Friday, November 30, 2012

Gratefuls: Nov 26–30

Nov 26: My homework isn't so important that it can't be put off for a day.

Nov 27: Opportunities to relive the past. These opportunities come up more often than you might think. Sometimes, they make you sad because they act as painful reminders that time is the great destroyer and that things can't be the same again. But other times, it's like no time has passed at all and everything feels . . . right, just like it did before. People say you shouldn't live in the past, but I think it's okay to treasure those opportunities to relive the past when they come. God knows I hate change, and each chance he gives me to temper the severance of change is a tender mercy.

Nov 28: Pure, milk chocolate. Especially the kind that can only be bought from obscure companies that rely on high school kids saving up for choir tour to make sales.

Nov 29: Pictures of my nephews. Especially the one of them sitting in the snow. Jaxson's expression of ultimate betrayal is priceless.

Nov 30: It's Friday! Even though I have hours of suffering (i.e., homework that I've been putting off that must be faced) waiting for me this weekend, at least I won't have to go to work too. And, whether I'm ready or not, everything will be turned in by Sunday at midnight. Maybe I'll be a little bit less of a stress ball next week. I doubt it, but I can always hope.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

That change thing again

While growing up, I had this perfect image in my head of what my future would be like. It's the future a lot of LDS girls dream of having: marrying a rich, handsome, and spiritually strong husband in the temple by age 21 and getting right to work at being a stay-at-home mom.

In hindsight, it's somewhat amusing to note how few things over the past 10 years have turned out the way I thought they would. All that meticulous planning and preparation doesn't amount to much when life rears its ugly head and forces the dreaded "C" word.

Once again I've found myself in a situation I didn't see coming, a change I really didn't want to happen unless it was on my own terms. Silly me. I should know by now that life takes great pleasure in taking these "terms" and tossing them over cliffs into the turbulent waters below rather than carving them into stone and treating it like a sacred artifact.

But the thing that annoys me most is that the enemy--Change--isn't actually the horned bad guy I like to envision him as. I put a lot of energy into hating Change (though most of the hate comes naturally), but it seems like every time Change comes along, he wins the I'm-righter-than-you-are argument.

And then things have a way of working out. Even worse, I find myself praising Change for forcing me into situations I never would have put myself in, allowing me to learn, stretch, and grow, in turn making me a better, stronger, more empathetic person. It galls me to admit that my life has been enriched by Change, that some of the greatest blessings I have come from the thing I consider my enemy.

So in the end everybody wins, even if some of us incur considerable losses along the way. Just once, though, I'd like to punch Change's smug little face. That'll even out the playing field a bit.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Gratefuls: Nov 21–25

Nov 21: I'm an optimist. And sometimes, I'm an unrealistic optimist. Today, this little bubble of protection I've been living in for the past few months shattered. So I'll admit, I wasn't able to come up with anything I am truly grateful for until the day was almost over.

Most people don't like their bosses. Many people spend their working hours working for a tyrant and then go home and complain about what their boss did to tick them off that day. If they found out their boss was leaving, they would shout "Hallelujah!" and throw a party. But when my boss told me today that he was no longer an employee of the company, the last thing I wanted to do was shout for joy. As the day wore on, I had that awful feeling you get after someone just dies. You may be able to distract yourself enough to forget about your troubles for a short period of time, but eventually you notice that hole in your chest and wonder why it's there. And then you remember.

I'm not necessarily grateful for the pain, but it's only the lucky ones who are devastated when their boss is no longer their boss. I've been extremely fortunate these past two years.

Nov 22: Hot apple pie with vanilla ice cream. Mmmmmmmm.

Nov 23: The Cartettes still got it.

Nov 24: Books that have more entertainment value than literary value. Book snobs frown upon these books, but it is so wonderful to read something that makes it so effortless to immerse yourself into and escape from reality for a little while.

Nov 25: The houses that I can always count on to have Christmas lights up right after Thanksgiving. It's comforting to have the same expectations about certain things year after year, and to see those expectations fulfilled year after year. The world can crumble all around us, but that doesn't stop people from decorating for Christmas.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Gratefuls: Nov 14–20

Nov 14: My co-workers. I have a boss that is tailor-made for my personality and co-workers that understand the importance of having a sense of humor.

Nov 15: Not having to go anywhere after getting home from work.

Nov 16: Crossing scary things off my to-do list early in the day.

Nov 17: (1) The people at the grocery store who had the same harassed, I-didn't-want-to-go-anywhere-today look, whose hair was pulled back into a hasty ponytail, who didn't bother putting on any makeup, and who wore long coats to cover their pajamas underneath. I felt a strange kinship with these people. (2) While everyone else was bemoaning the loss of their beloved Twinkies, it finally occurred to me that my favorite treat may be gone forever as well—those little, one-dollar cherry pie things. Luckily, grocery stores still sell canned pie cherries, so they will help me cope with my loss.

