Saturday, December 31, 2016

My Last Lecture (part III)

At the end of every semester I write a "Last Lecture", which is more or less words of advice that I think the students need to hear, words I wish I had heard when I was in college (or even now). This is the third semester I have done this, and each year is better than the last. I find new truths that I didn't even know I knew until writing them down. Now I realized when I came on here that I never posted the last lecture I gave for the Winter Semester I taught. I'll find it and put it on here in the following week. For now, I'll post the last lecture I wrote for this year; it was the hardest piece to read in class since it was the last lecture I would give at BYUI. But more on that later. Here you go:

We are not perfect. None of us are. We will never be perfect while piloting these meat sacks around this rotating orb of inconspicuous existence, spirit bodies having a mortal experience, waiting until we return home.

Perfection: that word implying flawless exceptionality unreachable by even the saintliest, the richest, the most beautiful, the strongest, the fastest, the smartest; that word, denoting completed wholeness, no need for improvement or growth or continuation. Perfection is the antithesis of being. Mortal perfection is what we should aspire to overcome, to grow beyond, or around, or outside of; because it is by mortal perfection that we lose ourselves, that we become absorbed in the ‘things’ of living: those objects that distract from truth and light and happiness; those ‘things’ that prognosticate hollow realities devoid of sustenance.

Don’t be perfect. Perfect is not for this life.

Be curious.

Be growing.

Be learning.

Be improving.

Be loving. Love with your whole soul, with every molecule bonded throughout your bodies; love until your bones crack and your skin tingles and you can’t breathe. Give that love freely. You cannot force love, nor can you take it. Love is the embodiment of time devoted to another, given without restraint by the giver to the recipient without expectation of reciprocation. It is the purest form of honesty and truth that one mortal can give to another, that one eternal being can give to another. It is the only gift we can give to God that He does not already possess. It is the only gift we can give each other that we cannot attain independently. Give love and accept love, be loving no matter what.

Be passionate. Stop living for the system, for ‘the man’, for the voice in your head that sounds like your mom or dad telling how to feel and what to think and who to be and what to eat; stop living for other people and their manufactured ideals perpetuated simply because that’s what’s been done since the dawning of mankind. Start living for yourself. Start making choices. Any choices. Choose which shoes to wear: not because a commercial or a friend or an ad online or a price tag, but because they are comfortable and help make your posture better. Choose what career you want to have, not because of the money you can make or the possible prestige associated or the people you will impress or the bullies and naysayers you can prove wrong, but choose a career because you are passionate about the work being done; because you love the environment and the people. Because you found a love in doing. Choose to be better than what you think you deserve. Be better than just the you that has been given to you. Choose to be passionate about you and becoming more you than anyone else could possibly hope to understand.

There is no one else in this world who is youer than you. You are the youest there is. Sounds like Dr. Suess, and I’m pretty sure it is, but still, it’s true. The scariest part, is that you can lose you. You can lose every single little detail that makes you you. And often no one takes it, we just give it away because we aren’t using it. We lose sight of who we are and what we want and what makes us happy, and we walk down the street tossing out little pieces of ourselves like confetti. And soon, you, the you that once was you, will no longer be you, but will be some other. And that other won’t recognize you, and it will start to change how you look, what you think, what you eat, what music you like, what words you say. That other will take your collection of obscure Mexican geckos and sell them to an aquarium for creepy men to look at, all the while you won’t even realize that all your favorite clothes are gone and you find yourself eating wedge salads and talking about the price of butternut squash at the farmer’s market. It is so easy to lose you when you aren’t paying attention.

Pay attention.

Hold on to you. Keep you close. Get to know you. Develop you. Be passionate, and you will become more you. Never stop becoming more you.

And share that you with others. Whether in class, at church, at home, with a stranger at the Taco Bell after curfew; share yourself with others, give of yourself. Give of your passion for being. Give of that love.

Really, it all comes down to giving. To love and be loved. To be passionate. To be you. You must give. Give time. Give love. Give of yourself. Give to yourself. Give.

We are not perfect, and I hope we never will be, because I don’t want to stop growing and learning and becoming more me than I am now. It will be hard. I can guarantee it will be impossible. But the thing about impossible, is that nothing is impossible so long as we don’t know it is impossible. Some days you will want to give up. I almost did. But don’t. If you find yourself losing hope, thinking that you is no longer who you want, or that the omnipresent struggles of being weigh too much, never give up. Never surrender. Keep being imperfect. Keep making mistakes. Keep moving until you see yourself moving forward, moving upward, and you will start to become you again. The edge is scary, and easy to find, and there are many willing to lead to the edge and watch you fall into the down. Do not go there. Do not follow them. You are you, and you are more than just a meat sack, whether you know it or not.

You are loved. By many. By God. By your family. By your friends. By your ward family. By that stranger you held the door open for last week who was on crutches, or the person sitting alone who you smiled at in the Crossroads. But if you don’t feel love from any of them, know that I love you. You are part of me. You are part of my family. These last months have given me hope when I saw nothing but the darkness in the down while standing on the edge. I love all of you, not as students, but as friends. Keep being you. Keep giving. Keep loving.

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Day 1467 . . .

