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I’ve started a new blog, I Am Blossoming. Hope to see you there!
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My final letter from the Mormon church finally arrived. Dated March 11, 2009, more than four months since I resigned (http://aseriesofsmallfailures.wordpress.com/2008/11/07/heres-my-letter/), it reads:
“This letter is to notify you that, in accordance with your request, your name has been removed from the membership records of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Should you desire to become a member of the Church in the future, the local bishop or branch president in your area will be happy to help you.”
Signed by Gregory Dodge, manager of member and statistical records for the Mormon Church, the letter is not what I expected. Emotionless, void of pomposity, matter of fact. It doesn’t beg or plead like the last letter, complete with the Jesus pamphlet inviting me to come back. This really felt like the form letter that it is.
Who is this Mr. Dodge? I imagine him sighing as he signs, pauses, and moves on to the next letter. I imagine his desk crowded with neat stacks of these form letters he must sign and send. I wonder what kind of statistical information he compiles in his office in the church headquarters in downtown Salt Lake City. What’s his office like? Does he have a view of the mountains or the temple? I hope by now, after years at this job (i think at least a decade) he isn’t in an interior windowless room. What is it like to receive thousands of letters from disaffected people whose hearts have been broken by an organization they devoted part of their lives to? Is he saddened? Or is he desensitized, like anyone who routinely passes homeless people on the street who has trained himself not to see them anymore?
I’ve had it relatively easy. I didn’t get visits or phone calls from ecclesiastical leaders. It was irritating to hear in the first letter that they didn’t honor my resignation, and that they expected me to talk to my bishop instead. I ignored that letter and waited. And waited. It just took longer than I anticipated. Four months and seven days, to be exact. Technically, since I resigned, it shouldn’t matter what they did then, how they responded, what they said, or how they said it. But to me, the whole point of this exercise was to make whatever effort necessary to make this split official. I wanted that letter.
My initial reaction was not the elation I felt when I mailed my resignation letter. As I opened it, my heart sank. I sat there and looked at Mr. Dodge’s form letter. I read it again. Then I noticed that they had addressed me as “Sister Mardesich.” I smirked, and felt a little better for a second. That salutation was a symbol of the disconnect. Was it an attempt at familiarity, or was it just an archaic formality? No one has called me Sister in a long time. But this was nothing to smirk about. It was a final decree, like a divorce. But as in a divorce, the piece of paper declaring it’s over doesn’t make it over. It’s up to me to make it really over.
I’ve had years to mourn this split. And I’ve been through all the stages of grief, with extra long paralyzing stays in the anger and depression phases. So why was I sad? Because of the rift my leaving has caused within my family? Because Proposition 8 has not been repealed? Because I’m not done with it yet?
I so want to be. I am done with the self-hatred, the anger and the grief. The negativity! So counterproductive.
My life as a Mormon was full of activity, service, study of Mormon scripture and literature, and love. But it was also full of judgment, fear, and self-recrimination. I’d like to take the good bits of my Mormon life and fuse them with my new life. Thanks to Facebook, I’ve reconnected with dozens of friends from that period of my life. And my being me — answering the basic question, “what are you doing?” on Twitter and Facebook has caused some discomfort. Last night I got into a Facebook chat with an old friend. This is exactly how it went:
So how long will you be venting your spleen against the church?
what spleen? i just said i did it
You don’t see the ad hominem attack nature of your comments?
but i assumed that people might be offended, hence the four agreements comment: “don’t take anything personally”
That’s entirely unfair.
You can’t make such comments and then ask to be shileded from other reactions.
i didn’t ask to be shielded.
i am saying to you, and anyone else, that it’s not about you.
i made this choice for myself
Don’t take it personally when you go after what is the essence of many of your closest friends lives??
It’s not about your choice, it is about the additional attack.
i am done going after it. i am simply done. there is no attack
the “i think they have been busy” was perhaps editorial
but all i said was that i got a letter, and it took four months.
not editorial and you damn well know it. an ad hominem dig.
You going to keep ‘em up?
you might want to look at what you are reading into it
keep what up?
ok, never mind. my imagination.
i was just [enjoying a gift made by this friend] and thinking fondly of you.
i am sorry that you are upset by my actions. or my words
He stopped chatting then. I love this friend. But can you see what I’m dealing with here? This exchange was in response to a Facebook update i posted that said:
“i returned home to utah and found a letter from the Mormon church. It took four months for them to process my resignation. i think they have been busy”
My next facebook update was a reminder of one of the Four Agreements, Don Miguel De Ruiz’s code of behavior. Number one: be impeccable with your word. Number two, the one that I quoted: don’t take anything personally.
