Sunday, December 19, 2010

Shameless Nepotism

My brother has an art blog. It features his whimsical, highly imaginative and surprising doodlies. And since I think his stuff is awesome, I hope you will all check it out:  Will 5:00 Never Come?


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Friday, December 17, 2010

On leaving the Poultry Yard

I wrote a couple of weeks ago about The Ugly Duckling and how I still struggle to see myself as a swan. Infidel753 suggested that perhaps part of the problem is that I haven't really left the poultry yard. That really struck me.

Even before I considered splitting from my husband, staying in Fargo for good was never part of the plan. So leaving is not a question of if, just when/where/how. It's not a bad place, but my major complaints are that it's too small, too flat and way too damn cold.

Winter alone would be sufficient reason for moving, but I'm noticing more and more a predominant small-town mentality here. Even though Fargo itself isn't that small, it's largely populated with people who moved from rural areas. Some of them are lovely, but many of them are not anyone I'd care to associate with. Call me a snob if you will, but they remind me too much of the non-summer-book-readers of yesteryear. I've been going to school, so most of my associations have been in academia. Now that I'm done, I've been venturing out into the broader community here and have discovered that the university environment is much more urbane than most of the rest of the town.

I went to a bar a few months ago, trying to get out of my comfort zone and be social (second time in my life I'd ever been to a bar, by the way). Music was awful. No one was dancing. A Rick Astley song came on and I was just about to leave when a guy invited me to hang out with him and his buddies. Yeah, sure, why the hell not? They were alright, nice people, but not really anything in common to talk about. I gave one of them a ride to a different bar later that night. My car radio is almost always tuned to Classical Minnesota Public Radio (I don't have anything against popular music; there just don't happen to be any stations in Fargo that play the good kind). So we get in the car and the radio comes on and he asks, "What's that?" "NPR," I say. "What's NPR?" Seriously? So we get to the bar where he wants to go next and as he's getting out of the car he asks for my number. "Oh, no, I'm just not ready to date right now," I say, when what I'm really thinking is, Buddy, you seem like a nice guy, but if you haven't heard of NPR, you don't get my phone number!

So, yeah, not planning to set down roots here, but moving is complicated. I'm still unemployed. My children's father lives here and he's a good father. I don't want to take the kids away from him. He's said that he doesn't want to live here forever either, but neither of us yet has concrete plans for when or where to move. I miss mountains and I would love to live near the ocean, and more diverse (and educated) neighbors would be nice. I think I'd fit well in either the Northwest of the Northeast. Winter hit hard and fast this year, motivating me to think harder about when and where to go.

It's hard to beat Fargo for cost of living. I've made some good friends here. There are nice things about this place, but I'm feeling more acutely that this is not where I belong.


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Saturday, December 11, 2010

Defining Spirituality

A few months ago, I changed the tag line of my blog to reflect that I consider myself on a journey to reclaim spirituality. I’ve been meaning to explain how I define spirituality, and Paul Sunstone specifically requested such a definition in his comment on my post about why I still like religion, so here goes.
I don’t believe in spirits, be it the Holy Spirit or any others, but there’s an experience which as a Mormon I knew as “feeling the Spirit.” Words are tricky for describing it. Sometimes it was deep contentment. Sometimes it felt like a truth I already knew at my core was being brought to the level of conscious thought. Sometimes it was peaceful, an assurance that come what may, everything would be alright. Love, a feeling that I had tapped into a source of love that was beyond myself yet in myself, older than anything, and yet ever new. It felt like I was glimpsing another realm. Does this realm actually exist outside of human imagination? My personal opinion is, probably not, but I don’t think that diminishes the significance of those experiences. Calling those experiences an encounter with Divinity makes as much sense to me as any other description I’ve heard. A longing for more of those “feeling the Spirit” experiences is a major driving force in my pursuit of spirituality.
But I see spirituality as more than just sitting around feeling holy. It is both a state of mind and a way of life. Some of the key elements are love, compassion, happiness and peace. 
Compassion is a hard one for me. Caring about other people does not come naturally to me. I am not often intentionally mean, but my default tendency is pretty self-centered and mostly indifferent to the rest of the world. (All you regular readers, how often do I write about something that isn’t directly related to me?) That’s not the kind of person I want to be. I would like to be more caring. I would like to really see people more, to appreciate and honor them as individuals. I think everyone in this world just wants to be loved, and I would like to be the kind of person who could be a source of love for others. 
A desire to cultivate love and compassion in my own life is one of the main reasons I am engaging with religion. I need reminders to curtail my selfish tendencies and the rituals, stories and symbols of religion provide that for me. Yes, humanism is compassionate and you absolutely can be compassionate as a completely non-religious person, but I have not found a secular equivalent that works as well for cultivating love and compassion for me personally. Secularism obviously works better for others. I’ve known people who were kind and loving and people who were mean and rotten and whether or not they were religious didn’t seem to have anything to do with it.  
Now happiness. This is also a tough one for me. I have a history of depression. I am much better than I was in my teens and early twenties, but because that groove is so well-worn and familiar, it is easy to fall back into during times of stress, and the last several months have been stressful for me. I’ve noticed those dark thoughts and feelings creeping up on me again. One of my coping strategies is gratitude, to focus on what’s going right. I’ve started praying again as a means to direct that. I’m not at all convinced that I’m doing anything more than talking to myself, but it helps. (I want to write a more detailed post about this, though my life is too chaotic right now to commit to any timeframe of when I might do so.)
To take joy in one’s existence, to embrace the experience of life, to me that’s an essential part of a spiritual journey.
I know full well that atheism makes perfect logical sense, yet I can’t shake the sense of a deeper, sublime Something beyond the realm of ordinary existence. A few weeks ago I was at a thrift store and picked up Mary Oliver’s New and Selected Poems, Volume Two.I’ve been reading that at bedtime where I used to read scripture, and can’t help but smile at how the poetry of a lesbian seems to be at least as effective a gateway into that sublime realm as the Book of Mormon was. 
I’m trying to get into that realm more often. That’s where I find the peace that allows rest and renewal. That’s where I draw strength to be able to give to others. That’s where I learn more effective ways of living.
That is why I am spiritual.


