Sunday, September 25, 2011

Core Values For The University Of Life

I graduated with my MFA a little more than four years ago. I remember when I started the program in 2004, at one of our first meetings (possibly our very first meeting) as a graduate class of 13, our advisor and chair of the acting program gave us a list of core values he felt we should work to incorporate into our lives and work ethic during our three years in the program to help us make the most of our time and be as successful as possible. I took very seriously the advice he gave us and tried very hard to live up to those core values, and I think it served me well. I had an amazing education and experience, and I think my diligence in trying to follow this "code" was very instrumental in my success.

I have been working hard lately at throwing away a lot of the extraneous junk in my life. As I have written about previously, I can be a bit of a hoarder, and I'm am trying to get rid of a lot of the useless stuff I needlessly hang on to, and I have been making slow, but sure progress in my efforts.

Today as I was going through an old box of papers (papers are one of the things I hoard the most), I came across many things I saved from my graduate school days (much of which I finally threw away) and happened to run across this set of core values. I am going to throw away the original paper these core values are written on, but thought them worth saving, so I thought I'd post them here because I think them not only valuable for success in a graduate program, but in life as well.

1. Familial support - we were encouraged to lift each other up, support each other, and work as a team. Personal independence was also stressed, but familial support among the 13 of us was stressed.

2. Preparation - the program involved a great deal of work and we were both told to prepare for what was to come as well as be prepared for each individual assignment we were given in order to achieve our ultimate goal.

3. Organization - we were asked to work on having great organizational skills so we could both organize our time and projects to help us most effectively and efficiently reach our goals.

4. Ensemble - this kind of goes along with #1, but we were reminded that we are all in this together, and especially when times got tough, which we we warned they would (and they sometimes did), to remember to lean on each other for support and to support those who were having a harder time. We we're all shooting for the same goal, and we needed to remember that none of us could get there alone.

5. Discipline - we were told to manage our time well and remember why we were here and work to remain disciplined in what we needed to do to achieve our goal.

6. Jump in the water - this was actually one of the most useful of the core values I was given. The program was quite intense, and we we're encouraged not to just "dip our toes in the water" or be act with trepidation, but to dive right in and embrace whatever the program threw at you without fear. We did a lot of stuff in the program that was new, exciting, strange, and sometimes did difficult things in a very vulnerable position, and this piece of advice was one of the things that really helped me the most. I just embraced whatever was given to me. Eventually I decided what was most most useful to me and what wasn't, but I accepted and did everything that was asked of me with an open mind, and it made all the difference.

7. Have your own point of view and express it - while encouraged to take everything the program threw at us, we were also encouraged not to just take it all blindly and to develop a point of view about what we were were learning and express and defend that point of view.

8. Invest - this program was a financial investment, an investment of time, and an investment in our future and in our career. We were asked to treat it as such and to fully participate in order to help our investment reach its highest potential.

9. Have the ability to have a paradigm shift - I really liked this one. A paradigm shift is defined as "as a change from one way of thinking to another. It's a revolution, a transformation, a sort of metamorphosis. It just does not happen, but rather it is driven by agents of change." We may spend much of our lives thinking things are one way and then events and experiences completely change our way of thinking and seeing the world. The graduate program did much to change my attitudes and thinking about acting and movement in ways I did not expect, and likewise, I had paradigm shifts about my own life and and spirituality, and I think my openness to allowing those shifts was instrumental in helping me be a more successful performer as well as a happier human being. I remember one other thing our advisor told us when laying out this value, and I think it's good advice for human beings in general: "Listen before speaking."

10. Enjoy the experience - this was the last point and also a very useful one. It isn't just about the destination; it's about the journey and enjoying what you learn and experience on the way. It really is. I loved my graduate program. I enjoyed it so much. I remember after I graduated and started watching the TV show "Lost" I remember (and still maintain) that I didn't care how it ended; I just loved the journey of these characters and what I was experiencing while the show was taking me on the journey. When the finale finally happened, I was completely satisfied. Other viewers were upset that some of their questions hadn't been answered or that the resolution wasn't what they expected. That certainly was their right, but I think they may have missed the big picture. They were too busy trying to get the answers to questions that maybe didn't matter so much and missing the beautiful journey they were taking. I tried to view my graduate program (and try to view my life) in that respect, too.

I used to spend life worrying about how I was going to get to the destination and stressing about what I had to do to get there. I no longer do that (at least I try not to), and life is so much more enjoyable and rich now.

I think all ten of these core values can be applied to our lives here on this planet with our fellow man. As fellow human beings, we should support and love and care for one another. We should remember we're all in this together and not try to get through life on our own. We should decide what our ultimate goals in life are and prepare, organize, and discipline ourselves to get what is most valuable and important for our success and happiness. Then we should jump in with both feet without fear and trepidation and take what life throws at us and roll with the punches. We should invest fully in our lives and relationships and goals and participate fully in the precious life we have been given. We should be better listeners of others' points-of-view and life experiences without judging. We should respect each other's life experiences. We should also be willing to allow ourselves to have paradigm shifts and allow ourselves to see that not everything is black-and-white; that there are nuances in life; that things are not always as they seem; that what we were sometimes taught would make us happy isn't always what actually makes us happy and brings us closer to our Father. We should be willing to develop a point-of-view about our life and life experiences and who we are and why we are that way and express it and defend it. And we should enjoy the journey of life because there is so much to enjoy and experience and learn and glean. We should find joy in the journey of life because, after all, we are, that we might have joy.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Finding The Positive

So yesterday I had a callback for a show I auditioned for. I was really excited about it. I did really well at my initial audition. In fact, I think it’s one of the best auditions I’ve ever had in my entire theatrical career (and I’ve auditioned a lot!).

The room was filled with people I know and have worked with. So I felt like I was auditioning for friends. I wasn’t even nervous, really, which raely happens.
I sang a song from the show. Typically, I don’t do that, but with this crowd, I felt I could, and besides, I wanted to show them that I could play a specific part.

When I had been warming up in the car, my voice was having a hard time placing the high Gs in the song, but when I sang it in the room, it came out effortlessly and well-supported. I really nailed it and felt so good about it. All three members of the creative team seemed impressed and pleased. The musical director said, “That was really great, [Cody].”

Anyway, they gave me sides for the character I was interested in as well as the some others.

So today, even though I had to be there at the way-too-early hour of 9:00 AM, I was excited. As I went out to my car, I removed the sun shield I put on my windshield and discovered that someone had very deliberately smashed my windshield with a rock or baseball bat. I couldn’t believe it! I was in a hurry, though, and no longer felt it was safe to drive my car, so I asked my mom if I could borrow hers and asked if she would mind calling Technaglass to replace my windshield while I was auditioning because I am going home tomorrow and didn’t want anything to derail my plans to be there on time. Jonah has waited too long.

In my haste, however, I took my car keys and left my phone. My mom couldn’t get into the car to give them the information about the make and model of my car, and her messages to me went unheard because I didn’t have my phone.

It was my desire to have someone from Technaglass come over to the house and replace the windshield, but by the time I got home, there were no more mobile appointments left and I had to risk driving my car into the shop. Both the lack of visibility and the fact that my windshield could shatter even more made this somewhat unsafe, but I prayed I’d make it okay and did, fortunately.

Technaglass was able to make the repair in an hour, but now I’m out $170 that I wasn’t planning on spending, and in this economy, especially since I’m unemployed again, that isn’t so great.

I filed a report with the police, although, as I suspected, there isn’t much they can do. However, I did find out that the car of a nearby neighbor who I don’t know was broken into and some baseball equipment was stolen, including a bat, which is what I imagine the perp (or perps) used to shatter my windshield.

The policeman, who was very nice, also said it was good that I made the report because now at least they know of the possible connection and know to more carefully canvas the area, and if the perp is, by some miracle, caught, perhaps there can be renumeration.

But I just don’t get the senselessness of it. I’m sure it’s probably some kid who isn’t fully conscious of the cost or inconvenience he or she causes in a moment of abandon. I’ve never understood what joy or gratification one gets from willfully destroying another’s property. It doesn’t even appear that the perp was trying to break into my car; they probably only damaged my windshield for kicks or out of misplaced anger. I wish that person understood the consequences of his or her actions, and I wish that person wasn’t finding themselves in a situation or circumstances where taking a bat to someone’s car is somehow gratifying.

I’ve already forgiven the person, and I’m moving on. What else can I do?

And as I sat outside at Technaglass waiting for the repair, I tried to think of what positive things have come out of this experience.

