Monday, March 16, 2015

The Miracles of Service

A little over a year ago, I got a call to serve as the second counselor in the Relief Society presidency.
A little over a year ago, I got a real kick out of God's sense of humor.

I love relief society. For me, it is the source of my strength as a Latter-Day Saint woman. It is where I find peace. When I move into a ward, I go straight to the bishop and tell him that I'll do whatever calling he wants, but I would really prefer to play the piano in Relief Society. This calling helps me keep up on my piano playing skills, and it guarantees that I don't skip out on Relief Society, since the temptation always seems to hit, and I'm always happier when I decide to stay.

So that's my favorite calling.

I love attending Relief Society on Sunday. I do not like going to any activities during the week. I'm in theatre and I work full time. I do not need to have any more obligations during the week.

So I laughed when they called me to be the counselor in charge of all the extra activities in Relief Society. That's one way to get me to go.

But more than being in charge of the additional meetings, I've been able to counsel in the presidency and meet one on one with sisters in the congregation. I've been able to meet with girls in their homes and apartments and learn from them. I've had the opportunity to teach two lessons in the past year that have really strengthened my faith. The first was about the power of being a woman. The second was about learning hope and trust through scripture study.

Last summer, the president asked us what we would like to pray for. I joked that I'd like to pray to stop bleeding. I'd been experiencing some problems with my uterus. I hadn't stopped bleeding for over a year. Birth control wasn't working and I was still paying off the last surgery I'd had to get rid of my uterine polyps, so I didn't want to have to have another surgery. The next week, Mandi said she wanted to have a fast just for my health. And a few days later, the bleeding stopped. I've been regular ever since. This is an example of the power of fasting, the power of women, and the miracle of service.

Because I'm getting married, they released me from the calling yesterday.

One blog post isn't going to do justice to the things I've learned and experienced while working with the powerful women of faith in the LDS Church. And many of my experiences ought to be kept private because I was simply a witness to someone else's experience. I'll just say that it has been a joy.

Last week, I visited with a friend in the hospital and attended  a large activity where we discussed the lives and words of past Relief Society presidents in the church. Seeing the women gathered and learning wisdom for our past was beautiful. Sitting with this dear friend and listening to her share her thoughts sanctified my time.

This week, I'm no longer in that calling. But I can still sanctify my time. I have an appointment Wednesday to visit teach. I have an opportunity to reach out to my friends and enrich my life as I share my time with them. Even tonight's production meeting is going to provide me an opportunity to plan events that will uplift members of the community.

Today I am feeling wistful, grateful, and at peace. Life moves forward.

(Sorry about the talk about bleeding. I'm not one to bother with editing these kinds of things anymore.)

Thursday, March 12, 2015

A Story Of Me and My Perspective on Falling in Love With Antonio

Once upon a time, I met a guy.

We met on Tinder. It was pretty normal. Nothing spectacularly interesting about it. Over Tinder, he was unoffensive and he didn't get mad if I forgot to reply to a message for a couple of days. (Some guys are weird.) He didn't ask anything offensive. He was just nice. And we just had little conversations back and forth. I didn't think anything of it really. It was just Tinder.

I was feeling very tender. The summer of 2014 was stressful. I moved, changed positions, got a dog, and every single week, a different LDS guy would tell me I was fat. Every week. If not more often. I'm being generous. I found myself feeling bad about myself, but worse, feeling horrible towards men. Especially LDS men. It's not that I wanted to put them all in that little box, but after dating almost all LDS guys for 20 years, they were the common denominator for my dating misery.

Writing this stuff down is difficult. I'm speaking from hindsight. I'm speaking from the perspective of having found a good man. Last summer, I didn't have hindsight or or foresight. I had sadness and hopelessness. I had this little ache inside of me.

It is so much easier for me to just not deal with my problems and concerns. I bury away my problems and I refuse to look directly at what is bothering me. For example--please do not ask me about certain bills. I will pay them, but right now, I'm not looking at them. Give me a little bit of time. I need my denial.

At church, I serve in the relief society presidency, and so I began attending the relief society activities, including date nights and discussions about dating. At date nights, I enjoyed spending time with a good friend. At other date nights, I called and asked 4 or 5 different friends, and was turned down. At the dating discussions, I heard normal guys talk about all the things they want in a relationship. And then one of the guys came up and offered me diet pills. Having to face the reality of my dating situation was painful. I wasn't allowed my sweet denial.

As painful as it was, I still wanted to try. Tinder was the easiest way to try. But I decided that I needed to both broaden and narrow my perimeters of what I was looking for. I didn't want to suffer in love. I didn't want to give up my happiness in order to be in a relationship.

So many times, being in a relationship meant being nervous, saying the wrong things, being too fat, cancelling plans, trying to be available, trying to impress, day in day out anxiety.

I didn't want that anymore.

And I wanted to see if dating non-LDS guys would be different.

It was different. And not just because these grown men were interested in more physical intimacy. These men had the maturity to at least pretend to want more. I don't know if it's because LDS men are just more honest than other men about viewing women as objects or if we just tolerate objectification so much that they haven't learned that it's wrong, but I found non-LDS guys to be beyond the immature objectification I experienced with many LDS dates. (Please note, not ALL, but enough that acting this way is deemed acceptable by both men and women.)

