Monday, December 21, 2009

Good Ideas

I feel like I should write, but I'm not sure what. It is the darkest day of the year, and I am alone. But not lonely.

I am by myself in my new apartment, in my yet-disastrous and unpacked room, sitting at my bare desk. Bins of clothes litter my floor in varying stages of unpackedness, and I'm borrowing a lamp from the front room so as to not sit in utter darkness. I have no curtain to hang over the blinds, so I've made do temporarily with my red Victoria's Secret "Mama Claus" bathrobe slung over the curtain rod. (Classy, I know. But it is cold otherwise...) I've moved my bookshelf and stereo into the room, but I haven't brought my books yet--or my CDs. My closet is the only thing that looks truly finished. My winter wardrobe has been hung with care, and my numerous pairs of shoes are all packed neatly into a bin or hanging in this white cloth thing, if they qualify as "nice" shoes.

In spite of this still rather spartan aspect of my room, I find that I feel totally at home. I enjoy the quiet, the solitude, and no roommates for at least another week. I just moved in two days ago--and while I already know the girls I'm living with very well, it will be good to have a chance to find my own space in this world I've reentered after living at home for four months.

I felt very strongly about moving in to this specific apartment, and I still feel good about it. If I've learned anything over the past little while, it is to trust my gut implicitly. And though I may not have much of an actual gut, the little I have has served me well, especially of late.

It is really amazing what can come of simply following through on what merely seems like a good idea. It's a good idea, for example, to try to develop more patience. To stop judging people. To trust more, in general. To stop hiding any candles under any more bushels. And to just try to be good.

A good idea, followed through, can bear amazingly good fruit.

Yes. It was a good idea to move here, back to my old place. One of many good ideas that for one reason or another--call it fate, call it an act of God--I've taken a chance on.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Today, I bought myself a beautiful green coat

...and it felt like early Christmas.

I went out to run other errands today. I set out with the determination to get all my shopping for other people done. First to the UPS store to return some expensive boots I bought on Zappos. Then to Macey's for candy and other yummies. Then to the Mall.

I went to the mall with trepidation. I hate shopping at the best of times, and shopping at Christmas is like shopping in Hell. I always feel a little lost in a department store, like I don't know quite how to navigate my way. There are too many wrong turns, too many people trying to make me a deal or sell me perfume, and too many choices. Once I found the section I wanted, there were so many options within that section.

Then up and down the long corridors of the mall, peeking into almost every store to see what was being sold these days. I had no idea. Smells of soft pretzels and fast food, and new plastic. Lots of noise.

And then? I found myself suddenly shopping for myself. Why?

I wasn't sure. I peeked into stores I don't usually patronize. Stores a person like me, in a gray pea coat and Italian scarf, have no business entering. Stores like...Zumiez. (I've never snowboarded in my life!) What was I looking for? I don't know. A distraction. Urban Wear was familiar territory. I felt the tension in my chest ease instantly. Beautiful, classy, funky clothes. I left without buying. A pit stop at Banana Republic just to look. (Like I could afford any of THAT.) Maurices. Aeropostale. Charlotte Russe. (Who shops at a store called "Dress Barn"?) What was I even looking for?

Finally, I do it. I wander through the little cafe and the smells of coffee, past the fireplace, into Nordstrom. It's like coming home. I glance at the shoes out of habit. Am I looking for shoes? No. Up the escalator. I wander around the expensive section for a while. That's a nice sweater. Do I want a sweater? Let the price determine. Negatory. What about that coat? No. I don't wear real fox, thanks. I'm drowning in these prices. Into the teen section.

Suddenly I knew what I was looking for because I found it. So I bought it, thinking maybe if "Santa" hadn't found anything for me yet, "he" could buy this from me and re-give it to me on Christmas morning. :D

At any rate, I bought it because I loved it. And because sometimes when you are having a day where your brain will not stop churning and you feel restless and crazy and wildly insecure, and you wish there was something you could do to just turn it all off, and outwardly you have to maintain the appearance of sanity by remaining calm, collected, and cool as a cucumber...

...the only thing for it is to go out and treat yourself to something nice (that was actually on sale) for Christmas, if for nothing else, than to remind yourself that everything is actually really, really
okay.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Why Bones has Consumed My Life, or, How I Got my Creativity Back


Bones is so good. So, so good. A brilliant, socially inept forensic anthropologist teams up with a streetwise FBI agent to solve murders. Action, suspense, a little anatomical gore, a lot of tension and a little romance ensue. It’s perfect. It’s like reading a mystery. A really compelling, really long mystery. Bones has been my constant companion these last two and half months. I have been watching Bones since Halloween night until today, at least one episode daily. Today I will finish Season Four.

So what’s the big deal? I’ll tell you what the big deal is. I have not written a word—a word—of fiction since I started watching Bones. I have written a few blog posts, but hey! They haven’t been very literary either. When I started Pear in a Partridge Tree, my original intent was to write down my experiences in story-like fashion. To report factual events in an interesting, literary way. Practice, basically. And a type of journal. For the most part, I’ve done that. And I do allow myself the indulgence of introspection every now and then…

But I digress. I want to be an author. I want to write fiction. To stir up people’s imaginations and explore all kinds of What Ifs. How can I do that if nothing I’m doing is stirring up any ideas? Ideas, believe it or not, do NOT generate themselves.

A week ago, I was at work editing a 79 page document that will soon be a new, extensive Library booklist. As I read over the hundreds of annotations under each title my mind began to race. Story ideas I’d had in the past—one in particular—began to come alive in my head. Characters I had formed only conceptually in my mind became real people with goals and desires. It was actually difficult for me to concentrate on the task at hand. I was excited! I was motivated to begin writing anew. I’ve been working on some other story for years now that has sort of stonewalled me, but this other idea…it was fresh! It was all I could do to keep from jotting down notes then and there.

I should have. I really should. But I’ve stopped carrying a notebook around with me—which I need to remedy immediately.

After two full days of editing, of reading the synopses to hundreds of books, my life went back to its normal routine. I thought about writing down my ideas, but…the moment, really, had passed. It was too hard for me to sit down and try to regain that flash of creativity. It was a moment that had come and gone. After a long day of hard work, or unfulfilled expectations, or a little bit of tedium, it was easier to just sit, kick back, and let…well…Bones take over that part of my brain… Mental anesthesia.

I have a theory: I think the part of the brain that creates is one of the most complex and developed parts. I have no scientific evidence at hand to back up this claim. But my own personal experiences seem to point to this truth. It takes effort to create. I feel that it takes GREAT effort to decide to do something new—and that, by the way, is my definition of creativity: doing something new. Nothing more nothing less. It doesn’t have to be new to the world necessarily. Just new to me. Make a new food. Learn a new song. Write a new story.

Etc.

So here’s my big new goal. Now that my stint with Bones is coming to an end, I’m going to start reading again. A Neil Gaiman book that should have taken me two or three days to read has now been stretched out for over two weeks. That’s pathetic! So my first order of business will be to finish that, then pick a book from a different genre and move into that. And then once that is done, I’ll start into a different genre.

To what point? Is this all just a different way of anesthetizing my brain after months of Bones? Nope! Just trying to kick my creativity back into gear and get some real writing done.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

In Which I Confront a Fear of Mine

...and that is confrontation itself.

I know my own mother would say, "You? Not like confrontation? Ha!" and she would be justified. But the thing is this: I know my mother, and she knows me. She knows that most of the time my "confrontation" is all in good fun. What I don't like and tend to shy away from at any cost is real confrontation. The nasty kind where you have to tell someone to stop doing whatever it is they're doing.

Like drinking coffee in the library. And preparing to whip out a full lunch and spread it out on the table.

I spent about ten minutes just kind of discreetly circling around this guy, threading my way through the stacks, (okay that sounds so creepy. I was doing other stuff besides watching him, lest I appear stalkerish...sheesh) debating whether or not to say something, and how to say it and if he'd get mad at me or if I'd look like a stupid teenager, etc. Finally, I got my supervisor, and told him what was going on. I confess...I had ulterior motives: I wanted to pass the buck. I was hoping that E, being a tallish male person, would, you know, step up and say, "Oh hey! Don't worry about it, little buddy! I'll go over myself and tell that guy to get his butt--and his lunch--out of the library."

What he said instead was this, "You know, we have been asked to enforce the no-eating rule. So just go tell the guy that we've had some problems lately but that he's welcome to go out and eat in the foyer."

