Sunday, December 26, 2010

lines composed on the couch at Christmas

the best part of Christmas
is lounging on the couch
after everyone has gone to bed

when the house is still
and nothing breaks the silence
but the hum of the fridge

then, alone, truly alone
sitting motionless on the couch
there is peace

and chocolate.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Christmas Eve Ruminations

Ever since I read Great Expectations as a teenager, Charles Dickens has been one of my favorite authors. He has a way of wording things that is just right. Sometimes he waxes a bit verbose and some of his lengthier descriptions wouldn't be harmed by a bit of editing, to be sure; but I feel like many times he speaks (writes) the language of my soul. This was further made clear to me when I had the opportunity to take a class devoted to his novels. That was a happy semester indeed. Today, Christmas Eve, as I was rereading his A Christmas Carol, as per my annual tradition, his authorial preeminence stood out to me yet again as he cut through the fluff and non-essential baggage that comes with Christmas and made clear why we celebrate the holiday and what our Christian duty is as a result of our celebration of the same; for truly there is work to do for all Christians as a result of that which we celebrate this blessed time of year.

The Book of Moses in the Pearl of Great Price teaches us that God's work and purpose is "to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man." God exists to work in our behalf so that we might all have access to that most precious of all gifts: eternal life. He works for mankind and invites us to do the same. Dickens seems to sing the same tune as Marley's ghost, having just been told by Scrooge that he was "a good man of business," bemoans his wasted life by talking about his, and our, true business in life:
"Business! Mankind was my business. The common welfare was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence, were, all, my business. The dealings of my trade were but a drop of water in the comprehensive ocean of my business!...Why did I walk through crowds of fellow-beings with my eyes turned down, and never raise them to that blessed Star which led the Wise Men to a poor abode! Were there no poor homes to which its light would have conducted me!"

How often do we stop and realize what our life's "business" really ought to be focused on? In the fast-paced, money-oriented economic world in which we live, how often do we slow down to notice the plight of our fellow men? Do we truly see that we ought to work with God in helping our brothers and sisters realize their eternal potential? How often do we have opportunities to bless the lives of those around us, in even the smallest ways, and we pass on by, unaware of lost opportunities? I realize that I can speak for no one but myself, but I know that I personally can do a lot better in following the light of "that blessed Star" in doing the will of Him whom it represents.

My favorite section of the story comes as Scrooge, the ever-shrewd business man who is constantly focused on the bottom-line and on ascertaining whether any activity or event has the potential to increase his net worth, has just called his nephew a fool for going about on Merry Christmas because doing so has never done anyone any financial good. To this the nephew responds with, to me, the finest treatise on the true meaning of Christmas to be found in all of secular literature:

"There are many things from which I might have derived good, by which I have not profited, I dare say, Christmas among the rest. But I am sure I have always thought of Christmas time, when it has come round -- apart from the veneration due to its sacred name and origin, if anything belonging to it can be apart from that -- as a good time; a kind, forgiving, charitable, pleasant time: the only time I know of, in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely, and to think of people below them as if they really were fellow-passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys. And therefore, uncle, though it has never put a scrap of gold or silver in my pocket, I believe it has done me good, and will do me good; and I say, God bless it!"

The optimism of the nephew gives hope for humanity. And, indeed, as we take time to look about us during the Christmas season we can see that there is an increase in acts of charity, in the familiar sense of the word, and people do seem to do a better job of taking notice of those "fellow-passengers to the grave." (I love that phrase) Just a week or two ago I was discussing this fact with one of my roommates and we decided that while this tendency to be more charitable and loving during the Christmas season is nice, wouldn't it be even better if that sentiment pervaded our lives year-round. As the Ghost of Christmas Present sings in the Muppets' portrayal of Dickens' classic, "It is the season of the heart, a special time of caring, the ways of love made clear. It is the season of the spirit. The message, if we hear it, is make it last all year." Scrooge himself, a redeemed man, says near the end of the story, "I will honour Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year." We need to learn to "open our shut-up hearts freely" all year long and be always ready and willing to help those around us in any way possible.

Jesus Christ's birth is the reason for our celebrations of the season. The fact of Jesus' birth, while miraculous in its own right, merely points to the purpose of his life. He lived to serve others. To help the downtrodden. To give hope to those who had none. Ultimately, with His atoning sacrifice He personally created the path that we must all take if we are to obtain to eternal life. Christmas is a celebration of Christ's triumph over death and hell. Christ's triumph gives us all hope for eternal happiness together with Him and His Father as well as with our families and loved ones. Knowledge of Christ's plan of salvation brings such incredible joy and hope. Would we not do well to be ever ready and willing to actively share that hope, "to
give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you"? Christ is the reason. Let's share His light with those poor homes in darkness. I feel like that is what it means to live Christmas well.

