Monday, December 23, 2013

My mother's mother's mother.

I'm just back from a few days in grand Junction, CO, where now reside my grandparents, Aunt and uncle, parents as of about a year and a half ago, and most recently, a cousin and his little family. I have a lot of people  in GJ. I also have a ton of family history there. I think it's the closest thing I have to an ancestral home. Grandpa Roper had a big-ish plot of land there that he farmed, that has now been parceled out a bit to the four kids, so my parents own a piece of it. I suppose for almost a century now, Ropers and Walkers have lived in GJ, and for over a century, in Gunnison, about 120 miles to the southeast, in the Rockies.

The main purpose of my visit was to immerse myself in Grandma Dot's rather large collection of family history work--binders full of letters, pictures, maps, newspaper articles and clippings, lineage charts, every possible historical documentation you can think of. Grandma had started a biography of her mother, Arla Tufly Walker, many years ago, and the last time I was there, I decided it would be up to me to help her finish it. Grandma is 87 now, and in remarkably good health for her age, but she is beginning to show signs of mental decline: forgetfulness, repeating herself, occasional disorientation. Based on her own judgment as well as that of her two children who live nearby, it's unlikely she will finish the biography by herself. She had outlined about 11 chapters, and written 3 of them. So I decided what I could do was get her to talk about what she would have put in the remaining chapters, record her and transcribe it in order to finish the thing.

So this last trip, we got started. As it turned out, it seemed more efficient to actually take notes in a word document as Grandma talked, rather than add the extra step of recording and transcribing. That also meant she could look over my shoulder and correct things, and even start to edit a little bit. Actually, this revealed to me some more detail about Grandma's short-term memory loss. I would write exactly what she told me, with just a bit of grammar editing, and as she looked over my shoulder sometimes she would correct me, insisting she hadn't said such and such a thing, but in fact something different. That didn't happen a lot. But it happened enough that I decided this was a better way than recording her. I will also have to do my own research to verify things.

And I'm pretty excited about that. Our next move will be--hopefully--to take a trip up to Gunnison together, along with Grandpa. I'm hoping they will both be up for that. I don't know... they might not be. It's not exactly an easy drive, even for a passenger, and I don't know if they could manage there and back in one day. And if not, we'll have to find some sort of lodging, which seems pretty disruptive to a couple of old folks who have a very set daily routine.    

It's been pretty amazing getting to know Arla better. I wish I could have known her--and I do hope I will know her. I feel that I have a lot in common with her. She was well-educated, being quite bookish and motivated to succeed in school from her childhood. Her own mother, Minnie Curtis Tufly, insisted on Arla attending college, and worked to help pay for her education. Arla eventually got her teaching degree from Colorado State Normal School (as it was then known--today it is Western State Colorado University, with some other intervening appelations), and went on for more advanced work a the state university in Denver. She then came back to teach English at CSNS. The last few days, Grandma mostly focused on stories relating to Arla as a young mother, and trips they took together when Grandma was very young. Grandma has a great memory for her early years. We just barely got to talking about Arla's extensive involvement in the community. She was instrumental in starting up Gunnison's first public library. (This fact was what made me eager to visit Gunnison--seems to me the current library must have some of it's own history on file, including information about Arla's involvement. Much as I love Grandma's stories, I feel it will be important to gather information from more sources.) Arla also taught Sunday School at the Community Church in Gunnison, and Grandma says she can't remember a time when she *wasn't* teaching Sunday School.

I'm beginning to understand the family history freaks--the people who can't understand why you are not as excited about it as they are! The more I learn about Arla and her personality, and the things with which she filled her life, the closer I feel to her--and consequently, I feel inspired as to the things with which I want to fill my own life.

It's been interesting to consider the intricate, positive interaction between biological and environmental heredity, as well. I've seen personality traits in Grandma's stories of Arla that seem very fundamental to my own personality. It's fascinating to ponder on the ability of both DNA as well as parental influence to pass traits down through generations. Even though Grandma Dot was quite rebellious against her mother's high-class, college educated influence, preferring to do farm work with her father, she nevertheless eventually finished college, and became a teacher like her mother. She even eventually got a master's degree, moving beyond her mother's educational accomplishments. And even though, as far as I can tell, every mother-daughter relationship from Arla to me has been characterized by resistance and rebellion, we all of us nevertheless have a passion for books and learning. And I don't doubt that that trait has it's roots in both biology and environment. There have been times when I felt I owed it to my maternal line to go on and get a doctorate. But I suppose, now I feel I only ought to do that if I can actually use it to improve the lives of those around me, since that seems to have been the motivation for my forebears.  

