Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Belief, or Lack Thereof

In the past, I have shared with you all some of my religious experiences and participated in several "Mormon Writer Blogfest" events. So, because I value honesty and try to live with integrity, I want to share that I am no longer Mormon. I don't anticipate talking much about this in later posts, and I am only talking about our journey and linking to articles that explain my issues, not getting into details of why I left. Anyway, this blog is still focused on writing and books, just not this post.

This has been the hardest year of my life. The only year that has been close to touching this was back in 2006-07 when my husband's employer went out of business, we were falling further into debt every month, had a new baby, I went back to work, and my husband had the beginnings of a faith crisis. That faith crisis was put on hold when I begged him to stop reading about the historical issues and just live our faith. Just give it a year, and see how you feel, I asked him. He agreed, and we carefully, carefully moved on with our lives. We moved, he found a new job. I started writing in earnest. I finished a novel, and made some great friends that helped me stay sane as a stay at home mom.

His unresolved concerns have been hanging over us ever since then. Like a rotting body in the basement, the problem was still there, and every once in a while I thought I could smell it in the air. But we paid our tithing. We held callings. My husband was the 16-17 year old Sunday School teacher for 6 years, I think that's right, and was the cub scout master in addition at the end. I was a nursery leader, a YW advisor, a cub scout den leader, and then the YW president for two years, and then the Gospel Doctrine teacher.

We attended church EVERY Sunday, only missing a few times each year as we were usually driving back home from visiting family on Sundays. I felt bad about the times we got fast food on those trips. We didn't let our 11 year old daughter wear sleeveless shirts or dresses or short shorts, because we wanted her to know her value as a daughter of God. We didn't swim on Sundays, even with my nonmember family, even though I felt it was pretty likely that if the church had relocated to the muggy South instead of the arid West after getting booted out of Nauvoo, swimming on Sundays wouldn't be taboo. We were obedient.

We went to the temple. Not as often as we would have liked to, since we still felt guilty that we weren't going every month, but we enjoyed it. I especially liked getting baptized for my dead relatives, then eventually sealing them together. I loved searching my heart for a sign that they were there in the temple and had accepted the gospel, and often felt that confirmation. We did family file names almost every time. When my son was able to do baptisms for the dead, I made sure that he had family file names so that he could be baptized in behalf of beloved granduncles and 3rd cousins and could feel that connection.

But...all this time, my husband's previous issues with the history were stinking up the place. If we missed family home evening, I felt guilty, like I wasn't doing all I should to have the spirit in our home. Same thing with scripture study, although we were much better at family scripture study than FHE. I worried that every little thing I wasn't doing exactly right was going to be the thing that prevented Heavenly Father from blessing our home and protecting us. That one day my husband would tell me he didn't believe anymore.

I tried to come to terms with this fear. I told myself that I had made my covenants with God, and that I could not force my husband to believe. He was an active, believing member at this time, too. I just knew he had some things he couldn't look at too closely. I had those things, too. As a young women's president, I felt love and concern from our bishop, but some of the decisions from the stake stung.

I couldn't see the fairness when our girls camp was always at the local boy scout camp instead of getting to go to the mountains and exciting like the Young Men's high adventure camp. They got a week at scout camp and a week of high adventure. YW couldn't go 100 miles outside of our stake boundaries without a special permission from the stake president, and we were encouraged to find a location that was closer. So we took our girls for a camp out at Table Rock and had a great time. I let it go. But still...why did the boys get to do all kinds of repelling, cliff jumping, white water rafting, hiking and mountain biking and we couldn't? We got to do a couple of those things. We took the girls to a climbing gym once, and we got to do a ropes course and archery and rifling at the boy scout camp. I'm not saying we didn't have fun. But the resources available to us weren't even close to what the boys had available.

In Oct. 2013, Dieter Uchdorf spoke about the maturity that members can develop when they face their questions and allow their faith to grow. He said it was okay to have doubts and that not all events in the history of the church were faith promoting. My husband felt that this talk was meant for him. It was okay that he had doubts. It was okay that some things in the history bothered him. He could study it out and emerge stronger, or at least get some things resolved. So he started to read about the translation of the Book of Abraham, and within an hour, he knew it wasn't true. We can translate hieroglyphics now, and it's very clear, especially in the facsimiles, that Joseph Smith did not get any of it right. Nathan was too scared to tell me for about 2 months.

