Sunday, June 29, 2008

Attributes of a Good Teacher

You're getting something delightful tonight. Yes, indeed--you're getting the amalgam that is my thoughts from the course of today. What I'm thinking about right now.

I'm thinking about the attributes of good teachers.

It has nothing to do with what the bishop spoke about in his fifth Sunday presentation today. I suppose it's remotely related to the Sunday School lesson, because that was about the attributes of a good missionary. And since a large part of being a missionary is teaching, I imagined the two lists would share some traits.

But I'm thinking about teaching, because that is a calling I just received. I'll be the Relief Society "Teachings for our Times" teacher. And I have a feeling I have rarely encountered: I am intimidated.

It is kind of funny to think about, because I usually don't feel humbled by anything. In fact, I can remember sitting through many a Relief Society lesson thinking that I could teach better than the girl standing in front of the class, half-mumbling her impressions and asking for input only to find an unreceptive audience.

(That, by the way, is my biggest fear--that during my first lesson, I'll ask a question designed to provoke discussion . . . and nothing will happen.)

But now that I stop and think about it, I'm not sure about exactly how to teach. I know what I appreciate in a lesson and what I can do without. I know how to design questions intended for open-ended discussion. And I know the point isn't for me to talk for forty-five minutes without getting any input from the sisters.

Knowing and doing, I've found, are very distinct entities. Or rather, true knowing can only come from doing. So here, as I spout out my thoughts, are some attributes of teachers I've had and loved.

Please, feel free to add on in the comments.
  • Intense study.
  • Devoted time to thinking about the topic of the lesson without necessarily starting to prepare the lesson itself.
  • Perceived instances in their own lives and the lives of others that will help drive their point home.
  • Enthusiasm.
  • Somberness, when called for.
  • Willingness to listen.
  • Ability to be in touch with the Spirit.
  • With above, ability to maneuver a lesson in a direction they had not, perhaps, planned on going when they started.
  • Excellent object lessons. (My dad: master at this. I mean, master. My mom too. I don't know how they do it. But let me tell you: I hope it's written in somehow genetically.)
  • Adaptability.
  • Humor.

And since my brain is shutting down, feel free to add on.

Interestingly enough, I spoke to my mom about this today--I was telling her that I wouldn't know what to do if someone made a completely off-the-wall comment that had nothing to do with anything.

And she told me just how important the Spirit is--because when she taught Gospel Doctrine with my dad, she wasn't sure how she would react either. But when people said truly strange things, she always found herself turning them into a kind joke. Due to promptings. Interesting, no?

That said, I hope I don't feel too much of a need to joke in four weeks . . .

Saturday, June 28, 2008

The Last Three Days

. . . have been pretty much perfect.

In all honesty, I was thinking about it today.

And I think this has been a pretty much perfect weekend.

How awesome is that?

(And I always love Sundays.  Even when the sacrament talks are crazy or church doesn't seem to go quite right.  They're always so peaceful.)

And is there a way I can make more of my days this perfect??

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Job Update

The job hunt continues.  I had three interviews today.  It was more than a little tiring.  Also, I decided I'm not cutthroat enough to endure too many group interviews.  I find myself empathizing with the other people in the interview with me.  Comparing their ways of speech and their physical appearance to people I know.  And inevitably, I find myself becoming somewhat attached to them.
I know it's strange.  Trust me, I know.  But I have a hard time thinking of them as the enemy.  And almost as hard a time thinking of them as the competition.
They're people too.  They need jobs too.  And even though the girls from this morning already had other positions, it could still benefit them to have that position.
That is why I love one-on-one interviews.  I can endure Chinese water torture interviews, I think, provided that I am the only person there.  If there were others suffering with me . . . 
The morning interview: not the best.  The first afternoon interview: meh.  The last interview of today: went well.  I hope they offer me the job.  They were nice.
But then again, I have another interview tomorrow.  We'll see what happens then.

Monday, June 23, 2008


I forget how much I appreciate having a certain amount of structure to my life.

It's much easier to allocate my free time when it's all squished into a few hours each evening.

When I have whole days of it, I have a hard time.

Like right now.

I need part-time work soon.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Leaving So Soon

So you get two blog posts in the same day. I know you have no idea what you did to deserve such treatment. (Also, points to the first person who knows what band I kidnapped my title from.)

Well, you didn't do anything. But the people at my office have.

Here's the deal: I'm leaving my current job on Friday. It is a job that is no longer helping me to grow. It has lost all of its challenge. It is something I have come to dread. That said, you can obviously tell that I won't miss being here. While it will be odd (and nice!) to wake up Monday morning at whatever time I darn well feel like it, it will be an adjustment. But adjustment problems for me are rare.

People have started to come by my office. Ironically enough, the news I'm leaving has taken longer to spread than I realize. Just today, two people came to my office to speak to me and wish me luck. (Funny, really, how people tend to treat your leaving as dying. I'm serious. Lots of people basically wish you to have a nice life.)

Since the leaving isn't hard for me, it didn't occur to me that my leaving would be hard for--or hard on--anyone else. At least, it didn't occur to me until our sales rep got a little misty-eyed at lunch. How my boss has started quickly steering the conversation away from anything Friday-related, and how my co-worker sometimes gets this sad look when she's in the middle of having a funny conversation with me.

