Thursday, June 29, 2006

Simpsons Proverbs

Ever since I read this piece on "Simpsons quotes for everyday use" in the Onion A.V. club, I've been thinking about my favorite Simpsons quotes. Interestingly, even though the article listed a bunch of great ones, they didn't get any of my top four.

It just goes to show how many wise words the Simpsons have produced!!

Now I don't have a T.V. anymore, but I've heard a rumor that The Simpsons jumped the shark years ago yet continues to spawn season after season of celebrity cameo vehicles. As upsetting as that may be, it doesn't tarnish the sparkle of these jewels:

#4. Bart donates blood to Mr. Burns and gets a huge stone Olmec head in return. The family tries to figure out what they've learned from the experience:

"Perhaps there is no moral."
"Exactly, it's just a bunch of stuff that happened."

I love this one. I think all stories should be this way. Stories that teach you valuable lessons are lame.

#3. Bart decides to give up on learning to play the guitar when he discovers he's not good at it right away, and receives some fatherly advice:

"Son, if something's hard, it's not worth doing. Now let's go inside and watch T.V."
"What's on?"
"It doesn't matter."

Okay, maybe this one isn't all that funny.

Still, even though it's silly, it makes me smile. I always imagine Homer's voice saying this whenever I'm discouraged and feel like it would be easier just to stay in bed and give up. Sometimes it seems like I'm climbing a mountain that's so huge I can't even see the top. But I can see I'm making progress. With Homer's anti-encouragement, if I pace myself, I can keep going even if I'm not sure precisely where...

#2. For some reason I don't remember the context of this one:

"Alcohol: The cause of -- and solution to -- all of life's problems."

I would say this is one of those funny-because-it's-so-true lines, but maybe it would be more P.C. to call it "dark humor." ;^)

Really this formula works for every type of escapism. If you're under a lot of stress, some temporary escapism (ex: religion, blogging, etc.) can help relieve it. However, too much escapism -- rather than facing up to your tasks -- can worsen the problems you're taking a break from...

#1. Ned Flanders as a child angers his beatnik father by spilling ink all over his poetry:


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!"

Nico and Leo both say it even though they have no idea where it comes from. :D

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

My conspiracy theory!!!

I've finished reading The Da Vinci Code, and now I'm ready to spread some conspiracy theory rumors!!!

Overall it's an entertaining read. Okay, so the characters in the book are pretty flat -- more placeholders to advance the action than people you feel like you've gotten to know. Still, constructing this entire web of evidence for his alternate view of reality -- and then exposing it little by little in the course of a story -- is not an entirely trivial task. And the way the solution to the overarching riddle (exposed in the epilogue) fit with the rest of the mystery was kind of fun.

Also, I liked his use of details from real-life churches, monuments, and works of art. It's the sort of thing that makes you want to go have a closer look at these places and works.

Personally I've walked past the Louvre many times because it's huge and it's right in the middle of Paris. But I've only gone inside once, and that was on my very first trip to Paris. I have to admit that like a lot of Paris tourists, I didn't have anything in particular I wanted to see -- it's just one of those famous places you go because you can't go to Paris and not see it. One of the stations of the cross as it were of the tour of Paris.

Of course when I was visiting the Louvre I didn't bother to go see the Mona Lisa. Everyone always says not to waste time on it because there's a huge crowd and it's tiny and behind so much glass that you can appreciate it better by looking at a good photo of it. So I was patting myself on the back for being in-the-know enough not to follow every Joe Tourist to the line view the Mona Lisa. Yet I wasn't quite sufficiently in-the-know to have any idea of what I actually wanted to see.

The only thing I remember from my wandering aimlessly around the Louvre was happening upon the Winged Victory. That was just luck, and I suppose it was also luck that I even recognized it as famous. It's not like I knew it was in the Louvre or anything.

Still, I remember once taking a one-credit Art History class in college which was an interesting class even though it was taught via projector to a huge auditorium full of students. For a year or so after that class, when various cultured friends would take me to art museums, it was fascinating to see works by some of the artists discussed in the class and notice some of the details I'd learned about.

The Da Vinci Code -- being a lowbrow work that discusses interesting points about highbrow works -- has the potential to get ordinary people like me interested in getting out there to have a closer look at some serious works, and from there maybe learning more about them.

That's the optimistic view anyway.

The more likely scenario is that it will get ordinary people like me all psyched about conspiracy theories!!!

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!!!

Ask a Mormon why there are so many similaraties between the Mormon temple ceremony and the Masonic rituals. The standard answer is usually that (just as the Masons claim) the Masonic ceremonies trace back to the rituals from Solomon's Temple (throught the Templars), and though their knowledge of the ceremony became corrupted over time, it is based on the true temple ceremony. And since Joseph Smith restored the temple ceremony, naturally there are similaraties.

By the way, I'm just reporting the standard explanation I've heard, I'm not suggesting I think any of it is true. The "Occam's Razor" explanation is of that Joseph Smith was a Mason and he thought the Masonic ceremonies were cool so he decided his new religion should have the same thing.

