April 2009 General Conference: 3 Month Review

We have a tendency to take a General Conference of the Church and discuss it, analyze it, work on applying it, and cherish it in every way we know how…for about three weeks.  Then we forget it until the next Conference six months later and by then, that last Conference might as well have never happened.  So instead of posting my notes on April’s meetings along with everyone else, I want to put mine up now, three months afterwards, halfway between that Conference and the next one. 

I hope that we might all be reminded of things we missed before, or have renewed motivation to live up to the teachings given.  Just this week at a home teaching meeting, a man in my ward mentioned that President Monson had taught in the priesthood meeting that every Melchizedek priesthood holder should be studying the scriptures every day.  I didn’t remember that; it wasn’t in my notes.   I looked up the talk and there it was.  The prophet did say that.  I was grateful to my friend.

When I take notes, immediately after each talk I write a title for that talk in the right margin of the page.  This is my way of summing up the most major point or topic.  My titles for each talk are given in parentheses after each speaker’s name.  It’s always fun to compare my titles to those later published online and in the Ensign.  Here are some highlights from my notes:

Saturday Morning

Elder Hales (“Overcome Debt & Addictions w/ Provident Living”)–The most impressive thing here was just the subject.  Along with Elder Perry’s “Let Him Do It With Simplicity,” this is the second consecutive Conference to begin with a talk about providing for ourselves better by scaling back our materialism.  That fact alone speaks volumes.  Perhaps the best things here were his admonition to “joyfully” live within our means, and the subtle chastisement that debt is money that we could have used to serve others.  Application: Have I reduced my longing for physical possessions through Elder Hales’s prescribed cure of service, obedience to the commandments, tithes, fast offerings, and a family budget?

Elder Christofferson(“Covenants”)– Continue reading

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The Life Affirming Song List

Today, like most every day, is having its share of heartbreak and discouragement.  So much of what we care about in life is beyond our immediate control, and when we do care deeply about things, their failure to work out smoothly can lead to especially poignant pangs.  If we insist on concentrating on the sour tastes, they can come to dominate our palate. 

Yes, life is frequently full of bitter sorrows.  There’s no way around it, and we live with the sure knowledge that our problems won’t magically disappear anytime soon, and that there’s plenty more grief in the future.  On top of all that, there’s always a steady, whispering feeling in the back of your mind that no matter what…everything will be all right.  I’ve felt like that a lot this year, and on that note (get it?), here are 15 songs that help remind me that despite the large measure of sadness dished out to each of us (not after the sadness or without it, but despite it), life is sweet. 

Steven Spielberg once joked in an interview about E.T. that he was “a nice Jewish boy who keeps making movies about the Resurrection.”  I’d modify that slightly.  His movies, like most of the really popular adventure, romance, and science fiction movies–and the most moving songs–aren’t about Resurrection so much as they’re about Restoration–not rising from the dead so much as rebuilding something beautiful that had been broken or lost.  You see that in Spielberg’s movies (think Hook), and you see it in most of these songs. 

Guaranteed to make you feel good, and alphabetical by artist, here they are:

The Beatles, “Here Comes the Sun”

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Always Be Looking Forward To Things

Something that I’ve long found that consistently increases satisfaction in life is to have something waiting for you every day that you’ve been looking forward to.  I have a few ways of doing this.

The first is merely to focus on the pleasure in some of life’s smaller, frequent tasks: seek contentment in folding laundry while you watch an old movie, listen to a certain radio show during a regular commute, watch for changes in moon phases or sunrise times during that commute, or have a favorite snack you indulge in each night, for example.   

The second is closely related, and something that I also do to be more effective at work: put lots of routines in place.  Set a schedule for working out on Saturday mornings, browsing your favorite blogs or web sites two or three nights a week, grilling burgers in the backyard while the kids run around every Wednesday evening, or getting up just a few minutes earlier to pray or do a puzzle or enjoy a bigger breakfast.  Putting these things into your daily routines will also help take the edge off of those less savory events in life that aren’t always negotiable: work, confrontations, obligatory activities, etc.

Finally, let some standard financial advice help out your general happiness in life: diversify.  Continue reading

Birthday Letters

I woke up early yesterday because I was so excited.  It was just about all I could think about all day long.  After nine years, the day was finally here.