Here’s what I came up with, in no particular order:

1. At least it was just my windshield, and not my headlights or hood or other parts of my car.

2. At least they only shattered the passenger side, making it easier for me to drive to get it repaired.

3. At least they didn’t steal anything in the car (not that there was much to steal) or the car itself.

4. At least the windshield, although shattered, remained intact. This both made it slightly safer to drive and also kept the elements out because it did rain last night. It also prevented the perp from getting into my car (although he or she probably could have if they’d givin it another whack).

5. At least I was able to get my car into the show today (a Saturday, no less) and get it fixed.

6. Yeah, it was a $170 repair, but at least it wasn’t $200 or $300

7. At least I have money in savings to cover the cost.

8. At least the windshield didn’t shatter when I drove to get it repaired.

9. At least my new windshield is cleaner (although I think taking it to the car wash would have been a cheaper alternative than taking a baseball bat to my car.

10. At least I no longer have to worry about the chip that was in my old windshield.

11. At least my plans to go back home to Jonah tomorrow remain intact.

12. At least it was a nice day outside while I was waiting for my windshield to be repaired.

13. At least I have a 12-month warranty on the windshield should this happen again any time soon.

14. At least I was able to make a police report and was able to make a connection as to why this might have happened.

15. At least the vandal didn’t vandalize anything else of mine or my Mom’s.

Anyway, that’s what I came up with. I think it’s pretty good, considering.

As for my audition callback, it went well. The dance call was my weak spot, as is always the case, but at least I have the comfort of knowing that the choreographer knows my limitations and has worked with them before. I also know the director really likes working with me, so that could work in my favor.

I also felt my acting made up for what I lack in dancing. In fact, I felt I was one of the stronger actors there, and I think that will be important. The callback group was smaller than average, too, so that increases the odds of getting cast. I actually feel really good. I’m very optimistic that I will be hired. And if not, more time with Jonah, right?

Unique Productions

I recently had the chance to see some shows that I have wanted to see for some time. The first is the Utah premiere of Next to Normal at Pioneer Theatre Company in Salt Lake City. Next to Normal was nominated for a Tony on Broadway and won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama just last year (the only other musicals to win this prize are Of Thee I Sing, South Pacific, Fiorello!, How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, A Chorus Line, Sunday in the Park with George (yea!), and Rent). It’s an unusual piece in that it’s a rock musical about a woman suffering from manic-depression and the effect it has on her and her family. If the only type of musicals you like is stuff like Joseph and His Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, Mary Poppins, and Mamma Mia, this show will probably not be up your alley.

I went in with high expections because I had heard so many positive things about the original Broadway production, and I was very excited to see PTC’s production because I never got an opportunity to see the Broadway production, and unless they bring a touring production around, this was my shot.

I worried a little because I saw PTC’s recent production of Rent and was a bit disappointed because the sound system didn’t support the show well, and I even know that performers were asked to pull back so they wouldn’t blow out the system, and unfortunately, it showed. So I worried that the same thing might happen in this show. I was told, however, that some new equipment was rented for this show, and it showed.

I was not disappointed. I thought the show was terrific, and it kept me very engaged. All of the performers (only six of them) were all terrific, and the lady who played the mother, who has the biggest load, was fabulous.

The set was exceptional. I loved it! I was a house with an off-kilter suburban backdrop, and various panels would open to reveal parts of the house, which seemed symbolic of the things that happen behind closed doors that are kept under wraps that eventually see the light. It’s one of my favorite sets I’ve seen at Pioneer Theatre.

The story itself was quite intriguing and dramatic, of course, but with enough humor that you didn’t feel like you were being dragged down. The drums in the orchestra got a little loud at times, and one actor had a mannerism that I felt he overused. Still, I liked the show very much.

One way I could tell I liked the show was that I got so wrapped up in it, I didn’t pick it apart and criticize it in my head like I so often do with other shows. The music was good, too.

Obviously, the subject is quite serious, but I really thought the show did a good job of showing you what it’s like to get in the head of (and live with) someone with bipolar disorder. I actually had a few friends there (three of whom have bipolar disorder and one whose mother has it). Two of my friends were brought to tears by the show. One said she felt like her life was being portrayed on stage and that it was kind of cathartic.

Anyway, I really enjoyed it and was so glad I had a chance to see it before I leave for home in Vegas. I highly recommend it. It’s still open for two weeks. If you live in Utah, go see it!

The next show I got to see is a community production of Grey Gardens at Wasatch Theatre Company at the Rose Wagner Performing Arts Center in Salt Lake City. Obviously, this was a much smaller scale show than Next to Normal was, but Grey Gardens, too, is a show I’ve wanted to see since its Broadway debut four years ago. It, too, was nominated for a Tony and Christine Ebersole won for Best Actress for an amazing performance.

For those of you unfamiliar with Grey Gardens, it is a musical based on the 1974 documentary of the same name. the documentary was made after it was discovered that Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis’ cousin and aunt were living in squalor and filth in their dilapidated estate, Grey Gardens. The two women were once wealthy socialites and the documentary and the musical (as well as an HBO film starring Drew Barrymore and Jessica Lange) attempt to unconver how these once rich and beautiful socialites fell so far. If you get a chance to see the documentary (or even the HBO movie), it’s pretty interesting (and sad).

In any case, I had really wanted to see the musical, and I knew it was likely this would be my only chance as I don’t expect many productions of Grey Gardens to be done in Utah. The first act deals with the mother and daughter’s lives at the height of their wealth and popularity. The second act is basically the events in the documentary. The same actress plays the mother in the first act and the now-older daughter in the second act. My friend played this part, and I must say, as unbiased as I can be, I thought she did a really great job in a very demanding part. I also though the lady that played the mother in act two was quite good, and so act two was more enjoyable than act one because the focus was on the strongest actors.

It was a community theatre production, and so there were weaknesses; although for a community theatre production it wasn’t too bad. Fortunately, the act two mother and daughter were very good performers. The young lady who played the daughter in the first act was kind of weak, however. I just didn’t think her voice was up to snuff as far as what the part demanded, and I also felt she didn’t quite fit the part. An older gentleman played the mother’s father in the first act, and I thought he was pretty terrible. He had no rhythm, which is not good if you’re in a musical. He also flubbed his lines a lot and didn’t seem terribly confident, which is unfortunate because the character is supposed to exude confidence and authority, neither of which he was able to do. I just cringed every time he was stage, but tried to forgive him because it was, after all, a community theatre production.

There are also two little girls in the the show, who play Jacqueline and Lee Bouvier, respectively. They were cute, but not great actors. Jacqueline, in particular, was hard to hear. Two actors played Brooks, a servant, and George Gould Strong, a hanger-on who lived off the mother’s money. Both actors were fine.

I did enjoy one actor, who played Joe Kennedy in the first act and a handy man named Jerry in the second act. I thought he had a nice voice. I think he has some maturing to do as an actor, but he has great potential, I think. He, too, was featured more in the second act, and because he was one of the stronger performers, it was stronger act.

My friend had the bulk of the show, which was good because she did a good job, and he scenes with the mother were quite good.

The show dragged a bit, and the music (which I had heard before) doesn’t do a ton for me, although I think if I listened to it over and over, I might develop more of a taste for it. I do have it on my iPod. Maybe I should listen to it more. The musical isn’t written for the songs to be catchy; it’s written more for them to be like spoken dialogue. I do wish it had more memorable tunes, but I also realize that probably isn’t the point. There is one song I quite like called “Around the World.” Very sad, but a pretty melody.

The show is well-written and interesting. I’m not sure if this is the strongest production you will ever see, but since you’re not likely to see many in Utah, you might give it a gander. I’m not giving it as strong a recommendation as Next to Normal, though. I think Grey Gardens closes in two weeks, too.

The last show I saw was probably one I wasn’t supposed to see, but a friend got a bootleg copy of The Book of Mormon from his friend, and since neither he nor I are likely to get a chance to see it any time soon, we watched it. I typically don’t like the idea of bootlegs of productions. I think it’s only fair to pay to see things so that that money can go to the artists responsible, but since I won’t be able to see a production any time soon, and because I didn’t pay any money to see an illegal copy (nor had anything to do with obtaining it), I figured why not watch it?

I was nervous because I know there is a lot in the show that was likely to offend me, but I must say I was pleasantly surprised by how much I actually enjoyed it. In spite of some very foul language, the show is quite funny and, yes, as many people have said, there is a sweetness in it that touched me.

