Saturday, November 22, 2014

"Meeting of the Myths" Contest Discussion

For our past literary contests, Nicole and I have tried different approaches to holding online discussions of the pieces. Sometimes we've gone on blog tours, holding discussions for different pieces in different places. Other times, we've had discussions posts for each piece here. Sometimes there's been more discussion on social media; other times we've actively encouraged people to take the extra steps you need to comment outside the gated portions of the internet so that the discussions can be more widely accessible and easier to find in the future.

For the current "Meeting of the Myths" contest, we'd like to try something a little different. In addition to the many conversations we've seen on Facebook and Twitter about individual stories, we'd like to have a single conversation thread to discuss all the stories on this blog. That way, it will be easier to talk about how the stories speak to each other and what we get out of the contest as a whole in addition to discussing our reactions to pieces on their own.

The seven finalists are:

"Spring Hill" by Luisa Perkins
"A Voice Not Crying in the Wilderness" by Jonathon Penny
"The Trail" by Stephen Carter
"Where Nothing Lives But Crosses" by Lee Allred
"Harmony's Victory" by Hillary Stirling
"Eyelight" by Mark Penny
"Daughter of a Boto" by Katherine Cowley (coming Sunday)

Feel free to comment on any aspect of a story, on the relationship between stories, on how the contest fits into larger conversations about Mormon Lit, on what they can teach us as Mormon writers, or whatever else you'd like to talk about.

Possible discussion question include:
What did that story mean? What are the implications?
Which story do you find most interesting/puzzling/troubling/engaging/timely/timeless/shareable/etc and why?
Do you see any sets of stories that come from the same aesthetic or social impulses? Do you see any pair or set of stories that provide us with a useful contrast in approaches?
What do you see in the contest that you weren't expecting?
What haven't you seen in the contest that you wish you had seen?
How are you going to decide which three pieces to vote for?
If you could share one story with the youth in your ward, which one would you pick?
Why are you spending your precious internet time on this contest instead of on, saying, teaching yourself another language or watching cute cat videos?
What stuff you're encountered elsewhere on the internet relates to stuff you've read or that the stories have made you think about?


Saturday, July 26, 2014

In Which A Ten-Year-Old's Views on Eden Blow My Mind

Kira asked me to tuck her in last night--as the parent of choice on nights when her room is a mess, I get to do that a lot--and we got talking. Somehow dinosaurs came up, and I pointed out there was more time between when the Stegosaurus and the Tyrannosaurus Rex (about 90 million years) than there was between the Tyrannosaurus and us (about 70 million years).

"I thought all the dinosaurs lived at the same time," Kira said.

"That's the way we usually think about it," I said, "but there were actually different dinosaurs who lived at different times. Some died out a long time before the last dinosaurs became extinct."

I watched her face light up with discovery. "Oh, right. Because all the stegosauruses got eaten," she said.

"Maybe," I said. "Or their environment changed. Or there were new diseases. Or something. And then a long long long time later, Tyrannosaurs evolved."

"Wait," said Kira, and I could see she was thinking hard about something. "If dinosaurs were dying for millions of years before humans, what about Adam and Eve? How does that work?"

And I have to tell you, I was so excited to see her really discovering a question people have been playing with for the past century and a half: a question she's heard before, but never quite noticed like last night. These are the kind of moments the ritual of regular parent-child conversations earn in my view: by talking to her about all kind of things, I get the chance sometimes to see and be a part of how she shapes her view of reality.

"I don't know exactly how those two stories fit together," I said. "What do you think?"

Kira started off with something she'd almost certainly heard before. But it still seemed to carry a new weight of possibility with her. "A day of creation doesn't have to be just one day," she said. "Those 'days' might have lasted for millions of years."

"That's a good idea," I said. But I didn't want her to get the idea that one decent idea is where your searching should stop. "Or what about this: what if Eden was sort of like in a different dimension. And Adam and Eve left that version of reality and came into this one. Sort of like there are portals between realms in Once Upon a Time."

Kira got excited. "Or like in The Wizard of Oz. Or maybe Eden was just part of earth, but after they left, it got taken somewhere. Like maybe Heavenly Father took it up to heaven."

