Monday, June 8, 2015

Zachary Levi Has That Effect on Me

Remember when I watched Tangled and it made me cry? Well, that doesn't happen anymore. I still get bitter(sweet) feelings when I hear "I See the Light" or watch the lantern scene, but I think I've found another root of what caused those tears to well up.

Zachary Levi.

You see, I was bored recently. Bored enough to think, "Hey, maybe I should try out a new TV series on Netflix." And so, because Netflix predicted that, based on my past viewing preferences, I would rate Chuck as a five-star series, worthy of my highest praise, that's what I selected.

I went in with expectations far below five stars. You see, once upon a time, right around when I started this blog, I saw the pilot episode at Family Home Evening. For some reason, our male FHE leader thought that watching Chuck was our surest path to spiritual enlightenment that evening. I remember being less than impressed. This chick wandered around in her underwear, some buff dude kept saying "Awesome," and a few other main characters were living below their potential at dead-end retail jobs. 

That's what I was envisioning when I clicked the red and black play button over Zachary Levi, action hero, in Netflix. I thought I was immune to liking this series. But oh how wrong I was.

At first, let me admit that I kept watching more because of the casting choices than anything else. I had just finished a Hallmark Channel movie starring Ryan McPartlin. Chuck fans know him as Captain Awesome. Yeah, the buff dude from my vague memory. In the Hallmark Channel movie, Chance at Romance, Awesome played a widowed photographer with a matchmaking young son. Through Awesome's website, the son poses as his dad and recruits a fan to visit their home. She shows up, the misunderstanding comes to light, but she stays long enough to fall in love. Obviously. It's Hallmark Channel.

And who was playing Awesome's girlfriend/Chuck's sister, Ellie? None other than another Hallmark Channel favorite of mine, Sarah Lancaster. I liked her in Fir Crazy, the one where the lead character loses her job and has to work at her family Christmas tree lot--which is where she meets her true love, naturally, played by the guy who dated Lana on Smallville. (Fun facts: His Smallville name was Whitney; he also appeared in Mrs. Miracle 2 and The Work and the Glory films as the rebellious brother.)

I'm digressing, but you need to know I stayed because of Awesome and Ellie, not because of Chuck and Sarah. But man, that will-they-won't-they dynamic is powerful. In truth, my attraction to the show actually stems more from will-he-or-won't he. Will Chuck be able to escape his trapped, going nowhere existence? Will he win the heart of the beautiful girl? Will his dreams finally come true after so much undeserved misfortune? I wanted those things for Chuck because now, years after I first saw the pilot, I felt/feel like I was/am in the same position. My job is okay for now since nothing exceptional panned out right after college, but it doesn't feel like there's room for progress. My love life is non-existent, and at times it's hard to fight the feeling that, although I have many awesome qualities (intelligence, personality, looks), no one of the opposite sex will ever find those qualities awesome enough to commit.

And so, feeling sympathy and undying devotion for the ever-charming Zachary Levi as Chuck Bartowski, I continued my binge-watch. I rooted for him when he took action to get what he wanted romantically and professionally, even if that meant (spoiler alerts ahead) breaking up with Sarah or choosing career over romance. In rooting for Chuck, my hibernating ambition and self-belief began to awaken. Maybe not to act for themselves, but at least to take a look at the view. 

And now, I'm almost to the end of the third season, and I'm having that moment again. The moment where Zachary Levi makes me cry. Because I've realized the reason I'm letting myself fall in crush with Chuck is that he's me, but the version of me that's finally thrust into what my life should be. And that's when all the happy memories of Chuck become sad, because I realize that a spy who just happens to be my perfect romantic partner is never going to walk into my place of business and begin a complicated and heartbreaking but ultimately destined to succeed relationship with me. It's sad because people don't get a Chuck-like invitation to take the reins of their lives.

So, now I wish I knew how to quit Chuck. Because I have vague memories of a friend telling me how the series ends, and that is sad too. And I just don't need anymore tears inspired by Zachary Levi.

Excuse me while I go listen to Katharine McPhee's "Terrified"--the Zachary Levi version.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Two Words: Stop It

I feel the need to rant a little tonight. The inspiration behind the coming rant is a recent article posted to LDS Living, a magazine I once interned for and to which I subscribe. I like LDS Living, but I just don't know about this one.

