Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Celtic Knotwork

One of the many random hobbies I took up in grad school was drawing Celtic knotwork.

(I was reminded of this recently by Sideon's stained glass adventures.)

I used to joke around with my friends that this is the perfect hobby for me because it's Celtic and it's not work.

Hehe!! I'm such a jokemeister!!!

Maybe if I'd spent more time in grad school doing math rather than joke-smithing, learning French, and otherwise goofing off I'd be a Mathematician today rather than a code monkey... Ah, well, no sense worrying about it now...

Actually Celtic knotwork is naturally interesting to Mathematicians because there's something of a mathematical component to the knots.

At the time I picked up a book by a Mathematician giving an algorithm for how to draw Celtic knotwork based on mathematical principles:

I wasn't terribly pleased with the results I obtained with this algorithm. They were Mathematically correct but not aesthetically correct in that they tended to fill the space in a rather even and random manner.

So I went back to my earlier technique of just winging it...

Monday, May 29, 2006


The stalker memoir that I've posted seven excerpts from was written in the Spring of 2001 from a detailed chronological outline that I wrote in August of 1999.

1. The Escape
2. New Year's Eve
3. After the First Break-in
4. Threatening Gestures
5. Locked in and Threatened at Knife-point
6. Spying and Terror
7. One Last Chase Scene

All of this really happened, which is why I haven't posted the complete memoir nor used anyone's full name -- to avoid posting personal information about real people.

I don't have the statistics, but I understand that when a woman meets a violent death, it's more likely to be at the hands of her own husband, boyfriend, or ex than anyone else. Fortunately I lived to tell this tale, so I'm posting this because I'd like to talk a little bit about this danger.

One thing you'll notice while reading the above is that I voluntarily met with this person on a number of occasions even after he started displaying pathological behavior. But keep in mind that the memoir was written in retrospect, and I specifically distilled and presented the worst of it. So, unfortunately, the story gives the misimpression that it was totally obvious the whole time that the guy was a psychotic fruitcake, and that the lesson to be learned is that as long as you avoid blatant psychos you're fine.

The point that's missing is that this stalker was someone I'd know for more than a year before the events described in this memoir. I was in regular phone contact with him -- with occasional visits -- for a year, and then had been living with him for about three months when I finally broke it off.

During all of that time it was essentially a normal relationship with no glaring red flags to indicate that he was potentially dangerous.

The somewhat red (pink perhaps?) flags were that he had kind of a fiery temper, and had vivid stories of how he and his brothers and his mother were beaten by his father. But I've known people with bad tempers who won't snap to the point of hurting a person, and just because someone is a victim of abuse doesn't mean he will necessarily follow the same pattern. He had told me how much he hated his father, and how he would never even consider forgiving him. So I assumed that meant he would be very wary of following in his father's footsteps. Yet, from my various discussions with him during the time period covered by this memoir, it became clear that on some level he had internalized some bad ideas about how a relationship functions by observing his primary relationship example: his parents.

So when he started behaving in a pathological manner, I felt frightened and angry, but I also felt sorry for him because he was someone I knew and had some feelings for, and I could see that he was having serious problems. Additionally, I felt somewhat responsible because I knew basically from the beginning that the relationship was more serious for him than it was for me. So I felt guilty when he accused me of having led him on.

So I guess the primary lesson I'd like people to take from this is that no matter what your feelings towards the person may be, when a guy starts acting in a violent or threating manner (physically restraining you from leaving, breaking into your apartment, etc.), really it should take a lot fewer of these signals for you than it did for me before you cut off contact, put some distance between yourself and the guy, and consider that helping him get better is someone else's responsibility...

Anyone who is compiling a website of true stories of stalking can feel free to link to this page. Obviously I don't want people reprinting, distributing, or making a movie out of this story without my consent, but if someone is compiling an anthology of real-life stories of domestic violence or something like that and wants to include this one, they can contact me: chanson dot exmormon at gmail dot com.

A nice compliment...

I hope my friends over on feminist Mormon housewives won't be irritated with me for taking this quote out of context and running with it. ;^)

For the full context, see Eve's post: Recovering from Seminary.

I oscillated between trying to like it, trying to believe the bizarre things I was taught and being unable to, by turns frustrated in ways I could hardly articulate and afraid that my distaste was evidence that I was one of those evil people who asked too many questions and was destined to fall away.

Maybe I'm reading this wrong or something, but by contrast with all of the negative stereotypes and generalizations about people who stop believing, I can't help but see it as a compliment when believing Mormons say that those who "fall away" are the ones that "asked too many questions."

(Okay, so I'm not so keen on the "evil" part, but I like the characterization of exmormons as the type of people who respond with lots of questions when taught bizarre things.)

So, thanks Eve!!!

I couldn't have said it better myself. :D

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Bonne Fête, Maman !

Here in France, today is Mothers' Day!!!

(a.k.a. la fête des mères)

This is a very special Mothers' Day for me because this is the first year I've had a kid old enough to make me a Mothers' Day card and present himself!!!

I know it's a silly milestone, but you know how there's this tradition that every year cute little kids make little decorative ceramic pots for their mommies. It was just very sweet for me to receive one of these for the first time myself.

After carefully making the little pot, wrapping it, and giving it to me, Nicolas then broke it. I guess that's a standard Mothers' Day milestone as well... ;-)

I like to call this one "I'm cute, but my mommy dresses me funny"

Saturday, May 27, 2006

The pitch...?

So this weekend marks the third weekend in a row in which my goal for the weekend is to write a one-page letter to use to pitch my novel Exmormon to literary agents (and possibly also publishers).

This has been a terribly productive goal for me because -- due to the magic of procrastinating an important task -- it has helped me come up with a long list of totally unrelated future blog entry topics and has even helped me get more psyched about my project at my real job!!!

But really, my one obsession is getting this novel off the ground and into the hands of readers. It's one of the three reasons why I'm here blogging with you guys at all.

So maybe some of you out there in blog space have some ideas for a catchy and concise way I can express this that will jump out and make an agent say "Yes!! This is sure to be a big seller!!!"

My main selling points I want to get across are (1) timely and (2) entertaining. Here's the idea, in a nutshell:

This is a story about the interplay among religion, relationships, and sexuality, which is a hot topic in today's red-state-vs-blue-state, metro-vs-retro climate, where questions about abstinence-only sex-ed and teaching "Intelligent Design" in schools are taking the center stage along with questions of legally recognizing gay marriage at the other end of the spectrum.

This novel puts a human face on the controversy by presenting lively stories of how this clash of philosophies operates within families and and even within individuals. And as the people who have read the novel know, even though my sympathies lie on one side of this conflict, I portray likeable, interesting, whole characters all over the spectrum rather than heavy-handedly stacking the deck in my favor.

But even if it weren't timely subject at all, it's a fun read. I've had tons of very positive reader feedback, and the general consensus has been that all of the sub-stories are entertaining and lively and full of realistic characters that the reader comes to care about.

And straddling my two selling points is the fact that it's about Mormons. Face it: everyone knows Mormons are funny!!! I defy anyone -- even my LDS readers -- to deny it!!!

Mormons are funnier than French people. What am I saying? Mormons are in a wholly different league -- Mormons are funnier than Estonians!!!

And now Mormons are timely too.

By luck, I wrote this well before HBO's Big Love was announced and aired. And by luck, I just happened to write some stuff about polygamy!! My angle is a little different from a lot of polygamy stories in that I focus more on the unfortunate by-product of polygamy, the so-called "redundant" boys.

So that's the idea. Now I just need all of you clever people out there to write it into a pitch.

I know, I know, here in blog space everyone and their dog has written a novel or is working on it. But I don't care. Blustering forward with total disregard for the laws of supply and demand, I refuse to see you guys as competitors rather than as friends.

