A story about ADHD

Today I want to talk about ADHD. It’s something that I love, something that annoys me to no end, and something that I would never want to live without. This week, it did something interesting to me, which I retold in a discussion post for a college course that I am taking on Special Education. I’d like you to read it as well.

Despite meticulously writing down every due date for the semester on a calendar pinned next to my desk, despite updating all my notes and schedules every time a change of due date takes place, and despite all the sticky notes and cell phone timers and every other trick I use to remind my own ADHD brain to do as it’s told, I messed up.

Specifically, my brain couldn’t handle two similar, but crucially different pieces of information coexisting. One of these was that there was a SPED 4000 due date on Thursday (for the regular assignments) and the other was that there was a SPED 4000 due date on Friday (for the midterm). My brain, which likes to simplify things in an attempt to make them “easier”, very helpfully deleted the Thursday due date from my memory and led me to believe that everything was due on Friday. Our professors kindly allowed me to still post a discussion entry even though it’s too late to get a grade on it, but I thought I’d open with that real-world case study for you. Sometimes ADHD just does really weird things to you.

But in general, ADHD is something that I love. It’s really frustrating and really wonderful at the same time, so even when it makes things harder, it always makes them more interesting. My advice for any of you who have ADHD, know someone with ADHD, or work with someone who has ADHD is that you recognize it for everything it can be: good, bad, delightful, frustrating, and everything in between.

Being a student with ADHD is really hard, but good teachers have the power to make it really fun. People with ADHD are really great at getting things done when it’s something their brain naturally focuses on, though since personality affects what the brain prefers it’s really a case-by-case situation to learn what works best for each person. In my case, what made the most difference was letting me do assignments that are both creative and structured. Anything too open-ended is terrifying, such as when the prompt was something like “make a physics experiment” or “tell a story in Spanish” with little other instruction. But when it was more specific, like “use a visual aide to tell about themes and motifs within the story of King Lear“, I did great. Deadlines should be frequent and regular, but with some forgiveness allowed for not having everything perfect at every checkpoint.

Also, when you are teaching a child with ADHD, never ever tell them that they “talk too much” or “make other students uncomfortable”. It makes them anxious and self-conscious, and intensifies the already-real sense that they are irredeemably different from everyone else. I had some teachers say that to me, and it messed me up horribly, until I finally got old and mature enough to realize what had happened. I recognize now that they were trying to help and improve my social skills, but they were asking me to change something that was extremely difficult without offering any real solutions. All I knew at the time was that my brain was moving a mile a minute and my mouth was moving twice that, and the brakes weren’t working, but the only solution they were offering was “push harder”. Social anxiety is awful, and people with ADHD are already prone to it without needing help from the people they are supposed to be looking up to.

My family is awesome, though, so I’ll pass on some solutions that we’ve figured out that might help you:

My mom is really great at listening, and always makes sure to ask meaningful questions so I don’t feel like I’m ridiculous and all the ideas swimming around in my head are just things that nobody else cares about.

My mom also knows exactly how to get me back on task. She never comes across as dismissive or uncaring. Instead, she reminds me that things happen on a schedule: there might be a great time to focus really intently on my hobbies, but right now it’s time to do homework, or make dinner, or clean the house, or go to bed, and I can get back to the fun stuff later.

My brother and I have a lot of the same interests, so he is great at having long conversations about whatever my brain loves to talk about. ADHD brains crave this. People think of us as being inattentive and scatterbrained, which is only half of it. The other half is all the times that our brain only wants to think about one thing, and if we don’t get an outlet for that every once in a while, life gets pretty miserable.

My sister developed a great strategy for making sure I understand her when she’s telling me something important. It’s really simple, too: instead of asking “Did you hear what I said?” she asks “What did I say?” In the former scenario, I might entirely believe that I was listening but realize fifteen minutes later that I had no idea what was said and it’s too late to ask. But in the latter scenario, I get the chance to force my brain into reproducing the same meaning, and the words stick.

My dad and I have a lot in common, including but not limited to our interests, our goals, and various quirks of personality. This has its disadvantages, since sometimes being too similar to someone leads to the two of you butting heads too frequently, but most of the time I feel like it strengthens our relationship. We have a sense of what to expect from each other, and I have a really wonderful, successful person to look up to. I think finding someone who experiences the same challenges that you do, and overcomes them well, is key to achieving success, no matter your life situation.

One thing that is very important to remember is that because ADHD has a mind of its own, it’s all too easy to get wrapped up in what your brain wants and forget what you want or what you need, or importantly what the people around you want or need. I find that living with ADHD can mean constantly having to re-evaluate yourself, which can be stressful but helps to make huge breakthroughs in how to better your life.