The article is called "5 Ways to Find Your Eternal Companion According to the Family Proclamation." It's adapted from a book that has the same idea: study the Proclamation hard enough and live its principles, and you too can be righteous enough to get married, like the author.

Truth be told, I knew I shouldn't click on the Facebook link to this article, but I did because I do self-destructive things when I think my mind can take them. I am almost always wrong about that.

To be fair, LDS Living probably had to post this article because they're owned by Deseret Book, which sells the book that inspired the article, so it's advertising. I work in online marketing; I know how it works.

But here's what bothers me about the article. Starting with the first "way," I hear that voice I hear all too often from well-intentioned but ill-advised married Church members. They look at a single Saint's status and start pointing the finger of blame--at the single person.

The first principle reads as condescending, insulting, and discouraging. To simplify what the author states, I'll summarize it the way it reads in my head: "Hey, have you considered faith? I know it's the first principle of the gospel, but maybe you've never heard of it before. President Monson says you shouldn't be postponing marriage, so what are you waiting for? You're already at least in your mid 20s. Remember, you can't be exalted unless you have a spouse (as I do)."

Yes, I know that's not what the author is actually saying. But does he think I've somehow missed out on faith, the plan of salvation, words of living prophets, and the central importance of marriage as fundamental doctrines of the gospel? Believe me, you can't be attending YSA wards as long as I have without hearing about those principles. True, you don't have to adopt them just because you attend church, but you'd have to spend the entire three-hour block checking your fantasy football scores every week to not be aware of them.

And that brings me to a root problem of articles like this. They misunderstand the target audience. The people who will click on a "How to Find Your Eternal Companion in 5 Easy Steps" article are not the people who need to be reminded to have faith. Trust me--if we're still going to Church and holding out for eternal marriage, faith is a big part of who we are and who we strive to become.

People who most need to take the quoted counsel from President Monson to heart are not those who come to this article seeking comfort and guidance, so stop lumping all singles together and assuming we're ALL postponing marriage or forgetting how important it is. We wouldn't spend so many hours wondering about crushes or worrying about dates or crying over our delayed but promised righteous desires if we didn't have faith in the eternal, infinite, and personal plan of salvation.

That brings me to the other problem with this article, the reason I knew I shouldn't click on it. It's a listicle, a gross term for the numbered articles that have overtaken the Internet in the Buzzfeed era. I know because I write them every day in my job as a small business blogger. All listicles are filled with tips and tricks, shortcuts to achieving a desired goal.

Don't get me wrong; many listicles contain useful information. But, I don't think a listicle is an appropriate venue to offer dating advice to LDS single adults. That's because by clicking on a listicle, a reader feels like he or she will receive the piece of insider information necessary to achieve a certain end. Instead, readers in the faith-filled but still single category finish reading the article and find themselves thinking, "What am I doing wrong? What magical piece of the formula am I missing?"

Unfortunately, it just doesn't work that way with eternal marriage. I wish it did--I'm good at following lists. But the more we encourage this checklist-goal mentality of marriage, the more disappointment potential we create in conscientious, faith-filled singles.

Recently, at a friend's wedding luncheon, I felt keenly the untruth of the notion that we can achieve eternal marriage by completing tasks on a list. Her husband's father stood up and said how proud he was of his son, who had always been able to set goals and achieve them. The father was using the hours-old marriage as an example of an achieved goal.

As I heard this stranger say those words, I sat there and let myself feel hurt. I'd set the goal for marriage, I'd worked to achieve it, but it had eluded me. I felt the Spirit try to comfort me and say that my mind was mistaking a proud father's words for doctrine, but my heart had a hard time accepting that comfort. Because I'd heard that before from well-meaning Institute teachers and local priesthood leaders.

The Spirit finally got through to me after several months of further mental anguish by reminding me of a scene from my own life with my own father. I don't live at home anymore, but I live close enough to my parents that I can visit several times a year. My entire immediate family lives in the same city, except for me.

