Monday, October 29, 2018

4 things I learned in October

"I'm so glad I live in a world where there are Octobers." So says Anne of Green Gables, so says me. October does everything best. But here are some less obvious observations I've had this October.

Social media fast—I did Pres. Nelson's social media fast challenge. Mostly. I only did it seven days instead of 10, but I figured that was enough. And rather than make me realize something profound about how social media was ruining my life, seven days without it made me more grateful for it. I am connected to far more people than I would be without social media—going without it made me feel more isolated, if anything—not to mention it's a handy tool for keeping tabs on people I don't see very much and keeping me up to date on what's going on in the world. It's such a universal way of communicating now that sometimes it's the only way I can get updates about family events, ward happenings, etc. And I missed being able to scroll through Twitter when I needed to numb my brain—that's been a super handy trick when I need a quick break from editing or when my thoughts are racing at night when I should be sleeping.

I enjoyed the break from all the negativity—especially on Twitter—and I'm going to be more mindful about staying off social media when I should be focusing on what's going on around me. But overall, going cold turkey for that long was an unnecessary nuisance.

2018 spooky read
—For the last few years, I've read a spooky book in October. I need challenges like this to get me outside my reading comfort zone occasionally. I don't enjoy horror, but I loved 11/22/63 so much that I had to read some more Stephen King. So I chose one of the classics of the horror genre: The Shining. I was prepared to be jumping at shadows all the time and to have nightmares every night—but the book really didn't scare me that much. 

I mean, yes, it's a freaky and disturbing book and it deserves its spot as one of the premier horror novels of all time, but I couldn't suspend my disbelief enough to buy that a haunted hotel could make you go crazy or that hedges could come to life and attack you. I can put myself in any fantasy story, memoir, contemporary novel—basically any other genre—but in horror, apparently I can't do that enough to relate in any meaningful way. And since I don't find horror tropes entertaining or educational—the top two reasons I read—this book didn't have much to offer me.

I still don't think I could handle the movie, though, unless I went into it with the intention of mocking the absurdity. It's a lot harder to get disturbing images out of your brain if you actually have to see them. And the music! Horror is vastly more effective with a suspenseful soundtrack.

Working from home
—I've started working from home one day a week because I moved into the part of Utah that gets the worst traffic in the entire state. (In my totally unbiased, rational opinion. Redwood Road is of the devil.) The older I get the more I feel like the 9-to-5 office life is slowly sucking the life out of me, so getting one weekday away from that makes me feel like I have a little more control over the way I live. I'll probably be stuck in office culture for another 35 years or so, so I'm grateful to have wrangled a little bit of flexibility out of it.

Ask and you may receive—I'm not the inquisitive type. Not if it means physically asking someone a question. Nor am I the type to seek out help from others. I'd rather suffer in silence until I explode. But recent experiences have made me realize that if you ask for something, you just might get it. Opening up, even just a little, doesn't necessarily mean you'll be rejected or ignored or seen as weak. Mind blown.

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Birthdays, fires, and miracles

Unlucky birthdays

I've always liked the number 13. Being born on the 13th of the month has endeared me to this unluckiest of numbers—it makes me feel like I'm living a little bit on the dark side.

But recent events have forced me to think over my lack of belief in unlucky 13s. Because bad things do tend to happen around my birthday.

For example:

  • Sept. 11, 2001—No explanation needed
  • Sept. 12, 2009—My Grandma Jackson died
  • Sept. 13, 2013—A bunch of my coworkers were laid off (this was a Friday the 13th birthday, which was an otherwise awesome day)
  • Sept. 13, 2018—9 of my 14 family members were evacuated due to a fire that threatened to send my childhood up in flames

Notice any similarities here? All of these happened to people around me, rather than directly to me. Each has felt profoundly personal, sure, but I feel morally bound to warn everyone that my next birthday falls on a Friday.

This is what the fire looked like from Eagle Mountain (about 40 miles from the fire) around the time Elk Ridge and Woodland Hills were ordered to evacuate. Hint: those are not clouds.

