Wednesday, October 15, 2014

On Being A Geek Girl

Our smart, funny, geeky friend Kate M. posted this fantastic post on her personal blog, and we now reproduce it here with her permission.

In addition to being a student at the University of Utah, Kate M. is a bibliophile, backpacker, international volunteer, and full-time adventurer. She firmly believes in the innate goodness of human beings, the power to change the world through art, and the dementor-alleviating properties of chocolate.

I am a geek.

It’s not always apparent in my day-to-day life, but here in my apartment, it’s obvious. I’m writing this while sitting under a Return of the Jedi poster and a Lord of the Rings wall calendar, wearing an Amazing Spider-Man t-shirt and Adventure Time pajama bottoms. My nightstand holds a reading lamp, an anthology edited by George R. R. Martin, and an illustrated Neil Gaiman short story. My many bookshelves are overflowing with classics and fantasy novels and comic books. Mounted on the wall across from me is a quote by the Tenth Doctor.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

For and In Behalf Of: The Fall (Part 2)

This is the second part of scene 2 from the performance piece I have written. To start at the beginning, click here. To start at the top of scene 2, click here.

[F exits]

Allan: From all accounts, my grandfather was a great man: kind, giving, a devoted husband and father, a loyal friend. However, I also know that my grandfather was very much a man of his time, a man that grew up in Georgia and northern Florida in the mid-twentieth century. That is basically to say that he was pretty racist. I don’t really know the extent, but I certainly remember growing up hearing the terms “nigger-rigged” and the rhyme “Eeny-Meanie-Miney-Mo” including the hauntingly violent image of “catch[ing] a nigger by the toe.” And for the most part, there’s a simple narrative you come to learn in the South—even the arguably pseudo-South of Northern Florida—that lets you reconcile yourself to this messy racial family history: “they’re from an earlier generation, they didn’t know better.” But something about that is not enough; I still struggle with what exactly I am supposed to do with this strain of mortal imperfection that disrupts the vision of familial sainthood. To be honest, I much prefer whitewashing the memory of my grandfather’s racist convictions—it’s just more pleasant to remember the nicer, more uplifting qualities of the man, of which there were plenty. I mean really, don’t most of us want in some way to redeem our ancestors or loved ones as we try to make narratives of their past? How many eulogies tend to erase flaws, errors in the past, ironically in honor of memory? And I know I am not alone in this. How do you deal with your progenitors own falls from grace? What’s your story of Garden when you are a son of Adam or a daughter of Eve? You don’t have to actually answer; that was pretty rhetorical. We’re not getting that participatory in the performance today. At least, not yet.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

For and In Behalf Of: The Fall (Part 1)

The following is a continuation of the script I wrote for a performance piece that explores the practice of proxy baptisms for the dead. This is the beginning of the second scene. For Scene 1, click here

II. The Fall

[With lights out, projection reads: “The Fall”. Chuck Berry’s “Back in the USA” begins to play. Lights rise on female figure]

F: As my sister and I drive along the Trail of Tears, the most happiness I find is when we're in the car and I can blare the Chuck Berry tape I brought. We drive the trail where thousands died, and I listen to the music and think what are we supposed to do with the grisly past? I feel a righteous anger and bitterness about every historical fact of what the American nation did to the Cherokee. But, at the same time, I'm an entirely American creature. I'm in love with this song and the country that gave birth to it.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

God's Middle Managers: Why General Conference Is Boring And Why That's (Maybe) Okay

As I write this post LDS General Conference is underway. Those of you who are Mormon or who have Mormon friends are probably seeing social media flooded with uplifting memes, quotes, and invitations to listen to a prophet's voice. There's no denying that General Conference is an important Mormon ritual, in which millions of the faithful willingly sacrifice the better part of a perfectly good weekend to watch a succession of fairly dry, predominantly male speakers teach what we take to be revelation from God's prophets.

Lots and lots of this

I count myself as one of those Mormons (although I've missed a session or two for other activities in the past), but I have to confess: while I occasionally find General Conference inspirational, uplifting, and useful, sometimes it can be a little underwhelming. I remember talking up General Conference as a missionary. “Just watch ONE SESSION!” I would tell people. “You’ll be so hooked you’ll stay for the entire time! How long is that? Only 8-10 hours!” Once or twice people actually did watch. I remember asking one person how she liked a particular session. “It was nice,” she said. “A lot like what my pastor teaches.”

