*Fiction Friday: Poetry Based on the Book

Pride was frowned upon in the Church,
for when God had spoken from Heaven after Jesus’s baptism,
He had not said,
“Behold my Son, in whom I am proud,”
but “Behold my Son, in whom I am well pleased.”
However, Donna smiled upon herself—
prided herself—
on being the most liberal Mormon
with a temple recommend,
as she was known for having NCMO (non-committal making-out) sessions at her house.
Though a part of me admired her tinkling the brass,
I realized that she was probably still
the most conservative person outside the Church:
She had found the place where she could stand out,
even as I had found the place where I could blend in.
As I looked in the mirror at my modest self,
feeling like a woman worth more than many rubies,
I realized that the Church,
with all its traditions, structure, & rules,
notwithstanding the one about falling in love with missionaries,
was made for me.

Because Sister Wiley was a lifetime member,
she would be believed over a convert any day,
for a convert had been born into the world,
undoubtedly tainted,
rather than born into the covenant,
practically sainted.
Converts were basically immigrants,
though no one stopped to consider that because converts
had chosen the Mormon Church,
their choice had been an informed one.

Institute was the Mormon version of a youth group
for the YSA’s (Young Single Adults),
except the purpose wasn’t to become closer to Jesus
but to find an eternal companion.
Jesus just happened to be part of the package,
for at the center of Mormon life was the nuclear family,
& the brethren had stated they couldn’t go below their average
of at least one temple marriage a month.
Institute was a meat market,
displaying the finest cuts of the missionary cloth.
The lure for me wasn’t the prospect of Tony Schafer & his ilk,
but a new ping pong table & refreshments
& the chance to beat Tony at the game,
for I craved friendship & inclusion,
even validation.
To beat the unbeatable Tony,
who fancied himself at table tennis in an air-conditioned room
rather than on the tennis courts in the Deep South summer,
would make me a heroine
because men like Tony—
men of the Mormon patriarchy—
would be unable to abide a woman beating him in anything.
Banging him, however, was another story.

Kath looked like a South African queen
with her Rapunzel-like hair that exceeded the whiteness of the sun,
& Kath,
in her fancy,
saw her outer whiteness as the inclusion of all colors
& her blackness within as the exclusion of them.
I was colorblind,
but I was not blind,
& knew that even as one side would try to forget her heritage,
the other would never let her.

Service was at the heart of Mormon charity,
even as helping the poor was at the heart of Catholic charity.
As Brother Startzel regaled us with anecdotes about his service as an Air Force pilot
& his grandmother’s service as a WAVE in World War II,
I thought as David did: that military service was not Christian service,
for you served your country with the former
& your God through His children with the latter.

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 Based on the Book

Her maiden name was her something old—
far removed from who she had become.
Her married name was her something new—
in her newly-widowed state.
Her something borrowed was a string of pearls,
for they represented perfection & integrity,
longevity & fertility.
Her something blue was the cameo
David had custom-made by a jeweler
for the only daughter
of a poor Irish father & strict Russian mother—
this daughter who had remodeled herself
into the All-American housewife, circa 1958,
& into someone unrecognizable to me.

Donna, ever practical, despised Valentine’s Day
as others despised Christmas songs before Thanksgiving.
Bearing tidings of clean living,
she had brought a plastic laundry basket filled with sundries:
soap, for washing the body after sex,
toothpaste, for washing out the mouth after sex,
& laundry detergent, for washing the sheets after sex—
items that would be donated to the local women’s shelter
to which Mother gave all her old clothes but never new ones.

Sister Kyle presented a wooden box
that looked suspiciously like a cigar box.
The pillowy satin glued to the inside reminded Caitlin of a coffin,
&, resting on the unblemished, flesh-colored material
was a set of real scriptures—not the Church-issued ones.
That vessel would become a Pandora’s box—
filled with a corpus my mother would live by . . .
& die by.

