He Came Back on the Skybridge After Going Home

When I first saw this news report last night, the tears came suddenly. I watched footage of a grief counselor (or teacher, or maybe another parent) say that he was going to go home and hug his kids, and he assured the students that they are loved, that if they’re feeling depressed, there are people they can talk to. The grief counselor (or teacher or another parent) looked overwhelmed. His voice strained to control his own tears, sadness weighed in his face and on his shoulders and he seemed to hold his breath throughout the interview to keep his composure until the camera cut away.

The junior high in Taylorsville is about 40 minutes away. News reports say that the teenager went home with his mom after school and then he came back toward the school on the skybridge that crosses a main road. He pulled out a gun on that skybridge and shot himself. Other students watched it happen.

This morning I watched the footage of the candlelight vigil that other students and his friends held. Many of them said that their friend was bullied. Many of them were trying to understand why bullying happens, why their friend was gone, why their friend was sad. It’s hard to understand because it’s complicated and often can’t be explained.

The news report states that a friend talked with him yesterday, joked around with him, and he seemed happy. Students will ask grief counselors why this happened. They will wonder why he felt so lonely and depressed. Friends will cry and say they miss him. Some may be angry and hate themselves, and even curse God. The witnesses will have those few slow, helpless seconds replay in their memories over and over again. They’re probably going to wonder if there would have been a way to stop him.

His family will also cry and wonder. They may pray for comfort, for answers, for solace to their pain.

Pray for the family, for Bennion Junior High, for the Taylorsville community.

It’s hard to understand a sorrow so deep and engulfing, a grey so overcast that it swallows the horizon.

I can only cry.

A Little Christmas Prep

For the upcoming Hobbit movie, Reilly decided to read the book, but he didn’t stop there, no. He’s gone on to read the Lord of the Rings trilogy:

Sometimes when we’re sitting on the couch together, I’ll take a break from the book I’m reading and look over Reilly’s shoulder at his book. I’ll point to random words on a page and ask him what the words are, and he’ll tell me. Then I’ll act really impressed that he can read random words! However, when Reilly tries to peek over at my book to see what I’m reading, I’ll lean away from him and bring the book closer to my face, because I only pretend to read, mostly because I don’t know how, and having a literate/-ary family is mere pretense to me; I only want to look cool and not be cool.

Reilly printed out a map of Middle Earth and the surrounding lands so that he doesn’t have to turn to the back of the book every time the books mention a different location. I was going to take a picture of this printout, but I can’t find it, which either means that Reilly is embarrassed by his slight nerdiness and hid or threw away the map, or that he has memorized the map, which could be even more embarrassing. (I secretly think it’s awesome.)

Right now I am “reading” Barbara Kingsolver’s latest novel, Flight Behavior. It’s about climate change and perfect for the Christmas season!

The Christmas tree is up and decorated and even guarding a few presents beside it. We also have stockings, but we don’t have a fireplace or mantel. We do have a bar, which is a sufficient substitute because I don’t feel like putting more holes in the wall or using ugly tape on the wall:

I’m not super crafty, but I do like making snowflakes. Also, Reilly has the tall stocking, and I chose something a little more traditional. Also, we don’t have fishing line, and I couldn’t find our thread, so I used dental floss to hang the flakes. (That pretty much cancels out the idea of not using ugly things for decorating. Oh well.)

It’s STILL not December, but look how excited I am for our first Christmas as a married couple!

Assessment

Earlier this week I finished Anne Lamott’s book on writing, Bird by Bird. The author offers useful advice about the writing process, and I especially like what she has to say about paying attention and workshopping. The book has brought me to ask myself not only how I should write, but what I should be writing.

Lamott says that “there is ecstasy in paying attention…. Anyone who wants to can be surprised by the beauty of pain of the natural world, of the human mind and heart, and can try to capture just that – the details, the nuance, what is.” Annie Dillard’s writing demonstrates this kind of surprise and delight. I have been reading and rereading Dillard’s nonfiction since I was 16, and if someone decided to destroy all the poems in the world, I would still find solace and joy in Annie Dillard. I appreciate the intuition that goes beyond reason, all meanings manifest in a single word. What Hopkins did with inscape in his poetry, Dillard does in her prose. I don’t know if I could ever write like Dillard, but she always reminds me how much I like writing, because I really like paying attention.