"Here's an idea," I said. "We think of things changing in the future. But what if for Heavenly Father, they can also change in the past? Maybe when Adam and Eve left Eden, it didn't only change the way the world would look later, it also changed the way the world looked before."

"Or what if," said Kira, looking out into the air, almost like she could make herself see it, "What if Eden was before the rest of the world, and when Adam and Eve walked out of the garden--what seemed like a few seconds to them was millions of years for the world all around them. And it evolved in the time between when they left there and when they got here."

And I felt like I could almost see it, too. A sudden rush of the world unfolding itself, eons of violent creation released as the dam on time and death is broken. With each footstep, the landscape is changed. Whole species of flora and fauna appear and vanish in each blink of the eye while somewhere beyond continents groan and shift.

A child showed me this. My daughter: whose years sometimes seem to pass as if in moments before my own eyes.

I realize, of course, that numerous authorities in religion and science alike would not find my daughter's versions of Eden and Earth terribly compelling. Some rationalists would be bemused by my desire to keep alive a story which they no longer view as useful as an explanatory model for anything. Some religious figures would be disappointed by my disinterest in offering my daughter a single fixed point of doctrinal truth on a contentious theological question.

But those people don't get to tuck her in at night. And so I'm going to stick them on a shelf in the back of my brain and take time to savor some mysteries with a girl who has a bit of God in her.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Discussion of Jonathon Penny's Prologue to the Temple Poem

We discuss the final finalist in this year's Mormon Lit Blitz. Join the discussion, catch up on any of the twelve you may have missed, and go back to the Mormon Artist blog on Monday to vote for this year's Grand Prize Winner

When I was growing up, there were certain stories my father would tell us only in the winter. In the summer or fall we could beg and beg, but he would always tell us we had to wait for the first snow to fall on the ground. 

I loved those stories. And I learned to love my father, in part, by waiting for them and then by trying to guard his voice and the images it evoked in my mind for the rest of the year. 

In a number of different religions, there are stories and poems and names that are only spoken in certain times or places. Words you wait for, long for, guard in your heart and your mind through all the other seasons of your life. 

In our faith, we build temples around those words. And we love those temples with an almost passionate intensity. 

At the same time, though, we live in a culture where most people believe in discussing everything openly. When you can turn on the TV in the middle of the night and hear two people talking at once while written words scroll endlessly under their faces. So it's hard for many people to understand why we don't talk directly about the things we love, why we approach our temples only carefully, sideways, allusively. 

Jonathon takes careful, sideways, allusive words and builds a poem around the temple with them. 

And I feel like Jacob at Beth-el when I enter them. 

I don't know what to ask you about this poem. 

What lines stand out to you, perhaps? 

What does it mean to be a poet in a religious world where some words and ideas carry so much weight? 

What might a Mormon poet contribute to the range of human expression in the internet age? 

Friday, June 27, 2014

"Living Scriptures" Discussion

The Mormon Lit Blitz reaches its penultimate peril...

Today's Piece: "Living Scriptures" by Scott Hales

The Three Nephites don't get a whole lot of attention in scripture. Just a handful of verses, really, in two different places. And yet they've made their way into Mormon memory and folklore in a different way than any other story. The Three Nephites keep us wondering what sort of world we really live in, what presences might be hidden just beyond our reach.

We had three or four submissions for this year's Lit Blitz alone involving the Three Nephites. And somehow, this story moved us most of all.

What is it about the Three Nephites that keeps us coming back to them?

What works about the way this story uses the genre?

Are you concerned about the violence on television today?

Thursday, June 26, 2014

"Sugar Free" Discussion

The Lit blitzes on...

Today's Piece: "Sugar Free" by Emily Debenham

One thing I've loved about the Mormon Lit Blitz is the way it's built relationships between Mormon writers. I've enjoyed the insights many of these people share outside their formal creative work.

A recent thought that struck me came from Sarah Dunster, winner of the 2013 Whitney Award for General Fiction. She said she's appreciated information she's learned through the popular genre of "10 things you should never say to [person in x situation]" posts, but wishes there were more posts that started with "10 things you SHOULD say" instead. As we learn about others' diverse burdens, after all, there's always a risk that we'll be too worried about the chance of helping wrong to help at all.

