Fiction Friday: Micropoetry from the Book

mormoni

Brad worshiped the Creator,
David, the Creation;
I was somewhere in between,
for I saw being a good steward of Creation
as a form of worship.
I could know Mother Nature
in a way
I wasn’t sure I’d ever know
God the Father.

The tide ebbed,
leaving behind a holographic surface
in the waning sunlight.
My love for this boy swelled
as the waves crashed to shore.
It was our last good-bye,
for with his message in the bottle,
he had gotten the last word.

The thrashing of the crashing foam—
like Mr. Sandman’s lullaby—
lulled my eyes closed,
for a part of me imagined
that being coated like a sugar cookie
amongst all this magical grit
was where the Sandman got his magic.
I let myself drift off into slumber
like a piece of driftwood,
feeling safe being near to the one
who was near to God.
I fell asleep for hours,
Brad,
for eternity.

The bottle washed ashore,
almost rejecting Brad’s message.
A small sheet of paper
that had been rolled up
fell into my hand
while I stood knee-deep on the sandbar.
Ever after, I would think of this note
as a dead sea scroll,
a sacred text,
& a series of words that would
apply to my life
for the rest of my life.

I prayed in my heart,
even as I called his name,
but just as the sting of death
was swallowed up in Christ,
my screams were drowned out
by the pounding surf
that licked my ankles
on this deserted beach,
& I felt as if I was swallowed up
in the panic that begat my grief.

Logline for Because of Mindy Wiley An Irish-Catholic girl coming of age in the Deep South during the New Millennium finds her family splintered when two Mormon missionaries come to her door, their presence and promise unearthing long-buried family secrets, which lead to her excommunication and exile.

Fiction Friday: Micropoetry from the Book

mormoni

Like the Mormons,
Brad the Catholic,
the soon-to-be priest,
& my bosom friend,
relied on a feeling,
or rather,
my lack of feeling for him,
to enter a life of celibacy,
poverty,
& obedience;
the last two he had honored
because it was all he knew,
even as the first I had honored
because I had never known any better.

Twilight on the beach
signaled the remains of the day,
before the dregs of the night
were taken out like trash
with the tide.
There were no women sunbathing,
men surfing,
children frolicking.
Paradise wasn’t people
but nature,
for nature did not pollute itself,
& mankind’s abuse of it
would turn human beings
into an endangered species.

The yellow flag was up,
warning us of dangerous marine life.
We should have saluted that flag;
we should’ve respected it,
but it was as if I had a fever,
for I was delirious
with the sudden lack of sameness
my life had become.

The panorama of indigo,
burnt orange,
& the line between blue & green
was ever changing;
where sky & sea met,
marked the edge of the world.
I was the unnamed narrator—
having a moment
in the story that was my life.

He’d created it all.
Though other worlds might be,
there had never been,
as the Mormons believed,
another God.
There was no eternal progression
but eternal life—
when we were perfected in Him.
Mormon heaven was mortals
becoming God or Goddess
of their own planet,
but mine was inhabiting the one
God had perfected.

Logline for Because of Mindy Wiley An Irish-Catholic girl coming of age in the Deep South during the New Millennium finds her family splintered when two Mormon missionaries come to her door, their presence and promise unearthing long-buried family secrets, which lead to her excommunication and exile.

Fiction Friday: Micropoetry from the Novel

mormoni

Had there been 12 places,
it would’ve been like The Last Supper,
but there were 16—
a perfect square full of imperfect squares—
a latter day First Dinner.

Her husband was a descendant of Brigham Young—
who had been a modern day Abraham
& whose descendants may not have numbered the sands of the sea
but the stars on the BYU sports teams.

The Urim & Thummim—
the seer stones that the Prophet Joseph
had used to translate the golden plates
& had been taken back by the angel Moroni—
had been placed in the Schafers’ backyard
that was like a shady, suburban wooded lot.
This Urim & Thummim glowed like breast implants
in each of Brother Schafer’s hands,
& of course,
Saint Tony had been the one to find them,
while Brother Schafer kept them safe,
being one generation
closer to Brigham Young.

What David found laughable,
Mother found laudable,
& it was as if the stones
were the eyes of an albino,
mesmerizing her.

What some would consider Tony & Kath’s dirty little secret,
I considered a wonderful little secret,
& what Kath did not show,
she did not have to tell.

Logline for Because of Mindy Wiley An Irish-Catholic girl coming of age in the Deep South during the New Millennium finds her family splintered when two Mormon missionaries come to her door, their presence and promise unearthing long-buried family secrets, which lead to her excommunication and exile.

Community college is a great place to start; university is a great place to finish

loquat

One of the loquat trees around PSC campus.

Most of us go to college to get a degree so that we can have a career that will pay for that education.  However, if your sole objective is to get your degree and get the hell out, you’re missing out on everything else the community college experience has to offer.

Maybe this sounds idealistic or even naïve, but if you go to college solely for the degree, that’s almost as bad as going to work just for the paycheck.  

Though higher education is an expensive investment in oneself (timewise and moneywise), college has been proven to enhance critical thinking, oral and writing skills, abstract reasoning, and aid in the solidification of soft skills.  It also heightened my confidence and perspective.

What’s more, when you’re doing restaurant or retail work, you’re completing repetitious tasks, but in college, you’re advancing every four months to something more challenging (or at least different).  When you’re working for a boss, all they care about is that you get the job done; in college, most professors are interested in your success, provided that you care.  

One algebra professor gave us daily pep talks about practicing math and taught us that you don’t study math, you do it—sort of like brain surgery—and that “life is better with a degree.”  He admitted that Pizza Hut, where he worked so much harder for far less money, made him want to finish college.  He was interested in our minds, and, unlike a boss, wasn’t interested in keeping us there but wanted us to leave his class forever, and, if we must, “hate math again.”

I took him up on the latter, especially after I took Elementary Statistics, which was anything but elementary.

~

In college, you learn the answers to questions you didn’t know you had.  For example, this same math professor finally shed light on why we have to learn this “nonsense” (meaning algebra)—that it was to sharpen our attention to detail.  “Sometimes, we’re one keystroke from ruining somebody’s life,” he said, and so I could work on this nonsense with a newfound sense of purpose.

College gives you time to think, not just act, and will connect you to people you wouldn’t have crossed paths with otherwise.  

So, you watch Shark Tank and see the hustlers who never went to college (but who worked 24/7) and articles about people like Bill Gates being a college dropout, but a degree isn’t just a window of opportunity—it’s a door to experiences that are unique to the college life.  

The diversity of a community college makes everyone feel like it’s never too late to get an education, reinvent yourself, or launch a new career, so no matter your age or background, get involved in something outside the classroom. 

I did the newspaper and the literary arts journal.

Seek out internship (and work-study) opportunities as well, which you’re more likely to get as a college student, as you’re perceived as a serious individual.  Internships are the answer to that old dilemma about needing experience that no one will hire you without.

If you have the chance, take a few classes just because they interest you.  (Many people figure out what they want to do by getting a general studies degree.)  

College is a time of chrysalis:  I enrolled as a Health Information Technology major, so sure I wanted to be a medical biller and coder (to appease the introvert in me), and ended up graduating with a general studies degree in addition to that, because that was the degree I wanted to build on.

So, whether your passion is in STEM or the arts (STEAM is dumb because it leaves out writing), there is something for everyone at a liberal arts college.  

~

Now, I’m at university, studying Creative Writing.  This time, I know what I want to do.

I have experienced college life differently—as a thirtysomething with a family instead of a twentysomething living at home (or on campus).  I work two jobs, and so I don’t have time to hang out at the coffee shop (F.R.I.E.N.D.S. is a fantasy) or participate in clubs; when my friends and I get together, it is planned and deliberate, as we have jobs, kids, and other responsibilities.     

So, I will never know that twentysomething kind of college experience, but I feel like I am getting to know something better.  When I come home after a long day at school and then work at the Lab (where I concoct formulas containing commas and hypotheses based on Merriam-Webster), and the sky is just turning twilight, and the breeze through the window invigorates me, I pull up to my humble home, where, through the frosted oval glass in my front door, I see a little girl jumping, so excited to see me.  Behind that door, there is a husband who has missed me, and I wouldn’t trade that for anything.  

Though I have a couple more years to go, I have lots to look forward to—an internship, a creative nonfiction writing class, and yes, even a grammar class, because I am just that nerdy.

