Guest post: Theric Jepson on “The Sin of Saint Onan”

7.17.08 | | 49 comments

When I commissioned Thmazing Theric Jepson to write a guest post, I had no idea that he would work to undermine AMV’s very existence. Or that he would be tossing out words like coitus-interruptus, masturbation, icky and lucre. But since I am a man of my word, I’m going to go ahead and post this. Those sensitive to Old Testament references should probably shield their eyes. Those who can handle it, are welcome to rise up and defend AMV’s honor in the comments. ~Wm Morris

In our lovely Bible, canonized though it may be, we find any number of icky stories filled with stuff that isn’t good fodder for Sunday School. Gang rape and corpse mutilation, horny old men, drunken incest — I could go on. But I’m squeamish.

So let’s move on to Onan, who spilled his seed upon the ground. Now, most times I’ve heard this called masturbation; I hold more with the coitus-interruptus interpretation myself, but either way, the point is this: He didn’t put his seed where it belonged. He totally failed to make babies.

Which is why I pronounce Onan the patron saint of bloggers.

Since becoming a blogger in August 2008, I, Theric, novelist, have finished precisely zero (0) novels.

Now granted, part of the blame can be hung on my efforts to sell my first novel (to date, four “acceptances” followed by three quoteless rejections; I’m not holding my breath on “acceptance” #4) — but not all of it, not by a long stretch.

The biggest portion of the blame belongs to the >250,000 words I’ve pored into Thmusings — words that are now online rather than climbing any, you know, bestseller charts.

Which begs the question I’d better dispense with first: Is blogging intrinsically of less worth than novel-writing?

For me, personally, the answer is yes. I find blogging an excellent lark, but I’m a fellow with artistic ambitions and Thmusings just isn’t providing me with that. I may be a mere 31 years old, but I’m pretty old-fashioned in terms of what I deem Artistic Worth.

I think the real issue is that I want to create something that will last, and nothing is more ephemeral than a blog post. Printed on nothing, floating in the ether (with a thousand million competitors), forgotten tomorrow, never revisited. Depressing.

250,000 words. Over a thousand pages in the Word document I just pasted them into.

250,000 words that have shown little return in terms of either artistic satisfaction or lucre.

. . . and it came to pass, when he went in unto his brother’s wife, that he spilled it on the ground . . . .

Here’s my argument: For all the alleged good of blogging (building audience, building art communities, etc), in the end, it’s thrown-away flotsam preventing the creation of important work.

The whole thing reminds me of Dallin H. Oaks’s 2007 talk “Good, Better, Best.” I’m sure he won’t mind if I swap in some new nouns:

In choosing how we spend time as a writer, we should be careful not to exhaust our available time on things that are merely good and leave little time for that which is better or best.

To our hundreds of thousands of talented writers, I suggest that it is good to keep a blog; it is better to publish the occasional short story; and it is best of all to write a book that will stand the test of time and totally change the world.

Lamoni’s father was willing to give up his blog that he might write the Great Lamanite Novel, but I’m not sure I’m willing to make the same sacrifice.

Of course, blogging isn’t the only way talented writers spill their artistic seed, but it’s my greatest continuing stumbling block.

I’m a school teacher and so I’m not working now. My goal is to write at least one book before I have to punch the clock on August 21. But first there was the obligatory trip to my parents. Then the water heater broke down while we were gone. Then the car died while we were at Home Depot. Next week I’m taking AP training eight hours a day. Also, there’s that wife-and-kids thing. And the anthology I’m editing. And the six dozen books I’m reading. And the play I need to finish rewriting.

There are plenty of pulls on my time. But odds are even that if I don’t meet my goal this summer the blame will be found online in spilled seed scattered across the internet.

(Thank you, St Onan.)

49 comments: “Guest post: Theric Jepson on “The Sin of Saint Onan”

  1. MoJo

    Ah, we are simpatico.

    If I didn’t have to blog to have a place to send people to see what I’m selling, I wouldn’t. I want something in my hand (I’m guessing Onan did, too) that I’ve produced, I can look at, I can scrutinize, and see that it is good.

    Words. In ink. On paper. Stuck together with glue. Or, in the alternative, a weighty device using e-Ink technology.

    On the other hand, you have to remember that there are plenty of paper books in libraries out there that aren’t fit to be in a landfill, either, so…

  2. Patricia Karamesines

    For someone who has been somewhat housebound for years due to exigent circumstances, blogs — in particular AMV — have been a way for me to explore interacting with audiences at times when I couldn’t otherwise meet that need, which is a personal need as well as a professional one. Participating on blogs has given me (re)entrance into the world of group dynamics as I’ve learned to work with a group of co-bloggers behind the scenes. Blogs have thus provided me social and artistic opportunities I wouldn’t have had otherwise. Overall, my time is as limited as my mobility, so the relative work-at-home-when-you-have-a-moment nature of blogs has been a godsend, even though at times I’ve felt very aggravated or found myself in blogging environments too intense to mesh with my household’s high-needs nature.

