My Uncle Breck sends a pretty steady stream of interesting videos and articles to my inbox. I’m always excited to see what he’s got for me. Yesterday, it was this TED talk, a lot of which rang true to me. But I’ll refrain from saying more. I still feel like until I transition from “expecting parent” to “parent” I’m not officially allowed to comment on parenting matters. Does anyone else feel that way? I have to cross that bridge before I earn myself any credibility. What do you parents out there think about this talk?
- I’ve been working on a spoken word poetry piece about the origin of my interest in spoken word poetry. Most people in the Atlanta spoken word scene started with rap. I started with “Anne of Green Gables.” (Remember Anne’s recitation of “The Highwayman”—how could you not be moved?)
- I’ve been learning how to listen to my body. Mostly my body says things like, “You’re going to pay for this!” especially when I sit in the car for hours and hours driving up and down the East Coast week after week to accompany Trent on his interviews. Sometimes, my body says things like, “EAT THIS ENTIRE CARAMEL APPLE RIGHT THIS SECOND.” I respectfully listen to that, too.
- I’ve been working to get ahead on writing deadlines, often while watching the Olympics, often while listening to Morning Edition. Often, these distractions lead to me getting nothing accomplished.
- I’ve been reading a lot, polishing of this and this and this and this and this. If you want to know which ones I’d recommend, you’ll have to ask me privately. Disliking books written by admirable kidnapping victims makes me feel like I’m a terrible person. I probably am.
- I’ve been thinking about my future daughter very little and myself very much, something I’m trying to correct before it’s too late. Meeting my friend Danielle’s new addition, Olivia Marie, via Google Hangout last week gave me a wave of excitement again. It comes in waves. Danielle said she was nervous about how she and Olivia would get along. “We totally hit it off,” she assured me. I’m praying for the same.
- I’ve been brainstorming street names for my parents who just closed on a beautiful five-acre lot near Deer Creek Reservoir. Before they build their house, they get to name their street. They’re offering a $50 prize for the winning name. So far, I’ve got Hyper Drive and Justin Timber Lane. My dad gave me an A for creativity, but an F for likelihood of winning. Like most things, my street names won’t be lauded for their greatness until after my death—the tragedy of true creative genius. I’m used to it. I think I’d be better at naming nail polish colors anyway.
- I’ve been on a quest to find the perfect macaroni and cheese recipe. Trent and I recently got carded while trying to buy white wine for one … except Trent didn’t have an ID on him. The dutiful 17-year-old grocery clerk was convinced that the pregnant 26-year-old Mormon was trying to buy alcohol for the bearded 28-year-old “minor” with proof of his own health insurance policy, fishing license and credit cards. We bullied him until he let us buy the bottle, first making Trent promise he wasn’t a law enforcement officer in disguise.
- I’ve started to learn French. So far, my favorite word is “blasé” which means apathetic or unimpressed. Mostly, I love this word because of how snooty it sounds when thrown into an English sentence. “I was so blasé about that last episode of American Idol. How many times are we going to hear ‘Radioactive’ this season? Think outside the box, people.” See? I’m basically French already.
Listening to: Bob Costas. Love that man. So happy he’s back.
I think I need to read “Sense and Sensibility.”
I’ve never read it. But I know the story. I know that it’s famous for illuminating the importance of balance between practicality and passion. I’ve been trying to find a way to articulate the beauty I’m learning to see in that balance, but I’m not sure I can really convey it, not in a way that would sound remotely convincing to my former self. Maybe reading the book would help. Or maybe this is one of those lessons that you have to learn by experience.
You see, eight years ago I entered college a flaming idealist. I believed that real satisfaction was only possible in the realization of my wildest dreams. I pitied those who settled for practical career paths, those who pursued degrees and positions that seemed void of imagination for reasons like “flexible hours” or “promising job markets.” To me, there was no greater tragedy than my music-loving friend from high school applying to chiropractic school instead of trying to become a rock star, no turn-off like a first date who said he was pre-dental. Nobody—I told myself snobbishly—is passionate about teeth.
I majored in journalism with visions of grandeur—late nights and deadlines, front-page stories and quippy columns, press passes, front lines, syndication, glory. I wanted to write about important issues in in-depth ways. I wanted to write things that mattered. For millions. Without restriction. I didn’t think about the costs.
