lunch conversation

Had lunch with a friend, “Jonas Viliam,” this weekend. We talked about the creative process, politics, third party votes, and Utah mormons voting weird.

On my book–basically, since October 2014, I completed:

  1. The initial 160k draft
  2. The first edit cutting it down to ~110k
  3. The second round of edits.
  4. Sent it to beta readers
  5. Got started on the third round of edits

In between steps three and four, I also tried to find a writing group. Since I hadn’t hooked up with a permanent writer’s group in college, I tried Meetup, but eventually had to admit it wasn’t working. Mostly, I ran into groups that focused overmuch on copyediting advice (as opposed to story/ plot/ character feedback), and/or the members had a strong tendency to project their writing voice onto the manuscript they were giving feedback on. I was also surprised (and dismayed) to observe how defensive some (not all) of the Meetup group writers tended to be in response to feedback. Just in general; not my feedback specifically (although, not gonna lie, that happened too).

I means, its something I’ve heard of, of course, but I hadn’t really dealt with defensive/ angry writers aggressively challenging feedback since, man. I dunno. Creative writing 101, back in 1999? I gravitated toward writing and research–and therefore, writing-group/ feedback-heavy courses–throughout my undergrad, so I had the joy of working with a lot of people from a variety of backgrounds, beliefs, and cultures in feedback/ editing groups. Ironically, I often vented about participating in these assigned groups to my husband, because writing wasn’t their first passion. In retrospect, I realize those college writing groups spoiled me in terms of the level and quality of feedback I expect, and I miss so many of them. Gods. 

So now I’m kind of casting about on how to find a higher quality writing feedback space. I’ve got some ideas–the writing center at my old college, and a few suggestions from some authors I spoke with at Wordstock regarding some more professional local resources. So there’s that.

The other thing we talked about was how, on this third go-round of edits, I’ve found it more and more difficult to stay focused/ interested on the book. I feel like I have to justify myself–my effort–but I’m also frustrated and angry at the manuscript a lot. Its like wrestling a baby dolphin covered in coconut oil, in the ocean. All slippery and slick and muscular and aggressive. Jonas says thats normal–he says his dad (also a writer) compares it to sharters and brick-shitters. Some people just flow with ideas, and others have to squeeze and strain for every nugget.

I hate it.

Worse, I’ve got all these other tempting ideas I want to work on, flitting around my head like sexy, taunting, distracting faeries, “Ooohh, look at me, do you really want to play with that stupid oily dolphin?

I hate dolphins so much.

Jonas reminded me most authors set aside their first manuscripts, anyway–which I know! I know–I know–most writers set them aside and they never see the light of day. I’ve read the innumerable author interview quotes, and heard the advice. I know. But knowing something intellectually and accepting it in your heart are two different things, and it was really hard. In the end, it was three things that convinced me:

  1. Watching Brandon Sanderson’s BYU creative writing lecture series, specifically the one on character-driven vs. plot-driven writers, and realizing I’d written the book like a character-driven writer even though pretty much everything else I write I approach with a structure in mind.
  2.  Attending Wordstock and listening to Renée Ahdieh, author of The Wrath and the Dawn, describe her writing process during an author panel. I haven’t actually read her books, I confess, but I went home and bought the first one after listening to her panel. Basically, she told aspiring writers to recognize their first draft will suck, and to accept it. To give themselves permission to be bad; to even lean into it and accept it. Its a bit of advice I’ve read probably a hundred times before, but I guess the hundred and first time is a charm.
  3. Also at Wordstock, the response to the question, “What inspired you to write this book?” by an author, which was, “Actually, this is the first book I ever wrote–ten years before I was published. It wasn’t working then, so I put it aside and moved on to a different project.” (different author, different author panel; cannot recollect his name).

So I told him how I’d realized I’d gotten what I could from finishing my first book, from beginning to end, with two completed edits and a partial third edit. It took roughly 14 months total to complete the manuscript and first two edits. The third edit slogged on for another 9 months before I admitted I’d learned what I could from the experience. I came home from Wordstock, shut down all the tabs related to the third edit, and started my next project.

I’m currently using a fountainpen to write my next manuscript, by hand, in a moleskine. Not trying to be precious (I hate writing by hand, actually). This is practical–I read an interview a while back about Neil Gaiman’s writing process for Stardust, and he mentioned deciding to write it by hand for reasons (1920s setting/ authenticity, blah blah) and I was like, “Dude, that’s insane,” but then Gaiman said something like (paraphrased), “And actually, one benefit was that when it came time to type up the manuscript, my word count was much lower, which was nice. I actually had to edit up for once, which was a change,” and I was like, “Oh, now that would be a treat. Worth it!”

Hence the moleskine.

