Month: February 2009

Why I love Elizabeth Gaskell

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For all of you who do not know, Elizabeth Gaskell was a novelist in the 1850’s at the same time as Charles Dickens.  In fact, the two were friends and critiqued each other’s work on occasion.  I have now read four out of her six novels and I have LOVED all but one (Ruth I liked but did not love).  North and South may very well be my favorite book.  (I know- all you Austen-attics can scream in shock!).  To me it is as close to perfect as a novel can be- perfect characterization, settings, conflict, romance, social consciousness etc.  Wives and Daughters is also great, but Gaskell died before finishing it so the ending is a bit abrupt.  Recently  I  finished Cranford, which is more a series of short stories rather than a novel of a town called Cranford, and I LOVED it!  I laughed and laughed throughout the entire thing.  It is wonderful.  Let me say a few more things I love about Gaskell’s writing:

1. Her characters are the most fully realized voices I have read.  Each person Gaskell invents are complex, confusing, imperfect and human all at the same time.  He or she changes bit-by-bit like real human beings and by the end of the story I feel as if I have come to know a new friend intimately.   Some of my favorite characters are:

Molly Gibson (Wives and Daughters)- I can’t think of a higher compliment than someone telling me I am like Molly.  I know I keep saying this but she is perfectly well-rounded.  She is smart but not too bookish, kind but no pushover, spunky without being obnoxious, good but not pious, shy but not too shy.  She is willing to do brave things throughout the book but she does not seek after such tasks.  She loves but does so quietly out of true friendship. She loves her father but is still willing to speak her mind to him on occasion.  She’s just great! I don’t think I have ever wanted a character to fall in love as much as I wanted it for Molly.

John Thorton (North and South)- As much as I love Darcy in Pride and Prejudice, John Thorton is an even better man.  He is lower class-wise than Darcy but he holds himself up as high in the beginning of the story.  He is what Darcy might be had he been a self-made man.  Thorton’s father lost his fortune in speculating and the resulting poverty caused Thorton to pursue business with a passion.  That said, he never becomes a Scrouge-like character- consumed with greed.  Perhaps it is the presence of his mother that keeps a softness to him, but it is also the presence of literature and philosophy that convince Thorton he has more to learn- keeps him humble. I don’t want to give too much away but it isn’t until Margaret judges his lifestyle as inferior that Thorton’s pride becomes a stumbling block.  He believes that his factory, his life, is a benefit to the world and is shocked to find Margaret in disagreement.  This eats at him and causes him to slowly change.  (Again, Gaskell gives us a complicated and layered character).

Miss Matty (Cranford)- An old spinster who bases all her life choices on the opinions of her sister- or that’s at least what Gaskell wants you to think at first.  Again, without giving too much away, Matty looks  at the need around her and then subtly encourages her more headstrong sister to do the right thing.  With the exception of a man she might have married early in life, Matty seems to know what she wants in life and then finds a way to get it without ruffling any feathers.  This is shown when she has financial problems and through the support of her town she finds a way out of it without hurting anyone. (All of the women in Cranford are like this- Miss Matty was just my favorite).

2. The next thing I love about Elizabeth Gaskell is how contemporary her novels feel.  You might think I am crazy to say this given their length; however, the themes and characters are very modern.  For instance, the women in Cranford are almost entirely self-sufficient.  The narrator actually says in the opening of the book that the gentlemen in Cranford “seem to disappear.”

“What could they do if they were there?  The surgeon has his rounds and sleeps at Cranford;  but every man cannot be a surgeon…for kindness to the poor, and real tender offices to each other whenever they are in distress- the ladies of Cranford are quite sufficient. ‘A man’ as one of them observed to me once ‘is so in the way in the house”.

Now tell me, does that not seem like the words of a contemporary novelist? It’s not just her bold, dynamic women that I love but the mixture of tradition with a willingness to change that her characters embrace- is that not also very modern?  Even traditional Miss Deborah in Cranford changes in her views about death and certain traditions.

There is an independent voice to all of Gaskell’s characters. which I also find very modern.  I never feel like they are touting a party-line or saying something to be politically correct.  For instance, Margaret in North and South intervenes at a key moment not because she believes in a particular philosophy but because it is her innate human response. Someone like George Eliot (who I admire greatly) would have given tons of weighty reasons for why her characters act- instead of just letting them be human. Each Gaskell  character is unique and wonderful- and that individuality is very modern.

The women in all her books are independent thinkers, which you don’t see in a lot of other novels of the day. In Ruth, Gaskell even gives her readers a woman who has an illegitimate child that she keeps.  This must have been shocking for readers of the 1850’s, but doesn’t it seem like something that could have been written today?