    But the bottom line is that blogs have provided an environment to work up writing that I know will transfer to hard copies of one kind or another and/or that will grow into other projects. One of my AMV posts, Bird in the Hand, has been published in a local anthology, but that’s just a beginning. Furthermore, blogs made it possible for me to test the water with certain aspirations and project ideas. The relatively rapid feedback points up flaws in thinking or manners of expression so that I may reconsider.

    You’re only 30-something. I’m considerably older (and am happily still learning). But one thing I can tell you, language goes out and does things beyond your line of sight, especially in a medium with as swift a current as the Internet has. You never know what it does, but you can count on it to do stuff you haven’t anticipated or hoped or planned for. Some of it you’ll never know about, but much comes back after many days and from unexpected directions.

    AMV has been especially good for me because William keeps it focused (you rock, William!). A time will probably come when I won’t participate so often on blogs, the nature of my projects having shifted one way or the other. But I’m pretty sure I’ll be able to look back and say, “I got here from AMV and to a degree, from participation on other blogs.” Thus AMV and more brief jaunts at other blogs will make up part of my writer’s geneaology.

    I like Joseph as a patron saint as he was a marvel at sojourning in strange lands, along with his brother Judah, who made frequent awful errors in judgment, but when all was said and done learned from his mistakes and performed one of the greatest moments of atonement for his sins that’s recorded in the OT. Both Joseph and Juday continued their lines with spectacular results. Onan — heh, he died (Gen. 38:10).

  3. Mark IV

    Hey Theric. Long time fan, first time commenter.

    I don’t know about your book, never having seen it, but if blogs prevent bestsellers, more power to them. Word substitution works not only for Dallin H. Oaks, but for Flannery O’Connor as well:

    Everywhere I go, I’m asked if I think blogging stifle writers. My opinion is that it doesn’t stifle enough of them. There’s many a best seller that could have been prevented by a good blog.

  4. Th.

    .

    Hahaha! Fantastic! Obviously, I’m the exception, but point well taken. I think it’s a bit of an amen to MoJo’s final comment as well.

    Patricia, I’m glad your brought up the points you did because it’s disingenuous of me to claim that blogging is all evil [wasteful] all the time. Such is, I hope, not the case.

    Part of the reason I started blogging was to build and maintain an audience. I don’t know how well that’s been working and I don’t know how likely it is to translate into book sales, but I do hope it allows me to talk to readers of both the online and paper varieties.

    Another thing that a place like AMV is particularly good at is building communities among writers. Me and you and MoJo are three very different writers, but here we are, together! Networking has never been a strength of mine and AMV (as well as, theoretically, our own blogs) can help us crack open the worlds of writing we long to crack. If you accomplish X, perhaps I can follow in the door I leave open.

    All that said, I’m still behind in the book-writing department.

    I think we should let Joseph and Onan arm wrestle for our sainthood.

  5. Tyler

    I’m relatively new to the blogging scene, only claiming my own blogspot since June of this year (although Blogger will tell you I’ve had property since March—an initial attempt that ended as soon as it began because, well, I was afraid to take the leap, or in OT terms, didn’t want to spill my intellectual seed). I know I have at least one faithful reader (me) and the occasional visit from family and some others directed my way by Google (although I’m pretty sure they leave once they realize I probably don’t have what they’re looking for; none have ever returned—hospitality was never my cup o’ tea); and even my family doesn’t come around very often. They seem to prefer the other blog my wife wanted to start and post pictures and family updates on. Apparently I post too many words and too few images (read: 0 so far) for the taste of some.

    I started blogging for some of the same reasons Patricia mentions: for social and artistic opportunities, to work up writing that might later become something more concrete (what is a blog, anyway, but a mostly unrefined collection of personal essays, some with more potential than others?), and because it (potentially) allows me to interact with like-minded people, especially since I spend 24/7 looking after three little girls and often revert, in my at-home dadness, to kid-speak—sometimes I just crave adult conversation.

    So far, however, it just feels like an exercise in existentialism, like a waste of time and words, like I’m just talking to myself, which I wouldn’t mind so much if I wasn’t someone I already spend way too much time with.

    Nonetheless, I can’t stop myself—partially because I see too many online forums where the comments section turns into a mud-slinging session and I’m sick of it; and partially because I see the potential of blogs (not necessarily mine, but blogs like AMV and the few others that I regularly and voyeuristically frequent) to change something about the world, to raise the level of public/online discourse to a point where someone’s amalgamation of carefully chosen (or carefully spilled) words can actually make a positive difference in someone else’s life.

    Who knows: maybe some of that overflow will eventually make its way into fertile ground and bring forth a tree with such irresistible fruit that everyone will want a piece.

    Until then, I’ll just be over here, talking to myself about, well, whatever I want.

  6. William Morris

    Joseph and a tree of irresistible fruit. Excellent stuff.