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Sunday, December 5, 2010

In which I get sappy

My kid keeps picking out library books that make me cry. This week it was The Ugly Duckling. I’d never read the original Andersen version before. Of course I’d heard of the story since I was a kid myself and the way I always understood it was: Once upon a time there was this bird, and when he was little, he was ugly but once he grew out of his ugliness, then he was beautiful. And the moral of the story is: Swans are ugly when they're babies. The end.
No. That’s not actually what story’s about at all.
The bird was never ugly! That’s just how all the birds around him treated him because he wasn’t like them and they didn’t know what he was. They were simple minded poultry birds with no concept of the grace and sophistication of a swan.
I was so born in the wrong place. I grew up in this horrible, God-forsaken, smudge-on-the-map of a town on the Arizona Strip. I think I can best sum up what it was like living there by relating one experience. I was 16 years old and had taken my younger siblings to the pool. My little sister was playing in the baby pool and I was sitting on the bench watching her and reading To Kill a Mockingbird, when a boy I knew from school came up to me, gave me a dirty look and said, “Why are you reading a book? It’s summer.” It’s a place where 40-year-old men still wear their letterman’s jackets and all civic life revolves around the high school athletic teams. 
I hated it there, to put it mildly. I had no friends and there were no opportunities for the things I liked and was good at, like music or academics. I was the kid everyone picked on in elementary school. By the time I got to high school, no one was outright mean to me anymore, but I still didn’t really have friends.
It was a predominantly Mormon town and I didn’t fit in at church either, probably because I was a closeted liberal and feminist. I hated Young Women’s, all the pointless goal-setting programs, being forced to make crappy, tacky, knick-knacky “crafts” at the activities, being told we mustn’t date till we were 16, but it’s never too early to start preparing for motherhood. I was the unruly granola girl who wore hiking boots with her dress to church and couldn’t understand why we had to hate gays. (Before I get angry comments, yes, I realize that a requirement to hate gays is not an official Mormon doctrine and many individual Mormons are open-minded and accepting of gays, but this was not the mentality of the specific Mormons I grew up around.)
We moved shortly before my senior year of high school. I’ve driven through a few times since then, but really have no desire to have anything to do with the place. 
That degree of unbelonging during one’s formative years shapes a person. I internalized the belief, “People don’t like me,” and so even when I moved away from there, because I expected people not to like me, it became a self-fulfilling prophecy. My former husband was my first real friend. Then excommunication severely damaged my sense of self. “Mormon” had been such a strong part of my identity, and now it had been taken away. I was in the awkward position of still believing in it but not being allowed to be a part of it. We lived in the East Valley of the Phoenix area during the first four years of our marriage, a significant Mormon population there. I was ashamed of being excommunicated and terrified of anyone finding out. I didn’t want it to come up that we’d moved from Utah, or that I had ten siblings, because the inevitable next question was, “Are you Mormon?” and I didn’t know how to answer. I avoided talking to people and didn’t go out.
It was about two and a half years after I was exed that I was re-baptized and about a year after that that I decided that I didn’t really want to be Mormon after all. Then I was able to start rebuilding an identity and in recent years, I’ve finally been able to make a few friends, but it’s still a struggle. I’m still not completely comfortable with myself and still feel awkward and self-conscious interacting with other people.
There were a couple of parts of The Ugly Duckling that made me cry. One was when the duckling first sees other swans as they’re flying south in the fall, after he’s been mistreated and misunderstood by everyone he’s ever met. He watches them go and feels very strange and sad. “He didn’t know what birds they were, he didn’t know where they were flying, but he loved them as he had never loved anyone before.” I’ve felt that same sad recognition when I come across people whom I admire, and who are similar to what I think I would have been had I grown up in different circumstances. Educated, capable, confident. Happy. I don’t yet quite dare to believe that that’s also what I am.
The other part was when the swans return in the summer and the duckling sees them and doesn’t feel worthy to approach them but goes to them anyway because he decides he’d rather be killed by them than suffer any more at the hands (beaks?) of the birds he’s been around. He bends his head and waits for them to peck his neck, and that’s when he sees his reflection in the water and discovers that he is a swan himself. “Being born in a poultry yard doesn’t matter if you hatch out of a swan’s egg!”
I’m still working on not letting my past determine my future, on not being afraid to be myself, on finding places to belong. I think I’m getting closer. Maybe someday in hopefully the not-too-distant future, I’ll really believe that I’m a swan.
I loved the story. It made my heart happy. I think I’m going to buy myself the book for Christmas.


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Tuesday, November 16, 2010

So, did anyone, like, like high school?

Honest question. I pulled out a draft of a short story I wrote last fall. The main character is a 17-year-old Mormon girl who attends a high school in Utah Valley. I've been trying to do some deeper character development with her and pulled out my yearbook from my senior year of high school, which was at a school in Utah Valley, similar to the one I imagine my heroine goes to. My family moved the summer before, so my experience here was brief. High school was not a good time for me. I was not popular. I didn't give a damn about sports or cheerleading or pep rallies. I suffered from severe depression. I hated high school, hated, hated, hated it.

Yet I look through this yearbook, and so many of the kids look so genuinely vibrant and enthusiastic about all the worthless crap of the constructed culture that is high school. And I remember being around kids who really seemed like they were enjoying themselves in that world and I could not for the life of me understand why. How is it possible that people who actually like high school exist in the real world? It's just completely foreign to my experience.