The politics … well. Obvs, living where we live and being friends, Jonas and I are both socialist-liberal Bernie Sanders’ supporters who voted Clinton in the presidential. Not super-enthusiastic Clinton supporters by any stretch of the imagination, but pragmatic enough not to cut off our noses to spite our faces.

Unfortunately, in the reeling aftermath of the election, we’re both left to wrestle with a more personal conundrum/ heartbreak than the national one.

For Jonas, he has family/ friends living in a swing state who voted for Stein, thereby implicitly contributing to the current situation. His loved ones consider themselves morally untouched; to have “voted with their conscious,” and therefore not to blame for the current state of affairs. The old mealy-mouthed side-step hand-brushing of, “I am not to blame; I did not choose either of them,” which is such a cop-out. The system is set up to choose one or the other; choosing anyone else is ceding your voice/ not making a choice. Its not a morally upright/ pure choice; its a non-choice.

The way people talk about politicians baffles me. “I don’t like the way they do xyz. I don’t like their laugh. I don’t like the thing they did in office so many years ago, (under the direction of their boss).”

Its like they forget that politicians have bosses, and people to report to, and levels of bureaucracy at their jobs, just like they do. That a politician–no matter the party, no matter the office–can (generally speaking) no more make a unilateral decision than, say, a supervisor or manager at the office can regarding office policies. There are protocols, levels, people to go through. Approvals and sign-offs and all that shit.

Its insane to me how voters talk about political candidates as though they’re supposed to be an avatar of them–an extension of their desires/ wants/ and goals, set into the office to enact the specific policies of that individual voter, and if there’s a mismatch in any area, the voter is like, “Eh. Nah.”

I’m guilty of this myself, btw–its only recently I’ve become aware of how we look at political candidates like they’re menu options, or consumerist choices on a shelf. Like we can pick and choose from the desired traits:

“Oh, I like the hair and personality on that one, but I don’t like their policies. Ooooh, I like the experience of that one, but the gender–ugh! Can I get that blue one, but in male? No? Okay, well, I’ll take the other version, the discount. What’s the return policy on this, anyway? Actually, never mind–I never return anything!”

I pointed Jonas toward a thought-provoking Slate article I’d read on the topic, discussing how anti-consumerist Nader, of all people, helped propagate this inherently consumerist notion of politics as personal choice, rather than a democratic voice for the common unity (community), and we talked a bit about the annoying trend of the moment, with the ridiculous amount of people now saying we need to “respect the office of the presidency,” which is so fucking hypocritical after they spent the last eight years maligning it. Like, did they forget? Did they honestly forget? Maureen Dowd posted this column in the New York Times bemoaning her “difficult” Thanksgiving with her family, with a selection of a lecturing response from her conservative brother to what he clearly perceives as uncouth, tantrum-throwing, entitled liberals.

This is after years of hearing conservatives call the Obamas “Obummer,” and “apes,” and “muslims,” along with other, even less savory words, as they muttered darkly about fraudulent birth certificates and stolen elections. I think of that “satirical” New Yorker terrorist Obama cover that completely fed into conservative fears. I think of eight years–eight years–of a GOP-dominated congress stalling on any and all legislation, and blaming Obama for their refusal to do their fucking jobs.

I think of how, during his first presidential campaign–in 2007–people were frothing at the mouth because he was associated with Jeremiah Wright, a Christian pastor called “radical” because he spoke truth to power in speaking out about how the government had not only protected but in many cases abetted, sustained, and enforced institutions of white privilege and racial discrimination. He was called “divisive” and “racist” for acknowledging racism, so President Obama disavowed the minister who had presided over his marriage and stepped down as a member from the church he’d attended most of his life to appease the voting public … who promptly forgot this controversy of radical Christianity when he entered office, labeling him instead a secret Muslim.

Right. “Respect the office.”

Fuck you, hypocrites.

The left, caught off guard by this victory, is in a spasm of self-doubt/ examination (I find myself, suddenly, wondering if the right engaged in any such self-examination post-2008 or 2012), which is actually sort of annoying to me, since I’ve made it a regular habit to attempt to combat the echo chamber of my preferred views by intentionally seeking information/ perspectives from sources counter to my default. My preferred news sources (in alphabetical, not ranked order) are: Al Jazeera (awards); Mother Jones (awards); Rolling Stone*; The Atlantic (2016 Ellie winner); The Guardian (awards); The Local No. (source info). I also like Jacobin, Bitch Media, and NPR.  And yes, Rolling Stone is still on the list despite the 2015 debacle.

They have a long record of award-winning investigative journalism showing their dedication to the craft; they admitted fault and apologized, which is huge (far too many news organizations, when caught out, either double down or try to minimize); and they’ve committed to improving investigative standards and identified what went wrong (basically, relying overmuch on one source). So I’m okay with them, for the time being.

