Sunday, April 27, 2008

Will I Never Learn?

I'm sure there's a Gospel lesson in here somewhere. Probably there's a story buried deep in my scriptures; we'll call it "the Allegory of the Electronic Gaming Device." It tells the spiritually informed that the House of Israel was scattered because they failed to heed the Lord's repeated warnings that if they didn't cast out their Nintendo DS's, they would be cut off from the presence of the Lord for a good long time. But of course the Israelites failed to heed these warnings, among others, and found themselves suddenly living in, I don't know, Russia or someplace where they make inferior microchips and can't handle even a simple Mario Bros. game.

You may recall that I'd written about my unreasoning fear of my daughter's Nintendo DS a week and a half ago. You may appreciate that my daughter has kept intense pressure focused on her reluctant Dad to play "Animal Crossing." Today was no different. She was relentless. "Daaaaddy," she began. That sing-song "Daaaaddy" of hers modulates between about three distinct pitches and is the rough equivalent of the Central American phrase pues, fíjese. "Fijese" in Guatemala pretty much means, "I'm about to give you a whopper of an excuse as to why, precisely, I can't be bothered to read that wonderful Book of Mormon you gave me a week ago, Elder, so get ready." When my daughter uses her modulated "Daaaaddy" on me, I get similar results. "Here comes an outrageous request, Daddy, so you'd better prepare yourself." In either instance, whether my daughter or a well-meaning but highly ambivalent Quiché tat, I have just about 10 seconds to drum up my steely resolve and put on my poker face. Let me state for the record that I had a much higher success rate with the Quichés.

"Daaaaaddy," she said, "since you don't have anything to do right now..."

Huh? Whaddaya mean, "nothing to do?" I'm sitting here on a Sunday afternoon, relaxing, and contemplating taking a nap. How could that possibly be construed as "nothing to do?"

"Would you like to play 'Animal Crossing?'"

*heavy dramatic sigh*

I was trapped, and I knew it. She had me dead to rights. I didn't have anything that I was doing at that particular moment, although I could have fabricated something pretty darn'd quickly. I'm still under about a gazillion deadlines at work, and I should probably be working on at least one of them even as I write this. However...

I relented.

"Okay, Punkin', let's have it."

See below the look of a defeated man:

See, the girls love to watch Daddy play computer games. This has always been true, because Daddy is not one of those hideous Doom 3 kinds of Dads. I just don't get into that level of violence. But I love the Monkey Island series, and so do the girls. So every time I play one of those types of games, the girls will sit and literally watch me for hours, if I let 'em. Ditto Harry Potter. Or even Indiana Jones, although there are scarier things in the Indy games and they tend to leave the room more often when I play those.

That's why you see both Woodyettes perched immediately above and behind me, watching with enrapt looks on their faces. The way they look in the photo, I'd probably just burned down the Town Hall or something. (This, of course, is not true. What actually happened was, I trampled on their flowers. Frankly, I had no idea how to avoid trampling on them, and wasn't interested in taking the Traffic School option. Just fine me and be done with it.)

So I played for about an hour. At the end of which I had had enough of "Animal Crossing" to last me until approximately the next presidential administration.

I was exhausted. I finally managed to learn how to sell things to the town Dictator-for-Life Tom Nook. I even got a rod and reel and tried my hand at a fishing tournament. Now, I've been fishing on and off (mostly off) for most of my life, and I have to say that if, in real life, I hooked into a 34+ inch carp, I'd be feeling pretty good. So imagine my dismay at presenting said carp to the Mayor (who always appears tipsy to me, for some odd reason) only to learn that someone else had bagged a 43 inch sea bass! Phooey.

Jelly also coerced me into visiting the museum. I'd managed to bag an octopus while fishing, and Mrs. Woody suggested I donate it to the museum, so off I went. After Jelly told me where to find it, that is. Then she kept urging me to visit various exhibit halls. "Visit the aquarium, Daddy!" "Now visit the art gallery, Daddy!" "Now go jump in the river and soak your head, Daddy!" (I may have imagined that last one.) Finally she got me to visit the bug exhibit. I wasn't sure exactly why she wanted me to visit this one in particular until she told me to find and stomp on the cockroach. Yes, a cockroach. So I located it and tried to stomp on it. "Notice: this cockroach was lovingly donated by Violet..." Of course. A protected cockroach. Only in "Animal Crossing."

By that time, my head was pounding. Time for a Sudafed. I steered my character back to bed — envying him his ability to crash whenever he wanted to — and politely handed the Machine of Doom back to my daughter.

But not before Mrs. Woody had captured my shell-shocked face for future generations to enjoy.

