Friday, September 30, 2016

In which I realize that I am actually part Slytherin. Or Spartan.

Once upon a time in a land not too far away, Megan was a cute little twelve-year-old with huge glasses, braces, and an obsession with ancient Greece. This obsession was enabled by the fact that her 6th-grade class was studying ancient Greece, and her teacher had divided their class up into "polises." 

Megan was sure that she would be assigned into Athens. I mean, she was pretty Athenian down to her core, right? Loved the arts, loved literature, loved winning debates . . . Athens must be her polis. 

But nope. She got Sparta. 

Which made no sense to her. Sparta was the athletic polis. They were the warriors. 

Whenever Megan played soccer, she always got kicked in the face. She was the second-slowest runner in her class. So she generally stayed away from sports and would swing on the swingset, or make up imagination games with her friends. 

But here she was. In Sparta. 

But what Megan soon discovered while in Sparta was that her thirst for competiton was just as fierce as any Spartan's. 

And there was a rule, written right in the "We are Sparta!" worksheet, saying that they, as Spartans, could do whatever it took to win. Whatever. They could beg, steal, borrow, or barter (or lie, or bribe, or whatever) to win. But particularly to beat Athens. 

You shouldn't tell that to twelve year olds. Particularly to usually-demure twelve year olds. Because when you do, the floodgates break loose, and drama always ensues. 

Well, my Spartan mentality came back to me Monday night during our ward Family Home Evening activity. 

[Quick aside: Basically, for those unfamiliar with Mormon terminology, a ward is a congregation of Mormons. Like, a mob of ravens, a dazzle of zebras, a ward of Mormons. Family Home Evening is a Mormon tradition where you spend Monday night doing activities with your family. For a Young Single Adult ward, Family Home Evening can be any number of permutations. Usually they involve doing silly things or playing sports. And they always involve food.]

Anyway, this Monday we had a road rally/scavenger hunt. You had thirty minutes to do/find and photograph or video yourself and those in your group doing a bunch of random things. They could be anything from finding a Utah state quarter to making a half-court shot blindfolded. 

My roommates and I were really skeptical and didn't think it would be very fun, but then our competitive natures came out. And we had a little bit too much fun. 

Here's some proof: 

[My head is cut off. But we managed to do this human pyramid.]

[Becky just happened to have a sewing mannequin? Weird. So Jessica gladly posed next to it.]


[Yoga poses.]

We were running around our apartment and the apartment complex trying to get as many things done on the list as possible. One of the girls jumped in the pool. We also took a super awkward picture of Marcus giving me a piggyback ride. Basically, we are crazy. 

And we found anyway to bend the rules to make it work. Or more like, make what we were doing fit inside the rules. Like how Becky wrote "For Sale" and held it up for me to take a picture to say that we had a picture of us with a "For Sale" sign. (Hey. It works.) 

We also attempted that half-court shot. And by we attempted, I mean that we asked the teenagers who were playing basketball to make a half-court shot for us. (Hey, there was nothing that said we had to make the shot ourselves. Just that we had to have a video of someone making the shot.) And the kid made the shot! And it was on video! And we knew that we had most likely won, because, dude, that was worth 500 points! 

[Also, as an aside, one of the items on the scavenger hunt was, "Get an autograph from a stranger." So Becky had the kid who made the shot autograph her hand, because that's all we had. And he signed it "Young-sexy." So this is where we are in America today.] 

We zoomed over to the church building to get there on time, added up our points, gloated that we had made a half-court shot, and were generally congratulating ourselves on winning. #teamwinning for the win. Per usual. 

We looked like Slytherin about to win the House Cup. 

And I say that literally. And that "about" is important. 

Because when the moment of truth came, and we were announced the winners, the judges of course asked to see the video of the half-court shot. 

And we couldn't find it. 

We accidentally deleted it. 

And so the House Cup was taken away from Slytherin and given to a bunch of boisterous Gryffindors. 

I never identified so much with Draco Malfoy as I did in that moment. 

Another team did vouch for us and say that the kid had made the shot, but it was too late. Dumbledore had already given Neville Longbottom those 10 extra points and it was over. 

Well, it was fun while it lasted. 

