Friday, July 29, 2011

Sweet Remembrance of You

It's been a while since I've posted any piano music, so here's something I've been working on over the summer.  Enjoy!

Sweet Remembrance of You
William Joseph

Saturday, July 23, 2011

22 books I want to read before I'm 23

Well, I turned 22 yesterday.  22 on the 22nd--pretty cool.  It doesn't really feel much different from when I was 21, but at the same time I feel like I've crossed an important threshold.  Growing up, 21 was the age I considered to be the biggest milestone, because it would close so many chapters of my life and open so many new ones (most notably, it would mark the close of my mission and the beginning of the post-mission life that always seemed so far away before).  But 22 is kind of important, too, when I think about it . . . not so much because of what's happening, but what's not happening, or what's already started and is just continuing.  There's not really any pressure on 22 to be a special year, and that in turn makes it extra special because it's been so long since I've reached such a laid back age.  I'm another year older now--okay, now back to work.  I like that.

But big or small, goals are always good to have.  Life is a forward motion, but if you drift you'll still be as weak at the end as when you started.  Recently I've seen a few of my friends make lists of 22 things they want to do before they turn 23 (or some similar variation), and I think that's such an awesome idea.  I'd like to do something like it.

Mine is going to be a little different, though.  I love trying new things and having a good adventure, and I continually strive to improve myself, too.  Of course I have a few goals that I'd like to work on: actively participating in an orchestra and practicing my violin, attending the temple more diligently, taking more walks, fixing my bike so I can ride it again, selling some old stuff on eBay . . . and so on.  I'm not going to ignore those, because they are goals I have.  But for this list, I'd like to focus on just one goal: becoming more well read.

This is a lifetime pursuit, of course; even the most well read person in the world can read new things and learn from them.  There's always room for improvement, and there's no ceiling to reach.  That's part of the appeal for me.  I love learning, and the thought that it never ends is to me what a bottomless chest of buried treasure is to a pirate.

Credit for this love of learning might appropriately be given to my parents, who among everything else especially made sure their children grew up literate.  I remember as a kid, when school was out for the summer, the rule in our house was this: no TV, no video games, no computer, no friends--nothing--until we had spent a certain amount of time (according to our age) studying the scriptures, and an equal amount of time reading any other book of our choosing.  It was one of the greatest things my parents could have done for me.

And that's what I hope to instill in my children someday.  They can be whoever they want to be.  They can play football, or dance, or make music, or garden, or paint, or any other thing under Heaven.  But whatever they become, I at least want them to have a love for (or at least experience with) books and learning.  I want them to know the scriptures, but I also want them to be familiar with fiction and history and science.   

Well, that starts with me.  It seems like whenever I talk about the goals I have for when I'm a father, there's always someone who comes out and says something to the effect of "You've got a long way to go; just enjoy single life while it lasts, because it's not coming back."  I hate when they say that.  I'm enjoying single life, believe me.  I'm living in the present and taking quite enough advantage of where I'm at.  Yet is it not wise also to prepare for the future?  As missionaries, we had to find people to teach before we could teach them.  Sometimes, even though we worked hard, we'd go days at a time without anyone to teach, and any lesson felt very far away.  But when we found them, we couldn't sit in their living room and have our companionship study session right there.  That was something we did in the morning, before we went out.  That was when we prepared to teach.  And so it is with this.  Granted, I'm sure nothing can truly prepare me for fatherhood; but that doesn't mean there's nothing I can do to get ready for it.  More than likely it's going to be nothing like I expect, but I can at least get a general idea of what kind of dad I want to be.

And so, I want to be the kind of dad who tells and reads stories to his children.  I want to know enough stories that my supply will never run out, and I can always have an appropriate one for the occasion.  I want to have wise quotes on my tongue passed down from good men in history.  I want to know all sorts of little facts about plants and animals and the world in general to appease the curiosity of young minds.

With that in mind, you may see a bit of a theme in this list of books I want to read in the coming year.  But don't think it's just for my kids; the beautiful thing about it is that these are books I've wanted to read anyway, on topics in which I'm already interested.  Their future application is simply the icing on the cake, and adds a greater purpose to my goal.

