Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Don't Say it was a Dream

My steps were timid and hesitant as I walked across the junior college campus in the light rain. The campus was eerily quiet at night without the ordinary hustle and bustle of students. Repeatedly checking a slip of paper in my pocket, I searched the walls of buildings for numbers. Finally discovering the right building, I stole inside.
            I peered uncomfortably around the cheerfully lit hallways and checked my paper yet again, noting the room number for the thirtieth time. There it was, up the stairs. I opened the door and stared uncomfortably into the lecture room.
            Although I enjoyed creative writing and was even planning on being an English major, I had never attended a poetry reading. Even the words “poetry reading” conjured up images in my mind of unkempt flower children standing too close together, closing their eyes and swaying, ending the gathering with a group singing of “Kumbaya.” In contrast, about half the seats in the calm, brightly lit lecture room were filled with well-dressed students and intellectuals in sweaters, quietly murmuring to each other. I quickly chose a seat not too close to the front and pulled out my copy of Ilya Kaminsky’s Dancing in Odessa to review absentmindedly.
            I suppose I had expected deaf, Russian poet Ilya Kaminsky to resemble my imagined poetry-obsessed hippies; he surprised me with his short curly hair, baby face, rectangular glasses, and boyish grin. After graciously accepting the compliments made in his introduction, Ilya Kaminsky began to read.
            Startled, I resisted the urge to glance around at other members of the audience to gauge their reactions. Was everyone else hearing what I was hearing? The unintelligible, gibberish yelling? Although Kaminsky’s eyes were on the pages on his book, the alien sounds coming from his mouth were unrecognizable. I quickly flipped open my book to find the poem he was supposedly reading. With some difficulty, I waded through Kaminsky’s thick Russian accent and deaf pronunciation. As I listened and read, I discovered the words on the page.
            I truly discovered them at that moment. When I had read them before, I had heard in my mind the clear voice of an English professor, calmly and concisely pronouncing the words. I had not, nor could I have, imagined them being raggedly sung so hotly and richly in the way of Ilya Kaminsky. As I listened and read, I caught hold of one golden thread from Kaminsky’s life, and clasped a silver rope of my own.

The city trembled,
A ghost-ship setting sail.
At night, I woke to whisper: yes, we lived.
We lived, yes, don't say it was a dream.

            Flooding to my mind were a thousand memories; roller-skating down my street, singing in the shower, running the last few yards to the finish line, arriving in Sorrento at sunset, eating ice cream, tickling my baby nephew, crawling through mud caves, sobbing in my bedroom at night; a ghost-ship setting sail. The whisper resonated with me: yes, we lived. I lived! Yes! Don’t say it was a dream.
            And in me was awakened a sense of wonder at this world of poetry I had so long ignored. I never knew that words could do this. I never knew that one page of so few words could lift the blindness from my eyes so completely. I lived, yes. Don’t say it was a dream. 

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Spending some Quality Time with Myself

As you may (or may not) have noticed, I haven’t been doing a lot of blogging lately.  But it’s not because I’m going through a “non-blogging phase” or anything like that.  It’s actually because I have been going through a major transition in my life by moving to a new city and going to a new, much bigger, much different kind of school than I have ever been to before. 

So my life lately has been packed full of ups – but, as they are apt to do, a few downs have squeezed themselves in there as well.  Academically, everything is hugely exceeding my expectations in every way, and I’m absolutely stoked for every one of my classes.  I guess the “down” part would be the social aspect.  Not that I’ve been having a hard time talking to people or anything, but I always seem to forget that in a transition to a new place, there is always the awkward “making friends” stage.

There are two kinds of people: people who are good at making friends, and people who are good at keeping friends.  (And there are people who are good at both, who don’t appreciate their gift, and those unfortunate few who are good at neither.)  I’m the keeping kind, and making friends exasperates me.  Actually, trying to make friends always makes me question the value of our society.  (No exaggeration. …Well, maybe a little exaggeration.)  Making friends seems to rely so much on small nuances: whether or not you think the person’s voice is annoying or their eyes are captivating.  And we all observe each other carefully, upon first encounter, to see if we’re all keeping the appropriate social rules. 

