Short Story Friday: “Talk” by S.P. Bailey

So after pouncing on the opportunity presented by the AML Awards, we’re picking back up with submissions to Short Story Friday. Some of these early submissions are some of us active AMVers talking up each other’s and our own work.

But that’s okay because there are some good short stories involved.

Title: Talk

Author: S.P. Bailey

Publication Info: Popcorn Popping, December 2007

Submitted by: Wm Morris

Why?: “I don’t think that this is Shawn’s best short story even though it’s pretty good and quite funny. But I think it’s worth reading because it addresses a specific element of Mormon culture: giving a Sacrament Meeting talk. And especially because it is in very relatable for those of us who’d love instruct our fellow ward members in the appropriate way to give a talk or bear a testimony. Of course, it doesn’t quite turn out the way the main character in the story hopes.”

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12 thoughts on “Short Story Friday: “Talk” by S.P. Bailey”

  1. The story ended before it could tackle the real challenge: how can us literary snobs both learn charity for those less blessed or less interested and how did she actually get her message across?

  2. I absolutely agree although I don’t think all Mormon short stories need to carry some of the burdens we require of them (and I’m the biggest offender of them all when it comes to that).

    One thing I liked about the story is that it suggests that placing our gifts on the altar means more than just taking what we think is our best (or the best, or the right) offering and tossing it on there. Perhaps it needs to be prepared.

    But I also just liked it because it is so typical of modern Mormon life (esp. for North Americans, I think) where service by amateurs meets the professionalism of work. It’s something I’ve keenly experienced as a ward public affairs specialist (which I am again now and am struggling with what exactly I’m supposed to be doing to magnify my calling).

  3. .

    I think that these shorter stories are what will work best for SSF, but doing so means that we might see some of the same complaints over and over. For instance, Liz’s comment. Or mine that this is structurally more like a joke than a tale. My other complaint (that playfully is a terrible word) is unrelated to the story’s length.

    As a snapshot of Mormon culture though I think it is reasonably successful. I’m sure we’ve all seen these sins committed–sometimes in otherwise excellent talks.

    I’ve thought some on the issues of talk creation and how to improve and betterfy them. Last Sunday in my ward we were give three excellent talks. And frankly we have a high success rater here than I’ve seen in other wards. I think the real issue is developing a ward culture where talks are considered an important and meaningful part of worship.

    In the story, I get the sense that Carol was worried more about instructing in mechanics (although what she actually teaches her class [purposefully] is unclear) and I think we often make that mistake in our callings — especially if we are a professional in that field. I’ve seen it when musicians are called to lead music, for instance. It becomes more about apparent quality than spiritual quality.

    But ignoring quality is what makes us a culture of mediocrity anyway…. (where was I just reading about that–?)

    Anyway. Shame about the demise of Popcorn Popping. I remember reading this story before.

  4. You know, when I first read this story on Popcorn Popping it came across to me as kind of snarky. But maybe that’s because that’s how I feel when I heard talks the one at the end of this story.

    I too wish the story had taken a little more time to explore how we can get something out of sacrament meeting even when we need to plug our artistic ears.

    I remember someone telling me once that Henry B. Eyring said he has never sat through a boring sacrament meeting because he is always listening to the talk and thinking of all the other material he’s heard relating to it. I do that too but sometimes that leads me to prideful places that push the spirit away and then I get nothing out of the meeting.

    The story is a good joke, though!

  5. Very cute and amusing Mormon culture vignette. I think these talk pet peeves are something of a running joke in Mormondom. For example, here’s another take on the subject, including some of the same ones…

  6. I agree with Theric: I think maybe I’m repeating some of my comments about other stories, and I’m wondering if that says more about me as a reader than it does about the stories. (Answer: Well, yeah.) But I guess I’ll say them anyway…

    The first part of this story had me really excited. I thought, this is really good. Down to earth, and it talks about a real dilemma in Mormon culture and in practically living the gospel (as William pointed out).

    And then I got to the list, and it was all downhill. Points:
    * Reading the way she introduced the list to her class, I wondered: Is she making it clear that these are bad practices? Then I was reassured when she said they were reading it and chuckled. Then when I read the ending, my final thought was: If she’s a professional communicator, why didn’t it occur to her to be clearer in her presentation?