Lamott also describes the value of getting people to read your stuff and providing honest, constructive feedback. I always get nervous whenever I have asked friends and reliable readers to critique my writing, but it’s ultimately beneficial to get another perspective. (I’m actually waiting on some feedback right now.) And people’s comments often emphasize that being a good writer also means being a good reader, and I need to revise my work with that in mind.

I’ve had the opportunity to give feedback on several projects friends have been working on. I can’t help feeling that these readings are little nudges to get back on the horse. A friend asked me to look over her blog post, six solid and enjoyable pages of funny anecdotes and observations of a roadtrip. For the past three years, I’ve been looking over a friend’s phases of a book he’s working on, at least 80,000 words. And I recently read the 30-page outline for another friend’s really fun-sounding book. I can’t get over how brilliant these friends are. They do so many incredible things with words, and I always feel self-conscious in my comments on their work. I always feel humbled that they would ask me to read their writing.

Whenever Reilly and I walk by the YA section of a bookstore, Reilly tells me that we could easily write a book better than most of those on the shelves. So what about my own writing? Writers use SO MANY different sources. Do I write about my limited, but really cool travels? Do I try to fictionalize intense personal experiences? Do I draw from mythology or a specific point in a culture’s history? Do I try to show up 98% of the YA writers in the world? I haven’t been participating in NaNoWriMo, but should I do it at least once? The short and not very definitive answer to these questions is: Yes. At least it has been affirmed that:

I have a pretty good sense of how to arrange words into sentences sometimes
I can write a blog/online journal post
I can write an outline for a novel/memoir

It’s time to saddle up.

Just Treatment

Scenario 1: At a church women’s function there’s an activity where we have to find the oldest and youngest ladies at each table, and then from those ladies, we have to figure out the oldest and youngest in the room. When we identified the oldest lady, she stood up and announced, “Yes, I’m [somewhere in my 70s]. And I have 25 grandchildren to prove it.”

Scenario 2: In hundreds of conversations I’ve had with different people, this happens:
Me: So, do you have siblings?
Other person: Yeah, I have [at least four] brothers and sisters. What about you?
Me: Yeah, I have a younger brother.
Other person: So it’s just the two of you?

HOLY COW, PEOPLE, THIS IS NOT A COMPETITION. Yes, families are uber-central to our (Mormon) society and culture, and I know that children become our world once we have them, like how my parents focused on mine and Frank’s happiness as they raised us; how even my brother and I looked out for each other when we were kids, and we are probably more protective now.

It’s not “just” the two of us. There are two of us, and we’re awesome.

Reilly and I have been talking about when we’d like to have kids. Are we going to have “just” three, or “just” two, or “just” one? What if we end up only having one? “Just” one sounds like a disgrace, a failure, an implied incompetence. If we have one child, he or she will be awesome. If we have more, they’ll be awesome, too.

What if I can’t biologically have children? Are we going to “just” adopt, as if it’s a lesser alternative? As if parents use an inferior stash of love for children they couldn’t physically give birth to? Do these parents tell their kids that they’re “just” adopted? Will other kids tell my kid(s) “So, there’s ‘just’ one of you” or “So you’re ‘just’ adopted?”

BLEEP NO. You don’t win all the contests, because THERE ARE NO CONTESTS.

Sometimes people don’t even realize what they’re saying. And maybe I could be less annoyed. But should I be less sensitive when it comes to my family and my potential family? Are you really going to sit back and take it when I say that you have “just” a boy or “just” a girl or “just” twins or they got “just” Bs on their report cards? First, you know I wouldn’t think those thoughts, let alone say them. Secondly, you would defend your children if someone made these statements, because you love your children, and they’re awesome. That’s all it takes.

Think about what you’re saying. Think about the implied devaluing and belittling in that one little word. Be mindful of the context in which you use it. Make an effort to stop using it in the situations I’ve mentioned here.

Just stop.

