Saturday, August 6, 2022

My Theatre Experience- Finding happiness by avoiding things that make you happy

 

Valerie and I performing in Matilda

As a eight year old many things made me happy. Opening a new pack of baseball cards, organizing my baseball card collection for the 100th time, playing on the play ground in my backyard, watching the latest Disney movie, also for the hundredth time.

And the things that made me miserable were just as clear, work, and doing anything that caused me to work. That is why my guard was up when my mother walked in and said that I should audition for a local play. “It will be fun,” she said with a large grin. I knew what my mother considered fun. Picking up apricots that had been smooshed and were rotting on the ground was an activity she was always trying to get my friends to do always with that same grin and always with the same words, “It will be fun.” She said the same thing about cleaning my room, folding laundry, weeding the garden and canning applesauce. I was certain that the day the definition of fun was taught in my mothers elementary school she must have been out sick. The problem was that once my mother decided I should do something ‘fun’ I had very little choice in the matter. She would slowly crank up the pressure by threatening to take away toys, movies and even Saturday morning cartoons.

I was going to that audition and I knew it, but one thing was for sure, I was going to make sure that my mother would never call it “fun” again. I complained as she took me out to the car, I wined as we drove to the audition, and once there I was basically dragged kicking and screaming into the theatre with the green awning bearing it’s name. Hale Center Theatre, as I looked up an read it I was certain they had misspelled the first word.

But my plan backfired. I made such a fuss the director must have looked out the window and seen me fighting and pulling against my mother. I looked like the most disobedient bratty child one could acquire. The problem was the auditions were for the Larry Shue play, “The Nerd”. The only part for a child was the young boy Thor, a disobedient bratty child. Assuming I was merely a method actor getting into character they excitedly gave me the part.

I complained when I heard it. I knew this meant reading and memorizing lines. Not only that my mother was constantly coaching me on how to deliver said lines. Who was she to say? After all, who was the expert on being a brat? But in time I actually started to enjoy the part. True rehearsals cut into my time I would have been watching Disney or organizing baseball cards, but it wasn’t too bad. And perhaps best of all, I was able to get candy bars from their concessions for 25 cents, and all the soda I wanted for free. After all once shows started they paid me $5 a show, and I could take $2 and buy eight full size candy bars, something I did almost every night. In fact, I was only in the first half of the show, but once and a while they let me stay for curtain call. On one night when I stayed and it was time to bow, I was nowhere to be found. They eventually searched and found me passed out on the floor of my dressing room, twix and reese’s wrappers on the floor and chocolate droll rolling down my face.

This was the beginning to an exciting career in acting. From age 8 until 16 I did many plays and even some film work. And while I loved it don’t for one minute think that it wasn’t stressful or hard work. Most people are familiar with the stress of school. It is a stress that is always part of us. Many of us still have nightmares that it is the end of a semester and we have never attended class, or that a huge test is being given and we didn’t study. Well, the only other reoccurring stressful dreams I have are around acting. I find myself standing behind the curtain about to go on when I realize I don’t know any of my lines.

There is no way around it acting is stressful and hard work and simply speaking in the short term more misery than fun. So it was with mixed emotion that over 30 years after my experience with my mother my wife recommended me and a few of the kids audition for Matilda at Signal Mountain Playhouse. I did enjoy theatre in my childhood and I wanted my children to have the same opportunity. The problem was I was busy. Jeanine had just a that week given birth to Telford our 9th child, I was working on my dissertation for my PhD, my second book “Of Pigs and Priest” was about to launch, and there was also the little matter of my full time job. Taking 3 hours a night after work to rehearse, plus the time I would need to practice on my own seemed unreasonable, and not, “fun”.

Auditions came and Hyrum, Adalyn, Annabel and myself all tried out. We didn’t have to take them to the auditions kicking and screaming but there was plenty of wining and complaining involved. One of the questions on the audition form was experience dancing. I wrote that I had taught ballroom classes. And in my defense this is technically true. The part I didn’t write was, my wife who is talented convinced me to help her teach a few ballroom classes at our local church. I am pretty sure that statement about ballroom landed me the part of Rudolfo the Latin dancer.

I was excited yet fearful. I was right about the time it took and frankly the first three weeks were miserable. The music was harder than I had thought and I felt like I wasn’t getting it. The part of Rudolfo not only required me to sing much higher than I was comfortable but it was clear I would have to put in a lot of practice on the dance, something I had very little time for. But the worst part is my kids had learned how to do the kicking and screaming routine and now fought me at every rehearsal. They hadn’t been excited about the play but trying to learn music that was above there level, all while not talking to anyone was miserable to them. They wanted out. Several times I told them, if you want to quite then you tell the director, I’m not going to. That did the trick and none of them quite on me.

But slowly we got better, as did rehearsals. As we neared opening day I wondered if we could even pull this off. Our first full run through didn’t happen until dress rehearsal. One of the numbers in the show is “miracle” speaking about the miracle of human life. And while I don’t wish to distract from that community theatre is a miracle. The shear number of people who sacrifice so much for no worldly gain. The hours and hours of building stages, putting up lights, getting microphones prepped, the orchestra, the actors, the directors. All of them doing things that on their face are miserable and stressful to put together a production that they will see little to no monetary gain from.

Why? Because they understand something that we all must learn to find true happiness. True happiness, long term happiness doesn’t come from doing things that give us instant short term happiness. Think about it what will make you happy right now? Perhaps it’s eating a donut, or watching a show you love. But once the chocolate frosting has disappeared and the credits run does it really make your life better or make you happier in the long run? No long term happiness often comes from pushing ourselves to do things that are hard, and may even sound miserable at the time.

