Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Christmas is Not a Tree



While Japanese men playing Christmas carols on broccoli does pretty good justice to the spirit of Christmas, I wanted to take a moment for a more spiritual Christmas post, belated though it may be. So here it is. I am so grateful for the birth of Christ, and for the testimonies of those around me, who help to strengthen me when my faith grows weak.

I found this short composition buried in a pile of long-forgotten fiction today. I had scribbled it on three sheets of scratch paper in between calls, while working for Harry and David’s as an 18-year-old recent high school graduate. The writing isn’t the greatest, since I decided to forgo editing in favor of timeliness, and the story may strike some as trite…the kind of cheesy thing that’s perpetuated via e-mail this time of year. This experience is straight up “Forgotten Carols.” But there’s a reason for the cliché. Every now and then, you can scratch away the pretense and find something genuine. I was reluctant to post this for all its seeming Hallmark-y-ness, but a promise is a promise. Sorry it took me so long to tell your story, John.

“Christmas is Not a Tree”
December 2003

I’m not sure why it’s so important for me to write this down. The promise I made did not apply to anyone but the corporate big-wigs. But I get the feeling that when I said “I promise,” I meant a great deal more than I realized.

It was precisely one week before Christmas, and I was trucking my way through the usual workday. Being a customer service grunt for a gift/gardening company call center, this meant a great deal of apologizing, empathizing, refunding, and replacing. But somewhere in the midst of all that, came someone, or something, to remind me of something that had been slipping into the back of my thoughts.

His name was John Beaty. It would appear to the rest of the world that he called about a dead Christmas tree, a missing replacement, and the wrong bromelaide shipped to his home. But that was not why he called. That is not why he called me.

He lived with his parents, who were both in their 80’s. His father had Alzheimer’s and his mother could not walk. He himself was severely physically disabled. He told me a story about how several years ago, he had begun gardening as a way to cope with his disabilities. His front yard became an Eden. Roses became a way for him to deal with the pain he suffered. But it was now December, and although John’s roses were well-known, his abilities did not extend to Christmas trees. He could neither raise one nor buy one from a lot nor cut one down himself. So they ordered one from the company I worked for. But it didn’t even make it to December tenth. Come Christmas, they would have no Christmas tree. Up to this point, I was touched, and terribly sorry. But then John said something to make me realize that this call was meant for me.

“Now I was very disappointed,” John said in a slow and steady voice. “But I know that the tree isn’t all there is to Christmas. For some people, it’s a Christmas tree, and that’s Christmas, but that’s not the important thing. The important thing is that we have a Savior…that we remember Jesus Christ, our Lord, and know that He lives, and make it a nice birthday for Him.”

And there I sat, in one little cubicle of the hundreds in that room, with tears in my eyes. I could hardly steady my voice enough to agree. I wanted to do something for him, something more than just giving him his money back. I asked him if there was anything I could do. He simply said, “Just let them know. I just wanted someone to hear my story. I’m not angry, because I have faith and know that a tree is not Christmas. So just please tell them. And please don’t just say you will; really do it. I want others to know.”

He could have been talking about his poor customer service experience, or his faith in God. But I knew which story mattered most...which story I would tell them.

“I promise,” I said. He thanked me, asked for my name and told me he would pray for me and my family. He apologized for being long-winded and thanked me for listening. He blessed me and we said good-bye.

And there it is. Simple, perhaps silly, maybe even ridiculous. To this hour, I cannot explain how a phone call from a man named John affected me so deeply. Or why I desperately need others to know. But I promised. John blessed me in a way nobody and nothing else earthly could. I suppose I want John to bless others. He can’t spend Christmas calling customer service agents to remind them of the true meaning of Christmas. But he has a story, a testimony, an understanding. Perhaps by sharing the faith I heard in his words, others can remember that Christmas is not a tree. Christmas is a Savior.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

"My heart to you is given, oh do give yours to me. We'll lock them up together, and throw away the key."

Best four months of my life so far.

