Wednesday, May 15, 2013

"Regimen" Discussion

It's fine to talk about what you think of the piece, but we'd like to focus on what the piece makes you think about. Some questions to start:  

What stories do we tell ourselves to stay true to our values? How do we react when those stories are challenged?

Not everyone has had fantasies involving laudanum and the civil war, but most of us have had fantasies of drama and nobility. Any gems you'd care to share?

What does Wyler want? What is he afraid of or uncomfortable with? 

17 comments:

  1. This immediately makes me think of my own son: tall, skinny, tender-hearted and shy with girls. Now I wonder what else might be going through his head! I think what Wyler wants is for his ideas of physical and spiritual beauty to match. But is he more afraid that his judgment of Tina was wrong, or that he might be wrong about everything else as well? I often wonder about my own ability to discern truth, especially right after a beloved fantasy gets smashed.

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  2. so well illustrated. Building up an idea of someone and falling in love with that idea. As we grow up & start to develop our own identity/need to adopt whichever of the values & beliefs we have been taught by parents or other leaders, that need to find some pure Ideal to look to, and learning the hard lesson about pedestals...such a “between adulthood and childhood“ thing. I have a hard time with his friend however, and am pretty sure she must like him & be jealously motivated. Made me doubt a bit the accuracy of her statements.

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  3. Very good! I have teen-aged boys and can totally relate to this. So fun.

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  4. Emily Harris AdamsMay 15, 2013 at 3:29 PM

    What I found most interesting is that instead of this being a story where a teenage boy deals with the sadness of disillusionment, it's a story about a teenage boy who runs from what might be disillusionment.

    In fact, as readers, we have no idea what Tina is really like. We never see her actually doing anything except sleep. Then we hear two accounts of her. One, from Wyler who is in love with her. Another from Laura who roomed with Tina at EFY and might just have a crush on Wyler. We never see if Tina really is the type of woman to help a man through trials, nor do we get to see if she's a brat.

    I'm wondering if this story is actually not just a cautionary tale about putting people up on pedestals, but also about the dangers of pushing them off.

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    1. I really like your summary here, Emily. This puts me in mind of some frustrations I had as a youth and college student and still see among that age group as an adult. In the LDS culture we tend to give honor ONLY to the most conservative, and all others with different opinions must be silent or endure shame.
      I heard a great talk on my mission which included the statement "We see new converts or investigators and we judge them. Why? 'Well, because they smell like smoke.' Brothers and sisters, if all of our sins smelled like smoke, this room would stink to high heaven." I would rather that my teenage son dated a new convert who smelled like smoke but knew how to pray and be humble, than a pioneer stock one-piecer who gossipped about everyone around her.
      I suppose naivete could be the excuse for the young man in this story not knowing what to do, but I think a person of character would look for more important things.

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    2. The question of judgment is a cool tension this story touches on a little, but that I love to see Mormon Lit get into more.

      On the one hand, we have a gospel obligation to be open and charitable and give everyone the benefit of the doubt.

      On the other hand, a Mormon kid like Wyler seems very aware he's part of a minority group as far as values. And because he feels so much tension with the dominant culture, he seems to really rely on members of his community to be "safe" and feel pretty insecure when they're not.

      So how does he balance his obligation to openness with his personal need for emotional security? Because it's tough to have both full openness and full safety all the time.

      Take Joseph Smith: I've heard him described as a poor judge of character, but I think it's more accurate to say he just plain didn't initially judge people's character at all. The man saw the best in everybody when he met them, extended trust where others had only suspicion. And as a result, he got burned a lot. He gave trust and responsibility to a lot of people who turned out to be unreliable or unsafe.

      Wyler here has a choice between holding onto a positive impression based on very limited information or turning toward a negative impression based on suspect information. The real-life answer seems clear: find out more about Tina.

      But what about situations where the stakes are higher? In a dating relationship, for example, how long should a person/character withhold judgment and when should certain provisional judgments be made? How do we negotiate the tension between openness and safety? How do we practice charitable thinking without ending up with disillusionment and bitterness when people's hidden internal virtue tends to be much more hidden or small than we'd hoped?

      Legitimate interests at odds with each other make good stories and the question of judgment is one where there are real competing interests under the layer of shallow mistakes. Eric Samuelsen's short story "Miracle" comes to mind as an excellent example of a work that deals with the deep tension between charity and security. I would highly recommend checking it out: http://www.dialoguejournal.com/wp-content/uploads/sbi/articles/Dialogue_V38N02_163.pdf

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  5. Nice work. Very now. And also very my eighties. And I loved the Civil War fantasy, too. And if you can convince a young John Cusack or Michael Cera to star, I'll buy a ticket to the short film.

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  6. I'll do it! I'll bare my soul! If you have a crush on me, you might want to beat it for the woods right now.

    When I was fourteen, I had a massive crush on a girl at church. She was cute and she came to church. That was about all I knew about her. One Sunday it was announced that her family was moving out of our branch and they needed the usual help. The Saturday of the move, I rose early from my bed and pedalled the half hour or so to their house in a neighbouring community. When I arrived, the house was quiet and still. I rode around the neighbourhood, passing the house every five minutes or so. On the sixth or seventh orbit, the girl emerged from the front door and came down to the curb to talk to me. I think it was our first conversation. I said hi and that I'd come to help with the move. She thanked me but said her boyfriend and his best buddy, two brawny sixteen-year-old bodybuilders from our branch, were coming and had it covered. I said Okay and pedalled home.

