What’s Eating Jeffrey Holland?

February 18, 2015

A lot of people have been talking about Jeffrey Holland’s broadcast, “An Evening with a General Authority.” Much has been said about the content, but I am going to talk about the tone, which I found a little unsettling. I’m sure some would say, “The guilty taketh the truth to be hard, for it cutteth them to the very center” (1 Nephi 16:2). But that’s not really it.

I’ve always liked Jeffrey Holland since my time at Brigham Young University, when he was the university’s president. I met him once during that time when I was working in the Reading/Writing Center in the Jesse Knight Building. A water pipe had burst in the ceiling above the area in which I was assigned to work, so I was sitting there studying and keeping watch over a bank of computers that were drying in front of fans. He came in to inspect the damage, and I had a brief but cordial conversation with him, not just about the damage to the computers but also about my studies and plans for the future. I enjoyed what was casually referred to as “The Pat and Jeff Show,” a joint devotional he and his wife would give at the beginning of every semester. I recall Sister Holland’s horror when the off-campus paper, The Student Review, followed her at a supermarket and published the contents of her grocery cart, which included a pint of coffee ice cream. I liked both of them because they seemed down to earth and quite comfortable being human, and they clearly cared about the student body. He spoke at my commencement when I received my bachelor’s degree and then a few years later, he spoke as an apostle at the commencement when I received my master’s degree. Over the years I’ve enjoyed the conference talks he has given as an apostle, as he is clearly well-read and always came across as thoughtful and caring.

I was really taken aback in 2009 when he gave a talk called “Safety for the Soul,” in which his intent appeared to be to deliver a stirring testimony of the divinity of the Book of Mormon. Let me quote from his talk:

May I refer to a modern “last days” testimony? When Joseph Smith and his brother Hyrum started for Carthage to face what they knew would be an imminent martyrdom, Hyrum read these words to comfort the heart of his brother:

“Thou hast been faithful; wherefore … thou shalt be made strong, even unto the sitting down in the place which I have prepared in the mansions of my Father.

“And now I, Moroni, bid farewell … until we shall meet before the judgment-seat of Christ.” 7

A few short verses from the 12th chapter of Ether in the Book of Mormon. Before closing the book, Hyrum turned down the corner of the page from which he had read, marking it as part of the everlasting testimony for which these two brothers were about to die. I hold in my hand that book, the very copy from which Hyrum read, the same corner of the page turned down, still visible. Later, when actually incarcerated in the jail, Joseph the Prophet turned to the guards who held him captive and bore a powerful testimony of the divine authenticity of the Book of Mormon. Shortly thereafter pistol and ball would take the lives of these two testators.

As one of a thousand elements of my own testimony of the divinity of the Book of Mormon, I submit this as yet one more evidence of its truthfulness. In this their greatest—and last—hour of need, I ask you: would these men blaspheme before God by continuing to fix their lives, their honor, and their own search for eternal salvation on a book (and by implication a church and a ministry) they had fictitiously created out of whole cloth?

The implication is clear and need not be stated: People who know they are at death’s door do not tend to reiterate their testimony of something they know is a fraud. Posing such a rhetorical question would have been clear and direct. Curiously, however, Elder Holland doesn’t leave the implication unsaid.

Never mind that their wives are about to be widows and their children fatherless. Never mind that their little band of followers will yet be “houseless, friendless and homeless” and that their children will leave footprints of blood across frozen rivers and an untamed prairie floor. Never mind that legions will die and other legions live declaring in the four quarters of this earth that they know the Book of Mormon and the Church which espouses it to be true. Disregard all of that, and tell me whether in this hour of death these two men would enter the presence of their Eternal Judge quoting from and finding solace in a book which, if not the very word of God, would brand them as imposters and charlatans until the end of time? They would not do that! They were willing to die rather than deny the divine origin and the eternal truthfulness of the Book of Mormon. (Emphasis in original)

It seems that he doesn’t trust his audience to understand his point. And to further underline, his voice rises in passion and what I can only describe as a mixture of anger, defensiveness, and contempt for critics:

For 179 years this book has been examined and attacked, denied and deconstructed, targeted and torn apart like perhaps no other book in modern religious history—perhaps like no other book in any religious history. And still it stands. Failed theories about its origins have been born and parroted and have died—from Ethan Smith to Solomon Spaulding to deranged paranoid to cunning genius. None of these frankly pathetic answers for this book has ever withstood examination because there is no other answer than the one Joseph gave as its young unlearned translator. In this I stand with my own great-grandfather, who said simply enough, “No wicked man could write such a book as this; and no good man would write it, unless it were true and he were commanded of God to do so.”

