Thursday, April 20, 2017


Streaks of green cover the canvas in a giant mess of clever finger-paints; I stare intently at it, giving it my full attention. I see leaves, I see water. I see a bridge. But it isn’t really a bridge, and it’s not really water, it’s paint, it’s emotion, it’s time. Maybe Monet calls himself an impressionist, as they say, because every toll his paintbrush took on the canvas was his impression of the current moment, a color change or movement. But maybe he took upon himself that name to prove a point or to impress his audience. The emotions he invoked with his seemingly insignificant streaks made a lasting impression.
At five, I started piano. I plunked out the keys of “Mary Had a Little Lamb,” and begged my mother for a real teacher. One key at a time, she taught me the names and sounds of the notes, the rhythms they could make, and how hard to press them. My skinny fingers seemed so small on the keys and I could never reach an octave. That was seemingly the pinnacle of my existence at the time: to reach an octave. I stretched my fingers for hours, watching as my skin between my forefinger and thumb webbed out further and further. I only dreamed of reaching an octave. My fingers only really reached over five notes.
I started on the black keys; I wasn’t allowed near the beautiful, fat, white keys. I felt I needed to play these keys, these clean, untouched keys, but I complied with the will of my teacher and stayed on the skinny blacks. I still remember the song I played on those blacks: Floating in the wa—ter, tender and sere—ne, such a touch of co—lor, in a sea of green. Water lilies quickly became my favorite place to play. It made me feel calm, and I kept playing it even when I graduated to the white keys. I can still play it today.
The first time I saw Monet’s “Water Lily Pond,” was in my third grade art class. I stared at the all-green painting while Mrs. Forbes explained to us the technique. The whole painting was constructed of tiny paint streaks—that if we got close enough to the painting, we would be able to see every tiny brush stroke. She said that he, Monet, didn’t use outlines. I wasn’t sure if I really understood what that meant, but it seemed hard. I loved the painting. I had already been obsessed with water lilies since I played my song on the piano, and loved their pink petals and their strange way of growing on top of the water. I pictured little frogs jumping on them, like in the cartoons. Mrs. Forbes explained to us that today was the day that we got to try our hand at impressionism, and that we were to copy Monet’s painting.
I spent that whole class hour and the next painting my tiny streaks. Of course, streaks can only be so tiny when you’re eight and you’re only working with a 8.5x11 paper and a relatively large paintbrush, but I was mesmerized by the different blues and greens. I still have the painting today, and, strangely enough, it isn’t quite as good as I saw it when I painted it. It looks nothing like Monet’s painting, and frankly, I didn’t remember what Monet’s painting actually looked like for years. I only pictured the deep teal of my third-grade painting, pink flowers, and little streaks. It made me feel something that stuck with me, my mind fixated on beauty from small things. This obsession never left me.
All I know is that beauty has always been something captivating to me, something that made me feel and love like nothing else. Each little ridge on the mountainside, the colors in a post-communist village, or even the little lines on my hands have always amazed me. I’m not trying to stand cheesy—I’m sitting here writing this and thinking that this is probably a bad idea for an essay. Usually I write about things that I’m sad about, writing in a frenzy of anxiety and depression. Whenever I try to write about beautiful things, my words never seem to match that beauty. I’m not trying to say that words aren’t beautiful; I get equally as emotional when I read poetry that somehow pieces words together in the most enticing way. But when we got this assignment to write about art, I didn’t know how I would do it. I just can’t explain how I feel when I see art. My mind is art, my thoughts are streaks, filling my life with color and with beauty. Things like words and music paint pictures in my mind, and are always correlated with art. When I hear Debussy I see Monet, and when I read things like George Orwell I can’t stop from seeing cubists who used perfect shapes to create imperfect situations. I can’t write about it and I don’t know why. Monet plays with my emotions, moving me into a deep sea of sadness or calm. It’s never excitement with Monet, but it’s appreciation and a kind of awe that I can’t describe. He can paint thirty minutes of sunlight onto one canvas and it’s overwhelming.
When our professor pulled Monet’s paintings up for us in class, my chest tightened and my stomach flew up into my throat. My eyes couldn’t open enough to take it all in, and he went through the slides too quickly. Every painting appealed to my senses in a different way. He never showed “Water Lily Pond.” I waited impatiently for the bridge to finally appear on the screen, to see that image that had stayed in my mind for so long, but he never did. Confused, I wondered why he wouldn’t show the painting that I assumed was the most popular from Monet. I fell in love with so many others—the London fog series, “Impression Sunrise,” and eventually, with Monet himself. Walking out of class, I googled the water lily painting. It was nothing like I imagined it.

Monday, January 23, 2017


traffic with no signals,
rushing, crashing, slowing,
never coming to a stop but
never quite finding the right intersection.

