Tuesday, March 3, 2015

March 3rd: Reflections Over a Frosty

It was a little over a year ago that I packed up as much as would fit in my truck, said a whirlwind of goodbyes, and turned north, the seasons changing around me, a year in three days as I left balmy desert for frigid mountain.

It was exactly a year ago that I found myself in a Wendy's, dipping fries in my Frosty, clinging to ritual in the face of a newness I wouldn't start to process for another month at least.

I've spent that whole year trying to find the right words to tell you, all of you, how much I love you.

But where do you find the words to tell everyone you've ever taken into your heart, from your high school Spanish partners to your brother- and sister-friends, from those guys in your algebra class that you never really knew to your parents, that you still think about them often and quietly hope that they're happy?

As I was packing up my possessions all those many months ago, even as my mind and heart were shutting down into survival mode, there was a mantra running through my veins, a message I was desperately trying to broadcast with every fierce farewell.

It was a line from a poem by E. E. Cummings:

I wasn't just wishing it to the people in Arizona as I said my goodbyes. I was sending it out to every friend I've ever had.

I know I haven't been the faithful correspondent I promised I would be. Some people have slipped away with the years and miles. But, you have not slipped away from my heart.

You have not slipped away from my heart.

Rexburg hasn't exactly been what I thought it would be. Expectations I didn't know I had have been disappointed. Dreams I was afraid to form have been more than realized. I've learned a lot about myself--and very little. I've discovered unlooked for strengths--and unanticipated weaknesses.

March 3rd is Grandma Ellington's birthday. She loved Wendy's. She would dip her French fries in her chocolate Frosty. I'm not big on a lot of calendar holidays. But today, I had Wendy's for dinner.

One of the hard things about finding the right words to say to my friends, to those who were my friends when they didn't realize it, to my family, is that that list is ever growing. There are even more of you now.

I want you to know, you who has considered me a friend, you who has wished that I was, the poetry pulsing through me, carrying me along, only grows more true: I carry your heart (I carry it in my heart).

Thursday, June 5, 2014

The Books Are Alive

An interesting phenomenon happens every time I pack up and move.

When I left for college, I took with me my favorite books and a few I hadn't had a chance to read yet. They fit unobtrusively into the nooks and crannies of a laundry basket otherwise filled to the brim with odd bits like hangers, pillows, and over very old, very loved teddy bear.

As my freshman year wore on, the books claimed more and more territory along the back of my desk, and by the time I moved away a few months ago, I was leaving behind three full bookcases of novels and hoarded textbooks.

In packing for Idaho, I was even more selective in choosing which books would come. Since I had no idea how much room I would have, and because everything I was taking had to fit in the bed of my truck, I brought only the books I thought I couldn't get by without. Along came the compiled novels of Jane Austen, paperbacks of The Lord of the Rings, one book that was a gift from my brother, a few church books, and Harry Potter en español (though I limited myself to the four I hadn't finished yet).

Just since I arrived a little over three months ago, my collection has multiplied until I'm not sure where I would fit even one more book on the little shelf I have for them. I even gave in and shelved them all two deep!

I'm coming to believe my library is a living organism constantly undergoing mitosis. It's like a fungus or tribbles or troll meat. (For your convenience, those references were arranged in ascending order of nerdiness.)

I almost wish I could be exasperated with myself, but I'm too fond of books to really mind. Besides, who would I skip?

My latest additions were all absolutely necessary. Working at the library has its perks. The other day, I came home with an armful of books, not a one of which was printed more recently than 1954. Who am I to say no to such a beautiful copy of one of my favorite works?

It even smells divine.

Going through all the old books the other day, I started remembering the books my mom had while I was growing up. I always loved the oldest best (most especially a chunky, faded blue volume of children's poetry). I didn't always read them or even know what they were about, but they were so gorgeous and smelled so nice. I've loved that smell longer than I can remember. As I was picking out the books I wanted a few days ago, I kept imagining my children falling in love with these same old copies, exploring the shelves as if they were a misty jungle ripe for discovery, as I once did with my mother's books. I can imagine them treasuring the yellowed pages and old typeface, breathing in that exotic smell like oxygen.

