Wednesday, March 28, 2012

"Cliche", or "Raised by Hippies"

I am a white mormon girl in Utah who loves babies. I am keenly aware of my un-diverseness. In fact, let's complete the cliche by stating that I buy too many shoes, I sing lots of songs and have a particular affection for musical theatre. I come from a large family, and I have pictures of my neices and nephews to prove it. I graduated from BYU, I served a mission, and I resent relief society just enough to make blue-hair jokes about it. I can mix up a batch of cookie dough in under 5 minutes without a recipe. I eat lots of chocolate, know John Bytheway, and babysit for extra cash. I read Harry Potter and believe that Dumbledore taught truth the same way C.S. Lewis did. I think conference weekend is better than Christmas. I wear a CTR ring (well, sometimes, if it matches my shoes...).

I bet we could sit here all day listing the ways I fit a certain cliche.

But then, you had better not judge me by those things, because as soon as you buy into the cliche, you will find yourself mistaken. Like this kid in my classes. Actually, a couple of them. One who thought it was a compliment when he told me "I thought I had you all figured out, but you are much smarter than I expected you to be." And another who suggested, as we were creating a format for a group therapy session, that I could just take care of the clients children. She was surprised when I told her "I am not a babysitter, I am a counselor with the same credentials as you."

"Oh! I'm sorry, I thought you would like taking care of children."

I love taking care of children, and if you really think its efficient for you to pay a babysitter the same amount as you would a liscenced therapist, then you are welcome to rotate the babysitting duties with me.

The thing is, I've never met an individual who fits any cliche entirely, and the only people I have met who believe in the cliches generally prove themselves to be either racist or unintelligent or both before long. And somehow, they fit a certain cliche better than the people they are judging.

Like the kid who is surprised that a girl can like babies and be smart all at the same time. Who graduated from BYU, just like me, but denounces it now because it didn't produce the magical happiness for him that he expected it to. And he follows the same pattern with the church, when he didn't get the callings and "promotions" he felt he deserved, he walked away from the whole thing and embraced a pop culture version of Buddhism that involves raving about meditation and yoga and wearing linens and wooden beads and pretending to know lots about Jung and Freud and intellectualizing only where it suits him and spiritualizing where intelligence fails him. The Buddhas and Lao Tzes and Confucius' of Easter Philosophy would never recognize this guy's brand of "enlightenment" that includes vocal racisim against Koreans justified by the fact that he "lived there and knows them well enough to hate them. Especially the women."

Sigh. He makes me tired. The thing is, he has rejected religion and faith because it didn't serve him, and in rejecting it labels everyone who follows what he has rejected as being "stupid".

And then he claims to be the most "diverse" and "sensitive to multicultural issues". Why? Based solely on the fact that he no longer fits the cliche he was raised in? Because now he fits the cliche of those who reject what they were raised in.

Meanwhile, when I suggest that some cultural understanding would be in order when approaching a difficult professor (who happens to be a Korean woman) he goes nuts, calling her an idiot and worse.

The thing is , I was raised by hippies, and not the pretend kind who sit in coffee shops planning protests in the fashion of the latest fad. I was raised by the kind of hippies who thought, listened, and did what what they thought was right regardless of how it looked to those around them.

There is some marvelous family lore about my mom's involvement in Vietnam war protests in the late 60's-early 70's at UC Davis. There were lots of protests going on in California at the time, and law students at UC Davis organized some where they would sit on train tracks to stop the 'munitions trains. My mom did not sit on the train tracks, but she was baking brownies for her roommate and friends who were out sitting on the tracks when word came that then governor Ronald Regan ordered the engineer to simply run over the protesters. The story that I've been told goes that my mom called her roommate's boyfriend, a police officer, who then proceeded to board the moving train and stop the engineer (at gunpoint? I don't know). I can find references to the protests and I can find references to Gov. Reagan's thoughts on Vietnam protests, but I can't verify the rest of the details. But the pride in my dad's voice when he tells the story proves a couple of things to me. 1. He thinks she is a bonafide hippie and 2. He likes her even more for being one, which leads me to 3. He is a bonafide hippie too.

I can also remember a time my dad and I ran into a couple of kids from my high school who were smoking home-grown weed and claiming to be oh so high. My dad schooled them hippie-style. "First off, that's not how you hold a joint. This is how you hold a joint. Secondly, you aren't that high unless its laced with something else, smoking something you grew in your garden has minimal effects." Now I won't believe that my dad has ever once smoked a joint, but you can bet that a guy who grew up in Northern CA in the 60s and 70s and chilled with friends at UC Berkeley probably saw a few joints being smoked. He took us to the campus once when we were kids, and introduced us to old high school buddies who now work there. He showed us where the national guard stood when that famous picture with the daisies in the gun barrels was taken, and the delight in his eyes when we found a hole-in-the-wall bar where pizza was served by an over-pierced man with a blue mowhawk was unmistakeable. He wasn't teaching his kids to fit in boxes, he was teaching us to see the whole world.

