12/7/16

day 12 (decisions)

A decision we made. (It took slightly longer than 8 minutes.)



I remember:

I slept on the couch the night before, curled up under the big picture window in a house that never was mine.

The first thing I saw when I woke up was blue. Filling the windows that bright spring morning, stretching across the sky, perfect and cloudless.

An entire future written on the shell of a robin's egg.

My first thought was joy- big as the sky, cold as the air outside.

You remember:

The way I looked walking down the hall, the first time you saw me. I looked away, worried about what would happen if I stared too long into the sun.


12/5/16

all that can and cannot

It's cold! It is time to read poems!

April is National Poetry Month, (maybe because someone said it was the cruelest?) which just feels really wrong to me. Winter is poetry season- you need to be able to read under ten quilts, watching snow fall.

I understand that very few people love poetry as much as I do, and that even fewer people walk around with lines of poetry echoing around in their head. But if you want to love poetry, and you want to replace some of your really mundane inner dialogue (just me?) with something better, here you go:

(Also, Lawrence Raab is one of my very, very favorite poets. Mistaking Each Other for Ghosts is beautiful and weird and What We Don't Know About Each Other broke my heart, which is sometimes what you want from poetry.)

AFTERWARDS

I wasn’t thinking of you.
But so much stays the same.
Even a room resists our efforts.
The old things are taken away,
given away, lost. A different
picture then, a new chair.
Entering, I expect you to be there.

These are the inescapable
phrases that hope for more:
something about the weather,
and all that can and cannot
be healed, and how, and how long.
Time passes and it remind us
of everything we happen to remember.

Then we return to the same
few objects, few events. The house
darkens, and the lights come on.
And even this room
changes to fit your absence,
no matter what we say or how
we choose to think about it.




FOR YOU

I don't want to say anything about
how dark it is right now, how quiet.
Those yellow lanterns among the trees,
cars on the road beyond the forest,
I have nothing to say about them.
And there's a half moon as well
that I don't want to talk about,
like those slow clouds edged
with silver, or the few unassembled stars.
There's more to all of that than this,
of course, and you would know it
better than most, better I mean
than any other, which is only 
to say I had always intended
finding you here where I could
tell you exactly what I wanted to say
as if I had nothing to say
to anyone but you.





11/29/16

Waking up (day 19)




I'm skipping days because I'm the boss.

I hate waking up. I am not an early-bird. Ideally, I want to sleep so late that there is not even a hint of morning left. This is very conducive with having small children, teaching school, or maintaining any degree of viable employment.

I like taking walks late at night when my neighborhood is silent. I like places that stay open late, and I like crawling into bed at 4 am after talking until sentences don't make sense.

Some of my best friends are night owls. I think everyone should have a list of people they can call past midnight, knowing they will answer fully awake-the the TV playing in the background, and the sound of food cooking.

Why are you making spaghetti at 3 am?

I was hungry, do you want to come over?

For the record, I'm mostly reformed now. I don't stay up late unless it's the weekend, and it has to be really good spaghetti.

11/26/16

Messes (Day 10)



One particularly messyterribleshitishittingthefanwinter I survived solely because my neighbors kept their Christmas lights up extra long.

They had a flag pole in their back yard. Which they wrapped in a single strand of twinkle lights. At the top, they left a second strand of lights in an enormous tangled knot. I think it was supposed to be a star?

 It looked very, very, stupid. I loved it.

I loved that flying-spaghetti-monster star, and I loved that they didn't take it down after Christmas was over, or after New Year's, or after Valentine's Day.

I'd look at it from my kitchen window every morning as I got ready for work while it was still dark.

I'd see it every night when I came home from work in the dark.

I saw it even when my jeans fell off my hips and dark circles made a permanent home under my eyes.

I told myself I could keep getting up and keep coming home as long as I could see that mangled star shining a few yards over.

When I noticed it was gone, it was spring.

11/4/16

Birthday (day 9)


I will keep writing these eight minute memoirs.

Birthday

I’m not afraid of growing older, (for life’s not a paragraph/And death I think is no parenthesis) and my looks were never spectacular enough to warrant too much worry. More importantly, my life improves with the advent of age. I can stay up late, and eat all the candy I can afford. My house is as safe as I need it to be and as messy as I want.

 I’ve never loved birthdays. People expect you to do something outrageous or elaborate every year- I hate the looks of judgement/pity when your revealed birthday plans somehow don’t involve enormous parties or carefully orchestrated surprises. Growing up, I resented my summer birthday- not being in school added to the pressure of making each birthday exciting- I could never just shrug and claim my parents made me go to class.

Here’s an impossible birthday wish- to go to school. To the classes I liked best, followed by doing the reading I like best. Birthday homework! Read all your favorite books and discuss them!

Aren’t I a delight?

Best birthdays are ordinary days heightened- sleeping in a little longer than normal, finding ways to see the people you love anyway but don’t get to see as much as you’d like. Not a party. Just talking about nothing and eating cake for breakfast-which I do anyway, but without guilt on my birthday.
The surprise I live every day? This good life. A miracle, despite everything. Why ruin that with artifice, with the bodies of friends hiding in dark rooms behind furniture? Why is the sign of a good friend the ability to trick someone on their birthday?

 I change my birthday on social media so I can keep my birthday free from prying eyes of well-wishers. I do whatever I want, and usually that involves doing all the things I worked so hard for- going to work, eating dinner with my kids, pulling Dan’s arms around me tighter and insisting we stay in bed just a few more minutes.*


This way, no day and every day is my birthday. (my blood approves.)