When my two older children were still little, I had been trying to think of something special to do for them as they’d be growing up, something to help them know me and my love for them better, something permanent and unique.  I hit upon the idea of writing each of them a letter on every birthday and sealing it up, then giving it to them several years later, starting on their 12th birthdays, when I figured they’d be old enough to appreciate it and starting that stage of life when special attention would be very helpful. 

The letters would contain stories of what my children were like as I was then writing, as well as advice, hopes, observations, and my witness of Jesus Christ.   A few times, when I’ve felt so prompted, I’ve written extra letters, or even letters meant for multiple children.  In recent years, I’ve started including copies of stories, poems, essays, or sermons that I want them to read.  I’ve continued writing these letters for every child on every birthday and dating the envelopes about ten years in the future (twelve for my younger children, who’ve obviously been getting letters written since they were born). 

And yesterday my oldest daughter turned twelve.

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UNLV Beats BYU 75-74

unlv_rebels_200I got to see Saturday night’s sold out game at the Thomas and Mack, courtesy of my father-in-law.  The Rebels have had only a so-so season, often playing, as R-J columnist Ed Graney said, like “a koala on Quaaludes.”  Saturday night’s game started out in a familiar fashion, with BYUoutplaying on offense and UNLV looking less like a team than five random guys all playing on their own, actually seeming confused when they tried to work together. 

But things clicked soon enough.  By the end of the first half, the momentum was strong and the second half saw a real treat for UNLV fans: Wink Adams had a great night, at the line and all around.  Mo Rutledge got more indomitable the closer he got to the net, growing practically unstoppable inside the key.  Tre’Von Willis also stood out, scoring solidly and sinking his fair share of UNLV’s many three pointers.  Though BYU brought it up to only a one point loss, UNLV was ahead by as much as 12 at one point in the second half. 

This bodes well for the next stage. 

And so as not to write a post without any dreary social commentary, on my way home I saw a police officer texting on his cell phone.  While driving.  Arrrgh!

Twelve Things That Give Me Hope

I’m negative.  I excuse it as pragmatism, as refusing to stick my head in the sand, but when you’re trying not to look at the world through rose-colored glasses, there’s such a thing as putting on sunglasses so dark that things just get distorted the other way.

In accordance with a goal I have of being more positive, here are some things that make me glad and give me hope for the future:

1. High school blood drives.  The fact that they come back each year means that the blood they collect is mostly useful, which means most teens donating blood (and there are a lot) are living healthy enough lives to give good blood.

2. Americans are spending less.  Apparently, in hard times, we have some financial maturity after all.  Some are reporting this as bad for the retail sector, but the overall effect here will be greater fiscal stability all around.  Just as we drove less last year when gas prices peaked, we are now holding back some of our profligate ways.  Good for us.

3. Christianity is growing at an amazing rate in the developing parts of the world.  Scholar Philip Jenkins has written about this (for example, page 120 here), and it’s a heartening trend.  More Christians in the world will inevitably lead to greater dissemination of education, greater social justice and stability, and even improved governmental and economic engines, as they always have. 

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Heroes Of The Desk

Last week, I read this great post at Faith Promoting Rumor about how one person organized a desk to optimize its practical and inspirational values as an aid to scripture study.  It made me realize that my own work area is hardly conducive to maximized effectiveness in anything. 

So I moved the computer screen off to the side to give me more room in front of me, added a bookend on the far side to hold the books I’m currently reading, and where a messy pile of scratch paper had been before is now a row of the binders I frequently use: my church binder foremost, as well as my Chinese study binder, my family history binder, my goal tracking binder, and my school materials binder. 

My favorite addition has been the display of several small pictures.  Where the post linked to above favored just three role models of gospel study, since my work area serves to meet all my areas of interest and responsibility, I put up pictures of people who inspire me in multiple areas.  These aren’t just people I look up to, but people I hope to emulate in some way.  (The closest I’ve come to this in the past is when I put a picture of my family on my steering wheel, so I can always have a reminder in front of me of what’s important, though I’ve told some it’s so that, in case I’m in a horrific car crash, I can kiss them goodbye one last time as my head slams into the steering column…)

This is still a work in progress, but tells me a lot about myself.  I have 15 pictures up now, from left to right:

