Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Faith vs. Works

Dear Reader,

Sometimes belonging to a religion that people avoid like the plague has its advantages. One of the disadvantages, however, is that we are so out of the mainstream that we don't even realize how strange we are to other Christian sects. Something that I have heard with my friends of other faiths is that there is an entire debate about faith and works that Mormons aren't aware of. The main question is this: are we saved by works or by faith? To be saved, do we only have to confess that Christ is our Savior (faith), or do we gain salvation by doing certain things that signify repentance (works)? What is the Atonement and what does it mean to us? What do we have to do?

The facts are less than clear from The Bible. James tells us that faith without works is dead, making works invaluable. Paul tells us almost the opposite. Given the situation, the confusion is understandable. Here's what I think:

To put it bluntly: I would think that in order to truly accept Christ as your Savior, you'd have to do what He tells you to do. It's as simple as that. Saying it isn't enough; there's something that you have to do. Something you have to become. The Atonement won't force itself on you, you have to let it change you inside and out. It has to change the way you think, act, and feel. It has to change how you treat and relate to others. Essentially, it has to change you into something else. But, of course, we know that faithless people of all creeds go through the motions and get nowhere. You can tell a difference between someone who has the Atonement working for them, changing them, no matter what church they go to. You can see it in their eyes. And from experience, from what I have seen in others and what I have seen in myself, the absolutely same works can produce completely different results. Some have the light in their eyes; others don't. The works are the same. What does it mean? Faith is the only factor that's different, so does that mean that faith makes the Atonement work for you?

The problem with a faith-focused theology is that in its extremest forms, it turns into this idea that Christ's death gave us some kind of cart blanche on sins. It's like He suffered all of everything so we could just do whatever we want, and I just have a hard time seeing that in The Bible. How many stories do you know where God tells people to say some combination of words to be saved? Even when Israel was lost in the wilderness and attacked by snakes, He required them to look upon the serpent on the staff. It was simple, and it was easy, but it was doing something. It was proving faith by exercising it. The scriptures essentially give us a blue print on how to build a perfect world, and thinking that saying words will just produce some miraculous change is wasting precious time. We need to build that world. We need to be what the scriptures tell us to be. Otherwise, we wouldn't need the scriptures at all; we'd just need a sentence to repeat over and over.

Of course, the problem with a works-focused theology is evident throughout the scriptures, and especially in the stories about the life of Christ. Sometimes when people focus on doing things instead of doing things because of faith, they start to think that salvation is like some kind of Caribbean cruise you can win if you collect enough bottle caps. When you think that you can earn salvation, the glory of God and Christ is all but forgotten, and we forget that They do everything that They do out of love. We forget that They have no obligation to do anything for us at all. We forget what They have sacrificed. We forget that without Them, we have nothing. And when that starts to fade away, worship becomes empty, and life becomes a series of check marks on some heavenly list and any personal relationship with God and Christ is gone forever.

In the end, I think that James is absolutely right. Faith with out works is as lonely and dead as Ebeneezer Scrooge' doornail. But I think that James meant something more with these simple words, and it's that works is just as dead if it's not accompanied by faith. Faith and works aren't whole by themselves, and alone they are completely useless. It has to mean something; it has to change something. I know that faith and works together could change the world quicker and better than anything else at our disposal, and that we are eternally indebted to God and Christ for providing us with a way to fix every single problem we have. You can change. You can repent. The Atonement can soothe you, heal you, and change you into a person that can in turn go out and heal the world. But nothing we have is ours, and everything good comes from God. It's as simple as that. And just as wonderful.

Regard, best wishes, and Light,

-Cecily Jane

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

"Answers"

Dear Reader,

This week I thought I'd let you see a little bit of the other things I like to write, and by that I mean fiction. This story is the result of an assignment in my creative writing class where I was asked to create a story entirely in dialogue about a person who tries to convince another not to get married. I started out doing something completely different, but I was walking to work one day and passed a bus stop, and the story just smacked me in the face so hard that I knew I had to write it down so I could get it out of my head. I've never done a story quite like this before, and it's actually my first attempt at Mormon fiction. So here it goes . . .

Answers

“Hey there, Elder. Oh, don’t hide your name tag. Missionaries only do that when they’re about to do something shameful.”

“Oh.”

“And I just have to say that when you’re sitting at the bus stop alone on a Saturday morning, there’s no one around who doesn’t know what you’re up to already.”

“Who are you again?”

“Don’t you remember me? I was the one who broke up your Jell-o shot party last week.”

“So you work in the cafeteria.”

“Don’t look at me like that; I’m not the one running away from the MTC.”

“At least I don’t have food all over me.”

“Hey, you forget that I’ve just spent all morning washing your dishes. You’ve obviously got a lot to learn . . . who is she?”

“Who is who?”

“The girl you’re running back to. Who is she?”

“How do you know that there’s a girl?”

“You don’t look mad enough to be doing it for a good reason.”

“Excuse me? What’s a good reason?”

“If the Church wasn’t true. That’s a good reason. It’s the only good reason. But it is, and you know it, so it has to be a girl.”

“How do you know that I know?”

“You’re conflicted. You’ve got that look in your eyes that says that you’re trying to decide if you should do what you want to do or what you know is right.”

“How can you come and sit down next to me and just say stuff like that? You work in a cafeteria.”

“Is that all you see when you look at me? Pity that you looketh on the outside of a girl. If you must know, I’m a BYU student, in the honors program as a matter of fact, and I’m a good three years older than you, so you ought to respect your elders.”

“You’re judging me by what you see.”

“No, if I was doing that, seeing a handsome young man in a business suit waiting for the bus with that black tag, I wouldn’t think that you were what you are.”

“And what’s that?”

“Selfish.”

“Thanks.”

“The only reason people ever do the wrong thing is that they’re selfish. You know, putting themselves before the Lord?”

“I’m not doing this for me, not that it’s any of your business.”

“Oh, don’t lie to yourself. It’s not really for her and you know it.”

“What exactly do I know?”

“Well, I’m sure that you’re sitting there telling yourself that if you’re not there she’ll fall to pieces and apostatize or something, but you’re just trying to convince yourself because deep down you know that you are supposed to be on the other side of that fence.”

“Your knowledge of my inner thoughts are quite astounding, Sister.”

“You mean is. My knowledge is quite astounding.”

“Great, now you’re correcting my grammar, too. When it this bus going to get here?”

“Oh, not for another five minutes at least, and by the way, I’m a college student. I can’t help but correct you.”

“But the sign says that it comes at the half hour.”

“In the two years I’ve worked here, the bus has never been less than five minutes late. Looks like you’re stuck with me just a little longer.”

“Great.”

“Of course, there’s always time to go back.”

“No.”

“I won’t tell anyone.”

“Somehow, I find that hard to believe.”

“Okay, now you’re projecting your own guilt onto me. It’s just not healthy.”’

“What did you say you were studying at BYU?”

“I didn’t, but it’s psychology.”

“Figures.”

“So?”

“So what?”

“So you were going to tell me about this girl you’re in love with.”

“I’m going to marry her.”

“When, tomorrow?”

“Maybe.”’

“Is she a member or not a member or what?”

“Like I said, it’s none of your business. But she’s taking the discussions.”

“Ah, the plot thickens. You’ve got an investigator at home and you think that you not serving a mission will help her join the church and marry you.”

“Well, yes.”

“Like I said, you’re deceiving yourself.”

“Oh, shut up.”

“The thing she really needs right now is an example. She’s looking at you as a guy who’s willing to sacrifice something, and maybe she’s wondering if the thing you’re sacrificing for is worth it. How are you going to show her that it is by going home?”

“She won’t see it that way.”

“You’re a missionary. The moment you put on the name tag people are always watching you. Like the other day with the Jell-o shots. You might have thought that it was pretty amusing, but what you didn’t know is that there’s a guy on our crew who’s from Nigeria. He’d never even heard of the Church before he came here. But we’d been talking to him about things and he seemed interested, but when he saw you and your buddies acting like a bunch of monkeys, he refused to let us contact the Provo missionaries.”

“So it’s all my fault then, huh?”

“Well, let’s just say that you tarnished a reputation that is important for missionaries to have. You thought you were safe. You think that all of your hours of studying and rule-abiding mean that it’s okay to be a little rebellious in the cafeteria. Well, you’re still the Lord’s servant, even when you’re eating, and people are still watching.”

“What do you even know about serving a mission? Have you served one?”

“Well, no, but . . .”

“Then you know nothing.”

“I know that you are supposed to be on a mission right now. The Church is true, right?”

“Well, I guess.”

“Don’t sell yourself short, Elder. You know that you know. Now, if the Church is true, then the prophets are prophets, right?”

“Uh, sure.”

“Then if the prophets are prophets, you should do what they tell you to do. And they’re telling you to go on a mission right now. It’s the whole Nephi principle. You follow the commandments, and things work out.”

“You make it sound so simple.”

“That’s because it is simple, Elder. Most things are.”

“My situation isn’t.”

“Yes it is. You have been commanded to do something, and you’re afraid to do it, so you create this entire scenario about how your girl back home will fall away if you’re not within five feet of her. Seems pretty simple to me.”

“You don’t even know her.”

“I know that she’s not good for you.”

“And how do you know that?”