My kids did come around and they loved the show, and they can’t wait to audition for the next one. I am so honored to have been in the show with so many talented and hard working individuals. It was hard, it took a lot of time and effort and brought on stress. But I can say without hesitation that it was more than worth it. It has brought a level of fulfillment and happiness I could have not achieved otherwise. And I know if I will continue to stretch myself, often setting aside things that sound fun for those that are hard I will continue to find happiness.


Friday, June 24, 2022

Embracing Responsibilities in Post Roe v. Wade

 


No matter what your views on abortion are today, 6/24/2020, is a historic day. Over the last year things have been put in my path that have changed how I view abortion. For you to understand let me take you back about 10 months ago. I had just been called to serve as the ward mission leader. The opportunity to work closely with missionaries was something I was looking forward to. In our ward we had sisters serving. They asked if I could attend a discussion they had set with a young girl, a teenager, who had just found out that she was pregnant. I am always anxious to meet new people and so I looked forward to our meeting.

Whoever named the car, the Honda fit must have had an exceptional sense of humor. The car should be called the ‘Doesn’t Fit’. And it was already at capacity with my wife, myself and two sisters, as we pulled up to the appointment. The sun had long sense set as we pulled up to the home. It was a small historic home that had not been updated in many years. She came to the door with a large plastic tote in her arms, “We are leaving.”

I looked over at the sisters, and the first thought was, “I wonder where we are leaving to.” I took the tote from this young girl and was surprised to see her turn back into the home. She immerged a minute later with a garbage bag of clothes and other toiletries, handed it to one of the sisters and then headed back into the house to retrieve a third bag. Through the flurry of taking of handling all her worldly possessions we all wanted to know what was going on, but the seriousness of her face let us know now was not the time to ask.

The four of us headed towards the car. There were many thoughts going through my mind but the first was wondering what she planned to do with all this stuff. There was no doubt in my mind that it was not going to fit. We crammed it into what this car calls a trunk. Then came the first miracle of this adventure, with someone in the back seat pushing and pulling and me slamming the truck door it closed and all the material was safely secured in the trunk.

We all worked our way around the car and into our seats. I should have worried how three young, but fully grown women were going to fit into the back seat, but it was the least of my worries. “What’s going on?” my wife asked. She had remained in the car through the commotion. I gave her a small grimace. I didn’t know exactly what was happening, but I knew I was not comfortable with it.

“So where are we going?” One of the sisters finally asked what we were all thinking.

“I don’t care. Take me to a shelter or something, I am not spending another night at my dad’s house.”

I took a hard look into my wife’s face. My wife smiled and said, “Okay,” and started looking on her phone for what shelters existed. I had seen too many people sit in line to get into shelters that always filled up by midafternoon while working with the homeless and knew that trying to get into a shelter this late was a loosing proposition. As she continued to look my wife looked into each other’s eyes. We were both asking the same thing without the using words, “Are you okay if she ends up at our house?” We had a guest room that was available, and any other option seemed limited. My wife was first to vocalize it, “Would you like to come to stay at our house?”

And that was how we became very close to Amanda. She lived in our home for a week. I am not saying that I fully understand what a young female who is pregnant with little support goes through, but I know I understand it a little bit more than I used to. Her boyfriend was anxious for her to abort the child, she had contemplated it herself. She worried about how the child would impact her hopes and dreams.

I will never forget her face when we mentioned the idea of adoption. While terminating the pregnancy was an option she had discussed and thought of, she had never even considered the idea of adoption. At first glance she found it far more repugnant than abortion. We came to love Amanda and had great hopes for her child. We were happy for her to stay with us for the foreseeable future, but we were traveling out of town soon. We invited her to stay but made clear that we were not comfortable with the father staying at our home. She didn’t have a driver’s license or car and no bus goes by our home, so she was worried about being stuck at our home, so she got a ride and went back to her mother. A short time later she got back with her boyfriend.  He got a decent job and because of her pregnancy they got accepted into subsidized apartment. It was just remodeled and nice especially given how little it cost them. They just needed a little bit for a deposit, and help moving. I wish I could say I was anxious to help, but that would be a lie. My wife, as she always does, helped me be my better self and we helped from time to time. This started a pattern; she would lose her phone plan and number and we wouldn’t hear from her for a bit until she was desperate. My wife was always anxious to help. Unfortunately, they lost the apartment, he went through a few jobs, and they went in and out with each other. In time, a beautiful baby girl was born, premature, but healthy.

Today we heard from her again. The father was starting yet another job, making $2 per hour plus almost nonexistent tips at a local restaurant, from 10 PM to 7 AM. They were in a week-to-week motel and needed rent by noon or else they would be kicked out. Jeanine jumped in ran down to pick her up and let her spend the day at our home. Amanda said she and the father think they should go their separate ways again, but Amanda isn’t sure. Jeanine again offered our home, asking me to wash up the sheets and be ready for her to come back tomorrow if she so decides.   