When managing myself, I use some tricks to make my brain think it’s getting what it wants. Since my brain loves video games, scifi television, and sewing, I mix those in with the important things I have to do. For example, if I do 30 minutes of homework followed by 10 minutes of video games, my brain gets tricked into paying attention to the homework the same way it paid attention to the games. Or if I work on my sewing projects while also watching the lectures for my classes, the lectures suddenly aren’t boring anymore. It’s all about manipulating your situation so you can be in charge of the brain, instead of letting it run amok.

If any of this helps you when living with or around ADHD, that would make me very happy. And if you have any more questions, here’s my favorite Youtube channel.

 

 

 

Release — on being an early-returned missionary

a completely true account of my service as a full-time missionary for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

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* * * *

On the morning of July 29, 2015, just after nine o’clock, the phone started to ring. My companion was in the shower, and, not having finished getting dressed myself, I rushed to get sufficiently covered before answering. There are few people in the world that I can let myself speak to over the phone without being completely dressed, and none of them, so far as I knew, had the number for our missionary cell phone.

The caller ID showed that my mission president was calling, which struck me as somewhat strange. Of course it’s not impossible for him to call a companionship directly, but it doesn’t usually happen on a Wednesday morning at nine o’clock, with transfers still two weeks away. Still, with my robe pulled sufficiently tight, I answered the call.

“Hello?” I said, hoping to mask the confusion in my voice. “This is Sister Preston.”

“Hello Sister Preston,” he began, “I know you should be doing companionship study right now so I won’t keep you long. I waited to avoid interrupting your personal study.”

“Actually,” I replied, “We spent some time this morning at a service project, so we haven’t started our studies yet. We should be getting started pretty soon.”

“Okay, good,” he answered, then seemed to pause. He asked how I was doing, and I answered as truthfully as I could manage, always being careful to not be so honest that I reignited the bad emotions that all my energy went to running from.

“Sister Preston,” he said, “I’d like to meet with you sometime today. Could you come to the mission office before noon? Otherwise I could come to you, but it would have to be later.”

I looked over our schedule for the day. I wasn’t keen on driving to the office and back, a round trip of almost forty-five minutes, when we had a fairly tight schedule that morning. Besides, it was the end of the month, and we were running close on our mile allowance. So I suggested to him that later was probably better, and scheduled to meet with him at our nearby chapel at one in the afternoon. I let my companion know, ended the call, and sat down at my desk to start our morning preparations.

President hadn’t specified a reason for the meeting, I thought to myself. But that wasn’t necessarily a cause for concern. I knew that my mission president took very seriously his responsibility to serve the missionaries under his care, and knew each of them by name—more than two hundred at any given time—before he even met them. Like the Good Shepherd’s flock of one hundred bleating sheep, he knew the voice of each one of his missionaries, and felt a deep concern for their well-being.

Perhaps the reason why I was nervous was that I hadn’t often spoken with my mission president in person. When I needed outside help, his wife was usually my first point of contact, and my direct communication with him consisted of a couple of short interviews and the reports I sent in each week. In fact, the thought of meeting with him seemed rather exciting, a rare treat in the day-to-day regularity of missionary work, and though I couldn’t be certain about the cause for the occasion, it seemed to me nothing but promising.

* * * *

My decision to be a missionary was slow coming. As a child, it was too distant to seriously consider, and as a teenager it always seemed like a good idea that I would think about when it came to it. I remember starting my senior year of high school; tired of childhood, tired of a lot of things, one of the few things I held onto optimistically was that before long I’d be not only allowed, but encouraged to manage my own life. The mission idea sounded okay, but I wasn’t terribly thrilled about taking a year and a half to go where someone else told me to. Besides, I figured that since it was four years before I reached the age of twenty-one, that made it about two years before I had to start working it into my life plans.

In October of that year, two years of that plan were cut right out from the middle. When I learned that I could start a mission at nineteen, suddenly it became something to think about. Missionaries who had just begun their missions would still be in the field by the time I was old enough to join them, so in a few days of sudden prayer and asking God what I was meant to do with the next few years of my life, I got a very strong, very undeniable answer: I was meant to be a missionary.

Now, to be clear, I didn’t know when I was going to be a missionary, or even if I was really looking forward to it. I was a socially-anxious, outgoing introvert with a lot of hurdles to get past before I would be ready to give up eighteen months of my life for God and a mission president to decide where I lived, whom I was with, and what I spent my time on. I didn’t know how I would do it. I just knew that it was going to happen, and that I wanted to do my best.