Argh. Another five minutes vacillating. Do I tell him do i dont do i tell him do i not do i tell him...

Yes. integrity demands that i do. So I straighten my collar and march over, donning my most winsome smile. Sometimes it helps to march somewhere. It bolsters courage and creates a sense of purpose where, perhaps, there is little. Well anyway, knowing that I couldn't look authoritative, I decided to go for "professional." Or something close to it...

The guy left without any problem, even though he had already unpacked and set up his laptop and everything. I felt bad. Really. I felt bureaucratic. I wasn't in the mood to enforce policy. And what's more, I was scared to death. But I did it.

And I felt justified when I saw him come back in a little later. I guess i didn't offend him. Which is--you know--a good thing.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Can't Win...

Yesterday I was complimented on my ability, nay, my unconscious practice of walking fast. Sometimes I walk fast. I do. (I guess...) And I write this post only for irony's sake, because today, at approximately the same time of day, a different individual remarked on this same practice...but wondered if I was okay. Was I cold? Was I in a hurry to get somewhere? Why did I walk so fast?

err...

Can't please everybody, I guess.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Complexity

Sometimes I think about how little anybody actually knows me. It is no exaggeration to say that I can probably count on one hand the people that have seen every side of me. The people who have seen me ecstatic, or depressed, or intelligent, or wrathful, or ridiculous, or rude, or confident, or elegant, or insensitive--even cruel--and even the rare moments when I feel truly lovely. The people who knew me as a dancer and an artist--even a missionary--that know how much I love old and new films alike, and calm music (AND loud music) and dumb jokes, and interesting, off-the-beaten-path kind of things. The people who accept my whimsy without question, and question my so-called "intelligence" without hesitation. The people who put up with my caprice, my impatience, and my tendency towards impulsiveness--and forgive my impertinences. The people I don’t have to prove anything to or pretend around, even a little bit. The people who know that there are better things in store for me, and who have the right to expect more of me.

Yes, I can count on one hand--maybe one finger--how many people that makes.

As much as I preach the gospel of sincerity, it is hard, hard, HARD to be 100% genuine. I’m afraid it takes an awful lot of self-assurance. I wish, I wish, I had the guts to say to anyone and everyone, “I like what I like, and to hell with the rest.” But I wish I could do it without being defensive or belligerent.

Of course, all of this is a good reminder of how little I know other people, and how very little call I have to judge them.

I wasn't going to post this because it is personal almost to the point of self-indulgence. But I did.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

The Circle Game

I’m still in my coat and scarf. I was sitting on the ugly floral print couch that for some reason still calls our living room home, but I have just relocated to the basement where the sound of the furnace is drowning out the sound of the television. I just got back from Shanelle and Mike’s house. The drive was filled with music, as driving for me almost always is.

Today I feel uncharacteristically free. Almost giddy. I want to do things differently. Be different. I want to care less about some things, and more about other things. I want to learn how to do certain things instead of just…dreaming about it. Like the guitar. I want to learn how to play. I want to learn how to make food so delicious even I will eat it. Currently, there is one dish I make that fits that description. And truly, it is delicious. I made it for nobody today, and it was good. I think I will find the perfect pancake recipe next. And then maybe…a new kind of cookie. I’ve already perfected one kind. I want to learn to be good at things I am only mediocre at. Maybe I will start writing again. I haven't wanted to lately. I want each day, no matter how dull, to feel like a triumph. Big moments—thrilling, red-letter moments—don’t actually come along that often. I don’t want to live for these moments alone, only to feel dissatisfied in between, as I have been for the last few months. I want more days like today, which was admittedly dull, but not…boring. Not at all.

It’s like all the stars in my universe are realigning themselves to a place of greater balance.
For some unexplained reason, I feel I have come back to a starting place of sorts. Like I have come full circle, and I am back at the beginning.

I felt it yesterday, as well, but it made me want to scream. I wanted to shake my fist heavenward and cry, “Why have you brought me back here? Again! When I have done so much!”

But today? I take comfort in the familiarity of being at the beginning of something. Being back at the beginning. This place is like an old friend. What makes it bearable, and even pleasant, is the knowledge that one really never can come full circle, because time goes round in more of a spiral. You go up or down, and you may even end up right above or below where you were just a little while ago—which feels like the beginning. But it’s not, thank heaven. “We can’t go back,” says Joni Mitchell, “we can only look behind from where we came. And go round and round and round in the circle game.”

This is motivation. This is the absence of melancholy. I welcome it. The absence, I mean.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Writing As Geometry

Ten or eleven months into my mission, President sat me down for an interview, looked across the room at me with those narrowed, discerning eyes and said, "Sister, you're doing great. But I'm concerned about your weekly letters."

I was very taken aback. This was the one and only interview where I ever cried. I was in an area where I felt like I had a lot to live up to, where I didn't feel like I was--and I was badly shaken. I had just spilled my heart to President. I had just opened the Pandora's box of all my insecurities and doubts and had laid them on the table...but he passed over all of that quickly, and proceeded to give me one of the most important morsels of counsel I ever received--as a missionary and as a human being: "Be careful about the way you write. Because how you write about your experiences shapes the way you actually feel about them. So when you write, focus on the good. I know bad things happen every week--and I still want you to be open and honest in your letters--but focus on the good."

Honesty has always been my bane. I may keep my mouth shut, but what I am actually feeling or thinking will come out someway, somewhere--in my face and my eyes, in my writing, in countless other non-verbal ways. If I am mad, it's obvious. And I will die before I tell someone what I'm feeling if I feel like it will weaken me. (i'm proud like that.) But it will come out, somehow. And as a missionary, my pen utterly betrayed me.

It was a good thing, though, because I learned something important that I have been trying to put into practice--with varying degrees of success--ever since. I learned that it is normal to run through the whole gamut of emotions when a lot is seemingly at stake (How's that for being vague?) and that the good always runs along parallel to the bad. And so it is how you express yourself, verbally or in writing, that actually solidifies how you ultimately feel. So yes, you make a pretty important choice every time you write or speak about an event. Like a reporter, you choose which angle to take on it. You choose how it is recorded forevermore in your own memory and the memories of those that read/hear it.

I think the key is, then, to ignore the impulse to complain. There is a lot worth complaining about in this life. There really is. But actually, there is a whole lot worth praising, too. I'm not trying to be corny (although "keep on the sunny side" from O Brother Where Art Thou did just pop into my head). Ignoring unhappy moments, hurt feelings, disappointments, disillusionment, and every bad thing won't make them go away. (Duh.) But writing about them, and talking about them in the spirit of complaint, only seems to extend their life expectancy, and to afford them greater meaning than they're worth.

Just something I've been thinking about.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

The Story of Today


My new nametag. It's official! I'm employed.

Today isn’t over, but I’m going to write its story anyway. In an unchronological bulleted list because…that’s how I roll.

-A man refused to leave the library today until he had been reimbursed for some bad photocopies. I very kindly explained to him that he could not be refunded because…blah, blah, blah…I gave him a good reason, after which he went to higher and higher library administrators in order to get his due. Only when he approached my desk once more with one of the associate librarians in tow did I decide to refund him just to get him to leave HER alone. I pulled out some coins we happened to have stashed away in a drawer (it isn’t like there’s a till at that desk), paid him, and sent him away with a smile. I can lie-smile very convincingly.

The amount he originally paid for the bad copies? $.20. Twenty cents, people. I wonder if this guy has any dead IRS agents buried in his basement.

-I tore my “room” apart today in search of my passport, which I needed in order to be officially hired at the library. When that failed to surface, I went after my birth certificate, which proved equally elusive. I called my dad, who rushed home from work in spite of a busy schedule (have I ever mentioned how generous my father is?) and then called Human Resources to explain my predicament. They told me to come in anyway and just bring the paper work in later.

Perhaps it is foolish of me to carry my social security card with me in my wallet. Actually, I KNOW it’s stupid. But today, stupidity was on my side. Turns out that was all they needed. In the meantime, my birth certificate was found. And in the meantime, I’ve removed my ss card from my wallet. Stupidity is too fair-weathered a friend to be counted upon.

-I’ve decided that sometimes it is really nice to have someone tell me I’m doing a good job at something. It makes me want to do even better.

