Tuesday, June 30, 2009

May Mayhem Part 2: New Eyes and Baby Geniuses in Boston with a Quick Trip to NH

After a week and a half in San Diego, I flew with my friends Lacey and Troy to Boston. Lacey's older brother, Hunter, who has autism, came from Texas to explore the city with us. We crashed at my parents house for 10 days. The house feel more crowded than I remember it being, probably because it has been mostly empty during my adulthood, but now my oldest brother lives there with his wife and their 4 kiddos.

The first few days were thought provoking for me. I don't go home often anymore. I don't feel there is anything left there for me, and I've no desire to return to a place that triggers traumatic memories. But Lacey and Troy's excitement made me think about some of the parts of my home I take for granted. When I was little, I hated that nothing in our house matched--the carpets and the couches, the pictures on the wall, the tablecloths and the upholstery on the dining room chairs. I wanted the kind of home I see out here in Utah where everything matches and it all comes from Pottery Barn or Pier 1. My tastes have changed--I hang JMW Turner and Scott Mutter in custom frames to camouflage the Ikea furniture in my condo--but it's hard to shed my distaste for my childhood home. Lacey and Troy looked at the haphazard decor and said, "It has so much character!" They walked through every room with their mouths gaping in awe: "Look at this Persian rug! Look at this old china cabinet!" Soon my house looked cool even to me. It was the same when we walked around the naighborhood one evening. We walked about a mile and a half, looping around the high school and through the center of town. "Look at these houses! They're so colorful! Green, blue, brick, stone, yellow, white with a bright purple front door--it's like you can see the personality of the people who live there!" "This is where you went to high school?! It looks like something out of a movie! Your school has an ice skating rink?! People play ice hockey here?!" Everything was so exciting to them, I stood back and thought, "Yeah, I guess it is pretty cool."

Lacey and Troy were also impressed with my nieces and nephew. They are pretty smart. During dinner one night, the 9-year-old explained to us how to measure a footcandle. A few days later, when she scraped her elbow, she explained how blood clots. One morning, Lacey was telling the 5-year-old that plants need water and light when the 2-year-old said, "Otherwise it will die." "Otherwise"? What 2-year-old says otherwise?

Lacey and Troy were so entertained at my house and enamoured by my neighborhood that we did far less touring than I expected. We made it to the aquarium where we saw several kinds of penguins, jellyfish, baby anacondas, sharks, the colorful mandarin fish (my fave, below) and a hundred other sea animals. We held starfish--before we noticed the sign that said not to pick them up. Oops! I also enjoyed hearing every aquarium visitor say, "Look, it's Nemo!" when they saw the clownfish. I doubt any child will ever learn the real name of a clownfish again. We went to some art museums, down to the harbor to see a boat race, and to the Harvard Museum of Natural History to see the glass flowers (hundreds of anatomically correct flowers and other plants made of glass). I got us lost a few times, but I blame the GPS and my poor sense of above-ground direction due to my taking the subway everywhere when I was in high school. We took a day trip to New Hampshire to go boating on Lake Winnipesaukee. I think that was Lacey and Troy's favorite part of the trip because their favorite movie, What about Bob?, takes place there. On the way home, we passed and outlet mall where I introduced them to the joys of tax-free shopping. Ah, progressive tax system, how I miss thee!

Current song: "Dreaming with a Broken Heart," John Mayer

Friday, June 12, 2009

I've Got Soul

Before I continue with my fascinating May travels, I want to philosophize a little. (Warning: this philosophizing includes theologizing.)

Last month, I created a quiz on Facebook: "How well do you know Anna Eagar?" (Oh, the life of a bored 20-something.) Among many close friends and my entire family, one of my brothers-in-law was the only person with a passing score. Some of the others made a fuss over their low scores.

One of my sisters asked what was up with my existential questions: "Where does Anna refer to as 'the place of my soul'?" "What does Anna imagine death will be like?" and "What does Anna imagine her soul looks like?" She also pointed out that my answer to the last question is not in line with Mormon doctrine. The multiple choice answers were a) freshly fallen snow sparkling in the sunlight, b) a brilliant diamond refracting rainbows of light, or c) a single shaft of sunlight in a dark, empty space. Most people answered "c," but my answer was "b," which has led me to muse over the meaning of the word "soul."

I looked at Merriam Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, 11th edition. Soul: "1 : the immaterial essense, animating principle, or actuating cause of individual life. . .3 : a person's total self." To me this sounds a lot like personality: "1 a : the quality or state of being of a person b : personal existence. . .3 a : the complex of characteristics that distinguishes an individual. . .the totality of an individual's behavioral and emotional characteristics." Both soul and personality are the abstract totality of a person. In many contexts, we could use them synonymously. Mormon theology also believes that the soul is the totality of a person--the combination of a person's spirit and physical body (I won't get into the details now). Thus, the soul looks like the physical body.

In my quiz, I obviously wasn't asking about my soul from a Mormon perspective, but I'm not sure the other perspective works either. If I replaced the word "soul" with "personality," like my friends, I would answer that mine looks like a single shaft of light in a dark, empty space. My personality doesn't radiate and sparkle like a diamond. Its light is as beautiful but somehow softer, more poetic, less in-your-face and blinding. But I posed the question because I believe some part of me looks like that diamond. So what part of me is it?

Light was the focus of each image. What is light? Back to Mormon theology. Doctrine and Covenants 93:36: "The glory of God is intelligence, or in other words, light and truth." Light is intelligence.

What is intelligence? Abraham 3:22-23: "Now the Lord had shown unto me, Abraham, the intelligences that were organized before the world was; and among all these there were many of the noble and great ones; and God saw these souls that they were good, and he stood in the midst of them, and he said: These I will make my rulers; for he stood among those that were spirits, and he saw that they were good." In this passage, intelligences refers to our spirits, what we were before we had bones and muscle and blood. Doctrine and Covenants 130:18-19: "Whatever principle of intelligence we attain unto in this life, it will rise with us in the resurrection. And if a person gains more knowledge and intelligence in this life through his dilegence and obedience than another, he will have so much the advantage in the world to come." Here, intelligence has a more familiar meaning; it's still an abstract and difficult term, but it has something to do with knowledge. So our intelligence, or light, is the sum of what we were before we lived on earth and what we gain on earth. (That kind of goes along with the idea of the soul being a totality, which is probably the connection my mind made.)

This makes sense in light of New Testament scripture (no pun intended). King James Version, Matthew 5:14-16: "Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid. Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house. Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works and glorify your Father which is in heaven." Everyone has or is light. You can hide it; you can isolate yourself, close yourself to people, never let them in or share yourself, but then the world will be dark. John 8:12: "Then spake Jesus unto them, saying, I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life." Christ has the most light of any person who has walked the earth, and he can give it to us.

What does your light look like? And has anybody seen it lately?

Current songs: The Killers, "All These Things that I've Done" (you know, "I've got soul, but I'm not a soldier") and Dishwalla, "Counting Blue Cars" (you know, "Tell me all your thoughts on God")

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

May Mayhem Part 1: Fun, Heartbreak, and Spring Cleaning in San Diego

The Fun Part
Three of my guy friends (Sam, Matt, and Chas) and I drove down to San Diego. I kept a road log for the first few hours of the trip, but it turned out to be too boring to stick with it for the whole 10 hours. Highlights from the log include 3 minutes after leaving our condominium, "Sam asks, 'Matt, are we there yet?'" and 5 minutes after picking Chas up from his house, "Chas asks, 'Are we there yet?'" The boys also argued about where to get cheap tacos. Apparently, Taco Time and Taco Bell are too expensive (what?) so we went to Wendy's for burgers. We finally got on the highway 2 hours after we intended to leave. The guys are rarely talkative, so the drive was quiet except for my singing along with Matt's "San Diego '09" mixes.