I'm excited to someday see all my books reunited, gathered in from Missouri and Arizona and Idaho, and wherever else the Lord decides to send me. I don't even know how many I have! I'd like to see my library someday, that part of my dream life where I live in that little house with the pale walls and the big windows, surrounded by the books that, in their way, chronicle my whole life.

In the meantime, I'm amused at having a transcontinental library. Now, where am I going to put that next book?

Saturday, May 31, 2014

On Reading and Writing

A few days ago, I read a whole book, start to finish, all 344 pages. (It was a YA book called Alienated, if you're wondering.) It's been a long time since I've devoured a book like that. That summer in Hamilton before I started my junior year, when the only people I knew in town were the librarian and Eli Green (who spent most of the summer working on his dreadlocks under the gaze of a wax statue of James Cash Penney), is the last time I have a clear memory of spending each day with a new book, the sun streaming in my window until that final stretch when only lamplight will do and there's no turning back, only pressing on until you hit cover.

Reading so voraciously has always had two effects on me.

First, the best books leave their voices in my mind. Whenever I read, say, Shakespeare or Austen or Dickens, really read them, lose myself in them, it's like I've been speaking a foreign language for a while, and it takes my brain a few hours or days to lose the accent. Like that semester in college when I took a solid three hours of Spanish on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and I always thought in Spanish for the rest of the afternoon. I love this side effect of reading. The world seems a little grander when it all turns into Shakespeare in your head, the edges of everything gilt in a special glow.

The second effect of reading so much is that I think about writing more. Like how browsing through DeviantArt always makes me itch to draw.

I used to define myself by reading and by the desire to write. Looking back, I never actually did write much, though. Some poems in high school, the opening paragraphs of a dozen different stories that never seemed to survive conception. I did write a lot of essays throughout my academic career. I prided myself on writing them all last minute, exulting in the self-perceived elegance of my thrown together turns of phrase. "Look at the beauty of this thing I made! It took me no time at all! Envy my apparent natural talent!"

How foolish! How conceited! Recently, I've begun to fear that what modest talent I may have had has wilted beyond revival due to neglect. There's also the lurking apprehension that maybe in curing my hurts, I cured the poetry in me, too. I don't know how my recipients feel about them, but I'm even dissatisfied with the letters I write. My journal entries all quickly devolve into triteness and redundancy, which, though private, still leave me somehow disappointed in myself. I crave a kind of classic, graceful beauty in my phraseology. Am I unrealistically yearning for some literary star?

I used to write for the attention, or to express some painful emotion. I don't need that anymore. Now, I'm wondering if I can still write without insecurity as my motivation. Can my writing still be beautiful, even poetic?

I don't know.

Let's find out.

Monday, August 19, 2013

My Dream Life

A few weeks ago, a friend challenged me to imagine my dream life. Herein lies the unedited stream-of-consciousness answer to her thought-provoking question.

I want to cook. Whether it be exotic or homey, it will all be from scratch, and my friends (or my children's friends) will be welcome to pop over whenever they like. They can chat or read or do and say nothing at all while I finish up in the kitchen. There will always be hot chocolate on or tea, or a pitcher of fresh lemonade in the fridge.

I want my home to be a place where people feel like they can be completely themselves. They can talk or be silent if they want to, and it's all the same because we're together and we love each other. Like with Sarahbeth. Just that complete comfortableness.

And light! I want my walls to all be pale, soft colors with plenty of white everywhere. I want a home full of windows that catch the natural light and make the place glow. And I want people to feel light and peace when they're there.

I want a quiet home but a happy one. No shouting. No yelling. No screaming. Like David O. McKay said, the only reason to raise your voice will be if there's a fire. None of this bellowing conversations through doors and down hallways. There will be a spirit of patience and courtesy.

Laughter and singing and the outward expressions of love. A powerful Gentleness pervading everything.

Books everywhere!

Black & white movies.

Plants lining every windowsill.

A little house in a big yard where we never cut the grass unless we want to. Green, green grass. And trees. And flowers. Mmmm...trumpet vines and lilacs and columbine.

Small town.


A little house, but an open one. No cramped quarters.

Like an old-fashioned cottage with old-fashioned people and old-fashioned domesticity, and rocking chairs on the porch.

