Tuesday, July 30, 2013

It's on.

Dear Old Neighbors,

Let me just start off by saying you were the best neighbors. The best neighbors.

Royce and Linda with your two kids and your two Bernese Mountain Dogs. You invited us on bike rides and over for turkey burger dinners. And you, Karolina, with the body of a model and the face of an angel and the personality of my best friend. After you guest starred on House, you talked to my mom about it for 20 minutes in the front yard. It was precious. And Kumail, you're a total big shot now, you and your lovely wife Emily. After being hilarious on Portlandia, you'd think you would have been an A-hole to me after I scraped your white Honda with the front of my car. But when I saw you at LaMill and confessed my crime, you both just laughed at me. To be fair, it wasn't the fanciest Honda. I hope a big time comedian like you is at least driving an Accord by now. You deserve it.

And Michaela. Oh, Michaela. The best neighbor ever. You never wore your shoes inside the house. You gave us gift cards when we picked up your mail. You never balked when Rob set up his kit and started banging away on the drums like a lost Blue Man. And we could always tell when you were in a writing frenzy, because that's when you blasted Bon Jovi. It was adorable.

Dear New Neighbors,

I mean, we finally have a driveway. No more double-parking in the two-way street that should be a one-way street, flipping on the hazards, and unloading groceries like the Flash after a Costco run. It's perfect as long as there are no more than four cars in the driveway. And yet you, you who is one person, manages to squeeze three cars onto your side of the driveway. And then, sometimes you lose the key to that third car! The one I need you to move so I can get to work!

Yesterday, when I was complaining about you to some friends, Rob said, "Well, she's not that bad. She doesn't blast rap music at two in the morning."

(Rob. Why? Why did you have to say that?)

Because he's right. You don't blast rap at two in the morning. You blast rap at seven in the morning. You blast rap at seven in the morning from that third car that's squeezed into the driveway.

But guess what, neighbor. Rob's had enough. He's declared war on your ass. Music war. And you don't want to start a music war with a guy who has two sets of drums, a butt load of guitars, and a grudge.

It's on.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Fritz whispers and eats off of a fork.

Don't worry. We didn't share the fork.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

On PuppyCats and the Feet Thereof

This is my puppycat.

He has a tumor in his little dog foot. But it's a friendly tumor, which means he's going to be fine.

But when your dog is your only baby and there's something wrong with his little foot, you get a lot of worrying done. Even though he's just dumb dog who can't even talk yet, knowing that the vet said his foot looked abnormal just sucked all the happiness out of the world for me. I'd find myself gazing at him wistfully while he was sleeping, and worrying that his already too-short life span would be cut even shorter by some stupid growth in his stupid foot. That's how crazy I am.

And this is why I can't have human children — because my dog's totally benign foot problem became an almost earth-collapsing, soul-obliterating catastrophe for me. I don't know much, but I know human babies get sick, and injured, and other horrible things, and I am telling you I will not stand for it. I will not be able to tolerate a health crisis of human proportions.

And that is why we don't have babies.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

New Digs

We moved two months ago. Left our perfect neighborhood and our lovely little cave for a slightly bigger cave in a slightly less perfect neighborhood. But we're happy here. If these walls could talk, they would sing because there's music in this place all the time. You can even see Rob tinkering with the record player.

This is what the living room looks like if you stand in the middle of it and turn around in a circle.

Utah friends: do not be alarmed by the bars on the windows. It's a CA thing. And by that I mean Los Angeles is very dangerous.

And this is Rob's studio, a place I once foolishly called the "second bedroom." Mistake!

Never mind the puffy blue coat hanging in the corner. Its for ... uh ... soundproofing.

And here's our little bedroom.

Use your imagination machine to pretend the lightning and composition of this one are any good. Actually, do that for all of the photos. K, thanks!

And that's about it! Thanks for stopping by! I'd show you the bathroom, but no, eew, gross, plus Rob is in there. 

Photos of the patio area to come!

Friday, June 21, 2013

Hashtag: Done!

This is the message I got in the e-lectronic mail a couple of days ago. It let me know that after a second bachelor's degree, two years of course work, tutoring, teaching writing, and about eight solid months of cobbling together a bunch of thesis-related nonsense, I'm finally ... ten pounds heavier. Wait! No. I'm finally a master. Which sounds oh so douchey. Here I am, another over-educated, underpaid liberal arts professional. Just one more obnoxious person to tell people that they are using the word "literally" incorrectly. You're welcome, world!

