If I could speak with the pen of angels . . .

October 23, 2005 | 13 comments
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We Mormons don’t need great writers who remake genres and transcend the particulars of their work (though please, please, please)

We just need adequate writers who can give some expression to the sweetness of life as a Mormon.

The sweetness of-
leaning in the pew where your family sits and your Bishop gets up–he’s a bluff-faced man with gray hair and a salty blue-collar mustache, he talks in the slow, Spanish-accented way that even Anglos do around here–two days ago he fixed your plumbing, did a good job, tried to bargain the price down after while you tried to bargain it up–he makes his announcements, he asks all you who read the Book of Mormon by year’s end to sign a list in his office (he’ll send it to the Prophet as a Christmas present), though, earnestly, he says he’s not far along himself. He was called a few weeks ago, which is the first time you’ve ever seen him in a suit.

He sits back down, the priests stand to break the bread.

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13 Responses to If I could speak with the pen of angels . . .

  1. Kristine on October 23, 2005 at 8:49 pm

    That’s mighty sweet, Adam. Thanks.

  2. Russell Arben Fox on October 23, 2005 at 10:50 pm

    “two days ago he fixed your plumbing, did a good job, tried to bargain the price down after while you tried to bargain it up”

    There are volumes in that aside, Adam. Thanks for sharing it.

  3. William Morris on October 23, 2005 at 10:59 pm

    Thanks, Adam.

    There are some exceptions — but for the most part the best Mormon fiction focuses on the young. I’d like to see more that focuses on the old.

    I have found myself attracted to those characters (half my stories in progress seem to be about old men) in my own writing, but have the suspicion that I can’t do them justice — that it’s just an excuse on my part to affect maturity and gravitas and a bit of the curmudgeon.

    I’d like to see Douglas Thayer write a novel about Adam’s bishop.

  4. Wilfried on October 23, 2005 at 11:46 pm

    My heartfelt merci too, Adam.

    Agreed with William. There is a lot (and often well-meant pulp) for and about the young. I find the weathered, faithful, simple saints the most fascinating, but also the most difficult to capture. I admire those who can catch their spirit. One of the challenges for Mormon writers is to combine some kind of worthwhile affabulation with the faith-promotive — but without stereotype heroism.

  5. Tatiana on October 24, 2005 at 10:17 am

    Yes, we need someone like Nevil Shute or Mark Salzman. Mark’s book “Lying Awake” shows that he’s ripe for conversion. Send the missionaries. :-)

    Seriously, I just realized what my mother needs to understand is some great work of fiction that shows that simple sweetness. Looking back on it, I think Orson Scott Card’s _Folk of the Fringe_ had a big part in my conversion. Mom doesn’t read science fiction, though. It has to be mainstream fiction. Wilfried and William, please get on that right away. Mom’s waiting. :-)

  6. Mark IV on October 24, 2005 at 4:57 pm

    Adam G.,

    I think you are on to something. I reacted to your post much the same way the others who have responded did. I just have a couple of thoughts.

    First, we need to keep in mind that we almost have our own language. Consider the following statements: “First we went visiting teaching. The lesson was on the three degrees. Then, we went to the stake center for PFE.” Those words are almost universally understood among members, but a woman outside our church would be left scratching her head if she were invited to the stake center for PFE. She wouldn’t know if she had been complimented or insulted. Senior companion, age of accountability, sustain, endowment, testimony, temple work, three Nephites, initiatory. Those words all carry a loaded meaning. It is almost like outsiders have to hack into our code to understand.

    Do you think maybe part of what facilitates good writing among adult LDS folk is that we have such a richness of shared experience? That is how I explain my reaction to your brief post. I have experienced something much like what you described, your words evoked the memory, and I experienced “the sweetness of life as a Mormon”.

    You are right. The words just have to be adequate and not get in the way.

  7. Barb on October 25, 2005 at 10:03 pm

    Just enough detail to allow the reader to visualize the information.

    I am not the most descriptive person but I like to do exercies where I sketch what I see in my mind. I find that I lack so much vocubulary to convey what I see around me in a meaningful way. Yet, I find it a worthwhile and enjoyable endeavor that causes me to take note of things that I am half blind to around me.

  8. gst on October 25, 2005 at 10:27 pm

    I don’t know what PFE is, and my folk crossed the plains with handcarts.

  9. Adam Greenwood on October 25, 2005 at 10:59 pm

    Is PFE whatever they call homemaking now? Personal and family enrichment? I just hear it called enrichment, but maybe they call it PFE somewhere.

    “I find the weathered, faithful, simple saints the most fascinating, but also the most difficult to capture”

    Very difficult to capture. I think a novel about folks like my Bishop, to be successful, would have to be written almost entirely from an external viewpoint. Because I dont’ know that their internal life is much different from their external one.

  10. Barb on October 25, 2005 at 11:36 pm

    Adam, I have contemplated something along the lines of what you are saying at my online journal, Olivia86 at ldscity.com. The site is currently down(I think)but maybe you would like to read it someone time. I will not tell you which entry that I speak of as it should be self-evident. If you read though, please do not be too judgemental as I just write in a random brainstorming style. If you leave a comment, please be nice as I am very sensitive. I’m not saying to lie or anything like that or to be patronizing.

  11. Adam Greenwood on October 26, 2005 at 12:39 am

    Looks like its still down. I’ll try later.

  12. John Mansfield on October 26, 2005 at 4:34 pm

    “I think a novel about folks like my Bishop to be successful, would have to be written almost entirely from an external viewpoint. Because I dont’ know that their internal life is much different from their external one.”

    It sounds like you want a Tony Hillerman.

  13. Matt Evans on October 28, 2005 at 10:44 am

    The only way to have a literature that adequately captures the so-called sweetness of Mormon life is to render it relevant for outsiders. (I say “so-called sweetness” because I don’t believe the essence of the gratifying experience you sketched above is in any meaningful way different from the Lake Wobegon religious life Garrision Keillor has chronicled so well.)

    Paul Elie, a senior editor at FSG, in his book The Life You Save May Be Your Own, wrote about four great writers who all happened to be Catholic: Dorothy Day, Thomas Merton (a monk), Flannery O’Conner, and Walker Percy. These writers, according Elie, and this is a gross oversimplification of a truly sublime book, succeeded in making relevant to the world at large the important spiritual difference between a tourist and a pilgrim. A tourist makes a journey in order to see the same thing others before him have seen, and to also see it in exactly the same way those others saw it; the pilgrim, on the other hand, charts his own path in order to experience for himself, from his own perspective, what others before him have themselves experienced. In other words, Moroni 10:3-5.

    Elie also argues that the aforementioned writers, in making their uniquely Catholic perspectives relevant to the secular world, also best articulated for Catholics what it meant to be a faithful Catholic in a secular world.

    I’d be interested, then, it hearing you opine on what constitutes a relevant (to the world at large) and unique Mormon perspective, literarily.

    Best Regards,

    Matt Evans
    (I am not the Times and Seasons Matt Evans, although I too was raised in Sandy and am the oldest of seven children. It’s a small, weird world.)

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