Tuesday, December 18, 2012

The Christmas Spirit

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Since being home, things have been wonderful.  I've had some good conversations with my Dad and Rae Lyn, gotten to watch and play basketball with Ben, relax a bit, shop a big, learn a bit, work a bit, and sleep.

And yet, things have also been hard.  Until I come home, I forget how deeply some of the things and people here tear into my soul and grieve my heart.  I can usually keep a handle on these things when I'm far away at school, but actually being here is different.  Simply the proximity to problems puts me in a whirlwind of emotion and anxiety.  The constant discussions of people we don't understand, the worries of trying to help someone gone astray.  It may be partially a result of all the dental work I got done last week, but I've had the most painful headaches this week that I've ever experienced.

Which has helped me realize how hard I've fought to create a life different that this one.  There are things I love about home, don't get me wrong.  But in Utah, my home, I've tried to create an atmosphere of love- where even if you don't agree with someone, everyone is treated with love.  No constant backbiting and bad-mouthing, just discussions of how to treat others in a more Christlike way.  Now I know it's far from perfect, but it's something I cherish.  And something I miss.  The quiet nights of smiles and laughter.  The sappy animal/baby videos on youtube.  The opportunity to help my students every day.  An apartment where things are shared and service is rendered daily.

Now that I'm home, I'm realizing how vital it is to make my influence felt here.  I don't always succeed in doing right- in fact I had to face the hard truth yesterday that I need to stop treating Ben like a little child.  And yet I know that I'm here for a reason, and that I've had some advantages that others haven't.  

And so...I'm trying to share the Christmas Spirit.  

When I was 15, I was asked to give a talk on Christmas.  Not a normal youth talk, a full 20 minute adult talk.  I was petrified.  But it was also one of the most wonderful experiences of my life.  And my favorite part was a poem I discovered from one of President Thomas S. Monson's old talks.  

This December, the Christmas Message by President Monson included that same poem from so long ago.  As I read the words to myself, I remember that the spirit of Christmas, indeed the spirit of Christ, means simple, quiet service wherever we stand.

I am the Christmas Spirit—
I enter the home of poverty, causing palefaced children to open their eyes wide, in pleased wonder.
I cause the miser’s clutched hand to relax and thus paint a bright spot on his soul.
I cause the aged to renew their youth and to laugh in the old glad way.
I keep romance alive in the heart of childhood, and brighten sleep with dreams woven of magic.
I cause eager feet to climb dark stairways with filled baskets, leaving behind hearts amazed at the goodness of the world.
I cause the prodigal to pause a moment on his wild, wasteful way and send to anxious love some little token that releases glad tears—tears which wash away the hard lines of sorrow.
I enter dark prison cells, reminding scarred manhood of what might have been and pointing forward to good days yet to be.
I come softly into the still, white home of pain, and lips that are too weak to speak just tremble in silent, eloquent gratitude.
In a thousand ways, I cause the weary world to look up into the face of God, and for a little moment forget the things that are small and wretched.
I am the Christmas Spirit.1
Merry Christmas. 

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Laughter

This post should be scientific, but it won't be.  It's just my observations.



I realized last night that there's been something missing in my life for a long time: laughter.  For much of the last five years, I haven't had many reasons to laugh.  Or, if I have, I haven't taken them.  Recently, I've started watching how often and completely people laugh.  I am amazed at how often I see a friend throw their head back in reckless laughter about the smallest thing.  And I just...don't.  For some reason, the craziness of the past few years hasn't left me jaded, exactly, but determined to always focus on the serious.  I'm so obsessed with figuring everything out and doing everything right that funny things almost annoy me.

Which, especially given my line of study, I know is a problem.  Those who laugh are happier, healthier, and just all around better people.  Laughter is an essential part of human life.  It makes up for a whole slew of terrible things.  Laughter is one of the greatest stress relievers.  In short, it's really good for you!

So, as much as I love and need serious conversations and deep thoughts, I have now realized just how much I need laughter.  (Which is actually terribly ironic, because after dental work today it hurts like the Dickens to laugh.)  One of the things I especially appreciate about Sadek is that he makes me laugh.  Every day.  It's really not that hard, but I find myself sometimes fighting it.  What is so scary about laughing?  I'm not sure, but I'm determined to let it go.

Laughing is the least threatening activity ever.  And while I may not really want it yet, I know that I NEED it. So for all of you that help me laugh (even if I don't always look like I appreciate it), thank you!

Thursday, December 6, 2012

I made a website!

Yes I did!  It's part of my final project for my American Novel class, the first (and last) English class of my undergraduate career!

Want to see? http://4emilyannwarren.wix.com/monomania

I did my project on Monomania, and the obsessiveness evident in our modern society.  I've come to realize in the past few months that a desire to be busy for the sake of busyness is unhealthy.  Too often we throw ourselves into work and study, neglecting all of the other things that we work and study for.

A lot of my writing was about literature, but I want to share a few of the more poignant concluding thoughts of my essay.  Thanks for indulging me- there are few things I love more than sharing ideas!


While dedication, hard work, and passion are important aspects of life in moderation, overemphasizing these qualities can lead to the creation of dangerous cultural norms.  The examples of monomania reflected in literature help create and propagate these ideas, both bringing awareness to the danger and furthering the expectation of obsession.  As argued by Davis, the result of this has become manifest in the way our society has come to view “mental illness as a way of life” (84).  Paul Lafargue, in his fairly obscure work The Right to Be Lazy, denounces compulsive workers as dangerous monomaniacs, victims of a pathology embraced all too quickly by workers (Lafargue).  We have become so obsessed with busyness and progress that we don’t value balance. 
Obsession in the modern world has become a sort of coping mechanism, a way to avoid the “oppressive insignificance of the everyday” (van Zuylen 14).   An idée fixe endows an individual with purpose, infusing life with meaning.  This meaning provides us with emotional coherence and a sense of control (Freud).  In this sense, obsessions give us an illusion of agency while actually ripping it from us.  As Pierre Janet observed, we trade the possibility of domestic, uneventful harmony for hope of a far-reaching and immaterial purpose (Janet). Ultimately, our excess of activity conceals our fear that there is not enough life worth living for.  And so we create causes, things into which we can channel our passion in order to block out the daunting demands of freedom and everyday living. 
Conclusion
Through the creation of a website, Monomania, I have attempted to provoke others to consider this issue.  I hope to help others see that our literature, and thus our culture, is embedded with the underlying assumption that fixation and single-minded dedication are the bedrock of progress.  And, in identifying this assumption, realize that it comes with a cost.  My goal is that we can come to understand that our idolatry of busyness and our “anxious relationship with laziness” are often the result of a “fear of living a life devoid of a grand plan or an organizing principle” (Davis 194).   Perhaps if we stopped measuring our worth by our futile productivity, we can come to believe, as LDS prophet Gordon B. Hinckley taught, “The major work of the world is not done by geniuses. It is done by ordinary people, with balance in their lives, who have learned to work in an extraordinary manner” (Hinckley). Perhaps we can come to revere not those who pursue unnatural specialization, but balance.  We can teach moderation, and assure others that their worth is a reflection of who they are, not what they've done.  And, eventually, seek that elusive balance for ourselves.