Sunday, July 30, 2006

Rudi's version

during my recent visit from a celebrity exmo, you may recall that I wasn't too thrilled with how I looked in the picture.

Well, Rudi sent me his version (the same pose, but taken with his camera), and I'm trying to decide if it's better or worse:

I think maybe it's a little better.

Especially because of that guy in the background on the left. Remember this was right in the middle of the World Cup tournament, and -- though it's a bit hard to see since I shrunk the photo to fit on this blog -- it looks like he's really passionately describing how France is going to win. Little does this shapshot-back-in-time guy know what was going to happen!!! Hehe!! Those guys on the right are funny too -- they look like they're posing for the photo.

I'm bringing this up again because I just discovered Rudi's family wine the other day.

When Rudi first told me he was from Bordeaux, I asked him if he was from a winemaking family (since I'm kind of curious about the whole winemaking tradition), and he said he wasn't. Yet, there in the wine section of the supermarket, what should I find but "Chateau Cazeaux" red Bordeaux wine? So even if Rudi's immediate family isn't in the wine business, it looks like there's a high probability that his family tree isn't so far removed from the vineyard...

I picked up a bottle of Rudi's cousins' wine and tasted it, and I can report to you that it seems pretty good. Of course I really don't know anything about wine except that in general I like it, so I can't give you a precise description of this wine. One of these days I should go take a course in Oenology (Wineology) at the University of Bordeaux...

I bought this wine a few times so I could take a picture of the bottle for my blog (so you can all see that I'm not just making this up), but I thought it would be prettier to photograph it while the bottle was still full, and the timing never really worked out on that.

So here's a picture of me playing with play-doh with my kids instead:

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Bloggernaclin' blues

I really shouldn't be fascinated by this conflict of tightening up the boundaries of the Bloggernacle and the resulting fallout here and here.

I assume most readers are actually not interested in it, which is why I've saved this post for Sunday. My blog stats tell me that only serious bloggers visit on the weekend -- people looking for something interesting visit during the week -- so today's post is a "Let's talk about blogging" special edition just for you hard-core blogging addicts.

My favorite idea on where Mormon-interest blogspace should go from here is John Dehlin's offer here of creating a more inclusive Mormon portal (at to take the pressure off portals like LDS select, allowing them not to feel bad about being more selective in terms of including only highly LDS-faith-promoting blogs.

Putting this idea together with Johhny's clever (joke?) suggestion in the comments of this post that the LDS blogs classify themselves as Celestial, Terrestrial, and Telestial, we have a great way to allow everyone who wants to be a part of the community to be included while making it easy for people who don't want to be confronted with some types of materials and discussions to stay within their comfort zone.

For instance, the Celestial blogs could be those that are consistently faith-promoting -- whose topics could pass muster at Deseret Book or church correlation. Then the Terrestial blogs could be those that are a little more liberal -- and discuss the hard issues -- but are ultimately very faith-promoting in tone (fMh perhaps?). The Telestial blogs could be the NOM (New Order Mormon) blogs and everyone else that Dave kicked out of the Bloggernacle. And we all know who's in Outer Blogness...

I really love this idea, so I hope it doesn't end up being silently forgotten.

The thing is that as much as the Celestial blogs would like to imagine that the exmormon blogs are just a pest, like buzzing flies, in truth there's a continuum of discourse that stretches from the most orthodox LDS blog on one end all the way to the most anti-Mormon blog on the other. And while it gets pretty thin in the middle, this conflict demonstrates that the exact division point is not obvious.

Here's a trivia question for you blog history buffs out there: What's the difference between DAMU and Outer Blogness?

The difference is largely historical. DAMU (DisAffected Mormon Underground) is the term (coined by Equality?) for the network of exmormon blogs that formed on the fringes of the Bloggernacle. "Outer Blogness" is the term for the network of exmormon blogs that was organized... Guess where!

That's right -- on the popular Recovery from Mormonism forum of If you're curious as to where the term "Outer Blogness" comes from, just read the comments to the "Cover Art" post in my sidebar...

(Note that did not organize Outer Blogness, but they provide a blog list here, and you can write to them if you would like to have your blog added to it.)

Outer Blogness ran into the DAMU blogs, the NOM blogs, and other Bloggernacle fringe blogs all at once, and that was when the DAMU network got sucked into Outer Blogness.

Actually, for anyone who's a glutton for boring blog history trivia, you can see some of the early organization of Outer Blogness here and here, and you can see what happened when Outer Blogness met up with the Bloggernacle fringe here and here. (Everything that happens in blog space is by definition chronicled and logged...)

So why not make the de facto community official with a common portal?

Now I assume most faithful Mormons will be very suspicious of this suggestion, and doubly so because it's coming from an apostate. That's why normally I try to avoid giving advice on the Bloggernacle. I assume most Bloggernaclers are open minded enough to consider my suggestions fairly, but I'd just as soon not cause confusion by making people ask themselves when I'm speaking as a person and when I'm speaking as an agent of Satan. But this idea is too good for me to let it pass by without saying something!!!

Yet again take it with a grain of salt if it looks like "Woo-Hoo, go Dave!!! You kick 'em out, I'll round 'em up..."

I know I've already put my foot in it at least once so far. But to my credit, I've learned from my mistake!!!

See, my first reaction on reading Dave's post was "this looks like a job for one of my new favorite Simpson's quotes!!!":

When Lisa informs Homer that the Chinese use "the same word for 'crisis' as they do for 'opportunity,'" Homer replies "Yes! 'Crisitunity!'"

And what I learned is that when someone has just been kicked to the curb by their dear friends, the last thing they need is some weirdo saying "Look on the bright side!!! It's a crisitunity!!!"

So, sorry about that Ann...

But maybe this is a crisitunity.

Or at least a Mormunity???

Thursday, July 27, 2006

My deconversion, part 3: the tipping point.

disclaimer: I will be recounting my own experiences in a direct and straight-forward manner. None of this is intended as disrespectful to those who believe differently, it is merely a statement of my personal conclusions and how I reached them.

Continued from here and here.

I was seventeen years old, a senior in high school. My beloved older brother was off on his freshman year at BYU, having a similar epiphany of his own.

In the back of my mind I was aware that in terms of physical evidence, the case for Mormonism looked pretty grim. But it didn't matter because the physical evidence was trumped by the spiritual evidence, namely the spiritual confirmation that the church is right and true.

I knew plenty of very intelligent people who knew more than I did about Mormon history, doctrine, evidence, and "issues," and their testimonies were none the worse for it.

On the other hand, I'd never known any believing Mormon to look at the evidence and be swayed by it to the point of leaving the church. I didn't even know any of those bitter, angry "anti-Mormons" who are so easily dismissed by the faithful. Like I said, it was a different time...

The only ex-Mormon I remember having met before I became one myself was one of my debate coaches. (I was in debate for about a year, around ninth and tenth grade, and wasn't terribly good at it...)

