Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Advice for My Daughter

Sometimes things are not your fault, but they are your responsibility.

I know this seemed like a hard truth to you tonight, in the moment when you looked around your room at the chaos two much-younger brothers created. It will also seem like a hard truth to you years from now, as you come of age and inherit problems past generations created and couldn't solve.

Believe me: I understand how overwhelming messes can feel. I know what it's like not to know where to begin, and I know how strong the temptation can be to release the pressure you feel into blame.

But I also know how sweet it is to resist that temptation.

Let me tell you something real: the moment when you willingly accept responsibility for a problem you did not create, you transcend your own self-interest and become like God. Even if it's only a matter of gathering toys you did not scatter, you will feel the anchoring divinity in the center of your soul grow firmer.

Do not hide from this.

Every time life offers you an opportunity to draw borders around the edges of your heart, and you choose instead to walk straight past them and lay claim to a new burden of love, eternity nods in recognition.

It belongs to those who make room to receive it.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Three Meditations on a Child's Prayer

1.

I have a 10-year-old daughter, a 4-year-old son, and a 2-year-old son.

It's an interesting time to listen to their prayers.

Leif, my youngest, still doesn't talk much--probably because he spent so much of his first 18 months of his life sick and in hospitals. Even before he started repeating words, though, the nightly rhythm of prayer helped him relax and accept sleep (we found that out the hard way when we tried to tuck him in without scriptures and prayers one night when his siblings were gone). Now, prayers are his most verbal  time of day. Often we can get him to repeat a word or two when he's asking for food, but more often than not at night, he'll take his best shot at repeating the words and short phrases of the prayer Nicole or I or one of the other kids helps him with.

Elijah often wanders and sometimes picks fights during prayers. Some nights, he kind of shouts his prayers or says them in his monster voice. Other nights, he's very thoughtful and helpful. He has one stock phrase that comes up almost every night--he likes to thank Heavenly Father "that we could have good fun." After a while, Nicole figured out that "good fun" meant the fun that comes with good choices: it was his way of asking for help behaving in a way that allowed him to have more fun than conflict with others.

Kira's prayers have recently turned from a narrower focus on our family's home life to our local community. She listens at church and then remembers to pray for specific struggling neighbors and their families. She's more and more likely to think of extended family members and friends. It's gratifying as a parent to watch her awareness mature.

My children's prayers give a pretty decent overview of some key roles religion plays in many lives today. It provides comfort and order. It helps focus us on our personal moral development and master ourselves. And it helps us reach out in compassion toward others, farther than we would likely manage on our own.

2.

Last night, Kira prayed again for the Henley family, whose basement apartment we lived in for four years. Last Sunday, Alice Henley--who'd been like an extra grandmother to the kids--passed away. We've had a few talks about it since, and it was nice to know Kira was thinking of Alice's husband, children, and grandchildren.

Next it was Lijah's turn to pray. I can't remember exactly how his prayer started, but I definitely remember the part where he said, "Thank thee that Daddy will die. Thank thee that Leif won't die."

As soon as his prayer was over, Kira asked him what on earth he was thinking. Why would he even mention Daddy dying? And Lijah repeated some variation on a theme we've discussed several times, especially since Sister Henley's death--death is part of life. It's OK.

And so I find it strangely noble of my young son to thank God for my future death. If he takes the time to bless the name of God again on the day I die, I will be content and proud.

I understand, though, if that turns out to be hard. He's seen Leif stop breathing, seen ambulances rush him to the hospital. And so I'm not surprised that at the same time he prepares himself for my eventual death, he pleads in the guise of thanks for his brother to have a long, perhaps in his mind an endless, earthly life.

And oh my son, when you and I have loved and fought for years, when you've watched me grow frail and spend my own time in hospitals, you may want me to live forever on earth, too. It may be hard to remember on the day I go that death is part of life.

3.

My great-grandmother, Basant Kaur, died when I was in elementary school. Afterward, I used to wonder sometimes if she was spending her time, invisible, somewhere close to me. That thought used to help me when I was tempted to do something I knew I wouldn't be caught for. No living person might know, but I hated the idea of disappointing Beiji.

I'd been home from my mission for about a year when my Grandpa Art died. My dad was able to fly right out when Art went in to the hospital, was able to hold his hand a last time. I was in Utah at the time, and drove out toward California to help move Art to a care center, or else to help clean out his apartment. He died while I was on the road.

It's been a while since that happened, but I still think about Art all the time. Every little while something will come up that reminds me how much I wish my wife and kids could have met him.

