September 27, 2010

elevator encouragement

It had to have been two years ago. Yep, I'm going to say two years. I was starting a new school yearmy first school year without Dad. Let's say I was wearing corduroy (because that's always fitting for these kinds of stories) and carrying a backpack that seemed to be far heavier than its weight in books. Shuffling into the elevator, I shoved my thumb onto the button for the 3rd floor of the JFSB. I was probably staring apathetically at the doors, as we are all wont to do in elevators (especially those of us with heavy backpacks and heavier hearts). I sighed. I'm sure I did. I sighed in that world-weary kind of way. I ignored all the other people sighing and staring apathetically. People crowded in from the second floor, and I scuffed the toe of my shoe into the ground to avoid making eye contact with the newcomers. I looked back up, ready to resume the blank stare of being in transit. Maybe that's when I noticed it. A little message etched in the panel just underneath the floor numbers, next to an emergency button:

Help is on the way.

For the remainder of the semester, I often thought about this seemingly cosmic message reminding me that I wouldn't suffer alone. (For long.) It was easy to forget it once I'd exited the sliding doors and proceeded to scurry to my next class, but each and every elevator excursion reminded me anew. It was like I'd been transported to 3rd grade rather than the 3rd floor, opening my lunch box to find an encouraging Post-It note from my mother. (You can do it!, I'm thinking about you, Have a great day, I love you, et al.)

On more than one occasion, I was tempted to press that emergency buttonyou know, see if help really was on the way. Panting and breathless from their speedy response to my call, the emergency personnel would ask me what was wrong.

Well... I just needed some help, I guess. Do you know anything about fixing broken people? ... Oh. Okay. I didn't think so.

Still. It was comforting nonetheless to know that help was just a button away. Theoretically.

I always thought about writing a blog about that much-needed message of grace, so strangely stamped in the oddest of places. I never did because... I wouldn't know what to say. Nothing's changed, I guess, except that I've come to grips with the fact that I won't always know what to say. And that's okay. (Right?) I just needed to blurt this out before I forget about my elevator encouragement.

I started taking the stairs this semester.

May 28, 2010

finding salvation

Once upon a time, something mentioned in one of my Comparative Literature classes quite possibly changed my life. This is not an entirely unusual event, but this particular instance has had a profound impact on the way I conceive of the relationship between writing and life.

"Things get created by writing them down. For all intents and purposes, things only exist as they are articulated, or written. We write to create and to secure eternity for our lives."

Thank you Professor Peer, life-changer extraordinaire. To be honest, this idea really sent my brain reeling initially because I realized, with horror, how little of my life and thoughts are actually documented somewhere. Since coming to college, my journaling skills have gone into sharp decline. (Eight-year-old Richelle would be so disappointed.) I needn't draw attention to the fact that this blog is little more than a series of weak, sporadic attempts to project myself into the virtual stratosphere. What does this all mean? That I may as well not exist? Will my life become fleeting and forgotten as a result of my carelessness?


Heavenly Father has his own take on this issue. In 3 Nephi 23, the Savior tells Nephi to bring Him the record he had kept of Samuel's prophecy and its fulfillment. Apparently, the record of this event was sparse, or perhaps missing altogether. At this point, Christ asks the disciples:

"How be it that ye have not written this thing?"

What of the day when He asks me to account for my own life and times? I will shyly approach Him with a stack of books and haphazard papers, maybe a thumb-drive of computer files for good measure. Flipping the pages, I will realize everything that's missing: the rock collection I used to keep in a pink plastic bin, comprised of little treasures Dad would bring home from work each day; the countless hours spent exploring and catching frogs in the woods behind my childhood home in Michigan; the little corner of the beach on Otsego Lake where I used to write my name in the sand, only to see it fade and wash away with the tide; the first time I read Whitman's "When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom'd" and realized that poetry would have a ceaseless grip on my heartstrings; my first kissa warm soul exchange on a crisp autumn night.

Yet. "How be it that ye have not written these things?"

I have asked myself this question, actually. And I think I discovered a piece of the answer in my French class this morning. In the 19th century, French writer Flaubert criticized the modern decline of meaningful communication. He felt that conversation has been reduced to an exchange of clichés that gives an illusion of communication or meaning without actually exploring the depths of real human thought or interaction. Quite frankly, I couldn't agree more. Look no further than the trite musings of a Hallmark card, the vapid professions of love (/lust?) made in pop song lyrics, or the hollow "dialogue" (I'm being generous here) that characterizes contemporary television programs and movies. No one even really knows what they are saying to each other anymore because they haven't thought about it for more than a nanosecond.

