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“Good Men” and “Real Men”

I had seen the meme before—”I know good men still exist because I married one”—but it had gone away when I saw it reemerge after a national conversation began about what is and isn’t normal “locker-room talk.” When it reemerged, it suddenly really bothered me, because it seemed to suggest that most men aren’t good men.

The day before we attended the BYU Spectacular, Peter Hollens filmed part of a dress rehearsal at the Marriott Center for his Facebook fans. He turned the camera to the woman who was leading the rehearsal, and when she realized she was on camera, she said, “I don’t want to be on there!” and ran out of the shot. He replied, “Why not, you look beautiful!” But he didn’t push it or put the camera back on her. Instead he filmed some people who wanted to be on camera.

I thought, This is a good man who knows something about consent. And I choose, right here and now, to believe that most men are good men, and that the person who caused the national discussion is in the minority.

A few days later I saw an 18-year-old boy make a comment on a Facebook post that about made my eyes bug out: “The media has taught us men to act feminine, and have taught the woman to be the man in the relationship.” Seriously, in 2016, is this the mentality that we’re fighting against? It’s obvious from the rest of this boy’s post that he is a Christian. Would he call Jesus feminine? Does having integrity, treating people kindly, appreciating a woman’s strength and mutually supporting her growth amount to a lack of masculinity? If so, a “real man” is not someone I want anything to do with.

What can be done? One attitude I hear a lot—about sexism, racism, and similar—is that as an older generation dies off, it will be replaced by a kinder, more enlightened generation. But as a colleague recently expressed, parents and other influential elders teach the children. And I would like to believe—I must believe—that people can change and be the best they are today. The only cure for ignorance is education, and the more people fight, the more likely they are to win battles, and maybe eventually a war. I’m still trying to figure out my role, but maybe this blog post is a start.

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On Gifts, Effort, and Understanding

imageI did really well in math until I got to algebra. I didn’t realize just how hard math is for me until I got into my sophomore year of high school, the year of Accelerated College Algebra. It was supposed to prepare me for calculus my senior year. What it actually did was talk me out of the honor’s math track and introduce me to a gifted boy who we’ll call Josh.

I never got to know Josh very well, but he was legendary. He took so many AP classes that his weighted GPA was over 6.0 when he graduated. His grades and test scores were his key into the Ivy League, and he majored in math at one of the most prestigious universities in the country.

When I visited some of my old classmates several months after our high school graduation, I found out that Josh was really struggling with the math program. I scoffed because this was Josh. “Hard” to him couldn’t possibly mean the same thing as “hard” means to the rest of us. Josh struggled through and went on to a lucrative career while raising a beautiful family.

Now that I’m the mother of a new freshman in a highly demanding STEM major at a competitive university, I’m no longer scoffing. I will never understand just how hard the curriculum is in classes that I’m not capable of, just as I will never understand just how hard that astonishing classical piano piece is because I will never be that advanced.

None of us can completely understand the enormity of Jesus Christ’s sacrifice for us because we are incapable of His endurance or actions. And yet He can understand just how hard our personal struggles are because not only has He taken those things upon Himself, but as a perfect being, He is capable enough in all things to really understand how hard our personal level of “hard” is.

We, as mortals, have no right to scoff at other people’s struggles. We have no idea what it is truly like to be in another person’s shoes. We can’t assume that because we’ve been through a certain trial, we know exactly what another person feels going through the same trial because we all experience life differently.

We do, however, have the responsibility to try. We have been given the responsibility to love, to bear each other’s burdens, to be angels to those around us. And if we try to see each other as God sees each of us, we can do our best to empathize and let others know they are not alone. That’s what we were meant to do. When we tear each other down or judge each other unrighteously, not only are we not fulfilling God’s purposes, but we are actively serving Satan’s destructive purposes. That is a scary place to find ourselves.

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Why I Am a Democrat

I am a wife, a mother, an environmentalist, a vegetarian, and a Democrat. And I’m a Mormon.

I wasn’t always a Democrat by affiliation, but I think I’ve had Democrat leanings my whole life, just like I’ve had a testimony of the LDS Church my whole life. The only time I feel conflict between my political beliefs and my religious beliefs is when other people create the conflict. I’ve found that it’s a cultural thing, not a doctrinal thing.

I am a Democrat because I believe in agency. As a Mormon, I live the Word of Wisdom, but I don’t have the right to force my dietary restrictions on other people. I believe I would have a very hard time aborting a child even if it threatened my life, but I have no right to make that terrible decision for someone else. I have a testimony of The Family: A Proclamation, but I am happy for my gay friends when they are able to make decisions that make them happy. The prophets have a responsibility to warn society of negative consequences. I have the responsibility to be a good friend and neighbor, and the message of the Church is a gospel of love.