The first two parts were originally published as “First Times and Second Chances” (with minor edits due to hindsight) in the September 2017 issue of The Corsair, Pensacola State College’s student newspaper.

Escape from Zion: My experience with leaving the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Tree of life

*The names of the individuals mentioned and the Church have been changed for privacy reasons.

Having been a former Mormon for over fifteen years, I’ve tried to remember just what it was — what little piece of doctrine — swayed me to believe everything else that had come with it, and it came to me the other night during a conversation with my husband, in which I was adamant that unbaptized babies and young children who didn’t have believing parents went straight to Heaven; my rugged half wasn’t so sure because the Bible said you must be baptized to be reunited with God. (The Bible says a lot of things.) As with my husband, I found myself at odds with every Christian denomination in some way, but it was that belief alone — that children were not punished for their parents’ deeds (or lack thereof), for dying young, or even not being born — that showed me the kind of God Mormons believed in. 

It was the same kind I did.

However, I would come to learn that they believed in a great many things I did not. I could never believe that God was limited to a body of flesh and bones and could not be everywhere at once (though, according to them, His influence was) — for the God I believed in couldn’t be explained away by theories but was Awe and Wonder not quite personified — that when He spoke of His image, He wasn’t referring to the physical sense but a cognitive one.

Though I could have remained a cultural Mormon, I had to be true to myself, and so I walked out, burning that bridge behind me. Though there were times I missed the Church, I have no desire to ever go back, even though I still read LDS fiction every once in a while, even though I sometimes catch myself singing “Come, Come, Ye Saints” in the car, and even though I find myself drawn to shows like Big Love.

I had prayed for God to tell me whether or not the Church was true (an admonition from the missionaries), as their Prophet Joseph Smith had quoted from the Bible in James 1:5: “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him.” They’d told me I would feel a burning in the bosom, which would be the Spirit telling me that the Church was true. I should have known not to expect a manifestation, for faith was believing in something absent a manifestation.

My time in the Church was rife with internal conflict, for my feelings often conflicted with what I was being taught; I was told that the Prophets spoke for God, and who was I to question Him?

I try to think back to the first time something didn’t seem quite right, which would be when I got my patriarchal blessing — a personal blessing inspired by the Lord to help guide LDS members in their lives, modeled after the blessing given by Jacob to each of his sons prior to his death. I don’t even remember the man’s name or face — it’s all a blur to me now — but I do remember, in hindsight, it was like the time I went to an LDS hypnotherapist to help me deal with my Utah Mormon life.

The patriarch interviewed me prior to, and I’d felt, even then, that he was fishing for information to help him give a better reading, and so my blessing sounded like a positive rewording of the personal feelings I had just divulged. My eyes were closed the entire time his hands were feather-light on my hair, his wife transcribing it all. 

It was one of the strangest days I had ever spent. 

I remember leaving, feeling as it had all been a farce, but it was a feeling I would bury. I was told I belonged to the tribe of Ephraim. (It was generally either that or Manasseh.) I remember one of the sister missionaries who had given me the discussions had shown me hers, but I wasn’t supposed to read it or compare mine to anyone else’s, which sounded like the admonition from bosses to their employees never to discuss their salaries.

I eventually destroyed that patriarchal blessing, even as I would give away everything that had anything to do with the Church. When I removed the Church from my life, I removed a source of conflict from it, as well, as a desire for my family to join me (my mom did, briefly) sometimes caused friction, but then, did not Jesus say He would divide families?

I learned through my experience beyond the Mormon curtain that sometimes you just have to lose yourself before you can find yourself. 

~

Had it not been for the Mormon Church in Montana, where I was a live-in nanny in 2004, I would’ve been terribly homesick. That’s the thing with the LDS Church — wherever there were fellow Mormons, there was always an instant camaraderie. Perhaps that was why tithing had come so easy for me, for I felt I always got back far more than I ever gave. Perhaps that was why I’d never felt the Spirit in any other Church, but now, looking back, I think that spirit I felt was of fellowship and friendship, which can feel an awful lot like the love of God.

I’d joined the Church right out of high school, after ordering a copy of the Book of Mormon. I can still remember the television commercial advertising it — a lady with a soft voice and hair that blew in the wind, walking on a beach past a lighthouse. It had touched me, and so I’d requested a copy be delivered to me personally by the missionaries, as I was curious about what Mormons looked like.

Here I lived in Pensacola, Florida — the buckle of the Bible belt (also known as Lower Alabama). I’d attended many churches, yet I’d never felt as welcome as I had when I chose to become a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

I’d felt a belonging, fulfilling a longing I hadn’t realized was there. I’d never been a partier, I didn’t use profanity, I didn’t drink or smoke — my idea of fun was their idea of fun.

However, I fell away not long after I was baptized. I’d stopped attending services after the sister missionaries mentioned tithing, for my parents had always taught me to beware of churches that asked for money. Nine months passed during which I joined the College Republicans at the University of West Florida, where I met my first boyfriend, “Tony,” who happened to be in the same ward (what Mormons call their meetinghouses) I had been in. (He was a returned missionary, and RMs were considered the cream of the crop, the salt of the earth.) He dated me back into the Church, so I guess you could say I’d have never gone back had it not been for him; this time around, I gained a testimony of the truthfulness of the everlasting gospel, the restoration of Christ’s Church on Earth, or rather, I wanted to believe in it so much, I thought I did. It seemed too wonderful not to be true, with all their talk about families being together forever. Anything I didn’t like, I accepted. After all, there were parts of the Bible I didn’t necessarily like, but I was still a Christian.

The sister missionaries had planted the seed, but with Tony’s friendship, it grew. I had more reason than ever then to want to be an active Mormon.

My best friend at the time was a girl named “Dasha” (one of the few black members of Pine Hollow Ward). I became part of a church family for the first time in my life. I attended every Sunday, every meeting, every social I could, and after Tony and I broke up (we had chemistry but nothing else), my family and I often had the missionaries over for dinner. The elder missionaries (the young men people often see in white shirts and ties, wheeling around town on their bicycles) were the first fruits — the extra virgin olive oil. They were the best of what the Church had to offer, or so I thought, in terms of husband material. I had crushes on a few of them, though they had been admonished to lock their hearts before their mission — to live as Catholic priests — so that they would not stray from their real purpose for being there.

So, no matter how they might have felt about me, it would’ve been unseemly for them to give me any encouragement.

It is fair to say that the Church became my whole life. I stopped drinking sweet tea, and I never was much of a coffee drinker. (This was before I discovered the iced gingerbread latte at Starbucks, which, much to my chagrin, has been discontinued.) I dressed even more modestly, I didn’t shop (or eat out) on Sunday, I marked up my Book of Mormon — finally becoming worthy enough to enter the temple. I even gave a few talks, all of which I wrote myself and helped me overcome my paralyzing shyness. I accepted every calling given me by my Bishop, which included working with young children — something I’d never been crazy about. I knew many of the hymns by heart, memorizing them during the passing of the Sacrament. It was my world in a mustard seed, for so immersed in the culture had I become. All my friends were Mormon, and I found, at times, unable to identify with those who weren’t. I’d never been strong in any other church, and the concept of “once saved, always saved” had always seemed flawed. 

I was a true believer.

So, I guess you could say meeting Tony wasn’t so much a turning point in my life, but rather, it led to a boiling point.

With every bearing of my testimony and with every good work, my faith strengthened. I was at the height of my faith in Montana, like the golden angel Moroni that’s on all the Mormon temples — closest to God and His Church.

And then I went to Utah.

I’d always been somewhat of a perfectionist, and this was stressed in the Church. “Be ye therefore perfect, even as I am.” Jesus’s words. The women struggled with this counsel, I believe, far more than the men did. They were supposed to stay attractive for their husbands while having lots of children and preparing wonderful meals and keeping a clean house, while being told that the desire not to have children was rooted in selfishness and vanity. I even remember our Institute teacher (who most churches would call a youth pastor) told our class that his family fell apart when his mom worked outside the home.

If only I could’ve taken these words in stride, but I took them to heart.

When my time in Montana was up, I was ready for a new adventure. I was ready to meet someone, though now I know I wasn’t anywhere near ready. I hadn’t become who I was going to be for the rest of my life. I wasn’t even sure I wanted kids anymore, for I wasn’t sure I was unselfish enough to have them. I wanted to be a rich and famous writer, but that was long before my daughter was a blue-eyed gleam in her daddy’s green eye.

