Wednesday, May 15, 2013


Author’s Note:  This story is inspired by translucent tights, desert Mormons, half-slips, the taboo of bare legs in religious settings, mobile homes, flimsy shelters, disrepair, trade paperbacks, heat and ironing, boredom and baked goods.


The door of the backyard trailer had been tied open with a fishnet scarf, but that didn’t mean anything more than the girls from church were just hot, and the dad hadn’t yet installed the swamp cooler.  The girls were inside with their Young Women’s advisor, who at the moment, had her head on a stack of Erma Bombeck’s paperbacks, and was beginning to doze off.  
What kind of example was that?
A good example, the advisor thought.  Look at me, taking care of myself.
The cookies they were baking, the girls decided right then, would be for her--their beloved advisor, and not for the needy family whose name they had drawn out of a sock last Sunday at church.  
That was nice of them, the advisor thought, adjusting the books under her, but why had not one of them thought to go into the house for a pillow?   
“If she’s asleep, do we have to open with prayer?”
“Yes,” the advisor said, scaring the girls.
Did the girls really think she would fall asleep, lose all consciousness while they were in her care?  How comfortable did they think these Bombeck books were? Still, the advisor did not move except to pull down her shirt that was riding up.  The skirt, too.  Only halfway on the trailer’s built-in davenport, the weight from her dangling Famolares made her ankles hurt.
There was that song on the radio again, the one that scared the girls.  “Turn it down,” the advisor thought she heard herself say, but wasn’t sure, and then one of them turned the radio all the way off.
See? These girls would be fine.  Already, they could pull cookies out of a hot oven, assemble condiment canisters for future college kitchens.  They knew when to run away, to not look down into the driver’s seat of a car that might pull up next to them, to layer something under all the stringed shirts and wraparound dresses that she’d been seeing at the mall and in  the mail order catalogs.
Someone asked where the bathroom was and the girl whose family owned the trailer  held a batch of cookies with one hand and pointed out the little ceramic sign dangling from the  bathroom door with the other.  “Duh,” she said.
If the advisor had had more energy right then, she would have said something.  The girl latched the bathroom door from the inside. She also would have said this:  “It is not safe to be walking around shoeless in a junky trailer like this.”  
Those pantyhose would not protect you, the advisor thought from the davenport, but she let both things slide.
The girls called them “Nylons.”
“I have a snag in my nylons,” they said.
“My finger went right through a brand new pair.”
“If you have a run in your nylons,” they advised each other, “use a little nail polish.”
“My dad should bring out that thing that will keep us cool,” the girl with the cookies announced to everyone else.  She set the hot pan down on the trailer’s little counter.
And now the girls would have to restrain themselves.  They could have one cookie, but no more.  As usual, the cookies were for others, for service, for people who really suffered in life, while they all these girls had to do right now was kick off their shoes and bake.
The advisor opened her eyes for a moment.  The girls faces were sweaty, but smooth—
no lines, except when they cried during the bearing of their testimonies, or paused with concentration before making a move in the difficult part of a French braid.  
        Soon, there would be a closing prayer, and for this the advisor would sit up, pull herself together, put the book pillow away.  “Those cookies can’t be for me,” she’d have to say, and sternly if needed.  And then she’d have to make sure they got delivered to the chosen family, maybe even driving them over herself,  her broken front door held closed with one leg slashed off a pair of hose, one of the girls beside her—cookies on a disposable plate moved from her lap to the needy family’s trailer stoop, their door fist-pounded just before the girl dashes back breathless to the advisor’s little car.  “They’re coming!” the girl would say, putting her hand over her own pounding heart.  “I heard something move inside.”



Tuesday, May 14, 2013

abstinence training: and makyth my body fre to god

sometimes i feel like i've spent most of my life learning to abstain, practicing abstinence:  from sex, alcohol, coffee, food, overeating, gossip, too much meat & butter, envy, tea, gluttony, murder, and slothfulness.


like a lot of us raised to abstinence, abstaining thinks to be a path to enlightenment or salvation.

some from this tradition engage, too, in a cycle of abstinence/indulgence.


for the past few weeks i've been trying to abstain from:

*diet coke
*peanut butter m&m's
*binge watching breaking bad

i abstained from two of the three.

that's a pretty sad list of vices.


margery kempe:

"Sere, yf it lyke yow, ye schal grawnt me my desyr, and ye 
schal have yowr desyr. Grawntyth me that ye schal not komyn in my bed, and I grawnt 
yow to qwyte yowr dettys er I go to Jerusalem. And makyth my body fre to God so 
that ye nevyr make no chalengyng in me to askyn no dett of matrimony aftyr this day 
whyl ye levyn, and I schal etyn and drynkyn on the Fryday at yowr byddyng." Than 
seyd hir husbond agen to hir, "As fre mot yowr body ben to God as it hath ben to me." 