Roe vs. Wade is no longer the law of the land. We will never go back to how things were pre-Roe v. Wade. Many states have and will continue to have abortion as an option. People are more mobile than ever and therefore trips will be given across state lines to try to give many women access to abortions if they want. Medication will be sent illegally across state lines to perform abortions. But many states have and will limit access to abortions. Many thousands of women who prior to this would have terminated the pregnancy will not. I have always felt that this is right. While I have the utmost respect for free agency and the right it gives all us to make choices, I do not think that trumps a child’s chance at life. I have always felt that choosing life is right. But now I feel differently. I still feel life is right, but I am beginning to understand that while it is right it is not easy. And I wonder if we are prepared to be the society, we need to be in order to be truly pro-life. If the millions of impoverished women had not chosen to terminate their pregnancies, what would our society look like today? I don’t need to get into the statistics, but how many of those millions would likely have fathers? How many would have access to education? How many would have been kept only to be abandoned years later into our horribly flawed foster care system? How many would potentially revert to a life of crime and end up in overcrowded jails and prisons that do nothing to rehabilitate those who enter?

Today, I got to hold 9 lbs of perfection. I have never seen a little face with two cheeks so small yet so perfectly round. A small curly puff of the softest hair you will ever feel sits on her round head. Her skin amazingly dark and soft. I wonder if this miracle would even be here if we hadn’t had a chance to meet Amanda that night. I like to think I got to play a small part in helping survive and today the supreme court and society helped thousands, maybe millions to do the same. The question is what are we going to do as individuals to positively impact that existence? I have realized that as more of these little lives come to join us, we all need to be more like my wife. Wiling to open our hearts, wallets and homes to those in need.

I hope everyone who is celebrating the Supreme court’s decision will commit today to do more for the millions around us who are suffering, and the millions more who are coming. To be a part of improving the systems of education, foster care and prisons that so regularly fail the least privileged in society. To individually reach out and be fathers to the fatherless. To better serve and lift the single mother. To find ways to give others the same privileges we have been so blessed to receive. To love your neighbor, particularly the neighbor who lives in the neighborhood you are scared to even enter. And to embrace and teach the principles that lead to children having the best chance at life, postponing intimate relationships until they are educated and prepared to embrace family responsibilities. If we fail, we will all too soon find a society that reembraces the policies that led to terminating these lives before they took their first breath.

(Some names have been changed in my personal story)

Tuesday, May 24, 2022

Ignorance Is Fearless

Author Cindy Gunderson

The air was filled with hot air balloons as the young couple stood talking. She could barely make out what they said, but the point was clear. This young mother could not go back to their old life. That was not an option. Cindy Gunderson awoke but the dream of the couple stuck with her. What had brought them to that point? Why couldn’t they go back? The dream haunted her and as she discussed it with her husband, and she was resolved not to leave them stranded as only a memory of a dream. Their story had to be discovered by and written, and it was up to her to do it.

Becoming an author had never really been on her bucket list. It probably should have been. From a young age, she loved to devour any book she could get her hands on, following in the footsteps of her veterinarian father and artistic mother who both love stories, literature, and poetry. And in her early years taking the provincial exams (something they do in Canada) she had gotten 100% on the writing portion. But despite this, being an author had never crossed her mind, and she was many years removed from that exam.

By now she had graduated in psychology from BYU and lived in the Denver area with her husband and four children. He was a successful optometrist. She had grown increasingly busy as she homeschooled her children, served in time-intensively church callings, and discovered that parenting teenagers brings unique and sometimes intense challenges as they seek to discover who they are. But despite the obvious challenge of, “When could I possibly find time to write?” she continued to feel the need to get this story written. So, she and her husband sat down and figured it out.

WARNING: Husbands may want to prevent your wives from reading past this point. Consider yourself for-warned.

They determined that he could take the kids every night after dinner and allow her to write. And write she did. The story flowed fast and in three weeks she had her first draft complete. This was in January of 2019. From here she quickly moved from writing to learning all she could about the book business. She began submitting her book, and after 20-30 rejections and no replies, an intern at Talcott and Notch replied. They didn’t accept the book, but they gave encouragement. It had potential but needed some significant revision: less passive voice, and don’t say, the character felt happy, just show the reader what happened and let them experience it with the character. If she made these changes she could resubmit, and she did. She reworked the book and got other advise. She got friends and family to read the book, and it didn’t hurt that she happened to marry into a family of grammar aficionados. After reworking the book, Cindy excitedly resubmitted to Talcott and Notch. Unfortunately, Talcott and Notch simply didn’t have time to take on the project but Cindy was not discouraged. She turned to learning about the world of self-publishing. And by September 2019 you could buy Tier 1, the beginning of the story of the couple from her dream. The timing was interesting, it was a dystopian novel that revolved around a pandemic (these were pre COVID days).

One of the points that I find so interesting is how much Cindy credits her success to ignorance. “I am so glad I worked and got it out there. I didn’t know a lot about how things were supposed to be, so I just moved forward, and if I had known everything I know now, I am not sure I would have had the courage needed to move forward and make the mistakes I needed to learn from.”

She was encouraged by positive feedback from those who read it and she quickly had the second book in the series, Tier 2, out by end of 2019. As she approached 2020 she decided she wanted to really see what she could accomplish as a writer. She again sat down with her husband and looked at how could she squeeze every second out of a day. She joined a trampoline park for her kids, and a ninja warrior class. Her husband worked Saturdays and therefore had one day off during the week he could take the kids. All these opportunities found Cindy’s fingers dancing across her laptop’s keyboard. The goal was six books in one year. She preset dates when each would be released and she went to work. Here was Cindy’s 2020 publishing schedule.