I started tentatively planning to start my mission the summer after turning nineteen. I received my acceptance letter from Brigham Young University—Hawaii, started planning my first two semesters, and occasionally attended a mission prep class once I got there. I patiently awaited the signal for when to start filling out my papers, but when spring came and went and I didn’t feel like it was time, I just kept going forward as normal. God was never subtle with me when it came to my mission, and I knew it. When serving a mission was just one option, just an idea for what I could be doing with those months of my life, that wasn’t enough. I knew I couldn’t start quite yet. I had to wait until it was certain.

* * * *

Speaking of certainty, it doesn’t only happen at the beginning. Endings are planned as well. And like beginnings, they don’t always happen in the way we expect them. Both the beginning and ending of my mission were ultimately scheduled outside of my control. With God as my captain, I only went where he guided me. However, there is one key difference: when I chose to start my mission, it was my hand at the rudder; it was my feet that walked into the Missionary Training Center and my fingers that clipped the name tag on my dress. By the end of it, any control I had was gone, and I had nothing to do but accept it.

The acceptance came later, though, and first I had to mourn. And like traditional grieving, I got started early in denial and bargaining. I spent what would be the last few months of my mission refusing to believe that I was struggling as much as I truly was, pleading with God that things would take a better turn, and keeping my head down so I wouldn’t make it worse. I still had my head turned down when I entered that meeting with my mission president. Outwardly, I looked him in the eye and shook his hand firmly, but inwardly I still felt weak. We sat down. His wife and my companion were just around the corner, but I was the only one to hear him when he said to me, “Sister Preston, there comes a time when a mission president has to make difficult decisions. Every time we do transfer planning, we have to decide where every missionary will go for the next transfer, and who needs them most.”

My heart started to sink. I didn’t know what to expect. After three transfers with four companions all in one area, I suspected I was due for a change, but I didn’t look forward to it. Still, I listened.

“When a missionary is having a hard time, when they are discouraged or depressed, we try to take that into account, as I have done with you. I might try putting you with a different companion, or moving you to a different area. However, sometimes it reaches the point where the question changes from being, ‘Who needs this missionary most?’, to, ‘What does this missionary need most?’, and when that happens, we need to consider if having the missionary leave the mission is the best option.”

He paused, and I filled the silence. “I know, I know, I’ve thought about it too,” I said, “but I just don’t want to mess up my schedule. I don’t like the idea of only serving six months, and I don’t like the idea of pausing in the middle of it, but I’m still just so tired and I just can’t decide which of the options would be best.”

“Sister Preston,” he answered, “I wasn’t giving you an option. I’ve already made the decision, and I’ve talked with your parents.”

I can’t remember saying anything in response. I might have been in shock. But a familiar feeling came back, a feeling of certainty. I knew he was right.

At some point, he continued talking. He told me what he had discussed with my father, he complimented me on having exceptionally understanding parents. One thing he said particularly struck me: “Your parents really know you well. You’re very fortunate to have them.” I smiled, and I nodded, and I said, “Thank you, I think so too.”

The plan was for me to leave on the last day of the transfer, the same day as the missionaries who had completed their scheduled twenty-four or eighteen months. That way my companion wouldn’t be put into a trio, I wouldn’t be disappearing mid-transfer, and I would arrive in my parents’ home the day after they finished their summer trip. It was July 29; I would leave on August 11.

“Do you think you can do just two more weeks?”, he asked me.

“Yes, I think I can.”

“I want you to know, Sister Preston, that I’m proud of you. You have endured to the end. You didn’t give up, even when it was hard. You did your best.”

“Thank you,” I said quietly.

“And you should be proud of yourself too. I know your family is.”

I smiled my best tear-stained smile.

“I’m sure this is hard for you,” he told me, “but I understand how you’ve been feeling. I would imagine it’s somewhat of a relief, knowing that you only need to keep going for two more weeks.”

Nodding, I agreed. “Relief is definitely right. I’ve been worrying about how I can keep my energy reserves going for another twelve months, but two weeks sounds much more manageable.”

We discussed a few more things: what I needed to do next (talk to my parents, have some basic plans for what I would do when I got home), whom I could talk to about it (anyone I wished, which truthfully wasn’t many people), who already knew (only those who needed to so they could plan around it). It was comfortable, if difficult. I knew I was disappointed, but it felt so right that I just knew everything would be okay.

* * * *

That’s the interesting thing about how revelation works. It’s not always flashy or loud, and it doesn’t always make you fall to your knees. In my experience, revelation feels more like a weight lifted off the shoulders. It feels like restfulness, like when you have a full stomach and a warm blanket and a mug of hot chocolate. And sometimes it just feels like you’re ready to do whatever it takes, and nothing is able to stop you—which is what I had felt thirteen months earlier, back when I found that certainty I was waiting for and realized it was time to get ready to be a missionary.

