Monday, January 27, 2014

My Feminist Mormon Perspective: Opponents of Same Sex Marriage Should Not Be Afraid to Express Their Beliefs

I don't know many opponents of same-sex marriage who are timid, and so this post, written by Emily at Real Intent, which came in my inbox yesterday, was interesting both in the content, and the context and tone.  No matter how much I might disagree with someone, I have always taken it for granted that those who disagree with me have as much right to share their opinions publicly, as I do.  That doesn't mean that we get to choose how people who disagree with us respond, but as long the views being expressed are shared in a way that does not harass, bully or physically hurt someone else, there absolutely should be space in our "public squares," for people who disagree, to be heard.

After I read the post, I started writing, trying to be as clear, and as open about how I personally see the issues involved.  As is often the case, my thoughts, when written, were way too long to all be included in a comment.  So, I am sharing the longer form here. Feel free to check out this link for my shortened comment there, on Real Intent.  You don't have to read the post, but my thoughts will make more sense if you do, since this is essentially my response to what Emily wrote. 
 
I am fully supportive of people joining this rally, (see photo left, that was in the original blog post) or any political rally, and encourage everyone to use their rights to freedom of speech, free association, and religion. I would hope that people on all sides, of any political issue, feel that they have a right to share their opinions and to follow their conscience. They are not only fundamental to the government and culture of the United States, they are part of the foundation of democracies, and they are also a bedrock value of the LDS church; to allow individual thoughts and moral choices, based on personal experiences and revelation.  
 
I am not ashamed of being a Mormon feminist or an ally to all of God's children, regardless of their sexual orientation. I know people who think that both things are shameful, but their opinion does not matter as much, to me, as the opinion of my Savior, and the spiritual guidance, that comes from my Heavenly Parents.  I recognize that those who might attend this rally, and who believe that same sex marriage is an abomination, often claim religious confirmation of their views.  I don't think arguing about whose spiritual experiences are "right" does a lot of good.  I think it is much more important that we encourage people to seek their own experiences, and not just accept it on someone else's authority. If you believe that some day God will judge you, based on how well you followed His commandments, I think it is reasonable for Him to ask us whether we ever asked Him, if the opinions of others are right.  Whether it is "popular" is not the issue in my mind.  I prefer to ask God what I should do, and follow my personal promptings and experiences, even when they are seen as popular, or unpopular.
If the message of the "Stand for Marriage" rally speaks to your soul, then there should be no coercion used to keep you from attending it, and agreeing with those that are there. I also believe that civil marriage equality for heterosexual and homosexual couples, is not an issue to be lukewarm about. Everyone should prayerfully study the issue out, and be ready to act upon their answers to their prayers. I think that everyone should be willing to state their thoughts, feelings and reasons for the stance they take, publicly and without shame. 
That doesn't mean I agree that supporting a bill that codified the benefits of civil marriage, in a way that puts one religious belief over another religious belief, but I absolutely support the right to hold that opinion, to express it, to back it with your time, your talents, your money and your voice. I believe that it is bigotry, when we attempt to reserve certain rights for only one class of people, and so I believe that supporting the law is supporting bigotry. At the basis of freedom of religion and freedom of speech, is the right to speak and say things, that others think are wrong.  I support the rights of bigots, and racists to share their opinions, even when I disagree that their views should be made into law.
I think this is especially true because the distinctions in this law, between two classes of people where it is determined that one group gets the right to marry and the other does not, are sorted into those groups, based on the foundational nature of that person. Also important, is that the people seeking the law to be repealed are not harming others, if fact they are trying to undo the harm that was done by the passage of the law, and are seeking only to share the same rights that civil heterosexual marriage affords.  They are not asking to have a change to the law that would harm those heterosexuals who already have the right to civil marriage. I believe that all consenting adults, of any sexual orientation, should have the right to marry the person they love. That is what I think. It is my opinion. I I believe I have good reasons to believe the way I do. That does not mean that I think everyone has to agree with me, or that I see being challenged to explain my thinking, as a reason to not share my opinion with others, or hide from the conversation. I am willing to take the chance at being wrong, and am willing to stand up and stand behind the consequences, if I am wrong.
I believe my only deep disagreement with Emily's post,  comes in her analysis and interpretation of what Christ wants us to do, and people have disagreed with what has been written about His gospel for centuries. It seems to me, that the post is saying (in an almost offended manor) that there should be no negative consequences for those who oppose civil marriage for same sex couples, or for sharing that opinion. I don't think the potential consequences (having people say mean things) are unjust. I believe that any time we try to apply the force of law to our religious beliefs, that we cannot expect there to be complete agreement. That people who deeply disagree with each other are sometimes upset, especially when the law (or issue) in question, hurts or deprives others of their dignity.  
 
I am comforted to know that instead of bloody violence, there are societal processes of naming that deprivation of rights, and the people who support(ed) that deprivation. That doesn't mean that you can not, or even should not, continue to be vocal and proud of your thoughts and actions, even when they have been named as racist, sexist or bigoted, but it shouldn't come as a surprise that people on both sides of a contentious issue will use those words. Neither side will always be kind to those on the other side, and when the history of Mormon gays and lesbians, is littered with violence and suicide, mean words seem pretty tame as the response. 
Mormons, with our historical issues dealing with the fight, early on in our history, for the minority right to practice polygamous marriages, should be some of the people who are least surprised that matters of marriage and family are passionate ones for those being denied the choice. We took a lot of verbal/written abuse during our time practicing polygamy, and we have been dishing out abuse to homosexual, bisexual and transgender Mormons for generations. So I admit, I was kind of surprised that a reason people in Utah, would back away from exercising their right to free political speech, would come down to being worried about name calling, or as the post says, "I’ve read comments that are so hateful to those of us who still support marriage between a man and a woman and don’t believe that “right” should be extended to others." There are two basic issues that are joined in that sentence, but they really have nothing to do with one another. 
The first part of the statement posits that terrible and mean things are being said about people who support families, created by heterosexual marriages, and implied is that somehow those who are in favor of same sex marriage, disagree with allowing marriages between a man and a woman. I don't know of anyone who disagrees with heterosexual couples being allowed to continue marrying each other, whether homosexuals can or not, and I just don't believe that there are people writing mean things about all people who support marriages between a man and a woman. So, really, only the second part of the sentence, is relevant in describing those people who might have written the "hateful comments," whose existence is posited as unfair, and a reason people might not speak up. 
Just as I support every one's right to believe, and express the belief that same sex civil marriage should not happen, I also support the right for people to disagree, in whatever language they choose to use.  I have also seen "hateful comments" directed at people who believe same sex couples should be allowed to be civilly married, and even more hateful and abusive things said about people who are gay, lesbian, transgender and bisexual. Feelings run high on this issue, and while I understand that most people want to be thought well of, by others around them. There are some succinct labels, that are unflattering, (although in my opinion also accurate) that could be labeled "hateful comments" by some, and "insightful analysis by others.  For most Mormons, if we believe that we are following the teachings of Christ and His prophets, and acting as he wants us to act, we should not care what others call us, at least not enough to change our behavior. 
 
 
If you believe that Christ is, or would be seen today, as a racist, or a bigot, and you are following His teachings when doing things in those categories, then those words should be worn as a badge of honor. I believe that Christ was one of the first feminist role models, inviting women to come and learn at His feet, but I know that there are members of the LDS church who believe that feminism is unholy, despicable, and an epithet. I am proud to wear the label Feminist, whether said in an inviting tone, or with a sneer; since the way someone says it, and the way they see me, says more about them, their judgment and behavior, than it does about me.  If I am only searching for the approval of the Savior, then I am just as proud to take upon me the title of feminist, as I am the name of Christ. I do not believe that Christ or my Heavenly Parents are unhappy with me when I claim either title, but I know not everyone agrees with the spiritual answers I have found. 
 