It wasn’t until I graduated and got in the trenches that I realized the fantastical elements of my “wildest dream.” I learned about the pressure to cater to advertisers, to write to the tastes of editors, to get clicks. I learned that you have to earn the right to quippy columns and important issues, but often that means playing politics or giving up other things life has to offer. I learned that idealism without work and sacrifice is hollow and that sometimes, what you have to give up to achieve your goals might chip away at the satisfaction you’re searching for. I learned that your passions can sprawl above and beyond and outside work altogether. I learned that financial stability and job security are only factors of little importance to people who have always enjoyed them and people who are content to live on the edge, people who don’t have anyone relying them, people who don’t want anyone relying on them. I learned that I am none of those people.
I learned that my dream—my real dream—looked different than I thought. I learned that sensibility without sense just wasn’t worth dreaming about. And I learned that dreams that made room for both were beautiful. Shockingly beautiful. Those dreams are too wise and whole to pity, too seasoned and refined to do anything but celebrate.
Want to know my new dream?
I want to be a “useful sort of person”—another Jane Austen phrase. I want to spend my time at work impacting individual lives for the better in direct, personal, meaningful ways.
I want to have financial stability. Job security. Location flexibility. Work-life balance. I want my work to fit with my passions, including my passion for freedom in all its forms.
I want to work in a field that encourages autonomy and innovation. I want to be challenged and supported in problem-solving and creating.
I want to live above the pressure to allow my work to limit my passions. I want to exist outside the dogma that if what you do to pay the bills doesn’t fill every hole in your being, you’re selling out in some way.
I want to write. I will always want to write. But I also want to empower others to find their voices, to express themselves, to communicate with the world, to connect with others.
And as much as I want to play this one close to the chest, to hold back from sharing too much in case life happens and things change, I also want to let people in on my own evolution. Life might happen. Things might change, but today and really for some time now, I’ve known that …
I want to become a Speech Language Pathologist, specializing in narrative speech, meaning construction and the social aspects of communication.
And it is a beautiful dream.
Listening to: William Fitzsimmons, “Well Enough”
“Costa Rica, my heart’s devotion. Let it sink back in the ocean. Ay, ay, ay.”
Sometimes, in the swoon of my undying love of the soundtrack of “West Side Story,” I get a little confused. Puerto Rico? Costa Rica? It’s a fantastic song either way, one which I sang constantly during our four day whirlwind babymoon trip last week. As I sit here not watching the Super Bowl, I’m oiling up my tin man joints. And by that, I mean I’m trying to get back into my blog writing groove. I’m feeling a little rusty, as evidenced by the weird “Wizard of Oz” metaphor I just attempted. Oiling up my tin man joints? Woof. What kind of writing is that?
The truth is, it’d be nearly impossible to write about Costa Rica without bragging my brains out. Guys, it was amazing. It was one of those rare trips where everything exceeds expectations. After the first day of hiking, swimming and lounging around the treehouse-like eco lodge we had all to ourselves, feeling giddy and grateful in love, I wrote in my journal that it was “as close to a perfect day as I think I’ve ever had.” Guys, I don’t write crap like that unless I really mean it. I also wrote a whole paragraph about how cute Trent was as he tried to knock star fruit out of a tree with a broom, swearing at the birds who went after the ones he wanted. He was so proud of himself cutting up that fallen star fruit, as proud as a … no … I’m going to stop myself before I botch another metaphor.
Even our muddy, strenuous hike along the mind-blowingly blue Rio Celeste was wonderful, even with my lopsided pregnant bod and Trent’s torn ACL, even with the two separate strangers we met along the way who asked me if I was having twins. (Guys, don’t ask anyone that question, OK? Ever. Just promise.) Even with that it was lovely.
We fought only once, the day we spent at the beach, but it was the kind of fight that needs to happen, the kind that resolves some long-suppressed feelings, the kind that leaves you feeling freer and closer at the end of it. Plus for us one fight per trip definitely qualifies as exceeding expectations. We Murpheys are a volatile duo, even in paradise.
