On Writing and Permission: Drafting My New Life

Almost exactly two years ago I wrote this post for AMV. It is all about seeking permission– from the commenters, contributors, and readers of AMV, from God, and from myself–to start reclaiming things I had given up or lost. I framed it all in the context of writing and mother-guilt but, reading it now, I can see I wasn’t actually asking for permission to write. I was asking for something much, much larger.

Two years ago, my life was a mess and I wasn’t sure I was going to live much longer to fix it. My marriage was a destructive one and it was slowly killing me. I was having increasing amounts of suicidal ideations and my children were acting out in more and more ways. The things I was working so hard to fix (read: change, hide, or cover-up) weren’t getting fixed and I was finding myself under more and more stress trying to compensate for all the things that happened behind closed doors.  The gory details of my marriage don’t belong on the Internet–they are private experiences and I intend to keep them that way–but here’s what I’m willing to say about it: it wasn’t tabloid-bad but it was bad.

Two years ago, I was waiting for someone–the commenters, contributors, and readers of AMV, God, or myself–to give me permission to stop living half a life, to be a full person, to get out of my marriage.


I was so scared when I wrote that post. Trying to keep myself and my kids afloat inside the context of my marriage was fairly all-consuming and confusing and, in June 2012, the parts of myself that I had given up listening to were telling me quite loudly that it was make-it-or-break-it time. These were the parts that urged me to write, the parts that urged me to keep praying and trusting God. They were also the same parts that told me my marriage was ruining my life. At thirty years old  with four small children, so much of my life was a pile of things I didn’t want and it was time to make it into something else or let it break me down, maybe permanently.

Over the course of my marriage I had found that the more time I spent writing the more cognitive dissonance increased. Flannery O’Connor said, “I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.” Joan Didion echoed that when she wrote, “I don’t know what I think until I write it down.” Whenever I sat down to write the things that kept cropping up were loss and fear and darkness and surrender. The differences between what I presented, that far too common Sunday Face we all know so well, and my reality were strangulating.

Dropping into writing, committing to it, meant hearing all my parts and honoring the truth that was waiting for me there. There was so, so, so much pain and no matter how hard I worked and prayed and wished my marriage was still a mess and I was failing. Big time. Failing at being a present, engaged mother; at fulfilling the Mormon cultural ideals I held at my core; at being a writer; at being a whole human.  There were so many things I had to keep hidden I couldn’t engage in any form of honesty and, turns out, honesty is where a hell of a lot of success, both in writing and life, starts.


It took almost an entire year for the pieces to fall into place, but in May of 2013 God told me it was time to get out. In June of 2013 I moved my husband out of our family home and watched my children’s hearts simultaneously break and start to beat easier. In July of 2013 I filed my divorce papers and finally took an honest look at the seven million broken pieces that were my heart and spirit. In August of 2013 I put my kids in daycare and went back to work. In October of 2013 the divorce was finalized. In March of 2014 our marital house sold and I moved to a new stake, where I could build a life for just my kids and I with a clean slate.

It’s been a year of horribly hard things.

But it’s also been a year of honesty and a year of realizing that not all the failures are mine. My husband failed me. My marriage failed me.  In fact, when it comes right down to it, looking back at all the things I failed at while I was trying to fix my marriage I don’t see so much failure. I see someone doing the best she could in an impossible situation and maybe she wasn’t perfect but maybe being perfect, keeping up with all the things she thought she was supposed to be, was never the point.

Jesus said, “And you shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free.”  Like pretty much every person ever, failure, my own and those of the people around me, were (are!) a massive part of my truth. I had (have!) to accept them in order to be set free.


Freedom, it turns out, is trickier than I thought it was going to be.

When I imagined being out of my marriage. . .well, actually, I never could fill that in. It was a giant blank space. It felt exactly the same as sitting down in front of a blank sheet of paper. Throat tightening. Heart pounding. Expectations rising.  Mind racing. No clue what on earth was supposed to go there.