“Because she’s leading you away from the truth. Or at least, you’re making her do that. There’s a time and a place, and your place isn’t at this bus stop or back home. It’s here. I’ve seen people like you before. Are you willing to live the rest of your life knowing that you were so close to having the best two years of your life and that you threw it all away? What will your girl think of you? What will you think of yourself?”

“Why am I even talking to you? I don’t even know you and you sit down next to me and start insulting me?”

“If you don’t like me, you can leave. The thing is that the only place to go is back to the MTC. Your choice.”

“Or you could leave.”

“Not gonna happen.”

“Figures.”

“You really think that you have to be there for her to be baptized, huh? Don’t you have any faith in her agency?”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“It’s supposed to mean that we were sent here on Earth to make our own choices. If you’re in love with this girl, you must trust her, right? If you trust her, you should trust her to make her own decisions like she’s supposed to.”

“It’s not like that.”

“Yes it is. In fact, if she doesn’t make this decision on her own, how can you know she’s doing it for herself and not for you?”

“I’ll just know.”
“How?”

“Just drop it, okay?”

“What the . . . oh, I see that look in your eyes. You’re trying to hide something from me, but you’re not doing a very good job.”

“I have no idea what you’re talking about.”

“By the way you’ve been talking, you must think you’re the dumbest guy on the whole planet. You’re not sure about the Church or the prophets or anything, and you’re just so dense that you can’t even get what I’m implying when we both know that I’m being exceedingly blunt. You have to realize that we’re both seeing the same thing here, it’s just that I’m blanking on this one thing that’s in your eyes, what is it? Oh, I know. She’s the one, isn’t she?”

“Is this bus coming or what?”

“Don’t change the subject; she’s been writing you, hasn’t she? She’s been saying stuff like she can’t understand the gospel the way the Elders are explaining it, and it was so much better when you were there. And then she said that you had this special spirit that made her want to learn more about the Gospel, but these new guys just aren’t doing it for her.”

“No she didn’t.”

“Well, she’s lying.”

“How do you even know that?”

“Ha! Got you. She really did say that, didn’t she?”

“Well, not in those words, but . . .”

“She’s manipulating you.”

“How do you know that?”

“Because the Spirit is the same no matter where you go. The Church is, too. If the missionaries are bringing her the same Spirit she felt around you, wouldn’t that just make her testimony stronger?”

“I guess.”

“So don’t you think that this whole ‘come home and save my soul’ business sounds just a little fishy?”

“You don’t even know her.”

“You’re right; I don’t.”

“Finally, I’m right about something.”

“But I know people, and I know people who try to get missionaries to come home. If she really loved and respected you, she’d respect what you were doing for your beliefs, especially if she’s experimenting on the Word herself. She’s manipulating you.”

“You already said that.”

“Well, I’ll say it until you’ll listen.”

“I am listening. At this point, it’s not much of a choice.”

“Maybe you’re hearing me, but I don’t think you’re listening. You’re not even listening to yourself. You’ve got a girlfriend who’s steering you away from what you know is right and you’re so confused you don’t know what to do with yourself. Well, I’ll tell you what to do. You just go back. I won’t tell anyone, and for all they know you went to see the nurse or something.”

“It doesn’t work that way.”

“Well, I’m sure you can think of something. Your district president is the only one who needs to know the truth.”

“The last time I talked to him, he was talking to me about the Jell-o thing. You reported it to him.”

“Well, first of all, that’s the rules, and second, it wasn’t me, it was my supervisor.”

“Same thing.”

“Well, you can’t blame me for all your problems.”

“That seems evident.”

“Look, there’s the bus coming right now, have you made your choice or not?”

“I think I’d stay here just so I don’t have to listen to you anymore.”

“Well, it’s a start. Are you going to admit to yourself that serving a mission is the right thing or are you going to go off like a coward and hate yourself for the rest of your life?”

“You know you’re incredibly over dramatic?”

“Well, I am a theater minor.”

“Ahhh.”

“Well, the bus is here, and I’ve got to read a chapter on Alzheimer’s by four, so I leave you to make your choice.”

“Fine by me.”

“You gonna stay there?”

“I’m not going on that bus with you, that’s for sure.”

“Well, I hope I see you tomorrow at lunch, Elder. Tomorrow’s pizza.”

“Okay, see you, Sister.”


In the end, I honestly don't think it's the best piece of writing I've done, but I was really aiming for non-cheesy, and I think I managed. Mostly, I think it just means a lot to me personally, because the bus is always late, and the missionaries do have Jell-o shot contests, and my Nigerian co-workers were taken aback. But I think that there's probably a little more to it, maybe something that can be changed and shaped into a better story in the future. After all, writing is never finished; it's just abandoned.

Regards, best wishes, and dialogue,

-Cecily Jane

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Thank You, Mr. Spock

My Dear Reader,

I suppose that you may recall the events I described in my post entitled "Answered Prayers" about my Mr. Spock plush key chain. Well, last week the two of us have had yet another adventure together. Here's a picture of the lad so you may have a good mental image going into all of this:


You see, for some unexplained reason, there is a two-inch gap between my apartment and the set of stairs that leads to the parking garage below. You can see what I mean here:

You can also see that the gap starts only inches away from my door, the base of which is on the far left of the picture. You see, my roommates and I would always joke that one of these days we were bound to drop our keys into the abyss, but I'd never seen anything fall down there before, and I really didn't think it would happen. The chances had to be one in a million, right? Well, this is the fourth year that I've lived in this same apartment, and I suppose that I have unlocked my door about a thousand times by now.

So you guessed it, Gentle Reader: I was about to put my key into the lock when it fell out of my hand and into that very same abyss. It might as well have been going in slow motion, and I'm pretty sure that I made some feeble attempt to retrieve it before it as lost forever, which in slow motion would have looked very clumsy, and my voice would undoubtedly sound like Fezzik in The Princess Bride. But fall it did, and there was really nothing I could do about it but stare at that gap for a couple of seconds in disbelief.
And I had to wonder what possible reason could ever encourage a person to create a gap like that. Didn't they realize that the gap starts only inches away from the door, where people regularly are positioned holding small, important objects? Hmmmmmmmm??? What if my credit cards had fallen in there, or maybe my glass eye? And then I reminded myself that I had no such glass eye; that's Olivia.

Anyway, I knew at once that I had to get my keys out of that abyss at all costs, not only because of the sentimental value of the key chain, but because I would have to stand outside in the ice and snow until I had my keys in my hands once again. So I decided to try to first figure out a way to retrieve the keys, and then second find a person to assist me in this endeavor, and by that I meant a boy. I have found that they are extremely useful in situations like these because they tend to have a vast array of power tools at their disposal. (Why men who are starving college students find it requisite to acquire such costly devices remains a mystery to me, but I'm not complaining.) So I went down into the parking lot to see if there was some way to get my keys out down there, and this is what I found:



Apparently, there was a little opening down there that I hadn't noticed before, too small to crawl into, but large enough to stick my arm in it. Here's a shot that's a little closer:



So there was some hope, I guess. An small, ominous opening that seems scary beyond all reason is better than no opening at all, right?

So I went out to find men to help me on my quest, but to no avail. it was still a little earlier in the afternoon and no one was home. So I went to an apartment of some female friends of mine, who were incredibly sympathetic and offered me a wire hanger. (This, as you may have been aware, is the extent to which we women have tools of our own accord.) I returned to the little opening and got an even closer look, and to give you an idea of the horror inside of that space, here's yet another picture:


Who knows what sorts of dangers lurked inside of that thing. There might have been scorpions, or cobras. Maybe even some dead bodies left behind by the mob when a deal went sour, and for all I knew, those people were suffering from malaria before the mobsters put them out of their misery. One thing was for certain, and that was that this was going to be dangerous. If only I had Indiana Jones on speed dial!

But I didn't; I only had an apartment of friends and a wire hanger. So I tried to dig through the grossness to find my keys, but to no avail. I still didn't know where in the abyss my keys had landed, so it was going to be extremely difficult to get them if I didn't know where they were. So I went back the my friends and asked them if I could borrow a flashlight. One of my friends insisted on going back with me, completely unable to comprehend why an architect would create such an obvious flaw in their structure. I was still trying to figure out the same thing.

The funny thing is that I bought this key chain at a period of my life when I was losing my keys all the time, and I chose this particular one because I figured it was too big to get lost. And when my friend and I peered down into the abyss from the gap above, it was clear to me that I was exactly right: It took only second for us to locate my plush Mr. Spock and the keys he was the steward of.

Once we were able to gauge the distance between the opening and Mr. Spock, the rest was fairly simple. All we had to do was unwind the hanger, and plunge it into the malaria-ridden abyss, using the hook of the hanger to grab Mr. Spock and take him to safety. My friend boldly volunteered for the task, and I was very grateful that she did. She was instantly successful, and not only was I reunited with a valuable ally, but I was also able to enter my apartment again.

Thank you, Mr Spock, for being the big, plushy guy that you are. I'd be lost without you.

Regards, best wishes, and Gold Rush-era diseases,

-Cecily Jane

P.S. It later occurred to me that the opening, with its rough and jagged edges, had to have been cut out of the wall after the building was finished. My theory is that the mob had originally bribed an architect to create the gap and its abyss so they could use it to stash diseased corpses after they had chopped them into manageable pieces. One day, they accidentally threw their keys in as they were disposing of a body, and thus had to cut through the wall with a power saw. They removed the pieces of dead bodies when they realized that the abyss was now more accessible to the public and eventually the cops.