(There are also those who consider Christians the scum of the earth, while others gratefully acknowledge a fellow Christian traveler with great warmth and hospitality. There are few, *universal virtues* in the world today.)
 
I do wish that the level of rhetoric and emotion could be toned down on all sides of this particular debate. Vilifying people of good conscience, who disagree over matters of civil governance, should be unusual, and instead we should encouraged increased discussion, more opportunities to exercise the freedom of speech, (that we enjoy as citizens) while being able to talk with those with other perspectives. Leaving echo chambers where everyone agrees, and sitting down with those with another view, could do a great deal of good in the world.  
Even more, as Mormons, we are taught that we all have been given the gift of agency, through Christ's Atonement. The Atonement does not bring *free* Agency, since the consequences of our choices and actions are ours, until we repent of wrongdoing, at which point Christ graciously pays those debts for us. It would be wonderful if we all did a little better following the guidance given in the Articles of Faith, and recognized that; we can only claim the right to worship Almighty God, according to the dictates of our own conscience, *if* we allow all men (and women) the same claim to worship how, where and what they may.  
For me, I have drawn the line at this point. I claim the right to marry the person to whom I am attracted to, and love. He has claimed that reciprocal right to marry me. Our faith community recognizes our right to marry each other, and have it officiated by one with the authority by the church, to join us in marriage.  It happens that the civil authorities where I live recognized his authority to marry us under the civil laws of our land, which means our religious marriage ceremony, was also our civil marriage ceremony. 
 
 
If the LDS church had not recognized our right to marry, for any reason, we could have gone to another church, or civil authority, and been married. If we had done so, it would not impact the marriages of any other Mormon couple who was married at the time, of who would marry in the future. Right now, that same right, to worship how, where or what they may, is not being extended to all churches, or to all people in our country. There are church communities, in my town, who solemnize weddings between two men, or between two women, and doing so is part of their religious beliefs. Those marriages are not civilly recognized, because the current law does not allow it, even though a heterosexual couple who had their marriages solemnized in that same church, with the same words, and who share the same religious beliefs as the homosexual couple, will have their marriage recognized civilly. 
 
Is there any way that I can claim my own religious rights, knowing that the authority to do so comes only by allowing all men and women those same rights I claim; while excluding a certain class of people from ever claiming those rights? For me the answer is "No." 
 
If for you the answer is "Yes," and you believe that taking that stand is what God wants you to do, then do it! Don't let nasty comments, or the fear of people thinking badly of you, stop you from doing what is right! Just don't be surprised if those whose rights you are denying, are less than polite about it, or if you find me standing next to them, as I believe Christ would have me do. 

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Random Thoughts

Sometimes you have a theme you feel you need to write about, however you have no idea how it is going to materialize. That is the way I am feeling tonight as I write this. So many ideas are swarming around in my mind, as they always do, and I know I need to say something, but I am not sure what. Sound familiar?

Faith has not always been easy for me. However, I am learning that a one-sided faith is detrimental to one's spiritual well-being. It was not until I discovered the Sacred Feminine and Mary Magdalene's role in redemption that I began to be able to embrace the Savior again.

My religious upbringing was not a bed of roses. Deep down inside, I knew something was missing. However, there was only one way to God and that was through "being saved." (speaking as an ex-Baptist) Try as I did, I could never establish that connection.

Unlike the children in my current church, I did not grow up singing "I am a Child of God." My very first memory verse was Romans 3:23 "for all have sinned and come short of the glory of God." This is not a very comforting message for a four year old who knows she is "unsaved."

About the same time I became a teenager, I learned about "the Rapture." I was sure I would be one of the ones "left behind." This caused untold trauma; some of it too deep to write about here. I ended up with an eating disorder that same year, and it almost took my life.

This whole time, I knew there was something "different" about me, but they did not have a name for it. Now it's called Aspergers, or High Functioning Autism. My literal mindset, along with the other students constantly picking on me - along with my desperate attempts to "fit in," made life and faith extremely difficult. No wonder I never felt saved! Add to that the struggles that come with growing up!

I had a spiritual experience once that I can only describe as healing. Although I cannot bring myself to share specific details, the experience was in the form of a dream/vision that was very real. In that dream, I was taken into a Baptist church where I knelt down at "the altar" and cried my eyes out. I was reassured it would all be okay. It was a sacred cleansing experience. Since that dream/vision I have never once questioned my relationship with the Divine; it has only been strengthened from that moment on. This is just one of many sacred experiences I have had recently, but it was very special.

Discovering the Sacred Feminine has brought about tremendous understanding and healing comfort for me. It has helped me to realize that the theology I was presented with growing up was one-sided. Perhaps the ministers from my childhood meant well, but they only had a small part of the message at their disposal. There was no Restoration or Heavenly Mother to take into consideration. Neither one was an option. Mary Magdalene was there, but she was just seen as a reformed "sinner."

I now realize there was a reason I saw "the Gospel" as it was taught growing up as incomplete. That's because it was. As I study the Scriptures and continue to make the connections, I realize I could not accept what was being taught on a heart level because there was a disconnect. The Gospel as I knew it was severely fragmented, although there were just enough pieces of the puzzle to tell me there was so much more our there.

I think I will be spending the rest of my life putting together the pieces. I have only just begun, but I have come a long way.  To see how much progress I have made, please check out my essay "Two Lampstands: Two Branches." It is up on my website Agitating Faithfully, but I just found out it will soon be featured in Rational Faiths! Stay tuned! I think you will agree I have come a long way since my Romans 3:23 days! 

And if I do "keep Mormonism weird," please bear with me. I am only a convert in progress!...and I've had a lot to overcome. 
















Saturday, January 11, 2014

My Feminist Mormon View: What would it look like if we didn't live in a rape culture?

Warning, this post contains thoughts, ideas, and language that may be uncomfortable for some readers. I directly quote some crude language.  I think it is important enough to the point of the post, that I have only altered a few words, while leaving the sentiments expressed, as an important part of the discussion. 

(***If discussing rape culture is uncomfortable, or if you want to argue about whether rape culture exists, please feel free to either not read, or read and not comment, on the post. I will be moderating the comments. If you can be respectful, and want to talk about your concerns, or ways to move forward, feel free to share your thoughts. We already know there are people who don't think rape culture exists, or who act like it doesn't exist or isn't important. If that is what you want us to know, we already heard you, and an argumentative comment section is *not* what I am interested in. I do hope that reading the post gives you something to think about, and that you have a great day!)

About a month ago, I shared a video on Google+ and Facebook. In case you haven't seen it, I still think it is worth watching. At the time, I got some flack on Google+, because I suggested that people skip the comments.



Here is my original post:

"I thought this video was wonderful, but suggest you skip the comments section. The commenters, (almost entirely men) pull out every misogynistic, homophobic argument in the defense of rape culture. The irony is that the comments section is exactly *why* we need men of courage, who will step up to the plate and look at the epidemic of rape, as the horror that it is!

My comment on Facebook, (before I read any of the responses/comments on YouTube, was:

This! This. This is so simple, and so powerful!
I hope that every young man, is talking about with their fathers, about what they can do to make a difference, in the lives of their sisters, friends, mothers, cousins, aunts, grandmothers, girlfriends, future wives/wife, sister-in-laws. 

Hopefully they are thinking and talking about how to be better men, who can set the example for their brothers, cousins, sons, uncles, fathers, grandfathers and friends. I think this is worth passing on!

The YouTube commenters only make me believe this video is needed, more than ever!"

