Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Christmas I Remember Best

Today after dinner, as the family was all sitting around chatting and generally enjoying a healthy dose of yuletide good humour, Mom got everyone's attention and asked who wanted to share the story of the Christmas we remembered most. I was a bit drowsy and had laid down on the floor. I always love a good story, especially when it deals with Christmas, so I closed my eyes and listened.

I wasn't disappointed as several people shared stories. There was my 8 year old niece Josie who talked about getting a typewriter for Christmas last year. There was Grandma's experience of trying to stay awake to see Santa Claus, sure that she would because the Christmas tree was in her room that year, only to fall asleep and miss seeing him. There was my brother-in-law's dad talking about living with his wife and kids in Argentina and spending Christmas on an Argentine beach. There was Uncle Mark sharing a story of Christmas on his mission. They were wonderful stories and I just sat back and enjoyed them. Mom asked me if I wanted to share a story, but I wasn't coming up with anything on the spot so I declined and the conversation went on. Eventually the dinner party broke up, the evening wore on, and what with one thing and another it has been another lovely Christmas day. 

As I've gone to bed now, Mom's question is been playing in my mind: What is the Christmas that I remember most? As I've been thinking about it, several memorable Christmases have stuck out. 

There was Christmas my third grade year when the family spent the night Christmas Eve at Grandma and Grandpa Anderson's house. I shared a bed with my sister Maurianne, and I kept waking her up to ask her to go see what time it was. I bet she was super annoyed, but she was a good sport. When it finally was time to wake up we went upstairs, and there waiting for me was the BB gun I'd been asking and pining for for months. I ran to the gun, picked it up and starting marching around the room with it on my shoulder like I was the night watch. To this day I'm not sure I've ever been as excited about a Christmas present as I was that year.

There was the Christmas when I was 17 and the whole family was together for Christmas for the first time in years. My brother David and I stayed up late Christmas Eve night playing a computer game until he was called away by his wife to perform his Clausian duties. After everyone had settled down and gone to bed,  I remember laying on the couch in the basement, seeing Mom going around checking to make sure everyone was in bed and reveling in the fact that all of her children and grandchildren were under one roof for Christmas. 

These memories and others are wonderful. but the one Christmas that stands out most to me and is my most memorable is probably Christmas 2006. I was on my mission in Guayaquil, Ecuador, I'd been out nearly a year and a half and I was loving it. I loved the food, the oppressive heat and humidity, I loved the people, I loved the culture and I loved Spanish. I loved everything about Ecuador. Unfortunately the same couldn't be said for my companion. Elder Williams was from Montana, and he'd only been in the country a couple of months. As Christmas was approaching, he was getting more and more homesick, which homesickness only made him more and more bitter towards everything. Towards the food, the heat and humidity, the language, and especially the people. We were in a pretty rough sector, and everywhere we went, rather than seeing and hearing traditional signs of the Christmases that we're used to in the United States, we saw a very, very different culture. For example, instead of Christmas carols being played, we heard big, brassy salsa music like this:

and this:

everywhere we went. I was pretty well acculturated at this point, but as I heard him almost nightly bemoan the fact that Ecuadorians didn't know how to celebrate Christmas, I couldn't help but buy into his attitude a little bit. I loved where I was and what I was doing, but he was right, it didn't feel like Christmas. We didn't let that stop us from working hard and doing all we could to share the good news of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, but as Christmas got closer we were both a little disappointed.

Here's where I need to tell you about a family of new converts in the ward. Their name was Valenzuela, and this is them:

As you can see in the picture, they were very short, just like everyone else in that country, their sons Giuseppe and Cachito were wild and crazy (Cachito had actually peed on my previous companion at one point), and they were happy. They had experienced some incredible struggles and horrific trials (another story for another time), but those struggles had led them to the Church of Jesus Christ. Their faith in Christ and in His Atonement continues to be an example to me to this day. They were incredibly poor, living in a shack that was at most 30 square feet and that was accessed by going up a wooden staircase so steep and exposed that you felt like you were climbing a ladder to a tree house, but they were more content with their lives than most people I've ever known. I don't think there could ever a person meet them that didn't fall in love with them immediately.

My companion and I visited the Valenzuelas often, both because they cooked lunch for us on Saturdays and because they shared the gospel with great fervor and were always bringing friends over to listen to us. They loved the missionaries and told us often how grateful they were for the work we were doing because their lives had been saved by the Gospel. (Again, theirs is a great story. You should ask me about it sometime.) 

Anyway, about a week before Christmas, the Valenzuelas invited us to come over to their house for dinner on Christmas Eve. We readily accepted their invitation, but that didn't really change my companion's homesickness or animosity towards Ecuadorian Christmas.

Christmas Eve came, and things were going terribly. We tried our best to work hard all day, but no one really wanted to listen; they just wanted to get the party started. As with any Ecuadorian holiday, the preferred form of celebration seemed to be getting blackout drunk and raising hell in the streets. As the day wore on, it seemed less and less like Christmas, and both my companion's attitude and my attitude got worse and worse. I remember thinking that if I heard El Negrito de la Salsa one more time I might hit something. Around 2 pm my companion stopped talking altogether. Things were not merry and bright.

Finally, several hours later when we decided we weren't going to get anything done, we headed over to the Valenzuela's for dinner. We climbed the stairs and knocked on the door, and when Hermana Alexandra opened the door, the smile on her face changed our moods immediately. She invited us in, had us sit down, and with a wink told us that dinner would be ready soon. Hermano Valenzuela came out from behind the sheet that separated the bedroom from the living room, sat down with us, and with the biggest smile I'd ever seen said he had a story to tell.

He said that he and his wife had been really worried about this meal. They had been praying that they might be able to somehow get enough money to buy a turkey, so that they could cook for us a good Christmas dinner like we would have had at home. The money never came, and so they had resigned to preparing the standard chicken and rice. Then, just the day before Christmas Eve, he said that he had been given an unexpected bonus at work, and that the bonus was the exact price of a turkey at the mercado. He didn't try to hide the excitement in his voice as he told us that he knew that the bonus had come from God and that he didn't have to think twice about spending it all on a turkey for the "hermanitos." Hermana Alexandra looked over at us from the stove with tears in her eyes and told us again how much they loved us and were grateful that we were serving the Lord and sharing the gospel with people like her family.

I looked over at my companion and saw in his face the kind of gratitude and love that I was feeling. Neither of us really knew what to say. Luckily we were saved from having to say anything as dinner was on. 

We had dinner - turkey with rice and an onion/tomato/lime juice salad - while dodging toys as Giuseppe and Cachito took turns hurling their new Christmas presents at one another across the table. After dinner, Elder Williams and I shared a short Christmas message and we sang a couple of Christmas songs with the family. I felt the (Holy) Christmas Spirit so strong that evening that I never wanted to leave. 

Unfortunately the time came and reluctantly we stood up and said we had to get home. Hermana Alexandra jumped to her feet and said we had to open our presents before we left. She pulled a couple of newspaper-wrapped packages from off of the fridge and handed them to us with a smile. We told her that they didn't need to get us presents, but they just smiled and told us to open them. We tore open the packages and each found a long-sleeve, white t-shirt. Mine read in green lettering on the front "A Team Much Stronger Than Yours" and Elder Williams' read "Bad Boy." We laughed good-naturedly and we put them on over our shirts and ties to model them. They just laughed. 

As we left, we thanked the Valenzuelas over and over again and told them how much we appreciated everything they had done for us. Hermano Valenzuela cut off our thank yous, got a serious look on his face and said, "It'll never be enough." We nodded and said goodnight.

