Thursday, January 26, 2012

Take It or Leave It

Last week a very nice girl in my film class at the college where I'm teaching, politely asked me how many films on the syllabus were rated "R." Not having it in front of me, I replied "a few." She then informed me that her religion did not allow her to watch rated R movies and she would be checking out of the class. Did she see my CTR ring? It was a little arrogant. I wish she hadn't been arrogant. No problem for me... there is a wait list as long as the existing roll.

But, "her religion?" Though I didn't ask her, I'm pretty sure, we share the same religion. And a stabbing pain twitched in my eye. I hope she didn't notice that. I had been warned that this might happen. I just didn't know how I would feel - until it happened to me.

The leadership of the LDS Church has asked it's membership not to view rated R movies. Still, here I am, teaching "Understanding Film" and I was assigned to teach this class from someone I know is also a member our our religion and so is his boss, and his boss above him. These people are "old St. George" families that go back to Jacob Hamblin himself.

I turned to some research from "The BYU" itself to get perspective. There are classes in which R rated movies are required viewing. Film Appreciation classes for example and Amistad appears in several History syllabuses. They have an International Film Studies Club with a "disclaimer" noting that they will be watching and critiquing several movies that may be considered Rated R (Foreign ratings are very different and usually have an age appropriate suggestion)

We could read about what is going on in our world, or look at pictures, but it can also be recreated through the power of film in a way that puts us inside that piece of the world. It makes us sit up and watch, listen, assign attention . . . that's key. Most of us are visual learners, so anything that a student can watch and decode while they learn increases retention of the lesson.

My syllabus contains 16 units that help us develop critical thinking while we are watching a film. It is a Humanities or Fine Arts credit and consequently, the movies that are shown are rich in historical context including artistic and technological advances through time. We study narrative structure, editing, sound, cinematography, ideology in film, etc... all things that open our understanding to how movies illicit emotional and ideological response. Ultimately, we should have a broader view of our world, and appreciation for the kinds of humanity that we are not exposed to every day. After all, film is the world's number two form of entertainment (after television) and we identify the cinema as a major player in the humanities because it shapes our ideology so clearly. It has so much power! And that is what I think the Mormons (we) are afraid of.
This is a quote from my syllabus : "Film, historically and currently, deals with complex and controversial issues; it often makes us uncomfortable by challenging our identity, our relationships and our beliefs. It is impossible to have a meaningful Introduction to Film class that does not engage, at times, difficult issues..."

We (Mormons) don't criticize the movie for it's content we are advised to steer clear of it. The thought pattern goes like this: as marijuana is a gateway drug, so are rated R movies to porn or violence. I really believe this. But I also believe that it ... depends on the rated R movie. My students would probably rather watch Austin Powers than Pans Labyrinth, but even with that PG rating, Austin Powers offends me to the core and Pans Labyrinth brought me to my knees. What to do?!?!?

Solution: Brigham Young!
After he trekked out to Utah on his own two feet, Brigham Young was criticized for finishing a playhouse before he finished the Mormon temple (After two thousand miles on foot, I would have finished a bar myself), and this was his reply :

"Upon the stages of a theatre can be represented in character, evil and its consequences, good and its happy result and rewards; the weakness and the follies of man, the magnanimity of virtue and the greatness of truth. The stage can be made to aid the pulpit in impressing upon minds of a community an enlightened send of a virtuous life, and also a proper horror of the enormity of sin and a just dread of its consequences. The path of sin with its thorns and pitfalls, its gins and snares can be revealed, and how to shun it." (Discourses of Brigham Young, pg. 243)

So yesterday, after a particularly violent vampire movie (not the sparkling kind I assure you) I was asking myself this question can I teach this stuff and still feel good about following the advice given to me from the mouthpiece of God? I can point out the consequences of sin, but I just can't call it that. I must be the actor I was trained to be. My new lecture notes will have to include a politically correct study guide, clearly stating how society crumbles when vampires are around. Vampires aren't real...right? I'm really confused.

I guess I could edit the movies I'm required to show. The writer George Eliot once noted, “If art does not enlarge men’s sympathies, it does nothing morally.” When we choose to edit film, we are only seeing what we want to see and what we already know. So why study things we already know?

I taught English in a refugee camp in Thailand for about 7 months while I was serving an LDS mission. I had them write about their life stories. I was appalled and shocked at the atrocities these children of God had been through. Their English was bad. Their vocabulary simple. Still, it made me get up earlier in the morning. It made me keenly aware of their sacrifice. BUT... I was not in Cambodia or Vietnam in the 70's. It was not until I had seen the movie "The Killing Fields" that I fully understood what my refugees had gone through. I was racked with pain and empowered to serve after I saw that movie. (I saw it on my mission) My thought is, in a controlled environment (like a film class, or sitting with a group of mature adults, etc...), a movie like Amistad, or Saving Private Ryan, or Pans Labyrinth ("Come sit on the right hand of your Father...) could lift your soul, make you fight back, raise your consciousness! As long as you take advantage of the information the film gives you to put it into perspective and use the film to enlarge your sympathies toward mankind.

But I am nothing if not obedient and I want to do what my leaders have asked me to do. My questions continue to burn...

