Friday, August 26, 2011

A Thing of Beauty is a Joy Forever

Well, another day, another adventure.

I landed in Portland yesterday; I came out to visit some friends who live here and to help my brother move.  I flew out, but I'll be driving his 1966 Volvo Amazon home, so it's going to be an adventure.  He keeps warning me that I'll love it for the first hour and then it'll be hot, smelly, and tiring.  I hope that's his age speaking and I'll actually enjoy it.

Anyway, yesterday I landed and made my way to the Portland Art Museum.  Right now, there is an exhibit called "The Allure of the Automobile," which you know I had to go see.  I'd heard it was a smallish exhibit and kind of pricey, but I'm a devoted autophile; I wouldn't be able to look myself in the mirror if I didn't go.  Within the first five minutes of entering the gallery, I'd made my investment back.

Pictured above is one of my many dream cars, the 1961 Ferrari 250 GT Berlinetta SWB.  There's not a lot I wouldn't do to drive one of these things, much less own one.  Seeing in person the exact car pictured above, which won its class and finished third overall in the 1961 24 Hours of LeMans, was an absolute thrill.  This very design influenced countless Ferraris, several other exotics, and even the Ford Mustang Fastback later on.  It is a legend, and I got to stand two feet away from it.

Also featured, among the ultra-rare Tucker Torpedo, Bugatti Atalante, and others, was the 1937 Talbot-Lago T150-C-SS Teardrop.  This is, in my opinion, the most beautiful car ever built.  I think it absolutely shames anything else parked nearby.  Standing next to it, it had a presence, an air of powerful and controlled grace; it is the proverbial athlete in a tailored tuxedo.  Tell me you don't agree (Picture is of a similar vehicle selling for, wait for it, 4 million dollars at auction.  Images of the car I saw can be accessed via the museum link above.  Scroll through the gallery, it's worth it.)

All of these amazing, ultra-rare, and beautiful cars got me thinking about how good I really have it.  I'm certainly in no kind of position to ever use my Deusenberg for pizza deliveries, but I'm lucky to even be able to travel to a far-off destination, pay a museum fee, and simply look at and appreciate all of these automotive idols.  I also am grateful for designers who took the time to get the lines right and for owners who thought to care for these rare gems, rather than let them waste like I do with my cars.  I was just thinking about how lovely it is to live in a world where design and creativity in something as elementally appliance-like as a car is appreciated.  These cars are things of beauty, true works of art that belong in these museums and galleries.  Art is inspiration and I'm grateful for wherever that inspiration comes from (hint, hint).

This world is full of beauty if one takes the time to find it, and one needn't look in art galleries or the garages of the ultra-rich, either.  It's in nature and science, found in the night sky and in the operating room.  It's found in Lucky jeans, Madsen bicyles, Dyson fans, and copper and blue and red front-loading washing machines.  It's found on antique bookshelves and in gourmet kitchens and in your grandmother's music room.  Beauty is everywhere.  And every time you look at, read, taste, feel, listen to, or otherwise experience these things of beauty, they fill your life with joy.

For further information on my dream cars, visit the museum website, linked above.  Pictures are courtesy of

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Happy New Beginning- Ryan and Rachel

He is here!

Ryan and Rachel have finally and officially adopted Noah Atticus.  I can't even begin to tell you how happy I am for their little family and how now it's just a little bit more complete.

One thing that I was kinda thinking when I read about little Noah's homecoming was that how lucky this little boy is to have such loving people in his life as Ryan, Rachel, and his birth-mom, Katie.  Ryan and Rachel will make excellent parents, and Katie showed tremendous courage by giving Noah a chance at life, carrying him to term, undergoing a painful and epidural-free delivery, and then giving his future to a couple better equipped to care for him.  Noah is a lucky boy to come into the world under such circumstances.

One thought that's been marinating for a little while is the tidiness and completeness of God's plan. I have no idea of Katie's circumstances, but I have a feeling that Noah may not have been an expected or planned pregnancy; even so, Katie and Noah were prepared in the Lord's timing and way to give Rachel and Ryan the gift of parenthood.  And Rachel, through her painful and disappointing miscarriages and failed adoption attempts, was prepared and put off so that she could become Noah's mother. The pain that both families endured was to fulfill a purpose.  I've mentioned before that I have a hard time glorying in trials, but in Rachel, Ryan, Katie, and Noah's story is a practical application of just why we have to undergo pain and alter our plans for a higher purpose.

And the other rumination I've been enjoying is that God truly loveth His children.  He loved Katie enough to find her Ryan and Rachel, He loved Rachel enough to give her the determination to keep looking, and He loved Noah enough to give him a family and set of life circumstances that will inspire him to be his greatest self.

