Open Mic 9/10

Someone reviewed my poetry! 😀

Helicon West

First off, thanks to everyone who read. Most people who do probably land somewhere on a scale from denial-of-nerves to repressed terror. Everyone on this video is worth watching, every single one of them, and I picked two people out of an amazing group to discuss how wonderful their creations are.

Brittany McDonald’s poem starts at 3:45. It’s called “In Response to My Dog Having Cancer, I Light a Cigarette.” That title deserves applause by itself and it perfectly sets off the rest of the piece. It’s exposition, mood, brilliant word choice, like a mini-poem of the poem itself. And her first line carries such weight: “Cremation is the endgame of the universe.” That is so punchy. The whole work has this quiet fogginess. It’s sad, but more than sad; it’s poignant, but more than that too. There’s despair, but that’s not all. The details that Brittany chose give off an ambiance…

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Let’s Talk Stars.

Because I’m still reeling from realizing how one-sided my blog has become, I decided that this week I wanted to shift gears and talk about what I believe in. Basically, I believe in the stars.

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Six weeks ago yesterday I got a third piercing in my right ear. Call me a twenty-year-old, but it’s one I never plan on taking out, but wearing always. It’s my cross. (Plus, by buying these earrings I made a donation to the Make a Wish foundation, and who doesn’t like them?)

When I was a Mormon, looking at the stars freaked me out, especially when camping and away from city lights. They made me feel small. They made everything I had ever known or made or met or thought or seen small. The vastness of the universe drove into my young brain a helpless feeling of insignificance.

(Plus the LDS religion teaches that God lives on a planet called “Kolob” that is circling among the stars, watching you. And that’s just a little bit creepy.)

I’m not saying dropping the Mormon religion made my anxiety over the nighttime sky disappear (although for other anxieties, that’s perfectly true). But without a “God Made the World in 7 Days” roadmap, I started paying a lot more attention to science. And that’s how I fell in love with the Big Bang.

For official NASA explanations, click here: http://science.nasa.gov/astrophysics/focus-areas/what-powered-the-big-bang/

For my summary, read below:

At the beginning of the conceivable universe, we were a star. A giant whopping star, and when I say we, I mean everything: Humans, animals, plants, water, suns, planets, solar systems. All encompassed within a giant star. In an event known as the Big Bang, the star exploded and sent its stuff into all space. When the stuff settled after the galactic sneeze, the piece we know as earth was a molten ball. Without an atmosphere, comets pummeled it over and over and over again, each time leaving small deposits of water behind. Out of this water eventually grew algae, and after the eternity it took to gain an atmosphere, the first forms of everything crawled out of the puddles.

With a universal relative like the nighttime sky, I click perfectly, knowing each person and place and thing is the literal stuff of stars. It forms this big fuzzy ball of comfort in my chest. Everything is beautiful and miraculous, a series of incredibly complex chemical and electrical accidents that form every amazing thing I do and breathe and see. The fact that I am so tiny fits into the larger puzzle so perfectly—the inevitable heat death of the universe is now a mural on the walls of my mind. It works. We were all together and we all will be again, and there’s something so tenderly wonderful in that. Reincarnation is possible on this inconceivably huge, universal scale. And it doesn’t scare me.

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The Book of Mormon tells me over and over again that I am “less than the dirt of the earth.” Every cell in my body screams that I am star dust. I am not a cog in a deity’s machine. My life is a miracle.

My beliefs still have room for a god–after all, you have to explain where the giant star came from–but knowing that we are all stars, I just don’t see why anyone needs a god.

Pretty in Petals

I’m lame at titles, I know.

Specs: This average-sized mug has a slightly wider circumference at the top than at the bottom. The handle fits all four fingers if you hold onto the actual handle, as opposed to the handle being a resting place for the back of your knuckles. The outside of the mug features my favorite floral thing (flowers) in flat-er shades of pink, brown, green, and orange. It makes me reminiscent of a living room from the 70s.

Rating: 4/5 stars. It offers great depth as well as flowers. Flowers. Did I mention I love flowers?

Summary: This was another 50 cent thrift store treasure. It’s healthy to be suspicious of second-hand dinnerware, and I usually am. Occasionally some (clean) thing will just reach out and give my heart a squeeze, though. And following your heart (at such a cheap price) is always going to be worth the try.

Let’s Talk Allocations.

And LDS friend of mine once posted on Facebook a quote to the effect of “When we die, if the atheists are right, religious people still die happy, because they won’t ever know. If we die and the religious people are right, they still die happy, but the atheists are in trouble.”

