‘Twas the night before SLC Comic Con . . .

‘Twas the night before Comic Con
And all through the house
Was evidence that I’ve been working 60 hours a week for two months,
And am now too weary to keep up this rhyme scheme.

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Boxes and milk crates full of my goods from my Etsy shop LetterThings. It’s taken over my living room.

For the past two months I’ve been cutting and painting and hammering and screwing and designing and gluing and assembling. Then I was boxing and organizing and designing some more. If I sell 1/3 of all we bring, we’ll earn enough to re-shingle our roof. (Woo-hoo, great excitement.) If we sell everything, I get to afford some necessary remodeling in the house and maybe buy a new couch. (Ah, real excitement!)

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My daughter “Tetris-ing” our products in our full-size van, the greatest vehicle ever made. We filled the entire van.

Today my teenage son asked me, “So are you excited for three days of selling at Comic Con?”

I stared at him and said, “Never before have I been to Comic Con. Never before have I had a booth. Never before have I sold my stuff at a store front. Never before have I set up displays or kept inventory or sold with Square. Never before have I even owned a smart phone, which I bought just for this weekend.

“My stomach has been in knots for a week, my tachycardia has been flaring for the past two days and nights, and now I’m developing an ocular migraine, which means I’ve got a blind spot in my eye for the next hour. I’m terrified I’m going to forget something important, or mess up or screw up and ruin everything! My stress is through the roof!”

My son blinked at me and said, “We can find another way to raise the money for re-shingling the roof. You don’t have to do this, you know.”

I scoffed. “What, and miss all this fun?!”

If you’ll be at the Salt Lake City Comic Con this weekend, come find me at Beige 32 (man, I hope I find it myself). I’ll be there with stuff that looks like this:

bookmark for LetterThingsFINAL

In any other circumstance Mahrree would have been exhausted by the pace and the late hour, but every inch of her was filled with so much anxiety it propelled her onward. ~Book 5, Safety Assured Leaving East of Medicetti

America’s the land of revolutions; let’s start another one!

There are revolutions happening all around us in America, but we don’t always recognize them. But once we do, we realize we can be part of them.

If we dare.

Most of these revolutions arise from breaking with the status quo of our ancestors. And not just talking about change, but actually being part of it. Too often we spout niceties about being original and different, but in reality we’re terrified to not follow the crowd. Too frequently we want to be in on the latest trend, say the right thing in whatever is deemed politically correct for the day, and to be counted among the winners.

And that last reason—to be among the winners—is why people are afraid to be different.

For example, while so many people are personally opposed to both of the major political candidates running for president, they’ll vote for one of them anyway because that’s how it’s always been.

But that doesn’t have to be. We can begin to change the system, this year.

I know that’s scary talk, and I heard someone comment that this isn’t the time for a revolution, but revolutions are happening all the time. Every day people are rejecting what corporations and governments, and what tradition and the status quo, have been dictating should be.

This has always been the way change begins—not with large organizations or ensconced traditions, but with individuals. Margaret Mead famously said,

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

Citizens have always taken it upon themselves to instigate change. Back in 1776 Thomas Paine published “Common Sense,” advocating that the colonies separate themselves from Britain. An individual—not a corporation or organization—gave other citizens the idea to break with the current tradition and be brave enough to begin the Revolutionary War.

Not that all acts by individuals will lead to such dramatic events (and there were certainly many more factors contributing to the war). But people have been going contrary to the prevailing winds for a long time. Eleanor Roosevelt once said,

“Remember always that you not only have the right to be an individual, you have an obligation to be one.”

What this means, as Hugh Nibley has written, is that we need to “Be different. Then you can make a contribution. Otherwise, you just echo something; you’re just a reflection.”

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Emil Neufeldt

Many years ago, the Nazi party tried to make my great-grandfather into a reflection. Emil Neufeldt, who lived in the Prussian region of Germany during WWII, was a wealthy inventor and engineer, with great influence in the sugar industry. The Nazis knew someone with his stature and money would be beneficial to their cause, so in the 1930s they sent one of their best to recruit him.

