went to church with who looked at me with a bit of hero worship in her eyes because when she was in third grade and i was in fourth, i defended her from the torture of playground girl-bullies who taunted her about her weight. i'm sure part of this had to do with having a couple of siblings who were chubby as kids and who were teased about it. but mostly it had to do with having been on the blunt end of the stick when it came to being taunted about body-image myself.

about a year after i derided my co-worker for his dimwitted effort at humor by making fun of someone because of their weight, i fell hard for a man i met online. and when i say i fell hard, i mean i fell like a barrel coming over niagara. i spent 40 hours talking to him the first week after he found me online. he was perfect. funny, intelligent, thoughtful, cute, an idealist tempered with just enough cynicism. a dream. he didn't have a picture posted, but he told me he was big. 'football player big' is how he put it. so i pictured a linebacker or something. someone definitely big but also athletic. someone sexy. the picture in my head was wrong. he wasn't athletic. and he wasn't sexy. he was fat. really fat. you could have fit two of me in a pair of his pants. probably with room to spare. and i found myself in the situation of loving everything i knew about who this man was, being turned off by the idea of his body, but feeling some pretty powerful chemistry when i let him close enough to kiss me.

it was a strange experience. and an incredibly good one. it forced me to confront my own prejudices--prejudices i didn't even know i had--and get over them. and it amazed me to discover how deep they were. how i had bought into the social construction of the fat guy as jolly and asexual. because, you know, there's just so much fat that how could he possibly feel desire in the same way a man with glistening muscles and rippling hair could? and because obviously a fat body couldn't possibly arouse a skinny one. it goes against every law of nature, right? you know, the laws that dictate that the bad guy wears a black hat and has brown eyes while the good guy wears a white hat and has blue eyes; that criminals have protruding unibrows, hairy hands, and an ungainly (though surprisingly speedy) limping gait; that the good people are also the successful people; and that the pretty people love the pretty people, while the fat and otherwise deformed people love other fat and otherwise deformed people.

i got over myself. because i loved this person for who he was and how we were together. because there was undeniable chemistry between us, no matter what silly notions i had about weight and sexiness in the abstract. when i broke up with him, it was over irreconcilable religious differences not over stupid cultural prejudices about sexiness.

for a good year after breaking things off with him, almost every time i saw a big guy i felt a surge of desire. and i still have that reaction sometimes. i like that. i like the fact that i've managed to, on some level, shed some of the culturally constructed prejudices about what it means for a human being to be beautiful and sexy.

so why the hell am i writing about this at 2:00 in the morning? because tonight i sat in a somewhat stunned silence as i listened to someone go on and on about how 5's don't date 9's ('she was fat--not just chubby, fat' said with just the right amount of scandalized disbelief. 'and we all know that a fat girl can't be a 9.'). and it ticked me off. but i didn't know this person well enough to be sure i was accurately assessing how serious she was about what she had to say, so i didn't respond at the time other than to say, a bit snidely, that of course being fat is just about the worst thing possible. maybe she wasn't, but she sounded serious. and when i got in bed a few hours later, i was still bothered enough that i couldn't sleep for thinking about it. so tonight the blog gets to be my exorcist. and my soapbox. because honestly what could be more pathetic than a grown woman thinking it's impossible for a stereotypically beautiful person to love someone who's stereotypically unbeautiful? nothing? that's what i thought.