Now that I've finished a bit of graduate school, I feel like I can offer insight to those of you who might still be considering it, even after reading post after complain-y post about how totally sucky it can be. It's gonna be a list because, as it turns out, Gretta Baby totes hates writing.

  • The more you learn, the more you realize you know nothing. Your brain is teensy, and really, it can only hold so much. So if you go to grad school and find you have to scrunch names and dates and theories in your cabeza, be prepared to forget other important things like your parent's first names or whether or not you put on deodorant this morning.
  • You won't have time to exercise or go to the dentist, but you will totally make room in your schedule for quality Internet and bad TV. It's called procrastinating and it is the best.
  • Graduate school has a povertizing effect. That's why even though you don't have enough time to floss your teeth, you could find yourself taking on one to two extra jobs to fund your Kindle habit.
  • The definition of fun changes. You think you like movies now, or maybe the beach. After graduate school, you think "fun" means a super-specialized conference, or maybe just a nap on the crumb-encrusted TA office couch. 
  • You can do it without alcohol, but you can NOT do it without caffeine. You just can't.
  • Everyone else thinks they're stupid, too. 
And that's it. That's literally every single thing I learned in graduate school (so far...there is talk in the Whalen house of some self-loathing someone pursuing a PhD). That and some silly, made up literary theory and stuff. But most importantly, I learned that the best way to get through hard things is to do it with a group of people you're in love with. What I'm saying is, the best way to get through grad school is to build a family of friends. If grad school were a MasterCard commercial, it would go something like this:

Tuition: $15,000+
Books: $Something inconceivable
A group of like-minded nerds that you'll love for the rest of your life: Priceless

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

How Low Can I Go?

I killed the urge to blast my sad mood today on Facebook. It was going to be a cry for help wrapped in a joke (just like most of my cries for help/jokes) — "Is there, like, a self-esteem store?," I was going to ask my Internet friends. And they would ask me what's wrong or tell me I'm great, and I would feel a little bit better about myself for being loved.

But that's stupid.

I'm not going to do that.

The truth is, I feel like a piece of garbage today. I feel so utterly garbage-y that I even checked the Period Plus app on my phone just to be sexist to myself and see if I could blame the bad feelings on my unwieldy lady hormones.

Nope. Not quite.

It's that pesky question mark in my soul. The one that keeps me from know that I, Gretta, am OK; I'm worth the time and space I occupy in the universe.

This is a hard thing to know.

Do you know it? Do you know that you are worth more than the things you accomplish? Do you know that I love you despite, and perhaps because of, what you deem to be your failures?

Well, I do.

(Because if you're reading this, you're probably related to me.)

If there were a self-esteem store, I hope they would be smart enough to sell it in bulk, like toilet paper. Because sometimes you need a lot self-esteem to wipe the mess off of a crappy day.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Happy Five-a-versary!

Did you know most divorces occur within the first five years of marriage? Does this mean we're in clear? Answer: yes, unless Rob cheats on me. But not even then, because if he does, I will end him.

In five years, we have:
Dealt with my lay-off and unemployment
Endured teaching seminary, Gospel Doctrine, and college English
Gained and lost and gained tens of pounds (that one's just me, actually)
Worked at least seven jobs, sometimes three at a time 
Moved once
Had zero human children, one dog child, and one master's degree (almost)
Inherited one sweet piano
Bought a crapton of music equipment
Made a zillion friends
Watched a buttload of Netflix.

Here's hoping the next five years are pretty much the same.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Guest DJ Project

My radio station, KCRW, does Guest DJ projects with awesome people like David Cross and John Hodgman. These awesome people also happen to be famous, which is something I am not. KCRW will  probably never ask me to do a guest DJ project, because they just don't get how super cool my set would be. But I've been thinking a lot lately about what exactly this super cool guest set would sound like. Of the eleventy-billion songs I love, which five would I include? How would I narrow it down?

In the unlikely event KCRW ever asks normals like me for guest DJ sets, I'm going to be prepared. Here's what it would be today:

1. Tiny Dancer — Elton John

A no-brainer. The first time I heard this song was when I went to see Almost Famous in Provo with my Dad and brother, Cliff. You know the scene where everyone in the tour bus — Kate Hudson and Billy Crudup and Patrick Fugit — is singing along? My dad was singing along, too, with tears in his eyes. It's hard to listen to this song without getting warm fuzzies.