Last one...when I saw the movie "The Passion of the Christ" (rated R for...the truth, basically) I nearly had a stroke from crying so hard in that film. People were sobbing all around us. Nobody cared. I watched the nails go into his hands (because it is literally depicted in the film) and I quietly thanked the director for including that for me. (Mel Gibson...weird). I needed to know, as closely as they could reenact it, how great that sacrifice was...for me. I'll NEVER forget the sound editing that so clearly created the sound of a whip biting into a human back. He took that for me.

I watched the actors stand around the bottom of the cross, knowing He was the Son of God and I imagined it was me. I was wearing the costume and all. And ever since then...every single Sunday, when I am participating in the rituals of sacrament meeting, I visualize that scene, from that rated R movie, and I am there! And I am racked with pain for what I have done to cause this moment in history. And I beg for His forgiveness.

So do I end up with some inspirational answer to my conundrum? Hehehehe... no. No way. Sorry. You might have been waiting for it...but remember who the blogger is....

This is my only peace: we can use film to enlarge our imagination, create empathy and awareness and learn about the paths of sin... and how to avoid them. (Thank you Brother Brigham) As long as . . . we do it in an environment of understanding and learning and we always, always, always, remember that the rating it's been given, the information it provides, is someone else's perspective. Take it or leave it.

Just like my class.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

The Spaz

Joshua was exhausted.

He needed to hear this: "Be strong of of good courage, be not afraid. Neither be dismayed for the Lord thy God is with thee wheresoever those goest."

When I was in 8th Grade I was desperate to be popular. I was utterly ordinary. We called kids like me a "spaz" in the 70's. The kids that I hung around with were the popular dudes. They needed me. But not for the reasons I hoped. I was the "note" girl. The delivery girl. The mail service. When one of the popular boys wanted to give a note to someone to ask them to "go with" them, I was the one that delivered that sacred news. "Going with someone" was the 1970's version of "facebook official" I guess. We were too young to date, so we just "went" with people. We danced with them at the 7th grade Sweethearts Ball - you know that dance that started at 3:30 in the afternoon and ended at 5?

I never "went" with anyone, though I craved the opportunity. I took my job as "wingman" very seriously hoping that I would take a note from some popular, newly single boy and he would casually brush my chubby 8th grade hand, lock eyes with me, hear the bells, and realize that the name on the note was....MINE! But that never happened. I never gave up hope though, and consequently the mail was delivered without fail, rain or shine.

I also rode the cusp of the group of kids that thought the popular group was ridiculous. They were the "smart kids." And they were VERY spazzy. I was only sorta smart. I did my homework and I went to school, but only because I had parents to please and mail to deliver. (Before email - human snail mail was exhausting.)

I didn't feel at home in either group. I thought I was the only person that felt that way. Ah, junior high!

So one day I was walking up over the overpass by my parents house with some cool kids from the popular group and they offered me a little plastic bag full of pills that would "make everything awesome." I started giggling that precursor-to-a-heart-attack giggle...the smart kids rumored this was happening in the school, but suddenly I knew who they were, and it was happening to me. I felt - all at once - so scared I instantly needed to pee, AND... popular.  I saw my aunts house and I tried to make an excuse to go there, but because I was only sorta smart, I didn't come up with one fast enough or good enough for them to believe that I was supposed to stop there. I did need to pee awfully bad though. ;-) So I walked on. I was about three blocks from my house and that was plenty of time for them to persuade me to take the pills. Which they pursued with a vengeance.

I distinctly remember one boy saying "C'mon you chicken, I think she's too chicken." Was it really going to be this ordinary? Chicken? At least say "fraidy cat" or something interesting. I admit it would have taken me a lot of courage to participate in that activity, which I had never done before. I imagined my babysitting money being spent on drugs, my mother's disappointment, the reputation I had flying off my head and being replaced with a big stamp "loser." Only in the 70's it might have read "burn out." Yikes. I had a decision to make right then.

Good courage meant I could walk away, but I was too far from home and I didn't have a cell phone in 1978. So I continued to walk with the group and after I stopped giggling, I decided to say "no thanks."

And it was that easy. It was that ordinary. It felt so SPAZZY. I said "no thanks." In part because I was grateful that they would consider me part of their popular group and partially because I was learning about good courage. So I said "no thanks" about 20 times until I was within running distance of my house.

My dad was the bishop (church leader) and I had seen many destitute people burn outs come into our home for help and my mom would shoo us into the back room until they were gone and she would say "if you do drugs, you will be like that someday. You must be braver than that." Hehehehe.... and here I was, in the test of my training, and I actually acted on the expectation of my parents, because I knew without the shadow of a doubt that I was strong. I had been endowed with good courage.

When I got home I ran down to my room and cried and cried. I was exhausted from the anxiety of the situation...growing up pains. (I can identify that emotion easily now that I have perfected it as an adult.) I was also afraid that those kids would tell everyone in the school that I was a chicken.

But they didn't.

I did have a new reputation however of someone that would always say no. There wasn't a word spoken between us in the four years of high school that followed. I can respect that.

In the end of that era, the spazzy junior high years, I quickly distanced myself from the group and my mail business went belly up. Well...because I was soooo good at it, the smart kids did use my services, but lets face it, smart kids just didn't get asked to "go with" someone very often.

