On cutting thread

I’m an idealist. I’ve always been an idealist.

I think a lot of that comes from having grown up with such a firm belief in God. I knew that things were supposed to be a certain way, and even if they temporarily went awry, God was so amazing and powerful and all-knowing that He would somehow make it all align with his plan in the end, amazing and delighting us that the things that we saw going wrong and how could He ever let that happen? were actually key contributing elements for the full and complete realization of His plan. You know, the all things working together for good sort of nonsense.

A lot of my idealism also comes from having been an avid reader all my life. In the majority of fiction—and, perhaps surprisingly, non-fiction as well, because we are, after all, only human, and we do like our stories—all sorts of debilitating setbacks occur, scary events happen, dangerous threats loom, but somehow, often in spite of great adversity and against all odds, the protagonist ends up saving the day. The challenges are only there to provide a delay between wanting a thing and getting it, to increase the tension in the plot, and to make you doubt, but by the time the story is over, the main character has achieved his goals.

I’m older now and smart enough to know that life doesn’t follow the supernatural myths of religion or the artificial plots of our favorite books. At least, that’s what I keep telling myself. My problem is, I don’t know how to stop being an idealist. I don’t know how to let go of my dreams. I don’t know how to accept—fully, finally, and absolutely—that something that I desperately want, something that seems so right that it must be inevitable, is never going to materialize in my life.

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The dot without arrows

When I was a teenager I found in some now-forgotten magazine a math problem that intrigued me at the time. The magazine very briefly described the scenario something like this: Imagine a sheet of paper that has a number of dots scattered across it in a random layout. If there are n dots on the sheet, how many dots are not the closest neighbor of their closest neighboring dot?

The problem must have been presented in an earlier edition of the magazine, because the article I read briefly described the problem and then walked through ideas from readers on how best to answer it. The largest number of responding readers reasoned that the answer was 0 if n is even, and 1 if n is odd. That made a lot of sense to me as well, because if Dot A’s closest neighbor is Dot B, then wouldn’t Dot B’s closest neighbor be Dot A as well? It turns out, however, that in math—as in life—not everything is so simple.

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Running for mother at Häagen-Dazs

I have a distinct memory of the first time I visited Häagen-Dazs as a child. I was in third grade, and I had a friend whose parents were rich. He lived in a house that I considered a mansion, and his life was very different from mine. (I remember him talking to me about his family’s recent trip to Egypt. He told me, probably not intentionally trying to sound like a snob, but merely repeating something he had overheard one of his parents saying, “We flew first class. It’s the only way to travel,” and I replied, confused about why he had thought to mention this fact, “Well, if there aren’t any other options, then of course you did.”) He knew about this magical place that served the best ice cream in the world, only it had some strange unpronounceable name that I thought sounded vaguely like a pig—and therefore rather appropriate as a name for ice cream, I guess—until I saw it emblazoned on the storefront.

I was there only because I had been invited to spend the weekend at his house, and his family decided to go for ice cream while I was over. I’m sure, for them, Häagen-Dazs was the only place to get ice cream. I wish I could tell you the exact name of the flavor I ordered and describe its decadence in precise detail, but I have no memory of the ice cream, though I suppose it must have been good, because I remember that he and I were pumped up on sugar and running around. He was jumping up over the benches on the store’s outdoor patio, and I was chasing after him, both of us laughing, when I misjudged and toppled over, landing hard on my chest, which knocked the wind out of me. Feeling unable to breathe, I ran over to his mother, who was engrossed in conversation with a friend. She ignored me as I continued to get dizzier and dizzier until, fearing I would fall, I lay down on the ground beside her feet.

She finally looked down at me, her face completely blank as she regarded me for a full second, then she turned back to her friend, scowled meaningfully with one upraised eyebrow, and continued her conversation. It took me another fifteen seconds or so to realize that was it. In the life of a child, fifteen seconds is also long enough to regain your breath and to realize that you aren’t, in fact, going to die, and the pain and fear that seemed unbearable only moments before is actually quite tolerable, maybe even gone completely. The other pain, though, the surprising pain of being completely ignored and uncared for, even as insignificant as it was against the larger backdrop of my youth, that pain stayed with me for years after that experience, and it took me far longer to understand.

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Driving past dairy farms

Yesterday, for the first time in perhaps a year and a half, I just happened to drive past a dairy farm. I hadn’t intentionally been avoiding dairy farms, though I would be the first to admit that such a place could easily be one of the things in life that might actually be worth avoiding. If you’ve ever been to one, or near one, you know what I mean. And if you haven’t, let me paint you the briefest of pictures.

