Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Dear Granny,

Dear Granny North,

Are all old people as fascinating as you? You’re rolling your eyes right now, aren’t you? I promise I mean no harm with my question. In fact, it’s actually a compliment. I think you are one of the most interesting people I know. You are such an individual. But have you always been that way? Or do you automatically transform once you’ve passed a certain age? I almost picture it like a game of Monopoly. After you pass “Go” for let’s say the 70th time, instead of collecting 200 dollars, you get a “Who cares! I’m-old-and-will-do-whatever-I-want Card.” In any case, I ask because I don’t have a point of reference. I don’t hang out with many chicks over the age of 65. And if I did, I think you’d get mad. You’re pretty competitive that way.

You came to mind the other day as I was rehearsing a song from the musical Oklahoma!, and somewhere in between singing about farm animals and starry nights, I had to stop and chuckle at the irony. There I was, Jeffrey Scott Parsons, a white Willard farm boy who moved all the way to the big, glitzy city of Los Angeles only to end up singing a song about how wonderful it is to live in the country. Go figure! But then, as I accepted the challenge, I figured, “Why not?” I come from a long line of non-sequiturs: immigrants entering the USA, pioneers crossing the plains to Utah, and of course, you! Somehow, while living in the same place for eighty years, you pioneered your way past every conventional, small town stereotype of what your life could have been, and I admire you for it.

I think you had an opportunity to play it safe. You could have grown up, got married, had a dozen kids, and that would have been the end of it. And while that has been and continues to be a wonderful life for many people, somewhere along the way you decided it wasn’t completely yours. So, when was it? How did you decide to be you? Maybe it all stems from your honesty. From what I gather, you’ve never had a problem saying exactly what you think. Perhaps that brutal honesty gave you the perspective and drive to do exactly what you wanted to do.

All I really know is by the time I made my appearance on the “Monopoly board,” I could see no one else like you. You are the cowgirl who rides a horse before making a trip to Nordstrom. You are the tough lady who kills rattle snakes with a garden hoe on the same day she gets her nails done. You’re the grandma who drives her grandkids around on “the golf buggy with the fringe on top” while irrigating the pastures. You are the wife who keeps a sparkling home on the inside and maintains an impeccable yard on the outside, not to mention the quintessential Sunday School Secretary who slurs out a “hell” or “damn” whenever deemed necessary. You are the creator of the aptly named Grandma’s Rolls, Grandma’s Roast Beef & Potatoes and Gravy, Grandma’s Homemade Fudge, Grandma’s Orange Julius, and Grandma’s cherry pie while managing to stay thin at the same time. You’re the girl who stayed put, but traveled around the world.

You and your complex nature have taught me many lessons, Granny. Here are a few:

  1. When women get older, their breasts droop, which then allows the daily brassiere to also act as a secret cash reserve that can “perk up” any crisis.
  2. Projection is key. If you want people to listen to you, talk louder.
  3. The dining table shouldn’t be the only thing clean enough to eat off of. Add to it the living room carpet and the asphalt driveway.
  4. Equality and bliss can both exist in a marriage.
  5. Animals should never die in storytelling, only people.
  6. Joy multiplies along with your offspring.
  7. Gravel will not naturally maintain itself. Bring a rake.
  8. Used cotton candy bags can be used as emergency hairnets at Disney World.
  9. You can go to church without waiting for your parents to tell you to do so.
  10. Wherever you are, bring a granola bar.

When I was sixteen, I saw my first Broadway show in New York City sitting right next to you. I saw my first eight Broadway shows that way. No matter how many times I may go there, that city will always remind me of you and Grandpa. It’s where my dreams came true. You made me a believer.

Granny, I know you’re not feeling too great right now. I wish there was something I could do. What you need to know is that even as we are all beside you, it is you who once again must lead. You are still that pioneer, paving a path where there wasn’t one before. None of us have been there, but we will know that you have. It is this legacy of strength and faith that I proudly inherit from you. It is my anchor: a stability that keeps me grounded but never weighs me down. I love you. Feel better.

