Wednesday, December 3, 2008

It's the message, stupid.

Too many LDS think they cannot or should not read novels outside of the approved LDS book club list. I was one of them. Though I'd written since the age of six, I stopped soon after joining the church, well aware of the stories I used to write and convinced they weren't worthy now that I belonged to the True Church.

I also stopped reading. I thought and felt that if I was to read anything, it should be strictly church related - either the Scriptures, Church authorized material, or even things like "The Work and the Glory" (snore!)

Then came the day six years ago this May when I suffered a miscarriage. As I've only miscarried once, I don't know if the physical toll I took is common or not (I was only 6 weeks along), but it was significant. Bed rest. I was bored to death.

Wanting to help, Eric suggested I watch Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone since I was so hell bent on not reading the books. I'd rejected them as too trendy in high school and had little interest in them as I lay on the couch then. Being Eric, he eventually talked me into watching the movie - and right after I started reading again.

But I still didn't write. Why? I was scared to death it would change me, that I couldn't write anything worthy of the faith because if you want to write well you have to get in the minds of your characters. Realistic characters will not resemble The Cleaver's or the Brady Bunch, and I'm not a fantasy writer. I thought I'd have to stick to the clean cut stuff, and since I knew I couldn't, not without serious sacrifice to the integrity of the story, I didn't even try.

Then a year and a half ago the final Harry Potter book came out. A friend of mine and I were chatting in the hallway at church, giddy over the release when a member of our ward happened by and stopped to join our chat. He quickly made it quite clear he hated the Harry Potter series.

"If people would read the scriptures like they read Harry Potter, the world would be a much better place."

Oh how I wish I had Eric's wit. When I related that gem to him, he said "Well, if they would write the scriptures like they wrote Harry Potter, then maybe people would read them more!"


But I digress. Besides pissed off, the conversation left me feeling condescended to, guilty, and stupid. I went home in a huff. I was tired of having so much to say and denying myself the catharsis of writing it down. I wrote my very first "article" (op-ed?) on the Harry Potter series entitled In Defense of Harry Potter that night.

At this point, though, I didn't think I'd ever write fiction again. I still didn't trust myself, didn't think I could do it.

Then I discovered Stephenie Meyer and her Twilight series. I don't want to get too much into this, but the book and the story and author behind it inspired me. Though I could critique the writing technically, the fact that I read that first book, 500 some odd pages, in under two days speaks volumes.

I started writing. While I love my children and Eric, I finally found my love for writing again. The prospect gave me extra umph in the morning. It was spectacular and freeing - I was a person with actual, real interests. Revelation!

I started reading more books. I gave Wuthering Heights another chance since I was neck deep in high school senioritis the last I'd read it. Heights is now easily my favorite book.

I reread the likes of Dickens, Hemingway, Fitzgerald. I was even a good Mormon girl and read Jane Austen. I read Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson (every young girl and boy should read this book. So powerful) and A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray among a few others. I read books that disappointed and others that inspired. Some did both. It was wonderful to read again.

Then a friend of mine, a non-member friend, suggested I read The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger. This friend of mine has never steered me wrong, so I read.

And ohmygosh what a fabulous book. Seriously, it's right there with Wuthering Heights.

But if it were a movie, it would be rated R. The f-bomb is dropped repeatedly and there is one sex scene in particular that is, I'll concede, perhaps too graphic. But it didn't bother me. It might bother others though. Another entry.

The f-bomb though. We wince, we say it's offensive. It's not the prettiest word in the world, no, but when writing stories we need to stay true to the character. That may sound like a cop-out, but if you'd step outside the door you'll find many people drop it often, especially if they're like the characters in this novel. Good books are much like real people and real life, and believe it or not, real life outside the church isn't always clean and pretty.

And really, it's a lesson we could all stand to learn: It's the message, stupid. It's the person.

Yes, there are probably a few things you could do without, but you learn to love those characters despite their "awful" flaws - and shouldn't we when it comes to real life characters? Shouldn't we realize that people are more than their language and their actions? That they're human beings (well, 99.99% of them at least)?

While The Time Traveler's Wife may not have some huge life altering message for some, it causes you to think, to cry, to relate and love people despite their unattractive traits - isn't that worth something?

Isn't it?

We talk an awful lot about being missionaries to others, about loving everyone, but how many of us have non-member friends? I'll tell you I don't have many, but I have non-member family. I've learned something from watching many of my LDS friends. Some insist those who aren't members have no morals (seriously). I can't imagine these people truly befriending others. We talk about loving the sinner and hating the sin, but I don't think we accomplish this. We often cannot make the distinction. We're afraid to emphatize or "tolerate" for fear of condoning, but guess what?

You cannot "help" those you do not understand, empathize with, or care to even get to really know.

So read a book John Bytheway didn't author. Get past the offense and get to know the people. Get past the offense and hear the larger message. Getting past the offense may be uncomfortable and really difficult, but it's important. You have to, have to get over yourself. There are amazing people out there who don't hold to the same value system you do, but that doesn't make them any less. Beware lest you start to believe you're better.

You cannot befriend anyone with whose flaws you cannot get past. Guess what, you have them too. We're a very weird, stifled bunch to the outside world. You want to be understood and accepted? You must accept and love people as they are.

Even the "wicked" (sarcasm alert) have lessons to teach us. I know we like to think we're the most righteous, but we're not so righteous that we have nothing to learn from our fellow man.

Don't be out to change people. Be out to love them and befriend them.

You'll love what'll happen when and if you do.


Anonymous said...

I'm so glad you are once again writing and reading!

While I had many "Amen" moments reading your post, I'm just going to say that this is one of the reasons I won't join an LDS book club ever again. I felt so completely stifled meeting with a group of girls that limited their reading to sooooo little.

Lula O said...

LDS book clubs?? Sorry, but ick. My life is churchy enough. I don't have to read about it too. Good grief.
Wuthering Heights. By far my most favorite book ever. Has been for decades. Alot of people just don't get it. People call it depressing. I've never thought so. In fact, I thought she ended it happily. Full circle, complete. Everyone payed the price for their sins (by ultimately dying), even Catherine's and Healthcliff's spouses, the Linton's - let's face it, they knew what they were getting into yet chose to marry each of them anyway. The Earnshaw estate returns to its rightful owners who were now happily together. Good stuff. What's so depressing about that??

I write as well. Definitely a happy release. Something that's only mine.
Really that's all a woman needs to get through the day...

illogically logical said...

Lisa, I'm new to having my own blog, but have read your blog a few times. I hope nothing that I say comes out contentious, because that is totally not my intention. I just wanted to say that in a lot of your postings you talk about the most extreme mormons who are a little bit crazy. It starts to seem like you see all mormons as being that way. I've been a member my whole life and yes, I've met many of those "all or nothing, no gray area, crazies" but most of the people I come across are just normal people doing the best they can.

You can find people that go to the extremes of their beliefs in every religion or walk of life, not just mormons. You just have to learn to shake those people off and realize that just because they are that way, doesn't mean that you are wrong for being who you are (and they aren't wrong either).

I do think it's good that you've found an outlet that you needed. I was pondering one of your other posts, or maybe it was a comment that was made after one of your posts. Anyway, you mentioned that you felt weird questioning things. You have to question things in order to truly gain a testimony of something. When you question the truthfulness of something, usually you do research to find out more. After you learn as much as you can, you pray about it. If none of us asked questions then none of us would ever really have testimonies. I think it's an important part of our spiritual progression.

I rather enjoy having friends from both sides of the spectrum. I have family members who aren't LDS anymore, friends who are as goody goody as possible, and friends everywhere in between. I prefer it that way. That is how I learn all kinds of things.

Not one of us is exactly like another. The Lord knows that. I really don't think that God will judge me the same way that he judges you because he knows that you and I (or anyone else) have different strengths, weekness, and desires. Some people have to be extreme because of those differences. That guy who made the comment about Harry Potter is extreme (I love Harry Potter, I've read the books over and over and we have the movies), but if that's what makes him happy then there's nothing you can do about it. He probably doesn't have many friends because of his inability to have a conversation without being rude. Just be who you are and be proud of it. You know that you're doing the best you can, and that is all that matters.

Amanda said...

I think the good thing about joining the Mormon church in my little area of WI that barely sustained a branch is that no one felt the need to pressure me to be anyone other than who I was. No one would ever have thought to encourage me to give up writing - the encouraged me to keep writing! Writing is one thing I could never, ever give up, no matter what. I've gone through periods when I couldn't write for 18 months because of pregnancy/infant-caring/etc, but I always come back. And, I write what's in my heart, not according to any audience. That's important to me. Heck, right now, I'm writing an LDS novel even though I don't even like the LDS church! That's simply what this story is, and simply who these characters are. The place where you are in life doesn't limit you in fiction, thank goodness.

