Saturday, August 24, 2013

Bear Prayer Heresy

[Likely you'll either find this heretical or hilarious, possibly both. I posted some of this on facebook, but I'm re-posting here, with some editing. I'm trying to find the right balance between true reverence for God and humor over my obvious craziness. If I get it wrong, please try to forgive me. Nothing I say here should be construed as official doctrine of the LDS church.]

THE PRAYER

I fear I was an accessory to blasphemy. Bear asked to give the prayer over lunch, and, without thinking, I let him.

"Dear Heavenly Father, we thank thee for this food, and that I got rescued (YAY!). Please bless this food and help us to have a good day...pleeeease...? In the name of Jesus Christ, amen."

It was kind of funny, but I felt guilty afterward.
The most charitable explanation is that I momentarily forgot, due either to distraction or my euphoria at Bear's rescue, that he wasn't a real member of the family. 'Cause, let me tell you, he just...projects. My little sister used to pretend to be an alligator, and she was so convincing, one couldn't help but recoil. Let's blame this on an over-active imagination; it's not that I'm incapable of distinguishing what's real, it's just that I have trouble transitioning.

I've never "lied" to my kids about Santa et al; instead I've told them it's fun to pretend things, but I don't want them to be confused about false faith in the "The Great Easter Bunny, who died in a diabetic coma for our sins" versus real faith in God. It's just that the tooth fairy doesn't feel real, and Bear does. I've spent nine years dealing with the hyperactive little creature, putting him in time out (oh, so often!), even writing stories, including two biographies, about his adventures.

I felt it was a mistake to blur the line between the unseen realm of the Divine and the unseen world of imagination.

Now I faced an existential question: was this what came of writing a silly story about Bear wanting to get baptized? Would I be required to suppress that narrative as part of my penance? Where was the right balance?

I decided that if I saw a child playing and pretending to have a stuffed animal pray, I wouldn't say anything. I don't interfere when Hyperbole (Jeff's stuffed bull) crosses horns and hooves during family prayer. I didn't intervene when Daniel played apostate versions of "church" when he was four. It's different when apostasy is parent-authorized, though, so I determined to talk to my kids about it during scriptures that night, explain my mistake, and announce a new policy to prevent a recurrence.


This led to...


THE MEETING

[At family scripture study.]

Gail: Today I made a mistake. I let Bear say a prayer, and then I felt bad about it, because--Um. So, I've never lied to you about Santa or the Tooth Fairy. I mean, I want to encourage you to pretend things, but we all need to remember that..." [awkward pause while Gail looks around to see if Bear is listening] "...that Bear isn't real. But don't tell him I said that! Oh dear, I'm sending mixed messages here. Um, Jon--help?"
Jon: [Sits silently, eyes twinkling]
Gail: You're not helping!
Jon: I've never seen you trip over your words like this. [He looks inscrutable, except for his eyes, which were totally, I mean TOTALLY, mocking me.]
Gail: Okay, see, now I have this awful dilemma. Because on the one hand, I feel guilty saying that Bear isn't real. It's kind of like committing murder. [Gail gulps and forces herself to obey the higher law] On the other hand, it's more important to worship God. And I want everyone to have real faith in God, who is real, and not faith in stuffed animals, who, technically, aren't...
Daniel: [picks up a stuffed wolf and mimes it attacking me in retaliation for my prejudicial assertions.]
Gail: [Gets a grip on herself.] Okay. Stuffed animals are not real. I mean, they are not real people. We need to be reverent in our prayers. So, no more stuffed animal prayers. That's the new rule.
Jon: Okay, no more praying to stuffed animals!
[Eric and Daniel crack up.]
[Gail laughs helplessly and hysterically.]

EPIC parenting fail. And Jon, you were NOT HELPFUL.


THE FALLOUT

I laughed for ages. I coughed, I wheezed, I had an asthma attack. I felt guilty about possibly being irreverent, and I wanted to apologize to Heavenly Father, but I thought it wouldn't be a good idea to pray while I was still giggling uncontrollably. Saying "I'm really sorry that I--hahahaha!" didn't seem to send the right message, somehow. Of course, my inability to stop laughing just made the guilt worse, but that tension made the situation more comic, which made me laugh even harder. It was a comedic spiritual death spiral.


"I will repent in sackcloth and ashes," I typed on facebook, mirthful tears streaming down my cheeks, "as soon as the hyperventilating stops."


Carolyn commented her belief that "all stuffed animals go to Heaven!" I agreed that there was no reason a resurrected person couldn't have a teddy bear, provided he doesn't engage in, say, idol worship. Then I reminisced, "
I had that dream once where Bear was physically manifesting in the spirit world. I paused to think 'But...that should be impossible!' (Not that Bear was independently mobile, but that he was corporeal.) Then I shrugged and thought 'Well, we all know he's a REALLY talented Bear...'"


THE AFTERMATH
 

[Kids go to bed] 
[Gail continues giggling uncontrollably. Eventually she starts wheezing asthmatically.]
Gail: I'm going to--hahaha--go get a drink of water.
Jon: Don't pee your pants, no matter how much you want to.

Gail
: [Looks around for weaponry. Spots Hyperbole (Jeff's stuffed bull) and uses him to whack Jon repeatedly]

Jon
: [Deadpan] That poor stuffed animal....and he can't even pray for help. [Pause] Now, if he had a rameumpton...

Gail: [collapses again, unable to breathe]


Incapable of speech, I typed this note to him via facebook:

"Okay, Jon Stanley Berry. Don't blame me if you get stuck driving me to urgent care tonight. In the event that I am unable to communicate, due to asphixiation-induced unconsciousness, kindly remember to bring Hippocrata as my comfort animal. She's one of the two hippos; not Herodotus, he's the gray one. If you can't find her quickly, try yelling 'Is there a doctor in the house?' She ought to respond immediately.
"

Carolyn commented quickly: "Not that it was ever in doubt, but Jon has forever earned his Homer street cred with the line: 'That poor stuffed animal....and he can't even pray for help.'"

I answered, "I know!
Most of the time Jon sits there quietly, getting all the jokes and being amused, but not actively participating. But then, every so often, he busts out with something so witty...in this perfect deadpan...amazing!"


RESOLUTION

I prayed last night, privately, and apologized. I felt like Heavenly Father's attitude was, "Well, don't do it again. But...hahaha! That was one of the best laughs I had all day."

I'm glad He has a sense of humor; otherwise I would be utterly doomed.