The choreography was terrific. Some very clever stuff. And the performances were all very strong and there was some very excellent comic timing in abundance. There were even a couple of moments that caused me to tear up, if you can believe it.

I posted about my responses to the songs in an earlier post, so now I’ll say what my impressions are now that I’ve seen them in context.

“Hello” – Very simple choreography, but very effective. A really strong way to begin the show (although the true beginning was a Hill Cumorah Pageant-type tableau that was actually quite funny). I still like the song a lot. Very catchy.

“Two By Two” – Loved the choreography in this one. Lots of funny stuff.

“You and Me (But Mostly Me)” – Also very funny and very well sung by Andrew Rannells.

“Hasa Diga Eebowai” – The song still offends me, but it is funnier in context.

“Turn It Off” – Very funny and great choreography!

“I Am Here For You” – I like the song, but the missionaries are in their garments in this scene, which I found a little off-putting. It bothered me.

“All-American Prophet” – This was a really well-done number. A fun piece.

“Sal Tlay Ka Siti” – I was amazed by how much this number touched me. It also has some humor in it, but I thought it was a really sweet number. Nikki M. James sang it terrifically, too.

“Man Up” – This was not my favorite number when I heard the soundtrack, but the number is funnier and more rousing in context. Still not my favorite tune, but I appreciate it more.

“Making Things Up” I still don’t care for the language, but the song makes more sense in context, and there are some visual gags that are humorous.

“Spooky Mormon Hell Dream” – Really great choreography and visual gags that made the songs much more enjoyable when seeing it. I quite liked what they did with it.

“I Believe” – Still my favorite song, I think, and it was very funny and well-performed. Not too different from how it appeared on the Tony Awards.

“Baptize Me” – The song still offends me and makes me uncomfortable. I get the humor, but the sexual innuendo in a song about baptism, which I still consider a sacred ordinance, makes me very uncomfortable.

“I Am Africa” – I didn’t really get this song when I heard it, but seeing it made it much more clear, and the choreography is quite humorous.

“Joseph Smith American Moses” – The language in this song is still too much for me. The parody of “The Small House of Uncle Thomas” is not lost on me, but the language and situation is just too foul for my taste.

“Tomorrow Is a Latter Day” – Very strong closer and wraps the show up nicely.

Josh Gad and Andrew Rannells are very funny. There are some very clever and funny lines and situations, and the story is sweet. I don’t necessarily agree with the points Matt Stone and Trey Parker are making, but I understand why they are making them and where they might be coming from.

If I got a chance to see the show live, I might go, but I definitely wouldn’t take my mother or niece. I doubt anyone in my family would be able to watch it without feeling offended and assaulted (and I was offended at times, too, although not as much as I had anticipated). Overall, I liked the show; I just wish Parker and Stone could lay off some of the profanity.

Anyway, those are three productions I’ve seen. You aren’t likely to see the latter unless you go to New York, but you can catch the other two in Utah if you live there.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Missionary Companions

I don't know why this was on my mind today (probably because of my recent post referring to my MTC district), but I was thinking about my mission companions today. As I have lost touch with most of them, I was curious where they are in their lives right now, considering where I currently am in mine.

I thought about each one of them today and my experiences with them while serving as a missionary.

Elder A was my MTC companion. I liked him a lot, but we had pretty different personalities. He was kind of emotionally guarded and didn't express his feelings very much. He was kind of quiet and I didn't always know how he felt about me as a companion. We worked well together, but didn't really connect on the level that I had hoped we would. He was short (and cute, I must admit). I am friends with him on Facebook, but we don't converse too much. He lives in Hawaii now, I think he's in the military, and he has a wife and kids and seems active in the church. He seems quite conservative (but I think he was when we were companions, too).

Elder B was my first companion in the field. He was a stout, tall guy (very opposite of Elder A). I really liked him, but we were together for four months straight, which gets to be a bit much when you're with someone pretty much 24 hours a day. He was a great cook and made us fabulous meals. He also tried to hard (and succeeded, I think) to be a good trainer to me. We opened a city together that had been closed for some time due to anti-American sentiment. We taught my first baptism together.

He was a rule follower while I tended to be a little bit rebellious. He was very organized. I admired him and his desire to be the best missionary he could be. He also had a good sense of humor. One thing that bugged me about him was that it always took him longer to do things than I felt was necessary. For example, we would be slow getting out of the apartment or would spend way too much time at the grocery store, and it was generally due to him.

He taught me a lot and pushed me when I needed to be pushed. I had many great experiences with him at a time when I was really on fire spiritually. I enjoyed our companionship a lot. He, too, is a Facebook friend, but rarely ever posts anything. He's single, and I don't know if he's still active or not, but I get the impression he might not be. I really don't know. I really wish we could reconnect again. Maybe I'll write him an email.

Elder C was quite a disappointment after Elder B. He was disorganized, insecure, immature, and liked to blame all of his problems on everybody but himself. I always felt like I was walking on eggshells with him; you just never knew what was going to set him off. I could literally say something as innocuous as "It's such a nice day today," and he would come back with, "What you do mean by that?"

Frankly, he was mean (although that meanness came out of his insecurity), and the two months I spent with him was very challenging. I heard our mission president would put with companions who he thought could handle his volatile personality. If so, I'm flattered, but I didn't not feel I was successful in dealing with him. After two months, I begged the mission president to transfer one of us (and thankfully, he did).

I have very few good memories of Elder C, although we shared a common love of music and he taught me some hymns I didn't previously know, so I thank him for that. We also street contacted (or rather they street contacted us) a couple who still remain good friends to this day (who I wrote about in this post), so I'm glad we were able to do that together, too. I do not know where he is, and frankly, never wanted to see him again after my mission. It would surprise me if he were active, but you never know. People do change.

Elder D was a wonderful change after Elder C. He was from France, and he was such a nice guy. We got along great. He helped me become more fluent in French and I helped him become more fluent in English. He would only speak English to me, and I would only speak French to him (at least we tried). That was very helpful.

I remember someone had taught him the phrase "piece of crap," and he altered it by saying, "piece of puke," and I said that since vomit was more liquid, it wouldn't really make as much sense to say "piece of puke." I said "bowl of puke" was more appropriate. While he knew it wasn't a true idiom and that no one ever really said it, "bowl of puke" became a favorite phrase of his. It always made me laugh.

We taught some great people together and had a lot of success. We had a lot of good times. I have no idea what has become of him.

Elder E was a great companion in a very difficult city and during a difficult time. My father had just died, the people in the city we served in were not very receptive, the ward members were kind of cold, and the enthusiasm and energy I had had at the beginning of my mission were waning a bit.

Elder E was very obedient and hard working. He was so enthusiastic and so wanting to do the will of God, it was infectious. He was exactly the kind of companion I needed right when I needed him. We weren't together very long (another set of missionaries was added to our city, and he and I were made their companions, respectively), but he continued to serve as my district leader and our apartments were only a street apart.

I always remember how optimistic he was and what a genuinely good person he was and still is. We remain pretty close and of my companions, he is the one I converse with the most. We also taught and baptized one of our strongest converts together. I like Elder E a lot. He is single, which surprises me. He's such a good catch, and I always thought he'd find somebody right away. He remains very strong in the church, which doesn't surprise me in the slightest. He's truly one of the good guys. He'd give you the shirt off his back.

Elder F was my first trainee, which I was very nervous about, especially in a city where not much was happening, but he was one of my very favorite companions. We got along very well, and he had a great sense of humor. I sometimes felt insecure about being the "leader," but I enjoyed our companionship. He is a Facebook friend, is married, and has kids, but we haven't conversed too much. I think he's still active. I think he's a dentist or an orthodontist now, which I didn't necessarily expect.

Elder G and I didn't have much in common, but he was a nice guy. He was kind of a hick (and I don't mean that in a bad way) and kind of quiet and simple. I liked him. We got along well enough. I don't know where he's at these days.

I was only with Elder H for a week. I broke my foot and had to be transferred. I was a bit nervous to be put with Elder H. He was quite rebellious and kind of did his own thing. He was a nice guy, though, once I got to know him. I actually regret that we didn't get to spend more time getting to know one another. I think I would have liked him. I think he's still active.

Elder I was put with me because we both had health problems (I my foot and he his knee, I think). He was from Switzerland and was like a giant teddy bear. Really great guy. He was going home, and we were only together three weeks. I must admit we didn't work too hard while we were together. My girlfriend had just broken up with me, and I was depressed. Plus, my broken foot and his bad knee made getting around difficult. We did some work, but often holed up in our apartment. I regret to say I was kind of a "bucket" (i.e. lazy) missionary during those three weeks, and I regret even more that I didn't seem to care.