I admit, I don't generally check my Google+ in-box for emails and comments from people I don't know, so it wasn't until this morning that I read this concise reply(?) to my post. The person didn't post it publicly, and since I don't know him, and don't want to encourage him, I'm leaving out his "name," even though it is obviously a pseudonym. (**used as needed, to edit language from the original email)

"We don't live in a "rape culture" you whiny bit**. You tell people not to read the comments because you know that what they say is true. This is all just a bunch of c*ap that is created by women who hate men. I must know at least 200 women, and not one of them has been raped. A few went on dates and had sex, and didn't want to tell that to their bishops, so they told their bishops they were raped, but I know they are liars. I talked to one of the guys, and he told me that she wasn't a virgin, so you know she was just looking to hook up, and couldn't handle it when he told her she was a bad lay.  I don't have time for idiots like you, who can't see what is right in front of your face. Wake up! We don't live in a rape culture, and you and every other woman knows it!"

I don't know this person, and have no way of knowing if his *facts* are correct or not, but his choice of words, his attitude, and his arrogance, reek of rape culture to me. I will not argue with him, but I did want to respond publicly. This isn't everything that could be said, but it is the response I think needs to be emphasized, every time someone denies reality.  

Rape Cultural is real!

If you don't know someone who has been raped, then you either don't know many women, or you aren't someone who the women in your life feel safe talking to, about this issue. 

The statistics speak for themselves. We have a culture that makes rape more common than cancer. If rape was treated as a medical epidemic, (like polio for instance) we would already have a huge consensus, that any rape is unacceptable, and we would be using all the resources available to fight all forms of sexual assault and sexual violence.

I have heard often, that "we don't live in a rape culture because," and then the person goes on to give either a person story of someone who they don't believe was raped, or they use their ignorance of the problem as "proof" that it doesn't exist.  For me, that is nonsense, bit after knowing a lot of victims of rape, incest and sexual assault, who both women and men, I do want to add something to the discussion, that is often missing.  (In fact, I think the fact that the video in question gives specific ideas about how to change rape culture, may be part of the reason that so many rape culture apologists have attacked the man who made it.)

So, how do I know that I live in a rape culture?  I know, because I can imagine what it would be like to not live in one.  Here is my list of the top five (5) things that I think would be different if we didn't live in a rape culture.  What would you add?

What would be different without rape culture? 

*We would not be blaming victims. We would be addressing some behaviors that put people at risk for being victims, in a pro-active way, without slut-shaming.
 
*We would not be claiming that it isn't fair to talk to all men, (and all women) about what they can do to make it more likely that all women, and all men, are treated with respect. 

*We would have a society that agrees that the goal should be all sexual intimacy *should* be consensual, and we would be talking about what consent looks like, with our society's youth, at ages before sexual activity is common. 
(Many people might wish that middle school students never had sex, (or that we could keep them from even knowing about it) but the reality is that we know a significant number of them are choosing to have sex at younger ages, and the less a young person knows about sex, the less able they are to have the knowledge to know what they are consenting to.  I personally think that Abstinence Only sex education, feeds the ignorance, that rape culture needs to survive.)
 
*We would be demanding that date rape and non-stranger sexual assault be prosecuted as often as stranger rape cases.  There would not be arguments about whether date rape should be treated as a crime.
 
*We would not be arguing about whether this is a problem, because we would be too busy, (taking concrete steps towards fixing the problem) to argue that it doesn't need fixing!
 
What else do you think would be different, if we didn't live in a rape culture?



Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Corrective Thea-logy: A Prohibition or Prophetic Challenge?

 by: Michelle Mormon

As I was reviewing the 1991 Ensign article "Daughters of God" by Gordon B. Hinckley, then First Counselor in the First Presidency, I began to see a correlation between Hinckley's prohibition against praying to our Mother in Heaven and the later call to "faithful agitation." The question that came to mind is are both of these challenges instead of prohibitions? Let's examine his statement in context.

In this talk/article, Hickley is addressing the concerns of a young girl, "Virginia" who has a testimony of the Restored Gospel, but is concerned she will not make it into the Celestial Kingdom simply because she is a female. Hinckley reassures her that she will enter the Celestial Kingdom if she remains faithful to her testimony of the Gospel.

However, once he finishes addressing her concern, he moves on to a more pressing matter; expressing concern that someone has "secured" a copy of his talk delivered earlier at a meeting with regional Church representatives. He reassures them that there is nothing "sinister" being hidden from the general populace, "as if it had been given in a secret and sinister manner" and then he goes on to read a portion of that same talk concerning prayer to our Mother in Heaven. In this talk, he regards it as "inappropriate" to pray to Heavenly Mother, using first the Lord's Prayer as an example, and then moving on to the Presidents of the Church- from Joseph Smith to Ezra Taft Benson. He adds, "The fact that we do not pray to our Mother in Heaven in no way belittles or denigrates her"...."of whom we have no revealed knowledge." Inappropriate, perhaps but not explicitly forbidden? 

First the declarations made in this talk are in response to some concerns being addressed by local authorities, that some had begun praying to Heavenly Mother in private prayer, a practice which made inroads into Sunday worship. The fact that Hinckley would feel pressured to tack this issue on to another similar issue and speak with the authority of the First Presidency, strikes me as odd, considering it is in response to a concern that someone had confiscated his earlier talk! Even the transition utilized in this speech doesn't quite fit, "Always let your Father in Heaven be your friend, to whom you may go in prayer...And now speaking of prayer....", as if he was trying to force a transition from one talking point to another, and rather poorly, I might add. 

Then he goes on to say, "because of the activities of a few who are evidently seeking to lead others in the path they are following....I regard it as inappropriate for anyone in the Church to pray to our Mother in Heaven." Who, I might ask, are these "others"? (as in a small pocket of feminists in the Church?) And doesn't this statement seem more reactionary than revelatory? - an attempt to try to keep the power of a few in check? Do we not see these same reactions from our leaders today regarding the women's ordination movement, among other similarly related causes? It's almost as if Hinckley is forseeing the eventual escalation of these issues, as the feminist movement grows and expands across the global Church.

Notice here that Hinckley never denies the existence of Heavenly Mother. In fact, he goes on to affirm Her existence, quoting from the familiar hymn by Eliza R. Snow. However, he points out that She has not been revealed yet, thus leaving open the door for further revelation on down the road. In keeping with Hinckley's prophetic challenge for "faithful agitation," I would like to add the charge to keep "seeking and knocking" (Matthew 7:7) so that the door to further revelation will someday be open.

And who is to say Heavenly Mother hasn't revealed Herself? We just don't have "eyes to see and ears to hear."(see Mark 8:18).






Sunday, January 5, 2014

Heavenly Mother's Heart, Christ's Eyes, and an Eternally Loving Perspective

I shared this* on November 4th, 2013, in the Finding Heavenly Mother Project FaceBook group. After several requests, I'm sharing it here. We would love to have you share your experiences sharing your testimony, or listening to someone else share theirs, that has impacted your relationship with Heavenly Mother.


*I bore my testimony today, and at one point I said, "When I look at others, I try to see them with Heavenly Mother's heart, and Christ's Eyes. They see so much more than I do."

It was only a small piece of my testimony, but I had at least 20 people comment on the "beauty" of the thought, one even called it "celestial poetry." The one that made me cry though is the woman who has macular degeneration, and told me that she was now going to tell people that she lost her human eyes, but is going to simply try to use Heavenly Mother's eyes, so she can see more clearly. 

Mentioning Heavenly Mother in even small ways, makes a difference, every.single.time.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Sneak Peak at the Naming Contest: Cross Post with AlaskaForDummies!

