Thursday, December 23, 2010

Snapshots of December

“Hey Jason, lets play a game!” Jared says to me with an enthusiastic smile. I agree; three hours later we have battled through Age of Mythology: The Board Game and moved on to Tally Ho! Up next, we want to play Grinder (thanks to a nifty little travel-size version I acquired at a white elephant party) and maybe Monopoly. I love these games. I love this kid.

“Jason, mom wants you to go take a shower and then take something to the post office!” Rachel hurries back out of the room as I roll over and see the clock. 11 already, and I had wanted to be up by 10. I spring out of bed and jump into the shower. “Maybe I can swing by the library on my way back from the post office, I bet that new Brandon Sanderson is in!” I think as I towel dry. Pulling on a shirt and singing Les Miserables, I hurry downstairs. I pause in my journey to see that someone has already been to the library: my book (all 500+ pages of it; this excites me way more than it probably should) is sitting on the island. “I wonder why they didn't go by the post office while they were at the library, it's two seconds away?” I think, just as someone jumps out, pulls a scarf around my eyes, and ties my hands with a jump rope.
Several minutes later, I am trying to guess where I am being taken. “We took a right—we must be on Guess! Wait, why a left? There's nothing to the left...” My unseen assailants snicker at my confusion. I got back at them by 'accidentally' leaning into the people sitting on either side of me whenever we go around a corner.
I kind of liked being kidnapped. Probably not something I should make a habit of.

“Hey Jason, guess what!” I lean in close to hear what Jenna has to say, and she pulls on my shoulder to hasten my descent. “Poke!” She pokes me in the cheek, then jumps out of reach before I can 'poke' her back.
Several hours later, Rachel summons me as I start to walk downstairs. “You forgot to say goodnight!” I reach up toward the top bunk to give her a hug; “Poke!” She retreats to the safety of the middle of her bed, and I laugh as I wish her a good night.
I love my life. I love these girls.

“Baby, it's cold outside,” Barry Manilow's voice croons over the kitchen stereo. I lean lazily against the counter, talking to my mom about friendship and beach trips. I grew up on Barry Manilow (along with The Beach Boys and Les Miserables); listening to his Christmas album is like a nostalgia buffet. My mom waves me over to help chop some broccoli, and I sing along to the music as I work.
Christmas is coming.

“Aren't these socks awesome?!?” My brother Josh holds the socks in question high in the air so that I can admire them. Somewhat bemusedly, I agree. I have never claimed to have any sort of fashion sense, in fact I believe that in heaven, my brother and I made a trade: he would take my sense of style, and I would get his love of reading. Thus, I really don't know if the socks are cool or not, but they look comfortable so I nod and smile.
Somehow, he convinced my parents that they should get an X-Box for Christmas. We've already decided we'll need to devote a somewhat ridiculous amount of time to pwning noobs next week. Having not touched a video game all semester long, I'm kind of looking forward to it.

My dad waves me over with a wooden spatula: “Jason, come stir these vegetables real quick while I check the steaks!” I put down my book and take his place, enjoying the pleasant aroma of summer squash. My dad is an excellent cook; he can make up a recipe for something after eating it at a restaurant and, nine times out of ten, end up with something better than what the restaurant had to offer. If I inherited half of his cooking genius, I think I'll be pretty much set.
Tonight's meal: filet mignon with mashed potatoes and summer squash. Aside from being incredibly delicious, this is the first time in months that I've had two great meals in a row, without several intervening nights of leftovers or macaroni.
It's good to be home.  

Friday, December 10, 2010


It seems I am not very good at posting consistently--four posts the week of thanksgiving, and zero since then.

For those of you not living in the college world, let me introduce you to the reason for my inconsistency. Finals.

Next week I will be taking four tests that will determine, on average, about 20% of my grade in four classes. This means that even though I have been doing well in my classes so far, if I don't ace (or come close to acing) my finals, I could still end up with grades quite a bit lower than I want them.

If finals were a person, they would be the mob boss who might "allow something to happen to you" if you don't make your payments.

So I'm studying like it's my job (because, well, it is), and I'll probably get back to that whole writing thing come Christmas break.

And now I think the mob boss might be looking over my shoulder, so I'm going to go take a practice calc test.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Dancing Through Life

A missionary in my ward, Elder Englund, had a t-shirt that he would wear to service projects. It had a picture of a big, square-jawed cartoon man on it, and the words “Bring Me the Horizon.” I asked him once what the square-jawed man was from. “I dunno, I just like what the shirt says!”

