Responsible Mormons -vs- The Antithesis of Art
(being responsibility)

7.21.14 | | 13 comments

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You average Mormon artist gets married younger than the average artist and starts having children sooner as well. (I don’t have stats to back that up, but anecdotal evidence justifies assuming this is as true of Mormon artists as of Mormons in general.) One significant downside to accepting adult responsibility immediately upon becoming an adult is that responsibility takes up a lot of time. Time that could be spent creating art. (I’m about a quarter through a novel dealing with that issue, actually. At times, it feels a little personal.)

One of my favorite contemporary painters (and, full disclosure, friend of mine), Denise Gasser is currently shopping to galleries art that deals directly with this conflict between being a Responsible Mormon and being an Artist. From her statement: more

On Writing and Permission: Drafting My New Life

7.8.14 | | 9 comments

Almost exactly two years ago I wrote this post for AMV. It is all about seeking permission— from the commenters, contributors, and readers of AMV, from God, and from myself—to start reclaiming things I had given up or lost. I framed it all in the context of writing and mother-guilt but, reading it now, I can see I wasn’t actually asking for permission to write. I was asking for something much, much larger.

Two years ago, my life was a mess and I wasn’t sure I was going to live much longer to fix it. My marriage was a destructive one and it was slowly killing me. I was having increasing amounts of suicidal ideations and my children were acting out in more and more ways. The things I was working so hard to fix (read: change, hide, or cover-up) weren’t getting fixed and I was finding myself under more and more stress trying to compensate for all the things that happened behind closed doors.  The gory details of my marriage don’t belong on the Internet—they are private experiences and I intend to keep them that way—but here’s what I’m willing to say about it: it wasn’t tabloid-bad but it was bad.

Two years ago, I was waiting for someone—the commenters, contributors, and readers of AMV, God, or myself—to give me permission to stop living half a life, to be a full person, to get out of my marriage.

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I was so scared when I wrote that post. Trying to keep myself and my kids afloat inside the context of my marriage was fairly all-consuming and confusing and, in June 2012, the parts of myself that I had given up listening to were telling me quite loudly that it was make-it-or-break-it time. These were the parts that urged me to write, the parts that urged me to keep praying and trusting God. They were also the same parts that told me my marriage was ruining my life. At thirty years old  with four small children, so much of my life was a pile of things I didn’t want and it was time to make it into something else or let it break me down, maybe permanently.

Over the course of my marriage I had found that the more time I spent writing the more cognitive dissonance increased. Flannery O’Connor said, “I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.” Joan Didion echoed that when she wrote, “I don’t know what I think until I write it down.” Whenever I sat down to write the things that kept cropping up were loss and fear and darkness and surrender. The differences between what I presented, that far too common Sunday Face we all know so well, and my reality were strangulating.

Dropping into writing, committing to it, meant hearing all my parts and honoring the truth that was waiting for me there. There was so, so, so much pain and no matter how hard I worked and prayed and wished my marriage was still a mess and I was failing. Big time. Failing at being a present, engaged mother; at fulfilling the Mormon cultural ideals I held at my core; at being a writer; at being a whole human.  There were so many things I had to keep hidden I couldn’t engage in any form of honesty and, turns out, honesty is where a hell of a lot of success, both in writing and life, starts.

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It took almost an entire year for the pieces to fall into place, but in May of 2013 God told me it was time to get out. In June of 2013 I moved my husband out of our family home and watched my children’s hearts simultaneously break and start to beat easier. In July of 2013 I filed my divorce papers and finally took an honest look at the seven million broken pieces that were my heart and spirit. In August of 2013 I put my kids in daycare and went back to work. In October of 2013 the divorce was finalized. In March of 2014 our marital house sold and I moved to a new stake, where I could build a life for just my kids and I with a clean slate.

It’s been a year of horribly hard things.

But it’s also been a year of honesty and a year of realizing that not all the failures are mine. My husband failed me. My marriage failed me.  In fact, when it comes right down to it, looking back at all the things I failed at while I was trying to fix my marriage I don’t see so much failure. I see someone doing the best she could in an impossible situation and maybe she wasn’t perfect but maybe being perfect, keeping up with all the things she thought she was supposed to be, was never the point.

Jesus said, “And you shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free.”  Like pretty much every person ever, failure, my own and those of the people around me, were (are!) a massive part of my truth. I had (have!) to accept them in order to be set free.