My goal in life is to make someone laugh every day. If I made God laugh...it means at least I accomplished something yesterday, right?

Also, my reflection gave me insight, as it is supposed to do. I think the problem is that I am still childlike in my imagination. I'm just as attached to my "talking" stuffed animals as Sam is to his monsters. So, don't think of me as a heretic. Think of me as an overgrown three-year-old who sometimes has trouble shifting between real and pretend spheres.

I believe in God, and I believe in showing Him reverence. I also enjoy pretending things, and occasionally that gets out of hand. Yesterday was an example of what happens when worlds collide, not with a bang, but with a very messy "splat!"


CONCLUSION

If nothing else, I have a new quote for the ages: "Bear isn't real, but don't tell him I said that."

I think it's my new #1 "Mommiest Moments" quote, narrowly edging out the decade-old classic "Wash your hands before you pick your nose!!!"


Speaking of being a mommy, I should stop writing and get to work on my long "to do" list. I've been neglecting it.

If you'll excuse me, I need to go pretend to be a real grown up.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Dragon Division

[To help my writing camp kids get started, I wrote several ideas down on scraps of paper and threw them in a hat. The first category was a class of character ( ninja, dragon, pirate, ghost…). The second category involved a personality flaw (shy, vain, ADHD, paranoid…). “This might mean we get vain ninjas, ADHD dragons, and friendly pirates,” I enthused, “but that's just part of the fun!”

The next step was to generate a plot by torturing the character. “Ask yourself what’s the worst thing you could possibly do to this character,” I said, “And then do it. Write down what happens. If you have a character, a problem, and, at the end, a solution to the problem, you have a story. Simple!”

Well, the idea of an ADHD dragon stuck with me. I imagined a young female dragon, the equivalent of a girl about nine years old, and then I had an idea…

Over the last month, while my workshop kids have been writing in class, I’ve been working, too. Today for the treat, I read my almost-finished story to them at the end. After they left, I polished it some more. I don’t claim this is any Great Literature; if I write something I think is really good, I’m more likely to save it and try to publish it formally someday, which means my blog readers get all the mediocre stuff. (Anything terrible gets discarded, naturally.)

I felt like I was trying to be Diana Wynne Jones. If you have limited time, go read her stuff; she’s awesome. If you have a little extra time, try my middlin’ offerin’ below.

--Gail]

Dragon Division

  Wizard Wesley looked fearsome, for a human.
                “Family—heirloom—priceless—artifact!!!” Impressive silver sparks spurted from his staff in tempo with his spluttering words.
                “Young l…ing“--he stumbled over calling Norberta a “lady” and converted his word quickly--“Do you realize how expensive this telescope will be to replace?”
                Norberta hung her head, her face scales heating from leaf to emerald green. She hadn’t meant to ruin anything. She’d just crept from her den to stare curiously at the wizard taking astronomical observations on their hill.  The squirrel had not been her fault…
                “And, by Merlin’s maneful of miseries, can you not keep that tail still?
                Norberta felt her blush deepen. “I thought…it was only twitching a little…” she mumbled, self-conscious of what was probably now a hunter green cast to her nose, “I CAN’T hold still. I think I was cursed in the egg…”
                “Cursed?” cried Wesley. “I’ll show you cursed!  You need a lesson. I hereby bespell you to spend a day—in school!—sitting absolutely still. Magical punishment to lift only after the bell rings for dismissal.”
                Norberta trembled. “Please, sir,” she sobbed. “Not school…anything but that…I could do community service…help with the forest fire problem…roast s’mores for free at the county fair…?”
                Wizard Wesley hesitated for a moment. He might have softened, but just then the little dragon blew her nose violently. Sparks flew everywhere and landed on the wizard’s woolen robe, which began smoldering. He glared at her.
                “Um, sorry,” she whispered. He glowered, and she panicked. “Well, at least it wasn’t an ancient, priceless family heirloom…?”
                “It was new,” wheezed Wesley.  “A graduation gift from my mother. And you are a menace.”
                He raised his wand. Norberta yelped and ran for cover.
                “Hold still!” he shouted, chasing after her. “I’m…doing…this—“ he stumbled over a rock but righted himself. Norberta dodged behind a tree. “For…your…HOLD STILL!!!...own—Sedentatify!
                Norberta ducked as the spell hit her. Her tail, back legs, left foreleg, and most of both wings tingled.
                “Drat, it missed your head and leg,” gasped Wesley. “Well, that should be good enough. This way you can still answer questions and hold a pencil. I need to go help with the forest fire suppression, but I’ll track things remotely—that should be entertaining.“ He cackled, then began packing his gear, including the broken telescope pieces, into magicked pockets of his cloak. “I’d better flee before Your Nuisance breaks my crystal ball, too. It was my journeyman’s graduation project.  Spent hundreds of hours making the thing.”  He stowed the last item, then vanished in a dramatic puff of orange smoke.

