I bought a meditation cushion last year. I laugh, a bit embarrassed, when I tell people. It's mostly orange (for courage) and has an Anasazi pattern on the seat. It's filled with hemp seeds and was sold to me by a guy who was wearing a tunic, greeted me with a namaste bow, and either has had work done or had the glow of someone who doesn't eat meat, sugar, or anything processed.
I got the cushion as a way of committing myself to a better meditation practice. I had visions of making a meditation corner, complete with vision board, my cushion, maybe some candles and diffused essential oils. I haven't made my corner yet, but my cushion is pulled out a lot, and not just as a stage for my son. Since my monkey brain still gets distracted if I sit in silence, I downloaded an app with a bunch of guided meditations (called Meditation Studio, if you're interested). Some help you calm for sleep, connect you with you senses, alleviate pain or stress. I listened to one today that was a pep talk. Among other things, the voice told me how awesome I am and how important it is to acknowledge the things we are proud of.
Three things I'm proud of, today:
1. I finished my book
2. I thought of writing it
3. I'm ready to publish it
In the book Playing Big, business coach Tara Mohr refers often to fear. Early on in her book, she recounts a lesson by Rabbi Alan Lew, who taught that the Bible uses two different words for fear. The first, pachad is 'the fear of the phantom, the fear whose object is imagined.' These are the what-if fears, worst case scenario types of things. Fear of pain, embarrassment, or shame, everyone has felt it at some point. This is a type of fear I'd like to blog about at some point (and maybe talk to a therapist about), but not today.
Today I've been thinking about the second type of fear, yirah, which has three different meanings:
HOW BEAUTIFUL IS THAT.
I have felt that feeling and never had a word for it.
My first real grown-up job, doing major fundraising for Habitat for Humanity, I felt it a lot. There was fear of failure, sure, but it was more this kind of terrifying wonder at the opportunity, the immense desire to fill the space in all the ways I felt were possible. In a recent episode of my podcast with my brother Brian, we were talking about that jolt of panic when inspiration strikes and you want desperately to be able to keep up with it, due it justice. His idea for a Christmas Carol musical came in the middle of the night, as so often is the case. I maybe also have felt this when I am unexpectedly well-slept or over-caffeinated, but it's hard to know if it's really the same thing.
And that last one, fear in the presence of the divine. English doesn't do it justice. When the scriptures say we will look to God with fear and trembling, I've never felt that. To me, connecting with the diving isn't scary. But it's not always just comfort or solace or support. There's this, I don't know, grandeur of it. There's something yirah-y about the vastness of space and omnipotence of God. Moreover, that we, little collections of cells and DNA are important in all that vastness and omnipotence. It feels BIG. Energetic, you might even say, to connect with that divine.
In writing this book, I have felt yirah in all three ways. I have felt energized and inspired. I have felt unsure of being equal to the vision. I have felt intense connection with God in a way that feels new.
Now, to deal with that other pesky pachad.
In our Young Women's class today, the teacher showed the girls the Church videos for their Christmas season focus #lighttheworld. I generally have a pretty bad attitude about inspirational videos in general- cause videos, cute animal videos, spiritual videos, whatever. I have a hard time not picturing the 'emotional journey' maps we would make back in my fundraising days and imagining marketing departments and filmographers mapping music and scenes accordingly. Feel inspired? Bah Humbug.
THERE ARE EXCEPTIONS. The theme this year is 'Give as He Gave' and I will admit they moved me. Besides the fact that Church has clearly upped their diversity represesntation game (most clips don't look like they were filmed in Utah by white Utahns), what struck me is that lighting the world is a principle of action. Too often, we talk about charity and Christlike behavior as one of simply being kind. Smiling at people, sitting by them, being generally positive. All good things, no doubt about it. But we get lulled into passive goodness. What I see in these videos is action: giving, shoveling, break-dancing for the elderly. A young boy makes a makeshift Christmas tree for his family, musicians play music on a street corner, donated goods are collected, sorted, and handed over.
Giving as Christ gave can be an attitude of kindness, but at it's core, it must take action.
Perhaps the most frustrating part of writing, for me, is the stop and go nature of it.
Inspiration comes and goes. I have had lightening bolts of clarity about a story, character, or message while showering, sleeping, grocery shopping. Often while I'm immersed in other stories (reading, movies, even social media). I've tried to get better at capturing inspiration. Google Keep on my phone. A waterproof notepad in my shower. 60 open tabs in my browser (insert shame faced emoji :/). But I know I often lose it. Conjuring inspiration is more difficult. I've been trying to have the discipline to put myself in inspirational places until words or ideas come. I'm not great at it.
More challenging than inspiration though, is time. It's the eternal complaint of anyone with a clock stuck to their body, whether on their wrist or on the phone in their pocket. When I first stopped working, I was amazed at the abundance of time I suddenly had. I had a toddling baby, who climbed all over me, sure, but I had this story in my mind and I wrote all the time while he was napping or otherwise taken care of. Editing is more challenging. Larger chunks of scheduled time are more useful to me now, so I have enough mental space for my brain to unwind, gear up, and get productive.