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Freedom, it turns out, is trickier than I thought it was going to be.

When I imagined being out of my marriage. . .well, actually, I never could fill that in. It was a giant blank space. It felt exactly the same as sitting down in front of a blank sheet of paper. Throat tightening. Heart pounding. Expectations rising.  Mind racing. No clue what on earth was supposed to go there.

So I’m doing with my life what I do with blank pages: I’m folding it in half and then in half again because filling small bits of blankness is less overwhelming.

Just like novels get written one word at a time, new lives get written one day at a time. The key is the doing of it.

I get up every morning and I don’t think about the vast expanse known as The Rest of My Life That Isn’t What I Thought it Would Be. Yes, I still say things to myself like, “This is not what I signed up for.” Being a single mom to four kids isn’t easy. Trying to figure out how to make enough money to provide for four kids when my heart is yearning to just get an MFA and dream up novels and poems and teach for the rest of my life isn’t easy. Dealing with being young and divorced in a family-oriented Church isn’t easy. Waiting on God to reveal promised blessings and relying on the strength of my covenants isn’t easy.

But I can rewrite my thinking now. My life might not be what I expected but it is something that, with God’s help and guidance, I can shape. Filling it in, shaping it, writing my own life might not be easy but it’s something I can do. One word, one day, one draft at a time.

My days are now shaped by work and filling in the gaps with things I love: gardening, playing with my kids, exercise, reading, and writing. I still don’t have a novel to hold up as validation or proof of success. Kinda like I don’t have a marriage to hold up as validation for my life choices or as proof of success both as a functional adult and a Mormon. (And believe me, I want that validation so deeply!) But every day I put words on the page and while thousands and thousands of them get edited out and the ones that stay might not ever add up to any great work they fill the empty space, both on the page and in my life. And, sometimes, I even enter that charmed space of inspiration and unexpected moments of musicality and profundity and discovery occur.

It is incredibly satisfying.

Word by word, day by day, the pieces of my broken heart and spirit are being forged into something new, something bigger with nooks and crannies that are healing and filling out. There really is an art to being a whole human and it’s one that I figure, like writing, I’ll spend the rest of my life practicing.

The best part, though? I’m no longer asking for permission because, it turns out, I never actually needed permission. I only needed to write enough to be able to hear myself think.

Vote in the 2014 Mormon Lit Blitz

7.4.14 | | no comments

Voting in the 2014 Mormon Lit Blitz contest ends at midnight Saturday, July 5. Please take a few minutes to vote. Here are the links you need:

Voting instructions for the 2014 Mormon Lit Blitz

My voting method for the Mormon Lit Blitz (it makes the process easier and faster). Please note that this year you’re asked to provide 4 finalists rather than 5. And there are 12 finalists rather 13. And you email everydaymormonwriter At gmail Dot com. But the core methodology for selection still works.

And congratulations to the AMVers who are finalists this year:

“The Primary Temple Trip” by Laura Hilton Craner

and

“Living Scriptures” by Scott Hales

Outtakes from my Artistic Preaching interview

6.20.14 | | 4 comments

AMV turned 10 this month so Scott Hales interviewed me for his blog Artistic Preaching. I appreciate the publicity, but am sad about the questions and answers that hit the cutting room floor. So I have decided to publish the outtakes from our interview*:

SH: What advice do you have for young Mormon writers?

WM: You know the advice to show don’t tell? Ignore it. Or rather, show physical details and action and all that rather than just tell it, but make sure that you tell the reader how they are supposed to feel about each of the characters and their actions. You really need to drive home the correct interpretation of the dramatic situation to the reader; otherwise, you risk being misinterpreted. And no Mormon writer should ever be misinterpreted.

And remember: the bad guys have facial hair. Always and without exception.

SH: Can Mormon artists write tragedy?

WM: No.

SH: What do you think about the use of Twitter by Mormons aka the Twitternacle?

WM: Twitter degrades discourse because it limits thoughts to 140 characters. We are a people whose main form of literature is the 20 minute talk. Our leaders used to preach for over an hour. We are going to lose our stamina for longer form work if we continue to indulge in the quick quips and shallow thoughts of tweets. If you are serious about creating Mormon art, you should definitely not engage with the Mormon arts people of the Twitternacle. Even if some people who are part of it are incredibly amusing and interesting.

