Friday, December 30, 2005

Top Albums of 2005

10. M. Ward – Transistor Radio

This is a quirky album, and sounds sometimes like it should be coming from my grandfather’s radio. Ultimately it was played on very little radio at all, and so went the way of many good indie albums and didn’t get enough said about it, but M. Ward is a masterful songwriter. He does things his way for better or worse, and I respect that. This one started out slow for me, but got better and better as the year wore on.

9. The Decemberists – Picaresque

I’ve had a like/dislike affair with the Decemberists. They are problematic because I don’t often want to listen to songs about pirates and chimney sweeps, but I can’t deny the brilliance at work here. They are geeks to be sure, but extremely lovable geeks, and they deserve every inch of the stage they are playing on. This is my favorite in their discography, and now that they’ve signed to a major you can expect even more things Decembery.

8. John Vanderslice – Pixel Revolt

One of my most pleasant discoveries this year. The plinking piano, humming organ, and the acoustics of his pure voice make the production of Pixel Revolt all that much more titillating. Not all songs hit, but those that do, hit the center. The next time I’m driving through the mountains in the dark, thinking about the craziness, sadness, and loveliness of life, this is what will be playing on my iPod.

7. Ben Folds – Songs for Silverman

Oh, stop rolling your eyes! Because we know what we can expect from Ben Folds, we forget that we are getting excellence. His is a lightning bolt wonder on the piano, and an equally formidable songwriter. He is growing older, wiser, and I really enjoy hearing the songs of this thirty-something Ben. Maybe because I’m almost there myself. A highlight for me was his touching elegy to Elliott Smith.

6. Iron and Wine – Woman King

Yeah, yeah, its an EP, I know. But I don’t care. This was the year that Sam Beam opened up to further experimentation, and he took large strides on this project—making grittier, bolder music with that same lyricism I love. Besides, when has a guy with a beard as terrific and full as his ever released an unlistenable album? (Clay Aiken hasn’t grown a beard has he?)

5. My Morning Jacket – Z:

This band is why we can definitively say that the South still rocks (there has been some descent since the untimely death of Ronnie VanZant)! Bury your pimp cups and take out your diamond studded crunk teeth, there is a new king of cotton. Jim James’ reverb soaked voice delivers on all levels. Z improves upon It Still Moves in every way and shows that they’re no one-trick pony. This album is olfactory candy.

4. Jose Gonzales – Veneer:

I guess technically this came out in Sweden pre-2005, but I set my watch to Mountain Standard Time, and it didn’t drop in the US until this year. Jose is the first person to truly channel the departed spirit of Nick Drake and build onto it in meaningful ways. Veneer left me in awe after the first few songs and was perhaps my most pleasant discovery of the year.

3. Bright Eyes – I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning:

This was the first dramatic statement of 2005. Conor Oberst has been hailed by some as the next and only troubadour to fill the shoes of Bob Dylan. That is a tall order for anyone to live up to, especially in these times, but if this album is at all a foreboding of his life’s body of work, I’m invested.

2. Andrew Bird – The Mysterious Production of Eggs:

This was an easy #2 for me. This guy could win a whistle-off over most of the songbirds in the Western Hemisphere. I first heard him before Weather Systems came out and I remember comparing his voice to a mix between Rufus Wainwright and Stephen Malkmus. For that reason alone he is worth checking out. Bird is a rare combination between gifted producer, expert musician, and exceptional songwriter. This album is a wellspring of joy from start to finish.

1. Sufjan Stevens – Illinois:

Everything else good that came out this year are mere Scotty Pippens to this Michael Jordan. Illinois was so grandiose, so full of life and “pageantry” (as Sufjan puts it) that I scarcely know where to begin. The day it came out I listened to from start to finish three times. I dare you to find a weakness in it! This is an album that is so literary, so lyrically dense, so complex, that you might, at first glance, think it a pompous charlatan. But it isn’t. It is so melodic, so accessible, and so full of life and color that it deserves every last lick of hype that its received this year. Well-done Sufjan, on making the top notch on this list that no-one will read.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Mr. Brownthumb

Remember Aron Ralston? He was the guy who went hiking in Blue John Canyon, Utah and got his arm wedged between the canyon wall and an 800 pound boulder. He stood there lonely, stationary, hungry, and dehydrated—hopelessly stuck in the canyon with no rational expectation for rescue. On the fifth day of his wretched plight, Death was knocking his boney hand on Aron’s door. But at that moment he had a revelation. Aron took out his pocket knife, the blade of which had been worn down small and dull from both chipping at the boulder and etching his own epitaph into the canyon wall. He then maneuvered his body to leverage the breaking of his elbow joint and then used the blade to cut through the flesh. Once the agonizing self-amputation was complete he finished a harrowing descent out of the canyon, repelling 65 feet, and hiking seven miles to a trailhead before rescuers found him.

I couldn’t help but think of this story today as I looked at the little plant that I keep here in my office. I haven’t been very good at routine watering, and now and then, when the thought crosses my mind, I glance over only to see the poor thing droopy, yellowy, and suffering some famine I’d unknowingly imposed. As I was out on vacation a week ago I forgot again to water my plant. Upon my return it was in poor shape. My plant had entered the Blue John Canyon of its short life. Of its four major stems, one had gone completely brown and withered. Severed leaves lay crispy, dry and wilted at the base. The other major stems weren’t looking particularly good either, but still showed signs of life.

I took some drastic measures. Opening my desk drawer I pulled out some scissors and amputated the brown stem at the base. I then soaked the soil in water and positioned the plant so as to get the maximum amount of sunlight possible. Here we are a few days later and it looks healthier than the day Christy bought it—with a noticeable stump cut sheer at the base. I’m sort of proud.

I think I’ll name it Aron.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Alison's Birthday RAM

I remember the deep sea of clothing that covered your bedroom floor. I remember pastel leg warmers, spandex drill team outfits, shiny silver parachute pants, and closets full of aerosol cans. I remember the Best of Bread, Air Supply, and Thriller. I remember the dexterity in your fingers and the weight in the busts of Bach and Mozart. I remember the heavy spirit in those silent moments sitting next to you in front of a newly decorated Christmas tree, and feeling total comfort in the wind outside. I remember green canyon hotdogs, and wondering if I could ever swing like you. I remember you giving the coils of the phone cord a workout while slowly licking a spoonful of peanut butter dry. I remember your mud-caked spud harvest jacket, liver dinners after a lamb butchering, and wide eyed nights in front of the slide projector.

I remember Primary Children’s. I remember concerned grandparents, Mom’s tears, and the salty smell of the lake. I remember you sitting in the hospital bed and dipping your head, cascading your brown hair forward and revealing the balding spots where the hairline should be. I remember taking turns, light-mindedly playing with the medical gadgets that you eventually brought home.

I remember watching the videotaped seminary graduation you had missed. I remember Pine View apartments, and learning the term “RAM” while visiting your computer class. I remember your bouquet, and the whiteness in your dress and in the snow. I remember the crème puffs and the big empty jars. I remember Greg, a soul full of unquenchable playfulness, and a brother in the most real sense of the word. I remember Roxanne, her affinity for peas and crickets, and her warm heating rock.

I remember the spirit of adoption, heaven sent and filling our world like God’s own breath. I remember your little girl with the widest eyes in the entire world. I remember your face—the very countenance of motherhood.

I remember letter after letter after precious letter. I remember photos, packages, and testimonies. I remember your love of the temple, the smile to end all smiles, and plenty of warm hugs. I remember saying to myself, “this is a sister” and knowing that no one else knew just what I meant.

Alison, this is my random access memory.

Lets not move our arms
Lets not move our legs
Lets not move our ears
Lets not move our noses
Lets not move our bones

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Putting the Hallow back in Halloween

Back in MY day, we really knew what Halloween was about. Pagan Celtic rituals that celebrated harvest, prophecy, and protection from the coming winter? NO WAY! It was all about dressing up in such a sweet costume that people couldn’t help but give you lots of candy. Deep down inside I knew that if they thought my He-Man get up was better than my brother’s Darth Vadar outfit, that I would come home with more candy than him…and let’s not kid ourselves—its all about the amount of candy, right?

At nights end we would all gather in the living room, dump out our sacks full of goodies and count our loot: 8 mini candy bars, 15 Jolly Ranchers, 10 dum-dums (stupid crap suckers), 4 blow pops (now that’s a sucker!), 25 candy corns, one set of chocolate coins, 12 caramels, and 1 popcorn ball (thanks grandma, I won’t be eating that one). We would barter with each other, trading this for that, getting just the right mix for school the next day—where we would flaunt our candy and each try and make ourselves the envy of our classmates.

But the youngsters these days just expect hand outs. It’s no longer “trick-or-treat.” Things have degenerated into something requiring much less effort.

Knock. Knock. Door opens.


“Excuse Me?”


“Um. Okay. And what might you be?”

Worried look, pauses. “I’m a gangsta.”

“A gangster? Are you serious? What happened to Big Bird? Thundercats? Obi-Wan Kenobi for heaven sakes?”

“Look, I’m a gangsta, just fill the bag.”

“Tell the truth! You just came home from school, grabbed your pillowcase, and started knocking doors, didn’t you?”