For all my Ravenclaw-ness, I guess there's a little bit of Slytherin (and Sparta) in me after all. 

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Bragging Rights

Just feeling a lot-bit proud of my newest alma mater today:

"Oxford ranked first among global universities."

#1 never looked so good.

Autumnal Glory

Fall Coming in Like Three Sisters II, by Brian Kershisknik /via/

I just think this painting is so graceful. And that it captures the beauty of the changing of the seasons. Like there's something mythical about the transition.

Anyway. Just some of my favorite art from my favorite Mormon artist to brighten your day.

Happy Autumn.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

in rooms unfamiliar

what i've been listening to lately:

iron and wine.
sara barellies.
jump little children.

if my life were a sitcom
then one of the recurring motifs
would be my issues
with opening the parking garage gate.
i have never ONCE done it gracefully.
not once.

so that would be the motif.
but a full episode would be the day
that megan locked her keys in the car.
did that happen?
did that happen today?
ummm, maybe?
i'm really winning at this whole adulting game.


i have all these things that i thought i would say
it was going to be clever or eloquent or something.
but the words aren't coming.
but i guess i'll say this.
mount olympus is strikingly beautiful.
it is just simply stunning.
it takes me aback every time i see it.
for as unexpected as these two weeks have been
and as much as my life
looks more and more like a mormon sitcom
there are those granite giants
that ground me
and elevate me
and remind me
that God is good
and the desert, hills, vales, and mountains still sing
carry on.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Aaron Burr, sir.

On the train from Tallinn to St. Petersburg, I checked my Facebook feed and saw that my friend Rebekah was doing an all-call for anyone interested in going to the Leslie Odom, Jr. concert at BYU. (For those who don't know who Leslie Odom, Jr. is, he plays Aaron Burr in the Broadway smash-hit Hamilton. If you don't know what Hamilton is, or if you haven't listened to it yet, you really should. It is

As soon as I saw that she wanted to get a group together, I was already on board. Unfortunately, like I said, I was also on board an old Soviet train to St. Petersburg. So doing money transactions on that train? Mmm, not likely. I sent her a message, asking if it wasn't too late, if she could get a ticket for me. 

It wasn't too late, and she graciously did. 

So, last Saturday, Rebekah, Jessica, and I went to the de Jong Concert Hall to listen to the original, inimitable Leslie Odom, Jr. 

And he was PHENOMENAL. 

[Waiting for it.]

[That was the queue to meet him. I'm pretty sure it was three hours long. Didn't have time for it, unfortunately.]

[The man himself.] 

Montage of me trying to fangirl. I obviously need more practice. 

[Talk less, smile more.]

[Singing along with him.]

[Soooo cloooooose] 

[My favorite shot of the night. Rebekah is smitten, Jessica is perturbed, and I am crazy.]

In other news, I had a lunch date with the divine Miss Em in itty bitty Salt Lake City today. Those need to happen more often. She brings the sunshine with her. ALSO OUR FAVORITE UKRAINIAN CHOCOLATES ARE AT CITY CREEK. So, that calls for major celebrations. 

[I can't take selfies. What kind of Millenial am I? ahhhhhh.]

Thanks, Em, for being a most-important character in the Mormon sitcom that is my life. (But really. This week has been sitcom material. Ten times over. The cherry on top was getting my parking lever stuck after the parking garage gate had been opened for me. So, you know, there was a line of at least 5 cars backed up behind me. Erp. Sorry guys. I'm a dork.) 

But, I'm liking my new glasses. 

Looking for a mind at work. 

Saturday, September 3, 2016

My City of Dreaming Spires

It's amazing the difference a year can make. A year ago, I was sitting on my living room floor, wondering what the next year would bring. Would I like Oxford? Would I make friends? Did I make the right choice?

Now, looking back, it's hard to believe that there ever was another choice. This year of Oxford was made for me, and I was made for it. It was challenging. But it was golden.

And I am oh-so-grateful for the opportunity I had to study there. To live there. To love there and cry there and just be there. So, so grateful.

I've decided to include a personal essay that I wrote one of the main lessons I learned while at Oxford. If anything, I hope it will capture some of the wonder of the city, the necessity of growing pains, and the beauty of choosing to belong.

Oxford is a city of tales. From Dorthoy Sayers to Philip Pullman, great thinkers and storytellers have drawn on the conversation and atmosphere of Oxford to create wonder and inspire inquiry. There must be something in the Cherwell water, some river spirit that breathes imagination into poets, novelists, artists, and even professors.

Sooner or later, Oxford becomes a part of everyone's story.

When it comes down to it, I suppose the main reason I went to Oxford is because I wanted to make Oxford a part of my story. I applied for graduate work at Oxford because I thought it would challenge me and give me tools and opportunities to become a better scholar . . . but I ultimately came because it is what my heart wanted. I yearned for these yawning, century-old buildings and cobblestone streets to become my own; I wanted to lose myself in the bookshelves of the Bodleian; I hoped to fulfill all of my wildest Hogwarts dreams by simply stepping into the Corpus Christi dining hall. Oxford was my idea of heaven, with history, books, and endless possibilities for learning and growth at my fingertips.

I soon found that heaven can be overrated.

After the initial wonder of arriving in Oxford ("Look at these gardens! Listen to those bells! Feel that English rain!"), real life knocked at my door and, without asking permission, settled in. My course was challenging and I worried that I would not have the amount of time I would like for adventuring or exploring. I ached for my close relationships back home. That English rain continued to pour and painted everything grey and gloomy.

The bright, shiny pin of reality burst my ambitions. There was no possible way I could do everything that I wanted to do--rowing happened the same time as that club's opening social, which was on the opposite side of town from the lecture I needed to attend, and I hadn't even started on the readings. All the same, as an incorrigible overachiever, I still attempted to do everything, afraid to miss out on Instagram moments, afraid that missing out on opportunities meant that I would not have that "perfect" Oxford experience I dreamed of having.

One night after a formal hall, I was struck with a sense of world-weariness. It frightened me because I had not expected to feel so empty at the place of my dreams. As I walked along Magdalen Bridge, it dawned on me that I was experiencing something that I had only read about in books. I was feeling the pangs of poshlost', an untranslatable Russian term best described when someone aims for "the falsely important, the falsely beautiful, the falsely clever, the falsely attractive" (V. Nabokov).

I had analyzed Russian literary characters who had wasted their lives because of poshlost', and now I analyzed its effects in myself. I was trying too hard to be everything to everyone, which left me feeling superficial, stretched, and selfish. If I could not change my outlook, I could see my graduate experience at Oxford leaving me hollow and disillusioned. The prospect scared me.

However, being able to name that fear empowered me. It allowed me to take control of the situation. That night was a crossroads for me as I assessed what I honestly wanted out of my Oxford experience. I was chasing the phantom of a dream--a "perfect" Oxford experience that didn't exist--instead of simply breathing the night air, enjoying the intellectual struggle, and engaging myself in the relationships around me. I did not want the "falsely beautiful" in my life; I did not want a social media saga. I wanted to engage myself in what mattered most--relationships and growth, both as a scholar and as an individual.

I did not have to go to every single networking event, extemporaneous seminar, or fancy dinner. The perfect did not have to become an enemy of the good. Opportunities would come and go, but missing out on one or two (or even a couple hundred) did not mean missing out on my Oxford dreams. I had to choose what was most important to me, and then fully immerse myself in those experiences and friendships, meeting the good and the bad with determination and grace.

Perhaps the most important lesson I have learned here is that life at Oxford is just that: life. There are challenges, including tears, loneliness, long nights in the library, and blisters from cobblestoned streets. There are regrets. There are events I wish I could have atteneded and people I wish I could have become better friends with.

My Oxford experience has been far from perfect. But it has been very good. Oxford has become mine . . . but not in the way I expected. To be honest, I was expecting perfection--a glorified version of all of my favorite Oxford stories rolled into one. The reality is much better than the dream, because it is something I can hold, critcize, and ultimately love, not just idealize.

At the same time, Oxford can never completely be mine, just as I will never completely belong to Oxford. Oxford has lived so many lives, and there are so many lives in Oxford. So many times and seasons are lost to me; there are evensongs and brunches I never attended; societies I never joined; different colleges I never properly visited. Those parts of Oxford belong to someone else's city of dreaming spires.

But for me, my Oxford consists of library epiphanies, Merton Street in morning glow, Magdalen Bridge by moonlight, jogging in Port Meadow, and a hearty dose of friendship. It is not everything, but it is more than enough to be a part of my story, to soak into my skin and fill my soul.

Learning to Let Go (A Tribute to My Messenger Bag)

09 August 2016 

Dear Pavel (my messanger bag from Ukraine), 

Well, it's been a good run. Four years, three months, two weeks, and three days of a good run, to be exact. 

I remember the first time I saw you. I was a bright-eyed, bushy-tailed, naive young missionary, just a week into Ukraine. 

In my naivety, I thought that I could "get by" with my hands and a small, simple beaded bag I had brought with me. My trainer soon helped me see the error of my ways. 

[Young missionary and my wise trainer.]

She took a look at my beaded bag and then a long look at me as I tried to stuff pamphlets in it. 

"You're going to need a lot more space," she said. 

And she was right. 

So on a warm Monday in late April, we went inside a nondescript shop on Lenin Prospekt in the city we lived in. Inside was dingy, dark, and smoke- and body-odor filled, but the shop was semi-organized. Shoes, belts, and bags filled the store. 

My trainer handled the talking while I looked around for a bag I wanted. I saw you out of the corner of my eye and I knew. So when Sister Hudson asked me which one I wanted, I pointed to you. 

"That one. That one up high." 

To be honest, you initally caught my eye because you were an attractive messenger bag. 

But what won my heart was your character, which was branded boldly on your side: 

"Polo Qisi," I read. "Valued. Simple. Decent. Fashional. Classical. Humanistic." 

[No one is as humanistic as you.]

I still haven't a clue what you meant by those words.

But you had me at humanistic.

[Doing humanistic service with my humanistic bag.]

You were an excellent mission bag. You carried pamphlets, copies of the Book of Mormon, a Russian Bible, photos from home, my "Masha and the Bear" wallet, and often an apple or two without complaining. 

You saw me through thick and thin. You came with me from city to city--Donetsk, Kharkov, Mariupol. You experienced bitter winds and balmy summers. You saw despair, anger, hope, and love in the faces of people I met. you heard stories of faith, of doubt, of miracles. Oh, the stories you could tell! 

You came with me from Ukraine. I was a sadder and wiser woman; you were a worn bag. But, like the land you came from, you were resilient and had a lot of life in you still. 

And me? Well, I am simultaneously lazy and resourceful. Which means I decided to keep you with me--from BYU and beyond that, to Oxford. 

Again, you've experienced a lot with me--running to catch trains and planes, scores of dates, trips to Kansas, Massachusetts, London, Croatia, St. Petersburg, Red Square, the Baltics--you are a world-class traveller. 

But all good things come to an end. 

I noticed it a couple of months ago--back in January, I think. Your inside zipper broke off. 

Then you started peeling. 

That classical, decent, humanistic faux leather started coming off in bits, and then chunks. It looked like you had some kind of bag leprosy. 

More recently, you've exhibited signs of aging as you've grown holes inside yourself, making it easy for me to misplace things--usually Chapstick--in the very bottom of the bag. You've also started molting more than usual. It's normal with age; don't be embarrassed. 

I thought I had lost you in St. Petersburg. I was searching for something when I felt a bit of cardboard. I was afraid that I had destroyed you somehow. Instead, I found what makes you sturdy at the bottom--some sort of old Spanish cardboard box for Chicken Soup Mix. (How that ended up in a Ukrainian bag, I'll never know . . . perhpas you're really a Spanish emigree?) 

But you weren't dead yet. Just roughened up a bit. 

Being the good, tough bag you are, you kept fighting until I realized today that it might be better to give you a final resting spot here in Oxford. 

You won't be coming back to America with me. It makes me sad, too. But we both know your time is at hand. You're on your last legs, and I'd rather leave you here in "England's green and pleasant land" than to risk that journey across the pond. 

I think it is a fitting send off: leaving a piece of my Ukrainian heart with my British love. There's something symbolic about the two of you coming together in life and death. 

What I'm trying to say is, thank you. For everything. I'm a better--and more organized--woman since you fell into my life four years ago. 

With love,