Monday, August 30, 2010

The Bibliophile's Lament

I'm a reader -- always have been, always will. At age three, I brought a Reader's Digest to my mom, and read a random page aloud to her. Correctly. She was only slightly surprised, because I was the kid who, when asked to choose a story at bedtime, would stack up a pile of books as tall as the rocking chair. And expect the chosen adult to get through every last book before finally tucking my sleepy body into the big bed in the little sloped-ceiling room at the top of the stairs in my grandmother's house.

I consumed Nancy Drew books by the dozen, finished all the Bobsey twins books before my 8th birthday, and grew tired of Babysitter's Club before I really aged out of them. I dug through boxes in my grandmother's garage and found her old Marjorie Dean books. (I should have kept those -- they're probably worth something now -- published in the 1920s, pretty good condition. Maybe there in my mom's basement?)

Then I found Anne Shirley, and totally had a crush on Gilbert Blythe. Rebecca was a revelation to me, and Jane Eyre rocked my twelve-year-old world. But so did The Hobbit and the whole Terry Brooks Shannara series. James Michener's Hawaii expanded my 14-year-old worldview and fueled my drive to explore the planet. My reading appetite was voracious, and I read everything my wise and wonderful mother threw in my path.

The trend has continued. Even now, with my extremely busy, harried, crazy life, I find a way to read a couple of books a week. My tastes run the gamut: literary fiction, mystery, fantasy, sci-fi, memoir, biography, creative non-fiction, cookbooks, poetry, scientific treatises, history, philosophy, and political theory. But lately I have found myself dissatisfied with what's left. I've begun to think I've already read all the good ones.

Once, at the library, I decided to just start with "A". I selected 10 or so books from the first shelf of fiction and took them home, excited to discover some new authors and broaden my literary horizons. The experiment failed, because of those 10 books, 9 of them were absolute drivel. I have found myself, more and more, skipping to the back to find out how the plot resolves, and tossing the book aside because I have better things to do with my time. I am more and more critical of the things I'm reading -- and I don't just mean about plot, although there are some published works out there with some serious plot problems. I'm talking about style, word choice, flow -- and I find myself saying things like, "I could do better."

Wait! Did I just type that?!? Is this what it has come down to? Could I do better? Well, I'm not sure, but the time has come for me to try. I have an idea, and I have a plan, and in the meantime, blog land will continue to be my place to try out ideas, fiddle with my own style and syntax, and scratch the publishing itch while I'm working on something Real.

I'll always be reading, though. Provided I can find something worthwhile to endow with my time. Any suggestions? Go ahead. Hit me with your best shot! I will warn you: I am extremely well-read. It may be a challenge for you to come up with something I haven't already seen. I am also extremely hard to please. So don't be offended if I totally shoot down your Most Favorite Book Ever In The Entire Universe. (Cough, cough. Goose Girl. Cough, cough.)

How about it, readers? Are you up to the double challenge of finding something that not only have I not read, but that I will enjoy? It's tough, I know. But please. My brain thanks you in advance. (And while we're at it, can you throw in some recommendations for children's books, too? I am so tired of preschool morality tales! What happened to a rip-roaring good story? Please leave the moralizing to real-life applications!)

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Friday, August 20, 2010

Identity Crisis

Yes, mine.

Don't freak out. I'll be back. I'm just trying to define what I'm doing here, in a place that doesn't really exist, and what direction I want to go with my writing.

Please bear with me and be patient!

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Tuesday, August 3, 2010

The Conditional Commandment

Disclaimer: I welcome comments on this post. However, I reserve the right to delete any and all comments that I deem to be inappropriate in nature. This is not a topic I broach lightly, but I firmly believe it can be discussed sensitively, without specific references to anatomy or anything else Google-able. Please remember that my children are frequently featured on this blog and do your best to protect them from creepy searches. And don't test me. I will delete your comment, with neither guilt nor compunction.

Also -- I have no credentials here. This post reflects nothing more than my own personal opinions.