I didn't learn until I was teaching junior high aged kids 25 years later, that moving around from group to group is how we learn who we are. Acting on the expectations of your parents is who we become. I'm very glad that they expected so much of me and that they taught me good courage. Good courage is serving your fellowmen, taking an assignment outside of your skill set, saying no to your urge to buy something you can't afford, facing your addictions, bringing children into the world, walking away from a Costco chocolate cake...and walking away from the mail delivery service.

Monday, January 23, 2012

The Bigger Picture

There was a woman and her four year old son that always shopped at a local grocery store that contained the only penny gumball machine left in the world. It was located between the electronic entrance doors that could only be activated by stepping on the magic pad just infront of the doors. Traditionally, as they would enter the store she would give him a penny and help him turn the knob while he held his little hand under the chute for his gumball. Today he had decided he could do it by himself and he was adamant about it.

The woman continued through the doors to get a cart and waited for him to come through the doors. But he never came. Several seconds later she went to the glass doors and saw his little hand clutched around the knob of the machine with terror on his face. He wasn't strong enough to turn the dial by himself and she could tell that if he let go right then, he would lose the penny and he wouldn't get the gumball either.

She knocked on the glass and motioned for him to let go of the machine and step on the pad to activate the doors so that she could get to him and he stretched out his foot but he was only four after all and four year olds don't have much stretch. She noticed a bead of sweat start down his forehead and into his eye. But he couldn't do anything about it because he was still clutching that knob with all his might and cupping his other hand under the chute. Terrified.

He looked up with tears streaming down his face. He was going to lose his prize. The woman quickly dug through her purse and held up a hand full of change. If he would just let go...step on the pad... she would give him anything he wanted. He could have anything!

It occured to her that this is what God must feel like every day. He sees us on earth clutching to what we want and afraid to come toward him because we might lose what we we're hanging onto that keeps us from Him.

It occurs to me, that we might have to give up the "sure thing" to do what He needs us to do. We might have to give up a great job that takes us away from Him, a habit that creates dischord with our Spirit, it might even be a friend that ridicules or mocks our obedience to Him. I can also think of several things I should do more of, that would close the gap I sometimes feel between us. That might just open the doors that would lead us through to a much bigger picture, where we could have anything we want!

My dad used to say "bigger picture" all the time. Right after "What the hell were you thinking...?!" And now that I am a grown up myself and have the opportunity to look back and see the hand of God in my life...over and over..... and over and over again.... I realize that... Dad was right. There is a God and sometimes, He needs me to stretch a little harder toward the bigger picture.

That story has been on my mind all day! Someone gave it to me once when I needed it. To whoever needs it today (maybe it was me all along) I say, Trust God. Trust what you know in your heart. You're going to have to stick your foot out and touch the pad. It might be a big stretch, but if you start right now, you can do it.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

The Seven Dollar Nap

When you spend 65 hours a week raising other people's kids, sometimes you don't even know how you got home on Friday. From Ivins to Washington there are unaccounted hours and hours of BLUR. You know what I'm, talking about. Especially if you have kids yourself. When you finally get home, you don't often want to get back in the car and go do something active, or fun. You just want to die.

A typical day gets us out of bed at 5:30 or 6 in the morning and returns us at 7 or 8 at night if we're lucky. A typical week includes the same thing from Monday through Friday and about half the Saturdays during the year.

I teach a technical theatre class at the high school and two film classes at the local college. Because my title is "Artistic Director" I also do the scheduling for all the arts events at our high school. I have to make sure the dancers, musicians and artists are all moving forward as best we can. Our school is a performing arts based school and we have ONE performing space. Every one's programs are growing, and in order for us to continue to offer our young artists what they need to prepare them for college, for life, I need to make the puzzle work so they can all perform several times a year.

I also direct two huge shows a year, a couple of smaller ones and three competition teams. You wouldn't think it was such a huge part of the job, but I do all of the shopping for those plays and musicals. In anticipation of having between 120 to 150 kids in our spring musical 2012, I have been buying costumes for that musical since last summer. On our vacation days we shop the thrift stores from St. George to Salt Lake and since we have annual passes at Disneyland, we don't go to L.A. without spending a day or two in the fashion district and hunting down discount dresses and fabric for our shows. We have some great help from the parents once the shopping makes it back to the school, but the props, paint, light bulbs, lumber, zippers, buttons, tape, patterns, programs, posters and props and everything else must all be purchased or rented by me. We pass a Walmart every day on our way home from work. Andy started calling it "church" because we were spending more time every week there, than we were "Do you need to stop at church today?"

We have no business owning a home. There are still tomato plants out back that we planted in the summer of 2009. There are more dishes next to my bed than are in the sink and everyone always says, "you have so many clothes, you should go through them and donate the old stuff." I would if I was a person who had time to do laundry. I have over 50 pair of underwear and it's not because I like to buy underwear.

We actually bought a computer for our home office that would allow me to design marketing, P.R. and lesson plans at home because I just wasn't getting it all done.