Part of it is that I've always been a somewhat socially awkward person. Social skills were not something I learned from my parents. (I know I'm articulate and verbally prolific on my blog, but if you meet me in person and try to have a conversation, expect frequent clamming up and awkward pauses.) I just did not fit. I've been in very few circumstances in my life, actually, where I really felt like I belonged, but high school was especially bad.

Anyway, I don't think my character hates high school, so I'm trying to get some perspective of what it's like to be a person who doesn't hate high school. As far as where she fits in the social strata, she's not the cheerleader/prom queen type, but she's certainly liked, comes from a middle class family, does well in her classes, etc. Does this sound like you or someone you know/knew? Can you tell me what that's like?

Also, to help me be more "with it" on what's going on with current LDS youth, I looked up the most recent issue of New Era. Did you know that sleepovers are where kids leave the straight and narrow? I don't condone high schoolers drinking and I think most high schoolers probably aren't ready for sex, but banning sleepovers isn't going to prevent that kind of thing. How about knowing your kids' friends, knowing your kids' friends' parents, making sure time at friends' houses is supervised, having an open relationship, instilling a sense of self-worth and goals for the future so they're more likely to make good choices?


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Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Voting, and an update on me

I voted yesterday. I don't have TV or internet at home so it's been hard to keep up with candidates and issues and current event. My main contact with the outside world is Minnesota Public Radio, but seeing as how I live in North Dakota, this didn't help me in getting information on what I would be voting on. (Yeah, North Dakota has a public radio station I could listen to, but when it comes to quality content MPR kicks Prairie Public's ass!)

I remember when I was a kid there was a kids' voting thing at school where kids got to vote in a mock election to see what it's like and to encourage them to be real voters when they became adults. Parents were urged to accompany their kids to this event. My mom came. We had our little ballots and Mom was teaching us what the process was like. We were in a similar situation then as far as not having a lot of information about the issues and candidates that actually affected us. I grew up in a tiny town in Arizona just south of the Utah border and all the TV stations we picked up came out of Utah. We never had any idea what was going on in Arizona. I remember my mother telling us, "If you don't know who the candidates are, just vote Republican, because you know you agree with the way Republicans think more than Democrats." (To give you the idea of the depths of my parents' conservatism, when they attempted homeschooling for a couple of years, their idea of social studies was to flip on Rush Limbaugh.)

So now I'm all grown up and making my own decisions. I was not as well-informed as I would have liked to have been when I went to the polls yesterday. What did I do? I voted straight-ticket Democrat. I don't recommend this. Normally I try to read up on candidates, listen to debates, etc. and then make a decision, but I've had more difficulty accessing information this year, and frankly, with all the chaos in my personal life, I just haven't been as interested in politics. So I didn't read up on the candidates or ballot measures. I do still feel a civic responsibility to vote, though, and I know that I agree with Democrats more often than Republicans, and that the chances are very good that had I done my research, my ballot still would have looked the same. On the ballot measures, I figured I'm intelligent enough that I could just read them on the ballot and make a decision in the booth. And that's what I did.

As far as what's going on with me, still no internet at home, though I have discovered free WiFi in the parking lot of the local Kmart, so after dropping my son off at school in the morning, I pull in there and quickly check email and moderate any blog comments. With only a few minutes, I don't usually have time to respond individually the way I would like to and I apologize. Thank you all so much for your kind comments on my grandmother's passing. It's been an interesting few weeks. Just when I think I have one fire under control, another one flares up, but we're managing, and on the whole, life is more good than not. I am at peace.


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Friday, October 29, 2010

Friday Funny: Halloween

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Even Stevphen - Halloween
Daily Show Full EpisodesPolitical HumorTea Party


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Tuesday, October 26, 2010

My grandmother died, part 3

Continued from Part 1 and Part 2

As it turned out, I did see Grandma one more time a year and a half later. In March of this year, I flew to Utah to visit family. I entered my parents' house and saw Grandma sleeping on the couch, a childlike smallness and fragility about her. I knelt next to her and she soon opened her eyes. "Oh. Leah." She grasped my shoulders and looked in my eyes. "Sing to me," she rasped, and the urgency in her voice makes it clear, this has been one of her last wishes. With my marriage disintegrating, "close to tears" has been my most common emotional state. This moment tips me over the edge. I almost tell her I can't, but no, I can't refuse her. I need a minute to compose myself and then to decide what to sing. I consider "Be Still, My Soul" but decide that may be too blatant an acknowledgement that we both know she's dying. I settle on "Come thou fount of every blessing." I take a breath and begin. My voice breaks on the first line and never completely steadies through all three verses. Grandma's eyes fill with tears. They are words I no longer believe in, but the song still carries power because of associated memories.

I finish and we exchange teary smiles. "Yes. Yes," she says. "Oh, golly!" Grandma's highest expression of praise. I lay my head on her chest and she pats my hair.

The phone call late in the evening on October 12 was not a shock. I made arrangements to leave the next morning, two days of driving with my two small children. It doesn't really sink in that Grandma's gone until I arrive. In the front room of my parents' house are two wheelchairs. One will never be occupied again.

The next morning, I hug my grandfather at breakfast. "How are you doing?"

"Oh, not too good," he says. "My patriarchal blessing says I'll live to be a very old man. Right now, I don't know if that's a blessing or not."

More relatives arrive throughout the day. That night we go to the funeral home for the viewing. It's so crowded, and most of the people I don't know very well. I don't feel like I can let myself grieve here. Grandpa is sitting next to the casket. I go over to talk to him. "Go stand back there," he tells me, indicating a couple of feet back from the casket. "Look at how pretty she is. Can you see how pretty she is?"

"She is," I agree, though it's hard to look very intently. She's in her temple clothes, white from head to toe and a green apron.

After we're all home, I knock on Grandpa's door. "Hi, Grandpa. Could I sing to you?" Grandpa loves music and I've heard him say the "I know that my Redeemer liveth" from Handel's Messiah is one of his favorites. I sing it for him now. "Though worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God." No, I don't believe in a resurrection, but my grandfather does, and if this tale can give him comfort, by God, I'll mete it out.