The first thing you notice, as you approach a dairy farm, is the stench. I don’t want to exaggerate and say the stink travels for miles, but the simple fact is that the stink travels for miles. You smell it long before you see it. It’s an acrid smell, a mixture of ammonia, methane, and shit. When you see it, the visuals match. The farm is all silver metal fences marking out the boundaries of dark brown muck punctuated by feeding and watering troughs. A few scattered poles hold up small sections of roofing as token wards against sun and rain. Then there are the cows, of course, crowded together in the narrow strips of shade near the feed, covered from hoof to mid flank in shit or mud or both.

It looks like one of the most miserable circumstances of a life I can imagine. Certainly the cows wouldn’t choose to be there, if they were given a choice. I was momentarily outraged at the insensitivities of my fellow men, who apparently thought that this kind of treatment of these animals was somehow justified. And then I realized: this is the price of cheese.

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On silence

Silence can be a gift. It can also be a tragedy.

In her book When Women Were Birds, Terry Tempest Williams tells of a gift bequeathed to her from her dying mother: a shelf full of journals that her mother had faithfully kept for years and years. When Terry finally had the courage to open them after her mother’s death, she discovered that each journal was completely blank. Her mother had given Terry a startling record of her most precious gift: her silence.

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It’s actually happening. Call me crazy, but I was sure it was going to get cancelled. I didn’t know what excuse to expect, but I was certain that something would come up that would prevent us from going.

I’m normally an optimist. But I didn’t see how I would actually be able to pull off a multi-day trip with just Girlfriend and me. She has young children. She has obligations at home. Even after we made the reservations, I was sure it couldn’t actually work out. But Mr. Wonderful took some time off from his work so that he could care for the children, and tomorrow morning Girlfriend and I are headed to Seattle for a weekend getaway.

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The man-purse upended

It’s a little bit baffling for a guy. Well, maybe I speak too soon. There is a certain amount of logic in the idea of it. You have certain things you need throughout the day, and so you carry them around with you in a little satchel. That makes sense. But the term “little satchel” can in no way be applied to the monstrosities that many women carry around and call purses, nor is what ends up in them limited to the barest of necessities for the day. Have you ever seen a purse upended? Have you ever picked through the spilled contents and wondered for what possible purpose was this receipt, or this piece of gum, or this thank you note carried around every day for well over a year?

I know what you’re thinking: “Ha ha! Aren’t you a great sexist? You can make fun of women.” The things is, I don’t enter this topic to poke fun at women, but because I’ve realized that we all carry our purses. Thankfully, our culture doesn’t demand that men carry an actual purse. If we did, we’d no doubt lug a 200 lb bag filled with screwdrivers, wrenches, duct tape, and super glue, along with our own assortment of ancient receipts, mushed up sticks of gum, and fourteen pencil stubs. But that’s what we do emotionally. We carry around our emotional man-purses. And mine has recently been upended.

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Baptism by immersion

I wore my suit again. It’s been almost a year since I last put it on. I don’t like to brag, but you know what? I clean up pretty nicely.

The occasion was the baptism of my daughter. She turned eight last month and according to the rules of Mormonism, that’s the age of accountability, the age at which a person is finally old enough to make a significant life choice about whether to follow Christ or not. Never mind that an eight-year-old who was raised in the church has no ability to decide for herself what is true. Never mind that 100% of children born to an LDS family are baptized upon reaching age eight if the family is still active. Never mind all that. This was my daughter, and though I disagree with the practice, I support my daughter. I want her to know that I love her. An event that is important to her, then, is important to me.

I shaved. I put my suit on. I drove to the stake center. I knew what to expect.

I didn’t expect what happened next, though.

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Side dish

I’ve been feeling like mashed potatoes. I love mashed potatoes. While I’m not the world’s largest fan of the traditional Thanksgiving meal, mashed potatoes go a long way toward making the day something to look forward to. When you get the consistency just right, and you cover it with gravy. Mmm. You know how it’s easy to stuff yourself and still want to go back for seconds? Mashed potatoes always make the list of things that go back on my plate for over-indulgent seconds.

I don’t know anybody, though, who has only mashed potatoes as the meal. They always seem to be a side dish. They’re wonderful, but they’re always a side dish. I’ve been feeling a lot like mashed potatoes recently. Wonderful. But only a side dish.

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Heavy medal

Tithing was always a heavy medal. The weight caused the material it was pinned against to sag, and the constant flopping around with every movement soon began to be annoying, and the fastener constantly irritated the skin. But by God, as a devout Mormon it was a medal worth wearing.

After all, tithing wasn’t just a sign of devotion, of commitment to the one true God. It was also a commandment with a promise. The very windows of heaven were opened to one who paid a faithful tithe, and the blessings were pouring down in such quantity that there was hardly any room left to receive any more of them.

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