Speaking of, Noah, just so you know, To Kill a Mockingbird is my favorite book.  You are going to have to fill some pretty big shoes with a namesake like Atticus Finch, but I have no doubt you'll be able to exceed all expectations with parents like Ryan and Rachel and a birth mom like Katie to encourage and remind you to be your best.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

The Art of Racing in the Rain

Why I loved The Art of Racing in the Rain, by Garth Stein

The narrator--a dog--is named Enzo, after Enzo Ferrari.  Enzo's owner, Denny, drives a BMW 3.0 CSi, one of the greatest and most attractive vehicles ever to come from BMW and indeed the world.  Denny works at a German automobile repair shop and in his spare time races touring cars.  Enzo's favorite movie is Le Mans, a movie about the 24-hour endurance race of the same name, starring Steve McQueen, coincidentally also Enzo's favorite actor.

So, yeah, with all that flotsam and jetsam, the book is off to a pretty good start.  Dog, racing, BMW.  Winning combo.

But it's so much more than that.  Allow me to explain a little with one of the last paragraphs.  It's no spoiler, but it does explain the point of the novel, so stop here if you really want to be surprised.

I know this much about racing in the rain. I know it is about balance.  It is about anticipation and patience. I know all of the driving skills that are necessary for one to be successful in the rain.  But racing in the rain is also about the mind! It is about owning one's body. About believing that one's car is merely an extension of one's body.  About believing that the track is an extension of the car, and the rain is an extension of the track, and the sky is an extension of the rain. It is about believing that you are not you; you are everything. And everything is you. (314)

I'm not usually into all this existential crap. I actually kind of hate it in a big way for its vagueness. But there's absolutely no denying the truth of that last paragraph.  Anyone who has ever driven, let alone raced, in rain knows it's true.  Balance, patience, and presence of mind are required for safe and successful driving.  Why then should it be any different for anything else?

So much that I want to tell.  But I also don't want to spoil the book.  Just know that it is so much more than cars and racing and dogs.  It's a great story and I loved reading it.  Now, I'm a little depressed that I have to find another book to read.


Yesterday, at family home evening in my singles ward, me and a few of my friends ended up sitting around, talking story about whatever.  We laughed about funny events in others' lives, chatted about movies and TV, gossiped about sports, celebrities, high school friends, etc.

We got on the subject of The Hunger Games, which I just finished a few days ago.  I loved it.  It was so unbelievably depressing near the end, but it was a total page turner.  I cried through the last 50 pages and was legitimately depressed for a few hours after closing the final book, one, because I'm always depressed after finishing a book, and two, because the book was really really depressing, if still very good. Even so, I still find myself getting a little misty when I think about how it ended, and it's been almost a week.

I mentioned all of this to my friends, which made them laugh. I love dramatic art, but only when my life is good.  I love my Grey's Anatomy, Hunger Games, and Life is Beautiful, but I can't stand it if there's a significant personal drama going on in my life.  I can only consume something depressing (music notwithstanding) if there's something good going on in my life.  If I'm dramatic and my media is dramatic, I can't handle it.

Anyway, my new book is kinda like that.  I'm reading The Art of Racing in the Rain, by Garth Stein.  It's about Enzo, a very human dog who, on the eve of his death, looks back at his life with his family and ponders his contributions to their lives.  It's charming, sweet, funny, and insightful, but since it's about a dog dying, you can bet your boots that it's a little depressing.  Still, I'm enjoying it and I find myself marveling at Enzo's intelligence.

Last night, I woke up at 2 am and couldn't fall back to sleep, which is rare for me, so I started back in on Enzo's story for awhile.  After a few hours, I decided to try sleeping again, but felt myself consumed with a feeling I haven't had in a few months.  It started deep in the pit of my stomach, then made its way north to my throat, then settled deeper into my chest.  I was startled when a small, strangled sob made its way out of my mouth. I wondered where this sob came from, but as I wondered, the sobs came more frequently and more vocally.

Emotions like these are normal for me, but I haven't had that weird, vacuous feeling in several weeks, so it surprised me when it came.  I wondered, was I just kidding myself with all the happiness that I thought I was feeling?  Have I really been depressed this whole time, but have I just been trying to subdue it with false satisfaction?  Or have I really been happy, and it was just my preoccupation with all this depressing literature that was making me sad?