So I’m doing with my life what I do with blank pages: I’m folding it in half and then in half again because filling small bits of blankness is less overwhelming.

Just like novels get written one word at a time, new lives get written one day at a time. The key is the doing of it.

I get up every morning and I don’t think about the vast expanse known as The Rest of My Life That Isn’t What I Thought it Would Be. Yes, I still say things to myself like, “This is not what I signed up for.” Being a single mom to four kids isn’t easy. Trying to figure out how to make enough money to provide for four kids when my heart is yearning to just get an MFA and dream up novels and poems and teach for the rest of my life isn’t easy. Dealing with being young and divorced in a family-oriented Church isn’t easy. Waiting on God to reveal promised blessings and relying on the strength of my covenants isn’t easy.

But I can rewrite my thinking now. My life might not be what I expected but it is something that, with God’s help and guidance, I can shape. Filling it in, shaping it, writing my own life might not be easy but it’s something I can do. One word, one day, one draft at a time.

My days are now shaped by work and filling in the gaps with things I love: gardening, playing with my kids, exercise, reading, and writing. I still don’t have a novel to hold up as validation or proof of success. Kinda like I don’t have a marriage to hold up as validation for my life choices or as proof of success both as a functional adult and a Mormon. (And believe me, I want that validation so deeply!) But every day I put words on the page and while thousands and thousands of them get edited out and the ones that stay might not ever add up to any great work they fill the empty space, both on the page and in my life. And, sometimes, I even enter that charmed space of inspiration and unexpected moments of musicality and profundity and discovery occur.

It is incredibly satisfying.

Word by word, day by day, the pieces of my broken heart and spirit are being forged into something new, something bigger with nooks and crannies that are healing and filling out. There really is an art to being a whole human and it’s one that I figure, like writing, I’ll spend the rest of my life practicing.

The best part, though? I’m no longer asking for permission because, it turns out, I never actually needed permission. I only needed to write enough to be able to hear myself think.

The New Mormon Pop: Clean Flicks or Artistry?

I am the lucky mother of a tween. She’s nine years old and, while we share a great number of similarities (like hair color), she is different than me in many ways. Example: For Career Day on Friday she’s dressing up like a pop star/fashion model. When I was in 4th grade the only pop star I could name was Debbie Gibson; I was too busy listening to my dad’s LPs of Fiddler on the Roof and The Sound of Music and, oh yes, Saturday’s Warrior. Thanks to iTunes, Spotify, Pandora and the ubiquitous iPod/mp3 gadgets every kid but mine seems to have my daughter has heard more pop music than I have and, well, there’s been some friction.

Now I like pop music as much as the next mom, but I just have a visceral reaction when I hear my nine-year-old belting out Katy Perry or LMFAO or Niki Minaj. I finally had to draw the line at Pitbull. I’ve been doing my research and trying to find “cool” music that will placate her need for auto-tuned lyrics and techno-dance beats without introducing concepts that simply aren’t appropriate for a little girl–because, despite her protestations, she still is one.

Enter The Piano Guys. Seriously, these dudes have saved us many a music battle. Even my 5 year old and 2 year old request  Pepponi on a regular basis. I listen to their stuff for fun, inspiration, and to plow through writer’s block. (I’m actually kind of a super fan; I commented on their Facebook page and they replied and I totally called all my friends and told them. . .)

Of course, my daughter really wants something she can sing along to. Enter artists like Tyler Ward and Megan Nicole. I don’t want to start any Mormon rumors so I’ll just say this: while the Piano Guys sell through Deseret Book, I have no idea if Tyler Ward and Megan Nicole are Mormon–except that they have that Mormon look and change cuss words and questionable lyrics in all their covers to more saccharine/appropriate options. For example, in Megan Nicole’s version of “The Lazy Song” by Bruno Mars instead of waking up, doing some P90X and having some “really great sex”, Megan Nicole does P90X and then has some really great CHEX. Cheesy and silly? Yes. But now my daughter can listen to a song and enjoy it and sing it and she and I don’t end up having long and somewhat tricky conversations.

It recently occurred to me, though, that this is like the musical version of Clean Flicks. Now, if you weren’t living in Utah in the late 1990s and early 2000s you probably have no idea who this company is. The short version is this: they took movies that most Mormons wanted to watch but wouldn’t  because of “questionable” content and edited them to fit a “family friendly” standard. This is the company that made it so Neo in The Matrix said things like, “Oh crud” and “Jeepers Creepers.” They were pretty big business for a few years–until they got shut down by a lawsuit filed by the Director’s Guild who claimed they were violating copyright laws. From what I recall of the court case, directors like Steven Spielberg and Martin Scorsese felt that the CleanFlicks folks were unlawfully trampling and changing their artistic property. They made their movies with “questionable” content because they felt it needed to be there and it was a slap in the face to their artistic integrity to have someone come along and “clean” it up.

So now I’m wondering if these artists like Tyler Ward and Megan Nicole are treading on the same ground. Obviously music copyright works differently and these covers are legal, but what about the aesthetics? Does editing the music so that it is appropriate for my nine year old kill someone’s artistic vision?

For me it’s a moot point. While I don’t mind China Ann McClain, (I love China’s version of Dynamite.) Zendaya, One Direction, and Taylor Swift anything that saves my ears from another Justin Beiber song or a Bella Thorne auto-tune-fest is a gift to me. And, really, the less Katy Perry in my life the better!

What do you think? Do cover songs like this trample the artistic integrity of the original? And, really, is this just a Mormon thing to rewrite pop culture to fit our aesthetics?

And in case you needed it, here’s a favorite of mine from the Piano Guys. Let your inner tween out and bop along!

This Mormon Moment: What will you remember?

Swiped this from Mormon Probs. If you aren't following them, you should be. FUNNY!
Swiped this from Mormon Probs. If you aren't following them, you should be. FUNNY!

(Note: This post is cross-posted at Into the Hills)

As the election season has hit fever pitch these last couple weeks I find myself singing “This Magic Moment” but swapping it out the words so it goes “This Mormon Moment, so different and so new. . ” and it’s making me a little nostalgic.

Having a Mormon run for president has made this last year a “Mormon Moment”, especially the last two months. With writers from Time magazine to CJane to, well, everyone writing about how Mormons and their relationship with America at large will be forever changed.

To be honest, I don’t know that is true for me. Perhaps on a large scale it has contributed to my mostly non-Mormon neighbors having more working knowledge about Mormons, but it certainly hasn’t changed the relationship between us. Nobody has to come to me with burning questions or looked at me less oddly when I mention the Book of Mormon.

Maybe what it has changed is my view of myself. Regardless of whether or not I tend to lean more Mitt Romney or more Harry Reid with my politics, having prominent Mormons in both parties and having countless articles written about what I believe has caused a shift in my thinking. I’m freer now. I can stop worrying that everyone who hears me say, “I’m a Mormon” is going to think that I’m a member of a cult or repressed or whatever. As this article on CNN illustrates people still have a lot of questions but exactly NONE of them are about whether or not I have horns or if my husband has more than one wife. That’s nice.

I think I have two most memorable moments. One thing I will remember, those Doonesbury strips that mashed-up Mormon missionary pitches with conservative political pitches. Mitt Romney as a missionary in France = politician in the making? It was weird and uncomfortable and startling, but also a nod that maybe we’ve finally arrived.

My best moment to remember, would be the Sunday a few months ago when I was teaching a Sharing Time on the priesthood to our Primary. For some reason the kids were confused about what priesthood power was and a leader (it wasn’t me; I know better!) said something along the lines of “There are different kinds of power. The president of the United States has the power to order around armies and navies, but he can’t bless the sacrament. My own son has more power than him when it comes to spiritual things.” Of course, it only took about two seconds for the oldest kids in the room to bug out their eyes and start yelling, “But HE could!” It was only about 2 more seconds until one part of the room started chanting, “Mitt Romney! Mitt Romney!” and another part, “Obama! Obama!” and even one kid to shout out, “Wait! Mitt Romney’s a MORMON??”

We did eventually get them to calm down and laid out a strict policy of no politics in Primary with the kids, but I will never forget the energy in that room of little kids and how quick they were to jump in with their opinions because it was all, suddenly, so very real for them.

But what about you? How has this Mormon moment changed your relationships, both with your neighbors and the greater culture? What will you remember most?

Of Pre(co)cious Value (A review of a new cd for Mormon Youth by Mormon Youth)

Mormon youth do a lot of neat things. From Eagle Scout and Personal Progress projects to maintaining Church standards, being young and Mormon is a unique experience and, like so many Mormon stories, is best explained by the youth themselves. Two teens, musically precocious sisters Sierra and Jenessa Mylroie, are a couple more of those amazing Mormon Youth working to tell their stories through song. Their accomplishment? A cd, Of Precious Value, of entirely new music inspired by the Young Women Values.

The tracks sport a pop/folk sound with the occasional rock tune. Light and airy, this is music (written by the girls and their father, Matt Mylroie) that desires to uplift and inspire. The vocals by both girls are a nice blend of the standard EFY/Felicia Sorenson sound with a little Regina Spektor thrown in. And, while occasionally tinny, there is just enough earnestness to keep the overall sound pleasing.

Take for example the song, “Fly Soar Believe”. Based on a poem written by Jenessa, this 50s retro-pop song is an anthem for the uniqueness of Mormon teenagers. “I’m a little quirky and I like it that way/ I march to my own beat every day,” the song starts out. Then the chorus rings out, “Fly, soar, believe. /Be everything that I want to be. /Live, laugh, love. /My life CAN be what I dream of.” There’s hope and a sort of altruism that seems to only belong to teens with strong faith in those lyrics.

While aimed at teens, I think where this album can be most successful is with the Mormon tween market–where there is a real dearth of products. Too old for “Popcorn Popping” and Scripture Scouts but too young for Jenny Jordan Frogley and John Bytheway, LDS kids ages 9-12 might really respond to the pop strains on Of Precious Value. There is so much heart in this music, even parents might enjoy it too!

Mother versus Novelist (the MMA of mother-guilt, consecration, writing, children, and permission)

When I first got married I was the Relief Society secretary in married student ward. I did a lot of observing. And a lot of visiting. So many, many visits every month to make sure every newlywed woman in the USU 45th ward knew that someone at Church knew her name. It was a good experience but one thing has haunted me for the last decade. And it’s time to get it off my chest.

We went to visit a girl named Tessa, a newlywed living in her in-laws basement apartment while they were on a mission. so the Relief Society president, Ann, and I walked around back of a half-acre hobby farm property and rang a doorbell on It was a lovely visit. We chatted and then shared the message. The Relief Society President and Tessa had a marvelous time. I left with a weight on my chest and my mind in turmoil: all my hopes to be a world-class novelist were dashed. God was against me.

I knew it. In those sacred oh-so-private fleshy tables of my heart, I knew God didn’t want me writing novels. Or anything else. God wanted me to have babies.

Continue reading “Mother versus Novelist (the MMA of mother-guilt, consecration, writing, children, and permission)”

Bizarre and Beautiful Stories: a review of Mahonri Stewart’s new book of plays

Like so many works of literature, Mahonri Stewart’s play The Fading Flower began as a “bizarre and beautiful” dream. It descended on him during his mission showing him, “an old photograph or portrait of Joseph Smith and his family. Joseph Smith was a ghost in the portrait, while Emma and the children were alive. They were all in black and white, except Julia who was in bright color . . . When I awoke I had this powerful, beautiful feeling and all of these impressions were running through my head about writing a play about Emma” (source). It was from there that Stewart began cogitating on the stories of The Prophet’s wife and children and where they must have ended up.