When I go home, I love being around my family, but I have to admit that I struggle with feelings of jealousy and inadequacy when I'm there. I'm the oldest, but my younger sister is married. I love her; I love her husband. But seeing what they have leads me to focus on what I lack, my own eternal companion. Consequently, I often end up crying during my prayers on the last nights I have at home. Sometimes I even wake up in the middle of the night, convinced that marriage will always elude me and that my loneliness will never cease.

As you can imagine, those thoughts are crushing. But on several occasions, my dad has been in the next room and heard my cries. And he comes in, gently places his hand on my shoulder, and speaks words of comfort. My dad can give long talks about spiritual matters, but I find his spiritual knowledge most meaningful in those conversations, which tend to last no more than three minutes.

What am I driving at here? I think many LDS single adults find more happiness when they come to understand that eternal marriage is not 100% dependent on exerting the correct amount of righteousness and faith--and when they stop clicking on articles that suggest otherwise (hint to future self). The way to receive that knowledge is through the Spirit, not through a listicle.

I have to acknowledge that the author finishes by saying the article doesn't actually offer a new idea or formula for finding an eternal companion. But I think that's part of why this article makes me feel empty. The title sets up one expectation, the content serves an entirely different purpose, and I am left confused and disappointed.

Ultimately, I think we need to accept as a body of Saints--myself included--that practicing principles in numbered lists won't automatically lead to marriage or other spiritual ends. "The gospel is not a checklist."

How can we fix this? Take President Uchtdorf's counsel and "Stop it." Stop writing articles that promise singles the secret to getting married. There is no secret, and Deseret Book CEO Sheri Dew would be the first one to tell you that.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

The Truth So Far

Friends, I think it's time to update you on where I am. My last post was pretty emotional, so for anyone out there still reading, I want to say what's going on now. Your comments, whether written on the blog or sent in cards, stated over the phone or expressed in hugs, have made a difference, so I owe you.

After the last post, I have started seeing a counselor. For me, I think that's just a healing mechanism that helps because I need another person (who is not also a friend or family member) to help me sort through my thoughts. I don't want to say much about counseling, but I need to acknowledge that as the first step in the path towards self-love.

Since seeing a counselor, I have started finding those inner truths about myself again. Truths like I am a good person, I am lovable, I am valuable, and so on. Some days I still find it hard to believe those statements outright, no questions asked, the same way I believe that the Book of Mormon is true and that we have prophets on the earth today. But I'm better at not resisting the Spirit that affirms that to me and casting out those truths with my unbelief.

I've also made friends with a few new truths. I'm not perfect at practicing them yet, but they feel like core parts of who I am and how I find happiness in each day. This is what I've discovered:

1. I feel better about me when I spend time on my hair. 

I kind of hate admitting this because for so long I mostly acknowledged only the other side of this truth: I resent having to spend time on my hair. There are just so many other things I could be doing, and sometimes doing my hair involves an hour of holding a blow dryer, a round brush, and a flat iron. I could be reading or visiting a museum or going to a play.

But, as much as it pains me to say it, I just feel better longer on any day when I spend time on my hair. Maybe it's because I can look in the mirror and say, "I like me, and I did something that proves I like me today." Heaven knows I haven't had any men to impress the last few months. But that's another part of it: I've realized I want to do my hair FOR ME. Not because it will make me pretty enough to attract a spouse, but because it will help me think I'm pretty JUST FOR ME.

2. Reading gives me more pleasure than bingeing on Netflix.

I don't dislike Netflix or other forms of TV, movies, or streamed content. I haven't even stopped doing those things. I still do them a lot, but I've started replacing some of the time I spent with those entertainment sources with the written word.

It feels so joyful. My brain just works better when I spend time reading, and there is so much to read. Already this year I've read almost as many books as I read last year. It's not really about the number, but it's about realizing that spending time between pages fills my soul in ways that watching TV does not. I'd forgotten that. I'm glad I remember now.

3. Working out gives me a boost too.

This is kind of the same as hair. You just can't read when you're working out. Or so I thought. Plus, for me, working out was just a reminder of awkward junior high and high school days in gym. I didn't like those classes because I couldn't get ahead by studying. I had to physically perform the tasks, and I never felt good at that, so I stayed away. And, I used to think it was similar to doing my hair. You can't read or do whatever else when you're getting sweaty. I've since discovered that those things can be a part of exercise.

Working out is better now because I can do it on my own terms. It's also better because I don't feel like I'm in the middle of a popularity contest where people are deciding whether I'll succeed in life based on whether I make a basket, hit a home run, or run a certain pace.

I try to go to the gym several times a week, but I don't beat myself up if I don't make it as much as I "should" have. I also don't work out to lose weight, although that has happened a little here and there. Again, that's like the hair. I used to think "I need to work out so I can be skinny so boys will like me." In order to feel better, I need to sever that belief. Instead, I say, "I want to go work out so I will get a mental jolt and feel healthy FOR ME." And, now that it's warmer, I sometimes get to swim for my workout, which is the best. Nothing clears my mind like swimming a few laps.

Friends, this isn't everything I've learned so far, and as I said above, there are still hard moments. Sometimes I still feel paralyzed by the thought that some of my fondest dreams are beyond my control and might not come to me in this life. But I've also come to realize a little better that having those things won't change who I am or make me more valuable. I need to work on this now because that's the moment I'm living. Come what may, I need to love me and know that the best sources of love are Divine--capitalization intentional.

In those moments, I find strength in a few sources. I think about Elder Bednar's talk "The Windows of Heaven," where he taught that the Stripling Warriors prayed for deliverance and received assurances and that was enough to carry them to victory. I think about the assurances the Lord has sent me. I can't describe them here because they are far too personal, but they come from the Spirit, and they have been numerous.

I also spend a lot of time thinking about women I love. There's my own mom, the righteous version of Lorelai Gilmore. There's my beautiful sister, a perfect blend of Grace Kelly's elegance and her own intelligence. I think about my grandmother, who gave me my love for reading.

Quite often, I think about my dad's mom, Paloona May Brown Sorensen, for sure my best friend on the other side of the veil. I think about how she was still single at the age I am now and how she held strong, hoping in Christ for a covenant marriage and an eternal family. I think about how we share some of the same health challenges and how she comforted me before and during the early phases of that trial. I think about how she's doing the same now and what that means for eternity.

This has gone on for a while, but that's the truth I feel in this moment. I love you all. Good day and good news.

Thursday, February 19, 2015


I want to love myself. But for the last six months I just haven't. I've eaten so much food that's bad for me and watched so many mind-numbing hours of TV and movies and read blog posts about how getting healthy will make me feel better and how accepting who I am now will make me feel better and how giving myself up to God's will will make me feel better.

And I don't feel better.

I felt like I did for a few weeks, after I finished reading Sister Oaks's book A Single Life. But it's soothing effects didn't last very long. I woke up from the stupor of peace it put me only to wake up still addicted to food, addicted to believing I'm worthless without a significant other, addicted to wanting to succeed and feeling like a failure in every way.

I know I should go to a doctor and ask for help, but I'm afraid to do that. Last time I sought help from a medical doctor for depression, he refused to give me medication for it because I wasn't depressed enough. Which only served to reinforce my feelings of inadequacy.

I've been to therapists before, and several of them were helpful to me, but I don't think I'll believe any of it has worked until someone looks at me and loves me.

But no man ever does. And it just suffocates me, my desire to have that, to feel fulfilled and wanted by someone in a romantic way. And when I can't have it, I just shove my face full of feeling-suppressing sugar and watch movies that will make me laugh and think and forget, if only for a few minutes.

My dreams have turned into bitter nightmares, and I don't even have the will to pursue them anymore. I just wish I could escape all of it, turn off my mind and be gone. I know I'm not supposed to feel that way, but I do.

Enough is enough. This is enough.

Friday, February 6, 2015

Blast from the Past: On Re-Readings

Note: This is another old blog post I found in the middle of the night. Why did I never post this? It has some good stuff in it. Enjoy.

I have this half-formed thought I've been carrying around for a while now which I will now attempt to fully form and share with y'all at the same time. Probably this thought arises from the inordinate amount of time I spend consuming media in my college graduate, part-time bookseller, full-time unsure of my next major life step life status. In fact, I know it comes from at least the bookseller portion of my life right now, and here's why.

