inner light

I'm going to shamelessly borrow from Quaker phraseology and talk about my "inner light."

Roughly a week ago, I came to the realization that my inner light was depleted.  I've been increasingly negative and pessimistic.  I've been self-critical in a bad way; I keep dwelling on things that I've done wrong or might have done wrong.  I've been over critical of myself in social situations: I see myself as too talkative or opinionated and I kick myself over bad phrasing or poorly contextualized statements.  I muck up stories that were once funny, and I end up playing devil's advocate awkwardly.  Academically, I'm in a self-esteem low and have been focusing on how much I don't know.  But then I end up being overly academic in other situations.   At church, I've been paying attention to the statements I disagree with rather than picking out the good things.  Like I said in my last post, it's just so much easier to focus on the things that need improvements, and this has been going on in all areas of my life.  In fact, I've been feeling a little bit of this breed of pessimism about that post: I didn't articulate my points well and I was too negative, blah blah blah.  It's sort of a downward spiral.  I'm negative, so I feel bad, so I'm negative...

Just coming to this realization has helped a lot.  I still slip, but when I do, I just have to let it go.  If people take things the wrong way, oh well.  I'll do my best to both honest and loving and everything will sort itself out.  I was trying to come up with things to lift myself up: meditation, gardening, miscellaneous recreation, but it was just a shift of mind more than anything else.

This week I re-read The Great Divorce by C.S. Lewis.  It reminded me that people tend to be too self-focused and that I am no one.  I reminded me to try and see the word as it really is, and that I'll never be able to see and understand everything, at least not mortally.  It taught me that nobody should be able to take away my joy.  It taught me that focusing on the negative is really just focusing on the self, and it reminded me of my mantra to be the person you want to be, right now.  A quote:
"Hell is a state of mind--ye never said a truer word.  And every state of mind, left to itself, every shutting up of the creature within the dungeon of its own mind--is, in the end, Hell.  But Heaven is not a state of mind.  Heaven is reality itself.  All that is fully real is Heaven.  For all that can be shaken will be shaken and only the unshakeable remains."
I had a taste of Heaven once.  I was sitting next to someone I didn't like and didn't want to be with, hearing him go on about things I didn't care about.  To escape, I started thinking of the vastness of space and suddenly, I felt an incredible about of love.  For the person I didn't like, for everyone at the table, for the world.  We were all God's children, we were all equal, and hating anyone was silly.  The feeling of joy lasted for hours, maybe even days.  But in time I stopped feeding it and it faded.

I got a bit of it back this week, and the Lewis book was mostly responsible.  Writing that last post, though, was like throwing water on the flame.  While honesty is important, I think that I need to focus on goodness for a bit, until my inner light is strong enough.  With a sense of joy, things will take their real form, and thus my honest criticisms will be distilled (e.g. into what needs to be done for change) instead of occurring for enjoying the process of criticism.

The journey will certainly be interesting, but ideally, I'll never lose my joy, my Heaven, for too long ever again.

teaching young women

A bit ago, I was asked to help out with a YW class. I didn't end up doing it (out of town), but it got me looking at the teaching manual and I wanted to share some thoughts.

Looking through the list of lessons, the section on "Fulfilling Women’s Divine Roles" seems like it has the most questionable material, though it has a lot of good stuff too. The idea of having "divine potential" in a spiritual sense instead of a gender-roles-sense is great, but they can't help but sneak gender roles.  Also, requiring priesthood approval to have a guest teacher is silly:
"Invite an exemplary sister (preferably one who has married in the temple and has a family), who has been approved by priesthood advisers, to speak to the young women about the joy of being a woman."
"Finding Joy Now" is a wonderful lesson--life doesn't start at marriage or motherhood. The lesson entitled "Homemaking" seems an odd fit for this section, since I typically associate homemaking with housekeeping++. They've apparently co-opted the term "homemaking" and tried to put a spiritual spin on it:
Explain that homemaking involves a wide variety of activities, all of them important. Of great importance, of course, is keeping a house clean and taking care of the physical needs of the family members. However, there is another important side to homemaking, as Sister Belle S. Spafford, a former general president of the Relief Society, points out:

“Homemaking, as I view it, falls into two major divisions: homemaking and housekeeping. Homemaking takes into account the spiritual values: love, peace, tranquility, harmony among family members, security. It makes of a place of residence a spot to which family members can retire from a confused and troubled world and find understanding and rejuvenation. Its character is quietness; it evidences good taste, culture, and refinement. Men, women, and children alike have their individual contributions to make to good home and family life, and each shares in its benefits.

“Housekeeping involves the work of keeping a house clean, orderly, and well managed. This includes financial management, failure in which often becomes a source of family friction.”
I won't go into how silly it is to divide something into two things: itself and something else.  I also think that putting this in the series "Fulfilling Women’s Divine Roles" just begs a few questions: Do men have no divine responsibility to keep their house clean?  How about to bring spiritual values into the home?  Why do we keep bringing gender into these things?

