This week I lost the worst neighbors I've ever had. I don't mean the worst human beings who have ever lived next door to me; that honor goes to someone else. I used to live in this weird house thing that was all under one roof but divided in half by an alleyway, and one half was divided into two apartments top to bottom and the other half was divided side by side. I lived in one side of one half and these people lived in the other, and when it was cold outside they sat on the steps at their end of the alleyway and filled the entire thing with carcinogenic smoke. They knew as well as I did that the couple living across from me had a little girl probably about three years old who played in the alleyway with her toys. That didn't stop them. I did get them to stop by leaving a passive-aggressive note and then by complaining to the landlord, but I feel like I shouldn't actually have to ask people not to poison children, or me for that matter. So they were the worst humans. But in terms of psychological scarring inflicted on me personally, the people who just moved out of the place where I am now were the worst to have next door.
I have, of course, already written about what "C and T" did to me in mind-numbing detail and subsequently referenced it at least eight times, along with my growing realization that they weren't accountable for their actions because one is delusional and the other is stupid, and nobody need feel obligated to continue reading what I'm only writing for myself and maybe my future children so they can learn about the adversity that almost prevented them from existing. I can't promise this will be my last time writing about it either. I managed to forgive and even love my neighbors some time ago and it no longer constantly weighs on me and sucks every ounce of happiness from my life like it did for a while, but it will continue to affect me for some time. A friend suggested I would need to treat it like a breakup. I don't know what a breakup feels like but to me this feels more like a car accident where the car rolls over several times and the person next to you dies. And then the paramedics show up and start screaming and spitting on you.
I didn't particularly want to speak to the pathological liar ever again, but I would have liked to reconcile and get some closure with the other who was as much a victim as me. But no. C only became even more awkward over time, not less. T, previously very obvious in her refusal to even look at me, started speaking to me a little bit when I went outside and was accosted by her little dog, no longer confined to a leash and obviously missing me as much as I missed her. The dog, by the way, was yet another victim, surely confused at why she never got to see me anymore. She was a nice little dog, not one of those awful little dogs that yips all the time or attacks people and doesn't get punished because her owner thinks it's cute. Sometimes when they left her home alone on Friday evenings she howled non-stop and it was annoying but I understood where she was coming from. Her cuteness actually backfires on me because she overdoes it and activates my "stop trying to manipulate my emotions" mental barrier, but even so, how could I not love one who loves me so unconditionally?
I was intrigued by the change in T and decided that if I had to reconcile with her first to reconcile with the other, I could live with that. But it never went anywhere. I thought she might at some point try to get back the book she loaned me in December, at which point I would have to tell her that I already burned it in May because I didn't want it in my home and she should have thought of that before she decided to bar me from returning it, but she didn't. I didn't much care how she would respond to that and wasn't worried. As they prepared to leave, though, I started to worry about another book, the one I gave C for her birthday. She loved it when I gave it to her. I want it to bring her joy for years to come and not be something that brings up bad memories whenever she sees it. For all I know, she threw it away months ago. But now it occurred to me that maybe she would give it back before she left and that would be even worse and I would break on the spot. That didn't happen either. I held onto a vain, foolish hope that at the last minute one of them would say in person or in writing something along the lines of "Sorry for being hellspawn". Of course they didn't.
In all seriousness, though, I wish the best for them. I feel genuinely bad for T because the brain damage inflicted on her by someone else's mistake has probably decimated whatever potential for success she had in this life. C is a teacher, so my concern for her is a large reason for my difficulty in mustering up a shred of Christian charity toward anti-maskers and people pushing to reopen schools long before it's safe just so someone they think is expendable will watch their children for them. I don't want her to die or have permanent health complications because of someone else's selfishness and stupidity. Fortunately Utah listened to the backlash and has implemented a few tweaks to its reopening strategy, like the brilliant maneuver of no longer allowing children to keep going to school immediately following prolonged exposure to known infected individuals. Yes, this was a thing that had to be changed. I'm not kidding. (I'm going to be a teacher too, but it's at the university level and all online so I'm not being treated like a disposable babysitter and I'm not outraged for myself.)
It just seems such a waste that this thing happened and created this permanent rift and now they're just gone. Was there any point to it? Could I not have gotten along just as well without ever meeting them? I think of the principle expressed by Elder Neal A. Maxwell: "Within each of our circles of friendship there lie so many unused opportunities to love, to serve, and to be taught. Indeed, one could apply the scriptural phrase about there being 'enough and to spare' (D&C 104:17). None of us ever fully utilizes the people-opportunities allocated to us within our circles of friendship. You and I may call these intersectings 'coincidence.' This word is understandable for mortals to use, but coincidence is not an appropriate word to describe the workings of an omniscient God. He does not do things by 'coincidence' but instead by 'divine design.'
"I am one who likes to know of happy ironies and happy intersectings. There are many intersectings, of course, that are not happy. I will mention an episode to you now of which you probably do not know, nor did I until recently.
"In 1855 Abraham Lincoln, then a lawyer in Illinois, was asked to participate in a patent infringement case involving McCormick, of reaper fame. Lincoln had been given a $400 retainer and was told he might actually argue the case, so he studied and went to Cincinnati for the trial. A lead lawyer in the case was a man named Edwin M. Stanton — a brilliant Pittsburgh lawyer — who said when Lincoln arrived, 'Why did you bring that . . . long armed Ape here . . . ; he does not know any thing and can do you no good' (David Herbert Donald, Lincoln [New York: Simon and Schuster, 1995], pp. 185–187). Lincoln stayed at the same hotel as Stanton and the other attorneys, but he was never even asked to eat or to confer with them. Lincoln went home feeling insulted and 'roughly handled by that man Stanton' (Donald, Lincoln, p. 187).
"The years tumbled on, and later Stanton was to join the cabinet of the newly elected president, Abraham Lincoln. There were differences of views, of course, but Stanton came to deeply admire Abraham Lincoln. After the shooting of Lincoln, a few, including Stanton, stood mournfully by his bed as Lincoln was in the process of dying. When Lincoln died, Stanton, who had once described Lincoln as 'an Ape,' paid tribute to his fallen chief:
"With a slow and measured movement, [Stanton’s] right arm fully extended as if in a salute, he raised his hat and placed it for an instant on his head and then in the same deliberate manner removed it. 'Now,' he said, 'he belongs to the ages.' [Donald, Lincoln, p. 599]
"Would that all rough relationships could have that kind of resolution and generous ending."
One hopes Stanton at least had the spine to apologize at some point instead of just pretending nothing had happened.
I suppose it was another of those damned learning experiences I didn't ask for. I learned all the positive, uplifting lessons you would expect, like don't love, don't hope, don't be yourself, don't trust, don't give mentally ill people the benefit of the doubt, don't face your fears, and don't step outside your comfort zone. I learned that Luna Lovegood, at least as portrayed in the movies, is not just charmingly eccentric but actually delusional. I always got the vibe that she wasn't really crazy but everyone just thought she was crazy because they were judgmental hypocrites. "No, Luna, I don't have time to listen to your stupid nonsense about invisible pixies. I have to go fly my broomstick and practice turning things into frogs with my magic wand." But after meeting someone with the exact same vibe, demeanor, soothing cadence and charming eccentricity who turned out to be delusional, I've realized that Evanna Lynch meant for her to be delusional. I'm not sure of J.K. Rowling's original intent with the character but she said some politically incorrect things on Twitter so who cares what she thinks anyway? I'm sure this knowledge will be of great use to me someday.