***
                At dinner that night, Norberta explained the situation to Horace, her employer. “Wha’?” He exclaimed in his broad Dermish accent. “Tyke you awhy wi’out talkin’ to may? I’m enti’led to your lybor, I am. Don’t you worry, I’ll ‘ave a talk wi’ anyone wha’ tries it!”
                Norberta felt better, but decided to work on harvesting deadwood the next day, a chore that would take her under the cover of trees and out of sight. As she curled up that night, she thought, drowsily, “They can’t make me go to school if they can’t find me.”
                The next morning Norberta awoke early. “I’ll eat breakfast quickly,” she thought, “and then sneak away.” Just as she was finishing her termite toast though, there came an ominous knock at the door. Horace went to answer it. Norberta tried to crawl out the back window.
                The window seemed to have shrunk in the last six months. The last time Norberta had used it, fleeing Horace’s wrath after the unfortunate axe incident, she had squeezed through easily. Now she scraped and strained to get her shoulders through. Between her grunts, she heard snatches of conversation from the door.
                “Got a tip…little girl…school…”
                “She’s only a’indentured—“
                “But the new law says even indentured children must go to school!”
                “Tha’s wha’ I’m tryin’ ta tell ya, she ayn’t—“ Norberta heard a scuffle, then heavy footsteps approaching behind her. “—a chi’l, jes’ a dra’on!” Horace finished.
                Norberta winced. She knew she must look silly with three legs and a wing hanging out the window.
                “A dragon?” scoffed the constable. “I may be only an acting truant officer, but I’m not falling for such a crazy story. What do you call those little girl bloomers, then?” He turned toward Norberta pulled her back inside. “Into the house, child. It’s indecent, you flashing your underwear like that.”
Norberta blinked. Underwear? She wasn’t wearing any clothes. The constable had seen her before, doing chores in the yard and he’d never complained about her bare scales. Apparently Wizard Wesley’s curse included people seeing her as a human girl. She paused for just a moment to consider the power he had put into this spell. “He must have been really, REALLY, mad” she thought, and mentally tripled the value of the telescope.
The constable continued. “Obviously no one ever taught you any manners—“ he glared at Horace—“but you’ll soon learn from being around other youngsters your age. Come along now, I’ll see you settled at school.”
                “But—“ Horace and Norberta both protested together. Their words mixed so that the constable heard “I’m she’s anot drachigonuld.”
                “Now see here,” said the constable, firmly. “I’m here to enforce the law, I am. Mr. Horace, I’ll see you fined if you don’t cooperate.”
                The mention of fines was too much for Horace. Weakly, he looked at Norberta. “The wizar’ did sigh ’twas just for one die,” he whispered apologetically. “Affer that, I’m sure the curse will wire off an’ thing’ll go back t’ normal. Ru’ along, then.”
                Norberta seethed. “Just like a human,” she muttered. “Traitors, all of ‘em.”
***
                Halfway to the school, Norberta tried to run away, but only her head, right foreleg, and part of her right wing seemed to cooperate. Her other three legs, wing, and tail continued marching to their doom automatically. Norberta flailed around desperately, but the independent parts of her body were dragged along by the rest. All Norberta’s struggles accomplished was an awkward trip and a tangled wing.
                The constable tsk’ed. “None of that now,” he said, firmly. “Don’t spoil your dress. You’re going to school willy nilly. Might as well come quietly.”
                “What exactly does my dress look like?” asked Norberta, curiously.
                “Well…a bit hard to see under the stains,” he scratched his head. “I would say it’s dark brown with, um, orange polka dots.”
                “Orange!” snarled Norberta. “A dress is bad enough, but orange polka dots???”
                “Well, I did think it a tad odd, myself,” the constable conceded, “But I’m not a judge of fashion, y’know. And if the other little girls laugh, well, you’ll be learning how to make your own clothes soon enough in sewing class.”
                Sewing class? This was sounding worse and worse. “Only a day,” thought Norberta. “I can do anything for one day…”
***
                Two hours later, she had changed her mind. The first half hour hadn’t been too bad, as the teacher had taken attendance, explained the day’s schedule, and gotten Norberta settled in a desk.
The math lecture had been interesting:  Norberta was fascinated with the idea of long division. She could divide things up, of course, but she had always done it by making piles. Modeling the problem in her head could save her some effort in hauling stuff, and decimals looked fantastically useful. “Imagine dividing something into tenths, not just halves,” she thought, and started daydreaming about practical applications for sharing partial candy bars among her friends.
                After that, though, came the worksheets. Three pages filled with practice problems. After much trial and error, she managed to hold the pencil, though the teacher kept coming by and trying to correct her grip. “I’m doing the best I can!” protested Norberta, “It’s not easy with talons instead of fingers!”
                “Work, don’t whine, dear,” answered her teacher, absently, before moving on to whisper “Billy, stop blowing spit bubbles!” to another boy.
                After four practice problems, Norberta’s right claw ached.  The pencil kept slipping on her scales; the teacher said something reassuring about “building up calluses in a few days,” but that didn’t help the dragon now. (“I wonder if it’s possible to get calluses on scales,” wondered Norberta, and enjoyed a pleasant three-minute daydream about ways to test that idea…until the teacher ordered her to focus.)
Every time Norberta dropped her pencil, it made a loud noise and the teacher frowned disapprovingly. Then she had to pick it up with one claw. “This would be easier if I could use my other hand to help,” she grimaced, but her left arm seemed paralyzed, as did most of her body. Norberta’s tail had gone numb. Was she sitting on it wrong? Had it lost blood circulation? Would an entire day of this mean gangrene and amputation…?
“Norberta, dear, concentrate,” said her teacher in exasperation. “You’ve only gotten four problems done in all this time? You’ll need to stay in from recess, then.
“The next time I see Wizard Wesley,” Norberta vowed silently, “I will break every single crystal ball he owns.”
The teacher dismissed the class for morning recess, reminding them not to go too near the forest because of smoke from the wildfires. (“Though I hear Wizard Wesley himself is taking charge and things should be under control in another day or two,” the teacher added.)
With incredible effort, Norberta managed to write the answers to another ten problems. Her claw was cramping by the time everyone else came back inside. The teacher surveyed Norberta’s paper. “Ten more problems, that’s an improvement, and the answers are correct—oh, but Norberta, you didn’t show your work. You need to write down your steps so I know you did the problem correctly.”
“But I got the right answer!” protested Norberta, stung at this injustice. “I understand how to do it fine!”
“Yes, but you could have copied the answers from my desk while I was away,” said the teacher. “I need to make sure you did your own work and didn’t just copy.”
“You think I cheated?” roared Norberta. “But—I wouldn’t—and besides, I’m paralyzed! I couldn’t get to your desk if I tried!”
The teacher looked Very Disapproving. “There’s no need to exaggerate, Norberta,” she said, severely. “And that outburst was inappropriate. I’m afraid you’ll need to stay in your seat and continue working on division problems while your classmates get to work on their history skits. This is a sad consequence of your own poor choices.”
For one moment, Norberta thought she saw a reflection of Wizard Wesley in the teacher’s glasses. He was laughing at her.
“All his crystal balls, robes, wands, staves…his laboratory…” swore Norberta. “I will get vengeance if it’s the last thing I do…”
Norberta’s stomach growled. “When’s lunch?” she asked her teacher. “Another forty-five minutes,” answered the teacher, “And remember to raise your hand.”
Abruptly, Norberta realized she hadn’t brought a lunch. “And his library!” she added, feeling wicked. “Though I’ll sort out any interesting books, first.”

