WE ARE NOT HIDING. WE ARE NOT INVISIBLE.

We are the church: becoming a Latter-day Saint woman

by Britta Jensen

After my long daily commute across B299, one of the deadliest roads in Bavaria, I listened to the recent LDS Church news conference welcoming our newest prophet. It was five o’clock in Germany and already dark. Snow, sleet and rain alternated at various times throughout the afternoon, leaving road conditions hazardous.

When I turned on the broadcast it was easy to forget my daily toils, the ever-present needs of my various students, and the oft misunderstood role of being a single, Mormon female. When a journalist asked President Nelson how the LDS Church means to address the needs of the marginalised females (resorting to interrupting the conference with a loud shout: “What about the women?”) I felt quite strange and disappointed. This reporter was clearly directing this question to the wrong gender. If you want to know about LDS/Mormon women: ask us!

I am on what would be considered– by individuals unfamiliar with my church’s doctrine–on the “outskirts” of Mormon society. This has been a frustrating theme of my life: trying to explain that I am not on the outskirts, but neither am I “mainstream.” Neither of these labels are important to either a daughter of God or a Mormon woman. In addition, nothing about me would suggest to any close acquaintance or beloved friend that I am in hiding.

In an average LDS congregation you will find that the vast majority of women my age are married, often have children, and do not work full-time to earn their living. I work fifty hours a week, live in a country where I am a minority culturally and ethnically, and have never been married (or proposed to). However, slide forward 15-20 years and those odds change. Many women become widowed, some divorced. Others have never have the chance to marry (yet!). But, we are not invisible, peripheral, or on the margins of the church. We are central, essential and beloved. I currently am in the leadership of the women’s organisation of a German congregation. By all rights and reason this should not be: I do not fit the mould of what society often perceives to be a “Mormon woman.” Thank goodness society isn’t making the decisions when it comes to church leadership positions.

It is important to understand some of my personal history and how I have come to these conclusions about my status as a gender equal and as a leader. Unlike the common perception of Mormons, I was not born in Utah. I also have never lived anywhere longer than eight months where I was the religious majority. I was born in the U.S., however, 22/38 years have been spent living in: Japan, South Korea, Argentina, and Germany. The longest I lived in the U.S. was in New York City for nine years. Unfortunately, with my quirky personality, I was often a target for ostracisation as a youth attending church programs. The bullying became so severe and the racism against me so marked I had to attend a Protestant youth group. But, I would not let anyone steal my love of the gospel of Jesus Christ, or what I knew was the right direction for my life: in the church. I was not bullied because I was a woman. The reasons have more to do with the bullies than do with me. Being surrounded by loving female role-models (inside and outside my church) has been what has fostered this desire to try to do the same for the next generation.

I have had moments of doubt, almost a decade of struggling with inactivity (not feeling particularly interested in attending church regularly) because of a variety of reasons that I do not wish to make a public record. However, no one in the church, despite many periods of extreme bullying, took away my ability to believe. No one ever made me feel that as a woman I was a lesser vessel of the Lord. Instead, it has been my fellow sisters in the church, most especially in New York, Korea, and Germany who have brought me back, who have nurtured me, fed my spirit and helped me to heal from deep psychological scars.

I don’t think many men are qualified to talk about the lives of women, which is why I feel it’s important for women to talk about being LDS.  Many LDS women are so enmeshed with their local communities that they don’t receive much “mic time” outside of the church pulpit. It could be because the vast majority of us are too busy doing the following:

*raising families

*volunteering in our communities

*making a living

*becoming more educated

*trying to raise the standard of living of those less fortunate than ourselves

*supporting and helping family members in crisis

It isn’t our way to brag, to list our accomplishments, or make public our CVs. We feel that our work, our love, and our lives should be a token of what we believe. None of us are content to lurk in the shadows.

I wanted to share my thoughts, on this very cold, but promising midwinter, as a life-long Mormon. I remain true to my roots, yet endeavour to never be invisible, but always indispensable to my fellow-women and men. I’m fairly certain other Mormon women feel the same.

IMG_2753

My home ward in Feucht, Germany, hanging with my fellow ward sisters.

Gold Dust Mentoring

mywritingimage

I officially started my “writing journey” in 2013 when I attended the Writers Workshop’s Getting Published Day. After my first one-to-one session I was informed that my writing looked like I’d never taken a creative writing class in my life.

I was very disappointed, but I knew that I had been writing for too long to let one person’s comment keep me from becoming a better writer. Simply going to university and attaining a BA and MA (and teaching secondary English) don’t necessarily make one suited to fictional prose. Since 2013, I had taken online writing courses, attended writing retreats, writing conferences, paid for manuscript assessments, everything I could afford to do in order to advance my career as an author.

The real turning point took place in 2016 when I took Faber Academy’s Short Story course with Shelley Weiner. The week long course concentrated on all aspects of the short story (with delightful recommended reading). It was exactly what I had needed. I had longed to write short stories, I had written many very badly, but I also had a tendency to write very long novels without knowing exactly where or how to cut them. This course helped to build my confidence level in crucial editing skills, but it also introduced me to my mentor, Shelley Weiner.

