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22 March 2007

tonight my mom brought on a blast of reminiscence. she’s been gathering up some of my sister’s old things and shipping them out to her in NY where jeni now lives with her husband and daughters. and as she was sorting, she found an old craft project that jeni and i had both done. we grew up painting plaster things–christmas ornaments, plaques, figurines. we loved going to the plaster shop that was a couple miles from our house. my mom would load us all up in our big old passenger van and we’d be off to wander through the shop, contemplating the difficult dilemma of which thing we wanted to paint this time. i remember this particular project. i must have been ten or eleven. and i just knew it was the finest bit of plaster painting i had ever done. and i remember secretly feeling sorry for jeni cause hers wasn’t as beautiful as mine.

if there’s any single object that could represent me and all of my hopes and dreams as a little girl–and a not so little girl–this is probably it. pink. and flowery. in a big poofy skirt. with a baby. and those books–the complete works of l.m. montgomery, purchased one at a time on my weekly excursions to the bookstore–were some of my favorite reading as a pre-teen and on through my first couple of years at byu. and of course i painted the object myself. because everyone knows that a good woman can make all kinds of things from scratch or craft in myriad ways.

those of you who know me now but didn’t know me, say, twelve years ago are probably a little bit stunned. but it’s the truth. i was the poster child of conservative mormon femininity. well, maybe with a couple of minor exceptions. i did love backpacking, after all. but that kind of fits in with pioneer trekking or something. and i was really into school and books (not just those by l.m. montgomery) and had a career path in mind. but everything, including the unfeminine backpacking and the career path, had a spin to it that pointed in one direction–wife and mother. at home, of course. i think the family i envisioned at that point in time was 8 kids. and a husband, of course. and i wasn’t sure if i would finish my bachelor’s or not.

obviously my life didn’t work out the way i envisioned it when i packed my bags and moved to the Y at age 17. i now have far more education than i ever dreamed of. i’m more committed to a career than i would have found acceptable then. and almost every political or social opinion i have now–imagine the reverse and ascribe those positions to my 17-year-old self. gun control? hell no! (except i wouldn’t have said “hell.”) environmentalism? that’s for fruity liberals. america fighting a war to “preserve freedom” and “promote democracy” in the middle-east? strike up the patriotic band!! feminism? that’s a naughty word…

clearly i wasn’t an entirely foreign being to who i am now. i valued education. i loved reading. i loved art and culture. i have always been a thinker, committed to examination and evaluation. i simply had not had much opportunity–or a reason–to examine the opinions that had been instilled in me by my parents and the other adults in my life. my platform in high school was that i was mormon and mormons believe “X.”

i’m still a mormon. and i still believe most of what mormons believe, at least when we’re talking about doctrinal beliefs. i’ve long since jettisoned much of the mormon cultural fluff that i accepted as a kid. and i have byu to thank for it. i went away to college knowing exactly what made me different from everyone around me. and what made me different was my mormonness. after two years of absolute fun (with occasional academic work) and a summer of dating a baptist, i found myself lost in all that mormonness swarming across byu’s campus. and it forced me to examine my beliefs and make them my own. it wasn’t a short process. but it helped me figure out what i think rather than what mormons think. and it taught me the value of ongoing re-examination. the person i am now would have probably chosen almost any university other than byu. but i wouldn’t change it for the world. if i hadn’t gone to the Y, i may have been a pink-flowery-clothing-wearing mother of eight by now.

8 Comments leave one →
  1. 23 March 2007 10:42 am

    I think the idea of surrounding oneself with a crowd who identify with all the things that used to set one apart from the crowd is a fascinating way to spark self-examination.I guess college was like that for me as well.

  2. 23 March 2007 11:23 am

    it can be an interesting way of causing self-examination. for me, though, i think the real catalyst was becoming good friends with someone who was different from me in some important ways (my baptist boyfriend) but very similar to me in other important ways. the complex intertwining of similarity and difference between us forced me to begin a process of re-evaluating certain beliefs–and, maybe more important, certain ways of understanding those beliefs. the fact that this man and i held some very important beliefs in common, while others were different forced me to consider the ways that was true of myself within a larger mormon community. i think what i’m saying is that the initial process of self-examination started as a result of loving someone who was different from me. and once the process of self-examination was started, i then went through a process of examining how i was different from the community identity “mormon.” which allowed me to choose continued membership in that community. and it was very much a choice.

  3. 26 March 2007 10:23 am

    This is interesting. I credit my going to a Baptist college for my continued activity in the LDS church. Being so alone in my faith for the first time somehow encouraged me to appreciate what I had. I’m sure that if I’d gone to BYU, I would have ended up leaving.

