A Poem of Tomorrow for Today

In late 2011 WS Merwin visited BYU and read some of his poetry to students in the JSB auditorium. He said that after 9/11 books of poetry could not stay on the shelves. He said people needed poetry in those dark times. It helped them cope and understand and feel understood and less lonely. It reached deep and endless. It touched hollow and unrelenting. It was like pockets of fresh air displacing the billows of dust and sorrow and hate.

I was in a poetry class the semester of Merwin’s visit, trying to write poetry; trying to get it. Trying to learn things way beyond my grasp from my immensely talented classmates. It was a wonderful class. The semester happened to coincide with the 10-year anniversary of 9/11. I wasn’t there, but I have friends who were. Today always makes me mournful, melancholy sinking my gut. This poem was my attempt to express an aspect of that tragic event.

It is 9/12/11

nine twelve eleven
nine one-two one-one
as if my fingers
swollen and sweaty
slipped while dialing
and starting over never crossed my mind.

No one will come
until I hang up
and think more carefully
to push
finger pads to keypad
with motions that should be automatic.

Full Circle

Before I was an English major, I was a microbiology major. I was going to work in a lab and do research.

While I was a microbiology major, I took a really long break in my education to figure out what I wanted to do. I spent nearly seven years in New York City, and I found exhilaration and solace in writing.

I wanted to write. Maybe with my science background, maybe I could do science writing.

In 2010 I returned to BYU as a nontraditional (read: old) student who was given a stern warning to FINISH SCHOOL; changing my major to English after almost having a hard science degree was peculiar. But I hadn’t kept up my studies in NYC, and I’d have to retake many classes anyway, and I’d end up being there at least three semesters. I told the Humanities advisor I’d be done in four or five. They let me stay.

Five semesters and three terms later, I have no regrets. I took my time, got good grades, earned a scholarship, studied abroad in Senegal, and minored in French. During my last two semesters I met another English major who had graduated from the University of Utah. Nearly a month and a half after graduation, we got married.

A year and a half passes, and my husband was already a semester into his Master’s program at BYU. I was preparing to begin a Master’s program in Library Science at Emporia State University. At the orientation several library professionals spoke to my cohort, and the one who stood out most was a medical librarian. Throughout my program I have focused on medical libraries. I completed a practicum (internship) at the Eccles Health Sciences Library at the U; and I have been volunteering at the Primary Children’s Hospital Library. All of this experience has enhanced my studies, better prepared me for the work force, and built a solid network of colleagues.

When I had about a year left in the program, I started applying for jobs. When positions require experience and you have none, it can be a little frustrating. As I was finishing my practicum in the spring, an opportunity arose for working in a medical library. The position didn’t require an MLS, so I decided to use my time in the practicum and volunteering, as well as my time in the MLS program, as experience. Other requirements matched my skills acquired from other jobs, and position seemed like a great fit. The posting attracted a lot of applicants, and the hiring manager interviewed me over the phone before calling me in for a group interview, which was intense. I shined and dazzled among other qualified prospects.

I made the cut and went in the next day to interview by myself with the hiring panel. And it seemed things were looking up until they weren’t. The timing had turned bad, and other circumstances had proven inauspicious, so I pulled myself out of the running. While this decision was for the best, I learned so much during that interview process, and people from Primary Children’s and Eccles offered me wonderful advice and encouragement along the way.

About a week and a half after the final interview, I received some information about another posting. It wasn’t for working in a medical library, but it requires skills gained in an MLS program and searching in medical databases, so I inquired about the position. My contact requested my CV, and about two weeks later, she asked if we could speak on the phone.

That’s when I told her I was a microbiology major. And when I spoke to her supervisor on the phone, I recounted the same experience. And when I met with the two of them a few days after that, my hard science background came up again. They took me through the workflow, which helped me clear some cobwebs from the sciency sections of my brain. They asked me which I preferred: hard science or information science. It wasn’t one of those psychoanalytical questions to make interviews nervewracking (“Tell me about a time you failed/didn’t complete something/didn’t get along with someone…”); it was a question out of simple curiosity, and I told them I couldn’t decide. I loved them both.

Gosh, what’s a good metaphor here. The skills I gained as a humanities major will always be the ones important to finding work and solving problems. Close reading–critical thinking, analysis–and communication. And then the more specific training I receive during my MLS program helps with technology I will be using with the job. And then, THE thing that may have solidified the deal for me is the area in which I do not have a degree but have always been deeply interested. And wanted to do more with. This is one of the coolest opportunities ever. There’s no metaphor here.

