Friday, July 31, 2009

Catching Up is Hard to Do

Sometimes I just have nothing to post. Other times I have too much to post. And then most of the time I just have too darn much to do and the thought of posting sends me over the top. That's the truth, friends.

A few random thoughts to tide you over:

  • This morning I saw a couple sitting at the bus stop outside my home. I've seen them once before on an early morning run. They are probably in their mid-50s. She is obviously ready for the work day; he, on the other hand, is there, straight out of bed, with a cup of coffee. And they are holding hands. And deep in conversation. I love it.
  • Last weekend we had a big barbecue for a dear friend who is moving to England. She up and sold her house and most of her possessions, and gave the rest away (I ended up with a delightful cake stand and cover and a lot of cool fabric). What better way to celebrate her than to make her an apron? Even better: I made her an apron out of her old curtains. I felt just like Maria on Sound of Music. Only I added jumbo ric-rac. She wore the apron all throughout the party. That's true friendship.
  • On Monday I went to help this friend load up her moving truck, and while carrying a big box down the stairs, I rolled my ankle. That's right, folks--I totally fell. (My mom would have laughed. She did when I told her about it on the phone. She has a disease--she laughs when she carries large items like a mattress because she will ALWAYS wet her pants, and she laughs when people fall. It's a serious problem). Not good to have a rolled ankle when training for a marathon. HOWEVER, I have tried oh so hard to take good care of it--RICE--Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation. So yesterday I actually ran on the treadmill at the gym because I didn't want to get stuck somewhere far away with an injured ankle. It felt fine, until I stopped. Then it HURT. My question is, how do you know how to deal through pain and how to rest? Just a question. It can go much deeper...
  • A little compliment goes a long way. As you may know, I've sort of been struggling with school and feeling a bit anxious. The other day, one of my advisers pulled me aside and told me that another adviser told her that my oral exams were the best she'd ever seen. The BEST. Why she couldn't tell me this bit of information we'll never know. But knowing that has made a HUGE difference in my pressing forward. HUGE. Like Marjorie Hinkley once said, never suppress a compliment.
There. Now onward.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

That Which I Lack

A curious thing happened this morning on my run.

First, I ran past a man riding a bike. The curious thing: the man had one arm.

Second, I ran past a dog with 3 legs.

It was a morning of curious missing parts.

Then the sweat started pouring into my eyes--partly because it was really hot and really humid, but also because I went to bed at 2 am and got up at 7 to submit my exam revisions. I'm more tired than a one-legged man in a butt-kicking contest.

You see, I've been reminded lately of all the things I lack. But like the one-armed man and the three-legged dog, and the butt-kicker, I've tried to do everything I can to make up for my missing parts. I've studied and poured over notes and books. I've written and revised. I've crossed out and reformatted and thought a whole lot.

And somehow those missing parts have appeared in really strange ways. I've had some dear friends help read my stuff and make sure my written words really express my brilliant ideas (or at least coherent ideas). I've had some great time at the pool as I've revised (hey--might as well make use of the sun). And last night, a dear friend brought by some leftover soup. Right when I was gorging on grapes and trail mix trying to get through the last stages of revision. It was dee-licious. So my point is that things work out--especially when we work them out for each other and make up for our lacking parts. As Grandad said, we're all in this together.
And now it's 10:00 am and I'm going to go take a nap.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Oh How We Need Each Other

A story:

Back in the fall of 1993, I with 40 of my classmates participated in BYU's London Study Abroad program (one of the best decisions I ever made as an undergrad). We had a less-favorite professor, She-who-will-not-be-named, who didn't particularly like us. As a group. I don't know if it was a tough semester for her (we all have them, right? But do you have to have one in LONDON, one of the greatest cities on earth?). After a particularly difficult midterm, she returned to class, having graded our journals, and said, "If I didn't know you all better, I'd think you all cheated, because you all got the same wrong answers." We were a bit confused. Yes, we had studied together. Yes, we had poured through our notes from her lectures on contemporary British and Irish literature (begone with you, James Joyce! you mock our pain!). Yes, we had tried to write about what she had actually taught us.And afterwords we all promptly jumped in piles of leaves in Kensington Garden. Take that, you mean professor, you!No--I didn't want to post a picture of my ornery professor, mostly because they're all packed away at my mom's house...

But mind you, we did it together. Passed. Not cheated.