The next morning we gather at the church for family prayer before the funeral service. I watch my mother place Grandma's temple veil over her face before they close the casket. We move to the chapel. The opening hymn is "I believe in Christ," once one of my favorites. The eulogy makes me smile, recounting Grandma's fastidiousness, her creativity, her friendly and generous nature, her fear of snakes. Then my sister and I sing a duet: "Be Still, My Soul"  It seems strange how Grandma planned and planned this day. All her life, she was waiting till she was dead to be happy.

All four of Grandma's children speak, including my father. It's a very nice service, up until the 30-something bishop calls all of Grandma's wayward posterity to repentance. He testifies of the truthfulness of the restored Gospel. "And you may ask, 'How can we know these things are true?' Because we have prophets who teach us that this is so." And I think, Really? That's the best you've got? Though he informs me, "And if you're having trouble believing in these things, it is because of your disobedience. I would exhort you to humble yourselves and ask God to soften your heart." I feel a little proud of myself that these words are inducing eye-rolling and suppressed laughter rather than anger. If anything, his words fill me with gratitude that my children are not being raised in this religion. As my brother's partner put it, "Yeah, as soon as the bishop got up, Spirit gone!"

The Relief Society has prepared a meal for the family following the service, including funeral potatoes. My two-year-old is restless, so I decide to skip the interment and take him home for a nap. I'm tired myself.

From my grandmother, I inherited my petite frame, a tendency to get cold easily, a love of music and a knack for foreign languages. When we first arrived in Utah, my son told my mother, "It's very sad that Grandma Great died." My mom told him, "Well, I think it's actually a good thing, because she was hurting a lot, and now she's not hurting anymore and she's with Heavenly Father." Mother, you know I'm not Mormon anymore. What makes you think it's okay to spout of Mormon beliefs to my son as though they're fact?

A while back, I had a thread about belief non-belief in an afterlife. One commenter was rather insistent about wanting to know whether or not I believe that part of us goes on living after physical death.

No. I don't.

Goodbye, Grandma. I'll miss you.


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Monday, October 25, 2010

Happy birthday, Whore!

One year ago today, I published my first blog post.

At the time, I never could have imagined how much starting a blog would change my life. People I've met, opportunities that have opened up, perspectives I've heard, the ways my own views have changed. I'm no where near the top in any sorts of rankings when it comes to visitor traffic, but writing this blog is one of the things I'm most proud of in my life.

Sometimes I'm still in shock that people actually take the time to read what I have to say and comment about it. I'd probably still write even if no one read, but all you readers up the fun quotient by a lot. Thanks so much for reading.

It's been a pretty good year. Here's to many more.


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Sunday, October 24, 2010

My grandmother died, part 2

Continued from Part 1

The next most memorable visit with Grandma was when my oldest son was four years old and my second was nine weeks old. She'd been declining ever since her stroke and I wanted to be sure she had a chance to see my baby.

Grandma was always the type who loved to jabber a mile a minute, cleaned obsessively, couldn't stand to not do things for herself. Now she couldn't walk without a cane and even as it was, she used a motorized wheel chair most of the time. She had regained some speech ability, but it was still very labored and she couldn't always think of the words to articulate her thoughts. She couldn't do much for herself and what was worse couldn't always tell other people exactly what she needed or wanted.  

My experience of recovering from a c-section was fresh in my mind. I'd needed help getting up and down the stairs, in and out of bed, even showering and using the bathroom. The doctor had said it was important to walk as much as possible so one day we went for a walk but I had to turn back just two houses down from our house. I remember how weak and helpless I felt, how humiliating and discouraging it was to be reduced from someone who runs marathons to someone who couldn't walk down the block or get out of a chair without help. It was so depressing for me, even though I knew it was temporary. Not so for my grandmother. She'd been this way for three years now would be this way be until the end.
I sat on the couch talking with her and told her about an incident when we lived in Mesa, Arizona. I was at the grocery store with my first son, about a year old at the time, and overheard a Hispanic woman say "¡Qué lindo niño!  Mira los ojos azules." ("What a beautiful child!  Look at those blue eyes.") Grandma learned Spanish on her mission in Mexico so she knew what that meant and smiled. I told her about another incident when we were in a hotel parking lot when he was a baby and some French people who were walking past said, "Regarde le bébé!  Ooo la la!"  ("Look at the baby!  Ooo la la!") After about a minute of tangled speech, Grandma got it out that she used to speak French, and then ended with saying, "But now I can't. I can't." And tears filled her eyes. It wasn't just her body that was broken; it was her mind. And yet enough of it was left that she was still aware of all that she couldn't do anymore.
She loved being with my little one. It brought her so much joy to see him smiling and cooing. She couldn't hold him because she didn't have the arm strength, but she would sit next to him while he lay on the couch. She would look down at him while he looked up at her and they would talk to each other. She said she missed holding babies.  We were sitting together and he was fussing and I was bouncing and shushing to calm him. "Sussha good mother," she said proudly.

Though I'd always known that Grandma loved me, prior to her stroke there had been a sharpness to her too, a critical edge I frequently found myself coming up against. Grandma was a talker, and she could be opinionated. She wasn't known for her patience when things weren't the way she thought they should be. But all that bite was gone now, all of Grandma's rough edges sanded smooth. Only love, gratitude and serenity remained and they radiated from her.

Several months later, I wrote a poem about this transformation:

Grandma is a sock puppet now.
Once all charm, chatter and chastisement
Suze Ormanesque
Spouting spreadsheets of my supposed sins.
But Grandma is a sock puppet now,
Audited by a clot.
Hair like unraveling gray yarn,
Googly eyes and gums,
Gaping and slack when she sleeps.
Crumpled, humbled lopsided mumbles.
Grandma is a sock puppet now,
And I love her so much more.

