Sunday, March 25, 2012

"Ah, Music. A Magic Beyond All We Do Here!"

(I finished the Harry Potter series, guys! I am now licensed to quote Dumbledore whenever I want!)

Have I told you all that I love music? Of course I have. I sometimes think in a different time, or if I were a different sort of person, I would have tried to pursue a career in music--not necessarily performance or composition, but perhaps media music or film/TV music supervision--to be the person who sets a scene to a song, provides music for the montage and whatnot. I believe that a good piece of music can be the thing that drives emotion into anything--including a person.

For many years, I often felt that I was unable to feel things the way other people did--that I was "past feeling", "dead inside", or otherwise incapable of emotion. Being a member of a church that emphasized the importance of "feeling the Spirit", I sometimes felt isolated from others in the congregation who had spiritual experiences all the time and were able to feel so touched during a prayer, sermon, or scripture.

One year, I was singing with the BYU Concert Choir. We were rehearsing a Christmas piece called "Carol of Joy". I'm not going to play it for you, because it isn't Christmas, but here are some of the lyrics:

Look up, sad hearted, witness God's Love
Join in the Carol swelling above

Oh friendless world, to you is the song
All Heaven's joy to you will belong

I think that this was one of the first times I have ever experienced anything close to what people called "feeling the Spirit". Through this song, and through the power of a hundred voices in vocal harmony and spiritual unison, I was able to sense that God loved me, and that I had a Savior. 

Currently, I serve as the choir director in my church congregation, and when I received this calling, I was instructed to help people who could feel the Spirit more strongly through music than through other means. Being one of those people myself, I really believe that this is a great and worthwhile duty to have in the church (even though I complain about it a lot). 

This wasn't meant to be a Big Mormon Blog Post, really. I have the same feelings about a lot of secular music.  So many emotions and moments in my life (especially recently) have become so attached to songs, and so many songs can evoke emotions that are almost too big to express. I think at some point (not now), I'll post a list of some of these best songs (as a change from my "Top 25" lists) for you all. Until then, keep on singing. 

Monday, March 19, 2012


It's something we deal with regularly, whether it be in our academic, professional, or personal lives. I recently was on the receiving end of an academic rejection from an institution, who, for propriety's sake, shall remain nameless. 

First of all, in my opinion (and in the opinion of pretty much everyone else ever) here's how academic rejection letters should begin:

"Dear Applicant,
"We regret to inform you that..."


"Dear Applicant,
"Thank you for your interest in [Department] at [Institution]. Unfortunately..."

A well-written rejection letter should convey to the recipient that s/he has been rejected before the end of the second sentence, using words like "regret" or "unfortunately".  However, as you will see below, not all institutions follow this code of conduct.  Here's the letter that I got:
"Dear Alexandra, 
"The [Institution] Department of [Program] had a very large number of excellent applicants to our Graduate Program.  In addition to considering the overall qualifications of each applicant, it was necessary to consider the existing and projected workloads of individual faculty members that most closely match the applicants' areas of interest.  For this reason, we were able to accept relatively few new students.  As a result, many applicants, of which you are one, could not be admitted."
It closes with the traditional "thanks for applying" and "best of luck in your future endeavors" and whatnot.  But seriously?  How did anyone think that this was a good letter?  I had to read three really long sentences before I got to the punch line, which I had to read three times before figuring out that this was actually a rejection letter.  Let's look at this line again:
"As a result, many applicants, of which you are one, could not be admitted."
Is this even a rejection?  This is a textbook case of the vague antecedent*.  Yes, I am one of the applicants, but am I one of the many that could not be admitted?  Not to mention that this is the biggest "I'm trying to depersonalize this" cop-out of a rejection ever.  I wonder if this is how the author of this letter turned down dates in college:  "Many men, of which you are one, are not going to go out with me.  Thanks, and good luck."  Yikes.

You might be thinking, "come on, Alex, you only think this is a bad letter because they rejected you; sour grapes and whatnot," but even objective third parties and persons with a vested interest in my not moving away came to the same conclusions about the ghastly nature of this letter.

In terms of the real feelings about this, though, I'm not heartbroken.  It was a really good program, and had I gotten in, I would have given it serious consideration.  However, it was in a place that had very little to offer a twenty-six-year-old unmarried Mormon woman, and the program would have taken much longer to complete than I would have liked.  So in general, I'm good, and really, nothing dulls the sting of rejection like the chance to mock other people's sentence structure.