But enough talk.  In no particular order:

1--Treasure Island, by Robert Louis Stevenson

2--Race Rider, by Scott Hail (a friend of mine!)

3--The Fate of the Mammoth: Fossils, Myth, and History, by Claudine Cohen

4--Grimm's Fairy Tales, by the Brothers Grimm (of course!)

5--Early Masterpieces of Latter-day Saint Leaders, compiled by N.B. Lundwall

6--Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass, by Lewis Carroll

7--The Little Prince, by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

8--Fairy Tales, by Hans Christian Andersen

9--Aesop's Fables

10--Ten Great Mysteries by Edgar Allen Poe (I'm not sure who compiled it, but it's the stories that count, right?)

11--The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, by Mark Twain

12--Gulliver's Travels, by Jonathan Swift

13--Ancient America Rediscovered, by Mariano Veytia (translated by my mom, so it's extra cool) 

14--The Wit and Wisdom of Abraham Lincoln, compiled by James C. Humes

15--The Princess Bride, by William Goldman

16--Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, by Jules Verne

17--The Legend of Sleepy Hollow and Other Writings, by Washington Irving

18--To the Rescue: The Biography of Thomas S. Monson, by Heidi S. Swinton

19--Hamlet, Macbeth, King Lear: Three Tragedies (another one whose compiler I don't know, but Shakespeare is awesome regardless)

20--The Eye of the World, by Robert Jordan

21--The Jungle Books, by Rudyard Kipling

22--Phantastes, by George MacDonald

Thursday, July 21, 2011


As a bonus, on the way back to the airport we took a brief detour through Washington, D.C.  There wasn't a whole lot of time, so we didn't park the car for anything and just saw what we could from the road.  But it was actually really fun doing even a quick run-through!

Well, we did stop once . . . for the very best part.

More pictures can be seen here.

Monday, July 18, 2011

A letter from the past

When the mail came today I was pleased, like anyone else, to find something for me.  It was a simple envelope--no return information, just my name and address and nothing more.  I was slightly perplexed at first, because the handwriting looked to be that of someone I knew, but I had no idea who. 

And then came that exciting lightbulb . . . when I realized the handwriting was mine!

I can understand why it wasn't immediately familiar.  I use dark ink--normally a gel--and bend my letters a little.  This writing was in pencil, in a very careful, straight up-and-down fashion--the way I wrote in high school.  This letter had come to me from another version of myself living five years in the past!

This was one of my last assignments in school my junior year.  My psychology teacher had each of us in the class write ourselves a letter, then address an envelope and leave it with her.  She promised to send those letters at the end of five years--and so, at the end of five years, my letter came!  

I haven't really taken the younger me as seriously as I probably should, but it was so good to hear from him today, and it's given me a lot to think about.  I won't share everything, but here is a little of what sixteen-year-old Nathan had to say:


You're probably getting off your mission right about now.  I'm glad you chose to go.  God blesses those who serve Him, and even though hard times are ahead, He will always be there.

I write this on Wednesday, May 31st, 2006.  It's the end of your junior year in high school, and you've been ready for the summer for months.  Is your nickname still Sly Pig?


There are so many things I want to ask you, but I wish to encourage you, as well.


Keep writing.  Are you published yet?  ....  You'll do fine.

Finally, continue in your faithful service to the Lord God.  He loves you and is pleased with your progress.  Never forget Him.  Never forget who you are.


~Nathan Cunningham--The Great Sly Pig

P.S.  Doc said to never let your violin gather dust.  Please heed that charge.

Short and sweet . . . but exactly what I needed to hear today.  Young Nathan, you've earned yourself a cookie.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Favorite movie characters

The Warrior is at it again, this time challenging his fellow bloggers to list their favorite movie characters.  This one's a little harder than choosing favorite movies, because there's a heck of a lot more characters running around, and the awesome ones sometimes show up in movies about which I would have otherwise forgotten.  So for my list, I'm not going to determine a number of characters to feature or promise any form of order or completeness, because no matter what I do I'm bound to forget someone.  But as far as this post is concerned, you'll get at least a general sampling of my tastes.  Here we go!

Edward Bloom
Big Fish

Edward Bloom is just one heck of a guy, and the kind of person I want to be more like--not the town hero, like he is, but simply someone who treats every problem like an opportunity, and approaches everything with an idea, no matter how well it might work out in the long run.  Because of his attitude, Edward lives a life rich in unique experiences and lasting friendships with the most unlikely people.

Princess Mononoke

I can count on one hand how many people I've actually gotten to watch this movie with me, and none of them expressed any desire to see it again (haha) . . . which is really a shame because of how cool Ashitaka is.  This guy is suffering from a demonic curse that is set to kill him, and yet all his efforts throughout the movie remain selfless.  He gets caught in the middle of a war between industrious humans and the gods of the forest, and rather than seek healing and immortality through the disembodied head of the Forest Spirit (or so is the humans' belief regarding the creature), he instead fights to bring peace to the opposing factions, using his curse to demonstrate to them how very dangerous hatred truly is.

Lemuel Siddons
Follow Me, Boys!

I've got nothing but respect for Lemuel.  The new guy in a small town, he organizes a Boy Scout troop and leads the boys for many years, becoming a hero to them and the rest of the town.  He reminds me very much of my own Scoutmaster, who led our troop for more than forty years and to me embodies everything Scouting is about.  These are the kind of people who truly make a difference both in the world and in one's own life.

Elder Calhoun
The Best Two Years

Elder Calhoun is the quintessential green missionary, and I think it's safe to say that anyone who's ever been on a mission could relate to him at some point.  At least, I sure had my fair share of Elder Calhoun moments on my mission.  As far as movie characters go, this guy's as true to life as they come.

Return With Honor

While we're on the subject of missionary movies, I've got to mention Corbin--the best friend of a newly-returned missionary.  It's been said that a missionary's third year is his hardest, and for me that's quite true.  Coming home after two years isn't easy, and good friends are what have gotten me through.  Life kept moving while I was away from it, and with it, so did the people I care about.  But those who have had the patience to let me try to catch up have no idea what huge difference they have made.  That's what Corbin does for his friend in this movie, and I have to really appreciate a character like that.

Vincent Valentine
Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children

I've got to be honest: Vincent makes this list simply because of one line.  This movie is a sequel to the Final Fantasy VII video game.  The game's characters have mostly gone their own ways, but they keep in touch via cell phones--well, except for Vincent, who doesn't have a phone.  As the movie approaches its climax, the old team comes together again to fight off a gigantic demon beast thing that's attacking the city Midgar, and the whole scene is packed with action as one-by-one the crew joins the fight.  One rides in on a motorcycle, some drop down from an airship . . . and then there's Vincent, who walks in coolly like it's just another day.  His gun isn't even out yet, and before he starts kicking butt he has only one thing to say.

"Where can I buy a phone?"

Super Mario Bros.

Wait . . . what?  Okay, Luigi's on here pretty much for the same reason Vincent is: he does something so crazy awesome in one scene that I have to love him.  Mario and Luigi are in an elevator when all of a sudden it fills up with a bunch of bad guys.  How are they gonna get out of this one?  Watch the video on YouTube and skip ahead to 1:32 to find out!  You may feel dumber after watching it . . . but it's so worth it.

In addition to the awesome dance party, Luigi's attitude also wins him some points as a character.  Throughout the movie he reminds Mario that things may be improbable, but never impossible, and that rings well with me. 


I like Mater because he's so relatable.  I believe everyone has a little bit of Mater in them, and I can see quite a bit of myself in him.  And there's so much we can learn from him, really--namely his positive, energetic attitude about life.  Perhaps one of the best Mater lessons comes from Cars 2 (don't worry, I'm not giving away any sensitive plot points here), when someone tries to "fix" his dents.  Mater protests, claiming that each of his dents is important to him, because he got them with his best friend.  I think that's a very relevant point for us, too.  It's the hard times, our mistakes, our scars and our bruises, in addition to the people we care about, that give so much meaning to our lives.