The fact that some early LDS leaders taught that Jesus was married and had children is almost certainly a coincidence. These guys were very intent on promoting the idea that marriage (especially polygamy) was necessary for exaltation, so naturally they claimed that Jesus was married.

But the connection is too perfect!!!

There are already people who speculate that it was the Masons that killed Joseph Smith for teaching Masonic secrets to his followers (the evidence being that he called out the Masonic distress signal -- apparently seeing Masons among the mob -- yet the mob killed him anyway).

So Dan Brown could have one of his fictional characters find some new fictional evidence that shows conclusively that one of the secrets Joseph Smith was killed for revealing to his followers was the "truth" about Jesus and Mary Magdalene.

I don't think it would be particularly beneficial to society or anything to promote such a rumor.

It's just that on some perverse level I think it would be cool... :D

Sunday, June 25, 2006

More blog art by me!!!

Yes, the same brilliant artist that brought you Naked People at Rutgers and Naked People at Rutgers II has struck again!!!

I actually kind of like this classic white blog template I'm using, so I don't feel like scrapping it. Yet I can't help but notice how many of the cool blogs have some sort of custom design. So as a nod to keeping up with the Jones's blog, I decided to at least draw myself a custom masthead.

Everyone please feel free to comment here to tell me how much you love it!!! ;-)

p.s. It's not necessary to point out that my blog description: "The adventures of a friendly American exmormon atheist mom living in France!!!" is totally illegible. I noticed that already.

Someday when my lettering skills improve, I'll try again... :D

For my next trick, I think I'll try to design myself a little tiny icon for my blog tab instead of the blogger "B".

Friday, June 23, 2006

Post-Mormon perspectives

There's not a whole lot of post-Mormon literature out there. There are a number of memoirs about leaving Mormonism, but my novel Exmormon and the works of Natalie R. Collins are the only full-length novels I know of that portray LDS culture from an apostate perspective. (If readers here know of any others, please mention them in the comments.)

Natalie R. Collins' novel Wives and Sisters is a mystery and a gripping tale of fear and suspense. However, today's discussion isn't a review (I reviewed the book here, plus I know the book got a lot of other good reviews which I imagine you can find if you poke around Natalie's site a bit). For today, I'd just like to talk about how Collins' portrayal of Mormonism, Mormons, and ex-Mormons contrasts with the portrayal in my novel Exmormon.

As one might expect, neither novel describes Mormonism as good and/or true, but the difference in perspective it striking. The contrast can essentially be summed up as follows: Collins portrays Mormonism as being like a horrible traumatic injury from which you might recover, but which might possibly leave you crippled for life. I portray Mormonism as being more like a large obstacle that has been placed in your path which gives you valuable life experience as you climb over it.

I don't want to suggest that one perspective is right and the other is wrong. Obviously one's views on Mormonism vary depending on one's personal experiences with it. Collins' book shows people with grave problems caused by their LDS upbringing, whereas I show people with rather medium-level problems caused by their LDS upbringing. Both categories certainly exist (though from reading Natalie's blog I know she gets a whole lot of flack from Mormons who don't want to see this face of Mormonism). Really, to get the full spectrum, I would recommend reading these two books alongside the non-fiction memoir Suddenly Strangers, which describes some people who had a positive experience with their LDS upbringing right up until the end bit when they unintentionally discovered that the church is not true.

Collins' book puts the spotlight on characters who are the victims of massive abuse as children and who are never properly treated for it when the (untrained) lay ministry of the LDS church covers up the crimes of those who seem to repent. These victims are scarred, some beyond recovery. The other type of irrecoverable characters she describes are those who are so fanatical in their LDS faith that they have no capacity for rational thought or for compassion even towards their own family. The main representative of this second category in Collins' novel is the abusive father who blindly leads his family into a state of horrible dysfunction.

In the three LDS families portrayed in my book Exmormon, the parents are all a little wacky, but fundamentally loving, and none of the families are truly dysfunctional. 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!

In both novels the characters participate in ex-Mormon gatherings in the end. Unsurprisingly, Collins' characters are more interested in the “support group” aspect of post-Mormon activities whereas I have my characters flying back to Salt Lake for an exmo conference for the purpose of touching base with old friends and to attend parties and the like.

To illustrate this difference in point-of-view, I'd like to contrast the beginning of chapter 26 of Exmormon (the opening chapter of Part VI: Temple Wedding) with corresponding quotes from Wives and Sisters.

From Exmormon:

It's amazing how small it looks from a distance. When you're immersed in it―living in Utah or in an LDS household―Mormonism is like a cage with one small clouded lens to look out through that distorts your every view of the world.

Then one day you step out. You leave home, or you leave the Mormon corridor of Arizona, Utah, and Idaho, and suddenly it's as if it's hardly even there. It's this tiny, unimportant thing that you can forget about for days, weeks, months, even years at a time. You can take it out of your pocket and show people if you like, as an amusing conversation piece at parties. Or you can just not even bother with it at all.

Except that if you come from Mormon stock and your family is LDS, you occasionally have to face the disorienting task of stepping back in.

