30 April 2007

questions from caroline, who in turn got her questions from jana.

1. who are your two favorite authors--one prose, one poetry, and why?
ah. the favorite author question which always stymies me. i can't definitively name favorites, but i'll give you two from my larger group of favorites. poetry: emily dickinson. she's always up there. because she packs a lot into a small package. because she's irreverently spiritual. because she has a slant approach to truth. prose: i really truly do not know. so i'll just say arundhati roy cause i'm looking forward to reading the god of small things again. it's a gorgeous, disturbing novel that completely entranced me on my first reading and about which i have written twice and about which i will undoubtedly write again. a fascinating examination of boundaries and identity in relationship to love.

2. what were the saddest and happiest moments of your day (friday, when caroline sent these)?
saddest: that's tough cause friday was all in all a very good day. maybe getting home from the arcade fire concert at 1 in the morning and realizing that i couldn't hear them live again. i quickly decided i should go to their show in l.a. next month. that's a pretty rare day for me; i usually have much sadder moments brought on by my own ineptitude or by the news. happiest: well, there was the post-concert euphoria that stayed with me all day. but a single moment? probably while i was looking at matisse's 'the black shawl (lorette vii)' because i had one of those moments when image and reality came together in a provocative way.

3. what is your favorite thing to do on a saturday?
getting out in the world to discover something new, whether it's a museum or other cultural event or a restaurant or a mountain trail. and preferably done in company with good friends.

4. if you were a congresswoman, what is the first thing you would try to accomplish?
well, there are a million things i'd like to see change. but highest priority in my mind is addressing international crises--first and foremost the situation in darfur. i don't know exactly what steps i'd take, but there are a few. divestment of any and all government funds invested in corporations that do business with the sudanese government. imposition of sanctions against the sudanese government. a more powerful mandate for the african union and greater u.n. involvement. there's a start.

5. what's your favorite flower?
another impossible question. there are just way too many. but i'm going with the predictable: roses. but not for the predictable reasons. i like hot house roses, but i prefer the more chaotic beauty of roses on bushes. there's just something so profligate in their beauty. that said, i have yet to meet a flower i didn't love.

{if you want five questions of your own, leave me a comment telling me so. you should include either an email address so i can send you questions. or you can leave a link to your blog and i'll post questions in a comment.}

29 April 2007

i had a perfectly lovely weekend. i listened to great music. i ate good food. i explored a little more of my world. and i got my first sunburn of the season. here's a brief rundown:

art. i spent friday afternoon (after an hour and a half in traffic) wandering the norton simon. it's a beautiful little museum in pasadena with an impressive collection. i started with the 20th century and worked my way back in time and ended up in the scuplture garden, where the water lilies are promising to burst into bloom anytime. i didn't take the time to go downstairs to the asian collection, prefering to spend my time contemplating the works i loved rather than cramming it all in. i'll go back, i'm sure. my favorites:
  • picasso's 'woman with a book.' a brilliantly colored portrait that i'd never seen before. i love its combination of dramatic lines and air of contemplation.
  • matisse's 'the black shawl (lorette vii).' i love the way that black shawl is simultaneously insubstantially transparent and inescabably heavy--almost confining. it seems a fitting representation of beauty and sexuality.
  • adam and eve. luminous. and such a fascinating mix of innocence and sensuality.
  • the humanity of joseph holding the infant christ; personality captured in portraits; and the dutch tendency to include insects in still lifes of cut flowers (as i looked at a couple, it struck me as a humorous trend).
  • as much as the dutch cut flowers amused me, it was cezanne's tulips that i loved.
  • and rodin's burghers of calais always absorbs me, especially the figure of pierre de wissant. the norton simon has the full size nude and clothed studies of de wissant as well as the ensemble. rodin's ability to capture intense emotion through hand and foot gestures and with exaggeration amazes me.
books. on saturday, i spent my afternoon at the l.a. times book festival. it takes place every spring on ucla's campus. with 300 exhibitors and hundreds of authors in attendance, it's a book lover's kind of event. i found a few treasures to be given as gifts. and a book or two for myself. the highlights include:
  • meeting bill peet's son. as a child, i knew exactly where bill peet's books were in the children's room at our local library. his stories of creatures in crisis and fantastic beasts fascinated me. there's something almost magical about forging a real life connection (no matter how brief or secondary) with the source of one of my childhood dream worlds. if you don't know bill peet's books, you should.
  • walking ucla's campus. i'd never been there before. it's a gorgeous campus.
  • taking a break for a diddy riese ice cream sandwich and an hour spent reading aeschylus.
  • don cheadle and john prendergast's presentation based on their new book, not on our watch, about the crisis in the darfur region of sudan. their passion about the issue was inspiring. and their suggestions for actions practical, with potential to effect real change. i was frustrated that the corporate sponsor cut short their presentation in order to have them sign books. they had been scheduled to speak until about 4:45 and then spend an hour signing, but for some reason they couldn't stay as long as previously planned. so barnes & noble's shill tried to end the presentation and Q&A at 4:30. the crowd (with my vociferous contribution) called for more Q&A, rather than the signing, but needless to say a corporate sponsor couldn't give up the opportunity for a marketing event in favor of disseminating actual information. i'll be writing more about this book (which i bought and started reading last night) and this cause.
food. i stayed with RAF and JP overnight. which of course meant i could count on not only great company, but also wonderful food.
  • mexican at la cabinita in montrose. not the best mexican RAF and JP have introduced me to in the last couple of months (that distinction is reserved for another restaurant which shall remain nameless for all but the lucky few), but incredibly good. some yummy cheesy, creamy spread with fresh corn tortillas for an appetizer. followed up with some very good carnitas. and topped off with a positively delicious guava and cream cheese empanada.
  • RAF's homemade chocolat chaud. which is positively, absolutely delicious. so completely decadent. a lovely way to start a day. followed up by his homemade pancakes. which were wonderful. and i'm a little demanding in my expectations of pancakes. i eat them with nothing but butter, so there's no syrup or sugar or fruit to mask their quality. these passed with flying colors.
and between my excursions, i had a few hours spent in the company of RAF and JP, complete with great conversation, my first ever northern exposure episode, and photos of paris and london.