Now that I'm preparing publishing, I'm having to navigate time allotment all over again. I'm querying as I can, which requires research of agents and publishing houses to find the right fit as well as the writing and refining of queries, proposals, synopses, etc. I'm also moving forward as if I will independently publish, which looks something like messy exercise in self-branding on top of all the worst stages of the learning curve for things like formatting, ads, and design. It's a challenge to be decisive on things like what the book cover should look like and should there be a forward, preface, or author's note? (probably, but what should it say?). The amorphous work of 'building a platform' and making connections with 'influencers' is easier to execute in passing available moments but more difficult to evaluate return on investment (twitter has me perpetually perplexed).
All of this sounds a lot like complaint (and maybe feels cathartic to complain about). I am writing about it, though, to give myself permission to take my time. I figured out how to fit writing into my life enough to complete a book. I'm better than I was at working on editing so the book I wrote is actually quite good. And I'll figure out all this other stuff- the putting myself out there part and finding champions and readers and *surely* people who are as moved by reading the book as I was writing, editing, and producing it.
Today I watched General Conference and was particularly moved by the talk given by Bonnie Cordon. She recounts the scripture from Matthew 25:34-39:
"Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in: Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me.
Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink? When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee? Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee?:"
She stops before reading the familiar "ye have done it unto me" verse and says:
"Brothers and sisters, the key word is SAW. The righteous saw those in need because they were WATCHING and NOTICING we too can be a watchful eye to aid and comfort, to celebrate and even dream."
She then talked about how someone who she knew reached out to the husband of a woman who attempted suicide. He had an awkward conversation with a man in a difficult emotional situation and instead of bringing brownies, he recommended we "walk into the moment with honesty and love."
I was immediately struck by the words SEE, WATCH, and NOTICE. How often do we watch, and really see how people are in need? Honestly, it's hard to. HELPING PEOPLE IS AWKWARD. Well, if you guess needs right it's not awkward, but we're so often guessing. We live in a society that glorifies independence. Showing vulnerability is hardly common, and when it is shown, it's not usually accompanied by an ask for help. It is hard to notice when people are struggling and it's hard to walk into a situation we may think we're noticing with honesty, love, and anything but awkwardness.
I recently joined twitter. It's awful. I barely get it. I feel like I'm a new kid in a very enormous, pithy, often hostile junior high school. But I wrote this book that feels important and all the experts say to figure out twitter. SO I spent a good chunk of conference in my sweats watching the people live tweeting conference and the hours after watching people's reactions.
I'll tell you what I notice:
-We love to be critical (sometimes for good [i.e. seriously WHERE ARE ALL THE WOMEN SPEAKERS], sometimes because it's fun to complain)
-We love to be critical of people who are critical (seriously, hey POT, meet KETTLE. Being critical of people trying to make the Church better is not the same as defending the Church)
-Twitter is a great place to catch the best quotes, sometimes already with inspiring nature backdrops.
AND, most devastating:
-OUR GAY, LESBIAN, BI, TRANS AND QUEER COMMUNITY IS IN PAIN
It feels insane that some of the most prominent leaders of the Church can't see that yet another talk that feels heavy-handed and full of exclusionary language is a huge part of what causes pain. And don't give me any of the 'Jesus threw out money-changers in temple so throwing down is totally acceptable and awesome' rhetoric. Elder Oaks' talk was 90% inspiring and awesome. It is a great reminder to me of the power of simply stating truth. But, as I would expect a man as educated and eloquent as Elder Oaks would know, statements on gender, sexuality, and family are going to provoke, not just the wrath of anti-Mormons (which I'd expect him not to care about), and the self-loathing of church members who identify as a different gender, are attracted to their own sex, and who can't have children.
I will admit that to me, a straight woman with kids, the talk didn't make me want to kill myself. I cringed a bit, sure, but I've been dealt the easy hand in this regard. But this does not matter. What matters is that I've started watching the reaction in the communities of people I'm just getting to know, and what I see is that the gender/sexuality throw-down makes people hate themselves. Makes people want to kill themselves. (PLEASE DON'T!!) And there aren't enough brownies in the world I could bring to the people who want and need comfort and who, because of the tone of the speaker, were less likely to hear and be comforted by the promise also given in the talk, that God "HAS PROVIDED A DESTINY OF GLORY FOR ALL HIS CHILDREN"
Elder Oaks asks us to question the motivation of people who talk about truth and knowledge. Here's my motivation: I see that LGBT individuals in the Church community are trying SO SO hard to participate. SO many have had spiritual confirmation that God created them, as His beloved spirit children, with the gender and attraction that the Church has asked them not to acknowledge. I don't have answers to their questions of how to be included or how to reconcile it all. But I hope they know that I see them.
In the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, we take the first Sunday of every month as a sort of open-mic for what we call bearing testimonies. Basically, you say what you feel, maybe an experience you've had that has increased or challenged your faith. It can be a bit random and long-winded at times, but on the whole, it's one of my favorite parts of our service. People speaking from the heart about wanting to be better and how they are connecting with God and the divine.