I think one barrier to my getting into my family history has been Mormon guilt--the huge "should" attached to it. Now that I feel quite a lot less of that, it's much easier to get interested in the stories. I honestly think learning these stories of my ancestors is MUCH more important than doing proxy ordinances for them in a temple which, more than likely, they'd never willingly entered on their own, taking on strange, sexist oaths and devotions to a cultish, mortal institution...  No. What's important is learning about my people, my heritage. Learning what my blood is made of, and perhaps understanding who I am generationally. What's important is keeping these stories and making them available for the next generations. I believe this knowledge of each other is what seals us.        

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Creative Process Stuff

I feel the love of God most strongly when I am composing.Maybe even--*only* when I am composing.
Oh, but. God. How taxing it can sometimes be.

So there's this choral piece I started way, way, way, back a long time ago. I started it the night before I left on my mission. So that's been a few months over 11 years ago. It's an SATB setting of Pied Beauty by Gerard Manley Hopkins. I think this is a pretty well-known poem, and I've even seen a few choral settings of it in the last few years. Of course, I look away. I can't actually bring myself to look at them, because then the comparison starts and well we all know how that shi# ends. It always ends with me in the trash for, I don't know, MONTHS.

Anyway, I've had a devil of a time trying to finish this piece,what with the intervening mission of insanity, depression, realization that it was, in fact, depression, type 1 diagnosis, all of that weird shiz where I thought I should be a choral conductor (wha...?). Anyway, and then I met this brilliant man who loves me and helps me remember a little about who and why I am, and so here I am composing again. Through all of those years, I never let that piece go. I worked most on it during my BYU piano degree. Yeah, when I was supposed to be practicing, I was composing. (How did this not tip you off, self?) And I think I came up with some good things. It all seemed to hold together, the bits I started before the mission of insanity, the bits I worked on when I got back and through the years. I'd always envisioned the structure as essentially ABA, with both As in fact being in the key of A major, and B being tonally unstable and developmental. I got it to the return of A and imagined that the return would state the melodic material of A in three-part canon. And that's where I stopped because that seemed hard. And I didn't have any notation software, and I wouldn't know how to work it if I did, and I didn't really have time, as a piano major with depression who worked at the MTC, to even begin to figure that stuff out, and forget about time, I was so insecure in my identity as a musician at all, let alone a composer, a creator. There were just too many obstacles at the time.

Now, having finished my choral degree, and with an employed lawyer of a husband essentially supporting my rehab post BYU, I rallied with vigor to give it a double bar. I gave myself a deadline to get a copy to Brady Allred, whose choral organization I joined up with when we moved to Salt Lake. So, yeah I did that. I went all--three-part canon in the sopranos, supported by full divisi ATB, we're talking 10 separate parts, it goes nuts for a while, then it winds down, little key change out of nowhere, a few winding down sustained chords, and it ends in the key of Bb.

Yeah, it totally didn't work at all. The beginning was one piece, and by the end, it was a totally different piece. My super-connected friend who is a brilliant musician and composer, told me recently to send him some stuff to send to a Danish conductor, so I pulled out my 11-year-old disaster with potential, thinking, ok, I'll just revise it, get it worked up right and send it off. And what I've realized tonight trying, AGAIN to give this piece some closure, is that I really need to rediscover the spirit that started the thing. The first 2/3 of this piece is so extraordinarily simple, and clear, it's like it fell straight out of the sky. I keep trying to come up with new ideas to round this piece off, but I think what I need to do is really study what I already have. Like  I need to do a formal analysis of the stuff that's good. And harmonic analysis. And write the ending with the same spirit of simplicity, ease, grace... I've been trying too hard, these many years. It began it's life as melodic material, all of it, even when there's thick harmony. And in the intervening years I've focused so much on harmony--interesting modulations and thick, fat sounds. I need to lean it out.

Lean it out. Simple. Melody.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

In my first life, I was a musician. (Rambly navel-gazing.)

Why?  Well, I had some talent.  I learned the language of music very quickly, because we had a piano.  I would sit at it, at a very young age, and play--play with those black and white musical blocks, until my parents knew they had to get me into piano lessons.

Because it happened at such a young age, music was a huge part of my identity.  Because my family was pretty emotionally handicapped, and I think also because of Mormonism, I didn't develop an identity outside of music.. and Mormonism.  Not as a child, not as a teen, not even really as a young adult.  I think this post marks me acknowledging and developing an identity apart from music and Mormonism for the first time.

