Thursday, May 21, 2009

You Don't Want Me for A Yentl

I am all too easily amused. With a sometimes devious sense of humor and a nigh-unending supply of sarcasm, it doesn't take much to keep me entertained. To wit: I like to choose men for my roommate when we are out and about. She knows I am never serious; she knows I take great delight in finding the most inappropriate and strange looking men I have ever seen; she knows I find it highly difficult to resist any impulse I have toward snarkiness.

Anyway, she told me yesterday that I most definitely not allowed to choose her future eternal companion.

Of course, yesterday I called her back into the living room so she could hear the bluegrass group from across the street. (They're good!) And I told her about them: how I was unsure if the whole group lived in that particular place, but how I was sure that the banjo player lived there because I often seem him out on his porch. And then, because I'm me, I told her that the banjo player doesn't look too shabby.

Please, let it be duly noted, this is not a lie. The banjo player doesn't look too shabby. A little fashion-challenged, perhaps, since I swear all of his shirts are plaids. Plaids that all basically have the same cut. Anyway, I told her that maybe I would sometime approach him to say how much his mad banjo skills impress me. And then to tell him he and my roommate should totally go out, because she would be able to appreciate his mad banjo skills even better than I would!

And then she had to go and interrupt my little fantasy by telling me that I am not allowed to choose the men she dates. Considering that my previous track record includes bald-headed motorcycle men, an older hippie man selling tie-dye, and innumerable tattooed and mohawked people... I'd think a banjo player would look good in comparison.

Better yet, I think he has a friend who plays the ukelele... :)

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Summer Means Bluegrass

The lovely weather this last few weeks has brought our neighbors outside. The people who live across the street and a couple of houses down from us are part of a bluegrass group. Sometimes when I walk to the store, I see the banjo player stretched out on the porch. Just him. Strumming. Sometimes humming. I don't usually hear him singing; I don't know that I've heard anyone from the group sing.

But it's a beautiful thing to open my window and hear twangy (but not too twangy) strings drift into my living room. It's a wonderful accompaniment for whatever I'm reading. So far, I've discovered it complements all of the following: Markus Zusak's The Book Thief, Hugh Nibley's Approaching Zion, Bill Bryson's The Mother Tongue, and Cornelia Funke's Inkheart.

I also have a sneaking suspicion it will bring an added level of enjoyment to poetry reading as well, but I haven't tested that particular theory yet...

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Thoughts Related to the Relief Society Lesson...

When I requested that the sisters sitting on the far right-hand side of the Relief Society room move so that I could see their faces, I explained I was half-blind. I do believe my words were something like, "And since my right eye is utterly and completely blind, would you mind moving over to the center of the room so I could see your beautiful faces?"

I wasn't being patronizing, and I wasn't lying. But before they moved, a couple of the girls looked at each other with expressions that--to me--clearly said: "Couldn't she think of a better reason for moving us?"

A couple of sisters didn't move. I decided not to push my luck, and to do my best to look around the entire room after I asked questions.

And then I plunged forward with my lesson.

It took a couple of unexpected turns; that's how I knew it went well. But not such unexpected turns that we went off track. Good unexpected turns. The type of unexpected turns inspired participators have.

Anyway, I'm still convinced my approach for the lesson was as necessary for me as for anyone else: in a lesson about responding to persecution with faith and courage, I found myself emphasizing happiness. Happiness amidst trials. And I found myself exploring links between happiness, faith, and trials.

Faith and trials, for example, were easy to link. The gospel is full of cycles, and faith and trials form their own tidy little cycle: faith sustains us during our trials, while trials handled properly are ways of strengthening our faith. And happiness, it seems, is an almost-required attitude. No matter our circumstances. But happiness seems especially required during trials.

Happiness in the midst of difficulty proves we have the right perspective: not because we're absolutely delighted to be metaphorically whipped, stomped on, thrown into the fire, or otherwise (metaphorically) abused... but because we're absolutely delighted to experience something that will help us become more perfect beings.

To be frank, I have always been the type of congregation member who rolls my eyes at a speaker who proudly proclaims that she (or he) is grateful for her (or his) trials. I've never been grateful for my trials themselves. But I am grateful for what I have become by experiencing my trials; I'm grateful for lessons learned, for character shaped, for perspective granted, for faith built, for relationships with Deity strengthened. I'm grateful for the end product. But I'm not--and to be honest, I don't know if I ever will be--grateful for the agonizing process that creates the end product.

But here's a thought, paraphrased from President Eyring's talk on adversity from last General Conference: our trials prove how much Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ love us. They love us so much that they tailor-make our individual trials to help us on our way to becoming the most perfect selves we can be. They love us so much they are willing to invest themselves in all of the details of our lives.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

My Mom is Awesome, or A Late Mother's Day Post

Yesterday, a member of my ward's Relief Society presidency asked if I would be willing to teach a Relief Society lesson. This Sunday. Tomorrow. I said yes.

And then, I promptly panicked. (Paniced? No matter how I spell that particular conjugation, it just looks wrong...) Not because teaching intimidates me. It doesn't, really. Like my dad, I inherited an actual liking for standing in front of people and talking. Alas, unlike my dad, I don't have the same innovative genius for object lessons. But maybe that comes with time.

Anyway, I promptly started to worry, because I'm teaching a lesson from the Joseph Smith manual. I've never taught from that particular manual before. In my former ward, I taught lessons from General Conference talks, and those were much more loosely structured. Or so it seemed.

And here we come to why my mom is awesome: she's totally willing to discuss these types of things with me. And she's very good at talking me down from irrational worries. (E.g. "The only way your lesson will be really bad is if you don't prepare at all and if you're the only one talking.") She spent a goodly amount of time talking to me, pointing out that I had been taught the same lesson last Sunday when I went to the home ward and that I now knew how not to teach it* (which is an absolutely true statement of fact), referring different Conference talks to me, mentioning a couple of thoughts she'd had when she first read the lesson... she did what any good tutor and helper would do. She didn't tell me how to present my lesson, but she provided me with a lot of places to look. A lot of things to think about. And the confidence in myself I needed to know that teaching from the manual didn't have to be terribly different from the way I taught Conference talks.

My mom is a pro at this: I've met few people in this world who are better than she is at building people. Particularly her children. And while I grant that she's biased about her children, and she sees many reasons and knows many ways to build us up because we're her children, I'm grateful for that particular talent of hers. So yeah, she's pretty much awesome.

*I felt very validated when she mentioned this. Last week, we both meant to ask each other if we understood what the teacher was doing with her lesson...what points she was making, etc...and we both forgot. But we remembered when we were talking yesterday. Yet another way, it would seem, we are a little bit alike. More than a little, depending on who you ask. But when people say I'm like her, I consider it one of the best compliments I can get.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Job Hunting. Again.

And now it has come back to this: I am, once again, searching for employment. A job that will, at the very least, pay the rent this summer. I expect and need nothing more than that, really. I periodically looked during the second to last week of the semester, which is likely why I had to spend the entirety of the last week of the semester knuckling under and writing brilliant papers. (Okay, okay. I'll stop lying. I spent that time writing adequate papers that might have had semi-brilliant moments.)

Anyway, I've now re-immersed myself in a world full of applications and interviews and "skill sets." (I am, I've been told, "a good skill set"...more about that in some other post. If I feel like it.) And it's even more discouraging to immerse myself in this environment in an economically heinous time. The applicant pool, it seems, has grown several feet deeper since the last time I swam in it.

But nevertheless, I have decided to trudge on. To keep applying for positions. And to try to maintain as cheery an attitude as I can. (It was not easy to be cheery a couple of days ago. Slowly getting easier though...)

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Veni, vidi...

When it comes to my first year of graduate school: let's be perfectly frank. I don't feel that I can say "I came, I saw, I conquered." I did come. I very much saw. But I don't feel as though I conquered my first year of classes. Or maybe I did and I won't realize until later.

But this past two semesters has nevertheless been a learning experience. So without further ado, lessons I learned about graduate school this year:

1. Your professors want to help you. They don't want to sit back and laugh diabolically as you fail. At least, most of them don't.

2. Everyone suffers from feelings of inadequacy. None of you are stupid; the school would not have accepted you if you were stupid.

3. Because everyone suffers from feelings of inadequacy, it is highly advisable to befriend other students. Almost everyone feels as though they're drowning. And almost everyone feels better about that feeling when they realize almost everyone else feels the same.

4. Investing yourself in a paper results in a better end product with a better grade and better comments.

5. Investing yourself in a paper also means starting said paper in advance. Even if you only start thinking about it in advance.

6. If you want to fly under the radar--even for a day--sit as far away as possible from the argumentative attention-getters. If you don't want to fly under the radar, assert yourself.

7. Conferences are wonderful, wonderful things; they introduce you to people every bit as nerdy as you are whose eyes don't glaze over when you talk about your pet projects and your favorite areas of study.

8. Sometimes, you just need to step away from the homework. Don't even back away slowly. Just run, run, run. As fast you can.

9. Retaining the ability to talk with people outside your program keeps you well-rounded. More or less.

10. Just give up on your sanity. Provided you had any to begin with. You did, after all, apply to grad school...