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!

I Saw Hilary Hahn Tonight

A review of the concert with the Utah Symphony at the de Jong Concert Hall is coming soon. I’ll be a guest reviewer over at my friend’s music and interview blog, The Glass.

In the meantime, a few pictures:

Here is Hilary Hahn’s autograph:

Here I am talking to Hilary Hahn. She appears to be listening intently:

Here is Hilary Hahn laughing at something I said. Believe it or not, I made her laugh on purpose. This is what happens when you put two charming people near each other:

YOU GUYS.

She was so wonderful and cool, and of course charming, and I was SO starstruck.

More to come.

Darc Kontinent: Fan Letter and Highlights

Dear Darc Kontinent,

I love your band. I wish I could follow you on tour wherever you go. I wish that you could give a concert every week at my house and the neighbors would come to see what the commotion is and then I would charge them $20 or $55 to see you because they’d hear how awesome you are and would want to get as close to your band as possible. Who wouldn’t?

Can I please be a roadie? I’ve always wanted to be a roadie of a band that knows more than three chords. I could help carry guitars, but not amps. Amps are too heavy and then maybe you’d be arrested for child labor. Except that I’m not a child. I’m a grown adult that loves your music so much. Even though you’re a cover band, so it’s not technically your music, I enjoy your music beyond description. I could try to describe how I love your music, but then, what if I succeed?

Your concert Saturday night was off. the. hook. 24 songs! How impressive. I could tell everybody like the songs you played, and of course everyone so talented. The bass player was bobbing his head to the beat, and it was awesome. And the drummer was pretty cool. I sat next to his wife, and she said the he would look at her and shake his head whenever he messed up on his part, but nobody could tell. The lead singer was funny. He’s got real stage presence. His cutoff jeans and Converse shoes were exactly what a lot of people wore during the ’90s. But I didn’t wear anything like that. And then the rest of the band wore flannel shirts, because apparently the ’90s was a second Ice Age, even after the Cold War was over. The ’90s were weird. But they were some of the best years of my life. Thanks for taking me back to that time.

Can I say that the pizza was great, too? Roy’s makes excellent pizza, and if people happen to find themselves in Ephraim, Utah, I hope they make the effort to fully enjoy the fine establishment of Roy’s Pizza. They have salad, pasta, and ice cream, too! Pretty much all of my favorite foods, except cookies. Maybe they could put cookies on the menu.

Your ’90s show was so amazing. But I think I’m going to get everybody on the band a pair of JNCOs so that next time you do a ’90s show you’ll be more prepared. You’ll look the part even more. If I were your roadie, that’s what I would totally do.

The one guitarist to the right of the stage has a nice falsetto, and I like how he tied his flannel shirt around his waist for variety. Variety is the spice of life. That and cayenne pepper.

Darc Kontinent, I’ve been wondering if you could tell me more about the one guitarist. You know, the one who doesn’t move while he plays. The one who follows all the way through a strum to fix his sleeve. He also plays the mandolin. He’s so cute. His solos are impeccable, and I want a closer look at his unkempt yet sexy platinum blond hair. (He has black hair and a zebra bandana in the poster. Which is also very sexy.) He’s SO mysterious! While I love your band, I’m in love with your guitarist. I remember that after your concert last year around Halloween, this guitarist and I went to his place, and we made out for 3 or 4 hours. He totally swept me off my feet. He’s a real rock star.

Thanks again for another awesome show. I look forward to more of your shows and being your roadie!

Sincerely,

An adoring fan

— P.S. Here are some parts of the show I recorded.

On Commuting

Dear Fellow Rider of the UTA Express Bus,

When the bus back to Orem is full and I end up standing in the aisle because it’s been one of those days and no one else wants to offer me a seat and stand for 40 minutes, and when your arm is hanging over the armrest into the aisle because the seats are too small and no one in Utah has the same concept of personal space/comfort zone as people do in New York City, and when the aisle is also too narrow because the bus itself has to be narrow enough to fit in a street lane, and when I have to stand for 40 minutes and shift my weight from one leg to the other, my butt will inevitably brush against your arm.

Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Yours truly,

May

I love public transportation. I appreciate paying less for gas/insurance/parking and getting to sleep and/or read on my way to work/home. Of course this way of commuting has its setbacks, but overall it’s great.

Here are a few comparison points of public transportation in New York City and Utah. These points are based on my experience. You may have a different background and observations.

Crowds
NYC: Reilly got to experience this when we visited in August. We went to a Yankees game and felt how tightly packed the subway can get. It’s the same during rush hour, except that people usually look really tired and cranky. Imagine when Yankees fans get to ride with the rush hour crowd.

Utah: I haven’t really experienced huge crowds on the bus or TRAX (the SLC public train thingy), since Salt Lake City and Provo/Orem are car towns and not pedestrian towns.  Also, I’ve ridden the bus on Jazz/Ute days, and because the bus I ride mostly serves people who work in SLC, I don’t have to deal with obnoxious fans.

Strikes
NYC: In December 2005, MTA decided to go on strike (even though many of us thought they were overpaid), and the subways didn’t run for a week. Because of good neighbors and home teachers with cars (friends from church who personally visit once a month), we developed a system of pick-up and drop-off spots at specific times, and I could get to and from work and home that week. When I first moved there in 2003, the monthly pass was $63. When I left in 2009, I paid $81. Now commuters pay $103.

Utah: I have so far only heard of all the money UTA gets, and that drivers/other UTA workers are overpaid, and people are angry because a lot of taxes or something goes to cushion the salaries of UTA workers? As a student, I started paying $50-75 for a semester, then $160 per semester (some contract with BYU had expired, and BYU encouraged driving to also pay to be frustrated with crowded and faraway lots). As a current rider of an express bus, the monthly fare is $189, which provides TRAX and local bus access.

Weather
NYC: Hurricane Sandy takes the cake. I’ve only experienced relatively minor tunnel flooding or little track fires that only delayed the train, or, at the very worst, these incidents caused me to walk to another station to take a different train. Once on an especially hot day I almost got into a fight with a guy because our hands kept touching while holding on to the same pole. We were both irritable.

Utah: I have yet to sit through a major snowstorm on the bus. The rain hasn’t been bad. Since I’m not the one driving, I get to nap or read.

Traffic
NYC: One great thing about the subway is not having to deal with street traffic. However, sometimes the bus was quicker than the subway. For example, church was only two stops away, but on Sunday, I would end up waiting for a subway longer that it would take to catch the bus. Also, when I lived closer to church, even walking was a much faster (and the only) option.

Utah: The bus is part of traffic, but there’s a lane just for buses, so often we clip along faster than the cars in adjoining lanes. Yet traffic sometimes comes to a complete stop, mostly because of accidents and rubberneckers and different bottleneck exits along the freeway. And Fridays, sometimes. Last Friday, it took an hour and 20 minutes to get home. It usually takes around 45 minutes.

Drunk/High People
NYC: These folks were sometimes scary. Sometimes entertaining. Mostly annoying. Once on a crowded subway (see above) I had to stand really close to a drunk guy. He breathed in my face, and I smelled his breath, and I probably would have failed a breathalyzer test from that.

Utah: Around the university, people act drunk or high a lot. But they’re just unbelievably happy BYU students. On the express bus to work, people are sober, mellow, sleeping, or reading.

Homeless People
NYC: All the time, everywhere.

Utah: On the Provo local bus, there would be occasional drifters that got on the bus. At the TRAX stations, I have walked by a few homeless people.

In NYC and SLC, I have walked the sidewalks and homeless people have asked me to give them money.

Lewd People
NYC: I’ve seen people making out, which isn’t that bad. The worst time was when I sat across from a man on the subway during my morning commute. His pants were undone, and he was stroking himself. I was reading the paper and he was in my periphery. Everyone else was reading sleeping. I quickly glanced at the guy’s face, and he seemed intent on my seeing him and getting a reaction from me. I raised the newspaper so I didn’t have to look at him. The next stop was mine, and I got off the train as fast as I could.

