Apr 13, 2015

The Long and Winding Road of Today's Writing Career

I finally got my epic fantasy in final draft form, and I feel wonderful about it.

I have been writing that story since I was fifteen years old. I've written about 4 different full manuscripts of it. This particular version makes me very proud, and I'm resting on it. It is such a good feeling to get this project out of my head and into peoples' hands. Beta readers have come back with overwhelmingly positive feedback already, too. And all I can do other than that is

Submit. Submit. Submit.

My goal right now for this project is to do one submission per day. I end up doing about 2 per week instead. Stuff happens.

I'm currently working on another project that I have already finished multiple times. A story about emotional healing, romance and the Monarch Butterfly migration. I love it. This second version has lots of drastic changes--I changed the gender of my main character, for instance, and the entire setup changes as well. It's pretty funny. Going back to it with a fresh perspective after taming the behemoth of the epic fantasy, I'm chuckling a lot and pretty happy with it.

I'm a good writer. I believe I can accept that as truth now, without being accused of undue pride or whatever. I'm not a perfect writer, and I definitely need a lot of refining process to get my books in shape, but I think I write stories people like. It's nice, and important, to know that.

In the end, no matter who wants or doesn't want my stories, I guess the point is, I'm a writer anyway. I write because I love it.

After I get Butterfly Years off my plate, I'm going to go ahead and start a new project. Something sweet and fanciful and funny and fun and shorter and less epic than my other projects. Something more marketable. I figure another thing I can do to sell my epic fantasy is, sell something marketable first. So..... on to that facet of trying to accomplish my goals. In the meantime, keep submitting the epic fantasy, and hopefully find an LDS publisher for the LDS contemporary.

I read somewhere that writers nowadays can expect their writing careers to take several unexpected turns, and to have to "start over" several times. I'm experiencing that. I've published two novels and won the Whitney award, and now here I am with nearly three finished manuscripts, and unsure if I have a place for them.
I think that patience is a big huge piece of the process. Patience and diligence and continued work on honing craft, trying new ideas, and putting yourself out there. It feels exhausting at times, but everything in my life is exhausting so that's not really anything new :) the nice thing is, just about everything in my life is also incredibly fulfilling.

Apr 6, 2015

The earth's elliptical rotation (hint: it does not revolve around you)

This is a weird title for this post. It's something symbolic, though, for me. I used to think the earth turned a perfect circle around the sun, and when I realized the orbit was in fact more elongated, it was hard for me to conceptualize. I like things orderly. I like things to come out even. Eliptical just seemed disappointing.

It was even more disappointing to find out that the earth isn't perfectly round; is in fact, slightly pear-shaped. Did you know that? Is your mind bending just a bit?

This weekend was my church's big bi-yearly meeting. Every six months, at the beginning of October and the beginning of April, we meet for two days to hear our leaders speak. We spend a total of ten hours or so if you count the sessions for the women of the church and the priesthood meetings. I love these meetings. I feel a lot of peace--perhaps more than I feel at any other time. I also, suddenly, seem to find perspective, which is hard for me, sometimes--I am often very stuck in the moment and stressed. Being able to see and feel a more long-term, gestalt perspective of my life, of why I'm doing what I'm doing, being reminded of how much I love what I believe to be true and how much I appreciate and am grateful for all I've been given, is so refreshing and important. I wish they had general conference every three months instead of every six.

I used to be a part of an online community that took in LDS people from many different perspectives, mostly the off-beat among us Mormons. Radical feminists, disaffected members who still wanted to be part of an LDS-cutlure-based-community, members struggling with feeling sidelined because of things that had happened to them like divorce, or same-gender attraction, or infertility or whatever else gave us a need to go someplace to feel included. For a while I felt like Mormon Culture did not know what to do with me, a divorced 22 year old woman with a child. I went there to feel like I wasn't alone.

I loved being a part of this community for a short while, but I quickly realized that this community had its own standards of inclusion and non-inclusion. They were talking, one day (sorry, this is a bit gritty but it's my example) about female genital mutilation in Africa (a terrible thing, which I have read and thought a lot about because I knew I'd be adopting girls from Ethiopia. BTW my girls are fine.) Anyway, I brought up male circumcision. Jeffrey and I have had a lot of discussions about this, and we read a lot of information on both sides of the issue, and I wanted to discuss how our cultural expectations/norms also brought us up against something similar. In other countries, you see, they don't do it. But we do. Why?

