All content on this blog is copyright by Marci Andrews Wahlquist as of its date of publication.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

The Encyclopedia Is Down for Repairs

I knew there was a good reason for me to be writing a journal and a blog. One of my family just came downstairs and asked me to look up the week of March 25, 2010 to fill in a blank space in their journal. I feel like an encyclopedia sometimes. However, I am rather hit-and-miss in my encyclopedic ability to answer all questions put to me. In fact, the older I grow the fewer questions I can answer with satisfaction.

This past week I was asked if I could come up with a topic to present at a big family history and genealogy symposium slated for October. I looked through the list of topics that had already been approved for presentation and thought, There is NO WAY I am qualified to present anything! They all looked like professional dissertation topics to me. I know a little bit about a lot of things to do with genealogy, but I don’t know enough about anything in particular to teach other people. I have taught classes, but my students are all supposed to be beginners. This symposium looks to me like it is targeted at people like me, people who dabble in research and organizing records and doing lots of things loosely connected with the subject, but who need to be taught deeper levels of involvement.

I hope I haven’t just wasted this summer. I have spent most of the month of July writing my half of a genealogy course that I was asked to teach with a friend of mine. We have been training people to help other beginners. It has been a lot of fun to do, and I have had to learn a lot more myself. We teach every Thursday night, so I spent two or three days each week immersed in preparing, then a fourth day recovering.

I suggest to myself that I’ve wasted time because it occurs to me that my spare time could have been spent pursuing accreditation as a genealogical researcher, something I’ve thought about doing for a long time. Maybe I had better not spend too much time thinking and writing about it, maybe I had better just do it before my encyclopedic brain diminishes any further.

Monday, July 12, 2010

A British Comedy

I have some favorite BritComs that I watch nearly every night. I like their sharp humor. I like the accent. I like the class consciousness that I don’t have to deal with here. I don’t like the way they portray Americans though. All Americans in BritComs are stupid. They swear often and offensively. They are rude, loud, and frequently childish. And no matter where they are supposed to be from, they all seem to have that Midwestern television accent which is so odd when they are supposed to be from Boston or New York or the South.

I’m revisiting the idea of class consciousness here though. I’ve met people who seem to think it matters how much education you have. They insist on asking. Then they seem to assume you are superior when you have more education than they have. It doesn’t matter that you know full well that they are smarter in every way than you are and that they have acquired some really valuable knowledge outside the classrooms you were stuck in for waaay too long. Some people try to upgrade their education—I’ve been hearing too many people saying they have a PhD when I know they didn’t finish. They tack on the letters “ABD” which stand for “all but dissertation” and hope the letters make people assume more than is the case.

When I was in Britain for some of that long, long period of schooling, I encountered the class consciousness one hot afternoon on a hillside in the Lake District. We were eating lunch, taking a break from Wordsworthian scholarship, and a professor from a British university started asking me about my day. Someone had let on that I was working my way through, and the winter term before, it had gotten pretty hectic because I was holding down two jobs while taking a full load of classes. Every day I got up pretty early, rode my bike up to the campus and balanced attending my classes with teaching the two classes the graduate office had allotted me. At 3 pm I had to be at the newspaper office where I was working as a proofreader and paste-up artist four hours a day. I rode home and did homework and graded papers until late. I got little sleep but had a great time anyway. I was rather proud of my efficiency and sense of enterprise that term.

However, one of the British university students was amazed at my tale. He made it clear that the idea of a university student actually having to work was not quite the thing. The next few days he made sure that everybody he talked to knew how to treat me in the future. One of the students from Belgium ate lunch with me the day after the next and told me to never mind the treatment I was getting. She said anybody with sense would admire me, but she didn’t think the particular Brit student who had tormented me would ever be able to understand. She made me feel much better, and I got the class thing into perspective again.

Now I like to watch it in action in the comedies. They know how to laugh at themselves, that’s for sure.

I wonder if I can get people here to laugh about their silly ideas of who is worth what. People are who they are, no matter how much education they have, what their jobs are, or what their parents were able to afford to do for them. Worth has to do with one’s interior, with who one is and how one treats other people.

Any other definition is farce.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

The Golden Rule

The Golden Rule is something I’ve struggled all my life to implement in my character, with a sad lack of results. It is not that I don’t love others; I do believe that as God is our Father, we are all brothers and sisters on earth, and as such I love people in general. I also love specific people, but I don’t serve people often or very well.

People around me love to help others. Part of me wants always to say no to offers of help, because I think something’s wrong with me if I cannot handle whatever life throws at me. I know that attitude isn’t logical, but we’re talking emotions here—instincts and core values and upbringing—stuff that is down so deep that you don’t question it unless it’s really starting to wreck your life. Or if it goes against what you learn is true, like the Golden Rule.

