Saturday, April 28, 2012

"A Thousand And One Nights"

When the NBC show "Smash" premiered, it was not my intention to watch it.  "Glee" had already disappointed me, and I had a general boycott against NBC anyway.  You may laugh, but in 2003 NBC cancelled a series I really enjoyed called "Boomtown."


I thought it was inventive, well-written, and original (which is probably why NBC cancelled it).  But they did cancel it while keeping on moronic fare such as "Fear Factor."  I was annoyed.  At the time, I was watching "Friends," "ER," "The West Wing," and "Law and Order," and I decided to finish those shows out, so I guess it wasn't a very good boycott.  But I did vow not to watch any new shows on NBC.

"Friends" ended a year later and "The West Wing" two years after that, and "ER" got stupid towards the end, so pretty soon I was down to just "Law and Order," and that held on for a while, ending in 2009 (and I admit to watching "The Office" on Netflix, so yeah, my boycott sucks.  Sue me!)  Aside from "The Office," I was diligent about not watching any new series on NBC between 2003 and 2010.

When the TV series, "The Event" came on in 2010, it looked intriguing to me, but NBC again canceled a show I really like.


They also brought "Fear Factor" back, and that whole Jay Leno / Conan O'Brien debacle really made me feel that NBC is run by a bunch of idiots, and I put my very ineffective boycott against new series back in place.

I actually was surprised NBC even gave a show like "Smash" the green light and have been even more surprised that it was renewed for a second season.  Jonah actually was the one who started watching "Smash," and I barely paid much attention to it while he watched it.  However, there was something intriguing about it that made me take interest, and I watched the episode again on Netflix a few days later and gave it my full focus.  The irony is that I'm the one watching it regularly while Jonah only watches it in passing.

I actually quite like it, which is another reason I'm very surprised NBC hasn't cancelled it.  It's actually turning out to be what I had hoped "Glee" would be, but never was (for me, at least).  Reviews on the show have been mixed, and I get the impression critics feel like the show is getting progressively less and less good.  I think I heard the head writer has been let go, so perhaps producers are feeling the same.  But I have been enjoying it quite a bit.  I think it's well-written and well-acted; I find the characters to be pretty three-dimensional and the storylines interesting; and for the most part, the songs seem to sprout naturally out of the action, although one or two have felt forced.

I also quite like the original songs that have been created for the show.  The composer is Marc Shaiman, and his partner (both in life and professionally), Scott Wittman, is the lyricist, and I have been a fan of their work.  Shaiman and Wittman are probably best known for their work on the musical Hairspray, for which they won a well-deserved Tony for Best Score.  This is "You Can't Stop the Beat" (with Matthew Morrison as Link (in white) for all you "Glee" fans.

I actually remember Shaiman as the pianist and arranger of the songs for the Sweeney Sisters (played by Nora Dunn and Jan Hooks) on "Saturday Night Live" in the 80s,

but Shaiman has also composed and arranged music for many movies, including When Harry Met Sally, Sister Act, Beaches, Misery, A Few Good Men, and Southpark: Bigger, Longer, and Uncut, among others.  I especially enjoyed this unique arrangement of the popular 60s song "I Will Follow Him" in Sister Act:

This number, "Here's to Love" (by both Shaiman and Wittman) from the movie Down with Love, performed by Ewan McGregor and Renee Zellweger, is a really fun tribute to 60s variety show numbers.  Shaiman and Wittman both have cameos in this video (Shaiman as the pianist and Wittman as the bartender):

And during the whole Prop 8 hoopla, Shaiman conceived and composed Prop 8: The Musical, which went viral at the time and starred such celebrities as John C. Reilly, Maya Rudolph, Andy Richter, Allison Janney, Jack Black, and Neil Patrick Harris, among others:

I think Shaiman and Wittman are very good at pastiche (numbers that imitate or pay homage to familiar styles of music).  This number, "A Thousand and One Nights" was on last Monday's episode, and I think I've watched it about ten times now.  I don't know what it is that has me so riveted and entertained, but I find it very infectious:

The number is a dream sequence, which isn't really "Smash"'s norm.  I think the number is quite fun as a stand alone number, but if you know the characters in the show, the number is more meaningful.  For example, one of my favorite parts is at the 1:38-1:39 mark when the character Ellis steals a necklace.  If you don't know the character, the moment doesn't mean much, but knowing the character, that moment is really good at pinpointing who Ellis is.  Likewise, the moments at 2:15 and 2:20 are good at summing up those characters' situations in a nutshell.

The male lead singer in the number is Raza Jaffrey, who plays Dev on the show, and maybe that's another reason I found this number refreshing.  "Smash" is basically about a bunch of theatre people trying to mount a show about Marilyn Monroe on Broadway, and the character of Dev is the boyfriend of one of the actresses in the Marilyn show and is not involved in the theatre except through her, so we never see him sing or dance (until this dream sequence, that is).

Evidently, Raza Jaffrey is quite a dancer, so it was nice to see him putting that talent to use.  Likewise, another of my favorite moments in the video comes at the 2:41-2:42 mark when we see Joshua Bergasse (Josh), Brian D'Arcy James (Frank), and Debra Messing (Julia) singing and dancing.  Like Dev, Josh and Frank are only involved in the theatre through Julia, who is the show's lyricist and book writer, so we never get to see them perform (or Julia, really, for that matter), and so it's fun to see them singing and dancing.  Joshua Bergasse actually looks like he is having a lot of fun in that moment, and that's nice to see.  It's also fun to see Angelica Huston getting her groove on at the 2:59 mark, too.

As I said, the number is a dream sequence dealing somewhat with the relationship issues of Dev and his girlfriend, Karen (played by Katharine McPhee; I never saw her when she was on "American Idol," but I have been quite impressed by her singing, dancing, and acting).

I assume because Dev comes from an Indian background and because the two are dining in an Indian restaurant when Karen has this "daydream," that is why they chose a kind of Bollywood influence.

I actually read a somewhat irate blogger's comments on this number when I was looking for a copy of the video.  Apparently the blogger was complaining because they felt the creator of the number was very ignorant about Bollywood picturization and felt it was a lazy interpretation of the Bollywood style.  They also felt it was campy and used Arabic imagery that was inappropriate to the Bollywood style.  The blogger obviously knows much more about Bollywood than I do, and her points may be perfectly valid.  Not knowing anything, really, about Bollywood and not having anything invested in that style, I can't really comment on that.

I can only comment on the fact that I enjoyed the song itself, the choreography, and I liked how the characters' stories were incorporated into.  There is a style in Indian-inspired dance that I quite enjoy.  I remember when I saw the ending credits of the movie Slumdog Millionaire, I really enjoyed that style of dancing, and I see that same style here.

I just liked the number because it was fun and catchy, and I love watching good dancing and singing, and I felt those were in evidence here.  I love when the song kind of climaxes at 2:33, and I like what I call the "sprinkler move" at 2:48.

Anyway, I've watched the video numerous times, and I love it.  It's been my favorite number in the "Smash" season so far, although "Let Me Be Your Star" (no video available, but here's the song) is a close second:

I plan on buying the "Smash" album off of iTunes once it's fully available.  I like the songs enough, and I'd rather pay a lower price for the whole album once the season ends rather that $1.29 a tune.  Anyway, I thought I'd share "A Thousand and One Nights" with you if you haven't seen it.  I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

Monday, April 23, 2012

New Perspectives On Dementia

After the events in this post happened, a friend recommended I read the book Dancing with Rose by Lauren Kessler.  While the book is more about Alzheimer's Disease rather than dementia, there was still some practical advice in there that I think I will find useful in dealing with my own mother's issues.

The book deals with Ms. Kessler's progressing attitudes about Alzheimer's while working in an assisted living center and how she uses her new attitudes to atone for how she unsuccessfully dealt with her own Alzheimer's-ridden mother years before.

I thought the book was well-written and quite an easy read, although some of the subject matter was painful as I hoped I wouldn't have to deal with some of the things one deals with with an Alzheimer's patient.  At this point, there is no sign that Mom has Alzheimer's, and I hope it stays that way.  But that doesn't make her dementia issues any less difficult to deal with.

What the book did for me, though, was alter my perspective, and I think that will serve me in the long run.  I highlighted a bunch of things I found useful, and I share them here:

" At [the beginning stages of Alzheimer's] - the memory loss, slight confusion, something's-not-quite-right stage - people often cover up the symptoms or learn to compensate, and...refuse to see the signs."

This was certainly me.  Although I knew Mom was having problems, I kept trying to dismiss or rationalize them.  I think a lot of people do.

"There are some problems finding just the right word, a decreasing interest in the world, some indifference to the normal courtesies of adult life....Retention and recall suffers.  Normal routines are forgotten...Modesty disappears."

"Alzheimer's manifests itself differently in every person and progresses at very different speeds."

"When [my mother] clenched her teeth against a spoon or fork or straw [when I was trying to feed her], I took it personally.  She was rejecting my help.  She was rejecting my love.  She was rejecting me.  Why did I think that what she did was all about me?"

I'm also learning that if Mom gets upset with me for trying to help her, I just have to remember that it's not personal.  Learning to just let any irritability or anger roll off of me makes it a lot easier to deal with.  Mom may be more upset with her own condition than with my trying to help her deal with it.

"The residents depend on me.  Their world is very small now...and I am in charge of it all.  What is left to them is the warm, dry clothes I dress them in, the cup of coffee I offer, the tape of I Love Lucy I put in the VCR, the hug as I pass by to do another chore.  What is left, because it is so little, takes on great significance."

I'm trying to concentrate on the small and simple things I can do for Mom.  Yeah, maybe her not being able drive or her inability to remember words or to do things she's supposed to do is frustrating to both her and me, but the hug I can give her or the Scrabble game I can play with her and my ability to help her with something she is no longer able to do herself is invaluable because it actually means more now.

"Then I had a brainstorm.  Maybe I could break through and communicate with her if we were in the same moment, her moment."

This was a big "a-ha" moment for me.  The quote refers to a woman the author was dealing with who thought she was a student in school rather than the old lady she really was.  The author realized that if she tried to connect with the patient in that moment - that reality - rather than trying to convince her of the actual reality as the author saw it made it much more easy to connect with the patient and communicate with her.

Rather than trying to correct Mom or contradict her, I try to still help her but in the reality she sees.  It's more important for me to help her than to be "right," I'm learning.

"The more frustrated I become, the more agitated she becomes.

"At the Alzheimer's conference I went to, the experts talked about this.  They think that those with the disease might develop a hypersensitivity to the emotional state of those around them, a kind of elevated emotional intuition to compensate for their diminished cognitive skills.  That means that at least sometimes those scary unwanted behaviors - agitation, violence, verbal abuse - are actually a reflection of the fear and agitation of the caregiver."

I really think this is true.  The more calm and gentle I am with Mom, the more calm and gentle she is with me.  If I get agitated or frustrated or upset, I do think she senses that and feeds off of it.  It's so much easier to deal with her issues if I let go of my own negative baggage.

"...I did know that Alzheimer's often removed or muffled inhibitions, and that thus free from constraint, a person might say or act in a way that seemed inappropriate or even bizarre."

"Susan says - and I believe - that the elderly, sick or healthy, crave human touch."

"Touch is vital when dealing with folks who may have limited understanding of words."

This was an interesting one to me.  I knew Mom got lonely, and although we are a very touchy-huggy family, it hasn't really occurred to me how much a hug or a caress or kiss might mean.  I think I should perhaps double my efforts on that front.

"After months of reality orientation, I managed to accomplish only two things: I made myself miserable, and I made my mother irritable.  I see relatives do this every day at Maplewood - disagree, contradict, correct, challenge.

"I know they mean well, just as I meant well.  I know they think they're helping.  But they're not.  They are actually doing harm.  A Cleveland social worker by the name of Naomi Feil noticed that repeatedly correcting those with Alzheimer's made them withdrawn or hostile.  Not surprisingly, they sometimes become combative - no one likes to be contradicted all the time - or paranoid - why is everyone always saying I'm wrong? - or simply stressed.

"Suppose, Feil thought, caregivers (family members or professionals) adjusted to the person with Alzheimer's rather than trying to force the person to adjust to them?  Suppose caregivers tuned in to the reality being lived by the person with Alzheimer's rather than trying to force another reality upon them?"

"And so, you go where that person is going.  You don't challenge or contradict or correct.  You listen.  You respond in a way that encourages conversation.  Feil's validation therapy is practical, sensitive, intuitive - and mind-bending.  When you practice it, you are not only keeping stress levels down and opening channels of communication.  You are not only respecting the dignity of the other person.  You are actually being forced to consider that a person with Alzheimer's might be doing important life work right in front of you."

Again, this goes back to suppressing the temptation to correct or contradict my mom.  I'm realizing more and more that it is far less important to fight my mother when I know she is mistaken and far more important to just help her, even if it means giving in to her reality.

"This is a woman who graduated from college in 1948, a woman who figured out how to be a feminist while Betty Friedan was still working it out.  Does it matter, really, that she forgets when lunch will be served?"

The above quote is about a well-educated patient the author dealt with.  She did many great things before succumbing to Alzheimer's.  I love the statement that, with all the woman had done and been in her life, was it really that important that she could no longer remember when lunch was served?  Are the things my mom forgets and mis-remembers really all that important in the long run with all that she has done and been and still is in her life?  I'm beginning to realize they aren't.

"What I see, what I've experienced, is old people, healthy and sick, living solitary, silent lives; old people made to feel as if they need to apologize for being old, for clogging up the works, for showing us the future we don't want to see."

This was a great one.  For so much of this process, I've sometimes thought selfishly about how it is affecting me or inconveniencing me and wishing Mom could just be the way she was.  But I realize it's probably more about not only seeing my mother become somebody different, but about how it makes me think about my own mortality and my future as an elderly person.  I felt the same way about my dad.

"It certainly shows me that the family treats them with respect, that the family sees the person and not just the disease.  It shows me that the family has not given up."

I do need to be reminded to see Mom as a person and not a disease because, well, she is.

"I have long understood that reality is subjective..."

"When I allow myself to accept those other realities...I begin to experience a paradigm shift.  It is a shift away from disease, disability, and dementia, and toward 'personhood.' ...that 'the person comes first,' that attention to personhood rather than pathology could, and should, revolutionize Alzheimer's care."

This was a big one for me, too. Mom's reality, even though it sometimes contradicts my own, doesn't make it any less real to her, and who's to say I'm right about what is real and what isn't? It reminds me of the musical Man of La Mancha, where everyone around him thinks that Don Quixote is crazy, but in his idealized reality, who, really are the crazy ones?  And some people even succumb to his reality because it is a better one, in their opinion.

"We are so focused on words..., on the act of talking, that we have forgotten how to communicate without them.  More than that, we think there is no communication without words - which, of course, means that we believe we can't communicate with those who, in the later throes of Alzheimer's, have lost most of their language."

I'm a big "word" person, and I do often catch myself thinking words are the only way to effectively communicate, but, of course, I know that is not true.  Mom's not yet in a place where she can't communicate using words, but she does forget words.  I need to remember that there are, indeed, other ways to communicate.

"If we take over the task for [the Alzheimer's patients], we take away their independence.  If we remind them too insistently, we erode their self-confidence.  So we cue them with a gentle prompt, the subtext of which is you probably would remember this anyway, but... It's the way you'd remind your spouse to pick up a quart of milk on the way home.  It's all in the tone of voice, in the offhand manner, subtleties that are absolutely not lost on these residents."