It isn't that I'm unfocused or unorganized. The sheer volume of work that gets done every day is miraculous if I do say so myself. But it's the glass. I have a window in my door, that practically invites a student to pass by, see me, and instantly remember that I am the only person on the face of the earth that can solve their special problem, right then.  Because I'm at the college part-time, I'm not at my desk as much as I used to be. I think the kids save up their emergencies for the days when I am there. They make lists. Like when you go to the doctor and you make a list of questions beforehand so you don't forget anything. You may not be able to get in for another three months and the stress of forgetting something!!!!

There is no secretary or intercom to filter the needs and wants of the students before they burst in and present me with their emergency. Just a state-mandated window. Sometimes they just stand there and stare at me until I look up and wave them in. I tried not looking up one day, just to see how long the kid would stand there. I could sense him at first, and then I shifted to see him peripherally...he just stood, staring at me, waiting. I got and made a copy, went to the filing cabinet, shifted some files around and then finally shouted "WHAT DO YOU WANT?" Big smile! BURST!!! "I can't come to rehearsal today...." That's what I thought. He'll miss rehearsal which means that I will have to find other hours in the day, that don't exist, to catch him up with the rest.

Andy made me a "filter" one day. It's a red piece of bulletin board paper that covers the window and says "KNOCK AND DIE" basically. I use that sometimes if there is an ad deadline or...I'm crying...or....can't think of any other times I've actually needed to tape it up.

So when you teach 93 different students and regularly have 50 to 100 kids in a play or musical, there must be 50 to 100 questions, excuses or issues that you try to solve all day, every day. 50 to 100 schedules to work out, 50 to 100 emotional breakdowns per event and 100 to 200 parents that are not communicating with their cast member and need to hear the news from the horse. So the emails alone from that group of shareholders are like a blinking set of Christmas lights that can never be shut off.

Success is a wonderful thing. (choke, cough, hair ball.)

Back to the dying part. Friday nights we try to have a "date." We try to get home before 6 if there isn't a show about to explode. We drive through the fog to get home, and like so many, we say "I'm going to sit in this chair just to decompress, for just 15 minutes." Hehehehahahahahlololol. Three miserable hours later, one of us will lift our aching bodies, look at the clock and say "the movie starts in 20 minutes, we should go." Then we count to five, hobble up onto our feet, put the dogs out, get back into the car and head to the closest movie theatre.

Last night we went to see Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. It's a 9/11 movie with Tom Hanks. I have been looking forward to it. I thought I'd better see it so I could talk intelligently about it in class. We bought popcorn, sat down and I was really enjoying it until.... my power went out. It was warm and dark, no one was bothering me, I had on my favorite Sherpa jacket, there wasn't a computer, student, white board, sewing machine, poster or email in sight. And as soon as I sat down, the sleep button on the bottom of my butt, the one we Shelton's are famous for, just put me right out like a baby. A baby with a sore neck two hours later, but a baby nonetheless.

Andy was crying when I woke up. Daaaaaaaang it! You know it's been a good movie when Andy cries. He said it was "good, I can't talk about it right now." DOUBLE DANG IT!!! Andy's learned, from the past 13 years of going to movies with me that he will usually have to talk about the movie with people that actually SAW the movie and didn't pay $7.50 for the optional nap. Like I did.

Though it was two hours of uninterrupted bliss that I have always paid and will gladly keep paying.

Friday, January 20, 2012

August 9th

I've told this story a hundred times, but before I lose my mind I want to write it down for all my nieces and all those that are still looking for an awesome companion, to read. There is some inspiration here...but it's not what you think. Though I wanted to write about being single for 41 years first...that's just not as fun to read about as kissing. And tonight I'm short on time, and my goal is to write something every day. Today I'm thinking about my awesome boyfriend, Andy. Here goes....

LDS young people are taught from the time they go through the famous fifth grade maturation program to abstain from sex until you're married. You happily, stalwartly say, "Yes I can!" But you don't think they mean 41 years. F...O...R...T...Y...O...N...E...Y...E...A...R...S.

Socially, even though I was a debater and a drama geek, I did learn how to kiss boys. When I was the only girl debater on a team full of boys... I learned a lot. I mean...ah hem....I've always been a good student. I also learned how to say "okay, my dad's probably waiting at home for me now, so I'd better go...." My fear and guilt would always stop me before any piece of clothing was removed.

College was a different story. Dad was no longer waiting at home. I learned what it was like for the spirit to leave me completely and distantly. I didn't like that feeling. So I turned around and served a mission. I went for two years without kissing anyone but babies and old hunched-backed Thai ladies.

My mission really solidified my belief system. Which is great, but then for six or seven years after I came home, I was looking for the next prophet to marry, but I was also working 65 hours a week....and let's face it, the pickin's got slimmer and slimmer. I might as well have made myself a sign: "marry me and become an instant set builder, lighting designer and father of 200." I did not make myself very available. I did not separate work from life at the time.

But in my early 30's I kissed my way into getting engaged to someone that bought into the set building and the kids. He was an actor himself, what luck! He would GET me. Even though he was a few years younger than me, I thought things were finally going to work out. But...they didn't. He wasn't ready. Stunned silence. Ring flying. Doors slamming. Ceremonial invitation burning (thanks mom!). I reacted in typical scorned Mormon woman fashion and threw myself into a gall of unimaginable bitterness. F...O...R.....T...E...N.....Y...E...A...R...S.  