{addendum: because i can just hear the comment: 'but amelia, if you had such a prejudice you had to overcome, why is it pathetic that someone else did, too?' here's why: because my prejudice was latent. buried so deeply that i was unaware of it until circumstances forced me to confront it. it was not something i articulated. 'but amelia, that just makes you sound like a hypocrite--you know, thinking one thing but saying another.' i disagree. all of us have culturally instilled prejudices that operate below the surface of our minds. the question is, when we think about a matter consciously, do our thoughts confirm or counter those prejudices? i have always known that i could be deeply attracted to someone who was not stereotypically beautiful. my past boyfriends and other men i'd kissed when i met the man i'm talking about above had included everything: pretty seriously over weight, rail thin, average, college athlete (former and current) with rock solid body, kinda funny looking, and stereotypically gorgeous. and i was aware enough of those around me, including friends and family who were a bit overweight, that i knew better than to categorically dismiss someone as unattractive based on weight. i knew how much it hurt those close to me to be dismissed in such a way. and i also knew that they were beautiful--to me and to others.}

03 July 2007

i am thinking about that proverb again. specifically about 'withhold[ing] not good from them to whom it is due, when it is in the power of thine hand to do it. say not unto thy neighbour, go, and come again, and to morrow i will give; when thou hast it by thee.' and i'm thinking about it in light of my own circumstances. what good i have to give those to whom it is due (and this includes both others and myself). what good i have it in my power to do. what i have to give. what it means to lead a 'good' life.

and i've realized that in many ways i have thought about this incompletely. what does it mean to live a good life--not just one full of goodness, but one that deserves the epithet 'good'? in many ways, i've envisioned the 'good' life as something that originates outside myself in some set of ideals. some of those ideals are very traditional. marriage. children. a home with a garden. building a sanctuary for those i love. others of my ideals are very reformist liberal. social equity. various versions of activism (though i generally espouse the variety that involves my purchasing power and my lifestyle, more than the variety that involves shouting in the street). progressive politics. while they all reflect my own beliefs, i think of all of them as greater than myself--as something larger and more beautiful than i am alone. and because they are superlative, they're difficult to realize. that difficulty is exacerbated by the fact that those two different sources of ideals--the traditional and the progressive liberal--often seem to conflict. what does it mean, for instance, to want both a career (one centrally focused on feminism and liberal social ideals) and a traditional home life? i realize these desires don't necessarily conflict, but sometimes they feel like they do.

and then there is doing good. so often, i think about doing good in prescribed ways. to do good is to give to others of my material means. or to do acts of charity. i feel enormous responsibility to relieve suffering--a responsibility so enormous that i could never fulfill it. because there seems so very little i can do to help the children of haiti or AIDS orphans in africa or the dislocated people of sudan. because locked in my rather sterile suburban existence, the good i do often seems limited to providing christmas for a local family through my singles program or simple, spontaneous acts like thanking someone who holds a door for me or helping clean up a mess i didn't cause. i recognize and espouse the necessity of spontaneity in doing good. but when i think about it in the abstract, doing good generally is about fulfilling some external dictum. forgive. comfort. mourn. relieve. love.

it occurs to me that i almost invariably approach the question of what it means to do good by first considering what others need and then applying the appropriate dictum. someone's spouse dies; mourn. someone is in pain; comfort. someone hurt me; forgive. now, i don't think this is a wrong approach to doing good. i think it's absolutely vital that we go out of our way to be aware of the suffering around us--both locally and distantly--and to then do everything in our power to aid those who suffer. and the external ideals that give rise to my vision of the 'good' life are important and beautiful. but today, as i re-read my post on confidence (i needed the pep-talk, even if it was self-authored), i got to thinking about this state of affairs.

a great deal of my current depression and paralysis arises out of an almost inescapable awareness that my life does not match the 'good' life i envision. i'm not married. i don't have children. and when i'm brutally honest with myself, i acknowledge that it's entirely possible (and perhaps entirely likely) that i'll never marry or have children (though i'm pretty adamant about adopting if i remain single). i don't have my own place to live and sometimes despair of being able to have my own home surrounded by beautiful growing things. every morning i start my day with a dose of npr. and while i can't imagine not doing so, the news sometimes leaves me feeling utterly incapable of doing anything meaningful to advance the causes of social equity. while i occasionally refuse shopping bags because i don't want to cause waste and walk because i don't want to waste gas and throw my cans and bottles into the recycling bin, i'm shamefully wasteful and as consumerist as the next american. the discrepancy between my reality and the external ideals i adhere to occasionally strikes me as so great that i become paralyzed: incapable of making the ideals real but loving them and believing in them so much that i cannot simply ignore them, i end up doing nothing. nothing but berate myself for my failure, that is.