I'd never been to Southern California before. I assumed it would be warm and we'd go to the beach every day. I was surprised how cold it was--I was in sweatshirts every day. We went to the beach a couple times anyway. One day we went snorkeling, and the water was freezing. We had wetsuits, though, so it wasn't too bad. However, I had a panic attack because the water was so murky that I couldn't see anything! While I was sitting on a rock trying to calm myself down enough to swim back to shore, a seal breached about 2 feet from me. Later someone told me that the water is murky during pupping season, and that's when the sharks come to eat the seal pups. I don't know if that's true, but it would have kept me out of the water if I had heard it before we went snorkeling. We spent some time watching the seals and their pups. Matt and Chas played Frisbee. It was windy, so Matt decided to throw his Frisbee out over the water to see if the wind would carry it back to him. I laughed for 20 minutes and took pictures while Matt and Chas stood on the beach hoping a wave would wash the lost Frisbee to shore. It never came. Silly boys.

I loved spending the week with the boys. We went to the zoo. Like the seals at the beach, all the animals at the zoo were having babies, too. by gorilla was especially cute and social. I wish I had gotten a picture when it pressed its face right up to the glass in front of Matt. We also saw a polar bear that showed off for all the visitors. He knocked his food dish into the water, dove in after it, put it on his head like a hat, and swam around for the crowd. We also went to the San Diego Temple, drove to Los Angeles to watch the Dodgers and Padres play a boring game, played Settlers of Catan about 2 dozen times, and drank orange juice that Matt squeezed from the fruit in his aunt's back yard. I watched them play tennis for hours and fielded the tennis balls when they played baseball/softball/wiffleball (I don't know what to call the game since they played it with tennis balls and a wiffleball bat, which they mangled and eventually broke). I spent hours reading or watching What Not to Wear while I waited for them to wake up in the mornings. One day I got impatient and woke them all up. I walked into Sam's room, and said, "Sam! Get up!" "Why?" he said. "Because I said so!" Five minutes later I was surprised to see that that had actually worked and he was in the shower. On the last night with them, I sat quietly watching them eat dinner at Claim Jumper, engrossed in whatever was on ESPN, and felt a surge of affection that resulted in me paying for everyone's dinner. I can't imagine anything better than a quiet life with people you love.

The Heartbreak Part
I won't share the gory, rip-my-heart-out-and-spew-blood-everywhere details. Let's just say, I told the man of my dreams that I love him (or something to that effect--I'm being a little melodramatic here), and he said he is "content with our current level of attachment" as friends. I mean, I knew how he felt--I saw He's Just Not That Into You. Still, sad. I decided we could stay friends, although I'm reconsidering now that I know he's planning to ask out a good friend of mine. Ouchy. (FYI, said heartbreaker is the short balding man in the snorkeling picture.)

The Spring Cleaning Part
After the boys drove back to Utah, I stayed in San Diego to help another friend clean her grandma's house. A month earlier, her grandma was in a car accident and broke her hip. She was finishing rehabilitation soon, but because she lives alone a social worker had to inspect her house to make sure it was suitable for her to come back to.

Problem: Grandma is one of those Depression Era children turned pack rat. We're talking empty ice cream cartons filled with neatly folded plastic bags and Tylenol from 1978. The house was so crammed full of junk that Grandma couldn't clean it, so dust mites infested the curtains, spiders spun webs in every crevice, and ants had made their home in the refrigerator and died either of cold or because they tried to get out when the door was open and got crushed when it closed. We wore gloves and face masks for all the cleaning. (Incidentally, face masks were in short supply at the stores because of swine flu.) One of my jobs was to clean the ant mausoleum. Here are the before and after pictures. And, yes, all the black stuff is ant carcases. It was so pretty after I disinfected it.

Current song: Eric Clapton, "Nobody Knows You When You're Down and Out"