As we got to the bottom of the stairs, Elder Williams looked at me grinning broadly and said that he loved Ecuador and that he loved spending Christmas with these people. I agreed. As we walked home, Elder Williams abandoned all pretense and starting shouting "Merry Christmas" (yes, in English) to everyone along the way. We got a lot of laughs as everyone thought the giant gringo walking down the street yelling "Merry Christmas" was hilarious. I couldn't help but laugh myself. I was happy. And the prospect of talking to my family the next day just made me happier. 

To this day whenever I hear big, brassy salsa music I think of Christmas 2006, and I think of the wonderful familia Valenzuela. That's the Christmas I remember best.

Friday, December 21, 2012

And I Feel Fine

Some say the world will end in fire,
Some say in ice.
From what I've tasted of desire
I hold with those who favor fire.
But if it had to perish twice,
I think I know enough of hate
To say that for destruction ice
Is also great
And would suffice.

Robert Frost

Friday, December 14, 2012

What Do We Do Now?

Thanks to facebook and twitter I've seen a lot of reactions to the horrific acts carried out today in Newtown, CT. Most reactions to this senseless act of violence (are there any sensible acts of violence?) seem to fall into two groups. First, there are the people who mourn with those who mourn, i.e. those who send their thoughts and prayers to those directly affected. Second, there are those who propose answers to the question, "What should we do now in order to prevent this from happening again." Naturally the two groups are not mutually exclusive. I think that both reactions are warranted and helpful in moving the country through this tragedy in a way that is respectful to those affected as well as productive in terms of creating a greater sense of unity and purpose for the population as a whole.

The first response is invaluable. These kinds of acts shake the very core of our humanity as we ask how any member of our race could enact such evil. As we question the goodness of our race in general, it brings me hope to see people coming together to create this solidarity and becoming a community of mourners. Doing this can and will help the American people on the whole make sense of what has happened and get through it in a way that will make our country stronger.

The second class of response is similarly helpful as it addresses the problem of moving forward head on. We recognize that there is some kind of deficiency in the way we the people operate, and so we strive to fill that deficiency with new and improved policies.

From what I've seen there are two main issues that people seem to be bringing up:

1) gun control 
2) mental health 

Naturally there are many differing opinions about the specifics of what we should do with these issues, which opposition of course carries with it the possibility assurance of contentious argument. The truth is these questions don't have obviously simple answers, though that doesn't stop people on both sides from pretending that they do. I have my opinions, but they are not what I want to talk about here. I agree that these issues need to be talked about, but, frankly, I'm not really in a position to do anything about them myself.

So for me the more important question is what can I do? What should my response to this situation be? I've thought a lot about this, and to answer that question, I'd like to quote some of the words of Ezra Taft Benson. 

"We are commanded by God to take this gospel to all the world. That is the cause that must unite us today. Only the gospel will save the world from the calamity of its own self-destruction. Only the gospel will unite men of all races and nationalities in peace. Only the gospel will bring joy, happiness, and salvation to the human family." (qtd. in L. Tom Perry, "Proclaim My Gospel from Land to Land", April 1989)

I firmly believe that learning about and putting into practice the doctrines of the gospel of Christ can bring peace both to the individual and the collective whole.

For the human race collectively the gospel can bring peace in unity, because living the gospel doesn't just affect the way we act, it affects who we are at our central core. Instead of taming, corralling, and limiting the sphere of influence of the evil impulses within us, it roots out those evil impulses altogether and changes our hearts. Such change of heart, were it to take place on a broad scale, would lead to a much more charitable and loving world. We would stop caring so much about number one and look for ways to serve and uplift those around us. Followers of Christ teach and preach many things, but the end goal of them all is love. Making us into a loving people is the purpose of Christ's teachings. As Paul said of charity:

"Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing." (1 Corinthians 13:1-2)

If I have not charity, I am nothing. The gospel teaches love. After what happened in Newtown, I think we all agree that we, as a people, could use a little more love.

For the individual, an understanding of the truths of eternity taught by Christ and his prophets can provide a peace and comfort that is unparalleled. In the words of Christ:

"Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid." (John 14:27)

The truth of the matter is, bad things happen, and they happen to the very best of people. People like small, innocent schoolchildren. They happen because while on Earth we are given agency, the gift of choice, and some people choose to act poorly. God doesn't force or demand or even cajole. But when choices are made that lead to bad things happening, He's there to comfort us. And it's not comfort as the world giveth, but rather a peace "which passeth understanding, [and that] shall keep [our] hearts and minds through Christ Jesus." (Philippians 4:7)

Now I can't say that I've ever personally experienced a tragedy on par with the events of today in Newtown. But because of the personal trials and tragedies that I have had to face, I can say unequivocally that God is there. The Atonement of Jesus Christ is real and it can bring peace, hope, love and comfort to us even when we're in the darkest nights of our anguish. All wrongs will be made right in and through Jesus Christ. As Joseph B. Wirthlin said:

"Each of us will have our own Fridays--those days when the universe itself seems shattered and the shards of our world lie littered about us in pieces. We all will experience those broken times when it seems we can never be put together again. We will all have our Fridays. But I testify in the name of the One who conquered death--Sunday will come. In the darkness of our sorrow, Sunday will come. No matter our desperation, no matter our grief, Sunday will come. In this life or the next, Sunday will come." ("Sunday Will Come", Oct. 2006)

So for me, the answer to the question "what do we do now?" is proclaim the gospel. Share the joy and hope and peace that I find in learning, understanding and applying the gospel of Jesus Christ in my life. Others more capable than I will figure out the logistics of the appropriate response in terms of public policy.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

End of the Semester Book Buying

With classes having ended last week and school being officially over this week, I have a problem. See, I have this tradition. It started the first semester of my freshman year here at BYU. I was walking the general book section of the bookstore happily counting the cash I'd just gotten from selling back my loathsome calculus and physics books when I happened to glance up and see this:

I had been thinking about buying it for some time because I'd heard my dad talk about it on several occasions. I looked at the cash in my hand, at the book on the shelf, back at my hand and then made a monumental decision: from that time forward, at the end of every semester, I would take the money I got from selling back books I didn't want anymore (textbooks) and spend at least some of it buying a book that I actually wanted to read. So I picked up The Screwtape Letters and bought it without another thought. From that time forward I've done this at the end of every semester of school.

This is one of my favorite things I've done over the course of my college education. I think what I like best about it is that I'm taking charge of my education and not limiting it to what I learn in school from professors. Even semesters when I haven't actually sold any books back, I still go and buy a new book to read either during Christmas break or over the summer. It's usually not books that require a lot of effort to read or that I have to think about too hard, but they're still at least somewhat mentally engaging.

This tradition has led to me buying and reading, among others:

There's not really any specific theme to the books I buy, as you can see. Usually when this time of the semester comes around I will have had my eye on a book or two for a while and so I just go out and buy it. This year is different.

I have a few different books that I've thought I might like, but nothing really stands out above the rest right now. The books I've been considering are Thinking Fast and Slow, Musicophilia and What the Best College Teachers Do. I think I'd be happy reading any of those books, but like I say I'm not super excited about any of them. So what do you all think? Which of those books should I buy and read? Or if not any of those ones, which alternates would you suggest? I'm in a pickle here. I appreciate any and all input.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Statement of Intent

You might think this post is about deciding where to apply. Nope, I've already got that figured out. (yes, there are some snowy schools on the list.) But with that problem solved, I've encountered a new one. The Statement of Intent.