Your fan,


Sunday, November 1, 2009

Latter-Day Sitcom

I did something quite adventurous last month: I got a library card. (Pause for laugh track…and continue--) The first book I read was by Phil Rosenthal, the creator of one of my favorite sitcoms, “Everybody Loves Raymond.” I’ve seen most episodes more than once, and they still make me laugh. The book documents how many of those zany, hysterical, and sometimes improbable situations in the show were largely inspired by the creator’s own loud Jewish family. Halfway into my reading, I started thinking competitively: “What about my childhood!? Weren’t we crazy enough back home to inspire a sitcom?” I’d like to think so.

“Latter-Day Sitcom” (LDS, for short…of course) would be a half hour, multi-camera, family comedy inspired by my life. (Think “Little House on the Prairie” meets “Family Ties.”) It would be groundbreaking! I mean really, what’s out there for Mormons as far as comedy goes? A few irrelevant polygamy jokes…and that’s about it. If people only knew how relatable our relative insanity actually is!

I once heard my dad say that you should always lock your car when you go to a Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, or it might be filled with zucchinis by the time you get back. In short, that’s the kind of supportive community I grew up in: full of service, love, and food.

Truthfully, I should be more specific when I say “food.” While my family always had a garden, just like our pioneer ancestors before us, our house was also stocked with plenty of processed sugar. On any given morning, there were about six different breakfast cereals to satisfy the ever-changing appetites of five children and two adults. Most of the cereal boxes could barely stand up since they had been destroyed on the day of purchase by eager hands trying to find the cereal’s hidden toy.

In addition to the sugar cereals, our household single handedly kept Hostess bakery prospering during the 90s. You name it: Twinkies, Cupcakes, Ho-Ho’s, Ding Dongs, all delicious additions to our pantry shelves. This kind of nutritional controversy was bound to create waves in a small farm town like mine. I remember once my mom was asked to watch a couple of neighborhood kids on a Saturday afternoon, and while they were at our house, we all had peanut butter and honey sandwiches on white Wonder bread with Doritos on the side. They seemed particularly happy, but we didn’t think anything of it until their own mother showed up, and the first words out of the children’s mouths were, “MOM, GUESS WHAT WE ATE!?”

Yes, in a conservative town that size, we were brimming with fascinating stock characters. The congregation I attended growing up always sported its fair share of mullets (surprisingly from women). Still, that’s not to say we were without culture. To be honest, my life could also be accurately portrayed in variety show form.

Every year, each congregation, or ward, was in charge of putting together their own “Road Show,” or mini-musical that was performed on one evening with all the other shows from the LDS wards in the area. There was usually a theme. One year it was “Colors”; another year it was “Fairy Tales: The Rest of the Story.” That year, I played the Frog Prince; my older sister was Dorothy Gale. Turns out Dorothy’s “ruby slippers” had been defective and lead her through various fairy tales on her way back to Kansas. Long story short, my sister had to kiss me on the cheek…in front of people…I was mortified…a mortified Mormon.

My family came to be known as the family that sang together, like the Mormon Von Trapps. Wait, I guess the Osmonds were the Mormon Von Trapps, so we were more like the Osmonds. In any case, we frequently sang together as a family. For example, my mom and dad created a family tradition by taking us Christmas Caroling to the widows of our hometown during the holidays. My brother, always humiliated to be accompanying me, would take along his guitar, and we’d all sing a little “Silent Night” and “We Wish You a Merry Christmas.” And if those widows were lucky, I’d throw out a show-stopping rendition of “Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer” or “Santa Claus is Coming to Town,” complete with optional notes and choreography. Oh yeah, my sisters were there, too.

