PUBLISHING THE EXPERIENCES OF MORMON WOMEN SINCE 1974
VOL. 32 I NO. 3 I WINTER 2012
THE MORMON WOMEN PROJECT
The Mormon Women Project is a continuously expanding digital library of
interviews with Latter-day Saint women from around the world found at
Founded in January 2010 and launched with 18 interviews, the MWP recently
published its 160th interview. A team of volunteer interview producers
has featured women in 22 countries, from ages 23 to 98. The MWP is
particularly interested in highlighting the righteous choices women make
in all circumstances and locations. It celebrates women who have made
deliberate choices - with the help of the Spirit and personal revelation - to
overcome personal trials, magnify motherhood, contribute to communities
outside their homes, or be converted to the Gospel.
Find the Mormon Women Project at
P TABLE OF CONTENTS \
BY: KRISTINE HAGLUND
BY: BRITTNEY CARMAN
/ learned that you
should never label
someone as merely one
thing. We're all so much
more than thi
BY: KRISANNE HASTINGS
02 EDITORIAL STAFF
LISTING OF OFFICERS
03 LETTER FROM THE EDITOR
BY: NEYLAN MCBAINE
Why Is It Important to Tell Mormon Women's Stories?
16 THE WORTH OF SOULS
BY: LOUISE ELDER
17 LESS ALONE
BY: DEI LA TAYLOR
18 EVERYONE HAS A STORY
BY: LYNDSEY PAYZANT WELLS
19 LIFE BALANCED
BY: JESSICA DROLLETTE
20 BEYOND PLOT
BY: ANNETTE BAY PIMENTEL
21 OPENING MY BASKET
BY: PATTI COOK
22 WRITING AS AN ACT OF FAITH: AN
INTERVIEW WITH LUISA PERKINS
BY: SHELAH MINER
25 THE POWER OF CHANGE IN
STORYTELLING: AN INTERVIEW
WITH ANGELA HALLSTROM
BY: ELIZABETH PINBOROUGH
31 THE PLACE OF KNOWING: A
REVIEWED BY: AMY JAMESON
ON THE COVER:
LAYOUT DESIGNER/ EDITOR
PLEASE NOTE: The volume and issue number printed in
the Fall 2012 issue of Exponent II was incorrect. The correct
number is Volume 32 Number 2.
SPECIAL THANKS TO: Valerie Atkisson, Jayna Brown Quinn,
Aniko K. Brewer, Julie Crews, Kirsten Beitler, LeIeita Alusa for
the use of their artwork in this issue.
Exponent II (ISSN 1094-7760) is published quarterly by
Exponent II Incorporated, a non-profit corporation with no
official connection with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-
day Saints. Articles published represent the opinions of
authors only and not necessarily those of the editor or staff.
Letters to Exponent II or its editors and Sisters Speak articles
are assumed intended for publication in whole or in part and
may therefore be used for such purposes. Copyright © 2012
by Exponent II, Inc. All rights reserved.
r — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — T
I SUBMISSIONS TO EXPONENT II:
We welcome personal essays, articles, poetry, fiction, and
book reviews for consideration. Please email submissions
to email@example.com or mail them to Exponent II,
2035 Park Avenue, Baltimore, MD 21217. Please include
your name and contact information.
Submissions received by mail will not be returned.
We are always looking for artwork and photography
to accompany our writing. Please send jpegs or gifs
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in illustrating articles, please contact us for specific
ITER FROM THE EDITO
Why is it important to tell Mormon women's stories? This is the question that reverberates in my mind every time I hit
"Publish" to share another awe-inspiring woman's story on the Mormon Women Project. After publishing over 150 interviews
at www.mormonwomen.com since January 2010 with LDS women from around the world, I feel like I am still just starting to
catch a glimpse of why it is foundational to our identities as Mormon women to read other's stories and share our own.
My own desire to share my story blossomed in 2006 when I was home with small children for the first time after leaving a
career in Silicon Valley, supporting my husband in a graduate program and finally having the cognitive space to explore who I
wanted to be as an adult. As the only child of an opera singer, growing up Mormon in New York City and then attending Yale,
my experiences were often intriguing to others and I began to write them down. But it seems to me that any memoirist must
grow tired of reliving her own life at some point, and when I reached that point myself, I turned to the lives of others.
The bedrock of my identity as a Mormon woman was formed from the examples of my mother and other women of my youth,
and in searching for my own adult identity, I turned to them. The Mormon Women Project launched with 18 interviews, most
of which were cultivated from women I had known and admired for years. In the process of interviewing them and asking soul-
searching questions about their motivations, their choices, their relationships with Heavenly Father, I found in their stories a
spiritual creation for what I myself wanted to be.
In the account of the Creation in Moses 3, we read about how, in the process of forming every living thing, the Lord God created
all things "spiritually, before they were naturally upon the face of the earth." In fact, this predicating spiritual creation happened
"according to my word," meaning the Lord conceived of the creation and spoke of its existence before the physical creation
occurred. There was enough power in the Lord's words to bring matter into existence.
Stories are the way we as Mormon women spiritually create our identities before we go off to live them in time and space.
They are the cognitive tools we use to construct visions in our minds of what we want our futures to hold, who we want to be,
before making those visions part of our external realities. What woman hasn't had the experience of hearing about another's
journey to a far off land or family tradition, and not noted the spiritual pull to make that same journey or tradition part of her
own actuality? Or, if we reject the experiences of others as things we don't want for ourselves, that too is part of chiseling away
at a cognitive model of what we want our spiritual identities to be. The clearer that image, the more effectively we will mold it
But mine is, of course, only one answer to why it is important to tell Mormon women's stories. Each contribution to this issue
answers the question in its own unique way. And the answers are as varied as the contributors themselves. For some women,
the stories of their ancestors have very literally molded their identities through names or genetic composition. For others,
stories help them gain empathy for others or overcome social fears. For still others, stories are a way to process the pains and
joys of our own experiences, giving us the cognitive distance we often need to maintain emotional and spiritual health.
Why is telling Mormon women's stories important to you, our readers? Email us your answers at firstname.lastname@example.org and
we will post your answers on the Mormon Women Project. We'll look forward to hearing from you!
Founder and Editor-in-Chief
The Mormon Women Project
THE MORMON WOMEN PROJECT EDITION • WINTER 2012
WHY IS IT IMPORTANT TO TELL MORMON WOMEN'S STORIES?
"So that our daughters may know to what source they may look for examples of womanhood." (See 2 Nep. 25:26)
I am the outrageously blessed mother of a thirteen-year-
old girl. Like all thirteen-year-old girls, she is an exquisitely
beautiful creature, growing into the clever idealism of the young
woman she will soon be, but still full of the wisdom of her little-
We are almost nothing alike, she and I— when I was thirteen,
I was melancholy and bookish, already angsty about the
Church's historical practice of polygamy and the obvious
unfairness of ordaining those irresponsible, obnoxious, smelly
boys to wield the very power of God, while we girls worked to
earn a dumb necklace. My first sacrament meeting talk opened
with the borrowed bumper-sticker slogan of a
feminism I could not yet articulate for myself:
"A woman without a man is like a fish without
My daughter has a bicycle, but no apparent
interest in fish or bumper stickers. Except for
one glorious outburst at age four, when she
stood up on the pew during a baby blessing and
demanded, "Hey! Where are the mommies?"
she has cheerfully accepted the discrepancies
between boys' and girls' opportunities in the
Church that were so galling to me. I've worked
hard to answer her questions and not push
her to ask mine. Still, I hope she will be a
feminist. And a Mormon. If she is not, if she
chooses a path that leads away from one or the other of these
identities, I hope I will handle it as gracefully as I managed her
plea for the Easter dress with a rhinestone belt and fur cape,
her preference for talking on the phone instead of reading
books, and her quitting violin to take acting classes (perhaps
a bit more gracefully than that last!). But I don't want her to
make the choice without knowing that there is such a thing as
a Mormon feminist. I want her to understand that this heritage
is irrevocably hers— it has been in her from the very beginning,
starting in the moment she was named.
Her name is Louisa. I did not choose the name so much as
recognize it, the moment her father first tentatively said it
aloud, and I knew, instantly and joyously, that Louisa was the
being who was coming to live with us. We had declined the
ultrasonic revelation of our expected baby's sex, and I had
studiously avoided (I thought) hopingfor a daughter. But driving
along the New Jersey Turnpike (past the city of Elizabeth, which
had prompted our renewed discussion of girls' names), I was
certain that a daughter would come and that she already had a
name to fit her soul. It took only a few minutes to think of all the
reasons to love the name, to place her in the long line of Louisas
who might bestow their blessings on her.
First, there is Lois, in the New Testament.
2 Timothy 1:7 had sustained me for many
years, rescued me often from the restless
anxiousness that I so easily fell into:
"For God hath not given us the spirit of fear;
but of power, and of love, and of a sound
mind." (2 Timothy 1: 7)
I had brushed by the prologue to that verse
many times and had only recently been
reminded by a friend that Timothy's spiritual
strength is credited not to the "faith of his
fathers" but to his maternal ancestors:
"To Timothy, my dearly beloved son: Grace, mercy, and peace,
from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord. I thank God,
whom I serve from my forefathers with pure conscience, that
without ceasing I have remembrance of thee in my prayers
night and day; greatly desiring to see thee, being mindful of
thy tears, that I may be filled with joy;
"When I call to remembrance the unfeigned faith that is
in thee, which dwelt first in thy grandmother Lois, and thy
mother Eunice; and I am persuaded that in thee also." (2
Timothy 1: 2-5)
I want her to
hers — it has been
in her from the
starting in the
monient she was
MEDIA: Acrylic paint, photo-transfer,
fabric, beeswax, buttons, and
crayon on masonite
"The materials and subject matter of my
artwork are meant to have a homespun
feel. In this piece, my mother, her sisters,
and her cousins are all lined up for a photo
in their soggy homemade swimwear. This
was the 1940s, so no spandex. A suit
could grow a few sizes in one wearing, but
it didn't seem to bother any of the little
beauties in this work."
My Louisa, too, has maternal ancestors who left a heritage
of lively devotion, a faith which was not only "unfeigned" but
considered and intelligent and searching. They were women
who asked hard questions and then bravely lived the answers.
(They also did things like earning a pilot's license. In Utah. In the
1930s. Defying gravity, long before anyone was singing about it
Another Louisa who flashed through my mind in that moment
was Louisa Swain, the first woman to vote in an American
election (Wyoming, 1870). She was, by all accounts, not an
activist or a woman with political ambitions, but a housewife
who rose early to run errands and decided to vote when she
passed by the polling place on her way to buy yeast. I love the
story of her accidental feminism, the matter-of-factness of her
certainty that a plain working woman had a contribution to
make to the life of the polls, that she mattered.
And of course there was Louisa May Alcott, whose feisty,
prickly heroines had made me feel less alone in the world in the
years when I was prickly but not yet feisty enough to know how
to make my way.
But the Louisa who came and stayed in my mind, the one I
most hope will be a spiritual guide for my daughter, is Louisa
(sometimes "Lula") Greene Richards. Louisa Greene was born
in 1849 in Kanesville, Iowa. Her family moved to Salt Lake City
in 1852 and was just getting settled there when her father
was asked to help lead the settlement of Provo. In 1859 they
moved again, to Grantsville, and then again to Smithfield in
1864. Louisa's education was disrupted with each move, and
she lamented the difficulty of getting what she thought to be a
"proper" education: "I want to be a very good teacher, and do
not know how. I feel that I am not competent yet to do justice in
this respect and so am not satisfied with what I do. I do so wish
I could attend a good school. . . . And oh, how I would study!
And how much I could learn, and what lots of things I'd write
But she never let these insecurities get in the way of doing what
needed to be done. She plunged in, trusting in God's help and
in her own capacity and determination. Among the things that
needed to be done were the expression of her thoughts and
the development of her talent for words. The earliest surviving
poetry of Lula Greene's is from when she was fourteen. Before
she was twenty, she had editorial and publishing experience to
her credit, with the Smithfield Sunday Scliool Gazette. I love the
story of her first paid publication: she had gone to Salt Lake to
begin working there, when she was called home to Smithfield
because of an illness in the family. She needed money to pay her
way back home, and so she stayed up all night writing poetry,
which she sold the next day to the Salt Lake City Herald.
Most of her career unfolded following this pattern— she simply
and confidently set about doing the work at hand. She seems
not to have been ambitious for fame or personal recognition,
and her poetry and other writing move seamlessly from the
mundane to the lofty. The Woman's Exponent, the Utah women's
newspaper of which she was the founding editor, is a wondrous
hodgepodge of editorials about the large political issues of
THE MORMON WOMEN PROJECT EDITION • WINTER 2012
the day, exhortations to diligent Sainthood, and explorations
of Mormon theology, right alongside explanations of how to
inexpensively make vinegar for pickling and the importance
of daily baths for children. Louisa (and her newspaper) took
women's homemaking work seriously but didn't believe it was
the only work women could or should do: "If there be some
women in whom the love of learning extinguishes all other love,
then the heaven-appointed sphere of that woman is not the
nursery. It may be the library, the laboratory, the observatory.
. . . Does such a woman prove that perfect liberty of education
unspheres woman? On the contrary it has enabled that woman
to perceive exactly what God meant her to do God lead us to
find the true woman in the free American home."^
And she also wrote, a few years later, when she resigned the
editorship of the Exponent to care for her small children, "I have
decided that during the years of my life which may be properly
devoted to the rearing of a family, I will give my special attention
to that most important branch of 'Home Industry.' Not that my
interest in the public weal is diminishing, or that I think the
best season of a woman's life should be completely absorbed
in her domestic duties. But every reflecting mother, and every
true philanthropist can see the happy medium between being
selfishly home bound, and foolishly public spirited."^
FIRSTS (TOP PIECE)
MEDIA: Acrylic paint, photo-transfer, crayon, and pencil on
"When I was a girl my mother sang to me all of the time,
and one of the songs that stands out to me is 'In The Little
Red School House.' My mother actually did go to school in a
red schoolhouse, although not so little. This piece celebrates
that first day of my mother's first year of school, when her
sweet Mammy Lou made new dresses for her and her three
RUBY AND Opal (bottom piece)
MEDIA: Acrylic paint, photo-transfer, ribbon, and shoe
button-hook on masonite
"There are few women more dear to me than my
grandmothers. This work captures my grandmother, Ruby,
with her beloved and worshipped elder sister. It's vital to me
that my posterity know and understand just how important
their ancestors are to us as a family, and I try to show this
by where and how I choose to spend my time, by doing my
best to honor them through my artwork."
This pragmatic, matter-of-fact early Mormon feminism seems
rooted in a deep and abiding conviction of belonging, and
it is this sense of belonging that might be the most precious
heritage our foremothers have left to their twenty-first-century
daughters. They never seem to have worried that their feminist
convictions made them less Mormon. Indeed, they use Mormon
scriptures and precepts as warrant for their feminism, and
there is a certain theological boldness that I think is possible,
in part, because their identity as Mormons was unquestioned.
They write boldly, confident that their call to widening women's
spheres is part of the project of building Zion. Because they
knew so surely who they were, they were free to work out what
they believed and thought about the issues of their day.
Eliza R. Snow, hardly a radical, wrote: "We are to be progressing,
and growing better. . . . We believe in eternal progression. . . .
[The] works and duties of the women of Zion are constantly
increasing. No where on the earth has
woman so broad a sphere of labor and duty,
of responsibility and action, as in Utah. ... Do
we let Zion take full possession of our desire,
our ambition? We have self all absorbed in
the interest of the work of God. We are here
to perform duties, and to do our part towards
establishing God's Kingdom."^
Here is a feminism grounded not in self-
discovery or self-expression but in having the
"self all absorbed" in a communal project vast
enough to fill time and eternity. Contemporary
feminist projects— recovering the female
voice, finding an authentic self— are made
richer if those voices are able to tell stories of selves that are "all
absorbed" in the grandest endeavors. We need to know who we
are before we can know what we think, what we believe, which
causes will demand our truest efforts.
My grandmother, the long-ago pilot, is also a weaver of cloth
and rugs. I love to watch her work at her loom, choosing bright
scraps of fabric to weave between the long, straight threads of
the warp. My grandmother's life is nearing its end; already her
story stretches out long to hold the weft of my still-raggedy
story and my daughter's barely begun bright golden thread. We
need the stories that stretch out before and after our own to
weave our lives around, to give us space to choose our colors
and bind us to one another in the rich tapestry of Zion.
One summer afternoon when I was nine years old, I was reading
a book my aunt had given my father, and which he had in turn
given to me. It was Mormon Sisters: Women in Early Utah. ^
I knew it had been written by some friends of my aunt, and I
vaguely sensed that it was a brave book, though I couldn't have
understood the contours of its courage and didn't yet have any
inkling of the second wave of Mormon feminism it represented.
But I loved it, fell into it in the glorious way that nine-year-olds
can fall into books (as my daughter, at thirteen, still can— just
barely), moved into that dusty nineteenth-century world so
completely that I could feel the parching Utah sun, taste the
bitter herbs of the midwives' medicines, and almost hear the
rustle of those black silk skirts.
And then, suddenly, I really did hear them. I felt the real and
immediate presence of a dozen or so of these pioneer women,
and heard, in some deep inward part of myself,
"These are your mothers." I am the child of
an experimental physicist, a thoroughgoing
empiricist in most ways, a college-trained
skeptic. But I have never doubted the truth
of that childhood intuition. I am as sure of
my connection to those women as I am of
the warm, sweet heaviness of my Louisa's
head on my shoulder when we read together.
Their stories are ours— the warp and weft of
our shared eternity. These are my mothers,
and hers. I see their gifts to her in her happy
faith, her deep, strong sense of herself as loved
and worthy. She is a partaker of the grace
bestowed by her still-unconscious belonging
to a covenant of sisterhood that has known and claimed her
since before she was born, since before I knew her name.
1 Sherilyn Cox Bennion, ["Lula Greene Richards: Utah's First Woman Editor"]
BYU Studies 21, no. 2 (Spring 1981): 3.
2 "Education of Women,"] Woman's Exponent (April 1, 1873), 3, cited in
Bennion, ["Lula Greene Richards: Utah's First Woman Editor,"] 7.
3 [Lula Greene Richards, "Valedictory,"] Woman's Exponent 6 (August 1, 1877),
4, cited in Bennion, ["Lula Greene Richards: Utah's First Woman Editor,"], 9.
4 Eliza R. Snow, "An Address," Woman's Exponent 8, no. 2 (Sept. 15, 1873),6.
5 Claudia Bushman, ed.. Mormon Sisters: Women in Early Utah (Boston:
Emmeline Press, 1976).
We need to
know who we
are before we
can know what
we think, what
will demand our
THE MORMON WOMEN PROJECT EDITION • WINTER 2012
WHY IS IT IMPORTANT TO TELL MORMON WOMEN'S STORIES?
"Because our stories— forbidden or venerated, secret or unashanned—are tine antidote to an isolation inlierent to tine human
condition, tinat heartbreal< tinat lurl<s, physical or spiritual, always just around the corner, always just outside the door"
Some people are born with junk for hearts— perfidious, glitchy
machines. This is not a metaphor: hearts sometimes break.
Sometimes, they fall right apart. My grandfather, for example,
was born with a barrel chest and a bulky, badly made heart,
and when his big heart cracked inside his chest, he was a
middle-aged man asleep in his bed. My grandmother, beside
him, dreaming of water, woke for the convulsions that clapped
his mouth and arced the whole of him, like a ship pitched in
a furious sea. She could not know that his heart, literally, was
tearing, but in the silence of it, in the stillness of all that motion,
she knew that he was gone.
At forty-six, my aunt died coughing in the back seat of her
brother's car. This was creek-side at a campground in Idaho.
This was my mother's family reunion, eighteen years after my
grandfather's death. My aunt felt like something was stuck in
her chest. Something heavy, she kept saying. Something hard. A
touch of cold turned supercontinent. She thought if shejust kept
coughing, eventually something would break free. At midnight,
she woke coughing. She coughed from her tent, into the car,
along the overgrown bank of the creek. My uncle gunned the
engine and flew through its gears. His tires coughed red dirt.
He let down his window to feel the air on his face, to calm him
and remind him to breathe, and when his tires touched gravel
just beyond the dam, he nearly choked on the white plume of
dust. The Bonneville County dispatcher sent an ambulance out
to meet them. The rendezvous point was a filling station in a
postcard town called Swan Valley, and beside those sleeping
gasoline pumps, on that beautiful summer night, they waited
for the ambulance to come. They waited, and my uncle held
his sister's hand, and like that, waiting in the darkness, no
ambulance in sight, she coughed and waited and died.
Later, the coroner discovered that what my aunt had mistaken
for a landmass lodged in her chest was really the cast iron
weight of her lungs. At some point, an infarction had breached
the ventricular free wall of her heart, ripping through it, and her
lungs had been filling with blood. The occurrence of cardiac
rupture, he said, was extremely rare and likely hereditary. He
said that by the looks of it, the heart attack was a week old, that
she'd been walking dead for days.
When another aunt, my mother's oldest sister, died, it wasn't
the fault of the hamstrung jalopy of a heart that my grandfather,
as it turns out, handed down to each and every one of his eight
kids. Instead, she drove herself to a mountain, pulled off the
road, and swallowed a fragile handful of pills. Later that day, a
medic from a nearby ski hill found her as he was driving home.
She was slumped over the steering wheel, cold as cinders, her
car stuck in a melting patch of snow. In a mystery that, eighteen
years later, I still don't know what to make of, she asked in her
suicide note that an autopsy not be performed. Because I loved
her and because I still think I see her sometimes— coming
toward me in the grocery store, buying flowers on the street— I
have spent most of my adult life wondering what it was she was
afraid they might discover, what she feared the soft inner world
of her body, her exposed heart might reveal.
The untimely loss of their loved ones and the reality that
their father and sister both died of the same rare cardiac
phenomenon spur my mother and her remaining siblings into a
detailed investigation of their family history. Mostly, they want
to know about their hearts. They schedule check-ups and order
echocardiograms. Two end up with angioplasties; one comes
home with a stent. They need a generational medical history,
their cardiologists tell them. They need a family tree. Leading
the effort, my aunt calls my grandmother, pen in hand.
''Mother," she says. She's ready for business. ''We need to know
about Dad's dad."
The story of my great-grandfather has, for two generations,
been my family's defining narrative enigma. Nothing, not a
single thing, was known about him. My great-grandmother took
his name and any clue to his identity, save the son she bore him,
with her to the grave. The only thing my grandfather— that son-
-knew was that he'd been adopted by the man who married his
mother when he was two years old. His whole life he'd called
that man father, and Howard Woodhouse had loved him like
that's what he was. For my aunt, this is no longer sufficient. This
will no longer do. She wants to know who he was, this nameless
man. More importantly, she wants to know how he died.
This will be hard, my grandmother must say, in the phone
conversation with my aunt. My grandfather, at this point, has
been dead for twenty-five years; his mother, too, has long since
gone the way. To save her life, my grandmother can't think of
where she'll find the answer, can't think of anyone who might
know, but she promises to take up the reins. Within a week, she
receives a call from my grandfather's half-sister, who thinks she
has a lead. A dying great-aunt may be the last living person who
knows the identity of the mystery father, but her health is in
tenuous play. If they want to speak to her, it'll have to be soon.
My grandmother and aunt pack a car and drive south. They
arrive, hours later, and enter her room, quiet with the nearness
of a coming end.
"Naoma," this whispering wisp of a woman
says, addressing my grandmother. She seems,
in a final, prescient moment, to know why my
grandmother is there.
"Forgive me," she says. "I should have told you
sooner. Sit down, honey. This will break your
What the great-aunt reveals is a history my
grandmother can hardly make sense of, the
branch of a tree she might wish had been left
undisturbed, left to wither and fall forgotten in
the silence that had tended it for nearly eighty
years. The facts are these, and they are few:
my great-grandmother had a twin brother.
When they were twenty-one years old, she
and her brother had a child.
"That child was your grandfather," my
grandmother tells me. Her voice is steady over
the phone. She's had some time to process it,
a couple of months. She says she hasn't told ^^^^^^H
my mother or anyone else, says she just hasn't
known how. At some point in the last thirty seconds of our
conversation my breathing has stopped. I try to say something,
anything at all, but my mouth can't seem to form words.
"It's okay," my grandmother says, sensing my stupor. "It's a
strange and difficult thing."
After a while, when language returns, I ask what became of the
"We knew him," she says, "as Uncle George. We were close. He
was always part of our lives."
What the great-
aunt reveals is
a history my
can hardly make
sense of, the
branch of a tree
she might wish
had been left
to wither and
fall forgotten in
the silence that
had tended it for
And then the questions come in roiling torrents and great,
gasping waves: Why? How? Why? They were adults. Was it
consensual? If it wasn't, what does that mean? And, good grief,
what if it was? And then the medical concerns, like a nightmare:
Is some horror hiding latent within me? Will I pass on to my
children some awful, heritable thing? My great-grandfather, as
it happens— the man my grandfather knew as Uncle George-
was dead at sixty from the same massive heart attack that
killed his son and his granddaughter, each generation dying
younger than the last. It appears that, as the doctors suspected,
this wrecked heap of heart muscle is, if nothing else, a tie that
continues to bind us. But my grandmother knows nothing more,
can offer nothing more, save this: when I ask her if she loved
him, if my great-grandmother loved her brother, the father of
her child, she pauses for a long time and is
quiet. I can feel the push of air as she exhales,
can feel its heavy weight. I can feel, too, my
own heart beating so quick and insistent inside
me that it almost seems to shake.
"You know," she says slowly. "Yes, I think she
Seven years later, as I write this, I've
remembered how to breathe. Yes, the word
incest may forever compel me to gently move
a fingertip toward my teeth, but I don't pull my
nails off. My face doesn't tick. My heart doesn't
shake. It has been a simple convalescence, this
lesson: sometimes the heart will rupture, and
sometimes that rupture will heal.
My grandmother asked me to tell my mother.