    I worry about the issues Theric raises in his post. But not too often. I wasn’t writing much before starting A Motley Vision so if anything blogging has helped me refine my ideas and desires and spurred me to write more. And like Patricia, it has helped me stay connected to a community that I very much enjoy being part of.

    So thanks everybody.

  7. Laura H. Craner

    I definitely second what Patricia and William and Tyler have said. Some blogs are more successful than others (group blogs seem to generate more traffic) and it may be worth a blogger’s time to look at their motives and what they aren’t achieving and then comparing that with blogs that are achieving. What could you do to make your blog more like theirs? Shorter posts, more pictures, jokes, and frequent posting seem to do the trick. Of course all those gimmicks seem to undermine the literary aspirations of a lot of bloggers. But you have to consider your audience and their expectations–which is a huge part of becoming a successful writer. And blogs are a great way to learn from an audience (if only you can find one!).

  8. Tyler

    I have to agree with William: sometimes I wonder if blogging distracts me from my other writing, but it doesn’t keep me up at night (most nights anyway…) It’s also given me a place to warm up, as Wm. says, to refine my ideas and desires, spurring me to write more and to write more efficiently. In writing for my blog, I’ve also fallen passionately in love with the personal essay, that genre championed by Eugene England as so characteristically Mormon. Participating in my own blog and others’ blogs has given me fodder for an insatiable desire to create.

    And to you Laura: I see where you’re coming from when you suggest that a blogger should consider their blogging motives and take a look at what successful blogs have done to be successful, then imitate and personalize that to a degree. I’ve noticed that successful bloggers find a niche and try to fill it with their words. Maybe that’s the hard part. With the proliferation of blogs, what can we say that isn’t already being said somewhere else? It forces you to stay on your toes, to look for fresh ideas of fresh ways of considering new ideas. It also forces you to connect to a blogging network that can add a second or third or fourth (or more) witness to your blog. More people (since blog stalkers abound!) are prone, IMO, to find and to frequent your site (eventually) if you do those things than if you try to make it on your own.

    Could that be the trick you’re talking about?

  9. MoJo

    personal essay, that genre championed by Eugene England as so characteristically Mormon.

    What’s particularly Mormon about personal essay as a format?

    But you have to consider your audience and their expectations–which is a huge part of becoming a successful writer.

    How are we defining a “successful” writer?

  10. Tyler

    As Eugene championed it, the personal essay “seems to [...] have the greatest potential for making a uniquely valuable Mormon contribution both to Mormon cultural and religious life and to that of others. Our theological emphasis on life as a stage where the individual self is both tested and created and our history of close self-examination in journals and testimony-bearing provide resources that have mainly been realized in great sermons and various forms of autobiography but increasingly find expression in powerful informal essays and personal and family storytelling.” (The complete text of the essay in which this is found is here: http://mldb.byu.edu/progress.htm.)

    In essence, then, the particular strength of the Mormon personal essay (as also argued by Richard Cracroft and Neal Lambert here: http://mldb.byu.edu/A%20Believing%20People/Essay.htm.) is that it provides a format, a genre in which to explore the unique relationship each individual has with God, his Institutionalized Priesthood, and/or his created universe; in which the person can bear his or her unique testimony about these things.

    (I’m not quite sure how to do the whole blockquote and hyperlink thing in this format-I’m still sort of inept with the whole html thing…so forgive me…please. Or better yet, show me how!)

  11. MoJo

    Tyler, thanks for the clarification. I thought you were saying something completely different, i.e., that the “personal essay” had somehow been co-opted from the rest of the world for near-exclusive use for Mormon artists.

    You can use the regular blockquote and a href HTML tags here.

  12. c jane

    Just last week I read about how Alma handed off the judgeship to get out and preach. I took it as a sign that I should stop blogging to get out and really write.

    But so much harder said than done.

    I continue to spill my seed (is that even possible for a female?) and hope for a novel pregnancy in the future.

    Great post.

  13. Th.

    .

    Thanks, c jane. I think something we share (and that differentiates us from the essayists) is our form of choice: the novel. Which blogging has little relation to and which blog-readers tend to avoid.

    But I may be wrong here. I judge a post’s success by the number of comments since my other stats are too general to suggest a certain post’s success/failure rate. With the proliferation of readers and aggregators, it’s getting harder and harder to guess just how many people are reading a blog and comments are the only by-post measure I really have. And it’s an inaccurate measure, to say the least.

  14. Laura H. Craner

    Th.–the trick that I was referring to was gettng people to religiously read your blog. People who read, comment, and come back generate hits that support ads on your blog and could, maybe, translate into paper sales. So much of writing is the business junk that most artists don’t like to think about and that business junk is all about connections. Having a lot dedicated blog readers yeilds connections. So I guess that’s trick!

