Wednesday, October 31, 2012

20 years ago, on a day much like today . . .

The date was October 31, 1992. A young, mysterious family of six pulled up to the new house on Cortez Drive in their white station wagon. No one knew where these strangers had come from, but judging by the constant stream of moving vans it was clear they intended to stay.

Just before twilight, a couple of the children, cleverly disguised as pigs and bunnies, emerged from the house and set out on their reconnaissance mission. At house after house they stopped, gathering intel and dangerous amounts of sugar along the way. (The parents would expect payment, after all.)

Meanwhile, back at the newly occupied house, swarms of children pressed their sticky fingers against the pristine doorbell, ignoring the "There's no candy here" sign. The woman inside occasionally appeared at the window, the dull glow of the incandescent light inside casting shadows across her unfamiliar face. But mostly the woman ignored the children, focusing on unpacking box after box of curious artifacts.

As the years passed, the neighbors suspected that something was slightly amiss at this new place. Alarming sounds were constantly being emitted from the yellow-hued structure: loud laughter, pitiful wailing, echoing booms, elephantine nose-blowing, thunderous stomping, and random bursts of operatic noise-making.

The sights were rather curious as well. A young girl (sometimes two) regularly climbed out her window after dark with a towel on her head. The boy seemed to have an unruly fascination with throwing rocks and knives. Sometimes the children chased each other around the house in crazed fury, sometimes in wild delight. And as if to throw invisible spies off their trail, these strange human beings left the house in a variety of costumes, from softball uniforms to princess dresses, at odd times.

Those who watched this house over the years, looking for suspicious activity, never found proof that the residents were particularly harmful. But as the house paint faded and the trees grew taller, one thing became increasingly clear: this 20-year-old structure has indeed housed a host of strange people over the years, but there's no doubt that the people there lived.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Advice from my 20-year-old self: Don't die of boredom

I had a teacher at BYU who told us there were two qualifications that set you apart as a "true" English major: (1) you must be able to bench press the weight of the books you lug around every semester, and (2) you must not sell back your Norton anthologies, but rather keep them so you can display them proudly in your future home.

I actually did try weight lifting with one of my anthologies and a few of my reference books once because they were the heaviest "small" things I owned, and while they possessed the necessary weight for me to get some value out of the workout, they had no convenient handles to make it possible to lift the book without it slipping from my grasp, so it wasn't the best use of my time. 

I also took Dr. Mason's second stricture to heart and never sold back my anthologies. They currently sit at the bottom of my bookshelf, but only because the rest of the shelves are too flimsy to hold that much weight. I kept them because I wanted to proudly display my nerdiness to the world and because I had a feeling they would come in handy again some day. (And, I wanted to finish reading Utopia some day.)

Fast forward five years later: once again, I'm studying the works that are great enough to anthologized. Once again, I find myself shuffling through the Bible-thin pages and poring over agonizingly long pages of minuscule text in preparation for class discussion the next day.

One of the works I've been assigned to read this term is Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad. I read parts of this my sophomore year in college in Dr. Mason's class, and I did not care for it at all. I hated postmodernism from the moment I learned the term, and I sat through the class discussion with glazed over eyes caused by both boredom and sleep deprivation.

I'm a little more prepared for HoD at this point in my life; I've even enjoyed reading it somewhat. But the funnest part about revisiting this work is reading all the little notes I wrote in the margins during those long two-hour blocks of English 292/293. I don't remember any of the discussions that went along with the notes, but I'm glad I jotted them down all the same; they remind me of what I am supposed to be learning from the text and provide me with insightful content to impress my classmates with—they think I was smart enough to come up with all this on my own.

Today, after slogging through a particularly uninteresting segment about Mr. Kurtz, I noted a small paragraph of text I had squished into the margin:
2 choices: (1) make someone who is already depraved even more depraved. (plunder) (2) Kurtz - starts at the top and ends up lower than anyone else.
Beneath this fascinating commentary was a small insertion on the corner of the page:
Don't die of boredom.
How thoughtful of my 20-year-old self to leave that note for the benefit of future readers. How fitting that I chose to keep myself awake by playing the role of the Half-Blood Prince and planting my own pearl of wisdom next to the ancient text.

Still in the early excitement of being back in school, I did not need this thoughtful little warning at this time. I am, in fact, still excited enough about school to look forward to going home so I can do homework. And, may I add, a little more prepared to appreciate stream-of-consciousness writing. 

But thanks for the warning anyway, 20-year-old self. Maybe in a year or so I'll find a similar warning that will be much more fitting of my situation.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Memo: Dressing up for Halloween

To whom it may concern:

Many of you have your Halloween costumes picked out by now. You've gathered the costume "ingredients" and now they're sitting in your closet, waiting to be concocted into that masterpiece you've been envisioning since early September. You're obviously excited about being someone else for a day, which could explain why you've replaced the typical ice-breaker questions like "Where are you from?" and "What do you do?" with "What are you being for Halloween?"

There is one major reason why this question is unacceptable when posed to adults: some of us stopped agonizing over that decision when we were 12, and therefore the assumption that we know what we want to be for Halloween is unfounded. It is unclear when Halloween became an adult, rather than kid, holiday, but some of us obviously missed the boat when the tides changed.

What's that you say? Dressing up is fun? If you mean watching others walk around as celebrities, inanimate objects, and mystical creatures is fun, then you're right--that is high entertainment.

But wait, I'm a stick in the mud if I don't participate in this childishness? Way to state the obvious: of course I'm a stick in the mud, and proud of it.

So to all of you who make it your life's ambition to convince your stubborn friend to dress up for Halloween, or who is offended when someone you invited to a raucous Halloween party turns down your invitation without a moment's hesitation--give up. Don't waste your energy on hopeless causes. Focus your energy instead on ignoring the offending person while you go about celebrating as you wish. It's the only way we'll all make it through this holiday without any casualties.


An annoyed, disgruntled, stick-in-the-mud adult