-I was on a little bit of rampage after Mr. Twenty Cents came in, so I put up the bell (that means "I left the desk" and put up a small device by which i can be summoned if needed--a bell) and made the rounds. I was on a mission to bust anybody eating or drinking or engaging in any other illicit behavior. I guess I was just in a bureaucratic, “busting people” kind of mood—one I get in for one reason or another. I didn’t find anyone to bust, sadly, except I did tell the people in the book group room that they couldn’t keep the blinds closed. Pathetically, it helped.

-Tonight will be the first night in well over a week where I haven’t done something with friends. Something has come over me, some disease, some need to be constantly social. It’s as if I have discovered a great gift that life has to offer: people. I like them. A lot. I find that I feel disappointed when I don’t see my peers during the course of a day. I’m like the kid who doesn’t want to go to bed because she might miss something. I have missed so much up until now that the thought of missing any more mildly terrifies me.

This wasn’t supposed to be such a verbose post. But it is, and I’m not sorry. No more apologizing.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Presenting, for your consideration, "a little villain"

Well, I just downed 20 oz. of Cherry Coke Zero in an attempt to cure both a persistent headache and a stomach bug. My stomach has been in constant knots since about last thursday, I'm losing weight, and always hungry, so I'm pretty sure I have a parasite. Hence the coke. I figured since coke will kill your body, I'm pretty sure it will kill whatever's attacking your body. Coke will dissolve a nail in like a week, for crying out loud! So good luck surviving this little buggies!

But alright. Too much info.

I'm not what you'd call "a poet," but I do happen to have a favorite poem, and I finally remembered what it was today! (Yes...I'd forgotten the title. *looks sheepish.*) It's called "One Art" by Elizabeth Bishop. If you are in a place where you won't elicit angry stares, be sure to read it aloud. (That's how poetry is supposed to be read, and why do I feel the need to write in so many parentheticals? Anyway...)

One Art
by Elizabeth Bishop
The art of losing isn't hard to master;
so many things seem filled with the intent
to be lost that their loss is no disaster.

Lose something every day. Accept the fluster
of lost door keys, the hour badly spent.
The art of losing isn't hard to master.

Then practice losing farther, losing faster:
places, and names, and where it was you meant
to travel. None of these will bring disaster.

I lost my mother's watch. And look! my last, or
next-to-last, of three loved houses went.
The art of losing isn't hard to master.

I lost two cities, lovely ones. And, vaster,
some realms I owned, two rivers, a continent.
I miss them, but it wasn't a disaster.


--Even losing you (the joking voice, a gesture
I love) I shan't have lied. It's evident
the art of losing's not too hard to master
though it may look like (Write it!) like disaster.


This poem and I were introduced four years ago in a creative writing class. Our textbook included all the drafts Bishop went through in order to arrive at what appears to be a very simple final product. I found the process intriguing, and the final product genius in it's simplicity. Years down the road, it inspired me to try out a villanelle of my own.

First, do most people even know what a villanelle is? Only one of the most ornerous poetic forms still in existence, with the notable exception of the haiku. (Joke...) Click on the link and read the convoluted instructions on how to write your own villanelle. You might notice that the word "villanelle" means "little villain." Appropriate for such an evil form.

Anyway, two summers ago, I took a crack at writing a villanelle, and it was actually kind of a fun project! I didn't adhere to the rule about having ten syllables in every line...but then, neither did Elizabeth Bishop. So here it is (and it's mine, and I have proof that it's mine, so don't even think about plagiarizing. I will find you and kill you. Also, blogger is apparently unable to maintain the integrity of the lines of my poem. So anywhere you see a word alone on a line, it's supposed to be on the line above. Jsyk...)

Sailing, Ever Sailing

I have a ship and often take her sailing.
And even though she hasn't weathered many a winter,
I sometimes feel these timbers creaking, swaying.

My ship's been blown to strange lands and people, even straying
to hotter climates, to exotic places, from my harbor, where
I kept my ship and often took her sailing.

What bright and worldly flag do I now fly? What colors boldly flailing
in the breeze? A meek and humble white is maybe better: calm surrender...
But I sometimes feel these timbers creaking, swaying

from recent cannonfire (see these dents?) and from the bailing
overboard of too much luggage--and, even once, despair.
I have a ship and sometimes find her sailing

in a giant circle, anchored to one spot, afraid of failing, hailing
the nearest strong, swift freighter passing. I forget her size, her power
as I reel and feel these timbers creaking, swaying--

But though the water's wide and often wild and ailing,
my ship, she carries hope. Its weight, at times, has almost spent her
strength. But we will stay afloat, and often sailing. Ever sailing!

Though...I sometimes feel these timbers creaking, swaying.


So there you have it. My little villain. I'm thinking of trying out another one just for the thrill of putting together a puzzle.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

"Who in the world cares for you?"


Jane Eyre is my favorite book…

…and here is why: Because the loneliest girl in the world has enough respect for herself to give up the thing she wants the most.

Jane grows up in a world that spares no thought for her. She’s an orphan; she’s lonely; she never feels the comfort of human companionship. She has some friends, yes, but she never really finds a kindred spirit.

Until she meets Rochester. Even though their professional relationship is disparate (he is her employer) as is their social class (he is upper class, and she is a pauper) they become very attached to each other. And it isn’t mere chemistry; their intellect, their minds connect! “It is my spirit that addresses your spirit,” Jane tells Rochester. “Just as if both had passed through the grave and stood at God’s feet, equal. As we are.” Funny that I can write that line from memory.

Jane and Rochester eventually are engaged to be married. If you haven't read the book, I'll try not to spoil it for you here, but all you need to know is that a circumstance arises which makes it absolutely necessary for Jane to break the engagement and leave immediately.

“Not a human being that ever lived could wish to be loved better than I was loved” she says, “and him who thus loved me I absolutely worshipped: [but] I must renounce love and idol. One drear word comprised my intolerable duty.” And that word was “depart.”

Rochester makes a very persuasive argument for her to stay with him. “Give one glance to my horrible life when you are gone,” he says. “All happiness will be torn away with you.” How must she have felt hearing this—the girl who had nothing growing up? Who had been cold and lonely her whole life, and who finally found a kindred spirit only to have to renounce his companionship indefinitely?

While he speaks, her very conscience turns traitor against her, urging her to comply with him. “Think of his misery; think of his danger—look at his state when left alone; […] save him; love him; tell him you love him and will be his. Who in the world cares for you? or who will be injured by what you do?”

Who in the world cares for you? or who will be injured by what you do?


What a frightening question.

And this is why I love Jane Eyre. As Jane battles with her desire to be loved and accepted and her knowledge of what is right, this is her inward reply:

I care for myself. The more solitary, the more friendless, the more unsustained I am, the more I will respect myself. I will keep the law given by God; sanctioned by man. I will hold to the principles received by me when I was sane, and not mad—as I am now. [“Mad” meaning in the heat of the moment.] Laws and principles are not for the times when there is no temptation: they are for such moments as this, when body and soul rise in mutiny against their rigour; stringent are they; inviolate they shall be. If at my individual convenience I might break them, what would be their worth? They have a worth—so I have always believed […] There I plant my foot.”

I care for myself, too. That’s why I’m writing this post. My mind has been running around on this theme for the last little while. I do respect myself.

Tangentially, I think this is what God means when he talks about loving yourself in the context of “love thy neighbor as thyself.” Have the same kind of respect for yourself that you would have for your neighbor. And vice versa.

And if that self-respect means being alone, for whatever reason, then so be it. If doing what I feel, and deep down know, is right is the less convenient or accepted way to live, then… okay. I’m prepared to stand alone, but with my chin up. It is a fine and wonderful thing to feel needed by someone. But it is absolutely empowering to respect yourself.

Yes, Jane Eyre is my favorite book--and not just because I'm in love with Rochester (the original Edward, all you misguided Twilight admirers!) but because I admire Charlotte Bronte's representation of Jane. As I said before, the loneliest girl in the world has enough respect for herself to give up the thing she wants the most. (But there is a happy ending, p.s.)

Why is any book ever anybody’s favorite book? Because, on some level, it expresses some truth about our own, factitious (as opposed to fictitous?) lives.


Friday, November 13, 2009

Sometimes things don’t turn out the way you expect them to

That title is pure poetry, baby. Here we go for another late nighter. The fact is I’m waiting for my meds to kick in so I can actually sleep. So, while I’m waiting, I’ll just write…

Six months ago, I was graduating with a liberal arts degree and scared to death that I wasn’t going to be able to find a job during the year I planned to take off from school. Then—as I detailed in an earlier post—I scored a paid internship doing exactly the kind of work I wanted to do. At the time, I considered myself extremely lucky to have gotten anything at all. Now? I consider myself extremely and deliberately blessed.