She finished six more problems, showing her stupid, pointless, extra, inefficient work this time. Eight problems to go, and her claw felt like it would fall off.
Giving up, she looked around the room. Most of the children were moving about, practicing their history skits. The teacher was grading papers. Billy sat on the floor, blowing spit bubbles vacantly.
“I wonder if I could blow spit bubbles,” mused Norberta, and tried it. Her snout didn’t seem to be shaped quite right, her teeth kept getting in the way…try again…was that it? No. She tried blowing harder…
Sparks flew from her mouth and landed on her desk.
Her math worksheets caught on fire. The desk began smoldering.
Norberta, immune to low grade smoke and fire, watched with hypnotized interest.
Then one of the kids announced, “I think I smell smoke!”
The teacher stood up hastily. “But—the forest fires—miles away…” She saw the smoking desk and shrieked, but then recovered quickly. “Children, fire drill!” she announced with false cheerfulness. “Just as a precaution, of course. Line up by the door. You too, Norberta,” she added.
Norberta, delighted, tried but found herself still paralyzed. Her desk was smoking more violently now, and a dull haze was filling the classroom. “I can’t—“ she wailed, furious at the thought of everyone else getting a free second recess.
BRIIIING!!!
Norberta jumped at the noise overhead. “What was that?” she asked.
“That’s the fire alarm, dear!” said her teacher, impatiently. “The bell rings to alert everyone that we should all evacuate the building. Now come on.”
Norberta heard a crashing sound behind her and turned automatically. Her tail had knocked over a desk. It was lashing back and forth violently in agitation…
Dimly she heard the teacher order the other children to follow another class outside, but Norberta hardly noticed. The spell had lifted! “Ahahaha! Yippee! O frabjous day!” Norberta turned cartwheels. Six more desks went flying, and one of them broke. “Oops. Oh well, sorry,” she shrugged.
“Norberta!” said her teacher, shocked. “This is a dangerous situation. Your antics are absolutely inappropriate. You’ll serve detention after school—“
“No I WON’T!” shouted Norberta. “I’m FREEEEE…” She began to race out of the room, then paused. “You tried to be a good teacher,” she said, kindly. “It’s not your fault I hate school.” She returned to her desk and used her tail to beat out the fire. Splintering her prison into a thousand pieces was a happy bonus.
“Norberta, no!” shouted the teacher. “It’s too dangerous—you’re just a child—where did you get that blanket…?”
The little dragon ignored these protests. As the teacher tugged on her, Norberta  extinguished the last few sparks, yanked her wing from the teacher’s grasp, and raced away. “Sorry about the mess!” she yelled. “That kind of thing happens to me all the time. You should be glad I’m never coming back….”
***
Several hours later, as Norberta recounted her day to Horace over squirrel stew, she paused for a moment.  “Why did the spell lift early?” she wondered. “I thought I’d be stuck for seven hours, but it was only about three. Not that I’m complaining!”
“Well,” Horace shrugged philosophically, “Th’ wizar’ did sigh you’d bay stuck thar ‘till th’ bell ryng. I s’pose th’ fire alarm’s wha’ di’it. Mybe ‘ee di’nt se’ it right, though I must sigh ‘ee pu’a powerful lo’of punch innoo it. ‘Ee should be sighvin’ ‘is mana for them fores’ fires, if you ask may.”
“You mean,” paraphrased Norberta, to make sure she’d understood correctly, “You mean the fire alarm counted as the dismissal bell? He wasted lots of magical power on my curse, but not much time programming it properly?”
Horace nodded sagely. “That’s very clever thinking,” Norberta congratulated him. “Maybe you should have been a wizard instead of a forester.” Horace shrugged modestly. “But,” she continued musing, “Why did the teacher still see me as a human even after my restraints lifted?”
Horace began to say something about independent variables and a grace period for the illusion, but Norberta noticed a squirrel outside and stopped listening.
That night, as she snuggled into her den near Horace’s hut, she took another moment for reflection. “It was only three hours,” she thought, judiciously. “And I did learn something useful. And I did break the wizard’s telescope. But bloomers and orange polka dots and being paralyzed! I guess I’ll just ruin his crystal ball and call it even…”
She drifted off to sleep, imagining her revenge.


[Now I want to write a sequel in which Norberta and Wesley are forced to work together to quell the forest fires. But, darn it, I have tons of other irons in other kinds of fires right now.]

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

A Waterfall of Words

[Editorial note: A week ago, I took my brother-in-law’s challenge to go a week without exceeding 140 characters in all my Facebook updates. In that spirit, I avoided updating my blog, and I tried to stay under the limit even when posting comments on friends’ pages. It has been a frustrating and informative experience. It was also fun, in the way that a drunken beach party in which everyone trashes the hotel room might be fun. (I wouldn’t know.) I do know that I thoroughly abused the English language this week, and I apologize to everyone affected. I document, below, the process of returning to “normal” Gail style…]

[Gnaw, bang]

Mmf. Mmmph!!!

Narf, zort, dratted piffle?

4 & u r 8 w/ 2; for, and, you, are, –ate, with, to/two/too.

Wrath, wraith, wreath, wroth, writhe…

Gratuitously. Epidemiologically. Stringently. Adverbiously!*

Prestidigitate! Scourgify! Cantankerously cankerous cancers!

PulchritudinousArgelfrasterHermeticallyGandalfedScintillatingScuttlebuttVanquishment--

D e – s c r u n c h I f I c a t I o n !*

I’m a very verbal person.

I am:

+Articulate with adverbs, appreciative of allomorphs, authoritative on articles, antsy at antecedents, and even ardent about aspectful auxiliary verbs.

+Babblish*, even with bound morphemes.

+Chatteritive*, using classifiers in compound-complex clumps of clauses. Copiously circumlocutious. 

+Demonstrative with diffuse declension(s).

+Expressive, using elision elaborately in my elegies.

+Fluent at flitting betwixt formal and informal forms in fitting fashion.

+Garrulous, but not gauche, about grammar.

+Happy to honor the general heterogeneity of homonyms and homographs.

+Imaginative with imperatives, and inquisitive about the imperfect, but never imperious about the imperative.

+Jabberiferous* about juxtaposed jabberwockies and jackrabbits.

+Keen concerning “kinetic distinction.”

+Loquacious--even loose-lipped!--about labialization. (But, sadly, listless about the locative case.)

+Multiloquent, making morphology metaphors.

+Never-ending in narcissistic narrations.

+Obsequious toward overflowings of oxymoronic onomatopoeia.

+Prolix in producing patentable parables. Parental toward parentheses. (Awwww.)

+Querulous about: 1) incorrectly attributed quotes, and 2) rudely quelled questions.

+Restless during others’ rambling, redundant rhetoric, but romantic, rabidly so, regarding resplendent repartee.

+Supercilious toward slaves who split infinitives, snitchful* to scamps who seek improperly to sever separable verbs, and simply scurrilous to sinners who switch swiftly between second and third person pronouns in stories. 

+Teeming with transitive verbs. “Teachy” (pedantic) about text, tense, tone, tropes, and themes.

