Sunday, November 30, 2008

Alfredo & An Abundance of Noodles

I've had some shell pasta sitting in my cupboard for a while now, and it's been taking up space. So tonight, it was time to experiment again.

As I finished boiling the pasta, Jill showed me how to make alfredo sauce from scratch. I was surprised that it was much easier than it sounds; however, since obviously one needs milk and none of us in the apartment use milk, we opted for my rice milk. That would've been fine ("I've used my soy milk before and it was fine," Jill assured me)...except that after pouring a bunch into the pot, along with the butter and flour, Jill looked up at the container and frowned. " that vanilla rice milk?"

I looked at the carton. "Yeah, apparently it is. Is that bad?" Sylvia grimaced behind me and Jill smiled. "It'll probably taste kinda interesting...let's throw some salt in." Sylvia also offered a couple slices of her pepperjack cheese.

After cooking that, I decided to use my yam as well; Sylvia picked it up as she was cooking and said, "Matthew, you may want to use this. It might go bad soon." I've had the yam for a month; its time had come, so I threw some garlic, salt and butter on it, then threw it in the oven. (Two hours later, Jill came into my room. "Did you want to bake your yam?" I nodded. "Well, I'm about to bake my pies, and the oven isn't on.")

Then I made some lentil curry and rice to eat with the yam tomorrow for lunch and dinner at work while Sylvia was making her chicken and bowtie noodle soup. She decided to use the rest of her noodles, so she poured the whole bag into the pot. She stepped back, clutching the empty bag and staring at the pot. "That might've been...too much," she mumbled as I laughed. She split the huge concoction into two pots, and when the smaller one finished cooking, she and I split it between ourselves. Tomorrow I'll have the yam and the chicken noodle soup for lunch and dinner.

As for Tuesday, I'll be eating the lentil and rice soup, plus the leftovers of tonight's dinner: the shell pasta with alfredo. The sauce came out tasting pretty...interesting. I didn't think it was horrible, and neither did Jill as she popped a shell in her mouth. But when Sylvia tasted it, her eyes widened and she needed a glass of water. "I'd throw a bunch of salt on that," she advised.

I put some seasoned salt on it, which helped a bit. Chandler was just sitting on the couch shaking his head. "It's not horrible tasting!" I defeneded. Finally I admitted it was too much sweetened flavor in one sitting and stowed some of it in a bag. Hopefully that'll be good for Tuesday.

After cleaning the kitchen, Jill decided to make pie. "Yippie, I have a pie pan!" She drummed on the pan using her hand with her wedding ring. As I laughed, she said, "That's one of the advantages of having a wedding ring."

I laughed again. "You mean you get to bang things that are hard?" Jill nodded, then paused. "Wow, that sounded really sexual."

I smiled. "It was intentional."

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

"I'm Not There, I'm Gone."

I decided to see him today.

I believed that the odds were best to go to Graywhale first. Since I assumed he was still the manager at the store in Draper, it didn't seem plausible I'd have a good reason for being all the heck in Draper without good reason. So I'd pretend I was going to Graywhale, in pursuit of some vinyl record or something. Passing by his store, he'd see me, and then I'd go into Graywhale and text him, asking if it was okay to go say hello. It seemed like a desperate plan (to do what?) but ultimately feasible.

It was a bittersweet relief when I came to his store only to find it abandoned and empty. Void of form. It seemed as if it had gone out of business.

I thought about laughing it off and just moving on, go back to Orem and just spend the rest of the evening with my family. Ideally, that might be what I "should've" done. But I rarely do what I should do. I decided to go to the store in American Fork, and if I didn't find him there, then I'd call it a day and try some other time.

I tried talking myself out of it, of course. I was split in two and my two sides were arguing with one another. It has been seeming, more and more lately, that I am one of two people, and rarely at once. When I am those two people at once, all they do is bicker and fight like a seasoned couple about to divorce.

"You are not ready to see him again! And you know it!" You can't tell me what to do! "You want proof? Then here's one question: Would you feel okay if you didn't see him today?" Yes. "Be honest." ...Yes, I would. "You have to know you'd be okay if you didn't see him today." All right, I am! "You have to know you'd be okay if you didn't see him for another month or so." Well...yeah, sure. "You have to know you'd be okay if it took years. ...You have to know you'd be okay if you never, ever saw him again." ...I........ "...You're not ready."