In fact, I always got along great with my three sisters, as long as I wasn’t making them cry. We’d put on shows, play Nintendo, swim in Grandpa’s reservoir. We had a grand old time. The more bankable comedy of my childhood was found in my relationship with my brother. We shared many of the same interests: music, tennis, church, but we couldn’t have been more different. To begin with, he’s about six years older than me. In addition, when he was playing Pink Floyd on his guitar, I was blasting the score of Beauty & the Beast. You get the idea… Still, there are a couple of times that I remember hanging out with him.

The first was playing Nerf basketball in his room. I truly felt honored that he had asked me, because, after all, he could have asked my older sister. But, seeing that she was taller than him, I think he picked me out of pride. Anyway, I went downstairs to his room to begin the game. There wasn’t much space, but the plastic hoop was firmly attached to the door, and the sponge-like basketball was ready to dunk. After playing a handful of points, he told me that we needed to take a break and “juice up.” He retreated to his dresser, and stared at a picture of his then 6th grade girlfriend. By staring at her, he somehow regained the energy to continue playing. Not really grasping the concept, I followed suit by staring at a picture of Jesus.

When my brother turned sixteen and got his driver’s license, he then became a hot commodity to me. He was another person who could take me to my clogging events! I remember one event in particular during a summer when the Olympics were on. My clogging team was sponsoring a barbeque at someone’s house, and since I was the youngest on the team, and one of only two boys at the studio, my parents made my brother chaperone for the evening. I don’t remember much that happened. I know there was a pool. We brought hamburger patties to grill, and he and his Oakley sunglasses spent most of the time on a lounge chair while I swam. He didn’t even bring a swimsuit. Loser. Now, I didn’t do anything to provoke him, but as I was splashing around, he suddenly got up from his chair, tore his shirt off, and jumped into the pool wearing only his cut-off jeans. Flashing a smile to the ladies, he started to tickle and throw me around the pool while all of the girls giggled and sighed. And though I was far from adolescence, I distinctly remember thinking, “What the Hell?”

I think those would make pretty good scenes. Still, the best sitcom episodes are usually born out of tragedy, (“Chuckles Bites the Dust,” from The Mary Tyler Moore Show) and it is no different for my family. The day my father passed away was a long one, for many reasons, but that evening proved especially unforgettable. I’ll paint the picture for you:

The house is quiet. There is a still, solemn air prevailing in the living room. Our bishop comes over to make sure everything is ok and to possibly start talking about funeral plans. (Which was great…it was nice to feel the support of a church leader.) So, while he is in the living room, the doorbell rings. It’s a woman from church, holding a casserole. (It was one of those classy Utah entrees with cream of something soup and canned green beans. Still, very kind of her...) Then, I hear another knock on the door: the local florist with a delivery. How nice. My big sister takes off to the kitchen to make room in the refrigerator for the casserole, I put the flowers by the fireplace, and Mom is still talking to the bishop. Doorbell rings. It’s another dear lady from the church, bringing a dish of lasagna and Jell-O for dessert. (It’s always Jell-O, by the way.) So, my sister starts clearing more room in the fridge. I say thank you, and as she leaves, the florist dude comes back with something else he found in the delivery van. Beautiful. I set it next to the other one by the fireplace. (How had all these people already found time to make food and order floral arrangements!?)

“Hello!!” (Now they’re just yelling into the house, because I haven’t had time to close the door.) It’s an older couple working as missionaries. I’ve never met them, so I take a message for my mom, who is now deciding which uncle should say the benediction at the funeral. By now, my youngest sister has begun to develop an allergic reaction to the new potted plant that was just discovered sitting at the back door. As she sneezes uncontrollably, the phone starts to ring, which terrifies our cat, who decides to cope with all the madness by vomiting on the carpet. All the meanwhile, my older sister still hasn’t found a place in the refrigerator for the lasagna, so we decide to eat it. By eleven o’ clock, I am laying on the floor in the living room, with my feet up on the couch like a pregnant woman. The bishop looks down at me and says, “You look tired.” I say,

“Charity is exhausting.”

You know, the reason “Raymond” will still be funny and relevant in twenty years is because we know those characters. After all, it’s just about a family hashing out life over a dinner table. But what matters is the audience cares about who’s sitting at that table. And when you care about them, you care about what happens to them, and that’s where comedy is born.