This is a good one, too.  I have negative trait in that I often try to take over duties because otherwise I'm afraid they won't get done correctly.  It is hard at times, but I try very hard not to micromanage my mom.  I do try to gently remind her in a way that suggests it's something she would have done herself anyway.  I try to let her have as much independence as she can for as long as she is able.  I think it's important for her self-esteem and self-worth.  Yes, it sometimes would be easier to pay her bills myself or such, but she is still able to do it, and really, is it more important to have convenience or to have a mother who still feels she has a purpose?

"...I close my eyes and let her lead."

I have to learn to trust my mom more.  Her judgment may be impaired at times, but she is still capable of so much, and I need to stop sweating the small stuff.

"Not to conflate the beginning of life with the end, but babies confront similar challenges to those faced by people with Alzheimer's.  Thrust into a world they do not understand, surrounded by strangers who make noises they cannot comprehend, awash in alien sights and smells, babies have a lot to handle.  The world must seem to them much like the world appears to a person with Alzheimer's.

"...I bet it also makes a difference, maybe a huge difference, that babies, unlike the elderly, are constantly hugged and held and stroked and smiled at.  We do a lot of touching at Maplewood.  Susan believes every person needs to be hugged every day and that some of our residents may not have felt the comfort of human touch for years.  Still, the pat on the shoulder or squeeze on the arm or peck on the cheek cannot compare to the enveloping, nurturing world many infants are lucky enough to experience."

Again, this illustrates the importance of touch, and I want to stress that this does NOT mean we treat the elderly like children.

"'You can't hold on to them forever,' she says. 'Everything can't stay the same.'"

Part of life is getting older.  People change - physically, emotionally, mentally.  It's just the cycle of life.  We spend so much time fighting it when it would be better to just accept what we can't control or change.

"It must be the nowness of this disease that, in stealing the past and obscuring the future, forces us, the healthy and the ill, to stay in the moment."

As an actor, I am always supposed to be staying in the moment.  It makes for much more believable and realistic acting.  Mom sometimes lives in whatever moment she happens to be in.  I should appreciate the moment rather than worrying about the future or dwelling on the past.  That's good advice for life, in general, I think.

"...the essence of a person is their heart, isn't it?"

"When we lose our mind (our memories, our coherent thoughts) do we lose our humanity?  If we keep our 'heart' (our emotions, our connected-ness) do we remain, in essence, who we always were?"

Again, Mom is not a disease; she is a person, and even though who she was does not always correlate with who she seems to be now does not change the fact that she is, in fact, the same person she's always been at heart.

"...part of me has come to think of Alzheimer's, despite its obvious horrors, as a disease of freedom.  It's not just memory that one loses.  It is inhibition.  It is pretense.  The thin layer of civility that forces us healthy people to operate with equanimity even when we are tired or crabby or don't like someone or just want to be left alone - that's gone, too.  What remains is some unvarnished, unprotected self, maybe the self a person would have been had culture and society, gender and class, manners and mores not overlaid it.  The buried self, the unlived self."

"Alzheimer's is a detaching disease.  It detaches people from their memories, their selves.  We can look at that as tragic and awful or we can change the frame.  ...Consider Zen..., which is all about clearing your mind, detaching from your thoughts, grounding yourself in the moment.  ...Well, that's Alzheimer's."

I like these quotes.  It helps me see the disease of dementia from a different, more positive, perspective, much in the same way I learned to see my dad's physical disabilities in a positive light.

"They just have their own way.  It's like they're living at a different speed."

"You can choose instead to see the pleasure they are experiencing right now, at this moment."

We can lament who our parents were when they were healthy.  We can worry about what they will become as the disease progresses.  Or we can see what they are enjoying now and be grateful for the joys we share with them now, in this moment.

Anyway, it was a good book.  I, too, recommend it for anyone who is dealing with dementia or Alzheimer's in their lives.  It's a good perspective-alterer.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

The Other Guy: Letting Go Of Anger

A trait I feel I have been blessed with is my ability to not hang on to anger and not hold grudges. This doesn't mean I don't get angry (I do) or feel tempted to bear grudges (I am) nor does it mean that I haven't held grudges in my life (I have). As I get older, though, I find I am better about not holding on to anger and that I get over angry feelings relatively quickly. I'm glad this is a trait I possess. It sometimes makes life easier to deal with, especially when bad or painful situations are tossed my way.
I hope my saying that I feel I have this trait doesn't sound boastful. I truly do not mean it that way. I am just grateful it seems to be a gift God has blessed me with. Believe you me, there are other things I am not so good at, so I'm grateful for the positive traits I feel I do have.

Faithful readers of my blog may remember this post from a few months ago when I talked about trying to find the positive after some vandal randomly chose to break my car windshield. It was a senseless act and one which I was not too happy to experience, but I moved on from it pretty quickly.

While at work on Friday, I received a call from my mom. She called my actual work, which is unusual, so I knew it must be an emergency. I figured it must be something dementia-related, but it wasn't. She let me know that the Utah Transit Authority Police had called her because my car, which was left parked at the Murray-Fashion Place TRAX station (part of the Salt Lake Valley's public transportation system) had been broken into. Mom wasn't too clear on all the details, but it sounded like someone had smashed my window and possibly stolen some stuff.

I spent the last hour of rehearsal for my show worrying about my car and wondering what the thief or thieves could possibly have wanted to steal out of my car. Aside from some home-burned CDs, a broken iPod radio receiver, an out-of-date GPS, my car stereo system, and a snow brush, there really wasn't much to steal. And aside from the snow brush and the radio, none of those were in plain sight.

After calling the Utah Transit Authority Police office to let them know I was on my way, I was told a policeman would be there to take my report and to confirm with me whether anything had indeed been stolen. Once I got to the station, I checked my car. Someone had tried to pry the rear driver's side window open and ended up completely shattering it. There was glass everywhere and in places I wouldn't have expected it to go. For example, glass shards ended up in the crack where my trunk door hinges. A few pieces were on the driver's seat and in the window well of the back windshield. Most, of course, was all over the back seat and on the floor. It was a mess.

Much to my surprise, nothing was stolen. My stereo, my outdated GPS, my piece-of-crap iPod receiver, which I keep intending to throw away but never remember to, my homemade CDs, my snow brush, and all the papers in my glove box were accounted for. The policeman, who was in the vicinity, but whom I hadn't seen, told me he was sorry and asked if anything was stolen. I told him it didn't appear so. As I suspected, they had no leads. The theory is that the thief (or thieves) tried to wedge my rear window open with the intent of robbing me, but when the window shattered, possibly they freaked out and left. My guess is that they were after the GPS because the box it came in was under the driver's seat and perhaps they saw that. That didn't get stolen, either. I almost wish it had. That would have been a nice joke on them (as would the iPod radio adaptor).

While I was grateful they didn't steal anything, I almost wish they had just to make the broken window seem worth the trouble. Instead, like my last windshield breakage, it just seemed so pointless. Couldn't they have saved a step and not broken the window at all? Truly, the only thing they could have stolen that would have been annoying would be the GPS because I do use it a lot. But I also need a more up-to-date one, so even that wouldn't have been an irreplaceable loss.

Unlike the last time my car window was broken, I had a harder time letting go of my anger this time. I was angry. Angry at the inconvenience of getting my car repaired; angry at the cost of it at a time when I feel like I'm finally just getting back on top of my finances again; angry that the incident had caused my mom so much worry; angry that in an area that is usually so well-patrolled by the police, somehow this person (or these persons) could break into my car in broad daylight in an area that was highly visible; angry that of all the cars in the lot, mine and mine alone was the one they chose to damage; angry that the thief or thieves caused me to doubt my faith in humanity and in the innate goodness of man; angry that people must be so dishonest and selfish; etc.

My first thought was "I hope the jerk that did this gets what's coming to them." However, as time allowed me to cool down, I actually feel sorry for the thief. I'm sorry they are in a position in life where they feel their best option is to steal and/or damage another person's property. And I'm sorry the values they have been instilled with make them think that such behavior is okay.