Feb. 24th, Tier 3

April 21st, Yes, And

July 14th, I Can’t Remember

October 12th, Let’s Try This Again, But This Time In Paris

November 25th, The Holly Bough Cottage

December 20th, The New Years Party

Not only did this push her in the volume of writing but it also allowed her to try different genres and styles. Each project was unique. Tier 3, made her first complete series. Yes, And, was in women’s fiction, a coming of age novel around an elderly women and millennial and how their lives come together and impact one another (this is her most popular novel). I Can’t Remember, a mystery novel about a women who wakes up everyday not able to remember her past. Let’s Try This Again, But This Time In Paris, was her first try at romance, and I was happy to see a romance about a married couple. Helping to add to the important body of work needed to show that romance should never end with, “I do.” The Holly Bough Cottage, her first collaboration with other authors, this book is part of a series of 13 books, each done by a different author. And lastly, The New Years Party, a book that spans 12 years but covered from the perspective of only one day each year, New years.

Six very different books. And she learned exactly how much she could produce, and that she never wanted to do it again. “It was good to see what I could accomplish but it was not the right balance with my family.” And what genre did she decide fit her best? All of them. “I know the advice is to stick to one genre, but I enjoy doing different things and this keeps me writing. I am hopeful that people will come to appreciate that I have good stories to tell even if they are in different genres.”

Her next project is another science fiction, but Cindy is not one to do something the same way twice so this time she is trying the world of traditional publishing. How did that come about? She attended the 20 Books to 50K conference in Las Vegas, and she volunteered to help out, something she recommended you always do since it gives you a chance to get to know the people on the inside and build much stronger relationships. This time it did pay off. She was assigned to help stream a class being given by Judith Anderle, and her husband Michael Anderle, one of the founders of 20 books to 50K, was there with her. They talked and she got to tell him about her project. He said, “Robin Cutler, the president of my publishing company, LMBPN, is in the next room, why don’t you pitch it to her?” Cindy did, and Robin asked her to send it to her. She sent it that night, and then for months she heard nothing. As usually undiscouraged she moved forward, but then the call came. They had run the book through several groups and the feedback was overwhelmingly positive. She signed a contract and is working now to publish the four book series (the Unreal series) with them.

And then what will she do? I don't know but as long as she doesn't know that she can't, she'll just do it.

Wednesday, May 18, 2022

Perfectly Prolific

 


As I am looking forward to the publishing of my second book, “Of Pigs and Priests,” I wanted to take a little time to get to know other authors and write a little about their author journey. I was able to recently sit down with Britney M. Mills and loved getting to pick her brain about her time as an author.

While I have not gathered the data yet, I am convinced that the majority of successful authors share a few key traits and one of them is being prolific. It is hard to learn about Britney and describe her in any other way. She showed this trait early on when in fourth grade story writing assignment the other kids were concerned about the minimum they had to write she had the opposite problem. She just kept adding to the story, and the teacher finally had to tell her that she did have to wrap it up eventually.

From that very early age she knew writing was going to be a part of her life. The question was, in what way? After high school, she headed for Boston College where she had an athletic scholarship as the pitcher on the soft ball team. She majored in English, but originally considered it the first step in her desired career of lawyer. However, the day she went to take the LSAT she felt a need to head in a different direction and decided to serve a mission for her church, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, in Washington DC.

After getting home she didn’t waste anytime getting real life experience with what would become her chosen genre, romance. She met her husband, started dating him and got engaged all in a four month span. The next few years were full of excitement as she began life with her new little family as they started having kids and moving around. He continued school and ultimately found his career in home building, but she was always thinking of ideas and desired to find a way to write.

She eventually decided to try her hand at fantasy. Her husband had the idea of a book around an academy for knights written from both the perspective of a 12 year old boy and his father. She found a  writing critique group on Facebook. It was a group of five other authors all at various levels, they would each submit a sample every week, read each other’s, and offer critique in their weekly virtual meeting. It was during these meetings that she started to get a feel for writing, crafting a story, and what it takes to get a book to completion. But after 2 and 1/2 years of struggling with the book she was ready to move onto something else. It was while watching a movie version of a Jane Austen book that she decided what that something else would be.

A modern telling of Jane Austen, a series of books starting with many people’s favorite, the matchmaking Emma. But could she do it? She had just given birth to triplets--yes, you read that right, three children, all at the same time. But despite the challenges associated with having three brand new babies added to her load of another child, she enjoyed the release writing brought her, and she took on this new project. Clearly, it was a good fit. She quickly found another critique group on Facebook this time one more focused on clean romance. She also looked into the various options for publishing, ultimately deciding to self-publish her work. This would give her control of the work, but meant she would have to find and pay for an editor and cover design. This was early 2018 and it was 100% complete and available for purchase by later that year.

From then she never looked back. Her second book, Austen Party of Two, the Pride and Prejudice retelling was released a few months later in December 2018. Her third, Austen Unscripted, a retelling of Persuasion in January 2019.

But how does a young mother of 4 (soon to be 5), three of which are triplets find time to write. When asked she credits it to several things. One, she is very consistent about nap time and uses that time wisely. Second, Thursday nights. These are the nights that her husband takes over kid duty and she drives down to his office and focuses for four hours on her writing. Third, writing blitzes, this is focused writing for 15 minute blocks were she can quickly get a significant amount written. She often writes 600-700 words in one blitz. And lastly, those pesky deadlines. She often sets a pre-order date on Amazon, and as it approaches she knows she has to deliver a book by that date. It keeps her moving.

This method is clearly a tried and true method because, since October 2018 when her first book was published she has published an impressive, 23 books. Let me say that one more time. In less than a four year span, she has written and published 23 books. That is about a book every 2 months. (I'd be happy with a book every 2 years).