I knew some people would take this personally. Mormons love the martyr/victim role. They were victimized for their beliefs, chased from town after town as they moved west across the states and finally settled in what became Utah. It’s a role that comes naturally to many of them. I know it all too well. Dealing with my repressed abuse memories has helped me to let go of the victim role. Also, leaving the church helped a lot.
But really, how does my decision affect them? I’m not judging them. I’m simply making a choice about my life.
And it’s so much more than that. By letting go of the old, I’m making room for the new. For the first decade after i left, I shunned any form of spirituality. I distrusted organizations of any kind, especially religious ones. So I knew what I wasn’t, but I didn’t really know what I was. Or what I was becoming.
By letting go of the incessant scripture study (over and over and over–I read the Book of Mormon 6 times on my mission alone), I’ve been able to read and study new ideas. By not spending all my energy playing the piano in church or teaching sunday school, I’ve been able to serve in other ways (volunteering at the sundance film festival for two weeks, and at the Ann Wigmore Institute for three years).
I love what my life is becoming. It really seems like another lifetime that I was mormon. I am done resenting what I used to refer to as “wasted time” I spent in that religion. I am the sum of all my experiences, and mormonism was a big one. Time to move on.
Here’s a bittersweet song that captures some of the beauty and angst of my church divorce:
And now I can move on. The question has been answered: how long can it last before turning?
Today was the day. Blue-green moldy patches emerged on the space-age lasagna.
It takes 16 days out of the freezer for it to go bad. Now you know.
this is the lasagna i found in the closet, unfrozen (see suspiciously-space-age-lasagna). It has been at least 14 days since it’s been frozen, and it’s still looking like food (but not food i would want to eat). seriously, wtf? how does it not change? i vow to never eat a stouffer’s frozen lasagna again.
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: master cleanse, preservatives, space lasagna
I’ve been on the master cleanse for nine days now. Last night I was looking around in the cupboard for some herbal tea and noticed a box I didn’t remember putting there. Oh, right, I thought, it must be some of the food my Sundance roommates gave me when they left — they didn’t want to lug stuff all the way back to Toronto with them. I didn’t even look in the bag, and when i unloaded the bag into my cupboard, I must not have looked at it either. Last night, in my cupboard, I saw a red box that said lasagna on it.
Hmm. lasagna in a box? Interesting. I pulled it out of the cupboard. And looked at it. And realized it should have been in the freezer.
It’s been thawed for ten days already, I thought. Let’s take a look!
I imagined it would be covered in mold, but no, it’s a perfectly preserved square of lasagna. The packaging wasn’t even bulging.
The box says “no preservatives,” but how can that be? A freshly made piece of lasagna in the refrigerator would have had mold on it by now. An unrefrigerated piece?
No, I didn’t eat it! I don’t like to eat anything out of a box. I usually throw food away after a few days — something about wanting what I eat to be filled with life force. Especially after not eating for so long. It didn’t even look or seem like food. More like a science project.
Wondering if the dogs would eat it (I’m dogsitting for Jack, my brother’s family’s boston terrier), I put it on the floor. Jack started in on it. I whisked it away before he could take a bite. it definitely made it past the sniff test for him. He’s still kinda longing for it. I think i made him sad. Poor baby, on his first morning away from his home for the first time. Maybe I should have given it to him. My nephews feed him from the table all the time.
Okay, back to making jewelry.
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: Lymelife, Prom night in mississippi, steven martini, sundance '09
I realize this can hardly be considered a failure, unless you think of it as a failure to actually earn money, which I need to be doing so that I can get out of my parents’ basement. My new friend Naked Jen has been full of good ideas for work, things that I may not have considered not so long ago, but that are perfectly fine options, especially at this point. This idea was a great one: Jen is working for the Sundance film festival. Turns out I was a little late for that (at least a for a paid position), but then she forwarded an email from someone on the volunteer team, because they were still looking for volunteers.
I looked at the name of the person who sent the email. It seemed familiar. That’s because I know her. I met Lindsay in Puerto Rico, of all places. She’s one of the volunteer coordinators, which turned out to be very handy. She knows me, can vouch for me, and pulled strings to get me a coveted full time position with lodging.
So I’m writing this from my condo in Park City. It’s not exactly super deluxe, but it is large and has a hot tub and sauna, and is filled with nice women who have all volunteered before, some for years and years, and who know the secrets about volunteering, where to go for what, and how to get in to as many screenings as we can.
I may live off bad snacks from the volunteer villa for the next ten days, but I can see two films a day before my shift (7:30 p.m. until 2 a.m.)!