I wondered if the perpetrator felt any remorse for his or her actions or if they ever will. Do they ever think about the consequences? Do they just feel a momentary rush from damaging someone's property or stealing someone's stuff and never think about it again? Or do they consider the damage they've caused; the sense of security they have stolen; the mess they have made; the cost and inconvenience they have caused the victim? I'd like to believe they do, but I suspect they don't.

In my prayers Friday night I only asked that the person who did this would feel remorse for their actions; not because I want God to punish them with bad feelings, but only because I would hope whatever situation they find themselves in that makes them desperate enough to break into another person's car, that they realize that that isn't the best solution and is ultimately more damaging to their soul than it is to me. I asked God to help them find a better way to get what they want; that if they're involved in something that is destructive to their well-being (for example, drugs or a gang or a life of crime), that they could find a way out; that they could know that Heavenly Father loves them and feel His love; that they know that this type of behavior will not help them be happy.

It was interesting; as I tried to let go of my selfish concerns - how much this was going to cost, when I would find time to repair this, what I would do for transportation the next day, etc. - and put my concern on the perpetrator, my anger dissipated. The fact is, this would-be thief is a person. It's so easy to see a thief or a vandal in the abstract and automatically endow them with negative qualities. It's true that this person may just be a horrible person, but it's equally likely that they are a lost and desperate soul at their wit's end. They could be struggling with issues that I can't even comprehend. That doesn't make what they did right or excusable, but I find it easier to forgive them if I endow them with sympathetic qualities. The fact is, I don't know who this person (or people) is (or are) or what cards life has dealt them that would put them in a position where they think breaking into another person's car is necessary or the only option at their disposal, nor do I think I will ever know in this lifetime. And really, I'm out $120 or so and perhaps some lost time and convenience; my perpetrator is dealing with soul-damaging consequences, whether he or she even realizes it yet. So, really, who's worse off, me or them?  I just hope whoever did this can find a better way to go through life than stealing and damaging other people's stuff.

The good news is nothing was stolen; the mess is cleaned up; my window frame is not so damaged that Technaglass can't repair it along with the broken window (which they are doing tomorrow during a time when I actually don't have to be to work, so that worked out well); the repair should only take an hour; the repair is estimated at $117, which is lower than I thought it would be, and even though it wasn't what I was planning on using my money for, the fact is I DO have the money to cover it (as well as a generous mother who offered to pay for it); and I have a $25-off coupon, so that will help a bit, too. So I'm in good shape and very blessed. It's the other guy - the vandal and would-be thief - I worry about.  After all, I'd rather have a shattered window than a shattered soul.

It's all about perspective, which I've discussed before in this blog. Actually, I'm also gaining new perspectives on my mom's dementia issues as well, which I hope to write about soon. Perspective and attitude are great keys to happiness, in my opinion. So is letting go of all the negative stuff.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

MTC Memories

I'm not sure why this has even been on my mind lately, but recently I was thinking about my time in the Missionary Training Center when I was a missionary.

I actually quite enjoyed the MTC, although I did get a little stir crazy towards the end. I was there for 2 months, and although I found much of it very spiritual, I did start to feel like a caged rat by the end.

It helped that I really wanted to serve a mission at the time that I went. I knew why I was there and wanted to be there and felt like I was soaking everything up that the MTC had to offer, so that was nice.

One thing I remember about the MTC was so how calm and peaceful it felt at times. I think a reverent attitude is kind of cultivated at the MTC. Yeah, you have many instances of "boys will be boys" letting off steam and fooling around, but I just remember a very calm, quiet spirit at the MTC. I remember walking from our dorm, for example, to the building that housed our classroom, and I remember especially in the evening it just felt very still and calming. There was definitely a spirit there that was pleasant to me.

I remember all the classes and lectures and training we attended, and many times it was very rewarding spiritually. I remember one time, in particular, when an Elder was asked to take on the persona of Joseph Smith, and the other missionaries in my district of 10 could ask him questions, and he would answer as he believed Joseph Smith would answer. I remember it distinctly because this Elder was not always the most well-behaved, reverent individual (although he was a good guy and turned out to be a good missionary), but in that exercise he became very serious and it almost felt like Joseph Smith had somehow rested his mantle on that Elder for those few minutes. And I remember the spirit I felt, and I remember just believing so strongly that what Joseph claimed he saw and did was true.

I remember when our teachers would be merciful and let us leave the classroom for a bit and take a chaperoned walk around the MTC campus. That was so wonderful, especially during those times when we were feeling like caged animals.

I remember a great lesson a Sister taught us about looking for Christ in everything around us, and we went outside and tried to find testimonies of Christ in nature, in architecture, in people, etc., and it was something that really stuck with me and something I try to experiment with even to this day.

I remember a particular P-Day when all the other elders were playing football or Frisbee or something on the lawn across from the MTC, and I was sitting on the lawn feeling the cool breeze, and I had my earphones on, and the primary song "My Heavenly Father Loves Me (Whenever I Hear the Song of a Bird)" was being sung by a child, and I just felt so close to heaven in that moment.

I remember being terrified after having spent weeks speaking French and finally feeling like I was understanding it well and then watching a French-dubbed version of Together Forever , and I couldn't understand a word. It freaked me out.

I remember being so excited when it came close to our time to depart (as I'd been excited when I arrived and later said goodbye to my family). Scared, too, but more excited than anything. After all the training, we'd finally get a chance to put it to good use.

I remember liking the very rare times I actually got to leave the MTC. One time was to leave to take care of some passport issues, and another time was when my companion had to have his eyes checked, I think. The mall never looked so welcome.

I remember one other spiritual experience I had at the MTC that has really stuck with me (and which was echoed a few years later when my younger sister went through the temple in preparation for her own mission). Marvin J. Ashton, who was an apostle at the time I served my mission, came to speak to us and was the highest-ranking general authority who spoke to us while I was at the MTC. I do not remember anything he said (though I probably have it written in my journal), but what I do remember is this: when Elder Ashton entered the room, my back was to him. There was no audible sound from the missionaries behind me when he entered the room, but I felt a strong spiritual presence and knew somebody filled with the Spirit had entered the room before my conscious mind knew it.

I might think it was some sort of fluke if the exact same thing hadn't happened when my sister went through the Salt Lake Temple. Elder Richard G. Scott joined our session and entered from behind me, and I felt that same spiritual rush before being consciously aware that he was in the room. No matter what I may sometimes think of the Church and some of its policies, I can't deny that I felt something unique and spiritual when I encountered those two apostles. They were full of a spiritual energy that I can't quite describe, and I felt it.

On the other hand, I once made a malt for Thomas S. Monson when he was a member of the Quorum of the Twelve and I worked at a local ice cream parlor in Salt Lake. While I found Elder Monson and his wife both pleasant and kind, I did not feel that same energy. Of course, I was also not in a very receptive place in my life at the time, and maybe that feeling only comes to me when I'm in a more spiritual environment.

Anyway, those are some positives I remember from my time in the MTC. There were things I didn't like about the MTC, too.

I didn't enjoy the conformity of the MTC and of mission-life in general. I found that neckties seemed to be one way I could express my individuality in an environment that did not always encourage it. I remember a particular Elder in my district criticizing my tie because he thought it was too flashy and flamboyant for a missionary to wear. Always being a non-conformist and finding the Elder a bit self-righteous, I was angered by his words and in a fit of rebellion tried to wear my most outlandish ties just to annoy him.

I remember that even though I enjoyed the food at the MTC, it didn't always enjoy me. It made for a lot of bloating and gas, as I'm sure other returned missionaries would attest.

I hated getting up early. Still do. In my entire two years as a missionary I never got used to getting up so early.

