the locust shell

Square one
September 13, 2014, 11:58 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

When BrieAnn is away from home for a few days, I get restless and nostalgic. I pour through old love letters, pictures, mementos from high school years. I think this is some kind of weird post-traumatic stress response from the months and miles spent apart while dating. Airports were like the front lines of that battlefield; I still have a guttural reaction every time we say goodbye to one another in one. After our wedding day finally arrived, we didn’t spend a night away from one another (with just a few small exceptions) for the first five years of our marriage. In a few months we will have been married for eleven years. So, even though that IS a long time to have been married and I am genuinely happy when she gets those rare opportunities to get a few days to herself and by now I SHOULD be calm at home when she is gone, I just can’t help it. She is my assurance, and I’m not quite sure what I am without her.


In these nostalgic moments, I feel alive again. Whole, you know. I’m not sure why, though. I was reading the other day that the term nostalgia originally referred to a condition experienced by homesick sailors who wanted to return home to their lovers. The solution to that problem seemed easy, or at least imaginable: you’re just one one-way ticket away from the arms of your lover and out of the glooms of nostalgia. It wasn’t until modernity sets in that nostalgia develops into a temporal condition: we often are nostalgic not only for a specific place far away, but for that place set in a specific time long ago. The modern age has rendered time travel the only solution to romantic idealism. So I guess that’s that.

But I don’t just feel nostalgic for the early feelings and experiences my sweetheart and I tousled together. I also feel grief and sadness, achiness for things I said that I wish I hadn’t, or missed opportunities to show how much our love means to me, or times when stubbornness and pride at being right drowned out the blessing of just being together. My foraging through the hope chest or picture boxes shows me all the good and the bad, the upsides and downs of our life together. In these moments, I live in the past. Or through the past, maybe. Either way, the roles we once cherished become cloudy through the filter of times gone by.


I say all this only because since moving across the country last month, settling into new roles has been bumpy. That bumpiness needs some context. Because we got married when we were 18 and 19, we hit the ground running with no money and few prospects for it. We were both full-time students with grown-up bills to pay. So, partly to overcome prejudice my new family had against me, partly to satisfy what I suspected was expected from my new faith, and partly to demonstrate to my new wife my commitment to her well-being, I started working. A lot. When I wasn’t working as a musician, I worked on my genealogy. When my genealogy eventually ran dry, I jumped head first into church service. I worked hard at converting friends and family to Mormonism, learning repertoire to give me a leg up in some far distant audition, and, above all, making more money for our life together. I thought I was beating life through success and hard work. Truthfully, the only thing I stopped working at was my marriage. Ironically, at the time I thought I was doing all those things precisely for my marriage. And in some ways I was. I was a Provider, and a pretty darn good one at that. My way of showing BrieAnn how much I valued our relationship was to actually exit the relationship in search of money. But all the while I was so distracted by work and success, loneliness crept into our marriage. When confronted with this problem, I often reacted defensively. I grew resentful or felt unloved when the value of my contribution to our marriage was considered out of balance. My role as Provider, I began to realize, was not perfect, and the false idol built up to its effect began to crumble.


Now my role has shifted. For the first time in our marriage, finding work playing piano is not easy. I have not worked a single day since July 30th, the longest hiatus from work or work-related obsessions in our marriage. Instead, I have applications out for lots of different jobs around campus. Regular jobs, ones that are over by 5pm. I have never worked a job outside of being a musician, except for the summer after I graduated high school when I worked with my dad building a deck and doing odd jobs. None of these jobs I am applying for pay close to what I was making as a pianist in Oklahoma City. We live in one of the most expensive cities in the country and I have enough responsibilities and burdens on my shoulders to bring down a Goliath but, the funny thing is, I feel relieved. Relieved and free. I used to dream about the freedom I would feel if I damaged or hurt one of my hands and couldn’t play piano anymore. Then people would leave me alone and I could actually see my kids and wife more than 15 minutes a day. Then I could stop pretending, stop parading around like a trained monkey and pause long enough to just figure out who in the world I am. I feel like this is a most important opportunity to take advantage of down time. To push reset and relearn what it is like to just be real, normal. To take back those sentiments lying in that hope chest and see them happening right before me, every day. Like Tom Petty croons to me,

Square one my slate is clear, so rest your head on me my dear. It took a world of trouble, it took a world of fear–it took a long time to get back here.