I'm stuck. I'm not really sure I get the genre of the graduate school statement of intent. Yet here I am, sitting in my bed wasting my holiday trying to figure out how to write it. I've stopped and started the blasted thing numerous times today, but I can't decide what's the best way to go about this in order to justify myself as a viable PhD candidate. Anyway, here are my thoughts on the subject.

I get the feeling that I ought to do something in the way of personalizing the statement so that those who read it get a sense of who I am, my personality and so on. So maybe I should include a related anecdote about my past that gives them some sense of where I started and why I've come to the conclusion that I want to dedicate my life to the study of rhetoric and composition. You know something like this:

When I was a little kid I had a lot of concerns and worries about the future and growing up that were largely born of my fear of the unknown. Sometimes as a school-aged child I would lay in bed at night staring at the ceiling and thinking about what my life would be like 15, 20 and 30 years down the road. The fact that I had no clear picture of what it would be was at times cripplingly terrifying. Among all those worries, there was one aspect of the future about which I had no doubts and that comforted me when I got to thinking about the horror before me, I knew what I would be when I grew up. An astronomer. And so I set about getting myself ready for my life with astronomy by…reading works of literature and writing stories. Yep. While consciously I had it in mind to study the stars, I was unknowingly preparing myself for a life with words. I should’ve seen the writing on the wall in high school when I got a 5 on the AP English test and a 1 on the AP Calculus BC test, but it wasn’t until my sophomore year of college that I finally realized that English was the path for me.

But that feels too corny and lame. Maybe instead of telling a related anecdote, I could tell an unrelated anecdote that illustrates a character trait that uniquely suits me for the study of rhetoric and composition. Maybe something like this:

I was nervous causing my body to tremble slightly in my new Cub Scout uniform. Keith and Craig and I stood there outside of the gym wherein our parents were waiting for us to march in and start pack meeting with the flag ceremony. We’d been in the hall a long time. Too long, frankly. Unfortunately, before we could march in and get started, we had to decide who would carry the flag, Keith or Craig. Frankly I didn’t care, I was just excited that I got to be the one to tell everyone what to do and lead the audience in the Pledge of Allegiance, but Keith and Craig were angry and all red-in-the-face from arguing, each unwilling to give in and let the other carry the flag. I peeked into the gym and saw our leader standing at the front of the room nervously looking back at the doors hiding us. When he saw my forehead and glasses poke out from behind the door he gestured in such a way as to ask, “What’s the holdup?” I raised my eyebrows and shrugged, and turned back to the argument behind me. Something would have to be done. I told the two of them to shut up, and said, "We've got to get in there. Everyone's waiting for us." Keith responded, "Then tell Craig to give me the flag because I'm carrying it." I looked at Craig who just gripped the flag's pole tighter. I realized this wasn't going anywhere, so I proposed that Craig carry the flag into the gym, at which time he would hand it to Keith to hold during the Pledge of Allegiance. After the pledge, Keith would take the flag over to the flag stand and post it. That way they both got to carry it. They looked at each other with a hint of suspicion and agreed. They were both happy and the ceremony went off without a hitch. As I sat down with my parents, I was pleased with myself for coming up with a solution. I had no idea that I'd just enacted "transcendence" per Kenneth Burke.

That seems a little too touchy feely too, and it takes way too long to get to the point. I don't know. Maybe I'm trying to hard to make it personable and unique and I should just jump right in and say what I want to study, what I've done to prepare myself for success in this field and why the acceptance committee in question should accept me. In other words I should give them "just the facts" without any personal narrative flavor to dress it up. It might look something like this:

I’m fascinated by people. The way we interact, the way we work together and against each other and the way we somehow manage to make life work even though we never really understand one another. Really, what I’m saying is I’m fascinated by rhetoric. A professor of mine, Grant Boswell, summed up this fascination pretty well when he said, “Fish swim in water; people swim in rhetoric.” It’s all around us, everywhere. What I want, and the reason I’m applying to your program, is to better understand this process. How do we make ourselves known to one another? How do we really influence one another through words and other symbolic gestures? How can we know whether or not such influence is inherently ethical? These are the kinds of things I’m keen on understanding. Specifically, I want to know how these things are done through the medium of the written word, and how we as scholars can best help students in writing and composition courses really grasp and embrace these ideas.

I don't know. I know the kind of stuff I need to include, but what form should it all take? This is my question.

Maybe, instead of doing anything I've suggested up above, I could just flesh out this blog post with some particulars and submit it as a kind of alternative discourse to the grad school letter of intent.

I dunno. We'll see.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

It's the End of the World As We Know It

Tonight's the end of the world. I'm stoked. I'm, like, this stoked:

It's gonna be awesome.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Christmas Time Is Here

Last night around midnight, as I was driving home on the slushy, wet, lovely white streets of Provo, the snow was still falling in thick heavy flakes as it had been doing since about 10:30 in the morning. I was taking it slow to account for any black ice the might be hidden under the blanket of white that covered the world. There didn't seem to be many people out and about (strange for a Friday night), but I wasn't complaining because I hate people I hate being around people crowds make me uncomfortable some moments of life are best experienced in solitude. Watching the snow fall late at night is such a moment.

As I waited for a stoplight to turn, I grabbed my iPod and queued up Diana Krall's "Christmas Time is Here":

When I was a kid I didn't like this song because I thought it sounded sad and depressing and all things that Christmas was not, but in the last few years it has become one of my favorites. 

The song seemed a perfect reflection of the world all around me. It was the melodic embodiment of that mildly ethereal, warm orange glow of streetlamp light  reflected off the fallen snow and gradually swallowed by the pitch black of the night sky. 

The song ended as I arrived back at my apartment and eased my car into a safe parking spot along the street. I got out of the car, shut the door, and looked up at the sky. Before going in and wrapping myself in a warm cocoon of blankets and sleep, I stood still in the street for a moment listening to the world. 

The only...sound [was] the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.*

Diana's voice rang in my mind and I smiled. The holidays are upon us.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

America and Patriotism

I voted today.

It was awesome. I felt so American. As I left Provo Peaks Elementary School, I pulled out the old music maker, rolled down my windows, and cranked this song as loud as I could while cruising the streets of Provo:

Naturally I was singing along as loud as I could as well. People were looking at me funny, but I didn't care. Because this is America. When Neil got done I turned it on over to this song:

Yes, I know it's a Vietnam protest song and not necessarily "patriotic." But that's the thing, protest is patriotic. You know 1st amendment and free speech and all that jazz. It's patriotic. like voting. And I voted today. Plus, people often think that it's a patriotic song. What's more American than being wrong about what a song means and then stubbornly owning it and not caring what people think about your interpretation of the song because you know you're right and ain't nothin' no one can do to change your mind. This is America!

When that song got over I decided that I needed an all-American lunch. My original plan today was dino chicken nuggets, but that didn't seem American enough. I mean, dinosaurs are worldwide. Nothing wrong with being worldwide, but I voted today, and this is America. So as Bruce got done, I put on some Ray:

and I made my way to get myself some real American lunch:

Yeah,  Big Mac. With a large fry. And a large, sugary soda. None of that diet crap. And even though I was pretty much done with the meal when I was about halfway through, I ate the whole thing anyway. Because this is America, and no one is going to dictate to me how much I should eat, not even my own appetite. I do what I want. It's a free country. This is America!