Friday, December 17, 2010


I think literary theorists hate students. The feeling is mututal. Take Althusser for example:

"All ideology is centred, that the Absolute Subject occupies the unique place of the Centre, and interpellates around it the infinity of individuals into subjects in a double mirror-connexion such that it subjects the subjects to the Subject, while giving them in the Subject in which each subject can contemplate its own image (future and present) and guaratee that this really concerns them and Him."

I just read that sentence (yeah, it was just one sentence) over and over again for the last 5-10 minutes trying to glean some kind of meaning from it. I failed.

I can imagine the scene. Here's Althusser, sitting at a table late at night in a dimly-lit, underground Parisian pub (do they have pubs in France?) surrounded by his beady-eyed Marxist buddies. While brainstorming ways that he might obfuscate any possible meaning in his writings because he knew that generations of students living under a capitalist regime would attempt to study his writings, he decides that a particularly effective strategy would be to use the word "subject" as many times as possible and with as many different usages as possible in one sentence, thereby frustrating the hell out of the previously-mentioned capitalist student scum and making them pay for adhering to such an awfully incorrect economic and political ideology.

Anyway, I'd better get back to estudying. I just needed to vent about how much I hate theory and how much I'm not going to miss these ivory tower scumbags and their overly narcissistic and often atheistic views of the world. I think that every time a theorist dies, Lucifer gleefully stokes the flames of purgatory in anticipation of said theorist's arrival. Not that I'm bitter or anything.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Extremely Loud

I'm not talking about how I like to listen to Battle Without Honor Or Humanity as loud as I can when walking across campus while pausing and stepping dramatically at all the right times to match the score...but I do that too. I'm talking about the first in a series of two phrases that makes up the title of one of my favorite books. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. This is one of the three books that I recommend when requested for a recommendation. (The other two are My Name Is Asher Lev and The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society). I wouldn't say they are my absolute favorite three books (they've gotta fight with Dickens and Twain to make that list), but they certainly are up there. I think that they are three books that everybody can relate to and from whose pages everyone can glean valuable insight about life. Coincidentally two of them were written by Jews. If I weren't Mormon I think I'd be Jewish. But I digress.

I recently lent my copy of Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close to a friend. She finished it and she brought it back last week. Having it in my hands once again I flipped through it, remembering some of my favorite parts.

Do you ever have that experience where there's some aspect of your life that you struggle to wrap your head around for a long time and never can quite get the hang of--something that every time you try to explain it to someone, or write about it yourself, you just get frustrated at your inability to bend the language to your will and accurately describe what you're feeling? And then you read some book that you've heard is a decent read, and you find that some author, someone you have never met and don't know from Adam, has taken a good long look into your soul and phrased that ambiguous something perfectly?

For some reason when this happens to me I experience equal parts euphoria and rage. I always imagine it to be a faceless bohemian author sitting at a street cafe in Europe. He's just jotting down these little nuggets of literary gold on a napkin as if it were some little ditty that he can't get out of his head. He does it so quickly and so simply that it would seem as if the turn of phrase that he's just composed, and that I've been searching for endlessly, was a commonly held piece of knowledge and that he was merely transcribing it from the great ethereal nothingness as easy as tying his shoe. How does he do it? It's infuriating. But at the same time it's comforting to know that there are people out there that do this. But, again, I've digressed.

Back to Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. There's a section of this book that made me experience what I've just described. I'd forgotten it until this weekend, but thankfully Foer, through the voice of a remarkable little boy named Oskar, brought it back.

Here 'tis:

"What if the water that came out of the shower was treated with a chemical that responded to a combination of things, like your heart beat, and your body temperature, and your brain waves, so that your skin changed color according to your mood?...Everyone could know what everyone else felt, and we could be more careful with each other, because you'd never want to tell a person whose skin was purple that you're angry at her for being late, just like you would want to pat a pink person on the back and tell him, 'Congratulations!' ...there are so many times when you know you're feeling a lot of something, but you don't know what the something is. Am I frustrated? Am I actually just panicky? And that confusion changes your mood, it becomes your mood, and you become a confused, gray person. But with the special water, you could look at your orange hands and think, I'm happy! That whole time I was actually happy! What a relief!"

I'd try to elaborate on this one but I can't. I'd fall short and in doing so would just muddy the waters. Suffice it to say, I've been there. I know what he's saying.

