Laura’s Year End Mini Reviews

When I first started blogging for AMV I had a traditional post every December where I talked about what books I’d read that year by Mormon authors and ranked/recommended them. 2010 was a turbulent year so I missed doing it last year but there was no way I was going to 2011 end without making my list. Thanks to Goodreads, I have a comprehensive list of what I read in 2010 and 2011, so here’s my recommendations for both years. Enjoy and don’t forget to tell me what Mormon books you’ve read lately and would recommend!

In 2010 I read 39 books (yikes! that was not very many!), 12 of which were by Mormon authors. In 2011 I read only 47 books– still short of my “book a week” goal–13 of which were books by Mormon authors. Many of the titles were YA titles because those are the most readily available, but I did manage to buy a few and get my local library to buy a few. Also, I have to say I am a big fan of my ereader and I am excited by the number of LDS/Mormon books available in e-formats. I was not pleased with Deseret Book and difficulty I’ve had with ebooks from their site (why, oh why!, couldn’t they just sell some that are kindle compatible??), but Zarahemla Books has done an awesome job offering a great array of ebooks (see here for Kindle compatible books and here for other eformats). Getting those books for those prices is a steal. Peculiar Pages also does a great job making their anthologies available in eformats. Parables Publishing is even starting to offer some of their titles. Forgive the infomercial tone to this next comment but, seriously, being an avid Mormon reader has never been easier (or cheaper)!

Anyway, on to the rankings: Continue reading “Laura’s Year End Mini Reviews”

How do you push through it? (Mr. Ira Glass, I have a question!)

Whether it’s Malcolm Gladwell’s 100,000 hours or or the proverbial million bad words, Ira Glass wants you to know something:

Ira Glass on Storytelling from David Shiyang Liu on Vimeo.

This will probably come as a (not) startling confession, but I am one of those writers. The one who has a million ideas that most likely have merit but is eternally frustrated by her inability to do those ideas justice. Ira Glass, you have offered me some true comfort. I’m glad to know that every writer is one of those writers. And I know that the solution to that problem is work, but I strongly feel that I have taken myself as far as I can go on my own, so what now?

I think in my more naive writing years I believed that editors would see my potential and guide me into that nebulous sweet spot of writerly Shangri-la. But the truth is editors don’t want to do that. Editors are busy people. They are strapped for time and money. Especially in the Mormon market where most of them work and publish not to make a profit (although, I’m sure they dream about it) but out of the goodness of their hearts and their commitment to our cultural heritage.

I think a lot of folks solve this problem with grad school. But since we are all MFAs (remember when Wm blogged about that? Man, that was a rocking discussion.), I wonder if grad school would actually fill that need or if an MFA program would just be more professors ardently trying to make me agree with, accept, and parrot back their worldviews. Because, well, professors are strapped for time and money too–publish or perish, natch.

Another option that occurs to me is a writer’s group, but, while the Boulder area has many writer’s groups fall into one of two categories:”audition only” groups or a bunch of retirees writing their memoirs for their future grandchildren. I’m not knocking either group–obviously they have found what works for them–but I don’t think I have the chops to make it in an audition group at this point (they come across as rather snarky on their website) and I’m not a retiree writing memoirs for grandchildren. For me the writer’s group has proved depressingly elusive.

I imagine that many of my co-bloggers (Wm, Patricia, Th. and Tyler especially), and many of the AMV readers!, are very tolerant of this phase in my writing. You all hold no illusions about my abilities–which I actually find quite freeing–and have been kind in helping me out in small ways. I’ve also had some great eye-opening experiences with editors at Irreantum, Segullah, and Dialogue. But, again, I know how busy you all are and I hate to impose. (And I hate to embarrass myself, but the relationship between fear and my writing process is really the subject for another post entirely! *cue self-loathing*)

So that leads me to what I want to know: How do you push through it? What do you draw on to increase your abilities and finesse your writing? How do you become the writer you dream of being?

Mormon Kitsch: What’s your secret fave?