    Mojo–in this context “successful writer” meant one who had a lot of dedicated readers who would be willing to go out and spend money on a book. But I also think that in the larger context of being a successful writer, no matter how idealistic you are, having at least some people who are willing to pay you for your work is part of the definition. Even if you’re Thoreau sitting by a lake on a third-hand chair, you’re hoping someone will pay you at some point. Of course there are a lot of intangible reasons for writing that have been covered on AMV. But having people buy your stuff is important.

    cjane and Th.–How much of this is a time management issue versus an artistic energy issue?

  15. William Morris

    That’s a great question, Laura. AMV actually doesn’t represent for me time away from creative writing — I’ve never done much of it. I created the blog after the AML List had some technical issues. Blogging, then, replaced participating on listservs for me (I still post to the list, but nowhere near as much and as in-depth as I did from 200-2004). I may spend a little more time than I did (because blogging also comes with administrative responsibilities), but not much.

    What’s more, the way my life and work situation generally is, it’s a lot easier to find the time and energy to blog than to write fiction. I can plan out a post on the bus (with or without taking notes) and write at lunch or in quick snatches in the evening or morning. I find that in order to have the artistic energy to write fiction, I need to be a) not too tired b) left alone mostly and c) have at least 60 minutes to work with — a solid 2 hours is even better. I know that other writers may not require that, but I seem to (and I also can’t cheat on sleep — so very annoying).

    All that said, however, I think that one area where blogging may interfere with is mindspace. I find that I do more thinking about AMV than my fiction. And part of that may be because posts are shorter and provide more instant gratification (fast track to publication) and also are more directly conversational.

  16. Th.

    .

    The conversation aspect of blogging is delightful, make no mistake. And it’s part of the distractive quality I love/hate about it.


    How much of this is a time management issue versus an artistic energy issue?

    Good question, Laura. For me personally, I don’t know if I can separate the two. I never lack artistic energy; what I do lack is the management skills necessary to prioritize properly.

    I’m a school teacher nine months of the year, so my summer is precious. I have the following artistic goals for my short time off:

    1. Write at least one book
    2. Compile and typeset and publish my anthology project
    3. Write posts for A Motley Vision
    4. Keep up my own blog
    5. Redesign my blog
    6. Add new material to my website
    7. Create new Thvlogs
    8. Resend a number of recently rejected short pieces
    9. Figure out what I want to do with my recently released-back-into-the-wild novel
    0. Et cetera

    Blogging properly requires near-daily effort, which cuts into longer term projects which just need to get done . . . someday.

    This comes back to your “trick”: getting people to “read, comment, and come back [and] generate hits that support ads on your blog and could, maybe, translate into paper sales.”

    The blog is a new and vitally important part of the new world of media where the product has to be given away free if you ever hope to make money. But feeding the blog so the blog will feed me sometimes leaves me feeling hungry.

    I’m still fiddling with this issue of balance. Tips, anyone?

  17. c jane

    Sometimes I wonder if blogging is the lazy writer’s dream come true. No real revising (I hate Mr. Second Draft), self-publicating and an instant audience.

    Also, I wonder if my continuation of blogging is a business choice (rather than an artistic or time management) as well. If I can make money with the short personal essay why lose what I’ve got going on already?

  18. Anneke Majors

    Though I’d hate to be the one to day “you can’t use those words on the internet,” I am disappointed by the tone and character of your post, Theric.

    Very witty, yes. Very cleverly written. But I think that AMV readers have come to expect a higher standard of discourse.

  19. William Morris

    I chose to publish it so you should be disappointed in me too, Anneke.

    I don’t think the point was to just be clever. This is a real struggle for some of us. A calculus that we can’t seem to work out.

    The extreme (and Biblical) manner in which it is expressed and the bitter humor of it is very much to the point. Some of us range between extremes when it comes to this sort of thing. I have had moments when I have wanted to just shut this whole thing down. They are very few. And I would never actually do that. But writers (or at least many writers) tend to have these moments of self-loathing (and conversely self-aggrandizing). Of course, it happens with non-blogging writing too. Anybody else had the experience where one minute it’s the best thing that you (or anyone) has ever written and the next minute (or day) it’s the worst thing anyone has every written and should be tossed and you should never write a word again?

    Besides: I think the discussion has more than made up for the low discourse of the original post. I figured it would.

  20. Patricia Karamesines

    “Sometimes I wonder if blogging is the lazy writer’s dream come true. No real revising (I hate Mr. Second Draft), self-publicating and an instant audience.”

    Recurring nightmare: I’m preparing to read my work to an audience. The library conference room or auditorium etc. is packed and everyone’s looking at me. Then I look down, and instead having a well-edited, published work with no typos and a nice cover, I’m standing there, in front of everybody, holding only a first draft!

    (Full disclosure: Actually, I’ve never had such a dream. But if I did, I’d wake up on the floor dripping cold sweat.)

    Perhaps this is the problem with the bloggernacle and with a good deal of bloggers. The majority of folks are running around in the author’s equivalent of underwear with some wearing even less. (What is that? A mole?).

    For the record, I spent a week writing and editing my last post for AMV. That’s somewhere in the neighborhood of 5-10 drafts. Some posts have run much higher.

