28 August, 2009

In which I cuss once but star one cruc*al letter

I lead an ersatz life.

This is a way fun vocabulary exercise if you're ever looking for one. When you're looking up a word to try and figure out what it means, attempt to use it to describe your life and see if you can draw any interesting parallels or conclusions. A bad example would be "pharmacodynamic," because by plugging this word into the sentence "I lead a _____________ life" the word remains overly specific and generally useless. My life has nothing to do with the the physiological effects of drugs on the human body, rendering this vocabulary word irrelevant to my life. Not so with my word of the day!

Ersatz. A definition from the Oxford English Dictionary, the only dictionary worth using:

"A substitute or imitation (usually, an inferior article instead of the real thing)."

Sometimes words get stuck in my head just like songs get stuck in normal people's heads. Today was one of those days, and as the word "ersatz" played over and over again in my head like a Cheap Time LP, I realized that I do, in fact, lead quite an ersatz life. I don't necessarily mean that in a bad way, but the truth is, nothing in my life has gone the way I've planned at any point.

My life goals at the age of 5: Grow up and be tall, thin and beautiful. I distinctly remember (at the age of 6) wanting to be so beautiful that people would stare when I went out in public. Live in a house with a three-car garage. Never attend college. Be a police officer/teacher/vet. Own a pet giraffe.

My life goals at the age of 10: Grow up and be tall, thin and beautiful. Marry a guy who is in the army straight out of high school. Have eight children in seven years (Duh. Twins.) My husband goes off to war and dies. Raise children alone. Never attend college.

My life goals at the age of 15: Grow up and be thin and beautiful. (By this time I had given up on the tall.) Go to a school on the East Coast. Marry a Mormon guy while in college. Get a PhD in English and be a poet on the side while raising kids. Have no need to support myself.

My life goals at the age of 20: Grow up to be beautiful and thinner than at-the-time weight. Attend college. Get married ASAP. Own a pet dog. Once graduated, have no need to support myself.

My life as of now: I have grown up. I have attended college in the Intermountain West, served a mission, presented at international conferences, traveled to Europe and Asia, bought a car, and almost received a college degree. I have a pet dog (an ersatz baby) whom I love more than is probably healthy, considering the life span of dogs. I still occasionally consider getting a PhD, but mostly because I like the idea of being able to have the following conversation if necessary someday:

My high school enemy/mission comp I didn't like at some future reunion-type event: So, still not married, eh, Koler?
Me: That's DOCTOR Koler, b*tch!

Oh, that would be sweet.

Sometimes I dress up in a skirt and high heels and walk around Home Depot, just because it feels good to be looked at in that way. Normally, though, I go barefoot a lot. I don't wear much make-up. I am healthy, but not particularly beautiful. I garden. I like hip hop and comic books.

Now none of this is intended to be a fishery (?) for compliments or a complaint fest or an attempt to make anyone feel sorry for me. If you read this blog with any regularity, I hope you can see through the cynicism and exaggeration enough to see that I absolutely love my life, the way is it right now. But the fact is, it is not the life I assumed I would have five or ten or fifteen years ago. Not by a long shot. Which partly makes me aware that for now, some ersatz things can be perfectly acceptable substitutes for what is missing in my life (I'm thinking of the baby-dog thing right now). But most of it is ONE MILLION TIMES BETTER than I ever could have expected, or hoped. Although I lead an ersatz life, what I have right now is in no way inferior to my original assumption of how it would be. I will even go so far as to say it is better.

Except I still wish I could have a pet giraffe.

Also, don't ask me why I thought three-car garages were cool in 1989. Must have been a yuppie thing.

25 August, 2009

Gentlemen, when I take an honest look at my life, I realize I've never not been a hippie.

Two days ago, I attended one of the many dedicatory sessions of the Oquirrh (pronounced oak-er) Mountain Temple, which is pictured above. Before the session began, and while I was at my most alert, they ran a continuous slideshow of shots of the temple's interior, which is simple and incredibly lovely. I realized then that my absolute favorite place to be, hands down, is in the temple. Which I take to mean that despite my innumerable weaknesses and flaws, I must be doing SOMETHING right.

This is not the topic of my post.

Ever since the dedication of the Kirtland Temple in way long time many years ago, the following song has been sung when a new temple is built. I'm actually not positive that the song has been sung at every temple dedication ever, but I have been to four and it was sung at all of those. Called the Hosanna Anthem, its lyrics are reproduced below.

The House of the Lord is completed!

The House of the Lord is completed!

May our offering by Him be accepted.

May our offering by Him be accepted.

