Tuning Out to Tune In


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.


It’s interesting how the light doesn’t spread; not even a beam shoots down from the source, as if Scotty was never in charge. Nobody’s going anywhere. A visible beam would mean light shining on particles in the air. No dust? No skin cells? No moisture? Or is the darkness just that oppressive? How do you even know where you are, if the light is your only point of reference? It’s not illuminating anything else, but the darkness can’t cover it. It can’t snuff it out. The point here is not that the light isn’t shining on anything; the point is that it’s shining at all, and that you can see it. You might try to get semantic and say it’s shining on the dark, and without the darkness, you couldn’t see the light. The darkness provides some competition for your eyes, true, but do your eyes follow the darkness or the light? Can your eyes focus on complete darkness? In the dark, your pupils dilate, wider and wider, to let in as much light as possible, fumbling for the slightest flicker, because darkness is nothing, except the lack of light. Darkness is a void that light too easily fills. It doesn’t have to be completely dark for light to take over. It’s darkness that spreads when light fades; there are no beams of darkness. Darkness doesn’t even have a chance.

The Politics of Dancing, er, Dating

We were discussing an article from The Slate; it was around the time speculation about Hillary Clinton’s VP appointment had reached its peak, just after her concession. Mrs. Clinton was/is actively pursuing this position, and the article treated the situation similarly to that of a woman who wants a man’s attention and seeks it way too aggressively. Somewhere in our conversation, the guy I’m with states if a man wants a woman, he’ll go after her. He said something like nothing scares a guy away more than a super-assertive woman. I’ve heard this on several occasions, and it seems in my case, it’s true. I’ve been hyper-interested and hyper-expressed my feelings, and whatever interest a guy might have had in me immediately evaporated. Hyperly. It’s weird. The evening progressed, and we were really enjoying each other’s company. We talked about quite a few things; we shared personal stories, and while I didn’t want the night to end, I knew it had to. And I let it, because I’ve learned to be a slow-mover in my old age, and I’ve learned to hold back, because I’ve been burned a few times in the course of my life, but I’ve also learned it’s okay to be vulnerable, because how else are people supposed to get to know me? My learnings over the past 20 or so years conflicted and clashed, but now they get along and have interwoven quite nicely, and now I’m starting to get the hang of this dating thing. Now I’m this present and sweet and fun personality who happens to be a pretty tough cookie. Anyway, a couple of days later, I sent a thank-you email. Then about 10 days later, he called to invite me out to do something. Then he was out of town for a while, but I sent him another email just to check in. Nothing too long or involved, and he replied to my email. Then I left him alone, because I knew he was busy, and I got the impression he’s just as slow a mover as I am. Then three weeks later, he called to catch up. And then we caught up. Then the next day I sent him an email to invite him over for brownies. His response came via text message and past my bedtime and too late for him to drop by. I didn’t reply; I thought it would be pointless. Then he emailed to make sure I got his text and to ask about my week. Then I replied to his email. Then I don’t know what. Then I don’t know what. If this is pursuit, I’ll take it; I haven’t experienced anything remotely like it in a long time. I want him to like me. I want him to want me. I need him to need me. I’d love for him to love me. I’d beg him to beg me. You know. Thank you, Slate. Thank you, Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Obama. You’ve made my personal life a whole lot easier to handle.

Carry On, My Wayward Mormon

In the mid-80s, reruns for WKRP in Cincinnati were on television. That was the first time I ever saw Gordon Jump, and my parents kindly informed me he was Mormon. Then after the show’s syndication, I saw Mr. Jump everywhere as the bored-as-heck Maytag repairman, sitting around, not fixing the same-brand household appliances because they were so well made.

I hadn’t gotten interested enough in Little House on the Prairie or 60s and 70s football to recognize Merlin Olsen as another who belonged to my religious culture.

