Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Mormons Don't Care about Political Party Affiliation

Mormons are just fine with differences of political opinion---so long as your views are conservative.  They don't care if you are a member of the GOP, a full blown Libertarian, voted for Ross Perot, or even if you campaigned for Bo Gritz. 

That's right.  I am referring to the Bishop Paredes, who recently wrote about my senator (I live in Nevada) Harry Reid, basically sharing his opinion as a Bishop of the Mormon Church, that he found it difficult to accept Harry Reid could be a Mormon in good standing.  As a Mormon (though to meet full disclosure I must admit I am an inactive Mormon) who is also a liberal, I am annoyed at this comment, but I am not surprised or offended.  I am not offended because I know too many Mormons who are hypocrites to continue to be offended by seeing exactly what I already knew about them.

I am saying this on Veteran's Day for two very specific reasons.   

1.  This is a political post about Mormons and their perceptions, and as a liberal Mormon I have something to say about this.

2.  As a liberal veteran, I break the mold yet again.   

Again for the record, I was a liberal Mormon long before I became inactive, and my inactivity has nothing to do with my politics. 

You see, Mormons are a special breed.  On a cultural level, Mormons do some pretty strange things.  They classify most of the world's population into two categories.  There are Mormons and Jews, and there are Gentiles, which consists of everyone else.  Yes, Mormons consider themselves a strange and peculiar people, right along with the Jewish people of the world.  What?  Do you think it an accident the original article written by Bishop Paredes was on The Jewish Journal?

Mormons also claim the Church does not direct any of its members towards any specific political affiliation, which is true.  You will hear it again and again.  The Church encourages participation in the political process without ever once endorsing any specific political party.  I even grew up in an era where you would never hear anything political spoken from the pulpit, though the debate over gay marriage ended that.  And though the Mormon Church does not espouse (see what I did there) any specific political party, it bleeds and sweats conservatism.  Liberal Mormons are rare, and as such, Bishop Paredes could not contain his exultation when one lost his leadership role in the U.S. Senate.

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I opened with the fact that most Mormons don't care which political party you belong to, so long as it is conservative.  I stand by that and I dare any Mormon to challenge the truth of that statement.  I have seen from people I know personally, unspecified contests conducted to see who can run to the right faster and harder than the other Mormons they know.  And believe me when I tell you it gets pretty frightening.  I have debated toe-to-toe with some of these people, pointed out the hypocrisy of the GOP, only to have them retreat to the all-too-familiar trope, "Well, it's all politicians, not just Republicans."  You see, one of the great truths of Mormon conservatism is that while 95% of Mormon conservatives vote a straight ticket with the Republican Party, you will never get more than half of them to say they are Republicans.  They will swear oaths to affirm they are staunch independents or libertarians.  But try asking them to mane one non-GOP issue they disagree with and they will go blank, blink, gulp for air like a carp, and then say they don't think the GOP goes far enough to preserve gun rights or eliminate the capital gains tax. 

Another dirty secret: Most Mormons don't really hate President Obama.  They are actually happy to see him be president.  No, really.  Most Mormon' anti-Obama sentiments are a knee-jerk reaction, rooted deeply in the historic racism of the Church's history and its people.  Not to mention the firm doctrinal belief they are waiting for the historical moment when  the U.S. Constitution is 'hanging by a thread,' when a Mormon will save the nation from its own demise.  That's why so many Mormons had such a hard-on for Mitt Romney.  They just forgot about subjectivity.  Depending on who you talk to, The U.S. Constitution has been 'hanging by a thread' for most of our nation's history.

I grew up in Utah, so I understand Bishop Paredes' disconnect.  Not his political disconnect, mind you, but his inability to comprehend the liberal position.  I am okay with people disagreeing with my politics.  I think the debate needs to happen.  I actually believe it's healthy for the political process.  However, I am a liberal Mormon, and as such I have no choice to accept the other side's legitimacy.  The problem Bishop Paredes and his ilk have is they use their group-think mentality to collectively erase any part of cognition which might allow for the liberal philosophy to have any legitimate basis.  They claim the reason they do not accept liberalism as legitimate is that the liberal ideology has shifted so much it has corrupted all of its original tenets.  They say this with a straight face, too.  Irony is not a strong card for conservatives, and even less of one for Mormons.  They have all but forgotten Richard Nixon signed into law the EPA, that the tax rate during Eisenhower's Presidentcy was 92%, and that Ronald Reagan was in favor of reasonable gun control measures.  Remind any Mormon of that, and they will most likely tell you they are more of a "conservative independent" than Republican. 

