Tuning Out to Tune In

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There is enough noise in the world already.

From 2003 to 2009, I lived in New York City with 8 million people. Lights, traffic, construction, music, strangers everywhere. All the time.

Surprisingly it was easy to get lost and become invisible in that environment. It was easy not to be seen. It was easy to turn the noise to static and drown out my surroundings. If I wanted to be seen or heard, I could emerge from the sensory sludge, reach out to friends, go see some live music and chat up a stranger, go to church and smile at familiar faces.

The beginning of my time in NYC social media had just started getting its footing. I’d started blogging there. I jumped on the Twitter and Facebook bandwagons. In addition to the maelstrom in the streets, I felt the outside world invading my home. It would be a sea we’d all be learning to navigate.

For some reason tuning out the internet influences wasn’t as easy. They were ever present; so easy just to wake up the computer and find myself staring at the screen hours later. Sometimes I was justifiably enthralled, but other times I truly wasted time cramming my noggin with nonsense and noise. It was easy to get lost, but sometimes more difficult to emerge from that dimension to interact with actual humans for quality time. Solid connections. Real relationships.

And now, when I’m in a much slower-paced part of the world, in a pretty chill area of Utah–we live next to horses and sheep, for crying out loud–the internet manages to pound on my brain. What news? What gossip? What music? What bad information? MUST CONSUME ALL OF IT.

Except I mustn’t do anything, but moderate and be conscious of which influences enter my home. Which is especially important to the very impressionable mind under the stewardship of me and Reilly. That little girl absorbs everything. And while she can’t convey all that she consumes, it’s there, just percolating, waiting to manifest in who knows what way.

How do I do this? And how do we do this as a family? A few actions that work for us:

  • I always manage to find some time during the day for absolute quiet, where I can have time to sort my thoughts. Or just take a few deep breaths. For Z, it’s nice to not have a lot of stimuli around for a few minutes and just let her talk. Sometimes the best we can do is the car ride home from daycare. I’ll turn down the radio and ask a few basic questions, and let her think without expecting an answer. What did you do at school? Did you play with the teacher?
  • A huge one for me lately has been physical activity. Exercise clears my mind, and those endorphins make me feel great. We try to encourage physical activity with Z as much as we can. When winter limits our options, we take her to different play areas at different malls, or even fast food places. Give that girl a slide and some space to run, and she’s happy as a clam.
  • Finally, there’s bedtime. This ritual usually ends with us snuggling, watching the night light, and Z talking to herself, and me singing a few nursery rhymes. Her voice is the furthest thing from noise to my soul (except at other times of the day when it’s screaming or whining, then I want to pull all of my hair out SERIOUSLY), and sometimes I’m lucky enough to listen to her happy jabbering fade into deep, sleepy breaths.

There are things that a lot of parents also do: enable actual internet filters, set timers on screen time, help count to 10 during a meltdown/tantrum. Those are definitely helpful, and kudos to all parents doing what works for them. I do other things on my own, as well: Find time to read, limit time on the internet; limit news consumption. It’s nice to find moments to breathe, to appreciate beauty in its many forms, to be able to separate the noise from the music. These moments help me to focus even more on what’s important, to tune in to clearer frequencies.

You Can Skip This, Too.

My first actual memory of Jera Gunther was a random spring evening in 2003 in the west foyer of the Inwood ward building. She sat on one of those floral print couches, reading a book. I can’t remember why I was there, but seemingly out of the blue, she asked me if I’ve ever read the Scarlet Letter. That’s pretty much all she had to say. We’ve been friends ever since.

When I walked into Jera and Jordan’s house last Wednesday night, Jera told me that I looked the same. I can’t imagine changing that much in the past four years, and I told her that she looked the same, too.

We played with the kids and toured the town and talked about grownup things like politics and economics. We laughed about old times.

I don’t remember how I met Summer and Joel. I do recall going over to their Manhattan apartment for karaoke parties. It was me and Adam and Sheridan, and we’d choose songs from the computer and sing silliness into a microphone.

We’d also meet at ward picnics and go on bike rides and there was this one time we went to an Egyptian restaurant and paid way more for the meal than it was worth.

Summer and Joel haven’t changed much, either. We remembered when and listened to the kids sing the Beatles and laughed when the older sister dressed her younger brother as a girl in a polka dot dress and purple hair bow.

St. George in August is hot. Around 10:00 one night, I came out of the Gunthers’ house to get something from the rental car and  felt the heat from the day and in the driveway against my face and bare feet.

Their house is on a hill. At night, the valley twinkles. When I saw that, I wondered if I could live in the town of St. George, Utah.

This past Wednesday night, I went to dinner with my friend, Angie. It had been four? or so years since I’ve seen her. We met when she moved into the Inwood ward, and we had a few mutual friends. We caught up and gossiped and laughed and talked about important television and people we remember from New York.