The interesting thing was discovering where my standards lacked. And again, not concerning morality. By constantly thinking about not having sex, I wasn't good at learning how to see someone for who they are inside. I wasn't good at recognizing a man's heart. Instead, I kept seeing the man as a possible predator or as a rejection. What a horrible conundrum. If the man accepts you and wants you, you have to fear that he will ultimate see you as a sexual means to an end. If he doesn't want you, you're a discarded object and likely to be rejected by everyone else. This world of judgment wasn't so much in the minds of the men as it was in my own mind. I couldn't see them as being capable of more. My judgment of them was just as dangerous as their objectification.

Out of this place of anxiety, I felt this need to "leave the garden." It was this pull to let myself want different things and value different attributes in men. I decided that it was time to let go of the idea that I would end up being married in the temple to a worthy priesthood holder because I no longer felt comfort that finding a man like that guaranteed that I had found a good man.

I needed to both broaden and narrow my priorities.

I broadened my needs by allowing myself to think beyond my previous perimeters. And I learned. I learned that physical intimacy is this one part of things. It is not the beginning and the end. It is a part of things. But it isn't everything. I met a man who continually amazed me throughout our courtship by honoring every request I made. When I asked him if we could hold off on physical stuff, he asked me to define things clearly so that he could know how to honor my feelings. When I told him I was an active member of the church, instead of attacking me or telling me I was wrong, he said, "You had a good experience. I had a bad experience. I'm open to the good." I have learned that kissing can be about tenderness and expressing affection, not about tantalizing. I have learned that you can feel a man's arms around you without worrying that he's just paying his cuddling dues in order to get more later. He was actually excited to exercise self control and said something about a soldier philosophy and that it would prove an inner strength.

Honestly, I don't remember because it was so long ago.

So that's one way he impressed me.

He, the inactive LDS guy, taught me, the active LDS woman, about virtuous intimacy. About loving for the sake of love and not simply loving in and around the sexual taboos.

And he took the anxiety and fear out of love. I knew that he loved me for me and not for any words I said or actions I did. I have no fear that I'll do or say the wrong thing. He told me a couple weeks into our relationship, "Eve, you can't say the wrong thing. I'm not going anywhere."

Learning to be at ease in a relationship. Gah! I can't describe how that felt. I trusted him. I believed that he meant it, and over time, he's proven that he meant it. Not that we haven't had our disagreements. But we talk about them and they're not fatal to our relationship. They're just things we haven't yet communicated clearly enough. I've learned that I want him to be exactly who he is, without fear.

I learned that from him.

I knew my anxiety and my depression wouldn't be solved by simply falling in love. Frankly, it just meant that I had more to lose if I didn't take care of myself.

I went to a good psychiatrist. She recognized some issues I struggle with and I found a great therapist. The combination of drug therapy and talk therapy has helped me to value things about Antonio that I might not have had the presence of mind to value before. I might have gotten caught up in what people thought of me dating a man who didn't go to church. I might have worried that people would judge me for not getting married in the temple. Instead, I am noticing the ways he makes every day easier. I notice the ways he helps me to better love our new family and myself. I am excited to share the good things of the gospel with him, but not because I want to change him, but because the power and strength of his spirit will bless the lives of those in the church. We talk about the power of this life and existential strength knowing that we have the divine gift within us to create our own meaning. We are endowed with power as children of God to do good for the sake of doing good and not for some external reward.

In less than sixty days, we are going to get married. In less than sixty days, we are going to become a family.

I want everyone who reads this blog to understand that my story is unique to me. I'm not writing a "how to get over depression and find a guy". But I am saying that there are some trite maxims that made me feel consistently unworthy of love. I want you to observe that I was not perfect in any way when these things happened. I did not fit any sort of qualification. I did not take a magical pill. I did not go on 100 dates. I did not smile at everyone. If anything, I was particularly shrewish at this time. (Not endorsing being a shrew.)

This is just my very personal story of who I was when I met Antonio and a little bit about how and why I fell in love with him.

Monday, March 9, 2015

The Last Five Years at The Sugar Space

Blair Howell is a kind and driven producer who asked me to write about Utah Rep's production of The Last Five Years. It's been good for me since any reviewing I've done recently has been on a more formal forum, .

This review will be a little different since I am only beholden to myself on this blog. Also, it's been ages since I posted anything on here--and so I'm very grateful to Blair for this assignment that will help me to dust off this blog and get writing again!

I have so many thoughts about this production of The Last Five Years.

First thought: Theme. This show is about time. I've listened to the songs over and over again ever since my friends Ben and Melanie introduced me to the music almost ten years ago and I never realized the through line of this theme. Time. "Take your time", "Will you spend your life with me, for the next ten minutes?"  "Things are moving too fast" etc etc. The theme jumps out over and over again. I wondered about how "The Schmuel Song" fit in, and yet it feels now like that song is the entire point of the musical now.