Thankfully also, no one ever encouraged me to stop reading classics. I didn't even know such a thing as LDS fiction was out there until two years ago when a friend of mine got her first novel published. I've got to admit - I'm not a big fan of Wuthering Heights. I thought it was poorly written. I'm a technical writer. I can't help but notice these things and it takes a lot of good storytelling for me to overcome it (Harry Potter? Excellent books. Not so great writing. I love them!). I like the other two Bronte sisters far better than Emily.

Lisa said...

Illogical: Welcome, first of all :)

Secondly, I'm well aware there are non-extremist LDS out there. I just have yet to meet them, haha. No, seriously though. I understand I live in a rather...strict stake. My exposure to other LDS has been somewhat limited, but I have met others online. Unfortunately, most have been rather strict.

There are many.

That said, I've met others who are more laid back. Too many I've met online or have missed the opportunity of getting to know them better because I was too strict and didn't want to associate with "such people."


And the guy I spoke of...he's a good man, well-liked. Just a little extreme - he reads other books, but they must be worth his time. His self-righteousness pissed me off, and I'm grateful for it. It drove me to my keyboard!

But yes, it is important to befriend all people. That's my point. I'm mostly speaking to and about myself and those who drive me absolutely insane - like my description says: otherwise smart people who allow themselves to believe in stupid things. Purely my opinion, of course.

I hope nothing I've just said came out contentious. Yours absolutely did not. :) Thank you for taking the time to comment. Welcome, and please feel free to do so again.

Amanda: Ah, nobody ever discouraged me from writing or reading. That was me. I wanted to be as good as possible. It also didn't help that I had no support - nobody understood writing. My stuff wasn't very "worthy" I thought, so I gave it up. It took me eight years to get over myself :)

I'd love to read something you've written if you ever need an extra pair of eyes.

Chris and Annalee Waddell said...

I followed a link to your blog, fun read (though I think your views on Mormons are ironically narrow). "Real life" is an interesting term to use in the context of art/literature. Most people over six know that life is full of disappointment, heartache, etc. Focusing on happiness, goodness, and things of the like in art/literature may be boring (to some) but are no less "real" than works with the opposite perspective. I appreciate the diversity of optimism, pessimism, or a combination of both b/c each relates to something "real."

Grégoire said...

I thought twilight was a very fun read, but at the same time I found it incredibly disturbing. It was a Mormon book, and I knew the author was a Mormon when I reached page 20.

What does it mean when a society begins equating teenage sexual experimentation with a horrendous, life-negating, vampiric assault? Why would we teach our children that sexuality is death oriented? That's what I was taught, as a boy in St. George, Utah (I'm the same age as the author, so I'm sure she was taught this too.)

My favorite twentieth century thinker would probably have summed up twilight this way:

In contrast to the images of the Promethean culture heroes, those of the Orphic and Narcissistic world are essentially unreal and unrealistic. They designate an impossible attitude and existence. The deeds of the culture heroes also are impossible, in that they are miraculous, incredible, superhuman. However, their objective and their meaning are not alien to the reality; on the contrary, they are useful. They promote and strengthen the reality; they do not explode it. But the Orphic-Narcissistic images do explode it; they do not convey a mode of living; they are committed to the underworld and to death. At best, they are poetic, something for the soul and heart. But they do not teach any message, except perhaps the negative one that one cannot defeat death or forget, and reject the call of life in the admiration of beauty. (Marcuse, Eros & Civilization, p 165)

Anyway, it's interesting to compare our reactions to the book. Thanks for a(nother) well written and thoughtful article. Even when I disagree with you, which is often, I enjoy your thoughts.

The Faithful Dissident said...

I LOVE Harry Potter and I'm not ashamed to admit that I have a crush on Severus Snape. Yes, I know it's weird, but there are actually over 700 other weirdos like me on Facebook. :)

Funny, HP is also what got me back into reading. Although I always loved a good book, I took a long hiatus from reading after finishing school. All the crappy books we had to read turned me off to reading, unfortunately. It was the same with writing. I hate writing essays and yet I pretty much write them all the time on my blog now because it's interesting stuff.

Although my parents are more liberal than a lot of Mormons, things were pretty strict in our house when it came to movies and books with profanity. They've loosened up a bit now that we've gotten older, but it's taken me years to be able to appreciate a good book or a movie that may have some profanity -- and like you said, we all cringe at it and I certainly wish it wasn't there -- but I've seen some films and read some books that I'm soooo glad that I didn't dismiss because of a few bad words. If it's mindless entertainment peppered with sex and profanity, then I still avoid it. But there are some gems out there that have a few flaws.

