Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Be Afraid

Courage is not the absence of fear, but the knowledge that something is more important than fear.

The Princess Diaries



So it being Halloween and all, I thought I'd talk about things I'm afraid of, or have been afraid of, or may be afraid of in the future.

I'll start off by saying that yes, I am rather afraid of people in scary costumes who jump out at me suddenly after a reasonable buildup of tension. But I'm mostly afraid of this because it often happens, in this particular chain of events, that adrenalin takes over my body and I hit the jumper. Often pretty hard.* So I've learned to avoid these kinds of situations.

Here is a small list of things that I've been afraid of over the years:

Ticks

Spiders

Ants

Slimy lake plants

Sand

Caterpillars

Bees

Peppers

Onions

Roller Coasters

The X-Files
 

Most of these fears I now consider conquered. Most of them had to be conquered over eight summers of working as a summer camp counselor. Some Are only conquered because I use one crutch or another (big tough hiking-shoe sandals make slimy lake plants less of an issue), and some I just had to suck it up and deal with (ticks, once my ultimate paralyzing kryptonite-level terror, are now just something I have to fish out of my girls' hair before they go to sleep at night). Some have even become pleasant to me (the onions, peppers, roller coasters, and spiders. Once I discovered that killing spiders is bad luck, they all became my friends. I like to have at least two living in my bathroom at any given time).

My life now contains three remaining major fears:

Heights.


Needles.


And, most recently, storms.


The heights thing is a product of growing up in Minnesota and then being abruptly transplanted into Utah. Before I moved here, it never occurred to me that the ground could just stop and be empty air for who-knows-how-many miles all the way to the bone-crunching bottom of the cliff. Minnesota does not have cliffs. Any irregularities in ground level are covered by trees, so if you do fall, you don't fall all the way to the bottom of the (whatever), you just fall as far as the first tree and then you stop. High on my list of Most Embarrassing Moments was my first church youth group outing here in Salt Lake, during which we hiked the short, pleasant trail to the top of Mount Ensign and I had a complete trembling tear-drenched freakout in front of a jury of my peers who had lived comfortably around cliffs their entire lives. I'm not in touch with any of those people anymore.

Needles, my mother swears up and down, are because of a traumatic pneumonia-induced hospital stay when I was two. I don't remember this incident at all, so I have to take her word for it. But the fact remains that needles just plain suck. Often literally. I don't like the consciously-induced pain, I don't like the rape-evoking invasion, and I don't like the residual damage of having a small metal tube shoved through my skin and my muscles and my veins which are all trying to do their jobs without holes in them. This fear keeps me from getting an annual flu shot (I just wash my hands and hope for the best) and makes me dread tetanus vaccinations more than stepping on rusty nails. (Nail went straight through my shoe and well into my foot, and I was calm as a summer's morning. Doctor yanked it out, and I was cool as a cucumber. Someone asked "When was your last tetanus booster?" and I collapsed into a quivering RoseE-shaped Jell-O mold, slowly leaking pathetic tears.)

I do, however, give blood. I give it fairly regularly. I make sure everyone knows that I'm scared of needles when I go to donate, so I will get the appropriate amount of encouragement and pity. But it's the same thing as the ticks, really: the fears that I cannot face for my own sake I can bear for the sake of others. It could be that I'm a selfless wonderful person, or it could just be that I value saving face more than self-preservation.

 So I'm afraid of lots of things. Most of these things I've learned to cope with in one way or another. One of my camp buddies once observed that she would sort me into Gryffindor, since most of my stories involve me being scared of something and dealing with it anyway. This observation made me feel warm and fuzzy, and so I tattooed it upon my heart. Metaphorically. Because tattoos involve needles.

But then there's storms.

The storm thing makes me mad. I love storms. I love the way they smell and the delicious way they drain away the day's heat and the mighty wildness of a world that may act sedate most of the time but will never truly be tame. But, this summer, there was an incident. And post-incident, I now jump out of my skin at the first rumble of thunder (or anything that sounds like a rumble of thunder, like someone moving furniture in another room or unexpected lawn mowers). Thunder is now the only thing in my life that makes me want to hide under my bed. And I hate that. I don't want to be that person . . . the girl who's scared of storms, like Kotah, my parents' deeply cowardly small auxiliary back-up dog. I don't want to be the girl who needs to be held until the weather clears . . . but at the same time I hate being alone under those gray, wild skies.

NO. Because I am ME, and I have dealt with spiders and ticks and slimy lake plants and blood donations and that episode of X-Files that Stephen King wrote. I can drive along the drop-offs of Yellowstone and eat food so spicy it makes my father's eyes water. I've been stung by bees, crushed by horses, and impaled by nails without batting an eye. I will not let this storm thing beat me. I will smack it in the face, and to blazes with what Prez would say.

I am afraid.

But don't think that's gonna stop me.




* That was an interesting weekly report to my mission president. "Dear Prez, before you read Sister Pak Sung Hee's letter, let me explain to you what really happened . . . but before I even do that, I must confess that yes, I smacked her across the face and knocked her off her feet and back into her desk chair. But she was lurking around the corner with her hair combed over her face! You know what long, straight Asian hair she has! It was the thing from The Ring (which I have not seen and now never will) and it was gonna eat me and I screamed and then I'd smacked her and it was already over and I felt really bad but she started it."

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Because . . .

There are worlds out there where the sky is burning, and the sea's asleep, and the rivers dream; people made of smoke and cities made of song. Somewhere there's danger, somewhere there's injustice, and somewhere the tea's getting cold. Come on, Ace. We've got work to do."

Doctor Who





So this weekend I tackled something I've been meaning to tackle for a long time. It's been a combination of learning about the idea of microfinance; meeting and becoming friends with people from Senegal, Congo, DR Congo, and Cameroon; watcing Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala's TED Talk on business in Africa and Robert Neuwerth's TED Talk on the power of the informal economy. I put some of my money where my mouth is and started financing micro-loans through www.kiva.org.