I found all the rules and the strict environment necessary, but no less annoying. I kind of like to play by my own rulebook sometimes, so that was challenging, but I tried to be obedient.

I was not a fan of the MTC showers. Being body self-conscious and not wanting to be tempted to look at things I shouldn't look at were not made easy by the MTC showers. I was lucky in a way. Our showers looked like this:

No doors or curtains to hide behind, but at least they were stalls and were private enough to not feel so self-conscious or feed the temptation to sneak a peek at another naked elder. When I would do Celestial Service (read: free labor) in other dorms, I was so thankful I hadn't been assigned to a floor with the more common showers: communal showers which looked more like this:

While my homosexual attractions were more "in check" at that time, the last thing this gay boy needed was to be showering with a bunch of other naked boys. I'm sure the MTC probably designed these showers because they are easier to clean, possibly save more water, and deter masturbation, but to me they just seemed like a breeding ground for inappropriate thoughts. I was glad I had my stall and that I could put my towel on the overhanging towel bar and create a sort of "door" that would shield others from me and me from others. In the long run, I think it was more healthy for me at the time.

I remember not taking much of a shine to the Missionary Guide. I tried to use it faithfully, but I had problems with it. Role-plays are the ideal, but real life isn't always so neat and tidy.

The routine of the MTC also was difficult for me. I do not like to get stuck in routines and get bored very easily and need to be constantly challenged. I did not find the MTC conducive to that.

But in spite of any drawbacks, I really enjoyed my time at the MTC and found it a good place for training me to do what was required as a missionary and it also instilled a lot of growth and spirituality in me. I have few complaints.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Getting To Know Our Father In Heaven (Happy Are We?)

Church was pretty good yesterday. I was surprised because the high council was speaking, and typically high council speakers are not the best.

Sacrament Meeting starts at 9:00 AM in my mom's ward now, so that means getting up an hour earlier than I used to, and for this night owl that is a challenge.

The topic the high council were assigned was "Christian Courage: Standing Up for What You Believe." I was on the defense because with all the talk about religious freedom and gay rights and such, that could have easily entered into either talk, but happily it didn't.

The primary theme of the first talk was more or less now that Mitt Romney's almost certainty of becoming the Republican candidate for president, Mormons and Mormonism will be scrutinized even more, and we have to be willing to own our Mormon beliefs and not apologize for them or sidestep them. We have to stand up for what we claim to believe.

The second talk kind of echoed similar sentiments, and the speaker used a story about how when President Monson was young and in the military, a commanding officer was telling the Jewish, Catholic, and Protestant soldiers where to go. Because President Monson didn't feel he fit any of those categories, he remained and thought he was alone and therefore felt uncomfortable. It was only when the commanding officer said something like, "And what do you all call yourselves?" that President Monson realized there was a group of Mormon soldiers standing behind him. It was a good lesson to him that even when you feel alone standing up for yourself, there are always others standing behind you, even if you don't realize it.

I actually thought both talks were well-delivered. But what I really enjoyed was Sunday School. The old teacher was released just before I left to go back home to Jonah. I really enjoyed his lessons. But the new teacher is a good friend of mine, and someone who I really connect with. I knew she'd be an equally good teacher, and I was right.

When I found out the lesson was going to be on the allegory of the olive tree in Jacob 5, I wasn't really excited, but my friend made the lesson interesting and relevant. She had me draw a picture of an olive tree. I'm not a master artist or anything, but apparently I'm a better drawer than my friend is, and I can draw somewhat. In any case, several people thought I'd done a good job.

We talked about the symbols in the allegory and what they mean, but my friend really focused on Christ and his atonement. One thing that struck me was that she said in the story the Lord doesn't just command the workers to labor in the vineyard and then leave them to do so. He labors with them. He goes into the "trenches," so to speak, with them and works side by side with them. I like that image. It actually relates to something else I've wanted to talk about in my blog.

I don't take the Ensign myself, but I do try to read it when I have the opportunity to do so. Having been away with Jonah for the last three months, I haven't been reading the Ensign, so when I came back to Utah, I decided to catch up on reading the past few issues because my mom does subscribe to the magazine.

I was reading the February issue and came across the First Presidency Message by Henry B. Eyring and several things really seemed to resonate with me.

He said when he prayed as a kid he pictured his Heavenly Father as being far away, but now he pictures Him as being close by. I had never really considered that. I pray all the time, and although Heavenly Father appears in my mind as a familiar, relatable, and grandfatherly figure (albeit a Colonel Sanders-esque figure), I still have always kind of talked to Him as though He is somewhere distant. I mean, I talk to him in an intimate way, but always seem to think of Him as being out in the void somewhere.

I like what Eyring says. I like the idea that He is very close to us, perhaps right by our side holding us in His arms or sitting across from us.

I am learning more and more that the image of God that we're sometimes given in various religions does not ring true in my heart. Yes, Heavenly Father is an all-powerful, all-knowing, immortal being, and that sometimes can make Him seem unrelatable or distant. But it's really been imprinted on my heart that Heavenly Father is our Father. He is our Parent, and like an ideal parent, He wants what's best for us and tries to help us grow up to be like Him, but at the same time He is very forgiving, willing to let us make and learn from our own mistakes without judgment, and loves us no matter what.

Even though the Old Testament God sometimes makes Him appear so, I do not see God as an angry, wrathful, punishing God or as someone who's ready to smite us if we fail; I see Him as Being who feels deeply for His children, knows each of their hearts, and loves and supports them no matter what. I think He is sad when we make choices that He knows will make us unhappy, but like a good parent, He still loves us and cares for us.

When I read the Prodigal Son, that father is very much as I think Heavenly Father is. He loves both sons equally, and even if the prodigal son hadn't come back, the father loved him just as much when he was gone as when he returned. There was no judgment or spite on his part. He was just glad his son was home.

President Eyring give Joseph Smith's account in the sacred grove as an example of who God is (and I found it interesting that I must have recited that account numerous times in French when I was on my mission because when I read it in English, I could remember it almost verbatim in French. It's funny what sticks with you.).

He called Joseph by name. He introduced Jesus as His "Beloved Son." In later scriptures like D&C 100:1 He calls Joseph and Sydney Rigdon his "friends." And isn't it interesting that Sydney later apostatized (and God, in His infinite knowledge, surely knew that he one day would), yet He still afforded him the title "friend"?

In the same issue there is a story about a woman who realized that with God we are never alone. Believe me, I know that when we are in the thick of things it is hard to believe that sometimes. I have waged my own battles in life where it felt like God had completely abandoned me. But He hasn't. He never does. Whether we believe it or not, whether we feel it or not, our Father is always with us.

Two quotes that were in this issue of the Ensign were by Dieter F. Uchtdorf. They were both taken from a General Conference address and I have included the two combined (plus a bit more) here:

"Think of the purest, most all-consuming love you can imagine. Now multiply that love by an infinite amount — that is the measure of God’s love for you.

"God does not look on the outward appearance. I believe that He doesn’t care one bit if we live in a castle or a cottage, if we are handsome or homely, if we are famous or forgotten. Though we are incomplete, God loves us completely. Though we are imperfect, He loves us perfectly. Though we may feel lost and without compass, God’s love encompasses us completely.

"He loves us because He is filled with an infinite measure of holy, pure, and indescribable love. We are important to God not because of our résumé but because we are His children. He loves every one of us, even those who are flawed, rejected, awkward, sorrowful, or broken. God’s love is so great that He loves even the proud, the selfish, the arrogant, and the wicked.

"What this means is that, regardless of our current state, there is hope for us. No matter our distress, no matter our sorrow, no matter our mistakes, our infinitely compassionate Heavenly Father desires that we draw near to Him so that He can draw near to us."

I really felt the truth of these words as I read them, and my own experiences have validated that truth. I think religions sometimes put conditions on God, but I am convinced that our Heavenly Father and His love for us do not fit in the confines that religions sometime attach to Him.

