May 20, 2009

Close Call

Posted in Days of my life, Deep thoughts, Family life at 12:48 AM by Robin

My grandparents made the Deseret News today, but not in a good way:

Manti Couple Rescued From Forest

It doesn’t sound like that dangerous of a situation at first, but you have to realize that both of my grandparents are getting close to 90.  My Grandma is very fragile and can barely walk unassisted. Their car was stuck at a steep angle, and she was unable to get out. My Grandpa is in relatively good health for his age, but he literally was out walking in freezing temperatures in the dark all night long.  He was suffering from shock and dehydration when they finally found him the next day.  I first heard the news around 1:00 PM, when they hadn’t found him yet, so he was probably wandering around lost for close to twenty hours.  Both of them thought they were going to die that night.

I am so thankful that the Lord was looking out for them and that Search and Rescue was able to find them.  I don’t have a real relationship with my other grandparents.  My dad’s mother passed away last year, but I was never close at all to her or his father. My mother’s parents were always the ones I thought of when I thought of my grandparents.  My Grandpa is such a catankerous but funny character. He was the sealer at our wedding.  His devotion and love for his wife is so touching. He keeps a picture of her from before they got married on his desk, and often makes the comment that she’s prettier now than she was then.  My Grandma is sweet and patient and so loving.  She is the only person in the world who I can truly say I have never seen lose their temper.  She has gone through so many health challenges lately, yet she just keeps fighting and making it through.  They are both a wonderful example of what I hope my marriage to be like fifty years from now.  I am very grateful the Lord was watching out for them and gave us a little more time with these special people.

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Max and Beth Call with Lily (nine months old)

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April 1, 2009

My Interpretation of Fowler’s Stages of Faith

Posted in Deep thoughts, Mormon life tagged , , , , , at 11:44 PM by Robin

garden-stairs

If you happened upon this post separately, please see my introduction and conclusions to the subject first, or it might not make a lot of sense!

I will try to briefly describe the stages and my interpretation of how it relates to my LDS perspective, but I apologize if someone is more well-versed in these theories and understands the psychology jargon better than I did. It’s kind of confusing anyway, since different sources have anywhere from five to seven stages, and it gets a little murky where one stage ends and the other begins. Just remember it is the process that it interesting, not what number the stage is assigned (in case I mess them up!).

The first stage begins as a very small child is taught the beginning precepts of a worldview or religion. This child accepts whatever his or her parents and others teach them as truth. They become acquainted with the ritual and tradition of their particular faith. This would be like teaching your two-year-old to take the sacrament. They learn the ritual, but they have no idea of the meaning behind it. They become familiar with the primary songs and what you do when you go to church. The second part of this stage expounds upon the first as the child develops more verbal skills. They learn the scripture stories and central characters of their religion, and develop their concepts of God. These characters are very real to them and they learn to love them almost as if they were people they were personally acquainted with. This is what we mean when we talk about childlike faith.

The next stage comes as the brain becomes able to process logic and causality (consequences). I’m pretty sure this corresponds with the ability to take responsiblity for your actions. Interestingly enough, this stage occurs around age 8, when LDS children are baptized, and continues on to age 11 or 12. During this stage, children begin learning how to glean additional meaning from stories and narratives. That means that when you teach them a scripture story, they understand that this is story, not about someone they might bump into on the street, but they can also understand a lesson taught through the story and be able to apply the situation of the story to situations in their own lives. In effect, this is the age when they begin to be able to actually “liken the scriptures” unto themselves.

The next stage begins in early adolescence, when the mind becomes capable of abstract thought. It is here you can look back on past experiences, see patterns within them, and gain meaning from them. Perhaps this can be related to a young person realizing that they feel a certain way whenever they are at church or reading the scriptures. The ability to have abstract thought also leads to another part of this stage, in which the person for the first time begins to question their beliefs as an individual, separate from their parents.  Youth strive to know for themselves whether they believe in the church. Many have spiritual experiences that convince them the church is true. Others at this age rebel against their parents and what they were taught and fall away from the church. Anyone who works with the youth can see this happening in both ways. It is also at this age that you begin to identify yourself with the community of your faith; it becomes as much a social attachment as a spiritual one.

The transition to the next stage comes as a person seeks a more personal relationship with God, and begins to spend a good deal of time in personal reflection and meditation (or prayer). I believe this is the time when an independant testimony is solidified. For me, I can see this transition occurring in my first couple of years at college, when there was no one looking over my shoulder, telling me to go to church, when I was separated from my closest friends, had a hard time making new ones, and really had no current social reasons to go to church. I did a lot of soul searching and praying during this time, and had several strong spiritual experiences which provided the basis for a solid testimony.

Like me, many people make the transition to this stage  in mid to late adolescence.  It is characterized by a firm, independent belief in the truth of the religion.  For a majority of people, this becomes a sort of plateau state in which they remain throughout the rest of their lives. One source estimated that perhaps 60% of individuals stayed at this point in their spiritual development. This group regularly attend meetings and serve within the church, they have a firm testimony and strive to keep all the commandments and live righteously. They are good, faithful people, but they have a hard time comprehending that anyone might question the beliefs they have come to accept as fact. They do not examine the paradoxes within their religion, and shy away from confronting some of the harder issues. For the remaining 40%, however, there comes a time when events in their life cause them to doubt the validity and strength of their convictions.