Anyway, I think of the process of “making friends” as kind of pointless and foolish.  So although I have been putting forth effort to talk to my classmates and my roommates, I’ve been accepting a more independent lifestyle. I like it.  I think it would be perfect except for the fact that I remember so many good times when things were different and I had plenty of friends.  This week, I’ve often felt that the rest of my entire four years here at school will be as, well, lonely as this first week.  Mainly because of my lack of motivation to make friends.  Maybe that wouldn’t be the most horrible thing in the world, but either way I know, intellectually, that it will change.  (I repeatedly have to take deep breaths and remind myself of this.) In some ways I feel as though I’ve gone through a “life transplant” of sorts.  Where is the person I used to be?  The person I once thought I was?  The person I once professed myself to be?  My own new tendencies and inclinations are a surprise to me.  A pleasant surprise, since I have always wanted to be more independent, but admittedly a little bittersweet.  It’s like I’m finally saying goodbye to the teenager in me. A goodbye I’ve wanted to say for a long time, but a goodbye nonetheless.

Amid this period of self-discovery and reflection, my writing teacher had the class do our first assignment, describing ourselves a little differently than we normally might.  My next blog posts will be a little fewer and farther between since I'll be a lot busier than I was this summer, but I'm planning on posting some stuff I'm doing for school, which I'll work harder on and be more proud of.  

I Am

I am the green M&Ms.  I am the shower in the morning that’s just a little too cold.  I am the stripe on a polka dot shirt.  I am the bear in a campground – “She’s more afraid of you than you are of her.”  I am an eye roll and a silent laugh.

I am the little-known Shakespeare play.  I am the owl crying, “Who?” I am the map asking, “Where next?”  I am the too-small shoe that pinches your toes.

I am driving my car ten miles above the speed limit.  I am shouting to mountains, trying to change them.  I am bittersweet chocolate with almonds.  I am the bass section; “can you hear me?”

I am just like you.  I am not like you.  I am myself. 

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Life of Pi by Yann Martel


A few days ago, it came to my attention that at that moment, in my backyard, was a very strong animal that, if I so much as looked at it in the wrong way, could ferociously rip me to pieces and devour my mangled body.  Easily.  What I think of as a harmless dog has the chops, claws, power, and instinct of a wild animal. 

Not that my dog isn’t domesticated.  Actually, he really is harmless – he’s never so much as thought about hurting a human.  He has the personality of a teddy bear.  And I wasn’t truly frightened.  It just amazed me that such a large, powerful animal has been tamed so thoroughly over the years, by a species inferior in physical strength and ferocity.

Monday, August 15, 2011

And Finally, My Conclusion on Summer 2011


In books, summers always start out boring, predictable, and lazy – and then turn out to be exciting and magical.  As a kid who read a lot of books, I always expected my summers to be that way.  And since I was a kid, I usually found my own ways of spicing up my summers.

But this summer, my first summer as a real live adult (well, technically, anyway), I discarded all my old summer fantasies with disgust.  I started on a bad note, leaving school and all my friends and coming back to boring ol’ home to live with my parents for four months.

Once I got home, I immediately got to work on cooking up a recipe for disaster: a cup of loneliness, several heaping spoonfuls of boredom and laziness, a dash of despair, and even a hint of self-loathing.  Nothing seemed to turn out right.  I was hoping to distract myself from my woes by busying myself with a job, but I couldn’t get a single interview.  I wanted to get involved in my ward, but I felt uncomfortable and unwanted at activities.  A heavy cloud of lousiness settled over me. 

After giving up hope on a job and a social life, I clung desperately to my last wish: to visit Cedar.  I just had to visit, even if only for a day.  What had once been everyday activities for me became misty, far-off dreams; I fantasized about laughing with my old roommates, re-reading the quote book from my old house, walking down Main Street to buy a quarter soda.  The more the summer dragged, the more impossible any such trip seemed.  My brain stretched 500 miles to a million.  But I hung on to my last shred of hope.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

The Wednesday Letters


I started Jason F. Wright’s book The Wednesday Letters last night just before bed and read for about a half-hour.  I started up again at 9 am this morning and finished by 1:00 pm.  This book is a solid 280 pages, and I’m no faster than the average reader.  That’s the magic of Jason F. Wright – in The Wednesday Letters as with his other book, Christmas Jars, he creates a story so real that you almost believe you’re in the room with the characters.  It almost seems as though if you were to put the book down, you wouldn’t be returning to reality; you would be leaving reality, as if your own life were some fictional world. 

