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.

02 July 2007

very small ones. but they're the ones that keep life beautiful.

the cop who pulled me over today not giving me a ticket because he was able to confirm that my expired registration is in fact in process.

spending 45 minutes with caroline and baby E and the sheer delight of smiling baby babble and chubby legs and the easy acceptance and support of a friend.

king louie howling because of simultaneous phone ringing and piano playing, which in turn made tasha and i laugh in the middle of a rather teary conversation.

little m's face lit up with pure joy as she runs from one end of her house to the other with her little sister.

bickering birds on my mama's backyard bird feeder.

the blue-gold of twilight on a warm summer night with air so gentle it feels like a caress.