Part of me wants to say yes, because I have slowly learned the value of giving to other people. It is still hard to be on the receiving end, even when I know I am saying yes only for the sake of the good it does for other people to be able to help someone else, especially when I know I have frustrated my friends to their limits by saying no too many times.

Gradually I learned not to turn people down, and I have reaped a bountiful harvest of great dinners and snacks to the point that I feel the balance has become significantly one-sided. Now I am doing all the receiving and hardly any of the giving. I do help with dinners for people whenever I’m asked, but I feel that I should not have to be asked.

Case in point: one of my friends told me that in her morning prayers she always asks to be put in the way of someone that day to serve, and it always happens. Her stories are remarkable. I wish I had stories like that, but I never pray for and then watch for the opportunities, do I? That same friend told me that a woman we both know goes around our neighborhood finding out little or big needs among our neighbors and then doing something about meeting them, always anonymously (except that my friend found out and spilled the beans to me). I haven’t told anybody else though. Let her keep it up; it obviously is something that needs to be copied and multiplied. I have a couple friends who keep making me bread, soup, goodies, “I-made-too-much-for-dinner-can-you-use-this?” casseroles, and now I almost never say no. I feel greedy.

I need to feel guilty is what I need to feel. Guilty to the point that I start paying it back, paying it forward, serving others to whatever is my capacity until my capacity grows larger so I can do more. Something that holds me back is the old nervousness at the idea that someone might be as reluctant as I was to accept the service. Should I worry about that? Logically, I should not, but I do.

It is the same nervousness that takes hold of me when I think about asking any of my friends if they are interested in learning more about the LDS Church—because when I joined, it was after an initial resistance and reluctance to become associated with people that lots of other people didn’t like. However, when I compare that to the happiness and the many, many blessings that are mine because of joining the LDS Church, I wonder why I don’t want to share it with others. Logically you would think I would want everyone I knew to have the same great gift that I’ve been freely given.

I suppose I have such a vast core of selfishness in my character that the Golden Rule can barely penetrate my thick skin. “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” If I keep chipping away at the crust, some day this might be characteristic of me, but it may take eons, miracles, the entire power of the Atonement of Jesus Christ. I know He can help me, but can I make myself ask?

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Electronic Books vs. Bound Books

People are telling me they think bound books are going to become obsolete. Nonsense, say I!

Ok, there are some advantages to electronic books, so I will concede a few points:

• You can use the power of the computer to find a passage quickly.
• You can store thousands of books in relatively little space.
• The pages don’t wear out with use.
• Every book weighs the same—the reader is relatively light weight.
• The reader fits into a purse or pocket more easily than most books do.
• New technology is being developed all the time to improve the electronic readers and the books.
• Certain e-readers allow you to read in bright sunlight.

But look at these huge advantages for hard copy books:

• Books are easy for anybody over age four of any ability to learn to use.
• Your eyes don’t get as tired. The difference between 150 or so dpi on the electronic reader or computer screen and 1200 dpi in a book is pretty significant over time!
• You can read a paperback in the bathtub or pool or wherever, without risk of destroying the book if you accidentally get it a little wet.
• Books depend only on your muscle power to work, not on electricity.
• You can read any book in almost any weather.
• You don’t have to wait for a book to boot up, you just open it.
• You don’t have to learn any fancy shut-down routine for a book, just close it.
• You can flip back and forth between widely separated pages with ease and spontaneity.
• Good-quality books are durable, given reasonable care (they don’t crash or suddenly become unreadable because the file got corrupted).

Quality books will never be replaced by technology. There’s something physically satisfying about a great book with a beautiful cloth or leather cover, a stiff spine, and crisp, clean pages that fall open to your favorite scene. I’m always amazed that on Antiques Roadshow none of the books brings a high price like, say, a painting, or a piece of old furniture. The rarest books are not even close! But to me they are priceless.

That’s why I will never have great heirlooms to hand down to my children. I am rich in my books!

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Caltiki and the Elevator

Memory is such an odd thing. Just when you start thinking it has closed the door on early memories, leaving them locked away in a place you cannot reach any longer, someone out of the blue gets in touch with you on Facebook and sends you the password to your shared secret elevator in the bedroom closet with space just big enough for two girls with wild imaginations and a propensity for finding how far they could test the gullible nature of the younger girl across the street.

We were not bullies. No, really. We were scientific, wanting merely to gain information for research purposes. No, really! We would have let her in on the secret, sometime. Really!! We did not mean for her to go home crying, not at all. Nine-year-old girls don’t have a highly developed sense of how far they can go before they’ve gone too far.