I testify that one cannot come to full faith in this latter-day work—and thereby find the fullest measure of peace and comfort in these, our times—until he or she embraces the divinity of the Book of Mormon and the Lord Jesus Christ, of whom it testifies. If anyone is foolish enough or misled enough to reject 531 pages of a heretofore unknown text teeming with literary and Semitic complexity without honestly attempting to account for the origin of those pages—especially without accounting for their powerful witness of Jesus Christ and the profound spiritual impact that witness has had on what is now tens of millions of readers—if that is the case, then such a person, elect or otherwise, has been deceived; and if he or she leaves this Church, it must be done by crawling over or under or around the Book of Mormon to make that exit. In that sense the book is what Christ Himself was said to be: “a stone of stumbling, … a rock of offence,” a barrier in the path of one who wishes not to believe in this work. Witnesses, even witnesses who were for a time hostile to Joseph, testified to their death that they had seen an angel and had handled the plates. “They have been shown unto us by the power of God, and not of man,” they declared. “Wherefore we know of a surety that the work is true.” (Emphasis in original)

I thought this was downright strange and still do. He has abandoned bearing a positive testimony and instead has turned an accusing and angry eye to those who would dare question the book’s divinity. It’s no longer the book he is defending, but instead he is directly berating “anyone [who] is foolish enough or misled to reject” the Book of Mormon. He almost taunts those who have left the church for “crawling over or under or around the Book of Mormon to make that exit,” as if they were snakes or lizards furtively slithering their way to the door of the church. He leaves no question in his listeners’ minds: there are no legitimate grounds for disbelieving the Book of Mormon. Those who disbelieve, he tells us, are pathetic, foolish, misled, incapable of recognizing the book’s “literary and Semitic complexity” (OK, that made me chuckle), offended, deceived, and worse even than those who were hostile to Joseph Smith in his lifetime.

I know a lot of people who found Elder Holland’s remarks offensive and divisive. For me, the words and the tone were mystifying. They came across not as forceful and determined, as I’m sure he intended, but rather defensive and more than a little angry and contemptuous. I really didn’t know what to make of it.

Then I saw him later in an interview with the BBC in 2012, when at first he was pretty evasive when asked about the obvious mistranslation of the Egyptian papyri and Joseph Smith’s criminal record. His answers were about what I expected. As far as the Book of Abraham, he said, “All I’m saying is that what got translated, got translated into the word of God. The vehicle for that I do not understand and don’t claim to know and know no Egyptian.” That’s pretty much the only honest response that can be made, given the obvious mistranslations. When asked about Smith’s conviction for fraud (“juggling” and “glass-looking”), he said, “I have no idea. … There’s a good deal of difficulty in the early frontier life in America, but that’s an incidental matter to the character and integrity of the man.” This is just weird: He says he doesn’t know anything about such a conviction (somehow I doubt that) and then in the same breath says a conviction for fraud is a trivial matter and doesn’t have anything to do with Smith’s character. Really?

After my friend Jeff Ricks explained to the interviewer about the nature of the penalties involved in the temple endowment before 1990, the interviewer asked Holland a really blunt question:

As a Mormon, in the temple, I’ve been told [Mitt Romney] would have sworn an oath to say that he would not pass on what happens in the temple, lest he slit his throat. Is that true?

The truthful answer to this is, “Yes.” Mitt Romney received his endowment in the 1960s and would have repeated the ceremony many times, each time miming the slitting of his throat and saying, “I covenant that I will never reveal” the signs and tokens of the temple. “Rather than do so, I would suffer my life to be taken.” I did this countless times myself. Knowing this, I wondered how Holland would reply. Would he simply acknowledge it and move on, or would he say something about how Mormons don’t talk about sacred matters in public? What he said was startling.

That’s not true. That’s not true. We do not have penalties in the temple.