She said it would help if she had to make one
When I call, my mother is in her garden. The temple orange
has just blossomed, and she is there, beside it, a small whiff of
heaven on earth. The jasmine, she says, is so fragrant, you can
smell it across the yard, and for a second, I don't think I can tell
her. In the language of a common metaphor, I don't think I have
"Mother," I say, "I have something to tell you." I wonder if I
asked her to sit down. I remember that she was silent. I must
have asked, "Are you okay?"
THE MORMON WOMEN PROJECT EDITION • WINTER 2012
"Yes," she says, finally. '1 knew him. He never had children of his
own. He had horses and a pasture. He always asked us to come
out and ride. Mother never let us," she says. "Something just
wasn't quite right."
She is far away as she says this. I can hear it in her voice.
''I don't know what I think," my mother says. "Both scenarios
just make me sad."
"I'll tell you one thing," my grandmother says, looking but not
looking at the trees as we pass, "I understand that woman
better now than I ever did while she was alive."
"I love you," I say, and, "I'm sorry." I don't know how to say
"No," she says. "Don't be sorry. It's good to know this, to know
how the story ends."
Months later, my mother, aunt, grandmother, and I are in a car
together. My grandmother's own twin brother has died and his
funeral has just finished. It is spring in the far north of Idaho
and the trees are newly in leaf. The sky is water blue. And
perhaps because the sun is high and shining, and because,
even at the end of a long life, death begs so many questions,
talk somehow turns to my great-grandmother. It's the first time
we've allowed ourselves the freedom to attempt a narrative
or, at least, to speak that narrative aloud. Of course we've all
got more questions than answers, and all of it— the questions
we can formulate and the answers we'll never know— resides
in a realm that still unnerves us to even approach. But there is
a peculiar catharsis in approaching it and in our camaraderie
as we do, as though having been thrust into this strange world
together makes it, strangely, okay.
Because I am young and a romantic, I decide with certainty that
it may have been clandestine and maledict, but it was love.
"I don't know," my aunt says, uncomfortable. "I'd almost feel
better if it weren't."
"Yes," my mother says.
"Yes," whispers my aunt.
And because I was a small child when I knew my great-
grandmother, I still only truly understand the lucent white of
her soft-cotton hair, the paper-thin skin that half frightened and
half fascinated me every time I stroked her tiny hand. She was
dying, even in my earliest memories, and lay, always, on a quiet
blue couch. I have no memory of her ever speaking. I don't know
that I ever heard her voice.
And it is her silence, now, that compels me most. By the end, in
her illness, words would not have come without difficulty. This
is a silence that, even as a child, I could understand. When I
entered her house with cousins, we stepped softly across the
carpet, and when we spoke we whispered. And I am certain,
now, that in an uncomplicated, childlike way I feared her then—
her silent house, her body lying so still.
My mother says, though, that even in good health she was a
reticent woman— silent, almost severe. Certainly, the long
censorship of our family history bears that out. She had been
dead twenty-five years before my great-grandfather's identity
was known. My grandfather lived his entire life and never knew.
And for his part, his father— my great-grandfather— attended
his only son's funeral as an uncle, effectively in disguise.
MEDIA: Watercolor and cut paper
"Jungle Totenn is a personal timeline
of the artist's life. The watercolors
are cut out at the bottom of the
piece and less cut out at the
top, indicating past and future
There is a conflict in this silence that I cannot arbitrate, a
captivity that, for the years passed, nothing can breach. I can't
pretend to know my great-grandmother's story; the plot arcs in
a trajectory that I can only guess at, can only try to piece and
trace. What pains she might have lived with, what joys, will not
be known. In a sense, her heart has been forbidden to me by
the silence in which she chose to dwell. But the fact remains
that I live because of her, that I am the physical outrippling
of a choice she made or, perhaps, of a choice that was forced
upon her. And, though it is next to nothing, the little I know
about her history has closed, at least in some small part, an
aching, silent gap— a need to know her in order to fully know
myself. In a clinical sense, finally identifying their grandfather
served to confirm what my mother and her siblings had come
to suspect— that genetically they are predispositioned to have
their hearts fail.
In a way, I might say that this somatic self-awareness has
united them, not in anticipation of their early deaths, but in
their resolve to live and love their lives. When they go, as we
all will, in the end, it will not have been quietly into the night.
And fate has been kind to my own small family. I don't fear for
the futures of my children. They are perfect anatomies— no
growths, no protrusions, no tails. Their hearts work, literally and
metaphorically. We are lucky in that regard. But this is about
something more than that. It is also about this truth: there is
something empowering about a narrative, about a story told.
I would start, I think, with this request, beyond science and
genome: 7e// me about my heart. It is reckless and intrepid. It is your
heart, I would tell her, in very different and very similar ways.
It is the heart, too, of my lonely aunt, asleep, finally, on that
mountainside. The heart of my uncle as he held his dying sister
in his arms. It is your heart. Reader, I want to tell you, in its
rapturous careening, in the stillness of its quiet, aching dark.
We are not so different, you and I, of the same dust, the same
ash, the same Word. And our stories— forbidden or venerated,
secret or unashamed— are, I posit, the antidote to an isolation
inherent to the human condition, that heartbreak that lurks,
physical or spiritual, always just around the corner, always just
outside the door. And it is true that we navigate mostly blindly,
mostly in the dark. The shore is often distant, if it appears at
all. In a perfect world, our shared humanity would be enough to
hold us close, to keep and tend our hearts, but I don't need to
say that the world is not perfect; it is precisely that imperfection
that makes it such a frighteningly beautiful place. And so we tell
our stories, and in so doing, we create a small but argent light,
a light by which we take the pull of our temptations, the gravity
of our many griefs, and in moments of fugitive lucidity, we make
from them a meaning— in other words, a life.
I named my third daughter Alta. She bears the name of my
great-grandmother— the small, silent woman I both feared and
loved. I keep a picture of her, Great-Grandmother Alta, beside
my bed. I beg it, sometimes, to speak.
And what is it that I would ask? What is it I want to know?
THE MORMON WOMEN PROJECT EDITION • WINTER 2012
WHY IS IT IMPORTANT TO TELL MORMON WOMEN'S STORIES?
"Because when they ore our own stories, they enable spiritual transformations and discoveries."
BOTTARI: A JOURNEY OF BECOMING
In February 2008, I moved to Seoul, Korea, to teach art at a
private kindergarten. I chose to leave nny job and family in
Portland and immerse myself in a foreign and complex culture.
Existing in an entirely new environment was simultaneously
thrilling and frightening. After the excitement and flash of
Korea dimmed, I was, at times, awash with loneliness. These
journal entries document my move to Korea and those first
few tumultuous months when I was required to redefine for
myself the term "home." This journey taught me that spiritual
transformation does not occur when I am comfortable and
complacent; it occurs when I choose to enter the wilderness,
face my fears, and open myself up to the divine that is waiting
Spiritual transformation does not occur
when I am comfortable and complacent;
it occurs when I choose to enter the
wildernessy face my fearsy and open myself
up to the divine that is waiting there.
JANUARY 22, 2008
To Send To Korea
■ Resume (signed)
■ Police background check
• Photocopy of passport
3 university transcripts
2 passport photos
1 Peter 5:10
"But the God of all grace, who hath called us unto his eternal
glory by Jesus Christ, after that ye have suffered awhile, make
you perfect, stablish, strengthen, settle you."
Settle you. Still, settled water. I need this.
JANUARY 28, 2008
In 1 Nephi chapters 16 and 17, I see that Nephi is fully present.
He doesn't dwell in the past and he doesn't fear the future. He
makes a bow, he hunts, he builds the ship. He gets to it. He
doesn't waste time murmuring or feeling sorry for himself. I
needed to be reminded of this as I am feeling really nervous
about moving to Korea.
FEBRUARY 15, 2008
1 Nephi 18:24
Lehi and his family tilled the earth and planted seeds in the
promised land. This act of tilling and planting represents their
faith in and obedience to God. They have dutifully made this
place home by literally setting down roots, just as God asked.
FEBRUARY 17, 2008
I am feeling so blah and scared. So vulnerable and nothing. I am
really freaked out about Korea right now. I'm leaving in a week,
and I'm scared. Scared. Scared. Scared.
FEBRUARY 23, 2008
I'd like to find all of the scriptures that refer to a gathering
place: a home, a congregation, a land, Zion. I love themes of
placement and displacement in the scriptures. I love the idea
of "home" as both a tangible and intangible concept. I love to
think of "home" as a divine concept. What does it mean to be
without a home for a time, such as Lehi and his family, Adam
and Eve, Moses and Israel, only to discover that your true home
lies in the heart of God? I wonder if it's required to experience a
period of displacement in order to enter the home of God. The
paradox: if you lose your home, you will find it.
FEBRUARY 26, 2008
I'm so scared about leaving for Korea. It's ok, Krisanne. It's an
adventure. You are adaptable. You can survive. Have joy in the
unknown. Be curious!
FEBRUARY 27, 2008
And so the adventure begins! I am riding on the train up to
Seattle, where I will fly out this weekend. I've felt such peace
and a real presence of joy today. I feel Heavenly Father with me.
It is a comfort. It is a miracle to have God with you, watching
over you, residing in your heart. This is a wonderful feeling— an
assurance about where I am going in life.
FEBRUARY 28, 2008
I'm going to start a blog to document my experience living and
teaching in Korea. About six months ago I was browsing the
Internet, and I found this website of a South Korean artist named
Kim Sooja. She uses the literal and metaphorical concepts of
bottari in her artwork. The word ''bottari" refers to a colorful
cloth bundle that women would use to carry their belongings
while traveling. Kim Sooja suggests that our bodies are a type
of bottari— this exquisite organic package that contains our
memories, experiences, and values. Now that I'm embarking on
my own journey, I thought that ''bottari" would be a good name
for my blog— it will be a place that contains my impressions and
experiences as I travel.
^\..our bodies are a type of bottari — this
exquisite organic package that contains
our memoriesy experiences, and values.
Bottari with the Artist, 1994, used Korean clothes and bedcovers, Yang Dong village,
Korea. Photo by Ju Myung Duk.
MARCH 3, 2008
I'm here in Korea! My head is swimming but I have a great sense
of well-being, a great sense of Heavenly Father's presence. I
know I'll do well, and I know I'll survive.
MARCH 5, 2008
I find that the moment I step outside of my comfort zone, the
world comes alive. Maybe it has something to do with the
way our bodies tune into our surroundings when we're afraid.
Everything is sharper— sounds and images dance. My ears
catch the cadence of the Korean language; I hear the rumble
of motorcycles in the alleyways, and the traffic on the streets.
Images catch my attention: spicy beef kabobs, giant Asian
pears, old men pushing huge handcarts of recycled trash,
looming buildings covered in Hongul. Do you want to learn to
be present like this? Do something that scares the hell out of
^^Do you want to learn to be present
like this? Do something that scares
the hell out of you.
MARCH 10, 2008
I have many deja vus here. At least once a day I am struck by
the stark familiarity of a moment, a conversation, or an image.
There have been a few times when I remember dreaming a
moment that has now happened in Korea. This is a testament
to me that I belong here.
What do I love about Korea? I love the food: bulgolgi beef, tteok
bokki. I love the energy of Seoul at night. I love the traditions:
bowing, taking your shoes off before you enter a home. I love
the heated floors. I love the pushy old women on the subway.
MARCH 17, 2008
I see now that the scriptures are all about movement-
movement from the old world into the new world, movement
from the old law into the new law, and movement from the old
man into the new man. The scriptures preach evolution, growth,
MARCH 23, 2008
It's Easter Sunday. I miss my family today. I wonder how the
weather is in Portland. I wonder what sorts of food we would
be eating today.
MARCH 25, 2008
Tonight, after work, I stood on the ramp behind my apartment
complex. I was listening to Ryan Adams on my iPod and feeling
the rain on my face. I looked in the restaurant windows at all
THE MORMON WOMEN PROJECT EDITION • WINTER 2012 13
of the Koreans. I looked at the Hongul signs above me. I was in
Korea. I was present, feeling the reality of nny life. I was living,
breathing, listening, getting rained on in Korea. I am here in this
foreign land. I am here.
MARCH 29, 2008
I had a lousy day yesterday. I was feeling lost, asking myself,
"Who am I in Korea? Where are my friends?" I was wandering
through the aisles at Costco and it occurred to me to pray. I
asked for help, and everything opened up. On my bus ride back
from Costco to my apartment, a woman my age sat next to
me and struck up a conversation in English. Her kindness filled
the aching gaps. I felt friendship— something at that moment I
desperately needed to feel. By the end of the bus ride we had
exchanged contact information. A new friend, a stranger, a
connection to Korean culture and language. God is so merciful,
p.s. The name of the Korean woman on the bus was Ray-yune.
When she introduced herself she said, ''My name is Ray-yune,
like a ray of light." Yes. Exactly.
MARCH 30, 2008
I caught my reflection in a store window on my walk up to the
chapel this morning. I was confronted with the image of my
body in this foreign landscape. It was surprising to me. I wasn't
observing Korea from afar anymore, as one would watch a
movie. I was in the movie.
MAY 8, 2008
I feel at times so peaceful and excited. At other times, lost.