Truthfully, the bitterness was a solid remedy for sexual abstinence. I wrapped myself in a blanket made of chain mail. I packed on the 80 pounds I had lost (they came running right back to their comfort zone) and settled into a life of play directing and "good friends."

Two of those good friends were Chad Taylor and Andy Hunsaker. I had cast them both in community theatre but Andy was never able to "play" with us (he always had to work. Chad never worked...hehe... I love you Chad!) They were both much younger than I was and I had tried younger and wasn't going there again. Nevertheless, because I was always around Chad, I sure wished he was older. ;-) But still, with age, comes wisdom. My dad was right. So I steered clear of them both, despite my mom saying "Why don't you marry one of those boys, Jan?"

When I moved to St. George to produce a play, Chad and Andy were at SUU (a nearby university). They were my only friends. So we put a lot of miles on I-15 between the two towns. Eventually Chad graduated and Andy and I were left. A...L....O....N....E.

(I KNOW I'VE DRAGGED YOU ALONG.... but this is where it gets good....this is where all you single-over-40's out there, still looking for Peter Priesthood, can put your bitterness down, grab hold of that iron rod once again and keep walking girlfriends!)

Toward the end of the summer, we, Andy and I, were sitting in my rented house trying to decide what to do that night and the conversation turned into a lamentation about the lack of physical contact we had endured for so long. I had turned 40 that year and the bitterness I was holding so close had become useless and annoying. Most people my age had kids in high school. I knew, because I was teaching them. !*$#!

I had convinced myself that I needed to get back into the kissing scene. I was serious about it. But I was not AT ALL interested in kissing Andy. Mostly, because he was more like my little brother and that just seemed illegal in some way. But he was the only one around that night. And that night I needed to be kissed. He said something like "I wouldn't even know what to do because I've always been treated like every girls little brother." Mind reader! Blast.

So I sat for a minute. Thinking about the cost of what I was about to say would be very expensive for me to lose my best friend for a NCMO. (Most of you know what that means and if you don't it will make for interesting homework) Then I said (here goes - this is what will get you pregnant girls, watch out) "Why don't WE just go somewhere and make out? I'll teach you everything I know." Friendship to the wind! Curse words flowing in my head. What had I just suggested? I was about to lose my very best friend.

Moment of regret.

Watch the boy.

He turns bright red. Silence.

"Just kidding." I said.

"I'm a quick learner" he says.

"What if it ruins our friendship?"

"What if it doesn't?" he says.

Sound of shattering glass in my head...should have listened to that premonition. But NO. Stupid. Dumb. Dumb. Dumb.

We drove to a video store (back when there were video stores) and picked out the dumbest movie ever made. We planned on coming back to the rented house, putting in the movie and eventually things would turn into (brown chicken brown cow) "The Make Out School." Not sure why we needed the video, but that's a trick I used to know and NO it wasn't porn. Remember - we were still stalwart LDS people trying to avoid porn.

Temple....temple... temple....I had waited this long, I wasn't going to give up that dream for a ten minute make out with my brother. Sheesh.

When we got back to the house, yep, my roommate was there. And she was sick. Emilie I'm talking about you. She was bundled up in several blankets in the basement (on August 9th, in St. George) watching T.V. with a box of kleenex on her lap and when we walked into the room she said "oh good, you brought me a video! I'm sick!" What could we do? We sat down and watched the dumbest movie ever made. Not even looking at each other. The air was so thick you could have cut it. We were bugged. Andy later told me he was scared to death and can't even remember to this day the title of the movie. I admit, I was just bugged. Slowest movie ever!!!!! Whatever it was.

But it gave me time to think. End of movie. Emilie is asleep of course. I have by now conjured Plan B.

We get in the car, Andy's mom's old red Nissan! (His car was in the shop). And I tell Andy to drive "somewhere." He goes toward Lowes and I say "do you need some lumber?" He says "don't worry, we're going to Arizona." Not familiar with the territory, I didn't realize that St. George is about 7 miles from the famous "Arizona Strip." Not a light, not a cop, not a person around for miles and miles. Why do they call it the Arizona Strip? I remind him that this is just a NCMO and no stripping will be happening. Silence. He is in another world and sweating like a whore in church.

I am getting nervous. We are getting farther and farther away from St. George. The tumbleweeds are getting taller. The road turns to dust and we veer off into what can only be described as cocaine traffiking country. Suddenly we stop. How does he know where we are? "I came here once with a girl, but...nothing happened. It was weird." It crosses my mind, that if I don't kiss my best friend tonight, I will effectively RUIN the famed Arizona Strip for him forever. Wouldn't want to do that.

We can still see the lights of the city, but we have crossed the state line. I feel like I have just been cast in Footloose. Permission to do whatever you want. Dark red car, tumbleweeds as high as the windshield. But I feel very safe. This is key.

Car shuts down. Click. Click. Dust settles. Deep breaths. Eyes straight ahead. "I'm 40 years old" I say. "I've never made out with anyone," he says.

Since it was my idea in the first place, he just waits. And waits. And pretty soon, we both start laughing. Well, more like giggling in prologue to duel heart attacks. Why was I so nervous? I was out of practice. It had been so many years. My confidence was gone. What was I thinking?

