As promised/threatened, I've decided to share some of the writing I've done for my classes so far, so that you'll remember how good it is and buy my book when it comes out. So you can skip ahead to that part if you don't want to read my brief continuation of the commentary from last week. It's the part that begins "Now on to the writing portion of our program!" That's technically a silly thing to say since this whole post is written, but I can live with that.
One of these days, at one of its activities, the institute should hold dance lessons. I say this because most of the students, including and especially myself, know how to do little more than jump up and down, occasionally making funny hand signals or forming a train. This is particularly embarrassing since I took dance classes for a couple years in high school. At a minimum know entire routines for "Single Ladies", "Bust a Move", the Black Eyed Peas' version of "(I've Had) The Time of My Life". But I've completely forgotten them, just as I've completely forgotten even the names of the other songs that I should know routines for. But really, this isn't just about me. Almost everyone would benefit from lessons and the quality of the dance portion of the activities would improve.
Perhaps you are asking now, "Christopher, why don't you just bring suggestions like this up at the LDSSA meetings instead of musing about them here on a blog that nobody (except me) reads?" If so, you clearly have me mistaken for someone who actually contributes things. But maybe I will. Thanks for the idea.
On a more academic note, I'm taking their "Foundations of the Restoration", which is one of the new required classes. It's not required for me since I started institute four years ago, but I wanted to take it anyway. This class makes a point of incorporating the Church's recent essays on controversial historical and doctrinal issues, thus sort of explaining why they were initially released without a lot of fanfare and just kind of sat there on the website without any particular attachment to anything. Finally, I think we get to see what Elder Marlin K. Jensen had in mind when he mentioned upcoming changes to the curriculum, saying, "If they are not revolutionary, they are at least going to be a breath of fresh air across the church." And indeed, how fresh it is! Smells like apricots.
I am very pleased about this, but slightly less so with the approach I've seen being taken, similar to the one I've seen taken in other classes where controversial things have been brought up (sometimes as part of the curriculum but more often, I think, on the teachers' own initiative to "inoculate" us against them). The approach tends to be, "This is what anti-Mormons say, and this is why they're wrong." First, I don't like using the term "anti-Mormon" as a noun because, even if technically accurate, it sounds like an ad hominem attack designed to shut down discussion, and also sounds like we have a persecution complex. I sometimes use it as an adjective to describe a particular book or "ministry" or whatever, but I stopped using it as a noun years ago. Just call them "critics".
Second, I don't see the need to bring up what they say at all. If we just present the same facts in our own context and our own paradigm, then it speaks for itself and no refutation is necessary. For example, claims that the multiple First Vision accounts are contradictory will have little if any effect on someone who has already studied them all without concern. Of course, this kind of approach is probably inevitable after letting the critics (notice I didn't call them "anti-Mormons") tell more of our story more loudly for so long. Hopefully it will go away after a few years when things settle down, and we won't feel the need to be defensive, and there won't be any "controversial history" - just history.
Now on to the writing portion of our program!
As previously mentioned, in my poetry writing class we talked all about the importance of vulnerability and then we had to make copies of our poems for our group members to critique, which I don't mind at all. We're also supposed to read our poems out loud, which I mind slightly less than bathing in sulfuric acid. Anyway, this inspired me. Professor's evaluation:
I exaggerated the cynicism for poetic effect (I don't really think "Then screw it" about love - well, not always, at least) and thought that people would find it a bit excessive and whiny. Instead, they said they identified with it completely, and were particularly pleased with my mockery of confidence-building cliches. Everyone agreed that "Just be yourself and people will like you", in particular, is nothing more or less than a huge barefaced lie. I guess the hope is that by the time children realize it's a lie, they won't care whether people like them anymore. Why we don't just teach them not to care in the first place, and save a lot of hassle, is beyond me. I suspect that we just want to believe life is fair on some level, regardless of how much we claim to know better.
As a token of goodwill I wrote "A+" at the top of my fellow group members' poems. I then spent about half an hour debating whether to add "See me after class" to one of them. Would she find it funny, or take it completely the wrong way and report me for harassment? She was really nice, and liked my blog, but we had only known each other for a few days and maybe she didn't entirely trust me yet. In the end I settled for writing it and then crossing it out and adding "That sounded less creepy in my head". This is the world we live in.
This one had to be redacted slightly for public consumption. I apologize for the inconvenience. The annotations should clarify it a bit. Fellow student's evaluation:
So, I totally thought that one was only being shared with the professor. Had I paid more attention and realized that it was also being shared with the group, I would have chosen another topic entirely. I couldn't bear to read it out loud so the other guy did it and I just sat there and pantomimed holding a gun to my head. Once again, I thought it was overblown and neurotic. But once again, people identified with it. Other feedback included "I think we've all felt this way so I found it really relatable" and "This is the kind of ---- that goes through my head everyday." Apparently this major, or at least this class, is a freak magnet. I mean that in the nicest way possible.
For my fiction writing class taught by the same professor, among other things, we each picked a weird picture from a pile of weird pictures and had about ten minutes to create a story or part of a story from it, incorporating some sensory details. This was my picture - well, actually, mine was in black and white, which made it even more intimidating. I decided today that her name is Elizabeth Sommers because she looks like an Elizabeth Sommers.
It's probably from a shampoo advertisement or something, but I like to think my idea was better. What follows is not the original scrawl from my notebook but the superior slightly expanded version that I did later.
No one has made eye contact with me in years. Always they look away, and try to move as far away as possible, as discreetly as possible. If they must speak with me, they are unable to conceal their fear, as the tremors wrack their whole bodies and come out in their voices. It’s always “Y-y-yes C-C-Captain” this and “E-e-excuse m-me C-C-Captain” that.
As I make my rounds through the sterile halls of the ship, my ears are assaulted by the deafening silence of space, unmarred by human speech or laughter. At times, when I really focus, I can make out the soft steady thrum of the engines, but I don’t focus very often. I like silence. It allows me to meditate. Of course, I do not enforce this silence on everyone else, but they are more than willing to oblige me.
My crew members behave as they do because they fear me. I would rather they respected me. But the simple reality is that I must take what I can get, as long as it works.
A man challenged my authority once. His breath reeked of Antarean Kidney Twisters, probably the only drink in existence potent enough to suppress the fear of me. He claimed that I was unfit to be Captain; that he would do a better job. His hands now adorn my helmet, atop the rest of them, as a reminder to the others of why drinking is unhealthy.
Hands. I feel them; some soft as baby powder, others calloused as a rugged cliff face, all pressing down against my scalp. Each pair – I never take only one – tells a story. Most of them are not from my own crew members. Most of them are from the scum of the galaxy – the pimps, the pirates, the politicians, and so on. We come across them in our travels quite frequently. I confess that, given the vastness and emptiness of space, I often must make a considerable effort to come across them.
And then I make examples of them.
She isn't LDS, but she knows a thing or two about the laying on of hands. You gotta hand it to her, she takes a very hands-on approach to captaining. This helmet wasn't a hand-me-down and she didn't just buy it at a secondhand shop. She made it herself, and it wasn't easy; she had to grease a few palms. At least she got a five finger discount on the actual parts. Actually, her initial plan was to install explosives and make hand grenades, but she decided they were too hard to handle and that she should just stick with missile toes. Contrary to rumor, however, she never experimented with finger food. You can't tell, but she has a lot of hair tucked up under that helmet; her hands are full. I feel that notwithstanding her obvious femininity, it makes her look very handsome. And not only is it attractive, but it also comes in handy. It protects her skull during hand-to-hand combat. Just by looking at it, the crew members become obedient and well-behaved and try to keep their hands to themselves. Admittedly, they do sometimes call her "Hand Solo" behind her back, but they know better than to bite the hands that feed them. They know she isn't as cruel as she looks and is always willing to lend a hand. Sometimes she has to remind them that she can't do everything at once because she only has sixteen hands. But the point is, she's not afraid to get her hands dirty. In fact, sometimes at parties, amid cries of "Shake those hands!", she takes it off and throws her hands in the air like she just doesn't care. You should see her doing the Hokey Pokey.
You know, I might actually expand this into a whole story. I like it. I think I'll have her descend deeper into whatever mania she has and end up making a whole jumpsuit out of hands. But don't worry; this takes place in the future where prosthetics are a dime a dozen, like in Star Wars, so losing one's hands is only a temporary inconvenience. I don't know the entire plot yet, but the title will be "All Hands on Deck".
Hello. I am Captain Elizabeth Sommers. This blog post, like a precocious child, was amusing at first but quickly grew tiresome. So it is that I have cut off the author's hands to prevent him from writing any more. No need to write and thank me; I can hear your applause from here. He can't think of any more stupid hand puns anyway. He's stumped.
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About the Author
C. Randall Nicholson is a white cisgender male and a Latter-day Saint, so you can hate him without guilt, but he's also autistic, so you can't. Unless you're an anti-vaxxer, in which case the feeling is mutual. This blog is where he periodically rants about life, the universe, and/or everything.