SH: What issues do we not talk about enough as a community?

WM: Rated-R Movies. The Great Mormon Novel. The lack of an audience for Mormon literature. Why Mormon artists can’t write tragedy.

SH: Entertainment has the EGOT. Horse racing has the Triple Crown. Tennis has the Grand Slam. What’s the Mo-lit Grand Slam?

WM: There are so few awards that I think it’s hard to hinge it around them. I’m going to say that the Mo-lit Grand Slam is getting a lit-fic story published in Dialogue or Sunstone, an historical fiction novel acquired by Covenant, a YA novel acquired by a national publisher, and a short story collection acquired by Zarahemla Books all in the same year.

SH: What’s with all the Mormon Science Fiction & Fantasy writers?

WM: There’s the “Mormons have weird doctrine and like to discuss it and so are used to the speculative form” theory. There’s the “there’s actual money in SF&F” theory. There’s the “critical mass of core writers which then snowballs across the community” theory. My theory is that sleep deprivation because of early morning seminary and/or other church activities and/or having children at a young age and/or going on a mission permanently changes members brains so that we are always in the slightly hallucinatory state that leads to wildly speculative daydreaming which then gets channeled into writing SF&F.

SH: What’s with all the Mormon YA writers?

WM: Well, duh. It’s because Mormons live in an arrested state of development and refuse to face the gritty, difficult, complex issues of adult life and so, naturally, they tend towards YA and middle grade novels both as writers and readers. Also: it’s where the money is.

SH: What’s with all the Mormon lit-fic writers who go apostate?

WM: They aren’t apostate. They’re sleeper agents among the artistic Demi-monde. You would think that they would have been triggered by the Romney campaign, but I have it on good authority that they are being reserved for a different project. It may or may not involve Neon Trees, Jabari Parker and Elder Uchtdorf.

SH: What’s the greatest threat to Mormon letters?

WM: The possibility of the Brethren clarifying once and for all the policy on caffeine, thus banning Diet Coke. Production of Mormon fiction would grind to a halt within just three or four hours.

SH: What’s your next project?

WM: A tragic, YA historical novel featuring Mormon sleeper agents and bad guys with facial hair that’s written as a series of tweets.

*Scott didn’t actually ask me these questions.

My personal favorite AMV posts at year 10

6.17.14 | | 6 comments

Back in 2009, I listed my personal favorite AMV posts — one for each of the co-bloggers. In honor of the 10th anniversary of the founding of the blog, I have updated that list. In some cases, items are the same as my post from 2009. In others, I have listed a new favorite. And the list has grown as new co-bloggers have come on board. William’s favorite post by each AMV blogger at this particular moment in time:

  1. Admin: Bradly Baird on the artifacts of LDS memory
  2. S.P. Bailey: The Things We Bring Home
  3. Tyler Chadwick: Thoughts Toward a More Thorough Treatment of Mormons, Mormonism, Literature, and Theory
  4. Kjerste Christensen: A Bibliography of Mormon Missionary Literature
  5. Harlow Clark: Gadianton The Nobler, Reflections on Changes in the Book of Mormon, Introduction to Textual Variants Part IV
  6. Laura Craner: Mother versus Novelist (the MMA of mother-guilt, consecration, writing, children, and permission)
  7. Sarah Dunster: Addressing Issues on the Edge, and Ryan Rapier’s “The Reluctant Blogger.”
  8. Scott Hales: Twilight and the CleanFlicks Aesthetic
  9. Theric Jepson: The Hero’s Journey of the Mormon Arts
  10. Patricia Karamesines: The Rhetoric of Stealing God
  11. Jonathan Langford: Destiny, Demons, and Freewill in Dan Wells’s John Wayne Cleaver Books
  12. Kent Larsen: Why we need Mormon Culture
  13. Anneke Majors: Minerva Red
  14. Katherine Morris: “Bread of Affliction” and Cultural Self-Consciousness
  15. William Morris: The Radical Middle in Mormon Art: The Radical
  16. Luisa Perkins: Book Review: Global Mom
  17. Eric Russell:  In Defense of the Critics
  18. Mahonri Stewart: Of Prophets and Artists: A Household of Faith Or A House Divided?
  19. Eric Thompson: Half Faked

Thanks for 10 great years of AMV!

