Wednesday, February 1, 2017

A Note to my Pal, Bryce Kramer

Dear Bryce,

Word on the street has it that you are now the muckiest muck at the school. The bossiest of the bosses. The big man. The connection.

Congratulations! I, myself, am completely in favor of this appointment. And because I'm me, I have a bit of wisdom to share with you. After all, I was a piano teacher for 30 years. So I've pretty much seen it all.

First, you already know that whenever I see you, my inner file clerk tells me I'm looking at Ed Thompson, my mentor and friend from my days at the U of U music department. So, neuro-chemically, I'm predisposed to think you're pretty great. Also, that you can sing the entire "Messiah" from memory, including all the solos and the 'orchestra only' parts.

Here, allow me to illustrate my point:

Here's you

Here's Ed
Here's Abraham Lincoln, pretending to be you and Ed.
And speaking of Lincoln, he once gave terrible advice that everyone seems to feel was just one more pearl of folksy wisdom: "You can't please all of the people all of the time."

Well, President Kramer, allow me to disagree. From now on, you must please all of the people, all of the time. No exceptions. You must especially please me, starting with adding caffeine to all Coke products on the premises. I've had students smuggling in the hard stuff for too long. It's time.

Contraband Diet Coke.
Don't bother looking for the student who brought it to me.
He's fled the country.
To Provo.

Also, you should know that, as of yesterday, everyone at the school is now convinced they're smarter than you. Everyone. Like, I overheard the guy who delivers Cheetos to the Bookstore mouthing off about quantifying ROI on scholarship funds when the recipient turns out to be -- bless their hearts -- as brainy as day-old yogurt.

But I stood up to him. I said, "Hey! ROI doesn't have to be immediately quantified when the investment itself is established in a long-term money-market ATM with less than ten porpoises per fiscal YOU'RE DUMB BRYCE KRAMER'S GREAT GIVE ME MY CHEETOS RIGHT NOW!"

So, I got your back.

Finally, it's really important to keep your priorities straight, and to depend on your friends when the Cheetos are down.

So my last bit of advice is not to forget that you gave me this weird, sorta made-up job and sent me to an office with an awesome view but which I don't even dare hang a calendar in just in case someone comes along and says, "Hey! What the heck are you doing in this office, you interloper! Take down that calendar immediately! And if that pen is school property, so help me...", and now you've changed jobs and I'm feeling a little like Kevin Costner in 'Dances With Wolves'.

You can totally see the resemblance, right?
Like Kevin, I'll probably go native and start wearing Barett Christensen-type socks and riding a bike everywhere despite the fact that I own two perfectly good cars.

The cover photo for my latest memoir,
"Fanatics I have Known and / or Met on Elevators" 

No one wants to see that happen, Bryce.

Best to you! Chin up! Long live the King! (what? too soon?)

Your friend,
(that's how I spell my name now)

Friday, October 3, 2014

Further Proof that I Should be the Boss of the World

Excuse me? Does this come in a size 4?

Welcome to 'DeNae Goes Off-Script', my annual foray into the thoughts that I normally -- and very generously, I might add -- keep to myself or sometimes fling against my Facebook wall to see if anything sticks.

Today's Off-Script subject is "What on earth is up with young parents these days?" This is actually a very popular subject among parents of a certain age, namely 'fifty', who are pretty sure they had it all together when raising their own kids and now can't for the life of them figure out what went wrong when the next generation of offspring turned up.

In other words, people like me.

I have one granddaughter, and she is three months old, so of course she is perfect. And my son and daughter-in-law haven't had enough time to mess things up with her, although I fear that keeping her on the other side of the country from her grandma shows questionable judgment. Don't tell them I said that.

But honestly, I have to wonder about *some* parents out there. (Not you, David and Karyn. Honest. Now put Elaina on the phone, please.)

Take, for instance, these people. This article shares Facebook posts, text messages, and emails that parents (primarily mothers) have sent to or about the Disney Store, all vilifying Disney for not carrying unlimited supplies of Elsa dresses, dolls, plushes, shoes, earrings, wine glasses, and surface-to-air missiles.

My favorites are the ones that claim that Disney is responsible for their 3-year old losing all faith in humanity. "This may be the reason my child no longer believes in Santa or the Easter Bunny," one horrified mother accuses. Because nothing celebrates the Savior's victory over death quite like an Elsa doll in your Easter basket.

Not that this is the point, exactly, but back in my day, we went years between Disney movies. And they were usually those fake nature documentaries like "Our Delightful Friend, the Tree Sloth," narrated by a guy who sounded like a cross between Tom Bodette and a domestic terrorist.