Nov 18: Today I realized that there are Rivendell apartments and a Privet Drive in my ward. Clearly I picked the right ward, if not the right apartment complex.

No 19: One day down, two more to go. . . .

Nov 20: The fact that I don't have to talk to anyone on Tuesdays. It's a lot easier to revel in my typical Tuesday blues that way. There's something about fueling a bad mood that is oddly satisfying.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Burning books

I used to joke about burning my textbooks at the end of every semester. My plan was to get a big group of people together—all laden down with the textbooks that put them to sleep and broke their backs—lug the offending books up to a canyon somewhere, and throw a big bonfire.

Of course, I never did it. It would have required too much effort and planning for one, and, no matter how much I hated a book, I felt a little Hitler-ish even joking about sending it to its fiery grave. So of the books I had no wish to see again, I sold back the ones I could and threw away my science textbooks.

As you all know, I bought J.K. Rowling's new book, The Casual Vacancy, awhile back. It became clear to me early on that this definitely wasn't going to be a book I would reread. So I decided I would try to sell it when I finished it.

I got even further into the book, and the thought of making a profit out of putting this book into someone's unknowing, innocent hands made me feel a little guilty. So my next plan was to recycle it, make the book pay for the tree to whom it owes its life.

I finally finished the book. Over the next few days, I noticed a lot more sunshine in my life, sunshine that couldn't get through the dark cloud that was hovering over my head during my two-week mad dash to finish the book no matter what. My hatred for the book had just become a lot more personal. It wasn't just the time I wasted reading the book now; it was the effect it had on my life while I was reading it. Suddenly, recycling it seemed too good a punishment for this book. My thoughts once again strayed to my bonfire of burning books, only this time it was hundreds of copies of just one book rather than a variety of old textbooks.

The idea was hard to push aside, especially since my fireplace has become my new favorite toy of late.

And then something snapped. I did the unthinkable: I tore out the first 10 pages of The Casual Vacancy.

There was no stopping me now.

Feeling like I did the time I cut seminary to buy prom shoes, I lit the pages on fire and watched with glee as the flames erupted right there in front of me. (Note to self: paper makes much bigger flames than wood.) I continued to feed the fire a few pages at a time. (Note #2 to self: paper burns a lot faster than wood). I watched in fascination as the blackened corners curled up into ashen balls and disintegrated through the fire grate. I thought about all the characters I abhorred and how their existence was melting away right in front of me, about how the hellish town was literally being devoured by fire. It made me smile.

After the 503 interior pages were blessedly gone, I threw in the dust jacket. Throwing something into flames that are inside your living quarters is probably not the smartest thing to do, by the way. I was a little worried when the flames whooshed upward and the dust jacket started bubbling all weirdly (from that point on I kept my ice-cold fridge water by my side, just in case), but I'm sure this fireplace has weathered more dangers than the likes of me playing with it. I promise, Mom, my life (and my apartment building) was never in any real danger. Although if anyone heard my evil giggles emanating from my apartment they might have thought otherwise.

And finally, it was the cover's turn to go. I almost couldn't get it to catch fire, but the flames eventually started slowly licking away at the spine.

A half hour later, my book was gone. It was nothing more than a rather large pile of ashes, some of which still have letters on them. Take that, you vile, crummy book.

*I have to point out that even though I loved hating on this book, that doesn't mean I think everyone else should burn their copies, nor would I apply physical force to keep anyone away from the book (if they are older than 18, that is). Because that would really be Hitler-ish of me.*

So good-bye, The Casual Vacancy. You will not be missed.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Gratefuls: Nov 8–13

Nov 8: BYU choirs. I like having a sister in one of the choirs because otherwise I probably wouldn't go to any of the concerts. The Women's Chorus always sounds like a choir of angels and the Men's Chorus--ah, the men. Just picture them singing songs from The Jungle Book. The possibilies are endless: Drums. Dancing. Jumping off the risers. Animal sounds. Grass skirts.

Nov 9: Gloomy winter weather and "handsome" snow. Even in the city it looks like a winter wonderland.

Nov 10: My fireplace. It took two hours to rearrange my living room to my liking without anything blocking blocking the fire and I have to add matches to the list of things I have no idea where to find in a grocery store, but it was worth it.

Nov 11: I finally finished The Casual Vacancy. I hated that book about as much as I love the Harry Potter books.