In publishing Romy & Julia, feel like I need to make sure to make clear what I believe. The book calls into question some of the flaws the Church and its membership. And, as a Church and membership, we have a bit of a persecution complex. Some of it's deserved (extermination order and all that), but I think a lot of times we get our bristles up at any and every criticism without thinking through it first. It's important to me to get through those bristles, so let me make it clear:
I have a testimony of God, the Eternal Father and in His Son, Jesus Christ, and in the Holy Ghost.
I have a firm conviction in the restoration of the Gospel of Jesus Christ through Joseph Smith. I believe that a hundred and fifty years ago, Joseph Smith sought truth and found it.
I believe past and present leaders of the Restored Gospel of Jesus Christ, known by most as the LDS Church, have tried with all the best intentions to align the Church with the will of God.
I have room in my faith and understanding of the eternal nature of the world and fallibility of mankind for imperfection and outright mistakes. I have hope for improvement acknowledgment of mistakes. I pray for patience.
I know that I was inspired by God to write this book.
A disclaimer, in short: I'm trying my best, apologies where I falter.
In more words:
People will tell you, write what you know. Well, I don't know what it's like to be gay, to be gay and Mormon, to have a child who is either. I don't know all the latest, most preferred, PC, descriptive terminology. I don't presume to cover the entirety of the human experience.
But I'm doing my best. I've tried to create a story of a group of people experiencing a life situation. I spent a good chunk of time not feeling very credible. Not being gay, in Utah, a previously published author with a million dollar book deal, you name it. But when you boil it down, all stories are exercises in imagination. You imagine, attempt as best as possible to get it right, ask trusted friends and strangers to check you and make sure you're not far - or worse, destructive. I've done all these things and feel confident now that the story I have is not mine, but it's real. True in the sense that it is authentic and believable.
But sorry, still, for where I falter.
Shortly after asking my parents to read the book, they were on speakerphone together with me (as they do). My dad was joking/not-joking about being uncomfortable reading about lesbians and my mom asked "Why did you write this book?" Not in mean, discouraging way, but a bit baffled why a young lesbian identity and faith crisis was a topic that I cared enough about to spend a good chunk of my spare time writing. My answer, in short:
I read this report a few years ago about the number of teen suicides in Utah pretty much directly linked to them being gay and LDS. I'd heard plenty of criticism of the Church about homosexuality with Prop 8 and the fight for marriage equality across the country, but it had never occurred to me how the experience of gay Mormons is so so so challenging. I felt devastated at the report and couldn't stop thinking about it. What if I were gay? What if I had to figure out how I could know the Church was true but the Church was telling me something fundamental about me was off? Not just off, bad. There's a story there, about the people who face this challenge and I felt prompted to tell it.
Here's the report analysis, it's got all sorts of graphs and charts and statistical analyses.
ReligionNews did a digestible breakdown (one of several that came out about this time). Here are several key points:
I'll just repeat and bold that last part:
"...the research “is not intended to condemn. Rather, it is presented to contribute to the conversation on this important topic that literally has life-and-death implications."
This is why.
I've read a lot in the last few years about people coming out of the closet. Usually these people were gay and most of the time the experience of coming out is one of two big emotions: total fear and exquisite freedom. It's scary to come out of the closet, for understandable reasons: People are mean and judgmental, and often they just don't get it. Sometimes I think being misunderstood feels worse than being judged. But being seen for you are and knowing that what you are presenting to the world is not skewed or blurred or contorted at all from the real you brings freedom.
The other message I've heard over and over is that the misery of being misunderstood and judged and all sorts of other bad things that can come with coming out of the closet is better, barring physical and psycological violence, than the misery of being locked in. Of feeling unsure of what people's reactions will be and terrified that they might find you out.
I care a lot more about the experience of people in the closet and out than I ever thought I would. I'm not gay, lesbian, bi, transgender, queer, or + (that's short-hand for all the other gender and sexuality experiences I honestly don't know much about). I do know a lot of people who are, though, and for reasons I can't quite articulate, I feel drawn in my heart to their experience.
I've been a closet writer. In NO WAY am I comparing the challenges of being a closet writer to hiding one's sexuality, BUT I do feel like I need to come out. I love to write. I love words and stories and I love putting them together in my head and on paper (of both the physical and digital varieties). Over the last few years, as stay-at-home motherhood has cleared away professional distractions and thrown sideways both my heartstrings and my schedule in new ways, I've written more. Specifically, I wrote a book!
I didn't intend to at first. At first it was a story that occupied my mind as I transitioned from a fast-paced office job to a topsy-turvy life at home with kids. Late at night I typed way on my smartphone as my first baby nursed. I edited as he slept. Pregnant with my second, I finished my draft and now, as both whirlwind around me, I am working on bringing that book into the world.
I knew I would write a book one day (well, hoped, in a bucket-list sort of way), it's not the story I thought would take hold first. It's not my story, but it's one that, however fictional I wrote it, is real and experienced by SO MANY PEOPLE I can't not care about it as if it was my story.
I felt compelled- prompted- to write Romy and Julia. It's the story of two young women who were in the closet and when they met each other, they had to come out.
So now, I'm out as a writer. And I am excited, in a nervous, timid kind of way, to bring out my book.