+Unique in my usage of unusual utterances.

+Voracious for verbs; vociferous with vowels; veracious about voice; verbose about the vocative. (O, valuable, volatile vocabulary!)

+Windific* when wheezing wistfully about writing, words, whales, and winches.

+Xenophilic toward extra-regular extensions of English.

+Yackable*--when avoiding yes/no questions on Yeats.

+…and Zesty…about zero morphs…and…um, zoological Zoroastrianism?


(Just because I like words doesn’t mean I get ‘em right on the first pass.)

The POINT of all this, naturally, is that my recent week has been dreadfully…cramped. Cloistered. Claustrophobic. 

I’m not proud of the depths to which I fell. Normally I try to employ correct writing mechanics, but take away the veneer of civilization, and, Oh! how rapidly I descended to “the natural man,” the bestial need to broadcast, even badly. 

Obviously the excellent maxim “If you can’t say somethin’ grammatical, don’t say nothin’ at all” is beyond me. Confined and circumscribed by the silly challenge, I expressed myself the only way possible, even though it meant a sad dimunition of my stated standards.

I’ve gotten varied reactions: some people enjoyed watching me squirm; others found my “mixd cAs spelEn” (mixed case spelling) absolutely obnoxious. (Don’t blame ‘em. I cringed, myself.)

The most common reaction has been “I’m looking forward to the resumption of normal posts.” How sweet! :)
Thanks, all!

Naturally, I “hammed up” my suffering. That was part of the fun!

All the same, I’m glad I’m back to "normal."

If you should see me author a ten line sentence in the next few weeks, be charitable; call it a post-traumatic stress reaction and pray that I regain my equilibrium shortly: I shall be seeking professional assistance toward the goal of re-integrating into the mainstream, and hopefully my recent foray into darkness will give me greater charity toward those unfortunates who have never mastered English spelling, grammar, or even punctuation—after all, such things can be very “tricksy” and I would do well to remember that not everyone remembers automatically whether to use “it’s” or “its”…of course, one would think the punctuation would be easier, so if you see me attacking someone for using a colon instead of a semicolon when separating a dependent and independent clause, kindly remind me of my renewed vow toward tolerance and understanding; for, after this difficult week in which I shamefully heaped ignominy upon my mother tongue, who am I to cast a stone at others, when, as I state at the beginning of this paragraph/sentence, it is I, even I, who require absolution; finally, friends, let us all remember this: “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.”

Speaking of mercy, I will extend some to Brian—after, hypocritically, exacting an eensy, speckish smidge of vengeance on him for suggesting this ordeal.

[Twitch]

(Approximately 5,600 characters, 850 words.)

-----

References: I tip my hat to dictionary.com, thesaurus.com, and especially, this glossary of linguistic terms

* Footnotes: All asterisk’ed words were portmanteau’ed by me. They were real-ish words to which I suffixed standard adjectival or adverbial endings. (It was the adjectives and adverbs I missed most, you know, during my long torture….) Except for "de-scrunchification", wherein I took the word scrunch and added several affixes, both pre- and post-, to create a new noun whose definition should be obvious.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Daniel's Story

[The deal with my writing camp kids is that if they finish a story, I will publish it on my blog. Daniel was the first to complete a story and edit it to my satisfaction. (That means no obvious spelling, punctuation, or grammar errors.)]

Here is a story Daniel wrote:

Once there was a model-builder who made models then transformed them into living replicas. Then he made a copy of himself to help with the work. But it turned evil and abused the other replicas. He put security on his replicas except the one of himself. It knew what he did, so created its own to use. But he went to the library and read a book called How to Deal With Clones, then did what it told him: get on the computer and go online, then make an unfriendly clones list, and click on the top, then type "delete" and press "enter." Before he did so, though, his clone barged in and strangled him! He pressed "enter" and it started to fade. He learned his lesson. THE END!

I expect more stories to be ready soon; most of the other kids are writing longer works with multiple chapters.

I was pleased that Daniel came up with this idea all by himself and worked on it with steady independence. He also accepted my edits and made the necessary changes with reasonably good cheer. Good job, honey! :)

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Gail's "Standard Lecture on the Care and Calling of Ward Musicians"

[Editorial Note: This post contains some dense LDS terminology. Terms like "sustain" and "set apart" have specific meanings in our unique sociolect. I am not going to define them all, since this post is geared primarily toward people who are already part of the Mormon culture. Hopefully any readers who aren't LDS will still be able to figure out the basic ideas of the stories. --GHB.]

In my opinion, every bishopbric should have at least one member whose wife plays the piano.

I would also accept a bishopbric in which one of the men plays the piano, but those are rare: people who can play the piano are more frequently in music callings, as opposed to counseling the bishop about whom else they can 'rassle into music callings.

Any experience, even vicariously through a spouse, would help ever so much with realistic expectations about staffing issues.


CURRICULUM VITAE

I have served in many music callings. In one five-year-span, I served as a ward choir pianist (twice), ward organist, emergency substitute Primary pianist, and unofficial "go to" pianist for "tricky accompaniments for hard solos," among others.

...and then I turned 18. [Footnote *1]

During college, I reprised several of those roles, plus doing a stint as ward music chair and choir director.

Since then, I've been the primary pianist twice, ward organist again (for a total of four stints, I think...five max), primary chorister (that was awesome!), and served in a variety of other hodgepodge assignments and last-minute substitutions.

I've been doing this for 20+ years, since I was 13, and thus modestly declare myself to be a minor Expert on the topic.


RESUME, PAGE 1

Age 13:
Ward Choir Pianist. Practices normally occurred in the hour before church.

Age 14:
Ward Choir Pianist.
Ward Organist. It was brutal, but it gave me real perspective about the TRUE meaning of "angsty adolescent humiliation." Most teens cringe because their mothers "dress funny." I cringed because I ruined the Sacrament Hymn. Every. Single. Week. In front of three hundred witnesses. Mercifully, half the ward were retirees whose hearing was going.
Informal Substitue Primary Pianist. They used to yank me, very apologetically, out of class when the regular didn't show. They hated to do it, but I didn't mind so much. [Footnote *2]
Much Absued De Facto Baptismal Pianist.

Age 15:
[Note, they split our ward, which was probably an administrative mistake. My older sister left for college, another girl who played the piano moved, the Primary pianist missed church frequently, and the only other keyboardist in our ward was a year younger than me and not actively taking piano lessons. This left one and two-halves pianists, and I was "the one."]
Ward Organist.
Young Women's Pianist.