Sunday, September 28, 2014

For and In Behalf Of: In the Beginning... (Part 2)

This is the second part of the first scene of the script for a performance piece I've written called For and In Behalf Of. If you haven't read it yet, you should probably start with the first part of scene one. Enjoy

Allan: When I was a small child, I had asthma. Respiratory conditions were not new in my family; I inherited them from my father and his mother. I remember receiving breathing treatments on a consistent basis, whether or not anything was wrong with me—just a necessary prescribed procedure. Every night, my mom would take this plastic box out of my closet, the Nebulizer, plug it into the wall, turn it on, and give me this nozzle to breathe in and out of. I grew out of asthma, but when I go home for Christmas breaks, I see this old dance play out with my nephew; though his Nebulizer is much smaller and is shaped like a penguin—it lacks the flashy 1980s aesthetics of my greyish, “portable” Pulmo-Aide, a model the Internet tells me was discontinued in 1993. I can still hear the old motor in that clunky square box, humming as it transforms my medication into wet air. And an old smile presses my cheeks as I see the slight puffs of white smoke billowing out the nozzle. It was an entertaining way to breathe as a kid.

But there were nights when my treatment was not enough. There were nights when I had attacks. Nights and attacks that warranted my parents purchasing my Nebulizer in the first place. I can remember a few times when my parents rushed me into the bathroom, turning on the shower and hoping the steam might help me breathe easier. But what I remember more is my dad taking me outside into the night air. He’d hold me in his arms and walk around our little boxed-in yard that was part of our townhouse apartment when we lived in Texas.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

For and In Behalf Of: In the Beginning... (Part 1)

Hello friends. So I have recently written a script for a performance piece that I am currently organizing to be staged twice by the end of this year. First, in a scaled down version, at an academic theatre conference in Baltimore. And then again at the University of Maryland towards the end of December. I figured since there are some people who would see this piece if they could but will not be able to, so this is a chance for some to read it. Also, last year I posted part of a paper I wrote on race in The Mormon Miracle Pageant in Manti. That paper not only helped me get accepted into a summer fellowship program but also resulted in me receiving a graduate student paper award. So feel free to leave comments. It's a script in progress so is subject to change. I would appreciate feedback as I work on it. I will divide it according to scenes, and quite honestly this runs long so scenes will be divided too. But yes, here is the first part for my new script For and In Behalf Of.

Oh and here's the dramatis personae

A: Male
B: Female
C: Male
D: Female
E: Male
F: Female

For costume design, while Allan should appear in business casual academic conference attire (preferably with a cardigan and tie), all other characters should wear all white. The type of slacks, shirts, skirts, blouses, and dresses Mormons change into at the temple. As they take on various roles, a small add-on like a scarf, tie, or shawl should be sufficient.

For set design, the stage should be bare for the exception of some form of baptismal font at either center/center stage or center and upstage. Either a back wall or large screen should be used for projections.

Monday, September 15, 2014

I Don't Want To See Your Underwear: In Which I Complain About Garments

Let's talk about your underwear. Is that weird? I think that must be pretty weird. But I guess not that weird. After all, I'm Mormon. Chances are you are too. Depending on how you participate in the chuch, your underwear are kind of a big deal. It's possible, for example, that you participate in a biennial ritual in which an ordained church authority specifically asks if you're wearing your underwear in an approved fashion as defined by an esoteric ritual tying them with the creation of mankind. Yeah, that's definitely a little weird. So let's dive right in and talk about Mormon garments.

Garments essentially serve two roles in the LDS community. The first, which I'll call their explicit role, is as a personal reminder of covenants made in the temple. This is how garments are almost universally described in official talks and publications: they are outward but hidden. Sometimes garments are tied to modesty, with the assumption that they will be entirely covered and thus encourage proper, normative modes of dress. But I'd venture that most Mormons would agree that their primary purpose is to daily reinforce a personal covenant relationship with God.

Hey, hey. Let's cover those thighs, White Adam.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Religion on Broadway Part II: Repression

Author's note: This is a continuation of my review of The Book of Mormon musical. You can find the first post here: Religion on Broadway Part I: Arrival

Turn It Off perfectly highlights a common problem among Mormons (one we've seen a lot of lately). We have a lot of trouble with just accepting that people have problems and need to work them out. As I have been public about my support of OW and other more liberal ideas, I've been called an apostate and told I'm going to hell for not perfectly following every last word anyone above me ever said.

So jumping back into where we left off, the more experienced elders in Uganda are trying to help Elder Price through his confusion. The district leader takes the lead and compares Price's confusion over missionary work to his own struggle: his gay thoughts.

For this post, you need to at least read the lyrics to Turn it Off, (although I do recommend you listen to the song to hear the talented actors really bring it to life) so here you have the abridged version of the words:
I got a feeling,
That you could be feeling,
A whole lot better then you feel today
You say you got a problem,
well that's no problem,
It's super easy not to feel that way!