After all, it's only logical.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Shopping and True Christianity

Dear Reader,

As the second eldest child, I had the opportunity to experience certain economical conditions that my younger siblings were not able to partake of, and by that I mean that when I was growing up we were dirt poor while Padre was attempting to climb up the professional ladder. So Madre was only able to procure clothing for HermanaMayor, and I got my first new clothes at twelve. By that time, I had already established certain personality traits, and not only was I not used to shopping, I found it hard to accept, on multiple levels. I still do.

This means that this whole thing that Padre calls "recreational shopping" is completely lost on me, and that I am not fun to have around on Madre's shopping extravaganzas. To be perfectly honest, I don't see why it's so fun. You buy stuff when you need it because you need it, right? Isn't anything more than that, except for a very few well-planned and well-earned indulgences, economically unsound? And isn't the fact that America at large spending more than they earn and one paycheck away from bankruptcy an issue? (We are, by the way.)

I just hate shopping for myself. I hate it. Ten minutes of looking for a new shirt to buy can put me in a bad mood for the rest of the day. I try really hard to be good, but I'm afraid that soon I've got a black cloud over my head and I'm grumbling things about the flaws of contemporary society. I even hate trying things on because I don't like being scantily clad in strange places, no matter how private they might be.* It's actually one of the things that PetiteSouer and I have in common, which makes Madre the benevolent martyr, because she is always willing to take her starving daughters out to get essentials and ends up with HermanaMayor and two grumbling trolls.

The only thing I can really buy are DVDs and CDs, which also happen to be my greatest weaknesses. I think that I have somewhere around forty musical soundtracks, and I'm hoping for more for Christmas (it's the easiest and best thing to buy for me as long as you know what I don't have). I'm also collecting Star Trek DVDs, and I'll get them all eventually. Other than that, I have a really hard time, even with food. I just feel so unnecessarily extravagant, and I find extravagance repulsive.

Now, buying for others isn't what I'm talking about, here. I'm talking about the keeping up with the Joneses, i.e. using money as a measuring stick for social status and prizing status above all else. I find it hard to find fault in a person who is truly trying to spend his or her money for the benefit of others. Unfortunately, this doesn't always mean gifts, because how often do people these days buy someone a gift just to show them up or impress them?

Have you ever heard of the term affluenza, Gentle Reader? It refers to the social plague that promotes the love of getting and the love of things. Back in ancient Israel, they used to call that idolatry. And it's just so stupid! For how long will the world refuse the pursuit of equality? Will we need fire and brimstone** before we understand how we are ruining ourselves? In a perfect, Christian world, excess money is spent on the needy instead of the greedy, but that just doesn't sell as well, I guess. It takes great maturity before benevolence can trump selfishness, and maturity on a social and national level, at least in these times and places, seems like nothing more than a daydream.


It just makes me sick that there are so many people out there who have everything and still suffer from emptiness and want, while the less fortunate are also suffering from want, but the latter is the kind that kills in the dead of the night and destroys lives and families. The former doesn't do more than promote whining and even more selfishness.

The things that seems very clear to me is that something must be done, and affluenza must be cured for good. People need to focus on their families and getting rid of debt before they find themselves in the same position as the poor that they had previously neglected. If families are okay financially, with an emergency fund, they should then focus their attention on those who are suffering., and I really don't see why that has to mean the end of shopping, just the end of shopping as we know it. If people love to shop and they want to be Christ-like in the time we set aside to celebrate His birth, why not spend the same exact time and money that would have been spent on useless clutter and turn it into charity***?

I guess that the Christmas season, in its true spirit, teaches us that we need to change. And we do change, whether we want to or not. We can't really stand still, but we can choose our direction. I'm very grateful for and humbled by my background in this instance, because I feel that it allows me to see things that I would probably be unable to see otherwise. No one is as good as they should be, and Heaven knows that even I have too many faults to number, but Christ has given us the opportunity to repent (i.e. change in the right direction), and he has asked us to worry about others and avoid seeking after worldly things. At this time of year, I can see no greater tribute than living as He would have us live.

Regards, best wishes, and pure love,

-Cecily Jane

P.S. I finished the first draft of my novel on time! I had to write over 13,000 words on that last day, but I did it. Oh, yeah.

*Hence my title as Family Prude.

**As one of my religion professors is eager to remind me, one of the great sins of Sodom and Gomorrah, besides the one for which they were most infamous, was a neglect of the poor (see Ezekiel 16: 49).

**I.e. not the word as we use it, but as it is used by Christ and His disciples.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

The Cop Out

My Dear Reader,

Due to certain circumstances (such as my novel being drastically behind schedule, among other things), Plain Vanilla will return next Tuseday, when I expect things to be back in order.

I'm at 32,000 words,

-Cecily Jane

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Answered Prayers

My Dear Reader,

On a summer's morning not too long ago, I was about to walk to work when I realized that it was raining. Rain's unusual for Utah, and real rain, the kind that we get back in Sacramento, is fairly scarce, so it was a bit surprising. So I grabbed my rain coat, a large blue Nike jacket that Madre and I bought when I was thirteen hoping that I would grow into it, though considering the fact that it was a men's large, I'm not exactly sure how big we thought I was going to get. Still, it's the best thing that I have to combat such weather, since the excess fabric hangs down to the mid-thigh area, so it keeps me pretty dry. It just so happened that it was just after school had ended and one of my teachers had finished grading my final paper for her class, so I planned on getting my paper on the way there, since I generally cut through campus anyway. I opened the door, slid my keys and phone into the over-sized pockets (I hate carrying purses if I can avoid it) and went on my way.

Now, Gentle Reader, I'm sure that at one point in your life you have had a friend or acquaintance who will tend to call you at the most random of times and say the strangest of things. Well, this morning mine called me and asked me over to breakfast. It was 8:30 in the morning and I was on my way to work, so I declined. He was planning on going away for a couple of weeks, so he offered to pick me up so we could say goodbye. Little id he know that he was fulfilling one of my walking-to-work fantasies. Anyway, when I got out of the car, paper in hand, I realized that my keys were missing, and that was a problem. Apparently they had fallen out of the big pockets sometime during my walk, or possibly in the car. There was no way to be sure, and there was no time to retrace my steps, so I went into work and hoped for the best.

Now, you may think that losing a key chain is a simple matter, but they weren't just any keys, for they were on my absolute favorite key chain that I got in the Star Trek Experience in Las Vegas. It's essentially a little plush Spock (I'm a geek, I know). Anyway, I really wanted it back, and it seemed that there was no way to do so short of going back to Las Vegas in person. So I did what any good little girl would do in this sort of situation. I prayed about it.

I know God well enough to understand that He has a perfect sense of humor, which can be completely wasted when you forget that you're speaking to an actual being. So when I pray, God and I kind of have this agreement that I can shake things up a bit when the occasion permits, since praying, after all, shouldn't be a completely boring experience. So I can be fairly unorthodox at times, but as long as I stay sincere and respectful I don't cross the line. So when I was deeply concerned about the absence of my favorite key chain, I decided to be humorously frank about the matter. I asked Him if there was some kind of a miracles account that we believers could access, and if so, if I could perhaps redeem an unused miracle in order to get my keys back. The request should not worry you, Gentle Reader, because God knows that I like to ask stupid questions. Father, I prayed, I realize that this isn't a life or death matter, and I also realize that this is just a matter of personal comfort, but could I just have this small miracle, just this once? Then I assured Him that He didn't need to feel obligated and that I'd understand if my request was denied, but I had to ask, you know? It couldn't hurt.

So one day I went to check the mail and I found a curious package for HermanaMayor, curious because it had been sent by the local grocery store, and what could a grocery store possibly be sending my sister? We opened the package to find nothing other than Mr. Spock in the plush. This required nothing less than a one-of-a-kind original Cecily Happy Dance, which I dutifully performed on the spot. It was the best thing since Girl Scout cookie ice cream.

Now, I guess you could say that since my key chain happened to have a grocery store club card attached to it, and since the store has a policy that they will track down the owner any key chain with its card on it (and pay for postage), it's possible that God had nothing to do with it at all. Well, He did, and I know it. He cares about the small things, too, and it was definitely nothing short of a miracle. And if it was a person who found my keys, read the card and found the policy, and dropped it into a mail box, is that any different? The lessons that teach us that kind of behavior come from the Bible, so I suppose it's just the same. Either way, it's a miracle.

I guess I just like the fact that things that are important to us are important to God, even though they may not be important to history or even the future. He is our Heavenly Father, after all.

Regards, best wishes, and hope,

-Cecily Jane

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

NaNoWriMo: Ideas+Deadline=Motivation

My Dear Reader,

It's that time of year again. I breathe a sigh of relief every first of November for multiple reasons. One of them is that the dreaded Halloween season is finally over (we'll have to delve into my deep-rooted aversion to Halloween in other entry). Another is that Thanksgiving is in sight, and beyond it (but not at the same time, as others have mistakenly supposed) is Christmas. By November I'm already burned out by school, and for good reason: October is the only month in the Fall semester without an extra day off. So there's a lot going on. My excitement for Thanksgiving is fed by my need for a break, and even though professors tend to pile on the assignments at this time, I become less and less enthused. It seems counter-intuitive, then, that I would decide to write a novel during this season of stress and inactivity, but I have, and I will.