Informal Substitute Primary Pianist.
De Facto Baptismal Pianist.
De Facto Youth Fireside Pianist.


Age 16:
[Following a move to a different, much more functional, ward]
Ward Choir Pianist (and we did actual arrangements of songs like "Draw Near Unto Me.")
Unofficial "Go To" Accompanist for Difficult Pieces. I have a fond memory of Sister Kirkeiner asking me to learn a piece from the Messiah so she could sing a lovely Sacrament Meeting solo. It was challenging, but worthwhile. After all, I had a lot of academic responsibilities my junior year, but it's not like I had any social life to speak of. [Footnote *3]
Priesthood Pianist. That was glorious! I spent several months in which I would leave Sunday School, scurry down the hall to priesthood, play the opening hymn--there was nothing, but nothing quite like belting soprano while playing "Ye Elders of Israel" in a room full of 100+ male voices. Ah, bliss.... Sometimes I sang the tenor line as a descant. Or alto. Nobody else seemed to be singing alto, although neither could anybody hear my alto from behind the piano...ah well. Then I would scurry back down the hall to YW, where I would, once again, play.
Young Women's Pianist. (See above.)
Seminary Pianist. My junior year, our teacher was a "By the Book" kind of guy. The manual said to have an opening hymn, so he did. It was rather a wasted effort, in my opinion, but I complied. Austin Armstrong and I sang a nice duet, every morning, while everyone else trickled in late, slept through opening exercises, stared blearily into space at 5:45 a.m., or chatted with a neighbor.
Choir Member, Community Messiah Production. This wasn't a calling, but I'm grateful to the Young Women leaders who invited me along and gave me rides. Thanks, Sister Rock, for taking me seriously as a singer.


Age 17:
Ward Choir Pianist.
Unofficial Substitute Young Women's Pianist.
During my senior year of high school, I was also Laurel Class President. I made an effort to assign the opening hymn around and give other girls a chance to develop their talents. Sometimes that didn't work out, though, and I was comfortable subbing last-minute, which meant that I occasionally ran the entire opening exercise procedure single-handedly. Stand up, pick on someone for the opening prayer, play the opening song, sing loudly and conduct from the piano if the chorister was missing, lead the YW theme in ASL if the regular interpreter was running late, and go over announcements with a slight dramatic flair and occasional sarcastic comment...

As you can see, I had an easy year, musically speaking. Singing. Whatever.


TRAUMATIC MUSICAL ADOLESCENCE

My recollection is hazy on the  details, but I think the essentials of these stories are correct.

One Fast Sunday, when I was 14, I showed up for church, played for choir practice, played the organ for Sacrament Meeting, accompanied a choir performance, either played for or conducted the "practice hymn" for Sunday School [Footnote *4], played for Primary, and then, four hours later, started to head home with my family. The missionaries pounced me and begged me to rescue them: there was a baptism in 20 minutes...help...?

My mother, who was trying to herd all her other children to the van, looked disapprovingly at the missionaries and then told me I didn't need to stay. My father was doing a four-hour weekly commute to Jacksonville that year, and he left Sunday afternoons. We were on an afternoon schedule, and he might even have left before priesthood meeting; I don't recall. At any rate, my mother had either just become or was about to become a single parent for another week, with all its attendant driving and scheduling issues. (Four children in three different schools.) My mother was also the only adult in the ward who seemed to track issues like "Has Gail had a break or eaten anything all day?"

I felt sorry for the investigator, though, and agreed. This meant my mom would need to drive my siblings home, feed them, and then turn around to come get me. It was a ten minute drive each way; not too terrible, but not highly convenient, either.

I hadn't eaten since dinner the night before (remember, it was a Fast Sunday), and I almost fainted at the piano.

After that, I began to notice a few things:

First, the Elders generally managed to plan other details beforehand. The ward mission leader and a representative of the bishopbric always seemed to know the schedule. The investigators normally got hooked up with clean, dry, white baptismal clothes in the correct size in advance. (Not always, though.) The baptism had been announced hours earlier in Sacrament Meeting. Why, then, oh why, did they not bother to contact a pianist? There were only 3.5 pianists in the ward, and three of them were young women. Two of them were in my family. [Footnote 5]  One might think that with their extremely limited options, the missionaries would be able to narrow their focus and make 4 phone calls. One might also think that, given the extremely limited options, the elders might be motivated to secure a scarce resource more proactively...

Second, most of these recent converts didn't last more than a few months. Some of them "fell on rich soil" and stayed and thrived. Many though, most even, disappeared again. I decided that the statistical chances were high that whoever I ended up playing for wouldn't be around 6 months later, whether I provided pretty music or not--so if I went on strike and the new convert ended up estranged from our flock, it would probably not be my fault.

After I almost fainted at the piano, I gathered up my nerve and warned the elders that they needed to give me more warning or else I might go on strike. I was much more of a "people pleaser" in my youth, unaccustomed to telling people "no!" or arguing with Authority.

I realized, though, that I was going to need to get over that, and set to it.

Around that time, the Stake President showed up for Ward Conference. I was still spankin' new on the organ. I could barely play the hymns on the piano, though I was improving rapidly, but the organ was a mystery. I had a repertoire of perhaps 15 hymns, and they got recycled frequently. My goal was to learn 1 or 2 new hymns per week, and I was making reasonable progress...

The Stake President gave the concluding talk and then announced--without consultation or warning--that he was changing the closing hymn to #220, "Lord, I would Follow Thee." Not only had I never played the hymn before, I had never even heard it.

It was a disaster. I stumbled through it, humiliated. My hot tears of frustration didn't help the situation, and knowing that everyone in the congregation could see me crying only made things worse. "If I had decided not to practice," I thought, "It would be my own fault. But to change it without any warning! How can he think that everyone staggering horribly through an unfamiliar hymn will somehow improve the spirit of the meeting?" The first verse I missed notes because they were unfamiliar. By the third verse, I had improved a fair amount, but I missed lots of notes because I couldn't see through my tears. By the fourth verse, I was furious.

"I am tired," I decided, "Of people treating me like a machine. I am not even an adult!" I had just barely turned 14.

Afterward, my father encouraged me to go talk to the stake president. (Dad is known for being very assertive, and encouraging others to be the same.) Most adolescent girls lack confidence, and I was no exception, but my righteous indignation had not yet died down, and I rose to the occasion.

I cornered the stake president. I was shaking in fear. I was about to confront a real Authority Figure! On the other hand, I was also shaking in rage, and that spurred me onward.

