Thursday, October 29, 2009


I want to do some thinking. Some imagining, if you will.

I see myself --- well, not myself, really, but a character --- in a mall, maybe in the food court. Yeah, in the food court. That's it. Sitting down, having lunch. Taking a break from work.

A worker named Mary Lou. Not necessarily a worker in the food court, but often there, taking a break from her job in one of the mall stores. Maybe she's even a manager of one of the stores. But in the food court, she is an observer. She at always have her nose in a book --- although she is a reader and occasionally has a book or a magazine with her to look at and read a bit. She doesn't always sit down with somebody else to exchange pleasantries as she eats, although she isn't antisocial or anything like it either. She is just comfortable with her own company and an observer of mankind. This female is in her thirties. She has dark hair, nicely coiffed, and she sports a very pleasant smile. She watches her weight and applies her makeup carefully.

Over the long haul, she has observed two women in the food court quite often when she is there; one, she thinks, is the mother of the other one. They are both Latinas, she thinks. [You need a good description of two women who are Latinas.] In fact, if she had to guess, she would surmise that they are both undocumented individuals, in the United States without a legal reason to be there. [Why does she think that?]

The younger of the two is handicapped, while the other one is not.

The younger one appears to be partially paralyzed on her right side. She can walk okay, although she has a slight limp, and she can use her right hand, although only in a limited way. She also is epileptic. Mary Lou has observed the girl, who she guesses is in her twenties, a multitude of times for over a period of several months now. She has watched her sit there with a soft drink at a table while the older of the two goes off, scrounging for piecemeal work in a fast food eating establishments there and, perhaps, at times, even handouts. Sometimes, the younger of the two has a seizure. She has a variety of different kinds: from simply blanking out momentarily --- from Mary Lou's observation, the most common ---, to making faces and writhing --- which Mary Lou has seen a couple of times, to an all-out grand mal feature --- which Mary Lou has observed just once.

The older woman's name is Isabel and the younger woman, the handicapped one, is Lucia.

I really need to think about where I want to set this. It seems like if I set it in Utah, the place I know best, it gets rejected automatically by agents and editors. Maybe that's just paranoid, but that type of paranoia and seems to have some justification from what I've heard and experienced. Where else might I set it? It seems to me, stories set in New York City seem to have the greatest play in the literary world. I suppose that comes from the prejudices of those who market literature in America, literary agents, who for the most part live in New York.

I've never really lived in New York and don't have a flavor for it. I've lived in Germany. However, that was many many years ago and the premise for this story isn't conducive with setting it there. I've lived in Chicago, temporarily, for only a few months, so I don't have a great deal of experience there, although I have some. Again, that was over thirty years ago, though. After that, I lived in Rockford for a couple of years and then in California for less than a year. Then I lived in Idaho in two cities, Twin Falls for a couple of years and then Boise for six. Otherwise, I've lived in Utah. I lived here growing up and it's looking like I'll live here to die. I like Utah, but maybe it's just because it's familiar. I've had stints in various cities around the nation. Los Angeles. Miami. Dallas and Houston. San Antonio. Portland and Seattle. Minneapolis. Baltimore. Philadelphia and many others I probably haven't remembered.

One place I'm not very familiar with is the American South. You know, places like Alabama and Tennessee. The South is such a vivid setting for so many successful authors. Harper Lee and William Faulkner. So many others. John Grisham. I have been to Atlanta Georgia and to North Carolina. I've also been to Maine --- can't mention the name without thinking of Stephen King --- and New Hampshire. Beautiful territory.

All of these places, yet the place I want to really set my story is here in this valley in this city. Why is that? I guess it's just my nature. Too bad there is such prejudice about this place and its people, justified or not.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The Ramblings of a Madman

Nothing motivates me to put down words today. I'm like a dried up water source. Of course, nothing ever motivates you to put down words, does it? Well, no, that isn't quite true, is it? Emotions do. They can cause you to want to speak out. At least, that's my experience. When I feel strong emotions I am more motivated to speak out. Of course, I guess just as easily they can cause you to want to bury your head in a pillow and wallow in your grief.

So where are my deep emotions today? Everything seems flat and not very important. Perhaps it's because I have some kind of bug bugging me. It's one that visits every so often, the one that causes me trouble speaking and gives me that persistent cough. I had the runs --- not that anyone wants to know --- earlier today, and I've had this borderline indigestion or acid reflux. Writers can't afford to let little things like those prevent them from putting down important thoughts or even unimportant ones. You have to be persistent in writing whether you feel like it or not, whether some burning emotion drives you to do it or is totally lacking. It may have an effect upon what you put down, but that shouldn't prevent you from doing it.

I've been contemplating whether or not I should attempt to write a novel in November and tracking my success at doing so on the Internet at the site that sponsors doing that. Last night a fellow critique or indicated she might give it a whirl this year. Last year, the president of the local chapter of the Society for Children's Writers and Illustrators participated and I believe completed the novel during November. Of course, she had a contract to fulfill and I gave her an incentive and motivation I wouldn't have. On the other hand, since she is published and I am not, that mere thought alone ought to give me incentive and motivation to proceed. All you have to do to succeed is to write about 1700 words a day, and I don't suppose that is too big a feat. Not considering in the few minutes I've rambled on here I've written over 375 words. And mostly it's about nothing. Lacking all imagination. Devoid of all emotion. Boring. I can do that. I'm good at boring.

I'd have to start a whole new novel. I've had some ideas but randomly exploring them in my mind they don't seem that viable. The analog I was using is basically the tragedy and I would rather make it not so much a tragedy. Although, some of the nicest pieces I've read have been tragedies.

They say write what you know about. That has to be a mistake or an overgeneralization. Otherwise, it's almost as if I couldn't write about anything, because I'm not sure of anything most of the time. I just don't know anything. The reason for that is because life is in flux. It is changing, constantly, and everything to do with it is changing, too. How can you be sure about anything that is so dynamic like that? How can you be certain you know anything about anything? Now, thinking about that analysis, it is not very comforting or very satisfying. I would rather have the confidence to say I know this or that about this or that. Nonetheless, I don't. It would be dishonest to say I did.

I remember when my son was young --- that would be my older son --- and he was at church, or, rather, he had just come from church, and he would say something like, "They talked about the pioneers and their ancestors. I don't know anything about my ancestors." He said what he said because he is an adopted boy. At the time, he didn't know anything at all about his biological parents or ancestry. Of course, we reassured him that he was certainly part of our family and his grandparents and ancestors included ours. Nonetheless he knew and so did we that wasn't quite on the mark.

There is a table, a long table, in fact. It is so long, there must be several tables pushed together in a row. A group of people sit there along the benches next to the table eating. It looks like some kind of a celebration, a big picnic to commemorate this or that. The table is cluttered with plates made of paper and the people are holding plastic forks, cutting through cake, and reaching for this or that with another hand. These people at this table do not look like me. I am an old white man. These people are dark, Native Americans perhaps, maybe Latinos, I don't know. They are happy and the food is satisfying them. The group includes men and women. The men have more smiles on their faces then the women do. The women seem serious, focused, and intent. Maybe they're just more hungry. I don't see any children.

The stainless steel lids of the pans on the table draw my vision to them. They are distinctive. Perhaps it's the way they reflect the light.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

A Would-Be Critic

So, Elder Oaks's take is that public silence --- well, not so much just silence, but privacy in critical communications in the hierarchical structure --- is a virtue in spiritual practice. He calls for a five-prong approach:

  • Overlook the difference, not necessarily accepting the view, but simply not acting upon it.
  • Reserve judgment and action during a time of reflection and consideration to allow for a change of position.
  • Meet and discuss the criticism privately with the leader.
  • Meet privately or correspond with a higher leader to discuss the problem.
  • Pray for resolution.

And it's all for the sake of love and unity within the fold I guess.

Have I got that all right?

Certainly, many take very public positions on many occasions on subjects not orthodox. Blake Ostler says, ". . . there may be times when the value of friendships, love and unity are outweighed by the the [sic] gravity and value of public discourse about the issue at hand . . ." and gives some examples: blacks and the priesthood and Prop 8.

It seems to me that hamstringing free and open speech within the Church on public issues is a vice. I might feel differently if I saw or felt that the private-communications venue had been or was now more viable than our sad history has shown. When outrageous acts have been perpetrated and unacknowledged under the cloak of privacy in past practice within the Church (e.g., MMM) and took so long to gain public acknowledgement and some degree of resolution, I have little hope that privacy works well. And it seems inimical to me of a loving Heavenly Father. I have nothing against the notion of "let's discuss that in private" when we're dealing with personal issues. It's another matter for me when we're talking about public issues and policy that reaches beyond the walls of the temple or chapel.

In the late '70s and early '80s, I quietly struggled with my faith perhaps more than had been normal up until then, even though the big mess with civil rights and blacks and the priesthood had cleared up pretty nicely. I hadn't agreed with the Church's positions on those issues, but had kept pretty much mum.