When he finally told me, the demons I had worked so hard to bury were loosed from their pit. I had gone back to get a Masters in  behavior analysis, and I was really confused about how conditioning could work within a religious framework. Was love real, or was it a biological tool that increased our chances of survival? I was stressed out and teetering on the brink of atheism, and I had been hanging on so tightly to the spiritual experiences I'd had for the sake of our eternal family. Surely the spirit I'd felt when my husband and I were sealed in the temple was real. And here was my husband saying that he would have felt that joy regardless of where we got married because we loved each other. It wasn't the spirit, he said. It was our love. I was not able to deal with it.

We couldn't talk about it without me dissolving into hysterical crying, and suicidal thoughts were scattered throughout those weeks. Both of us found this alarming, so I found an LDS therapist to help me with this transition. I was going to stay in the church, as I knew that the church was true and that my children had the best shot at happiness being raised in the church. The first time I met with my therapist, she recommended that I talk to my family practice doctor and get on an antidepressant.

I was listening to the Book of Mormon in the car on my way to work every day. I was trying to find time to read with the kids before Nathan came home, trying to spare his feelings but still make sure the kids were getting spiritually fed. We would all go to church and week after week I would start crying during sacrament meeting and have to leave, hide in the mother's lounge or the bathroom or with some friend in an unused classroom. I had to ask people to teach the gospel doctrine class for me right before class started many times, and felt horrible about it. Church was a minefield, and both Nathan and I were stepping gingerly.

A week or two of Zoloft peeled me off the floor, and I was able to deal with life a little more. It had been about 3 months since Nathan had told me of his unbelief, and I accepted it. He wasn't coming back.

So we needed to set some ground rules, so that we could move forward, and the hardest part of this was what to do about the kids. One Saturday in February, I told Nathan how it was going to be. He was not to talk to the kids about religious topics anymore. Maybe when they were older, it would be okay to answer questions that they directly asked him, but I was in charge of their spiritual life from now on. And while I was on a roll, I suggested that he talk to a friend he'd grown up with that had also left the church. It wasn't that I didn't want to be there for him, it was just too painful to fail to understand each others' perspective over and over.

Then he did something that surprised me.

He said no.

He didn't want to talk to anybody else about the reasons for his unbelief. He valued our relationship too much to put anyone else in my place as confidant and trusted friend. And he asked me to listen to just one thing. I honestly don't remember what it was, probably BOA stuff. But I listened and gave rebuttals based off of what I could recall from my readings on FAIR LDS, and then he had to go to work.

Then I did something that surprised him.

I looked for myself.

I had read "Rough Stone Rolling" by LDS historian Richard Bushman twice. I wanted to know more about Joseph Smith's Polygamous wives. So I found, a website with no commentary, only facts and documented writings from and about the women Joesph Smith married.

And I read. (password is "MormonPriestess") And read.

When Nathan came home from work about 4 hours later, I told him that I wasn't going to be able to teach tomorrow, and I wasn't going to church, and could he call the bishop and schedule an appointment to resign.

So that's what we did, once he could reattach his jaw (it unfortunately shattered when it hit the floor, ha!). We'd met with the bishop a few times before this, so he knew that Nathan was struggling. We told our dear bishop that we were leaving, and gave him our resignation letter and our temple recommends back. It was incredibly sad, and I knew that we were losing our community.

It's been hard. I've had multiple friends not return phone calls or texts, and when we've finally talked, they've said that it's just too painful to talk to me. They feel like I've died. Well, for my part, I feel like all of my Mormon friends have died. Except they're still alive and just not calling me back. It's heartbreaking. 

But I'm making new friends and trying to salvage friendships. I wish I could share what I've learned with my friends and spare them some of the pain we've gone through. I wish they could listen, but I understand why they can't. I couldn't listen either, not even to my husband, not without feeling that it would be better for us to die than to fall away. I literally wanted to die rather than face the truth, but luckily, wishing to disappear or die doesn't make it so, and I was able to accept what my heart had been trying to tell me for a long time. I feel free in my head now, and I can think about anything I want and draw my own conclusions, and there is no more judgement of others for not keeping commandments how we felt they should be. I feel at peace and happy.

I look back at my writing and I see how I was trying to make sense of the way I felt trapped in a belief system that, for me, required me to let go of my own thoughts and obey no matter what. The project I've been working on in the last year is all about how to make sense of how other people and cultures have been able to do so many obviously wrong things in the name of religion, and feel they were doing right. I have been consumed with the question of if ancient Aztecs and Greeks and Egyptians really believed in their gods or was it just a show for them. Did they believe how I believed?

