I Could Spend My Whole Life Good Will Hunting

Dinner Party at a Mandarin's House - Thomas Allom
Dinner Party at a Mandarin’s House – Thomas Allom (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Jay-Z feat. Kanye West and Rihanna.

There comes a time when you have to give up on the fantasies of youth. I used to think that be married by now, a politician’s wife, or maybe a doctor’s, presiding over the dinner table at some important event. It was a silly dream and I gave it up a long time ago. But it seems as you get older you continue to have to discard old dreams, so new ones can take their place. I used to want help people on a one on one basis, being down in the trenches. After a few years though I was being worn out at a rate that was more than I could possibly continue to help at. I remember crying in my driveway one day, just exhausted and knowing something needed to change. Giving up that dream to move on to something more sustainable, was incredibly difficult and anxiety-provoking. I  had to choose between two dreams when I decided to move to NYC – the one with a cute craftsman house and walking a dog and riding a bike tow ork versus the eating at every culture’s restaurants each night, having ultimate convenience and being on whenever I wanted. I really wanted that dog – have since I was 8, but I guess it will wait a bit longer.

Now Im going to the Middle East. Initially Im giving up showers, Western comfort and variety, and being with the friends Ive made over the last two years. In exchange, I get…: anxiety, homework and the need to pack, ugh. And massive uncertainty. I am completely reliant on other people – I barely speak the language, I dont have housing, and I dont have income until May. This lack of control and predictability is a situation I try to avoid at all costs and now Im throwing myself headlong into it.

I think thats the cost of Good Will Hunting, as Im interpreting it. Everytime you get near the summit of a dream, it changes so that you can get closer to a real summit. Being able to play my perfect note. So I let God keep informing my decisions. Moving all over the country, earning extra degrees, and aiming higher than Iv Im persevering in the face of all of this, because I have certainty in the form of inspiration. Everytime I think about the fact Im getting off a plane with no place to go, I dont panic nearly as much as I should. That peace apparently doesnt extend to the mess that is my room, but I have a week. Soooo, heres to hoping.

It would be easier to keep searching for our original dreams, even though it probably wouldnt led to the happiness we are searching for. Im stretching every time I make the choices I do. And when I talk to friends I havent seen in a few years, they have no idea how to make sense of where my life is right then. There’s some inherent fun in being the wild child – if wild is going to school forever and then getting a job to pay one’s bills – but every once in a while acknowledging how difficult and painful it can be to walk along my own path makes me feel a bit less scared. At least this time, Ive got a few friends to ease the way. And traveling is going to be a hell of a lot more fun than waking up early for class. So bring it on anxiety – Ill be on a plane shortly.

I’ve Been Trying to Get Down to the Heart of the Matter

English: President Barack Obama tapes an inter...
English: President Barack Obama tapes an interview for the Daily Show with Jon Stewart at the Harman Center for the Arts in Washington, D.C., October 27, 2010. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A cover by India.Arie. So I was still mad today, until I spent some time at church and with some of my really good female friends, and then – the final kicker – went and stared at the temple for a while. It calmed down some of my anxiety and extreme anger to the point where I could see that I was stronger than I had been. Which makes all the nonsense worth it. Let me tell you another way.

Sometimes I imagine my future appearance on The Daily Show about my book (assuming its still running when I end up mattering). I have my mug that I will cherish forever in front of me on the desk and Jon Stewart props up my book and says, “So I read this book and I have to admit my first thought when they handed me this book was, really? there are some? enough to write a whole book about?”

The audience will laugh, and I’ll smile while taking a sip from my mug. Then he’ll say “But seriously, why are you a part of this church? You’re smart – you have to have heard about that ban against black men holding the priesthood? And remember when you guys were against gays? Preventing Boy Scouts from getting their Eagle Scout? Or when women received death threats for wearing pants to church?”

I’ll lean forward and this is what I’ll say, “So you want a logical answer for why I participate and believe in a religion that seems to be constantly be preventing some group or another from feeling accepted and equal and whose membership sometimes reacts badly to efforts to express and change the circumstances which cause those feelings?”

Jon nods or says something snarky. It is The Daily Show after all. “Well, Jon, there isnt one.” And Ill sit back. Eventually he’ll follow up the question and Ill answer for real. “Jon, faith isnt logical. It cannot be arrived at through thought alone or reasoned with. Most of the things we have faith in we have no control over. Sometimes past experience supports our faith – the sun came up yesterday, gravity existed last night – so all these things will most likely happen again tomorrow. However, we dont know that, we just know that they have, so our best bet is to assume it will again. But sometimes we dont have reason to fall back on, we have to take a leap to believe the voice or hope inside of us could be true and right and we jump forward into nothing. That is why I participate and believe. Because one time I jumped, and something/someone caught me.”