Oh, yeah. I was there too. In all my pregnant glory …
My husband had me open a used GPS on Christmas morning. (“Um … thank you?”) When I wised up and turned it on, it was programmed to Costa Rica. We’re flying there tomorrow morning. NBD. It’s just the best babymoon trip ever.
I’m spending today frantically getting ahead on my work deadlines before we leave. I don’t expect you to feel bad for me, but I do hope you’ll excuse my prolonged blogging suckiness.
I’m excited to read “Jane Eyre” on the trip. I’m hosting a book club meeting on it next week. I’m also excited to read “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” aloud with Trent, probably while sitting on top of a volcano or something sick like that. Like I said, I don’t expect you to feel bad for me.
(Trent also got me a French language learning software for Christmas. So far, “au revoir” is all I’ve got.)
Listening to: William Fitzsimmons, “Sister”
I haven’t blogged lately. It’s been stuck on my to-do list between “take used, Craiglisted BOB Revolution Stroller to car wash” and “do taxes,” if that gives you any sense of how blogging has sounded to me these days.
But I’m diving in anyway … with a list. Because everyone knows that when you’re not in the mood to actually do anything, you make a list instead.
Here’s what’s been happening lately:
- I had a lovely two weeks in Utah with my family for the holidays. We went for lots of walks in the crisp, cold mountain air (love that stuff), spent time with my hilarious little brothers, caught the Dead Sea Scrolls exhibit at the Leonardo in Salt Lake and the “Sacred Gifts” exhibit in Provo and savored some especially noteworthy hot chocolate at The Zermatt.
- My parents surprised us all with mini-trips for Christmas. (This deserves its own bullet point.) The boys went to San Fran to the BYU Bowl Game. The girls went to a spa in the Scottsdale sunshine. I decided to experience a “Scalp Escape” treatment (a.k.a. the head massage of the gods). It was worth every penny I didn’t have to spend on it. My mom wasn’t kidding when she said the theme of the trip was “Treat Yo Self.” It was fun to reminisce with my mom about what her life was like when she lived in the Phoenix area long, long ago when my sister and I were wee ones, before my brothers were born. It was a perfect weekend of female solidarity.
- My parents also conducted a notable little Christmas experiment with my brothers. They gave them all Beats by Dre headphones (apparently these are a hot commodity with the kids these days) and then told the boys they could keep them or trade them for $1,000 deposited annually in an investment account, which they could not cash out until their 30th birthdays. (Instant vs. Delayed Gratification—clearly my dad’s been reading a lot of books about “Generation Me” and “The Entitlement Trap” and such.) My brothers all reluctantly turned in their headphones. I’ve never seen Jeff and Sara Strong so giddy.
- My little sister got engaged! We spent much of the vacation planning her cozy February wedding and bonding with her fiance. Dallin Johansen is quite a catch. He’s down-to-earth, funny and deep and can tease my sister without making her mad. Props to anyone who can pull that off. I couldn’t be happier to have him around.
- I learned that New Year’s Eve is not a great night for a karaoke party. The turnout was dismal in numbers, but radiant in quality. My friends, Tawnee and Bob, brought a legit karaoke system and together with my family and a posse of my brother’s high school friends, we sang in the new year. Trent and I performed Kenny Loggins’ “Danny’s Song,” our personal theme song … at least for this phase of our lives. Next time I think our party theme will be “Songs With Lyrics You Fundamentally Disagree With But Love Anyway.” I’ve got tons of options there.
- My sister, aunt and mom threw me a baby shower in Utah. I’m always stressed about playing hostess, especially when worlds collide—professional colleagues, college friends, family—but everyone was incredibly gracious and generous. It was fun to reconnect with people. Plus Baby Girl made out like a bandit.
- Trent and I wrote and edited his application essays until we were blue in the face. As of yesterday, all of the applications have been submitted and we’re still married. Success. (Fingers crossed he lands one of the jobs or spots at one of the MBA programs he’s going after!)
- Since I’ve been home I’ve been fiendishly working on freelance assignments, reading and organizing. I’ve become reacquainted with the treadmill and with our tragically small hot water tank. The days of luxuriously long, hot showers at my parents’ house are gone.
- I just polished off “Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth” and fell in love with the famous midwife more and more with every page. How could you not when she says things like this: “There is no other organ quite like the uterus. If men had such an organ, they would brag about it. So should we.”