When asked what is the best book to read first, she says she would recommend her book coming out in June, Matched with her Fake Fiancé. I guess like most authors, we find ourselves in love with our latest creation. The good news is when you go to pick one, because of what Britney has accomplished, you will have a large selection to choose from.

It was great getting to know Britney and if you would like to learn more about her or check out her books you can check out her webpage: https://britneymmills.com/


 

 

 

 

Friday, March 18, 2022

Two Worlds, Two Miles Apart





Westin Hills in Palm Springs is the perfect resort in March, even if you don’t golf. The pools, sunshine, water falls, the Ranch style architecture and perfectly kept grounds all to be enjoyed at 70-80 degrees make for a relaxing escape. I had just finished enjoying a reception talking with colleagues about the conference from today. There was an open bar, where I discovered that you can ask for a virgin Madras and you get a delicious concoction (it’s just orange juice and cranberry juice mixed). While we talked and drank, waiters walked the room with trays of pitas with hummus, fried cheese and dip, little quesadillas, coconut shrimp and crab cakes. But as the night was drawing to a close, I had a mission.


I dropped off my bag in my room and started out on foot. I had looked online for the nearest fast food. It was about 2.5 miles away near the highway. I wasn’t after a burger and fries, but I figured if there was fast food there might be homeless nearby. The area around the resort was clearly not walking friendly, they had no sidewalk coming to or leaving the resort. They only designed access by car. Google directions for walking the 2.5 miles took me around a long loop making it 4 miles away. I took a more direct route, but that led to walking along a busy road through basically sand dunes, and a portion through open desert. 



Once I got to where the train tracks and highway met I knew I was close, in fact as I looked down onto the tracks I noticed footprints in the sand along the embankment and knew there was likely a homeless camp in a nearby clump of bushes.



It was nearly 8 PM and it had been dark for sometime. People who are homeless tend to follow the light and I worried it would be too late to catch anyone out and about. I crossed over the tracks but just as I did I saw a man running up the other side of the embankment with a bike. 




It’s always hard to say for certain if someone is homeless or not. This man looked homeless in many ways, but he lacked a common accessory of the homeless, the large bag of stuff, instead only carrying in a small camelbak. “Excuse me sir, where do homeless people hang out around here?”


“All over. You get some down over at the In and Out or by the Traveling J. Why?” 


“I’m from out of town and just looking to take someone out to dinner.”


“I live down by the tracks and I like to call my little place a home, but do I count?”


“You hungry?”


“Always.”


We make our way to Inn and Out and slowly through bits and pieces of conversation I begin to learn about Jeff’s life.

He was raised by his grandmother in Palm Springs. He always struggled with school and by 18 he was forced fully into adulthood when his girlfriend had a baby girl, Abreea. “I wasn’t ready to be a father, I’m probably still not. I mean I paid the bills but I realize now that wasn’t nearly enough.” To pay the bills he had several jobs over the years, spent some time in Alaska on fishing boats, worked construction, and power washing driveways and pools. But every cent that didn’t go to rent or food followed him to the bar, and by the time Abreea was seven, his girlfriend took her and left. This only continued Jeff’s spiral, “I was drinking a large bottle of vodka a day, I was so used to alcohol I couldn’t function without it. Whenever I tried to slow down on alcohol I only replaced it with Cocaine or Heroin. Addiction runs in my family, my father died of a heroin overdose.” When his girlfriend took his daughter and left, it only led him to increase his downward spiral.


Despite his heavy drug use, he soon started a new family and had two sons, but this did nothing to change the direction his life had taken. “I remember in 2007 driving down the highway. I had a little Honda and just not wanting to live anymore. I was high but I still remember it clearly, and remember being aware of what I was doing. I sped up to over 100 miles per hour in the slow lane and then just cranked the wheel and drove full speed into the barrier to end it all. Clearly I survived.” But not unscathed, he was left with a titanium hip and many broken bones and scars. 


This was also the end of his new family as again his partner left with his sons. “I deserved it, I never treated them right.” But despite this, in a few years he had another partner. “She had a daughter and I always treated her like my own. She was with me for 10 years, the longest I had been together with anyone, but I again got into alcohol and I mistreated her just like I had so many others. I checked into a rehab clinic about 4 years ago, but it was too late, she left me.”


“So, have you been able to keep clean after rehab?” I ask.


“Not at all, I have since gotten into meth. And it’s hard to hold a job. After a 2014 DUI I never got my license again, and I have a hard time driving after the accident anyways.”


“Do you keep in touch with any of your family?”


“Not really, the boys are in Orange county but won’t really talk to me. Abreea has done well; she is a dental hygienist and married a guy in the military. She is the first one to go to any college in our family and I am so proud of her. I gave her such a hard life and she has done so well. I think of her everyday, and still use her birthday for passwords, but she’s upset with me over some facebook thing and won’t talk to me.”


We enjoy our burger and fries and then we separate back to our separate worlds. He goes to a world where he has lost all his family and sleeps down by the railroad tracks.


I head back to my exotic resort, with palm trees, soon to call and talk to the wife and children I love who anxiously await my return in a few days.



In 4 Nephi we get a description of the people that lived in America at that time: “And they had all things common among them; therefore there were not rich and poor, bond and free, but they were all made free, and partakers of the heavenly gift…And there were no envyings, nor strifes, nor tumults, nor whoredoms, nor lyings, nor murders, nor any manner of lasciviousness…neither were there Lamenites, nor any manner of -ites; but they were in one the children of Christ, and heirs to the kingdom of God.”