Sister Thompson, who had just turned “Social Security eligible,”
handed Mother a bag with Happy Birthday on it.
Inside was a gaudy bowl with all the characteristics of a recycled gift,
for no markings indicated it was new;
Sister Bear gave Mother a coupon organizer stuffed with starter coupons,
though we wouldn’t know most of them had expired
until we had gotten home,
which was like getting a gift certificate to a restaurant,
only to find that the restaurant had gone out of business.
Sister Batts had not brought a gift but a Ramen salad,
which Sister Wiley had hidden as if it were a meager offering,
akin to Cain’s vegetables,
for worse than a recycled gift
was recycled food.

When Mother held up a lacy black negligee,
the conversation veered into when it was permissible
to remove the sacred garments to don the naughty lingerie.
One-third of those present believed that the material
created a barrier to intimacy when worn right after sex,
but two-thirds of these hostesses
of this manufactured heaven in this mortal life—
like the valiant souls who had been given the opportunity
in the premortal life to live this one—
believed it was most pleasing to the Lord
that garments be replaced immediately
after the act of procreation ceased,
& I knew then,
as sure as I knew my name,
that just as the fancy black would bring Mother & David closer,
the plain white would come between them.

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.

2020: My Year in Review (and what I have learned)

Porch life

Reading my Kindle on our front porch while my husband reheated food on the grill during Hurricane Sally.

Small is almost always better than big . . . the circle of people in your life who care enough about you to help you when things go wrong is really small. They’re a lot of peopleyour friends on Instagram or Facebook or whatever, in the fake digital world . . . but the actual number of people who will take affirmative steps to help you is very very small . . . it’s like eightso your loyalty always has to be to themyour family and your closest friends, above anything else. Period. And anyone who tells you otherwise, anyone who tells you that your real loyalty has got to be to some larger group of peoplesome political group or some group of people who look like yougive them the middle finger. Those are your enemies. They are trying to destroy the fortifications that will protect you through life, which are the people you love and love you back. — Tucker Carlson

For me, this year was the eye in a storm that included a pandemic, civic unrest, and a hurricane. My university abruptly shifted to online classes in the middle of the spring semester, my daughter’s school closed, and my husband and I found out we were having another child. Being stuck at home for months helped me learn a lot about myself as I reflected on what was going on in the world beyond my little world at home.

I learned that our country is reenacting a civil war, divided not into blue and gray but red and blue (and mask-wearers and anti-maskers). Regarding the masks, I am somewhere in between. I liken wearing a mask in a store to wearing a shirt and shoes, but I don’t wear masks when I’m outside, in my car, or my home. I never realized until this year just how little people respect other people’s space and property.

I learned that public schools are essential, and their purpose shouldn’t be so that both parents can work (school is not a daycare); school should be about educating the population. A quality grade school education shouldn’t be limited to the wealthy; I want to grow up in an educated society. When we lived in a more agrarian society, not everyone had to be as book-smart educated as they are now.

Because schools are essential, teachers are essential workers. We live in a society where both parents often have to work (when people are poor, survival always trumps education, just as paying rent trumps dentistry or eating what’s cheap trumps eating healthy). Homeschooling takes time (which many parents don’t have) and an incredible amount of dedication. Teaching is also a skill. You can be well-educated., but you are not a teacher if you don’t know how to explain something in a way someone else can understand. I’ve learned that it is so much easier to do than teach (though teaching is doing) because teaching depends on our patience and ability to help students overcome obstacles such as a short attention span, learning disabilities, et cetera. If your child has special needs, homeschooling is even more challenging.

I realized that it was a pretty great system when one parent (husband or wife) could work while their spouse could take care of the house and kids. I work from home, my husband pretty much takes care of everything else (though I pitch in on the laundry and dishes whenever I can), and we both homeschool. Our house stays clean and neat, and our meals are wholesome and delicious.

It’s a scary thought, but I realized just how dependent our society is on public school and how much lower-income children need it for education, food, health screenings, counseling, socialization, and so forth. It is deeply disturbing that due to the lockdowns, there are children who are shut up in an abusive house and cut off from the world, with no one to advocate for them. These children may be protected from bullying by other children but not from the adults who are the worst kind of bullies.