No comment. I begrudgingly surrendered a Kit-Kat and he trotted off to the next door.

So that’s it! Only about half of the Halloweeners that stopped by actually had on costumes. I’ve decided—tricks only for those fools next year. No more gangsta’s, and brats, and “cheerleaders” that really are just wearing the sweat suit they wore to school that day. Halloween will be different at the Blake home. I’m taking it back. I’m taking them all back.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

This Divided State

The week "Fahrenheit 9/11" came out Christy and I went to see it. I was excited actually, because I have always been entertained by Moore’s documentaries. “Roger and Me” is funny, and Christy and I still quote parts of it (at one point Moore visits a Flint citizen who has resorted to raising rabbits as an added source of income…there is a sign in front of the house that says: Rabbits—pets or meat. Now that’s tragic comedy). “The Big One” was interesting, and in the end I liked it better than “Roger and Me.” I haven’t seen any episodes of “The Awful Truth”, but I did watch “Bowling for Columbine.” Anyone who knows me is aware that I enjoy competition rifle shooting. I am a believer in a citizen’s right to keep and bear arms, and believe that it is a natural extension of the inalienable rights spoken of in the Constitution. In Bowling for Columbine, were some cheap shots taken? Yes. Was some of it underhanded? Yes. Was there some manipulation? Yes. Were there a few “stretchers”? Yes. Did I laugh? YES. Was I threatened? No. In fact, I appreciated the film just because Moore was asking some very fascinating questions to his audience, questions to which we still need answers. Why the preoccupation with violence in America? Are gun rights the cause of current gun violence, or is the cause something bigger? What needs to change as a culture and a society in order for us to curb crimes committed with guns, and dare I say crime in general? This isn’t to say that I came to the same conclusions that Moore came to, but I realized where he was coming from and appreciated the questions.

He has an agenda. You’re a fool if you disagree. Is it a bad one? That is up to interpretation. Do I believe that he, in his heart of hearts, is trying to make our country better and assist them in seeing things from another perspective so as to generate some thoughtful debate and careful consideration of stance? Yes.

Now, when Christy and I walked out of Fahrenheit 9/11 we both had sick feelings in our stomachs. One could argue that either the subject matter sickened us, or the way it was presented sickened us. I’d say some of both. I didn’t feel it was an objective look at the Bush Administration, and I really didn’t expect it to be going in. On the other hand it pained me to see our Commander-in-Chief fumble around like a goofball and say some ridiculously callous statements. Through further investigation I learned what was in context, what what was taken out of context, what manipulations were occurring where, editing tricks, and all of the post-production emotional play. Parts of the film angered me and parts I felt were downright disrespectful, yet still other portions of the film I found revealing (in particular the segment on military recruitment).

A year ago when Michael Moore came to Orem, Utah to speak at UVSC the community was in upheaval. I had seen the controversial film, but unlike a few people here I didn’t think he was the Anti-Christ come to pervert the ways of our innocent little community. I didn’t go. I have close friends who did, and enjoyed it. There is a documentary feature that came out recently about the whole controversial visit, made by a former BYU student with liberal politics named Steven Greenstreet. The film is called “This Divided State,” and it is an entertaining look at the fiery sentiments that pervaded the community that week. It is pretty even-handed for the most part (it lacks a chunk of the moderate voice, but admittedly you only have an hour and a half—and seriously, what’s more compelling? Yup. Extremes.), and addresses a few of the issues that I raised in this blog. I enjoyed the film very much, and felt it was a slice of real American pie. It addresses those matters that divide us both as country and state, but personalizes things even more by addressing the political gap that causes disunity in the LDS religion. It unveils the dirty mask of intolerance, and ultimately plays out the disintegration of a relationship between two best friends. Though framed by the Michael Moore visit, love him or hate him, there are bigger things at play in this film, and I recommend it to anyone who might be interested.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

A Fond Farewell

Two years ago tomorrow Elliott Smith committed suicide. I never knew him as a person, and I have only two connections with him 1) We share the same birthday—Aug. 6th, and more importantly 2) I am in extreme awe of the music he created. I knew a kid at my previous employer, who found out that I liked Elliott’s music. He approached me and said, “I heard you listen to Elliott Smith.” I replied, “Yes, I do. I love his music.” He then exclaimed “I WORSHIP ELLIOTT SMITH!” I kind of laughed and said something to the effect that “worship” is a word I generally save for someone else, but that I could tell he was passionate about Elliott’s music.

For better or worse Elliott’s music is his legacy. His lyrics were characterized by intensive confessionalism and self scrutiny, and it always came from the heart. His music was so uniquely his own that in a couple of bars you immediately know who it’s coming from. He composed some wonderfully complex stuff and recorded it painstakingly. More so than anything I admire his musicality and his approach.

Elliott had his fair share of problems and disappointments, maybe more, maybe less than the average person. He struggled with anxiety, depression, fame, self-loathing, and drug addiction. He ended his life by stabbing himself in the chest, of all ways, a final symbolic gesture perhaps in stopping his aching heart. It would be really easy to sit back and judge him for the life he led. In Sunday School, growing up, I was taught that because it was unsanctimonious to take the life God gave you, if you committed suicide you would go to hell. Heaven was impossible for the suicidal. But I want to clarify this for anyone out there who may have been taught the same thing.

Be careful about assigning judgment where judgment is the Lord’s only. I do believe in the sanctity of life. I do believe that suicide is a sin, but I want to qualify it with some words of hope. Maybe you know someone personally who has committed suicide and you struggle to know what to make of it. The following are quotations from apostles and prophets of Jesus Christ:

Joseph Smith said, “While one portion of the human race is judging and condemning the other without mercy, the Great Parent of the universe looks upon the whole of the human family with a fatherly care and paternal regard. … He is a wise Lawgiver, and will judge all men, not according to the narrow, contracted notions of men, but, ‘according to the deeds done in the body whether they be good or evil,’ or whether these deeds were done in England, America, Spain, Turkey, or India. … We need not doubt the wisdom and intelligence of the Great Jehovah; He will award judgment or mercy to all nations according to their several deserts, their means of obtaining intelligence, the laws by which they are governed, the facilities afforded them of obtaining correct information, and His inscrutable designs in relation to the human family; and when the designs of God shall be made manifest, and the curtain of futurity be withdrawn, we shall all of us eventually have to confess that the Judge of all the earth has done right.”

Bruce R. McConkie said, “Persons subject to great stresses may lose control of themselves and become mentally clouded to the point that they are no longer accountable for their acts. Such are not to be condemned for taking their own lives. It should also be remembered that judgment is the Lord’s; he knows the thoughts, intents, and abilities of men; and he in his infinite wisdom will make all things right in due course.”

M Russell Ballard said, “I feel that judgment for sin is not always as cut-and-dried as some of us seem to think. The Lord said, “Thou shalt not kill.” Does that mean that every person who kills will be condemned, no matter the circumstances? I feel the Lord recognized differences in intent and circumstances: Was the person who took his life mentally ill? Was he or she so deeply depressed as to be unbalanced or otherwise emotionally disturbed? Was the suicide a tragic, pitiful call for help that went unheeded too long or progressed faster than the victim intended? Did he or she somehow not understand the seriousness of the act? Was he or she suffering from a chemical imbalance in their system that led to despair and a loss of self-control? Obviously, we do not know the full circumstances surrounding every suicide. Only the Lord knows all the details, and he it is who will judge our actions here on earth. When he does judge us, I feel he will take all things into consideration: our genetic and chemical makeup, our mental state, our intellectual capacity, the teachings we have received, the traditions of our fathers, our health, and so forth.”

Alma, the new world prophet said, “The plan of restoration is requisite with the justice of God; for it is requisite that all things should be restored to their proper order. Behold, it is requisite and just, according to the power and resurrection of Christ, that the soul of man should be restored to its body, and that every part of the body should be restored to itself. And it is requisite with the justice of God that men should be judged according to their works; and if their works were good in this life, and the desires of their hearts were good, that they should also, at the last day, be restored unto that which is good.”

I don’t pretend to know the mind of God, or the mind of the people who surround me. I hope that Elliott was living life as good and true as he knew how, and that is up to a loving Father in Heaven to decide, not you and not me. We all operate under a different light and knowledge. But we can all certainly be a little (dare I say a lot?) less judgmental. We can all be more sympathetic. We can all be more forgiving. We can all be more Christ-like.

“What I used to be will pass away, and then you’ll see
That all I want now, is happiness for you and me.”
Elliot Smith Aug. 6, 1969 - Oct. 21, 2003

Thursday, October 13, 2005


That means "made for each other" in bubble-gum talk.

Christy and I are MFEO. There have many instances over the years where one of both of us are doing something completely strange and we glance at each other, shake our heads, and then eye the other with that you're-lucky-we're-MFEO look. Like when I walk into a room softly, so as not to be noticed, and Christy is doing some inventive, freestyle, goofy dance.

Well in light of my last post, Christy was putting out some Halloween decorations yesterday. I was on the couch eating dinner, when I heard her say, "That's weird."

"What?" I asked.

"Oh, this peice of chocolate I found on the couch. It tasted really old."