*Unless it is one of those days I irrationally decide that cuddling is so annoying and how dare he! Again, a delight. 





10/19/16

Eight (day 8)


I will keep writing these eight minute memoirs.


I remember the day I got baptized, a few days after turning eight. We had a family party afterward at our house, all of my extended family crowded in the backyard. A late summer evening bathed in soft blue light as the sun set through a tangle of oak trees along the fence.

I loved that house. I loved the gully in the backyard, filled with  mysterious pathways and assorted kid memorabilia- half-buried "treasure" and forts and turf wars fought by children with dirty knees.

I've been thinking about this little memoir, "eight," for a few weeks now. Each time I'm a time traveler, looking back at the world through adult eyes. I see my great-grandparents again, still so alive and vibrant, the way they were when I was eight. For just a moment, they are not the tired bodies left behind when they died. I can almost feel them, and I almost long for an afterlife just to hear those voices again in the blue evening air.

I see my mom- by the time she was my age now she had four children. She was so young, with long dark hair and usually dressed in jeans and white t-shirts. She braided my hair into a crown for the baptism. I wore a white dress embroidered with colorful flowers. How did my mom know that all my white dresses would always need just a little color? (My wedding dress was a soft gold beneath ivory lace.)

Folding chairs arranged along the patio, cousins swinging on the play-set in their church clothes. My grandpa has dark hair. The concrete still warm from the sun, french doors leading into the kitchen with white linoleum counters. A sandstone fireplace. Home. Eight.

This is where I travel at night, when I remember eight.









(Sometimes I drive by the old house on my way home. One late evening I snuck into the backyard when the lights in the house were dark. I still love that house, but time made the gully small.)

9/21/16

Finish (day 7)

This is that thing.


These are the things that are not finished:

The dishes
The laundry
My baby, for the night (she still wakes up and eats pretty regularly through the night. Bless her)
This memoir challenge (I'm so behind)
A bag of skittles (self-restraint!)
My marriage

These are things that are finished

Worrying about my pre-pregnancy jeans.
Convincing myself to catch-up with "Empire"
Any illusions about the degree of control I have over the universe or the playroom downstairs.
My uterus' (come at me grammar fiends, I'm not sure on that one) baby making capacities
All the diet coke
Brad and Angelina's marriage



9/13/16

Games (day 6)

This is a memoir writing project created by Ann Dee Ellis. We write 8 minute memoirs based on her prompts. All the cool kids are doing it. Today's prompt: Games.

I've noticed there are games we play as mothers. Or rather, a game. The Best Mother Game. I know it will sound simple and reductive to blame patriarchy, but patriarchy is the team captain of the games- where we run at each other and beat each other senseless just to prove that our way is the right way.

Last week I participated in the strangest discussion. First the woman argued that any mother who put their career in front of their family was a bad parent.

People pushed back- very, very few mothers put their careers before their families. Rather, the career is a means of supporting the children they love.  If they are lucky and privileged, they support their families doing something they love. (This goes for Dads too.)

The game changed. The woman argued that FINE, working moms were okay, but not those who worked while they had young children at home.

The defensive pushed back.

OK FINE. You can work with young children, but not LITTLE BABIES. It's child abuse to leave a six-week-old in daycare!

(I left a six- week- old in daycare.)

Later, I read an article about how stay at home moms are happier. I thought about that. I don't think there is a lot of support for working moms, except maybe  in mythical Scandinavian countries or if you work at Facebook.

Whenever I've been unhappy with work/life balance, it's because I felt unsupported in one way or another. I don't think the answer is for women to stay home (unless they want to, in which case, YOU GO LADY,) but to make sure mothers (and all parents) are supported in creating strong families and strong communities and strong workforces. 

That's not an exciting game. And patriarchy-the rabid fan egging on the mothers as they slam in to each other head-first-won't be very entertained.

I don't want to play the game. Despite the occasional doubts and worries hauntings from Julie B. Beck, I know that I'm doing the right thing for my family. I don't need to knock anyone else down. 




8/29/16

Little Things (day 5)


Ya'll know what this is by now. 

I am good at the little things.

Big things are untrustworthy. Institutions, churches, heroes, dreams- all those can be crushed. Fragile big things.

But small things, I love. 

When I was a freshman in college one of my history professors took us to the special collections section of the Marriott Library. It was my Early Civilizations class, and we were going to see the cuneiform tablets from Sumer.

I was so excited. I couldn't believe that my school kept artifacts from earth's earliest civilization in their library. It was so thrilling, to see these tiny tablets that started it all.

I came home and told my Dad. I was shaking with excitement, and my Dad worried I had a manic disorder, but my love of small things isn't a mental illness- it is the thing that keeps me sane.

Throughout college, I did the majority of my studying in the Marriott Library, near the special collections room. I knew the tablets were buried in there somewhere, and so I stayed near them. I spent hours pacing white tiled floors with their gold specks, pacing as I re-read my notes. 

Small things. The way books feel in my hands, the way a sharp pencil sounds against good paper, the light at the beginning of fall mornings and at the end of summer evenings. My baby curled against my shoulder. The smell inside museums, the first snow, wedding rings, freckles. All of them better and brighter and more sure than any big thing I've ever loved.




8/26/16

Adventure (day 4)

This is a memoir writing project created by Ann Dee Ellis. We write 8 minute memoirs based on her prompts. All the cool kids are doing it. Today's prompt: Adventure.

I put off writing this because the prompt made me angry. Adventure. I feel like there's a lot of pressure to be adventurous these days. All the Pinterest girls and their "Let's be Adventurers" prints. Let's be Adventurers. 

Let's just go to bed early and pay our mortgage and listen to podcasts while we fold laundry. 

Can someone make me a "let's just survive this next thing" print? In that fancy casual cursive calligraphy everyone knows how to do all of the sudden? 

For the record, I felt the same way about Gretchen Rubin's The Happiness Project. Which I never read because I didn't want to feel guilty about not finishing a project. I'm happiest not reading books on how I failed at being happy.

I'm most adventurous when I don't feel pressure to be something I'm not. 

I guess that's something. The best adventures of my life usually happen after I decide to be myself and not who I should be.

You shouldn't marry someone you barely know.

You shouldn't leave the church.

You shouldn't say that. 

You shouldn't quit your very stable, very reliable, very convenient job to try something new. 

But I've done all those things. (The last one I did today! I just got the letter from my school district accepting the resignation letter I wrote with a red grading pen because my printer was broken.) 

It's been an adventure. 





8/22/16

Billboards (day 3)


This is a memoir writing project created by Ann Dee Ellis. We write 8 minute memoirs based on her prompts. All the cool kids are doing it. Today's prompt:Billboards

What the fuck do I know about billboards?

The only billboards I can picture are the ones speckled along the freeway on the way down to Provo.There are three kinds of billboards as you drive down to Provo:

1. An ad for some type of plastic surgery.

2. An ad for some type of modest clothing

3. An ad for some type of MLM company.

I remember someone noting that the billboards on the way to Provo reinforce our cultural belief that women should have lots of babies, (as Modest Mormon Women) but never LOOK like they've had lots of babies (As Modest Mormon Women with Perfect Boobs.)

A friend of mine died getting a boob job. She had three girls.

But I am not against boob jobs. Your body, your choice.

But I am against that universal monolith of perfect Mormon femaleness.

The MLMs of course, are a reminder that perfect (righteous) people can get rich quick.

I remember driving down to Provo to visit BYU after I'd been accepted as a senior in High School. I really wanted to go to BYU. For the same reason I wanted a perfect body, and a perfect spirit and a perfectly neat organized life. BYU is so clean and sterile and I was (am) obsessed with perfection. 

If I went to BYU, I'd tame the wildness inside me and be happy.

Three weeks before school started, I decided to go to the U instead.

My life has been a tangled, wild, non-perfect mess ever since. 

I am happy.

This is the first time I've ever typed fuck on my blog. 


8/21/16

I Don't Rememember (day 2)


This is a memoir writing project created by Ann Dee Ellis. We write 8 minute memoirs based on her prompts. All the cool kids are doing it. Today's prompt: I don't remember...

I don't remember when the ache in my hands first started. I remember being very small, maybe four or five, and wandering around my basement with aching hands. I was looking for construction paper, because I very badly needed to construct something. I didn't know what. 

I spent my childhood constructing things, making things, painting things. Tiny clay princesses, dollhouse furniture, paintings, melting crayons into new crayons, origami. All I wanted for Christmas was "crafts."

I sketched and drew religiously until I was 22. 

Sometimes I still find myself walking with my hands open, hoping something will fall into them and I can take that thing and mold it, craft it, shape it, into something else.

When I was 20, my Mom bought me a sewing machine. "Why did you do that? She'll never use it." said my Dad.

I use it almost every day. I love my sewing machine. Her name is Joan.

When I was 22 I got my first teaching job. It was hard. The ache in my hands went away. One night, I was reading a book of poems by Mary Oliver. I read that Mary Oliver taught high school English (just like me!)

But she quit. She knew she would never write anything of her own if she kept teaching.

I'm 30 now. My hands ache. 



I remember when (day 1)

This is a memoir writing project created by Ann Dee Ellis. We write 8 minute memoirs based on her prompts. All the cool kids are doing it. Today's prompt: I remember when...


I remember when I laughed at Joey.

We were in 5th grade, standing in line outside the cafeteria waiting for school lunch. I remember holding a green lunch ticket, like the ones that come out of the game machines at Chuckie Cheese. It felt damp in my hand. It was hot, just a few days into the school year.

The boy in front of me started it. The merciless teasing and taunting of a chubby red-head named Joey. I remember that Joey was not adorable or sympathetic looking in any way. It was easy to make fun of him. I was new in school and I wanted to be normal and anonymous, and most importantly, not Joey.

So I made fun of him too, and the boy in front of me smiled.

The next day, I felt bad. I realized making fun of Joey was wrong. It wasn't nice.I didn't make fun of him. I told the boy in line to stop. I was nice to Joey- who reminded me that I had been mean yesterday.

For the remainder of the year I was nice to Joey. I sat by him, played with him at recess, and did not make fun of him.

Girls were vicious- the Ginas, the Meagans, (Hiiiiiii I see you on Facebook girls, and yes, these are your real names.) prank called me on weekends for two years asking if I was sleeping with Joey, or just making out with him. I'd see them standing outside the classroom window during lunch recess whispering about how gross we were.

One time some boys in my ward threw rocks at me as I walked home. (Hi Brad! Hi Jordan! Tell your Moms hiiiiiiiiiiiiiii!)

Joey was not adorable or sympathetic. He would corner me in the halls and try and hug me or hold my hand. He was aggressive and sweaty. He'd back me into the corner of dark gyms during the 7th grade dance and slow dance with me. I remember the first time a boy touched me without my permission and I remember that I was taught to be nice, not to say "no."

I remember when I thought that being "nice" was the right thing to do.

I do not want to raise daughters who are nice.


5/24/16

Bath


This is a poem about post-partum depression.

Disclaimers: I've been feeling a deep need to write everything down, secure myself to the ground with lots of words as I process a pretty complicated period of my life.

I've been dealing with intense and sometimes debilitating post-partum depression since Marie was born. I don't feel it everyday. When I'm happy and making jokes and doing my job, it's real- I'm not pretending. I am happy. Even if I wanted to, I'm not capable of faking anything that well.

But when I find myself in some pretty dark spaces, that's real too. It's important for me to honor both. 

I also want it to be real. Part of PPD, for me, is not knowing if what I'm feeling is real. Writing about it gives it a place in my life. I wish it wasn't here, and I wish it was easier, but I'm working through it. I'm working with healthcare providers to find a solution. I'm working on finding a good therapist. I'm working on being honest with myself and others about what and who I can be during this time.

I'm also experiencing lots of joy, happiness, and gratitude. It's a bewildering time to be me, and I want it all written down.

This is a poem about life.

Bath

She cradles the baby in water, a mountain range creating a soft valley of skin,
a scar forming a river bed.

The baby stops crying, and looks up, wide-eyed with surprise-

I wasn’t expecting this to work

And yet, there is calm.

The mother shifts, fingers forming a web- gently keeping the baby’s head above water.

She pretends this is the water-birth she envisioned in birthing classes. Meditating with other mothers, side-by-side on yoga mats, smugly convinced they controlled their own bodies.

She expected this to work.

But instead of a water birth, there was a c-section. And an asshole doctor who promised his coworkers that his wife would never give birth this way.

He expected her to work.

The second time, a second asshole doctor. He used forceps, promising her that this is okay for the baby, but it won’t be okay for you.

He knew she didn’t work.

Now she sits in the tub, broken in places doctors can’t see, holding her baby. Thinking about Andrea Yates and no longer smug.  This is motherhood:

Holding your child’s head above water-
protecting them from a madness
no one else sees. 






5/23/16

10 Thoughts Had While Marathon-Watching "The Path."

First, I don't binge-watch. I marathon. "Binge" implies a problem, "marathon" connotes endurance. I am dedicated, not lazy, OK PEOPLE??? Anyway. Here are my thoughts while watching "The Path" on Hulu instead of cleaning my house, grading papers, or caring for my children. HERE BE SO MANY SPOILERS I DO NOT EVEN CARE.


1. No one has said it out loud yet, but I suspect one of the "secret" tenets of Meyerism is a devotion to Kinfolk Magazine. All these home-cooked meals enjoyed on back porches with twinkly lights and (mostly) white people wearing wearing thick vintagey sweaters and carrying leather satchels through the woods. But seriously, the Kinfolk/Madewell/Patagonia game here is ON POINT. I would not be surprised if some hipsters try and make Meyerism happen in real life. (Annnd I will probably join.)

2. Alternative theory: It is always fall here. Always. Is this Stars Hollow? Were all the quirky characters on Gilmore Girls not really quirky and just really culty? That's why Rory was so eager to leave, and that's why Lorelei's parents freaked out when she left home- you would to if your teenage daughter went to join a freaky cult. (That I will join if leather boots are included with all the green smoothies. Because of course they drink green smoothies.)

3. Let's talk about junkie-addict Mary. I really like how hot she looks after surviving a hurricane. She looks like an extra from a Taylor Swift video, what with her perfectly tousled hair and cut- off shorts showing just a hint of bum cheek as she crawls around sexily looking for water. Yes, that's clearly what's happening here, she's looking for water. Everyone knows the best way to do that is by crawling around sexily. (Here she is taking a break to stand sexily.)

Image result for mary from the path

4. But damn, that coat she wears when she tries to leave the compound? GIRL, GO BACK, YOUR BANGS ARE PERFECT AND THAT COAT IS EVERYTHING. You want to go back to crawling around in booty shorts? No. Stay in the cult with all the beautifully tailored button-down shirts and stunning outerwear.

THAT COAT THO



5. How is everyone making these shrunken grandpa sweater vests look so chic? I am drinking their chambray kool-aid or their artisanal coffee, whatever they are offering. Even the green smoothie juice things.


6. Dude. So this cult is about a bunch of (mostly white) people who are irrationally devoted to an old white guy.  They want to educate the "ignorant systemites" and put an end to world-wide corruption and suffering. AS PART OF THEIR MISSION, THEY HELP SOME REFUGEES FROM HONDURAS.

Is this a television show or just a really long campaign ad for Bernie Sanders?

7. People who leave the cult are called "Deniers." See above comment.

8. There is a lot of cultural appropriation here with all the Peruvian/Latin American tie-ins. Because, again, white people.Despite having a "spiritual center" in Peru, no Peruvians apparently are worthy of the light, just worthy of providing beautiful embroidered clothes and "excellent marijuana." I'm not shitting you, that's a line from the show.



All I'm saying is that as an intersectional feminist, I think people of color should have a chance to be hoodwinked by a nonsense religion too. (I'm joking, no one should be hoodwinked.)

9. There is an awful lot of time dedicated to showing people showering in this show. I'm pretty sure it is symbolic (at one point, someone is LITERALLY WASHING THE BLOOD OFF THEIR HANDS) but mostly it is just boring. Mary showers. Ashley showers. Eddie showers. Cal showers. We get it. These are clean cultists.

10. So Heath Ledger is back from the dead, aging backwards and playing the role of Hawk in this series. So that's happening.

No. Seriously. Look.

Hawk:




Heath:




Hawk:

Image result for hawk from the path

Heath:

Image result for heath ledger 10 things i hate about you

It's fine. Everything is fine.