Sarcasm aside, the one remotely positive outcome I can see so far is that the experience instilled me with a profound contempt for the police, which I was able to channel constructively when we as a nation finally decided we'd had enough of their corruption, lying, and murder. I feel bad, but truth be told, I directly benefited from George Floyd's death because the catharsis I experienced at witnessing law enforcement be put in its place was exquisite. I'm sure I would have jumped on the bandwagon anyway but if I hadn't personally been traumatized by a mindless swaggering jackass in a blue uniform who was nothing but belligerent while I was nothing but cooperative, I wouldn't likely have had the same passion for the cause or the same determination to continue after its popularity has waned. Of course, the amount of actual influence I have on this issue or anything else is far from proportionate to the suffering I endured to get to this point, but who said life is fair?
Maybe the actual reason for everything, though, is found in the words of Paul, who recorded in 2 Corinthians 12:7 that "there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I should be exalted above measure."
In "A Link to the Present: Class Consciousness and the Need for Change in the Legend of Zelda", David Lasby argues, "Today the world is suffering more than any time in recent memory. COVID-19 has exacerbated the tensions already pulling societies apart. Economic inequality already reached record gaps even before the pandemic. Millennials and Generation Z held a deep skepticism of institutions long before the current crises, which has produced astonishing failings at the highest levels of power. The time has come to produce a Zelda game that reckons with these very issues facing humanity.... It is time for a Zelda game that evolves past bloodlines and sacred institutions and embraces the skepticism and class-consciousness of this moment.... The growing crisis of our time requires a new kind of hero, a transcendent storytelling. This threat also provides opportunity. Now is the moment to give us a Zelda game worthy to be called high art."
Responses to this pretentious crap have been overwhelmingly negative. "Good grief," said Stormcrow. "I get so sick of 'Its about time...' proposals that simply suggest the thing they're talking about look and sound like everything else in the culture right now. Class struggle? How original. How challenging. Yawn. I'd rather see people inspired to be a hero, than inspired to make sure everyone around them knows how oppressed they are."
In calling it pretentious crap, I don't mean that I'm against everything he says. I fully support the Legend of Zelda series trying out interesting new directions and breaking the old formula, as it did with "Breath of the Wild". As a writer myself I am inclined to prioritize the story over the gameplay, which is the opposite of Nintendo's approach since they are, after all, a game company. I would applaud more complexity and nuance. And like many, I really want to see the series namesake take on a more active role in her own games. I get that most countries don't want the heir to their throne running around having dangerous adventures, but there are ways around that. The much-maligned cartoon series got around it by making her father senile. "The Wind Waker" got around it by making her a pirate queen who didn't remember her real identity. And I had an idea years ago for a fan fiction called "The Z-Team" where she leads a band of guerilla fighters to retake her throne. It was going to have an epic tagline like "She wants her kingdom back, and she isn't asking nicely" or perhaps "When diplomacy fails, Triforce." The only reason I didn't write it is that I'm lazy.
But the series is, at its heart, a way to escape from the real world and have some fun for a little while. I enjoy it precisely because the boundless and unapologetically weird world it creates is not this one. And while I'm there, I'm perfectly willing to slip into a different mindset and accept ideas that would be repugnant in real life - that one race rules by divine birthright because the blood of a literal goddess flows in their veins, that certain people are predestined to sacrifice their own comfort and normal lives to be heroes for everyone else, and that it's okay for thirty-five year old men to dress up in green jumpsuits and think they're fairies. When I want more serious or unorthodox themes than what the games offer I can read fan fiction. In one fan fiction I particularly like (spoiler alert), Hyrule's three patron goddesses are revealed to be ordinary women who accidentally became immortal, used their free time to learn all about science and create the world, and set up the eternal cycle of good versus evil so they could bet on the outcome because they were bored. How's that for distrust of institutions? I love such a cynical deconstruction of Hyrule's theology, but I'm glad it's not canon.
The comment that got my attention the most was from one David Garcia Abril, who wrote, "Over the years, I've come to DESPISE the concept of high-art, since it's basically two things:
"- Just another form of tribalism.
"- A death cult.
"As for tribalism, because it basically divides people into groups in which one is considered inherently superior to another. People who enjoy "high-art" is considered intellectually, or even morally superior to the low scum who enjoy 'popular art', thus giving an excuse to believe they are entitled to see those people with condescension at best and disgust at worst.
"And a death cult, because it worships negative emotions (sadness, hate, depression, despair, etc) above everything else, while positive emotions are dismissed as 'just escapism', and are only allowed in 'high-art' when they are put to serve a contrast to negative emotions. Just to give an example: most actors and writers would tell you that making the audience to genuine laugh is far more difficult than to make them cry. And yet, tragedy is easily considered high-art, while comedy has to really struggle to get that status (and even when it does, more often than not, it's because it has dark elements to it). In other words, 'high-art' celebrates the emotions that remind our lizard brains of the constant presence of death, and then have the audacity of consider them inherently superior to the emotions that make life worth living. Just to clarify here, there should be place in art for both of those things. We still have to cope with negative emotions, and the catharsis we get from art can be a powerful thing. It's the inherent hierarchy in which those emotions are put what is completely messed up when you stop and think about it.
"So, yeah, f*** high-art."
I for one have never been particularly concerned about what anyone else thinks about art. Some of my favorite people are artists, and I mean no offense if any of them actually ever talk like that in real life, but I just like what I like and everyone else is welcome to like what they like, and we don't need to apologize or explain ourselves to anybody, and I think most of the fancy words some people use to explain why everyone else should like what they like are pretentious crap. If nothing else, they can take their sense of elitism and shove it. If I like what someone else considers "low art" I don't need to justify myself to them by calling it "a guilty pleasure". Granted, I may not be in a position to fairly evaluate the situation since I've mostly learned about it from "Calvin and Hobbes".
I found David Garcia Abril's comment interesting, though, not just for how it puts certain people in their place but also because I find myself one of the exceptions to his "most actors and writers". Mostly the writer part. I'm not an actor and there are no videos on YouTube of me trying to act, so don't waste your time looking for them. But in my case, I find comedy easier to work with than tragedy.
I know I can be funny because I often make people laugh, usually on purpose. In high school it was easy because everyone knew me as someone who rarely spoke, and when I did it took everyone by surprise and magnified even the slightest humor potential. Like one time my math teacher said she liked math more than history because it's not so violent. I said, "Except for when seven eight nine." There was an awkward silence as everyone processed the fact that I had spoken, and then they all laughed themselves to tears at the thing I said that I'll be the first to admit wasn't really that funny. And then I never consciously set out to try to become a funny person but over the years I've just sort of internalized certain skills and principles from witnessing other people be funny, and sometimes when I'm with people and they're talking my brain happens to work fast enough to craft something relevant that will make them laugh. Basically I'm saying that I'm smart. I don't know how to say that without sounding conceited so I'll just say it and move on.