It's this thing I heard about last year in a creative writing class: NaNoWriMo, short for National Novel Writing Month. Essentially, it's the writer's version of Around the World in Eighty Days. You think I can't write a 50,000 word novel? Are you willing to stake your reputation on that, gentlemen of the Reform Club? And the race has begun. There are thousands of us who have taken the challenge, but who will conquer? Why, my money is on the brilliantly clever Cecily Jane. With absolutely no real novel-writing experience under her belt, she's an obvious choice.

Okay, so maybe the real reason I took the challenge was the fact that I've been working on this young adult novel for over a year and I haven't done any actual writing since I began. I've done brainstorming and pre-writing, though; I have a little notebook that I keep in my backpack to write ideas in when they come, but the writing process had been put on hold due to a serious lack of motivation. This has become a problem because my novel's fan base, namely my brother Youngest, will soon be too old to be interested. My novel's geared towards ages nine-to-eleven, and Youngest will be eleven in December. I have to get at least a rough draft done by then because, after all, I'm mostly writing it for him.

So I'm going into NaNoWriMo with a purpose. I'm also going into it with 6,000 words or so, which means I'm cheating. Still, "winning" (i.e. writing 50,000 words) means I'll need to add about 1,667 words a day, so the head start I got shouldn't make that much of a difference. The key here is motivation. I've been attempting to write a novel for a year without much success. Now I've got over 18,000 words, which puts me a little behind, but it's way farther than I would have been on my own.

Sometimes, all you need to do what you really want to do is a little push. For a writer, next to inspiration a deadline is the best sort of push that you could get. So even though this deadline is artificial, it's still a deadline, and it's still motivation, and I'll take it.

I'll see you at 50,000 words.

Regards, best wishes, and budding novelists,

-Cecily Jane

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

My Secret Identity

My Dear Reader,

Something that's very strange about working in the food industry is that no one seems to recognize you when you're wearing a hat and apron. For me, part of the problem comes from the fact that I never wear my hair up unless I absolutely have to. That's right; I believe that my hair wants to be free. So people who are used to seeing me outside of work often don't recognize me at work, while my co-workers don;t recognize me outside of work. It's kind of like I've got two identities: Cecily At-Work and Cecily Off-Work.

I remember once, when I was at the grocery store, I ran into a girl that I had just worked a shift with a couple of days before. I waved to her. No recognition. I smiled. No response. I then realized that she didn't remember me, and I wasn't exactly going to walk up to her and try to convince her that we had spent three hours together making salads the last Friday. So I tried to avoid/ignore her, which got really awkward for me somewhere around the deodorant aisle. I was trying to decide whether I wanted my armpits to smell like tropical silk or mango satin (I'd really like them to smell like nothing at all, but we all know this is clearly impossible), and she was apparently in the same conundrum. And how can you choose between two fictional fragrances? I mean, really. It's just ridiculous. So we sat there hovering around the deodorant for at least five minutes, and the whole time I felt incredibly nervous because I knew who she was and was trying to pretend that I didn't, while aware that she could be very possibly doing the same thing. I just wanted to die.

Something I thought of recently was that I could really use the disguising properties of my hat and apron to create two distinct identities. At school and home I can be Cecily, mild-mannered English major, while at work I can be someone named Olivia. I don't know exactly what kind of person Olivia would be, but I guess I could just make it up as I go along. Maybe she's really into martial arts and ballroom dance. Maybe she's the second cousin of Al Gore. Or maybe she once saved several small children from a tragic and deathly fate. The possibilities are endless. It is truly unfortunate that I didn't realize that I had the power to create this alter ego until I was already well-established in my current job, for the world may never come to know the Olivia I could be.

Something else I thought of was that it would be really easy to create a spy network of people who posed as fast food workers. They could live normal, productive lives until their services were required, when they would dash off into a telephone booth and become whatever it says on their name tags. Trust me, this plan is even more brilliant than it seems. After all, nobody really pays attention to people who work in food. Sometimes people will have conversations in front of you like you're not there. Sometimes people will have conversations about you like you're not there. This could be crucial when the situation requires covert surveillance. Also, people tend to believe that food workers normally do things that human beings would never think of doing, such as break very social rule that was ever created. Since spies often have to do very strange things without raising suspicion, this could come in handy. Again, the possibilities are endless. If you are interested in creating a spy movie/network under this premise, please contact Olivia.

In the end, I guess that it shows that people get tripped up fairly easily when information is presented in a way that is unfamiliar. It also reminds me that I'm going to school so I don't have to stay in the food industry forever.

Regards, best wishes, and alter-egos,

-Cecily Jane

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Busy Work

My Dear Reader,

This week, besides reading a book and preparing for a test, I have to finish a project that's absolutely worthless. And that's all for one class! Add to that the other book I have to read, the test I have to take at the end of next week, and you've got the typical college workload.

Now, the books are arduous, though I don't really mind as long as they're spread out, but I really don't see the point of assigning a purposeless assignment when there's already a lot going on at the same time. Why do professors feel the need to throw extra hours of library time as if an endless amount of homework is the only things that will keep us off of the streets?

Useless assignments have been plaguing me ever since kindergarten, and I just don't get why teachers of all grade levels can't manage to use the time they're supposed to fill up. It reminds me of high school, when my teachers decided that thirty to forty minutes of lecture time was more than adequate, meaning that my fellow students and I had a designated card game period at the end of each class. Then, of course, they told us we weren't allowed to bring cards to class (probably because we were making the teachers look bad), which turned our card-playing time into doing-whatever-worthless-thing-popped-into-the-teacher's-head-that-day time. It was just abut the lamest thing you could imagine. I used to look at my teachers and think to them, "I've only got one childhood to live and you're making me waste it on this?"

There's just no telling what I could have accomplished in the time I've wasted doing worthless assignments. Maybe I could have cured cancer. You never know. If we spent every bit of every day in the classroom actually learning something useful, we could probably fit a bachelor's degree in there somewhere, producing a generation of 22 year-olds with Ph.Ds! Oh, the possibilities.

And just to be clear, I'm not trying to say that every finger painting exercise was a waste of my time, because art is part of education too, but do we really have to spend three weeks working on posters that represent each of the constitutional amendments? I mean, really.

Kids have a lot more potential than we think they do, and I personally feel that this potential is wasted in a careless manner, and that failing to realize the aptitude of people at a very young age creates a pattern that extends through adulthood. Soon, busy work is a staple of the academic diet, because apparently the academic elite just don't know what to do with themselves if they don't have something to grade. If we could only be a little more efficient with our time! There is so much to do!

Anyway, despite the things I've said, the fact that these word are inspired by a specific, pointless assignment might make my point seem trivial, and I suppose it's easy to ignore the rantings of a poor college student who feels ill-used. Go tell it to your neighbor with melanoma.

Regards, best wishes, and educational efficiency,

-Cecily Jane

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

The Deal with Doughnuts

Dear Reader,

Ever since I can remember, my Madre has taken special care to ensure that my brothers and sisters and I grew up consuming as little sugar as possible. This meant that cake and ice cream were only for birthdays*, candy was only for holidays, and root beer was only for pizza**, and sugar cereals were a mythical substance too dangerous to be thought of. Because of the care which Madre took in her endeavor, it happened that my only experiences with doughnuts occurred in cases when a large amount of men (uncles, people from church, neighbors, etc.) had to come over to our house for an activity that chiefly concerned moving heavy objects.

At this very precious and impressionable stage, there also happened to be a family that lived down the street who had a very different philosophy when it came to sugary foods. For them, doughnuts were just part of their usual Saturday morning ritual, and I remember going to visit them and being amazed by the boxes of doughnuts on their tables every week. It was like I was suddenly in an entirely different world. We kept coming over, week after week, if only to watch the ritual that was so alien and intriguing. I can only imagine how they felt; trying to eat in peace while the kids down the street are treating them like an exhibit in the zoo. The circumstances, however, seemed to make this scenario unavoidable.

You might think, Gentle Reader, that when I moved out of the house and off to college, my previous sugar deprivation would turn me into some kind of junk-food-binge-beast. I splurged a bit, but I was able to keep things under control. And by that I mean that my diet consisted mostly of pepperoni Hot Pockets. Believe it or not, I actually lost weight my freshman year, despite the odds, and when I moved out of the dorms and into an apartment I developed a strategy that works fairly well: I never buy any junk food except for ice cream, and I always make sure that I have one container of ice cream handy at all times. Sometimes it will last me a week, sometimes it will last me a month, but the idea is that I have an outlet for my sugar cravings. When I crave something sweet, I remind myself that I have the power to buy it anytime I want and that it will always be there. Then, if the cravings persist, I indulge myself with as much ice cream as I need to be satisfied. The end result is that I spend less time and money on junk food and go on with my life. It works pretty well, for the most part.