The result of that dream is a sort of Mormon morality play–but not in a bad way. The stage is set with two pulpits on either side and various characters take turns espousing their versions of the truth. Of course, when Brighamites (the term that RLDS members used to refer to Mormons out in Utah) speak from their pulpit they are content to blame Emma and condemn her children. When the sons of Joseph Smith Jr. take to their pulpit they lay right into the Utah Mormons. Both sides are convinced of their own righteousness and the others’ devilish nature. Almost all the characters represent a firm worldview and tend to speak in frank, agenda-driven dialogue thereby becoming the proverbial devils and angels baring down on the shoulders of the youngest Smith son, David. The only problem is David (and the audience) can’t be sure which is the angel and which is the devil.

David was born after Joseph Smith Jr.’s death and carried the fateful burden of being the subject of one of his last prophecies (see this somewhat dubious Wikipedia list for more info). Perhaps because of this prophecy, it is David’s character that struggles the most and follows the only discernible character arc in the play.

Emma, of course, has a sort of character arc too although most of takes place before the play starts. As the title implies, she is fading. Her character is driven not by the men yelling behind pulpits but, just as it was in life, by her husband. Joseph haunts Emma, making the audience wonder if, like Emma at the end of her life, anyone around The Prophet ever truly saw him.

Although the debate in the play hinges on the practice of polygamy (and it’s readability suffers a bit by the didactic nature of that debate), what’s really at stake for the characters (and for modern Mormons as well) are the questions of ultimate truth and infallibility. Can two people holding opposite viewpoints both be right? Can they both be wrong? What if they are a mix of the two? If a leader, whether of a family or a religion, is imperfect does that make her or him wrong in all aspects? What do you do when the story you’ve been told all your life turns out to be much more bizarre–and beautiful–than anything you ever could have imagined? Emma’s slow death and David’s search for truth and subsequent descent into madness are a cautionary tale. As Julia Smith tells her brother, Joseph III, “David did not lose his sanity because he was told the truth in the end, David lost his sanity because he was not told the truth from the beginning. If he hadn’t had a false world constructed around him, he would have been able to endure the real one. . . That’s why when it was our turn to be strong we utterly failed [Mother]. We never let her be fallible” (Kindle location 1636-1638). It is the posing of those questions that make this script work as both a story and a drama.

Swallow the Sun, interestingly, follows an almost opposite story arc. It is the story of C.S. “Jack” Lewis’ early adult years when he was an avowed atheist feeling the pulls of Christianity. Lewis is, of course, a tantalizing individual for Mormons. Besides being an excellent writer of fiction, his skills as an apologist have granted him favored status in the LDS cultural cannon. Stewart’s play pays homage to that by dropping many hints at later Christian-themed writing endeavors. For instance, early on in the play Jack (Lewis’ preferred name in life and Stewart’s choice of character name)–who is seeking to antagonize an avowed Christian–says, “You know, Arthur, what you Christians really need is an advocate. A real, hearty, intellectual strength of an advocate, somebody who can stand up to the bullies likes me” (Kindle location 2208). The line is enjoyable in the banter of the script, but is also funny because the reader knows that this is precisely what Lewis later becomes. Then near the end of the play, as Jack draws up to acceptance of Christianity, he says, “I went on a bus ride the other day. On it, I had this. . . this voice, this feeling come upon me,” which is an obvious allusion to the pivotal bus ride in Lewis’ The Great Divorce (Kindle location 2208).

Because the reader knows the end from the beginning, Swallow the Sun has a much lighter feel to it. The characters function as ideologues egging each other on. Which is one reason that, for me, this play was not as strong as The Fading Flower. Perhaps because it wasn’t as weighty but also because I think it could have benefited from scenes that didn’t center directly on Lewis questions of faith. Or perhaps it’s because in reading this instead of seeing it performed, I missed a lot of context and the resultant characters were flatter. But either way Lewis comes off not so much as a person but as more of a means to an end. I couldn’t help but compare it to Shadowlands and find it wanting, just a bit. The book version of this play (both plays actually) would have benefited from some notes citing historical sources and a few pictures of the productions, just to aid the reader in the imaginative journey. However, I am excited that this play is being made into a movie because I think it will work well in a cinematic style.

Stewart is rightly one of the leading voices in Mormon theater right now. He has a vast body of work and is doing exciting things with his theater company, Zion Theatre Company. Reading his plays maybe never be as good as seeing them performed, but is still worth the effort.

Mahonri Stewart will be at the Springville city Library in Springville, Utah on Thursday June 21st from 7:00-8:00 pm to discuss the life and work of C.S. Lewis as part of the “So You Want to Read!” series. For more from Mahonri be sure to check out his blog, And My Soul Hungered, and his posts over at the AML blog Dawning of a Brighter Day. For more on his theater company go to www.ziontheatrecompany.com

p.s. Dear FCC, I received a free copy of this book from the publisher, Zarahemla Books. And, also, Mahonri is a contributor here at AMV. Take all that to mean whatever you think it should.

More Than Your Everyday Cinderella (Sarah Dunster’s _Lightning Tree_)

Maybe it was because I had just finished reading the first book of the new series, The Lunar Chronicles, when I received Sarah’s Dunster’s novel, Lightning Tree, in the mail but the tale of Magdalena Chabert is every bit a Cinderella story–and then a whole lot more.

Magdalena (Maggie) is a poor girl with a rich inner life who spends an awful lot of time mucking out chicken coops and trying to explain things in broken English. With a cold stepmother, an ineffectual father figure, and step-sisters who are by turns loving and awful, all this story needs is a glass slipper-toting fairy godmother for Maggie to get her ticket to the corn husking party for some “sparking” of her own. But Maggie has no glass slipper. Only dead parents, an uncared for younger sister, a lost brother, and violent nightmares about the suspicious death of her baby sister. Set against the backdrop of “The Cedar Incident” and the prejudices of small town pioneer Utah Lightning Tree is a dramatic story that will keep readers turning pages until every nightmare is brought to light.

Most of the strength of this novel come from the characters created by Dunster. Maggie is a pleasing blend of sarcasm, spunk, and idealism. Her little sister, Giovanna, is just the right amount of charming and exasperating. Their stepfather, Pa Alden, is both stoic and tender and the tension this creates in his character is quite winning. Ma Alden’s (Maggie’s evil stepmother) character is puzzling and contradictory–but in a way that builds tension. Even more secondary charcters, like the Holdens (the token polygamists) are surprising in their nuance. My only wish was that the bad guys, Jed and Uncle Forth, were a little more threatening early in the novel. The Cinderella set-up had me so focused on Ma Alden as the villains that the true bad guys were too unclear for me to take them seriously.

As historical fiction, this book is closer to Ann Rinaldi than Herman Wouk. Or, to put it in Mormon terms this book is closer to Gale Sears than Margaret Young/Darius Gray. All the characters in the book are fictional, except for Maggie’s backstory about the Waldensian Saints. There are no end notes or references. And while questions surrounding the Mountain Meadows Massacre weave in and out of the story if readers don’t have a fairly firm understanding of “The Cedar Incident” already this book won’t give them any help.This is not to say the book isn’t well-researched; it clearly is. But it is more of a period coming-of-age novel than strong historical fiction.

What really sells the book is the overarching philosophical questions–questions that push beyond the realm of a princess rising from the ashes. At one point in the story Henry (Maggie’s love interest) says to her, “One thing you need to learn, Mag. When people love you, you’re accountable to them. Time to throw away that pride of yours, because what happens to you isn’t just your affair” (p 241). Questions about pride versus self-reliance and self-righteousness versus love and family make Lightning Tree a good read and great discussion fodder. It’s your everyday Cinderella story and so much more.

Lightning Tree is available for purchase today. For more about Sarah Dunster check out her website. And, yes, I did receive a free review copy of this book.

What’s on Your Relief Society Birthday Playlist? (Alex Boye??)

This month female members of the Church will be gathering in countless cultural halls with casseroles, crockpots of soup, and rolls in hand–all to celebrate a very special birthday: the anniversary of the founding of the LDS Relief Society. A required Church activity (it’s described in the Handbook of Instructions) this evening which seeks to epitomize the roots of sisterhood is a staple in every RS yearly calender. Along with the soups and ubiquitous chicken salads (the recipe with whole garlic cloves is always a no; the one with avocados and raisins is a surprising yes), there will be a program of some sort celebrating the history of Relief Society and the women who have shepherded the organization from its inception in Nauvoo to its current state as world wide humanitarian powerhouse. There might be women in costume. There might be reader’s theaters. There will definitely be a music.

One year (the only year!) I was put in charge of our ward’s Relief Society Birthday celebration I opted to go with a regular birthday theme. There were balloons on the tables and we all ate Texas sheet cake that one of the sisters had piped with the Relief Society seal and logo. Super creative, I know–but you have to understand this was well before the Pinterest or even sugardoodle.net was around. (Egads, that makes me sound old! So does my use of the word “egads” . . .)The one part where I took a risk was the music. Instead of hymns or the clanging echo of female chatter on the cultural hall walls, I opted for Glenn Miller. I brought a small CD player and set it on the stage (which wasn’t being used that evening) and we all grooved to “Little Brown Jug” and “Pennsylvania 6-5000.” It was fun. It was nice. But it didn’t really hit on the spirit of the Relief Society.

Surprisingly a lot of singers, from your ward and from the big LDS music marketers, are seeking to fill that gap. Just like some Deseret Book musicians release theme music for the youth programs every year, a clutch of DB female LDS musicians release albums aimed at capturing the special sense of sisterhood. Usually it’s ladies like Hilary Weeks (your Facebook feed probably got inundated with this one last fall) or Mercy River. For awhile it was Gladys Knight and the Saints Unified Voices album (who knew “I Am a Child of God” could be so deeply soulful!). And always there are the humble renditions of the hymns “As Sisters in Zion”, “Love at Home”, and “Each Life That Touches Ours For Good” sung by tender-hearted ward members.

A few other songs stick out in my mind. Like the Janice Kapp Perry numbers that graduated with me from Young Women’s into the RS (The presence of “I Walk By Faith” at some of these events is baffling to me). Or Sally DeFord’s “My Sister’s Hands”. The most notable is Mindy Gledhill’s “Emma (Never Had an Ordinary Day)”, which is almost rebellious in its questioning of those who would question Emma. Standing behind Emma, choosing not to judge another woman’s spirituality based on the outcome of her marriage and her children but instead choosing to simply be with her and help her–to my mind that’s the heart of the Relief Society sisterhood.

And just recently I discovered another unforgettable one. Alex Boye’s “Relief Society Tribute” song. Seriously, this one is unforgettable. I can’t not share it with you.

While I unequivocally love Mindy Gledhill’s “Emma” I am a bit divided on Mr. Boye’s offering. On the one hand, I appreciate his compliments and there a couple spots that I actually tear up because he articulates my feelings fairly well. There is a part of me that seems to crave this kind of validation. But then, well, there’s the part where he raps “Put Your Shoulder to the Wheel”. And all the “hey-O!” that makes it so my brain automatically starts singing Taio Cruz. And there’s the surprising (flippant?) mention of Heavenly Mother. I would never compare myself to her, but now that he’s done it I find myself realizing that there’s a reason I don’t compare myself to her–I WILL NEVER MEASURE UP! The perfect women he lauds in this song are, for the most part, not like me. I know this is not the intent of this song, but, well, isn’t there some way to talk about Mormon ladies without idealizing them? Sometimes it seems to me like the old angel-of-the-hearth thing all over again. (Although Hestia is always classified as one of the “Big 12” Greek gods and she is the original Guardian of Home and Hearth, so maybe that isn’t so bad? But I digress.)

I don’t know. Is my discomfort just because Alex Boye’s song is so very, very far from the style that I expect to hear? Or does it epitomize the Mormon woman/Mother-in-Zion syndrome dilemma?

How about you all? What do you make of Boye’s song? What kind of music is central to your Relief Society experience? (And, yes, men please weigh in!)

Emboldening Women (Through Story): an interview with Neylan McBaine, founder of the Mormon Women Project

“Deliberate disorientation” is a phrase Neylan McBaine uses to describe her work with The Mormon Women Project. She achieves this state, as mentioned in Part I of her interview, by choosing stories that focus on “women who prioritize the gospel and yet still make unique and intriguing choices about how to maximize their potential.”

Take the story of Meredith, for example. When her husband of fifteen years decides he is gay and leaves her, it is almost unbelievable that she could ever find that “eternal perspective.” But in reading the details of her story you find out that, well, it actually possible for a woman to move forward with faith. Jana Reiss (of Flunking Sainthood fame) is startling–both in her bifurcated path to baptism and her tendency to pray with people at the drop of the hat–but also delightfully familiar in her struggles for devotional perfection. And then there’s the story of Bindu that makes you stop and say, “Wait. There are Mormons in India? I never even though to ask that question.” What is most astounding is how many, many Mormon women are changing the world at large through creative humanitarian forays. Continue reading “Emboldening Women (Through Story): an interview with Neylan McBaine, founder of the Mormon Women Project”

Emboldening Women (Through Identity): an interview with Neylan McBaine, founder of the Mormon Women Project

These days Mormons can’t seem to get off the op-ed page. As folks who share the faith of Mitt Romney, are subjects of a Tony Award winning musical, and an assertive ad campaign us Mormon are everywhere–and so are stereotypes about us. In a recent interview on Fresh Air with Terri Gross talked with a Romney biographer about Romney’s interactions with a group of Mormon women when he was a stake president. While the story about Romney is interesting, what is more interesting is the way the biographer describes the group of women: they wanted “a more liberalized set of standards”; they “were tired of not being able to speak in church and they wanted changing tables in the men’s restrooms”; “there were a series of things they asked for that they thought would bring women up to maybe not an equal level in the Mormon church but for them to have a greater voice in the life of the Church.”

Now, besides the gross error that Mormon women aren’t allowed to speak in Church, it’s pretty distressing to me that what characterized this group of women as liberals was that they wanted change tables in the men’s room. Really? Getting the men to help care for the babies? Isn’t that a little quaint? The picture this anecdote paints is one done in broad strokes with inexact coloring where the women come out in an ill-educated, unsatisfied, barefoot-in-the-kitchen kind of way. There is little nuance or subtlety and it is ultimately dissatisfying to me in a very personal way.*

However, what makes this piece stand out from so many other misrepresentations is the fact that there was a group of Mormon women who saw a need and found a way to get it met. They were polite, they were strong, and they got the job done. That’s the kind of Mormon woman I identify with–and the kind of women Neylan McBaine is seeking out and presenting to the world with through her Mormon Women Project. The stories she chronicles are the kind so many, many Mormon women identify with as their own. Subjects covered include women of many nationalities, races, and backgrounds. There are stories about surviving sexual abuse and difficult marriages. There are women who come from long legacies of Mormon membership and new converts. The portraits drawn by MWP are detailed, with many tones and hues, and offer a great richness to the picture of Mormon women. Continue reading “Emboldening Women (Through Identity): an interview with Neylan McBaine, founder of the Mormon Women Project”