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Admit it. You’ve always wanted to be a super hero.

Admit it. You’ve always wanted to be a super hero.

Thrusts of justice coverMatt Youngmark’s Thrusts of Justice is out today, in paperback and on the Kindle! It’s a Choose Your Own Adventure book that allows you to take on one of three awesome superhero personas and fight crime, and admit it; you’ve always wanted to do that. Click on the text link above to check it out!

I’ve only just started the book, but it’s much like Matt’s other works, which is to say well written, funny, and full of action and awesome characters. Seriously. Click the pretty picture or the text link and buy your copy right now. If enough people buy the book today, the very day it’s released, the world will be a better, freer place; where independently published books can challenge the big publishing houses and all of us can choose which ending we like the best.

A Superhero is You!

Scouting: Time to Change My Mind

Scouting: Time to Change My Mind

Even sixteen years later, I still can’t think about the time I spent in Boy Scouts without my stomach knotting up.

For six years I was asked1 to spend one night a week with people I wasn’t terribly fond of, usually playing basketball, or pretending to plan a camping trip, while internally I was planning a way to get out of said camping trip. I’m sure to those involved I appeared sullen and angry, which was accurate, but pretty much only in that setting. People who knew me then know that I was really a pretty happy guy, overall.

So why this hatred for the ol’ BSA2 ? Anyone else who grew up not only knowing the word “bibliophile” but actively applying it to themselves already knows the answer to that question: bullies.

Yes, this was a church sponsored troop. Yes, we had leaders who were supposed to keep that sort of thing from happening. But more than once it was the leaders themselves who were the bullies.

I don’t think anyone involved actually thought of themselves as a bully. I’m sure they thought they were including me in their reindeer games, and it’s my fault that I didn’t understand how those games work. But on my end, the word “scouting” meant getting teased, hit, tormented and basically just having life suck a little more. More than one leader asked me if I wasn’t being “just a little over-sensitive” and assured me that it was “all in good fun”.

My parents probably didn’t know what was really going on, because naturally I didn’t tell them. Like any kid in that situation, I instinctively knew that getting parents involved would just make it worse. People would promise to be nice, and as soon as they thought they could get away with it, they would make my life worse than ever. Indeed, that’s exactly what happened the one time I did actively take a stand and flat-out refuse to go on a particular camping trip. After three or four people sat around and talked at me for a couple of hours I relented and drove up to the campground with a  leader who spent the entire drive complaining about how I had made him miss all the fun. Once we were the there and the leaders were all in their tent my life became a world of all the best in boy-on-boy attacks that could be carried out silently.

Out of desperation my parents informed me that I wouldn’t get a driver’s license until I was an Eagle Scout. This was a good lesson in ineffective threats. I had no particular desire to drive, so I simply let my mom drive me where ever I wanted to go until I went on my mission. Even when I turned seventeen and they relented I refused to go to driver’s education or apply for a license. They made the rule, and they would have to live with it. As I was leaving on my mission someone asked me if I felt that scouting had prepared me for missionary service. At the time I said “not really” but years later I realized that what I really wanted to say was that I was still active in my faith not because of scouting, but in spite of it.

Bleh. All this is long past now. I’m all growed up, with kids o’ my own and a good job and a house and a beautiful wife and I’m livin’ the American Dream like nobody’s business.

So, naturally, I’ve been called3 to serve as a scout leader. Which means its time to try to let go of a lot of things.

I knew this day was coming. I knew it was coming because my wife bought a Suburban, and if you’re LDS and own a Suburban it’s only a matter of time before you’re given a scouting calling. They’re lowering me in gently; I’m starting as a Webelos leader, working with cub scouts (i.e. ten-year-old boys) instead of teenagers. And the world of scouting has improved significantly. The BSA has made a number of changes to ensure that the boys who are going through scouting today won’t be put through the misery I went through. The “Youth Protection Program” that all scout leaders must complete before they can work with the boys focuses on recognizing the signs of bullying and stopping it quickly. The hard part, in other words, won’t be the actual participation, it’ll be letting go of the anger and stress that have nothing to do with the people I’ll be working with now.

So, here’s to letting go. It’s not about me any more, it’s about making sure that the experience these kids have is a safe and happy one, and I can assure you that they’ll have at least one leader that has both eyes open, and will put a swift end to any bullying.

  1. see: “forced” []
  2. Boy Scouts of America []
  3. All Mormons who serve in any position are volunteers, but we don’t volunteer for specific jobs. We believe that local leadership is inspired to ask (or “call”) people to certain positions and we volunteer to serve in those positions []
Ten Years

Ten Years

On this day ten years ago I was trying to get to class when the sky started falling. Class was let out early, and I called my fiancé, who was staying with her parents until our wedding day on September 21st. School was let out and I went up from Provo to Salt Lake City to be with the person I wanted to spend my entire life with, in case that life were somehow to be cut short, even in our remote area. The sky in SLC was clear and warm, and it was easy to forget that we were being attacked on our own soil by people desiring nothing but destruction. It would have been easy to forget, but you were there. You know there was nothing else on your mind that day either.

My story doesn’t end with loved ones getting killed in those planes or buildings, I don’t know that hurt, and there’s no way I could understand it, nor can I understand how those who carry that burden deal with it. Nor do I understand the kind of feelings or thoughts that would drive someone to that kind of action. But here’s something else:

May 1st, 2001: I was flying west from Louisville Kentucky to Salt Lake City Utah, getting ready to attend BYU. Catching my connecting flight from Cleveland I was seated next to a girl about my age (Twenty-three at the time) or perhaps a bit younger. She was wearing blue jeans, a shirt of some kind (I’m terrible at colors and fabrics and all that) and a hijab (I think, I had to look that up on Wikipedia just now). We exchanged greetings before take off and readied all our personal stuff…the usual boring stuff.

After the plane was in the air I asked where she was headed, a question that always seems really stupid when your sitting next to each other in an airplane. But she was continuing on to California. She asked me the same question and I said I was staying in Utah. The inevitable follow up was “Are you a Mormon?” I said yes, I was and she said “Oh. I guess we’re like, cousins, or something then.”

This next paragraph took about half a second to go through my head. I considered what I knew of Islam. I knew that the Prophet Muhammad lived in the 1400’s or thereabouts, that they were monotheists, believed the teachings of the Old and New Testaments, as well as the Quran, which according to their faith is the pure word of God revealed to His Prophet, whereas I had just spent two years teaching similar things about the Book of Mormon. They practiced fasting, alms-giving, and daily prayer, all things that my own faith taught as well.  While I wouldn’t have ever stated that Mormonism and Islam were “cousins” the way she did, I couldn’t deny the parallels.

Like I said, I went through all that in about half a second. “sure,” I said, and we talked about our respective religions a little bit. Not a whole lot, and I definitely don’t remember every word we said now, but it was all friendly and respectful.

The flight was booked full, and we were flying economy class. We had picked up or food from a cooler on the way onto the plane, and the two of us ate ours at the same time. Inspecting the contents, she looked a meat snack, and said, “Yeah, pork. I can’t eat this. Do  you want it?” I said sure, then pulled the soda out of my bag. “Hmm. Caffeine. I can’t drink this. Do you want it?” she took my cola, I took her snack and we both laughed a little bit. We weren’t the same, but it was nice for both of us to be able to just be who we were without worrying that the other one would mock us for it.

Anyway, a few months later, as we watched in terror and fear, I thought back to that girl on the plane, who, I was sure, had nothing to do with the insanity in the sky and was, I was certain, as horrified and disgusted as I was. I hoped that she had people to turn to during the coming months, as she would, through no fault of her own, be under suspicion. I hoped the people around her would be kind and treat her well during a time that was probably more hurt-filled and confusing for her as it was for me.

I hope the last ten years have been a time of healing for all of us. I hope that those who lost someone in the attacks have found some answers and hope and a way to go on. I hope that those who had to watch while their faith was held up as a reason to commit atrocities have found understanding and support in the people around them. I hope all of us have found a desire to move forward together.

How I Think

How I Think

When I say “Yaaaaaaay!” in chats or emails, what I hear in my head is this:

Kermit doing what he does best.

 

When call some one a monster I’m thinking something like this:

R.E.M. and some Muppets doing what they do best.

Yes, it’s true. I think in Muppets.

On Gratitude

On Gratitude

Something I have been thinking about lately is the effect of gratitude on life. I’m not alone in this: Wikipedia has a long article on gratitude and the research that is being done looking into its effect on people. And in a way, that just makes it all the better.

So, here’s the interesting part. They say to make a journal of things for which you are grateful:

Out of the six conditions, the longest lasting effects were caused by the act of writing “gratitude journals” where participants were asked to write down three things they were grateful for every day. These participants’ happiness scores also increased and continued to increase each time they were tested periodically after the experiment. (From Wikipedia’s Article on Gratitude)

And a lot of people will start doing just that. And the first few entries will seem really really banal. Because we are grateful for the simple, obvious things first. But what about when you keep doing it? Then what happens?

In fact, the greatest benefits were usually found to occur around six months after treatment began. This exercise was so successful that although participants were only asked to continue the journal for a week, many participants continued to keep the journal long after the study was over. (ibid)

This ties in (again) to the writing I’ve been doing on Favorite Thing EVER: the more I look for things that I really really love the more I realize that the world is full of lovely things. And the field isn’t getting narrower. I’ve written a number of articles for that site, and I still see a growing number of new things every day that are worthy of a write up. It’s really pretty amazing. But after reading the results of the studies listed above I’d like to try the real experiment: Six months of writing about three things I’m grateful each day. This is actually kind of exciting!

Writing has always felt (to me) like scrubbing my soul; as I write freely I start to see who I actually am, and start to climb out of the scared, bored shell that builds all too quickly around me.

So, I’ll let you know how it goes, both of you who stop by here from time to time. Stay tuned to this…er, Rss feed!

Nix, nix, pulchra nix!

Nix, nix, pulchra nix!

It means “Snow, snow, beautiful snow!” and my high school Latin teacher, Mrs. Mabe, would write it on the chalkboard the first time it snowed every year. And the first year students would be surprised that you could write something that was more or less correct without declining or conjugating anything, the second year students would smile a little and happily chant those four words as they walked around campus so they could sound smart1 and by third year it was a tradition, as was the story that went with it.
“My Latin teacher would write that every year, as did his,” Mrs. Mabe would tell us. “Sometimes I wonder if back in Rome, and all through the Dark Ages, teachers wrote that on the first day of snow, Which was rare in Rome…” and she would be into her teaching.

Now, thirteen years later, when I can’t even remember the difference between the ablative and the accusative, all my Latin replaced by two years speaking Tagalog, I too say “Nix, nix, pulchra nix!” the first time it snows each year, and wonder if I’m joining a long line of Latin teachers and students in welcoming the winter.

Thank you, Mrs. Mabe.

  1. why else would we take Latin? []
My Not-Very-Guilty Not-Very-Secret

My Not-Very-Guilty Not-Very-Secret

I have a guilty secret that isn’t much of either. It’s a small thing, a kind of not-quite voyeurism that doesn’t involve seeing anyone doing anything, and It’s definitely okay, because Apple made it possible for me to do it, right?

Before I creep out anyone I actually like I should come clean. What I’m talking about here is looking at other people’s iTunes Libraries on campus.

It’s easy to set up. All you do is tell iTunes that you want other people to be able to see your library, and you’re on the air for any other iTunes user on your network. On the University of Utah’s secure “please use this network” wireless network this can be hundreds of people. Sometimes their iTunes libraries are called something like “Bob’s Music”, sometimes they put some work into it, like “Sounds like BURNING!” or the always popular “zzzze bottom of ze list”. The technology makes it “impossible”1 to keep the songs in other people’s libraries, but you can listen to them so long as the other person’s computer is on and they have iTunes open. Log in at the right time and there is a world of music out there for you to listen to.

Now the interesting part of this is that I’m not your typical college student. To be totally honest, I’m not a student of the University of Utah at all: I’m an employee.2 So you wouldn’t think that musically, I’d have all that much in common with the other libraries floating around out there. I certainly wouldn’t think so. I imagine them all full of Dave Matthews or the reprehensible John Meyer, with Fergie or whatever female soloist Clear Channel thinks we should all love these days. And sure, there’s some of that. But what I find most times is that people in general have much better taste in music than Clear Channel gives them credit for. I often find alternative artists that get zero radio time3, and just about every single library has “Abba Gold”. I can’t decide if that last point is a good thing or a bad thing, but hey, I’ve got it too, so it’s common ground.

What’s more, on libraries that are definitely the property of someone who is much younger than me I will find music from the 60’s, and not just the Beach Boys. Buffalo Springfield, Crosby, Stills, and Nash, Yardbirds, The Birds, and other good bands will be there, often right next to the Franz Ferdinand stuff. It’s kinda making me think I should be less judgmental. Just because someone listens to the terrible radio playlist bands of the present day doesn’t mean they don’t appreciate good music as well. Just because someone likes country doesn’t mean they don’t also like Miles Davis.

So anyway, my library is called “Where the Sunbeams End and the Starlights Begin”. Have a look around. And thanks for bolstering my faith in humanity.

  1. yeah right []
  2. although for some reason I’m also listed as an alumnus of the U, even though I’ve never been enrolled there []
  3. on a college campus! Imagine! []