"What chocolate on the couch?"

She showed me where she found it, feet away from our decorative flip-top pumpkin that we use to hold Halloween candy for trick or treaters. She opened the lid, and sure enough, there were small peices of broken chocolate inside.

"Some must have fallen out."

"You just ate year old Halloween candy."

"We're MFEO."

Thursday, September 29, 2005

You Know You Love Chocolate When...

My grandparents used to take an old camper trailer up to the mountains and spend days on the riverbanks, breathing the cool air and relaxing with the family. As a young kid, these are some of the best memories: crawling all over the insides of the camper, skipping rocks, floating the river, bait-fishing, hiking etc. And every night at the campfire we would bust out the graham crackers, Hershey's chocolate, and marshmallows, then roast up as many s'mores as you could eat.

I may not have ever mentioned my love of chocolate on this site before. Perhaps that's kind of a girly thing to say, and no, I don't eat it when I'm feeling unhappy, or plump, or stressed. I eat it ALL the time. I eat my chocolate like a man, as much as I want, whenever I want, for as long as I want.

The camper was already in poor shape when I was little, and it wasn't many years before we just stopped taking it out anymore. We would go an entire year without hitching it up. It was always a crappy Saturday when "Clean the Camper" showed up on your chore-list, because you knew you'd be holding your breath while wiping up mouse turds, and and beating out pounds of dust, mites, and who-knows-what-else out of its insides.

It was on precicely one of these Saturday camper-cleanings that I was rummaging around one of its upper cupboards, trying my best to clean the thing out...when I found a stash of three or four uneaten Hershey's bars. The paper wrapping was worn and tissue-like, indicating that it may have been damp in the cupbords for a time during the winter, and when I unwrapped the foil and pulled out the chocolate bar it had the look of something old and white. I knew I held in my hand something potentially dangerous. This chocolate didn't look right, but at the same time I KNEW it was chocolate. I had just pulled it out of the wrapper myself for heaven's sake, and I don't care how white or warped a Hershey's bar looks, that's still chocolate.

I actually sat and stared at it for a couple of minutes wondering if I should take a bite or not. I vaguely recall going inside the house and asking some aloof question to my mom about whether chocolate can go rotten. Whatever the answer I found myself back out in the camper minutes later, mouth wide open and the chocolate bar in my hands. I took a big bite and tasted nothing that resembled the creamy warm Hershey's I normally ate. This tasted crusty, stale, and not chewey at all, more like a bar of week old cheese-sponge, crumbly and decayed. I promptly spit it out, and went on cleaning. I was relatively sure the mice hadn't got to it, so I just shut my mouth and went about my business hoping I wouldn't die.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005


Saitiev waves after another big win

I’ve always loved watching amateur wrestling. It’s been in my blood since I was just a boy, watching my older brother compete. I can’t remember a time when the sport wasn’t a part of my life. Wrestling is great on so many levels. It is a branch martial art, full of technique, strength, power, and stamina. It is a one on one competition, and therefore it’s easy to determine where you stack up against those around you. Like all great sports the mental preparation and endurance is just as crucial as the physical, and supersedes it in the big matches.

Wrestling seems to be a dying sport, despite being one of the oldest. Title IX, the legal precedent that set standards involving discrimination on the basis of sex, is in essence very noble. But it has resulted in many schools cutting their wrestling programs because of the requirement to make room for an equal number of men and women’s sports, and since wrestling isn’t a real moneymaker, it gets the chop first.

Wrestling in the U.S. could and should be huge. In Russia it is the popular equivalent of perhaps professional tennis in the United States. The athletes who dominate in the sport come mainly from Russia, the former Soviet republics, Iran, Korea, the U.S., and several eastern block countries.

Up until recently it has been nearly impossible for me to actually watch our wrestlers compete, let alone foreign wrestlers. The competitions aren’t televised nationally, except for the NCAA Championship round, and a precious few Olympic Gold medal matches. Recently Real Pro Wrestling is trying to find a niche in cable networks, but for the most part viewing the matches must be done in person.

This week the World Championships (an annual event) are held in Freestyle and Greco-Roman wrestling. For the first time they were broadcast in their entirety—Quarter, Semi-, and Final matches. Freestyle is my preferred discipline, and I’m always excited to see who the U.S. sends to the world stage to compete. I was disappointed to see that only two of our wrestlers made it into the Quarterfinals, and only one, Joe Williams, medaled (bronze). But the real joy was to see for the first time Russia’s Buvassiar Saitiev. This guy is the Michael Jordan of wrestling. He won his first World Championships in 1995, and the next year won the Olympic Games. Some years he has competed in the World Championships, others he opts not to, but he has tallied an impressive 5 World Championships and 2 Olympics Championships. In 10 years he has only lost one match, that came from USA’s Brandon Slay in a huge upset in the 2000 Olympic Games. Yesterday Saitiev won his 6th World Title.

Watching this guy is pure joy and excitement. He moves unlike any other wrestler I’ve ever seen. Graceful as a dancer, always poised, always controlled, effortless, smooth, humble, and totally unconventional. In each match I saw he did some trick, some move, some scramble where I said, “Whaaa? I’ve never seen anything like that before.”

Congratulations to this phenomenal athlete.

Monday, September 26, 2005

This One Goes To Eleven

I have had unfortunately few athletic goals over the last year. One has been to gain 15 pounds, all of which I could place comfortably on my thighs and calves, but which will quite likely sit inner-tube-like on my waist and sides. That is unless I work out and put it to good use. I’m about half way there.

My other athletic goal is to shoot under 100 in 18 holes of golf, or under 50 in 9. I know what you’re thinking…golf isn’t athletic. Yes and no. It certainly doesn’t push the cardiovascular system like, say, and Ironman would. But it does require, I found out, a certain amount of stamina for a person to walk a full round while humping their own golf bag. You wouldn’t know it by looking at John Daley’s figure, but it’s true (his figure happens to be a circle, by the way).

I’ve come close a couple of times to making my goal, but continually fall victim to my own mental breakdowns. On Saturday, while playing 9 holes at the beautiful Hobble Creek in Springville, I was on course to accomplish my goal and earn the reward I’ve set for myself—a pair of bona fide golf shoes. The footwear can only improve my suffering game. I had played a so-so round, and had parred a number of holes, which is good for me. I’ve yet to make a true birdie in my life, and missed my 3 attempts at one during the course of the round, but was still on track. Going into hole number 9 all I needed to do was go even on the par 5. It was pretty straight forward, without much hazard, and shouldn’t have been a problem. My tee shot came off straight and went about 200 yds, so I felt okay. But I then pulled out a wood, which I never use, and topped it twice, then sent one sailing into a tree behind the green, hit that tree’s branch on the next shot, chunked it twice on the chip, then four putted to go out. ELEVEN!

The beautiful Fall scenery was something to behold—an array of streaking reds, almost as if the trees were bleeding, and the leaves seemed to say, as they let go of the branch for the last time, “Thank goodness I don’t have to watch that horrible display of golf anymore this season.”

Wednesday, September 21, 2005


Your eyes are wonder bulbs
Always seeing for the first time
So disinterested in things
Only about the heart
You ask, and you ask, and you ask
about babies, and work, and a life
You'll never get to live

Friday, September 16, 2005

A Country's Admiration

My wife makes fun of me because I used to pray for Eddie Vedder when I was in high school. Sure, I didn’t know the guy and may have been a tad obsessed with his music (is it unusual to decorate a Pearl Jam Christmas tree in the school Christmas tree lane?), but I know the prayers were sincere, and who knows, they may have contributed to the goodness of both “No Code” and “Yeild.” I haven’t sent one up on his behalf since, and won’t go into the flatness of both “Binaural” and “Riot Act.” COINCIDENCE? Ha!

I would also wear a T-shirt, in those days, which had that classic picture of Jim Morrison with arms outstretched. On the front a caption read “An American Poet 1943-1971.” I went several months there where all I listed to was the Doors and Led Zeppelin. One of those musical phases that I just had to go through. I believed my shirt, and would later laugh at myself after reading Phillip Levine, Anne Sexton, John Ashbury, Larry Levis…real American Poets. This isn’t meant to discount what Morrison created, because no doubt it means a lot to some people—just not to me anymore. But the music did certainly contribute to the stirring of certain sensibilities, even if it is now obsolete for me.

Not long ago the Discovery Channel aired a program called “The 100 Greatest Americans” in which the results were chosen by Americans themselves via an online polling process through their website. There are obvious inaccuracies in the sampling of such a pole, because you can immediately exclude the opinions of everyone 60 years and older because of the overwhelmingly large percentage that just aren’t online yet. Nevertheless here are some names that made the list: Benjamin Franklin, Abraham Lincoln, Frederick Douglass, JFK, Martin Luther King Jr. Surprised? How about: Michael Jackson, Tom Cruise, Brett Favre, Madonna, Hugh Heffner. Yup, all made the list. Mark Twain made the list, but no other authors (Steinbeck? Faulkner? Dickinson? Hemmingway?) In the end the list turned out to be the 100 Most Popular Americans.