And I think they'll just keep getting better. =)

Happy Anniversary, Wonderboy. I send you tens of billions of affectionate kisses, miles apart though we may be.

With love,
Miss Bright Eyes

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Can't help lovin' dat man...


Really, though. I mean, look at him.

*sigh* What a ridiculously wonderful man. He's the best boyfriend in the history of the world, and our love is probably one of the greatest in history.

Romeo and Juliet? Antony and Cleopatra? Lancelot and Guinevere?

Grammar school flings. Ain't got nothing compared to Liz and Jacob.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

"I think I need a root canal. A long, slow root canal." --Bill Murray, Little Shop of Horrors


Monday afternoon, St. Anthony Community Care.

Hello pain-free mouth.

Good-bye $330.

*Sigh* My fear of the dentist has just multiplied exponentially, researching this procedure.

Monday, December 07, 2009

Is this a cast list I see before me?




I am so stoked about next semester's production of Macbeth. Look at this cast list!

Witches: LizAnne Whittaker, Nancy Chaffin, Julie Moore

Extra witches/gentlewomen/servants: Carrie Chapman, Macy Hammond, Karlan Hansen

Lady Macbeth: Meredith Bellows

Lady Macduff: Kristi Oakes

Siward/Fighter: Sam Hansen

Duncan/Fighter: Daniel Johnson

Malcolm: Seth Nehring

Donalbain/Young Siward: Thomas Brower

Macbeth: Davey Aintablian

Seyton/Murderer/Servant: Caleb Crockett

Murderer: Jacob Ludlow

MacDonwald/Murderer: Daniel Radford

Porter: Jacob Chapman

Banquo: Jordan Tait

Fleance: Michael Saunders

Macduff: Adam Pingel

Lennox: Michael Allen

Ross: Gabe White

Angus: Joe Bidwell

Captain/Messenger: Jeffrey Farnsworth

There are a few smaller parts that are being figured out still (played by smaller chorus parts), but I'm already sold. The show is being set in 11th century Scotland, and it opens February 17th. I'm so thrilled to be a WITCH, and to work with so many talented people! I love the rehearsal process with Roger (he's directing), and Davey pointed out that because so many of us know each other so well, it will just be a big group of friends getting together every night to do what they love.

I know I just finished a show, and I'm exhausted, but this cast list gave me a second wind, and I can hardly wait for our first meeting tonight...

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Funnies

It's negative three degrees in Rexburg right now. Jordan came by to get Bertha (motorcycle) and put her in storage. There has been snow on the ground for a solid week now. Winter has officially hit southeast Idaho.

To counteract the sorrowful effects of this, I post here a collection of things that have made me giggle during the last few days.

The first is that last night was a kind of odd night for "Pioneer Song"...we seemed to hit a "2nd night slump." But there were some endearing memorable moments, most notably when Julia kept combining different verses of songs. During our duet, she sang the wrong verse and I stuck with the right one, so it sounded something like this:

A Yankee, a Yankee! A man who's not a Yankee
Will there'll be make trouble in you ashamed store,

pain and bring you suffering sorrows galore unnamed

You'll It's a regret it fact as you can long as you live.

She also combined the verses "Far Away in the west I'll go searching" and "Far away in the west I'll find it" and ended up singing:
Far away in the west I'll firching!

The second funny is this picture. I came home from the show last night to find Annie asleep on her bed, with her mouth hanging open, looking like this. She woke up right when I took the picture. But it's still a gem.


The third funny is from the campus hub of comedy itself. We did an exercise in Comic Frenzy the other day in which we each wrote down an adjective, a noun, a pronoun, an adverb, and a verb on separate slips of paper. Then we mixed them all up, divided into two teams, drew words, and made poetry. I think they're pretty brilliant, don't you?

Collective Stanza Poetry

by Dallas, Josh, Macy, Katie, and Brandt
My short notebook dances carefully.
Stop it quickly icky kidnapper.
Painfully, they snog on the explosive LDS basketball court.
Simply, she kicked pulchritudinous atomic bombs.
Sensational bullets fly sappily at everyone.