I wasn’t expecting that. The first two sentences are simply false, full stop. The third sentence is true in a Clintonesque (define the word “is”) sense, but is a misleading answer to the question posed. The look on Holland’s face tells me he has suddenly realized that he’s dealing with someone who knows a little more than the average reporter about the Mormon church. The interviewer is prepared enough to know Holland is not telling the truth.

You used to [have penalties in the temple].

Holland finally gives up:

We used to.

He goes on to say that this was more a matter of a member like Mitt Romney not telling anyone about “his personal pledge to God” than it is about keeping the temple ceremony secret, even though the endowment itself refers to these pledges as “obligation[s] of secrecy.” Holland continues by saying that the Strengthening the Church Membership Committee is designed to “protect predatory practices of polygamist groups … principally.” I’m fairly certain he knows the committee does much more than that. To be fair, when asked the same question, church PR spokesperson Michael Purdy flatly denied knowing anything about the committee before finally owning up to it.

But what struck me the most was Holland’s response when the interviewer said that some former members describe the church as a cult, like Scientology, only smarter.

We’re not a cult. I’m not an idiot. You know, I’ve read a couple of books and I’ve been to a pretty good school, and I have chosen to be in this church because of the faith that I feel and the inspiration that comes. … We are 14 million and growing, and I’d like to think that your respect for me would be enough to know that this man doesn’t seem like a dodo.

At that moment the earlier anger and defensiveness about the Book of Mormon made sense. These words do not sound like the words of someone who is confident in his faith. Rather, they sound like something you would say if it was vitally important for you to defend something, but, somewhere deep inside, you have doubts about the thing you’re defending. It reminds of me a conversation I had several years ago with my wife’s sister, who is a heavy smoker. We were watching an old movie starring Judy Holliday. My sister-in-law wondered what had become of Ms. Holliday. I mentioned that Ms. Holliday, a comedic actress in the 1950s, had died from lung cancer at an early age. My sister-in-law said, “How could she have gotten lung cancer?” Without thinking, I said, “Well, she was a pretty heavy smoker.”

My sister-in-law had the same expression on her face and tone of voice as Holland’s as she angrily said, “There’s no proof that smoking causes lung cancer! Whoever says so is lying!” Her rant went on for a couple of minutes, and it was eerily similar to Holland’s “defense” of the spiritual truths of Mormonism.

When people talk like that, it makes me think that, somewhere deep inside, they are afraid they are dead wrong, so they make up for it with emotion and forcefulness. I am not suggesting that Jeffrey Holland is going through a crisis of faith. What I am saying is that the effect of his words and tone is quite different than what I think he intends.

He is trying to look firm and steadfast and impassioned. But it comes across as weak and pathetic to me, but I’m sure some people out there found it a stirring apologia.

2014 Brodie Awards

February 10, 2015

Just a quick note that I’ve been nominated for a couple of Brodie awards for essays that appeared on this blog.

I’m honored that someone thinks that highly of my small contributions to the discussion around Mormonism. I confess that it’s endlessly fascinating to me, and it’s unlikely that I’ll ever be able to “leave it alone.” But then it wouldn’t make sense to abandon something I find so interesting, would it?

Anyway, check out the other nominations at Main Street Plaza, and if you are so inclined, vote for my essays or anyone else’s you like. I am most proud that my book, Heaven Up Here, won the award in 2011 for “Best Book-Length Memoirs.”

Kirby Nails It

January 19, 2015

Once again, Salt Lake Tribune columnist Robert Kirby shows why he’s one of my favorite writers.

A Mormon Faces Toward Mecca

The other day someone suggested that there are people out there (perhaps even in my neighborhood) who have nothing in common with me. Frankly, I can’t imagine that. Back when I was teaching freshman English at BYU, I had my students talk how humans tend to cast themselves less as someone but as not-someone else. Religions do this in contrasting, say, the saved and the unsaved or believers and infidels. But we do this in all sorts of ways: race, politics, nationality, culture, education, language, and so on. I would ask my students to name someone with whom they had nothing in common. Since this was around the time of the first Iraq war, the name that came up most often was Saddam Hussein. We would then talk about what we did have in common with him. At first, they could only say, “Well, he’s a human being, sort of.” But then they would talk about how, like us, he had parents and siblings, faith, patriotism, and hopes and dreams. Soon it became obvious that Saddam Hussein wasn’t something other than human that was incomprehensible. He might have done terrible things, but he was a person nonetheless, and in some fundamental ways, he was like us.