Elder J was a good kid. We actually had a lot of success together. Another successful convert from Zaire came out of this companionship (although sadly that convert vanished a few years later (people suspect that since he was a refugee from Zaire who had beat a corrupt cop who raped his wife, that the Zaire police eventually found him and either took him back to Zaire or killed him)).

Elder J was kind of quiet, but nice. I liked him. I don't know what he's up to these days, but I like to imagine he's still active.

Elder K was brand new to the mission, and I was his trainer. he so enthusiastic and on fire at a time when I was becoming tired and slightly jaded. Again, he was the right companion for me at the right time. I liked (and was simultaneously annoyed by) his enthusiasm and naivety. He was a go-getter, and I admired his spirit. We had some good successes. I would be very, very surprised if he weren't still active. He's probably a bishop or counselor somewhere by now.

Elder L was an enjoyable companion. We got along well and had a lot of fun together. He was also kind of cute.

We didn't have as much success together work-wise, although we tried. I have no idea where he is these days.

Elder M was my second least-favorite companion after Elder C. At least Elder M worked hard (unlike Elder C). Elder M and I couldn't have been more different. We were like oil and water. He was ultra-conservative while I was liberal. Our personalities were quite opposite. We had nothing in common except that we were missionaries. Our styles were very different. He wanted to be in charge, and I would have been more than happier to be the follower. He expected me to know all the answers and take charge, but when I tried to lead, he would always resist. He also had some insecurity issues and could be very mean and abrasive at times. We didn't mesh well together, and it was hard to work with him, but I still would have taken him over Elder C any day. I don't know where he is, but I'm sure he's still quite conservative.

My last companion, Elder N, was trunkier than I was, and he still had a year left, and I was the one going home. He wasn't very focused on his mission and still very much had his foot in the outside world. It was hard for me to stay focused as well, but we did teach one lady together who was later baptized after I left (although I think she went inactive).

I did attend Elder N's wedding reception after our missions. I haven't heard much from him since. I liked him, though. He was a nice guy, but I do think it would have been better for both of us (and for the work) if we hadn't been so trunky.

Well, I'm not sure how interesting this has been to read, but it's been on my mind today.

A Heart Full Of Love

On Sunday I sang in church again. I chose to sing "I Know My Redeemer Lives," although a slightly off-kilter and dissonant, but very pretty version of it.I always loved singing in church prior to my excommunication, and I still do. It's also a nice loophole because it allows me to bear my testimony through song, which is great.

I had practiced the song on Saturday with my accompanist. She's really good. The song was a bit challenging for her at first, but I knew she's get the hang of it. She gave me some good suggestions on interpretation of the music, too, and it made the song better.

The key the song was in was a good one, but there was a certain note I was finding it difficult to place in my voice correctly (the "He LIVES" part) and hoped I would find it by Sunday.

Sunday morning my voice wasn't as up to snuff as I had hoped, and I hoped my voice wouldn't crack or sound strained.

Sunday School was quite enjoyable, and a lot of people participated in the discussion, which was about a variety of things pertaining to Paul and the Corinthians (including godly sorrow, forgiveness, and being reconciled to God), so that was nice.

The instructor really focused on God's justice being tempered with His mercy and how if any one of us actually got what we truly deserved, none of us would be worthy of the blessings and rewards God grants us, but because He loves us and is merciful and eternally understanding, we can be granted (and often are granted) far above that which we deserve.

In Sacrament Meeting the first talk was given by a return missionary. It was a good talk, although I admit to missing some of it because I was too focused on my song.

It's so strange; I'm a performer and have often performed in front of hundreds of people, and I don't get too nervous. But I always get more nervous when I sing (or when I used to speak) in church. I don't know why for sure, but I think it really has to do with the fact that not only do I want to perform well (which is a given), but I also really want to help others feel the spirit or inspire or move them, so I always feel like the stakes are higher. I suppose as an actor, I have similar motives (wanting to inspire or move people), but for some reason singing in church makes me more nervous than singing on stage.

In any case, I went up to sing the song, and I was really pleased with how easy the sound came out considering that my voice hadn't felt at its best. But it sounded good, and I was happy. As I stood up there, I felt so pleased to be there. It really did feel like a chance to share my testimony, and it felt like a gift and a privilege (one that I often took for granted when I was still a member).

My voice felt fairly effortless and well-supported. The I got to the part that says, "He lives, my kind, wise, heavenly friend...," and I couldn't continue. Emotion just overtook me, and I had to stop singing because I really felt it. Jesus is, indeed my friend, and he is beyond kind. As I sang the next phrases, "He lives and loves me to the end / He lives, and while He lives I'll sing...," my voice strangled through the tears. It was not my prettiest singing to be sure, but I also am keenly aware that it isn't about me and my performance; it's about feeling the spirit and the Savior's love, and in that I feel I succeeded. At least, I hope I did.

By the time I got to "He lives, my prophet, priest, and king," things were back on track vocally, although it was hard not to break again. I just felt so honored to be there and so grateful to be sharing my love and testimony of the Savior. When I finished, my eyes were wet, but I felt good inside.

My dear friend next gave a talk about hope, and she discussed the events of 9-11 and the tsunami in Japan (where she served her mission), and talked about how when devastating things happen, we can still find hope through the Savior. I was both happy that someone in church had brought 9-11 into it and was also happy about how Christ-centered her talk was, which sometimes I feel is lacking in some church talks.

It was a good meeting. I enjoyed the talks, and I was grateful for the opportunity to sing. After the closing hymn, several people came up to me and said they had really enjoyed the song and that they could really feel my love for the Savior. Another member wrote me a message on Facebook saying he had really loved it, especially since it was his favorite hymn, and another neighbor came up to me today while I was throwing away trash to say how beautiful she thought it was.

I don't share that out of any boastfulness. I sure hope that isn't how it comes across. I was simply pleased that people had been touched by it. I had both prayed that I would perform the song well and that it would help people feel of my testimony of the spirit, and I was grateful that my prayers were answered.

Just once I would like to get through a song in church without bawling. Like I said, I know it isn't about me. The performance isn't as important as the spirit. But as a performer, it would be nice to get through a song without breaking down. It doesn't happen often. My heart just gets so full when I sing in church, and I feel God's love so strongly, I just can't seem to compose myself.

On the other hand, I like that it gives me the opportunity to cry. I don't cry as often as I would like, and sometimes, to others, I wonder if I come off as emotionally cold. I feel I have a very sensitive spirit, but I am also a very guarded spirit and subconsciously don't seem to want to allow myself to cry. Singing in church almost always gives me the opportunity to do so, and I am grateful for that.

My show has ended. I am in town in Utah for one more week because I have an audition and I am also trying to finish last-minute cleaning so that my niece and future nephew-in-law can move into the house after I've left.

One more week before I get to spend some quality time with my husband. I am so excited and looking forward to it. I love him so much. My heart is just full.

Thanks, Heavenly Father, for giving me Jonah!

Monday, September 12, 2011

Memories of 9-11

I had hoped to get this posted sooner, but this weekend has been busy and time has just gotten away from me.

10 years ago from today seems almost like a lifetime ago in some ways. I was still a member of the LDS Church; I was still trying very hard to be straight (and was actually going to therapy at LDS Family Services to help me cope with my homosexual feelings – some of it was helpful for other reasons, but it did not help alleviate my homosexual issues); I was still very closeted and feeling very stressed and depressed and angst-ridden by it; I was a non-union actor, meaning I made a lot less money doing the same job; I didn’t have my master’s degree; I didn’t have a house, three cats, and a partner; I hadn’t even met Jonah yet, and it’s weird to think that there was even a time when he didn’t exist in my life; I certainly wasn’t as happy as I feel today.

On the morning of September 11, 2001 I was sleeping in, as is my custom. My sister had been married two days before in a surprise, rather hastily-put-together wedding (that is, we knew she’d be getting married eventually, but her abrupt (to us) decision to get married that Sunday was a surprise to her family members. To tell you the truth, I was still reeling from it, hoping she’d made the right decision.

I was also planning on going to Pennsylvania that week to attend my ex-girlfriend’s wedding to her now-husband, who was (and still is) also a friend. That Tuesday morning my mom crept into what used to be my bedroom and woke me up. She had to go somewhere (work, I assume) but wanted to let me know what was going on before she left.

“[Cody],” she whispered as she shook my shoulder, “I have to go, but I just wanted you to know what’s happening.”