For awhile I had wanted to apply for a mentorship programme, but was afraid of paying even more money for instruction that might be repetitive. After taking the course with Shelley, I knew I needed to further the skills I’d gained in a short time. Gold Dust mentoring was a good fit because of its excellent structure and Shelley was aware of my penchant for writing science-fiction, which made her a better fit than blindly applying to a variety of schemes.

Now that I’ve just finished my last session with Shelley, a year later, I can honestly say that Gold Dust mentoring is worth every penny. In fact, every cent I’ve spent on writing mentoring, tutoring, classes, workshops, seminars, etc…has been worth it. But, I feel that the most important part of my writing journey has been through the one-on-one instruction Gold Dust provides for an entire year (or whatever timeline mentors and mentees determine). Before being accepted into Gold Dust’s mentorship I did not have the following skills:

  1. A regular writing habit that was built into my daily schedule as a full-time teacher
  2. deadlines that I had to meet because I would not just disappoint myself, but the mentor who was expecting the next section of my novel
  3. a drive to bring down my excessive first draft word counts
  4. daily assessment and planning of the novel’s next steps and the world of the novel
  5. building meaningful reflection time into my daily writing/editing so that the next drafts of the novel were built on what I’d learned from a previous editing session

Anyone who is serious about their craft needs mentoring because manuscript revision can only get you so far. Shelley’s careful eye and kind but firm guidance of my prose and writing process has helped me to grow in ways I never expected. I highly recommend her and the Gold Dust programme! Thank you Shelley and Gold Dust!

 

What does YA SF Need?

antique astronauts

I need your insights! (In 20 days I’ll present at WorldCon 75 in Helsinki, Finland). My topic: Young-adult science fiction.

  • What are some of your all-time favourite SF books–that are either readable for YA (ages 12+) or could reasonably fit into the YA category?
  • What do you wish publishers/writers/literary agents would consider for YA SF?
  • What types of characters and futures do you think are currently missing from the YA SF diaspora?

All comments entered into random drawing for the following: a free copy of one of my SF short stories or the first chapter of one of my books (your pick!) Three winners will be chosen. Deadline for insights: July 31st @ 10.00am (Munich, DE time zone).

Tea & Chemo by Jackie Buxton

You don’t have to have a cancer diagnosis to enjoy this book!

My father and good friend recently survived cancer and I found Jackie’s portrayal of the experience of debilitating disease to be most uplifting and heart-warming. I suffer from an immune disorder that often makes life very unpleasant.  I was personally inspired by Jackie’s account of how she fought for life and tried to embrace the brighter side of suffering, which is something I need to learn to do!  Jackie’s upbeat statement: “Why NOT me?” really made me consider the difficulty my friends and family have undergone during their cancer treatments and follow-up therapies to keep disease at bay. Jackie doesn’t whitewash how incredibly scared she was, at times. As the mother of two daughters she had to find a way of coming to grips with the possibility of not seeing her daughters grow up.  Thankfully, Jackie is currently cancer free, but as she points out, this doesn’t mean she, or anyone else is out of the “danger zone.”

I thoroughly recommend this book to everyone: those with no experience with cancer, but whom need a little inspiration, those with family members suffering from cancer, or people like me, who have a lifelong non-curable immune disorder that makes life unpleasant a lot.  The best part about Tea & Chemo is that a huge portion of the proceeds from book sales are donated to cancer research.

I was really uplifted by Jackie’s book and look forward to reading Glass Houses, now available in both hard-copy and online here.

Stunning debut: Paris Mon Amour

pma-final-crop

A wonder and a delight, Isabel Costello’s debut, Paris Mon Amour has all the ingredients of an engaging novel that will definitely be hard to put down. Alexandra, the main character, is at a critical point in her life when she says, “I ask myself if, on average, other people are happier than me.” Waylaid between a past disaster and the present state of her marriage, Alexandra is a character I can relate to and empathise with, despite huge cultural differences. Each of the characters are so beautifully drawn that I was a part of Alexandra’s struggle for love and personal acceptance. Costello does an incredible job of balancing humour, passion, and evoking the atmosphere of one of the world’s most beloved cities. This is a novel I enjoyed living inside. Paris Mon Amour caused me to question many of the assumptions I hold dear about the nature of romantic love and what it means to find your identity when you are caught between cultures.

Available here starting June 13, 2016.

One by Sarah Crossan

One by Sarah Crossan
This is one of the most requested novels for my students to borrow. I had to finally tell them they had to buy their own copy before they ruined mine!
Crossan perfectly portrays two girls who wish to live as normally as they can in a completely abnormal situation. This book is really well suited for teens ages 12+ who can relate to trying to understand their changing bodies, while still maintaining a sense of control over their identity.
For Grace and Tippi, the whole experience of becoming a teenager is complicated by their fused bodies and inability to live separately. Though both would love to have their own lives, they are aware that the dangers of separation could extinguish both their lives. I highly recommend this incredibly well written novel for both teens and adults.
NB: For those living in the EU, I find that bookdepository.com has far more competitive rates on shipping than amazon.co.uk, for those without a military postal box.  I tend to price compare when reading UK titles between amazon and Book Depository and have been quite pleased with Book Depository’s customer service.