For those unfamiliar--the show is two people Jamie and Kathy. They both sing solos about their 5 year relationship. Kathy's solos start at the end of the relationship. Jamie's starts at the beginning of the relationship. They meet in the middle for one duet entitled "The Next Ten Minutes" where they get married. It's heartbreaking and exhilarating throughout the show.

Because we know what's going to happen, the show needs to be about more than just "what's going to happen next". It's about how is it going to happen. Why is it happening? What is happening during these songs? The show cannot be approached lazily. It is about so much more than plot. It's about a character's journey. And each journey needs to be taken within each song.

This is where this production failed. The actors played the surface of the song. They played the energy of the song--but they added nothing else to it. If the melody was sad--the actors played sad. If the energy was frenetic, the actors were frenetic. The only way this show works is if the actors can find moments of opposition within the songs. These are solos where they are singing to themselves and to the audience. They don't have a scene partner. The journey of the song has to come from them. And for many of the songs--the journey was lacking and unspecific. The surface choices were easy, but the audience can get the surface choices from the orchestrations and the lyrics. We know that Jamie is nervous about his future going too fast in his song--but what I didn't see was his ego and his confidence at the thought that "Yeah, things are moving too fast for me! Woo!"  The actor almost has to play the song relaxed in order to create a journey through the song. Playing the surface doesn't give me any more to the story. And the songs seemed longer because of that. I would have liked to have seen the actors explore where they were lying to themselves. Instead, each actor played it as though everything coming out of their mouths was the God's honest truth. As though we've never lied to ourselves about where we are in a relationship. If they could have honestly explored the lies, the opposing tactics and found the arches that exist in each song, it would have been better. I say this because the actors were clearly gifted and gave so much. I am writing this as an MFA actor and as a director. I'm being supremely picky here because I believe they could have and should have found more.

Another thing that bothered me was that the show is about characters living with all the energy, ego, and insecurity of being in your 20s. The actors were not in their 20s and despite the amazing talent and technique--something was lost. Sometimes I felt as though the objective in a scene was to look pretty or to look disheveled. The more interesting choices were drowned in questions of appearance. If they hadn't needed to fight that battle, I believe they would have made more interesting and less obvious choices. I really didn't care about how the actors looked. That wasn't the point of the play. But because the actors were worried about looking like characters who were at least ten years their junior--this theme of looking pretty crowded out the more interesting choices.

And the set. The theatre is a rectangular space. As such, the director had the option of placing the actors across a long rectangular playing space. Because the audience was also in a long rectangular--the sightlines were very limiting. I couldn't see anything that was played on the front stage right because I was sitting in the back stage left. If the scenes could have been played back by four or five feet--we would have seen things perfectly. There was a massive marble looking barricade that was used for a couple of scenes--and everyone could see that perfectly, but it seemed perfectly useless the rest of the time. In a play that is written in such an experimental way--it would have been more effective to have set pieces imagined. I looked forward to seeing the duet of "The Next Ten Minutes" on the top of the marble steps in the center of the stage, but instead it took place off the marble steps to the left. It made no sense to me. It seems like they were fighting with the space instead of embracing the space.

So onto the good.

I loved how Erin Royall Carlson reflected Cathy's journey backwards. It was a riot to see her incarnations throughout the show. She seemed almost matronly at the end--and at the beginning she exuded light and youth. Her voice even journeyed from full head voice to a brighter nasally younger sound. I enjoyed her song "Summer in Ohio" so much.

I loved Rhett Richins voice. Oh my goodness he sounds like velvet. And again, you could see his character's journey reflected in his physical carriage and clothing. "The Schmuel Song" was my favorite. He nailed all the runs and I don't know how his lungs held out so well. It was spectacular work.

I loved how John Sweeney's direction helped highlight the theme of time and left me questioning so much about what it is to be insecure and ambitious in love in your 20s. 

The highlight of the show was the chamber orchestra led by the incomparable Anne Puzey on the piano. My goodness that woman is without limits. They took up half the stage and I noticed many of the audience members watching them throughout the show. These musicians are a credit to Utah theatre.

If you see the show, you will be enchanted. This is an amazing show done very well. I know I can be overly critical, and I understand that it is impossible to do a perfect show. I am not a "reviewer" in the technical sense. I'm just a theatre artist who likes to write about the theatre that I see. As a theatre goer, you will find things you LOVE about this show--because there is so much there to love. As an artist, I wanted to see the actors play more than just one or two tactics and stop worrying so much about how they looked.

Okay one more thing I realized while watching this show. I saw why Jamie did what he did before the end of the relationship, but it was never clear to me why Cathy stopped going to support Jamie. I wonder if it's not in the show because Jason Robert Brown wrote this show about his own relationship and never really understood why his wife did what she did. Interesting.

My thoughts were provoked. My ears were pleased. It was a beautiful night out at the theatre.

If you go, for tickets, visit:
The Sugar Space is located at 616 Wilmington Ave--just off of 700 East and 2100 South in Salt Lake City. According to the ticket site, there are seats available for Thursday, March 12th at 7:30pm and Saturday, March 14th at 9pm. They will also be playing at the Ziegfeld Theater in Ogden next week.