Jazz Hands
by Gabe, Thomas, Richard, Jacob, and Liz
We are super-awesome.
We are a dark shoe-strap.
Skip it ridiculously quickly,
that repulsive spiked punchbowl.
A slinky cop ran turgidly.
The car seductively lectures him.
A slimy-ly obese shoe.
It grapples.
It vomits.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

"Art is a collaboration between God and the artist, and the less the artist does the better." --Andre Gide



I was thinking about something during my Ed Psych class the other day, because I spend Ed Psych class alternately thinking about Ed Psych and thinking about totally unrelated but very interesting things. I've seen advertisements/heard a lot of talk lately for a group called Citizens for Decency. I was thinking about how I'm very anti-pornography, and wondering how I could get involved to help fight sexual addictions. But then I started thinking about free speech.

The age-old conundrum.

I really do believe that pornography is harmful, dangerous, addictive, and a powerful force that can and will destroy relationships and families. I don't want pornography around. I don't know that pornography should be protected under free speech. But here's the problem.

Who gets to decide what's pornography and what's not?

The inherent difficulty in denying pornography the protection afforded by "free speech" is that things that are pornographic to some may not be to others. If we can oulaw Girls Gone Wild, can't we outlaw sex scenes in movies and on television? And if we can do that, can't we outlaw certain magazines? And if we do that, what about books and paintings and figure drawing classes? I reject the archaic notion that the human body is something to be ashamed of and hidden all the time. But it shouldn't be flaunted in such a way that is removed from all emotion and meaning.

I just have a problem with someone else defining the line between the two.

We had the MOST AMAZING DISCUSSION EVER in my American Lit class over the summer. Boy, I admire Bro. Allen's guts for having the conversation that he demanded of our class. He assigned us an article published in the most recent edition of "Irreantum," an LDS literary magazine. It was called "Reading About Sex in Mormon Fiction--If We Can Read" by B.W. Jorgensen. Which was a pretty brilliant article. I can't find it online, but if you can somehow get ahold of it, read it. I thought I'd share it here because I believe words are powerful and I want anyone and everyone who stumbles across this post to have the opportunity to ponder these things. (Presumptuous sounding of me, I know.) These insights are mostly from an LDS perspective and pertaining to literature specifically, but I believe they can apply to all views on the arts.

Our class was basically a discussion of this question:

How do we discern pornography from literature/art?

Okay, first of all. A common conception of "right and wrong" looks like this:

GOOD ---------- BAD

When perhaps a more accurate way of thinking is like this:

BAD ---------- GOOD ---------- BAD

(That's why the path is called the "straight and narrow," not the "straight and all the way over to one side" path.)

This model suggests that it's possible to attempt to stay soooo far away from the bad that we end up sinning in the sense of losing focus. Which I believe is very possible, and perhaps even common. Sometimes we set a standard and then stay as far away from it as possible, when we're supposed to stay as CLOSE to it. E.G. "If abstaining from R-rated movies is bad, then abstaining from PG-13 movies is even better. Or better yet, I'll only watch PG. Or no, how about G? Or even none at all!?" No. I stand convinced that the Lord would have us seek and understand truth in all of the forms He's made it available to us in. The author included this fantastic quote from Brigham Young: "I intend to know the whole of it, both good and bad. Shall I practise evil? No; neither have I told you to practise it, but to learn by the light of truth every principle there is in existence in the world...Though I mean to learn all that is in heaven, earth, and hell [,do] I need to commit iniquity to do it? No. If I were to go into the bowels of hell to find out what is there, that does not make it necessary that I should committ one evil, or blaspheme in any way the name of my maker."