Dickens, on the other hand, definitely has characters that are meant to symbolize or bring to light particular philosophies, practices or beliefs of his time. Plus, the women in Dickens are uniformly silly (With perhaps the exception of Estella in Great Expectations).  Most of this works in Dickens, but I prefer the organic feel of Gaskell’s characters.   I honestly think you could publish North and South or Wives and Daughters as  new books today (with perhaps a slightly different setting) and they would be equally applicable to our modern sensibilities.

3. I love the language of Gaskell.  I love that she can pull imagery from a flower, a piece of cotton, a butterfly.  There are scenes in her books where all you have to know is the character’s cravat is untied and you know everything.  I have never been to England but the way Gaskell describes the scenery makes me want to visit.  Whether it is the industrial South, the lush North, or the small isolated town of Cranford, Gaskell’s descriptions are just beautiful.  I love them!

4. Gaskell has some of the best pacing I have ever read.  Like Austen, she builds tension slowly with each scene until I am about ready to burst.  Then she gives us the climax or moment of crisis finishing off with a subtle yet triumphant ending.   That’s why Wives and Daughters kills me- I want to read the ending! As much as I try to fill in the blanks I know it is nothing to how great Gaskell would have ended it.

Given her great settings and characters, I buy what happens in Gaskell’s plots.  It just makes sense, and it always has me enraptured.  I don’t think I have ever wanted to know how a book would end more than while reading North and South.  I really did not know if it was going to be a tragedy or a romance- it is a perfectly executed  plot. In all of her books I just can’t wait to know what is going to happen and how it will all turn out.

I could go on and on.  Gaskell’s books are fantastic.  They make me want to write and to read more.  I find them funny, romantic, sad, tragic, gossipy, and immensely satisfying.  I know they are long books (with the exception of Cranford) but it is worth the effort.  Enjoy the length.  Enjoy every word of delight, every wonderfully layered character, and every perfectly executed scene.  I know that literature is very subjective, but if I could recommend any book to a friend it would be one of Gaskell’s.  I consider all of you to be my friends so there it is- read her books!

I will close by saying that the BBC miniseries’ based on North and South, Wives and Daughters and Cranford, are all superb.  Great, great, great, great.  They are long but I enjoyed every moment.  North and South is probably my favorite (Richard Armitage as Mr. Thorton- totally gorgeous).  It’s not only acted well but filmed in an interesting contemporary style which is in fitting with Gaskell.  Cranford is wonderful also with Dame Judy Dench, Dame Eileen Atkins, Imelda Staunton (who steels every scene she’s in- the scene with the cat is the best!) and Michael Gambon.  I can’t praise it highly enough.  Wives and Daughters managed to do the impossible by finding a Molly Gibson that I like.  Michael Gambon is wonderful in that as well.  All of the miniseries’ are great.  I just wish she had written more books for them to make into more miniseries’! If any of you want to borrow I have all 3 on DVD.

By the way- the next comment I get on the blog will be my 100th!  I wonder who will get the honor?! Thanks for making the blog a great part of my life.

Generation Next

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camera-002My sister and I used to joke about when it was we have officially “turned out”?  You know how people always say “she’s turned out well” or “he turned out with lots of problems”.  When do we turn out? When have we officially grown up? According to a recent study done by my Alma mater Brigham Young University the age of achieving adulthood has changed in recent years.  In fact, there is a new term, an “emerging adult”, that is used to describe young adults between the ages of 18-25.  This is like a teenager phase II.

Here’s  a press release from BYU on the topic:

http://byunews.byu.edu/archive07-DEC-adulthood.aspx

I have noticed this phenomenon amongst my fellow young adults.  It does seem like people my age are still searching for their roles and motivations when in the past they would have been forced into them- or at least in the past young people wouldn’t have thought of other options.

When I look around at many of my contemporaries I notice this trend and some of the negative sides.  There are  more “emerging adults” than I would like to admit who are 25ish and are still finishing their bachelors degree, undecided on their career and living at home- just kind of directionless.  This has always been hard for me to understand as I have been the opposite.  You can even see it in recent films by Will Farrell and Seth Rogan about older men who behave like children or teenagers at best.  It is like the frat boy mentality never dies.  It is seen in girls also but harder to put into words.  I think girls are more likely to develop peer groups like the ones exemplified in Sex and the City to replace the need for traditional female roles.  This lack of motivation is the negative side of the “emerging adult” phenomenon.

On the other hand,  I do not think this trend is necessarily a bad thing. In fact, many of the articles and studies on the topic found some positive benefits to the new behavior of young adults.  For instance, there is a new closeness between young adults and parents that didn’t exist in past eras.   There is also a commitment to family, careers, and goals once they are made that may not have existed in previous generations. Perhaps we wait because we value the commitments of adulthood not the other way around?

Another benefit is that the “emerging adults” typically have a broader exposure to different cultures, families, philosophies and lifestyles.  They tend to be more diverse and well-rounded as a result. Regardless of how you view such a  change it is important to recognize that it has occurred and then we can look at the pluses and minuses.  At the very least it makes me feel better about being single- evidently there are a lot of other young adults out there around my age who are unattached and independent like myself!