Now, after more than three years apart at our respective universities and one year back together at grad school on the East Coast, Rex and I were about to step back in.

From Wives and Sisters, p. 308:

“You're going back to the church?” I was astounded to hear that she planned to return to the institution that has been the source for all the trials in our lives. I couldn't fathom stepping foot inside another Mormon chapel for the rest of my life. It hurt just to drive by one.

“It's our heritage. It's part of who we are. You can't run away from that. You might as well try to resign from being a Jew.”

From Exmormon:

My younger sister Annette was getting married to a returned-missionary from Orem named Matt Hobbs. She had met him at BYU. The marriage would be solemnized in the Provo temple, a stone's throw from campus. So we would be traveling back to Utah Valley, “Happy Valley” as it is lovingly known, to see all of my family at the reception. At the same time Rex, who grew up in Utah Valley, would be going home.

From Wives and Sisters, p. 317:

I understand now why I can't leave Utah, although I will never be a genuine part of the masses. My ghosts are here, and I can't leave them behind.

From Exmormon:

Even with Rex's younger sister Jill back home from college for the Summer and his even younger siblings, Joy and Jared, still living at home, there would have been room for us to stay with Rex's family if we had wanted to. Like Matt's family, they lived in Orem. The thing was, though, that Rex's parents had told him directly that since we weren't married we would have to sleep in separate rooms, and they had also told him that they would require him to “respect the rules of their house,” which was their code for saying that there was to be no illicit hanky-panky even when nobody else was around.

Certainly it wouldn't have killed either one of us to go three days without sex. But it was the principle of the thing, and Rex wanted to make a statement to his parents that if they were going to stick their noses in his private life like that then he wasn't going to stay with them. So even though it took a bite out of our meager grad student budget to pay for a hotel room on top of paying for our plane tickets, we managed. Interestingly, when Rex's parents offered him the use of one of their cars for the duration of our stay, he was willing to accept that. I figured that that meant that at least there would be no hanky-panky in the car.

From Wives and Sisters, p. 80:

Stung, Corrie hastily pulled her hand away from mine and, in her hurt lashed out. “Not everybody has sex with a man before they even know his name!”

I regretted sharing that confidence with her in a moment of weakness, one of many regrets I carried around like a bouquet of wilted flowers.

From Wives and Sisters, p. 124:

“In his eyes, it's better to be dead than to be a sinner.”

“And do you think you're a sinner?”

“Yes. No. I don't know anymore”

From Wives and Sisters, p. 148:

“He went the way of most men in my life. Adios, amigo. I'm a slut, didn't you hear?”

The point to note in the above is how Collins' main character Allison allows her LDS family to shame her and make her feel ashamed about her personal life, by contrast with my character Rex who refuses to see his LDS family's judgments of his private life as anything other than a totally inappropriate and offensive intrusion.

From Exmormon:

Our flight arrived in at the airport, and from there we took the bus into downtown Salt Lake where we caught another bus south to Utah Valley.

April and her new girlfriend Susan picked us up at the bus stop. They'd only been seeing each other for four months, but already it was serious enough that they were living together. Susan was twenty-seven years old and had an eighteen-month-old daughter named Judy. And since―unlike us―Susan and April were both gainfully employed (at a magazine in Seattle), they had no trouble renting a car for the weekend.

We set up our things in our hotel room, and then the five of us went out to dinner.

When the waiter came by, we ordered a few simple dinners off the menu. It was Susan's first day ever in Utah, so she was quite taken aback when the waiter asked us for ID when we ordered beers with dinner.

“Obviously I'm over twenty-one. Look I have a child,” she said, reaching for her purse and pointing at Judy in her high chair. “And I'm just ordering beer with dinner, not drinks at a bar.”

“Now see here, my good man,” said Rex. “I'll have you know that all of my wives are of age. I certainly take no child brides. Well, except for that one over there.” He pointed at baby Judy and smiled.

The waiter gave Rex a blank look as if he didn't think that that was funny at all, so Rex just got out his ID like the rest of us so that we could have beer.

As soon as the waiter was gone, Rex laughed and said to Susan, “It shows that you've never been to Utah before. Here merely having a small child is not at all an indication that you're over twenty-one.”

Susan seemed almost creeped out by the incident. “What kind of place is this?” she asked.

“Welcome to Wonderland,” said Rex.

From Wives and Sisters, p. 259:

“So what did you think?”

“Lots of angry people.”

“Yeah, ex-Mormons are some of the angriest people I've ever met.”

It wasn't until I read the above quote in Collins' book that it struck me that the characters in my novel are really not angry about their lives, their upbringing, or the LDS church. This is one of the reasons I like to read related novels back-to-back: the unique aspects of one author's perspective stand out more vividly when contrasted with a portrayal by another author.

The scene in Exmormon goes on to discuss how Annette's new in-law's would prefer not to have April's lesbian partner attend the wedding reception. Still, April's own LDS family members accept them both as part of the family. This is very different from the treatment Collins' homosexual characters get from their LDS family:

From Wives and Sisters, p. 52:

“She wasn't your only daughter. You had two daughters, and Aunt Carol's still alive.”

