Saturday, June 28, 2008

A Festival and a Dispenser of Shields

First of all, the Utah Arts Festival:

Cool art. Cool music, if you don't count the atrocious honky-tonk country and the tacky rock band on the Amphitheatre Stage. (Why does the Intermountain West insist on country music? Why? Is it some sort of throwback to our frontier roots? We are living in the twenty-first century, people! Not everyone's a cowboy!) Among the other festival attractions were lot's of overpriced food and watered-down cups of lemonade, and LOTS of beer. You could get drunk off the fumes. In fact, I almost did. With my weight and drinking experience (none, on both accounts) I don't hold my liquor so well. But when all was said and done, the best thing of all was the Brazilian dance group, which we could just see if we looked through tiny cracks in-between people's bodies, the crowd was so thick. With a little perseverance, I was able to get a prime spot precariously perched atop a wall where I could see basically everything if I craned my head over the person in front of me. But before getting on to the coveted wall, I had the honor of getting beer spilled all over the back of my legs. "Oh man. I am so sorry about that," says the culprit. Sure you are. Sorry you just dropped your five buck dixie-cup of Bud Light! Luckily, alcohol evaporates quickly. I guess that's why they use it to clean things, and that, in my opinion, is the only thing it should be used for, and NOT to enebriate otherwise sane people. The art really was cool, though, all other things aside. So was the dance.

#2 Shield dispenser
If you are Bryce, or as squeamish as, you may want to skip this part. So, we are all familiar with maxi-pad dispensers in women's restrooms. You put in a quarter, twist the nob, and bingo: you are spared embarrassment in an emergency. The restrooms in the Church Office Building, like any other respectable, accredited establishment, provide these little vending machines, but (and this is a big but) with an added component which I happened to note while drying my hands with a paper towel. I glanced over at the little white box and couldn't help but notice that you could not only buy a pad or a tampon (ten cents each), but also a "shield". Now, let us consider the context of this discovery. I was in the Church Office Building, which is, as you know, kinda like the temple. Or at least close by. Could it be that the Church Office Building Tampax vending machines dispensed some sort of big, billowy shield?. Was that really necessary? I sneer at myself even as I write this. Of course not. Of course it meant that for ten cents you could buy...the Shield of Faith! (But where, then, were the white boxes selling Breastplates of Righteousness?) Obviously, my own logic wasn't getting me anywhere. I called Christina into the bathroom. "What is this? What kind of shield are we dispensing here?" I asked, pointing to the box. She caught my eye and we succumbed to what is commonly referred to as "the giggles." "Do you have a dime?" She asked. I did. I put it in and turned the nob. I braced myself to catch the enormous, cast-iron shield that was sure to come tumbling out of the small white vending machine...but was greeted instead by a small, pink box. We poured over the writing on the box trying to distinquish what hidden treasure, indeed, what shield it contained therein.... It was a dumb panty-liner! Oh, the irony. Disappointed, we finally left the restroom, armed if not by the Shield of Faith then at least--you know--for some other kind of emergency.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Why I will NOT be going to law school

Because I do not want to be a lawyer, and though law school itself might be kind of interesting--really interesting even--in this case the means do not justify the end. In other words the virtues of law school do not justify the outcome of law school: just one more lawyer in the Thomas family and in the world.

The End.

Monday, June 23, 2008

I am a fool

Perhaps the biggest fool on the face of the planet. You know when you make certain discoveries about yourself that are not exactly complimentary? Well, i have discovered--and not for the first time--one of my majorest character flaws. i would even venture to say it is my greatest flaw. And I am extremely sorry to say that it was Pride and Prejudice that helped me give a name to it. Or at least a description. Why am I sorry that Pride and Prejudice was involved? Simply because it annoys me that Pride and Prejudice seems to be heavily involved in every English major's life whether they want it to or not. Don't get me wrong; I like the book and like the movies even better. But I do not feel that Elizabeth Bennet and I "just have so much in common." Well, I was watching the part of P&P yesterday where Darcy and is talking to Elizabeth as she plays the piano and Lizzie accuses him of holding people in contempt, to which he retorts (and I quote) that her fault is to "willfully misunderstand them." Somebody might as well have punched me in the gut. It probably would have felt about the same.

Two days ago, I found myself face to face in the kitchen with my older sister angrily accusing her--if not in words than in action--of criticizing and disliking all my taste in music. Details are unimportant, but this was not the first time I had felt thus criticized. It was a small thing, but in the moment it was a big deal to me. I was tired of trying to please her, and all my siblings really (being the youngest, you know) and always seeming to meet with indifference if not disdain. But there in the kitchen, just when I was sure I was totally in the right, she declared, "Why do you always assume I don't like what you like! Why do you always assume I'm criticizing! I'm sick of it!" I'm not sure if my mouth dropped open, but it would have been appropriate if it had. I felt the scales drop from my eyes, and I was seeing a part of myself that I had never recognized before. Still shocked, and not quite repentant i mumbled an apology, but was really trying to wrap my brain around the implications of what she'd just said. Did I really assume so much about people? Did I who was always, by principle, so critical of those who assumed or analyzed things so totally blind to this defect in myself?

i thought about every recent unfairness or crushing doubt i had experienced and came to a very important--and humiliating--conclusion: in almost every occasion, my own assumptions had made me "willfully misunderstand." I had assumed that so and so thought such and such about me. I had assumed that such and such meant such and such, etc. etc. All subconsciously, of course.