I was pretty much kicked out of the discussion. Angrily sent on my way, in fact. I tried again a few times, and found that the same thing happened... kicked out, ignored, mocked even. It was strange, to me. If LDS culture has been so hurtful and non-inclusive to this particular collection of people, why the heck, after feeling all of that, experiencing it firsthand, would they turn around and do the same to others?

I had kind of an epiphany yesterday as I was watching Elder Packer talk. For those of you not familiar with Mormon stuff, Elder Packer is the most senior of the LDS apostles. He often speaks on the topic of difficult moral questions--pornography, marriage, etc... all the hot button issues. And he does it unapologetically. So he gets some flack.

Lately he has been very ill. In this last conference, I couldn't understand what he was saying. He was tired. He was struggling. I felt a great deal of love for him... the man's personality might not be mine, or mesh well with mine, but what he has to say has a great deal of merit. I remember one conference a couple of years ago, a talk of his that just struck me as powerful. It raised the hairs on the back of my neck. I may not understand him well as a person but he has valuable things to say.

Anyway, just out of curiosity, because I'm like that, I went over and peeked at this website I've stopped following. They often take conference talks and dissect them, discuss why they disagree, etc. Often, Elder Packer has been the butt of a lot of angst on this site. But seeing him struggle, with so much courage and humility, to deliver his conference address, nobody could possibly make fun of him, right? Because we're kind people. Even if we don't agree with the man, we're decent human beings.

Well, I shouldn't have looked. The thread on his talk was all about his garbled speech, making fun of him for a word people had mis-heard, talking about how they're ready to take offense because of all else he's said, etc. It made me pretty sad and pretty angry.

I shouldn't bother myself with this stuff. I know that. But this, for me, speaks to an overarching theme that disturbs me a lot. I see examples of it everywhere.

People think they're the center of the universe.

I've been thinking lately, about leadership and why it's hard. I was given a calling in my church a couple years ago (still plugging away) that involved an element of leadership. I got to know my bishop pretty well, and he'd talk to me about the struggle of being a leader and also being a principal. Jeff and I have been watching some star trek. You won't believe me but, if you want a good treatise on leadership and what it means, go watch a few episodes of Patrick Stewart in the role of Jean Luc Picard. I've learned a whole lot about being Young Women President from Jean Luc Picard. I don't think anyone ever thought that sentence would exist.

I've had a lot to chew on, thinking about leadership and what the job really is. Do you know what it is?

Making people upset.

Ok. Not on purpose. A leader shouldn't go out of their way to offend, to sideline, or to disagree with those who serve with them. But the thing is, the hardest part of leadership... the part of it that is the front-line, the part nobody else can take on no matter how much you delegate, is that very thing: having to make decisions based on careful consideration of all information, all opinions, all situations brought to your attention. I've learned that you have to expect that whatever decision you make will make a few people unhappy. Because that is just how it works--a collection of people with all different ideas of how something should, or could, or ought to or it would be nice!, to have it done this way, is just not going to agree. And so that's what a leader is for. To listen to everything and then make a decision. And then, the way it's supposed to work is, everyone accepts that decision and works together to bring about the common goal.

Of course, in order for that to work, all the people have to trust that their voices were heard, and that the leader is capable of making wise choices. That's the other ucky part about being a leader... you have a sort of obligation to try to get people to trust you. It's not about being liked, it's about giving whatever group you're trying to bring together confidence in your ability to make the choice that's best for the whole.

And generally speaking, it works out ok. There are a few who aren't all that glad, but they come along and work good-naturedly alongside everybody else and then the next time, it'll be their idea that gets put into practice. It balances. It comes around again. Everybody gets heard and eventually, everybody's ideas will be implemented and everybody's causes given attention. In an organization like the LDS Church, we fully expect that everybody who is there is there for a reason, and God will inspire each individual with something important to the whole.

The problem is, this doesn't always work. Do you know why?

Because there are some people who really struggle to see another's perspective. Their ideas are more important than others' ideas. Their cause is the most important cause. Their perspective is the only perspective.

It's like some people really struggle to see the universe as anything but revolving around them. THey see through their eyes, and feel with their feelings, and see the world around them as being only that way--the way they see it. They struggle to notice or give importance to anything but their feelings, their needs. And that even goes so far as spiritual feelings. One leader will have their heart touched, hard, by a certain issue or a certain individual they have stewardship over. Another person will have another set of needs and ideas come into their heart. A good leader will make sure each issue and each need and each individual is eventually addressed, but as there is only so much time and only so many resources, unfortunately all can't be addressed at once. Some understand this, and others see it as their ideas and promptings going ignored or being pushed aside as unimportant, no matter how you reassure them their issue is important to you as a leader.