I know that Jeff would be the first to admit that he has some things to change before we get there, but as I sit here the next morning typing this on the veranda I wonder what about me and the people like me. Those of us who have the money, the power and ability to set the rules. What do we need to change?


Thursday, September 23, 2021

Politically Purpule


Stirring thoughts at times deprive me of sleep. They demand to be freed from my head to the page.

The more I read about and get involved in politics the more I find myself politically purple. What is politically purple? Since, I am so for it, I thought I better define it. Does it mean I sit in the middle on most issues? No. On several issues many would call me ultra-conservative. On some they might call me ultra-liberal, and on some I am truly in the middle. But if being politically purple is not defined by being middle ground what is it? 

Does it mean I think a third party is the way to recapture our country? No. I am not opposed to the a third party but the structure of our country makes it very difficult for  third party to suceed. In fact, I think that is the smartest choice Donald Trump ever made was the decision to go after power through a major party. It was clear he could care less which party he used to gain power. He bounced around from between democrat and republican based on which he thought was the best to get him the connections he wanted to advance his career. He tried the third party thing, but in the end he realized our system would only allow him to rise in a major party. He was right, but I digress. So again if it's not the advocating of a third party what is it? That is what I will seek to define in the rest of this article.

Politically purple is a belief that there is more that unites us then divides us. That as much as Fox News trys to paint democrats as crazy left wing nut cases, and MSNBC trys to paint republicans as racist, homophobic rednecks the truth is we would do well to spend our time understanding and getting to know the other side, not belittling them. In doing so we would discover we connect and have much in common with those we thought we could never understand.

Politically purple is a belief that if politicians only worked on things where there was strong majority and support they would have plenty to do. This is an extension of the first idea. If there is more that unites than divides us then there should be significant amount of work in the areas we can agree on. The problem is we waste most of our time focusing on the small ways we disagree. Let's take a specific example, how about one of the hottest topic issues we deal with--abortion.

Abortion is one area where people would consider me conservative. I belive life begins at conception. I belive it is a horrible thing to kill life. I do support exceptions for rape and life of the mother, but in the case of rape I would still promote adoption over abortion. But forget what I think. What do we debate endlessly on? What is our focus? Pro-life vs. Pro-choice. End Roe vs. Wade or enshrine it. If you look on this issue in simple terms we do look like a divided nation. I have seen polls on this and they vary slightly as all polls do, but gallop shows the most recent poll as 48% Pro choice, 46% Pro life, basically split within the margin of error. And it's been that way for a long time, with it flucuating back and forth as to one being a few points over the other. 

But again, my belief is there is more that unites than divides us, and that if politicians only focused on things we strongly agree with they would have plenty to do. So how does that work with abortion. A strong majority of Americans are apposed to late term abortions. A strong majortiy are supportive of early term (first trimester abortion). And what about the most viable option outside of abortion--adoption? How much time has Fox News, MSNBC or any of our politicians focused on that? Very little and yet we all agree, democrats and republicans that adoption is a good, viable alternative. So why not focus on laws that make adoption easier for both adopting families and mothers who are not in a position to raise a child? I can tell you there is alot of work to be done in this area. So let's focus on where we agree rather then focus on where we disagree. I would much rather we improve our adoption system and work to convince mothers with unwanted pregnancy to adopt rather than spend all our energy and attention trying to force a legal change that will simply anger much of our country. 

Not only that do we really want laws to change against the rest of Americas will? Take early term abortion. Do I belive they should be illegal under most circumstances? Yes. But a strong majority of Americans disagree with me. Rather then try to force laws that they disagree with we need to work on convincing them. Because if we don't we it is only a matter of time before it changes back.  

Politically purple is a desire to follow open and honest debate with a deep respect for those that disagree with us. I know smart, talented, hardworking individuals who are passionate liberals, and I know smart, talented, hardworking individuals who are equally passionate conservatives.  Good ideas and really bad ones come from both sides of the isle. I think the biggest crutch our democracy has is not a lack of ideas or ways to move in a positive direction but an inability for those ideas to surface because we stifal honest debate with the need to always be right. Rather than understand why someone disagrees with our position on guns, immigration, or same gender bathrooms, it's much more entertaining to call them names, belittle their views and prop up why our way is best. Not only that politicians have learned that open and honest debate where you recongnize the value in the other sides argument is not a good way to connect with the base. It doesn't help that news organizations have figured out that finding ways to belittle the other side is really good for business. If we want to be politically purple and encourage open and honest debate we have to begin to reject those who fight hardest against it and I would put Fox News, MSNBC, and CNN at the top of the list.

Politically purple includes a willingness to work with the other side and find compromises and paths forward even when it means the other side gets a political win. Both parties are equally guilty of the game of stifiling good ideas in order to win a leg up at the next election. I choose to focus on republicans on this one because it comes to mind right now. Soon our congress will debate on raising the debt ceiling. If a straight up or down vote were held on the debt ceiling it would pass on party lines, democrats for and republicans against. Perhaps at first glance this might make sense. After all republicans generally say they are for less government spending (and that's very true, except when they are in power). But let's be honest, the debt ceiling is to pay for programs that congress has already passed. The majority of recent debt issues are to pay for programs that Trump and republicans passed. And the republicans had no issues raising the debt ceiling or increasing spending while Trump was in office. But now they oppose paying the bills that they voted for. But even if republicans are opposed to this why don't democrats just go to a strainght up or down vote? This is an area that can be covered under reoncilliation (simply meaning they don't need a 60 vote majority in the senate). They don't want to go on record as voting simply to raise the debt with out getting it tied to other things that republicans would look bad for not voting for. They know if they go it alone republicans will use it as a talking point (a misleading one) on commercials in the midterms. Well they want there own misleading talking point to hit back with. So, we might defalut on the payment obligations we committed to because both parties hope to get the upper hand at election time.  

