Friday, February 29, 2008

The Billy Collins Experience

Another picture of an old poet I've come to love :)

So I've discovered that the fastest way to my heart is by possessing two characteristics: Being an old man who writes brilliant poetry (see my love letter to Walt Whitman below). Today began a new love affair with one Billy Collins. I had the rare opportunity today of seeing this renowned and talented American poet give a reading of his work and then meeting him afterwards. This guy is a big deal. He was Poet Laureate of the U.S. from 2001-2003! This may not be that exciting to many, but I was stoked, for lack of a better word. When I was standing in line waiting to get my book signed, the pressure began mounting on what I would say to this man who has been critically acclaimed by every major publication that I've ever wanted to write for. Had I been a cooler, more collected person, had I not choked in the face of fame, I would've asked very intelligently, "Mr. Collins, ideally, how would you like your poetry to be read?" or at least, "Out of the books of poetry you've written, what is your personal favorite?" Instead, I excitedly told him, like a teenage girl (or any girl for that matter) who is meeting Justin Timberlake, that it was my first experience. My first experience with what? I think I meant to say my first Billy Collins experience, but I was vague and I didn't make sense. Luckily he saved me by asking if it was my first poetry reading, and I agreed. He was funny, smart, ironic and surprisingly touching. I liked him and his poetry a lot. He writes about everyday life--college students, waking up in the morning, turning 10, literary amnesia, Victoria's Secret, among other things. All with wit, charm, and a true sense of what a human being is--their thoughts, emotions, motives. I love having these experiences where I can take in good art, whether it's music, literature, paintings or other mediums. I always go away feeling enriched.

What is it about these things that make us feel that way-- uplifted, more connected, more intelligent? President Packer says that it is the Spirit of the Lord that makes us feel those things. I'm so grateful that I was taught to appreciate art and to recognize those feelings, both by my family and in the Church. It says in D&C 109:7, "Seek ye diligently and teach one another words of wisdom; yea, seek ye out of the best books words of wisdom, seek learning even by study and also by faith." Finding these enriching experiences is a commandment too, as well as a joy. It is our responsibility to put ourselves in those places to have those experiences. President Packer also says it is our responsibility to use our talents to uplift others and ultimately and most importantly, to bear witness of Christ. President Packer asks us to ask ourselves: When I am free to do what I really want to do, what will it be? I think this applies to anyone who wants to make something truly great of their lives, not just members of the LDS Church, or people on the brink of "making themselves" or "becoming" who they want to be, not just the young. President Packer says we must prepare ourselves by being humble, reminding us that talents do not show preference of one over another, but just give the possessors a greater responsibility to use them wisely. What are our individual talents and how can we use them to this aim? I think these are important questions to ask. Another great poet was Orson F. Whitney, a member of the LDS Church, who exemplified the idea of humility in creating great art. He wrote a poem in response to the lines that say, "I am the master of my own fate: I am the captain of my soul" ("Invictus" by William Ernest Henley). Whitney wrote:

Free will is thine--free agency,
To wield for right or wrong;
But thou must answer unto Him,
To whom all souls belong.

Bend to the dust that "head unbowed,"
Small part of life's great whole,
And see in Him and Him alone,
The captain of thy soul.

I hope this blog didn't come out too preachy. I think I get a little excited when I'm talking about things I love, namely art/literature and the gospel. :) I just think there's so much beauty to be had, to be viewed and to be experienced, and there's also so much to be created. Whitney said, "We will yet have Miltons and Shakespeares of our own," and that extends to every other field. How amazing is it that we have the faculties to see, hear and experience? I'm so grateful for the talents of others and for a Heavenly Father who has given these talents to them and to myself, however untapped they may be, and for the possibility that these talents can be discovered and improved through the Spirit.

If you want to check out more of Billy Collins, here is a funny poem ("Litany") that I like about how ridiculous similes can be in expressing love or describing a woman. I wish I had a link to Orson F. Whitney's poetry, but I couldn't find any. President Packer quotes his poem in a talk though. Enjoy!

Monday, February 18, 2008

I Get By With a Little Help...