The interview will go on and on – we will talk about how I cant stand soda so I never think about the caffeine rule (even though Im addicted to Vitamin Water Zero’s energy burst, which is tons of caffeine). And whatever else is in vogue about Mormons in that day. But I will have told the truth. When I was small and everything else that supported me failed, and there was no earthly way to go on in such a world, I took a leap of faith that a God loved me, and He knew me and He was in charge and would make things alright if I just kept moving forward and listened to him.

Things didnt get “better” for a long long time, not until recently, like the last 5 years, would I say I finally was becoming whole. I spent a long time trudging forward with no idea of what happiness felt like. I remember a week in college that I felt light and looked up, and thought, “Is this what everyone else feels like all the time? This is sooo much better!” It wasnt permanent, but it gave me hope. God has continued to hold my hand and lead me forward through the darkness until I arrived at a point, where I feel like the world is mine. Ive never been happier and more excited for the future, despite being scared out of my mind, because everything that comes next is nothing like what came before. Its another leap of faith, but this time I know God will catch me. Just like He did tonight – he eased my heart and reminded me of how far we had come, and how great Now is given all the crap that came before, so think how much better Then will be if I can survive this.

So I stay. Because the organization lead me to God, and the God that I have come to know I will never leave. No characteristic about me, black, female or smart, will change the relationship I have forged. The religion and I will work it out, but the God that I love will never abandon me, despite how it feels to bear the hardships I may be called to experience, like dating, or dumb friends, or Utah. Its been ok thus far, and its only getting better.

You’re Not the Perfect Hand But I Don’t Hit on Nineteen

Sex (Photo credit: danielito311)

Johnny Mayer. Hes coming back guys!

So Im going to talk about something controversial. At least for Mormondom, especially when it comes to dating. Porn. Pornography. Every once in a while a female authority will make a statement about how women should not date men who view pornography. Which causes a huge uproar among both the single men and women groups. I knew men who were in counseling for their pornography “issues” and whenever that happened they were devastated. They wanted a chance to build a relationship, to overcome the intimacy issues that are usually at the heart of pornography use, but their only opportunities were being shrunk because of well-meaning intentions.  I also knew married men in those groups, who were struggling so hard to find a way for this not to destroy their lives. marriages and futures. And this group was the only way for them to talk about the difficulty of being men and fathers and breadwinners in a way no one would let them.

On the other end of the spectrum, I also knew women who were in support groups for women whose husbands viewed pornography. This ranged from men who lied about viewing pornography occasionally, to men who lied about conducting online relationships with other women, because of pornography. They were so grateful for the opportunity to talk about how it felt to be betrayed by the person they loved and trusted, because they could not discuss sex and trust in a regular conversation.

Here’s what I think: Sex is complicated. Really really complicated. And while we know that  sexual drive varies more within a group than between groups, men tend to be higher on the spectrum as whole compared to women. More men report feeling lack of intimacy in their marriage when they are not having sex, while women tend to report that lack of intimacy when it comes to lack of trust, feelings and talking. Massive over-generalizations, but lets just start there.

We treat men like criminals when it comes to acting out around sex. We say why cant you just control yourselves? How can you hurt your wives/gf this way? How could I possibly date such a sick deviant? WHAT WOULD JESUS THINK? But the reason sex is so hard to control is because its biological. Its hard wired into our systems to propagate the species. So of course porn is enticing. Its sex! And men have a complex relationship with it, that makes them more likely to have this particular weakness. But thats what it is – a weakness. Something we are all struggling with on this mortal plane. Something we were all given so that we could overcome.

Lets look at it from the other angle.  More women are more prone to eating disorders than to hypersexual disorders. Eating disorders are often seen as a exercise in control – many women began them as a way to gain control over some aspect of their lives, are rewarded for their weight loss or efforts, and then continue to do it until it becomes the primary way they relate to food. They are extremely difficult to treat. Why is that? Because its biological. We HAVE to eat to propagate ourselves! But we rarely treat women with this weakness as criminals, because of this issue. No one is telling us to not date women with eating disorders, even though they can have the same kind of terrible effects on intimacy, marriage, trust and else.

Some of the best conversations Ive ever had in my life were with those men in counseling. And I ached for the women who finally found some safe relief in their groups. But the only reason I was able to be in those situations, is because I was attempting to understand both sides of this issue. Right now, we are only talking about one side – what men are doing to women. Let’s talk about what society and women are doing to men.

