Have we met before?

When I was a little girl, I wanted to marry a good Mormon boy from a large Mormon family, and in the summers, we would flit from one large family reunion to another. Instead I got Dick, who, after surviving my dad’s family’s reunion, wanted to know whether family reunions were a common thing in Utah.

You know the Christmas letters that sound as if you’re trying to pimp out your kids? Family reunions can be even worse — a full-color, animated Christmas letter you can’t tape to the refrigerator door and ignore.

If you’re in the market for a career, or have children who need a swift kick in the rear career advice, you might want to keep in mind that the bar for bragging has been raised in recent years. Where once it was enough to graduate from a respectable college and enter a respectable profession (engineer, doctor, engineer, lawyer, dentist, engineer), now you need a little something extra to get respect around the family reunion campfire.

My sweet cousin Peter, who’s number 30 of 57 first cousins or something (I lost the cousin chart they handed out the second night) is not someone I’ve talked to much before (I hang with numbers 10-20). He’s returning to college this fall, and it’s a safe guess that his major is chemical/mechanical/civil non-disobedience engineering.

Peter, who knows that I am a stay-at-home mom like all the other female cousins my age, said to me, “You studied at BYU for awhile, right?”

That night around the campfire, we had family sharing time, where each of my dad’s three sisters and six brothers (except that one brother who’s always “busy”) introduced their kids, beaming proudly if they’d managed to produce their kids in the flesh, hoping to produce adequate excuses if their kids couldn’t make it. Being out of the country on a mission for our church earns a pass, barely.

Occupations and recent accomplishments were mentioned, as were their children’s children. My oldest cousin is turning 40 next year, and he and his wife have adopted several — my three girls are a small, if glittering, contribution to the family tree.

So what’s the most coveted bragging point for mostly-Republican, highly-religious, mostly-high-achiever families? (And an automatic get-out-of-family-reunions card?)

Highest honors around the campfire go to those who have at least one child working in a top secret job for somebody like Lockheed or the NSA.* Then you get to say that you’d like to explain what Johnny does, only he can’t tell you because then he’d have to kill you. Or as my dad’s next oldest brother’s wife says her son says: “I can’t tell you or I’d have to do a lot of paperwork.”

Several of my dad’s nine siblings have sons who have every reason to view more paperwork as the kiss of death.

After my grandparent’s youngest kid told us about his youngest kid’s bluegrass band, my dad said he needed to amend his progeny spiel.

Turns out he has daughters, as do all his brothers and sisters, and, though they are not secret undercover operatives, or even doctors or lawyers or engineers, or MAYOR OF WASILLA, they are doing something wonderful: raising children to become secret undercover operatives or doctor or lawyers or engineers.

Or, as in my case: raising mothers. Mothers who will become governor of Alaska, if I and my studying for awhile at BYU had any confidence in the current fairy tale.

Dad even said that his oldest daughter does the blog, and boy! does she post often.

Then, since I am a supportive wife, I pointed out that Dick also has a top-secret, classified, vital job, and since he works for our church, he answers to a higher power. So there. Your sons might be keeping the free world safe, but my husband? He’s protecting God’s secrets.

And I am raising kids and doing the blog.

*My cousins don’t actually work for these people. I’d tell you who they work for, or where in the world they’re deployed, but then I probably wouldn’t be invited back next year . . .

Eat, Drink, Vampire, Bella: a Review of The Twilight Saga by Stephenie Meyer

The perfect romance novel of all time is The Blue Castle by L.M. Montgomery. It was great when I was an innocent twelve, and it’s fantastic now that I’m the 31 year-old mother of three girls, who I would love to have read every single word of Montgomery’s. In fact, if they wanted to read her books and short stories all day long, I’d never make them go to school. I would never ask someone reading Anne of Green Gables to come set the table (see how glad you are that you decided to read the archives of Mom’s blog, 12 year-old Sally?).

If I ever wrote a book and someone (who knew where I got my first and third daughters’ names) said it reminded them of an L.M.Montgomery book, I would lock myself in the bathroom and cry happy tears for three days straight. And then come out and read the Emily of New Moon trilogy again.