  1. Thomas Jefferson: America’s Renaissance man–gifted author, libertarian leader, musician, naturalist, bookworm, etc.  I’ve been inspired by occasionally dipping into the Portable Thomas Jefferson, and when I was in Washington D.C. six years ago, the Jefferson Memorial was my favorite landmark. 
  2. Bruce Lee: another renaissance man–besides being a breathtaking martial artist, he was a groundbreaking fitness entusiast, a ballroom dancing champion, an entrepreneur, a provocative author and talented sketch artist, as well as a philosophy major at UCLA.  Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story is one of my favorite movies. 
  3. Hugh Nibley, whose profound enthusiasm for teaching, study, research, cultural criticism, classicism, languages, and unwavering loyalty has strongly influenced me in those directions as well.
  4. Bruce R. McConkie, doctrinal student extraordinaire.  McConkie bashing on blogs gets on my nerves, as he was such an undeniably serious, devoted disciple of the Lord, who put his erudition to the best possible use: serving God and helping others do the same.  I’ve written about this extensively before
  5. Lance Armstrong: I loved cycling when I was younger, and desperately want to get into it again.  Not only is this guy the paragon of cycling, but his endurance–physical and emotional (he beat cancer)–is legendary. 
  6. Jesus Christ.  Duh
  7. Ronald Reagan: His “A Time For Choosing” speech in 1964 is still the best articulation of conservative principles ever.  The Great Communicator’s skill at motivating America with humor, enthusiasm, and patriotism is lovingly enshrined in memories of my childhood.
  8. Mark Steyn: The best essayist in the world today, his wit, grasp of the world’s politics, and keen stockpile of cultural references over the last hundred years makes his prose a tour de force, a joy to be reckoned with.
  9. Rafe Esquith, author of Teach Like Your Hair’s On Fire; I wanted a teacher I could relate to up there, and Esquith’s standards, energy, and focus on the classics, even when I don’t do exactly what he does, still inspire me to pour on the passion. 
  10. James Joyce, my favorite author.  He embodies my love of whimsical prose, art, and all things Celtic. 
  11. All 16 presidents of the LDS Church, from Joseph Smith to Thomas S. Monson: how could I choose?  Do I display Joseph Smith for his realistic example of consecrated discipleship?  Spencer W. Kimball for his life of humble service?  David O. McKay as the zenith of living life to the fullest with the gospel?  So in they all go.
  12. Lord Baden-Powell, founder of Boy Scouts.  I need to get outdoors more often and build more practical skills.  I love the Scouting organization, and am grateful to be involved in it, as a parent of a Cub Scout and as a leader in our Boy Scout troop. 
  13. John Swartzwelder, reclusive libertarian author of more episodes of The Simpsons than anybody else (three seasons’ worth).  A master of ironic humor and outdated references (most good Mr. Burns episodes are his), he also penned such timeless satires as “Homer’s Enemy,” “Bart’s Comet,” “The Day The Violence Died,” and “Homer Vs. The Eighteenth Amendment.”  He hasn’t written for the show for years, since he’s been focusing on writing novels…one of many reasons why the show isn’t funny anymore.
  14. Anthony Daniels, tied with Steyn for title of world’s best living essayist.  A gifted wordsmith of unparalleled insight into current affairs, he writes under the pen name Theodore Dalrymple in City Journal, among other places. 
  15. Neal A. Maxwell.  Touching discipleship + (scholarship x alliteration) = a devout role model

Inspiring Obituaries

A well known and much beloved man in my area died last week.  I never met him, but I heard three unrelated people in my acquaintance mention him with emotion since then; the one that made the deepest impression on me was when my stake president said that if any of us wanted to lead a Christlike life, we should look at the life of Deon Sanders. 

The next day, I made sure to look at Brother Sanders’s obituary.  Here it is.  Notice that, as of today, there are 15 wonderful comments posted. 

It reminds me of another, similar obituary.  While flipping through the local paper on November 12, 2005, I noticed an especially long obituary with an entire article about it on the facing page.  The obituary (here) was for Samuel Davis, and the article went into more detail about his life of service to church, family, and community.  I clipped both out of the paper and stuck them in my journal.  They’re refreshing when I need to clear my head and keep my priorities straight.

Now I won’t say that a longer obituary necessarily means a better person or a better life, but it sure doesn’t mean the opposite.  As I scan those pages, I see tiny obituaries for people who have died at all ages, that simply say things like “survived by an ex wife and one daughter” and “no services to be held.”  The two that I’m saving, however, speak of large families and significant service to others, of ambition in happiness and impact in making the world a better place. 

It helps me to think about living my life in such a way that, when I’m gone, lots of great people will have plenty of good to say about my rich life.  That’s the plan, anyway.