I am a Democrat because I believe in responsibility. While we all have our agency, there are consequences for our actions. I believe in restrictions that protect people from those consequences. We have laws and restrictions about driving to protect everyone involved. We should likewise have laws and restrictions on guns and gun sales to protect everyone involved. One aspect of responsibility that truly affects everyone is the way we treat our planet. This earth is a gift, and the Lord gave us stewardship over it. Proper stewardship requires that we protect the earth so that we can have healthy and happy lives. When factories belch so many particulates into the air that breathing is equivalent to smoking, my agency has been taken away from me; I have taken care of my lungs my whole life, and when the air is filthy, I am forced to breathe the polluted air or I will die.

I am a Democrat because I believe in compassion. Compassion for people fleeing their situation because they’ve run out of options. Compassion for people who are working but aren’t making enough money to live on. Compassion for people who are trying to make a better life for themselves but need a leg up in order to do it. In an ideal world, nonprofit organizations could help everyone in need.  Unfortunately, there aren’t enough organizations to go around. In some cases, the government is in the best situation to help. Just because they don’t do it perfectly doesn’t mean they shouldn’t try.

All of these points are supported by the gospel. The Brethren have stated repeatedly that truth can be found in all major political parties. I don’t agree with every facet of of the Democratic platform, but I don’t know anyone who agrees with every facet of either party. Eight years ago, I took a good look at the values of both parties and found that the values of the Democratic Party most match mine. And while I don’t agree with everything our current president has done, I still believe that he was the best choice for our country both terms. I am proud to be an LDS Democrat.

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The Hunger Games: The Reread

After I watched the movie of Catching Fire the second time, I decided I needed to reread the whole series. This is something I thought I would never do when I put down Mockingjay a few years ago and returned it to the library. I couldn’t say I liked it–not after all the terrible things that had just happened–but I could say it was a good, well-written series. To everyone who pressed me further, I would say something like, “Any book that keeps you up at night and makes you question society itself is well-written. The author has done her job, and done it well.”

But then they started making movies. I took my oldest daughter to watch the first movie in the theater the first night I could responsibly do it (no school for her and no work for me the next morning). I cried. I was impressed. I wasn’t sure I could watch it a second time, but I knew, even as I thought that, that I would buy it.

My oldest daughter opened the package as soon as it came in the mail and popped it into the DVD player. She watched it by herself this time, though I may have wandered in and out of it. She mentioned that she liked it more the second time. Then her younger sister (by 19 months) watched it and liked it enough to read the whole series, and I found after watching it a couple times that I, too, enjoyed it more with repetition, though it still makes me cry, just like Dumbledore’s death makes me cry every time.

My oldest daughter and I saw Catching Fire as soon as it came out (my second daughter wanted to go with us, but I wouldn’t let her), but this time a little less responsibly; we didn’t go to a midnight showing, but we didn’t wait until the weekend, either. We went to work and school more tired than usual, but of course, it was worth it. We both cried through it and loved it and were pleased that almost everyone else who was posting about it loved it too. I found myself defending not just the movies but the books against the naysayers, many of whom hadn’t even given the books a chance, and that’s when I realized I really love this series–and it’s time I reread them.

Now at this point I need to break my narration to explain why I wouldn’t let my 13-year-old go to the theater with us. This series is really intense. It is violent, though Suzanne Collins is ingeniously careful in the way she portrays the violence, and the movie makers have retained Suzanne’s care in keeping with the intended audience. After watching it in the theater, I decided to make my 13-year-old wait until it comes out on DVD, because there’s something about seeing it in your own living room on a smaller screen that lessens the intensity and makes things more comfortable.

These are really hard books to read. I fully acknowledge that, and I have just explained my own journey in dealing with the content. I would never force someone to read these books or watch these movies. I do, however, firmly insist that if you’re going to bother to watch the movies, and even enjoy them, you must read the books. You are missing out on the meat and much of the meaning of the series if you are simply watching the movies and choose to ignore their origin. Now back to my narrative.