5025224_Child_of_God_Pink_productWell, wouldn’t you know Wm has already thought of this one? It’s even in two parts! (You can read about the grand unified theory of Mormon kitsch here and Wm’s actual favorite items of Mormon kitsch here) But that was six years ago, so it’s probably worth revisiting.

My husband and I recently celebrated our tenth anniversary by going on a Big Date. We drove the hour and a half to the Denver temple and then went out to dinner. It was nice (and disorienting to be away from our kids for five whole hours!). And do you know what made it even nicer? Surprisingly, a trip into Deseret Book for a little Mormon kitsch. What we ended up buying was like, well, a godsend. See, we’ve been working on teaching our kids about tithing, saving, and spending and other money matters. I can vividly remember a black, white, and gold three part cardboard bank to hold the three different kinds of money. I used that thing until I was 16 and old enough for a bank account. When we started teaching our kids I tried making them a bank out of cardboard. Then I tried to make one out of plastic containers. Then I tried plastic, cardboard, and duct tape. At one point there were even very small mason jars involved. That was when I realized I was trying to reinvent the wheel.

I feel the need to stop here and mention that I have mixed feelings toward Deseret Book. There have been times I have walked in and found exactly what I looked for and been extremely grateful for the products they provide. (“I am a Child of God” stickers = awesome. As do the cheap scripture marking kits for kids.) Then there are other times where all I can do is cringe because of the mixed messages. (True story: one particularly difficult day I made the decision to take my children to the temple grounds in an effort to feel the Spirit and try to renew my connection with the Lord. It was a little chilly so the kiddos and I stopped at Deseret Book for a Lion House cinnamon roll. The kids spent the whole time in DB in front of a TV that was playing Disney’s Aladdin–you know the part where Jasmine is in the extra skanky red outfit and Jafar is a giant snake trying to kill her? It was that part. Um, Disney, Freud called, he wants to thank you. . . Suffice it to say, DB did a fair amount that day to distract from the spiritual experience I was aiming for.) But lately, as a Primary and Cub Scout leader, I’ve found myself checking out their website to find out what kind of fun stuff is available for the kiddos. I’m often surprised by how many things I like.

Anyway, on our anniversary, I found the tithing banks. Not the exact ones from my childhood but 3 or 4 different kinds that suited each of my different kids. My husband and I were both surprised and grateful. That product would make things so much easier! The banks even came with little lock and keys, which my kids played with endlessly–until they lost them.

The other thing we found? An “Our Family Rules” wall hanging. When I picked it up my husband asked if it had been personalized for our family. The answer was no; someone just knows what it’s like to have more than one or two kids and put those feelings into words.

The piece de resistance? A parenting book! I’m a sucker for parenting books and read quite a lot of them, but my main complaint is that the techniques are almost always aimed at families with one or two children. The techniques worked great until I had more kids than hands. Since then I’ve been looking for some more practical advice. Enter Marilee Boyack’s The Parenting Breakthrough. Not all the ideas have worked for my family, but some of them have made a real difference and I recommend this book to a lot of people.

Now, I do have quibbles with each of these pieces. The stereotypes on the tithing banks bother me a bit. (What? Girls can only earn money by babysitting and they all want to be ballerinas? And why are they all blond? And boys can only mow lawns??) The style of the wall hanging is a little more Stampin’ Up!/country chic than I usually go for. And Merilee Boyack’s tone is the epitome of that strange Relief Society rhetoric that is both self-defeating and self-aggrandizing. But overall each of these items filled a need in my family. (When my kids are laying into each other I point to the rules and remind them, “A little forgiveness goes a long way!” ‘Nough said. And, even if I don’t like her tone, when it comes to figuring out who sits where at the dinner table without arguing Boyack’s method is seamless.) And it’s a good thing.

So, the long and the short of it is this: I own Mormon kitsch. And I’m not sorry.

How about you? What cheesy Mormon products work for your family? Which ones do you own and proudly display? Which ones are cringeworthy?