If you haven't had a chance to check out my new blog, you might enjoy spending a few minutes catching up. Things have been busy, so I haven't been trying to keep things chronological. I am sharing things when I have time to write, and taking pictures, so I can go back later and share the stories behind them, as I have time. You can catch up on my adventures finding a walker that will work in a foot of fresh snow, and at -40 F, so that I can get back and forth to school. You can go here to see Scott put things together the new walker here:  http://alaskafordummies.blogspot.com/2014/01/my-new-walker-needs-name.html?m=1

In a sneak peek at tomorrow's post, and contest, I am sharing it here first! (So it is a cross post, that poetrysansonions readers will get to see a few hours early! ;-) You can leave your entries here or at AlaskaForDummies, but all voting will be done there!

Now that I have my new walker, it really does need a name. So, I'm asking for your help! I would prefer that it not have more than two (2) words in its name, and hopefully it will have some connection to Alaska, the Arctic, (I'm open to references of Arctic weather, history, mythology or lore) safe travels, learning and/or growth. Bonus if it hits several categories!

To help inspire you, here are some pictures from our walk last night. (I am enjoying figuring out how to use GooglePlus photo editing!) It was around 5:00 pm, 10 F when we left for the walk, and 4 F when we got home. (It didn't go below zero, so no need for snow pants!) The walker was a champ, even going through 6-8 inches of powder, once it had its second front wheel put down, for stability. I'm getting more confident in knowing where the wheels are, so I don't bump things as often, and while I still slide, I haven't slipped so much that I couldn't catch myself, with the walkers help! 


 Submit your entry as a comment on this blog post, please. I will try to transfer over comments from GooglePlus and FaceBook, but I will not take responsibility for any entries not left in a comment on the blog. 

I will choose my top picks, and voting on the name will start on the 10th of January, 2014. The winning entry will not only have the satisfaction of being She/He Who Names, but will also receive a genuine Alaska Railroad pen!

Enter as often as you would like. Suggest a few names now, and come back as often as you have a new idea! This baby needs a name before school starts on the 15th!



Ancient Aliens and the Restoration

 by Michelle

Okay, I'll admit it....I am a huge fan of Ancient Aliens. I like to call it "brain candy," as in I am not sure how much good it does for my intellect, but I can sit there and watch episode after episode for hours at a time. I am completely mesmerized! I never get tired of hearing about "ley lines" and "Puma Punku," and odd alien encounters. I have decided I never, under any circumstances, want to come in contact with a "grey." I am convinced they are demonic! Oh, and I love the dude with the crazy hair and have always been a huge fan of Kathleen McGowan, author of The Magdalene Line trilogy and widow of Phil Coppens. I was so excited to see her on the show!

Today, I was watching the History Channel Ancient Aliens marathon, and they were talking about the power behind the number three. There is something about this number that resonates with the human psyche, whether it's the Trinity in Christian theology, Hindu Trimurti, the Greek Fates, or our distinctions between past, present and future. As a student of world religions, I understand that there is incredible power behind this number. I can also see what they were saying regarding the "third eye," (the pineal gland) but I have never considered the possibility that this may a built-in portal to a new dimension. There may very well be some truth to this. I do not think it's coincidental that Joseph Smith has been mentioned more than a few times on Ancient Aliens! (just think; people are being introduced to the Restored Gospel without even realizing it!)

Since I accepted the Restored Gospel three years ago, the truth of the Spirit world has opened up to me in ways I never even expected. I am convinced at times that there is indeed a fine line between the spirit world and the day-to-day reality in which we live, and I do not believe the two dimensions have to be mutually exclusive. Although I am not comfortable talking about specific spiritual experiences here, I now understand the reason I was so frustrated with the Baptist version of "the Gospel" for so long; it was a limited gospel that did not contain "the fulness thereof." (D&C 118:4) However, for me this "fulness" of the Gospel is not complete without Heavenly Mother. I firmly believe She alone holds this key to further revelation in this particular dispensation of time. It is in and through Her, the cycle will be complete, as women are confirmed equal partners with men as we navigate through these difficult times together. As women, we need the Gospel and the Gospel needs us. It's only biblical.

As of lately, it has astounded me how much I have been accused of being the "biblical literalist" of the Mormon feminist community, yet I openly support women's ordination, marriage equality, and yes, I worship the Goddess!  Somehow I doubt the Jerry Falwells and Pat Robertsons of the world would agree with this "biblical literalist" assessment. I suppose my evangelical background will always follow me wherever I go, but is that in itself a negative thing? For the first time in my life, I am solid in my love of my Heavenly Father, and my testimony of the Savior. (see 2 Nephi 25:26). However, I also need my Mother in Heaven in order for my testimony to be made complete. (there's those mysterious "threes" again!- Heavenly Father, the Savior and Heavenly Mother!)

Oh, and I am still convinced "the greys" on Ancient Aliens are demonic!...I guess that's the evangelical in me. I hope I never see one this side of the Rapture. (joking... I don't believe in that either!)

Friday, December 13, 2013

Announcing a Few Changes, including Julia's New Blog: Alaska for Dummies

As many of you know, Scott and I are in the process of moving, this week, from Portland/Oregon City, Oregon to Fairbanks, Alaska. I have never spent any winter time in Alaska, although I survived a winter in Ashland, Wisconsin during the 1995/1996 school year, so I at least have some idea about surviving in sub-zero temperatures, although I don't really feel ready. Scott has never had an Arctic or sub-zero living experience.

We have done a lot of research, purchased clothing that should keep us from freezing to death, and feel that this is where our Heavenly Parents want us to be. That doesn't mean we feel any more confidence in ourselves, just a confidence that we will be provided with what we need, at the time we need it. So far, (and we are only in Anchorage, we will take a train from Anchorage to Fairbanks on Saturday) we are pretty sure that we will owe our lives, our health and the survival of our marriage, to the people, educational programs, and the opportunities we are finding, entirely to the people of Alaska.

I doubt that we will ever be able to repay UAF, and Alaska's policy of allowing disabled veterans and their dependents, to go to school at in-state tuition rates. We are finding more blessings everyday, and we are humbled as those blessing continue to stack up, while we recognize that we will need more, if we are going to successfully survive and thrive, in Arctic Alaska. I have wanted to be able to blog about our experiences in Alaska, in ways that are fundamentally different than the format here at poetrysansonions. In thinking about what I wanted to do, and how I wanted to put it together, I came up with some ideas that I love, and that my children have been supportive, giving me their thoughts about what would be meaningful to them, and useful in some classroom projects at their school.

As the blog took shape, the name for it was elusive. I won't embarrass myself by some of my more grandiose thoughts, but when I was sorting books, and saw several (Simple sounding thing) For Dummies, I mentioned it, half joking, to one of my daughters. She said since we didn't know what we were really doing by going to Alaska, we might be able to help other "Alaska Dummies" to know what it is like.

(She then shared that after praying about it, she felt sure that going to Alaska, even with it meaning I would live far away from her, that she Heavenly Father told her that we were doing the right thing. Her sister would tell me the same thing, several hours later, both that she liked the blog name, and that she had also had the answer to her own prayers, that it is the right thing to do. Gotta love those girls. I am humbled to get to be the Momma to all of my kids.)

So, if you want to check out the first two posts, they are up, over at Alaskafordummies.blogspot.com

The format will change some, become more predictable as far as the content of the pictures, and I hope to keep the posts relatively short, no more than 6-7 paragraphs, of tight, focused, and hopefully interesting prose. I will have a post every weekend where I answer questions from readers, if I know the answers. Poetrysansonions will stay the home of most of my Mormon themed writing, and the vast majority of my feminist and political writing, unless it ties directly in to Alaskan politics.

For now this will also stay the home of The Finding Heavenly Mother project, although Michelle and I are looking at some possibilities that include it having its own separate space. We are still trying to find our balance after Edward left the project, to work on starting up a consortium focused on the academic side of writers and researchers, focusing on Heavenly Mother, and were FHMP fits in, we aren't sure. We hope that if you are interested in playing a larger role, that you will get in contact with one of us!