Of course, if you want to become involved in this, too, then that's awesome. But that's not really what I'm blogging about this morning. In exploring Kiva's website, I came across their 'Lending Teams': groups of like-minded individuals banding together to finance loans for small business entrepreneurs all over the world.

There is a team of Kiva Mormons. They've lent over a million dollars in the last four years. Awesome, huh? On their team page, there is a declaration of motivation: "We loan because a man filled with the love of God is not content with blessing his family alone, but ranges through the whole world, anxious to bless the whole human race."

Excellent sentiment. The statement is taken from a quote by Joseph Smith, one that I've heard regularly my entire life. It's a fundamental thought in my faith. Mormons believe that if you want to be a good person, you'd better be doing good for someone else in the world. Yaay for us! Go Mormons!

But then I browsed some more. And what I discovered raised my spirits and filled my heart, not only with pride that I am LDS, but with pride that I am human.

The Catholic Kiva team loans because "It is the right thing to do."

The Episcopal Church loans because "As Episcopalians, we are followers of Jesus Christ, our Lord, and believe in the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We strive to love our neighbors as ourselves and respect the dignity of every person."

The Mennonites loan because "The King will reply, 'Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.'"

The Orthodox Christians loan because all men and women are made in the image and after the likeness of God.

 The Unitarian Universalists loan because they believe in the inherent worth and dignity of every person, and in justice, equity, and compassion in human relations.

The Jews loan to make the world a better place.

The Baha'is loan because Baha'u'llah said to "Be generous in prosperity, and thankful in adversity. Be worthy of the trust of thy neighbor, and look upon him with a bright and friendly face. Be a treasure to the poor, an admonisher to the rich, an answerer to the cry of the needy, a preserver of the sanctity of thy pledge."

The Muslims loan because the Koran says "If ye disclose (acts of) charity, even so it is well, but if ye conceal them, and make them reach those (really) in need, that is best for you: It will remove from you some of your (stains of) evil. And Allah is well acquainted with what ye do."

The Buddhists loan to water the seeds of awakening.

The GLBT Community loans because they know what is like to face barriers, and consider it a privilege to help entrepreneurs achieve their own equality.

The Followers of the Flying Spaghetti Monster loan because "Thou shalt share, that none may seek without funding."

The Atheists, Agnostics, and Skeptics loan because they care about the suffering of human beings.

The Nerds loan because they aim to decrease world suck.

Doesn't it just make you want to laugh and cry and jump and dance and hug everyone that you meet? There is so much good in this world. So much good. And the goodness is enriched, not hindered, by its diversity. What a bland place this good, wonderful planet would be if Joseph Smith's words were the only ones ever quoted. How much poorer would I be if everyone else were just like me?

I fervently believe every word up there. Many of them are from books I've never read and do not venerate as scripture, or written by people with whom I disagree on one issue or another. But I believe all these beautiful words, and rejoice that they've come into my life to fill it with a greater measure of truth and understanding.

Here's to the human race. All the human race.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Guess Who's Coming to Dinner?

I'm having an old friend for dinner.

Hannibal Lecter, The Silence of the Lambs
 

Okay, it's a creepy quote to top a non-creepy blog post, but it was in my head and it sort of fit the topic. Also, I just read the Wikipedia article on The Silence of the Lambs last week, because I was bored and I'd never seen it and don't really plan to. (I do, after all, bike to work by myself in the dead of night. After that book on Jack the Ripper, I've promised myself I will keep my reading upbeat, positive, and serial-killer-free for a while.)

Aaaaaanyway, I'm trying to keep up with the blogging assignments I give my students, just to play fair. And this week's prompt was the following: if I could invite one person to dinner, what would I serve?

When I was first introduced to this prompt, someone suggested having bbq ribs with Jesus, which is, I admit, a great idea. (Better have a backup, though, in case he's still keeping kosher.) As interesting as it would be to see our Lord and Savior get bbq sauce all over his face, I've decided, upon reflection, that I'd like to serve chicken in Thai peanut sauce to Queen Elizabeth I.

This . . .
Plus This . . .
Equals This? I think so.


I chose Good Queen Bess because she's such a complicated, fascinating character, and in many ways the kind of woman I want to be when I grow up. (In other ways not, of course.) I'd like to have a young QEI over . . . just after she'd taken the throne, maybe a couple of weeks after her royal progress through London, when she laughed and chatted with all her subjects lining the road and wore her hair unbound, wife to no one but her nation. This Elizabeth has her head full of one of the best educations ever given to a woman, because sister Mary had to give her something to do to keep her out of the way, and was just starting to develop the ideas that made her such a remarkable ruler: country before king, prosperity before conquest, peace before dogma. And the radical, unthinkable idea that she was actually never going to marry anybody at all was fermenting in her brain, although no one was taking her assertions seriously yet (and wouldn't until she was nearly dead, like sixty years later). What would I not give for two hours' conversation with that woman? To know the books she'd read and what she thought of them, what she was worrying about as she took over the throne, how she managed to be so darn gutsy in the face of so many powerful and predatory people . . . wow.

So why chicken in Thai peanut sauce? First, because I think I can cook it fairly well, and Her Majesty might have high standards when it comes to food. Peanuts, as far as I know, weren't really a thing in England yet, English New World exploration still being in its infancy. And sauces made with peanuts are just so darn good. I'd like to find out if she liked spicy food . . . peppers weren't really a staple in England just then. And the Far East was so exotic and yet so important . . . the libraries of the Muslim world, the trade routes from China. So many southeast Asian countries have no better cultural emissary than their food. Maybe that one dish could alter the whole course of English/Thai relations. Or maybe it would just be really tasty.