Notes on Gordon B. Hinckley’s Standing For Something

In a little over a week, it will be a year since the passing of Gordon B. Hinkcley, 15th president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  At that time, considering the growth of Church membership, he had been the only prophet that about a fourth of all living Mormons had ever known.  As I joined the Church in 1993 but wasn’t very active until 1996, that includes me. 

When he died, I finally pulled my copy of Standing For Something: 10 Neglected Virtues That Will Heal Our Hearts And Homes off the shelf.  After I’d read the first twenty pages or so, I found myself wanting to keep track of all his many offhand references.  Even as I just kept a brief mental tally of his sources, I was impressed that he had such a broad store of resources available.  It’s not like he was writing a scholarly tract, but if he had been, this wouldn’t have been a bad start.  The book reads very comfortably, and is very friendly to the reader, some of it coming across as spontaneous, and some parts clearly taken from his own library of sermons.  I don’t think he must have done much research, then, but actually had most of this material in his mind (including, this English teacher hastens to add, references to four of Shakespeare’s plays).  Putting all of this in such a simple little book might make it harder to detect his achievement. 

By the time I’d finished the book, my notes were twleve pages long.  At the end, I summarized what I thought I could surmise about President Hinckley’s life just based on those notes, sort of as a guide for emulating him.  The best part is that I’m pretty sure I missed some things: some of his references must have escaped me.  Feel free to point out any I missed:

 

Standing for Something—Quotes, references, statistics, etc.

Poems

1.Henry Van Dyke, “America For Me”—introduction xii

2.Edwin Markham on love, “Outwitted”–ch 1, pg. 9

3.Longfellow on honesty, “The Ladder of St. Augustine”–ch 2, pg. 26

4.James Russell Lowell, “The Vision of Sir Launfal”–ch 4, pg 58

5.Robert Browning, “Rabbi Ben Ezra”–ch 8, pg 94

6.Joaquin Miller, “Columbus”–ch 10, pg 111

7.Elizabeth Barrett Browning—Marriage, pg. 142

8.Emerson, “Voluntaries III”–Epilogue, pg 177

 

Historical References

9.Mayflower Compact (quote)—introduction xiv

10.Declaration of Independence (quote)—introduction xv

11.Preamble to the Constitution (quote)—introduction xvi

12.War hero statue in Trafalgar Square–ch. 1, pg. 8

13.Athenian oath of citizenship—ch 2, pg. 19

14.Anecdote about Lincoln’s honesty—ch 2, pg 26

15.“Heroes” list: Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, Lindbergh, Byrd, Hopkins—ch 3, pg 38-39

16.George Washington’s 110 “rules for civility”–ch 4, pg 53

17.1979 centennial of electric light—ch 5, pg 67

18.Lee’s surrender at Appomattox—ch 6, pg 76

19.Vikings—ch 7, pg 81

20.American West—ch 7, pg 81

21.Israel—ch 7, pg 81

22.American WWI cemetery in France—ch 8, pg 92

23.Korean War—ch 8, pg 92

24.Vietnam War—ch 8, pg 92

25.United Kingdom in WWII—ch 9, pg 102

26.Mikhail Gorbachev’s speeches—ch 9, pg 103

27.Letter of an 1872 Colonel who visited Utah—ch 10, pg 118

28.Story of the Roman Gracchi—Family, pg 152

 

Quotes and Allusions

29.William Gladstone on U.S. Constitution—introduction xvi

30.Margaret Thatcher on declining religiosity—introduction xvii

31.George Washington on public religiosity—introduction xix

32.Shakespeare on honesty (Othello)–ch 2, pg. 17

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Things I Love About Autumn

Tomorrow I go back to work to prepare for the new school year, which starts on Monday.  I’m certainly not bursting with ecstasy that my little break is over, but I will be grateful to see the 110-degree weather start to fade (in another four weeks or so we’ll start leaving the triple digit temperatures behind–hopefully!), and this summer hasn’t been all that productive or relaxing, anyway.  I won’t shed any tears to see it go.