One “joke” started with the tv movie Caltiki, the Undying Monster. Made in 1959, it was shown on tv sometime in the early 1960s when I watched it. I was inspired by terror of the monster for years afterward, and Caltiki was a natural when we needed a monster to live in a subterranean duplicate house, reachable only by the secret elevator in my best friend’s closet. We carefully informed our younger friend that we were taking her by special permission to the secret house underneath the ground, which looked exactly like the house on ground level (we lived in ranch-style houses, all one level, and no kid on the street knew anything about basements). We said there was a great secret in the subterranean region that we were going to let her in on.

We squeezed into the closet and closed the doors. I can’t remember what gadgets we used for lights and sound, but we were prepared with our special effects to get the idea across that we were moving downward. We opened the doors. Our skeptical little friend immediately observed that this was the same room we had been in. We protested in our most persuasive manner that it was supposed to look that way.

We crept slowly out of the door and down the hallway. Pausing at my best friend’s parents’ bedroom door, we whispered that there was a monster behind the door, a monster that was blob-like and that engulfed its victims and digested them then and there. We pled for utmost silence in our movements. We slowly, carefully turned the doorknob. Our friend shrieked and dashed back into the safety of the closet in the other room. We stumblingly followed her and pushed the controls so the elevator would take us back to the safety of the ground floor. She said she was going to go home now, and she was going to tell her mother, and we were going to get into trouble for scaring her, and it was all a fake anyway. She dashed out of the closet and put her threats into action.

Oops. I hated getting into trouble, and my mother did not stand for me behaving remotely like a bully. I felt terrible, and I wished that we had not been so apparently convincing. My mother was furious with me. I wasn’t allowed to play with anybody for awhile. I remember thinking I would learn to have this kind of fun without being so convincing in the future, because it had to be more fun if everybody was in on the secret and acted together.

It was the beginning of my education in cooperative, rather than competitive, energy.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Last Reunion

This is the first year in fifteen or more that we have not been involved in an Independence Day reunion with my husband’s cousins. My husband is one of 20 in his generation, the grandchildren of an immigrant who changed his name to Charles. There were 18 grandsons and 2 granddaughters. Last year was the last reunion on this generational level. It’s the end of the era. Most of the cousins are grandparents; some are great-grandparents. One branch of the family tree has nearly 300 people in it. Two have around 100 people. One has only 30. Seven of the cousins have passed away now and interest was waning, especially on that large branch that has its own reunions.

One cousin used to host little get-togethers every Independence Day in his back yard under the huge spreading tree that shaded the entire back yard. We used to go there, sometimes watching the big parade first, bringing our contribution to the pot luck. The host always did sloppy joes. His brother always brewed root beer and made ice cream. Various relatives brought macaroni salad, potato salad, green salad, jello salad, fruit salad, and all kinds of salsas to go with the chips. Somebody brought candy to shoot out of a cannon for the little kids, who spent the first hour in the sandbox, the second hour climbing into and falling out of the tree, and the third hour eating candy. Then it was time to go home and get supper and have fireworks.

Somebody thought we ought to have huge reunions every five years. There had not been one for around ten years and maybe fifteen years before that one when the idea came up. We had two of those “every five years” reunions and then announced the end of the era.

It’s nice to be with these cousins. They are lovely people, all of them. But in big reunions you are usually either worried about the details you were put in charge of, or talking to the members of your own branch of the tree anyway, so you don’t really get to enjoy the largeness of the thing. You take all kinds of pictures and then get home and cannot remember the names of the people in them, and even if you enlarge the image all the way, you still can’t read their name tags.

The smaller reunions were great. You sat around in the shade of that huge tree and actually got to talk in depth with whichever cousins came. The food was always great. The root beer was always perfect. Then time took its toll and the cousins who hosted every year could no longer handle it. It was time to end that era.

We are at loose ends this year, and it is a let down all the way around.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Temper, Temper

I know, I know. I was pretty sappy yesterday about my home life. In the interests of a balanced report, I decided this morning to write about my journey away from my temper.

When I was young, I learned that the prevailing psychological thought was that people who are angry should learn to express it and thereby get it out of their systems. I don’t think that is true anymore. I think instead that people have to learn to control their tempers and replace anger with healthier emotions that take care of the situation in a better way.

I used to get mad at my family regularly. We had a family nickname: “Short Fuse Andrews” that fit me pretty well at times. I became adept at suppressing my anger and pretending it wasn’t there. I was able to suppress most of my strong emotions, not just anger, and it pretty well drove me crazy. I decided to go to counseling when I was an adult to learn better ways of handling my challenges.

One of the things I learned was that suppressing my emotions was not a good thing. But I still didn’t like expressing my anger. One time when I was young, my dad told me that I had the gift of a glib tongue, and when I was angry and taking it out on my siblings, my dad said I was good at tearing them to shreds with my words, and that that wasn’t a talent to be proud of. I still believe that.

