Friday, December 31, 2010

Rows of Ducks

On this, an eve prior to a New Year, I have stopped to ponder my resolution-making capabilities. And I have reached a conclusion: like many members of the worldwide populace, I've quite the gift for knowing exactly what resolutions to make--and an equal or greater gift for breaking those resolutions. In short, I'm abominable at sticking to my goals. (Did I have some at this time last year? Most likely. Do I remember them. Erm, well, uh.... in a manner of speaking?)


With each passing year, I find myself marveling at one particular quality I have--my utter inability to get all of my ducks lined up in a row. Not actual ducks, mind you, as many of them are mean little biters (not, ahem, that I'd know or anything)... Let's just say that if my metaphorical ducks were forced to form a chorus line, they would just kick each other in the heads with their little flippers and knock each other out.

I fully recognize that there needs to be a duckherd--duckherderess?--at work here (i.e. me), who leads and channels and helps to organize the ducks. I'm ridiculously hopeful and optimistic that 2011 just may be the year where my ducks line up neatly and learn a perfectly synchronized can-can.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Sharing, Etc: Some Thoughts about Books and/or Reading

In the room I shared with my sisters, a little framed cross-stitch project hung on our wall. It depicted two girls standing under an umbrella and said something like "Caring and sharing is what sisters are for." And that, people, is what I am--the sharing sister. Not that I resent it. I'm coming to realize that I quite enjoying sharing (provided that, at some point, what I share gets returned.)

When we all drift toward my parents' house for holidays or for family gatherings, I find myself hauling books and sometimes movies right along with me. And this is why: I believe in trying my darnedest to give people an opportunity to love the same things I love. To laugh at the same things I've laughed at. To cry when I have cried. And to enjoy an experience I've enjoyed.

While I grant that no two people ever have exactly the same experience with any book, I think two people can come to better understand each other by delving into each other's reading. Forget the whole you-are-what-you-eat idea, because I've always been far more convinced of the you-are-what-you-read idea.

Further, I like to share a variety of genres and styles and emotions of books, because I like to have various reading experiences. (Although I can definitively say that I really just don't enjoy reading things that gross me out. I mean, sometimes it's good for books to cause a visceral reactions, but I tend to stray away from anything that creates a reaction that visceral, you know?)

And herein, I would also like to posit something: a person who reads cannot be boring. At least, not totally. Everyone has their moments, after all. Not everyone can be a tap dancing monkey all the time. (Doesn't stop some people from trying, though.)

But here's something that I've realized recently: almost every genre has something to offer. And it's not always nice--or right--to snub a genre just because it has what I once considered an iffy past and it doesn't as directly trace its literary heritage to what have been dubbed "classics." (Side note: the whole idea of a "modern classic" cracks me up, as "classics" are supposedly time-proven works that still appeal to a mass audience after years and years and years...I think labeling a book a "modern classic" right when it comes out has to be one of the most simultaneously nervy and dumb things that marketers do.)

Comic books have quite a lot to offer, and so do graphic novels. And yes, I've grown nerdy enough that I'd sometimes--not always, but sometimes--draw a distinction between the two. Not all mass market fiction is utter drivel. (Jim Butcher, I'll admit that you and Harry Dresden drew me right in.) Memoirs are not all cheap tell-alls or embarrassing amounts of over-revelation scribbled out to manipulate a reader's heartstrings. Not all economics books are filled with unsubstantiated B.S. You catch my drift.

The older I get, I find myself accepting more types of books than I used to. Someone once told me that tastes narrow with age, but I find I'm experiencing the decided opposite... but that can't possibly be a bad thing, can it?

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Oh, the Fickleness of Memories

My grandpa's eightieth birthday is nearly here, and as part of a big celebration, my aunt requested that we write a memory of him. Only I've run across a problem: most of my memories of him are sketchy, at best. Prior to my grandma's death, most of my memories are of the pair of them--and to be quite frank, more of her than of him. Her player piano. Her: teaching me how to play Scrabble while my parents were insisting I was still too young. (The closest to a jolly, happy, little memory I get is thinking of the many times I played Scrabble with him, while insisting I wanted to play with Grandma. Grandpa, you see, has always had a tendency to add -er to any verb and insist that it's a word--the person, you see, who performs the verb. Frowners are people who frown, likewise smilers are people who smile. You get the idea.) Both of them taking us out to lunch on our birthdays, but Grandma insisting we eat everything, including the lackluster tomatoes on our burgers... "Katie, some child in Bosnia would love to eat that tomato." "Can't we just ship it off to Bosnia, then?" (I just dated myself, didn't I?)

Herein lies my problem: I have one absolutely concrete memory of him, but I feel less than comfortable writing it down and including it in his birthday book. Not too long after Grandma died, little teenage me strongly felt that Grandpa needed some company. He seemed so lonely and lost to me, leaving our family house in Centerville to return to what now seemed such an empty place in Kaysville. So I stubbornly insisted that I be allowed to spend some time with him, and he reluctantly brought me with him back to his house. I'm sure we talked, but I don't remember what about. School, books, all those things that were important to me. And when I say "we talked," what I mean is that I remember jabbering at him a lot. (Yes, yes. For all of you who know me well, some things don't much change. I still have a tendency to jabber.)

