My ultra-boring life

Friday, October 09, 2015

The Lie of Education

For those that know me, they know I love education.  I love it mostly because I am good at it, but also because I find it fun and, for many reasons, useful.


There is a misperception in this country, to the point of being a lie, about education.  And that is that a traditional four-year college degree is the goal, and that is what will get people the jobs and money that they want and that the economy wants.  This is an exaggeration at best.

For one thing, if you have any kind of liberal arts degree (English, history, the like), it's pretty much guaranteed to be pretty much useless by itself for getting a job.  If you do pour a lot more money and time into more education in your chosen liberal arts field, you can rarely get more than a teaching position in a field so glutted with liberal arts doctoral degrees that pay is meager, even if you manage to be one of the few who manage to acquire a tenured position at a respectable university.

Then there are the degrees that expect everyone who gets them to go on for more advanced education.  They aren't even meant to be much more than a prerequisite for graduate school.  Psychology, pre-med, sociology, pre-law, etc., fit this category.  You have to pour a LOT of time, money, and dedication into these fields to get a good degree and therefore be qualified (hopefully) for a job in your chosen field.  And if you decide before you're done that you want to do something else, heaven help you.  You now have a degree you can't even put on the wall at your Walmart job.

What about STEM, though?  Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math--those are sure job-getters, right?  While some of those do have a much better vocation rate than liberal arts degrees--especially Computer Science or many types of Engineering--even STEM degrees are not a sure bet.  The big research degrees in Science fields require graduate school, and even then often end up with simply university faculty qualifications, which doesn't pay as much as it should.

All this while, for instance, college tuition costs rose nearly 80% from August 2003 and August 2013.   Costs of a 4-year education have risen enough that it is now nearly impossible to pay for your school merely with taking part time classes and working on the side.  Grants and scholarships can help IF you can get them, but for most students this means student loans to make up for the difference.  Considering how hard it is to get a well-paying job with just a bachelor's, how are students supposed to pay off these loans?  And what does it teach our young people when we tell them that they must start out their adult lives in debt from the very beginning, just to have the tools to compete in the workforce?

Yet our government, media, and society at large keep pushing for public K-12 schools to prepare kids for college.  K-12 education is even seen as 'failing' if students do not go on to a 4-year school.

This is ridiculous.

I'm not proposing that traditional college should be avoided.  But it should not be treated as the panacea for what is ailing our economy and society.  There are a lot of options that we need to consider alongside a 4-year degree and weigh them carefully.

  1. Carefully consider the things you want in your life.  I don't mean making decisions based on money management and retirement commercials.  I mean, decide what is really important to you and plan ahead accordingly.  For instance, if financial and time stability (like weekends off or paid vacations or sick leave) are very important to you, you'll probably want to avoid the entrepreneurial and fine arts fields, and you usually have to recognize that you may have to sacrifice some autonomy and deal with more bureaucracies than other fields.  Large families, big houses, living in big cities, all are things that cost more as well, so if you want those things you must choose accordingly.  You must choose not only what type and level of education you are going to pursue, but you must pursue the field according to what meets your criteria.
  2. Recognize that most people don't necessarily do what they want to do in life, and that's okay.  Say you love music.  Some would say you should then pursue a career in music.  But you must recognize that some fields (ESPECIALLY anything in the arts) have an extremely low success/return-on-investment rate.  Not only do they take many hours of practice and learning, but they often cost a lot in equipment and/or supplies, and even then, things beyond your control (such as how you look, which unfortunately matters, other physical limitations, or connections) can limit your ability to fully succeed in that field.  Sometimes things we love must be kept as hobbies while we pursue other things to actually bring home the bacon.  Sacrifice is not a bad thing.
  3. Volunteer.  Especially if you are pursuing a career that requires a lot of educational investment, you should volunteer in related areas to see if it feels comfortable to you and if it's something you really want to pursue.  Plus, volunteering in your chosen field can network you with connections that will pay off later.  
  4. WORK.  Not just working jobs (whether or not you need the money), but how you do your jobs will open doors and opportunities you didn't know you needed.  If you take every job you have seriously and try to do more and better than expected, whether or not it seems to connect with your end goal, it will always reflect well on you and help you wherever you go.
  5. Don't feel bad about pursuing other types of training.  Sometimes it can be hard to qualify to get into a 4-year university.  Sometimes, even, you might find that you want to do something else, like welding or truck driving, that requires a different type of education.  Don't let people put you down or make you feel like you are 'settling.'  Often, if you do those type of jobs well (see point #4), you will make far more money out of the gate while having a much lower (or non-existent) debt load when you are done.
  6. Recognize that a traditional education can have value other than vocational.  If you are willing to make the sacrifice of time and money for something that won't pay you back in money, that's fine.  Just make sure you go in with both eyes open and know that when you choose certain degrees, you are not necessarily choosing a career path.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

The Lie of Love

In the study of languages, it is well known that a concept that can be easily conveyed with one word in one language, must be conveyed with a whole phrase in another language.  It is also known that while one language may use just one word to mean a category of similar things, another language may use many words to describe each thing in that category (such as the adage that the Eskimos have many words to describe snow).

So it is with love.  In English, we use the word 'love' to describe any form of strong positive affection.  But in ancient Greek, there were four words used to describe what the Greeks felt were the different forms of love: Eros (intimate or romantic love), Philia (brotherly love or friendship),  Storge (familial love, such as a parent for a child and vice versa), and Agape (charity, the highest form of love, the love of God for man and man for God).

To be honest, I believe that most people in Western society recognize the different forms of love, but the fact that we use the same word for all of them has produced some ambiguity that can be harmful to our individual search for happiness as well as some of our perceptions as a society.  One of the most harmful misconceptions of love is that we have only one form--eros--as a goal, a requirement for happiness, while (at least in popular culture) ignoring all other forms.

Think about it.  Many of us have seen the Disney version of The Little Mermaid, wherein, after 16 year old Ariel sacrifices her voice in an attempt to win the heart of a man she has merely seen and 'fallen in love' with, Sebastian the crab stops berating her rash decision by agreeing that if she doesn't win the man (in a 3 day attempt, with no ability for conversation, or in other words, in a situation with absolutely no chance for any type of non-lust or non-eros relationship) she will be 'miserable for the rest of her life.'

I would like to say loud and clear, THIS IS A LIE.  It is a lie we are told over and over and over again in our society.  We are told that people can 'fall in love at first sight' and then that tired adage is mashed together with the saying that 'love conquers all.'  This leads to a number of false beliefs, including the idea that if a relationship is 'right' (or if you have found 'The One'), it will 'just work.'  We hear stories of people who feel twitterpated for 50 years and think that is the gold standard for 'love' and if we get it we are 'lucky.'  Even more pernicious is the idea that this love (pure eros, make no doubt about it) requires sex (which, honestly, since it's just eros, is the only 'true' thing about it), we must not just associate with people to find out if we are in love with them, but we MUST have sex to find out if they are 'The One.'  In this definition, sex is required for love, and we not only cannot have a 'real' relationship without sex, but if we can't have the object of our physical attraction, we cannot in any way be 'happy.'

Now, in an idealized Hollywood world, where everything is summed up neatly in a maximum of 3 hours and ends when the couple simply admits that they love each other, this seems fine.  But relationships don't end when the "L" word is spoken, nor even when the couple says "I do."  Heck, people, anyone with any experience knows that's only when the relationship begins!  And biological clocks, hormones, and the effects of gravity and time guarantee one thing: eros does not last.  If eros is the only way you define love, you are going to find that the scent of roses fades, the thrill of the chase dies down, you may still be physically attracted to other people, and the hormone-induced buzz is not enough to carry your relationship through to your deathbed.

Is eros fun?  Heck yes.  It's supposed to be fun.  It's also really powerful because the door it leads into can be very hard and very scary.  It's kind of like a bait-and-switch emotion: you think you're getting swept away in Cinderella's carriage to live happily ever after, but what you're really getting is daily dish duty, shared finances, and a person who never remembers to put the toilet seat down.  And if you feel you got robbed because you didn't get the Cinderella Deluxe Edition Carriage, you are probably going to want to get out of that relationship fast.  Which is why our divorce rates and not-getting-married rates get higher and higher every year.

This brings me to a few points that I want to get across and maybe I should have just said in the first place (but if you're here, you know how ding-dang long winded I can be).

