Why I Tell My Daughter She’s Beautiful

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When I mentioned to someone I trusted that my daughter was getting genetically tested, I explained, “To find out why she is the way she is.”

It was never to “figure out what’s wrong with her,” because I don’t see anything wrong.  She isn’t broken, in need of fixing, but rather, in need of additional guidance and patience to help her be the best person she can be.  Just like I needed math tutors last semester.

All test results were normal, though I’ve been asked by many people (all health professionals) if she was autistic.  She is definitely somewhere on the spectrum, but on the high-functioning end.

When my mother was alive, all she saw was her specialness, not her special needs.  “That’s just who she is,” she would say, because for her, and for me, and for all who love her, it was that whole unique and wonderfully-made thing.

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My child has the most incredible memory, whereas mine is pretty crappy.  Sometimes I ask my husband if he remembers if I ate anything for breakfast.  I feel like Kelly Bundy from “Married With Children” in that episode where she loses a fact every time she gains a fact, because there’s only so much space in her airhead; she forgets on a game show a football trivia question about her father–something about these things called touchdowns.

However, a memory like my daughter’s has its challenges.  It took me forever to get her to unlearn “shit,” after my parents thought it was freaking hilarious when she tipped out of her Minnie Mouse chair and said, “Awww, shit!”  When they told me about it, I couldn’t help but laugh, even though I admonished her later that young ladies don’t use that word.

That’s said, salty language and an overabundance of sweet snacks are truly the stuff of grandparents.

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My daughter also has an incredible ear for sounds–she actually corrected the teacher on the difference between a helicopter and an airplane.  As much as I would love for her thing to be words, I believe it will be music.

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When a “neurologist” (I’m not even sure what she was, she didn’t even bother introducing herself or familiarizing herself with my child’s medical record before her appointment) said that our daughter’s face had a trace of dysmorphia, my husband got pissed while I got so upset, I started crying.

On the way home, I kept looking back for some trace of what this woman saw, but all I saw was this stunningly beautiful little girl with perfectly symmetrical features and enviable blue eyes.  I like to joke with my dad that all other kids looked like dogs after I had mine (not really, but parents are biased).

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I know it’s a Thing for girls to want to be superheroes over princesses, to major in STEM, and for their parents to praise their strength rather than their beauty, and I get some of that, but there will be plenty of people in my daughter’s life who will say something unkind.  It is my job–my calling–as her mother, to build her up without tearing others down.

My mom grew up thinking she was ugly because her mom never told her she was pretty (and she was!), and so my mom always told me I was–even when I was going through this hideous awkward stage where I looked like the female (and brunette) version of that bully in A Christmas Story.  (At least I did in one of my school pictures.)  Of course, I believed Mom only said that because she was my mother, but I know she meant it, too.

That said, my mom always told me that her grandmother told her that “Pretty is as pretty does.”  I let my daughter know when she is being ugly, just as I tell her that she is strong and smart and all those other things.

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I’m not blind to my daughter’s quirks, but it rubbed me the wrong way when the people at the center seemed like they were trying to push us into “family planning” (like to have another one like the one I have would be so horrible).  I don’t even like the way “family planning” sounds,  and I don’t practice it.  I don’t feel that way because a man in the Vatican or a bunch of men in Salt Lake don’t believe in it (Jesus died for me, they didn’t), but it’s my personal, spiritual belief.  (I will, however, concede that I would probably feel differently if I had more than half a dozen.)

Sometimes you just want to say someone, “Let they who are without imperfection be the first to cast the first birth control pill,” because we’re not talking Tay-Sachs or Huntington’s chorea here.  My daughter isn’t suffering–she is one of the happiest kids I know.  She’s never even thrown a tantrum.  She’s gotten upset and frustrated, but she’s never been one of those little horrors you see on that British nanny show.

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My daughter has shown me that we are more than our genes, our chromosomes, our cells, for they only tell part of the story of who we are, and what amazing things we can become.