They are beginning to realize I won't be back on Monday. And that, because I am the person I am, it's highly unlikely I will be back for any reason. Ever.

I have been the one on the other side of the leaving, and I must be honest: in a work situation, no leaving (whether it was resignation, firing, or layoff) has ever hurt me. Life rolls on. Work still needs to be done. And that's that.

Perhaps this attitude seems callous to some of you. And perhaps it is. But for what it's worth, I'm trying to be more respectful of the missing that my leaving will cause. Because as this week moves on, I realize that a lot of people think I made this a better place to be. I have my doubts about that, but they think it nonetheless.

So I will try to rein in my own attitude about my leaving in order to respect theirs.

If only because it's unnerving to realize that many people care . . .

Letting Go of the Writing

I often find myself led to thinking about things due to questions people ask on forums or due to conversations (chat and otherwise) I have. Sometimes I start thinking about the original conversation and splinter off, so to speak, to a loosely related topic. And sometimes I dwell on the original topic.

Today's topic: writing for publication. Or, for that matter, writing to a broad audience. Or really, writing to any audience. (I know former professors of mine who would scold me for a premise such as this one. I just moved from specific to broad . . . but that is neither here nor there)

I'm obviously writing to an audience right now. In fact, I bet I could predict who will read and comment on this post. But I shall refrain. Because I can also predict that my prediction won't be completely right. There will be some random stragglers I can't account for. (Until, that is, I get sent my statistics report and see they ended up here as a product of a google search for something that might appear as a short phrase in one of my entries, but the entry itself will have absolutely nothing to do with what they are looking for.)

Anyway, this is what I have discovered (and it's not a new notion, by any means) about writing. Especially writing once you have handed it over to someone else. Once you let it leave your hands, it no longer belongs to you anymore. Sure, you still have possession in the sense you get the copyright.

But I'm not talking about physical possession. I'm not talking about conveying ideas. Once you have presented someone else with anything--a poem, a song, a novel--what you meant for it to mean just doesn't matter anymore. And it isn't that you didn't give it any meaning. It's just that you can't control what it means anymore.

My AP English teacher positively loathed getting analysis essays from us that had any ideas worded such: "The author obviously intended x," or "The author meant that y," because no reader can truly no the intent of an author. Unless the author tells them.

Now shhh . . . but let me tell you something. Sometimes the author didn't have a definite intent outside of writing something entertaining. But remember, you didn't hear that here.

In fact, I would go so far as to argue that if someone who writes something makes their meaning so abundantly clear and obvious it can't be mistaken, expanded, or revised--then that person is not tremendously talented. I'm just sayin'. You can agree or disagree. (Go on, disagree. I dare you. Give me an example of somebody clubbing you over the head with their point and you liked it and thought it artistically well done.)

So as a writer, I think it's important to remember that once it hits the public, the work is out of your hands. The audience gets to decide. And the less unanimous the audience is about what they see and what moves them in your work, the better you are at what you do.

And interestingly enough, when touched by a variety of readers/listeners, some works only evolve and improve over time. After all, a work untouched by an audience never has a chance to be anything other than what the creator thinks it is.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Guilty Pleasures

Dear Moviebuffy,

(Yes, I know who you are. But I'll address you by your 'nym.) You asked about guilty pleasures. Now you do realize that in order for something to be a guilty pleasure, a person must feel--to one degree or another--guilt while doing something?

Have I ever struck you as the guilty type?

Even so, I suppose there must be some things I do that make me feel marginally guilty. So here you go. You asked, and you will receive.

Your friend (and not just acquaintance),
Confuzzled (even though y'all know my actual name, a 'nym for a 'nym seems more equal)

So without further ado, here they are:

  • Eating chocolate chips straight from the bag.
  • "Fat girl nights" in which I eat pretty much all of the following: frozen pizza, breadsticks, cookie dough, at least two varieties of ice cream, at least two candy bars, baked cookies, and Swedish fish. (No, I don't do this often. And no, I don't know where all of it goes once I packed it in. And no, it has never caused me to explode.)
  • Walking around the house in my slip when I get home from church, it's hot, and my roommates are gone for the weekend. (Hey, you asked!)
  • Singing the theme songs to the Disney Afternoon cartoons of my childhood. (Sometimes, some crimes go slippin' through the cracks, but these two gumshoes are picking up the slack. There's no case too big, no case too small, when you need help just call Ch-ch-ch-chip and Dale, Rescue Rangers . . .)
  • Daylong Gilmore Girls marathons. (And I'm talking all day. It's not the show that causes the guiltiness, but the time frame.)
  • Hanson. Yes. I own more than one Hanson CD. Mock away, friends. Mock away. They got better as they got older. Mellower. Marginally less girly-looking, too.
  • Collecting Scrabble words as I'm talking to people I'd rather not converse with. (I never remember the gist of the conversations, but I try to keep tally of any good 7-letter words I could use in a game.)
  • Belting out songs I do not have the range for while accompanying myself.
  • Facebook, anyone?
  • Saturday morning superhero cartoons. For when I want to feel like a kid again.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Success or Happiness?

As an undergraduate, I decided to get a Bachelor of Arts degree instead of a Bachelor of Science degree for practical reasons--science and math, while not impossible for me to grasp, require a lot more effort than humanities-based classes.

