Damsels in Denial

Thursday, February 14, 2013

As LDS women, we are in a crisis… an identity crisis.

Too often in our race to the happily-ever-after finish line, we jump that chasm between Young Womanhood medallions and temple marriage without ever really examining its depth. Perhaps too much of our worth is derived from Facebook relationship statuses and ring fingers. As little girls, we are submerged in vibrant, melodious romps through fairytale kingdoms and magical forests, we are indoctrinated by plotlines with outcomes dependent upon a princely savior, and we are bludgeoned with piano lessons and casserole recipes for the deliberate purpose of transforming us into human dowries.

I hold romances partially responsible. Few women can resist the lure of being swept off their feet by a handsome hero, every trouble eliminated at the prospect of being valued by an individual other than oneself. Is it really such a surprise that some of the most poorly written texts ever to be published have somehow evolved into national bestsellers due to their seductively liberating and reality-averting material? Even in renowned, well-written literature with “independent” and “feisty” heroines such as Jane Eyre and Pride and Prejudice, the leading ladies are reduced to roles in which the resolutions to their own stories depend upon another character, namely the love interest.

Another culprit is the dark side of Mormon culture. Separate from the gospel, the stagnation that accompanies the locus of our population breeds social norms we feel obligated to comply to. We’ve breathed life into and given flesh to this idea of success and self-actualization through a young marriage after a rapid courtship, fueled by hormone-induced domestic yearnings and the narrow interpretation of a rather ambiguous and wide-ranging commandment: multiply and replenish the earth. How shameful that, in our haste to comply with the norm (to feel like good Mormons, of course) we lose sight of our potential within. There is not a cell in my body that believes our Heavenly Father would have blessed us with so many talents, prospects, capabilities, ideas, and interests if He did not intend for us to spend a significant amount of time exploring and developing them all.

Too often, we are told to get an education or some sort of basic training “just in case” we are, by some frightful, husband-disengaging circumstance, called upon to provide for our families. Can’t we see how damaging this kind of mentality is? Don’t we see how puny our subsistence must be if that is the only reason we would choose to educate ourselves? No, no, and no again! We deserve to be educated, not because we might end up old spinsters, not because we might need to someday provide for our families, and not even because we are women, but because we are human beings… and for that simple reason alone, we cannot justify an existence without it. We must learn for ourselves and through ourselves and to ourselves and by ourselves, and not for any other person. We must seek after all the education we can in order to become like our Heavenly Father.

That gap between life roles that so many young women are too eager to jump expands with education. It colors with exposure. It develops texture with experience. It deepens with wisdom and life lessons learned. How sad that so many girls blindly leap without daring to explore the jungle of possibilities beneath. Life is so very vast—we must not cheat ourselves out of a world rich with adventure because we are afraid of being alone.

Being alone is essential to knowing oneself and forming an identity. True personal identity is constructed totally independent of others; attempting to form your own identity around another human being is like trying to build a sand castle that partially resides on the back of a turtle. Being alone can be scary, though, and is often looked down upon in our society as being undesirable. It takes a lot of bravery to forge your own path, build your own future, and form your own identity independent of others. So many women in our church sidestep this refining process because it seems so much easier to be with someone else. The other person becomes the savior from the misty, vague lands of the unknown. In reality, the knight in shining armor does not save the damsel in distress from a fearsome dragon, but rather a damsel in denial from cutting her own path in a boundless and unfamiliar world. Yet, what a monarch is the woman who brings herself happiness with her own presence, her own choices, her own skin! We emphasize self-love, but we must also make ourselves into something we would love. To achieve the kind of self-respect that comes with contentment of only God’s and one’s own approval of self is a rare and priceless triumph! Let every human being seek for that level of satisfaction in their own value.

It must be understood that identities are not formed in relationships—identities are fused in relationships. Whatever is built between two people will be ripped apart if the relationship does not last. It is for this reason that women must realize how they jeopardize their sense of self when they seek to fill the holes within themselves with another person. Holes of hurt, doubt, fear, dissatisfaction, brokenness, and unhappiness can only truly be filled by the one who retains them… using another person as a band-aid may mask the pain for a short time, but in the long-term impedes any true healing from occurring. Too frequently do women use relationships with men as masks to disguise the sometimes painful tasks, problems, and questions that lurk internally.

I hope I have not misrepresented the divine roles of wifedom and motherhood in my promotion for identity and emotional independence. I believe that to be a wife and mother, and to belong to a family, are the greatest things one can do upon the earth and in the eternities. Yet, they must be entered into for the right reasons, and they are not the only great things we can and must do. We only have one life to live—why rush it?

Not as women, but as human beings, we must learn to forge our own identities that we can love and be proud of. We must cease to be in denial and face ourselves and our futures with bravery and hope. We must learn to heal our own wounds. We must learn to fix our own problems. We must learn to save ourselves. We must become the heroes of our own stories.

On Squash and Self-Belief

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Mondays can be murderous, Tuesday turbulent, Wednesdays warped and winding, Thursdays thick with thwarting thorns, Fridays freaking fearsome, Saturdays sickening, but Sundays... Sundays are serene. After a long week of projects, presentations, confusion, frustration, thwarted plans, lost money, failed job opportunities, and the general wear-and-tear that accompanies any sort of big-girl decision making, having a day to reflect and ponder can be some of the best balm.
Yesterday, I sat down with my mom on the phone, going over the finances for my upcoming trip abroad. After reviewing every avenue of possible funding, taking into account the failures of the week, I saw this big, gaping hole of invisible money staring back at me. I had no idea where it was going to come from, and neither did my mom.
"Mom!" I said, beginning to freak out in true Morgan fashion. "How could you put down hundreds of non-refundable dollars down on this trip when you don't even know if it's going to work out? I don't know how I can get this chunk of money!"
"Me either," she replied, infinitely calmer than she should be when so much of the green stuff is involved. "But, what I do know is that you prayed about this trip and you felt like it was important in your life for you to go. That's good enough for me. I have all the faith in the world that, if you feel like you need to do this, you will absolutely make it happen. These hundreds of dollars we've already spent are nothing if it teaches you how much confidence I have in you. Don't doubt yourself."
I was absolutely floored. I couldn't tell if my mom was crazy or the absolute best mom in the entire world. Today, I've had time to reflect on the importance of what she taught me. I thought of a quote I saw the other day:
"If it's important to you, you'll find a way. If not, you'll find an excuse."
In our world today, there are so many amazing success stories of people overcoming insurmountable odds... people who accomplish things that no one ever thought possible. I believe that the one thing that divides the winners from the losers is the belief that they can win. Really realizing that today has been so healing. So good. It made the trials and the doubts and the frustrations absolutely worth it. I believed that we are allowed to be totally thrashed by life in order for us to be smoothed over with new, fresh perspectives and confidence in ourselves.
Confession: I love squash. That stuff is medicine to a battered belly. So, to go along with that bit of soul-healing, here's my recipe for a soup that softens a rough week and fills the stomach with warm, buttery goodness.
Vegan, Low-Cal Butternut-Squash Soup
For the vegetable broth, you'll need:
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 onions chopped into large chunks
  • 2 stalks of celery, chopped
  • 2 shallots, chopped into large chunks
  • 1 clove garlic, chopped
  • a couple pinches/sprigs of thyme
  • 1.5 teaspons of fine-grain sea salt
  • 8 cups of water
For the soup, you'll need:
  • 1 teaspoon olive oil
  • .5 cup chopped onion
  • sage
  • salt
  • ground black pepper
  • 3 cups of vegetable broth
  • 1 medium to large butternut-squash
First, heat the 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large pot over high heat. Saute the vegetables and thyme until soft and browned, then add salt and water. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat and let it simmer for around 45 minutes. Strain. All you need for this recipe is 3 cups, so put in a bowl and freeze for later use!
During the last fifteen minutes of letting your broth simmer, take your butternut-squash and puncture it all over with a knife. There are many ways to get it soft (like boiling, broiling, roasting, etc.). I like my food to be made as quickly as possible, so I just throw the squash in the microwave for 7-15 minutes. Be careful... it comes out very hot! Peel and cut into large chunks. Your broth should be ready, so as the three cups of vegetable broth are still simmering, dump your chunks of soft squash into the pot.
Puree the broth and squash together with a hand-held emulsion blender, leaving soft chunks if you prefer a little texture, or blending it all the way if you like it creamy. If you don't have an emulsion blender, you can use a food processor before you put the squash in the broth. Add thyme, black pepper, and salt to your taste. I like to start out with a teaspoon of each, but I always end up dumping in quite a lot, so I just keep adding and tasting until I'm satisfied.
    My favorite side to go with this delicious soup are chopped and sauteed Brussels sprouts and portabello mushrooms with black pepper and a little garlic.
    This meal is perfect for chilly nights or when you need a pick me up. It's delectably guiltless, so it's okay to eat your feelings. Best part about it? Somehow, it's even more scrumptious the next day.
Happy eating!

On Austen and Omelettes

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Though this week had its share of bumps and bruises, it was also replete with bounties. As is most often the case, the good far outweighed the bad... and anyway, a few nicks never hurt anyone. The two bounties I am most thankful for in the last 168 hours are omelettes and Jane Austen.


Because they are both delicious.

Perhaps this would all make more sense if I introduced myself. My name is Morgan. I'm a student at Brigham Young University. I am an English major with an emphasis in British Literature, which means few things turn me on like an Anglo-Saxon kenning. The brightest star on the horizon for me right now is a spring trip across the pond. For two months, a group of other students and I will be hiking from Edinburgh down to London, not to mention every abbey, moor, and hobbit hole we can manage to find along the way. The premise: English literature. The goal: deliberately living and writing in the wilds of the English landscape. The reality: I must buy waterproof pants.

If I could name a secondary passion, it would most definitely be food. Researching it. Concocting it. Devouring it... Someday, I shall write a cookbook and it will be my opus. Someday.

If you haven't already guessed the meaning behind the name of my blog, it's a reference to a very reasonable ritual practiced by hobbits all over the world. Tolkien, in his genius, effortlessly combined the two most restorative, nourishing, soul-healing mediums of expression: food and literature. As Daniel Coleman would say, "Eat the word."

Which brings me back to omelettes. Omelettes and Jane Austen. One of the most pressing crises of the life of a college student concerns finding that dish that is healthy, filling, inexpensive, tasty, and most of all... prompt. This seems to be an especial problem as far as breakfast/brunch is concerned.

I offer a simple solution: The Power Omelette.

You will need:
  • egg whites (I love the liquid kind that comes in a carton... so easy to just pour!)
  • crimini or portobello mushrooms
  • spinach
  • avocadoes
  • seasoning like black pepper and cayenne pepper

Slice the mushrooms into thin slivers, then sautee them with the spinach over medium-high heat until both are dark and soft (it should only take a couple of minutes). Pour your egg whites over them and cook as you would a regular omelette. Season as you will. I like mine so thick, I have to use two spatulas to successfully flip it over. Once cooked and put on a plate to cool, top with slices of avocadoes.

Now eat.

The entire process should only take you about ten minutes, and you are left with a dish that is diet/diabetic-friendly, high in protein and omega fatty acids, low in carbohydrates, and is delightfully filling.

Over my omelette this morning, I found myself reflecting on the nature of love. Now, before you go gagging over that wonderful omelette, please understand I just wolfed down Jane Austen's Emma in a week. It's not because Valentine's Day is lurking just around the corner... really, it's not.

Blame it on the lit.

Though many enthusiasts assert that all Austen novels are simply snapshots of the leisurely country gentry falling in love within their class, there is a key aspect that differs within each of her texts: every romance Austen writes is totally unique and bears no semblance to any of the others. Take Emma and Mr. Knightley for instance: their relationship could be defined as an extremely intimate friendship built upon mutual respect, and... well... traffic. Their love merges their lives together in a perfect, compatible rhythm... or I should say, their lives merge their love. Next, we have the rather pathetic (sorry, Jane) story of Fanny Price and Edmund Bertram in Mansfield Park. Fanny's sweet, longing, almost idolatrous love for her cousin remains mostly unrequited for the majority of the novel. Only in the end is her good character rewarded with the love she "deserves." On the opposite end of the ring, we have Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy from Pride and Prejudice. On first meeting, they positively rankle each other. It's almost as if they are a wrench in each others' gears. But like so many other exciting love stories, their hate/pride/prejudice makes a seemless tranformation to sexual attraction.

So what is Austen trying to tell her reader? That love is totally unique? That it can be found in all forms? That, perhaps, there is no correct form, and Fanny can find just as much satisfaction in her justified devotion, as Emma can in her respectful, familial romance, as Elizabeth can find in her witty, sexually tension? I think it's also interesting to note the difference in popularity now between these stories. For Austen, longevity was an important aspect of love since one was going to be stuck with one's spouse in a country manor for a good long while. Emma and Mr. Knightley's romance could be seen as ideal because of the smooth compatibility of their lives. Now, however, you only have to turn on the radio to learn that our cultural interpretation of true love is finding someone who completely upsets the routine of your life, someone who stops you in your tracks, someone who makes you question all of your suppositions. It would make sense that Pride and Prejudice would be the most popular Austen novel today.

But what is the true nature of love? Is it compatibility? Upheaval? Devotion? Longevity? Sexual tension? Is it omelettes?

Happy reading!
site design by designer blogs