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

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Ex-Mormon Metallica


          I first heard Metallica back in the days when I was trying my hardest to be a good little Mormon girl. The music sounded illicit, almost forbidden, especially in an environment where all the leaders seemed pre-occupied by how sinful and worldly everything was. But still – I couldn’t quite shake off the few songs I did hear. The music was addictive and in a way that somehow felt right. 
          And then I left Mormonism and during my freshman year of college, one of my dorm-mates gave me a copy of Metallica’s S&M performance*. I was hooked. I listened to that recording on repeat. I still have that album, along with many other recordings. Over the years, I find myself returning to these albums again and again. 
      Part of me wonders why I like Metallica so much. And the closest answer I can give is this: this is a band that doesn’t give a fuck. This is a band that writes songs like “God That Failed” and “Seek and Destroy”, a band that wore the nickname Alcoholica with pride, and a band that sued their own fans, shutting down Napster in the process.  

        For a girl who grew up in an environment where I was expected to care about everything – and learned to internalize the blame – sometimes I wish that I didn’t give a fuck either. But I do – sometimes too much – and so for that, there is always Metallica.

*It's ironic that my first Metallica recording was a burned copy.  But I did end up buying a legitimate copy later.  

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Book Review: The Universe Within

          In his book "Your Inner Fish", paleontologist and evolutionary biologist Neil Shubin probed some of the deep connections between our bodies and the bodies of distant creatures. As one of the paleontologists that discovered the Tiktaalik, a fishlike creature that lived 375 million years ago and is considered to be at the brink of the transition from the sea to land, Shubin is in a position to offer unique insights about the shared connections found in different species.
          In his book The Universe Within: Discovering the Common History of Rocks, Planets, and People, Shubin goes one step further; he examines the world around us and asks how the events of the universe impacted the formation of our own bodies. Humans were not created in a vacuum – there were millions of different factors that lead to our existence. There was a big bang that lead to the formation of different elements that lead to the formation of different galaxies that lead to the formation of different planets that lead to formation of our own planet, which possessed the unique combination of factors able to sustain life. In this book, Shubin traces the timeline of the universe, attempting to show the common history of the events of the universe and human beings.  
          This book was, to be blunt, an ambitious under-taking. I enjoyed “Your Inner Fish” for Shubin’s ability to explain concepts in an engaging manner while also providing a glimpse into the life of a working scientist. These same strengths are also found in “The Universe Within”. However, this was a far-reaching book. I ended up reading it over a course of several weeks, individual chapter by individual chapter. I enjoyed reading the individual chapters – there was a wealth of interesting information, which Shubin explains well – but as an entire book, I felt like the scope of this book was just a little too big and the concepts just a little too distant. 

For more information about this book in the author's own words, I would recommend watching his interview on the Colbert Report

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Mormon Chastity Lessons: Elizabeth Smart

          As a teenager, I attended a self-defense class. Our group was made up of Mormon girls between the ages of 12 and 18. The instructor, also a Mormon, chose to end the presentation by telling us “The greater the number of earrings in your ear, the more revealing your clothing, the more you expose yourself to the possibility of sexual assault.” I nodded along with his words; I grew up believing that a woman must dress modestly at all times. I attended a number of lessons in my youth during which the boys – my peers – pointed to the immodest dress of women as a trigger for impure thoughts.
          A couple days ago Elizabeth Smart gave an interview during which she pointed to chastity lessons as contributing to her captivity. Smart, who was held captive for eight months by a self-proclaimed prophet, talked about a lesson she had as a teenager in which her virginity was compared to a piece of gum. In Smart’s words

“I remember in school one time I had a teacher who was talking about abstinence, and she said, imagine, you’re a stick of gum and when you engage in sex, that’s like getting chewed, and if you do that lots of times, you’re going to become an old piece of gum, and who’s going to want you after that? Well that’s terrible, nobody should ever say that, but for me, I thought, I’m that chewed up piece of gum. Nobody rechews a piece of gum, you throw it away. That’s how easily it is to feel that you no longer have worth, you no longer have value. Why would it even be worth screaming out?”

          Chastity object lessons are very common in within the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, more commonly referred to as the Mormon Church. Sometimes it is the piece of gum, which, once chewed, nobody else wants to chew. Other times it is the cupcake, which, once licked, is once disgusting to anyone else. Other times it is the rose, which, once passed around and handled by multiple people, turns brown and wilted. There is no un-chewing of the gum, no un-licking of the cupcake, no un-wilting of the rose.
          In the book “The Miracle of Forgiveness” the previous Mormon leader, Spencer W Kimball, wrote

“It is better to die in defending one’s virtue than to live having lost it without a struggle.”

          Earlier this year, Elaine Dalton, the leader of the Young Women’s program and one of the few females in a visible position of leadership within the Mormon Church, said in a world-wide broadcast to young Mormon girls everywhere

“Cherish virtue. Your personal purity is one of your greatest sources of power.”

          This is what chastity is within Mormonism; something that, once it is gone, can never be regained and the loss of which forever diminishes a person’s worth.
          In the light of these teachings, I suppose that if I had been assaulted while wearing a tank top or extra earrings, I would have blamed myself for the attack. I would have blamed myself for my tight clothing or my two earrings or for not fighting enough or for not being faithful enough. And so I am grateful to Elizabeth Smart for having the courage to speak out against these harmful lessons. 

Monday, May 6, 2013

Ex-Mormon, Post-Mormon, and Letting Go Of Anger

“I imagine that one of the reasons people cling to their hates so stubbornly is because they sense, once hate is gone, that they will be forced to deal with pain. “

                James Baldwin, Notes of A Native Son

         I alternate between using the terms ex-Mormon and post-Mormon. My use of these two terms is deliberate; I consider ex-Mormon to be an active recovery stage and post-Mormon as an indicator of a past history. Personally I alternate between being an ex-Mormon and a post-Mormon. Most of the time I am at peace with my Mormon past: in other words, I call myself a post-Mormon. Other times my Mormon past is a source of pain and anger: that’s when I call myself an ex-Mormon.
         These past few weeks I have been firmly in the ex-Mormon camp. I don’t want to go into details, other than to say that I grew up in a pretty toxic family environment. Some of my family dysfunction I see echoed on a larger scale within Mormon culture. Other aspects I suspect are simply my own family’s dysfunction. Either way, the legacy into which I was born is not always an easy burden to bear. To be frank, sometimes it is a huge source of pain.
          When I am struggling, my first emotional response is usually anger. Hanging on to anger is easier than dealing with the pain that comes after letting go of anger. On an intellectual level, I know I need to find a way to move past this recent flare-up of anger. Emotionally I don’t when or how that will happen. I suppose the path to recovery is different for everyone; I am still charting my own way.
          One day this will pass. Even now, I recognize this fact. I am not my family. I am not a Mormon. I am not doomed to repeat the past. My path in life is my own to create.
          I am still searching for resolution. One day I hope to find it. Until then, I suppose the most I can do is to try and get past this. And really, as ex-Mormons, that’s all we can do – search for resolution and in the meantime, live the best life we can.