As for higher ed, virtual and remote school works for many courses (college students should have the proper scaffolding and be self-motivated enough by that time to distance learn), but most young children need face-to-face instruction. I remember there used to be a rule about no more than two hours of screen time, but I guess that doesn’t apply anymore (though it still does in our house; our TV is rarely on during the day, and I’m not motivated to teach with a tablet).

I keep homeschooling simple: I instruct verbally, using a whiteboard to illustrate my points. We read paper books, do art projects with tactile materials, and use physical objects for math. However, what I teach her is not limited to academics. I teach her the house rules and why they exist. She learns about fitness, nutrition, and proper self-care, as well as having manners, morals, and knowing her intrinsic value. I teach her about having faith in God, the importance of family, and being a good friend.

I realized you can’t be too much of a minimalist if you are homeschooling. I have a whole library of books for bedtime stories, Homeschool Book Club, and ones specifically used to teach children how to read. We also have stacks of games and puzzles and a closet full of art supplies. Everything gets enjoyed.

I realized that my time is more limited than ever. I used to blog thrice a week; now, it’s mostly once a week and only because I have back-up posts, and that’s okay. 

I realized Shirley Jackson is overrated. Many of her stories just end.

I realized how sleazy child beauty pageants are. I used to think they were harmless fun of little girls playing dress up, but with all the child trafficking going on, I realize these pageants sexualize little girls, and it’s abhorrent.

I realized that a Facebook friendship (unlike the Supreme Court) is not a lifetime appointment. And that goes both ways. When a woman I’d thought would be a lifelong friend unfriended me because I disagreed with her on a political issue, I realized that we live in a world where people with different beliefs, if they dare express them to one another, even in the nicest way possible, probably can’t be friends but in the most superficial way. 

I realized that if the holidays are stressing you out, you are doing them wrong. Even though I design all my Christmas cards, not everyone has to get one every year. We use the same Christmas decorations year after year, many of which we got from after-Christmas sales. We plan our holiday menus a month in advance to stock up on items when they are on sale. Also, don’t be afraid to regift (provided what you are regifting is in mint condition and is something you truly believe the other person may like. It’s always lovely to sweeten it up with a little gift card to a lunch out somewhere to support a local business).

I’ve realized that as much as I’ve enjoyed being a student, I’m ready to move on (especially since I have a few lit classes I dread taking). My priorities have changed, and I look forward to having more time for my writing and family. However, I will finish uni because I want to be an example to my daughters that you finish what you start—that children are not a barrier to accomplishing other things besides their raising.

So achieving my other goals may take me a little longer, but I will be doing other great (and fun) things in the meantime. However, it’s okay to admit that being a mother requires sacrifice. If you try to have it all, you’ll end up having to do it all, rather than enjoying all you have.

Cheers to 2021!

Practical Minimalism: Things Can Lead to Experiences

Shelfie

Experiences are better than things, but a thing can lead to experiences.

The minimalistic creed that experiences are always better than things is untrue, for I say it depends on the experience (and the thing).  

The experience of going to the library was okay, but the experience of a book I buy and read multiple times is better. Since Covid, I have subscribed to Amazon Kindle Unlimited for me and have added many more books to my daughter’s physical library.

The experience of shopping for a new phone was a hassle, but using that phone to group text my friends for a girls’ night out, promote my Instagram poetry, or play Scrabble is better; buying a new TV was forgettable, but having a 42″ screen where my husband and I watch Wheel of Fortune is better. We bond over skewering Pat for some of the !@#$ he says and the contestants for the bad calls they make. 

The experience of going to the Pensacola Interstate Fair was all right (I make better, and cleaner, fair food at home), but I’ve had just as much fun playing with my daughter in the big blow-up pool (a “thing”) in our backyard.

Some experiences have sucked (like revisiting the Italian restaurant where my husband and I used to go when we met ten years ago), where my time would’ve been better spent watching the current Holiday Baking Championship.