Cheesecake for dessert. Cheesecake should always be for dessert.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Occam's Razor

With all other things being equal, the simplest solution is to be preferred.

Or something like that . . . I'm not sure exactly how the Razor is phrased. But it's along those lines. A simple solution is preferable to a complex solution that is otherwise equally valid.

It's a nice, straightforward, useful little philosophy. The problem is when I start applying it without moderation in my life, which I do kind of a lot. I have this nasty habit of picking the simplest solution and just going with it, whether or not it's actually a good idea.

One particular year, on my annual pilgrimage up to Minnesota, my straightforward journey involved three flights (all standby), a Greyhound bus, and a ride from a friend. It was a pretty complicated plan, and left out important details, like Where am I going to sleep during this three-day epic? Since the plan was already pretty complicated, I chose the simplest solution to this problem: I'd just sleep wherever I happened to be. This is how I ended up spending one night on the floor of the Chicago O'Hare bus depot and another on a row of benches over the Minneapolis Lindbergh ticket counters.

It was actually kind of neat. The security guards in Chicago promised to keep an eye on me overnight, so I slept on my little makeshift bed (blanket, bed sheet, backpack, folded quilt, and mystery novel) in relative tranquility. No one noticed or bothered me in Minneapolis. I slept quite well, and it was free, and I didn't have to figure out how to get back to the airport to catch my next bus/flight/whatever in the morning. Simple. No problem.

Looking back, I realize that this is not something a rational middle-class American woman is supposed to do. But I did it anyway. And it was fine. These things tend to turn out fine for me; I'm not sure why.

This year, I had three options presented to me: I could continue to work my full-time job, I could teach at BYU, and I could take the world's most awesome graduate course. A rational human being would declare that no one could do all three at once. But making choices is complicated. It needs pros and cons and tradeoffs. So . . . Occam's Razor! . . . I just decided to do them all.

It's like the old adage about college. "Welcome to college. Here, you can study, you can sleep, and you can party. Pick two." Except I've picked 'study' twice. And you know what? It's AWESOME.

I love having a full-time job. I love having money. I love being able to go to a doctor, dentist, or chiropractor without a second thought about what it's going to cost because health insurance has my back. (Literally, in the case of the chiropractor.) I love being able to hop on any bus in the state with my employer-subsidized bus-and-train pass. I love being able to park downtown. I love spending less than I earn.

I LOVE teaching. It's so gosh darn much fun. I get to make things interesting, and share them with kids who are invested in learning and understanding. I get to write on the white board and declare when it's treat day. I get to learn how to do the job I want to do for the rest of my life.

And OH MY GOSH I LOVE my world's most awesome graduate course. I was supposed to read half of St. Thomas More's Utopia this weekend, and I just read the whole darn thing. I've suddenly got academic conferences and research grants and the nature of beauty buzzing around in my head. The world is full of shiny, sparkly, magical possibilities, and I get to write papers about them.

Sleeping, I will admit, is problematic. But it's astonishing how much you can stay awake for when you're So Gosh Darn Excited about everything all the time. My long-honed skills as a desk-sleeper, floor-sleeper, and bus-sleeper are being put to good use. (As is my health insurance, and the chiropractor. "How did you manage to tie your spine in a double half-hitch?" "Y'know, I really couldn't say . . .") So far, I've managed to be awake for everything I needed to be awake for, kept up on homework, and been prepared for class. I feel like a million bucks.

I've read that a possible side effect of extended sleeplessness is death, but you know what? We'll burn that bridge when we come to it. And anyway, what a way to go.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Grad Student Waybread


In the morning, as they were beginning to pack their slender goods, Elves that could speak their tongue came to them and brought them many gifts of food and clothing for the journey. The food was mostly in the form of very thin cakes, made of meal that was baked a light brown on the outside, and inside was the colour of cream. Gimli took up one of the cakes and looked at it with a doubtful eye.

'Cram,' he said under his breath, as he broke off a crisp corner and nibbled at it. His expression quickly changed, and he ate all the rest of the cake with relish. 

'No more, no more!' cried the Elves laughing. 'You have eaten enough already for a long day's march.' 

'I thought it was only a kind of cram, such as the Dalemen made for journeys into the wild,' said the Dwarf.

'So it is,' they answered, 'But we call it lembas or way bread, and it is more strengthening than any food made by Men, and it is more pleasant than cram, by all accounts.' 

J. R. R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring



I'm baking today.

Not as in 'It's super hot outside,' although gosh sakes, is it ever. Baking as in 'making cookies.' Now when I say 'making cookies,' you might conjure up images of cute little chocolate chip pastries and a cold glass of milk, possibly with the addition of a frilly apron. The image of frosting may have crossed your mind. In this, you would be sorely mistaken.

These cookies are called Biscuits Voyageurs. This is the most common parlance. I've also heard them referred to by the following names:

Voyageur Monster Cookies
Les Big Bad Biscuits
Concordia Lembas
Canoeing Cookies
Zombie Apocalypse Bars

I will admit that I made the last one up. I was listening to a zombie-related radio play while baking.

I was introduced to these fist-sized blasts of pure energy when I was a camper in Les Voyageurs, a Concordia language program that focuses on and re-creates the life of the French Canadian fur traders that explored and named half of Canada. This program involves a lot, but a LOT, of canoeing. Like fourteen-year-old kids paddling seven hours a day. And it was in such a canoe, on a Minnesota lake, that someone untied a double-bagged collection of biscuits voyageurs. I ate one and paddled for another two hours.