In the case of General Conference, there are people out there who are hurting. I'm one of them. I really struggle with priesthood authority, with the issues of single parents, pornography addictions, and children in need. So when those issues come up my heart is extra-sensitive. THere have been times when the speaker went the direction that didn't necessarily nurture and help me, and if I wanted to, I could take offense and become angry and feel unlistened-to and hurt. Or.

The OR is this: Or I could realize that the Mormon faith is made up of many, many individuals with different and sometimes contrasting pains, hurts, and needs. I need to remember: the leaders of my church lead everybody. Not just me. The issues they address are everybody's. NOt just mine. A woman struggling with years of infertility might feel a lot of heartache over a talk about motherhood. But another woman, struggling with severe postpartum depression and feelings of inadequacy, needs that talk.

A woman who is divorced or single and struggling for perspective may be hurt by a talk about the importance of marriage, but another woman, contemplating marriage with a great deal of fear because of events in her life, perhaps parents or a sibling who has endured a painful divorce, needs to hear that message--that marriage is wonderful and important.

A man struggling with a pornography addiction may feel horrible during a talk about the damaging nature of pornography, but there are twelve year old boys who need to hear it, to have that salient in their minds as they negotiate the difficulties of junior high school and cell phones and sexts and free videos and all the stuff.

We all have very real needs and we all look to those who lead us for comfort, reassurance, and validation.

I think that the thing that has helped me most, is to *look* for those things in what my leaders say. Be on the lookout for those messages of peace and validation that speak directly to my heart. Expect to come away with a handful of messages that were meant specifically, specially, personally for me. I need to see and feel the love in that: this is a big church, 15 million people, and Heavenly Father, and my leaders, took the time to say these few, special things, just for me.

I remember how emotional and grateful I felt when President Hinckley, addressing BYU during the time I was there struggling as a single parent, mentioned divorce. Mentioned single parenting. How it was so hard. How he knew that those of us going through it spent long hours sorrowing. He said Heavenly Father knew our sorrows, and that he also knew our sorrows, and sorrowed with us.

Heavenly Father knows me and my sorrows. And the leader of my church was aware as well, and sorrowed with me. That's something I have cherished in my heart ever since. And I've cherished the countless other times when this has happened.

General conference is not just for me. The earth revolves in an ellipse... it moves in response to all the different forces pushing and pulling on it. And it does not revolve around me.

One popular phrase I find very frustrating:

Yes. Well, only from your perspective.
To someone else, It is something else.

This applies to more than just religion and religious discussion and policy. It applies to politics, policies, issues. It applies to Stuff. All Stuff. People struggle because they see out of their eyes and feel from their bodies and think from their minds and forget that other people, just as smart, just as caring, just as wise, are feeling and seeing and thinking from another place entirely and so they see something different. And both are important, valid, real, intelligent places to think and see from.

I hate guns.
You love guns.

I have eight children.
You are passionate about the environment and feel large families are irresponsible.

I am very religious, and I believe the gospel I've been brought up in holds important and necessary keys to salvation.
You believe that organized religion causes unecessary pain and conflict.

You think our country’s on the brink of socialism.
I feel frightened of the hysteria that seems to have gripped our nation on the topic of socialism.

We’re both here for a reason. Every human is born with passion and perspective, and over time all gain experience. We are all here to create what needs to happen and to be, together, what needs to be.

And that takes *All* perspectives. Yours, mine, the guy ranting in your politics class. The REAL killer in our society is apathy.

We need to step out of our lonely solar systems, where all the planets seem to pass around us in perfect symmetry and circumference and we're standing there on the sterile, lonely ground of our own making, and start seeing the universe for what it really is--a balance of so many crazy elements and objects and forces that we really can't even begin to understand how it all works together (though some really enjoy trying, and I dig that). To truly enjoy life we must enjoy the richness of a home, a church or social group, a society, a country, a world, made up of everything you don't understand. And we need to fully comprehend how every different perspective plays a part in that, even if we can't fully comprehend every perspective.