I don't typically have the luxury of hearing whether anyone laughs when they read my writing, but I assume that's funny sometimes too because I draw on the same principles and in this case have the advantage of time to think about it, fine-tune it just right, and come back and edit it later if I think of something better. Of course I often write things that I think are brilliant and then become self-conscious and think they're terrible as soon as I hit "Post". I wasn't sure if my recent satire of creationism that I'd been all excited about was any good after all until a Christian biochemist that I admire went to the trouble of thinking up a comment that, while ostensibly criticizing my piece, totally played along with and expanded on the central joke. It was the most flattering thing I could have imagined, even more flattering than all the "Haha" reactions from Facebook combined.
I put a lot of thought into most of the jokes in that post, but at one point I also threw in a random line about God wanting to get the deposit back on the Garden of Eden, just kind of being like, Whatever, I'm not sure what the actual joke is here but maybe it's goofy enough to get a smile. And one of my friends said, "Oh my heck!! Not getting the deposit back on the garden of eden had me rolling." Conclude from that what you will.
In my experience getting an English degree, I indeed found myself somewhat unique in my propensity to gravitate toward humorous writing. Everyone else in my classes did more "serious" stuff and even if one or two of them was technically a better writer than me, I took comfort in knowing that I filled a different niche and we could coexist without fighting to the death. I gravitate toward humorous writing because it's the kind of thing I typically want to read, because these are, as David said, the emotions that make life worth living. That's just a personal preference and not a dig at my classmates. At least most of them didn't try to be too "deep" and come across as pretentious or condescending. "Deep" messages are all well and good but I think they should usually be imparted with a healthy dose of humor, without taking oneself too seriously (think Douglas Adams), because I'm not interested in being preached at by someone who thinks mankind's angst is such a big screaming deal. We're born on a microscopic dot in a microscopic dot, we make a lot of mistakes, and we die a very short time later having left no measurable impact on the universe, so let's have a bit of humility.
I think comedy is easy because there's so much leeway. You can come up with something legitimately brilliant and clever on multiple levels, or sometimes you can say something so stupid it's funny, and get people to play along and then the seriousness with which you all take this stupid joke becomes the joke, and then if it becomes a running gag or inside joke it gets funnier every time as long as you don't overdo it, but sometimes you can overdo it on purpose and make it funny again, like that one famous scene from "The Simpsons" where Sideshow Bob steps on nine rakes in a row. And not that you necessarily should, but as long as you wait long enough you can make almost any inappropriate and/or tragic topic into a joke. Humor is a mechanism of catharsis that helps us to cope with this hell we call reality. Making sad things funny is much, much easier than making funny things sad. I can't think of a single example of the latter off the top of my head. Of course I try to be a good Christian and draw the line a lot sooner than many would, but I enjoy dark humor very much.
Heck, even the wokest, most progressive people can do pretentious mental gymnastics to make themselves feel okay about laughing at things they know are wrong. Russell Marks: "Perhaps the cleverest thing about The Book of Mormon [musical] is the way it manages to keep actually-racist white people out of the theatres while using black actors who have no creative control to tell jokes written by non-racist white people about Africans that would be blatantly racist if there were actually-racist white people in the audience and if Parker and Stone had intended to be racist instead of satirical. This is quite a complicated manoeuvre, and it obviously takes quite a high level of sophistication to grasp it fully. Sophisticated critics clearly ‘get it’. The ‘parody’ of Africa is ‘far too close for comfort’, wrote Peter Craven in The Saturday Paper, but ‘the chief comfort of The Book of Mormon is that its fundamental structures, the foundation upon which it rests, is unspeakable bad taste’. Less sophisticated people might interpret that as another way of saying that racism is actually OK if you intend it in bad taste, but such an interpretation would presumably only betray their lack of sophistication."
Pulling off negative emotions well is much harder from my perspective, and I don't think a lot of people manage it, but this probably is more my personal problem than any shortcoming on their part. The experiences of my life have led me to construct a lot of barriers around my heart and try to avoid emotional vulnerability as much as possible. I also have to suppress a lot of my natural empathy so I'm not constantly miserable about all the suffering in the world that I can't do anything about. So when it's obvious to me that a writer or filmmaker or whomever is trying to elicit a certain emotional reaction from me with the phraseology or the music or whatever, when they're basically screaming "THIS IS SUPPOSED TO MAKE YOU SAD AND/OR INTROSPECTIVE", I put up the barriers and refuse to let them get away with it, unless I'm so invested in the characters and the setting that I still notice but don't care. The only movies I can think of right now that make me cry are "Revenge of the Sith", "Rogue One", "Return of the Jedi", "Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade", "Remember the Titans", "Temple Grandin", "The Cokeville Miracle", and some of the Pixar movies. I can't think of any books that make me cry.
The Zelda game "Ocarina of Time" doesn't pretend to be anything super deep but it does manage to make me cry. It deals with some simple but heart-wrenching themes and ends on a rather bittersweet note. As far as negative emotions go, though, I think "Majora's Mask" is the champion. It carries a very dark, unsettling and somber tone throughout, just unpleasant enough to be intriguing instead of actually, well, unpleasant. The world of Termina is full of Nightmare Fuel and at the start of the game is three days away from being crushed by the moon. "Final Hours", the melancholy tune that plays on the last day against the rumble of earthquakes and the clanging of the clock tower as the moon fills the sky, is one of the most underrated video game compositions in the history of ever. (But the silly and lighthearted moments balance things out!) Actually, "Majora's Mask" also anticipated twenty years ago some of the real-life subtext that David Lasby craves. I used to think, "It's ridiculous how the people of Clock Town start out so nonchalant and in denial that the freaking moon is going to kill them all when it's right there for everyone to see." But now with the current situation in the United States I think, "Oh."
In a review of the fan-made game "The Legend of Zelda: The Fallen Sage", someone with the screen name Asinine wrote, "Let's get to the very first problem and the reason for why I have a grudge against the man who wrote this lore: The 'making it more mature part'. This is a very noble thing to attempt, a more mature Zelda title is certain to appeal to quite a lot of people, but not enough for Nintendo to genuinely cater to. However, there is a difference between 'mature' and 'childish'. Mature is when you tackle interesting and controversial problems with a sense of dignity and purpose, I feel like I am experiencing something mature when I am playing around in The Path and I am slowly realizing the subtle commentary on modern-day parenting the game contains. What certainly doesn't qualify as mature is a never-ending flow of depressing events befalling on a cast of suicidal characters.
"Having depressive themes in your game is not bad by default, but when you are endlessly throwing in more excuses to make your characters sad, it loses it's mature intentions and it instead becomes sadistic. We are no longer exploring a world with genuine troubles, but rather the author's sadistic fantasies."
So I find tragedy a lot easier to get wrong than comedy. Of course I still dabble in them on this blog and in my works of fiction because they are a necessary ingredient most of the time, especially in a story that needs to have actual conflict and stakes and drama, but I feel very inadequate. I feel like any attempt to make my readers feel things is hamfisted and clumsy and even more obvious than most. That's one reason why I'm more likely to just be sarcastic even when dealing with dark topics like police brutality or mass shootings or being suicidal. I'm not trying to be funny as such, because like I said I place boundaries on my use of dark humor, but as a more jaded and detached way of getting the information across, and to direct righteous anger at the people who should be doing things but aren't as opposed to just trying to be sad about the things that aren't being done. I think this is one of my bigger weaknesses as a writer and maybe I'll be able to tackle it in graduate school.