It kind of gives hope to storytelling, doesn’t it? Everyone has a story. The whole world is filled with stories to tell. Personally, I think mine is golden. But then again, I know the characters sitting at the dinner table, and I love them.

Here’s to all of our shows! May they run in syndication for years to come. As long as they’re filled with those you care about, they’re bound to be classics.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

The Nephew Interviews

Last month marked the beginning of a new school year for many. Not me. J Still, kindergartners, graduate students, and all those in between stepped into the next year of their formal education. Recognizing this, I took the opportunity to call one of my many nephews on his first day of the first grade. After discussing important things, like his backpack, I asked if he received any new books to put in it. He said yes, and I further inquired which ones. After a pause, he carefully responded,

“A blue one, and a green one.”

I thought his answer was perfect. Of course, a blue one and a green one, what else would they be? He’s in the first grade! I smiled for a day and a half. (My nephews often have that effect on me.)

Well, then I got curious. I wanted more golden truths from the young minds of my family. I didn’t want to exploit or manipulate them, just hear about life through their eyes. So, with great delight, I created a little questionnaire for three of my nephews. I sent the questions to my siblings with the strictest of warnings that no matter what the boys said, the answers could not be altered. Well, I received their answers, and they are definitely candid, so I’ll provide translation when needed. But first, here are the nephews:

Jordan is the youngest of the participants. He is 4 years old and currently attends preschool. He loves Transformers, and decided earlier this year that his then unborn brother should be named “Bumblebee,” after one of the Autobots. His little brother, Cayden, is now almost six months old, the nickname has stuck, but Jordan has shortened it to “Bum.” A nickname of a nickname…fantastic!

Next up is Brentan. At six years old, Brentan loves farms, tractors, and the color green. He is a brand new first grader, and as I mentioned before, has two new books. He is very polite and very thorough at making sure I take off my shoes when I visit his house.

Dylan is the oldest of the three, coming in at a mighty seven years old. He is the king of the Wii at his house, and he never fails to talk trash as he kicks mine on the basketball court.

Finally, just to keep things interesting, I’m adding one more set of answers…my own. I will be answering as my ten-year old self. Enjoy!

Q: First things first, what are you going to be for Halloween?

A: Jordan: “Mike Zazowski.” (Mike Wazowski from Monsters Inc.)

Brentan: “I don’t know…I want to be a Chipmunk.”

Dylan: “Darth Maul, but maybe Batman or Shaggy.”

Jeff: “MC Hammer.”

Q: What is the most important thing you’ve learned at school?

A: Jordan: “How to play games and color and play…”

Brentan: “Not to put sand in peoples eyes.”

Dylan: “Be nice!”

Jeff: “I can always be friends with the teacher.”

Q: How do you know who you should marry?

A: Jordan: “Um…Uh…You?!” (“You,” is his Mom. She will tell him when the time is right.)

Brentan: “Um…I DON’T KNOW!!!”

Dylan: “I don’t remember…maybe Christiana, because she is cute.” (AND his sister.)

Jeff: “Someone will show up to the temple with me.”

Q: What makes you really happy?

A: Jordan: “If you be nice to me.” (“You,” is once again referring to his mom. HAHA!!)

Brentan: “Playing.”

Dylan: “Because of all the things that I do like play video games. I am also happy about the brownies you are cooking right now.” (My brother makes brownies??)

Jeff: “Mon-Fri, 6:00 pm, the Mickey Mouse Club on the Disney Channel. Directly followed by Entertainment Tonight at 6:30 on CBS.”

Q: What would you do with a million dollars?

A: Jordan: “Leave it with me.”

Brentan: “Buy an apartment!”

Dylan: “I would buy all the Xbox Games and all the Happy Meals in town, and we would be really full of Fries, Chicken Nuggets, Apple Dippers, Milk…we would probably puke.”