As many of you already know, I like reading your work as well and giving feedback and analysis. In fact I've decided I'm no longer wasting my time reading any more books by dead people or really any works I can't discuss with the author online (such as those by authors who are too famous to give a fig about my comments). Because I like to read and discuss, plus reading a work after it's already passed the editing-and-public-acceptance phase is just too easy!!! And you guys know I love a good challenge.

(Well, I might make an exception for that last Harry Potter novel, but no more after that!!!)

I'm not really trying to mooch ideas off my readers here. (That said, if you have any good ideas to send me, I won't kick 'em out of bed...) I know I'm going to eventually just break down and write this my own silly self.

It's just that I'm thinking about it, so I'm going to blog about it. ;-)

p.s. I don't want to receive any "vanity press" advertisements over this -- I already have physical copies printed up by (and you can too!!!) which I'm very satisfied with, but it's not the same as getting it published for real, sold in real bookstores, at a price-to-customer of less than $10 per copy if possible.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Stalker, part 7: One Last Chase Scene

Since our previous installment here, St- broke into my apartment two more times and stole more things. Fearing for my safety, I gave up my apartment (losing the deposit) and temporarily moved into a studio apartment of some friends of E-'s which he had arranged for me to rent from them in a month-by-month arrangement. My roommate Sh- went and moved in with someone else.

Monday, Feb. 1 - Saturday, Feb. 13, 1999

At one point St- somehow got a hold of the number of my cell phone. This was less of a nuisance than you might expect because I kept it turned off almost all of the time anyway, so all he could do was leave me messages. And since I never did figure out how to work the message service on that phone to retrieve my messages, I didn't even have the bother of having to listen to them. Of course I eventually had the number changed.

Even though I knew that I would soon be leaving, I was still worried that St- would find my new address and harass me there and possibly damage the C-s' apartment. The biggest risk was that St- knew where I worked, and there was always a danger that he might follow me home.

Since he insisted that I call him regularly, the system we hit upon was for me to call him from the subway station immediately after work. That way he was happy because he had my attention long enough to recite to me over and over his distorted vision of what had happened between us, and I was happy because I knew that if he answered the phone in Montrouge, that meant that he wasn't there in the subway station intending to follow me home.

He told me over the phone that he felt bad about the fact that he still had a suitcase full of my things (which he had stolen the last time he had broken into my apartment) and wanted to return them to me. I told him that he could drop it off with G- or with the police, and I would pick it up from there. He refused, saying that he wanted to give it to me in person because he wanted a chance to try to rebuild our friendship, and he wanted to show me that we could get together without anything bad happening.

After everything that he did, I was still concerned about him, and I wanted to believe that he could get better. So when he suggested that we meet at the Mustang Café for a beer, and promised that he just wanted to use this as an opportunity to show me that all of those bad things he did were in the past, I thought to myself "It's a public place, full of people -- I won't be in any danger, and maybe it will help him, as he says."

The attentive reader is probably wondering at this point how many times this poor gullible woman can fall for this psycho's promises before she finally catches on. Read on, and you will see that this time was definitively the last time.

So, one evening I foolishly walked into the Mustang Café to meet St-. Of course he hadn't brought the suitcase. He explained that since we're friends now there would be plenty of opportunities for me to get it from him in the future. (Translation: I hate to give up my hostage so easily if there's potential to continue to use it as bait.)

I sincerely tried to carry out my new role as friend (in part because I felt bad for him that he had essentially no other friends), but it was difficult because he was at least as creepy as ever. He tried to pressure me into agreeing that all of the bad things that he had done weren't really as bad as all of that, and that he had just had a bad reaction to the terrible way I had left him.

Then, to demonstrate to me that he was getting on with his life and even had new romantic prospects, he told me a rather disturbing anecdote. There were couple of people (boyfriend and girlfriend) who were living in the other apartment on the same floor of St-'s building while I was living there with him. St- told me that they had just recently broken up, and the woman had gone off to live with her new boyfriend. Then, the other day, St- ran into the woman on the street and said "bonjour." She didn't respond, but as soon as she had passed him he turned to look back at her, and he noticed that she had turned to look back at him as well. Then they each walked a little bit farther in their respective directions, and he looked back again and noticed that she had again turned for another look. When he reached the end of the block, he turned and looked back a third time, and noticed that she turned to look a third time as well.

Now, I'm almost positive that she was there on the night that I was screaming "He's threatening to kill me with a knife, somebody please call the police!" (or at least she would have heard about it later) so my immediate interpretation of her behavior was that she was keeping an eye on him out of apprehension, or perhaps she was curious to look at what kind of a person would do such a thing. St-'s interpretation, however -- and this really amazed me -- was that she was looking back at him because she was interested in him and was checking him out! When he told me that that was what he thought, it was all I could do to keep from exclaiming "Are you crazy?!?"

I restrained myself because I knew that the correct response was that, yes, he is crazy, so to avoid upsetting him, I acted as if his little story were perfectly reasonable. But to myself I was thinking, "Yeah, I'm sure that most women find it to be a big turn on when they hear that a guy locked up his ex-girlfriend in his apartment and attempted to kill her."

After the outing had gone on for a reasonable length of time, St- surprisingly demonstrated his improved behavior by being willing to end the evening and go our separate ways without a fight. I was so impressed that I even agreed to a future outing of the same type. I walked with him to the Gare Montparnasse (Montparnasse train station) and escorted him to his subway platform and said goodbye.

He peacefully got into the subway car, and then at the last minute, as the tone was sounding for the doors to close, he made the fateful, horrible decision to get back off. He then accused me of seeing him off like that so that I could make sure that he wasn't following me. I didn't deny it, but I couldn't very well be blamed for it either. I tried to remain calm, and told him that it was okay, that he could get on the next one, but as the next subway train came and went, he refused to get on that one as well.

What followed was a frightening chase through the halls of the Gare Montparnasse. I ran through the various tunnels in a vain attempt to get away from him, and he chased right after me. I knew that if I could just get on the subway -- any subway in any direction -- without him getting on the same train, I could escape him. I ran to a couple of different subway lines to try to take one, but each time I got on a train, he would just get on the same one, and it was impossible to stop him.

In the subway station of the Gare Montparnasse, there's a large tunnel connecting various subway lines that is so long that it has rolling conveyor-belt sidewalks in it, and our chase from one subway platform to another involved following this passageway back and forth a couple of times. There I experienced another astonishing example of how little you can count on the aid of strangers. This passageway is huge, and it was absolutely packed with people. I was yelling (in French) "help, this person won't stop following me!" as he followed me onto the conveyor belt and was grabbing me to keep me from getting away.

I violently tried to push him away, screaming "dégage !" (get away from me!) and "au secours !" (help!). The people in the tunnel just kept a certain distance and watched. I have a very vivid image of seeing the people on the opposite conveyor belt staring blankly at the scene as they went by, as if they were watching something taking place on television. It was absolutely terrifying to see that I could be attacked in a well-lighted, crowded place and that no one would lift a finger to help me. Even today, sometimes when I'm in that passageway the image comes back to me.

At one point I managed to slip away from St- by going outside of the subway area and into the train station. (I had a monthly transportation card, so I could go in and out of the subway as much as I wanted without running out of tickets.) I went upstairs to a small bookshop and read magazines for about ten or fifteen minutes, waiting for him to go away.

Figuring I had waited a reasonable length of time, I stepped out of the bookstore and received a call on my cell phone. It was St-, and he told me that he was still in the Gare Montparnasse. I didn't tell him where I was (obviously) because I didn't know if he knew that I was still there too or if he thought perhaps that I had gotten on the subway.