2. Matilda — Alt J

I'm jonesing for this band pretty hard right now. Every song on the album is a masterpiece, but this one stabs me in the heart.

3. Angels/Losing/Sleep — Our Lady Peace

This one has kind of a cheesy back story. I remember hearing it for the first time in Rob's Avalon on the way to the Avalon on our first date. He was singing along. It took me about that long to fall in love with him.

4. You Were Never There — Diego Garcia

Dynamically, this song is almost perfect. When it comes on the iPod, I always turn to Rob and say, "What are we waiting for? Let's make this music career of ours happen." Plus, I love the image of southern rain.

5. Quiet Dog — Mos Def

Doesn't matter what time it is or whether I'm wearing a bra. This song makes me dance-y.

Did I mention I guest-posted?

I guess between moving and thesis-ing and stuff, I forgot to mention that I guest posted for my amazing friend, Jen, while she was on maternity leave.

You can read it, if you wanna.

OK, bye. Love you.

A post about my new 7-Eleven

I have a new 7-Eleven.

You may have guessed that this is because we moved.

We moved because we were stepping on Fritz or each other wherever we went in our teeny-tiny, adorable little travel-size apartment.

We moved to an apartment that's a little bit bigger, but it feels like a damn castle compared to what we used to have. It's a little less adorable, but I could do a cartweel in it without breaking a limb, if that gives you any idea. It has an outside porch area that Fritz can run around on without looking like Clifford the Big Shaggy Terrier. Muuuch better for fetch purposes.

We did not move because we were tired of living across the street from the dog park and reservoir. We were not tired of that. Or because we were sick of being within walking distance from all the best shops and restaurants in Silverlake. We moved because no matter how much milk and Miracle Gro we fed our apartment over there, it just refused to sprout a second bedroom*. Failure to thrive.

So now we live in a bigger place on the west edge of Silverlake. Literally. The edge. I mapped it and our street is the border. We are hanging on to hipness by a thread. (Is Silverlake still hip? Last I checked it was in Forbes, which means it's hip for rich white dudes, which also means it's not hip.) You won't see too many yuppies pushing $1000 baby strollers around here. More likely, you'll see homeless people pushing Home Depot shopping carts up to Vons. We thought the neighborhood might be sketchy at first, but so far the scariest thing we've seen is a vicious slap fight between two grown men in denim cut-offs and flippy-floppies, so ... yeah. That happened.

I have a new 7-Eleven. It doesn't have my guys. They don't know my name yet. I don't understand their organization practices. It smells funny. The morning crew does not seem to understand my before noon Diet Coke consumption yet. But the parking lot is bigger and they have those airheads that are two airhead flavors in one big bar, which is easily the best thing that ever happened to the Universe.

What I'm saying is, there's hope.

*Our need for a second bedroom has nothing to with procreation. Babies are gross.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Mormon-y goodness for your earballs!

Attention all Mormon and Mo-Curious friends!

One of my favorite Mormon-y things is in danger of going the way of polygamy (that is: being discontinued), and I need your help keeping it around (unlike polygamy, which I'm fine without, please and thank you).

It's a podcast. Do you listen to podcasts? You should! They're better than radio because you can pause and rewind them. Also, you can listen to them whenever you want. Also: subscriptions. All I'm saying is podcasts are the best. And the best podcast is "Engaging Gospel Doctrine" from Mormon Stories Sunday School.


I have to admit, even (and maybe especially) when I was teaching sunday school at my church, I felt like it was lacking. If I was bored as the teacher, how were my class members not nodding off and sliding out of their chairs on the floor into puddles of disengaged goo? Then, when I got released from my calling (volunteer position) of teaching, I found that I really missed preparing lessons for church (surprise!), and I was eager to find a way to be more engaged in the topics.

Bam! Mormon Stories Sunday School.

Jared Anderson teaches. He's a mega-brilliant PhD Candidate in Religious Studies at UNC Chapel Hill (though he lives in UT now) and his brain is gigantic. He does about 45 minutes of "lesson"from the manual, and then about 45 minutes of discussion with other wicked smart volunteers who call in from around the globe. He also includes links to resources and his own lesson notes. It's riveting, I tell you. I listen to it in my car on my way to everywhere.