Finally, disgusted with my inability to muster 20 seconds of bravery, he leaned toward me... he had stopped giggling. Me, not so much. Then I looked straight into his eyes. Well, Andy has the bluest danged eyes. They are sooooooooo blue... have I ever noticed that.... And before I could finish the thought, we had kissed each other.

There is still argument about who initiated it, but the fact is, we now have a child together and no, it wasn't nine months from August 9th.

45 minutes later, we were driving back into St. George. I felt the strongest urge to cry, but instead I reached over and put my hand on his knee. He slid his had over mine and I knew, right then, that we had not ruined a friendship that night, we had solidified one. Close call. And I don't suggest that for everyone, but sometimes, it just takes looking at someone differently for a minute. You might not think of that person as "make out material" but kiss them for a while and see if that changes. I triple dog dare you.

hahahaaaaaaaaaa....August 9th!  Arizona. Mom's car, the bluest eyes on the planet and the greatest 45 minutes of my life!

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Losin' It

There is a jar of peanut butter out on the counter, an opened loaf of bread spilling out of it's plastic and a butter knife nearby still sticking out of a jar of sugar-free jam. "It's go to be someone playing a joke on me," says mom. "Dad!" she yells toward the den, "at least put the stuff away when you make yourself a peanut buttter sandwich!" "Sure! I'd love one!" he yells back in return. He's hard of hearing. He's 87.
She shakes her head, "he's losin' it," she says outloud.

But she makes the sandwich anyway and takes it to him. he's doing church work on the computer. He's deciphering ancient records and so far this month, he's pulled out 80,000 names. "I'm cruisin!" he shouts as she enters the room with his sandwich. "Thanks!" he says as he takes his first bite. "I haven't had peanut butter for ages...mmm...thought I didn't like it, but this is pretty good." She cocks her head to one side, confused, and makes a mental note to buy more peanut butter. His tastes are changing - he doesn't even remember how much he hates peanut butter, she thinks. "Well, it's been nice knowin' ya," she thinks.

Still, he golfs every day without fail. He maintains the house, the yard and cars. He's 87. Just starting to "lose it" she thinks. So sad. Well, she knew the time would come eventually and here it is.

The next morning he wakes up at 6:30 in the morning to go play golf and there is that peanut butter jar out on the counter. Bread opened, knife in the jar. "She must have been too tired to put it away," he thinks, or even worse...I wonder if she's losin' it?" He shakes the thought out of his mind. She younger than I am. She must have just wanted a sandwich in the middle of the night. He looks down at his watch "Late!" he thinks and flies off for his 7am tee time with the boys. (They are all over 80).

Mom wakes up at 7. Down the stairs, knees cracking, hips aching. She rubs her eyes to the sight of the peanut butter mess, again, waiting for her. She's a meticulous housekeeper and there's no way she'll let Dad get away with it this time. She has always offered to get up and fix him eggs and juice before golf, but he's refused. "I've lived the last ten years of my life on toast for breakfast", he brags, "You don't need to suffer just because we like to golf before it gets too hot." And he means it.

She turns her back to go up the stairs, leaving the mess behind. Three steps up... four. No matter how hard she tries, she knows he won't be back for hours and what if someone comes by? She returns to the mess. She smells the jar, and remembers how much she hates peanut butter and if it weren't for her grown boys visiting, she wouldn't even have a jar. So she puts it all away, again.

Dad re-enters from his golf game, heads to the computer, Mom sitting nearby in her chair. Bill O'Reilly episodes from the DVR, which she just learned to use. She has a dachshund on her lap who looks up, wags his tail and goes back to sleep. She says "if you want a sandwich before golf, I'll make you one the night before and leave it in the fridge."

"Why would I want a sandwich at 6 o'clock in the morning? I had toast."

"Well you're really going through the peanut butter lately, I just thought..."

"Peanut butter? I don't even like peanut butter. The one you gave me yesterday was the first one I've had in 25 years."

We are listening intently now, laughing so hard tears are rolling down our face as she tells us the rest of the story.

"I was telling my friend about the peanut butter and she said "when you start taking Ambien?" and I said "about two weeks ago." Then she remembered the friend who told her about a woman that would run up and down the street in the middle of the night, ambivalent of her nakedness and resting peacefully thanks to her new prescription of Ambien. Horrifying.

It all made sense.

Well at least she was only making herself a peanut butter sandwich in the middle of the night. She thought the Ambien stories were folklore. "Well I'm grateful I wasn't running out into the street...." "The neighbors are too!" he says. Story over. At which she gathers our plates and exits into the kitchen. He slaps her on the hip as she passes him and she feigns embarrassment. We laugh again. The Spirit fills the room and he says aside to us "Thought she was losin' it! I don't know what I'd do without her."

A moment of filled silence washes over the room. I hope my relationship is half this strong in 40 years, I think. Then he's up and outta there. "Back to the computer! Gotta beat my record this month."

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Thank You C.S. Lewis

Imagine yourself a living house. God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps you can understand what he is doing. He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on; you knew that those jobs needed doing and you are not surprised.

But presently He starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seems to make sense.

What on earth is He up to?

