Friday, October 25, 2013

A few choice things.

So, it turns out that one of my roommates, along with being the head student honcho in the marine biology department at BYU-H and an expert in jellyfish, is an amateur acupuncturist.

Being an amateur acupuncturist is like being a first year airline pilot: no one in the plane wants to know this is your first time.   However, in a moment of charity, she offered to 'open the gates' of my other roommate who was having back problems.  Gates were opened, needles were stuck, no serious blood was drawn, and I was educated about the basic theories of acupuncture.   All of us went to bed considering the night a success.

Earlier in the evening, while talking on the phone, I happened to stumble across some neighbors engaged in what appeared to be a typical family activity.  Because I was on the phone, I didn't have my camera handy, but I'll post a video that looks similar to what I saw.  The children performing stood on the street and the grass separating the street from the sidewalk.  No one holding the flaming torch of death appeared to be over twelve years old.  Watch just a minute or two and you'll get the idea.

So, like this guy, just a deacon / beehive. The thing where they hold the fire in their hand to light the other end of the torch is real.  I have NO idea how it works, but it essentially took over my entire phone conversation.  "FREAK!  He's spinning it behind his head!  Ohmygosh, now between his legs and...and...what the heck!  He just picked up the fire and put it on the other end of the stick!" etc.   Meanwhile, while I'm frantically whispering the ESPN play-by-play into the phone, the rest of the extended family is standing casually by, having conversation, looking fairly non-plussed.  Imagine a gathering of people sitting on the porch watching the children play hopscotch.  If hopscotch involved an enormous, spinning, kerosene-doused torch, that is.

This place never fails to astonish and amaze.  Even sleepy La'ie, with it's five restaurants, one elementary school, two hair salons and a dusty Ace hardware, is prone to surprising moments of beauty and strangeness.  A gulp of exotic air, reminding me of where I am.

In other news, the stars were perfect tonight, I read Matthew 18 at the beach this morning and considered the debt I owed to God and therefore the forgiveness and patience I needed to show to other people, and Ben is flying out to visit tomorrow.  Should be a smashing weekend.

love and aloha.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Sweatiness, Repentance, and the Defamiliarization of Art

I am writing this from the top bunk in my tiled, white room in La'ie, Hawaii.  It is sweltering, probably 90 degrees with a press of humidity that would moisten even the Southernmost belle.  My roommate and I are both lying very still on our beds, positioning ourselves strategically under the ceiling fan and trying to type without our wrists sweating on the keyboards.

Lest you get the wrong impression about Hawaii, though, let me tell you.  Hawaii is a place where even the bad is good.  For instance, it's hot inside, but two blocks away a tree bends over the sidewalk with the weight of enormous grey- scaled fruit with white fleshy insides.  The fruit drop onto the concrete and rot there; I step over them on my way to the library.  I have no idea what kind of fruit it is, but I am thoroughly convinced that if it takes 90 percent humidity to create a climate in which basketball-sized fruit spontaneously grow and fall, then I'll take sweating any day.  It is a stinkin' rainforest out there, writhing with life and growth and rotting.  

I could write all night about the ocean, the beaches, the palm trees, the volcanic rock, the mountains, but let's not waste your time.  Instead, just type "Hawaii" into Google Image search and spend five minutes scrolling through the pictures.  While you do, let me tell you the secret, folks: 
It's all true.
Everything you're looking at is real.  Even the big guys in the lava-lavas and the ukeleles on the beach and the bright orange sunsets that looked photoshopped. 

 Every good thing you've heard about Hawaii is true.

I'll let that sink in for a minute.

Ok, now that that's out of the way, here's five minutes of lifethought.

On Friday I woke up earlyish and went for a run.  It was rainy and cool and I ran along a small paved path next to the Kamehameha Highway, which runs (mostly) around the perimeter of Oahu.  La'ie is very remote, so within minutes I was in farmland, looking out to some impressive windmills on the horizon looking like a gently revolving beacon from a Mihizaki film.  I ran until I found a state park and jogged in (another magical thing about Hawaii, state parks and beaches are ALL FREE) to the beautiful woods-meets-shrubs-meets-sand area that is common on this part of the island.  I ditched shoes, phone, keys and shirt and went for a quick swim in the blue surf before jogging back home along the beach.