    Essays I prepare for hard print publishing: 15-20 drafts. (Again, sometimes more).

    My novel, The Pictograph Murders: I have somewhere around 20 plus boxed drafts, but I’ve recycled many, so it probably ran upwards of 40 drafts. (And ugh, the typos in the published work cause me much pain.)

    Poems: Some probably run higher than what I put into Picto Murders because the language is more compressed and under greater pressure (“Metaphoric Langage: Handle With Care”) and requires more rigorous fine-tuning.

    I suppose this means I treat blogging as if I were writing something more than ephemera. That’s probably because of the feelings I have for language, that it’s of the utmost importance. I have a bad habit of blogging under the influence of moderate to severe sleep deprivation, a condition where I lack the ability to hold up my end of the conversation in a responsible way. I’m trying to break that habit so that I contribute as little as possible to the degradation of whatever language environment I’m participating in.

    Sheesh, even my comments go through drafts.

  21. Patricia Karamesines

    Wm asked, “…has ever written and the next minute (or day) it’s the worst thing anyone has every written and should be tossed and you should never write a word again?”

    Oh yeah. But Leslie Norris told me to keep everything, even the stuff you felt that badly about, because you never know. Someday you might re-discover something you thought embarrassingly inept and finally know what to do to make it respectable.

    It was better advice than I thought it at the time. Right now, I’m reworking several old poems I once thought beyond redemption.

  22. Mark IV

    Th.,

    I think it is possible to see your blogging as aw way to enhance your writing on paper. It can help you to find a voice and you can get instantaneous feedback. Sure, some of the feedback will be in the form of “this bolg sux” or “u r stoopid”, but it is feedback nonetheless, and it can give you useful information. Am I reaching my target demographic? If you get lots of comments like those above, probably not. But you will be able to tell from the IP addresses to what extent your appeal is regional, ore limited to academics, and so on. It is like getting instant reviews, and that is a good thing compared to the journals, which take months.

  23. William Morris

    Oh, yeah. I definitely keep everything. One of these days my sisters are going to decide to blackmail with the horrible song lyrics I wrote as a 17-year-old.

  24. Th.

    .

    I keep everything too. And, I should say now that this post went through several drafts (writing for AMV, after all, is not like writing for Thmusings). And when I finished it I was a little leery about sending it to Mr Morris, so anyone who wants to chide me is welcome to. Believe me, I often chide myself.

    One of the things I love/hate about blogging is its instantaneous nature. Sure, I rewrite some things many times–rewriting is one of my favorite chores–but I can just as easily drop something in twenty seconds, as I did last night.

    Which is part of the reason my audience varies so much–I give them whiplash. One day it’s a thoughtful discourse on service, the next it’s the word Monday written seventy-five times.

    But this eclecticism lives well online. That’s one thing I love/love.

  25. Anneke Majors

    “I chose to publish it so you should be disappointed in me too, Anneke.

    I don’t think the point was to just be clever. This is a real struggle for some of us. A calculus that we can’t seem to work out. “

    Oh, I acknowledge your right to publish it and his right to write it. It’s mostly just a matter of personal taste. I wish LDS discourse could somehow strike a balance: open-minded and objective enough to register on the radar of those without our religion, tasteful and prudent enough not to alienate those within.

    I realize that the subject of the article is valid, I just disagree with the tone with which it was presented.

  26. MoJo

    I wish LDS discourse could somehow strike a balance: open-minded and objective enough to register on the radar of those without our religion, tasteful and prudent enough not to alienate those within.

    Somebody’s always going to be offended one way or another. That’s the beauty of being individuals.

    I just disagree with the tone with which it was presented.

    And I didn’t blink an eye.

    Aside: Why do we claim the Old Testament as inspired scripture, but we don’t talk about Onan, Tamar, Judah, David, Esther, or heck, even the Song of Solomon like they were the red-headed stepchildren of Nicaea? Is there no value we can draw from them?

  27. Patricia Karamesines

    “Why do we claim the Old Testament as inspired scripture, but we don’t talk about Onan, Tamar, Judah, David, Esther, or heck, even the Song of Solomon like they were the red-headed stepchildren of Nicaea?”

    I don’t. And I read Anneke’s comment very differently. I didn’t get that she was worried about offending others per se but that she’s very interested in our culture finding ways to paint, speak, write, compose etc. that attract the widest variety of people to the audience. If that’s in fact what she’s saying, it makes sense to me.

  28. Eric Russell

    “Is blogging intrinsically of less worth than novel-writing?”

    Good blogging is worth more than crappy novels.

    I get your point, Theric, but blogs are just one more form of media. I wonder if people weren’t thinking something similar, in the 18th century when novels were becoming popular, that all these books were pulling otherwise talented writers away from the stage.

  29. Th.

    .

    I wonder the same thing, Eric. And for all my dismissal of blogs as ephemeral, just because we treat them that way doesn’t mean that they won’t be floating in the ether forever.