The LDS God that most people preached and believed in was, it seemed to me back then and it had for some time, too much like the Catholic or Protestant God: you know, omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent, etc., etc. One big bugaboo for me in those younger days was foreknowledge and its implications relative to agency. I am not trained in philosophy or theology, but the two notions just seemed incompatible.

I prayed, read, and studied the scriptures and the talks of the GAs, and even began broadening my resources beyond the LDS authorities, even going beyond the Church. At times, I made comments in Sunday School or at Priesthood Meeting, usually on the notion of foreknowledge and agency. It seemed to elicit askance looks and/or scowls. In fact, it still does.

I knew about SUNSTONE and DIALOGUE and even subscribed --- to SUNSTONE, for a while and DIALOGUE, to this day. One day at the UofU library, I looked into a back issue of DIALOGUE: issue, Summer 1984, where I found the article, "The Mormon Concept of God."

Reading that rather provocatively and confidently titled article wasn't quite as satisfying as the June 8, 1978 revelation some years before for me, but it meant a lot to me and my faith. It felt like an answer to my searching and prayers. It had a profound effect by making me realize that others (well, at least one other) felt --- but on a much more profound level --- somewhat like I did on the subject. Not that such thinking was necessarily right, but that we had similar feelings about God. It made it easier for me to cope with my differences in belief and thought from so many of the members in my ward and stake and even in the interpretations I was reading and hearing from Church authorities above the local level.

Since that time, of course I've tried to pay attention to Blake's writings. A lot of them go right over my head, but I still I consider them as best as I can, sometimes agreeing, sometimes not, and sometimes confused.

All of this is simply to say that I have great respect for the faith and thought of others who put themselves out there in a public place and for their ability to enlighten me mostly in positive ways.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Heavenly Father

Most of my life, I have been told and taught that I have a Heavenly Father, who is not just a Heavenly Father in some ethereal way, but who is really the Father of my spirit. It is said that he is the father of my spirit in the same way that my temporal father is the father of my physical body. In fact, that tenet --- that I have this very real Heavenly Father --- stands paramount in the LDS religion I belong to. I didn't get that teaching, at least in so far as I can remember, from my parents or grandparents. I got it from the culture and the institution I was raised in, primarily, from the LDS church I have attended from my earliest youth, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.

My parents were not religious people either in practice or in attitude while I grew up in their household. I can remember them attending church only on the most rare of occasions. For example, they did attend a sacrament meeting I spoke at when I left on my mission. However, in spite of them not being religious, I believe that they believed most of the tenants the church taught were good --- like being honest, obeying and honoring your parents, and doing good to others --- and would help me be a better individual.

They sent me to church. When I say "they," I am more inclined to think it was the doings of my mother rather than my father. (My mother had been baptized into the LDS church, and she had even graduated from seminary. My father always called himself a heathen, although it never seemed to me he acted very much like a heathen, but maybe I just don't know how heathens act.) Part of it might have been simply to give my parents a break from having us kids around on a Sunday morning. I'm not exactly sure how it happened that I started going off to church. I do know that our family lived directly across the street from a man who was in the bishopric of the LDS church --- perhaps he was even the Bishop, I don't remember --- and it is likely that he or his family invited me and my siblings to go to church with them. I have a vague recollection of riding with them in their car to an old chapel on the west side of the tracks in Clearfield, Utah to church. It is my first recollection. I don't know how old I was then. I do know that I wasn't nine yet.

Anyway, I kept at it, going to church, even though my two siblings didn't keep going as they approached maturity, and, insofar as I can tell, have had nothing to do the church in adulthood. I have kept at it, though, throughout my lifetime, pretty much practicing the whole gamut of the LDS faith. And all of that time, the notion that I have a Heavenly Father has predominated my thinking and relationship with God. I've always liked that notion, believed in it, and practiced my faith as if it were true. It makes God more approachable, in my experience. I can relate better to God that way, because, just as I had been able to work with my own temporal father, to live with him, to learn from him, and to talk with him, I experienced myself having a relationship with my Heavenly Father in those same ways.

So this is the way I see God: as a father who is approachable, willing to listen to me, willing to give me insight and to touch me in tender ways in order to let me know what is right and what is wrong. Not only is He approachable, willing to listen, and willing to give insight to me and to touch me, but He does so from time to time. This has led to a problem, however. It is a problem, because I find myself touched in a tender way by Heavenly Father that differs from the teachings, policy and declarations which predominate in the LDS church on the issue of same-sex attraction and the rights of gays and lesbians. It is not unlike earlier feelings that I experienced during the civil rights era and the era when the church denied blacks the priesthood, although, during those eras I just let it go.