Alright, tongue-in-cheekiness aside, I actually really do love America and feel great patriotism for this country. Let me illustrate as best I can why I think America is so awesome with an anecdote. A couple of summers ago I was down in Emery with my family over the 24th of July, which of course is the biggest party day in Utah. For those of you unfamiliar with Emery, it's a small town in the middle of the South-central Utah desert. It has a population about about 200 people...and that number is ever-diminishing as the old folks in town pass on. Seriously, there are a lot of old people. My brother-in-law Graham once joked after going to church there one Sunday that he wanted to move to Emery and sell oxygen tanks because he'd make bank. It was funny because it's true.

Anyway, whenever possible my family likes to go down to Emery over the 24th to celebrate with the town because their festivities are second to none. One of the best parts of the town's festivities is the parade. As a family we often laugh as we remember the year that the parade traversed the parade route twice because the route was so short and there were so few participants. Anyway, this particular year my family and I were sitting across the street from the city park as we watched the parade go by. Now if you've never watched a parade with my family, you're missing out because it's a lot of fun. We scream and shout and cheer and generally make fools of ourselves, but we have a lot of fun doing it.

We were laughing and carrying on as we usually do as the Emery High School band came marching up the road playing one of those songs that all high school marching bands play. As they marched to where they were right in front of my family, they stopped and turned their backs on us. Someone wryly commented that they were shunning the out-of-towners (us), and we all laughed. But as they started playing Yankee Doodle I realized that they had stopped in that exact spot, and turned as they had for a reason. They'd done it in order to face the little memorial monument and flagpole that remembers all the young men from the small town of Emery who have served their country in the armed forces during wartime. As the band played, I thought of the dozens of young men from Emery, my grandfather included, who had answered their country's call to serve and protect throughout the years. Because my grandpa served in World War II, I thought about how during that war particularly, the young men who signed up to fight consisted of an entire generation of the hope of this small town. They were the future. They had the world open before them, and yet, even in this small and often forgotten corner of the nation, these young men decided that their country came first. Uncle Sam needed their help and they responded.

This naturally led me to think of the millions of veterans across the country, and the many small towns just like Emery who likely had similar stories. As I thought about this, the band, which I had momentarily forgotten, finished playing “She’s a Grand Ol’ Flag” and struck up “America the Beautiful.” The image-ridden lyrics of this great American standard ran through my mind, and the implicit appeal to God’s grace, in conjunction with my thoughts of the sacrifice of the millions of proud Americans that have served in our armed forces, brought a lump to my throat. I was never more proud and grateful to be an American. 

On days like today, as I fulfill my civic duty, I can't help but to think of fifth grade when my teacher Mrs. Plazier gave us an assignment to memorize Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address. This was one of the most impacting experiences that I had during the formative years of my youth. To this day, some 15 years later, I can still recite the words of the Gettysburg Address, and those words have had a large impact on the development and maintenance of my American patriotism. One particular section sticks out to me as it describes the ideal of freedom and our collective cause as freedom-loving citizens:

"It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought              here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us -- that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion -- that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain -- that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom -- and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth." 

Freedom was the cause Lincoln was talking about. He was fighting a war over whether freedom extended to all men and women regardless of race. He wanted to make it abundantly clear that liberty is indeed one of mankind’s God-given and unalienable rights. In reflecting on this, I have realized that America’s dedication to this cause is what really sparks the flame of my love of country. For centuries the huddled masses have clamored to our shores in search of a place where freedom is practiced and preached. They’ve come in search of a land where they might make something of themselves no matter the station in which they were born. Though the phrase is trite and a bit hackneyed, they come in search of a "land of opportunity." The cause of freedom is the essence of what it is to be American. That is what I love. Lincoln wasn’t content to let the soldiers on the field take up the fight for freedom while the rest of the nation sat back on its haunches and watched. Lincoln’s call to action and dedication to this cause was intended for the rest of the nation. It was intended for us. He was challenging the people of his time to take up the torch of freedom and live valiantly by its tenets. His challenge, though delivered 145 years ago, remains as true for us today as it was for them then.

As I go off rhapsodizing about America, and freedom and patriotism, I realize that I'm probably coming across like one of those uninformed idealists who embraces American exceptionalism and refuses to acknowledge that America can or ever has done anything wrong. That's not the case. I know we have a bit of a pock-marked past. It hasn't always been sunshine and roses, and there are aspects to American culture and society that I frankly don't agree with at all. But that's the beauty of it all, we don't have to all think the same things. We can disagree. We can fight with each other. We can protest if we like. We can, and should, think critically about the way things are done and ask ourselves if there isn't a better way. I'm not saying that this is the way all nations should be run; frankly I think that's absurd. But it works for us here, and I think it works wonderfully. Yeah Congress is full of a bunch cotton-headed ninny-mugginses who can't get anything done, and I'm not real keen on the uber-partisan hacks on both sides of the aisle who preach their political agendas as if they spoke the word of God. Yeah I'd like to see changes and reforms in our education programs and immigration laws and campaign-funding laws and any number of other issues that I think aren't working right. But the beauty of America is that we can make those changes. We're free to work through these issues. None of us really knows for certain the absolute truth of what's best in every situation, but we can all work together to try and figure it out. Or we can refuse to work together and fight and yell at each other. We can choose. We can do what we want. And I love it.

I realize it's not cool to be patriotic, and I may be falling victim to what Kenneth Burke calls "Identification by Inaccuracy" here, but I don't care. I love America. And I voted today.

Now I'm gonna go lay on the couch and try not to puke up a Big Mac and fries.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Facing Cold Mornings

Sometimes when I wake up in the morning and it's cold and I don't want to get out of my bed or do anything at all, I'll reach over to my bookbag, grab my laptop and queue up this video:

Watching the video, I realize that getting out of bed and facing the frozen, heartless weather is the American thing to do and that cowering away from it is a disgrace to Apollo Creed's memory. It pushes me out of bed and into the cold, hard world for another day.

And it gives me a sweet soundtrack for my morning to boot.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Lessons Learned from the Music Listenin' Dude

This afternoon I decided to go sit outside the library while I ate my lunch. It's a lovely, sunny afternoon, and I doubt there will be many more of these that will be warm enough to allow for me to sit outside comfortably in my shirtsleeves. So I took advantage. While out eating my sandwich I sat near this guy:

I realize that isn't a great picture, but allow me to point out a few things. 1) The dude is asleep. 2) He doesn't have any book or anything else in his lap that he was looking at before falling asleep. I realize his backpack is blocking that out, but trust me, no book, no nothing. 3) He has his headphones in. Again, the picture quality is bad, but again trust me. 4) He's barefoot. He didn't get there that way; you can see his removed flip-flop next to him. 5) He's sitting in the shade. The light you see on his shirt is a reflection from a window, not direct light from the sun. 6) Look at the ledge he's leaning against. In fact, here's a better look at its ledgeiness:

Clearly that's not the kind of thing someone leans against who is planning on falling asleep. If he wanted to sleep, he would have found one of the numerous couches on campus and laid out comfortably. 

So now we can draw a few conclusions. He didn't come here to sleep. He didn't come here to study or read. He didn't come to catch some rays. He tried to make himself comfortable (flip flop removal). Finally, and here's the key, he put in his headphones to listen to some tunes before unintentionally falling asleep. From this evidence the conclusion that I draw is this: he came to this spot with the express purpose of listening to his music.

Just think of it. Here you have a college student who, midterm, decided to find time to sit down as comfortably as he could, intent on doing nothing more than listening to music. He didn't feel like he had to fill every waking moment with school work, or on his phone checking his facebook status, or playing with some gadget of some sort. He sat down on the cement, took off his sandals, queued up some sweet tunes, and just let it ride. 

I feel like there's a lesson in this somewhere. Let's see what we come up with.