  1. Sex is not for finding the right relationship.  It's just one of the steps for building the right relationship.  
  2. Eros is fine as a push to get into a relationship.  But it is not, nor ever can be, the end goal.  The best relationships have all four aspects of love: eros, philia, storge, and agape.  
  3. Most relationships build up through the aspects of love in that order.  The sooner you can reach agape in your relationship, the happier you'll be.
  4. Out of all those aspects of love, the only one that can EVER 'just happen' is eros, and even that is a crap shoot.  Every other aspect takes work.  
  5. Sometimes eros goes away sooner than we thought, or even was missing from the beginning (think of arranged marriages, which actually have a lower divorce rate than our romance-based marriages).  This can be hard to build on its own (eros can be a fickle thing), but that doesn't mean we can't be happy.  In fact, if we build on the other three aspects, we can be far more happy than relationships based on eros alone.  
  6. Working on the relationship is only half the battle (and no, knowing is not the other half.  Stop watching G.I. Joe and listen!).  Working on yourself is the other half.  Going on dates every 3 days doesn't help if you go in a wife beater stained with greasy cheez puff dust, burping the alphabet through dinner.  
  7. Part of working on the relationship is just learning to let some things go.  As long as he's not abusive or destructive in some way, there is almost always good to be gained by not caring whether or not he is the Tetris master of loading the dishwasher.

Monday, September 28, 2015

The Purpose of the Barbell

OK, I've been thinking a lot lately about exercise and suffering.  Because they go together, you know.  Anyway, I was thinking that some forms of exercise have multiple purposes.  For instance, walking can also serve to take you places, or show you pretty things.  Sports can also be competitive (if you like that sort of thing), or social, or teach teamwork, or even be fun.  Yoga can be a form of relaxation and meditation.  But the barbell is a type of exercise with only one purpose.  You know it.  It's that huge steel bar with the big weights on the ends.  It ties you to gravity.  It offers resistance.  It is designed for one purpose and one purpose only: to be very, very hard to lift.

So, I was thinking, life is like a gym.  You go in there with a purpose: to become fit and strong, maybe feel better.  There are some visible benefits to this: maybe you want to lose some excess fat, or just tone some muscles so you can look better, maybe have more energy.  There are even more invisible benefits to this: getting rid of fats that clog your arteries and make your organs and muscles work less well.  And there are long-term benefits as well, of having the strength and the stamina to do the things that will come up in our lives (like 3 days of comic con...ugh my feet are so tired!).  So many times we go ONLY for the visible benefits, even though those are the ones that really matter the least.

Life is a lot like this gym.  We go there with a purpose.  Maybe we're clutching a picture of Arnold Friberg's Ammon thinking, 'this is what I want to look like.'  And we do some time on the treadmill and maybe lift some dumbbells a few times, then look in the mirror and think, "why am I doing this? It's not very fun and I don't see any difference at all!"

Then the personal trainer comes in.  His name is Jesus Christ.  And he says he can help you meet the goals you set in the first place.  And it's free!  Sweet, you think, I like free stuff! But then the real work begins.  More time on the treadmill.  More dumbbells.  More resistance machines.  And still at the end of the day you look at yourself and you don't see much difference.

Then come the barbells.

Holy cow, you hate those things.  You avoided them before, because you saw people do them on their own and either take on too much and get hurt, or take on too little and not see any progress.  So why would anyone want to take them on?  But this personal trainer, man, He is hard core.  He has you doing those stupid things every single day and He is pushing you WAY beyond comfortable.  You hurt.  Every day you hurt.  And you still look in the mirror every day and it seems it's not making any difference.  And one day, as Christ is spotting you on those cursed barbells, you say, "I don't think I want to look like Ammon any more.  Forget it.  I just want some cheesecake and a nap.  I don't want to do these barbells a moment more!"

And Christ says, "Oh, you're not going to look like Ammon when we're done.   Why would you want to look like someone else?  You're going to be better, because you are going to be the best version of you, which is exactly what the universe needs.  We already have an Ammon.  Now I need you."

Because we all have trials that are just like those barbells.  We see no purpose for them but the suffering.  And we have seen trials destroy others who have not utilized the personal trainer we all have access to for free.  And when we look at ourselves in the mirror every day, we don't see the progress we are making, because it comes so slowly, bit by agonizing bit.  And it doesn't always match what we think we want or should be.

But if we rely on our personal trainer and His expertise in knowing how much is too much and how much is too little to give us the strength we need for things that will come up after we leave this gym, those barbells will be the biggest blessing we could ever imagine.  Because it is only in the resistance that we are given strength.  And with our unique strengths and abilities, we can help save the world.

Sunday, July 05, 2015

Gratitude and Having a Net Gain in Life

We had a lesson in Relief Society today that got my brain churning again (you can usually tell by the steam coming out of my ears).  Not necessarily totally new stuff, but new information on a topic that I've thought about a lot over the years.  Gratitude.

Now, as with many things, data gathered by science (for instance, here and here) is beginning to support a long-held admonition by religious entities (New Testament: 1 Thessalonians 5:18, Old Testament: Psalms 106:1, Doctrine and Covenants 46:32, 98:1, 59:7, and many other examples) that we be grateful in all things.  Not exactly surprising; even if you don't believe in God, you can believe that such things were developed by wise men passing down information gained through observation for generations.  This is not the thing that really made me think, though.

One of the biggest stories of gratitude given in the New Testament is the story of the ten lepers as told in the book of Luke, Chapter 17, verses 12-19.  In that story, ten lepers were cleansed/healed by
Christ, but only one came back and thanked him.  Christ told him, "Arise, go thy way: thy faith hath made thee whole."

Now. my personal experience with gratitude has been profound, but it is still something I ponder and work on and try to explain to others.  Part of what I have pondered can perhaps be better explained through this story, redone in my extremely wordy way, so please bear with me.  :)

Leprosy back then was a horrible, horrible thing.  Just about the worst thing that could happen to you.  Not only did it physically make your life miserable and could permanently disable and/or disfigure you, but because it was contagious and there was no known treatment, it made you socially, religiously, and legally a complete outcast.  Not only did the disease make it difficult to function from day to day, but no well person could be near you; you could no longer be with your family or friends or anyone who could help you even to meet your physical needs, let alone relieve some of the suffering or cure you.  Not only this, but leprosy, as far as we understand it, was probably considered by Judaism to be part of a class of skin diseases called "tzaraath," which made you ritually impure and was considered to be divine retribution for the offender's failure to feel the needs and share the hurt of others.  So you not only had this horrible physical malady, and legally couldn't be close to healthy people anymore, but everyone was taught that you had this disease because you were a bad person.  Ugh.  The suffering trifecta.

Now, imagine you had this horrible disease.  Imagine you had it for a long time, maybe 10 years.  The only people who could be around you would be other lepers.  You couldn't even go near healthy people without giving a signal that you were a leper, so that they could keep their distance and remain "clean."  How would you feel about that?  Would you feel that life was unfair?  That God was unfair?  That you had been cursed?  That this was wrong and it shouldn't have happened to you?  Most people probably would.

Now, imagine that someone came along, someone that you had heard was a great prophet, a miracle worker, maybe even the Son of God.  You and your leper friends ask him, "Master, have mercy on us."  And he does.  He heals you.  Now, of course you are happy.  Hooray, this horrible disease is gone!  After being checked by the kohen (the person in Judaic law who verifies that you are now "clean"), you can go back to having a regular life!  But...for nine of the ten, there may not have been much beyond that.  By this, I mean, there was very little gratitude, because they didn't feel the healing was so much a blessing as it was getting back the life they 'should have had in the first place.'  For them, the gratitude at being healed was so small that they didn't even thank the Savior for it.  They were in a hurry to get back to the life they 'should have had.'  With that kind of attitude, it is not hard to imagine that there may have quickly been resentment as well.  Resentment at the years lost to the disease.  Resentment at the laws and people who treated you so poorly while you were sick.  Resentment toward the God who had allowed -- maybe even caused -- you to get sick in the first place.

But for that one leper, the one who was grateful and came back to thank Jesus, had a different attitude.  Instead of focusing on what he had lost, or what had been taken from him, he recognized the incredible blessing of being cured.  He knew that the vast majority of those afflicted with leprosy were NEVER cured.  He recognized the love and the power that had healed him.  Instead of "why me?" he may have said, "why not me?" to the affliction.  He recognized that he had been a rare witness, even beneficiary, of an amazing miracle.  And especially since he was a Samaritan, which was an outcast/enemy to the Jewish people anyway, he perhaps felt the gratitude more profoundly because he had no reason to expect a miracle from a Jewish prophet.

Now we come to my point: net gain.

With those ungrateful nine, if their ungrateful attitude continues to infect them, they lose anything they could have gained as a result of their trial.  Any faith, any humility, any wisdom or understanding.  This makes not only the years of illness a waste, but taints their future as well.  Instead of going forward with the extra good traits gained from the exercise of gratitude, they not only lose the good, but quite possibly gain the resentment over what was lost to them.  By setting their own standards on what life "should" be as their foundation, rather than the Lord, they lose everything.  It is a net loss.

But the grateful man is different.  His attitude not only gives him knowledge, wisdom, humility, faith, and understanding from his trial, but the gratitude for the miracle gives him the understanding that the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ LOVES him, and because of this He HEALED him!  Making the trial a gain in his life that makes his whole life better, AND helps him with eternal life!  Though many things were taken from him during his illness, the things he gained were more valuable.  That is a net gain!

