Monthly Archives: August 2012

Minivan love.

And then this arrived from a Utah reader of The Book of Mormon Girl:

“I just have to tell you a sweet experience I had while reading your book. I was sitting in my minivan in the parking lot of my girls tumbling studio, reading. I was all emotional and leaned down to get a tissue. I looked over and another mom in a minivan was looking at me. She then held up her copy of your book that she was reading right then too. I rolled my window down as I was using my tissue. We then sort of commiserated about the tears we had shed over the book. I don’t know her story, but I know we both found part of our story in yours.

“Thanks for being so brave. I feel like I am having more courage to be open about my ‘issues’ with my faith. It is so helpful to have you and others be open about your ‘issues’ too. Like my mom always said, ‘There is strength in numbers.'”

Thank you for reading.  And thanks for letting me into your minivan.

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How dare you even mention women and ordination on national television? Or, inside the NBC Rock Center special on Mormons.

“Nice job taking a hit on your church by complaining about ordination. Did God discriminate against men when he gave women vaginas?  Why can’t men have babies?  So why can’t your daughter pass the sacrament? Or be a prophet?  I guess that too must be oppression of the woman right?”

We could call this installment of Ask Mormon Girl the “Inside NBC Rock Center” edition.  Because questions like these are the ones I’ve gotten aplenty after my three-soundbite appearance in the Mormons in America special.

As for the behind the scenes scoop—All throughout the process, I found the producers very kind and gracious and sincerely interested in humanizing our faith.  I will say that I wish they hadn’t shown garments on television, or given quite so much time to Abby Huntsman, as beautiful as she is to watch.  I wish they had included the footage they took of my family praying at our dinner table.  And I wish that the three soundbites they used from the two hour interview they did with me had drawn more broadly from my description of the joys of growing up Mormon, the experience of interfaith families, and the broad-ranging concerns of Mormon feminists and not just focused in on the question of ordination and the threat of excommunication.  It’s too often that Mormon feminism gets put in the ordination-excommunication box.  And it’s not a comfortable box in which to live.

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Good things happen when you tell your story.

There were tears.
Of course.
Big hugs to everyone who filled the chairs (and the stairs and the balcony) at wonderful Sam Weller’s Books in Salt Lake City.  Thanks to Meg who drove from *POCATELLO, IDAHO* just to be there.  Thanks for lining up to share your thoughts and stories with me, and letting me give knuckles to your kids.  Young Mormon kids sitting through an hour-long book reading?  Amazing. That reverence training sure pays off!
I wanted to share two letters from readers of The Book of Mormon Girl.  This one is from Anna, a non-Mormon reader: “I picked up a copy of your book in Barnes in Noble the other day and started to read it on a whim. I was so captivated by it that I came back the next day to read more of it.
 Before I read your book, I knew a fair amount about the LDS church but after reading your story and watching a few of your videos, I have found myself far more accepting to the nuances of the Mormon faith. Although I’m not Mormon, I could relate to your longing to discover more about oneself and one’s faith. Your book and your story have provided both inspiration and encouragement to me in the midst of my own faith journey.”
Thank you, Anna.  I am glad this book helped you see Mormonism with more warmth and understanding.  And I hope it provides you strength and courage as you walk your own path in this life.
And this, from a fellow BYU alum, living in Utah:
“I was walking through Costco when I stumbled upon your book.  I worried that it was going to be one of those books where the author thinks she is smarter than you because she got out of the church. I picked it up and bought it. [Reading it,] I felt proud of the way you represented strong women, the way you were true to the conflicting feelings being a member of the church presents. It is a great book – I went back to Costco and bought 5 more copies to give to friends and family.

Just wanted to let you know you have a sister in the gospel rooting for you – you represented us well. Keep fighting the good fight.”
Thank you.  I am rooting for you too.  I am rooting for all of us–Mormons in this moment when our beloved faith is under scrutiny, and we are putting ourselves and our fellow Church members under scrutiny too–may we all have courage and full hearts and tell our stories with hope, confidence, and loyalty.
And I am rooting for anyone who is on a spiritual journey.  Strength for your travels.