Sometimes I want that water.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Reasons Why Special Collections is the Best Place to Study

1) The chairs around the tables have arm rests.
2) There are cool looking old books all over the place.
3) There are cool looking old people all over the place.
4) There are sculptures and other cool art works all over the place.
5) I'm studying next to a griffin.
6) There's a grandfather clock in the corner that chimes ever 15 minutes.
7) This quote is sitting on the table, "Reading makes immigrants of us all -- it takes us away from home, but more important, if finds homes for us everywhere." - Hazel Rochman.
8) The kid sitting at the table next door has a cell phone that keeps making noises that make me feel like I'm in an early 90s video game.
9) Airplane mode for the cell phone. Which of course means airplane mode for Sam. Airplane mode for Sam means I pretend I'm a little boy laying on my stomach on the swings who is pretending to fly an airplane. Airplane mode makes life more exciting. Especially when Maggie shakes the table to simulate turbulence.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

pressing questions that have arisen as I've been writing (procrastinating) a term paper

How do we know that elephants never forget?
How do we know that elephants are afraid of mice?
Who is doing these fascinating elephant studies?
How did this researcher get his or her findings to take such a prominent place in collective American knowledge?
Why is it so hard to focus on writing a term paper even though it is due tomorrow and I'm still far from the finish line?

Friday, December 3, 2010


I just woke up. It's 1:23 am. I'm in the library. I know it's time to come home from the library when I get to that point where, if I were home on the couch I'd just nestle in and be done for the night. I would totally climb up on this table right now, shut my eyes again and sleep on the 5th floor all night if they would let me. But they won't...Just fell asleep again. Now it's 1:43 am. I'm going home. I don't wanna go to class tomorrow.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Alarm Clocks

Last night I set the alarm on my phone for 7:08 AM, 7:15 AM, and 7:39 AM. I set three alarms for a reason. The first alarm is just a warning. It's saying, "alright Sam, you're gonna be gettin up soon." The second alarm is the real sign for me to throw back the covers and grace the new morning with my presence. The third alarm is a safety net in case alarms 1 and 2 fail. If I'm up by 7:40 AM, I still have time to get up, dress, brush my teeth and be to class on time. All of this careful preparation is done with the intention of waking up in time for my 8:00 AM class on American literary modernism. Even though this has become a bit of a bored routine, I was actually really excited to go to class this morning for several reasons: 1) I had actually completed all of the reading, 2) I had found the reading fascinating, and 3) I really enjoy this class, as much for the professor teaching it as for the subject material.
So this morning at 7:08 in the AM the dulcet tones of Dave Brubeck's Take Five gently roused me from sleep. As I woke up I ran my daily diagnostic analysis and decided I wasn't hungry. Thus I made the decision to skip breakfast in order to enjoy a few extra minutes of sweet repose. So I grabbed my phone reset alarm 2 from 7:15 AM to 7:23 AM and nestled back into the comfort my pillow and blanket. I instantly fell back asleep assured that my phone would do its duty and bring me back 'round at the appropriate hour. But my phone betrayed me.
I don't know what I'd done to offend it. Maybe considering I've allowed it to die a time or two it had so hardened its affections towards me that it felt the need to exact revenge. Maybe it's seen me giving more attention to other electronic devices such as my laptop and ipod and it's gotten jealous. Maybe it was tired of me taking it for granted and sleeping through its daily reminders to wake up. Or maybe 8 human months equates adolescence in phone years and it's just going through a rebellious phase. Whatever the case may be, it decided not to carry out its assignments with regards to alarms 2 and 3, and I slept on unperturbed.
A while later I came out of deep sleep into semi-consciousness with the thought, "Man this has been a long 15 min." I blindly reached for my phone and my sleepy eyes struggled to focus on the leering face of this self-important Benedict Arnold. As the blurs merged into one, I read 8:02 AM and immediately jumped out of bed, adrenalin coursing through my body. Thinking a series of unmentionable evils towards the world of electronics in general, I pulled on my pants and shoes, grabbed a notebook and a pen and raced to class, arriving at 8:10 AM.
Later during class, as I sat with my classmates discussing Richard Wright's visit to Indonesia, I pulled my phone out and looked at it. How could it have betrayed me? How had I missed the warning signs that our relationship had grown cold? What might I have done to prevent this travesty? More importantly, was the trust gone forever? Would I ever be able to sleep well at night knowing that such an occurrence might repeat itself? I reviewed the alarm settings in despair and was inspired to vow two things: 1) I will never again take for granted a properly functioning alarm clock. 2) I will always make sure alarms 2 and 3 are, in fact, set to AM and not PM.