I loved to the play the piano as a kid.  The thing I loved most about playing the piano was improvising and  making up my own music.  I eventually learned to write it down, and I loved to do that.  I was good at it.  But somehow, somewhere along the way, as my Mormon guilt grew, and the bottomless pit that served as its reservoir was being dug, music got linked up with my Mormon guilt.

I went to BYU, and though it took me years, I finished a piano performance degree, and then, because I had no idea what came next, I started a masters in piano performance.  Then switched over to choral conducting.  And all the while I thought it was because I was "supposed to", I thought I was fulfilling my mission, whatever that would be.  I thought that the opaque blackness that stared at me whenever I contemplated the future, my future career in music and how the heck I would support myself, I thought that was just the trial of my faith.  You know, learning to step into the darkness. Maybe it was.

But now that I'm done with that part of my life, the school and graduate school, and now that guilt is such an integral part of my approach to my music, and now that I'm nearly immobilized by it, now that I have a lawyer husband who could technically support whatever musical entrepreneurship I could dream up--I really just want to do something different.

I learned tonight that my favorite high school English teacher, Rob Haug, passed away two years ago.  Somehow I never heard about it, which isn't surprising since I have almost no ties to my hometown.  He was an incredible teacher.  Thinking about him reminded me of that magical time in my adolescence when I was taking the first intrepid, awe-filled steps into the world of the mind, the reading and the thinking and the writing.  I loved that.  I was good at that, too.  I treasured the encouraging messages my English teachers wrote on my papers.  One even told me I was classic English major material.  That surprised me, because I so heavily identified as a musician.  It was my junior year, I was starting to think about college, and I had never thought about English.  I remember I really liked the idea, though it was a vision of my future self that was completely foreign.

Fast forward a few years, I remember a conversation with my piano teacher at BYU.  He thought that one thing holding me back from committing to music in a specific, goal-oriented way, was that I had a very broad field of things I could do well.  It feels somewhat self-congratulatory to say it, but he really nailed it, nailed me.

I guess all of this is to say that I'm really questioning my choice of music as a vocation.  Much like my choice of Mormonism as a religion, music actually wasn't ever really a choice.  It was who I was.  Or--it was who I thought I was, despite the little slivers of evidence to the contrary that cropped up in high school.  And, you know, recognizing that any choice, conscious or not, will have its opportunity costs and regrets, I'm wondering now if I had chosen something like English, would I have a better grasp on what to do with my life now?  Why would I choose music as a career if I don't want to be a private music teacher.. I don't want to be a public music teacher... I don't really want to be a choral conductor, or a free-lance accompanist?  I feel so blah when I think about what I want to do to earn money with music, and it's been that way for YEARS!  (Composition--now that's totally another thing.  I can see myself wanting to do that, but at this point I have such an incredible amount of *should* attached to it, that it doesn't feel good to do, or even think about doing.)        

One thing I learned about myself in grad school, was how much I love the small classroom setting.  That was my favorite part of being a grad student, teaching the lower-division undergrad classes.  I loved having discussions with students, and being an active part in creating and nurturing the unique learning community of each class.  I loved getting to know individual students, and watching how individuals interacted, and worked with and learned from each other.  I loved learning from them.  I wonder if I should rewind and go to school to be an English teacher.  Seriously.  I'm remembering the honors class I took freshman year--it was kind of an out-of-the-blue choice, but it was one of the most influential college classes I ever took: I think it was called "The Making of a Teacher."  

And, well, one thing is for sure.  When I connect to those memories of the past, of the way I remember my whole soul firing up in response to great literature, I feel more myself. I remember what it is to feel like a whole person.  

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

the female mentoring relationship in 'Damages'

I've been watching Damages on Netflix lately.  It's totally addictive and.. I don't know.. kind of lascivious.  But addictive.  And more to the point, it was recommended to me by my friend Netflix because of the previous interest I've shown in programs with strong female characters.
Glenn Close as Patti Hewes = the strongest female character.  Ever.  Cutthroat lawyer, willing to do whatever it takes to win, trusts virtually no one, constantly scheming to catch filthy rich, corrupt businessman in their lies and conspiracies.  And she does it--she's wildly successful. Conspiracy on top of conspiracy.  The depth and extent of the crime she prosecutes seems to justify just about every sort of criminal means, including attempted murder. 