I feel like he's somewhere not so far away, but since I knew him so much longer than I did my great-grandma, it's also easier to see him in myself. I like to think that when my kids do finally meet their great-grandfather, they'll recognize him, in part, through the way I was--they'll know that even though he died too early for them, he was still in the way I talked and laughed and looked at the world. They'll recognize the ways they knew him.

I do believe, on an emotional and spiritual level as well as on an intellectual one, that what I tell my children about death is true. It's part of life, though the fear of bereavement and death are certainly part of life, too. We will always wrestle, I think, to find the proper balance between accepting death and working to delay it.

But I hope we remember it doesn't need to be something that severs our closest relationships, in time or eternity.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

"Meeting of the Myths" Contest Discussion

For our past literary contests, Nicole and I have tried different approaches to holding online discussions of the pieces. Sometimes we've gone on blog tours, holding discussions for different pieces in different places. Other times, we've had discussions posts for each piece here. Sometimes there's been more discussion on social media; other times we've actively encouraged people to take the extra steps you need to comment outside the gated portions of the internet so that the discussions can be more widely accessible and easier to find in the future.

For the current "Meeting of the Myths" contest, we'd like to try something a little different. In addition to the many conversations we've seen on Facebook and Twitter about individual stories, we'd like to have a single conversation thread to discuss all the stories on this blog. That way, it will be easier to talk about how the stories speak to each other and what we get out of the contest as a whole in addition to discussing our reactions to pieces on their own.

The seven finalists are:

"Spring Hill" by Luisa Perkins
"A Voice Not Crying in the Wilderness" by Jonathon Penny
"The Trail" by Stephen Carter
"Where Nothing Lives But Crosses" by Lee Allred
"Harmony's Victory" by Hillary Stirling
"Eyelight" by Mark Penny
"Daughter of a Boto" by Katherine Cowley (coming Sunday)

Feel free to comment on any aspect of a story, on the relationship between stories, on how the contest fits into larger conversations about Mormon Lit, on what they can teach us as Mormon writers, or whatever else you'd like to talk about.

Possible discussion question include:
What did that story mean? What are the implications?
Which story do you find most interesting/puzzling/troubling/engaging/timely/timeless/shareable/etc and why?
Do you see any sets of stories that come from the same aesthetic or social impulses? Do you see any pair or set of stories that provide us with a useful contrast in approaches?
What do you see in the contest that you weren't expecting?
What haven't you seen in the contest that you wish you had seen?
How are you going to decide which three pieces to vote for?
If you could share one story with the youth in your ward, which one would you pick?
Why are you spending your precious internet time on this contest instead of on, saying, teaching yourself another language or watching cute cat videos?
What stuff you're encountered elsewhere on the internet relates to stuff you've read or that the stories have made you think about?

And...go.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

In Which A Ten-Year-Old's Views on Eden Blow My Mind

Kira asked me to tuck her in last night--as the parent of choice on nights when her room is a mess, I get to do that a lot--and we got talking. Somehow dinosaurs came up, and I pointed out there was more time between when the Stegosaurus and the Tyrannosaurus Rex (about 90 million years) than there was between the Tyrannosaurus and us (about 70 million years).

"I thought all the dinosaurs lived at the same time," Kira said.

"That's the way we usually think about it," I said, "but there were actually different dinosaurs who lived at different times. Some died out a long time before the last dinosaurs became extinct."

I watched her face light up with discovery. "Oh, right. Because all the stegosauruses got eaten," she said.

"Maybe," I said. "Or their environment changed. Or there were new diseases. Or something. And then a long long long time later, Tyrannosaurs evolved."

"Wait," said Kira, and I could see she was thinking hard about something. "If dinosaurs were dying for millions of years before humans, what about Adam and Eve? How does that work?"

And I have to tell you, I was so excited to see her really discovering a question people have been playing with for the past century and a half: a question she's heard before, but never quite noticed like last night. These are the kind of moments the ritual of regular parent-child conversations earn in my view: by talking to her about all kind of things, I get the chance sometimes to see and be a part of how she shapes her view of reality.

"I don't know exactly how those two stories fit together," I said. "What do you think?"

Kira started off with something she'd almost certainly heard before. But it still seemed to carry a new weight of possibility with her. "A day of creation doesn't have to be just one day," she said. "Those 'days' might have lasted for millions of years."

"That's a good idea," I said. But I didn't want her to get the idea that one decent idea is where your searching should stop. "Or what about this: what if Eden was sort of like in a different dimension. And Adam and Eve left that version of reality and came into this one. Sort of like there are portals between realms in Once Upon a Time."

Kira got excited. "Or like in The Wizard of Oz. Or maybe Eden was just part of earth, but after they left, it got taken somewhere. Like maybe Heavenly Father took it up to heaven."

