Sunday, August 30, 2015

Things I Have Loved About My 20s

I made a decision as a teenager to just enjoy my age, no matter what it was. I never wanted to be someone who pretended she was younger or older than she was...who turned "39" at every birthday after 40. I want to just embrace whatever age I am.

And now I'm approaching 30. I've got roughly a week and a half left of being 29, and then it will be September 8th, and I'll be leaving my twenties behind forever. And I find I don't even really have to try to embrace my age. I really enjoyed my twenties. I think I'll enjoy my thirties, too.

Of course, there are things about my twenties that I think I'll miss. Everything was a lot more dramatic throughout my twenties, it seems. Every decision was life-altering! Every love was a great love! Every friendship was an eternal friendship! Life was a non-stop adventure! As a Latter-day Saint, my adventures were probably pretty "vanilla." But I still had some good times, some of which are probably somewhat universal. Things like:

Staying up all night talking to someone, sleeping for a few hours after the sun rises, and then going to work/class despite the fact that you're barely awake.

Making plans with friends to visit a natural hot springs and then ending up in a casino on an Indian Reservation, in your bathing suits, during a blizzard. (No? Just me? Oh...)

Streaking. Flashing. Skinny-dipping. Almost anything involving nudity. I feel like it becomes less acceptable as you get older. Maybe it becomes more fun, though. I'll keep you posted. (I am, after all, naked, but not stupid...)

Making out with someone and then thinking, "Wait. Maybe that was stupid." (And usually being right.)

Eating really poorly, and totally getting away with it. I'm now almost 15 pounds heavier than I was when Jacob and I got married. My 24-year-old metabolism was working a lot better than my current one is.

Making mixed CDs and listening to them while taking long walks alone at night. I did this ALL THE TIME when I was at BYU-Idaho. I miss it sometimes, but I don't live in as safe a neighborhood nowadays. And I don't have quite the same need to go on those long walks now...I have less I need to figure out and ruminate on.

Having roommates. Sharing the bathroom, berating each other for not doing the dishes, making blanket forts, watching movies. And sharing clothes! Man, I miss having like 3 additional closets worth of clothes to choose from.

Not behaving like a responsible adult in stores--toy stores, grocery stores. This could mean both running around and being loud and obnoxious in could also mean spending $40 on Nerf gun supplies. 

Being able to go out dancing, and having much more stamina than you will have later in life. 

Accepting bizarre circumstances without really questioning them. In my twenties, I made friends by wandering into their apartments at some point in the evening. I made friends by smearing chocolate on someone's face during a party.  

I feel like ages 20 - 29 is characterized by the thought, "Wait. How did I get here?" (Both literally and metaphorically.) I remember thinking that thought every now and then during college. It was rarely anything extraordinary, but it was sometimes odd enough that I'd think, "Wait. How did I end up at a grocery store at 11:57 at night with the saxophonist of this jazz combo, with a package of toilet paper and a bottle of sparkling cider in my arms?" Or, "Wait. How did I end up at a bonfire in the sand dunes with no shoes, along with this female drummer and some guy from Brazil named Luis?" Or, "Wait. How did I end up wandering through a graveyard after riding her on the back of this guy's motorcycle?" (All true stories, by the way.)

And there were also times when the question "How did I get here?" went a little deeper. Times when I thought, "How did I end up being kicked out of student housing and on academic probation?" Or "How did I get to be alone like this?" But they weren't all negative. There were times after Our Town rehearsals my freshman year, when I would sneak back into the theatre and stand on the empty stage, looking out at all the seats and thinking, "How did I get here? What wonderful thing could I have possibly done to be this lucky? That I get to do this?" Or when I would sit among laughing friends at the Dairy Queen after a Comic Frenzy show and think, "How did I get so many amazing people to be in my life? How could one person be so blessed, to be surrounded by such wonderful friends?"

And I still think those things now and then. As I move out of my twenties and into my thirties, I know there's still a lot of adventure, and a lot of good times, and a lot of bad times, and a lot of strange times ahead. But I feel like I've slowly been moving from turmoil to contentment.

So here's to my fourth decade on earth. I think it will be a good one.

Thursday, August 27, 2015


Anyone who follows me on Instagram probably saw this post from Tuesday night:

Here is the promised blog entry.