The Year of the Boar by Anneke Majors (a review)

51CdUcbb1eL._SL500_AA266_PIkin3,BottomRight,-16,34_AA300_SH20_OU01_ “My lifetime is shorter than my literary ambitions” writes Anneke Majors in the forward* to her new book, The Year of the Boar. She continues, “Many of the stories came to me in a much more barebones form than you see here. . . But I stand by these stories as true stories because the characters are true. Everything that actually matter is real.”

And so begins The Year of the Boar, a lovely and comforting offering in the genre-blending “autobiographical novel” style of Coke Newell’s On the Road to Heaven.

Primarily a missionary tale that follows the author’s own mission in Japan, this novel-in-stories swirls in and out of time–even jumping to the future in a final section– but finds its anchor in the Chinese Zodiac and the soulful Sister Majors, who seems to be the very embodiment of the traits of the zodiac Boar. She is diligent (when it comes to persevering through bad weather she beats the US Postal service) and compassionate (when stuck with a negative companion she tries to love that companion by always finding positives and doing the emotional lifting). She is extremely likable and everything a sister missionary should be.

However, the story seems to shine most in the small moments of transitory characters. My personal favorite was Tetsuo, a man who survived World War II in Japan, helped translate the democratic constitution and later serves a public servant. Tetsuo’s defining moment comes when he finds a crucifix (“the European god nailed to the character for ten like they always depicted him”) in a bombed out Christian church. Majors writes,

“[Tetsuo] thought for a moment about taking it home, showing it to his mother, keeping it as a curio. But as he went to slip it into his sack, he felt a pang of guilt. It wasn’t his to keep, and it should be with someone who would know how to take better care of their god than he. The statue’s face was pitiful, contorted with pain. For so long he had resented this big European church up on the hill, staring down at them all like it deserved to be above them. He had had no regard for the Europeans or their little god, but now, holding it in his hands that way, it looked so frail. He hesitated, wanting to make the right choice. But was leaving it on the ground in the rubble the right choice either? He decided to hold onto it, but only for safekeeping. He would come back when there was someone back to rebuild or take care of the church in some way, and he would return their god to his house, hopefully a house that would be strong and beautiful again.”

Moments like this one, small moments where the characters must negotiate between the ever-shifting political and spiritual forces around them, are what give this book its heart.

Occasionally, the book stumbles. Some characters appear and are lost too quickly in the revolutions of the zodiac calendar, making their backstories hard to hold on to (although a family tree would have been helpful in alleviating some of that). Other times bits of Mormon phraseology creep in where they shouldn’t (at one point a Baptist minister offers to pray over a man’s dying wife and asks, “would you like me to be the voice” in a way that seems a bit too home-teachery). Sisters Majors tends to think in run-on sentences that often take up paragraphs at a time and give the book a rushed feeling. There are even odd moments of over-explaining, like when a fictional Chinese stake is being formed in 2013 and the author stops to explain what a stake means to Mormons.

But overall the book is ambitious and heartfelt. Sister Majors’ love for Asian cultures and peoples, her love for the gospel, and her own personal optimism make The Year of the Boar an enjoyable read. Full of interesting historical tidbits about Japan and China, and small period vignettes in Texas and France and even Algeria, this is an ideal book for book clubs and summer reading. It is, as the author insists, very real. And very good.

*This is the first book review I have written after reading the work on my Kindle. Since there are no page numbers and the “high-light location” numbers are not reliable I have zero idea how to cite quotations. The best source I could find for how to cite a Kindle ebook was this website which said to reference sections. I’m still figuring out how to figure out what section things are in. So for more details about the quotations and references above you’ll just have to read the book yourself!

Monsters, Animals a Cappella (THROAT and Mister Tim in Concert June 9th!)

Fresh from their big win at the Rocky Mountain Harmony Sweepstakes (Champions and Best Song “Monsters, Animals, THROAT (a band that’s managed by and includes Mister Tim) will be performing TONIGHT (8:00-11:00 pm) at the Velour Music Gallery 135 N. University Ave Provo, UT.

Lyrics with esoteric leanings, a fair amount of techno, and a female lead with the airiness of Emmy Rossum and the edge of Regina Spektor makes THROAT a unique a cappella experience. Their new music is a demanding experience; no checking out or half-listening options available. Several tunes are definite toe-tappers (my favorites are “On and On” and “180”). Some of them are strange enough to leave you in a stupor (“ala Floyd” being one of them. Of course, that might be the point of the homage in that particular tune). But all of them are worth listening to. Check ’em out!

THROAT

Spreading the Gospel of Mormon Arts

Recently on Facebook I linked to Mahonri’s post about The Book of Mormon Musical over at Dawning of a Brighter Day. The conversation that ensued was awesome and a few really good moments came out of it for me.

The first moment came when I wrote this in response to a friend (who is not LDS) who asked why the rest of the world should care about Mormons in the first place: “What really is interesting and important to me is that Mormonism is a particular way of being in the world and interacting with the world. I would venture that it is a unique way of existing and as such it offers unique perspectives on what it means to be human in general. I personally feel like I have gained a lot of insight, compassion, and other such desirable human virtues from engaging in other cultures’ artistic and spiritual works. I hope that at some point it would be possible for others to engage with Mormon art and culture in a similar manner. But the current cultural climate in America isn’t conducive to that. And, perhaps more importantly, the larger part of the current artistic climate in Mormon culture isn’t conducive to that. There are a few artists, musicians, and writers that I think are creating that kind of art, but it takes a lot of work to find it and engage in it–and if that isn’t everyone’s priority, that’s okay. I just wish more people knew it was out there.” It was a great moment because it was the first time I’ve ever been able to effectively articulate why I care so darn much about what Mormon artists are producing.

Another great moment came when several friends who were not LDS weighed in on their feelings and experiences when well-meaning Mormon folk give them Books of Mormon. If I thought it was germane (and not a breech of confidence) I would repost their comments here. Suffice it to say, it really widened my thinking on missionary efforts and on how we need to condition our hearts much more carefully before flinging our beliefs about.

And a final great moment was when a friend asked me for recommendations of Mormon writers, musicians, and artists who aren’t pushing didactic works but simply chronicling the Mormon experience. I was quick to supply a list of books (_Rift_ and _Long After Dark_ by Todd Robert Petersen; _Angel of the Danube_ by Alan Rex Mitchell; _The Conversion of Jeff Williams_ by Doug Thayer; _Bound on Earth_ by Angela Hallstrom; _Where Nothing is Long Ago_ and _A Little Lower Than the Angels_ by Virginia Sorensen; and the memoir _The Year My Son and I Were Born_ by Kathryn Lynard Soper.) But I floundered a bit when it came to recommending music and artists.

The similarities between sharing what I believe to be great art and about what I believe to be real Truth in the universe was surprising to me. I was passionate and careful about both. I didn’t want either subject to come off as preachy or unapproachable or close-minded. It thrilled me to the core to be able to talk about things that were so influential in my life.

So I want to know: what experiences have you had spreading the good news of emerging quality Mormon Art? What artists, musicians, movies and books do you recommend? Please link to them in the comments; I need a good resource for referring my friends!

Cupcakes Can Kill You. . . (An Interview with Mr. Tim Part II)

MisterTimMics10x8_72-300x240The second part of this interview is really more of a guest post. Mr. Tim one of the few people I know who lives artfully. He doesn’t just make music in his studio and then come home and forget about it. He doesn’t go to Church and be Mormon on Sunday and then go and be a musician and performer on Saturday. All the parts of his life intersect and feed off each other to create an aesthetically unique existence. Which is probably why he gave me such a long and fabulous answer when I asked him about religion and music.

For Part One of this interview click here. For more about Mister Tim go to mistertimdotcom.com Or you can look him up on facebook.

LHC: How does your religion intersect with your music? Does being Mormon influence your creative process?

Mr. T: These things drive everything I do: I want it to be clean, I want it to be inspiring, and I want it to MATTER.

I cut my teeth as a professional performer, and in the a cappella world, with my comedy quartet moosebutter. moosebutter was an outgrowth of many of my musical influences, but also, as it turns out, of my odd sense of humor. Comedy group, singing silly songs, and yet I always felt that moosebutter was a spiritual group. In fact the initial inspiration for the group, and every significant event that lead to the development and progression of the group, was very spiritual. As a group, and now by extension as I incorporate comedy into my solo act, comedy has always served to break down doors and open minds to the gospel, or at the very least to the idea that Mormons are real people. moosebutter did a lot of touring, and I now travel all over the country, and Mormonism ALWAYS comes up. With moosebutter it usually came up because we were from Utah or from the fact that Weston spent a section of the show jumping around and shrieking in Spanish. When asked about the language, he would always tell people that he had served a Spanish-speaking mission for the church.

What about not-comedy music?

When I am inspired. . .when I am moved by the Spirit . . .I write music. I usually carry my own hymn book to church, because in the middle of singing hymns I get song ideas and the easiest place to write is in the book I’m holding. When I am at peace, when I feel a connection to the divine, I write music. I do not write overtly religious music. I, personally, do not enjoy listening to “inspirational” LDS music. Nothing against those musicians, and nothing against those who listen to it, I just don’t enjoy it. And I certainly don’t need to write that kind of music, because there are lots of people doing it better than I ever would. But beyond me not enjoying it, that’s simply not what comes out when I write.

[Laura’s note: Go here and check out some of Mr. Tim’s hymn arrangements. He says they are works in progress and would welcome any feedback. I really like “Silent Night”.]

I write about some very heady subjects, some very dark subjects: addiction, human brutality, frustration, depression. I feel that I have a responsibility to at least try to share messages of hope and redemption with audiences that are typically not LDS. That requires a different kind of delivery. I still write a lot of comedic songs, or I think more accurately still find comedic or quirky elements emerging in songs: sometimes to soften the delivery of the material, but sometimes just because I tend toward a slightly-twisted delivery. I think it’s a good mix: a song like “Cupcakes Can Kill You” is straight up silly”¦ but, if you ask my English-degreed wife, it’s also a biting satire. Even if I’m not trying to be funny, the goofy creeps in, because that’s who I am. But,
that’s not all I am, and it can be difficult getting people to even listen to my songs that don’t have punchlines.

[There is also a real] burden of fear: fear that I’m wasting my time, fear that my life and my work will not be of consequence, fear that in trying to make music that has popular appeal that I will make it shallow, or morally compromised; fear of working in a service industry, and that I’ll not be able to make a living.

Even if I am inspired to write something, does not mean it will be successful. The process, the work, the editing is mine to do. It is not uncommon to have tangible bursts of spiritual inspiration, and to have the resulting work fail miserably. Why? Leading to something more? Just because something is inspirational to me, if it feels directed or touched by the spirit, does not mean it will necessarily be inspiring to someone else. To expect that it will be, that my inspiration will equate to commercial success, or a publishing deal, or mainstream attention, that kind of sells short the diversity of workings of the spirit, doesn’t it? Who am I to limit what inspiration is intended for?

Some of my most successful work was not inspired in a powerful or notable way, but just happened; in fact, I think most of my best work did not feel bosom-burny at the time of conception, did not have Ensign article-worthy experiences, but just”¦ happened. They came out like they were the most natural thing in the world, just made sense, just worked. If I look back on them, most of those probably came from progress made from other projects, and probably are connected to some of the inspired work that failed.

As I travel as a solo act, I always mention that I have (as of two months ago) 6 children. Not hard for people to figure out (“are you Catholic or Mormon?”), and then all of a sudden they know a Mormon, and he’s this guy they saw on stage who did this cool thing, and maybe he was funny, and “¦ well. Once they think I’m “cool” I can talk about anything and it has the chance to get through. When I tell college kids in North Carolina that I don’t drink, some of them look at me like it has literally never crossed their mind that someone can not drink”¦ but now it has crossed their mind. I spend a lot of time working with students, and usually all I want is for them to see clean, uplifting art. And if not art, then at least clean and uplifting. There is a lot of entertainment out there, and not much is clean. The best experiences I’ve had as a performer is when families come up after a show and tell me (or us) that everyone in the family loved what I/we did. Something fun, memorable, and clean that a whole family can do together: not a bad days work.

I feel very strongly about moral questions, political questions, and ideological issues that I see as vital to the health of society and the health of individuals. The problem with important issues like these is that the artist cannot be obvious when trying to speak about these issues. The audience will tune out if you are overt. The art is finding a way to speak truth without being preachy.

Be sure to check out Mr. Tim’s online calendar to see about upcoming performances. He’ll be in Utah March 9-11. He is also available for school assemblies, work as artist in residence, and workshops. Also check out his mp3 store where you can purchase music or listen to tracks in their entirety. Also, his work is available at the Plumbers of Rome and Vocality Singers websites.

“Cupcakes Can Kill You. . . (An interview with Mister Tim in two parts)

. . . especially when they’re made with death,” says Mister Tim, the quirkiest voice in a cappella music.

I’ve known Mister Tim for more than 5 years and witnessed many artistic incarnations. The earliest (for me) was as our ward choir director. Intense, focused, squinting with the effort of tweaking our voices into a semblance of harmony and with one ear always turned toward the choir Mister Tim–er, I mean, Brother Tim–did his own arrangements of hymns and sang all the music as if it were being performed for the first time every time. Ward members still talk about his performance of “O, Holy Night.”

The next incarnation, which he had been inhabiting since college, was Moosebutter. Like most college a cappella bands Moosebutter focused on and perfected the silliness inherent in singing “classic” music, like “Popcorn Popping”, with that characteristic BYU-comedy flair. They were big with the ten year olds and all their parents for being able to comically riff on everything from Harry Potter to Spam to Jon Williams (who is most definitely the man), for which they were nominated for a People’s Choice Award.

From there Mister Tim went on to work on the Vegas Strip and put together, manage, and perform in many other a cappella groups. When his stint in Vegas ended and he and his family rolled back into Colorado he came with yet another incarnation: Vocal Magic.

Vocal Magic is a multifaceted one man show that hinges on Mister Tim’s prodigious vocal textures, far-reaching vocal range, and his ability to work three sound effect pedals that enable to sing with himself and mix his voice in real time–a process called live looping. Part stand-up comedy, part poetry slam, and part performance art, Vocal Magic was like nothing I had ever seen before. My first thought: If T.S. Eliot could have sang and Allan Ginsberg had known how to beatbox and been stuck in one body, they could have been reincarnated as Mister Tim. Vocal Magic was like nothing I’d ever seen but it was definitely something I wished to see again.

Mr. Tim graciously agreed to be interviewed. His answers were thorough enough and thought-provoking enough that I split the interview into two parts. Here’s part one.

LHC: How are you feeling today? (Fuzzy, spacey, ???)

Mr. T: Perpendicular.

LHC: Tell me about the modern a cappella scene. Until I saw your show whenever I thought of a cappella I always thought of those guys from “Where in the World is Carmen San Diego?” How has a cappella grown and changed?

Mr. T:There is a great deal of detail and nuance to this answer. “A Cappella” to most people, I think, means Rockapella (Carmen San Diego), or a barbershop quartet, or a college group like BYU’s Vocal Point, or, more and more frequently, “GLEE” (even though there has only been one actual a cappella song on that show). But, even Rockapella, still touring the world 15 years after Carmen San Diego went off the air, is nothing like they were on that show: [now] they are a technology-dependent pop act. There are groups that use stacks and stacks of expensive sound gear, like Naturally 7 who are touring with Michael Buble.

Really there are three ways to define “a cappella”: 1) the most basic– meaning any music performed without
instruments, regardless of style (including when rock bands sing a section of their song without instruments, like the beginning of Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody”); 2) what seems to be the popular interpretation of a cappella, which is the Rockapella version, or the college a cappella version, or even the barbershop version, which carries a fragrance of dorkiness; 3) and “contemporary” a cappella, which is a movement of modern musicians doing modern music at a very high level, usually incorporating vocal percussion, and usually depending on technology to create the same auditory punch as a “˜real’ band.

My history in a cappella really follows the progression of contemporary a cappella. I listened to The King’s Singers (classical) in high school, saw BYU’s Vocal Point at one of BYU’s very first a cappella jams; I had friends bootlegging a cappella radio programs onto cassette tapes and passing them around; I was introduced, through rumor at first, to The House Jacks, and then by the late 90’s to m*pact. I started attending a cappella conferences, and growing less satisfied with the traditional a cappella standard and wanting”¦ more. And there were groups doing more, and I gravitated to them. Then I started making my own groups, and have been skewing further and further from “traditional” a cappella since then, although I still keep the traditional stuff around because it makes $.

When most people call me wanting to hire “an a cappella group,” they want something like early 90’s Rockapella, or like a college group. Recognizable covers, bare-bones vocal sound, oftenthey want something a little corny (which is part of that old-school a cappella”¦ thing).

LHC: What attracted you to live looping? How is it different from traditional a cappella?

Mr. T: My wife and I used to joke that I was constantly disappointed with the other singers in my groups because what I really wanted was for all the singers in my group to be me. Well, looping lets me do that! I get to sing everything just the way I want it sung, and I don’t have to wait for other people to learn their parts.

Other reasons I started live-looping: a) I want to go out and perform as often as possible, but couldn’t get the other people in my groups to go all the time; b) There are lots of paid shows that come up that don’t pay enough for a whole group, but are good money for just one person; c) I saw other people do it, and it looked like fun.

But, one of the biggest factors: I love teaching. I love teaching. The problem with the kind of teaching I do, where I drop in and talk to kids in their regular music classes, or in assemblies, or at music festivals, is that if they don’t know who I am, they don’t care about what I have to say. If I’m there with a group, they hear the group sing, they think it’s cool, then they’ll listen. But I want to be teaching as often as possible, visiting classes, flying out to music festivals, showing up at concerts. I can’t afford to fly a whole group out to these kinds of things for free, which most of them demand (even the big a cappella festivals where I teach I have to pay my own way there unless I’m one of the headline performers). But now that I’ve got a solo act, I can drop in on a class with my small sound system that takes less than 5 minutes to set up, sing a couple of songs,
the kids think it’s cool, and then when I speak, my words matter. It’s a pedagogical thing.

Artistically, what attracts me now to continue live-looping is that it really is rare to have one person doing looping with just the voice. Novelty factor, and if done well and if we find the market I’ve got a corner on the market. I do enjoy the constraints: a lot of my material has developed to address specific issues of how to keep the show from being boring, dealing with the repetitive nature of the loop, not being able to change the music once it’s laid down without completely starting over. Limiting, yes, but has forced me to adapt in ways and to develop new approaches to my performing that I think have greatly improved the overall impact of my
performance.

LHC: I know you’re a fan of all types of music, but what musicians and songs/works have stuck with you over the years?

Mr. T: The 3 B’s: Bach, Beethoven, Barenaked Ladies (I don’t like Brahms); Midnight Oil; Kingston Trio; Manheim Steamroller; Spike Jones; Weird Al Yankovic; Alan Sherman; Smothers Brothers; Brandon Flowers; John Adams

To be continued, but while you are waiting feel free to enjoy this:

In Happy Ways: Prophecy, Stereotypes, and Mormon Mommy Blogs

Image credit: Jen Clothing
Image credit: Jen Clothing

Late, late Saturday night I was listening to my daily scripture reading and working on a fairly rudimentary painting of Lehi’s Tree of Life for my Sunday morning Primary Sharing Time (imagine a cross between a truffula tree and the burning bush with dots of sparkly nail polish) when my sister emailed me this article from Salon.com: Why I can’t stop reading Mormon housewife blogs.

I was blown away. It never occurred to me that anyone outside Mormon Mommy-dom was obsessing over the details of those blogs. I mean, sure C Jane is pretty funny and often poignant. And NieNie made it on Oprah. (You go, girl! I’m not sure if I’m talking to NieNie or Oprah there.) A few years back I even read a quote in Newsweek from Feminist Mormon Housewives. Who knew Mormon Mommies were gracing not only the pages of Salon.com but also Jezebel and Vogue? Heck, an old friend of mine from high school just had her cookbook released nationwide, through Shadow Mountain, and it’s got “Mormon Moms” in the title.