Before long, I found myself in AF. I was nervous when I walked up to the store; I was even more nervous when I realized he wasn't there, but someone else was. Some almost freakishly tall guy walked up to me. "How can I help you?" By now, the other side was not just angry for me not giving up and going home, but was thrashing inside me in protest, begging me not to ask -

"I'm looking for Erik. Do you know where he is?"

He didn't know. Erik had left the company. What for? From guy's evasive tone, I surmised that Erik had been fired.

So I left the store. And I did one more irrational thing. I texted him, saying I'd been by the store and been told he'd left. He answered, and we had a short conversation that I'm still wondering if it was out of "friendship" or necessity.

I don't know what I want from him. At first I thought it was closure. Then, perhaps, it was to see him know he actually exists. And then I wondered if I thought seeing him again would bestow some sort of enlightenment. Forgiveness. Atonement. And since I'm aware of the danger in depending on someone or something for all that, I have to ask myself if that's really what I'm looking for.

But I do not know what I am looking for. I don't know who I am anymore.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

What Are You Thinking, Barack?

For the first time, I am worried about Obama.

First, the Associated Press reported that Obama has made it clear that he intends to close Guantanamo, and as soon as possible. He told Steve Kroft on 60 Minutes, "I have said repeatedly that I intend to close Guantanamo, and I will follow through on that. I have said repeatedly that America doesn’t torture, and I’m going to make sure that we don’t torture."

That makes me want to pump my fist in the air. What makes me uneasy, though, is that some of the detainees may be subject to a "special court" that is a cross between a military court martial and a civilian court. "It would have to be some sort of hybrid that involves military commissions that actually administer justice rather than just serve as kangaroo courts," said Laurence Tribe ("a Harvard law professor and Obama legal adviser", according to the AP).

Hopefully, Tribe's right and people will be willing to give an Obama administration the chance to not botch this up.

What makes me more nervous, though, is Obama's recent selections for advising and heading Washington's intelligence folk: John Brennan and Jami Miscik.

Democracy Now! recently interviewed Melvin Goodman, who is a former CIA and State Department analyst. Goodman said, "John Brennan was deputy executive secretary to George Tenet during the worst violations during the CIA period in the run-up to the Iraq war." Brennan helped call the shots on black sites and secret prisions as well as torture practicies. He's publically defended the warrantless eavesdropping and, most unsettling for me, extraordinary rendition.

In a December 5, 2005 appearance on The News Hour with Jim Lehrer, Brennan said the following:

"I think [extraordinary rendition is] an absolutely vital tool. I have been intimately familiar now over the past decade with the cases of rendition that the U.S. Government has been involved in. And I can say without a doubt that it has been very successful as far as producing intelligence that has saved lives....the CIA has acknowledged that it has detained about 100 terrorists since 9/11, and about a third of them have been subjected to what the CIA refers to as enhanced interrogation tactics, and only a small proportion of those have in fact been subjected to the most serious types of enhanced procedures."

Granted, Brennan's been a bit more lax; in a 2006 PBS interview, he said, "Sometimes there are actions that we are forced to take, but there need to be boundaries beyond which we are going to recognize that we're not going to go because we still are Americans, and we are supposed to be representing something to people in this country and overseas. So the dark side has its limits."

Still, it seems to me like extraordinary rendition can only be completely justifiable in a utilitarian sense; I want to believe that there's other ways of stopping lethal violence and threat besides using "the dark side."

On the other hand, Jami Miscik was the Deputy Director of Intelligence during the run-up to the war and in the immediate postwar period. According to Goodman, "She passed judgment on the October 2002 estimate. She passed on the white paper, which was the phony paper that violated the CIA charter...and sent to the Congress only days before the vote on the authorization to use force in Iraq in October 2002. She was part of the slam-dunk team that George Tenet was so proud of that prepared...the speech that Colin Powell gave, that outrageous speech with twenty-eight allegations, all of them false, prepared in February of 2003, which was the case to the international community. She was part of the team that allowed George Bush to go before this country in January of 2003 in a State of the Union address and use a fabricated intelligence report to say that Iraq was getting enriched uranium from a West African country. Jami Miscik was a part of all of this."

Sylvia told me she thinks Obama selected Brennan and Miscik on purpose, to prove that even though he doesn't have a lot of forgien policy experience he can still be tough on issues. Then she paused and said, "I wanna hope that he knows what he's doing."