I’ve been called naive because I’ve long believed that most conflicts between people, nations, religions, and so on, stem in large part in our ability to understand each other as people. We talk about jihadists, for example, as monsters, sociopaths, evildoers (in George W. Bush’s words)–as anything but people with thoughts and beliefs and desires and hopes. Conversely, I believe that we could do away with a lot of conflict if we could just sit down and talk to each other, giving each other respect and consideration as equals.

I know, it’s not that simple. We see, for example, that the world is getting smaller, metaphorically speaking, with the advent of communications. I can, for example, read today’s edition of El Diario, one of the newspapers in La Paz, Bolivia, and learn of floods that have killed 15 people. Or I can read news from such places as South Africa, Australia, Poland, and China. My knowledge of the world is potentially as broad and deep as my willingness to explore.

And yet it isn’t. I can do all the reading I want and learn about cultures and history, and even learn languages. But that isn’t the same as meeting people and talking with them, and more importantly, listening to them. One thing that I have learned from blogging is that it is extremely difficult to communicate what I think in ways that everyone will understand. I am often surprised that things I thought were positive or conciliatory were taken as negative and hostile. Obviously, I need to do better, and I am trying to do so. But really, a conversation needs two or more people coming into the discussion with a desire to understand and learn from each other; what I find is that we (I’m including myself) often–maybe always–come into a discussion with a particular perspective that we feel obligated to represent or defend. That’s usually what gets us into trouble.

I wrote last week about how “the best response” to the Charlie Hebdo killings was more mocking cartoons. Looking back, I realize that came from a defensiveness related to my perception that my values–in this case, freedom of expression–were being attacked. But the proper response isn’t to strike back but to defend my values in a way that upholds those values but brings people together. It’s clear to me that a lot of non-Western cultures don’t value freedom of expression in the same way that we in the West do. Even in the West there are disagreements about limits (see, for example, the Pope’s recent statements), and there’s an awful lot of hypocrisy and unequal application of this fundamental right. Perhaps this is a good opportunity to reach out to others and explain where we are coming from, but at the same time try to listen and comprehend where others are coming from.

Like Kirby, I don’t know an awful lot about Islam, even though I live in a neighborhood with a significant Muslim population. Not a day goes by that I don’t see someone wearing a hijab or salwar kameez (see? I have learned at least two new words from my neighbors), and I have had pleasant conversations with my Muslim and Hindu neighbors. But I haven’t talked to them about their religion, probably because it’s considered bad manners in this country. It would be easy, however, for me to do what Kirby has done and find a local Islamic center where I could learn. I think I’m going to try that.

I’ll keep you posted.

Some Silver Linings

December 27, 2013

My wife and I watched “Silver Linings Playbook” last night, and it moved me to tears, though probably not for the reasons most people would expect. The beginning of the film depicts the protagonist in a psychiatric hospital, going to group therapy, taking his meds, and trying to make the best of a bad situation. I remember those days vividly.

In June of 2007 I was living in College Station, Texas. For a number of reasons I don’t need to rehash, things were not going well in my life and in my marriage. Things came to a head one night, and after my wife cried herself to sleep, I lay awake thinking of the damage I had done to our relationship and to our family. In an instant, I went from thinking that maybe things would be better if I weren’t around to actively trying to take my own life. I went into the walk-in closet, tied one end of a tie around the hanger rod and the other end around my neck. I think I would have gone through with it had it not hurt as much as it did.

Two days later I found myself in the back of a Sheriff’s car being taken to a psychiatric facility in Houston under a 72-hour involuntary commitment by court order. I’ve described the time I spent there elsewhere, but it wasn’t until I watched the film last night that I started thinking about what happened when I went home.