That's right, friends. Now if you know my parents, you probably see the Mormon cliche, mostly ecause that's what they want you to see. And they might not be thrilled with me calling out their hippie-ness in public. (So maybe don't mention it to them, ok?) But I just want you and everyone else to understand that the cliches stop somewhere, and sometimes they stop immediately below the surface.

Because hey, this white mormon girl in Utah loves babies and usually votes democrat (although, not straight ticket. I like to mix things up.) I swear like a sailor (well, almost like a sailor. Maybe like a mormon sailor. I've cut out the big bads) and prefers Diet Cherry Vanilla Dr Pepper over Diet Coke. (I'm living on the edge, aren't I!) I have read the Old Testament, and I don't think its over anyone's head, its actually just awesome, even the Songs of Solomon. And sure I love to sing, I particularly love to sing Karaoke. Badly. In a bar after everyone else has had their bucket of beer (did you know that in most bars the designated driver gets free sodas?) I attend the most liberal university I could find in Utah in order to balance out getting a bachelors from the most conservative university in the nation (world?). And I love them both. I think Taoist philosophy got a lot of truths right, I believe in meditation and kharma (hey, kharma is actually in the Book of Mormon-Alma 41:3), and I get irritated with people who don't recycle. I like to think that every culture has great truths to offer and that acceptance is the very least we can offer those around us. I believe that love and kindness are two different things, and some people live dangerously by always being "nice" but never actually loving people. I believe that love is love and all the other classifications (romance, friendship, family) only serve to exclude people. My favorite Mormon doctrine is the idea that God loves everyone, and that everyone has something to offer. My second favorite doctrine is that we seek all truth, as well as things that are beautiful, lovely, of good report, and praiseworthy. I believe that if you find some truth to involve excluding anyone then you don't understand that truth. Go back and study and pray some more.

The thing is, people will tell you that stereotypes exist for a reason. And maybe they do. But that doesn't give you permission to put anyone in the box. What it does is give you the opportunity to find out just where the stereotype stops and the real person begins. I'm the first to admit, I get tired of fighting it. And if you aren't interested in learning more, then I am happy to let you think that I am just the cliche. But don't you dare act surprised when it turns out I'm smarter than you thought I would be.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Baguettes and Books

I'm a bit of a crusty person. It's true. There is more than one way to call a girl a B****, and I've heard more than I can count on fingers and toes. And that's just referring to myself personally. I've heard it in emails, in person, through gossip, over the phone, you name the method of communication, and short of having it spray-painted on a freeway sound barrier, its probably been used to call me some version of the witch-with-a-B. Heartless. Frigid. Stone-faced. This goes a long way back too. On my mission I was "the sister who didn't take any crap, not from anyone." Its also as recent as within the last 6 hours via gossip at work in a place where I have spent less than 10 hours in the last 3 months.

Its OK though. If you are one of my lovely wonderful friends that knows me better and you would like to jump in and defend, well then I'm grateful, but I don't take any of it very personally. Because you see, every time I hear it, I ask myself 2 questions. First I ask myself if I deserved that. The answer is usually "maybe". Then I ask myself if I would change my behavior. And that's where my answer is generally "No". Not in the cases where I get called those names. Because if I'm crusty towards someone whose response is to turn around and start calling names, I would be willing to bet there is a reason I was defensive with them in the first place. And all they've done by calling me that name is justify my defenses against them.

Don't get me wrong, there are times when I do regret my behavior or my defenses with people. Those are the times when I am defensive with someone and their behavior does not justify my defenses and I discover that they are really just lovely people and then I casually ask their forgiveness and they laugh it off like I'm some sort of comedienne.

But in the cases of the big B, i probably deserve their name calling and they probably earned my treatment. See how nice that works?

Now crustiness aside, you should probably know that I am actually a big squishy puddle on the inside. I may not emote externally, but between my brain and my heart there are a whole lot of pictures of babies, fields of daisies, roly poly puppies and kittens, and even a few *gasp* tears.

You know how ogres are like onions, because they have layers and not everyone likes them? Well I am a French Baguette. I have 2 layers. The crusty crunchy cut-the-roof-of-your-mouth and crumble into a thousand pieces exterior, and a super squishy but ultimately yummy and just a little bit salty middle.