This brilliant plan hit a snag, however, when I started working full time in a cafeteria over the summer. My nine-to-four schedule meant that I came in everyday right after the breakfast shift was ending, greeted by a couple trays of assorted doughnuts. The effect was somewhat disturbing. After I had supposedly conquered my cravings for sugar during childhood and re-conquered them after I moved out, I found that during these summer days I spent a lot of time thinking about and longing for those doughnuts. Since I could buy my meals there at a pretty good price, I got into the habit of eating lunch there everyday during my break, and as the summer progressed I became more and more concerned with making sure that the left over doughnuts made their way to my plate. Soon, it came to the point where I would have three or four a meal, and my behavior was getting notice from my co-workers. Soon my doughnut cravings became kind of a joke among my friends at work, nothing too serious, but enough that people started saving doughnuts for me. It all started to get really weird.

And that was when I realized that I had actually turned into that junk-food-binge-monster that I had avoided becoming way back during my freshman year. It's kind of strange that I waited four years to go on a sugar spree, and it's even more strange that I chose doughnuts as an outlet, but I suppose that it goes to show that we humans aren't in as much control as we think we are.

After the end of the summer, I found that my sugar-craving symptoms started to subside, and now I rarely think about those doughnuts when I see them, having realized that I don't actually find them as appetizing as I thought I did. Perhaps this means that my doughnuts cravings have finally be satisfied, or perhaps it means that I've got some more hurdles to go through until I have real control over my sweet tooth. Either way, I don't really want to see that junk-food-binge-monster ever again.

Regards, best wishes, and sweet days,

-Cecily Jane

*In these rare cases, my family experienced an equally rare phenomenon, as all birthday cake and ice cream always mysteriously vanished during the night. As children, we attributed it to some kind of Sugar-Monster, but in my later years I realized that this monster was actually Padre. Oh, the irony.

**And pizza, of course, was only for Madre-and-Padre-are-so-busy-that-they-can't-cook-dinner-style emergencies.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Cecily's Note

My Dearest Readers,

Plain Vanilla will return next Tuesday, 10/23, when I anticipate to be caught up on my homework. Sorry about the late notice, but I hope to see you here next week!

-Cecily Jane

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Good vs. Well

My Dear Reader,

In addition to my love of literature, I've found that the language itself can be just as interesting as any author's genius can be. So I've been increasing my knowledge of the language I speak inasmuch as my major will allow, and this means that I know all sorts of ridiculous grammar rules that most people are completely unaware of. One of these rules dictates the use of the words good and well, and once you get to a certain level of education, the rule seems unavoidable (unlike the rule that says you can't use which before an nonrestrictive clause, which completely ignorable). So I thought that I would conduct a little experiment to see what the difference between good and well really is in the real world.

Now, before I explain my results, I'll quickly explain what the big deal is: technically, good is an adjective (which describes things) while well is an adverb (which describes actions or states of being). Thus, some people some time ago decided that when someone asks you how you are, you are to respond that you are well (state of being). To demonstrate:

Person 1: Hi, Person 2. How are you?
Person 2: I'm good, you?

=WRONG

Person 1: Hello, Person 2. How are you?
Person 2: I am very well, thank you. How are you this fine morning?
Person 1: Tea and crumpets?

=CORRECT

The argument that these dead people (and their living allies) are trying to make is that good is synonymous with virtuous, meaning that when you call yourself "good" it is really a proclamation of inherent righteousness. To demonstrate:

Person 1: Hi, Person 2. How are you?
Person 2: I am very good today. I didn't lie or cheat, and I saved some orphans from a fire. I'm pretty much the greatest thing ever.
Person 1: Your hubris is showing.

In contrast, the word well means healthy, or more precisely, not sick and/or contagious. And isn't that what people really mean when they ask you how you are? After all, asking someone to profess their worthiness to you in such a casual manner is quite awkward. Of course, this habit comes from a time when people were constantly dying of consumption or the like, and this was more like a "so you're not dying?" sort of inquiry:

Person 1: Hello, Person 2. How are you?
Person 2: I am very well, thank you. I was ill last week with the gangrene, but it seems to have cleared up wonderfully.
Person 1: It is quite pleasant to know that I do not have to fear that you will fall over dead at any moment, possibly taking me with you. Huzzah!

Now the problem with this rule is that it is somewhat outdated and therefore comes off as stuffy and impersonal. Yet, it is still considered wrong by people who think they know grammar, and those people happen to hand out diplomas and Pulitzer prizes. So if you happen to want to be a world-changing writer, you have to be able to hob-knob with these people, right? And therein lies my dilemma: do I speak with perfect grammatical correctness at all times in order to maintain my credibility and risk stuffiness/snobbery, or what? So I decided to try telling everybody I was well in a natural, non-snobbish way for a few months and see what happened. The results were exceedingly telling.

First of all, I found that I actually offended some people, or at least put them on guard. This generally happened with close friends of mine, people who knew me and knew that I'm not from Buckingham. Not only did my grammatically correct response come as a surprise, but they appeared to feel like I was judging their language skills, i.e. being very rude.

Second of all, I found that in more formal settings it was either accepted or not noticed. Since part of my job entails dressing up and acting with a certain decorum, I found that using well was appropriate. Somehow, wearing slacks made it all okay. I also found that certain people I came in contact with in this capacity lowered their opinion of me the moment I used good. So slacks equal well and jeans equal good. Apparently.

Thirdly, I found that I had a very difficult time being consistent for any period of time. After more than four months, I still slip up all the time, and when I do it is not unusual for someone to point it out. It's kind of like putting spats on inside out or something: what could appear dignified now looks excessively foolish.

So I've pretty much determined that we notice language more than we think, that we have a very emotional attachment to language, and that I should try to continue saying well in formal situations or I'm going to be in trouble.

See? That wasn't so bad, was it?

Regards, best wishes, and explanations a lot longer than promised,

-Cecily Jane

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Expect the Unexpected

My Dear Reader,

I think that one of the stupidest English clichés is "expect the unexpected." I cringe whenever I hear it, just like I do whenever I see the word "yummy" in print. Ugh. I have thoroughly examined the situation and have decided that something must be done. Maybe realizing that there is a problem can be the first step to the healing process here. Allow me to argue my point:

How can you possibly expect the unexpected? Once you expect it, isn't it now more properly classified under things expected? So instead of actually expecting the unexpected, it's more like expecting that which was previously, but is no longer, unexpected.

Anyway you slice it, you can't really expect the unexpected. You can try, I suppose, but in my experience this has a tendency to turn into expecting all sorts of completely outrageous scenarios that have probably never happened to anyone. This is what we like to call paranoia.

Of course, there are always those rare cases in which those completely outrageous situations are suddenly (and sometimes violently) brought into reality. For example, you might be looking ahead to finals week with worry and anxiety, expecting difficult tests that make teeth pulling look pleasant, but you might not expect to go into your kitchen the morning of the last day of classes, trip over your own feet, and hit the part of your skull between the temple and the eye with a fairly blunt drawer handle, creating a cut which requires ten stitches and a tetanus shot. Yet, it happens all the time, and by that I mean that it happened to me last finals week and it wasn't pretty. I spent a whole week trying to think up a better story to tell my friends and attempting to convince my co-workers that it was not the doing of my husband or boyfriend (which were both at that time nonexistent). So yeah, I definitely didn't expect that, but should I have? Or is it preferable that I always stay in the state I was in after that, when I started to see every visable surface as an instrument of doom? That's the kind of thing that makes you want to stay in bed for the rest of your life.

And at the same time, I think that if a person truly could expect the unexpected, life would be incredibly boring and perhaps even unbearable. Variety is the spice of life, and even though getting stitches wasn't the best experience I've ever had around finals (though it definitely wasn't the worst) it was the most exciting thing that had happened to me in at least a month, and it was kind of nice to have something to talk about when people asked me how things were going*. It's sick and twisted, I know, but I have to fight the overwhelming misconception that I am the most boring person alive with every weapon at my disposal.

So I suppose the conclusion I have come up with is that expecting the unexpected can only lead to paranoia or boredom, and neither of those are exceedingly appealing alternatives. I think I'll just try to be careful and get on with my life.

Regards, best wishes, and excitement,

-Cecily Jane

*Of course, I was in a car accident about two weeks prior to the stitches incident, but I didn't get hurt at all from the crash, so I suppose it's debatable as to which incident was more exciting. Either way, I'm sure Madre was getting sick of my calling her from the emergency room.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Sister Moment #3: Birthdays

My Dear Reader,

It's a strange thing when your younger sister has a birthday that's only ten days before yours. After all, you came here first, so shouldn't you have priority? If you were twins, like two of my brothers happen to be, I could understand sharing a birthday, but birthdays are by nature a very personal and selfish thing. You don't really want to share with someone else because it takes the attention away from you. It's a fairly natural feeling, which, like most other natural feelings, is self-centered and makes no sense.

Okay, so maybe that's a little bit of an exaggeration. It's not like we all think we're the Queen of Sheba or anything. And yet, next to Christmas, I'd bet that most people think that their birthdays are pretty high up there on the list of favorite holidays.* I mean, any day is made a whole lot better when it contains presents, ice cream, and cake. Free desserts at restaurants aren't that bad either. So I have to admit that I always get a little depressed when Petite Soeur's birthday rolls around, because I've always felt that she sucks all of the birthday out of the month so there is none left for me. And I don't care what you say, I still swear that she gets better presents. Everybody loves the baby in the family, and since she's the youngest daughter I can't help but feel like I'm like VHS tapes; put out to pasture because there's a newer model.