************************SOME SERIOUS THOUGHTS YOU CAN SKIP*****************


*Obviously, given my upbringing, a show about a man losing faith in a small and insular religion is painful to watch. No, I'm not directly comparing Mormonism to Meyerism (although both start with a dude receiving a vision and trying to create an American Utopia and focus strongly on family and marriage  and do a lot of outreach for the poor and...oh, wait.) But I think the themes of faith and community and self are pretty universal.

*It broke my heart when Eddie said he didn't know what was "real" anymore, and so he decides to base reality based on "goodness." If he can find evidence of Meyerism doing "good," or at least more good than bad, he'll stay- because helping people change their lives is "real." When he pleads with another character to reassure him, he asks,"We're doing good, right? We're helping people, right?"

* I think that's the basis of most human decisions- to stay in your faith, or your job, even a marriage or friendship. We're doing good right? Is good more important than "true?" How much ambiguity is okay? The show does such a great job showing the complexities of Eddie's doubt. Meyerism does do a lot of good. They are the first to respond with aid after a natural disaster, they support amnesty for refugees, and save a family from being deported by ICE. Wait? Are we talking about Meyerism or Mormonism? Oh yeah, the TV one. On the surface, people in the movement look happy. The corruption on the leadership level doesn't impact the day-to-day lives of the average member. I deal with this question regularly, and I don't have an answer.

*Seeing Eddie's wife Sarah reject him and her son when he admits he doesn't believe hurt too. It's clear that their breakdown happened because of differing priorities. For Sarah, it's Meyerism first, family second. For Eddie, it's family first, Meyerism second. He's willing to stay in Meyerism (to an extent) for Sarah, but she isn't willing to stay in their marriage without complete devotion to the movement. When Eddie tells Sarah, "I am the same person, okay? I love you, I love our family, I believe in the work that we do, but the rest is just f#$%ing fairy-tales," Sarah says, "You are talking about everything, everything in my very soul." Well, I've been there. Spouseman's been there. That's real.

*Sarah's in-laws. The father-in-law is desperate to help rehabilitate Eddie, but the mother-in-law says "he's gone" and that there is nothing they can do. FIL objects- "He's our son-in-law!" MIL: "Not any more." Eddie responds: "There has to be some room for f%$&ing doubt! You'll lose everyone." MIL: "Cowards. Conviction-less people." Or you know, patty-cake taffy-pullers.

*I sympathize with Sarah. She truly believes that Eddie and Hawk won't be with her forever in "The Garden" if they leave Meyerism. In her eyes, she's lost her family, and I understand why she's angry at Eddie for leaving her and taking her son away to die when "The Future" comes. Again, not to put to fine a point on Meyerism and another American-based faith beginning with an "M."


*A lot of people ask me how Spouseman and I navigate my departure from the church with his decision to continue believing. (Albeit non-traditionally.) In the end, despite our differences in belief, our priorities are the same- family first, belief second. We are still navigating what that LOOKS like, on a practical day-to-day basis, and what sacrifices are reasonable for each partner to make. But I'm grateful that the cornerstone of our marriage is the same, and grateful for the sacrifices Dan makes to help our marriage grow.

Anyway.







5/20/16

I wrote this: Ex Mormon Foundation Talk

I spoke at the Exmormon Foundation Conference back in October. I was thinking about my talk today, so I decided to put it here. Some of it may look familiar to people who read what I write regularly, but some of it is new. I wanted a record of a night I felt very scared, (I can hear my voice shaking throughout the audio of my talk, which you can listen to HERE) but also very brave.

I'm proud of who I am. I'm proud of who I am becoming.

“Dear Mormonism” Ex Mormon Foundation Talk 2015

Hello. My name is Stephanie Lauritzen. Now don’t anyone get up. Despite the fact that a very pregnant blonde woman with a Utah accent is standing behind a podium speaking to you while you eat dessert, this does not mean tonight is secretly a Relief Society meeting. Do not be alarmed. Here’s how you know this isn’t a clandestine church meeting:

No man is presiding over me during this meeting.

That’s it! The fact that I don’t need a (most likely) elderly white dude to be in charge of my talk is the number one indicator that you aren’t at an LDS church function! I hope I’ve eased any of your fears.
I’d like to start by reading to you excerpts from the letter I wrote to my Mormon heritage. It is apparently the piece that earned me an invitation here tonight.  I’ve written a great many things about Mormonism, including several riveting blog posts analyzing Mormon contestants on reality television, and I have no idea why those weren’t taken as seriously as this letter.

Dear Mormonism,
How are you? It’s been a while. The Internet tells me you are doing well, building new temples, writing fancy amicus briefs and trying to figure out what to do with your women. (Hint: Try priesthood.) Anyway, I know you are very busy, but I wanted to tell you thank you.
Thank you for raising me into this inactive misfit Mormon woman. Thank you for making me a feminist and an LGBT ally. Thank you for giving me the tools to raise an independent and kind daughter, thank you for giving me the eyes through which I see the world. I would be ungrateful not to recognize your role in who I am as a woman, a parent and a spouse. Thank you. 
When you taught me to believe that I am a child of God, filled with divine nature and individual worth, I believed you. I believed in my divinity enough that when I grew up, the confines of man-made patriarchy and traditional gender roles paled in comparison with what I knew. A child of God doesn’t need to hearken unto her husband or simply nurture while her husband provides. A child of God sees her worth not just in her uterus, but in her mind. A child of God understands internalized misogyny, and a child of God knows that short skirts don’t rape people, and that the women wearing them aren’t “walking pornography.” 
More importantly, you taught me to “love one another,” another song so familiar that I could never forget this new commandment, even when my days of singing in Sacrament Meeting were over. So I loved. I loved my way through 2008 and Prop. 8, and your stubborn devotion to “The Proclamation to the Family.”
I loved even when my fellow church members told me that “when the prophet speaks, the thinking has been done.” Even when I lost friends, even when I lost my faith in this church—in you, Mormonism—I never stopped loving. Because you taught me that “whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it,” and when I lost my life as an active Mormon, I found myself as an ally, activist and a friend. And when more people find themselves, we save not just ourselves, but the “least of these,” especially the young LGBT people who may have otherwise been lost to suicide and hate crimes and dehumanizing legislation rooted in fear. 
Thank you, Mormonism, for teaching me about my pioneer ancestors, who faced an undue amount of persecution for believing differently from their neighbors and friends. Those guilt-inducing lessons on genealogy taught me that I have defiance and strength written into my DNA, because if my ancestors could leave their homes to chase a promised land, I can leave my home—your home, Mormonism—in search of a more egalitarian and loving Zion. 
Mormonism, I’ve spent my life listening to that still, small voice, hoping that I will be brave enough to listen to the promptings of the spirit, and to follow what it teaches me. I continue to listen, because you taught me that listening to that voice inside me will protect me from evil, especially that tricky sort of meanness that “calls evil good and good evil.” I listen and I know that benevolent sexism, the type that would put me on a pedestal and tell me I’m too pure to get my hands dirty with power, is wrong. I listen, and I know the cruelest evil is that which calls bigotry “religious liberty” and hurts others in the name of God. And when I begin to doubt my new faith, when the siren call of the community I lost and the comfort of fitting in seem inviting, and when I long for the approval of my peers, I do as Uchtdorf tells me, and I “doubt my doubts,” and then I “stop it.” I am a child of God, who loves one another, and listens to the spirit. 
Remember when you taught me about the Anti-Nephi-Lehies, the heroes of The Book of Mormon who made a promise with God never to go to war again and then buried their weapons? They preferred death over a broken promise, and they taught me about the value of sacrifice. I remember them because I too have buried my weapons; I buried my homophobia, my own self-taught brand of sexism and my fear. I buried them and I will not raise them again, even if it means I stand outside the doors of the temple the day my sister gets married. 
I expect you see me as a monster, a Frankenmormon, an unholy amalgamation of beliefs that contradict the perfect Mormon woman you envisioned. But I see a Daniel, who spent her upbringing in the lion’s den of orthodox Mormonism and came out stronger. You raised me to see miracles everywhere, Mormonism, and I do. I see miracles when a teenager fights against the Taliban for her right to an education. I see miracles when Mormons march in pride parades and women ask for a seat in the priesthood session. I see miracles, and I believe in a world that will be saved once more by a Messiah- this time the messiah of equality and fairness and love. This is the world I raise my daughter in, and I see it with wonder and faith. 
So thank you, Mormonism.
Thank you for giving me the tools I needed to leave you, and start a new life.
In many ways, I don’t particularly identify with the title of “ex-Mormon,” no more than I identify as an “ex-homophobe,” or an “ex-apologist for gender discrimination.” I respect the decision many of you made to identify as ex-Mormon. The beautiful thing about leaving the church is the freedom to choose your own identity. If ex-Mormon speaks to you, I honor that. I do tend to prefer the term Frankenmormon, but that hasn’t really taken off the way I hoped.

Maybe my reluctance to adopt the identify of “ex-Mormon” stems from all my baggage from my years within Mormonism itself, in which ex-Mormon was often used interchangeably with “anti-Mormon.” I don’t feel anti-Mormon, either.  I once compared Mormonism to an old boyfriend. Just because we didn’t work out doesn’t mean I want to spend the rest of my life identifying as anti-Steven or Ben’s ex-girlfriend.

But I do, especially as my faith transition has settled more permanently, feel distinctly that my former church is very much ex-Stephanie. That’s a convenient way of looking at things, right? Next time church members say something derogatory about feminism or LGBT allies, I can dismiss them airily and instruct people not to listen to them, as they are simply “anti-Stephanie.”  Now I don’t have to listen to any criticism of myself or my actions, because anyone who disagrees with me is simply against me. This logic seems to work within the church community. By the way, if you don’t like my talk tonight, you are a Stephpostate. Why don’t you just leave this dinner?

Ah, the Anti-Stephanies, they leave the woman, but they can’t leave the woman alone.

It’s a very human desire to want a formal place in a community. I assume that is why we are all here, regardless of how we identify ourselves in relation to Mormonism, we all chose to be here and align ourselves with fellow survivors. We came here wanting something, whether it was to learn new information about our past, or receive inspiration on how to proceed with our futures, or simply to spend a few hours not feeling so alone.

My decision to speak at tonight’s dinner reminded me of a passage from Chaim Potok’s Davita’s Harp. In the novel, a little girl named Davita is raised by parents who both abandoned the religious upbringings of their childhoods. In many ways, Davita feels lost in the world, and like all of us, seeks stability and community. One day, her Uncle Jacob tells her a story about a gray horse:
“There was a horse that lived in a narrow valley at the foot of a tall range of mountains. This was a young horse, a beautiful horse, gray in color, all gray, even its eyes and mane and hooves and tail were gray. The grayness had about it a special quality: it glowed with a warm, soft light…A young, strong, gray horse, shining as it galloped about during the day, shining as it stood asleep during the night. A very beautiful horse.”

“In the mountains along the valley lived a herd of black horses. These were powerful creatures who always went racing about in the gulleys and crevices and along the shoulders of the hills…They were entirely black… the black was a deep black, with no glow, no light, a flat, strong black, like a night without moon or stars. Sometimes it stormed in the hills and the gray horse would see the black horses running in the rain and outlined against the sky when lightning lashed. They were awesome seen like that, running in the lightning and the rain.”

“The little valley where the gray horse lived emptied into a broad sandy plain. Here lived another herd of horses that grazed peacefully in the oases that grew out of sand watered by underground streams. White was the color of these horses, a white that hurt the eyes. Every part of them was white-their eyes, manes, their tails, their hooves. Pure, clean, dazzling white. On dark nights their whiteness was seen for miles, each horse a pulsing glow of light.”

At first, Davita’s Uncle Jacob tells Davita the story about the three types of horses, and lets her decide who she is in his imaginary universe.

I imagine if you are here at this dinner tonight, you are here in part because you are also gray horses, or once were.  

The thundering testimonies and absolutism of our fellow black horses may have awed you, but also frightened you with their power to hurt and to maim. Maybe you tried to fit in with the black horses, but failed and felt the sharp beating hooves on your shoulders when you couldn’t stay with the herd. How many gray horses are lost after refusing to comply with the dictates of the herd?

Perhaps you were once comforted by the purity of the white horses, with a clear and simple answer for everything, and with no desire to leave the oasis.  Despite the recent appointment of three new Caucasian apostles to church leadership I’ll avoid the temptation to make too many jokes about race. But maybe it was comforting to be surrounded by people who believed all the same things. How many of us once felt secure knowing that the “church was true,” and that no matter where we traveled we could find people like us in any local ward building?

But we were never black or white horses, and like the horse in Davita’s Harp, we knew we were different. Later, Davita’s uncle tells her the fate of the gray horse.

“As the years went by, [the gray horse] began to feel more and more disturbed by the thought of being forever between the light of the peaceful white horses, and the darkness of the powerful black horses. He did not understand why living that way should disturb him; but he knew that it did.
He was lonely. Perhaps that was the reason for his unhappiness. There is no feeling more terrible than loneliness, no feeling worse than the sensation of being locked inside your own heart. And so one day, he decided to leave his little valley and go off in search of other gray horses like himself.”

One of my biggest fears when I began my transition out of the church was my fear of loneliness. I knew what it felt like to be locked inside your own heart.  Anyone who endures the process of leaving the church recognizes the suffocating feeling of realizing Mormonism isn’t sustaining you anymore, but feeling trapped and betrayed by their own heart- unable to break free from the fear of isolation and ostracization that comes from leaving the faith tradition of your childhood.

 I worried I wouldn’t know how to rebuild my life or my identity without the structure or guidance of the LDS church. I worried that my inability to be a black or white horse represented some inherent personality flaw. So naturally, I decided to wear pants to church, and I’d tell other people to wear pants. We’d make a day of it! Solution!  Maybe if I found enough women like me, I could find the other gray horses and find a way to navigate a path through Mormonism without the terrible weight of loneliness breaking my heart each Sunday.

Before I continue, I need to confess something: I can’t take full credit for Wear Pants to Church Day. It was a group effort, and looking back, most of the stuff that was good and effective and thoughtful about Wear Pants to Church day is because other good, effective, and thoughtful people were behind the scenes doing their best to manage the shit-show that Mormon Feminists later referred to as the Pantspocalypse.

I suppose what I can take credit for is forming the Facebook group behind the event, and for being really angry at people who consistently told me there was no place for me in the church, and talking a lot. I am the definition of a social-media slactivist, I guess.  I had my friend read this part of my talk. She reminded me that at the time, Wear Pants to Church Day was bigger, and more liberating than I’m describing it. It probably was. All I know is that the church I had loved, and had dedicated my life to, was strangely silent as the death threats, the irate emails and countless phone-calls, and outraged messages poured into my life and gutted my soul. I knew that asking women to take a stand, to wear a visual symbol of their questions, and even their discontent, was risky. I also knew it had the potential to be empowering and meaningful.

To continue my comparison to the horses in Davita’s Harp, I already knew I could never be a white horse. Grazing peacefully is not something I am capable of doing. But with Pants, for a very small moment, I had a degree of power and influence, and whether they agreed with me or not, people were listening to me. It felt good to be a gray horse with the ability to command power like a black horse.
At the end of his story, Davita asks her uncle if the gray horse ever found other horses like him.

“No. He is no longer looking.”

“What happened to him?”

“He searched for a long time and could not find another gray horse. He returned to his valley.”

“Is that where he is now?”

“No. He decided one day to join the black horses in the mountains. One night during a terrible storm he was struck by lightning. The lightning turned burned him black, all black. He was killed.”

Sorry. That is a horribly depressing story. Thanks Chaim Potok! I believe Sue told me my talk was supposed to be light-hearted and funny. I am terrible at being funny on demand.  Go eat more dessert! This isn’t a church meeting, but you are absolutely allowed to continue self-medicating with sugar if you feel sad.

Anyway, over the years many people have told me how meaningful and important it was for them to wear pants to church. They have found the other gray horses in their lives and congregations, and they’ve found a balance between peace and power that allows them to remain in a very beautiful valley of Mormonism. I see them making the church a better, safer, kinder place. I think this is really wonderful. I’ve learned I don’t have any business telling people what they should wear to church, or how they should navigate their faith.

But for me, Wear Pants to Church Day was a bolt of lightning. It forced me to realize that despite the beautiful things I learned from Mormonism: love, empathy, conviction, strength, going back to Mormonism wasn’t the right place for me. I’d die there, spiritually and emotionally. It isn’t for me. For a long time, this felt like a second failure. I failed as a Mormon, and a Mormon activist. Maybe there truly was something wrong with me. I felt charred and blackened.

So I don’t know how I identify in relationship to Mormonism. Nothing feels right. But maybe that is my problem. As long as I continue to try and identify my soul in relation to a faith that no longer speaks to me, I’m denying myself the opportunity to see my worth simply for what I am. I am a good partner, a good Mom, a hard-worker and a decent friend when my introvert tendencies don’t manage to convince me that ignoring phone calls and text messages is socially acceptable
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When I couldn’t attend my sister’s temple wedding a few years ago due to my heathen ways, lots of people were very sad. I like making people happy. It was hard to let them down. But in a strange way, it helped me recognize something important:  This isn’t my problem. It’s not my fault that the LDS faith doesn’t see me the way I see me. If being a good partner, a good Mom, a hard-worker and a decent friend aren’t enough, it’s not my fault. It’s okay. I am not missing out on being a good person by not being Mormon, but the church is certainly missing out on having a good person as a member.
It was worth it to wait outside the temple.  To quote Mark Twain’s Huck Finn when he decides to leave the South rather than be raised by people who won’t love his friend Jim as he does- “All right then, I’ll go to hell.”

That’s admittedly what it felt like the first few years after I left Mormonism.  I know many people here might feel the same way. Even when I knew Mormonism wasn’t right for me, for a long time I wondered if Mormonism would ever stop haunting me. I connected deeply with a poem by Nikki Giovanni titled “Alone.”

I can be
Alone by myself
I was
Lonely alone
Now I’m lonely
With you
Something is wrong
There are flies
Everywhere I go.

Every conference talk criticizing those who doubt, or a friend telling my husband how “sad” it was that I no longer went to church, every micro-aggression felt like another buzzing fly. I was still lonely. I may not have been trapped in my own heart anymore, like Davita’s gray horse, but I was just as lonely without Mormonism as within it. There were flies everywhere I went. I read about PTSD associated with leaving one’s religion. I felt very much the weight of a series of emotionally traumatic events weighing me down. Even now being inside a church building makes me feel anxious. I sit and look at people who seem nice and friendly, and I know many of them are. I know lots of nice Mormons. A Mormon guy has managed to knock me up not once but two times. But I also know it was Mormons that told me I should leave the church, that I was an unwelcome disgrace, and in the most extreme case-someday someone like the person  sitting next to me in the chapel should come and shoot me in the face. So I get nervous at church. I tend to sweat through my shirt uncontrollably.  It’s all very glamorous, the life of a maybe ex-Mormon.

But after my sister’s wedding, I drove home from her reception on a beautiful May evening full with the realization that not carrying a temple-recommend wasn’t an indicator of my value. I am grateful now, for that experience. I am grateful every time I survive an attack on my soul’s worth, which seems to happen surprisingly often when you leave the church. Every day I grow a little stronger. 

Leaving Mormonism allows me to watch myself grow up again, this time with a little more knowledge, wisdom,  and strength- things  I didn’t have growing up as a Mormon youth. That’s some crazy Benjamin-Button type shit right there. I get to grow up again. I get to see the world through new eyes and discover exactly what it is I believe.  I can reject that which I find harmful and poisonous, instead of trying to slowly build up immunity to toxins, trying to endure to the end.  I don’t have to wonder why Mormon God doesn’t seem to care very much for women like me; I don’t have to feel broken and wrong when I don’t match up with Mormonism’s definition of femininity.

Now when I make mistakes, I start over, and I grow up again. I learn again. I don’t spend my life trying to fit into a one-size-fits-all definition of goodness.  I may have given up any hopes in reaching the Celestial Kingdom, but I traded in an eternity of hearkening, baby-making and polygamy for a lifetime of making my own choices, and raising my own soul. Perhaps most importantly, my heart doesn’t break every Sunday, and I feel so glad.

Long before Disney created Elsa and her anthem beloved by toddlers everywhere, e.e. cummings wrote a poem called “let it go.” I promise it is better than the Frozen version, and it won’t be stuck in your head all night.

let it go – the
smashed word broken
open vow or
the oath cracked length
wise – let it go it
was sworn to
go
let them go – the
truthful liars and
the false fair friends
and the boths and
neithers – you must let them go they
were born
to go
let all go – the
big small middling
tall bigger really
the biggest and all
things – let all go
dear
so comes love

However you identify, or do not identify with Mormonism, what I see here, and what I have experienced in our community is love. People willing to deal with the flies buzzing, the black and white horses, all of the sadness and hurt, every lonely Sunday, all in order to give love a bigger space in our hearts. That sounds very sentimental. I generally don’t like sentimentality, or broad declarations regarding the human experience. But I thought it was worth mentioning. An ex-Mormon isn’t an anti-Mormon. It isn’t a bitter person who can’t leave the church alone. In my experience, an ex-Mormon is a person who is willing to give up all their preconceived beliefs: about the Book of Mormon, about our history, Joseph Smith, and even church leadership.  We give up the broken vows, the false friends, the small and the big. We give these things up; we let the go, and in return, make room for love.  We make room for a love of self, a love for the outsiders in our communities, a love of shopping on Sunday, and most importantly, a love for one another.

That’s my talk. I have tremendously unmediated Attention Deficit Disorder and this is the longest period of time I have ever spent talking about one thing. I hope you enjoyed it, even though I told the depressing horse story. I always like to close my talks in the name of my family. So in the name of Stephanie, Dan, Clara, and fetus Lauritzen,  Amen.