Sometimes I feel even and still. Other times my heart feels
porous, soaking up all of the sadness until it becomes heavy
and dripping. I am feeling the weight of loneliness today. I am
crying in the art room closet. Sometimes I feel so sad I can't cry.
Those are the times I feel hollow, zombie sad. Stark, dry, desert
sand sad, empty echo steel sad. Cracked, rusty pipe sad.
^^I believe that we^re all in the process of
Muveiling^ that life continuously gives us
opportunities to connect with our knowing
self- — that part deep down inside of
us that holds all truth.
I believe that we're all in the process of unveiling, that life
continuously gives us opportunities to connect with our
knowing self— that part deep down inside of us that holds all
truth. In this way, the universe is so unbelievably merciful-
pulling for us, supporting us, encouraging us to connect with
God, even if it's painful. This process of unveiling is really the
work of becoming. I love the word "becoming"— it is hopeful,
JULY 4, 2008
In my meditation this morning I had a vision of myself sitting at
a table with my knowing self, my divine center. She was infused
with light. She was calm and piercing. She was a composite of
all of my ages— child Krisanne, young adult Krisanne, elderly
Krisanne. Like a hologram, every time her body moved, I could
catch a glimpse of one of these versions of myself. She told me
to press forward in becoming, that I was safe here.
Korea, by Elsa Muko
Incheon, South Korea, by Ashley Dollesin
Korea Pavilion, by David Spe^
MEDIA: Cut paper
"I am always drawn to combinations of
simple lines in architecture, especially
as they are seen on a rainy, foggy day.
Walking around in a city and capturing
images of those lines, as much as
possible, is important to me. I feel that
if I don't do it on the spot the same
setting will never be there.
"As I transfer those moments onto
paper in a minimal and simplified way, I
I hope to bring back the mood of those
THE MORMON WOMEN PROJECT EDITION • WINTER 2012 15
Telling Mormon women's stories
This feature typically gives readers of Exponent II a forum to present their own thoughts about a given topic, providing an
opportunity for readers who normally consume the publication to contribute to it instead. It also allows for a multiplicity
of viewpoints and perspectives, a founding goal of Exponent II. In this guest edited issue. Mormon Women Project
volunteers respond to two different prompts. In keeping with the mission of the feature, Sisters Speak gives the MWP
volunteers voices which are normally silent: while they are the ones who produce and edit MWP interviews, here they
come out from behind the editor's pen.
How does sharing your story with other women and hearing other
women's stories influence you?
THE WORTH OF SOULS
LOUISE ELDER | ENGLAND
The name "Tiffany Peterson" came into my head unexpectedly
one evening, as I was placing my book back on the nightstand.
Although this name came to me out of the blue, I knew exactly
why I was being prompted to think of her. A few days prior, I had
signed up to be an interview producer for the Mormon Women
Project (MWP) and was in the process of deciding which of the
eighteen people on my list I should contact first. Clearly Tiffany
was to be the one, although she hadn't even been on my radar!
A friend of one of my old roommates, Tiffany was a well-
traveled, adventurous single adult with a flourishing career at
a global investment bank. She had also recently become the
legal guardian of her eleven-year-old niece I knew the outline of
her story and that it would be a fascinating addition to the site.
I was excited to contact her.
I emailed her the next morning, letting her know about the
project and asking for her contribution. Time differences
notwithstanding, I received a prompt affirmative response,
along with this comment: "When I read your email I got a little
emotional, as it reminded me how truly blessed I feel and how
I know the Lord is watching out for me and has a plan for me."
Her response left me deeply humbled. I knew the impression
to contact her had come from the Spirit. To see that she felt
known and loved of the Lord as a result of my request made
me so grateful I had followed the prompting. From that point
on, I knew I would need to be really prayerful in this voluntary
assignment because I could sense the impact that participating
would have on all of us.
Tiffany and I spoke a couple of weeks later, and I spent hours
transcribing our ninety-minute conversation and editing it down
to a concise format. As I drove about the English countryside
during this time period I found myself thinking of her often and
feeling so grateful that women like her exist. Her unique story
and example of righteous living was permeating my soul. I felt
stronger in my own life choices and as a result, more in tune
with the Spirit. Out of love and respect for her, I really wanted
to make sure her story was told as purely as it could be.
The day came when the interview was published. I was nervous
and excited and hoped what Tiffany had shared would resonate
with our readers. As I scrolled down and read the positive
comments, one from Rachelle caught my attention:
Thank you so much for your story. I've been praying about
something for a few months now and I believe that what the
Spirit taught me through your concluding paragraphs was an
answer to my prayer. So thank you beyond what any words
could ever possibly describe.
That same feeling I had when I read Tiffany's response to
my interview request returned, but amplified. I cried. I was
humbled and in awe of the Lord. I knew I hadn't done anything
of myself: Tiffany felt known and loved because of her inclusion
on the site, which came from a spiritual prompting, and
Rachelle's prayer had been answered through Tiffany's story. I
had merely been an instrument in the Lord's hand. But I felt
so overwhelmed that He had chosen me to help Him in that
capacity. And once again I felt so relieved and grateful that
I had followed that prompting. There are few feelings in this
world that compare to being trusted by the Lord to answer a
person's prayers or to let someone know their divine worth.
This experience has made a real difference to me. I view the
story given to me by each participant as sacred, and treat it
accordingly. I feel honored to have interviewed courageous,
brave, and faithful women whose life stories have woven their
way into mine. Most importantly, I feel a profound love for and
from the Lord, for me and for each of these women. I know
that telling their stories is important to Him, and I know it is a
beautiful response to His admonition in Doctrine 8l Covenants
18 to "Remember the worth of souls is great in the sight of God."
fear of being judged or exposing yourself and family members.
What I have found are stories of women that describe the many
faces of what it means to be a Mormon woman. I have become
less judgmental, more accepting, and less alone as I read about
and interview these diverse women.
I am a fan of the tale of Odysseus and marvel at the
accomplishments of Penelope, who may not have traveled
the seas as did her husband, but nonetheless battled at home.
There are many "Penelopes" in this life who struggle with
various trials, but whose stories don't get the headlines.
When I interviewed Lisa Hansen, who has gone back to school
and is working on a PhD in psychology, I became aware of her
work to help young LDS gay members and their families. She
has helped LDS women who struggle with career and family
choices— a conflict I attempted to resolve in the 70's, when I
was in grad school. She gave me the courage to go back and
complete my master's degree— because if she could do it in her
50s, I could too.
The Mormon Women Project shows us that we are valuable,
and that each of us must travel a unique path for our growth,
as prescribed by our Maker. I love the quote shared by Hugh
Nibley at a BYU commencement: "To quote one of the greatest
of leaders, the founder of this institution. There is too much
of a sameness in this community. .. I am not a stereotyped
Latter-day Saint and do not believe in the doctrine . . . away
with stereotyped 'Mormons'!' Good-bye all."^
It's difficult to see our uniqueness unless we share our triumphs,
yet this seems out of place in a religious life of sacrifice. But
when you give women the space and place to share, when
you are prompted by questions to uplift others, women feel
comfortable. When I asked Lisa for anything else she could
share, I learned that she and her husband wrote the words and
music to the Primary song, "Nephi's Courage." Now, when I'm
sitting in sharing time, for what seems like an endless time, and
we sing that song, I think, "Hey, I know Lisa; she's a remarkable
1 Holzapfel. (2011). Becoming Master Teachers. Religious Studies Center , 12
(1). Retrieved from: http:/7rsc. byu.edu/arclnived/volume-12-number-l-2011/
2 Nibley, H. (n.d.). Leaders to Managers: The Fatal Shift. Neal A. Maxwell Institute
of Religious Education . Provo, UT. Retrieved from: http://maxwellinstitute.
DEILA TAYLOR | EL DORADO HILLS, CALIFORNIA
I tend to be an introvert unless lamina small setting of people,
then I enjoy sharing conversation. But I often hesitate to take
that step. A friend once pointed out, "You have a low-social
need." I'm not the woman who shows up at every ward function,
or Relief Society event. Yet, I enjoy and need friendships with
I am also one of those women who stray from the manual when
teaching Relief Society, Gospel Doctrine, or the youth in Sunday
School. I have always taken to heart what Joseph McConkie
learned from his father: "Look, if you cannot go beyond the
period at the end of the sentence, it means you do not have the
Holy Ghost. And if you do not have the Holy Ghost, you have no
business teaching in the first place."^
The Mormon Women Project has helped meet my needs
to go beyond the period at the end of the sentence. When I
read the first article at the MWP, I was drawn into a feeling
of camaraderie. I noticed the tab to volunteer, stepped out of
my comfort zone, and clicked on it. Becoming an interview
producer with the MWP gave me an opportunity to contribute
and a space to become involved with other women.
A good friend is a good listener. I have found that when I
interview Mormon women, I must listen to their needs and
words. Their stories leave a deep imprint on me. I am probably
not singular in this feeling or the feeling that I don't have a lot of
close friends. It's not easy to share your trials and triumphs for
THE MORMON WOMEN PROJECT EDITION • WINTER 2012 17
EVERYONE HAS A STORY
LYNDSEY PAYZANT WELLS | REDMOND, WASHINGTON
I've moved a lot in my married life— six times in six years--so I'm
starting to get introductions and small talk down to a science.
It can be exhausting to socially start over so often, especially
because I stay home with my two-year-old all day, so I have to
work to find opportunities to be surrounded by and interact with
adults. But throughout these experiences, I've grown to love the
chance to get to know so many new and different women. I now
have friends across the country, with different backgrounds and
occupations and family situations and lifestyles, and I love it.
I'm learning that everyone I meet has an interesting story— it's
just a matter of tracking it down.
I love the book How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale
Carnegie. In it, Mr. Carnegie lists six ways to make people like
you, and while none of them are particularly earth-shattering, I
recognize them as good common sense and have applied them
to my friend-making. Among the tips are things like become
genuinely interested in other people, encourage other people
to talk about themselves, talk in terms of the other person's
interests, and make the other person feel important. The best
way to do any of these is to ask good questions. When I meet
a new person, I try to let them do all the talking. Of course, it
feels great to talk about myself and share my point of view, but-
-and I've found this especially true in talking with other women-
-the quickest way to get a good conversation going is to get the
other person talking about herself.
Hearing from another woman, whether it's something trivial
like where she runs errands around town or something more
poignant like her hopes, dreams, and fears, always makes an
impact on me. I pick up tips on where to find best deals on
groceries, good playgrounds to take my kid to, interesting
movies to see-but I also learn new strategies for coping with
my problems, see new ways of looking at an ordeal, receive
confirmation that God guides all of our lives, or find the
reassurance that I'm not the only one dealing with a particular
emotional issue. Sometimes I hear something I wholeheartedly
disagree with, which always causes me to pause and ponder
why I feel the way I do and typically re-confirms my beliefs. No
matter what I learn, it always benefits me.
On the playground, at church, passing a friend in the hall and
stopping for a brief chat, I love taking the opportunity to get to
know other women. We've all been so blessed to have different
experiences and understandings, and we can help, comfort, and
uplift those around us if we just open our mouths. I'm almost
looking forward to our next move, just so I can discover a new
selection of stories. That's a big "almost," though-I'm happy
staying put and diving deeper into the experiences of the
amazing women all around me. Everyone's got more stories to
MEDIA: Oil painting
'This work tells a story of individuality, of trial and
experience. Of how people are like clothes. When we
are united, our individual imperfections (which women
are so prone to magnify in themselves and in others) are
overlooked. We become more beautiful."
18 EXPONENT II
As women we are often told that we are co-creators with God within the
context of motherhood. In what ways have you partnered with God to help
your life's story unfold?
jessica drollette j moscow, idaho
Ever since childhood I've felt emptiness inside, an unquenchable
thirst for sonnething just outside nny reach. I felt some of the
answers lay with my Heavenly Mother, but I knew so little about
Her that I didn't know where to begin. Meanwhile, the family
matriarchs taught me to find Mother Goddess in the nurturing
of children, and through the example of my elders I learned that
Father God's role— and ultimately the role of man— was in the
organization of human affairs.
As I grew, I longed for the day when I would satisfy my divine
role and seal the void growing inside. Surely motherhood would
bring such joy that nothing else would matter. But when that
day came, the void remained. I loved my child with a heart
nearly bursting, but a deep emptiness still tore at me. I searched
for a solution and eventually found a dusty library book on the
Eastern traditions of yin and yang.
According to ancient cultures, female and male energy— yin
and yang— exist in everything. The complementary relationship
between the two is captured in the yin-yang symbol, two
embracing asterisks, one dark and one light. Yin, the female
energy, is right-brained, chaotic creativity, and yang, the male
energy, is left-brained, extroverted power; together they form
duality in perfect balance. I swam the river of my subconscious,
trying to comprehend this new information, but all I
encountered was confusion. How could I align myself with this
new information, with the Co-creators of the universe, and fill
the emptiness inside? Maybe a symbiosis of the two was key in
learning to share equal space with the opposing characteristics
of order and chaos, strength and gentility, flow and stability. I
began my quest for more knowledge, praying for guidance.