My conscience doesn't want me to bury it this time.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Another Day

Sometimes I wonder if I should sign up on the site that sponsors writing a novel of 50,000 words in the month of November, NaNoWriMo. Other times, I don't think about it so much. What is certain, though, is that I am thinking more and more today about trying to actually do more, write more, keep more busy doing my writing. One way of doing that, I suppose, would be to commit to write 50,000 words in November. However, I'm not quite to the point of making that commitment, yet. Although, it's something to think about. I have sixteen more days to think about it, I guess.

The world is a vast and complex place, even though sometimes it seems smaller and smaller as time goes by. However, as small as it may seem, I could go my whole life through without recognizing that probably weekly people sit in an enclosed edifice and bid on animals. They actually pay somebody to come and auction critters off, and people sit around, watching the animals parade through as they bid on them, mostly men. I can envision it. It's not unlike a parade of models walking down the ramp in a fashion show. Although, it's unlikely that the animals are elevated like women and men are in fashion shows. More than likely, it's the viewers who are elevated.

I can see them now, a few poor lambs, shepherded in through one door and paraded to the center of the stage --- well, it's not really a stage ---, described by a farmer or some other announcer before the auctioneer takes over, and then auctioned off to the highest bidder. Such animals are not concerned about hygiene; not self-centered or self-conscious, but maybe a little frightened. If they need to crap, they crap. That's what the straw on the floor is for.

The audience is clothed in casual wear: Levi's, T-shirts, baseball caps, a few cowboy hats, a variety of shoes, including cowboy boots. Belts. I bet there's a good selection of belts. Seated on folding chairs or bleachers. Cell phones. Notepads. Businessmen, intent on making a good deal, dreaming of a nice profit after some hard work.

And then it's over. The lamps are herded out. Calves are next. Some men shuffle their feet. Other shift their weight. A cell phone rings. The auctioneer does his spiel.

Somebody else had their funeral today, a lady I knew from church, Kelly. (I'm not sure that is how you spell it, so forgive me if I got it wrong.) She was just forty-four, I believe, a couple of years younger than my mother was when she died. Kelly suffered most of her life with an inherent malady of the brain and spine that caused her grievous headaches, seizures, and other unseemly problems that are probably impossible for someone like me to imagine. She died, peacefully, in her sleep, discovered by her husband as he awakened Saturday morning. Besides her husband, she left four children: Tyler, Chase, and twins, Sam and Sarah. She wrote a book, a Christmas novel. I would like to read it and see what she had to say.

Friday, October 9, 2009


I didn't know the asparagus was a member of the lily family. You learn something new every day.

I remember, as a boy, my grandparents would go out along the ditch banks looking for wild asparagus growing there. I suppose they found some sometime, and they must have eaten it themselves, because I never remember having any, or, for that matter, ever wanting any.

Most vegetables aren't that appealing to a young boy. Although, when you think about it, nice shoots of asparagus could be used for pretending that you had a sword, I guess. At any rate, I don't remember going either to hunt along the ditch banks or ever eating the stuff.

It's hard to imagine they actually grow asparagus as a crop. And then, after it's grown, they have to harvest it. They probably pay somebody to do all of that work. But knowing how things work these days, they probably use some machine to do it. Although, it seems to me that I read somewhere where they still handpick it and clean it and then carefully package it so that the tender stalks are not damaged.

I wonder where these asparagus farms are? I don't remember ever seeing one around here. Also, though, you have to wonder if the asparagus was growing wild along the ditch banks, if there wasn't a farm somewhere around of asparagus.

Curious thing.

This all makes me remember working in the cannery up in Boise for the LDS church. Every once in a while as members of the ward there we would get an assignment to go work at the cannery, and I kind of enjoyed it. There was all this machinery and all these people would come to work together, a lot of people, who for the most part didn't know each other from Adam. It wasn't all Adams either. There were lots of Eves.

I can remember being assigned a particular job in the whole process. One time, we were doing corn and I remember I was on this big machine that would shuck the corn.

A big truck would come and unload corn fresh from the patch. Then men would shovel corn up onto a conveyor belt and the cobs that hadn't been shucked yet would ride on up and then be fed into various shoots they rode down. On either side of the shoot were rotating cylinders that were corrugated in a way so that they stripped the covering off the cobs, exposing the corn on the cob. Further along in the process, the machinery would strip the corn off from the cob.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Heather Moore: ALMA vs. Maia

Heather Moore was gracious enough to let me read her new novel, ALMA, and I am glad I did. I haven't read too much fiction for her intended audience, so this was somewhat new for me. I recommend it to anyone interested in having the life of Alma the Elder from the BOOK OF MORMON more fleshed out. I also recommend it to anyone otherwise interested in reading fast-paced fiction involving elements of romance, friendship, and religious devotion.