Amen. Amen.

Rejoice, O ye saints whose patient faith and labor

Have reared this house wherein today ye stand.

Rejoice ye blessed departed saintly spirits!

Behold your temple finished crowns the land!

Rejoice ye souls awaiting your redemption!.

The work speeds on to set the captive free.

Thanks be to God for His eternal mercies!

Thanks be to God for endless liberty.

Nice, huh? I've never really paid attention to these words before. However, on Sunday a particular phrase in this song stuck out to me. The one in bold: "Rejoice, O ye saints whose patient faith and labor/ have reared this house wherein today ye stand."

Back in the early days of the Church, every member of the Church was personally involved in the construction of the temple. Men donated a day or two out of every work week to do construction or mine stone. Women spent hours preparing meals for workers, sewing curtains and temple clothing, and crushing china for various purposes (This is off the cuff, I haven't done any research ... but it sounds right). Anyway, when they talk about their patient faith and labor culminating in the completion of the temple, that actually MEANT something for them. Everyone in Kirtland had a literal hand in the building of that building, which certainly must have made it all the more significant for them personally.

By contrast, I did not make it to the open house of the Oquirrh Mountain Temple. Before the dedicatory session, I didn't even know what it looked like. It was built about a half an hour from my house, and my personal involvement therein was essentially nil. And thus, I felt a peace and happiness about the completion of the temple and its existence, but no real relationship to it--at least, not to the building itself.

Granted, there are a lot a lot of Mormons in Utah Valley (Which is why the new temple was built in the first place), but how many of us can say we had any involvement in the building process whatsoever? The folks at the groundbreaking ceremony, and those who attended the filling of the cornerstone. Which are only publicity stunts nowadays. I hear that after everyone has a stab at laying the cement during the cornerstone photo op, they remove it and do it over so it will look nicer. This whole paradigm shift makes me long for the days when people had a stronger connection to the buildings they lived, worked and worshiped in. The physicality of labor and non-monetary investment seems to me a greater reason to shout Hosanna than a ten-dollar donation to a temple building fund.

Conversely, today I volunteered for a few hours with Habitat for Humanity. We were clearing a lot for building, which was both a nice workout and an excellent throwback to Pioneer Times (I'm assuming again, I wasn't there). Being involved in the process of building a house was good for my soul. It made me want to do a really good job, even though I was just clearing brush. I feel that way about a lot of things in my life: that if I have a tangible, kinesthetic relationship with something in my life, that relationship is much more meaningful. It's true about my food: when I eat something from our garden, I relish (bad pun?) the connection I feel with the plants I've been tending for however many months. Sometimes I even get a little bit nostalgic: "Oh, I remember when you were just a wittle bitty seed..." For the past few weeks Pamela and I have been painting our dining and living rooms, and it it remarkable how much more connected I feel to this house now that a few hours of my life have been invested in it. The greater the physical connection you have with something, the greater the overall connection as well, it would seem.

This makes me want to build my own house. Like Harrison Ford.

24 August, 2009

National Waffle Day

(Note: This entry is inspired by the blogging style of one Gordon Rees, who is also wearing great pants)

Oh my gosh, I lead such a great life. Here's why.

Hammer pants and vintage architecture and news articles on Iran. A long walk. A lady with cute kids. Girl talk and cheap food and Sarah. Kids who love dogs. The smell of laundry soap. A freshly vacuumed room. An Andy sighting near my house. Finding everything I've ever lost. Free soap and candles. Tomato and swiss sandwiches. Greg and paintbrushes. Solving moral dilemmas. Flowers that smell like cookies. Cleansing my palate of salty plum nuts. Wills doing something spontaneous.

Nevertheless, my life is never so good that it cannot be made better by waffles.

20 August, 2009

Because I feel like writing again.

I just made some cookie dough. They didn't make the transition to actual cookies, because I liked the dough so much, and by the time the dough was completely ready I had lost the will to bake. I ate about half of it with Dave and Pamela and froze the rest.

This cookie dough was the best I've ever made. My Ghirardelli Opus, if you will. This was my Melon Collie and the Infinite Sadness of baking--I may never bother making cookie dough again, because any follow-up would be both pointless and embarrassing (I hope you're listening, Billy Corgan). Seriously, if Jesus made cookie dough, it would have tasted like this. It was the greatest cookie dough ever to make contact with any mortal's lips.

Seriously, it was pretty good.

I have been thinking a lot lately about stereotypes. Specifically, humankind's tendency to demonize some groups of people and unrealistically idealize others. I fall into both of these categories obviously, as seen below.

