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Hopeless Cases and Lost Causes

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This is something I wrote during the summer, about a relationship I knew was doomed but still wasn't ready to abandon--I was so not ready to abandon it that I couldn't even acknowledge the real subject matter in the piece. I read it now and its intensity strikes me as strange, but then again, although there are situtions in my life I wouldn't describe as optimal, right now there's nothing I feel I should quit. Anyway, I came upon this piece and thought it might be better to post it when I don't feel all overwrought than when I do.


How many times do I have to say "I give up" before I believe it and mean it?


Why do I say "I give up" before I believe it and mean it?

One of my lessons in this incarnation must certainly be how to give up. I SUCK at it. We had all these lessons and lectures at church on "Enduring to the End," but what I really needed was some training in the fine art of judicious giving up, knowing when to quit, cutting my losses, calling it a day.

I knew within ten minutes of saying good-bye to my parents at the Missionary Training Center that I had made the biggest mistake of my life by going on a mission. But did I call my parents at that point and say, "Uh, yeah, Mom and Dad, I was wondering if I could catch a ride back to Arizona with you?" NO! I not only endured all freakin' nine weeks of the MTC, that "saccharin-coated hell-hole," as I had the good sense to call it at the time; I stayed on a mission for 18 and a half goddamn months, becoming more and more miserable, more and more ill, more and more damaged--but hey, I endured to the end of my mission and got a freakin' honorable release. It took me another three years to admit that I could not remain a Mormon, three years of struggle and failure and despair.

So why didn't I give up?

Because I didn't want to seem like a quitter.

Taunt the Gremlins and They'll Taunt You Back Part II


Read Part One

"Omigod," I said when she told me this. "Omigod."

"Are you going to stay on campus and wait for them?" she asked.

"I don't have any choice," I said. "I don't have my car keys to drive home, or my house keys to get in my house even if I got a ride from someone else. I don't have my wallet or my coat or my umbrella--if it weren't raining so hard, I'd just go look for the cop. But everything is in my office."

"Do you have a cell phone number where I can call you in case I get through to someone?"

"I don't have ANYTHING," I said, "except the clothes I'm wearing, which includes a skirt with a couple of great big blood stains on it. The whole reason I left my office was so I could go to the restroom and deal with the fact that I had bled all over the back of my skirt. Which is why I wasn't thinking clearly enough to grab my keys, because I pretty much never do things like this."

A few week agos, Jana took this quiz designed to gauge your world view and posted her results on her blog. A few days later her husband John took the same quiz and posted his results, and not so long ago Wayne followed the links in my webroll to one of those places and took the quiz himself, though he didn't post his results on either his first or second blog. Instead, he read me his results over the phone, and told me to take the quiz. So I did. Turns out I'm a Cultural Creative, and

Cultural Creatives are probably the newest group to enter this realm. You are a modern thinker who tends to shy away from organized religion but still feels as if there is something greater than ourselves. You are very spiritual, even if you are not religious. Life has a meaning outside of the rational.

I didn't just score highest in the Cultural Creative category; I scored perfectly in it. I don't particularly know what the term means or how long it's been around, but I guess I really truly am one, if I buy into it 100%. I'm rather glad that "new ager" is not a category; I appreciate quite a few new age ideas, but there's so much annoying posture that goes along with being new age. As for the other terms, many of them don't mean to me what they seem to mean to the creator of this quiz, so I'm not sure how revealing the results are. To me, a Romanticist is someone who studies early 19th century British poetry (not many of those around these days) and a Modernist is what I almost became, someone who specializes in British and American lit written between the two world wars, and a postmodernist is a silly person who writes badly whose work you have to read in graduate school. At least I'm absolutely NOT a fundamentalist (which I would have predicted but am glad to have confirmed nonetheless). Anyway, here are my results:

Cultural Creative 100%

Idealist 94%

Postmodernist 69%

Existentialist 63%

Materialist 38%

Romanticist 38%

Modernist 19%

Fundamentalist 0%

If you take the quiz yourself, let me know how you score.

Self-Portrait as Modest Desires

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When I was finishing up my first master's degree, I saw a career counselor who told me I should figure out what I would want if I could have any kind of life at all. My desires were modest: I wanted to live alone in a pleasant house with lots of windows. I wanted to spend most of my day writing, alone. In the evening I wanted to get together with friends and eat pasta out of big pretty bowls, and then I wanted to go home alone. I didn't care whether or not I was rich or famous; I just wanted to be comfortable. I also wanted all of this to take place in Italy. And wouldn't you know I got it all, six years later, except that as far as the place goes, all the universe got right was the first letter: it happened in Iowa, not Italy.

What if I had wanted something grander, more elaborate? Why didn't I want something grander, more elaborate? One reason is, I think, that I was tired. Life had been pretty stressful up to that point and I wanted some peace. I wanted less to be expected of me.