Usually we only ever listen to music when doing something else or if we're at some kind of live music event of some sort. We listen to it while working, while driving, while exercising, or while doing any number of other activities that take the forefront of our thoughts. Background music, then, has largely become the place of music in our society. But why do we listen to music in these instances? It's because it calms us down. It keeps us focused. It rouses our souls and gives us the energy we need to complete a task. It keeps us awake when needed. We constantly use music as a means of controlling and channeling our attitudes, emotions, and states of mind. Why then, do we relegate it secondhand status?

We hear a lot about stopping to smell the roses, or look at the roses, or prick our fingers on the roses or any number of other things we can do with roses. In this vein I feel like we need to stop using music as a means to an end, but rather promote listening to music as an end all its own.

So here's what I say, we (and when I say "we" I of course mean "I") need to occasionally take some time out of the business of life to just sit down and listen to awesome musics. As to the question of which musics are most awesome, I have no answer. Each must answer that individually. But I feel like no matter what musics we deem awesome, this mindset and this act could prove a benefit for any and all. 

Anyway, these are my procrastinatory thoughts on this the 8th day of October in the year of our Lord two thousand twelve.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

I don't want to sell anything, buy anything, or process anything as a career.

all my instincts
they return
and the grand facade
so soon will burn
without a noise
without my pride
I reach out from the inside

Monday, October 1, 2012

Rainy Days and Mondays

A week ago today was one of those mornings. I'm pretty sure that Jim Davis:

 and Karen Carpenter:

were thinking of Mondays like last week's when brainstorming and coming up with ideas for their work.

It actually started off great, interestingly enough. I'd woken up at 6:00 am, as per usual, and realizing that because I was just conferencing with students all day and I didn't need to prepare a lesson, I could sleep in a bit more. Unfortunately I slept in a bit more than "a bit more," eventually waking up at 7:42 am. That doesn't seem too bad except that my first student conference was scheduled for 8. I jumped out of bed and ran into the bathroom to shower. I showered quick as you like, jumped out of the shower, grabbed my towel and took off for my bedroom.

As I was running past the laundry room, I heard a distinctive snap and I stopped running. Considering the mouse problems we'd been dealing with, I knew what had happened. I peeked into the laundry room and there was the mouse we'd seen prancing about the basement like he owned the place. Except he wasn't prancing; he was writhing on the ground, not quite dead but with a clearly broken neck. (I would include a picture here, but seems a bit macabre.) Unfortunately, considering I was already late, I didn't have time to take care of the problem. I left his twitching body and continued the sprint to my room.

I got to my room, dried and dressed in a flash, and bent down to reach into my closet for my shoes. As I did, I saw a largish black spot on my wall. Not having put my glasses on quite yet, I couldn't see it very clearly. I made a conscious effort to focus my eyes, and in doing so saw that the black spot, mere inches from my outstretched hand, was in fact one of the larger black widow spiders I've ever seen. Now I'm not typically one to be scared of spiders, but ever since I was little, black widows have given me the willies. This mostly stems from the time when, as an 8 year old kid, I went down to the basement of our old house to get some dog food for Keesh, and as I stuck my hand into the dog food bag, a black widow came crawling out onto my hand. I'm sure I shrieked like...well like an 8 year old boy, and ever since that time black widows and I have not been on the friendliest of terms.

So not only did I have to deal with the scene of a twitching mouse corpse replaying over in my mind, but now I was facing a childhood bugbear as well. I killed the spider, leaving a large smear of spider guts on my closet wall, and with a racing heart I hurried off to my student conferences.

Arriving to campus later than I'd hoped, I had to park in the law school parking lot and make the 1/2 mile dash (in jeans) to to carrels. I got to my office sweating mildly and just 5 minutes late to meet with my first student ...who hadn't and never did show. I was a little frustrated that I'd run like mad across campus for no reason, but I was also relieved that I could catch my breath before the next student came in. As I was waiting for the next conference, I checked my email. Sitting there was an email from one of my professors. It was the email I'd been waiting for/dreading; he was returning the paper that I just turned in to him last week.

This is the same professor who I describe here. He is one of the more important men in the department, he intimidates me, and I really, really want him to approve of me as a student and a scholar. Unfortunately, the outcome today wasn't equal to the one from the post I just linked to. Rather than saying I'd done fine work, he gave me a few pointed suggestions and didn't give me a grade but rather asked that I revise. I'm very grateful for his suggestions - they helped me to finally see where I was going wrong in my thinking for that paper - but all the same it was hard to see that this professor, whose good favor I consciously seek and whose approval desperately want, wasn't keen on my work.

So to summarize: I got up late, I watched a mouse writhe and twitch as he died, I had to kill a crazy huge spider whose guts splattered all over my closet wall and who had nearly given me a heart attack, my first appointment of the day didn't show up, my professor didn't like my work, and on top of it all, it had been raining all morning.

As you can see, I was in a rotten mood; that is, I was in a rotten mood until my students started coming in to talk through their opinion editorials. My attitude almost immediately shifted.

It was incredible. As I helped my students talk through the ideas they were writing about and find better, more persuasive and more sophisticated ways of expounding their arguments, and as I saw the excitement in their eyes as they talked about these ideas and topics that (most of them) were genuinely interested in and even passionate about, I got happier and happier. With each student that came in to talk to me the memory of the earlier garbage that had made me somewhat grouchy dissipated more and more until I could barely remember it at all.

At the end of the day I had conferenced with 30+ students for 15 minutes each, and I was exhausted. Exhausted but pleased and content. In thinking back to how awful the morning had been, I was grateful that 1) I've chosen the field that I've chosen because teaching writing and rhetoric is so fulfilling and soul-satisfying, and 2) I have the opportunity to actually participate in my field before graduating and officially joining it by teaching general ed writing classes.

While it started out pretty crappy, it totally redeemed itself in the end. And that makes it all worth it.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Strange Fruit, La Marseillaise and French Patriotism

When I'm introducing my students to the rhetorical analysis unit, we start things off by doing a quick rhetorical analysis of the poem "Strange Fruit" by Abel Meeropol, also known as Lewis Allan. So that my students can understand the importance of the poem, I give them a little background. Meeropol was a Jewish man from New York who wrote the poem upon seeing a grisly picture of a southern lynching (this is a link to the picture he saw. I feel I need to warn you; it is a fairly graphic image). The poem was set to music and it is in that format that it is most famously known. Billie Holiday, in particular, made this song big as she would often sing the song at the end of her nightclub act. The owner of the nightclub where she did her act recognized the power of the song, so when she would get ready to sing it he would turn off all the lights in the club and have a single spotlight on Lady Day as she sang. The song was so powerful that when Billie Holiday went to Columbia Records wanting to record the song, the label was so worried about how it would be received in the South that they refused. A writer for the New York Post who witnessed the nightclub act famously said of the song, "If the anger of the exploited ever mounts high enough in the South, it now has its 'Marseillaise.'"

Now most of my students don't really know what that means, so in order for them to understand what it meant for the exploited in the South to "have a Marseillaise," I show them this clip from Casablanca. After I give them a little background on what's happening in the movie, I tell them to focus on how the song inspires and rallies the beleaguered Frenchmen, and then to think about how "Strange Fruit" was said to have the power to do the same for any potential Civil Rights groups.

After they watch this clip, I have them watch a clip of Billie Holiday singing "Strange Fruit" while they follow along with the poem in hand. As they're doing this, I tell them to try and figure out how the poem and song evoke such a powerful reaction, and where in the text they see things that are especially moving. After watching the poem sung, we have a good discussion analyzing the rhetoric of the poem and everyone goes away uplifted.