Ways in Which I am Ideal:

Mormon (By some ... certainly by many espousing said religion)
College student
Buxom (Man, I love that word)

Ways in Which I am a Demon:

Dog person (Meaning that I prefer dogs to cats, not that I am half human, half dog)

I think demonizing anyone is stupid. It pisses me off when people make negative assumptions about what kind of person I am just because I fall into certain demographics. Just because I am a vegetarian does not mean that I am virulently anti-dairy, for example. However, I have noticed lately that the unhealthy idealizations we make about others can be just as harmful, if not more so.

Here is an example.

When I was 19 I went in to my first day at a new job. I had mentioned to my boss during my interview that I went to BYU, but since we were in Seattle I had no idea if she knew what that meant. When I walked in that morning, my new boss looked at me and my outfit (I honestly have no memory of what I was wearing), then turned to her husband and said, "I thought Mormons were supposed to dress modest."

And I said inside myself, "Damn."

For the rest of the time I worked there, I felt awful every time the Church came up in conversation. Even though in this case I definitely deserved it, that combination of my bad choices and someone else's preconceived notion of how I should act cut off at the pass what could have been a pretty interesting conversation.

Anyway, a more recent and crucial example that has been on my mind lately is the way a lot of Christians talk about women. Most men in the LDS Church in particular often sing the praises of femaledom to the point where it borders on the ridiculous, to the point where I feel that simply because I am a woman, I should be naturally endowed with all good traits and be of the disposition that would naturally shun all evil. I am not like this, which is unfortunate, but, as I am inclined to believe, pretty normal.

I saw a book in Borders in the LDS section yesterday entitled "All Mothers go to Heaven." What in the world? I recognize that I'm in no place to judge who goes to Heaven and who doesn't but that line CAN'T be right. I know of plenty of mothers who are less than ideal. My mother was decidedly human, and though I hear of some people who sing only the celestial virtues of their mothers, something tells me they are probably suffering from selective memory.

Along the same train of thought, I ran into an acquaintance of mine last week who just had a baby. We sat on her front lawn for a minute and she told me about her thought processes since she had become a mother: that she often found herself bored, resenting how much time parenthood sucked from her life, shocked at how different even going to the grocery store had become, and--this is the key--feeling insanely guilty for feeling this way. All her life she had been told that mothers are selfless, mothers give always and don't resent it even for a minute, then suddenly it's not her bishop waxing poetic about a distant demographic anymore. It's her. And nothing is going the way she assumed it would.

I may be going out on a limb here, but I feel the unrealistic stereotypes the LDS Church often perpetuates about women did more harm than good in this case.

I have been in several relationships in which my partner treated me poorly or otherwise did not deserve me (Not be a narcissist, but in this case it was true). I actually remember at some point realizing that those boys weren't up to snuff, but because I had also heard so many times that in any relationship, the woman is better than the man, I honestly figured that my being unsatisfied in that way was normal.

As my dear friend Ekitzel would say, no bueno.

Now, I am not saying that LDS men should speak ill about women. That's bogus too. But it is possible to praise without setting unreachable parameters. Observe:

Tonight I made some cookie dough, because I was hungry and chocolate chip cookies sounded good. I found the cookie dough extremely satisfying. It may have been the best cookie dough I have ever made, with the possible exception of the chocolate chip cookie dough I used to make in Hungary, in which I used chunks of Milka bar in lieu of chocolate chips. However, THIS cookie dough used organic sugar and flour, cage-free eggs, and lots of vanilla. It was truly exceptional, and I felt happy while I ate it.

How much better is that? Honest, heartfelt, and nobody gets hurt.

19 August, 2009

A Return to Real TIme....

By way of summary, my stay in Amsterdam didn't really get any better. The only thing that went well was our presentation at the International Association of Forensic Linguists. Several linguists came and seemed to be really impressed by our research. Also, our Powerpoint was the best one.

Other than that, and after two days of no sleep in a room with eight cracked-out German dudes, I changed my ticket to come home three days early.

Then I spent two nights in the Amsterdam airport. It was not very much fun. However, I read all of "Lake Woebegon Days" by Garrison Keillor (Awesome book, especially if you're already a fan of Prairie Home Companion) and read one third of The Once and Future King by T.H. White. After the Wart becomes King Arthur, the whole story becomes just plain depressing. I don't intend to finish it.

I also learned about all the different places one can sleep if one is creative. I slept on a bench, a chair, a table, a loveseat-type deal that was actually two chairs and a table welded together, and in several different nooks near heaters and staircases. I can sleep pretty much anywhere, and in pretty much any position. This is one of my talents.