Continuing with my friend's Sunday School lesson, as she focused on God's love and the Savior's atonement, she made reference to a hymn we had just sung in Sacrament Meeting: "We Are All Enlisted," and she pointed out the lyrics, "Happy are we, happy are we," and she asked us, "Are we?"

With a gospel that supposedly has the greatest truths known and which teaches us that "men are, that they might have joy," why do so many Mormons seem to worship in such a lackluster way in our Sacrament Meetings? Why when we sing our hymns do we sound like we're singing a funeral dirge? One lady commented that when she worked for the Church, so many of its employees seemed to come to work without a smile on their faces. Another brother, who still works for the Church, said, "Well, let's not forget, it is still a corporation." And it hit me: we often treat our meetings like...well, meetings. The LDS Church in some instances seems more like a business to me than communal, spiritual place to worship our Father.

I was watching an episode of the sitcom, "The Middle" the other day. In this particular episode the main character and her family go to their regular church where the pastor is very dry, and the main character and her family are bored. Then a black friend invites them to his church, which is filled with lively singing and a rousing sermon and "Hallelujahs!" and "Amens!" Even though the main character and her family end up deciding the familiarity and comfort of their normal religion is what works best for them, in that moment when they go to this lively and energetic church service, a whole new world opens up for them.

Now I'm not saying the LDS Church needs to be like a Baptist revival or that church is supposed to entertain us; but I do wonder (and have wondered for many years) why the church that has the restored gospel and is the Lord's established church on earth must be so dry and uninspiring at times. And I know it's not that way everywhere. My friend says his ward in Tonga is quite lively. So why do ours here sometimes feel like a board meeting where the speakers would rather be having a root canal than giving the talk they've been assigned? Why do we go through the motions when we're singing our hymns as if we're half-asleep? And what effect does that have on people who are investigating the Church? If we're not doing things to invite and cultivate the Spirit, how do we expect those who are exploring the Church to feel it?

One last thought: one of the verses we read in Jacob 5 was verse 4, which says,

"And it came to pass that the master of the vineyard went forth, and he saw that his olive tree began to decay; and he said: I will prune it, and dig about it, and nourish it, that perhaps it may shoot forth young and tender branches, and it perish not."

While this verse isn't necessarily to be interpreted as such, it occurred to me that it is the young generation that will revitalize the LDS Church. I'm not saying that the old guard is causing the Church to "decay." I'm just saying it will be interesting to see what happens to the LDS Church as the younger generation is called into leadership positions.

PS. As I was finishing up this post a sister in the ward called me. She was so impressed by my olive tree drawing, she wants me to draw a caricature of the following scripture from Jarom: "Behold, it is expedient that much should be done among this people, because of the hardness of their hearts, and the deafness of their ears, and the blindness of their minds, and the stiffness of their necks; nevertheless, God is exceedingly merciful unto them, and has not as yet swept them off from the face of the land."

I'm thinking of drawing a Lamanite with a stone heart wearing a neck brace, sunglasses, and ear muffs. It's supposed to be a funny caricature. Anyway, that's my starting point. I may ask Jonah and my niece for suggestions, too. They're both a bit more artistic than me.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Killing With Kindness

I like to get my taxes done early. When it comes to taxes, I don't like to procrastinate. I just like to get it done. Typically my taxes are filed in February or, at the very latest, early March. This year was no exception. I e-filed my federal tax return on March 7 and sent my state return on March 8. I owed federal tax, but my state taxes were 0 (0 payment, 0 refund).

I still do my taxes in Utah because my official residence is still here even though I live in another state with Jonah. But since I work in Utah and don't work in the other state, it seemed more practical to keep my residence here for the time being, although I plan on changing residency within the year.

So when I came back to Utah for work, I was a bit dismayed to discover that the Utah State Tax Commission had sent me a letter indicating I had made a mistake on my tax return and that I actually owed $251. I went over my state tax return again and found that all of my math checked out. The letter indicated I had put the wrong amount on line 25 and that the revised amount was "$906," but that IS the amount I had put on line 25 and didn't explain why I would owe $251 since my withholdings were also $906.

So I called the Utah State Tax Commission to sort things out. The tax representative who answered my complaint was a somewhat condescending and curt woman named Charlene (not her real name) who I nicknamed "Miss Crabby-Pants, the Tax Harpy." She really talked down to me, which annoyed me greatly. I explained what had been in the letter, and as she pulled up my file, she said that I was missing one of my withholdings and page 2 of my tax return (both of which I know I sent because I checked and double-checked three times before mailing my tax return; plus, I have my own copy which backs me up). What really got on my nerves was that the mistake was made by whomever entered my tax information (using my return) into the tax commission's data base, but Charlene seemed to be taking it out on me as if it was my fault.

Charlene curtly informed me that I needed to fax my tax return and all my W-2s and 1099s to her. When I tried to explain something to her, she brusquely replied, "Just fax me your documents!"

So I paid an additional $12 to fax the documents to her, and the next day I got a phone message from Charlene indicating that I had forgotten to sign my return (which was true; I had signed the one I sent in March, but my own copy, which is what I faxed, was unsigned, and I had forgotten) and that I needed to re-fax my signed return before she could process it. Fine, I made a mistake; but it was the manner in which she responded that annoyed me. Her whole tone was just condescending and the subtext seemed to be, "You stupid person, if you had done this correctly in the first place, I wouldn't have to deal with your stupid problems. And now, because you haven't done it right, I have to wait on you." I even played the message for a couple of friends to make sure I wasn't overreacting. They definitely agreed that her tone was condescending and rude.

My immediate reaction had been one of annoyance. After all, I had sent my original, signed and complete return with no errors, and I was having to deal with this because someone had either misplaced or lost part of my return and my documentation or simply entered it wrong into their system; and now I had to deal with "Miss Crabby-Pants." I just wanted to say, "You don't have to be so unpleasant. I realize dealing with people's tax issues all day isn't anyone's dream job, but you could try to have a more cheerful attitude. Either that or find a new line of work."

However, when I got to FedEx Office to fax the signed return, I was inspired to react the opposite way. I thought to myself, "It's so close to Tax Day, and this woman probably has to deal with annoying tax issues, and it's probably a high-stress job with little return."

So I wrote her a note on the fax cover sheet. I basically said, "Charlene, I'm sorry about the mix-up. I realize this must be a very stressful and busy time of year for you, and I apologize if my mistake has added to your stress or workload. I hope the attached documents will enable you to complete this task and resolve the issue, and I hope you will have a very nice day. Please let me know if I owe anything so that I may do my part to resolve this issue."

Charlene left another voicemail for me the next day. Basically, she said she had received my documents, processed my return, and owed nothing. But the interesting part to me was her tone. There was none of the curtness, condescension, or unpleasantness I had heard the other two times she had communicated with me. She actually sounded pleasant and nice. I'm not saying my note had anything to do with that, but I do think it's interesting that my initial instinct was to attack back, but instead I dealt with it by being kinder, and in return, I received kindness.

I believe in the law "That which you put out into the universe you get back." When we give anger, we get anger. When we give negativity, we get negativity. When we give love, we get love. I think by putting kindness out there to someone who was less-than-kind to me, I received kindness back. And even if I hadn't received it from her, I would have received it elsewhere.

Besides, bottom line - you don't really want to piss off the person who's processing your tax return. That's just asking for bad karma.

Monday, April 09, 2012


I had a rough morning yesterday. The Utah Tax Commission made a mistake when it entered the information from my tax return into their computers and they said I owe $251 (which I don't). Anyway, I had to call them and deal with a very curt woman I not-so-affectionately refer to as "Ms. Crabby-Pants."

I think she was angry at the person who had submitted my information, but she seemed to be taking it out on me. They also lost some of the info. I had sent them, so their profile on me was incomplete.