Heimdall was always my favorite character in Norse mythology, and I was pleased to see an adaptation of him in this movie.  In Marvel's Thor, Heimdall is kind of like the cool waiter who gives you free drink refills when other customers have to pay, and says with a wink, "I won't tell if you won't tell!"  Of course, with that statement also comes the waiter's unspoken caveat:  "If my manager finds out, I'll spit in your food next time."  To be clear, Heimdall's not in the business of keeping secrets or serving food--but he would sure be good at it considering his awesome performance as watchman of the Rainbow Bridge.

Davy Crockett
The Alamo

So far I've steered clear of historical figures, but I just couldn't pass this one up.  Facts aside, I really like what Hollywood did with Davy Crockett here, and I feel that Billy Bob Thornton gives a masterful performance.  His Crockett always keeps a cool, level head, and because of that he's one of those people I wouldn't mind having with me in the heat of battle (or anytime, for that matter).  I feel emotionally invested in the story every time I watch this movie . . . though of course I think most of the credit for that would go to my mission in San Antonio.  But you can't argue with good acting, either, and I'm pleased to feature Davy Crockett on my list of favorite movie characters.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Review: "The Phantom of the Opera," by Gaston Leroux

Well, I suppose "review" is the best word for it, but really I'm just going to share some thoughts about the book (and from now on if you see that word in a title of a post, that's what it will mean, so I'm not committed to any degree of thoroughness--haha).  Let's begin, shall we?

The Phantom of the Opera
by Gaston Leroux
Signet Classics Centennial Edition
271 pages
Back cover synopsis:

Filled with the spectacle of the Paris Opera House in the nineteenth century, this classic work of suspense remains a riveting journey into the dark regions of the human heart.  The tale begins as an investigation into the strange stories of an "Opera ghost," legendary for scaring performers as they sit alone in their dressing rooms or walk along the building's labyrinthine corridors.  Some even think they've seen the ghost in evening clothes moving in the shadows.  But it isn't until the triumphant performance of beautiful soprano Christine Daaé that the Phantom begins his attacks--striking terror in the hearts of everyone in the theater.  A story that has captured the imagination for a century, The Phantom of the Opera continues to this day to be an unparalleled work of sheer entertainment.

My thoughts:

I've always liked Andrew Lloyd Webber's musical based on this story, and with that and the many other film adaptations and pop cultural references to Leroux's classic, I have for some time wanted to read and get to know the original work.  That opportunity came earlier this spring when a friend and fellow Phantom fan spotted the book and bought me a copy (thanks again!), and until I finally started reading in May I was quite anxious to dig into it.

My first impression was that this was certainly not Webber's musical.  Actually, as I went along I found that the book continually put the play to great shame.  It was fun to read a few certain scenes that had been adapted for the musical and piece them together, but the most exciting aspect of the read was to finally get the background of so many of the characters--including lovers Raoul and Christine.  In the play, there isn't much information given about anyone, really, which leaves a lot of unanswered questions that are cleared up in the novel.  I especially appreciated learning Raoul's history, and the circumstances under which he and Christine met as children.  We are given details surrounding both characters' families and origins, and for me as a fan, that's perhaps the most useful thing about this book.  

In addition to his character development, Gaston Leroux is a master of setting and suspense.  It's not merely in his descriptions of things; it's in the natural flow and style of his storytelling.  I could see and feel everything quite vividly as I read, which was especially effective on the nights I found myself up late in the only lit room of the house.  By the end of the first chapter, I had already felt the shadows and learned to fear the Phantom; and Chapter Twenty was just plain freaky.  Whenever the characters are trapped, so is the reader; and whenever they are freed, what a relief it is!

Unfortunately, things do slow down in the middle of the book, and it was difficult for me to push through it.  The constant back and forth between Raoul and Christine becomes tiring, and even their complicated triangle with the Phantom gets old.  The author does a fine job of developing his characters, but with every page I found myself hating the two lovers more and more.  Raoul to me is nothing more than a whiner, and by the end of the book I don't even consider him the "hero" anymore (that honor goes to my favorite character, whose very appearance is mysterious at first so I won't reveal here who it is).  And even though I typically enjoy reading about psychologically disturbed characters, Christine doesn't do it for me and all I can say for her is that she needs some serious help.

Speaking of disturbed, I thought Leroux did happen to create an incredible antagonist--the Opera ghost himself.  As with the other characters, we learn the Phantom's history (easily the most interesting of any of the histories given in this book), and suddenly everything just seems to fall together.  In the final chapters--when things pick up again--I dare say the Phantom even closely resembles someone: Heath Ledger's Joker.  Seriously, for every Phantom dialogue, I gave him the Joker's voice, and it fit perfectly.  Try it!  If you're a Batman fan, you owe it to yourself to read at least the last few chapters of The Phantom of the Opera; it feels very much like a scene from The Dark Knight.

All in all, this was a very enjoyable read.  Aside from Raoul and Christine, all of the characters were awesome (I love a story with a great supporting cast), and the scenery was unforgettable.  Though the middle of the story can be somewhat tedious, the beginning and the end are quite exciting, and well worth a look.  For fans of the musical I would definitely recommend this book, as well as for writers exploring suspense.  Batman fans would also benefit from reading at least the last few chapters, as I said before (I think Chapter Eighteen would be a decent place to start if that's what you do, but stick with it; all I can say is you'll know it when you see it).

Monday, July 4, 2011

A land of promise and liberty

Music was one of the most defining aspects of my mission.  In every area, there were opportunities to play the piano, sing in choirs, or use other musical abilities in some way to invite the Spirit and give power to the work in which we were engaged.

One of these experiences that I will never forget was in June of 2009, when the local baseball team (appropriately named the San Antonio Missions; it wasn't always easy for us, however, to admit that the Spanish had beaten us to Texas centuries earlier) invited the Church to provide a few missionaries to sing the National Anthem at their game against Corpus Christi.  That evening was "Mormon Night" at the ballpark, and what better way to open the night's events than with Mormon missionaries?  (Which apparently wouldn't be the last time, either, as recently our elders and sisters in San Antonio made the news for their singing at a Spurs game.)

I don't think I can ever adequately describe how choice that experience was; and indeed, the Lord was with us from start to finish.  Unfortunately my camera battery died just after we got situated on the field, but one of the elders attending the game with us managed to shoot a little bit of our rehearsal before we went out:

The whole thing passed quickly, in an almost dreamlike moment.  We were permitted by our mission president to stay and watch the game when we were done, which naturally came with the opportunity to receive feedback from those who had heard us sing.  I remember being approached one or two times by those who weren't members of the Church, inquiring as to which arrangement of The Star Spangled Banner we had used, as it was a very clean, straight-forward and no-nonsense presentation.  I was very pleased to tell them that we had sung it straight from our church's hymnbook. 

Which brings me to my thoughts for today.

I think it's awesome that we use patriotic songs like The Star Spangled Banner, America the Beautiful, and My Country, 'Tis of Thee as hymns in church.  I'm grateful to be part of a religious organization that recognizes and appreciates the divine origin of our country, and that teaches it as doctrine.  Indeed, if there is anyone who must celebrate this free land, it would most certainly be us; for in order that the Church of Jesus Christ could be restored in its fulness, there first had to be established a nation independent of the rule of tyrants and an oppressive state religion.  Without liberty--I dare say, without America--there could have been no restoration of truth, and the full blessings of the Gospel would have remained unclaimed. 

One thing I love about the Book of Mormon is its emphasis on liberty.  Throughout the book there are countless stories and sermons on the subject.  We read of many wars, and in every case it's one side defending their liberty while the other side seeks to oppress.  The American continent is spoken of as a land of promise; and perhaps the most repeated promise given in the Book of Mormon is that the inhabitants of this land would prosper as long as they kept the commandments of God.