Ehich brings me to a completely unrelated 2nd point.

Something else you should know: I love reading. When I was a kid the Hennepin County Library system would have a book sale once a month. They would clear their shelves of the books that were falling apart or never checked out and set them up on folding tables in a big multi purpose room. Now we didn't really get a consistent allowance as kids. But when that glorious saturday came around we each got a dollar and could choose whatever we wanted to read. A dollar doesn't sound like much. But here's the kicker. Paperbacks were 10 cents apiece and hardcover was 25 cents. There were some grown up things that were a whole dollar, but that was not my realm. At the very least, I had 4 new books a month. But 4 books never lasted a month, and I knew that, so I usually got between 7 and 10. I'm pretty sure this is where I learned how to figure out coins. I didn't learn "a quarter is 25 cents" I learned "a quarter is a hardcover book" Because you see, sometimes I only wanted 1 hardcover, but if I only got one hardcover and the rest paperbacks, it would leave me with a lonely 5 cents. And there was no bargaining for an extra nickel. A dollar was a dollar right up until the day my siblings and I figured out that if we each had a lonely nickel we could collaborate on a final selection.

Now let's do some the math. At the time, there were 4 of us kids choosing our own books, with mom helping number 5 pick a few of her own and then my dad going nuts in the classics and nonfiction sections. At the least there were 20-30 "new" books in our house each month. But I would venture to say that we never brought the low numbers home. We are talking 50 or more "new" books per month. I'm certain that most of them got returned and re-used, although to this day there are more than a few books on my parents and my sibling's and my bookshelves that say "officially withdrawn from the Hennepin County Library System" on the inside of the cover.

And my parents really let us pick anything we wanted. This is how I devoured the Babysitter's Club, Sweet Valley High, and Trixie Belden Mysteries all before the age of 10. This is also how I met Anne of Green Gables, everything by Madeline L'Engle, and a lovely old favorite called "Wild Violets." I snatched up Judy Bloom and Beverly Cleary like they were gold. Great literature and rubbish blended together in the mind of a 4th grade girl as every word made sense of the world around me. And its not like my parents weren't aware of what I was reading. I remember how silly I thought it was the first time I saw my dad reading a sweet valley high book. (It was the one where Elizabeth gets in an accident and starts acting all crazy and kissing Jessica's boyfriend Bruce. And poor Todd felt so rejected and Enid didn't know what to make of it. You know that one.) Anyways, I told my dad how silly I thought it was and he took the opportunity to talk to me about the books. He said he wouldn't stop me from reading anything, but that he thought these sweet valley books were pretty mindless. I took that into account and kept reading whatever I could get my hands on, including the rest of Sweet Valley High. The thing is, to a 10 year old, Sweet Valley High is amazing literature set in a fantasy land called high school.

I'm the first one to admit that my taste in literature isn't high or pretentious. I read what I like, and I know whether or not something is well written and that's not always what determines what I like. For example: Twilight. Well written enough to engage huge audiences. I can admit that. Can't stand the books. Eragon. Predictable, borderline mediocre, writing by a 17 yr old who spent his home-schooled life discovering the formula for a fantasy and then reproducing it. Love the books.

So how can a girl love Sweet Valley High and Anna Karenina at the same time? How can a die hard Harry Potter fan openly admit to a love for Eragon and the occasional tween romance? And why does a crusty B**** have every Tacky the Penguin book Helen Lester ever wrote?

I'll tell you why. Its the characters. If a book has character development, or a character that's well written, or a character that I like, I'll read it. Its the characters that make a story. Jessica and Elizabeth (from SVH) had a pretty complex relationship for a 10 year old to try and sort out. Stacey and Kristy and Claudia and MaryAnne (BSC) were the people I wanted to be friends with. Harry Potter has the kind of friends I want. Levin (Anna Karenina) is probably the fictional male character I would most like to marry. And the only reason I finished reading the Twilight books was because i wanted to find out what happened to Alice. Bella could have and should have died in the baseball scene in book 1 (she was weak, whiny, and never went any deeper than wanting a boyfriend/sex/baby) Alice was the only girl with any personality in the whole set. I know some of you love twilight. That's fine. You probably saw something in it that I don't. That's fine by me. I have plenty of other books and characters to love, I don't need those particular 4. (see how i can be crusty?)