Politically purple is willing to go against your own party when you feel it is the right thing to do. My favorite politicians are Susan Collins, Joe Manchin, Rand Paul, Krysten Sinema and Mitt Romney. Do I agree with them more than anyone else? No. But they are willing to buck their party when they feel it is right to do so. We need that kind of courage, and doing so doesn't generally pay. Many senators who do this we punish rather than praise. Mitt Romney is a good example. Who serves the people of Utah better Mitt Romney or Mike Lee? Without hesitation many would assume Mike Lee, and arguments can be made for both. But if you go simply by amount of Utahns that approve of the job they are doing Mitt Romeny is more popular. What? How can that be. Half of Utah hates the mans guts. Well, that is not true, about half of Utah's republicans hate the mans guts. And if you say who serves Utah republicans better, Mike Lee is the run away favorite. But you aren't elected to only represent your party (although most politicians have forgotten this). Mitt Romney has pockets of republicans that like him, and is overwelming popular among Utah democrats so his overall approval rating is higher. But if the election were held tomorrow he would loose, not in a general, I think he'd win in a general election but never get there because he'd loose in a primary. Republicans would thrown him out, why? mostly because he voted to impeach Trump. Did I agree with him, no. But I deeply respect him for doing it when he knew it would put a target on his back within his own party.

Politically purple includes a willingness to allow the people's chosen people to lead. Nothing is more vouge than political recalls and calling for your political opponent to resign after they have won an election. It can because of something they said yesterday, last year, or 20 years ago. Maybe because of one vote you disagree with or because you don't like them. But the fact is they were elected, let them do their job. If you don't like them, don't vote for them next time. The most recent recall debaucle was against Governor Gavin Newsom. Would I vote for Gavin Newsom? No. But the majority of Californians did, so let him govern. They voted for him to be their governor for 4 years. Let him do his job. The recall was, like almost most recalls, a total waste of time, effort and money. 

Politically purple includes offereing grace to others especially our enimies. This goes hand in hand with the last point. We all say stupid things, at least I do. When our enimies say stupid things or even do them, do we allow them grace or do we use it to jump down their throat, play it on repeat over and over again, use it to score political points or drive up the base and if we are the media to drive up our ratings?

Are you politically purple? I would encourage you to embrace it if you have not. Will it ever be a popular movement? I don't know, but one of the beutiful things about being politically purple is that it can bring you peace in a political world that rarely offers it. I don't mean to say I never have frustration or sorrow over our system, clearly you get the sense that I am disappointed in much of what goes on in politics, but I am rarely angered or aggitated by something that comes from the supreme court, politicians or policies. It has allowed me to see both sides value and be at peace with the outcome and that is a nice place to be.

Saturday, June 5, 2021

Traveling the World in Search of...




Noelle Poulson

There aren’t too many bucket lists that don’t include in some form or another the line, “world travel.”

But some of us have been more successful at others in crossing that off the list. Noelle and I used to spend afternoons together working on Calculus homework, but no sooner had she finished that than she, her father, and mother packed up and took a year to travel Europe. What leads a family to pack up and head to Europe? “My dad was a stockbroker and he was ready for a break. Kind of a mid-life crisis.” She recalls.

They didn’t just see the tourist sites but she learned how to live in a different country. “We would find a place to live for a month or two and get to know the area. We did go into the big cities but also did the day-to-day groceries and really lived there.” She covered French, her dad German and Spanish and her mother Italian, so they had the bases covered.

After a year of travel, it was back to school, and following in the footsteps of her father she decided to go into finance and graduated with her bachelor’s from the University of Utah. Her dream was simple, help those who didn’t have the finance education or access to it understand fiance so it could work for them, instead of against them. Her particular focus was the desire to help refugees. But upon graduation, she found that there wasn’t much desire for companies to help such individuals. “I got a job at Fidelity and as most started as a stockbroker.” Helping the rich get richer was not her idea of a dream job, and she was pleased when she was able to move over to helping people and small businesses with retirement plans. “It was nice to really help people with retirement advice but it had similar problems, they didn’t want you to spend your time with people unless they had a decent amount in accounts with us. So the single mom with only a few thousand didn’t get the one-on-one help she really needed.”

Noelle realized that if she was ever going to help the people she wanted to help she needed to change gears a bit, and she always felt a special connection to London. She decided to fulfill both passions and began to pursue a degree in international relations at Webster University. She loved London, but graduation brought a problem, without school to go to she couldn’t keep her visa.

She decided to take some time off and traveled to Thailand and Asia. There while hiking in the Himalayas she met a kind Brit who hiked with her, Chris.


Noelle at Annapurna (the Himalayas for less worlded traveled like me)


Noelle Hiking in Manang, Nephal

He too was a world traveler and was currently working as an English teacher in the Middle East. They parted as friends and Noelle went back to America. But she no sooner landed than she felt London pulling her back. “It’s more than just the history. The city is alive, you can fill it in the streets. It is its own organism. And I love it.” She states. And you can tell, she has truly become British, throughout the interview she speaks of her internet being “rubish” and about when they go on “holiday”. The problem was how to get the Visa to get in. She looked into it and the best way was an entrepreneurial visa. So she started a business in London.