I firmly believe that promise.  It is made both for individuals and for nations, both in the past and now.  The world is changing, and the values on which our nation was established are not the same values that are gaining the most influence in the popular mind today.  The Book of Mormon was written for our day, and when I read it I see our nation, both for the good and for the evil.  The Book of Mormon is so American in so many ways, and that's part of why I value it so much.  Most of all, I have seen its promises come to fruition in my life, and continue to even now.  Whatever happens--whatever corrupt or immoral laws are passed in our modern halls of government, whatever foreign entanglements spill the blood of our soldiers, whatever dark thing wins popularity among our people--God knows me as an individual, and as long as I keep His commandments, I will prosper in this land.  Everything I now have has been conditioned upon that, and is a result, by extension, of the liberty established with this free nation.  I'm grateful to be a member of a church that teaches that, and for the freedom to practice my beliefs in a land such as this.

Happy Independence Day, my friends.  May we as a nation remain blessed of the Lord, and as individuals strive to remember the cost of those blessings.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

High school credit

A day or two ago, a former high school classmate posted on Facebook an old video from our days in seminary.  This was quite exciting for me; four years have now passed since seminary, and this particular video was two years older than that.  It was fun to see everyone again (and to be surprised at how little I was and how much hair I had).  Before long, I found myself digging through a whole list of old seminary videos that I previously had no idea had been put online.  What a treasure trove of memories!  But of those videos, this one had the most memories of all for me:

I've been doing a little bit of reflecting lately, and have realized that I haven't really given my high school experience enough credit.  Granted, it's certainly not something I would do over again.  There was a lot that stunk about high school, and I have no regrets about moving on with my life.  That stage is over, and I'm on to bigger things now.  In conversations with friends, it would seem they feel similarly; the past is in the past, and we're looking to the future.

Yet it was a good experience, overall, and there are some things I find myself missing on occasion.  For example, everybody was in one place.  Most often, talking to a friend was merely a matter of walking across the lunch room--and that was only if that friend wasn't already sitting at my table.  Even if we didn't get to talk or spend a whole lot of time together, at the very least we saw each other at some point every day.  I didn't hang out with or even like everyone in high school, but they were all there.  I saw them; I passed them in the halls; I had classes with them.  They weren't just pictures and text on Facebook.

Ah, Facebook.  Thanks to Facebook, I know more about what's going on in my friends' lives now than ever before.  But comparatively, I never see or really talk to them.  I mean, I try to spend time with what friends I can, and I do okay considering everything else I'm up to.  In general, the people I hung out with the most in high school are the ones I'm still hanging out with now.  It's really nice; I'm grateful to have them, and the fact that they're still around after all this time means a lot to me.  But we're quite a bit more scattered now, and our schedules have become such that it's difficult to pull everyone together very often.   

I'm not complaining about that, because it's growth.  We're all progressing in our own ways, and I believe our lives are richer now than they were back in high school.  But there's still a lesson to be learned from the comparison between high school and now: the value of real, offline interaction.  Watching those old seminary videos brought back a forgotten sense of appreciation for everyone I went to school with, from closest friends to passing acquaintances.  It's the kind of appreciation that can't be adequately expressed on the Internet; it's something just for the real world.  In our day of information on demand, that's probably one of the most important things someone can learn.

And that's why I have no problem writing a post today about high school.  We don't have to live in the past to reflect on and learn from it.  Looking back, I see so much more that I can apply in my life today than just what was needed for me to graduate.  For instance, another lesson from reviewing the high school experience might be one in time management and structure.  I was always late for school back in the day.  I hated getting up early, and couldn't wait to get home once the last bell rang.  I would have rather used my time as a permanent vacation: no deadlines, nowhere to be.  But since then I've grown up just enough to realize I need structure.  I need goals.  I need plans.  I need follow-through.  And I look back at my school experiences for an example to follow: important things first, a little bit of free time (but not too much) between tasks in order to rejuvenate, things like that.

And the list of lessons goes on.

So, here's to high school.  Thanks for the memories.  
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