But at this landmark in the calendar, I want to focus on some of my favorite things about the upcoming stage of the year.  Due to my work schedule and the weather here in Las Vegas, I define “Autumn” as the period between Labor Day and Thanksgiving.  Here, in chronological order, are some of the things I’m most looking forward to in the coming three months, including the days I expect to be there:

  • The new school year.  This is even better than New Year’s for making resolutions.  I was a little disappointed with a lot of details about the last school year, and spent the last week of school drawing up a list of new ideas and procedures for myself to make this year more effective.  I’ve added to it over the summer.  Even aside from that, this is the part of the year when nobody can resist the optimism of a fresh start, of meeting new students, of the unlimited potential that new classes imply.  I enjoy the rituals of beginning a new year, and intend to hit the ground running.  Further still, after a few months of summer school and work around the house, going back to work will offer a much welcome slower pace!
  • The Harvest Festival.  Saturday, September 6.  I’m not a very crafty guy, but I love going to this whenever I can so I can try all the food samples!  After a few hours, I’ve had enough quality dip, cheese, cocoa, Chinese food, soup, stew, and other goodies to keep me full for another year.  The entertainment is corny, but always fun, and I do sometimes buy things: I got a CD of medieval Celtic music once.  Actually, some of the crafts are also worthwhile: I always make a point of admiring the statues of crystal dragons, and sentimental landscape paintings, and of getting a whiff of all the different scented candles.  Time well spent.
  • Football.  I’m not a huge sports fan, but I’ve found myself getting more into it the last several years.  I might even try some fantasy football this year.  Football is always a fun way to relax and enjoy a few hours, though I rarely get to watch an entire game.  I also try to take the family to some of my school’s games each Fall, which is an irrepressibly wholesome bit of Americana. 
  • New baby.  My fifth child and third son, Aiden John, is due on September 23.  I spent a lot of my “honey-do” time this summer getting things ready, and we’re all excited about the new addition to the clan.  A baby’s first year goes by so quickly, because it’s so eventful, and I want to savor each moment.  Honestly, I don’t know how people can only have one child, because these magic hours become such a blur.  Not to mention, nothing makes you realize how settled into a rut your life had become than an infant.  It’s life’s most rewarding challenge.
  • General Conference.  Saturday, October 4-Sunday, October 5.  I love Conference; I recently wrote a blurb about about literacy among the Latter-day Saints that made a big deal out of this.  Nearly every one of these assemblies for lecturing challenges me, inspires me, and gives me plenty to talk about and work on.  I enjoy the speaking styles of various people, and Conference almost always offers a few stories that stick with me.  I try to take copious notes on it, and refer to them often.  We Mormons really do have a treasure trove of powerful and useful oratory in our midst, one that we should do more to appreciate.  Hearing the Tabernacle Choir and a few other select performing groups doesn’t hurt, either. 
  • Boulder City Art in the Park.  Saturday, October 4.  I’ll try to visit this for a few hours before General Conference, but it might cut into the first session.  Well, that’s what the archives on the Church web site are for.  I’ve only been to this for the last two years, but I wonder now at how much pleasure my life missed out on before it.  First of all, Boulder City is a beautiful place.  It has a cozy, inviting, back East small town feel to its shops and sidewalks, the kind of atmosphere you also see in Northern Nevada and Utah…basically, everywhere but Vegas.  *sigh*  But the art displays themselves are even better than those at the Harvest Festival, having far more variety in their wares.  The weather is pleasant, the homemade tacos are delightful, and there’s just no better way to spend a Saturday morning than strolling around a leafy park with your family as you browse the cornucopia of paintings, sculptures, and some other forms of artwork.  It’s always interesting to see a tent with, say, pastel portraits of Jesus set up next to another tent featuring 3-D murals of electric, lighted neon figures of unicorns and elves. 
  • 9th Annual Something Scottish.  Saturday, October 4…which is shaping up to be a pretty busy day.  Luckily this production is relatively small, and I should be able to squeeze it in during the hours between Conference sessions.  This annual ritual features bagpipe players, step dancers, Celtic genealogy tables…and haggis.  Seriously.  I once tried calling most of the butchers in Vegas to get some haggis; half of them didn’t know what it was, and the other half laughed and said that it would be impossible to get.  *sigh*  The little kids can pick up crayons to color a picture of Nessie, while I munch away at some bangers and mash. 
  • Cooler Weather, Shorter Days.  No specific day here, but after the hectic pace set by the long days of summer, it’s a refreshing treat to put on a sweater in the morning, or have to cut some work short because the light is gone.  This time of year encourages us to spend more time lounging around in the back yard, or enjoying the kind of vigorous outdoor activities that you just can’t do during the five months of the year when it’s 115 degrees in the shade here.  October and November really are the best months of the year to live in Vegas…though I still wish I lived somewhere where the leaves actually changed color.
  • Renaissance Festival.  Friday, October 10-Saturday, October 12.  I’ll refrain form the ale, but nothing will keep me from lending an ear to the strolling minstrels here, or from examining the many sword blades available for perusal and purchase.  A genuine joust is a must see, and every other booth sells scones.  The costumes are worth the price of admission alone–it’s just not every day you can see some corseted wench tending to the cape and boots of her lord fair.  Unless, I suppose, you live in California.  *cough, cough*
  • Halloween.  Possibly October 31st.  Nevada was actually admitted to the Union on October 31st, so we get this as a holiday.  Though it’s usually moved to be a three day weekend, this year it’s on a Friday, which means I get Halloween off work!  In the weeks leading up to it, I’ll spend hours going up and down the aisles of everyplace from party stores to costume stores to Hallmark soaking up all the silly schmaltz.  I also try to read a classic scary novel each October.  My street is only a few years old, and only has one outlet, so traffic is low, but I’ll still carve a jack-o-lantern (I like to think I’m pretty good at it), and gussy up the kids to go out and collect some sugar.  My church also does a “trunk or treat” the weekend before, and that’s always a hoot, too.
  • My Birthday.  Sunday, November 2.  Of course I’ve long since passed the point where anyone makes much of a fuss about this, but I still enjoy it.  It’s a great excuse to indulge yourself for a day–I’ll take the family out to dinner wherever I want–and maybe even get a nice surprise or two.  Also, I have this delusion that life will get easier as I get older, so I’m looking forward to middle age soon.  Knock on wood.
  • Election Day.  Tuesday, November 4.  I take this seriously.  I even did all the research I could and voted in last week’s primary election.  In November, I’ll do more research and, as per tradition, take my kids with me to see me vote.  The workers are always happy to give the little ones pencils and “I Voted” stickers.  I’ll wear my sticker to work the next day.  It certainly makes an evening of watching the news more exciting.
  • Thanksgiving.  Thursday, November 27.  I likewise take this seriously, seeing it as a religious holiday to offer gratitude to God for specific blessings (as, incidentally, Washington and Lincoln also saw it).  Accordingly, my family and I will discuss things for which we’re thankful.  However, there are plenty of other things to enjoy about it, especially…the Macy’s parade.  I love this parade.  I watch it every year.  Not every float is great, and not every performance is worthwhile, but enough of them are that I make this a priority.  The kids sure do get a kick out of seeing Santa at the end. 