    Will future generations read this generation’s blogs?

    I can’t guess that.

  30. Anneke Majors

    I don’t. And I read Anneke’s comment very differently. I didn’t get that she was worried about offending others per se but that she’s very interested in our culture finding ways to paint, speak, write, compose etc. that attract the widest variety of people to the audience. If that’s in fact what she’s saying, it makes sense to me.

    That was, thank you. I personally read and watch a lot of things that more conservative church members might not. I had a friend return an Orson Scott Card book I lent him once because he didn’t appreciate the sexual content. It hadn’t even registered with me.

    We have to realize that a large, large portion of the LDS public would be put off by graphic sexual phrases used in jest. I realize that there are varying degrees of taste and acceptance, but I don’t think the LDS academic community needs to alienate most of them.

    As an art student, I made a promise to myself once not to draw anything that I would be ashamed to show to Brother Heap, my institute teacher. He was a wise man, a good gospel scholar, and the type of Mormon who would turn off a movie the first time he heard a curse word. I think we have a lot to gain by making our art and commentary accessible to Mormons like him. Because, basically, he represents 80% of our people.

  31. Th.

    .

    I’m sympathetic to this — most of my family would react poorly to this. But I find metaphors in even unpleasant scriptural stories and I think they have value.

    I suppose the question you might put to me is “Does that value extend beyond thyself?”?

  32. Tyler

    c jane posits an interesting parallel to the blogger’s challenge to balance life with blogging demands when she points out Alma’s choice to give up his chief judgeship so he could devote himself fully to the office of high priest over all the church. The main difference I see between Alma and us, however, is that he was the president of a church that was basically failing in its progress and he knew that his main priority, at that point in his personal ministry, rested not in his political seat (or, in terms of our present discussion, in his own personal blog) but in wholehearted commitment to the duties of the high priesthood, i.e. the bearing down in pure testimony (or working on his next novel). When he returned from fulfilling this higher responsibility—with the expedient job of regulating the church—he still worked with the chief judge to maintain political and religious order in the land of Zarahemla and throughout (most notably in the case of Korihor).

    Theric presents a similar parallel when he paraphrases king Lamoni’s father’s desire to give up his sins (including his blog) so he might know God (or at least write the great Lamanite novel).

    And yet, I don’t see blogging itself as the sin. Perhaps the “sin” of many (shall we say, Mormon) bloggers doesn’t reside so much in the supposedly ephemeral nature of the blog itself but in the amount of time and resources invested in blogging that could to a degree be more fruitfully invested elsewhere. In other words (and in the tone of Elder Oaks), maybe the goodness of blogging turns bad, maybe the strength of the blogger becomes weakness when the blog takes us away from more meaningful pursuits, when it keeps us, Martha-like, from choosing “that better part”, crowding out what the prophets suggest should be among our highest priorities: God, family, work, Church callings and service, education, participation in one’s community, etc.

    Maybe the answer, then, isn’t to completely drop the blog, as c jane and Theric suggest, but to devote a little less time to blogging and a little more to [place priority here]. Or even to simply cut back on our devotion to good blogs or a high quantity of blog postings and to focus more on posting quality work and on seeking out of the best blogs words of wisdom…or at least discussion that can help us lead and create more fruitful lives of our own.

    In my mind, blogging can’t be an end in itself, but it must serve as means to a much higher end, including that end suggested by M. Russell Ballard: to support the work of the Church in building Zion. I’m convinced that only then can our investment of time and resources bring lasting value to our labor of blog-love (and temper our obsessive compulsion to blog!).

  33. Mark IV

    Anneke,

    You raise a very good point. The Pew poll surprised me a little when it said that about 70% of U.S. Mormons haven’t reconciled themselves to evolution. Most of my co-believers think the earth is 6,000 years old, and that the Aztecs, Navajos, Seminoles, and Iriquois are all literal, direct descendants of Lehi. I once planned a YM outing to an art museum, but the bishop vetoed it on the grounds that the museum contained depictions of naked people. As far as he was concerned, it was like unto pornography. I really don’t know how to handle this. I respect your commitment to never do anything that might bother Br. Heaps, but I’m not sure that is a universal solution. Does being respectful mean giving Br. Heaps veto power in all cases? I’m not convinced that it does.

  34. Th.

    .

    This is a slightly different direction to take this question, but I’m reminded of a J Golden Kimball story.

    He was returning to a town after a few years and a sister came up to him and expressed her hope that he wouldn’t slip in any of that language this time. Since he had last visited them a couple of fine authorities had come and managed to give wonderful discourses without any salty language.

    “Oh? What did Brother X talk about?”

    “Well, I don’t really remember but he was so wonderful and spiritual and I really felt close to God when we gave his message.”

    “It sounds lovely. What did Brother Y talk about?”

    “I’m not sure, but he was so holy standing up there. I never doubted for a moment that he was a man of God.”

    “But you remember what I talked about?”