Thinking back to that time can be somewhat bittersweet, now that I have seen the two years following it. I was excited, I was optimistic, I was full of energy. I loved filling out all the paperwork that would be sent to the general offices in Salt Lake City, and I read them over and over to make sure I didn’t miss a single detail. I read advice from everywhere I could find it on how to love your mission, what to bring with you, how to be the most well-prepared missionary that you could possibly be. I finished one more semester of school, and was thrilled and shocked by my mission call. I felt better than I ever had before.

I entered the Provo, Utah Missionary Training Center on February 11, 2015, eager to start and filled with enthusiasm. To be fair, those six weeks of training were hard and intense and exhausting, but I was the happiest I had ever been, and the other missionaries there felt the same way.

Once I reached the mission field, things slowed, but became more challenging. I went from speaking Spanish with native English-speakers to trying to follow the native speech of Mexicans, Salvadorans, and one very animated Honduran, and I was expected to keep up with it all. I was meeting new people every day—some glad to see us, some very much the opposite—and I found it hard not to miss the closer confines of the MTC, where each day was more predictable and I didn’t spend as much time putting on my most cheerful smile and introducing myself in my best Spanish.

I don’t wish to go into the day-to-day particulars. Every mission is a challenge and a blessing, and mine was no exception. Unfortunately in my case, the challenges were of the sort that strike me at my weakest.

My first two months after reaching the mission field went past without much incident; I was stretched socially, taxed emotionally, and pushed spiritually, but I endured. But, slowly yet surely, exhaustion set in—deep, constant exhaustion, the kind you feel deep in your bones and which never goes away no matter how well you sleep each night. It felt at times like I was completely exposed, my soul raw from all the stress of putting it through the same challenges every day. I felt like I could never completely make myself understood. I always answer people’s questions badly, I told myself, and the other missionaries think I’m strange, even when they like me.

I found joy in writing. Every week, I tried to find a spiritual thought or favorite quote to share in my emails home, and I loved to sprinkle humor and excitement into all my storytelling. I wrote poems, and I memorized my favorite Spanish-language hymns, and I celebrated every time it rained. In with all the hard times, I remained steadfastly optimistic, never letting myself consider that the ground was slipping from under my feet.

In my darker moods, I did what I could to lift my spirits, but over time the moments of optimism slowly diminished. I felt again like I was exposed, cut open with a scalpel so everyone on Earth could see my inner workings and know how strange I am inside. I’m sure I was being hyperbolic, but it felt real at the time.

By the end of the fifth month, I was at the end of my strength. Every day was a marathon, but without any sense of accomplishment. I still can’t understand depression well enough to say why it happened like it did, but I know this: it happened. I know that I woke up every day wishing it were time to go back to sleep. I spent every waking moment trying to convince myself that I could still do it, that I was still good enough, and that soon I would feel happy again. Some days it worked, and on those days, I pulled through. But most days were long and hard, and just a few were nigh impossible. My thin silver thread of optimism was about to break, but in my stubbornness, I held on tight. I took everything one day at a time, then one hour at a time, then one minute at a time, rationing out what emotional strength I had so I could get through it all.

* * * *

During those last two months, the burning desire to serve went from”well-tempered” to “all but extinguished”. People would ask me, as they often ask of missionaries, “Why did you decide to serve a mission?” Outwardly, I answered the same as I did in my gung-ho days: a slow and steady closeness to God, personal revelation, the realization that I could either face uncertainty alone or paradoxically gain control by relinquishing it to God. I still believed those things, but inwardly could no longer feel them. The times I was able to say what I was really thinking, when I could take off my public expression and be completely frank, my answer was this:

Because God told me to, and I didn’t want to end up in the belly of a fish.

I spent a great deal of time after leaving my mission trying to decide which was the right answer, and the only conclusion I can come to is that they both are. Even as averse to hypocrisy as I am, being human means I am inconsistent. Perhaps God has clearer answers for why he does what he does, but in his divine perfection he can be the same yesterday, and today, and forever. But humans, in our divine imperfection—we just have to try our best.

I feel certain again, more than I have in a long time. I know that I followed the steps laid out for me, and I know that I have done my best. If my footsteps falter, it is only because I have reached my limits; and I reach my limits only when I stretch as far as I can.

Personally, I don’t like being called an “early-returned missionary”. The term may be concise, but I don’t think I left early. It was earlier than expected, it didn’t hold to what had been my plan, but I don’t think it was early, not from the only perspective that counts. Like my mission president told me: I endured to the end. Perhaps God had always called me on a six-month mission, and I just needed the patience to recognize it.