Turn! the GPS commands,
stop! calls your backseat driver,
but you can't,
because your foot is tied to the pedal,
and your hands are heavy on the wheel

give a little; take a little,
that's what you hear,
but how much can you take
when you've given all you have

hiding has never been easy for me
I'm too big, too loud, too silly,
and I'm here, trying to hide behind the door,
but you can see my foot and
You've caught me.

Apologies, curses,
you're reading in front of the class,
and you've stopped suddenly,
eyes burning into you,
asking questions without words

and its tumbling further away
and you're eating more than you can hold,
holding more than you can handle,
handling more than you are allowed
Allowing more than they told you to

The end.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

I'm a cashier

The dashboard display reads 8:59 but the clock runs four minutes fast so I sit and listen to Debussy again. When it hits 9:03, I turn the key and smile resentfully in the side mirror, swing the car door open, and grab my lunch from the back seat.

It’s been three weeks and my blue apron already has a stain. The beet stew I ate on break left a purple blotch that never washed out. A little magnetic nametag flashes my identity at everyone who walks in. “Hi, welcome to Deseret Book. What brings you in today?” Some people say “good” and walk aimlessly, eyes searching the ceiling. Others charge at me like mosquitos on a damp, mid-summer night in Illinois. “Do you have scriptures here?” “Where are the white shoes?”  “I’m looking for my mother-in-law. Have you seen her?” Sometimes elderly people wander in, using all their strength to swing open the metal doors. Those metal doors. Once, a woman in a wheelchair yelled at me about how we should really consider investing in automatic ones. Last week I held it open for an old man carrying a cane. “Why, isn’t that a pretty face,” he says. His nose is an inch from mine. “I may be old, but I know a pretty face when I see one. You know, I have 18 grandsons.” He will wander around the store like the others, searching for another sale or clearance item to spend money on.

He’ll always find them. The sales and the clearances—we have them, they bring the people in by the hundreds, because wow, what a great deal. The newspapers print them and people come in with precious ads in their hands saying, “Yeah, look, I have ten dollars off,” and I have to explain that it only applies on purchases over $50, and only on this half of the store, and I wish I could change it but I can’t. I follow them to the register, mercilessly scan the items, $14.95, $.95, $8.40, and watch their feet tap impatiently as if to say, hey, faster, just do it fast so I don’t have to feel guilty. Sometimes I look to see if the faster I go the less wrinkled their faces get. Sometimes I want to ask, “Hey, why are you buying this $380 painting when it is just going to make you upset?”

The painting is of Jesus Christ, so I rationalize that it is an important purchase. It is worth $380. It should be worth more than that. I’ll hold a little mental contest—which customer has the greatest relationship with God? Certainly, the man who spent his paycheck on the full-length painting of Christ in an altar-looking frame wins. He spent $4012.89, and that dwarfs the $380 that last guy spent. I guess these could also be the people who don’t know Him at all. Those who can’t place His face in their mind, so they have to rely on an artist’s rendition. As if the artist had seen Him.
Some people ration that money can buy joy. They think it will make them happy. More often they think the things they purchase will make others love them. I’ve heard many times that it is a last gift for their hospitalized grandmother, and that it will grant her another smile before she dies. Some buy them for funeral displays.

I haven’t seen anyone die. I’ve been to a couple funerals. My great-grandmother died when I was 7. I didn’t know much about her, only that grandma loved her, and that she made porcelain dolls. Her dolls were the kind that made everyone say, “oh, what beautiful talent.” I never understood why the little red lips on the dancing ballerinas or the rosy cheeks on the little glass girls were special. People spent hundreds of dollars on those dolls. When she died, she left them all in her dusty little rambler home. She didn’t take any of them with her. They put her in a box and painted her lips just like she painted the lips of those dolls. I looked at her the same way I looked at her dolls.. I could see my own reflection in the window above her. She looked so much more content than I did. After the funeral, my mom gave me a little porcelain baby doll, unfinished. Mom cautioned me not to move the limbs because they were never secured. It sat upright, with little painted curls and a pink nightgown. It was me. Great-grandmother was making me, and she died. She never finished making my doll.

So, I’m scanning the items and watching the total price go up and their eyes getting wider and the husbands calling their wives to make sure it’s really what she wants, and I have to ask them if they want a membership for 10% off, which they do, because they want 10% off. It charges them $25, so it’s usually more expensive than it was before, and I can tell they are a little stressed but they reason that it is fine because they got 10% off. I sometimes wish I could reach out and give them a hug, and tell them about my grandma, and say that hey, they can’t take any of this stuff with them anyway, and it will all be alright in the end. But I don’t.  I just smile like nothing has happened and tell them to “have a great day.” My inside is screaming, “Hey, man, sorry I just ruined your day for charging you $500 for that copper pitcher over there and a few books, hope you don’t have any regrets or anything, but please don’t get upset at me, I’m just the cashier! Have a great day! I sincerely hope it gets better!”