I never watched soap operas until I moved to Norway and before we got satellite TV, the only show on TV that was remotely entertaining was "The Bold and the Beautiful." So I started watching it and learned Norwegian by reading the subtitles. Honestly, if someone asks me how I learned Norwegian so fast, I have to credit B&B. :) Now I'm totally hooked, but anyone who thinks that soaps encourage people to be promiscuous needs to watch soaps to see how they actually show us how idiotic immorality is, IMO. Sort of like saying that watching COPS encourages people to commit crime. :)

On the subject of good books, have you read "A Thousand Splendid Suns?" That one blew me away totally.

Lisa said...

Chris/Annalee: Eh, you can consider it ironically narrow. It's based on my own personal experiences over the last decade - both derived from my own attitudes over the years and that of others I've come to know. Like I've mentioned before, I live in a rather strict stake and have come across some annoyingly strict members. Too many.

And yes, we all know life sucks sometimes. My point is that sometimes the best lessons are learned from the worst of things, and that in real life we shouldn't avoid people who do "bad" things - and we do. We want to avoid the appearance of evil, but at what cost to us and them?

Glad you found it fun though.

Gregoire: "I thought twilight was a very fun read, but at the same time I found it incredibly disturbing. It was a Mormon book, and I knew the author was a Mormon when I reached page 20. "

Oh seriously, I know. I had hoped that perhaps the themes found within Twilight were relegated only TO Twilight, but alas, they're not. Read The Host? Decent book, same themes. It's totally roll-of-the-eyes worthy.

I do think that perhaps some people read too much into Twilight. Maybe I'll save that for a different time, though. I tend to believe some authors aren't nearly as philosophical as we want them to be, and while I know Meyer had her messages to get across, I don't think she was diving quite as deep as some want to think.

Twilight was a fun read, kinda like junk food. I love it, I did learn something from it, and I'll probably read it again. She has talent. It made me think a little, but mostly it made me want to write again, and for that I'll always be grateful.

Glad to have you. Hope you comment more often :)

Lisa said...

FD: No, but it is absolutely on my list. I wasn't sure I wanted to read it. I knew from the summaries that it is a total tear-jerker (and sometimes I can't handle really emotional stories), but I've decided it's on my "to read" list. Right now I'm trying to get through "Atonement" by Ian McEwan - I just haven't been in a reading mood lately. I need to get out of that.

And I agree, if it's just sex and profanity for the sake of sex and profanity, there's no reason for it and I'll avoid it. But to avoid things just because there's a few words in it when there's something so much bigger to be learned? Naw.

Amanda said...

"And I agree, if it's just sex and profanity for the sake of sex and profanity, there's no reason for it and I'll avoid it."

Hey, I have no religious affiliations and I still feel this same way. I don't like shock value for the sake of shock value. I generally read literature, not plain fiction, and I get really irritated with the modernist version of literature. There HAS to be graphic sex in it, but it HAS to be the most mundane sex possible. Like the author has to portray sex with boredom, like (s)he has to say sex is dull, idiotic, and religated to lesser mortals. It's so stupid. That's a big reason why I avoid modern lit. But I'll get off my soapbox.

btw, if you want, I can email you a copy of my novel. I'm really looking for any way I can improve it before it goes out into the world...

Faithful Dissedent: I'm in love with Severus Snape, too. I knew exactly what his secrets were way before book 7 came out. :)

Alesia said...

I don't agree with Gregoire in his assertion that Twilight is all related to adolescent sex from an LDS perspective. Admittedly, I haven't read the 4th one yet, so perhaps my opinion is premature, but as a lover of all things vampire related, I have to say that Twilight isn't that deep. The themes of sex being related to drinking blood etc. have been wound into most vampire stories for centuries. The themes of abstinence and a vampire 'protecting' his love's innocence is not new, or original. In my opinion, the idea that the author tried to make all these parallels is mostly wishful thinking. People want to make that connection either so they can find some deeper meaning in the book or so they can disregard the author, simply for being Mormon. I think that's what Gregoire is doing. No offense, Gregoire.

Steve M. said...

Great post. It sounds like your taste in literature is very similar to my wife's (although she has not read Harry Potter). I can relate to a lot of what you have written.

In my later adolescent years, I developed a real love for literature and writing. I had been accepted to a fairly liberal university California and planned to study English or American literature.