Anyway, this is obviously just how things are for me and not meant to refute most actors and writers who find tragedy easier than comedy, but I found David Garcia Abril's comment thought-provoking and figured it was as good a jumping-off point for a blog post as any.
Today, in a sort of spiritual successor (no pun intended) to my post "God vs. Human Agency", which I recommend reading first partly as a useful foundation for this post but mostly because it will give me more blog hits, I decided to refute another thing I was told recently, that being "God doesn't tell you who to love" - with "love" there and hereafter meaning the romantic variety of love as opposed to the broader familial love that God has, in fact, told us to bestow on everyone, which I find quite impossible in practice but that's a topic for another occasion. Probably a more common statement with a similar sentiment would be "God doesn't tell you who to marry." It's not a big deal but I just like being argumentative, questioning everything and destroying assumptions that most people take for granted, so here I go doing exactly that. As with the previous one I tackled, why do we make this assumption even though it's not stated authoritatively anywhere?
Most Saints' first response would probably be something like "Because of agency." But God telling you to do something doesn't take away your agency. The whole point of agency is that God tells you to do stuff and you have a choice of whether or not to obey. This scenario would be no different. And I don't know who needs to hear this, but being asked or even required to take certain health precautions to protect everyone around you doesn't take away your agency either, so get over yourself.
But of course, there is also the true principle most famously espoused by President Spencer W. Kimball: "'Soul mates’ are fiction and an illusion; and while every young man and young woman will seek with all diligence and prayerfulness to find a mate with whom life can be most compatible and beautiful, yet it is certain that almost any good man and any good woman can have happiness and a successful marriage if both are willing to pay the price." So God could tell you who to love and/or marry without violating your agency, but it would still violate the principle that you have a world of options open to you and one is just as good as another, absolving you of the important responsibility and growth inherent in making the most important decision of eternity for yourself, yes?
Not necessarily. First of all, even President Kimball's quote hints at some grey area. I don't know how useful it is to dissect every word choice but I think he was careful to avoid making a total blanket statement. He said "almost any good man and any good woman" (emphasis added) can yadda yadda yadda. I came to realize several years ago that if I ended up getting married in mortality, I would ipso facto have to be one of the implied exceptions, because clearly I can't make it work with just anyone and not just anyone can make it work with me. Nobody's shown much interest in trying. I'm quite distinct from normal people in ways both good and not so good, and undoubtedly anyone willing to acquire my acquired taste would be as well, so that I'd have someone interesting to talk to and she wouldn't be the only one tolerating someone's issues. Yes, we're "all unique and special" and "all have baggage" but if we're being honest we all know that a few people are more unique and have more baggage than others. Michael Jackson said it best at the beginning of the "Thriller" video.
MJ: I'm not like other guys.
Woman: Of course not! That's why I love you!
MJ: No, I mean I'm different.
My mother, a big Michael Jackson fan, got annoyed at me when she showed us kids the video and I laughed at that part. Needless to say he was famous for different reasons when I was in school than when she was in school. But I digress.
For another thing, not to put too fine a point on it, but many Latter-day Saint women - and I'm not saying they're worse than men, but I'm not talking about men in this context - have taught me a lot about what I don't want in a marriage partner. I have criteria too and if nobody who meets them is willing to love me, I'd rather stay alone than sacrifice them. For example, I don't expect her political views to be identical to mine, especially as mine are still in flux, but if she's dogmatic and hypocritical and stupid about one side or the other like most Americans then it's a "Bye Felicia" from me. I also worry sometimes about the quantity of middle-aged Latter-day Saint women (and again, men, but again, irrelevant) on social media who seem to be a few fries short of a Happy Meal. Is that normal? When my hypothetical wife turns forty, is she going to lose her proficiency in English grammar and her ability to differentiate between emotionally manipulative urban legends and real life? If so, I don't think I can stay hypothetically married. Not long ago a woman old enough to be my mother told me "Your arrogance is not attractive" and I wanted to say "Neither is your stupidity" but I didn't because I'm a good Christian sometimes.
In 2013 I got a priesthood blessing for something I don't even remember now, probably insomnia, and the guy felt prompted to go off on a tangent that I hadn't asked about or even been thinking about. He said the Lord wanted me to know that I would find a girl after my mission. It was really weird and I dismissed it as an anomaly because, as I used to assume but recently spent a blog post debunking, God can't promise anything that involves another person's agency. Then it happened again with someone else, and then it happened again with someone else. Then I was preparing for my mission, and I had to meet with LDS Family Services and talk to this therapist who, apropos nothing, mused about how terrible it is to not know whether you'll be alone for the rest of your life. He didn't offer a solution, he just mused about how terrible it is. I told him God had actually promised me that I would find someone. He said I was very fortunate. But then I didn't go on a mission after all and figured even if the promise was legit, I had blown it. Oh well.
I knew those blessings couldn't all be dismissed so easily but that didn't stop me. Agency is a thing and I'm not attractive, so God is wrong, end of discussion, let's move on. There was also the small matter of my ambivalence toward marriage in the first place. I'm not like most people who feel a need for companionship and go out searching for someone to fill that need. Rather, I enjoy my solitary lifestyle and feel no desire to alter it except when I happen to stumble upon someone whose company I enjoy more than the freedom to do what I want when I want. And there are several people in this world who want to get married and deserve to get married but won't. So why, I wondered, didn't God make this promise to one of them instead? He or she would appreciate it a lot more. I don't need it. I can cope with being alone for the rest of my life better than most probably can.
In 2017 I fell really hard for a coworker who set the bar for all prospective spouses going forward. Before her, I had decided who I liked on a case-by-case basis; after her, I knew exactly what I wanted and couldn't be satisfied with anything less. But she had a boyfriend on a mission and was already planning on marrying him when he came home. I calculated that if I had gone on a mission myself and then started working there when I came home, I would have met her a year earlier, before she decided to wait for him, and maybe I would have married her instead. Maybe, I realized, she was meant to be the one for me, but I used my agency to screw it up. Last year, nearly six years after the first anomalous blessing, I got another one that actually was love-related this time, and the guy promised that my alleged wife and I will both know that it's right. Not necessarily in a "love at first sight" way, though, as he also said something about "whether you've already met her or not." I appreciate God's helpfulness in narrowing it down to those two categories.
By this point of course it was obvious that God had someone specific in mind, and that none of the women I had considered over the years was her. One could, in an attempt to preserve agency, split hairs and insist that this obvious meaning isn't the actual meaning, that the future event of a marriage is set in stone but the other party involved is subject to change. But to my mind that's a logical impossibility. Either both aspects are set in stone or both are subject to change. It's not like God is saying, "You're such a nice guy, I'm sure you'll find someone or other, and I'm so confident in that probability that I'm willing to risk a universe-destroying paradox by potentially making a liar out of myself after I state it as a fact."