“Ergg,” I muttered, only half-awake.

My mom stared at me very seriously and said, “Some planes flew into the Twin Towers in New York, and the buildings are gone now.”

I tried to focus. “What?” I asked, looking at her as if she were nuts. I was still half-asleep and couldn’t really hone in on what she was saying.

“This morning some planes flew into the World Trade Center and the buildings were destroyed,” she repeated. “They’re gone.”

What did she mean, “gone”? How could two buildings that had been around for as long as I could remember just be “gone.” I seriously didn’t know if she was kidding or crazy or what, but my mind started coming into focus rather quickly.

I sat up in bed. “What are you talking about, Mom?” I asked. “How can they be gone?”

“They fell. They just collapsed,” she answered. “They’re gone.”

I sincerely didn’t believe her. It just sounded too crazy. Too unreal.

“I don’t understand. Why did the planes fly into the Twin Towers?”

“They don’t know. But they say it’s an attack. The Pentagon was hit, too. Anyway, I have to go, but I just wanted you to know what was going on. It’s on the news. That’s all they’ve been showing.”

I quickly put on some clothes and hurried upstairs. Mom already had the television on, as I recall, and she was still getting ready to leave. I watched the news. There was so much confusion, so many unanswered questions, so much that was still unknown.

Then I saw the footage. I saw a plane hit the second tower. I saw both buildings come tumbling down until there was nothing left but dust. I saw a smoldering Pentagon. I don’t remember seeing footage of the wreckage of United 93 in that field, but I’m sure I must have. I distinctly remember the Towers. And as I watched this footage over and over, ad nauseum, I suddenly became aware of all the people that must be dead – the people in the planes, the people in the buildings, the people on the ground, the brave souls trying to help them escape – and I suddenly felt such a sickening feeling in my stomach and soul. It must be thousands, I thought. Why would someone do this?

It was clear by the time I found out about these events that they were done intentionally. This was no accident. It appeared to be a calculated, organized attack. I was so flabbergasted by this. I couldn’t believe that someone would purposely kill all these innocent people.

I could not stop watching the news. It was depressing and scary and terrifying and confusing, but I could not turn my eyes away. I craved even the smallest bit of new information in the hopes of getting some sort of answer that would make sense of all of this. Mostly, it was all repeat information and, of course, no answers to make sense of the situation ever came.

By the time I had to go to work that night, I felt so sad and drained by the events that had unfolded that day that I just felt numb.

We were in rehearsals for a Halloween show, and we all showed up to rehearsal confused, sad, angry, bewildered, depressed, and befuddled. We spent a good deal of time talking out our feelings, which were still so raw. Our director wondered if we should cancel rehearsal. We all agreed that we needed something to keep our minds off the events of the day, if only for a few hours, and so we all agreed to rehearse, which actually was a nice break from the reality that awaited us outside the theater.

After rehearsal, part of me hoped that what had happened that day hadn’t really happened at all – that it was just a dream or a joke. But of course it wasn’t.

I was concerned about flying to Pennsylvania that week, not because I was afraid of flying or fearful of another terrorist attack, but because the next week was our tech. week and opening for our show and I worried, with planes being grounded and such, that it would be difficult to get back home for those very important rehearsals, if I even got to Pennsylvania at all.

The bride and the groom, who lived in California, and were to fly to Pennsylvania for the wedding, ended up renting a car and driving to get there in time. Other friends who had planned on coming couldn’t get there at all. I was actually lucky. My plane trip was later in the week, and by the time I flew out, planes were operational at about 50%, and mine was one of them.

I remember in those early days before security measures were tightened, security was still halfway between what it was pre-9-11 and what it is now. I remember thinking how easy it still would have been to smuggle a knife on board, and I was surprised by that since the terrorists had managed to take over using box cutters to dispatch those that got in their way.

My flight, which actually left not terribly long after it was scheduled to, was not very full. I guess a lot of people didn’t want to travel that week. I remember the guy next to me (who was on his way back home to Rhode Island) and I talked about how we weren’t afraid to fly, and that if something were to happen and it was our time to go, so be it. I also remember he had been stranded in the airport for several days.

The flight to Pennsylvania (via Minneapolis) was fine, although people were obviously jittery. In Pennsylvania, my ex-girlfriend’s pastor at her Methodist church gave a really great sermon on the events of the week. I remember it was outside because their church building was being remodeled or something, and while I don’t remember all the details of the sermon, I do remember feeling comforted by some of it.

The wedding was great, although I was sad that my ex-girlfriend’s special day was overshadowed by the events of the week and that so many friends who had been planning on coming were unable to.

My flight home was a different matter. My flight from Pittsburgh to Minneapolis was okay, but my flight to Salt Lake City was more problematic.

When the flight arrived, we boarded, and my seat was next to a couple. I wanted a window seat, and as I had done many times prior to 9-11, simply switched seats. In a post-9-11 world, this turned out to be a big mistake. A female flight attendant looked at me warily and asked for my boarding pass. Unfortunately, I had left it in my carry-on in the bin over my original seat. I told her I could grab it.

With panic in her eyes, she said, “Sir, please follow me.” I again repeated that I could get the pass. She said, more firmly, “Just follow me, sir!”

I was taken off the plane into the area right before one boards the plane. The entire crew (captain, co-pilot, attendants, everybody) awaited me. They proceeded to interrogate me. Who was I? Why was I in a seat that wasn’t supposed to have a passenger in it? Why was I traveling? Where was my boarding pass? What did I do for a living? How had I purchased my ticket? These people all had terror in their eyes, and I felt terrible that my unscheduled seat-switch was the cause of their angst and concern. The pilot looked over my driver’s license, front and back, over and over, asked me questions like “how much do you weigh?” and “when is your birthday?”, and looked at me trying to determine whether I was a threat or not. A flight attendant was sent into the pre-boarding area to verify that I had, indeed, purchased my ticket through Orbitz. When it was finally determined 15 minutes later that I was, indeed, who I said I was, I was allowed back on the plane. I felt embarrassed and genuinely remorseful for causing that poor flight crew an unnecessary scare, and I realized that the world had indeed changed from what it had been prior to 9-11. The pilot did apologize to me as I disembarked, simply saying, “We’re sorry about that. But unfortunately this is how we have to do things now.” And indeed it was and is.

What I remember most about the evening of 9-11 and the following days was the spirit of unity and patriotism and camaraderie and selflessness that was evident. I loved seeing people band together and pull together and the national pride that was so much a part of those days. I remember seeing American flags everywhere and signs that said “Honk for America,” which I gladly did. Mostly, I remember the charitable spirit so many people seemed to have – concern for strangers; people donating blood, money, necessities, whatever they could to help; the collective mourning we all shared. If there was a bright side to this terrible tragedy, that was it for me.

I wrote in my journal on September 15: “It’s like so much of the selfishness that I feel has engulfed this country for so long has melted away. Whereas a week ago you saw instances of Republicans vs. Democrats; one religion vs. another; church vs. state; and where it seemed like it was every man for himself, I [now] see such an outpouring of unity and friendship. A week ago budget problems, Olympic scandals, and other minute concerns filled the news; today everyone is band[ing] together towards a common cause. On an average day at an airport, people are impatient and rude. Yet with all these delays and inconveniences now, people in general seem to be very polite and understanding and more concerned with safety of themselves and others than they are in trying to get to a certain destination in time. The value of life seems to take precedence over the minute details of that life. Whereas a cell phone may have annoyed me a week ago, now I think how nice it is that two people can communicate so conveniently to let each other know that the other is okay. It’s like everyone has a different perspective on the meaning of life, and it’s delightful to see people more concerned with each other than they are with themselves.

“…I think God permits these horrible acts to happen to humble us and to unite us.

“I’ve never been as proud to be an American as I have been these last four days. These terrorists don’t know what a failure their mission has been. They may have caused irreparable physical damage, killed countless innocents, and caused economic damage as well; but they can never kill this country’s spirit. If anything, they have made us stronger. I always believed that if this country fell, it would be our own doing (our pride, arrogance, and selfishness), not by an outside enemy. All these terrorists have done is foolishly ‘awakened a sleeping giant’ (a phrase used [after Pearl Habor]). I’d hate to be in their shoes.

“While I mourn the inconceivable losses, I am grateful for the awakening of selflessness and patriotism. I hope it stays that way.

“Yes, there have been instances of hate and narrow-mindedness directed specifically towards our Muslim residents here in America (which is sad because first, I’m sure many (even the majority) feel just as terrible about the events of the last few days as anybody; and secondly, because by directing that hate towards innocent people, the narrow-minded fool illustrates that he is no better than the original terrorists). But, overall, I haven’t seen such a positive effect on our country in a long time.”