A few years ago I read an article about finding your personal ministry. At the time, I had just finished serving as Young Womens president, and in my new calling in the stake Relief Society, I was in the midst of presenting the standards outlined in "For the Strength of Youth" to the combined adult groups of every unit in our stake. I joked that, especially in light of the Relief Society lessons I'd been assigned to teach lately, it seemed that maybe my personal ministry was to talk about sex to as many different groups of people as possible. For a while there, just about every Sunday I covered that most delicate of topics -- for youth, for Relief Society, for everyone.

I met a wonderful woman a few months ago named Natasha Helfer Parker. She is a therapist, and a Mormon. She has a blog, appropriately named The Mormon Therapist, wherein she answers questions submitted anonymously by people who would like to have advice in the context of the LDS faith. She provides a valuable service, and has proven to be an excellent resource on topics ranging from parenting to family relationships, and, yes, to marital intimacy.

Lately, Natasha has been fielding a lot of questions -- specific questions -- about intimacy, about what is or isn't appropriate in the marriage bed, about the church's stance or lack thereof on specific behaviors. While Natasha's answers are thoughtful and her research is impeccable, I have found myself thinking about the genesis for these queries in the first place.

Why are so many people asking for an explicit guideline regarding intimate, personal  behavior?  Why do people feel the need to get permission before engaging in certain acts of sexual expression?

The commandment we have regarding intimacy, that is, to not engage in sexual activity outside the bonds of marriage, is the only one we have that is conditional. It is the only "do not" we have that is followed by an "unless". It's not "thou shalt not kill, unless . . ." or "thou shalt have no other gods before me, unless . . ." or "thou shalt not bear false witness, unless . . ." Even the Word of Wisdom gives us a pretty specific list of substances that are or aren't okay for us to consume. But sex? Sex is conditional, circumstantial, situational. And once those conditions have been met, it's still pretty complicated. Or is it?

I have noticed a recent trend in General Conference talks: there seems to be a greater emphasis lately on development of personal spirituality. We are counseled to learn the doctrines of the church, and then apply them to our lives. It's that simple. We are counseled, in leadership training, to learn the programs of the church and then apply them to the special needs of local units. We are to learn the Gospel, developing a personal relationship with our Savior and an affinity for the Holy Spirit so that when we are prompted to do or to not do, we are prepared to hear  -- and then to follow.

I don't know why people have a hard time applying that counsel to marital intimacy. If we are ever entitled to personal revelation, isn't it there? Sanctioned exercise of procreative powers (and I do mean using them even when there is no chance of actual procreation) has the potential to both strengthen a marriage and bring a couple closer to their Creator. That union of man and wife is by its very nature sacred and holy, and the Holy Ghost need not leave your bedroom when the act is initiated -- should not, in fact. You can rely on his confirmation that your physical expressions of love for your spouse, and vice versa, are sanctioned by the Holy Spirit.

Every party who enters a relationship does so with baggage. Of course, some baggage is more difficult to deal with than others. It is this variation in experience that makes the constructs of sexual behavior so difficult to define. What may cross a line for one couple may be the pinnacle of union and a holy experience for another. But if you are maintaining your spiritual self, you can -- should -- expect guidance in every aspect of your life, including sexual activities. This requires a great deal of communication between husband and wife, and that kind of communication, when entered into in the spirit of love, exploration and compromise, can only strengthen a relationship and make it easier to apply the same principles of communication to other aspects of a marriage.

Why are we asking these questions? Why do we need specifics? I'm still not sure there's a clear answer. Maybe we like a laundry list of dos and don'ts. But that's a bit pharisaical, isn't it? That makes it easy to ignore spiritual promptings. We must trust in our own preparation to receive personal revelation in this most personal of realms. As I said before, if we can expect personal revelation about anything, isn't it intimacy?

This barely scratches the surface -- there are so many more ways to frame this topic. What say you?

PostScript: After writing this post, I found another excellent reference. I urge you all to go read  this BYU devotional given by Jeffrey R. Holland during his tenure as university president.

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