Terrible fires

If you live near a mountain in Utah, you know the fire risks. We've had fires within seeing distance of my childhood home before, but this fire (two fires actually, which have now combined—the Bald Mountain Fire and the Pole Creek Fire)—this fire is different. Aided by the worst drought in recent memory, higher-than-average temperatures, and wind, this fire was set to destroy just about everything I hold dear. My hometown. The home I grew up in, my sister's home, the homes of the many people who helped raise me. The lives of the 5,000 people who live in this beautiful sanctuary, a tucked-away gem that we prefer remain hidden.

The fire spread at an astounding rate, and to date has burned around 90,000 acres—and it's still growing. It quickly became the No. 1 fire priority in the nation, giving us access to whatever resources we need to fight this blaze.

Welcome to Mordor.

I spent a couple of sleepless nights imagining every worst-case scenario. Fear does crazy things to your imagination, and for a couple of days, that fear was warranted. With several other fires sprouting up throughout Utah on Saturday—not to mention BYU winning an impossible-to-win game on the road—it truly felt like the apocalypse was here.

Undeniable miracles

Many times throughout that horrible weekend, when all we could do was watch helplessly from the sidelines and pray, I wondered if God's plan was to let this disaster run its own course. I kept thinking about that scripture in 1 Kings 19:11–12. Elijah is hiding in a cave, afraid for his life, hopeless for the children of Israel because they have forsaken their covenants.
And, behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind rent the mountains, and brake in pieces the rocks before the Lord; but the Lord was not in the wind: and after the wind an earthquake; but the Lord was not in the earthquake;
And after the earthquake a fire; but the Lord was not in the fire. 
From my limited perspective, where all I could see was that fire growing and growing, I could not see the Lord's hand in any of it. Only destruction, aided by unfavorable weather conditions.

But once the worst of the danger had passed, the stories started pouring in, and the miracles became more clear. A line of fire that was headed straight for homes in Elk Ridge simply fizzed out on its own. Firefighters said there was no way they would get through Friday and Saturday without losing some homes because of the crazy winds, but somehow the fire threatening so many homes just didn't respond to the wind the way nature required it to. The fire acted unnaturally, illogically, many times, which kept this narrative—no structures have been lost—going. No firefighters have been seriously injured either, despite the weather factors working against them.

The Lord is in that fire.

Steve Jobs said, "You can't connect the dots going forward. You can only connect them looking backward. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future."

President Dieter F. Uchtdorf expounded on this in a devotional to young single adults last January:
What did he mean by that? Perhaps an illustration will help. In the late 19th century, artists such as Georges Seurat and Paul Signac began painting in a new style that would become known as neo-impressionism. Their technique consisted of dotting canvases with small specks of color. Close up, these dots appear unconnected and random. But when you take in the entire painting, you can see how the dots blend into colors and how the colors eventually form shapes that reveal a beautiful pattern. What once seemed arbitrary and even confusing begins to make sense. Sometimes our lives are like neo-impressionistic art. The dots of color that make up the moments and events of our days can appear unconnected and chaotic at times. We can’t see any order to them. We can’t imagine that they have a purpose at all.
However, when we step back and take an eternal perspective, when we look at our lives in the frame of the gospel of Jesus Christ, we can begin to see how the various dots in our lives interconnect. We may not be able to see the entire picture just yet, but we’ll see enough to trust that there is a beautiful, grand design. And as we strive to trust God and follow His Son, Jesus Christ, one day we will see the finished product, and we will know that the very hand of God was directing and guiding our steps.
In the heart of this fire, it felt like a senseless, unlucky string of events. But looking back over the last few days, it's stunningly obvious that we haven't been left alone in this. Connecting the dots even further back, I am extremely grateful I bought a house months ago that was bigger than I needed. It's allowed me to open up my home to four of my family members and give them some sense of home and comfort as this mandatory evacuation stretches on.

And the community response has been incredible. The Red Cross has had to ask people to stop donating and beg evacuees to come pick up donated supplies. The firefighters are well taken care of. No one has had to spend the night in a shelter because there's a long waiting list of people who are ready to open their homes to evacuees. People stepped in to provide wedding decorations and supplies when one couple's wedding in Woodland Hills had to be replanned at the last minute because of the fire and evacuations. And let's not underestimate how well prepared many Elk Ridge and Woodland Hills residents were for something like this to happen. This is a special, tight-knit community; these stories don't surprise me one bit.

That being said, this crisis is far from over. The Bald Mountain fire is still 0% contained, and simply getting through each day during a long-term evacuation is a huge burden for evacuees. The smoke, at least in Eagle Mountain, was worse this morning than it's been all summer. I'm dreading seeing how many childhood haunts are gone when this is all over, and how this will affect the beautiful views and wildlife for years to come. As Gov. Herbert has said, "This is a marathon, not a sprint."

Let's go back to that verse from 1 Kings 19:12. It finishes off with:
and after the fire a still small voice. 
Torrential rains would be a more obvious miracle—and it's the one much of Utah continues to pray for—but it's often the quiet miracles we're granted. And sometimes we literally have to live through fire before we can see the miracle and find peace. But the help is there. It's always there.

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

A summer of new experiences

August is just about over, and you know what that means: alternating panic and self-flagellation for wasting another summer.

Except, I'm not getting that feeling. Because I did things this summer. I was too busy living new experiences to be bothered too much by the things I love to gripe about during the summer (the heat, the sleep trouble, the having to go to work—you know the list).

Apartment renter to homeowner

This is the big one, guys—the biggest change I've made since I started working after college. And in almost all ways, it's been a positive one.

But moving from a one-bedroom apartment to a four-bedroom house brings some challenges. Like, finding the energy to vacuum all. that. carpet. And having three levels instead of one—I feel like I'm trekking up and down stairs constantly. And now that I have about 47 closets, it takes me much longer to find lost items (weeks longer, in some cases, because I routinely forget about certain closets). And I have three bathrooms to clean now, because one person definitely needs three bathrooms. Seriously, between the miles and miles of carpet and the infinite number of closets and doors, sometimes I miss that grungy little apartment for its sheer simplicity.

(There's also the commute. Before school started it was long but bearable, but now it adds an extra hour of hell to every work day and I can't talk about it without getting ENRAGED so let's move on.)

But everything else? Awesome. I love how soft and fluffy the carpet is, even if I resent its abundance. I LOVE having a kitchen that's big enough to move around in. No more balancing cookie sheets over the sink or having to move eight things every time I need to cut up some vegetables. I love having a few extra rooms so I don't have to keep all my stuff in my bedroom if I don't want to. I LOVE having a garage to park my car in; it's my favorite adulting thing ever. I love that everything is brand new so I don't have to worry about stuff breaking on me just yet. I love putting any investment into this new space of mine, whether it be cleaning/decorating or putting in a water softener. It's mine to do with what I wish, and there's a certain pride and joy that comes with that.

Another thing I love? I have a library. As if I needed another happy place in this house.

Never been outside the U.S. to world traveler

I finally did it—I traveled outside the U.S., to the exotic land of Canada. Still no stamp on my passport because apparently you have to travel in by plane to do that, but we took many pictures to mark the occasion.

I didn't expect Canada to feel any different from the U.S., but right away I noticed some things that made it feel "foreign." Like their use of the metric system—I'm a dumb American, so I couldn't tell you how much gas costs there in Americanese. You see French almost as much as you do English, and Canadians are super nice. And not in that fake way you get here all the time where we just act nice because we're supposed to, or smile sweetly while plotting ways to murder someone. It's a real, genuine, not-at-all annoying niceness, and I think we should all be like Canadians.

Also, Niagara Falls is incredible. The boat tour was my favorite part of the entire trip.

Singles ward to family ward

This was by far the hardest transition I made this summer, but it had to be done. I may still end up back in a singles ward once I officially hit "mid-singles" age, but for now it's been a nice break from the YSA wards I've outgrown, and it's been a great way to help me get to know my neighbors and actually become a part of the community I live in. Plus, I have family in the ward again, and I was given one of the few family ward callings that doesn't terrify me—primary pianist.

Still, my heart goes out to any LDS single (sorry, Latter-day Saint single) making this transition, because it's rough. I hated feeling like I couldn't blend in anymore, and I really missed quiet sacrament meetings. (Still do.) But it got easier, and eventually I started believing what I kept telling myself—that everyone else is too wrapped up in their own lives to notice how different mine is, and that I share more similarities with these strange married people than I realize.

But, there is one thing I'm not sure I'll ever get used to: calling people Brother/Sister So-and-So. One of the many great things about singles wards is that everyone addresses each other my their first name—like you would in literally every other adult situation—so going back to the Brother/Sister thing feels archaic. It's not quite as strange when the primary people call me Sister Carter, but I'm still holding out hope that this weird cultural thing will die out.

4-time Convention survivor to 5-time Convention survivor

Nothing new about this year's USANA Convention experience, other than it was an easy one for me. ("Easy" being an extremely relative term here.) And that I broke my single-day steps record (22,000). And that I somehow still had the energy to smile on Saturday morning.

Pardon the bags under the eyes. They're part of the Convention uniform.

Cheers to an abundant summer. Even if your summer wasn't abundant, take heart in knowing that the best season has only just begun.

Friday, July 27, 2018

The classics: Hallmark of literature, or silent reader killer?

There's something about reading a classic that makes you feel smarter. More refined. Reading a classic is your ticket into an elite, long-standing club of readers. Read a classic and you'll be respected. Read many classics and others will believe just about anything you have to say about literature, and other topics as well.

Americans are also reading less than they ever have (although recent studies show there's been a slight resurgence lately). Ask any adult how many books they've read this year, and you'd be hard-pressed to find someone who gives you a number that isn't in the single digits, unless you run around with an unusually bookish crowd.

I've been out of the public school system for quite a few years now so I don't know what teachers are assigning kids to read these days. But I've often wondered if the classics teachers make their students read are the reason people don't seek out books on their own. I've loved books since birth, but until college I rarely enjoyed the books I read in school. When one of my Sunday school teachers told me her kids were required to read a couple of the classics every summer, two words flashed across my mind: child abuse.

If all I had to go on was that you can't do better than books like The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and A Tale of Two Cities, I wouldn't bother reading for leisure. I'd much rather watch TV or go outside for entertainment.

Luckily my parents weren't too worried about their kids being corrupted by books that are actually enjoyable reading experiences, so establishing a home of willing readers happened naturally. And eventually I did learn to appreciate the "important" books (Great Expectations, Anna Karenina, The Grapes of Wrath). Some of them I even loved (Jane Eyre, Little Women, Persuasion).

But even with a BA and MFA (both in English) under my belt, having studied many of the esteemed greats both voluntarily and involuntarily (71 in total, according to my personal Goodreads accounting system), I still despise a good number of them (The Scarlet Letter, Mrs. Dalloway, As I Lay Dying). Everyone has their own tastes, sure, but more and more I'm wondering if people who praise the classics above all else are just liars trying to sound smart. I mean seriously, how could anyone in their right mind recommend On the Road as a good way to spend your time?

The classics have their place in the literary world. An important one. Maybe they even have a place on your favorites shelf. But in general, they are esteemed far more than they should be. There are countless amazing books out there whose titles deserve to be recognized just as much as Pride and Prejudice or Moby Dick. I firmly believe there's a "written just for me" book out there for everyone, even the non-readers, but how will we find them if we're expected to love what generations before us said we should love?

Live a little; read for you, and own it.

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Temporary pleasures

My work commute recently got a lot longer, so I used the extra time spent trapped in a car as an excuse to refresh my podcasts. I got rid of a few and added, erm, more than a few.

So far, having a long commute hasn't bothered me at all. More time for podcasts and music is a win as far as I'm concerned.

But if you were to ask me to give you a recap on my podcast consumption every day, I would fail that test more often than not. I wish I could go around impressing people with random trivia and interesting tidbits about every subject under the sun, but my brain insists on letting a lot of that information disappear after a few hours, like it's a dream that quickly fades from memory.

To some extent, it's the same way with books. Books stay with me longer, but it disturbs me how soon I forget even basic plot points. My book nerd ego is wounded every time I can't discuss a book at length, or at least enough to fill the silence of an elevator ride. (Which is why I take the stairs. Anything to avoid elevator small talk.)