And this of course brought me around to thinking about a gospel principle that I first thought seriously about on my mission. "Charity thinketh no evil." What does this mean anyway? I never thought very hard about it because it seemed so obvious; of course charity would think no evil. Most good, albeit uncharitable, people might have a few bad thoughts, but nothing evil, necessarily. But the way it's phrased in Portuguese says that charity "does not suspect wrong." I remember a talk a friend sent to me in Brazil that addressed this very thing in a short paragraph:

"Guilelessness," it says, "is the grace for suspicious people. And the possession of it is the great secret to personal influence. You will find, if you think for a moment, that the people who influence you are people who believe in you. In an atmosphere of suspicion men shrivel up; but in that atmosphere [of belief] they expand, and find encouragement and educative fellowship. It is a wonderful thing that here and there in this hard, uncharitable world there should still be left a few rare souls who think no evil. This is the great unworldliness. Love 'thinketh no evil,' imputes no motive, sees the bright side, puts the best construction on every action."

This friend will probably never know how much this talk came to mean to me on the mission, where I often felt so utterly inadequate. (The letter with my response was lost.) No one may ever know how this helped me dealt with my own crippling insecurities. "Don't be self-conscious!" this screams. I spent the year before my mission working on this. "Don't be suspicious!" it declares. I spent time with my companions working on this. But in spite of all my hard work, I feel like I've just fallen back into the same old vice: "thinking evil."

What can I do? How can i make amends with the world for all the willful misunderstanding I have unwittingly pumped into it? I will start by adopting a new assumption that no one anywhere is even thinking about me at all let alone bad about me. This sounds extreme--and it is--but it's what I must do to purge myself of self-consciousness. And then, the logical next step is to stop myself from having the unkind thoughts I was so afraid of in others, to stop imputing motives and to stop being so ridiculous!

Well, this has been long and no doubt way too introspective to be even remotely interesting, but i had to write it down so i don't forget and slip into the same thing in the future. i consider myself a confident, reliable person--exuberant even. a good friend. Responsible. Loyal. Well, i have been exposed for the fraud I am. It appears that the person I have misunderstood the very most is, of course, myself.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Walden Pond

I've never really cared about Henry David Thoreau, not because I don't like his work, but because I haven't read enough of it to care. I have read the obligatory blips from Walden and Civil Disobedience that have been assigned to me in my literature survey courses, but I have never sat down and studied transcendentalist lit. (Not shocking.) While we're on the subject of literature, I'm no snob when it comes to books. I don't like Dickens and I really have no desire to read Crime and Punishment or, or--i don't know--any other equally reputable classic. i have read my share of classics, but they do not automatically find themselves classed among my favorite books.

but i have gotten off topic. Walden. I first saw the Pond--the real thing--five years ago passing through Lexington and Concord with my dad and sister. It was on that occasion that i made the amazing discovery that you could actually go swimming in Walden pond, for Walden is no mere algae-covered mudhole, like most ponds we think about. It's really a small lake: a lake that I fell in love with the first time I saw it, looking down through a thin grove of skinny-trunked trees to the shore where people were happily splashing around. There is something unutterably romantic to me about swimming in nature. Unfortunately, at that time we didn't have our swimsuits. How on earth were we supposed to know that you could actually swim in Thoreau's Walden Pond? We drove off a little wistfully. At least I was wistful.

Five years later--last week, to be precise--I finally made good on my wish to swim in Walden Pond. Now, make no mistake about my motives. I didn't want to swim there because it was the Walden, or because 150 years earlier Henry David Thoreau happened to live at its water's edge in a small, primitive hut where he wrote his world-acclaimed philosophy. Don't be ridiculous. I wanted to swim simply because it was the most inviting natural body of water that i'd ever laid eyes on! When we approached it's water's edge--this time, appropriately dressed--it was more beautiful than ever. The three o' clock sun was pleasantly golden, but not fierce, and there was no wind. We skirted along the edge of the pond to a place that was not very crowded, threw our towels indecorously in the brush, kicked off our flip-flops and gingerly stepped into the crystal clear water. And I do not used this cliche lightly: the water was in every sense of the words "crystal clear." With each step in, the parts of my body that were not yet used to the chill shivered and I could not help but cringe a little--I hate the cold--but the water felt pleasantly warm after a minute or two. I waded in up to my chin, still able to see the bottom, and watched as Christina swam out further. As much as i think swimming in lakes and rivers is romantic, it still makes me a little nervous, and i didn't like the thought of treading water fifty feet away from shore, so i watched from the shallows, side-stroking here and there, trying not to get the top of my head wet.