I’m nervous watching this shift away from Provider, because whatever role I am falling into I may not be good at. Not yet anyway. It feels good to do things I know I am not good at–like the hilarity of my recent foray into playing basketball. With every air ball and bounce off the rim I feel the Provider in me wincing with pain and struggling to cut losses before anyone else notices. All the while the new me punches the Provider in the arm and loudly calls out for friends to come join, even as I score, even as I completely miss.


Above art.
December 31, 2011, 11:53 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

The thing about blogging is it nags and haunts when neglected.  A lot has happened the last couple of years, naturally, but on the cusp of the new year I thought I’d share the draft of a blog entry I wrote in the spring of 2010:

“I know I am making the choice most dangerous to an artist in valuing life above art.” – James Agee

That line has been running through my head today, and for reasons my family and I have shared with only a few people.  For all the time and money and work we have been through to be where we are today–in a coveted PhD program at a premier research university, on the track to becoming a professor–our hearts have been heavy lately.  It turns out, money does make the world go ’round.  Without any possible funding for these first two years of school (aside from my work as an accompanist and a hefty advance on the next ten years of our life [read student loans]) the realities of life have been slowly creeping into our hearts and minds.  After asking some tough questions and digging through whatever flimsy options that have presented themselves, I have decided to finish this year at the University of Chicago, cut my ties, and return home with my newly-expanded family.  Funny thing is, it feels like such a relief.

There isn’t much more to say, other than sometimes the dreams you build for your life don’t always mesh with one another.  BrieAnn and I started seeing our life move in a direction that didn’t include the things we had once dreamed of, the things that had mattered above all else.  I am just renegotiating my claim on life while I still can, shifting some things around in order to ensure those most prized in my life are at the center of my life.

It’s what I have always wanted.

I think about that time now, how I would have changed some things if I had a do-over.  We made what was probably the best decision at the time, all things considered, though I also think of all that has ached my heart because of that choice to leave.  How I terribly miss being in Hyde Park and walking to the university for class.  How it felt to eat, breathe, and sleep ideas and almost nothing else.  The rush of intellectual people everywhere.  The bookstores.  That now, so much more removed from then than the measly 1,000 miles, I am a little closer to reading a status update of a dissertation completion or job interviewing from one of my dear friends in my old program–an update I both fear and giddily await, depending on the day.

I have a great life here and now.  It’s hard to imagine replacing any of it.  But the thing about a neglected blog is the same as a neglected dream: it haunts you.  Maybe the danger of Agee’s decision is felt most by the one making it, the one purposefully throwing water on the flames only to at last be clouded and choked by the smoke of his decision-making.  I guess our decision to leave really did feel like a relief at the time.  But the thing is, there are days when the more I ponder my time at Chicago the more I’m perplexed by the stumbling question: Did it really happen?

Documenting the world
July 10, 2010, 4:26 pm
Filed under: Faith

And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works. (Rev. 20:12)

For I command all men, both in the east and in the west, and in the north, and in the south, and in the islands of the sea, that they shall write the words which I speak unto them; for out of the books which shall be written I will judge the world, every man according to their works, according to that which is written. (2 Nephi 29:11)

Oh that my words were now written! oh that they were printed in a book! (Job 19:23)

A few years ago, one professor told me she thinks of all human knowledge as a big pie, with each contribution adding another slice to the whole.  While some slices are bigger than others, no slice is unimportant.  If what she could offer with her intellect was a small slice on music-text relationships in 14th century French madrigals, she knew that the pie wouldn’t be complete without that documented knowledge, and in that her work was justified.  I like her analogy.  It focuses on open dialogues among communities of scholars–both past, present, and future–working collectively to bind something together, rather than only considering what any individual effort might afford.  It reminds me of the authors anthologized in the Book of Mormon, all working independently of one another–and with a tremendous sense of urgency, not unlike scholars today–to preserve their comings and goings.  Not one of them was quite certain why they were doing so, other than out of a sense of duty to God and their community.  It was simply a project of unimaginable scope, yet somehow their individual involvement was critical to the success of the grand endeavor.

But why?  What purpose does documentation serve for us?  Why have scholars, composers, and prophets–no less than journalists, lawyers, and diarists–spent their lives writing things down, keeping records, giving the written word truth-power?