My exmo debate coach Tim didn't try to deconvert me. On one debate trip, when he heard I was Mormon, he kind of tried to use it as a point of common interest, to make a connection with me. (Remember this was in Minnesota where Mormonism is rare.) He told me he was raised Mormon, and said "I think I know who the current prophet is -- it's Ezra Taft Benson, right?" I said "Yeah," and was thinking What do you care who's the prophet if you don't believe in the church? He never mentioned religion again after that.

Tim was a nice guy, but I had never known him as a Mormon so I didn't know what his story was. I really never knew him that well, so I felt like he didn't influence me all that much. Yet I remember that tiny exchange to this day, so maybe he did...

But when it comes right down to it, every religion has to explain why different times and places all have completely different religions. The usual explanation is "We're right, they're wrong. But we'll save them by teaching them the truth." That's definitely the approach Mormonsim takes.

Although I found it pretty odd when learning about ancient mythology that God would have given the truth to the Hebrews and to the Americas and no one else, I couldn't bring myself to believe the other popular explanation: that all religions are different ways of communing with the same God. If God tells one set of people that he has the head of an elephant and they'll be reincarnated in better forms for not eating meat and then tells another group that the unique way to avoid being cast into a fiery pit of hell is to believe that Jesus died for their sins, then, well, God is a pretty schizophrenic guy...

Naturally I believed that since Mormonism was the only true church, non-Mormons all know -- deep down -- that they're still seeking and haven't found the truth yet. Why would a loving God tell them anything else? The fact that all of the various flavors of mainstream Christianity accept each other as part of the same "body of Christ" confirmed this view -- if the Presbyterians believed that one could be saved as a Baptist, and vice-versa, then they seemed to be acknowledging that they knew neither one had any ultimate truth that was vital to salvation.

So when I heard Mormons admitting that people in religions other than Mormonism had spiritual experiences like Mormons, it seemed very wrong. There was no reason that Heavenly Father would be in the business of confirming anything other than the truth instead of prompting people to get out and seek the truth.

That's the place where I was at when I started up a theological correspondence with my best friend in high school, a devout Lutheran named Kim. The whole thing was in the form of notes exchanged in a spiral notebook, consisting of a rather rudimentary "We believe this," followed by "Oh, really? We believe this other thing..."

The thing that struck me was that these random absurdities about the trinity and whatnot -- it was clear that she believed them as fervently as any Mormon believes in Mormon doctrine. She wasn't seeking and wasn't unsure as those who don't have the truth ought to be. She believed the stories her parents taught her with all her heart.

And her parents' stories and my parents' stories couldn't both be right.

That was what made me ask myself "Why do I believe what I believe?"

I remember my moment of epiphany. It hit me that I'd been taught from the cradle by loving parents that the sky is blue, one plus one is two, and Joseph Smith was a true prophet of God. It was for that reason that I believed in my religion, not because of any evidence.

And that was it. That moment was the end of my belief in Mormonism.

And though I hung on to a vague non-denominational theism for a few years after that, I dismissed Jesus' miraculous claims within seconds of rejecting Joseph Smith's.

My fictional version of this scene (in my novel Exmormon) captures pretty well the thoughts that went through my head on that day. The main difference was that in the fictionalization, the primary catalyst was meeting a desirable exmo/apostate guy whom the main character later gets to have passionate sex with. In real life that did not happen. That's just what I wished would have happened. That would have been cool. In real life, the catalyst was just that discussion with a fellow nerdy girl.

However, in real life I did have a few non-member boyfriends at the time that I was in the process of trying to hustle into the bedroom as quickly as I could, with varying degrees of success. So if you'd like to tell yourself that my epiphany was motivated by my ferocious teenage hormones that wanted an open field to "sin," go ahead.

In reality, if anything my horniness slowed my epiphany because I believed -- as I was taught -- that Satan was using my "weakness" to keep me from righteousness and a real testimony. That Heavenly Father's failure to to give any sort of evidence of His existence was my fault, not His.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

I'm not fabulous...

That's one of the things I noticed while I was reading Tom Clark's Gay Mormon Stories over the weekend.

I know I just highlighted Gay Mormon Stories a couple of weeks ago, and here I am linking to them again. Well, what happened was that I'd written in my earlier post that the site was "required reading for anyone who wants to understand the experiences of growing up gay and Mormon."

Then I said to myself, "Maybe I should go read the stories on the site before I say that." I know Tom's writing well enough to trust him on this, but I figured there's no harm in going over to the site and reading a few more of them. I was not disappointed, and I stand by my original statement. :D

I especially loved the part in Connell's story where he just throws together a dessert at the last minute -- and it's a custard baked into a pumpkin shell, tastefully accessorized on a silver platter with colorful Autumn leaves -- and he accidentally wins first prize in the ward Thanksgiving dessert contest, much to the wrath of the ladies who didn't win. Oops. LOL, a classic move!!! :D

There's no danger of anything like that ever happening to me. In Connell's story I probably would have been the one who won one of the non-challenging awards like "most colorful jello salad" or even more likely "most creative use of buying something from the local bakery"...

I don't really have a flair for fashion and design. I hate it when I get one of those haircuts that has a lot of potential (i.e. looks stunning if you spend an hour on it in the morning, looks like crap if you don't). Back when I was in Young Women's we'd occasionally have activity nights where we learned various hair and make-up techniques, and I'd set goals to try to start up a regular beauty routine, but it never took. I'm just a wash-n-go kind of gal.

Every now and then I wonder if it might be interesing to have a natural sense of style. But I don't feel bad about not being fabulous because hey, I'm not gay, so it's not expected. And my husband doesn't care -- he's straight too, so he doesn't know the difference.

Then I remember that there are many straight women who are fabulous. It isn't just a gay guy thing.

For example, there's my glamorous Mormon diva sister. Also there's Montchan.

I was just reading on Montchan's blog here about how she likes to come to France during shopping season and go home fabulously decked in French fashion. That made me think "Jeez, here I am in France, in the middle of a big sale season... I need to get off my butt and go shopping!!!" (Okay, it's not Paris here, it's just Bordeaux, but still...)

Normally I think one of the advantages to living in Southern Europe is that you can wear "resort wear" all summer long. By that I mean it's socially acceptable to go around wearing a sundress that is really just a glorified colorful rag which will set you back about five bucks and which may or may not be flattering, depending entirely on luck.

But I figured I should at least try to make a brave effort to hit the sales. Believe me, I cut a stylin' figure out shopping in a baggy t-shirt covered with pictures of fish, unmatched Priceton athletic shorts, and a wide-brimmed straw hat that has been crushed by too much wear serving as a "Fraulein Maria" costume.

And what I bought myself was equally stylin': the plad skirt that I was modeling Sunday morning.

Now I can just see Montchan shaking her head and saying "God, no! Let is not be so!"


But maybe next time she or one of my other fabulous friends can come along and give me some pointers... :D

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Religion and getting along...

This blog is currently passing through the constellation of talking about Mormonism. So for those of you who are bored of Mormonism, I'll ask you to kindly bear with me until it passes. ;-)

I want to make it clear, however, that this is not a proselyting blog. I'm not shy about stating my conclusions and beliefs, but I'm not here to tell you that you need to agree with me.

Well, that's not quite accurate...

There's one idea I am promoting, which is that people of different belief systems should try to understand each other and get along. Since we all have to live together in this lovable, mixed-up world, why not live and let live? So I warn you in advance that I'll be trying to convince you of that philosophy. ;-)

You may have noticed that I'm also actively working to build up and encourage a network of exmormon blogs, which I like to call "Outer Blogness." You might think that this is inconsistent with my insistence that this isn't a proselyting blog since some (not many, but a couple) blogs on the list are written with the express purpose of challenging Mormons' faith in hopes that they will leave Mormonism.

My excuse is that I feel that in order to understand people, it's valuable to look at things from all different perspectives, including perspectives different from your own. That's one of the reasons why I've included some of my favorite LDS blogs in my sidebar as well.

The LDS blogs are kind of fun -- I find a lot of their conversations intriguing. And it's not as though the day you conclude Mormonism isn't all it's cracked up to be you suddenly no longer have anything in common with your LDS friends or anyone else in that familiar culture.

Of course I have to watch my step over on that side of blog space. Here on the exmo blogs, I figure I can post whatever the hell I please as a comment (you guys have maybe picked up on this), but over there, I'm a little like the wicked witch of the West (or East?) -- outside of my realm I have to be careful that nobody drops a house on me. ;-)

I'm actually kind of curious as to what Mormons think of this blog. I'm pretty sure I have a few LDS readers although they hardly ever comment. Of course the worst offenders in terms of not commenting are the Estonians! Ever since I posted here about wanting to go to Estonia and then write a book about my hilarious adventures there, I periodically get visits from IP addresses in Estonia, clicking through blog searches on the word "Estonia." I've gotten quite a number of them, but they never comment! So I have no idea what they think of my amusing plan to hang out with them and visit and, y'know, stay at their house and everything.

Hey you, Estonian reading this! Yes, I mean you! Please leave a comment! Thank you.

Anyway, back to "Outer Blogness": I like grouping people who have followed all different paths after leaving Mormonism because there are so many different possibilities, and it's clear that those who have chosen one path often understand followers of other paths as little if not less than they understand the Mormons. So there's some work to be done even within this motley little blog network.

As an example, in the comments of this post, "Fie to Kolob" offers a dismissive theory for why so many exmos are atheists. (Remember that Fie is the guy whose attitude towards Mormons was -- to my taste -- a little too close for comfort with the Mormon "love the sinner, hate the sin", attitude towards homosexuals, and he responded by assuring me that the way to show love for Mormons and homosexuals alike is to break them of their foolish misguidedness and save them for Jesus.)

Similarly, every now and then I hear the lament of how tragic it is that all of these nonreligious exmos were raised Mormon because the fact that this bad religion (Mormonism) is the only religion they know has prejudiced them against good religions! Personally I find this claim to fall at about the same point on the respectful-vs-insulting scale as the LDS claim that I just want the church to be false so I can have lots of sex and booze.

Fortunately, all of these misunderstandings can be easily cleared up by the miracle of the Internet. Around here, you're never more than a click away from quite a lot of nonreligious exmos, so if there's any confusion about why they left organized religion completely, you can just ask them directly.

From my perspective, once you have the idea to turn the eye of scrutiny on religion, no organized religion can stand up to it. For myself, I can't see saying "Joseph Smith meeting an angel? Impossible!!! But Jesus walking on water? That totally happened."

However, I know that many people see the evidence for Jesus' supernatural claims to be very different from the evidence for Joseph Smith's, and I recognize that there is evidence in support of this position. Also, many people of faith believe that God has confirmed to them that Jesus was truly divine and Joseph Smith was a fraud, and I really can't judge that claim because I'm not in on anyone else's conversations with God.

And remember that Christian and atheist/agnostic are not the only choices out there!!! The Freeway Overpass contains some beautiful insights about Wicca and other spiritual paths.

So I'm not going to be sitting any of you down on my virtual psychiatrist's couch to explain what's wrong with you that makes you not agree with me. ;-)

As far as I'm concerned, we've all looked at the evidence and came to different conclusions. And that's okay. You can't expect to agree with everyone or even completely agree with anyone 100% on all points. And that's why I think it's important to try to live together in peace and harmony.

A good example of cooperating to increase mutual understanding is Gunner's "Carnival of the Veil" (latest installment here). This carnival leans a little bit towards the religious end of the exmo spectrum, but Gunner -- with his characteristic wit and wisdom -- is careful to link not only to examples of exmos who have found fulfillment and happiness in their new religion but also to exmos who have found fulfillment and happiness in having no religion as well.

So happy Sunday to everyone, whatever your plans for the day may be!!! :D

Thursday, July 20, 2006

My deconversion, part 2: the evidence

disclaimer: I will be recounting my own experiences in a direct and straight-forward manner. None of this is intended as disrespectful to those who believe differently, it is merely a statement of my personal conclusions and how I reached them.

Continued from this post.

The last straw that pushed me out of Mormonism was the question of whether this religion -- or any other -- could have the true and final word on the nature of God and the afterlife.

Before getting there, however, there were a few glaring sign-posts along the road. The first one was the evidence -- or lack thereof -- for the Book of Mormon.

Where did the Native Americans come from?

I knew that the "true" answer was written by Nephi and Moroni and all the rest in the pages of the Book of Mormon. I also knew that no one -- outside of Mormonism -- proposed that the Native Americans had arrived by boat from the Middle East.

I remember sitting in American History class -- probably in the seventh grade -- watching a film showing how the Americas were populated by migrations across a land bridge from Asia.

I thought to myself If only they knew the truth. If only they had the idea to look for evidence that these people arrived by boat, they would find it.

Another part of me said These researchers promoting these theories of Native American origins -- they aren't bitter anti-Mormons out to destroy the church. The church probably doesn't even show up on their radar. They say the Native Americans migrated on foot from Asia because they dug up evidence out of the ground and that's the conclusion it pointed to. If the same types of researchers used the same types of evidence to piece together the history of some unknown tribe in Africa or an island somewhere, I would believe them.

But some incompetent and mistaken archaeologists and anthropologists weren't sufficient to dissuade me from the truth.

Worse was later when I heard from some Mormons who were all excited about the research of Thor Heyerdahl and how it was such a boon to proving the Book of Mormon right. I pressed for details and found that he had constructed a boat using ancient techniques and had sailed it across the Atlantic. So he had shown that Nephi and Lehi's journey was not physically impossible. Do we have any evidence that it actually happened? No.

I was left forcing out of my mind the obvious question: That's the best you can do?

The point that was the most painful for me to try to rationalize was later -- when I was about fifteen or sixteen -- and I heard my parents talking about the Book of Abraham.

Like any good Mormon kid, I knew that Joseph Smith had translated some ancient Egyptian documents, found with a mummy, and that they had turned out to be a record written by Abraham of his time in Egypt. I had also learned that the original papyrus was lost, and was thought to have been destroyed in the great Chicago fire.

This story made perfect sense from a Mormon perspective. Like the golden plates that were taken back into heaven after Joseph Smith translated them, and like the Nauvoo Temple that was destroyed by fire after the Saints left for the promised land in the Salt Lake Valley, the Lord took Abraham's writings back once their purpose was fulfilled.

Then one day I heard my parents say that this story wasn't true, and that, in fact, the Book of Abraham papyrus had been found, and was in the possession of the church!!! Not only that, it had been in the possession of the church since before I was born!!!

This was very upsetting. I couldn't see why I would ever have been told this "Chicago fire" story unless... Unless the existence of the original was something that we needed to avoid talking about. The nail in the coffin was when I learned the rationalization in the very same conversation: "Maybe Joseph Smith didn't really translate the papyrus, maybe the papyrus inspired him to receive the Book of Abraham text as a revelation."

This was a terrible blow, to learn that the physical evidence had been hidden away as a shameful thing and to hear an upsetting hint as to why.

I know that today's modern, Internet-savvy Mormons all already know that the papyrus is in the possession of the church and that no scholar -- Mormon or otherwise -- claims that it is anything other than ordinary Egyptian funeral documents that have nothing to do with the Biblical patriarch Abraham nor are even remotely from the right time period to have been written by him. So one might claim that it was my own foolish ignorance or lack of study that led to me to be shocked by this information. I suppose that nowadays they're saying that they never really claimed that Joseph Smith literally translated a record that Abraham himself had written "by his own hand upon papyrus" and that information about it was never obscured or hidden away. But that's not what it was like back in the 1980's. People just didn't talk about such "deep doctrines."

For a teenager, I was actually relatively well-informed about the "meat" of Mormonism (as in "milk before meat"). I knew about polygamy and "celestial polygamy" (the fact that Mormons believe that there is polygamy in the afterlife even if polygamy is not currently practiced by the church).

I had learned in seminary about the Mountain Meadows Massacre and the "Vilate Kimball test of faith" story. That's the one where Joseph Smith has a revelation that he is to take Heber C. Kimball's wife Vilate as one of his own plural wives, Heber and Vilate are terribly distraught but finally agree because it's the will of God, and then Joseph Smith says that God was just testing their faith, and that in fact God would be okay with Heber keeping Vilate as long as they give Joseph their fourteen-year-old daughter Helen in her place...

For both of those stories, I remember thinking "Hmmm, that's pretty weird."

But as disturbing as those stories were, neither one struck at the root of my faith like the question of whether Joseph Smith really had the ability to miraculously translate ancient records.

to be continued...

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Questions on parenting boys...

Okay guys, I'd like some opinions and advice on this one.

This past weekend has been really hot, so I got out a bunch of squirt guns for my two boys (ages 4 and 3) to play with.

As soon as he saw the water pistols, my little Nico was all excited to have a "pistolet," and started playing at shooting people, using the French for "bang! bang!"

This was not a big deal, but I found it a little disturbing when he asked "Mommy, what does it mean 'tuer'?" (i.e. "Mommy, how do you say 'kill' in English?")

I explained to him that squirt guns are for getting people wet (and demonstrated by squirting both him and his little brother Leo), and that killing people is bad. That seemed to have the desired effect since he didn't talk about killing people much after that.

On the one hand, I don't want to be messing him up for playing with the other boys at school, but on the other hand, I'm kind of not really thrilled to have him think it's a fun game to pretend he's killing people...

I guess most parents of boys eventually have to deal with the question of toy guns, what's okay and what's not. Any other parents out there have thoughts on this subject or tales of how you've handled this?

On the other end of the spectrum, this very same weekend Nico decided that he wanted to watch The Sound of Music about a hundred million times. He then put on my hat and a pair of my dress shoes and spent the better part of the day telling everyone he was "Fraulein Maria" (and that Leo was "the Captain").

Also, he and Leo were digging around in a toybox and found a couple of dolls. They took one doll each, gave both dolls the same name as our nanny's baby, and each boy decided that he was the mommy of his doll. (Our nanny brings her baby on Tuesdays and Thursdays, the baby's grandmothers take care of him on Mondays, Wednesday, and Fridays.)

Oh, and they told me I was the daddy of both dolls. So I guess my kids think I'm some sort of incestuous transgender polygamist... (Let's see what google searches that line attracts to my blog!!! Hehe!!!)

None of this bothered me -- it seemed cute and normal for little kids to play with different roles. But maybe he would be teased if he did this at school? Anyway, I didn't discourage him in the slightest...

Then, as of Monday, they've forgotten about all of these games and have taken to playing with toy insects...

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Thoughts on Jack Weyland

I love the youth of the Church. I realize I can't entirely understand their struggles into adulthood, but I remember mine and write about them, and hope that sometimes I hit a common chord between them and me.

-- Jack Weyland

I don't think I'm going out on a limb by saying that Jack Weyland is one of the most well-known LDS writers of all time and is probably the most famous author of Mormon teen romances.

I know that upon hearing his name Mormons and exmos alike will roll their eyes and say “Jack Weyland? Puh-leaze!” However, it's not just some sort of crazy fluke that his stories are as popular as they are. So I'd like to talk a little bit about his work.

I think the two principal criticisms of Weyland are the following:
1. A highly idealized (rather than realistic) portrayal of Mormon life,
2. Too much simple remixing of the same story elements, leading to repetition and a lack of narrative richness.

These weaknesses aside, Weyland's stories have a lot of wit and charm. His portrait of growing up Mormon is upbeat and positive, and – as indicated by the above quote – affectionate and sincere.

His treatment of adolescent issues isn't as simplistic as some might claim. For example, he does a good job of expressing the central importance of popularity. In his stories set in high school, he shows a range of social types and explores how they interact with each other. He has popular kids thinking about how they should treat unpopular kids, righteous kids concerned about how they should treat naughty/rebellious kids, etc.

In my opinion, Weyland's stories are more accurate and nuanced regarding teen popularity and social status than, say, Louise Plummer's in The Romantic Obsessions & Humiliations of Annie Sehlmeier, which is a novel about a new girl who moves into town the summer before her senior year of high school and apparently waltzes right into the middle of the most popular clique in the school with hardly a thought about it, giving the impression that her school has maybe twenty real live kids attending it and the rest are some sort of scenery. I'm not saying this to slam Louise Plummer, whose work is very strong overall. The only reason I mention her is because another of her novels is listed on A Motley Vision as potentially being a part of the canon of Mormon literature. So since Weyland's work is usually dismissed as fluff, I thought I'd mention one point where his stories compare favorably to those of another LDS author. In Weyland's universe, the kids are aware of the social structure, whereas in Plummer's book, the characters are concerned about relationships among the principal players, but the more general question of the characters' social place within the larger student body is completely absent.

Regarding Weyland's weaknesses, the repetitiveness is a little annoying, but the key is not to read too many of his books in a row. For your convenience, I've isolated the common elements of the batch of Jack Weyland stories I've read:

* a guy and girl express their love through doing silly, goofy things and/or through some church-related activities and good deeds; they proceed directly to the temple
* fishing or possibly hunting
* somebody dies or is dead, and everyone feels better about it because of Mormonism
* somebody joins the LDS church
* a priesthood blessing
* a guy is going on a mission or is just back, a girl is waiting for him
* the one and only thing that tempts the LDS youth not to choose the right is social pressure (note that temptation here is temptation to do something like not be nice to the unpopular kids – temptations like sex, for example, do not exist in his universe).

The fact that right always prevails and leads to happiness in his tales (while wickedness leads to misery) is pretty hard to miss. His stories are orthodox enough that they could appear in a lesson manual if they weren't sold for entertainment, which is probably why he was a staple of The New Era for a time. He doesn't even pay lip service to being fair to the opposition. For example, in Punch and Cookies Forever Weyland writes from the perspective of a rebellious guy who has apparently become some sort of bearded proponent of peace-and-love – in order to spite his church leader dad – and is brought back to the fold by the love of a righteous woman. The character is unbelievably shallow and devoid of any sort of convictions. Similarly, lots of people in his stories have experiences that confirm the truthfulness of the gospel; nobody has any serious issues with it.

Basically you have to accept that this is the perspective that he's writing from if you want to read his work. It is written as light entertainment and instruction, and as such it is intended to be pleasant and affirming to the sensibilities of LDS readers.

In Weyland's idealized Mormon world, he ends up portraying rather realistically aspects of Mormon culture that some might see as negative. In particular, he show young people who barely know each other (and don't even give the impression of being especially compatible) rushing into marriage. He shows submissive LDS girls completely submerging their identities into the goal of becoming a (temple-married) wife and mother. Virtue and spirituality are second nature to the Mormon girls in his stories, not a struggle. This is realistic in that a Mormon teenage boy might see Mormon girls this way, but in my opinion this image is as harmful and potentially damaging to girls as the unrealistic images of models in the fashion magazines that give them a negative body image.

Probably the ugliest thing I've seen in Weyland's work is the plot-line where an obnoxious guy “helps” a fat girl by being brutally honest with her (i.e. repeatedly telling her what a repulsive lardo she is), and she responds by changing her ways, losing weight, and being eternally grateful to the guy. This plot appears in a short story and is also a sub-plot in the novel Sam (where the formerly-fat girl actually marries the guy who “helped” her). This is wrong on so many levels, I don't even know where to begin. All I can say is that it was a product of a different time, and hopefully this sort of thing wouldn't fly even in Mormon circles today. Of course it's hard to say since I hear that people still stand up in Sacrament Meeting and tell the one about the single sister who asks her bishop if she needs to become more spiritual in order to snag a husband and the bishop replies that she's spiritual enough to be translated on the spot but too fat to get off the ground...

These criticisms aside, Weyland's work is fun for the most part with lots of great details about what life is like for LDS teens and young adults. Reading his stories, I can't help but speculate about what Jack Weyland was like in high school and college himself. Given that he seems to relate better to the dilemmas faced by the popular kids and the fact that he clearly sees courtship and dating as a fun adventure (not something painful and frustrating), I would guess that he was a popular guy, a scholar/athlete, and a catch. :D

I get this idea by contrasting his work with my own novel Exmormon. I've admitted to having had a difficult time fitting in as a teen, and you can see the result in that my portrait of the LDS dating scene is incredibly cynical (although hopefully still entertaining).

Now I can hear all of you collectively sighing about how it always comes back to my novel eventually, doesn't it? Well, to steal a favorite blogging quote from Rebecca, “If you want something interesting, read a less self-indulgent blog.” ;-)

But seriously, it makes sense to compare my novel to Weyland's work since Exmormon is more an LDS-interest teen romance novel than it is anything else. And aside from the obvious overlap in subject matter, there are some stylistic similarities in that – like Weyland's stories – the focus is on the social interactions among an array of characters and the action is largely driven by ridiculous/humorous dialogs.

However, if Jack Weyland were ever to read my novel and then discover that I claim it has some common elements with his writings, he'd probably have a heart attack and die on the spot. So I'll mercifully stop here.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Clothing. It's not just for grown-ups...

Despite the hot weather.

That's what I'm trying to explain to my kids...

Friday, July 14, 2006

Exmo lit news!!!

Cynthia of Sierra Sage has just started a new blog Scrambled Sage on Toast for writers on writing!!!

It will deal with the craft of writing fiction and be a place for writers to work on their technique and creativity. Looks great, Cynthia!!! :D

In other exmo lit news, I've discovered another (self-published) book of exmo fiction!!! This one is a collection of short stories called Fluent Heresy.

It's a set of thought-provoking stories that explore the boundaries between possibility and impossibility -- between reason and madness -- in a Mormon-centric universe. A kind of a Jack Weyland meets the Twilight Zone...

(Well, except the last story which is a long and graphic sex scene. But exmo lit wouldn't be exmo lit without a graphic sex scene. ;^) )

Like my novel Exmormon, this book is available from Lulu. It's cheaper than mine ($12.40 instead of $16.01 -- since Lulu doesn't pay for content, they charge by the pound). So when you're making your Lulu account, why not save on shipping by buying both books together? :^)

The author of Fluent Heresy has posted a review of my novel Exmormon on his blog here. It is a very critical review, and I have to give a bit of a spoiler warning: he recounts the entire plot in detail, so if you want to know what happens without reading all 442 pages, then just go here. :D

Remember that any of the rest of you bloggers who are interested in posting your own impressions of the novel Exmormon, just email me (chanson dot exmormon at gmail dot com) and I'll send you the electronic version. For those who are currently working on reviews, don't forget to email me when your review is posted, otherwise I might not see it.

Also note that there was a discussion thread for the novel Exmormon on the reviews forum of exmo-social. Remember that anyone can make an account on exmo-social and post there -- not just on this subject but on many other amusing topics. Don't forget to check out their new exciting "Outer Darkness" forums such as The Pit of Despair...

And in exmo-but-not-lit news, This week's "Carnival of the Veil" is currently up on Gunner's blog here!!!

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

My deconversion, part 1: background

disclaimer: I will be recounting my own experiences in a direct and straight-forward manner. None of this is intended as disrespectful to those who believe differently, it is merely a statement of my personal conclusions and how I reached them.

Ironically, growing up Mormon taught me to value non-conformity. This is ironic because Mormons are famed for lockstep conformity in action, dress, and thought.

But training Mormon kids to be like other Mormons necessarily requires training them to be unlike everyone else. And when you live in an area where Mormons are few and far between -- like Minnesota, where I grew up -- that means being unlike just about everybody.

As a kid, with or without Mormonism, there was no way I was going to fit in easily with other kids my age. I was a shy, socially awkward, late-bloomer-tomboy-bookworm, living in my own imaginary world, as likely to be talking to myself as to be talking to other people.

I was kind of a classic nerd, so Mormonism's "hip to be square" attitude fit my personality. There's a current in LDS culture that values tastes that outsiders might consider nerdy such as adults having fun by dressing up and doing silly skits for talent nights and Road Shows, or or teens and college students picking Disney movies as their favorite movies. This sort of fun nerdiness was something I could relate to, and I liked being part of a culture that said to me: "Every schmo tries to be cool by following the crowd. It takes guts to ignore the direction the crowd is going -- it's beyond cool."

"Beyond cool" was great for me because "cool"... Well, there was no way that was going to happen.

On the other hand, I never fit well into the role Mormonism had picked out for me (and for every other girl on the planet). I believed wholeheartedly that the LDS church was God's one true church, and -- motivated by the "how long will you be dead compared to how long you're alive?" argument -- I tried the best I could to "live the gospel." But my "question authority!" streak was too deep for me to fit neatly into God's divine, immovable hierarchy.

I'm not sure if my parents taught me skepticism or if it was just some sort of natural rebelliousness -- probably a combination of both -- but it limited my ability to be satisfied by learning from the examples of others rather than setting out to learn from my own experiences. So a lot of the time I was a sweet, righteous little Molly, and on the side I was testing the rules and boundaries with a vengeance.

The role of women was a big sticking point for me. But while the church taught me that a woman's divine role is to be a wife and mother period, my parents taught me something slightly different. They taught me in essence that of course your children come first -- especially when they're small -- but there's no reason that should stop you from being whatever else you want to be and from from following every dream. My mom was essentially a feminist at heart, and she had reconciled her faith with her feminist leanings in this way. Similarly, her example showed me how to deal with other church or doctrinal problems without immediately scrutinizing the church or gospel itself.

My mom falls into the category of what I would consider "Mormon intellectuals" even though she subscribed to Sunstone for only a very short time while we were growing up.

From my perspective, Mormon intellectuals are the following set of people: Their unquestionable axiom number one is that the church is true. They're educated and aware enough to know that the church has some pretty serious "issues" and intelligent enough to have the ability to warp the very fabric of time and space around the gospel so that any piece of seemingly contradictory real-world evidence can be reconciled with axiom number one.

Fixing reality to fit "the truth" is not an impossible task. Here's a simple illustration of how it works (not invented by Mormons, but this is an example of the sort of thing I'm talking about):

2 Chronicles 4:2
Also he made a molten sea of ten cubits from brim to brim, round in compass, and five cubits the height thereof; and a line of thirty cubits did compass it round about.

So the diameter of the circle is 10 cubits and its circumference is 30 cubits. Even if it's an approximation, why not say 31 cubits? Or 31-and-a-half?

The simplest explanation is that the passage is in error because whoever wrote this verse didn't know that the ratio of the circumference to the diameter of a circle is pi, which is not three.

I've heard people interpret this verse as indicating that the circumference was measured from the inside of the basin and that the diameter was measured all the way to the outside edge of the brim, and thus the passage cleverly gave thickness of the wall of the basin. There is nothing in the passage to suggest this interpretation except for one's prior knowledge that the Bible is not wrong.

By similar reasoning -- and granting that the Devil and his angels are doing everything in their power to destroy the church -- anything at all can be reconciled with the axiom that the church is true. Everything has an explanation. I learned many of the familiar ones, and learned to come up with them myself.

For a time.

to be continued...

Monday, July 10, 2006


My present that my husband brought back for me from his math conference in Turin (Torino) was three comic books worth of that sexy Italian jewel thief Diabolik!!!

The Diabolik series is a little unusual in that it's the bad guy who is the good guy, or at least who is the protagonist. Diabolik is not exactly a good guy -- he has this rather questionable habit of killing people in cold blood in order to steal jewels. He's sort of redeemed by his overpowering love and fidelity for his supermodelesque girlfriend-and-partner-in-crime Lady Eva Kant.

(Even though it's an Italian series, it seems to be set in England for some reason...)

The story is entertaining although it requires the most incredible suspension of disbelief. Already the fact that Diabolik and Eva Kant can impersonate anyone -- perfectly -- just using rubber masks and wigs is, well, unbelievable. However the most ridiculous part in my mind is that Diabolik makes his living stealing these famous, incredibly valuable jewels, yet in all the episodes I've read, I haven't seen any concern or explanation of how he manges to resell these objects for money. Yet Diabolik has as many gadgets as Batman or James Bond. To me it's not clear that he could really afford all these amazing gadgets just on the black-market value of stolen jewels. So I've developed my own theory that in his spare time he likes to steal stuff from Wallace and Gromit's house.

I know, I know, worrying about such questions ruins the whole thing since -- when you come right down to it -- the entire premise is totally absurd. It's just a fantasy for people who want to imagine the exciting and glamorous lifestyle of a famous evil sexy superhero jewel thief, and I should just leave it at that.

Actually, I'm pretty happy to discover I'm still able to read these little comic books at all.

After learning French, I'd gotten the idea that it would be fun to learn lots of languages, so I started studying a bunch of others. Italian was the one where I'd gotten the farthest -- I'd gotten to the point of being able to write letters, have a rudimentary conversation, and read some real books.

But learning new languages is a time-consuming hobby, so back when I had a toddler and a baby and a full-time job, something had to give. Now that the kids are getting a little more independent, I'm embarrassed to admit I haven't had the discipline to get back to my studies.

I was reminded of my former hobby recently when I got the latest membership directory of a club I joined years ago, and for me under "hobbies/interests" I see "foreign languages."

I suppose one of these days I'll have to call up the lady in charge of the directory and say "Ummm... could you change that from 'foreign languages' to... ummm... blogging...? Thanks."

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Maybe next time les bleus !!!

I didn't watch any of the games of this World Cup, but I still felt like a part of the whole thing because I didn't even have to leave my house to hear the cheering whenever France would score. :D

There was a little too much silence during that last game...

Friday, July 07, 2006

Stories of leaving Mormonism

Noell (Agnostic Mom) has been posting a fascinating account of her journey out of Mormonism:

Leaving The Church Part 1
Leaving The Church Part 2
Leaving The Church Part 3
Leaving The Church Part 4

The thing that is most interesting to me is to see how different her path was from mine, despite some common elements. I've seen so much diversity in the experiences (and also in the personalities and temperaments) of the people I've met through RfM, exmo-social, and now Outer Blogness.

I think Domokun summed it up best in this post Looking Beyond the Mark:

I do know some apostates who were ultra-orthodox believing members. I also know many so-called "Liahona" mormons who became full-fledged apostates. There are jack-mormons who live heathen lifestyles who now no longer believe. There is an entire spectrum of belief and practice of those who finally come to the conclusion that the church is not for them, for whatever reason. In short, I think that the demographic of apostate mormons is orthogonal to orthodoxy in belief or practice.

Agnostic Mom's story inspired Tom Clark to post his story too: Born In The Cove.... (Tom is the same "TLC" who was a popular character on RfM and exmo-social, and who runs the Gay Mormon Stories site -- required reading for anyone who wants to understand the experiences of growing up gay and Mormon.)

Then these stories inspired JLO to post his deconversion story.

Plus I plan to post my own deconversion story as well in the coming weeks...

Thursday, July 06, 2006

A visit from a celebrity exmo!!!

Woo-hoo!!! On Tuesday I got to have lunch with a real live celebrity exmo!!! It's always a big deal here on "Letters from a broad..." when someone from the Internet exmormon community comes here to France to visit me because it happens essentially never.

The only other celebrity exmo who has ever come here in person was Kristen Gilbert (who visited last Summer). But even though she's a nurse, she turned out not to be the serial killer Kristen Gilbert, but was in fact an entirely different nurse Kristen Gilbert. That realization made her visit a little less spectacular from a "celebrity visit" point of view, but on the upside she didn't kill any of us. And as many of you recall, she brought me an amusing sex toy, but that's a different story...

Tuesday's visit was from musician/songwriter Rudi Cazeaux!!!

Rudi is kind of exceptional in the exmo community because he's French by birth (although he doesn't live in France anymore). He's not the only one of course, but you have have to admit that French exmos are a tad less common than, say, exmos from Utah. In fact, Rudi was born and raised here in Bordeaux!!!

Since he's from Bordeaux and he served a mission for the LDS church, naturally -- back when he first left a comment on my blog mentioning where he was from -- I couldn't help but ask him for feedback on part VIII ("Bordeaux Mission") of my novel Exmormon.

He replied with a bunch of good comments and suggestions, including: "It was like listening to my own thoughts when I was on a mission" and "What I didn't expect was the poignancy of the ending, the self-doubts, the thoughts during the interview and the meal. You have managed to capture the mixture of certainty and self-doubt that most missionaries go through. You've also captured the male psyche/inner thoughts frighteningly well. The last chapters with the lines of poetry were particularly beautiful and touching."

Now if you know anything about me, you know that nothing makes me happier than when people like my little stories and relate to the characters, so basically Rudi was my best friend in the universe before I ever even met him.

The picture I've posted is unfortunately the only picture I have of me with Rudi (taken by the waiter at the restaurant where we went to lunch). I say unfortunately because even though Rudi looks adorable, I look like crap (which is what really counts -- this is my blog after all dangit!), which is why I made the photo super, extra small. In hopes that it would be very difficult for you to see it.

Rudi is a charming guy, and great conversation. I highly recommend his CD, which you can listen to by following the link above. It turns out that the title track is a Christmas song (apparently he does a fair amount of music work in conjunction with his new church). Of course I love Christmas music -- as I mentioned here, I have an elaborate collection of it, and I'm sure you'll be hearing more about it from me in the future. It's perhaps bad news for my husband (who barely tolerates my Christmas music collection) but hey, I didn't seek it out, it's found music, so he can't complain. ;-)

Thanks Rudi for your visit!!! It was great meeting you, and I hope to see you again!!!

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Fertility, Mortality or Sex vs. Death

One time I heard my sister commenting to my mom about how striking it was that the book she was reading – set around 150 years ago – was so full of death and so focused on death. My mom replied that back then the romantic ideal was a beautiful death scene.

“In those days,” she explained, “people were obsessed with death the way people today are obsessed with sex.”

I didn't say anything, but I was dying to point out how fortunate we are today. Which would you rather have: romantic sex or a romantic death?

I'm being completely serious when I say this. Increased life expectancy – combined with convenient, effective contraception – has dramatically transformed our whole society and outlook.

Today if you're in a loving marriage, you expect to be able to grow old together. Abusive or otherwise bad marriages are ended by choice, rather than having good and bad marriages alike cut short by untimely deaths.

And as a parent, rather than having more children than you can effectively handle – and then watching many of them die – you can typically choose to have no more kids than you think you can raise well, and more importantly, you can base this calculation on the expectation that you will most likely see them all live to adulthood.

This is no small matter. If I had to give up every single other advance of our miraculous modern era to keep this one, I would.

Our society has new attitudes and values that are the product of our current life-cycle. As Noƫll was saying the other day on Agnostic Mom, ideas about child safety have changed.

I think the change boils down to the following calculation:

Imagine that your children have a one-in-ten chance of dying in childhood of disease or malnutrition and a one-in-five-hundred chance of dying in an accident. In that case, massive efforts to keep them safe from harm don't improve their chances of survival very much. You improve your family's overall survival rate by focusing on more productive tasks than babysitting and by leaving the kids to roam free and fend for themselves.

Now imagine that the disease and malnutrition death risk drops to one-in-five-thousand. Suddenly the one-in-five-hundred risk of accidental death is no longer a trivial side-note. It becomes worth your while to follow the kids closely to make sure nothing happens to them, even if it means a huge expenditure of time and energy.

I don't mean to suggest that individuals are consciously making this mental calculation. But society makes it unconsciously and our customs change accordingly. That's why there's been such a dramatic increase in child-safety practices within this generation (car-seats and other safety paraphernalia, attitudes about how much supervision children require), even though our current fertility/mortality situation essentially goes back another full generation or more. It takes about a generation for a culture to learn something – in this case for people to notice the disproportionately high rate of preventable accidental childhood deaths compared to total childhood deaths – and for attitudes and practices to change.

Contraception and working women enter into this same calculation. The long and short of it is that if Mom's salary is essential to the family budget, then every single additional baby is dauntingly costly. So if you are convinced that the ones you have will live and you have a simple means of not having any more, then just focusing on your current brood becomes a very attractive option.

That's essentially how it has gone is our house. When my second was a baby, I was sure I wanted a third kid. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that I mostly wanted a third as a back-up to soften the devastating blow if something happened to one of my other two. It wasn't so much that I wanted three kids as it was that I didn't want less than these two, and I've kind of decided that that's a bad reason to have another kid. I figure it would be better just to be extra careful with the two I've got.

(For simplicity I haven't mentioned my husband here, but he's on the same page.)

The other half of the calculation is that we can just barely afford to have a nanny come in and take care of them while I'm at work, and we can't keep it up indefinitely. I assume a lot of families end up doing some sort of equivalent time-and-money calculation about kids at some point. In our modern value system, the strategy is to have only as many kids as your abilities and finances will allow you to raise correctly, and make every one of them count.

I'm not saying that people in the past loved their children less. But even if you have an unlimited amount of love (which is not a guarantee), you have only a finite amount of time, energy, and resources. So it's no accident that nuggets of Victorian wisdom such as “spare the rod and spoil the child” or “children should be seen and not heard” are shocking to modern ears. Today it is seen as irresponsible to have children you don't want, and criminal to abuse or neglect them. Not so many generations ago, having more children than you want was standard operating procedure, so society was a little more lenient on the whole abuse-and-neglect thing.

Additionally, as painful as losing a child obviously was in generations past, I suspect that it is more devastating today if only because today's parents are totally unprepared for it. A few hundred years ago, you expected to see some of your children die. It was a fact of life that you learned to accept by seeing it happen to so many others. A modern parent is also less likely to have a natural support system of people who will say “I know exactly how you feel – I remember when that happened to me,” and instead may be isolated as friends have no idea how to deal with the situation or what to say.

I've heard people argue that the hard-headed, cruel-but-realistic solution to world overpopulation is just to stand by and let children in poorer countries die. For those who are heartless enough not to be offended by the cruelty of this solution, I contend that it is also wrong in practical terms, and in fact is dangerously counterproductive. The thing is that it is very difficult to persuade people that it's a good idea to have only two or three kids if the kids have a one-in-ten chance of dying of disease, malnutrition, stepping on a land mine, etc. So if you take a poor country where people are having seven to ten kids – to maximize the survival rate – you end up with quite a lot more kids total than if families there were having two kids each and every single one of them lived.

The darker calculation is that where children are likely to die senselessly of diphtheria or malaria, it's human nature for their parents to prefer to see them die honorably fighting whatever enemy they imagine caused their family's hardships...

For their own safety if nothing else, the people of the wealthier countries need to make it a priority to help the rest of the world get to a state where (1) people have access to basic health care, especially contraception and prenatal, neonatal, and pediatric care, (2) children are unlikely to die of disease, malnutrition, and violence, and (3) the mother's economic contribution is vital to the family's finances, giving her more footing to decide in family planning issues and making each additional baby more costly and hence more valuable.

These goals are far from easy. However, nothing else has been shown to reverse the trend of overpopulation and its accompanying ills.

I'm sorry this essay isn't very amusing. I just wanted to post all of my crazy theories on this subject in one coherent article to make it easier to refer to them later.

And in case this post isn't already sufficiently long, boring, and controversial, I'd like to add one last point about my generation's obsession with sex:

It's only reasonable to expect that healthy, well-fed adults who aren't busily raising more kids than they can handle would have an overactive libido. Natural selection wouldn't have it any other way.

What a miraculous age we live in!!!

So many possibilities, so many responsibilities...

Sunday, July 02, 2006


When my Leo turned three this past month, it was a huge milestone for my family. Finally we have no one left in the household in that dangerous zero-to-thirty-six-months age range.

Unfortunately this doesn't let me entirely off the hook in terms of child-proofing. Still, there's a big difference between being on the lookout for hazards that are actually hazardous (knives, poisonous cleaning fluids, busy streets) versus being on the lookout for all of those things plus any random object small enough to fit through a toilet paper tube.

The latent Mormon in me decided to celebrate this joyous occasion with a visit to the craft store to check out what sorts of no-longer-deadly folk art projects my kids and I might like to try together.

The other reason I wanted to go to the craft store was to do a little investigative reporting to see if this whole scrapbooking craze had made it to France yet. And yes indeed it has!

I'd always heard of scrapbooks -- which I thought of as books with various souvenirs stuck to the pages (ticket stubs from a memorable concert and the like). But I'd never heard of scrapbooking™ -- as a verb -- until I learned that it's all the rage these days in Mormon circles. (Please don't try to convince me that it's not new -- as far as I'm concerned, any LDS cultural innovation within the past fifteen years is new.)

I had noticed years ago that my sister had started sending some pretty amazing handmade greeting cards. But the related hobby of scrapbooking didn't show up on my radar until I read about it in Christopher Bigelow's Kindred Spirits. Like my novel, his is partially set in Orem, but although we both captured some of the timeless aspects of LDS culture (multi-level-marketing companies, creative first names), I knew I wouldn't be up on the latest fashions. That's why mine is a period piece.

Of course scrapbooking turned out to be one of those things where once I learned of its existence, I see it everywhere and wonder how I could have missed it before. I've even caught them talking about it over on RfM.

In one recent discussion, they were trying to decide whether scrapbooking is a general hobby or just a Mormon thing. The consensus was that it's a general hobby, but that Mormons love it more dearly than anyone else does.

One intriguing piece of evidence someone reported was seeing the only two choices of church building scrapbooking stamps (in a store in a very low Mormon concentration area) were one generic church and the Salt Lake Temple. As soon as I read that, I was dying to see if it would be the same in France. Because here finding a Mormon temple anything in a random store would be really something.

The result turned out not to be terribly newsworthy: as any reasonable person would have expected, there was nothing specifically Mormon-related in the whole scrapbooking department of my local craft store. It was kind of silly of me to have even imagined I'd find them selling a scrapbooking stamp of the Salt Lake Temple here. I think it's my nationalistic pride in the superiority of American retail science that makes me picture the French buyer who chose the stock as being some hapless amateur who would just order the generic American scrapbooking supplies set without a second thought about tailoring the stock to the local tastes. I should start giving these French retailers some credit. A careful examination of all of their choices of stamps yielded (among many other things) one generic church, two different very cute stylized versions of the Eiffel Tower, and no Salt Lake Temple. So, good job French retailers -- I'll try not to underestimate you so absurdly again.

It was pretty clear from looking at the display though that this fad didn't originate in France. A lot of the packaging was English-only, not to mention the word "scrapbooking" itself prominently displayed. Yet apparently it has taken root to the point where some of the books of ideas were clearly written for the French market and not just translated from English. Picking one up off the shelf and looking through it, I saw a page of ideas on how to beautifully set off the photos of one's inevitable weekend in Paris.

In theory, the book might still have been originally written for Americans since Americans also occasionally go on trips to Paris. But the clincher was the page of ideas on how to beautifully set off one's photos of little boys peeing against a tree.

Perhaps you think I'm joking. If only I were joking. Sadly, I am not joking.

Of course both of my kids were born and raised (so far) here in France, so really I'm more of a French mom than an American mom. For example, I learned to administer medicine to them by sticking it in their little bums rather than in their mouths. So I should probably just accept the fact that resistance is futile and resign myself to a future of chuckling over albums full of cute pictures of my little guys peeing in the great out-of-doors...

Aside from the cute peeing photos, I have to admit that all of these scrapbooking supplies looked fun. My main problem is that I have no graphic design sense whatsoever (exhibit A: this blog...) so I wouldn't be able to resist the temptation to overload my page with every cutesy accessory possible rather than coming up with a reasonable design and decorating in moderation.

Sure I could get some books and copy the suggested designs. But I can't bring myself to invest the time and money if I can't expect to be able to auto-suggest myself into believing I'm doing something original. If I'm spending my time manufacturing something more expensive and probably not as nice as a decorative item I could purchase ready-made, there's just this part of my brain that won't stop saying there's something wrong with this picture.

So I haven't given in to the lure of scrapbooking.