Writer’s Digest November Poem-a-Day 2017 Challenge #23. Theme: Preface

Today being Thanksgiving (or Turkey Day, if you hate the history behind the holiday), I say, I am grateful for everything I have, while realizing that it’s okay to want more, because if none of us ever wanted more than what we have, we would stop trying, perhaps even losing what we already have in the process.

This is where my “thought of the day” ends and my prompt begins.

*Btw, a preface is a preliminary statement in a book by the book’s author or editor, setting forth its purpose and scope, expressing acknowledgment of assistance from others, etc.  (Source:  dictionary.com)

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Preface to Because of Mindy Wiley

I came up with the idea of writing a book for former Mormons (not ex-Mormons, as the term ex- has a negative connotation) when I left the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Let me “preface this preface” by saying that I do not hate my ex—I simply realized we could not peacefully cohabitate, but rather, coexist. (I’m just glad no children were born of our union, as that would’ve complicated things.)

My motivation in writing this book was to show (never tell) that one could divorce a Church–even all churches–and remain married to God. I decided to reveal that truth through the eyes of Katryn Nolan, who “comes of age” after she does something she’d sworn she’d never do after being fed false information (i.e. “fake news”) fed to her by the “worthy.”

Because of Mindy Wiley (https://sarahleastories.com/because-of-mindy-wiley/) neither promotes nor endorses Mormonism—it is simply one person’s experience in it, told through the eyes of a young girl.

The purpose of this project was to show the world that we must have faith in the message, not in the messengers, which are subject to change, sin, and disappoint. It is to show the world that grace is amazing indeed, for it is limitless in its ability to blot out any sin (save for “denying the Holy Ghost”—the meaning of which is explored in this novel).

Throughout the writing process, I learned more about what I believed (and what I did not). I never questioned God, but I questioned what God was. For me, He is a mysterious and unfathomable entity–a God who cannot be contained in a body of flesh and bones (as the LDS believe). He is an omnipresent being, who manifests Himself in a myriad of ways–just as He sent His son to the world in a way that we could understand.

I wrote this novel over a decade ago. It has endured numerous revisions.  Some of the hardness has softened over time, as well as some of the more sensual aspects. It has been the inspiration for numerous other works (personally, I think it would make a great series for HBO, like “Big Love”). From my early twenties to my mid-thirties, it has been like a friend I visit every now and again.

When it’s finally published, it will be reflective of who I am at that time. It’s an ambitious project (at over two-hundred-thousand words), but one day, I will be able to pay an editor to help me usher in its final incarnation.

I thank all the people, both living and dead, who contributed to this project in ways they may never know. I thank all of those who have read it as a reader (rather than an editor) when this book was still in its second trimester. But mostly, I thank my Creator for this gift I have—this gift I open every day.

The birth of Because of Mindy Wiley may come five years from now, or ten years from now–who knows? Though it is set just before The New Millennium, it is timeless in its portrayal of the degradation of a non-traditional American family in the Deep South. It is the culmination of everything I have ever believed–of true life experiences and those conceived in the fertile garden of my wild imagination.

It is but a glimpse into the soul of its originator.

I pray, whether you like it or hate it, that some part of it will always stay with you.

Sarah Richards

http://www.writersdigest.com/whats-new/2017-november-pad-chapbook-challenge-day-23

#Fiction Friday: #Novelines from the Book

Mormoni

“I came not to send peace, but a sword.” (Matthew 10:34)

Nineteen-ninety-nine was the summer of my Mormon soldier. The idea that God was all-powerful, but all-loving, was incongruous to me. Due to pre-existing conditions, I believed the former.

Those first stirrings of a spiritual quickening were like a hurricane, blowing the facade that was our family away.

Memories of that long, hot summer brought me all the way back to Green Haven, Florida, when the LDS mish showed us another way to live.

Yes, my brief life as a Mormon had been sweet, but my life as an ex-Mormon turned out to be even sweeter.

What a magnificent illusion the Plan of Happiness! It became a magnificent obsession with my mother, who prized it above me.

Had even God Himself eternally progressed? Were we all as He once was? The Church made me see humans as gods, God as human.

