Saturday, August 30, 2008

Of Jibblies, Nibblies, and Clanks in the Knight

From ghoulies and ghosties

And long-leggedy beasties

And things that go bump in the night,

Good Lord, deliver us!
~Scottish Prayer

Seeing as how I am about one-quarter Scottish, I chose to take a wee bit of inspiration from the famous Scottish Prayer (above), and talk of Jibblies and Nibblies, and playlists and blogspots, and things that go Clank in the Knight. Jibblies (Em's invented word), as you are aware, are sort of like having the "heebie-jeebies"; Nibblies are cute little nibbling creatures or tiny bursts of blog comments; and Clanks in the Knight are what happens to Don Quixote, aka Niggle or Zaphod, now that he has hemochromatosis. Instead of tilting at windmills, our Knight in rusting armor tilts at (or away from) 14 gauge needles.

(To Be Continued)

Monday, August 25, 2008

Storm Clouds on the Horizon

Yesterday at Church, the Bishop (you-know-who) had some words of advice for a young departing missionary from our ward. This was after the counselor in the bishopric, Brother Dye, [on the right in the photo] had talked about the opposition that the young Elder was sure to encounter on his mission. Brother Dye talked about how the Adversary has and will attempt to scare or intimidate and dissuade those who intend to preach the gospel or do good in the name of the Lord. Brother Dye said that the appearance of opposition is evidence or a sign that we are indeed doing the Lord’s work, and that what we are doing poses a threat to Satan. So then the Bishop gave the following advice (as I remember it). He said that Elder Carr would not fail in his mission if he kept the mission rules; and for the congregation that this translated into keeping the commandments. The reason why this is important, he said, is as long as any of us are doing our best to do what is right so that we can have the companionship of the Holy Ghost, we will not be deceived or derailed. If we have the Holy Ghost, we will be guided and protected, even as Satan rages at us and all around us.
Well, I confess to being easily frightened and that I tend to go out of my way to avoid conflict in any and all circumstances. I am not proud of my cowardliness. I recognize it as a terrible moral weakness. I admire people who serenely stand up for what is right in the face of hatred and hostility. How do they do that? I begin shaking in my boots and want to run away or cry or die of fright and embarrassment.

Anyway it was a great sacrament meeting. I felt inspired and encouraged to not cower when the going gets tough, as it undoubtedly—and increasingly— will as Satan rages in the hearts of men all around the world. Perhaps I can have faith that the Lord will go before my face, and will be on my right hand and on my left, and angels round about to bear me up, with the Spirit in my heart. (D&C 84:88.)

I was also heartened by Michael Medved’s response to a Mormon-hater who phoned into Michael’s radio program last week. (I emailed several of you a link to hear the conversation, but if you missed it, it’s on YouTube.) This ex-Mormon guy phoned in to say that the Mormon’s were conspiring to “take over the government” and that if they succeeded they would round up all the FLDS people and “exterminate” them. What’s scary about him saying such outrageous fear-mongering things is that there are ignorant people out there who actually believe that. It’s these ignorant ones who strike terror in my heart. They act on their fears and prejudices and blow-up chapels. But, I loved Michael’s perceptive and pointed response, he said the man’s statements were not just “odd,” they were “slanderous and untrue.” Michael went on to laud the Church for their “conspiracy” to do good, to promote traditional morality and marriage, etc. Bravo!

Nevertheless, I still cringe when I hear rumors that McCain might choose Mitt Romney as his VP. I think that if he does so, “all Hell will break loose” and the target will be the Church. It will be much worse than what happened when Romney was running for President. It could get really ugly. But, according to the Bishop, my job is to keep the commandments and make sure that I have the Holy Ghost. I really like having angels bear me up. Perhaps the time will come when my eyes, too, will be opened and I will see, like Elisha did, the “mountain full of horses and chariots of fire round about,” for they that be with us truly are more than they that be with them.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

To Be Smarter than God: Eve's Sinful Wish?

In “Paradise Lost,” John Milton suggests that when Satan tempted Eve with the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, that Eve’s motive—rather than the mere act of eating the fruit—her motive was the real sin. Milton portrays Eve’s sinful motive as not just that she wanted knowledge and wisdom (which are good things), but that she greedily wanted to be as smart as God . . . or, perhaps even better, to be smarter than God . . . or, maybe best of all, to be God . . . to supplant or replace God. The scriptural account shows that Satan did tempt Eve with, “ye shall be as gods (see Genesis 3:5, Moses 4:11); the account in 2 Nephi 2:18 says, “ye shall be as God.” And that was how Satan tricked Eve into eating the fruit, by suggesting that she could become a god (or The God) with as simple an act as eating fruit: “For a quick and effortless route to godhood, eat this.”

It has been a few years since I read “Paradise Lost,” but even now I cannot revisit—either in the scriptures or in the temple—the account of Eve’s temptation without remembering Milton’s characterization of Eve. However, for my part, I believe that Eve’s motives were innocent because while living in the garden, she was still in a state of innocence. The reason I think about what Milton said is because sometimes I seem to be the one guilty of thinking that I am smarter than God.