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Bravery and tears. P.S. See you soon at Wellers SLC.

I’m packing my bags.  I’m boarding a plane tomorrow for Salt Lake City, and I’m hoping to see you Thursday night, 8/23, at 7 p.m. at Weller’s Books.  I’m bringing a copy of The Marie Osmond Guide to Beauty Health and Style to give to whoever has the most outstanding object lesson story to share.
And I’m really looking forward to meeting a bunch of you all and crying a few tender Mormon tears.  It always happens. We are a crying people.  I know it’s a good day when someone (men, usually!) tweets at me with mock outrage that they had tears dripping down their face on public transport because of the book.  Tears often mean good things in Mormonism.  They can mean softened hearts.
I want to share with you a letter I got today from a reader who read the whole BOMG camped out in the BYU Bookstore at my alma mater.  (I hope he got some cinnamon bears from the candy counter to strengthen and nourish him!)  Please read.  Is there someone in your life you need to have a tough and tender conversation with?  Is there someone you want to share your story with?  I hope my book gives you the courage to do so.
This letter is from a young man; we’ll call him “F.”
“When I asked the BYU bookstore clerk this morning if they had a copy of The Book of Mormon Girl; I was honestly expecting them to say no. The clerk, however, grabbed one of the two of the copies on the shelf, handed to me, and I began reading.

“I was excited to read it after hearing the recommendations from some close friends. 

“I laughed out loud at your descriptions of growing up in an LDS home. I too have felt the anxiety of finding my root-beer among the cokes. My heart ached as you described the crises that came later in life. I loved the book, in fact, I read the entire thing there in the bookstore today (with a brief break for a foot-long black-forest ham on wheat).

“While reading, many people walked past me… possibly judging a 25 year old guy for reading a book with three little bonnetted girls on the cover. Two individuals stopped to talk: my best friend and the mom of a childhood friend whom I haven’t seen in years. I talked to both of them about your story and how it relates to mine–the conversations that resulted had a powerful impact on me.

“My best friend has been along side of me for 7 years… we met my first day at helaman halls. Through my mission, through the rest of my under-grad years, and through my faith crisis this past year, he’s been there praying for me. He understood, as I recounted some of your stories, how relevant this book is to my own life and experience. We then talked for over an hour about issues of faith, doubt, leaders, and the future of the church–I felt more honest, more connected and more hopeful as a result. I knew that, if for no other reason, your book mattered because it led to that conversation with my friend.

“Then (after the sandwich break) I saw the woman whom I hadn’t seen in years. We talked about our families, her feelings about becoming an empty-nester for the first time… and then what I was reading. I told her about how it with interesting to me to read about people’s experiences navigating the difficult aspects of Mormonism and how these aspects have lead me down a painful (but important) path this past year. She then opened up about her experiences with faith and doubt, as well as the experiences of her two sons who have left Mormonism. She talked about her current experience serving as the Relief Society president and the trials and blessings involved. Once again, your book inspired a much needed and affirming conversation for me today.

“Your honesty and bravery has inspired me to be more honest and brave.

“I have recently rediscovered the testimony that I was mourning losing. Nothing has been more painful for me than questioning the very thing that has given so much meaning to my life. Through this agonizing process, however, I have felt myself grow intellectually, emotionally, and spiritually.”

Thank you, F, for being brave. Thank you for sharing.  See you all Thursday night in Zion.

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Meet me at Weller’s Books this Thursday–and lovely letters from readers

Howdy, everyone!