One lazy afternoon, a leaf fluttered from an apple tree into my
lap, and a voice spoke inside my heart. 'This is female energy:
to grow from seed to tree, to shrug off leaves in the fall and
draw inward to nourish and rest, then birth new leaves when
spring stirs the air. Blossoms form, swelling into fruits that drop,
bringing new life in their own season." I tried noting similar
patterns in my own life as I explored the yin side of energy. More
than just embracing my role as a mother, I began to accept the
birth of change from maiden to matriarch to crone and to allow
the death of my unnecessary burdens of guilt and fear. I felt the
freedom to express my thoughts, to create with passion, and
to live with purpose. With excitement, I realized the void inside
was growing smaller.
But I still didn't understand how to integrate yang, or male
energy. Where was this structure in the rich symbols of nature,
and how did they apply to me? After scaling the Great Wall of
China, I finally found my answer. My fingers traced the rough
stones overlooking Outer Mongolia, and the voice in my mind
returned. 'This is a symbol of masculine energy: the stones
beneath you and the mountains around you are steadfast
and immovable, standing firm for generations." I began to
see the need for structure amidst the chaos of my newfound
assimilation of yin energy. If I didn't incorporate the drive,
dedication, and order of yang energy, my creativity would
become nothing more than the chaos of dreams.
My gaze lifted to the jutting mountain peaks surrounding the
valley, and finally the two worlds of yin and yang merged in my
heart. When I, as the mountain, meet the changing powers of
wind, water, and heat, the soils in me shift, and the wind and rain
beat upon me until I break. My shattered mountain mingles with
the surrounding soils, the ocean floor, and riverbeds, changing
me with each experience. I am buried by layers of other broken
men and women on the same journey, and I am pressed toward
the earth's mantle, where I again transform under intense heat.
Eventually, with great effort, I will break through the surface
of my own fears and insecurities, reaching for the hands of
the Creators, who have now successfully molded a stronger,
wiser mountain. But without the chaotic forces of the Creators,
the mountains within me would remain rigid and unchanged
On the plane ride home, I reflected on how my journey had finally
filled the void within my soul. I saw my mind (yang) as strong
and immovable and my heart (yin) as creatively chaotic—
both energies already residing within. I saw Mother Goddess
and Father God together, co-creators within Themselves, with
Each Other, and with all Their creations— forming a giant web
of connectedness. Co-creation with Goddess and God was
not some unobtainable goal. My journey to find internal yin/
THE MORMON WOMEN PROJECT EDITION • WINTER 2012
yang balance taught me that I co-create with Them every
time I embrace the chaos of change, the birth and death of
daily experiences, and the promise of renewal every time my
mountains crumble. All I have to do is reach up.
Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.' That's
it, the whole enchilada. Four wee clauses packed with gospel
truths: Christ's lordship, his relationship to God, our need for
forgiveness, our propensity to sin."^
I intend to recite the Jesus Prayer when I find myself thinking
resentfully or enviously. But I can't do it. The words won't stick
in my head. I turn back to Riess's book over and over to get
the words right. I write the prayer out, and it helps for a day,
but then I'm confused again. And there's always that edge of
discomfort from my Mormon upbringing— does it count as
prayer if someone else wrote the words?
Maybe if I set it to music, I think, like those impossible-to-get-
out-of-your-head Article of Faith songs. After all, I don't have
any problem with singing the same hymn over and over as
worship. But the music doesn't help me remember the words,
either. I am simply unsure of both the words and the notes.
So I give up on the Jesus Prayer. Instead, I turn to the hymnal for
a short, meaningful text. The one I choose is only three hundred
years old instead of a thousand, like the Jesus Prayer, but the
words buoy me (plus, I can remember them):
Praise God, from whom all blessings flow;
Praise him, all creatures here below;
Praise him above, ye heav'niy host;
Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. ^
Now, when the selfish beast inside clamors for attention, I
chant my hymn. As I sing, I feel a welling of peace and gratitude
that washes my selfishness back a few minutes at a time.
I need God now less for the plot of my life and more for
characterization, tone, and theme. I need Him to polish the
metaphor, to edit out needless words, to shape transitions.
Humming my hymn, I invite Him to edit my life in ways beyond
1 David Van Biema, "Mother Teresa's Crisis of Faitin," Time, August 23, 2007,
2 Jana Riess, Flunking Saintlnood: A Year of Breal<ing tlie Sabbatli, Forgetting to Pray,
and Still Loving My Neighbor (Brewster, MA: Paraclete, 2011), [insert page
number and delete the brackets].
3 Thomas Ken, "Praise God, from Whom All Blessings Flow," Hymns of the
Church of Jesus Christ of Latter- Day Saints (Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus
Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1985), 242.
ANNETTE BAY PIMENTEL | ADA, OHIO
In my last calling, I harangued the Laurels to deliberately
construct the plot of their lives: Go to college! Get married in
the temple! I told them God would help them make big choices.
But for me, those decisions came years ago. I puzzle over how
to include God in my life now that its plot is in place. From the
tempest of planning my life, I seem to have been flung onto the
flatland of enduring to the end.
Mother Teresa's experience resonates: in a stunningly clear
moment, she knew God had called her to care for the poor.
Then, for most of the rest of her life, silence.^ For me, the silence
has not been so total (nor I so saintly!), but I, too, struggle to
feel God's influence without momentous decisions looming.
Of course, there are still small plot points to be decided— Do
we live here or there? Take this job or that?— and I still rely
on fasting and prayer. But years ago, I was praying about the
trajectory of my life, seeking blinding Yes! or No! moments.
Now, the flatness of my spiritual life troubles me. Where does
God fit when the plot outline is already written?
I am intrigued that several of the women I have interviewed
for The Mormon Women Project seek God, at least in part, by
incorporating other traditions of worship into their lives.
Heather Farrell fasts for the month of Ramadan, but the
prospect of going without food for such a relentlessly long time
daunts me. Erin Fairlight Olsen uses the Muslim calls to prayer
as personal reminders to stop her daily work and pray. I am
annoyed enough by the preset alarms on my phone that I have
no desire to add calls to prayer.
I find the tradition I want to try in Jana Reiss's brilliant little
book. Flunking Sainthood, which chronicles her attempt to
incorporate various worship practices into her life. I have often
found it helpful to repeat admonitions to myself (be kind, be
kind, be kind), so I decide to try the daily repeated recitation
of a medieval prayer. Riess describes the Jesus Prayer as "one
of the most simple and elegant prayers I've ever seen: lord
Opening My basket
patti cook i north salt lake, utah
He leaned over in the car, took my face in his large calloused
hands, and murmured softly, 'This doesn't mean I love you
less. . . ." And then a quick kiss and he grabbed his bags and
disappeared into the Baltimore airport.
New Testament from 1 Peter. Both were of the same opinion
that I really never wanted to be married. I wanted to scream
into the phone that I wasn't the one backing out— but that
wouldn't have mattered anyway.
Across the country from any family or close friends, I was alone,
discarded, and completely disoriented.
I watched him leave the car, shut the car door, and then be
swallowed by the darkness of the airport.
And then I felt it.
I pulled up the parking brake, turned my hazards on, prayed
to God that I wouldn't get towed being in the ten minute drop
off lane, and ran into the airport after him.
Somewhere in my heart I knew if I didn't see
his face again, then I never would. I had run
through my fair share of airports, but this
time around I was spurred on by the pressing
feeling that the universe was about to merge
two roads, and racing against that inevitability
was my only hope. I ran till I found his terminal.
The door to the gateway whooshed shut, the
plane pulling away from the airport. No one
had said it, but I knew it was over. Our wedding
date was only a couple months away, but
somewhere in my heart I knew that although it
hadn't been spoken, something broke.
I couldn't have known then that it would take me almost a
full year to be able to look a man in the eyes, to care in any
meaningful way, to begin to sort out my faith on the ramifications
of personal choice and how although something was right and
good, it doesn't mean that it lasts. And in truth, part of me never
did recover from the roller coaster of that experience. There
was a girl I was before who never fully turned back on and came
^^^^^^^ alive again, who was never quite as carefree or
... my Advocate
gently said, "Just
things out of
Patti. There will
be what you
In the New Testament, in the gospel of
Matthew, the miracle of feeding the multitudes
with less than enough is mentioned on two
different occasions. I often wondered, did the
disciples realize they had been through this
before? Whether or not they did, we have
record that they told the Savior, the Creator of
the Universe, the One who atones for our sins,
"Um . . . Lord, we simply don't have enough
here. Maybe we should send these people out
to buy their own food. . . ."
That night I spent a long time thinking of what had happened.
Thinking of how complicated something simple can become. I
thought of the house he had bought for us, the rack of Disney
movies for our someday kids, and the neighbors in Arizona I
had met and planned newlywed parties with. I thought of the
wedding dress I had in my closet, the engagement photos, and
custom wedding ring I twirled absentmindedly on my finger.
Also there was the fact that in two short months I would have
nowhere to live and no job. I hadn't anticipated the need for a
My fiance would call several days after the airport, asking for
the rings and other personal items back. In trying to understand
it all, I got detached answers from him and a lecture on following
the priesthood from his father, citing some scriptures in the
I have felt like those disciples looking into my own basket,
shaking my head and knowing there simply weren't enough
resources in there for the task at hand. But somehow as I made
tentative steps to rebuild a life, my Advocate and Friend simply
and gently said, "Just start pulling things out of your basket
Patti. There will be what you need."
And so I did. Moving forward with faith, opening my basket
each morning and praying that someday I wouldn't hurt
anymore. And little by little, out of my basket, the Lord has
helped me create a new life instead of being buried by the life
I thought I should have. He has helped me keep my faith when
the questions seemed overwhelming and the road so divergent.
And He helped me trust, when years later another man knelt in
front of me and asked me a question.
THE MORMON WOMEN PROJECT EDITION • WINTER 2012 21
Writing As An Act of Faith:
An interview With Luisa Perkins.
Luisa Perkins is a successful fantasy novelist who draws inspiration from her husband and six children
and the various locations in which she's lived. Luisa talks about the discipline of writing, the challenges
of writing specifically for a Mornnon audience, and the role of stories in faith and creativity
HOW DID YOU GET STARTED AS A WRITER?
I got my professional start when my sister was a graphic
designer for Grandin Books, a now-defunct independent LDS
publisher. In 1994, I wrote an essay that Grandin turned into a
Mother's Day gift booklet, and it sold very well. A few weeks
later, Grandin's owner then approached me about writing a YA
novel. He thought there was demand in the LDS market begging
to be filled.
I couldn't turn down the challenge, and so my first novel.
Shannon's Mirror, was born. Grandin published it in December of
1994. It's about a young gymnast who struggles with anorexia,
which was a very real issue at the time among young women in
DO YOU SEE YOURSELF AS A MORMON WRITER OR AS A
WRITER THAT HAPPENS TO BE MORMON? WHAT DOES
THAT MEAN TO YOU?
I'm a Mormon who happens to write. My faith is so central to
me that it's like breathing: I don't necessarily notice it every
second, but it makes everything else possible. I don't set out
to write "Mormon" stories, but my identity as a believing LDS
person informs every creative choice I make, whether I'm
writing for the LDS or the national market. On the other hand, a
lot of the time, writing is like breathing for me too. I often can't
see myself apart from it.
The Mormon audience is very diverse— much more so
than most publishers— national or LDS— realize or want to
acknowledge. I don't consciously write for that audience; I just
write the kind of story I want to read. The benefit of having loyal
LDS fans is that they are enthusiastic proselytizers for your
work. Word of mouth sells a lot more books than anything else,
in my experience.
YOU HAVE SIX KIDS. HOW DO YOU BALANCE PARENTING
AND WRITING? DO YOU DRAW FROM YOUR CHILDREN
AND THEIR LIFE EXPERIENCES IN YOUR BOOKS?
I don't have very many hours in the day to write, so I try to
make my writing time as efficient as possible. My obsessive
personality serves me well in this case. Five of my kids are
in school, so that's when I write. Our youngest likes to sit
with me and read books or play with toys while I work. It's a
companionable silence, and I will miss her when she goes to
kindergarten next year. As good a sport as she is, my best
writing time is when she is napping.
As far as the rest of my hours go, I rarely watch TV. I limit my
time on the internet— and sometimes take fasts from it entirely,
because I have an addictive personality and the internet can
really suck me in. I try to stick to a routine for chores and meals.
My husband and I consciously schedule Date Night and time
with our kids so that relationships don't get lost in the shuffle
of our busy lives.
WHAT ARE SOME OF THE UNIQUE CHALLENGES AND
BENEFITS OF WRITING FOR THE MORMON MARKET?
HOW DOES IT DIFFER FROM WRITING FOR THE MARKET
I definitely draw from my children when I write. I steal dialogue
and anecdotes and memories from my family constantly.
HOW DO YOU STAY MOTIVATED AND ON TASK AS A
The book The War of Art, by Steven Pressfield, has had an
enormous influence on my writing life. Pressfield posits that
professional writers show up and write every day. Whether they
feel like it or not is immaterial. He describes the writer's constant
struggle against what he names ''Resistance" (and what I name
"the adversary"). Whenever I don't feel like writing, I re-read a
chapter or two of The War of Art. It kicks me right in the pants
and gets me going again.