Anyhow. He opened the refrigerator to a myriad of prepared, packaged meals that my aunts had left behind with labeled instructions, and heated one of them for dinner. But what I remember most is that after I had gone to bed that night, I kept waking up periodically, and I could hear him pacing. Back and forth, back and forth. Every time I woke up. When I mentioned it in the morning, he said he wasn't used to sleeping without Grandma yet. And when he dropped me off in Centerville, he looked every bit as lost and lonely as he had when he left our house. And I felt...utterly useless. Like I'd tried to do something good and nice for him, and I'd absolutely failed.

So hopefully you can see why this doesn't really work as the type of 80th birthday memory one might want to include in a book otherwise full of happy stories. I don't want to say, Happy Birthday, Grandpa!, my strongest memory of you is when you were at your saddest, when you were having one of the hardest times, and when I felt I failed you. It hardly seems festive.

Scrabble's far safer a topic.

Friday, December 17, 2010

My Sister, David Archuleta, and Me: Or, A MoTab Christmas Concert Experience

First off: did you know people didn't get in to the dress rehearsal Thursday performance? Did you? Because apparently, people/cars/ALL OF DOWNTOWN gets insanely crazy when David Archuleta comes to sing with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. Portions of streets are blocked off. Your assigned parking lots are nigh inaccessible. And then, inevitably (if you're my sister and me), you find yourself running to the Conference Center in less than ideal shoes. Just sayin'.

On top of that, when a random girl joins you (because she doesn't know where she's going, but clearly you guys do...which, yes, true) and declares David Archuleta to be the cutest li'l thing that ever lived and then looks at you funny when you say that you're really going for the choir...well. I suppose that wasn't surprising. This little youngling has, in fact, established quite the rep since the end of his American Idol days. And during them.

Except. It's not that I wholly disliked this concert, because that would be patently unfair to the choir and to the crazy-awesome dancers. So, right now, for the record. Choir: win. Pioneer theme: win. Richard Merrill--the organist--whose feet are fast like unto lightning!--playing a "Deck the Halls Hoedown" piece: win. Dancers, ballerinas and otherwise: win. (Especially the dancing at the beginning! Holy. Cow.)

David Archuleta? Not so win.

Maybe it's from watching About a Boy a few too many times, but it always seems odd and/or awkward when someone spends a great deal of their own concert time singing with their eyes closed. Secondly, I like his voice okay, but his expression needs some help. To wit, that "cutest li'l kid EVER" only has one arm gesture. I repeat: ONLY ONE ARM GESTURE. A gesture in which he vaguely moves his hand forward as though emphasizing something. And then does it again. And then again.

(He started off doing it with his right arm, but that arm must've gotten tired--because he shifted microphone hands and then started gesturing with his left hand. THE SAME GESTURE. Only left-handed.)

Also, dear lovely little Davey boy, we need to do something about that hair of yours. Something that doesn't look so...special.

I suppose that this much is true: the rendition of Joy to the World was lovely. The Spanish carol that he sang equally so. Would that he would not have done any of the following: strayed away from what the teleprompter on the back wall was telling him to say (yep, we could see it from where we sat); attempted any gestures at all (seriously--you know who gestured well?--Brian Stokes Mitchell, when he came a couple of years ago); frilled Christmas carols up with arduously and frankly unpretty pop-music runs.

And I (and my sister) really, really wish he wouldn't have doubled over in the middle of Silent Night. You know when you should double up? When you have the flu and you're about to be sick. Or when someone has just punched you in the gut.

For the record, the other special guest, Michael York, did a wonderful job with his story parts of the choir. Luke 2 was particularly lovely. But not lovely enough, I fear, to keep Megan and me from mercilessly mocking bits of Archie's singing on the way home.

Also: I'm sure that David Archuleta is a nice human. Unfortunately, I'm equally sure that I would never actually pay money to hear him sing.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

A Self-Assessment of Sorts

I remember this girl--a girl from a few years ago (four years, at the most...perhaps fewer than that, even)--who wrote prolifically. Mostly poetry, but I do mean prolifically. Every day. For many minutes of her day.

Of course, that girl had the luxury of being a Creative Writing student. She had a couple hours' bus rides each weekday (well, slightly less...but close to that). Toward the end, she used that bus time for conversations with a then-boyfriend. For infectious amounts of hand-holding. But even after he was gone, even after school was finished, she still wrote poetry--prolifically--for a while.

This girl is, of course, me. Or rather, was me.

While I have, yes, been writing, I don't remember the last time I actually attempted to pen a poem. (And back then it was, yes, always pen. A ballpoint pen, medium-tipped, preferably black. Blue was also suitable, but never had the same feel.)

And periodically I have these moments: moments where I think of something. A four-word phrase. A sentence that could potentially start a poem. And do you know what I do? I shy away from them. While I wouldn't say it's necessarily an active impulse, I avoid writing those things down. Right now, I'm trying to figure out why.

Part of me wants to say that I avoid these things because poetry presents more of a risk--that somehow a person who writes poetry reveals more of him or herself than someone who writes, well, anything else. And that's simply not true. Writers who have any sense of personal style are perennially revealing themselves in small ways.

I suppose the long and short of it is this: I need to stop copping out. Someday soon, I will sit down, suck it up, and write. A POEM.

Friday, November 26, 2010

One of Those Cheesy Thanksgiving Posts

You know, the kind where I provide you a list of what I'm grateful for. Except that I'm not really feeling super listy today, so I'll stick to just one--the cheesiest (yet truest) of them all: I'm super grateful for my family.