Shortly after I decided I really needed to reread the Hunger Games series, I walked into the library to return Ender’s Game (which I felt I needed to reread after watching the movie) and Xenocide. My Xenocide hold had arrived at the library before my hold on Speaker for the Dead, so I hadn’t reread Xenocide yet, and I don’t want to read them out of order, especially since I haven’t read these books since junior high. (Speaker for the Dead has finally made its way in; I’m hoping to pick it up tonight.) So I walked over to the Card area in the sci-fi section to see if, by some chance, Speaker for the Dead was on the shelf, even though I was way down on the hold list. Nope, of course not. Lots of other Card books, but none of the Ender series. So I walked across from the sci-fi section to the teen section, and there it was, waiting for me on the shelf: The Hunger Games, and right next to it, Catching Fire.

So began my reread of The Hunger Games. I’m a proofreader by trade and an editor by education, so let’s get this out of the way right now: This book needed another round of proofreading. There are several places where someone has crossed out typos in pencil (which may or may not have been one of my own children, I have to admit), and there are many places throughout the book where the commas needed a serious revisit, no matter what style you use.

I remember one of my editing professors pointing out that the difference between Twilight and successive books in that series is money. Twilight was full of errors, and each book after that was cleaner. These books were making money, so it was okay to spend more money on them. I don’t know if that is the reason The Hunger Games is messy, and I don’t remember if they get less messy; I’ll find out as I go on. But because I know the publication process forward and back and I know that these issues are a very small portion of what goes into making a book, I don’t let them get in the way of my enjoyment of a really good book.

And this is a good book. I think the point of view–the way you can only see what Katniss sees–is genius. Part of why I love the movie is that you get to see everything else that is going on, so it completes the story instead of just repeating it. I’ve read critical reviews that say this isn’t a good book, it’s just another series that teens have caught hold of. I heartily disagree, and I’m guessing that said critics don’t care much for teen or juvenile literature in the first place. I have a very low tolerance for the opinions of people who don’t appreciate good teen and juvenile literature.

As is true with any well-written book, you understand everything better–the characters, the circumstances, what makes this book tick–the second time around. You notice things you missed before, now that you know why small details are important and what is going to happen next. I’m glad I gave these books a second chance after my initial “wow, that was awful; as well done as it was, I can’t bear it again” reaction. The fact that I had that reaction in the first place tells you how well Suzanne did.

In a way, I hope she writes more, but in another way, I hope she doesn’t. I enjoyed Gregor the Overlander (the juvenile series that introduced me to this author), but it wasn’t genius. I feel like it was a foundation for her to build on, similar to how I feel about the early J.K. Rowling books. (My apologies to those who loved the first two Harry Potter books, but her books became much more from Goblet of Fire on.) Can either of these authors top themselves? I don’t think Jo Rowling can; Harry Potter was just too big, and as a rabid fan of those books, anything else would be disappointing. Can Suzanne Collins? I don’t know; I don’t know enough about her or her writing yet. For me, the jury is still out..and waiting.

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I recently flipped through my girls’ most recent issue of the New Era and saw the following article: http://www.lds.org/new-era/2013/09/whats-so-great-about-the-great-and-spacious-building?lang=eng. The part of the article that jumped out at me and stuck in my mind was the concept of “can’t” versus “won’t.” As an adult, it isn’t something I think about much anymore. I made all the big decisions when I was young (like being morally clean and obeying the Word of Wisdom), and once you’ve made those decisions, it’s a lot easier to stick to them. So when I made a comment to my daughter in passing as we sat side by side in front of the computer screen a few hours later, it took me completely by surprise when I realized that my comment could have been misconstrued by the wrong audience. Then I realized that my daughters are my most important audience of all.

I looked at her and asked, “You know that I would dress modestly whether I had been to the temple or not, right?” She nodded, probably wondering why I would ask such a thing. I explained, just to make sure: “You know that I didn’t feel comfortable dressing immodestly before I went to the temple either, right? I don’t dress modestly because I have to; I do it because I know my body is sacred.” She nodded again, giving me a look that said clearly, Of course, Mom; did you think otherwise?

You see, this is my vocal daughter. I know exactly what she is thinking because she tells me, and I know that we think a lot alike. But each of my daughters is different, and I can’t assume that because one of my daughters understands, all three of them do. I realized that day that I can’t assume anything; it could cost me–and my daughters–dearly. They need to hear me, the closest female role model in their life, tell them that I do things not because I have to, but because my Heavenly Father loves me, and I love Him.

We all have our weaknesses. Some things come easier for us than others. Violations of the Word of Wisdom have never been much of a temptation for me. I’ve never actually had to say “I won’t” out loud, though I have said “I don’t” several times in my adult life. Living in Utah, people have always assumed correctly that I’m a Mormon and have dropped it without question, but I could easily give an answer without bringing up my religion. For example, even if I weren’t a Mormon, I wouldn’t drink coffee because it’s one of my least favorite smells and I don’t like the way caffeine makes me feel. But is the deeper reason more important? Should people know that I don’t drink coffee because of my religion? According to the author of this article, it shouldn’t even be a matter of don’t, but a matter of won’t. Why?