chaste marriage  Kempe is determined, after 14 children, to enter into the category of chaste wife - maintaining the lawful bond of marriage but vowing not to exercise sexual relations.  She bargains with her husband: she pays his debts, he grants that they live chastely.  Virginal marriage was not an unusual status, and of considerably more advantage to the wife.  The status of a layman within civic and church organization was not appreciably changed, but a woman was accorded greater respect and social autonomy.  Widows were, in general, more advantaged than wives. In the late 13th century, Jacobus deVoragine compiled theGolden Legend, a collection of saints' lives ordered according to the liturgical calendar.  He also recorded rituals such as the Greater Litany on the feast of St. Mark (April 25) and the lesser Litany, also in the spring, celebrated in the three days before the feast of the Ascension.  He describes processions for both; for the Greater, he speaks of seven ranks of participants: first the clergy, then the monks, then religious, nuns, then children, then the laymen, then widows and virgins, finally married women.  This ranking gives some indication of the problematic position of the married woman that persisted even in Margery Kempe's time. Well-documented examples of virginal couples in the 14th-century can be found in "The Virginal Marriage of Elzéar and Delphine" and "A Holy Woman During the Hundred Years' War: Jeane-Marie of Maillé” in André Vauchez. The Laity in the Middle Ages: Religious Beliefs and Devotional Practices. Ed. Daniel E. Bornstein, trans. Margery J. Schneider. University of Notre Dame Press: South Bend, Indiana, 1993.  


yoga and celibacy:

Celibacy and yoga meditation go side by side. The yogi is however, essentially a Brahmacharya, i.e. the yogi has renounced all desires and acts of carnal pleasure. He redirects his carnal stimulus and converts them to exercising the cosmic energy derived out it to the task of meditation and commuting to his spirituality. A minimum period of sexual abstinence for 12 years is required to attain celibacy, and this is no easy a task. Sexuality is the final touch to attain enlightenment. It also entails the practice of mental celibacy.



Gluttony--like lust--is one of the seven capital sins (sometimes called "mortal" or "deadly" sins) according to medieval Christian theology and church practice. Dante, at least in circles 2-5 of hell, uses these sins as part--but only part--of his organizational strategy. While lust and gluttony were generally considered the least serious of the seven sins (and pride almost always the worst), the order of these two was not consistent: some writers thought lust was worse than gluttony and others thought gluttony worse than lust. The two were often viewed as closely related to one another, based on the biblical precedent of Eve "eating" the forbidden fruit and then successfully "tempting" Adam to do so (Genesis 3:6). Based on the less than obvious contrapasso of the gluttons and the content (mostly political) of Inferno 6, Dante appears to view gluttony as more complex than the usual understanding of the sin as excessive eating and drinking. 


fasting is quite fashionable right now.

what used to be such a once-monthly torture for me as a child is now a cure-all for obesity, allergies, migraines, inflammatory diseases, metabolic disorders, what have you.

(i remember how delicious a snuck bite from a saltine tasted, or a spoonful of raisin bran in ice cold milk stolen from my younger siblings, who were too young to fast.)

an added side benefit might be finding the true way, experiencing god through your body, freeing up your body from digestion so it can experience other sensations.  


i was so angry when the state of utah (it's sorry excuse for a legislature, that is) decided to offer abstinence only sex-ed to students.  as we've heard in the past few weeks, this type of education puts kids at risk, and not just for unwanted pregnancy and std's.

i want my kids to decide what they're going to do with their bodies with full knowledge,  all they can get.  and, really, i don't want to have to tell them EVERYTHING myself.  

i'm sure they don't want that either.

luckily, more reasonable policies prevailed.  a lot of parents felt the same as me, and a lot of us got active and made the legislature do the right thing. 


i read about this guy,

a gay mormon dude,

who went to a monastery to explore celibacy as an alternative to a gay relationship.  he spent three months there, considering if it was an option for him.  the monks told him that if he had to consider it, it wasn't an option for him.  they told him it had to be a calling.

it seems like most of the stories i read:  of yogis, visionaries, mystics, monks and anchoresses, employ abstinence after a vision or calling.

i know people who have been miraculously blessed through abstinence.

i know people who have been irreparably harmed by it.


i think abstinences of all kinds are to be chosen in full knowledge, with blessing and vision, 

not out of compulsion and guilt.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013


1.  materials which do not allow for the absorption of light are called opaque.

2.  In the field of opticstransparency (also called pellucidity or diaphaneity) is the physical property of allowing light to pass through the material without being scattered. 