My great-grandfather wanted nothing to do with the Nazis, but knew that openly opposing them could cause him trouble. So he came up with an idea. Known to be able to hold his alcohol, Emil drank the Nazi recruiter under the table. Then he marched to the local Nazi headquarters and demanded they drag their recruiter home. He told them in no uncertain terms they should never dare again try to make him one of their own.

Did Emil Neufeldt stop World War II? No.

Did he stop the Nazis? No.

Did he secure safety for his family and household, and not be bothered by embarrassed and humiliated fascists again? Yes, he did.

He made a difference in his small part of the world, and eighty years later his great-granddaughter proudly remembers his example of not following the dubious safety of authority. (Even though it involved alcohol.)

My mother also told me of a Catholic priest in their area who, in the early years of WWII, preached openly about the atrocities of the Nazis, and publicly questioned where all the Jews were going.

He vanished shortly after, never to be heard from again. Did he change the world then? Stop the Nazis? Discover and reveal what was happening to the disappearing Jews?

No.

He likely met their same fate in some concentration camp. But his bravery is remembered, right here, today. His words and worries and defiance was repeated, many times over by others just as daring, and eventually the war ended and the horrible truth was revealed.

We don’t remember mere reflections. We remember innovators. We remember those who changed the world, for better and for worse.

We remember contrarians. The word coined by Richard and Linda Eyre means”to go against the prevailing wisdom, to contradict what the majority seems to be thinking or doing. [A] ‘contrarian’ . . . describe[s] someone who thinks for himself and who is not swayed by trends or popularity or styles or the direction of the crowd.”

This is happening, all around us. Contrarianism frequently means rejecting foolish traditions of the past.

For example, when I was a teenager in the 1980s rampant consumerism was the tradition. You were openly judged based upon what you wore, what you have, and how big your house was. (Anyone remember Yuppies or “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous”?) The era of McMansions was also born, then: gargantuan houses which no one could fill, and later, no one could afford.

But what’s the movement now? Tiny houses. Brilliantly constructed, carefully planned, and usually financially prudent, tiny homes are becoming the answer for many people who can’t afford even to rent.

So who started this trend? A man named Jay Shafer, along with Greg Johnson, Shay Salomon, and Nigel Valdez began the Small House Society back in 2002.  Not a corporation, not an organization, but a “small group of thoughtful, committed citizens” are striving to make housing affordable for everyone.

The government certainly isn’t behind this change. They’re still calling for us to spend, spend, spend in order to improve the economy. Remember a few years back when the feds sent us cash hoping to “stimulate” financial growth? There was no lasting benefits.

In the 1980s and 90s, the tradition to show you have “arrived” was to own a designer handbag. Now, companies like Coach are struggling, along with many department stores and malls, because consumerism was discovered to not be all that it was hyped to be.

The funny thing is, if you’re unhappy, buying stuff won’t fix that. The rising generations, already stuck with debt, logically and contrarily don’t feel like generating more just for a random symbol of status their mothers and grandmothers erroneously thought was so important.

Nowadays, there’s a quiet revolution toward minimalism; people deliberately getting rid of stuff, downsizing their homes, possessions, and priorities. Many websites and books can teach you how to toss all that weighs you down, to organize what you have left, and live a more peaceful, tranquil, simple life.

Again, these are led by individuals who, contrarian-like, have rejected the status quo and have discovered something much more satisfying. And it’s happening all around us.

When I was a child in the 1970s, I first heard about vegetarians, and the idea to avoid eating meat both alarmed and intrigued me. But vegetarians were hippies! Free-loving weirdos and tree huggers! What a non-traditional folk! (And a lot of folks over sixty still regard vegetarians this way, so be warned when you bring it up.) Never mind that there have always been those who have eschewed meat: veganism was only for those on the fringe.

But no longer. While advertisements try to push us toward more meat and protein and dairy products, consumption has declined in the past years. The burger places for which people in the 1960s-1980s developed such affinities are finding themselves struggling against a growing number of restaurants offering healthy alternatives. The web is awash in thousands of vegetarian sites, and what was once on the fringes of contrariness is now mainstream.

