Avec moi, le deluge

I collect toy version of Noah and his ark. No, really, stay with me here. This has been going on for a few years now. Largely, I'm tickled by the fact that so many of them exist. I mean, after all, the Flood was essentially the mass murder of 99.99% of humanity. And yet, we have miniaturized it and molded it out of plastic for kiddos to amuse themselves. Well, kiddos and at least this one adult. (I'm an adult, right? Like, I voted a few weeks ago, and own a car, and pay my own rent. I'm not still a whippersnapper, am I? Will I ever not wonder about this?)

My latest two acquisitions are pretty stellar. One for being imponderable. The other for being adorable. (Actually, if we go back to the my antepenultimate acquisition, we get the "Noah tree". Which is what it sounds like, as much as Noah tree can sound like a thing. It's a wooden shape with three limbs perpendicular to a base off of which hang twinned pairs of animals. And a helpful "Noah's Ark" sign. I'd post a picture, but last time I tried to move it the pieces scattered everywhere and I despaired for the continued existence of zebras after the 40 days and nights when I momentarily could not find them.)

So, the first one is weird because it's marketed as a Noah's Ark toy, but...well, let's just jump to image, shall we?

There are no pairs of animals here. Nor does Noah have a wife. Instead, we get this random assortment of critters. It's not so much Noah's ark as Noah's menagerie and petting zoo (as there's a weird mishmash between tigers and pigs, elephants and horses, giraffes and cows). What's even better is Noah himself. Now, I know we might not know when precisely the Flood went down, but it was before the 19th Century, wasn't it? Because Noah sure is rocking the late century French sailor thing, even down to the brass buttons and salty beard. 

I don't even really know what to do with this guy. But he's also pretty unsure, with those shifty eyes, always looking off to the side. He's a suspicious one. Though, I mean, if you were alone on a boat with this motley crew of animals, wouldn't you be giving side-eye to the tiger? You know he's got something up his sleeve. Plus, the pig and the giraffe have been grousing a lot and this guy is dangerously close to having a mutiny on his hands. If he had hands, that is. Though is sailor even the right profession here? He kinda looks like a train conductor, doesn't he? I guess a boat is just a train that goes on water. 

The only way I can comprehend this weird thing is thus: the toy came in a box with only Chinese characters on it. So, it was produced in China for...the home market? The Chinese diaspora? I don't know, but I think that might explain it. Because, these Chinese clearly aren't "getting" the whole "the animals, they came in they came in by twosies twosies". But can you blame them? 

My other one is less inexplicable. Well, I mean, it's still sorta strange (see above: destruction of all of humanity is a plaything). This one is a hollow wooden egg in the shape of Noah the freakin' GIANT. Look at him!

He's so big that a 300 cubit long ship is like a kitten in his hand! But, he's so big, you see, because all those animals fit inside of him. Precious. And no, I don't use that word just because Sapphire's heroine is also, ahem, large.

But I love this one! Egg shaped animals would have made getting them on the boat and storing them so much easier! Just throw them into some cartons and you're ready for your long journey. Plus, you've got those cute, but unclear animals over to Noah's left. They sorta look like cats, but that doesn't really fit the whole African animal theme. So, maybe meerkats? Do meerkats have whiskers? I think the fact that I can't really tell the shape of whatever it is thanks to the egginess compounds the problem.  Seeing this one made me wish I owned a nesting doll version of the ark. You could start with the ship and go down to something teeny like a mouse. It'd be amazing. Somebody should make that. And then give it to me. Because, I clearly need more things in my life. Especially arky things.

Small subversions

There was a moment, a very brief one, in this past General Conference that could have massive, powerful repercussions for Mormon gender equality. It has absolutely nothing to do with mission service, however. Unlike many of the exuberant huzzahing for the lowered age for sister missionaries, I am not so sure this will move things in the direction I'm angling for. Although it will probably increase the number of sisters who do serve and it does, potentially, re-write the life plan for women, the mission experience does not exactly promote equality. Indeed, the difference in ages and service length for sisters sends clearly a message “Women and men are different. Fundamentally.” Also, the fact that sisters will serve under men who hold the priesthood and are either younger than they are or roughly the same age cements a cultural model of women submitting to male priesthood authority, regardless of other factors that might cause reluctance. Don't get me wrong. I don't think the mission age change is a plot to enslave women. I'm just suggesting that it might be the ground zero for a plus ça change moment.