After officially completing his thesis in June, my husband is enjoying his summer. He graduates August 16, and we’re all very excited. On the other hand, my summer semester is intense, and after spending daytime with my family, I stay up late doing homework, finally able to empathize with Reilly’s late nights over the past two years. I’ll have only three credit hours in the fall, and then I’ll be done with my Master’s program.

The baby will be the only one in the family without a Master’s degree. Aww.

After my interview two weeks ago, onboarding is complete. The company is great. They’re assigning me a laptop. I don’t even know if I have an official job title, but I will be maintaining a database for a pathology tool used in diagnostic immunohistochemistry for cancer. It’s a thing: look it up.

Also: I get to work from home.

I begin August 3.

What’s That Smell?

Nowadays, that’s the first question I ask myself whenever I go anywhere.  It’s like a little guessing game, where most of the odors that make my nose perk are pretty recognizable, only they’re about 47 trabillion times stronger than usual.

It came pretty early, within the first month. We’d drive around town, and the restaurants, the traffic, and Pleasant Grove would attack my nose. Most of the odors before pregnancy were relatively mild. I mean, driving past Pleasant Grove never disappoints if I crave the smell of sewage or rotten vegetables, but whenever we pass the unPleasant Gross exit now, it’s almost unbearable. No offense to anyone who lives there; you probably live away from the smell, which seems to lurk along the freeway.

There’s also some farmspace near the corner of 400 South and Geneva Road that smells like the land of fire and brimstone for about 5 seconds. Whenever we’re driving this corner, Reilly and I always accuse each other of farting.

When we drive closer to downtown Salt Lake City, around 500 South, along the freeway, it smells like nachos. Like nacho cheese. Not like sharp cheese, but definitely more mild and with jalapeno peppers. It’s not a smell I mind very much at all but look forward to whenever we get to that part of town.

I walk into church, and I can smell everyone. I can smell that woman’s lotion and that man’s aftershave and that baby’s spit-up. I can smell cooking oil on your skin and your greasy fast food breakfast from the other day.  I can smell somebody’s minty gum and that kid’s fruity shampoo and don’t even ask me what the speakers are even talking about because all the smells are speaking way more loudly and with more appeal (or repulsion) than the speakers. I mean, I do have to focus, because it’s church. And church is more important than my hypersensitive nose. We’ll just have to keep that in mind.

Not every smell bothers me. Lots of aromas are wonderful, and I’d love to spin around in fragrant air all day, but the fact is that there are also bad odors. And when they’re bad, they’re really bad.

There’s a women’s restroom in the Wilkinson Center on the second floor, close to the memorial room and ballroom. I’m sure you know which one I mean. The other day I went to campus to wait for Reilly to get out of class. I needed to go to the bathroom because that’s a pretty consistent condition these days, and when I opened the door, I felt my face scrunch and my eyes roll to the back of my head. I braced myself inside the door frame. Then I considered holding my pee to go to the bathroom downstairs by the bowling alley or to the other bathroom just down the hall. But I have more or less trained myself to go whenever I need to go, so I forged ahead into the fecal fog.

Undoubtedly, it’s a busy bathroom. The Wilkinson Center is a major campus hub, and I should have known that the bathroom would be stinky, but this complete ambush on my nosehairs convinced me that no one knows how to courtesy-flush or disinfect/deodorize. And this bathroom is a place where a lot of mothers change piles of poopy diapers. Because there are a lot of young mothers who go to BYU, y’all. There seems to be no ventilation, and when I entered that bathroom at 8:30 that one evening, all the quadrillions of microscopic, feculent particles had amassed during the day not only to form a humid, boggy marsh around the stalls, but something, somewhere that felt like another dimension. It felt like I had crossed over into an ethereal, methanous space of utter grossness, where I wasn’t stepping in it but walking through it. Think about it. (Or not.) And to think I’m growing another human that will soon contribute to the world’s sewage (who, technically, already is). I mean, there are sacrifices, and there are sacrifices. I mean, I have to do the noble thing.

Next time, I’ll just find a different bathroom.

And whatever that smell is, I probably know, but for the most part, I’d rather not.

During Spring Break

Reilly’s spring break was this past week, and I also didn’t have to work. So, we partied.

Ikea

Tuesday morning we wandered around the entire showroom at Ikea. We talked about improvements we could make to our living space. We recently renewed the lease on our apartment, so we decided to try to create cozy home feelings instead of being poised to move at any second. We purchased a few things and reorganized a bit. I admit that watching a lot of HGTV helps motivate with home projects. That can be bad and good at the same time.