Ignoring the fact that I butchered the quote, the logic is pretty sound.

For the past 20 blog posts, I have become obstinately one-sided. I found myself so suddenly surrounded by hate and harassment at the onset that I threw myself as hard as possible in the opposite direction. I stopped offering respect because I was fighting so hard for my own. I mean all the things I have written about—with such a sensitive subject, I write from my heart and my life experiences—and I will continue to pursue and expunge subjects as they come up. I am of the opinion that the LDS church causes a lot of harm in the family unit and damage to the world at large.

However, the fact that I find myself looking at religion in terms of black-and-white disturbs me. In my gut there is so much gray area, and it’s a hard pill to swallow, realizing I’m not too different anymore from the uber-conservative Mormon. As I mentioned before, I’ve become a hypocrite who asks for respect without giving it.

This blog post isn’t coming out of the blue: It’s been stewing inside of me for months. There is good. That’s what I’m going to write about this time.

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Most obviously, the Church gives its members a community. This is especially vital in Utah—if you aren’t part of the Mormon community, your other chances for community come in the form of “Heathen” Facebook groups based around partying and alcohol. Not only does the Church connect you to your neighbors (as wards, stakes, and districts are set up geographically), but it also gives members a grander sense of their place in their universe. It offers people the idea that there is an awesome plan for their lives, an individualized destiny, choices they can make that get them into the highest levels of the neatly-hierarchal afterlife. A Heavenly Father with an open heart and plan gives people hope and their lives purpose.

Service. One of the big reasons why the church is set up geographically is so that its members are better able to serve each other. I complain often of how this includes visiting with the intention of drawing non- or inactive-members “back into the fold,” but I couldn’t count on both my hands how many times the Relief Society (the women’s organization within the church) has brought my family full dinners when my mother was stuck in bed recovering from surgery, a miscarriage, or depression. One Christmas when finances were low, my family found gifts on the front porch every night for a week. When my mother finally left her abusive husband but found herself financially bereft, the bishop paid the rent on our little apartment. In preparation for youth summer camps, my hands helped put together a hundred emergency kits and baby blankets that went out across the world. Teenagers rake the leaves and weed the gardens and sing to the elderly weekly. Wards are set up not just as community hubs, but as support systems.

These are just a few examples of what are unmistakably acts of human love. And at the core of every Sunday message, this is what everyone is preaching—love. And I believe that the masses mean well, even when the message is executed with a million contradictions.

I’m not one of those agnostics who argues that religion has no place in the world at all. I believe that it absolutely does—within parameters that I feel the LDS church oversteps—because of the simple fact that it makes so many people happy.

That’s what I’ve been meaning to argue this whole time I’ve been bashing: Everyone’s right to the thing that makes them happy. I grew up around thousands of people who found great happiness in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. I am still surrounded. My own mother is one such person. Sundays give her strength and hope and peace and happiness, and I would never wish my mother to feel any other way. Just as I have grown and questioned and struggled, so have many Mormons, and at the end of the day, many make their own choices to stay. No one has the right to take away another human’s happiness. More often than not, my blog is about the small-town Utah Mormons, and I understand that outside of the bubble things are better, and that there are also exceptions.

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Let’s face it, though—my blog isn’t for those who are happy and strong in their church membership. That’s not why I write. I support happiness unequivocally, but my blog is a community and support for those who, like me, are transitioning happinesses. Just as I would never mean to offend my mother, I do not write to offend anyone who is happy in their faith. It’s like accidentally calling Dominoes when you want Pizza Hut—you came to the wrong place. If you want Dominoes, hang up and try again.

Northwest Funk

Specs: This is a crazy mug, straight from a beautifully crazy place. Taller than it is wide, this mug gives you an average mug’s worth. Aside from being plastered with memorabilia/landmarks from the great city of Portland (OR), it is also textured with wavy bumps all the way around. The handle fits all four of my little fingers and features a bright orange star, which I like to press my thumb on to feel special.

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The best surprise from this surprising mug, however, is the little bird waiting for you with a rose at the very bottom.

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Rating: 5/5 stars. Easy. Maybe I just REALLY like mugs, but this was totally worth $15.95 (at least there was no sales tax!).

Summary: This mug is my meager explanation as to why I took a short hiatus from blogging–I was on a MUCH needed vacation! I got to meet my boyfriend’s family, read poetry in the woods, eat cheese on a rainy beach, visit a full moon celebration at a hippy tea shop, and explore the overcast city of Portland.