So when Christ said to the grateful man, "Thy faith hath made thee whole," I don't believe he was just talking about regaining his physical health.  All of the ten had regained that.  I think He may have meant "whole" by its other meaning -- perfect.  Instead of having so much cut out of his life by resentment and ingratitude, that man had gained enough to make up for what had been lost, and then some.  Thy faith -- believing that Christ is the foundation, and that He is good, so anything He allows to happen can be for our good, rather than letting that faith be overwhelmed by the idea that "this thing is bad, therefore either God is bad or mean or doesn't exist because this bad thing happened to me" -- is what made that grateful man whole.

Monday, June 01, 2015

Addendum to the Parable of the Talents

I was speaking with my counselor today and I brought up my take on the parable of the talents which I posted here a few months back.  He was so moved that he suggested that I submit it to the Ensign, the monthly publication of articles from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  I just checked and they are no longer accepting unsolicited articles, but he did point out something that is important that I forgot to mention in my previous posting.  So I figure I had better add it.

Now, in that previous post, I mentioned how we treat talents that we are less gifted in.  I said that as a society, we tend to belittle the abilities of people in the areas where they have less talent.  I should have also mentioned that, oftentimes, we ourselves are the ones who denigrate our less exceptional abilities.  I have found, especially, that it seems that those who are exceptionally talented in one or a few areas, are particularly quick to throw out the talents where we are less gifted.

My particular experience in this matter is no exception.  Heavenly Father has gifted me with a lot of knowledge and understanding in many areas.  Throughout my scholastic experience, I typically scored at the top or off the charts in both language and analytical skillsets.  Because my talents in these areas were so extreme, it made it very easy for others to define me by my abilities in those areas and focus on them, which often made it hard for me to realize that other skills were valuable or worthwhile, at least for me.  It also made it hard for me to think that putting forth effort towards a talent in which I was less skilled would be fruitful.  In other words, if it wasn't as easy for me as scholastics, I would generally quickly give up.

One such area was music, particularly vocal performance.  Now, I come from a very musical family.  My parents met in orchestra in college, and my grandfather was the head of the music department at Rick's College (back when it was a 4 year college, before it was a 2 year, before it was a 4 year. :) ).  So I took a number of years of piano lessons and played various instruments in band for 7 years in middle and high school.  But I just did it; I never considered myself talented or applied myself well.  And while I would sing in church, I certainly didn't consider myself a good or even decent singer.

But when I started college when I was 17, something interesting and miraculous happened.  I was in a new town, and on my own for the first time.  In this new town I was, of course, in a different church ward (that is, a different congregation).  No one there really knew me yet, and being a young, transient college student in a college town made me unexceptional.  But one month after starting there, the first counselor in the bishopric (the ward leadership) came to me with a very puzzled look on his face.  After talking to me for a few minutes, he said that the bishopric had felt very inspired to call me as the ward choir director.  He didn't know why.  Usually that is a calling that goes to people who have exhibited knowledge and experience in choral music, of which I had none.  But they felt inspired, and I had been taught not to reject callings, so we agreed I would do it, despite my trepidations.

Now, at the time I was attending university under a full ride scholarship.  Tuition, fees, books, room, and board were all covered, but I saw very little actual cash.  So I had been wondering how to pay tithing -- that is, give a tenth of my increase to the Lord through the Church in gratitude for all He has given me -- on this.  I decided with this calling that the answer was surprisingly simple.  Since the primary increase was in education, I would tithe my classes.  Not only would I attend Institute classes (free religious classes held just off campus), but I would use some of my elective credits to take classes specifically designed to help me with this calling.  It was too late to do it that first semester, but starting the next semester and for every semester thereafter, I took vocal lessons and/or choral group classes.

When I was 'set apart' (that is, given a special blessing to give you the gifts you need to do well at a calling, or assignment, in the church) for that calling, I was told that it would bless me for the rest of my life.  I had no idea the magnitude of how true that would turn out to be.

Through the music classes I took as my tithing, I found not just a love for vocal music, but a passion for it.  While music had heretofore been only a 2-talent skill for me (or so it seemed), I found myself increasing in skill and loving it.  Suddenly, I was finding joy in an area of my life I didn't know existed.  While I only held that calling for about a year (and frankly I didn't do a very good job at it), it planted a seed of joy, experience, and understanding that has remained unmatched to this day.  Even more than just the joy I have received from the music itself, I gained an understanding that being 'unexceptional' in an area does not mean you should ignore it or bury the talent.  We can all improve.  And working on things is far more important than excelling at them.

So now, it makes me a little sad when I hear people say, "I'm not any good at that."  Which always comes up as an excuse to avoid trying.  I hear it especially when it comes to singing, a simple skill which requires no instrument or equipment but the voice you have already been blessed with.  God really doesn't care whether or not you sound like an opera singer.  He doesn't care if you look like Chris Hemsworth, know physics like Albert Einstein, serve others like Mother Theresa, or play baseball like Babe Ruth.  He cares if you try, or if you quit.  So put some effort into it.  That's what counts.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Mother's Day

Sorry I'm a little late on this post.  I'm good at that!
I've been pondering and pondering mother's day since Sunday.  Didn't think of it much before that (which is why my gifts to my mom were last-minute electronic things).  It doesn't bother me as much as it used to, but there's still some tenderness there, and I have a lot of friends whom it bothers immensely, so it's something worth thinking about.

This post is not for the ones who have clean houses and perfect children and perfect marriages.  This is not for those who have personal, couple, and family prayer and scripture study each and every day whilst doing 100% visiting teaching, keeping up with their callings, and attending the temple weekly.  This is not for those who have college degrees, make money while staying at home, and manage family business like a Fortune 500 company.

This is not for fake moms.

This is a shout-out to the moms who yell at their kids, who sneak cookies in the bathroom, who forget where they hid that last Christmas present, and who accidentally leave the birthday child at Chuck E. Cheese whilst wrangling fifteen nine-year-olds into four minivans.  This is for the ones who decide the vomit can be cleaned up in the morning, who no longer even notice the smell of dog pee, and who hide dirty dishes in the oven.  This is for the ones who do occasionally give into the screaming child at the supermarket and buy him that sugar cereal, who serve mac and cheese for lunch four days in a row, and who don't always serve vegetables with dinner.  This is for the moms who haven't seen a movie in the theater in seven years, know the songs and words to at least five complete Disney movies, and who no longer even notice that the word "restroom" has been permanently replaced in their vocabulary with "potty."  This is for the moms who have begun to realize that they are woefully inadequate at their jobs and wonder how in the world their children will live to adulthood without killing anyone, including themselves.

You are trying.  You are loving.  Hopefully you are improving and learning.  Just keep trying your best.  You are doing a great thing, and it's not your fault that this particular job magnifies every little flaw you've ever had.  Keep praying, keep loving, keep hoping, and never, never, never give up.

Now, for the rest of us non-moms.

Notice I didn't say "future" moms or "potential" moms.  I'm one of you, and I don't like to be patronized either.  Whether or not you become a mother at some point is irrelevant to this discussion.  You are not a mother right now, and THAT'S OKAY.  While motherhood is a great thing, and great mothers are vastly needed in our society, not everyone can be a mom.  Some of us really wanted to be moms.  For some of us it was our life's dream.  Life rarely goes according to our plans and desires, contrary to almost every feel-good Hollywood movie out there.  But, also contrary to Hollywood's lines, not getting your first choice does NOT mean you are doomed to be miserable for the rest of your life.  If that were true, every woman's life would have already been ruined when she was two and her mom gave her the green cup instead of the pink one.

Now, I'm not saying you should completely give up early on in the game.  If you have the resources and the strength and the opportunity, keep trying.  But all of us, moms or not, reach a point where we are done.  Whether or not you are good with that exactly when it happens, you need to learn to be good with it sometime.

"But," you may say, "if I'm not a mom, what am I supposed to do with my life?"
Hm.  That can be a tough question.  But luckily, there are a ton of great possibilities.  Such as:
travel, write books, mentor children, volunteer, go back to school, learn household skills, garden, climb mountains, read books, do crafts, write a blog, go hiking, teach a class, visit seniors, start a social club, make needed items for people who are sick or homeless or less fortunate, run marathons, get a job, start a company, learn a new language, swim the English channel, clean highways, make movies, invent cool things, research family history, build a treehouse, learn to paint, visit your neighbors, foster orphaned animals, go around town doing random anonymous acts of service, star in a local play, take a nap, organize family reunions with extended family, cure cancer, explore the North Pole, save the polar bears, teach sign language to apes, build a pipeline to ship extra water from the eastern U.S. to the western U.S., perfect a skill, solve world peace, and photobomb at least three celebrities.

There might be other things, too.  The point is, we as women do not have to be defined by our ability to produce progeny (or not).  If we cannot have children, it does not have to be a tragedy.  It just means God has something else for us to do.  Let mothers have their day.  They deserve it.  But we have our days as well.  Live them well and relish them for the good they are.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Ripping Home Movies

Remember how I told you about Roku and Plex and all that wonderfulness?  Well we still use it and it's still wonderful, but because Hollywood mega-millionaires are a bunch of poopheads, it can get way more complicated than it should be to utilize your own movies in this fashion.