My dad, meanwhile, frequently lamented my choice of major. Who on earth would employ a girl with an English degree? (A creative writing degree, no less) What would I do with my life?

Anyway, a B.A. requires four semesters of a foreign language. Spanish seemed a logical choice--it seemed like a good chunk of the student population, not to mention the U.S. population--spoke it. And so I found myself in classes with a fellow creative writing student. Since we already knew each other, we always sat next to each other. We took notes for each other. And we got to be quite chummy.

He wasn't the sort of person who looked like an aspiring poet; he was the sort of person who looked like a personal trainer. He regularly went to the gym, and he ran or lifted weights to help him think his way through any given problem or poem.

He was the sort of person many people would expect to hear swearing like a sailor, but he'd quote Neal A. Maxwell. In addition, he looked menacing and intense. And that assessment was half right--he was very intense. And passionate. Once he believed in something or someone, it took a lot to sway him.

Like me, he didn't always think before he reacted. But he was always quick to apologize if he thought he'd offended. Unless he didn't like people. Then he sort of reveled in it when they took offense. But not to their faces, at least.

Anyway, many people mistook him as a stereotypical bad boy. It was an easy mistake to make if you only scratched his surface. In our fourth semester Spanish class, a shallow little soccer player took a shining to him. I spent quite a lot of time watching her (fruitlessly) attempt to flirt with him. You could tell she had a bad-boy complex.

He dodged it quite well by always including me in the conversation. Or by dropping any conversation with her and taking up one with me whenever I came in. (It was gratifying, really; we were good friends and it was nice to be able to talk a variety of philosophies and argue about the merits of different styles of poetry as well as discussing a variety of other things. It gave me faith that all men didn't entirely devote their attention to bimbos)

One day, however, I ended up being interjected into a conversation she had started with him, because she had decided to major in business. She had faith she could figure out a way of climbing the corporate ladder and making boatloads of money, and she thought it a good strategy. (When I wished her good luck in shattering the glass ceiling, she said "Huh?" And I chuckled.)

When she asked about our majors, we told her we were both majoring in poetry. She mentioned that it didn't seem like a terribly lucrative major. And both of us had the same response--we would much rather be poor and happy, we told her, than be insanely rich and miserable.

I told her the Beatles had pegged it--money can't buy you love. It also can't buy you happiness. Or satisfaction. Or good friendships.

From that point to the end of semester, she spent the beginning of every class attempting to convince us to go into majors that would pay us more. Until at one point, my friend told her, "I think the only reason I would ever climb the corporate ladder is so I can jump off it and kill myself."

I remembered that this morning when one of my co-workers asked if I was returning to school. "In a sense," I told him. "I'm going back to get my master's."

"In business administration?"

"No, in English."

"MBA's get paid quite a lot. You could buy a number of things with an MBA."

"Except contentment."

It's interesting to note how many people here in the office think of their jobs only in terms of salary. They don't seem to think it matters whether they love or loathe their positions; as long as it pays them enough, they believe they will be happy. Misery for eight hours a day, they seem to think, is worth the price of being able to maintain their standard of living.

And sometimes I wonder--if they ever quit and got jobs that caused happiness for eight hours a day and didn't help their standard of living, would they have a worse time of it? Or a better one?

Saturday, June 14, 2008

In Praise of Papa

I'm a believer in equality. So since my mom got a Mother's Day post, that means my dad certainly deserves one for Father's Day. And since tomorrow, I'll be with the family up in Centerville (and oddly enough, sneaking away to blog during family gatherings is kind of frowned upon in my family), he also gets his entry a day early.

To be frank, I don't know if either of them have ever read this blog, though I'm pretty sure both know of its existence. Rather, I'm pretty sure that I told both of them about its existence more than once. But that doesn't mean they remember. Which is fine.

As with the previous list, here are some things I learned from my dad--in word and in deed:
  • The easiest way to get five kids to be quite for a little while is to line them up on the floor and throw marshmallows into their mouths for a few minutes.
  • Knowledge is power that keeps you from falling on your butt. (When we were kids, he used to play a game with us where we'd sit on his knees and ask us questions. If we got the question wrong, then he quickly yank his knees apart so we'd fall. We thought it was the funniest thing in the world. He does it to my 3-year-old nephew now.)
  • It's not always possible to keep a straight face during family prayer.
  • You get to learn what you want to learn. (Which is probably why my dad knows quite a lot about Middle Eastern culture and very little about popular music from 1970 onward)
  • Online shopping is greatly improved if you can memorize your credit card numbers.
  • It's always better to have someone clothes shopping with you who will actually care about what you're wearing.
  • MacGyver isn't real, but you can still be anything you want to be. Even MacGyver. Without the ability to make just about anything from duct tape, paper clips, hangers, and other paraphernalia.
  • Any fight can be diffused with laughter.
  • Nothing deserves worse punishment than disrespecting your mother.
  • Saturday's Warrior is better as a play.
  • Priesthood power is real.
  • "Book of Mormon Stories" must always be sung with actions.
  • Don't get mad, get even. Or better yet, get sarcastic.
  • Pray about everything.
  • Don't be scared to ask for blessings.
  • Dads like to help their daughters. And their sons. And they especially like their sons helping them to help their daughters.
  • Growing old is mandatory. Growing up is optional.
  • Be 'childlike.'
  • Also, sometimes it's fun to be 'childish.'
  • Don't take anything too seriously. Except sacred things.
  • The priesthood is an amazing thing.
  • Sometimes dads wants to heal those who want to be healed, but they simply can't.
  • And it's not a faith issue.
  • Ammon, Aaron, Omner, and Himni were the names of the four sons of Mosiah.
  • "This it the day the Lord has given us. Let us rejoice and be glad in it."