Sometimes I read a book without even realizing I love it. Sometimes I misjudge a book the same way I misjudge people. Like Hunger Games. Which I enjoyed reading. I thought "this is a decent read. It's engaging, and the heroine is not only pretty darn kick-A, but she's complex. Her whining and insecurity did not get on my nerves the way certain other female so-called-protagonists do. Instead of not recognizing her own beauty, this girl didn't recognize her own strength. And that runs deeper for me. But at the same time, I didn't feel particularly attached to any of the characters until I got to the end of the 3rd book, and someone died that i didn't think would die, and I was devastated for days. I'm not kidding you. Days. I would think about this character and just melt. I honestly forgot she was fictional. And then I knew that I loved the books and the characters.

Now here's the thing about devouring books and befriending characters great and small. You may claim that they are fictional, but the thing is, these characters came from someone's mind. Which means the emotions and traits are real. And they speak to enough people that we must see something in them that we can relate to. That's right people, I believe in fictional characters. I believe in dragons and I believe in high school drama. I even believe in Bella, even though I don't like her. (She would probably call me that one name.)

Which leads me to the thing I learn from believing in fictioinal characters. Everyone has a favorite. And our favorite characters mean something. But I don't think we go around liking the characters that are most like ourselves. That would be pretty narcisisstic. From what I've seen, people truly love the characters they would most like to become. Not in the "I want to be Frodo so I can wield the ring of power" sense, but in the "I want to be Faramir because I'd like to believe I would turn down the ring outright like he did in the book and not be tempted by it the way Peter Jackson portrayed it that blasphemer." Not "I'd like to be Harry and have magical giant show up one day to rescue me from drudgery and take me to a magical vault full of money" but "I'd like to meet Snape and give him a hug and thank him for everything he did for us muggles and the wizarding world."

So what characters do you love, and what does that tell you about who you want to be?
I love Neville Longbottom, because all through the series I kept thinking "there's a reason this kid is in Gryffindor. I love Luna Lovegood even more, because she had a Ravenclaw mind and a Gryffindor heart. I love Katniss because I honestly think she gave up even Gale just to save her baby sister. I love Levin for the chapters on threshing and value he placed on working regardless of stature. I love Tacky because he's not afraid of being an odd bird. I love Eragon and Nasuada for figuring out how to grow up at the same time as his author did. I love book-version Eowyn and Faramir because they deserved each other in a gentle way the same way movie Eowyn and Faramir (who I do not love) deserved each other in a bumbling way.

Which brings me to a final point. Movie versions of books are just fine as long as you have read the books and know what's really happening. Watching the movies without the books is sort of like eating a twinkie without and cream in the middle. You left out the good stuff, but you got the shell.

Watching a good movie that gets the emotions of the characters right can enhance the book experience. Like tonight. When I was sitting in a theatre watching Katniss sing to Rue. And this crusty baguette sobbed like a baby. The gasping kinds of sobs that everyone can hear. With facial leakage and everything. And I suddenly realized I think I love Rue even more than I love Katniss, because I think she's the kind of brave that I'd like to be someday.

So take that, gossippy work ladies.

Thursday, March 8, 2012


Oh Facebook.

This new timeline thing is not my favorite. I'm the first person to put things in chronological order (my CDs in chronology according to date of composition, my books in order of when they were written, my clothes in order of purchase date...) but I can't get behind facebook's chronological ordering of my life.

Especially since other people can post things to my timeline.

I'm still sorting this thing out. But I got an inkling of it when someone posted something a few months ago about a class we had taken together at a college that I didn't want to acknowledge. Specifically, I did not want to acknowledge taking that course at that college. Its a fine school and all, it served its purpose, but the course itself was purely for scholarship purposes and I would rather not advertise that I had been there. At least, not on facebook.

I just ignored that little message though. You know the message facebook sends about how so-and-so has indicated that you were in such-and-such a place, and would you please confirm? I ignored it and it went away.

But then tonight someone else did something similar that sent me into a tiny panic.
They listed me as having attended my high school.

Now to be sure, I listed my own high school and graduating year on facebook. But this person included me in some sort of group-timeline-"yearbook" thing that not only announces to the world my highschool experience, it includes me in some sort of "schoolfeed" that let's me participate in the high school experience all over again.

No thank you.

Some things are just left well enough alone.

To say high school was traumatizing would be an understatement. In my program we are learning about "exposure therapy" for PTSD patients. Its where you allow them to expereince the trauma repeatedly until they accept the emotions and learn to cope with the physiologial responses from life threatening situations. I won't do it. I won't go there. War vetrans relive battles, but I won't go back to high school.

Not only am I unprepared to address the high school experience, I'm unwilling to even discuss or consider it.