Seriously, you can go forever on these things. Each on contains some or all of the following: raisins, cranberries, oats, granola, sunflower seeds, almonds, walnuts, chocolate chips, flax seeds, sesame seeds, whole wheat flour, brown sugar, eggs, butter, and awesomeness. These are serious belly-fillers, and they'll keep forever. Perfect food to have ready for the zombie outbreak. I stole the recipe this summer (and when I say 'stole,' I mean 'I asked nicely and Laurent printed me out a copy'), and have just completed my first batch. My master plan is to have these ready to go in my freezer, so I can grab one as I run out the door any day this semester. And since I'm planning on holding a full-time job, a part-time job, and a half-time school schedule, fast and balanced energy will be a precious commodity.

I've discovered a few things: first, these cookies are WORK. I decided to make a double batch, and all that dough was heavy, thick, and solid. Mixing in every one of that dozen of mix-ins was an intense upper-body workout. No wonder these cookies are the exclusive domain of les Voyageurs. They're the only ones with the muscles to make them.

Second: yield. The recipe said fifty cookies. Fifty cookies, my foot. Try eighty-five. (Except I ate one. So eighty-four.) My counter is covered in magnificent cookie awesomeness. As soon as they cool, I'm tossing them into freezer bags, and I will be ready for that zombie apocalypse. Or grad school, whichever comes first.

Oh, did I mention that they're delicious? Yummiest zombie apocalypse ever.

Friday, April 20, 2012

The Dangers of Dancing

Dancing.

It's a loaded topic for me, one that I've been meaning to muse about for some time. Well, tonight's as good a night as any. I just got in from a performance with Zivio, my Balkan folk dance team, at the University of Utah's multicultural night. And I've got a lot to think about.

I love to dance with Zivio. I love the peculiar, challenging rhythms of the music and the synergistic thrill of feeling everyone's feet in perfect time with your own. Step, stomp, cross, lift, touch, cross, grapevine, stomp, hop . . . it's such a tremendous feeling when your body goes on autopilot, and every muscle's like Yeah, we know this one. No sweat, so that while you tap out a dizzying sequence of steps you can be laughing and joking with the dancers around you. I love the display of precision and skill that is Balkan folk dancing. I love that it is inclusive and challenging and distinctive. I feel safe, and happy, and confident when I'm caught up in these dances, even on stage.

But not all dances are the same.

After our final number, the evening was wrapped up by a team of Brazilian drummers. Brazilian drums are incredible. They make statues and furniture try to get up and dance. And as the infectious rhythm worked into the brains of the crowd, they opened up the stage for an impromptu dance party. And this was where I started to panic.

Flashback! I am suddenly fourteen years old again, newly moved from a tiny town in southern Minnesota to the strange, huge metropolis of Salt Lake City. One of the girls in my church, in honor of her sixteenth birthday, throws a dance in the church building. (To this day, I don't know how she got away with that. Using the ward building for a private dance party? It is a thing I have never seen before or since.) Because I am now fourteen, and thus of age to go to dances, and because in this new environment I am expected to 'get out there and make friends' (Note: don't ever tell an introvert to do this), I show up.

It is dark, there is music, there are lots of people. The only person in attendance that I know at all is the birthday girl, who has little to no interest in me. So I hang at the side of the room, unsure of what to do, wishing I had someone to talk to.

Dances are about having fun, right? So I am probably expected to move into the middle of the room and dance in a fun manner. Dancing is supposed to be self-expression or something like that, right? It's a 'just have fun, enjoy yourself' kind of thing, right? 

I find a corner of the space and start to dance. The only dancing I've ever done is in the kitchen of my own home, with no training, no mirror, no steps . . . just moving because there is music. So I dance, the only way I know how. Just on my own, to have fun. Because dancing is about having fun.

Soon I am surrounded by other people, girls my own age, dancing just as I am. I feel my spirits lift. Someone is dancing with me! This is fun!

Then they stop. They point, and they laugh. They were never dancing with me . . . they were mimicking me in mockery.

I run away and hide. I have been hiding ever since.

So there I was, watching this Brazilian carnival unfurl on the stage, with my hips and my knees and my feet all itching to dance to that addictive, thrilling beat. But every instinct screamed at me to stay away. Isn't it strange how one night back when you were fourteen years old can stay with you so intensely? How a bunch of adolescent girls, who by now have probably grown up into kind, sensible adult women, can leave such permanent scars in a thoughtless moment of self-indulgent cruelty?

I don't go to dances anymore. Not even the traditional mid-session dance at Lac du Bois, which is the safest, most affirming place that I know. I don't go to singles dances, to university dances. I don't go clubbing. Because I'm afraid that I'll dance, and end up back where I was at age fourteen: as an object of communal derision. Folk dancing is fine. Line dancing is fine. Anything with set steps, with a right way and a wrong way where I have learned the right way, is wonderful. But just dancing, free-form, to move and celebrate and have fun . . . that is not for me. Dancing as a form of self-expression is only acceptable if the self you're expressing is acceptable. Gotta love those lessons you learn in high school.

I danced tonight. A little. I wish I hadn't. I wish I'd walked away and hid in a corner and cried. But if I had, I'd be just as miserable, wishing I could dance and not daring to. Nothing bad happened, but somehow that doesn't matter . . . those girls are still laughing at me for daring to think that I might be as worthy to dance as anybody else.

I wonder who they were, and where they are now. I don't doubt they've forgotten that there ever was such an event as Julie Durr's sixteenth birthday party. And yet here I am, twelve years later, still crippled with self-conscious terror whenever the music starts.

I wish adolescence weren't required to graduate into adulthood. I wish there were a way to test out of it. Or, barring that, I wish that it would just end. Why does it have to linger on, infecting the rest of my life? After all these years, why can I still not just dance? I want to so badly. I'm still so afraid.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

An Offbeat and a Gentleman

Now that's what I call gentlemanly behavior.

Pride and Prejudice
 


This picture just popped up on Facebook the other day, and it's caused me to ponder some things that have been bouncing around abstractly in my head for a while now.