About a month after my internship began, I was introduced to a certain someone at the library who was the newest flex. (Explanation: a “flex” is short for “flexible assistant librarian.” Flexible, because they are asked to work anywhere in the library, as needed.) “Hi,” is what I said. “Wait a minute!” is what I thought. “I was told the library wasn’t hiring?” I thought further. “What gives?” I spent about a day and a half feeling very bitter. I’d wanted the job. I needed the job…why hadn’t they even told me about the job?

Then, it dawned on me that I was getting better hours and a wider variety of work as an intern than I would have as a flex. And while the position was temporary (a definite drawback) the experience I was gaining was way more important to my future career than the imminent termination of my internship.

Fast forward five and a half months to today. I turned in an application Monday for a flex position that just barely opened. Today, the library director’s secretary called me to set up an interview for Monday morning. I have every intention of getting this job, and furthermore…I think I will. And furthermore, how nice it is for the library to be able to hire someone who has already been trained in so many different areas of the library on someone else’s dime! There are so many reasons why everything has worked out perfectly…but I won’t name them here. It doesn’t matter. The point is, it worked out better than I could have planned. Much better! Things were hairy for a while. I spent many days and weeks pre-internship very insecure about my future. I’ve spent many weeks within the internship worrying.

But everything worked out. Everything is in the process of working out. I tend to worry and fret myself into a frenzy about things I have no control over. And then when these things work out, I end up re-learning a lesson I wish I’d just remember once and for all: Don’t panic. I am a firm believer that God is in the details of my life. It’s not superstition; I feel it. It must be programmed into my DNA to think that things will turn out best my way, but I’m learning to ignore that impulse, or at least take it for what it’s worth.

There are people in my family who didn’t get their job today—and who needed one so, so much more than I do. I am nobody to offer up my experiences as any kind of testimonial… but how can I not say, unequivocally, that when we have done all we can do, everything will be alright? How can I stay silent when so many things in my own life over the years—too many disappointments, heartaches, and horrible troubles—have over and over again resolved themselves into poignant and meaningful triumphs?

Sometimes things don't turn out the way you expect them to. But they do turn out.

(Okay. I think I can sleep now. Yes.)

Monday, November 9, 2009

He's Just Not That Into You



I found this book entertaining, insightful, a bit crude perhaps, but definitely well-written, and while not totally applicable to an LDS readership, at the very least, it is something to think about. In fact, I wish I had read it when it first came out in 2004. It would have saved me about a year and half of cumulative confusion and worry.

For those unfamiliar with the premise, it is a non-fiction self-help book written by two of the writers of the show Sex and the City. (I know, I didn’t watch it either. But that isn’t really the point.) The woman writer is someone who professionally writes screenplays about relationships, and the man is one of the writers’ consultants, who is himself happily married. While none of these qualifications grant the writers absolute credence as self-help-book-authors, there is something refreshing about reading something written by real, non-academic people, in the real world.

In a very small nutshell, the thesis of the book is this: If a guy is not lavishing (this is my word for it) lavishing his attention on you (i.e. calling you, dating you, spending time, keeping promises, just being there) he’s just not that into you. No excuses. No “well, he’s just so busy,” or "I intimidate him" or “maybe he’s waiting for me to make a move.” Baloney. He’s not. And he’s not that into you. I confess, I got a little tired of reading the phrase, “he’s just not that into you,” but the writers overall do a pretty good job of drilling this concept into their readership’s heads.

I first read parts of this book several months ago when it came through Collection Development, damaged. But a little while ago I decided I’d better give it a real go, and here’s my verdict: I would recommend this as an interesting, if not totally helpful, read to any girl still single, and confused. Also, after reading this book, I have formed my own hypothesis about one possible reason why men can’t bring themselves to tell women when they’re not that into them: I think men like to “collect” women.

What?!

Let me explain—and I think I’m right, because…hello, I’m a girl, and girls do this, too. Girls “collect” guys. (Don’t tell me you haven’t met at least one girl in your life who hasn’t.)

Self-esteem, the way I see it, is a measure of how we feel about ourselves not based on our intrinsic worth but on our perception of outside sources. One of these biggest outside sources is the way others think or feel about us—or at least what we think they think of us. This is why girls feel bad when they don’t get asked out, or vice versa. And this is why girls and guys feel good when they sense that a lot of people would like to ask them out—even if they’re not that into any of these people. I think many people find it very satisfying to have a little entourage. It’s that ever gratifying, addicting sense of being “dateable,” if not “dating.”

Well, okay. I’ve deconstructed part of this horrendous thing we call The Game. Almost everyone in this world is dateable—to someone. (Don’t argue with me on this one, because I will hold fast.) And there is no need to have an entourage to prove it.

And there is NO need. Ever. To be part of an entourage.

I’ve made a lot of stupid mistakes in this regard during the course of my adult life. Some of them recent enough to still elicit a cringe. And I will, no doubt, continue to make mistakes. But in the meantime, I HAVE have had the great satisfaction of learning something about myself.

Here I make my end by saying knowledge is power. Power is freedom.

(I don't mean this to sound like an attack or a diatribe, because it really isn't. Just a book review.)

Sunday, November 8, 2009

News!

get ready for it...

1. I think I did really well on the GRE! Bad on math, of course. 590. 47 percentile or something like that (Shrug.) But 93 percentile on the verbal section!!! And I feel really good about my essays, so...guess what? I won't have to take it again!

2. Remember the "Hidden Recliner"? Well someone came into the breakroom and moved the shelf it was hiding behind. Thus, it is no longer hidden but exposed--exposed!--for all the lunching librarians to see. There couldn't be anything more awkward. I happen to know I'm not the only person upset about this.

3. I've decided to turn a new leaf. Most people exercise to lose weight. Well...I'm reasonably sure that that is not my problem. I stepped on the scale the other day and saw that I was back down to a weight I haven't been since high school. Not good. So! I've made up my mind to do something I haven't done since I danced fifteen hours a week. Exercise! Now that the hiking season is over I have to be creative. I despise running, and am not very keen on biking in cold weather (or any weather, for that matter) so I am thinking weight training.

Now, before you fall out of your chair laughing, just remember that lesser people have done greater things. Napoleon, for example.

I also feel the sudden urge to start cooking more. I made something unbelievably tasty this week, and I think it inspired me. I really can make edible food!

4. My internship at OPL ends this week, probably. Luckily, I have an application in my hand for the very job that I am currently filling. Hmm. Without considering my getting hired a foregone conclusion, I think my chances are pretty good.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Some Music I Love Lately

I posted videos just for interest's sake. It's the music I'm more concerned about. You might notice how much I like acoustic guitar. (I just did.)

"Mrs. Cold" from Kings of Convenience Declaration of Dependence.



I couldn't embed the real music video, but here's the link if you're interested.

"Anonanimal" from Andrew Bird on Noble Beast
Listen to how he blends all the instruments.


"Song For You" by Alexi Murdoch Time Without Consequence Not his MOST interesting song, but it just makes you feel good. :)


I just dicovered this one today! Must be from their new album that I haven't heard yet.
"Low Rising" by The Swell Season.

Monday, November 2, 2009

The Case Against Snobbery

Snob n. a person who believes himself or herself an expert or connoisseur in a given field and is condescending toward or disdainful of those who hold other opinions or have different tastes regarding this field.

There’s a little (or a lot) of snobbery in all of us.

“I’m a bit of a snob about [such and such].” I’ve heard myself use this phrase before. I’ve also been coming to the conclusion lately that a snob is not a really helpful thing to be in this world—not to you, not to those around you. There are music snobs, film snobs, food snobs, book snobs, clothes snobs, political snobs, people snobs…. In fine, snobs can be found wherever there is culture. And there is culture everywhere, isn’t there?

The problems with snobs are manifold. Let’s begin with the fact that there are too many of us (and I’ll include myself, because I’m still reforming) in this world. And let’s continue with the fact that we are not actually experts about what we like, but only believe ourselves to be. That rings pathetic, in my opinion. And another thing: since when has being “condescending” or “disdainful” ever been a nice or particularly helpful thing to be?