Is it possible that Mormon Mommies actually have some cultural capital?

My first thought was that this is the fulfillment of prophecy. Remember this quotation from Spencer W. Kimball?

My dear sisters, may I suggest to you something that has not been said before or at least in quite this way. Much of the major growth that is coming to the Church in the last days will come because many of the good women of the world (in whom there is often such an inner sense of spirituality) will be drawn to the Church in large numbers. This will happen to the degree that the women of the Church reflect righteousness and articulateness in their lives and to the degree that the women of the Church are seen as distinct and different–in happy ways–from the women of the world. “¦ Thus it will be that female exemplars of the Church will be a significant force in both the numerical and the spiritual growth of the Church in the last days.

It would seem that Mormon Mommy bloggers are fulfilling this prophecy in ways no one ever anticipated. The ubiquitous love of vintage dresses, excellence in cupcake making, and a proclivity for cutesy cards and furniture reupholstering has propelled these women to the forefront and given them an interesting, and probably unforeseen, chance to introduce the world to Mormons.

For me, though, the article at Salon.com is reason to celebrate but also begs a question: will Mormon Mommy bloggers, and as an extension, Mormon women, ever be seen as something more than a stereotype? It seems that to the wider world the nuanced expressions of Mormon women are reduced into two camps: the bright, simple, happy mom who loves Jesus, loves her husband, and loves her cupcakes and the somewhat disaffected, itching-for-change woman who isn’t sure why she’s a Mormon at all. But the world of Mormon women is so much more than that. What about the divorced Mormon woman who still bakes cupcakes for fun? What about single women of the Church who are making waves in their professions? What about the woman who loves Jesus and itches for change? (And, if you are like me you are wondering, “What about those of us who don’t wear vintage dresses?!?!”) Where are those blogs?

Just because we bake cupcakes doesn’t mean we’re simple. And just because we don’t bake cupcakes doesn’t mean we’re not good Mormon women.

It seems like the narrative of the Mormon women within Mormon-dom has only recently opened up to models other than those two stereotypes. Segullah, Mormon Mommy Wars and probably a lot of other blogs that I haven’t ever heard of are expanding the definition of what a Mormon woman can be and how she can best fulfill her covenants. We are just starting to work our way out of self-limiting molds. Let’s hope we find a way to avoid being pushed back into them by the rest of the world. Being different in happy ways means just that: being different and happy. Not being stereotyped.

How about you all? Any of you closet Mormon mommy blog readers? What stereotypes of Mormon women do you see in the bloggernacle and Mormon literature? What are your favorite representations of Mormon women?

15 Authors in 15 minutes–Mormon style!

It seems the “15 authors in 15 minutes” meme is making the rounds again on Facebook. Most, if not all, of my Mormon friends listed the Book of Mormon or Joseph Smith as one of their fifteen. Some even went so far as to identify Moroni or Isaiah or Paul as an author. A few listed books by Stephen Robinson or one of the Apostles. Besides one mention of Rough Stone Rolling, none of them listed a non-doctrinal work by a Mormon author. Seriously. Bestsellers/cult fads like Twilight didn’t even make anyone’s list.

It got me wondering. Mostly about how many readers actively seek out Mormon titles or even know if a given author is Mormon. It also got me wondering how many people I know could list 15 Mormon authors, especially if I told them they couldn’t include General Authorities and prophets or their wives. Could people even name 15 non-doctrinal books?

So I’m putting the challenge to you all: Name me 15 Mormon authors in 15 minutes–but no General Authorities or prophets. Or name me your top 15 Mormon books. I suppose you can include doctrinal works here because, let’s face it, the doctrine of the Church is powerful and evokes strong responses. BUT see what you can do if you had to stick to fiction/historical titles. And what about ranking them? What non-doctrinal work would you rank as most influential in your reading?

I’m going to hold off posting my list since I don’t want to sully any of your good thinking. So set your timer and get typing!