I’d grown up near the Amish, in a Catholic home, & now Mormonism had touched our lives–all because I had answered a knock on the door.

My mother & sister had found solace in Catholicism; I had found mine in the humanism of my stepfather, whose doctrine was, “Do no harm”.

Those first three months I knew him, he was on a mission. It was the only time I ever knew him as he was then.

Did the light come from him, or was it the light of Jesus shining in him? Just who was it I fell in love with that day?

Every day, I post 3 tweets:  a #novelines tweet (a line from my novel; any good piece of writing has quotable quotes), a #140story tweet, or a #micropoetry tweet, that is pulled from, or based on my novel, “Because of Mindy Wiley”.  https://sarahleastories.com/because-of-mindy-wiley/.  I post these under my fictional character account, https://twitter.com/KatrynNolan.  Every week, on “Fiction Friday”, I will be blogging 5-10 of my best tweets.

#Fiction Fridays: #Micropoetry Based on the Book

Every day, I post 3 tweets:  a #novelines tweet (a line from my novel; any good piece of writing has quotable quotes), a #140story tweet, or a #micropoetry tweet, that is pulled from, or based on my novel, “Because of Mindy Wiley”.  https://sarahleastories.com/because-of-mindy-wiley/.  I post these under my fictional character account, https://twitter.com/KatrynNolan.  Every week, on “Fiction Friday”, I will be blogging 5-10 of my best tweets.

 

My goal is to gain a significant number of followers so that maybe an agent or publisher will take a chance on my book–all part of building my author’s platform.

I have to say that tweeting my book (rather than blogging it) has helped me scrutinize the work in a new way.  Words like really, very, that, and just are getting the strike, and if there is a place where one word can be used instead of two, I do.  (Contractions don’t count.)

My goal is that by the time I have tweeted through the entire 210K words (which I figured will be about 5 years), I will have trimmed at least 10,000 words from the final product.  If I haven’t found a traditional publisher in a reasonable amount of time (to be determined), I will be ready to self-publish it through createspace.com (an Amazon affiliate).  Once I have tweeted through the entire book, I will start all over again with new tweets.

I have to say, I have hit my blogging stride by having “feature days”, like #Micropoetry Mondays, #Fiction Fridays, and the midweek Writers Digest Wednesday Poetry Prompt.  However, I will still have the occasional “special feature”, or oddball post, as I will never quite be a “hard-theme” blog that only posts on writing.

Mormoni

“Thou shalt have no other gods before me.”  (Exodus 20:3)

David was my temple,
and at his altar,
I worshipped–
for he was neither spirit nor stone,
but warm flesh,
and a heart deceitful above all things.

In His Name,
much evil had been done.
In the name of love,
such had been done with me.

Twas when I became a Saint,
I learned that the glory of God
is intelligence,
for He knew all there was to know.

1999 was the summer of love,
the spring of a new life,
the autumn of my girlhood,
and the winter of my childhood.

I was harvested from the sand
by God, to become a star,
only to fall from Heaven once more.

Writer’s Digest Wednesday Poetry Prompt #340, Theme: “Finally” or “At Last”

Scenic 90 Cafe

The Diner Hour

Once upon a time in Pensacola,
Ella May Cinders—
a waitress of generous proportions—
lived with her evil stepbrothers,
Randy the Handyman,
who was anything but handy,
(just randy),
and Andy Jack-a-Dandy,
who disdained her fashion nonsense.

Jeb, her evil stepfather,
who liked to hedge funds,
had expected her to take over
his late wife’s wifely duties—
save those in the bedroom.

Eking out a hardscrabble existence
amongst the one-percenters that frequented
The Shiny Diner—
known as Scenic 90 Café—
she never lost hope that a single tip
would change her life,
as it was against the law in this parallel universe
for a woman to leave her father
without a husband—
to be “uncleaved”.

Ella Mae’s auto was a Caddy from the last Millennium,
having not seen an oil change in 5000 miles,
the white paint chipping away like eczema.
Her black uniform was soft and thin
from so many washings,
and her shoes had holes in the soles and toes.
She was a mess.