As I've tried to make sense of not having passed my most recent minor field exam (I like to look at it that way rather than FAILING), I've talked to several people, both in doctoral programs and in other situations in life. And oh, I cannot tell you how grateful I am for the friends who just give me a hug or scratch my back or express their love and support in a myriad of ways.

But I'm mostly grateful for my friends who have failed. For Lola, who confessed that she actually walked out of her comprehensive exam because she couldn't handle it. She went and took it later, but she actually failed the first time! For Mark, who also had to do some major revisions. For Dick who took 2 years to get his minor field statement up to par for his readers.

So I'm not the first to fail. And I know I won't be the last. In fact, I am grateful for the community of failures.

And: a bonus: a couple of lessons I've learned. I've had this almost overwhelming desire, after walking out of my professor's office this morning, to be a professor. I want to sit in that chair and to work with that student--but I want to pull out the very best in her. I want to focus on her strengths and help her then see how to work through her weaknesses. I want to be a teacher. And I make this pact, now, here, with you, dear readers, that I will never fail a student without first commending. I will always provide positive feedback.

In fact, I think I may start with my professor. I want to tell her how brilliant she is and how much I gain from her critical analysis. I want to thank her for asking questions that will help me better formulate my dissertation. And I want to tell her how much I need positive feedback and hope.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

I'll Show Them

This was the ONLY picture I could find of her... it's TEENSY...

I love the story of Louisa Barnes Pratt. Born in 1802 in Warwick, Massachusetts, she was educated as a school teacher. She and her husband, Addison Pratt, joined the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and lived for a time in Nauvoo.

In the fall of 1845, following the martyrdom of Joseph Smith and following some intense persecution, Church leaders announced their decision to vacate the city. For Louisa, the news fell on her ear "like the funeral knell of all departed joys." Her husband was halfway around the world preaching the gospel in Society Islands. While Louisa was committed to the gospel and the cause, she wasn't quite sure of the reality of her situation--how to leave behind everything and go to Zion in the West with her four young daughters.

"What could I do with my little means and my helpless family, in launching out into the wilderness. I had no male relative to take charge of my affairs."

When no immediate help was proffered, she met the challenge with her usual display of spirit.

"I will show them what I can do."

And she did. They made it to the Salt Lake Vally in 1848, she and her four girls.

But that's not the end of the story. In 1850 she joined her husband on another of his missions to Tahiti, being set apart to aid him in teaching the gospel. She may very well be the first sister missionary in this dispensation. She lived on the island of Tobuai, where she taught English to the people there until 1852. She returned to San Bernadino, California, in May 1852 and in 1858 headed back to Utah, settling first in Cedar City and then in Beaver, where she helped organize the Relief Society in 1873, serving as secretary and counselor.

I love Louisa. I love her tenacity and her feistiness. It wasn't a rebellious "I'll show you." Well, maybe in the moment it was. Most importantly, it was an "I'll show you my commitment. Try me. Prove me now herewith" sort of proof.

I'm sort of in Louisa's shoes these days. I'm really getting discouraged with school. I feel like I've come up against every single deterrant: fellowship, lack of communication and support from professors, and the latest from yesterday--a very disappointing email about not passing an important exam. Luckily, I can revise. But oh, I'm tired.

I feel alone in this little journey--alone in the sense that my little head is crowded over with feelings of failure and insecurity--was I cut out for this? can I do it? do I bow out gracefully?

But I'm not. Last night I came home to a beautiful little bouquet of bright orange gerber daisies and a sweet note from Diedra. The other night Mauri came over and scrubbed my kitchen sink and played Skipbo with me. Rebecca lets me cry on our long runs, even if I wheeze. And Lindi keeps offering ice cream (I'm totally going to take you up on that, my friend!). So I know I'm not alone.

When Louisa was on her mission in the Society Islands, she brought seeds. The soil and climate were favorable and she introduced many new flowers and vegetables to the island. Not only did she figure out how make it across the plains with her daughters, but she lived a full life. She closed her journal with these words:

"Ah: but the Lord rules.... Let the faithful women trust in Him He will ere long adjust their cause, and help them to fulfill their destiny."

So be it.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Stay Tuned...

The past few weeks at work on the Papers of the War Department, I've been providing metadata for the Samuel Hodgdon letterbook from 1798-1800. I've sort of stumbled upon a mystery. Apparently, Colonel Ebenezer Stevens is a little bit upset about his salary. I only read Hodgdon's letters out to various people, but from what I've read, I've pieced together the idea that Stevens has requested a higher salary, commensurate with his abilities and his responsibilities, or he elects to retire.