I don’t think I liked myself much back then. As I’ve mentioned in other threads, the combination of my family dynamics growing up and certain Mormon teachings about self-worth and guilt had convinced me I was never going to be good enough; indeed, I’ve been told by a few Mormons that I “failed” at Mormonism, whatever that means. But I didn’t like myself, and I think deep down inside I didn’t believe I was worthy of anyone’s love, though I don’t remember thinking that explicitly. My family’s love, I thought, was obligatory because I was a son, husband, and father.

When I came home, I was most afraid that I had done too much damage to my family relationships and that my loved ones would not know how to deal with me after everything that had happened. I thought maybe I’d given up the last reason for anyone to love me, and I prepared myself for rejection. But I was wrong. My wife and children were just happy to have me home. They loved me in spite of myself, in ways I hadn’t learned to love myself.

We also watched “The Wizard of Oz” the other night, and I had forgotten something the wizard said to the Tin Man:

A heart is not judged by how much you love; but by how much you are loved by others.

I think I once unconsciously believed that, but I realize that it’s exactly backwards and quite unwise. If all that matters is how much others love you, you might spend your whole life trying to “earn” other people’s love, and you might feel you can’t be happy or fulfilled if you can’t earn that love.

I can tell you that, if you live that way, no amount of love or approval is ever going to be enough. You will always feel unloved and unfulfilled. The film I watched showed a young man trying to earn his estranged wife’s love by showing her “signs” of his love and his mental and emotional improvement. This kind of thinking seems to rest on the belief that love is a quantifiable commodity, and a certain saturation level has a cause-and-effect relationship with how people treat you. He had to learn, as I once did, that the quest to love enough so that you’ll get love in return is a fool’s errand.

What I have learned is that human beings have an endless capacity for love, and the best thing you can do is simply to love others and not worry about what you get in return. Not everyone is going to love you. Not everyone is going to be your friend, no matter how hard you try. But you can love everyone. You really can.

Love doesn’t always mean you have a bond of affection and emotion or anything like that. Love simply means treating people with love and care. And you really can do that with everyone, from the cashier at the supermarket to your family.

Yes, I know this isn’t the most profound thing ever, but I hope my random thoughts mean something to someone other than me. But it’s enough to know that I’ve learned this lesson in life, and I’m much happier for having learned it.

When it rains

December 4, 2012
So, Monday morning my employers called a mandatory meeting at 9:00 for me and 79 of my colleagues. As of February 1, I will no longer be employed by my current employer. Merry Christmas.

I’ve been through this before, as the high-tech industry is notorious for a lot of turnover, so I’m not particularly stressed. More annoyed, really. I was just starting to feel like I was almost ready for Christmas, and now I’ll be spending all my free time looking for a job.

The good news is that I have two months of paid employment plus 5 weeks of severance, and my insurance is good until the end of February. Fortunately, we had time to sign up for my wife’s insurance, which she has always declined in favor of mine. Ironically, I will almost certainly receive a healthy bonus check as I leave the building because our larger division has done extremely well this year.

Needless to say, we are going to be extremely frugal over the next few months. I feel bad for the people who’ve never been through this before. There were some very stressed faces today. One guy said he’s not going to tell his wife until after Christmas so she won’t worry. Big mistake, IMO.

So, my resume is out again. I had updated it a couple of months ago because I was worried that the company was in trouble. When I took this job, my wife made me promise we wouldn’t go anywhere for 5 years, which I reached in July (I got a plaque, a lapel pin, and a fishing pole).

I think I would have been more stressed if they had just walked us out of the building, as has happened to me before. So, wish me luck. In a twisted way, it’s nice to have a dose of perspective.


Love, Reign O’er Me

November 9, 2012

I heard a quote today that I quite enjoyed from Pete Townshend’s Psychoderelict project:

“If you’re going to be introspective, at least do it in public.”

That’s how I feel about this blog. I’ve probably been too revealing of myself–well, not probably, definitely. Maybe it’s just that I feel a need to be understood and belong. Growing up, I always felt disconnected from everyone around me. Part of that was self-imposed, but part of it was that I just didn’t fit in, couldn’t understand what was going on around me well enough to become part of it. I have a report card from second grade on which my teacher has written that I’m an intelligent child but am “often in his own world.” I recognize now that this comes from my mild version of Asperger’s Syndrome. So I was always detached from others–a loner who craved connection and friendship, an introspective person who nevertheless expressed his thoughts to anyone around.