Now, let me be clear: I when I say "your own movies" I mean movies that you have PURCHASED, LEGALLY, from a LEGAL and LEGITIMATE source.  Not movies that you have 'borrowed' to watch later, or rented and want to watch later, and most certainly not movies that you downloaded off some dodgy site.  It's behavior like that which prompts Hollywood to do stinky things that make this difficult.

That being said, once you have legally purchased a movie, you are legally allowed to watch it however you want for your own use.  Me, myself, the way I like to do that is by ripping the movies onto my computer and watching them through Plex on my Roku.  It's faster, easier, and more convenient than disks, not to mention that it prevents your disks from getting damaged, smudged or lost through use.  AND you can do it all without getting up from the couch.  Bonus!

Now, I'm not going to tell you how to install and use Plex.  There's lots of good information on how to do that on their site,  The only other thing I will say about that is that the pay version is worth the money, but you don't have to use the pay version to watch your own movies.

Ripping your movies, however, is quite another matter.  It can be QUITE the pain-in-the-tush as Hollywood is constantly trying to find new ways to stop pirating -- and stop people from using the movies they bought legally.  It is SUCH a pain in the tush that I am fully aware that the following instructions will probably be too much pain and hassle for many readers.  And I must note, these instructions are for Windows only.  But if you are diligent and determined, read on.

First, you're going to need a few things.  Some are free, some cost money.  Here's a nice little list:
1.  A Blu-ray drive for your computer.  OK, you don't actually NEED this, but it's nice.  You don't even need a blu-ray player for your TV if you watch all your disks through Plex and you have this.  But at the very least you'll need a DVD drive for your computer.
2.  A large hard drive in your computer.  I would say at LEAST a terabyte, depending on how many movies you have, how many of those movies are Blu-ray, and what else you have stored on your drive.
3.  Good movie-watching software.  If you're just using a DVD drive, I'm sure you already have what you need and you're golden.  If you have a Blu-ray (from now on I'm gonna call it BD) drive, you might not have the software you need.  There are some free BD players out there, but when I was researching this over the weekend, none of them worked for the newest movies, which kind of makes sense, so I recommend getting a paid copy.  The one I ended up getting is PowerDVD 14 Ultra because it happened to be on sale and it had good reviews from what I saw.  Seems to work quite well.  You will probably have to upgrade your player software every few years, though, because Hollywood loves to change the 'keys' on their movies all the time, so players have to upgrade their codecs all the time, and I couldn't find a player that gave you free updated codecs forever.
4.  Process Monitor from Microsoft.  There is a Resource Monitor already on your computer, but this works better for this particular project, and it's free, so go for it.  You probably won't need it for most movies.
5.  MakeMKV this software is completely free right now because it's in beta, and for DVDs alone it will always be free.  However, if you are ripping BDs, you'll eventually need to buy it.  When I bought it, it was only $50 and you could get updated codecs forever, so that's a good deal.
6.  Handbrake.  This lovely piece of free software can technically do much of the same stuff MakeMKV can do, but I have found that MakeMKV is more reliably consistent for the initial rip and this is better for the next step.
7.  Lots of time.  Sorry, can't link you to that one.

I'm just going to give basic information.  If you want to set defaults or tweak preferences (which will probably be a good idea in the long run), go for it, but you'll have to figure that out yourself.

So, first, make sure all your hardware is installed and is in good working order.  Done?  Good.  Let's get going.
1.  Put the disk into the drive and close the drive.  OK, that's really stupidly obvious, but hey, this is America, so....
2.  Open MakeMKV.  It should automatically read what's in the drive and give you basic info (like title) and have a big pic of a disk in a drive on the left.
     Click that picture.  That will open the disk in a good fashion and figure out what's on it.  This will, after a few seconds, bring up a whole list of files, at which point my first reaction was, 'oh crap!  How do I know which one to use?'  Well often, especially for DVDs, it's easy.  Just pick the Title that's the largest, preferably with the most chapters.  (To unselect everything, right-click near the check boxes on the left and choose unselect all, then select the file you want).  If, however, you have a number of huge Titles that are all around the same size with the same number of chapters, you have run into a disk that Hollywood is especially afraid of being pirated so they have done some tricksy stuff to it.  You lucky duck.  There's still some things you can do to figure it out, though.
     a.  First, click on each of the largest files and look at the Title Information on the right.  Sometimes, if you're lucky, it will tell you the language that title is in and some won't be English, so you'll know they are not the right ones.  Did that work for you?  Dang, never works for me either, but it was worth a shot.  On to the next try.
     b.  OK, this is the really fun part (that was sarcastic).  BD disks have a files on them with .mpls extensions.  Those are playlists.  They are what the player pulls up to know what order all the little video files (.m2ts files) need to be played in.  Hollywood does that to make disks harder to copy.  But people have been getting around that, so with some newer movies they have taken to making multiple *.mpls files on a disk (which show up as Titles in MakeMKV)  so if you pick the wrong one, you might have bits of the movie in the wrong order or completely missing.  Annoying?  You betcha!  Frozen, for instance, had 3 .mpls files.  That's not so bad, really.  Mockingjay part 1 had over 500 -- and they varied from disk to disk, depending on where you bought the disk.  Figuring out what the right .mpls file is is now a pain, but it's possible.  This is where ProcMon and the player come in.
     c.  First, close MakeMKV and pull up ProcMon.  This monitors processes on your machine.  What we specifically want to do is monitor the processes that read stuff on your disk drive while you're playing the movie, so we can see which files are opened and in what order.  I would put a few filters on before I got started, just so your eyes don't bug out.  So click on 'Filter' from the menu bar, then 'Filter...' from the menu.  The ones I have are specifically:
          'Process Name' (chosen from the first drop down) 'is' 'PowerDVDMovie.exe' (that last part will depend on what software is reading/playing the movie).
               Click Add, then go to the top again and choose
          'Path' 'begins with' 'F:' (where F: is the name of my BD drive).  Click Add.  Then,
          'Path' 'ends with' '.m2ts
Then click OK.  (and I would save these filters for future use.)
     d.  Open your BD watching software and open the movie.  Get past the trailers and warnings and all that stuff to the menu (this will already make ProcMon go crazy).  Now, get ready to take notes.  Ready?  Hit play.
     e.  ProcMon will start going crazy now with all the reads from the BD.  Write down the .m2ts file name that popped up after you hit play.  Put your movie player into fast forward (faster than the lowest, but not TOO fast, because you don't want to miss anything).  Now you have 2 choices.  You can closely monitor ProcMon and write down the new .m2ts files in order every time they change, or you can go have dinner or something and then come back when the movie is done and scroll through the full monitor dump and write down all the .m2ts files in order.  Both are painful, time-consuming processes, but at least you get a choice. :)
      f.  Once you have that list, you have ANOTHER fun task in front of you, wheeeee!  Close your movie viewer program and ProcMon and open MakeMKV again.  Click the disk drive graphic again and bring up the full evil list of titles.  Right-click the list and unselect all.  Now, single click on the top potential title.  Look to the right under Title information.  See that list of numbers labeled 'Segment map?'  That is the list of video files (m2ts files) that that particular playlist (mpls file) plays, on order.  Only one of the gajillion Titles will have all the correct files in the correct order (the correct order is that list you wrote down from ProcMon).  You need to look at the Title information for each Title until you find the one with the Segment map that matches your list.  Once you find that one, click the checkbox next to it on the left.  Make sure your Output folder (upper right) and Name are the way you want them and click the 'MakeMKV' button (with the green arrow) in the upper right.  Hooray!  You're ripping your movie!  This can take a while with BD, 45 minutes to an hour on my machine.
3.  (Yes we're only on step 3.)  Once MakeMKV completes the initial rip, technically, you can stop.  BUT the initial MKV files from a BD are typically 22-28 GB huge.  This will eat up a 1 TB drive fairly quickly if you have a lot of BD movies.  So I used to convert the MKV files to mp4 files, which are much smaller.  But then I came to realize that the PGS files (closed captions) on BDs are simply not compatible with mp4 files.  I could 'burn in' the closed captions, but that makes them permanent and not everyone likes closed captions.  I have, until now, ignored them and just turned the volume way up.  But, rejoice!  A lovely person on the MakeMKV forums taught me that you can not only use Handbrake to turn the large MKV file into an mp4, but you can turn the MKV file into a SMALLER MKV file.  I had always avoided that feature (uh...MKV to MKV seemed kind of pointless) because I didn't know it made the file so much smaller.  But now I know, and it's wonderful, except for the fact that I have to re-rip all my movies. :b  ANYWAY, here's how to do this step:
     a.  Open Handbrake & make sure it's up-to-date.
     b.  Click on 'Source' (upper left) and choose 'File' from the menu.
     c.  Make sure the Preset (on the right) is 'high profile,' the Output Settings container is MKV, and the Destination file path is where you want the file to be.  Also, make sure if you are using Plex that you follow their movie naming schema (found here) to optimize how it uses your movie files.
     d.  IF you want closed captions available, click on the subtitles tab and from there, click Add Track, then choose Add New Track from the menu.  Generally it will automatically choose the first English PGS file, which is fine, though you can add others if you want.   Make sure 'Forced Only' and 'Burn In' are UNchecked.
     e.  Click Start.
Now, if you thought the initial ripping took a long time, guess what!  This takes even longer!  On my computer it usually takes 2-3 hours per movie.

