Wednesday, September 10, 2014

People Making People

My 3-year-old asked today, “How do people make people?”

I’m all about being open and honest, but only in ways that can be understood or appreciated given the age of the person asking questions. My response was, “Well, mommies have stuff inside their bodies, and daddies have stuff inside their bodies, and it’s all super, super tiny, and when it’s inside a mommy’s body, it can start to grow and turn into a baby!”

How’d I do? For what it’s worth, he just kind of laughed at everything I said like it was all silly.

Monday, September 08, 2014

Feeling the Spirit

Introductory note: I often share my thoughts on spiritual and religious matters with an online Facebook group dedicated to discussions about and relevant to Mormonsim. It is a group to which I’m particularly attached. Meanwhile, my blog is often silent. I figured I might as well share some of my Facebook musings on this page. It will liven up my blog and also help me to retain more of the thoughts that I’m having. What follows is something I shared on Facebook today, modified ever so slightly.

What does “the Spirit” feel like?

Suppose you’re reading scriptures, and as you do, you begin to feel motivated toward goodness. A pleasant kind of stirring arises within you. You feel more inclined to love and do good. Are you feeling the Spirit?

I think many Mormons would say that if we feel those things while reading the scriptures, it is the Spirit. Yet if we feel those same things while listening to a rock song or watching a Hollywood movie, many of us would not immediately say that it’s the Spirit. Is that fair?

I had a friend, born and raised LDS, who once told me he had never “felt the Spirit” while reading scriptures. My initial reaction was to think, “Really?! You’ve never felt anything positive while reading the scriptures???”

My knee-jerk reaction was eye-opening to me. I realized that I was ready to interpret any positive emotional experience that takes place while reading the scriptures as a manifestation of the Spirit. This led me to wonder if our attributions of feeling the Spirit are based largely on context and not, or at least not as much as we typically think, on a particular quality of feeling. Yes, we associate the Spirit with positive feelings, but it’s the presence of positive feelings within a certain context that generally impels us to say, “That is the Spirit I feel!” I think of people who walk into a Church History site and report feeling the Spirit so strongly. I wonder if they really feel anything different from what they’d feel if they were to walk into a very quiet library or a place associated with importance and grandeur, such as the White House.

This probably sounds cynical. I don’t take it that way. I’m personally of the opinion that we need to close the gap we insist on seeing between what is spiritual and what is natural. I’m content to say that a person can and sometimes does feel the Spirit when listening to good music or visiting Yellowstone National Park or whatever. The more important question in my mind is what the implications of those feelings are. (Is Yellowstone National Park the only true and living national park on the face of the earth? Is Led Zeppelin “true”? The answer to the latter question, by the way, is yes.)

This is not to say that the Spirit cannot be discriminated from positive emotions in general. I’m glad that at least some people encourage us to tease the two apart, to learn to discriminate between them. And I myself have had experiences where what I attribute to the Spirit is something much more profound than “positive emotion.” I’ve felt a kind of electrical current running through my arms while giving a blessing. I’ve felt what I consider to be “pure intelligence” flowing into me, in a situation where something was made known to me in a way that didn’t seem emotionally based at all. Instead, it felt like something became obvious even though it wasn’t something I did deduce or could have deduced. It wasn’t even a feeling of certainty or confidence, it was something much more immediate and apparent than that—like looking out a window and seeing that it’s raining outside. It was just obvious, and nothing like a hunch or even a strongly held conviction. I’ve also felt what I consider to be the Spirit attend me as I’ve spoken at times, resting atop me as it were, and I’ve felt it physically depart at the very second I finished what I felt inspired to say.

But you’ll notice I’m able to describe the above experiences. Maybe not perfectly, but I’m not at a complete loss. They are familiar feelings and experiences—sensations of electricity, the state of something being obvious, etc.—just manifest in unusual ways. I don’t know if it’s good to insist that the Spirit is something entirely unfamiliar and unlike anything else. If it were, how would we even know what it is? How could it inspire us to do good if it had nothing in common with love and happiness and other positive emotions that aren’t necessarily manifestations of the Spirit? Or maybe it really is the case that any positive emotion we experience is a spiritual manifestation, and it’s just that sometimes it’s coming from the Spirit, and sometimes it’s simply the beauty of our own divine spirits percolating up through the flesh. I don’t know. Food for fodder.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Potpourri No. 39

Individually wrapped, single-serving portions o’ life…

Transition Complete
We’ve now been living in Utah for about two months. It has taken these two months to feel completely moved over. We got our Utah bank accounts, our kids have started school (see below), Melanie has a local job (also see below), our address is updated with everybody who matters, we have Utah voter cards, driver licenses, library cards, primary care physicians, etc. This week we put the finishing touches on our move by affixing a new set of Utah license plates to our vehicle. I think that was the last thing that needed to be done, and we’re now as Utahan as you can get. It’s almost as though we never left. It may seem silly, but seeing our car with Utah license plates really did feel like the icing on the cake (or the nail in the coffin, depending on how you look at it). It’s a bit surreal, and it really does make things feel more official. However, the thing I’m most excited about is probably the library cards. As I’ve said a few times before, Utah has a couple of great library systems (both city and county), and I feel so empowered to have a library card here. I kind of feel like I just inherited thousands of books. It’s awesome.

That’s What Friends Are For
In the last couple of weeks, I’ve had the opportunity to see some good friends that I haven’t seen in years. Last week, Chad (a great friend for about 16 years now) and his wife Crystal (also a wonderful person), along with their three sons (fine blokes, all of them), met up with Melanie (my beautiful bride) and me (that’s myself) and our three sons (delightful little tikes) at Liberty Park (Salt Lake City’s approximation of Central Park). They—that is, Chad and Crystal—even brought us Chinese food. Super nice and super yummy—that is, Chad and Crystal, and the Chinese food, respectively. These guys have been absolutely angelic with us in the past. They are kind and generous and sincere, and it’s humbling to have such wonderful people in my life. We had great and meaningful conversation, not just idle chit chat and whatever. What a treasure. I very much enjoyed my time and am glad I now live where I can see these people with relative ease. Then, this week, I saw one of my best buddies from high school, Jonathan (that’s the name of the friend, not the high school). It’s probably been seven years since I’ve seen Jonathan, but he’s a good guy. He also fed me good food. (How lucky am I?) He took me to Red Rock, a microbrewery that I’ve heretofore patronized only in his company. It was delicious. We caught up on each other’s life and then brainstormed all of our mutual acquaintances from high school to see who knew what about whom. More than one has died, one is in prison. It’s crazy. I was amazed how naturally profanity became a part of my vocabulary in Jonathan’s presence. It wasn’t purposeful, and it wasn’t his “bad influence” because I’ve been around other people who swear more than I do and it hasn’t affected me. It must just be conditioning from when I hung out with him in the past, when indeed I was a much more profane fellow. I’m just surprised that even though three-quarters of a decade have passed since I’ve talked with him, I would so effortlessly and non-consciously revert to old my old ways. But, you know, it was kind of nice, because it just didn’t matter. Friendships like that are hard to come by in these parts.

The Schooling Continues
The school year has started. Most days, I walk Eddie and Peter to school. Usually, Beegy comes with me. I think Eddie and Peter are adjusting fairly well, considering they are both rather shy and anxiety-prone. It’s hard to get much out of them about what happens at school, but I remain optimistic. Melanie, meanwhile, has started her job as a Kindergarten Teaching Assistant. Today was only the second day of normal school for her kindergarteners, but I think Melanie is quite happy. It feels good to her to be back in that environment, and the kids already adore her. She’s been told as much by at least a kid or two. It’s really great to see Melanie so happy with how things are going. Meanwhile, my schooling remains a somewhat nebulous notion. What the hell do I mean by that, you ask? I don’t know. It just seems not quite real, and it is not well-defined at this point how exactly I even relate to my PhD program. Not that my plans have changed. I’m still going to work on my dissertation, but I’m not officially enrolled as a student anymore. I guess it’s just such a change that it feels kind of bizarre. My reasons for not officially enrolling as a student are numerous, but the one that seals the deal is that I don’t have the money to pay for it. So, quite honestly, there isn’t much of an option. All that really matters, though, is that I’ll continue to work on my dissertation and then reapply to school before I need to defend. That should suffice. In the meantime, I’m spending my mornings with Beegy. I feel bad for the boy because he has lost his two brothers (and his mom for part of the day) to school and it’s a monumental change for him. On the first day of school, after we dropped Eddie and Peter off, Beegy began sobbing. It was a different kind of cry than I’ve usually seen from him, and it was clear that it was purely because it had hit him that his brothers were gone. It was heartbreaking. He’s adjusted pretty well since, but I’m no match for his brothers. And it’s hard to remain patient, sadly. I feel like I spend four hours of my day just staring at whatever Beegy is telling me to look at. I can’t divert my eyes for even a second without him snapping at me to keep watching this or looking at that. I feel like a robot, like I can’t even think my own thoughts for those four hours. Sigh. I need to figure something out.

My Hands, AKA The Living Dead
Two months in Utah means it’s also been two months of carpal tunnel. I had an EMG earlier this week, a procedure in which they hook your fingertips up to some machine that monitors the electro-activity in your nerves and then proceed to shock you with a cattle prod at various places on your arm. It actually wasn’t that bad, and the testing was done within a literally literal 10 minutes. The worst part was the hair-thin needles they had to poke into my arm (and neck) to “listen” to my muscle activity. (I used scare quotes, but it was a rather literal listening to, as it was a tiny microphone inserted into my skin that captured noise whenever I’d use my muscles.) The EMG doctor told me I had “moderate” carpal tunnel, just on the cusp of getting to the bad stage. He said that despite feeling much more numb in my right hand, my two hands are basically on par with each other. He made surgery sound like something I should be doing soon, but apparently for him that means “within the next year.” So, I went to my normal carpal tunnel doctor today to discuss the results of my EMG test. We didn’t really do that. Instead, he gave me a steroid shot directly into my wrist (I could barely feel it, thankfully) and I got scheduled for surgery three-and-a-half weeks from now. This doctor told me I had “severe” carpal tunnel and didn’t make me feel quite as optimistic as the EMG guy, but who knows. I was also told my hand might be fine within a couple of days of having the surgery, unlike the three-to-four weeks I’d heard from others. I wish I felt more confident about what exactly is going on, but you know how doctors are. You feel like they are rushing whenever they come in, and it feels like you’re interrupting them if you ask questions. I was confused about the purpose of my steroid shot today. The doctor said it was for my relief, but he also said it would tell us about how well I was likely to respond to surgery. But then I wasn’t scheduled for a follow-up appointment before the surgery, and I was told I’d need the surgery no matter how I responded to the shot. So I just don’t know. I guess you just trust people and let them cut you open if they say it’s going to be good for you. That’s basically my plan for now.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

First Day of School

Today was the first day of school for Eddie and Peter. It is Peter’s first time at a brick-and-mortar school, but seeing as how we moved two months ago, it is a new school for both Eddie and Peter. Peter seemed totally fine when I dropped him off this morning. Eddie got emotional, choking back the tears. The biggest display of emotion actually came from Creegan, who sobbed after dropping off his older brothers. He was sad to have his best friends leave him behind. It’s not that Creegan wanted to stay at the school. He was just sad to know that Eddie and Peter aren’t going to be with him all day long. This was heartbreaking for me.

I’m really hopeful that something will happen during the day to make Eddie feel happy and excited about school. I hope that by now, two hours into his school day, he has had some fun and is more of his normal self. He did so incredibly well adjusting to school last year. He seemed instantly comfortable and very happy with going. But change is hard on him, and this is starting over. And one huge disadvantage this time around is that his best friend in the whole world isn’t in his class to help him adjust. He literally doesn’t know any of his classmates. That’s going to be rough.

I’m not sure what to expect of Peter. I think he might like traditional school, but I think there will be challenges. He gets distracted easily, and is frequently off in his own little world. Today, when the teacher started to lead his class inside, Peter just stood there, not following the line of students. He just wasn’t paying enough attention. I had to call to him and tell him to go. I think this is probably a sign of what’s to come. But I’m more optimistic than not.

I have to admit, it was nice to be the one to take my boys to school, especially on their first day. I haven’t usually been available for such things. It’s nice that we live near enough to the school to walk. It was a gray, crisp, and very mildly rainy morning, and I loved it. Eddie and Peter complained of being cold. They wore jackets to school. So crazy. That definitely wouldn’t be happening in Florida, probably for another four months. Anyway, here are some of the photos taken this morning:

Three brothers, prior to leaving Grandma's.

As you can see, Eddie's spirits were much higher before getting to the school.

If you know Eddie, you know he's making an effort here and isn't feeling quite so optimistic anymore.

Peter, going with the flow.

The end ... of the beginning!

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

The One in Which Everyone Gets Schooled

With August well under way, school is quickly becoming the focus of my family’s lives. Each of us, in our own way, is concerned with school: Where will we be going? When will we be going? Will we be going?  The answers vary from one person to the next.

Let’s start with the kiddos. As of today, Edison and Peter are officially enrolled for school. This will be Peter’s first foray into a brick-and-mortar school after doing virtual school in Florida. It will also be both Eddie’s and Peter’s first time attending school in Utah. It’s exciting, but also a tiny bit overwhelming. The structure will be good, but it requires all of us to be more disciplined. Plus, Eddie loved his school in Tallahassee, and I’m not sure his Utah school can compare. I also secretly worry about the impact Utah culture will have on my boys. You can confront a lot of closed-mindedness in Utah, and sometimes kids are among the worst perpetrators of such things (though the attitudes expressed almost certainly fall back on what they are learning from their parents). It will be an interesting experience for us, I believe.

Next up: Melanie. As of today, Melanie is employed as a Kindergarten teaching assistant. Yes, an assistant. We have mixed feelings about this. Our main goal, of course, was for Melanie to get a full-time teaching job. We were quite confident that this would happen. But Melanie hasn’t been teaching for eight years, and her license is officially considered expired. It can be renewed, and schools can hire her while she works on renewing the license. But it turns out many schools have been leery of that, or so we assume. I think because she’s been out of the loop for a while and doesn’t have a currently active license, she’s getting passed up by most people. Only a couple of schools have interviewed her. The good thing is, when they do interview Melanie, they love her. Sadly, one of the schools that interviewed her is a “Title I” school, and they have certain requirements imposed on them concerning whom they can hire. Melanie doesn’t fit those requirements, precisely because of the lapsed license. The principal at this particular school seemed disappointed that he couldn’t hire her, and he’s even offered to keep Melanie somewhat involved in his school’s events (including professional development opportunities that will help Melanie renew her license). He’s really being generous about helping her, and it suggests that he might want to keep her around so he can hire her next year when her license is again active. Alas, the only job offer that presented itself to Melanie was to be a part-time teaching assistant. Obviously, this sucks because it is a lot less money. However, it will be enough for us while we’re living with Melanie’s parents. It guarantees we’ll be living under their roof until at least June, but we’ll be fine. The assistantship position will also work toward Melanie’s relicensing requirements, which is a huge perk. On top of that, the school is incredibly convenient to us. I think that will end up being even more appreciated than we may now realize. And finally, it’s admittedly kind of nice for Melanie to have a part-time job to ease back into this sort of thing. It won’t feel like such an abrupt change, and she’ll be able to remain quite involved in the kids’ lives and schooling and whatnot. Yes, we’re choosing to look at the bright side here, but there is plenty on that bright side to admire.

And then there’s me. (I guess it should be, “And then there’s I.” But how snooty would that sound?) I’m facing a bit of a dilemma. I will be having carpal tunnel surgery within the next couple of months, but no sooner than five weeks from now. My insurance requires me to go through a bunch of other treatments first, so it doesn’t matter that doctors feel surgery is inevitable. What that means is, shortly into the fall semester, my right hand will be put completely out of commission. It will remain so for about a month, at which point my other hand is likely to receive surgery and be unusable for a month. I am highly unlikely to produce much on my dissertation during that time—but that’s most of the semester. This has thrown a bit of wrench into things, because my main goal upon moving to Utah was to wrap up my dissertation during the fall semester. Now, there’s little chance of doing so before the spring. And really, that’s not such a big deal. The problem is that, my school does not allow you to remain un-enrolled for two subsequent semesters. I was not enrolled for the summer, and so if I don’t enroll for the fall, I will be breaking their rules. What that means is, I will then have to reapply for admission to the school. Almost as if I were a brand new student. “So, just sign up for a couple of dissertation hours and don’t worry about putting them to use!” Perhaps that is what you’re thinking. Well, yeah, that’s one very expensive way to handle this. But that gets to the heart of the bigger problem—money. How can I afford tuition, especially tuition that won’t really help me because I won’t really be getting much work done, when we don’t have much of an income? As I said above, we’ll have enough for our basic needs and bills. But my plan to remain enrolled in graduate school was based on my assumption that Melanie would be working full time. “And why can’t you work, too, Benjamin?” Maybe that’s your follow-up question. Well, I’ve considered that. Originally, that was not the plan because the whole point of me being here and not continuing as a TA in Florida was that I could focus 100% on the dissertation. My dissertation chair has advised me not to try to work while I wrap up my dissertation, and I think that is very good advice. But there’s also the issue of the carpal tunnel! That’s likely to hinder me from doing any temporary job I might consider getting. So, anyway … it’s all a bit crazy. And right now, I’m not entirely sure what to expect. I may just skip the fall semester and reapply for the spring. I’m under the impression that I’ll pretty much be guaranteed to get back in without a problem, but there are some questions I need to have answered before I feel totally secure going this route. Stay tuned.