When I was about 10 years old, my brother bought a copy of The Who’s Quadrophenia, a “rock opera” about Jimmy, a young mod in the 1960s struggling to find his place in the world. (Coincidentally, there was a mod revival in Southern California when I was in high school.) I didn’t know anything about faces, tickets, leapers, or rockers, but I understood. The story was pretty simple: Jimmy, alienated from his family, friends, school, and life, becomes a mod to fit in, to be part of something bigger than himself. As Jimmy, Pete Townshend writes:

Brighton is a fantastic place. The sea is so gorgeous you want to jump into it and sink. When I was there last time there were about two thousand mods driving up and down the promenade on scooters. My scooter’s seen the last of Brighton bloody promenade now, I know that. I felt really anonymous then, sort of like I was in an army. But everyone was a mod. Wherever you looked there were mods. Some of them were so well dressed it was sickening. Levi’s had only come into fashion about a month before and some people had jeans on that looked like they’d been born wearing them. There was this bloke there that seemed to be the ace face. He was dancing one night in the Aquarium ballroom and everyone was copying him. He kept doing different dances, but everyone would copy it and the whole place would be dancing a dance that he’d only just made up. That’s power for you.

But, as everything does, the mod style fades away and even the “ace face” is “newly born” to a more pedestrian fate.

He smashed the glass doors of this hotel too. He was terrific. He had a sawn-off shotgun under his jacket and he’d be kicking at plate-glass and he still looked like he was Fred Astaire reborn. Quite funny, I met him earlier today. He ended up working at the same hotel. But he wasn’t the manager.

When Jimmy sees the ace face working as a humble bellboy, he asks him:

Ain’t you the guy who used to set the paces
Riding up in front of a hundred faces?
I don’t suppose you would remember me,
But I used to follow you back in ’63.

Disillusioned, Jimmy steals a boat, takes some pills and some gin, and ends up stranded on a rock in the sea.

So that’s why I’m here, the bleeding boat drifted off and I’m stuck here in the pissing rain with my life flashing before me. Only it isn’t flashing, it’s crawling. Slowly. Now it’s just the bare bones of what I am.

A tough guy, a helpless dancer.

A romantic, is it me for a moment?

A bloody lunatic, I’ll even carry your bags.

A beggar, a hypocrite, love reign over me.

Schizophrenic? I’m Bleeding Quadrophenic.

Although I was never a tough guy, this was me: a mess of contradictions, disappointment, and hopelessness.

On some level, I knew I wouldn’t ever fit in, but I found the uniform of belonging in my religion, Mormonism, with its emphasis on strict rules of behavior and a dress code of white shirts and ties. I’m convinced that in many ways, Mormonism has become much less of a religion than it is a fashion statement and a cultural attitude, just like the mod culture.

Why should I care
If I have to cut my hair?
I’ve got to move with the fashions
Or be outcast. …

The kids at school
Have parents that seem so cool.
And though I don’t want to hurt them
Mine want me their way. …

Why do I have to be different to them? …
Why do I have to move with a crowd
Of kids that hardly notice I’m around?
I work myself to death just to fit in.

I did work myself to death to be a good Mormon, and at least on the surface, I fit in. I could have said, as Jimmy did,

But I’m one.
I am one.
And I can see
That this is me,
And I will be,
You’ll all see
I’m the one.

I played this part for some 40 years, even though underneath I was still the same lost soul with “inappropriate” desires and thoughts. Even when I wasn’t at church or on my mission, I tried to force my life into the box the LDS church prescribed for me. During graduate school, I had become fascinated with philosophy and literary theory, but I put those things away as I settled into the working life I was destined for (my patriarchal blessing called it the “workaday world”).

When I finally figured out that Mormonism wasn’t true, I was devastated, not only from shock and disappointment, but because I knew that I was a middle-aged man who didn’t have a clue who he really was. One day I was listening to Quadrophenia in my car and heard Jimmy’s desperate cry:

It’s easy to see that you are one of us.
Ain’t it funny how we all seem to look the same?

This will probably sound ridiculous, but I wept in my car, knowing I’d buried myself under the Mormon uniform I had adopted, so much so that I couldn’t see the “real me,” whatever that was. I not only looked the same as just about every other Mormon, but I thought and acted the same way. But it wasn’t me, not even for a moment.