as you can see, it was a fabulous weekend. and to top it all off, i got to raise temperatures a notch or two today for the, ahem, rather conservative member of my sunday school class by suggesting that the society in which christ lived was sexist (shocking of me, i know).

28 April 2007

that's how i still feel more than 24 hours after the arcade fire concert ended. i went down to san diego yesterday with friends to see their show. and i was looking forward to it. but i really had no idea what i was in for. i was actually a little worried i'd be too tired to enjoy it, as i'd only slept about four hours the night before. and the opening act (though not bad) left me uninspired.

but that ended quickly--very quickly--as soon as the arcade fire took the stage. the first song had me moving. and by the end of the second, i had developed a crush on win butler, their lead singer. i spent the rest of the evening singing along and dancing. along with the rest of the crowd.

that theater last night was pulsing with life--with the reciprocity between artists and audience that makes possible not only art, but also being. a lot of that life came from the performers. win's larger than life stage presence. regine's magnetic persona. everyone of them with their obvious enthusiasm for the music they were making. and the constant motion. dancing. trading instruments with each other not only between songs, but occasionally during a song. it was incredible.

i think the thing i'm most amazed by is the tension between disillusionment and hope i find in their music. there's an exuberance in the collective...i don't know what to call it...humming? oo-ing? whatever it is, it's exuberant. and the 'hey' that punctuates 'no cars go' is overflowing with enthusiasm. the lush fullness of their sound, with all the many instruments they play, fills me up more than almost any other rock music. but there's the darkness of 'ocean of noise' with it's 'ocean of violence between you and me' and it's disavowal of choice. and 'my body is a cage' with its disgust for our 'age that calls darkness light.' but somehow, for me, the hope is what stays. maybe it's that the problems are recognized and named. that the false religiosity and the destructiveness of self-righteousness are revealed. and in their place there's an insistence that 'friendship and love' must have a home and that 'my mind holds the key.'

if you don't know their music, you should. and if you have the chance to see them live, you should.

after the concert ended, we waited around for a while--hoping they would come out and play for a bit in the lobby (as we've heard they do with some regularity). they didn't. and eventually we crossed the street to 7-11 for some drinks and were heading back to the car when we found the three trucks queued up to take their gear off to their next gig. and we decided we'd wait around a bit longer to see if the band came out that way. they did. and we met win. who was super nice and who signed our tickets (the crush lives on).

and now--now i just need to see them again. because last night i went home feeling awake and alive. and that has stayed with me all day today. a hum of energy beneath everything i do.