I've always prided myself on having a good memory, so the fact that I can't hold on to everything I take in really bothers me. And what does it say about me that I spend so much of my free time on things I'll likely forget? That I love spending my time and mental energy on things that'll disappear? What about all the other non-life-changing experiences I've had that are lost for good? Am I less of the person I should be because I can't rely on my memory baggage to follow me wherever I go, informing every decision?

That last question was the start of bucking me off of my philosophical high horse, although a part of me wants to get back on. I don't like failure. Even if the "failure" is a faulty but human memory.

Because humans aren't designed to remember everything; in fact, it's a mercy that we don't remember every mundane detail of our lives. (Can you imagine how exhausting that would be?) Living in the moment often means engaging in temporary pleasures—basking in something while it's happening, then letting it go when you move on to the next distraction.

And if I'm lucky, the temporary pleasure could become a lasting memory of generalities, if not specifics. For example, I've been in a great period of life where I have the time to indulge in books and podcasts at a rate others would scoff at. The experts would probably tell me I'm ruining my mental health by filling so many silences with media when I should be meditating, but when I think of books and podcasts I think of sunset walks, rejuvenating lunch breaks, relaxing me time, and stimulating drives. These temporary things have become a fixture in my life that I'll surely miss if/when I'm forced to take a step back from it all in order to make room for more "permanent" and life-altering experiences.

If nothing else, I can console myself with the knowledge that what could have been a boring and frustrating morning on Utah roads was a calm and entertaining start to my day. Who knows, maybe my lack of road rage made someone else's day a little better, too.

Some podcast recommendations
I always appreciate it when people I know recommend podcasts to feed my addiction, so here are a few I've been enjoying lately (hopefully ones I haven't already mentioned in previous posts):

  • Harry Potter and the Sacred Text—a reread of the Harry Potter series, with each chapter analyzed through a different theme and then analyzed using a sacred practice. It's my favorite HP podcast right now, which is saying a lot.
  • LeVar Burton Reads—Spend 40 minutes or so listening to LeVar Burton read a short story to you. What's not to like?
  • Nocturne—Stories of the night. Great for nights when I'm restless.
  • Tell Me Something I Don't Know—A game show where the contestants try to stump a panel of smart people with obscure but interesting facts.
  • The Allustionist—word/language history. Perfect for word nerds.
  • fiction/non/fiction—current events paired with a piece of literature that mirrors it. 

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Packing revelations

My original intent for this post was to debunk the popular belief that packing is a terrible chore, akin to writing a research paper or running a 10k. Packing isn't so bad, I thought as I typed away, because if you're packing it means you're about to have an adventure. Maybe a quick getaway, maybe something more permanent. The reason for the packing negates the chore-ness of it because it's a necessary final step before something changes.

But packing for a move? Big adventure, yes. Exciting change, yes. But fun? At first, sure—I couldn't wait to get started, actually—but the delight wore off as my back pain increased. And as it dawned on me just how much work this was actually going to be.

Remember that phenomenon that caused time to slow down while I was waiting for my house to be built? Now it's causing my possessions to multiply, so no matter how much work I get done, I'll never be done packing. This is not just an ambitious chore; it's a near impossible task.

I've had other revelations as well. Like how I buy food I think I'm supposed to have because they're in every American family's household: canned green beans, popcorn, peanut butter, rice. The most respectable of the expiration dates on those products was somewhere in the land of 2016.

I've been living in a one-bedroom apartment for six years, so storage space is limited. And what do I do with my one and only storage closet? Fill it with boxes. Some of which are too small to be of use for anything bigger than pens and some that are held together by duct tape. I figured I'd be thanking myself later when the time came to move, but if I had known how many people would suddenly have boxes to get rid of as soon as they found out I was moving, I would have used that storage space for something more useful.

I've even unburied a few boxes that were never unpacked from my last move, filled with mementos from my life that hold only sentimental value: participation trophies, badges, graduation announcements, terrible stories I wrote as a teenager, signed softballs, business cards, and—my favorite—the Wacky Wednesday book my brother made me when he was about 7. I thought that was gone for good and I was overjoyed to find it.

Did you catch that part where I mentioned I live in a one-bedroom apartment? Yeah. Starting my packing two weeks early was necessary due to the never-ending nature of the project, but pretty soon I'm going to start having nightmares about suffocating in boxes. Kids would have a ball playing the lava game at my place, because there's very little carpet (aka, lava) to be seen.