Friday, June 13, 2008


I've been think about candor, due to a couple of recent conversations and also because it's one of the things I worry insanely about after an interview. Without exception, I always wonder if I told the interviewer too much. I never worry about being close-lipped about, well, anything; instead, I fret that I kept talking about something at a point where they wanted nothing more than for me to just shut up.

And then, with some questions, I know I catch them completely off guard.

It probably didn't surprise my interviewer to know that I use the scheduling capacities on my Outlook to help me keep my work appointments. Or that I love to read and write. (The job, after all, is a proofreading job.) I doubt it shocked her terribly to learn that I know very few standard proofreading marks, but I sure do know where to find them.

But she did have a look of surprise on her face when I promptly answered the question all of her other candidates had mulled over. (For the record, the question was whether accuracy or timeliness was more important. I answered that accuracy was important; if a job is done quickly, but not done well--well, then, what's the point? Except I didn't phrase it quite that colloquially to her. Proudly, I resisted the urge to pontificate about how accuracy is timeliness because you don't have to redo anything, because I could have spent several minutes blathering on about that. And she wouldn't have cared.)

Anyway, candor. One of the questions she asked was how I coped with stress. "Honestly?" I said. "I eat. I walk. I fidget." She looked me over and said that I must not have too much stress and that I must only eat healthy foods. (I thought "Erm . . . no and no. But I'll let you think what you want." And when she asked me to expound on the walking part, I told her--sometimes, I just had to step away from my desk and wander around for a couple of minutes to convince myself my stress was all in my head.

For the record, this strategy only works periodically. Sometimes it's like the stress is attached to my chair, and as soon as I sit down again, I can feel each solitary muscle in myself tightening up. But sometimes I have a conversation with someone that makes me smile, and I'm still smiling later when I sit down again.

But since I have decided, more or less, to live my life with a policy of openness, I want to extend an invitation to all of you, my blog readers: ask me some questions, I'll tell you no lies.

Unless your question involves something embarrassing or vulgar. And even then, I'll think about it.

Who knows? If your questions are excellent, they may get multiple blog entries devoted to them.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Looking for Work (Again)

And so a job hunt begins again. Funny how life seems to cycle around, no? When I started this blog, I was unemployed. My boyfriend had recently broken up with me. The days ran into each other in mind-numbing monotony, and the only day that seemed distinct from all the others was Sunday--for obvious reasons. I didn't go to church the other six days of the week. And I didn't look for jobs on Sunday. (Because looking for work is a type of work, I decided, and I've never wanted to work on Sundays.)

Right now, life has changed. I've moved. Twice. I took the GRE; I applied to graduate schools. The University of Utah kindly accepted me. And now I'm approaching a phase of life where, though it won't be impossible to work full-time, it will be highly inconvenient to arrange strange eight hour shifts around my class schedule.

So I'm looking for part-time work. Part-time work that has something to do with my English degree, no less, and doesn't pay so little that all of a sudden I find myself wishing for the type of salary Ebenezer Scrooge gives Bob Cratchit.

I had an interview for a proofreading position yesterday, and I felt it went quite well. But who knows how well the other candidates will do? What, truly, are the odds they will call me in for a second interview?

If I have learned anything work in Human Resources for the past year and half (good gracious! I can't believe it's been that long, but it has), it's that all parts of the search for employment are a balancing act. People want candidates who are self-confident but not arrogant, smart but not know-it-alls, questioning but not idiotic. They want people who are personable yet professional.

It's a tight-rope act of more-than-sideshow proportions. And oddly enough, I worry now about my balancing act when I did before. Was telling the assistant editor the anecdote about taking a similar test for my writing tutor position too personal? He smiled. But was it an awkward smile?

I've never been the type to go in for much post-date evaluation. I'm the sort of person who loves to hear details, because I'm a fan of stories--but I beat a quick retreat when the storyteller begins to parse little actions and start to say, "He did this. But what does it really mean?"

But now, I find myself in post-interview evaluation mode, and I've become that girl. The one who says, "Well, the interviewer smiled when I said that. But what type of smile was it? An I'm impressed smile? An I'm smiling because you're awkward smile?"

Hopefully I'll start having so many interviews that I have no time to parse all of them afterward.

(A girl can wish, right?)

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Sewing Buttons and Endurance

On Sunday, I went home for a visit. I didn't visit my family much that day, but I did visit my mother's sewing room. For whatever reason, the inside button on all dress pants is always shabbily sewn on. (I'm not kidding. I suspect a conspiracy, but I just can't figure out the culprits.) But the people sewing on the buttons are tricksy--the button will be just fine the first five, seven, or nine times I wear the pants.

All too soon, though, I find myself resorting to trickery myself. Twisting myself into a pretzel to be able to button my pants with little movement of the button. Suppressing the button's urge to pop off as I secure it. Gently threading the button through the button hole.

Well, Sunday I decided--no more! I'm going to re-sew on these faulty buttons that are going to fall off anyway. And they're going to fall off soon. After all, I know how to sew on buttons. (I can thank my grandma for that ability. She taught all of us how to do it when we were little, pretending it was a game to sew buttons onto fabric. She confessed at my brother's wedding that, once we got adept enough, we were doing actual mending my aunt had given her)

The trick to sewing on a secure button is simple: lots of thread and lots of patience. The only way to create a comfy little nest of thread for the button to live in is to pull the thread through over and over until you can hardly stand the thought of pulling any more thread through.

It's a matter of repetition. Of patience. Of repeating the same actions until the button couldn't move even if it tried. As I sat in my mom's sewing room, repeating the motions--up, curve, down, pull, up, curve, down, pull--the notion of 'enduring to end' suddenly made sense to me.

It's not a matter of us straining to make gargantuan efforts. It's a matter of us repeating the right motions--pray, study scriptures, go to the temple, attend church, fast, etc.--over and over again.

And you know what's remarkable? Once you settle into the repetition, it's actually rather soothing.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Flying and Thuds

Anne Shirley: I can't help flying up on the wings of anticipation. It's as glorious as soaring through a sunset . . . almost pays for the thud.
Marilla Cuthbert: Well, maybe it does. But I'd rather walk calmly along and do without both flying and thud.

I have always envied the Marillas of this world--those who are solid, steady, eminently practical, and completely grounded in reality. It's kind of funny to realize this, but for a long time, I thought such people were boring. That they had no imagination. And also, that they had no chance to change.

It only recently occurred to me that many of them spare themselves unnecessary pain by being the way they are.

You're probably wondering what the impetus for this blog post and this new way of thinking is. Well, it's like this: yesterday, I wore some very cute shoes into work. Now, it's important to understand something about women's shoes: as shoes get uglier, they also get exponentially more comfortable and practical; as they get prettier, they become exponentially more uncomfortable and impractical.

Let's be honest here: I'd rather have uncomfortable feet in cute shoes than have solidly comfortable feet in shoes that, it's entirely possible, my grandmother also owns.

The shoes were a necessity yesterday, because I also wore a skirt. (And for those of you who know me and my dislike for skirts--what can I say?--maybe I had a temporary aneurysm?)

Well, as I walked into work yesterday, I found my shoe snagging an uneven piece of pavement. Since the cute shoes are backless, my shoe went one way while the rest of me went the other. The end results were a severely scraped knee (that is already coloring itself into a beautiful bruise), a scraped hand, and a strained shoulder.

All of these injuries--this rather acute 'thud,' if you will--could have been prevented by being more practical. (Also, please let it be duly noted that I was not reading and walking when this incident occurred. Also, please note that if you look at the driveway of the Gold's Gym in Bountiful, you can see bloodstains left by me.)

It seems that, literally and figuratively, the practical are far less likely to fall. This, I think, is a good thing. I envy this.

And yet, though I envy the Marillas of the world . . . I invariably find myself being an Anne. A little flighty sometimes, imaginative, impractical--a person, in short, with her head in the clouds.

Possibly because I'm of the opinion that the sensation of soaring a sunset definitely pays for the thud.

And also because the thuds often make the best stories.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Temporarily Timeless Existence

Yesterday morning, I left the apartment in a hurry. I admit that as a fan of a certain amount of structure (but not nearly the same amount of structure as other people I know, which was actually a subject of recent discussion), I have my morning scheduled out to practically the minute.

My alarm sounds at 5:20. I allow myself to sleep in an extra few minutes. Usually until 5:24. Then I stagger out of bed. I shower. And then I do all of my chiropractic exercises. (These are what have helped to defeat a goodly number of the daily headaches I faced for years.) After I've finished, I eat my breakfast. By now, it's roughly 6:25. Then I fix my hair, brush my teeth, and apply my make-up. I usually walk by our fridge at 6:58, snag my lunch, and leave the apartment one minute later.

My routine did not go so smoothly yesterday, because when I walked out to the kitchen to grab a Ziploc bag to pack my toothbrush in for my weekly night's stay at my parents' house (I teach piano lessons at my parents' house in Centerville on Thursday nights), I found my theretofore clean foot decidedly wet. Part of our kitchen had flooded. And since part of our kitchen had flooded, it was my honorbound duty as first roommate awake to check to see if anything else had flooded.

Part of our living room had flooded, too. Oh joy of joys. So I told my roommate, who began to take pictures of the kitchen while I fetched towels and while our other roommate probed the carpet underneath our living room to affirm that it had flooded.

Meanwhile, I was mourning the loss of any cleanliness my foot had post-shower (that kitchen puddle-water was dirty!), and I ran late. So late that I forgot an essential accessory that I am rarely without: my watch.

I felt more than a little guilty leaving my roommates to deal with the flooding situation, but since neither of them may have noticed at all until too late . . . I justified it. Hopefully our landlord acts quickly on this, because we do not favor living in a wet and mildewy smelling place. (I know--weird, huh?)

And my first reaction, as I caught Trax, to my watchlessness was that I would have a crazy day. I couldn't schedule. I couldn't time. While I was waiting for the bus, I couldn't impatiently glance at my wrist every two minutes past its arrival time. And this made me nervous. I like my watch.

I like knowing the time. If I know the time, I feel like I'm in complete control. Even if I'm wasting that time. But yesterday, I experienced a curious sensation: I relaxed a little bit. Sure, work still had more than a tinge of the dull about it. The bus, more likely than not, probably arrived three to five minutes later than scheduled.

But my watch wasn't ruling my life. It felt nice. No worries about punctuality, about spending a certain amount of time anywhere (which is probably why one of the piano lessons ran over by fifteen minutes, but it was the last lesson so it didn't matter), or about rushing to any destination.

Last night, I vowed to stop wearing a watch. Something I will be able to do for at least two days, since I don't keep a spare watch at my parents' house. But karma saw fit to remind me of the dark side to not wearing a watch.

I ran late. Because my concept of time was so flexible this morning, I figured I had all of the time in the world. Which is what led me to running frantically around the living room, searching for my keys, bashing my knee into the piano bench, opening the refrigerator door into my shin, and knocking my elbow against the door on my way out of the house.

It was what led to me running down the street, frantically praying that the bus actually was running late this morning, so I wouldn't have missed it. And that is why I've decided to give up my watchless vow.

But on the bright side, my hair looks particularly good today since I didn't fret about spending only ten minutes on it . . .

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Books That Have Changed Me: The Start of the Non-Fiction Round-up

I couldn't detour from the book posts for too long.  Besides, after I promise something (like promising to type up a blog entry including non-fiction that has changed my life or perspective), I get a nagging feeling in the pit of my stomach until I follow through.
Indeed, it causes me to neglect the urge to blog about my recent fascination with schadenfreude--the word and the state of being, about the state my apartment's kitchen is in right now (flooded, though not the entire kitchen), and to write up a review of The Host (short story: I was more impressed t han I expected to be.)
Yea, verily I promised a list of Non-Fiction books that have changed me in some way or other.  So here goes.
Corrie ten Boom's The Hiding Place was the first memoir I ever read.  I think I was twelve at the time.  And I remember being thankful for an absurd number of things I had previously taken for granted.  Such a ridiculous number of things, in fact, that I started enumerating them to my mom.  She found it rather odd.
In Cold Blood was the first book that ever made me feel sick to my stomach.  I think that's important to make note of.  The Hot Zone, though, caused far more intense feelings of overall nausea that was harder to control.
The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio caused me no end of gratitude for having a fairly unremarkable childhood that involved two normal, sober parents.  And it also caused me to start looking for the heroes among the ordinary.  Terry Ryan's mother wasn't entering slogan contests for any type of glory.  She did it to feed her kids and to keep them clothed.  And she did it because she loved them.  So it also made me appreciate my own mom and her sacrifices quite a lot.
Journey into the Whirlwind, like The Hiding Place, made me eternally grateful to be in America.  Far away from prisons.  And rats.  And bad, humiliating, dehumanizing things.
Freakonomics led me to question everything.  Including, incidentally, Freakonomics.  I wonder if Levitt and Dubner intended that . . .
Most of Bill Bryson's various adventures have shown me that humor is to be found everywhere.  In fiction, in non-fiction, in America, in England . . . when life is viewed through the proper glasses, quite a lot of it is funny.
Ex Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader was the first time I ever felt a true kinship with an author whose work I was reading.  Fiction, normally speaking, just doesn't get this personal.
Reading Lolita in Tehran drastically changed the way I view Middle Eastern women.  Drastically.  And I think everyone in the world should read it.
Final mention for this part of the list: The Polysyllabic Spree gave me immense relief.  It's a collection of essays by Nick Hornby about his monthly book buying and book reading.  And it's a rare, rare month when the "Books Bought" and "Books Read" columns match.  In a bizarre way, this gives me hope . . .

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

A Detour from Book Posts

As much as I love books, I cannot allow myself to post about them for hours on end. Or the posting will never stop. Any thoughts I have about books--whether they are general and encompass the entirety of book-dom or whether they are about specific books--tend to increase exponentially. In fact, I think it is entirely possible that my thoughts about books multiply and replenish more quickly than any bunny could.

So I've decided to detour in favor of something else. As a friend once put it, blogs are curious creatures because they tend to make readers feel a personal connection with the writer. Provided the writer is good, more or less, at communicating the perfect balance of information about himself or herself and information that has the appearance of being highly personal without actually being terribly personal. In short, a good blog writer makes readers feel they are on familiar terms. But a good blog writer would still have plenty to reveal if he or she ever met readers in person. It's an interesting balance.

Especially because sometimes I wonder: exactly how much can my writing tell you about me? It certainly doesn't do anything to inform you of my height, weight, eye color, or any physical characteristics. Unless I tell you so. (5'8", you wish!, hazel, glasses, blind right eye) It doesn't tell you anything about my family. Unless I tell you so. (Two brothers, two sisters, two brothers-in-law, one sister-in-law) It doesn't tell you how often I talk to my mother. (At least three times a week. Probably more. And 95% of the time, these calls start with, "Hi Mom. So I have a random question for you . . .")