I do hope you enjoyed my journal entries from my trip. From now one, any writing I publish in the present tense will actually be from, you know, the present.

09 August, 2009

Day 8: Allow me to bitch at you for a few hundred words

6 July 2009...........................................................................At the "hotel" 5:30 in the freaking morning

I hate Amsterdam so far. We are in a fight. It's not entirely Amsterdam's fault so I know I am being a bit unfair, but I can't help but hold him (DEFINITELY a him) at least partially responsible.

So last night my train got in at 11:30 PM. I was pretty tired but otherwise feeling OK, until I took out my map and realized I had NO IDEA where I was. I tried to figure it out using the map, and I could see where I needed to go, but because I couldn't figure out where I was starting from that didn't do me any good. I tried to buy some time on the computer but their cash register was broken (How do they stay in business?) and because it's the middle of the night it's not like I can just start walking. So I do the only thing I can think of besides sleeping in the airport. I take a cab.

Taking a cab in Europe is now on my list of top ten things I hate most in the world. Although it's 5:30 AM and I'm SUPER grumpy so I may not be thinking straight. Oh, don't worry, it could have been worse. The cab was clean, the driver wasn't lecherous and he knew how to get to my "hotel" (more on THAT debacle in a minute). However, there is nothing more frustrating and few feelings so powerless as watching that meter rack up two weeks of Parisian groceries, and there is NOTHING you can do about it. It's not like I could tell him to let me off here and walk the rest of the way. So I paid upwards of sixty American dollars for a five minute cab ride. Infuriating. But my time here gets better.

My mom had, as a gift, used her "points" from some travel organization she belongs to, to book me at a place known as the "Inner Amsterdam Hotel." Word to the wise: avoid at all costs staying somewhere with the word "inner" in the title. Anyway, I knew I would have to get up pretty early to make it to the conference on time, but since I'd be in a room by myself, no problem. Also, I don't have an alarm clock and I knew my phone wouldn't work in Europe, but I figured I would just ask the hotel folks for a wake-up call. Oh, had I but known.

[INTERJECTION FROM NOW ELISA: When my mom booked my room in Amsterdam through RCI, she was told that I would be staying in a hotel and have a private room. Because I was so cracked out when I wrote this piece, I neglected to drive home that rather crucial detail. Back to your lives, citizens.]

This is not a hotel, it's a hostel. Which is fine by me, but I wish I had known this, because then I would have brought 1. a lock for my luggage and 2. a stupid alarm clock. I share a room with three other bunk beds, and there's no phone. So I had to say a substantial prayer that God wouldn't let me oversleep (Oh, He's a funny one) and went to sleep trusting my circadian rhythm to wake me up at seven.

It woke me up at five. Which I didn't find out until I was already showered, dressed, and downstairs. So now I have nothing to do but wait and curse my fate. Bad combination.

On the plus side, the hot cocoa here is good even though it's only from a machine.

I could really use a drink, but I'm probably only thinking this because I'm sitting in a bar.


6 July 2009..............................................................................................................................8:30 AM

I must resume bitching now: as if things couldn't get any worse, I just fell down the stairs. My ankle is twisted, but not broken, so I guess that's something.

Day 7: I am mistaken for a drunk and almost captured by a gypsy

5 July 2009................................................................................Train back to Amsterdam

If you ever wish to have your faith restored in people (and you are a woman--unfortunately, I don't think this would work with a man) all you have to do is maneuver a very large suitcase from the Chapelle metro stop all the way to Gare du Nord, and then onto the train. I tried it just now and my faith in humankind was restored for AT LEAST the rest of the day. First, a really skinny African guy who easily weighed half that I do helped me get my suitcase down three staircases. Then, when I was struggling to get my suitcase through the narrow ticket aisle, a mid-40s guy from India helped me find my way to Gare du Nord. Then the most beautiful man I have seen in recent memory helped me hoist my suitcase onto the train. No, seriously. The man was A GOD. Like an Italian Adonis mixed with that one professional soccer player I find really attractive, forgot his name. Certainly much more attractive than a certain ponytailed so-and-so. Anyway, what was I talking about? Oh yeah. Yay for nice people.

Church today was really great. It was testimony meeting and this really nice girl form Geneva sat next to me and translated the whole thing. The Bishop was from the D.R.C. and those that spoke hailed from Haiti, Ghana, the Ivory Coast, and the rest presumably from France. One of the elders and I swapped mission stories for a few minutes afterward and I think made his companion mad.