So that’s my literary standard. I’ve also read just about every other kind of romance there is, from the classic to the near-pornographic. I’m a Mormon (didn’t say a good one), a woman, a BA-in-English reader, a mom, a wife, a sometime-aspiring writer, and I have to tell you what I think about Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight Saga, because either you’ve never heard of them and could care less, or you have heard and could care less or you’ve read them all and (love or hate them) have talked/blogged/read enough of other people’s reviews to care less about yet another review.

Still, I have to say that I am conflicted by the Twilight Saga — indeed, one could say, if one were inclined toward impassioned prose, that I want to both love them forever and to sink my teeth into them and drain all the blood from their weak, helpless bodies.

First I’ll admit that I’m jealous of Stephenie Meyer’s success. I’m jealous of her book tours and her new house, and that she never has to cook anymore, and I’m pretty sure she’s hired a cleaner and child-minder. But even more, I’m jealous of her inspiration and focus. That she dreamed a plot and then that she sat down and actually wrote the whole ding-dang thing. So that’s some of the conflict, but mostly it’s that the English major/fangirl/Mormon/Mom/latent feminist in me see the books very differently.

+++SPOILER WARNING+++

As a BA-in-English Reader

Holy get-an-editor, Batman. The first 75+ pages of Breaking Dawn should have been a 5-page epilogue to book three. If I’d picked up the last book in the series without having read the first three or being invested in the characters, I would have been able to put it down and never look back. I get that extreme popularity is an overwhelming validation of good-enoughness, but, these books are lazy. Lazy writing, lazy editing, lazy including-of-every-stray-thought lazy.

One plot point in particular — They’re terrified for Bella to see her own daughter, yet have no fear that the vampire witnesses will be tempted to drink Renesmee’s blood after they smell her half-humanness and listen to her heartbeat. These are vampires WHO KILL HUMANS on purpose. Wuh? Maybe if an editor had read the book this could’ve been discussed? Lazy.

As a Fangirl

I couldn’t put any of the books down. I love that all the ends tied up neatly, that Jacob imprinted on she-with-the-worst-name ever, that Bella got to finally become a vampire, that the vampires and werewolves (shapeshifters — whatever) are all friends. Things turning out well and happily-ever-afters divide enjoyable fiction from serious fiction, and thank goodness for that.

As a Mormon Mother

After Breaking Dawn, I agreed with Tara that how Stephenie Meyer handled the sex/intimacy in the book was fantastic. Meyer portrayed desire without any body parts heaving or throbbing. She also expressed the uncertainty (after months of anticipation) that surprised me on my own wedding night:

I was freaking out because I had no idea how to do this, and I was afraid to walk out of this room and face the unknown. . . .

How did people do this – swallow all their fears and trust someone else so implicitly with every imperfection and fear they had – with less than the absolute commitment Edward had given me? If it weren’t Edward out there, if I didn’t know in every cell of my body that he loved me as much as I loved him—unconditionally and irrevocably and, to be honest, irrationally, I’d never be able to get up off this floor. (p 83)

When Dick tried to get to second-base after our wedding ceremony and before our reception that night, I felt so weird. If you’ve spent 21 years believeing that all sexual intimacy should be reserved for marriage, suddenly being able to express all the desire that has been raging in your body is heady, frightening, exhilirating, nauseating.

And if you’re as lucky as I was, your 23-year-old husband is even more clueless about how the whole process will even work. Ten years later, the fact that, through faith and goodness on his part and, really, blind luck and strange circumstances on my part, the first time we ever experienced connubial bliss was with each other is really one of the biggest wonderful things in my entire life.

Does that sound naive and silly? I want that for my daughters — their own purity and their husbands’. I have good friends, friends I love like sisters who, through different beliefs, different experiences, or just different lives, had slightly different wedding nights. And most of them have wonderful marriages to incredible men. (And on the other side, my sweet sister who never even kissed a boy before her husband is going through a sad divorce. Obviously, virginity guarantees nothing, and experience doesn’t dictate disaster.) But this is still what I pray for for my daughters.