These musings may betray my truly abiding ignorance of the male mind, or at least my abiding ignorance of modern courtship. But here's my thought process:

This woman decided to wear four-inch heels on this particular night. I assume she owns flats, but she weighed the pros and cons and decided that the heels were the way to go.

The heels proved difficult and/or painful to walk in. She knew this would happen, unless she's never worn heels before (in which case this is a pretty ambitious pair of starter shoes).

Seeing her discomfort, her date removed his sensible slip-on sneakers and graciously offered them to her.

Date walked home in his socks.

This is, indeed, a chivalrous move on the part of this man. (For those of you who are going to get after me for it, I'm using 'chivalrous' in the Victorian sense here, not the medieval sense. If he were chivalrous in the medieval sense, her shoes would be the least of her problems.) How very kind and self-sacrificing of him.

But what was she thinking?

This woman . . . a competent, modern adult woman . . . chose her shoes of her own free will. She knew the shoes came with consequences. Perhaps she thought, "It'll be okay. I'm tough. I can handle it." In which case, her date's insistence on proffering his own shoes implies: Those shoes were a stupid decision. You've gotten yourself into a situation you can't handle. You are not tough enough to cope with this, no matter what you think. And she has to walk home feeling like an idiot for 'making' him go shoe-less for her comfort.

Maybe what she was thinking was: "He's such a nice guy. I'm sure that, when my feet get tired, he'll lend me his shoes/call me a cab/carry me." This is just manipulative. She's going to make this guy walk all over town in his stocking feet, wrecking a pair of socks, because she wanted to wear cute heels? She expects this level of pampering from her date? In this situation, the question is: why is such a nice guy dating such a self-absorbed priss?

To be fair, maybe the walking wasn't part of the plan when she picked out her shoes. Perhaps one of those things happened . . . keys locked in a car or the Trax skipping their stop or some other act of God . . . that necessitated this unexpected cross-town hike. If this is what happened, then it is a cute picture. Yaay for chivalry!

So this guy could be thinking I saved the day! and actually did save the day, or could be thinking I saved the day! when the day was not in need of any saving, or could be thinking This is really uncomfortable, and probably dangerous . . . why didn't she wear something actually designed for walking in? I don't know which it is . . . I wasn't there, and I'm not a guy. Maybe a guy would never think such a thing. Beats me.

So what I might be getting at is that I'm uncomfortable with both ends of the 'chivalry' spectrum . . . men saving women who didn't particularly need or want saving, and women deliberately putting themselves in circumstances that will necessitate rescue.

Let's look at another example: luggage. I'm a pretty light packer. My honored parents taught me never to travel with more than I could carry for a block at a dead run. So when I was on my mission in Korea, I brought a superbackpack, a wheeled regular backpack, and my shoulder bag. A lot, but not too much for me to carry competently for a mile or more.

Elders were always trying to carry my bags, and it kind of annoyed me, particularly when I had to physically beat them off of my stuff. I assume their motivation was the desire to be gentlemanly, like the photo above, but somehow all I could think was "Hey, I know how much I can carry and I packed accordingly. I'm not dumb enough to overpack by accident, and I'm not manipulative enough to overpack on the assumption that I can make the elders carry all my crap." What made it worse was that I did know both kinds of sisters: ones who couldn't fathom reducing their luggage load, never considering that it would have to be carried, and ones who didn't bother to reduce the luggage load because 'that's what elders are for'."

Sometimes elders would ask, "Do you need a hand with any of that?" and I could say "No, thanks, I've got it," and everything was fine. They were polite and considerate, I was a competent adult, everybody was happy.

And on one memorable occasion, I did need help. A combination of transfers and moves meant that I and several other sisters had to hike a mile with more baggage than could reasonably be carried by four human beings. (For the record: I was carrying my own crap and then some, so this situation was not my fault. Point of pride.) And when the elders called to ask, "Hey, it's getting late, the bus will be leaving soon . . . do you sisters need some help?" I could tell them, "Yes, actually, we do need some help. Please come rescue us." And they did. They got to ride in and save the day, because that day genuinely needed saving. Nobody had to be condescending, and nobody had to be manipulative. And we all made it to the bus on time.

I know there are some things, like opening car doors and offering jackets, that are sort of expected of men in my culture. But I've never been comfortable with them. I can open my own doors, and if I wanted a jacket, I should have brought one. These gestures, however well-meant, convey to me either the implication that I'm not competent to handle my own life, or that I'm so high-maintenance that I expect others to do for me what I can do for myself. Neither assumption is particularly flattering. Does this make me a rabid crazy feminist? I don't know. Maybe.

But what about when I'm stranded by the side of the freeway in the middle of a cold snowy night because my parents' car has died? The man who crawls out of his nice warm bed to come get me and take me home is a gentleman indeed. (Thanks again, Brother Stokes.) What about when I have to move four big heavy wooden benches from Beaux Arts down to the plage? The man who asks "Need a hand?" and grabs the other end of the bench . . . not the whole thing, but the other end . . . is a man I'm pleased and proud to know. (All my Y-chromosome-bearing Lac du Bois colleagues . . . you know who you are.)

I'm sure I don't speak for Womankind at large with any of these musings . . . I just felt like I needed to articulate something that's been nagging at me, personally, for a long time. Maybe I'm misjudging my fellow women. Maybe I'm misjudging men. Maybe I'm way out of line, and am being way too touchy about common courtesy. But that's what went spiraling through my brain when that picture popped up on my Facebook feed.

Thanks for listening.





Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Waking Dreams and Sleep Depravation

So, to continue my adventures of what happened after I got trapped in the temple . . .

As folks may or may not know, a few weeks ago I was accepted into Brigham Young University's graduate program in English. Yes, I know English is a field for impractical starry-eyed artsy drain-on-society types and that I will never get a job and should have studied something real, like accounting. Because accounting is so much fun. The simple and brutal fact of the matter is that I liked studying English as an undergrad and want to do more, and that I'm very comfortable with my increased risk of starving to death in the gutter. When I do so, you'd better believe it will be poetic.