There had to be a way to deal with anger without necessarily hurting other people by expressing it. After I had my own family, one thing I learned to say was that I was mad but that it didn’t change the way I felt about the person. I didn’t want my family to think that my temper changed my underlying love for them. I learned that people often think that that is so: that when you’re mad you no longer like the person you are mad at. That’s not true at all. You usually don’t get mad at people you don’t care about. It’s only the people you love who can get to you and push your buttons.

I realized that I had to get over my reactions, since I really couldn’t change the people around me. Initially it takes a lot of effort, but I could control my anger. I could tell myself that although this situation was something that made me mad, I wouldn’t go there. I would think things through. I would say only what would help the situation, not what I know full well would score me points at the expense of the other person.

My bishop once said, “Do you want to be right, or do you want to be happy?” Since we all know that most of our arguments in retrospect are about stupid things anyway, I thought about how much I needed to be right and decided it wasn’t all that often. Did stupid things matter that much? No.

So what about the things that matter that we disagree on? Obviously, I could control when I brought those things up, or how I responded when they came up without my help. I could think about how to express myself about how I felt on important issues and how to phrase things in non-threatening ways. I thought a lot about my “audience,” about the person I would be discussing these things with, and how to approach the different subjects in ways I knew would be all right with whichever person I had an issue with.

With co-workers, it was a lot harder than with family members. Co-workers are usually a mystery compared to your family, usually unpredictable, unless you’ve known them a very long time. Family you can figure out, most of the time.

The most important element after practicing self control is to practice apologizing when self control fails. The quicker I apologize, I have found, the faster things get resolved and the faster I get back into control of myself. I like things to be calm, so I like the results of apologies that consist half of rue and half an effort to understand the other person’s position. I’ve been rewarded most of the time for quicker apologies, so I have begun not to be afraid of trying that route first when things blow up.

I still have a temper, but much of the time I think it is under control. Maybe some day I will deserve a new nickname: “Calm Views Andrews”

Friday, July 2, 2010

There's No Place Like Home

We were talking last Sunday about the role of women in the modern world. Somebody read a quote by someone else that said women today expect to be able to take more time for themselves, for leisure and a break from their responsibilities.

Is this a generational divide? I don’t agree, and neither did most of the older women when we had this discussion. Do the younger women have a valid case for getting a break from their work? Or are we right that you really never escape your responsibilities—you embrace them and find how to make them fun so that you don’t need to get away.

Somebody said her daughter’s husband had been gone for almost a week on a business trip, and when he came back, her daughter said she wanted a week away like he had had, and the mother said she had been taken aback, thinking to herself, “But dear, your husband was not ‘away’ in the sense you want—he was working.” She said her daughters-in-law agreed with her daughter, that the young woman “deserved” a break from her responsibilities because of her husband’s trip. The mother did not agree but wisely did not say anything, allowing the younger people to learn their own way.

Because I do genealogy a lot, I find myself thinking a lot about women’s roles in the past. Depending on what class you were in, during the 19th century you might have been working every day of your life from the time you could do anything as a small child. Or you might have found yourself bound by rigid societal rules that let you do nothing more than visit and receive callers, write letters, direct the servants, and follow your husband’s rules. If you were luckier, you had some degree of autonomy, whether you were rich or poor.

I don’t think you were able to do a “get away” from your life back then. I think it’s a 20th-century idea. And I think women’s getaways with each other are a product of the last thirty years. These are nice things to do, if you are not neglecting something like your child or your spouse. I have gone out for the day with a friend, but never at the expense of my family members. I have demanded a time-out when my patience was completely gone, but only for an hour or two at most, that I remember. (It has been years since we have had those kinds of conflicts.)

People keep telling me and my husband that we are supposed to be going out on regular “dates.” We ignore them. We like to do things together, but we like don’t like leaving the others out of the fun. If they don’t want to come along, then we might go out alone together. Even for our wedding anniversary we have a very hard time thinking of something to do. Last time we ended up getting Subway sandwiches for everybody and bringing them back home to eat in comfort and quiet. We couldn’t think of a single thing we wanted to do by ourselves for the evening, so we elected to watch more Murder, She Wrote episodes with the others. Murder and mayhem! Happy anniversary to us!

I suppose if my household were actually full of chaos, mayhem, stress, and strains, then maybe I would want to get away from it all from time to time. If I had a husband who took off to have fun with friends for a week at a time, I would think I too should have the same opportunity. Maybe.

But I think I have a better deal than most people (I hope this isn’t too much bragging). I like my family members. We have a calm and happy life. We don’t have a lot of stresses and strains in our relationships with each other. We enjoy being together better than we enjoy being with other people. A getaway would be nothing more than an ordeal, waiting for it to be over so I could get back to where I like it best.

There’s no place like home for me.