I'm super grateful for a silly goober of a five-year-old nephew whose antics make me laugh, for a pretty-in-pink young niece who sometimes likes to cuddle up and read book after book with me, and for a two-year-old nephew who (usually) doesn't pout for long. I'm grateful for two new babies--one boy, one girl--who are equally adorable in their own individual ways.

For two excellent parents who feed me well when I visit them. Who play games with us and talk with us and laugh with us.

For an older sister who, in spite of recalling my own Thanksgiving clumsy moments of the past, still can make me laugh. And who was karmically repaid with a clumsy Thanksgiving moment of her own.

For a younger sister who makes an amazing young mother, and one of my best-book readin' friends.

For an older brother I can get along with quite well now, as was not always the case. As I told him after going to see Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part I, with his wife last week: I kinda like them both.

For the younger brother who willingly carts to these events--one, sometimes, two ways. For good car conversations with him. And the good music he shares.

And last but not least, for a good-humored set of grandparents. (Sorry, again, Grandpa, that I thought you were Grandma on the phone yesterday morning when Mom called with a turkey question.)

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Going, Doing, Being: A Small Svithe

Today's musical number in my parent's sacrament meeting was a lovely arrangement of "I'll Go Where You Want Me to Go"--a former ward member arranged and sang it. He did something vaguely familiar that I believe I'd heard at the end before, combining all the key verbs from each song so that it ended with, "I'll go, and I'll do, and I'll be what you want me to be."

And it struck me: some (not all, but some) of the struggles I've faced are a direct result of my insistence on being, going, and doing what I want to do. And let's face it, someone else has better vision here. More eternal vision.

I hope to be better in the future at going, doing, being at the direction of someone infinitely wiser than I am.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

The Future, Goals, Dreams...and Lostness, of a Sort

Tolkien has invaded my brain. Okay, that's not a fair thing to say. Circumstances have been such that a few key words he wrote have been rotating around my head, weaving their way in and out of any given actual situation in my life, and repeating themselves over and over while still somehow--miraculously--managing not to sound too much like a broken record: "All that is gold does not glister. Not all who wander are lost."

I suppose that they've been on their own special rotation because my life plans have, once again, changed. And these things always change based on my feelings that it either is or decidedly isn't time to do something. Also, in a way, I think I'm wandering right now. And I'm hoping to heaven that I'm not lost.

A long time ago, I made the discovery (what seemed--at that stage--far too late) that when I act based on my feelings, I tend to feel much better overall about everything I'm doing (or not doing) with my life. So when I recently felt a need to halt my progression toward more school, my inital thought was "Huh?" Closely following on its heels, surprising even myself a little bit, my second thought was "Ok, then."

That promptly sent me into a tailspin of a sorts, except I didn't spiral downward so much as spiral all over the place. Mostly because I realized that this frees up a few possibilities that I couldn't pursue if I gave up the next four or so years of my life. The most important of these possibilities, I decided, is that it frees up some time for me to the write the novel that's percolating in my head. The one that has come out, to a certain extent, in choppy notes. The type of notes that could become something interesting. If I let it.

And I also realized something else, as I recently told a friend: I tend to use school like a crutch. Yes, I tell people, look at me! I'm achieving! But I'm doing it because, after my own initial impetus, there are people telling me what to do. What I need to do. And they're telling me how to do it. Bossing me around, in a way. I work very well within a system. My grades are good. I achieve (at least) the minimum requirements.

But I want to develop my own projects. Be my own boss (in some things, anyway) for the next while. See what I can do when I have absolutely no impetus but my own goals and dreams. I have a feeling this ride will be bumpy. But fun.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Having Multiple Areas of Interest

In life, I'd have to say that all of the most interesting people I've known have always had multiple areas of interest. Many things they are interested in. While yes, reading and language and such-like are my primary interests, I like to think that I have multiple areas of interest and that having those interests makes me an interesting human being.

What I forgot about grad school (yes, in the approximately three to four ish months that I've been gone): graduate school requires, yea verily--demands--a narrowing of multiple interests to something finite that can be included in a statement of purpose.

To which, tonight, I say:


Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Ways of Seeing, or Thoughts about Visual Representation

Lately, I've been wishing that I knew more about visual arts.

I've always had a little bit of a preoccupation with sight: three guesses why. (If it takes you three, that's kind of sad. Not that I'm judging. Except that I am. Just a little bit.) And I've been thinking about visual representations for the last couple weeks(ish) for different reasons: Inception, for one. Maus, for another. The illustrated copy of Dante's Divine Comedy I recently acquired.

(To detour for a brief moment: I don't think it matters whether the top stops spinning at the end of Inception. Cobb clearly thinks he has found exactly what he wants, so even if he'll eventually wake up, he's still happy for the moment. That said, I thought the film was masterful. Props to Christopher Nolan.)
Anyway, I have a lot of knowledge--some useful, some not--in my brain about literary representation. I've never felt uncomfortable analyzing my way through novels and dissecting different points of view, different descriptions, etc., etc. But I've recently found myself reading (Maus) or rereading (Persepolis) graphic novels, and I wish I knew more about analyze the artistic representations at work.