This past January, a fifth guy gave me a blessing because I was nervous about an emergency dental appointment with no insurance, and he went off for like ten minutes with all these completely unrelated glorious promises and encouragement, which I would have chalked up to him being insane if he hadn't told me to keep writing even though I'd said like two words to him before that night and "I'm a writer" wasn't one of them. He told me that soon (whatever "soon" means to Mr. "a thousand years is one day") I would hold hands in the temple with a daughter of God. He said she's broken like me but we'll be together we'll be a powerful force for awesomeness and stuff. And maybe a normal person would have gotten excited but honestly, this was a mere couple weeks after my already pathetic love life had exploded in spectacular fashion beyond my most paranoid imaginings, and my first thought was Are you -----ing me? I have to fall in love again? And then he said some words that seemed to be God's direct refutation of my worry that I'd already blown it, but were also quite jarring in light of the Church's teaching that predestination is not a thing. He said, "Nothing can stop it from happening."
Well, all right then. Agency shmagency. I acknowledged once and for all that God's promise was legit even though it made no sense.
For a week or so, starting with the receptionist and the hygienist at the dentist's office, I couldn't help looking at every potentially available woman and thinking, Is it her? It could be anyone. How on Earth will I know? It made me not like myself and I got tired of it quickly and stopped thinking like that. If nothing can stop it, then my lack of specific action can't stop it, so there's nothing to stress about. But - and not for the first time - I grew just a bit resentful toward God too. So He's just bouncing me around like a pinball from learning experience to learning experience, shunting me toward the predetermined destination that is the woman He already chose for me? Do I get any say in any of this at some point?
So I've tried to figure out how this makes any sense and I think I've found a much more satisfactory answer than I did to my last existential query. In response to the question "I know we don't believe in predestination but does Heavenly Father already have someone picked out for us to marry?" the website Ask Gramps expressed a viewpoint that makes perfect sense to me: "Were we foreordained to be someone’s child? Someone’s spouse? Someone’s parent? That is a question that can only be answered between you and God. I tend to think that it is a very real possibility for a lot of people (but maybe not all). That being said, we need to be careful that we do not take this possibility and twist it into a form of predestination. With all foreordinations, the people here and now have to make that choice to bring it to pass.... But please note that 'Soul Mate' is not the same as 'Foreordained Spouse' (assuming that is how it was set up and yes I just made that term up) even though there can be quite a bit of overlap. The first robs agency. The second is subject to agency."
This distinction is important in light of the fact that some people in and out of the Church have recognized "the one" immediately. Examples that I'm personally aware of:
Mr. Dubray, not a member of the Church, saw someone for the first time, said to himself "I'm going to marry that girl" and did. At the time I attended his wife's dance school they had probably been married at least thirty years.
Brother and Sister Myler from my childhood branch both knew on their first date that they were going to marry each other, which made it really awkward.
Wain Myers, author of From Baptist Preacher to Mormon Teacher, wrote the following on his now-defunct website: "I was about thirteen years old and one night I had a dream about this girl. Now I know what you’re thinking; what thirteen year old boy doesn’t dreams about girls. But this was a different dream, the feelings I had in this dream where so strong and so profound, that I woke up with one mission; to find this girl. I couldn’t see her face in the dream; I saw only the back of her as she walked in front of me to school. But the feeling I got from her was so gravitational, that I looked for her for years after that dream. Actually, I never stopped looking for her, but I only had the image of what she looked like from the back. It never dawned on me that instead of looking for her that I should be feeling, for her until that very moment.
"I was mesmerized and not only could I not take my eyes off her; I didn’t want to take my eyes off her. As I looked at her, I heard the voice of my Father say 'that’s your wife' in a sweet gentle voice. I said to my Father 'how is this?' He said 'the wife you chose is not who I chose for you, this is the woman I chose for you!' The feeling was the same as the feeling I had in my dream and I knew my Father was right. I said to my Father 'well, if she is my wife, I think you need to tell her because she does not look like she wants to hear it from me!'"
Rod, in the comments of the aforementioned Ask Gramps post: "In my experience we have promised partners. The gal I'm sealed to knew instantly I was who she came to earth to marry. The missionary who baptised me knew she was my Eternal companion as soon as he met her. I'm a little slow. It wasn't untill after she passed that I received a confirmation. Simply ask, would you come to earth to marry a stranger? I don't think so."
Elizabeth Gibson, also in the comments: "I never know what to say about any of this. I am a convert and was never raised to believe in soul-mates or that the Lord would put two people together. I'm not really sure what a soulmate means. However, I have had two great spiritual experiences in my life, the first one was how the Lord led me to the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the second was how he led me to the husband after telling me very specific things about him in order to recognize him when I found him. At the time that all of this happened, I did not know that the apostles and some prophets had spoken out against the idea that the Lord had specific people for us to marry. I had never heard of pro or con about it. However, over the years since I have married my husband, I have had a bishop who was told that he had promised in the pre life to marry a certain woman. I've had a friend whose father was told prior to meeting his current wife that he was to look for someone specific to the Lord's Direction. I have known a handful of people who had similar experiences to mine. I don't know why the Brethren teach that you can marry any fine person and it doesn't really matter as long as they are faithful. If you Google it, you find all kinds of quotes that what happened to me cannot possibly happen. But it did happen and it's one of the biggest spiritual experiences I ever had. To deny that would be to deny my testimony or how I found the church."
Even no less an authority than the late President Thomas S. Monson said, "The first day I saw Frances, I knew I’d found the right one. The Lord brought us together later, and I asked her to go out with me."
Oh, and what about Adam and Eve? What are they if not definitive scriptural proof that the concept of foreordained spouses was true for at least two people? Even taking into account the obvious reality that they were not literally the first and only homo sapiens on the entire planet at that time as traditionally portrayed, it's pretty obvious that they were meant to be together. I sort of winked at the possibility in my irreverent little satire of creationism, but for real though, imagine the awkwardness if Adam had said, "Eh, thanks, God, but I don't think she's my type."
This sort of thing may be more the exception than the rule. Certainly if everyone had a foreordained spouse, it would only take one wrong marriage to set off a chain reaction that ruined the system for millions of people. But this phenomenon is clearly a real thing. And explaining it via the premortal existence preserves both agency and the importance of making the most important decisions for oneself. I am convinced that the reason God has someone specific in mind for me is that she and I already chose each other a long time ago, and He is simply honoring that decision. I am convinced that as long as He directs our lives to ensure that our paths cross at the appropriate time, He knows that we'll both know that it's right and will use our agency to be together, because somewhere beneath the veil of forgetfulness our hearts will both recognize that we already fell in love a long time ago. To me that's the only way this promise and this apparent divine usurpation of our decision-making authority makes any sense.
Please don't mistake any of this for the unfortunate incidents at weird places like BYU when someone, usually but not always male, tells the unfortunate object of their affections "God told me that I'm supposed to marry you" or "I dreamed that I'm supposed to marry you" or whatever and just expects them to accept that. In cases like the ones mentioned above, obviously both spouses still needed to make their own decision. In my case, with the way the Spirit speaks to me, I don't actually expect to ever have an abrupt revelation on the matter like one of those, and even if I do, I probably won't dare to believe it unless God opens a literal conduit of light above her head and plays "Unmistakeable" by the Backstreet Boys. If I find someone that I think is maybe probably my foreordained spouse, either we'll get married and prove me correct or we won't and prove me wrong and that's all there is to it. The right situation will fall into place without coercion and the wrong one can't be forced into place by any power on Earth or heaven.
Now I don't know if anyone is still reading but I'm not quite ready to shut up yet because the actual statement that sparked all this was not "God doesn't tell you who to marry" but "God doesn't tell you who to love." And in the short term those aren't necessarily the same thing. Most people have to fall in love a few times before it works out, which can be essential to developing important attributes like patience, humility, selflessness, and post-traumatic stress disorder. I don't know how many times I've been in love because really, what is love? Yeah. No, I don't know why you're not there. I give you my love but you don't care. So what is right and what is wrong? Give me a sign. What is love? And where's the line between like and love? For the purposes of discussion I'll pretend like it's always love because feelings are subjective anyway and you can't prove me wrong.
In May of last year some General Authority or other hosted a YSA devotional about the importance of dating and marriage. Nothing I hadn't heard and rolled my eyes at before. At that time I was not dating, trying to date or looking into the possibility of trying to date, but for whatever reason I decided to obey the counsel of my church leaders, take a leap of faith and make a little bit more than zero effort. All I could bring myself to do for a start was talk to a coworker I thought was hot. I talked to her during break, and she was nice and stuff but I immediately thought, "Wow, she's so young, we have nothing in common." It only cost me ten minutes that I could have been listening to music, so I didn't regret it, and for all I know I changed her life forever when I asked what she wanted to do and she said she didn't know and I asked what she was passionate about and she said she didn't know and I said she should find out and do it. Then that evening I talked to another woman from my ward. I should have paced myself.
By taking these steps of obedience, I think I opened myself up to divine guidance that I never asked for. A couple days later, I noticed another coworker who was in my stake and had been on a different shift during the school year. I didn't know why I noticed her when I thought she was utterly plain-looking. She came to my station to do quality control and here's one of those many times when I only recognize the Spirit's voice in hindsight. The Spirit said, Talk to her. And I thought that was myself thinking and I just thought back to myself in response, Meh, I don't really feel like it. The Spirit said a little more insistently, Talk to her. So I said something like "Hey, you're in my stake" and she said something like "Oh, cool" and the conversation would have fizzled out right then. The Spirit said, Ask her name. I didn't care what her name was, but I asked and she told me. I thought, What an unattractive name.
To make a long story short, she soon became a lot less plain-looking and I fell pretty hard. Almost from day one it stressed me out and cost me hours of sleep every night, and it turned out to be completely not worth it. She was not at all the kind of person I built her up in my mind to be. She was such a waste of my time and so unworthy of the emotion I invested in her that I couldn't even chalk this up to a learning experience, because, you know, every bad thing that happens to you is supposed to be a "learning experience". And I got about as angry at God as I've ever been because this was, of course, all His fault. He pushed me into this situation that I never asked for and then sat back to watch me struggle and fail no matter how hard I begged Him for help. If He had just left me alone, I would have avoided a lot of unnecessary and pointless suffering. So in a sense, God did tell me who to love.
I stand by my initial assessment that this was not a learning experience in any meaningful sense, and I think that phrase is kind of a bullcrap copout as often as not, but I think maybe I can kind of see the reason for it now.
At Summerfest I ran into this guy from her ward that I knew a little, and ended up hanging out with him and at least a dozen other people until like one in the morning. So most of them knew her and for whatever reason, the topic of conversation kept coming back to her and what did I like about her and when was I going to ask her out and so on. I bonded with these people over her, added them all on Facebook in large part to boost my credibility in case I ever got around to adding her on Facebook, and continued texting and hanging out with some of them throughout the summer. One of them was my friend Terrah. When I was forced to move for the third time that year and didn't have a new place lined up this time, and of course procrastinated until most places were full because apartment hunting is less fun than choking on a fork, I turned to Terrah for help. Despite being six years younger than me she was/is a far more functional adult and graciously agreed to call place after place after place on my behalf while I sat next to her being useless. For this act of service I felt as though I should fall to my knees and wet her feet with my tears of gratitude.
Then she called the company that owned the place where she was staying, and they said that a few guys in a few places were selling their contracts, and as I previously mentioned, when they listed the place where my friend Steve lived I was more than happy to take it. Also as previously mentioned, this exciting fresh start turned into a nightmare and I don't yet understand its purpose, but still it's obvious to me that this is another example of God weaving disparate threads together to direct my life whether I like it or not. If I hadn't wasted my time on that girl I wouldn't have gotten to know Terrah much if at all, and she wouldn't have gotten me here. I still think God in His infinite wisdom could have found an easier way but whatever.
This is God bouncing me around like a pinball. And maybe it doesn't matter in every instance who I bounce off of or in what order, so long as it hurts sufficiently. Maybe in some instances God doesn't care who I set my affections on and, if I bothered to ask for His input (which I typically haven't), would say "Grow up and make your own decisions." But with hindsight I'm positive He hand-picked the most significant ones for specific reasons whether I asked for them or not. Again, the paradox is that He seems to have directed virtually every moment of my life despite my ostensible freedom to make my own decisions, and I haven't developed a better explanation for it since that post, but what I'm getting at is that in any given scenario where I feel drawn to love someone, I won't likely have any clue going into it whether she is or isn't "the one" (and obviously the results have been 0/100% on that thus far), but I may discern with a high degree of confidence that God wants me to love her and that if I do, I'll be blessed by the experience even though I'll probably hate most of it.
Anyway, when His promise is kept, the entire world or at least everyone who's ever met me will have no choice but to fall to their knees and confess that there is a God.
A little over a week ago, the Utah Area Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints sent out an email that relieved some people, put some people in their place, and upset some people.
"Dear Brothers and Sisters:
"We are in the midst of a global pandemic unlike any the world has experienced in more than a century. The effects of this escalating health crisis are being felt everywhere, with incidents of COVID-19 infection rising dramatically especially in the United States, including in Utah. Latter-day Saints are not immune. Just today, more than 800 new infections were reported in our state.
"A growing chorus of medical authorities has confirmed that the simple wearing of a face covering when in public and when social distancing is not possible will significantly reduce the spread of COVID-19. This is true both indoors and outdoors.
"We note with appreciation the care exhibited by our members in returning to sacrament meetings wearing face masks. Now we ask all Latter-day Saints in the Utah Area to be good citizens by wearing face coverings when in public. Doing so will help promote the health and general welfare of all.
"We are most grateful for all you do to minister to one another and to your neighbors. Please join with us now in common purpose for the blessing and benefit of all.
Elder Craig C. Christensen
Elder Randy D. Funk
Elder Walter F. González
Utah Area Presidency"
Utah was singled out for the obvious reason that it's been breaking its own record for new daily infections at least twice a week, in no small part owing to the great number of people in and out of the Church who continue to go about their lives as though the virus didn't exist. It's pretty embarrassing that this request had to be made. And I do recognize that it's "just" a request. And when I continue to see people at church without masks I'm going to continue to not give them dirty looks or call them apostates to their faces or try to shame them in any way. I follow this same conduct everywhere else, though I move away from them if they sit near me on the bus and I don't particularly care if that hurts their feelings or in some cases makes them think I'm racist. There is wisdom in the advice, "When you see someone not wearing a mask, assume they have a good reason and that it's none of your business." Of course, this assumption disintegrates pretty quickly when you try to apply it to >90% of the people in the grocery store at the same time.
Not harassing individuals about wearing masks in public doesn't mean, however, that I'm going to pretend conspiracy theories, pseudoscience, and individualist narcissism constitute a legitimate alternative perspective. It doesn't mean that I'm going to pretend selfish and stupid decisions that actively place countless people in danger are entitled to respect. And it doesn't mean that I'm not going to call people out when I see them on social media trying to explain why the letter is wrong and/or trivial. This is not about "believing differently", regardless of how empirically false said beliefs are. If you want to "believe differently" that the Earth is flat and aliens are coming to probe your dog, I don't care because that doesn't place me or anyone I love in harm's way. I'll leave you alone. This is not
So of course in the past few days people have in turn called me out for mask shaming, being the real problem, being a bully, being un-Christlike, and worst of all, being the j-word. They have correctly noticed that I'm not the nicest person in the world, but may have been less astute in observing that Christ criticized pretentious idiots all the time and frequently called people unflattering names (e.g. swine, dogs, hypocrites, whited sepulchres, generation of vipers, Satan). One even said, "It's judgmental people like you who make good people leave the Church." I have news for him: if this were my church, which it is not, I would excommunicate these "good people" myself to stop them from embarrassing me further, at least insofar as I could given that they would still embarrass me by being Americans. So nice try guilt-tripping me and better luck next time.
I wonder why some of them are members in the first place. I don't believe in blind obedience, I don't believe any church leader is infallible, and I don't look down on anyone for the mere fact of struggling to accept certain teachings or policies. I struggle to accept a few things myself. But this church claims to be led by revelation from God, and if you actually believe that, it's both arrogant and nonsensical to immediately reject every teaching or policy that contradicts the views you already hold. If you already know the true mind and will of God so perfectly, I don't know why you need to be here. By all means be that way if you want - it's a free country if you're white - but don't expect me to not find it annoying when you preach your bastardized version at everyone else. The same people rejecting the Utah Area Presidency's request have also criticized the Church for supporting LGBT rights legislation, saying we should treat immigrants and refugees like humans, prohibiting guns in its chapels, and partnering with the NAACP. They also call out the church-owned Deseret News whenever it publishes an article or opinion piece that doesn't cater to the right-wing bias they think should be the default worldview, which is often.
A common theme in the current anti-masker dismissals is that this request "only" came from the Utah Area Presidency and wasn't signed by the prophet. (The bishop in the ward I attended last weekend read the email out loud and said at least twice that it came from the First Presidency. I'm not sure if he was somehow mistaken or just fudging the facts to make people take it more seriously. That wouldn't exactly be ethical, but oh well.) Really, I'm not even sure what to say to anyone who's deluding themself that President slash Doctor Nelson isn't aware of this letter and in full agreement with its message. From the beginning he has treated this virus as a very serious matter and called on members of the Church to be good citizens and follow government mandates and the medical community's recommendations. Some people who claim to believe he's a prophet simultaneously believe this virus is no worse than the flu and/or an election year Democrat hoax that every country in the world is participating in for some reason. The mental gymnastics are astounding. And even if he did sign this, they might still say he's wrong like they did when he donated to rebuild mosques in New Zealand.
Even though the letter makes no mention of government or laws, which wouldn't make sense anyway since Utah's Republican government isn't requiring masks and that's part of the problem, some of the anti-maskers are still whining about their "agency" or "liberty" or "rights". Here we see the truth: that being asked to voluntarily take on some inconvenience and discomfort to protect the people around them, the neighbors that Christ commanded them to love, upsets them just as much as being coerced to do it. The truth is, living in a society with other people comes with responsibilities as well as rights. It's about time anti-maskers got over themselves and recognized that fact. I saw someone say in response to the letter, "I have no desire to be a 'good citizen', or at least not someone else's idea of a good citizen." I told him to go live in the woods by himself. This narcissism - I keep using that word because it's really the most appropriate word - is almost exclusively American and it's about as compatible with the gospel of Jesus Christ as motor oil is with ice cream.
But that doesn't stop anti-maskers from trying to justify it through the gospel. Agency, our inherent ability to make our own choices, is so important and sacred that God won't take it away from us despite the incalculable suffering we cause with it. So they start with the false premise that liberty is the same thing as agency and reach the false conclusion that it trumps all other virtues all the time. (For some reason they idolize Captain Moroni, a Book of Mormon character who imprisoned people without trial and put them to death if they refused to support his army, but that's neither here nor there.) Thousands of preventable deaths and the collapse of our healthcare system do not, in their view, negate their God-given right to not wear masks. Of course, they also frequently point out that most deaths don't count because people over sixty or with pre-existing conditions aren't really people. That's if they believe the virus is real or dangerous at all.
Also, this happened the other day, well after the Area Presidency's email, with so-called Latter-day Saints obviously constituting the overwhelming majority of anti-maskers involved. It made national news. If it doesn't disgust you, get bent.
This particular incident really triggers me because some of the people I love most in the world, people I would do anything for, are teachers, and the thought of them being willfully and deliberately placed in avoidable danger by these mindless wastes of self-absorbed skin who could make the world an objectively better place by holding their breath for ten minutes makes my blood boil very much. I disagree with one point though - Utah is clearly not better than this.
Ahem. Where was I?
Yes, this is a request, and nobody will face any ecclesiastical consequences for disregarding it. And if one isn't a total jackass about not wearing a mask, one is technically not in apostasy. So here's where I risk getting into actual judgmental territory, as opposed to my previous territory that people think is judgmental but actually isn't. I'm not purporting to know anyone's standing before God but I think these are very important points to consider. Do you imagine God views it positively or negatively when someone splits hairs and looks for excuses not to follow His appointed leadership? And again, what sense does such a decision make just because they asked instead of demanding? If they're wrong about this when it's a request, they would still be wrong if it were a mandate. They would still be wrong if the prophet signed the email. And if that were the case, I suppose the Church could still be led by revelation in other things that don't contradict your politics, but it would seem kind of silly to follow them if they're so easily duped by something you think you can debunk with a few minutes on YouTube.
Good thing they're not wrong. Too bad so many are ignoring them anyway.
I feel bad because I don't know how long it was there and I only noticed it when I stepped on it with bare feet, but somebody left a yellow flower at my door a few days ago. Such a vague little gesture that I can't even guess at its meaning, and yet it must have one because its placement was clearly premeditated because my door is separated from the sidewalk by at least two meters and a fence. Nobody could have dropped the flower there by accident. They could have flung it, perhaps, if they were walking by with it and something startled them, but that seems contrived. Only like five people still in Logan are supposed to know where I live, and I can rule out three of them, leaving one or both of my next-door neighbors who hate me as the most plausible candidates. Maybe I have a stalker, but I couldn't begin to guess who that would be when there isn't currently a single woman at work or church that I've ever had a conversation with. If someone is stalking me based on my looks alone she's in for quite a disappointment.