Herr Stimmung on Transparency

To those of a certain temperament, there is nothing worse than the
thought of something hidden, secret, withheld from their knowing—
especially if they suspect that another knows about it and has even,
perhaps, connived at keeping it concealed.

    D. H. Lawrence seems to have been irritated no end by the thought
that people were having sex and not telling him.

    Freud too.

   —Ah but then Freud arranged it so that everyone had to tell.

    His psychoanalysis lights up the depths, makes our tangled web
transparent, to the point where I can see all the way down to It.

    And the process moves outward in increasing rings:

    The Master analyses his disciples. Who thereby—transparent
now—become masters and, in turn, take on others, patients or
disciples, to analyse.

    So that eventually there are no secrets.

    Except, of course, those of the first Master, the Self-Analysed.

    Which is to say, the only private One, sole Unrevealed. Opaque
center of His universal panopticon.

    While we see only His words, His daughter, His cigar.

    Poor Lawrence.
4.  on the sunday after prom, it's traditional for mormon boys and girls to wear their formals to church, complete with boutonnieres, corsages, and wrist flowers.  bedraggled updo's.  last sunday a plethora of modest prom dresses rustled into church--the cap sleeve is the sign of orthodoxy in our most orthodox (or, perhaps more aptly named orthopractic) of neighborhoods and congregations. down the hall i spotted a girl in a peachy-pink gown, sleeveless, a mini-dress ensconced in a sheer maxi overlay.

elizabeth smart

it's been a week of discussing the perils of emphasizing the mandate for young women to be modest, to avoid tempting (not temptation, so much) to sometimes hammer at and punish young mormon women for dressing "immodestly", which could lead to becoming an already chewed stick of gum.

i was thrilled at this young woman.  her dress was beautiful, she was beautiful, and i applauded her unwillingness to bow to the dominant culture.  it gave me hope that some of the damaging, unexamined orthodoxies of our sometimes utopic culture might drop away.

5.  one last thought:  as the months of struggling through darkness have dragged on, with small pricks of light helping me to hang on through yet another depression, i'm starting to wonder how much truth, honesty, transparency has to do with the darkness i'm living in.  what would it be like if it were easier, more common to speak the truth, to think about the actual rather than the ideal?

if light could pass through me without scatter.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Theme for the Week: Transparency

I will always be inspired by dresses.  The following story was inspired by a frock from this local designer


           This mom--one of them--held up the thing that was to raise funds at the fundraiser.
    “That?” I said, because it was barely anything, but then she held it up to herself and it became something more..
“Consider this over what I’m wearing,” she said, and that was what the dad standing here and I did.  This mom wasn’t dressed for the party.  The dad and I were in jeans, both of us, but we looked better than she did with nothing extra over.  I didn’t need to buy a thing like that, even if it was for the kids.  
I wanted to tell the mom this:  no one would have noticed the thing in a different fabric, one that anyone could see, “which is why you--you know--you love it so much.” I wanted to say, and then I would lift my cup and toast her.
“I’ve never,” she said, “seen anything like this thing.”
Around us, parents were drinking.  This dad was drinking.  Alcohol had been smuggled into the school, and we parents, for once in our lives, were having fun.  Blocks our kids used during the week had been built into a bar.  Some parents tried to knock the block bar down. The parents that liked it weren’t sure if they should.  
“Nobody’s fault hers,” the bartender said, waving his glass at the principal.
           “Sshhh,” the principal had told all the parents in the planning committee meaning. “Pass it on.”
    On the clipboard in front of her, that mom wrote her name right down for the thing.  This was called “placing a bid.”  “I hope I get this thing,” the mom said, unable to unbunch it.  In her fist, all together like that, the thing almost became something the dad and I could get behind.
           “Don’t leave it alone,” I said.  “Stay with it.”
            I moved down among the other things that had been gathered from all over our city for the kids and this brick building in which they all kicked around in.  I wrote my name under some of the things.    
There are things about me I haven’t told anyone.
Sometimes I am mistaken for a man.  My handwriting.  My legs from the knees down.  
    My voice often gets so deep, I’ve learned to keep it low.
Because for a silent auction, everyone was being loud, and in the school cafeteria, there was a band, banding away.
            How could I be expected to concentrate on these things?           
How much could the kids be expected to handle if we didn’t?
Parents moved their plastic glasses to and fro under the low hanging fluorescent lights.  
The trouble we could get into.
    “I think I’m going to get it!” the mom called out from over there.
           Soon she would know for sure.
          At the block bar, the bartender switched out my last drink ticket for water.  I leaned over the bar, blocks tumbling, his shirt in my hands. "Just one more," I said.