So for those who don't know, here's what's going on. I won't get into all the details--I encourage you to research on your own. But the reader's digest version is this: A conservative pro-life group called Center for Medical Progress recently went undercover and shot a bunch of surveillance type videos of Planned Parenthood executives discussing the sale of fetal tissue for medical research. They edited and released the videos, and everyone freaked out and then the governor of Utah decided that Planned Parenthood should stop receiving federal funds.

So on Tuesday, activists gathered on the front steps of the state capitol to show their support for Planned Parenthood with a press conference, a rally, speakers, signs and banners, and letters to the governor. And here's why I went and stood with Planned Parenthood too.

1. Because the Center for Medical Progress is less trustworthy than Planned Parenthood. 

Maybe I'm a little biased here. But I've done a lot of research, and here's what I've found.

After a lot of investigation, it seems that the Center for Medical Progress did some deceptive editing of their videos, which included everything from possibly fabricating specific statements, to using photographs of stillborn children without their parents' knowledge or consent.

Five states have completed investigations into Planned Parenthood's practices and have found no evidence of wrongdoing.

Furthermore, even if one or two executives of Planned Parenthood seem cavalier, they do not represent the organization as a whole.

And finally, you know...a "sting" like this one seems an awful lot like entrapment. Which, to me, seems just as worthy of ethical examination as abortion.*

2. Because fetal tissue research has improved the lives of millions. 

The idea of aborted fetal tissue being used for medical research might make you feel a little squeamish. That's okay. The idea of an IV makes me feel like I'm going to vomit.** But that feeling alone isn't enough to justify withholding federal funds.

Fetal tissue research has provided huge strides in developing treatment for AIDS, spinal cord injuries, molecular degeneration, and cancer. It has been key to developing vaccines for polio, rubella, varicella (chicken pox), Hepatitis A, ebola, and other diseases.

The process of obtaining fetal tissue through abortions is filled with checks and balances. A woman must finalize her decision to abort before tissue donation is discussed. The fetal tissue must be donated with the knowledge and consent of the patient. No financial profit can be made--any costs are associated with the storage and transportation of tissue. And, this is going to sound harsh or cold-hearted, but the reality is that fetal tissue donation makes good and positive and life-improving use of tissue that would otherwise simply be disposed of.

3. Because the issue of abortion is complicated. 

From an LDS perspective, abortion is actually kind of a complicated issue. The Church's official stance is that abortion isn't okay EXCEPT in cases of rape or incest or when the life of the mother is endangered. So...I see the Church's stance as sort of "limited pro-choice." In general, Church members are strongly discouraged from seeking abortions, but there are special cases in which it may be appropriate.

I don't think abortion will ever be a clear-cut issue as long as the point at which an embryo or a fetus becomes a "human being" is unclear. From an LDS perspective, the doctrine doesn't specify. The closest we have is a quote from Brigham Young, saying that the spirit enters the child's body when the mother feels it does. Which implies that it happens at a different time for every fetus. Which doesn't give any guidance as to when abortions should or shouldn't happen.

The sanctity of life is something I take very seriously. But that also includes the sanctity of a woman's life.

4. Because Planned Parenthood does amazing and important work. 

I am pro-choice. Please note that I am not necessarily pro-abortion. I do not think abortion should be used as a form of birth control. But Roe vs. Wade (the legalization of abortion in the US) was not the beginning of women getting abortions. It was the end of women dying from unregulated abortions. Abortion has existed since the beginning of recorded history. As long as unplanned or unwanted pregnancies exist, women will seek ways to abort. Providing safe and affordable and legal options keeps more women alive and healthy.

Here's what it truly comes down to. Know what causes abortions? (Hint: The answer is not access to abortions.) Unwanted and unplanned pregnancies. And know what causes unwanted and unplanned pregnancies? Lack of education. Lack of counseling. Lack of access to healthcare. Lack of access to birth control.

Abortion would be way less of an issue if we focused on comprehensive sex education, including consent, contraception, and the emotional factors of sex.

Abortion would be way less of an issue if we made contraception widely available and widely affordable. Telling people who can't afford it to "get a better job" or "get a better education" or "get better insurance" or "stop having sex" is ignoring the complexity of poverty and denying human beings reasonable and basic human desires.

Planned Parenthood provides all of the things that reduce unplanned and unwanted pregnancies. It is an organization that provides healthcare, counseling, advocacy, education, and outreach at little or no cost to the community members it serves. Medicaid, WIC, school health classes, and/or home environments cannot adequately replace this. Assuming that they can is a demonstration of privilege that not everyone has.

That's why I was there Tuesday night. That's why I sign petitions and write letters and blog. Because Planned Parenthood does so much good for so many people. To me, that's worth saving. And I'm glad that it's worth saving to at least 300 other Utahans, too.

* I'm not saying that entrapment is the same thing as abortion or the sale of fetal tissue. I'm just saying that both of them should be questioned, ethically speaking. 

** Again, I'm not saying IVs and aborted fetus tissue research are the same thing. I'm referring to the actual physical feeling of nausea that both might induce. 

Friday, August 21, 2015

Hearty August

The Utah State Charter School Board, after a lengthy battle, has decided to close Alianza Academy. Parents now have to scramble to try and enroll their kids elsewhere. Parents and staff all got the news at the same time--the email was sent out at 11 pm Wednesday night. Most of us found out on Thursday morning. As of Monday, August 22nd, I will be unemployed.

Thursday was both the second day of school, and the second to last day of school.

I witnessed every variation of every stage of grief. One teacher spent the day blasting music and handing out chocolate milk. Another teacher spent the morning sobbing. I've seen tears shed by parents, teachers, and students alike. I've allowed a mother of three young children to hold my hand and pray for me and for everyone at the school. I had one parent take all their frustration and anger out on me over the phone.

One of the hardest things is trying to explain to the kids WHY we're closing. How do you explain to a 9-year-old the complexities of educational organization? How do you explain enrollment requirements and per capita spending and politics and appeal processes? You can't. You just have to say, "The state of Utah decided to close our school."

It's strange...I felt so scattered on Thursday. Normally, I'm so clear-headed at work, but all day I found myself thinking, "Wait...what was I going to do?" I would open a drawer and couldn't remember what I was looking for. Even writing this felt scattered. I held back tears all day, came home for a good cry and found I didn't have it in me. I took a three-hour nap instead.

I feel like someone's taken a book away from me and closed it, long before I was finished reading.

It's bizarre to try to balance the logistics and emotions of all of this. I need to call Lifetouch and cancel our school pictures appointment. I need to hug this student who is sobbing in the hallway. I need to finish drafting this list of recommended charter schools. I need to counsel this parent on what comes next for their kids. And what do I do with all of these files? Do I start taking things down from the walls? What will happen to all the paper and staplers and colored pencils?

I've never had a close family member pass away. Not someone I've known deeply. So I have no idea if this is an apt comparison. But that's what the closing of Alianza feels like. Like the death of a loved one. And in many ways it is.

Alianza was something special. I knew it the first moment I stepped foot inside. Over half of our students came from low-income families. Many of them have learning disabilities. Many of them are minorities. Many of them struggle with behavior and academics. For so many students, Alianza was a last attempt at schooling. I fear that these students will fall through the cracks in other schools...they've got to just hold on to the confidence we've tried to give them.

They learned at their own pace. They did Shakespeare. They did music. They went on field trips to ballet performances and hands-on science museums. They did meditation. They engineered problem-solving inventions. They made films and took photos. They organized activities and made them happen. They created and choreographed modern dance numbers. And the oldest among them was only 14.

I have witnessed students go from volatile and hostile to soft-hearted and quick to smile. I have watched kids who hated reading and struggled through every word grow into avid readers, eager to find out what happens next, and working out definitions on their own. Students that would be eaten alive at any other middle school found that they could make friends easily at Alianza.

Alianza did so much for so many, but I think its strongest legacy is one of belonging. That's what Alianza gave students and teachers and staff and families. That's what Alianza gave me. Alianza Academy gave those who were part of it a sense of belonging. It was this family. Last school year, our campus had about 12 staff members and a little over 100 students. Every teacher knew every student's name and disposition. It's small for a school...small enough to feel like a family. Like any family, we had hard days and good days. We cried and laughed and got frustrated and were inspired by each other. We learned to read each other like family members do--when so-and-so needed space, and when so-and-so needed a candy bar.

I think that's why this is so hard. It's watching this family get broken up. This family that brought out the best in every one of its members, and that gave each of its members a place to belong.

So maybe that's the legacy that each of these family members can carry into the rest of the world. They can reach out and help others find belonging. On Thursday, one sweet parent said to me, "I'm thinking of a garden. Right now, all you can see is the dirt, but with time, it will be full of fruits and vegetables and flowers. Remember that this change can lead you to better things."

That's what I keep trying to hold on to. The reminder that sometimes a big shift like this can open your life up to something else amazing. That, in the words of Aunt Eller, the sweet and tender in life come as you're hearty through the tough times.

So Alianza, thank you for everything. Thank you for helping me grow into a better, more mindful, more patient, and more caring person. Thank you for introducing me to every student, every teacher, every parent. You are all extraordinary star stuff.

all photos via Deseret News

Sunday, August 16, 2015

"You got to be hearty." --Aunt Eller

It's been an interesting week.

I actually wrote the first draft of this blog entry on the back of Thursday's sides, while waiting in between takes on the set of "Stepsister." The battery on my phone was dying, so that was out, and they were shooting 15 feet away from the talent holding area, so chatting was a no-go.

That day was my second day on set--the first was Monday. And lemme tell ya, that one day helped me understand why actors can get a reputation for being prima donnas. I didn't have a trailer, but I did have a private room (with a massage chair?!) with my name on the door. I ordered breakfast from catering and someone wearing an earpiece brought it to me in the makeup trailer. People kept asking me if I needed anything. Between takes, another person wearing an earpiece would hand me a water bottle with a straw...they would wipe the condensation off the bottle beforehand. And I was just this tiny part in this low-budget film. And I get that really, everything they do, they do for the movie, and not for me. But it felt bizarre.

I tried to be really polite and easy-going on set, in part because that's what good human beings do, and in part to remind myself to not take any of it for granted...that I wasn't entitled to any of it. Between filming on that set and doing a show at the Hale (where there are designated people to put on and take off my wig and a kitchen full of snacks), I have felt unreasonably spoiled.

Which, now that I think about it, has been a huge blessing. Because the last week or so felt kind of insane. I got new headshots. We had tech week. I got sick. I was filming for two days. I was working at Alianza, which is in the midst of preparing an appeal if we get put on the chopping block by the state of Utah, which we are in line to do. I had a video audition. "Oklahoma" opened on Wednesday, and Alianza starts classes a week later.

I realized the other day that I cried every single day the past week. Just from the emotional strain of it all. But in the words of Aunt Eller, "Ya cain't deserve the sweet n' tender in life less'n you're tough."

And my life IS filled with the sweet and tender. I GET TO DO WHAT I LOVE. Half of the things causing me stress last week were things that I have been hoping to do for my entire life. And among all the stress and strain, there have been some beautiful moments, too.

Friends holding me on a couch in the greenroom at the Hale, while I tried not to cry, feeling their arms around me as I confessed the things that were hurting me. Laughing with joy backstage and in the audience while fellow actors make astounding discoveries. An incomparable director hugging me and giving me compliments on my work that I could hardly believe were meant for me. Making new friends, and strengthening friendships with old ones. Gathering with co-workers at Alianza, even while we are settling down into the trenches to save our school.

Oh, and this came in the mail:

I'm eligible to join the Screen Actors Guild. (The union for screen actors.) I'm not going to join quite yet, because A) I ain't got the $3000 initiation fees and B) Utah is a "right to work" state, which means non-SAG actors can still get lots and lots of work, even on SAG projects. But it's still this amazing milestone, and I'm so excited to have reached it.

And "Oklahoma" is open! We made it! And we don't suck! And I finished this little project that I've been working on the entire rehearsal process--a little "making of video."

I was more nervous on opening night of "Oklahoma" than I have been for a very very long time. But it's a beautiful show, and everyone in it is wonderful, and I'm so glad to be a part of it.

If this blog is quiet for a while, it's because I'm trying to help open a charter school for a new school year/doing a show/auditioning for stuff. But I've got some sweet and tender in life to go along with the tough parts.