At this point I'd like to want more. I want more to be expected of me and I expect more of me and I expect more of the universe. What, after all, am I allowed to want? That has been part of my thinking all along: If you have this, you can't want that. If you are a Mormon you can't want a life full of drugs and orgies. If you have even a certain level of enlightenment you can't want the ease of living a stupid, unenlightened life. Furthermore, if you want certain things, then you can't really want other things. If you want to eat whatever you want whenever you want no matter how many calories it has or what it does to your liver or your pancreas or whatever, then you can't really want to be thin and healthy. If you want to smoke then you can't really want to breathe well. If you want to be nasty to your neighbors then you can't really want to be enlightened. If you want to be a writer then you can't really want to be not a writer. If you don't really feel like writing then you must not really want to be a writer.

Some of those probably hold true and some probably don't. I want to want everything I can possibly want. I want to want so many things that I get at least some of them, even if they are contradictory.

Outsmarting the Gremlins Part II


Read Part One.

The biggest things Mormons plan for, of course, is the Second Coming and the Apocalypse that will precede it. Gotta be righteous, so you don't get burned with the heathen! Also must stock up on a two-years' supply of raw wheat (don't forget the hand-cranked grinder so you can still grind it when the power goes out), a two-years' supply of potable water, and a two-years' supply of toilet paper. Mormon pantries are a sight to behold, as are the spaces under Mormon beds: cans of dehydrated potatoes and cornmeal and god only knows what.

At some point, when the church grew large enough that its membership wasn't concentrated in the spacious intermountain West, where people could have huge basements in which to store foodstuffs well beyond the expiration date (ever walked into a basement where two dozen cans of potted beef have exploded? That stuff stinks even when it's not rancid), someone in charge said, "OK, we'll let you scale back to just a ONE-YEAR supply of all those necessities. And don't forget to rotate your canned goods!"

You may think I'm kidding, but in her attic, my mom really does have a one-year supply of toilet paper. Outside the house, my father has a ten-year supply of rotted firewood, as well as dozens of old car batteries that can be hooked up to a generator and recharged and power various special appliances he has bought because they will run off old car batteries. (He also has two old Cadillacs: a 62 with rocks in the gas tank courtesy of some nasty neighbor boy, and a 49 that still runs, which he periodically has repainted, drives for a day or two, then parks again for ten to fifteen years. In addition, he owns an ancient aluminum motor home, a piece of junk whose only virtue is that its exterior is recyclable; a small RV in which he and my mother have driven across the country a time or two; a 40-year-old green Chevy pickup, the vehicle in which I learned to drive and which we all agree Dad should keep because sometimes, you need to haul stuff; a hideous white suburban with a broken driver's seat that he refuses to sell because it might come in handy, but which never will because of the truck; and a Ford Yukon he drives every day and complains about every day because it's not a Lincoln, which is what he really wanted, but he bought that damn little SUV brand new because my brother could get him a deal on it through his job, and Dad was too cheap to fork out the cash on a Lincoln, even though he could afford it. The front of the house looks fine, but the side view.... I swear to god, it looks like the opening shot of a movie about people who leave their empty whiskey bottles under the bed and tether a goat to the lawn so they don't have to mow it. The only thing that redeems the scene is the fact that none of the cars are on blocks.)

Outsmarting the Gremlins Part I


I have always been someone who spends a lot of time "just checking" things. It's not like I think the world will stop whirling frantically on its wobbly little axis if I don't look up every so often and make sure the sun is progressing across the sky in a timely fashion. But I do harbor the suspicion that if you don't rattle the knob of your door at least three time to make sure it's locked, gremlins will come along and unlock it as soon as you are out of sight.

Preparing for contingencies and anticipating consequences, that's what I believe in, because you've got to stay ahead of the gremlins! In order to do this well, not only must you Check on Things, you also have to Remember Stuff and Keep Lists and Plan Ahead.

A Necessary Ingredient for Enjoying Art

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I love Grendel by John Gardner so much I wish I'd written it.

It is, of course, a retelling of the Beowulf saga from the point of view of the monster who wrecks Hrothgar's meadhall and feasts on his men.

I love it because it's a fiercely intellectual book, concerned with truth and ultimate meaning. I love it because it has so many fabulous lines. I love it because the dragon Grendel visits is one of the best characters ever created in all of literature.

I love it because plot is never the point: if you've read Beowulf, you know how Grendel ends: Beowulf rips Grendel's arm off, and Grendel goes off to bleed to death in the woods. So you don't read it for what happens, you read it for how it happens, and why what happens matters.

I get annoyed when people refuse to know anything beyond the initial set-up of a book they want to read or a movie they want to watch. "Don't tell me! Don't ruin the end for me!" they shout, covering their ears, as if ignorance is a necessary ingredient for enjoying art. If I feel I'm getting too caught up in wondering what will happen next to appreciate things in a text like musicality of language and construction of scene, I'll read the end so I can just dispense with the suspense and concentrate on enjoying the pages before the end, rather than racing through to the end.


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