Tuesday, September 15, 2009

What I do [Ryan]

I resolved at the very beginning of this blog that it would not be one of those blogs where the readers get a weekly travelogue or life update, like some kind of extended,
useless Facebook status.

(Those usually go something like this: “Hey, everybody, thanks for reading my blog. I just took my dog out for a walk this week, and my sister visited. We went to the movie and it was great. 'Julie and Julia' was good and kept us entertained. Then we ate out at Red Lobster. Stay tuned till next week!” If anything exciting really happens, they writer springs it upon the rest of us as an afterthought, like this: “… kept us entertained. Then we ate out at Red Lobster. One of the live lobsters they keep in the tank had mutated and took control of the restaurant for six hours until a SWAT team arrived.”)

But I think I might break that rule. Two weeks ago, I started my internship at the (LDS) Church Magazines, and people have been asking me exactly what I do. I’m going to assume that most of my audience is LDS, but for those who aren’t, I’m going to briefly give some background:

The Church magazines are monthly publications put out by the LDS Church that include news of the Church, inspiring articles written by Mormons all over the world, and messages from Church leaders. They are headquartered on Temple Square in the Church Office Building.* There are no mutant lobsters anywhere in the vicinity.

So what exactly is it that I do?

I write news. The stuff that goes in the back of the "Liahona" (the international magazine) and the "Ensign" (the English-speaking magazine) is pretty much all me. I spend my time calling the people like the Church’s West Africa public affairs director and writing articles about them.

I have an iMac in my cubicle and a high-tech phone that I really haven’t yet figured out how to use.** I’ve never liked answering phones, for various reasons. First, just about anyone can get a hold of you, which leaves all sorts of amusing possibilities for the kinds of yahoos who might have your number. And I’m not talking about prank calls.*** I also have three X-Wings made out of tape, paper clips, and Post-It notes.

Occasionally I see General Authorities, the leaders of the Church. My fourth day on the job, I ran into Elder L. Tom Perry in an elevator. He said, “Greetings!” and I said, “Hiiiii,” though it really sounded like I was trying to expel a pigeon through my nose. It wasn’t that I was star-struck; I simply was caught off-guard and everything clever I’d ever written in my hypothetical "Things to Say When Caught In An Elevator With a General Authority" book went out the window. I see Elder Yoshihiko Kikuchi from time to time; I guess he’s involved with the magazines a lot.

There’s a cafeteria in the basement that serves a basket of chicken and fries for under four dollars. A piano’s off to the side, playing hymns, Broadway songs, and folk tunes. The other day, a girl sat next to me at the table and asked in her heavy accent, “Did you know that the Church is not of man, nor of the Earth, but of God, and that we have a prophet today?”

Trying not to be rude, I said, “Uh … yeah, thanks. I’m already Mormon.”

She seemed slightly disappointed, and left. Maybe she was practicing for her mission. Maybe she was nuts. Maybe she just forgot that she was sitting in the basement of the LDS Church Office Building.

There you have it, folks. That’s what I do.

* The whole Church Office Building experience actually reminds me vaguely of the Ministry of Magic in the Harry Potter universe.

** These are actually the exact phones used in the TV show "The Office." Really.

*** Semi-related anecdote: A friend of mine recently got a job at a pest control center answering phones. She got a call one morning from a person with the following dire question, which neither she nor I are making up:

“I’ve got pests and I can’t tell if they’re mice or bats. My neighbor says they look pretty much the same. How do I tell the difference?”

I don’t remember what my friend told the caller, but I’m sure I would have referred her to my #1 Bat Vs. Mouse Rule of Thumb:

Check if it’s flying.

Unless you’re dealing with handicapped bats or genetically-altered mice, that rule is pretty much fool-proof. Obviously not idiot-proof, though.

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