But, at the same time, I think she’s an incredibly sympathetic character.  She doesn’t hold back her emotions, and as manipulative as she can be, there are some times when she lashes out in pure, raw emotion—anger, grief, shock, betrayal, even love.  I admire that and am drawn to it.  I love it when people are real.  She’s the classic ends-justify-the-means, kind-of-evil-but-for-a-good-cause antiheroine.

The other, more sympathetic character, maybe the true hero, though it’s hard to tell (only in season 3), is Ellen Parsons (Rose Byrne).  While Patti is a seasoned, middle-aged lawyer, Ellen is in her twenties, pretty fresh out of law school and somewhat innocent, maybe even idealistic in the beginning.  Working for Patti, disillusionment comes pretty quick.  Among other drama, the first season is essentially the story of Ellen’s violent disillusionment. 

The most interesting story to me, underlying the considerable legal drama, is the relationship between these two.  From the outside, the relationship has the potential to be one of mentorship, and I think it is that.  But it’s also pretty twisted.  I mean, Patti tries to have Ellen killed in the first season, because “she knows too much.”  The second season is all about Ellen trying to get revenge, and they finally confront the whole issue at the end of the second season, in a situation in which Ellen finally (briefly) wields all the power. 

So the part of me that roots for Ellen was all like, “Yeah, you get your revenge girl!” but the part of me that sympathized with Patti and loved her for being vulnerable had my heart broken a little. 

This relationship is so compelling to me, because of two things simultaneously—mentorship, and tension.  This mentorship by an older, experienced version of myself is something I’ve always wanted.  But this particular relationship is so incredibly full of tension, for obvious reasons. 

And I read into it my own tension—the tension that happens as a result of 1) desiring, needing some kind of female guidance, someone to open my heart to, who will open their heart to me and who will be the wiser one, but 2) having no precedent, no venue for such a relationship, and not having any reason to trust that it’s even possible.  I’m pretty sure that all of the potential female mentorship relationships I’ve ever had were sabotaged (in some cases obliterated beyond recognition) at least in part by this tension, this need for female guidance, driven to dysfunction by fear. 

For so much of my life, I’ve been convinced that this dysfunction of mine is totally my own fault, totally unique to me, and pretty weird.  Sometimes I’ve thought it must mean I’m a lesbian.*  But these days, having steeped myself in the ideas and perspectives of Mormon feminism, and having seen the incredibly overpowering influence of patriarchy for what it is, I think I can't be the only woman who struggles with finding women to look up to, and finding the right way to get close to them and learn from them.    

And Damages is totally capitalizing on what I see as a massive cultural blind spot.  I desperately wish there were more TV shows, movies, novels that explored non-sexual female relationships…  Just to explore!  Just to imagine what’s possible, to work through what’s problematic, to get beyond the tired trope of patriarchy about cat-fighting women,** and take female relationships seriously.    

*These days, very happily married to my favorite person, who’s also my favorite MAN, I’m pretty sure I’m not a lesbian.  But I’m very sympathetic to the idea that sexuality is a spectrum.  For a few years there, I think it was possible I could have swung the other way.        

**For what it’s worth, even though the two heroines in Damages really are trying to kill each other, cat-fighting doesn’t fit at all.  This relationship has so much depth.  These women really see themselves in each other, and there’s potential for so much reciprocal benefit, and honestly, for so much love.  Though of course the kind of sisterly/motherly/Zion-like love I’m talking about won’t get ratings like murder will.  <shrug>  The potential is there.  

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Easter Ad Campaign

Yup.  That's what the Mormon church is doing this year for Easter.  An ad campaign.  This rubs me wrong.  Am I the only one?

I don't know.  An ad campaign... for Easter?  Because... we're advertising Jesus?  Or because we're advertising ourselves--as Christians?  Or because we don't think there's enough religious art with purdy fonts declaring solemn, inspiring, religious-y phrases?  Because we think spiritual peace is something we can impart through facebook and youtube and twitter?

I guess I want us to have more respect for Jesus than to plaster him with memes (however dignified the font) and paste him in every possible social media context.

People know who Jesus is, right?  It's not to promote Jesus.  In fact, according to this Daily Universe article, the express purpose is to let the world know that Mormons are Christians.  That seems like a very self-serving political abuse of an internationally recognized holiday.  While other Christians use liturgy, ritual, tradition, readings, Lent, Good Friday, etc to celebrating and worship Jesus,  Mormons are running an ad campaign so other Christians know we're Christian.  ("Hey guys!  Look!  We're Christian too!  See--look at our two-minute ads and religious art!")

It just seems weird.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Still trying to figure out what my next career move is.  I think about it every day.