I remember that I got really confused sometime around first grade about how it was even possible that my younger sister could have her birthday before I did, because I had just been taught that when a person has a birthday that falls before yours it makes him or her older than you. Of course, I completely forgot the big picture, meaning the three years minus ten days that I had spent on the earth as the youngest child, but I was approximately five years old and therefore perfectly excusable. But when I went to talk to Padre and have him sort out the whole mess, he thought my misunderstanding about birthdays and ages was quite a hoot. He told me that I had really been born on Petite Soeur's birthday and vice versa, but they had switched us a few years back for kicks. And of course, being five, I believed him, and I still remember the confused look on my first grade teacher's face when I tried to explain it to her. To this day, I'm still a bit embarrassed, and have decided that I'm not going to fill my future children's heads with hilarious falsehoods and set them loose on the world, no matter how stupid they are.

Anyway, it still happens to be that the worst day of my life falls annually on PetiteSoeur's special day. I try to have a good time. I really do. But every year it somehow happens that I start out being happy and I end up hating the universe by the time they dish out the cake and ice cream. This year, however, since the two of us have grown up and become friends, she actually noticed that I looked like death and asked me what was wrong, and being the honest and open person I was raised to be, I told her everything. It was like one of those sharing moments that they have in Full House where you've got what I call "the flying music" playing in the background and everybody's just so close to tears you want to throw up, but we didn't. Instead, PetiteSoeur told me that she hates my birthday too, since the start of mine means the definite end of hers, like New Year's for Christmas. (I'm pretty sure that's why everyone ends up so smashed.) Anyway, it was an interesting experience as we sat there and confessed our mutual birthday hatred and agreed that it was okay to keep on hating. It's moments like these that I think she's not so bad after all.

I still say that when I have children I'm going plan things a little better.

Regards, best wishes, and general stupidity,

-Cecily Jane

*Of course, there are always those people who hate the fact that time keeps moving forward no matter what we do. These people are old. The way I see it, you're not old until you're embarrassed of the time you have spent here and the experience you have gained, or in a cliché, you're only as old as you feel. People seem to be stuck in this great irony where we hate how old we are and yet diminish those who have less experience than we do. Maybe someday we'll all just grow up.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

My Beef with Peanut Butter

My Dear Reader,


Those who know me well know that I dislike peanut butter. Dislike is a good word for it; hate is what I feel for uncooked onions and loathe is what I feel for ranch dressing. To illustrate, if I were at a social gathering and someone set me before a nice salad ruined by ranch, the smell would make me sick and I'd immediately push it away. I wouldn't care who was looking. If I was at a fancy restaurant where I was required to wear a dress I have yet to buy, I'd tell my server to take it back, something I ordinarily wouldn't do. With onions, on the other hand, I would probably just pick them out, no matter where I was and no matter who I'm with. I'm not eating that. If I was served something with peanut butter, however, I would swallow my pride along with the concoction, in the interest of being polite. By now, Gentle Reader, I hope you understand my full intent when I use the word dislike in this context.

The funny thing is that it didn't used to be that way. Growing up, I was the tomboy who spent her recesses catching grasshoppers and her suppertime devouring whatever happened to be on the plate. Sure, there were things I liked better than others, but food was food, and I had to eat it all before Madre would let me go and ride my bike. It was the same at lunch time, where the faster you ate, the faster Mrs. C would let you go out and play. I was a messy eater, but I'm what Madre calls a Pokey Puppy and that's what it took to keep up with the other kids.

The peanut butter thing didn't start until at least seventh grade. Madre was raising six kids at the time, and two were twins and one was a toddler. So of course, the budget was tight, and of course that meant than when she made lunches she went with whatever happened to be a mixture of cheap and easy. For Madre, that meant peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Every single day. When Madre was feeling like making us something special, she'd make us peanut butter and honey, and once in a blue moon we'd get tuna. So by this time, peanut butter consisted of a large part of my diet, as it had ever since I was in kindergarten. I guess it just kind of got old.

At first, it was just peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. I begged for peanut butter and honey, but that got old, too. I started begging for tuna, but there was no way my Madre was going to make me a tuna sandwich every day.

Then something strange happened. I stopped liking peanut butter in everything. While that kid on TV was trying to figure out how to eat a Reese's, I was trading the Reese's I got for Halloween with Smarties, Hershey Kisses, or whatever I could get my hands on. The same went for every special occasion, and I honestly believe that my dislike for peanut butter has decreased my enjoyment of pretty much every holiday, because there's always a Reese's tree in your Christmas stocking or a Reese's egg in your Easter basket. There's no hiding from a Reese's.

Eventually, I started hating peanuts. Madre had to keep me out of the large jars of trail mix because I would go through and eat the M&M's . . . and nothing else (except the occasional date). Then, I stopped liking Butterfingers, which was pretty tragic because at the time it was my favorite candy bar. By the time I got to college, I could only eat Almond Snickers.

The funny thing is that most people put peanut butter in just about anything and don't even conceive of the possibility that someone might not be a fan. So here I am, standing up and saying that I, Cecily Jane, am not a fan in the slightest. And I know I'm not alone. I once met a man who tells people that he's allergic just to avoid the guilt trips. That's what I call desperate. But now, my Gentle Reader, you have been enlightened. Good for you.

Regards, best wishes, and dislike,

-Cecily Jane

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Friends, Ruts, and the Nature of College Life

Dear Reader,

It is inevitable, I suppose, that a person between the ages of eighteen and twenty-five will be ultimately confronted with the challenges that accompany the frantic and fluid lifestyle that persons in this age group tend to lead. I wonder if it's harder for those of us who are less fluid than others.

I've lived in the same apartment for three years, my fourth year started at the beginning of August. I like my complex, the people, the location, and I have a pretty sweet setup as far as rent is concerned. This means, though, that since my situation is so extraordinarily unusual, I am constantly subjected to watching people leave me and move on with their lives. This means that I am also constantly subjected to people who accuse me of living in a rut.

The truth is that as far as ruts are concerned, to a college student they are generally unsustainable for a period of four months. College ruts change with every semester, every new job, and every new friend, and we have a lot of those. Even a person like me can't really have a rut when my entire complex changes from one month to the next. My friends graduate, go on missions, get married, or transfer. I haven't even had a roommate for two years in a row (HermanaMayor is beating the competition by at least three months, though). So since I am forced to constantly make new friends and adjust to new circumstances, I just don't see how anyone could accuse me of living in a rut.

I suppose, though, that I am in a relative rut. After all, I have been sleeping in the same bed for three years, and I probably could get home from campus blindfolded. I just don't see why there's a downside to that. I don't like having to move, or paying more for rent, or dealing with forwarding mail, and there are a thousand tedious things that I completely avoid by staying in the same place, a place that is really only the same in regards to its physical location. But yeah, I guess I don't pack up and leave every nine months or so, so here I am, completely in a rut and miserable with my life. Or something.

It's hard to see people leave while I stay in the same place, and it's hard to have to continue to make new friends in old apartments, but I'm here because I choose to be, and I believe that the greatest joys in life come from making good choices. Still, it's difficult to be here and not feel like I'm being abandoned every December, April, and August while people move on to pursue their own fluid lives, but I suppose that's just the nature of being in the environment I am in. I guess it's the same for people in the military and what not. You don't ever really get used to it, though.

Regards, best wishes, and new frontiers,

-Cecily Jane

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Sister Moment #2: "Will you stop THROWING things?"

My Dear Reader,

As the middle sister sandwiched between two very different women (namely, HermanaMayor and PetiteSoeur), I feel this particular situation lends some experiences on my part that you, Gentle Reader, may not share. Thus, I would like to periodically relate certain anecdotes of a hilarious or otherwise meaningful nature in order to communicate the nuances of my rather unique situation. I will begin with a story involving myself and PetiteSoeur:

A few months ago, Padre called us sisters up and surprised us by telling us that he had booked a cruise to the Caribbean for the whole family. We're not a family that can afford to go on expensive trips all the time, but this year my parents are going to celebrate their 25th wedding anniversary, and that added to the fact that Padre is afraid that one of the girls will get married at any moment meant that they wanted to go on a cruise and they wanted to take us. Anyway, PetiteSoeur and I ended up sharing a cabin together, which was just fine by the two of us. We get along fairly well, which I believe is mainly due to the fact that we've fought so much in the past that contention has become tiresome. Once our hair-pulling days were firmly in the past, we discovered that PetiteSoeur was actually interested in a lot of the things I was and not just copying me in an attempt at irritation, as I had originally suspected. So in the same room we were placed, grateful that we didn't have to share a room with the boys, because despite all their redeeming qualities, they still smell awful.

In fact, sharing a room is something that PetiteSoeur and I have done for the majority of our lives, and that means that we know each other well enough to know how to respond to the quirks of the other. For example, PetiteSoeur talks in her sleep. Generally it's a kind of unintelligible mumbling, but with a little luck and the right stimuli, she can be the unconscious life of the party. I, on the other hand, don't talk in my sleep as much as I talk in the stage directly in between sleeping and being awake. And in contrast to PetiteSoeur's grumbles, I generally shout, and by that I mean yell nonsense phrases heavily influenced by whatever I was dreaming, whatever is happening in the land of the awake, and the confusion induced by an infusion of the two. My shouting generally comes in the form of a demand regarding random subject such as grammar, hygiene, or pancakes, so you can imagine the kind of ruckus it creates by the time I know what I'm doing.