*If you're an English major and this isn't actually a vague antecedent, I apologize, but it's something along those lines, yes?

Saturday, March 17, 2012

The Problem with Hogwarts

Guys, I'm halfway through Book 5 of the "Harry Potter" series. It's pretty good. I like everything about it except for Harry Potter (mostly because the entire book is him saying "I SAW CEDRIC DIGGORY DIE!" or "WHY WASN'T I MADE A PREFECT?"* or "By golly, that Cho Chang is smokin'!"). But now that I feel that I've read enough of the books to voice an opinion, here are my thoughts that I have:

  • The kids at Hogwarts are not being taught computer skills. Or grammar. Or math. Or anything that will get them a job in the non-wizarding world. Or anything that will allow them to function in the non-wizarding world. Seriously--the Weasleys don't even know how to use the phone!
  • On that note, everyone gets all upset when Umbridge comes by and inspects all of the teachers. This is how schools get accredited, folks. They can't just have anybody teaching anything. 
  • Speaking of anybody teaching anything, how can a school that has a million magical safeguards not notice that one of its Defence Against the Dark Arts teachers is secretly Voldemort or that Death Eater guy? Shouldn't they have a detector for that sort of thing? 
  • This is not something that I care particularly about, but people have criticized Hogwarts for not having Sex Ed in the curriculum. Personally, I would like to see this course taught by Severus Snape.
  • I think more could have been done pun-wise in these books. Like in Book 4 when Cornelius Fudge says to Dumbledore, "you can't be serious," I think it would have been cool if Sirius Black transformed back into a human and was like, "No, I'm Sirius." I think it would have really lightened the whole "Voldemort is back" mood.

Anyway, these are great books. I'm excited to finish the series, after which I think I'll take a long break from any books about wizards or dragons or whatnot. Also, I hope to see more from Kreacher, the racist house elf.

*Because everyone already hates you, Harry, that's why.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

What I'm Reading

I'm sure you've all noticed that I haven't been blogging very frequently in the past few weeks. This is because I used to write at the reception desk. The past few weeks, however, my five-year-old laptop has been on the fritz, and I can't turn it off and back on without the risk of the screen not lighting up. Thankfully, it's been holding on and with hope, it will continue to do so until I'm in a more stable financial place* and can buy a new laptop. 

The downside to this is that I can't bring my computer to work with me. The upside is that I get to catch up on my reading! I've always marveled at/been jealous of the people around me who seem to be so ridiculously well-read, so the not having a laptop has given me the chance to remedy that. With the massive amounts of downtime at the office, I usually can get through one book in a day or two. Here's the list of what I've read in the year 2012: 
  • The Graveyard Book (Neil Gaiman) 
  • Howl's Moving Castle (Diana Wynn Jones)
  • Shakespeare Plays:  Othello, King Lear, Macbeth, The Tempest, A Midsummer Night's Dream, The Taming of the Shrew, Twelfth Night
  • The Mysterious Benedict Society (Trenton Lee Stewart)
  • The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Perilous Journey (Trenton Lee Stewart)
  • Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone (J. K. Rowling)
  • Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (J. K. Rowling)
  • Austenland (Shannon Hale)
  • The Hero and the Crown (Robin McKinley)
The thing all of these books/plays have in common is that I had never read any of them before ("What??? You've never read the Harry Potter books? How are you a human!?!?"). My favorites so far have been The Graveyard Book, the Mysterious Benedict Society books, and yes, I am actually quite liking the Harry Potter books (although it's kind of depressing that I'm getting attached to these characters when I know that some of them are going to die). I think that Robin McKinley might be a little too "high fantasy**" for me, but at least I can say that I've read a Robin McKinley book! 

My journey through the literary world is likely to continue for quite some time. I have five(?) more Harry Potters to get through, at any rate. Also, I'm open to recommendations! Comment below!

*"in a more stable financial place" = "accepted into a PhD program that will fund me"
**"High Fantasy" = in a magical world as opposed to magical stuff happening in the regular world. I can't really get into this type of fiction which is one of the reasons why I won't read/watch/think I'll enjoy The Lord of the Rings