It all reminds me of a book I LOVE called Urban Tribes by Ethan Watters.  It made me feel validated and I read it with a highlighter and a notepad.  It just spoke to me.  For the first time someone was actually saying that by being single and forming groups of friends I might actually be showing my commitment to family instead of schlepping my life away.  I also liked the way that Watters asked society to look through a new lens- that maybe there were negative aspects to a new trend but let’s at least analyze it for what it is and not what it isn’t.  These groups of Urban Tribes (or emerging adults) are changing America in lots of ways and its hard to appreciate those changes if we do not acknowledge their existence.  I will do an entire entry later on that book. I loved it so much! I will be very curious for your thoughts on this subject. Do you think this trend “emerging adults” is a good thing, bad thing, neither?  Look at this interesting NPR article:

Generation Next’ in the Slow Lane to Adulthood

December 20, 2007 · Recent studies find interesting differences among today’s young people compared with those of decades past. There’s even a new term for the generation age 18 to 25: Generation Next. And a new label for this period of development: “emerging adulthood.”

Jeffrey Arnett, a developmental psychologist at Clark University, coined the term “emerging adult.” Arnett says a number of cultural changes over the past five decades created this lengthened path to adulthood.

“Go back 50 years, the median age of marriage for women was 20; for men, 22. And they likely had their first child within one year,” Arnett says.

Back in 1960, Arnett says, most people in their early 20s had chosen a life partner, finished their education and were in a stable job if they were male; full-time mothers if they were female.

But none of that exists today, Arnett says.

“Now, if you heard of somebody 19 to 20 years old planning to get married, you’d think they were crazy,” Arnett says. “It’s so unusual now to do that. The average age for women to marry is 26, and for men, 27 and a half.”

Colin Herron, 21, is a senior at George Washington University. Lindsay Tingley, 23, is a law student at Wake Forest University. Herron and Tingley pretty much reflect the thinking of their generation.

“I’m not feeling like I’m in any rush,” Tingley says. “I think people get married a lot older these days and they have kids a lot later these days, and I know that I, myself, want to have a career. I don’t see myself getting married for another, I don’t know, three to four years. Three to six sounds good.”

When asked if they feel like adults, Tingley says what most 20-somethings say: yes and no.

“I do have a roommate down at school. I feel independent in that way. I have to make sure my rent gets paid and I buy my own groceries, take care of my car, feel like I have adult relationships. I’m responsible for getting my work turned in and staying on top of things, so in that way, I do,” Tingley says.

But complete financial autonomy? No way. Tingley receives financial help from her parents and from school loans.

“I don’t know a lot about investing, and I feel like at my age, that’s something that I should really start learning about,” Tingley says. “I certainly wouldn’t know how to buy my own house at this point.”

Herron says that the fact that he’s in school leaves him dependent on his parents.

“Because I have strings attached as far as school goes — loans and how I’m paying for school — that’s kind of what’s keeping me from entering adulthood,” Herron says.

And school is the other part of what Arnett calls the “quiet revolution.” The number of early 20-somethings in college has doubled over the past five decades. Today, there are more women than men attending college. Attending graduate school is more common, also, thereby increasing the length of time people spend preparing for adulthood.

Developmental psychologist Larry Nelson of Brigham Young University recently completed a study that appears in December’s Journal of Family Psychology. Nelson surveyed 392 unmarried college students and at least one of their parents.

“We wanted to know if parents considered their child —18 to 26 years old — adult or not,” Nelson explains. “Over 80 percent of mothers and fathers said, ‘No. They are not yet an adult.'”

It’s not just financial ties. These young people are also emotionally close to their parents.

“We have a really great relationship,” Tingley says. “We’re really close. You know, I don’t talk to them about everything, but I feel I could if I wanted to.”

Herron agrees. “There’s certainly a security net in the sense of an emotional security net. I know that they’re there. They certainly have let me know as long as I can remember that they will be there as long as they’re alive for whatever I need.”

A recent survey from the Pew Research Center shows eight out of 10 young people surveyed had talked to their parents in the past day. Nearly three in four said they see their parents at least once a week.

What does it add up to? A generation that’s closely connected to family. And one that’s taking its time to figure out the future, which, according to Arnett, isn’t such a bad thing.

“Once you take on adult responsibilities, you’re going to have them for life. So, why not take this time in your 20s to do the sort of things you couldn’t do before and never will be able to do again?” he says. “Once you get married and have kids and have a long-term employer, you can’t just leave them because something interesting comes along. But in your 20s, you can.”

And much of this time experimenting with life is balanced on the other end, Arnett says, by a lifespan that continues to rise.

“I say, more power to them.”