So on the first morning at sea, PetiteSoeur and I arranged that she get up, take a shower, and then wake me up so that I can shower. If I hurry, we end up getting ready at about the same time, so it's a good system. This morning, however, I hadn't gotten a lot of sleep and was suffering from jet lag, which meant I was in the optimal conditions for Cecily's Half-Awake Shouting Syndrome, CHASS for short. On this particular morning, we experienced the roughest part of the trip, and as the boat rocked back and forth, I heard some loud noises that grabbed me from dreamland the way a teenage boy grabs the handle of the refrigerator. It was a very irritating experience, since I was not yet used to waking up in the place that I was, much less waking up as I was swaying from side to side.

The noises were a loud, sudden kind of thump, and I'm not exactly sure what I had been dreaming at the time, but my guess is that it led me to believe PetiteSoeur was to blame, and in my less-than-conscious state I thought that she was probably throwing something at a wall. Now, I was so tired at the time that I completely ignored the fact that I can't even recall the last time I saw her throw anything.

Anyway, I tried to be as patient as possible, especially since the cabin walls were fairly thin and I didn't want to be imposing on others. So I tried really hard, and managed to get a little closer to going back to sleep when the thumping got louder. I just couldn't stand it anymore.

"Will you stop THROWING things?" I finally said.

And then I defiantly went back to sleep for good. I'll show her who's waking me up.

Later, when I was good and ready, I woke up for the day and found out that the thumping had not gone away, and I was still a bit irritated.

"Hey, will you PLEASE stop throwing things?" I said again. By this time I realized that my patient efforts to continue sleeping were completely useless, and I gave up trying. I opened my eyes to find PetitieSoeur standing a couple of feet away from me, brushing her hair and wearing an expression that was a strange mix of curiosity and horror.

"Why were you throwing things?" I asked, "I was sleeping, and everyone around us probably was, too."

"I wasn't throwing things, Cec," she said, pointing to the dresser drawers a couple of feet from my head. I turned to see them violently opening and closing all on their own, victims of the turning and tossing of the sea.

"Oh." I felt pretty stupid by this point.

"Yeah," she said, "You've been waking up every five to ten minutes for the past hour and a half screaming at me. I kept telling you that I wasn't throwing anything, but you wouldn't listen."

And then I felt really, really stupid. CHASS strikes again, I guess.

Regards, best wishes, and restraint,

-Cecily Jane

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

The Dangers of Fan Fiction

Dear Reader,

A long time ago, just before I started my sophomore year in high school, I watched the film version of the musical Cats by (now Sir) Andrew Lloyd Webber for the first time. Afterwards, I grabbed PetiteSeour and we "discovered" Cats together in the same way Columbus "discovered" America. We've always been big fans, but I'm the kind of fan who keeps things to herself unless the situation deems it appropriate, and PetiteSeour is the kind who likes to rub it in your face like a mother with a clean cloth and a dirty child. So of course it was Petite Seour who was invited to San Francisco and see the Broadway tour, not me. It wasn't the first or last time someone has done that to me, and yes, I'm still bitter about it.

Anyway, as I found myself an instant Cats fan, I naturally wanted to use my new-fangled modem to make sure I wasn't the only one. And I wasn't, not by a long shot. There are people who dress up on a semi-regular basis, there are some who get together in large groups to watch the movie, and there are some who feel that they need to add to the universe by writing their own stories. In geekdom, we call this fan fiction, or fan fic for short.

I quickly learned that each piece of Cats fan fiction must contain a requisite amount of cheese mixed with a certain portion of unbelievably. The character Mistoffles (who is referred to as Misto in fan fics) is in love with the character Victoria (called Vickie or some such nonsense) and his father happens to be Munkustrap (called Munkie?). Munkustrap's mother is Grizzabella (Grizzie), whose father is Old Deuteronomy (Old D), whose uncle is Misto, so somehow poor Misto ended up being his own great, great, great uncle. It's like each character is required to be in love with somebody, related to somebody, and have a secret ambition to become somebody. The biggest problem with this, though, is that there really isn't enough material within Cats universe that can be used to create more universe. I mean, I've been a fan for seven years and I only figured out the plot last month. I called PetiteSeour about it and we discussed the matter over hot chocolate and Pirrouettes. If an analysis-hungry English major like myself can't even figure out a plot line, there's probably not that much for me to work with. And considering that Cats is really just a bunch of T. S. Elliot poems strung together and put to music, it's incredible that they were able to put a plot together in the first place.

And yet, Cats is continuing to become the basis fan fiction, and it's not alone. I've found stuff for Beauty and the Beast. Beauty and the Beast! As if the Disney sequel, prequel, and what-happened-between-scene-34-and-scene-35 movies weren't enough to leave a permanent stain on the cultural cloak of humanity. Apparently not even this has had the power to dissuade those eager to put their own personal stamp on their favorite piece of musical theater.

Of course, musicals aren't the only art form that attracts the would-be fan writer, in fact, fan fics are pretty much the only thing that Star Trek and musicals have in common. In the realm of science fiction there is more of a writing frenzy, enough to give the musical fans a run for their money. Of course, when it comes to a series that has produced an assortment of episodes, there is an actual universe to play in. That means it's actually possible to create a good story, right? Unfortunately, I have yet to find one that is truly worth the time it takes to read. It probably has to do with the fact that most of these authors are under the age of sixteen. And then, of course, there aren't any editors or publishers to tell them where the sap is.

But I think that the most interesting thing about the whole fan fiction phenomenon is that people actually have the passion and conviction to write it in the first place. What sort of a person tries to get the last word on what happened to Munkustrap or Belle? Perhaps it is someone who is so enraptured, so thrilled by what they see on the stage or the screen that they desperately long to be a part of it in some way or another, and so bold that they are willing to put their attempts in print for an unlimited amount of strangers to look at. It's like their affinity for this fiction is about to burst inside of them, and writing is the only way to let it out, no matter how poorly constructed the story might be. That must speak volumes for the quality of the object of their fandom, don't you think?

And the there's always the chance that one of those kids are the next J. K. Rowling or Stephanie Meyer, just cutting their teeth on the genre before they set off in an adventure. Maybe someday I'll come across that kid's work. In the meantime, I've got my own characters to put on pages, or otherwise they'll never leave me alone.

Regards, best wishes, and a healthy dose of reality,

-Cecily Jane

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Madre vs. the Cool Cage

Dear Reader,

My Madre is not your average woman. She has been called a woman without inhibitions, and the description fits her well. Sometimes she just does things that you could only dream of doing, like that one time she called my junior high school janitor to repentance (he deserved it). Her lack of inhibitions has led her to have certain views on life, which has led to her views on raising children, which has led to her constant urging for us to get out of the "cool cage."

Now, the cool cage is a philosophical concept developed exclusively by Madre herself. The best way to explain it is by asking you to imagine a cage filled with trapped animals. Now, since this is a metaphor, the bars on the cage aren't made out of iron or steel, but rather they are made out of the fear of being uncool. Thus, this cage is unique due to the fact that all of its inhabitants are held captive by choice. The idea is that once you decide to be part of the social mainstream you are required to make certain limiting choices. No more Bach, no more Bradbury; like any prison your food, clothing, and daily activities have been pre-chosen and deviation is punishable.

When I was growing up, Madre was always eager keep her children safely outside of the cool cage's grasp, and warned us constantly about things that she felt would lead us to its captivity. Whenever we worried about doing certain things in order to be accepted into any sort of group, she warned us that the cool cage was near and ready to take prisoners. As a child I often reacted to her warnings with rolling eyes and shrugging shoulders, but it wasn't until recently that I truly realized how much Madre and her ideas about conforming to "cool" has changed the course of my life.

First of all, this gave me the unique experience of having a mother that never criticized the more eccentric ideas and resolutions that I have come up with over the years. When I told her that I was against ear piercings she compiled and presented to me a list of famous un-pierced women. When I continued to watch Star Trek long after the it stopped being a family ritual, she continued to encourage me to have the courage to enjoy the things that I liked. It was only when she my choices as wrong or limiting that she ever opposed, and this made it easier to pursue my interests outside of the home and eventually be the person that I have become.

Secondly, as a Mormon, it was inevitable that I would have to face certain challenges that severely tested my ability to be true to myself and my own sense of right and wrong. Outside of predominantly Mormon communities, being of a faith such as mine is a guarantee that I will never be truly accepted or understood by the majority of people that I meet. There have been many times that I have had to choose between my faith in Christ and His teachings and the friendships of my peers, and even more when my choices regarding worship has stained my reputation and coolness. But armed with the knowledge that my actions matter and that my choices are only mine to make, I was able to truly exercise my freedom to worship completely untainted by the inevitable social repercussions.

So maybe I was a geek in high school, and maybe I made my life a lot harder by being an individual instead of acquiescing to the wishes of the masses, but as I stand outside of the cool cage as the master of my own self, I believe that I know what freedom really means.

Thanks, Madre.

