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.


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


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.