Happy Birthday DAD!

Yesterday was my dear old dad’s birthday. I am so lucky to not only have a father that provided for me but one who has always genuinely loved me. In the last year I have learned a lot about my relationship with my dad. It’s been a great experience.

I have always felt very different from my dad. He’s such an outdoors person, loves camping and being athletic. I, on the other hand, hate camping and am not much of an outdoorsy person. I also love to read and he isn’t a great reader. I like TV and movies, he doesn’t. I love all types of music.  He likes mostly classical. There are lots of things like that.

I used to feel that my entire family was very different from me. I was social, they were more homey. I love the city, they would be happier in a small town. I also used to resent the fact that after I moved away from home my family started gaining interests in many of the things I love including my love of musical theater and singing. Why did this only happen after I left?

That said, over the last year I have worked with my dad on these rental homes. It is really the first project we have ever worked on together. In doing so, I have realized that we work in similar ways. My parents taught me to work hard. I used to complain that my friends didn’t have to do Saturday work or chores and my dad would say “find new friends because in this family we work”! We didn’t grow up on a farm or something but we did work hard. We always had a large garden, which we worked hard to cultivate (much to my youthful chagrin). As I’ve worked with my dad I’ve appreciated his dedication and his positive attitude even when we are stressed out.

One of the things that impresses me the most about my dad is that he almost never comes unglued. I have a lot of moments where I am freaking out and my dad is always a calming influence. Now that I have seen it in work I have also noticed this same influence on our family. He often sets the tone of the night with a joke, a smile or a compliment.

My dad also makes things fun. He was always making up weird jingles for around the house. Like if we were grounded he’d sing “Grounded marked with a cowards bell. What do you do if your grounded and you know your a man!”. My dad gets excited about life- even small things like a new place to develop film, a new dirt bike trip, or a great sandwich. He used to always have his top ten list. He’d say “this is one of the top 10 meals I have ever had”. We would laugh and say “Dad, your top 10 list is a top 1000 by now.” In high school it drove me crazy but I appreciate it now. He’s taught me to live each day with excitement and energy.

My dad is also loyal. In the Mormon church we do something called home and visiting teaching. This is basically a chance for members to visit one another and make sure everyone is OK. My dad has always been an amazing home teacher. He really cares about the people he visits and keeps in touch with them after we move. He even spoke at a former home teachee’s funeral last year. My dad loves people and once that love is earned you have it forever.

My dad also has a good heart. He sometimes can be brutally honest but in the end he wants the best for people. There aren’t very many men in the business world I could describe as guileless. He hates no one- has no enemies.

Another good example my dad and mom have both shown is how to resolve conflict and create a good marriage.  I have never doubted for a second that my parents love each other.  My dad used to say that he was either the smartest or luckiest man on earth for marrying my mom.  I remember at birthdays he used to write letters to my mom about how much he loved her. I don’t remember my parents arguing when I grew up.  I am sure it happened on occassion but nothing that stuck in my mind. My mother had to go on complete bedrest for her final 3 pregnancies.  Each time it was a difficult time for our family.  I love my siblings but I hope they understand the sacrifice that was paid for them to be here. My dad cared for my mother, took both the role of mother and father on, and did all he could to help with the babies after they came.  Not many men would be so loving and caring for a basically invalid spouse.  (I will have to write a separate blog about that experience) My mother has had health problems ever since the last pregnancy and my dad has continued to lift her load often and usually without complaint.  Can you ask for anything more in a marriage partner? If I ever get married I will have a good example in both of my parents.  (My mom’s blog entry will come next month on her birthday).

One last thing I appreciate about my dad.  He accepts me the way I am.  I have never felt any pressure to be a particular type of person, have a particular career or major, or do anything different in my life.  I am a very independent person and if I had parents who had forced me to do things I know I would have rebelled.  They made things my decision and then supported my choices.  This was very wise, and I am grateful for their great parenting.  I had a roommate who’s mother would have dates set up for her when she would go home for holidays.  My parents couldn’t be more different.  I never feel or hear grief about being single.  They are so supportive. When I quit my job last year they were totally supportive. In fact, when I was debating about whether to move into my apartment it was my dad that said “Can you picture yourself happy anywhere else?”  I knew that I couldn’t, so I moved in and have been very happy here.

Most of all I know my dad loves me and I love him back. He was the only person who had faith in my marketing abilities and gave me chance with these rentals. I am so grateful for that. It is a pleasure working with him every day and I hope I am a tenth of the example and friend that he is. I love him very much. Happy Birthday!

This is my favorite picture of my dad with babies Lucy and Olive
This is my favorite picture of my dad with babies Lucy and Olive

Patriotism and honor

The enemy is anybody who’s going to get you killed, no matter which side he’s on.

Joseph Heller- Catch 22

Our obligations to our country never cease but with our lives.