Eventually, I came to a few conclusions.  I decided that, yes, I was happy then, but for some reason, I just needed to be sad now.  I needed to wallow a little bit in self-pity and wonder why life was so hard sometimes.  I had to pine a little bit for Hawaii, for the trampoline in my backyard where me and my friend would sit and cry under the stars talking about her problems and my problems, but then move on and laugh and wrestle and snuggle, happy for the friendship and the love we had for each other.  I had to sit in bed last night and wish that I had someone, not a wife or a boyfriend or a lover, but some good friend who knew me and could let me wrap myself around them while they told me that everything was okay and that I was loved.

Well, this went on for a few minutes before I settled down a bit and relaxed.  A smile broke my lips.  It was an involuntary smile that told me that I am a happy person.  These last weeks/months of joy I've been feeling were a result of something in my mindset changing, not a result of forced repression. And I woke up this morning, a little frazzled from my fractured night of sleep, but no less grateful to be alive and well and no less happy that things are going okay for me.

There's a little raincloud chasing after me today, making me sometimes take pause and wish that things could be different and easier, but it's broken by the summer sun of a life that I know is worth living, in spite of its shortcomings and sorrows.

Friday, August 5, 2011


I had the rare pleasure of reading Dante's Commedia last semester, but of course, as per my usual study habits, I left all of the reading to the last three or four days of class.  In my frenzied devouring of the material, not much actually sunk through to long-term storage and I'm fairly certain all of it left my head a few minutes after the final exam.  Still, one point stayed with me.

After the fictional Dante descends through the various pits of Inferno and then rises into Purgatorio, he encounters a wall of fire separating the land of penance from Paradise.  After seeing his guide Virgil go through the flame and emerge to the other side unscathed, one would think that Dante Alighieri, brave and intrepid thinker that he was, would readily walk through to begin his road to glory.  But he hesitates.

Peter, one of Jesus' apostles, had a probably-similar experience.  He saw Jesus walking on water, and yet he hesitated a little bit and lost sight of Jesus as he began to sink into the tempest.

When I lived in Georgia, selling security systems, our team had an awful summer.  One of the reasons for this was that I was the most experienced sales rep in the office, which is only because I arrived in Georgia a day before any of the other rookie salesmen.  With me as a leader, the team fell apart.  There was a galaxy of natural talent in that office, men and women who were trustable, charming, handsome, attractive, honest, and knowledgeable.  But for the first month, I was the most experienced.  I tried my best to train the team as well as I could, but I just didn't have enough hands-on knowledge to be a successful teacher.  By the time more experienced sales reps arrived, we had already formed almost-unconquerable bad habits and doomed ourselves to a mediocre summer when we could have been great, all because the best pacesetter we had was me.  There wasn't anyone to show us that it was possible to post big numbers, so we all assumed that small numbers were all we could do.

What, then, is Dante's excuse for his hesitation?  What is Peter's?  These men were the acolytes of two amazing pacesetters.  They received inspiration and instruction from the greatest man and one of the greatest thinkers this world has ever seen, and yet, they failed in those moments.

Now, it's not honest to call these two men true failures.  Peter did walk on water and Dante eventually crossed through the fire to gain Paradise (I love the account of his crossing, saying that the fire burned his skin but his nerves were unsinged.  I'd like to feel that painless burning he talks about someday.)

And now, to be humble, how many times do we cast off our pacesetters?  I'm not positive, but I think that even if I had someone to really teach me how to sell, I still might have done pretty crappy, because I had (and have) a pretty lame work ethic.  So what's that say for things that are really hard?  Like, say, living with same-gender attraction while still trying to serve a mission, find a companion, and please my Heavenly Father?  I've got a few pacesetters in that respect, including Jesus Himself, who suffered my specific sorrows and trials and still endured.  And yet, how often do I cast His example off, preferring instead to see the tempest raging around me or imagining the actually-harmless flames licking and burning my body?  If I'm honest, probably more often than I'd like to admit.

(To make myself feel less guilty, I'm going to lump you all in with me too.)

Why do we do it?  Why do we damn ourselves to a life of fear when we have a perfect example right in front of us?  Perhaps it's a niggling worry that God won't really save us when we sink, so why try to walk on water?  If that's our excuse, then we need to strengthen our testimonies in God's love, because "perfect love casteth out all fear."  My good friend once told me that, if we really honestly look back at the hard times in our life, we can't honestly say that God wasn't there to get us through.  If there was a limiting reagent, it was us, not God.  That means that God's probably batting a thousand, so why would He break His perfect record now? The logical answer is that He won't.  He will still do all He can to get us through the tempests and beckon us through the fire into eternal rest.

Let's not hesitate to step off the boat next time, eh?

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Thought of You

I'm not usually too big on modern dance, but this little video caught my eye. Hope you enjoy it as much as I do. What picture do you paint on its blank canvas?

Thought of You from Ryan J Woodward on Vimeo.

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