Of course, much of this plan depends on new baby Aiden.  We might not be able to go out and do all of this with him, but we’ll do what we can.  If nothing else, I know it’ll be easy to love getting the fireplace going for the first time this season as our new baby sits on the rug, and I’ll read Dracula as I listen in on a football game and sip some of the flavored hot chocolate I just got from the Harvest Festival.

Recommended Reading: The Last Lecture

You’ll notice that this post is being filed under “living well,” rather than “language and literature” or “arts.”  Don’t let that fool you into thinking that I recommend this book merely as inspirational fluff–despite the gushing tributes this book has received since Professor Randy Pausch’s untimely death two weeks ago, The Last Lectureis not primarily designed to choke you up and give you a warm fuzzy feeling, nor is it a pity party for Dr. Pausch. 

In fact, even though it’s far closer to the truth, I think we’d be wrong to characterize it as a “seize the day” manifesto for making the most of our lives.  Certainly most people will look at it that way, and they’re not entirely wrong to do so, but The Last Lecture has much more in common with Life’s Little Instruction Book or even The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People than it does with, say, Chicken Soup for the Soul or I’m OK, You’re OK.  It’s not inspirational–it’s didactic.

Pausch is a teacher, and throughout the book he explicitly tells us that he is using this opportunity to teach; he’s teaching his children how to live well and, through that project, us as well.  I picked up The Last Lecture wondering if it would have been such a big deal had not the author been dying; as I read it, I realized that it probably wouldn’tbe such a big deal if the author weren’t dying, but not for the reason I’d feared.  This book is absolutely not a sensationalist exploitation of a man’s own death; if not for Pausch’s cancer, I wonder if most readers would have been bored. 