The only reason I bring all these things up is because I watched a movie last night that got me thinking about who we esteem, why, and how that effects us. The movie was “Hud” starring the hunky Paul Newman, wherein he plays a reckless, unprincipled, womanizer who “doesn’t give a damn” about anything except himself. Part of the conflict in the movie is the influence Hud has on his nephew, Lonnie, and the audience wonders whether Lonnie will be sucked into his uncle’s loose-cannon lifestyle. At one point Hud’s dad approaches Lonnie with gravity and a strong caveat, “Little by little the look of the country changes because of the men we admire.”

This struck me as something entirely true. Oft times we think we only effect ourselves, but that’s a lie. I know, “No man is an island” blah, blah, blah….but really. It took a lot of guts for me to eventually throw out my Doors CD’s because I knew it was all just a bunch of bunk, and really didn’t inspire me poetically or otherwise. At the risk of judgement it also takes guts for me to keep the R rated “Stevie” and “Good Will Hunting” in my collection because they do inspire me. I just hope that I admire the people I do for good reasons, and that those reasons are causing the country to change little by little.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005


I’ll burn every bridge that I’ve crossed
To find some beautiful place to get lost
-Elliott Smith

“Crazy people don't think they're getting crazy. They think they're getting saner.”

Pop the popcorn, ice the beverage, set your Tivos. The best hour on television is about to begin again.

Monday, September 12, 2005

A Building Blueprint

When I was in shop class in 7th grade one of our projects was to build a bridge out of balsa wood and green glue. I think that we were instructed in the dynamics of construction, trusses, and weight distribution, but were given free reign to apply the principles to our own designs. We spent several weeks constructing our bridges, and when our termination deadline was up we all gathered at the front of the class to test out the strength of our bridges.

I remember looking around at my competition, which consisted mostly of 8th grade rednecks, and thinking that there was no possible way that I was going to lose this contest. They looked something like this:

The teacher would suspend our bridges between two platforms and attach a bucket underneath to which weight was gradually added. I was disappointed to find that my bridge snapped in half in near record time. I mustn’t have listened too intently to the physics lessons that preceded the bridge building. Or perhaps I focused too intently on making the bridge look pretty instead of sturdy. Either way I was left to wonder how the mustachioed 13 year old in the Big Johnson T-Shirt was able to outwit me.

I couldn’t help but think of this experience as I listed to President Thomas S. Monson speak yesterday at a multi-stake conference, which was held in the Conference Center. “Jesus was a builder,” he said. “They called him ‘the carpenter’s son.’” He explained that Christ wisely counseled men not to build their house upon sand, but rather upon a rock, so that when the rains and winds came your livelihood wouldn’t be washed away. He then read to us from D&C 88:119

“Organize yourselves; prepare every needful thing; and establish a house, even a house of prayer, a house of fasting, a house of faith, a house of learning, a house of glory, a house of order, a house of God.”

I’m not much of a builder, but when President Monson referred to this verse of scripture as our "building blueprint" I was inspired to take out a spiritual hammer and go to work. I hope I can fashion a new bridge with beams of faith, learning, order, glory, and fasting. Hopefully I can maneuver them with less awkwardness than I did with the sticks of balsa and green glue. Hopefully the bucket holds.

Friday, September 09, 2005

Movie Magic

I've been lazy this week, in terms of blogging, but I've been busy elsewhere. As many of you may or may not know (are there many of you?) I am in the midst of trying to make a film. What I hoped was a final draft of the script is about to enter into a rigorous, three-week rewrite process by an editor in LA. The business plan is virtually finished, and we are putting the finishing touches on an investment kit that should go out to printing here in the next few days. And inbetween putting those puzzle peices together, I am plodding forward on crafting a new story that will hopefully turn into a script over the course of the next five months.

I've often thought, "If Snoop Dogg can make a movie, so can I." We'll see. Perhaps Snoop is a gangsta of many talents and I'm just selling him short. But each time I go to the movie theatre and roll my eyes at the newest trailer for "Shark Boy and Lava Girl," I get the gusto I need to overcome my impatience with the movie industry beurocracy and trudge on.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005


Thanks to the generosity of Addie and Jeremy, Christy and I were able to get into the Bellagio Gallery of Fine Arts free of charge to see the wonderful works of the impressionists. There were featured works by Renior, Millet, Pissarro, Troyon, Boudin, Corot, and others. Below are two paintings that I loved the most.

Claude Monet, Flower Beds at Vétheuil (1881)

Vincent Van Gogh, Enclosed Field with Ploughman (October 1889)

It is impossible to truly appreciate these works of art without seeing them in person, to actually look at the depth and texture of the brushstrokes. They were amazing.

“It must be good to die in the knowledge that one has done some truthful work, and to know that as a result, one will live on in the memory of at least a few and leave a good example for those who come after.” Vincent Van Gogh, 1878

Friday, September 02, 2005

Pickin' on My Wallet

O Brother, Where Art Thou? is quite possibly my favorite movie. The writing is amazing, the acting superb, and the cinematography astonishing. The movie is polarizing, I’ve found out, because most people I talk to either dislike it or love it. One of the most amazing phenomenons surrounding the film was the soaring take-off of its T Bone Burnett produced soundtrack. All of a sudden pop country radio, usually specializing in ditties like “Save A Horse, Ride a Cowboy” and “Redneck Yacht Club” was throwing in classic old-timey numbers like “Man of Constant Sorrow” and “The Lonesome Valley.”

Things were looking up. Mainstream Country radio was poised to make room for less flourishing, gimmickless acts that actually had some songwriting ability and talent. Nickel Creek and Union Station began to sell lots of records. More attention was turned to the roots of Country music, roots that sprouted from the southern soil of the Mississippi Delta, the birthplace of the Blues.

But, like all good businessmen, someone spied a way to make a buck off this burgeoning revival. I hadn’t really thought about it until yesterday when I went into the record store and there at the listening station was a CD entitled “Pickin’ on Jack Johnson.” I almost started laughing thinking about how we made the jump from ultra chill, feel-good surf guru, to twangity twang-twang tributes of “Sexy Plexi” a’la banjo. I honestly don’t know. You’ve seen these albums for sure. The first ones weren’t that difficult to imagine in bluegrass form, “Pickin’ on Wilco,” “Pickin’ on the Eagles.” Yeah okay. But here is a list of albums that, believe it or not, these ingenious bloodsuckers at “Pickin On…” have actually released:

“Pickin’ on The Indigo Girls”
“Pickin’ on AC/DC”
“Pickin’ on Green Day”
“Pickin’ on Modest Mouse”
“Pickin’ on Creed”
“Pickin’ on R.E.M.”
“Pickin’ on Nickelback”
“Pickin’ on John Mayer”
“Pickin’ on Counting Crows”
“Pickin’ on Franz Ferdinand”
“Pickin’ on Def Leppard”

You guys probably think I’m joking, but check it out, for about seventeen bucks each at Amazon you could start a mean collection of bluegrass barf. Personally I’m holding out for a copy of “Pickin’ on Britney Spears.” (She already has a Greatest Hits out). Just watch. It'll happen.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Budgeting with the Blakes

Living on a budget has its ups and downs. Christy and I have been striving to make due with just one of our incomes so we can throw the other one into savings and investments. It really makes you think twice before not returning your DVD rentals on time, or buying that third Mr. Goodbar.

For the most part it has been an exercise in self control. Is our spending governed by need or want? Is our lifestyle frivolous or sensible? Can I make it two weeks without buying a CD or eating at Café Rio? Can Christy make it two weeks without buying a pillow or a new cutest-skirt-ever? I’ve had to shut down my auto deposit to Wendy’s and Blue Bunny ice cream, and I actually look at the readout screen before recklessly swiping my debit card and pressing any old green “OK” button.

A new leaf has been turned over. We now have a snappy little budget, drawn up in Excel, complete with formulas and color coordination. We’re both looking for ways to cut back. I’ve decided to save money by not getting my hair cut anymore. That will save ten dollars every two months, which equals sixty bucks a year! A $3000 savings over the course of a well-lived life.

Monday, August 29, 2005

Paramount Drifter

There’s nothing like going into a movie expecting an uncomfortable two hour bore-fest, and coming out pleasantly surprised and even a bit moved. At the risk of sounding like someone who wears pink shirts, lotion, and hair product I’m going to go ahead and say it: I liked The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants. The premise was a little bit weird to me, but then again I’m not a girl, and I’ve never had a magic bond with any of my pants…except for maybe my “green jeans” but that is another story entirely.

Three of the four plot lines worked well for me, and the weak link wasn’t so bad as to ruin it for me. Don’t get me wrong, there were moments of cheesiness, and it was too long, but overall this is a good movie, and I will recommend it to anyone who got a lump in their throat at the end of My Life and Old Yeller. If you didn’t, then you’re better off sticking with Mr. and Mrs. Smith.

There are experiences you get in the theatre that you just can’t replicate at home. Right before the movie started there was a particularly scruffy looking drifter that sat down on our row a few seats to the right of Christy. We noted him because he was alone and outwardly didn’t seem like the kind of guy that would be taking in a PG teen chick flick. During a particularly touching moment, when tears were starting to well in Christy’s eyes we heard a loud discharge come from the drifter’s direction. Luckily we didn’t smell anything, but the sound was enough to break the mood. Later still, and at an equally inappropriate moment, he proceeded to yak on something, like a dog on a chicken bone, or a cat working a hairball.

