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Shine on you Crazy Mormon

Those of us who grew up Mormon had a childhood set apart from the rest of the world. We were in the world, but we were not of it.

Oh, how much we wanted to be of the world. How dearly we wished to be cool. But even when we would hang with the cool crowd, there was an air of “different,” or “nerd” about us because of our standards which we wore on our sleeve. When we were young, the standards were bright and shiny. For most of us, when we were older (high school and such), we rolled up our sleeves to hide that shine a bit.

For us Mormons, we always knew the uber-Mormons. We knew them because they would shine like a beacon on a hill. They would uphold every standard, chide us for missing standards, and then look hurt when we just wanted to fit in for a few hours each day. I’m related to some of these beacons. You know them because even in a crowd of weirdos (also known as Mormons), they don’t fit in at ALL. But 90% of the rest of us learned to fit in over time.

But try we would to fit in. I remember in 1st grade, when I was going to school at Lakeside Country Day (now gone from this earth because the owner died and his greedy children desperately wanted to cash in on that land). The playground had various structures made from old tires. I remember playing with a foul-mouthed friend, whom I never chided for his language. I stuck my head out of the tire and said, “Shit!” quite by accident. That was my first bad word. Even though I did that, I still remember telling on Taylor Valentine for calling me a dillweed. You see? I was in the world, and trying to look like I was of it, but I just was not.

No matter how much you try to fit in, people find out you’re a Mormon. I’m sure the first thing that happens is they go asking their parents over dinner (see how old-fashioned I am? There is no more “over dinner” – it’s drooling over your frozen meal on the couch in front of Glee reruns) what a Mormon is. Within a day, the kids are back at school asking how many moms I have, or how many wives my Dad has. Then in later years they’ll ask about magic underwear. They’ll ask if we go to Church in that huge white thing in La Jolla. They’ll ask if I come from Utah (in the same tone they’d ask if I came from Neptune). They ask if we have a golden Bible. My favorite are the ones who ask if we’re polytheists, and how many wives that means we can have. It’s best to just start with a basic English lesson at that point. With each one of these questions, our coolness factor drops through the floor and we’re reminded that we are a world apart from the world around us.

Then, sooner or later we find out we can’t date till we’re 16. So then we look at girls our age and realize we can’t really talk to them, because dating could ensue. For me, I was two years ahead in school and thus I wouldn’t hit 16 till 4 months before graduating high school. I stayed away from dances, and so met no girls. If I couldn’t go to school dances, I wasn’t about to go to Church dances, so I didn’t get that exposure either. Then I was in my senior year realizing I was coming up on my last Homecoming, and knew my parents’ answer before I asked, “That’s a dance, you’re not 16. Sorry.” I went to my prom, but I had been going to an all-boys school so everyone thought my distance from girls meant I was gay. So I asked the prettiest girl I knew if she’d go with me. Then I had Disneyland grad night. I asked the prettiest girl I knew of (well I went to her brother and mother first) to sorta get her on loan for the night. Who knows what happened to her. At least prom night girl is still a friend, and one of the cooler people I know. What a cluster.

Anyway, back to our weirdness. I’m trying to show the lifetime of avoiding ridiculously over-repeated questions. Here’s one: in grade school, Teresa Wilson thought it was funny every single one of the 367 times she told the story about passing a ward building in her car with a friend, and the friend asked, “Is that the Moron Church?” Oh man I hated that.

But now, us Mormons (and excommunicated Mormons waiting on the sidelines) are gaining cache. There’s an increasing coolness factor to us. But we haven’t changed! What’s going on here?

First of all, I’d say President Hinckley’s massive temple construction surge helped. Now in just about every important city in the Western world, there is a temple. The most visible symbol of our faith can now be seen in what is really the only modern mega religious architectural marvel. That helps to familiarize us with the Gentiles.

Then, we have Big Love. I have my complaints, such as the fact that the writers get to double-dip. They portray polygamy, with many of the airs of the LDS Church, and get to show our most sacred ordinances and rituals, and still poke fun at the uber-nerdy Mormon family constantly trying to convert the single mom who’s really a hidden third wife. That might be triple-dipping, or quadruple-dipping. They’re obviously no friend to us, but what it does is finally draw a distinction in pop culture between what it means to be a Mormon and what it means to be a polygamist. Nice first step.