But once this is done, you're done.  Hooray!  You've made your movie accessible on your computer or your Roku (through Plex) without the disk!

Friday, March 06, 2015

Television Rant Spring 2015

OK, first, I'm not going to lie.  I grew up in the '80s.  I have watched, and liked, my share of bad TV.  I think that as we get older our tastes mature and we gain enough understanding to be able to look at some things they put on TV and say, "that was the stupidest thing I ever saw," rather than, "Whoa!  Cool!"  Plus, the art changes and often gets better.  For instance, special effects have come a long way, and with the advent of the internet and much more information much more easily accessible, the general populace, I hope, has less of a chance of being completely snookered by some screenwriter who was too lazy to do his research.  I hope.

That being said...

I have heard from some sources (mostly media, not people I know) that the quality of television shows has increased dramatically the last few years.  If the number of "big name" stars now acting in television shows is an indicator, that may be true.  But most of the shows I see listed by these sources as signs of the growing quality of television, I don't watch.  For one thing, most of them seem to be on premium cable channels, which I have no interest in subscribing to.  And most of the ones I have heard mentioned, I wouldn't watch anyway, because they're smutty.  Full of sex and violence and language and other "cutting edge entertainment."  Somehow, I guess, that makes them 'daring,' though daring to me indicates being brave and going against the trends, and since sex, violence, and language is so trendy in Hollywood, how can it possibly be daring?  Not to mention that sex, violence, and language have been around forever, so they just seem sort of plebeian to me.  That, and I hate zombies.

With those eliminated, I find that there is a huge dichotomy in over-the-air programming.  Well, in the stuff that I watch, anyway.  The very awesome and the very stupid.  Was there really this much stupid television in the '80s?  (Don't answer that!)

Let's get to the shows.

First, what I'm not watching anymore: Sleepy Hollow.  Though I do miss Tom Mison (siiiiiighhh), it was just too dumb.  Occasionally I will read some snarky synopsis on io9 or something just for some schadenfreude (OK, and to see pics of Tom Mison, I admit it.), but I haven't watched it for over a year.
 And I'm already sad that The Mentalist is gone.  The last season was kind of awesome.  It was like, "hey, we are going away so we're going to make you forget how 'meh' the last year or two have been and make you MISS us when we're gone!"   That's just mean.  It was a good ending, though.

Now, going from the priority order of the Season Passes on my TiVo:
1.  Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.  
     Personally, I think it's really weird when I like a show so much that I start having dreams of dating the fifty-something star with thin hair.  But Agent/Director Coulson is AWESOME.  And hoo boy, they know how to write characters and twists and turns!  And the way everything ties into all the Marvel movies...oh man my brain is going to explode.  Now, I stopped reading comics over 20 years ago.  Mostly because it became clear to me that no one ever really got older, or died (permanently, that is), or progressed in their lives, and the stories had to become more and more contrived and convoluted because they had to follow all these rules while still trying to 'shock' and 'surprise' every month.  And as the readers wanted more, they would give them more, to the extent that they violate every natural law in existence, including all that pesky space-time-continuum stuff.  I mean, how many comics can Spider-Man be in at one time?!  And, yeah, the shallow way they draw women doesn't appeal to me, either.  BUT...the movies & TV shows can't work that way.  Though they do have sequels, and tie-ins, and some convoluted contrivances, they are much more finite.  They don't have to fill a book every month forever and ever, amen.  They don't have the luxury of "oh, that happened over 27 years ago, no one but the uber-geeks are going to remember that, so let's forget it happened."  And they are reaching a MUCH wider audience.  So, to me, they make more sense and are more enjoyable.  And cap that off with excellent writing and acting...and well, you have THIS nerd hooked, at least.
2.  Forever
     Well, for this one, they had me at Ioan Gruffudd.  But add the fact that it's a crime drama (my greatest weakness) with a supernatural element...mmm, boy!  I really love a lot of the characters in this one, and how they really seem to break some molds.  And some of the very human elements they explore through the supernatural twist are awesome and very, very well done.  It does have some weaknesses -- the crimes aren't always the best, and some of the ways they use 'ongoing background mysteries' in the show can get a little trite.  But I love, love, love this show.  It explores some very interesting philosophical (and practical) questions about the universal question, "what would it be like to live forever?"  I have heard it doesn't have the greatest ratings so I'm really afraid it might not be renewed for a second season.  So go watch it.  It's on ABC on Tuesday nights.  Please?
3.  Elementary.
     Still a favorite, still quirky and interesting, though I don't always appreciate the 'grittiness' they give to this modern adaptation of my beloved Sherlock.  The crimes are top-notch, and the way the characters interplay is very fun to watch.  I do prefer Jonny Lee Miller in the 2009 BBC adaptation of Jane Austen's Emma, but duh, that's Jane Austen.
4.  Grimm
      The only reason this show is #4 is because Jake really likes it so we like to watch it together.  It's entertaining, but any show that literally makes me yell, "THAT'S THE STUPIDEST THING I'VE EVER HEARD!" every single week, well, I think they have some problems.  The sci-fi/fantasy/supernatural element is fun & interesting.  But they try too hard to explain it with pseudo-science, which makes it into something far, far, stupider than it would have been if they had just left it inexplicably out there.  Plus, the plots are SO contrived and SO convoluted in an obvious attempt to create maximum tension that is timed exactly till the end of the episode or the end of the season or the end of the story arc, that it's quite painful at times.  But, like many things, sometimes the fun is in being able to MST3K the whole thing.
5.  Castle
      While Nathan Fillion will always be my one true love, I don't get into this show as much as I used to.  At the time I am writing this, I am eight episodes behind.  EIGHT.  I still like it.  I do.  It just...well, sometimes the tension (both comedic AND dramatic) is so high that it's hard to watch.  Probably because I really love the characters.  Add that to the fact that Jake doesn't like it, and boom.  I end up eight episodes behind (though that does give me something to watch in the long, sad, summer months).  \
6.  Sherlock
     The only reason this is way down on #6 is because it only gives me 3-4 episodes every two years.  CURSE YOU, BBC!!!  Even at that low dose, if you rank shows by the number of delightful dreams that make me want to stay asleep forever, this one wins all the things.  What, you think I'm even more brilliant than Irene Adler?  Why, Sherlock, you flatter me... 
Good show.
7.  Agent Carter
     Yes, I know this was only an 8-episode run that is technically over, but I'm still 5 episodes behind.  I really wanted to love this show.  Really, really, really.  I mean, Captain America is my favorite superhero, so I HAVE to love Agent Carter, right?  But when you know what's going to happen for the most part, and you know Peggy Carter and Steve Rogers can never be together and who lives and who dies and all the big things...well, that takes some of the fun out of it.  And we don't need to be pounded over the head with how sexist America was in the '40s over and over and over.  We get it already.  It's not a bad show.  It's just not as appealing to me as some.
8.  The Flash
      Have recorded every episode, haven't watched one.  Just like you are now glutted on reading this blog post, I am now glutted on TV.  Maybe I'll watch some in the summer, maybe I'll end up deleting it.  Don't know.
9.  The Tonight Show starring Jimmy Fallon
     I have never in my life gotten into watching late night talk shows.  Until now.  While the writing & jokes can be funny, and I often like the guests and games, my favorite thing is watching Jimmy crack himself up and distract himself with jokes about his jokes.  ADD along with clapping and laughing like a toddler?  It's like he's already family!  I think one of my main goals in writing books is to get famous enough to be on this show with Jimmy Fallon so I can meet him and make him laugh.  And show him what a great backseat gamer I am at Mario.
10.  Battle Creek
       When I saw the ad for this show, all I could think of was, "hey look, it's that Mayhem guy from the Allstate ads and that cute guy from that one movie!"  So I watched the first episode.  (It's a crime drama with a cute guy in it.  It doesn't take much.)  It was funny, had some interesting characters, and hinted at hidden character traits/background that could be very interesting.  So I like it so far.  We'll see how it goes.
Oh, and I still don't know the character or actor names.  It's still Mayhem and the Cute Guy.
11.  CSI: Cyber
       This is now off the list, but I thought I should still put it on here since it's what prompted me to write up this whole post in the first place.
        How in the WORLD did CSI ever become popular?  This is the worst show I have seen in FOREVER.  All these slow, gimmicky camera shots.  An extreme to the point of unbelievable crime/plotline.  Over-the-top, dramatic rescue scenes.  And, of course, some sort of ridiculously fancy and overfunded crime investigative unit which exists NOWHERE.  The only marginally redeeming quality was the tech wasn't quite as far-fetched as it often is in television and movies.  Gah.  I need to go wash my brain out with soap.