Our First Thanksgiving as a Married Couple

This time last year looks a lot like the pictures below. I didn’t take pictures last year, so you know I’m not just reusing photos. Just like last year, Reilly’s mom and sister cooked a ton of amazing food.

This year, Reilly’s sister-in-law brought a homemade pumpkin cake. Reilly and I brought cheeseballs and crackers. We also helped “make” celery sticks stuffed with Redi Cheez.

Also this time last year Reilly and I tried to keep quiet while we made out in a spare room of his parents’ house. This year, . . . it’s harder than I thought finding differences between this year and last year.

Kidding.

The main and biggest difference is that we’re married. I wasn’t wearing a ring this time last year, but we began talking about one. This year, we have an apartment to snuggle in without being sneaky about it.

I was also less nervous this year. And I wasn’t scared that Reilly would break up with me if I didn’t go Black Friday shopping with him.

That last sentence is also a joke.

But the similarities between then and now hold their own: the warm cozy house, excellent food, the friendly, funny and generous family, the super cute man that I fell in love with. It doesn’t even have to be November for me to be ever grateful for the constancy.

Here’s the now-familiar drive down:

Here’s West Mountain, which all the time reminds me of one of the first images from the Little Prince:

Here’s Utah, a place I like most of the time:

Here’s Reilly’s hometown:

Here’s Reilly’s childhood home:

Here’s food and family. Hover over the photos for commentary:

Thanksgiving Ponderance

So I’m reading the Book of Mormon
and it’s the Rameumpton scene.
And I’m just so thankful that I’m not like that
looking down from that tower up
so high, thanking God
that I’m better than
everyone else.
That I’m more righteous,
that I have more.
People at the top of that tower
are so stupid and pious.
Pie? Yes, please.

I know friends who struggle with mental illness / gay friends who’ve found success after getting kicked out of BYU / friends who’ve had their hearts broken trying to have or adopt children / those who’ve had their hearts broken trying to find love / friends with children who have limb differences and other special needs / friends who mourn and grieve all manner of loss / soldiers who have died in military service / those who know sign language / friends who’ve had sexual trauma / friends who don’t have “traditional” parents / homeless people / creative people / angry|bitter friends / friends and family whose feelings I’ve hurt / dying friends / lost friends / people who are easily offended / loved ones who don’t care about the church / introverts / friends who have helped with tsunami relief in Japan / and who have survived 9|11 / and hurricane Katrina / and hurricane Sandy.

My great and spacious building
faces the tower,
and we go around the table
with our abundant plentiful
copious many blessings
or list something every day
this month
that we are just so thankful for.
Guilt arrives,
awkward, familiar guest.
Help yourself to some stuffing,
turkey.

I remember the sick feeling I got the day after this past election / what it’s like to be “chee-choh-ching”ed at / what my own prejudices are / talking with African college students on a dilapidated campus about their dreams to teach their children and give their country hope / being at a drag show / my own sexual abuse as a child / being with my mom the first time she returned to the temple / the outhouse that my Filipino grandpa built that reminds me of the one the the beginning of Slumdog Millionaire / the trailer that I lived in as a kid / my barefoot cousins in a bamboo village / seeing friends who’ve been separated by distance and time and contention become reunited / a constant feeling of helplessness for this world / watching Muslims in Africa as they kneel in prayer / playing with malnourished, licy children who don’t care that my French is horrible / yelling at a homeless man / ordering another round / sweat.

This feast won’t settle. I wipe
the cranberry sauce and spleen
from my face. I excuse myself
and walk out of the room
and down the stairs.
I trip across the threshold
onto packed snow,
into fog.

The well-cloyed see me and scoff
because I keep slipping
away from the tower and the building.
I slide into a canyon of people
who slid there too,
better than anyone else
without knowing it.
You help me up.
It’s warm here.

The Review, As Promised

I finally got around to writing the review about last week’s concert with the Utah Symphony and Hilary Hahn.

The post is live over at The Glass. While you’re there, take a nice, long look at Chris McGovern’s site. He has gotten to interview some serious names in the classical/ contemporary classical/just plain awesome music circuit.

Enjoy!