How soon we forgot. I was dismayed when that feeling of unity and brotherhood seemed to melt away as the months continued. I remember feeling that the Bush administration squandered and abused that unity for its own selfish purposes when it decided to invade Iraq, a move I, frankly, did not understand at the time when I felt we should be concentrating our resources on finding Osama bin Laden, who it didn’t seem was going to be found. In fact, at the time I really felt that the Iraq War was a diversion to get the American people’s minds off the fact that the hunt for bin Laden seemed to be failing and was dismayed that so many of my fellow Americans seemed to fall for it.

And then I began to see all the old divisions crop up: politicians fighting, people being told they were un-American if they didn’t back the Bush administration’s determination to invade Iraq, the poor French being attacked for disagreeing and that whole “Freedom Fries” bullcrap. It was back to the “same-old, same-old.” And then I saw what I felt were abuses of power and the preying on people’s fear due to the events of 9-11.

I look where we are today. It’s the same, if not worse, than pre-9-11, and I miss and long for those brief months of shared unity and solidarity we experienced in the aftermath of one of the worst tragedies this nation has ever known. Why couldn’t we maintain it? Why did we let it slip through our collective fingers?

I look at much of the pettiness, mean-spiritedness, divisiveness, pridefulness, and polarization that seems to dominate this country, and I feel sad that we lost that precious gift that 9-11 actually gave us. I’m still an optimist at heart. I still believe most people are basically good. I still believe we can achieve that unity and love if we only want it enough. We did it once before because we needed to. I wish we would do it again because we remember how great it was the first time and because we want it badly enough. How often we need to be humbled and reminded. I hope it doesn’t require another tragedy to accomplish that.

Thursday, September 08, 2011

A Lost Statistic And What I Miss and Don't Miss

I remember attending a Priesthood lesson not too long after I had returned from my mission. I remember very distinctly that it was taught by a friend of mine with whom I had gone to school (from elementary to high school). He had been home longer from his mission than I had (because I went when I was 21 and he went when he was 19, like most missionaries do).

I remember in his lesson he gave a statistic, which I have tried for some time to recall. As I was cleaning out my room in preparation for my niece and future nephew-in-law's arrival, I found a bunch of old scraps of paper, many dating from my post-mission days. Imagine my surprise when I actually found on one of these scrsps of paper the very statistic I had been trying to recall. (Yes, I save everything, but I am trying very hard of late to throw more stuff away. I am getting better.)

As for this statistic, I have no idea where my friend got it or learned it, nor do I know if it is or ever was accurate, but I do remember how it impacted me when I heard it just fresh off my mission.

The statistic was laid out in the following fashion during that Priesthood meeting 17 or so years ago: my friend said if a typical MTC (Missionary Training Center) district has 12 missionaries in it (mine had 10), statistics say that 2 of those missionaries will eventually apostatize from the Church or be excommunicated; 3 will become inactive; three will remain active, but will not be particularly stalwart as members; and the other four will remain very strong in the gospel and magnify their callings and be stalwart members of the Church.

I suppose for a district of ten (like I had), it would break down differently: maybe one excommunication and two inactives or only 3 stalwart members. I'm not sure how you would factor that in. Math was never my thing.

I do not even recall the original point of my friend's lesson (probably something along the lines of what we need to do to make sure we're one of the four who remains strong in the Church), but I do remember the effect it had on me.

At the time it was so hard to believe that anybody in my district would ever be excommunicated from the Church or leave the Church. We had just sacrificed two years of our lives to bear witness of the truthfulness of the gospel and help people convert to Mormonism to change their lives for the better. Why would any of us leave or do something that would merit excommunication?

I remember at the time (and this shows you where my mind and pridefulness were), I began to think about who of my fellow MTC district members would be most likely to follow a path to excommunication or apostasy. I remember mulling it over and thinking, "Well, I can see Elder So-and-So maybe following that path. Of other members of my district, I thought, "Elder or Sister So-and-So would never stray. I just can't see that happening."

I actually sat there pondering which missionaries I thought would eventually fall into which category, which wasn't even the point of the lesson, and I was missing the lesson as my mind executed this experiment in unrighteous judgment.

As for myself, I think I put myself in the category of "remains active, but is somewhat lukewarm in his membership." Never did I imagine that it would actually be me who turned out to be the excommunicated one.

I have no idea what has become of the majority of my MTC district. I have lost track of most of them. I am Facebook friends with two of them, and they both appear to still be active in the LDS Church. I'd be curious to know where they all are in their lives and in their testimonies.

But if the statistic is true, I represent the excommunicated missionary, and I find that so ironic considering what I felt at the time of the Priesthood lesson when this statistic was introduced to me. Granted, I feel like I still have a testimony, and I still actively attend an LDS ward, so I don't feel like an apostate, but I just thought it was interesting.

I even remember thinking at the time of my actual excommunication that even though I knew I would be excommunicated how bizarre it felt to me, someone who had devoted nearly 35 years of his life to the LDS Church and who had been a member his entire life, that I was actually being excommunicated. Granted, it was my own actions that led to excommunication; I just remember feeling that it was so surreal that I was losing my membership in a church I'd belonged to my entire life.

I don't regret the actions that led to my excommunication, nor do I even regret being excommunicated. It is what it is, and I have dealt with it fine. In many ways, my life is so much happier, and I did what I had to do to achieve wellness in my life, and I feel I have gotten just that, so I don't regret it. I just think it's interesting.

I was pondering what things I miss about being a fully fellowshipped member and what things I don't miss. I thought I would share some of them.

Things I don't miss:

I do not miss home teaching in the slightest. I never liked doing it, and it always felt like a burden to me. I'm glad I don't have to feel guilty about not doing it.

Which brings up another thing I don't miss: feeling guilty for never measuring up to what I always felt the Church expected me to be. As a member of the LDS Church, I always felt such a responsibility and accountability to be everything I was taught I should be, and I just never felt like it was within my reach. As someone who no longer feels bound to the covenants I made, life feels much more relaxing and stress-free, and I like that.

Along with the guilt, I don't miss the pressure and responsibility that come with being a member of the LDS Church. Being a Mormon can be very hard work, and it's hard to live up to the ideal. I'm glad I don't have to deal with that anymore. I can just be content being me.

I don't miss the facade I always felt like I put up at church. I feel I can genuinely go to church now and just be who I am, and I'm so okay with that. It's much more joyful now.

I don't miss paying tithing. I actually believe strongly in the blessings of tithing and saw many examples of it in my own life and saw and continue to see examples of it in the lives of those I am close to. I was mostly pretty good about paying a regular tithe, too (although I admit there were some instances when I wasn't doing as well financially when I slipped in the tithing department). As an excommunicated member, I am not allowed to pay tithing, and I find it's quite nice having the extra money, and it's also nice to not feel guilty for not paying it.

I actually don't miss giving public prayers. I like praying, but I prefer to pray privately. I never really enjoyed giving opening and closing prayers in church meetings.

I don't miss feeling obligated to accept callings I didn't really want. When the bishop calls you to do something, you feel like God Himself wants you to do it, and that's a lot of pressure, especially when the calling is something you're really not interested in accepting. I like that I no longer feel that angsty feeling of accepting a calling I don't want to accept.

I don't miss going to Priesthood. As an excommunicated member, I could go to Priesthood if I desired (and actually I had stopped attending Priesthood well before I was excommunicated), but I still don't miss it. I have tried going back a few times, but I never seem to get much out of it. It's just kind of nice not to have to deal with it anymore.

I don't miss wearing garments. Giving them up was an adjustment at first, and I did miss them initially, but now I like just sleeping in my underwear, and I love the variety of underwear I can wear now as a non-member.

I don't miss seeing the world just from inside the Mormon box. Being excommunicated has altered my perspective in a good way, and I am grateful for that.

Things I do miss:

I really miss giving talks. I quite enjoyed doing it, and I feel (and have been told) I am good at giving them. Any time I hear a speaker lament the fact that they were called to give a talk, I just shake my head and think how lucky they are. I think I still have a lot of valuable things I could contribute were I allowed to give a talk, and I wish I could.

I miss being able to bear my testimony in Sacrament Meeting. I still have one, and it would be nice to share it in a public forum.

I do miss serving in callings that I enjoyed. I really enjoyed teaching in Priesthood, for example, and I adored my calling as a Primary teacher. I always wanted to teach Sunday School or serve as ward chorister.