25 April 2007

a few discoveries and experiences that have left me feeling happy.

  • delicious. it's official: thai nakorn is back. and it's as wonderful as ever. after not having had the absolute perfection of beef panang curry and barbequed catfish, among many other delicious options, for nearly five months, it was heaven to partake again. if you like thai (and you should; if you don't there's something wrong with you), you need to get yourself to the new location. 11951 beach boulevard in stanton (at the intersection of chapman and beach). go. indulge. and give your support to this fantastic restaurant run by some of the nicest people i've met. you won't regret it.
  • christian constant. RAF just returned from a whirlwind trip to paris and london. and wonderfully thoughtful man that he is, he returned with a stash of christian constant chocolate for me. four perfect bars of dark chocolate, each with its own distinct flavor based on where the cacao beans were grown. and this time a box of truffles with fillings infused with flowers including tuberoses, frangipani flowers, tahitian vanilla flowers, and more. i'm salivating thinking about them but i need the thai-fullness to wear off.
  • macarons. as if the christian constant weren't enough, RAF also brought a selection of macarons from laduree, the home of the 'new' macaron which sandwiches flavored garnishes between two traditional macarons. i can't wait to sample these beautiful little pastries.
  • vampires and demons. i've been re-reading dracula this week, as i'm teaching it in my lit class this quarter. and i'm remembering just how fun this book is. it's totally unpredictable in spite of the cultural capital it carries in our society. even having read it before, i'm still surprised by its twists and turns. it will keep you turning pages. it's a fascinating glimpse into the world of the victorian fin-de-siecle--a world of high speed transportation, fabulous new inventions, and crumbling social mores. and it's a compelling examination of the way humans define themselves by establishing, and attempting to police, nebulous borders which are always subject to violation.
  • jekyll & hyde. another literary classic that's become such a commonplace in our cultural language that many never bother to check out the original. a quick and entertaining read, the strange case of dr. jekyll & mr. hyde remains startlingly current in spite of its rather far-fetched science. in the fraught cultural atmosphere resulting from last week's tragedy at virginia tech, jekyll & hyde gave my students and me an opportunity to examine the ways we demonize those who commit atrocities in an effort to understand the inexplicable and to reassure ourselves that we could never commit such acts ourselves.

21 April 2007

for the first time, i've been hit by a troll. my recent post in response to the supreme court ruling on the partial-birth abortion ban act of 2003 drew a rather vitriolic comment, which i deleted (although i preserved its only reasonable content). what ensued was ridiculous in the extreme. said troll (who posted the vitriol in the first place) commented on several of my posts from the last couple of months in an effort to insult me and some of the people who read and comment here. and he or she did so with very little imagination and a great deal of ignorance. so disappointing. if i must be insulted, at least he or she could have tried for some humor and intelligence in his or her insults.

as a result i've enabled comment moderation for the near future. so your comments won't be appearing immediately. hopefully this person will someday mature to the level that they understand that it's okay for people to have differences of opinion. but i'm not holding my breath.

in the meantime i'm simply looking for moderation. it's something i value, particularly in political discussion. most particularly in discussion of abortion, which discussion could desperately use a more moderate tone and rhetoric. please feel free to espouse whatever opinion you may have (even you m. troll). just use a modicum of respect and moderation.

19 April 2007

roses are, for me, home. when i was very small, our backyard was overgrown. the side yard was a positive jungle of weeds and tall grass and ivy. we had an enormous rubber tree that dropped leaves everywhere. and my mama grew vegetables in pots. i remember eating peas in the pod fresh off the plant. but the thing i remember most is the roses. frequently my dad would give my mom a rose bush for a birthday or an anniversary. and i started learning their names even when i was small.

when i was in grade school, i loved to take a rose to my teacher. i'd ask my mom in the morning before school. and sometimes life was hectic and she was busy and the answer was no. but sometimes the answer was yes, and i was given a pair of clippers to cut the perfect blossom. and my mom would wrap the stem in wet paper towel and then in tin foil and i would carefully, and proudly, carry it to school.

eventually we re-landscaped the yard and it was no longer a jungle. but there were still roses. always roses--both inside and outside the house. it wasn't unusual for my dad to send my mom flowers. for special occasions they were usually roses (but not often red ones; they're kind of dull). but the ones i liked the very best in the house were the ones mama cut in the garden. a little bit of beauty she had planted and cultivated and brought in to share.