Utah: The worst instance I have witnessed was on a Provo local bus when some older, special needs guys sitting near the back were making loud fart sounds with their mouths and laughing. The bus driver told them to stop. Oh, also random anonymous people who leave random milkjugs of urine on the bus.

Panhandlers
NYC: Walking through the subway, asking for money: boys raising money for their “basketball team,” kids selling (stolen) candy, trying to stay off the street. People who say they have AIDS, armless people and war veterans, blind people, very sad people holding snotty-faced kids. Old ladies with cancer. People who just want something to eat. They always announce themselves with “Excuse me, ladies and gentlemen!” Sometimes I gave them change.

Utah: Outside of sidewalk encounters in SLC, none.

Entertainers
NYC: Different than panhandlers. Dancers (hip-hop), singers (all-types), mariachi bands, instrumentalists, magicians. All on the subway. All skill levels. Sometimes I put change in their hats as they walked by me.

Utah: On different corners on different days in SLC, the same cellist. On BYU campus, wandering weird students with ukuleles and unicycles. I don’t give them money. No one on the buses or TRAX yet.

Other People
NYC: Random people at bus stops who tell me their life stories. Clowns telling me their life stories. The guy on the train that tried to flirt with me when he told me the Stranger (the book I was reading) was a good book. The guy who thumbs-upped at me when he saw me reading the Book of Mormon. People that I actually know, so we chat instead of tuning out the rest of the world. Tourists that didn’t know better about talking to me. People that I accidentally fell asleep on.

Utah: Nice people who offer their seats to standers. The senior missionary who asked if I was a student then seemed surprised when I told him I worked. The woman I sat next to one morning who decided to take off her shoes and try to sleep in an actual reclining fetal position. Her feet smelled and part of her body was on my seat. The woman whose arm my butt brushed against when I was standing in the aisle, because I shifted my weight from one leg to the other, and her arm was hanging into the aisle. We were both reading and she seemed to pretend not to notice. Maybe she liked it as much as I did.

Move Along, Just Another Vague Post Here

Could two men have been more polarizing?

Thanks to everyone who voted. To those who didn’t: really?

One time on facebook I posted a biased article about a politician who said a very dumb thing about the very serious subject of rape, and the writer presented the article such that the this politician’s philosophy represented his entire political party. We all say things we regret, and we all latch onto the mistakes of those we want to lose to feel a sense of winning, advantage. We stand on any defeat — at any cost — to gain even minimal height. Definitely, rape is serious, but I wonder just how seriously we should have taken one (or several) politician(s) with a relatively fringey opinion.

I should have been more thoughtful about posting that article.

It must be so, so hard to be the President of the United States. I was president of the Free Club with some of my college roommates, and it was hard. All we had to do was get things for free. We could go to grocery stores and try all the free samples, get rebates, win prizes. I didn’t know how much responsibility I had.

I was nervous for both men. I was ready to support both men. Throughout this election season, I thought secretly, if one wins, couldn’t he appoint the other to be an advisor or something? A member of the Cabinet? Wasn’t one’s healthcare plan modeled after the other? Wasn’t that earlier healthcare plan one of greatest achievements of the one candidate? Couldn’t one use his business expertise to advise the other about fixing the economy? If one wins, couldn’t one consult the other in foreign policy or legislation deadlocks? What would our divided Congress do if these two men actually worked together?

What if?

What the if?

That’s not how politics works.

But that’s how we can work.

If our nation continues to divide, I won’t have a choice but to run for president of my square block in Orem, Utah. I’d construct a soundproof highway barrier that would reduce freeway noise and would still let my citizens see the sunset. I’d also reduce rent.

If we can’t at least seek to understand other points of view and acknowledge when others try to understand ours, then our nation will continue its downward spiral into a pit of poop.

If we sidestep accountability and responsibility in our own lives, families will crumble, and entire communities will landslide into the pit of poop.

If we pray for our country but are unkind to one another: pit of poop.

Are these two men standing on opposite ends of this pit?

Or are a better state and happier times a happy medium of something less poopy?

States of America, we are supposed to be United.

Let us make that true.