Tuesday night we had a two hour training session, followed by a screening for volunteers. Two more films will be shown to us volunteers tonight. I don’t know who chooses the films that we get to pre-screen, but I’m not too happy about the first one. Johnny Mad Dog was beautifully made, some of the images were haunting; however, the story was unredeeming. I’m not sure what the point of the film was, except to capture something that actually happened. And experience it again, in horrific detail. To what end?
I should know by now that I can’t deal with violence. I’m too wimpy for films like this. It may have taken a lot of courage to make it, but I don’t want my mind and body to suffer even 1.5 hours of that kind of stress, or to be exposed to those kinds of images (children being forced to kill their parents, kids raping girls and women, children hating pathologically). I’m looking forward to the documentary on the music of Tibet. Go ahead and laugh.
Film #2, Prom Night in Mississippi, documents an unbelievable story. Until 2008, the high school in Charleston, Miss., had two proms — one for white students, and the other for black students. Morgan Freeman, who is from there, offered to pay for the prom if they’d integrate it. Ten years ago they turned him down. Last year, they took him up on it. Some highlights: interviews with a black boy and white girl who have been together for years; interviews with the girl’s father, who doesn’t approve of their relationship; footage of school officials and their reactions to Freeman’s offer. Apparently, the version we saw was not the final edited version. It could have been trimmed. But the story is what carries the film.
Film #3, Lymelife — loved it. So real. The brothers who made the film were there to answer questions — and we kept them there until after midnight. I chose to go home and sleep instead of nosh on chicken soup and sit in the hot tub of one of the Toronto crowd (I feel like an honorary Canadian — is this festival run by Torontonians?). My roommate didn’t get back until after 4 a.m.. She and the other Canadians had been hanging out with the composer brother, Steven Martini, and his band. So I missed my first Sundance filmmaker schmoozing, but I feel clear-headed and rested today, so that’s worth something.
When I lived in Utah through college and for the first couple of years afterward, Sundance was the one thing that gave me hope. Going to Sundance, the resort, felt like a vacation, however brief, from the small-minded state I was living in. Going to Sundance, the film festival, was a retreat for my soul. I went to the festival every year until I moved to San Francisco in early 1990. I got to see Sex, Lies and Videotape when it premiered here. I got to Tapeheads, and gawk at John Cusack and Tim Robbins (and Susan Sarandon). I got shaken up, forced to think, inspired to create. It feels good to give something back as a volunteer.
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: burial plots, charlotte!, faithful mormon, green hill, milton, morning of the first resurrection
When I got home this morning, after two blissful days in Sugar House with Tyler, my mom had lots to say. This was the most memorable part: Standing on the stairs, about halfway down, she asked if I still wanted that burial plot.
The burial plot conversation started in around 2000 when I was living in New York City. So here’s an old essay from the past on the topic:
“Your dad and I are thinking of selling some burial plots.”
It had started as an ordinary phone conversation: I was at my desk in my tiny West Village apartment, sipping from my glass of vodka and tonic, hoping my mother in Utah wouldn’t hear the clink of ice cubes each time I raised the glass. On the other side of the line, mom was talking about death and illness and misfortune happening to people I used to know. Once we had the misery update, talk usually turned to what my parents were having for dinner. But today, the conversation had veered into an unforeseen direction. She continued:
“Well, you know when your grandmother died, we also bought plots for your dad and me. We didn’t want her to be alone there.” ‘There’ was Green Hills, a mortuary on the outskirts of San Pedro, the blue-collar port town outside of Los Angeles, where I grew up, and where my parents had lived practically all their lives until they, like many faithful Mormons, moved to Utah. “We bought plots for your uncles, too, but your uncle Ted says he wants to be buried in Utah, with his own family, in the mountains.” It went without saying that she wasn’t selling the plot for my Uncle Milton. My mother’s twin, Milton sits in a halfway house somewhere in Utah and smokes and watches television all day. He used to be quite the athlete. Now he’s the archetypal example of what can happen to you if you don’t say no to drugs. That was a plot they’d be keeping.
Then she drops the bombshell. “So we have a plot for you,” she continues. “We’re just not sure if you’d want it.”
I don’t like being in the misfit camp with Milton. And I don’t really want to think about these morbid details.
“Last I checked, mom, I still had a pulse. Jesus.”
“I know, I always hated when your grandmother would talk to me about her will, or who would get what,” mom says. “But it’s going to happen to all of us. We’re all going to die.”
She can’t help it — Mormons are prepared for everything. In case of war, famine, or armageddon, she has a year’s supply of food in a special cold storage room in the basement. Row upon row of white plastic buckets full of wheat, dehydrated milk, fruits and vegetables, dried beans, pasta, and other wholesome staples. Enormous blue plastic barrels of water so large that unleashed on the dried food locker, the re-hydration process might blow up the house. She even has a wheat grinder to make her own flour. Plus those burial plots. I’m still trying to figure out what happens between now and when my body stiffens, but she’s already on to how to dispose of it.