But not all is this bleak. There was a story offered in conference that needs to be heard. Over and over and over again. President Eyring told the story of being offered a job that would take him away from his position as president of Rick's College. He uncertainly tried to suss out what to do. In three sentences, Eyring completely confounds the “preside” paradigm. The quote in full is:

My wife, sensing this, had a strong impression that we were not to leave Ricks College. I said, “That’s good enough for me.” But she insisted, wisely, that I must get my own revelation.

The importance of this story is hard to overstate. Eyring was willing to accept, without question, the revelation his wife had received. Revelation not just on her life, but specifically about his professional decisions. It is only through her urging that he moves beyond this to ask for himself. If this a model of male presiding, I'm not really sure what “preside” means since he neither goes ahead nor trumps. What it sounds like more is equal partners, where a woman can receive revelation and expect it to be honored. Eyring did not brush aside this prompting given to his wife. His priesthood and maleness gave him no special avenue for answering questions about his family's life.

Sure, this is a tiny thing. But small things are often the most subversive. President Eyring is not standing at a pulpit and agitating for female ordination, or radically re-writing the view of the celestial economy, or anything nearly so drastic. But, he has undone so much with so little. He has, through his seemingly sincere humility, toppled a paradigm of submission to the male head of household.

This story will probably get lost over time. It'll be forgotten, especially in light of the other exciting announcement of the Conference. But I agree firmly with Plato that stories will save us, if we just believe them. But, in order to save, they have to be remembered. And so, to this end, I want to make sure this story gets heard all the times I can possibly raise my voice with it. The hope for a better, brighter future is found in three sentences. Sentences that, in a few years (God willing), will look a whole lot less exceptional and more like the way things should be. And, are. In time. Urging patience is frustrating and I know radicalism has a lot of proponents with a lot of good rationales for their approach. But I say it's worth celebrating small moments of hope. Otherwise, it's too easy to get drowned in bleakness. So, it may not be good enough for all of us, this little story. But it's not nothing. And it should be heard constantly. After all, it's stories like this that change structures more than any forced-upon structural change could ever hope to do. 

Schweppes straight up

About a month ago, on Father's Day in fact, my brother's former mission companion came to our house for Sunday dinner. After the meal, while we sat around chatting, he mentioned to my brother that he could not remember the last time he went to a house where water was all that was offered. He wasn't saying this to imply a lack of hospitality. Rather, it was genuine shock at the plainness of our beverage options. He is more accustomed to soda or juice being on hand for the biggest meal of the day.

Of course, growing up in my household water was what we had period. Even now, when I go out to dinner, I always hesitate a long, long time before ordering a drink. A couple of years ago, when I was working a real person job, I became somewhat more profligate in my tastes and would regularly order a soda with the many, many lunches I went out for. But I've fallen out of that habit once again and now am once again the “just water for me, thanks” type for everything. It's not merely my cheapness, though, at work here. I genuinely prefer water, a fact that stumps some people, I suppose.

I had been thinking about the soda situation in my family recently also, as I order a ginger ale (no ice) on my plane ride home to Utah. This option was born not a little from nostalgia for traveling with my parents. Though we may have not spent money on soft drinks, my parents have invested a not-so small fortune in the pursuit of regular trips. The regularity of these jaunts have instilled in me a constant itch to travel, despite how weary the actual traveling makes me. For a large number of these trips, we flew as a family. On these plane trips near and far, I observed my parents' standard drink orders. Since my parents are Mormon and water was all that flowed in our home, it was a rare occurrence to see them order anything else. But, the soda and juice is included with airfare, so they let loose.

My dad's drink of choice was always “ginger ale, no ice”. Getting onto a plane still brings to mind the distinctive flavor of that soda pop. I was distressingly old when I realized that ginger ale was a thing available outside of the fuselage of a 747. I'm not sure what the no ice had to do with, though I would guess it has to do with my dad's dislike of super cold drinks and a way to game the system (no ice means a lot, lot more soda in your cup).