My grandmother's lips tightened and she gave me a sharp look. “Don't talk about that. Stop.”

“Which was worse for you? My mother dying, or Aunt Carol being a lesbian?”

She slapped my face hard. Don't you ever say that word or her name again.”

Here are a few more quotes to illustrate the degree of abuse and dysfunction Collins' characters are dealing with:

From Wives and Sisters, p. 119:

“We're so grateful Kevin died honorably serving God and spreading the Gospel. It's better that he came home in a pine box than to have been sent home in disgrace.”

My heart started beating rapidly. Had my father just said that it was preferable to die than to make a mistake?

From Wives and Sisters, p. 225:

“You aren't worth it,” I said to my father, contempt in my voice. “You've never been worth it. I would have saved myself a lot of pain and agony if I'd realized that years ago.”

From Wives and Sisters, p. 253:

“Parents are supposed to offer unconditional love, Allison,” Sandra said, a grim expression on her face, “but that isn't always possible. For some people, there's no such thing. To them, all love has strings attached.”

“Strings that tangle, and get twisted and warped, until they're wrapped tightly around your neck and you choke to death,” I added.

I think the key difference between the two novels is kind of summed up by this quote:

From Wives and Sisters, p. 321:

Sandra told me I was strong, and I would survive all that happened for that reason. I still wasn't sure, but I knew I owed it to Frank, Kevin, my mother, and most of all to Cindy, to fully live the life I still had. I owed it to them to be happy.

Most of all, I owed it to myself.

In Wives and Sisters, the characters are lauded for perhaps recovering from Mormonism. In Exmormon recovery is a total non-issue. The only time in Exmormon we hear “Despite all he'd been through, he seemed resilient enough to turn out okay,” is in reference to the runaway, Joe, who is one of the so-called “redundant boys” of polygamy, taken in by his mainstream LDS relatives.

The characters in Exmormon aren't worried about whether they'll survive and recover from their experiences with Mormonism. They're just playing the cards they've been dealt and Mormonism happens to be one of them.

Check out Natalie R. Collins' Wives and Sisters -- the trailer is cool!!!

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

The second stupidest thing I did in Scotland

The trip was fantastic overall, yet it was not without its bloopers. :D

The first mishap was when my sister got stuck in customs. (This is the sister I'd like to call "momsis" in order to distinguish her from my other sister, whom I'd like to call "divasis").

My dad made the hotel reservations and arranged to fetch people at the airport. Naturally momsis had asked him what she needed to do to get through customs, and Mom and Dad told her that she didn't need to do anything, just go through and someone would be waiting for her on the other side. This advice kind of left something to be desired...

customs agent: Where are you staying in Scotland?

momsis: I don't know. Somebody's meeting me here at the airport.

customs agent: Who?

momsis: I don't know. I'm going to a wedding.

customs agent: When's the wedding?

momsis: I don't know.

It turns out that's the wrong answer. Luckily my dad was in the airport and they paged him to clear everything up.

I hope momsis doesn't get annoyed with me for posting this story. 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...)

I, on the other hand, was sooooooo organized!!! I printed out two copies each of my flight itinerary and my hotel reservation -- one set for my checked baggage and one set for my backpack. I did this because I'm a flake and always lose things and then I obsessively over-compensate, and then I manage to screw it up anyway.

So near the end of the trip, when my dad offered to arrange everyone's taxis back to the airport, I told him the time I remembered as my departure time (without double-checking), and I didn't bother to check again until it was time to go to the taxi. Then I got up early and hung out with my family and waited around for hours until it was time to go to the airport and just barely miss catching my flight by a few minutes...

Of course the lady at the airport was able to book me an alternate flight itinerary, but since it was a non-changeable ticket, the error cost me 139 euros and left me with an extra few hours to sit around the airport and ponder how very, very stupid I am.

I think I would have just blown it off if the problem had been caused by someone else's stupidity, but the fact that it was my own made me really stress out about it. I could at least chalk it up as some sort of learning experience if only it were the first time I've made this exact mistake...

So to take my mind off it, I decided to spend my extra airport time reading The Da Vinci Code. A bunch of my friends have read it, and their review can be summed up in three words:

Stupidest. Book. Ever.

They basically said the book is constantly insulting your intelligence from start to finish, so -- considering my predicament -- I figured it was just what the doctor ordered.

Now I know I vowed here that I would no longer be reading any books by dead or excessively famous authors -- and normally I would stick to that vow -- but this was an emergency.

The trouble with these really extreme reviews though is that no work can ever live up to them. So as I was reading, I was thinking "Okay, it's stupid, but is it really the stupidest book ever?"

Actually I found it kind of entertaining. My favorite part is right at the beginning where this guy has been shot and is dying yet he manages to use his last few minutes of life to go get a black-light pen and wander all around the room planting a bunch of cryptic clues everywhere. I'm just waiting to find out that it turns out he's not really dead and actually just staged the whole thing to test whether Robert and Sophie are worthy to learn the deeeeeeeep, dark secrets.