Mar 30, 2015

Tired and Grateful

My days go like this:

Wake up feeling like something large has run over me, perhaps a rhinocerous

Read Scriptures, Write in Journal, get dressed and hug, diaper, clothe and perhaps bathe protesting, independent children who only want to run free and wild

Do school for an hour or so, in spite of tantrums over how much math and how much reading and whether lowercase letters are necessary

Send the kids outside and do laundry/tidy/give kids snack/kiss cuts/tell toddler not to whack his baby brother with sticks

Try to control the chaos of small children/go outside with the kids/sit exhaustedly in a chair in the shade and let the dog lick me

Make lunch & insist that bananas and carrots are important food

Put the babies down for nap/send the older kids outside with a reminder not to hit one another with sticks/dig up the yard with shovels/play with power tools


Do YW calling


Try to fall asleep if possible for perhaps 15 minutes

As they come in the door, lecture adolescent daughters who forgot to brush hair/wear jeans without holes/wear shirts without stains/wear coats when it's snowing

Help school kids with homework/pick up or drop off from Piano lessons or soccer or playdates

Make dinner, which must be made so people can eat

Eat dinner, which must be eaten in spite of the fact that it's hard to like something I've actually made (why is that??)

Do chores/send kids to play practice/try not to snap or yell too much

Play games with the kids after chores/go to mutual

Collapse into bed and want to do nothing but lay there with Jeff and watch Poirot or Star Trek.

I feel like, lately, I've been losing my ground on sleep. We've had sick kids, I've had a stressful month. I'm struggling to be able to go to sleep, to be able to stay asleep, to be able to sleep in if I've not been able to go to sleep or stay asleep.

Honestly, I'm pretty exhausted.

Jeff and I are trying to move on to the next phase of getting the greenhouse ready. What's stalling us right now is we don't know how to do interiors... to put siding on interior windows/windowframes/beams/etc, how to make it look good. So we're waiting for a consult, right now. We could do the outside but we need to buy all the siding in one shot, so we get a good enough deal on it. We've set aside a bit of our tax return (usually all put toward paying off the house) for this purpose. But we have not had time, yet, since January, to actually have someone come in and look, or to decide on what kind of siding we want.

I guess I should feel grateful I'm dealing with these sorts of stresses, and not the sorts of stresses some mothers in rural Africa, for instance, are dealing with right now. I'm struggling because I don't have energy to make dinner... there are mothers out there who are struggling because they don't have food to make dinner. I'm stressed sending my kids off to play practice, there are mothers out there whose children are forcibly taken from them and made to go to war. I'm struggling to teach my adolescent daughters how to care for themselves physically and emotionally... there are mothers out there who are preparing their young thirteen year old daughters for marriage and the exhausting, heartbreaking life they've had to endure themselves. I'm struggling because i'm not getting enough sleep. There are mothers out there who are staying awake all night taking care of children dying of malaria, of aids, of starvation.

Sorry. I know that's a bit morbid. It's how I think though. I guess I'm just a bit morbid. I'm grateful that I have all my kids here, safe, and that I can keep them safe.

I'm tired and grateful.

Feb 10, 2015

Greenhouse update: foundations and family

We finally (finally) after worries and weather and seasons passing wherein we could not continue until the ground un-thawed...

we finally finished the foundation for our greenhouse.

We stacked the cinder blocks during winter last year and buried them. This spring, we un-dug them, stacked them, swept and cleaned all the dirt from the footers

and then

slowly, painstakingly stacked them and cemented them and coated them (with the help of our wonderful aunt Arlene, with Squirt as her sidekick.)

That's a picture of Jeff laying in the last block.

This is how things look now.

We have also bought insulation for the roof and walls.

The next step is to buy siding, and then get to work on that. But in the meantime, Jeffrey bought lots of braces and screws, and we're reinforcing the roofline. Just to make sure it'll bear the weight of snow. We were told in our inspection that this needed to be done... better do it before we have awesome stuff to protect.

It's getting there, guys. I'm excited. This spring we will likely be able to start some plants inside. By the time summer ends i hope it will be insulated enough that we can keep them growing through the winter. Hooray!

Jan 26, 2015

Brussels Sprouts are of the Devil

I feel like I've outgrown a lot of prejudices. For instance, freckles. I used to think freckles made everybody ugly, probably because I always got a thick patch of them in the summertime and I hated them on myself. I felt so sorry for people with freckles.

but now, I think freckles can be rather beautiful.