I played around with this phrase for a few months, and finally decided to adopt it as a sort of personal motto. I say it to myself whenever I run: Bring me the horizon. I will run far and fast and hard, and I will reach out and take it. (Don't ask me what “it” is. I don't know either).

One of the requirements for the old Duty to God program was to run 6 miles in an hour or less. When I attempted this I was woefully unprepared, and I powered through it on nothing but adrenaline and willpower—there was very little muscle involved in the process. Around the 4th mile I thought I was about to collapse, and I started a continuous pep talk to keep myself moving. Jason! Keep running! Go, don't stop, keep going, take that horizon, give it everything you have and then give it everything you don't, just don't stop running!

I made it. Fifty-one minutes four seconds. Kind of a pathetic time for a 10k, but it still makes me happy to think that I finished.

Right now I'm at college. Nowhere in BYU's “Requirements to Graduate” does it mention running; my challenges here are different. Here my training isn't for a six mile run but for a chemistry midterm. But still, as I walk into the testing center with a small stack of scratch paper in one hand and my trusty TI-84 in the other, my mindset is the same. Come on! bring it on! I'll take this test, I'll make it bow down and admit my mastery, I'll show it who's boss. Bring me the horizon!

And yet everything is not the same. When I see the small black numbers on the screen I feel not the giddy post-run euphoria I felt after running six miles, but an aching disappointment. That's it? That's my great achievement? That is the result of my weeks of work, preparation, endless effort?

One of my favorite songs (it's #1 on the “Top Ten List of Songs Jason Sings in the Shower,” if you were curious) is “Dancing Through Life,” from the musical Wicked. It is a fun song, with a catchy tune.

Fiyero, who later becomes the scarecrow, sings this song as he arrives at his new school. “Life is painless for the brainless,” he sings, trying to convince his classmates to lighten up and forget about schoolwork. Great message, right?

So while it is one of my favorite songs, I tend to laugh about it in the way I laugh about a dog chasing its tail or my 10 year old sister telling me she is taller than me.

When I was preparing my schedule for my first semester of classes in college, I asked my older sister's opinion as to what I should take. “Take a dance class,” she advised. “Social dance is a good one to start out with.” I added it to my schedule.

I guess I owe my sister a debt of gratitude, because it turns out that I absolutely love dancing. It is one of my passions, my joys, maybe even as much as singing is my passion and my joy. When I dance I feel happy, I feel smooth, I feel confident and accomplished and a little bit sexy. When I dance I feel right.

One day as I was singing Dancing Through Life, I thought about the dancing that I do—the elegant Foxtrot, the stately Waltz, the savvy Cha Cha. A thought came to me in the way thoughts often do, complete and powerful. Maybe... maybe there are other meanings to the phrase “Dancing Through Life.” Maybe for me it doesn't mean acting like nothing matters, it means moving through life with the grace, the control, and the flow that I feel when dancing.

The more I think about it, the more it makes sense. When I say “Bring me the horizon,” when I attack the world like a foe to be vanquished, I will most likely end up flat on my butt. The world has been here a lot longer than I have; it isn't going anywhere just because I start banging on it with my toy sword. But if I move through the world with grace and with control, with precise movements and exact steps, then I will actually do things, I will be able to accomplish what I desire and make lasting changes and...

Wait a second, I'm forgetting something—I'm not a very good dancer. I stumble. I trip over my own feet. I forget the steps, I lead the wrong way, I lose my focus and my cool and I fail. Is this the way I want to dance through life, stumbling and falling? No! But how can I do it any other? How can I become the person I want to be, how can I change the very world, if I trip over my own feet?

Then I remember. I was not the one sent to change the world, but to be an instrument in the hands of the one who was. There is a Master Dancer (to give Him another name), and He never trips, He never falls, He moves with perfect grace. If I fall, He can catch me. If I stumble, He can set my feet right.

And so I was wrong on two accounts: first I thought I must attack the world, I must conquer it, I must make it bow down to my will. Next I thought that I would dance through it expertly, gracefully, moving with the rhythm and music of the universe.

If I fight, I lose; if I try to dance on my own, I fall.

And so we go, not I alone, but we together. He and I. The Master Dancer and his pupil.  

Friday, November 26, 2010


That's a really un-cliche post title, isn't it? It's also a day late, but we didn't have internet at the barn.
Anyway, here 'tis. 