(By the way, if that's what really happens, please don't tell me because I seriously have only read two-thirds of the book, and I'm planning to finish it later when I have some free time...)

My assessment so far is that the little points of real-world evidence the author sets up for his alternate view of Christian history are intriguing enough to be entertaining, but not much more. I give him points for structure and pacing: he creates an elaborate web of plot elements and arranges them to fall together and build on each other at a constant rate that maintains a consistent tone of light entertainment.

Now some of you may recall that in my review of Philip Pullman's "His Dark Materials" trilogy I listed it as a shortcoming when the author failed to vary the tone because (in my opinion) it limited the character development somewhat. But keep in mind that Pullman's trilogy was sold to me as serious, award-winning literature, whereas Brown's was sold as fluffy mind-candy, so obviously I'm holding Pullman's work up to a higher standard.

My recommendation?

If there's anyone out there who hasn't read The Da Vinci Code yet: Just do it. You know you want to. ;-)

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Feminist response to "Stalker"

Just a little note for my regular readers in case you're interested:

The stalker memoir that I posted a few weeks ago has recently attracted attention, particularly from the feminist community. If you follow the links in the "links" section at the bottom, you can see some of the reactions.

Notably on Bitch Ph.D.'s blog, her initial post about the story sparked a lot of discussion, particularly about "bystander apathy" -- which explains why people didn't help when I was screaming for help in the crowded subway/train station -- and strategies for avoiding it. She also posted a second post with a feminist analysis of women and fear.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Men in kilts!!!

Okay, here are the promised pictures!!!

First of all, neophytes Mike and Leandro had some trouble getting all of their accessories adjusted just right. Fortunately some helpful Scots came by to lend a hand!!!

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.)

They also get to carry a little tiny dagger in their woolly socks in addition to the fetching tartan sock-swatch!!! How'd those Scottish fashion gurus ever think this stuff up?

Here we see John, Mike, and Leandro all in full manly formal-wear:

Here we see the happy couple:

Some of you may have heard that you're not supposed to wear underwear with a kilt, and perhaps you're curious as to whether our non-Scottish friends here have complied with that tradition.

Well, I'm not about to ask this of my own brothers, but -- fortunately for you curious little readers you -- someone else asked the question, so I can pass the response on to you:

"You're supposed to wear underwear with a rented kilt."

So there you have it.

And since you've all been good lately, I'll do as some have requested and post one of the wonderful pictures of me looking rather dumpy because the cut of my dress is all wrong:

Back from Scotland!!!

The wedding and reception were fantastic!!! A total blast!!!

It was very, very naughty of me to even suggest that it might go badly. The whole thing was beautiful. My little brother's toast to his bride at the beginning of the reception dinner was probably the most sweet and touching wedding toast I've ever heard.

I'll be posting pictures very soon so that you can see how fabulous the guys looked in their kilts!!!

I was planning to slip in a few photos of myself looking fabulous as well, but I didn't get any!!!

This is mostly because I was the one holding the camera for my pictures, but I handed the camera to someone else a few times, and none of those turned out.

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."

Oh well, at least the bride looked absolutely gorgeous -- that's what really counts!!! :D

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

This will be fabulous!!! or a total disaster...

I'm setting off for Scotland tomorrow to attend my little brother's wedding!! I'm thrilled because I hardly ever get to see my family, and we always have a fantastic time when we get together!!!

The potential disaster comes in because this wedding party contains a an explosive mix of different religions and other persuasions. But our family has a fantastic track record of putting family first -- before faith, etc. -- so I expect that everything will go just fine. (famous last words...)

This is going to be a big, formal Scottish Catholic church wedding. My brothers -- the groom and best man -- are being fitted for kilts as we speak!!!

The bride is a bright and charming young woman from Scotland. The groom is my younger exmormon-atheist brother. 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).

Then, to make things more interesting, the best man (my older exmormon-atheist brother) is gay. It's funny how this is sort of the converse of the dilemma Cynthia faced over on Mormon 2 Catholic. In our case -- despite the Catholic church's hateful stance towards homosexuality -- my older brother is perfectly willing to stand by his younger brother and feels nothing but unreserved joy for his little brother on this happy occasion. I expect the Scottish Catholics in attendance will be no less noble in their celebration of this loving union.

Then -- because everyone knows "the more the merrier!!!" -- my older brother John is also bringing along Mike (of fame) and Leandro. Both Mike and Leandro are "cultural Catholics" and both are very, very gay.

Next up on the religion roster is my Evangelical dad. I don't see that his religion should pose much of a problem unless he starts telling everyone his pet theory about how Protestants and Catholics are fundamentally the same thing (unlike Mormons) since they're all the same "body of Christ". That should go over very well with some Catholics and very badly with others (as discussed here), so let's hope he chooses wisely.

Then we can't forget the Mormon contingent: my mom and my two sisters. They're very tolerant of other worldviews, and happy to be respectful of the beliefs of others as long as they are shown the same courtesy. So I'd be really surprised if they made any trouble.