Dr. Randy Pausch, 1960-2008 <i>Ave Ate Vale</i>
Dr. Randy Pausch, 1960-2008 Ave Atqe Vale

Pausch only mentions his disease relatively rarely, and only then to help illustrate a point about something else he’s already telling us.  In fact, the book would work just as well if he never mentioned it at all.  The Last Lecture is a practical, sober, down to earth manual of ideas not for feeling good so much as for being productive.  Granted, that productivity is meant in terms of relationships as well as career goals and general self-improvement, but we sell this wonderful little book short if we only view it as a sappy ode to “living in the moment.”

For example, there’s a chapter about Alice, a free online download that Pausch helped develop that teaches people how to program animation.  Being fairly computer illiterate myself, I was happy to learn about this and have already set it up on my own hard drive.  He also has some good advice about using Girl Scout thin mint cookies to help people be productive with you, and to build relationships by expressing gratitude.  It’s a great idea, and next year I’ll stock up on those cookies. 

There’s even a chapter on time management (see, I told you it was like The Seven Habits). 

But if it’s not a syrupy Hallmark card, neither is it a cold-blooded textbook.  Pausch has an engaging, accessible style that lends itself well to this kind of counsel; at one point he writes, “this is just the stuff that worked for me.”  No heavy-handed pontificating here.  His many anecdotes are clever and his constant self-deprecating humor is often laugh-out-loud funny. 

So when you read The Last Lecture, you might need a box of tissues, but I sure didn’t.  What I did need was some paper for taking notes on Pausch’s many great ideas for working hard and enjoying it, and an eraser to get rid of the scribbles I made while laughing at his story of painting his childhood bedroom…very poorly.

This book is a testament to how much Pausch achieved in life, and how he did it.  The book itself is a worthy accomplishment, one whose lessons are worth imitating, and a monument to a life well lived.

These are a few of my favorite things…

In no particular order, some of the things that always, always make me happy:

  1. Quarter pounders with cheese and hot mustard
  2. A1 steak sauce
  3. scented candles
  4. mystery and sci-fi magazines
  5. weekend afternoon naps / waking up with everything quiet
  6. The Simpsons
  7. Writing and receiving letters
  8. Writing just about anything
  9. crossword puzzles
  10. soy sauce
  11. beef jerky from Larry’s Great Western Meats
  12. browsing at Hallmark around Halloween
  13. conservative editorials (especially Mark Steyn)
  14. power yoga
  15. soft chocolate chip cookies
  16. mounatin biking through the scenic loop at Red Rock Canyon
  17. early morning walks
  18. wearing sweaters and blankets
  19. Saturday shows on NPR (especially “Car Talk” and “Wait, Wait…”)
  20. thunderstorms
  21. driving through Virgin River Gorge on I-15 in NW Arizona
  22. road trips
  23. watching sunrises
  24. making lists
  25. how my teeth feel after I floss
  26. ice cold milk
  27. U2 albums from the 80’s
  28. slow, simple, moody music
  29. Renaissance festivals and craft fairs
  30. cloudy days
  31. Virginia and the Pacific Northwest
  32. hot chocolate
  33. jazz
  34. meat and cheese from Hickory Farms
  35. chocolate cream pies from Marie Calendar’s
  36. Thomas Kinkade paintings
  37. Shakespeare
  38. Athletic socks, old blue jeans, ribbed t-shirts
  39. Impressionist painting
  40. not shaving for a couple days
  41. for some reason, sitting in a doctor’s or dentist’s office, or getting a haircut
  42. laying in bed and letting my mind wander
  43. New Yorker cartoons
  44. Strong Bad emails on homestarrunner.com
  45. The Onion
  46. marking scriptures
  47. episodes of Agatha Christie’s Poirot
  48. NPR’s “Performance Today”
  49. Calvin and Hobbes
  50. Celtic music and folklore
  51. working in the temple
  52. surprising my wife with romantic things
  53. hymns
  54. The Mysteries of Harris Burdick
  55. sitting in the tub
  56. martial arts
  57. foreign film
  58. any album from Putumayo World Music
  59. history
  60. hiking in the mountains

My “bucket list”

I recently came across the fun web site 43things.com.  It inspired me to work out my own list of life-long goals.  Like this blog, I’m hoping it pushes me to do more with myself.  Check out my list, with some updates: http://www.43things.com/person/Huston

This reminds me of the huge, impressive life list by John Goddard, the adventurer who, at 15, wrote a list of over a hundred things and worked on nearly all of them overt the next several decades.  I love this list: http://www.johngoddard.info/life_list.htm

If anyone makes a list of their own, let me know so I can cheer you on!