I hope so, too. Because I still can't shake the coincidence that I watched The Bourne Ultimatum for the first time last night.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

A Cruel Irony

There was a weird moment during my Japanese class on Friday when in between looking up hiragana in my textbook and the lecture on a clause modifier that something occured somewhere tucked away inside of me. It was stumbled upon like hearing someone's echo from deep inside a cave only to realize that the echo is your own...or like a wrinkled and faded receipt that you find deep in your pocket; a trace or watermark evidencing something unknown and completely unrecognizeable, and yet clearly it must still be yours because, after all, it's in your pants.

It was this odd moment during class that, without warning, I found myself holding back tears. I struggled against it, and yet as class ended and I filtered out with the rest, I was blinking back salty water and taking deep breaths. I went to the breakroom at work and lay down on a couch, staring at the ceiling. I was sad...I felt sadder than I had in a very long time. And the sadness was mixed with some confusion, because I had no idea why I was sad.

It passed, but left a depressive cloud in its stead, and it hovered over me. It hovered while I worked till closing at the Writing Center and walked with my co-worker/friend Whitney to her car. It hovered as I hung out with my friends and watched Quantum of Solace, then ate a chicken hamburger with sun-dried tomatoes at IHOP for dinner. It hovered while I read some Martian Manhunter comics Saturday morning (probably to subconciously replace ancient childhood weekend cartoons rituals). I checked my email and Facebook, then went outside to look in the mailbox. I listened to Dead Kennedys, Bob Dylan, Rage Against the Machine, and The Beatles' Revolver album. I did some Ethics of War & Peace class homework. I cooked spaghetti for dinner, borrowing Sylvia's tomatoe sauce for the upteenth time. I popped in the fifth disc of the second season of Six Feet Under.

It was while watching a character make a reference to the myth of Narcissus that I realized where the tears had come from. The trace, the echo. He was having someone take pictures of him while nude, and he was talking (more to himself) about how paradoxical it seemed that he was unable to take self portraits without being contrived, so in a sense he needed someone else to see him in order for him to see himself.

It was repetitive of a theme barely a day old with me: Friday afternoon, my critical theory class finishsed watching a documentary on Derrida. Derrida made a similar comment on the irony of archiving, recording, and autobiography - or, more specifically, the futility of authentic or "pure" autobiography. The documentary ended with a roof film crew filming the street film crew filming Derrida walking on the sidewalk. It was indicating Derrida's frequent sentiments throughout the documentary: there will always be a distance between an object or person and the observer, and any attempts to capture the complete essence of that object or person is ultimately quite useless. In the end, the determination of the essential is left to the audience, who "communicates" with whatever is being percieved. There will always be a third realm: language, communication.

This Derridian reminder is what made the moment from the Six Feet Under episode stick with me while I brushed my teeth. And when I was through, I looked at the sink, the toothbrushes, and the towel on the wall until I was looking at myself in the mirror.

And I recalled: earlier in the same episode, a different character had mentioned how sometimes people wait entire lifetimes for love, expecting that someone, somewhere out there, will find them and "complete" or "fulfill" them, thereby inhibiting them from completing, fulfilling or even finding themselves.

I recalled also my surprise in the afternoon when Jill and Chandler disappeared into the bathroom together. When a minute later I heard the shower water running, I asked Sylvia if they were showering together. Sylvia nodded. "Really?" I asked. "That's...that's really cool." I think I said "cool" because I couldn't come up with a way of saying I felt really jealous of their intimacy without coming off as a snob. But Sylvia had turned her attention back to her genetics homework. "It saves water," she said.

I recalled when I checked the mailbox, and my disappointment at finding it emtpy. My disappointment that there was still no letter from Ben. No letter telling me what he thought, now that I'd told him the truth about everything I'd been through, everything I'd been keeping from him for the past two years. And I wondered if he had decided not to write back.

As I realized that I'd been looking at myself in the mirror for several minutes, I simultaneously realized two other things. I realized that I would never truely know myself and what I looked like the way everyone else could, no matter how long I looked at myself in the mirror. And I realized that I'd been denying depression to the point of holding back months-old tears to distance myself from how profoundly, poignantly, and painfully lonely I feel. Every minute. Every day.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

The Meaning of Life Is, In Fact, A Uterus

Sometimes, it seems, I'm just too curious for my own good. This morning, I walked into the breakroom at work and a co-worker noted a strange diagram on the whiteboard. It looked like...well, to be blunt, a rough sketch of the female reproductive system. With a bell.