Words, Eternal Words

6.6.14 | | 2 comments

"word is a word" from procsilas moscas on Flickr

“word is a word” from procsilas moscas on Flickr

At the beginning of May, my wife and I moved our family from Idaho to Utah. The bishop of our new ward wasted no time asking us to speak in sacrament meeting. At our monthly ward social—ice cream at the park down the street—he stood next to me, made some small talk about running (an interest we both share), joked around a minute with another brother in the ward who had just that morning completed the Ogden Half-marathon (our bishop had run in it, too), then said, “Hey, I’ve got an opening in two weeks for sacrament speakers. Would you and your wife be interested in addressing us?” (Or something like that.)

Now, I enjoy public speaking. In fact, despite the nerves that churn my guts the hours before I speak, I love it. (Consummate performer Alex Caldiero once told me to embrace the nerves; they’ll make you a better performer. My dad—a skilled public speaker—used to say something similar.) My wife appreciates public speaking, too. So we gladly accepted the invitation and set to work preparing our sermons. Knowing that Mormon Arts Sunday (see also here) was on the horizon, I wanted to integrate some Mormon art into my remarks. I waffled around with several ideas the ten days after the bishop asked us to speak, but my thoughts didn’t congeal until a couple mornings before we would stand to speak. I woke up that morning with the idea that I should tap into the oratorical tradition of our forebears and, relying on the promise of preparation, weave a narrative as I stood before the congregation.

This, I thought, is the oral poet’s art.

Elsewhere, I’ve described this art in terms of what I call “poetry’s communal moments.” Here’s a rundown of what I mean: Epic poems, which narrate the heroic journeys and deeds of a protagonist whose life and character exemplify the values of the poem’s originating society, were traditionally composed orally before a live audience who had gathered to experience or to re-experience the hero’s adventures. (I say re-experience because many listeners would have been familiar with the legends and story cycles around which the poet wove his* particular narrative). Giving the event varying degrees of attention and receptivity and moving with the crowd vicariously through the hero’s adventures, listeners could participate with the poet in the story’s creation and elaboration. In the process, depending on how much attention listeners gave and how receptive they were, they could also likely feel the poet’s language deeply, viscerally, as his voice washed over the crowd and resounded with their flesh, exciting the passions and evoking the senses’ response. In these cultural circumstances, poetry and the process by which it was made were shared by the community and rooted in the connection among poets’ and listeners’ bodies. During poetry’s communal moments, which enacted the essential kinship between poets and listeners, both parties in the transaction may have had their individual and communal values and desires both validated and kept in check as, through the performance event, they mutually recognized and committed to emulate the hero’s strengths and learned how not to be via the hero’s shortcomings. In this way poetry traditionally functioned as a physically offered and physically received means by which community members might gain shared experience and might confirm and maintain individual and communal values and desires.

Relying on this art of oral composition—as practiced in early societies, as in early Mormonism—and on the communal promise it carries, I celebrated the process of language-making with our new ward and at the same time sought to raise awareness of responsible language use. I considered it a good way to recognize Mormon Arts Sunday. It may not have been an explicit recognition that, yes, we have awesome Mormon art and I may not have explicitly referenced Mormon artists (literary or otherwise); but my efforts were a recognition that latter-day scriptural narratives provide us with a unique vision of language and that the art of sermon-making among Mormons should be embraced as a means of weekly communion. At least that was my hope.

Since Mormon Arts Sunday is this weekend, I wanted to honor it with the celebration’s founding forum by sharing the audio file of my sermon, which I’ve titled “Words, Eternal Words.” Here it is (all 26:10 of it):

(Direct link to the mp3.)

I welcome your response in the comments.

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*I’m not being gender-insensitive with my pronoun use. Rather, the role of “epic poet” would have been filled by males.

Interest gauge: anthology of Mormon alternate history

6.5.14 | | 23 comments

Here’s the bad news: I don’t have the time and energy to do a second Monsters & Mormons anthology. I believe that there are a few people who will be disappointed by this. I know there’s at least one: me. I’m sorry. It’s just not going to happen.