John Adams

I concluded an interesting experience this evening.  It is always intriguing when I am presented with two contrasting views and then forced to reconcile my own feelings.  This has happened to me regarding the subjects of patriotism, honor and courage.  To begin with, I just finished reading the “classic” novel Catch-22 by Joseph Heller.  At the same time I have been watching the new miniseries on John Adams based on the popular biography by  David McCullough.

On first glance the two may seem completely different and to a certain extent they are ( Catch 22 being a dark comedy and John Adams a dramatic real life biography).  Still, I could not ignore the contrast in philosophies the two stories bring up.  In Catch 22 the main character Yossarian’s objective in life is to not fly missions, to not serve.  His rational for this decision makes sense- the less he goes into battle, the greater his chances for survival.  The now famous “catch 22” by which the title gets its name (and the phrase was invented) refers to the idea that if a man wanted to fly more missions he’d be crazy; however, if he didn’t than he was sane and would have to fly the missions.  It’s a circular argument that is interesting and certainly one I hope to never face.

Here is my problem with Heller’s book and the argument- how come honor, patriotism, the good of mankind, never even comes into play?  There is not a single character in the novel with honor or courage.  They are all simply trying to live.  Surely in a battalion of men there would be a few soldiers who believed in the nobility of their task, who believed that freedom is worth paying the ultimate sacrifice for if needs be? In addition, what about those people that are not required to literally die but are asked to sacrifice their life in the form of their time, talents, energies and passions? What if all of these people took a Yossarian philosophy and did only the bare minimum- just enough to get by but not enough to make a real difference? Would this not have a terrible effect on our country?

In contrast I looked at the amazing life of John and Abigail Adams (as well as so many others featured in the film). They spent their entire life serving their fellow citizens.  These missions put them in great physical harm and required personal hardships including separation from their children for years.  Adams, Jefferson, Washington all were reluctant servants and yet they did it because they knew it was right.  As much as I admire many politicians (and anyone who has talked to me knows I love politics!) I don’t think I know of one that could be called a reluctant servant.

Maybe I am too idealistic in my views but I feel this country was founded on the idea that individual citizens, individual voters would not only make wise decisions but would hold democracy and freedom above all else. I hope we are not as the characters in Catch 22- merely watching our own backs, making sure we come out ahead of everyone else.  Look at the legacy of the early heroes, look what principles they taught generations through their sacrifice.  It is difficult to deny that their courageous choices were nothing but of the highest importance.  For example, if Washington had been selfish he could have become a King and been called “Your Highness” (Adams even put such a measure before congress).  He refused, and we are all the better for it.

I am sure that if I was ever called into battle such choices would not be made lightly (as they are in Catch-22) but I hope I would have the courage needed to protect liberty.  The only thing in my life that has been even a tiny bit similar  to battle was my mission where everyday we were required to sacrifice time, family and home for a higher principle- for something I believe in strongly.  During my mission I received great inspiration from the stories of the Mormon pioneers who sacrificed everything for religious freedom.  I have always wondered if I could do what they did.  I sincerely hope so.  Just as I have a religious passion I also have a deep patriotic vein within me, and I hope like the many soldiers who have died to protect my country and freedoms I would be brave and do all that is required of me.  Either way, I would like to think that the honorable route would be the most common- not the exception to the rule as in Catch 22.

I highly recommend watching the miniseries John Adams.  It is remarkable on every level.  The acting is superb- even in the small parts.  The make up and costumes is some of the best I have ever seen.  Before seeing the film I knew a bit about Washington, Hamilton, and particularly Jefferson; however, not much about Adams.  I found it moving, personable, and non-vitriolic.  In fact, all of the founding fathers except maybe Hamilton and Franklin, are portrayed in the film as simple men who served their country as best they could.  This is what I expect out of myself and those around me each day.  It is my greatest goal in life to live in a way that matters- that makes a difference for good. I am not perfect, and I certainly lead a small life; however, on occasion I have moments of decision,  of integrity and faith.  It is at these moments I pray that I think of future generations, of my loved ones, and of my country and hope I make the correct, if difficult choice.

One slight caution on the film- there is some adult content and I would recommend adults see it before children.  I would actually feel comfortable showing most of it to older children and teenagers but it depends on the child.  A few of the scenes including a surgery in the last film are tough to watch.

Happy Valentines Day

These are some of the people I love
These are some of the people I love

To all my friends and family-Happy Valentines Day! I hope you all had nice days. I had a very fun day with my good friend Melissa Noyes. We went to lunch, shopping and to the movies (we saw He’s Not that Into You, which I liked- don’t listen to the reviews!).

On a day of love let me say a few things about what love means to me. Love is a tear when we depart, it is the adrenaline on first seeing one another after parting, it is the forgiving kiss of a child, it is a hug from a grandfather, it is a phone call just when I needed one, it is a moment of clarity and self worth, it is a prayer answered, it is sweetness and purity, it is sexy and exciting.  It is all of these things and more. It cannot be summarized or put into words. It just is and we all know it when we feel it. Don’t we all live for that feeling? I do. I will flat out admit I have never been in love with a man but that doesn’t mean I haven’t felt love or know what it means. No, no, I know and that is why I know it is worth the wait.

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I will end with my two favorite summaries of love.


The first is from Shakespeare’s 116 Sonnet-

Let me not to the marriage of true minds

Admit impediments. Love is not love

Which alters when it alteration finds,

Or bends with the remover to remove:

O no! it is an ever-fixed mark

That looks on tempests and is never shaken;

It is the star to every wandering bark,

Whose Worth’s unknown, although his height be taken.

Love’s not Time’s fool, though rosy lips and cheeks

Within his bending sickle’s compass come;

Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks;

But bears it out even to the edge of doom:

If this be error and upon me proved,

I never writ, nor no man ever loved

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The second is from Corinthians.  It uses the word charity, which means Godly love.

Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal.

And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge;

And though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing.

And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing.

Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not;

Charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil;

Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth;

Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.

Charity never faileth

Voice Lessons

My first teacher Dalin and I.  (BTW, I love this dress)
My first teacher Dallyn Bayles and I. (BTW, I love this dress)
My amazing teacher Amanda
My amazing teacher Amanda and I

After the greatness of last week it was almost guaranteed that this week would feel like a disappointment.  Perhaps disappointment is too strong a word but nothing fabulous has happened like last week.  I was having a hard time thinking of what to write about when I remembered that I have been wanting to write about my voice lessons for some time.  I have been taking voice lessons with Hale Center Theater Orem for 3 years now and it is one of the most rewarding things I do each week.

I don’t pretend to be a great singer or have any illusions about a potential career in music.  Time for such things has past, but I will say that music and singing has always been a passion of mine.  It has always been something I wish I was better at.  Something that I wish had been nurtured more by my parents and teachers when I was younger.  When I was in high school I had a choir director who was evil (very manipulative and controlling) and who refused to look beyond my bag of nerves and see the potential within me.  She was all talk about love, warmth and kindness but when it came down to it she only cared about her vocal ensemble and how it sounded.  Instead of trying to nurture talent that was less obvious she refused to give someone like me a chance- which to me is the definition of a bad teacher. In addition, my parents were busy with a new baby (which meant my mom had to be in bed rest for my freshman and into my sophomore year) and did not have time to focus on my music.  I am not saying this to complain.  It is just a fact.

It is this lack of nurturing that perhaps explains why when I had my own disposable income and time one of the first things I did was sign up for voice lessons.  I took them the entire time I was at BYU.  I was also in the University Choral twice, which I greatly enjoyed.  Dr. Broomhead (isn’t that a great name for a choir director?) was fantastic and my other director Joni (can’t remember her last name) was good too.   These lessons were helpful and kept my singing alive but I had so many other disciplines to study that they never really pushed me to become better. Plus, my teachers were students of varying abilities.

So, I went on  my mission and sang a lot in Indiana.  Sister Hamill and I (now Carrie Carnley), who has a great voice, would even stop people and ask them if they would like to sing a song with us.   I remember one man in particular who sang “Jesus wants me for a sunbeam” at the top of his lungs with us.  The funny thing about singing on the mission is that it is the one time in my life where the female parts were way in the minority.  Needless to say I learned Elders of Israel very well by the time I left, but we would make the elders sing Sisters in Zion every once in a while too!

When I returned home from my mission I started working and almost immediately I found the hum-drum life of a worker to be just that- hum drum.  I also had a hard time cutting myself off from work and focusing on other goals.  There is nothing worse than overanalyzing something that is already boring to begin with! Particularly working in accounting I became frustrated by the fact that every day was the same.  I never felt like I really accomplished anything.  Again, this is particularly true in accounting because as soon as you finish a week or a month you start again with the next week or month.  I needed a sense of accomplishment in my life- something to be proud of and work towards. Around this same time I attended a show at Hale Theater Orem (one of my favorite activities) and I saw the advertisement for voice lessons. Remembering the fulfillment that music had always given me I called and signed up!

As I mentioned earlier, I have now been taking voice lessons for 3 years and it is one of the joys of my life.  Each week I go and meet with my teacher Amanda Crabb.  We do funny warm-ups that often make me laugh and then we work on songs.  I can’t completely explain how satisfying it is to start a song all wobbly and messy (I am a terrible sight reader) and then in 2 or 3 weeks have it “passed off”.  Is it perfect? Of course not, but I think it is good enough that if someone heard me singing they would find it pleasant. Some of the songs I have passed off over the years are:

Think of Me from Phantom of the Opera

Home from Beauty and the Beast

Till there was You from Music Man (my first recital piece)

Both Sides Now by Joni Mitchell

I Know the Truth from Aida

Travelin Soldier by the Dixie Chicks

Scarlet Tide by Alison Krauss

Gimme Gimme from Thoroughly Modern Millie

Breath of Heaven by Amy Grant

Someone Else’s Story from Chess

Dreams be Dreams by Linda Rondstat

I Don’t Know How to Love Him from JCS

And So it Goes by Billy Joel

Foolish Games by Jewel

I Can Hear the Bells from Hairspray

Someday from the Wedding Singer (my fifth recital piece)

There’s a Fine Fine Line from Avenue Q

I could go on and on.  I have actually passed off almost an entire Hal Leonard Anthology (I have 5 of them! Plus other music). I can’t put into words what it means to me when I finish a song and listen to myself sing something competently.  It’s like the inner-child in me screams “Yes, you did it!”.  There have been many a week where the only sense of accomplishment I get is from my voice lessons.  With each song I also feel creative and inspired by the rhythms, lyrics, melodies etc.  Singing honestly makes me want to be a better, more vibrant person. It is a creative outlet that I would miss terribly if it was taken away.

Another blessing I have received from voice lessons is a new level of confidence.  Because I was told by this teacher that I was not good enough, that my voice wasn’t good enough, I always had issues with singing in public.  Its funny because I got positive feedback from family, friends, companions but I still believed for a long time that it wasn’t good enough, wasn’t beautiful enough.  After signing up for voice lessons I learned we had 2 yearly recitals at Hale Center Theater Orem.  The idea of singing on the stage of a theater I loved terrified me.  I was literally shaking the first time my teacher Dallyn Vail Bayles told me of the recital.  I was terrified of getting out on stage and my voice cracking or sounding terrible.  I did not have the confidence that I could sing, which is sad when you consider how badly I wanted to sing my whole life.

I don’t know why it took me to the age of 25 to overcome this fear, but I worked hard on the song Till There was You, got on that stage and sang my heart out.  The funny thing is that I believe I am at my best when performing for others.  I have always thrived on sharing and interacting with groups and this has proven to be the case with singing.  Who would have thought this fear of mine was actually a strength?  I am not going to say that I am amazing or ready to go on American Idol; however, I always get positive feedback and I think I sound pleasant, pretty good.  In fact, one of the directors of Hale Theater told me at the last recital that she looks forward to hearing me sing at each recital because I put my heart out with each song.   This is perhaps the greatest compliment anyone could give me.  It is not only complimenting me but the teenager inside me that yearned to sing.

I have often said I would give up a meal a day before giving up my lessons.  They are a sacrifice, no doubt about it- both in time and money.  However, next to attending church and conversing with my family/friends, they are the most rewarding part of my life.  When I am sad, tired, grumpy, depressed or lonely I get out my music and for a second the world is better.

I don’t know if any of you have seen the movie “The Kid” with Bruce Willis.  In the movie Wills’ cocky and arrogant image consultant is confronted with the 12 year old version of himself.  Despite a wealthy career the 12 year old boy is disgusted and disappointed with himself.  He says “So, I’m forty, I’m not married, I don’t fly jets, and I don’t have a dog? I grow up to be a loser.”.  I love this movie partly because of what it makes me think about.  Would the 12 year old Rachel like what she see’s or would I be a loser too? Let’s see she would see an independent girl with great friends, family, her own apartment, returned missionary that sings! (I actually don’t think the single thing would be a big disappointment to the 12 year old me.  I have always been weird that way. )  If the 12 year old (and particularly 16 year old) me could see me at Hale Theater singing my heart out before a small audience she would be proud.  I can’t explain why but it is so true.

I’m so grateful for my teachers- particularly Amanda Crabb who I have had for the last 2 1/2 years.  She is not only a wonderful talent but a terrific nurturer.  There are many times when I pick songs that are difficult (See I’m Smiling,  The Beauty is, Unusual Way etc) but she always has full confidence that I can learn the songs and you know what- I usually do. She is the best!

I hope by sharing my experiences with voice lessons each of you feel encouraged to be brave and accomplish the dreams of your childhood.  It is never too late.  There is nothing I can say that I am more proud of than that I sing- I am a singer!

This is at my first recital.  I was so nervous!
This is at my first recital. I was so nervous! My brother brought me the rose.

The Best Weekend Ever

Isn’t it funny how the simplest of things can make  for a great couple of days? This weekend has been wonderful.

To begin with I had the best week of work I have ever had- with 15 reservations including people who reserved more than one house! In addition, I have also gained a new real estate client, put in a bid for an event, and worked a Grabber event on Saturday.   It was busy but so profitable!  The cool part is while I was gone they got 1 reservation.  This week I get 15- that certainly makes a girl feel needed!