Lesson 8, "Attitudes about Our Divine Roles" is interesting.  The objective is that "Each young woman will develop a positive attitude about her divine roles of wife and mother."  After all that beating around the bush, they finally let the cat out of the bag: wife and mother are the divine roles, the potential we want them to reach.   For starters, I think have issue with the idea of having a spiritual role defined by my gender, no matter what it is.  I think being married is a blast, and I look forward to being a mother, and I think that it's good for teenagers to seriously consider these possibilities.  But.

But three things: 1) emphasizing marriage and children too much in a culture can lead to social and emotional hardship when folks don't "fulfill their potential," 2) the way marriage/mothering is taught tends to be to the exclusion of other wonderful things for women (I'm not saying that that's how the manual is written, but often times that's the lesson the girls end up learning), and 3) there is not nearly as much analogous discussion of marriage and fathering for boys.  As an example of numero dos:
Point out that the worldly view of women’s roles is false partly because it is selfcentered. It focuses so much on a woman’s rights to receive that it almost ignores her opportunities to give.
I agree that it's good not to be self-centered and that it's better to focus on giving, but just to clarify, what are the worldly views of women's roles?  Last I check, most of the world agreed with the idea that women should be primarily wives and mothers.  An increasingly large portion is equalist, saying that men and women should have just as much opportunity to work, stay at home, become educated, and have families.  (Yay!)  And a very, very small sliver is women's-rights-greedy to the degradation of men.  Tossing out this last category, how is the "worldly view" bad?  Because more people are starting to think that there aren't women's roles?  That it emphasizes that women are people?  (Also wik: stop with the true/false binary.)

I can also pick apart the lesson on the value of education:
“There are impelling reasons for our sisters to plan toward employment. … We want them to obtain all the education and vocational training possible before marriage. If they become widowed or divorced and need to work, we want them to have dignified and rewarding employment. If a sister does not marry, she has every right to engage in a profession that allows her to magnify her talents and gifts.”
Three things: 1) not so much with education and training after marriage?  2) Why is education either a contingency plan or a boon in teaching your own kids?  3) I don't have the right to engage in a profession if I marry?  Or do I just have to pick one that doesn't magnify my gifts and talents?

But.  But.  But.  There are lots of great things in many of these lessons.  I've just highlighted a few of the increasingly infrequent things that rub me the wrong way.  And they aren't less frequent because I'm getting softer.  I think there's been huge progress for women, both globally and within the Mormon context.  I think it's important to make note of the things that still need to be fixed, but it's equally import to acknowledge the great things about where we are now.  I didn't do the latter in this post because it's both easier and more interesting to discuss areas that require improvement.

don't compete with the boys

Growing up, I knew my life was out of phase with "Mormon culture."  Both my parents were (are) professionals with advanced degrees. I academically outperformed every boy in our ward (and maybe even most of them in our stake).  For career day in elementary school, I dressed up as a lawyer, skirted twill power-suit and all.  I babysat twice as a youth, and to this day have never changed a diaper.  Instead of babysitting, I bought wholesale balloons (or really my parents did the buying), fliered the neighborhood, and made bank twisting animal balloon for parties.  I went to a private college-prep high school.  These are small metrics, but that's really the only way you can measure childhood and teenager-dom.  The point is: I was driven in areas that Mormon girls tend not to be, and apathetic in the areas that were culturally emphasized for girls.

One ward conference, all the young men and women were gathered together to be talked at, as tends to happen at conferences, Mormon or otherwise.  Our dear Sister W. made a remark that stuck with me for a very long time.  She was talking about academic stuff, and she says to us girls (with the boys sitting there listening along) "Don't compete with the boys."  I'm sure it could have been interpreted to mean everyone should achieve at their own standard, but then why bring gender in at all?  Sweet and kind as Sister W. was and is, she meant that girls shouldn't compare themselves to boys academically/professionally because either they'd fall short (and they will if you feed them that rhetoric their whole lives) or else it wasn't their place (i.e. they, due to their femaleness, should be more domestically and family focused).  Whatever her reason, it was part advice, part directive, and it infuriated me.  I steamed at church and sobbed for a long time when I finally got home.

It was a long time ago, and I'm very over it.  Forgiveness, healing, repentance of my anger, the whole deal.  And I've changed a lot since I was a kid.  Heck, I'm way more domestic than I'd ever thought I'd be.  I love cooking, crocheting/knitting, and gardening.  I am kindling my quilting skills and have a secret passion for vacuuming.  I've always wanted kids in an abstract sense, but now I actually like playing with toddler-age kids.  (Still wary of the very wee ones, though.)  I haven't lost my drive to achieve at things I enjoy, but I've shed some of the raw material ambition and power-hunger that came with it in the past.  In short, I'm mellower as an adult than I was as a teenager.  Surprise, surprise.

