Wednesday, December 24, 2008

It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas . . .

The white kind, that is. And if you live in Utah and greatly dislike the snow on the ground, feel free to blame my younger brother: after spending two years in Brazil where he saw absolutely nothing resembling snow, well, ever--he frequently and excitedly vocalized his wish for a white Christmas.

Proof that perhaps The Secret works.

Anyway, I love this time of year. And my Christmas note this year will be short, because my thoughts of Christmas have revolved around one word: home. Because to me, that is precisely what Christmas is.

As I exited the bus and hiked up a small hill to my parents' home, I walked past all of the houses in the neighborhood I grew up in and realized that one of the fundamental feelings I associate with Christmas is familiarity. Few of these houses have changed, and my parents have never moved since the momentous occasion of my birth. (Okay, okay . . . in all fairness, since before I was born)

The interior of my parents' house is in turmoil right now: they are re-modeling the entire upstairs floor (Merry Christmas to them!) and it's approximately one-quarter carpeted. The kitchen cabinets and counters were installed not too long ago, along with a sink . . . my dad even put up an awesome tile backsplash of pretty, earthy colors.

I'm not going to lie; it doesn't look remotely homey. But it feels homey. There is space for me here. (For a few days, at least.) And the people surrounding me (including the neighbors) are all people who know me . . . and who love me despite their knowing me.

My mom put up no Christmas decorations, unless you count the Christmas cards sitting atop the old microwave (the new microwave cannot go back onto its mount until the backsplash has been thoroughly grouted and refinished). But it's Christmas here. I spent an entire Christmas Eve day chilling with my mom and my brother, getting creamed at Scrabble and card games alike.

And although my dad is currently attempting to properly connect the disposal so that the dishwasher can, indeed, be run this evening--it's home. And it always be.

Just as I know Christ has prepared a heavenly home. For me. And you. And everybody. That's why He was born and that's why, this Christmas, I am celebrating home.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Feeling the Christmas Now

The last few months of this year have been, by far, the most hectic time I've had in several years. New challenges, new places, new friends. I've been grateful for all of it. But now, being back in school, I had forgotten how things tend to culminate in December: how tension builds up during the last couple of weeks of classes, how the stress-induced migraines appear in all of their glory, how I have this permanent knot in my stomach from a fear of failing. In short, it's harder for me to get into the spirit of Christmas when I'm in school. I get too worried about page limits and topics and what, I fear, may be my own sheer inanity.

My usual exit is Christmas music. (And if you can't figure out my Christmas CD of choice from the last post, well . . . I hate to break it to you . . . but you're a little dense.) And I've been listening to the good stuff (I say "good stuff" because I'm sure that all of you, as well-informed and intelligent human beings, have noticed that the Christmas music that gets a lot of radio play is hardly what I would call "good stuff." With the exception of Josh Groban's "Believe" from The Polar Express soundtrack, which gets a decent amount of radio play and fits my criteria for good) since the beginning of December. But I found myself just not feeling it.

Perhaps because I was listening to it while reading, writing my assignments, falling asleep, and generally not having time to pay any attention whatsoever to what it said.

But between, December 7 and yesterday, I did three things that have left me in a decidedly Christmas-y mood:

1. I watched the First Presidency Devotional, which always gets me in the mood for the season. Plus I now have ideas for how to conduct my own nativity scenes someday: I quite enjoyed President Eyring recounting how, as their family grew, they had a scene that involved Samuel the Lamanite and they let the other kids attempt to "stone" him . . . But the messages, on the whole, reminded me why I love this time of year: although many people don't share my beliefs, it's a time when people are generally kinder. Softer. More good-willed. And all of the messages helped me to feel more of that good will.

(Related side: My roommate and I were talking about Christmas on the way home from Activity #2 and about how, while we are happy about the general goodwill people feel at this time of year, we find it sad that they never give proper credit to the Source of that feeling. Instead, they treat it as something that is "magical." Not that I think magic is non-existent or inherently bad; I just believe what they label magic comes from a divine source. Making it heavenly rather than magical.)

2. My lovely roommate (yes, she has entered blogdom! and yes, it's partially my fault!) and I went to see A Christmas Carol at Hale Center Theatre Thursday night. It was marvelously well-acted, well-sung, and it's one of my favorite things to see at Christmas time. In any form: Live theatre form. Muppet-style . . . The story is timeless and I always finish it feeling like a lighter, better person. And wanting to be even better than I am.

3. Yesterday, my parents, my little brother, and me got to see the Sunday version of the MoTab Christmas. Alas, on a Sunday, you don't get the whole program: you get Music and the Spoken Word plus a mini-concert. And this year was amazing. Brian Stokes Mitchell, in true Broadway fashion, did a little bit of acting while he sang. Not so much acting as to be campy, but it was a refreshing change from watching other singers who have been there in the past--the kind of singers who just stand still. He gave me something to watch as well as something to listen to. And I tell you right now: I'll get the CD of this particular performance for my listening pleasure next Christmas, if only to hear a couple of the fabulous arrangements (particularly of "I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day" and the "God Rest Ye, Merry Gentlemen" processional . . . not to mention Mr. Mitchell sang a great English carol called "The Friendly Beasts" and sang each verse in the voice of the animal it was about . . . seriously, you can't tell me it doesn't take talent to imitate a donkey, a sheep, a cow, and a dove on key).

By the end of the performance, I must admit I got a little bit tired of all of the popping up and down. I mean--come on, people--we know they're MoTab and they're good, but that does that mean we have to give them a standing ovation after every number?!