When the movie was over a teen girl squad in front eyeballed us in a funny, accusatory way. Perhaps they thought we were the perpetrators.

I’m anxiously awaiting the sequel. I’m sure it will be as Little Men was to Little Women. They should call it, The Brotherhood of the Traveling Briefs.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

A Joyful Sound

Last night as I was upstairs reading I kept hearing these high pitched squeals coming from downstairs. “eeeeeeEEEEEE!!” Christy does that, when she’s happy about something. This would be a good example,

“Hey Christy, wanna go to the Love Sac theater and see a Julia Roberts movie?”


That, of course, was before we thought about what might really happen on the Love Sacs in those theaters.

Her joyful outbursts went on for several minutes before she exclaimed, “I LOVE THIS SHOW!” several times at the top of her lungs. I decided to go down and investigate. It turns out she was watching Fox’s new hit television show "So You Think You Can Dance?" You’ve seen portions of it, I’m sure. Lots of beautiful people popping and locking, pouting their lips into a mirror, and shooting disheveled looks at each other that say You-Got-Served-nah-nah-nahnah-nah!

I had to see what all the fuss was about, so I went downstairs. While the dancers flipped and twirled their way into my wife’s heart, I went into the kitchen to make a Chocolate Oreo milkshake, then sat down to watch a routine or two. One particular dancer, Craig, who could be on the cover of Straight Teeth magazine and the Ensign simultaneously, took the stage without a shirt on. Of course, he is cut and sexy and moves gracefully.

“Man he his hot!,” Christy said. “Look at his body.”

“Yeah, does my stomach look like that?” I tried to say, but I had a mouth full of milkshake.

As Craig danced his last routine shirtless, I could almost hear Christy holding back on the other end of the couch.


Tuesday, August 23, 2005

A Perfect and Just Weight

Dr. Phil, there is brightness beaming from your bald head. I admit, somewhat sheepishly, that I watched an episode of Dr. Phil last night, and thoroughly enjoyed it. The theme was about “controlling individuals” in the home.

I’m just giving anyone who reads this a free ticket to punch me in the face if they ever see me do any of the following:

-Chastise my basketball playing son/daughter for missing those two shots in the game where he/she scored 14 points.
-Tell my wife that she needs to shut her “suckhole” because she is “stupid.”
-Ask my child, who brings home a 95% on a test, “What happened to the other 5%?”
-Make any sort of attempt to arrange the marriage of any of my children, because finally I have found an in-law I know I would get along with.
-Tell my wife, who has stayed home for years with the children, rearing them with love and kindness, then happens to earn $40 on the side, “Finally you have contributed something to the family.”

Unbelievable! I suppose you might not need the consent of a free ticket if you hear those things, and may punch me in the face anyway.

This morning I read in Deut. 25:13-15.
“Thou shalt not have in thy bag divers weights, a great and a small.
“Thou shalt not have in thine house divers measures, a great and a small
“But thou shalt have a perfect and just weight, a perfect and just measure shalt thou have: that thy days may be lengthened in the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee.”

The word “perfect” that is used in here could be construed to mean that the Lord is exacting the 100% that psycho-death-mom was talking about last night. But rather, I think that that he is merely showing us that they key to happiness is in creating a healthy balance. That doesn’t mean we need compromise integrity, goals, potential, education, fun. But there is a divine stream of communication involved in achieving that balance, and it doesn’t involve the shutting of any suckholes.

Monday, August 22, 2005

Utah Culture

A conversation with some Nevada cousins got me thinking...what can we do to change the notions?

Utah = Zion
Democrat = Evildoer
Testimony = Instruction
Riches = Righteousness
Calling = Status
Beggar = Tramp

Friday, August 19, 2005

A Billy Sook

Today at lunch I walked into a Barnes and Noble and picked up the latest from Shel Silverstien, a children’s book called Runny Babbit. I read about ½ of it and found myself laughing. All the characters, which are animals, speak in a “topsy-turvy” language. Or rather I might say, a turpsy-tovy language. Silverstein reverses common letters in the sentence to play with rhyme schemes an annunciation.

At one point Runny get the “picken chox” and his friends nurse him better with “sea poup.” I couldn’t help laughing at a switcheroo like “Runny ficked his pood up with his ears.” It isn’t his most brainy work, but kids will love it.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Song of My Father

Yesterday my Dad turned 63 years old.

Dad has those smiling eyes, the kind with permanent crow’s feet at the corners. He is a fan of cheap haircuts, however crooked. He knows his way around a kitchen, and makes a mean ensemble of dutch-oven cuisines. He loves German chocolate cake and Shwann’s Ice Cream. On a hot day he drinks lemonade with ice cubes. He was my Scoutleader, for a time, and devised terrific troop cheers while visiting the latrine. He loves the companionship of dogs, and a well cooked lamb roast. He knows the concept of good budgeting, and revels in driving an ugly old car into the ground. He has a contagious laugh that all of my friends recognized. He loves early mornings, and the smell of sage brush. Dad is patriotic, is fascinated by American history, and shakes with pleasure when he gets around military rifles. He loves his brother, and they get together often to laugh and cuss over BYU football. He’s never grown facial hair, though he probably could, and he’s now starting to turn gray. He labored many years on his own farm; he herded sheep in his youth, and knows how to do stoichiometry. “All roads lead through moles,” he would say. Dad knows how to tell a good story, and was adept at convincing his kids that there was a vicious beast called the Side Hill Gouger that lived in our potato cellar and ate naughty children. Dad is a father in the holiest sense of the word.

Dad would give the shirt off his back, the shoes off his feet, his bed, his home, and everything he owns if he thought you needed it. He’s got a head start on heaven based on his selflessness alone. Dad has always treated my Mom with love, respect, and flirtatiousness. He is the father of six children, all of whom have firm faith in Jesus Christ, which is saying something. Two of them have special needs, which is also saying something, because Heavenly Father arranged their care under Dad at some point prior to his birth. Whether he knows it or not he followed the Spirit on many occasions, saying something to me that I needed to hear, and certainly affecting the trajectory of my life for the better. He has a deep, full-bodied love of the gospel, and is my hero.

I love you Dad, Happy Birthday.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

When Friendly Crosses the Line

I’ve been trying to go to the gym lately because, you know, I’m not a beefy guy. Let’s not kid ourselves, if I spent an entire decade in the gym I wouldn’t be able to qualify as beefy. There were times in my life where I tried to overcompensate, like going out for football as a sophomore in High School. The water boy got more field time than I did. I know for a fact that I played at least one series of downs. I even ran the ball for 15 yards on one extremely lucky play. But in reality all I got out of that season was a calloused rear-end and some torn cartilage in my knee.

After my workout this morning I was in the locker room changing my clothes for the work day. Right during the draftiest portion of the change—one garment away from full-blown nakedness, a young fellow one bench away decides to strike up a conversation.

“Did you have a good workout today?”

Blink. An uncomfortable silence broke as I turned around to see who was addressing my pastey white backside.

“Oh, yeah. Sure.”

“Me too. Worked my legs today. That’s always a tough one.”

“Mmm Hmm.”

Luckily there was no follow up conversation. I should have flexed my bum for him, but that may have sent the wrong message. I love friendliness. I love friendly people. But, dude. Seriously. Could you wait ‘til I put some clothes on?

Monday, August 15, 2005

Origin of Life

Over the next few years Harvard researchers will conduct the “Origins of Life in the Universe Initiative” in which they will receive one million dollars in funds annually to investigate the inception and evolution of life in the Universe.

According to CNN the project “begins with an admission that some mysteries about life’s origins cannot be explained.” That being said, however, David R. Liu a professor & member of the research team said “My expectation is that we will be able to reduce this to a very simple series of logical events that could have taken place with no divine intervention.”

Now, I’m no Harvard professor. I’m about the furthest thing from it, so take this for what its worth, but isn’t it a bit DANGEROUS to go into a multi million dollar study setting out to prove a preconceived notion? His wording of “my expectation is that we will be able to reduce this…” seems like another way of saying, “we will do everything in our power to eliminate any idea of divine intervention.” Fine. Fine. No doubt the will do just that. But at the same time they admit that there are some mysteries that cannot be explained.

I’m an open minded person. I certainly don’t discount evolution as a general concept, and believe that science and religion can co-exist wonderfully. I think many will be surprised someday at just how much true science and true religion are one in the same. I’m just worried that entering a study of this magnitude with the end goal of proving any one particular preconception is a step in the wrong direction. It is that kind of close mindedness that stunts scientific advancement.