Jeff: “Buy the Mickey Mouse Club.”

Q: If you could go anywhere, where would you go?

A: Jordan: “A city…Maybe like Park City?!”

Brentan: “Anywhere by Minnesota, because one million dollars would get me to Minnesota and an apartment, I think.”

Dylan: “The North Pole, so I could take all the presents!”

Jeff: “Disney World.”

Q: Name something you love.

A: Jordan: “I know..You and Bum!!” (You guessed it, his mom and little brother.)

Brentan: “COWS!”

Dylan: “Xbox, sports, and my family.”

Jeff: “Christmas Eve.”

Q: What is the prettiest thing you’ve ever seen?

A: Jordan: “A rainbow.”

Brentan: “A tulip flower.”

Dylan: “The sun, because it is shiny and has beautiful colors.”

Jeff: “Grandma North’s yard…or the light reflecting off of my sky blue, sparkle-satin clogging jacket.”

Young kids always surprise me. Besides soaking up knowledge like a sponge, I am most impressed by the freedom in which they honestly express that knowledge. That’s what I love about my nephews’ answers. You can’t ask for anything more than what they give you, because it’s the truth. More specifically, it’s their truth. They have ownership of it. And they don’t seem too frightened of the unknown. Using what they have, they answer the best they can, or confess they have no idea and move on.

So then why, as we get older, do we often allow our lives to be led by what we don’t know rather than what we do? As the highway of life presents certain obstacles, why do we spend so much time standing in the middle of the road staring at them? “Why is there suffering!?” “Why am I alone!?” “Why is my hair curly today!?” If questions are inevitable in life, then odds are there will be times when we don’t know the answers.

The truth is we already know a whole lot. We just forget. For example, there’s political mudslinging all over the news, and yet my nephew already knows that you’re not supposed to put sand in people’s eyes. Also, there are a lot of products designed to make us happy, but what about “playing” or “being nice?” My nephews already know what makes them happy, and I think we do too.

So what about when we are actually faced with the unknown? In our haste to find some sort of answer, we often decide to react to the unknown instead of moving forward into it. I’m not sure why. Maybe it’s easier to stand back and comment on the action rather than get our hands dirty. It might be tidier to sweep things under the rug instead of taking out the trash. And sometimes, in the moment, it may just feel better to get mad rather than love, forgive, or communicate. Still, the moments in which we choose anger, intolerance, or fear above understanding are the moments when innocence turns to ignorance.

I have been blessed to learn some great lessons in my life. In fact, I dare say that life has already taught me exactly what I need to know in order to survive. But I don’t want to just survive. Living requires more. It requires both strength and passion: the strength to remember what we’ve already learned in the face of life’s uncertainties, and the passion to use that knowledge to find more. 50% of living is remembering what we already know, and the other 50% is using that to find what we don’t.

I am very grateful for my nephews. Their confidence in what they know inspires me as an adult and reminds me that I started stepping into the unknown a long time ago. In twenty years, after school lets out for the last time, and they are armed to face the world with a degree, or diploma, or whatever, I hope they’ll remember that the future is never dark; it’s just so bright that you can’t see it clearly. Kind of like my clogging jacket.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Foreign Lands and Languages

In my college acting classes, we often talked about an invisible little demon called “The Yabba-Yabba.” The Yabba-Yabba sets up camp on the shoulders of generally anyone who may be in front of a crowd and whispers things that will make that person feel self-conscious. In the performing world, common phrases include: “Why did you just say your line like that?” “What are you doing with your hands?” and my personal favorite, “I think your zipper is down.” The good news is you can turn off The Yabba-Yabba with practice, but every now and again, he comes back to visit.

I was at the gym the other day, and I headed over to an open bench to start an exercise with a frighteningly impressive set of weights. (cough, cough) Resting near the bench were a water bottle and its could-be owner. With headphones firmly in my ears, I got the guy’s attention, pointed at the bench, and asked, “Hey…uh…man, are you using this?” He shook his head, and I victoriously sat down. Then, I heard it.