Then I’m thinking about gifts, and about why we give them, and about my little brother on his birthday. He’s three. He was so happy to open a box. His little fingers tear the colored paper away to reveal a cardboard box, and he screams “A BOX!!!” like he has just inherited 4 million dollars. It doesn’t matter to him that there is a robot giraffe inside the box. My parents are bent over in humiliation, thinking, We should have just gotten him the box. Why did we spend $50 on the robot giraffe? We could have just gotten him the box.  And in the end the giraffe just ends up in one of the plastic bins with a hundred other broken toys and the dear box is recycled by a mother who insists that “there is too much junk in this house!”

That’s my mom, for sure. She always talks about all the junk in the house, saying that “isn’t it time we looked for a new house,” and “I can’t believe we still haven’t cleaned out the garage.” She comes home, arms full of huge quantities of chicken fingers and boxes of Kool-Aid mix from Costco, opens the fridge and says, “There isn’t enough room in here. We need to throw out some of these leftovers.”

So, I spoon the leftovers into a bowl to take outside to the chickens.

We bought those chickens so we didn’t have to buy eggs and so that they could eat our leftover food. We started with 36 chickens, and they started laying all at the same time, so that we were getting about 28 eggs a day, and that’s 196 eggs a week. So my mom decided that we had too many eggs and she started to make eggs every morning and give them away to the neighbors. Chicken feed was expensive, so we started charging the neighbors for the eggs, (probably 50 cents cheaper than the grocery store), so naturally they all started buying eggs from us. Then we had so many people buying eggs from us that we had to buy our own eggs from the store again because Mom was too kind to tell people we couldn’t sell them anymore. So we were buying feed and eggs and getting a small income, when the foxes broke into the chicken pen and there was blood and chicken heads everywhere and 32 chicken corpses in the freshly fallen snow and my mom just said, “I’m done,” so then we just had four hens. And just last week some sort of rodent animal got in and took the head off of the last white hen. So now we have three.  They still eat our leftover food but we don’t sell the eggs and we still buy feed and we also have to buy eggs from the store. Sometimes when you want to save money you just end up spending more.

Maybe it’s a culture thing.

I live in a wealthy area. It’s a religious area. Everyone goes to church on Sunday and the kids all attend primary and seminary and graduate and leave on church missions. Many people reason that God blesses us with what we have. I reason that what we have blesses us with more. If you have enough money to put your kid in a private basketball camp when he’s three, he’s going to go places. You’re privileged. Girls whose parents buy them clothes from JCrew and Anthropology are going to look good and get married or land successful jobs. School is paid for. You don’t have to work through high school or college. You’re advantaged. I’m confused when people give credit to God for this and not their own parents. Yes, He probably played a part somewhere down the line, but what did you do? You were born.

Maybe that’s why working at the church-owned bookstore and distribution center is confusing. Are we a God-loving people? Do we have “no other gods before [Him]?” When we buy a $4000 painting of Christ, are we worshipping Christ or the painting? There is a thin line between a reminder and an idol. Isn’t that what happened to the Catholics and the Buddhists? God started as a person—a real, living, breathing person with power and love and goodness. Now He’s just gold paint on elaborate wood carvings and jade statues on your living room mantelpiece.

“I just want a book for my son on a mission. He’s in Germany. He just broke both his arms.” The woman is large, and she has a necklace on that says “I Love My Missionary!” I finger through the missionary books and eventually come up with about three options for her and leave her to look through them to decide. She buys all three. I walk around and there are so many things that I would like. I just got paid so it seems like it would be fine to buy this little blue journal and a brownie for just a few dollars. I deserve it anyway, my shift is so long, and it’s not expensive. I take it up to the register when my shift ends and it turns out to be more like $15, which is pretty disappointing, but it’s a cute journal. I drive home and the display reads 3:26, and I realize I already have a blue journal at home. And I forgot to clock out.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

beluga whales

Stuck never meant dead until now. You know, in the United States they tell you, we’re free, we’re free, that man that died for you, remember him? He made you free. What does that mean? Sometimes it will be days before I will actually feel some sort of release. I think about it, and I say, well, that’s the way it is. It’s okay to do homework mindlessly all day. It’s fine if you don’t tell your parents how you really feel about dinner. It’s a lot easier to tell your friend what she wants to hear instead of what she needs to. The road of least resistance is a mind-numbing ride that you’re buckled into and they won’t let you off.