The apostle Neal A. Maxwell, whom I regard as a personal hero, once said that “faith in God includes faith in his timing,” and sometimes I think he said it just for me. We each need faith to make sure that when we go about doing something, we are not just choosing the right way, but the right time.

When it comes to missionaries, it’s important to be ready, but it’s also important to do it right. In that respect, I think it’s a misunderstanding when people say of us earlier-returns, “They must have left too soon. They weren’t ready.” I’m certain that such things can and do happen, but I’m equally certain that it wasn’t so for me. I waited a year longer than was necessary, and six months longer than I had meant to. My desire may have come slowly, but I was never uncertain of what I was supposed to do. The only conclusion I can draw is that I started when I was meant to, and I finished much the same: no earlier, no later, but at just the right time.

* * * *

We use the word “release” to refer to someone leaving a calling, which I think is an interesting choice. Most literally, it means a release from a commitment, as we leave one church responsibility so we might move on to another. But I feel a second sense to the word “release”: a release from burden. Though burdens might commonly take on a negative connotation, in the language of the scriptures, a burden can be a blessing. Christ offered to help carry our burdens when he said, “Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.” As disciples, we strive to be like Christ, and thereby offer our shoulders to the burdens of others—not as he did for us, since our mortal strength is insufficient, but as a small part of our attempt to be Christlike.

Earlier, I mentioned a feeling of relief after learning that I had only two weeks left until I would be released. I was no stronger in that moment than I had been in the moment preceding it, but in anticipation my burden felt, if not lighter, certainly more manageable. Being released from a calling is not easy, especially when the calling is being a full-time missionary. It takes adjustment, and even as we appreciate the decrease in responsibility, we mourn the loss of the wonderful things we enjoyed during that phase of our life. But we do adjust. And even if we feel like everything is in flux, and nothing is possible, and there’s nowhere to go, with faith in God’s timing there is enough hope to move forward.

Being a missionary, even at the best of times, is hard. It comes with burdens that are not meant to be carried forever, and it changes everyone who goes through it. However, as long as we press forward with faith, trusting in God and putting in everything we have to offer, there’s nothing to worry about. Likewise in life, we do the same. It’s hard, it’s wonderful, it changes us all; and eventually, we are all released from our call to Earth, and everything is right.

Take that from an anxious, overly-skeptical, naturally-cynical young woman who tries very hard to see the good in everything in spite of her own nature:

There’s nothing to worry about. In time, everything will be right.

After all, it is all set in place by the One who will never do wrong.

life is happening

I’ve always wanted to be a writer, in some way or another. I’m working out the particulars of what form my writing will take, but it’s on the shortlist of lifetime goals: travel often, serve God, be a speech-language pathologist, own a summer home in Småland, and write.

On the short term, some of those goals have been postponed. I haven’t the money for any house, let alone one by a Swedish lakefront. I have to sort out my immediate educational plans before I can do the coursework I need for my SLP certification. And while I’m lucky enough to have the situation in which travel is not completely impossible, there are and always will be times that I’m feeling restless.

As for writing— in theory I could have been working on that; but after spending hours at a time laboring over a pointless research paper and several unnecessary journal entries, it’s hard to convince myself to spend any more time with a pen or keyboard, even if it’s for the sake of the things I actually want to write about.

Now, all four of the above will be put on hold for the sake of Goal No. 2 on the non-ordered list: service in the name of God. That is, in fifty-two days I will be a missionary, confined to the boundaries in which I have been assigned, and without the time to spare for studying, writing stories, or making money to put into the “Fritidshus Fund”. And in spite of the restrictions I’ve volunteered myself for, I couldn’t be more excited about it.

I don’t know for now if I’ll be publishing anything in the meantime. I’ve never adhered to a particular schedule, and in the next month and a half I have a lot of things I’m trying to get through so I can be ready to go, which might prevent me from writing anything presentable. There’s only one thing non-mission-related that I know I’ll be doing, which is getting out a very rough draft of the novel that has been floating around in my head for the past three months, but I can guarantee you that won’t be ready for viewing at any point in the foreseeable future.

In short, if you don’t see anything new up here until August of 2016 or later, don’t be surprised.

The Truth of Truth

Before the start of this summer, I decided on a project that I was going to do. As a fan of science fiction, I felt I should give attention to some of the classics of the genre, so I put together a list of probably a couple dozen or so well-regarded science fiction works—Asimov, Heinlein, Clarke, and so forth.

The Left Hand of Darkness

2003 Ace Books version of the cover

Well, the goal fell short, and in the end I’ve spent most of the past couple of months reading the same two Jane Austen novels over and over. (Classic novels are my other favorite genre, especially if they’re the sort with clever satire and witty characters.) However, I did manage to finish a few science-fiction books before I left them by the wayside, among them a favorite which I decided to reread: Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Left Hand of Darkness.