    “Sure I do! You talked about xxxx and xxxx and xxxx and you said ‘xxxxxx’ and ‘xxxxxx’ and I was so offended when you said ‘xxxxxxx’!”

    “Well, sister. Brother X was here only six months ago and you’ve already forgotten what he said. I haven’t been here for three years yet you can recite my entire sermon word for word. I think I’ll just deliver today’s however I damn well please.”

    You know. Or something like that.

    I refuse, however, to suggest what the moral of this story may be for us.

  35. Schlange

    I write my blog as one who has hidden ambition to be a writer, but who writes not nearly enough. I believe that writing about things that don’t have to be connected to each other at any time of my choosing is making my writting better. Perhaps for some, blogging is not spilling seed, but actualy procreative – yeilding a tangible embryo that just might grow up to be a masterpiece.

    Beyond the scope of personal progress, perhaps blogging is more like adultery – you plant the seeds that yeild children you’ll never knew you had. Unknowingly influencing people to excell and grow has no less merrit (howbeit less gratifying) than doing the same thing with indicators like sales graphs and popularity polls.

  36. Tyler

    The question raised by Anneke and clarified later by Patricia weaves a very interesting thread into this discussion, one that cuts to marrow of Mormon arts and letters and that has been debated and discussed in the Mormon artistic and intellectual community since long before I’d consciously considered that Mormonism was a distinct cultural identity, with its own artists, scholars, and audience: Can/should Mormon artists represent our “native” culture to other Mormons and to the rest of the world? In other words, who is our audience? And perhaps more importantly, why—why should we be concerned with how others perceive us and how we perceive ourselves, or even with attracting (to use Patricia’s words) the widest variety of people to our work?

    The answers to these questions aren’t set in stone and seem to evolve or prompt redefinition by each generation of artists and critics, either due to ignorance of the previous generations’ dialogues and conclusions or out of necessity, i.e. due to changes, specifically, in the Mormon artistic, intellectual, and institutional climate and, more generally, in the artistic and intellectual climate of the world. It seems that we swing, both institutionally (the Church and the Mormon arts and letters community) and individually (at least I do), between poles, at times camping near Babylon, focusing solely on aesthetic and other more secular concerns and achievement, even at the cost of establishing Zion, and at other times on the temple block, with such a strong sense of mission and (self-)righteousness that we turn dangerously inward.

    If Eric Samuelsen’s AML Presidential Address from this year is any indication of where Mormon arts and letters now sits, we’re tracing circles in the dirt just east of Babylon, trying to circumscribe good art and bad (porn not included) beneath the banner of Post-modern Mormonism in our attempts to synthesize anything virtuous, lovely, of good report, or praiseworthy. Here (among other things) he essentially answers the question of audience, reminding us that we’re creating and reading for the world, including Mormons, and that we should be more inclusive, more generous and merciful in both artistic interpretation and creation, withholding judgment until we can see to the heart of text, author, and audience because, once there, we might just find “the face of God” staring back.

    Having said that, I sense a significant divide between the Mormon academic/artistic community(ies) and the rank and file Latter-day Saints, those like Brother Heaps who hear the word damn or hell or read a passage of non-gratuitous intimacy and cringe at the explicit gall of “some people,” including “some Mormons.” The real challenge for Mormon artists and scholars seems to be maintaining artistic, intellectual, and spiritual integrity in the face of those who expect Mormon arts and letters to take the broad of didacticism and who may never visit AMV or the bloggernacle or see Onan as the Patron Saint of anything—for us to write, paint, act, direct, blog etc. in ways that support the Kingdom and the general Mormon and that push the limits of art and intellect into the heavens while maintaining a foundation on the earth.

    Perhaps the real question we should be asking then is this: Can we create a literature/art sympathetic to Mormonism and the world while at the same time moving through Babylon and moving Babylon in our efforts to overhaul world culture (as Orson Whitney and Gideon Burton prophesied) and to establish Zion, which ought to be our greatest object? I believe we can, but how?

    An afterthought: Maybe blogging/new media provides the answer…hurray for the blog!

  37. Th.

    .

    I stress over these issues much more than my casual onanist references might imply. I fully expect to be disowned should certain family members ever read something with as much language as my J Golden story above.

    I blogged about this a couple Januaries ago and my basic thought process remains the same if you’re interested. Basically, I’ve decided that God is on the side of truth and truth sometimes offends people.

    This statement should not be interpreted as carte blanche to be gratuitously ugly just because ugliness “is”— I think of it as being rather like the right to bear arms. I suppose the Constitution does give a right to own bullets and whatnot, but if we choose to exercise that right, we had better be, ah, darn sure we’re being responsible citizens.

    Dean Hughes told me the process by which he decided to cut all swears out of his writing and I respect him and that decision immensely–and I found his swearless means of depicting soldiers in the Children of the Promise series not the least bit awkward (not everyone agrees), and I try to follow his example whenever I can. But if the poor of speech need representation, I’m willing to provide it.