That doesn’t mean I think Edward is the archetypal husbandly-ideal, despite his refusal to sleep with Bella outside of marriage. I like that Mormons revere chastity. But it is incredible to me that fornication is so bad in Mormon terms that the fact that Edward has murdered people is a mere footnote next to the big headlines about his never having been impure. Sure, he now only hunts wild animals, we believe in repentance, yadda yadda, but last time I checked, you could repent for fornication, as well.

So for a woman who has read stuff she really ought not to have read, Breaking Dawn handles newly-married physical intimacy with exquisite appropriateness. But would I want my daughter reading it? This is important not only because I am liberal in the reading department, but because these books are intended for the tween-and-up crowd. If I’m praying daily (or should be) that my daughters will go to their wedding nights MUCH more unaware than I was, I’ll have to seriously consider that.

Other Mormon-ish ideas include the belief in a never-dying soul, the ideal of eternal love, the importance of forming families. My cousin even pointed out that the Cullen vampire coven/family could be similar to the Mormon pioneers in that they’re driven from place to place and misunderstood, but once you get to know them, they’re not so bad.

As a Latent (I hate wearing a bra, but I haven’t burned it yet) Feminist

Bella’s passivity irks. Oh, how it irks. Her existence having absolutely no meaning outside of Edward bites the big tuna. Because Edward is not even that exciting. He’s obsessed with expensive cars, he probably wears cashmere sweaters, and you can’t even warm your feet on his legs at night. What’s to like? And Jacob — what a whiny werewolf. Seriously have not ever read of such a melancholy, effeminate “hero” since Romeo. He’s almost worse than Bella in the “my life is ooooo-ver if I can’t have yoooooouuu” department. At least he’s warm.

But — the baby as parasite! The pregnancy and motherhood as point of entry to actual adulthood (and in Bella’s case person-hood). Oh, how it sings to me. If you’ve breastfed and never once thought of how that darling suckling has quite a bit in common with a vampire, you are less imaginative than I. I love how the baby almost kills her, and yet she is willing to die for it. Die for want of Edward = Let me vomit. Die for baby-love = I actually understand this.

And when Bella becomes a vampire, she almost seems to have her own will. She realizes she is not the center of the universe and that everything is not actually her fault. Of course, this is because all blame for everything since World War II now shifts to her child, but like every good mother she lies to Renesmee and shifts blame back to the bad vampires. Where it probably belonged in the first place.

We should all be so lucky

The best criticism I’ve read of the Twilight Saga was a comment on Mormon Mommy Wars after the third book came out. Someone said that she hated the books — all three of them. If I could be assured of that kind of negative reaction, along with sentiments like this comment I once got: “You obviously suck at reviewing a good book, can’t wait till yours is out so we can smear it,” I’d probably start writing tomorrow. Especially if there were any chance I could stop cooking and start book-touring when I was finished.

Twilight Review Links (if you just can’t get enough) (if you have or know of another review and would like to be on this list, comment or email me, and I’ll add you).

First, if you hated Ruh-nez-mee as much as I did (esp. with the cute Carlie as an alternative!), try Mormonizing your name. The phenomenon of making up your own name is not unique to Mormons, of course: look at celebrities and people who live in Harlem. But somehow I feel like we should know better, or just use some good, old Biblical names, like Keturah.

Gail Collins at the New York Times called Bella A Virgin Goth Girl, and worries that Edward is to the average male as a female porn star is to the average female.

In the same vein, Mormon Mentality discusses whether the objectification of Edward/men is seriously unhealthy. (hat tip to Conscious Intention for those two links, via Feminist Mormon Housewives which is discussing Twilight/Mormonism right now.

Normal Mormon Husbands has done quite a few Twilight posts. Here’s The Twilight Series for Dummies (And Totally Desperate Mormon Guys), and here’s Breaking Dawn: The Spoof. Sometimes I tell myself that I could be funny and interesting if only I had more time. And then I realize I’d also need talent.

Sue at Navel Gazing at its Finest is hilarious, and here’s Why I think Twilight Sucks and Other Important Thoughts. Yeah, talent would probably help in the funny and interesting department (Sue’s pretty busy, I imagine!).

Here’s Laura William’s Twilight Thus Far. I think she nails why Bella’s character is a bit unsatisfying.

Mormon Mommy War‘s the Wiz reviews Breaking Dawn.