Friday, August 12, 2005

Provo River Parkway

Provo River Parkway: Thank you for your leafy branches and squiggled path. Thank you for your wayside wheat, your swingset, and your swimming hole. Thank you for your shaded canopy, your calloused spine, your babywalkers. Thank you for your many colors, especially the green. Thank you for your timeless time and the columns of lolling dusk light. Thank you for your much needed and always cherished conversation.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Monarch of my Garden

Someday, I used to tell myself, I will grow a garden, and when I do it will have rows of peppers as far as the eye can see. What is it with these bulbously delicious fruits? They are fruits aren’t they? Everything with seeds right? I will have Green, Yellow, and Red Bells, Chile’s, Cow Horn’s, Jalapeños, and maybe even some Habaneros. They will color my back yard like the festive tulips of a Monet painting. I’ll eat them with every meal, I’ll make truckloads of salsa, I’ll give bushels away to hungry vagrants. I’ll use them as candle holders, drinking glasses, and wear them as necklaces. I would be the Pepper King.

This year I grew two plants that I mostly forgot to water. They’re just your standard green bell. One is pretty much dead. The other gave birth to a shrivelly little thing that looks like a golf ball in need of some Prozak. I don’t know. Maybe I’ll try corn.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Steps of Expectation

I was thinking this morning of my dear friend Colby. Please take the time to visit his site. Listen to "Grown", close your eyes, and conjure the face of someone to whom you should become reconciled. Colby, I wanted to express thanks for taking the music in your heart & head and having the bravery to funnel it out to us all. This poem is that thank you.

There is something holy
In the life of a song.
The giving & receiving.

A creation waltz
Bends in unexpected steps
Stepping & not stepping

On toes. The lead hand
Pushing at something
Wanting a pull.

The lead foot curling off
Balance at each whim &
Yoo-Hoo! mandate.

Once my father opened a
Bunker door & a pewter
Prairie rat scampered out

In a rush of light.
A sixty-year-old-quick
Footsnap pinned its tail

Awkwardly, wedged under
The half-open black iron.
Just go around &

Stomp on its head, he said.
I wore Whites—
Heavy ash-flavored boots

You aren’t really
Going to make me do that
Are you? I said.

But it’s what he wanted.
I knew rat skeletons were
Brittle, even if still alive &

When closing my eyes
I brought my fast heel down
Expecting a whimpered crunch

That never came.
Life, at the very least,
Should end in protest, I thought.

Some crunch & cry of protest
I thought. And stomped, &
Stomped again.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

The Preacher Went a Huntin'

I have a neighbor who was bitten on the leg somewhat recently by a pesky neighborhood dog. His daughter was in a stroller and he was shielding her from the barking animal. Can you imagine if the ill-behaved, leashless varmint would have bitten her? I’m not a father yet, but I would think that this would bring out my inner savage, would make me want to snap its neck, tear out its liver, and bite it raw like John Dunbar did with the tatanka.

Please don’t take me for a pet hater. I actually love pets. I grew up with dogs and cats (though I firmly believe they belong outdoors). The thing that irks me is that this dog has bitten other people as well and the owners know about it. My neighbor called animal control and they instantly recognized the dog in question, but NOTHING has been done.

When I was about 10 years old I was bitten by a dog named Blackie right on the back. This same dog had bitten my grandmother as well, causing a large unsightly bruise on her thigh, but the neighbors refused to put it down. This went contrary to our social code of pets, so my family, and friends of my family, made it their personal mission to end this Blackie’s life.

It turned out to be a semi intelligent mutt, however, because when anyone approached it with ill intent, he scampered up and parked it on the front porch wagging his tail and panting with smiling eyes. The owners had a dozen kids in their family, so there was always someone home, and not much could be done with it sitting on the front porch. This went on for months. One day my father hatched a brilliant plan. Blackie’s owners were a very religious family. Each Sunday they would take up an entire row near the front of the chapel, and my father was the Bishop of the congregation at the time. He knew that the one time he could approach the house without the interference of a single soul, was during the church services.

So on a bright and cloudless Sunday, as the birds chirped and butterflies danced, my father, the Bishop, slipped unnoticed out of the chapel, drove home, and retrieved a pistol from his gun safe. As he approached our neighbor’s home Blackie jumped, like clockwork, onto the porch wagging his tail and panting with smiling eyes. My father raised his gun, and in my own imagination I like to think he drew his eyes into slits, twisted his mouth into a grin and said something like “You’ve got to ask yourself one question. Do I feel lucky? Well? Do ya, punk?” But I know my father, and he said no such thing. He just put the gun to the dogs head and did the necessary thing—pulled the trigger. The dog’s blood and brains splattered onto the porch, and for a moment my father’s heart sunk as he doubted the likelihood of covering up his deed. There was no “Wolf” to call upon. He had to pull the mafia grunt-man-labor himself and hose the porch clean as best he could. He then took the carcass out into the sandy desert fields near our house and dumped it in an unmarked grave. He was back in church an hour later with clean hands and a happy heart. That family doesn’t know to this day what became of Blackie. My father didn’t tell us about it until years later, and after he was no longer Bishop of the congregation. Now that, my friends, is the epitome of discretion.

I suppose that if you are going to own a pet you need to go into it knowing that if it does something to violate established social norms (like biting people 'till they bleed) you must be prepared to reconcile it by any means necessary. By that I mean eating its liver raw. Or at least getting it put down. Your choice.

Monday, August 08, 2005

She Gave Me the World

Christy gave me a globe for my birthday. The colors are good--deep and saucy, not the familiar pastels common to most globes. We sat up late looking at it. It was interesting to look at places like Djibouti and wonder what the people are like there, or imagine how it feels to stand on the banks of lake Baikal.

I started thinking that I would like to see someone invent a multimedia electronic globe. One that comes with a little pencil-tipped pointer, wherewith you would touch any part of the globe (be it a country, state, city, mountain, gulf, etc.) and then it spits out a variety of encyclopedic information at you. It would play exerpts of their language, the songs native to the location, interesting facts, and stories about them. While I was writing this I thought, "Doi, you aren't a genius. Surely someone has thought of this already and is making millions of dollars off the idea." True enough. That someone is "Leapfrog" and for just $99.95 (plus tax & shipping) you can have your own talking globe.

I don't need a talking globe though. It was enough for Christy and I to sit next to each other, spin it around, and point to places we wanted to visit. She likes Madeira, Greece, and Thailand. I liked Jerusalem, Egypt, and the Canary Islands. Ahhh. I love my globe.

I think we might visit Cedar City sometime soon, but we're not sure.

Friday, August 05, 2005

Quarter Century Plus Two

Tomorrow is my 27th birthday. Typically I've always scoffed at all those people who gripe, moan, and whine about their birthdays. Suck it up, I always think. Everyone gets older, its not like this lessens your value as a person (90 year olds = Two-bits and a haypenny, 60 year olds = $5, 40 year olds = $100, 25 year olds $1000, Teenagers -- Priceless). The Age! At least I thought that's what all these crybabies were talking about.

But that isn't it at all. Old schmold. The heart of the matter is something much nastier. Two depressions:

1) Nostalgia on Steroids. I'll never be able to drive to this mountain stream again and not see condominums. I'll never see my baby girl take her first steps again, or say things like, "Daddy, does the sun shine all around, or only on us?"*. I wish I could go back to being 17 again, I'd take my shirt off in front of a group of girls and watch them blush, not because they were embarressed for me, but because they thought I was attractive! (these are just examples of course, I wouldn't really do that, would I?) And, in the future (trust me, this will be the worst), I remember when my wife was alive. What I wouldn't give for one more hug, one more laugh, one more silly dance.

2) What have I done with my life? By the time Einstein was 27 he had published his miraculous paper "On the Electrodynamics of Moving Bodies" giving birth to the Theory of Relativity and turning the Physics world on its head. By the time George Washington was 27 he had advanced to the rank of Colonel and defended a 350 mile frontier with 700 men defeating French forces. By the time Joseph Smith was 27 he had spoken face to face with God, Jesus Christ, and numerous angels. He restored Christ's church to the earth and translated an ancient book of scripture that would fill the world and change millions of lives.

So, maybe I'm becoming more sympathetic to all the whiners, but I'm going to try and do my best not to join their ranks. I may not be a great scientist, a revolutionary general, or an inspired prophet, but I've got a beautiful wife, loving family, wonderful friends, and life before me. Now excuse me while I blow out this bonfire of candles.

*thanks Colby

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Zion is Fled

Last night Christy and I finished recording a version of one of my songs, based on the prophet Enoch. These are the words:

Why is it that I have found favor?
Counted worthy to stand, worthy to labor?
Bearing the youth of a man
Hated for all that I am
Yet I know flesh becomes clay when in His hands

One heart and one mind, one as a people
Found under one roof, under one steeple
Safely taken home
To heaven's high abode
Zion is fled and taken into His own.


(Moses 6:31-32, 7:18, 69)
Anyone interested in hearing it, drop a comment and I will be happy to email a version of it to you.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

In The City of Light

This is a poem by my favorite poet, Larry Levis. I'm posting it for my dear friend Sam Larson, and for anyone else out there who has lost a father.

The last thing my father did for me
Was map a way: he died, & so
Made death possible. If he could do it, I
Will also, someday, be so honored. Once,

At night, I walked through the lit streets
Of New York, from the Gramercy Park Hotel
Up Lexington & at that hour, alone,
I stopped hearing traffic, voices, the racket

Of spring wind lifting a newspaper high
Above the lights. The streets wet,
And shining. No sounds. Once,

When I saw my son be born, I thought
How loud this world must be to him, how final.