Happy Holidays! Merry Christmas! Happy Hanukkah! We hope the next month is a season of love for you and your family!

Sunday, December 8, 2013

The Man Who Chose Peace and Healing: The Impact of Nelson Mandela on My Life

Thank you BCC, for this post, and making me think. This started out as a comment, and became much too long. http://bycommonconsent.com/2013/12/06/like-the-most/

Please leave a comment, or a link to your blog, sharing your memories of Nelson Mandela, or what he meant to you!



I was less than ten, (born in 1976, so probably 1985) when I went to my first political rally, with a friend and her parents. I understood that we were going to a rally to fight racism, but it wasn't until I got there that I really understood what Apartheid was and meant. I remember crying once I understood, (out of sadness and anger) and listening intently to the speakers.  I learned about Mandela, Ghandi, and Mother Theresa that afternoon. 

On the car ride home, I learned about how recent the change that allowed black members of the church to go to the temple and hold the priesthood. I listened to the testimony of both my friend's parents, that part of what got, and kept, them being involved with Apartheid protests, (even before the ban was lifted, and most protests were small) was the fact that they did not believe that blacks were unworthy of priesthood and temple blessings. They did not believe that inter-racial marriage was a sin, and they were both fans of Dr Martin Luther King, and his ~I Have A Dream Speech.~  I had heard parts of the speech in school, but listening to it, recited from memory by my friend's mother and father, in unison, was a watershed moment in my young life. 



In my personal prayers, for several years, I prayed for Apartheid to end, for Nelson Mandela to be set free, and for the chance to have a black friend. The first two seemed important, because I knew I was adding my voice to those of people around the world. The last part came out of a deep longing to not be a part of the problem, and to learn what was important to black children. (It seems silly now to think that one friend would let me know the thoughts and needs of all children with "black skin," but it was a sincere desire.) At the time, there were 2 students that had parents from Pakistan, and 5-6 students who were Hispanic.  When I asked my teacher if there had been any black students that went to the school, she couldn't think of any in the six years she had taught there.  I knew about Ramadan and some basics of Islam from Anwer, who was one if my math group friends, and my best friend Wendy, had taught me more about Judaism than my Jewish grandfather.  (He was a convert to Mormonism in his late-20s, along with my grandmother and their 3 children.) 

Not having any black children at my school, gymnastics classes or church didn't stop my prayers, it just made it seem more important for the prayer to be answered.  I wanted Heavenly Father to give me the chance to have diverse friends. After learning about slavery in our country, during a February Black History project, I got to choose any black person in history, and unlike my peers, I didn't choose an American. I chose Nelson Mandela. 

I didn't learn anything earth shattering. (I was only in 4th grade.) What I loved about the project, was that we were supposed to take something meaningful that we learned, and make a suggestion about what we could do in our daily lives, to honor the person we were writing about. We didn't read our whole reports to the class, just the part about what we could do.  I don't remember much of what I suggested, other than to pray for Nelson Mandela, who was in prison and still being called a terrorist often, and to make sure that we are not discriminating against people. There were so many questions that I ended up reading my paper, and the teacher had to help explain Apartheid, because she understood it better than I did. 

When the next school year started, I was thrilled to meet Hannako.  She was a beautiful black girl, (who has grown in to a stunning woman) with ebony skin, hair that was filled with lots of braids for the first day of school, and the most beautiful smile, filled with white teeth and braces that had multicolored bands. She was shy, and I wasn't, so I offered to help her find her way around the school. We found out that we only lived a few blocks from each other, and most days she walked home with me and my siblings. 

It took me a long time to get up the courage to ask her very many of my questions. I figured out pretty quickly that she was a person, not part of a monolithic group of *black people.*  I actually taught her about Nelson Mandela and Apartheid, and together, we would check the newspaper for information. The school librarian knew we were interested, and saved any magazine articles about South Africa.  When we heard about the 70th Birthday concert for him, we organized a party for people to come watch it at her house. (My family had just recently gotten a TV at our house, and we were only allowed to watch Sesame Street and the Cosby show.)  Even with the heavy editing if the American version, I could feel the world changing. The change in tone in the newspaper and magazine articles was pretty dramatic, and there were more and more rallies, with lots more people at them, to go to. The 2nd big concert when he was released was also amazing. 

After Mandela was released, and then Apartheid officially was broken, I kept the country if South Africa, all of its citizens, and Nelson Mandela in my prayers. I also continued to pray for the chance to meet more people whose skin was darker than mine, and for the chance to be friends with them. 

I prayed for the Mandela family today, and for South Africa as a country, to come closer together and stay committed to the vision that Mandela started.  It will continue to be in my prayers, and I will continue to pray for an ongoing softening if hearts, by those who are Mormon like me, that we can be move loving, to people who look different, sin different, or see the world differently than we do ourselves. 

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Finding Heavenly Mother Project: Who I am Kickstarting for Heavenly Mother - Join me now!

Just read this great review, over at Feminist Mormon Housewives, and I'm glad to have a lead on a great movie to see with my kids. If you missed it, you can find the review of tge new movie, Frozen, here: http://www.feministmormonhousewives.org/2013/12/why-you-should-take-your-sons-and-daughters-to-see-frozen-a-mormon-feminist-girls-movie-review/

I think it is so great that feminist heroines are becoming more common, and that even in the patriarchal Mormon church, we are seeing more and more people, who are finding ways to re-imagine women, into the stories of The Book of Mormon. I linked to this project last post, but I wanted to remind everyone, that there are less than 22 hours, before this Kickstart campaign closes. If you haven't visited, now is the time! I'm posting from my phone, so it isn't letting me embed links. On the bright side, it makes it easy to copy and paste the link onto Facebook, your blog, twitter, or however else you communicate with your world! https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/590023130/iplates-a-book-of-mormon-comic-book/posts/683479



Here is my comment on that post, with the exciting part for Finding Heavenly Mother Project group members, in bold:


I totally agree that it is important to have more female voices, and discussions of Heavenly Mother, as part of how we treat the gospel and history. I know that it is almost over, but I'm really excited about a Kickstarter project that is a Book of Mormon comic book, that includes heroines! 

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/590023130/iplates-a-book-of-mormon-comic-book/posts/683479

It's almost over, and tomorrow is the last day for the Kickstarter deal, but I wanted to encourage people, if you haven't already pledged to help, please take a few minutes to read about the project. The last stretch goal, to reach the point where it is in full color is still a ways away, but they have already gotten to funding, so you can count on it happening. I can't wait to share this with my son and daughters!



Also, as an unofficial stretch goal, the Finding Heavenly Mother Project (FHMP) has been working with the project, and if you mention Heavenly Mother, FHMP, or my name, you could help have an official mention of Heavenly Mother be included. 

From Stephen Carter, one of the project's author's:  We do have kind of a ways to go to get to color (about $12,000). But, hey, just a few hefty contributions from people who have a bit of money to throw around would get us there. (Take a look at the $4000 pledge. It would be fun to do a comic focused on the divine feminine in a Book of Mormon context.)

But, yeah. If we could raise another $500 from people who wrote "Julia's Friend" in a Kickstarter message to me (like what we're doing right now), I'd be totally willing to integrate a mention of Heavenly Mother. She IS doctrine, after all. ;)

We only have to get a total of $500 worth of pledges, and last night we were almost halfway there. If you like the project and would support it anyway, please consider adding Heavenly Mother into your comment when pledging.  I really can't wait to see how these heroines, and Heavenly Mother, are woven into the stories of the Book of Mormon!

(I don't personally get anything out of this Kickstarter campaign, and didn't know anyone involved until I saw a link on Facebook, but it is important to me that we include the voices of women, and Heavenly Mother, as we have doctrine based, Book of Mormon "fan fiction," that uses mediums that connect to the youth of the church.)