when i went away to school, the roses were one of the things i looked forward to most when it was time to come home (other than family, of course). i'd come home just about this time of year--maybe a week later. and the roses would be in the middle of their first spring time blooming. big beautiful blossoms of all colors. air full of heady scent.

i have my favorites of course. i love joseph's coat for it's crazy sprawl and it's gorgeous orange and yellow coloring. betty boop develops from brilliant yellow and pink, to white and red. intrigue smells sultry, with a twist of citrus. plus it's a beautiful plum purple. double delight begins with pure white petals at its heart surrounded by brilliant pink-scarlet. as it ages, its center petals change from white to red. one day, i went out mid-afternoon to visit the roses (and that's the correct description for what i do when i go to see the roses) and found the most perfect double delight with its pure white center. i went out later that same day, at the end of twilight, and that same bloom's heart had changed. it made me want to spend hours watching, just to see how the change happens. in the spring, the blooms on first prize are often as big as a salad plate. and fame gives me an almost constant abuandance of fluttery red blossoms.

when i moved back to southern california to go to school, my mom took me to the nursery and bought me some roses of my own. i loved coming home from a busy day of school and work to discover my mini roses blooming on my porch. and they managed to survive even my worst neglect (they're surprisingly hardy plants, roses). i still have my mini rose garden. my mom has turned them into habitat for one of her garden fairies.

nothing gives me peace quite like the roses. i walk into the yard to visit them and all of the worries and stress simply disappear.

i thought i'd share their beauty. wish you could be here to see them for yourself.

{the roses, top to bottom: betty boop, joseph's coat, just joey, duet, golden showers, joseph's coat, double delight, 4th of july}

18 April 2007

alarming indeed.
alarming--that's how ruth bader ginsburg described the supreme court's decision to uphold the 2003 ban of D&X (dilation and extraction) abortion procedures, more commonly known as partial-birth abortion. and i have to agree with her.

now, please do not misunderstand me here. i do not think i would personally choose an abortion in any circumstance except pregnancy resulting from rape. and even then i'm not confident as to what my decision would be. and i find the D&X procedure troubling in many ways. what i object to is not the effort to regulate abortion or this particular procedure. i object to regulating it without leaving any room at all for an exception. i am not a medical doctor, so i cannot make medical arguments as to whether or not such a procedure is a necessary option in order to preserve the life or health of a pregnant woman. but my understanding of both justice and equity demands that there always be room for an exception to be made in exceptional circumstances. and this law denies the option of exceptionality, and therefore equity. to that extent i find it deeply troubling that the highest court in our nation would place justice above equity, implying that an unborn child's life is always worth more than that of its mother.

16 April 2007

in the last week, i've found two or three references to a recent article about world-renowned violinist joshua bell busking in a washington, d.c. metro station. tonight i took a break and read the original article.

it was a stunt. have the best violinist in the nation (one who is paid up to $1000/minute) stand in a busy metro station during rush hour playing difficult and beautiful music on a $3.5 million stradivarius and see just how many people stop. or even notice. when consulted, the music director of the national symphony orchestra surmised that 70-100 people would stop (a small crowd) and 40 or so may know the quality of what they heard. the reality? 27 gave money (a total of $32.17). only 7 stopped to listen. two or three knew the quality of what they heard. and one recognized bell (who is highly recognizable, as he's something of a classical music heartthrob).

the article is beautifully written and well worth the time it takes to read. the accompanying video clips are interesting to watch. as i read, and watched, i longed to have been there. to have discovered that kind of music being played in a metro station. would i have stopped? i don't know. it wouldn't have been the first time, as i often stopped to listen to buskers in both london and boston. and i probably would have dropped some cash into his case before i went on my way. but i know myself. and i know i can get caught up in the stress and busy-ness of life and, while i'm positive i would have noticed, i may have hurried through without much pause.

the article's questions about context and framing in relationship to beauty are of great interest to me. i've been thinking about those questions for a long time. and some of my favorite intellectual arguments with friends have arisen in response to those questions. i'll never forget the day that started with a conversation about the relationship between context and art/beauty on a bus to stratford upon avon and ended with the most incredible adaptation of 12th night. it was one of those days that stays with you for years, reverberating with thought and laughter and beauty. i enjoyed the article because of its subject and its questioning.