My answer is yes. 

Glutton for Punishment?

Friday, November 1, 2013

Why I'm Glad I Write (Even Though I'm Not Published...Yet)

I'm presenting a research project at the South Carolina conference for Applied Behavior Analysts on Monday, and I've been thinking a lot about how writing has helped me to prepare for a career. This last two years has been a huge transition for me as I've gone back to school and work, but it has been made easier by some of my experiences as a writer, specifically a writer going to conferences and trying to snag an agent. So here's what I've learned:
  • From reading hundreds of query critiques and having my own queries critted, I learned how to write a real business letter. One that conveys a little personality without trying too hard and gives the important information quickly and clearly. Or so I hope:) The complexities of the query made a simple resume a walk in the park while eating cake and occasionally petting my unicorn. Really. Queries are that tough. And the two page synopsis? Uggggh.
  • I learned self-confidence. Going to an interview when I was looking for a job was not nearly as difficult as going to a conference and sitting down across from an agent and discussing what works or doesn't work about my writing sample. Maybe because writing is so personal? It's the emotional equivalent of taking off your clothes, so in a job interview, I felt more like, "Whew! I'm talking to this person about a possible job, but at least my soul is dressed!"
  • Also from various query critiques I've had with agents, I've learned to relax and get over myself. I blogged about it at the time, but now all I remember about my first query critique was how sick-to-my-stomach-nervous I felt. My stomach turned for hours afterward while my mind replayed the conversation and I wondered if the agent thought I was an idiot or just incompetent. 
  • The next time wasn't so bad. The time after was almost easy. I had moved up to being one of the writers just waiting instead of compulsively reading over my elevator pitch and hoping I didn't do something stupid, like paraphrase my perfectly-crafted, exactly 150 word synopsis. Because that would be the end of the world, right? I even gave some advice to other folks pitching for the first time and felt very comfortably patronizing doing so! Isn't it lovely sometimes to be on the other side?
  • I have gotten pretty good at writing for other people. There's a huge difference between writing for yourself, where you just have to remind yourself of what you were thinking, and writing for others, where you have to be able to put yourself in someone else's head and understand what they know and don't know. Most of my writing right now is technical writing for behavior plans, but all those years of writing fiction still help me to keep the reader in mind. I still like to get a few people to read over tricky programs, though.
  • I type faster, which should have obvious benefits. And as a side note, we're making all of our kids take typing classes as soon as they're available. 
And on the negatives side
  • I have to really really fight my inner-editor about leaving other people's spelling and grammar blips alone. I am not the office editor. I am not the office editor. Repeat ad nauseum. I do get asked to read over things sometimes, and I am happy to do so, but I try not to stick my nose in other people's business because I want my coworkers not to think I'm insufferable. Funny and good at my job is my goal:)
My plan five years ago was to write, write, and write and get published, published, and published. When I realized that my family would be better served by my going back to school and working, and to keep writing as a hobby, I was very sad. And a little angry. And bitter. Hadn't I worked hard? Hadn't I put myself out there and written a great story? Why was I having to come up with a Plan B?

Right now, I don't believe that I would be happier if I were writing full time. Maybe that's a little taboo to say on a blog almost entirely friended by writers, but I like who I am more now than two years ago.

I tend to get a little wrapped up in imaginary people and worked up about the whole querying process, and I think I'm a healthier person when I have a foot solidly planted in the real world, where I get to work with real people and make a real difference for my kids. Have I mentioned I love my job? Happy sigh.

Don't take this wrong. This is not a "I'm done with writing" post. Far from it. I love writing and I love having my secret world and my imaginary best friends as well. I'm just saying that writing prepared me to do more than just write.

If only writing could have trained me not to say "um" every 5 seconds while I'm speaking. We did a practice run through at work today, and they "buzzed" me every time I said "um." Fifty times in a 15 minute presentation. Not the end of the world, but something to work on:)

Happy writing!

Glutton for Punishment?

Monday, October 14, 2013

Checking in and Review of "The Bone Season" by Samantha Shannon

So...the update. I'm finishing up my masters in Exceptional Student Education, starting to prepare for the BCBA exam I'll take in February, and after a crazy summer where I took (and passed!) 5 classes, I'm back at work at the Autism Academy. Also, after serving for two years as Young Women President in our ward, I have been asked to do something new and am the Gospel Doctrine teacher. Out of the frying pan and into the fire, right?

All of which is to say, I'm still not writing...much...although I do have a short story that I'm working on that is turning out to be more of a novella and I might be able to stretch it into a novel. Hard to say since I'm still a pantser.