I used to find mustard horrifying. I'd throw a (hopefully usually internal) tantrum if even a tinge of yellow graced my sandwiches. And now, not so. Mustard is one of my favorite condiments, if not my favorite. Particularly when anointing corn dogs or corned beef and cabbage (which I have always loved. No changes there.)

I used to think blond hair was quite boring. All my sisters had blond hair, I had blond hair. Blond, blond, blond. Boring.

I've realized, since moving to different places and seeing lots of people, that blond hair is rather rare. So now I try to like my blond hair and not think it's boring, and I overcompensate for the blond stereotype by using words that are too big and wearing nerdy shirts.

I have never been able to overcome one prejudice, however. Not even as an adult.

I hate most vegetables.

They don't taste like food.

I hate them.

I've been forcing myself to eat a lot more raw vegetables lately. I know they're good for me. I've been hoping that, after having consumed them for a while, I'll get used to the taste and start liking them. And while I *do* like how I feel when I eat them, I still haven't gotten over the slight gag-reflex that comes when I try to swallow a grainy mouthful of raw broccoli, or that strange, mealy-crunchy texture of cauliflower, or when I taste the bitter, sour-sweet-with-that-tinge-of-alkaline-poison taste of Romaine lettuce.

Green beans.
Brussels Sprouts (ugh).
Carrots, beets, turnips, parsnips....

Why. Why?? I want to like them. I'd love to like them. It's not like I haven't developed my palate since childhood. I like things like sushi, for crying out loud. What so offensive about an innocent little spear of celery?

What possible adaptive reason could this have? Did I inherit some primitive, bloodthirsty genetics adapted from centuries of viking ancestors?

I've smothered them in mirin sauce. In nacho cheese sauce. In hollandaise sauce. I just. can't. like them. And I guess like blondness and freckles, I have to live with that.

Jan 19, 2015

Acknowledgements and Realizations

This is not going to be a well-edited post. I just don't have the energy this morning. Hope that's OK. This is just mind-spatter on a nice, calmingly-blank canvas. That's blogging for me, I've realized lately. Mind-spatter. So if I've misplaced commas or m-dashes (or over used them, I've got a serious case of dashitis) I'm sorry. And if my sentences are awkward and a bit disjointed, I'm rather unsurprised.

Writing has been very hard for me this month. I feel like I'm sweating blood, finishing up this rewrite. Part of that, I know, is because I'm not absolutely certain I'll have an audience for this story. And the great joy of storytelling is creating pictures and feelings and realizations, and love for your characters, in another person.

I am a bit cut loose. My previous publisher does not feel, to me, right for another book. I don't know why. Maybe part of it was, they only managed to sell 600 copies of Mile 21, in spite of the fact that it won the Whitney Award. I tried everything I could, too... I worked pretty hard. They got it into the Deseret Book Catalog, which is something I would not be able to do on my own, so I do appreciate them. But perhaps they can't sell fiction too well right now. Perhaps they're focused on nonfiction, selfhelp, etc, because that is what is making them money. In the current downturn of the book market (actual books on bookshelves) I understand. But I don't want to continue with them.

The problem with this is, now I'm cut loose again. I'm like a new author, starting over. I have to get people to pay attention to me. I have to sell my story to someone who gets scores or hundreds or perhaps thousands of submissions in their inbox every day. I need some luck in addition to the abilities I've tried to develop. I think I tell good stories. I hope I do. People seem to like them. But I have to convince an agent or publisher, now, who not only is looking for a good story, but a good story they can sell.

I'm sooooo not a salesperson. I hate selling stuff. Even the little bit of selling I've done on facebook/twitter feels a bit gross to me. I'll do it because I have a genuine belief in my stories, but it's not my personality.

IN addition, I'm still mourning over something that happened a while back. Someone in my ward spread a rumor that I'd written Mile 21 about her, about her life, capitalizing on her personal tragedy.

The funny thing is, I had 2/3 of Mile 21 written before I even moved into the ward. I did ask her for a bit of help about two topics that she had knowledge about, and she helped me. I actually was her visiting teacher for a while and so when the book was published, I gave her a signed copy because she helped me and thought nothing of it after that.

It was incredibly ugly. I am struggling. I don't understand why someone would say such things, particularly without coming to me first with their concern. It wasn't true, and it hurt. I feel terrible that there are people who would think me capable of that. I don't know how to feel. I guess this is the first time I've come into contact with the ugly side of having my stuff out there... it will affect me in real life.

It's making me worry about what I write. Even though I think I write to make people happy, or to heal, or to think. That book, Mile 21, I actually wrote for an old acquaintance of mine who lost her husband to Leukemia. But it still wasn't her story... I really don't know her story. It was *a* story of hope and healing and dealing with the reality of grief.

Guys. I feel pretty hurt. I acknolwege that.

I spent this last year completing a goal, to have two books done by the end of the year; one epic fantasy, and one LDS contemporary fiction. I've done both. And I'm on the final stage of my rewrite of the fantasy. I'll soon begin the rewrite of the contemporary fiction.

I think I need some prayers. That someone in the wide world of agenting and publishing will give my fantasy a chance... I feel that I have put the work in, and I know I'm a good writer. And I think it's a good story. It deserves a chance.

Also, that Deseret Book might consider my contemporary. I really don't feel good about placing one of my novels with anyone else in LDS publishing right now.

Honestly, I feel kind of adrift right now. I started a project with a friend (he knows who he is, and I'll tag him in a facebook post) with the idea that I could carve out perhaps two hours a week for the project, only it quickly developed into something more consuming than that, and I had to back out.

I've also not been able to participate in poetry slams, writing contests, and even comment on blogs and be a part of the LDS arts community as I have before. I need to try to do that, but when? I might be coming to a realization.... right now, I have time for only writing. IN addition to the more important thigns like mothering, and church service, I mean. I don't have time to do much else other than get my wordcount in. It can be a rather isolated life, being a mother of a large family. It's particularly lonely for me, because church does not feel like a safe place right now. After what happened with something related to writing, specifically. And also, I have recently come to the realization (or acknolwedgment) that I likely have PTSD, in the wake of what I went through (now 13) years ago. There are some feelings I can't control, and they make me feel guilty and also sad and also very, very tired after a long Sunday of lots of church service. The funny thing is, I love church. I love the talks, I love the lessons, I love the spirit. It's just that along with all of that, I do not, do not, easily trust the people. And I feel almost physical pain, trying to get rid of strange assumptions and intense emotional overreaction. Its' funny because when I see these people outside of church, I don't feel that way. It's just... in church....

It's just kind of mixed up. I feel pretty overwhelmed by feelings right now. I understand, now, why my body shut them off for so long. Dealing with this is really painful and kind of heartbreaking. I love church, and yet, church hurts me. IT helps me and gives me the spiritual nourishment I need, and yet it seems to also exhaust me. I love serving in my calling, *love*, and I know it's part of what is keeping me going, but it is also very exhausting and it brings me into contact with a lot of the things that frighten me. Having to lead people. Having to moderate conflict and bring things together and interact with a *lot* of people. Heavenly Father's really running me through the gauntlet right now, and it's exhausting.

Nov 17, 2014

I'm weird, and it's actually OK!

Being too introspective and self-reflective can become a problem in itself. I have known a few people who've gotten stuck at this phase of recovery. It makes me uneasy, to be self-examining so much. But on the other hand turning inward to find out what's broken to fix, and what's not broken and doesn't need fixing is essential, I think, in rebuilding (or just building, for the first time) confidence in the aftermath of emotional wreckage. Emotional abuse demolishes you.

About fourteen years ago or so, I walked into the office of Dr. Bounous, of the BYU music department. I hadn't sung for two years. I'd had a pretty terrible experience with a voice teacher, and in my discouragement I abandoned singing for a while. It's an unfortunate coincidence that, during this same two year period, I was...

I don't even know how to say what it was that happened to me. There's no descriptive phrase for it. My husband wasn't my husband. My marriage wasn't a marriage. I was being emotionally and physically abused (it really kind of galls to put it in that way, passive. "being" abused. Ugh. I don't know why I have such a negative reaction to that. It just feels gross.)

Anyway. I decided to start singing again. I believe that was the beginning of my pulling away from the situation--taking something for me again. My relationship with my ex-husband had turned me into a nothing-person. My entire existence was lived to prevent him exploding, to prevent him from hurting himself or hurting me (and more often both). I spent all my energy trying to be "a better wife." That's how I perceived the situation. If I could just fold the towels exactly right. If I could just do all the dishes so there wasn't a single speck on a plate or cup. If I could just keep up with the laundry, if I could only stop biting my fingernails, if I could force myself to stop eating things with garlic and onions, if I could get rid of the upset and angry and helpless feelings I was having, if I could just be more interesting, so he wouldn't spend so much time in front of the playstation....

I walked into Dr. Bounous's office an empty husk of a person. I remember how drab I felt--I could see myself, how it wasn't right, even though I couldn't figure out how to be different at the time. I wore a white T shirt, washed-out overalls. my hair was blah and midlength. I generally wore no makeup, made no effort. I had no excitement about anything, no hope for joy in my life. I remember feeling extremely drained as I talked to him--perhaps the only person outside of my husband I had really communicated with in two years. (except for the phone conversations and occasional yelling-fights with my mother and other family members.) I remember as I went back and listened to the tapes, hearing how completely flat, drained, and passive I sounded, even as I sang, which in the past has been the way I express all the overpowering emotions I've struggled with all my life.

I was an empty person. I was used up, squeezed, out, burned out, drained. I was nothing.

Singing helped me on the way to recovery. Also, I latched onto whatever passions might be lying around--I worked with girls who had eating disorders, so I became passionate about feminism and body image. To the point of being grating on my friends and family members. Jeff was a vegetarian and a homeschooler, so while dating him and after marrying him, I became passionate about homeschooling and vegetarianism. Nature abhors a vacuum... I was vacuuming up everything in my immediate vicinity that I even sort of liked or was interested in, and adopted them as pieces of my identity.

Part of recovery for me has been to disassemble all this confusion--the causes and passions I've collected--and turn them over and examine them and decide which of them are real. This has made for some difficult times with Jeff--I've realized that, actually, I think homeschooling is wonderful but I also have some deep feelings about why homeschooling is not so good. And the same about vegetarianism. And a multitude of other things--feminism, liberalism, lots of isms and also lots of passions. Singing, for instance, is something I Love, but not something I need to be pursuing with professional intensity. I've realized that, and we no longer spend money on voice lessons. For me they were therapy. They were the vehicle that brought me back to myself. I told jeff, when I married him, that we probably either needed to afford voice lessons or therapy. ANd that turned out to be right. When, after eight years of lessons with Dr. Bounous, we moved away, and I tried voice lessons with someone for a bit, it wasn't quite the same. I didn't "need" them anymore. What I needed was...

yeah. Therapy. And spiritual counseling.

Knowing yourself is an important step in recovery from emotional abuse. One of the greatest miracles and gifts about the counseling I've received over the last couple of years is that I was talking to someone who is a whole lot like me. I don't think I can convey adequately what a rarity that is. Do you know how many people I've met in my life who I feel i share even minimal traits with? It's an extremely rare thing for me to find someone I identify strongly with. My cousin Greg was one, and when he no longer came to family reunions, I ached and felt empty, because I felt nobody else around me really understood me. My parents didn't, my cousins, while hilarious and nice, really didn't either. My best friends didn't. I had friendships that were long-standing, but not deep and vulnerable. I often felt rejected by people, and as I grew up, I stepped away myself, from offering feelings and thoughts that were vulnerable, from offering friendship.

My friends. Growing up was an interesting experience. I had a best friend in gradeschool who was so good at being "good." Being perfect. I remember constantly feeling unworthy of her. She got perfect grades; I struggled to make C's in math. She kept her thoughts focused on higher laws than I did... I got curious about the world's less righteous elements and would examine and turn them over in my mind and try to understand them. I didn't feel safe going to her, or to my parents, with these sorts of observations because a "good" girl shouldn't be thinking of these things, should she? I should be more like my friend, who thinks about... I don't know. Tithing and fasting and the Book of Mormon all the time.

As I got into high school, that spectrum turned full circle on me. My friends were not very religious--one was, but most of the people willing to hang out with me weren't, because I was Mormon and most were strong Baptists or Protestants or other ants who believed Mormons to be risky to associate too closely with. SO then I became the "too unworldly to get close to" element in my friendships. I felt, from them, exactly what I had felt toward my elementary-school best friend. They sheltered me; they protected me. They kept me away.

I had one LDS friend who I was close to sort of, in high school. But the relationship was often difficult. She made fun of me a lot. About me being gullible, using words that were too big, being "weird." She was kind of merciless, actually. It got pretty wearing, but there were also great times with her. Plus, I cared about her, and knew she was struggling.

But her treatment of me was kind of typical for my acquaintances. Growing up, I more often got made fun of than anything else. I learned to fight back. In Jr High it got pretty intense. I had jr high boys telling me how ugly I was, others making fun of me for things like not shaving my legs (I wasn't allowed until I was 14), and even sexually harassing me. I learned quickly some terms that I'm pretty sure my prim-and-proper best friend was never subjected to. I'm not sure why me, and not her... we were both prude mormons. Maybe I seemed weaker. Or maybe it was because I didn't cry. Or maybe it was because occasionally, when I got to the breaking point, I'd let off a rather cutting retort, and they enjoyed the reaction. I don't know.

The point is, going into my abusive marriage, I already had pretty poor self-esteem. I already felt completely alone, I felt like nobody understood me, heck, I didn't understand myself. I didn't know who I was.

I'm learning now. Some revelations are welcome, others not-so-welcome. But one thing i've realized is, I've got nothing to be afraid of. I think that for a long time (most of my life, maybe) I was frightened that I was actually a terrible person inside, and that, because I tried so hard to be good but somehow still messed up and somehow still seemed weird and unacceptable to people, and because I had so many struggles with my family, I was *actually* essentially, bone-deep, inescapably, bad. It's hard to look inside yourself if you're terrified of what you're going to find.

I've been using Typology lately to try to understand myself and some of the more difficult interactions I've had with others. I don't think things like the MMPI and the MBTI and even the DSM-IV are bringers of truth. I don't think they describe anything real. I think they're tools that can be both helpful and incredibly dangerous--they can give you a starting point and provide a map or a list of more-likely-to-be-useful suggestions, but they can also be a basis for judging others and pigeonholing yourself.

So I'm not going to state what I've found from these measures here. Sufficient to say, I've come out on the rare side of things. I've learned, from these tools of self-reflection, that part of my problem is, there really aren't that many people who are like me on this planet. I'm an unusual person.

When I was younger I internalized this as "weird," I was a weird person. Unnaceptably, uncomfortably weird. When I walked into a crowded room I would become intensely aware of my appearance, my posture, I'd be incredibly anxious about how people might be made uncomfortable by me.

It got so bad, I noticed I wasn't looking anyone in the face. I had to give myself a goal, my senior year in high school, to smile at people if I passed them in the hall and I actually knew them. People started smiling back. It was a revelation to me... that if I made an effort, I could still be acceptable to people.

I'm weird, but weird doesn't necessarily mean bad. I'm re-realizing that. But two elements of my weirdness provide me with some real struggles right now. One, perhaps the most damning for me, is that I need people to be authentic. Any hint at deception, or game-playing, or lack of honesty and authenticity, and I struggle to want to associate with someone even on a superficial level. That's a problem because how many people are really authentic like that? Does that make them bad people? No. But to me, emotionally, it's the world falling, to find out someone I trusted to be honest with me has deceived me... even white-lie deceptions, even "I don't want to let you know what I'm really feeling," deceptions.

This has been, of course, vastly compounded by the experience I had, where I married someone I thought I knew, and he turned out to be something completely different. I still go back over all my interactions with him, when I knew him before we dated and while we were dating, to see "what I missed." I can't find anything. He very successfully deceived me. And that's unusual--generally I can read people very well (though interacting with them is a different matter.)

The other struggle I have is, I blame myself for everything that goes wrong. Everything. And logically I know that's not the case; I know I can't possibly be responsible for everything that happens. It generally takes two. Lately I've successfully been able to get through forgiving myself when I know I've done something wrong, and asking forgiveness from others.

The thing I struggle with is how to forgive others when I've done nothing to deserve the hurt that comes. WHen I've contributed, I find it very easy to apologize, to accept their apology and move on. When I've done nothing, I struggle to move on. I hold on to it without wanting to. And it seems to continue... hurt upon hurt hurt upon hurt in every new interaction with them.

I think part of it is, I struggle to *believe* that I haven't done something to deserve it. That's something that just doesn't fit into my mind right now. And so what happens is, I go back over and over the situation, find that I couldn't have done anything different, and feel like, therefore, I must be an essentially bad person, because even though I did my best, I still did something bad that resulted in the "punishment" of someone hurting me.

Anyway. More vulnerable thoughts. Not necessarily needing a response. But if you have any suggestions... if you've been able to overcome some of these things, I'd love a place to start. A more-likely list of possibilities.

In any case. I'm learning right now, that I'm OK. I'm a good person. I really am. Isn't the definition of being a good person, someone who tries their hardest to do what is right and be kind? Sure, we all mess up every once in a while. But part of being a good person is messing up and asking forgiveness, or messing up and figuring out how to do better the next time. That's what it's like to be a human, during this probationary period. That's the *point* of it.