The Spirit of Change

Recent writings aside, I'm not the most spiritually sensitive character around. I believe myself to be one of those souls for whom the Spirit carries a really, really big hammer in case he needs to get in touch with me. "Hello? Woody? You listening?..." CLANG! "Ah. Finally got your attention." He then fills me in on something that was probably obvious to everyone else in my life, and figured I needed to be clued in. "Yo. Woody. See that gal? The one you knew in high school and were too chicken to talk to? She's the one you need to marry. Get on it."

I'm taking a few liberties here, of course. In real life, the Spirit probably would have communicated the above in a somewhat different manner:

"And the Spirit appeareth unto Woody by night in a dream because Woody was too busy by day venting his spleen at various Microsoft® products. And the Spirit saith unto Woody, 'Verily, the woman thou beholdest; and whom thou hast known from thy shallow and vain youth; she it is whom thou shalt wed. NOW.'" Or maybe it was just a strong impression that I had.

I say this because of a bad habit of mine. Once in a great while, I'll be sitting around doing things of little or no consequence (although in this morning's case, one could argue that there could indeed be huge consequences if I fail to take my shower) and I'll feel the rumblings of pending change in my life. Most of the time these rumblings are innocuous in nature. Probably the result of little or no sleep the night before. But occasionally they take on the aspect of a life-changing event. It happened a few months in advance of my learning that the company I'd worked for for over fifteen years was about to trade me to another division in another county. Hence our move to Orange County. It also happened a few months before my calling to the Stake Sunday School presidency.

And therein lies the rub. It always happens at a minimum of a few months before anything of consequence actually happens. The problem is, I hate dealing with the anticipation. What if whatever it is that's supposed to happen doesn't happen? What then? Was it my fault, or was I picking up on the wrong signal to begin with? And occasionally I miss the boat altogether. Mrs. Woody just received a new calling that appeared literally out of nowhere, so far as I was concerned. One minute we're both planning lessons for the 2nd Sunday together, the next she's doing the Ward bulletin instead. Didn't see that one coming! (I'll grant that this hardly qualifies as a "life-changing event," but it could. One never knows, with Ward bulletins.)

So I'm taking my shower this morning and it hits me. Change is in the air. (Note to my siblings: No, taking a shower is NOT that kind of change for Woody.) I felt it hard enough to make mention of it to Mrs. Woody afterward. She handled it quite well, I must admit. Mildly interested, I would have to say. Of course, knowing as she does that I get these feelings many weeks before anything actually happens, it could also be that she's taking the "wait and see" approach. Wait until Bro. So-and-so, the Stake Executive Secretary nails me in the hallway one Sunday. Then get worked up about it.

Of course you know what will happen. In a few weeks I'll have forgotten all about today's feeling. I'll be blissfully walking the halls of the Stake Center during the bloc and WHAM! I'll be cornered by one of our Stake Presidency. We have two of them in our ward. It's unfair, really, because either one of them could just plant himself down behind me in Priesthood and lean over. "Say, Bro. Woody, we've been meaning to talk to you..." It's happened before.

So remind me, would you, next time you see me? Just say, "Hey, Woody, don't forget: Change is coming!" I'll probably look at you as if wondering who forgot to lock the doors to the asylum, but it'll eventually remind me.

Change is good.



Wednesday, April 16, 2008

That Which We Do Not Understand

I fear my daughter's Nintendo®. It's one of those next-generation Game Boy replacements called the "DS." It was her major Christmas gift last year and I have developed an uneasy relationship with it.

It resembles a PDA on steroids. It has two screens. I don't get this concept. Being a simplex thinker, the dual-screen aspect of the machine bothers me. When I play my games on my computer, I have a hard enough time keeping track of whatever is happening on my one (and only) screen. I'm sure I'm missing stuff even on a single screen, because I keep getting killed. I never see something coming. If it's dead-center in front of me, I can track it. Generally, however, in a PC game death comes from behind. It's the guys I can't see that always get me. If I had two screens to deal with, life would end much more quickly than it already does. Probably not just metaphorically, either.

Death is less of a problem with the Nintendo® because we don't allow Jelly to play those kinds of games. She really only has two right now. Game cartridges are rather expensive (dual screens are costlier to support, I guess) so we've had to be very selective of what she plays. For Christmas she really, really, really wanted "Nintendogz™" which is a virtual pet game. No problem. More than happy to oblige. Virtual pets I can handle. Virtual poop is MUCH easier to clean up than the real stuff, which is to say that even if Jelly ignores it, Daddy doesn't have to clean it up instead. It can stay in ever-growing virtual mounds in her DS for eternity for all I care. It still won't stink up the house.