As I ran home, dripping with sweat, tropical rain, and saltwater, I thought:
This could be the happiest day of my life.
 30 minutes later, I felt the same way.  I went home to eat a bowl of oatmeal with raisins, honey and banana and read my scriptures.  When I ate, I tasted the sweat on my lips because I had rubbed them with the back of one arm while running.  The small toe on my left foot had a blister because I had put my sandy feet barefoot into my shoes to run home, and the grit worked up a small hotspot on my toe.  I was puzzled that this was all it took to send me careening into euphoria: a good run,  sweat, tasty breakfast, a moment with God, a small blister.  

Two of my favorite people and life mentors, named Eve and Lori, view life this way.  They see joy in tiny, tiny things: plants pushing up through the snow in the spring.  A beautiful Hopkins poem.  A pink sash on a cream-colored dress.  Someone else's talent.  Because they look for it, they experience more and more catalysts for joy.  It's like God gives them their life back, every day.  And every day, it's new and surprising and beautiful.

In his oddly brilliant essay "Art as Technique," Viktor Schklovsky discusses how art gives us this chance to experience the ordinary over and over again, with new wonder and perspective.  Without art (and I argue nature, especially nature that is unfamiliar) everything quickly becomes routine, or "habitualized."  There is no need for us to listen and really EXPERIENCE when we seek only for economy.

And this is where art, and, I argue, faith, comes in.  Of this Schklovsky writes:
"Habitualization devours work, clothes, furniture, one's wife, and the fear of war. "If the whole complex lives of many people go on unconsciously, then such lives are as if they had never been." And art exists that one may recover the sensation of life; it exists to make one feel things, to make the stone stony. The purpose of art is to impart the sensation of things as they are perceived and not as they are known. The technique of art is to make objects "unfamiliar," to make forms difficult, to increase the difficulty and length of perception because the process of perception is an aesthetic end in itself and must be prolonged. Art is a way of experiencing the artfulness of an object: the object is not important..."

Faith, like art, allows us to have fresh experiences with the same world. Under the entry "Repentance' in the LDS Bible Dictionary, one reads, "The Greek word of which this is the translation denotes a change of mind, a fresh view about God, about oneself, and about the world." Repentance acts as art does by allowing us to recognize our own growth, and therefore, our change in understanding of the world. This became real to me this week as a friend forgave me for something I had done to hurt him, and as a result, my resolve to be a better friend increased and I gained new insight into my current friendships. The old friendships sharpened and gained clearer focus. In this way, faith and repentance (and, ultimately, the Atonement of Jesus Christ) allows us to re-experience the past and look to the future in a fresh way. We become "new creatures in Christ" and the world tastes differently.

I believe that change is possible.  I believe that we can "defamiliarize" our spiritual and physical selves.  This week, stretch.  Prolonge.  Struggle.  Feel the roughness of it.  Notice your own change.  Be grateful. Allow yourself to be an active participant in life, whether it is good or bad.  I'm lucky enough to be naturally defamiliarized by a new surrounding, but that too can become frighteningly habitual. (For instance, I now text on the bus around the island instead of shamelessly gawking out the window like the tourist I am.)  Let the day be new today.  God will give it back to us.

Love, Aloha, and until next time,


Thursday, September 26, 2013


In my faith, we believe that after we die, our bodies will be taken up again, perfected, reclaimed, and reunited with our spirits.  Every scar and blemish will be gone, every chipped tooth replaced.  We’ll even be the perfect age, whatever that means.  (I think I reached my optimum body type at age 9.)  Our bodies will be restored, glorious and bright.

I’d like to think that this is a resurrection of the Monster Nocturnes, but I’m afraid it’s more like a séance or an exhuming: I’ve dug the body up and I’m slapping some rouge on its cheeks to fool the next guy who walks by.  But ta-DA!  Here it is, at the request of a few encouraging friends, three years after its burial.

 The Monster Nocturnes: Episode Hawaii.

A friend of mine recently accused me of pulling a Bilbo Baggins and disappearing on this next adventure without telling anyone, and lest he be entirely correct, here’s the skinny: I’m headed to the islands  for the next two and a half months to study the stories of the early female converts to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  I’ll be living on the North Shore of Oahu, close to BYU’s Hawaii campus.  Along with the academic reasons, I’m also going in anticipation of healing and growing.  I’m going in order to be lonely for a while, and be okay with being lonely.  I’m definitely going for the mangos, and the ocean, and the surfing, and the good friends I have on the islands.  And I’ve committed to try and share at least a little with all you folks out there on the interwebs.

Get excited for the hibiscus, sand, rad pioneer stories and blurry ocean selfies to come!  Aloha!