"President," I said, "You can't do that to me."

"Oh, Sister Homer," he answered, genially, "We know you're so talented, you can do anything..."

"No, I can't," I answered. "I can barely play the organ. If you ever change the hymn on me like that again, I will refuse to play it."

He blew me off gently. It was almost like he patted me on the head, handed me a cookie, and told me to go play. That made me even more furious. ("I am also tired," I thought, "Of people expecting me to behave like an adult, but then treating me like a child.") What he didn't realize, though, was that while he might not take me seriously, I was absolutely serious. If he had tried it again, I would have gone on strike. Now, probably I would not have walked off the stand. Probably I would have gotten the attention of the nearest priesthood authority, looked bewildered, and said, "Sorry, I can't play that!" with wide eyes and a helpless shrug.

I never got a chance to test that intention. Almost I regret it, almost...

A month or two later, again on a Fast Sunday, the missionaries pounced me on my way out of church. At least one of the elders had been there for the previous iteration and so should have known better.

"Sister Homer," they begged, "We have a baptism in 30 minutes...would you mind...?"
"No," I answered. "I need to go home now, eat dinner, and then be back at the church for a youth fireside at 7 p.m. [Footnote *6] If I miss my ride now, I will end up going more than 27 hours without food. Next time, ask me a week in advance."

They panicked. Panicked. Begged. Pleaded. Practically fell to their knees in apostate grovelling.

And I, even I, suddenly enjoyed that rush of endorphins that comes from feeling empowered. Let's hear it for girls learning to be more assertive!

I still walked out on them. I don't know what happened; probably they sang a capella. I told myself that, seeing as how Relief Society and Priesthood frequently didn't have a pianist, an unaccompanied baptism would be a good introduction to normal worship in that ward. I did worry about it, but I also felt that I had been reasonable.

A month or so after that, on a day that was pointedly not a Fast Sunday, a set of missionaries approached me during church. "Sister Homer," they said, "We had somebody lined up to play for a baptism. We scheduled it a week in advance. She's not here today. We think she's sick. Please, please, PLEASE won't you rescue us...we've made a reasonable effort...we're sorry to ask this of you..." They begged beautifully. Obviously I had made an impression.

"Oh," I answered cheerfully, "Okay, then."

Ah, yes, we had restored balance to the force...


EMPOWERMENT CORRUPTS...


A little less than a year later, right after I turned 15, the ward was split. Now the only "organist" and almost the only keyboardist in our tiny new "ward," it was obvious that I would continue covering Sacrament Meeting.

Two weeks after the split, the new bishop stood up and started going through his list of callings. "Would the following individuals please stand...Gail Homer--" I was sitting on the organ bench and was very surprised, but swung off and stood up. "--has been called as the Ward Organist. All those who can sustain Sister Homer--"

"Bishop!" I whispered.

"--in this calling, please indicate by--"

"Pssst! Bishop!" I hissed, more loudly this time.

A startled Bishop paused and turned around to look at me.

"I haven't been called," I pointed out. "You never interviewed me."

He waved that aside as a mere technicality. Making a covert "suppressing" hand motion, he resumed. "--please indicate by a show of hands..."

Everyone raised their hands--except for me. I declined to sustain myself under those conditions. I was determined that these things must be done Properly. Yes, I come from a family of rules lawyers, and yes, I had an unusually firm grasp of church procedure for a girl my age, but I wasn't just being a stickler to be obnoxious. I had reasons.

First, I wanted to help the new bishop learn his calling better. I've always been a compulsive pedagogue. Second, I wanted the new bishop to value me, and my mother had been pounding a certain principle into my head: you appreciate what you work for. If I made the new bishop's life a teensy bit more difficult, he would remember and respect me more. Third, making things properly official ought to provide more protection for me. It's harder to take advantage of a person with a "contract." That was the problem I'd faced with the missionaries, who had viewed me as an "unofficial but always available" minion.

I did meet with the new bishop later. He wanted to set me apart. I made him formally extend the calling first, which he did.

"What would happen," I asked impishly, "If I said 'no'?"

He gaped at me, and I took pity on him. After I had formally accepted the calling, I asked, eyes again a-twinkle, if he was going to re-announce it in Sacrament Meeting.

"No," he answered, with unusual firmness. Ah well.

After that negotiation, I raised my hand to the square and sustained myself. And then I let him set me apart. ;)


..And ABSOLUTE EMPOWERMENT CORRUPTS ABSOLUTELY.

The downside to being a musician is that if there are two "unemployed" ward members, one of whom can teach, and the other of whom can both teach and play the piano, the first usually gets a teaching calling and the second usually gets shoved behind a piano.

One of the few, one of the very few, compensations for this sad "typecasting" is that the pianist is so rare, so valuable, that she can get away with taking some slight liberties. Talk about empowerment: in the last several music callings I've held, I've shrugged and thought, "What's the worst they can do? Fire me? I could live with that, but it's not likely to happen..." and then attacked my new responsibility with my own unique...style.

[Note: I'm not whining. For one thing, I swore that off months ago. For another, I'm currently the ward librarian.] :)

Part of successful negotiation is recognizing and using the strength of one's position. [Footnote *7] Since college, I have made it my policy to make an "arresting officer"--ahem, I mean, a member of the bishopbric who is trying to extend a musical calling--listen to my Standard Lecture about how to treat ward musicians.

This is an example of empowerment: they're desperate enough to sit through it. (A more charitable interpretation is that they are also polite gentlemen. I'm willing to assume both conditions pertain.) I consider my spiel to be an important part of their leadership training; I might be helping, after all, to prepare the next Stake President. If my two minute lecture saves another angsty adolescent organist from public shame, then I will have done some good in the world. If my lecture helps to train another priesthood leader in realistic expectations about musicians, I will have done a great deal of good.