Every day, when she went in to work,
there was Ashton Prince at Table 25,
who was looking for a wife.
Thirty to her twenty,
and a Mormon at that,
he was gloriously unmarked—
piercings and tattoos had he none.

But alas, this prince saw her only
as a server willing to chitchat,
for she was known as “The Comely Backwater Kid”.
Though her hands were clean,
her hair needed a cut,
for the ends split every which way.

Pale and wan,
she was often tired
from cleaning up after her father and brothers.
She never thought of her mother,
who’d only married the miser for his money,
thinking it would benefit her daughter.
She laughed miserably at the irony
that she was poorer than she had been
when her 99-percenter father had been alive.

So there was Ashton,
ordering his usual—
the Steak Diane—
with Rosy, the waitress,
a riveting one, at that,
with her Italian charm and French perfume,
talking him into some dessert.

Ella still had twenty minutes till her shift,
and so she went to the picnic table out back,
where no one was smoking for a change.
She started to cry,
pulling an old napkin—
smelling of brown gravy—
from her apron.

Then suddenly,
a man she had never seen,
wearing the uniform of the diner,
came up to her,
sooty as a coal miner.

“Hello,” she said, sniffling,
and he smiled and said,
“I’m Harry, and I’m here for you.”
Ella looked around,
but he told her not to fear,
for her fairy godfather was here.

“I’m here to make your prince see you
as you really are—the Daughter of a King.”

Since it was Halloween night,
he dressed her up as the Duchess of Cambridge;
her Caddy was now a mint-green Minnie Cooper,
her shoes making her feel ten feet tall.

“T’will be when the diner closes at nine,
the spell will be broken,
and you will be as you were,
so you’ve but four hours to make this man
fall in love with you, Ella unseen.”

He sprinkled some dust,
ground from the seeds of forget-me-nots,
so that none would recognize her.

She walked through the front door—
no longer “the help”—
breezing by the hostess.
She went to the booth where her prince
was soothing his sweet tooth,
and asked, “Is this seat taken?”

So taken with her he was,
over the course of an hour,
and three courses in,
that he pulled his mother’s engagement ring
from his pocket.
“Whosoever this ring fits,
that will be the girl for you,” she’d said.
He let her try it on,
and it fit like a Trump in a tower.

Suddenly, it was closing time,
and she said, “I have to go”,
but the spell broke before she could get away,
and he saw her as she had been,
and as she was now.

“Forgive me, Ella, for being such a dolt,
for you had my heart at ‘Sweet or Unsweet?’”

He took her away from her evil brood,
and they were married in the temple the next day
possible.
She got to know her Heavenly Father,
and knew through Him,
she would be reunited with her earthly father,
and would be sealed for time and all eternity
to her prince in a shining Mercedes.

As for Randy, Andy, and Jeb,
they eventually each ran for mayor,
using the Princess of Pensacola,
Mrs. Ella Prince,
as their claim to the seat.

At long last, Ella was happy—
happy to not endorse any of them.

 

Poem-a-Day Writer’s Digest Challenge #14. Theme: Honest and/or Dishonest

I have found I gravitate towards long, narrative poems (or, if I don’t have a “story” idea, I write something short and silly).  The following is what one might refer to as a “shaggy God” poem.  This is basically the story of Genesis, told a different way (with shades of Mormonism and Scientology).  This was a fun “what-if” type of exercise.

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The Honest Tree

I am who I am,
barefoot in the garden,
in the midst of the lambs.
Fruits sweet,
birds tweet,
the grass soft beneath my feet.

My husband is not with me,
for he gathers,
but toils not.

From another world we came—
a world we cannot remember.
Like the Ark of Noah that has been prophesied,
we floated through the atmosphere in a vessel,
through the starry galaxy and to this green planet.

In the center of this orchard,
there is a tree—
with fruit as white as can be.
It glows like the firmament,
like the Creator of All Things—
the only God we know,
the only God we are to know.

