On Reading within the Context of Gospel Values: An Open Letter to Young Mormons (Part 2)

ICYMI: In part one of this letter, I address BYU-Idaho’s mission as a Church-sponsored university and place learning and reading within a gospel context; in the second half I walk through a reading of an essay titled “Medical Student” using the principles I outline in my opening discussion. (To encourage engagement with “Medical Student,” . The link will die at the end of this week. If you find this post after 1.17.2015 and would like to read the essay, email me at tyler [at] motleyvision [dot] org.)


I’ve shared this statement especially because it addresses the concern some students have that despite the fact that active Latter-day Saints try not to profane the Lord’s name or to otherwise use foul language, they felt they had compromised their moral standing by reading essays that contain profanity. I hope Pres. Young’s words clarify the idea that the inclusion of such stories in BYU-Idaho’s curriculum isn’t intended to condone the behavior in those stories or to force students into compromising their standards for the sake of a grade. To paraphrase him: “Shall BYU-Idaho practice evil? No; neither has BYU-Idaho told you to practice it, but to learn by the light of truth every principle there is in existence in the world.” Continue reading “On Reading within the Context of Gospel Values: An Open Letter to Young Mormons (Part 2)”

On Reading within the Context of Gospel Values: An Open Letter to Young Mormons (Part 1)

I’ve taught first-year writing at BYU-Idaho since 2010. The curriculum for the course I teach includes a student essay titled “Medical Student” by Margaret Parker. The essay is a well-written, day-in-the-life narrative profiling one aspect of the intense life lived by a med student named JD; this intensity is conveyed through the narrative’s fast-pacing and through some mild profanity. Because this life experience is likely completely foreign to BYU-Idaho’s student base, “Medical Student” appears on the reading list as part of a course unit called “Thinking about the Other.” The unit claims the following objectives:

This unit invites you to reflect on the question–who are they?–insofar as it can be answered by examining the beliefs, values, and experiences of other individuals whose perceptions of “reality” differ from your own. The assumption underlying this unit is that before you can engage in constructive communication about academic, social, and political issues, you must be able to understand and accurately report the experiences and positions of others.

At the end of this unit, you should be able to conduct effective primary research, such as observing and interviewing, to understand and accurately communicate the experiences and positions of someone whose perceptions differ from your own.

Within this context, “Medical Student” is meant to stretch students’ thinking about the people with whom we share this world, especially those who don’t share Latter-day Saint values. Some students (not a lot) struggle to get past the essay’s profanity and have approached me with their concerns. Which is fair enough: if they don’t want to read the essay, that’s their prerogative. One semester, though, a student had major concerns about it, which prompted her/him to worry about the school’s spiritual standing. The response escalated beyond anything I had previously experienced (I won’t go into details) and it prompted me to pray and think deeply about such concerns and how I might best address them with future students to encourage them to look at their education within the context of gospel values. The following letter grew out of that experience. I’m sharing it here because it explores a way of looking through the lens of Mormonism when we read texts that come from outside the Mormon literary tradition. Continue reading “On Reading within the Context of Gospel Values: An Open Letter to Young Mormons (Part 1)”

The Writing Rookie Season 2, #5: Writing in the Plane Style

For the complete list of columns in this series, .

Recently in a over at the AML blog, William Morris (someone I greatly respect and often agree with) talked about being frustrated by his first drafts because “the language seems so mundane.” Which resulted in one of those sinking feelings on my part — you know, like the one you get when the speaker in sacrament meeting talks about how bad things were when they missed their daily family scripture study, just when you were feeling good about reading scriptures together once last week. Or maybe like how you feel — at least, the way I feel — when I turn on the radio to one of those money management programs that keeps talking about how much I should already have saved for my retirement. But that’s another (though not entirely unrelated) topic.

The point is that I don’t really feel like much of a stylist. Sure, I revise — but it’s not to achieve any kind of lyrical prose effects. Really, I have only 2 main goals: to make my writing quick, clear, and easy to read, and achieve some kind of consistency in my characters’ voices. Those are hard enough.

Continue reading “The Writing Rookie Season 2, #5: Writing in the Plane Style”

The LDS writers’ secret weapon for creativity

You know how the pragmatic version (as opposed to the philosophical, sociological or aesthetic versions) of why LDS writers don’t produce great art includes the fact that we tend to be so busy that we don’t have a ton of peak energy time to devote to artistic creation? As in: between work and parenting and managing the household and fulfilling our religious obligations, we don’t have a whole lot left in the tank when it comes time to write.

Good news: our lifestyle may very well be a secret weapon.

One of Jonah Lehrer’s “creativity hacks” that accompanys his recent Wall St. Journal article on How to Be Creative is: Get Groggy.

Lehrer writes: “According to a study published last month, people at their least alert time of day — think of a night person early in the morning — performed far better on various creative puzzles, sometimes improving their success rate by 50%. Grogginess has creative perks.”

So there you go. Since for most of us the writing happens late at night or early in the morning or in the afternoon when the baby/toddler is taking a nap, and we’d like to take a nap too, we are totally primed for accruing the creative perks of grogginess. Perhaps we should all teach early morning seminary. Or switch off and on daylight savings every other month.

The Writing Rookie Season 2, #4: Yes, I’m a Stalker — Er, Writer

For the complete list of columns in this series, .

A couple of months ago — shortly after my oldest son got back from his mission — I hijacked him for a day to go driving with me in the northeastern suburbs of St. Paul, about 45 minutes from where I live. He, unwary soul, neglected to ask the purpose of our expedition prior to departure. When eventually he did discover the purpose — to check out a neighborhood and high school that I’ve adopted as the model for the set of novels I’m working on at present — much eye-rolling was evidenced. (Note my clever use of the passive voice to clue the reader in to just how clever I am. For, um, using the passive voice. Yeah.)

Continue reading “The Writing Rookie Season 2, #4: Yes, I’m a Stalker — Er, Writer”

The Writing Rookie Season 2, #3: The Search for a Writing Group

For the complete list of columns in this series, .

Back when I was in college, one of the best things I ever did was join Xenobia, an sf&f writing group. It was a great experience. I didn’t do much writing back then, but the process of reading, giving critiques, and listening to other people’s comments taught me a lot about both writing and what I value as a reader. For several years, it served as one of my primary social groups. Some of the people I met there have become longtime friends — people I’m still in contact with today.

As a writing group, Xenobia is no more, alas. (It still exists as a kind of email list where people share news and encouragement from time to time.) And I truly regret it, because now that I’m finally trying to get my own creative writing going again, I find that I need both readers to react to my work and people I can bat ideas around with.

Continue reading “The Writing Rookie Season 2, #3: The Search for a Writing Group”

Is the dilettante ready to commit?

I will cop to a certain amount of pride in my dilettanteism. I will also admit that there might be some fear involved as well. And I will also say that I have been thinking for a while that it’s time to settle on something so when I listened to the very first episode of back in February, and heard Sarah, Rob and Marion talking about how you need to choose a genre, it was like a punch in the gut. I can’t even settle on a form, let alone a genre.

But even though I’d received this message many times in the past, I resolved to take it seriously and so I did an inventory of semi-viable (as in: not dead yet) projects. The result: 1 play, 2 essays, 14 works of fiction — a mix of literary fiction, science fiction, fantasy, and parable — and 1 epic-ish poem. And then I decided that based on my current interests, and where the majority of my short stories clustered, and what I enjoyed reading (although I read across a fairly wide range of genres), I needed to focus on fantasy with a literary sheen. And by that, I probably mean slipstream, but maybe not exactly, and, of course, it’s probably not the smartest of choices since it’s not the hottest of sub-genres at the moment, but it seemed to suit me. I even went so far as to secure a twitter account and domain name, and then spend a couple of hours installing textpattern and realizing that it really isn’t all that interesting of a CMS. Meanwhile I was actively not writing. Classic trap, but self-awareness of my bad habits makes things worse in my case. I tend to deliberately step in things rather than avoid them. Continue reading “Is the dilettante ready to commit?”