I began searching my soul to understand what I really thought and felt underneath the Mormon uniform I had adopted. I’m not sure it’s been good or bad that I’ve done much of my search in public, but at least I have a record of where I’ve been and where I am now. Part of coming to grips with myself is acknowledging that the Mormon me is part of who I am, whether I want it or not. I’m at peace with all the facets of me, and I think there are more than four.

In the end, Jimmy wants only to drown in a sea of love.

Let me flow into the ocean
Let me get back to the sea
Let me be stormy and let me be calm
Let the tide in, and set me free.

That’s where I am these days, I think: “I want to drown in cold water.” I’ve reconnected with myself not just by introspection but by making connections of friendship and love with others. That’s what was missing in my Mormon life: honest connections with other people, but then you can’t expect to be honest with others if you don’t know who you are in the first place. I’m still pretty screwed up in many ways, but I know myself a lot better than I used to.

Thanks, Pete. I owe you. And thanks to the friends I have made on this amazing journey. I love you.

Bolivia’s Big Brother Is Watching

October 26, 2012

I admit that when Evo Morales was elected president of Bolivia, I was hopeful. After centuries of being marginalized and disenfranchized, Bolivia’s indigenous population finally had some real representation in government, and at long last change could come.

Unfortunately, much of the change has been in the government’s consolidation of power at the expense of freedom and openness. Bolivia’s press has long been threatened by a hostile government, but now the government is going after social media.


“I am always going online, and I am writing down the first and last names of the people who insult him on Facebook and Twitter,” Vice President Alvaro Garcia Linera said in remarks widely reported in Bolivian media this week.

The message is clear: watch what you say because the government is watching you. Not so, says a government spokesperson:

Constructive criticism is fine, said Franklin Garvizu, a congressman from the president’s party. But officials have seen something more nefarious, he said.

“We are very worried because this is a case of systematically using communications mechanisms to plant hatred against the government, to harm the image of our president,” Garvizu said.

So, as long as you say nice things about the government, you have nothing to worry about.


The Write Authority

September 12, 2012

A lot of blogs out there deal with writing, and I hope this one will not just add to the clutter. Blogs about writing tend to focus on one of two areas:

1. How to write “literature,” as in novels, poetry, plays, and films.

2. How to become a professional technical writer.

This blog is for a different audience: people who are not professional writers but whose jobs require them to produce good-quality technical or business writing. Most professional jobs require some writing, whether it’s a report to a supervisor, a letter to a colleague or customer, or documentation when the company needs it. My blog will not be about how to become a professional writer or editor but instead will give helpful instructions and tips for those who have been forced against their will to be at least part-time writers.

So, who am I to give advice or instruction about writing? Here are some of my qualifications:

I have a master’s degree in English, with an emphasis in rhetoric, from Brigham Young University. During my undergraduate studies, I worked as an instructor and tutor in BYU’s reading/writing center. My supervisor recommended me as a tutor for graduate students in the Communications Department, which I did through my senior year. (Needless to say, the Communications grad students weren’t happy to be taking advice from an undergrad English major.)

During graduate school, I taught composition and technical writing to undergraduate students, I took a course in software documentation for which I produced a manual for a university-authored, networked-computer application.

I then received an award as the outstanding first-year student in our department, and then I did a paid internship as an editor at the largest corporation in the state of Utah. After a year managing a team of technical writers at a software company, I was hired by the corporation where I had done my internship as a full-time editor. Since that time, I have spent more than twenty years as a technical writer and editor in industries ranging from computer software and academic publishing to the oil and gas industry. I have been asked by my employers on many occasions to present seminars, lectures, and formal course on effective writing. I am also a member of the Society for Technical Communication, and I have given lectures and seminars for the society and served as a judge for technical writing competitions.

In my spare time, I’ve written peer-reviewed articles for scholarly and technical journals and have published an award-winning memoir, Heaven Up Here. I still do freelance technical writing and editing on request, but my intent here is to help people learn to communicate more effectively through writing. If you have any requests for topics, please leave a comment, and I’ll try to put together something useful.

You’ll find the new blog at http://thewriteauthority.wordpress.com/.