"Sugar Free" seems to do exactly the kind of positive modelling Sarah has asked for. But can reading a story like this really change behavior in the real world?

Have you ever used an insight gleaned from fiction to understand someone's needs in real life?

What should you never say to Hunter? What should you say to him?

What did you think of this story in general?

Responses to Recent Events

On the AML blog yesterday, Theric Jepson asks if we "have art that responds to Recent Events." He is, not, I suspect, talking about the unfortunate elimination of Ecuador from the world cup--devastating though that may be to many. He is talking instead about the recent excommunication of Kate Kelly and the extended discussion swirling around it.

For many, the moment is uncomfortable, uncertain, and painful. As Eric Samuelsen and others have pointed out, that's true whether you were most uncomfortable with Kelly's rhetorical strategies or with the actions taken in response. This is the sort of discussion in which virtually all participants have been put on the defensive by someone. And unfortunately, the things most of us say while feeling defensive work to make someone else somewhere feel threatened as well.

Theric sees direct, emotional online discussion as a normal response to shared discomfort and pain, but also as sort of a psychic rut. He doesn't want people to just forget what they're feeling or walk away from problems, but he does hope we can rise above the cycle of mutual venting/defending/offending to engage the underlying questions about why it's so hard to be a human living among other humans.

And Theric thinks literature could be a part of that. Literature, which is almost never just about what it claims to be about, might help us escape our own defensiveness. It might give us a bridge from a moment's pain to a broader insight.

And maybe that's a pipe dream. Maybe it's just what Theric and I, as writers, get paid to say.

Or maybe literature really can get us thinking in broader ways. Maybe good works of Mormon Literature, selected more or less at random, can speak in some sideways and rut-evading way to the tensions many people are feeling right now.

In that spirit, I've made a list the Mormon Lit Blitz finalists published so far, indexed by sentiments I've seen people express. See which quote you identify with, and--in the spirit of experiment--see if the corresponding piece speaks to that feeling somehow.*

"I feel rejected and hurt."

"It shouldn't be this hard to go to Church."

"We make a serious mistake when we think of service and power in the same terms."

"Don't try to explain to me yet how this all makes sense if you look at the big picture. Right now I just need a safe place to cry."

"I can't put my finger on it, but I feel like something important is slipping away."

"I see my faith and community in a different way now than I once did."

"I don't know who to talk to about what I'm feeling. I don't expect everyone to understand, but it would be nice to find someone who can get where I am and who I can trust enough to get fresh perspective from."

"I can't afford for the feeling of sisterhood to fall victim to political differences."

"These kind of debates make me feel like a tiny little person being crushed between big forces I can't control. I want to get back to the basics."

"I don't have strong feelings about this issue, but all the bad feelings around it bother me. I wish I could just hop on a curelom and get away from it all."

*Disclaimers: No refunds of time or mental energy will be given to those who don't appreciate the story they choose. The index quotes have been generated without consultation with the authors and may not represent their personal reactions to said events in any way. Some stories may related to the index quotes in perverse or tongue-in-cheek ways. No animals were harmed in the writing of this post, but evidence suggests that animals may be harmed by excessive levels of online reading. Media outlets should not that these publications do not represent the Mormon Church, which doesn't like being called the Mormon Church, in any official capacity. Some stories contain violence, may remind the reader of specific swear words (though without actually saying them), and can involve immodestly dressed characters if the reader happens to use his/her imagination to mentally create them dressed immodestly. Some of these stories may take readers down the proverbial rabbit hole, and management is not responsible for any proverbial rabbit droppings reading may encounter along their way. 

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

"Platinum Tears" Discussion

Closing out the 2014 Mormon Lit Blitz's third quarter....

Today's Piece: "Platinum Tears" by Marianne Hales Harding

This poetic essay, or essayistic poem, jumps right in to a major recurring dilemma in Mormonism.

On the one hand, we believe that meaning comes through commitment. On the other, we know that in this world, serious commitment can cause serious pain.

What do you do with that?

What is the role of grief in the healing process? What are its limits?

Is Walmart acting in some way as a sacred space here? What is it doing and how is it like or unlike other places?


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