Usually in retrospect, I discern that I have argued with the Spirit, saying “I don’t want to do that” when the Spirit prompted me to do a particular thing—usually a hard thing. And then I further hardened my heart against the prompting with a determination to do what I wanted to do instead, which is a path that I think is smarter or less difficult or more attractive or better just because I thought of it (and this is pleasing to my self-image as a highly intelligent person). Smarter than God? Right.

Eventually, after trying to do things my way, I discover that I am actually dumber than dirt because dirt actually obeys when God commands. And the Spirit always knows better than I do what I should do. Yes, we are to study things out in our minds—but as a first step, not as the only step. After thinking up my plan and deciding what I am going to do, the Spirit almost always suggests a better plan. Gently suggests. Does not force. “Here is an idea . . .” the Spirit whispers. “I don’t want to do that!” I say, slamming the door shut on the Spirit.

By acting like I think I am smarter than God, I am also supplanting or replacing God in my life. When God is replaced by a prideful intellect, intellect becomes my God. My intellect becomes my God. Therefore, I am my own God.

Some of the saddest words in the scriptures are these: “the Spirit of the Lord hath already ceased to strive with [them]; and they are without Christ and God in the world; and they are driven about as chaff before the wind” (Mormon 5:16). ‘Without Christ and God in the world’—by choice we cast ourselves out of the Garden.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

The Mozart Effect, Sendak, and Dara

In Tammy Grimes’ recording of Maurice Sendak’s children’s books—Kenny’s Window, Higgledy Piggledy Pop, Very Far Away, Where the Wild Things Are, Alligators All Around, etc.— Mozart’s piano sonatas were the background music. So, I cannot hear Mozart’s Piano Sonata 11 without also “hearing” Tammy Grimes’ distinctive voice and expressive renderings of these stories. I also “hear” and “see” Dara reciting these Sendak stories in a remarkable impersonation of Grimes’ inflections and style. Dara essentially unconsciously memorized the books through repeatedly listening to them from her infancy. This turned out to be to her great advantage in a children’s theater class in college, where she performed several of the pieces. She can still, at the drop of a hat, launch into any Sendak story.

Certain studies have suggested that listening to complex classical music—such as found in Mozart’s piano concertos—can produce “the Mozart effect” which entails enhanced mental clarity and mental performance. Classical music stimulates the left and right hemispheres of the brain simultaneously. This effectual double whammy boosts learning and information intake, therefore augmenting cognitive skills. Learning may be increased at least fivefold. The power of the music to do this may, in part, explain Dara’s facility with memorizing Sendak’s stories, because the music and the stories were so intertwined.

I personally found, during the time that I was a BYU student required to write 8- to 10-page essays on a regular basis, that listening to classical music while I was composing my latest paper would put me “in the zone.” My thoughts flowed effortlessly. I was unaware of time passing. And I invariably got an A. I was (and still am) convinced that listening to classical music (of the right sort) is a potent elixir for the brain.

If your sound is on as you read this, Mozart's Piano Sonata 11 is at the top of my music playlist. I am also enjoying listening to it for an additional reason (besides the fact that it is making us all smarter), I have missed the sound of live piano music emanating from my living room for the past year (since Dara and my piano moved away). She liked to play Mozart.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Voice of the Soul (continued): Self-Pitying Music

I think there can be little argument but that music evokes feelings. It can make us feel happy, sad, courageous, fearful, reverent, boisterous—you name it. The whole purpose of background music is to put us in the proper mood. The music we like also says something about our personality or at least about our mood at any given time—for example, that we are romantic or sentimental, playful or serious.

So, what, exactly, is “self-pitying music”? Arthur Henry King (a very opinionated brilliant scholar who is deceased) had plenty to say on the topic of self-pity. King condemned self-pity in literature and in music and in people:

“Self-pity is never constructive. Self-pity is a morbid disease; it is a kind of self-indulgence instead of repentance. Self-pity is always a weakness, never a strength.”

“Self-pity is the dominant feeling of most modern literature in most countries. It is one of the greatest vices of our time. It is a very natural thing to have if one doesn’t believe in God. What a pitiable universe it is if there is no God! No wonder that self-pity thrives.” Referring to the writings of Beaudelaire, Hemingway, Fitzgerald, and Faulkner, as examples, he said: “Self-pity is the insidious side of a demonic, satanic generation ….”

Wow. That is rather harsh (as they say).

King continues: “There is very little music since the beginning of our 19th century which is not vitiated by what vitiates the whole of our society: self-pity, self-regard, self-esteem.” To vitiate means to destroy or weaken. And, incidentally, it is pronounced VISH-ee-ate not VIT-ee-ate. [Illustration is Picasso's Weeping Woman.]

Once we grasp the concept of self-pitying music, it is easy to find examples in country-western music and popular ballads. Interestingly, AHK does not give blanket approval to classical music either, as one might expect. He criticizes the music of Beethoven and Tchaikowski as self-pitying. The power of such music on me is illustrated by the following experience.