Again, no corporation or governmental entity has led the movement for healthier eating. (Sorry, Mrs. Obama.) People have decided, after being inspired by other thoughtful individuals such as T. Colin Campbell and “The China Study”, to eat healthier. Subsequent weight loss and markedly improved health are more powerful inducements than any kind of advertisement.

Need further proof of how we’re rejecting what a generation ago believed was so important? If you’re a millennial, you won’t know that starting in the 1970s we were involved in the cola wars, and those extended until the 1990s. Battles in advertisements between Coke and Pepsi were fought viciously to win our loyalty. This explains why your grandmother may refuse to eat at a certain restaurant because they don’t serve diet Pepsi. She’s still a victim of that bloodless battle to win her devotion. Never mind that soda is as unhealthy and addictive as sugared hummingbird water; cola was king.

1985 ad, when we believed one soda might be “better” for us than another.

Mercifully, people have come to realize that they needn’t define themselves by what foods and beverages they’re loyal to.

In fact, I’ve heard of many in my generation and older are stunned to hear their descendants may drink only water, and never want to eat at McDonald’s. No, this isn’t some kind of treachery; it’s individuals thinking for themselves, looking past the hype and realizing there’s nothing of substance to back it up. 

Along those lines, it may also shock and surprise you that there are families who do not want to ever visit Disneyland. Although the masses and advertising claim it to be the “happiest place on earth,” standing in lines and paying for exorbitant entrance prices, food, and swag doesn’t make everyone happy. You may be startled to know that some contrarians’ children will never walk on that hallowed ground, because they and their parents prefer the solitude, quiet, and low entrance fees of national parks.

Contrarians also show up in education, and have been for many years. Common Core and the associated scripts and texts which pander to it, are driving many families to homeschooling which, three decades ago, was a fringe alternative but is now almost trendy and fast becoming the new tradition.

And if you were around in the 1980s, you  might remember a crass movie called “Revenge of the Nerds.” Now, geek culture is the culture, contrary to what anyone would have believed 30 years ago.

Our attitudes of what is “acceptable” and how things “should” be are changing all the time.

Why can’t our attitudes then also change about how we elect a president?

Most Americans still feel obligated to side with either the Republicans or Democrats, even if they feel neither represents them.  And the arguments they use are old and tired: “Because of the electoral college, only a Republican or Democrat will win.”

Or, a vote for anyone else besides Republican or Democrats means, “Your vote will be wasted.”

Rephrased it’s, “Being different will mean you’ll be left out.”

Doesn’t that hearken back to every fear we had as kids? Not being part of the “in” group?

Too many of us adults still harbor those worries, desperate to be part of “the group” so that we matter. In my limited observations, it’s those middle aged and older who are most worried about being obedient to the brand of Republican or Democrat they were brought up with. They still think (hope?) all Republicans are like Reagan and all Democrats are like the Roosevelts.

Now consider this: how often has the “in” group made poor choices which affected thousands and even millions? Begin by listing obvious dictators, and count which societies are still doing well under them.

Think about all the examples I’ve just shown you about individuals making a difference, influencing others around them to be contrarians. Why can’t we extend this bravery and independent thought to overturn an antiquated and manipulative system for something that really works?

Now is the time for each of us to individually say, “I will no longer support this.” Revolutions don’t have to be bloody, angry things. In fact, nearly all of the examples of positive change I listed above have been thoughtful movements.

“As we watch the directions that society is taking we see the folly, and in our most lucid moments, we don’t want to follow the trends, we want to depart from them — to think more clearly and chart our course on light and truth rather than on the herd instinct that seems to dictate what most people do.” ~Richard and Linda Eyre [emphasis added]

Too often we believe that there are only two options: the established way, and the wrong way. But rhetorically speaking, this is a logical fallacy. If you’ve ever worked for a boss who claims it’s only his way or the highway, you know how miserable that situation can be, and it usually signals a business is in big trouble.

Refusing to see other possibilities is what traps us. There are ALWAYS more options—to any situation, problem, or ideal.