Anyway, "Ms. Crabby-Pants" brusquely told me to just re-fax my tax returns, W-2s, and 1099s. I wanted to say, "Look, lady, I know dealing with people's tax issues so close to Tax Day is probably no picnic, but it's only 8:00 in the morning. Your day has just begun. If you can't foster a cheerier attitude, find another line of work. I'm only trying to help you rectify an error that was your office's fault, not mine."

Anyway, then I had to re-fax all that stuff, and I had to pay $13 to do it. Since I had already paid to file my taxes in the first place, that didn't make me too happy.

Then my mom has lost one of her prescriptions, so I had to try and get that refilled. I still don't know yet whether it has been.

And then I was going to catch TRAX to go to work, but found that my work-provided TRAX pass, which is supposed to be activated, is not. I tried calling several people through work to help me, but no one seemed to be able to, so I ended up driving to work, which annoyed me because gas is so expensive, and if I've got a free TRAX pass, I should use that instead to both save money and help the environment. Until it's activated, though, I can't. I don't want to risk being ticketed.

So then I got to my first day of rehearsal in a less-than-stellar mood and was annoyed that I was making a bad impression on those in the company that didn't already know me.

And on top of that, I was missing Jonah. So after rehearsal I gave him a call to tell him about my crappy morning. He listened and sympathized. Then he told me what was going on with him and he told me that the parents of one of his coworkers were killed in an automobile accident on Saturday. Suddenly all my petty problems seemed so trivial and I felt like a heel. It was nice to get that perspective because it made me feel grateful for what I have and helped me foster a better attitude.

Jonah also mentioned that Trooper, the cat I have emotionally scarred by leaving, peed on some curtains Jonah has been working on for the past two days. He's making them for a friend of his. Jonah, who's pretty even-tempered, was livid. He thinks he caught it in time, but if it stains or smells, he'll have to start over.

And I thought I had problems.

Sunday, April 08, 2012

Back In Utah...And Not So Content

After being unemployed for three months, I now have two acting jobs in Utah that will keep me employed at least for the next five months. For a working actor this is truly a gift. On top of that, the first show I am doing is a show I have wanted to do for years, and I have a really fun featured role in it. Normally when I am acting I am so excited and happy and fulfilled, and when I'm unemployed I tend to get depressed; so when an acting job comes up, I am normally very happy. And I am. But I'm not.

These past three months with Jonah have, unfortunately, been the longest consecutive amount of time we have spent together since our commitment ceremony. My job usually takes me away from him for months at a time with only a couple of days here and there to spend time together. It hasn't been enough, so although being unemployed kind of sucked financially (although thank goodness for unemployment benefits, otherwise I would likely be broke), these three months with Jonah have been WONDERFUL relationship-wise.

There are things Jonah does that drive me crazy, and I know there are things I do that that drive him nuts (and perhaps I'll talk about those things in a future post), but I love him so incredibly much. It sounds cliche, but I feel like he is truly a part of me.

As I was preparing to leave him again, I was thinking about what the LDS teaches about my relationship with Jonah; that it is a sin and that the two of us will not be together as a united couple in the afterlife, and that thought made me so very sad. Is it true? I do not pretend to know, but what I do know is this: Jonah is one of the best people who has ever been a part of my life, and I love him so very much. My life would be empty without him. My life in many ways was empty before I met and fell in love with him. He is a part of me. To lose him would be incredibly unfair.

I realized these past three months our house has finally started to feel like my home instead of Utah. Utah has always been my home no matter where else I've lived, and I always refer to it as home. And it always will feel like home. But my real home is with Jonah. My life is with Jonah, and I'd like to do more to make it be more permanent. My acting career does make that tough, but it's an ideal I'd like to shoot for.

And so here I am back in Utah and feeling sad that I have to be away from the guy I love for almost half a year. In two words, it sucks.

My mom is thrilled I'm back, and I think my siblings are equally excited that I am back. My brother hugged me today and said he was grateful the "golden child" was back (so named because my mom, who has dementia, seems to respond to me the best when we're trying to get her to do something she doesn't want to do).

But just in the last two days alone I have been reminded once again how wearing it can be to deal with Mom's dementia. And we all agree she's getting worse. Just today, she didn't seem to have any recollection that I was excommunicated, for example, which seems to be a pretty big thing to forget. She's also forgotten how to arm and disarm her security system, something she did fine before I left at Christmas-time. And, of course, the most frustrating part is dealing with someone who doesn't think they are impaired in any way. It can be exhausting. But I know it has been exhausting for my siblings as well, so it's good to be back to take some of the load until I go back home again.

Anyway, I start rehearsals for my show tomorrow. I'm sure once I get into the groove of working and acting again I will forget how sad I feel right now.

Perhaps one of my saddest moments was waking up half-asleep this morning and not understanding where Jonah was or trying to find my cat who normally sleeps by my side and then being conscious of the fact that my double bed is smaller than the king-size bed Jonah and I share, and then realizing the reason why: I was not home with him at all, but was in my room in my mom's house. Jonah said he had a similar moment coming home from work last night and wondering where my car was and then realizing that I had left to go back to Utah.

Saying goodbye to Jonah and our three cats (who truly feel like my children) was especially tough. At least Jonah understands where I'm going and when I'll be back. Those poor cats have no idea why I leave, why I'm gone for so long, and when or if I'm returning. Our oldest cat, Trooper, who adores me, always seems to know when I'm leaving even before I've started packing and gets very sullen and sad and acts out a lot after I've gone. I truly fear I'm emotionally traumatizing her.

Today was my nephew's baby blessing. I had never seen him in the flesh, so that was nice. I was not prepared for how much it hurt not to be able to join my brother, brothers-in-law, and nephews in blessing him. I didn't even think about it until it happened. Everyone got up to participate in the ordinance, and I just sat there feeling sad. That's when Mom, who forgot I'd been excommunicated, asked me why I wasn't up there.

And, yes, I am fully aware my own choices have precluded me from having any priesthood authority and have barred me from participating in any priesthood functions. But I sat there watching my brother-in-law bless his son (which was a very beautiful blessing, by the way) and wondering why my relationship with my husband makes me so unworthy to not be able to take part in the blessing of my nephew. Why is the fact that I have a sexual relationship with my spouse so abominable? I fail to understand, and I still have yet to hear a satisfactory answer that rings true to my heart.

And then after the blessing and the sacrament, people started bearing their testimonies, and again I felt more sadness that I could not participate and wondered how it is that someone who has so much to share and who does have a testimony of so many things that might be of edification to others or might help them feel the spirit can be denied simply because the love he has for someone of the same sex is deemed to be sinful. I fail to understand that as well.

I admit that with the feelings of sadness, there was just a tinge of anger, a feeling I do not experience very often regarding my lack of participation in the Church. And yet, there it was, rearing its ugly head.

My brother-in-law gave a lovely testimony about how he never thought he would be a father; how five years ago he was happy, but had resigned himself to the fact that he wouldn't have children in this life. And then he met my sister, and now he has two, and one can tell just how grateful and happy he is to have these two precious children.

He talked about how his daughter was named after his first wife, who died, and who my sister wanted to honor (which tells you just what kind of person my sister is) and how his son was named after my father. My brother-in-law didn't care for my father's name, and originally my sister wanted to name the baby Scott because she liked the name. The more she thought about it, however, the more she realized she didn't want to name her child Scott simply because she liked it; she wanted it to mean something, and when she told my brother-in-law this, he knew that they needed to name him after my dad, and he talked about how his two kids are named after people who have passed on, but that he feels like they are present protecting his family. I feel he is right.

Then a bunch of kids got up and bore their "by rote" testimonies. Cute, but it also made me wonder, "Do these kids really know the things they are saying are true, or are they just spouting what they've heard and been taught?" I don't think it's bad for kids to do that; I think it helps them develop a testimony. But I also think some of these kids don't yet have the maturity to really know what they say they know is true is true. I think there are some that do, but others I think are just making rote statements.