Sunday, December 1, 2013

My Feminist Mormon Perspective: Why I Kickstart and you should too! - Part 1

Hey all, I am hoping to have other Kickstarterites share why they love Kickstart, and supporting projects they find there, but there will be at least 3 more in the series, of projects I write about.

If you don't know what Kickstarter is, this is a great place to start.  I am not going to copy the whole page, but in it you will find these 7 thoughts addressed, and the uniqueness of Kickstarter, and the history of why the historic ways arts were funded, can now be more democratically funded by true crowd-sourcing.  Really, click over and read it, the post will still be here why you get back. 

The basics:
1. Kickstarter is a new way to fund creative projects.
2. Each project is independently created.
3. Together, creators and backers make projects happen.
4. Creators keep 100% ownership of their work.
5. Creative works were funded this way for centuries.
6. Backing a project is more than just giving someone money.
7. Our mission is to help bring creative projects to life.

The one that is most important to me is #6. and I truly feel like I am making it possible for art, projects, and opportunities to happen, that couldn't happen without the support of people like me, who value seeing people able to put out their talents, in a way that might not happen otherwise.  Part of what section 6 says, is, "It’s supporting their (meaning the artist) dream to create something that they want to see exist in the world. People rally around their friends’ projects, fans support people they admire, and others simply come to Kickstarter to be inspired by new ideas." (Italics and emphasis added by me.)  I think that we all have dreams, and often, those dreams come with a cost, one that we are not able to pay on our own, at least not up front.




By creating a space where people who are passionate, and have projects and ideas that they want to see become a reality, the money is only a small portion of what Kickstarter provides.  Knowing that people not only think you have a good idea, or they like the kind of art or writing you create, is a wonderful thing, for anyone.  I haven't had a Kickstarter project of my own, but I am hoping to have one up in the next year or two, and I am really grateful to know that when I feel ready to put my ideas out there, I will have a tangible way to see if enough people are willing to support my goals and dreams, to make the project worth pursuing.

There are TONS of success stories on Kickstarter, but there are also a lot of projects that aren't funded.  I recently received an email, telling me that a project that I had pledged towards, had not raised enough money for the project to fund.  I don't know the person who was doing the project, but I loved the idea behind it, and was happy to have made a pledge to help it get started.  I felt prompted to email the person whose project wasn't funded, and see if there was any other way that I could help her. 



I got a response right away, and it was great to hear her thoughts about why even a Kickstarter project that goes unfunded, is better than not ever trying to get funded through Kickstarter.  We have shared several emails back and forth, and one of the things that really stood out to me, after a few emails, was how much I really enjoyed getting her perspective, but also that for her, having people like me, email her and let her know what specific things about her project we connected with, is giving her a better idea of what to focus on with her next Kickstarter project.  Until she has her new project nailed down a little more, I will leave it at that, but I will definitely be sharing more, once she puts the next project up, sometime next Spring.

What do Kickstarter projects have to do with being Mormon, or a feminist, or important enough to write several posts on?  I'm glad you asked.  ;-) 

Like micro-lending or silent auctions for a good cause, I love the sense of being part of something bigger than myself, but that needs me support, to be able to make something really cool happen! One of the very first projects I helped fund of Kickstarter, back 2009 or 2010, got me hooked, and I have tried to support at least a couple of projects every year. *I can't find the link to that original project, so the info that follows are my memories, and I may have some details off. I think it was in North or South Dakota, or Kansas, maybe Iowa. I'm really not sure of the state, which is part of why I couldn't find it.  I also had a different account, under a different name at that time.

The hook for me, with that first project I helped fund, was that the goal was to publish at least one poem from every single child, in a K-4 school.  The closing of another school in the district, meant that suddenly there was a lot more diversity, in a lot of different ways.  The school had traditionally had a fairly rural population of students.  Many of the new students had parents in the armed services, and were used to going to school on base, or living near larger bases, with bigger cities.  So it was often a difficult time for everyone.  Some were adjusting to both a small town, and a smaller school, with long bus rides, and other kids were adjusting to having kids with brown skin, whose parents hadn't grown up in the community, and who had accents that were different than theirs.

The teachers as the school were looking for a way to let their students connect to each other, and they wanted to use the school wide focus on poetry during April, (which is National Poetry Month in the US) to help bridge some of the cultural divides in the student populations.  Some of the teachers started looking for poetry contests that they could encourage their students could enter.  After looking around, they found several contests, but they all had only a few prizes, and were open to students from across the country.  The chances of the kids winning, or getting any feedback from sending their poems off to national contest were slim.  They looked at making a school wide contest, and even had a few local businesses offer prizes.  Even then, there would only be 20-30 kids in the entire school that would have their poetic efforts rewarded, and the teachers wanted every student to feel like they were valued members of the school, and they wanted them to feel like poets.


So, the teachers discussed it with the kids in their classes, asking them what would make them feel like successful poets.  More than 90% of the kids at the school said that having a poem published in a "real book," was what made a regular old person into a "real poet."   (As a student who has placed in poetry contests, starting in grade school, I know how powerful it is to see a poem that I had written, published, even if it is just a small fold over booklet.)  What I loved about this project, was that instead of looking for ways to recognize only the "best" poets, the school was able to recognize the best poem(s) from each poet.  Students were allowed to enter up to four (4) poems, and depending on their subject, and the quality of the poems, they might have all four (4) published, or they might not have all of them published, but EVERY SINGLE STUDENT, had a poem published in the book.  Every student also got to have an "author's copy" of the book, and the Kickstarter project allowed for 3 copies to be printed for each student in the school, so that parents, grandparents, etc, would have the chance to buy them at, or close, to cost. 

It was a tight squeeze to make the total amount that was needed to guarantee that they could do the project, even if no one bought a single book.  Those of us that helped fun it got an electronic copy of the book, as well as a letter, written by one of the kids whose poetry was being published, thanking us for helping to fund it, and a signed copy of that child's poem(s) from the book. We also had the opportunity to order a copy of the book, at cost (which was less than what they were selling them to non-funder family and friends) when they were taking pre-orders.  The final email, sent to everyone who helped fund the project, said that pre-orders averaged out to 5 books per student.  The teachers had feared that the sales of the books wouldn't bring in enough to cover the cost of the printing.  In the end, there was enough money left over from the Kickstarter funds, and the sales of the books, for the project to continue, with the previous year's sales covering the printing cost for the next year. 



I regret that I was in the middle of a difficult pregnancy, and didn't remember to pre-order a book, (or several) during the window for ordering. I do have the signed poem, from a girl whose first name is Natasha, but she signed her name Tasha, about what it is like to have your mom and dad deployed at the same time.  I have it in a protective sleeve, and when I start feeling sorry for myself, I go read the brave words of a 4th grade girl, who was in the middle of five (5) months with both of her parents deployed.  The love she has for her younger brother, and the grandmother who was living with them while her parents were deployed, resonates strongly in the poem.  What is even more clear is that she lives, everyday, with the fear that one, or both, of her parents will "come home in a box with a flag over it." Her last stanza ends,

People say that Freedom isn't Free.
They say it.
They don't pay it.
I do, and so does Jeremiah
Every night I cry falling asleep
Every time Jeremiah forgets dad isn't here
On my birthday when I don't get a call
Or grandpa isn't with grandma on their anniversary
We all pay for it.
Money doesn't pay for it.
People do.



Kickstarter has a lot of great projects, everyday.  If you aren't too busy, and you have $20, you might consider making a difference in the life
~ Of a painter, from your hometown, starting a new project
~ "Little Projects" that can have a big impact
~ Random weird and cool stuff
~ In a project that puts women back in the scriptures
~ In political satire, inspired by the Daily Show, in Alaska

Or any of the many projects that are near your hometown, or half a globe away.  You would be surprised at how much $20 bucks can help, and you might get something cool from the artist who you are helping! 