On Thursday, my friend Cristi and I caught up over Jamba Juice and chocolate-covered cinnamon bears. I asked her when we first met, and she said that it was probably through Becky. Which: of course. We talked and laughed about everything in the shade of the JFSB courtyard.

I’ve known these cool cats for years, but I’m convinced yet again that time doesn’t always determine quality. It felt amazing seeing those friends, but when I see people I love from Utah/BYU, I’m equally pleased.

The Williams family has been generous to me. I started hanging out with Cynthia in January 2010, and we’d go to the music documentaries at Muse Music, where we learned about Daniel Johnston, Radiohead, Sigur Ros, and Arcade Fire. Then she made sure to invite me to everything she did. Potlucks, concerts, family drives, birthday dinners. We went with other friends and her other family members to the Festival of Colors and the Llama Festival, and we have inside jokes about peeing on ourselves and share a few family stories and secrets. I have been able to meet a lot of people through them. My boss knows their dad. They have been a stabilizing force for me here in Provo. I’m truly grateful for them.

Then there are Africa friends. With them, I shared things about myself that I normally wait to tell people in “normal” circumstances. I’ve been ever so fortunate to run into Natalie twice in the computer lab this summer. And to hang out with Sarah and Kylie. The Skabelunds and I met for lunch this past Monday. And I saw Spencer once, too. I’ve only known these kids for only four months, really, yet when I’m around them, it feels like home. Like we can kick back and talk about anything or watch tv or not feel any pressure to talk at all.

My heart has been so full this week. I have loved the quality time.

This past week was also Education Week at BYU. I’ve joked trying to compare it to EFY and Women’s Conference, because campus gets crazy and crowded and annoying during those events. Walking around these past few days, I met a lot of kind eyes and smiles, and it was rather touching to see how happy all the adults of all ages were to be at BYU learning fun and cool things. They get a week each year.

I’m coming up on two years. I pay tuition for each semester, but still.

It’s easy to forget how exciting it is to be here. To have access to all sorts of information and the academic community. To be someone to offer a perspective  of a roundabout path that might actually be valuable.

And I’ve been thinking about grad school. It’s my last undergraduate year, and I’m trying to reconcile the joy in moving on to even greater opportunities and the heaviness of my heart that also comes with moving on to even greater opportunities.

Yes, I do have to plan for the future, but I need to be ready to make the most of now. Of BYU. Of Utah. Right, Thomas Traherne?

Entering thus far into the nature of the sun, we may see a little Heaven in the creatures. And yet we shall say less of the rest in particular: tho’ every one in its place be as excellent as it: and this without these cannot be sustained. Were all the earth filthy mires, or devouring quicksands, firm land would be an unspeakable treasure. Were it all beaten gold it would be of no value. It is a treasure therefore of far greater value to a noble spirit than if the globe of the earth were all gold. A noble spirit being only that which can survey it all, and comprehend its uses. The air is better being a living miracle as it now is than if it were crammed and filled with crowns and sceptres. The mountains are better than solid diamonds, and those things which scarcity maketh jewels (when you enjoy these) are yours in their places. Why should you not render thanks to God for them all? You are the Adam or the Eve that enjoy them. Why should you not exult and triumph in His love who hath done so great things for you? Why should you not rejoice and sing His praises? Learn to enjoy what you have first, and covet more if you can afterwards.

I’m Supposed to Be Studying for a Midterm

I’ve been away from Africa for about the same amount of time I spent there. It’s weird. It’s just weird. You get used to seeing people every day for five weeks, and then all of a sudden, they’re not there anymore. Not to the same degree. I mean, the circumstances were unique: Senegal, close quarters, same exposures to culture and language and weather and disease. The same long hours on a bus or in a classroom or the same walk to and from the boulangerie or cybercafe. We all had the same cravings for familiar foods and cold drinks and English anything. A lot of American anything, for some of us. A lot of us came back with stronger convictions or different perspectives. I came back feeling indignant about a lot of things. It’s just weird. Pringles. The sprinkler systems at BYU. Small talk. Mental illness. Child abuse. I came back cussing more and wanting to argue more, about anything. I was on a date the other night, and I bit my tongue to keep from countering everything the guy said. And he was a nice guy, super nice, but I wanted him to stop saying wrong things. I still like talking about Africa to anyone who will listen. People who’ve been there with me, people who will probably never go. People who have maybe distanced from themselves the human parts of humanity. Who knows. I don’t know. I can’t let it go.

It seems silly, but I miss being able to walk into the hotel room next to me and plop myself on a bed and feel comfortable talking about anything. After a long day of long-day things, I miss that kind of decompression, the difference in what I cared about. What I think about. What I want to change.