"Here's an idea," I said. "We think of things changing in the future. But what if for Heavenly Father, they can also change in the past? Maybe when Adam and Eve left Eden, it didn't only change the way the world would look later, it also changed the way the world looked before."

"Or what if," said Kira, looking out into the air, almost like she could make herself see it, "What if Eden was before the rest of the world, and when Adam and Eve walked out of the garden--what seemed like a few seconds to them was millions of years for the world all around them. And it evolved in the time between when they left there and when they got here."

And I felt like I could almost see it, too. A sudden rush of the world unfolding itself, eons of violent creation released as the dam on time and death is broken. With each footstep, the landscape is changed. Whole species of flora and fauna appear and vanish in each blink of the eye while somewhere beyond continents groan and shift.

A child showed me this. My daughter: whose years sometimes seem to pass as if in moments before my own eyes.

I realize, of course, that numerous authorities in religion and science alike would not find my daughter's versions of Eden and Earth terribly compelling. Some rationalists would be bemused by my desire to keep alive a story which they no longer view as useful as an explanatory model for anything. Some religious figures would be disappointed by my disinterest in offering my daughter a single fixed point of doctrinal truth on a contentious theological question.

But those people don't get to tuck her in at night. And so I'm going to stick them on a shelf in the back of my brain and take time to savor some mysteries with a girl who has a bit of God in her.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Discussion of Jonathon Penny's Prologue to the Temple Poem

We discuss the final finalist in this year's Mormon Lit Blitz. Join the discussion, catch up on any of the twelve you may have missed, and go back to the Mormon Artist blog on Monday to vote for this year's Grand Prize Winner


When I was growing up, there were certain stories my father would tell us only in the winter. In the summer or fall we could beg and beg, but he would always tell us we had to wait for the first snow to fall on the ground. 

I loved those stories. And I learned to love my father, in part, by waiting for them and then by trying to guard his voice and the images it evoked in my mind for the rest of the year. 

In a number of different religions, there are stories and poems and names that are only spoken in certain times or places. Words you wait for, long for, guard in your heart and your mind through all the other seasons of your life. 

In our faith, we build temples around those words. And we love those temples with an almost passionate intensity. 

At the same time, though, we live in a culture where most people believe in discussing everything openly. When you can turn on the TV in the middle of the night and hear two people talking at once while written words scroll endlessly under their faces. So it's hard for many people to understand why we don't talk directly about the things we love, why we approach our temples only carefully, sideways, allusively. 

Jonathon takes careful, sideways, allusive words and builds a poem around the temple with them. 

And I feel like Jacob at Beth-el when I enter them. 

I don't know what to ask you about this poem. 

What lines stand out to you, perhaps? 

What does it mean to be a poet in a religious world where some words and ideas carry so much weight? 

What might a Mormon poet contribute to the range of human expression in the internet age? 

Friday, June 27, 2014

"Living Scriptures" Discussion

The Mormon Lit Blitz reaches its penultimate peril...

Today's Piece: "Living Scriptures" by Scott Hales

The Three Nephites don't get a whole lot of attention in scripture. Just a handful of verses, really, in two different places. And yet they've made their way into Mormon memory and folklore in a different way than any other story. The Three Nephites keep us wondering what sort of world we really live in, what presences might be hidden just beyond our reach.

We had three or four submissions for this year's Lit Blitz alone involving the Three Nephites. And somehow, this story moved us most of all.

What is it about the Three Nephites that keeps us coming back to them?

What works about the way this story uses the genre?

Are you concerned about the violence on television today?

Thursday, June 26, 2014

"Sugar Free" Discussion

The Lit blitzes on...

Today's Piece: "Sugar Free" by Emily Debenham

One thing I've loved about the Mormon Lit Blitz is the way it's built relationships between Mormon writers. I've enjoyed the insights many of these people share outside their formal creative work.

A recent thought that struck me came from Sarah Dunster, winner of the 2013 Whitney Award for General Fiction. She said she's appreciated information she's learned through the popular genre of "10 things you should never say to [person in x situation]" posts, but wishes there were more posts that started with "10 things you SHOULD say" instead. As we learn about others' diverse burdens, after all, there's always a risk that we'll be too worried about the chance of helping wrong to help at all.

"Sugar Free" seems to do exactly the kind of positive modelling Sarah has asked for. But can reading a story like this really change behavior in the real world?

Have you ever used an insight gleaned from fiction to understand someone's needs in real life?

What should you never say to Hunter? What should you say to him?

What did you think of this story in general?





LinkWithin

Related Posts with Thumbnails