Last week my husband and I submitted our resignations from the Mormon church. It was the final step in a journey of several years. As soon as we clicked the final button to make it official, I felt a familiar, quiet peace in my soul; it's a feeling I was taught as a Mormon to recognise as confirmation that a decision was right and true. Like I said, there are pieces of my Mormon past that will always belong to me. But if I could go back and tell my young Mormon self one thing, it would be that her life would turn out better than she could ever imagine.
So there’s this book that you’ve probably read, or someone you know has certainly read. Pretty much everyone I know seems to have read it and touted its genius and capacity for transforming one’s existence.
Which is nothing less than the premise and the promise of the book: The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. This was a book that I vowed I would not read. Probably at least 85% of the fights I had with my mother when I was a teenager revolved around the state of my messy bedroom, and the stuff she wanted me to throw away to remedy it. Every time I moved to a different place at university, I would be up late in the night, battling with all my junk. During one of those moves I remember going out to the dumpster at midnight with my roommate to throw out six giant pickle jars (empty of pickles, but full of pickle juice, which I reused to pickle baby carrots, apparently in truly monumental quantities).
I haven’t written a lot on this blog about leaving the Mormon church. I’m not sure exactly why. I think at the beginning I had so many strong, raw feelings I preferred to discuss them privately. And after a while I guess it felt like there was less to talk about.
However, at the time that I left, it was really huge. It’s hard to overstate the significance of unraveling something that had been tightly woven into every aspect of your life since birth.
There were, of course, many reasons that Tony and I decided to leave the Mormon church, none of which I’ll go into here. The emotional experience of leaving, though, is something for which I was unprepared. It hit me like an unexpected tsunami. Looking back, I guess one of the reasons was probably that I was an absolutely devout and devoted Mormon pretty much right up until I left.
Is there a name for the disorder where stuff is tiny but important, and you always forget it? Whatever it is, I’ve got it.
After a particularly frustrating day this week I Googled “opposite of detail oriented” and got a list of 61 antonyms. Topping the list are absent -minded, inattentive, thoughtless, and neglectful. So of course then I felt even worse. Although incurious also appears, and I feel like that’s not talking about the same thing at all. Because I am curious about hundreds of things. I know a lot. I consider myself to be intelligent. I’m generally articulate; in fact, depending on how angry I am, I approach verbosity. I’m also a sympathetic listener and good at identifying my own feelings and the feelings of others.
I was not a podcast early adopter. A couple of years ago when Serial first broke, it took several of my friends raving about it for weeks if not months before I finally got around to listening. And for years, it remained the only podcast I had ever listened to. It’s not that I was opposed to listening; it’s just that I was accustomed to reading instead, having left National Public Radio and audiobooks behind with my hour-long car commute when I moved to Amsterdam.
So the first time I appeared on a podcast, I didn’t really have a huge frame of reference. And I was incredibly nervous. Give me a keyboard to hide behind, and the eloquence will flow. Make me actually form the words out loud with my own voice? Heresy!
So far, London is spectacular. At least what I’ve seen of it, which is mostly the inside of the British Museum. Because let’s face it, we all know which person I am here:
It is entirely possible that I went straight there from the airport (having arrived at Heathrow shortly after eight in the morning), and stayed until I was literally shooed out at closing time. I also had to replace my audio guide when the battery died after several hours in the museum. So I guess I’ve confirmed my family’s suspicions on every vacation we take that I would just stay in that museum indefinitely if they didn’t drag me out.
While I was chatting with Donna Bardsley at Amsterdam Mamas after she interviewed me last week about this whole process, she said something that I can’t stop thinking about. She had asked me during the interview what I thought about the Dutch education system, and in particular about the streaming system that separates kids out by ability at the age of eleven. I’d responded fairly positively (as I have on this blog), partially because I’ve always had an inherent hesitation about publicly saying something overtly negative about the culture in which I live at the time, and partially because I really do see some clear benefits to the system. But the thing that Donna said was that the parents who tend to have positive things to say about the system are those whose kids have ended up with a VWO advies.
Took the kids to see Star Wars last night. That sentence still kind of gives me a thrill. I always felt a little cheated by the universe that I was born a decade or so too late to see Star Wars in the theatre when it first came out. I grew up absorbing the story by osmosis, hearing about it and acting it out and seeing it in bits and pieces before I could even parse the plot as something more coherent than a vast, mysterious mythology that enveloped my childhood inner life.
It was another kind of thrill, certainly, to see the prequel episodes in the theatre as a young adult. But they were so different in tone, and, alas, so full of cringe-worthy moments, that even when they were shiny and new and full of cutting-edge special effects, you couldn’t quite fall in love with them the way you instinctively did with the originals.
I was watching the BBC miniseries Daniel Deronda the other day. Based on the George Eliot novel of the same name (which I’ll have to hunt down and read now), it follows the career of the titular character, who ends up having to choose between two love interests. It’s a beautifully done series, and it’s on Netflix, so if like me, you have a weakness for 19th century period dramas, it’s one of the better ones out there.
Hugh Bonneville is creepily magnificent as the aristocrat who enjoys his domination over others. Romola Garai is brilliant in the role of Gwendolyn Harleth, the young woman who must choose between love and her family’s financial security. She was arguably the most interesting character, and I rather think Eliot could have left out the part about Deronda’s other love interest, and named the book after Harleth. We all love the stories that follow Lizzie Bennet’s injunction, “Do anything rather than marry without affection.” However, the reality for most young women in financial straits in 19th century was that dreamy Mr. Darcy, the perfect gentleman AND in possession of £10,000 per year, did not often come along. Gwendolyn Harleth (whose name, by the way, I think is at least as mellifluous as Mabel Lane Fox) is a sympathetic and compelling character, and it’s hard to really fault her too much for her choices, even as one is horrified by both the choices and their consequences.
You know that Facebook thing that’s been going around where people tag you and you have to list your top ten books? Well, I was waiting and waiting to get tagged. I finally did a couple of days ago (thank you, Jared) but by then the number had ballooned to 20 books. Which I guess is OK, because I had a hard time as it was narrowing it down to just 20. And I didn’t think I could just post a list without explaining what each and every book meant to me. So it got too long for a Facebook status, and ended up on my blog. Here, in no particular order, are my top 20 books: