Friday, December 30, 2016

In Memoriam: Carrie Fisher, My Weird Space Aunt/Fairy Godmother

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January 2015

First thing she did when she saw me, she jumped out of her seat and smeared glitter on my cheek.

“There you go, dear,” she said.

I handed her a glossy 8x10 photo of Leia in The Empire Strikes Back. Trembling, I told her to sign it to Lizy, spelled L-I-Z-Y. I said thank you and I was on my way. The encounter didn’t last more than a minute. I’d spent sixty dollars and two hours waiting in line (part of which she’d been on break) while running a high fever and my feet were killing me. I could have been disappointed then. I could be disappointed now. But I choose not to be. It was the end of a long con and if she wasn’t able to spend as much time with the other fans as she had the day before, it was understandable. I was elated that I had just met a lifetime icon and that I had something from her.

Screenshot from my Tumblr account

I’ve been down in Texas for the last two weeks celebrating the holidays with my family. I heard about Carrie’s heart attack on Friday after my family came back from seeing Rogue One on Friday. I was really hoping she would pull through. But Tuesday I went in for dental work, and Mom and I were waiting in the drive-through for an Arby’s milkshake afterward when I decided to check Facebook from my phone and I found out. I’ve just been absolutely heartbroken since. Seeing her mom Debbie Reynolds go right after her only made it worse (and the fact that Carrie’s daughter Billie Lourd is barely younger than me is sickening).

I’ve already posted a lot of tributes to her on social media but there was more I wanted to say. Firstly, none of the other deaths in 2016 have affected me as personally. Secondly, say what you will about the CGI-enhanced stand-in for Leia at the end of Rogue One: Carrie’s passing around the time of Rogue One’s release could not have been more bittersweet. As we say in Potter fandom, “I open at the Close.”

FanX 2015

Like every other little girl, of course, I loved princesses. I loved Princess Leia when I was a little girl because she was a princess, first of all, but I loved her because she was different. She showed me that princesses could be the hero that physically fights back--that she could get in and fight just like the guys. I idolized her in fifth grade because she was also sassy and smart and gave Han Solo a hard time. I envied her in middle school because while I didn’t have any close friends in middle school and high school, Leia had Han and Luke, and though they got off to a rough start they became friends--they became a family to someone who had lost everything. She is one of the reasons I love Star Wars and one of the reasons I enjoy the original trilogy.

I actually had a stable job around the time that Carrie’s visit to Salt Lake Comic Con FanX was announced in early 2015. I bought an autograph voucher and, the night before Day 3 of the con, I decided to do a little research, just to see what I was getting into. That was when I found out that Debbie Reynolds was her mom--I was a huge fan of Singin’ in the Rain growing up. If my mom had told me she and Carrie were related I wasn’t listening at the time. But catching up on Carrie’s bio I learned that I had a couple of things in common with her. One, she was a writer. Granted, her genre was realistic fiction, adult humor, memoir, and screenplay doctoring, but I’ve done enough reading in genres besides fantasy that I feel a kinship with any kind of writer. Second, in addition to drug abuse and a very difficult personal life Carrie had also struggled with bipolar disorder--and hearing about that as someone who had depression meant SO MUCH to me. She was incredibly open about her struggles, and a very vocal critic about Hollywood ageism and body-shaming. Instead she gave back to the world her own personal weirdness and positive energy.

Carrie Fisher’s panel at FanX was a hoot. First thing she did when she got out on stage was ask, “Anyone here have a coca-cola?” There was an immediate scramble in the audience, and a guy got up to the stage to hand her a bottle--and she snogged him right there! “You see, that’s prepared,” Carrie Fisher told us.  “You give me what I want, I give you what you want.”

Bryan Young came out for the Q&A and she plopped down on the couch with him and pretended to fall asleep.
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As early as the previous night we had seen the glitter dumped on the faces of people who had already done photo ops and autographs, and Bryan asked her about that. She told the audience, “I’m going to get all of you! Everybody needs to get glitter at some point. It’s the law!” Of course we were all absolutely stoked by that statement. Of course, she and Bryan talked about Star Wars. On playing Leia, she said, “I like being bossy.”

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And at one point her therapy pet/space dog/familiar Gary was let onto the stage, and he jumped onto the couch to be with his mom, his unnaturally long pink tongue hanging out. “I was gonna pierce it,” Carrie commented. Her panel lasted less than half an hour, but it was amazing.  “You make me feel younger!” she told the crowd. It was the glitter that made me think of Carrie as my weird fairy godmother. But more importantly, I think the glitter represented the warmth and goodness that we fans got from her.

A Royal Legacy

As 2015 and The Force Awakens got closer to release, we got more footage of Carrie being awesome and interacting with her fans. She was so fun to watch, especially when she had Gary with her. And having Leia back for The Force Awakens was everything I wished for.
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I made a Princess Leia gown in the late summer of 2015. It’s not my go-to cosplay, considering how stressed out I get about doing the buns. Slightly less difficult but still intimidating was figuring out how to be in character. At my first Kids’ Heroes event, I figured it out: to be Princess Leia, act like Carrie Fisher. Be sassy. Don’t smile so much. Purse your lips more. Put your hands on your hips. Have an attitude.

This summer, I fell more in love with Princess Leia through reading Star Wars: Bloodline by Claudia Gray. One of the best things about the book was that, even though Leia is still distinct from Carrie, there are still moments when Gray invokes Carrie’s attitude. And through reading that book--through Leia--I learned more about what it means to be a true princess.

“ Pocket Princesses 186: Legacy
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Pocket Princesses/Amy Mebberson via Tumblr

Leia Organa was the first modern princess.  Without Leia there would be no Padme or Rey or Jyn Erso or Ahsoka Tano or Hera or Sabine.  There would be no Hermione Granger. The Disney princesses of the last 2-3 decades would have been less 3-dimensional if Leia hadn’t set the precedent--no Belle, no Mulan, no Kida, no Esmerelda or Meg. Heck, no Mira Nova, either. Princess Leia was a strong heroine in every definition of the word but she was still proud of her femininity. The woman who brought her to life, Carrie Fisher, was similar in a lot of ways. She was a fearless, genuine woman but also, according to fans who had more time with her than I did, kind and considerate towards those who have faced struggles similar to her own. She was, like Princess Leia, an advocate and a fighter. And she’s (somewhat) the kind of person I’d like to be when I get old--someone able to poke fun at herself. Carrie is currently the only celebrity I’ve had a chance to get an autograph with, and even if I never meet anyone else famous in my lifetime I will be proud that I met her.

Rest In Peace, Carrie Fisher. May The Force Be With You
via BoredPanda

The good news is, Episode VIII finished filming earlier this year. I couldn’t tell you what the full implications of Carrie’s passing are, but at some point during Episode VIII or IX depending on how her footage is used, Princess Leia WILL DIE. This means we will have to endure losing her twice and that is going to suck.

In the meantime, Carrie Fisher is watching over me. Literally. I keep that autograph picture on my bedroom wall where she can see me. And if you look closely enough, you can still see the glitter.


Saturday, December 24, 2016

The Miracle of Christmas

I work at a thrift store and donation center. I was going through stuff at work one day when I found a Nativity set. I pulled it out of the bag to make sure all of the pieces were still together. It was a nice set, but it was missing the baby Jesus. I threw the whole set away. There was no point selling a nativity set if it didn’t have Jesus.

There is no point having Christmas if there is no Jesus.

There is no point having Christmas without His Atonement for us.

There is a point if we believe Christ and not simply believe in Him. If we believe that what He did--lived his life for, suffered and died for--to heal us and redeem us--if we believe that what He did can make a difference here and now in our lives--in my life, in your life--then there is hope.

Hope in This Life

If there is any gift I want to give to my readers, as few of you as there are, or as many as will
come across this single article, I would like to share the gift of hope.

Thanksgiving night, I went to bed feeling weighed down. Some of my friends had been having relationship problems and I just felt bad for them. And I started to wonder about my own future, and how I was supposed to keep living my life if people were capable of being so horrible.

But then I woke up and I felt peace. And I had a lot of thoughts about why I or any of my friends needed to give up. And it just so happened that my scripture reading for that morning was Alma 14, where Alma and Amulek witness the martyrdom of innocent women and children at the hands of unbelievers. A therapist I had worked with in college had used that story to teach me about perspective. Yes, awful things happen. And sometimes we can’t do more than just sit and watch. But God has a plan to make everything right. If you can’t do anything else, trust Him.

We live in a fallen world where everyone falls short of the ideal. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t keep trying to do the right thing. It is still possible for friendship and kindness to exist between people of different backgrounds. It is possible to have peace in your heart, and peace between you, your friends and your family and everyone around you.

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The world wants to focus on the negative--to bring out every flaw, every failing that proves that living according to our conscience doesn’t work. But they’re wrong. You can do that, and still have peace.
What you have to remember to do is to focus on the positive. Think about the miracles that you see in your everyday life. Think about the people around you who are succeeding without attention in the media--the people who don’t have everything. Look at those who are making their lives work in spite of opposition. 

There is opposition in all things. Where there is great darkness and evil, great good can rise up to meet it.

Every single person around you is a son or a daughter of God. Every single person is capable of good. Every person has the light of Christ inside of them. I may not live like I believe that, but I want to.
All things that are good come because of Christ. Because he paid the price to justice, the Father can give us mercy. We have good things that make our lives richer, and we have the personal peace that makes it possible to balance our lives. In moments when we are discouraged, we have His goodness to lift us up and remind us that we are not alone. When we face the greatest despair, our Greatest Hope reminds us that there is still good in the world. There is still much to live for and to love. Peace in this life and joy in eternity are still possible.

Courage and Charity

The ideas I have shared above are what I believe to be true. But we may not be able to see that truth because of the sadness we see around us in reality. People make bad choices. They reject the light of Christ. They refuse to see the people around them as sons and daughters of God. And not every person you are close to or want to reach out to is going to choose to follow the same path you are on.
You have to remember that judgment is ultimately the Lord’s. You don’t really know what other people around you are capable of becoming, not the way He does. The test is, can you love them here and now, based on what you see? Can you know when to say “Yes”...and when to say “No” ? Charity, the pure Love of Christ, comes when we trust Him and choose to love even though that love could hurt us. It is courage.

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There are bad people out there who will twist good things to their own image, including your own good intentions. Even people you trust and depend on will disappoint you even if they didn’t intend to hurt you. Can you love and still do right by the people you care about even in face of the fear that they will fail you? 

What do you choose to believe, when everything you believe in is questioned? Can you say 'no, that’s not true, I don’t want to believe that,' to every doubt in your head? 

Choosing to believe that Heavenly Father understands and cares for us, choosing to believe that all the people around you are his children and should be treated as such, choosing to believe that God’s ways are better even if we don’t understand how or why they work--that choice takes courage. We may have to actively choose courage every single day, every waking moment when we are faced with adversity. Sometimes making that choice may not be enough to keep bad things from happening. But as President Monson says, “Sometimes courage is the little voice at the end of the day that says, I’ll try again tomorrow.” Courage is what gets you to try and then get up and try again when you fail.
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Choosing to go on in the face of disappointment and adversity, choosing to go ahead and try for as good a life as possible in spite of the risk of falling up short, of not being as good as everyone else, in spite of living in a world full of the worst influences, is courage. And that courage comes from hope in something greater. That courage to live a Christian life in defiance of the pervasiveness of the world comes from the Atonement. It comes from God. It is our choice to use it. But it is possible. The miracle of Christmas is that that Christ came to bring us that hope, to guarantee that promise from Heavenly Father that we would not be left comfortless. It is my Christmas prayer that I will find this hope in my own life, and I hope that some of you reading this will be able to find it as well. 

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

What Kind of Santa Do You Want?

I have kind of mixed feelings about Santa Claus. Sure, I liked him when I was a kid, but now that I’m an adult a part of me doesn’t see the point anymore. In fact, like a lot of people I’m turned off by how much he’s used for Christmas specials and advertisements. I think the thing that bothers me about Santa the most is how GENERIC he’s become. Red suit trimmed with white fur, belt, hat beard, reindeer. Very little variation. Cultural staple. Everybody knows who he is.

It’s kind of aggravating to think that this version of Santa Claus came from just a handful of texts written in the nineteenth century that were popularized for mass consumption. Sure, Clement C. Moore’s The Night Before Christmas sets up the stereotypes that we’ve come to associate with Santa. But does anyone ever stop and think about how this most commonly-used version of Santa is based on a single person’s interpretation?
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The popular thing to do these days, of course, is to reject the mainstream narrative. The patron of holiday gift-giving can be whoever you want it to be and need it to be. Or you can reject having one at all. I’ve had a few people in my acquaintance reject Santa Claus or try to at least minimize how much their kids are exposed to him. Someday I will be a mom with kids, and my future spouse and I are going to have influence over who our kids think is bringing their presents. We’re going to be picking which holiday specials they watch, we’ll pick the Christmas music they listen to on the radio, we’ll have the final say over whether or not they go to visit the generic guy in the suit who comes to appears at holiday social functions. It’s a huge responsibility. But the sky is the limit.

What kind of a Santa do I want to believe in, if at all? One interpretation of Santa Claus that has stuck out to me in recent years is North from Rise of the Guardians. Yes, he is a hardcore Russian guy with tattoos and swords and he’s got dark fur on his coat. But the most important thing about North is his center. One thing I liked about Rise of the Guardians’ interpretation of the holidays is that every Guardian has a center, something immaterial that they represent or value. If you look at it one way, their center is politically correct, but they can be open to religious interpretation too (which is also why I’m a fan of Bunny’s center, Hope). North’s center, which he explains so well to Jack Frost, is wonder. One thing I’ve come to appreciate about Christmas in recent years is its wonder. Wonder at new-fallen snow. Wonder at how the decorations and lights add beauty to the world. Wonder at the events of the coming of the Christ child. Wonder at the gifts that came because of the birth of Christ. In April 2015, Elder Gerard Causse gave an address to LDS General Conference about not taking the Gospel for granted. Christmas is an important celebration because it reminds us of the wonder and awe and reverence we need to have for those gifts.
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So whoever I want my Santa Claus to be, I know he has to represent the wonder of Christmas. Santa Claus doesn’t really fit with the magic systems I’ve played with in recent years (which is one reason he’s lost relevance to me). I really like Santa figurines or tree-toppers where we see Santa wearing longer robes. Or clothes in colors other than red with elaborate patterns. When I was a kid, the cheesy typical Santa Claus was acceptable. Now that I’m an adult, I want to picture him a little differently. A figure that represents the wonder of Christmas. A figure that represents awe and reverence.

Maybe my Santa is a little more like the traditional Saint Nicholas. When I was in kindergarten, we took a field trip to a place to meet a traditional German Saint Nicholas who wore a simple red robe and who handed out switches to bad children. For a day or so after I would tell people I preferred to believe in Saint Nicholas. Didn’t last long, but it made an impression on me.

Have I thought about figures that could replace Santa in my future home? Well, maybe not replace Santa outright but other traditions that I could incorporate or celebrate.

I like Father Christmas. He's got a less obnoxious vibe to me than Santa Claus. I like how C.S. Lewis uses him in The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe. He isn’t named in the movie but he brings important gifts to the children, and his appearance heralds the coming of Aslan. (And then Lucy’s line ‘Told you he was real’ in the movie is perfection). J.R.R. Tolkien’s approach to Father Christmas was a little more personal. During the 1930s he wrote a series of letters as Father Christmas to his children, detailing how he and his assistants got the presents out and their work during the year. I recently bought my own copy of The Father Christmas letters and brought it home to share with my family. I highly recommend it. It’s a completely different universe/world system from Middle-earth, and it’s more kid-friendly, but Tolkein got a kick out of world-building no matter what, and there’s an elegance to Tolkein’s Father Christmas on its own. I like Father Christmas less because I’m an Anglophile and more because of how these authors have presented him to me.
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I’m also huge fan of anything Russian. There were a couple of girls in a singles ward I was in a few years ago who had served missions in Russia and they introduced me to Ded Moroz and Snegorouchka--Father Frost and Snow Maiden. At their 2013 concert the Mormon Tabernacle Choir did a Russian-themed medley for the dance ensemble. Kind of random, considering the Dickens/British vibe of the concert, but part of the medley was the tumblers’ dance from the Snow Maiden ballet. Ruth Sanderson’s storybook The Snow Maiden is a beautiful retelling of the Snow Maiden legend. I’m no expert on how Father Frost and Snow Maiden are used in Russia, but they’re a lot prettier than Santa Claus.  Snegorouchka especially adds a needed female element to how I want to celebrate Christmas. I will at least tell my kids about them.

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I can see the appeal of the Three Kings/Three Wise men in other cultures, since they are directly a part of the traditional nativity. And there’s something to be said for the Farandole/Three Kings dance in last year’s Tab Choir Christmas concert. But they’re not my first pick.

Now here’s an idea I’ve been playing with for the last couple of years: the three Ghosts from Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. This is what I get for writing a term paper on A Christmas Carol for my Victorian literature class in college, but bear with me. The Three Spirits could totally work as mythical Christmas figures. The Ghost of Christmas Past encourages reflection on your Christmas memories. The Ghost of Christmas Present represents being connected with friends and family and how they are observing the season. Maybe the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come doesn’t work so well for kids, but maybe it is an appropriate reminder of what happens if you don’t let the Spirit of Christmas into your heart. Maybe they could be for adults. They’re cooler than Santa by a long shot. And in the 2013 Tab Choir Concert John Rhys-Davies took on the mantle of Christmas Present to lecture a young Dickens. Why the Ghost of Christmas Present should anybody else is beyond me.
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Deseret News

There are still some things to be said for the stereotypical Santa. I am also a fan of the Santa in the CBS
Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer. He’s got an interesting rapport with Mrs. Claus, and he’s conscious about not being fat enough to please the children. The Kris Kringle song is one of my favorites.

How about Calvin and Hobbes? Calvin is a sincere believer in Santa Claus but his issue is how he’s a bad kid and he’s afraid of being punished for his bad behavior with a lack of toys. He questions Santa but it doesn’t occur to him to reject him. That’s what makes Calvin a believable kid. Santa does make occasional appearances in the strip but more as a manifestation of Calvin’s anxieties.
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Over the years, my mom has told me repeatedly that she still believes in Santa Claus because of what he embodies. To me, Santa Claus, in his purest, most non-commercial form, regardless of appearance, is someone who gives. Someone who treats all children with fairness. Someone who acts with kindness. Someone who reminds us of the wonder of the Season. The Real Santa Claus is the Santa who kneels before the Manger and remembers what his job is truly about.  
(And like I said, the Mormon Tabernacle Choir are his favorite helpers). To paraphrase the famous letter to Virginia, yes, there is a Santa Claus in the sense that the things he truly represents--the things you can’t see or feel or prove--also exist.

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Jolly Ol' Saint Nicholas

It’s a choice to believe in Santa, even when you’re still awake on Christmas Eve night and you can hear your parents setting out your gifts. But the more important thing to choose is to believe in for yourself is what Santa represents.

Monday, December 12, 2016

My Favorite Birthdays

“I like my birthdays every one” goes an old Primary song. My birthday is fun, and every year something different and exciting happens. Some year it gets celebrated quietly with little notice. Other times there’s lots of fanfare, friends, and cake. These are some brief recollections on some of my favorite past birthdays. In other words, here’s a highlight reel of the last twenty-four birthdays I’ve had.

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My Tenth Birthday:
I was in fourth grade. My dad came to lunch, which was great because I always thought it was cool when someone else’s parents came to do lunch with my classmates. That day my class was having a reading points party, and there was pizza and root beer and (after dad left) some root beer chugging. Ahhh, the innocence of youth.

My Twelfth birthday:
Turning twelve is a big deal in the LDS church because that’s when boys get the Aaronic priesthood and girls advance to Young Women’s. So to mark the day when I hoped my life would begin, my parents let me invite over three of my school friends. We had a big bonfire in the corral of my family’s barn (yes, we have a barn), and then the usual cake and presents inside. I got a new diary and The Road to El Dorado on VHS.

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My Fifteenth Birthday
I was already in high school, and I was older and sadder than I’d been when I was twelve. I didn’t do anything big for the celebration that year. But the night that I was celebrating with my family, we heard on the news that the International Space Station was supposed to fly over the area. I went outside by myself to watch it. I spent two minutes looking up wide-eyed at a very fast-moving light crossing the sky.

My Sixteenth Birthday
Sixteen. Drivers’ License. Old enough to date. Neither of those things really mattered at the time of my birthday. But I did hear in the local newspaper that one of the middle schools was putting on a performance of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast. My mom got tickets and we picked up two of my friends from Young Womens’--turns out they knew some of the cast so they enjoyed the show, too. And then it was back to my house to sleep over. I was having a pretty miserable year at school--hence the move to Arizona the following year--but my birthday was definitely a highlight.
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My Seventeenth Birthday
This was probably one of my best birthdays ever. If not THE best. That was the year I was living in Arizona. I had a party on Friday night, invited tons of girls from the neighborhood but only three showed up, but that was okay because I was tight with all of them. We played Spoons in my grandma’s big living room and we got pretty violent, like, throwing the spoons across the room violent. Sunday was my actual birthday. It snowed a little bit, but not enough to cover the ground, but it was great to actually get some kind of snow for my birthday. I got a huge chocolate cake that I decorated with chocolate chips to spell 17 and my birthday dinner was barbecue chicken and my aunt’s twice-baked potatoes. But the best part? Monday in my history class, my classmates whipped a gigantic cupcake out of nowhere with lit candles and sang to me. I was touched. I’d been a total stranger when I’d moved in that August, but by December I was cool enough that they’d sing to me for my birthday.

My Eighteenth Birthday
Probably my most underrated birthday. I got to register to vote. I asked my mom to make me a cake shaped like an elephant because I had my heart set on joining the Republican party (LOL). That weekend, I picked up my friends Katrina and Linda and we went to see Disney’s The Princess and the Frog, which IMO is a very underrated movie. Then I drove them all the way back to my house for cake and we played ninja on our back porch. And then Dad and I drove my friends all the way back to town. Worth it.

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My Nineteenth Birthday
The worst thing about having a birthday in December is that when you’re in college or living in a college town, you have to take finals on or around your birthday. Well, I was a freshman at BYU and for all intents and purposes I was having the time of my life so it wasn’t a big deal. On my birthday, I took my finals for Book of Mormon and Geology 101 because they were both subjects I liked and fairly easy exams. When I got home, a couple of guys in my ward serenaded me with the birthday song from The Emperor’s New Groove.

My Twentieth Birthday
I was already starting to show signs of depression. Flipping out when I realized that I had a final scheduled for my birthday should have been a red flag. But for some reason I’d gotten it into my head that between a scheduled final and work in the evening I didn’t have any right to celebrate my birthday at all, even on a different day. My roommates, thankfully, talked me out of that mindset. The morning of my birthday, they made a big breakfast for all of us, hash browns and eggs. Then when I got home from work, a group of my friends from the BYU Medieval Club came by my apartment to serenade me and bring me treats. I was told later that the look on my face when I saw my friends at the door was one of pure joy. Knowing that my friends really cared about me and that I loved them in return got me through the hell that was the next four months when my OCD was trying to twist me into thinking that it wasn’t true. And you know, that’s the kind of joy I’m looking for to this day.

My Twenty-second birthday
My twenty-second was a quieter birthday. The day before, me and two of my roommates went to the Mormon Tabernacle Choir Christmas concert--this was the 2013 concert I mentioned last week that I enjoyed SO MUCH. John Rhys-Davies and Deborah Voight were the guest artists. My roommates and I decided that Voight was a diva, coming out on stage in a bright red gown and belting out “The Twelve Days After Christmas” with some real attitude (in all seriousness, though, a great performance). On the day of, my singles ward decided to take a trip to the Draper Temple. It was my second time doing baptisms there, but this time it was only me and a couple other people from my ward in the baptistry that night. For some reason I was outside waiting for a long time in the cold for the rest of my group, so I made a call to both of my grandmas to pass the time. When I finally got in the car to leave Draper, my ward friends couldn’t help singing “Twenty-two” by Taylor Swift when I told them how old I was turning. We made a stop at Nicoitalia Pizzaria in Provo for dinner.

My Twenty-fourth Birthday
There were marshmallow stormtroopers. I took three friends to see Star Wars. I died--just kidding I didn’t die but spoiler alert Han Solo died and it was more devastating than I thought it would be. I am seriously looking forward to next year because the midnight release for Episode VIII will be on my birthday. For more on what actually happened at the party check out this article I wrote for The Geeky Mormon:

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