Since she got some virtual money for Christmas (in the form of gift cards), we decided to allow her to buy one more game to supplement her collection. Given my statement above about being selective, we found this to be more challenging than we thought it would be. Of all the DS games available for purchase at EvilCorporateGiantMart, Inc., only three looked to be non-violent or anti-South-Park-attitude-ish. Of those, only one, "Animal Crossings," appeared not to insult a normal human's intelligence.

Which is where my fear comes into play.

I fear "Animal Crossings."

"Animal Crossings" turns out to be the sort of virtual universe that Jelly has been creating — without an electronic processor — for her entire life. I've written about Jellyville before. It still exists. Jellyville becomes her way of dealing with all the nonsense that the real world dishes out. "In Jellyville," she might say, "there is no bedtime. You can stay up for as long as you like. School won't start the next day until you wake up." This kind of pronouncement usually accompanies our shutting down a movie prematurely because of our unreasoning desire to have the girls go to bed. Before midnight. You might wonder why the kids are watching movies so late at night. You will understand this when I tell you that we start all movies before 7:00 PM, but there's a reason why someone invented the remote control. Whoever invented remote controls had daughters with tiny bladders and empty tummies. 'Nuff said.

Anyway, "Animal Crossings" is very much like Jellyville. It is, above all else, a virtual community. Probably you can make it a multi-player community if another DS is within, I dunno, 30 feet or something. But it's the kind of virtual universe that Jelly thrives on. You can create your own character and town. Then you "move in" to this town and begin interacting with all the characters that inhabit the place. The fact that all of the characters resemble Japanese anime animals reminds us who exactly developed the Nintendo and its games. Central to this universe is a character named Tom Nook. He owns the local store, which means he controls the local economy. He also apparently is a real estate baron because you can only purchase houses through Tom Nook. He holds your mortgage. And you can only gain employment through Tom. I instinctively distrust this guy, but Jelly loves him. Probably because she's figured out how to eke a living without having to work for the guy.

I created my own character and began to play. I found that you first have a brief period of actual employment with Tom, after which you're pretty much on your own. You make your living (post-Tom) by selling things back to him. Pears are a staple, for example. Thus a person spends a lot of time shaking fruit trees. You take the fruit and sell it to Tom, who probably sells it to others for a kazillion percent mark-up. Tom is a shrewd operator.

This isn't the only way to earn money, by the way. You can sell just about anything you find to anyone who's interested in it. If you find fossils, you can give them to the museum. These are the things I know about. My daughters (and even Mrs. Woody) have been able to figure out just about every conceivable way of interacting with this community.

I'm not that smart. I have yet to sell my first pear. Every time I tried to take pears into Tom, he ignored me. Jelly kept giving me instructions on how to talk to Tom, but I'm not that patient. If he can't tell I'm there to sell fruit, I'd rather take my business elsewhere. Unfortunately, there's nowhere else to go. It's kind of like Twilight Zone; you can enter the town, but it's darned difficult to leave. The funny part is, characters are moving out all the time. It's like they know something that we humans don't. They figured out the secret code or handshake that allows you to pack and leave town. Or perhaps they were evicted and just didn't want to say anything. I'd do that myself, but I'm afraid that wherever I go, Tom Nook will be there. Waiting for me. Ready to sell me a house.

There's also the dual screen problem. While all the action takes place on the lower screen, the upper screen shows things like constellations. These constellations mean something, but I'm not smart enough to figure out what it is. Also, which button do I push? A? X? Gaah! I can't take the pressure! Of all the male inadequacies I could be dealing with, I need this one the least.

I guess I mostly fear this game because it makes me look like such a schlumpf. I feel like I'm back on my mission in Guatemala during monsoon season, tracking through mile after mile of mud. After a few miles you begin to feel like you're not getting anywhere. This is how I feel when playing "Animal Crossings." Hence I haven't played it much. I always plead work conflicts; I'm just too busy, I'll tell Jelly when she offers to "let" me play the game.

This morning she even tried to trick me into playing it in a moment of weakness. She had stashed the game in our one working bathroom. She knows that I will play our electronic Yahtzee® game faithfully, no matter why I'm in there. Today she told me that the DS was in there, and that I was more than welcome to play it, if I wanted. She repeated this about twenty times before I was finally able to close the door and resume my lousy Yahtzee streak. "You can check your mail, Daddy!" she said as I closed the door. Great. I have mail.

Someday, perhaps, I'll get motivated to learn this game. But not right now. Right now I have work to do. My virtual boss is wondering why I haven't completed one of my virtual projects yet.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Mantle of the Prophet - Amended

This is more by way of a journal entry. I need to keep this one in mind over time to remind myself that miraculous things can and do still happen in these cynical days of earth's history. Doubtless many others will write about this experience, probably more eloquently that I possibly could. This, then, is for my family and posterity.