I am thankful for my family. For my mom, who is so insightful. My dad, who is wise (and both of them were willing to get up at 2 in the morning when I needed someone to talk to). My older sister, who is so amazing and helped bus me up to Idaho for Thanksgiving Break. My brother-in-law, who is to my sister what I want to one day be for my wife. My brother Josh, who is hilarious. My brother Jared, who is a cool dude. My sister Rachel, who is adventurous. My sister Jenna, who is creative. 
I am thankful for my friends. Friends I have now, and friends of the past. Hey, I'm thankful for future friends, too.
I am thankful for BYU, an amazing school with a great purpose and a strong spirit. 
I am thankful for books of all kinds.
I am thankful for cars, even though I don't have one right now. 
I am thankful for music, that I can make some of it and that I can listen to so much more.
I am thankful for tender mercies--things that don't have to happen, but do anyway. 
I am thankful for this incredibly beautiful world I live in.
I am thankful for wise teachers and mentors.
I am thankful for good food.
I am thankful for games, and for laughter.
Most of all, I am thankful for my Savior, who died that I might live. 

Happy Thanksgiving!

Note: the pictures have nothing to do with the subject of this post. I'm in a random mood. Don't judge.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

It Will Far Surpass Anything We've Seen...

Tuesday, November 23rd, 2010

I am sitting in a bus right now, bound for Rexburg, Idaho. The roads look completely white, although it has stopped snowing—an hour ago there was so much snow coming down that people running from a gas station to the bus got here with a layer of snow in their hair half an inch thick. And to think, in North Carolina we consider it a good year if we get half an inch of snow over the entire year.

This afternoon at about 1 oclock, BYU sent out a message to all students with news of a major storm coming; a storm that “will far surpass anything we've seen, probably for the last several years.” My mom texted me anxiously: “There's a big storm coming. Make sure to pack a blanket and lots of water for the bus ride up.”

A blanket and water? For a bus ride? The only reason I can think of for needing more than a jacket would be if the bus was snowed to a stop and we spent some time sitting on the side of the road... in the middle of nowhere... Slightly nervous, I mentioned to my roommate and his sister that I was taking the Salt Lake Express up to Rexburg in a few hours.

My roommate's sister's response was blunt. “You're screwed!”

Getting quite nervous at this point, I ran to the creamery and bought a loaf of bread to make sandwiches and a bag of trail mix (the sandwiches were good. Haven't made it to the trail mix yet). I packed the blanket off my bed into my suitcase along with an extra bottle of water.

My greeting upon boarding the bus was encouraging. “Hey good, you're the last one here. There's a big one coming and all the roads are closing down, but we'll get you through somehow!”

And so we began. On to the airport. Past the airport to a gas station where they transferred us to another bus after we stocked up on more snacks and water. After sitting on the bus for a few minutes, the driver poked his head back in the door. “Change of plans! We're going back to the other bus, we have to go back to the airport to pick up some people and they won't all fit in here.”

We left the airport for the second time a few minutes ago. The roads are closed ahead of us, but we are going to “hope they open fast, because we're waiting until they do.” Estimates at our ETA are 10-14 hours.

I was talking to the girl sitting in front of me about how great a 14 hour bus ride would be. “Yep,” she said, “Just changed my Facebook status to 'the adventure begins'...”


The storm was kind of a dud.

Sure, there was a lot of snow, but we never had to wait for a road to open, and our only real delay was going back to the airport the second time. We got to Rexburg a little after 12; still 2 hours late, but not 6 hours late like I was expecting.

Truth be told, I'm kind of bummed! I was ready for this storm--it would have made a great story to tell my kids someday.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Of Video Games and Killing Fish.

"This morning when I woke up I decided I would do nothing but play video games all day. Nothing."
"So you played video games for 12 hours straight?"
"Oh, more than that, easy!"
I give him a high five. "That's pretty impressive!"
He mumbles over his shoulder as he walks away: "Yeah, it's hard work..."

"So, what do fishermen do?"
He answers, leaning nonchalantly against his seat. "Well, first they bait their hook, then they catch a fish, then they kill it. But we don't usually talk about that last part in the analogy with missionaries..."

(These are different He's, just fyi.)

"So... you laugh and use big words?"
I think my entire personality just got summed up in six words.

Life. I kinda love it.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Go Cougars?

Look at this and tell me--what do you see? BYU on their way to defeating New Mexico?

I see some really pretty clouds.
Maybe that's why I don't watch sports...

One of Those Weeks...

This is one of those weeks where so much is happening, and so much is on my mind, that I can't seem to get any of it written down to my satisfaction.

I'm not dead though. Or engaged. Just in case anyone was worrying.

Next week is Thanksgiving break, which I am going to spend up in Idaho with my amazing sister and brother-in-law. I'm planning on doing quite a bit of writing, some of which should translate into blog posts. Hopefully.

Here's some of what could be coming up next:

  • Dancing Through Life
  • Talking to God
  • Friendship
  • Why Mothers are like Eggshells

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Thank You, Brother Aldrich

I had two thoughts while running barefoot around Provo in near-freezing weather (I had to wait to type this until life had bludgeoned its way back into my numb fingers).

1: Why am I so stupid???

2: It doesn't get any better than this.

Monday, November 1, 2010

God's Love in a Grand Piano

Today was just one of those days.

Last weekend was absolutely fantastic. Truly magical--I got to spend a lot of time with some really fantastic people, I dressed up like a scarecrow, I danced like no tomorrow.

And then came today. Maybe it was the fall after the weekend's rise, like the ebbing of the tide. Maybe life is just like that sometimes. Whatever the cause, today I felt down. Like meh. Like nothing was going quite right for me, and like I couldn't get anything right.

As my usual retreat in situations such as this is music, I decided to take a break from pretending I was doing calculus to sing. I like to sing in the Harris Fine Arts Center (HFAC), in one of the practice rooms in the basement. I especially like these practice rooms because each and every one comes equipped with a (well maintained and in tune) piano, and while I do spend most of my time singing, there is something very cathartic about playing 5 minutes of Klaus Badelt and Kenneth Cope. Even better, a few of the rooms have a grand piano!

Just one problem. I am not the only one who loves these practice rooms; they are often quite packed, sometimes completely filled. When they are full I am forced to descend another set of stairs in search of an empty organ practice room. Finding harpsichords in the organ practice rooms may have been awesome, but there is something fulfilling, something solid, about a piano's keys beneath my fingers.

With this in mind, I started my walk down the long hall, peering from door to door, looking for an empty room. As I started my walk, I began a silent prayer. Today was hard, but I know you love me anyway. Please... help me find an open practice room, one with a good piano. A Grand Piano, even! I started walking.

As I proceeded down the hall, seeing full practice room after full practice room, I said another prayer. I know you could make a grand piano appear here if you wanted to, but you don't need to. I will know you love me even without a grand piano, and I'll be ok eventually. I'll get over this slump. If all the practice rooms are full, I can go downstairs! It's fine, really it is.

I reached the end of the hall. I looked at the last door. It was open, and the room was dark. I stepped forward, turned on the light, and saw a grand piano.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Utah Beauty

Today while walking from one of my classes, I saw this.

Actually, I saw it from over the top of the Smoot Administration building. It was so incredibly beautiful--Mount Timpanogos seemed to be glowing, and the sky was an amazing shade of electric blue--that I did something kind of crazy: I went half a mile out of my way for the perfect shot (be proud of me, mom). Once I got to my vantage point and started taking pictures, I just couldn't stop!I am awed by the beauty of the mountains. Really, I am awed by how incredibly beautiful all of Utah is!
I will admit, I was very worried when I left my home in lush, green North Carolina to come to the desert that is Utah that I had consigned myself to 4+ years of brown and grey.
Yes, there is some brown and some grey. But there is also a lot of blue, and a good bit of white, and even some green and gold.

About this time of year in North Carolina, the leaves start changing colors. This happens everywhere, it is true, but in NC it means the whole world becomes a kaleidescope of reds, golds, oranges, and yellows. While I will always miss my home state, I am happy to find I love my new state as well.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Sunday, October 10, 2010

A Really Amazing Experience.

A short introduction to "A Really Amazing Experience."
Last week, I won the "cheesiest narrative" contest in my writing class (I think the prize was 1 extra credit point). I think this is perhaps the worst thing I've ever written--I love it. So, here it is!
Note: This is completely made up. No worries, I'm still VL.