The explanation is that He is building quite a different house from the one you thought of: throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards. You thought you were going to be made into a decent little cottage; but He is building a palace.
                                                                                           --C.S. Lewis, from Mere Christianity

Mormons believe that our time on earth is a testing ground for our reward in Heaven. It's pretty straight forward; when you face a trial in life, your righteous response to that trial purifies you and gets you ready to take on the responsibilities and rewards you will have in Heaven.

Andy and I have that habit of going to the St. George home show and we spend a couple of hours sinking into a depression of coveteousness that makes going to work (teaching other people's kids) sheer torture. Who owns those homes? Not teachers that's for sure. But a girl can dream covet.

Thank you C.S. Lewis. I've stopped saying "when we get rich I want a house with a pool, a movie room and a craft room" because I imagine God saying "She's asking for it!" and the next day we have another miscarriage or drive off a cliff, but our mansion in heaven will be fit for the St. George home show.

I love my little townhome. I love my little townhome....I love my....

I'm not a big believer that God reaches out and puts these trials in our path. I believe that he would like to reach in and stop the consequences of our choices, or other people's choices that may adversely affect us, but that's not part of the plan either. CRAP HAPPENS.

The point is: coveting something usually comes back in karma right in our faces. We do not know what's ahead. We stay grateful for what we have and especially for each other. We take our challenges one at a time and we swim in the neighbor's pool.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

A Business Plan that Works

I was raised in the shadow of the everlasting mountains of Utah County. I was not born in Bangladesh. Still, I perceived myself an exotic, poor child of the slums...that's the drama in me. When the BYU group "Lamanite Generation" visited our elementary school, I would tell people for weeks that I was "part Navajo." When you have seven brothers and sisters you feel like your house is a third-world country. You find ways to disappear into other worlds, if only in your mind.

In hindsight, it was the absolute best training ground for my imagination and that's something I have always needed, as a theatre director, and always relied on. Without it, I would not have a career. I would not be able to visualize the play or musical in my mind and then communicate that picture to my cast and crew. Often times the entire play comes alive like a movie in my mind and I just follow along. It feels like plagerism sometimes, just copying down what has already appeared in the television of my mind. I thank my mother (and dad) for my vivid imagination.

I was brought up by a mother that was firmly committed in staying home to raise me. That was her job. We started coming in 1964 when she could have ridden the tide of women's rights but she didn't need to in her world. Other women would run for President, so she didn't have to. Other women would burn their bras... on her behalf. Other women would step on the moon, she often stepped in other things. She didn't judge her role to be any greater or lesser than someone who had a chosen to go into medicine, law or business. She went into all three.

She was/is the President of a small corporation. We weren't exactly her employees, (though on Saturday's I always questioned that) we were her product line. And since everything we became reflected on the acts and decisions of the President of the company, she was very serious about her product. She wanted to make sure, when she finally put it out on the market, that it would sell, if you know what I mean. She didn't want the product line stuck on the shelves for years and she wanted to make sure, the product itself, was a contribution to the world, and not a burden. If you know my incredible brothers and sisters, you might say... how was it done?

Things she did for her "employees":
  • She kept my Dad in as the CEO for nearly 50 years and counting, that wasn't easy in itself.
  • She built a trusted network for us by giving us seven siblings and raising us with rules.
  • She taught us how to work and expected us to work for the "business" until we had been accepted to college. That was, in her estimation, the only way to get out of the business. (Start your own.)  
  • She taught us how to be self-sufficient. When people look at something I have made or done and they say "is there anything you can't do?" I thank my mother.
  • When things got tough, she taught us to have faith in a higher power. She may have questioned that power herself, but I never would have known. Even when her husband was tending to the rest of the flock, she got us to church, without fail every single week of our lives.
  • She gave us "earned vacation time" which we always took together, and still take together. In fact, even today, if we have a day off, where can you find us all? At out mom's house.

I could go on and on. It is that kind of business sense that I hope to apply to my own children someday, should the fates allow me to "raise a business" of my own. It is that kind of contribution I hope to someday make to the world. Her role, magnificent. Her influence, priceless. Her contribution, infinite.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Batman and the Warning

Despite their tiny, goofy exteriors, dachshunds are fierce dogs. They think they are ten times bigger than they are. They protect their house, their yard and their people without fear. They bark when they feel they need to. Car drives by, bark at it. Garbage man, bark. Mailman, bark. Little kids on bikes, bark. Doorbell, nuclear barking. After their initial puppy year, it got better and better.

So when Batman's mom complained to the local animal control about the noise, we received our first "LEGAL WARNING" that we needed to do something about the barking. Since we had never actually made friends with them, and heaven knows we tried, we went to the animal control office and asked them for advice. We linked off a little fenced area in our garage with their kennel, added an "As Seen on T.V." dog barker device that they hate, a radio that plays constantly (they like the Spanish channel), blankets, tons of toys, water, food and a papered "potty" area a few feet away. We did everything they told us to do. While I was at work, I spent the days terrified that the neighbors were going to poison my only children.

But for the next two years, everything went well. The radio cut the barking entirely and they seemed to love their little spa in the garage. Two weeks ago they started building the next set of townhomes to the left of us. We thought the property would remain empty since the economy was so bad, but suddenly cement was poured and they started framing 6 six new homes. New sounds. So many new sounds.