(Brillante, Molly and I)

Oh my, I should be doing lots of homework, but I can't concentrate, so here I am. Today my friend Molly took me out to lunch, something we do every other week just to catch up. We've been friends since we were 11 or 12 years old and she was my only LDS friend back home. She
lived three hours away, but we've made it work for about 10 years now. It seems like such a long time ago! I love when we get together though because I feel like we always have the best conversations. Today she said that sometimes it feels like nobody understands how she's feeling, and I'm sure we can all relate to that. I feel like we're able to understand each other though, not
always, but sometimes, when nobody else is able to. I was thinking how good it is to have a friend like her. It got me thinking about my other friends too and how lucky I am to have them. Friends who listen, who forgive when I don't deserve it, who look out for me, who show me new things and different perspectives. Friends that will stay up in the freezing cold to watch a Japanese sunrise with me. Friends who will put up with me for hours on end in a car driving cross-country. Friends who will do weird things with me and not think they're weird, who will stick with me on a hike up a 12,000 foot mountain, who can trick me into mud wrestling and rafting a class 5. Friends who push me to be better than I am. The ones that comfort and who are so patient and kind. Friends who know what I looked like in elementary school and still love me, who have been with me from the beginning. Don't we all have friends like this?
I don't claim to be an expert on friendship, I know I can always do better. I definitely know people who astound me with their love and loyalty, but it's definitely something I value and aspire to. I've realized through my years of friendship with different people that it doesn't matter people's upbringing, circumstances, religion or any of that. Some of our greatest friends are the most unlikely, and each person is a blessing to the other. A High Councilman spoke in church yesterday and said that we've been children for most of our lives, so we've been recipients of love. That's been the predominant feeling in our lives so far. He said it was time to complete the cycle. "As much as you need to be loved, you need to love someone else." I think friendship is one of the best ways we can show that love.

Going back to Molly's comment about nobody understanding how we feel; we made an amendment to that statement. Jesus Christ is our greatest Friend, and as well as Molly and I may relate to each other, He is the only person who truly understands everything about us--every worry, embarrassment, disappointment, joy and triumph. He's felt it all. He gave everything he had, even his life, because he loves us. "Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. Ye are my friends, if ye do whatsoever I command you" (John 15:13-14). I love this scripture and the Savior for his tender example of friendship. I love my friends for blessing my life and the lives of so many others by following His example.

(My best hometown girls)

Saturday, February 16, 2008

"This hour I tell things in confidence, I might not tell everybody, but I will tell you." --Walt Whitman

Some newfound friends have told me about the counsel that Elder Ballard gave to share our testimonies through different forms of media. So, because I love to write and because I love the gospel, I've decided to start a blog of my own. What better way to combine two of my favorite things!

As an English major I naturally get to read so many great works, a lot of classics, but most of the time I read to get the assignment done (or worse yet, I don't read at all), and the messages are kind of lost on me, I think. Then every once in a while someone comes along who makes me sit up and pay attention. This time it was Walt Whitman. Maybe you're thinking, Who's he? or That dead guy who wrote poetry about grass? I thought that too before I actually sat down and got to know him. I'll be honest, I've developed somewhat of an intellectual crush on the guy. It was unexpected, but aren't most of our best relationships and friendships?

The reason I love Walt so much is because of his beautiful messages and the things he chooses to write about. Despite the fact that all the works I read are considered classics, I definitely think some were more inspired than others. After reading him, I've thought a lot about what he was saying and how they relate to the gospel. He talks about the divinity of the body, a subject which was unheard of at the time. People thought he was perverse, but now in the Church, we hear talks devoted to that very subject and how it relates to our actions (Elder Holland). He recognizes the beauty and divinity within each person, which I think is so true and I think the ability to recognize that is such an amazing gift to have. He writes about equality, unity, eternity and our inseparable connection with God. And he says at the end of it all, "It is not chaos or death--it is form, union, plan--it is eternal life--it is Happiness." Does that sound familiar or what?

"Swiftly arose and spread around me the peace and knowledge that pass
all the argument of the earth,
And I know that the hand of God is the promise of my own,
And I know that the spirit of God is the brother of my own,
And that all men ever born are also my brothers, and the women my
sisters and lovers,
And that a kelson of the creation is love..."

I think that's so beautiful and I love this last line especially, which means that the bulwark or reinforcement of the creation is love. We, and all others things, were created because God loves us, and he has a plan. A plan that includes a Savior, without whom we could have no hope or happiness. But like it says in the Gospel of John, "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life" (3:16). And we haven't been put on this earth alone, but we're all connected; we have friends, family, significant others, just so many people that God has blessed us with, and a common thread that connects everyone. It all speaks of love and mercy to me. That's what I think Whitman is saying. Read him if you get a chance; he's a genius! :)