“Why did you just say your line like that?” It definitely sounded like The Yabba-Yabba to me. And then, I thought about it. Why did I say that? I addressed that guy as “man.” Not only that, but I did it in a lower register, carefully making sure that it didn’t seem as though I cared too much about the answer. It was like I had completely switched languages. That isn’t how I talk. Where am I?

The only explanation for my foreign behavior is that I was actually in a foreign land. After all, “when in Rome, do as the Romans.” Therefore, I was only accepting the culture, language, and social system found in the foreign country I’m now calling, “Gymania.” [ji-mey-nee-uh]

The borders of Gymania are strictly guarded. Whenever I approach, I’m required to show my membership card. This passport grants me access to a fascinating place, filled with many diverse people. Some are friendly; others look like they could eat you, and would, if their trainers would let them. All of Gymania’s citizens have lived there for varying amounts of time. There are a few, I believe, that live there all day, every day. No matter what time I choose to visit, they are always there, staring at their triceps in the mirror and making unusually frequent trips to the drinking fountain. This leads me to believe that, upon the stroke of midnight, they grab a yoga mat and curl up under the bench press.

Some of the other citizens seen wondering about are often visiting for the first time. This can be verified by the amount of time they spend deciphering the instructions on the different workout machines, written in Gymanian, of course. Still, others have been away for a while and are finally forcing themselves to reactivate their passports. They usually have an uneasy look, as if they know what lies ahead.

Gymania’s culture is bright and vibrant. There is a pulsating rhythm to the nation that you can actually feel. That’s because it’s pumped through the overhead sound system. The fashion is fun yet functional, with many colors in an array of Lycra fabric blends. Even the food is hip. There are futuristic drinks and snacks in neon packaging that sport such words as “ripped” and “power.”

The language of Gymania is a higher form of communication, and though I have already admitted to using it, I am far from fluent. As a general rule, there are few words used. “Man,” as I mentioned before, is very popular. Directly translated, it means, “I demand your respect because I am tough and currently reside in Gymania.”

There are also “grunts, pants, and moans” that mean, in no particular order, “Yeah, that’s right, you watching?” “I hate you Ben & Jerry’s!” and “Aw crap, this is heavy.” Probably most unique about the Gymanian language is that which is unspoken. This is most prevalent in the locker room, where a TV is always on. No matter what channel may be showing, the inhabitants of Gymania will watch it. This cultural gesture means, “Don’t be nervous about changing your clothes in front of me, because I actually think CSPAN is fascinating.”

My regular trips to Gymania have caused me to reflect on how many other “far and distant lands” we visit in life feeling like a foreigner. How often do we enter a situation and surrender part of ourselves to appease the policies and procedures of some invisible ruler or dictator, convincing us that who we are isn’t enough? (Maybe that’s The Yabba Yabba!!) With this constant self-awareness, we end up walking through life with our proverbial headphones stuck in our ears, enabling us to truly connect with as few people as possible. With the variables drastically decreased, and feeling far less vulnerable, we can then safely strut around being whomever we please. The problem is those people are rarely ourselves.

That being said, I recognize one of our superior abilities as human beings is to change and adapt. We can process things emotionally and socially, and develop skills that not only benefit us, but everyone else. Generosity, gratitude, and forgiveness are beautiful traits that we, as humans, get to nurture. What worries me personally is that I spend too much time changing and adapting if for no other reason than to not look stupid.

The truth is who we are is always enough.