Then comes the Jeffs weirdos. Mr. Jeffs goes to jail for running his weird 1850s-style (and Big Love bad guys-style) polygamist compound. People now see a connection between Big Love pop culture and real life weirdos. They start to get it a bit.

Then comes Mitt Romney. He fixes corrupt Olympics, and he has good hair, he is a governor of a really blue state (and gets criticized by fellow Mormons who believe that the only good Republicans vote against any tax over 0%, jails people who get abortions and who sell the Pill, and never compromises on anything. They believe it’s much better that he stand on principle, win 3% of the Massachusetts vote and have a noble loss, thereby leaving the State to another 4 years of liberal leadership. The shortsightedness is baffling and more naive than I can stand. I’ll put it another way. If far Left is -10, and far-right is +10, my idiotic purist compatriots would rather have a -8 than a +3 because it’s so noble to lose.).

And now Mitt runs for President! He looks like a normal guy – he is a little wooden, of course, but I think that comes from the way we Mormons stand apart. He seems like any other guy with a calling at Church to us, but to the outside word they want to see some stains on his character, something that reminds them that he’s human. They won’t get that, but I sincerely hope they get him for President.

Next comes The Book of Mormon on Broadway. We have now sunk down to the level of South Park. We can officially say Mormons have become an everyday occurrence in American pop culture. Very nice.

But just when you think we’ve made enough inroads from the periphery, there are billboards everywhere! But it now looks a little contrived. It’s like when every TV show had a black guy who was the funny, ethical guy. Or when TV Shows put in a gay guy to be the funny, ethical guy who had the only loving, caring, honest, faithful relationship in the show while they were surrounded by lying,c heating, boyfriend-trading, hateful heteros. Are we being pushed into liking Mormons now? I suppose it helps to show that we don’t have horns. But still, I kind of get my back up against a wall waiting for a criticism about that. I feel like it’s going to force me to defend the Church’s decision to spend dollars on these ads. But that’s just me.

All of these things happen, and it helps. But we still live in a separate world from everyone around us. We go to school and know that we are in a bubble apart from all the other students. I go to work and I know that I need to stay in my bubble, because when I get stuck going to events with my coworkers they’ll all be falling over drunk, cursing up a storm and looking at me weird for not being drunk with them. And I can have a bad mouth every now and then, but it’s something I work on. I think that helps show them I have stains on my character. And I’m rather free with the knowledge that I’ve been excommunicated. More stains. But they know I have the bright-blue letter M on my chest, even with those stains. They can see Mormon written all over me. When there’s a Mormon exec to call they tell me to get my Mormon love fest on with the exec to make him our ally. Which I do. You see, I know the lingo. I know the secret handshake (so to speak). I can joke about how I’m a California Mormon, so we think Utah is kind of on the other side of hell. They always get a kick out of that. Call this a bubble within a bubble. But still, the bubble extends between us.. There’s a silent exchange of nods, as if we know and are comfortable with this person being in our bubble but we don’t want to be seen as weirdos so we won’t exchange too many pleasantries or relieved sighs about it.

We’re still in our bubble. Our bubble can’t be pricked by those around us, even if we want it to. We are Mormon. We don’t have horns. We aren’t polygamists. We don’t all live in Utah. We don’t all cram into the Temple every Sunday for worship services. We don’t have any problem with soda. We don’t drink coffee. We aren’t weird.

Well, we’re a little weird. We just don’t really want to be. Now go look at that billboard before you ask any more [stupid, tiring] questions.


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Travel a Mile in My Shoes

I write this blog entry as I’m wrapping up a trip where I saw family in Austin, had 2 meetings in Austin, had a meeting in Atlanta during a 2-hour layover, and had two meetings in Raleigh and only 2.5 hours on the ground before returning to San Diego. This trip occurred between 8am Sunday and 6pm Monday. I love this stuff.

I just love travel. My mother grew up traveling around the world every summer with her father (and mother, and then stepmother). While I was growing up, my father would travel all over the country and all over Europe for his business. Travel is simply in my blood.