Bridal Veil Falls

Wednesday morning we decided to “hike” Bridal Veil Falls. Utah County offers a ton of easy nearby trails, and the weather permitted us to go and explore the area. We didn’t climb the trail close to the falls, but we stayed on the low path and took pictures and had a picnic and watched people. We also noticed some foreign-sounding accents, which was cool and made me glad that world travelers can enjoy Utah.

More pictures if you click the photo below.

Yay, falling water!

Natural History Museum

Wednesday evening we met with Reilly’s sister at the Natural History Museum in Salt Lake City. The museum rests on the east foothills, which provides a fantastic view of the city. We started from the fifth floor and worked our way down. The building runs on solar power and the lighting doesn’t waste energy and the exhibits display lots of information about Utah’s natural history. There were displays about climate change and evolution. Sometimes Utah participates in science, which is refreshing.

Solar panels

My shoes!

Are they always smiling?

Luther

We finished the BBC series this week. Two very intense seasons so far. We started about a month ago and then we decided to watch all the episodes. The first season has six episodes, and the second season has four. It actually didn’t take too long.

BYU Museum of Art

Thursday afternoon we visited the heroes exhibit (which has now ended) at the BYU Museum of Art. Last week my friend Bridgette presented a paper at the “We Could Be Heroes” Symposium (which I’m very sad I couldn’t attend); my friend Annie had a display at that exhibit. Thanks, cool friends, for being so cool.

One we finished at the museum, we got the heck off BYU campus.

Kidding. Mostly.

Temple

Friday morning we attended a session at the Mount Timpanogos Temple in American Fork. The temple is a gorgeous building, and the crowded parking lot indicates that it’s constantly busy.

Basketball

Friday evening we met with some friends at the Orem Rec Center to play basketball, which means we shot around for a long time until we played a few rounds of lightning/elimination/speed and then shot around some more.

General Conference

What an uplifting way to end our week-long party. Except we also watched the season premiere of Mad Men. So there’s that.

Now

Since BYU doesn’t have a spring break, this past week felt like a vacation. I enjoyed spending it with Reilly.

Kissing Poll

It’s February, there’s the 14th. I’m still trying to decide if I’m one of those people who embrace the obnoxiousness of Valentine’s Day.

Sometimes I keep my eye open during prayers. I may bow my head for the first few seconds during a group supplication, but then I start looking at people and their earnest faces. They’re really intent on listening to the words of the prayer and I’m impressed and inspired by the collective faith of the group.

Now sometimes I open my eyes during kisses.

I’m not comparing prayer to kisses. I’m just saying there are two examples of when I open my eyes when my eyes are supposed to be closed.

As with prayers (still not comparing), I used to keep my eyes closed during kisses. I’m talking about the romantic ones you see on tv and the movies where the people close their eyes for entire seconds before lips meet. And then their eyes stay closed after the kiss is over. And then the people look into each other’s eyes and smile.

I thought that’s how kissing was supposed to be.

Sometimes it’s that way, but then I discovered that I could open my eyes. And that makes it a different experience. It seems that the instant my lids shut my other senses heighten. As if I’m actually blind, and I can hear/taste/smell/feel everything to an exponentially elevated degree. But how would I know that if I didn’t also try kissing with my eyes open?

Granted, it’s nice to close my eyes and let myself get lost in the moment, to enjoy this physical bond that represents deeper emotions and attachments. But there’s something about keeping my eyes open. I like being able to watch Reilly’s closed eyes.

(Sorry, Reilly. [We are generally very against public displays of affection but this blog post seems to contradict that principle. But really, you’ve only seen us kissing in pictures. And at our wedding. And a quick peck when he drops me off for work. {It’s only ever quick pecks when we’re outside our home.} That’s it. And we don’t kiss on BYU campus because we’re having too much fun laughing at the collective slobber-swapping that goes on over there.])

With my eyes open during a kiss, I like being able to see Reilly enjoy the moment, to focus on the kiss itself, to epitomize present-mindedness. There’s something very Zen about kissing. At least the kind of kissing that I’m talking about. It makes me smile. With the smiling, there’s the sensing of the smile. With the sensing of the smile, there’s the desire to maintain the smile. Which prolongs the kiss. Which I don’t object to.

So . . . I’ve achieved my blush quota for today. Now it’s poll time! Don’t worry, voting is anonymous.