(Look for a lot more information tomorrow, on a Mormon Feminist project that I am really excited about! You have the chance to support telling of the stories of some of the women, who changed were vital to the people in the Book of Mormon.  You, or someone you know, could be in the drawings of one of the scenes in the book, as a Lamanite or Nephite, or you could just be the coolest mom, dad, aunt, uncle, etc., who shares the Book of Mormon comics, that changes the way they see the world!  You know you want to click through, so feel free to now, or you can wait until tomorrow, and get the scoop, before you check it out!)



More to come soon.....

Friday, November 29, 2013

Julia's Thanksgiving Poem of 2013 - Letting Go of Things


Letting go of things -

That are not needed,
Do not have enough value -
If the weight of worry ,
Needs of energy and care,
Beyond their use in my life,
Then away they go -

Whoosh!

Donated to those in need -
Check!
Sold for the value that is left -
Check!
Recycled by those who care -
Check!
Trashed to get rid of the weight -
Almost There.....

All those things that holds us back,
Keeps us down,
With the ugliness of times long past
Have to GO, now

Excised previously-
Out of our hearts and souls
Still rattling behind us,
Dragged from place to place,
Simply to avoid seeing the ugliness
That only exists in the leftover junk
That we refuse to let go of,
That could destroy our current lives
Cluttering the promise of the future.

In the trash and crap
Of bad stuff, bad people, bad decisions
That we allow to stay too close
With no reason or rhythm

Until we remember,
That we are no longer the people
Who belonged to those things,
And dump it!

Thankful for the present,
Grateful to be who we are now,
That we don't ever have to go back
To the people who thought there was value
In being with people who had no respect
For who we are now.
 
We were brave enough to leave,
Finally we are leaving behind the junk,
From the flotsam of our lives
To strike out on the journey,
That will remake the stuff in our life,
To fit who we have become today.
 
 
 
(Every year our family has a tradition of writing Thanksgiving Poems.  This is my contribution this year, although as you can see, it addresses a variety of issues going on in our lives, as we have less than two weeks, before we leave for Alaska, and a new chapter of our lives.)

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

A few favorite words, as we embark on an adventure of cold, snow, education and wordsmithing.....

I absolutely adore Bridget, over at Bridget of Arabia.  A recent post, about some of her favorite words, got me thinking about some of my favorites.  What started out as a comment, became much to long, and became this post.  I hope you enjoy words, and have a few favorites that you are willing to share.  After all, it is almost Thanksgiving, and as a writer and poet, being thankful for the authors and wordsmiths who came before me is totally necessary, especially since I will be doing so much more writing, starting about a month from now.

Some of my close friends, and the family members who keep in touch, already know our big news, but I haven't really made an official announcement here at poetrysansonions, or in any big way on Facebook.  Part of that is because we have been waiting for a number of pieces to fall into place, and given that we are doing this at almost lightening fast speed, at least in terms of most glacial moving university educational institutions.  It is only in the last week, that we knew for sure that we would be able to make this crazy, wonderful, scary, in some ways gut-wrenching, and awe inspiring opportunity finalized. 

So, for those who don't know, and care about my personal/academic life, read on, and you will  be "in the know!"

On December 11, 2013, Scott and I will be leaving Oregon, with 4 of the largest suitcases allowed to fly on an airplane, and will take a flight to Anchorage Alaska.  We will then spend a few days doing a little more shopping, enjoying the huge indoor waterpark in Anchorage that Scott has wanted to go to since it was built, and filling out forms for the Veterans Administration and Alaska residency issues.  We have 3 nights, and basically 3 days, to take care of all of that, before we board a train, early in the morning of December 14th, for 12 hours of breathtakingly beautiful travel, to Fairbanks Alaska.  On the way to our soon to be adopted city, we will pass through the magical wintery scenes of Alaskan mountains, valleys, river and lakes,. some are areas of untamed wilderness, only accessible by the railway that trains use to move between Anchorage and Fairbanks. 



I have dreamed of taking that train ride, in the winter, since a middle school geography substitute teacher, recounted his experiences riding that route, in the middle of a snowstorm.  His descriptions, and reasons for going on that train ride, included sharing a variety of connections to that expanse of track and the trains that run on it.  It started with the landscape painting that was the centerpiece of  his grandparent's living room wall, painted of a mountain valley that can only be seen, at that angle, while riding the train.  His love of geography, especially mountain ranges, increased his interest in the science behind both the territory the train winds through, but also the construction of the track, and the difficulties involved.  He did his high school science fair project about the different mountains, and the forces of nature that worked on them, working from photos taken at the time the railroad was being built, and comparing them to more recent photographs and paintings. 

His grandfather, who understood the desire for his grandson's quest to see the vistas photographed and painted by so many artists, and so as his graduation present, his grandfather took him during the winter break, in between semesters, during his freshman year in college. They rode the train 4 times during the 3 weeks they were in Alaska, going first to stay in Fairbanks for two weeks, then coming back to Anchorage for another week, which ended with them riding the train to Fairbanks and returning the next day to Anchorage, as the capstone of their time in Alaska. He left with no doubt as to why that particular train ride had inspired artists of all kinds and stripes, from The Polar Express to Ansel Adams, and too many painters to count.  With its sheer immensity, stark beauty and the majesty of vistas that went on for miles without be broken up by human habitation, the numinous pull of raw power, without human taming, calls to the untamed souls of women and men. 

The pictures the substitute teacher shared, from his first rides, as well as the rides he and his grandfather made on even numbered years, until his grandfather's death, definitely intrigued me. You could see in his first pictures the desire to capture this once in a lifetime event.  Later photos tended to focus more on certain kinds of rock formations, and in almost all from his last trip, he is pulling the angles inside, his grandfather looking older and more frail, a ubiquitous presence by omission before, on the last trip, it seems that both new that this might, probably was, the last time they would take this traditional ride together.  What had started as a recognition of good work, and a desire to provide an auspicious event in his grandsons life, had become a connecting thread, for 16 years of riding the train, to drink up the spirit of the Alaskan landscape.  Over those years, the train trip seemed to have been refined, treated as a luscious treat for the senses, and for the companionship and regularity with which could be counted on. 

 


This train ride has been on my "unwritten bucket list" ever since I watched the slide show, and listened to the substitute spend a week teaching us about rock formations, mountain ranges, and the sweet, luscious tidbits of his experiences as he gathered together the photographs that justified his continued trips to become something more than just a man with a camera.  The fact that I will be taking that train, (which has become almost mythical in my nighttime dreams about it) as I go to a destination that will become my home for the next 5 years, seems fitting.  What could be more appropriate than taking the train of my dreams and delayed desires, to start an educational journey that I thought had passed out of the realm of possibility?  I had always thought of it as a train whose winter schedule (only going once a week between the two cities) was a way that I would transition from one way of living to the next.  I always planned that if I was ever able to "retire," or possibly when the last of my children were married, that then I would have the cosmic approval, to take this 12 hour train ride.  Instead, the train ride will be taking me to school, to have the chance to study to become a journalist. 



I have always loved to write, to keep track of current events and to know things about the place that I am living in.  I have always loved reading and writing poetry, looking for the perfect word, or word combinations to evoke the thought or feeling I want to convey, without excess word clutter.  As a second grade student, I was thrilled to have published my first poem.  I continued to write, both essays well beyond that of many of my peers, in both research and vocabulary, and usually had a poem accepted for publication, or awarded a prize of some sort, every couple years.  Then, as I graduated, went to school at a community college, I still was rewarded with honors classes that created work that was qualified to be submitted for publication.  I look back on the political science paper that was published, and while I believe I could do better now,  I am satisfied that the 18 year-old me was a good writer, better than I gave her credit for being at the time.