Obviously, I mostly gravitate toward news sources that are either international (Al Jazeera, The Guardian, The Local), and so (hopefully) lacking the specific corporate funding biases/ messages infiltrating and corrupting US news media; or publications which are non-profit or subscription/ reader funded, meaning they can set their own editorial standards and pursue the investigative stories they prefer, rather than kow-towing to the dictates, comforts, and preferences of elite corporate owners.

So to combat my (obviously socialist/ left-leaning/ proletarian) bubble, I read libertarian blogs/ websites like Reason, FEE, and The Beacon. I tried reading the Libertarian Standard for a bit, but honestly, after a bit, they all just kind of read the same. And for conservative/ evangelical perspectives, I browse Fox News, (local and national), local news (especially in red counties)–always making sure to dip through the comments– and watch interview clips by Fox News pundits discussing current events.

My sources tend international, (not US-liberal biased) and working-class focused, which meant I was actually already getting a lot of articles/ interviews/ thinkpieces on red-state voters and the working class during the election cycle. What was interesting to me was not so much how the conservatives were being conned (that was just sad), or why they were buying it– it was how the liberals who consumed only US media were buying the narrative of a Democrat win hook, line, and sinker, despite more and more voices pointing out that poll returns showed the average Trump supporter was making around $75k.

Post-election returns show it, too–the New York Times showed households with incomes under $40k overwhelming voted for Clinton, while those with incomes over $50k voted for Trump, meaning the working class was once again sold out by the middle and upper class. That is not the popular post-election coverage narrative, though– the preferred focus is educational attainment, which gets quoted way more than the income one, because those with lower educational attainment voted for Trump, and the correlative assumption is that degree valuation indicates economic status; therefore those without degrees are poor idiots who voted against their own interests.

The idea that rich idiots could have voted for their own interests, and bright poor people could have been sold out by the middle class, doesn’t seem to even exist in the narrative.

But like I told Jonas, the thing I keep coming back to is that even if Trump did have the best economic plan in the godddamn world (he doesn’t), that still doesn’t excuse the little teeny tiny detail of him being a massive fucking racist misogynistic tool.

I just can’t overlook that. I try– like 50 percent of Utah voted for him, and that’s mormons, dude, so I’m trying to wrap my head around this. I am fucking trying. I was like, okay, calm down. Maybe I’m being unfair, and dismissing their point of view because my perspective is different, right? I mean, I left the church, so I have a different perspective on the doctrine and history … I got my BA studying labor law, civil rights, and immigration law through the study of constitutional history at Evergreen, not BYU, and that’s gotta be an influence on available readings and understanding of US history, right? So wheel it back, wheel it back. Put yourself in their shoes; imagine having the toolset of available information they have.

So I wheel myself back, mentally, to 1998, when I was 18. A high school graduate, reasonably ignorant of history and politics. Sure, I had a rep as a reader, but I was more into historical fiction, fantasy, and mythology than nonfiction, classics, or spec/ sci-fi. As far as actual history studies, at that time, I kinda viewed US history as the story of white people building houses on empty land (boring), and English history as more interesting, so I wasn’t really “up” on my US history past the Revolutionary and Civil Wars.

I did know about the American Concentration Camps holding Japanese-descent US citizens during WWII, in large part because my mom (who’d served a mission in Germany) had a fascination/ horror with Hitler’s WWII Jewish Death Camps, and one of her books made a reference to the US analogue (which simply detained and worked the prisoners, as opposed to killing them). I remember being shocked at this dark blot on our history–the land of the free and the brave? Had illegally locked up innocent civilians?

At 18, I was also religiously devout–not always in action, but definitely in intention. Though I wasn’t a particularly good mormon at the time, I did strongly believe in the tenets of the LDS church, my childhood religion, and I thought one day I would be a good mormon– that I would meet and marry a good mormon man and raised a good mormon family who would share my values and morals like those espoused in the Articles of Faith, such as everyone having the right to worship according to their religious beliefs, and seeking after the good, pure, and beautiful things in this world.

Even after I left my childhood faith and became atheist, I’ve still never questioned the basic right of people to practice the religion they see fit. If anything, atheism has made me somewhat bemused about the amount of religious people (including mormons) intent on controlling other people’s religious expression.

Basically, what I’m saying is– sure, I’ve learned more about US history and politics since I was 18. I’ve learned new information about the history of my religion and country, yeah. But while learning economics, history, and developing a deeper spiritual and theological understanding of my moral values solidified the vast array of reasons I did not vote Trump, my education alone cannot be credited for me not voting Trump this November.

Because even if I’d never learned anything at all– even if I was I’d remained morally and intellectually stagnant; the same person today that I was at 18?

I still would not have voted for Trump.

At 18, I knew enough to know that when a racist demagogue uses divisive language to appeal to the common man, bad things will follow, and it is the little people who pay the price. No economic plan in the world is worth that trade.

At 18, as now, I believed in honesty, truth, and benevolence. I believed virtue would be its own reward. I believed in the value of doing good–to all human beings–and that education, compassion, kindness, and humility are virtuous, lovely, and praiseworthy. I believed people were measured by their actions–their works–not by empty promises.

I still believe that.

Love is a verb. Faith, if you have it, is a verb– these are not things shown through empty words and broken promises, but through action, through sacrifice, through deeds..

So when I drill down to it … I can’t figure how anyone voted for Trump, and I certainly can’t figure out how so many Mormons voted for him. I thought Mormons were raised with the same LDS values I was– that, “by his works ye shall know him.” That, “actions speak louder than words.” That kindness, compassion, humility are valuable traits. That honor and morality are of good report.

How did so many of people of this religion endorse Trump?

I just cannot parse it. Because when you strip everything else away– the arguments about the education levels and incomes and economic concerns of the voters– what you’re left with is a man who mocked the physically disabled. Who was endorsed by the KKK and white nationalist leaders. Who made restricting religious freedoms a central campaign promise. Who sexually assaults, objectifies, and dehumanizes women.

And people– mormons— heard all this, and justified it. Or minimized it. Or dismissed it. Or agreed with it. Outright endorsed it. Whispered, “yeah,” to themselves, and did a little affirming nod because, wow, they really didn’t think all that other stuff he said was cool but he had a point about the [INSERT BIGOTRY YOU’RE OKAY WITH HERE].

How? How?

It appalls me. I don’t care if Trump actually had a fucking gold-plated economic plan endorsed by every goddamn economist in the world. He’s a racist, sexist bigot. To vote for him is to endorse that. That is a problem. 

Jonas pointed me to this article, An Insider’s View: The Dark Rigidity of Fundamentalist Rural Americawhich I just finished reading today, and wow.

Okay.

I admit, I guess after all these years out of the LDS church, I’d kind of looked back on it with rose-colored glasses. I had a happy childhood, I was never abused, nothing shit ever happened to me … I just stopped believing because it’s false. The doctrine relies on some pretty hefty logical fallacies, the historical record is flawed and contradictory, and the whole thing is false. I mean, it wasn’t lack of desire to have a testimony, it was lack of fucking evidence when I went searching for support in the historical record.

So I guess, because so many people leave for other reasons and carry a lot of anger toward the LDS church, I’ve kind of– as a result– intentionally purged any anger I had, leaving me with a sense of neutral/ fond tolerance toward mormonism, sort of like the amused feeling I have when I’m riding my motorcycle and I see a Vespa rider out and about. Like, “Awww. How cute!” And then I wave, and they get so excited they almost fall off waving back, like, omigodomigod, a motorcyclist waved at me! I got the motorcycle wave! 

Like, I’m not mad at mormons. I have a lot of fond memories and I mostly think they’re sweet. In day-to-day life, I kinda find them amusing, well-intentioned, sometimes vaguely annoying (slow), and sometimes a little pathetic. But hardly worth anger or strong negative emotions.

Reading that article reminded me of the racist and sexist LDS bent of my upbringing. The whole, “Lamanites were totes 100% Native Americans,” claim, which was apparently disavowed/ reneged by the church after I left? And being taught that black people had dark skin because Cain’s descendants were cursed because he’d killed Abel, and whenever I’d been like, “But, uh, what about man shall not be punished for Adam’s transgressions?” getting basically a shrug and a non-answer in response, (Sunday School teacher: “Cain wasn’t Adam!” Me: “Uh, seems like we’re kinda splitting hairs, there.”), and the persistent, unsettling question about why an omnipresent, future-knowing God would wait 15 fucking years after the civil rights act became the law of the land before granting black males equal rights in his church?

And the subtly sexist ways they degrade women– put them as “separate, but equal,” which has never in the history of ever actually denoted equality of circumstances or opportunities. They’re complementary to men, but never equivalent. Capable of running meetings, conducting prayer, going on missions–but not capable of actually having the priesthood powers, like prophetesses of old, or the early women in the church, who actually did hold baptisms and conducted blessing (like select female temple workers do even today). Because who knows what havoc would be wreaked if a woman had priesthood powers, right?

Right.

Leaving the LDS church and all that foul, omnipresent, subtle racism and sexism that pervades every aspect of the doctrine let me push it away and forget what it’s like to have that pervasive, daily influence permeating your life and lessons. To accept it as the status quo, the default, the way things are and should be. I remembered the good parts and forgot the discomfort of the bad– I pretended they didn’t even exist anymore.

I believed in the best of mormonism, and forgot about the worst.

I forgot about the racism, the sexism.

I forgot the numbers.

I forgot how they could influence the vote.

And gods, they did. Mormons, like the KKK, endorsed Trump. Overwhelmingly.

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