That night, out of respect for someone missing,
I stopped listening to it.

Out of respect for someone missing,
I have to say

This isn't the whole story.
The fact is, I was still in love.
My father died, & I was still in love. I know
It's in bad taste to say it quite this way. Tell me,
How would you say it?

The story goes: wanting to be alone & wanting
The easy loneliness of travelers,

I said good-bye in an airport & flew west.
It happened otherwise.
And where I'd held her close to me,
My skin felt raw, & flayed.

Descending, I looked down at the light lacquering fields
Of pale vines, & small towns, each
With a water tower; then the shadows of wings;
Then nothing.

My only advice is not to go away.
Or, go away. Most

Of my decisions have been wrong.

When I wake, I lift cold water
To my face. I close my eyes.

A body wishes to be held, & held, & what
Can you do about that?

Because there are faces I might never see again,
There are two things I want to remember
About light, & what it does to us.

Her bright, green eyes at an airport--how they widened
As if in disbelief;
And my father opening the gate: a lit, & silent


Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Me for One.

Who, at some point, hasn't yearned to be a poet? A painter, a sculptor, a cartoonist? A scientist who discovers a cure for humanity? A believer, an athlete with a pulse rate of 40, a lover so loving that your mate never leaves the bedroom? A musician, a revolutionary, a book worm, an architect? A singer of loud and heartfelt songs, a trapeze artist? An inventor, a hero, a friend of man and God? A thinker, an astronaut, a chef, and a designer of all things comfortable and lovely? A pianist, a ballet dancer, a grower of green, green gardens? A mother, father, and kin so close your hearts are zipped together?

...and not paid the price?

Monday, August 01, 2005

Star Bright

On the radio each morning as I drive to work there is this stupid and pretentious advertisement for that tries to convince me that there would be nothing more romantic, more eternal, more symbolic than naming a star after my special someone. Birthday? Mother's Day? Christmas even? This is the gift.

I'm sorry but, this is pretty much like walking along the beach with your girl, picking up a grain of sand and saying,

"Baby, this grain of sand I call Christy. Happy Anniversiary!"

"Really? Wow, I didn't know how much you cared. By the way, you'll be sleeping on the couch tonight."

There are upwards of about 400 billion stars in the Milky Way Galaxy alone and there are billions of galaxies. Whoever invented this star-naming scheme was onto something. Think about it. You get to pay between $54 and $135 (depending on your level of foolishness) to attach some arbitrary name to a heavenly body and in turn you will recieve the telescope coordinates, and a genuine certificate authenticating your gift. Just hope that none of the other billions upon billions of planets with intelligent life don't have star registries of their own, otherwise somewhere down the road there is going to be a huge mess, not to mention a lot of confusion. Just imagine, alien beings visiting Earth for the first time publicly and declaring to a worldwide audience:

"Thank you for welcoming us. We come in peace. My wife and I were just visiting Rodger and couldn't resist stopping by."

"Pardon? Rodger? We don't follow?"

"Yes, the star around which you orbit?"

"Oh, you mean the Sun."

"No, actually, its called Rodger. Twelve-thousand years ago it was named on our star registry by a woman for her husband as a late Lunar Day present."

Friday, July 29, 2005

The Illinoisemakers

I know, I know. Two posts about Sufjan Stevens in the same month is a bit much. I just needed to say a few words about the show last night at the Lo-Fi Cafe. For starters, that place is sweltering! It's a wonder that the performers didn't melt right off the stage. Indeed, there were many pit rings. To anyone I was standing next to: I apologize for the B.O.

I throughly enjoyed the performance. The sound wasn't that great but I'm not sure if it was due to the acoustics, the sauna, or the musicians themselves. The band wasn't terribly tight either, but they made up for it with a terrific display of musicality. He opened with "The 50 States" and it was the first time I've heard the song in its entirety. Beautiful. It should become new standard 5th grade curriculum, in place of that cheesy song the young ones learn nowadays to memorize the states. Sufjan comes off as a bit shy. He didn't remember all the words to his songs, and had lots of notes up there. I don't blame him at all.

Highlights: The Predatory Wasp of the Palisades..., The Tallest Man, The Broadest Shoulders..., The Man of Metropolis..., Jacksonville, Come on! Feel the Illinoise!..., and John Wayne Gacy, Jr. (I saw a tear stream down Sufjan's cheek during this one).

How many concerts have you been to where the performers dress in cheerleading outfits, pump pom poms, and entact original cheers dedicated to vague midwestern towns? None, you say? I hadn't either. It was strange, but hey, I'm sure the people of Peoria deserve a Ra!-Ra!-Ra! as much as any college basketball team.

After the show I spoke to Sufjan breifly about the album, the creative process, Saul Bellow, Denison Witmer, and the press. He was nice.

"The 50 States"

"John Wayne Gacy, Jr."

Sufjan leads the Illinoisemakers in a cheer

Kirk, Me, Sufjan

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Heart of Darkness

My friend Kirk recently spoke to me about a book he's been reading, Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad. I hadn't picked up that book since high-school and, quite frankly, wasn't ready for it back then. I remember being mezmerized by its language, but didn't put into it what I needed in order to extract any profound lesson. I've kept a copy of it on my shelf for years, so I reread it yesterday, and enjoyed it very much this time.

The main character, Marlow journeys into the jungle along the African Congo to meet an infamous ivory hunter named Kurtz who is stationed in a remote trading post. This journey becomes a metaphor for his own exploration into the heart of his soul. Along the way he becomes infatuated with meeting Kurtz. This man is magnetic, a poet, a leader, a revolutionary of the mind! Yet this man has been seduced by ideals heavier and darker than himself. He succumbed to the isolation of the jungle, to ultimate greed, to power, to self agrandizement. In his journey Marlow is tempted by those same things, and staring within himself was threatened to be overcome by those same evils. He saw in Kurtz what he could have become. He saw in Kurtz the common struggle of humanity distilled in its purest form. The dark side. This book seemed to say that every soul casts a dark shadow. It romanticizes the idea (to an extent) that becoming aquainted with that shadow will result in a degree of enlightenment. At the very least you understand the breadth of the human condition a little bit more.

The book leads you to believe, however, that there is a basic evil to human nature. I may be interpreting it wrong, but it almost seemed like it was saying human nature, in and of itself, is mainly dark. "For the natural man is an enemy to God, and has been from the fall of Adam...(Mosiah 3:19)." But that comes with a qualification. J.R. Holland stated "These references to 'natural' evil emphatically do not mean that men and women are 'inherently' evil. There is a crucial difference....It is as if men and women are given, as part of their next step in development along the path to godhood, raw physical and spiritual ingredients--'natural' resources if you will. Those resources are not to run rampant but are to be harnessed and focused so that their potential (as is sometimes done with a 'natural' river or a 'natural' waterfall) can be channeled and thereby made even more productive and beneficial."

So we aren't inherently dark, but can become so if we let the natural portion of our souls fully govern us. This is what did Kurtz in, and why he acts as a mirror into the human phsyche: Watch yourselves so as to not look "The Horror!" in the face! Perhaps one of the most affecting quotes for me was not by Conrad himself, but was a note on the margins of the last page in the handwriting of Nicki Kampenhaut, my sister-in-law. It says "Those who give themselves over to materialism have no wings for spiritual exploration, and they too lose the tide."

Here's to not losing the tide.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

A Drive Through Marysville

You sat like a weak-kneed breeze
with eyes full of decision and
a spine oozing with stregnth
Two miles from the old town
we passed the spectre walls
where you and now dead siblings
came of age
The wood is flaking, blurred, and colorless
It was once a rainbow, you thought,
A house surrounded by genteel cement arms
so rare during the Depression
Now it knows the meaning of that era
You blinked at the ghosted walls
and again
Seeming to long after twilight

We pass the plot where lies
her father's century old corpse and
she wonders if it isn't unfortunate that
long-life runs in her family

The wrinkles cutting her face
twisted out illegible words
and in an instant she became, in my mind,
that precious cedar from my childhood
which found comfort in a desolate home
amid a hillside bed of crimson lava rock
What vegetation had any business growing there!
Yet life came fruiting from its boughs and
grace brooding in its roots

Further down the road we
descended into the belly of Warm River
It sang her to sleep as the
new generation played on its cold, shallow banks

For my dear Grandma Blake

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Herd Poisoning

On Saturday night Christy and I went to the Pioneer Days Rodeo which is held annually in St. Anthony, Idaho. The grandstands were packed, overflowing with cowmen and cowwomen a half-hour before it was scheduled to start. A light breeze carried the smell of maneur, horsehair, and hamburgers. Sitting in front of us was a scruffy man wearing a black T-shirt, the back of which held the image of a silicon enhanced blonde bombshell wearing nothing but a black bikini, a cowboyhat, and chaps. Yup. I was home.

This was Christy's first rodeo, and I was curious how she would react. She loves country music, but I couldn't be sure she would love an old-fashioned country pasttime. All questiones were answered the first moment the gate was realeased and a wild bucking bronco broke loose into the arena. All rows around us could hear her gleeful squeals. She discovered one of the highest forms of entertainment: Man vs. Beast. The evening was electric. She was entranced, eyes fixed on the competitors and the stock.