This Thursday, August 23, I’ll be visiting Salt Lake City to do a 7 p.m. reading at Weller’s Books in Trolley Square.   Come say hello and share your own Mormon girl (and boy) stories.  Whoever recounts the most memorable object lesson ever will win his or her own copy of . . . . The Marie Osmond Guide to Beauty Health & Style.  That’s right!  Your own vintage edition of the book I studied the heck out of when I was twelve years old and trying to get a grip on Mormon womanhood. Thanks to the good people at Weller’s for having me.  Can’t wait to see you there.

And I wanted to share snippets of lovely letters from readers of The Book of Mormon Girl.   I’ve gotten quite a few of them in the last two weeks, from non-Mormon readers who tell me they’ve worked with Mormons all their lives but have never “gotten” us until they read the book.  And from Mormon readers who say that my story has helped them feel “less alone” or “like I didn’t have to be ashamed” of their unorthodox Mormon path.  I’ve also gotten great mail from more traditional believing Mormon folks who say “I may disagree with some of your actions but you gave me a great deal to think about the young women of this church.”  Which is awesome.  Because this is a story that welcomes everyone at the table:  Mormon or non-Mormon, believer or not, in or out, good or bad.  This is a story about holding onto what you love and being brave.  (I’ll stop before I start sounding like my own video. Which you should check out.)

The letter that stands out the most to me this week is from a woman we’ll call “B.”  B read the book last week.  And then this happened:

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Book of Mormon Girl goes to the Daily Show! Inside Edition.

I was sitting at the kitchen table in my pajamas when the call came from my publisher in New York:  The! Daily! Show! Wants! To! Talk! To! You! About! Your! New!  Book!

“Wha? Wha? Wha?” I breathed into the phone.  I went all numb and tingly.

“Are you okay?” the press publicist asked me.

“Yeah,” I said, eventually composing myself.  “Talking to smart funny Jewish guys—this I think I can do.”

“Oh no,” my husband said, looking stricken.  “What if I go into a-fib”—that’s atrial fibrillation, a benign heart condition he has—“when we get there? What if I ruin everything?”

Anxiety–it’s like the Jewish champagne.  Something to celebrate?  Pop the cork and let the neuroses bubble up!

Six days later, we are in New York City.  I’ve studied the Daily Show set and bought a new red dress in a classic Diane Von Furstenberg wrap style to match.  Husband is with me, and we both keep pinching ourselves to snap out of the unreality of the situation.  THE DAILY SHOW!  JON STEWART!  The MAN!

Thursday morning, we scoot about town on various book-related appointments and errands, and as the clock ticks closer to five o’clock, I feel the nausea beginning to descend.  I usually prep quite extensively for any radio or television I do, and I have a pre-interview with a producer that helps me anticipate what the show will be asking, but this time was different.  On the phone, the producer told me, “I really have no idea what he is going to ask.”  In my head, I run through the important notes I’d like to hit and think about ways to avoid the most unproductive avenues of discussion as well.   My dear friend Claire reminds me not to put too much pressure on myself.  “You’re human, dear.  Be human!”  She’s right.  And nothing else is sticking.  Back in the hotel room, I try to handwrite out a few main points to get my head focused.  But the focus does not happen.

Husband David is getting ready too, and I ask him to put some music on. He’s always bringing the good stuff to the family equation, especially food, sports, laughter, and music.  That’s his department.  (Nagging, to-do lists, homework, chores, and urgency—that’s my department.)  He dials his iPhone to some early Dr. Dre and Snoop songs we both love, and that helps me channel my nervous energy into a better place.  We bounce our heads to the hip-hop, smiling totally crazy luck we’ve found ourselves in. THE DAILY SHOW! JON STEWART!

At 5:15 we get into the car and go to the Daily Show studio on the far Westside of Manhattan.  As we pull up, we see the lines of people in front for tickets.  “Last night they got to see Chris Rock,” I joked to my husband.  “And tonight it’s like—who?  Joanna who? Book of Mormon what? Poor suckers!”