A really amazing experience

A few weeks ago, I was at a friend's house baking cookies. My friend, whose name is Patricia, really likes making cookies. I also like making cookies, but more than I like making I cookies I like Patricia; she is the apple of my eye. While we were making cookies she started talking to me about my hopes and dreams, and who I wanted to be. I told her about my dream of taking over the world and being the first ever completely benevolent—and absolutely feared—dictator. I asked her if she wanted to help me take over the world. I don't really remember what she said, but I think she laughed and then we stopped talking about taking over the world.

While the cookies were baking, we walked around Patricia's house. It was a very interesting place. I think when I get to buy a house, I want to get a house that is a lot like Patricia's, because her house was really neat. It may be really expensive, but I think I could get someone to sell it to me because I'm a really good person and everyone loves me. Everyone loves me so much, in fact, that people sometimes throw things at me—I think it's like trying to touch me from far away, since not everyone can touch me up close. I'm just that awesome.

Anyway, that doesn't really have anything to do with the story, so time to get back to business and put the petal to the metal. Patricia and I kept walking around her house, but then the stove timer beeped so we took the cookies out of the oven. I didn't burn my hand on the pan, but I thought it would probably have hurt if I had.

So, we ate some cookies, which I didn't think tasted very good but pretended to so that Patricia would like me. Now this is where it gets interesting. Patricia said that she really, really liked me. I said that I really, really liked her. Then we kissed, and it was pretty amazing, and I get little goosebumps when I think about it now. The moral of this story is, if you are as totally awesome as I am, girls will want to kiss you.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Whirlwind tour of the ESC

One of the classes I am taking this year, Physics 191, is a once-a-week seminar introducing the faculty and programs in BYU physics. It's a pretty fun class (although for some reason I always have trouble staying awake), and one of the cool things we got to do this week was take a 20 minute tour of the Eyring Science Center.

This is one wall of the anechoic chamber, found two floors below ground level. Everything--floor (6 feet below a wire mesh we stood on), ceiling, walls, was covered in these foam wedges. The overall effect was, well, anechoic--we clapped, we yelled, we clicked and whistled, and every single time the sound faded the moment we stopped. It was kind of creepy, but way cool.
This is some kind of particle accelerator... It was in the plasma physics lab. This thing could probably destroy the universe. (Not really, but wouldn't it be cool if it could?)
We took a trip through the planetarium. The wall murals were really fantastic, I want to come back here at length some day soon.

We also got to see the telescope housed in the ESC; the picture after that is the retracting part of the roof.

This is a laser. Cool, huh?
The laser labs (there were a bunch of them) all had really funny signs on the doors. These were a few of my favorite, although the best was definitely a sign that said "This lab free of laser-related deaths for ___ days." I think there were something like 25 scratches in the blank space. Good job, BYU physics!

As our last step on the tour, we visited the reverberation chamber--it was exactly the opposite of the anechoic chamber; a clap sounded like a gunshot. Part of the physics of the reverberation involved these curved plastic plates suspended from the ceiling in apparently random patterns.
So now I have wandered in the HFAC and taken a whirlwind tour of the ESC. What other secrets does the campus of BYU hold?

Monday, October 4, 2010

My Gracenotes

Saving grace. That grace which lifts up a poor, broken, downtrodden soul, a soul burdened by sin and by guilt, a soul that at some times desires nothing more but the end of existence, of feeling, of conscious thought, a soul that desires the mountains to fall upon him to hide his crimes from God… the grace which lifts up this soul, comforts him, heals him, nourishes him, succors him, plants in him seeds of an unshakeable, unquenchable faith, gives him joy where once was pain, gives him hope where once there was despair, which makes him into more than the fallen, lost being he was, which makes him into a Man, which makes him into a Saint, which makes him into a Son of the Living God. That is saving grace.

I walk along a sidewalk, glistening from a recent rain, and enjoy the beauty of the world around me. The trees sway slightly in the breeze, nodding to the rhythm of a song that I cannot hear. Birds chirp in the trees, joy made music, calling to one another and perhaps just to me. In the distance I see a mother and her child, walking up to their front door; the child reaches for his mother’s hand, instinctively, a motion he has made thousands of times before. The sun, temporarily hidden behind a cloud, bursts forth in light and glory and wonder, and I cannot help the smile that comes to my lips, the feeling of joy sharp as a knife, gentle as a cloud, and bright as the son whose light I live in.

Special thanks to Brian Doyle, who wrote an essay entitled “Gracenotes;” little anecdotes, observations, biographies and thoughts related to grace. The idea for this essay was that it could be pulled from his (much longer) essay.