I've mentioned this on Facebook, but I had a benign tumor removed from my salivary gland a few weeks ago, and while recovery has not been fun (drugs make me feel, well, drugged) I've spent a lot of time listening to "The History of Rome" podcast, and I highly recommend. I've always wanted to understand a bit more how political intrigue works, how people can do crazy things like raise armies and convince people to go to war for them, how people can be so charismatic that civilizations are bent to their vision, and this podcast has really showed me how it was done. I feel like it's given me enough understanding that I could maybe introduce some political intrigue in a novel and not have it come off as if a twelve-year-old had written it. No offense to twelve-year-olds. I think maybe you have to be aware of how the world has and is changing to be able to include that in your writing, though.

Also, I'm finding some time to read new books again (I re-read all of the Attolia books by Megan Whalen Turner while recovering, as well as "Daughter of Smoke and Bones" and sequel, but was not feeling up to seeking out a good book. Enter my friend Genean, who texted me that she had a book for me and would drop it off the next day.) So I just finished The Bone Season and really, really enjoyed it. Not quite five stars, but a great read.

Paige Mahoney is a voyant, so just being unnatural and alive is an act of treason in her political state, Scion. Like other voyants, she has found a place in the criminal underworld, where she uses her very rare ability as a dream walker to enter other people's dreamscapes and spy for her mime-lord (think crime-boss.) But as eventually happens to all criminal types, she gets caught and a swat team arrives at her house to bring her in.

Yet she isn't taken to the Tower and forced to become a Scion turncoat like she expects. Instead, she is brought into another world where voyants can live in the open and their gifts are accepted. Unfortunately, living in the open does not equal freedom, and they are essentially vassals to another race, the Rephaites. The Blood-sovereign, Nashira, takes a special interest in Paige, and her consort, Warden, is given the task of training Paige to use her powers more fully so that Nashira can become more powerful and no voyants will ever be able to oppose the Rephaites ever, ever again. Paige would rather die, and so she does what she does best: fights back.

I loved the world-building and the writing and the tension between Paige and basically every other character in the story. Did I mention she's a redhead from an Irish family with a background similar to the IRA? Great story with lots of levels. My only issue was I had to do a lot of flipping in towards the end because there are a lot of characters and it's always hard for me to keep minor characters straight. 

Content-wise, there are references to drugs that some voyants take to open their minds to the aether, but the main character does not approve. Also, there are some bad dynamics in the voyant mafia, no big surprise, but it means that characters hurt other characters because it's their job and the boss will get angry if they don't. There's also some sexuality in a few scenes, including a date-rape and a near rape and a kissing scene. There are several fights including a major battle and a fair amount of violence. I would think that even sensitive fourteen-and-ups could handle it.

Krista V. at blogged here about how much she loved "For Darkness Shows the Stars," by Diana Peterfreund so that's next on my list. I'm trying to catch up on your blogs and news and everything. I've missed having the time to be a part of the book blogging, writerly world. Thank you for being so kind and wonderful, friends.

What are you reading? Anybody else read The Bone Season?
Glutton for Punishment?

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Merry Christmas! I hope you are all having a wonderful time with your families and friends. I'm nearly finished shopping and the wrapping is almost done as well. I wondered...what are you looking forward to unwrapping? For my kids, we've got some lacrosse equipment, a 4th Nintendo DS (When we drive down to FL to visit my side of the family, it will be the first time that we've had the same number of DSs as children who want a DS. I'm really looking forward to not having to teach my kids about sharing the whole 8 hr trip. Although the new one is a 3DS, so there will still be some room for squabbling!) There are also TONS of books- so their brains won't completely turn to mush! This Christmas, I am trying to spend more time just being with my kids. I laid down on the couch with Eli and Jojo for about 30 minutes and listened to them jabber on about Minecraft, and I felt noticeably more relaxed a nd happy. I'm not saying that my kids always relax me, but for that 30 minutes, it was true. They told me all about herobrine and wondered if I knew anything? (Nope. Herobrine is a character some claim to have seen in Minecraft--a sort of video game ghost story.) What are you doing to make this Christmas more than just presents and parties? Merry Christmas!
Glutton for Punishment?

Saturday, November 10, 2012

AWC part two...

So Kristen was Kristen Miller-Vincent from D4EO.

