Monday, July 15, 2013

Blessed Language

“We’ve been pretty blessed.”
         On the way home from a writer’s workshop in New York, the first leg of my trip found me sitting next to a couple with a small baby.  I started talking to them, mostly because I figured that when the baby started crying (which they almost always do on plane flights), having a face and a story to the crying would help alleviate my impatience.  So I struck up a conversation with the couple, who looked to be in their mid to late twenties and had the exhausted yet happy look of new parents.  I asked if their daughter was sleeping through the night yet. 
The wife’s reply was “We’ve been pretty blessed – she’s been sleeping well from the first month.”
        The use of the word “blessed” stuck in my mind.  It’s not a word I use much anymore, although at one time it was.  Time was when I would talk about being “blessed”, as though whatever happened in my life was a gift from someone.  Nowadays, my word choice includes terms like “fortunate” and “lucky.”  A small change – and not a very noticeable one – but still a change.  As my life has slanted towards secularism, I find myself using fewer and fewer of the terms associated with religious belief.  Perhaps this change in vocabulary reflects a change in thinking or perhaps it just reflects the fact that I don’t spend much time in church anymore. 
However, all of this got me thinking about some of the smaller marks that we carry with us.  In this case, the mark of language: the words that we use every day that often give indicators as to who we are and what we do.  For example – I have a background in developmental biology.  As a result, many of my word choices are a reflection of this training.  When I talk about terms like fate, lineage, and specification, I am thinking of some very specific processes that happen during the development of an organism, rather than some of the broader definitions used by society at large. 

Has anyone else noticed a shift in language as your life – and environment – has changed?

Sunday, July 7, 2013

The Economics of Ex-Mormons Speaking Out

Blogger has an analytics section that tracks how people find this particular blog.  As a numbers/factoid geek, I like to keep an eye on these statistics.  Most of what I see is not surprising – most of the hits from this website are coming from ex-Mormon community forums. 
Other people find this blog through web-engine search queries.  The top search term that brings people to this blog is the search phrase “ex Mormons speak out”, followed by “feminist Mormon housewives”, and, more recently, the search term “ex Mormon blogs”. 
        A couple months ago, I noticed that I was getting a lot of hits from a particular website called  As far as I can tell, this is a site that runs analytics on websites, positioning themselves as a way to keep track of the competition.  If you type in the address of a specific blog/website, you can access data on the search engine queries that bring in traffic. 
Being the inquisitive person that I am, I typed in my domain –  The results were both a surprise and not a surprise.  The top search queries that bring people to my blog are terms like “ex Mormon blogs”, “ex Mormons speak out”, “feminist Mormon housewives”, and “post Mormon”.  No surprise there.  According to this website, last month there were 206 entry points into this blog from search engine queries alone. 
But the surprising – and perhaps not so surprising – result was the amount of money spent on advertising for these search queries.  Every time you type a search query into Google, at the very top of the page is a yellow box with links inside.  These are the paid advertisements.  Depending on the specific search term, companies can either pay a little or a lot of money to have their links appear in that little yellow box. 

If I were to pay advertising fees in order to get those 206 entry points from search engine queries, the price-tag for that was quoted as $658.  That is a lot of money.  

At first, that number shocked me.  Then I thought about it and I realized that the top search queries that bring people to this blog are search terms like “ex Mormons speak out” and “ex Mormon blogs”.  Those are pretty loaded search queries.  There is also a very well-financed organization that really doesn’t want people thinking along those lines and is willing to pay a lot of money in order to put up competing links. 
What is the specific price of these advertisements?  The price for advertising on google through the search query “feminist Mormon housewives” is actually pretty low – only $0.10 per click.  On the other hand, the price-per-click for “ex Mormons speak out” – which is the number one search query that brings people to this blog – is quoted as $9.39.  The advertising rate for “ex Mormon blogs” is a staggering $11.44 per click, while “post Mormon” is a more modest $8.56 per click. 
I guess I was both surprised and not surprised by these results.  On some level, I knew that advertising, especially advertising for ex-Mormon related search queries, was probably coming at a stiff price.  I just never realized how stiff of a price it is. 
Looking at these results – at the sheer amount of money that is spent on pulling people away from my blog – I can’t help but think about the strange symbiosis that is going on here.  Friends and family members that I grew up with are paying tithing money into a system that is then turning around and running a heavily-financed advertising campaign that is, in part, paying a lot of money in order to cover up the results of search queries such as “ex Mormons speak out”, “post Mormon”, and “ex Mormon blogs”.  It's enough to make my head explode.  

Are my stories really that worrisome?  

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

The Master's Call

       I am not a fan of religious music.  Neither am I a fan of country music.  I attribute this distaste to the bland insipid quality of Mormon hymns and the tendency of modern country music to sound whiny and nasal.  I want my music to challenge me, to force me to accept some truth about myself.  
One glaring exception to my aversion to country/religious music is my fondness Don Edwards, who is an old troubadour-style musician who sings about the lives of cowboys.  One of his most famous songs – and one that I listen to quite regularly – is called “The Masters Call” and is a narrative about a religious conversion.  “The Master’s Call” is an ballad-style song about a teenager who runs away from home and gets caught up in a cattle-rustling band.  Then, one night, a thunder-storm comes up and a cattle stampede starts.  The crux of the song is about the narrator’s near-death experience, which causes a religious conversion.  
I don’t listen to this kind of music very often and yet I can’t seem to stop listening.  I am not sure why I like this song so much.  I suppose part of it is simply that Don Edwards is a consummate musician.  His music is a blend of story-telling and instrumentals; his music is an understated exercise in showing rather than telling.  Listen to his music enough and you will understand that as a musician, he is willing to confront the parts about us that most people don't want to think about.  
I don't understand the lives of cowboys - but I do understand the deeper troubles that we all face and that Don Edwards confronts in his music.  And for that reason, I have a huge love for the stories that Don Edwards has to tell.

Check Don Edwards out.  You’ll be happy you did.  J