This being my first time in the Northwest, I was gasping over more than how green the very freeway was. The people are crazy, but in a nice, in-your-face kind of way, such  as the lady with frizzy gray hair who “fined” me for “smiling in a no-smiling zone” in an effort to raise money to feed the homeless.

Portland is filled with shiny bricks–that is, bricks literally painted over with sparkles.

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And expensive cat pillows.

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One of my favorite parts, though, was the giant bookstore called Powell’s Books. That’s where I bought this mug–along with a hundred dollar’s worth of used books, haha.

It’s too good to get out of Utah sometimes.

Let’s Talk Figs.

Throughout my teenage years, I went through several periods where I would try really, REALLY hard to be Mormon in my heart. Each episode of devoutness would last from six months to a year. During that time, I was towing the line: I confessed to all the bishops and endured the humiliating repentance processes. I took time out of my high school education to take the seminary classes. I poured my energy into completing my Young Women in Excellence (a program that rewards “virtuous young women” with a ruby necklace [which, if you ask me, is the real incentive]). I prayed twice a day and credited God for everything in my life. In addition to reading the Book of Mormon every day, I was also reading the Doctrine and Covenants and the Bible daily. A couple times I was grappling with the decision to become a missionary.

It’s the most terrifying thing to fall out of a religion. I desperately tried to force my eyes closed and pray my blind faith back. I was so depressed I didn’t sleep for most of my senior year of high school. I wish more people knew that.

During my second-to-last religious episode, when I was 17 years old, I was reading through the New Testament in the Bible when I came across the only imperfect thing I thought Jesus had ever done.

Found first in Matthew 21 and later in Mark 11 is the story of when Jesus killed the fig tree. As the story goes, the son of God found himself hungering one morning, and walking up to the fig tree was so mad not to find figs ready to feed him (Note: Figs were not in season, based on Mark’s account), Jesus curses the tree, saying “May no one ever eat fruit from you again.” The tree then withers, dead.

I was immediately disturbed. Jesus? Killing a tree because it wasn’t bearing fruit when it factually could not? That sounded like an evil dictator to me. The verses following the episode didn’t explain anything, unlike the explanations that come after all the parables.

I took my question everywhere from friends to seminary teachers. I didn’t get it. What furthered my confusion is that no one could explain it to me—the most answer I ever got was to ignore it and focus on how much power Jesus and prayer had.

Note: I am not a Bible/scripture scholar by any means. You can bash and clarify me all you want, if you have the “divine” answer, but this is my answer. No one else could tell me, and after years of rumination, this is the best I’ve got (yes, I dared to think about it with my own brain).

I finally found an answer in my faith transition support group that makes sense.

Fruit image is rampant throughout the Bible, especially as it related to the theme “And by their fruits shall ye know them,” meaning that you can judge a person by the works and things they produce.

Applied to the cursed fig tree, because is has no fruit to offer (all facts aside), Jesus deems it worthless and prevents it from ever achieving fruition. As there is no spelling out of his reasoning, but rather the whole thing is slipped in, one word comes to mind:

Subliminal brainwashing.

Seeing the fig tree as a person, bible readers are subconsciously taught that if that person cannot give you a religious profit, that person deserves (Jesus did it) to be completely cut out, cast off, and considered as good as dead. No room for compromise. No consideration for the facts of the situation.

This is what Christians everywhere are worshipping without understanding what it is they are reading.

No wonder so many of my Mormon friends turned so bitter so fast without a second thought as to cutting me off, never mind the years of our friendship.

A Mug with God~

Specs: There’s nothing small about this guy, from the message to the size. This tall mug has space enough to eat cereal out of it. The handle is big enough for all four fingers (my fingers, granted, but the handle is still large). The front of the mug is decorated with some swirly decals and the message, delicately written in golden paint, “With God All Things are Possible.” The lip of the mug is painted a bright yellow.

Rating: 3/5 stars. It’s a mug, check, but it offers too much drink in one sitting for me. Plus cheese.

Summary: Where to start, haha.

I didn’t but or pick this mug out myself, obviously. It was part of an obscure Christmas gift from my sixteen-year-old sister, and I say obscure because it was inside of a purse shaped like a monkey. We’re fans of being random and surprising each other like that.

I don’t think she knew at the time that I was no longer religious–although by Christmas, I hadn’t been going to church for six months–because I didn’t “come out of the closet” until January. My sixteen-year-old sister is a sweetheart, and president of her age group of girls in the church. She talks about going on a religious mission in a couple years and has a bedroom wall plastered in scriptural quotes.

More than anything, this mug reminds me to be respectful to her.