Thursday, March 05, 2015

The Parable of the Talents

I hope y'all don't mind if I get a bit scriptorial on you for a moment.  This is something I've pondered for years and years, and since I seem to be on a blog roll, I thought I'd share.

So, a lot of people are familiar with the parable of the talents from the New Testament, Matthew 25:14-30.  In case you're not, here it is in a nutshell: A Master has three servants.  To one he gives 5 talents (pieces of money), to the next 2, and to the last, 1.  Then he leaves town for a while.  When he comes back, he asked the servants how they did with his money.  The first had traded with the talents and made 5 more.  The second servant did the same and made 2 more.  The last servant, however, kind of said something like, you didn't give me enough to work with, so I was afraid I would lose it, so I went and buried it so it wouldn't get lost.  The first two servants, of course, were praised and given a lot of rewards.  The last servant was cast out and his one talent was taken and given to the servant who had originally been given 5.  He was slothful and unwise.

Now, I look at this a lot with life and I think it applies to SO MANY OF THE THINGS.  But all of us are given talents--this time with our modern-day meaning of the word, of something like 'skills'--in a lot of different areas.  So, let's do an example in some quantitative way.  Let's say we have a woman, her name is Jane.  She's been given, through natural ability and home circumstances and simply from God, the following roster of talents:

Academic smarts: 10
Common sense: 5
Empathy for others: 4
Motor skills: 1
Musical talent: 8
Good with kids: 7
Public Speaking skills: 7
Ability to pay attention: 2
Drive/gumption: 1
Teaching skills: 6
Self-discipline: 2
Ability to choose happiness in various circumstances: 3

The list could go on and on.  But as you can see, her talents are all over the map.  Some things she's really good at.  Others, not so much.  Now, something that a most people mean when they say someone is 'talented' in an area is that the number is high.  And when we deal with different people in our lives, we tend to focus on their 'high number' talent(s).  We praise that talent in that person, encourage development of it, and rather expect that person to 'increase' that talent through diligence, practice, and hard work so that it becomes a defining characteristic of that person.

I don't like this.  In fact, I think it's a mistake that can do a lot of harm.

Let's look at the parable in a slightly different way: instead of three separate servants, let's say they are all aspects of ourselves, each representing a different talent.  So the first servant is Jane's academic smarts, the second could be maybe her teaching skills, and the third, her motor skills.  If we follow the traditional social dynamic towards a person's talents, we're going to praise and encourage and focus on Jane's booksmarts until she's really good at that.  Maybe even encourage and help develop her teaching skills along with that, too.  But her motor skills?  Forget it!  She's 'not talented' there.  We'll not only not encourage her in that area, but we're going to mock and belittle her clumsiness until she's afraid to even try anything athletic or requiring dexterity.  She's going to bury that talent.  It's not going to grow.

Now something to keep in mind: one talent isn't very much.  Even if doubled, like the first and second servants' talents, it'll only add up to two.  It is quite likely that Jane will never be a gold-medal gymnast in the Olympics.  In that sense, it is still important that we really work on our 'high number' talents--after all, that is where we are stronger, and God gave us more talents in that area for a reason.  Doubling 10 talents to 20 could really do a lot of good in the world.
Does that mean that motor skills are not important?  Or drive?  Or self-discipline?  Do we just accept that that is 'who we are' and that God can't expect to 'reap where He has not sown?'
GAH!  NO!!
Just like in the parable of the talents, we are not judged by the number of talents we have at the end.  We are judged by what we do with what we are given.  The second servant, who was only given two talents to start with, was given the same reward as the first servant, even though his final number (4) was still less than what the first servant started with.  BUT--we still have to try.  We still have to work on even those weak talents.  Even if our 'final number' still isn't that high, Christ will make up the rest because we did well with what we were given.

The world will judge you by the total number of talents.  "Man, look at that Chris Hemsworth!  He is a ten talent looker!"  It's easy to compare our 1-talent skills to another's 10-talent skills and want to give up, to bury our talent.  But don't do it.  Keep trying.  Keep working.  Don't use the world's measuring stick.  It's hard -- believe me, working on areas where I stink is SUPER hard.  But they all work together for my good.  So I'm going to keep working at it.

Wednesday, March 04, 2015

Thoughts on Treatments for Depression

I have been in treatment (talk therapy and medication and spiritual help) for many years and it has done me a lot of good.  However, not all service providers are created equal.  I've learned a lot from my experiences so I thought I would give some advice.  You can take it or leave it, this is based on my personal experiences and your situation may be different enough that these tips won't help, but I hope they will.
1.  First, recognize that you have a very real but generally very treatable problem.  One of the crazy things about depression is how much it lies to you to get you to think you can't be helped.  I can't think of another illness that does this, but know that MOST people with depression firmly believe that they can't be helped.
2.  Remember, remember that the Lord loves you and He always will!  His love for you is unconditional.  He wants us to try hard and FIGHT our weaknesses (and depression is a WEAKNESS not a SIN).  We may not completely 'win' in this life, but that's not important.  The important thing is that we FIGHT and turn to the Lord.
3.  Seek good professional help.  Ask your bishop or others who have struggled for recommendations.  Personally, I need both talk therapy and medication, but I didn't always have them at the same time.
4.  When you are starting medication therapy, be patient and hopeful.  For medications, sometimes it can take quite a while to get the proper medication or medication combo to help you.  Don't lose hope.
5.  For talk therapy, be patient and humble and willing to try hard things.  Sometimes, especially if the depression has been there a long time, the therapist may say things you completely don't believe (like, you are worthwhile and can do good things) or ask you to do things you think are impossible (like work on forgiving someone or do different positive thought exercises) or challenge your core beliefs about yourself or others (going back to the 'things you don't believe' part).  Happiness is NOT something that just 'comes to us.'  It is a choice and a talent that must be practiced.  Generally for those of us with depression, it is a talent we are very weak in -- but that doesn't mean we can't get better.  It's HARD.  But you have to be willing to work at hard things to get good rewards.
6.  Give talk therapists a good shot, but be aware that sometimes a therapist may not be the best fit for you and you should go elsewhere.  This does NOT mean that you drop a therapist if they don't validate and agree with everything you say.  But if they seriously violate core gospel principles, insult you, or you've been with them for quite a while and you feel like you've maxed out what you can get from them, you might want to look into finding another therapist.  For instance, I've had 5 therapists over the years.  The first was not LDS, but she was very good and respected my beliefs (even helped me strengthen my testimony).  However, she moved so I had to look elsewhere.  The second was a psychiatrist (medical doctor) in a mental health facility.  He primarily took care of my medical needs, but did a little talk therapy too.  However, when it became clear that there were issues that would be best dealt with by heavy duty talk therapy, he recommended that I go find some.  The next man I only went to once.  He advertised himself as an "LDS therapist" which should have been a warning signal.  He told me that it was a sin to hate myself, and that I wasn't having enough sex in my marriage and that I needed to watch porn and masturbate to learn to like it more.  Uh, no!  He was so awful that I would be pleased if he had his license revoked.  The next was an MSW through LDS Family Services.  She was nice and helped for a while, but after a few years I realized she was more my friend than my therapist, and she wasn't giving me the needed exercises, tools, and work to get much better, so I moved on.  My current therapist is AWESOME.  He has a PhD, is LDS, and does a lot of behavioral therapy.  He is not only supportive and kind, but he gives me exercises and tools that I need.  I have made more progress while working with him than all the others combined.
7.  Be willing to go to your bishop or other church leaders for help, but remember that not all bishops are the same.  Unlike 'professional' clergy, LDS bishops are not generally trained as counselors.  So you may get one that's GREAT, with large amounts of understanding and lots of knowledge of resources for you, or you might get one who is kind of clueless.  I think the vast majority of bishops fall into those 2 categories.  But unfortunately, sometimes you may have a bishop who has an incorrect idea of what depression or mental illness is and will not help you at all, spiritually or temporally.  The Church has been trying hard to give a little bit of training to bishops so that this happens more and more rarely, but sometimes it still happens.  If this happens to you, hang in there.  There may be other people in your ward or stake who can still be helpful, and no one is a bishop forever. :)
8.  Do your best to stay close to the Lord, even if you have a hard time feeling the Spirit.  When my depression was at its worst, I found it almost impossible to feel the Spirit.  This made prayers and scripture study and even going to church feel difficult and sometimes even pointless.  But this is a battle, remember?  Even if our communication equipment is down, we know the Commander is still there and we need to keep fighting.  And as you fight, you will be helped and strengthened, and find more of the resources you need.
9.  Be easy on yourself.  Don't compare yourself to others.  Each of us has exactly the challenges we need, and we have different things expected of us depending on our weaknesses, strengths, and stage in life.  Just keep fighting and repenting when you need to, and you'll be fine.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Addendum to Small and Simple Things

OK, so I was thinking about what I posted yesterday (tsk, you think I would think about it BEFORE I posted or something?  As if!), and I thought of another way to say it that also shows off some of my knitting. :)  

So, see this blurry yarn picture?  It's actually very nice yarn (Sweet Georgia CashSilk Lace in Wisteria, in case you're wondering).  But it's not super useful or pretty in and of itself.  It's beauty and usefulness is in its potential.  