I also have an accountability partner. She's a very successful
writer named Annette Lyon. Annette also has a family and an
unbelievably busy life. We email our daily goals to each other,
then text back and forth as we complete tasks and word counts
throughout each weekday. I've gotten far more effective with
my writing time since Annette and I started this partnership
over a year ago. I strongly recommend finding an accountability
partner to any struggling writer.
YOUR WORK SEEMS TO BE VERY GROUNDED IN A SENSE OF
PLACE. HOW HAVE THE PLACES YOU'VE LIVED CROPPED
UP IN YOUR WRITING?
I take a lot of joy and strength from the beauty of my environment.
I am a very visual writer, and I consciously take time to describe
the physical setting of the "movie in my head"— the action of
My novel Dispirited is set in Manhattan and the Hudson
Highlands. My family and I happened to have lived in each place
for eleven years, so I know and love them both very well. For
me, the settings are almost characters in the story. The contrast
between the two places has a lot to say about the novel's theme
TALK A LITTLE BIT ABOUT THE GENESIS OF YOUR IDEA FOR
DISPIRITED AND THE PROCESS OF WRITING THE NOVEL
A long time ago, I read an article about astral projection— the
process of consciously leaving your body behind and roaming
about. I thought it sounded fascinating but terribly dangerous. I
couldn't stop wondering what would happen if some other spirit
took over your body while you were gone.
Years later, I saw an evocative photograph of an abandoned
house in the woods. I immediately knew I had to set a story
MEDIA: Oil on board
"We have two biological children and two adopted
children, all boys. Our failed adoption involved a baby
girl and it brought up all kinds of feelings I didn't know I
had about having a daughter and what that would have
meant to me. I did this painting as therapy for myself, to
express my sadness at the loss of the opportunity to pass
on what being a woman means to my own daughter.
"Being a mother is such a pivotal part of being a Mormon
woman, that when things don't go the way we want
them to or think they should, it can really hit at the heart
of everything you believe. I feel that it is important to
share our experiences and disappointments surrounding
motherhood in a real and non-judgmental way, so that
we can have a foundation of compassion for each other.
This foundation is necessary to have a society of women
who feel they are sisters in the gospel who can support
and build each other up, instead of judging and tearing
each other down."
THE MORMON WOMEN PROJECT EDITION • WINTER 2012
there, and I gazed at the photo often as I wrote the story that
became the novel. Once Zarahemla Books agreed to publish
Dispirited, I was lucky enough to be able to secure the rights
to that photo for use on the book's cover. I think it's one of the
coolest book covers ever, and it perfectly suits the mood and
tone of the story.
TALK A LITTLE BIT ABOUT THE PROCESS OF WRITING THE
BOOK 0FJER3MIAH: PREMONITION, YOU WERE INTRIGUED
BY THE INTERESTING CHALLENGES THAT CAME WITH
MAKING A NOVELIZATION OUT OF A STORY THAT
I was a big fan of the web series The Book of JerSmiah. Its
creators, Jeff Parkin and Jared Cardon, did groundbreaking stuff
when they created the show. It got rave reviews from salon.com
and The New York Times, and it won a Webby award. When Jeff
and Jared pitched Deseret Book on releasing the show on DVD,
Deseret Book was enthusiastic about creating a novelization
as a companion to the series. Jeff and Jared contacted me to
find out whether I'd be interested in writing the novel, and I was
thrilled to say yes.
I watched the entire first season of the show again a few times,
and then Jeff and Jared gave me the original scripts, which had
been written by students with direction from Jeff and Jared in
Jeff's New Media class at BYU.
Interestingly, the written script often differed significantly from
what was actually shot, so I watched the series yet again and
carefully corrected the scripts to conform to the actual dialogue
I then used those scripts as outlines. We wanted the novel's
dialogue to match that of the show pretty closely— so then I
got to go in and write internal dialogue, character motivation,
action sequences, and eventually entire scenes that don't
appear in the series.
Now that The Book of JerSmioh: Premonition is being released, I
am excited to start writing the sequel. Season two of the series
was never filmed, so this time, I won't have scripts to work
with. But the characters all feel like old friends at this point. I'm
excited to work with Jeff and Jared to create what happens to
WHAT ARE SOME OF THE CONNECTIONS THAT YOU SEE
BETWEEN WRITING AND FAITH?
One of the reasons I write is to pay forward the joy I have gotten
out of reading countless wonderful books. If I could give that
gift to others, I would feel very successful indeed.
Writing is an act of faith; creating anything is an act of faith. It is
very important to me that I strike a balance in my life between
consumption and creation— and that I teach that to my
children. As they read, people recreate the worlds writers have
created. Lawyers are creative; plumbers are creative. Just about
anything, if done mindfully, is creative as I define the term.
Gardening, knitting, cooking, mothering— these are all other
ways I express creativity, but writing is special to me. God
created our world using words, and He gave us all a hunger for
story as a way to find meaning in our lives. So in a way, writing
feels almost holy to me; perhaps doing one's life's work always
WHY IS IT IMPORTANT FOR MORMON WOMEN TO TELL
STORIES, EITHER FICTIONALLY OR AUTOBIOGRAPHICALLY?
I think it's crucial for three reasons. First, of course, a huge
historical void exists. Women have traditionally been silent (or
silenced). The lack of that perspective on the past impoverishes
us all— both men and women, both current and future
generations. We can't fill that void, but we can make sure that it
doesn't continue. Our voices need to be heard.
Second, sharing stories benefits the teller at least as much as
the receiver. I find joy and clarity and therapeutic insight as I
articulate a theme close to my heart or recreate something
definitive that has happened to me. Every writer I know has the
Third, Mormon women sometimes tend to isolate themselves
within shells of competence and busy-ness. They then can fall
prey to the lie that they are all alone with their burdens. Even
though the rest of the world sees them as on top of their lives,
they suffer what Thoreau called "quiet desperation." Telling
stories makes us vulnerable, but experiencing one another's
stories helps us out of those shells and opens our eyes to the
reality that others share the same struggles. I think that's a real
key to unity.
24 EXPONENT I
THE POWER OF CHOICE IN STORYTELLING:
AN INTERVIEW WITH ANGELA HALLSTROM
Angela Hallstrom is the oward-winning author of Bound on Earth, a novel in short
stories, and the editor of Dispensation: Latter-Day Fiction, o collection of short fiction
by Mornnon authors. As a nnother of four, a part-tinne college English instructor, and a senninary
teacher in her Minnesota stake, Angela nnanages to balance the arts of writing, and editing with her busy
life. She believes in the power of story to increase our understanding of and compassion for our fellow hunnan
WHEN DID YOU COME INTO YOUR WRITERHOOD? HOW
DID YOU DISCOVER YOUR ABILITY TO WRITE?
I have always loved words. I've always been a big reader, and
many of my childhood memories are of well-loved books and
reading. I majored in English at Brigham Young University,
and after I graduated I became a high school English teacher.
During most of that time I dabbled in writing a little bit, but the
majority of my energy relating to story and language had to do
more with literature: with reading literature, with writing about
literature, with teaching literature. And even though I dabbled in
it, I hadn't really started to pursue fiction writing seriously until
we moved to Minnesota. We moved from Utah to Minnesota
when I had two small children. I had been teaching full time up
until that point. Suddenly I was home with two kids, and I knew
I needed to maintain my connection with language and stories.
So that's when I started writing more seriously. I enrolled in a
graduate program at Hamline University that was originally in
liberal studies, but the more I started writing fiction, the more I
realized how much I loved it, and I moved into the MFA program.
That was when I began studying how to write more seriously.
I had always thought that writing was this mysterious gift
that bestowed itself upon only a select few: those people who
felt compelled to write for hours and hours and couldn't drag
themselves away from the computer. Because I wasn't that
person— because sitting down and facing that blank page and
blinking cursor was often challenging for me— I never thought
that I was destined to be a writer, or that I was a "real" writer.
But now I am a firm believer that writing is a choice. While there
very well may be a "muse" for some, and while there may be
that feeling of being compelled to write by some force outside
yourself, for me, the majority of the time writing has been an
active choice. Reading is always a pleasure. I'll read any time.
But writing, especially when I begin a project, takes discipline
and courage. Once I'm in the middle of a writing project and
really humming, then I feel that compelling drive take over. And
once I finish a project I'm always grateful to have written. But no
matter how much I write, the empty page is always daunting.
I'm just glad that I pushed through my mistaken belief that fear
of the empty page somehow disqualified me to write at all.
WHAT MOTIVATES YOU TO MAKE THAT CHOICE TO WRITE
AND TO CONTINUE MAKING THAT CHOICE?
I find a great deal of power in story. Like I said before, I've
always loved reading. The school subjects I was always most
interested in were history, psychology, and literature— anything
that had to do with people and what made them tick. Writing
allows me the opportunity to imagine all of these lives, which is
AS WOMEN WE ARE OFTEN TOLD WE ARE CO-CREATORS
WITH GOD. IN WHAT WAYS HAVE YOU PARTNERED WITH
GOD TO HELP YOUR LIFE STORY UNFOLD?
I think God is very interested in people choosing to act.
Embracing agency and exercising the power of choice is
central to our progression as God's children. Writing stories
has actually given me a lot of insight into the power of agency
and action, and so has teaching writing, because I have studied
how to write stories and how story-making happens. Writing a
story seems very simple, but in fact it is very, very hard. Along
THE MORMON WOMEN PROJECT EDITION • WINTER 2012 25
with working as a writer and a teacher, I have been the editor of
Irreontum [the literary magazine of the Association for Mormon
Letters] and have worked on Segullah [a literary magazine and
blog for LDS women], and I have been involved in lots and lots
of contests where I have read people's fiction. It is incredibly
hard to write a good story. Part of the reason is because people
think that, in order to write a good story, the only thing that
has to happen is something interesting or out of the ordinary.
But that's not true. What makes good stories is when people
actually make a decision in the face of the things that happen
to them. So it's not enough to have a story about someone who,
let's say, wins a lot of money in the lottery. Winning the lottery
would definitely be out of the ordinary. But you don't have a
good story until the main character chooses to act in the face
of this life-changing event and then reaps the consequences of
I think the same thing is true within our own
lives. Just as with a good story, I believe that
a good life is made up of brave choices and
being willing to own your choices and move
forward and ahead. There is a Spanish proverb
I like: "Take what you want, and then pay for it,
says God." That is the crux of all good stories,
I believe, and God wants us to learn how to do
that. If part of the reason we are here on earth
is to learn to become like God, we have to learn
how to make choices and accept responsibility
for the choices that we make. We must live life
in such a way that we are always searching for
the opportunity to bring God into our decision-
making process, but also in such a way that we
are not static or passive. Rather, we are active
partners with God in our own life.
I remember right after we got married my husband and I were
in Provo trying to find somewhere to live. I was really young-
only twenty when I got married. My husband was twenty-one,
and he'd been home from his mission for five months. We had
gone and visited this tiny little hole of an apartment, and I
remember saying to my husband, "So, we need to pray and ask
Heavenly Father if this is the right apartment." So I stood there,
outside and around the corner from the apartment, and folded
my arms. I said the prayer and I sat there for a minute, waiting
for an answer of some kind, and there was nothing. I was very
frustrated because I didn't feel anything. Why wouldn't God
reveal to me which apartment we were supposed to choose?
I can remember my husband saying to me, "You know, maybe
what God wants us to do is to choose where we want to
live. Maybe it's just up to us." It sounds almost silly now, but
that moment was, ironically, a revelation to me. I had always
assumed that God had made all the big decisions for me, and
that my job was to be in tune enough to hear Him when He
revealed to me this future that had already been planned. The
longer I live, though, the more I see that truly being a co-creator
with God is dependent on our ability to choose for ourselves
and take ownership of those choices— with a willingness,
always, to listen to God's promptings about what's right and
what's wrong. Because He will help us. But He hasn't made the
decisions: we have to do that.
Circling back around to writing and how it relates to agency— I
have had terrible problems with writer's block, and I think a
lot of writers have had that same problem. You write yourself
into a corner, and you're afraid to move in
any direction because you think. What if I
am writing this story into the ditch? Then I
am going to have to go back and revise it, or
even start over completely. We think this even
though we all know— anybody who has ever
tried to write or anybody who has ever even
taken a writing class knows— that revision is at
the core of good writing. If you are constantly
trying to avoid revision, if you think, "Well,
what I am going to do is write this thing all in
one shot, and it's going to be great and I'll avoid
making any mistakes," you are never going to
be able to get anything done that way. You're
never going to be able to write your story.
The same thing can happen in our own lives.
We can have essentially that same desperate
feeling of writer's block, of being terrified to go in one direction
or the other because we are worried that if we go down one path
we might have to circle back around. We might have to revise.
But I think that sometimes God is also saying to us, "Well, life
is just one constant round of revision." Life is not linear. The
writing process isn't linear. If you are too afraid of ever having to
revise your life, then you are also going to be stuck.
Not to say that it's not terrifying. Writing, like life, is scary.