I'll be sharing a hotel room with my sister who is a mom like me, and we've both arranged to leave the husband home with the kids (because it's an expensive trip, dontcha know), which means we both get an extended "moms' night out"!!! Yay!!!

In my case, my husband has invited his mother to help him supervise our two little rascals in my absence, and the kids are psyched about it!!! Psyched because Grandma is bringing "Toby" and "Duncan" to add to their collection of "Thomas the Tank Engine" toys. We'd been explaining to them that Mommy was going away and Grandma would come, and they were pretty much okay with that until they heard that Grandma was bringing Toby and Duncan. As soon as Nicolas heard that, he immediately turned to me and said "Mommy, can you go to work?"

I'm not joking here or exaggerating -- there was not one second of hesitation between Nicolas learning that "Mommy gone = new trains" and "Bye Mommy!" Well, at least I don't have to spend my trip feeling guilty that my kids are pining for me or something...

In my sister's case, her husband is not only single-handedly watching their three little kids, he's also babysitting all of the family dogs. That includes their own dog plus the dogs of other family members who will be in Scotland attending the wedding. So for all my friends discussing men and housework over on fMh lately, here's an example of an LDS guy who's perfectly willing to step up to the plate in a big way!!!

The only possible glitch is the ribbing I'll surely be getting from my sister after I stagger back from the reception in the middle of the night, wildly drunk.

Now I know many of you will be saying "But Chanson, the solution is simple -- just don't drink too much!!!"

Now, on the surface that seems like a good plan. But think about it. I'll be at a big Catholic wedding reception with my exmo-atheist brothers, and my kids will be safely in the care of someone responsible. So in theory I might say "Okay, I'll try not to drink too much," but in practice, who am I kidding? And besides, my little brother got roaring drunk at my wedding reception, so the least I can do is return the favor.

It's going to be quite a trip!!!!

Monday, June 12, 2006

my excommunication

A lot of times people ask me why I haven't sent in my letter to resign from the LDS church. The main reason is they're not bothering me.

Plus, if fourteen years of non-participation on my part isn't sufficient for them to take a hint on their own and stop considering me a member, then all I can say to them is "Whatever, dude."

The other reason is that -- as entertaining as it must be to correspond with Greg Dodge's office -- I can't help but feel like it would be just that much funnier if they excommunicated me.

I can see it now...

*** screen goes all wavy as we cut to the imagination sequence ***

Judge of Love: Chanson, do you swear to be completely honest and truthful with this court?

chanson: I swear to be as truthful as Joseph Smith himself!!!

JoL: Is it true -- as you have posted to the Internet many times -- that you had sex in the library at BYU?

chanson: Duh, obviously. And if you guys are so interested in sex stories, there are plenty more where that one came from!!! Next question.

JoL: Is it true that you were already a closet non-believer when you started attending BYU?

chanson: Yes.

JoL: Yet you attended BYU and even graduated. Does this mean you lied on your ecclesiastical endorsement interviews?

chanson: That would be a logical conclusion, given the evidence.

JoL: But did you? Yes or no?

chanson: Funny story -- during each interview, an angel appeared and told the bishop I had been called to do an important work of writing racy stories involving BYU students, and hence the bish needed to sign my form without asking me any touchy questions. 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....

JoL: Is that a joke? Are you trying to be funny?

chanson: What do you mean? Are you saying that stories of angelic visitations are a priori absurd? I thought Mormons believed in angelic visitations...

JoL: We do, it's just that the now that the true gospel hierarchy has been restored, the Lord would have sent His message as a prompting to a priesthood holder with authority over you rather than sending an angel to appear to you in person.

chanson: Really? That's not what the angel told me. Maybe you can take it up with him. His name was Nephi.... No wait, Moroni.....

This was posted to Exmo-Social and RfM in July of 2005.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Peanut Butter vs. Vegemite

It still makes me laugh every time I see the tiny shelf of American specialties in the "exotic foods" section of the supermarket.

The other day I was at a smaller grocery store than the one I usually go to, and the "exotic foods" section was so small that they'd put all of the mysterious oddities of the anglo-saxon world side-by-side in a tiny block of shelf-space. Boxes of Scottish shortbread were right next to individual cans of Dr. Pepper (sold at one euro and nineteen cents a piece). On the next shelf up, jars of mint sauce sat next to maple syrup (which would normally be stocked in the "Canadian foods" section of a larger French supermarket), with jars of peanut butter next and then some sort of Vegemite knock-off.

I'd never thought of myself as a huge fan of peanut butter, but after moving to France -- where they don't eat peanut butter -- I had the inevitable "you never know what you've got until it's gone" experience. Of course it's not hard to find peanut butter (tiny, tiny jars of it) in ordinary grocery stores. But the culture shock that I wasn't expecting -- however obvious in retrospect -- was that the whole range of peanut-butter-flavored products we know and love are quite impossible to find in France.