Somewhere with rainstorms. Oh! give me somewhere with rainstorms.
Somewhere where the earth brightens in the spring and gets lazy in the summer and crisp and delicious in the autumn and cozy, snuggle-by-the-fire in the winter.

Travel. So much travel. Europe, Europe, Europe. But always with home waiting at the other end.

Home. Capital-H Home.

No one in a hurry.

Peace and quiet and serenity and gentle affection.

This dream life of mine is idyllic and may seem unreasonably idealistic, but I do not naively expect it to materialize. There will be storms; I will sail my ship through them. There will be monsters; I will tame them. This is not something I hope to find by chance. It is something I will build.

Friday, August 16, 2013

I Just Wasn't Made for These Times

It turns out there's this thing called the iPhone Photography Awards, and looking at this year's winners today, I got to thinking about laundry.

It's so dreamy...
(gallery of the victors)

But more on that in a bit.

The Beach Boys have this song, "I Just Wasn't Made for These Times." Actually, I had no idea it was by The Beach Boys until I started writing this. (Actually, I didn't know it was a song, either.) The line was just a snatch of quote caught in my mind, something remembered, I'm fairly sure, from the title of a TV show episode, though I couldn't say which show. It surfaced on the ocean of my mind as something entirely relevant, and as I like to know what I'm quoting when I quote things, I popped it into Google and found this:

A very Beach Boys-sounding song to be sure, and while my heart is very much in line with the chorus and the title, our whys are very different. They're singing about "look[ing] for places / Where new things might be found," but I feel like a stranger in this new place they were looking for all those years ago.

I just wasn't made for these times.

I've always felt I was an old soul, but lately I've been fitting the pieces together and realizing just how deep the trueness of that goes.

For the most part, my tastes and talents are better suited for a bygone age (although, admittedly, I do rather love TV and Pinterest). 

Take, for instance, laundry. (Half a dozen people just smiled. They know what's coming.) I'm funny about my laundry. I don't like putting shirts or pants in the dryer (which leaves little enough the energy cost isn't worth running the rest through, unless I've a mess of towels to be dried, or a blanket). I'll spare you the myriad reasons as to why I'm anti-dryer (maybe another time, hm?), but the fact of the matter is, I don't just like hang drying my clothes, I like hanging my clothes up to dry. As in, I want a clothesline outside and an old coffee can full of clothespins for a dryer. I thoroughly enjoy hanging my clothes out on the line, and as the iPhone Photography Awards demonstrate, the effect can be quite pretty.* I would rather tediously pin my wash to a line than dry my clothes in any other way.

Likewise, I would rather hand whip my cream than use an electric mixer (though I have had to admit defeat on occasion).

I aspire to cook everything from scratch.

Sweeping! I love sweeping. It has been brought to my attention that there are people who vacuum their hard floors, but that just boggles my mind. Hand me a broom and stand back, and forgive me if I hum that dreamy tune from Cinderella while I work. Someday, I shall have a house with all hard floors (wood, tile, what-have-you) scattered with area rugs (I rather detest this whole "wall-to-wall carpeting" fad). I may even experiment with beating my rugs instead of vacuuming (that one's a little less certain). 

It's not just that I enjoy these things or that I find them therapeutic and satisfying. I have a natural gift for Skills All Young Ladies Should Have, 1875 Edition. For instance, in sewing class in high school, I absolutely mangled the paper outlines we were supposed to practice feeding through a sewing machine, but as soon as I got some real cloth to work with, you wouldn't have known I'd just started. My cross-stitching, while not expert, is neat and comely and looks nothing like the disaster a first attempt in fifteen years should resemble. On my first go, I took to knitting like a duck to water. It only took me two crepes to figure out the trick to those fiddly little French flapjacks. My penmanship only grows more and more lovely. I was actually taught cursive a year early in elementary school because my print was so good. 

Maybe all this goes to show is that I'm good at following directions, but I think it's more than that. These things, they just felt right from the start. They fit.

The modern world seems to want me to be ambitious and career-oriented (even in LDS circles where marriage and families and traditional roles are lauded and encouraged, with "encouraged" being a mild term). 