We enter the studio at a little side door and head for the green room.  (That’s what they call the place you sit and get nervous before the show—whatever show it is.  Rarely is the room actually green.)  The Daily Show has the nicest green room I have ever seen.  There is a couch and television and cute vases and a stylish coffee table with a giant bowl of candy on it.  There is a schwag bag waiting for me with beauty product samples, gourmet bite-sized cupcakes, and Daily Show gear. And my name is in a frame by the door.  I stand in front of the sign and make a goofy face. David takes a picture.

In the room, the press publicist and my editor are waiting with me and David.  I work with some truly lovely people at the Free Press, and my editor Leah had made the bad Mormon dessert—the strawberry jello pretzel dessert with the recipe at the back of my book—to celebrate.  We settle in, and I start pounding mini Reese’s peanut butter cups from the giant candy bowl.

The producer comes in and greets us.  I thank her for the chance to be on the show.  She says, “Jon really liked your book.”  Which makes me, of course, stoked.  And I tell her that in studying the Daily Show website prepping for the show, I notice that he regularly has on women authors from underrepresented backgrounds to talk about their serious books, and how I saw that pattern, and I knew it reflected a conscious effort, and how much that means to me.  The producer tells me they do really try to get women guests—it’s a priority for them.  And that it can be hard to find women who write non-fiction on the kinds of subjects they cover, but they try.  So, take heart, brainy women—there is a place in popular culture for us.  And it is the awesomest place–The Daily Show.

The producer turns on the television and excuses herself.  The clock says 6 o’clock.  The opening graphics for the show roll, and we think for a moment we might not get to meet Jon Stewart.  That on this night, of all nights, he is too busy to come back and see us.  Alas!  But then, from the end of the hallway, I hear that unmistakeable voice singing a boisterous “HAVA NAGILA HAVA NAGILA HAVA . . .”  and clapping along.

Oh. My. Heart.

He is short—but not as short as you may have heard.  He’s about 5’7” or 5’8”.  About the same height as my husband.  Which I’ve always thought to be the perfect height, but I’m biased. And 5’3”.

He is also very intense, but in a powerfully good, generous, funny, and deeply intelligent way.  He was in the green room exactly the mensch you see on your television screen.

He gives us a huge hello, shakes hands with everyone—me last.

“I bring greetings from the Mormon feminists of America,” I said, “who adore you, and they send these pioneer bonnets as a token of their adoration!”

And I handed him the bonnets made by feministmormonhouswives.org founder Lisa in festive star of David and Hannukah fabrics–with ironed on Feminist Mormon Housewives labels–and he chuckled and smiled and examined them with appreciation.  And then I handed him the bonnet made in a fetching blue wool by Reese Dixon.  “This one,” I said, “My friend Tresa made to match your handsome suit.”

He was delighted.

And then he spied the bad Mormon dessert on the table.

“What is this?”

“It’s a bad Mormon dessert,” my editor explained.  “Strawberry jello pretzel pie.”

“I want to taste that!”

I started fishing around to set him up with a spoon and a plate and he took a big bite of the Jello-Cool-Whip concoction and says, “That’s not bad at all!  I like that!”

Someone jokes about the Jello-Cool-Whip Mormon thing, and David vocalized his usual complaints about the yucky goyishness of the food, to which Mr. Stewart replied, “And you think kasha varnishkas are any better?”

I, for the record, really like kasha varnishkas.

And I like Jon Stewart.

He recommends a Romanian restaurant in town where there is real live schmaltz on the tables.  He and my husband pose with the pie.  He and I pose with the bonnets. There are photographs.

Then he starts monologuing to us about religion:  “You know, it gets inside you like a resin, and it never comes out.  It always makes you feel different.  More responsible. When I was a kid, my neighbors were all Italians and at Passover I’d go to school with my hardboiled egg and my matzah in a bag and Johnny so-and-so would be eating pizza and he’s ask, ‘Why you eating crackers for lunch?’ and I’d say,” he put on a forlorn and quizzical voice, “’my ancestors were slaves?’ And years later I’m sitting in college getting ready to light a bong and feeling so guilty inside and why? I’d say to myself,” he reassumed that forlorn and quizzical voice, “’my ancestors were slaves?’”