So when visiting in the US, my first purchase upon arriving is generally some "Reese's Peanut-butter Cups", and even though I'm theoretically a grown-up, my breakfast every morning for my whole visit is usually "Cap'n Crunch's Peanut Butter Crunch" (to my husband's disgust). Pardon the blatant product placement here -- I'm actually not getting paid to do this, I'm just curious as to what google searches this will attract to my blog.

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!)

My first experience with Vegemite was when my Australian manager picked some up at a specialty shop while we were on a business trip to London. I could see maybe acquiring a taste for it in very small doses, but man, that's pretty strong stuff!

As nasty as the Vegemite tasted to me, I knew that a lot of my French friends had a similar reaction to peanut butter. It seemed that in both cases, it was a taste to be developed in childhood or not at all.

Always eager to expand the human knowledge base through science, I decided an experiment was in order to determine which one -- peanut butter or Vegemite -- was more naturally repulsive to humans. A more ethical scientist might object to my use of my French colleagues as guinea pigs for my experiment, but I didn't have any real guinea pigs handy.

Here's what happened:

One morning I picked up some nice warm baguettes -- fresh from the bakery -- and brought them with me to work. There I cut them into small pieces, spreading some pieces with peanut butter and others with my Australian manager's precious supply of Vegemite (which he donated in the interest of science), and set the whole thing up on my desk with a little paper where everyone could vote on the question "Which is more disgusting?"

The result?

The peanut butter put up a good fight, but the Vegemite was the clear winner. :-)

Friday, June 09, 2006

Sideon's Carnival!!

Hey everyone check out this week's Carnival of the Veil!!!

Sideon's hosting it this week with a special emphasis on Outer Blogness's take on the marriage ammendment and the corresponding controversy about it in the LDS church.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Jewish kids at Christmas...

For me, growing up as I did in an Orthodox Jewish household, this was surely part of my fascination for Christmas itself, that magical season that was always beckoning, at school and in the streets, only to be withheld each year by the forces of religion and family. (I once decided that Christmas must mean even more to America's Jewish children than to its Christian ones.)
-- Stephen Nissenbaum

I can't decide whether it's ironic or weirdly appropriate that The Battle for Christmas -- probably the most fascinating and thought-provoking book on the history of American Christmas traditions -- was written by a Jew.

On the other end of the spectrum, one of my best friends from high school -- a girl who was from a mixed-faith family but who strongly identified with her Jewish heritage -- seemed to think that it was kind of stupid and annoying that her Lutheran father would put up a Christmas tree in their house every year.

My impression from my various Jewish friends is that whatever their opinion of Christmas, it's hard to be totally indifferent towards it.

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.

I'd like to use this as a metaphor to illustrate the mixed feelings Mormons have towards the symbol of the cross. The reason I bring this up is that I often see people outside the LDS church on Internet forums and such mocking the Mormon aversion to the cross, taking it as some sort of sign that Mormons obviously don't worship Jesus and are some sort of weirdo cultists. I think the reality is a lot more complex than that.

This metaphor can only stretch so far since there's one glaring difference between the Jewish relationship with Christmas and the Mormon relationship with the cross: Christmas is actually fun -- loads of fun -- full of all manner of interesting traditions and customs to suit all tastes, whereas who could argue that wearing and displaying a representation of a gruesome means of execution is fun? (How did a religion of peace and love get such a violent symbol anyway? Seriously guys, what brainiac thought of that one?)

There are several official/theological reasons Mormons give for not using the cross symbol. But the official avoidance of it naturally leads to an emotional avoidance as well. A Mormon wearing a cross or putting a cross on an LDS church would be like saying "Mormon, Methodist, Presbyterian -- it's all the same thing, just a few squabbles over the details."

I suppose now that mainstreaming is the order of the order of the day, President Hinkley's next prophecy will be to encourage all faithful LDS to trade in their CTR rings for cross pendants.

But for the moment at least, Mormons seem to accept being "peculiar."

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Greetings from the planet Zoltron!

Last week when I was digging up my old drawings of Celtic knotwork, in the same folder I happened upon this little gem:

My first thought was "Ah, what a lovely photo of me and my husband at a wedding reception."

My second thought was "But what is that odd white structure they have in their backyard?"

Then I remembered when I found the original (before my husband tried his photoshop skills on it):

Yep, normally I try to hide that special triangular antenna I have on my head that I use to contact the planet Zoltron. (Because I have you all fooled into thinking I'm really an Earthling -- it's working, right?)

Sad that it was captured in what would otherwise be a nice photo...

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Why I'm a bad mom, part 1

I don't have any other parts planned, I just figure it's probably safer to leave this open-ended.

Okay, here's my big confession:

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?"

Because that's what Shrek says, and Shrek's a great guy, isn't he?

Nico, always eager to please, dutifully learned this polite formula and impressed me by remembering to say it every time.

Unfortunately, Nico one day got wise to the fact that there was something fishy about what I'd taught him here and stopped doing it. I think the kids at school clued him in. It kind of annoys me that school would be undermining the lessons I'm carefully teaching him at home, but I guess every parent has to deal with that.

