Summer, 2003: I was a wreck. My sixth child was six months old, and I wasn’t even close to recovering from his birth and the trauma that followed: For him, lung failure and three weeks in the NICU. For me, a profound emotional and spiritual crisis. The combination of outward and inward events shook me hard. My testimony was intact, but I felt disconnected from it. Unmoored. All my usual connection points failed me: church meetings, scripture reading, even prayer. [Read more...]
A confession: before 2008, I didn’t care much about LDS fiction. To me, that genre meant overtly inspirational stories of mediocre literary quality that barely skim the surface of what it means to be Mormon, not to mention what it means to be human. Friends recommended a few better-than-average titles, but saying a book is “very good for Mormon lit” is a half-baked compliment at best (like the time someone told me I was “in great shape for someone with seven kids”). Angela Hallstrom’s novel-in-stories, Bound on Earth, was my first encounter with unconditionally excellent fiction written by and for Latter-day Saints. So when I picked up Dispensation, the short story anthology she edited for Zarahemla Books, my hopes were high. And I’m pleased to report that when I finished the volume, I was thoroughly satisfied. The quality of writing in this collection exceeded my already-high expectations. Its stories engaged me so completely that I felt fully gratified as a reader—even blessed. And taken as a whole, its artistic and spiritual potency leaves me deeply impressed by the talent of our very own fiction writers, not to mention excited for the future of this genre. Today, BCC welcomes Angela Hallstrom for a conversation about Dispensation and its significance in the realm of LDS fiction. (I was gonna post a photo of the cool book cover, but Steve already did. Besides, Angela is even better looking.)
I parked illegally in the overfull visitor parking lot and made my way into UVU’s Sorenson center, excited and a bit nervous. Excited to be part of a groundbreaking event, to meet up with old friends and make new ones; nervous about my small part to play. A loudmouth like myself has no problem speaking to a roomful of people–but then again, I’d never read my own writing aloud before.
But as soon as I walked into the conference room my nervousness dissolved. There was Joanna Brooks, even more beautiful and confident and charismatic than I remembered her from decades before. There were a dozen writing sisters, smiling and warm and engaging even as they focused on the program ahead. There were scores of people who came to hear what we had to say. The air crackled with the energy of intention–something important was happening here; something momentous.
I first encountered Joanna Brooks during freshman orientation week at BYU in 1989–she was sitting on a table in the checkerboard quad recruiting for the Student Review, swinging her feet and looking like a pixie with her freckles and short, dark hair. She quickly gained a reputation on campus for being articulately outspoken on various social issues, and I admired her from afar. But I didn’t get to know her until my junior year, when both of us took a certain contemporary literary criticism course from a certain feminist professor. On the first day, I spotted her a few seats down (her hair was longer then–super thick and shiny), and knew this would be a class to remember. And I was right.
I’ll spare you the details of the wild, semester-long romp through Kristeva and Cixous and Jaggar (drop me an email if you want to hear about the bra burning). Instead, let me tell you about the groundbreaking multi-state event that Joanna is spearheading this month: Our Voices, Our Visions: A Mormon Women’s Literary Tour. Better yet, let Joanna tell you about it in this mini-interview we had recently: [Read more...]
Welcome to the fourth installment of our conversation about clinical depression amongst nine BCC permas. Parts I, II, and III can be found here, here and here. If you haven’t already read the series overview, please do so before proceeding. If you’re experiencing symptoms of clinical depression, contact a health care professional without delay.
So. Rather than spreading our remaining share-able dialogue across a few more posts, I’ve combined it into one. The conversation begins on the subtopic of treating depression, and segues into a discussion of gender issues relating to depression.
Welcome to the next installment of our conversation about clinical depression amongst nine BCC permas. Parts I and II can be found here and here. If you haven’t already read the series overview, please do so before proceeding. If you’re experiencing symptoms of clinical depression, contact a health care professional without delay.
All-Or-Nothing Religious Thinking Can Lead To Depression
What is the connection between depression and religion? It has long been observed that religious faith can help heal emotional pain. Even the most secular therapist will encourage her clients to explore their spirituality as part of recovery. Yet at the same time, religion and depression often seem to overlap in an insidious way. Religion can calm a troubled mind, yet the religious mind can be troubled. How do we make sense of this seeming contradiction? [Read more...]
I returned, not long ago, to a wood in which I had played as a child and saw an oak, a hundred years dignified, in whose shade I used to play with my brother. In twenty years, a huge vine had attached itself to this confident tree and had nearly smothered it. It was hard to say where the tree left off and the vine began. The vine had twisted itself so entirely around the scaffolding of tree branches that its leaves seemed from a distance to be the leaves of the tree; only up close could you see how few living oak branches were left, and how a few desperate little budding sticks of oak stuck like a row of thumbs up the massive trunk, their leaves continuing to photosynthesize in the ignorant way of mechanical biology. [Read more...]
Welcome to Part I of BCC’s mini-series about depression. If you haven’t already read the series overview, please do so before proceeding.
In this post, our group members introduce themselves by describing how they came to recognize depression as a problem in their life. Depression is an untidy concept, and our semantics reflect that. We use the term to describe a vast spectrum of emotional and mental states, from mild and temporary situational distress to severe and abiding pathology, and even with the help of diagnostic parameters it can be tricky to distinguish between the “normal” depression of human experience and the mood disorder called clinical depression.
Today marks the debut of a mini-series of posts on the topic of depression. These posts (a half-dozen or so over the next several weeks) are excerpts from a conversation amongst nine BCC permas, including myself, who live with clinical depression. We have taken pseudonyms for privacy purposes, but make no mistake: we are true and living bloggers that you know, love, and/or hate here at By Common Consent. [Read more...]
“Where’d Jesus go?” My six-year-old son, Sam, pointed at the bare wall behind the couch, where a framed print of Del Parson’s Christ in Red Robe used to hang.
“I put the picture away to keep it safe,” I explained. “When I was painting the walls I had to take all the pictures down, remember?”
“But that was a long time ago,” Sam reminded me. “You’re done painting. You should put it back up.”
I nodded and smiled uneasily, glad Sam missed the familiar face on the wall, yet all too aware that I did not. The gold-framed print waited at the back of my closet, where I’d stowed it a few months before. At the time I called it a practical decision—there are few places in my house where anything breakable is safe—but I couldn’t deny that picking such a dark, cramped storage location carried metaphorical weight. [Read more...]
As we drove home the other day, my 12-year-old son Andrew wondered aloud which restaurant his brother Sam might choose for his baptism dinner. Sam’s eighth birthday is more than a year away, but it’s not very often that our whole family eats out together, and Andrew is already looking forward to it. We discussed a few possibilities, from McDonald’s to Sizzler to Famous Dave’s. In the middle of our conversation Andrew had a sudden thought: “Mom, I just realized something awesome. By the time Sam turns eight, Ben is going to be old enough to baptize him!”
“That’s right,” I said. Ben, my oldest son, will turn sixteen a few months before the big occasion.
Andrew paused in thought for a moment, and then his face lit up. “That means I’ll be old enough to baptize Thomas when he’s eight!”
I smiled, but my heart twisted a little bit. “True. You’ll be sixteen by then. But Andrew, we’re not sure if Thomas will be baptized when he’s eight. He might be a little older, or even a lot older.” [Read more...]
Thanksgiving approaches. The defrosted turkey waits in the fridge next to the fresh cranberries; cans of pumpkin puree and evaporated milk are stacked on the counter for today’s baking frenzy. Time to drag a stepstool over to the high cabinet and unload the silverplate from its non-holiday resting place. [Read more...]
Would you allow your teenage daughter to attend a sleepover hosted by her friend who recently self-identified as lesbian? [Read more...]
The kids often come home from church with some kind of souvenir: a bookmark (we must have 57 of them floating around), a picture, a scripture card, etc. Last week, my tweenage son brought home a half-carton of chicken eggs. [Read more...]
It may look and sound like polemic parody. But it’s not intended as such.
Thanks, Richard, for starting the discussion.
After several years of being a full-time provider, I didn’t think staying home two days a week would be a big deal. A year following the birth of our first child, my wife became pregnant again. She became seriously ill and her body wasn’t strong enough to nurture a new pregnancy as well as a toddler. We decided that, with the help of good management, I could oversee things two days a week. [Read more...]