But being over this event (and growing up in general) didn't prevent me from cackling maniacally at the phone call I got today.  Mom and Dad called to tell me they saw Brother and Sister W. at a wedding reception.  They talked about us briefly, how N was in grad school and all.  Then Dad just had say something along the lines: "You know Allison, she just has to compete with the boys.  So she applied to school and now she's getting her PhD too." Stone silence.


customizing the google nav bar

I was really grumpy when Google updated their nav bar earlier this month.  I wasn't the only one, though it's hard not make a UI change without making at least someone a little grumpy; people don't like to change their workflow.  I complained in the usual ways: feedback forms, a google doc note to a friend that works there, muttering at my husband... I didn't like all the new search-y links (Ctrl+T is faster), I didn't like the new ordering, with my most used apps at the end, and I didn't like that Google reader was still missing.  So I cleared my cache to revert to the old settings and settled in for the siege.  We'll see who cracks first, Google.

Turns out I wasn't that patient, which isn't terribly surprising.  I downloaded a Chrome extension for modifying the toolbar and edited it, which took all of one minute since it's just javascript/HTML.  And voila!  Happy me!





If you head to the main Princeton website, N's African Drought Monitor project made the "featured news" box.  Read the full article here.  Yay for him!


separating almondliciousness

I've alway been an almond fan, at least as long as I can remember.  Recently, I've been on an almond milk kick, drinking oodles of it, and so I decided to try and make my own, going basically off this recipe.  The almonds I used were on the older side, and I was accidentally a little heavy handed with the vanilla, so it's hard to tell how it turned out because the vanilla is too strong.  All in all, not as good as commercial almond milk, but it was good enough that I'd like to try another pass with a steadier hand and fresher almonds.

I'm drying out the solids now, and I'll use them for baking.  I like it when I can process a food into two (or more) parts and then use each of the components for different things.  I do it with egg yokes/whites all the time, and I have an itching to learn more about the uses for whey...


Is it really February?

Because it was just short of 60 degrees yesterday.  That's a California February, ladies and gentlemen, and in case you haven't noticed, I don't live in California anymore.  I'm still biking or walking to work every day; last year I wimped out an started taking the bus in December.  And it's not that I'm less wimpy.  Yesterday, I drove to the grocery store with my windows down and a light sweater on.  What is going on?!?

The danger in talking about weather in this house is that N will start talking actual science when folks just mean to shoot the breeze.  I find it entertaining when that happens.  The downside to having my man be a weatherman (which he hates being called, since it conjures up images of news-weathermen) is that I find myself thinking about weather often and talking about it more than the average bear.  Like right now.  This is a blog bost about the weather.  We need to get out more.


how isolated are you?

There's a quiz based on the recent discussion of the cultural isolation of the elite: "On a scale from 0 to 20 points, 20 signifies full engagement with mainstream American culture and 0 signifies deep cultural isolation within the new upper class bubble."  I score a 6, which isn't terribly unexpected, but it makes me kind of sad.

It also makes me wonder about what defines "mainstream American culture."  Hunting and fishing?  Seeing Transformers?  Stocking your fridge with mass market beer?  Buying trucks?  This is mainstream American culture?  Really?  I feel like all of those things breathe privilege on some level, like you have the money (and time and energy) to go hunting, see Transformers, stock your fridge, and buy a truck.

Then again, it's an online quiz...I don't know what I was expecting.

Update: I also like that this whole discussion of "mainstream American culture" is exclusively about non-hispanic white people, who make up like, what, 64% of American society?  It makes sense in that white folks have been the majority of the American population for a while and so we can talk about the changes, but it also seems like we're talking about the wrong thing.  American society is no longer as homogenous as it used to be, and that change means that we need move away from the idea that our culture is homogenous.  Remember: salad bowl, not melting pot.  That doesn't mean I think that the elite should be isolated, but it does mean that everyone (especially the elite), needs to be aware of the other facets of American culture, which means going beyond trucks and Transformers.



I just got back from a trip up to Boston, which was excellent.  N left for Niger last Saturday, and not wanting to be a lone woman in the garden of Eden, I took to the north.  All I can say is that my friends and family are wonderful.

After a long drive home, my todo list for the evening was: 1) unpack 2) go grocery shopping, 3) work out at the gym, and 4) do some work-type stuff (prepping for an HCI event tomorrow).

Number one has resulted in an explosion all over the living room.  Number two involved dropping a 1 gallon glass bottle of apple juice in the apartment parking lot (I sense a pattern...).  Number four I might put off until the morning.

Number three, though.  Man, oh man.  I'm not really a gym person.  I've tried various things, but none of them have stuck thus far.  The machines scare me.  But!  My cousin-in-law Rachael is totally amazing and got me to get over my phobia and try getting serious about working out at the gym.  We're trading personal training for coding lessons, and it's awesome.

Tonight was my first night trying the workout she's given me, and whooaoao. I have a long way to go.  My legs seem strong enough, what with all the walking and hiking I do, but everything else?  I feel like a total noodle.  For some of the machines I was like, "What do you mean you don't go any lighter than that?"  And the machine responded, "Suck it up."  Noodle.  I haven't felt this kind of adrenaline for a long time, and I'm stoked.  And laughing at myself, but still stoked.