I was in the main hall of the train station where there's a large open area, several stories high, criss-crossed with escalators. I looked down and saw him on the floor below me, talking to me on his cell phone. It was almost surreal -- I felt like I was in some sort of action movie. He didn't see me, and I was careful to stay outside of his line of vision, but I was trapped there because I couldn't go up or down the escalator without risking being seen, and he had positioned himself in such a way as to have a clear view of both the entrance to the subway area and the main doors of the building.

I was petrified and didn't know what to do. All the while on the phone he was telling me that he could tell that I was upset, and he wanted to talk to me and make it okay again. It was crazy of him to imagine that anything other than his leaving me alone could possibly make things okay. I told him that all I wanted was for him to go home peacefully and let me do the same.

Finally, when I thought he was sufficiently far from the gate to the subway area for me to possibly get past without being seen, I tried to slip back in unnoticed, but he saw me, and the chase resumed in full force. I searched everywhere for a security or police officer who could be counted on to keep St- in custody for just fifteen minutes so that I could get on the subway unmolested, but when you really need a cop, they can be hard to find. After what seemed like an hour (but was probably more like fifteen minutes) of this horrible pursuit, I was completely hysterical with fear and rage. I pushed him away and ran out of the subway area again, and this time I ran outside and got on a bus. He didn't follow me outside of the building, probably because he figured that I would wait around and make another attempt to get on the subway.

On the bus, everything was peaceful and calm, and I was able to easily verify that St- did not get on the same bus with me. After riding along for a certain distance, I noticed to my chagrin that this bus I had so cleverly chosen was going straight towards Porte d'Orleans -- St-'s subway stop -- and that that was the end of the line where everyone had to get off! As soon as I noticed this, I got off the bus immediately. I then consulted the maps on the street and walked toward the nearest subway station that wasn't for line number four (St-'s line). I'm pretty sure I ended up taking the RER B at Cité Universitaire. I remember thinking how much safer I felt walking alone down the dark streets of Paris than I had felt in any situation that involved St-.

Even after this last horrible incident, I continued to talk to St- on the phone, but I no longer felt the slightest responsibility towards helping him. The only reason I even maintained phone contact was that when he lost contact with me completely, he would start making harassing phone calls to G-, So-, and my parents, and I figured that this was my problem and not theirs.

He continued his insane, deluded monologue, and I basically non-committally went along with anything he said that didn't involve telling him where I was living or agreeing to see him again under any circumstances. I figured that it didn't really matter what I said to him at this point because he was so deluded that whatever it was he would twist it up in some bizarre way in his deranged mind anyway.

One of the things he took to repeating was that we needed to both forgive each other and become friends again. I knew that there was no point in taking anything he said seriously, but I was disgusted that he continued to believe (apparently sincerely) that although he had done some bad things, it was really that we had both done bad things to each other, and, in fact, what I had done to him was probably even a bit worse than what he had done to me because I started it.

I'm sorry, but let's take a short visit to reality universe here.

Occasionally it happens that you're in a relationship that doesn't work out, and your partner leaves you for someone else: that's life. And to respond by terrorizing the person (and her friends and family) with repeated harassment, thefts, and violence is not even in the same universe with an appropriate response.

He also would tell me that he really wanted to give me back the remaining suitcase of my things that he had stolen from me (although he always carefully avoided the word stolen). I told him that there was nothing of value in the suitcase, so he might as well just throw it away. He said that he felt bad just throwing it away, but after everything he had done to me, I didn't care in the least if he felt a pang of remorse while throwing away things he had stolen from me.

So in the end, I decided it wasn't worth it to try to continue my little dream of living in Paris, so I quit my job and got on a plane bound for the U.S...

I then lived in New Jersey for two years before moving back to France.


Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Family history: we're different.

I'm starting to realize that my perspective on Mormonism is a rather unusual one. I think this is largely because my LDS extended family is not typical.

Already the fact that I was raised as a fourth-generation "mission field Mormon" is a little bit unusual. So my family has a strong Mormon tradition without having an "inter-mountain west" tradition.

My dad was a convert, so I'm talking about my mom's family here. My mom's dad was born and raised in Utah and came from pioneer stock tracing back to Nauvoo, etc., but in some ways he was like an import or infusion of official history into a clan that was strongly centered in Illinois. My mother's mother's family all lived together in the same area long enough to ensure that our oral tradition has always centered around my great-grandfather: my mother's mother's father Grandpa G, who converted to the LDS church in the 1920's.

Grandpa G was something of a Joseph Smith figure. I don't mean that in any of the negative ways that will immediately jump to the minds of my exmo friends (womanizer, shiftless charlatan, etc.). Rather I mean that Grandpa G came from humble, rural beginnings yet had enormous ambition and enormous confidence.

Reading Grandma and Grandpa G's memoirs, they essentially tell the following story:

They were born and raised as hillbillies in the back woods of southern Illinois. They had a limited education and limited opportunities, and they were surrounded by limited people who had no ambition and no concept of how big the world might be outside their tiny, petty town. (I know that sounds bad, but that's basically the portrait they paint.) But Grandpa G was different. He had the capacity to make something of himself.

(Grandma G too, but apparently to a lesser degree, at least according to the memoir.)

So they moved out of the back hills and into civilization -- to a town not far from Chicago -- where Grandpa G found a good job.

Mormonism gave Grandpa G the opportunity to become a leader. The LDS church had almost no presence in their new town at the time, so Grandma and Grandpa G built up a branch essentially from zero. Salt Lake sent missionaries and other support, but this was a distant enough outpost that our dominant and charismatic Grandpa G largely had free reign to run things as he saw fit for decades while the LDS church in his area grew. (Many people were introduced to the church through the huge regular neighborhood fried-chicken-and-corn-on-the-cob dinners they used to throw at their house, according to the memoir.)

My mother wrote a charming memoir herself about what it was like to attend her grandfather's branch back in the fifties, and maybe she'll let me run it here sometime.

Now there is a stereotype within Mormonism that Mormon men are a bunch of yes-men who are totally incapable of standing up for themselves because they have to submit 100% to the church hierarchy which micromanages their lives right down to which church roles they fulfill, which meetings they attend with whom and at what time, which friends they must visit, etc. People say that the LDS church needs to subjugate women because that's the reward that is offered to men: the man gets to be the president of his own family, and in exchange he must hand his balls over to the next guy up in the church hierarchy. You may object to this characterization, but it's pretty clearly a common view.

Grandpa G was no cowering yes-man. My mom used to joke that her grandpa was John Wayne. So some of the most dramatic stories in our family's oral tradition center around the power struggle as Salt Lake tried to reign Grandpa G in a bit.

The church leadership demands strict obedience and must be in control over the local leaders, but they apparently worked out something of a truce with Grandpa G since they didn't want to alienate him too much. He was too good at running things and at attracting new members. So to some degree Salt Lake was willing to work around the fact that Grandpa G wasn't about to hand his balls to the next guy up the ladder. No way, no how.

The LDS ethic has an interesting blend of "do as you're told" and "do it yourself." I think that because of my extended family's stories and traditions, I was raised on an extra heavy dose of "do it yourself." I grew up surrounded by the message: "We're different. We're special. We're not limited -- we can do anything. Anything at all. Just step aside and watch us do it."

I'm not going to say that this is a good message or a bad message. However, I will say that I think this may be part of the reason why so many of the members of our extended family of my generation (my siblings and cousins) have left the church.

An organization needs a few take-charge strong-willed free spirits to keep it lively and kicking. So even a rigid, authoritarian hierarchy can find a way to accommodate a certain number of them. But only so many...

Monday, May 22, 2006

The Tacky Prom!!!

My little sister -- known far and wide as the most glamorous-yet-hilarious diva in all of Mormondom -- recently attended a gala "Tacky Ball" thrown by her local ward!!!

And of course the society pages of Letters from a Broad are here to share all of the glitter and sparkle with you folks back home!!!