Nov 12: Heat. The heater and back-up generator in my work building broke, so it wasn't unusual to see someone bundled up in coat, scarf, and gloves not to go grab lunch, but to go to the bathroom. When I finally got home I was greeted with the beautiful sound of my furnace working its magic. I then threw a log in the fireplace and sat in front of it for two hours, unthawing. It was positively delightful.

Bad photography aside, does this not look very much like a Harry-Potter-esque place to study? I just need a squashy armchair instead of a mushroom chair. And Hermione to "help" me with my papers.
Nov 13: Leigh Butler's Wheel of Time Reread. It's the highlight of my Tuesdays. Every time I hit the "Refresh" button and a new post appears, I smile, sit up a little straighter, and wait impatiently until lunchtime. Sadly, she's almost done with Towers of Midnight, so soon I won't have any WoT goodness to distract me until the last book comes out.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Research papers: A major flaw of the education system

I have two 15-page papers due after Thanksgiving, and I'm starting to experience some procrastination anxiety. I'm far more behind than I should be. More than once over the past several weeks I have seriously questioned my state of mind when I decided it would be "fun" to give up my well-earned freedom and dive back into school again.

I. Hate. Research. Papers.

Not only do I hate them, but I think they're a major flaw of the education system. As an English major undergrad, I wrote my fair share of papers (though I brilliantly maneuvered my schedule so that somehow the longest research paper I ever had to write was 12 pages long, and that was for my senior capstone class).

My sole complaint of my academic experience has centered on the focus the system puts on research. Research is all well and good if you plan to get a PhD in some obscure subject, but for us normal people, I never saw the value in it.

There are several reasons for this. First is that parameters (number of pages and scholarly sources) and MLA style got way too much attention. I always felt that teachers were discouraging me from using my own brain because unless I had "evidence" from some faceless scholar to back up each of my arguments, they would tell me my paper was lacking in some way. I wasted so much time trying to get MLA citations right, and teachers wasted even more time emphasizing the importance of italicizing book titles and enclosing journal articles in quotation marks. I've also always had a hard time meeting the minimum page requirement; I am a very concise thinker, and therefore writer, and it really bugs me that I get punished for having the ability to say something in 20 words instead of 100.

Second, I have never actually learned anything useful from any of the research papers I have done. This is probably because of the way I approach research papers--getting the stupid thing done rather than adding my thoughts to the ongoing conversation. The only thing good about finishing a research paper is turning it in so I can finally cleanse it from my brain.

Third, it seems like academia is trying to turn us all into researchers rather than people with actual skills. This is the main reason why I favored my editing minor over my English major; in the minor, we practiced doing actual things that editors do, like editing, indexing, and proofing layouts. In the major, we spent hours rifting through the library's website, looking for sources for our research papers. Sure, we got a lot of writing practice, but I think we would have been much better served learning how to write persuasively and interestingly rather than wasting all of our time on the library website. I loved that my English major taught me how to think, but it wasn't the research papers that did that--it was the response papers and the class discussions that broadened my horizon.

Fourth, I hate talking like an academic. It takes all the fun out of writing if you have to sound like a stuffy old intellectual. I have to eliminate almost all traces of me in order to conform to proper standards. It must be incredibly awful to grade research papers.

Fifth, I strongly suspect that most of the time, teachers make us write papers and then do a boring presentation just so they don't have to prepare any material for two weeks. I will forever despise them for that.

But that's the way the system works. I doubt a rant from me will change anything, especially since those with the power won't pay it any mind if I sound like a real human being.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Gratefuls: Nov 1–7

A lot of people are doing a daily grateful thing for the month of November. Work is really slow this week, so I thought I'd fill in the time gaps thinking about some of the things I'm grateful for.

Nov 1: Halloween is over!

Nov 2: After almost dying of the stomach flu, I have my appetite back. For dinner I had a small salad, a rather large scone, French fries, 4 chicken fingers, and a large chocolate milkshake. It was a delightful, extremely fattening meal to say the least.

Nov 3: My dad. He turned old again: 50. And, as a random side note, he'll be double my age for the next 10 months.

Nov 4: Going to church after missing two weeks in a row. Just like I never really appreciated my healthy body until it raged an awful war inside me, I never really noticed the light that regular church-going brings into my life until I had to do without it for two weeks. Believe me, I felt the loss.

Nov 5: I cooked a real meal for the first time in three weeks, and it turned out quite successfully.

Nov 6: In hopes of avoiding long lines, I stepped out of the office at 10:30 to go vote. I only had to wait about five minutes. Score! And, I finally had the energy and the strength to enjoy a lovely Autumn walk.

Nov 7: I can run up and down stairs again without crashing. Well, no more than normal, that is.