My problem? I think about it too much. Perhaps my fear of falling into a cliché paralyzes my own expression. Brother Fenn calls this "the paralysis of analysis." Ahem. Yes. That is my predicament. Guilty as charged. I have spent a lot of my life believing that complexity is characteristic of the divine. But is there something to be said for simplicity as well? Then again, it was an overhaul of simplicity that led to the banality of modern expression. So, how do we fix this? Well. There are no clear answers. I think, as always, the beauty lies in the balance.

As the overly analytic side of me rears its ugly head, you are probably asking: Why does this matter?

Allow me a literary example. In Eric Fottorino's novel Baisers de cinéma, the main character is on a self-journey to make sense of his life by way of understanding the past: his roots, his heritage, his origins. Part of the problem is that he doesn't know who his mother is and his father has recently passed away, leaving Gilles with a host of unaswered questions. At one point, he reflects on his father's habit of storytelling. Gilles refers to it as "telling lies." He explains that this "art suprême" is "une manière de respirer, d'exister encore un peu, de se sauver."

Telling stories is a way to breathe, to exist again (a little), to save yourself.

Maybe all I'm really doing when I write is telling stories. Lies, even. Yet somewhere in those storiesor in the process of writing them downyou and I will find salvation.

January 10, 2010


One thing I've noticed about resolutions (particularly those of the New Years variety) is that they very rarely involve goals that are novel or surprising. "Exercise? I'd never thought of it! Writing in my journal? How innovative..." As with most things in life, the issue is not the what but the how. We're not really figuring out what to do in life per se; it's more about how we will go about accomplishing that overarching goal.

In short, it's all about being consistent.

As a perfectionist, this is a particularly difficult concept for me to grasp. Why bother doing anything if I can't devote every iota of energy I possess to the task at hand? This line of thinking is, of course, problematic because I rarely have the time or fortitude to do everything as wellnay, as perfectlyas I would like. But I'm trying to learn that that's okay.

So here, world, is my letting go of perfection. Unable to write a detailed description about my first week back in classes, I am offering you interesting tidbits and morsels. To start us off, a brief introduction to this post's title. I remember learning about this concept in 11th grade chemistry. To be totally honest, it's about the only thing I remember from 11th grade chemistry.

1. A measure of the disorder or randomness in a closed system.
2. A measure of the loss of information in a transmitted message.
3. A quantitative measure of the amount of thermal energy not available to do work.
4. The tendency for all matter and energy in the universe to evolve toward a state of inert uniformity.
5. Inevitable and steady deterioration of a system or society. *Note: I hope this particular facet of the definition is not relevant to my life.

Take that how you will. Now, onto my life's entropy.

Monday I keep thinking I'm going to find some mysterious, attractive boy in one of my classes. My first sign that I was wrong about all of this was noting that there is at least one guy in each of my classes that has a 70's style (full on Starsky and Hutch) mustache. Not acceptable.

Additionally, I learned that my syllabus for Greek & Roman Mythology would cost me $6. Yes, the syllabus. Also not acceptable.

Tuesday Yet another resolution of consistency is to watch all of the weekly devotionals this semester. Devotional Quote of the Week: "Whate'er thou art, act well thy part."

Wednesday Opened my fortune cookie to find this little nugget of wisdom: "YOU WILL MAKE MANY CHANGES BEFORE HAPPILY SETTLING." Thanks for nothing, Panda Express.

Thursday As the long and arduous process of applying to graduate school continues, I have finalized a few things. Schools currently on the docket for receiving applications from me: Indiana University, Pennsylvania State, University of Massachusetts, University of Toronto, Columbia, and BYU.

Friday I spent five hours in a room full of 180 girls for this semester's Women's Chorus retreat. At the end of the night, Sister Applonie asked us each to quickly jot something down for the Book of Wisdom. Within thirty seconds, I had composed the following haiku:

harmony is ours
infinitude is ours, dear
whisper, then shout, truth

Saturday Learned how to make homemade sushi rolls. I am quite positive that cooking needs to become a bigger part of my life.

Sunday An excerpt from my notes taken during church: "We are only limited by what we choose to become. Start learning who I am today; it's not a passive process. Part of knowing who I am is knowing what I am capable of. Assume that I'm capable of all the work the Father asks of meotherwise, he wouldn't expect it of me! He knows what I can handle even better than I do. He knows what I can become, and He sees me in terms of my potential."

... what to make of all this is an entirely different story. These are just details in the fabric.