It was my fault, I explained. See, Monday night I was told about how one of my girl friends has her life go kinda nuts when it's her time of month. So, being curious and genuinely wanting to know, I asked three of my female co-workers to explain everything behind a girl getting a period. And I mean everything. I wanted to know every detail. So I got a couple of diagrams, some hilarious stories...and a pretty gruesome perspective on what its like to feel like you have a blowfish with Charlie horses inside of you once a month. I even got to look at some "girl items" - I FINALLY know the difference between a tampon and a pad (and a pad with wings)!

I hope they didn't think it was totally weird to talk about it. One said that it was weird because normally, guys never want to know about that stuff. But I figure it's worth knowing. I think that any guy who is seriously considering marriage - or, better yet, are engaged - ought to sit down and find out just what kind of pads (and what brands) are good, roughly when his fiancee's time is and what to do/how to be helpful.

That way, you don't end up bewildered like me a month ago when my roommate/co-worker/friend Sylvia was in a ball of pain on her bed, and when I started to laugh at her discomfort, she yelled: "You don't even know, okay?! You don't know the truth because you don't have a uterus!"

Anyway, I just finished eating dinner. I made my own stir fry for the first time. Incidentally, as my roommate/co-worker/friend Sylvia said, stir fry really isn't as complicated as it may seem. It's actually as easy as it sounds. You throw a bunch of stuff into a frying pan, and you...well, you stir it until it smells good. Piece of cake. I even threw some tofu in pan.

I also made some Thai brown rice to go with it, and then topped it all with some lentil curry soup - which I used to boil some of the rice and veggies, so it actually flavored/sauced the entire dish. Then I sat down in front of the TV with some orange juice and ate dinner while I watched Scrubs with my roommates Jill and Chandler. For dessert, I had some soy green tea ice cream.

Yeah...sometimes, life ain't so bad.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Mofo Pt. II

My own mother doesn't recognize me anymore.

I tried to tell her tonight that I've made my choices with the best I knew how. I've told her that my choices must ultimately serve my higher good. I told her that this is not the same thing as "not caring about her" but is, instead, just trying to take responsibility for my own life.

She didn't listen. And she didn't really understand, either. As I was walking out of the room, I tried to explain to her that I'm working hard to destroy an image of her - and a very negative one at that - so that I can see her with new eyes, and she and I can start over. When she asked me what sort of image this is, I told her that it was irrelevant...she would never want to know who she has become to me...but I did tell her that all I asked was that she do the same about her image of me.

She just leaned back and said, "If what you want was to destroy an image of somebody, then you should go look in a mirror!"

Little does she know.

She said that I am not the same person she knew as a boy; I've become a chaotic, enigmatic, giant question mark to her, and she feels that must search for something still to hold on to, something to explain it. (You always fear what you don't understand, I thought.) So, she says, she holds on to those memories of me as a child. And I told her if she clung to that past version of me, she and I could never have a good relationship.

As long as she holds me up to someone I've outgrown, some perception I've destroyed and will never be again, things can never be okay between me and my mother.

I've said it before. Nostalgia is a very dangerous thing.

Friday, November 7, 2008

The First Presidency Flunked History

The LDS church released a statement yesterday on their website's newsroom about the recent bans on gay marriage. The first part of their statement (thankfully) says that the Church's position should not encourage members to act hostile towards gays and lesbians. But:

"Some, however, have mistakenly asserted that churches should not ever be involved in politics when moral issues are involved. In fact, churches and religious organizations are well within their constitutional rights to speak out and engage in the many moral and ethical problems facing society." The statement then defends the Church's coalitions; it's no secret to anyone who read the reports that the Church was especially significant with its millions poured into opposing Prop. 8.

So, essentially, the Church is suggesting that it has a protected constitutional right to get involved in matters of the state and nation. Someone call me out if I've read that statement wrong. Because if I haven't, then church authorities - or, at least, whomever was the brains behind the news release - have to be either historically ignorant or, frankly, unpatriotic, conniving despots.

The Church shouldn't claim that they have a constitutional ability to use money and position to persuade others on political issues when not only would that appall at least two authors of the Constitution, but it contradicts the historical positions of church leaders and prophets.

For one thing, if D&C 134:9 (or that entire section) was all the support available, that'd be all the evidence I'd need to prove my point. But church leaders have always been pretty clear about the need to stay out of politics - presidential campaigns and otherwise. One of the most clear statements about this comes from President Joseph F. Smith in 1907:

"The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints holds to the doctrine of the separation of church and state; the non-interference of church authority in political matters; and the absolute freedom and independence of the individual in the performance of his political duties. If at any time there has been conduct at variance with this doctrine, it has been in violation of the well-settled principles and policy of the Church.