  4. 26 March 2007 2:04 pm

    i wasn’t exactly alone in my faith in high school, as i grew up in SoCal and there’s a big mormon population here. but i was one of three or four mormons in my class of 250. and i didn’t socialize much through school. i think that separateness is what led me to identify so strongly for so long only in terms of my mormonness. but mine was less about appreciating what i had and more about having an identity that made it less painful to not be socially active at school.i do think that the relationship between group and individual identities and those identities shape and influence each other is a fascinating field of study.

  5. 28 March 2007 8:34 am

    I was thinking about this; I went through a similar change but mine started early, probably because I grew up in Utah. I grew up in Utah, but less than a 1/3 of my class graduated from seminary; and at least half of the class was non-lds. I had gone to school with a lot of these kids since elementary, and all of them since 6th grade (small town). Some family stuff happened when I was 14 that really made me question Mormonism. Meanwhile, I saw the mormon kids who I was friends with treat my non-mo friends like crap, just because they weren’t LDS. In high school, a bunch of us were studying math at the high school. A girl I knew since I was four (and was a casual friend), treated one of my non-mo friends like crap, and so the non-mos at the table decided to leave and for some reason they asked me if I would go with them. The mo kids pressured me to stay. I ended up going because I was disgusted with the way they were treating my friend, and formed a study group that lasted all through high school with three very intelligent kids who often asked me questions that asked questions to me, questions that continued the process of change that started when I was 14. Right as we were signing up for classes the end of my sophomore year, two seniors went to their parents and said that they had no testimony of the church. Both seniors were from prestigious families in the community–and both kids were known to be two of the very smartest kids in their class, and the seniors said that taking AP English the year before caused them to question their testimonys and led them to lose their testimonies. Well, the Seminary teachers were involved with talking to the kids and their parents…and they decided to tell all the sophomores and juniors not to take AP english and used the story of these two kids as examples. About 15-20 of us ended up taking the class, and were harassed a little by the other kids in the class. That being said, I was challenged in a good way. I’ve loved literature since I was born, and there was no way I wasn’t going to take the class. I knew about the teacher, everyone did. She demanded more of us in that high school class than most of my professors did in Grad school. The skills and work ethic I learned in that class have been a very valuable part of my life. Sure, I was challenged, but it made me cement what I truly stood for and helped solidify my testimony. I know I would’ve been a different kid if I didn’t go through what I did so young. I’m by nature rebellious and a non-conformist and I know I would be inactive now if I didn’t go through what I did at a young age. I already knew at the age of 15 and 16 who I was–that it didn’t matter if I was different-and it didn’t matter if I was different than other mormons. I knew where I stood on principles, and I loved the gospel. I knew back then I was a Democrat, even though both of my parents are conservatives. I knew back then where I stood on social issues and was shaping my views as how I felt like others.There’s a back story to those two seniors–one of them is gay and I know he was dealing with all of those feelings back then. He did end up going on a mission–his farewell talk was one of the most memorable ones I ever heard. He didn’t end up staying, but I really admired him (I knew him pretty well) and I’m sure if I lived in Utah, I’d still keep in touch with him. The other one had a brother killed the year he was taking AP english. His brother was just a year older. Needless to say, both kids had serious things they were dealing with; and these men of God–these CES teachers couldn’t see what was really going on with at least one of the kids (the one who lost his brother–that one I figured out in seminary). Needless to say, I never applied for BYU. I was asked to try out for their soccer team, but I had already made up my mind that I wasn’t going to play collegiate soccer. I had no desire to go to a church school (and still don’t) because I wanted to go to a state school. My parents were a little angry with me when I refused to go and see Rick’s campus, but I didn’t want anything to do with a church education. That being said, I still root for the Y’s sports teams. My baby brother is finishing up his undergrad there and we talk about stuff. I’m proud to have a sibling that went to the Y (the other one followed me); he thinks a lot like me (he’s been called my twin by my family many, many times) and has the same questions about religion etc that I did–but I think the Y has been good to him. Anyway, there’s my novel. Maybe I’ll come back to this post, flesh it out into an essay at some point and throw it on my blog.

  6. 28 March 2007 8:50 am

    thanks for sharing, sherpa. i had my own experiences that forced me to be okay with being different. not radically unusual ones. just the fairly typical, and somewhat mundane, social problems of middle school. but they were difficult at the time. and my reaction was to accept the fact that i was different and embrace those differences, rather than to try harder to conform. i don’t think of myself as naturally rebellious. in many ways, actually, i’m a pleaser. but i don’t go against my own grain in order to please. i do think it’s a form of group-think that leads to people responding in the way they seem to have done in the case of the two senior students you mention here. part of why my research interests involve theories of community.

  7. 29 March 2007 11:32 am

    I think it is a form of group-think…that everyone involved didn’t think more about what the two Seniors told their parents and reacted the way they did. They were eager to blame AP English; and not think that there may be more reasons as to why the boys thought the way they did…..or that it was inevitable and maybe acceptable for Blake and Jaise to think the way they did.

  8. 21 April 2007 12:20 pm

    again. the unnecessary racism.

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