One evening, I went into her room to tell her and Grandpa good night. A copy of  The Ensign and Our Search for Happiness were on their bed, a picture of Jesus on the wall, mementos of their faith all around the room. Grandma, still faithful and enduring to the end, going to church with her oxygen tank in tow and attending the temple every week. I knew the peace and joy she found there, because at one time I found it too, and it stung to realize I no longer shared that with her.

She rode along when my father drove me and my children to the airport. She couldn't stop looking at my children and I imagined her thinking that this was the last time she would see them, and me. I got to tell her that I love her and she told me the same. Then I didn't say, "See you next time," or "See you later." I said, "Goodbye." She wasn't strong enough to walk with us to the gate. We left her in the parking garage in the car with the window rolled down. I couldn't help thinking of a dog and I felt sick. I heard her sobbing as we left. It was one of the hardest things I've done to just keep walking and not stay with her.

Part 3


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Saturday, October 23, 2010

My grandmother died, part 1

Both of my mother's parents passed away before I was born. The name "Grandma" has only ever referred to one woman in my life. I don't remember a first time meeting Grandma. She visited often enough that she was always a part of my awareness. She brought little gifts every time she visited. I remember writing to her and Grandpa when they were missionaries in Mexico.

As one of eleven children whose parents worked constantly just to scrape by, I would characterize the general ambience of my childhood as Lord of the Flies squalor. Grandma's visits were glimpses of civility. She'd clean the house and brush my hair. She'd pay attention, show enthusiasm, make us feel special. She taught us games, made finger puppets, told stories, tucked us in. All the maternal, nurturing sorts of things that bored my mother.

Grandma had her share of pain and dark emotions too. The man she really wanted to marry was killed in World War II, and while I have no doubt that she and Grandpa loved each other, I don't think she ever got over that loss. She planned her death for as long as I can remember, how she wanted her funeral conducted, which possessions would go to which grandchildren. "Be Still, My Soul" was the hymn she wanted sung at her funeral. The last verse:

Be still, my soul. The time is hastening on
When we shall be forever with the Lord
When disappointed, fear and grief are gone,
Sorrow forgot, love's purest joy restored.
Be still, my soul. When change and tears are past
All safe and blessed we shall meet at last.

Grandma experienced a lot of sadness and periods of depression, but she had unwavering faith that if she lived the Gospel and endured to the end, once she died, she'd be happy.

Grandma was a worrywart. Because we had all been warned of this, we were to avoid actions that would make her worry. They lived in the same town as us when I was eleven to twelve years old. One day I went over. Actually, my sister had sent me over to borrow some laundry detergent. When I knocked on the door, Grandma was so excited to see me, hugged me, siphoned me into the house for an afternoon of games and cookies and jigsaw puzzles. She seemed so happy that I had come and treated me so lovingly, I didn't have the heart to tell her that really I'd only come for soap and not to visit.

After a couple of hours, I left, but I didn't go straight home. I found some friends at the park and played there until almost dark before going home. Grandma was waiting there, furious. "You said you were going home and all this time we couldn't find you and didn't know what happened to you." I had made her worry. The guilt was paralyzing. "Don't you have anything to say?" she implored. I couldn't talk. "Not even 'I'm sorry, Grandma'?" Her voice broke and tears filled her eyes, and she left. I had hurt this sweet, gentle woman who loved me.

My grandparents' commitment to the Church  influenced my own devotion. Family reunions always included testimony-bearing sessions. The stories of how our ancestors had been miraculously led to the Gospel were handed down. I felt proud of our heritage and determined to live up to that legacy. I had one opportunity to attend the temple with my grandparents. They were both very proud, and I imagined what it would be like to meet them in the next life after having followed their examples of being faithful and enduring to the end.

Six months later, I was excommunicated. I never told my grandparents. I don't know if anyone else did. If they knew, they never said anything or treated me any differently.

Grandma loved babies and sent me an outfit and a handmade quilt when I was expecting my first. When he was eight months old, I had a feeling that I really needed to see my grandparents. I planned a trip to Utah when they would be visiting my parents there. Grandma gushed with pride as she watched me care for my son. "Oh, Leah! You're a mama!" We worked puzzles, sang songs, played with the babies, all the stuff Grandma loved to do.

Two days after I got home, I got a phone call. Grandma had had a stroke. That trip was the last time I saw her healthy.

Part 2


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Sunday, September 26, 2010

Thank you.

Thank you, all, for the comments and support and well wishes.

I am doing well, a lot of adjusting, but overall I feel good. Still no internet at home, and I think I kinda like it that way. There's a peacefulness about it. The downside is, I haven't been keeping up with anyone's blogs! I miss you all!

I've been a week in my own place now. I'm feeling my way through finding a new rhythm and routine, helping my kids get used to having two homes. We're sharing custody evenly and will still be parenting together. They're doing just fine.

The blog isn't real high on my priority list at the moment, but it's in my peripheral vision. I do have ideas for future directions and means of negotiating decreased internet access. Rest assured, I will survive!


If you enjoyed this post, I hope you'll check out my new blog.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Big Changes

Some of you might remember this worrisome post from back in January. I've tried to keep personal details to a minimum, but here's what's been going on: I'm getting divorced. Certain aspects of our marriage have been off for quite a while, but everything came to a head in January, and now I can't stay.

My husband has a different perspective, but my analysis of the situation is that we just got married too young. I'd had the importance of marriage drilled into me since birth, so when we met and it was going well, I figured we should get married. It never occurred to me to just have a boyfriend. A few years in, I realized it was not turning out to be what I wanted, but I was raised with the mentality that marriage is marriage and it's for life and unless he's hitting you, you stay and make it work! I figured I'd just have to make the best of it, and he is a really good guy. But I'm at a point where I don't want to spend the rest of my life "making the best of it."

So I've been reading lots of books about divorce over the last few months since I certainly never got any education about it growing up, except that it's bad, bad, bad. One book said that 90% of people who get divorced still love each other, and that is certainly the case with us. I have no regrets. Looking back, I don't know what else I could have done under the circumstances. He gave me a safe and loving place to grow up where I'd had none before, but I was too young to know who I was and what I wanted when I got married. Now I do, and this isn't it. I can't stay. There will be nothing left of me if I do.

I'm moving this weekend. I don't know when or if I'll get internet at my new place, so blog post frequency and comment response time will likely take a dive.

I apologize for letting the "Great Posts" thing slide. I think over-committed myself there. I've read about half of the submissions so far. I really appreciate everyone who sent me a link. I don't know how long it will take me to get through the rest of them. Just know that it's on my list.

Also, as of yet, I don't have a job, though I'm planning to break into freelance copywriting once I get settled and my kids are little more used to all the changes, so if any of you know someone who needs such services, it would be great if you could point them my way.

Sing us to break, Sarah.


If you enjoyed this post, I hope you'll check out my new blog.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

What BYU's Daily Universe had to say for itself

Remember Cary Crall's refreshingly sane letter that appeared briefly in The Daily Universe before being pulled?  Here's their explanation:
The Daily Universe made an independent decision to remove the student viewpoint titled “Defending Proposition 8” after being alerted by various readers that the content of the editorial was offensive.  The publication of this viewpoint was not intended to offend, but after further review we recognized that it contained offensive content. 
This is consistent with policy that The Daily Universe has, on rare occasions, exercised in the past.
I think my friend Carla put it best: "The only possible offense is that people who are anti-gay are not doing it for logical reasons. And they're not, so just admit it already."

Or Lisa wittily asked, "Can't they choose not to be offended?"

But even beyond that, the editorial staff is essentially saying that they are incapable on their own of determining what's too offensive until some helpful readers point it out to them, and that they are unwilling to represent viewpoints that might upset people.

The real hat tip goes to Craig though for finding a truly offensive letter printed the same day as Crall's, this one from a horny and self-righteous student who feels it his duty to police the modesty of his slutty coeds. This letter was apparently A-OK. 

I think a little NonStampCollector is in order.


If you enjoyed this post, I hope you'll check out my new blog.

Giving a damn about gay suicide


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Wednesday, September 8, 2010

BYU's newspaper publishes letter critical of Prop 8's legality, then pulls it

Yesterday, a letter to the editor appeared in BYU's Daily Universe, laying bare the "indefensible" legal case for Prop 8. The writer, Cary Crall, suggested that Mormons who supported the proposition own up to their real reason for doing so.

I was very impressed, both with the letter, and with BYU for publishing it. Then I was disappointed when a few hours later, the link was no longer available.

Fortunately, Jon Adams was able to get Crall's permission to post the letter in its entirety on USU SHAFT's blog.

As Jon says, hopefully no disciplinary action comes against Crall for his honesty (or the editor who was brave enough to publish the letter), but should action be taken, I'm behind Crall.


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Saturday, September 4, 2010

Fact versus Symbol, and are Mormons weirdos?

My de-conversion story has been getting several comments recently that I want to respond to. This one from Martin sums up the sentiments of several believing Mormons I've heard from:
Leah, I enjoyed your write-up, and I happy for you if you feel you can breathe again. As a believing Mormon who has struggled with some of the things you've mentioned (plus a whole lot more -- there's a lot of tough stuff to deal with), your story makes me feel sad, even though that makes no sense if you're happy. Some of the tough stuff does have explanations that I find adequate. Some of it doesn't -- yet. When it comes right down to it though, I've found I'm happier believing. My belief is a little more nuanced than some, but I'm absolutely convinced God exists, loves me, and is involved in my life.

Best wishes to you on your journey.
Thank you, Martin, for your comment. I appreciate the reasonable tone and the willingness to accept the validity of another person's experience. And I'm glad that you are at peace in your own life.

Martin mentions his belief being more nuanced than some. My mother was my main religious influence growing up, and she takes a very literal, fundamentalist approach. It's actually been somewhat of a surprise since I've left the Church to learn that not all Mormons believe everything as literally as she does. I've had the task of sorting out what was actually official doctrine and what was just my mother's opinion that she taught with such conviction that I had the impression that it was unquestionable. I do think that approach is actually fairly widespread within Mormonism though.

Another comment from Retief:
You have my sympathy for what sounds like a difficult journey. I hope you won't be distressed by a couple of thoughts.

First, the Adam and Eve from the endowment are almost entirely allegorical.

Second, it isn't a requirement of LDS doctrine that anyone be a wierdo [sic].
No, I'm not distressed, but I do disagree. First, I was a super seminary nerd, and I never got any memo about Adam and Eve being allegorical. In fact, when I took Institute, this is what got handed out:

Yes, there's a little footnote saying that dates are approximate, and maybe I'm completely off base here, but when I think "approximate," I think "give or take 50 to 100 years." Or what about this talk from Neal A. Maxwell, where he delineates the chronology of the lineage of Adam, forthcoming in the highly anticipated Book of Enoch (release date undetermined; I wonder if it will be available for pre-order from Amazon) and then says, "Let others, if they choose, make jokes about our first parents, Adam and Eve, or regard them as mere myths." I take that to mean that Mr. Maxwell did not regard them as mere myths. 

When that's what we hear from the pulpits and what gets taught in CES classes, how is the average Mormon supposed to know that you're not s'posed to take it literally? Don't get me wrong; I think it's very healthy that more members are taking a less literal approach. I think a symbolic, nuanced approach is the best way to approach any religion, but the majority of Mormons that I've known didn't take that approach (or if they did, they were real quiet about it). I would also venture that Joseph Smith, et. al. intended a literal interpretation, in which case I personally can't accept them as inspired mouthpieces of God, because the story of Adam and Eve can't possibly be factual. I'm sorry, it just can't. If literalism wasn't the Church founders' intent, I don't think they did a very good job of communicating that.