I’d forgotten how good this book was. This, I suppose, is something I say of a lot of things I reread or rediscover, but that makes it no less true in this instance.

It’s fairly easy to give a very general gist of what The Left Hand of Darkness is about: a man from Earth goes to live on a planet where all the people are near-human, but for the fact that they have no gender. Or rather, no permanent gender. Any person can become either male or female, temporarily, before returning to their natural genderless state. And to read most synopses of the book, you would think that’s the one great detail of the story, but interestingly enough: it’s not.

Ursula Le Guin is one of the great masters of worldbuilding. One of the reasons her stories are such a pleasure to read is that not only are the characters thoroughly developed, but so is the world they live in and interact with. In the case of this novel, the narrative itself is interspersed with excerpts from other texts that exist within the world of the story—anthropological notes from earlier explorers, native folktales, historical anecdotes, et cetera. These people are not just their biology; their language, geography, political structures, theology, and social organization all play a role. In that way, these neuter, male-and-female-and-neither-and-both people are more completely human than many a fictional society has managed to be. That is partly why The Left Hand of Darkness is, in my opinion, one of the greatest examples of what science fiction can do: inform us of our humanity, by placing us in a world outside of it. All great meaningful art, I think, does that in one way or another—remember the Jane Austen books I keep reading, which use entirely human environments but tweak the characters in such a way that their stories become something more than just a series of events, or a list of quirks. Those books inform us of our humanity by placing us closer to it. The Left Hand of Darkness, and books like it, are something just slightly different.

There’s a moment in the book I really love. Genly Ai, this one man on the planet Winter, meets with a Foreteller of the Handdara, a priest of a religious order that knows the secret to predicting the future. He is fascinated with this concept, and thinks of the great changes it could make for the other societies of the galaxy, were the practice introduced to them. To know one’s own destiny, or whether one’s goals will come about! But as he comes to realize, it doesn’t quite work out that way:

      [Note: The characters’ names are Faxe and Genly; however, Faxe can’t say L.]

“But we in the Handdara don’t want answers. It’s hard to avoid them, but we try to.”
“Faxe, I don’t think I understand.”
“Well, we come here to the Fastnesses mostly to learn what questions not to ask.”
“But you’re the Answerers!”
“You don’t see yet, do you, Genry, why we perfected and practice Foretelling?”
“No—”
“To exhibit the perfect uselessness of knowing the answer to the wrong question.”
[…]
“The unknown,” said Faxe’s soft voice in the forest, “the unforetold, the unproven, that is what life is based on. Ignorance is the ground of thought. Unproof is the ground of action. If it were proven that there is no God, there would be no religion. No Handdara, no Yomesh, no hearthgods, nothing. But also if it were proven there is a God, there would be no religion. . . . Tell me, Genry, what is known? What is sure, predictable, inevitable—the one certain thing you know concerning your future, and mine?”
“That we shall die.”
“Yes. There’s really only one question that can be answered, Genry, and we already know the answer. . . . The only thing that makes life possible is permanent, intolerable uncertainty: not knowing what comes next.”
[p. 70-71]

I can’t help but sympathize with Genly, as I, too, want to know the answers. I also recognize that there’s a small amount of ridiculousness in Faxe’s statement that they try to avoid answers, as finding some kind of answer would seem to be the entire purpose of having questions. As for myself, I am in a constant search for Truth.

However…

I’ve come to realize that, perhaps, the part that improves me is not so much the Truth itself, but the search for it. After all, if we already knew all the answers, what would be the point of our being here now? (I may be a cynic, but I’m not enough of one to believe there is no purpose.) If not for the need of scientific discovery, there would be no need for a Scientific Method, and we would learn nothing. If I am to honestly state that I believe the purpose of life is continual improvement—and I do, honestly, believe that—I must practice honesty with myself and admit that I can’t know everything now.

It’s possible that, when speaking to Genly, Faxe only meant that a life wherein one already knows the outcome would be unbearably difficult to live, and that by “possible”, he only means so in a figurative sense: emotionally impossible, but literally doable. However, the more I ponder the quote, the more I start to think that he meant, quite literally, that life—in a meaningful form—could not exist in a universe where one knows everything, or at least not in one in which we know everything without first living to get to that point. If we entered the world with a perfect knowledge of all things, there would be no reason for the growth or learning that life is meant to provide.