- I also fell in love with the poem “Detail of the Woods” by Richard Siken, especially the line that says, “Everyone needs a place. It shouldn’t be inside of someone else.” Beautiful words of differentiation.
Merry Christmas, everyone.
We flew to Utah on Sunday to spend the holidays with my family. On the plane, I spent some time writing in my journal about Christmas, grappling to tap into something that would make me feel that Christmas spirit of love and gratitude deeply—you know, really feel it. It wasn’t until I walked into the Sacred Gifts exhibit at the BYU Museum of Art a few days later that the feeling flooded over me. I stood dead center in front of this Frans Schwartz painting, on loan from a church in Denmark, and cried—like embarassing-my-family cried. This teeny little photo doesn’t do the original justice. That probably goes without saying. The original was incredible. The emotion on Christ’s face, the desperation in his eyes, made me understand in a new way the depth of his suffering and trust in a new way his ability to relate to mine. It’s funny how that Christmas feeling is beautiful, but bittersweet. It shakes you a bit, out of whatever is distracting you, and leaves you calmed, humbled and renewed.
May you feel it, too.
Courtney Kendrick is one of my favorite writers, especially when she writes about writing. I’ve been thinking about this insight for weeks. Happy weekend!
“I see the Holy Ghost as an inspiration, not a detraction. I think in writing, my greatest companion is the Divine. Writing is what I do to transcribe God in my life–I see it as a passage way from earth to heaven. I have stopped feeling like God wants me to live a life of self-editing because when I do, I also edit our relationship. Here’s something to try as a Mormon writer: try writing without the cultural confines of our religion. Try writing simply as someone who loves God. Think of your work as something that transcends proselytism or representation and just write as human being. Do we love our Book of Mormon narratives because the heroes are Mormon? No. We love them because they show a spectrum of humanity inside a context of faith. Sometimes we think the Spirit would never inspire us to write posts about doubt or complaints or frustrations because they aren’t uplifting. But these posts show a journey—and that is completely uplifting. When has the Spirit ever told someone to show up perfect?”
I’ve had a few conversations again about the pants effort over the past few days. I have a few more thoughts about it all that might do some good, at least I hope it might.
When I first heard about the pants effort, I wondered if it would be more divisive than productive, if it would persuade anyone of anything or just put up more walls. I think in many cases, putting up more walls is exactly what it’s accomplished. It’s definitely not a perfect method. I’ll be the first to admit that. But when I prayed about it last year, I felt peaceful about the idea of participating and unsettled about the idea of standing by—an answer that surprised even me at the time. That peace has never faltered, and over the past year, I’ve slowly grown to understand why that was the answer I got as women (and men) have come out of the woodwork to talk to me about their struggles on all kinds of issues. As many critics have said, people’s questions and doubts and feelings of isolation would best be dealt with through individual conversations. But what they don’t understand is that sometimes the fear and shame people suffer beneath is so overpowering, it takes an outward act of personal risk for them to trust you with their souls.
In many ways the “Pants to Church” effort is a bad strategy if you’re trying to persuade people who see no issues with gender in the church, although I think there have been some exceptions to that. There have been conversations that have happened as a result of the pants effort where people have come out more open-minded and understanding. I think some administrative inconsistencies have been examined. But generally, the critics are right—it’s not the best marketing strategy.
But I don’t think that’s the point of pants, really, at least not for me. I think the root of it is much simpler. Despite the widespread characterization of this effort as an emboldened protest, it’s much more an effort to connect and empower the individuals who are struggling, so that they feel comfortable initiating those broader, more intimidating conversations later on. It’s an effort to bind up their wounds and get them on their feet again. It’s an effort to help them stop being afraid. When people say that the point of this effort is to start a conversation, they’re right, and the most important conversations it’s started have been from outcast to outcast. For me personally, this seemingly silly outward symbol of wearing pants to church has opened the floodgates of love and connection with many, many people who need it, myself included, and the result has been incredibly uplifting for all of us.
It makes me care very little about how persuasive we’re being through this effort. It makes persuasion seem pretty insignificant. It makes the whole effort seem much more about the one than the ninety and nine. Sometimes I want to say to the people who sincerely want everyone to feel loved and accepted, but disapprove of this approach … maybe this has nothing to do with you. Maybe this isn’t for you at all. Maybe that’s OK. Maybe just because you don’t relate to this doesn’t mean it’s not an answer to someone else’s prayer.
