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?

Responses to Recent Events

On the AML blog yesterday, Theric Jepson asks if we "have art that responds to Recent Events." He is, not, I suspect, talking about the unfortunate elimination of Ecuador from the world cup--devastating though that may be to many. He is talking instead about the recent excommunication of Kate Kelly and the extended discussion swirling around it.

For many, the moment is uncomfortable, uncertain, and painful. As Eric Samuelsen and others have pointed out, that's true whether you were most uncomfortable with Kelly's rhetorical strategies or with the actions taken in response. This is the sort of discussion in which virtually all participants have been put on the defensive by someone. And unfortunately, the things most of us say while feeling defensive work to make someone else somewhere feel threatened as well.

Theric sees direct, emotional online discussion as a normal response to shared discomfort and pain, but also as sort of a psychic rut. He doesn't want people to just forget what they're feeling or walk away from problems, but he does hope we can rise above the cycle of mutual venting/defending/offending to engage the underlying questions about why it's so hard to be a human living among other humans.

And Theric thinks literature could be a part of that. Literature, which is almost never just about what it claims to be about, might help us escape our own defensiveness. It might give us a bridge from a moment's pain to a broader insight.

And maybe that's a pipe dream. Maybe it's just what Theric and I, as writers, get paid to say.

Or maybe literature really can get us thinking in broader ways. Maybe good works of Mormon Literature, selected more or less at random, can speak in some sideways and rut-evading way to the tensions many people are feeling right now.

In that spirit, I've made a list the Mormon Lit Blitz finalists published so far, indexed by sentiments I've seen people express. See which quote you identify with, and--in the spirit of experiment--see if the corresponding piece speaks to that feeling somehow.*

"I feel rejected and hurt."

"It shouldn't be this hard to go to Church."

"We make a serious mistake when we think of service and power in the same terms."

"Don't try to explain to me yet how this all makes sense if you look at the big picture. Right now I just need a safe place to cry."

"I can't put my finger on it, but I feel like something important is slipping away."

"I see my faith and community in a different way now than I once did."

"I don't know who to talk to about what I'm feeling. I don't expect everyone to understand, but it would be nice to find someone who can get where I am and who I can trust enough to get fresh perspective from."

"I can't afford for the feeling of sisterhood to fall victim to political differences."

"These kind of debates make me feel like a tiny little person being crushed between big forces I can't control. I want to get back to the basics."

"I don't have strong feelings about this issue, but all the bad feelings around it bother me. I wish I could just hop on a curelom and get away from it all."

*Disclaimers: No refunds of time or mental energy will be given to those who don't appreciate the story they choose. The index quotes have been generated without consultation with the authors and may not represent their personal reactions to said events in any way. Some stories may related to the index quotes in perverse or tongue-in-cheek ways. No animals were harmed in the writing of this post, but evidence suggests that animals may be harmed by excessive levels of online reading. Media outlets should not that these publications do not represent the Mormon Church, which doesn't like being called the Mormon Church, in any official capacity. Some stories contain violence, may remind the reader of specific swear words (though without actually saying them), and can involve immodestly dressed characters if the reader happens to use his/her imagination to mentally create them dressed immodestly. Some of these stories may take readers down the proverbial rabbit hole, and management is not responsible for any proverbial rabbit droppings reading may encounter along their way. 

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

"Platinum Tears" Discussion

Closing out the 2014 Mormon Lit Blitz's third quarter....

Today's Piece: "Platinum Tears" by Marianne Hales Harding

This poetic essay, or essayistic poem, jumps right in to a major recurring dilemma in Mormonism.

On the one hand, we believe that meaning comes through commitment. On the other, we know that in this world, serious commitment can cause serious pain.

What do you do with that?

What is the role of grief in the healing process? What are its limits?

Is Walmart acting in some way as a sacred space here? What is it doing and how is it like or unlike other places?

"Thick and Thin" Discussion

The Mormon Lit Blitz Continues....

Today's Piece: "Thick and Thin" by Vilo Westwood

In an era when people are extremely mobile, often moving vast distances multiple times in the course of their lives, Mormon wards--especially in major educational and economic centers--face certain challenges and make certain contributions as communities where many members have little long-term tie to the area. This piece looks at the way one character and one ward are managing these challenges.

What do you think of the piece?

What have you seen wards do to help new members connect to the ward? To the area?

What else could wards reasonably do to strengthen a sense of community in an era of migration?

Monday, June 23, 2014

"And Through the Woods" Discussion

Starting off at a hard run in the second week of the 2014 Mormon Lit Blitz... 

I would ordinarily call a piece like this post-apocalyptic fiction, though in Mormon Lit we probably need another term for social crashes that don't involve the Second Coming. 

What do you think of the main character? 

What are your thoughts on the setting? 

What other stories do you know that involve a post-civilization-collapse attempt to build Zion? Which would you recommend to someone who liked this story? 

If civilization is we know it collapsed tomorrow, what would you do? 

What do you see as the most likely causes of the next collapse of civilization as we know it? How might Mormons respond? 


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