Now I write all that in order to make a confession of sorts. But first I need to qualify what I'm about to say.

In many circles here in America it's not cool to like or admire France. Wait...that's not an entirely accurate observation; let me rephrase. In terms of culture, and food and style and those things, being a Francophile is fine. But when it comes to respecting them as a country and a system of government and a military force, it's the popular thing to make fun of them. From freedom fries to feats of the French military, we like to poke fun at France and all things French. Now I would be lying if I said I never partake in such humor, or if I said I didn't find it funny to a degree; I do. But this American cultural mindset makes things a bit uncomfortable when I say what I'm about to say.

Sometimes I feel patriotic about France.

I know, I know. I've never been to France, I don't speak French, and as far as I know I don't even have any French ancestors. Frankly (heh heh) there is nothing whatsoever tying me to France or giving rise to these feelings. 

But when I show this clip to my students, I get that familiar wetness behind my eyes that usually only comes at the end of Rudy. As this happens I can't help but feel proud of France and wish to some degree that I had more French influence in my life.

It's weird, I know, but this is my life. I just needed for someone to know.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Avocados and Audrey

So I cut myself today. I was slicing open an avocado to eat for lunch and my knife slipped and slid right into my finger. It hurt. I might have sworn in my mind. The problem was it was a little bit of a deep cut. So I decided to go to the bookstore to buy some super glue. You know, I've heard that it's basically the same thing as stitches. I was a little bugged by the whole turn of events, but not terribly so. It wasn't a day-breaker by any means, just annoying.

Then at the bookstore I saw this:

I bought it. It was totally worth getting cut.

Friday, August 31, 2012

Thesis: Round 1

Stress isn't a word I use very often to describe me or my emotional state or how I'm feeling or anything like that. In fact, I feel like I'm kind of an anomaly in the English grad program here at BYU because it is full of people who seem to have a tank of stress-oline that powers them through their lives. Me, I just kind sit back and let it ride. Life kind of comes at me and I just go with it and try not to let things really bug me or get under my skin. I get a little unsettled at times, and it's not like I'm always perfectly balanced and live a life of leisure and happiness. Let's not even talk about the series of physical maladies that seem to be constantly swirling around me. (on that note, I kinda jacked up my foot last night at the football game while jogging down the bleachers. I woke up this morning and couldn't hardly walk. But it's felt better as the day has gone on so no worries.) But on the whole I feel like I'm able to deal with the usual stresses of life fairly well. One might even say that I take the title of this totally awesome Eagles tune as my life motto:

All that said, yesterday afternoon was one of those rare occasion when I was really, truly stressed about my life. Mostly it was due to my thesis. See since school started again I've been meaning to get in contact with my thesis chair and update her on the progress I made over the summer. I was able to get some preliminary research and reading done on my project, but I felt like I hadn't done nearly as much as I ought to have. I'd like to say that I was busy doing fun and exciting things all summer, but I wasn't. Don't get me wrong I did have a lot of fun this summer, but to be perfectly honest I didn't really do anything that should have distracted me from doing my thesis reading. So when I emailed my chair yesterday around noon I was assuming that she would respond saying we should get together some time next week. That way I could do some catchup work and be perfectly fine once we met. I was wrong; she didn't as I'd hoped. Instead she said we should meet at 4 pm, which was in 3 hours. Thus began the stressing.

Despite my misgivings, I agreed to meet with her at four and immediately began to feel about like this baby her every time his mom blows her nose except without the uninhibited laughing:

That look of sheer terror is what I was feeling. Now that I'm on this side of the meeting I'm not sure why I was so stressed out. It's probably because I read PhD Comics too much. For whatever reason I envisioned me going up to her office and feeling totally ashamed and humiliated because I hadn't lived up to her expectations. I figured she was going to berate me for being lazy and so on and so forth, and I didn't relish that thought.

Now before I go any further I need to make it clear that my thesis chair is wonderful. She's very accomplished and well-recognized in the field of composition studies, and she is very kind and helpful to her students. So when I say I expected an ego-breaking confrontation I was entirely without reason to think or assume that that was what was coming.

At any rate I began to frantically go over all the books I've checked out from the library dealing with my topic and review all the papers I've written about it. I also decided I should put together a quick bibliography of the things I've actually read, so I could show her some progress. Now you'd think that in doing this I'd have realized that I actually have done a fair amount of work, and I'd be able to calm down some. But for some reason the stress kept mounting and getting worse and worse to the point that I was complaining and venting my frustrations and insecurities to the people who were in my physical as well as internet-mediated presence.

Finally 3:55 pm hit and the time of reckoning had come. I made the long walk over to her office, and as I was climbing the stairs I hit rock bottom. She was going to tell me my project and research was stupid and to figure out something else. I contemplated not even going to her office and quitting the program altogether. Ok that's not true, but I was in a dark place.

I knocked on her door and with a smile and a cough (she had a cold) she let me in. For the next hour I sat across from her in her office and we talked about my project. As the conversation progressed, my anxiety lessened and lessened until it all but went away. I realized that I did have good ideas and that my summer background research, while admittedly not as thorough as I'd have liked it to be, was sufficient for where I am in the process. She gave me some good advice on how to proceed, and actually seemed genuinely interested in the research I'm proposing to do. I left her office feeling excited and encouraged, which thing had been unknowable just an hour previous. That feeling of validation and excitement was as intensely sweet as had been my earlier pain and discouragement.

I left her office with a broad grin on my face and an assurance that I really am in the right field, and that I really am doing the right thing with my life.

I stopped by Meridith's office to tell her how it had gone, and after chatting with her for a while we decided to celebrate surviving my first real encounter with the beast that is the thesis with a little Cafe Rio. So we went down the stairs and left the JFSB and my thesis stresses least for a while.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Driving Slow

Quick disclaimer: I realize that "correct" American usage rules would dictate that that title read "Driving Slowly," but I feel like turning "slow" into an adverb paints a different image in the reader's mind than the one I intend. So there.

Saturday I woke up at the ungodly hour (for a college student on a Saturday) of 7:30 am in order to make my 8:30 am dentist appointment. It was just a bit too early for me, so instead of getting up and into the shower like a good boy, I reset my alarm for 7:45 am and rolled over. I don't know what I was thinking. My appointment was in Riverton, and since I live in Provo, I really should have been getting in the car to leave at 7:45 am in order to make it in plenty of time. But in my sleep-addled state I believed myself Superman and didn't worry about being on time. I eventually got out of bed at 7:50 am and realized the predicament I'd put myself in. Shamefully I admit that when I'm late in the morning I'll sometimes forgo the brushing of teeth, and instead I chew gum until I can get around to it later. I know, I'm disgusting. Unfortunately this wasn't an option since I was going to the dentist. So I showered quickly, brushed my teeth thoroughly (twice) and by the time I ran out to my car it was 8:10 in the am.

Needless to say I drove rather quickly up the interstate. Luckily it was still early enough on a Saturday that there wasn't too much traffic, and I arrived at the office of Dr. B. Charles Push, D.D.S. at 8:40 in the am. The drive, while relatively traffic-less, was kind of stressful for me. See, I don't really like driving too fast. Generally I don't really like driving at all, but I especially hate it when I'm late to something that's pretty important, like a dentist appointment I guess, and I feel pressure to drive more aggressively and quickly than I'm comfortable. Maybe it's the fact that I've been in 4 accidents in the past 4 years, 3 of which totaled the car and none of which was my fault, but I tend to be a fairly cautious driver.