    In twelfth grade I had a massive crush on another girl. She also came to church. She lived down the road and attended the same algebra class. She had friends I would never hang out with, but I liked her anyway. When it was time to get a date for the grad party, I pedalled to her house. She was out, but her parents invited me in. Her dad really liked me. Once in testimony meeting he'd praised me for marching to my own drum. He was glad I was interested in his daughter, because her current friends were a bad influence. When the girl got home, her parents left us alone and the two of us had our first ever chat. We talked about her sketching. Then I told her I wanted to take her to the grad party. She said she was already committed to going with her friends, but she thought I had a lot of guts. I wound the conversation down and pedalled home. I went to grad with new friends from school, the first clique I'd ever belonged to, a bunch of oddballs whose religious commitment, introversion or geekiness kept them from clicking with cooler types. I had a great time. The former object of my affection was there, too, of course, with her friends and in a dress that was too lowcut for my taste. I was glad she'd turned me down.

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  7. I think there's a wonderful play here between appearance and reality that works both ways. We have Wyler's imagined version of Tina as well as his own perceived version of himself, both of which are likely to be inaccurate. In many ways, I think that sums up the teenage experience (and leaves me wincing at a few long-buried memories).

    He is a truly disciplined young man. He keeps his fantasies clean and values Tina as much for her (perceived) spirituality as for her physical appeal. He's intelligent and obviously uses it well if he's so well-versed in US history. He persists in physical training that is brutal by any standard (even if it's for a decidedly adolescent reason). Why on earth *wouldn't* he be a stripling warrior?

    As a culture we're increasingly aware of the pressures girls and women face to conform to an oft-impossible standard of beauty, but here is a great young man who can't see his own worth because he can't catch a football. Something tells me, however, that those young Ammonites shielded by their mothers' faith and marching to protect their fathers were not jocks. Yet he seems to think the measure of a man is the size of his biceps. Is that all masculinity is anymore? Intelligence, persistence, moral strength are all apparently meaningless in his mind if it's not coupled with sex appeal. On one hand, he's a teenager and teens are obsessed to varying degrees with appealing to the opposite sex, but is what we women value in a partner so shallow?

    Obviously, this is a story about adolescents, people who are by definition immature, and it would be unreasonable to expect them to see themselves with the same maturity as adults. At the same time, I have to wonder how many adults never make it beyond that stage. I'm married to a erstwhile "pencil-neck geek" who reminds me very much of Wyler, and I know some things from that stage of his life linger and still bother him. Other adults -- both male and female -- still only see the biceps or the bikini.

    I also have to say that I enjoyed the ward/stake dynamic in all this, too. The attainable girl in the ward, the "girl next door" is overlooked for much the same reason Wyler undervalues himself (she isn't as appealing, regardless of her other good qualities which apparently include blunt honesty). Meanwhile, the stake president's daughter, the "preacher's daughter," is appealing precisely because she's unattainable and/or exotic (kiwi instead of strawberry). I'm cynical enough to see social power associated with church hierarchy at play, too, simply because we reach for Zion while mired in Mammon. In these adolescents, we can more clearly see the blind spots we carried forward with us into our adult lives. And suddenly I'm reminded of the parable of the mote and the beam. :)

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  8. Re: girls in the ward, I offer you my "true tales of adolescence" contribution. (Thanks to Mark for starting the confessions.)

    When I moved to Ohio at age 12, I developed a huge crush on the first Mormon girl I met. She was pretty, she was funny, and she was nice. The funny was the most endearing. Later, I found out she was also a piano player, and became totally infatuated with her music. For a few months, I would wish at 11:11 each night that she would love me someday.

    I actually can't say that my basic image of her ever broke. She's still funny and pretty and nice and maybe still plays the piano. But my crush for her died off before too long because, well...she was in my ward. It didn't take terribly long for me to think of my ward as a sort of extended family, and extended family members are by definition not romantically interesting. Looking back, the original crush is sort of amusing.

    I had a few very brief crushes on girls I met at multi-stake activities, but mostly had crushes on non-members, with an additional recurring crush on a Mormon girl I'd see summers in California. I never had a crush on anyone in my ward again, even though my ward had very cool young women who I admired a lot.

    I also can't think of anyone who dated within the ward except a new girl and a semi-active guy, who had a whirlwind temple trip romance.

    Are teenage ward members widely seen as romantically off-limits, or was that just where I was?

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    1. Where I grew up, guys and gals couldn't afford that. The stake was geographically spread. If you wanted to see your heart's desire more than bimonthly, you had to risk spiritual incest.

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    2. Our stake was geographically spread out, too. So most of us just crushed on people outside the faith.

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  9. I am slightly ill thinking of dating the boys in my ward growing up... some of whom actually babysat me. So it holds true in my case.

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  10. Sarah had two turns, so I can, too.

    Looking back over the relationships I hoped would result in marriage, I see there was a lot of idealization that resulted in disappointment when the beloved didn't measure up. Being in a marriage, I see there is a lot of tolerance that results in a greater sense of love when the beloved doesn't measure up.

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  11. I like the depiction of Wyler's relationship with his body, especially from the perspective of gender, in that we seem to focus so much on the female body that we forget male body shame. ---Sarah Reed

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  12. Um in high school, I dated a boy in my ward. Didn't know it was "spiritual incest." Ew.

    Poor little Wyler. It's hard to grow up. No biggie though, you don't have to remember that time of life if you don't want to.

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