Today was an amazing day. This has been the weekend of our annual General Conference of the Church. Since we have satellite we have the privilege of watching the proceedings from the comfort of our home. My sister has been visiting us so she, too, could watch from relative comfort. (She may also have enjoyed spending time with her nieces, but she came to watch Conference.)

I was already excited about this Conference. I have particularly enjoyed those Conferences where we sustain a new President of the Church. Also, with the re-organization of the First Presidency, we fully expected a new Apostle to be called yesterday. We were not disappointed. Although I know very little about Elder Christofferson, I was able to sense his spirit and testimony when he appeared in the press conference shortly after the morning session of Conference.

The first session of Conference was given over to a declared Solemn Assembly for the purpose of sustaining our new prophet, the First Presidency, and the Quorum of the Twelve. This was the first time that both Woodyettes have been old enough as baptized members of the Church to stand and raise their hands in a sustaining vote. I am happy to report that the members of the Church residing (or visiting) at Hacienda Woody voted unanimously in the affirmative.

But it is of this morning's session that I wish to speak. All of the sessions (I missed the Priesthood session, as I was helping Mrs. Woody in hosting our guest) were wonderful, but this morning was very special to me. All of the talks had hit home with me, but President Monson's talk has completely overshadowed me and I can't for the life of me remember a single other talk.

It was about halfway through his talk. He was talking about our fight with evil and, quite boldly, declared that we as a Church have all the tools necessary given to us by our Father to win this war. It was at that moment of his talk that I perceived the prophetic mantle resting upon his shoulders. Not visually, by any means. It was a spiritual perception, but a powerful one. It had the effect of bearing direct testimony to my own spirit that here was the anointed prophet of God on the earth. Here was the man holding all the keys of the Church who will guide us in the Lord's name for the foreseeable future.

I'm not a weeper, but I nearly wept. Mrs. Woody has no such compunction and was clearly moist of eye.

Mrs. Woody and I both felt it and agreed that we had seen something significant. What I did not expect was that others had felt it as well. Not, that is, until Elder Holland voiced it himself as the first speaker of the afternoon session. He had perceived it, too! That means this event was probably witnessed, or at least felt, by others. This must be true because I am not the most spiritually sensitive of souls. I have been guided throughout my life in numerous ways, but each event was more or less subtle to me. Only a few events stand out as strongly and firmly as today's. Foremost among those was the realization that Mrs. Woody would be my eternal companion. Today's testimony of President Monson hit me every bit as strongly as did that wonderful realization over a dozen years ago.

[Amended: As if to prove why I needed to write this down, I had originally said that I had not initially voiced my opinion that we had just witnessed the mantle of the prophet descend upon President Monson. Mrs. Woody corrected me and reminded me that I had actually voiced what we both had felt. Hence my rewrite of the paragraph above. If a man can't trust his memory after a mere few hours...]

For me this experience was on par with experiences I have read about over the years. I envied the Saints living at the time of the dedication of the Kirtland Temple, for example. What a tremendous thing to see angels while celebrating the construction of a House of the Lord in modern times. Likewise the saints who witnessed the transfiguration of Brigham Young after the martyrdom of Joseph Smith. What a blessing to be given such a confirmation of the man who would carry on the work of the Restoration! My own wife has had experiences in her life of which I can only dream. Powerful witnesses of various aspects of the Gospel plan.

Thomas S. Monson stands 16th in the unbroken line of men who have held and exercised the keys of the Priesthood on our behalf. He is the Lord's chosen mouthpiece in all matters pertaining to our salvation. The Spirit made that abundantly clear to me this morning. I fully expect time and experience to bear that out.

God bless our new prophet, seer, and revelator.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Dad's Invisible Stuff

Apparently I have a Backingnese. I have no idea what it is, or even what it looks like, but in my imagination it looks similar to a Pekingnese, only not as annoying. The reason I know I have one is because my younger daughter, Doodle, blesses it in almost every prayer:

"Please bless Daddy's Backingnese..."

Astonishingly, my mother has one, too.

"Please bless Grandma NanZ's Backingnese..."

Every single prayer.

Lately I've begun to look under the furniture. Every once in awhile I think I've caught a whiff of something suspicious and try to follow the trail, only to discover that one of the kids put a wet towel on the laundry pile again. Then I think I hear something barking. The problem there is that we live in a busy city in between a Burlington Northern Sante Fe main line, and the 91 freeway. Plus our immediate neighbors on either side both have small dogs of the yippy variety that make me want to sue PETA for mis-classifying them as "intelligent life forms." Could be anything.

So, for now, the Backingnese remains a complete mystery to this clueless Dad. I haven't asked Mom whether she (contrary to type) has acquired a pet recently.

Gotta go. I need some Tylenol®. My back and knees are acting up with all these weather changes lately.