Today I went to a panel discussion on campus about work-family balance.  One male and two female professors.  The man was researching the effect of flexible work situations on family life and found in one study that families in which both parents worked, but whose work hours together did not exceed 60 hours a week, were the happiest, and most successful.

How about that, eh?

One of the women, a history professor, emphasized the importance of staying current in your field, even if you do take time to raise children.  I've actually been thinking a lot about this issue, about the importance for me to actually *make* a career move at this point.

Because, all things considered, it's possible this would be a good time for me to let husband take over the bread-winning and start thinking hard about baby-making.  I'll have a master's in April, he will (hopefully) be gainfully employed in the law.  Somewhere.

But, I'm not feeling that, at all.  I'm not feeling the baby-making.  At all!  And it surprises me a lot.  Not least of all because I am not a young thing by any stretch of anyone's imagination.  Theoretically my biological clock should be ticking, right?  Hm.

What I am feeling is a particular doctoral program.  This program occurred to me only two days after my extraordinarily stressful oral exam, the last requirement of my master's degree before graduation.  So just days after that huge weight had finally been lifted, I started thinking about this program, and all the reasons it makes sense as my next move.  I've even thought that, (if...) once I got started in this program, if all the scholarship/assistantship/student-insurance stars aligned,  I might consider baby-making and doctorate-obtaining.  Simultaneously.  Which is a long-shot for someone like me (totally one-track focus, NOT good at juggling multiple responsibilities).  But the thing is, I've really been rolling it around. 

And then, after several days of rolling this around, I attended this panel discussion.  Both of the women were baby-making doctoral students.  And they both seemed sane--they both seemed to think that the experience was neither bad for them nor their families.  In fact, the micro-biology professor was convinced her children were "cooler" people because of their exposure to the work she did.  (Which, admittedly, involved mouse-embryos in test-tubes on the kitchen table.  Cool-making, fer sher.)

Anyway, those are my most recent thoughts.  

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Thoughts while watching other people's children

I've been thinking a lot about something lately.  Recently I was standing in line at the library, watching a handful of small children squirm with impatience.  I was at the library to pick up a book by Jodi Piccoult called Nineteen Minutes.  I had pulled it off the shelf at my brother's house and started reading, but had to leave before I could finish it.  It's about a seventeen-year-old boy who has been bullied relentlessly his entire school career, and who ultimately brings a gun to school, killing ten and wounding several others. I stood in line at the library thinking about this disturbing plot (which is a relevant bestseller because it's been a reality too many times), and I thought that raising these squirmy children is all of our responsibility.

These recent thoughts of mine have to do with "us vs. them" mentality.  They have to do with Joanna Brooks' "sparkling difference" described in her recently published memoir--that supposed deep-down, soul-difference between members of the LDS church and non-members.  And they have to do with the idea of ecumenism that I've only recently been learning about.

Of course, they also have to do with some of the major weirdness, human-ness, the massive and often embarrassing flaws I've been learning about in Mormon history, the roots of some things that are still difficult in Mormonism today: polygamy, racism, blood atonement, the audacity of the power structure put in place by Brigham Young, which, as it turns out, has its roots in the audacity of Joseph Smith himself.

What I'm getting at is that, while my faith in Mormonism as The One True Religion has diminished, my faith in Christ, and in the goodness of humanity generally has strengthened.  My faith in the power of people to address and solve social problems--racism, gender inequity, poverty, hunger, domestic violence--has dramatically increased. My faith in the power of all people to call on and effectively use the grace of Christ--even if they call it something different--has blossomed like a desert rose, so to speak.

I remember reading this fantastic essay on the second coming (I found it through this Mormon Matters podcast on the same subject--I highly recommend it), and having a moment of epiphany.  The last sentence in the essay:

"My coming is this--when all of you see me in each other, I will already have come." the voice of Christ, as heard and interpreted by the author.  It had a powerful effect on me.  It made me think thoughts I'd never thought before.  Thoughts like: We can choose to become people to whom Christ's coming is a daily event.  We can choose to be people who see the fundamental inter-connectedness of all people.  We can choose to transcend the "us vs. them" that pervades and divides all of society--along such lines as politics, religion, nationality, race, gender--and arrive at the realization, the fundamental truth, that when one of us hurts, we all hurt.  The child who is relentlessly bullied, to the point of lashing out in unthinkable violence, is my child.  He is our child.  We all raise him.  

Our world arrives at a state of grace, transcendence, not when everyone sees the truth of Mormonism and Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon (as I thought long ago as an LDS missionary).  But when we, one at a time, learn to love each other.