Given the hefty scriptural pronouncements on or allusions to documentation, it seems that this work of documenting the world is of incredible significance for us all.  Angels record and then look upon human prayers (D&C 62:3).  Record-keeping, along with the authority from the priesthood, has a binding effect among earth and heaven (D&C 128:8).  It even seems possible that Christ’s earthly mission was determined by what humans had written about him previously (Luke 24: 46-47, John 5:47).  Yet possibly of most importance to all of us is the level of significance documents have on human salvation.  As the scriptures heading this post attest, books are the measure by which not only individuals, but the world, are to be judged.  These books are set apart from the book of life, which seems to be a severe reckoning device to determine individually who “makes the cut,” so to speak (although, it is possible every person initially is listed in this book, as later one can be “blotted out” [Exodus 32: 32, Rev. 3:5]).  So, I say to myself in the mirror, 1) Who wrote these books and 2) What are they?  The King James BibleThe KoranHamletThe Adventures of Tom Sawyer?

Well, it seems to me: 1) we all are, or at least should be, and 2) yes.  I believe these books amount to all the efforts humans have made in trying to explain our world.  In other words, they represent human knowledge, a collective knowledge.  And [I’ll even go this far to say] from this collective knowledge will the world–or all humanity–be judged.  I don’t know for what exactly (though I have my ideas), but buried within all these scriptural proclamations on writing down the past and keeping dutiful records is a promise of gain: a charge that if we seek to learn all we can about the world, about each other, even about things seemingly superficial–and, most critically, that we then either write these things down ourselves or trust others to do so for us later–, all of our human family will be better for it.

This “pie of human knowledge” must be completed, that much is certain.  What is uncertain, and beautifully so, is the piercing question that remains:

What will my slice be?

A new earth
May 9, 2010, 4:06 pm
Filed under: Faith, Social thought

What relationship do I have with the earth?  What relationship should I have with the earth?

Those two questions have cropped up in my mind the past year or so.  While I’m sure for most people, like myself, answering the first is much more difficult than imagining the answers to the second, I want to put pen to paper (er, finger pad to key pad) what thoughts I have been entertaining the past little while.

My family and I have become, over the years, more and more conscious (and cautious) about how we treat our bodies.  We gradually scrapped meat, try to eat only natural foods with more veggies and fruits, work out regularly, blah blah blah.  On the same token, in these days, healthier living begets a healthier treatment of the environment.  We try to lessen the impact our food makes on our bodies while also going out of our way to tread lighter on our planet.  It’s a win-win for all.

But it wasn’t until a Sunday school lesson a while back that I considered why it felt so good to be a good steward of both my body and the earth.  As a Latter Day Saint, I believe Christ, with the help of others, physically created the earth under the direction of our Heavenly Father.  As Savior of mankind, Christ then inherits the exalted earth, which is where the righteous will dwell throughout eternity, with God and Christ.  Our connection to the earth, then, is not as transient beings trying desperately to make our way out in one piece, forsaking this earthly existence in order to embrace a more ethereal one.  Instead, our ultimate goal is to return here, to be with our Savior and Heavenly Father forever.  It goes without saying, then, that all that is now, was, or ever will be upon or within the earth should be our business.  If this is our eternal home, why wouldn’t I want to learn all I can of it–and the people who share(d) it with me–while in this life?  This place not only bore the footprints of our Savior during His earthly ministry, but our earth is ultimately a grand expression of His power to create and love, giving us a beautiful planet to learn more about Him, our Heavenly Father, and ourselves. Why not treat it with respect and treasure it–and all creatures that dwell upon it–as another measure of divine love for us all?

I think the answer to that question can be summed up here: the earth, our planet, is not only His creation, but it is a type for Christ.  Christ’s body and His earth-creation bear the dual burden of withstanding human frailties and abuse.  What evil can’t be measured out upon others, ourselves, or God, humans deal out to the earth–so much so that Christ’s atonement had to cover the planet itself in order to save it from the evil dwelling therein and the terrible toll humanity would take upon it.  Indeed, just as Christ’s atonement culminated in His death and resurrection, likewise the earth will experience its own death and renewal, wherein the earth will receive its paradisaical glory, becoming what it was always destined to become: a home for Gods.