Then I heard that Johnny Whitaker guy who starred with Jodie Foster in the 70s version of Tom Sawyer was Mormon. I saw the movie several times as a child. I looked at him and his red hair and freckles and could tell. I knew it.

“Soldier of Love” by Donny Osmond came out in the late 80s. Just thinking of that makes me chuckle.

Then mad rumors spread in the 90s about the Cameron family – Kirk and Candace – being Mormon. And Steve Martin. People. PLEASE. And Bono: I wanted to perpetuate that one.

Then I heard Danny Ainge was LDS, then I read his lips a few times during televised basketball games, when he was really mad. This clued me in to him not being all that perfect.

The media got quiet for a little while, or maybe I didn’t watch as much television or news.

Then people started watching more reality shows. A huge hubbub emerged about some girl named Julie Stoffer starring in The Real World while a student at BYU. The university expelled her for failing to abide by the University Honor Code.

Then all sorts of Mormons popped up in the media. One of the first I’d heard was Eliza Dushku, Faith, from Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Then Aaron Eckhart from Erin Brockovich. Then Gladys Knight, who was a recent convert.

Mormons in Survivor.
Mormons in The Amazing Race.
Mitt Romney
Jon Heder
Ken Jennings from Jeopardy!
Katherine Heigl
Ryan Gosling
Heidi, Benji, and Lacey in So You Think You Can Dance
Carmen Rasmussen, David Archuleta and Brooke White in American Idol
Kelsey Nixon in The Next Food Network Star
Countless others in politics, athletics, academics, entertainment, publishing, broadcasting, blah blah blah blah.

You can look at these famous Mormons and the decisions they’ve made, and you can’t help but judge them. Look how cute and naive and young; and he goes to church? How awesome. Look how modestly she dresses, I wonder what ward she attends. Hey, look at the way she’s toasting a glass of water to the others’ champagne; that’s pretty cool. Wow, they’re really representing the Church quite well. … What? He makes R-rated movies? He can’t be an active member and he’s going to HELL. … Ooh, look at the gown she’s wearing – she must have left the church and is on the fast track to HELL. What? Ken Jennings didn’t keep winning? He must have sinned to make him lose, and he, too, is going to HELL. Jon Heder did a hip thrust in his Napoleon Dynamite dance – that looks too much like The Sex, and he’s headed straight to HELL. Donny Osmond had a mullet? HELL. HELL HELL HELL HELL. They’re all going to HELL.

The thing about the Church is it’s made up of complex individuals who make personal choices. Some of those choices are very private, and some are made public. Some intentions are clear while others are quite blurred. The thing about the individuals in the church is each of them is at a different spiritual level, a different degree of commitment, which disqualifies them for any sort of comparison to anyone else. People have to live their lives. Some do it according to a standard they may or may not understand; some couldn’t care less about the standard; some have a completely different perception of the standard. If someone doesn’t quite live up to the standard, does that mean he’s a bad person? Does it mean he’s a bad Mormon?

A story made the headlines a few days ago, where a man was excommunicated for creating a “sexy missionary” calendar. I would not be able to make judgments about his character or intentions or determine whom he has influenced or how much against church doctrine his actions were. I could assume he had entered into covenants, and he didn’t keep them; I could assume his heart wasn’t nearly as invested in the Church as it once was. I don’t know him, and even if I did, those would not be my judgments and assumptions to make.

Then I think about my life, and my standards, and my devotion to the Church. I think about what sets me apart from the world and how I can be my best self. Then I think about all the times I have screwed up and how grateful I am my life isn’t compared to anyone else’s. Yes, it’s disappointing every time to see good people stray from the Church, but that’s as far as my feelings can go; I’m not without fault.

However, I have to admit I was tempted to say Merlin Olsen was going to HELL for being shirtless during an episode of Little House, even though Michael Landon was shirtless ALL THE TIME, but he went on to do Highway to Heaven, so that makes up for it. But do you see me casting stones? I’m putting the stones down, putting my hands up, and backing away.