However, some experiences have been wonderful. Sometimes, the simplest experiences are best, such as having a meal at Chick-Fil-A with my family (before Covid), meeting friends for drinks and tacos (or one-on-one for coffee), reading a new bedtime story, playing board games, singing Christmas carols, trying a new baking recipe (will be making my first savory cheesecake next week), making Christmas placemats (a laminator is a must for any homeschooling classroom), creating unique Christmas cards via TouchNotes for some of my friends, and so forth. 

Experiences like these are what life is made of, and most of them aren’t Facebook or Instagram picture-worthy.  

There’s a great quote in the movie Tully, in which Tully tells Marlo (a married mother of three young children who seems to be struggling with the baby blues) that she hasn’t failed but has made her biggest dream come true: “That sameness that you despise, that’s your gift to them [Marlo’s children]. Waking up every day and doing the same things for them over and over. You are boring. Your marriage is boring. Your house is boring, but that’s … incredible! That’s a big dream, to grow up and be dull and constant, and then raise your kids in that circle of safety.”

You don’t have to experience something new every day because every day in and of itself is an experience. My best experiences haven’t always included pictures but are in the stories I tell and the memories I share.

When my job situation often changed (the nature of being a student worker), with my husband and I moving every two or three years (you have to go where you can afford to live), I found myself in a constant state of anxiety. However, we are finally reaching a level of homeostasis that feels an awful lot like contentment (not to be confused with complacency). 

I love my life as it is, which doesn’t mean that I don’t want more; I am just working towards being more. I tell my daughter in homeschool: The more you know, the more you can do, and the richer your life will be, for the more you will be able to do for yourself and others.

I remember a motivational speaker once saying that the two things that make us happiest are helping others and creating something. This Christmas season, I have been fortunate enough to do both. I would also say that staying connected to friends and family (in-person, if possible, or via telephone, not text) is the third part of that, for being giving of your time is the greatest gift.

” … remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he said, It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35).

Fiction Friday: Micropoetry Based on the Book

There were musical chairs for the young single adults
& a cakewalk for those who had not sampled
Sister Minnie Page’s mayonnaise pie—
(or “bile cake,” according to Caitlin)—
an inedible mess that half the young single adult girls said
they would be glad to buy from the winner,
just to smash in Tony Schafer’s face.
Caitlin ended up making five bucks that night,
& Tony, who, at his heart, was good-natured,
let himself be “pied.”
There was a costume contest for the kids,
but no masks were allowed,
for just as painted ladies did things to men
that their wives weren’t willing to do,
a mask provided an air of anonymity
that emboldened those who were predisposed
to do evil.

Mother had felt foolish dressing up before,
but this year, she was the epitome of a Russian princess,
David, a Russian czar.
No one knew what they were supposed to be,
& David enjoyed educating them,
with Sister Batts being the only one who dared ask
if they even knew what they were supposed to be.

Sister Wiley looked like a teeny-bopper
in checkered pedal pushers & ponytail—
adorned with a scarf instead of a scrunchie—
reminding me of the time
I had heard Sister Wiley tell Mother
that she preferred slacks over skirts
because she didn’t like her legs to touch.
If I hadn’t found out from Elder Roberts
that she’d had a baby in her teens,
I wouldn’t have thought much about it,
but I realized then that that attitude
was what had gotten her into trouble
in the first place,
& it disturbed me to think she was discussing
such personal matters with the elders.

The Jonases were dressed as Raggedy Ann & Andy
who looked down on their luck,
Brother Roswell, who always looked like a homeless Vietnam vet,
had come as a Hare Krishna,
his wife a gigantic pumpkin,
which was fitting,
as she had the face of a jack-o-lantern.
Sister Batts was the Wicked Witch of the West,
complete with a slime-green face,
though the warts were original.
It was a cavalcade of freaks & weirdos,
with a few genuinely sane people,
or at least that was how Leann would describe
the wacky assortment of characters who were
so unlike the types cast in Church-sponsored commercials.

Catie Jonas was the unofficial photojournalist of Green Haven Ward,
Caitlin, her captioning sidekick,
both of them ending up in the November ward newsletter
for their high jinks.
Caitlin hadn’t been spiritually converted into the ward,
but she had been converted socially—
with flying pink colors.