    * Far too much space is devoted to the list itself. It makes it seem like the story is an excuse for the list. It’s not necessary to include the list in order to have the story.

    * My overall sense is that she took what was the setup for a very good story, and then punted. I think there’d be room for a much more interesting story if the people in her class *didn’t* misunderstand the list, and then struggled to follow her advice–or even to understand why she was saying those things to begin with. “Why is it a bad idea to start with a dictionary definition?” But that would have been an entirely different story… and one (I’m guessing) that might not have been as well suited for the kind of place I’m assuming that Popcorn Popping was.

  7. What a pleasant surprise. I had no idea Wm. was posting this today. And I have been away from blogs all day actually working for a living. This made me miss Popcorn Popping for sure.

    I can’t disagree much with the criticisms. I don’t consider this little piece great, or important, or even worthy of additional development. I dashed it out, it made me laugh, and I don’t mind people calling it a joke. There is certainly a joke in there, but that is not all.

    Layered on top of the joke is a slight but serious narrative about a woman trying to be Christlike, magnify her calling, and bring professional competence to bear in a lay clergy setting. It is a simple “this is the way it feels to be a Mormon” statement. Structurally naive, yes, but not by accident.

    It is interesting that some wanted to experience something more didactic (or something like that). I can’t say that I am similarly interested. I guess I am just not seeing the dramatic potential in a longer, more earnest story on talk-writing. (Full disclosure: I got bored just writing that sentence!)

    Thanks to everybody! I tend to get so hunkered down in the “don’t get your hopes up”/”I just do this for pleasure” mentality, that it is kind of shocking to think of somebody actually reading something that I wrote!

  8. .

    I agree that this story might not be able to handle the weight of didacticism.

    It would be interesting to make a collection of stories whose major events must take place during a sacrament meeting…..

  9. Very interesting that this story comes on the heels of an invitation for my wife and I to speak in our new ward. I’ve been contemplating how to best approach it (we speak on the 29th of this month and the topic was left wide open) and have joked with my wife that I’ll just get up and do what everyone else in our ward has done: spend half the time talking about how I was asked to speak and who did it, how nervous I am to be there, how the topic wasn’t given so I had to decide for myself and that’s so much harder that just being given a topic because it means I have to seek the spirit more, etc.

    In that light, I think the list Shawn gives here is spot on, though I agree with Jonathan in that it really slows down the pacing of the story. I could almost see it as a cop-out, even, if I didn’t know Shawn was just playing around here with an all-too-common and complained about Mormon experience. I was also hoping it would end somewhere else, with a bit more insight—not necessarily a didactic place (not a fan of preaching through fiction), but someplace that would challenge my own perspective on the intersection between my professional training in and passion for language, rhetoric, and literature and my service in the Church.

    Anyway, I’m glad for the nice easy read this week. I still haven’t been able to get to last weeks story.

    And in closing…any suggestions on topics for Tyler’s sacrament meeting talk? I remember once saying here (on AMV) that in my next talk I’d bring in some Mormon literature reference to “educate” the literary gentiles in the congregation. I’ve been thinking of the title “On the Virtue of Words”—about how language plays a central part in our experience of and relationship with God and how we should become more conscious of our rhetorical/linguistic stewardship.

    Then again, I might just take Shawn’s list and run with it. Now that might be fun…

  10. .

    I apologize in advance for this barrage of links.

    1. My brother wrote an excellent post on sacrament-meeting talks recently and I recommend it, Tyler, while you’re planning.

    2. I like your plan Tyler. One of my first weeks in my current ward, the speaker referenced a Japanese novel and tied it in beautifully to the principle at hand. Surely Mormon lit could do the same.

    3. I like trying to expand the sacrament-meeting talk as an artform. Which may keep me from getting asked too oftern. Here are two I have given (1, 2)

    4. As my wife has noted, there is a danger in standing in front of others–especially if you’re a capable wordsmith–a risk of forgetting what the purpose of the meeting is. So keep that in mind.

    5. Post your talk when you’re done at Chasing. I’ld like to see where you arrive.

  11. I guess that part of the problem for me is that it seemed to me that the story was setting up for something it didn’t deliver. Having the whole thing be a leadup to someone mistaking a list of don’ts for a list of do’s seemed like a letdown to me.

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