And if you think the Disney Store was awash in Delightful Tree Sloth collectibles, think again. In the first place, if you wanted to go to the Disney Store, you first had to go to Disney-LAND. (My friends and I had heard about a Disney-WORLD, somewhere in the wilds of Florida, but no one actually believed either place existed. Disney World, or Florida.) And then, once you were there, you had three Delightful Tree Sloth options: Delightful Tree Sloth hat, Delightful Tree Sloth mug, or Delightful Tree Sloth key ring. You know, for all those keys you carried around when you were eight.

That was it.

But back to the point, which is this: When did adults turn into whiny, spoiled nincompoops raising whiny, spoiled nincompoops? Are kids really that disappointed when they can't get their mitts on all the Frozen paraphernalia their little hearts desire? Or do parents do it to them? Make a gigantic deal out of the doll or the dress or whatever, and then make an equally big deal when their kid can't have it? "You're destroyed, aren't you, Pumpkin? Tell the lady behind the counter. Tell her how destroyed you are."

This article talks about 'the religion of parenthood' that the author posits began back in the 80s with those 'Baby on Board' bumper stickers, the idea being that a driver who had, until pulling into traffic behind the car with the BOB bumper sticker, planned on treating the freeway like a giant pinball machine, would now proceed with extreme reverence because there was an extra-special human in the car ahead of him. This led to the unspoken -- and then spoken -- theory that people were at their most important at birth, and steadily declined in relevance as they grew older.

In it, the author talks about the blasphemy associated with ever saying anything negative about your kids. She mentions a writer who was all but crucified when she had the appalling lack of moral fiber to admit that she loved her husband more than she did her kids. People threatened to call CPS on her; told her in print that she deserved to have her children taken away from her. Can you imagine?

Blogging, my home-within-my-home, has definitely contributed to the problem. Suddenly, there were a hundred zillion mom bloggers turned gurus out there, all worshiping at the altar of 'childhood' and convincing each other that kids were the deities of the New Age, millennial sacred cows that had no patience for poly-theism or even the occasional night off. You never questioned kids' demands, never wondered if their need for their nine millionth action figure was more a matter of impulse control than the utterance of eternal, life-defining truth; you just obeyed with the hope that you would be rewarded for your devotion in the post-teen afterlife.

Ask parents in their fifties how well that's worked out for them. Or ask their kids. They're still living in the basement.

Is it any wonder, then, that as those same kids become parents they hold themselves and the world to the same standard they came to expect as children? "Because she wants it" has replaced "Because I said so" as the go-to answer when kids face possible disappointment. Only now, it's the kids and the parents doing the demanding. Mom is often no more likely to understand the meaning of "No" than Junior is; we see that all over the internet. Bankruptcy and divorce courts, too.

Look, all I'm saying is our kids deserve the chance to live with disappointment. They deserve to know how it feels to have to wait for something, to work for it, to earn it. And they deserve to know that the world doesn't owe them a damn thing. No A's for D work. No college degrees. No high paying jobs. No fancy cars and fancier zip codes.

No Elsa dolls.

Want to save your kids? Stop throwing a tantrum every time they don't get their way. Teach them that each new day is a gift.

Everything else comes at a price.


Tuesday, April 8, 2014

A Certain Man Went to Jericho

The above is my favorite painting of The Good Samaritan, by English artist Dinah Roe Kendall. I can't tell you why I love it; like artistic Philistines everywhere, I fall back on the explanation that while I don't know art, I know what I like.

I love the story of The Good Samaritan, as much for what isn't written there as for what is. Why was the man headed away from Jerusalem, the High City of God, down toward Jericho, the lowest place on earth, accessible only by treacherous roads filled with hiding places for those wishing to do harm to a lonely traveler?

And why were the priest and the Levite on that road? Were they traveling in the same direction as the victim, or were they on their way back to Jerusalem? And what of that Samaritan? Had he been the recipient of the same kindness, been blessed by equal goodness, at other times in his life?

I know that the man who falls among thieves is meant to represent all of us -- fallen creatures in a low and dangerous world, a long way from the safety and protection of God. And Christ is the Samaritan, misunderstood, even hated, leaving the open road and moving into the shadows at personal risk to rescue one who likely sees Him as less-than.

But I want to tell you a story that puts a very sacred and personal spin on the tale of The Good Samaritan. I'm writing it primarily so that it will be recorded here to remind and bless those who participated and those who know about it through the telling of it.