THE LECTURE

1) Musicians are people, not machines.
2) You cannot turn them on and off at will.
3) They get tired, hungry, and cranky, and cannot perform non-stop.
4) Some keyboardists are better and more confident than others.
5) Some keyboardists are more sensitive to public embarrassment than others.
6) Know your people and respect their limitations.
7) Prayer is wonderful and can enhance, but not replace, practice.
8) Keyboardists generally come in the following loose categories:
8a) Those who need a month of practice, and even then are very tentative, even using simplified arrangements.
8b) Those who need two weeks of practice, and even then still make mistakes.
8c) Those who need at least three days warning, and even then may need to veto the occasional song. 8d) Those who can play almost any standard hymn or selection from the children's songbook, on demand. They are very useful, but don't take unfair advantage. Use them sparingly as emergency substitutes. They should also not be handed surprises like special arrangements or unfamiliar songs.
8e) Those who can sight-read anything. They are rare; never assume your standard pianist is one of them. If you find one, treat her like gold. Also remember that she gets easily bored and give her other assignments when you can.
9) You can determine which type of keyboardist someone is primarily by asking directly and listening politely. Not by making assumptions or heeding rumors.
10) In that vein, NEVER change a Sacrament Meeting hymn without first consulting the organist--privately.
11) When considering splitting a unit, you must look beyond the number and distribution of Melchezidek Priesthood holders. You should also look at the number, competence, and distribution of musicians. Trust me.
12) At the most basic level, the theoretical minimum for a ward is two musicians: A keyboardist for Sacrament Meeting and Primary, and a chorister for the same. If you don't have even one person who can play hymns and primary songs, you don't have a ward; you have a branch, or possibly just a twig.
13) While a keyboardist can cover Sacrament Meeting and then Primary consecutively, no single person can cover Primary, Young Women, Relief Society, and Priesthood concurrently. Miracles happen in our church, but I have never seen time travel or teleportation among them.
14) Musicians are the bread and butter of the ward, but, like bread, go stale. Rotate them occasionally.

This is a list-in-progress. Recently I've added some new items:

15) Some new pianos, frequently in the Relief Society room, have "button pushing" options so that the instrument digitally plays itself. This is also true for the newer organs. This is wonderful! -- But don't let it confuse you. Some pianos may be robots, but no pianist ever is.
16) Don't rely on the "player pianos" too much. It won't solve all your musical staffing problems.
17) You will always have musical staffing problems. A low level of anxiety about this is appropriate. You should only get really concerned if music callings are becoming more difficult to fill than teacher vacancies in Primary. In a normal ward, nothing is harder to staff than Primary.


CONCLUSION

Well, friends, now you understand why I sometimes whine about music callings. As a youth, I felt very typecast and occasionally even exploited. My 5 straight hours of service (occasionally 6-8 in aggregate) can't compete with what a bishop normally puts in, but it was still a lot for a growing teen.

The good news is that I grew and developed. I got more confident at playing the music, and I got more comfortable at setting reasonable boundaries. (Now I have a different problem; I've been playing the same hymns for so long, I get booooored. If a Stake President pulled a similar trick again, I might refuse to play the switched hymn on principle, but probably not out of panic.)

Some people might consider my attitude to be lacking. "Whining, complaining, criticizing priesthood leaders, or arrogantly trying to teach a counselor his job--why, that's steadying the ark!"

Hm...yes, if done badly. But bishops and counselors are people, too. We're all human and fallible. I think it is reasonable to say, politely and honestly, "Okay, fine, I'll serve as a pianist, and I'll try not to whine about it. I'll even try to *sigh* magnify my calling. Just please remember how I feel about it--I'm willing to do my bit and take my turn--I've been in music callings for the last four years, though, and would really appreciate a break soon."

The leaders won't know how you feel unless you communicate. They also won't know how to treat musicians unless we teach them. That's why I think somebody in the bishopbric should have a wife who plays the piano. And that's also why I'm making this effort to train them.

My mother, who deserves sainthood for the years she spent supervising my piano practices, used to say "The Lord will always need pianists in His church." That's very true. I believe He also needs people who understand pianists and treat them appropriately. I further believe that "God helps those who help themselves." We musicians can teach people how to treat us. We can set reasonable boundaries in a calm, polite, Christlike way.

Hopefully this Lecture can help. Feel free to share it with others as you feel appropriate.


FOOTNOTES:

*1. I had an epiphany recently. Maybe one of the reasons I have never felt inferior to boys is because I felt just as important to Sacrament Meeting as they were. If they showed up late with the bread, the bishop delayed passing the Sacrament. If I showed up late to the organ, the bishop delayed the entire meeting. My service was much more obvious, and I couldn't spread the blame around. ("I thought it was someone else's turn...") I got to sit up on the stand the entire time, not just at the Sacrament Table for ten minutes. If I'd wanted to, I could have made a point of spying on who did and did not take the Sacrament. (I didn't do it; I'm glad I was mature enough to realize that the Sacrament should be about me focusing on my own spiritual journey and was NOT an opportunity for low-minded speculation about others'.)

There's a message here. People want to be helpful. They want to feel Heroic. I love how the Leander ward has a tradition of asking young women to conduct the music in Sacrament Meeting. This is a fantastic idea. Let's not just assign girls "busy work," let's actually put them to work. Nothing builds confidence like rising to real responsibility.

*2 The alternative was Yet Another Lecture about how all nice girls should take honors (but not AP!!!) classes, maintain a B+ average, but get 100% attendance in Seminary, which would then leverage into acceptance to BYU, where she should then drop out her freshman year--sophomore at the latest!--to marry an RM. She should then earn her Pht ("Put hubby through") degree, have 4 children, and simper. And then become a Young Women's leader, so as to pass this vital plan onto the next generation by telling stories about how "When I was sixteen, I was really popular and went on lots of dates but I never let a boy kiss me...!"

Okay, so that was a digression. The point is that playing for primary was usually an improvement over YW back then. At least in Primary, the content of the lessons varied.

I should also add that not all my YW years were like that. When I was 12-14, it was pretty bad. When I was 15, we got a new adult leader who was a smart, unmarried, recent college graduate. She brought actual substance to the lessons and I liked her enormously. When I was 16 and 17, we had moved to a different ward with a much larger pool of talented, educated, confident women, after which things improved even more for me.

*3 No doubt it would have appalled my former YW teachers that I was developing actual talents as opposed to more worthwhile pursuits like dating. (To be honest, I would also have preferred a little more social life, but boys weren't asking me out, and I figured I should fill my time with something productive, rather than just pining away pathetically.)

*4 This was back during a brief period when we were supposed to do "Practice Hymns" at the beginning of Sunday School. It was one of those ideas that looked good on paper, but never worked in practice. (Or, wait--does that sound like I'm steadying the ark again?)

*5 My older sister, Cheryl, would have been 17 and a senior in high school that year. She and I did rather a lot of piano duty; we became adept at covering for each other, juggling whose turn it was to play and conduct. On a few memorable occasions, we even "handed off" prelude duty, seamlessly, in the middle of a song.

*6 I had been asked to play the piano for it. Naturally.

*7 Musicians of the ward, unite! You have nothing to lose but your chains... ;)