You know how, when you're a Mormon, you're supposed to read the scriptures every day? You know how that's really hard? And you know how there are only so many scriptures, and you've read them all like a billion times by now, and sometimes you just can't stomach the idea of cracking them open one more time and pretending to be into it? Well, this is where Engaging Gospel Doctrine comes in especially handy. My grad school friends know that I'm obsessed with the cultural study of religion, but I must admit that my spiritual interest had drastically waned until recently. Since I've been listening to the podcast, I've been intellectually stimulated, spiritually nourished, and re-energized about studying religious things in a spiritual way.

If any of this sounds good to you, please check out Mormon Stories Sunday School. Start with this one, maybe. Or start with the most recent one. I don't care. Then maybe donate, if you can. Because without donations, this podcast will go away. And if this podcast goes I away, I will ...  I just ... I really like this podcast.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Letter to a Stranger: Gay Marriage Edition

Cross posted at nomorestrangers.org.

This is a private message I sent to a friend's friend on Facebook at his request. The thread was pretty Mormon-y, and so is my response. The context: you can't be Mormon and support gay marriage. My argument: yes you freaking can.

Also, in this post, I admit to the most shameful thing I've ever done. I've been keeping it a secret because I'm so terribly remorseful about it. It has been weighing on my conscience for nearly five years. I feel that in order to make restitution (and to not be a hypocrite), I need to confess. To my gay friends and family, I am deeply, deeply sorry. I made a mistake.

Hi Stranger,

I support gay marriage because while unions between a man and woman (or a man and several women as some have and many still believe) may be ecclesiastically sanctioned, what our society views as marriage is socially constructed. My marriage with my husband as it is recognized by the state allows certain privileges—like hospital visits and health benefits—but it ends at death. My temple sealing involves many more promises, but does not necessarily help me pay for my health care. My point is, the temporal and the divine can meet in places, but are generally two separate realms, especially for people who have different understandings of divinity. It seems morally wrong to say that I deserve the right to use my husband's health benefits, I deserve the right to visit my dying husband in the hospital, but that my gay friends and family should not enjoy similar basic civil rights.

I sustain the LDS church leaders because I believe they are doing their best to further God's work on Earth. I do not think they are perfect, because no humans are. To sustain means to support, not necessarily to agree with. In fact, I've read several biographies that document major disagreements between the brethren, even regarding "doctrinal" issues like the priesthood ban. (I put doctrinal in quotes because, according to David O. McKay, the priesthood ban was a policy issue, not a doctrinal one.) Recently, the LDS church changed its position on homosexuality, asserting that people do NOT choose their homosexual orientation. This is a major shift. 

I believe the leaders of the LDS church are good people who are also entitled to opinions and personal revelation, just like I am. The inspiration I've received for myself is to support gay marriage. I live in California. I agonized over how to vote on Proposition 8. Ed note: To my non-Mormon friends, this might seem silly. Vote how you want to, right? But institutional pressure looms large in a church like mine and situations like these are presented as tests. I went into the voting booth having convinced myself that Proposition 8 was some sort of trial of my faith and obedience, as if GAY MARRIAGE had anything to do with me, a straight, married woman. When it came down to it, I voted "yes" in order to be obedient, and as I walked out of the booth, I could not control my weeping. My heart, my guts, my instincts all told me I had chosen incorrectly. I truly believe I should have voted "no" on Proposition 8. 

When I went in for my temple recommend interview, I told my ecclesiastical leaders where I stand on gay marriage. They *still* issued me a recommend. That's why I find statements that suggest I'm not worthy, or that I'm somehow being dishonest by calling myself a Mormon and sustaining my leaders, so unbelievably hurtful.

I respect your right and privilege to receive your own inspiration. I believe you practice your religion with integrity. I hope you can do the same for me. 



Monday, March 25, 2013

NOLA: Day 3 and iPhone dump

Welcome to the third and final installment of our New Orleans adventures! Leaving this morning was an absolute tragedy. But there is honestly no possible way that our trip could have been more enjoyable, thanks almost entirely to Nick and Whitney. I don't think it's any exaggeration to say that they are literally the best travel guides that have ever lived in history. Check out their blog, Mind on Travel, to see what sorts of wacky adventures they're up to.

Here's the final breakdown:
(It's hard to read that without hearing Europe and 
having GOB and glitter coming to mind. But I digress....)

Image grabbed from here.

Start the misty morning again with yoga at the Cabildo. New life's goal: try to make my shoulder blades "kiss."

New Orleans Roadfood Festival 2013!! (Good gravy, this event is fantastic.) Stroll down the blocked off section of the French Quarter and sample all manner of foods without regard for price or calorie count. Be shocked at the amount of food you can consume without getting sick. (Among foods consumed: Sun-dried tomato and mushroom pie, tamales, gumbo, seafood pasta, frozen custard. Food NOT consumed: the fried chicken, which I'll regret until my dying day.) Refuse to take pictures on account of the food shame.

Walk to Café du Monde with (surprise!) friends from San Diego who just happen to be in town for a smarty pants conference. Hi Britta and Alan! Cheer as Al boldly snags a leftover beignet from an abandoned table. Go Alan! How was it Alan? Cold.

Take a leisurely stroll back to the Marigny District through the French Quarter. 


Head out to the bayou and for gator-gazing, zydeco, and ungodly shellfish consumption. Eat weight (roughly) in crawfish.


Feign enthusiasm as a "seed dancer"* for the zydeco band. Be surprised when enthusiasm becomes real.

*Person who, against all odds, tries to get other people excited about dancing.

Fall in love with your goofy husband all over again when he plays the washboard like a pro.

That's my man!

Drive back to the French Quarter and hop in line just in time to buy tickets for a show at Preservation Hall. Sit on the floor just about three fit away from this kick drum.

Get sprayed with the trombonist's spittle. Do not wash it off.

Head back to the apartment, watch nearly 15 minutes of The Sopranos, and crash.

Four hours later, roll out of bed, call a cab, and return to reality.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

NOLA: Day 2 and iPhone dump

Front door of Vaughan's. So you know which door I went in.

Surprise! We did not see everything there was to see in the Big Easy last night, even though the day was jam packed with ultra travel-y goodness. We did sleep in quite a bit the morning of Day II, but then got right back on the horse.

Shower: Because you're gross.

Take a cab across town. Not the cab you ordered, which shows up more than 30 minutes late, but a cab that serendipitously drives down the street. Get really confused by the extra fees the cabby keeps mentioning. Keep handing him $1 bills until he finally smiles and says thank you.

Lunch at Boucherie Boudain balls, french fries, a cuban, and Krispy Kreme bread pudding. Ah-mazing. Die a little bit inside from happiness.

Notice all the beautiful houses as you walk toward the campus that educated your dad in the mysteries of medicine. Get jealous that you've never studied at such a beautiful campus. Covet the youth of the co-eds who ride by on their beach cruisers.

Bask in the sunny, humid, greenishness of the lovely Audubon Park. Pet a strangers dog and strike up a conversation he is surely bored with. Snap an instagram of a naked statue. Hold as still as possible until that damn hornet finally flies away and leaves you alone.

Walk down St. Charles to Jefferson where you pick up the streetcar to Canal Street. Sweat. Sit next to insufferable Brooklynites on the car — early twenty-somethings exposing their ignorance on music and ... just about everything else.

Walk back to the apartment through the French Quarter after stopping at CVS for some Diet Coke and Claritin D. Accidentally walk down Bourbon Street for a block or two until the smell of sweat and booze drives you over to Royal. Stop at a vintage boutique on Mandeville to buy another birthday present for your sister and some earrings for yourself that you don't need.

Head to Willy Wonka's Chocolate Factory ... I mean ... Cafe Reconcile for America's Hometown Sweets. Gorge on roughly 1 million (or 25) dessert samples: macarons, banana pudding, frozen chocolate covered key lime pie, s'mores, cotton candy.... Accidentally eat rum cake. Woops.

Strangely and unintentionally phallic 
King Cake flavored cotton candy.

Decide as group that you need salty food to bring you down from your sugar trip. Have tomato basil soup and collard greens plus diet cream soda, cause you know you'll need something sweet again after all that salt. :)


Friday, March 22, 2013

NOLA: Day 1 and iPhone dump

Greetings from New Orleans!

We just completed Day 1 of our first non-family vacation since our honeymoon in 2008. And you guys — as it turns out, travelling without years of baggage and dysfunctional family dynamics can actually be super fun. I know. We're as surprised as your are.