Entertainment Weekly‘s 10 part interview with Stephenie Meyer, in which she says she wrote the books for herself and her adult sister (but still I think, as a Mormon, mother, writer, something, she can’t just shrug off the fact that her publishing company markets them to 12 year olds). (hat tip Mom of 3 Crazy Kids).

And can I just make one request: It would make my life so much more complete if Seriously So Blessed would do a review of Twilight. Seriously am on the edge of my seat to see what she (they? it?) would say!

Awkward, like Steve Carrell, only not as funny

We went to the zoo today. My dad’s work was having their yearly ‘company picnic,’ complete with catered lunch and crafts for the kids. Dad dotes on his six grandkids. I know this is what grandparents are supposed to do, but he certainly didn’t dote on me (at least, not that I remember from my teen years). My sister was there too, quieter, sadder, and I don’t know when she’ll again enjoy a simple outing without thinking of how things were supposed to be.

At the lunch, we remarked on the nifty plastic tablecloths. They were fitted and had a tiny edging of elastic to kept them from shifting. My dad was so struck by them that I volunteered to go ask the friendly, middle-aged zoo host guy where they got them. He and his helper were very chatty. I said the tablecloths would be great for church activities, and then later in the conversation he asked what I thought of the whole event. I said that the only thing not perfect was that I wasn’t sure that the paints being used for the birdhouse craft would come out of my childrens’ clothes. And he said, “Well, that would be a great topic for a Relief Society night.”

This caught me off guard and I didn’t respond right away. He said, “You know, getting paint out of clothes.” Still a confused look on my face, so he rushed to apologize: “Oh, when you said that about church activities, but, I’m sorry . . . ,” and of course I said, “Oh no, that’s fine, you’re right, it would be a great topic for Relief Society.” (Although it wouldn’t. Who wants to learn about laundry techniques on the rare night out with the church-girls?)

The weird thing is that I’m sure at some point in my life I wouldn’t have been at all surprised by his casual reference to the church I belong to. And at some other point in my life I would have been offended on behalf of every non-Mormon that someone would assume from a simple “church activities” that I was Mormon and not Baptist or Catholic. I’m pretty sure they have activities too. Not to mention his assuming that everyone knows that “Relief Society,” in Mormon terms, refers to the entire women’s group, and not some committee to send aid to lepers in the leper colony (although Relief Society women have been known to knit those funny bandages).

Now I’m at a point in my life where it was just awkward, and I felt bad for him putting me on the spot and for me putting him on the spot. Of course, it was even more awkward when, after he had taken pains to speak to the craft women and to assure me that the birdhouse paint was water-soluble, I spilled an entire coke all over the nifty plastic tablecloth and then had to stand around apologizing and feeling stupid while he cleaned up after me.

Not my finest moment.

Also at the lunch, a woman came over to Dick and me. I did not recognize her at first, though she looks much more similar to her pre-children college self than I do. In other words, she looks great. Turns out that the three of us were in Writing Fellows together, which was the class/club/ finally-I-know-who-I-am-group where Dick and I met at BYU. She is married to my dad’s, well, not boss exactly, but very-respected colleague of some sort. We asked some personal (awkward) questions in an attempt to catch up. Yes, those four kids are hers. No, the older two (including a 14 year-old) are from her husband’s first marriage. Etc.

Dick and I talked too much, in our excitement at seeing her and through her, re-connecting with our idealistic, impressionable selves. I often feel later that I have monopolized a conversation, talking too much about myself, my interests and I never know if it’s because I am a really insufferable person (probably) or if the people I tend to be friends with are just really good at asking questions and seeming to be interested in me.

We asked her if she was writing. And it was as if we had asked if she were curing cancer yet. She was bashful, a bit apologetic, wistful. (I guess if you felt you should be curing cancer you’d be REALLY apologetic). I stumbled to say, “Of course, I know with kids and all, it’s almost impossible to do anything else.”

So, no writing, except for some family history things, stories about her ancestors, that sort of thing. Which, of course, is “writing,” though it was obvious that she didn’t consider it to be the kind of thing that we were talking about. Even after we told her we mostly blog, and everyone knows that isn’t a very respectable form of writing. And Dick is a technical writer, which everyone knows is selling out.