“I always thought I’d just be cremated,” I tell my mother, hoping to get back to manageable talk. “So what are you having for dessert?” I tentatively ask.
But she won’t be deflected. “Honey, it’s easier to put you back together in the resurrection if you don’t get cremated,” she says.
When we talk about religion, I feel wise and almost parental; she sounds like a three-year old. When I was growing up, I idolized my mother. Besides being beautiful, she seemed the repository of all knowledge, which she imparted to me: she taught me everything, from how to drink from a cup, eat with a fork, put on my clothes, speak, and read. So when she converted to Mormonism when I was seven and she introduced me to Joseph Smith and the golden plates and the stories of angels and devils and salvation and damnation, what reason did I have to doubt any of it?
My mother seems like a reasonable person, but she adopts the same tone when she’s talking about resurrection that she uses to discuss salad dressing, and she matter-of-factly believes that Jesus is returning to the earth any day now.
“Do you want us to keep the plot?” she asks again. “That way you’d be right next to us. And on the morning of the first resurrection, we’ll stand up and I’ll wave hello,” she says, all sunshine. “And I’ll say, ‘see, it all really is true.'”
Mormons believe that when Jesus comes, the faithful — they, of course — will spring up first. Then, families that have been sealed together for time and all eternity — again, only Mormons — will be reunited. And then Jesus will begin his reign over 1000 years of peace on the Earth. But to be part of this holy crowd, I would need to come back to church.
This wouldn’t mean just going to church on Sunday. To be a faithful Mormon, I’d need to give the church 10 percent of everything I earn (before taxes). I’d have to spend every waking moment reading the scriptures and attending endless meetings and spreading the gospel to the unfortunate people of the earth who don’t yet have the truth. I’d be expected to trace my family tree so that my dead ancestors could be baptized Mormon and accept or reject the church in the hereafter. I’d have to treat my body like a temple, which would mean I’d have to stop polluting my body with coffee and tea and alcohol and drugs. I’d have to swear off sex, heavy petting and even french kissing, because God knows where that leads. I’d have to believe my past relationships with women were sinful, not allow myself to be attracted to other women, and support the church’s political campaigns against gay marriage. Somehow I’d have to find an honorable priesthood holder (meaning a man) who would take me to the temple and marry me. And I’d have to not be bothered by what goes on in the temple, where I’d be washed and anointed and given the odd long underwear I’d have to wear for the rest of my life. I’d have to not be offended by the fact that the secret name I was given in the temple could only be uttered to my husband, so that when I die, he could usher me into the hereafter. (My name was Charlotte.) It probably also shouldn’t bother me that without him, I couldn’t be saved. I’d have to believe that in heaven, God would again ask his faithful to practice polygamy. (The prophet conveniently suspended the law on earth for now, because people just didn’t get it, and besides, the territory of Utah wanted to become a state.) I’d have to believe that the fragile old man leading the church is a prophet of God, and I’d have to take his word as scripture. When he says women shouldn’t work outside the home, I’d have to agree. I’d have to say things like “I know the church is true,” “I know Gordon B. Hinckley is a true prophet,” and “I know the book of Mormon is true,” and mean it. I’d have to stop thinking independently.
In other words, I would have to be a different person.
“What’s wrong honey? Is this hard for you to hear?” Mom asks, slightly less brightly.
My mother can’t understand what happened. I used to be a believing Mormon. I went to church faithfully. I even went on a mission to Uruguay and converted 34 people. But the dogma that once seemed magical and that gave me what I thought was special insight into the mysteries of the universe now sounds like so many fairy tales. Just thinking about the years I lost being brainwashed to the point that I too sounded like a small child when I talked fills me with rage. My mom and my brothers and I have agreed not to talk about the church anymore, but she has sneakily slipped us into a conversation. This is not about burial plots. It’s about inclusion in the family — am I in for eternity or not? Or am I going to be rotting away in the ground while they, clothed in white, skip off to some eternal bliss, a happy, loving family forever?
Even 15 years after I left, I still wonder sometimes: What if they’re right? And I miss the simplicity, the confidence, the harmony of knowing my place in the great eternal plan. “Sure, Mom, I’ll take the plot,” I say. I don’t have any better options. What does it matter. I’ll be dead. I think.
Update: today, I told her I wanted to be cremated. Progress!!! and she is trying to sell the burial plots. She may want to be cremated too. I told her what I’d really like is to be thrown into a ditch and covered with dirt, sans embalming chemicals. (They’re so bad for the environment.) The idea of worms eating me and turning me back into the dirt from whence I came is so romantic. But it’s illegal, we agreed. So, cremation it is.