Then I went through my "TBM" phase. My 19th birthday was on the horizon, so I decided I should take church a little more seriously. Church began to consume my life, and I stopped reading anything unrelated to the Church. I also decided not to go to that crazy liberal school and went straight on a mission.

On my mission, I applied (and was accepted) to BYU with the plan that I would study business. That's what good Mormon kids do, right? I couldn't believe that I had even considered being an academic. So I went to BYU.

Then I realized that my business classes were pretty boring. And I noticed that I really liked my classes on Chinese literature and film (I had served a Chinese-speaking mission, so I took Chinese classes at BYU--like I said, I was a good Mormon kid).

I have decided that academia probably isn't for me, but at least I've rediscovered my love of literature (and now, film as well). I regret neglecting it for so long.

Laura said...

"I do think that perhaps some people read too much into Twilight. Maybe I'll save that for a different time, though."

Agreed. I didn't feel as if she was sending any subliminal LDS messages my way - and I certainly didn't look for them just because she's a member.

I mean the sexual tension - well I'll be honest - it was the main reason I kept reading. Reminds me of my dating years when things were so much... steamier. Also reminds of a previous post of yours where you talked about boundaries making the action seem that much more appealing. So true.

Sex doesn't always sell. Sometimes it is the absence of sex, the anticipation of it that makes it more interesting.

Good luck in your writing endeavors. If your books is half as interesting as your posts, I'm sure you'll do well for yourself!

Katie said...

I'm insanely picky when it comes to what I read. Insanely, crazy picky. Books fall into 3 categories for me:

1. I read it, enjoy it, and finish the book/series

2. I read it and have to make myself finish it, but probably don't read any sequels

3. I start it, and can't finish it for whatever reason (offensive, boring, don't like the author's writing style, whatever)

I would say 65% of the books I have read fall into category 2, 20% into category 3, and 15% into category 1. I only get 15% into category 1 because once I find an author I like, I read literally everything by them.

My reasons for putting a book down are varied as the sands on the shore, but most often it is because they are either "not worthy and of good report" (i.e., make me feel squeamish or icky inside), or are just plain boring. No, I don't read all Mormon books - Harry Potter is a category 1 and the Work and the Glory books a category 3. That said, I have a pretty low tolerance for reading/watching sex or the F-word. Just my own sensitivities.

The Twilight series was a category 2 for me, would have been a category 3 except all my Mormon friends were reading them and I wanted to know what all the hullaballoo was about. I didn't like the first 3 because I thought they were BORING (I have read such better romances in Jane Austen's books), and the 4th was way too over the top for me.

Sometimes I think I am going apostate for not liking Twilight... we actually had a girl talk about the series in her church talk last Sunday. From the pulpit. No lie.

Lisa said...

Katie: Didn't you catch President Monson's talk this past October? "The Twilight Within Us"? Repent, sister, for thou art on thy way toward apostasy! haha

Laura: Oh it kills. Some of these girls lol. One read it with her husband, and at one point he said "Stop, I'm done."


"You're breathing heavy."


I've heard of...oh man. I should just do an entry on it *mental note*

Steve: I hear you on the regret. I not only stopped, though, I threw *everything* I'd ever written away up until I was 18 years old. It hurts on a physical level, though I'm certain most of it sucks with a capital S.

And yeah, the business thing. What's up with that? I think it's partly a "Good Republican Mormon" thing to get into business. Money, money, money. :P

Noe said...

I feel so loved.

Am I the only non-LDS who read this? I wonder... lol Anyone of Christian faith-regardless of denomination, could benefit from the things you put forth in this blog. The righteousness that is evident by those who believe is universal, and to those of us who don't believe it's stifling, hypocritical and saddening. If more believers were open-minded and accepting more people would convert... The hypocrisy and close-minded attitude is what pushed me away-and many others that I know and love.

Jessica said...

noe, i am non-lds and read lisa's blog.

lisa, i left a super long comment here yesterday and JUST NOW realized that i hit preview but not submit. i said kind of what noe said. ugh, i'm so irritated. it took 20 minutes to write.

Lisa said...

I wondered if you came back often or not, Jess. Yay!

I know there are a few non-LDS who read this blog, but I'm under the impression that all but you two are ex-members?

Either way, so glad for your perspectives as well. Seriously. They're rather important with posts such as this one where I'm especially interested in your thoughts.

I'm afraid I'm just as disappointed your comment didn't get through as well, Jess :( Stupid "preview" button. I keep losing blog entries and whathaveyou - they need to have some sort of undo option. I dunno.