I wondered how I would have felt two years ago or a week ago when I felt like never writing another post, if someone had asked me, “Are you writing?”

Quite likely I would have screamed, “Are you KIDDING me? When should I be writing? Between the mopping of the syrup and the listening to the tantrums? Or the policing of the snack cupboard and the feeling guilty for pulling hair? Or the listening to the whining and the smelling stinky panties? I haven’t even had my Mountain Dew yet, and you think I SHOULD BE WRITING?”

I wanted to apologize, and yet, how could I? I’d apologize for the fact that her kids are taking up so much of her time, only she looks like she’s enjoying it, and her kids look really happy too.

The worst part is that Dick and I actually had cards to give her. I felt like a realtor, or a Mary Kay consultant. At least my cards were free at Vista Print and I only got them for that blogging conference I went to a few weeks ago. And they don’t have my picture on them.

Still, it was awkward, especially since she probably saw the thing later with the spilled coke all over the nifty plastic tablecloths.

The good thing is that, even though I have now stayed up another hour and a half to write this, and I’ll be paying for it tomorrow, I feel so much lighter, so much freer. Like I’ve apologized for real now, in writing, for all the awkward things that happened today. And that, Dear Reader, is why I write.


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If you haven’t entered the Luvs/Anita Renfroe giveaway yet, the deadline is today at 10 pm. (Well, the deadline is that whether you have or haven’t). Tell me your Things That Must Go! Besides awkwardness.

Passage to Zarahemla — Would’ve Been Better If We Could Have Seen Zarahemla

(This is a guest post by Dick, who also blogs under the name Tom Johnson. I was hesitant to review this movie, but Dick was eager to see it, so he agreed to write it in exchange for a free copy. Let me just add that Passage to Zarahemla was much better than the last Summer Naomi movie I (partly) saw, but not as good as The Best Two Years, which is a movie I would recommend to non-LDS people). My cousin Heather also reviewed Passage to Zarahemla (with a comment by the director; aren’t we connected?).)

Passage to Zarahemla, a new movie in the Mormon genre directed by Chris Heimerdinger, author of Tennis Shoes Among the Nephites, has a plot with an intriguing idea. Placing a modern person back in Nephite (50 BC) times reminds me of movies like Back to the Future and other time-travel epics.

But unfortunately the movie falls short of ever delivering on this intrigue because we never see Zarahemla at all. All you see is literally the “passage to” Zaramhemla. The passage is a spot in the woods in Leeds, Utah, where a lone Nephite guards a path he thinks Lamanites will use to invade Zarahemla.

Much of the anticipation of the protagonist stumbling into an ancient city, into Nephite homes and other Zarahemla environs, is never realized.

That said, the movie has its moments. We see the slow conversion of the main protagonist from a situation of unbelief to someone whose heart is softened. We see a Nephite literally speaking from the dust. The sci-fi portal, where characters pass from one world to another, always gets my attention.

But overall, it’s definitely a B movie produced with a low budget. The Nephite and Lamanite costumes look like they’re borrowed from a Manti pageant (as one character in the movie even suggests). The female protagonist wears frumpy Eighties clothing that are anything but California cool. I can live with these shortcomings, but the caricatures of the Nephites and Lamanites are tiring.

(I think Dick is not the authority on female fashion that he would like to think he is. Probably her clothing is the latest thing, only, we are not up on that).

Is it possible for a Mormon movie to portray a Nephite with real depth of character? The Lamanites are just one notch above barbaric cannibals. Each party is fixed in a single, predictable mindset.

Overall, despite so-so dialogue and feeling cheated of a glimpse of the filmmakers’ vision of Zarahemla, the movie kept my attention on a lazy Saturday afternoon.

(I would also point out that the gleeful use of violence while shrinking from even the mildest of epithets made the characterization highly problematic. As if it’s fine that gang members like to shoot people but would never befoul their mouths with a profanity. Not that I want to hear swearing, mind you, necessarily, just that such an imposed cinematic value system is odd and contrived.)

(I know, sorry, this was Dick’s review. But I had thoughts. And then I had to share them.)