An asp approaches me,
slithering on the ground without a sound.
He is a beguiling creature,
and I trust his quiet nature.
He is a charmer,
“Take a bite,” he says,
“for it is sweetest above all,
and you will no more be benighted.”

I am drawn to the fruit–
to the light–
and I think, just a little one,
but it is bitter.
There is a rumble in the sky,
and I know I’ve earned the wrath of the Cloud Knitter.
“I told you not to eat of this tree,
for now you are as I once was,
and will suffer pain,
as the Earth will suffer all calamity.”

I weep,
for now the veil has been ripped off–
I am not a beautiful virgin on her wedding night,
but am a crooked old woman with hooves and claws—
a creature of many flaws.
And yet,
I have a consciousness,
an awareness I had not before,
and I am more than I was before.
The scales have fallen from my eyes,
and I see with such clarity,
true goodness and beauty.

I must get Adam to eat,
lest we be separated forever,
and this new world end with us.
I look up to the God of Kolob,
and now the Planet Earth,
praying for a respite from death–
for another birth.

“Do my will,” the Tree Weaver says,
“for what I hath joined together,
neither man nor beast may tear asunder.”

I go to do His bidding,
and find Adam tending to the flock,
and tell him, “Take, eat,
for it will seal us together forever.”

He heeds my word,
and at first bite,
he knows Death will touch our lips,
kissing us good-bye.
But this was how it was to be all along–
for we will no longer live as children,
ignorant of sin,
but will be given the chance to know wrong
and the choice to do right,
so we can be with God again.

I look up to the heavens and smile,
and God baptizes us in the rain.
“For the remission of sins,” God says,
“which hath brought about the greater good.
I baptize thee in My Name,
for I Am Who I Am.”

The Saturday Evening Post-It

So I am writing a story to submit to the Saturday Evening Post short story contest.  See:  http://www.saturdayeveningpost.com/fiction-contest

I like specific guidelines, one of which is this:  Think local. The Post has historically played a role in defining what it means to be an American. Your story should in some way touch upon the publication’s mission: Celebrating America, past, present, and future. 

I am an American who lives in America, living in a town that supplies endless material (both complimentary and not so complimentary).  Lots of writers love to write about the South (Tennessee Williams comes to mind).  I’d had the road trip for a story all mapped out, until I realized it might be too religious in nature.  It was going to be about a group of four girlfriends, one of whom leaves the comforting folds of Mormonism, and how her leaving affects the rest of them.

My idea preceding that one was going to be about two sisters, Lucy and Emma Potlocki (who go by the “Anglicized” surname of Lock), who seek their fortune by auditioning for the part of Scarlett O’Hara in 1939, then I googled for some information, and that’s when I came upon “The Scarlett O’Hara War”–a TV-movie about just that.  Sometimes you wonder if your idea is original, or, if somewhere, in the back of your mind, it’s a memory.

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According to Branden Rathert, our local radio host, when one steps into Pensacola, they’re stepping into the year 1927.  I don’t think places like Emerald City (google it, if you want) existed in 1927, at least not openly, though Pensacola does have a church on every corner (and some in between).

However, I will not be setting my story in Florida, but rather in Sidney, Montana, where I was a live-in nanny for three girls.  Since the story has to be fiction, I juiced it up a bit.  My protagonist (I don’t use the term “heroine”, as I think it’s silly, unless she does something heroic) is from Pensacola, but has left home to do just what I did more than a decade ago.  She is LDS (as I was at the time, though I won’t make her religion central to the story; however, Mormonism is a very American religion), and that’s where the similarities between my story and her story end.  Her experience is quite a bit darker (I just can’t help myself) than mine was.

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I borrowed her (and one of the main two plots) from the novel I wrote (“The Fall and Rise of Alfred Bomber”) that she is a supporting character in.  Since it will be quite some time before “Alfred” is finished (meaning edited), I thought Karsen Wood (the name of my protagonist) may as well be doing me some good elsewhere.  I see this story as Karsen’s part-time gig, rather than her full-time career in “Alfred”.  I grew quite fond of her (as she is an extension of me), in addition to the fact that her story gave me something to build on other than a blank screen.