but the thing that made me stop as i was reading was john picarello's reaction. a fan of joshua bell (though he didn't recognize him), picarello came off the escalator, heard the music and immediately stopped. he spent nearly ten minutes standing in l'enfant plaza engrossed in the music. having trained as a violinist as a child and teenager, with the aspiration of becoming a professional musician, he recognized the perfection of the playing and the quality of the instrument. he called it "a treat, just a brilliant, incredible way to start the day." he was bewildered by the fact that no one else seemed to recognize what was happening.

this is what really made me stop and notice picarello:

"When he left, Picarello says, 'I humbly threw in $5.' It was humble: You can actually see that on the video. Picarello walks up, barely looking at Bell, and tosses in the money. Then, as if embarrassed, he quickly walks away from the man he once wanted to be."

here was a man who loves music. who once aspired to be what joshua bell is, and who is now a supervisor at the u.s. postal service because he knew he didn't have the ability to make it as a concert violinist. but he still knew the beauty of what he heard and acknowledged it. this response resonated with me. because i often feel this way in my own work. i love the literature i teach. it's magical. because it's not just stories, words conveying set meanings. it's infinitely complex--always greater than the sum of its parts. the work i do--writing about literature; teaching literature--is a form of homage. a humble acknowledgement of beauty and wisdom and raw humanity of a kind i know is beyond my ability to produce.

10 April 2007

i love shopping. or rather, i love getting new clothes. there's something about finding new clothes that feel like me--that match my style and my personality--that makes me happy. so much so that occasionally i indulge in a bit of retail therapy. last fall for instance, i had a particularly bad day one friday. and after breaking down in tears at work (fortunately work is in the home of a woman i consider a friend), i decided i'd splurge and buy the $50 cardigan sweater i'd been wanting. and it helped, even if it didn't solve the problem.

last saturday my parents gave me some money and told me to go buy something new for church. you can imagine my frustration when i exhausted every option at the mall without finding anything. so i made the trek up the freeway to the j.c. penney where i found not one, but two new skirts with shirts to go with them. and then i hit a nordstrom's rack where i found a pair of orange, blue and white plaid ballet slipper shoes. those shoes make me happy every time i look at them--and they make me think of two of my favorite people whose style i love.

i feel kind of bad that i like shopping and new clothes so much. i don't want to support industries that i know use underpaid (and that's probably a gross understatement) labor. and obsession with possessions and acquisition really bothers me. i do keep my taste for shopping in control. saturday was the first time i'd gone shopping (as opposed to running an errand for a specific purpose) in months. and it was the first time i'd spent more than about $20 on clothing since that yucky friday afternoon last november (and even these small purchases have been very few and far between). i also refuse to spend the kind of money on clothing that so many stores in this area ask. those things make me feel a bit better about myself. but still.

and while i'm in confessional mode, i suppose i should get it off my chest that i once confused the mama's and the papa's for the beatles (i know, i know--sacrilege), i detest ketchup (totally unamerican of me), and i occasionally eat at--and enjoy--chain restaurants.

09 April 2007

so brooke picked my blog for the thinking blogger award. which is a lovely compliment, since i always love reading what she has to say. her blog is full of fun tidbits and recommendations and creativity and beauty. i've lifted some of my favorite pictures from her. and found wonderful children's books to recommend for all my nieces and nephews.

so, in no particular order, and because they make me think in a variety of different ways, i'm naming the following as my own thought-provoking blogs:

1. my sisters at bougainvillea and we can do it! because there's something really wonderful about knowing siblings as adults and their blogs help me to know not only what's happening in their lives, but also what they're thinking about and how they're dealing with problems that i also sometimes face.

2. seymour, to whom i owe 95% (probably more) of my discoveries in new music and a signifcant chunk of my other discoveries in the last few years. in addition to keeping me tapped into interesting trends and info, he makes me laugh. and i found my most recent life motto on his blog.

3. time is an illusion. lunchtime doubly so. full of funny little tidbits and an interesting perspective. plus she ran 'kiss of the day' for a while last fall (bring it back!), which was highly amusing. and she used the term 'bathing jersey.' that in and of itself is worth notice.

4. then there's ftrain. written by paul ford, who i don't know from adam. but he's a fabulous writer. and he's an NPR commentator, so i'm officially jealous. his posts often speak to me. and occasionally for me. he hasn't been posting much lately, but i still go peruse archives on occasion.

5. i read a few mormon women's blogs. i thoroughly enjoy both exponent II (which i occasionally write on) and feminist mormon housewives. but zelophehad's daughters most consistently gets me thinking about being mormon, intellectual, and feminist.

so there they are. five of the more than five blogs i consistently read and thoroughly enjoy. i don't like narrowing it down to five (actually six), because i wouldn't read any of the blogs i read regularly if they didn't get me thinking. but those are my arbitrary choices tonight.

if you're the sort to pass a meme along, here's what you're supposed to do:

1. If I have nominated you, you have been tagged.
2. If you get tagged, write a post with links to five blogs that make you think.
3. Link to this post so that people can easily find the exact origin of the meme.
4. (Optional) Proudly display the "Thinking Blogger Award" with a link to the post that you wrote.

do with it what you will.

04 April 2007

i'm using guernica tomorrow in my class--part of an effort to get my students to understand the multiple levels on which a work of art can be realistic. and as i was poking around, getting a little historical background on the painting, i ran across this tidbit:

"A tapestry copy of Picasso's Guernica is displayed on the wall of the United Nations building in New York City, at the entrance to the Security Council room. It was placed there as a reminder of the horrors of war. . . . On February 5, 2003, a large blue curtain was placed to cover this work, so that it would not be visible in the background when Colin Powell and John Negroponte gave press conferences at the United Nations. On the following day, it was claimed that the curtain was placed there at the request of television news crews, who had complained that the wild lines and screaming figures made for a bad backdrop, and that a horse's hindquarters appeared just above the faces of any speakers. Diplomats, however, told journalists that the Bush Administration pressured UN officials to cover the tapestry, rather than have it in the background while Powell or other U.S. diplomats argued for war on Iraq."

i'm not especially surprised that such a request (cough cough) would be made. i am disgusted. and it does confirm most of my opinions of the current president and his administration. i realize that some wars must be fought, but this one was not one of them.

03 April 2007

a note from my sister about her cookbook project. she posted it in the comments on my last entry about it, but i wanted it to be more visible. it illustrates how very much the children of haiti need help.

Thanks for your help! We are commited to ordering 2000 books regardless of the number of orders we have come April 6th.....so keep pushing if you will.

The cost for 2000 vs. 1000 books is almost half - so we are going to stretch a bit in effort to raise more money for the children of Haiti.

Holt has a waiting list of children. Until they can expand they remain on the waiting list. The money we earn from the sale of this cookbook will help the Holt Fontana Village build the required homes so they can help more children.

I struggle with the memory of a little boy who probably had AIDS that couldn't keep any food down. We went into a remote area of Haiti to see some of the wells that Peter Fontana was so proud of and responsible for building. On the way back we stopped in the small clinic in Montrois. The Doctor had very little to work with. And the poor little boy he was trying to help was very sick and unable to keep any food down. The skinniest dog I have ever seen came along and cleaned up what the boy couldn't keep down.

It is those memories of our trip to Haiti that I remember when I'm feeling tired of pushing people to buy a cookbook. We have so much! We can always do more. The cookbook is a start.

I love you!

i spend a lot of time listening to the news on the radio. and i regularly find myself in tears because there are so very many people--beautiful children of god--who suffer in this world. who could be helped if only i could give them a little bit of my excess. this is one way of doing that.

01 April 2007

as a teenager, i decided that when i grew up i wanted to be the mother of a large family. i planned the rest of my education based on that decision. i had my life mapped out. after high school, i would attend brigham young university where i would certainly find and marry my future husband. i would begin a major in secondary education, which would enable me to work in a profession compatible with mothering children--but only if life circumstances forced me to work. and i was prepared to drop out of college so my future husband could pursue his career plans as necessary. i would not put off having children for pecuniary reasons. i would be a wonderful wife and mother.

my plans didn't work out exactly as i envisioned them. right in the middle of my undergraduate education, the spirit prompted me that i should more seriously pursue my education--including a graduate education--in order to allow me to teach. i knew teaching was a gift from god and that were i not to teach, i would be failing him. i'm 31 now. i'm unmarried and have no children. i finished my undergraduate degree. and i continued to earn a master's degree. i am currently working on a PhD. i still want to marry and have children--more than i want anything else. i will not give up on that vision for myself. but my life is very different from what i envisioned it would be.

in the april 2007 ensign, shauna bird dunn shares her own teenage vision of her future life and how that life radically changed. after having spent years planning a high-power corporate career, she felt prompted to turn down a dream job in favor of a job that would allow her to have children. ultimately she left work altogether to become a stay-home mom. i respect dunn for her decisions. they were clearly very difficult decisions to make. and she made them in keeping with personal revelation about god's plan for her.

that said, i was troubled by her article. dunn creates a fairly stark opposition between the life she envisioned as the "leader of a large corporation" and her actual life as a stay-home mom. she writes: "i have stayed up many nights to comfort a sick or frightened child instead of staying up preparing a presentation for the board of directors; worn clothes covered in peanut butter smears instead of power suits; cleaned my home each day instead of enjoyed a penthouse view from my office; bandaged 'owies' and encouraged piano practice instead of handing out performance reviews; and enjoyed hugs and kisses instead of stock options as my compensation plan." dunn also describes her dreams of working as a high-powered corporate leader in terms of "wearing power suits to my penthouse office, dazzling my co-workers and employees with my expertise, and cashing paychecks that truly reflected my value."

the message is clear: being a stay-home mom is rewarding in very real, deeply human ways. it is full of love and compassion and kindness. it is selfless. pursuing the high power career with its "unbelievable benefits" is actually about shallow considerations like clothing, how high up the building one's office is situated, wowing other people, and making lots and lots of money; it is not about true fulfillment, passion, or serving others.

part of the problem here is that dunn is clearly discussing labor in a very capitalist system, a system in which money and power are the measure of all that is worthy. and she compares it to labor (the labor of mothering full time) that is not recognized in terms of money or power within our capitalist society. she is participating in a conception of 'work' that fails to recognize that leading which is done for money should be similar in kind to leading that is done for christ. in other words, leaders in the workplace should be servant leaders every bit as much as leaders in the church or the family. but i digress; servant-leaders in the workplace is a topic for a different post.

the thing that really bothers me about dunn's article is that she portrays women who want to work as supremely shallow. they are motivated by money. or by clothes. or by power. or by prestige. they are not motivated by passion. they are not trying to use god-given abilities and talents--talents that they will lose if they do not use them. they are the demonized other to the stay-home mother.

i want to give a voice to those women who pursue a career not because they want money or prestige or to be one of the boys; but because they are driven to do a certain work. because they know that if they do not do that work, they will fail god. because that work will allow them to be co-creators with god. i want to work not because i'll see my name in lights or have multiple publications or be able to append three degrees to my name when i sign letters; i want to work because i think teaching will let me do god's work in ways that nothing else will allow, not even motherhood. i want to work because teaching will give voice to passions and ideas that, if they remain bottled up inside me, will otherwise explode.

and i want to be a wife and a mother. the difference between dunn and i was she actually had a choice about following her teenage vision of a life. i have not had that choice. my opening paragraphs are not simply a subtle parody of dunn's opening paragraphs; they are an accurate statement of my dream for myself when i was a teenager. my life has unfolded in such a way that i have never had the opportunity to make the choices that would allow me to marry and have children. instead, i have had to grapple with the darkness of not being able to make that choice. but, like dunn, i have learned that "i am happiest when i follow the lord's plan for my life rather than my own personal plans."

dunn's article illustrates the great faith it takes some women to give up work and instead become a stay-home mother. i honor that faith. but this decision is idealized to such an extent that it is often idolized in the church. my decision, which mirrors in inverse dunn's decision, also required a great deal of faith. the decision to continue pursuing the work and education the spirit prompted me to pursue was a decision premised on faith--faith that doing so would not foreclose the opportunity to marry and bear children; faith that i have the capacity to do the work i feel prompted to do (believing this is an ongoing battle for me); faith that i can navigate the sometimes troubled waters of being a mormon, a feminist, and an intellectual. accepting the fact that my righteous desire for marriage and family may never be fulfilled, and finding the strength to build a life for myself alone, has required more faith than i realized i had.

dunn's almost-glib dismissal of women who work in favor of women who mother conceals the passion and spiritual commitments that inform some women's commitment to work. and the idealization/idolization of stay-home motherhood her article represents ignores the reality of so many women in the church--those who are single, whether with or without children; those who must work for financial reaons; those who cannot have children; and many others. it is time to celebrate motherhood and marriage without doing so at the expense of real women whose lives do not, and often cannot, conform to an ideal/idol.

{this was cross-posted on Exponent II.}