What this means to me is my relationship with this earth should, at least in some ways, mirror my relationship with Christ.  I want to do everything I can to show my respect for the power and divine role of this planet in the same way as I try to show my appreciation for the gentle and loving nature of my Heavenly Father and Savior.  To paraphrase a recent op-ed in the NY Times: a sin against the planet is a sin against God.  Perhaps more truth lies in that statement–and beneath our feet–than I previously imagined.

On a snowy day
May 2, 2010, 3:34 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

In the history of profound scripture verses, this one takes the cake:

“Benaiah the son of Jehoiada, the son of a valiant man of Kabzeel, who had done many acts; he slew two lionlike men of Moab: also he went down and slew a lion in a pit in a snowy day” (1 Chronicles 11:22).

Yes.  As if killing a lion wasn’t enough, this dude took him down in a pit while it was snowing.  Makes for some drama to spice up the genealogy, I guess.  Or maybe it’s just a test to make sure you’re paying attention.

Either way, I wouldn’t want to make Benaiah mad.

Catching up
January 29, 2010, 5:23 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

“Don’t be shy, just let your feelings roll on by.”

1. Who are you?
2. Are we friends?
3. When and how did we meet?
4. Do you have a crush on me?
5. Would you kiss me?
6. Give me a nickname and explain why you picked it.
7. Describe me in one word.
8. What was your first impression?
9. Do you still think that way about me now?
10. What reminds you of me?
11. If you could give me anything what would it be?
12. How well do you know me?
13. When’s the last time you saw me?
14. Ever wanted to tell me something but couldn’t?
15. Are you going to put this on your blog and see what I say about you?

The same
October 31, 2009, 4:05 pm
Filed under: Social thought | Tags:

Something happened on the bus home today.

As we neared the stop at Ellis, I looked up from my book when I sensed we had been waiting longer than normal, only then to hear the bus’  hydraulics kick in and lower its wheelchair ramp.  A younger man wearing a camouflage jacket rolled on and for a few minutes tried to explain something to the driver. . .

The book I was reading was Focus by Arthur Miller.  It is a story of mistaken identity and the nefarious act of indifference toward the Other.  On the whole, it is about anti-Semitism in post-war America–not something we normally choose to remember from that idyllic, optimistic time in American history.  Mr. Newman has been mistaken as a Jew because of his new pair of dark-rimmed, rounded frame glasses.  Now everyone, including his old buddies, see him differently, even threatening him with physical violence.  He loses his job over this false image.  He constantly feels like a foreigner in his own neighborhood.  His life is collapsing around him and in a moment of desperation, he considers the only true Jew on his block–Mr. Finkelstein–and, thinking his presence has brought this calamity to his life, cries out to himself: “If the man would just disappear, just go away . . . for God’s sake go away and let everybody be the same!  The same, the same, let us all be the same!”

. . . The scene on the bus seemed familiar to me: the guy didn’t have a fare card but still wanted to ride.  I could hear him saying he was a veteran who just got home and apparently was trying his best to negotiate a ride.  A woman behind me kept repeating, “What he want?” over and over until, all of a sudden, I see her large figure bumble past my seat toward the door.  At that point, the wheelchaired man was looking upset and rolled backward out the open bus door, mumbling that he only wanted a ride to Federal.  Then, an older man got up and bounded for the open door, telling the man that he didn’t mind paying his fare and pleading with him to come back on the bus, that it was too cold outside.  I could see the wheelchaired man from my window smiling with gratitude but shaking his head, his words muffled by the wind and idling bus.  The man on the bus pleaded, “Please, sir, I need the blessings.  You would be doing me a favor, please let me pay your fare.”  He politely refused, the bus doors shut, and the man and woman took their respective seats.  As she collapsed heavily into her seat behind me, I could hear her sigh, “That‘s what Obama needs to take care of right there. . .”

And I believe her.

As I got off at Kimbark, I passed the older man still seated on the bus, wearing his headphones.  I stopped and considered Mr. Newman and the wheelchaired man slowly making his way in my direction from Ellis: “Thank you for your kindness” I heard myself say.  “I only wish he would have taken me up on the offer,” he smiled.

And I smiled too, for today bus 15 helped me to see another man–one I might have otherwise quickly dismissed as an unfortunate delay in my arrival home–as someone much dearer, much more significant: the same, the same, let us all be the same. . .