The Poets I Know

My penultimate semester at BYU I took a poetry class as a complete novice. Along with the curriculum and the professor, a couple of classmates awakened me to the vast and diverse world of poetry. It blew me away, intimidated me. Our class would have weekly workshops and while they did have nice things to say about my poetry, classmates were often brutally honest and mercilessly constructive. It was hard not to feel discouraged.

I read a poem every day. Occasionally I’ll write down a tentative idea for a poem. I’ve fallen out of practice; it’s easier to read than write. It hasn’t always been that way. But it’s always been easy to write crappy poetry. Here, let me whip up a gross haiku for you right now:

vulnerable brain
months of oxidizing then
flaking rust matter

See? That took less than a minute. And not something I’d be proud to show even Stephenie Meyer.

There’s so much to love about poetry: taking it apart, slathering the language all over me, listening to it, reading poets’ advice. I support people who are good at it, who devote their lives to capturing beauty, tragedy in such a specialized way.

From my experience in the class, it seems some of the best poets also make the best academics. They think about issues from multiple and often-rare angles. With intense focus, they express themselves with clarity and power. I covet them so, so much.

But I also want to brag about my poet friends and acquaintances, because they’re brilliant.

My poetry professor, Susan Elizabeth Howe:

Imagination, as I have experienced it, can be part of and lead to spiritual growth, and imagination is the natural province of the poet.

Someone I knew as a computer person before he became a poet, Neil Aitken:

Neil Aitken is a poet of consummate grace and skill. His poems are acutely observed, unerring musically, sensual and lyrical. Filled with longing and subtle epiphanies, his poetry plumbs the depths of the human heart, and hints towards the heights of the human spirit. His writing accomplishes what Wallace Stevens suggested—that, in the best poems, “description is revelation,” for each of Aitken’s poems reveals the world anew for the reader.  — Maurya Simon

A friend I worked with at church in New York City, Javen Tanner:

. . . he thus takes up his poetic cross and wills us to follow as he forges a path through variations on these ambiguous realities to the end of preparing us for more lasting psychological and spiritual connections and consolations.

Former classmate and also a BYU soccer player, Conner Bassett:

When reading poetry out loud, you see the poem for what it is; half of the poem is the words, but the other half is the sound of it,” Bassett said. “Reading and hearing it out loud is a completely different experience.”

Another classmate, Kylan Rice. He seems to have a relatively new tumblr:

…Stop looking so
shocked at the grammy fat. Are we not
all a tapestry of garbled hearts?

I have a few other poet friends, but I’m having trouble finding stuff about them on the internet. Which usually doesn’t happen. You’ll just have to believe they’re also talented and incredible and very awesome.

Look these people up. During any time of crisis, these are some of the people you can listen to.

Top 10 List for May’s 2012

I cannot believe this year. So much has happened, and I have only 56 entries to show for it. At least there are fewer blog posts to choose from for the annual countdown.

10. May: No one told me I’d eventually get to play against the BYU quarterback. I joined an intramural kickball team, and tonight was our first game.

9. July: Smartphone apps have a tiny dear place in my heart.  I looked around to see that I wasn’t the only one crying. I loved it.

8. July: This is the year I really got into hiking. And most of it during the season of a broken camera. Thank the Lord for making geology pretty.

7. August: Reilly’s birthday, and first time in New York City. We wondered about Glenn Close.

6. January: Careful to put ego-puffing somewhere in the middle. Being published in an academic, peer-reviewed journal would be a nice touch to my last semester.

5. September: The Oklahoma visit went along with going to NYC. Dad still finds happiness in little things. In simple things.

4. November: What an election year. I’m sorry to the friends I may have pissed off. But,  I spent maybe at least 5 minutes voting/playing with the fancy machine.

3. October: Recap of April’s commencement ceremony. I only slept because my friends who sat by me made me so very comfortable.

2.5. April: Full of transitions and excitement and bending rules for lists of 10.  The past four days have knocked me squarely on my rear. Three flights, up and down, up and down. My things, my books. His things, his books.

2. December: Can we distinguish the source of our tears in December? We talk about future names, but what is the name of our future?

1. June: Well, duh. Mindblowing. Incredible. Fantastic. Amazing. This.

This list doesn’t even include events like Christmas and wedding showers and getting jobs. It’s true that I am often vague in my blog posts, but know that these top 10 entries include the top people in my life. You’re always in my thoughts and prayers. You’ve done so much for my happiness and helped me to become a decent person. Thank you for your support. Thank you especially for your friendship and kindness and generosity, which I know will carry over into the new year and our upcoming and continued lives together.

I wish you all the blessings and happiness you deserve. Nothing less.