I went on hiatus back home (I was ready for some real seafood) between Montana and Utah. I’ll never forget the night that Tony’s mother and father came over for a Family Home Evening (or FHE, which is one night a week that is designated for LDS families to fellowship together) at my parents’ house. Though Tony and I were no longer together, I still kept in touch with his parents. I told Tony’s father I was going to Utah, and how excited I was. I knew most of the members there had been members all their lives, whereas most of the members in Pensacola were converts. I’d heard Utah Mormons were different, and I figured that was why; they knew nothing else. I can’t recall his exact words, but he admonished me not to go — that all would not be as wonderful as I imagined, that it wasn’t Zion. He’d looked so grave, as if my eyes were little crystal balls. 

How naïve I was then.

I can’t say I wish I’d listened to him, for I’m glad I went, even though it led to my leaving the Church in a blaze of glorious anger.

I went to Provo. The couple I was going to nanny for turned out to be a nightmare, so I ended up calling a friend — an elder missionary my family and I had often had over for dinner appointments — who came and got me. I was a true damsel in distress. He got me set up with some girl friends of his in an apartment close to the BYU campus. They were all kind and sympathetic to my plight, opening their temporary home to me; we became good friends, at least during the time I was there.

However, I felt my life begin to unravel. I was living amongst people who were going to college, who seemed to have it all together and knew exactly what they wanted to do with their lives while I worked jobs that didn’t require any skills. Though I’d worked the same kinds of jobs back home, it had always felt like enough. I still had my writing — I always had my writing (though I found that my trying to stay true to the Church stifled it, for I tried so hard not to offend) — but the depression that came about because I was losing my faith held me back. It had gotten to where I didn’t want to do anything, because it never felt good enough.

And then all the uncertainties began to trickle like water through cracks in a vase. I remembered reading Mormon Doctrine by Bruce R. McConkie, who was a general authority (a member of the Church hierarchy); there was one entry that struck me, especially in light of the Elizabeth Smart kidnapping that was still big news: “Loss of virtue is too great a price to pay even for the preservation of one’s life — better dead clean, than alive unclean. Many is the faithful the Latter-day Saint parent who has sent a son or a daughter on a mission or otherwise out into the world with the direction: ‘I would rather have you come back in a pine box with your virtue than return alive without it.’” (124). I knew if I ever had a daughter (now I do), I would never want her to believe that if she ever made a mistake, it would render her worthless. I would teach her that her worth was inherent, and that nothing or no one could ever take that away, whether it was by choice or circumstance.

After my time (but not my welcome) had run out in the other apartment, I moved into a different complex, where I would come home from work to an apartment full of people, when I’d just want to decompress. Because I chose the privacy of my room, I was considered anti-social. I felt like I had nothing that belonged to me anymore.

I bounced around from job to job until I couldn’t deal with the pressure I know that I, not God, had placed upon myself.

I was floundering.

My Bishop at home was a kind and good man, never judgmental, but the Bishop there was offended that I preferred to attend the ward where my white knight attended, for he reminded me of the good times I used to have; he reminded me of home. A bad experience with a bishop had driven one of my friends away from the Church back home, and it was happening to me now. “The Church is perfect, but the people aren’t” didn’t cut it anymore.

One of my friends from Pensacola, who’d hastily married into the Church (and divorced after ten months) had lived there at the time, was a godsend. Though we are no longer friends, I realize she was there for me, at that time and place, when I needed her. We were both having doubts about the Church — she understood me when no one else did. It was different being a Mormon in Utah, and it was almost impossible to make lasting friendships. I didn’t fit in there like I had in the wards in Florida and Montana.

I asked my roommates questions I already knew the answers to, and though everyone pretended to understand, they really didn’t; I don’t think they could. I began to understand why they called it Happy Valley.

There was a big misunderstanding, and the Bishop there called my parents, alarming them unnecessarily. He seemed to think I either came from a broken home (not true) or broken the law of chastity (also not true), because I should be happy if I was keeping the commandments. He even told my parents after he came over the next day that I must be feeling a lot better, because I was wearing make-up, which my mother took as a sexist comment. 