Which brings me to how I view Mormonism now. I recognize its theology (notice I said "theology," not "doctrine") as a legitimate way to be religious and spiritual. I do not recognize it as the One True Church and the gateway to the Kingdom of God that it claims to be. It certainly is not a good fit for me, my temperament, my personal beliefs and the desires of my heart. I'm much happier without it than I ever was within it. I simply cannot be true to myself and be a Mormon.

I know a lot of Mormons who are wonderful people, who are very happy and who affirm that their religion is the source of their happiness. I don't deny their experience, but it wasn't one that I shared. I am convinced that the LDS Church is not what it claims to be, but I have no desire for anyone who is happy as a Mormon to leave the Church. I do have a desire for those who are unhappy to know that they are not alone, that the problem isn't because of something wrong with them, and that other than some disappointed friends and family, nothing bad will happen to them for walking away.

As far as LDS doctrine not requiring anyone to be a weirdo, maybe they don't use the word "weirdo" (and neither did I, actually), but Mormons do have a bit of an obsession with being a peculiar people. When your church dictates what you can and can't drink, watch, wear and say, even what you should and shouldn't find amusing, that sets one apart from one's more secular peers. I personally felt liberated once I no longer had the pressure of shepherding everyone I met into the Gospel through my spotless example. I'm still a weirdo in my own way, but now it's because of my own personal preferences and idiosyncrasies, not because of rules that a group of gentleman in Salt Lake decided I should follow.


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Friday, September 3, 2010

Friday Funny: I'm going to do amazing things this summer!

Hearkening back to this post...

Funny Graphs - But...But...The Internet IS Amazing
see more Funny Graphs

Hat tip to Jon Adams from USU Shaft.


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Thursday, September 2, 2010

Have a big goal? Mum's the word!

I know I usually post TED Talks on Tuesday, but this one was too intriguing to wait, plus it's only three minutes long. Apparently, we're more likely to achieve our big goals if we don't tell people about them. studies have found that excessive words lead to less action. So if you really want to accomplish something, be quiet and do it!


If you enjoyed this post, I hope you'll check out my new blog.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Last Day to submit your Best Blog Posts!

Today is the last day to submit your favorite posts for my "Great Posts by Other Bloggers" section of my sidebar. See here and here for details and guidelines.

I'm not going to say that the deadline is midnight, because I don't check my email at midnight. If you get your link(s) in my inbox by the time I get to my computer tomorrow morning, it will be read and considered.

I imagine it will take me at least a week to get through all the submissions. I want to make sure I give everyone's posts a thorough reading and fair consideration. I will leave a comment once I've read your post to let you know I read it.

I really appreciate the response I've received with this. It's been great fun! Might have to make it an annual thing.  :-)


If you enjoyed this post, I hope you'll check out my new blog.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

TED Talk Tuesday: Elizabeth Gilbert on nurturing creativity

Despite my distaste for Eat, Pray, Love (discussed here and here last week if you missed it), I do think Elizabeth Gilbert seems like a lovely person and I like this talk. She proposes that we should think of creativity as something separate from ourselves, something on loan. She discusses how the ancient Greeks and Romans thought of creative people as having a genius rather than being a genius, and that this mindset acts as a buffer for both narcissism when our work is successful and despair when our work bombs. I like it. I think it's an example of how a story can be a useful psychological coping device, even if it's not a factual story.

I also think it fits in well with a post by Loren at Slightly Moderated Stream of Consciousness, where he discusses briefly his writing process. For most of us, creativity is something we have to work at. If you want the genius to come, you have to do your part to invite it.


If you enjoyed this post, I hope you'll check out my new blog.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

I have a bone to pick with the Dalai Lama

I actually really like the guy. In fact, I'm his fan on Facebook, but his status last Sunday morning was in stark contrast to the experience I had that day. He said:

We can't say that all religions are the same, different religions have different views and fundamental differences. But it does not matter, as all religions are meant to help in bringing about a better world with better and happier human beings. On this level, I think that through different philosophical explanations and approaches, all religions have the same goal and the same potential.

You know how I was gonna go visit the Quakers? I found a website with a meeting time and place listed, a public building that used to be a school and is now available for use by various groups near downtown. There was a phone number listed and the Still Small Voice said I should call before heading down there, but I'm phone phobic. I ignored that voice at my own peril; there were no Friends to be found. Instead, some other service was taking place, and I figured, since I'm here, I may as well see what this is all about.

There are chairs set up in a gymnasium and I took a seat just as some songs were finishing up and discover that I've stumbled upon Calvary Chapel. Several junctures during the service required an effort to keep a straight face and not cry out, "Are you serious?!" For example, the pastor began by reminding us of how sinful we are and how we need to acknowledge that everything the Bible says is a sin really is a sin, then in the next paragraph reminds us that Jesus did not come to condemn the world. "Some people think that, don't they?" As though this is a ludicrous conclusion to draw based on the behaviors and beliefs of so many Christians. "Jesus didn't come to judge the world," said the pastor, and then I expected some trifle about love and forgiveness and mercy, but instead got, "He's gonna do that at his Second Comin'."

Phew! Off the hook till then! (And, yes, he did say "Comin'" and not "Coming.")

The pastor announced that we would break for twenty minutes of coffee and fellowship time and then have Bible study. I must have been the only unfamiliar face there, because I was immediately swarmed upon. "Do you live in Fargo? Oh, good! So many times we get visitors that are just passing through and we never see them again." The people were all very friendly and welcoming so I was polite in return and resisted the urge to say, "Yeah, I don't think you're gonna see me again either."

"How did you hear about our church?" one woman asked.

"Well, I was actually looking for the Society of Friends," I told her.