But even given the parentheticals in the last paragraph, how well can you actually say that you know me? So in the spirit of giving you information about myself, here's a bulleted list:
  • I own 300+ books. I haven't read 55 of them. (I counted the other day)
  • My sister used to call me Potato. It was a derivative of the much longer "Katie Patatie the Big Fat Lady."
  • Incidentally, I've never really been fat.
  • But I am the fattest one in my family. It's all relative. The rest of them look like sticks.
  • I am extremely loyal. And if someone hurts a person I'm close to, I have strong urges to hurt them in return.
  • I usually don't follow through with hurting people. Too many logistical problems.
  • If you ever want to hear me discourse for hours, ask me about my favorite book. I will proceed to tell you why it would probably be easier for me to pick a favorite star in the sky. And then I will start breaking literature into genres and telling you what my favorite book in each genre was.
  • I have yet to see anyone who looks good wearing bright orange.
  • I refer to mushrooms as "fungus." They're gross. And the word "mushroom" is not disgusting enough to describe them. But the word "fungus" works well. Especially when used with just the right amount of disdain and a nose wrinkle.
  • Text language usually drives me crazy. But I make allowances for people I like that don't drive me crazy in person.
  • In my short life span, there have been several people who liked to call me Kate. My name is not Kate. It has never been Kate. And it never will be Kate. But if it's a cute enough guy calling me Kate, I'll let him get away with it.
  • My mom and I get wickedly competitive at Scrabble. And whenever I run across good 7-letter words, I make a mental note.
  • Crossword puzzles are cool. I hate sudoku, because it involves numbers.
  • I will attend just about any event as long as a goodly number of my friends are there. Even the opera. Even a baseball game.
  • But I'll leave said event early if people get upset because I'm mocking it.
  • I make a killer fungus-less stroganoff. Ask my roommates. If you know them.
  • It amazed my family to learn that I have some cooking ability.
  • I'm addicted to tortillas. And bread. The best bread in the world is my mom's homemade cinnamon raisin bread.
  • My younger brother agreed to take an Institute class with me this fall.
  • I haven't been on a date since the first week of January. In 2007.
  • It doesn't bother me that it's been that long since I went on a date. But it bugs my mom quite a lot.
  • Broccoli is the best vegetable ever. In my opinion.
  • Tomatoes are fruit. Period. I don't care who says they're a vegetable. They're a fruit.
  • Actually, I lied. Fresh peas are tied with broccoli as the best vegetable ever.
  • By typing about bread, broccoli, tomatoes, and peas, I've managed to make myself hungry. And I won't be eating lunch for another hour and a half.
  • I think people who casually throw phrases from other languages into their conversations are pretentious.
  • I often wish I understood said casually throw-in phrases.
  • I'm not a big fan of terribly political poetry.
  • When I'm cleaning, I like to dance and sing and clean all at the same time. I'm a good multi-tasker that way.
  • My roommate introduced me to The Office and now I'm a little addicted. (As in, I get a little sad if I find she's watched it without me.)
  • I introduced my roommate to Robin Hood and now she's a little addicted.
  • When I watch Jeopardy!, I yell the answers at the TV. And I yell at the contestants if they don't know an answer I find obvious.
  • No, I do not think they can hear me.
  • When it rains and I have an umbrella, I like to twirl it and hum "Singin' in the Rain." Sometimes I even like to dance around with it for a little while.
  • And no, I don't care if people driving past find that odd.
  • And yes, if you ever see me, you're welcome to join in!

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Books That Have Changed Me

The first time I heard the lyrics to the Wicked song "For Good," I found myself confused.  "Who can say if I've been changed for the better?  But because I knew you, I have been changed for good."  At first, I equated "I have been changed for good" with "my association with you has brought about good changes."  But that's not really what the lyric is saying.  It's saying that, at the point in time, neither of them are sure if they have changed for the better--but they know their association with each other has caused permanent changes.  (And, of course, when you examine the subtext-- you know that both of them feel they have been changed for the better)
Likewise, with this list of books--I don't know if I can say they've changed me for the better.  But I know they've changed me for good.  So without further ado, here is a list of books that changed me.  And change, whether large or small, is still change.
And since I already mentioned the musical, one of the first books that changed me was Wicked.  Gregory Maguire is the master of the twist.  Not the dance move, mind you, but he's insanely good at taking a story and completely turning it on its head.  By the end of his novels, you find yourself questioning just about everything.  Wicked opened my mind to the idea that there are always multiple ways to think about a story.  Even a story that nobody has taken the time to re-write.  It led me to question everything I read.  Not in a bad way, but in a good way.  To evaluate stories from different angles.  And most importantly, it taught me empathy.  It's always possible to empathize with the villain.  Because sometimes the villain is only the villain because the narrator said so.
In addition, books have incredible teaching power.  I learned a lot about politics and judgment and all sorts of dynamics from Wicked.  But interestingly enough, I think some of the books that taught me best about Christianity were C.S. Lewis' The Chronicles of Narnia.  As I've mentioned in previous posts, I think it would be possible to devote a whole Institute class to what we can learn about Christianity from reading those novels.  Lewis has a unique talent for writing allegory. 
Fathers and Sons drastically changed the way I view interaction with my family.  In short, after reading it, I found myself quite grateful for the way I interact with both of my parents. 
Lord of the Rings taught me a lot about friendship.  And whether Tolkien wanted it to be an allegory or not, it ended up that way despite his intentions.  These books caused me to question my own loyalties.  And if I lived up to them.  If I had a life mission and if I pursued it that doggedly.  In short, it cause me to re-examine myself.
Lolita helped me to question authors and narrators themselves.  You don't have to trust them.  In fact, if you completely trust Humbert Humbert, I would say that you're missing a good part of what you can learn from the book.  But it's definitely not a book for the faint of heart or the easily offended.
The Brothers Karamazov taught me a lot about the kind of person I want to be.  And it also taught me that good people are also flawed.  Sometimes the flaws aren't overwhelming.  Sometimes they are.  And sometimes, it only matters whether or not we let ourselves be ruled and defined by our flaws.  It reassured me that even good people are still human.  And even faithful people question their faith.
1984  caused such a strong reaction that I immediately vowed to never cave in to anything just because everyone else had.  Because I was incredibly angry at Winston.  Yes.  I was furious with a fictional character.
Muggie Maggie made me want to learn cursive.  Then not want to learn cursive.  Then want to learn cursive again.  Also, it was the first chapter book I ever owned.
The BFG helped me to understand it was okay to let your imagination run wild.  The Twits made my ten-year-old self laugh so hard I fell off a chair.
Harry Potter as a series--and you can agree with me or disagree with me, I don't care--brought readers and non-readers together with an engaging story.  Back in the day, I owned a "Quidditch" shirt and I made more friends by wearing that shirt than I could have under my own power.  When it comes to reading, the Harry Potter books act as a great equalizer.  They put all readers on common ground. 
I could mention more, but I'm battling a migraine.  And that's the short list of novels that have changed me.  It will continue at some point.  Later.  When my head doesn't hurt.  But the next round of this will be preceded by a round of non-fiction books that changed me.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Thoughts about Books