Noelle at the River Thames (not the Thames River)

Now in our world of crazy tech startups, I have heard of some crazy businesses. But taking people to see sights of London sounds fairly normal until you learn the details. She wasn’t taking tourists to see the place William the Conquer learned how to use a toothbrush. No, this was locals, to find places to hang out. Like a very personal yelp. “People take go front their home to work and make the same stops every day and they may not realize they pass by a really cool speakeasy type pub only a few blocks from work.” And they paid her to find these. She admits she wasn’t getting rich, but she had enough to survive and enjoyed being in London. During this time she kept a blog, where she walked every street in London and wrote about he experience. She was on TV and interviewed by BBC, here is a great article about it. She really grew to know the city she loved in a way few if any can say they have.

Noelle in a small London Street

The biggest change was Chris came back home to London to visit and their friendship turned into more. And they decided that life together was the right thing, even though that meant she would need to leave her precious London and move to Oman in the Middle East. Oman was a new adventure but not exactly the freedoms and culture of London. But it was here Noelle found a new passion, Scuba Diving. And with it a new dream, for her and Chris to start a small dive shop.

Noelle diving in Timor

This dream sent them in search of a perfect dive location. They found some great ones. But one grabbed their attention, a small and fairly new country Timor-Limor. They looked into it and they were planning to do it when they happened to see a job for an English teacher that matched up with Chris’s skills. He got the job and they moved, and have been there on and off ever since.

However, the dive shop hasn’t happened. But her desire to help and find a way to contribute in a positive way has not changed and in Timor, there has been some opportunity. She was approached by NGOs to do some work for them. She took the job and has begun to do work for Oxfam and others. In a country where most people sustain themselves on small farms, there is a lot of need for investment money in infrastructure and other areas. However, in this, she has seen both the good and the bad. “Organizations want the big name projects they can send out to donors but not always what is needed or wanted. They fight over things like whose flag lines up where or who gets their name first on a program.” She mentions several examples. There is a need for irrigation projects but small sustainable ones. That is what the farmers want, but big organizations with donors are included to look to a large dam for a solution (hey I get this, who doesn’t love dams!). It a big project, with lots of spotlights but would it help? Could the farmers even afford to maintain it?

Another great example is the trash in Timor. People place all their trash into large concrete containers on the street. An organization came in and built beautiful new concrete boxes designed to allow for the separation of trash for recycling throughout one of the cities. It made great social media posts, the problem? They have no recycling program or place to send it so there are zero actual benefits.

And it’s not just in getting the right programs. Noelle has seen the unintended consequences of organizations' involvement. When Timor-Leste joined the United Nations in 2002 this fairly new country got a huge influx of cash and projects going to it. That sounds like a really good thing but it had its downsides. UN sent in a lot of staff, that staff had higher wages and with it per diem. That meant that they got their housing reimbursed and the amount they could afford to pay for rent was several times higher than rents on Timor-Leste. As they came landlords realized they could charge much more and get it because the UN was around. Rents skyrocketed and pushed forced many locals out, into worse living conditions, or left them with no money after rent was paid.

But all is not bad, “There are some really good dedicated employees working on some projects that will really help the people of Timor-Leste.” Noelle notes. And she clearly sees value in what she and her husband do as they continue to live and work in Timor-Leste.

As I interview Noelle I can’t help but take away two lessons. Life is complex. We often see life in Cliche’s but so few lives fit one cliche or another. I ask her if she ever would write about the people she has met in Timor-Leste. “People tend to think of people hear as one of two extremes. They see them as living impoverished incredibly sad lives, or they see them as living romantically simple lives. While that is somewhat true it is much more wrong. And it is difficult to convey the complexities of what is going on.” She also notes it is a very small nation and she isn’t sure how people would take her writing about them, but there is no doubt it would be incredibly interesting.

She notes a similar complexity in the life she has lived. “When I speak to some people they sound almost jealous of my life, going from country to country and having very diverse experiences. I see it as that I have had a life with significant breadth, but not so much depth. Many people build a strong community around them and stay put in one place for a long time and they get depth in that community. There is value in that, and sometimes I wish I had it.” I appreciate this insight and realize we all balance depth and breadth of experience.

But the last lesson I take away is the freedom many in my generation have to live a life for a cause. Not that those who went before us lived meaningless lives but historically most people have had to take what jobs they could get to put food on the table. Increasingly, we as a society have enough free time and wealth that we have more flexibility in our profession. Many, like Noelle, have used this to try to help the world be a better place. But even when our intentions are the best, it isn’t always easy. When you really peel back the curtain, helping a good cause is a complex thing. Corruption, human jealousies and imperfections, and so many other limitations flood into the world of non-profits, just like they do in the world of profits. That isn’t to say it isn’t worth it. It just means that like most worthwhile things in our lives it isn’t easy.

I wish Noelle and everyone who continues to try to improve this complex world we live in the best. The more people who are willing to dedicate themselves to trying to improve rather than tear down the better this world will be. And while Noelle may do it through non-profits and NGOs, I’m secretly holding out hope she gets to do it by owning that little dive shop.

Doing a cartwheel at the Taj Mahal...doesn't everybody?

Thanks, Noelle for the chance to interview her. If you liked my writing please check out my other blog posts or you can really make me happy and purchase my book. Amazon link.