Sometime, maybe 20 years or so ago, my father was an LDS bishop in the area where my family now lives. Those who knew my dad knew that he was a man of paradoxes: a no-nonsense guy with the instincts and right hook of a street fighter (a skill he once demonstrated in front of a group of 12-18 year old boys from our ward when a drunken man assaulted our bishop at a local fast food restaurant, causing my father to go all 'Bull in the Ice Cream Shop', leap over the seat, and with a single punch, lay the attacker out cold. My husband was in that group of stunned young men; he's never forgotten what happened when 'Brother Powers' felt inspired to defend a friend), yet full of laughter and tenderness. He kicked you in the butt when you had it coming, but usually that just meant he had your back.

And, as bishop, he took his pastoral duties seriously, watching over his flock and, occasionally using the 'rod of correction' to encourage those showing signs of straying back into safer paths.

One such parishioner was John, an ambitious young lawyer working hard to establish himself in his newly chosen profession, even if doing so meant working Sundays and sending his little family alone to church. Dad watched for several weeks as John's absence became regular, then consistent, and then headed toward permanent. Perhaps, he thought, it was time to pay John a visit.

John tells me that as he waited for the bishop to come to his house, he was feeling a mite defensive. He had his arguments all lined up for why his choices were justified, that those choices were temporary, and that Bishop Powers should worry more about people whose faith really was in trouble and leave solid church members like himself alone.

But for whatever reason, when my dad arrived, John said none of those things. Instead, he listened patiently, then humbly, as his priesthood leader promised him that careful observance of the Sabbath and the dedication of one complete, work-free day a week to his family would bring him professional, familial, and spiritual success in ways his current lifestyle never could. John believed him, and thanked him, and then allowed his bishop to lay hands on his head and give him a blessing.

It was a critical and permanent course correction in John's life, and the lives of those he loved most in the world have been blessed for it ever since.

Sixteen years later, in 2011, my family moved from Las Vegas to Stansbury Park, in part to be close to my mother after she lost my dad to an unexpected heart attack in the fall of 2009. And John, now a happy, successful attorney with a beautiful, growing family, was called as our youngest son's Sunday School teacher, as well as our Home Teacher.

There was an immediate connection between John and our family. Jacob thought he was the coolest guy in the ward, and John loved Jacob with sincerity and genuine affection. We all felt that same degree of love from John, and when he finally saw fit to recount the story of 'The Bishop's Visit', we understood a little better where those tender feelings came from.

Three weeks ago, Jake made a stupid, short-sighted decision that got him in trouble with the law. We emptied his savings account to bail him out of jail, hit Google to see what the maximum sentence was for the two charges against him, and worried and prayed and worried some more.

The next day -- Sunday -- the first thing Jake did was seek out John. John -- his teacher, his friend, and, thankfully, his willing advocate in the legal system.

John came over that afternoon. He prayed with us. He comforted and reassured Jacob that he would do everything in his power to rescue him from the trouble in which he'd placed himself. And over the following weeks, he worked closely with the prosecutor (a stranger, who has sought every opportunity to give Jacob the benefit of the doubt, based largely on John's advocacy on his behalf) to bring a frightening experience to a safe and secure end.

Tomorrow, Jacob stands before the judge to plead his case. John, and another wonderful friend of Jacob's, a man named Jack, were here tonight at Jake's request, joining Brett in giving Jake another priesthood blessing. Then John explained what he and the prosecutor had worked out.

One charge, dropped completely. No jail time. A plea arrangement that, after ninety days, would be expunged from his record -- and then, even that was reduced to thirty days at the prosecutor's suggestion, so that there wouldn't be a guilty plea hovering over Jacob's attempts to find a second job this summer. The fine normally attached to the charge would be reduced by half.

And above all, John would be standing right beside Jacob, placing his professional reputation on the line to defend and protect our son.

Jake smiled tonight for the first time since he was arrested. And cried. And told this great man how much he loved him.

Sometimes, we're the man on the road to Jericho. How we got there, and how we fell among thieves, is between us and our better judgment. And, if we're humble enough, we'll allow ourselves to be rescued, even by someone we feel may not have the right to get involved, regardless of his position in the church. Or maybe we'll cry out for help, and find a friend in a place he might not otherwise have been were it not for his own rescue at another time, on another stretch of the Jericho road.

And sometimes, we're the Samaritan, strong and courageous and able to reach out to a fellow traveler in need, even one whose own short-sightedness, hubris, or naivete may have put him in harm's way to begin with.

What takes us to the road to Jericho? God only knows. But what we do while we're there defines our humanity and our discipleship. And once we're bound up and healed of our wounds, the Jericho road may lead us to that upward path, safely in the direction of home.