Different yarns have different potentials, depending on their color, what they are made from, their weight, and their yardage.  Really, just about any yarn can be made into just about anything, but of course, they maximize their potential (and really fulfill the measure of their creation) when used for the type of thing they were made for.  In this case, I decided to make a lacy scarf from it.  

This takes a lot of things on my part.  It takes the yarn, of course, but it also takes the proper tools (knitting needles), know-how, and a pattern.  At least it's easiest if I have all those things.  You can try and possibly succeed without all those things, but it will take longer and be harder and probably more frustrating.  

Then, the work begins.  Just like the drive I mentioned in the previous post, or any of the analogies I used (I do like analogies), we are picturing in our mind the end product when we start out.  That is our goal.  But along the way, there are thousands, maybe even millions, of stitches.  
See all those little loops of yarn?  Each of those is its own individual stitch, that took up its own piece of time that can't be used again.  Even the holes are a type of stitch (called a yarnover, in case you're interested) and they are important and add to the beauty of the whole product.
Now, this particular scarf happens to be cursed, because I had to start over about 12 times, then learned to do lifelines to make mistakes not so costly, and I've still had to pull out stitches back to those lifelines multiple times and reknit whole sections.  It's frustrating.  But see how pretty that is?  (This phone camera doesn't even do the color justice).  Unlike other areas in my life, with knitting I have already learned that each individual stitch is a joy, because each and every stitch is vital to the end goal.  As I stitch and stitch, I am having fun because I am thinking about how wonderful the end product will be and I already know how important each stitch is, so I know I'm not wasting my time.  It helps to have a realistic but challenging goal.  It also helps to see progress along the way.  Some projects are harder to see the progress, especially at first, but because I learned to have faith in the process, and I even came to know that the process works because it worked on a previous project, I have faith that the harder projects will work out, too.

I used to do cross-stitch as well, and the faith in the tedium is similar.  I remember thinking, in a way as I create this image of a little girl, it's like I'm creating her in another dimension.  Each stitch is part of her being, and it's all important, every stitch.  She will never be complete unless I finish every stitch, and when I am done she will come to life.  OK, I'll admit that's kind of weird.  But it was another way to reinforce the importance of every stitch, every step.

Seeing that in other areas of my life has been harder.  But it's still true.  Even every step towards learning that every step is important, is important.  Whoa, that was too meta.  Time for bed!

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Small and Simple Things

I tend to be a black-and-white, all-or-nothing thinker.  When I was young, I didn't realize how devilish this could be.  There was good, or there was bad, and there really wasn't much of anything in between.  This can produce all sorts of difficulties, but the one I am going to talk about today is the small stuff.

Have you ever noticed that if you travel a certain route over and over again, the route seems to get shorter and shorter?  Or if you are trying to give directions on that route, you don't realize that the time and length from point A to point B is actually much longer than it seems?  This happens to me ALL THE TIME, because my brain (and, I suspect, many brains) tend to gloss over the things that are seemingly 'not important' to the journey.  No, I didn't notice mileposts 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, or 8 because I turn at NINE and that is the important one.

The thing is, you can't get to milepost 9 if you don't pass the others.  Your brain may be saying "Milepost 1, then 9," but it isn't, never has, and never will be that way.

Well I do that, apparently, with just about everything.  When I was a kid, math was easy.  So I would get annoyed with the tedious lessons teaching other kids (who had trouble with the concepts) different ways for their brain to wrap around the ideas or achieve the answer.  I just knew that 4+7 was 11, and 6x9 was 54, DUH.  TURN AT MILEPOST NINE ALREADY.  Same with reading.  Very little sounding out letters for me.  I got the words, I might need to look up the meaning once (though I could often glean meanings from context), but then I was good.  Gimme a book.  Done.  Gimme another book.  Done.  I always read the whole thing (didn't skip to the end), but I rarely savored the path along the way.

Now, there are many areas in life, particularly where I am less talented, where that puts me at a serious disadvantage.  For instance, I am woefully uncoordinated.  In 2nd grade, they tried to teach us to skip.  Most kids could get it in 2-3 minutes.  It took me TWO YEARS.  My feet and my brain...well...I guess they are having a feud because they don't like talking to each other.  I gave up many, many times -- but there wasn't a lot of skills you had to master in 2nd grade, and that was one of them, so I was forced to practice and practice and practice till I got it.  I think.  I haven't tried it for a while, I may have lost it.

Most things, though, are too easy to brush under the rug.  Skipping, I HAD to learn.  Most other things, people would help for a short while, then they would leave me to my own devices, and I would inevitably quit.  Because, in my mind, you either get it or you don't.  You either succeed right away, or you fail.  This practicing stuff didn't even make sense to me and seemed a waste of time.  If it was hard, forget it!

Now, I've had a lot of setbacks over the years, and most of them I can attribute to this all-or-nothing thinking.

I tried to eat better and I exercised for a whole week and I didn't lose any weight!  This will never work!

I did my physical therapy exercises 3 of the 12 times I was supposed to do them today.  I don't feel any better.  At all.  Physical therapy is dumb.  Why can't I just take a pill/get surgery to fix it?

I keep working on my book, but it's taking foreeeeeeeeeever and I'm not even done with the first draft and it's not even that good yet.  I'll never get it, never!

Whiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiinnne!  QUIT QUIT QUIT!!!

See what I mean?

But God gave me this great thing in my life called Depression.  (no, really!)  Depression does some dumb stuff, sure, but the great thing is that it put me in counseling.  And counseling is slowly, carefully, teaching me the tools I need, along with some accountability, to make some progress.  And one of the most important things I'm realizing is, just like the scripture says, by small and simple things are great things brought to pass.

It is by doing those neck, shoulder, and arm exercises many times a day, every day, that my arms and neck and shoulders will heal and strengthen and the pain will stop.

It's by watching what I eat and forcing myself to exercise a bit more every day that I will lose the weight.

It's by writing a few sentences EVERY DAY that I will finish and perfect this book.

How do I know these things?  Because of where it has worked.

It's by reading my scriptures, just a chapter a day, for most of the last 28 years, that I have gained an intense love and respect for the scriptures that enlightens my mind on a daily basis and gives me an understanding that astonishes people in church classes.

It's by saying my prayers, evening and morning, almost every day for 25+ years that I have gained a relationship with my Heavenly Father that I KNOW He is real and that He loves me.  It has given me a perspective on life and eternity that makes everything, EVERYTHING better.

It's by DAILY practice to be a better person, a kinder person, a more understanding person, that I have become a better person than I ever thought I could be.

It's by reading and constantly learning in many areas (science, art, philosophy, literature) that I have gained a better understanding of the world.  (And, conversely, it's by ignoring calculus for the last 24 years that I have forgotten it all. :P )

So don't discount mileposts 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, or 8.  Without them it is impossible to get to 9.

Friday, February 20, 2015


No it isn't.  I'm just posting two blog posts in one day, silly.  Don't get all dramatic.

Apologies to my Nauvoodle readers, but I'm mostly plagiarizing myself here (can you do that?), because this is something I have thought about for a long time, and I think it is important enough to get it to a wider audience.

Basically, there's a growing trend--well, I call it a trend, though it may be as old as society itself--of people identifying themselves with roles or traits that they have.  "I am a Mom," or "I am a football player," or "I am Mormon," or "I am gay."  Rather than think of these things as something they DO, or a trait that they have, they equate that thing with themselves.  I've seen this cause all sorts of difficulties.  If situations change, like you get injured and can no longer play football, you can feel empty & worthless, because the thing you identified as yourself is no longer possible.  Sometimes something will come up that shines a light on problems with that role -- for instance, you find out that you really screwed up some things you did as a Mom (and what Mom NEVER feels this way?).  That can cause all kinds of twisted states of denial or justification, because you identify yourself as that role, and if you made mistakes, then YOU are BAD, or your entire existence is invalid.  Sometimes what you thought that role meant doesn't quite mesh with reality, and when you find out what is real, you feel you must completely separate yourself from that role and completely change who you are, because the situation seems too black-and-white, so you must throw that entire role away.  For instance, you grew up as a card-carrying Mormon, believing everything about the Church must be chocolate and roses, then you find out about the Mountain Meadows massacre and Joseph Smith's plural wives and you want to throw away the entire religion despite the testimony you had received about the Book of Mormon and the doctrines.

So listen when I say: it's important to separate yourself from those things.