Fiction Friday: Micropoetry Based on the Book

mormoni

Leann was not a kid person,
despite being in a Church that prized children
to the exclusion of everything else,
though Mother believed the Church would change her;
perhaps if polyandry were allowed,
Leann—who was like Scarlett O’Hara at the barbecue at Twelve Oaks,
writing to a dozen elders at a time—
would meet the one elder who had not been conditioned
to want what she did not.

We were so unlike the Jonas family,
which consisted of a half dozen teenaged girls;
“Greater by the Dozen” was their family slogan,
for they were of the Quiverfull movement.
Leann believed all they needed was a set of sextuplets
to make them “Cheaper by the Dozen,”
so they would get a spot on 60 Minutes.
To Leann, big families were overrated,
for they lacked the intimacy of small ones.

We were archetypes in a stage play,
even as I felt those around us were stereotypes in a TV series.
Leann was known as the pretty strawberry one,
Kath, the popular chocolate one,
& I, the quiet vanilla one—
a Neapolitan concoction that perfectly completed one another.
As for Donna Marley,
who was known as Twenty-Seven & Unmarried,
she was the hot fudge, whipped cream, & cherry,
all in one.

Kath’s African lineage made her one of the most popular girls in the ward.
To Mick, she was the “white chocolate sista” he liked to tease,
& though Kath replied that she may have been a freak of nature,
he was just a freak.

Leann Sweeney,
who had come as Scarlett O’Hara
in the white dress at the beginning of Gone with the Wind,
had the kind of charm that was disarming,
whereas I felt like Melanie Hamilton,
with Elder Roberts as my gentle, noble Ashley,
who was as loyal to the Church
as Ashley Wilkes had been to the Lost Cause of the Confederacy.

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 Based on the Book

mormoni

Life was marked with holidays & celebrations,
with weddings & funerals,
& the seemingly endless baby showers
that happened in the Green Haven Ward.
In early October,
there was Trunk or Treat,
when all the members would line up their cars
in the Church parking lot
& pop open their trunks filled with goodies.
These weren’t our neighbors
but the same people we saw every Sunday.
In this modern era,
we knew those who lived across town
better than those who lived beside us,
for Mormons surrounded themselves with those
who understood their lingo,
their culture,
& their way of life.

Leann Sweeney,
the smiley-faced girl
with the Shirley Temple curls
couldn’t bear to say no to anyone,
whereas Kath Wakefield,
the black albino girl,
was brought up to say no
& to say it often,
& then there was I,
who’d simply wanted Mother to say yes once
after a lifetime of saying no.

I rarely thought of my high school days,
which were like a Gaussian blur.
I had befriended the sheltered, studious girls there—
the ones who ate from brown paper bags
& hung out with their parents on the weekends.
They had invited me to Mass
but never to their house,
& it had never occurred to me to invite them to mine,
for I hadn’t ever felt I needed a friend beyond the hours
I spent at Green Haven Catholic High School.
Commencement was the last time I saw any of them,
but now I craved the type of friends who knew me
as I knew myself at home.

We appeared as the perfect nuclear family:
mom, dad, 2.0 kids,
all of us well-groomed & well-mannered.
It had meant so much to Mother
that we attend Church as a family.
Mother went for herself,
David went for her,
I went for Elder Roberts,
& Caitlin went for Elder Carmichael.

Though I had known David’s aunt & uncle,
Mother’s family was still largely a mystery.
All I knew was that she had been an only, lonely child,
whose father was Irish & whose mother was Russian.
On the top shelf of a bookcase,
that held all of Mother’s crystal figurines,
their picture was as familiar to me as my mother’s face,
& years would pass before,
by chance,
I would take it down to dust it,
only to drop it.
When I removed the picture from the broken frame,
I looked at the back,
hoping for a date,
only to see the names Clayton & Marjorie Maynard
instead of George Francis McCarrick & Katerina Kasparkova.
Through researching my family history,
I would learn that these people were strangers;
when I looked up my grandparents’ names,
it was as if they had never existed,
& I knew that Mother had joined a Church
where family history was prized,
only to have made hers a lie.

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

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

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.