Hodgdon's letters follow all sorts of things--public store deliveries to Fort Detroit, the barracks in Newport, Rhode Island, and damaged cartouche boxes and gun stocks. He is confident in Stevens's fine work and in the system to reward merit and to honor our fledgling nation's patriots. As of 16 August 1799, the matter still isn't resolved. But stay tuned... speaking from 2009, I know it all works out somehow.
A long time ago, in a place far, far away, I worked as a research assistant. At one point, early in my Mormon women's history career, I was asked to track down correspondence between Susa Young Gates, pictured above, and Emmeline B. Wells, pictured below. Living in New York City at the time, Susa was appointed the Utah representative to the National Council of Women. She was then asked to represent the American National Council of Women by president May Wright Sewall at the International Council of Women conference in Denmark. The letters I read reported her participation to Emmeline Wells in Salt Lake City, who waited with baited breath for her reports to the homeland.

Susa wanted so badly to do well, to play with the big dogs, to represent the Relief Society and to make important international connections. Unfortunately, many of the women there looked down upon her for her religious affiliation, and this was the cause of a lot of unhappy words and mixed emotions as Susa sorted out her feelings and sought for approval and support from Emmeline.

It was a beautiful relationship. Even more insightful, though, was my 2001 perspective. I knew it all worked out, simply because I knew about Susa's later service and participation and prominence. And yet each page of each letter that I wrote spelled out the details, the progress, the concerns of the present. I followed their unfolding, drawn to her fears and concerns. And I reveled in Emmeline's constant support and unwavering faith.

I don't know yet what happens to Ebenezer Stevens, if he gets his raise or not. And I don't know what will unfold in my own life. But I am sure staying tuned. It's bound to make a good story!

Monday, July 06, 2009

Why Did You Change the Sign?!?

I'm embarrassed. Ashamed. Mortified. At myself. Now it's kind of funny. In a ridiculous way.

I hit my last straw tonight at the deli counter of my local grocery store. I ordered some provolone cheese--partly because I love provolone, but mostly because it was the cheapest cheese there. Then when the guy rang it up on the computer, it came to $1 more a pound than the sign said. I asked him about it, but he didn't speak much English and I couldn't really explain the problem. I figured I would just ask the cashier. Well the cashier tried calling the deli, but they never answered, and then she turned off her lane, walked back to the deli, and brought me back the sign, which had been changed in my absence to match the computer.

What was I to do? I paid for the cheese, and then, feeling a bit "taken" and having had a most frustrating day and week, I went back to the deli counter and actually asked the guy why he changed the sign. I felt like in all the uncontrollable problems rolling around in my life, this was something I could stand up for--that I could fix. He, unfortunately--or rather, maybe fortunately, now that I think about it, had no answer. I walked home with my tail between my legs, knowing full well how completely ridiculous I looked. And sounded. Even to myself.

Why did you change the sign?

It's been one of those days--where I found out I may not have a fellowship in the fall, which means I do not have any idea where or how I will provide for myself, or how I'll fund my dissertation until I can get a dissertation fellowship, which I can't do until I advance to candidacy, which I can't do until I finish my last minor field exam, which I can't do until I take another week off work to take it.

Which contributes to my very very very low last paycheck, which contributes to my minor melt down at the deli counter. Why did you change the sign, I ask?

Let me make this clear. I know everything will work out. It always does. I know that. I'm 100% sure of it. But add this onto some family stress and some social meltdowns at the midsingles conference this weekend, and having put all of my energy into last week's minor field exam, and being very very tired, and it's all sort of a chain reaction. I don't remember signing up for this? WHY DID YOU CHANGE THE SIGN?!?

And now is where I wait. Patiently. Humbly. Because every time the sign gets changed, something else turns up. Something happens. It always does. Where a door closes, a window opens. A new, unheard-of opportunity. A different intersection. A previously unavailable possibility. Who knows what lies ahead? I can think of a couple of different directions I wish that would be, but somehow I'm reminded that there is a grand plan, much higher and grander than a silly little graduate fellowship or the comfortable little life I've created for myself. Who knows?!?

And I'll tell you what. That slice of provolone cheese tasted mighty fine on my turkey burger. Even if it did cost a little bit more than I anticipated.