Then, there’s a whole ‘nother aspect to the problem. In Mormondom, and some other religions, and society at large, women are often put in charge of men’s sexuality. This picture has recently gone viral. At the top where she writes whore and slut are the words “asking for it.” In most talks I heard growing up given to women we are told about dressing appropriately, being the ones to set the limits, to safeguard men from their impulses. Men are described as rutting beasts essentially, and we are the virtuous angels who are required to stop them. So if we dress and act like whores, well then its our fault when we get raped, or if we dress like nuns, then its our fault they turn to porn. Men cannot be held responsible for their sexual actions.

Can we please change the dialogue around sex? I mean a lot of people are having it. Everytime someone tells me they are trying to have a baby, all I think is, “Thank you for telling me about how much sex you are having.” Its everywhere people! SEX! Even if you arent having it, the lack of it is complicated. So lets make it easier on all of us. Lets not scapegoat men or women when it comes to the difficulty of controlling desire. Neither sex (what!) is perfect when it comes to this, so lets take make it easier to take the best we can.

You Don’t Know Me At All

So this is the first post by this black mormon female. Hopefully you read my About page, so you have a vague background on the purpose of this blog and my title theme. This title is brought to you by Ben Folds and Regina Spektor. I thought this would be a good way to start off this blog, because Im sure there are going to be people who have a lot of preconceptions about me based on my pretty bald faced title. But the truth is all you can really know about me is what I tell you and this is the first thing Im going to say – I’m pretty damn Mormon. Never drank, never smoked, no sex, temple endowed with the weird underwear, and actually believe the whole Joseph Smith story with the Gold Bible and everything. I believe in one God who created man and expects us to return to him and have all that he has. I believe in a prophet and that God still speaks to people today. I also believe the major religions of today really aren’t that far apart on the basic rules of how to treat people and what kind of people to become, and that God is probably a lot more flexible on the path to him than we humans are.

I was born and raised in the LDS church and went to Primary, Young Women’s, Seminary and Institute (for a while anyway). Ive lived in the home of Mormondom as well as the other extremes in terms of membership numbers, and have left the US for fairly long international stints and intend to go back out longer term for work as soon as possible. Im probably more sheltered from the world because of my academic background rather than my Mormon, although I have seen and heard about many of the terrible things people do to themselves and each other. I was raised by a single mother, as my father died when I was young, who taught me not to rely on anyone else to provide for me as there are no guarantees.

So Im both traditional Mormonism without being really a part of the mainstream culture. This wasnt always by choice, but I can honestly say that at this point in my life – hitting 30 – Ive made peace with the complexity of being me and while I bring up my understandings with friends and family, Ive been fairly closed mouthed in the larger sense. I have no I am a Mormon video, I dont even have a mormon.org account, because I was not sure what I would say.

But, I read this post today and while I think it is incredibly well written and an example of what I wish more dialogue looked like in general these days of extreme polarity, I dont agree with the conclusion. I dont like titles, so I dont know if I would claim Mormon Feminism or not, but I do think that the process of civil discourse, as civilly as the Mormon Feminists seem to currently be going about things, is never a bad thing. My kingdom and the Lord’s may not be the same, but using God-given talents to improve an organization I assume these women love, is not hacking at the branches.

This is the ending paragraph: “And finally, it’s not that I don’t want what the Mormon Feminists want. I’m just naïve enough to believe that if the Latter-day Saints managed to accomplish the already demanding mission of the Church to preach the Gospel, perfect the saints, redeem the dead and care for the needy according the instructions already given, then they would find that the problems to be solved by feminism will have already resolved themselves anyway, or they would at least cease to be an issue. And if the work of “bringing to pass of the immortality and eternal life of man” was somehow threatened by the failure of the Church to address the feminist agenda, then I would trust the senior leadership to find a universal solution. For my part, there is work enough to do without having to take on the responsibility of pointing out to the senior leadership how they ought to fix the Church.”

People in the LDS church are asked to question leaders and to question advice and pass it through their prayers and study through the Holy Ghost that we believe gives all knowledge. When the Priesthood Ban was lifted in 1978, many voices (including senior leadership according to recent presidential candidate Mitt Romney) had previously been raised asking why this ban prevented all worthy members from participating in the blessings of the gospel. I dont know all of the goals of the Mormon Feminists, but considering agitating a bad thing merely because people are agitating, is a terrible shortcut. We all have different roles to serve in our way to perfecting the saints – who is to say considering these issues are not one path?

Anyway the comments section of his blog has an excellent discussion unfolding, so I invite you to read and participate if you wish. Reading it just made me realize perhaps there is a time and need for a voice like mine, who struggles everyday to live a gospel I love, improve a relationship with a God who has saved my life, and yet be so [many emotions] about the day-to-day aspects of being Mormon. I hope you are willing to suspend judgment long enough for me to tell you who I am and that lyric won’t be as so true.