Over four years now since receiving my Master of Arts degree in Creative Writing. Each May, I try to ignore where I currently am in life: ignore the pain of wondering how I got here, why I'm still struggling through the frustrations and stresses and repeated uncertainties of being (or not being) that makes it difficult to even want to get out of bed in the morning, let alone consider the meaning of my life in the last four years or where my life is headed for the next who-knows how long. You can go back and read each year's update and see the negativity that I shroud myself in, the blindness to the beauty of the word in which I reside, the overlooked blessings given me, the multitude of experiences that carry me through each year. It's easy for me, to be negative. It's what comes natural. Most of my writing follows the same logic (lots of people dying, malicious vindictive characters, unhappiness, misery, sorrow; you get the picture).

I come from a long, long line of negativity and pessimism--some would call it genetics. Cursed DNA. It flows through my veins; no blood, just negative Qi that I nurture. Like Ghostbusters II. The point is, I am generally unhappy and pretty honesty about it. The only problem is that each syllable of negativity, each pernicious thought, each sulking request for seemingly ‘unwanted’ pity, another drop of negative Qi gets added to my already overflowing mug.

But the thing is, no matter how much time transpires, how much distance I put between me and formalized education, from that forced productivity, from who I thought I was going to be and who I am, it doesn't matter. None of it matters. That imagined life, the fight to be on top, to be the best, to be someone, to create something that matters, or make millions of dollars and live above the rest of humanity or change the world or save lives or whatever it is that people who matter do.

None of it matters.

I know how cliché this will sound, but I can't change what already has been. Yahoo for time and space and physics. It's just the way it is.

I am 31.
I have my Master's degree.
I work at a craft store full-time.
I adjunct teach part-time.
I write in the off chance there is spare time.
I go to church and teach the men once a month.
I do other church service.
I live in a small two bedroom apartment in Rexburg.
I left my home state that I love because I couldn't find a job that would support my family.

Even though that summary is brief, none of it really matters. It's just stuff. Or numbers. Or whatever you want to call it. What I'm saying is that it's quantifiable. And to be honest, that's one part of math I do not miss.

This is what matters:
-I have been married for over 10 years. My generation often does not reach that milestone. She is the sexiest woman I know (and I'm not one of those guys who just say that because they are deluding themselves; she IS the most beautiful woman I know).


She is my best friend. She knows more about me than any other person alive. Our life together has not been easy, and at times it has just been unhappy; disagreeing on the direction our lives should take, how to raise our children, what is and is not appropriate dinner conversation with friends, etcetera. But that's okay, because that's how we learn and grow and become better. I love her, and I hope she loves me, and nothing could be better (except maybe more donuts in bed); 

-I have two kids under four. They are intense. And I cannot imagine my life without them.


For full disclosure: I never wanted kids. Ever. Those who are close to me already know this. My whole life growing up, I didn't like kids. They made me uncomfortable for reasons I still don't understand. And when the wife and I got married, she knew that I didn't want kids; only, she didn't understand what that really meant. A lot of arguments over the years coupled with a lot of tears. Then, six years later we got (planned) baby number one: the Chubbs. Nineteen months after that (planned again, sort of), baby number two: the Little Sir. I love my children (something I never thought I'd say). I still don't like kids. In fact, now that I have children, I dislike other people's children even more than I used to. But my kids are amazing. They are adorable and loving and polite and hilarious, and just way better than I could have imagined. They are also the most difficult experiences I have had and they make me want to run my head into the wall, but I wouldn't change that either;

-I have been lucky enough to publish some of my short fiction. This one is easy to overlook, because none of work has appeared in any 'nationally recognized' journals or anything that the literary world would deem relevant. Just small publications with small presses. Plus the hundreds of rejections in-between. But someone who doesn’t know me liked something I wrote and wanted to share it with other people. That feeling cannot be overstated;

-I (and my family) are all healthy. Because I work at a craft store, I don’t have medical benefits. And because I work at a craft store, I can't afford medical coverage for my family. And because I work at a craft store and adjunct teach, I make too much money for Obamacare. I have put my family in quite the nasty pickle. Thankfully, they are all healthy and well, including myself, and for that I could not be more grateful.

-I am lucky to have people around me who care about my life (aside from my family). If you ask the wife, she will tell you that one of my greatest complaints is “I don’t have any friends,” or “No one likes me”. It’s like I’m still in elementary school or something. But if I am truly honest with myself, I know that I have good people in my life who care about who I am, what I am doing, and where I am going. It’s hard to recognize a majority of the time when those people may not live within a visitable distance (I miss California).

Other than that, nothing else matters. We are well. We are (generally) happy. We struggle, no question. Life is hard. Like, super hard. Adulting is by far the worst. But we get by, and we have each other, and nothing else really matters. I could go on about how I’m depressed a good portion of every day; how I am not living up to my potential as a human, husband, and father; how I am tired of watching people around me ten years younger being more successful than I am with less education and experience; how I can't handle all the rejection all the time; but none of it makes a difference. None of it, in the end, matters. Because we’re all going to die and nothing will go with us, except our memories. Our experiences. And when I die, leaving this crusty old carcass here to (hopefully) decompose, maybe help a tree grow, I hope my spirit will be able to meet those that died before me, and we’ll hug them, and smile, and I’ll be able to say: "Yah, I’d do that again."