For me, the book ALMA is misnamed, though.

Its predominant character, for me, is Maia, wife of the malevolent King Noah, the chief, if subtle, romantic hero, or, if you will, romantic interest, in the novel. Maia's story is much more compelling than Alma's; in fact, Maia's story is gripping enough for me to read the entire book despite any other defects, such as why Moore starts out in Amulon's point-of-view: "Amulon stared at the king's red face," she writes in her opening line, "wondering if he'd ever hated a man more."

Now that's a nice, strong, and potent sentence (although I couldn't help smiling, and having the author's name so clearly in mind, as I read, " . . . a man MoOre.") And there's no question but that Amulon lives up to that first characterization of him, and even finds a man to hate greater than he hates the king with the red face. But, I ask, where are Alma and Maia in these first few pages? They are reference material. I don't know if I've ever started a published novel in the antagonist's point-of-view with the protagonist in the background. Do you recall any?

Well, for me, it was disturbing. In analyzing it, I couldn't help thinking of some favorite characters: "My suffering left me sad and gloomy," says protagonist Pi Patel from LIFE OF PI; "When he was nearly thirteen, my brother Jem got his arm badly broken at the elbow," says Scout from TO KILL A MOCKING BIRD. And THE ROAD starts out, "When he woke in the woods in the dark and the cold of the night he'd reach out to touch the child sleeping beside him. " It is clearly in the protagonist's point-of-view. Even Orson Scott Card's SARAH --- not that it's a favorite of mine, but it does inhabit a similar genre --- starts: "Sarai was ten years old when she saw him first."

Anyway, this Amulon character is, at the outset of the novel, a high priest in King Noah's court, an old friend of Alma's before Alma "got religion." Although, to be accurate, it's actually before Alma gets "true" religion, for Alma had been a high priest in the religious order in the king's court already. So, in its essence, the story is the juxtaposition of orthodoxy and apostasy, with Amulon serving as the prototype for the one, and Alma as the ideal for the other.

It seemed that the main characters in the novel --- Alma and Amulon, in particular, --- were drawn so sweetly good and grotesquely bad, without much (any?) ambiguity at all; that there were no real struggles with temptation or any need for repentance. Their minds were made up; they were where they were and what they had become, and it seemed there was little or no chance for them to change. Even if characters always chose right . . . or wrong --- And that just doesn't happen, does it? --- it seems some struggle with temptation to do evil or desire to repent ought to be evident, and that struggle ought to be conveyed in a work of fiction. Even prophets admit failings, weaknesses. But Alma is " . . . inside his soul . . . truly free. He was true to his convictions, his faith, his Lord. His increasing burdens were made light . . ." From outset to the end, it seemed to me.

Whether or not one accepts the BOOK OF MORMON as a historical document --- and there are adherents of the Mormon faith who don't or who place some limitations on it --- this admixture of what is clearly fiction with the chronologies and language from Mormon scripture is an interesting, and at times compelling, phenomenon. I've read Diamant's THE RED TENT, which is based upon Old Testament characters, and enjoyed it very much, but, for me, reading a character out the BOOK OF MORMON, seemed a uniquely new and exciting adventure. Of course, such an undertaking is nothing new to Moore , who has already written about ABINADI from the BOOK OF MORMON, winning, I see, various awards within a growing audience for doing so.

Now, Moore does a great job fleshing out the basic narrative of Alma and his contemporaries in her novel, using a cast of other interesting characters: Helam and Raquel, King Noah, Amulon, Jachin and Lael, Gideon, and, especially, Maia. She does so using both animate and inanimate characteristics from her source material, making the story more interesting and forceful than the original text. Readers --- at least this one --- are less likely to fall asleep or get bored reading this kind of story, where they can identify with and become more invested in the characters, the relationships, and the places the characters visit and experience, than when simply reading raw scriptures without any ancillary imagination --- not that people ever do that, of course. The orthodox believer will perhaps scoff and scorn, saying that the spirit works only through the original text. My experience, and it appears many others', differs.

At the end of the day, however, I felt closer to Maia than I ever did to Alma. But, like I said above, it was well worth my time and effort to read ALMA and to be obliged to consider more fully his life and story.