    Thoughtfully. Always thoughtfully.

    Oh, and Schlange—I like what you’re saying, but ‘adultery’ is such an ugly word. What would you say about ‘pollination’?

  38. Angela

    Theric, I posted on the very same topic on the very same day over at Segullah (as William pointed out in the sidebar.) Some kind of cosmic convergence??? At least we know we’re not alone.

  39. Th.

    .

    I’m glad you pointed that out to me — I hadn’t looked at his links since c jane’s reviews. I’m off to read yours now!

  40. Anneke Majors

    Tyler – very profound. Very well-put.

    Mark IV – I see your point. I don’t interpret it, though, as giving someone “veto power” over our artistic creations. It was a conscious choice of mine that served to check my tendency to follow the Babylonian art world. By me choosing not to depict anything that would offend a more traditionally conservative Mormon, it stretched my capacity and made me pursue new channels I otherwise might not have.

    It’s a constraint, much like the rigid structure of a sonnet, that can serve to strengthen and deepen your artistic impact.

    For example: in my life drawing class, one day we were asked to focus on one body part of the model and to draw repeated studies of it and one final large-format piece. I don’t know how many of my classmates decided to study her breast all day. I lost count and lost interest. I drew her face. Strangely enough, during the critique, mine was the most controversial.

    “You weren’t supposed to draw a portrait,” one of my classmates accused.

    “We all drew portraits,” I pointed out.

    I had to defend myself quite fiercely – the face is, technically, a body part, and quite frankly, a lot harder to capture than some of the more generic bits of anatomy. But for some reason, we have this cultural (Babylon) expectation that if you’re an artist you take a life drawing class and if you’re in a life drawing class you draw naked people and if you draw naked people you draw naked women and if you draw naked women you should probably draw their breasts.

    I don’t see a problem with “vetoing” those sorts of cultural expectations either because they’re “inappropriate” or simply because they’re trite and tired and they represent the road most traveled by. We haven’t discovered the Zion Art yet by following any of the popular schools. We should embrace the opportunity to search it out in places where maybe our 21st-century sensibilities tell us not to waste our time.

  41. Bradly Baird

    So, if print journalism is literature in a hurry, then blogging is literature at hyper-speeds. I have messed with blogging a few times over the years and am still uncertain as to its value, except that many of us in the network world (about 20% of the planet’s population) inevitably involve ourselves in blogs by virtue of our citizenship in the metaverse. Inescapable, really.

    On the subject of blog posts, I must say that I have discovered something interesting. Because I learned to write in a pre-blogging world, I find it more difficult to dash off a blog entry and to put it out there for all to see. Any of the few blog entries that I have written, have been revised and re-written numerous times before being posted. And then revised a couple times more after being posted. I find it very challenging to write in the blogging style, post an entry, and not give it another thought after it becomes public. I guess that means I am definitely a product of my generation.

    As to the St. Onan metaphor. I empathize with Theric and do wonder whether blogging takes away from the substantive effort of writing literature whose shelf-life lasts beyond a week. However, I would say that we live in world connected in a very different way than the world ever has been before. Because of that, we must be a part of the dialogue and learn to work with the media as they present themselves to our present generation (whether we approve of the medium or not is another matter). But, I am convinced that our LDSness can transform any medium into a useful tool, capable of enhancing the Kingdom.

    As to the discussion about the word choice and the actual St. Onan metaphor. I completely understand why Theric used those words, but I do worry about comparing “masturbation” with appropriate use of writing time. I understand, but I worry. I guess that belies the conservativeness of my nature, but there it is.

    A final thought, related to the relationship between artistic boundaries and LDSness. My feeling is, “When in doubt, don’t.” That might be simplistic, but it is all to easy to go down a path from which one might never return. Even more worrisome to me is that an artist might lead his constituents down a wrong path by including something – that while it enhances the art and makes it compelling – may still not be right.

    I enjoy this blog and the conversation very much. Thank you all for keeping the dialogue at an informed an intelligent level.

  42. William Morris

    Thanks, Bradly. Some great observations here. Pipe up again sometime. I’d like to hear more of your thoughts on what we post here at AMV.

  43. James Goldberg

    Here I am, a little over a year after your conversation, referred back to the thread. Maybe blogs have the potential to be a little less ephemeral than we think…I’m especially interested in the ease with which I got here when someone else left a link for me to follow.

    Is there a future in which old blogs will be, on average, more worth consulting (or at least more consulted) than old novels? Is that future already here?

  44. Th.

    .

    Conversations never have to die on the web. They can slip away from our attention, only to suddenly resurrect. Whether that makes them more ‘worth’ consulting, I don’t know. But an artform whose potential keeps growing through time can’t be all bad.

  45. Th.

    .

    These days Twitter is the crime of artistic onanism I lament. Heck, it’s even taking me away from blogging — but unlike blogs, after a few days, it gets very hard to be self-referential, as James talks about. Unless some serious structural changes happen, Twitter is truly ephemeral.

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