Here’s the good news: I’ve been focused the past few years on writing fiction and criticism. See my author blog for a glimpse of what I’ve been working on. Most of that has not been Mormon-related. It’s great fun, and I’m continuing those activities, but I also am feeling the desire to edit again. I’m also concerned about the fact that with the shuttering of Irreantum there aren’t enough venues for Mormon short fiction. I’ve been saying for awhile now that what we need are more one-off projects that don’t require sustained effort – that that’s the best way to grow the body of Mormon short fiction because they don’t require the kind of long-term commitments and resources that most of us just can’t supply. Well, I suppose I should lead by example. So…

My vague thoughts: I’m thinking about editing an e-only short anthology of alternate Mormon history stories. I know for a fact that at least two of the entries in this year’s Mormon Lit Blitz are in the alternate history genre (one of them is mine). I’m guessing there might be more. It’s funny. I’ve been thinking about this for several months and even went so far as to toss some ideas around with Theric. And then Scott Hales recently posted Emily Adams review of  D. J. Butler’s  City of the Saints series, which is Mormon alt history steampunk. And, well, it just seems like it’s in the air. Indeed, it seems to me that in this post-Mormon moment moment alternate visions of Mormon history could be one of the more compelling ways of expressing our culture and help us think through both our past and future trajectories in interesting and fruitful ways.

Details and timing: I don’t know for sure yet. My best guess is that I’d put a call for entries out this fall with a deadline of  early spring 2015 and a goal of having the anthology out in fall 2015. I would pony up the funds for token payments to the contributors. The anthology would likely be limited to 7-8 short short pieces, 3-4 short stories, and 1-2 novelettes with a goal of hitting 45-65k words (Monsters & Mormons is close to 180k). As with M&M, I’d be looking to range across the pulp and literary spectrums, but I’d also be shading a bit more towards the literary (where with M&M we shaded more towards pulp). And with the short short pieces, I’d be looking for a variety of forms of discourse including sermon, journal entry, reportage, personal letter, etc.

Feedback: If I decided to do this, who would be interested in submitting? Or reading? Reviewing? Am I wrong that Mormon alt history is swirling about the current Zeitgeist? What are the promises and pitfalls of Mormon alternate history?

Speak up in the comments below, or if you’d prefer not to be public with your thoughts, email me at william AT motleyvision DAWT org.

Mormon Arts Sunday is this Sunday, June 8

6.3.14 | | 5 comments

Brothers and sisters I invite you to celebrate Mormon Arts Sunday this Sunday, June 8, 2014, and, from now on (unless we change it again) every second Sunday in June.

BACKGROUND

Mormon Arts Sunday started back in February 2013 when Scott Hales suggested a wear a black beret to Church day. That post was both inspired by and somewhat spoofing the feminist activism of the time of wearing pants to church, but the more some of us thought about it, the more interesting an idea it became. Scott expanded on the idea and then I explained why I wore a maroon tie to church that day. And when February rolled around this year, I kind of forgot about it, but Theric made sure the Berkeley Ward observed it in February.

But since we missed February, and since I don’t want to compete with Scout Sunday, and since AMV was founded in June (by the way: this is our 10th anniversary), we landed on the second Sunday in June.

Kent Larsen is already on board. He serves in a bishopric so he is able to influence the theme of sacrament meeting. But not all of us serve in a bishopric, so…

OBSERVANCE

  1. Wear a beret or a dark red/maroon item to church this Sunday. Dark red is AMV’s color, but it’s also a good color to represent Mormon Arts Sunday – it’s rich and vibrant and not generally a color that people wear to church all the time. Purple would also work. Wear purple if you’d prefer.
  2. Wear a cockroach accessory (not my personal reference, but see the Scott Hales posts above for an explanation).
  3. If you are talking or teaching this Sunday, include a piece of Mormon literature or visual art in your talk or lesson. The right poem can work quite well for that. One good source for that is the winners of the Eliza R. Snow Poetry Contest, which the Ensign used to run.
  4. Bring a work of Mormon art to church or to a home/visiting teaching appointment and share it with someone who you think would appreciate it.
  5. Do this on Saturday, but: buy a work of Mormon art. Something from Zarahemla Books, maybe. Or a Whitney Awards winner. Or from whatever your favorite purveyor of Mormon art may be (tell us in the comments).
  6. Have a special Sunday edition Family Home Evening where you consume and/or discuss a work of Mormon art.

That’s all I have. What suggestions do you have? How else could we observe Mormon Arts Sunday?