Lately, I've had books on the brain.  The original train of thought can be blamed entirely on this post by Schmetterling.  I feel fiction has value (see the comments I made if you don't believe me) for a variety of reasons.  But whenever I've attempted to cobble together a post in defense of fiction, it has become incredibly incoherent because I have far too many thoughts about different types of fiction and far too few methods for organizing them in a way both coherent and sane.
In order to obtain psychology degrees, Weber State psychology majors are required to conduct surveys of a cross-section of the student body in order to use their newly acquired methodological skills to reach conclusions about a collective mindset.  One such student came into my 20th century Russian literature class to hand out his survey.  It asked a number of questions about whether or not we valued novels as a way to learn.
After the class filled out the survey (and we were English majors or minors, every last one of us), our teacher quickly asked if any of us had mentioned that we did not find value in fiction.  Probably because he would have had half a mind to boot any such character out of his class.  Also to start a healthy debate.  He was good at that. 
But all of us had written something in defense of novels.  How they taught us new perspective by allowing us to climb into the shoes of someone completely different than us.  How they illustrated philosophy.  How they had the potential to teach history better than history textbooks ever could.  How they allowed us outlets for the escapism many of us felt is inherent in the collective consciousness as well as the collective unconsciousness.
Let me note that I agree with Schmetterling about what he terms "speculative fiction," and what I not-so-nicely think of as "mass market trash."  In fact, I have an intense mistrust of anything that goes straight to mass market paperback.  That usually means it's generic, it's cheap, and there is very little art to it.  Except the thing about Schmet's "speculative fiction" is that it also seems to encompass a lot of the fantasy realm--yea, even the fantasy realm that exists outside of the realm of my "mass market trash."
Unlike him, I have a distinct love of things that aren't real.  And I love reading about people who can create entire new realities that have their own rules, logics, and languages.  Because there is always inevitably something I learn about human nature by reading the creation of these new worlds.  Bizarre, but true.
I've also been thinking about books because I loaned a good friend The Know-It-All: One Man's Humble Quest to Become the Smartest Person in the World.  It's hilarious non-fiction.  The premise is this: A.J. Jacobs is going to read the entire Encyclopedia Britannica.  And he thinks it's going to make him smarter.  As my friend pointed out when we were discussing the book, Jacobs is reading the encyclopedia for the sake of his self-esteem almost as much as for the sake of knowledge.
Because he didn't really read it just to know what the encyclopedia could tell him.  He also read it so that he could tell others all that he had learned, and thus impress them with his newly acquired intelligence.  The problem, you learn as you read, is that intelligence and knowledge do not equate to the same thing.
In fact, reading the encyclopedia didn't give him the conversational "in"s he wanted.  It didn't cause people to view him as any smarter than they thought he was.  He made such a point of introducing encyclopedic tidbits into conversation, they thought he was just odd.  And that he knew a lot of random information.  True assessments, both of them.
Because while I value books as a medium of learning, there is plenty to learn that cannot be taught by books. 
In one of my favorite episodes of Gilmore Girls, Lorelai agrees to go on a fishing date.  The only problem: she's not outdoorsy at all, so she doesn't know how to fish.  The solution she and Rory arrive at: they will learn how to fish from books.  When Rory arrives at Luke's Diner with the books in tow, and they start looking through them, Luke asks what they're doing.  When they indicate they're learning how to fish, Luke says, "Thelma.  Louise.  Possibly there' s a different way to learn how to fish."
Luke then proceeds (later in the episode, of course) to teach Lorelai how to fish, since he already knows how to fish.  When it comes to some things, books are no substitute for experience.  But that doesn't mean they are completely valueless.
So stayed tuned for my next post: books that obviously have value, because they changed me in some way!!