"We declare that from principle and policy, we favor:
The absolute separation of church and state;
No domination of the state by the church;
No church interference with the functions of the state;
No state interference with the functions of the church...
The absolute freedom of the individual from the domination of ecclesiastical authority in political affairs;
The equality of all churches before the law."

This is a belief that has been reiterated by Joseph Smith, Brigham Young, John Taylor, and just about any church leader down to the present day. It has been expressed during the accusations against the Church during its polygamy days, its attempts to create separate seminary schools, and other instances. Not to mention that the Articles of Faith seem pretty clear on how members should behave as citizens. So none of this is anything new; in fact, this church-state separation issue is a pretty old one for the United States.

The earliest instance goes back to December 1657, when New York State was still New Netherlands and Queens was a town called Flushing. The governor had banned all religions except the Dutch Reformed Church. In protest, several denizens of Flushing compiled a petition that called the governor out on persecuting Quakers (and none of the signatories were Quaker themselves). They were all later penalized.

The now-famous Flushing Remonstrance reads:

"The law of love, peace, and liberty in the states extending to Jews, Turks and Egyptians, as they are considered sons of Adam...Our Saviour sayeth...our desire is not to offend one of his little ones in whatsoever form, name or title he appears in, whether Presbyterian, Independent, Baptist or Quaker, but shall be glad to see anything of God in any of them, desiring to do unto all men as we desire all men should do unto us..."

The petition concludes that "...if any of these said persons come in love unto us, we cannot in conscience lay violent hands upon them," but instead allow such persons free entrance and shelter in their town, "for we are bound by the law of God and man to do good unto all men and evil to no man."

A brief perusal of early American history will make it obvious that this is the exact mentality that drove the early Puritan, Catholic, and Pilgrim immigrants to American soil. It wasn't merely freedom to practice religion, but nonconformist churchgoers escaping from an oppressive mainstream religion that banned all other practices. The ability for anyone to believe in what he or she wants is what predicated the freedoms the Founding Fathers built this country on - the freedom to practice not just "religion" but ANY and ALL religion (and even allowance for those without religion). But oftentimes those freedoms are confused with the compulsory freedom to practice just ONE religion - namely, Christianity.

Thomas Jefferson penned the Virginia Satute for Religious Freedom in 1779. The statute stated:

"Whereas Almighty God hath created the mind free...yet chose not to propagate [our religion] by compel a man to furnish contributions of money for the propagation of opinions which he disbelieves, is sinful and tyrannical...our civil rights have no dependence on our religious opinions, any more than our opinions in physics or geometry...

"...No man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatever, nor shall be enforced, restrained, molested, or burdened...on account of his religious opinions or belief...and that the same shall in no wise diminish, enlarge, or affect their civil capacities."

James Madison addressed the concern of a theological institution's economic power more directly in 1817. In his "Detached Memoranda," he wrote that mixing church and state would be "the means of abridging the natural and equal rights of all men in defiance of [Christ's] own declaration that His kingdom was not of this world":

"But besides the danger of a direct mixture of religion and civil government, there is an evil which ought to be guarded against in the indefinite accumulation of property from the capapcity of holding it in perpetuity by ecclesiastical corporations. The power of all corporations ought to be limited in this respect. The growing wealth acquired by them never fails to be a source of abuses...The Constitution of the U.S. forbids everything like an establishment of a national religion...The idea also of a union of all to form one nation under one government in acts of devotion to the God of all is an imposing idea."

It ought to be painfully clear, then, that the LDS church authorities behind the official press release are either ignorant of Church history, American history and the Constitution or are manipulating the constitutional protection of expressing opinion to unconstitutional means. Or both.

Thursday, November 6, 2008


I can remember the fragmented tale.

About a year ago, I met him for the first time. It was on a fifth. When I made the choice that would change my life forever, a choice not just to be with him, but to find the truth about who I am, it was on a sixth.

And today I remember - remember and forget. Nostalgia is a pretty dangerous thing. It takes history in its pressumptive solidified form and completely shimmers and glosses it. Nostalgia takes history and breaks it into a million pieces that are more commodified, manageable, and believable. It can make us believe in some small synechdoche of our memories. Nostalgia can be a weapon - and our very worst enemy.

And what is surprising...or, perhaps, not so that our story is erased from history. There's no real record of it. There are just pieces of it here and there. An email here. A journal entry there. But nothing that actually tells the story. Our story...My story.

And I have to wonder if it's better that way.