My mom's standard order was “tomato juice and water”. The water was to thin out the juice a little bit. Have you had tomato juice? It's a strange, almost mealy drink. The water really does help. As a kid, I ordered the same a few times, figuring she must know what's good, right? I was wrong (and somehow managed to forget this between orders). Tomato juice is neither refreshing nor particularly delicious. Or wasn't. I now occasionally am struck with cravings for it, my body probably aching for some nutrient tomatoes are notoriously rich in. But, ordering this was also built around the idea of limited options. The two adults in my life ordered precisely the same every time. Maybe that's all there is? The same thing could be said about trips to the Old Spaghetti Factory as a kid. The meals there include a salad. For years and years, I got the salad with blue cheese dressing, since that's what the whole family did. I loathed blue cheese*. But, that's what was ordered and that's what I ate. Not knowing there was a choice is probably a fundamental problem for me, as I'm more keen to be part of the pattern than an outlier.

But, really, I share this story not to point out the potentially oddity of these choices. Rather, the fact that getting on a plane stirs these memories so strongly highlights the way nostalgia haunts me at every turn. It's not that the world is short on new experiences, or that I'm debilitated by homesickness regularly. It's just that I take such comfort in the unchanging memories like these. There's nothing so nice as knowing someone so well that you know what they're going to order for complimentary beverage service. Which is all to say, I'm not so much a passionate romantic as I am a cozy habitualist. And so, if you're curious, I'm a water man even on planes these days. And, I'll always forget to say no ice and then curse myself for it. Next time we travel together, remind me request the room temperature agua, ok?

*I've since seen the light and love a pungent blue.  

I have brought you an iris today

Memorial Day means irises. Specifically, the irises that grow in parents' backyard along the fence next to the raspberries and across a little stretch from the zucchini. Raspberries, irises, zukes, tomatoes and apricots are the crops of my memory, the things that it seems like my mom and dad have always grown. Or had always grown. There's no more apricots and it seems like a couple of years there wasn't much to see among the irises, but perhaps I simply did not notice what was always there. The irises are blue, yellow, and purple. They always seemed to burst from nowhere, creating a sudden splash of color in mid-May. But what I really remember about them is taking them to the graves.

Both sets of my grandparents are buried in the same cemetery in suburban Salt Lake. The two graves are literally a stone's throw from each other, on two patches divided by the narrow cemetery road. Because the cemetery in question does not allow raised headstones, driving past it most of the year makes it appear like a set patches of grass. Yet a few weekends a year, it becomes a hotspot of activity, the graves attracting flowers, flags, pinwheels and other tokens of remembrance.

Every year, for Memorial Day weekend (generally early evening on the Sunday), we would go visit these graves. We took irises and, in years past, gallon milk cartons that had been cut open as makeshift vases. The irises would be propped up in the carton and the carton held in place by a bent hanger staked to the ground. Part of this ritual is also the sprucing up of the headstone. My dad would get down on his knees to cut back the grass and brush aside the clippings that have obscured the names.

Because three of my grandparents passed away prior to my memory, these annual trips is the most concrete interaction I have ever had with them. Because I do not remember them being around, it's hard for me to feel much at visiting their graves. These stones mark, essentially, strangers that I owe my existence to. Yet, I know little of them. The one grandparent I do remember, my mom's dad, raises more complicated feelings for me. I remember him well. Visiting his grave does not make me sad or wistful, particularly. But it does call to mind frequently random memories. One of the more frequent ones that appears in my brain is the time my family and he were in the small mining town in western Colorado where he oversaw a mine during his working years. One night, he called us all to the front room. When I got there, he pointed out the moon, how huge and bright it looked that night, a full moon in a place far from city lights. That was the whole reason he called us in. When I say a sense of wonder is one of the most important personality traits, this is the kind of wonder I mean: being so struck by something that you must share it, even if it's the moonrise.