I was reading through some of my old social media posts and thinking about whales. I have a friend who is terrified of whales. She’s from California—Bay Area—and once in elementary school they rounded up all the kids and said, okay kids, we are going on an adventure! An educational adventure! They piled up all the kids on one of those long, flat raft boats and took them out onto the ocean, the great mysterious. They said, okay kids, look out there and see if you can see any whales. They strained their little pupils until they couldn’t see anything but the fog and after an hour they were going to call it quits when all of a sudden everything got real quiet. The water around their little raft got dark, and the heads of the kids whipped around and they saw a tail bigger than their yellow school bus flip out of the water directly behind their boat with a splash, sending them careening on a huge wave. Everything was fine. My friend, she has what she calls an irrational fear of whales. I’d say it’s pretty rational.

When I was in elementary school I didn’t like animals much. My brother, though, he loved them, so we were constantly watching crocodile hunter, Big Steve Irwin, and Jeff Corwin. One time my brother did a report on an endangered species, and he chose the beluga whale. Their white bodies looked like those cheese sticks you get in sack lunches as a kid, and they were just so weird looking, I related with them. You know they call that bump on their head a melon? How degrading. Science calls it a fact. It contains this fatty tissue, and is malleable, and all round and helps with something called echolocation. Dolphins and bats use that too, you know, but they don’t have to walk around being called a melon head. I felt like I understood. Sometimes I have a melon head and I have to stare at it in the mirror and everyone tells me that I was born this way and that I can’t change it because of science, but it still sucks that everyone has to call it a melon head.

Some people say the beluga whale is beautiful. I saw one once, in captivity. I stared at its naked body. It looked so isolated, in its tank all alone. The manatees, you know, they had friends. The walrus was entertaining all the visitors by vomiting on the glass they were looking into. The killer whales were doing all these special tricks with the trainers, causing all sorts of animal-lover riots and animal-hater entertainment, and the beluga whale just floated around. They travel in pods, the belugas. They travel with the whole extended family! Mom, dad, crazy Aunt Mary. What happened to this poor guy sitting in this tank by himself? I imagine he was trapped. Trapped by something, or someone he didn’t recognize, and saved by some well-to-do money making human.

I guess it could have been the other way around. Maybe his pod got stuck. Beluga whales hang out in the icy areas, up by Russia and Canada, the Arctic, where nobody really likes to go much. The ice sometimes gets a little out of hand and sometimes they get stuck under it. They have this thing where they can dive for 25 minutes—25 minutes! A half hour later they pop back up, like hey, I’ve been under here for quite some time now and I came back up for some oxygen before I passed out! Then imagine the day when you come back up for air and there is nothing but a huge, thick sheet of ice the same color as your skin and you hit against it but it hurts the melon on your head and you can’t breathe and then you’re gone, subject to the next polar bear or killer whale that comes along, an easier prey. I think that’s what happened to me. Maybe my pod got lost. Or maybe I never had one to begin with.

I had this piano teacher in kindergarten. She was a typical really nice old lady and lived just down the street from my elementary school in a two-story light pink house. I walked over there instead of taking the bus on Wednesdays for my lesson. One day I knocked on the door and she wasn’t home. Just her adolesent son. So he sat me down on the couch and told me to wait. I waited the whole 45 minutes and thought my mom wasn’t going to come and that she and my piano teacher had forgotten about me entirely and I was terrified of the boy in the room downstairs. When my mom came back to get me, I ran crying into her arms. I never went back. I guess I’m scared of pods. I might be scared of attachment.

The thing is, belugas don’t really stay in pods for very long. They move around. They are like the social butterflies of the whale world. They only really find a mate they want to be with about every twenty years, which is a lot since they only live to be about thirty years old. That’s once in a lifetime when two whales find each other and say, hey, I like you better than most of the other whales. Let’s have a kid. And then a year later they switch to another pod. Maybe it’s like Instagram. Maybe they would rather have 12K followers than just 12 who they are really good friends with. Perhaps they just leave when someone makes a comment about their melon. They don’t deal with any crap.

Their name comes from the Russians, with the word for white being bielo. A beautiful color to be, really. Some think they look naked. I think they look like cheese sticks. But I don’t think they care much. It’s probably hard, I imagine. To have your species dying off. To always be watching over your shoulders for the next Russian hunter, or Inuit, or polar bear. To not swim under the thicker ice. I guess that the whales don’t care what people think. They just love. They love their pods, they love their kids, the people. You know that Belugas have facial muscles that allow them to smile and interact? And in 2009, a beluga was the animal to pull a Chinese diver to the surface instead of pulling her down. That’s when I find I’m the happiest. It’s when I don’t let myself get in the way of listening to someone, or to lifting them higher. It’s when I don’t care that I’m not at my prettiest and help my neighbor with her trash anyway. Those soft melon-headed whales really know how to find purpose, even though they look like cheese sticks.