When you start to get confused because of thoughts in your head,
Don't feel those feelings!
Hold them in instead

Turn it off, like a light switch
just go click!
It's a cool little Mormon trick!
We do it all the time
When you're feeling certain feels that just don't feel right
Treat those pesky feelings like a reading light
and turn em off,
Like a light switch just go bap!
Really what's so hard about that?
Turn it off! (Turn it off!)

When I was in fifth grade, I had a friend Steve Blade,
He and I were close as two friends could be
One thing led to another, and soon I would discover,
I was having really strange feelings for Steve

I thought about us, on a deserted Island
We'd swim naked in the sea, and then he'd try and...

WHOA! Turn if off, like a light switch,
there it's gone! (Good for you!)
My hetero side just won!
I'm all better now,
Boys should be with girls that's Heavenly Father's plan
So if you ever feel you'd rather be with a man,
Turn it off.

Well Elder McKinley, I think its okay that you're having gay thoughts,
just so long as you never act on them.

No, because then you're just keeping it down,
Like a dimmer switch on low, (On low!)
Thinking nobody needs to know! (Uh oh!)

But that's not true!

Being gay is bad, but lying is worse,
So just realize you have a curable curse, turn it off!

When you're feeling certain feelings that just don't seem right!
Treat those pesky feelings like a reading light!
Turn it off! (Like a light switch, shut it off!)

This song is a perfect example of one of the most interesting aspects of the entire production: the outsider's perspective.

There are so many parts of the show that are so perfect. The garment line under every missionary's shirt. The name tags. The naiveté. The companionship struggles. The general feeling towards being gay. The missionary apartment right down to the picture of Christ hanging above the door.

You know the one.

But there are some parts that are obviously coming from outsiders. Ancient upstate New York. "Praise Christ!" Spooky Mormon Hell Dream (okay, maybe some Mormons have had it; I haven't).

Turn It Off is a funny combination of both. I frequently see in my fellow Mormons that tendency to avoid hard questions and pretend they were never there. They turn it off. I have heard plenty of stories similar to the one in the song about Elder McKinley and his deep-seated need to turn off his feelings for Steve—even stories wherein Bishops and other leaders have recommended "turning off" those feelings. I don't see this everywhere or every time, but it's one of our problems that pops up now and again.

From the outside, these few strange stories combined with the occasional genuinely happy Mormon face in a sad world creates an outsider's perspective that Mormons are taught in Sunday School just how to turn off any and all negativity. While fun and interesting to see, I don't think this is at all an accurate representation of us as a religion. Part of getting to be truly happy is dealing with the negativity head on and overcoming it. We've all had hard or bad times, but with time and concerted effort, it's possible to rise above the bad rather than repressing it.

But repression always ends well!
A part of me wishes I could see the show as a non-Mormon to better understand that outsider view and why they say the things they say about Mormons, but I also want to underscore the fact that my Mormon perspective helps me understand that the writers Trey Parker and Matt Stone are not trying to make fun of Mormons. We're a prop, and my last part will help explain why they really prove in the end how much they love Mormons.

We Mormons are seen as a little strange and needy and may occasionally insist that our way is the best way, and then, sometimes, people believe us. When they do, and the timing is right and everything is working, we help them find a kind of paradise.

To be completed in Part III: Sal Tlay Ka Siti

Cross-posted to Approaching Justice

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Religion on Broadway Part I: Arrival

For those of you who do not obsessively follow our facebook presence, my husband Casey and I recently returned home from a week and a half long vacation on the East coast. We spent 6 days in New York City, so of course our first priority was seeing The Book of Mormon on Broadway.

How do I even begin to describe this show? The experience?

If you've never had the good fortune of seeing any show on Broadway, I highly recommend it. I have now seen three shows on Broadway, and the performances, costumes, acting, singing, etc. are always spectacular. I don't know how the Tony voters ever manage to choose their favorites, because the presentations are pristine.

The Book of Mormon is no exception. Being the kind of Mormon who enjoys watching South Park, it was right up my alley in a lot of ways, but I'll start by giving a run down of the story and few thoughts before I dive into why I really loved the show (spoilers beyond this point, obviously, but I'll try not to ruin the whole show if you intend to see it some day).

Sunday, August 17, 2014

A Ridiculously Early Primer to the 2016 Presidential Election

It is a truth universally acknowledged that Expert Textperts is a leading authority in modern political reporting, and as such it's our duty to inform readers about the imminent presidential election, which is (as of this posting) a mere 814 days away. Accordingly we humbly present a comprehensive preview of frontrunners in the race to become the next High Priest of America, the greatest nation ever. Read on and enjoy.

To begin, we'll cover the party of small government, liberty, and God (probably).