So here's me, jumping up and down with utterly unfeigned excitement because I get to write huge papers under looming deadlines and live like a hobo, just like back in the good old days, only more so. And this is when I receive a letter.

Dear You,


English grad students teach freshman writing around here.


You are an English grad student.


Apply.


Writing Department

The word 'teach' is a loaded one for me. On the one hand, there has been for years in the very back of my mind the faint and tentative thought: Wow, English professors have awesome jobs. A life saturated with books. So cool. That's as far as that train of thought ever went, because I am a realist and know that the privilege of teaching post-secondary education is reserved for Really Smart People. Really Smart People like my dear friend Avram, who will be teaching at BYU starting this summer. Avram radiates smartness. When people walk past him, they miss a step because proximity to his smartness makes them too dumb to control their own feet for a second.

I, also, am pretty smart, but my smartness is more in the realm of 'I know more about Victorian literature than a healthy person probably should, and can correctly determine whether I should 'pull' or 'push' a door roughly 85% of the time.' This is not the caliber of Smartness expected of English professors.

But . . . they sent me an application. In the mail. With a STAMP.

I left the application sitting on my desk for about a week, playing the game of "Should I? Couldn't hurt . . . nah, not worth it . . . unless . . . of course not . . . but they sent . . . might as . . . hate resumes . . . already typed resume . . . ish . . ." And then, with the instant regret of tearing through a yellow light I really should have stopped for I picked up the phone and scheduled an interview.

This brings us back to the night I got trapped in the temple. My interview was the next day. Inasmuch as I am a cheapskate, I tend to bus down to BYU when my presence is required there. This is my master plan as a grad student: work in Salt Lake, study in Provo, sleep on buses, in hallways, and anywhere else I can reasonably expect to not be stepped on. I will probably not see my actual bed for periods of days at a stretch. Should be fun.*

So after my fiasco with the temple, I worked my full shift, walked out the door, and got on the train.

Managed the trip in about 2.5 hours, which is faster than last time. I arrived a little groggy. However, I still had about an hour and a half until my interview, and the English department is located on the fourth floor of the JFSB**, which is quiet and sunny and relatively unoccupied. So I found a cosy chair and a cosy footrest, put my coat over me for a blanket, set my phone alarm, and went to sleep.

This is probably not considered the classiest way to prep for a job interview.

(Also, when I start doing this regularly I'm going to rent a locker in the field house and keep an air mattress and sleeping bag in there. Also possibly a sign saying "BYU Grad Student: please do not call police.")

When my alarm went off, I woke up, packed up camp, adjourned to the restroom to throw my tangled hair into an instant professional-looking updo (a skill worth its weight in gold, let me tell you what) and apply chapstick in lieu of cosmetics. (Makeup wasn't going to survive this ordeal. I'd been up and going for fourteen hours already, no end in sight.) Then I slung my purse on my shoulder and walked into the Writing Department's office like I'd just driven down from my modest home in Alpine in my oh-it's-just-a-starter-car BMW.

No matter how this story turns out, I'm always going to be proud of that entrance.

Because there was still a part of me screaming "Don't you dare get this job! Do you have any idea how much work this would be? How are you going to handle two jobs and a class load? Are you insane?," my heart was not in my throat. Flubbing this interview would be a relief. So I waltzed in, cool as a cucumber, and proceeded to have what I think was the best job interview of my life to date.

Except where the bit that I told my interviewer that his mission had been destroyed.

"So you served in Korea?" asked the interviewer. "Which mission?"

"Korea Pusan," said I, proudly.

"Oh, really? That's great! I was in Seoul West."

"Oh, were you? How wonderful! I'm so sorry about your mission."

"What?"

"Oh . . . um . . . the Seoul West mission . . . was discontinued. While I was out there. It was absorbed by Seoul and Daejeon. You didn't know?"

"Hadn't heard a thing."

Oh, OOPS. Sorry. And by the way, just in case no one's mentioned it, your cat was run over by a semi yesterday.

Other than THAT, it was a good interview.

And when it was over I waltzed out, got on the bus, came back to Salt Lake, changed clothes and went to Cub Scouts. Sleep is my 'It's Complicated' on Facebook.

So now we wait. If I don't get this job, then oh, thank goodness. I really bit off more than I could chew. What a relief.

And if I do get this job, then . . .

Hi. My name's RoseE. I teach at BYU.



*I was not allowed to pull this kind of stunt as an undergrad, when I was required to have an Official Housing Contract in Official Provo. But now I am a graduate student and will do exactly as I please, so ha.

**Pronounced 'Jifsbuh.' Or it should be.

Saturday, March 31, 2012

Trapped in the Temple

The Salt Lake Temple.


It is the largest, the famous-est, and the twistiest LDS temple in the world.

I say twisty not because it's twisty from the outside (unlike some temples I could also include a picture of)

Community of Christ temple in Independence, Missouri. Talk about your twisty temples.

but because the inside is what you might call labyrinthine. Most of the interior of the temple is underground, where I, for one, have to navigate by landmarks because my internal compass gives up in bewilderment. Besides the temple itself, there are tunnels to and from the adjacent buildings. I am a big fan of this tunnel system because A. it's cool, B. it cuts down on human/pedestrian traffic conflicts at ground level, C. it reminds me of the never-set-foot-outdoors skyway system in downtown Minneapolis, where the expense of a second-story enclosed walkway is seen as less objectionable than having to go outside in the winter, and D. it's cool.

So Wednesday night, I'd been called upon to help clean the Salt Lake Temple. This is a pretty cool opportunity; you get to explore areas you've never been to before, and vacuum endless yards of already-immaculate carpet while admiring the beautiful furniture and paintings that you've either never seen or had to walk past in a hurry. Just the sort of work I like.