With marriage and children, I got off track, in fact, when I look back, I can see that even in the first years of our marriage, my first-husband and I were not simply on the wrong track, heading the wrong direction, or taking the long way around.  With two engines, pulling at either end of "our train," we were completely derailed, but because we spent our energy pulling against the other, we didn't even realize that we were in a place that couldn't hold the weight of a train with so much heavy luggage, and coal consumption that pulled all of the energy away from anything but the most basics of emotional survival. I take full blame for getting caught in a cycle of ongoing energy waste and creating a toxic environment that comes when you have two people who are constantly burning coal, with no breaks to give the air time to clear, and towards the end, we were both spewing so much black smoke, that there was no safe places for the children caught in the cars between us.

By the time I had been married for 5 years, I had stopped most of the positive things in my life, and writing poetry was one of the first to go.  The pain, desperation and anger that came out anytime I sat down to write, was evidence of a problem that I wasn't willing to acknowledge at that point, never mind being willing to think about what fixing it would look like. I was too emotionally exhausted to admit that I didn't even know where on the map I was anymore.  It was that desperation though, that finally made me realize that I couldn't live that way, and it was unfair to ask my children to live that way.  The decision came with input from many sources, but my counselor's assignment to write a poem or short essay about the last time I was truly happy, was what brought me face to face with the fact that I wasn't willing to hide from myself.

Like in the story of The Polar Express, there are presents waiting there for me, and for Scott, that still seem surreal, not quite sure whether we will be able to hear the bell ringing, but as we have both received the same promptings, over and over, we have decided that we do believe in the tinkling of this bell.  Certainly at 37 and 39, we had thought that our bells had been lost in early childhood, with no hope of regaining the opportunities we missed.  If we are honest, we had given up on an education in a field we loved, before our 25th birthdays.

It appears that we simply needed to endure difficult trials, learn to look at the world, and our place in it differently, and we had to let go of worrying what others would think or say about our decision.  My children will certainly be impacted by this move, but we hope that there will be positives that come from this that last far beyond their 18th birthdays, and as we have talked about it with them, we have seen them begin to hear the tinkling of the bell, the call of that beautiful track that will be between us for a time, and the understanding that this is not "goodbye," it is simply a slightly longer drive to get between the houses of their biological parents.  The more we talk about what this will mean for our family next month, next year, when they turn 18, and for the many years of adulthood, it doesn't not take away the pain of separation, but it does sooth, and allows tears of healing, instead of tears of fear.

It is scary going back to school, when many of your professors will be younger than you.  Scott and I both have credits to transfer in, me from Clackamas Community College and a term at University of Phoenix, Scott from his time in the military. It may take a semester or two to figure out how all of Scott's credits will fit with his desired degree in Arctic Engineering, but it was confirmed this week that University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF) will accept all of my prior credits, including the AP history test that I took in 1993 (I just have to have a copy of the score mailed to them, after it is found in the dusty archives of pre-digitalization of records) for the full six semester credits, that any student who has passed the AP history test taken this year, (and got the same score as I did) would be awarded.  After confirming my AP credits with the registration office, I was also able to confirm that the Ethics class in the political science program will fulfill the last class needed to complete my PoliSci minor, and count towards the need to take any 300 level Ethics course, approved by my department. 

All of that means that I will need just over 36 credits to graduate from UAF, and it is very possible that I could graduate with my BA in Journalism in May of 2014, and start the Masters and/or PhD program during the 2014-2015 school year.  While Scott will take longer to get his BS, he has a lot more credits that will transfer to UAF than most students who are requesting credit for training they received in the military.  Because the Navy's Nuclear Engineering school is two years of intense study of science, engineering, math and complex problem solving, he will probably many of his science and engineering electives classes fulfilled by his Navy schooling, he will probably be able to shave at least a year off his time at UAF, but since he wants to stay until he finishes a PhD, we will still be living in Alaska for quite some time. 

For me, stepping onto the train that will leave Anchorage to take us to Fairbanks will be the start of two dreams, both of which I would have told you were impossible a year ago, when it drained all my energy simply to take a shower, or be driven to a doctor's appointment.  I didn't even write a poem for Thanksgiving, and I was struggling just to block out the pain long enough to help Kat with a word transformation activity.  This year, I have my Thanksgiving poem about half done, and below you will find my "too long to be a comment" response to Bridget, regarding favorite words.  I look back at the long slog through the last two years, doing my best to keep pushing forward, but honestly not always certain it was worth it to continue to fight and press on.  Today I can say that it was worth it, to keep heading toward the house in the distance, that was so unclear a year ago.  I can now see it with no problem, and recognize that it is the train station, and that Scott and I spent the last two and a half years, learning to do hard things together, so that when we step off the train in Fairbanks, we won't only have enjoyed the beauty of the ride, but we will be ready to embrace the challenges that we will encounter.




Words I love: numinous, ubiquitous, auspicious, languid, luscious, melodious and glockenspiel.
The response to Bridget's post, that was too long for a comment, and I have edited it down some since I wrote it.  lol
I love the way all of the sound in my head, but even more, I love how the sound when read out loud. Some of these words are found in context above, but I didn't try to stretch it too much.  I think knowing and enjoying words is important, even if you don't use them ubiquitously! ;-)

Numinous and ubiquitous I first learned from some of my favorite of poems, written by my mother. Numinous is basically the soul and spirit of a space or landscape, but really goes so much deeper, into that realm which often defies words. Ubiquitous means things that are everywhere, to the point where they are expected to always be available. My mom's poem is about Blackberries, (the fruit) but these days Blackberries and other smart phones would be just as appropriate.

Auspicious means something is both special, and happening at a time that is better than most, which gives it special meaning. Oftentimes this is used in explaining something that has to do with "the stars aligning," or there being something special about being born on a certain day or in a certain year.
Luscious is used to describe anything that is decadent (another word I like) and these days I'm afraid it may be over used to the point that it loses some meaning. I have a favorite poem written in the 17th century about the first grapes of the season, entitles Luscious, whose author would be shocked to find our that such a special word is now associate with hand sanitizer. (I may be wrong about the author, but when I saw luscious peppermint hand sanitizer, I was sad.)

Melodious goes back to playing the cello. When we wanted to challenge for a chair, we had to first satisfy the student teacher who was there my 5th grade year, that we were not just competent, but that we were able to understand the piece of music we were playing. The first time I challenged for first chair, that student teacher told me that I had gone beyond the basics, and that the sounds coming from my cello were sublime and melodious. What 10/11 year old wouldn't feel like they had become special, with a compliment like that?

Languid is something that was high praise when I was in gymnastics. Being explosive was a compliment I got a lot, especially vaulting and on the floor. One of the girls, a few years older than me, was beautiful to watch on the balance beam. I didn't know a word to describe it, and I spent some time (okay a lot of time) trying to come up with the right word to describe it. She was assigned to be my partner on beam work for a month, and I asked her how she made it look for beautiful, like she was dancing on the beam, instead of trying to do things while not falling. She said that when she was on the beam, she always tried to think about her cat, who always managed to look like she didn't care if she was walking or jumping from high places. When I asked her if there was a name for moving like that, she said that her mom had named the cat Languid, because even as a kitten she had been poised and effortless as she played. I never became great on the beam, but imagining that I was a cat with the ability to be smooth and land on my feet, did help me be move confident, and languid, during the easier transition moves.
I played the glockenspiel in band, and loved the blank stares I would get from classmates and their parents when I would tell them what I played. (I got asked often, because most band members knew that I would out in front of the marching band with the director, but not why, since at practice I was always in back with the drums and other percussion instruments.)