And there's still more packing to do. And miraculously, still more empty boxes, even after I used about 30 for all my books.

Please keep your "Just wait until you have to unpack" comments to yourself. I'll cross that bridge when it comes.

Saturday, May 12, 2018

The longest wait

Five months. The longest wait of my life.

Buying a house is something I've wanted to do for years. It was a new year's resolution more than once, but every time I started to move forward, I panicked and decided it could wait another year or two. #CommitmentIssues

But when the time was finally right, it happened fast. As in, less than a week after I started searching for reals, I signed a contract.

The way everything fell into place so perfectly and so quickly is a post for another day. Because this post is about waiting.

A theme I'm quite familiar with.

Since the townhouse I bought wasn't built yet, move-in day was still a ways out. And the combination of my excitement and complete readiness to move on with my life actually caused time to slow down. (You'll be reading about the effects this is having on global warming, the economy, politics, etc. soon.) Even as I write this, I'm not convinced my house will ever actually be ready, because by then time will have slowed down so much it will have stopped completely, leaving me stuck in the waiting period between two lives.

The slab of cement to the left of Jeremy is mine. Jeremy kind of looks like a giant in this picture.

Figuring out how to live in the present the past five months has been a challenge. There's a reason I needed a change; I no longer felt like I belonged in the YSA Midvale life. Being forced to stay put when I knew I had a ticket out just rubbed salt in the wound.

At first I resolved to make the most of my dwindling days in SLC, particularly my singles ward. I would magnify my calling I felt wholly unsuited for and make one final push to establish strong bonds where I was at. All so I could make the separation harder on myself. I joke, but I yearned to leave something behind as evidence that I had lived here.

And sometimes I succeeded at going out in my blaze of glory. But the closer May became—the month my house was supposed to be finished—the less motivated I was to engage in my current life at all. It's been so frustrating wanting to give up on singles wards once and for all but still needing to feel like I was contributing where I was at.

One of the ways I coped was by crocheting. I've crocheted three rugs so far to put in the bathrooms, the kitchen, maybe I'll do one in the library—the important thing is that it's allowed me to work toward my future in a small way while getting my mind off everything else.

Winter slowly turned into spring, and my house started to take shape. Even though the wait has been torture, it really has been fun to see my house at every stage of the building process. My favorite was when it was all just wood, because it took me back to the days when my childhood house was being built. I was only 4 at the time, but I remember scoping out the territory a few times. (The giant pile of dirt in the front yard was a memorable highlight.) And then years later when Dad was finishing the basement, my sisters and I spent a lot of time downstairs roller blading in and out of all the wooden pillars.

One of the three bedrooms. It's going to be so weird to have so much space.

So I was a little sad to see the wood covered up, but eventually you have to let your babies grow up.

Funny story: when a bunch of us went to tour our houses (I bought the townhouse next to Kimberly and Jeremy's), we had our houses mixed up. So when we were exclaiming over my spare rooms, we were actually walking through Avonlea's and Conrad's rooms. So I flipped this picture because I know it'll drive me crazy in the future seeing us waving at each other from the wrong directions.

And life resumed its snail pace. They built the roof, I started binge-watching one of my comfort shows, Once Upon a Time.

They installed the drywall, I got really into watching the Jazz in the playoffs (I've never been this excited and hopeful for the future of this team).

I was most distressed when I arrived to see the construction crew at my house, which meant I wouldn't be able to explore inside. :(

They started painting, I read my first Stephen King novel.

I did not get to pick the exterior color, so I was a little bummed to see we got tan instead of the blue/gray I was hoping for. But it does remind me a bit of the yellow house I grew up in.

Attempts were made to actually live life rather than just escape it, but I've been trying to close this chapter of my life for almost a year—I have very little left to give at this point. Just let me embrace my role as the spinster aunt already.

I'll lure my niece and nephews in with empty promises like "Someday, all of this could be yours."

The builders tell me they're on track to be finished by the end of May, but I'm having trouble feeling any excitement about this news. Because, like I said, time will have stopped by then.

This is what waiting does to you.