As you're reading this you're probably thinking to yourself, "Sam's such a square. I mean, what 26 year old man doesn't love to drive fast? That's the kind of thing that's written on the Y chromosome, isn't it?" Well, the fact is I haven't taken a science class for several years now, and I barely scraped by with a B in Biology so I can't tell you the answer to the chromosome bit of that question. As for being a square, I guess that I'll have to own up to that one. I mean, I do go faster than the speed limit on a regular basis, and I even got a speeding ticket once. But I'm nothing like my buddy Rob who once, at 6:30 pm on Thursday, got us from my place in Provo to a concert in Salt Lake in some ridiculous amount of time like 35 minutes or so. He definitely was going over 100 mph at one point. It was a thrilling ride, an enjoyable ride even, but in that moment I knew that it was something I'd probably never do were I in the driver's seat, even if my car could do that.

Anyway, The dentist appointment went off without a hitch -- no cavities -- and I got back in my car for the drive home. As I pulled out onto Redwood Road, I started thinking about my earlier drive that had brought me up to Riverton. I really hadn't driven all that fast. I mean, I probably topped out at 85 mph, but even so it had been fairly stressful. So I decided to try something unheard of in today's society. On the drive back to Provo I decided that I was going to obey the speed limit very strictly both on the freeway and surface streets.

I know, you're probably rolling your eyes right now thinking, "So Sam's one of those idiots that's always making me late to things,"  and images like this are being conjured up in your mind:

I'm flattered at your depiction of me as an old man, and apparently yes I am one of those idiots. Or at least I was Saturday morning. But let me tell you, it was one of the most liberating experiences of my life. I'm not even joking. See, I knew what my limit was on the freeway, and I knew that no one else was going to drive as slow as I was, so I was able to set my cruise at 65 mph while in the rightmost lane and away I went. It was wonderful. Where usually while driving the freeway I'm thinking about how I can get around the car in front of me or worrying about the car behind me that's clearly approaching at a rate of travel much faster than my own, I was at peace with myself not worrying about others. I'm always trying to negotiate how fast is too fast and how fast is too slow and how can I strike a good balance without making everyone around me angry. But on Saturday, I just set the cruise, put on a podcast and enjoyed the ride. That's not to say I was completely oblivious to traffic around me, but the thing was I didn't feel any pressure to adjust to the outside conditions of traffic because everyone else was driving faster than me and they all either went around me or matched my speed behind me.

As I reached the construction in Pleasant Grove and I reduced my speed to 55 mph, I realized another thing. Not only was I not having to stress about the traffic around me and how I fit in to the crowd, I also didn't have the stress of knowing that if I were to be pulled over by a cop, they would have every right in the world to write me a ticket because I was inarguably going over the speed limit. My conscience was clear and I could just sit back and allow the sweet sound of Ira Glass' voice to wash over me. It was one of the most enjoyable drives ever.

Now don't get me wrong here. I wasn't driving down the road thinking to myself that I was all superior to the rest of the drivers who were passing me, or anything like, "Those crazy lunatics are going to get us all killed if they don't slow down." Rather I recognize that everyone has to drive however they're comfortable. If, like my buddy Rob, that means screaming down the road as fast as you can, so be it. If it means puttering along like an old grandpa, by all means.

I got back to my apartment in Provo and couldn't believe how wonderfully stress-free I felt. I decided that I was going to drive slow more often. And I kept that resolution right up until the next morning when I was late to church and had to go 40 in a 25 just to get there without being too late.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

On Disney Princess SpaghettiOs and Being a Cheap Food Foodie

Yesterday I posted a status on Facebook about how Disney Princess SpaghettiOs are better than regular type. I think there was a little bit of misunderstanding as to my intentions, so let me explain.

First of all, so that we're all on the same page, here is a picture of the SpaghettiOs in question:

I'm sure that many people read my status and thought that I was trying to be cute or hipster-ironic. You know, because a self-respecting 25/26in20days year old man can't genuinely like princess SpaghettiOs unless it's some kind of a joke, right? I completely understand the confusion here because this kind of ironic humor is an aspect of hipster culture that I readily participate in. I definitely don't consider myself cool enough to be a hipster, but some of my tastes intersect with that world and I'm comfortable with that.

That said, I can unequivocally put to rest the idea that I was trying to be funny; what I said about Disney Princess SpaghettiOs had nothing to do with irony or pop culture or hipster humor at all. Incidentally it also had nothing to do with the cultural subjugation of women, though it would seem that many of my grad school friends have but that one lens through which to see the world and feel the need to point out and rail against anything that gets their uber feminist hackles up. Seriously guys, it gets old.

Anyway, when I said, "Disney Princess spaghetti-ohs [sic] are way better than regular," what I  meant to say was that as a food item and in terms of quality and taste, they are much, much better than the regular O's. Allow me to explain.

See, I see myself as kind of a foodie when it comes to incredibly cheap, packaged, processed and heavily industrialized foods. I know the best frozen burritos, I can whip up a mean pot of boxed mac and cheese, I consider corn dogs and ramen to be basic food groups, and I have a special knowledge of anything "spaghetti-related." Now I put the last item on that list in quotation marks because I realize many people wouldn't consider the spaghetti that I eat to be actual spaghetti. More often than not it's nothing more than noodles with butter on them, but that "nothing more" is fantastically delicious and if you haven't indulged in such a meal since you were a child I'd encourage you to do so. Along with my expansive knowledge of spaghetti comes a thorough understanding of the intricacies of spaghettiOs and other canned spaghettis.

Here is where I have to admit that I'm not a fan of canned spaghetti in general. I love the idea with every fiber of my clothing. I mean, I love spaghetti, so what could be better than easy access and rapidly available-to-eat spaghetti in a can? Well, I'll tell you what could be better, easy access and rapidly available-to-eat spaghetti in a can that is actually edible. I know, I know, I just claimed to be a cheap food foodie, but even I have a hard time downing canned spaghetti. Regular SpaghettiOs are an exception to my anti-canned spaghetti rule, and I usually enjoy them quite a bit, but even with SpaghettiOs the sauce to noodle ratio is too imbalanced on the side of the sauce. So when I get to the last few spoonfuls that are especially saucy I usually find myself enjoying the meal less and less and I end up straining off the sauce with my spoon to make for a more palatable food experience. For a long time this has been a frustration of mine. And that's where the Disney Princess SpaghettiOs come in.

As you can see in the above image, Disney Princess SpaghettiOs mix traditional SpaghettiOs with the Disney Princess ones. Now while I have absolutely no idea what allows for those seemingly random shapes to be considered Disney Princesses, that's not what's important here. What's important, as you can see, is that these shapes have a much tighter pattern which doesn't allow the sauce ready access to the full noodle. The result of which being there is a much better noodle to sauce ratio which allows for a much more enjoyable overall SpaghettiOs experience.

The biggest problem I see with Disney Princess SpaghettiOs is the knowledge that they won't last forever. After a few weeks, maybe months, the Campbell Soup people will get sick of paying Disney's licensing fees, and we'll be left with plain old O's once again. But until that time I will continue buying and consuming Disney Princess SpaghettiOs. I will savor every bite of that canned perfection, never knowing which will be my last.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Flames on the Side of My Face

I was up a bit too late last night celebrating Smed's birthday considering what time I have to get up in order to teach at 8 in the am. So when my alarm went off this morning this is what was going on in my mind:

 I just wanted my sleep and for my alarm to go the way of the singing telegram:

 Unfortunately, none of that changed the fact that I still had to get up, still had to get ready, and that I still have to teach in 40 min.