Of course, I'm not assuming any romantic intent behind it since I don't know what intent was behind it but that would still be weird if a guy did it so I'm assuming a guy didn't do it. I looked up the symbolism of yellow flowers specifically: joy, sunshine, friendship, new beginnings. But was that level of thought put into the color scheme, or does all the intended symbolism rest in the plant genitals themselves regardless of detail? Anyway, I put the flower in a bottle of water and left it outside but it died quickly. I laid it to rest on the concrete lip around my doorway. It disappeared. Either an animal that eats dead yellow flowers but not grass wandered through, or whoever gave it to me took it back. I've kept a casual eye out for that type of flower growing anywhere around here with no success so far. It was either purchased somewhere or plucked a considerable distance away. Since I didn't have the foresight to get a picture of it, you'll have to take a leap of faith and trust me.
A few days later, someone left me cookies, and I reached a logical conclusion and got all excited that my stalker was stepping up her game. But then one of the five people still in Logan who are supposed to know where I live admitted to leaving them just as a random nice gesture. How was I supposed to know? Who does that? So the mystery of the flower remains. Dear flower giver, if you read this, I was just kidding when I called you a stalker. Don't be hurt by my lack of reaction or response, as there was really nothing I could do when I have no idea who you are or what the little yellow flower was supposed to mean. Please feel free to keep leaving stuff or doing whatever else you have in mind, unless you're a guy. It's fine if you just want to be friends but it would still be weird if you're a guy.
An even more surprising but more easily explained surprise came in the form of an email from Debbie, whom long-time readers of this blog will remember from a long time ago. I've been thinking about her periodically since she is in large measure responsible for the direction my life has taken and it just makes me wax philosophical about how events build on each other and how God brings things about and so on. During the summer of '16 she often texted me in the evenings to say I could come over, so I dropped everything and rushed over and we sat on the balcony outside her apartment and talked. Then her neighbor Steve usually came home from work while we were talking and she invited him to join us. I kept my feet propped up on the third chair hoping he would take a hint, but he wouldn't. As things turned out I remained friends with Steve long after Debbie and I parted ways, and he stayed in the same apartment complex, and last year when I found out someone was selling his contract here I jumped at the chance to be his neighbor, changing wards for the first time in seven years and embarking on a fresh start that so far has been an epic disaster. But I know God wanted me here for some reason.
Anyway, the email was full of feedback that I had long ago accepted I would never receive for the book manuscript I sent her fifty-six months ago, back when I used to send it out to people who said they would read it and then didn't. I hadn't actually asked for any feedback but she gave me some for the first chapter and it was so brilliant that I knew I needed her to critique the whole thing before I dared try to publish it. And then she just got busy and stopped. And then almost a year later when she broke my heart she tried to cheer me up by telling me she'd started reading it again, and that was the last I heard of it until just the other day. My first reaction to the email was "Holy crap" and my second reaction was embarrassment that she read such an old draft. I've learned a lot and done plenty of revising since then and compared to my current draft, the one she has in her possession is garbage. I'm not even sure how much of the feedback is still applicable. Do you see, Debbie? I moved on. I got stronger. I don't need you anymore. In all seriousness though, it was great to hear from her.
Fifty-six months. I had to check the math again because I couldn't believe it.
This is a nostalgic time of year already, even more so than usual for me, because today I've been in Utah for nine years. Nine years is almost ten years which is a sacred number to humans. Usually 7-Eleven celebrates the anniversary of my arrival by giving out free Slurpees but it's canceled this year because I've written one too many controversial things. As ridiculous as this will sound coming from one who just turned twenty-seven, the passage of almost a decade makes me feel very old. Because in human terms, not getting into the geological timescale where our existence as a species represents only a couple minutes, a decade is a freaking long time. For the overwhelming majority of us it's more than a tenth of the time we have on this planet. Often much more. In my case, I've felt for a long time like I'm going to die in my early forties, and that may just be wishful thinking on my part but I do know I haven't got a chance in hell of making it to ninety unless medical science advances sufficiently to replace every organ in my body. Which it probably will, but I won't be able to afford it because I live in a country that thinks healthcare is a privilege.
Barely out of high school, I embarked on the nightmare, I mean adventure that is adult life. I wasn't nearly as afraid as I ought to have been. As year after year has gone by I've experienced more pain than I could have imagined, much of it caused by my own mistakes that I still get to suffer from long after I've learned from them. I've grown into a different person and all that jazz. If I could go back and speak to that naive little boy, I would offer the following advice:
- Don't procrastinate.
- Don't stay up until two in the morning just because you can.
- Don't seek unhealthy coping mechanisms when you feel isolated.
- Don't isolate yourself by withdrawing from the people who actually care about you.
- Pay attention to your bank balance and email inbox.
- Don't be so dogmatic and inflexible about politics.
- Don't fall in love.
- Always pay rent on time.
- Talk to your academic advisor regularly.
- Avail yourself of the counseling services on campus that you already paid for.
- Don't be afraid to talk to the registrar's office, professors etc. when you screw up and need help. That's their job. They're not going to yell at you.
- Don't be afraid to stand up for what you believe in.
- Don't be so dogmatic and inflexible about religion.
- Seriously, don't fall in love.
- Participate in as many clubs and activities as you can before, I don't know, a global pandemic cancels all of them. Hypothetically.
- Communicate with people who are pissing you off instead of harboring silent resentment.
- Don't work at a call center in a misguided attempt to boost your confidence.
- Don't eat too much candy.
- White privilege is real, and racism in the United States is much worse than you think it is.
- Be patient with yourself even when it seems like nobody else is.
- I'm not kidding. No matter how hard it is, don't fall in love.
Wow. I can't believe I just wrote something like that without being sarcastic. But the real treasure was the friends I made along the way. And lost. I've lost a lot of them, too. Most of the Facebook friends I met in the dorms my freshman year have unfriended me by now. But the random girl who politely declined to be kissed by me at True Aggie Night has stuck with me for all these years, and that counts for something. The girl I actually did kiss unfriended me after a few years though.
Nine years from today, I hope to be typing away at my latest upcoming bestseller, watching my dogs play in the surf beneath the glorious sunset over Bora Bora, Tahiti, a smile on my face as I think of all the money in my bank account. My wife Felicity Jones is half a world away making another Star Wars anthology spinoff prequel Disney+ exclusive series, but that's okay because one of the few things I love more than her is Star Wars. Though admittedly it's been a little less interesting ever since we made contact with actual aliens and learned the secrets of interstellar travel. At first they tried to annihilate us, but it was just a relief to finally face enemies we could actually see instead of another global pandemic, and then they apologized and we let it go because we were screwed if we kept fighting anyway. Felicity's and my adopted alien children have all grown up (they have a short life cycle) and dispersed to three far-flung solar systems which we rotate between for Easter, Christmas and St. Zarquon's Day. Most of Earth's tourism is now siphoned off to the improbable single-biome tropical planets, which is how I got this prime piece of real estate in Tahiti for so cheap, even though I could have paid a lot more because I'm loaded.
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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.