I parked in the lot under the Conference Center, 'cause I could, and explained to the supervisor on duty that I was going to have to duck out about forty-five minutes early to make it to my shift at work. So far, no problem.

When I had finished my vacuuming stint, the supervisor took me to the door of the tunnel that extends under North Temple to the Conference Center parking lot. As an experiment, I beeped by work ID badge against the sensor that controls the lock of the door. It popped right open.

"Ah," said the supervisor, "You've got access. That's all right, then. Thanks for coming!"

I bid him farewell and headed into the tunnel.

At the other end of the tunnel was a large, industrial-looking door. I beeped my badge over the reader.

Beebeebeep. Access denied.

Oh, thought I, that must be the wrong door. Probably a maintenance room or something.

I turned to a convenient side door, this one human-sized, and beeped my badge over the reader.

Beebeebeep. Access denied.

Hmmmm.

I tried another door up the tunnel, although this one was clearly labeled 'Mormon Tabernacle Choir Members Only.' Guess what? Beebeebeep.

I tried a side hallway that led to a dead end with a lot of pipes. No luck there.

I went back to the second door and gave it a shove, just in case it were actually unlocked and the beebeebeep had been deceptive.

HOOOOOOOOONK. Alarm.

Oh, dear.

I waited for a few minutes for some Church security guys with suits, sunglasses, and earpieces to come running and tackle me. No such luck.

And the HOOOOOOOONK was grating on my nerves, so at last I went back the way I had come, to the door that led back to the temple.

Beebeebeep. Access denied.

So I sat down on the floor and settled in to wait for somebody to find me. Possibly in half an hour, when the other cleaning volunteers went home. Possibly in the morning. Possibly never.

I knew I wouldn't have cell phone reception down there, but in the interests of being thorough, I pulled out my phone and turned it on.

Oh, I did have reception. Huh. Okay, then.

I called the Global Service Center. Having typed the number onto about fifty billion e-mails, I remember it pretty well.

One of the Asia/Pacific team agents picked up.

"Hi," said I. "I'm trapped under the temple. Tell Claudio I'm probably going to be late for work."

"Oh!" said the agent. "Oh, dear. Um . . . is there somebody I should call to let you out?"

"You can try calling the temple, but I don't know that they'll pick up at eleven-thirty at night," said I.

"How about security?"

"I think they already know I'm down here, but that's worth a try."

I was put on hold. I held.

When the line opened up again, the bewildered voice of a security guy said, "Hello?"

"Hello!" said I. "I'm kind of trapped under the temple here. The tunnel to the Conference Center."

"Oh!"

"I may have set off one of your alarms." (Note: 'May have' was probably unnecessary in this context, as I'm sure he could hear the HOOOOOOOOOONK in the background as I talked.)

"Yeah, I saw that, but couldn't see you on any of the cameras."

(Note: there's a security camera blind spot about ten feet from the temple-end of that tunnel. Good to know.)

"Go ahead and walk down towards the parking lot, and I'll open the door for you."

I stood. I walked. The big industrial doors that I'd first tried opened like magic.

"Ah!" said I. "Thank you very much!" I gratefully fled my underground prison and its still-blaring alarm.

And I was only fifteen minutes late for work.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Losing My Temper

You wouldn't like me when I'm angry.

The Incredible Hulk


I'm discovering that I'm really bad at losing my temper.

I'm good at planning to lose my temper.  I can think up some genius lines while I seethe under the frustration of dealing with some other inconsiderate person's behavior. I'll happily zing these lines to other non-infuriating people (preferably those not acquainted with the infuriator) after the fact so that they can appreciate my wit and skill. But as for just opening my mouth and letting some jerkwad have it right then and there . . . can't do it. Lose my nerve every time.

I went to pick up some groceries today. It's Saturday, and so the place was pretty crowded. I only needed flour and sugar and a lightbulb (and ended up with some chocolate and a cherry soda as well, because eh, that's life), so I took up a position in the "Fifteen Items or Less"* lane and, since I'd left my Kindle in the car, proceeded to entertain myself by reading the labels on things.

There was an older gentleman behind me in line. I say gentlemen because I am a polite person, not because he is.

After we all had been waiting for a couple of minutes, he announced to his companion, "People in this line can't count."

In his defense, there were some folks in line ahead of us who had carts pushing the upper limit of fifteen items. This was very thoughtless and/or inconsiderate of them.

"Can't they count?" he demanded, after his companion (and the universe in general) failed to care about what he'd just said. "There're like three people in this line who can't count!"

I discovered a tasty-looking recipe for twice baked potatoes on the side of the container of spreadable flavored cheese I was going to buy.

"They should be kicking these people out of line," said the irate voice behind me.

I was, at this point, tempted to turn around and explain the problem with this. Yes, the cashier would be well within her rights to ask an exceeding-fifteen-items customer to go to another line. But then that customer would get upset with her, instead of waiting-in-line guy. It's Saturday. The store's busy. Someone's going to snap at this girl no matter what she does. If she just checks out and rings up Mrs. Seventeen Items, then the line keeps moving, which it won't if she provokes a fight by ordering the customer elsewhere. It's a Greater-Good-of-Society thing.

"Why don't they read the sign? It says fifteen items! This is ridiculous!"

The customer currently checking out seemed to be having some problem in processing payment. A manager had been called over to resolve the issue, whatever it was. What an unfortunate thing to have happen when the store is so busy!

"The nerve of some people!"

That did it. I picked up my basket of groceries and whipped around, feeling that flush of rage and heat and trembling that comes with an outburst of genuine anger, ready to tell this fellow member of the human race where he could stick all fifteen or fewer of his items.

What actually came out of my mouth was "Sir, I yield you my place."