Without fail, we would run into some other contingent from the extended family also visiting the grave at the same time. There are usually a brief encounter, but it's always rather cheerful, a strange juxtaposition with the setting, I think. I mean, is the annual trek one of mourning? One of more positive remembrance? I'm not sure what my parents and their siblings, the children of the bodies lying beneath our feet are feeling. But the habit holds a comforting marker of time for me. Like all traditions, it feels right simply through repetition. Before leaving the cemetery, we take a photo of our group. (How many of these pictures do we have? 10? More?)

This year, I was not in Salt Lake for the holiday. It's not the first time I've missed the cemetery trip. But, I know my family went. And, they took irises, a change from recent years when pre-potted flowers were carried in. Being away, I'm glad to know that the tradition continues. Especially with the irises.

Nearly imperceptible

Mormons are thin on the ground here in central New York. It's as if, once they were gathered to The Ohio, they've never really made a comeback. This is a bit of a change for me as I've lived my entire conscious life in locales with large numbers of Mormons. Granted, I don't really notice this all that much, apart from going to church at my branch and there only being fifteen people in sacrament meeting. But I do notice it because the closest temple is now 70 miles away. I realize this is paltry for some areas of the globe, but back home in Zion, I could get to nine temples by going that same distance.

Now, I'm not a particularly regular temple attender. I've never really much understood people who go every week or who hold that up as a symbol of their righteousness. But I do enjoy the temple and having the option of just popping over on a whim might be nice. Or, like that one time, when I didn't plan ahead and found that the Jordan River temple was closed, so went to Oquirrh Mountain, only to learn they were booked solid. Thankfully, Draper was right there for me to make use of. In other words, I prefer being spoiled.

But, this whinging aside, I did go to the temple last week. My semester's over and I've got some free time and I figured, why not? I actually had a lovely time there, as well (which is typical, but not guaranteed. I'm fickle, ok?) I also had a little thought strike me. The background for this thought actually comes from one of the papers I just finished.

In a sloppy, poorly argued piece, I wrote about the overlaps between a novel and a memoir by mid-20th century Mormon author Virginia Sorensen. At one point in the memoir, talking about the landscape of northern Utah, she talks about the need to "look sharp for color in this country." It's true. There's a lot of beauty to be found in the desert, but you have to have an eye for it. This is also true, I suppose, of southern Utah, where the overwhelming red rock may trick you into not looking closely for fine distinctions.

This need for sharpness was on my mind as I waited for the session to start. I was looking around the room at about the twenty or so of us. We were all wearing white. The party line on this has to do with purity but also with all being alike. As a matter of fact, just earlier that same week, I had explained to a classmate about the white clothing as a symbol of unity. But, as I waited, I noticed we weren't all the same. There were differences. Shirts had different cuts. Ties had different patterns. The dresses had varied trims. Different fabrics appeared in various outfits. They were all white but there was a great variety if you looked sharp.

This lead me to think that the point of these clothes might not erasing disunions at all. Rather, they're a symbol of how we can be, as B.H. Roberts suggested, "united in the essentials and tolerated in the nonessentials." Being Mormon can be hard if you feel like you're a bit outside of what everybody else is and expects. But maybe, just maybe, the temple clothes are trying to look forward to a heaven where the richness of difference is there but largely goes unnoticed, not because it's not valued, but because it's just so obviously a part of the intention that it gets set aside to get down to the work.

I realize this isn't a particularly profound insight. And I'm sure some with disagree with my rosy view of it all. But, it was the sort of idea I needed then. And will probably continue to need for a long, long time.

I never used to go to bed early

My brothers and I have a running joke. Well, we have a lot of them (all three of us are, after all, rather fond of the texting). But, in particular, we have one that has been going on for a while now. I assume my older brother started it. Not only because it pre-dates my younger brother's return from his mission, but also because my older brother is much, much more clever than I will ever be.

The joke goes something like this: one of us will text about something delicious we are eating. Pictures are optional, but encouraged. The one receiving the text will reply with "send me some!" Of course, this works best for items that, clearly, cannot be sent through the post (ice cream, delicate baked goods, meats). That is, in fact, the extent of a joke. It's probably funnier with repetition. Or context. But, you get the idea.