Have you ever been around someone that makes you feel more like yourself? There’s a natural bond. You’re on the same ground. You speak the same language. You share a sense of worth that often results in long talks, but also in moments when no one needs to say anything at all. You just are who you are, and it’s enough. Golden time. Those are the people I consistently want in my life. They make me feel at home. And they always stick out to me like a piece of tin foil in the sun. To those I’ve already met in life: I hope you know who you are. If not, maybe I’ll see you at the gym, and I’ll tell you there…in my native tongue.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

The Great Wardrobe Experiment

“You are what you wear.” That is a legitimate saying, right? I remember reading it on a PETA activist’s sign outside a rodeo in Salt Lake City. In any case, “You are what you wear.” I caught myself reciting it a while back as I gazed into my closet of clothes, pondering how I was going to dress for the day. I suddenly felt inspired to devise an experiment to test the validity of that saying. (The hallmark of a genius or too much time on my hands? You decide.) I decided that if we really are what we wear, then a careful analysis of our wardrobe would reveal a comprehensive look into who we are as individuals.
The Great Wardrobe Experiment consists of choosing three articles of clothing from your current personal wardrobe. The first must be the oldest piece of clothing you still own. We’re talking high school or before. Don’t be shy. The second needs to be something that you love to wear every chance you get. It makes you feel like you. The third article of clothing must be the newest addition to your collection. Socks? Fine. Underwear? No problem. Evening gowns? Sure. Whatever you most recently purchased is number three. The following are the results from my closet.
The Sweater Vest
The oldest piece of clothing I currently have in my possession is a sweater vest from junior year of high school. It was purchased in the summer of 1998 as the “casual look” for my school’s elite singing group. We all wore them with white tees, khakis, and probably Doc Martens. Gotta love the 90s.
The vest is a solid burgundy color. The GAP tag inside has been colored in with a blue laundry pen, so that no one would mistakenly put mine on during quick changes backstage. At careful inspection, there is a hole at the front bottom seam that has been sewn up by hand. (MY hand!) That little piece of texture occurred during a holiday sketch when my character, a reindeer desperate to perform in “Santa’s Follies,” threw himself at the feet of the head elf in pious groveling, only to be dragged across the stage. (MY shtick!)
While I enjoyed many performances in the sweater vest, I progressively started to feel more and more detached from it as the year went on. I was definitely wearing a costume. Every time I put it on, I was suddenly in a social group of which I didn’t really want to feel a part. That feeling culminated before a choral trip to San Diego. We had been entered into a festival there in both chamber and show choir categories. It was during the preparation for that competition, that my father suffered a stroke in our home while I was at the school practicing. I had no idea, of course. Cell phones weren’t around.
I remember it was an evening rehearsal, and I wasn’t particularly happy to be there. The choreography sessions always seemed to move so slowly. After we finished, I drove the twenty minutes or so back to my hometown to find the house dark. I didn’t think anything of it until my mom called to let me know that the whole family was at the hospital. I drove back up to town in time to say goodbye before Dad was life-flighted to Salt Lake City. He passed a few days later.
The choir was very compassionate. They brought flowers; they sang at the funeral; they even sponsored a service project to help our yard along later in the year. But, deep down I still felt like if I hadn’t been wasting time at that stupid rehearsal, I would’ve been home with my family. When it came time for the San Diego trip, I didn’t want to go. It wasn’t worth it. Who was going to die this time? But, I went, and we won. Hooray.
At our last concert, I was hanging up the sweater vest along with my tuxedo. Everyone else was hugging and crying. One guy in the group asked me, “Aren’t you going to miss us at all?”
“Yeah,” I replied, “but I’ve had to say goodbye to harder things this year.” Looking back, I’m a little embarrassed by that candid response, but it was the truth.
The next year, my senior year, I became president of the group and began early college, leaving most of the presidential duties to my vice president because I wasn’t ever there. I didn’t go on the choir trip.
I don’t keep in touch with too many people from those days. Maybe I still feel a little outside of it all, or maybe I just don’t know how to apologize for keeping myself outside of it all. Luckily, the sweater vest still comes in handy. I wore it a month and a half ago to an audition where I needed to look like a disgruntled prep school student.
The Tie