One guy who I'm am 99% sure was gay - at least he made my gaydar go off big time - talked about the atonement, and I liked what he had to say, but I also was thinking, "If that guy is indeed gay, he's got a road ahead of him."

On lady talked about how great the plan of happiness was, and I caught myself thinking perhaps with that residual anger, "Yeah, the plan of happiness the Church teaches is great if you don't happen to be gay." I always remember how the "plan of happiness" used to make me feel so left out and alone. I feel pretty happy now, though, but according to the Church, I have deviated from the plan.

As I held my newborn nephew as the testimonies continued, I was watching him sleep, and I felt this feeling of how great it would be to have a child. Jonah and I agreed not to have children when we got together (mostly because I didn't want them), but with the births of my nieces and nephew and even the love I've developed for my cats, who I also didn't want at first, my attitudes are softening somewhat on that front. I've always been kind of selfish, and I think having a child makes you be less selfish, and I also think it's one of the things that you can do in life that helps you understand God more. Anyway, I've been thinking about it. I know Jonah would like to.

My sister talked about how grateful she is to have her children; that even when they leave her feeling frazzled, they are so worth it.

My other sister, who used to belong to that ward, talked about how much she missed it, and how she missed the youth, something that's missing from her somewhat geriatric ward.

An older gentleman kiddingly chided her, though, saying, "What's wrong with being 70?" He gave a very moving testimony on the meaning of Easter, a point that had been earlier stressed by a kid bearing his testimony saying Easter wasn't just about the candy. I wish I could remember the older man's words. Maybe it doesn't matter. Maybe it was just the spirit I felt as he said those words that helped remind me what my Savior has done and continues to do for me through His atonement; that it is a gift that is offered to and affects everyone in positive ways whether they realize it or not.

It was a good meeting, but there were moments of sadness. No regrets, though. I still maintain that I am where I am supposed to be and know that I am happier with Jonah than I was without him. My only regret, really, is that I'm not with him right now.

I am enormously blessed. Jonah and I are enormously blessed. I am grateful he is in my life and I know he feels the same about me. I am already counting the days until I can be with him again.


Tuesday, April 03, 2012

"Believe Me, I Don't Want To Go To Your Party."

Warning: This post contains a quote that takes the Lord's name in vain. I do not care for this word, but it is an important part of the story.

So I had this dream last night, and although it was only a dream, everything that happened in it seemed plausible to me. In my dream, we had just finished performing in a show and we had just done the curtain call, when my friend, who was the star of the show, quieted the audience down so he could speak to them personally. He was addressing the audience and expressing his appreciation to them and he happened to say, "Thank you! Thank you so goddamn much!"

When he said this, several audience members gasped in horror. We were performing the show in Logan, Utah, I believe, and there is a pretty conservative Mormon population there, so there were several audience members who were visibly offended by my friend taking the Lord's name in vain.

My friend, sensing the discomfort of some in the audience, tried to defend himself. He said, "No, wait! God isn't in the theatre." Although my friend in real life is an atheist and probably doesn't think God is anywhere at all, what he meant (or at least what I felt he meant when I was dreaming this and upon further reflection) was that we were actors playing characters, and characters say and do all sorts of things that may not be in line with our own personal values or morals, but as actors we still play those parts to convey a larger message even if some parts may be uncomfortable to those watching. That's a lot to interpret from "God isn't in the theatre," but that's what I felt he was trying to convey to the audience in the dream.

Still, in spite of my friend trying to appease a displeased faction of people (which I don't think my friend would actually care about in real life), that minority of people were having no part of it, and several of them chose to walk out. As they were leaving in protest of what they considered to be my friend's offensive language, my friend said some parting words to them: "Fine, walk out. Believe me, I don't want to go to your party."

He did not say this in anger. It was just a fact. My friend didn't want to be a part of that crowd.

That's when I woke up.

This dream was so vivid in my head when I woke up, and I was absolutely going to try and remember it so that I could share it and what I felt it meant to me.

Before I do, I want to talk a bit about my friend. He does indeed exist in real life. As I said, he is an atheist, and his views on organized religion are pretty unfavorable due to the fact that his own personal experiences have caused him to see more negative things to come out of religion than positive ones. He feels religion often causes people to behave self-righteously and in very unloving ways in the supposed name of love and God. It has left a sour taste in his mouth.

Sidenote: my friend is also a staunch Democrat and tends to view the Republican party in black and white. I think he is just as much of a zealot on the left as the people he accuses of being so on the right, and yet, I don't think he sees that quality in himself. I think he just thinks he's right and is unable to distinguish shades of gray. To him, the Republicans are bad and liberals are good. To him, organized religions are bad and cause more trouble than good. To him, God doesn't exist. End of story.

I'm more of a "shades-of-gray" kind of guy. Yeah, I understand why people don't believe in God, but I also understand why many do. Yeah, there are a lot of things that organized religions do that seem to contradict what they profess to teach, but I also see a lot of really good things that come out of various religions. While I, too, am a Democrat, I certainly don't think all Republicans are a bunch of liars like my friend does. Some are. But so are some Democrats. I actually think both parties want many of the same things; they just have different beliefs about how to get them.

In spite of of the fact that I think my friend has tunnel vision sometimes, I also understand why he does, and that brings me back to my dream. As I thought about this dream after waking up from it, it was very clear what the dream meant to me.

All my friend was really doing was taking a moment to tell the audience how much he appreciated them. He just wanted them to know how he felt, and he used words that he was accustomed to using. Instead of seeing that my friend was thanking them and show his love and appreciation for their response, some in the audience chose to focus on a particular word that offended them, and in their self-righteousness chose to walk out on my friend and his fellow cast mates, and to me that seems the bigger sin.

I know why this particular friend was featured in this dream. I have seen in his life many of the things people have done in the name of religion and God that have left a sour taste in his mouth, and I know because of those things he "[doesn't] want to go to [their] party." I've often heard other friends say that if the Celestial Kingdom is filled with the kind of self-righteous people who think they're going there, they would prefer not to. I understand that sentiment.

When I think of the self-righteous kid at BYU who hands a girl an anonymous note decrying her skirt in the name of morality or the parents who throw their gay kid out of the house because they hate homosexuality more than they love him or her or the man who tells of how his Mormon friends' parents wouldn't let them play with him because he wasn't a member or the members who make a less active person feel unwelcome at church because he or she is dressed funny or smells like cigarettes or coffee or booze or the members who suddenly start shunning another member because he or she is going through a divorce or the thousand other similar scenarios I've witnessed both firsthand and have heard about from others, it makes me wonder how many people get pushed away or left with a sour taste in their mouths because of the Pharisaical behavior of those who believe themselves more righteous.

And this behavior, of course, isn't limited to Mormonism. I think the same the same thing when I see some other religious folk with a sign that says "God hates fags" or hear of some supposed pro-lifer bombing an abortion clinic and killing somebody elseor when Christian people talk about Muslims like they're the most evil thing a person could be. Those are extreme examples, but the point is the same: I think sometimes in an effort to be obedient to the letter of the law, we forget about the spirit. We forget about the hearts of the people. In an effort to chastise and take a stand, we sometimes end up pushing people away from Christ rather than closer to Him. Our examples, either good or bad, will have an effect on those whose lives we touch.

A little while back, I read a really good essay called "I'm Christian, unless you're gay" which I think I even posted a link to on my blog somewhere (although I can't find it now), but today I read a woman's response to it and was touched not only by her son's reaction to the essay, but by the woman's willingness to see what damage her actions in the supposed name of righteousness and God were doing to her relationship with her own child.

Anyway, I'm glad I had the dream and even more glad I remembered it. It was a nice reminder to me that sometimes the things we do (yeah, me included) in the name of God aren't really what God would do at all. I just have to remind myself to be careful that my actions are actually drawing people closer to God rather than away from Him.