Here we see her blowing a kiss to the little people in gratitude as she accepts the title of "Tacky Prom Queen":

And in answer to the question on everyone's mind -- Yes, that is her real hair!!! She found a hairdresser who knows how to do a real beehive!!!

Here we see her alongside the "Tacky Prom King":

And surrounded by other lovely tacky socialites:

Then resting well with her hard-earned lava lamp after a job well done!!!

Yep, the life of a sparkling tinsel diva isn't an easy one, but somebody's got to do it!!!

Congrats sis!!! Absolutely fabulous, as always!!! :D

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Stalker, part 6: Spying and Terror

Continued from our previous installment here.

Monday, Jan. 18 - Thursday, Jan. 21, 1999

St-'s harassment activities were incessant. He came to our apartment almost every evening demanding to be let in. Considering what had happened the previous week, we had already stopped letting him in at all.

On one occasion he forced his way through the door -- he had asked Sh- for a cigarette, and when she opened the door a crack to give one to him, he pushed his way in -- and he refused to leave. I wound up getting into a physical fight with him, which was unwise because he was a lot stronger than me, but I was so worn down by being constantly terrorized in this manner that I couldn't think straight.

I received a number of bruises and a large bruised cut straight through my work jacket and across my arm, but we managed to get St- out. After that incident, he would come over to our apartment and stand just outside for hours screaming that he just wanted to be let in for a cup of coffee.

Our apartment couldn't be worse in term of vulnerability to this type of harassment. The outer gate of the complex actually housed several buildings, and our apartment occupied the whole ground floor (except a small common entryway) of the building in the middle of the courtyard. This meant that we had the advantage and disadvantage of having windows on the front and the back. Because of this, St- could walk all the way around the apartment and yell at us from all sides, which he did frequently. It also meant that he could look in through the windows of any room, which he also did frequently.

My bedroom was in the back and had a huge, tall window with light wispy curtains. After a single experience of having St- come around and look in, I took a printout of a Java program I had written and used it to cover every square millimeter of my window with paper. I did it all the way up to the top because St- could (and did) climb up on the metal bars of the window to look in from various angles.

The day after I had papered my window, St- was outside again yelling to me that it was very "stupid" of me to have put paper all over my window. I wasn't acknowledging his presence, but I told Sh- that my response was "And how do you know that there's paper all over the window -- because you were trying to look in? Well, that's why there's paper on it!"

The windows that had shutters were shuttered closed at all times (in Sh-'s room, the kitchen, and the glass door in the living room). Still, there was a small window above the glass door that we hadn't bothered with, and so one time when we were minding our own business in the living room St- startled the living daylights out of us by jumping up and looking in through that window. In no time, we had papered that window as well.

The worst window problem of all, however, was in the bathroom. In the shower stall there was a small window that was heavily tinted so it would let in some light, but it was impossible to see through it in either direction. St- responded by breaking it. He just broke it a little so that we wouldn't notice it right away and have it repaired. We noticed it pretty quickly, though, since showering in January with a window that you can't close completely is not the sort of thing that you might do without realizing it. We repaired the hole as soon as it appeared by stuffing it with a ratty hand-towel and covering it with a fair amount of duct-tape. Our showers were still chilly, though, since the crack let in a bit of air and there was no radiator in the bathroom.

One evening after my usual hot-water-cold-air shower, as I was finishing my routine at the sink (still naked), I distinctly heard some faint muttering, and it frightened me so badly that I jumped. I looked all around and for a moment I couldn't think where it might be coming from.

I thought perhaps I had imagined it, but then I heard it again. This time I looked at the window and noticed that our diligent repair job had been re-opened a tiny bit near the top, leaving a small slit that someone could look through. I was terrorized by this new and intimate invasion, so I ran to the bedroom.

I got the distinct impression that St- had deliberately made noises because I hadn't noticed him at first, and he was as intent on frightening and traumatizing me as he was on simply spying.

I got dressed and got back to the book I was reading, but I could hear him climbing on the bars of my window, and from the tiny noises coming from the bars I knew he was there for some time. I sat with my back against the same wall as the window because it was the only spot in the room where he couldn't see me even if he were able to make out some shadows through the paper screen.

The next day I repaired the window again, even more thoroughly, and afterwards made sure to check the repair job carefully before each shower.

to be continued...

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Trains, trains, and more trains!!!

You may recall I mentioned earlier that we're all about trains at my house. Well, since that post, the situation has only escalated.

It's hard to believe that it was just this past Christmas that my boys got their first "Thomas the Tank Engine" video from my parents. Now our living room is no longer recognizable as a living room since it's been transformed into the Island of Sodor.

I think we passed the point of no return this past weekend when Leo turned three and we gave into the temptation to throw him a giant "Thomas the Tank Engine" extravaganza!!!

Well, giant for us anyway -- all we did was put little trains on his birthday cake and give him some more toy trains, train books, and train videos.

His daddy picked out for him a cool and complicated new set including a little mechanical crane to load freight onto the freight cars.

"Happy Birthday Leo!!" he said. "Your mommy will assemble this."

That's not as bad as it sounds. Actually part of the problem is how much their mommy loves setting up elaborate networks of train tracks all over the house.

My parents saw me doing this a bunch of times during their last visit, so when they sent a special double-decker train bridge for Leo's birthday...

...they admitted they meant it also as a present for me...

As fond as I am of trains, I was a little leery of the "Thomas" series when we played the first video of it we received. This was because I noticed pretty quickly that all of the locomotives were masculine, and the passenger cars were feminine. So Thomas loves the two coaches he always pulls (named Annie and Clarabelle), who were given to him as a reward for good work. I really have to avoid thinking too hard about any possible human analogy here because it's just too weird and maybe even a little creepy.

But I'm willing to forgive them because this was first written back in the forties apparently, and since then they've modernized it by adding some girl locomotives and other girl vehicles. Plus some of the cars that are pulled by the locomotives are masculine (especially the freight cars and cabooses).

Additionally I think it's pretty clear that James (the red engine) is gay. Now I hope my gay readers won't think I'm stereotyping here by saying that James kind of sets off my gaydar and not just because he's the most beautiful of all of the engines. But since the kids are clearly supposed to identify with these little anthropomorphic trains, I would just as soon go with the interpretation that one of them is gay. I even mentioned to my kids that James is gay. They have no idea what that means, but they can make a note of it for future reference.

You may have noticed that like a lot of parents who end up constantly watching children's programming, I can't keep from doing a detailed analysis of every tiny nuance, probably reading more into it then the writers ever meant to put there.

My dad pointed out to me a couple of times that "Thomas the Tank Engine" is a Christian series -- the original written by a clergyman. He told me this as if it were some sort of selling point. It's possible that he meant it as much as a selling point for Christianity as for the series (as in: "See? Christianity's cool! It has cute trains!").

I don't object to the Christian content as it seems mostly limited to portraying the local vicar as a nice guy and mentioning that the trains take the kids' Sunday school class on outings. I don't think we would let them watch it if it were like "Hey kids, let's all praise Jesus!!" This is largely for the same reason we don't let them watch "Barney", namely that when the kids watch their videos we end up having to sit through them as well.

Plus I think the overall message of the "Thomas" series is relatively positive. The point seems to be that all of the trains want to work hard and do a good job, simply for the pleasure of the accomplishment. And even though they have different abilities suited to different tasks, the most important thing is to be "really useful" by doing your job well. That seems to me to be an appropriate message for kids. Please parents, comment and tell me if there's some sinister alternate message I'm missing...

Because otherwise this is C. L. Hanson coming to you live from the Island of Sodor....

Thursday, May 18, 2006

What would have happened?

I hope my readers will indulge me as I play a little imagination game...

interviewer: Don't Mormons believe that God was once a man?

guest: Yes. That's part of the plan of salvation. "As man is, God once was; as God is, man may become."
(instead of: I wouldn't say that. There was a little couplet coined, "As man is, God once was. As God is, man may become." Now that's more of a couplet than anything else.)

interviewer: So you're saying that God wasn't always God, and that once upon a time he used to be a righteous guy on some other planet?

guest: yes.

interviewer: Well who was God back then?

guest: His own Heavenly Father.

interviewer: Like Heavenly Grandpa, then?

guest: Exactly.

interviewer: How far back does it go?

guest: That has not been revealed at this time.

interviewer: So you're not really monotheistic?

guest: We are monotheistic in the sense that we believe that there is only one God who has jurisdiction over our world and the others He created. So we have no other Gods before Him. However, we believe that there exist other Gods.

interviewer: That's a rather unusual doctrine.

guest: We don't choose our doctrine according to what is popular with the other religions. *laughter*

In my opinion, a few people watching the interview would have said "Hmm, that's pretty weird," and that would have been the end of it. I don't think that such an interview would have made a single negative blip for the LDS church on the news scene. Because none of it is news. Everyone knows that different religions believe different things, and the doctrines of Mormonism aren't a secret.

Or at least they weren't when I was a kid. This is what I was taught. Was I taught wrong? Did it change?

To my LDS readers, if any: I mean this to be discussion, not dissuasion/attack, so please tell me if you think I've crossed the line into the realm of "anti-Mormon" with this post. It was inspired by Christopher Bigelow's post about mainstreaming here. The thing is that I find this mainstreaming weirdly frustrating myself even though I know it's none of my business since I'm not in the church anymore.

It just seems that downplaying the unusual doctrines is counterproductive even for those who want to see the LDS church grow: It's not fooling anybody, and it accomplishes nothing except to confuse and upset the core members, who are the ones the organization can least afford to lose...

Other opinions?

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Naked People at Rutgers II

Today's blog entry is the exciting conclusion of "Naked People at Rutgers" (The first installment was posted here).

I'm not sure why I stopped drawing this comic strip after the second episode, but I think it was probably just that I ran out ideas. Basically, the whole point of the comic is "See? They're naked!!! Hahahahahahahahaha!!!"

I was able to milk that for two strips worth of material.

In today's installment, they run for student government. Before clicking on the logo below, remember that there's cartoon nudity in every panel!!!

Monday, May 15, 2006

Stalker, part 5: Locked in and Threatened at Knife-point

Since our previous installment here, my new roommate Sh- arrived from the U.S.

Monday, Jan. 11 - Saturday, Jan. 16, 1999

Unfortunately, St- continued to cause trouble. First of all, we noticed that we couldn't cook anything because there was no gas flowing to our stove. I called the gas company from work, and they verified that it had indeed been turned on, so we should look for blockages at our end. At first Sh- and I were being polite and friendly with St- when he would come over to our apartment uninvited, so on one occasion we mentioned our gas stove problem to him, and he helpfully located the gas pipe knob that had somehow mysteriously been turned off. This knob was unfortunately placed outside of our apartment (in the hallway of the building), so we later discovered that every time St- stopped by and we refused to let him in the gas would again be turned off.

From the time I moved out of his apartment, St- insisted that we maintain phone contact, and I went along with it because I was worried about how he was doing. His employer (the R.A.T.P.) had wisely put him on some sort of sick leave and was sending him to a psychiatrist, which I was heartily in favor of. I was dismayed, however, that he refused to take the medication that the psychiatrist had prescribed for him.

He told me that he was getting better and learning to accept the situation, but that he was still blocked by how terrible the circumstances of my final departure were. He harped on this last point endlessly and kept insisting that if only I would come over and have dinner with him one time and then leave calmly and peacefully, then everything would be better and he could get on with his life. I wasn't too keen on his plan, but I foolishly agreed to it, hoping that it would have the effect that he promised.

Wednesday, Jan. 13, 1999

On the night of my dinner with St-, I made arrangements with Sh- to meet her afterwards at a particular time. In retrospect, I should have given her precise instructions that if I failed to call or meet her at a particular time she should call the police. (Actually, in retrospect I never should have gone at all, but since I still hoped to help St-, I should at least have taken some reasonable precautions.)

The dinner itself passed uneventfully enough, and, as any idiot might have easily predicted, I ran into trouble the instant I tried to leave. At the time that I had planned to leave to meet Sh-, St- decided that I hadn't stayed long enough, and that, what's more, he expected me to have sex with him before I go.

I categorically refused, telling him that I had held up my end of the deal by coming over to have dinner with him, and that it was now time for me to finish the deal by peacefully leaving. He said that I had agreed to have a nice evening with him, which clearly meant that he had expected the evening to end with sex. I was furious that he would make such a claim. I had most certainly not agreed to have sex with him, and if I had had even the slightest hint from him that he expected that as part of the deal, I never would have set foot in Montrouge.

The next couple of hours were a blur of one horrible incident after another. I tried several times to go to the door to get out, and each time he would physically block me and throw me back into the apartment. At one point he was restraining me by holding my arm behind my back as if to break it. He ripped my coat off me and threw it into the closet saying that he was keeping it (knowing that my passport, wallet, and all of my identification were zipped in the pocket), and told me that if I wanted to leave, I would have to leave naked.

I wanted to call the police, but he pulled the phone cord out of the wall. I started yelling at the top of my lungs (in French) that he had me locked in the apartment, that he wouldn't let me go, and won't someone please call the police. You would normally think that in a drastic emergency in an apartment building you always have one last line of defense in that if you start screaming for help, the neighbors will call the police. It is terribly frightening to discover first-hand how unreliable this defense is.

I yelled for hours, and I know they heard me. On the day that I had arrived in September, St- and I were playing some music a little too loudly, and for that the woman upstairs came down to yell at us and threatened to call the police. Now that I was pleading with her to call to police to save me from mortal danger, that rotten bitch didn't lift a finger. I managed to slip off into the kitchen to try to call the police on my cell phone, but the damn thing wouldn't work inside St-'s apartment.

I did everything I could to try to get past him, but he just became more violent. At least once he held a knife against my throat, threatening to kill me. I then screamed that he's threatening to kill me with a knife, and please, anyone, call the police. This didn't phase the neighbors any more than my earlier pleas had. St- seemed almost amused that he had managed to elicit such an extreme reaction from me. With no one to come to my aid, I managed to talk him into putting the knife down, and I took it and threw it out the window. I also gathered up all of the razor blades I could find in the apartment and threw them out the window too.

I can't say in precisely what order the above events occurred because I was practically delirious from fear and stress. I recall vividly, however, that he had locked the door, and even from the inside it could only be opened with the key. In the end, I was gripping my key tightly in my hand, and in a fit of furious rage I started bashing him in the head with it. He was momentarily stunned by the shock of seeing so much of his blood, and that gave me the instant I needed to fly out the door and out of the building.

I ran straight to the police station to report the crime. I was still dazed, and the calm of the police officers was momentarily startling.

The fact that I entered the building wild-eyed and holding up my hands that were covered with blood inspired them to take care of me right away. The police officer who took my deposition did what he could to calm me and set me at ease. I told him all about what had happened and about the fact that St- had been terrorizing me for some time. I didn't press charges, though, because, crazily enough, I was still concerned about him losing his job. What I really wanted was a restraining order, but I didn't know how to ask for one or even whether or not restraining orders exist in France.

Two police officers went back to St-'s apartment with me to try to talk to him, but he wasn't there. The police then told me that if I didn't press charges and he didn't have any of my things in his apartment, the only thing they could do for me was give me a number I could call in case he showed up again. Then they drove me to the border of Montrouge and dropped me off. (Since they didn't have jurisdiction outside of Montrouge, they couldn't drive me across the city boundary back to my apartment in Paris.)

When I got back to my apartment, I found that St- was there and that Sh- had let him in. He was showing her the bloody wound on his head (which, for maximum effect, he had not washed or even wiped in the slightest) and was attempting to get sympathy. I was so furious to see him there that I told him in no uncertain terms to get out immediately, and I grabbed him by the shoulders, shoved him out the door, and locked it behind him. Since he was playing the victim role and not the aggressor at that moment, he didn't fight back. I told Sh- all about what had happened.

After that day, he continued to come around to our apartment in the evenings, and look in the windows and beg to be let in. We quickly discovered, to our chagrin, that when we would call the police, they would respond by escorting him a few blocks away and letting him go. Then he would come back, and we would have to start over again.

to be continued...

Sunday, May 14, 2006

What? I'm not an apostate???

I guess it depends on who gets to define the word, but it would appear there are some conflicting definitions floating around.

I always thought that because I grew up believing in Mormonism and don't believe it's true anymore, that alone would be sufficient for me to qualify. But already when I posted this guest post on fMh I discovered there was some confusion as to who's really an apostate and who isn't.

Now somebody called "Mad Viking" posted over on RfM a definition of "apostate" from the Church Handbook of Instruction that makes it look like Seth R was right after all. (see the comments on the above-mentioned guest post.)

Now I don't have the CHI in front of me to verify this quote, so take it with a grain of salt. Remember folks, don't believe everything you read on the Internet. Except you can believe with confidence everything that I post to my blog -- unless I preface it with "this is just something I read somewhere on the Internet" or other qualifier -- because I'm generally pretty careful.

So anyway, what was I talking about again?

Oh yeah, so am I an apostate or what?

According to this quote, maybe I'm not:


As used here, apostasy refers to members who:

1. Repeatedly act in clear, open, and deliberate public opposition to the Church or its leaders.
2. Persist in teaching as Church doctrine information that is not Church doctrine after they have been corrected by their bishops or higher authority
3. Continue to follow the teachings of apostate sects (such as those that advocate plural marriage) after being corrected by their bishop or higher authority.

In such cases, excommunication may be necessary if repentance is not evident after counseling and encouragement.

Priesthood leaders must take disciplinary action against apostates to protect Church members. The Savior taught the Nephites that they should continue to minister to a transgressor, but "if he repent not he shall not be numbered among my people, that he may not destroy my people" (3 Nephi 18:31; see also Mosiah 26:36).

Total inactivity in the Church or attending or holding membership in another church does not constitute apostasy.

So for (1), even though I talk publicly about the LDS church in my blog and novel, it's not so much "opposition" as it is random snide comments and amusing anecdotes. For (2), if people ask me questions about what Mormons believe I'll answer them, and if any of my responses are inaccurate, at least no "bishop or higher authority" has told me to cut it out. For (3) I'm guessing that neither "Outer Blogness" nor Exmo-Social count as "apostate sects" because they sure as hell haven't encouraged me to practice polygamy...

I haven't even joined another church -- not that that would make me qualify!!

See, I would have thought that not believing that Joseph Smith or Jesus or any of those guys really had any supernatural powers would count for something. Guess not.

Not that it really makes any difference, it's just kind of interesting...

Friday, May 12, 2006

Freedom Avenue!!!

My dad flying a kite with my son Nicolas in the shadow of "Freedom Avenue"

I never really understood that whole "freedom fries" thing. As an American living in France, of course I heard about the fact that some fast-food places in the US had changed their menu panels to read "freedom fries" in place of "French fries". And I think according to the press the French were supposed to have been incensed and/or insulted, but the reaction I observed from real live French people was more a bemused bewilderment, kind of like "What the...? Those wacky Americans, what will they think of next?"

Of course it's just some sort of naming fluke that french fries are called "French" at all. If you ask the French, most of them will tell you that the idea of preparing potatoes like that is really more Belgian. So if they didn't want the word "French" on their menu panels, they could have changed it to the more appropriate "Belgian fries". I won't even suggest that Americans might have just stopped serving up french fries and eating them because, hey, let's not go totally overboard here!!! ;-)

The thing that was kind of unfortunate about it was that the whole fries/chips thing is one of the points where the French and Americans agree!

You know how the Brits say "chips" for the things Americans call fries? Well, what do you think the French call them? They call them "frites" which means "fries"!! (or really "frieds" if you want to get technical).

You also know that Brits say "crisps" for those things that Americans call "chips". Well, what do you think the French call those? They call them "chips"!!! The same exact word, just like in English!! Well, American anyway...

And here the American fast-food industry was working to mess up one of those points where Americans and French can join hands together in ganging up on those silly Brits, just like the question of which side of the road you're supposed to drive on! (You know, and like that whole Revolutionary War thing.)

My husband (who is French) thought the term "freedom fries" was hilarious, and felt that it was perfectly appropriate that the word "freedom" should be associated with France in this manner. Now when we visit my parents in the U.S., whenever he sees other random things that happen to be named after France, he finds it entertaining to replace "France" or "French" with "freedom".

For example, not too far from where I grew up, one of the main roads leading into Minneapolis is called "France Avenue". (Look closely at the sign in the above photo.)

This is one of those places where there's an alphabetical series of avenues (such as "Abbot Avenue", "Bryant Avenue", "Charlie Avenue", etc.), so the name of the road is less a tribute to the country of France than it is a tribute to the fact that the road namers happened to be on "F" when they got to that block.

Regardless of how it got named though, my husband always likes to call it "Freedom Avenue" at every opportunity (as in me: "What route should we take to get there?" him: "Let's take Freedom Avenue, hahahahaha!!!").

As silly as his little game may seem, it turns out that he's not the only one who thought of it. One time when we were in Minnesota visiting family, we stopped by France 44 Wines & Spirits to chat with the proprietor (a friend who went to school with my brother). Even though his store specializes in fine French wines, the name is just a coincidence -- it's called "France 44" because it's on the corner of France Avenue and 44th Street.

Nonetheless, our friend told us that during the height of the "freedom fries" days, a local reporter stopped by his shop to ask if he was planning to change the name! (Must have been a slow news day or something...) The shopkeep replied: "The store is named after the road. If they change the name of the road, I'll change the name of the store."

But sadly the name of the road was never changed. Except in our hearts, where it will always be "Freedom Avenue".

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Stalker, part 4: Threatening Gestures

Since our previous installment here, I decided I couldn't keep imposing on my friend So-, so I moved out of her apartment and back into my new apartment (after having the locks changed anew). Meanwhile, the new boyfriend E- had to go back the U.S., leaving the protagonist to her own devices...

Friday, Jan. 8, 1999

At some point on Friday evening I voluntarily let St- into my apartment. This memory is rather vague because it's hard for me to imagine what would possess me to do such a thing, but if I recall correctly he must have found me on my way home from work and promised convincingly that all of these unpleasant things such as break-ins were in the past and that he would stop by briefly and leave peacefully.

At the outer wall he made a big show of demonstrating that he knew the code to get into my complex. He said that the time I had brought him to see the apartment (before we had broken up), I had typed in the code without telling it to him, and that that had upset him. He therefore wanted to make it clear to me how "stupid" it was of me to try to keep the code from him since he obviously could easily find out what it was (undoubtedly by looking over the shoulder of someone who was entering the building) and hence could enter my building anytime he wanted.

Inside the apartment I mentioned to him that there was no water flowing to the bathroom, and he responded by turning some knob on a pipe that I hadn't noticed protruding from the wall in my bedroom. (The apartment was in very poor condition, so a protruding pipe here and there hardly stood out.)

My immediate reaction was to be amazed at how foolish I was not to look for pipes leading in and out of the bathroom to trace the problem. Upon later reflection, I became very angry from the realization that the only way that the water could possibly have gotten turned off in the first place was that St- had done it himself when he had broken in, just to cause problems for me in my new apartment. (The water was certainly running before -- I had tested the sink, toilet, and shower on several occasions.)

When it came time for St- to leave, he of course put up a fight, and I essentially had to physically throw him out.

to be continued...

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

I should have moved to Estonia instead...

That's what I tell myself every time I see yet another book by an American or other anglophone about how hilarious it to live in France surrounded by those outrageously wacky French people!

By contrast, I doubt that there is even one single book about how humorous it is for an American to live in Estonia surrounded by those lovably quirky Estonians! Estonia even has a funny-sounding name. Say it a few times. Estonia. I could be writing that book! If only I hadn't followed every other pathetically unoriginal American on the planet to France, the country that comes up first when you google "travel -- been there, done that."

Still, even though it would be more original, I'm not sure that "Letters from a Broad" would be funnier if these missives were coming from Estonia instead of France. I can just picture myself spending the whole morning giggling while crafting the perfect line that is a subtle riff on some typical stereotype about Estonians. And then I picture my American audience reading it and going "Wha...? I don't get it..."

So I might as well have the serenity to accept the fact that my topic of choice has been done to death.

On the other hand, instead of thinking of "anglophone in France" humor as a tiny niche that's filled to overflowing, it wouldn't be unreasonable to see it as a vast and popular genre that has plenty of room for a range of obscure sub-niches. There's the funny gay guy, the Jewish family-man writing for the New Yorker, various wacky Brits...

So why not have the French lampooned by a light-hearted exmormon computer-programmer mom? That's got to be an obscure enough niche that not too many people will be fighting me for it.

I keep thinking it would be funny to repackage the highlights of this blog in book form and sell it as Letters from a Broad: a Year of Correspondence from France to Utah Valley (since the whole thing started as a column in the Utah Valley Monitor). But even though I already have a fabulous title worked out and everything, somehow I'm not sure it will fly.

Part of the problem is that deep down I think that Americans writing about living in France are pretentious. Yet for some reason I don't think that I am pretentious. (Stop guffawing out there, you know I can hear you!)

The other part of the problem is that when I spent a weekend in Paris recently, I made the mistake of picking up Adam Gopnik's literary anthology Americans in Paris. This book is full of fascinating insights about France from some really, really good writers! Yet I've checked the table of contents a bunch of times, and for some reason I can't seem to find myself listed. Oh well, at least I'm not pretentious. (Hey, I said cut the guffawing!)

What I can't figure out, though, is why there's no corresponding body of literature by French people recounting how funny it is to live in the U.S. That's surely as much of a fountain of entertaining wry observations as the cultural exchange in the other direction, isn't it?

I suggested to my husband that it would be great for him to write a book about his adventures in the US since he's a funny guy who likes to make fun of Americans, plus after it's a best seller he could follow it up with a sequel about all of the cultural mishaps and unexpected twists that result when you bring an American back home with you at the end of your travels.

He agreed that he would have plenty of material, but said that he doesn't have time to write the book because he's too busy doing math.

Never mind, maybe the French aren't funny after all.

I guess I'll have to look into getting myself that ticket to Estonia...

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Stalker, Part 3: After the First Break-in

Since our previous installment here, St- told me over the phone that he had broken into my new apartment and stolen my important papers, so I started staying at So-'s apartment regularly for safety.

Monday, Jan. 4, 1999

While I was at work, G- verified that the apartment had indeed been broken into and the principal lock replaced. The door had a total of three locks: one incorporated into the door handle, one up a bit higher, and a third one down a bit below the door handle. The top one was simply broken and not repaired. The door handle and lock mechanism had been replaced -- as St- had claimed -- and was hence locked with a new key that G- didn't have, so he couldn't get in to assess the damages inside. The third lock wasn't broken at all. I had found that lock to be a little bit sticky, so I hadn't bothered to lock it, which meant that St- had broken in without breaking it. In the course of checking the various locks, G- locked the third lock and left it that way.

I later called St- to make arrangements for him to give me back my documents, if they were indeed stolen. He agreed to meet me in a public place to return my documents and to give me the new keys to my apartment. He was insane enough to believe that his replacing my front door lock was a reasonable gesture and that I would be perfectly happy keep this lock for which he had undoubtedly made himself an extra key. (He nobly offered to give me all of the originals that came with the lock he bought.) He also seemed to believe that it was reasonable for him to be upset about the fact that he couldn't get into my apartment anymore since G- had locked it.

St- and I negotiated a meeting at the Mustang Café where I would have a beer with him, and for safety I was allowed to bring G- along. G- waited at the bar while I took a table with St-.

He gave me the apartment keys, and we proceeded to attempt to have a reasonable conversation. I don't recall the details, but I'm sure my half of the conversation was guided by the knowledge that any attempt at rational discussion with this maniac would be fruitless and that my only goal was to get him to give me back my papers. Of course he hadn't brought them with him -- that would be letting me off too easily. He had locked them into one of the lockers at the Monparnasse train station nearby.

So, after finishing our respective beers, the three of us walked over to the train station. There we had a rather lengthy discussion of how we would go get the papers out of the locker. St- absolutely insisted that I go into the locker area with him and that G- wait outside, which was totally unacceptable. His choices were to bring G- with him to the locker or to go get the papers himself.

After an unreasonably long dispute, he finally went and got the papers himself. He came back with my folder and a bouquet of flowers, explaining that he had wanted me to come with him alone because the flowers were a surprise. I took my folder, thanked him for the flowers, and proceeded to verify that all of my papers were there.

Everything was in order -- in fact one might say that the papers were even more in order than before since he had put each document in its own individual plastic sheath (including some documents that I had no use for such as the papers attesting that I was residing in St-'s apartment). He had also written me little love notes on the inside cover of the folder.

I later remarked to G- that it was kind of crazy of St- to have stolen my things only to re-organize them and give them back, but G- responded that this type of "helpful" behavior was consistent with St-'s perception of the situation. I was not interested in debating it, but to myself I noted that this demonstrated that St-'s perception of the situation was severely warped, as was was his image of how a relationship functions.

In St-'s mind, the fact that I had made a big show of putting the documents where he couldn't get at them was just my way of starting a little power struggle. He then took them in order to demonstrate to me that I shouldn't bother to try to put things out of his reach because he could get them whenever he wanted to. This little lesson he tried to teach me was extremely stupid because, if necessary, I can certainly find a place to put my things where he can't get at them. My experience with St- taught me first-hand the truth of the old adage that locks only keep out honest people.

St- seemed to believe that this whole thing was some sort of lovers' tiff, and that since I had cheated on him (by starting a new relationship), he, as the man, was justified in responding with a bit of intimidation -- to remind me of my place -- and then after giving me some flowers, all would be resolved.

I don't think I need to explain to the reader at this point that I disagreed with St-'s point of view, indeed found it frightening, and wanted nothing more than to get the hell away from this lunatic as far and as fast as humanly possible.

to be continued...

Saturday, May 06, 2006

Mormon Meat: Christopher Bigelow's Kindred Spirits

Eliza Spainhower, born and bred in Utah Valley, is Mormon to the core but refuses to see Mormonism as equivalent to mountain-sheltered culture. She's back from her mission in Taiwan and has fallen in love with living in Boston. Unfortunately, that means she's faced with the same problem that confronts a lot of single LDS women living in “the mission field” -- finding an eligible LDS guy when there aren't many around. So she meets a non-member guy instead and embarks on a whirlwind campaign to get him to commit to both her and the church. It's a wild race against the clock as she tries to get him past the baptism-and-wedding hurdles before their raging hormones get the better of them and drive them into bed.

This is a fantastically fun and funny book that gives an entertaining portrait of the Mormon mindset through richly developed and realistic characters. I have to warn potential readers though that the novel has a kind of raw realism that some may find disturbing. Basically you have to be okay with reading about some of the less-beautiful intimate details of the human body in order to read this book. The author uses these earthy details to contrast the pathetic messiness inherent in the physical body with the purity of spiritual feelings and experiences.