In some ways, I don't need to be able to analyze the art itself: writing a graphic novel, on its own, strikes me as an inherently interesting way to portray history and autobiography. Drawing a cartoony version of yourself acknowledges your own skewed self-perception, sometimes to a dramatic extreme. Persepolis actually features a page devoted to Marjane Satrapi drawing how she perceived her visual appearance changing as she grew older--and unsurprisingly, she's fairly hard on herself.

It doesn't take a genius to figure out the effects, either, of Art Spiegelman choosing to draw Germans as cats, Jews as mice, and Poles as pigs in his narrative. I don't need help with that part of artistic representation. But I also can't help wondering if the way Satrapi and Spiegelman draw holds other stylistic significance. Are they showing clear influences? How much does their artistic style correlate with their heritage? (From what I've read, Satrapi's style shows clear Persian influences... but I'm taking others' words on that.)

For now, it's a mystery. But I'm starting to hunt down more information about visual art, so hopefully it won't remain a mystery forever.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Some Thoughts about Possession

And when I say Possession, I mean the concept and the book. Feel free to drift here if you'd like to actually read a book review, because I don't want to repeat myself in that vein. And if you're too lazy to read the whole review, just know that I wholeheartedly recommend this book and that I love it. I loved it the first time I read it several years ago, and I love it even more now that I allowed myself to revel a little in A.S. Byatt's amazing language artistry.

This book started me thinking about possession as a concept: what do we actually mean when we say that we possess something, and what does possession imply? For some things, it's very clear cut. Possession is, quite simply, ownership. When I say that I possess my books, I mean that I own them. I paid for them, and in many instances, I marked them. (In some circumstances, I'd say the markings indicate possession better than a receipt might.)

Yet there are other, far more nebulous things, we often talk about possessing. Knowledge. Talents. Sometimes even other people.

Possession like that becomes inevitably more tricky: just because I know something doesn't mean it's mine alone. Just because I have a talent doesn't mean I'm the only one who has it. And who, really, can possess another person?

The novel is about many things, but primarily it's about love and scholarship. I feel I'm a decent scholar, but I'm bad at love. That's neither here nor there, just a bit of a confession, I suppose. But I think I hesitate when it comes to relationship because of the concerns that are explicitly and implicitly addressed in the book: is it inevitable--must you--lose some of your own self-possession if you fall in love and choose to share your life with another individual?

Clearly, I don't know. While my relationships were successful, I rarely felt that I was relinquishing ownership over myself to aid in either relationship's success. But selves aren't really things to be owned, are they? They are things we simply are. Not to say they can't change, by any means, but isn't people-possession a little bit ridiculous? (I mean, we abolished slavery for a reason, right?)

The two contemporary-timed characters in Possession come to feel linked to each other because of a common pursuit. The two past-timed characters fall in love, but it's heart-wrenchingly complicated and sad because both of them already have attachments to others. But they also want, in some sense, to belong to each other.

Is belonging the same as possessing? I posit no. But I'm immensely curious if anybody has some imput about these rambles of mine...

Friday, August 27, 2010

Vicarious and Lived Experience

"So much of what I see reminds me of something I've read in a book, when shouldn't it be the other way around?" --from You've Got Mail

Books are wonderful things, non-fiction and fiction alike. They are methods of metaphysical and intellectual transport when actual travels are not a physical or fiscal possibility. Books have the ability to take us to new places, to introduce new modes of thought, to allow us to fall in love with the types of characters we usually think we hate in real life. (And let's be honest: sometimes they're exactly like real-life people we hate, but sometimes they're not. And liking a hateable character means that somewhere, we have the potential to like a hateable real-life human.)

Bookworm that I am, though, I sometimes worry myself: is it possible to become entirely too wrapped up in the imaginary and in my own thoughts? Do I ever occlude real-life experiences in favor of experiencing something vicariously?

The answer, I am sorry to conclude, must inevitably be yes.

And before you think I'm being too hard on myself, let me say that I think this may be the case for many of us. I grant that books may not be the chosen vehicle for everyone's vicarious experiences, but I think sometimes we retreat to various types of mediated experience--of someone else's experience, even--in order to experience something that we're too scared to experience ourselves.

Perhaps everyone doesn't experience things vicariously due to fear. In some ways, I think vicarious experiences are imminently practical. But I also think such vicarious experiences are not, on the whole, entirely satisfying: once they end, I don't feel they have changed me in the same ways that actual experiences have. And I worry, to use a horrendously awful cliche, that I sometimes let the fear of striking out keep me from playing the game. (Although for the record, I've played baseball. And I didn't enjoy it. I do, however, enjoy watching it. When it's live. Because the only thing more dreadful than televised baseball is televised golf. And the only thing worse than televised golf... oh wait. Nothing's worse than televised golf.)

I've decided that I need to keep myself open to experiences: new experiences, continued experiences, things I haven't experienced in a while and might just do well to experience again. And here, dear readership, is what I ask of you: what types of experiences (good, bad, and ugly) have you had that you've dearly grown to appreciate? And what types of experiences do you think I should have?

If your experience strikes me as something that I too should undergo, I'll do it. (Some of you may want to recommend experiences regarding--ahem--dating. I'll take them under advisement, but that's all I promise.) And then I'll blog about it. All I ask is that you bear in mind that I don't drive.