Also, special thanks to Alma the Younger, who gives me a fantastic example of what saving grace is, and of living by grace.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

The Benefits of Getting Lost

"It's a dangerous business stepping out your door, if you don't keep your feet there's no knowing where you might be swept off to."
-Bilbo Baggins

Let me tell you. When you are at BYU, this becomes not only a dangerous but also a very fun experience. And here's why.

I got to play a harpsichord!

A real, live harpsichord. One of the blessings of living at home was having access to an amazing electric piano--not just a keyboard with four octaves and a tinny tone, but a high quality electric piano. This piano could play the sounds of just about any instrument imaginable, from brass drums to trumpets to a full string orchestra to, yes, a harpsichord. Because of this (and a slight familiarity with Bach), I knew what a harpsichord should sound like.

However, I did not ever expect to actually see one, let alone play one. But life had different plans for me. One day last week, as I was wandering the HFAC (Harris Fine Arts Center for those not versed in the ways of BYU lingo) looking for a practice room, I ran into one of my friends.

"Hey, what are you doing?" She says.

"I'm taking a voice training class, so I'm looking for a practice room, but all of these are full."

"Have you tried the practice rooms downstairs?"

I hadn't. I didn't even know these downstairs rooms existed! She decided she still had time before her organ lessons started to show me the way. Downstairs we went, and she led me to an imposing door with an electronic lock on it. "The code is *****," and now I've got to get back upstairs for lesson. Bye!"

Slightly nervous, I punched in the code. The lock beeped affirmative and flashed green, and I was in! As I turned on the light, I realized why I hadn't known about these practice rooms; they were for the organ students. There was a full size church organ sitting imposingly in the middle of the room. And, for some inexplicable reason, this little beauty sat nestled in the corner.

I was curious to try the organ, but I couldn't actually get it to turn on (that will be an adventure for another day!) And so, I turned my attention to the diminutive instrument in the corner of the room. It looked old, perhaps even hundreds of years old. My inquiring fingers hit middle C to find, wonder of wonders, the stringy classical sound of a harpsichord.

The whole point of finding a practice room was so that I could sing, but I am perfectly happy with the time I wasted playing Kenneth Cope and Pirates of the Caribbean on the harpsichord.

Life is good!

Tuesday, September 14, 2010


I sit with my eyes closed, feeling the music as much as hearing it, listening closely to the stately, wonderful rhythm of the piano and the beautiful, familiar tune of the violin. I know this song well, but it seems new to me as I hear it tonight, perhaps because every other time I have heard it I have not been a student at BYU. Chills run up and down my arms as the key changes, and my heart soars with the violin. I remember the words spoken a few minutes earlier by President Madsen: “You belong here. This was no accident, you coming here; there is a purpose and a meaning to your being here right now.”

“Can I ask what in the world is going on here? Those guys are like 25!”

“I think they are closer to 30 actually... well you see, my friend is visiting, and I invited her to dinner, and she brought one of her friends, and this friend of hers brought these two guys--”

“Who are 30?”

“--yes, and they brought their friend too...”

I think I might write a children's book about this evening. I'll call it something catchy, maybe “If you invite an RM to dinner...”

I spent this Sabbath day sitting at the feet of the prophets, almost literally. Once again, I could not imagine being anywhere else in the world than right here, right now.

“Come on Jason! All you, bro!”

I take a deep breath, then start running. I must be crazy, I think to myself as I take a flying leap onto the tarp. Down, down, down I fly; the water is cascading up into my eyes, I can't see; I hear gasps of anticipation above me; suddenly I stop, abruptly and painfully, not at all the way I planned it. I am disoriented, dazed, confused. After a few moments I blink the water out of my eyes and regain my wits. Then I realize that I missed the patch of grass I was aiming for and instead landed, squelching and scraping, in the mud. I stand up slowly, gingerly—my entire front from my chest to my knees is covered in brown, sticky muck. I turn around and raise my arms in triumph.

They cheer.

      1. Weave a pack of bacon together into a mat.

      2. Spread sausage out over the bacon; season to taste

      3. Spread cooked bacon and onions on top of the sausage; season again; apply sauce

      4. Roll the whole thing together, using the bacon mat as a wrapping

      5. Seasonings, sauce. Throw in the oven long enough to cook all the meat.

      6. Enjoy.

(I am so making this!)