I miss commenting in class. Again, I feel like I have some valuable contributions to make. I wish I could.

I miss seeing my name in the ward directory or on class rolls. It feels so strange not to.

Occasionally, I do miss going to the temple. Temple-going was not always my favorite thing to do, but there were some things I did like about it, and I miss that. I also miss that I can't attend the temple to support family members of friends in marriages or taking out their endowments and such.

I miss taking the sacrament and sustaining people, mostly because it made me feel more like I still belonged to the "club."

Things I'm glad I can still do and that I feel grateful for:

I'm glad I can still sing in church, both individually on the stand and in the congregation singing hymns. I love music, and I feel it's a great way to both share my testimony and feel the spirit.

I'm grateful for the fellowship my fellow ward members and leaders give me. Many people know of my situation, but all have treated me just as they always have. I feel very welcome, and I still feel very much a part of the ward family. I still enjoy attending ward activities, too, when I am able.

I'm grateful that I can still listen to talks and lessons and testimonies and find applications for my life and feel closer to God and feel His spirit.

I'm grateful for the comfort I still have in continuing to attend meetings in a religious organization that I grew up in. It feels comfortable and right to me.

I'm grateful that my testimony is still fortified by my continuing to attend my LDS ward.

I'm grateful that I feel I can attend church on my own terms and no one else's; that I'm going out of want rather than out of duty, as I sometimes used to do; that I can take what feels useful to me and use it and discard what isn't currently useful to me. I'm also grateful I can skip an occasional Sunday once in a while and not feel guilty about it.

I'm grateful I can still read the scriptures and the Ensign and be inspired by them.

Excommunication is a weird thing. Like I said, I understand my own actions brought it about, and like I said, I have no regrets about. It's just an odd thing, I think.

Feeling The Spirit Of Love

This evening I participated in a benefit concert at Club Jam in Salt Lake City to raise money for Dane Hall's medical bills. I wrote about Dane in a recent post. Last I heard we had raised $5,799, which was beyond our expectations. I also know at least $7,000 has been donated through other venues, and I know of at least three other fundraisers that are being done to help Dane, so maybe he'll end up with at least $15,000. That's still less than half of what he currently needs (and I assume his medical bills will continue to accumulate), but it's a start.

It was truly a great experience to be involved in tonight's fundraiser. So many people volunteered their time, talents, material goods, and money to help a poor kid that has been put into a bad situation by some bad people. There was a raffle, a silent auction, and, of course, the concert. It is so heart-warming to see so many people coming together for a common cause to help a guy that most of them (myself included) don't even know. That is truly the spirit of love, and I think that is what we are here on this planet for.

Some numbers were serious, some were funny; all were performed well. A friend of mine started with a medley of "Always" / "How Deep is the Ocean?" (one of my favorite songs) / and "Somewhere Over the Rainbow." It was beautiful.

Another friend sang a really "kick-ass" rendition of "Come to Your Senses" from the Jonathan Larson musical Tick, Tick...Boom. A guy I didn't know sang "What a Wonderful World." Another friend sang a powerful version of a song I was unfamiliar with, "Perfect." I really liked it. I think it was written for the musical, High Fidelity, but was cut.

A friend wrote an original song he wrote called "I Will Follow You Down" (I think), two more friends sang "If Mama Were Married" from Gypsy, another friend and a guy I didn't know sang "In Whatever Time We Have" from Children of Eden, and a good friend sang "My Man" from Funny Girl.

There were some funny songs like "Lesbian Love Story" from The Wild Party, "Always a Bridesmaid, Never a Bride" from I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change, "I'm a Catholic" from Altar Boyz, and a parody version of "Superfreak" from Salt Lake Acting Company's production of Saturday's Voyeur.

One woman who sounded like Billie Holiday did an absolutely rock-solid version of "God Bless the Child." She was phenomenal! Two of my friends sang a touching rendition of "For Good" from Wicked, which made me cry for many reasons, and cast members from Pioneer Theatre Company's recent production of Rent sang "Seasons of Love," which we all joined in singing, and I felt the love in the room so strongly.

My friend emceed the evening, and he was both funny and poignant.

I felt such love this evening, and I really felt the Spirit. It reminded me of a similar time when I participated in a benefit concert 12 years ago to promote AIDS awareness. At the time, I was very much in the closet and had even quite recently been in a serious relationship with a woman. What struck me about that particular concert was very similar to what I felt this evening: that I could feel so much love in the room and how close I felt to the Spirit.

I remember finding it interesting at the concert 12 years ago that I felt such a great spirit among a high majority of gay people who are often persecuted by people for so-called Christian reason, and I remembering feeling more of a spirit of Christianity in that room than I sometimes felt I experienced from church or religion, where Christianity supposedly resides.

At the time, I wrote, "...I wondered, if some of those narrow-minded people [who condemn homosexuality] could have attended [this] concert and felt that love, would they change their attitudes? I mean, gay people are just like anybody else: they love; they hurt; some are nicer than others; some are more Christian than others (not to mention more Christian than some people who profess to be more Christian than them); and some are doing the very best they can.

"And I thought, would some of the members of my own comfortable at this concert with all these gay people. And sadly, I realized the answer was no. really made me think about what I stand for and what my church stands for and what other members of my church stand for and what we all profess to be [vs.] what we really are."

That concert 12 years ago truly remains one of the highlights of my life. It is one of the times in my life when I have felt the Spirit of God very strongly. I felt that same feeling this evening, although not to the same extent. I'm glad to see that some things have changed. For example, I know more members of my church now that would not have been uncomfortable in that environment than I did 12 years ago.

Or perhaps it is I who have changed. I was more judgmental towards other gay people then than I am now (probably because I was trying so hard to fight it within myself). I remember that concert 12 years ago was a great lesson to me about the goodness of people, especially of people that others sometimes judge to be wicked or sinful.

I think the reason events like these cause me to feel God's spirit so strongly is because there is so much love, caring, and unselfishness in abundance, and isn't that what Christ's message is all about? Love is the key to life. Caring for our fellow man is the key to life. Loving others as God loves us is the key to life, and when we do that, we draw closer to God because we are becoming more like Him.

I hope that, in spite of the bad things people do to one another, that people will never lose faith in the goodness of humanity. Yes, there are people among us who do terrible, terrible things, but there is so much goodness out there, too. There are so many good souls. I hope we never lose track of that.

Anne Frank, who had all the reason to lose faith in humanity, once wrote, ‎"In spite of everything I still believe that people are really good at heart. I simply can't build up my hopes on a foundation consisting of confusion, misery and death."

It is my fondest hope and dream that I am a force for good in this world. I hope we can all be that. I am an imperfect person with many faults. I can be selfish, lazy, and critical, but I pray that my life will touch others for good rather than bad; that I will lift others rather than tear them down; that my influence will make the lives of the people around me better rather than worse; that others' lives are richer for my being in them rather than worse. I am only one guy...a guy who makes a lot of mistakes...and I have no idea what influence I have on others, for either good or bad, but I sincerely hope when all is said and done that I will have left a mark of goodness and love on the world rather than something negative. I do not know if I am doing that, but I am trying to, and I am hoping I am.

Monday, September 05, 2011

Adventures In Flying And Other Stuff

So last week I flew home to visit my husband (isn't that sad? - I visit my husband. Since we have been married, we have actually spent more time apart than together because of our jobs.)

I got to the airport an hour before my flight, which is pretty typical of me. I parked my car in the economy lot, and the driver of the shuttle was kind enough to wait as I ran to catch the shuttle. I was surprised that the airport was so busy. It usually isn't (at least when I fly). There was quite a line at security, and I worried a bit because it was moving quite slowly.

One of the reasons the airport was so busy that morning was that there was a huge crop of LDS missionaries heading out on their missions to who knows how many different destinations. As I looked at them, I thought, "My gosh! They're so young! They're just babies - practically fetuses." My next thought was "Was I really that young when I went?" Yes, I was.

I watched these missionaries and saw their expressions of excitement, enthusiasm, fear, confusion, anxiousness, naivety, and determination and remembered well feeling all of those feelings myself when I took off for a strange land 19 years ago.

I loved my mission. I really did. I thought of all the cool places these young men and women must be going to and secretly wished for them that their missions would be as good of an experience for them as mine was for me. I also wanted to tell each one of them to remember that it's about people, not about numbers, and that even if you don't bring someone into the church, you can't consider that a failure. If you're bringing people closer to God or Christ or love or making their lives better in some small way, I consider that a great success.

I had many successes on my own mission, and that didn't necessarily mean baptisms. While I did have some, I only know of one, for sure, who has remained active and strong in the church. The others may have, too, but I have lost track of them. I know one, for sure, who went inactive (he was my first baptism, and actually went inactive before my mission even ended). Although, who knows where he is today.

But I have friendships from my mission that still endure. I have two very good friends who never joined the LDS Church and are pretty much agnostic, but they are two of the best people I know, and I am grateful they are still a part of my life. I have one friend who left the church, but our friendship has remained strong. I have many friends who are still active (who were members when I was a missionary) who I still keep in touch with. I think of other people I met on my mission who touched my life and people whose lives I believe I touched for the better. I am grateful.

I caught my flight, and it left on time. I asked a man if the window seat next to him was taken. He responded, "No," and then continued with, "We love Jessica. we feel very lucky to have her in our law firm, and it's a good thing that Bill Johnson doesn't know how to run a law firm or we never would have gotten her." I was momentarily confused because it seemed he was talking to me. I then assumed we was talking on a bluetooth phone or something, but he wasn't. But he just kept prattling on, and finally I realized he was having a conversation with a woman across the aisle. He later fell asleep and woke up with a start and asked me if the flight attendant had brought coffee by yet. He was very relieved when I said she hadn't.

I love flying. Jonah's not a fan. It scares him. But I love it! I always sit next to the window because I love watching the world get smaller as we rise higher and seeing things from a different perspective. I'm also continually amazed by the miracle of flight itself; that this huge 60-or-so ton behemoth of metal can actually go fast enough to become airborne. It's amazing to me.

I actually didn't look out the window much on this trip because I was busy with my Soduko puzzle (which was supposedly easy, but I managed to screw up royally), and I actually regretted not giving more time to the appreciation of flight like I normally do.

My least favorite part of flight is landing. Taking off I love, but that moment of anticipation when you haven't landed yet, but you're about to hit the pavement always makes me anxious. It's not that I'm afraid of crashing or anything; I rarely even think or worry about that. I'm just always concerned that the landing will be rougher than I am prepared for, and I never know until it actually happens. This pilot's landing was very smooth.

My trip home was way too short. We just had our floors recarpeted, and Jonah needed help moving stuff, which we just didn't have time to fully do. Jonah also had me put some puzzles together for him for a craft project he was doing, and that was fun because I enjoy puzzles. They were 3-D puzzles, though, and were a bit more challenging. Still, they turned out well.

Jonah and I also had opportunities to be intimate, which I have greatly missed. I told him we didn't have to if he was afraid of contracting scabies (read two posts earlier), but, happily, he risked it.

It was also so nice to see our three cats, particularly the one who is most attached to me and ran immediately into my arms when I came home and slept by my side the two nights I was home.

I also had a chance to go to a favorite eatery which is not available in Utah. they have the best sandwiches. That was nice. It was just nice to spend time with Jonah. Happily, my job ends soon, and I will be home for at least a month and a half, depending on if I get a part in a show I am auditioning for soon. It will be nice to be home for a bit, and Jonah and I will be going to Gay Days at Disneyland with two of my college friends, so we're looking forward to that.

My flight home was good. The airport was not busy at all (unlike Salt Lake had been), and there was barely a line at security (although please tell me WHY the lady in front of us waited until she was at the security desk to get out her ID. You know you're going to have to show your boarding pass and ID. Why not get them out before you even get in line instead of hemming and hawing and fishing for it while the seven of us behind you wait for you to do it? Argghhh!)

As someone who flies frequently, I can tell you that I take everything out of my pants and put them in a special pocket in my carry-on (the only bag I take with me most trips) before I even get in line. I have my boarding pass and ID at the ready, and as soon as I get past the security guard that checks my ID, I whip my shoes and belt off, pull out my Ziploc bag of approved liquids, and put them and my bag in those bins, and I go through the scanner worry-free, and I'm ready to go on to my gate. These people that futz and fuss with their shoes and IDs and don't know how to pack (or what to pack) in their carry-ons give me angst. There are plenty of signs around the security area telling you what you are in for, and all the information you need to know about security procedures is online for each airport, so do some preparation, people! It will make all of our lives easier and make the line move faster.

As this one lady was fishing around for her ID, the very-in-a-hurry businessman behind me muttered something I don't care to repeat here. I did not blame him for his aggravation, but wish he had picked a different phrase to express it. When one of the security guards tried to lighten the mood by saying, "It doesn't matter what line you pick, it always seems to be the wrong one, huh?" the businessman gave a sneering look at the woman holding up the line and said, "Yeah, but this one seems to have a stop light!"

Anyway, once I got through security, I had plenty of time before my flight left (again on time). This time I did gaze out the window as I watched in wonder the shrinking city beneath us.

Flying always makes me appreciate how small and insignificant we seem from a distance and how God is able to keep track of each one of us and knows each one of our hearts and souls and problems and needs intimately. It astounds me. I love seeing the world in a completely different way, too. Flying somehow makes me feel closer to God.

We hit some very minor turbulence on the way home, and I chuckled as a woman screamed, startled by a slight bump (well, it was slight to me; obviously she didn't feel the same way).

I was also quite pleased that in addition to my complimentary drink (orange juice), I was able to get two additional refills. That, my friends, is the miracle of flight right there.

Another smooth landing, and I was back home. I caught the parking shuttle right away, and it was a nice warm day. I found my car safe and sound and headed to my mom's house and did a show later that night.

My niece and future nephew-in-law will be moving into my mom's house after they get married a month from now, and I am giving up the room I stay in when I am here as well as another room I use for storage. This is in an effort to give the newlyweds a bit more privacy. When I come to Utah for work, I will now stay in my sister's old room upstairs near my mom's room.

It's hard for me to give up my current room. It's more private, it's cool in the summer and warm in the winter, and it's dark, which I quite like. But I am giving it up voluntarily. I think it's important for a newlywed couple to have a space they can consider their own, especially when they are living with other people at the beginning of their marriage.

I'm really happy they are moving in. Mom's memory is not as good, and especially now that I am going back home to Jonah, it will be nice for her to have people here to help her out and keep her company. It puts my mind more at ease. It's hard for Mom when she's here by herself, and I am glad my niece and future nephew-in-law will be here. Plus, my future nephew-in-law is quite a "Mister Fix-It," which I am not, so that will be nice to have somebody be able to repair and maintain things, which I do not excel at.

In an effort to create more space, we cleaned my mom's basement storage and laundry room, which have needed it for years. Mom wasn't initially wild about everyone going through her things, and it took some initiative to get her to get rid of stuff she's been hanging on to that she never uses (now, you can see where I got my "hoarder" gene), but my niece, future nephew-in-law, mom, and I did a lot of work, and the basement looks so much cleaner and more organized. I amazed what we were able to get Mom to part with, and am equally amazed at what she refuses to get rid of (for example, a manual typewriter with a bad ribbon that she claims she uses for taxes (even though I happen to know Mom hasn't used that typewriter in 15 or 20 years, not to mention the fact that her accountant does her taxes for her) and easily 200 Styrofoam frozen yogurt cups that Mom claims we need for camping (even though we haven't been camping in 25 years and which I know she'll never use)). Oh, well. You pick your battles. She did get rid of a lot of junk, and we have a lot more space now, so it still worked out well.

Anyway, I'm looking forward to going back home to Jonah soon. I've enjoyed my show, but am very ready to close it. I sense that Jonah is kind of done with my being away so much, and I admit that I am kind of done with it, too. I'm not sure what the solution is, but at least I have some time with my husband soon, and we need it.

Friday, September 02, 2011

Help If You Can

I was planning on writing about my adventures flying as I visited Jonah at our home this week. However, that will have to wait. This is more important.

You may or may not be aware that a gay man was attacked and beaten outside of a gay club in Salt Lake City recently. His name is Dane Hall, and the attack was pretty serious. You can read about it here, here, and here.

He now has some very expensive medical bills to deal with. If you can help him out at all, please go to any Zions Bank branch and make a deposit to the "Dane Hall Fund": 1) In person at a local Zions Bank Branch; 2) Via snail mail: Dane Hall Fund c/o Zions Bank, 701 E 400 S, Salt Lake City, UT, 84102; 3) Online through your own bank's Bill Pay Service. Online check, pay to Zions Bank in the name of "Dane Hall Fund." I don't know the guy at all, but no one deserves this. It disheartens me to know that hate is alive and well and taking its toll on the innocent.

Help if you can.