I want to live a braver existence. This seems to me a logical first step.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Blending In, or Thoughts on Spies

These thoughts come primarily, I suppose, from following USA's Covert Affairs. Also from watching Alias when it was on NBC. And also from watching Chuck. (About Covert Affairs: I keep hoping that it's going to get better. It keeps disappointing me. And I keep watching anyway, because I think Christopher Gorham is attractive.) I suppose, too, my question is also somewhat influenced by The Pretender as well.

What, me, a spy-fic nerd? What are you getting at?

Anyway, I always wondered why all of the spies are always so pretty. To be clear: I understand the theory, particularly with female spies. They have to seduce their way into information sometimes, and that clearly works better if they are pretty. I would make the assumption that if seduction rates were translated into batting averages, I imagine the prettiest of women would be batting .360 or so.

But how much of espionage is about seduction? And how much is actually blending in? It has occurred to me that most run-of-the-mill sneaky work would probably be best done by people who have those faces. You know the kind I mean. The kind of people who look like dozens of other people.

What do you think?

Monday, August 23, 2010

Reading for Pleasure

I'm not sure how it happened, but somewhere in the last two years of studying and research and analysis, I forgot how it felt to read for pleasure. And I do mean pleasure. I don't mean fun. I did a perfectly adequate job of reading for fun during my summer and between-semester breaks.

Reading for pleasure, at least my reading for pleasure, often includes a greater degree of absorption than reading for fun. When I read for fun, I want to whoosh my way through a plot line that I find entertaining. I want to like the characters, or I want to like to like the characters (all of the best characters--literary and otherwise--are, after all, works in progress). And I want to read quickly. Reading for fun can be done in a day. The analytical side of my brain doesn't tend to get terribly involved when I read for fun.

But oh! when I read for pleasure, I invest my faculties into the book. (And at this stage, I can't turn off my analytical mind. But I find my mind is always satisfied when it has some interesting topics to think through and I don't have to think them through on a timetable.) I like to take my time, to taste the language, to meander through the words. I like to pause and ponder, stop and wonder.

I like to read for pleasure in the same way I travel: I like to go where my whims take me, wander at will, and move forward at my own pace. It's soothing. It's calming. It's wonderful.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Cleaning and Control Freakishness

As I have periodically observed elsewhere, I find a certain catharsis in cleaning.

I blame the control-freak aspect of my personality: when I find myself facing things that aren't entirely within my control, I begin to clean. It makes me feel better to impose order on those things I can't when I feel that other things are spiraling completely beyond my control.

Interestingly, I realized today as I scrubbed the bathtub that I enjoy writing for exactly the same reason: I revel in imposing order on random words. Writing allows me to take language and to impose my own control. I get to arrange the words; I get to make the statements; I get to express myself in my own desired fashion.

Given this realization, I am now wondering why I don't do both more often--both the cleaning and the writing. To be fair, I'm working out a large writing project and that involves writing notes about how to construct the final project.

But I think I might need to clean more often.

Then again, maybe not...

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Faith and Knowledge: An Inquiry (or Something)

I've been thinking a lot about faith lately, perhaps because in recent weeks I've been wrestling with my own. It's not as steady as I'd like it to be, but then again, I'm like everyone else in this regard--a work in progress. But I keep trying to think my way through what is becoming, for me, a rather tangled query: how are faith and knowledge linked?

Scripturally speaking, we're told that faith is hope for things which are not seen, but which are true. Knowledge, according to the Bible Dictionary, is one of God's attributes... and "knowledge of divine and spiritual things is absolutely essential for one's salvation." The difficulty is this: how does one know divine and spiritual things?

I recognize that there are different types of knowledge: some forms of knowledge are based on pure empiricism and actual experience--I know I will get sunburned in 100 degree heat if I don't wear sunscreen, because I've had that experience. (And even if I hadn't, I know that the sun is hot and that it can burn.) I believe there's such a thing as innate knowledge, i.e. I think that one of the talents we are blessed with is that we automatically know (or recognize) things when we hear them. And then there's learned knowledge, which, as near as I can figure, comes from listening to what we are taught.

The gospel includes all of these types of knowledge including, I'd argue, at least a small bit of empirical knowledge. But I still can't figure the link between faith and knowledge: when, exactly, does believing become knowing? And further (and probably more importantly), is there all that great a distinction between the two? After all, rhetorically speaking, we often hear the two used interchangeably.

And to throw in another monkey wrench, we're also taught that faith has to be based on correct knowledge for that faith to be effective. I grant that's the "which are true" part of the "things which are hoped for and not seen, but which are true" equation. But faith implies we are trusting those things are truth--at least initially--not that we know they are true.

I'm probably rambling a little, but I'm trying to sort out a relationship here. And it only gets more messy and muddled the more I analyze. Except for this: scripturally speaking, those who know often fall away because they skip over the having-faith. Laman and Lemuel, for example, who know they've seen an angel. Because they empirically know, they don't place any faith... and they eventually fall away. (Clearly for more reasons than that, but I find it an interesting link.)

The one thing I understand when it comes to faith and knowledge is this: if you conceptually know that God is an all-knowing, all-powerful, all-loving being, then you can easily place faith in Him because you have faith that He has a purpose for everything and that He knows exactly how to achieve that purpose--even if you don't understand.

Thoughts, anyone?

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

On Names and Naming

There's an idea percolating in my brain. A story idea. Potentially a novel idea. But key to the idea is names and naming. (Beyond that, I'm not telling you the idea. You might steal it!!) I think Shakespeare is the most oft-quoted authority on names--"that which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet." And while I'm sure many people have had many other things to say about names, I'm too lazy to research those people right at this second.

My name means, more or less, 'pure.' (Although to be fair, my name is the diminutive version of a nickname of a name that actually means pure. Thus the 'more or less.') My younger sister's name means both 'pretty' and 'good.' So by definition, I suppose she's a pretty good younger sister. Or a pretty, good younger sister. Probably both.

What intrigues me most about names is this: we do not choose them for ourselves. Someone chooses them for us, and that someone sometimes has something specific in mind when they choose the name. Not always. As far as I know, my parents just liked most of our first names. But sometimes... it's why I don't envy people with family names.

And I really don't envy people who are named after virtues. Of course, I think the one guaranteed way to ensure I wouldn't live up to my name would be to assign me one like that. (Seriously, I think it's kind of mean to name your daughter Patience. Or Faith. Or Charity. People will call you on your name...both on whether you act your name and on whether you don't.)

Anyway, it's a system set up to favor parents. Not that there's anything wrong with that. Clearly, newborn babies aren't exactly equipped to name themselves. They aren't physiologically or psychologically capable of saying, "Hey, Mom. Please do not name me Prudence after your favorite great-aunt. Name me Michelle instead." But I often wonder what name I might choose for myself if I had the option. I've never minded being a Katie, but would I have opted instead to be a Lizzy or an Emma or...some other name that doesn't stem from a Jane Austen novel?

I firmly believe that we choose the significance of our own lives: we choose how to spend our time, we choose our own pursuits, we choose the company we keep. We choose where we go and what we do, but we don't choose what we're called. Our names do not determine our lives; I'd never make such a far-fetched claim. But I wonder, based on my life to date, if I wouldn't change the meaning of my name to better match the significance I hope my life will have...

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Oh, What a Beautiful Morning...

I realized something fundamentally important yesterday. When people ask if I'm a morning person, I tell them no.

That, my friends, is a lie.

Well, sort of.

Usually when I think of the term "morning person," I think of those people who wake up happy. The type who jump out of bed and starting bouncing around like Tigger. Boing boing boing. The ones who almost chirp "Good morning" to everyone they see, as though this new day is going to be the Best. Thing. Ever. because it's morning already!!

I'm not that type of morning person. That type of morning person draws out the curmudgeon in me.

Yesterday I had reason to wake up early, to leave the house early, and to be out and about around the city early. And I realized that I am, after all, a morning person. Just not the Tigger type. But I enjoy the cooler air, the quietness of the streets, the utter stillness in what eventually becomes a rather noisy place. I like seeing people walk their dogs, and I like it even more when they simply nod in acknowledgement of my presence instead of engaging in the boing boing boing of "Good morning! How are you today? Isn't this day amazing? Aren't you so glad to be awake?"

I suppose, in the end, I do consider myself a type of morning person. Just the type of morning person that loves when a morning allows me to revel (just a little) in some of my hermit-like ways.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

July 4th Thoughts

If you look back through my archives, there seems a trend to my Fourth of July posts: rather than feeling free, it seems I tend to feel lonely. And let's be honest: loneliness and independence are not remotely the same thing. You can be independent and still be around people; while you can be lonely and independent, I suppose, it's not nearly so rewarding.

This year has found me once again at my parents' house in Centerville. Wandering city festivities. Listening for a couple of songs to a less-than-wonderful band (swing this year, not 60s cover--do we consider this progress or just a genre change?) and then coming back and setting off fireworks at my parents house.

Thank heaven for niece and nephews. They make everything more entertaining and interesting. And it's impossible not to think that even the lamest of fireworks you're setting off are just a little bit marvellous when you have munchkins who ooh and ahh at them.

Interestingly enough, I don't mind being a lone child this year: but maybe that's because all of us were here for the city festivities on Friday. Or maybe it's because I like that I get to experience the moments when my presence causes my parents to suddenly lose years of maturity (my mom, in particular--it's delightful!). I have also realized that I don't mind playing a family role as observer; I like to see what everyone else does, hear what everyone else talks about, smile at others' jokes. In short, I like to be the fly on the wall.

I bring books for others; my mom recommends books to me. Sometimes it's quiet, sometimes it's not. Sometimes it's just me, sometimes there are more. Always, always, I feel a quiet sense of belonging here (perhaps I just didn't recognize it before because I was being too petulant about being a single amongst marrieds).

But I don't ever feel lonely here, because here will always be home.

Monday, May 31, 2010

On Trespassing, A Conversation Between My Five-Year Old Nephew and Me

I like to run around with my two nephews and niece, don't get me wrong, but there's nothing as inherently delightful to me as sitting down with one, two, or all three of them to read a few books. (My niece has developed a taste for The Berenstain Bears.) Anyhow, there's something important for you to know before I tell you the rest of this story: my five-year-old nephew is a smart little cookie. And I don't say that just because I'm a doting aunt. He knows the age of the universe (10 billion years), was quick to figure out the chronology of his mom and her siblings when he looked through old photos with my mom, and already knows how to use words much larger than his age (and I'm not just talking dinosaur names, either).

Anyway, his sister and I requested that I read them Beauty and the Beast (the Disney-fied storybook version). When we reached the part of the story where the Beast throws Maurice into the dungeon, my nephew looked up at me and asked why.

"Why what?"

"Why did he have to go to the dungeon?"

Pause. How do you explain the idea of trespassing to a five-year-old, albeit an intelligent one?

" you know the word trespass?"

Nephew and niece both shake their heads no.

"Trespass is when you go into someone else's house without knocking. So the Beast got mad because Belle's dad didn't knock on his door and ask to come in first. Instead, he just came into the house without knocking or anything. He just invited himself in. And that's why the Beast put him in the dungeon."

Sudden look of enlightenment on nephew's face. "So Snow White was okay because she knocked first and said 'May I come in?' before she went into the house because nobody was home. Right?" Emphatic nod from my niece.

Me: "Um, sort of."

(How else would you explain the dungeon-throwing-in? Sadly, he's past the age where "because the Beast was mean" is a viable explanation...)

A Late Svithe: Good vs. Perfect

I grew up around simple, sincere people. And when I say "simple," I don't mean by any stretch of the imagination those I grew up with were simple-minded. I mean instead that those I grew up around were not terribly concerned with material or with complicated things. They were people concerned instead with raising good, well-adjusted children. With providing for their families without needing to be the most apparently rich on the block. And I often forget--until I come home for a weekend such as this one--that they were, most importantly, second families. Other houses where I could wander in barefoot. Other mothers, fathers, siblings. Other people who cared then and still care now about what I choose to do with my life.

They have always been people who acted in accordance with what they believed, without slapping others upside the head with their beliefs (metaphorically speaking, of course). And if, as the scriptures say, "by their fruits ye shall know them," I find it impossible to disbelieve Church doctrines and teachings. Because the people I grew up with were not perfect, but they were and still are good. These people have flaws, mind you, and they know it. Some of them are impatient; some of them get testy; some of them gossip a little more than perhaps they should. But that doesn't make them any less lovable, and that doesn't mean they aren't trying.

Lately I've been struggling with some of my beliefs, perhaps because I have been thinking that it's all too hard. But I realized yesterday that I've been struggling because I've been thinking that it's too hard to be perfect and it's too hard to have perfect faith. So this Memorial Day weekend, I'm grateful for reminders that the aim is not to be perfect. The aim is to work (and it is work, but it's not as hard as I thought) to be good.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

I Cordially Invite You

To trundle on over to the book blog my sister started for my review of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. I have not dearly, dearly loved a book like this in a great, long while.

Not since Mistborn most likely, and well, that was a different type of love. Maybe you'll see what I mean after you read the review. Maybe you won't. But I know this much: I now desperately want Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows as friends.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Art and Narcissism

A couple of months ago, I read The Picture of Dorian Gray for one of my classes. It wasn't the first time I had read the novel, and I'm sure that it probably will not be the last. But anyway, I found myself thinking about the book in a very different way than I had previously. When I read it as an undergraduate student, it had seemed an entirely moralistic tale: if you invest yourself too much in bad things, you'll become corrupt and eventually die. But this time around, I found it more difficult to read it as quite that moralistic.

That particular professor enjoyed summing up books in a sentence or so--a sentence that could essentially act as a thesis for an argument paper, if necessary. Her sentence was "Art: it's not about you." That sentence alone provoked an interesting discussion, because a fellow student stated it reminded her of a pop culture conference she had attended with her mother. According to the fellow student, she had been appalled at the sheer number of panel discussions centering around the topic: "What is the Twilight series doing to teenage girls?" She highly disliked that so much of the conference seemed not to be exploring anything interesting . . . or even aesthetic. (Incidentally, my answer to the question would be this: the series itself may be planting ideas, but the books are not actually doing anything to those girls. Reading the books does not automatically turn any given girl into an agency-less, susceptible fembot.)

Don't get me wrong. I think it's entirely possible for art to create an effect in its viewers. My enjoyment of reading does not come from the repetitive actions of page turning and eye scanning involved. And art, in some sense, is entirely reliant on its viewers. (It seems to me that with most art, it's sort of necessary for someone outside the artist to declare it art. Just like it's necessary for someone that's not myself or one of my parents to verify I've written something good.)

But I don't think that art can make its viewers do anything. In that sense, I felt my professor's blanket statement to be correct. But at the same time, there's a paradox at work for the reason I briefly mentioned above: whether or not art has an individual impact is entirely based on you. Your tastes. Your reactions. Your assessments. These are not necessary for definition, i.e. for the art to be called art, but they are wholly necessary for the art to be anything except words on paper or paint on canvas or a chemical process applied to paper to show an image.

In short, I personally think the sentence should be modified to: "Art: it's not entirely about you." Because enjoying art--feeling art--is an inherently narcissistic enterprise. Simply seeing it? Well, that's a different story.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

And Before I Forget

In case you would further like to dillydally about the Web, I recommend that you check out a book blog for which I will be a semi-regular contributor. (I've already written one entry, and more will soon follow. I hope.)

Also, if you would like to read some interesting thoughts from another recent ex-student, consider visiting my friend. He has a blog, you know. Just in case the URL didn't tell you.

Please feel free to return to your regularly scheduled programs without visiting either link. I promise that we'll still be friends, either which way.

Questions, Thoughts

As of May 7, 2010, I have finished my master's degree. I read many books, wrote many papers, lost much sleep. I met people that I otherwise never would have met, I learned things that I otherwise never would have learned. And I found it all to be a worthwhile experience.

But I've realized something vital: I need a plan. Or a semblance of a plan. Or something that I can pretend to be a plan. Because somehow, during all of that studying and scribbling, I neglected to realize that life would again continue once the master's degree had ended.

I have the ability to throw myself wholeheartedly into things, but I tend not to think what will happen after those things end. My master's degree was infinitely rewarding; I want to continue on to the next rewarding thing that will take me.

But sometimes I wonder how much I inevitably hold myself back. I wonder how much caution, precaution, and safety nets are factored into decisions that I make. Sure, I think I could do any number of interesting things. But would I? Really? I've come to realize that it's difficult to be daring.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Random Writing Thoughts, after a Couple Months' Hiatus

Something I--once again--realized when I spoke with a friend a couple of days ago: it takes guts to write. And it takes even more guts to write without the expectation of a reward.

Samuel Johnson famously said that "No man but a blockhead ever wrote, except for money." In a technology-steeped world where most anyone can write--can create a blog, a web page, what-have-you--a lot of blockheads are writing. And not writing for money. Some blockheads actually have valuable things to say, some don't.

It's interesting, I suppose: by typing this, right now, I'm not feeling that I'm laying much on the line. It's not a risk to tell you what I'm thinking. It's not scary to speak my mind. But maybe that's because I'm filtering. Maybe that's because I've never written in this because it felt like a risk. I've taken great pains to make this blog personal without being too personal.

If anything, I think I started a blog because it feels utterly safe: nobody can call me on not writing what I think, because nobody can know what I think outside what I write. (With the obvious caveat that, if you know me in real-time, you obviously have a far better idea of what's going on with my life.)

Where am I going with this?

Oh, writing. I decided that it has been too long since I've written something that has made me vulnerable: too long since I took up a pen to write a poem, scribbled out a story idea, attempted to write a novel. It has been too long since I took the risk of taking time to write something that practically begs for external validation.

I have a few poems to revisit--works from a few years ago that I still love, but works that need improvement. I have a few stories half-finished. Time for completion. And I have a few ideas floating around my head that deserve to be committed to paper.

Changes are good.

It's time to take some risks.

Monday, January 11, 2010

A Book Review, and a Goal

I just finished reading The New York Regional Mormon Singles Halloween Dance a few days ago, and I greatly enjoyed it. In reading feedback from others, I've found this memoir seems to be of the love it or hate it variety. Nobody who feels a need to discuss this book seems to be shrugging their shoulders and saying, "Meh. Didn't really care."

I laughed; I cringed; I groaned; I empathized.

Most of the camp who have hated the novel seem to hate Elna's portrayal of herself as Mormon, but as a Mormon who does not behave in the strictest sense of the stereotyped definition of our faith. (I honestly knew I would love the book when she dedicates the book, minus the swear words and a couple of racy scenes, to her parents.) She swears; she struggles with physical boundaries; she doesn't exclusively date men from her faith. More importantly, she questions: she's not always sure about how she fits into her faith and she's not always sure how to explain what she believes. Hell, she's not always sure what she does believe. That doesn't make her unfaithful; in his November CES fireside talk, President Uchtdorf defined LDS church members as a "question-asking people" because "inquiry leads to truth."

I enjoyed the book because it felt so utterly honest and it rang true to my experiences. (And mind you, I have yet to move outside Utah! But Salt Lake City has a liberal scene all its own; and as a graduate student in a liberal arts program, I often find myself purposefully avoiding most church settings except my Sunday meetings, because I believe the doctrines--but I don't think that the culture is true. In fact, the culture can be exceedingly difficult to swallow sometimes.)

That said, if swearing offends you (and it would offend you even more coming from a Mormon mouth) or if you can't handle a candid discussion of sexual boundaries (including a couple of racy scenes--that, to be honest, I didn't find terribly scandalous...but I'm an English graduate student, and after several years of studying literature, I probably have a more broad definition of "racy" than most), this book isn't for you.

Now, onto the goal part: after reading the book, I admire something she addresses in the book: an ability to say "yes" to many, many things. As she notes, there's a power to saying yes: you never know where--or what--it will get you. And I've decided that's my new goal--to say "yes" to more of the opportunities I'm presented. To stop rationalizing away opportunities. To live a little. (Or who knows? Maybe a lot.)

Friday, January 1, 2010

A New Year

Another year has come and gone--far too quickly, it seems. I used to think time would never pass as quickly as I wanted; years used to feel eternities long. Now time passes more quickly than I wish it to, and I find myself expecting change. Welcoming change, even. And this year will be a year of change.

I should (if all goes according to plan, but really--since when has all gone according to plan?) graduate from my program this spring. And then I'm not sure what I'll do. Where I'll be. It seems like a time of infinite possibilities, I've decided. Sure, it's a little bit petrifying to think I should be planning on what to do with the rest of my life, but I figure that it's always served me best to make it up as I go along.

Last year I made a set of goals, and now I don't remember what they are. I can't decide if that means they weren't important enough or if I need to learn a little self-discipline. Maybe both. Maybe neither.

I can think of all kinds of idealistic goals I could make, but I'm not sure I want to make any of them; if I think of anything I actually feel an urge to express, I'll tell you. In the meantime, I welcome 2010 with open arms . . . preparing myself to embrace whatever life throws me at this year.

Or, at the very least, to catch whatever life throws at me--if only for a second, before I drop it.