You are constantly being forced to choose as a writer. You are
constantly making decisions for your characters, and it can
be terrifying to contemplate that you might be making the
wrong decision in your writing. But the only thing you can do is
abandon that need to control everything and just jump in and
start and have faith that you will get there in the end. That's
Just as with a
good story, I
believe that a
good life is made
up of brave
to own your
ultimately what good writers are able to do: have faith that they
will get there some day. Sometimes it takes a really, really, really
long time. I had a writing professor who was a great mentor of
mine— her name is Sheila O'Connor— and I remember sitting
in a class of hers. She had just published a novel that was
probably about 250 pages long, and someone in the class asked
her, "How many pages do you think you wrote?" And I don't
remember the exact number, but I remember her saying, like,
thousands. She had written thousands of pages to come up with
those 250 pages. I remember being stunned by the number, but
I also remember thinking, "Yeah, that's what it takes to write a
truly great novel". Again, I think this applies to how we live our
lives. We would like to be able to have these epiphanies, these
moments where everything is just startlingly clear. Every once in
a while that happens, but I think it's pretty rare. I think most of
the time we have to write thousands of pages in order to create
our 250-page novel.
HOW DO YOU THINK THE INSPIRATION OR THE SPIRIT OR
WHATEVER YOU'D LIKE TO CALL IT-THE MUSE-WORKS
IN YOUR STORY-TELLING? IS THAT THE SAME AS THE
SPIRIT THAT OPERATES IN YOUR LIFE?
Actually, I think there are some real similarities. The idea
that writing can be a spiritual experience, on the one hand, is
often true. I have had some very spiritual experiences writing.
I've had some really wonderful epiphanies. But like with pure,
unquestionable revelation, at least for me, the startling epiphany
is rare. When it comes, you appreciate it and you know to savor
it. But for the most part, I just have to keep putting one foot in
front of the other as a writer. And I have to do it with faith that I
will eventually get where I need to be. I don't start a story with
an unshakeable idea in mind of where it's going to go or even
of what it is going to be. I know that some writers write with
everything all outlined and with a firm idea of the end in mind.
But I really don't. I start with the idea of a character, and I start
with the idea of a conflict— what this character wants or what
this character is searching for— but I don't really know until I
have revised and revised what the character's desire actually is.
What I thought the character wanted wasn't actually what the
character wanted. But it's only through the process of revision
that I know what the story is going to be about. I don't get these
bolts of inspiration. I don't dream up really big complicated plots
and stories and outcomes and then just have to sit down and
type them out. Sometimes I wish I could operate that way; it
seems it would be more efficient.
DOLL SELF PORTRAIT
MEDIA: Oil on canvas with collage
'This piece expresses the frustration I felt as a single LDS
woman with a desire for marriage surrounded by a throng
of equally as beautiful, talented, and spiritual women.
When I painted this I was out of graduate school and
wondering what was next. I spent a lot of time wondering
what was wrong with me and how I could improve in
order to be marriageable (art degrees aren't especially
lucrative). This is making me laugh as I write it now, but I
kept going and let my life play on. Eventually I got married
and lo and behold! My life, as before, is still frustrating
and full of contradictions. This painting was my way of
putting a picture to what I was experiencing at a critical
bend in my life path."
THE MORMON WOMEN PROJECT EDITION • WINTER 2012 27
WHAT ARE SOME OF THE GREAT STORIES THAT YOU LOOK
TO FOR YOUR WELLS OF INSPIRATION, AND WHAT MAKES
One of my favorite novels of all time is Gilead, by Marilynn
Robinson. I think it's a great novel for three reasons. The first
is that the language is just amazing. I am in awe of Robinson's
facility with language, with what she is able to do with the
written word. Aesthetically, it is a very enjoyable experience to
read her writing. Second, I think she understands people. She's
a very empathetic writer. When you read her writing you know
that she loves the people she has created, even those who
are making bad choices, and she wants to understand them.
I think that too often people believe that a ''bad" character
must have bad or evil desires. In real life, most people— there
are always outliers, of course— think the choices they make are
reasonable. And you as the writer have to be able to understand
that choice even if you yourself would never do what that
character does. You at least have to be able to understand why
they would believe that what they are doing is reasonable. Her
characters are always very believable because she gives them
The final reason is that she is one of the few contemporary
writers of literary fiction who dares to be religious. So many
contemporary fiction writers create worlds that are completely
secular, although it's occasionally okay to be spiritual, if it's
a nonreligious kind of spirituality. If these writers include
religious people in their stories, usually those characters who
affiliate with an organized religion or a church of some kind are
unintelligent or close-minded or emotionally stunted. Even if the
authors believe they are being charitable to those characters,
there seems to be a whiff of condescension toward them.
Marilynn Robinson does not do that. She is a religious person
herself, and her characters are often very religious people. She
is able to handle religiosity in a way, though, that isn't didactic,
which is very difficult to do as well. I think this is why she has
been so celebrated by the literary establishment, too, because
she's able to avoid didacticism. Of course, it doesn't hurt that
she's a genius.
what is the heart of story for you? is it revealing
something about the human condition or
creating an aesthetic object for enjoyment?
1^ . what is it about story that keeps you coming
Zj back to it?
For me — and I know that it's different for other people — the
reason I love story is all about the human condition. Story helps
us understand people better. Even if you are someone who is
lucky enough to travel all over the world or to have come into
contact with lots and lots of interesting people, it's very difficult
to step outside of the bubble of your own life. The more you can
try to understand other people and their lives, the better off you
are. That's what story does for us— it allows us to at least get a
glimpse into someone else's world. Through that we can build
understanding, cooperation, charity— everything that is at the
core of building a good world.
That's why, to me, literature and a liberal arts education are
so important. Of course it's important to have all the science
and technology and math. But we shouldn't lose sight of what
can be gained in a good liberal arts education. Hearing stories
and becoming acquainted with great art, great philosophers,
and great cultures, allows us to inhabit the world of someone
who is very different from us and to encounter new ideas. That
makes the world better for all of us. There's a quote I really
like by Richard Russo, who is a contemporary fiction writer,
found in The Best American Sliort Stories 2007 (ed. Stephen King
[New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2007]): 'The study of
literature has had what I believe to be a salutary effect on my
own character, making me less self-conscious and vain, more
empathetic and imaginative, maybe even kinder. Perhaps it's an
oversimplification, but as I've gotten older, I've come to wonder
if maybe this is what reading all those great books is really for—
to engender and promote charity. Sure, literature entertains
and instructs, but to what end, if not compassion?" (409). I love
that quote, and I think that's actually part of what all of you are
doing at the Mormon Women Project. Through telling stories
you're engendering charity and compassion.
28 EXPONENT I
DOES SPIRITUAL AUTOBIOGRAPHY HAVE A PLACE IN
I've read a number of autobiographies by Mormon women in
the last little while. I really enjoyed Emma Lou Thayne's most
recent memoir, The Place of Knowing. It is excellent. Kathryn
Lynard Soper's The Year My Son and I Were Born is excellent. And
I read Jana Riess's Flunking Sainthood. Even though that one is
a little different from a traditional memoir in form, I also really
enjoyed it. I am ashamed to say that I have not yet read Joanna
Brooks' The Book of Mornnon Girl: Stories from an Annerican Faith,
but it is on my list of books I need to read immediately.
We can learn a lot through story, and it doesn't even necessarily
need to be a true autobiographical story. I write primarily
fictional stories, although I hope that they still
feel true. Actually, people often assume that
the stories I write are autobiographical even
when they are fiction, which can be either
funny or frustrating depending on my mood. I
wrote a short story last year that was recently
published in Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon
Thought which was intended to be read as
fiction, but I know it's close enough to my own
life that some people will assume it's all true.
So I do it to myself. Sometimes I wish I was
the kind of writer who, when people asked me,
"What's your story about?" could say, "It's
about vampires! It's about time travel!" Well,
my most recent story is about a forty-year-old
Mormon mom who goes on a walk. Not only
does that description lead people to think it's autobiographical
(because who makes up a story about a forty-year-old Mormon
mom going on a walk?) but I realize it doesn't sound very exciting
on the face of it, either. I totally understand that. But the story is
about more than this very thin plot summary can encapsulate—
at least I hope it is. It's about motherhood and loneliness and
love and— here's this theme again— how terrifying it can be to
make choices in life. And the only way I knew how to give voice
to those themes was through story.
I think we need to have stories. The more stories that are
focused on being as honest and brave as possible about real
life, the better off we all are. I believe there is a lot of comfort
and a lot of hope to be found in the sharing of one another's
stories, whether fiction or nonfiction.
WHAT MAKES A STORY TRUE EVEN IF IT'S FICTIONAL?
WHAT ARE SOME OF THE CHARACTERISTICS YOU LOOK
There is an element of courage. There's a lack of reliance on
easy answers. There's a phrase, deus ex machina, or "God from
the machine," which, loosely interpreted, means "God made it
happen," or as it applies to literature means "the author made
it happen." In fiction, deus ex machina is employed when all of a
sudden out of the clear blue sky some improbable intervention
or unlikely miracle comes and solves all of your problems. That's
one of the issues I find in dishonest fiction: problems are solved
for the characters. Anton Chekov says, "What is obligatory
for the artist is not solving a problem but stating a problem
correctly." Sometimes, especially as Mormons, we're tempted
to think what we need to do is solve a problem
in our writing. Sometimes those solutions
are way too easy because we are trying to fit
them into a certain number of pages. Then
the story rings false because real life doesn't
work like that. In real life, very few of us have
some answer come sweep down and save us.
The knight in shining armor does not appear
for most people. So I think that honest fiction
doesn't rely on a deus ex machina to come save
the day. I also think that, like I said before
when talking about characters, honest fiction
refuses to make all its good characters heroes
and all its flawed characters villains. There
is an element of shadow in all characters no
matter what it is that they are doing. I think
that can even be true in genre fiction. I know people who will
say, "Oh, well, in a murder mystery, the bad guy can just be a
mustache-twirling villain and that's okay." Well, you know, in
some of the good mysteries I've read, that's not the case either.
People are complicated.
HOW DOES STORY WORK IN YOUR CHILDREN'S
EDUCATION OR THEIR SPIRITUAL FORMATION?
I think that it is important for kids to read, of course, and books
have always been a big part of my kids' lives. I hope they are
learning all the different things they can learn from all the books
they read, whether those be science books or fantasy novels.
I also think story is important in spiritual formation, or religious
education. Last year I taught early morning seminary, and I did
the Old Testament. One of the things I loved about teaching
Life is not linear.
linear. If you
are too afraid
of ever having
to revise your
life, then you are
also going to be
THE MORMON WOMEN PROJECT EDITION • WINTER 2012 29
the Old Testament was all the stories. It was fascinating to get
underneath all of those stories and to be able to talk to the
students and say, "Let's really try to imagine what Hagar must
have felt like when she was cast out into the wilderness. Let's try
to imagine what Sarah must have felt like with Ishmael being the
firstborn son but having a desire to have Isaac be the birthright
son. Let's put ourselves in these real people's shoes and then
apply that to our own lives. How does it feel?" There's so much
jealousy in the Old Testament, for example, and looking at all
those stories was a great way to be able to talk about jealousy,
what it does, and how it can infect our lives. And I think it has
more of an impact than simply saying, "God tells us. Thou shalt
not covet.'" That's just an abstract commandment. But if we can
make it into a concrete story with real people who have real
longings and real disappointments and real choices that are
difficult and complicated, then I think it's easier for our children
to apply in their own lives.
WOULD YOU TALK FOR JUST A LITTLE BIT ABOUT YOUR
OWN CREATIVE PRACTICE AND HOW YOU BALANCE ALL
THE ELEMENTS OF YOUR LIFE?
I will say I have a lot going on in my life right now, which is
true of almost anyone no matter what part of life they are in.
But I'm in a part of life that is pretty jam-packed. I have four
kids, and they range in age from five to sixteen. I have a part-
time job as a writing teacher, and teaching is just as important
to me as writing. When I lived in Utah I taught at BYU as an
adjunct for a while, but here in Minnesota I've been teaching
at a local community college. So between my teaching job and
everything at home that goes on and my church callings, I try to
work in time to write in the nooks and crannies of my life. I have
given up— and some people who are very dedicated artists will
probably not agree with me here— but I have given up the idea
that right now in my life I can be a great writer. This is simply
because I'm not able to dedicate the amount of time that the art
form requires. That said, I have enough time and energy to write
one short story that I am satisfied with a year. I know that to
some people that probably sounds like a very dribbling amount.
But for me it fits into my life right now in a satisfying way. I have
every expectation that in other seasons of my life I will have
more time, but it's also important to me to keep that part of
myself active and engaged, so I keep at it, a little at a time.
WHAT SORT OF EFFECT DOES MAKING THAT CHOICE AS
AN LDS WOMAN HAVE ON YOU? ARE THE STEREOTYPICAL
GENDER ROLES SOMETHING YOU WRESTLE WITH?
Definitely. I wasn't able to find a teaching job for a year and a
half after we moved to Minnesota, I'd left behind the literary
community I'd built up in Utah, and I felt the loss of those things
keenly. I really struggled with being jealous of people who could
just leave and go be in an office and write if they wanted to and
have some quiet and solitude. I also missed teaching a great
deal. I felt like my life was primarily about supporting the needs
of all those around me, which is of course a very noble and
important role to fill, but I also felt that pursing my creative and
professional pursuits— even in a limited way— was essential to
my feeling like a whole person.