My attention was grabbed one day by a song that Jeremy was playing on his laptop computer. I vaguely recalled that I had heard this song a few years earlier. It was particularly heart-wrenching. I seemed to remember that it was part of a sound track for a tear-jerker movie which I had seen, although I couldn’t remember which one. I began wracking my brain to remember where I’d heard it before and while doing so, I became obsessed with the song. I actually wanted to keep listening to it so that I could feel sad, bereft, and wretched. It made me want to weep. Eventually, however, I began to feel somewhat tainted or soiled, manipulated or used, and that I needed to wash my heart and soul of the self-absorbed, self-indulgent self-pity that the song generated. Not to mention the nightmare of having this song stuck in my mind. It was going around in my head all night long, and all day long. Endlessly. It was then that I connected Arthur Henry King’s remarks on self-pity to the feelings created by that song

Of course, I remembered all of this while working on my playlist (see August 18 blog entry) and finding myself feeling blue. Hopefully, now I will be vigilant against self-pity of any kind in these blogs. Navel-gazing is so unlovely.

(Exception to the rule: Navel-gazing that IS cute.)

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

In God's Flower Garden

To celebrate my recent birthday, my neighbor, C.F., wanted to take me to lunch or to the annual quilt show at the Springville Art Museum. C.F. really enjoys “doing lunch” and all manner of “lady” sorts of things. You would like her. Everyone does. Our first lunch date was at The Brick Oven in Provo. Our most recent lunch date was at Mimi’s in Orem to celebrate my mother’s 86th birthday in May. C.F. is a delightfully companionable table mate.

When she phoned the other day to arrange another “ladies'” event with me, I tried to let her down gently as I declined. She did not understand. She sounded irritated. So, I tried to explain my lifelong social anxieties and my recent decision to do myself a kindness and stop trying to please everyone to my own detriment and discomfort. In the end, she exasperatedly gave up on me.

In God’s flower garden, C.F. is a rose—a flower for all seasons and all climes, universally admired and cultivated. God’s flower garden, however, has an infinite variety of flowers. In God’s flower garden, I may be a lesser blossom, but I am grateful that there is room in His garden for one like me. He not only prepares a place for me, He values me for who I am (a “shrinking violet” ), and for what I—even I—contribute to His garden.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Prelude: Voice of the Soul

I spent several hours yesterday working on trying to add my music playlist into my blog—several hours because I am technologically-challenged. In the end, after more than a few frustrating tries, I gave up. It was midnight when I finally crawled into bed. Fortunately, I have a tech-savvy daughter. She came over this sunny day and did the paste job for me in less than thirty seconds. Thanks Dara!

Listening to this music as I have worked on the computer today has put me into a somewhat melancholy mood. As I began pondering which weighty topic I wanted to expound on first, the music sent my thoughts to the plight of motherless children, among an assortment of sad topics. Realizing that the music had fostered my melancholia, I wondered if some of these selections might be classified as just a tiny bit too “self-pitying” in tone . . . ?
[NOTE: Neither Bach's nor Yo-yo Ma's music is ever self-pitying!]

(To be continued . . . .)

Sunday, August 17, 2008

On Going Unnoticed

Besides loving the delicate Trillium for its simple, elegant beauty and its impeccable vernal timing, I love Trilliums because they “linger their little hour and then are gone, while the woods still sweep leafily on.” This quote, of course, is from of a line from Robert Frost’s poem, “On Going Unnoticed.”

On Going Unnoticed
by Robert Frost

As vain to raise a voice as a sigh
In the tumult of free leaves on high.
What are you in the shadow of trees
Engaged up there with the light and breeze?

Less than the coral-root you know
That is content with the daylight low,
And has no leaves at all of its own;
Whose spotted flowers hang meanly down.

You grasp the bark by a rugged pleat,
And look up small from the forest’s feet.
The only leaf it drops goes wide,
Your name not written on either side.

You linger your little hour and are gone,
And still the woods sweep leafily on,
Not even missing the coral-root flower
You took as a trophy of the hour.
When I was younger, I viewed Frost’s poem as a metaphor for my life. You see, I constantly found myself in the company of self-proclaimed intellectuals ("trees"), who always had something profound or pithy, or just opinionated, to say on just about any topic ("engaged up there with the light and breeze"), while I, on the other hand, was natively a little too reticent (having "no leaves" and only "mean spotted flowers") for my own good. As a consequence, it often appeared to me that it was “as vain to raise a voice as a sigh,” and therefore, I usually went “unnoticed” in the “shadow of trees.” In some ways I was “content with the daylight low” – being overshadowed and overlooked by others. However, at other times, I wanted to “grasp the bark” to get someone’s attention. But when I did, usually “the only leaf” that dropped (the only response) "went wide" (they completely missed my point). My name "not written on either side" of the dropped leaf was a not so subtle reminder that I was not only nameless, but nearly non-existent ("less than the coral-root") in their world.