Change never comes from the establishment or a corporation. It always arises from insightful, thoughtful, brave individuals who refuse to believe “there’s no other way.”

My neighbor recently demonstrated this by showing just how few Americans really support the Republican and Democratic parties.

#iamsomeone (And, importantly, Dallin Crump’s just an individual who wants to illustrate a point; he receives no funding or sponsorships. He’s just a “someone,” a “thoughtful citizen,” trying to change America. The fact that millions of people have also viewed and shared this suggests he’s not alone).

It’s up to us to stop being afraid of being different, to embrace contrarianism, to stand up against the tide and slow it down, even if only for a little a bit.

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“I have spent many years of my life in opposition, and I rather like the role.” ~Eleanor Roosevelt

I haven’t voted for either party in twenty years. At times, I’ve even written in candidates who I felt would be excellent leaders. I don’t feel my votes were wasted; I feel my conscience was satisfied.

We ourselves might not experience rewards from our subtle civil disobedience by not voting for either the Republican or Democratic candidate, but our children or grandchildren may.

It’s not necessarily for us that we stand up at this election, or at any other time, to defy the status quo. It’s for those who follow.

Generations from now, may we be remembered as the Thomas Paines, the Emil Neufeldts, and the Catholic Priests who did something more than meekly follow the noisiest crowd. We should be–must be–remembered as those who lent a hand in turning the country around.

“It’s rare,” Gleace told them, “that anyone in the world comes up with new ideas, or pokes at old notions to discover if what everyone believes is actually true. But you,” he smiled slyly at Perrin and Mahrree, “you poked all the time. And that’s how you got here.”

“Our poking caused trouble,” Mahrree pointed out.

“Ah, but the very best kind!” Gleace declared. “The kind that makes people question everything they know. People need to be poked every now and then.”

~Book 5, Safety Assured Leaving East of Medicetti

On apricots, bathrooms, and legacies

[Today my friend texted me, “Have you had your fill of apricots yet?” That reminded me of something I wrote four years ago on another blog, and I before I rush off to pick some, then later rush off to the bathroom, I wanted to republish it here.]

This is no ordinary bag of apricots.

It’s a legacy, a reminder of those who are no longer here, or leaving soon.

Apricots are the perfect fruit. In my mind, Eve hands Adam an apricot. She has a whole fig leaf apron full of them. And raspberries jammed in a pocket. (But that’s another story. And no, I’m not sure where Eve would have a pocket.)

I didn’t like apricots until I was about 11 or 12 years old. My oldest sister Judy, married with her own family, came to our house to pick apricots off of our tree during one of the rare years it produced. She taught me how their texture is firmer than peaches, less messy, and more subtle in flavor. And that flavor, when snatched from a tree on a hot August afternoon, was fantastic. She was right—I discovered I loved apricots as I picked them with her. Suddenly, she stopped.

“How many have you eaten?” she asked me.

“About 5 or 6,” I told her.

“Well, stop,” she said as she popped another in her mouth.

Hypocrite, I thought. “Why?”

“Because these will make you the best of friends with the toilet around this time tomorrow.” She swallowed down another one.

“How many have you had?”

“Probably 20,” she said nonchalantly. “I’ve already cleared my calendar for tomorrow afternoon. I’ll hate myself then, but for now? Heavenly!”

She later confessed that on the drive home, she had to put the bucket of apricots in the back of her van, out of her reach. The next day she lived in the bathroom while her husband laughed at her.

“But it was worth it!” Judy insisted when I next saw her. “Fresh and free apricots come only a few weeks of the year, and some years, not at all. Eat them while you can.”

Each year my mother and I watched our apricot tree, cheering at the popcorn-like blossoms and hoping for a good crop. Then, two years out of three, a frost killed the blossoms.

But when we had mild springs? One year we had a huge crop, and came home one day to see little orange bits all over the road in front of our house. Perplexed, we looked up on the hill where our apricot tree stood and saw that half of it was lying on the ground, the weight of so much fruit breaking it. Little apricots had rolled down the hill and became a mushy mess all over the road. Neighbors came to help clean up the mess, my mother made jam for two straight days. At the end, she cursed the little things for being so darned plentiful that year—and Judy and I ate far too many again.

My sister and mom, in 2007, clearly wishing they were eating apricots.

Yesterday, a neighbor wrote on Facebook how sick she was of making apricot jam, and I thought about my mom. She’s now 85 and fading slowly away. In hospice care, she doesn’t open her eyes, she doesn’t speak, and now she no longer eats. [UPDATE: My mother passed away in January of 2014.] She won’t taste apricots or make jam this year.

I moved away to the east coast some years ago, saw apricots for sale occasionally at the grocery stores for exorbitant prices, and remembered free Utah apricots. Then we moved back to Utah in 2007 and occasionally got an apricot or two, and loved them.

But there are still apricots, brought to me by a dear friend, in a bag [the same friend who texted me today–Allison doesn’t forget]. 

I don’t have Judy, either. She won her first round with cancer, but it came back more angry for a second bout, and nearly three years ago [seven, now], Judy passed away.

We don’t have that tree anymore, either. We sold the house, and the tree, a few years ago.

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My mom, four years ago, briefly holding her youngest grandchild. She passed away in 2014.

Yesterday, I taught my 4-year-old [now 9-year-old] how to love apricots. After her fifth one I said, “We shouldn’t have any more. Too many will make you need to go to the bathroom a lot tomorrow.”

She nodded in agreement, but about ten minutes later came to me with another apricot for me to open and pit. “Just one more,” she promised. “The last one.”

I smiled and took one more as well.

Then ate about twenty-five more.

Today I’ve spent a lot of time in the bathroom.

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Judy and me, in 2007. No apricots in sight, but I’ll eat extra for her today, in 2016. And likely regret it again.

And I swear I’ve heard Judy laughing at me and saying, But they’re worth it, aren’t they?

[Today, I told my nine-year-old that the apricots were ready again, and she eagerly asked, “When can we go get them?” If you’ll need me tomorrow, I’ll be in the bathroom. I have to eat enough for not only myself, but my mom and Judy as well. Someone has to do it.]

“I don’t believe this!” Peto threw his arms in the air and clomped around the garden. “For moons I’ve been trying to understand the meaning of the peach pits, and here you tell me they’re only for growing more peaches? For crying out loud!” he exclaimed as he started for the road. “The pits are only for getting more peaches—”

Unless,” and once again Yung’s quiet calm voice cut through Peto’s complaining and pierced his heart, “unless the Creator wanted you to get something more out of them.” ~Book 4, The Falcon in the Barn

Does this look like failure to you?

Failure comes in many shapes and forms. Like this, for instance:

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Horrifying, right? Last Christmas I tried to make stuffed Chewbaccas for my family. In the past I’ve successfully made Totoros and Tribbles and Adipose, but last year? Not only once, but twice I failed to make anything not terrifying.

(Seriously, my four-year-old took a startled step back when I showed them to him. He made me hide them in the closet, where I found them again as I was reorganizing recently.)

I had carefully planned these Chewbaccas, bought the perfect furry fabric, drew up the patterns, cut and stitched, but when it came to stuffing them, bizarreness ensued.

I’ve been thinking a lot about failure, how it gets us to places where we didn’t expect to be. I love what J. K. Rowling, author of Harry Potter, has said about failure:

 . . . Why do I talk about the benefits of failure? Simply because failure meant a stripping away of the inessential. I stopped pretending to myself that I was anything other than what I was, and began to direct all my energy into finishing the only work that mattered to me. Had I really succeeded at anything else, I might never have found the determination to succeed in the one arena I believed I truly belonged. I was set free, because my greatest fear had been realised, and I was still alive, and I still had a daughter whom I adored, and I had an old typewriter and a big idea. And so rock bottom became the solid foundation on which I rebuilt my life.

My botched Chewbaccas aren’t on the same level of disappointment as Ms. Rowling’s early career, but I’ve encountered failures myself, some quite epic, which I don’t feel the need to reveal here. But Rowling’s words are profound when she remarks that succeeding in one arena would have meant she wouldn’t have arrived where she really needed to be.

Think back to when you were in high school, or college: what dreams did you have? Are you anywhere near where you expected to be?

I’m not. I’m miles away.

And I’m glad of that.

To my high school self, who and where I am now would have been seen as a disappointment. But looking back, I realize that my younger self failed to see where I really should be, what I needed to accomplish.

Failure, to one person, may be a raving success to another. I’m grateful for maturity and wisdom that have helped me see that I don’t want certain “successes,” and that what seems like “failure” can actually be a profound achievement. It merely depends on our situations in life, our perspective, and what we think is important.

I’m reminded of the story of a successful scientist who created life-saving medical devices. When asked about his upbringing, he told the story of his impoverished parents, and how they encouraged him to get more than the 8th grade education they had. Someone commented that it must have been difficult to be raised by such failures. But the scientist was startled by that comment, and replied that his parents had been the greatest successes he’d ever known. Thrust into their difficult circumstances, they still raised confident, ambitious children who accomplished marvelous things. Had life been easier, he surmised, their family likely would have been very average. Their earlier “failures” paved the way for their children’s accomplishments.

Not every failure is a later success, though. And sometimes, success morphs into failure, like these recipes.

How did such dishes of terror and texture come to be? (Click here and here to see even more recipes just like Grandma used to make, if you dare.)
Realize that these combinations went through some kind of review or committee, that several people had to experiment, taste, and decide, “Yes, these are the winners! Photograph and publish them!”

Which goes to prove that even a group of people with power and authority can make horribly wrong judgments.

We now see these recipes and shudder with thoughts of, “What were they thinking?!”

Why was this considered a success back then, and an utter failure a few decades later? What set of circumstances led people with the same taste buds as us to believe that mayonnaise improves every dish, that Jell-O can be considered a salad with the right veggies thrown in, and that SPAM is edible?

For that matter, what raving “successes” do we consider now will be regarded as dismal failures in the future?

But, likewise, what catastrophes are we experiencing now will be later seen as the beginnings of marvelous triumphs?

Perhaps the message here is, don’t discount your failures too quickly. Don’t harp on yourself too much for the disappointments you encounter, or even cause. Who knows, they just may be getting you on the road to victory.

Unless it involves Jell-O, mayo, SPAM, or disfigured Chewbaccas. Sometimes, a failure is a failure.

But maybe not always.

Halloween’s coming up.

Whereas my Chewies failed as Christmas gifts, they’ll likely be fantastic as Halloween decorations.

Maybe it’s just all about timing.

     “Colonel Shin,” Captain Thorne started, “if they’re incapable of making intelligent choices—”
     “They can’t learn to make those choices if they aren’t given the opportunity, Thorne,” Perrin told him. “Give them the opportunity to learn.”
     “And fail?”
     “Failure is part of learning, Captain. It’s not to be shunned—it’s to be embraced and learned from. Would you really want someone making all your decisions for you?”
                                         ~Book Four: The Falcon in the Barn

One good reason for having kids

I have little time to write a full post today, with SLC Comic Con rapidly coming up. I’m making 200 signs and 300 clocks to sell in just one month (with products from my Etsy shop), and I’m slightly hyperventilating because I’m only half done, I have no packaging or booth advertising ordered, and as a newbie I’m terrified to my core. (Panic attack will commence in 5 . . . 4 . . . 3 . . . )

Still, I took a moment the other day to spend some important time with my 8-year-old. A couple of weeks ago, her beloved scooter betrayed her, dumping her over the handlebars onto the sidewalk, breaking both bones in her arm just above her wrist. It’s been rough as I’ve had to help bathe and dress each day, and she hasn’t been able to play in pools or splashpads as she wants to. Knowing she needs some tenderness and concern as she heals, I smiled as she came up to me the other day with a Sharpie marker and displayed her cast. I knew what was coming.

sign your name on my cast

Because if you can’t mess with your own kids, what’s the point of having them?

(It’s a joke, folks. Relax. She didn’t cry about it that long.)