As with anything else, travel is something you have to do right in order to have the most fulfilling experience with it.

#1: Consistency. If you travel for work, make sure you pick an airline or two and stick with them. One of the big perks of travel is frequent flyer status, and the other are frequent flyer miles. Last year, I traveled with my bosses on whatever airlines they flew, and when I traveled alone for work I took the cheapest flight available. By the end of the year, I had 12,000-15,000 miles on USAir, American, Delta, Continental, United and Southwest. Had I consolidated my travel, I could have qualified for frequent flier status on two airlines – which I did this year. It’s not worth the $20 savings to buy the cheapest airline – with just a little advanced planning you can get a very competitive rate and push yourself toward airline perks. Also, it didn’t help me to rack up 75,000 miles across all those carriers because their frequent flyer miles are incompatible with each other. I get no free flights from all that travel!

#2: Comfort. If you travel for work do not travel in your work clothes if your flight is longer than an hour or so. Travel in comfort. You can ruin a good suit/dress by sitting on a plane for 5 hours in it. Take a suit bag with your clothes in it, and change in the handicap stall in the bathroom when you land (if you have a meeting right away). Otherwise, wait to change until you get to your hotel.

#3: Working. If you travel for work, try not to work the whole time you’re on the plane.

#4: Learn to sleep on a plane – sit against the window and lean against it to sleep. Nothing makes your work more effective and your mind sharper for meetings, etc., than to have a great nap to the lull of the airplane engine.

#5: International travel. The goal is to avoid missing a beautiful, exotic spot on the other side of the planet via jet lag. To avoid this problem, I stay up the night before. Then I’m so tired I have to sleep through the many hours of flight – and if I have to encourage it with two NyQuil gel caps, I do that too. This trick is how I taught myself to sleep on planes – enough times, and your body responds to aircraft sounds with the unquenchable desire to snore.

#6: Packing. A few points here
–>a. Rolling: My grandmother (my mom’s stepmother) taught me this one. Take your clothes and roll them up really tight, one at a time. You can potentially pack twice as many clothes in the same suitcase this way. It’s like rolling a cigar – and all your clothes will be tight little cigars you stack on top of each other – even the underwear!
–>b. Shoes: If you’re traveling for work, wear the nice shoes with your pajamas/jeans – NO ONE CARES. But it keeps you from having to pack them. If I’m traveling long enough to need more than one pair of shoes, I always wear the bulkier shoes for my plane trip, even if they don’t make a lot of sense for the rest of my ensemble. Then kick your shoes off for the flight!
–>c. Wrapping. There’s no reason to take up suitcase space with them. Anything breakable, I wrap in jeans/sweats/something like that.
–>d. The BULK. In conjunction with #2 above and if possible, I wear everything bulky onto the plane. If you have a jacket and a

#7: Talking. You’re stuck on the plane with a couple of strangers. Why not talk to them? Start by asking if wherever you’re going is their final destination. They want to hear about you, and you can learn something from them. Don’t succumb to your inner introvert: you are already cramped in coach with them. How much more cozy can it get?

#8: Sudoku. Learn to like it. It’s in the airplane magazines and can keep you busy awhile.

#9: Traditions. My dad would buy Popular Science before the flight, and would order Mr. & Mrs. T’s (bloody mary mix – no alcohol) to drink. I now do the same thing. I have added cranberry juice to my ensemble, since it’s good for your kidneys and I’m sure flying dries you out. Figure out your own traditions and do it! Traditions can extend to other parts of the trip – I make a point to eat at hole-in-the-wall restaurants if I can find them. Sleep naked in your hotel room – no one can see you! Take a bath – they’re paying for the water! Whatever your traditions are, they can help relax you during otherwise stressful travel.

#10: Hotels. I like to stay at boutique hotels – they’re often reasonably priced, and they give you a trendy, edge place to stay with marvelous amenities. They’re just as easy to find on or Expedia as the major chains. Also, stay at the same hotel when you go back to the same city. You can start getting rooms upgraded, free wifi, etc., if you’re seen as a regular.

#11: Don’t do bad things. They will come back to haunt you. We live in a very small world and your actions will come back to haunt you.

#12: ET phone home. Call/email/text home. They miss you.

#13: Junk food. I can’t tell you how many frequent travelers I know whose health has gone to pot and whose girths have doubled or tripled. You don’t have to eat at Denny’s, McDonald’s or Waffle House. There is plenty of delish food out there for a reasonable price. As for me, I love Indian food. I can buy Indian food in any city on the planet, and it’s always good. Pick your food and find it.

#14: Exercise. You don’t have to pack the gym gear (though more power to you if you do!). Make a point not to take the escalator/elevator if it’s reasonable to do so. Take the stairs. Walk 10 blocks instead of cabbing it, even if it’s cold or hot or whatever your excuse may be. Don’t order take-out food (dovetailing with #13), walk to a nearby restaurant and feed yourself there.

#15: Take pictures. Anywhere you go, there may be something that moves you. You can turn a mundane trip into something exciting, or take an exciting trip and preserve it forever.

#16: facebook. Share where your’e going and what’s exciting to you. Your friends and family are interested. You could inspire them!

#17: Shaving. Shave before you go. Once, in Austin, I shaved like any other day. What I didn’t know was that the water there is terrible. It got into my skin and I broke out like I had a fungus or something. It was horrible. Take care of that stuff just hours before you leave. If you are traveling too long, you’ll have to shave, but you may be used to the water by then if you’re bathing regularly.

#18: Caffeine. If you’re traveling for work, you don’t have to prop yourself up with caffeine. You can make yourself alert with the proper balance of protein and sugar. Today, I had a tuna sandwich and a peppermint hot chocolate from Starbucks. I was alert, with only a few hours’ sleep.

#19: Loved ones. Take them along sometimes, if your’e traveling for work. They will happily wait in the hotel room/poke around town while you’re doing something for the office. Then you get to retreat to your Love’s embrace.

#20: Security lines. Be ready. Don’t be “that person” holding everyone up. Untie the shoe laces while you’re in line. Take off your jacket. Pack your fluids in a Ziploc before you leave the house. Empty the pockets (I put all of my things in my bag as soon as I leave the car).

#21: Parking. Find one lot you like to park in. In San Diego, the commuter terminal has a lot that costs significantly less than the more convenient lots. I park, walk across to the Commuter terminal (which I very rarely use), and then take the shuttle bus to my terminal. I save time and the shuttle is free! There are always more distant lots which are cheaper, but the lot owners don’t really pay their shuttle drivers. You end up with a shuttle driver who gives you nasty looks because he expects a tip. You’re already paying for parking – don’t pay for the ride, too!

#22: Extended leg room. For $50-$75 each way, you can upgrade your seat to more legroom. It’s worth it if your flight is longer than 2 hours.

#23: First Class/Business Class. Sometimes you can upgrade to these for as little as $50 each way. It’s worth it if your flight is longer than 2 hours. The flight attendants treat you with more respect, too. And you get more points. And you can get fed. It’s worth it and your’e worth it!

#24: Charging stations. If you have electronics, charge them up while you wait for your flight to board. There is little more frustrating than getting on a plane with a half-charged iPhone/iPod/iPad/laptop

#25: Keeping Track of the Regulars. I’m a natural-born forgetter. And yet I travel a lot. This travel tip may be my most important. When you travel, there are little tickets (e.g., for parking), papers (e.g., tickets for various flights), keys, your wallet, ID/passport, etc. You need to have one consistent place for everything. Check before you leave the house to make sure it’s all there. When you get out of your car at the airport, put it all in your special spot (e.g., a particular pouch in your bag). When your’e packing up from the hotel, check to make sure it’s there. You can completely avoid the disasters from losing any one of these things by forcing habits on yourself. I’ve seen seasoned executive travelers show up at the airport just in time for their flight and realize they don’t have their ID! To avoid this problem, and avoid the embarrassment from it, I always travel with two forms of ID. That way if one is stolen/lost while I’m far, far away, I am not stuck being unable to board my flight. I have a passport and my driver’s license. Either one will do, but both ensures I sleep peacefully in New York, Chicago, Raleigh, Atlanta, Austin, Houston, San Francisco, Portland, Cleveland, Boston or anywhere else.

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