Warning number two came two years after the first. It enrages the imperfect me. We live twenty feet from the building site - nail guns, the saws, and the trucks entering and exiting all day long. Lily has anxiety. She thinks aliens have landed and Gus just barks because she is barking. Peer pressure at its finest. Despite the fact that our neighbors can also see the new building going up, they issued us another warning from Animal Services.

Andy wrote Batman's mom a nice note explaining that we were doing everything we could and when the framing was done, the dogs would calm down. I sent the note with another loaf of banana bread. That night, Batman's mom left a retaliatory note taped to our front door, on children's construction paper, in her child like handwriting with a black crayon, that they had put up with our dogs for two years and how dare we not take responsibility for the noise. Too many exclamation points, a sad smiley face. Threats to have the dogs taken away...

Then two days later the opportunity came to let her know how I feel about her noise. I was awakened at around midnight, by her spa tub starting up full blast at my head through the wall. I wanted to cry. Townhomes! But then Batman started whining about something and soon enough, she was yelling back only this time, it was so loud, Andy was also fully awake now and listening wide-eyed. We had heard it before but never this clear. For two years we had listened to her discipline her son in in decibels uncomfortable to us, but never thought it was our business. Until now. "Why do you have to be the stupidest kid on earth," she screamed. "I don't care if you sit there all night!" And on and on and on. Eventually we heard a physical struggle between the two and then silence. I had worked myself up into a lather by that point, imagining the worst. I had an identical tub and it was not small. That was the night I made a call and protected a child I have called "Batman" for four years now. And Child Protective Services was more than happy to keep my name anonymous and say that they were "acting on a hunch." After I saw their car pull up and heard them enter the house, I went back to sleep.

We haven't had a complaint about the dogs since the houses next store were finished. I have noticed the abusive tantrums from Batman and his mom have also gone away. I hope they haven't just moved it to another part of the house.

Banana Bread and Batman

When we moved into this townhome unit we were the first to buy. It was a great deal at the time. We paid top dollar in 2007 (though we didn't know that at the time).  And then the market plunged into outer darkness and our loan flipped $80,000 upside down within the next two years. We are not the type of people to feel good about walking away from our mortgage. We can afford it. It's not an optimal situation with our dogs, we wish we had a fenced in yard, but this is a choice we made, we borrowed money we didn't have and we are paying it back because we said we would.

But here's the thing: you're got to really love your neighbors when you move into a townhome. For the most part, we have awesome neighbors, the kind of people you run to when your end of the building is on fire and you're in your underwear. These people are stellar. So when the last people moved in, the people that would share a wall with us, we were excited to meet them and welcome them into our club.

They were not excited to meet us.

While the moving truck was pulled up out front we went over and introduced ourselves. They were polite. Their small son had a Batman costume on. Which, incidentally, he never took off in four years. Dad shook Andy's hand. He was very nice. Mom looked about my age which secretly made me happy because everyone else in the hood was half my age and bearing children right and left. We offered to help bring in boxes and it was like we had leperosy all of the sudden. "Don't touch anything," she said flatly, "we're fine."

Who says that? No one. You smile and say, "Oh, we're almost done but thanks anyway," or "You're so nice but we've got a system..." or something. Sheesh. "Don't touch anything."

I was unphased. I would go down with the ship as usual. So....

A few days later, instead of crashing on the couch after work, I got out the old Ninth Ward cookbook and baked some famous Zona Steiner banana bread (I had a hard time letting it out of the house).  While it was still hot, I wrapped it, tagged it with "Welcome home neighbors!!!!" Smiley face. Too many exclamation points. "Please rely on us for anything you need. Andy, Jan, Gus and Lily." Then I took three steps over to their front door, lights on everywhere, I could hear the 72" T.V., the kid running around screaming, mom yelling at him. "They will fit right in here," I thought. I rang the bell.


More silence. Like everyone inside the house had frozen, wondering what to do. Eyes shifting.

I took a step back. Maybe I was too close, "in their space" so to speak. That bread was hot so I switched hands. Rude to ring twice? Oh well. I was committed. Loud bell.

Creepy silence.

I saw the blind move quickly. Too quickly. I took another step back.

By this time I was thoroughly confused. Maybe they were in their underwear. So I waited a little longer giving them time to throw on clothes. Mormon women with hot banana bread to no go easily into the night.

Third ring. I'm nothing if not ballsy.

Lights start going off. Really?! Okay I get it, letting my macro smile fade. Should I take the banana bread back home and slice into that goodness myself? It had a sugar crust for crying out loud!!!! I wrestled! Hung my head and debated with myself. The other loaf was almost gone. No. I was taught better. Pause. Crunchy hot sugar crust. Dang!! I gently laid it on the welcome mat, took a deep breath, bid it goodbye and hoped it would call me as soon as it got inside to tell me what was really going on in there.

But it never got inside.

The next day, I saw it sitting there on my way to work. Poor thing had been out in the cold all night and was probably now as hard as a brick, and feeling bad that it had not fulfilled the measure of it's creation.

But I'm starting to. So... that's good anyway. (I hope it gave them ants.)