According to Fowler, while many late adolescents move quickly through the last stage and into this transition, it is much more common to find people in their thirties and forties struggling through it.  This transitionary period is the most difficult of all stages, usually marked by disillusionment and confusion–the mid-life crisis, so to speak. This transition is often prompted by situations of tension or adversity: conflicts or betrayals in personal relationships (which could be interpreted as anything from divorce to an argument with a fellow member of the church), apparent clashes between authority sources, changes in policies and practices (polygamy, blacks and the priesthood, etc), and encounters with other influences outside of one’s own past experience that lead to critical reflection on where you gained your values and how relevant they are to your current situation. Basically, any emotionally-charged situation that prompts you to call your faith into question could spark this transition, which can go on for several years. It is rare to find someone completing this transition and fully moving on the next stage before their mid-30s.,

However, once the transition is made, this next to last stage is characterized by what seems to be a deeper understanding of spiritual things.  Symbolic meanings are more fully comprehended, such as things taught in Isaiah or in the temple, and there is greater ability to be guided by what some sources called your “deeper self,” but I interpret to mean the Spirit. People who reach this stage understand that others have differing “worldviews”, and can handle conflict between opposing views with equanimity. I think this means that during this stage you have a greater surety within yourself of your personal beliefs. You are not threatened by others who believe differently than you do, but can understand and relate to people at all stages of faith. This is when your testimony becomes truly unshakable.

According to Fowler, the final stage is exceedingly rare. He calls those who reach this stage “Universalists”. These are great spiritual and religious leaders, great teachers, who have a huge impact upon the world they live in and the people they meet. They have an awareness and love for people of all walks of life, all races and religions. Often, Fowler points out, they challenge existing rules and ideas, and in so doing, make a lot of people uncomfortable. As a result, those who reach this stage often are martyred. They are often honored more after their death than during their life. As a Mormon, the first people who come to mind who would have reached this stage are Joseph Smith and many other we believe to be prophets. Some would claim that the Savior himself is the ultimate example of this ultimate stage of faith.

Stages of Faith

Posted in Deep thoughts, Mormon life tagged , , , , , , , , , at 11:43 PM by Robin

All right, this will the first official subject in my series for those who are LDS and struggling. It is rather complex, so I have been working on this for several days in order to fully cover the topic.  Most of the other subjects I will be writing about in the future will not go on for so long, so don’t get too scared off!

As I mentioned in my previous post, because of some of the social pressure within our church (although, I would assume that such pressure is not limited to being LDS, and I’m sure manifests in other denominations), often those whose testimonies are wavering feel isolated and alone and unable to find positive support as they work through their confusion.  They feel ashamed that they are having doubts even as they struggle to overcome them.

What I would like to discuss is the idea that not only is it perfectly normal to confront your beliefs, it might actually be a step on the path to a higher level fowlerstagesoffaithof faith. I recently became acquainted with James Fowler’s theory on the stages of faith.  For a brief summary of his work, check out this site, or just Google it–there are plenty of other sources.  I will admit that I have not read the actual book, just heard a couple of podcasts and read some websites, but the concept intrigues me.

From what I understand, Fowler was analyzing how people related to their faith, whatever faith that might be–Christian or Jewish or Buddhist or possibly even Atheist–throughout the course of their lives. After conducting hundreds of interviews and surveys, he found a common pattern that occurred all across the board, corresponding with certain times of life and, I assume, brain development, and categorized this pattern into several stages.

The descriptions of each stage is very complex, with a lot of psychological/ philosophical jargon that is difficult to understand unless you have training in this area.  I do not have training in this area, so I just did the best that I could.  I tried to write a simplified description of some of the primary traits of each stage as I understood them and how I related them to my LDS experience, but it kind of made this post ridiculously long, so I decided to post that description separately.  It might be just as much reading material, but at least it’s broken up a bit!  (And you won’t have to read through the whole thing to get to my point)

I gained a lot of insight from each stage description. One thing I noticed is that the transition from stage to stage is pretty tense.  These transitions are a time of soul-searching, meditation, and truth-seeking.  Each transition moves us from one important stage to the next, from a child’s unquestioning acceptance, to a teenager’s quest for independent belief, to an adult’s strong faith in the precepts of their chosen religion.  Each transition is an opportunity to strengthen faith and progress in our understanding of spiritual truths.

The part I find most interesting about all this is that the most difficult transition Fowler describes is characterized by disillusionment, doubt and confusion after the stage where a firm, independent, adult testimony is obtained.  This transition can be brought on by exposure to conflicting ideas, betrayal within a relationship, or an issue with authority figures within the religion, among other things.  I was surprised that these were specifically mentioned, because aren’t these problems the basis for many people’s loss of faith? Acceptance of anti-mormon arguments, a grudge held against a bishop, a difficult divorce, or feeling unaccepted by a ward or branch are often leading causes for members to question their faith.

The amazing thing is that the next stage is one of peace and greater spiritual understanding.  Those who make it past the stressful transition period reach a stage when they are firm and secure in their beliefs and find deeper meaning in the scriptures and in temple worship.  This is the point I think we are all trying to reach,where we have truly examined our belief system and found that it holds up, after all. However, we cannot reach this stage of unshakable faith without the trials faced in our transitional stage, whether that transition was marked by physical, emotional, or intellectual struggles.

I think this is why these stages of faith speak to me so much.  I have come to believe that each of us must face an Abrahamic trial of some sort in our lives. It might not be as obvious as a one-time test of our obedience to a one-time commandment, as Abraham’s was. But then again, it might be! This “test” is different for every person. It could be a medical problem, the loss of a spouse or child, recurring financial stress, intellectual conundrums, not being able to get married or have children, or any other number of earthly trials.  In effect, it is any situation which shakes you to the core and makes you firmly examine whether your faith is built on a foundation of stone or of sand.  It might be something that is over within a few weeks, or it might be a lifelong problem.  Those whose faith cannot stand up to the test fall away.  Those who realize that their faith is strong enough to carry them across that gulf rarely need to question it again.  It makes me think of the story of the Martin-Willey handcart company, and the lore that not one of the people who went through that terrible experience ever left the churchstumbling-block1.

I have often shared the analogy of the stepping stone in lessons and talks I have given.  If you are climbing a mountain, and you come across a large rock blocking the path in front of you, you have two options: you can either see that rock as a stumbling block that will cause you to fall or stop your progress, or you can see it as a stepping stone, which, if you go to the effort to climb it, will bring you up to higher ground.  The nature of the rock itself does not change, only the way you choose to see it.

Personally, I don’t think I have gone through this kind of trial.  I’d say I’m somewhere in the solid testimony stage with the occasional glimpse of that transition period.  I can’t say that I’m really looking forward to it!  But I hope that I can pass the test, when the time comes.  My main purpose in sharing all this information with you who feel that you are full-fledged in the middle of that period of disillusionment and confusion is that you will remember that if you can just get through this difficult time, there is peace waiting on the other side.

“My peace I leave unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you.  Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.” (John 14:27)

March 29, 2009

LDS and Struggling?

Posted in Deep thoughts, Mormon life tagged , , , , , , , , , at 8:49 PM by Robin

This is a subject that I have been pondering over for some time now.  I have been hesitant to write about it, partly because I don’t know if my blogging audience wants me to write about something this serious, partly because I don’t want anyone to think that I am setting myself up as a religious authority of any kind who has the definitive answer to anything, and partly because I am a little afraid of the response I will get from the internet at large. But, nevertheless, I have found over the last few months that I have become increasingly aware, through conversations with friends and family, or comments written by people online on message boards or Facebook, of a number of people, some who I know well, and many who I don’t, who are active members of the LDS church that are silently struggling with their faith.

WorryMost of the people who fall into this category are longtime members who still attend church regularly, but who, for whatever reason, have started to question whether they truly believe everything this religion is asking them to accept.  Some are struggling with church structure, or have heard some disturbing  facts about early church history.  Some have gone through difficult trials that praying doesn’t resolve. A few have given into temptation, secretly experimenting with pornography or drugs or alcohol. Some have lost their faith entirely, but can’t imagine leaving the church completely because of the social and familial ties it would require breaking.  Many feel conflicted that they are questioning their faith in the first place, as if that act alone were a sin.

To you who find yourselves in this situation, I would like to share with you some of my thoughts and experiences on this struggle.  I don’t do this in a condescending way, as if I am the eternally faithful one who is so much more spiritual than you, but as one whose faith has also waxed and waned at different times.  It’s a little scary coming out and saying that, since I know that there are members of my ward that read this blog, and I am the wife of a member of the Bishopric.  Mormon culture discourages us from showing any external signs of doubt, especially if you are in a highly visible position within your ward or stake, but I think that does us a disservice, by not giving us a chance to help strengthen our fellow Saints who are feeling lost and confused.  If we express our doubts to friends or loved ones, we are often met with fear or concern for our spiritual welfare, or with answers that just don’t seem to resolve anything. Although we are encouraged to discuss concerns of this nature with our Bishop or other church leader, many are reluctant to do so, afraid of being judged as not worthy or even apostate.  Often, they turn to sources outside of the church to find their answers, but what they find only serves to increase their confusion.  I want you to know that I have had occasions when my faith has been rock solid, and times when I really doubted whether any of it could be true.

Basically, what I want to do is open a forum for discussion where members can help strengthen each other, where they can share their thoughts on subjects that they have been struggling with, and hear experiences of others who have gone through the same thing and who have actually come out the other side stronger in their faith.  There are far too many sites on the internet created by those who have begun questioning their testimonies and have fallen away from the church.  I want this to be a place where people can find that you can question your testimony and actually end up strengthening it.  Obviously, this is not a forum for anti-mormon arguments coming from those who have already closed their minds to the church.  If I receive any antagonistic comments, they will be immediately deleted.  But those who are honestly seeking answers about their concerns are always welcome to join the discussion.

Obviously, I don’t think I will be able to express all my thoughts on this subject in one post, so I will probably be making this subject into something of a series.  So much for lightening up the content on my blog!  I apologize if this is too deep for anyone, however, I just really feel that I need to get this out there.  There are things that I want to say that I never have to opportunity to say to those who really need it most.  I hope that the things discussed here will help someone else out there.  I promise once I get this off my chest I will start being funny again.  Or maybe I’ll be funny in between serious posts.  We’ll see!  Thanks, all!

March 15, 2009

The Big Bad Word

Posted in Days of my life, Deep thoughts, Family life, Just thinking..., Mormon life, Parenting tagged , , , , , , at 9:38 PM by Robin

swear

An argument between Lily and Brianna yesterday over computer rights ended with a very distraught Lily pulling on Bri’s hair and saying,” Get out of that chair, you…you b@#$%! (expletive rhyming with a popular Halloween costume.)”  Andrew and I were both standing right there, and instantly we both looked at each other in surprise.

“Did she just say what I think she just said?” we asked each other almost at the same time. Yes, friends, our darling, sweet, innocent little four-year-old girl, had just mouthed a common obscenity.  Now, being a product of our somewhat liberal generation, I suppose, rather than being shocked and outraged, we both had a hard time not bursting out into laughter.  Not that we are trying to encourage our daughter to have a foul mouth, but it just sounds insanely funny to hear a little girl trying out her first swear word.  You could tell she knew that it was a bad name, but I’m sure she didn’t think it any worse than calling her sister an idiot or stupidhead or any of the other charming names my children like to call each other.

Of course, we immediately took her aside and told her that particular word was not a good thing to say and that she shouldn’t say it anymore.  We didn’t punish her or anything, because the concept of swear words is itself a new one for her.  I mean, this is my third verbal child and I know by now that they are just little parrots at this age. If my nine-year-old started spitting out obscenities, there would be a bit more a punishment involved, as he knows full well what words he isn’t supposed to say. My two older kids have of course said swear words before, but I really don’t remember either of them using one in context in that way (although I do remember babysitting one of the girls from my ward when she was about four and she went around the house one day for about two hours straight saying, “Damn you! Damn you!” over and over again. Another time I had a hard time not laughing).

The thing that is troubling about this incident, of course, is trying to figure out where Lily heard that word.  Andrew and I never swear in normal conversation, although a mild expletive has been known to escape both of our lips on rare occasions when we are frustrated.  But neither of us ever uses that word in that way.  I didn’t think we were letting Lily watch any adult shows that included such language, but it’s almost certain that she heard it from some TV show or movie at some time (unless her preschool teacher has a really nasty mouth).  I mention this incident not because I am worried about my children being verbally corrupted by watching TV, as I believe that they learn appropriate language from their parents’ example more than any other source, and even then, in the grand scheme of things, I don’t think swearing is really high on the list of terrible sins, but because it really reminds me how even the most careful parent can’t completely protect their children from all negative wordly experiences.  It’s a little bit scary.

So, what it is a good parent to do?  Obviously, we can’t raise our children in a bubble. They will be exposed to negative influences, sooner or later, and inappropriate language is definitely not the worst of that sort of thing.  It c-young-soldiermakes me think that the best we can do is really teach and prepare our children to face the evils of the world.  Ignorance will not serve them well in the battle ahead.  If you are in a battle, you try to educate your soldiers about the enemy’s tactics and strategies.  Your armor is built to withstand the specific weapons of your opponent.  In the same way, as we put on the armor of God, we should educate our children about the most vulnerable areas that Satan will be aiming for, and how best to deflect those blows. We have to start young, because the enemy starts young.  It’s sad, but it’s true.

I wish I could raise my children in perfect innocence and not open their eyes to the evils of the world until they are more mature.  However, I don’t think this world will allow me that chance.  I am not afraid for them and the future they will face, but I do plan on preparing them and strengthening them for the battle ahead.   My kids are going to hear swear words, whether I want them to or not.  But I as a parent am the stronger influence on them, and my teachings and example are more likely to be what determines whether they will choose to follow the ways of the world or to rise above it.

March 6, 2009

The Things That Scare Us Most

Posted in Artsy Stuff, Days of my life, Deep thoughts, Just thinking..., Parenting, Something exciting! tagged , , , , , , , at 12:35 PM by Robin

book

As I mentioned a couple of posts ago, in a brazen fit of ambition, I have decided that I am going to write a short story.  Since that first post, I have actually managed to sit down on two separate occasions and begin fleshing out the little idea in my head, turning vague concepts into characters, researching a few things on the internet that reinforced the idea for inspiration, and have gotten to the point where I actually saw the opening scene of my story unfold in my head as if I were watching it on film.  I have written three pages.  It doesn’t seem like a lot, but that’s three more pages of fiction than I have written in twelve years, so I guess I’m off to a good start.

The main obstacle I find myself facing is my own criticism.  I hold pretty high standards for the books that I read. I expect not only a certain level of literary fluency from the authors I enjoy–an ability to describe images, events, and dialogue in a way that you actually forget that your eyes are looking at words on a page and instead, feel like you are “watching a TV in your head”, as Parley put it–but also a bit of meaning, some sort of insight into human nature, or at the very least, something about the characters or story line that I can relate to, that I can see myself in.  It is very hard to write something knowing that what I write might not meet those standards.  I know, I shouldn’t expect to be brilliant at something the first time I try it.  You can’t expect to play “Flight of the Bumblebee” the first time you pick up a violin.  The hurdle is in getting yourself to press forward and do it anyway, even if your first attempt, and even your second or third, totally sucks.

I’ve found that I have this problem in quite a few other parts of my life. I’m pretty adventurous and am always up for trying something new.  But I find that those things that I am most interested in doing, my real dreams, I tend to shy away from. Not because I am scared of the thing itself, but because I am afraid of not being good at it.

For instance, I have always wanted to learn how to paint.  Ever since I took my first “real” art class in seventh grade and learned there was more to artistic expression than crayons, markers, and construction paper, I have longed to be able to use those oil paints and water colors to create something beautiful. When I was in high school, I worked at a hobby and craft store, andpaint there became acquainted with the tools of the trade–cadmium blues and sulfur yellows, different textures of paper and canvas, gesso and turpentine and about a million different kinds of brushes, natural and synthetic.  They all fascinated me, but with no training, they also scared the heck out of me.  I knew I would never be able to do anything right without someone to tell me what everything was for, and since the supplies were so expensive I didn’t want to buy them and just fool around on my own.

After that, in college, even though I had chosen an English major, I could still choose a certain number of electives.  My eyes always lingered on the art classes, but there was always a materials fee that seemed too high for my student budget to do just for fun, and so I never took the opportunity.  I’m really kicking myself now.  It would have been worth the $150 or whatever it was.  I mean, it wasn’t like I was paying for tuition or anything! (Seriously, I had two scholarships. )

Anyway, my point is, that I long to take painting lessons now, and yet I’m scared to death to do it in case I’m not very good at it.  Because I’m scared, I use money or lack of child care at the appropriate time as an excuse to avoid having to put myself to the test. I’ll admit, I’ve found that I do this in many areas of my life. The things that I want most are the things that scare me the most.

So, how do we get past this excuse-making and get to the point where we can take that leap to pursue our dreams?  I think the key is having someone who not only says, “I know you can do this,” but who is also willing to give you a kick in the pants and say, “Just do it, already!”  Someone, like the mother bird, who will push us out of our comfort zone in the nest and force us to try out our wings.  We have to stop making excuses and confront our fear of failure.

Most importantly, especially as mothers, we have to remind ourselves that following our dreams is a worthwhile endeavour, and give ourselves permission to do things that may not be practical or essential to our family’s well-being, but will stimulate us personally and allow for our own individual growth and happiness.  I think, sometimes, it is very hard for a stay-at-home mom to separate herself from her home and her role as mother, wife and housekeeper, especially if she’s been doing it and nothing else for several years.  I think that we have a hard time allowing ourselves to have outside interests that take us away from our family for any length of time.  We get out of the habit of doing things just for ourselves.

So, despite my fear that the story I’m writing is a total crock of …ahem… not very good…I am forcing myself to write it.  I am trying to consider it an assignment, like a school project, that I have to get finished.  I’ll do my best, but I’ll try not to worry about what other people will think of it until it’s actually all done.  I have to remember that while making excuses prevents me from failing, it also prevents me from excelling.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this.  Do you feel this way?  Do you put off your dreams?  What helps you to overcome your fears?  Thanks!

learning-to-fly

February 20, 2009

The Nature of Confidence

Posted in Artsy Stuff, Books, Deep thoughts, Just thinking... at 12:08 PM by Robin

Here’s a little deep thinking for you all today…

I’m afraid I’ve gotten caught up in the whole American Idol thing again.  At the beginning of every season, I tell myself that I’m not going to watch it this time, that I’m going to hold myself aloof.  Or at the very least, I’ll wait until they narrow it down to the top twelve before I’ll watchdanny-gokey, or develop a favorite.  And then I violate all my principles and watch all the garbagey audition stuff anyway, although thanks to the magic of the DVR, I do skip through an awful lot of it (2 hour program seen in 45 minutes).  Like I said, I try not to develop a favorite this early, mostly because they really don’t show you all the contestants at first, but I have to admit, I’m really pulling for this Danny Gokey guy. I know, I know, it’s all about the emotional backstory the producers have been pushing–how his wife died four weeks before the audition, how he and his best friend tried out together and nearly made it all the way together.  I fell for it.  But, seriously, he seems like a really cool guy.  I mean I don’t necessarily think he’s incredibly good looking, but check out this picture, and just tell me that those eyes don’t make you melt!  I’m not going gaga over him, but I would introduce him to my single sister, if I knew him!

Anyway, one thing that always kind of bugs me on this show is how they’re always asking people “Are you the next American Idol?”  They love it when people get up there and go on and on about how good they are and how they know this is “their time”.  This is their dream, and we are somehow obligated to let them achieve it.  Usually, we find that those who are most vocal about their abilities don’t have the talent they think they do.  Other times, the judges berate some contestants for their lack of confidence on stage.  Even if they’ve got a great voice, if they don’t have an  interesting stage presence, they don’t cut it as a performer. There is a balance these Idol hopefuls have to find between having the right amount confidence in themselves and their ability to give a good performance, and having that confidence be misplaced, or turned to arrogance.

Now, if you know me, you know I am not the sort of person who will get up and demand the spotlight.  I’m also not the sort of person who will freak out or withdraw in embarssment if the spotlight happens to fall on me.  While there’s no way I would ever try out for a TV talent show (believe me, I know limitations), there are certain areas in which I feel a sort of confidence, a kind of internal swagger, about the quality of my performance.  Writing, for instance.  Writing comes to me very naturally.  I feel like I can express myself in writing as well as, if not better–okay, usually better–in writing than I can speaking in person.  I can analyze literature, write a satiric commentary on motherhood, compose a persuasive essay stating my thesis and supportive arguments in a logical progression, or express my views on LDS doctrine in a clear and interesting manner.  I feel very confident in my writing abilities in this area.

On the other hand, I admit, I have a fear of writing fiction.  It’s true!  While I wrote quite a few articles for the Friend during my internship, even the stories were based on something sent into the magazine by someone–the “true story” they always tell you their stuff is based on. They would send in a letter saying, “I know someone who had this cool thing happen to them,” or “my daughter had this learning experience.” I would then turn their brief relation of the episode into a full story, adding details and dialogue.  However, I haven’t done any really true all-on-my-own creative fiction writing since high school.

You see, fiction is hard!  You have to not only come up with a plot, but you have to come up with characters, and then you have to figure out what kind of setting they’re in (which, if you like fantasy, like me, is kind of a big deal, because you have to figure out things like magical rules, structure of government, relationships between different countries, racial tensions between different mythological beings, etc).  Then, you have to figure out what style your prose is going to be: simple and straightforward?  Or poetical and descriptive?  How do you use setting to influence the mood of the piece or the way characters relate to each other? 

You see?  Writing fiction is HARD!  Writing like I do when I’m blogging is easy because I just write what I think, and that doesn’t take too much planning.  I have a great deal of confidence in myself as an editor, as well, in my ability to work with someone else’s writing and help them turn their ideas into a more readable, more interesting piece of work.  What I lack confidence in is my own ability to be creative.  Whenever I come up with an idea, I’m too afraid to follow through on that idea and turn it into a real story.  I second guess myself too much.  The funny thing is, I still have this internal sense that I know I could write something good, if I could only get over my insecurities and just DO IT.

So I’ve got an idea I’m working on…We’ll have to see if I can get past the first page this time.  Finding occasion to write is difficult with small children around the house, of course, but I think I want to do it, just so I can prove to myself that I can. That doesn’t mean I’ll let any of you read it, though, so don’t hold your breath!

November 12, 2008

A Cathartic Rant

Posted in Days of my life, Deep thoughts, Just thinking... tagged , , , , , , , , at 2:56 PM by Robin

balance

This last Sunday I was asked to play a piano solo in sacrament meeting.  Now, I’ve played my fair share of musical numbers in church, both as accompanist and on my own, and I find it kind of interesting to think about how much my reaction to being asked to perform has changed over the years.  Thanks to plenty of piano recitals and church callings, even as a teenager I was never absolutely terrified of performing in front of people, although I still get a nice shot of nervous adrenaline every time.  But later on, in my late teens, early twenties, the time when I was playing piano for an hour or two almost every day, I would actually get excited about playing in church, most likely because I wanted a chance to show off.  I would pick something fairly grandiose and impressive and practice non-stop for a few weeks, and I would live for the compliments I got after.  This time, I found myself feeling completely blasé about the whole thing.  It was just another duty I had to perform, almost an inconvenience. So I got a little lazy.  Although I had over a month to prepare, I picked a number that was really way easy for me, so that I wouldn’t have to practice it very much.  Afterward, I actually found myself feeling a little embarrassed when people commented on my solo, almost apologetic, I guess, that it hadn’t been a more exciting number.  I certainly didn’t get the same thrill from it that I once did. 

It really amazes me that something that I once took so seriously has become an afterthought.  My experience this weekend really just offers an small insight into the change in direction my life has taken since I became a mother, not necessarily for the positive.  When I look back on my formative years in high school and college and think about what I did with my time, how I defined myself, the kinds of people that I associated with, I feel like I have turned into a completely different person.  The things that occupied the majority of my time and attention, the things that I most enjoyed, have been put into a storage box and buried in my basement.  They have become nothing but memories.  Playing the violin in an orchestra, creative writing, sketching and art, studying languages and cultures, ballroom dancing–things I loved with a passion earlier in my life–have been replaced by changing diapers, grocery shopping, cooking dinner, resolving sibling battles, driving to preschool and nagging kids to finish homework projects.  Occasionally, I get the rare opportunity to attend an orchestra concert, or watch Dancing With the Stars on TV, or see some amazing artwork, like at the Met in New York, but it’s like watching a game of basketball on TV versus actually participating in it.  It’s not the same, and you know it.

I have become a Stay-At-Home-Mom.  And I mean that in the very literal meaning of the term.  I am a mom, and I stay at home.  My life is pretty much encompassed within the walls of my house, physically and mentally.  Sure, I go out to run errands or for the occasional family outing or date with my husband, but I have no real life away from home.  I sometimes feel like I have lost Robin somewhere, and all that is left is Mom.  I’m not trying to blame anyone for this situation.  I think that much of it is my own fault.  I don’t really try hard to break out and do my own thing.  I let excuses prevent me from returning to some of my lost interests: there’s not enough money for lessons, or Andrew’s schedule is too busy, or there’s no way we could get childcare at that time. In short, I guess I’ve gotten a bit lazy. But I know that the longer I put it off, the more I find myself becoming discontented with my life.  Andrew has actually been encouraging me lately to start sketching again.  He has some idea that I need to draw portraits of our children.  I don’t know if I’d do that great of a job–people are pretty hard to draw–but I did actually go out and buy sketch pad and pencils.  It’s not much, but it’s a step in  the right direction, I think.  Maybe someday I’ll sign up for painting lessons one of these days, too. Stay tuned. 

So, what about the rest of you SAHMs?  Is there anything you wish you could get into again that you used to do before you had kids?  What do you do for a creative outlet?  How do you make it work with kids, husbands, and housework?

September 4, 2008

Women and politics: Just how “liberated” are we?

Posted in Deep thoughts, Just thinking..., Something exciting! tagged , , , , , , at 10:16 AM by Robin

As most of you know, I don’t have a huge interest in politics.  I certainly am not one to engage in angry debate on politics and often choose to leave the room when others bring the subject up.  This is not to say that I don’t have my opinions, it’s just that I think that arguing about the character of someone you’ve never met, relying only on secondhand information you’ve received from media sources with varying agendas of their own, is really rather ridiculous.  With all the exaggerated claims, covered up scandals, and manipulative rhetoric, I sincerely doubt that any politician’s actual character, good or bad, ends up coming through to the millions of people voting for them to lead our entire country.  Now, just because I choose not to get all caught up in the political hype going on doesn’t mean that I am uninformed.  I pay attention to most of the major issues coming up and quietly make my own educated decision.  So, like millions of other viewers across the country, I tuned into the Republican National Convention last night in order to learn more about Sarah Palin.

I will admit, even as a Republican, that I have not been excited about John McCain as our candidate.  Like most Mormons, I was a Mitt Romney supporter (although, unlike most other Mormons I’ve talked to, I don’t put Romney up on a pedestal.  I am assuming that he lives his life as a member of the LDS church is supposed to do, which would mean he is honest and integritous (how does one make an adjective out of integrity?), and I believe that his business experience would be extremely useful in the White House, but that’s pretty much what my opinion is based on).  And when I heard McCain’s pick for VP, I, like many others, thought he might be pandering to women.  However, I decided to withhold my judgment until I had actually heard from her and learned more about her.

So, after her speech, my judgment tells me that this is an intelligent, charismatic woman, who doesn’t seem to be afraid of the challenge that she will be facing to prove herself on a national level.  Yes, her speech was probably mostly written by someone else, but she delivered it with the presence and steel of a true leader.  She does seem to have some good experience, just as much as any other governor in the country, and she made some really good points not only about Obama’s lack of experience, but about his lack of any real accomplishments.  What has Obama done, really?  He promises change, but what change has he really accomplished?  I have yet to hear one thing that Obama actually has done to make a difference on a local, state, or national level, for good or bad.

Anyway, my opinion of Sarah Palin has been pushed towards the positive side.  But I have to say, it is very interesting to observe how her candidacy has been received by the public and the media.  Now, I’m not a man-hating feminist by any means, but I have to admit that I have been really quite shocked how our supposedly modern liberal country still reacts to the selection of this young, attractive woman as the second-in-command of our whole country.  First, as Rudy Giuliani mentioned, the attack that she should not be devoting her time to running for VP since she has such a small baby and other young children.  Oh, come on.  Yes, I am a stay-at-home mom.  I chose to do that because of my religious beliefs, my financial status, and my own experiences as a child whose mother did NOT stay home.  I think that having a mother at home with her children is an ideal situation.  But I don’t condemn Sarah Palin for choosing to pursue a career in politics any more than I condemn any other woman who goes back to work.  I have to admit, I am very surprised that we still get that reaction.  And as to the issue with her pregnant daughter–it happens, even with the best of parents.  It was her daughter’s mistake, and can not be entirely blamed upon the mother.  And, more importantly, it has absolutely nothing to do with Palin’s ability to be a good leader.

Another thing to note: the buttons that many people were wearing at the RNC saying things like “I’m voting for the hot chick” and make other references to her being a “hottie”.  Others (I can’t remember if it was Stephen Colbert or Jay Leno) call her a “sexy librarian”.  Funny, yes.  But still ridiculous that we focus so much on her attractiveness.  John Edwards was an attractive man, but I don’t remember anyone using that as a reason to vote for or against him.  People who support Palin can get away with calling her “hot”, but the other side uses her attractiveness against her, referring to 20 year old pictures of her dressed in a miniskirt and revealing shirt, saying that obviously this woman is incapable of being a political leader because she is just too sexy. ( Once again, for you other conservatives, I’m not endorsing the immodest dressing, just noting the hypocrisy)  Other websites have popped up saying crude and obscene things about her, completely ignoring her professional abilities, and turning her into a sex object.  Absolutely disgusting.  Nobody posts pictures of Obama playing at the beach without a shirt on, making indecent proposals about him.  Apparently women are okay in politics as long as they are older and matronly, or at the least, rather plain looking.  Aren’t we capable of realizing that a woman can be both intelligent, a good leader, AND attractive at the same time?

I also noticed the condescension everyone in the media had for Palin.  After her speech, Wolf Blitzer came right out and expressed surprise that she was actually capable of reading a teleprompter and giving such an important speech under such pressure without flubbing it up.  Come on, you’d think that someone who had run for any sort of office would at least be capable of reading a teleprompter.  Give her at least that much credit. I am truly surprised myself at the stereotyping and assumptions people are still capable of in our “modern” era.  Chauvinism is indeed a living force in this country, as much if not more so than racism.

So, my conclusion after last night is that Palin definitely showed that she can hold her own with the big boys on the national political stage without bursting into tears or coming off like a witch.  I’m sure we’ll learn more about her, probably good and bad, over the next few months, but for now I am satisfied that she is not going to be a pretty little show girl just on display to garner votes for the old guy.  She has substance and she will be a force to reckon with.  And also–you KNOW that this means that Tina Fey is going to have to make some guest appearances on Saturday Night Live, at least through November–how about a hosting shot, guys?

August 18, 2008

Magic Dragons and Stirrup Pants

Posted in Days of my life, Deep thoughts, Family life, Just thinking... tagged , , at 12:06 PM by Robin

My life seems to have been following a theme lately.  Maybe it’s a bit of a stretch from an underused English major brain, but I’ve noticed something of a “growing up” motif around here the past week or so.  The first sign was when Andrew was practicing “Puff the Magic Dragon” a few days ago for his a cappella group’s performance.  He decided to play it for the kids, who I don’t think had heard it before.  Of course they got all into it, especially Parley, since he is so obsessed with dragons these days, and of course, they all bawled at the ending.  But I’m not talking a little sniff and a few quick tears, I’m talking about putting them to bed only to hear major sobs coming from behind their doors for 15 or 20 minutes after.  Not to mention loud complaints from Parley in an anguished voice that he wished he had “never even heard that song!”

Then, on Saturday, Andrew and I went to a performance of “Big, the Musical” at the Hale Center Theatre.  This was a double whammy in the nostalgia department.  Partly because we all remember the Tom Hanks movie so well, partly because of the show’s subject matter, and a lot because they keep the setting of the show in the 80’s.  I guess it really hit me, because little Josh Baskin is supposed to be turning thirteen, and I looked at all those people in their 80’s outfits and those were the clothes that I wore when I was thirteen.  I mean, seriously, you know that Jessica McClintock dress with the puffy sleeves and tiered skirt that everybody had in different colors and floral patterns?  And the knit stirrup pants with the oversized belted shirt? (Not pictured in the play, but an essential accessory being those fringed white leather cowboy boots?) 

Despite the fashion flashbacks, however, the show had a different effect on me this time around, mainly because instead of sympathizing with the young boy who wants to grow up too fast, I sympathize instead with the mom, who is lamenting how quickly her children are growing up.  The song, “Stop, Time,” brought tears to my eyes.  Here’s the lyrics that really got me:

 Nobody warns you of this parent’s paradox
You want your kid to change and grow
But when he does, another child you’ve just begun to know
Leaves forever

Of course I thought of James, who is all of a sudden ten months old, and crawling all over the house and going up stairs, and pulling himself up on everything.  He’s heading straight out of babyhood and into toddlerhood at full speed.  And I was just getting used to him happily sitting in one place on the floor, content to just play with rattles and teething toys.  Today he actually stood on his own without any support for ten seconds or so.  Walking is just around the corner.  Sigh.

It is a paradox, isn’t it?  Andrew often mentions how he wishes that we could make copies of the kids at each age, and just be able to put them in storage and pull them out from time to time like you pull out your home videos.  (“Yes, I’d like to play with Parley as a two year old for a while, and then I’ll get out Brianna when she was four”)  I think kids feel it too, when they want so much to be older and at the same time are terrified of it.  They know that adults are different, and they feel that in growing up you lose something of yourself.  The whole Peter Pan syndrome, I guess.

Of course, I don’t think that is what caused the tears here the other night.  I think that deep of a meaning is still quite a bit over their heads.  They could only see the tragic abandonment of what to them would be the most loyal, brave, magic and completely awesome kind of a friend you could ever have.  I even checked out the new book based on the lyrics from the library, the one that has pictures that kind of add a happier ending onto the lyrics, in which Jackie Paper’s daughter finds Puff and becomes his new friend, and that still didn’t make them feel any better.  I’m seriously tempted to try to write another verse myself.  I looked for one on the web, but I actually only found two, both of which were very badly written.  (If anyone knows of one that is any good, let me know!)  And yet, I also acknowledge that the bittersweet appeal of the song lies in the sad ending, the loss of childhood innocence.  We all grow up.  Childhood doesn’t last forever.  Adults are different from kids, and you can never regain that innocence.  But as an adult, would you want to?  I mean, you never see movies about someone who made a wish to go back to being thirteen again. (Heaven forbid!)  I guess I would just like to see an ending to the song that doesn’t make adulthood look like the end of all fun and magic.  I know that I, personally, would still love to play with dragons, given the chance!

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