After a week like that, I find myself humming carols incessantly and dancing around and plotting little Christmas surprises for those who may or may not expect to have them. I am now, thankfully, in the holiday spirit.

So if you're feeling more like a Scrooge or a Grinch, watch you some Christmas Carol. Pop in a MoTab CD. Read past Christmas messages . . . And if you are still grouchy, then I'm sorry, friend. Something is seriously (and possibly--though probably not) irreparably wrong with you.

Monday, December 8, 2008

A Brief Announcement

If you do not like most versions of that lovely Christmas Carol, "The Little Drummer Boy," it's okay. We can still be friends.

If, however, you dare to dislike this version (as sung by the ever-fabulous Josh Groban, whose Christmas CD every person with any sort of musical taste should own, because it's amazing) . . . well, then, you have two choices:

1. Learn to like it. (Or at least pretend to like it.) Or . . .

2. Allow yourself to be cultured by none other than me, myself, and I.

And if you don't like it, I have only one question for you: what do you have against the bagpipes?

Saturday, December 6, 2008

The Difference Between Grad and Undergrad

. . . may well be this.

Not, mind you, that I'm not happy for Schmetterling.

It's just that I've been sick off an on since mid-October (ish), and I know that none of my professors would cut me that kind of slack.

Of course, since anxiety and stress have weakened the immune systems of 90% of all of the grad students and I'm pretty sure that the vast majority of us will be sick this week (which, really, seems patently unfair since it's the last week of classes and all of the big projects are coming due), the professors would be granting leeway less on an individual basis and more on the basis of the collective sickness of the group.

I had high hopes for the state of my health this morning. Until I woke up with a runny nose. A sore throat from you-know-where. And some severe congestion issues. I'd crawl back in bed, except I have things to do. Far, far, far too many things to do.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Interesting Sentences

Whenever I read something, and I find myself dwelling on a sentence I find particularly well-crafted or intriguing in its content, I write it down. Because I know that I'm dwelling because an idea is fermenting in my idea. I keep the sentence around and read through it once a day, wondering when my own reaction to the sentence will become concrete and find its form.

Often, the form comes out as poetry. But not always.

Anyway, last week, I read Steve Tomasula's Book of Portraiture for my Narrative Theory class, and a particular sentence caught my attention. (In fact, my reaction after reading it the first time was, "I know there's a poem in there somewhere.")

This sentence fascinates me to no end. You're allowed to love it, hate it, analyze it, or better yet--use it to write a thought/poem/short story of your own. Which you will then preferably leave in my comments. (Or, if it's really long, post on your own blog and then leave a link in my comments.)

Here it is:

Quixote can be a Knight-errant, Dulcinea his Lady if others are taken up and join in the story, for God, who alone can judge Good and Evil, lets his sun shine upon sinners as well as saints while we, His ignorant, earth-bound creatures, are left to arrange our chairs.

Monday, December 1, 2008

The Truth about Me

I am going to let you in on a secret. A big secret. A classified, top-level clearance that only you--the few, the proud, the readers of my blog--will know.

Unless you know me personally, in which case you might already suspect.

But here it is: I'm not truly a cynic. I'm actually a cock-eyed optimist (insert the one-eyed joke of your choice in these parentheses here, because really, with a descriptor like "cock-eyed," it's almost too easy, yes?) who dresses in cynic's clothing. You see, the cynics are never disappointed.

And since all of my disappointments are due to unmet expectations, wouldn't the disappointments of a cynical person be sort of an ironic thing? Because, you know, things turned out better than they expected?

Anyway, part of what has led me to this conclusion: this semester has been one of the most grueling experiences of my life. Rewarding, certainly. Fun, even. But more mentally, physically, spiritually, and emotionally challenging than any other time in my entire life.

I exaggerate not.

My first semester of graduate school has introduced me to a host of new ideas. A host of ways of approaching those ideas. A heckuva lot of new people I found intriguing. And these are all good things, these are all expectations that were met.

The unmet expectation: that I knew what I signed up for, what I was getting into. I thought I knew. But there is, simply, no way to know until you arrive at this point. The funny thing about my experience this semester is this: I was warned. And I let that warning slip out of my head.

While I was enmeshed in the process of completing applications at this time last year, Petra and I were having frequent e-mail exchanges. At that time, Petra was wrapping up her first semester of graduate school, and she was a fount of helpfulness and wisdom when it came to both my applications and what the practical experience was like. (In short, what she was experiencing at that moment.)

She felt out-classed. Overwhelmed. Exhausted. All of the emotions I'm feeling now, but I somehow managed to dismiss that series of e-mails between the time I read them and the time I received my acceptance letter. As soon as I received the acceptance, the rose-colored glasses were firmly secured back in their place.

The great irony is this: over the past couple of weeks, I found myself telling a couple of friends that nobody had told me what I signed up for. And then, in the course of trying to find a particular e-mail, I came across Petra's e-mails and re-read them for a second time and realized: someone had, indeed, warned me about this. Vehemently.

She never said it wouldn't be worth it, and she also stated an absolute certainty that I could manage the load. But she told me exactly what my experience would be like.

And yet the cock-eyed optimist in me found a way to overtake the pragmatic advice I'd digested (and if I never thanked you, Petra, for those e-mails . . . now, more than then, I am grateful to know you cared enough to tell me exactly how it would be without sugar-coating it) and turn my vision of graduate school into a sparkly, friendly, happy environment.

So the next time I seem terribly cynical, call me on it. Because the optimism isn't nearly as buried as it probably should be.