"What kind of job do you want?" "What are you going to do with your degree?" Frankly, my dear...

My temperament ill suits me for playing the part of a modern woman. I'm a homebody with an urge to nurture and the skill set to make a place a home. That's not to say that I'm going to wait around for some bloke to make me a housewife. No. While I dream of love and companionship, I will build my quiet life now, with what I have.

The world grossly undervalues things like quiet and softness.

I just wasn't made for these times.

*You know, the more I look at that photo, the less sure I am that that's what's going on, but danged if I can figure out why all those shirts (are they shirts?) appear to be buttoned together. Laundry is what came to mind, so laundry it is.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

They Say It's Good to Have Goals

When I graduated college a few months ago, I was turned out into the world with no goals to speak of and a rather fuzzy idea of who I was that was the result of too little sleep, too many essays, and not enough "me" time.

Then came a period of panic as I tried to remember what I liked to do and to figure out what I wanted to do. It's all well and good to stand up at a reception for outstanding graduates and tell a bunch of strangers' parents that you just want to be happy when you grow up, but it's quite another thing to know what it is that will make you happy.

What with musicals and summer institute and being brave, this summer has been quite an interesting ride so far. Best of all, I think, once all that settled down, I found myself remembering how to be me again quite easily. It turns out all I needed was to feel again that old summer feeling of long, lazy days at home reading novels.

Of course, this summer is different in several points. Most notable, in my opinion, is that I've been making an effort to get up every morning and have a real day. None of this sleeping in until noon and spending the afternoon/evening in my pajamas watching day-long marathons of Wife Swap or America's Next Top Model or whatever show I've taken a fancy to this year on cable. I try to do "productive" things with my day, things like crocheting, sketching, and brushing up on my Spanish grammar. I'm slowly working toward being a morning person. How's that for a goal for you?

You wouldn't know it to look at my life thus far, but just before dawn is my favorite time of day. I love the greyness of the light, how clean and new everything feels, the way the birds sing their brightest, the slow burgeoning into full day. Sunrise is so much more gradual than sunset in all the best ways.

I guess that brings me to my real point: my goals. It turns out I've discovered some, and I'm very much in love with them.

Aside from the whole "morning person" thing, I'd like to become a substitute teacher. Kylie put the idea in my head, and after my aunt suggested it, too, it started to solidify into a real desire. It would give me a taste of teaching (sort of) and maybe help me decide, after all the hemming and hawing and naysaying, whether I really want to go down that road. Besides, it's something to work toward, and that makes me feel all warm and happy inside.

I've already completed my first step toward becoming a substitute: find a part time job so I can save up the money for the application process on my own. Last week, I scored a position at DownEast Basics, and I couldn't be happier. It was a great object with me in looking for a job to find one at an establishment I like so my work experience would be a happy one. Did I ever see myself working at a clothing store? Not so much. Do I see myself totally loving working at this particular clothing store? Very much yes.

My bigger goal, one I discovered earlier in the summer after a conversation with my bishop and have been treasuring up ever since, is to take a trip to England. Most especially, I decided this morning, to visit Charing Cross Road. Back before all the self-rediscovery and short term goals, I came up with this hazy, definite-ish plan to find a job and save up the money to get myself back to London as soon as ever I could. Visions of taking the train to Bath and Stratford-upon-Avon and maybe even Manchester and Edinburgh have been floating in my head for months.

This morning, I started reading The Last Little Blue Envelope, and apparently, Charing Cross Road is one long avenue of bookstores. I don't know how I didn't discover this before. Last time I was in London (all three glorious days), my greatest desire was secretly to visit a bookstore. That never happened during my ten-day whirlwind high school tour of Europe, but now that I'm grown up, by golly, I will make it happen! I may just spend a week working my way down the one street if it suits my fancy. And hey, Charing Cross Road also has that location-of-the-Leaky-Cauldron angle working for it. Also, Foyles. Why did nobody tell me about Foyles?

Little did I imagine, lo, those two months ago, that I would feel so empowered and directionful so soon. I love the sunshiny feeling that is pervading my life right now. I love who I am, where I am, and where I'm going to go.

What are some of your goals?