Very early on in my now four plus months as a Meg Ryan in You've Got Mail bookshop girl, I found myself standing at table full of great nonfiction titles. The biography of Neil Armstrong, several titles by David McCullough, Angela's Ashes, Team of Rivals--I had read none of the books on that table, but I wanted to read basically all of them. And I thought to myself, "If I read absolutely nothing else this year, I still wouldn't have time to read all of the books on even one side of this table." To a bibliophile like me, that was a depressing thought.

I only let myself get further overwhelmed as I looked around at the dozens of bookshelves surrounding me in the decent-sized bookstore where I work, and it dawned on me that even if no more books were ever published, I wouldn't even have time to read all the books in our store in my lifetime. (Granted, there are entire shelves of books that I would have no problem skipping...the romance section for instance...due to their lack of literary merit. But still.)

This thought took up residence in the back of my mind, not quite nagging away at me but making its presence known nonetheless. Quickly, the thought had grown, telling my mind that not only would I never be able to read everything I wanted to, but I would also never see all the great movies or even catch up to my Netflix queue. 

Eventually, this dooming thought made friends with another thought: the thought that there are certain books, movies, and TV shows that I have already read or seen that I will no doubt read or view again, in spite of the fact that I am already wasting my time by not checking off items in the huge imaginary To-Do List of Lifetime Media Consumption I have created for myself--with the assistance of Goodreads, IMDB, and Flixster. I was wasting my time re-reading To Kill a Mockingbird every summer instead of making friends with Leo Tolstoy. All my repeated viewings of 13 Going on 30 would mean nothing if I somehow missed out on some other unknown rom-com gem. And I didn't even want to think about all the times I have re-watched movies just to remember why I don't like them. (Blog post on this subject to follow.)

I had reached a postmodern paradox: I wanted to experience everything, but I knew I could not. All of this deep thinking exhausted my already emotionally strained mind, until I realized that the desire to re-experience was the solution to the whole problem. How? Here's how.

Remember that scene in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade where Sean Connery as Dr. Henry Jones Sr. opens his umbrella on the beach and runs at all the seagulls, causing a plane to crash and saving himself and his son, Indy, from the evil Nazis? (As opposed to all those nice Nazis...) What does he say to Indy to explain this erratic behavior? "I just remembered my Charlemagne." Unfortunately, I'm not well-read enough to know what Dr. Jones is actually quoting, but the principle of the scene applies. Because the answer to my problem is "I remembered my Shakespeare."

The single most famous Shakespearean soliloquy comes from Hamlet. You know it as "The 'To Be Or Not To Be' Speech." But it contains a well-stated concept that acted like a soothing balm on my situation. "...makes us rather bear those ills we have, / Than fly to others that we know not of." Just like Henry Jones quoting Charlemagne, it might seem like gibberish out of context like this, but I couldn't quote the whole sentence because there's a lot of flowery language about Death personified that doesn't really apply. In fact, strictly speaking, the quote I gave is Hamlet explaining why a lot of people choose not to commit suicide, which has nothing to do with my situation. But at its core, this quote says that if we know the qualities of something, we're apt to keep those somethings around instead of replacing them with others that we don't know.

Translating this into the dilemma of never finishing the World Library, I realized that I'm just "bearing the ills" I know and love by re-reading and re-watching books and shows that I already know have wisdom that suits my style. And I'm okay with not flying to all the "others that I know not of" all the time. I'm okay with not being consumed with the consumption of new media.

But then the thought went even deeper. Because I've been thinking about all the great friends I've had at different periods of my life and thinking about when the Ultimate Friend will show up--the one that I will love so much that I will marry him. And suddenly that Ultimate Friend became like a really good book, or a great TV show, or a fabulous movie. With him, just once won't be enough. I'll have to keep re-reading and re-watching to discover all the nuances and details I didn't notice before, little tidbits that make him even better on a 322nd viewing, or a 456th read through. Sure, I'll have my favorite parts that I've highlighted or that I skip to on the DVD when I need a quick pick me up. But the whole goal of having him in my life will be to know and appreciate the whole package. And that will take repeated screenings. And readings. And it won't matter that I don't know every single person on earth, because I'll know him. The quality of us will mean so much more than the quantity of them.