Just weird. Seeing people out of that context is weird. Not that I’ve seen very many people, but I think about them all the time. All the time. I’ve tried to maintain the friendships I forged there. I’m grateful to have them, to be able to share, to have a way not to forget. I’m back to a school-work routine, but nothing is the same. I’ve wanted to hang on to so much from those five weeks. It’s constantly on my mind, all the stories and laughter and colossally hard times.

So much has happened in the last seven months. I’ve come to accept some pretty hard facts. I’ve learned to let some things go, and putting certain things on that list was not the easiest thing for me to do. Africa is not on that list. Other things are, and I’m finally okay with it. I’ve stopped arguing about those things. They pass; time fades them. It looks different, more manageable, like it’s supposed to be forgotten.

It’s becoming less weird.

Just this one last thing …

… because my day started at 5am and has been nonstop ever since because the conversation in the car to Orlando didn’t stop and work in the temple didn’t stop and then I zoomed over to my roommate’s Christmas concert then on over to Mandarin to check out the Institute activities and socialize a little bit since I was working off of the day’s spiritual high then I came home with every intention to write some poetry or a clever anecdote but instead have almost completely shut down:

Righteous men are hot.

Space – Frontier, Not Final

So, I got an external hard drive. 1 TB. Terabyte. 1000 GB. That’s a lot of room, at least for me. I stuck all my photos on it for safe keeping. And that only took up 5 GB. So that means I can take a ton of photos. And video. And maybe I’ll transfer all my music over. I don’t know about storing DVDs yet. I still like sticking the disc in the player and watching it on the television. And I don’t see a need for equipment to convert my computer into a television. That amount of storage should last a very long time, maybe close to 10 years. Or maybe if I start shooting photos in RAW instead of JPEG format. I now don’t know what I’m talking about. I drank an entire Coke with dinner tonight. And I’ve become halfway decent at Guitar Hero. 

I played my clarinet for seminary class Thursday morning. I wasn’t all that nervous. That surprised me.

It is about time to start getting more serious posts out. I have to go back to organizing my thoughts properly.

Om for the Ohm

Resistance. Response.

A facebook friend’s status says, “[So-and-so] wants you to draw your own conclusion, but the markets had their worst post election trading day in the last 112 years, today.”

-Well, you can’t draw a firm conclusion from this, especially when the Asian markets had strong gains the day AFTER the election. There’s no real correlation. The markets understandably and initially favorably (how many adverbs can I put in a row here?) responded to the prospect of Mr. Obama, but just as understandably refaced the reality of the economy. Fact of the matter is the economy is crappy. Major companies that were giving out dividends not too long ago are now floundering or completely bottomed out. Relating the current economy’s downward spiral to a man WHO JUST GOT ELECTED is like saying Florida is flat, and Florida is part of the world, therefore the world is flat. It’s pure fallacy.

Back on December 12, 2007, I wrote a song analysis for Fergie’s “Big Girls Don’t Cry.” Someone commented on it, and it kind of made me chuckle: “I think you need to stop over analyzing spilt milk. Fergie is a very extremely talented poet. Did Shakespeare ever make sense? Get over it girl and don’t be such a hater.

-Is this person serious? “Did Shakespeare ever make sense?” Why has Shakespeare been around for so long? His extension of the human condition is what his audience can relate to. They understand it, peasants and royalty, bourgeoisie alike. Because it makes sense. And why do I even care if this commenter is comparing Fergie to Shakespeare? I should have ignored the commenter, but I didn’t: “It’s all subjective. It’s all preference and a matter of opinion. This is just a song I’m not crazy about. Plus, I’m not out there busting out tunes like Fergie. I don’t have throngs upon throngs of devoted fans. She sings just fine and seems like a pretty cool person. I’m not really hating – IT’S JUST ONE SONG, and it’s my very broad interpretation of such. You probably don’t like a lot of the songs that I like. We disagree, and that’s okay.”

I’ll ignore the irony of going off on a person’s completely legitimate passions and interests, which Shakespeare so masterfully foibled in his characters. Meh, we all react that way every once in a while. I’m just not going to betray or stab anyone or poison myself because of it. 

I thought I had other stuff to gripe about, but I don’t, or maybe I’m just too lazy. Maybe I just needed to vent a little. Deep breaths. Ahh.

Dull Pulse

The grey settles. The darkness surrounds. It’s hard to breathe. It’s hard to find rest. I sleep or stay awake to either extreme. It’s hard to focus. Rumbling deep. Shadows lurk. Headache intensifies. Excedrin Migraine? It’s not like that. Just toss me some color. Even a scrap. And a little daylight. Expand my lungs. Make my dreams bright and laughter happy. It’s hard to focus.

But I will try.