I met several authors who were a little green- like didn't know what a query was and I told one lady in particular about "query tracker" and "preditors and editors" and how helpful it was to follow agents on twitter so you can get a better idea of their style of interacting with people, tastes, etc. It made me realize a little more how much the internet writer family has helped me, so thanks!

My pitch with Lara Perkins of Andrea Brown went well- she liked the premise (a pregnant 16 yo girl gets possessed by the spirit of a dead Egyptian queen and begins enacting the queen's plot to rule the world and use the body of her unborn child to bring back the queen's son) well enough, although she thought Egyptian was a bit tired and it needs something to pull the story together more. I asked her if she had any thoughts about what that missing element might be, and she said that the video game (a game everyone is playing that the Queen uses to gain control over the
masses) was it. So I'm trying to figure out if what I have written is okay and it just didn't come out in my pitch strongly enough or I'd I need to make he game more central. I think the latter is more likely. I didn't get a partial request, but I will send a query when I get it all fixed up.

Lara was very nice and I felt at ease around her. I think that all writers should go pitch or do crits or something with agents face to face, because its been so helpful to me. I was a little nervous but not unbearably so, and I think that you can only get that kind of confidence from living through the thing you fear repeatedly!

We went to a shooting range a few months ago, and the experience is oddly similar. The first 30 or so times I fired the gun, the noise and the kick were so alarming that I didn't even see where my bullet went. But after so many repetitions, those reflexes calmed down and I was able to just shoot and work on my grip and aim and all that.

Anyhow, the pitch went very well and I feel like I got some really good advice about how to make my story more marketable.

Have a pitch story or link to share? I'd love to read your experiences!

Now I have to go study and make an outline for a paper. It turns out I dislike academic outlines more than those for fiction:)
Glutton for Punishment?

Friday, November 2, 2012

Atlanta Writers Conference

Quick blog...I'm at the Atlanta Writers Conference and had the pleasure of doing a practice pitch with two agents today: Jill Marr of Sandra Djykstrajistamijak Literary Agency and Kristen ???. It was supposed to be Marr and Judith Engracia, but there was a change, possibly due to hurricane Sandy? End result- I've pitched to an agent that seemed really interested in my story but I don't know her full name or agency!

So that's my assigner for the mixer tonight- find out her name so I can send a query to her:) Jill Marr doesn't rep YA, so that's a no-go, but oh well!

They were both lovely and most of their comments were that I should have included more info in my blurb, like I did in my verbal pitch. (We were asked to send in a 250 word description of our project. Mine was
300, but they wanted more info, more details about the world, more about the characters and remarked that the motivation of the antagonist made it unlikely for her to be flat, and they approved!)

They seemed very positive about the world building details and wanted that in the description as well- by far their most enthusiastic moment.

Hopefully that will help you all get your fingers on the pulse of agents everywhere! Don't be afraid to go over word count in blurbs as long as the words all matter, talk about motivations, don't focus so much on the MC that other characters important to the main conflict are neglected, and showcase what's special about your story (ie worldbuilding).

Wish me luck tomorrow as I pitch to Lara Perkins of Andrea Brown. Assuming she made it here, of course!

Glutton for Punishment?

Thursday, September 13, 2012

I'm Famous!

Check out this video in which Nascar honors the founder of the Autism Academy (my employer) for her work getting insurance companies to provide therapy benefits for children with autism. When she got this legislation ("Ryan's Law") passed in South Carolina, she started working with lawmakers across the country. Ryan's Law has been passed in 31 other states, which is amazing! The video was shot on location at the Autism Academy and you can see Yours Truly hard at work 40 seconds in.

If you are so moved, please vote for Lorri. She is one of four finalists and has already been awarded $25,000 to benefit the school. If we won the grand prize, $100,000 would go to provide scholarships.

Yesterday, I was working with a child who is typically the picture of happiness. But something happened while playing catch, and his eyes got all teary and he asked for a hug. He doesn't have the verbal skills yet to tell me exactly what upset him, but I'm working with him so that one day he'll be able to tell people how he feels and why, and be able to speak for himself instead of having to hope that we guess right about what the problem is. I feel incredibly blessed to work there and to be able to help these kids succeed.

If you want to support us, you can vote every day! If you feel REALLY strongly about supporting Autism Academy, you can vote once per email address as well. Last year, the total number of votes was 21,000, and voting is open for about 60 days. If 120 people vote every day, we can totally win this!

I won't be posting here about this again, but you can join the Autism Academy loves NASCAR FB page if you would like to get reminders to vote. I don't want to spam people, but I forget about things all the time and need a little prompt...

Glutton for Punishment?