Trent was still an undergrad when he proposed to me, an undergrad who was financially independent—in otherwords, a pauper. I didn’t think much about the engagement ring when we talked about getting married. I remember being surprised about how big and expensive it looked when he put it on my finger. It wasn’t until later when we sat down and started budgeting our life together, opening a joint bank account, laying it all out there, that I realized what kind of an investment that ring had really been for him. I remember realizing how much pressure he felt to get me something nice, a pressure I couldn’t understand at the time, but now see more clearly. The world tells boys that their ability to buy their wives expensive things is a sign of their worth as a man.
In the three and a half years we’ve been married, I’ve seen that cultural weight on his shoulders manifest itself in other ways. I’ve watched him go through moments of panic when the pressure to “provide” overwhelms him, and I always have to stop myself from feeling defensive when it does. “I don’t care if you can buy me nice crap!” I want to yell. “Don’t you know me at all?” But then I remember that it’s not about me. It’s about the world. It’s a pressure that’s coming from a culture and media that defines “manliness” very narrowly. Real men are providers and aggressors. Real men don’t cry or connect or panic, and they sure as hell don’t need help. Real men aren’t vulnerable at all.
I talk a lot about the war on women in our world, in our media, but there’s a war on men, too. I’m excited for this documentary to come out to examine the ways we damage boys by feeding them a warped definition of masculinity.
Boys are vulnerable, too.
I wore pants to church on Sunday in support of the Second Annual Wear Pants to Church Day. That means many things to many people, but the official statement of the effort is that it supports the idea that that there is more than one way to be a good Mormon. It supports inclusiveness and acceptance at church.
Trent keeps telling me I need to write about my second experience supporting this day, but the truth is, I don’t have much to say about it this year. Last year, wearing pants to church felt like a monumental act of personal courage and vulnerability. I felt closeted before “Pants Day” last year, suffocating from the notion that feeling different from everyone around me made me inferior somehow. Before “Pants Day” last year, that cultural pressure was pushed upon me, yes, but it wasn’t quite that simple. I colluded in that pressure by not challenging it. I allowed myself to feel inferior.
Wearing pants to church last year and talking and writing about the act of doing it freed me from all that. Walking into the foyer of my church building last Sunday, past the bishop and one of his counselors, I smiled and said “Good morning!” and it didn’t feel like a bold, courageous anything. It felt like a normal Sunday. In pants. I feel more free to be myself at church now, free to give what I have to give and learn what I need to learn. I feel at home in a ward that had more female pants-wearers this year than last, more purple-wearers this year than last. But even if I’d been alone in pants this Sunday, I wouldn’t have felt nearly as isolated as before. By wearing pants, I showed up and refused to feel isolated. By wearing pants, I invited others in.
I go back sometimes and read the jagged little things I wrote surrounding last year’s “Pants Day” and I see how hurt and scared I was. I remember treading in defensiveness, kicking and kicking to keep it beneath me. I feel surprisingly distant from that struggle. Here and now, I am still the same woman with the same doubts, the same questions and even the same answers—answers I sense from God that sometimes differ from the cultural norms—and yet, I am not the same woman at all. I am a woman at peace.
We opted for an e-card again this year, which puts shivers down my snail-mail-lovin’ spine.
But as much as I love graphic designers, letterpress printing and books of stamps, I love my sanity more.
This busy Christmas, I had to choose between them.
We decided to take what we’d spend on printing and postage and make a Kiva loan instead.
If you’re ticked you’re not getting a printed card from us year, take it up with Khanum and her livestock.
It’s been a wonderful year for us filled of lots of travels, adventures and most importantly, hearty personal growth. (And I don’t just mean my baby bump.) We’ve learned a lot about ourselves this year—that we can be brave enough to change our plans, that we can forgive others and ourselves, that we can backpack for a month together and live to tell the tale. Most importantly, we’ve learned again how blessed we are to have so many amazing people in our lives.
We’re humbled by that blessing daily. We really don’t deserve you.
May your holiday season be filled with warmth, goodness, and most of all, peace.