What’s truly remarkable about Wright’s writing is that his characters and plots aren’t remarkable – just average people going through challenges, taking life one day, one hour, and one minute at a time.  Wright’s stories are not about action and superheroes; they’re about people, real people that we can relate to and love.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

The Teacher Who Couldn't Read


Did you know that in 1993:

--Between 21 and 23 percent of adults in America were unable to perform simple tasks such as filling out a job application, managing a checking account, and reading street signs?
--Between 25 and 28 percent of the adult population of the U.S. said they got help from family members or friends with everyday prose, documents, and simple literary tasks?
--20% of these same people with at the lowest level of literacy…had somehow received high school diplomas?

Just to be sure these statistics weren’t irrelevant and obsolete, I checked for more recent statistics. In 2003, a mere eight years ago, the National Assessment of Adult Literacy (http://nces.ed.gov/naal) found that 14 percent of the adult population of America is nearly illiterate or completely illiterate, with no more than the most basic literacy skills.  29 percent are slightly above that level, but are literate enough only to perform simple, everyday tasks.  44 percent can perform moderately challenging literary activities, while only 13 percent of the population is considered “proficient” in our written language.

What exactly does illiteracy mean for an individual?  When I discovered the innumerable obstacles one illiterate person had to face, I was completely astounded.  In The Teacher Who Couldn’t Read by John Corcoran with Carole C. Carlson, Corcoran details his journey from being an insecure, violent child to his turbulent marriage – all affected tremendously by his inability to read.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Thoughts from a Former Old-Fashioned Child


A couple days ago, my friend shared this article on Facebook:

Intrigued, I read it.  And I can’t say I’m shocked by its findings.

It got me thinking about my own experience with toys.  In a previous post I mentioned that my childhood was pretty fantastic.

Here is my childhood in a nutshell: I had four older siblings.  On not-too-rare lucky days I got to tag along with my oldest siblings, whom I adored; on average days I played with my sister closest to my age.  Stephanie and I rarely disagreed and never fought.  What did we play with?  If it was just Stephanie and I, we’d play with toys – stuffed animals and our “little toy animals” (small plastic dogs, cats, and farm animals).  Occasionally we played with Barbies, too, but we didn’t play with them the way they were meant to be played with; our Barbies were much more adventurous, and as I remember it, quite a bit more magical. If we had friends to play with, we didn’t generally play with toys – just each other.  We’d run around and make-believe -  “I’m a magical fairy who can shape-shift into a bunny!” and things like that.  

Pretty standard for a kid, right?  Well, maybe standard for a kid 50 years ago, but nowadays I’m not so sure.  Sometimes I’m amazed that my parents were able to keep that kind of creative environment for me as a child.  My siblings played video games increasingly as we got older, but video games and television never dominated my life.  They eventually bored me.  I think my general focus on doing when I was a kid made it harder for me to lounge doing something so unproductive and, well, not fun.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Blink

A few days ago, my mom and I went through a bunch of her books, cleaning off shelves and deciding what to get rid of.  One book in particular caught my eye: Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking by Malcolm Gladwell.

After seeing the cover, feeling its peculiar rough softness, and hearing my mom’s opinion that it was really good – despite her wanting to try to sell it – I made a split-second decision to read it.

It is this kind of split-second decision that Blink is all about.

Every day, we make decisions using what Gladwell calls our “unconscious” mind (I know it’s tempting, but try not to think too much about Freud here, even though it’s his term).  These quick, split-second decisions don’t use the same kind of rationality as weighing the pros and cons, or considering all the factors involved.  In fact, the more factors, pros, and cons you consider, Gladwell teaches us in the book, the more blind you will be to the wisdom of your unconscious.  Our experiences, education, and training all combine to create this second mind that can make important judgments in a fraction of a second, seemingly without any rhyme or reason.  But in certain cases, the unconscious should be used and trusted.   

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Atlas Shrugged

Well.  I’m finally done.

Finally, after weeks of alternating thrilling enjoyment and throw-the-book-across-the-room indignation, I have finished Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged.

I should warn those of you who haven’t read the book that although I really will try not to give spoilers, I don’t know if it’s even possible to review this book at all without giving spoilers.  The whole mystery of even the basic plot itself was part of what made the book really fun in the beginning – so if you’re the kind of person who believes in having the certain “right” kind of experience out of a book (like me), you might want to just not read this at all.  But if you’re feeling brave, read on…

I have a sneaking suspicion that Ayn Rand might have actually been slightly insane.  At first I was totally all for everything her characters were saying about capitalism – until they started applying their principles of economy to every other facet of life.  Her ideas get kind of disgusting, actually.  But as far as that discussion goes, I’ll just leave it there – I don’t want to get started on my disagreements with her philosophy when I have so much to say about the actual literature.  

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Eat Pray Love

From the beginning of this blog, I fully intended to write about all the books I read.  I really did.  And then, somehow…that just hasn’t happened yet.
            I’m not really sure why, since I’ve been reading quite a bit lately.  In fact, reading takes up about half of all my waking hours this summer.  So I’ve decided to start getting some of my book thoughts out there.
            I want to start with Eat Pray Love by Elizabeth Gilbert, which I actually read some weeks ago, so bear with me if I have some trouble remembering names, places, etc.
            As I imagine most of you have noticed, Eat Pray Love has been a huge hit in our country since the day it was published.  And why not?  In the spirit of all the latest American trends, the book is packed with fanciful world travels that are taken up in the name of soul-searching; deep spiritual insights that are attached to no particular denomination, but generally revolve around meditation and Yoga; miraculous financial donations that help a single mother in another part of the world to get a house; the wonderful feminist vow of abstinence in order to become a strong woman independent of any man; the early (but not too early) breaking of this vow and passionate sex.  And, of course, the whole thing is a true story.  In the view of modern America, what’s not to love?
           I admit it. I did love this book.  But not for its trendiness.  I didn’t run out and take up meditating an hour a day, like I imagine some people did after reading this book (and they probably dropped the practice in less than a week).  I loved it because I decided from the beginning that I wasn’t going to love it for the same reasons that everyone else loves it.  If there was any truth in that book, I decided to discover it for myself.
            One of the things I like about Elizabeth Gilbert is that she really, genuinely believes in the trends she follows (most of them, anyway). I had to admire that. 
            But I should probably start at the beginning.
            I had been very excited to read Gilbert’s book, having seen the movie a couple times and really liking it.  I had certain expectations of the book.  Those expectations were fulfilled in practically every way.
            The book was kind of, well, obvious.  But that was okay, because I expected it to be well-written, funny, lighthearted but with a good dose of sober, inspiring and above all, enjoyable, and it was all these things.
            Probably my favorite part of the book (and, from other reviews I’ve read, everyone else’s least favorite part) was the Italy portion at the beginning of the book.  This was partly because I’ve been to Italy and I absolutely love it, and partly because I could sort of relate to Gilbert’s experience there (not so with India and Indonesia).  I loved that she was looking to enjoy pleasure – real pleasure, not sitting in front of a TV and “vegging.”  That’s something that I’ve always believed in, and I really liked her description and experience of it, although it didn’t get as much space as the other portions of the book.
            India would have to be my second favorite.  Like Gilbert, I felt very introspective as I read this part.  She has quite a talent for immersing her readers in her own emotions, and I was beginning to examine myself and my capacity for patience, harmony and love – and what these vague words really mean relating to me.  I had my own realizations regarding my own religious beliefs that were completely different than Gilbert’s realizations.  I liked that Gilbert actually seemed to be meaning for that to happen.  Generally, when I come to different conclusions as I’m reading a book than the author did, I imagine the author would be none too happy to discover that her book didn’t achieve what she meant it to achieve.  But in the case of Gilbert, I felt that she didn’t expect everyone to think the same way and the same things that she thinks.  Actually, I don’t think she wants anyone to come to the same conclusions she did.  It seemed to me that she was encouraging me to have my own spiritual experience, not to take a piece out of hers. 
            Then there was Indonesia, which was…well…even after all this time, I’m not sure what to think of it.  What did she learn there?  It’s not easy to say.  I guess she learned how to be a normal person again.
            The Bali portion was generally enjoyable, but this is the part where she breaks her vow of abstinence for the man she’s in love with.  Okay, that’s better than it could be, although not in my particular line of belief, but I already know she has a different belief system than I do.  My problem isn’t with the fact that she does it…it’s just…I feel pretty awkward when memoirs get so personal.  I mean, if this was a novel, it wouldn’t be that bad – nothing is explicit or anything.  But heck, I don’t even know Elizabeth Gilbert, and yet I now know all these things about her private life.  It’s one thing to read about her eating pizza and meditating; it’s totally another to read about her personal, private life with a man.  I just don’t understand why anyone would put something like that out into the world for any random stranger to read (actually, several million random strangers).  But that’s the world today: nothing is private, everything is shared with everyone else.  And the fact that the book ends on this note of modern trendiness is a little disheartening. 
            Overall, I wouldn’t skip this book just because of its popularity.  I needed a fun read, and this was definitely a fun read without being fluff.  It met all my expectations to a T and even offered a few pearls of wisdom at times.  3 stars. 

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Simple Pleasure: Cinnamon Sugar Pull-Apart Bread

This morning I did something which, even now, I find very hard to believe.  Hold onto your hats - this might shock you a little.

I got up at 6:45 on a Sunday morning.

Here's the crazy part - I didn't even HAVE to.  Nobody was expecting me to.  I did this ON MY OWN FREE WILL.  Plus, it was rainy and cold!  Plus, I don't even have church until 2 pm!  PLUS, I go to early-morning seminary every weekday and so Sundays are one of my only days to sleep in.  Crazy!  I know!  And if you know me, I am not a morning person in the least.  If it were up to me, the day wouldn't even officially start until 10:30.  (And it would officially end at midnight.)

So why did I do this crazy thing, you might ask?  Well, a picture speaks a thousand words...
This amazing concoction is basically all the cinnamon-sugar-y, thin-layered goodness of a cinnamon roll baked into a loaf.  What's not to love?

Saturday, April 16, 2011

What is your QUEST???

I have a confession to make.  I love planning my future wedding.  The other day I found a wedding planning website that I love and I’ve been spending an unnatural amount of time on it.  What can I say there’s something attractively addicting about gazing at pictures of white ball gowns, six-tiered cakes, and rings stuffed with diamonds. 
Anyway, I got an email from this website today, trying to coax me into using their website more often.  They promised me more ease with planning my wedding by creating a wedding checklist with all my to-do’s (okay, I had to pretend I was actually getting married in order to enjoy the benefits of the site, all the way down to the date and the groom’s name.  Let’s just say July 12, 2012 will be the happiest day of “Bob Smith’s” life).  The last sentence on the email asked me to start putting together my quest list.
I did a double take.  “Quest” list?  What was that? 
It took me another moment to realize that it actually said “guest list,” which made a lot more sense.  But my quasi-Freudian slip got me thinking.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Those Perfect Moments


Traveling has occupied a foremost place in my mind the past couple of days.  I can't sit still for long, and I'm already planning future trips.  But, as always when traveling ideas begin to germinate, I begin to reflect on my past adventures. 


Before I went to Europe, I expected it to be the trip of a lifetime (specifically, my lifetime) and I figured that I would just get all my desire to travel out of my system.  Well, it didn’t turn out quite like that.  It’s one thing to sit at home and dream about castles hundreds of years old and grassy knolls dotted with bell-laden cows – and it’s a completely different thing to actually go and see all these things.  (Yes, the grassy knolls with the cows are real.  They exist in our modern world.)   And once you’ve seen things that you didn’t think could possibly exist outside of Hollywood and the literary world, you begin to realize that there are other things like that in the world.