I recently had a conversation with someone about music (big surprise) during which we established that we had nearly identical tastes. (And yes, the phrase “I am a music snob” was actually spoken out loud by one or both of us.) The conversation that followed consisted of talk about how awesome each artist was, and why, and blah blah blah. What was the outcome of this exchange? Well, both of us felt validated by having had another person, in essence, say “Yes, you are, in fact, cool because you like the same things I do.” (Which, pronouncing something valid only because “you like/agree with it” is a pretty shallow criterion, let’s be honest.) And the other thing is, neither of us had any reason to open our minds to new possibilities. Neither of us were challenged to try something new. As fellow snobs, the outcome of our exchange was simply to become even more deeply entrenched in our likes and dislikes. And even though this is an example dealing with mere music snobbery—which I consider pretty benign. Don’t even get me started on political snobbery—does anyone else see the problem with this attitude? This narrow-minded, Queen of Hearts, “there is no way but my way” approach to life?

But music snobbery’s not such a big deal. Or is it?

What’s the point of being snobbish? What’s the point of closing your mind to new possibilities? I’m not talking about letting every kind of garbage in. But what’s the point of not considering the other facets of something? It could be that once all is said and done, you will still feel the same way about the things you do. I think that’s valid, as long as “disdain” is not still part of the equation.

All of this is, of course, coming from a reformed—and still reforming—snob. But I’m just writing this to say that I find snobbery in all of its many forms tired and snotty and off-putting in almost every way, and as a young single adult I’m being constantly barraged by it by my peers and by my elders.

All this in-your-face individualism is leaving a bad taste in my mouth. I would love to hear your thoughts, if you have thought about this, too.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Concerning Cliffs and Jumping Off of Them

This is going to be another one of those abstract, late night posts where I may or may not make sense—but at least I will be totally honest.

While serving my mission in Brazil, I believe I learned one of the most important lessons I could have learned. Ever. And that is, if you haven’t developed a certain skill, pretend like you have. Fake it till you make it.

Now wait. Before you say, “But Erin, that’s dishonest. That’s what most people would call disingenuous,” I will add my little caveat: Fake it till you make it…but in the meantime, start making it.

Let me illustrate. I am a naturally reserved person. I don’t like to feel vulnerable, so I avoid putting myself in certain situations. That should tell you right now why serving an LDS mission was…let's just say and act of unmitigated faith. I have always had a sense of humor, but not a sense of adventure. I never did find any thrill in precarious situations. Being thrown into a situation where I for the first several months was, for all intents and purposes, stripped of my ability to articulate a coherent thought was a horrific trial! For me, where words are all I’ve got, words are my only real talent, my only real tool, my only real outlet, my first two transfers in the field was a time of protracted silence. Hardly anybody knew me. I felt judged, and I withdrew even further, because there is nothing more withering than the feeling of being judged.

Eventually, little by little, I figured out that the only thing for it—the only thing for the crippling insecurity I felt as a missionary—was to just…open my mouth. Start talking to people. Not worry about eloquence. It wasn’t really the point anyway, to talk pretty. It scared the devil out of me to approach total strangers. I won’t pretend like it ever became easy, because it didn’t.

But there were days when nothing intimidated me. Where I was on fire!

It took faking it at first. But I learned that regardless of how I felt, I had to foster the habit of Confidence. Whether I was talking to strangers on the street, or teaching investigators, or getting to know members, I started pretending like I knew exactly what I doing. Eventually I didn’t have to pretend. I just did it.

To a certain extent I’ve been just doing it ever since. And, for the most part, I’ve been doing okay with this habit of Confidence. For the most part it’s legit.

You’re probably hoping I will get to the point of this post. Well here it comes: I’ve been doing a lot of faking it lately, (and not a lot of making it). Lately I have felt my insecurities—my countless insecurities—piling at my door. Immature. Uninteresting. Delusional. And every girl’s worst enemy, Ugly. I know I am not…for the most part…any of these things. But lately I have felt these and other demons lurking just outside the fortress I have built around my confidence. My once-feigned, now-real, and ever delicately-maintained confidence.

Maybe it’s because I am on the cusp of the rest of my life. There are so many unknowns and what ifs. But after all. It’s only natural to stand on the edge of cliff and tremble a little.


Okay. I had to include this picture. I was looking for some dramatic shot of someone base-jumping off Half Dome or something...but then I found this. How could I resist?

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Retreat

I feel I have unwrapped too much.

Like I have spread myself too thin. As Bilbo Baggins would say, "Like butter scraped over too much bread."

I have entrusted all of myself to so many people I have almost nothing left over for me.

I just want to wrap myself up in blanket and sleep and just be me, and only me without reference to anyone else.

Sleep, where my reeling mind will heal. And the fragmented parts of myself will become one again.

This is what is known as sensory overload.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Read-er’s Ad-vi-sory

n. 1. The practice of advising a patron what to read next based on a brief evaluation of their tastes in literature. 2. Extremely subjective, and somewhat personal, assistance demanded of librarians by total strangers.

Have you ever tried to set someone up on a blind date? Of course you have. Almost everyone has. (Well, strictly speaking I haven’t, but that’s beside the point.) Let’s just pretend for a minute that you are setting a friend up on a blind date. The fact that this person is a friend is very important. Everything—the success of the date—hangs on you knowing enough about this person to set them up with their next potential snuggle buddy. The success of the date depends equally on your knowledge about the other party, too. Even if your friend and the blind date don’t exactly hit it off, you are responsible for their having enough to talk about for two hours or so.

It's risky, this blind date business. Because if the date fails utterly, you feel like an idiot. But if it works out…you feel like a million bucks.

This, my friends, is readers advisory in a nutshell, but for one important difference—or maybe two. First, instead of lining up a friend, you are lining up a total stranger. And second, you are lining them up with their next book. And it could be their new favorite book!... Or they could hate you forever for wasting their time.

* * *

“I’m looking for a good read.”

Okay. What are you in the mood for? What’s one of your favorite books?”

“Oh, I don’t know. Anything, I guess.”

(This is never true! Nobody, I repeat NOBODY, likes just anything.)

Well, what have you read recently that grabbed you?

“I read [such and such] book.”

Tell me about it. What did you like about it?

“I liked….blah blah blah.”

Alright. (Since I am not nearly as well-read as I need to be to be good at my job, I often respond in this fashion.) Let me direct you to one of these wonderful reading lists that we have compiled by genre and sub-genre. We also have displays against the far wall. By the way, have you read such and such author? They might appeal to you in some of the same ways….etc etc.

“But…can you give me the name of a book?”

(Can I give you a specific book title? What more do you want from me? I don’t know you. At all! And this brief encounter of ours doesn’t count! I have given you—YOU, who know yourself better than I do, admit it!—more than one excellent way to treat yourself to your next favorite book. And yet, you persist. You will not leave my desk until I give a specific title. And if I choose poorly, you will hate me and think me incompetent and unwise, even though I have tried to help you help yourself! All of it screams, Unfair! Unfair! And yet…)

Yep. Right this way. (Have I read any of this stuff? No? Great. Well, here's one he can put in his pipe and smoke.) Here’s such and such book. I hope it works out for you! If you need anything else, just let me know.

Reader’s advisory.
Whenever I am asked to do it, it is just one more reminder of how little I know.

Monday, October 19, 2009

In case you haven't laughed yet today...

...feel free to do so at my expense.

Oh the joy you can find with Photobooth.


Sage


Thrilled


a little too...right-brained. Yeah.


bent out of shape



enraged! (personal favorite)



myopic



innocent (or just dumb)



uh...cool?



ow.



what the...



And there are no words for this. (Other personal favorite)


Okay. That's enough. Go laugh at your own dang selves now.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

What a Difference a Year Makes

I wish I had something interesting to write about today:

-I fell asleep in my car and was late coming back from lunch. (no one noticed.)

-I’m getting another article of mine printed in the bi-monthly OPL newsletter. Even though nobody reads it, this turn of events still makes me happy.

-I’m glad today is over and that I don’t have to answer any more questions or put out any more fires. It was a day where I felt like everyone was just a little bit more demanding than was strictly necessary.

-I’m tivo-ing Glee so I don’t have to watch all those asinine commercials.

-I could sure go without seeing another human being for the rest of the day.

-I figured out something major that was wrong with my book, and the biggest writer’s block in the history of the universe is lifting. Huge sigh of relief.

-I have been lying on the couch in my room/study for the last hour letting my eyes open and close as they will, watching the light die. Now it is dark and wet outside. I feel nothing. Just tired, tired, tired. I can’t…help anybody else today.

Tomorrow.

-“What a difference a year makes.” If this thought were a website in my mind, then it would have a billion hits. I just keep thinking…what a difference a year has made for me. For the better.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

The People Who Haunt the Library

I see the same people in the library almost every day, and I wonder about them.

A.M is a heavy-set, clean-cut forty-ish year old guy who uses the computers almost daily. Faithfully, at 9 o' clock almost every morning, he's there, handing me his library card as a collateral for headphones before he sits down at machine number 9. That's how I know his name: from his card. He's always dressed nicely, in slacks and a colored button-up--he even carries a briefcase. I like A.M because even though he comes in all the time, he doesn't treat me or the other librarians too familiarly. He doesn't try to be funny, and he doesn't make personal observations about our appearance like some people do. I don't know what he does online every day. Maybe some of the time he's job searching.

Another ghost I see is one I will call the Lonely Reader. This one's a strange case. LR is a tall, also clean-cut, maybe mid-thirty-year-old who I see every day. And I mean, every day. He is always there at open. He always sits down in one of our nice, soft chairs with a newspaper or a book off the display shelf. As far as I can tell, he never goes down to the lab (unusual), he never checks anything out, and he never asks for anything at the desks. He just comes, and sits, and reads.

One day, I was working the desk in the fiction area, and I noticed LR down there. A line of several soft and lovely lime-green Ikea benches line the back wall of Fiction, each with a pile of pillows. LR was sitting on one. He had one of the millions of pillows wrapped in his arms. He wasn't reading. He just sat there, hugging that pink pillow looking...sad? Or tired. I don't know which. He didn't move for a long time.

I think LR might be homeless. But you would never, ever think it to look at him.

Speaking of homeless. HL (for homeless) is another ghost I sometimes see around. And not just the library but the whole city center and that intersection of state and center. HL is another skinny, mid to late thirty-yr-old. He has chin-length greasy hair that is well-combed, and wears dingy clothes in a dignified way. I first met HL working--once again--at the fiction desk. He handed me a pink rubber ball that he thought maybe some child had dropped. HL has a strong smell about him and dirt under his nails, but he is as quiet and unassuming as LR.

I hope these guys, whatever their troubles may be, are able to find some rest at the OPL.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

The Hidden Recliner


The break room in the south wing of the library has one table with four chairs around it, one treadmill and one elliptical donated by the rec center, an old, pre-HD big screen tv that gives you a headache to watch, and two—I repeat TWO—lazyboy recliners. When I go into the break room each day I have from these options to pick where I will eat my lunch. If I am eating something messy—like a sweet onion chicken teriyaki Subway sandwich—I opt for the table. If I am eating a nice, sedate cheese sandwich and chips from home, I will settle into one of the lazyboys. Did I mention they rock? As in, back and forth?

I confess, I have never tried to each lunch on the treadmill or the elliptical, but I’ll let you know what happens if I do. It should be interesting. (AND counterproductive.)

The one recliner is positioned, naturally, in front of the tv. But the other one—the one I prefer—is tucked away in a corner, behind a shelf filled with books the library is getting rid of. Because of where it is in the room, and the nature of the chair—it kind of swallows you when you sit—a person sitting in that chair is virtually invisible to anyone walking into the break room. (I say virtually, because you can see a leg or detect a slight rocking motion if you are actually looking.) This is especially true if you are a smallish person, like me.

All of these circumstances have more than once added up to a unique and delightfully awkward situation. Let me illustrate. Yesterday, I enter the break room, and finding it empty, I slip into my favorite place: the “hidden” recliner. I eat my food, I rock back and forth a little bit, I read…etc. A few minutes before I leave, one of our tech guys comes in. I know he hasn’t seen me, because…I just know it. He’s over by the sink rinsing something out. Who knows what. He seems pretty intent. He’s concentrated and unselfconscious, the way a person is when he thinks—when he knows—he’s alone.

What am I to do? If I stay absolutely still, maybe he will leave and never know I was here. That’s a perfectly respectable option. But what if he starts humming or talking to himself (as we sometimes do when we “know” we are alone) and then sees me and feels dumb, and then I’ll feel dumb for being all secretive? There is no easy answer to this.

I decide to make my presence known in as natural a way as possible. I get up, trying to be as obvious as possible, crinkling my bag, walking normally, etc. I do everything short of yelling. “Hey! I’m here! Don’t be alarmed.” But so “alone” was this guy that only when I pass within the range of his peripheral vision, does he notice me.

I think he jumped like a foot.

I didn’t bother making any kind of explanation or apology. What would be the point? “Sorry you didn’t notice me and I scared the poop out of you?” No.

So you see. Eating in the Hidden Recliner is a risky proposition. I sometimes ask myself whether the benefit of eating privately and comfortably outweighs the social cost (i.e. the possibility of awkwardness). Maybe, maybe not. But awkwardness aside, it really is quite funny to see people’s reactions when they suddenly know they’re not alone.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

A Journey to "There"



Sorry for the stupid title. It’s the best thing I can think of for what I’m about to write. And the seventies pop-icon photo? Joke. Okay.

Three months ago, I was a freshly-minted college graduate who had just ended her on-campus job of four years. A job that was in some ways fun but in many other ways tedious. It is hard to muster up the discipline to do work you have no intention of ever doing again.

That job ended and through semi-miraculous means I snagged a government-sponsored internship at the Orem Public Library. In my interview with the library director and my two future supervisors, they asked me what I wanted to do during my few months there. I want to do everything, I said. I want to be a librarian, and I have no idea what that entails. I want to do reference. I want to be involved in programs. I wanted to know what it was like to actually be involved with patrons—living, breathing, thinking (sometimes) people! And not just books.

They decided to split my hours between Reference and what is known at OPL as the Outreach Division, which is in charge of exactly what it sounds like it’s in charge of: programs, community outreach, etc. It’s the branch of the library that doesn’t just wait for the patrons to come in, but does whatever it can to invite them in.

After the first few bumpy weeks at the reference desks, I was getting the hang of it. The training had been intense…but then I started getting repeat questions. “Where do I find books on building decks?” “How do I download an attachment?” “Can you please recommend a book?” Etc. Etc.

I conquered my fear of the telephone and began to use it semi-proficiently. “Let me transfer you to circulation.” “Just one minute while I look that up for you.” “Yes, I can renew that for three more weeks.” Yes, yes, yes. The eternal importance of getting to yes. I got to know my coworkers better, and I even think I began to earn their respect. They certainly had mine.

I learned what customer service means and discovered—to my surprise—that it came naturally to me. It wasn’t just my job; I wanted to be helpful! I wanted to feel the sweet satisfaction of helping people find EXACTLY what they needed. Of learning for myself that knowledge really IS power, and that empowering others people feels really great. I loved working the desks. Often people who I had helped even half an hour earlier would walk back by the desk on their way out, and catch my eye, and say thank you. It was like getting flowers.

I loved my morning routines. 8:15 every morning, I’d be down in the basement of the adult wing spraying down keyboards and tables, turning on computers, unlocking doors, straightening books and replacing them…. It was my alone time when my iPod and I could disappear together among the stacks, straightening wayward books, delighting in the simple ordering of disorder.

Mornings at the desks were quiet times where I could study up on databases, shelf-read (i.e. making sure the books are on the right place on the shelf) and answer the occasional question. They were peaceful.

Then 12:15 would roll around and I would go to lunch for half an hour. And then the structured, predictable, comfortable part of my day was over.

I dreaded my afternoons with Outreach—not at first, but later. At first, I was given menial tasks like folding fliers, or filling out forms or what have you. That wasn’t so bad, at least I knew how to do it.

I was entrusted with more important tasks. They knew I liked to write so they asked me to write a blurb for the bi-monthly newsletter. In preparation, they handed me a binder full of all the back issues. I read them all. And as my palms began to sweat, I determined that I had nothing to write about. Every article was a feature about some artist or musician that was coming to the library, or about part of the collection or some other topic that I was NO authority on. I can’t do this, I told my Outreach bosses. (P.s. I have a LOT of bosses.) I have nothing to write about. I don’t know enough. They looked pained. The deadline for getting the July newsletter was days away and they needed an article. Look, said the one, just write about something you love.

What I was really afraid of was not that I would write an article unfit for the OPL bi-monthly newsletter (bastion of journalistic excellence that it is) but of mediocrity. I felt I was being asked to do something that someone else could do better. It wasn’t laziness, it was pragmatism. Why have little old me do it when someone better could do it? This mantra informed my whole attitude toward Outreach for many weeks and was the source of much frustration and outright insecurity. Why was I being asked to do things that someone who knew what they were doing could do so much better?