All my other prepared lines, about how I'd much rather wait for half an hour to buy my groceries than listen to him for one more minute, fizzled and died. I moved over to the end of the neighboring line and pretended that someone had sent me a text message, just so I didn't have to make eye contact.

I was out the door with my grocery bags in under five minutes, while he was still stuck in the stalled less-than-or-equal-to-15 rut. Karma's a bi. . .t of a smartalec, huh?

So I did get to be smug, but I once again lost a magnificent opportunity to lose my temper. Oh, well. There's always next Saturday.



*It's fifteen items or FEWER. This is NOT a hard rule to figure out. If you can count the things, they're fewer, and if you can't, it's less. Less flour, fewer flowers. Less patience, fewer patients. Not difficult.**

**One of the reasons that attending the temple brings peace and tranquility to my soul is that the door to the women's bathroom is clearly labeled "Sisters' Restroom." The beauty of that perfectly placed apostrophe brings a tear of joy to my eye.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Of Corset Is A Good Idea

"Did you need the laces of your corset loosened?"

Queen Anne, The Three Musketeers


 So once upon a time I was in college, and I had nothing to do of an afternoon. And a thought occurred to me: I've never seen Gone with the Wind. I should watch that.

This turned out to be a bad idea. As anyone who has Asperger's Syndrome knows, sometimes something just sets you off and you can't think about ANYTHING ELSE for the next three months to a year. In this particular case, the compulsion was brief, but violent; I came out of my Gone-With-the-Wind-induced haze in about twelve weeks, the proud new owner of a circa-1854-ish summer gown, from shimmy to shoes. I was a lot poorer, and my poor sewing machine was a lot closer to the grave. But man, I'm proud of that dress. And the escapade began a continuing fascination with the history and practice of corsetry.

So today I thought I'd show off my collection. WARNING: the blog below contains pictures of corsets. They are fairly un-provocative, as I am modeling them all worn over t-shirts, but if you're easily horrified, you might want to go read something else.
















Still with me? Okay.  Here's the one that started it all:


I'm not smiling in this picture because it's cold in here and I feel very silly smiling at my computer in a room all by myself. 

So this is my very first corset, the one I made all by myself. It's made of plain white canvas broadcloth, plastic zip ties, some grommets, four shoelaces and some bias tape that I still have not paid back to my friend Travis (sorry, Travis!) The only specialty part I needed was the corset busk (translation: the part that hooks together in the front). It was a heck of a lot of work, and I'm hecka proud of it. Also proud that it's machine washable. 

   

 This corset is short, coming up over the bust but sitting above the hips, because in the 1850s hips didn't matter because you'd be wearing three petticoats over them anyway. The idea here is to maximize hip-to-waist ratio, so my waist is pretty tucked (and can be more so, but I didn't feel like lacing it up that tightly) and my chest is smoothed out but not squeezed or anything.

In owning this corset for the last few years, I've learned a thing or two about society at large. When we talk about Victorian fashion, you always get someone tut-tutting about "Oh, those Victorians, wearing corsets every day that warped their ribs and squished their internal organs! What a repressive, objectifying, horrible thing to do! Thank goodness in our enlightened day and age we don't do that kind of thing . . . yaay for feminism!" There's the insinuation that the Victorians were all sexually-repressed perverts for finding such an unhealthy look desirable.

Well. Once I finished sewing this corset, just as an experiment, I wore it under my church clothes on Sunday.

People who had NEVER SPOKEN TO ME BEFORE came up to me to say hi, tell me I looked wonderful, and ask me if I'd lost weight. 

Enlightened age, my foot. At least the Victorians had the straightforward sense to know that the silhouette desired by fashion was only going to be achieved with a lot of lacing. These days, the prevailing wisdom is that supermodel bodies are achieved by minimal eating and maximum exercise, and that if you do not reach this ideal, you're not healthy, and are more over a lazy, gluttonous, selfish drain on society. Lies! All of it lies! Supermodel bodies are achieved with Photoshop, and healthy and skinny are NOT the same thing. Given the choice between wearing a corset, which I can take on and off as I please, and messing up my whole system with some new fad diet for months at a time, I'll take the corset any day.

Okay, I'm off my soapbox now.

Anyway, when I got back from my mission and got my first real job, I treated myself to Corset #2:

 

Corset #2 is not of my own making, but rather a purchase from OrchardCorset.com, which is a fine retailer if ever I saw one. It's not a historical corset, but it does evoke sort of a later-Victorian look. It's longer, extending down over part of my hips (the bustle was in by then, so narrower was better, from a front view) and well up over my bust. I love this corset, but it's not "under" wear by any stretch of the imagination; it's going to show through whatever I've got on, so I usually wear it over a fitted t-shirt and under a sweater or shrug. It was just too pretty to resist. Because this one's so much longer, it's harder to maneuver in (bending over is not allowed. Period) and squeezes my ribs more than I'd been used to in my Civil-War-style one. (This is the era of the warped ribcages.) However, it is boned in steel rather than plastic, which basically means this sucker will stop bullets. 


A month or so ago, while poking through a vintage clothing store with some friends, I came across Corset #3:
 

This thing is an honest-to-goodness antique historical corset of awesome. Obviously, this style is not so much with the waist-squeezing. My guess is that it's from somewhere between the late 20s and early 40s, by which time the drastic curves were out and straight, flat, and smooth was the thing to be. The rig-up is so different to anything I'd ever encountered that it took me a while to work out that it WAS a corset, and yet another while to figure out how to get the thing on.
 

Check that out. Six laces on either side, woven W-style through two rows of grommets, then drawn back into three buckles that pull towards the spine. CRAZY. You can see a triangular elastic panel towards the small of my back there, so whenever this was made, it was at least after the invention of elastic. The front is WAY longer than the back, which is odd but kind of more comfortable than the tall-all-the-way-around green brocade. Also, only the front is boned: