Sunday, April 30, 2006

Naked People at Rutgers

When I was a grad student at Rutgers, I drew a comic strip for the student comics paper John Doe Comics. My strip was called "Naked People at Rutgers."

There were only two installments, and it wasn't terribly funny, but it featured full-frontal nudity in every panel!!! :D

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

Click on the logo to see episode 1:

Note that I gave myself a cameo role in the above comic strip. The girl attempting to teach the nudists Calculus in the second-to-last panel is me.

Saturday, April 29, 2006

Stalker, part 1: The Escape

Wednesday, Dec. 30, 1998

Since I didn't trust St-, I took my most valuable possessions -- namely the papers and documents I needed in order to stay and work legally in France -- and, on my way to work in the morning, I dropped them off at my new apartment.

In the evening, I started to discuss with St- the fact that I would be gathering my things and leaving. He continued to insist that he wouldn't let me go. He suggested that we should go out to Monoprix and get something to prepare for dinner. I agreed to this because I figured it would calm him a bit, and I could begin packing afterwards.

Just as we had stepped out of the apartment into the hallway, the phone rang. Fearing a dangerous reaction, I said we should just let it ring, but St- decided to go back into the apartment and answer it. It was E-, who had called because he was worried by the fact that I hadn't called.

This threw St- into a rage. E- said that he could come over with his brother G- if necessary, but St- cut off communication before we had determined exactly what to do. I tried to start packing, but St- wouldn't let me. All the while St- was furious, saying that he shouldn't have called when we were just going out shopping for dinner.

After some time, St- allowed me to call E- back. I think it was because he wanted to explain to him how wrong it was for him to have called. I told E- that I thought that it would probably be necessary for him to come with G- to help me.

At this point, St- changed strategy a bit. He stopped physically preventing me from putting my things into my suitcase, so I started madly gathering things up as quickly as I could. I was so focused on finishing the task at hand while I had the opportunity that I didn't pay the slightest attention to what St- was doing in the other room. Because I failed to spontaneously notice him, he started to moan and cry out, so I put down my things to see what was the matter.

There he was, huddled over the sink in the bathroom, where he had slit his left wrist. It wasn't in the correct direction to actually commit suicide, but it was certainly a gruesome sight. There was blood everywhere: all over the bathroom, and red in brilliant contrast all over his new ivory-colored sweater.

I grabbed his wrist to apply direct pressure, and with my other hand went to the first aid box and got some supplies and bandaged it up. Then I took all of his razor blades and threw them out the window into the courtyard. Then I went back to packing.

After this, he made a big show of eating something he pretended was poison. At first he didn't tell me that that's what he had done, though. He was playing something of a little game with me of insisting that he wouldn't tell me what he had done, and when I responded by saying "okay, don't tell me" and continuing with my packing, he would go off and make some horrible cry, or otherwise indicate that I should be concerned about what he had done to himself.

Later he switched to saying that he wouldn't tell me what he had eaten, but that he knew how to induce vomiting, so he could undo it if he wanted to. I am nearly 100% certain that what he took was a sugar cube. (I later ended up staying with him that whole night, and I noticed that he did not at any point vomit, yet he lived through the night and didn't appear to suffer any ill effects.)

E- and G- shortly arrived in the neighborhood and G- called from a pay phone at the traffic circle. He talked to St- for some time was surprisingly skillful at calming him down. He got St- to let me come downstairs without my baggage, and I came all the way out to the traffic circle where E- was sitting in the car.

We talked for a bit, and G- continued to talk to St- on the phone, and finally it was agreed that I would stay the night in the apartment with St- on the condition that in the morning I would be allowed to leave with my baggage. We set a fixed time that G- would call in the morning, and made it clear to St- that if he was unable to get through, he would call the police. It was already very late when we went to bed, and, out of fear and stress, I didn't sleep a wink the whole night.

Thursday, Dec. 31, 1998

In the morning St- made some sort of comment to the effect that it was nice to have been able to have calmly spent the night together like that. I couldn't believe he could imagine such a night as having been pleasant in any way, and began to fear that he was suffering from some sort of delusions. Again I gathered my things and tried to leave, and again he blocked the door. This dispute continued until finally G- called.

St- told G- that I was free to leave at any time. I told G- that he says that while he's on the phone with you, but he's been keeping me trapped all morning. G- somehow convinced him to let me down the stairs and out the door with my luggage.

I schlepped my three huge bags to the pay phone at the traffic circle and tried to call a cab. Unfortunately, no one answered the phone at the one number I had that was supposed to be a taxi service, so I had to carry my bags all the way to the taxi stand at Porte d'Orleans. Bizarrely enough, St- decided to help me carry my things to Porte d'Orleans and didn't try to grab any of my suitcases and run off with them. I wouldn't let him get near me, and I shouted at him to go away. I saw that people on the street and in buildings could see this scene going on, but no one did the slightest thing to help. This was the first of several incidents in which I learned the hard way that if someone is harassing you and you scream for help, people will just stare and walk on by without doing anything.

I finally made it to the taxi stand at Porte d'Orleans and took a taxi to my little apartment in Paris. I put my suitcases inside, and set off for work.

From the new apartment, I took the métro to work, and had a much shorter commute than I had had from St-'s apartment in Montrouge. Two stops from the station where I had gotten on, as the train passed through another subway station, I saw St- waiting for me on the subway platform. He didn't get on the subway or anything -- he was just there to remind me that I had agreed to see him that evening. It was really quite creepy that he would follow me in this manner.

to be continued...

Thursday, April 27, 2006

The Mo thriller vs. the post-Mo thriller: The Pictograph Murders by P. G. Karamesines and Wives and Sisters by Natalie R. Collins

I just got done reading two exciting murder mysteries, one by a practicing Mormon and one by a former Mormon.

I'm not really a murder mystery person, so I was really glad that neither one of these books followed the classic "whodunit?" formula where the reader is invited to see the entire novel as an exercise in trying to figure out who the culprit is right up until the end when the hero unveils the answer. In both of these novels it was clear fairly early on which character was the dangerous bad guy who needed to be brought to justice, and the mystery was essentially in unveiling the details of his crimes and situation. Both were stories of a strong, independent female character who is observed and stalked by a man who has developed a sinister interest in her.

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.

P. G. Karamesines novel The Pictograph Murders has a little bit of an "outsider looking in" feel to it when discussing LDS culture. The author -- like her main character -- converted to Mormonism as an adult, and it shows in the perspective she describes. Not that her description of LDS culture is an inaccurate or invalid perspective -- far from it -- but rather she doesn't portray her character as having the homey, everyday familiarity with the trappings of Mormon culture that I've encountered in most of the LDS literature I've read.

Actually, there is very little Mormonism at all in Karamesines' novel. The main character describes converting to Mormonism as part of a rebirth following the end of an abusive relationship. But her philosophy and lifestyle aren't typically LDS. If the story weren't set in Mormon country, one could swap Mormonism for another religion here without losing much. The only scene I noticed that stood out as uniquely Mormon was the one where some characters are discussing whether some other people are LDS or not and admit to looking for garment lines as an indicator.

I caught myself wondering whether it would have made more sense if the main character had been an adherent of the Navajo religion since the author's description of the tribal folktales is so thoughtful and heartfelt. However, on reflection I feel like the fact that the story was told by a mainstream (anglo) perspective added to the magic of wondering if there isn't really something to the traditional tales. Even the bad guy character -- who is also anglo and seems from some statements to be an atheist -- is shown to have some belief in Native American mysticism.

Karamesines employs a fun device of writing parts of the story metaphorically as folk tales, having mythical figures stand in for the characters. The bad guy in particular seems to like to view himself as being like the coyote god. This technique is not merely entertaining, it also creates an atmosphere of bringing the past and present together surrounding the archaeological dig that the main characters are working on throughout the novel.

One part I found a little confusing was an extended dialog about moral relativism which begins on page 242. The bad guy sets up an interesting philosophical question by pointing out that people of the culture the archaeologists are studying would see the archaeological dig as grave desecration, no better than the thieving activities of the freelance "pot-hunters" who dig up artifacts to sell on the black market. Then this is compared to the situation of a coyote hunting a rabbit in which each has a different view of what is a positive outcome.

This scenario touches on a strong case to suggest that there exist conflicts in which it doesn't make sense to say that one party is in the right and the other is in the wrong. In the coyote/rabbit situation -- although one's sympathies are likely with the rabbit who is at risk of death -- in reality if the rabbits win every time the coyotes will starve to death, which is probably more painful than being eaten, and may even ultimately have negative consequences for the rabbit population. Karamesines' characters reply to this point by launching into a debate over the philosophy of "might makes right," but to be honest, it wasn't clear to me if the main bad guy was advocating a philosophy in which the strong deserve to be victorious, or whether they all accepted that "might makes right" is wrong and were merely arguing whether moral relativism inherently leads to a situation of "might makes right." To me this seems like an irrelevant argument. I have always thought the phrase "might makes right" is meant to be taken ironically to mean that the stronger party will win regardless of whether he is in the right for real.

That point aside, Karamesines creates a compelling tension between her hero and her villain. And as you already know if you follow her posts on the blog A Motley Vision, she has a great skill in capturing the emotion of appreciating being surrounded by nature.

Natalie R. Collins' novel Wives and Sisters is significantly darker and more gruesome. Her villain makes Karamesines' villain look like a charming and lovable guy. Seriously.

Collins' novel captures the constant overwhelming terror inherent in being stalked by someone who is delusional and dangerous. A few of the details of things her villain does to deliberately terrorize the protagonist were realistic to the point of compelling me to go back and review and compare with a real-life memoir that I don't normally like to talk that much about in a comedic column such as this one.

Unlike Karamesines' novel, Collins' novel is set in an atmosphere of constant and pervasive Mormon culture and theology. Indeed, in her story Mormonism is the true culprit, creating the madness at the root of the horrible crimes and abuses she describes. I know that faithful Mormons will vehemently object to this portrayal, however it is clear that Collins is describing Mormon culture from her own experience and from her own particular perspective as someone who grew up in Mormonism.

I enjoyed both of these books, and I would recommend them both with the small caveat that if you are a believing Mormon, you will almost certainly not like Natalie R. Collins' portrait of Mormonism.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Weekend in Paris

This is what I did while I was en grève

When you live in France, spending a weekend in Paris is actually a pretty mundane, ordinary thing to do. Paris is so central to French life -- and to the entire French transportation network -- that going to Paris is kind of like a default weekend activity, basically the absence of thinking of something original to do.

Still, no matter how many hundred million times I go to Paris, I'm always happy to go back. I don't think I could ever get bored of it. I feel almost as at home there as I do here in Bordeaux.

By crazy coincidence, my husband's sister's new apartment is within a few blocks of my old Paris apartment (and also within a few blocks of the former apartment of a good friend of ours). As big as the city appears to be, I think everyone secretly lives within a three-block radius of this one random metro station in the fourteenth arrondissement. So during this past visit I got the fun of wandering up and down my old block and seeing the chocolate Easter fish in the window of the same bakery and chocolate shop where I used to get my croissants every morning years ago.

Chocolate fish are my favorite French Easter custom. Sure they have the usual chocolate bunnies and eggs like back home, but they also have this additional chocolate fish custom in honor of Lent. Now you may have heard that people like to give up chocolate for Lent. Well, it turns out that as long as the chocolate is in the shape of a fish, it counts as fish and not chocolate for Lent purposes.

Really. I'm not making this up.

Okay, I am making it up. I think it's more that -- Catholic as everybody is around here -- people don't really give stuff up for Lent.

The next item on the agenda Saturday morning -- after the chocolate fish and taking our leisurely coffee and croissant in a sidewalk cafe of course -- was to go hit the bookstores. Obviously they have bigger, more extensive English bookstores in Paris than we do in Bordeaux, so we started with my husband's favorite "The Village Voice."

I immediately thought to ask for Natalie R. Collins' book Wives and Sisters -- considering that if they had it in stock I'd win her book-sighting contest hands down. (Note this was before I bought it in Bordeaux.) Unfortunately, they didn't have it. 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.

Next we went to the big bookstore of academic and university books so that my husband could visit his books. He found two of his three books in stock and a book by someone else quoting one of his theorems. So naturally he was very proud of himself for the rest of the day. I checked the computer books section for my Java book, but although I'd seen it in that store before, I wasn't too surprised that it wasn't there anymore. Such books have a very short shelf-life -- I'm surprised I'm still getting any royalties from it at all. Clearly it's time to get my butt in gear and write a new edition with all of the latest relevant technologies. If only I can persuade myself to stop wasting my time on this highly unprofitable new hobby of being a columnist/humorist/novelist and go back to being a Java guru...

All day Saturday and Sunday -- since the kids were off enjoying some alternate activity with their grandma -- we had nothing on the agenda except to wander the streets of Paris. The weather was cool, crisp, and sunny -- perfect for a stroll down the wide yet Sunday-morning-deserted side streets and then for a visit to view the sights and the tourists over by Notre Dame and the Seine.

Stopping to rest in another sidewalk cafe, I turned to my husband and exclaimed "Greatest city in the world!"

"No it isn't," he replied.

"Well, which city is better then?" I asked him, even though I knew full well that the answer was New York. When you've been married a certain number of years, it's very important to keep the magic of your running-joke-arguments alive.

Considering all the praise I've written about the Paris metro, you may be wondering if I got the opportunity to ride on it during this past visit. In fact I did, but not until right near the end when we were finally too tired to walk any more. I had suggested taking the metro a few times before that, but my husband kept pointing out that with the nice weather it would be more fun to walk above ground to see as much of Paris as possible. He was right of course, but I suspect he was maybe also jealous ever since I wrote that the metro is secretly my true love. It would probably be more of a secret if I hadn't written about it in my column/blog, but I guess it's too late to worry about it now.

Cutting across the quiet stone field of the Montparnasse cemetery one last time, we read some of the descriptions of some of Paris's most permanent residents and made a note of what accomplishments people liked to carve in stone as a final remembrance. Some listed professions or military decorations. We found one woman whose book was mentioned on her tomb, and saw that someone had placed a laminated page advertising the book on the lid of the author's sarcophagus, held down by some rocks. My husband thought this was fabulous and developed a whole theory about how cemeteries are the final yet-unexploited marketing frontier.

Wandering further, I concluded that I would have to be cremated one day because it seems somehow undignified to have one's life summed up in a few lines on a stone covering one's decomposing remains. My husband, however, insisted that he wanted to continue with this fine tradition.

"And I suppose you want me to have them carve in stone a list of all of your books?" I asked.

"Yes. With links to where people can buy them on the Internet!"

Not realistic to be sure, but perhaps a pleasant way to spend eternity.

Published in the Utah Valley Monitor April 12, 2006.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Rebecca on Exmormon!!!

Hey everyone!!!

Rebecca read my novel and posted her review here: Exmormon -- I read it!

Thanks Rebecca!!! I really appreciate getting feedback on how my impressions on growing up Mormon compare to the experiences of people a little more than ten years younger.

I laughed at Rebecca's remark in the "Youth Conference" section calling the girls "cookie whores." Sadly the thing about the LDS moms encouraging the girls to bake gifts for their secret loves really was taken from life, as were the food/sex object lessons...

Monday, April 24, 2006

If there's no solution, there's no problem.

This is a famous French cartoon that I've always liked.

I don't know if this is the correct interpretation, but I interpret it as follows:

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.

Somebody else's religion/worldview is fundamentally not your problem.

Absolutely make sure that everyone has access to all of the information, evidence, and arguments you know. Shout your story and your reasoning from the rooftops!


For a particular individual that you deal with personally, once you know they've seen and can access the evidence that convinced you of your views, you're done.

Harping, harassing, and giving conditional friendship/love benefits no one.

Now obviously this post was motivated by the fact that a bunch of the bloggers of Outer Blogness have been posting about friends and family members who can't stop asking their apostate friends and family members to keep re-reading the Book of Mormon and keep praying about it until they get the right answer, no matter how many times they've already done it nor how firm their conviction that reasoning and real-world evidence are a better path to truth than subjective spiritual feelings.

However, I lean towards the idea that it goes both ways, i.e. if someone is aware of the issues surrounding Book of Mormon DNA research, scholarly interpretations of the Book of Abraham papyrus, etc., and still believes that Joseph Smith is a prophet, then really it's their own business...

I don't condone using one's religion or cosmology as an excuse to harm or oppress others, but belief itself in the supernatural is an internal matter to the individual.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Time capsule: Baby's day in Bordeaux

[This is a description of baby Nico's day back in 2001, written for a family reunion.]

Our day starts when Nicolas wakes up (around 8:15). If it's been a good night, mommy greets him with a big smile as soon as he starts making little awake noises--otherwise he has to start crying before his mommy can drag herself out of bed to get him. Daddy gets up and makes tea while mommy nurses Nicolas, and then we have tea and cookies in bed. Daddy changes Nicolas's diaper then starts up the computer and reads some of the news of the day. After that, he kisses mommy and Nicolas goodbye and catches the bus to go to the university and teach his classes.

Nicolas usually goes back to sleep for a little while while mommy eats her breakfast of cereal and milk. When Nicolas wakes up, he nurses one more time, then he goes into the baby pouch and mommy and Nicolas go shopping. Usually we go to the grocery store, but sometimes we go to the bakery to get fresh bread or to the copy shop to make xeroxes of various forms that need to be mailed to various offices of French bureaucracy or we run some other errand(s) in town.

In the baby pouch, Nicolas has a great view of everything since his head peeks out of mommy's jacket just below mommy's head. He loves to look in all of the shop windows and smile at all of the people we pass. The passers-by smile back, and almost every day someone comments on how cute he is.

[note: The picture above was taken earlier, when he was too small to be put in the pouch facing outward.]

At the grocery store, we load up our groceries into our own little caddy that we wheeled from our apartment. In the US, we wouldn't be allowed to shop with such a thing (it's a little like a big tote bag on wheels) because it's opaque, so it's hard to tell whether or not we're shoplifting with it (obviously we're not...). But here everyone uses them since otherwise it's hard to get all your groceries home without a car (which we don't have) even if you live only a few blocks from the store (like us). Almost everyone who shops here lives only a few blocks away, mostly in little apartment buildings that have shops on the ground floor. The people who live in the suburbs go to the bigger grocery stores that have big parking ramps or lots on the outskirts of town.

If instead of going to the grocery store we go into the main shopping district--to buy new baby clothes or something like that--we are almost always stopped by market research people who want us to take a survey. We tell them that we don't speak any French (not true!), which works very well. We also frequently see the Mormon missionaries stopping people. (In fact we see them all the time since they live two buildings away from us.) They have never tried to talk to us, but if they do, we plan to pretend to speak only Italian.

[note: This was before I took up this crazy hobby of reading about Mormonism on the Internet, so at the time I didn't yet have the idea that it might be amusing to talk to them.]

When we get home, we check our mail and often find something interesting like the New Yorker or a letter from mommy's Grandma. Our apartment building has seven apartments in it, but they don't have numbers. Each mailbox just has the names of the people on it, and the factrice (mail-lady) sorts them according to the names. If she's there when we get home, she recognizes us (just like in the Sesame Street "People in Your Neighborhood" song!), and gives us our mail directly. This works surprisingly well. A couple of times people have addressed us letters to "Carol and Emmanuel"--with the "and" in English--yet the letters find their way into the correct mailbox without any problem. Still, there must exist buildings with more than one resident of the same name, and I wonder what they do in that case...

The tricky part, then, is getting up all those stairs carrying several liters of milk and water, plus other groceries and a 9 kilogram baby. (Here in France we measure things in such quantities--you get used to it.) 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".

When we get to our apartment, mommy fixes lunch for Nicolas, which is usually baby food and yoghurt and a cup of formula (he refuses to drink out of a bottle), and then (hopefully!) he goes to sleep so mommy can prepare her own lunch of ham, cheese, whole-wheat bread, and milk.

Then mommy has to get to work writing Java programs. The company has paid for a fast internet connection for us, which is very convenient, and allows mommy to work from home so that she can take care of Nicolas. This has good and bad points. The good thing is that Nicolas doesn't have to go to day care. The bad thing is that mommy and daddy have to work afternoons, evenings, and weekends all the time in order to get in enough hours and finish their work.

When daddy gets home (usually in the early afternoon), we have afternoon tea and pear-cake. Pear-cake is a little like banana bread except with pears instead of bananas.

Mommy and daddy spend the afternoon working while Nicolas sleeps and/or plays mostly quietly. His new trick is rolling over, and lately he won't play on his back for more than a second without rolling over. Sometimes Nicolas helps us work by typing things on the computer. Of course since Nicolas rarely wants to play quietly for any length of time, daddy often has to take care of Nicolas instead of getting his own work done in the afternoons (or on days when he doesn't teach) so that mommy can work and/or take a shower. If Nicolas really doesn't want to play independently, daddy takes him on a walk in the stroller. They usually go to the bookstore or to a café or to the park a few blocks away (the Jardin Public) to see the ducks and turtles.

In the early evening, mommy feeds Nicolas his baby food and formula while daddy squishes up some banana for him which mommy feeds him for dessert. (Actually, this used to be his dessert until we discovered to our chagrin that bananas cause constipation in babies. Now his dessert is prune juice.) Then daddy makes dinner, which is usually something delicious and nutritious like chicken and lentils or salad and magret de canard. Occasionally, however, daddy is too tired to make dinner, so mommy straps Nicolas into the pouch and we go out and get take-out food: pizza, Chinese, or sushi. Mommy and Nicolas go instead of daddy because mommy doesn't get out much otherwise, and Nicolas loves to go out--he complains a lot if he's stuck in the apartment too much. The people who work at the take-out restaurants all recognize Nicolas and always play with him and comment on how cute and smiley he is.

After dinner, Nicolas has his bath. He's usually got a certain amount of baby food still sticking to him even though we try to wipe him clean as much as possible. Then we start the process of trying to convince him to go to sleep. This usually takes until around midnight, and entails about two more nursings. Then daddy goes to bed, and mommy does too if she's feeling really tired. Otherwise, she does some more programming until around 2a.m., and then goes to bed. Then, since Nicolas is such a good sleeper, he stays asleep until the next morning when it starts all over.

Friday, April 21, 2006

On writing: What is going on here?

How did this crazy blog morph into a literature blog? It's supposed to be a blog about poking gentle fun at Mormons, Exmormons, and French people!! Yet it's full of book reviews, and I've got some more book reviews coming up the pike!!!

I wonder if maybe I'm "going through a phase"... ;^)

It's not so much that I like to read books as it is that I like to analyze them. So however much time I spend reading a given book, I usually spend about twice that much time contemplating it and/or giggling at my own running commentary. So maybe my true calling in life is "book reviewer". But if I did it professionally, I'd probably have to read a bunch of boring books I'm not interested in, and I'd probably switch to writing Java programs for fun in my spare time. So I might as well just stick with my current arrangement.

Maybe it's just that I'm a slave to social pressure, like with the Star Trek thing. Don't get me wrong -- I had the best fun in the world producing a cable series with my brother. But left to my own devices I wouldn't normally be all that interested in Star Trek. I know you think I'm just saying that to look like less of a dork, but really I'm admitting to a higher level of dorkiness: Even if I'm not actively fantasizing about living in the Star Trek universe myself, I'm apparently willing to dress up as a Vulcan if all my friends are doing it.

And so it is with blogging, where being surrounded by bloggers is very much like being surrounded by writers. For example here's A New Eric on writing and Cynthia Bagley on writing, plus a bunch of my blog friends have joined Weekly Anamnesis, which seems to be some sort of writing workshop. I would try to get in on it myself except that between my family, my job, and my usual blogging addiction, I really can't justify taking up another writing project...

It's interesting that this gang isn't more competitive. But the way I see it, just because my friends are good writers doesn't mean I can't be too. Actually, in school I learned about various famous authors who were real-life friends with various other famous writers. I've always thought it would be cool to be in on something like that, but figured the probability of just happening to meet a bunch of brilliant people was sadly pretty low. Not anymore, now that we have the Internet!!! :D

I was thinking it might be entertaining to start an additional group blog specifically devoted to writing about writing, fiction/lit pieces that people want feedback on, plus reviews and resources for amateur writers. This would be especially fun since creating new blogs is free -- Yay magical Internet!!! :D

I would lean towards sticking with a general theme of LDS-interest writing just to keep it from being too generic. Of course my inclination would be to try to invite believing/practicing LDS amateur writers to join up as well if we could persuade any to play with us. The idea being that I think pro-mo/anti-mo is kind of a false division for literature. All realistic portrayals of Mormonism will have common elements, whether written by current or post Mos. For general essays (such as our usual exmo blogs) it's logical to link according to point-of-view, but for literature it's better not to require that pieces support a particular orthodoxy.

Since none of us have time to provide double our current blog content, the system could be that when you post something to the common blog on writing, you just post the beginning (a teaser) and then link back to the complete article on your own blog.

Does that sound like a good idea, or am I just saying nonsense?

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

An Atheist Fantasy? Philip Pullman's "His Dark Materials" Trilogy

Does there exist such a thing as atheist literature? Other than just the legions of novels in which God is not relevant and hence is not mentioned?

As soon as I heard about Pullman's critically-acclaimed trilogy His Dark Materials -- and heard it billed as a series of atheist fantasy novels -- I was intrigued as to what an atheist fantasy novel might be like, so I immediately went out and got myself copies of the three books and read them.

Boy was I surprised!

This trilogy makes it hit home to me that atheism really is the absence of religion -- not some sort of homogeneous belief system -- since it was essentially the opposite of what I expected.

Just guessing off the top of my head, I would have predicted that a typical atheist fantasy would follow the lines of the "Wizard of Oz," in which the characters think that there is some sort of magic going on until they discover the little man behind the curtain.

This story's premise is that the supernatural legends of the Bible are essentially based on fact, but that in the Great War in Heaven, it turns out that Lucifer and company were the good guys and the only reason we think otherwise is because history is written by the victors.

This idea is kind of interesting theologically. If God is all-powerful, should we just take his word for it that he's all good? After all, a lot of people believe that the God who orders ruthless genocide in the Old Testament is the same God who inspired Matthew to write "By their fruits ye shall know them." (Matthew 7:20). I can almost picture believers arriving in the afterlife and having God point out these two parts of the Bible and say, "Look, I spelled it out right here in black and white. And you still believed me that I was the good guy? Hello???"

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.

His treatment of Christian believers is not terribly nuanced -- they're the bad guys, and all either crazed fanatics or cynical power-mongers. Interestingly, he's willing to portray innocent, sincere belief on the part of adherents to tribal religions. Why not? In Pullman's universe, the supernatural powers of such religions actually work, so it's pretty rational.

Theology aside, however, Pullman has written an exciting adventure. Pullman creates a rich array of forces that are alternately competing and forming complex alliances.

It's hard to avoid comparing this series to the Harry Potter series since both focus on a kid raised as an orphan, living in a tradition-steeped British school, and destined by prophecy to perform some crucial act.

Some of the main differences are the following:

Harry's adventures are a little more linear than the adventures of Pullman's principal character Lyra. By that, I mean that while Lyra is the center of the action, she is surrounded by a network of other players whose adventures are vital to the story. The Harry Potter series follows more of the superhero/battling champions model in which essentially all of the important actions are performed by Harry and a small band of characters closely surrounding him.

The situation and motivations of the surrounding players are very well developed in Pullman's series. I particularly liked the scene in the first book of the trilogy in which the gypsy leader has gathered all of the gypsy clans together to convince them to follow him into battle. As he takes questions from the floor, people raise all of the different objections that one would realistically expect his people to be worried about, and he persuades them by taking their concerns seriously and arguing his position in an honest and reasonable manner. It's kind of a surprising scene for a gen-Xer like me -- totally unaccustomed to the idea that a politician might be capable of uttering anything other than snow and spin. It's not unusual in sci-fi/fantasy to have an archetypical "good king" character, but it is unusual to see him roll up his sleeves and get into the nitty-gritty of logistics, and -- what's more -- actually answer to his people directly regarding his decisions.

Another difference is that Pullman not only raises his questions and mysteries little by little, he also answers them little by little, unlike Rowling who tends to set up mysetries gradually in her Harry Potter series and then answer them all at once. I kind of liked Pullman's subtler approach on this -- for a couple of the middle novels in Rowling's series, I was sorely tempted to just skip the climactic battle part and just go straight to the end bit where Dumbledore explains everything.

One weakness to Pullman's series compared to Rowling's however is that Pullman gives his characters essentially no down-time. It's nonstop action, adventure, voyages, battles, and immediate threatening danger. Depending on your tastes, you might see this as a strength. However, I feel it limits the range of characterization possible, i.e. Pullman's characters are defined in terms of their bravery, loyalty, prowess in battle, and almost nothing else. It also means that the novels are deadly serious from start to finish with essentially no humor to vary the mood.

Even so, Pullman does a good job of developing the affectionate relationship between his two main characters Will and Lyra. Still, I feel like the fact that the development of their relationship took place in the context of an incredible nonstop adventure is part of the reason why (possible spoiler warning) it wouldn't have made sense for the author to allow Will and Lyra to live together happily ever after.

After spending the entire getting-to-know-you phase of their relationship rescuing and being rescued from mortal enemies and battling alongside armored bears, could they seriously move on to a life of just doing mundane couple things? Could they sit around and watch a movie together on T.V.? Or fight over who's wasting too much time on the Internet? Or have her pick up some new socks and underwear for him when she goes out shopping? Of course not -- that would be absurd! They battled alongside armored bears together for heaven's sake!

The one last point I found a little confusing was Pullman's treatment of sexuality. If I read the books correctly, it would appear that a big part of the premise is that the dark matter is something of a personification of sexuality and that -- even though the church sees it as evil "original sin" -- in reality it's good and not bad.

I say "it would appear" here because none of this is really stated directly. That's the confusing part. It seems to be something of a mixed message along the lines of "sexuality is not bad, however it is so taboo that it cannot even be mentioned directly and can only be referenced in cryptic circumlocutions."

I assume that the author is trying to keep it clean because it is intended for teens, however, there are a lot of sci-fi/fantasy novels for teens on the market that are a lot more explicit than this, so if he's not capable of talking about sexuality frankly, I kind of wonder why he made it such an important theme in his trilogy.

By my reading, I'm fairly confident that the reader is meant to understand that Will and Lyra have sex in the end, even though it is far from being stated directly. One thing that is really 100% clear, however, is that there is no way they could possibly have had any contraception. Now I know you're saying "Chanson, that is so like you to ruin a tender, romantic moment by worrying about such crude and mundane logistics!" And it's true that it really is a very tender and romantic scene. However, that very attitude of "Let's not mess this up by embarrassing ourselves by openly discussing what we're doing," is exactly the attitude that gets a lot of young people into serious trouble.

I also found it a little sad that Lyra's passage into womanhood is signaled by a new sense of modesty instead of continuing to be comfortable with her body, but I guess that's probably realistic.

All in all, I would say this trilogy is definitely worth reading if you like exciting, nonstop adventure and don't mind a premise where the Christians are the bad guys. But if you're planning to give it to your teenagers, maybe supplement with a Judy Blume book or something to fill in the blanks.

Published in the Utah Valley Monitor April 07, 2006.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Now I will win!!

Here's my entry in Natalie R. Collins' book-sighting contest:

That's my son Nicolas holding a copy of Natalie R. Collins' Wives and Sisters which we bought at Bradley's Bookshop in Bordeaux, France!!!

I made a point to photograph at least part of the sign that says "livres en langue anglaise" so that you can see that we're not just making that up about having bought it in France. So unless someone in some even more obscure country also ordered this book, I think Nico and I have a pretty good shot at winning "farthest away from Utah."

Now I see that the prizes include autographed copies of books by the following authors: Tess Gerritsen, MJ Rose, Jennifer Apodaca, Allison Brennan, Karin Tabke, Deborah LeBlanc, Laurie Stolarz, Lara Zeises, Cindy Cruciger, J. Carson Black, and Natalie R. Collins herself.

I must admit that those are all very tempting prizes. Still it's kind of unfortunate for her contest winners that she's not offering a copy of the book everyone wants ;-) my novel Exmormon.

But in the end it hardly matters because I already have that one.

And I'm going to win.


Sunday, April 16, 2006

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??"

But, as I explained in this earlier blog entry Tradition!, I like to participate in the traditions of my culture, even if some people associate those traditions with various deities I don't believe in.

We practice an interesting mix of French and American customs in our house. For example, it seems that here in France, people don't really dye boiled eggs like they do in the US. I figured out pretty quickly that this is probably because the eggs sold here are always brown, and the brown ones don't take the dye as well.

But I'm not one to let something as trivial as that stop me!!! I discovered that the trick is that instead of making one cup of dye per color and dipping multiple eggs in each one, you make an individual dye cup for each egg, and let it sit in the dye for a long time:

We're learning through experimentation every year around here. This year I was cleverly thinking "If leaving the eggs in the dye for a half-hour produced bright colors, then leaving them in for an hour-and-a-half will make them even brighter!!!"

Experimentation proved this theory wrong. It would appear that if you wait too long, the vinegar actually starts to degrade the shells, so I got brighter colors last year just leaving them in for fifteen minutes to a half-hour. Still, they weren't a total failure:

Since Noell was talking about telling kids about the Easter Bunny over on her blog, I was curious as to where my Nicolas thought the eggs came from. He said they came from flying bells. (There's no Easter Bunny in France -- the eggs are dropped by flying bells.) I then asked him if Mommy colored the eggs. He said yes and pointed to the ones Mommy colored.

Then when I asked where the candy came from, he said it came from "up!" I asked if it didn't perhaps come from Champion (he was with me when I bought it), but he didn't seem to understand the question.

So that's where we're at with respect to holiday mythology... ;-)

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Today's navel-gazing: search queries!

Blogging is an inherently self-referential activity isn't it?

In the spirit of self-referentiality, I'd like to share with you today the many amusing search queries that have led people to this blog!

I'll call the first category "Right on the money!" These are the ones whose searches led them to exactly the right place:

French husband bilingual children Exactly!
french superstitions dog poop Now how many people have bloogged about French superstitions regarding dog poop as I did here? Not many, I'll wager!!
spirituality and sexuality yep, right here
why i hate church explained here
"Student Review" BYU see above
truth or dare I've posted a story on that here
exmormon story Perfect!!! Everyone should be looking for my story!!!
exmormon moms Yep, that's me!!!
sexy mom also me!!!
wacky parenting theories Whose parenting theories are wackier than mine?
"life and france" yep

Here are the queries of bunch of people came here looking for stuff about Mormons or exmormons. Yep, I definitely talk about Mormonism and exmormonism here!
exmo blog
exmormon blogspot
cultural mormon
latter day saints
lds doctrine

Others came looking for erotica:
intimate love
sex stories

But my favorites are the ones who were specifically looking for stuff about Mormons having sex. Like at BYU for example. Now who else but me blogs so entertainingly about that?
mormon sexuality
"having sex" byu
lds sex

Then there are those specifically looking for me, alone or in connection with other blogs:
letters from a broad
C.L. Hanson
C.L.Hanson ex-Mormon blog
"from a broad" c l hanson
C.L. Hansen Mormon
"Feminist Mormon Housewives" "C. L. Hanson"
c l hansen journalist
cl hansen globalize this Even misspelling my made-up name, they find this place!!! Go Google!!!

Here's the "Okay, more or less" category. My blog might contain some of what these people were looking for:

Uses of the word like That was covered some in my grammar police post
"Joni Hilton" womans day I wrote about her books here, but if she did an article for Woman's Day, I don't know about it...
Apostolic United Bretheren I mentioned these guys as a background source for part of my novel, but I intentionally avoided fingering a specific group in my fictional story as explained in this disclaimer. And one point of this disclaimer I'd like to emphasize is that my little fictional story is harmless. Not worth hunting me down over. Indeed that would only give the story more publicity, so please polygamist guys, don't do it!! Thanks in advance!!! :D
Game Theory and mating strategies Well my primatologist looks at the Mathematical community post may give insight into the mating strategies of game theorists, but that's probably not what this person was looking for...
"merde alors" means I wrote a post entitled merde alors, but I never explained what it means!! Sorry!!
Saturday's warrior Humble missionary There's a segment in my novel about Saturday's Warrior, including characters playing all of the different roles, but that's probably not what this person was hoping for...
"motley vision" Entertaining blog. I talk about them sometimes (like here and here). You can find them directly here.
letters from liaisons dangereuse I wrote about that novel here, but didn't quote any of the letters extensively.
mormon mission bolivia Close... Actually, I was saying that Bolivia is where I was hoping my son would not be serving a Mormon mission in my discussion here...
Feminist Mormon Yeah, if you define "Mormon" very loosely...
cake decorating I talked about a novel that mentions cake decorating here, but I don't know much about it myself. On the other hand, if you're looking for erotic cakes, then you want JLO's blog here.

Here we have one person that arrived on these four search queries in a row:
hate exmo-social
exmo-social bat
left exmo-social
exmo social
Okay, I'm a regular on exmo-social, but I haven't blogged about anyone hating or leaving it, and I don't have any dirt on bat. Sorry!

This last group is a category I like to call "Bzzt! Wrong!" for people who sadly came to the wrong blog. Some stayed to look around anyway though. The fact that this category is so much smaller than the others is I suppose a tribute to the effectiveness of modern search algorithms!!!

C.L. Lewis Mormon Maybe you meant C.S. Lewis? Just a guess...
Nick Hanson stands for No idea who that is...
free sex letters Looking for letters that will get you free sex? Interesting idea, but my blog won't help you...
examples support relationship letters I don't know what this means, but I don't think I have any...
William Faulkner Theme of Rigidity My cousin mentioned Faulkner in passing here, but I'm pretty sure she didn't cover any "theme of rigidity"...
LETTERS OF APOLOGIES Me? apologize? Hahahahahahaha!!!

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

More musings on mishies

You may have noticed the battle of condescension in my latest adventure with the LDS missionaries (here and here).

When the warriors of Truth (with a capital "T"!) discovered that I was a former Mormon yet not hostile towards Mormonism, they immediately assumed that I'd never tried very hard to believe in it. That's what I figured they'd conclude -- if they're confident that their beliefs are correct, that would be the most logical explanation for them of my situation.

For my part, whenever I chat with the mishies (as with these earlier adventures) it's all I can do to avoid hearing the Cat Stevens music swelling in the background:'re still young, that's your fault,
There's so much you have to go through.
Find a girl, settle down,
If you want you can marry.
Look at me, I am old, but I'm happy.

I was once like you are now...


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.

These are guys who will likely go on to be corporate executives (or cogs), voting against gay rights, etc. So maybe I should join my fellow exmos in seeing the missionaries' attitude as arrogance rather than seeing it as the friendly confidence and ambition appropriate to their age.

Still, those who are going to go back and become part of the backbone of conservative society would do well to see that Mormons and other religious people aren't the only good people out there.

Or perhaps it's just my own arrogance that makes me say that if they've taken the trouble to come all the way to France to teach the people here, then we here can return the favor by giving them some food for thought as well, to take back with them...

Monday, April 10, 2006

Me, on Star Trek!!!

For all those of you who doubted my Trekkie credentials, doubt no more!!!

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.

The cool thing is that my brother has started posting the various episodes to his blog!!!

Here are the first few:

episode 1: Playing God
episode 3: The Rivalry
episode 4: Deus Ex Machina
episode 5: Holo Pursuit

Some fave photos, again lifted from his blog:

I'm in the red, my two brothers are the guys in the blue and the yellow.

Even my mom got in the act!!!

My little sister is the kid in the foreground -- she's a grown-up now!!! :D

This one's a little blurry, but it's my big fight scene!!! I think this is the one and only time I've ever done a theatrical/choreographed fight. Man was that fun!!! Fortunately my co-star seemed to know what he was doing... :D

For more photos and the episode descriptions, see the links above to my brother's blog!!!

Thursday, April 06, 2006

en grève !

It just hit me the other day that it's hardly very French of me to keep blogging along every day without going on strike every now and then.

So for this entire extended weekend I will be on strike and not producing any further blog entries or even commenting on other blogs or forums!!!

(By fortuitous coincidence, this strike lines up with a family trip to Paris.)

Don't get me wrong -- I don't want this little strike to seem condescending, as if I'm ridiculing French striking customs (unlike my husband who -- when I asked him about his students all being on strike -- replied "Really, they are not working very much anyway").

Personally I think it's cool that ordinary French people are inclined to stand up for themselves in this manner, unlike U.S. workers who sometimes seem to take a Ferengi-like attitude of favoring exploitation of workers because they imagine they will one day climb from the working class to the exploiting class.

And as far as the French custom of having political demonstrations all the time is concerned, I think it's cool that people have the idea that democracy is about participation. You know, instead of thinking it's about saying "yeah!" in the privacy of your own car while listening to some talk-radio guy complain about the govenrment.

Now there have been a lot of strikes here in France recently -- particularly young people protesting a change in the employment contract laws if I understand correctly. You might be curious as to the details of the issues at hand and what the outcome of the strikes has been, etc. That's the kind of helpful research and information I'd be blogging right here if I weren't on strike.

I hope this blog strike will not inconvenience any of my weekend readers. For those who are visiting over the weekend, I would like to invite you to read my latest mishie adventure below, or if you have already read that, pleasee check out some of my earlier antics in the archives!!! :D

I'll be seeing you back in cyberspace in a few days!!!

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

The Mishies and Me: The Rest of the Story

I posted yesterday's story to the Internet Infidels discussion boards here, and one of the regulars asked for more details about the conversation. So I wrote up the rest of the story over there, and I am reposting it for your convenience right here:

As I always do when talking with LDS missionaries, I started by asking them where they're from and what they think of France. I also like to ask them how they're coming along on learning French and what sorts of things they're studying to learn French.

Some missionaries have lots of interesting things to say on these subjects, but this particular pair was very intent on steering the conversation back to religion. Particularly the senior companion. It may have been partially because there was a another guy along to chaperone them, but I doubt it since the other guy didn't seeem even remotely interested in our conversation -- he just played with my two-year-old Leo.

So the missionaries asked me what religion my husband and I were, I told them the my husband is a former Catholic and I am a former Mormon.

Mishies: But you still believe in God, right?

Me (big smile :D ): No. I am an atheist.

This seemed to surprise them just a tiny bit but not very much. I imagine they run into atheists all the time here in France.

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."

So they told me a story about how they had had doubts as well when they were younger, and the one was telling me about how his father encouraged him to doubt and question. I agreed with him that it's important to seriously analyze and question your beliefs. I told them that for that reason I was making a point to see to it my sons would be exposed to different religions so they could make informed decisions about the subject.

When they asked me if I had read the Book of Mormon, I told them that I had a degree from BYU (where two semesters of Book of Mormon class are required for graduation), plus that I was a believing Mormon until I was seventeen years old and graduated from seminary, etc.

They then started talking about how it's very common for people to grow up Mormon and just go along with what everybody else says and never really study it out for themselves. Obviously they followed up by asking me if I'd prayed about it.

Still friendly but firm, I replied "Of course I read the Book of Mormon. Of course I prayed about it."

I'm not sure this really impressed them since they were probably just thinking I must have done it wrong if I got the wrong answer!!! LOL

But seriously, I think it is beneficial for them to see an example of a nice, normal person who took the "challenge" they're pitching and didn't get the result that is supposed to always work...

Of course the senior comp countered by bearing his testimony and telling me that the spiritual experiences he'd had were so powerful that they couldn't possibly have just come from his own mind. I just smiled and said "okay." Really, this whole testimony-bearing thing is always to be expected. I usually just say something like "I know you believe in it, otherwise you wouldn't be here doing this, right?"

So they wrapped up by asking if they could do any service for us. The junior comp mentioned that one of their jobs is to do services (odd jobs, I guess) for the members.

I asked "Oh, you guys can put this visit down as 'fellowshipping an inactive', right?"

This seemed to annoy the senior comp, who said "It's not about the numbers."

Me: Yeah, but you guys have to turn in weekly stats, right?

Of course the senior comp confirmed that they do, but that it's just to make sure they're always improving. So I said I was sorry to have accidentally cynically suggested that they are obligated to focus on getting numbers for their weekly stats.

Then I told them I'd be sure to call if I needed anything, and said it was really nice meeting them, and wished them luck on their missions.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

The Mishies and Me II: The Revenge

Okay, I'm kidding about the revenge.

Around the time of our last installment -- way back in October -- I gave the local mishies here in Bordeaux my name and address, and I even took them out for sodas. I knew I was courting certain doom by doing this (in terms of unending harassment), but sometimes I like to live dangerously.

Then the harassment didn't happen. No unwanted phone calls or drop-bys. Only one single incident of spontaneously receiving baked goods (a rather tasty pineapple cake). Not even any calls from random people in the local ward.

This was pretty counterintuitive, so I began to wonder what was up. I thought maybe I'd been blacklisted after all.

I hadn't said anything anti-Mormon to any missionaries, but I thought perhaps the mere fact of an atheist liking to talk to them was suspicious enough to make the local Mission President decide that I was a bad influence on them.

I'd been spotting mishies downtown all the time last fall, but then right after I met with them, mishie spottings suddenly went back down to a trickle. I started to think that maybe the M.P. had told them to focus on tracting out the the suburbs for a while in order to avoid running into friendly apostates and other weirdos one meets downtown.

So after many moons of wondering what in the Sam Hill was going on, my curiosity finally got the best of me and I broke down and invited the missionaries over to my house for juice and croissants. Okay, I'll admit that I was also secretly motivated by the fact that I wanted to give an update in this column about how the local mishies here in Bordeaux are doing. The things I do for you guys! I doubly hope you appreciate this one...

I had to wait until my husband was out of town to do it since he told me in no uncertain terms that he did not want to have to speak to the Mormons himself. He also said he didn't want them talking to our sons, so it was a little bit naughty of me that I had them over while my two-year-old son Leo was with me.

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.

Since it was just me (a woman!) and my little boy alone in the house, the mishies had to bring along another guy -- a local member -- in order to be allowed to come in (their rule, not mine). I guess the theory is that I just might singlehandedly seduce the both of them (in front of my son) and by themselves they'd be powerless to fight me off! But if they bring along a third guy, he'd put a stop to it (instead of just joining in or something). It's probably better not to think too hard about the theory here, but rather just accept the fact that they have lots of elaborate rules and leave it at that.

I was a little curious about the older gentleman they brought with them since I'd never met a French Mormon before. I thought about asking him some questions as to how he came to be Mormon and everything, but Leo occupied him by playing with him the whole time, so I mostly just talked to the mishies myself.

Man were these guys on message! Normally from these young guys I expect a subtle tinge of "I know it's right for me to be here, but obviously this is no fun." Not this batch! I think the senior comp may have been the most sincerely enthusiastic about his mission call of any missionary I have ever met.

My only problem was that normally when I talk to the mishies I like to chat with them about their future plans and about their impressions of France and especially about their impressions of Bordeaux in particular. These guys were basically like "France? What France? All I see is the gospel of Jesus Christ!"

To be honest, I generally prefer conversing with people who are a little more laid-back about the whole Jesus thing. But if the Mission President and/or their moms back in Utah are reading this, I will be happy to confirm to them that their boys are not at all slacking off on their enthusiasm for Jesus.

It turns out that that was exactly the reason the earlier batch never tried to arrange a follow-up meeting with me. It's not that they had been specifically instructed to avoid friendly apostates. These guys explained that it's just that they have important spreading the gospel to do. They don't have time to waste on hanging out and shooting the breeze with random atheists who are never going to be persuaded to believe in Jesus (and really aren't even particularly interested in talking about Jesus).

Still, I think it can be valuable for people with different viewpoints to take some time to try to understand each other every now and then.

Published in the Utah Valley Montior March 23, 2006.

Monday, April 03, 2006

What's up with this one?

So I was wandering around Outer Blogness, and found a bunch more exmo blogs to add to my sidebar!!! Man, there are a lot of exmo blogs all of the sudden!!! How did that happen?

I wish I had the time to go around and contemplate them all and leave a witty and/or insightful comment on every one of them!!! If only I didn't have this pesky nine-to-five job occupying all of my valuable blogging time!!!

Plus I hit upon a stash of borderline and heretical Mormon blogs. Now everyone who is following my blog knows that I'm all about sparking a friendly discussion between current and former Mormons in order to promote understanding. So of course I was pretty happy to find this bunch, and you can rest assured that -- time permitting -- I'll be stopping by their realm with helpful commentary just as I do for my Bloggernacle friends. Since they don't really fit into "Outer Blogness" or "the Bloggernacle" I made a special section for them with an extra-special disclaimer!!!

(By the way, anyone who wants to link to my blog is more than welcome to do so... *hint, hint*)

The one blog I can't figure out though is this one: Latter Day Saints.

This link was posted to RfM as an exmo blog. Yet it claims to be an official LDS site!!! So which is it? It doesn't seem like a pro-LDS blog since I would expect a pro-Mo site to focus on happy eternal families baking cookies together like in a Norman Rockwell painting etc., whereas this one is all about airing all of the most serious LDS doctrinal issues. Yet it follows up with the standard LDS apologetic responses and nothing more...

So I'm wondering -- is it some sort of stealth-anti-Mormon site? Hoping to get unsuspecting social Mormons to wander in by accident and say: "Wait a minute... You mean the original Book of Abraham papyrus is in the church vault? And scholars have studied it and even LDS scholars agree that it is a set of ordinary Egyptian funeral documents that have nothing to do with Abraham and are not even remotely from the right time period? And that's the best the church apologists can do to explain this away???"

So by my reckoning, either it's a pro-LDS site that tried to trick the RfMers or it's an anti site trying to pass itself off as pro... Either way there appears to be some treachery involved...

Anyone else have any insights on this?

Sunday, April 02, 2006

So I broke down and just alphabetized...

My earlier strategy was to play favorites when organizing my "Outer Blogness" sidebar and put those blogs at the top whose bloggers post the most comments on my blog. But as more and more new blogs were popping up, it became just too complicated to keep it up!!! And I don't want to sit around asking myself stupid questions like "Do I like Tim's blog better? or Mary's?" So I just broke down and went with everyone's favorite linear ordering: alphabetical!!!

I know that's not terribly original, so if anyone else has a more creative idea to suggest to me, please comment!

There are some really great new exmo blogs here -- check them out!!! I found some through RfM, some through other sources, and some found me. I'm still maintaining my disclaimers because I don't want to feel like I have to agree with everything posted to a given blog in order to provide a link. I'm suggesting some blogs here that I think my readers may find interesting, not encouraging some sort of thought orthodoxy.

I've looked at all of the blogs that I've listed here as "Outer Blogness," and as far as I can tell they're all bona-fide exmo blogs. Looking over the links harvested from a recent blog list thread over on RfM, I think at least one believing Mormon guy slipped his blog in there. LOL!! Naughty, naughty!!! I don't object to linking to LDS blogs (as you can see from my sidebar), but ones that have persuaded me that they are interesting, not ones that get in the door through sneakiness!!! ;-)

Also, I thought it was really charming that Sideon asked Rebecca's explicit permission before linking to her blog here.

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.

Also, if there are any exmo-interest blogs I've missed, it is just an oversight. If you would like me to provide a link to your blog, please comment here, and if it's not obvious, be sure to specify whether it is pro-Mo or post-Mo. :D