Ten minutes before Sacrament meeting was scheduled to begin, Reed burst into the kitchen wearing his dark suit and an air of frustration. “What’s wrong?” I asked, pajama-clad, washing the thermometer for one of the sick kids.
“There’s no bread,” he said as he rummaged through our bread drawer. “Last week was General Conference and the teachers’ quorum presidency forgot to make the assignment. None of the advisors are at church yet, so the bishopric gets to fix the problem.” He shut the drawer and opened the freezer. Grabbing a frozen loaf, he shoved it into the microwave and set the defrost timer, then looked at his watch and shook his head.
I peeked out the front window, where I could see my 14-year-old son and his friend in the backseat of Reed’s car, looking only slightly sheepish.
When the timer beeped, Reed retrieved the bread and tucked it under his arm. Although exasperated, he paused to kiss me on his way out. “Good luck,” I said.
He rolled his eyes and forced a smile, then headed for the door. [Read more...]
The nurse answered the phone after several rings. “Primary Children’s Down syndrome clinic—may I help you?”
I took a deep breath. “Yes, I’m calling with a question about my son Thomas. He’s three-and-a-half and will only drink out of a bottle, and I’m not sure what to do.”
She started the inquiry. Had I tried offering a sippy cup at mealtimes? Had I tried putting his favorite drink in the cup? Had I tried brightly colored cups, cups with straws, cups with sport-bottle tops?
I told her we’d tried everything, more than once. That Thomas stridently avoided the very sight of a cup—any cup. That if we tried to make him hold one or drink from one, he got furious.
“There’s only one solution,” she said. “Take the bottle away. When he gets thirsty enough, he’ll drink out of anything you offer him.” [Read more...]
The Elders’ Quorum president held up the quart-sized bottle for everyone to see. “For anointings we use olive oil—preferably extra virgin,” he explained. The women nodded and gave little clucks of approval. Anyone who watches cooking shows knows that extra virgin, product of the first pressing of the olives, is the best.
The liquid in the bottle shone a rich yellow. Pretty, but not as impressive as the olive oil my grandmother poured freely in the days of my childhood. Imported from Greece, the thick green oil came in square, gallon-sized cans marked with strange images: words in geometric Greek, creepy symbols like an unflinching eyeball with three legs bending out of its sides. The filigreed designs in red and gold reminded me of the stained-glass windows in the Greek Orthodox church, where I fidgeted every Easter, nose wrinkling from incense, under the eye of the emaciated Christ hanging above the nave. [Read more...]
On painting day I open the bedroom window as wide as it can go, letting in a mild harvest breeze. Autumn again, autumn already: the aspens on the mountainsides are beginning to turn; the early morning carries a chill. I shiver as I remember the crisis that was building in our household this time last year. We’d just gotten the blunt results of Thomas’s cognitive evaluation. Christine’s depression was in a tailspin, making school attendance impossible. And my own mental health was quickly deteriorating. [Read more...]
April 6, 2000. “Our stake center will become an extension of the temple,” the bishop had announced back in March, bringing a strange and sudden thrill into the otherwise humdrum Sacrament meeting. Ever since, I’d been counting the days until the wildly historic occasion: the hundredth temple of this dispensation–the first of the new millennium–dedicated in Palmyra!
The chapel was already crowded that evening when I handed my ticket to the usher. I took a seat towards the middle, giddy with anticipation. Before long a stooped, wrinkled woman I didn’t recognize sat down next to me, and we nodded a greeting. The room was still, so still the very air felt weighty. Not even the slight sounds and motions from the congregation could ripple the stillness.
But that, I hoped, would soon change.
My husband’s best friend from high school, Siobhan, arrives for a weekend visit. Reed hasn’t seen her for 20-plus years. We’re all a bit nervous at first, but she’s an instant hit with the kids. Raised Catholic, she’s the sixth of seven children herself, and is curious about our faith. I’m hoping we’ll make a good Mormon impression.
We go to Temple Square on Saturday. As we approach the Main Street plaza gates there are, as usual, several scruffy panhandlers. Reed ponies up some change (our usual practice) and one of the kids hands it to a man who has two stumps for legs. I’m secretly pleased that Siobhan is here to see this little exchange. Points for the family, points for Mormons in general. Maybe she’ll convert. [Read more...]