On my last day in Paris with nothing else planned, I decided to actually GO to the Eiffel Tower and see what all the fuss was about. In a word, not my scene. Too many people, not enough to see. It's a gorgeous piece of architecture, but I like it better from far away.

Some addenda to my previous list:

14. Carry a water bottle (like a Nalgene) with you at all times. There are no public water fountains in Paris and that mineral stuff is wicked expensive.

15. French watermelon = heavenly.

16. Screw what they said about everyone else walking around in high heels. It's hardly true, and all you get for your effort to fit in is sore everything below the waist and at least one sprained ankle.

17. Watch out for dog crap. No one cleans up after them here. Yet another reason not to wear high heels: they slip easier.

18. If you have a laptop and a long train ride scheduled, bring it on the train. The Thalys cars have wifi.

19. I reaffirm what I said about avoiding the Eiffel Tower and the surrounding area if you can. There was a gypsy woman there who I am sure wanted to kidnap me. She was possibly related to the one in Hungary who gave me tuberculosis. Not sure. Anyway, she walked up to me and bulged her eyes and murmured "English? English?" with a very convincing accent. I don't THINK so! I pretended not to understand and ran away. Except I was wearing high heels so it was more like a mince.

20. Lastly, be sure to embellish every little thing that happens to you in Paris so everyone you talk to will really understand what a vibrant, interesting city it is.

5 July 2009..................................................................................................................One hour later

Here's another helpful tip from me. If you are on a train and wish to journey to another compartment, AND fall into any of the following three categories:

1. Blindness in one eye
2. Wearing high heels
3. Being a sort of clumsy person generally

Attempt this at the peril of tripping quite often and stumbling/falling onto people exactly like a drunk, and then blushing and turning red EXACTLY like a drunk, which will, of course, lead all the good people on the aforementioned train to assume you are drunk. This is a particularly serious danger if you are heading towards/away from the train compartment that is also a bar, even if you were only looking for something to eat.

If by any chance you fall into categories 1, 2, AND 3, MAYDAY! Do not even attempt to stand up.

05 August, 2009

Day 6: My second Independence Day as an Ex-pat

4 July 2009.................................................................................11:15 PM Aurelia's house

Ironically, this may be the best Fourth of July I've ever had. Then again, this is my absolute least favorite holiday, because I hate hate hate fireworks. I'm glad that after 24 years, I am finally secure enough to admit this.

Anyway, today I went to the cemetery two blocks from Aurelia's house. I decided when I entered that looking at the map with the marked graves of all the famous people felt a bit like cheating, that visiting someone's grave (unless conducting family history research) needs to be an organic, spur-of-the-moment sort of thing; ergo, I was just going to walk around instead of navigate myself to various graves-to-see. Yes, I am aware that I am very strange. Apparently Jim Morrison is buried in that cemetery, but I did not come across his burial site. I did, however, come across the burial sites of several famous French people whose names escape me now. My point is, it was a very pleasant, very long walk, and it enabled me to indulge in my most secret, most shameful and most enjoyable hobby: looking at names and creating mental (and sometimes actual) lists of names for my future children. Shut UP. I'm awesome!

Anyway, after that I continued the "walking" theme of today by walking around Paris and buying a few items of clothing. Fact: I have in Paris purchased the following (totally awesome) articles of clothing:

•1 neon green purse.
•1 pair of blue lace gloves.
•1 infant t-shirt that reads: "Dormir la nuit? pas d'accord." (Shut UP! I'm AWESOME!)
•1 pair of black hammer pants (the kind I mentioned earlier--no seriously, they are so cool).
•1 brown peasant blouse.
•1 brown dress that is really hard to describe, but trust me, really cool.
•1 pair yellow nylons.

I already have a SWEET themed Sunday outfit in the works which I won't wear on my first Sunday back in the States, because that would be overkill. However, I am looking forward to people complimenting these items of clothing (and oh, will they) whenever I wear them (except I won't be wearing the infant t-shirt ... I'm saving that ... shut UP!) and when they ask me where I got it I'll say "Paris." Oh yeah, that'll be sweet.

After going home and hanging out with Liv for a while (I'm actually able to communicate quite well with her now ... mostly because 98% of her conversations revolve around the word "princess" which is an English cognate) the three of us went to the park. Aurelia and I had a pleasant chat while Liv alternated between playing in the sandpile and tattling to her mom about what the other kids were doing. It was pretty hilarious.

Then we came home, I ate dinner and packed, and we all watched Blade Runner. Renaud's friend was visiting with his daughters, ages 12 and 10. Everyone drank lots of wine except me. Tomorrow I am going to Parisian church. And a good thing too.