"Oh, yeah, they used to meet down the hall from here, but they haven't been here for a couple of years." Drat.

They had a table with some books laid out for lending. Titles like The Biblical Approach to Discipline, Raising Your Son to Be a Godly Man and Marriage the Lord's Way.  One title particularly caught me off guard: Psychology Debunked. Did you know that mental illnesses are just an invention of the pharmaceutical industry to make money? The real problem is sin and the answers are all in the Bible. From their website: "Every major psychological theory is anti-Christian at its core." (Emphasis theirs.) Could that be because the brand of Christianity you're espousing is not conducive to good mental health? And while I agree that medications for the treatment of psychological problems are overprescribed, I think they're less harmful than fundamentalism!

If there's one message I took away from this experience it's this: All churches are not created equal! Sorry, Mr. Dalai Lama.

Oh, how I missed my liberal Episcopalians!

An observation I made, almost all of the members of Calvary Chapel seemed like they could easily fit in with the People of Walmart. There's a definite difference in education level and socio-economic standing between them and the crowd at the Episcopal church. I think it would be interesting to see how strong the correlation is between income/education and how "liberal" one's religion is across several congregations and geographical regions and look into possible causes. Is there something about fundamentalism that appeals to lower-income people, or do fundamentalists feel more strongly about eschewing worldly wealth and honor? Totally speculating here, but that's a study I'd like to do.

So, I'm back with the Episcopalians until I can surmount my phone phobia and see what's up with the local Quakers. I went this morning. Some days I can suspend belief and go along with it and some days I can't. This morning I couldn't. We'll see how it goes next week.


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Saturday, August 28, 2010

The Atheists are trying to get us to come back to their church!

My husband and I got a letter from the Red River Freethinkers a few days ago. We joined back in January but haven't made it to their meetings for the last several months because of a combination of conflicts and laziness. Actually, the letter was a special invitation to the Project 42 Freethought Conference coming up on September 18. It just made me chuckle because it reminded me of letters I'd get from visiting teachers and others when I was drifting away from church. "We've missed your sweet spirit. We pray the Lord will soften your heart so you'll come back to church and let us break your sweet spirit."

Seriously though, if you live anywhere near Fargo or feel like taking a trip up this way, this convention is going to be well worth your time. The line up of speakers includes Annie Laurie Gaylor and Dan Barker, co-presidents of the the Freedom From Religion Foundation; August Berkshire, the first president of the Twin Cities chapter of American Atheists; and Brian Keith Dalton, aka Mr. Deity. PZ Myers was also scheduled, but in light of recent events, I presume he'll still be home recovering. Tickets are only $65, or $29 for students. Visit their website for more information.

And another worthwhile upcoming local event, Barbara Ehrenreich, the bestselling author of Nickel and Dimed will be giving a lecture titled "Women, Economics and Poverty: On (not) getting by in America" this Thursday, September 2 at 7:00 p.m. at Festival Concert Hall, North Dakota State University. The lecture is free and open to the public.


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Friday, August 27, 2010

Early Morning Secular Scripture Study

When I was a faithful Mormon, I was encouraged to study the scriptures daily to grow closer to God. Sometimes it was boring, but often as I read those ancient (or "impostor ancient" in the case of the Book of Mormon) words, I felt my mind clearing and opening, felt a peaceful presence that I then identified as the Holy Spirit. This seemed especially effective when I would study first thing in the morning, when my mind was already clear. Reading scriptures just before bedtime usually ended up being something I did just so I could check it off my to-do list and feel like a good Mormon. I was usually too tired to get anything out of it.

I recognized scripture study as a valuable spiritual practice, but then wasn't sure what to do once I no longer saw the Bible or the Book of Mormon as the inspired Word of God. I recognized that there was a lot of good stuff in there, but it was mixed in with a lot of hooey. I've come to the conclusion that if you're in the right frame of mind and if you do some pondering, you can find meaning and value in imperfect scripture, but with the same consideration you can find those same textured layers of meaning in Homer or Hemingway or Harry Potter. I don't think the Bible is superior to Beowulf. 

I've been in the habit lately of switching on my laptop first thing in the morning, much like the alcoholics in Isaiah 5:11 "that rise up early in the morning, that they may follow strong drink." (Or could "strong drink" be construed as coffee? I sure like mine strong, and one of the best parts about no longer being Mormon is drinking it guilt-free.)  Then I check my email and Facebook fifty times a day. There was a recent New York Times article in which a group of psychologists and neuroscientists wanted to study the effects of heavy use of digital devices on the brain. One hypothesis was that even the anticipation of interruptions in the form of new emails or text messages (or blog comments, not that I don't love all your comments! In fact, I probably love them too much) eats into our working memory and reduces our capacity for clear, productive thinking. Parents of young children will recognize this "brain turned to mush" syndrome too, since the needs of little ones are constantly interrupting us.

What to do? How to maintain technology as a tool for my use without becoming addicted and weighed down by the mental clatter created by its overuse?

Two birds with one stone: I've decided I miss the ritual of taking time early in the morning to read and ponder wise words, so I'm reclaiming that. I'm going to start getting up before my kids to have some quiet time for reading. No computer until my oldest has been seen off to school. I started this morning, and it was nice.  :-)

I really like this quote from the Dalai Lama: "My call for a spiritual revolution is not a call for a religious revolution, nor for a way of life that is otherworldly - still less to something magical or mysterious. It is a call for a radical reorientation away from our habitual preoccupation with self, a call to turn toward the wider community of beings with whom we are connected, and for conduct which recognizes others’ interests alongside our own."

And in that vein, the first subject of my secular scripture study experiment is this:

Written by a psychologist and a historian, it examines our attitudes and beliefs about kindness, our tendency to be suspicious of kindness, and why we're hesitant to show kindness, even though we derive intense pleasure from doing so. I'll post a review when I'm finished.


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