Well, i will stop before I drift into the realm of sentimentality. But I will say this: Walden far and away exceeded my expectations. i am determined to go back someday. And who knows: for all my anti-literary-snobbishness, i may just take a serious look at Thoreau's literature now that I have beheld his muse--and swum in it.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

The Powder Magazine

So i just went to Boston to help my sister pack up her stuff and drive back across the country to home. I have to say, my going out there was not so much an act of charity as it was tourism. i hadn't been to Boston in 15 years and the only thing I remembered from my previous trip was the swan boats putting around the pond in the Common. Not a bad memory actually, but one that actually--now that I think about it--may have been fabricated by reading Make Way for Ducklings so many times as a kid. Well anyway, Christina's and my first act of tourism in Boston was to take a ferry to the harbor islands. I am, of course, talking about Boston Harbor here, of "Boston Tea Party" fame. It was nice. The boat ride, I mean. There were about five thousand middle school kids on board with us, but rather than take offense at their, shall we say, obnoxious presence, we decided to enjoy them as we would any other form of native wildlife. (What would a tour of some historically significant site be without the obligatory middle school fieldtrippers, after all?)It turned out that on weekdays, the ferry only went to one island of the many, this island being Georges Island. This particular island houses an old Civil War fort: Fort Warren, where the Union used to keep Confederate prisoners captive. It is also a strategic point of defense for the harbor as a whole. The fort, like all forts, was roughly the shape of a donut. It was a huge, roughly star-shaped, stone edifice with a big green lawn in the middle. (They probably used to do drills and practices and stuff in this area, but the middle school crowd used it to play frisbee. Fair enough.) The fort was large enough that it enabled Christina and I to find places to explore unmolested by the seventh graders. There were many dark--possibly too dark--passages to explore, corridors lit only by the sunlight through the small slits in the wall, curving staircases, dead ends in the dark, etc. We hadn't thought to bring flashlights (gee, how did that one slip our minds?) so we tried to use the light from our cellphones in the darkest area success. The whole experience was fun and just the right amount creepy. But finally, after all this tiring exposition, i have finally arrived at the moment that I want most to record: the powder magazine.

What is a powder magazine? I didn't know either. Turns out that it is a storage shed for ammunition and gunpowder and all that other nice, explosive stuff. It's a smallish, thick-walled building smack in the middle of the fort. Why the middle? Well, would you want the enemy to blow up your powder magazine--and consequently your fort--at the first opportunity? Probably not. So, we found this shed and decided to check it out. The ferry back was not scheduled to leave for another fifteen minutes, so we had time to kill, and why not kill it in a small, empty, thickwalled shed? So that's what we did. And then, we discovered the best-kept secret of the fort.

The entrance to the magazine was a narrow doorway that smelled like urine, and looked into an ominously dark--and boringly empty--arched room with a window at the other end. Wrinkling our noses, we started to turn from the doorway, but then turned back. The room was deliciously cool, and the day was hot. Once past the doorway, the bad smell seemed to disappear, and after a minute or two our eyes adjusted to the dark. The room really was as empty as can be, but this is what facilitated the magic that we discovered. "Listen!" Christina said. Listen! Sen! Sen!, the walls repeated. "Wow," I whispered. Wow, the room whispered back. All of a sudden, this old, unused, unvisited powder magazine presented us with unbelievable acoustic possibilities. We played around with various sound effects at first, but the sound of the room was so much like a monastery that it just begged one to sing a Gregorian chant. Since the only one I even kind of know is "O Come, O Come Emmanuel" we sang it together. We harmonized. I'm the first to admit I don't have an amazing voice, but we sounded phenomenal! This song inevitably led to other Christmas songs--which lend themselves so easily to being beautiful--and even some of the more musically complex hymns. (Only the Ralph Vaughn Williams ones.) A couple times during our impromptu concert, a couple people poked their noses in the doorway, smelled the stale urine, stared into the uninviting darkness and turned away, just as we almost did. We waited patiently each time this happened, and then, when they would leave, we would start humming, or whistling or singing once more. And then, after ten minutes, we discovered the best trick of all: you could harmonize with your own echo. I could sing a chord with only the sound of my own voice reverberating around the tunnel-shaped room.

I must say that we sailed back to the docks feeling very good about ourselves. It is a fantastic feeling to have done something different than most people, and to have taken the time to discover it. It was not smugness that we felt, but rather a kind of joy that truly beautiful things always seem to evoke. And the seventh graders only made our triumph more piquant.

Hello from above ground

Before I get started let me just say that I'm really excited about this new blog, because it will require no effort. I am not going edit very much, if at all, and I will not have to face the perfectionist in me that always rears its ugly head whenever I try to be creative. Editing and creating are fine in their place, but this is not their place. the spirit of my weekly emails from my mission, I will write as fast as I can so as to not lose energy.