That said, I wouldn't change the life that I have now for anything.
I'm grateful that I made the choices that I have made to be able
to be present in my kids' lives as much as possible. I am married
to a good man who wants me to be happy and who supports
whatever choice I make— at least so far! And circling back
to that quote, "Take what you want and then pay for it, says
God"— everything that's in my life right now that is battling for
my attention, I want. I want all of it. I'm going to have to make
sacrifices in different areas of my life, but if I can own those
choices, I am much less likely to feel resentful or angsty. If I can
do that, then I am able to have a little bit more serenity about
some of the sacrifices that I have to make in order to enjoy the
wonderful benefits of having a family and actively serving in the
Church, for example.
WHAT WOULD YOU SAY TO WOMEN WHO HAVE A DESIRE
TO TELL STORIES, AND HOW WOULD YOU ENCOURAGE
THEM TO TELL THOSE STORIES?
First of all, I believe that any time people choose to tell their
stories that it adds to our collective sense of compassion and
charity. Sometimes as Mormon women we think of service as
making a casserole and taking it to a neighbor or babysitting
someone's children. Those are definitely acts of service, and
they are wonderful, but writing can also be an act of service.
I think sometimes people imagine writing as a very solitary
thing. You have this image of a writer holed up alone with his or
her own thoughts, and that happens, obviously, in the writing
process. But ultimately, if you are writing with the purpose of
having other people read it, you have to believe that adding your
voice to the world— especially if you do it in a spirit of wanting
people to come together— can increase the power of good in
the world. And I think that's a noble thing.
The Place of Knowing
A Spiritual Autobiography
BY EMMA Lou WARNER THAYNE
"Spiritual perception in the real world is tricky. The reality
of life gets in the way of living in the Spirit— it's hard to stay
there/' Ennma Lou Thayne writes in the Epilogue of her latest
book, The Place of Knowing. How often have I felt that! In my
life as a busy twenty-first-century Mormon woman and mother,
a self-employed literary agent and freelance editor, a wife,
homemaker, citizen, volunteer, and friend, it seems there is
little room left over for "living in the Spirit." However, my friend
Emma Lou Thayne proves it can be done and
with incredible results. Emma Lou manages
to stay spiritually perceptive in her "real" life
better than anyone I have ever known.
story of her
the story at the heart of The Place of
Knowing. We talked like old friends for over an hour. Emma Lou
has a talent for making you feel known, accepted, and perfectly
at ease while drawing out your deepest thoughts. I knew
immediately that I wanted to work with her, that knowing her
and being known by her would bless my life.
I had the pleasure and privilege of meeting
Emma Lou in 2006, when she enlisted my help
to find a distributor for the audio edition of The
Place of Knowing: A Spiritual Autobiography. At
the time, she had struggled to find a publisher
for the work and had independently recorded
an audio edition, which she had been selling
herself out of boxes stored in her basement.
She was teaching a course on writing your
own story as a part of the Lifelong Learning
program at the University of Utah and wanted
to use the book as part of her course materials.
She dearly wanted to see it in a print edition,
and, as a literary agent, I agreed to help her
find a national publisher to take it on. The local
LDS publishers she had already approached
had been wary of the more mystical concepts ^^^^^^^
discussed in the book, despite Emma Lou's
reputation as one of the greatest poets and writers of the LDS
In the years I
Emma Lou, I
have come to
this need to
others, to be a
flame that draws
out the flame in
her actions, her
I listened as she told me her stories: she is the
mother of five daughters and grandmother
of nineteen boys and girls, an accomplished
tennis player who coached the University of
Utah Women's Tennis team and taught English
classes at the U while raising her young family,
and a prolific poet and the author of thirteen
books. From the time her children were small,
she would stay up all night once a week so she
could have time to read, think, write, and listen
to what the night had to give.
Then there was the story of her remarkable
I'll never forget our first meeting— it was a snowy, dark evening
when I arrived at her home, somewhat nervous to meet this living
legend. She met me with open arms, bright eyes and such curiosity
about me and my life— any nerves I had were immediately
forgotten as we talked about writing, my life, politics, and the
In June of 1986, Emma Lou Thayne was coming
home from a family camping trip with her son-
in-law Jim at the wheel. Without warning,
a three-foot long, six-pound, L-shaped iron
rod, the kind used to hold the mud flap on an
eighteen-wheel trailer truck, came crashing
through the windshield and struck her in the
face, narrowly missing her right eye and causing eight fractures
and a broken jaw and killing six teeth. Her face had to be
surgically screwed back together with titanium plates. Police
and doctors said no one should have survived a blow of such
force. Jim, who had witnessed it happen, said, "No way you
could have survived. Grey" (Emma Lou is ''Grandma Grey" to
her grandchildren). Emma Lou felt strangely detached from the
experience, like she was floating somewhere above it all.
THE MORMON WOMEN PROJECT EDITION • WINTER 2012 31
In The Place of Knowing, Emma Lou describes how during
months of surgeries and recuperation, she struggled to become
herself again: she suffered from violent nightmares and found
that she couldn't cry or laugh as she used to. She felt remote,
disconnected, unable to feel anything. A friend recommended
she meet Rachel, a gifted intuitive who 'Yead" her chakras. In
Hindu and Buddhist traditions, chakras are energy centers of
the body and their state of balance reflects in our physical,
mental, and emotional health. Rachel told Emma Lou:
You ore walking very lightly on the earth. You have been to the
place of knowing, and you have come back to do something.
You have made a promise— to tell us about that place of
knowing. Until you can do it, the sadness will be there.
This resonated deeply for Emma Lou and started her on a
journey of exploration to figure out exactly what had happened
to her in the accident. A friend was the first one to speak it out
loud: "But of course I understand," she told Emma Lou. "You
died." Around this time, Emma Lou awoke from a dream one
morning knowing she had revisited the place she had gone to in
the accident— her childhood home. This particular dream was
life altering. Even after she awoke, she felt she could re-enter
the place she had been in the dream throughout the next day.
It was less of a dream than an awakening to the child life I
had known. In my vision, I still knew every castor bean in the
spindly garden, every crack in the uneven pavement, where
my family— of no age as their forever selves— were waiting
for me, a total enveloping of time. The family at the table the
way we always sat: Father, Gill, Mother, me. Grandma at the
end opposite Father; on the other side. Homer, Richard— three
gone, four still here. Then I was almost awake, crying, my
tears welling and spilling in a joy beyond joy, everything and
everyone utterly dear, accessible, totally there. . . . I was the
true me again, in my freedom and rightness— effortless, my
being in both worlds.
Emma Lou describes the state of being she experienced in this
dream and during her accident as "childness"— an idea very
different from the concept of heaven she had been taught and
had imagined in her pre-accident life. Such experiences have
led Emma Lou to believe deeply in the communicative power
of dreams— often poems come to her fully formed in dreams.
As months and years passed, Emma Lou came to better
understand where she had been during her accident and what
it meant for her and for all of us. She felt a deep sense of calling,
that a charge had been given to her:
Out of the grace offered to me, I could ask for ways to offer it
to others. Not only to live with the serenity of abiding in the
place of no fear, but to let others know of that place and of the
light awaiting them. I had to let them know that such light is
available without an iron rod through a windshield. For anyone
paying attention and expecting, that grace will open doors to
In the years I have known Emma Lou, I have come to recognize
that this need to share divine grace with others, to be a flame
that draws out the flame in others, informs her thoughts, her
actions, her words. She sees the world through spiritual eyes,
and her job is to guide others to a similar state of "knowing."
The Place of Knowing is an intimate look into what it means to
"know" in this way, as Emma Lou shares her very personal history:
she writes of a daughter's struggle with bi-polar disorder as the
genesis for writing the hymn "Where Can I Turn for Peace" and
about becoming an activist for nuclear disarmament at the end
of the Cold War. She writes of her relationship with a painter
named Paul Fini, a young gay man who would die of AIDS and
leave fourteen paintings, representing the Stations of the Cross,
in Emma Lou's care, and she explores her unique perspective
on nighttime and what it can teach us if we are open and
listening. She tells stories of growing up, of making remarkable
connections with people throughout the world, of healings, of
losing dear friends. Woven throughout the book are her poems,
often the purest distillation of her brushes with the divine. The
subtitle, "A Spiritual Autobiography," is a perfect description
of her memoir. The book is full of beautiful scenes and moving
stories, but more importantly, it maps the course of Emma
Lou's spirit: what she felt, how she grew, what she learned, how
the finger of God moved people and events to shape who Emma
Lou Warner Thayne would become.
For all her spiritual connectedness and willingness to
explore any and all avenues of divinity, inside and outside of
Mormonism, Emma Lou is not all serious. She is first and
foremost a supremely joyful person. Part of her "childness" is
that she loves to have fun. She delights in living to the fullest.
As you read, you can't help but wish you might have been born
into one of her daughters' families, so Grandma Grey would
take you on one of her "sprees" for your birthday. Emma Lou's
father had a motto that she still lives every day: "Try hard, play
fair, have fun." Above all, Emma Lou is a down-to-earth mystic:
she is utterly open to the delights of this world while seeing into
★ ★ ★
FAMILIES Are Forever
MEDIA: Mixed Mediums (cliarcoal, pencil, digital medio)
'This composition is a symbolism of my Polynesian culture
and LDS religious upbringing. Both influences play important
roles in my life. They also emphasize the importance and
need for a strong family unit in today's society."
We tried for over a year to find a publisher for the book, without
success. Many editors thought it was a remarkable story, but
it was too Mormon (no one wanted stories about Mormons
in 2007), or it was too difficult to categorize— not quite
Memoir, not really Religion, not Christian, not New Age. It was
disheartening for both of us, but we eventually reached a point
where I could do nothing more for the book. We reluctantly
parted ways, at least in a business sense, and Emma Lou went
back to her local publishing contacts, where she eventually
found a champion in an old friend, Gibbs Smith, who agreed
to publish the book. Finally, after so many years of waiting and
hoping, the book was published in 2011.
As I again immerse myself in The Place of Knowing, I'm struck not
just by how remarkable Emma Lou's experiences are, but how
mindful she is about recording and sharing them. One of her
great gifts as a teacher is nudging each of us to pay attention:
to the day-to-day brushes with the divine, the visions, the
coincidences that change our paths forever. I empathize with
Emma Lou's daughter when she remonstrates: "Mother, don't
you know that ninety percent of us live ninety-nine percent
of the time simply in the experience? In all the rush, who has
the time even for the inclination, let alone the chance, ever to
do more? Oh, would I love to." As the mother of three small
children, I find that with a business to run on the side, the
mundane tasks of daily life seem to consume every scrap of my
time and energy with nothing left over for pondering, reflecting,
and, especially, recording. Yet Emma Lou has managed to write,
to think, and to have a rich spiritual life, while being extremely
busy. Emma Lou writes:
Days go by so fast I can't live them. Only reflection saves
their gifts to my life. I hope this book makes clear that they
are there for anyone, the small miracles. But only through
paying attention can we respect and retain what is there to
awaken us, to guide us to a state of realization. The gifts. The
observable offerings from the divine and the human continue if
I simply take time to notice the subtle destiny. . . . What it takes
is that first step: paying attention. Attention to experience that
becomes a story of our own.
Emma Lou inspires me to strive for deeper examination, a slow
savoring of moments and details, and to keep a small notepad
handy to record it all. Even right after her accident, when she
couldn't see well enough to read, Emma Lou was writing it all
down. "Open up that notepad, and see if God won't fill it, and
you, with glimpses of the divine," I imagine her saying. Her
stories inspire me to acknowledge my own story, to live more
mindfully and notice the details: the slant of the early evening
sun on the grass, the curve of my chubby toddler's cheek, the
light in my daughter's eye as she perfects a cartwheel.
Emma Lou will be remembered by the historians as a trail blazer:
first woman serving on the board of the Deseret News, a lauded
poet, and Mormon mystic. To me, her legacy is being a woman
who is open to all things light, whether that light originates in a
Mormon chapel, an Irish Cathedral, an ancient Native American
temple, or from a stranger on a train. Foremost, Emma Lou
is a mother, who loves fiercely, holds her children tight, and
knows that heaven is where we sit down with our families at
an endless banquet of love and understanding. I believe that all
women, especially mothers, can sense the rightness of heaven
being about connecting forever with those we love most. Emma
Lou would show us the way to find this true home, both as a
state of being in this life and a comforting place to look forward
to in the next. This is the place of knowing.
THE MORMON WOMEN PROJECT EDITION • WINTER 2012 33
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SUMMER 2013 ISSUE
Mormon women Reflect On Temple worship
As members of the IDS Church we are taught that temple
worship is an essential expression of our faith. The Summer
2013 issue of Exponent II will be devoted to exploring the
diverse individual experiences of Mormon women as they
participate in, prepare for, or abstain from temple worship.
Exponent II is respectful of the sacred nature of the temple
and will not be publishing details of temple practices.
Rather we are interested in how women have interpreted
their temple experience, how they have felt empowered
or limited by their temple participation and what role
temple worship plays in their spiritual lives. The deadline
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