At some point—I don’t know when—it occurred to me that whether or not what I wrote or what I worked on was amazing was not really the issue, but whether it was needed. If there was a need, I needed to fill it. Not because I was the most qualified person for the job, but because I was THERE.

This realization carried me through the next crisis.

Outreach is in charge of the Timpanogos Storytelling Festival, and as that monolithic event loomed ever closer, I was asked to do tasks—out of necessity—that I had to teach myself how to do, or received confusing instructions at best.

Explanation. Busy and overworked as she is, J, my boss, is not especially good at giving instructions in a logical order. “Do this,” she would say—(not officiously, but kindly.) And then I would spend the next three hours figuring out how to “do this” when I know she could have done it herself in minutes…if she weren’t so busy. “Do it yourself!” I often felt like screaming. Especially if I’d made some terrible blunder, which happened…frequently. I found myself apologizing a lot. Obsequiously.

It eventually occurred to me that my apologizing was getting old. So I stopped. But every day for a while I’d come home burning with the desire to shout, “If you want something done right, do it yourself!” Fortunately for me, that attitude, and that insecurity passed.

Among other jobs I had to re-write letters to sponsors from years past and send out hundreds of mailings and comp tickets; I drew up performers’ contracts; I taught myself how to use Excel (and still hate it); I updated lots of old documents; I put in a purchase order for 500 hand-puppets, for crying out loud! I didn’t do anything really grand like choose which national storytellers would come (that had been done months ago), or organize the whole set-up of the venue. But I tied up a million little loose ends. I took care of things that needed to be done. Maybe I didn’t do things as efficiently or aptly as J could have, but they got done. Only that mattered.

Every day felt like a giant puzzle I had to solve, and I would come home exhausted and shaken. But okay. I had survived to survive another day. And then, somehow, over the natural course of things, all of that wonderful insecurity went away, and I learned how to solve problems as if that alone were my job. I even enjoyed it. I felt…trusted. It was exciting to be entrusted with an important project. It felt great to stride into J’s office and present her with the outcome of my work and to see the look of relief on her face. It was actually the same satisfaction as working at a desk and helping people access information they needed. I liked the sense of my invaluability to the division. I wasn’t, and am not, invaluable. But I sometimes felt like the work I was doing actually couldn’t be done by anyone else—at that time. Satisfaction like a drug. And I wanted more of it.

I began to open my eyes to how overworked my boss was. She looked—looks, actually—old beyond her years. She walks upright and with an energy even I find hard to match, but you can see the heaviness in her eyes.

Two Saturdays ago, I sat in J’s office working across the desk at my own computer, and she began telling me about her family. (Her daughter had just come in and left.) How it was big. How every single one of her children had learning disabilities and lived at home, as adults. How three had already died—one DURING the Festival one year. How things had been difficult with the two oldest, who were her husband’s from a previous marriage. Etc.

It was not a long conversation—nor do I think she was trying to explain or excuse anything. It was just conversation. I had told her a little bit about my family—how we were all living on top of each other and making our way through.

I asked her if it was worth it, the Festival. If all the storm and stress of putting on the second largest storytelling event in the nation was ultimately rewarding. She looked at me tiredly through her glasses, he eyes lined by years of overwork and several days of no sleep, and she said, “Sometimes.” She didn’t gush idealistically about the virtues of storytelling. She didn’t say it was the greatest thing in the world. “Sometimes” expressed the reality of it all for HER. It was a glimpse of her immense fatigue that made my complaints seem so useless and trifling. And I also saw that J was doing the same thing I was doing, on a larger scale. She was filling a need. She didn’t found the Festival; it wasn’t her idea. She didn't go to school to become a professional accountant or event organizer. But she takes care of almost all of it because back when it all began, she was there.

Now the Festival is over and I will quietly slip back into my normal routine. I will clean keyboards and straighten books, and answer innumerable small—but important--questions. Important to the people who are asking them—therefore, important. The nightmare/amazingness of the Festival will quietly fade into the past, and my internship will end in a few weeks. When that happens, I will feel I have been her for a long time and will be here for years to come. It will be strange to think about how many people’s paths I will have crossed and how much—for lack of a better way of putting—amazing experience I can put on a resume!

But most importantly, this I will have learned. A) Insecurity, for me, is a form of pride. B)The attitude of perfectionism is unnecessary as it is damning. That is (and I never thought I’d say this) it is okay to be mediocre when you’re learning how to do something. It OKAY. As long as you don’t settle for mediocrity. And C) above all, just work. Fill needs as they arise. Even D) To forego NEEDING to feel needed. To not work for accolades. To just be there, and to make being there count for something.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Unwrapping

I needed this summer to gather myself in tight
Like I was sitting on a blanket, and I gathered it close to me
pulling in some of my loose corners
tightening some things that had come loose

To rediscover. To learn, mellow, become. to wrap myself up in things that really mattered.
and then to loosen what needed loosening and letting go.

Change.

Now I'm ready to unwrap again, and spread out,

out

out.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

The Vital Importance of Being Good

The hour is late and my thoughts are not necessarily coherent, but I feel like I should write about this. I’ve been in a huge spiritual slump lately. No, I haven’t stopped going to Church, I haven’t lost my testimony or anything. I’m trying to do my calling as the first counselor in my ward relief society—but the fact is that I’ve been in a slump. I don’t remember what I was doing or when exactly I started thinking about this, but a day or two ago I realized that I had been letting little things slide.

You know, it’s funny…I can say I don’t know why I’ve been in a slump, but I do know. I think we all know deep down the reason WHY we ever get in a slump. For me, it’s partly because I haven’t been reading my scriptures every day. Sure, I read at least three times a week, but even then, it is a cursory reading and not a real study. It’s different for everybody, but for me, this kind of study isn’t enough. Going through the motions isn’t enough, and so I’ve slid. The other thing that I don’t go to the temple often enough. Sometimes only once a month. Sometimes less. And when I go, it seems like it’s out of duty and not out of some purer motivation. Often I’m rushed, almost always…I get bored. I’m being very honest here. And, I’m not excusing myself. But sometimes I don’t want to go because a session can feel like such a long time commitment.

Part of this slump is a result of media inundation. There is so much out there that is purely to entertain, to provide vicarious enjoyment of something. There is so much DISTRACTION! Sometimes, I don’t want to do the little things that are right because they don't initially excite me. Why would I want to read my scriptures for twenty minutes when I could read my novel or watch my movie? It’s easier for me to escape the sometimes-tedium of life on Facebook or in some other form of distraction than to diagnose my boredom with scripture.

Diagnosing boredom with scripture. Hm. That’s something I’ve never thought about until now.

Anyway. Now to the point of this post. I’ve been trying to figure out lately just WHAT is really important. I didn’t mean to spend so much time talking about media distractions. I wanted to talk about what is the most important thing to BE. And I’ve decided that the most important thing to be is…well…good.

“Good” is a loaded word, but I’ll tell you what I think it means. It means doing the right things for the right reasons—which excludes, by it’s very definition, self-righteousness.

I have spent so much energy in the past little while developing somewhat superficial (let’s just called them worthless) traits. In a world where in order to be taken seriously you have to be ironic, a little edgy, a little cynical, and it's not necessarily cool to really FEEL things, it is only natural that I have, however subconsciously, been developing a rather world-weary attitude. To be ironic is to be the opposite of sincere. So here’s something to think about: If fitting in means sacrificing sincerity, is that really worth it? Is it worth it to be a little disingenuous in the way I express my opinions in order to be thought witty? Smart? Informed?

Here’s another one. Is it so important to be pretty? To be hip? To have all the right clothes? The right music? To read the right books and watch the right movies? Am I saying that these things are bad? No. But are they the most important things?

And what about friends? True, I don’t need to be best friends with everybody. (impossible.) But does that mean I am entitled to write people off who don’t initial interest me? Does my attitude say that I a think I am entitled to be unkind, and that I can justify being cold? (And believe me, I can be cold. I despise that version of myself.)

Enough. You get the point, hopefully. I truly think the only thing worth actively trying to be is GOOD. As stupid and obvious as that sounds, I really think it is the only thing ultimately worth it. And by good, I guess I mean sincere even at the expense of...whatever..."coolness". By good, I mean doing things for people in the spirit of disinterest—not thinking about “what’s in it for me.” I mean not letting the little spiritual things like scriptures study slide and not putting too much stock in media distractions. Cultivating something inside that will somehow radiate to other people, draw them to you (not for personal gain). I’m not talking about being nice, or even merely kind—though kindness is part.