That right there is some awesome principle. THAT CAN BE VERY EASILY USED TO JUSTIFY SIN. But Brigham Young explicitly tells us not to. So how can you tell? When it comes to literature, how can you tell whether you/the author is "going into the bowels of hell to see what's there" or "blaspheming the name of your/their Maker"? How can you tell the difference between an evil book and a good book that has evil in it? We know that everyone's maturity level/standards are different, but there must be SOME kind of line. No one could get away with reading Playboy "only academically" in the sight of the Lord. So what's the line?

As a class, we came up with a short list of characteristics that distinguish pornography from literature/art. (I would argue pretty strongly that this list can also help us distinguish "good" literature from "bad" literature. Or art in general.) Check it out:

PORNOGRAPHY
- inspires negative actions towards self and others
- characters are not individuals, but rather perfected "stick figures" with parts and sensations only
- does not attempt to reveal truth or explore the human condition (purpose is strictly arousal)

LITERATURE/ART
- inspires positive actions towards self and others
- characters are individuals, with flaws and conflicts and strengths
- attempts to understand the human experience by exploring some truth (purpose)

I feel pretty comfortable with these definitions.

However.

It's a futile exercise to attempt to categorize EVERYTHING into only these two boxes. A 13-year-old boy cannot look at a statue of Venus in the same objective way that a middle-aged woman can. (Catered to gender roles more than I'm comfortable with there, but you get the idea.) But on the other hand, a middle-aged woman may be aroused by the David, which was not it's purpose. And if you were to show a Playboy magazine to some aboriginal tribe in the middle of nowhere, they may react not with arousal or excitement, but with confusion or laughter or disinterest. And we in America react similarly to what other cultures find attractive. My point is that it doesn't have to be arousing to be pornography and it doesn't have to be pornography to be arousing.

So then we're back to the relative question. Can a book that is pornographic to one person be art to another? Yes? But here's why, according to Jorgensen and Brother Allen and most of my American Lit class and myself. THE EVIL OF A WORK OF ART LIES LESS IN WHAT IT IS AND MORE IN HOW WE CHOOSE TO READ IT. Maybe there's a spectrum. For every work and every individual, perhaps we can gauge using a more fluid concept. Like this:

INHERENT HARM [---------\--------] HARM I MAKE IT CAUSE

And certain things I would put unquestioningly on one side of the spectrum. Playboy magazine goes on the "Inherent Harm" side of the line. But there are other things that are different for everyone.

We can choose to read "Lady Chatterly's Lover" pornographically. Many do. Or we can choose not to. And when we find ourselves having difficulty making that choice, we know it, and we'd best put the book down/change the channel/avert our eyes. And I believe that the most people are strong enough to gauge that. And if you're not yet, don't chance it.

We shouldn't eliminate all of the literature or art in the whole world that could be viewed pornographically. Because let's face it, there are some weird people out there for whom nothing is safe. But I'm all for freedom of speech and here's why.

Brother Allen: "If we are going to explore the human experience, and the human experience is a mess, then literature MUST be dangerous."

I believe in humanity's ability to view art as art. You have a spiritual gauge. You were born with it. Everyone was. I know that not everyone chooses to view things the same way. And I respect whatever decision they choose to make. However, I believe in the right to read just as strongly as I believe in the right to abstain. I won't tell you to read something as long as you don't judge me for reading it. I won't tell my American Lit class to read "Brokeback Mountain" because I know that there are people in the class who would not choose to view the sex scene as revealing something about the characters, but rather as pornography/something offensive. But I believe that the author wrote that scene into the book not to arouse his readers. The details of the scene are important to the story and the development of the conflict and characters and relationship. And that's why I read. There are certain lines you cannot cross without losing your ability to gauge. But I believe that the Lord would have us seek out truth wherever we can feel His light teach it to us.

For some, it is enough to seek truth in heaven. But I myself yearn for all truth, in heaven, earth and hell. While I don't readily connect with those who are satisfied with heaven alone, I recognize that it is enough for them, and that neither my way nor their way is better. I hope that I can continue to live in such a way that my mind and heart are always open to learning. And visiting hell in art is a hell of a lot safer.