One final example before I leave you to your day:

Mormons are a little shaky on regular history of the 19th Century.  Mormon History and Utah history they have in spades, but general U.S. or World history of the 19th Century are real blind spots for Mormons.  Ask a Mormon about the Second Great Awakening and you will get the Joseph Smith Story.  Ask about the Bill of Rights in the 19th Century and you will hear dozens of "true" stories about Mormon persecution.  Ask about Westward expansion and you will get more stories about Mormons trying to get to Zion, complete with hardships and fortitude.  Ask them how immigrants fared during the Gilded Age (1875-1900) and you will get stories about Mormons immigrating' to and settling different parts of Utah.

One of the many charges leveled against me is that I am a communist or a socialist or some kind of Socialistic Fascist, though I am still trying to figure out how that is possible, seeing the goal of socialism is the dissolution of government and fascism is the strengthening of government.  Ask your conservative Mormon friends about the Law of Consecration.  Then ask them to explain the difference between The law of Consecration and Socialism.  After they tell you that the Law of Consecration is based on voluntary participation (as mandated by The Mormon Church), ask them the same question again, because there is no real difference.  Ask about Collectivism and the myriad of Utopian efforts during the 19th Century, and Mormons will look at you because all they know is that mean people did their best to stop Mormons from being able to live their lives in peace or as a Utopian collective.  Ask them to read up on the popularity of Utopian movements in America during early to mid 1800's which helped inspire the mechanics (if not the doctrine itself) of The Law of Consecration. But because I believe in universal health care for all Americans, I'm some kind of Commie Bastard.   

* * *

Now, of course Bishop Paredes apologized for the appearance that what he had to say had any real connection to his being a Bishop and that connection having anything to do with temple worthiness.  For those who are wondering about that, I will tell you it's business as usual.  There are a lot of Mormons who simply have an embarrassing level of  hubris when anything related to or even peripherally associated with theology.  They simply lack the ability to comprehend how anyone can see the world differently.  In that regard, they are a strange and peculiar people.  

Of course I will come under fire from some Mormon for saying these things.  Not much, as mine is not a popular blog, but some.  To those people, feel free to share your anger and outrage.  Feel free to comment and to rail against my position.  Accuse me of generalizing, exaggerating, and perpetuating stereotypes.  Do whatever helps you sleep at night.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

A Draft with Theories


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The above is a first draft of a poem I wrote last week.  It's the first poem I have written in a long time, and it's riddled with problems.  Chief among them, I have no idea how to end the poem.  It's not so simple as stop writing words.  I cannot see the ending like I am so used to with my poetry---or have had with most of my poems up to this point.  This is the furthest any of my poems have gone without an ending.  Ever.  I have absolutely no idea what to do with this poem except for one very real, very physical truth---I need to finish it.

This poem is a very real microcosm for my life as a writer.  Some of these things will be recognized by a regular reader of this blog.

1.  When I have begun to write a manuscript (that moment when I know what a book is going to be about) I become singularly focused on the book and everything I write is going to be related in some way to that manuscript.

2.  When I get 90% finished with a manuscript, I lose interest in what I am writing and begin to use my energy to write other things, desperately searching for some kind of escape from what I am supposed to be working on, and unfortunately that last 10% includes proofreading and the final tweaks of grammar, punctuation,  and syntax. 

3.  I cannot commit to new work until I 'feel' the work of the current manuscript is complete.

4.  I cannot write anything new until I genuinely panic as a result of not having written anything new for far too long.

I have such a manuscript which is as finished as I can make it---it is a sort of 'greatest his' from my chapbooks and similar themed/voiced poems.  It was a safe bet at the time.  I was 90% finished with a landscape meditations book I had been working on for a year or so.  I was completing it and was sending it off to Aldrich Press, who did in fact accept it for publication.  The advantage of this evil plan of mine was that most of the poems were already finished, already proofed and ready to go.  I would create  manuscript of older poems and I would be able to work on my landscape meditations book in random down time moments and not feel guilty about not writing anything new.  I was to distract my brain and subvert my usual pattern of anxiety and panic.  My plan was working, too.  

Well, I thought it was working, but a funny thing happened on the way to the trash can.  I began taking the fake manuscript seriously, actually investing energy and creativity above and beyond what I wanted.  I actually started to see real potential in this manuscript of mine, and my focus shifted to it rather than to writing new poems.  Oh, lots of false starts and attempts to return to previous and somewhat successful themes happened, but nothing solid, nothing which made me take notice.  I have accepted the direction my writing has taken over the past 20 years of my writing life.  I write in books rather than individual poems.  What I might think of as being individual poems mostly turn out to be poems which fit, at the furthest, on the periphery of book manuscripts.  

Over the course of the past 20 years I have become better at spotting the patterns and themes of my writing, which is of some comfort to me, but I have not ever lost the panic I experience between manuscripts, between creative bursts.  In 2005, my first chapbook was published.  I had been living with that manuscript for so long inside a black hole of an editor who refused to communicate, it was easy to move on and write more poetry.  I knew I needed to write more because the poems from that first chapbook were going to be the core of my first book.  Completing that first full length book and getting it accepted was six years in the making.  Ever since that long wait for publication, I have had a backlog of poems and manuscripts.  By the time the full length book came out in 2011, I had written two chapbooks worth of poetry, another full length manuscript , and begun another full length manuscript.  

Working on all of those books in such short order helped to alleviate the anxiety and panic, but having finished with all of that, I sat down and realized I was, with my landscape meditation book, simply gathering 14 years of work together.  I was writing very little new work specifically for the book.  Most of what I was doing was re-imagining work already completed.  Don't get me wrong.  I sincerely love the landscape meditations book.  I think it is some of my best, and certainly most mature work.  I just know it has been far too long since I have had any new ideas for a book, and as a result, I have begun to panic.  

Another chapter:  In 2012 some friends of mine started a band (Intra-Venus & the Cosmonauts) and they asked me to be their lyrical collaborator for songs and projects.  I was happy to oblige, and while I originally thought this might be a fun outing, I have since experienced quite the learning curve.  I think this is where some of my creative energy has gone, and with their first album coming out in December, I may have actually transferred my process into this timeline.  I might be waiting until the album is released before I release my brain to once again write.  They have asked me for more songs and I have a few ideas but yet to be able to follow through with any complete thoughts in the forms of song.

I am also teaching a creative writing class this year.  The class, I thought, would push me to write more, but it's a wash.  I am spending very little of my time writing poems of my own and a lot of time trying to get my students to leave the literal world behind.  It's a strange endeavor.  On the one hand the class is entirely voluntary, but on the other, I have to keep reminding myself they do not have the same priorities as I do when it comes to writing.  I spend a lot of energy trying to teach craft and creativity which instead of inspiring my own writing (what usually happens when I am busy) I find myself simply reading more.  Not a wasted endeavor at all, but I would like to be writing more, too.

That brings me full circle to the above poem and what I should do with it.  I feel an urgency to finish it, to make the attempt, but I have no earthly (or other) ideas as how to do that.  I don't know if I need to prune the poem, make it longer, re-write what I already have, or call it finished as is.  My usual ability to finish a first draft relatively fast is not with me right now, and that bothers me.  Usually, if a poem is going to fall apart on me it is going to happen much earlier in the process.  I have no clue and I don't like it at all.

I know a lot of what I am saying doesn't make sense and it feels like I lack gratitude for what I already have accomplished.  For that I am sorry.  I am merely trying to address my confusion.  I have never written a poem like this one and I am not sure of what I should make of it.  I know the draft is not finished and that's about all I know.  I hope the poem shows promise and I hope it does not fade away.  I'd like to see if it has the potential to outlast its current incarnation.