In my own religious context, this starts to make more and more sense. I believe, as does the rest of my Church, that life on earth is intended to be a period of individual growth, in which we each learn to be more perfect and godlike. Furthermore, we are specifically prevented from remembering life prior to birth, because then we would already know too much to have the chance to learn meaningfully. “If it were proven there is a God, there would be no religion.” These words are from Ursula Le Guin, but I’ve heard the same concept expressed by others countless times: if we all had unquestionable evidence of God’s existence, then why would we ever need to develop faith in him?

“Faith is not to have a perfect knowledge of things; therefore if ye have faith ye hope for things which are not seen, which are true.” (Alma 32:21)

Well, now this discussion is taking a more explicitly theological bent than I had intended for it, but I think this quote is necessary. If the purpose of life is greater than simply the sake of living, and there is a specific goal beyond just “doing good things and maybe deciding we believe in Christ”, then it should follow that there must be a thing left to discover or achieve, in order to make that purpose real.

So again, Faxe’s comment about avoiding answers is at least a little bit ridiculous. But he is right on one part: there are answers that we certainly don’t need now, and which we might not be ready to know at all.

I will close with one more quote, also a verse of scripture. This particular verse is one that I hold very dear, as to me it sums up perfectly the concept of what it is to have and seek Truth.

“For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.” (1 Corinthians 13:12)

I don’t like not knowing things. But I certainly choose not knowing, but having hope, over knowing, but never having a hope of improvement. Change is frightening, to be sure; but change is also part of what life is about.

I don’t know everything, but I know enough. Tomorrow, I might just know a little bit more.

Now, as for the other science fiction I intended to read—well, there is time left in the year yet; I might manage to get through a good portion of my list. And maybe I’ll think of some interesting things to say about it. Or maybe I’m just going to read Emma for the fifth time this year; we’ll see.

Why do I share the gospel of Christ?

For the second time in two days, an apostle and prophet of God has expressed a concept that I have been deeply pondering of late, in a more effective way than I feel I could have expressed on my own. I have embedded the video below, but first I will address my own thoughts, and hope that they are sufficient to explain themselves.

I don’t often talk publicly about my religious beliefs, unless explicitly asked to do so. This is because I recognize that my beliefs are not always welcome or comforting to those who do not agree with them. However, these beliefs are still extremely important to me, not only because I believe them to be true, but because I hope them to be so. They have lifted me out of depression, apathy, and self-hatred, and given my life direction and purpose. They have brought light into darkness, and lifted me from the pit, and helped me to realize that my trials can be the refiner’s fire, if I allow them to work their refinement on me. I don’t know where, who, or what I would be without the Gospel of Christ in my life, but as a natural pessimist, I have a tendency to assume I couldn’t have gotten far on my own. The grace of God has helped me to both identify and refine my imperfections, and has given me the assurance that the rest of me is still good enough to be worth the effort of refinement.

I’m a perfectionist, but God has promised me—and us all—two things: that we will not be given a trial or temptation that we could not endure (1 Corinthians 10:13), and that we will not be given a commandment that we could not fulfill (1 Nephi 3:7). This means that every trial can be surpassed, and that inherent in every command is a guarantee that it can be achieved. When God commanded us to be perfect, he was simultaneously informing us that we are capable of perfection.

I have often recalled the words of the prophet Alma, which perfectly express my feelings: “O that I were an angel, and could have the wish of mine heart, that I might go forth and speak with the trump of God, with a voice to shake the earth, and cry repentance unto every people! Yea, I would declare unto every soul, as with the voice of thunder, repentance and the plan of redemption, that they should repent and come unto our God, that there might not be more sorrow upon all the face of the earth.” (Alma 29:1-2)

Repentance does not simply mean giving up sin. We are not in the business of forcing people to do things, even good things. True repentance requires a change of heart, a turning away from sin and towards everything that stands in opposition to sin. “Repentance goes beyond feeling to express distinct purposes of turning from sin to righteousness; the Bible word most often translated repentance means a change of mental and spiritual attitude towards sin.” (Online Etymology Dictionary; Century Dictionary)

My first goal in life is to remove all sin and sorrow from myself. My second—which must of course be addressed simultaneously, as the first cannot be achieved within my earthly lifetime—is to remove sorrow from all the face of the earth.

Finally, I add to the witness of millions my statement that the Lord Jesus Christ lives and loves us. I believe it to be true, I hope it to be true, and sometimes, when optimism strikes, I even know it to be true.

Amen.

For those interested, here is the full (15-minute) version of the video: http://youtu.be/eBzKAFF4Sdc

“psalm to the devil” and “land of the desolate”

Today I am sharing two poems, both of which were featured in the 2014 edition of Kula Manu, the literary journal of Brigham Young University — Hawaii. The first, “psalm to the devil”, was also the first-place entrant in the journal’s poetry category.
 

psalm to the devil

O fallen son,
Though I may fall,
My death shall be but for a moment;
Thou art fallen forever.

O son of morning,
How the foolish think they are wise!
Though I might be made low,
THou shalt be made lower.

O shining one,
How hast thou lost thy lustre;
Thou art shrouded in darkness,
But I have found light.

O adversary,
Rejoice not in my weakness:
When I fall, I shall arise;
Thou shalt descend into nothing.

 
This poem is inspired by Isaiah 14:12-15 from the King James bible, and was written to express the struggle of finding optimism when it feels as though you are being dragged downward. Like the verses from Isaiah, I hope that my poem invokes the thought that, however powerful the opposing forces might seem, they are finite and defeatable.

 

Land of the Desolate

It came in a moment, they said.
We couldn’t have known, they cried.
We’ve been through enough, they wailed,
Then wept as their pleas were denied.

In vain, they grasped for a light in the dark,
But in spite of the smoke, there was not a spark.

They shuddered and breathed in the dusty air
And blinked, unseeing, with empty stares.

Sunless day became starless night
As they fought back the chill and mourned their plight.

A land once called holy, now only ash.
One darkness must come for the other to pass.

Only once they were blind could they truly restart,
For broken eyes see into an empty heart.

They gasped when the light of the first dawn broke.
At the heart of desolation lies a glimmer of hope.

 
This poem is directly inspired by the accounts in the Book of Mormon that describe three days of darkness that came over the land prior to Christ’s coming. However, in a broader sense the verses also are intended to express the concept of repentance and redemption, and of finding hope and truth while surrounded by darkness.

I’ve come to a realization.

I really, really, really want to write about science fiction.

I mean, really.

It’s funny, because I don’t think genre is the most important thing about fiction. I’m willing to read, honestly, just about anything. I think it would be great if it were easier for authors to write in more than one genre without publishers scrambling to figure out how they’re going to market a new text separately from the established genre that particular writer is “supposed” to work in. I think it would be great if people quit shoving science fiction and fantasy into this man-made “sci-fi ghetto” so it can’t interact with “normal, respectable literature (/people)”.

As a consolation, at least our “ghetto” is vibrant and creative and user-driven — not unlike Christiania, the famed hippie neighborhood/micronation in the center of Copenhagen, only without all the anarchism and marijuana.

And even they find room for fantasy in their art.

But still, even though I don’t fall for the notion that certain genres are inherently better or worse than others, there is one bit of truth to it on a personal level: some genres speak more to particular people than others do. And I just happen to be a person who is drawn to science fiction.

There are many, many definitions of science fiction. As many, perhaps, as there are people who are aware of the term “science fiction”. Common ones address the themes of scientific and technological advancement, and usually throw in some references to the future or aliens or space travel. These certainly appear frequently in science fiction, and I’d be lying if I said that I don’t greatly enjoy many stories that rely heavily on these topics, but I don’t see them as the end-all definition of what science fiction is and can be.

Science fiction — like its twin sister, Fantasy — is, at its best, an exploration of what humanity is really about. And while I’m aware that the same could be said about literature in general, I think science fiction gives us the opportunity to look at it from angles unavailable from an ordinary vantage point. What makes us still human, science fiction asks, when we are pulled out of our familiar context? If this thing or that thing were in some way different, what might it have changed? It seeks to pull humanity out of the known and into the unknown, and then see what happens.

In deciding on a central topic about which to orient my writing, I quickly discovered that I couldn’t go without addressing religion and spirituality. That decision has not changed. I have, however, come to the additional realization that the role of fiction, and especially that of science fiction, is just as important to my overall worldview and literary background. I should have realized this sooner: if you visit my archive and go to my first published post, you’ll find something that I wrote with spirituality in mind; and if you go to the second post, you’ll find something I wrote after watching a particularly moving episode of one of my favorite sci-fi shows. So yes, there they are, scripture and space opera cooperating with my creative psyche right from the start. And that’s not even addressing the other essay from which I pulled the phrase “scripture and space opera”.

Considering the never-ending (and, in my opinion, inane) arguments about various incompatibilities between faith and science, to some it might seem like an odd combination. In fact, I hope to address that in full in another post. But I’ve written a lot for one go, and for now I think a small preview would suffice:

In Norse Mythology, the world started with Muspellsheimr, a great realm of fire, and Niflheimr, a great realm of ice. Between them stretched a great void called the Ginnungagap. But instead of destroying one another, fire and ice mixed until out of the resulting water sprang life.

And with that I think I’ve also proven, once and for all, how much I’m always, always thinking about Scandinavia.

(image sources: Orion Nebula © NASA; Christiania mural from Wikimedia Commons)