I knew I wouldn’t get well while I was a member of the Church, where people either seemed perfect or were striving for perfection, and it took time, but I gradually turned my troubles over to the God I had known as a Protestant. It took months back home to get to that point; I had to detox (but not deprogram, for it had never gotten that far). I didn’t even bother to contact my friends from the Church at home during that time. As far as they knew, I was still in Utah. I didn’t want anyone to know I had fallen away.

I did some Internet research and found a website called Concerned Christians (who are just as dogmatic about their beliefs as the Mormons) and used their resignation letter template to have my name removed from the Church records in Salt Lake City.

I couldn’t believe how much my relationship with the Church had changed. My friend, who rescued me from that crazy new family I was supposed to nanny for, became defensive when I tried to make him see why I could no longer believe, and so I simply let him go. 

I went back to Pine Hollow Ward a few years later, but my heart (and soul) just wasn’t in it. I think perhaps I just had to be convinced that I had made the right decision in leaving. I attended a ward social a few years later (by invitation from a member who happened to see me working in Albertson’s). Tony’s father had come up to me, looking so sad, and said, “We lost you.”

I had simply nodded.

My faith had been shattered — like a mirror thrown against a wall. I was fragmented, and it took months before I became whole again. Those fragments were never mended, but rather I was made anew.

There has never been another church that had ever brought me into its folds like that, so I just live by faith without boundaries. I’m pretty much a “Creaster,” and it works for me, but more importantly, I try to live a goodly life (I would say godly, but I think God might shake His head at some of the stuff I write). I am a Christian who respects not only His name but the sanctity of innocent life, and I am the best wife, mother, daughter, and friend I know how to be.

The Church did help me become a more spiritual person, and it built me up, even as it tore me down. I am who I am today because of it, and in spite of it.

My kinship with Mary Ann (Tony’s wife, who I always liked more than Tony) was briefly rekindled, but a couple of years or so ago, I ran into her and a couple other Pine Hollow girls on a Girl’s Night Out when my husband and I were on a date. I hadn’t been invited. At first, I was hurt, but then I finally admitted to myself that I wasn’t a part of their world anymore, but neither were they a part of mine (and I liked mine better).

From my experience, Mormons had friends and they had “non-member friends.”

When Mary Ann moved to another part of town, we became acquaintances, then strangers. She even admitted (via instant message) that she hadn’t been a very good friend, she, who had been with me during two of the best times of my life (when I married and had my daughter), but I had moved on and made lots of new friends — friends with whom I connected on a deeper level, who had been there for me through two of the worst times of my life (when my family and I became homeless, and I lost my mom). 

It’s those worst of times friends that matter.

And do you know something wild? My life is far more perfect now that I don’t try to be perfect; I’m also a lot happier. I live by the spirit of the law and not the letter. I can write what I want, drink what I want, and wear what I want, and I thank God every day that I went to Utah and lost my religion, only to find a new spirituality with an old friend, who had waited patiently for my return.

#Fiction Friday: #Micropoetry from the Book

mormoni

The terrestrial kingdom was Protestant heaven,
the celestial, Mormon heaven,
but even the telestial surpassed all understanding.

While my father had hovered in earthly purgatory,
I had been living in a heaven on earth,
my mother, in the hell she had created for herself.

My childhood had been one of opaqueness,
my adulthood, of startling transparency.

If God had wanted Patrick to live,
he would live without a machine,
but by that rationale,
if God had wanted him to die,
no machine on earth should have kept him in limbo.

When I’d believed my father dead,
I’d never wept,
but when I saw him alive & dying,
it was then that I finally grieved,
for his death finally became real to me.

#Fiction Friday: #Micropoetry from the Book

mormoni

“Do no harm” & “to thine own self be true,”
was my David–
a man of many sensibilities–
but he would never worship that which he could not see.

I hadn’t realized how dead Mother had been
till I saw how alive the Church had made her.
They were as Lazarus,
raising up a new Laurie,
her old soul not made new
but replaced.

Beth & Gerald Foster had been like my fairy godparents,
their diner turning back into a pumpkin,
fertilized by silver bells & cockleshells.

Life pulled us forward now,
& our future began to steal from our past,
diminishing the memories I’d once held close.

In Sacrament, we took Him inside us,
in Sunday school, we learned about Him inside us,
but in Relief Society,
we separated ourselves from the one
we had become one with.