Right now, as I write this, I am sitting in the courtyard of the Joseph F. Smith Building (JSFB to those wise in the ways of BYU lingo). I like coming here to eat my lunch in between classes; there is a beautiful fountain, along with trees for shade, and it is a peaceful place to eat. The sky is pure and blue, with big puffy white clouds sprinkled here and there like misplaced castles. I sit here and think about the last few days' classes—about my chemistry teacher singing in a ridiculously deep voice to illustrate the way sound travels in different mediums; my Book of Mormon teacher quoting two of my favorite scriptures in rapid succession; my writing teacher laughing as she talks about her six year old son, who wants to be famous.

It hits me again, not for the first time and certainly not for the last. This is where I belong.

Friday, September 10, 2010


Note: This is the personal essay I wrote for Late Summer Honors, August 19-25.

This morning, as I was walking through campus in sunlight so bright and heavy it seemed almost palpable, as I was admiring the beauty of the gardens and the trees and the buildings, I had a moment of wonderful clarity. I was at Brigham Young University, my dream school, the school I had planned to attend ever since I was old enough to know what a university was; I had arrived!

Frankly, this realization should have hit me days ago. Had I woken up that morning and found myself a college student my surprise might have been understandable, but what really happened is much the opposite. Indeed, my road to BYU started years ago, when I first started to take an interest in the lives of my parents. I would question them on their likes and dislikes, on their moods and thoughts, and on their pasts. Many of their stories involved their years at BYU. This is where they met; this is where they came of age, where they found out who they were and what they wanted, where they made decisions that are shaping their lives--and mine--even today. As I listened to these stories, I decided that one day I would go to BYU, in the same way I decided that I would be president of the United States and drive a Ferrari and marry Emma Watson. Though my decision was simply and perhaps naively made, I proudly told anyone who asked that one day I would be going to the Y.

This juvenile persistence lasted until early in my senior year, when I began to think about what I wanted to study and who I wanted to be. Things started arriving in the mail--pamphlets, fliers, letters, posters, stickers, guides, postcards. I was flattered by the attention, and sought to return the favor by carefully studying the things I was sent, considering the possibilities each flier spoke of. Although I continued to tell people I was going to BYU, my personal resolve weakened, then disappeared altogether as I learned of the multitude of other options available to me.

Through the tide of information coming at me from every direction, I did manage to glean one important fact: I should apply to multiple colleges, however many applications my budget and patience could handle. I needed to branch out into different locations, different themes, different sizes and shapes and mottoes and purposes. The decision of where to actually go came later; what I needed were options. A short time after this realization, I decided it was time to begin filling out my applications. I would apply to BYU, as it was my parents’ alma mater and I was still quite fond of it, and to Utah State as well, where one of the professors was a close friend of my family. I would decide on which other schools to apply to as the process progressed.

I began assembling my information, writing up a list of extracurricular activities and awards. I decided on what was important to me, a home-schooled Mormon boy who had lived in North Carolina his whole life. I wanted a school with strong physics and chemistry programs (even as I write this I am unsure which discipline I will go into), a school where I could develop spiritually, and a school where I could find good friends and eventually a wife. I looked at the pamphlets and the postcards and the team mascots and the catch phrases, and I decided where else I wanted to apply. Along with the previously mentioned pair, I would apply to two other universities. The first of these was the University of Utah, BYU's arch rival. The second was Harvard.

My decision to apply to Harvard was a difficult one. Perhaps the most acclaimed school in the country, and one of the great universities of the world, the name evoked for me images of elite groups of incredibly intelligent people, future surgeons and businessmen and lawyers and statesmen, the cream of the crop, assembled together to seek learning and wisdom at the feet of renowned educators. The thought that I might be worthy to join their ranks, through hard work and an aptitude for test taking, was stimulating. The very real possibility that they would reject me was terrifying. However, I overcame my fears and began the application, completing all of it but the mid-year report. This I would send in several months later, after the first semester of school ended.

My first few acceptances came in, from both the University of Utah and Utah State, two good Utah schools where I would be likely to find friends and companions who would share my beliefs. Soon after receiving my acceptance letter, I realized I did not actually want to go to the University of Utah. I applied there simply because it was in Utah; I had no deeper reason, no great love for its academics or atmosphere. Almost as soon as I was accepted, I declined admission. This narrowed the field down to three colleges, all of which I had good reason to want to attend: BYU, the school of my childhood dreams; Utah State, in beautiful Cache Valley, where I knew a professor; and Harvard, that prestigious convocation of genius. I had not yet been accepted to either BYU or Harvard, but the year was still young and I held out hope.