Yes, it is cool to be edgy and it is fun to be fascinating. But honestly, to be good is vital. It is so unglamorous and so hard to be good.

I had already been thinking about all of these things a few days ago, and then—as if on cue—I came across this quotation on Jill’s blog, and with(out) her permission, here it is. I think it sums up the way I’m feeling:

“No man knows how bad he is till he has tried very hard to be good.” C. S. Lewis Mere Christianity

Friday, August 14, 2009

My Feelings about Being 24

1. I feel…the same. I have felt more or less the same for several years (barring the mission) and I feel like I’m going to feel the same from here on out. Or at least until some things, which are totally out of my control, happen.

2. How do I feel about my social life? Personally, I feel invisible. And a little weary. But not…washed up. I am just barely discovering the truth that it’s okay to give people glimpses of my unadulterated self.

3. I love my job. I feel like I have found something I can do to support myself for the rest of my life, and it happens to be totally enjoyable. What a wonderful feeling of security. I am confident.

4. I feel like I am finally an adult in my family, and I don’t have to do anything to prove it. I just am. And it doesn’t mean being any less silly or uninhibited. It just means being less self-conscious and defensive.

5. People definitely attach way too much baggage to the arbitrary numbers we use to tell age. My being 24 in and of itself means nothing. It doesn’t mean I should be any certain way at any given time. I don’t have to feel too old or too young or too late or too tired. It just means I’ve been alive for 24 years.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

“Last night, I dreamt I went to Manderley again…”

The famous first line from the novel Rebecca.

Actually, it was Santos, a coastal city in Brazil. Early this morning, I dreamt I went to Santos again.

As most of you know, I spent about eight and a half months there—so long that even though I haven’t seen it for well over a year, it is as fresh in my mind now as it was then. I have a map all but etched into my brain of most of the streets of four “bairros,” or neighborhoods, in Santos. I would still know the most efficient ways to get everywhere. And because I went about on foot, I know the aspect of the streets, the homefronts, bakeries, bars, and salons. So many salons! The skate park in the middle of my area, where the eternally busy Afonso Pena intersects Canal Four. The quiet, tree-lined streets where trim little buildings on stilts stand shoulder to shoulder like sentinels.

I can go on, but the details in my head mean nothing to anybody but me.

There is something to be said for going everywhere on foot.

Some people’s dreams are characterized by scary, intense sequences, or consist of various montages of nonsense. My dreams—when I remember them, which is not often—almost always provoke thought. Last night, as I said, I dreamt I went back to Santos. I don’t know how I got there. I was supposed to be somewhere else. In fact, I had momentarily been somewhere else—at a party with family and friends or something. But suddenly, I was in shorts and a dark green shirt I don’t actually own in real life, and it was noon, and I was in Santos. The sky was a beautiful partly cloudy. It looked light a hot day, but felt pleasant. I found myself on a busy road that vaguely resembled Afonso Pena—the dividing line between the nicer bairros and one called Macuco. I wandered around, almost in a trance or daze. I wondered how I’d gotten there—I assumed by plane—but it didn’t really seem to matter. There were lots of pedestrians, everywhere. All around me were the old, old houses, with tall, narrow wooden doors—houses that in real life, I always imagined sailors having once come home to, but now are filled with immigrants from the Northeast. I went places I could never go again as a tourist. I thought, “I’m going to walk all over Santos, even the Center.” The Center is not a safe place in real life. It made me feel invincible, the idea of going there. I passed by buildings that even now I can see in such detail that I wonder if I really did see them once.

I caught my reflection in a window. My hair was short and slightly flipped out. I looked really hip! I swear—I swear—I passed some people I actually saw or knew or something in Brazil. I caught some of them looking at me, maybe wondering where they had seen me before. I felt triumphant, returning as a competent tourist, well-dressed, confident. It’s as if I were glad to prove that missionaries were human, too—not always dowdy their whole lives. I didn’t feel out of place as a blond. Lot’s of people were blond, though fake. And I knew the language.

In my wandering, I ducked into a kind of alley, walked into a little paved courtyard, and suddenly found a view of the city. There was a carnival in the distance, with swings and one of those crazy spinny things that people always get sick on, and a Ferris wheel. In real life, there is no carnival in Santos, and a view of the city is only possible from one of the hills in the center of the island. But in my dream world, anything was possible I guess. Even for a solitary American girl with no real money and no passport to feel safe. It occurred to me to feel nervous that I had nothing but the clothes I was wearing and a U.S. $20 bill in my pocket, no cellphone, nothing… But this fleeting moment of panic was replaced by awe as I walked the old streets of Santos feeling exactly like I’d come home.

My memories of Brazil haunt me, because they seem so much like dreams. So totally different was my life there than it is here, it is hard for me, in some ways, to believe I was actually there. It’s my driving force to go back. I guess…I guess I just want to go see if it’s really there the way I remember it.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

On Going Very Early to Movies

There’s definitely something about Utah Valley and the general lack of acceptable entertainment that sends people in droves to the movies. Really. You’d think the movie industry worldwide would have pulled itself up out of the economic slump by now, if through nothing else than through Utah Valley’s unbridled enthusiasm.

Yes, I’m talking about Harry Potter.

Now. I have spent no less than a million hours of my life waiting in lines to get into blockbuster movies like the Lord of the Rings trilogy and (heaven forbid) Star Wars episode three. But I no longer relish this practice. I no longer absorb the expectant energy of the people in line with me, eagerly awaiting Heath Ledger’s phenomenal evilness, or Robert Downey Jr.’s irresistible bad boy antics. You might say I’ve grown bored of it all. I still like movies, but I don’t particularly enjoy lines.

Well, I made an exception today, for Harry. I even went to the trouble of buying the tickets two days in advance. I even…bothered to go stand in line (yes, you heard me…or…read me) a whole hour in advance. Die-hard early-going-blockbuster-line-waiter-inners no doubt scoff. One hour is really not early enough for such a big movie on its second day of release. True. But I figured that at least the four of us going wouldn’t get stuck sitting in the front row. Not even the genius of Harry Potter can ameliorate the effects of a permanently crooked neck. Anyway. I went early, stood in an enormous, amorphous line, finally got into the theater with what I thought was time to spare…and lo. It was nearly full.

You must imagine my rage. (But—do not imagine too carefully lest you overload your central nervous system.) In this same circumstance, some people would see the joy in the situation: families coming together to enjoy a nice, well-made, pg-rated masterpiece. (Which it was, by the way.) But I? Oh, no. I’d had a long day at work, and what I saw was whole families of twelve who’d sent their two little pit bulls three hours ahead of schedule to spread jackets, purses, arms and legs and whatever else on hand across ten other seats so that the rest of the fam could quite comfortably arrive two minutes before the film was scheduled to start. It was enough to make one sick with rage! I had already demeaned myself by arriving a whole hour early. Perversely, it wasn’t even because I was such an HP fan that I willingly wait in an unmoving line for three hours. I was merely playing by the necessary rules to get four seats together. Just four. Is that a lot to ask?

By the time I got into the theater, a mere half hour early, the seating was still underway.

Seating, in a movie such as this, is always a bloodbath. No sooner do you turn your back on two potential seats, then bam! Taken. One must be impulsive. You see a seat, you take it, you throw yourself bodily across it, because the minute you hesitate to consider whether this is really the seat for you, you’ve lost it. Your claim is staked by someone who was a fraction of a second less circumspect than you. (It’s unfair, but that’s life in the theater. Alas, there is a little bit of Darwinism at play.) And then, since the only two seats left together are two of the six handicapped seats, you are forced to plant yourself thither. Right in front, in the aisle. Exposed. Conspicuous. Like a sore thumb, or a growth on the fringes of society. Everyone walking by, tripping on your legs (which you tuck shamefully away) looking askance—and judging.

Judging.

What if someone in a wheelchair actually comes in? Which one of the six of us poor schmucks in the front is going to move? It is a frightening hypothetical. All joy is leached out of the experience. All expectation quashed by the single, bitter thought, “This damn movie better be worth it!”

Well, it was, happily. And no amount of my pre-show annoyance tainted the actual experience. My final word is this: go see Harry Potter. But—and I can’t believe I’m actually advocating this—show up a little earlier than I did.

hoop-de-do