Bigelow's portrait of Mormonism has the same warts-and-all raw realism as his portrayal of his characters. He covers some less-comfortable points of church history, doctrine, and folk-doctrine without the modest whitewash. This is not a “milk before meat” kind of book. His treatment of polygamy is particularly nuanced. My book has a sub-plot that illustrates the complex relationship between modern Mormons and polygamy. But next to this book, my coverage of the subject is like “intro to Mormons and their conflicted feelings towards polygamy” whereas Bigelow's digs in like a graduate course.

I knew before picking up this book that the author is a believing Mormon. So I kind of expected that this more-realistic-than-flattering portrait of Mormonism would be just a starting point, and from there he would build to a strong LDS-faith-promoting crescendo. But he didn't. It turns out this novel is more faith-exploring than faith-promoting. For that reason (plus the profanity and explicit sexual content) many Mormons will not like this book. However I'm sure there are some Mormons out there with a strong constitution and an interest in church history who will like it. I liked it even though it didn't stroke my beliefs any more than it strokes the beliefs of the Mormons (the only exmormon/apostate character being a misbehaving ne'er-do-well).

One thing I really like about this novel is the realistic ambiguity and complexity of the situation presented. The author doesn't just spell out for you what you should think about the various characters and situations but rather leaves you to form your own opinions. As the story progresses, Eliza's relationship with her boyfriend and with the church takes some strange turns, and I couldn't keep from wondering how things would have turned out if she'd made different choices. What if she'd decided to stay in Utah Valley a least long enough to find a husband? What if she'd insisted on dating only Mormon guys instead of trying to convert one? What if she'd been stricter about keeping their dates gospel-centered? It's not clear whether such choices would have made things turn out better or worse, yet one can see that there are a lot of alternate possibilities. It's not even clear whether her experiences in the novel are positive or negative overall. And even though we see the character evolve, her situation is actually more ambiguous at the end of the story than at the beginning.

In short, this novel is definitely an entertaining read but not a fluffy featherweight. This is the book to choose if you're up for some Mormon meat.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Cute Mormon Kid Drawings...

My brother posted to his blog here some really cute LDS-themed drawings that he did when he was six years old:

So many churches, but which one is true?

Mormon pioneers head west amid much persecution and volcanos.

I know he posted these a while ago, but I just felt like reposting them to my own blog today...

I know I'm biased on this ;-), but he is so clever!!! He and Mike have some really funny stuff over there, like this The Pride of the Nephites: Vanity Plates feature that ran in the Student Review back in our BYU days...

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Stalker, Part 2: New Year's Eve

Continued from here.

Thursday, Dec. 31, 1998

At work I had a terrible time concentrating. Between the lack of sleep and the thought of what had happened the night before, I could barely stand to sit there and pretend to do the busywork tasks that I was supposed to be pretending to do. I left work a couple of hours early because a lot of other people were leaving early as well, and because I wanted to make arrangements with my friend So- to stay at her apartment for the night. (So- was a Parisian friend I had met Rutgers who was kind enough to help me out during this problem.)

I figured that since they hadn't given me any real tasks to do anyway, no one was going to care if I went home early on New Year's Eve. In fact, they wouldn't have even noticed if it weren't for the fact that after I left, St- called my work several times, which made them have to look for me, which got me in trouble later.

I agreed to spend New Year's Eve with St- partially because that had been part of the deal we had negotiated when he let me leave the apartment, and partially because he felt that it wasn't right for me to leave him alone for the holidays. Personally, I am very sentimental about the holiday season, so even after the traumatic scene the previous night, I couldn't bring myself to leave him alone for New Year's, as long as I was allowed to spend the night at So-'s. Of course it meant leaving E- to spend New Years' alone -- he just went to a movie and then slept alone at a friend's vacant apartment -- but for him there would be plenty of holiday seasons to come.

For New Year's Eve Dinner, we went to a nice little restaurant called La Bonne Table which was about a block north-west of Porte d'Orleans. We were a bit early, so we started with an apéritif at the little tabac next-door where St- knew some of the regulars. At this point we were avoiding the Terminus because St- had had a severe falling out with the owner, J-, essentially over not paying his tab.

The food and ambiance at La Bonne Table were lovely, as usual, but by dessert I was literally starting to fall asleep. It made St- angry that rather than actively having a fun time with him I was dozing off. His irritataion annoyed me in turn, because it was his fault that I had stayed up all night the night before, and he knew it.

When the dinner was completely over, there were still a few hours left before midnight, so we went to a brasserie-restaurant just across the street to the east from the Porte d'Orleans bus terminal.

We stayed there for about an hour, but eventually they either started closing or I was just too tired to stay up, so I went out to the taxi stand and got into a taxi. St- unfortunately got in as well, and when I said "rue S-", he said that, no, we would rather go to avénue d-, Montrouge.

Without pausing an instant, I got out of the cab and started walking to So-'s. As I recall, he followed me all or at least part of the way, but I wasn't particularly frightened because it wasn't that far, and the streets were well-lighted, and alive with law-abiding citizens going about their New Year's Eve revelry.

The whole time that our evening together was degenerating, St- was getting more and more upset because he had hoped for so much more. He kept repeating that "on allait s'eclater," which I took to mean that he expected that we would have a fantastic time partying wildly.

That he could seriously expect such a thing -- considering the circumstances -- led me to start wondering about how firm his grip on reality might be.

Once I got inside So-'s apartment building, there was no further problem.

to be continued...

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Exmo-Social is dead -- Long live Exmo-Social!!!

Yep, on April 25, 2006, Benji Smith -- who had been operating Exmormondom's #1 party site since it spun off of RfM in January 2004 -- finally locked all the threads!!!

Exmo-Social is the board I credit with transforming me from an occasional user to a full-fledged Internet-addict!!! So of course I was sad to see the party house close its doors and lock up.

As of closing, I ranked #7 in total posts, after Kristen, chloejackson, Sharon C, Davey, Heather, and Rear Fender. Rounding out the top 20 after me were Feebee, antishock8, RONchee, bruniedog, zhu, Robear, Phil, lostatsea, TLC, TheBrewmeister, Nortinski, Joe, and Lilith.

But it's a lot of work keeping all of your customers satisfied -- even when you're providing a free service!!! And even with the fabulous help of two appointed admins (my brother John/Phil and later Sus), it's natural that Benji would eventually get tired of it. Thanks for all of your efforts!!!

Yet fear not party-lovers, exmo-socialites, and miscellaneous pervert-lurkers!!! Out of the ashes of the old Exmo-Social board, an all-new Exmo-Social is reborn!!!

In fact, those of you who are linking to Exmo-Social don't even have to update your links because the domain name has passed into the hands of the new management. Some of the regulars (led by Joe and Mateo) have been brave and foolhardy enough to install a brand-new forum at the old one's URL. And it's already starting to develop its own flavor, which is nice because it would be sad for it to just be an echo of the original.

The old board is still up and readable for archival purposes until May 22 -- you can find it by following a link in a sticky on the new board's "chit-chat" forum.

However, if there are any repectable people reading this post, I must warn you not to follow my sidebar link to Exmo-Social, and especially not to follow the sticky link to the old board!!! Please!!! I don't want to be liable for anyone's eyes popping out of their heads and exploding.

I'll just give you the usual Exmo-Social disclaimer, which is the following: Not all apostates are like those who frequent Exmo-Social. However, if you're looking for those few apostates who are massive party animals and/or unapologetic sex fiends, Exmo-Social is a good place to start.

And now for today's activity: the "where's chanson?" game!!! See if you can find my avatar in the above avatar collage made by my brother John. (Click on it for the full-sized image.)

As a hint, the avatar is just the head from this photo: