Wednesday, December 27, 2006

I believe in Santa Claus...

'Tis the season when many atheists, Christians, and Pagans alike are asking themselves whether to tell their kids that Santa Claus is a real person or just a story.

This question is a stock theme in Christmas movies and specials, and I've always been fascinated by the treatment of it. In particular I spent way too much time as a kid contemplating the solutions found in Christmas specials such as The Year without a Santa Claus and that Rankin-Bass cartoon special with the mice of Twas the Night Before Christmas.

In The Year without a Santa Claus, I love the part where Santa Claus -- incognito -- heartfully sings "There's no question in my mind that he does exist!" That has got to be one of my all-time favorite lines anywhere in all of the literary arts just because it's so surreal. It's as if I were reading along in Pride and Prejudice and during one of their garden walks Elizabeth turns to Mr. Darcy and says "Wait a minute... Do we really exist or are we just fictional characters?"

I don't know if all of you have seen that cartoon with the mice as many million times as I have, so since it's less famous, I'll give you a quick run-down: The nerdy poindexter too-smart-for-his-own-britches brainiac mouse writes a letter to the editor of the local paper explaining that Santa Claus doesn't exist, and Santa Claus takes offense and decides he won't be giving any presents to anyone in the whole town. (Nice, huh?) So the others convince poindexter to believe in Santa and to fix the town's special clock that was built to placate Santa with Christmas music.

The mouse cartoon has an interesting musical number that gives an intriguing argument against skepticism. (I'm typing this from memory, so feel free to correct me if I've made any errors):

There's more to the world than meets the eye,
when doubt's in your mind give your heart a try,
let up a little on the wonder why
and give your heart a try.

What would Spring be without the Easter Bunny?
Like a rainbow that doesn't end in money.
And a Valentine would certainly look stupid
without a cupid
so let his arrow in your heart.
That would be a start.

The musical number "I Believe in Santa Claus" (from The Year without a Santa Claus) has a similar theme. The skeptical kid's dad sings about seeing Santa himself as a kid and hearing Santa say to him the following:

"So you're too old for Santa Claus?"
he said with a smile,
"Then you're too old for all the things
that make a life worthwhile.
For what is happiness but dreams,
and do they all come true?
Look at me and tell me, son,
what is real to you."

Like I said, I've spent way too much time trying to figure out what these songs could possibly mean. I think it's very likely I've spent more time contemplating them than the songwriters did before they were recorded. And the more I try to figure them out, the more I feel like I'm Mr. Spock trying to make some sense of these unfathomable humans.

On the one hand, the two songs above seem to take a very negative and dismissive attitude towards people who refuse to let a little magic into their lives. Yet interestingly they seem to be arguing that you should believe your cherished myths even though they're not true. In other words, their argument against the skeptic is not that he's wrong, but rather that by pointing out that the myths are fiction, he's being a big spoil-sport and raining on everyone's parade.

The Polar Express is a more recent movie covering this same question, and one that -- thanks to my kids -- I'm well on my way to having seen and contemplated as much as I have these other two.

The Polar Express also seems to make the point that you should believe for the sake of believing. But it doesn't belabor the point with a musical number like the other two. This one takes an entirely different strategy, one which I find about a hundred times more hilarious. I don't know if they're just following the book or what, but these writers basically seem to have observed the following:

"Hey, if our goal is to convince the skeptical characters to believe in Santa Claus -- and we've set the story in a fantasy universe where Santa Claus really does exist -- why bother persuading the skeptics to overlook the lack of evidence? Why not just show them the evidence?"

So that's what they do. The doubting kids get a free train ride to the North Pole where they get to meet Santa in person, and see all of his magic in action -- the flying reindeer, stopping time at midnight, fitting billions of presents into a magic bag -- the works!!!

The result? The doubting kids are convinced that, yes, Santa Claus really does exist. I think that's the best solution ever to this problem!!! Hell, that'd be enough to convince me!!! :D

(As long as it was reproducible...)

Personally, I don't think it makes Christmas any less fun to realize that the Santa story is just fiction like many other fun stories we like to tell at Christmas time. That's what it was to me as a kid. I don't have any recollection of ever having thought that Santa Claus was real or of discovering he's not, and I'm certain that's the sort of thing my anecdote-oriented brain would have saved.

Even though my Dad wanted all of us kids to believe Santa was real, as far as I recall none of us ever did. I suspect that my mom may have been secretly slipping us hints that it's really just a fun story. My mom is a bit of a natural skeptic in that she's not shy about her opinion that it's absurd to believe in things like superstitions, astrology, ESP, etc.

You may be protesting right about now "But isn't she a believing Mormon?" It turns out that's a big part of it. The thing is that my mom likes to maintain a wall of separation between "Mormon truth" and other types of supernatural-not-backed-by-evidence beliefs that many people hold. She doesn't like people to notice parallels between the two.

After all, if we notice that the Santa story isn't real -- but we believe it just for the joy of believing -- there's a danger of wondering "Hmm, and what about that other Christmas story...?"

Monday, December 25, 2006

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!!!

I like to call this one "It's the tradition that counts..."

Here's a shot of me attempting to pass along the joyous Christmas tradition of "rich roll cookies" to my son Nicolas. I've made this recipe tons of times, and this year was the first time I royally screwed it up.

This experience demonstrates the perils of baking only once a year. I tracked down as many of my American measure measuring cups as I could find (most were in various toyboxes), but all of the labels had rubbed off saying which one was which. I thought I'd be able to figure out which was which just by eyeballing it "Is this a half-cup or a cup? Guess it looks like a cup..." and I was very, very wrong. And even though the dough had the wrong consistency as I put it in the fridge to chill, I still didn't realize how badly I'd messed up until I tried to roll out the dough and cut it and bake it. And all the little shapes (that had been so much trickier than usual to cut out) liquefied and ran together.

I went ahead and baked them all anyway, and the result was almost tolerably edible if I do say so myself!!!

I think a lot of culinary innovations are the result of "serendipity" (a.k.a. errors ;-) ), so I thought of patenting this new recipe and marketing it as "Little Baked Pats o' Butter," but then it hit me that I'm probably not the first to make this mistake, and really they weren't very good.

Anyway at least I felt festive in my red-and-green-plaid Christmas apron!!! And I'll do better next year.

If anyone has forgotten my position on the whole Christmas thing, here's the explanation: Tradition! :D

Friday, December 22, 2006

The latest from exmo-lit's master of suspense: Behind Closed Doors by Natalie R. Collins

This January will bring us another exciting thriller from the exmo community's own Natalie R. Collins!!!

The same author that wrote the unforgettable Wives and Sisters has a brand-new novel about to hit the shelves: Behind Closed Doors!!! This new novel is a complex mystery that kept me in suspense right up to the end. And it was scary enough that it actually gave me a nightmare!!!

Since murder mysteries aren't my specialty, I was a little worried when I picked up this book that it might just be a reworking of the same material as Natalie's earlier novel. After all, how much can you do with a Mormon-themed murder mystery?

Oh me of little faith!!! ;^)

It should have been obvious to me that LDS culture is rich enough to provide plenty of different situations for setting up a dark and shadowy thriller. And Collins has done a great job here of exploring a different segment of the LDS community and different facets of Mormon doctrine to create a new mystery with an original flavor.

In terms of criticism of Mormonism, Collins' earlier novel (Wives and Sisters, discussed here and here) dealt with the fact that repentant abusers are sometimes shielded by the church hierarchy and hence given the opportunity to strike again. In her new novel (Behind Closed Doors), Collins explores the theme of how LDS victims of date rape are affected by the teaching (especially from S. W. Kimball's The Miracle of Forgiveness) that one should fight to the death rather than "lose one's virtue" by being raped.

Now some of you are probably thinking that this must be some sort of anti-Mormon book. Well, that depends on your definition of anti-Mormon. It is certainly not complementary to Mormonism. The protagonists are Mormon apostates and the villains are Mormons. The book portrays domestic violence taking place in LDS homes.

However, this time the author was careful to explicitly state (I think twice) that domestic violence exists in every type of community and isn't something unique to Mormonism. Reading Natalie's blog I can't help but think she spelled it out this time because she was tired of getting angry emails from Mormons accusing her of portraying Mormonism as having some sort of monopoly on evil, abusive people.

Really I think it's more that the author's specialty is suspenseful thrillers -- which require evil villains by definition -- and she sets them in Mormon country because, well, write what you know. And it's not as if nothing bad ever happens in LDS communities...

The point I think has the most potential to offend LDS readers is that the novel opens with the main character in the temple thinking about how she'd been freaked out and traumatized by her first experience with the endowment ceremony. I've never been through the temple myself (except baptisms for the dead of course) so I'm not sure if her description of the ceremony is sufficiently detailed to qualify as "anti-Mormon." But from what I've read of people's temple experiences on exmo blogs (and even on LDS blogs really), I think her character's reaction to the ceremony isn't so far-fetched as to be unrealistic.

Even so, the fact that the book contains a negative perspective on the endowment ceremony is probably enough to make this book offensive to some Mormons. So I'm glad she put it right at the beginning so that if you're going to be offended by the book, you can get your shot of righteous indignation from the very first chapter -- indeed the first line -- and then put the book down. That's much better than having to read the whole book, getting angrier and angrier as you go, until by the end you're so pissed-off that you can't help but send Natalie one of those "Why are you so mean and angry?" emails. If you do that, all that will come of it is that Natalie will find your message amusing, and she'll post it in full to her blog surrounded by wry comments. And really, you don't want to waste your time (and Natalie's) on such a pointless exercise. Actually, if you think you'd be offended by reading about someone being spooked by the temple ceremony, then do yourself a favor and don't even pick up this book at all.

One detail from this book that really jumped out as hilarious was the fact that the author created a male apostate character who has the misfortune of being named Moroni. The reason this detail made me literally laugh out loud was that the exact same ironic detail -- an apostate guy saddled with the name Moroni -- makes an appearance in D. Michael Martindale's new book Brother Brigham!!!

It just goes to show that "Mormon Literature" and "post-Mormon Literature" are really just two faces of the same thing -- two different real, human, valid views of the exact same culture.

It hit me that because Mormon lit and anti-Mormon lit are two totally separate and unrelated categories -- everywhere except on my blog ;-) -- I think it's very likely that I may be the only person in the world at this moment who has read both of these hot new books on the Mormon lit scene: Brother Brigham on the faithful side of the Mo-lit divide (discussed here) and Behind Closed Doors representing the apostate side. Yay me!!! :D

Now you're probably wondering how it came to be that I've already read Behind Closed Doors since it doesn't come out until January 2, 2007.

So, would you like the true version or the improved and embellished version? ;-)

The true version is that with this photo I won in the "farthest away" category of Natalie's book-sighting contest. And when she wrote me to ask what book I would like as my prize, I asked her to send me one of her own novels, so she sent me a coveted "advance reading copy" of this new book.

The improved and embellished version is that I'm one of those influential, trend-setting, book-reviewing bloggers that publishers like to send their advance reading copies to!!!

Yep, I'm really moving up in the blogs-about-books world!!!

Fictionally speaking. ;-)

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Mr. White Christmas: The fabulous world of Heat Miser and Snow Miser!!!

The Year without a Santa Claus has got to be hands down the most entertaining Christmas special ever made for television. I know some of you are probably partial to some of the other classics from the golden age of Christmas specials, works such as Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer and the cartoon version of How the Grinch Stole Christmas -- and I'll admit that both of those beat out The Year without a Santa Claus in terms of overall artistic merit -- but neither can hold a candle to it in terms of random, wacky fun!!!

The Year without a Santa Claus is the show that proves that colorful characters and memorable scenes are far more important than trivialities such as internal consistency or a plot that makes sense.

Who could forget the sweet, clever, and conniving Mrs. Claus? Or the cordial yet no-nonsense Mother Nature (who starts by using gentle persuasion to get her kids to help out, but -- when that doesn't work -- doesn't hesitate to threaten them with lightning bolts, yikes!) Or the Miser brothers? What a pair!!!

Snow Miser controlling the Northern part of the world turning everything into icicles, and his nasty brother Heat Miser keeping the South so hot there was nary a snowflake a year! With their theme castles, their identical miniature dancing minions, and their high-camp rivalry for Mommy's affection, these guys have definitely earned a spot in the canon of beloved Christmas characters. Right up there with the Grinch, Ebeneezer Scrooge, Santa, Rudolph, the baby Jesus, the li'l drummer boy, etc.

Some of you are probably wondering -- given that I claimed that James (from Thomas the Tank Engine) is gay -- if I will also claim that Snow Miser is gay. Because if James the Red Engine is gay, then Snow Miser is really, really gay. Just compare his "I'm Mr. White Christmas" number with his brother's "I'm Mr. Green Christmas" number, and you'll see what I mean. Snow Miser just sparkles with fabulosity!!!

But I think we concluded here that while there's a correlation between gayness and fabulosity, they aren't one and the same. So who knows? Maybe Snow Miser is gay, or maybe he just happens to be fabulous. ;-)

Regarding the plot holes, I'd always assumed that either the writers were on drugs when they wrote this script or they decided to forgo the script thing altogether and just wing it.

Then, while watching the opening credits a couple of years ago, I saw the key that made that little light-bulb of comprehension light up over my little head: the special has a songwriter, plus a screenplay writer, plus it was based on a book by someone else.

This was my answer for why big chunks of the special are written in rhymed verse but most of it isn't. I'd thought they'd started in verse but decided it was too much work and switched to prose, then for fun went back to verse at the end. But maybe it was really that the parts written in verse are quotes from the original text.

What an epiphany! A lot of things that had never made sense were explained by the fact that there were three writers who were not at all on the same wavelength. For example, take a basic question like: How did the kids of the world react when they heard Santa Claus wasn't coming this year? Were they sad? Happy? Indifferent?

Let's ask the song lyrics:

And the children they cried,
they thought Santa had died,
every eye shed a blue Christmas tear.

And what does the rhymed text have to say about it?

Fast as a hurricane children hurled
the happy message around the world.
Over each continent, isle, and isthmus:
"Let's give Santa a Merry Christmas!"

And the screenplay?

Iggy: Hey, you're dressed up like a couple of Christmas elves! Haven't you heard the news? Santa's taking a holiday.
girl: Yeah, it was in all the papers.
Jingle (elf): Well, you don't seem to be very upset about it.
Iggy: Upset? Why should I be upset?
girl: Yeah, what's the big deal?
Jangle (elf): You mean you don't care if Santa Claus comes or not? None of you?
kids: Nah!

I was thrilled by this new insight, and immediately wanted to use textual analysis to divide the special into the components written by the different authors the way the Biblical scholars isolated the "book of J" from the sections written by the other anonymous authors of the first part of the Old Testament. (Yes, I know, I should be telling this to a psychiatrist and not to a blog, but blogging is cheaper...)

This idea explained annoying contradictions like the fact that the opening song recounts what Santa says when he wakes up on the day decides to cancel Christmas. Then the prose dialog shows the same scene, and it's completely different!!

Plus the one that bugged me most as a kid: Mrs. Claus does this whole song-and-dance routine explaining her plan to dress up as Santa Claus -- saying specifically "I'll make sure they only see me from the back!" Yet (in the spoken dialog) when the elves recognize her from the front she immediately decides she might as well scrap the whole plan and move on to plan B...

I developed a whole elaborate theory about which parts of the script were paraphrased from the original, and which parts were made up by the screenwriter. As a guide, I assumed that original made sense, and blamed the screenwriter's additions to explain oddities like "Why is it Heat Miser and Snow Miser instead of Heat Miser and Cold Miser? Why does Snow Miser say they're 'step-brothers' if they have the same mom? Why are they called misers since they don't hoard heat or snow for themselves but instead do exactly the opposite?"

I know, I know, you've got the shrink's number handy, but hear me out. The thing is that once you notice this show is treasure-trove of non-sequiturs, it becomes a fun game to try to find as many of them as you can. I'll be listing some more below, so if you want to play, stop reading now and go watch it again!!! See if you can find more of them than I did!!!

I especially hoped to figure out an explanation for the fact that the main reason they go see the miser brothers in the first place is to free their reindeer from the dog pound. Yet Santa takes care of that problem before they even set off. Also, after they make such a huge deal about the bargain being "one day of snow in Southtown in exchange for one Spring day at the North Pole," how come it was snowy for more than one day in Southtown? And whatever happened to that warm day at the North Pole? Oops...

After devising an elaborate theory about which parts of the prose screenplay were possibly paraphrasings from the book (and posting the theory in even more excruciatingly boring detail than this to exmo-social), it hit me that the division was simpler than I'd thought: Now I suspect that none of the prose dialog was based on the book. I got this idea when I noticed that if you just take all of the verse parts and paste them together, they make a complete and coherent story alone. I think the writers of the special basically copy-pasted the whole book into the script, but since it wasn't nearly long or interesting enough for a special, they just made up that entire sub-plot about the elves going to Southtown and then meeting the Miser brothers and Mother Nature and all that.

This second realization meant that to explain the truck-sized holes in the screenplay I'd have to go back to my "on drugs" and "making it up as they went along" theories. One of my favorite non-sequiturs is entirely confined to the prose dialog: Upon arriving in Southtown, the elves get a citation for (among other things) "wearing funny looking suits on a Sunday." From there they go to the school to talk to the kids. And there they find the all kids of the town in attendance. But wait, wasn't it Sunday?

You end up so confused by the story that you don't even notice the weird ethnocentricities like the fact that "the northern part of the world" is cold and the southern part hot, or that children of every country celebrate Christmas, or that there are no black people at all in Southtown, U.S.A. Or even random weirdities like the fact that when the mom discovers some strange man talking to her young son, her immediate reaction is to invite him in and offer him some tea. Um... Okay....

Now if you've read this far without ever having seen The Year without a Santa Claus, you're probably wondering why I would find it amusing to tear apart such an easy target. But the thing is that -- in spite of all of this -- it's a fun piece to watch. The same writers that filled it with nonsense are the ones that created those fabulous characters and scenes. It's kind of like Plan 9 from Outer Space that way, only perhaps a tad more professional.

The fact that it doesn't need to make sense in order to delight is part of its magic. :D

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Brother Brigham and Zarahemla Books

What do you do when obeying the commandment to raise a family means kissing all your dreams goodbye and getting locked into a dead-end job for life? And barely keeping your head above water at that? And what if the prophet is leading the church astray? That's when you need a miracle.

C. H. Young is making the best of plodding through the responsibilities of his humble life when all of the sudden he wins the lottery -- Mormon style!!!

If you believe in Mormon doctrine, on some level you you believe this could happen: An angel appears to an undistinguished person and tells him to prepare to be called to lead the church because it's time to restore "the new and everlasting covenant" (polygamy) and the sitting prophet is disobeying the command to do it.

It's every Mormon guy's secret fantasy and every Mormon woman's secret nightmare played out in thrilling detail. If you want to psychoanalyze a whole religion through its darkest dreams, Brother Brigham offers you Mormonism's naked psyche.

As C. H. struggles with accepting his call, the hardest part is dealing with the fact that he wants it -- but doesn't want to want it -- as by luck or divine providence all of the pieces fall neatly into place for him. Finally being able to provide things that are a little bit nicer than the rock-bottom bare necessities for his beloved family is on some level a guilty pleasure even when commanded by God. Finally having the opportunity to develop his musical talents is a spiritual command that C. H. can't help but experience in sensual detail. And sincerely struggling to be a "good polygamous husband" as he divides his attentions between two sexy ladies competing for his love? You can bite into the feeling of how badly he doesn't want to want it...

The story really isn't threatening to an LDS reader's faith -- it's frightening only on the level of "Do we really want to go there? Do we really want to be prodding this sore spot? Exploring every emotion in intimate and reckless abandon?" Yet the novel provides a weirdly cathartic purging of these dangerous feelings.

It's a guilty pleasure to read Brother Brigham. It's a story that takes you to heaven and hell and back. You read it in a day then catch your breath and want a cigarette. Then you remember you don't smoke.

Brother Brigham by D. Michael Martindale is one of three original titles being offered by the new LDS publishing house Zarahemla Books!!! The other two currently offered are Kindred Spirits by Christopher Bigelow (discussed here) and Long After Dark by Todd Robert Petersen which I haven't read yet. Zarahemla Books is also distributing some existing titles such as The Pictograph Murders by P. G. Karamesines.

From what I understand, the charter of Zarahemla Books is to provide fiction that is ultimately LDS-faith-friendly yet willing to explore a little bit outside the Deseret-Book-and-church-correlation box.

I assume at least some of you reading this think it's pretty wacky of me -- as a non-believer -- to have any interest at all in LDS fiction for the LDS audience. But really I'm fascinated by literary portraits of Mormon culture from all different perspectives. And I don't want to limit myself with a ridiculous conceit such as thinking it's impossible for a true believer to have an interesting take on some aspect of Mormonism.

Some say you "recover from Mormonism" by practically forgetting that you were ever Mormon at all. Others (not naming any names or anything ;-) ) seem to think that retaining a relaxed interest in exploring the culture that formed you is also a sign of a healthy and well-adjusted exmo. ;-)

If you're part of the latter camp (or if you're a Mormon or just Mo-curious), you might want to go have a look at the Zarahemla Books website and see what kind of entertainment the Mormons-outside-the-box have to offer!!! :D

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Good Morning Outer Blogness!!!

I've had a very productive hiatus!!!

I got maybe about half as much done as I'd been hoping in my wildest fantasies to get done, however my wildest fantasies were pretty ambitious, and I'm happy I got as much done as I did. And I'm not going to extend my hiatus because not blogging just makes me ornery.

In other good news, I've gotten myself into a good habit of reading my kids bedtime stories, which I hadn't really been doing before. I don't know if I sound like a good or a bad feminist saying "well I didn't finish all of my professional projects, but at least I spent more time with my kids..." The thing is, though, that when I get excited about a project I'm working on, I tend to focus on it obsessively -- to the exclusion of all else -- and I have to learn not to keep putting every other aspect of my life on hold until all of my projects are done. Because by the time I feel like I've finished all my projects and I'm ready to say "Okay, I can relax now," it'll be ten years later, and I'll look around and say "Now where are those kids I had? Oh, look, they're teenagers now! And surly ones at that. Hmmm, maybe I should have read them stories or something when they were little..."

Speaking of kids' stuff, on Monday we'll be going to their school to present some songs and stories in English. This is part of a really cool program their school does every year where they have all of the parents whose native language isn't French come in and share something with the kids in their native language. In addition to English, the kids have heard from parents speaking German, Spanish, Arabic, and I think some other European and African languages are scheduled. I like this program not only because I get to participate ;^) but also because the school has a lot of ethnic and racial diversity, and it's a way of giving the kids the idea that their differences are something to be proud of (since kids usually all want to fit in and be like everyone else). If anything interesting happens I'll blog about it, but I don't think I'll post pictures of the event since I'm pretty sure that posting kids' pictures to the Internet without their parents' consent is a no-no.

Now I have three blogging related items to share with you on this joyous occasion of my break-hiatus:
1. In Mormon-lit-blogging news: Carol Lynn Pearson has just started a blog called No More Goodbyes. If you haven't already visited, please have a look and welcome her to blogspace.
2. To start things off with a bang of controversy, my brother has posted a 7-point strategy for U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East, particularly Iraq. He has a lot of intriguing ideas, and -- unlike a lot of people -- he actually has a complete and coherent plan for how to deal with this serious and nearly intractable catastrophe. However if you hate his suggestions and think he's a bad American for saying so many bad things about the president, remember to post your angry comments over on his blog and not here. ;^)
3. Blogger is pressuring me to switch to blogger beta (by screwing up my ability to post comments on beta blogs). However, I hesitate to take the plunge because I'm scared something bad will happen -- such as the urls for my individual posts changing, breaking all of the links leading to individual posts here. Have others made the switch? Is it painless, or am I right to be afraid?

Monday, November 13, 2006

Still alive, still on hiatus...

Hi everyone!!! I'm just popping in to give you a quick update on what I'm up to:

My hiatus has been very productive so far, and my kids are doing great!!! Their new thing lately is whales and dolphins -- apparently they've decided to take a break from being hooked on trains.

However I have a lot left to do on my Java project, so I will continue to be on hiatus for another month. That means that I won't be posting new entries here (you didn't see this one...) and I (mostly) won't be reading the blogs in my sidebar until December 15.

I will return, though, so I'd like to kindly ask all those who are linking to me not to unlink me. :D

Oh, and to those of you who are not linking to me, link to me!!! Don't make me get out my leather outfit with the steel-tipped stilettos and my riding crop. ;^)

Even while I'm hard at work, I still get in a little bit of fun. Lately I've been drawing a series of illustrations for my novel Exmormon. As you know, I'm planning to post the whole novel as a serial, and I figured it'd be just that much more entertaining with pictures!!!

This new art project is taxing my meager artistic talents to the limit. Luckily the novel is a comedy -- so the illustrations don't have to be good, just funny. I can do funny. ;^)

As a sneak preview, here's one I drew over the weekend that I'm particularly pleased with:

Here's the full-size version: Mishies at the Cafe des Arts

You may have noticed that I've added illustrations to the sample chapters in my sidebar as well.

I look forward to being back up and blogging soon!!! Keep on keeping Outer Blogness warm for me!!! :D

Thursday, September 28, 2006

One year of "Letters from a Broad..."

Today's the day: one year ago today I started writing "Letters from a broad..." as a column in the (defunct) Utah Valley Monitor.

When I started, I set a goal to write regularly for one year and then decide what to do from there. Now I've succeeded in my goal, and I'm pleased with the results!!!

However -- as I'm sure many of you bloggers know only too well -- setting a goal to blog is a little like setting a goal to smoke crack. So it looks like for the moment I have no choice but to set a goal to not blog.

This hobby has become too much of a distraction from my real-life responsibilities: my family, my job, my home.

I've recently cut back on my working hours so that I can have one day a week to work on a new edition of my Java book and take care of my kids. This one day off per week is expensive for our little family, and I can't afford to let it get eaten up by blogging, which is would would happen if I'm not careful.

My plan is to temporarily go cold turkey from blogs and forums (except professional Java blogs and maybe my Star Trek forum), although I will probably still respond to comments on my blog. I expect to be back up and blogging some time in December. Hopefully JLO will be back from his hiatus around the same time. :D

When I come back, I hope to be starting on a brand-new Internet experiment:

I'm thinking of setting up a website for my novel Exmormon, and serializing it little by little through my blog over the course of a few years.

I got this idea because the Internet has been the root of so many fascinating innovations in communities and communication, and I'm curious to see what further directions it will lead. I know that in the past some novels were originally published as serials (notably some by Dickens), but it seems like that doesn't happen anymore -- I'm wondering if blogging and the Internet might bring it back. And I think it's very likely that more people will read the novel this way than if I find a real publisher.

This novel is (in my opinion) fabulous for this experiment because it's made up of independent segments that can be read separately. So I can pause between serializing different segments, and if new readers arrive after I'm two hundred pages into the story, they can pick up in the middle without being lost.

And if it doesn't fly it's no big loss -- I'm trying to take myself less seriously as a writer anyway. ;^)

That's why I only sent my novel pitch a few agents and publishers -- I've been planning this idea for a while.

Of course I'm still interested in finding a publisher who can get this book into real bookstores and such, so if you're a publisher or an agent (and willing to work with me on this serialize-it-through-my-blog idea), feel free to email me: chanson dot exmormon at gmail dot com.

For the rest of you: Ta-ta for now!!! I look forward to seeing you again in December.

Keep blog space warm for me and don't let Outer Blogness go all to hell... ;^)

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Spotlight on France

Okay, I've saved the best topic for last: France!!!

Life in France
Now you may not know this if you're not a know-it-all parent, but in fact you're not supposed to do that. Fortunately, we were able to muster up enough will-power to restrain ourselves from telling them that they're not supposed to do that. This is mostly because we didn't want to get trapped in a discussion involving other people's wacky parenting theories. (Also because the guy was nice enough to help us schlep some heavy baby furniture up four flights of stairs.) After all, if we start telling them not to do this or that, then we run the risk that they might point out that you're not supposed to drink any wine at all (not even one glass occasionally with dinner) if you're breast-feeding your baby. Strangely enough, this couple is really negative about wine, despite not being adherents of any peculiar religious group (as far as we can tell). My question is, if they don't like wine, then why do they bother living in France at all? Maybe it's because they were born here.

Le Metro !: No longer car-dependent, I'm now part of the French underground
First of all, I can't stand exercising for its own sake -- it bores me to tears. I once went a good 10 months of faithfully doing a 90-minute workout three times a week because I had a car commute to a sedentary programming job -- and believe me, I was crying on my Stairmaster the whole time.

Bilingual Babies: How do you say 'ga-ga' in French?
So -- just as it happens with many parents -- our first child taught us all about what kids are like, and then the second one taught us that all that stuff we learned from the first one wasn't really so much info about kids in general, but rather was only relevant to that one kid. I think it was a famous mathematician who once said, "I used to have three theories about child-rearing and no kids; now I have three kids and no theories about child-rearing." I'm kind of like that myself, except that I have only two kids, and I hate to think I was ever presumptuous enough to imagine I had a theory of child-rearing other than "Love 'em lots, and good luck!"

Merry Noël!: Making it festive in France
Actually my husband is a pretty good sport about indulging my insistence on filling our home with a sentimental Christmas. Even though he doesn't like Christmas music all that much, he helped me make the 15 or so CDs I compiled, each with 20 or so favorites taken from my vast collection of Christmas CDs. And this year he even encouraged me to get out my collection of Christmas CDs in early December and start playing them for our little boys. I appreciated that a lot even though on some level I suspect he was mostly just hoping it would get me to stop playing Saturday's Warrior.

Adventures in Dental Care: French dentists put me at a floss for words
I was listening and nodding with a blank smile on my face, but my tiny brain was saying "Um, I came here to see a dentist. Are you a dentist or what?"

Those Wacky Health Insurance Companies!
You'll probably say "Well, sure the French can handle routine procedures like births, but if something really bad happened to you, you'd wish you were back in the US!" I can't really answer that charge either way since fortunately nothing really bad has happened to me.

Merde, Alors !: My least favorite thing about France
Actually, I kind of hesitate to tell fellow Americans about this problem because they're likely to conclude that things haven't changed much in Europe since the days of the black plague. But that simply isn't true. Since those days, France has managed to rid the streets of the poo of every species except dog, and I have high hopes they will one day eliminate this last one as well.

Weekend in Paris
Then I figured while I was at it I'd ask for P. G. Karamesines novel The Pictograph Murders since that's what I was reading at the time. They didn't have that one either. Man, it's hard to find Mormon literature in France! I'm starting to think I may be the only person in all of France who blogs about Mormon literature.

Freedom Avenue!!!
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.)

Peanut Butter vs. Vegemite
So since moving to France, I've learned that the French don't eat peanut butter and they don't eat Vegemite. The Vegemite part didn't bother me so much since I'd never heard of Vegemite until my manager here was replaced by a guy from Australia. (Or so I thought -- when I told people I'd never heard of Vegemite, I found out that that line I never could understand from that one "Men at Work" song is actually "she just smiled and gave me a Vegemite sandwich." Live and learn!)

I'm not fabulous...
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.

Topless on the beach...
Now you may be wondering if these are these the same people that you would like to see with their shirts off, orientation permitting.

To me it seems to be more or less a cross-section. The decision to bear half seems to be more a function of the woman's own comfort level than of her hotness-or-notness. (Okay, I know that's not really a word, but you understood it, didn't you? So let's go with it.)

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Spotlight on writing, Mormon lit, book reviews, and media

Here are the posts that make my blog the web's most entertaining outsider's take on Mormon literature!!! Plus it's one of the only blogs covering exmo lit, with a few non-mo book and media reviews thrown in just for fun!!!

Mormon Lit Misfit
Some may say that by writing stories about Mormons from an apostate perspective, I'm being one of those people who "can leave the church but can't leave it alone."

I ask, whose childhood am I supposed to write about? I didn't ask to be raised in this religion.

I know some of you who believe in the pre-existence will say that in fact I did ask to be raised in this religion, before I was born and everything. But I know myself pretty well, and I'm sure that if I did ask to be raised Mormon back in the pre-existence, I was just kidding.

Grammar Police: Rules are meant to be, like, broken
For one thing, I disagree with the theory that the use of profanity indicates that the speaker necessarily has a small vocabulary. The latent mathematician in me can't keep from pointing out that actively avoiding profanity technically makes your vocabulary smaller, not bigger. Sure it's easy to over-use naughty words, but if you know how to use them well, you can achieve certain effects that you can't create without them.

La littérature dangereuse: Lifestyles of the rich and literate
On the opposite end of the spectrum, the universe of Les Liaisons Dangereuses is not even remotely innocent. It is unabashedly cynical, and for that reason it is in some ways the most fun of the three.

Parade of Mormon Light Fiction: The secret pleasure of it
The theme to this book seems to be "being Mormon is a lot of work." The whole time I was reading it, I kept thinking, "Boy, am I ever glad I left the church!"

An Atheist Fantasy? Philip Pullman's "His Dark Materials" Trilogy
Aside from that point, if you kind of squint and look sideways at Pullman's premise, he gives a bit of a nod to science and skepticism by positing a sci-fi explanation for magical mysticism involving sentient dark matter. But even so, his magical, mystical universe -- in which shamanistic magic works, consulting the I-Ching yields concrete, factual information, and people's ghosts live on in the underworld when they die -- seems to me like the antithesis of the type of universe I would attach to word "atheist" to.

The Mo thriller vs. the post-Mo thriller: The Pictograph Murders by P. G. Karamesines and Wives and Sisters by Natalie R. Collins
The contrast that really took me by surprise, however, was that in the mystery by the apostate author, the hero was an exmormon/apostate and the villain was a devout Mormon, whereas in the mystery written by a Mormon, it turned out that the hero was a faithful Mormon and the villain was an atheist.

Hahahahahahahahahaha!!! Just kidding -- that didn't surprise me at all. In fact it was exactly what I was expecting before I cracked open either one of these two books.

Mormon Meat: Christopher Bigelow's Kindred Spirits
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).

I should have moved to Estonia instead...
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..."

Post-Mormon perspectives
In short, I play the proverbial benevolent deity who gives her creations serious trials to overcome, but refuses to give them more than they can ultimately handle. Collins is more like the "cruel realities" deity who says to her creations "Oops, you were in the wrong place at the wrong time, so too bad for you." Wham!

My conspiracy theory!!!
As a cultural Mormon, I couldn't help but find it amusing that Brown sets out to show that Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene, which is a popular Mormon folk-doctrine that was taught by some early LDS church leaders. It wasn't until I read the whole book in all of its secrets-of-the-Templars glory that I saw how very perfectly the Mormons fit into the world Dan Brown set up!!!

Simpsons Proverbs
This is my all-time favorite Simpson's quote!!! I can't explain why -- I just know that when I heard that one from the toddler Ned Flanders, I couldn't stop laughing for weeks.

I've added this one to my everyday vocabulary. If something falls or gets spilled at our house, it's always "Whoops-a-doodle!"

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.

Thoughts on Jack Weyland
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.

My Ex is Having Sex with Rex!!!
Even though Jennifer is incredibly positive about pro-actively getting her own life in order and about giving number one top priority to her kids' well-being above all else, this book obviously ends up being a strong cautionary tale about why -- if you are a straight person -- you should not marry a gay person, imagining that somehow against all odds you'll find a way to make it work.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Spotlight on feminism, sexuality, and other politics

Today's batch is the naughtiest, most controversial set of them all!!!

The Mating Game: A primatologist looks at the mathematical community
Outsiders often think that mathematicians are all more or less equally dorky and socially maladjusted. To outsiders, perhaps they are! But not within their own society.

Girlhood Dreams
"Women's Lib" was all about crazy stuff like burning your bra (irresponsibly immodest and a fire hazard!) and forcing boys and girls to use the same bathroom by promoting something called the E.R.A. And who could be in favor of such obviously misguided foolishness? So like all good and reasonable Mormon families of the time, we were opposed to "Women's Lib."

Virginity -- once an asset, now a liability...
Mormonism confuses the issue because it trains people not to have any sex at all before marriage -- regardless of their natural inclinations. As a consequence, among faithful Mormons, it is nearly impossible for the couple to determine whether they are sexually compatible until after they've signed on for life.

Sexuality vs. Spirituality: Which is more intimate?
Now I'm actually glad I recorded this stuff in a sense because it is so alien to my normal personality that I would hardly believe I ever felt this way if I hadn't written it down.

An Immodest Proposal: sex on the first date?
There are guys out there who think that "nice girls don't" and that "women should be virgins until marriage," etc. This method eliminates those guys right off the bat too. Also eliminates closet gay guys. Hey, my time is valuable, people! I'm not so stingy about it, but I figure why should I waste three or four perfectly good evenings just to find out that I'm incompatible with some guy if I can do it in one?

Fertility, Mortality or Sex vs. Death
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.

Don't know much about the Middle East...
One night I went out drinking and partying with two of my girlfriends, both Jewish, in the Arab quarter of New Brunswick, as we loved to do!! Those were the days!!!

Confessions of a former Nader voter, part 1
Since Bush Jr. had demonstrated himself to be (if anything) even stupider, I figured he didn't have a snowball's chance in hell of getting elected. After all, I reasoned, even stupid people will say "Maybe for our leader we should choose someone who's not an idiot..."

Confessions of a former Nader voter, part 2
Between the election and the moment when Bush Jr. took office, my husband and I packed our bags and moved to France. It wasn't because of the election -- we'd been planning the move for more than a year -- but it probably looked bad. Like I was saying to my countrymen "Oops!! Sorry about that, guys. Umm... bye!"

Yes means yes
In a society where sexual expression is less stigmatized, men know that the women who want to have sex with them will feel perfectly comfortable and confident saying so. So when a guy meets up with a woman who says to him "No, I don't want to have sex with you," there is no confusion about it. The guy is less likely to doubt or try to second-guess her.

A feminist in favor of porn? Is that possible?
It's just a correlation, but this inverse correlation between porn and rape is strong enough that it's worth at least asking ourselves if maybe there's something to it. At the very least, it's compelling enough that -- if our real goal here is for women to be safer -- it warrants seriously re-analyzing the current feminist orthodoxy on the relationship between pornography and rape.

Think for yourself, starring the Internet and you!
Some will argue that the Internet is as good at spreading ignorance as it is at fighting ignorance since people can (and do) post tons of things that are false and wrong. Even wikipedia is riddled with errors. Or if it isn't I've just posted a false statement myself right here. ;^)

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Spotlight on blogging, religion, and community

Today I'm gathering up my posts on blogging and how it relates to building a community.

Meta-blog: a blog entry about bloggin'
Also, just because a link appears here doesn't mean I necessarily endorse the site. Basically, in support of our fledgling exmo blog network, I gathered up all of the blog URLs that people posted to Exmo-Social and RfM, and I have not gone through all of the content carefully. That's why I put the disclaimer "follow at your own risk" above them. Then I put "follow at your own risk" over the other exmo links because Exmo-Social is full of "adult content", and RfM is full of "anti-Mormon content". Then I put "follow at your own risk" above my list of LDS blogs just because I didn't want them to feel left out. But really I've checked those out, and they're pretty tame and entertaining. Oh, I have to warn you though -- they're full of "LDS content".

If there's no solution, there's no problem.
A problem isn't just something that bothers/annoys/upsets you. A problem is something that you try to solve. If it is something that is by nature impossible for you to solve, then you stop trying to solve it. Then it is no longer a problem, it is rather something that you find a way to accept and deal with.

So I broke down and just alphabetized...
I would do that too, except that then it would take me friggin' forever to construct my sidebar. So instead I take more of an attitude of "Hey, you're on the Internet buddy!! If you don't want people reading your blog, then what the hell is it doing on the Internet?" That said, if anyone I've linked to objects to having a link from here to their blog, please comment below, and I'll be happy to remove it.

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

A visit from a celebrity exmo!!!
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.

Religion and getting along...
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. ;-)

Bloggernaclin' blues
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.

Rudi's version
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.

People from Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania,
Yes, after joking around about Estonia here and here, I finally got some feedback from a real Estonian!!! And not just an Estonian, but an Estonian exmo!!!

Recovery, Self-Discovery, Community
It's true that the first part -- "ex" -- is a negative, but the second part -- "Mormon" -- isn't. Many people who have been Mormon refuse to identify as anything that has anything to do with the word Mormon. So to identify as "exmormon" (or "exmo") is as much a way of saying "Mormonism has been a part of my life" as it is a way of saying "I am not Mormon".

Blogs that get songs stuck in my head
I read that blog and ten minutes later I catch my stupid brain singing to me Simon and Garfunkel strains of "Hello Waffles, my old friend... I've come to talk with you again..."

My friend, the Internet...
Now if it ever happens one day that there's nothing left of me but a disembodied brain in a jar hooked up to the Internet, then I'm sure I'll become a regular on several forums in addition to blogging. (Guys, please don't try to pretend that you never plan what you'll do if you're ever reduced to nothing but a disembodied brain in a jar.) But for the moment, my system is to focus on blogging only.


Update: On a related note, I just noticed I've been added to Mojoey's atheist blogroll, so I'll be adding those guys to my sidebar as soon as I figure out how to do it... :D

Spotlight on my family

Today we have all of the posts on what a cool family I come from!!! :D

Me, on Star Trek!!!
Here I am as the Vulcan captain of the U.S.S. Galois, the starship I commanded for the fifteen-episode community cable Star Trek parody that my brother and I wrote and produced.

Cute Mormon Kid Drawings...
Mormon pioneers head west amid much persecution and volcanos.

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

Family history: we're different.
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.

This will be fabulous!!! or a total disaster...
Apparently the Catholic church used to be more picky about insisting that both the bride and groom be Catholic in order to have a Catholic wedding (the bride is Catholic), but they've lately taken more of a "well, better than nothing" attitude. According to my mom, my little brother and his wife passed a special Catholic church wedding prep course, which Mom explained was "like a temple recommend" (except that it's just for the bride and groom, not the entire guest list).

Back from Scotland!!!
I think the problem is that the one white lie that's allowed in our culture is "No really, you look great. Seriously."

D'ooh!!! If only one honest person had said to me "No. Go put on the other dress."

Men in kilts!!!
This is the cool thing about Scottish formal-wear -- for once it's the guys that get the fun of accessorizing!!! Check out those man-purses they get to wear. (I learned the correct term for these, but I promptly forgot it because I liked "man-purse" better.)

The second stupidest thing I did in Scotland
I'm not doing it justice -- it was hilarious the way she told it!!! Everyone in this whole family is a jokemeister. Well, my siblings anyway -- my parents are kind of boring. (Kidding!!! Don't tell them I said that...)

Wedding in Brittany
I'm not recounting this story because I think it's cool or something. In truth I shouldn't be posting such a story to the Internet at all. But, I mean, nobody's really reading this, are they? Clearly in the wrong hands the Internet is a dangerous tool. Somebody stop me before I post again!!! ;-)

Friday, September 22, 2006

Spotlight on Mormonism

Today I'm gathering up my posts on Mormonism!!!

The Mishies and Me: Cultural Mormon nostalgia
Those of you who live in Utah are constantly reminded of Mormonism, so a subtle distinction like whether a given person believes it's real or not seems like a big deal to you. But here in France, Mormonism is so freakishly rare that it makes sense that all of us "cultural Mormons" should stick together.

Cultural Mormon: Who are these apostates coming down, coming down?
This may seem counterintuitive, but sometimes the apostates are even more offended by the sex talk than the Mormons. This is because I'm promoting the negative stereotype that people who leave the church are mostly depraved perverts.

So for the sake of my apostate friends, I feel compelled to tell you all that I do not necessarily represent the typical apostate. Many apostates are just as somber out of the church as they ever were in it. And I personally know plenty of apostates who are not at all sex maniacs nor hard-core partiers. Too bad for them, really, but to each his own.

Authentic faith-promoting anecdote for my LDS friends
I'm copying it here because it made me laugh, and hopefully I won't accidentally strenghten anyone's testimony with it... ;-)

Standing up for Your (Former) Beliefs
If the kids take up a religion once they're grown, whether we like it or not there's not a whole lot we can do about it. Sure we could threaten to disown them, but that's not really realistic. We have only two kids. We can't go around disowning them willy-nilly over trivialities like what religions they choose for themselves. If we did, we'd pretty quickly find ourselves with no kids at all, and then who would we annoy during our golden years? Think about that.

Cults vs. cult-like behavior
Now I'm not ignorant of the dangers of blind, unquestioning, overzealous obedience to authority. I'm just not convinced that the danger is something unique to organizations that fit a particular list of list of cult criteria.

The Mishies and Me II: The Revenge
For my husband's sake, I kept a very close eye on the mishies to make sure they weren't surreptitiously teaching Leo to sing "I Hope They Call Me on a Mission". I almost think it would have been kind of funny if they had taught him to sing that, but only because I have a really perverse sense of humor. Of course I wouldn't be laughing so hard anymore seventeen years later when LDS Inc. sends my little Leo to Bolivia or something, so I guess it's just as well that the mishies didn't try to indoctrinate him.

The Mishies and Me: The Rest of the Story
Inevitably, they asked me why I stopped believing. I gave them some variant on my usual response, which is the following: "Look, I don't want to debate you on this. I've looked at the questions of god existing and the Book of Mormon being true and all that, and for me the evidence just isn't there. But I assume you've already heard all of the same arguments, so it's pointless for me to repeat them to you. I understand that these are hard questions, so it doesn't bother me if other people come up with a different solution than mine."

More musings on mishies
But really, I try to avoid taking the attitude of "Aren't you the cutest little thing? When you grow up, you'll see it's all a fairy tale." Because that does nothing but insult them.

They're adults, off on their own (sort of), and have chosen to go through this difficult-yet-wacky rite of passage. And I have no particular reason to think that any of the ones I talk to will ever leave the church.

What? I'm not an apostate???
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...

What would have happened?
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.

A nice compliment...
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.

Jewish kids at Christmas...
It's a complicated situation, but I think everyone can understand some of the emotions involved for the kids -- the mixed feelings of wanting to be true to your traditions and people while on some level feeling like it might be nice to join in what's going on in the outside world instead of having to be different all the time.

my excommunication
I remember thinking this was pretty cool but wondering why my patriarichal blessing said nothing about this calling if it was important enough for an angel to intervene. But, y'know, those patriarichal blessings are really hit-or-miss sometimes....

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.

A handy guide to different types of Mormons
inactive Mormon: Someone who is listed as a member on the LDS church records but is MIA as far as the LDS church is concerned. Theoretically this applies mostly to people who might be "reactivated", however in practice it could be anything. Including dead.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Spotlight on reminiscences

Today I've collected up all of the posts where I recount my (now legendary ;-) ) past exploits...

Personal Progress '89
This little "improvement" I made to one of the pictures in my "Personal Progress" workbook as a teen illustrates a bit about what I thought of these lovely rewards:

Youth Conference 1986
The boys of our ward had escorted us to the dance, all except Scott. They had done a hopelessly lousy job of it. The boys walked ahead in a glob and the girls walked in a glob behind.

My mother, being a chaperone there, was determined that the girls should escort the boys to the next one, to show them how it's done, and to be polite and return the favor.

"If the church weren't true, I'd be an atheist" and other things I learned in seminary....
One morning I awoke from my usual early-morning-seminary stupor to find that Sister Intellectual was talking about the lack of unbiased historical evidence for the existence of Jesus.

Little girls, little girls, everywhere I turn...
Again because I have no shame, I'm reposting a bunch of immature stuff I wrote in my journal when I was 11 years

Why I hate church
Basically, my little friends and I would ask ourselves the following question: "Am I cold, tired, hungry, uncomfortable, bored, and have to go to the bathroom?" If the answer to that question was yes, we knew we were at church.

The Land Far-and-a-Half Away
When we got there, there were no people on the beach. So we decided to collect snail shells.

Then Johnny said "What a land, it's far-and-a-half away."

Suddenly a snail popped its head out of its shell. It wasn't a snail at all. Its head was so hairy all you could see was his eyes.

Naked People at Rutgers
The premise was that my main characters were transfer students representing a "clothing optional culture" (in California).

Naked People at Rutgers II
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.

Celtic Knotwork
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...

Greetings from the planet Zoltron!
Yep, normally I try to hide that special triangular antenna I have on my head that I use to contact the planet Zoltron.

My deconversion, part 1: background
I was kind of a classic nerd, so Mormonism's "hip to be square" attitude fit my personality.

My deconversion, part 2: the evidence
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.

My deconversion, part 3: the tipping point
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.

This is me...
I've posted a lot of naughty things on this blog, and I'll probably post more, so I just thought that for balance I should post some photos to demonstrate how wholesome I really am!!!

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Spotlight on family, motherhood, and work

Well folks, my one year blogaversary is coming up in a week (I'm counting from when I first started writing "Letters from a broad..." as a column in the defunct Utah Valley Monitor).

In honor of my blogaversary, and in honor of the fact that these blogger blogs don't provide a built-in topic index, I'm going to be spending the next week reviewing my favorite blog entries by topic.

In each case, I'm starting with the oldest ones, which aren't necessarily the best...

If that seems shockingly self-indulgent, remember this is a blog. ;-)

The first topic is family, motherhood, and work:

Programmer Technophobe
For example, instead of a portable computer or PDA, I like to bring an old-fashioned paper notebook with me to take notes during meetings. This is mostly because I don't like to take notes during meetings. As far as I'm concerned, it's bad enough I have to sit there and listen to it the first time. A paper and pen is much more convenient for the kind of notes I like to take, which mostly consist of portraits of the other people who are also stuck in the same meeting. Now, when notebook computers get really good at saving drawings -- and add a feature so that they flip immediately from the drawing to something that looks work-related as soon as someone looks over my shoulder -- I'll for sure go out and get one. That's the kind of life-enhancing convenience that a really good gadget would provide in my ideal world.

Horrific Voyage: With two little kids, everywhere is a No-Fly Zone
The story I'm going to tell you is a true story. I have to apologize in advance for the fact that even though it's on the humor page, it's not very funny, or at least it wasn't at the time. You might get a laugh out of it if you subscribe to the theory that "comedy is tragedy plus distance" and/or if you're a big fan of the type of comedy where somebody steps on the end of a rake and the handle swings up and smacks them in the head. I'll tell you the story, and you can decide.

The Christian establishment hasn't always been so gung-ho to embrace its best-loved holiday. Notably, the Puritan pilgrims outlawed the celebration of Christmas. They invented the holiday "Thanksgiving" as a replacement to put a stop to all the partying, fun-having, and other pagan customs traditionally associated with the yuletide season. So if you were wondering why Thanksgiving is such a lame holiday, that's why.

We're all about trains at my house!!!
Normally I love to travel, but I've been feeling so lazy recently that I ended up just spending my whole vacation in my pajamas playing with trains, as you can see from the following photographic evidence.

Happy Easter!!!
Now if you're new to this blog, you're probably wondering "Hey, if she's an atheist, what's she doing celebrating the festival of the goddess Astarte??"

Baby's day in Bordeaux
By Bordeaux reckoning, we live on the third floor, but by U.S. reckoning, it's the fifth floor, and some of the floors have extra high ceilings. You may wonder how they can calculate it as being only the third floor. This is because, for starters, in Europe the ground floor does not count as a floor. Then, in Bordeaux in particular, if the next floor does not have an extra high ceiling, then it doesn't count either. It's just the "entresol" or "in between floor".

Trains, trains, and more trains!!!
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.

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

Why I'm a bad mom, part 1
After watching Shrek II I don't know how many hundred million times, I thought it would be funny to teach my son Nicolas that the correct, polite thing to say after you burp is "Better out than in I always say, eh Fiona?"

Questions on parenting boys...
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!!!)

Sunday morning in the South of France
photos only

I'm on the Mommy track!!!
I was telling my mom about my new schedule the other day, and she said that this homemaking day will fill up so quickly I won't know how I ever did without it. I replied that I already don't know how I'm doing without it -- I sincerely have no idea how other families with small kids where both parents work full-time keep their house from slowly (but surely) disintegrating...

On vacation...
photos only

At-home-vacation Travelogue
First of all, we took the kids to some medieval castles. I couldn't help but feel like this outing would have gone better if we'd brought Mike & John with us to tell us some interesting historical tidbits about the castles and such, since they know a lot about history. Left to our own devices, we were basically like "Hmmm, look at that -- a castle from the middle ages. Isn't that interesting?" Sure, we could have looked up stuff about these castles on our own before visiting them, but hey, we're on vacation!!

A creation myth by Nicolas
Nico: (after thinking about it a bit) Yes... There was a great big water bottle, and it spilled on the sand and made the sea!

So there you have it. And that's why the sea is made of water. ;^)

Monday, September 18, 2006

This is me...

I've posted a lot of naughty things on this blog, and I'll probably post more, so I just thought that for balance I should post some photos to demonstrate how wholesome I really am!!!

Here's a photo of me as a BYU student. See if you can find me in this picture:

Here I am as a grad student:

Here I've finally graduated, with that Ph.D. in hand!!! Woo-Hoo!!! :D

My mom earned her master's degree in journalism at the same time, and we got some great photos of the two of us as graduates together!!! She's LDS though, so I'm not sure she wants me posting photos of her on this blog, as if she endorses it or something... (She's even hotter than I am, by the way... ;-) )

Here's a picture from my wedding reception:

A little later in the evening:

Same couple, ten months later:

(Yeah, I know, we were embarrassingly conventional on the timing of that first kid, but what can you do?)

Speaking of how cool the Internet is....

It looks like The Foyer has started up a new aggregator for fringe Mormon and exmormon blogs for your convenience here!!!

Also, please have a look at floating in the milk!!! If I understand correctly ;-) this is the blog of a personal friend of mine from my BYU daze!!! :D

Saturday, September 16, 2006

My friend, the Internet...

In a recent post I told you guys a bunch of abstract, idealistic reasons for why I love the Internet. But really, it's more than that -- it's personal.

Let's face it: making friends in real life typically requires planning and big blocks of free time either to go out or to clean up the house and invite people over. And if you have a job and/or kids (or even if you don't) you don't necessarily have oodles of free time to go out and socialize as much as you might like. Then you have the obstacle of finding someone else whose free time matches up with yours, who doesn't live too far away, and hopefully shares some sort of interests with you. Sheesh, it's a wonder people in tho olden days were able to make friends at all...

Today whenever you find yourself with ten minutes or an hour to spare, you can pull up your cup of coffee (or whatever refreshing beverage you enjoy with your friends) and see what all of your virtual amigos are up to on your favorite blogs and forums.

True it's not the same as going out for a drink with your friends for real. But I don't see it as a substitute for real life socializing as much as it is a supplement and a resource. I spend as much time on real-life socializing today as I did before I discovered the Internet. But back then (without all my cyberbuds) I just had that many fewer friends. Plus I've met people in person that I met first online, and my Internet antics have helped me reconnect and stay in touch with family members and old friends.

Now you're probably going "Yeah right, Chanson, fess up -- the real reason you love the Internet is because of all the porn!!"

But in truth I'm not really interested in the porn. What I really like is talking about porn!!! The porn itself is okay -- I can take it or leave it -- but I can discuss porn theory all day long. Seriously. Try me. I think a lot of other feminists are the same way.

Considering how much I love the Internet, you may be wondering why I've essentially given up posting on forums (despite my recent visits to The Foyer and NOMs). It's really just a question of time. Blogging alone occupies more time than I ought to be wasting on the Internet, and if I added regular participation in a forum or two on top of that, I wouldn't have time to do anything else at all.

Now if it ever happens one day that there's nothing left of me but a disembodied brain in a jar hooked up to the Internet, then I'm sure I'll become a regular on several forums in addition to blogging. (Guys, please don't try to pretend that you never plan what you'll do if you're ever reduced to nothing but a disembodied brain in a jar.) But for the moment, my system is to focus on blogging only.

The main reason I ultimately chose blogging over forums is because I feel like it's easier to expand my social network outside of the boundaries of one particular forum.

The way I see it, a forum is a little like a town square (hence the name) where everyone has a megaphone and they're all talking to each other at once. A blog is more like a backyard barbecue where you go because you like the host, and maybe you'll see other people you know there, but maybe not.

The trouble is that it's incredibly time-consuming to live in even two or three towns to the point where you feel like you know the people there and understand what's going on. Then you may have friends you'd like to stay in touch with who aren't interested in moving to your favorite town, but who might be willing to occasionally stop by your backyard barbecue instead. Similarly, since I have interests besides exmormonism (hard to believe, but true!), it's easy for me to swing by non-LDS-related mathematician or other topic blogs on my blog-visiting rounds.

Another advantage to blogs is that they seem somewhat less prone to fighting and feuds than forums are. In blog space, if two people hate each other, they can just avoid visiting each other's blogs. But if they're on the same forum, they can't help but be constantly in each other's faces. A classic example is that unfortunate perpetual feud over on RfM between the religious and non-religious. I don't want to blame any individuals involved -- I really think that it's just a case where they've spent too much time disagreeing in a space where it's very hard to tune each other out. Then it escalates and ends up giving occasional visitors an inaccurate negative impression of both Christian and atheist exmos...

One advantage of a forum over a blog is that you tend to get more back-and-forth discussion among the participants. Plus you get more of a sense of community because you know that everybody there knows everybody else. But that isn't quite enough to tip the scale in favor of forums over blogging, so I probably won't be more than an occasional forum visitor again until I magically get a whole lot more free time (hopefully not through having my brain disembodied, but if it comes down to that, we'll see...).

Of course it looks like a lot of people participate on multiple forums and blogs in the great network of cultural Mormons. Once you participate somewhere in this network, you're likely to run into people you know and who know each other wherever you go. So even if it's only virtual, it's kind of like a community. :D