Tuesday, June 28, 2011

I love this place.

Photo credit: Google search and aldtalks.blogspot.com.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Moral Conflict

My sweet Oddette knows that chocolate chip cookies can cure any kind of remote emotional malady, so when I got a plate full of her finest the other day, I could not have felt more utterly delighted and more dismally dismayed. The delighted factor comes from the fact that her chocolate chip cookies can only be rivaled by my grandma's, and that is certainly saying something. The dismay came from my recent re-commitment to eating more healthily.

An inner war was declared and began to rage inside me. A peace treaty was drawn up when a compromise was decided on: one a day until they run out. That way, I can spread out my less-than-healthy remedies in a way that will hopefully thwart guilt.

So I've enjoyed one sliver of heaven in contentment every day this week--until today. No, my plate did not run out; Odette's generosity made sure of that. A lack was not my downfall.

I had today's ration this morning before I left for church. When I got home, I was in a drawing mood. So, being my only model willing to sit still for an hour, I sat in front of my mirror and sketched and colored to my heart's content. When I finished, I felt like rewarding myself somehow. Without thinking, I reached over to my nightstand and snatched up a cookie from the plate.

I took a small bite before I'd realized what I'd done. Before my second, I considered the treat in my hand, decided rashly that I deserved it, and finished it off.

Now to my purpose: the cookie was delicious and satisfying as I ate it, but afterwards I felt gross and remorseful. Tasting the cookie brought me a fleeting pleasure, but I knew that it was destined to settle in my stomach and maliciously add to the fat and sugar content of my body. And, for some reason, I decided to make my experience a metaphor for sin. It never truly satisfies, for satisfaction shouldn't turn into compunction as soon as it's over.

But wait! This metaphor is so condemning! Cookies, the fountain of all joy, the source of childhood dreams, "sweet, round, nice to see, but even better when inside of me" (credit Cookie Monster), as the representation of sin?!? Deny it! Say it isn't so!

Result: false alarm. Cookies are joy. Stay away from sin and eat cookies in a moderation that balances health and emotional remedy.

Friday, June 24, 2011

"Racking Focus"

I saw my Wonderchild for the first time in an eon. I'm excited enough to post a painting I did of her a while ago. May I just say that this beautiful girl inspires sunshine and joy everywhere she goes? The world's lucky to have her. Welcome home, kid. :)

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

The Trauma of a New Toothbrush

There's really no surprise in this post. This is about switching to a new toothbrush. I'll try not to make it too tedious.

To say the least, I get attached to things. People, pens, places, ideas, dogs, colors, foods, pillows, songs, shoes, you name it. My parents claim that, in my youth, I once cried over a toilet being replaced in our bathroom. My only recollection of it are the memories that have been placed in my mind by repeated storytelling, so you'll have to take up the veracity of the incident with them.

So when I got a toothbrush for Easter (they always come with our chocolate in our baskets as a friendly reminder) and it was the kind with a squishy, comfortable hold and firm, healthy feeling bristles, it was not hard for me to find the will to brush my teeth for a little longer every day.

The thing about anything you get attached to is that it doesn't necessarily last forever. I know that toothbrushes are supposed to be replaced every three months or so. My dentist even recommends putting them in the dishwasher once a week to make sure they're kept clean (which I've never done, but hey, it does make sense...kinda). But when new batches of prim, plastic-packaged toothbrushes appeared in my bathroom cupboards a few months later, I couldn't bring myself to toss my current toothbrush into the cleaning closet.

(Brief aside: please appreciate how painful this is for me. I've been to half a dozen thesaurus sites, and these are the synonyms I come up with for "toothbrush": besom (wha...?), broom, hairbrush, polisher, sweeper, whisk. Who on earth puts "hairbrush" and "whisk" in that list?! So we'll all have to suffer from me repetitively writing "toothbrush" unless I think of an alternate word later on. I'm terribly sorry for this lack of creativity.)

So I kept it. I mean, the bristles were still good, the thumb pad was comforting and I'd finally gotten used to using a pink toothbrush, so why change? And who jumps at the chance to put as many foreign objects into their mouths in succession on the pretense of cleaning them? I want a tool I can befriend and trust!

Now, I share a bathroom with my older brother. It's funny to watch the evolution of his toothbrushes. No one takes better care of his or her own teeth than he does. And he brushes so long and hard every day that his bristles become frayed by the end of the month (forgive me, bro, if I am disclosing personal information to The Internets. I'm trying to praise you here). Consequently, he goes through toothbrushes abnormally quickly. I've witnessed many a turquoise blue and neon green and bright purple pass through our toothbrush cup next to my constant pink Colgate. And it occurred to me that, however loveable and comfortable I am with my toothbrush, it may not be the wisest thing to keep around.

So I did the impossible. I considered my pink toothbrush. The "Colgate 360" insignia was rubbed almost completely off, and I'm sure, were it scanned, the rubber grip would have a perfect thumbprint impression in it by now. I had used this dental scrubber (I tried. I won't try again) for more than a year--yeah, I bet you thought that, by Easter, I meant two and a half months ago, but it was last year's spring; I was not kidding when I say I get attached to things. So I decided to try something new.

My new toothbrush isn't terribly perfect. Its bristles aren't as firm as the last one. The grip is frustratingly slippery and totally plastic. Its color is pale and unthrilling. And, quite honestly, I feel somewhat violated, cleansing my mouth with this new, alien thing.

In short, I don't like it. But I'm going to give it time. Because, when you think about it, change is healthy. It's not always bad. It prompts progression. And, really, it's handicapping to see every change as an ending. So here's to a new beginning.

Monday, June 20, 2011

"Better Together"

Yes, after scriptures and prayer and friends, I go to song lyrics to answer my questions. Particularly Jack Johnson.

The song's nice, but one stanza really speaks to me:

"Love is the answer, at least for most of the questions in my life, like 'why are we here' and 'where do we go' and 'how come it's so hard?'"

It's funny, the random pearls of wisdom you can find in contemporary song lyrics. And it's not the first time some pop song has been an answer to prayer. God works in mysterious ways.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Short story: "Untitled"

The last couple days comprised my ward's Youth Conference trip to Moab. Upon reflection, much of what I learned can be summed up in a short story I wrote when I was fourteen. I called it "The Veil" because I had to name it for purposes of a contest that I entered, but I'd actually rather not name it; people too often judge a story by its name.

I see her every day, but it is five years until I really notice her for the first time.

I am a timid person; I am born into a family that blends in with the background. I, too, blend in. I never need attention, and I am a poor speaker. I work at my father’s stall, where he sells things in the marketplace. I began when I was seven and now I am twelve. We sell things that my mother and older sister make; bowls, jewelry, clothing, food—anything we can sell is sold. The marketplace is always busy and loud. There are many other vendors, shouting to customers on the dusty, unclean streets.

At every street corner, there are dancers and musicians. Many of the dancers are unemployed women who wear too much jewelry and too little clothing. They try hard to be noticed. My mother says that they are only disgracing themselves through their behavior and the way they dress and act. I never tell her, but I like to watch them dance through those hot days when there is little to do other than watch the sun pass over the world.

When everything is so loud and wants your attention, it would be hard to notice her, even if she is there every day. I remember when I first became aware of her.

I sell a green and blue clay vase to a short, harsh man. I hear shouting and look towards the sound. It is just the dancers on the corner of the street, shouting to men passing by. They are probably asking for money, I think, and making rash promises in return. Then I notice a dark figure that contrasts with the bright, vibrant colors of the dancers. That is a girl there, I realize, who wears too much clothing for the intense temperature. I directly become curious. In an area where women crave attention—they seem to live off it—this girl seems very drawn back and uncaring of such attitudes.

I become interested in this different girl instantly. I watch for her the next day.

There. I see her. She is closer to our booth today, so I see her more clearly. She wears a long dress with long sleeves that cover her hands and feet. Her head is swathed with a simple, pretty headscarf. There is a veil over her face. Even though I do not see her, I can tell that it is she by the way she dresses. No other woman or girl ever wore so much for no apparent purpose.

I watch her for weeks, trying to decide why she is the way she is. She never buys anything that is too ostentatious or expensive, I notice. And she always wears a headscarf and a veil.

Weeks after I notice her the first time, she finally comes up to my father’s booth. My father is not here right now, so I am alone when I greet her.

“Salaam. May I see that basin?” She points. I notice that she is wearing gloves.

“Yes.” I hand it to her. My hands are shaking; does she know I notice her so often? I speak to costumers as little as I can manage, but I decide to be adventurous today.

She turns it over in her hands carefully and looks at it through the veil. Then she hands it back to me.

“It is cheap,” I prod her. Does she hear the strain in my voice?

She shakes her head. “I only wanted to look at it to see how it is made. This one is clever; my compliments.”

“I will pass them on to those that made it,” I respond. She is polite; that is interesting. I find myself comparing her to the dancers on the corners, who even now call aloud and sing to be noticed.

“They are…?”

“My sister and mother. They make everything here.” I indicate with my arms spreading.

She nods, peering around. “They seem to have their hands full.”

“Yes,” I agree. There is nothing else I can say now. The girl leaves.

She comes back a while later. I do not count the days, but it is a long time. Now, she asks to see a headscarf. She buys it and I see her wearing it the next week. I feel proud and speak to her as she passes.

“It flatters you,” I say, unsure how else to tell her.

She stiffens. “Really?”

What did I do wrong? I try to remain confident and I almost shrug. “It looks nice, that is.”

She leaves quickly after that, and I never see her wear the headscarf again.

She puzzles me. A compliment is usually received with pride and gratitude here. I have not seen anyone act the way she does. She only intrigues me more after this. How could someone behave so differently?

The next week, I pluck up the nerve to speak to her again.

“What is your name?” I ask as she passes my stand.

“Mona. And yours?”

“Basil,” I reply. “You come here often, then?”

“Every day,” Mona says.

I know this already.

We talk until a woman paces up to the stall. When that happens, Mona says goodbye and leaves.

I speak to Mona regularly. She does not often buy my merchandise, but she always talks with me.

One day, I ask her why she wears the veil and headscarf. “Is it for religion?”

“Not exactly. It is because of the way I look,” Mona explains.

“But why hide it? We are the way we are.”

“Everyone would treat me differently,” she replies. “Not everyone is satisfied with the way others are.”

I do not ask her anything else out of courtesy, but always wonder how she looks and why exactly she hides it.

It has been more than five years since I met Mona. I am now a man. Many of my friends have already married and have work of their own. Two of my good friends married two beautiful, poor women who danced on corners. Another handsome friend of mine married a rich woman whom he does not know. My mother says that I am to marry a kind woman who would be a good mother, and she is ashamed of my friends, who married only for lust or riches.

Mona and I are still good friends. She sometimes spends time behind my counter, helping me sell my goods—my father has passed on his job to me.

I had always liked Mona, and I begin to love her. She is a very kind, generous person. Yet, through all the years I know her, I never see her face.

One day, I speak to her when she comes to my booth. “Mona,” I say, “I need to talk to you.”

“Yes, Basil?”

“My parents want me to wed and have a family soon. Would you become my wife, Mona?”

She does not hesitate—I always admire her confidence. “I do wish to marry you, Basil, but I will not promise a family.”

I am surprised. “This is the reason my parents desire me to marry.”

“Then do not let them know, but I will not bear children.”

We marry, and afterwards, I understand why Mona would not promise a family. Even when we are married, she doesn’t even lift the veil over her face or take off her gloves to hold my hand. She remains as mysterious to me as when we met.

We live together, always loving each other, for several years. One day, Mona becomes ill. The doctor says that she has a week or two left to live.

I spend all of my time at her bedside. We cry much of the time; it is mostly I who cries, and she pats my cheek and tells me to hush, for everything will be fine. Sometimes, we are silent, each thinking. And sometimes we talk.

One day, Mona summons me to her bedside. Her voice is weak. I imagine her eyes drooping with the weight of sadness as I kneel next to her.

“How can I serve you, my love?” I ask.

“I will not be here much longer, Basil.” My eyes sting with tears, for I know this already. “I want to explain some things. First, I want you to take off my headscarf and veil. I cannot.”

My breath catches in my throat. She has never wanted me to see her face before.

“Why now?” I whisper.

“I will die soon, Basil, and I want to explain something to you.”

With quivering fingers, I use both hands to lift the veil and pull down the headscarf from Mona’s face. I look at her, afraid and eager.

I am more surprised than ever. Before me lays my dying wife Mona, who is the most lovely person I have ever seen. I gasp lightly.

“Mona,” I whisper reverently, “you are beautiful.”

She is not just beautiful. She is perfect. She is flawless. The pretty girls who dance on the streets could not be judged against her. She is even more stunning than anyone I even imagined could exist.

Mona smiles feebly. “Thank you, Basil.”

“But why did you always cover yourself, Mona?” I ask. “I thought you were mottled, or burned, or…“ I cannot bring myself to say ‘ugly.’ Such a word cannot be uttered before a countenance like Mona’s.

“What would you have thought of me if you had seen me this way originally?”

I realize why she has done it before she tells me. I feel ashamed. “Differently,” I admit honestly.

Mona nods. “I want the world to look on me for how I act and what I have become, not how I look, lest they be very misled.”

“But you are gorgeous!” I say, desiring to defend her, even against herself.

“I want people to see me for the things that I can control about myself, not that which I have no power over. That is why I was so willing to marry you, Basil; you didn’t marry me for the way I appear, you actually loved me.

My wife dies that night. I sit by her and watch her face sadly until she stops breathing and closes her lovely eyes. I think about what she has told me as I mourn.

I live to be an old, childless widower. I still work at the stall in the marketplace, for there is no one to pass it onto. New girls come and go, dancing on the street corners. And I never forget Mona, my beautiful wife, who was beautiful in more than one way.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

The Perfect Gift

Sometimes, I like to do character sketches for birthday gifts.

Happy birthday, Kristen Odette. :)

Acrylic on masonite.

The Light of Christ

Last week, my darling nemesis Kristen Blair asked me a food for thought question that I've been chewing on ever since: "Have you ever thought that someone wasn't beautiful while they were bearing their testimony?" I gave the matter a minute of contemplation and realized that, despite the staggering variety of people whose testimony bearing I've witnessed, I have never been able to pass judgement in that way during a sincere testimony.

Wow. Just think about it, people. Physical attractiveness is one thing. But it pales in comparison to the effect the light of Christ has in us. With an eye single to His glory, how could we not see the heavenly potential of one of our spirit brothers or sisters?

Look at it this way. Have you ever been talking with your friends about boys (gentlemen, I know this doesn't directly apply to you, but perhaps you can sympathize) and someone mentions one of your guy friends? You say something positive in general about him, then your friend expresses something about his lack of good looks. It leads to momentary befuddlement because it never occurred to you that this guy was unattractive in any way. Upon consideration, you decide that he's not alluring according to "the rule," but you really see nothing wrong with him and can't see why he wouldn't be attractive to you and another girl likewise.

Does anyone sympathize with this? It's happened several times for me. But when determining a person's character--which, I don't know about you, but character is a rather significant part of attractiveness when I'm judging--is good looks really what makes the person a good person? Are we really that closed minded, people? Do we normally take people point by point in our analyses of them? "Let's talk about what a nice gait so and so has. Once we're done with that, we'll discuss his ability to speak foreign languages." Of course not!

Perhaps I'm getting carried away. Maybe I'm expected to limit myself purely to physical judgement when asked whether I find a guy agreeable; or anyone, for that matter. But I find that, if I really know someone, then I've seen the spark of good in them. And that spark is more real and hotter than any red chili pepper label.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Beloveds, Bamboo Splints and Reflection

So I was wandering down Bulldog Blvd today--and I already have two things to say about that statement. First of all, who in tarnation decided that "blvd" was a sensible abbrev for "boulevard"? I traipsed through life for many a moon under the false conception that "blvd" stood for "beloved," and I thought, "How sweet and how strange, that certain streets are labeled so affectionately!" But I was wrong. And I don't think I should be wrong. I move that "beloved" is a much more agreeable and desirable title than "boulevard," even if it does not exactly serve the same purpose.

And now for my second bone to pick with that sentence. I most certainly was not wandering at this point down that beloved street. I was pacing rather feverishly. For, not only was I running late to get home in time to let Ben use the car to get to work, I realized that, while I went job scavenging up and down the road, I'd left the car parked in a "Wendy's customer ONLY; violators will be booted and towed and flayed and tortured within an inch of their life" kind of parking place. And, if you know me, you know that when I am left alone to think, I tend to worry and my imagination runs rampant.

At the point that I was envisioning the tearful phone call and the stress and anxiety of getting the car back from the towing place and the annoyance of having to scrape me off the asphalt of the parking lot following my punishment, I crossed the intersection of Bulldog and University going south with a young lady. We both paused at the next place, turning east, waiting for the light to change (which rarely happens with University, I've noticed). She stood near the curb and waited patiently while I bounced on the balls of my feet a couple paces behind her. The little white walking man blinked into existence and I bolted ahead at a brisk walk. But the girl, short as she was, had a long stride, and I realized that we were walking exactly next to each other. I didn't think much of it; she'd probably just take a different course when we reached the opposite shore. But she did not. We alighted on the sidewalk and both kept walking east.

A world of possibilities ran through my mind, which was relieved to no longer be wondering whether bamboo splints up my fingernails was legal punishment in the United States, and if not, was Wendy's parking regulation services above the law? But now this girl walking exactly next to me at the same pace as I occupied my mind. It was quite uncomfortable how we were so obviously aware of each other's presence, yet the fact had gone so completely unacknowledged. I thought of perhaps smiling politely at her as one would while passing someone else whom they did not know, but I could not see the sidelong glance and grin going very well. I thought of slowing down to allow her to have her own space on the sidewalk, but no! My tardiness and fear would not allow me. And what was this girl's business that she had to walk so fast? Was she in danger of capital punishment, too?

What kind of social barrier separated this girl and me? What manner of unspoken rule bound my tongue and riveted my eyes on the sidewalk ahead of me? This girl could prove to be the best, closest friend I ever had. Perhaps, if I were to talk to her, I'd look back on the day when I'm old and be grateful for my bold action since it led to my marriage to her older brother. Maybe she could at least offer me a job in her umbrella designing business. Or was she a regulator of Wendy's parking on her way to survey her domain and seal my doom?

I suddenly found myself angry with the injustice of the world. How bound we are, how limited our individual existences with social expectations! I wanted to acknowledge this girl, dang it! I felt so stiff and awkward just walking on next to her. But I didn't have anything to say. The balmy weather wouldn't even allow me a simple "It looks like rain." I felt in those moments perhaps more trapped and furious with my conformity to the machine than ever before.

(That's an exaggeration. But what's good writing without a bit of hyperbole?)

An old, run-down van rattled by, and one of the occupants tossed out a wolf whistle in passing; whether to me or my mute companion, it was impossible to tell. And what of things like that? If that guy had been walking past us or been in the same situation as either of us, would he still feel justified in his unspoken comment? What gave him the right to assert such an opinion if he would only do it under the assurance of a concealed identity?

At this point I about exploded. But, lo and behold, I rounded into the Wendy's parking lot. I'd never been so happy to see that little freckled red-headed girl. I frantically clicked my unlocking beeper on my keys to know whether my car was even there. It responded with a gleeful chirp. I relaxed. I'd eluded the law today.

I only now realized that I'd left my companion completely. How could I do that without so much as a backwards thought? A novel of thoughts and inspirations and determination had stemmed from walking next to her, then I abandoned her without any kind of regret.

Climbing behind the wheel of my bootless car, it occurred to me that perhaps I'm no better than the rest of them.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

It's about time.

Conformity. What a fickle word. For me, its connotation is typically negative, because who wants to announce that they try to be exactly like everyone else? But who even is "everyone else?" The very fact that we have the term "conformists" suggests, as there is opposition in all things, that we must have nonconformists, which defeats the purpose of the idea of "everyone else."

But that's a spiel for another post. What I meant to admit was that, after parental encouragement, personal moral conflict (I will explain) and requests from friends (you were the breaking point, Dania; once it's said on facebook, I can't go back), I am conforming to the blogging world.

The moral conflict is that I know that starting a blog means shooting my journal in the back. It might survive; my daily journal is more of a record of events and related feelings than the random thoughts and things I intend to post here. But I may become more attached to this blog, thus allowing my old friend of nearly half my life to die. But I guess I'm willing to take that risk.

Oh, the random thoughts and things I intend to post here. As you may have noticed, my (current) blog title is Calamitous Catharsis. So steel yourself for personal essays, poetry, art and philosophy that make up my visual/literal emotions.

On a side note, it's a beautiful day. I love summer.