in the last several years, this has been most pronounced in my academic career. in part this manifests itself in the clash between perfectionism and grand ideas on the one hand and deadlines and practical expectations on the other. like the paper i wrote last february--the one i had to write so i could return to school full time. a friend read it for me and commented that the ideas were the makings of a dissertation, not a seminar paper. and he was right. half my battle was pursuing ideas and connections on such a large scale that i couldn't make them fit the parameters of the assignment. and the other half was that nothing i wrote seemed good enough. the reality of the paper just didn't match the elusive vision in my head of what i wanted to say. and as a result i stewed and stewed and stewed and drove myself (and others) a bit batty. in the end, i wrote the damn paper. and in the end, it was good enough.

my academic paralysis has also resulted from the apparent clash of ideals i mentioned earlier. intellectually i understand that pursuing my degree and my career does not shut off the possibility of marriage and motherhood. in fact, given my passion for what i do and my commitment to education and gender equity, i'm more likely to attract the kind of man i'd be interested in marrying if i continue my education than if i did not. but with nearly 32 years of mormon religious education under my belt, there's an undeniably real undercurrent in my psyche that suggests that the more educated i become, the less likely i am to marry and, by extension, have children. i know that's wrong. and i reject as deeply flawed every understanding of mormon teaching that suggests that women should not seek fulfillment as individuals or that they should stifle their own passions and drives in order to marry (these understandings are generally not overt, but rather culturally implied). in my opinion, a woman stifling herself in such a way is nothing short of a recipe for disaster. but the years of lessons and talks and blessings have successfully induced me to believe in the ideal of marriage and family as the 'good' life so thoroughly that it continues to govern my subconscious in spite of the beliefs and ideals i more consciously espouse. and then there's the reality that being a liberal or a feminist or an intellectual single mormon woman drastically reduces the pool of potential mormon spouses. being all three sometimes feels like a death sentence where marrying a mormon is concerned...

combine this state of affairs with the fact that my current commitments (grad school, church callings, family obligations, trying to have something of a social life) make it nearly impossible to do good in the prescribed ways that meet general needs (service as relief work, either locally or globally), and i not only feel paralyzed but selfish and thoughtless, too. and before i know it, i seem not only to fail at leading a 'good' life, but also at doing good. my life ends up feeling insular and isolated. and it doesn't even compensate by at least fitting the mold of the 'good' life as premised on external ideals.

as i re-read the words of proverbs 3 today, a very simple realization struck me--one of those recognitions that is so simple that it almost shouldn't have to be articulated. if revelation is action--is moving forward into the terrifying void of an untried and unfamiliar life path, to paraphrase my previous post--and that action should take the shape of 'withhold[ing] not good from them to whom it is due, when it is in the power of thine hand to do it,' then what good must i do? what action must i take? what is in the power of my hand to do? recognizing need and suffering in others and alleviating it is certainly part of that action. but i don't think that good is exclusively reactionary in nature. i think it's also (and perhaps primarily) constructive and active in nature. it's using the gifts i've been given. all of them, not just those that will fulfill a prescription for the 'good' life. it's letting my passion for learning and teaching flourish. it's challenging my students' foundational premises so that they think and see the world in new ways. it's seizing the opportunities life presents and making them my own, complete with my own bizarre combination of apparently incongruous ideals and commitments.

in short, i think actively doing good requires being myself. doing what i do. thinking what i think. letting the 'good' life and good actions come from within as i reach towards the external ideals i love. seems rather simple, doesn't it. but it hit me pretty hard this afternoon. i don't want to jettison the external ideals i love and strive to realize. but i need to allow my own passions and abilities and ideas to combine with those external ideals in a process that results in a sum that is truly greater than its parts.