I figure that given my parenting skill level, I need to focus on the fundamentals like training the little guys not to bite each other or run out into the street rather than worrying about all the correct details of social convention. As my sister (who's really good at this whole mothering thing) likes to say "You choose your battles." (This isn't my glamorous Mormon diva sister, it's my other cool Mormon sister.)

Of course I've gotten some flack for my unorthodox parenting style, but I can take it. Actually, it wouldn't be that bad if it were just random people making snide comments instead of having to listen to my own husband saying things like "Sweetheart, you really shouldn't encourage him to say friggin'."

But it's just so cute when he says "Mommy, I can't find the friggin' thing." So I don't see how I could possibly answer anything other than "Okay, I'll help you find the friggin' thing."

Okay, maybe if I tried a little bit I might succeed, but I can't be totally sure about it.

Probably the worst was when I taught Nico to say "goddammit!"

This was back when I was unemployed -- with no job prospects on the horizon -- and I was at home nursing my baby Leo and busily writing a Java programming book that I was terrified would never find a publisher. Of course in the end I got my Java book published and found a job, but at the time I didn't know I would. So I feel like I had a perfectly good excuse for saying bad words and, y'know, teaching them to my then-two-year-old son and everything. That and he was so friggin' cute saying "goddammit!"

So now you know this dirty little secret.

Digging myself deeper with a lame attempt at justification, I'll have you all know that I can't possibly be the only one providing a bad example for Nico here because his skills at swearing in French are too advanced for him to have learned it from me.

And in reality, despite all the effort we've put into instructing him, he almost never uses naughty words in daily life. He'll have fun with a new one for a week or so after he learns it, then he'll get bored of it and stop saying it.

Maybe I should try freaking out and punishing him when he says a bad word. That might get him to put more effort into it.

Saturday, June 03, 2006

Sidebar cleanup...

You may have noticed that I've recently created a new category called "irregulars". This is for my own selfish convenience since I'd like to be able to click up and down my sidebar on any given day and on every click have a decent chance of finding new fun stuff to read.

If anybody objects to having been placed in the slow lane, please post a comment promising me that you'll update your blog more frequently and I'll be happy to move you back. ;-)

Additionally, as always if there are any exmo or other bloggers who ought to be in my sidebar and have been somehow tragically neglected, please post a comment, and I'll add you. (And don't forget to specify "Outer Blogness", "The Bloggernacle", "Other LDS-interest", or "irregular.")

In other Outer Blogness news, don't forget to check out the latest installment of Carnival of the Veil rounding up some of the highlights of the past week in exmo blog space.

Speaking of carnivals, my stalker memoir recently got included in a feminist carnival called Friday Femmes Fatales.

It's cool -- one month ago I didn't even know these sorts of carnivals existed, and now I'm in two of them... :D

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Okay, tear it apart...

I've finally made some progress on the novel pitch I've been trying to write.

Guys, please tell me if this is any good. Don't be afraid to tell me that some part of it needs work -- the better the pitch, the more likely I am to succeed.

Here it is:

As a teenager, your #1 task is to invent yourself. Starting from the raw materials your parents give you -- keeping some things, rejecting others -- you construct an adult.

My novel Exmormon is a set of interconnected stories about the lives of a group of teens and young adults as they navigate through typical coming-of-age issues such as popularity, finding love, sexuality, and getting along with family, but all of it comes with a Mormon twist, framed by common events of growing up Mormon such as Youth Conference, a church play, attending Brigham Young University, a sibling's temple wedding, and serving a two-year mission.

All of the stories are lively, readable tales, told with humor and a dash of drama, in which the main characters who question their faith grow and forge new paths -- making mistakes and learning along the way -- while their friends and family members who stay in the LDS church do the same. The characters on both sides of the faithful/unbeliever divide are portrayed as whole humans with strengths and failings rather than as stereotyped good guys and bad guys.

In addition to being a fun read, this novel is fantastically timely in today's retro-vs-metro, red-state-vs-blue-state climate, where such front-page issues as abstinence-only sex ed and teaching "Intelligent Design" as science in public schools are focused around young people.

Placing these issues in the context of questioning Mormonism has the advantage of being less threatening to mainstream Christians than a story about fundamentalist Christians might be. Plus Mormons are currently in the general interest spotlight with the popularity of HBO's "Big Love" and with the FLDS prophet Warren Jeffs being placed on the FBI's 10 Most Wanted list. The novel explores the mainstream Mormons' complex relationship with such fringe groups.

I am currently generating interest for this novel on my popular and entertaining blog "Letters from a broad..." ( where you will find a summary of the novel plus sample chapters, reviews, and other commentary in the sidebar links.

The complete manuscript is available on request.

Thank you for your time,

C. L. Hanson

So what do you think?

I want to get across the idea that it's not a simplistic formula novel, yet it's also not some dense, weighty tome that's difficult for ordinary people to enjoy. I'm not sure if I captured that...

But this is the best I've come up with so far, so look out literary agents!!! You'll likely be seeing some variant of this in your mailbox... ;-)