Sunday, September 29, 2013

Others

One week ago a tall, slender, middle-aged woman in a nice dress approached my desk at the library. Her hair was a dull, doll's hair brunette. She wore heavy makeup on a long, strong-jawed face. She spoke to me in a quiet falsetto. Can you show me where the self-help books are? There was vulnerability all over her.

I knew immediately. I knew that she... had once been a he. As we walked in silence, past Fiction, past Graphic Novels, past A to B, to BF, to Chicken Soup for the Soul, to Joel Osteen, to Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, it didn't matter. It--the undefinable It--was not the only thing that made her her.

Sometimes my prejudices are surprised out of me. I am not comfortable with them. I don't even like admitting that I have them.

But I do. And I like it when I meet Others, and my prejudices--unacknowledged or otherwise--are blown out, gently, like a candle.

And I am filled with understanding.


Sunday, July 14, 2013

Dog Days



I have struggled for the last month how to feel about this small, furry interloper. I love his quiet companionship. I hate his piercing bark. I love his playful energy. I hate his need to lead on a leash. There are moments of joy, of absolute connection with him: He is an amazingly affectionate dog. There are moments where I am so angry and embarrassed that I shake and cry and beg to be freed from the responsibility. After one of these moments, I tearfully asked my husband to find another home for him because I couldn't stand to feel this kind of anger. 



The inevitable parallels between dog-ownership and parenthood have been drawn by just about everyone I've talked to. I have never been more afraid of parenthood than I am now. I am afraid of my own emotional fragility, my difficulty controlling my temper, and my debilitating fear of embarrassment and judgment from others. I can calmly steer my dog away from a situation that is making him frenzied, but I am dying a little bit inside every time. What about when my child is throwing a tantrum at the grocery store checkout? This is inevitable. How can I deal with this if I can't cope with a 23 lb. dog? What about when my child hits or bites another child? What about when my child is rude to another child, or another grown up? How can I guide this child if I feel so much anger and embarrassment?

The answer, obviously, is that you can neither guide a child nor a dog with anger and embarrassment. 

My hero, Cesar Millan, talks about fulfilling a dog on his own terms. Respecting that he is first and foremost an animal--not a little human--and to treat him like one. This is not an insult to him. I heard this, but I did not truly understand it until recently. Humans and dogs have been companions for so long, I think we sometimes forget that they are separate species, and they are hard-wired very differently. Those of us who choose to accept responsibility for these animals cannot expect them to navigate their way flawlessly through our human world. We need to help them make different choices when the choices they make don't work. There is not room for anger here.

It isn't about punishment; it's about redirection. And it's totally about love. It's about love for this animal that, for whatever reason, has thrown its evolutionary lot in with Man. We can't betray that trust by punishing a dog for being himself.


This whole week I have been focusing on what I love about him, and I have felt my patience with him grow two-hundred fold:

I love that when he is alert one ear sticks straight up and the other kind of flops. I love the way the silver in his fur makes him look shiny. I love his softness, his warmth. Schnauzer eyes can look a little intimidating from far away. I love how bright and earnest they are up close. I love that he is big and robust for his type, and that we can take him on long walks and hikes. I love that said walks and hikes wear him totally out. :) I love it when he puts his nose to the ground and "hoovers" all around the carpet. I love the way he gently licks my hand when he wants affection (i.e. all the time.)

I love that his whole body wags with pure, effervescent joy whenever I come home. There is nothing quite like the love of a dog.



Tuesday, May 7, 2013

A Video is Worth a Thousand Pictures...

...sort of.

Here's what I've been doing for the last half hour.


Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Can you still be my friend...

...even if you don't know me very well?
...or have known me too long?
...even if I'm too old?
...or (more likely) too young?

...even if I don't like the same things you do?
...watch the same things you do?
...read the same things you do?
...listen to the same music you do?
...eat the same things you do?
...dress the same way you do?
...look the way you do?

...even if I don't believe the same things as you?

...even though I believe in God?
...and evolution?
...knowing that I swear sometimes?
...or laugh sometimes at inappropriate things?

...even if our opinions differ?

...even though I didn't vote for the same person you did?
...even though I'm pro-choice?
...and pro-life? (It isn't a dichotomy.)
...even though I support gay marriage?
...and believe in the sanctity of marriage (They're not mutually exclusive.)
...even though I don't believe everyone should have a gun?
...but will have guns in my house nonetheless?

...even if it offends you that I hold so many opinions that society and convention say cannot exist in the same person?

...even if I don't have children?
...even if you do not like my friends?
...my spouse?

...even if I broke your heart?
...even if you broke mine?

Can you still be my friend even though we are separated by time and space?

I guess what I'm asking is, can you be my friend even though we are different?

I'll give it a go if you will.


Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Vehicular Anger Management

Guys, Las Vegas is not a fun place to drive. Neither is Utah. But add to the obliviousness and stupidity of Utah drivers the bad and uncertain driving of countless tourists (I'm lookin' at YOU, California) as well as a general tendency to imbibe, and you have a cesspool of bad driving.

I spend roughly two minutes of my commute on the freeway, and by the end of that two minutes I'm glad I don't have a gun in the car. After that, I spend fifteen minutes trying not to kill or be killed on Flamingo Road. So much weaving in and out. So much tail-gaiting.

Surprisingly few accidents...

But to the point! SO MUCH BAD DRIVING.

I didn't notice it at first. I was too busy trying to get from point A to B. In fact, now that I think about it, I was once probably one of those oblivious out-of-towners making everyone else nervous with my erratic driving.

Now it may surprise some of you that I have anger issues. Oh yes. I get pissed when people do things in cars that put me in danger. My commute is neither long nor arduous--a mere 20 minutes both ways--but I realized that 40 minutes of anger everyday was kind of ruining my day. I realized I can't control what other drivers do, but I COULD change the mood in my own car. So here's what I do. And because I love numbered lists...

1. Music.
DUH. Music is a huge mood changer. It can make the most monotonous drive epic. Or wondrously melancholy. Or surprisingly fun. Also, I sing in the car--and I don't mean to brag or anything but I'm pretty great. <*sarcasm*>

2. "Car Talk."
Not all NPR. Specifically "Car Talk." It's on every Saturday on my drive to work. You would think a radio show about cars would bring my attention back to my drive, but on the contrary. It is very agreeably distracting. I can't help but start my day in a good mood.

3. Leaving with plenty of time.
This is a huge one. My road rage is exactly proportional to my lateness. The person going 55mph on the freeway goes from Kind of Clueless to The Worst Human Being in the Universe. When I've got time and to spare, who cares if I just missed the twelfth light in a row? (Well, I still care. But I feel less inclined to yell at inanimate objects.)

What do you do to stave of Road Rage? I need all the help I can get.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Workout Diary: Day 374

 For those of you just joining me on this roller-coaster, let me direct you to my first workout diary from last year.

Today, I'm doing yoga at home, in my pajamas. I warm up for a few minutes, stretching over one leg and then the other, rolling my neck around, waking up my back with cat-cow stretches. Then I go right into my vinyasa flow. It's amazing how much I can get my heart rate going with just a few push-ups, downward-facing dogs and jumping forward. I move fast. I don't linger too long in any position. I want to work my heart.

I'm not going to bore you with anymore details about my workout today. What I want to record for myself here is that I am strong. I can work myself out. I do can do it at a gym, or at home; I am not dependent on anyone else; I am not tied down to a specific type of exercise. I am flexible. I can touch my toes again. When I'm warm, I can palm the ground. I am not immobilized by sore muscles after every workout anymore. I am healthy, even though I weigh the same as I did a year ago. If you've read the first post, you know how much of an issue my weight has been for me. But I will tell you--and me--this: I AM HEALTHY.  I am exercising, I am eating and I am sleeping well. It occurs to me that maybe this is just my healthy weight for now. The best news is that I haven't lost anymore weight. The status has remained quo.

My new goals now are to beef up my deltoids and chest muscles.  I have "wide, childbearing hips," as T jokingly likes to remind me :), and narrow shoulders. I would love to balance out the aesthetic a little bit. Also, I want to be able to do the splits by the end of the year. This will be difficult since I've never really been able to do the splits with any consistency, even back when I was dancing. It's more just to say that I can rather than serving any real purpose. (This, coming from the girl who, when she was seven, spent a solid week teaching herself how to do a loud whistle with fingers in her mouth. This also coming from the girl who spent another week of life committing to memory the solving of a Rubik's cube. What can I say? I am a living, breathing parlor trick.)

Thanks, everyone, for the encouragement. It's been a really good year.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

"The Queen of Versailles"

I know it isn't polite to talk about money--well, I'm learning that it isn't. But it seems like everyone has been talking about money for the last four or five years, so why not me? Anyway, I have mentioned on this blog and elsewhere that T and I have been through a tight time financially these past few months. We're out of the worst of it now (thanks to a new disbursement of student loans) but we have learned some--I think--extraordinarily valuable lessons.


Tonight I watched a documentary called Queen of Versailles. The cover features a blond, boobed, botoxed forty-something trophy wife of the guy who was building what turned out to be the biggest home in America. I've recently discovered the wealth of documentaries available on Netflix, and I clicked on this one for a lark, thinking it would be some Jersey Shore rip-off that I would watch for about five minutes out of curiosity and then turn off in disgust or boredom. One hour and forty minutes later, I now think I know the secret to being happy for the rest of my life. And I'll give you a hint: It's not money.

The film opens with a portrait of an evidently happy, if not slightly unequal, marriage. The husband is a time-share mogul in his seventies, his wife, a mother of eight in her forties. Both come from humble backgrounds. One of them built an empire. The other inherited it by marriage. They have everything: Private jets, limos and drivers, maids, nannies, and a net worth of $1 billion. Their current house is enormous, but it isn't big enough so they are building an even larger mansion whose design is based on Versailles, the French palace of Louis XIV.

Then the financial crisis of 2008 hits--and it hits the family hard. Huge real-estate ventures go into default and eventually foreclosure. Construction is halted on the Versailles house. The family is forced to cut back. No more private jets, drivers, fewer maids... Even the Versailles house is put up for sale. It becomes quickly evident that the house they live in is colossally mismanaged. Junk litters almost every surface. Pet reptiles and fish die of neglect in their aquaria. More than once, a member of the household steps in dog poo in the house.

The portrait of the evidently happy marriage begins to fall apart. The husband literally cannot separate work from personal life. He is desperately unhappy about his financial situation, and his mood affects the whole family. The worst of it is, he doesn't seem to communicate any of this to his wife, whom he regards not as a partner but more like one of his adult children--a liability, essentially. Rather than saying to her something like, "Hey, maybe we shouldn't buy all of these useless gifts for Christmas--board games we already have, bikes that will not be ridden, etc.--let's cut back," (I mean, it's not like they were destitute) he just blows up about something like all the lights in the house being on and the electric bill. His moods and tempers seem to be totally irrational to the rest of his young family.

The oldest daughter is actually an adopted niece who literally came from sleeping in the streets to living this opulent lifestyle says it all. When she was poor she looked at people like the Siegels and thought "What could they ever want?" They have it all. But then, she says, "You get used to it. And then you just keep wanting more, and nothing is enough." Bad news when you can't have everything.

It was a very fascinating, sobering, peek into a lifestyle of which I have no experience whatsoever. I come from a very middle-class upbringing. I never wanted for anything, but I didn't get everything I wanted either. Most of the toys I owned I bought with my own money that I earned cleaning the house or doing yard work. I still have all of my plastic horse collection because I cannot bear to give it away. It took me years to build up, and I took care of them. Now, I spend my money on more prosaic things. Like food. And electricity. And sometimes a new pair of pants.

I learned--or rather, remembered--something tonight as I watched this film. It was this: If you want to be happy, stop pining for what you don't have and take care of what you've got. Put your clothes away. Make your bed. Use the food in your fridge. Wash your dishes. Exercise yourself.

It's so simple it can be summed up in a well-worn cliche: Waste not. Want not. We can be happy with less. Why is it so hard to remember?

Saturday, January 19, 2013

We are Stardust, We are Golden


I love science. I love the study of how things work. My studies have mostly been of the liberal arts, the humanities, the human experience on this planet. But I am also deeply fascinated by the study of our place in the ecosystem, and our place in the universe.

I just read an essay The Cosmic Perspective by Neil deGrasse Tyson. In it, he talks about how understanding our place in the universe can affect the way we think about everything else, and temper our humano-centrism. (I don't know if that's a word, but it's definitely a thing.)  Even though Mr. deGrasse Tyson is not a religious man and I am a religious woman, I don't think we would disagree that Time, and Existence, and the Universe have no beginning and no end. And because having "an eternal perspective" is a more familiar phrase for me, I've inserted it instead of "cosmic" to helps me understand him even better. He says:


The [eternal] perspective is humble.

The [eternal] perspective enables us to grasp, in the same thought, the large and the small.


The [eternal] perspective opens our minds to extraordinary ideas but does not leave them so open that our brains spill out, making us susceptible to believing anything we're told. (I love this one.)


The [eternal] perspective shows Earth to be a mote, but a precious mote and, for the moment, the only home we have.


The [eternal] perspective finds beauty in the images of planets, moons, stars, and nebulae but also celebrates the laws of physics that shape them.


The [eternal] perspective enables us to see beyond our circumstances, allowing us to transcend the primal search for food, shelter, and sex. 


The [eternal] perspective reminds us that in space, where there is no air, a flag will not wave—an indication that perhaps flag waving and space exploration do not mix.


The [eternal] perspective not only embraces our genetic kinship with all life on Earth but also values our chemical kinship with any yet-to-be discovered life in the universe, as well as our atomic kinship with the universe itself.



Whether you use the word "cosmic" or "eternal," it doesn't really matter. The point is, we are part of something so much bigger than us, and remembering that fact can help put everything else into perspective.

As Joni Mitchell said, "We are stardust." We are the same substance as stars,* and that makes me feel both so small--and so great.


* Analogously, my belief is that we are the same substance as God. He is a man with greater understanding and physical ability than us. But we are of him. I believe we have part of him in us. And remembering that fact can help us transcend the grosser aspects of human nature.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

What I Want Future Me to Remember about Moving to a New Place


The other day I was driving up to work and I had this sudden, quiet feeling. Maybe it was a combination of the music playing in my car ("Pyramid Song" by Radiohead) and the way the sky looked: a partly cloudy sky with fast-moving clouds and dynamic light. It was, if I may say, a very "Utah" sky. A temperamental sky. Whatever it was, I had a subtle awareness that this unfamiliar town was starting to feel like my home.

For someone whose home has largely been one place until six months ago...what a nice thing.

Six months ago, we moved to Vegas and I was almost immediately thrown headlong into a new job. It was a little overwhelming to have to learn to work at a totally different library, how to be me in a culture that is nothing like me, how to meet people in my church congregation, etc. It was a time rife with insecurity. I had a hard time cutting through fear of rejection and failure. That being said, I can look back over the months and readily recognize all the ways in which things have fallen almost perfectly in to place. So, with this 20/20 hindsight vision, I would like to jot down a few things that I would like to remember for the next time I move to a new place:

1. It's okay to feel unsure about a new job. Accept it. Don't be afraid of it. In time, you will make friends with the people you work with. You always do.

2.  Just because people do not go out of their way to get to know you your first Sunday in a new ward*, does not mean they are unfriendly. Be patient. Put yourself forward when appropriate. In time, people will begin to recognize a friend in you.

3. In order to make friends, be a friend. Get out of your comfort zone. Go to that function where you don't know anyone. Some of the others there don't know anyone either. Act confident until you feel confident.

4. Explore. (T and I were always good at this.) Explore! If this is where you are going to live, make it your own. Part of being comfortable somewhere is being able to get effortlessly from point A to B, and also knowing what things there are to do for fun.

5. Do not decide about a place until you have lived there at least half a year. It still isn't a long time, but it's enough to get a sense of the place. Reserve judgment until you have seen and done enough.

So here is my judgment of Vegas as a place to live: Maybe it's just Stockholm Syndrome, but I'm starting to like it, in spite of--and in part because of--its eccentricities. Is it kind of weird? Absolutely! But it is a lively city. And I like that. Oddly enough, I also like the feeling of being halfway to nowhere. Barring Henderson, which is really just an extension of Vegas, there aren't suburbs. There's city, and then there's nothing. It is real, honest-to-goodness desert out here, and I like that.

Anyway, I hope by writing this down that I can remember in the future, when we have probably moved somewhere else--even if it's just somewhere else in town--that it is normal to kind of resent feeling so unmoored. It just takes time to get one's bearings, drop anchor, and make a Home out of a New Place.

*LDS congregation

A Conversation Prompted by Green Beans

As T and I were seated at the table preparing to partake of our humble Sunday evening repast of chicken and green beans, he let a large pat of butter melt on top of his pile of beans.

"Hey," he says after one bite. "Green beans are really good with just butter and salt!" I reply: "A year ago, you wouldn't have touched green beans." (T is notoriously against eating any cooked vegetable.)

This simple, rather boring exchange prompted a small conversation in which we discussed other things that hadn't happened a year ago.

A year ago, T was fifteen pounds heavier and I, myself, had never set foot in a gym. Now, we both exercise regularly (at home or at the gym) and feel a thousand times better.

A year ago, we were still in Utah, hoping, waiting for a school--any school--to call Travis in for an interview.

A year ago, T hadn't finished his undergraduate degree, and I was still working on my Masters. Now, T is closer to being a pharmacist than he was to having his Bachelor's when we started dating three years ago. And I am in the process of applying for my first professional position as a librarian.

A year ago, I had never touched, let alone shot a gun. Now, I have gone shooting once, and it was actually a lot of fun.

A year ago, T would have never dreamed of sitting down with me to watch Downton Abbey. Curiously (along with Dexter) it is now his programming of choice. We are partway through series two. :) :) :)

These are little things, but it is fun to track the ways we change and grow and develop individually and as a couple. It's nice to know that we're not in the same place we were a year ago.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Read Much, Read Well

I read at least 30 books during this past year. That's pretty good! But I can do better. It helps that one of the classes I took had an extensive reading list. I'm going to make a goal to read more books this year and to read better books. I typically read for escape. That is all fine and well, but that gets tiring after a while, like too much candy. So I'm going to throw in a few literary vegetables every once in a while: something non-fiction, a classic or two. I'm also going to occasionally try out something I wouldn't typically read; maybe I'll try some urban fiction. (Probably not.) Or some murder mysteries, which I never read. I don't know why. Lots of people love them. Anyway, here's a list of my 2012 reads. Not very extensive, and there's a lot of "candy" in there. Still it wasn't a bad year for reading:


  • The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling (actually haven't quite finished this one. So maybe this shouldn't count.)
  • How to Win Friends and Influence People in the Digital Age by Dale Carnegie
  • A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness
  • Dragonfly in Amber by Diana Gabaldon
  • The Ramos Brothers Trust Castro and Kennedy by Roger DeBlanck
  • Outlander by Diana Gabaldon
  • A Civil Contract by Georgette Heyer
  • The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Bronte
  • The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
  • Follow the River by James Alexander Thom
  • Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
  • Children of the Great Depression by Russell Freedman
  • The Shadows of Ghadames by Joelle Stolz
  • The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin
  • Charlie Joe Jackson's Guide to Not Reading by Tommy Greenwald
  • The Watsons Go to Birmingham-1963 by Christopher Paul Curtis
  • Herbert's Wormhole: The Rise and Fall of El Solo Libre by Peter Nelson and Rhoitash Rao
  • Island of Thieves by Josh Lacey
  • Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin
  • One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia
  • The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick
  • A Dance with Dragons by George R.R. Martin
  • The Running Dream by Wendelin Van Draanen
  • Child of the Prophecy by Juliet Marillier
  • East of Eden by John Steinbeck
  • The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time by Mark Haddon
  • Borrowed Light by Carla Kelly
  • The Sirens of Titan by Kurt Vonnegut
  • Jane by April Lindner
  • The Maze Runner by James Dashner

So. What was your favorite book you read last year?

hoop-de-do