One thing that has caused quite a...lively...discussion on the internet and elsewhere is the subject of gender identity/sexual orientation and how it fits into civil rights and religious freedom arguments.  There's a lot of hate behind both sides of the argument, and it needs to stop.  Now, I am not arguing whether or not homosexual acts are sinful.  If you believe that Christ loving everyone means he doesn't believe in sin, then maybe you should read the New Testament again.  One does not cancel out the other.  If you don't believe in the Bible or sacred texts which enumerate what constitutes a 'sin,' then this discussion will have some things assumed as common ground on which we will disagree, and without that foundation to build upon, it will go nowhere, so you might want to skip the rest of this post.

The thing that gets me here is that there are two things being smooshed together that should not be smooshed together. Support of gay marriage, and support of people who identify themselves as gay. Are there antis who smoosh them together? Absolutely. Are there pros who smoosh them together? Most certainly. But there are many fair- and moral-minded people (whom, I believe, would include both the prophet and even Christ) who object to the one while loving the other.

When it comes to bakers and photographers, I like to give them the benefit of the doubt and assume that in refusing to provide services for a gay wedding, they would not refuse other non-ceremony-endorsing services to a person who identified themselves as homosexual. It's not the people or even the state of being to which they object at that level, but the ceremony which attempts to legitimize the union (both physical and societal) of 2 homosexuals. Do you see the difference?

I think one of the problems with this whole movement is that Satan is trying to push the idea that the sinner is indistinguishable and inseparable from his sin. Therefore, if you reject the sin (or even label an action as sinful), you are rejecting the person, when that is oftentimes the furthest from the truth. I have no doubt in my mind that Thomas S. Monson has a greater love for any gay individual that most people on this earth. As PART of that love (not opposed to it, as many would have you believe), he wishes that person to be eternally happy, and while protecting his rights AS A PERSON, he does not wish to cloud the issue and, honestly, make that person (and possibly others through example and mixed messages) far less happy in the long run by making that person think that their sin is not a sin and should be celebrated. He wants people to turn FROM their sins and gain eternal life.

Here is an example: Say I'm a kleptomaniac. I steal things, and rather than trying to stop stealing things, I decide that it is 'fun' and 'legitimate' because I 'can't help it.' Instead of feeling shame or remorse for what I do, I seek to do it more, and get angry at anyone who opposes me in word or deed. Satan, the enemy of MY soul, has convinced me of many lies:
1. Because people are opposed to what I DO, they are opposed to ME.
2. Because stopping what I am doing is hard (and it gets harder the more I do it and the more I make excuses for it), it is 'unchangeable' and therefore stealing=me. Satan tells me I cannot stop because it is WHO I AM and I shouldn't change WHO I AM.
3. Because stealing is therefore 'impossible to stop doing,' people who want or ask me to stop are asking the impossible and are therefore 100% wrong.
4. Anyone who does not support me in my stealing, by turning me in or not turning a blind eye to it or trying to stop me in any way, is a bigoted, judgmental hater of kleptomaniacs.

See the dichotomy? I HAVE to see it, because I struggle with a label myself. I have major, chronic depression & anxiety. I have had it since I was very small. I cannot make it completely go away. I have two ways I can approach it: 1. I can embrace it as 'who I am,' not fight it, and call anyone who doesn't support the negative actions I do because of it as bigoted haters of depressives. OR, 2. I can realize it is NOT a part of my eternal soul but a weakness of the flesh and as such I can fight it. While acknowledging it may not completely go away in this life, I must endure to the end and fight, fight, fight, knowing that I WILL make SOME progress against the symptoms and that Christ, my Savior, will make up for the rest (though there are consequences in this life that simply cannot be avoided). It's super hard. It can be discouraging, especially when, no matter how hard I try, I still show some symptoms.

But I also know that Heavenly Father and Christ will not only make it okay, but that they have given me the EXACT trials and weaknesses I needed to strengthen the parts of my spirit that are weak. I don't remember them being weak -- that pesky veil thing -- but I have faith that it is so, because I have already learned and KNOW that my Heavenly Father and Christ love me and will do anything and everything for me. That includes not letting me 'bow out' of the fight because it's hard. Heavenly Father wants me to know I can do hard things.

It has been brought to my attention...

That people actually READ this blog sometimes, which makes the lack of a new post in four months rather boring.  Go figure.

So, first, the obligatory life catch-up bit: I no longer volunteer at the Discovery Center.  This was a hard decision, as I really love it there, but I have been most pleasantly surprised at the amount of extra time I have now.  I'm actually getting other important things DONE!!  Well, some.  Mostly knitting and napping.  And some writing & research on my book.  (Hooray!)  Some research involves watching rather long Regency-era BBC productions, which leave me unable to think in American accents for days.

Some research involves learning waaaaaay too much about how people (particularly women) dressed in the 18th century, which makes me rather afraid that I will be waxing academic (i.e., with faaaaaaar too much detail) on the subject in my book, and it won't actually give the reader a much better sense of the era I am trying to convey.  How DO you convey that your fantasy-type book takes place in a world very similar to Regency England?  Everyone automatically assumes fantasy is in some sort of medieval environment, so I already have difficulty trying to overcome that stereotype.  I have mentioned balls, and gowns, and carriages, and post-chaises, but alas, this merely brings the reader to a confused "Um, maybe this isn't medieval" state of mind.  So, work, work, work.  It is getting better, though.

One thing that has helped is reading quotes and adages from other writers.  Knowing I'm not alone in my struggle has helped a TON.  One of the best quotes came from my former writing professor and award-winning author Alan Heathcock: "Writing a novel is the process of building the capacity to write a novel.  I can manage tomorrow's work because I'm stronger from today's."  In my life, where fighting the depression is constantly a matter of building my capacity to function, this was most apropos.

As to other life-happenings: I still am unable to go a full year without some sort of surgery. :b  Considering that there is now some scientific speculation that general anesthesia causes a bit of brain damage every time you go under, this does not bode well for my goal of avoiding dementia until I die.  So, if I ever forget your name, it's the anesthesia's fault.  At any rate, here's what I have going on:  in late November/early December, I started having some pretty serious pain in my wrists, particularly when I knit.  So I went to the doctor, who gave me braces.  After over a month, the pain was mostly gone, but only if I wore the braces, so I went back to the doctor, who then prescribed physical therapy.  I've been in physical therapy for about three weeks now, and it seems to be helping some, but undoing 44 years of holding WAY too much tension in my neck and shoulders, as well as trying to undo the ulnar entrapment (a pinched nerve near my elbows), is proving to be mighty difficult.  So a possible surgery to un-trap the nerves near my elbows is possible surgery #1.  Add to that the tension from newly-severe ankle pain, and I'm pretty sore.  Oh, what ankle pain you ask?  Remember that broken ankle last year?  Well, it was getting better.  A lot better.  Still a little sore if I worked it, and I would get occasional jolts of intense pain, but the limp was mostly gone and it was mostly normal.  Till last Monday around 9 p.m.  I had a jolt of intense pain, but it wouldn't stop.  Hasn't stopped.  Has decreased in intensity somewhat, but simply won't go away.  I went to the orthopedist, and he said that was weird (go me!) and maybe if I take NSAIDs on a regular basis it would reduce inflammation and help with the pain.  Except...of course...I can't take NSAIDs that often because of a) the drug interaction with the cymbalta that turns my platelets off and makes any bleed (particularly internal) into a scary situation, and b) my history of ulcers.  So, poop.  He can take the hardware out (possible surgery #2), but that only has a 50/50 chance of solving the pain.  It might also have something to do with getting off of Abilify.  What, I didn't tell you about that, either?  This is a GOOD thing, mostly.  I was taking Abilify to supplement and enhance my anti-depressants.  I used to be on 20 mg/day, which is quite high, but the depression was so bad, that if I didn't have both, I had trouble.  But the last few years, we've slowly been decreasing my dose.  15 mg, then 10, then 5, then 1/2 of a 5 mg tablet per day.  Finally, in December, I stopped taking it.  It was hard for a couple of weeks as the last of it left my system.  I found myself irritable and having difficulty sleeping -- it felt like my nerves were RAW.  Even now, it's a little easier for things to put me in a 'funk.'  But my blood sugar is better.  I don't have to pay for that expensive drug anymore.  The tremors are gone.  And, mostly, I feel a little stronger because I am able to deal with my depression better with mental & spiritual tools rather than so much with chemicals.  I still have my basic antidepressant -- I don't know if I will EVER be able to get off that -- but it's enough for now.  Related to that, I refilled my prescription for alprazolam (an anti-anxiety medication).  Getting off the Abilify has made me a little more vulnerable when 'bad things' happen.  The alprazolam can help calm the anxiety on those rare bad days.  Yes, it puts me to sleep and makes me a little 'woogy,' but I can deal with that.  Plus, it is a muscle relaxant, so it helps with the pain from physical therapy.  :)  As to possible surgery #3, that's just a probable hernia.

And another year of meeting my medical deductible before March!  They may raise my deductible every year, but they'll never catch up with me!