Another great thing about this week is that I got to spend time with tons of friends starting with one of my best friends  Melissa Noyes (we went to dinner on Wednesday).  Then I also had phone conversations with Raelene Bradley (who I just stayed with) and Julia Graves (who I saw in December).  I also made a new friend named Sunnie  in my ward this week and we got together with another girl named Bonnie for games on Tuesday, which was fun.

So I was already riding on a great week when the weekend came.  To begin with on Friday I had a wonderful conversation with my sisters Anna and Megan, which is always a highlight of my week.  This was particularly special because Friday was Megan’s birthday.  We are exactly 2 years and 2 weeks apart (you can bet we had combined birthday parties growing up much to my youthful chagrin!).  I wish I could have been there for her birthday but it was nice to chat-as it always is.  There is definitely no one I would rather talk to in the world than my mother and my sisters.

After the phone calls I went and met my friend Miriam for an afternoon movie.  We saw Slumdog Millionaire, which I loved.  I know it is rated R, but I felt that it was one of the most beautiful and hopeful movies I have seen in a long time.  In a way it does paint a brutal depiction of poverty (which earns the R) but in another way it maintains the feeling that hope, peace and love are within reach to any one- no matter their situation.  The lead character remains remarkably innocent despite all that he has to deal with in his life.  The feel and look of the movie was like nothing I have ever seen.  Just beautiful.   When I compare it to the Dark Knight, which left me feeling dark and gloomy despite its PG-13 there is no comparison. At least that is my rationalization right there.  I really enjoyed seeing the movie.

After the movie Miriam and I went to lunch and talked for a good hour about work, family, life and of course the movie.  She is such a terrific friend who I have known for over 7 years. We just have a connection of friendship and understanding that is great.  We think the same way about most everything.  Next to sitting with my sisters, there is nothing better than talking with good friends like Miriam.

Once I got home I had a few hours to work (where I got a reservation- thank you).  Then a group of my friends came over for a belated Birthday party- Sarah Creer, Megan Steinberg, Emily Hancock, Adrienne Jensen and Melanie Bush.  We had a great time eating yummy cupcakes that Melanie brought (thank you Melanie’s mom.  They were really good!).  This was  group of friends from all over my life but we jelled well together and had a great time talking and eating cupcakes.  Plus, Sarah and Megan got me a flirty apron which I really wanted.   Check out the website http://www.flirtyaprons.com/cart/.  I know it is lame to say but they really are so cute! The only thing missing from our little group was Camille who is currently stuck down in Mexican Hat.  Next year hopefully we will all be a group again.

It was just a simple gathering of friends but it made me feel very loved.  The whole day made me feel loved and special.  Indeed, I am special to have such amazing people in my life. I have often thought I must have done something great in the heavens to be deserving of such wonderful people that surround me.  I think of people who are lonely, who don’t have friends or close family, and I count my blessings.

So, clearly I was having a great weekend. Then Saturday happened.  We had a Grabber event in the morning.  It was at the Romp to Stomp charity snowshoeing race near Park City.  For the event we gave out free warmers and encouraged the racers. (It is kind of like a 5k run but with snowshoes).  I am counting this as my day of service for the month even though technically I was paid for manning the booth.  Still, it felt like serving the community and it was a lot of fun (even though it was early in the morning.  You have to admire those snowshoers for starting a race at 9:00 am!). While working I got to spend time with my Uncle Jim, who is my lifesaver, and my good friend Jodi Evans, who was my best friend while getting my MBA.

For the rest of the day I worked on reservations and got 2 people checked into the houses (or I should say Jim got 2 people checked into the houses).  When 6:30 rolled around I actually..hold your breath..had a date.  I must admit that I asked a certain guy out and we had a great time.  The cruise encouraged me to be bold and to find guys that I have things in common with and then go for it.  You will have to call me to learn more but it was a lot of fun, and I hope he asks me out again.  Regardless, it was nice to have a date.  We went to see the show at Hale Theater Orem, which was hilarious.  You’all know that entertainment-wise live theater is my favorite activity in the whole world.  The play was called Room Service and I guess it was turned into a Marx Brother’s comedy.  The physical comedy of the actors was superb.  Very funny! I didn’t realize that the guy I asked wasn’t a huge theater person but he still enjoyed it.  He had never been to Hale Theater before (I know it is hard to believe!) but hopefully last night’s show was a good introduction.  After the show  we went to dinner and had wonderful discussions. We ended the night with a hug (just a hug for all you that are wondering!) and a promise to do it again soon. We will see.  It is always so hard to tell.  Like I said, it was nice to have a good date.

So, now it is Sunday and I will be off to church soon.  I don’t know how this weekend could get any better.  Aren’t I the most blessed person ever? I certainly feel so today.  My life is amazing, awesome, good, great, wonderful (you get the idea).  Oh, and I am smiling for real! (see below)

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