When you’re serving as a full time missionary for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, you have strict grooming standards. You’re always clean-shaven. Your hair is short and parted on one side. You wear dress shoes and slacks, when not wearing a full suit, which are accompanied by a white shirt and the infamous nametag. The one accessory that is completely individual is your tie. Of course, you are asked to stay away from loud designs and cartoon characters, but it’s amazing how even in something as uniformed as missionary work, human beings still find ways to express themselves in what they wear.
My second article of clothing is a tie that I bought while on my mission in Texas. My missionary companion and I were inside a mall in the Fort Worth area on our preparation day. We both had birthday money that we wanted to spend. He suggested we go inside Structure, now called Express Men. I had never heard of it. He started browsing through their modern dress shirts and sleek looking ties. They were different from the ones at JC Penney, and I liked them. Instead of the usual, flimsy silk in traditional paisleys, these ties were more geometrical, with strong colors, and in a tight, sturdy weave of fabric. When you tied your full Windsor knot, it was a knot for the ages! I found one that went well with my navy suit and bought it.
While still being 100% silk, my tie is made up of hundreds of individually stitched squares. Those squares are variably three different shades of blue that play tricks on your eyes if you stare at it too long. It’s professional, but very fun.
I love wearing that tie. On my mission, I would wear it more to Sunday meetings or on special occasions rather than just for everyday proselytizing. The proudest moments of your mission are when you sincerely feel like you’re representing yourself and God at the same time. As silly as it sounds, my tie contributed to that. I would walk into a room knowing I was making a statement, but not just for the sake of making a statement. I was confident that I was polished, purposeful, wearing a name tag, yet still sporting the stamp of authenticity that it was really me in there.
I think that was the beginning of my now strong relationship with neckwear. My tie collection is pretty extensive. They hang in order of color. One rack holds the warm colors, while the other sports the cooler tones. I wear them whenever deemed appropriate. This leads me to believe I will no doubt be the best grandpa ever. Father’s Day will roll around, and the grandkids will always know that I will be more than happy with a new tie…or an itunes gift card.
The T’s of Summer
The newest item in my wardrobe is a t-shirt. There was a time that I wasn’t a fan of them. I felt like they made me look scrawny, and I didn’t really own any growing up unless they were ones that I got at Disney Theme Parks. Then, a few years ago, I found something that changed my life. Extra Small!!!
Do you know that if you buy an article of clothing that is your size and not the size you wish you were, you will actually look better? I didn’t know this. For the longest time, I was buying dress shirts with 16” necks and t-shirts in medium sizes, thinking that comfort had to equal baggy, and that all the post-workout whey protein would kick in any day. It hasn’t.
Lately, however, more stores have started carrying more t-shirts. They’re made from really soft cotton, look pretty darn cool, and now come in sizes small enough for skinny, yet proportionate, fellows like myself. Not to mention, who doesn’t love living in California weather and putting on a t-shirt?
A little more than a week ago, I had just finished doing some retail hours, and was on my way to a “social event.” I wasn’t digging what I had brought to change into, so I stopped by a shopping center on the way. If I’ve learned anything from my little sister, it’s that you can always stop by Aeropostale, and find a bargain, so I did just that. I found a baseball t-shirt with short sleeves. The baseball design made my shoulders look broader than they are, so I was already pleased. It was also comfortable, and when I saw the price tag, I knew it was a home run. Score one for the tepid vein of American teen fashion!
I’m happy that sometimes I can be content with just looking comfortable. I think we all deserve to feel that way. I only had to come to terms with what size enabled that comfortability. I’m petite, and proud. But don’t think that means I won’t be at the gym today.
It turns out we are a lot more than what we wear, just like an orange is much more than its peel. But, even if our outer shell is more of a protection of the inside rather than a reflection, it is still a part of the whole. The Great Wardrobe Experiment proved to me that style is a part of our own personal history. Without recognizing it, we could be doomed to repeat our pasts. We might live reluctantly, dragging our feet and a sweater vest to the opportunities that surround us. So, wear a tie if it will help you seize the day. Celebrate that you have become you and are the only person who can share it with others. Then, at the end of the day, fall down in bed feeling as comfortable as a t-shirt, knowing that your next thought is a brand new possibility.