Because some things are harder for me than the Word of Wisdom. It doesn’t matter what my weaknesses are. We all have them, and chances are good that you and I share one or two. To remain stalwart, we must say we won’t, so that when the inevitable temptations come, we can stand firmly and say “I won’t do that.” And our children need to know that we are saying “I won’t” so that they can know that they are not alone when they make right choices. They need to hear their friends, their leaders, and other family members say “I won’t” because we can’t be there all the time, and they need as much support to make right choices as they can get. And they need to know that we won’t because we are children of our Heavenly Father who loves us, and we love Him, and that that is the most important reason of all. That is the answer that will stand the test of time, that always works even when other answers fly in the face of logical or social reason. If it is the true answer for everything we do, then we will not be as easily swayed when people we love or admire make wrong choices, when someone comes up with a new theory that challenges our basic beliefs, or when our leaders announce a new policy change. If it is the true answer for everything we do, then our light will shine, and others can follow. If it is the true answer for everything we do, then when we slip and fall, it will be easier for us to take our Father’s outstretched hand so He can help us back to the strait and narrow path, until finally, at the end, we reach the tree of life, beyond the mists of darkness and the influence of those inside the great and spacious building, and we can finally partake of the fruit that is most precious of all.

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September 11, 2013 · 2:27 am

Doing the Extraordinary

Everyone has dreams. At some point we may want to be a ballerina or a firefighter. Our dreams often change with maturity or awareness of the world. For example, I used to want to walk on the rings of Saturn. How disappointed I was when one of my big brothers or sisters explained that this would be impossible because Saturn is made out of gas. But that didn’t stop me from wanting to visit the moon.

Sometimes people stop dreaming because they’re afraid. The dreams seem like a waste because they’ll never come true. But the truth is, you can make your own reality.

When you choose to do something hard, there will be more obstacles than you ever realized. When you choose to go against the status quo, there will be a thousand reasons not to go through with it. People will discourage you. Circumstances will discourage you. Change is hard. It sometimes seems impossible. The trick is to find the one reason to go through with it, the one reason why it matters, the reason that will pull you back up when the world pushes you down.

A few years ago, with the help of my uber-supportive husband, I returned to BYU. I took two years and finished my bachelor’s degree. I found something I am good at, something I enjoy, something that will enable me to support my family, and I worked and fought and did well enough to get the internships I needed to get a job outside of the student bubble. I am still in the beginning, so I don’t know how this story ends, but I know that I’m doing what I could never have done if I hadn’t taken a huge leap of faith.

There are so many other things I’ve wanted to do, things that I’ve been afraid to do or that I’ve felt incapable of doing, things that just seem too big. I’ve never had much capacity to do anything athletic. But I realized several years ago I would like to run a marathon someday. I have found that running is one thing I can do that doesn’t require the coordination I lack, such as batting a ball or catching anything or thinking as a team member on the spot (I am the one that runs in the wrong direction). And now that I’ve discovered the Couch to 5k app on my phone, I find that I can push myself to run more and harder when someone who knows what they’re doing programs my phone to tell me when to run and when to walk. There are people who think I’m weird or crazy, but when you choose to do the hard thing, to do the extraordinary, people are going to think you’re weird or crazy.

I still have plenty of things left on my bucket list that I have no idea when I’ll approach them. I would like to really get into hiking and meet some kind of crazy goal. I would like to learn to rock climb. I would like to jump out of a plane, just once, with a parachute on my back. I would like to ride in a hot air balloon. I would like to really learn to swim, well enough to learn to snorkel and scuba dive. And yes, I would still like to go to the moon. I don’t know when all this will happen. Right now it’s all I can do to raise my family, work 40 hours a week, and train to be a runner. I hope to get back into my music–not just singing on Sundays, but playing the piano and writing and arranging music. That’s another one of my dreams that I set aside to do what I’m doing now.

So how do we do everything? How do we hold on to every dream and not let go of others? I have no idea. I do know that there is a time and a season for everything and that we are mortal. The best we can do is live every day as if it were our last and trust that the Lord will lead us in the best direction for us right now. But we must also be willing to do the impossible if we really want to live our dreams, not only when we’re commanded to but also when we have a dream to make come true. As long as it’s a righteous desire, I believe the Lord will help us with that kind of impossible too. We were born to be extraordinary, after all.

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