Here's a little breakdown of what's happened so far:

Day 0: Fly to New Orleans from LAX on a delayed flight. Arrive at Zero Dark Thirty (I am not using that right...). Get picked up by super awesome friend Nick at the butt-crack of night. Nice guy.

Day 1: Realize how much flexibility I've lost at Yoga in the Cabildo* (so fun to say), the museum across from Jackson square in the French Quarter. 

*Also the very same room where the previously mentioned Nick and his wife (and my yoga partner) Whitney had a ring ceremony a few years back. We couldn't attend on account of our poverty, but a sunrise yoga class is almost as good (read: not even close, but lovely all the same).

Jackson Square, St. Louis Cathedral, and Cabildo.

$5 dollar breakfasts at cafe near our apartment followed by a Breakfast Dessert of various cupcakes. Pictures do not turn out.

Traipse around the French Quarter with Nick and Dave, Whitney's brother (a student and rugby player at Rutgers, ya'll! Ladies, I believe he's single). Step in horse s%!@. Eat beignets from aptly named Cafe Beignet. Get covered in powdered sugar while stuffing face.

Check out sweet 100-year-old hat shop on the way to lunch. 
Experience shopping anxiety and buy nothing.

Sweet mid-century hat store sign...

for a sweet nineteenth century hat store.

Lunch at Cochon. Discovered by Nick years ago and recommended to me by my thesis advisor. 
Experience food ecstasy.

Cochon: Best. Eatery. Ever.

Drive to Magazine Street for window shopping purposes. Take a bunch of pictures but wait 
to post them after they've been instagrammed so they'll all be the same nice square shape.
Feel ashamed for admitting that on the blog.

Dinner at Bacchanal. More food ecstasy. (Seriously. And all I had was the trout salad.) Listen to a live violin jazz trio play renditions of "Inspector Gadget" and "Roxanne." 

Post-dinner walk to Vaughan's, a local dive bar with a $10 cover. Listen to a band described by Rob as, "New Orleans Blues Funk." Hear them play the most exciting version of "Superstition" ever. Order a Shirley Temple from the bartender. Endure her confused stare followed by barely concealed amusement, because you ordered a child's drink.

Drag weary body to the car and drive to Frenchmen Street. Become re-energized at the prospect of buying tchotchkes from local artisans at a lovely flea market. Nick takes better pictures.

Flea market art, Frenchmen Street.

Fall into bed. Eagerly anticipate next day's adventures.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

A Mormon-y post. Cause it's Sunday.

For the past three years or so, I served as a Gospel Doctrine teacher in my ward (local congregation), which for you nomos means I taught Sunday School to the grown ups. Recently, they assigned me to the Young Women program, which caters to girls between the ages of 12 and 18. I'm the Personal Progress advisor, which basically means I help the girls set and meet different goals. See what the Church has to say about it here.

The church has (what I think is) a problematic tendency to reduce girls' roles to only future mothering and wifery when we all know that women can be those things (or not) and also so much more. In the talk that I gave last week at New Beginnings, I tried to avoid saying the words "wife" and "mother," focusing instead on the incredible individuals that they are right now.

Personal Progress: Stand in Holy Places No Matter Where You Are
Good evening everyone. I’m thrilled to be serving with the Young Women again and to be here at New Beginnings celebrating your achievements. It’s wonderful to have parents and leaders here to support us and to remind us how valuable our young women are to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Personal Progress extends an invitation to "Come unto Christ and be perfected in him.” This should be our earthly goal: to become more like our Savior and heavenly parents. This is what makes our church so special: we are expected not just to be obedient, but also to be transformed, to become godlike. And I truly believe that the Young Women program and Personal Progress is specifically designed to help us do this by acquainting us with our heavenly parents, our Savior Jesus Christ, and ourselves.

I’d like to read two passages from the church’s official website; the first is about the Young Women program and the second is about Personal Progress, specifically.

You have a noble responsibility to use your strength and influence for good. Your loving Heavenly Father has blessed you with talents and abilities that will help you fulfill your divine mission. As you learn to accept and act upon the Young Women values in your life, you will form personal habits of prayer, scripture study, obedience to the commandments, and service to others. These daily personal habits will strengthen your faith in and testimony of Jesus Christ. They will also allow you to recognize and develop your unique gifts.

“The Personal Progress program uses the eight Young Women values to help you understand more fully who you are, why you are here on the earth, and what you should be doing as a daughter of God to prepare for the day you go to the temple to make sacred covenants…. Participating in Personal Progress teaches you to make commitments, carry them out, and report your progress to a parent or leader” (lds.org).

This skill—setting and completing goals and being accountable for them—will be useful in every facet of your life now and every avenue you might possibly pursue. Furthermore, each of the goals laid out for you in your Personal Progress book (and now, conveniently, online) should be considered a spiritual and intellectual investment in yourself. I promise you that you will not be able to help but grow and improve as you engage in Personal Progress.
Each of the eight Young Women values—which are faith, divine nature, individual worth, knowledge, choice and accountability, good works, integrity, and virtue—requires the completion of six value “experiences” and one ten-hour, individually designed value “project.” As you complete the experiences and projects for each of the Young Women values, you will receive an emblem and a scripture ribbon. If you complete the experiences and projects for all the values, attend sacrament meeting and seminary, keep a journal, and read The Book of Mormon regularly, you will be eligible to receive your Young Womanhood Recognition. But more importantly, you will have invested countless hours in yourself and your personal relationship with the divine.
This year, the Youth Theme is “Stand ye in holy places and be not moved.” Regarding this theme, Sister Elaine S. Dalton has said, “Our hope for young women is that they will always be worthy to enter the most holy place on earth—the temple. As storms rage around us, as moral pollution continues to accumulate, we hope each young woman can be worthy of the constant companionship of the Holy Ghost. We hope she can find refuge from the storms and come to know that she is not alone. This is a time of great opportunity for each young woman to truly ‘stand … in holy places.’”
Tonight, our theme is “Stand in holy places, no matter where you are.” When I was a teenager, I could attend the temple as often as I could get a ride. For about a year, my brother and I did baptisms for the dead every Thursday morning before school. But that was in Salt Lake City. Here in Los Angeles, it’s not that easy. And in your lives, it may not get easier. There may be times when you are separated from the temple by great distances, both literal and figurative. But you can still stand in holy places. In 1 Corinthians 3:16 we read, “Know ye not that ye are a temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you?” I truly believe that by investing time and hard work in your minds, hearts, and souls, you can come to know and resemble your Savior. I predict that as you develop these values in yourselves, you will begin to recognize them in others as well. And if we all use these gifts we’ve cultivated to mourn with those who mourn and comfort those who stand in need of comfort, than we will create holy places everywhere we go.  I believe that by following the teachings of Jesus and improving ourselves through programs like Personal Progress, we can truly stand in holy places, no matter where we are.

Friday, March 8, 2013

On writer's block, question marks, and life or death situations

I've been having wicked bad writer's block, you guys.

Like, wicked bad.

And it's not even like writing a master's thesis is that big of a deal anyway. I mean thousands of people do it every year, right? And then for each thesis written, there are literally three, maybe four readers. And that's if you submit it for publication, or something. 

What I'm trying to say is, this is just an exercise—a culminating activity that is supposed to show advisors and me that all this reading and studying I've done can be bundled up and made into a real, live, physical, thing. (Or at least a virtual, blinking, digital thing.)

This is not what my thesis will look like. My thesis will look like the Internet. Or invisible.

But I can't do it. Well, I started it. But I can't finish it. Because in the middle of my soul, there's a great big question mark that's always asking the world the same thing: am I good or bad? Am I valuable? Or do I owe the world an apology for being here and taking up space? Am I smart? Or do people just tell me that because I'm not that pretty? (You know how people do that?) Can I do this thing? Or will this be another disappointing failure in this life I don't really deserve to be living anyway?

Because of this question mark, everything I attempt becomes a quest for my own personal holy grail. Instead of being a question of whether I can write 50-70 coherent pages (probably), it becomes a question of whether I'm worth anything as a person. This thesis is just one of the commonplace situations that I've managed to turn into a life or death problem. My thesis advisor told me this tendency is unacceptable. It certainly is inconvenient. At first I thought this is narcissism on my part, but my therapist assured me it's just low self-esteem.

I need some good vibes. I need to believe that the I can complete an activity successfully. I need to punch my dickish superego in the nuts. 

I need to answer the question mark.