At any rate, a while back, my older brother texted me about madeleines. These guys are so delicious and so tricky to define and raise so many questions. Are they cake? are they cookie? Why don't more local stores sell these? Why do they also remind me of how much I've failed to do in my life?

So, when he told me he had bought some recently, I replied "send me some!" And, you know what? He did. Two whole containers, which I have yet to finish, three weeks on. It's nice having a supply of madeleines on hand. Few days are so bad (at least in my ridiculously cushy, yet occasionally frustrating life) that they cannot be solved by scalloped baked goods.

I offer photographic proof that I, in fact, have pretty much the greatest brother ever (And, yeah, I'm pretty easy to win over. Just send baked goods). Also, one of the things I love most about this package is that it contained no note, no explanation. If I didn't recognize my brother's handwriting from the box, I'd have mystery madeleines on my hands (which, of course, wouldn't stop me from eating them still).

Getting Confronted For It

So, I actually really like country music. I have no shame in this fact. One of the reasons I like it is the space and voice it offers for its female singers to be angry and disappointed without sounding shrill or whingy. And, what's more, it's done this for a long time. Also, I'm not a fanboy of hers, but I do like Reba well enough.

However. And this is a big however. For reasons that still elude my imaginings, Reba decided to cover Beyonce's "If I Were a Boy". If this already weren't strange enough, both were singles with their own music video. Beyonce's, though "conceptually similar to American comedy film Freaky Friday,"* actually seems to be a sort of clever take on the song and its message. Reba's however, is just here in a green dress. Not sure what, precisely, the message there is. Which is weird, because if there's one thing Reba is not afraid of, even a little bit, it is the story music video. I mean, you've seen "Fancy," right, where Fancy is in a car driving to her childhood home? Or even better something like "Every Other Weekend," in which neither of the two singers ever appear? So, really, I've no idea what's afoot here (other than maybe something about her life being empty because he's not paying attention to her in the right ways). But,  you should probably watch both and puzzle this out with me.

*I love Wikipedia, not least for statements like this.

Unwavering support

I am a total brand loyalist. About some things, at least. For instance, I have used the same deodorant (Old Spice, french scent, solid) since I was about 16. I prefer, if ever possible to only write with Zebra Sarasa gel pins (they are retractable and the tube is thinner and thus more pleasant to hold). My toothpaste is Crest Regular Paste (which, irritatingly, has packaging identical to the mint gel version, a fact I learned to my distress when I was home over Christmas). If I could, all my shoes would be Børns (though, obviously I'm not too loyal here, as I'm regularly drawn to the purchase of other shoes, though they almost all LOOK like Børns, so that's something). In the soda department, my cola is Coke, no questions asked. I have probably told more people to buy this bag than many employees of MEC (and, in fact, have been directly involved in it being purchased for my mom, my sister and my brother. It really can hold an amazing amount of stuff. Seriously). On my trip home, I packed my three favorite pairs of pants, and realized they were all Banana Republic AND managed to buy two more pairs from Banana while I was home.

In other words, I am a pretty good target for advertisers. If you give me a product I like, I will continue to buy that product for years and try to convince others to buy it, too. I can be very enthusiastic about things that are, generally, not all the exciting, so my fervor is not necessarily hampered by a boring product (I really ought to be more embarrassed by the number of people I have urged to buy Benefiber, for example).

So, today, when I saw El Monterey frozen burritos at the grocery store, I got so excited about them that I had to buy an eight pack. However, it was only when I got home that I remembered that I don't actually have a microwave. Apparently my thrill outweighed my logical functioning. Which was surely also hampered by going to the store right after the gym in the morning without eating (this fact also explain my purchasing of Little Debbie snack cakes and Hostess Cupcakes).

It turns out you can cook the burritos in the oven, but it takes almost 30 minutes. Who is capable of planning their hunger that far ahead? I certainly am not. So, I might just have to break down and find a cheap microwave. Of course, I'll also have to magically get more counter space, too, if I do. But, it'd really be a shame to let those burritos go to waste. And, hey, maybe I'll find my preferred small electrics brand in the process, too.