I see no reason to. My life is full of wonderful healthy relationships that are as far away from high school as Ghana is from hosting the winter olympics. And those wonderful healthy relationships are mixed in with a few old high school friends in my facebook lists. But frankly, there is no way I am inviting anyone into that circle who I haven't carefully selected.

I'm OK with blank spots on my timeline.

So when I saw this post inviting me to participate in a giant virtual high school re-play, I panicked. I wondered why facebook has to have just the "like" button. Why isn't there a "dislike" button? Why isn't there a "please don't remind me" button? Why isn't there an "i'd much prefer that this portion of my life never happened" button?

When I went to investigate the removal of the high school yearbook from my timeline, I discovered that it was an app sort of thing. The screen popped up that said "schoolfeed would like to allow Warroad High School Yearbook to access your photos, friend lists, timelines, and information" and then underneath there were two buttons. "Allow" and "Don't Allow".

I have to admit. It was therapeutic to hit "don't allow".

It was like I got to say "no" to the high school experience in a way that I hadn't been allowed before. No. You can't have the good things in my life. No you can't mock me, bully me, or break me down. No you can't question who I am and what I am choosing. No. You can't be a part of the things I am building in spite of all the damage you did. I don't allow it. I don't allow the negative in here anymore. I don't allow the doubts and fears to tear me apart. I don't allow you in to the life I have.

Sometimes avoidance is adaptive in that it is a behavior we adopt because the behavior has protective qualities. Sometimes the adaptive avoidance leads to dysfunction in other parts of life. But sometimes, adaptive avoidance is just fine. I don't need to relive high school in order to move on. I'm doing just fine without it. And I'm kind of proud of the way hitting "don't allow" was more than just the elimination of a junk app. It is the way I've learned to live my life. Don't allow. You want to play games, pretend like there have been offenses committed, or create unneccesary drama? I'm hitting the "Don't allow" button. Manipulations? Don't allow. But if you would like to invite honesty, repair relationships, and have conversations that mean something, I'll "Allow". Questions and concerns? Allow. Whining and anger? Don't allow. Action and emotion? Allow. Judgement and cruelty? Don't allow.

I'm not sure that personal growth is chronological. There is a lot of back and forth. Sometimes we lose ground, sometimes we have to backtrack to pick up pieces. Some people come to a complete halt. I'd like to believe that we are all improving in the long run, but the reality is, we all have chunks we'd like to forget, either because we were worse than we wanted to be or because we somehow came to a screeching stop, or because the actions of others put us in an entirely different place. Whatever the reason, I'd like facebook to come up with a different sort of "line" that's not a timeline. Maybe a happiness line. Something that documents our favorite moments regardless of when they occurred. Or maybe a "best behavior" line, that documents the things we have done that we are most proud of, that we most want the world to know about. Or maybe a "define me" line, that allows us to share the things that make us individuals. After all, the whole "social networking" scene is about self-marketing.

And the nice thing is, we could use such a perspective to ask ourselves how right now fits. Does "right now" make my happiness line, my best behavior line, or my define me line? Because if it doesn't, I need to make different choices about what I allow and what I don't allow.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Unexpected Woes


I have the most ridiculous problem in the world.

I really need to lose a few pounds before conference (it’s the raspberry dress, which we haven’t worn since before Christmas, see).

And maybe that’s not so much a unique problem, because you see, most of America could stand to lose a few pounds. And I certainly know what steps to take.

Like refusing the extra slice of Lemon Merengue pie last night. Which I did.

And maybe getting off my studying butt and walking or running a few times a week.
Which I have been trying to do.

And it’s been beautiful out, so taking a walk seems like such an easy, lovely thing to do.
So what’s the problem, Nancy?

Oh, I’ll tell you.

I have a wonderful ward neighborhood. (Still not a problem…)
No, seriously, they are the kindest most loving and giving ward ever. (Quit bragging and tell us your problem Nancy.)

Every time I try to go for a walk, someone in my ward offers me a ride.
I’m not kidding. And of course, I’m too prideful to say “no, I’ve just gained 10 pounds since Christmas that need to come off before April.” So instead I have to smile and wave, pretend like I didn’t hear, or even make up a destination, then walk home from wherever I have them drop me off, taking a different route home and praying that no one sees me.

The thing is, I’m torn. If I tell them to leave me alone, then when my car really does break down and I really do need rides places, no one will stop and offer. They’ll just think “That Nancy is so dedicated to the choir, she is always walking just so she’ll fit into her dresses.”

May be I need t-shirts made. One that says “Poor college student with crappy car, give me a ride.” And another that says “fat girl exercising, leave me alone”