Best wishes, regards, and courage,

-Cecily Jane

Thursday, August 16, 2007

I'll Say it Again: Mormon = Christian

Dear Reader,

You may or may not be aware of the controversy that continually hurts and confuses Mormons, but every Mormon who has ever ventured outside of Utah has, the controversy being whether or not Mormons are Christians. Well, we are. I believe the problem arises from the fact that most people don't know very much about us. Don't blame us for the misconception, though; we do everything in our power to let people know what we stand for. We even go door to door. It just seems like there are certain people who are determined to remain ignorant, and it feels like those people are the majority of the world. While these young men and women in business attire and name tags are often the best resource for questions about the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, I might as well enlighten you while you're here.

First of all, Mormons are often dumbfounded that people think we don't believe in Christ when the name of the Church is a testimony that Christ is the head of it. It is the church of Jesus Christ, plain and simple. All the latter-day saint part really means is that we believe we are in the last days, which is a completely separate issue. We are called the Mormons because we believe The Book of Mormon to be scripture, and while I don't necessarily object to being described as a "Mormon" (after all, the name of the church is pretty long), it can be very misleading. I'll get to that issue in another post.

Speaking of The Book of Mormon, my second point is that the central message of this book is that Christ is the Son of God and the Redeemer of mankind. If you don't believe me, Gentle Reader, encourage you read it for yourself. You can get a free copy at Mormon.org or read it free online here. Why not go to the source? The purpose of The Book of Mormon is to back up The Bible's witness of Christ's divinity and doctrine. Which leads me to point number three:

We believe The Bible to be the word of God, period. The average Mormon may not be as well versed in The Bible as members of other Christian sects, but we also have a lot more ground to cover since we believe that God continues to give revelation to men, which is again another issue. We believe in it all, from Adam to Abraham to Moses and the Messiah. We worry about the veracity of its various translations, but it is holy scripture to us, nonetheless.

My fourth point is that we constantly speak of Christ and His role as our Savior and actively seek his salvation in our daily lives. As I said before, if you don't believe me I encourage you to go to the source. Try attending a church meeting, bring a notepad, and make a tally of every time you hear someone talk about Christ. Due to the nature of our meetings, the number changes, but while it is easy for a person to go through the entire meeting without hearing the name of Joseph Smith, we pray in the name of Christ, speak in the name of Christ, and take upon ourselves His name and His commandments. If you would go to one of these meetings, Gentle Reader, you could see for yourself how we worship the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and the Christ of Peter, James, and John.

Lastly, while we honor Joseph Smith as a prophet, seer, and revelator, his glory stems from his ability to bring people to Christ. Bringing people to Christ is what a prophet does. We obey prophets because they bear the word of God, and as servants of the Almighty, they constantly bear witness of the divine mission of the Son of God. I invite you to look it up and see for yourself. In conclusion, we, the Mormons, believe that Jesus Christ is our Savior and strive to live by his words. As it says in The Book of Mormon, Second Nephi, chapter 25, verse 26: "And we talk of Christ, we rejoice in Christ, we preach of Christ, we prophesy of Christ, and we write according to our prophecies, that our children may know to what source they may look for a remission of their sins."

Regards, best wishes, and faith,

-Cecily Jane

P.S. I am aware that there are many arguments against the Church among anti-Mormons and other groups; my intention here is to present my own arguments for Christianity in Mormonism instead of presenting rebuttals for the people previously mentioned. This entry is more of a basic overview of my main thought on the subject.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Sorry, Readers!

My Dear Readers.

Plain Vanilla will resume posting later today or tomorrow. I plan on resuming my Tuseday posting schedule next week.

Thanks for your understanding!

-Cecily Jane

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Names

Dear Reader,

Whenever you call someone by the wrong name, you know it instantly by the look they shoot you--a strange mix of surprise, confusion, disgust, and loathing. I've gotten that look before, and I've come to the conclusion that I've earned my very occasional lapses because people mess up my name on a daily basis.

There's a simple trick that a lot of people use when they are at a place where everyone is wearing name tags and they want to pretend like they know what each person's name is: they approach a person and attempt to get a quick glance at the name tag before their target notices. It's quite effective with names like Michael or Sarah, but when people try this trick on me, they get a nasty surprise, because my name is somewhat unique and, I have learned, utterly unreadable. So they come up to someone else and say something like, "Hey, Ashley, how's it going?" and then come up to me and say, "Hey there, Celleisisctisticly . . . isil."

Up until the time I graduated high school, I dreaded anytime I had a substitute teacher who was taking roll. They would call out each name:

Teacher: "Jan?"

Jan: "Here."

Teacher: "Kurt?"

Kurt: "Here."

Teacher: "Rachael?"

Rachael: "Here."

And then get to mine . . .

Teacher: "Cel . . . cec . . celeste . . celily . . . Miss Harris?"

Cecily: "Here."

Eventually, in order to save time and confusion, I started responding like this:

Teacher: "Rachael?"

Rachael: "Here."

Cecily: "Cecily. Here."

Teacher: What?

Cecily: I'm next on the roll. I'm Cecily. I'm here.

Teacher: Okaaaay . . . Michael?

Then I worked at a bookstore where my duties sometimes involved taking phone calls. It would generally go something like this:

Cecily: A Certain Bookstore, this is Cecily.

Customer: Hello Leslie, do you have any such and such shirts in a such and such size?

Cecily: (sigh) Let me check.

The things that I have learned about human beings in this process have been quite remarkable. Firstly, when people are presented with a name in print, they will typically only read the first three letters and scan over the rest, which is a careless (and sometimes dangerous) way of doing things. Secondly, I've learned that sometimes when people encounter something strange and unfamiliar, they will decide that it is unimportant to fully embrace the object in question, even if it is something as vital as what someone is called. This explains the friends who called me Celery, Sicily, and Olivia because they couldn't or wouldn't learn how to say it the right way.

My name is Cecily. C-E-C-I-L-Y. It's spelled phonetically. There is only one e and one i. I am not Cicily or Sicily or Cecilia or Celeste or Leslie or anything else. My name is Cecily, and I will make sure to pronounce it clearly to you when we first meet so you will be able to pronounce it right the next time.

Of course, I understand that I just have a hard name and that I can't really expect people to get it the first time. The only people who get it right from the start either know another Cecily or love great literature.* Some days it gets kind of annoying, but I've trained myself to look on the positive side and instead see correct pronunciations as a pleasant surprise. What I'm trying to say here is that considering the things that I've been through I don't think that it's completely unreasonable to ask for some leeway when I mistakenly call someone by a name that isn't theirs.

Best wishes, regards, and owing ones,

-Cecily Jane

*My name comes from the play "The Importance of Being Earnest" by Oscar Wilde, which means that all of my English professors have thoroughly studied the work and therefore get it right every time. I think that's my absolute favorite thing about being an English major. I got the name because Madre was in the play in college as she sought her degree in Theater Arts.

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

On Causing Offense

My Dear Reader,

I recently realized that an old coworker of mine probably hates my guts. The evidence, I admit, is circumstantial but compelling. In the interest of anonymity I will not go into any further details, except to say that this coworker is someone that I hold in high regard, which means that I'm completely heartbroken over the matter. I'm pretty sure that there are a lot of bad, annoying, and/or disgusting people out there who think of me as the bane of their existence, and that kind of hatred doesn't really bother me. But when good, honest, and decent people hold me in contempt, I have a sudden urge to crawl under a rock and wither away.

I suppose that the level of goodness in the person shouldn't really be a factor in how I respond to this kind of stuff at all, since I am after all only a human being who uses fairly superficial means to determine how "good" a fellow mortal is. I guess that the reason that "goodness" matters to me has something to do with the fact that "bad" people give me the opportunity to shift the blame away from myself. After all, they're probably just the kind of people who would hate me no matter what I do in an attempt to distract themselves from facing their own miserable consequences to the horrible ways they led their lives. Bad equals them equals guilty.

If a good person hates me though, I'm completely trapped. Not only does that loathing have to be a result of something I did, but whatever I did must have been pretty darn awful, as good people only get upset when they have really good reasons, right? I might be able to justify (read: rationalize) doing something to offend a bad person, but I'm the kind of person who works hard to be good, so I'm not about to go around purposefully ruining the lives of people who don't even deserve what's coming to them.

In fact, since I'm the kind of person who tries really hard to always be polite and friendly, I've decided that there are only two* ways that I can actually cause offense in others (offense here meaning whatever make them hate my guts):

1. They are too easily offended

2. I'm stupid

Now, Gentle Reader, as you can see there is still one option that places the blame on others and one that places the blame squarely on me. Option one leads back to my previous argument about bad people, and the other is, I think, the only way a person who tries to be good could manage to offend good people. The problem with this, of course, that I don't think that there's much I can do in the short term to stop being stupid. I mean, I've been working on decreasing my stupidity since first grade (isn't that the objective of juvenile education?), and after all this time I've still got a long way to go. Does this mean that I'm going to go on for the rest of my life unintentionally offending those I most respect until I can manage to lower my stupidity to an acceptable level? I certainly hope not, and I certainly hope that former coworker of mine can find it in his or her heart to forgive my stupidity, because I know that in this specific case the offense was completely unintentional.

I guess I should just be more careful about the things I let slip out of my mouth in the first place.
Best wishes, regards, and forgiveness,

-Cecily Jane

*I almost put in misunderstandings as a third option, but I think that a misunderstanding in this case would have to be a result of either number one or number two.