Christy had never seen any of the various categories play out: Saddle Bronc, Barrell Racing, Team Roping, Steer Wrestling. I did my best to explain my elementary understanding of how each one worked and is scored and judged.

When the Calf Roping portion arrived the first cowboy chased the calf down nearly in front of where we were seated. He lassoed the neck of the calf, whiplashing its body to a screeching halt. He then dismounted, the horse still on the run, grabbed the calf, lifted it off the ground, then slammed it back down on its side. He then snatched up three of the legs and quickly tied them together, leaving the stunned animal laying there with its hooves in the air. Christy exclaimed audibly "Oooh. That poor little calf! What are they doing to it?" I hurried and put my arm around her and tried to shush her inquiries for fear of being surrounded by a mob of hicks and hayseeds who would no doubt pull our pants down and brand our bottoms for even symathizing with a lowly calf. Christy made no efforts to speak softer, however, and vocalized again that she didn't understand the point.

Honestly, I couldn't either. In retrospect, I just didn't want to draw attention. Strangely, I found myself really wanting to blend in with these folks, with the guy beside me breathing expletives and telling jokes about Utah, and the guy in front of me with the naked cowgirl on his shirt. Luckily, I was saved by a spectator behind us who piped in and explained the history behind the event, and why it was performed the way it was. This seemed to resolve Christy's concerns, but for a moment there I was taken with a short case of herd poisoning.

Friday, July 22, 2005

Foreign Man

You want to hear a scenario that I just don't see play out too often? Here goes:

Balding man of average height gets out of bed, goes to the bathroom, gets on scale. 241 lbs. Not bad, he thinks. Man is hungry so he goes to the kitchen. Man eats whopping breakfast of eggs, pancakes, maple syrup, and butter, eats till he is full. Man goes back to his room and looks in mirror, admires his wonderfully even tan. Not bad, he thinks. Man looks outside, not a cloud in the sky. Man slips into a delightfully tight speedo, applies leftover breakfast butter to his skin. Man heads to his favorite pier to relax, contemplates the earth and the beauty of life. Not bad, he thinks.

I love Mexico. Took this photo in Puerto Vallarta, Feb '03

Thursday, July 21, 2005

My Sherrie Amour

I grew up in a home where we (the children) addressed our parents as "Mom and Dad." I know in other parts of our nation you might hear a similar variation, the female parent coming first, followed by the male: "Ma and Pa," "Mama and Papa," "Mommy and Daddy," and the formal "Mother and Father." Different strokes for different folks, right?

Last night Christy and I met a couple who have a little four year old boy--cute kid, very talkative, and rambunctious. He was standing on the edge of the hot tub, ready to jump in and wanted his parents to watch so he yelled to them, "Daddy and Sherrie, watch!" It kind of caught me off guard and I tried not to laugh, because it sounded so foreign to me. He has somehow gotten into the habit of calling his mom by her first name. Throughout the night he always referred to his father as "Daddy," but anytime he talked to his mom it was by her first name, "Sherrie."

I decided that I hope my children call me by some form of "Dad." Otherwise its going to be "Les, I want some candy," "I don't want to, Les" "Les, let me stay up." I would start to feel like my wife had given birth to a Hilton, only I wouldn't have the ability to sooth my sorrows by taking a swim in my money bin. Though, now that I think about it, it would be kind of fun to go to church and hear, "I'd like to bear my testimony and I love my Mom and Les."

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

The Virgin and the Dynamo

When Henry Adams went to the Paris Exhibition in 1900 he was so floored by the emerging force of the dynamo that he knew he was standing on a precipice that would define America in the new century, and that might eventually be it's downfall. He likened the power of this new modern technology to the same power that the Virgin wielded throughout the preceding centuries, a force that had inspired the crusades, colonization, and the greatest art and architecture of the age.

America has, in many senses, become the stage for the technological revolution. Just as science has replaced religion for many people in decades past, technology has come to do the same. Bow to the computer chip! Wireless Worship! Answer only to your cell phone!

How many people do you know between ages 18-65 that don't have a cell phone? My Dad doesn't, and he's proud of it. He hasn't the remotest interest in even learning how to use one, which is fine, because there aren't many instances in which he would need one. And granted, yesterday it would have been nice as he was standing in the airport for 2 hours waiting for a plane that wouldn't arrive for another five, and all the while a lonely ringing cell phone gathered dust in his car (my mother loaned it to him). Part of me wants to chuckle and say, Let's not be foolish! Get with the times! Step into the digital world! But another part of me says, How dependent am I on the conveniences of modern technology? Is this healthy? Am I losing touch with a greater power and a greater ability the more I lean on silicon and plastic to get me through the day? Maybe I need to be careful, or I'll let a universe of iPods, hand helds, and lap tops snatch me up in some thousand gigabyte death grip.

But seriously though Dad, get a cell phone.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

If I Only Had A Beard

You can't always get what you want? Curse you Mick Jagger!

In my case I've always wanted to grow facial hair. I mean ALWAYS. Call me crazy, but there is just something magnetic about a bearded man. Unfortunately my face is as smooth as a watermelon. Most of the influential men to ever walk the Earth have had some form of facial hair: Martin Luther King Jr., Confucious, Ghandi, Socrates, Shakespeare, Leonardo Da Vinci, Brigham Young, and, of course Jesus Christ.

I was very pleased to find out there is actually a contest devoted to the growers of powerful facial hair. It only seems fitting right? If we can have contests for spelling words, eating hot dogs, and standing still for the longest amount of time, surely there is a place for the extremely hairy. This contest is called the World Beard and Moustache Championships, and is being held this year in Berlin, Germany. There are many categories: Natural Beard, Handlebar Moustache, English Moustache, Sideburns, etc. But you've got to hand it to anyone who enters a facial hair competition under the "freestyle" category. I thought I would post some photos of past notables.

This one I call "My Head Is A Beard" because of the seamless segway from facial hair to normal hair.

I call this one the "Arachnabeardia" due to its many graceful legs.

I call this one "Mullet Face" for obvious reasons.

I call this one the "Harley Davidstache" because I could sit on his chest and drive his face like a chopper.

Monday, July 18, 2005


Confidence is such a fascinating personality trait. It's a positive attribute for sure. How many times have you seen a gorgeous woman completely enamored by some ho-hum looking joe? At first glance the guy looks like your grandma's mailman, but because he is confident he's got the world on a string. Men like confident women too, women who embrace their bodies, who don't pretend for the sake of impression, women grounded in self-reality.

But as with perfume, chocolate milk, and hair bands, you can have too much of a good thing. The overconfident are some of the most frustrating people to be around. I couldn't help but think about this today as I was driving to work. I was passed by a bright orange Ford Mustang convertible. Its personalized liscence plate read "LTLBRAT" and the vanity cover said "Why can't I be rich instead of beautiful?"

I'm always intrigued by vanity plates because they really seem to be the 9 characters-or-less definition of ourselves. How do you sum yourself up and proclaim it to the world? If you're a democrat, "IH8DUBYA." If you're a gun fanatic, "TRGRHAPY." If you're homosexual, "R U GAY 2." Its just funny. I can't really think of anything that would really get to the heart of me. Maybe "2SKNY2BTRU" but that would be too long. Perhaps "SMALLBUM" but I don't know if that really captures the essence of me. Plus that could change anytime soon, and I'd be stuck in line at the DMV trying to explain why they need to issue me a new one that says "JNK-IN-TRNK" and I don't know if I'm confident enough for that sort of thing.

Friday, July 15, 2005

To Be Alone

Not long ago a good friend of mine recommended that I read Chuck Palahniuk's Stranger than Fiction. He was kind enough to photocopy some exerpts from it (I don't think Chuck would mind) for me, just to give a taste. I found the book's introduction particularly insightful. It addresses the lonely business of writing. Stories are about people, and you have to be around people in order to develope these stories, along with their tangible characters. Yet writing is largely an individual's task, and reading an individual experience. He likens this to an overall human impulse to be alone, that perhaps just as badly as many of us want and need to connect with other people we also want and need physical apartment, a place to be alone with our thoughts.

I think quite a few people are able to maintiain this balance in their lives, but there are many who gravitate to the extremes: The girl who can't be alone, who cannot drive to the corner market without convincing at least one friend to go with her. Or the guy who always refuses a social invite, and prefers to wander the streets solo, with his Walkman on ("Walkman" seems like such an old term, what would it be now, iPod?).

Just yesterday I found myself playing a round of golf all by my lonesome, and completely content that I was able to avoid being paired with anyone. I could attribute that to the fact that my game is embarressing. It's true that I don't wan't my slice on public display, but I think that just as much there was something utterly appealing about spending the afternoon ALL BY MYSELF. I can turn off my cell, intentionally not tell anyone where I am, and just enjoy that feeling you get in your stomach when no one is around. This is good. This is a time for self-awareness. This is a time for evaluation. This is a time for reconcilliation.

Then later, I turn back to the world. I turn my cell on, and write emails to friends, and kiss my wife, and become a better husband, a better co-worker, and hopefully a better human being. I tip the scales the other way for a while, because that is healthy living. And I can only take the humiliation of my golf swing for so long.