Genius.  There were some more friendly words about how much he liked the book, and some talk about 1980s Mormon end-times tuff, and then BAM he was off to start the show.

We watched the first segment from the green room—oh heavens—he really took it to Mitt Romney.  Jon Stewart was on tonight!  Amazing timing.  Amazing energy. He was just ripping giant holes in the ridiculousness of the 2012 campaign, especially the bickering of the last few weeks.  But I was in a panic, seeing that intense energy.  What if I had to come in and pick up the pieces for poor Mitt?  I left the green room and started pacing the hall, trying to do yoga breathing, trying to find my stillness, and praying my “please-give-me-the-right-words-to-say-and-let-me-not-screw-up-too-bad” prayer.  I like to think of myself as a normally sort of calm person, but I gotta say, I was in a bit of a spell.  David came out to check on me and make sure I was okay.  “I can’t watch right now,” I told him.

The second segment was a wild little story about “Redneck Olympics” in Maine, that included a bawdy detail or two.  Note to self—David and I thought—call his parents back at home and tell them not to let the girls watch segment two!

Then, it was my turn.  The producer materialized at the door, smiling.  The make-up lady put one more dash of powder on my face and we started down the long and winding hallways through the Daily Show offices and sets.  Halfway to the stage, we encountered a dog—the Daily Show is the dog-friendliest workplace in the world, they say, with lots of staffers bringing their dogs to work.  Here was this darling black terrier-border collie mix, just standing there in the hallway, and being a dog person, I gave it a big pet and tried to absorb that canine calm.  We continued on down the hallway, and as we rounded the corner I saw the red and blue lights of the set, and heard and felt the energy of the crowd.  He had a big rocking Nickleback (I think) song pumping, and the energy was intense and masculine.  It was nice to have a crowd there.  I lecture to 200-person halls all the time on my day job, and I enjoy the give and take of the energy.  It’s so much better being able to feel and read that energy than being in an oddly quiet studio with a host and a camera, and cameramen counting down, and invisible television beams shooting out across the miles.  Too quiet!  I like human crowds better.

And so BAM! He’s back from break, and he’s reading my short bio!  And all of the sudden, I’m walking across the stage with a big smile and taking my seat at his desk. There are about 215 people in the audience, including a posse of Mormon friends, and as I walk out I am trying to look out at the audience for my friends.  The energy is so positive and enthusiastic, I want to wave and make goofy peace signs and say, “What is up, everyone!  CAN YOU BELIEVE A REGULAR MORMON GIRL IS DOING HER THING ON THE DAILY SHOW! This is just CRAZY!”  But instead I concentrated on making it to the chair. I did not trip!  I did not hurl!  Hallejullah!

And what happens next I don’t really remember, except being right there and saying to myself, “Yes, this is Jon Stewart, and I AM ACTUALLY TALKING TO HIM ABOUT A BOOK I WROTE.”  Wow.  Just wow.

I also remember registering the energy in that chair as being way, way, way more intense than any energy I have experienced elsewhere in the little bit of radio or television I’ve done. It was like having 1000 laser beams on you.  DUDE IS INTENSE.  In a very good way.  He’s just brilliant.  He knows the narrative arc he wants to achieve, the argument he wants to frame, and he knows how to do it in exactly the right time frame for the episode, with timing and jokes, and energy.  BAM.  Super, super impressive.

It took a question or two for me to warm up.  And some of the best stuff happened in the web section.  We covered all the important stuff:  Word of Wisdom, Joseph Smith story, gay Mormons, dance festivals, food storage, and Mitt Romney. . . .and more.

Watch the aired television segment here.  And be sure to watch part two—the web exclusive–here.

Can you believe how supportive he was of The Book of Mormon Girl?  Again, what a mensch. So generous. And when it was over, he leaned across the desk to me and said, “You know, the point is to demystify.  Demystify African-Americans.  Demystify Jews.  And that’s what you’re helping do with this book for Mormons.” He patted the book appreciatively.  Yes, I thought, I hope people can see us as human beings.  I love the mystery of faith, but its humanity is just as important.

I shook his hand. And smiled and walked back off stage, with lots of energetic cheers from the audience, and this time I did wave, I think.  I felt full of smiles and I thought of that sound a gymnast’s feet make when they strike the mat squarely after a good routine.  I was quite relieved.

Everyone was extremely nice as I walked back down the halls—the dog was standing in the exact same spot, and I gave it a quick pat of appreciation for chilling me out.  I met my smiling husband and editor and press publicist, and then it was time to gather our schwag and head out into the muggy warm Manhattan night, where I met my dear friends Russ, Travis, and Eric at the stage door exit.  All smiles.  All around.

Big old thank yous the folks at the Daily Show and all my friends who were pulling for me—especially my Mormon feminist posse, who I know were pulling deep.  Gratitude!  And enjoy the book.  Good things can happen when we tell our stories.

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What is the comfort food of your childhood? Enter recipe contest to win free copies of Book of Mormon Girl and a special grand prize!

 It sounds like a Mormon cliché, but I’m not kidding when I say that some of my happiest childhood memories taste like  Jell-O.

First, there was my grandmother’s green goddess salad.  Which was not, I suppose, technically a salad:  there were no leaves involved.  She’d mix lemon and lime Jell-os, fold in sour cream, cottage cheese, and canned pineapple.  (Grandma liked hers with nuts, but in deference to us kids, she’d often leave them out.)  She’d bring it to every holiday meal, and if we were lucky, make it for Sunday dinners at her house, or even make a pan for a sick grandchild.  What was more soothing than a backscratch from my grandmother or the cool feel of green goddess sliding down a fevered throat?

Then, there was the raspberry angel ring—the special dessert my mom made to serve members of my parents’ Mormon doctrine study group when they convened once a month on Sunday nights.  She’d thaw a little square can of frozen raspberries (remember those?), mix it into warm liquid raspberry Jell-o, fold in whipped cream, and pour the mixture over pieces of a store-bought angel food cake she layered into a bundt cake pan (that was the “ring”) and a 9×13 pyrex.  While the grown-ups finished talking about fine points of theology in the living room, we kids would hover in the kitchen, hoping there was an extra piece left in the pyrex for us.  I remember the cool of the jello, the tang of the berries, the sweet of the cream, and the fluff of the cake.

Green goddess.  Raspberry angel ring.  Is it any wonder that something about that Jell-o and cream combination makes me feel inspired? The Book of Mormon Girl celebrates the delicious goodness of the worlds we grow up in, and the lasting importance of our childhood hopes and beliefs even as life gets more complicated.  Because life does get more complicated and even mixed-up—pineapple and sour cream, anyone?–but the good stuff still inspires us and carries us through.

What food says comfort and childhood to you?  What are the dishes that you most associate with family, friends, and special occasions?

Help celebrate the August 7 release of the new and expanded edition of The Book of Mormon Girl: A Memoir of an American Faith (Free Press) and win your own signed copy by sharing your childhood comfort food memories.  Post your favorite Childhood Comfort Food recipe on your own blog, or Facebook, with a picture, a short (under 300 words) description of your experience with it, and a link back to this contest announcement at askmormongirl.com.  Send me your link, and I’ll post all submissions, add your blog to my blog roll, and “pin” your post on my Pinterest board.

The grand prize winner will receive a handmade “Never Underestimate a Mormon Girl” sampler by the talented and cheeky Utah crafter “The Cotton Floozy”  (please visit her Zazzle.com shop!) and a signed copy of The Book of Mormon Girl: A Memoir of an American Faith.  Five runners-up will also win signed copies of The Book of Mormon Girl.  Contest ends August 27.

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