Friday, June 14, 2013


November was a long time ago. Another life ago. Many lifetimes ago. Another person writes to you now than wrote to you then. But really, that's the way this writing has always been if you but had eyes to see it.

Why did I stop writing? It felt forced. There was too much to say. I didn't know how to explain. I couldn't keep going on as I had when I was no longer as I was.

Why have I waited so long to come back? The longer I waited, the more there was to say. But, a huge part of it is that I've mostly outgrown the need for digital validation. I've been content to share what I had to share with individuals instead of casting it out into the universe for all to see and laud. But, that doesn't quite explain it, either.

For reasons unknown, there's been a lot of talk of ladders in my life lately. Drew wrote a ladder flirting scene into Invincible ("Don't say anything. It will only escalate!"). Someone shared with me a metaphor about ladders and dating. And then, just when I needed it most, someone quoted a Longfellow poem. I've never been able to resist a good poem, so I found the rest of it.

Every once in a while, we stumble across something that, in that moment, is relevant to us in every conceivable way (and some inconceivable). Yesterday, last night, as though guided by the hand of God (and I think maybe he was), an old friend reached out to me. And then he quoted this:

"The Ladder of St. Augustine" by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Saint Augustine! well hast thou said,
      That of our vices we can frame
A ladder, if we will but tread
      Beneath our feet each deed of shame!

All common things, each day's events,
      That with the hour begin and end,
Our pleasures and our discontents,
      Are rounds by which we may ascend.

The low desire, the base design,
      That makes another's virtues less;
The revel of the ruddy wine,
      And all occasions of excess;

The longing for ignoble things;
      The strife for triumph more than truth;
The hardening of the heart, that brings
      Irreverence for the dreams of youth;

All thoughts of ill; all evil deeds,
      That have their root in thoughts of ill;
Whatever hinders or impedes
      The action of the nobler will; —

All these must first be trampled down
      Beneath our feet, if we would gain
In the bright fields of fair renown
      The right of eminent domain.

We have not wings, we cannot soar;
      But we have feet to scale and climb
By slow degrees, by more and more,
      The cloudy summits of our time.

The mighty pyramids of stone
      That wedge-like cleave the desert airs,
When nearer seen, and better known,
      Are but gigantic flights of stairs.

The distant mountains, that uprear
      Their solid bastions to the skies,
Are crossed by pathways, that appear
      As we to higher levels rise.

The heights by great men reached and kept
      Were not attained by sudden flight,
But they, while their companions slept,
      Were toiling upward in the night.

Standing on what too long we bore
      With shoulders bent and downcast eyes,
We may discern — unseen before —
      A path to higher destinies,

Nor doom the irrevocable Past
      As wholly wasted, wholly vain,
If, rising on its wrecks, at last
      To something nobler we attain.

That's why I haven't written. I've started to. I've started writing posts about waltzing, love, depression, Helm's Deep, my college graduation, linguistics, and texting. I've begun a dozen deep, thoughtful metaphors with no expiration date and no pressure to finish them before they became irrelevant. With each, I got busy, or I just didn't feel like writing, and by the time I came back to them, they just didn't seem to matter so much anymore. By the time I came back to them, I was seeing them with different eyes.

Over the past year, I have been in the midst of the most extreme metamorphosis I have undergone in my 22 years of life. Maybe it's been longer than that. That's the funny thing about change: there's no telling just where the end or the beginning is. I feel like a new person every month, every week, sometimes every day.

Sometimes, the change has been exultant; I felt like a meteor hurtling through space. Other times, the change has been torturous; I was dragging myself up a mountain with my bare hands.

And I'm not done.

With graduation have come a lot of questions about what I'm going to do with my life. Everyone wants to know what job I'm going to get. That's not what matters to me. I know exactly what I'm going to do with my life: I'm going to serve God. I'm going to continue growing into what he wants me to be. I'm going to keep climbing higher. He is more important to me than anything. What I want most is to have a family and to do His will. Neither is very lucrative, but lucre is such a trivial thing. 

My God has always been the most important thing to me. I love Him. I trust Him. And He's going to take care of me.

As C.S. Lewis wrote, "Further up and further in!"*

*It really should be "farther," but it's no good editing quotes.