Maybe after I'm done teaching I'll come home and watch Clue.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

In Which Sam Has a Brilliant Idea

I've just had a brilliant idea.

(note: I haven't really thought this through very deeply, but from where I'm standing...ok sitting, it seems pretty valid)

Schools and places of work should all be required to provide enough windows in any place where people study/work that there is no need for overhead lighting of any kind. On top of having more windows, schools and places of work should be required to not provide or install overhead lighting of any kind.

This would cut down on energy bills. It would expose people to more sunlight and help with depression issues as well as general well-being. It would make it impossible--well maybe not impossible but at least very difficult--to study/work at these places after the sun goes down. People would be forced to go home if they wanted to "get things done." As we all know, it's impossible to be school/work productive at home, so productivity during the sunlit hours of the day would be absolutely necessary and thus increase. Bosses and overseers would be forced to recognize that there's only so much that can be done while the sun is out, and they wouldn't be able to demand as much from their employees and underlings. In so doing, work-related stress levels would go down dramatically.

In sum:

Energy bills=decreased.
Daytime productivity=increased.
Work-related stress=decreased.
Depression rates=decreased.
Time spent at home with family, friends and loved ones=increased.
Overall satisfaction with life=increased.

Now I ask you:

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Sustained Motivation

Do you ever feel really super inspired to go out and do all the things that you need/want to do that will help you to better be the person that you need/want to be, but then when the time actually comes to do those things the inspiration has run dry and you don't do them? ...ok, I'll admit that that was a really vague and nebulous question. Please disregard it. Rather than posing a question, let me illustrate what I mean by showing a few examples from my life, and then get to the real question later.

I have a hard time keeping myself motivated. Please consider the following two scenarios:

Scenario 1
Sometimes I'll be sitting in class and we'll be having a fantastic discussion about rhetoric or composition instruction or really anything to do with what I'm studying, and I'll feel this rush of adrenaline deep within me, and my heart will start beating faster as I think about all the individual research that I want to do to further my own understanding of the topics we're talking about. And then thinking about all that research makes me really happy because I take my excitement about the subject material as confirmation that what I'm studying and the direction I'm taking my life really is what I want and need. But then when the time rolls around when I should go into the library and do research, or work on one of the dozen pet projects that I have laying around, or even just do the base-line, required homework for the classes I'm taking, all that motivation that I felt during class evaporates and the only thing I want to do is sit around and watch episodes of mind-numbing and unenlightening TV shows like The West Wing or Once Upon a Time.

Scenario 2
Sometimes I'll be sitting in Sacrament Meeting and I'll be feeling great and super pumped about the things I'm going to do differently so that I can live closer to the Holy Ghost and better live up to the covenants I've made. Usually this motivation inspires me to set goals like going to bed earlier and getting up earlier so that I can exercise and read my scripture before I set out for the rest of the day, or making a conscious effort to go out of my way to serve other people and be kind to them, or to go to the temple with greater frequency. But then my alarm goes off at 6:30am and I decide that I'm too tired and I'll read my scriptures and exercise later. Or I'll think to myself, "I should really go to the temple today," and I'll think of dozens of other "more important" things that I should do instead of going to the temple. That motivation that I felt as I sat in church and listened to someone bear their testimony is all but gone in that moment when said motivation would spark me into action.

This kind of thing happens to me all the time. I look back at my life and I can think of dozens of experiences that I've had when this motivation that I'm talking about has hit me hard and I feel like I'm turning my life around. It's hit me while having countless conversations in the carrels with Tara and Jarron and Carolyn and Drew and Angela and Paige and Shannon and Becca and all my other grad school friends as we talk about anything and everything from rhetoric to dating to social/political issues to classroom issues to inane small talk. Somewhere in there I almost always feel that spark ignite in me that drives me to want to be better and work harder in many different areas of my life. It happens when I'm sitting quietly in the temple reflecting about my life and where I am in comparison to where I want to be. It happened numerous times while sitting Meridith's office talking about the class we were teaching and invariably started talking about how we're going to save the world from itself via composition education in the university classroom. It happens when I'm in the shower thinking about the day ahead of me. It happens while I'm talking to my parents about many varied things. It happens while I'm driving to and from Bluffdale with Maurianne. It almost always happens every time I get together with my family and I look at the awesome people that they are. But nearly all of these motivating times happen to me when I'm not in a place to take advantage of the surge of emotion and drive. By the time I'm in a situation where I have the time and means of actually doing the work that should be associated with this passion and motivation, all desire and yearning to do great things and be great myself has dried up and I'm nothing but a dried husk of laziness and discomfort. I'm not sure I'm totally describing my frustration here, but I think this is about as good as I can get for now.

Anyway, living this way is utterly infuriating.

All of this reminds me of the first day of my Shakespeare class a couple years back. Richard Duerden, my professor, said these words that have stuck with me and that are constantly ringing in my head:

Talent is desire to practice;
Genius is willingness to work.

I love that idea so much. I agree with it whole-heartedly. I yearn for it. So why the devil can I not actually sustain those moments of motivation so that they become the drive to me actually laboring diligently in my work, broadly defined?

So I now pose this question to any and all who happen to read this, admittedly overlong, rant about my frustrations with life:

How do you maintain and sustain motivation in your life?
What do you do to keep working and pushing yourself even when you really, really don't want to?
What are your secrets in this department?

Ok, that was three questions; please forgive me.

This is something that I've struggled with for awhile, so I'm open to any and all suggestions that anyone might have. If you don't feel comfortable leaving a public comment here on my blog, feel free to email me with any thoughts that you have on this subject at sam.dunn(at)

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

New Books

So I just got back to my house and upon walking in the door I saw a package from Amazon sitting on the floor with my name on it. I set my basketball down, grabbed the box and walked over to the utensil drawer for a knife. Now you make ask, "Why Sam, you're a Dunn aren't you? Didn't you have a pocket knife on your person? Didn't you have your pants on?" In a word, no. No I didn't have a knife on me, and no I didn't have my pants on either. (I was wearing gym shorts) Thus, having no knife, it was necessary for me to turn to the utensil drawer.

Upon opening the drawer I saw that rather than having any utensils in it, it was empty except for a pizza cutter, a spatula and a can opener. No knives, no forks, heck, there wasn't so much as a measly spoon in there. A glance to the sink confirmed my suspicions as to the location of all our utensils. Turning back to the drawer, I decided the pizza cutter would probably do the job, so I grabbed it and started hacking away at the tape on the box.

The pizza cutter took much longer to do the job than I would've liked, but once I'd gotten the box open, I found this, or rather these, inside:

That's right, books. Not just books, but textbooks. As you can see from their titles, The Rhetoric of Agitation and Control and The Realm of Rhetoric, they aren't just ordinary textbooks either, they're awesome textbooks.  Now having ordered them myself, I knew that these books were coming, so it wasn't a surprise or anything. In fact, I was really hoping that they would come today because I have a reading assignment due tomorrow out of one of them.

Even so, upon opening the package and seeing them sitting there smiling up at me, my heart leapt into my throat and I got an excited feeling in my stomach. You know that feeling you get as you're driving up to an amusement park, the one that makes you all anxious and, being right on the threshold of hours of fun and enjoyment, makes you feel like you're going to explode from the anticipation of it all.

Yeah, that's how I felt, and no I'm not ashamed.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012


I only had 1 term paper to do this semester. As of an hour and a half ago it is finished and submitted.

You better believe I cranked Don't You Forget About Me as I Bender'd on my way out of the JKB at midnight:thirty.