Once the idea of Harvard had entered my mind, it was hard to remove. It seemed to me that the whole world would be clamoring to employ me if I graduated from Harvard--the coat of arms bearing the word truth would act as some sort of master key, unlocking opportunity after opportunity wherever I went. I began to daydream about the people I might meet, the world-changing conversations we would have.

Today I am left wondering whether I would have been accepted by Harvard, for I terminated the application in its eleventh hour, declining to send in my mid-year report. As quickly as the vision and desire came to me, it was shattered by several cold doses of reality and perspective. The academics of Harvard were, I learned, intensely competitive, for each student desired to be the best at the expense of their peers, and while I looked forward to the challenge of college this type of cutthroat competition was not nearly so attractive. On a financial level, attending Harvard would require obtaining massive student loans which would then take years to pay off. Finally, the moral environment described to me by the Harvard alumnus I consulted was decidedly the opposite of the environment I had envisioned myself in at college. I decided against Harvard.

Around the same time I ceased my Harvard plans, I was accepted to BYU. I now had two schools left to choose between. Both universities had accepted me; both had strong physics and chemistry departments; both had large groups of Mormon students and good moral environments. The playing field was level, each college seeming to have many of the same strengths. Finally, after weeks of writing lists, making comparisons, pondering, praying, and making phone calls, I made my decision, maybe because they sent me clever things in the mail, maybe because they offered me a scholarship months before BYU got around to it, maybe because I simply wanted to have made a decision--I would go to Utah State! I began to think of myself as an Aggie. I put up a sticker on my mirror. I started talking to people who had graduated from Utah State, and a few who were still going there.

Several weeks progressed in this way, until one day I made a discovery. I was apprehensive about my decision, unable to summon full enthusiasm for my future school. The snake of doubt wound its way firmly around my heart, crushing my confidence, making me question my reasons and decisions. What if being flattered by all the mail I received was not a solid reason to choose a college? What if the same was true with their promptness in accepting and scholarshipping me? What would I be missing if I rejected BYU, what spiritual insights and opportunities could I have there that would not be available anywhere else? One night as I sat thinking about my concerns and my future as a student, I reversed my decision. I was not an Aggie, I was a Cougar!

I would love to say that the change was instant, that all shreds of doubt flew from my mind like iron flakes pulled by a magnet, that the pathway has been bright and clear ever since. I would love to say this, but it would be a lie. I have oftentimes been unsure of my decision, wondering if Utah State really was the best choice. However, my confidence has grown, grown in the way a flower grows, slowly and modestly shooting upwards toward the sun, towards peace and surety of mind. It grew enough for me to pack up my shoes and my toothbrush and get on a plane to travel two thousand miles away from my home. It grew enough for me to say goodbye to my family. It grew enough for me to walk onto campus alone, knowing I would get lost a dozen times on the first day.

It grew as I sat in class and listened as my professor taught us that writing essays helps us become like Christ. It grew as I got to know my fellow students and as I felt the strength of the standards we share. It grew as I learned of the history of this place, of the inspiration and sacrifice that created this school. This morning the small, humble bud of my confidence opened to a bright flash of color, of wonder. Like a flower, it bloomed.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

This Is It

So, I am at BYU.

Brigham Young University.

The Y.

This is my dream school. The school I've wanted to attend all my life. The big kahuna. The end all be all. Throw in a bunch of other cheesy cliché expressions if you wish--the point is, I'm here!

In the weeks leading up to this moment, I:

Said goodbye to my family and got on an airplane with all of my earthly belongings,

Spent $240 in Walmart, because my mom loves me that much,

Did an entire 1-credit class in a 5 days,

Taught Sunday School twice in a singles ward,

Freaked out because of stress,

Got really, really homesick,

Hiked the Y,

Got shy around a girl (yes, me!),

Stayed up past midnight studying,

Had the time of my life.

As I write this, I am sitting in the library (trying to become like the man my grades could be like). Tomorrow will come in a few hours, bringing with it classes and deadlines and plans and parties and surprises that I can't even imagine tonight. But right now, I can sit here in a moment of peace and quiet and think about what brought me here.

I will be posting on this blog a couple times a week from now on. Sometimes I might not write very much, just a picture and a thought. But I will also post personal essays, exceptional papers, and anything and everything that is on my mind. Consider yourself warned.