a Mother’s Day sermon

I spoke in church on Mother’s Day (May 14, 2023) about the Latter-day Saint doctrine of a Mother in Heaven. Here’s the speech:

SHE by Mindy Sebastian
In Cherish: The Joy of Our Mother in Heaven, p.8

Good afternoon, and Happy Mother’s Day!

An online institute teacher said recently that sacrament meeting talks tend to fall into two categories: good news and good advice. Good news talks bear testimony. Good advice talks discuss principles and different ways to put them into practice. I would like to focus on the good news of Mother’s Day.

Elder James E. Talmage stated this GOOD NEWS in the spring 1902 general conference:

“The Church [of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints] is bold enough to go so far as to declare that man has an Eternal Mother in the Heavens as well as an Eternal Father.”[1]

Sister Patricia Holland, counselor in the Young Women general presidency in the 1980s, added this:

“I have heard it said by some that the reason women in the Church struggle to know themselves is because they don’t have a divine female role model. But we do. We believe we have a Mother in heaven … Furthermore, I believe we know much more about our eternal nature than we think we do, and it is our sacred obligation to express our knowledge, to teach it to our young sisters and daughters, and in doing so, to strengthen their faith and help them.”[2]

This doctrine of having a Heavenly Mother is not just for our young sisters and daughters. The Family Proclamation in 1995 opened with this:

“All human beings—male and female—are created in the image of God. Each is a beloved spirit son or daughter of heavenly parents, and, as such, each has a divine nature and destiny.”[3]

We are ALL children of heavenly PARENTS. So I hope the men will tune in better, rather than thinking this talk is irrelevant to them. It is important and essential for EVERYONE.

In April 2022 general conference, Elder Renlund taught about being children of God and named our Mother in Heaven:

“We have heavenly parents, a Father and a Mother. The doctrine of a Heavenly Mother comes by revelation and is a distinctive belief among Latter-day Saints. … Very little has been revealed about Mother in Heaven, but what we do know is summarized in a gospel topic found in our Gospel Library app.”[4]

He didn’t go into any details of the gospel topic essay, but his statement is that it is our doctrine. The Church website, in the introduction to the grouping of essays, says this:

“The purpose of these essays, which have been approved by the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, has been to gather accurate information from many different sources and publications, and place it in the Gospel Topics section of ChurchofJesusChrist.org, where the material can more easily be accessed and studied by Church members and other interested parties.”[5]

So, this is considered foundational doctrine of our Church.

Prior to the talk by Elder Renlund, I had known about Heavenly Mother. I’d had some very strong spiritual experiences that confirmed to me that this is a doctrine to treasure, that Heavenly Mother is a divine being worth developing a personal relationship with, that I needed to study this more. I had not, however, read the Gospel Topics essay and it was barely on my radar that it existed at all. I’m told that when the series of essays were released in 2016, seminary classes were encouraged to read them, but I don’t remember any kind of announcement directed to adults that they were released and should be studied.

So after that talk, I went into the app and found the essay – if you’d like to read along, go to the Library home page, choose Gospel Topics, and choose “Mother in Heaven.” I was, I admit, not impressed – it’s only six paragraphs and I read it in about a minute. I was feeling frustrated when I had a picture come to my mind of starting blocks for a sprint race.

When I was in high school, I ran the stopwatch for the sprinters on the track team. A starting block is at a 45-degree angle for the bottom of a runner’s foot, with only their toes actually on the ground. They lean down onto their fingertips with their rear end in the air and their head down. For a race that lasts less than 30 seconds, they spend two to three minutes getting set on the block, because if they’re not positioned correctly, they will launch onto their face.

I realized that the Mother in Heaven essay is a starting block. We believe in continuing revelation and eternal progression, so presumably the race we are getting set for is related to that. But we have to get set on the block before we start the sprint, or we’re not going to get anywhere and instead we will make a huge mess of things.

Sarah Granger Kimball, the woman who founded the organization in Nauvoo that became the Relief Society, and was a prominent Relief Society leader in Utah, said this:

“They that seek, by faith and earnest prayer, find the light that leads to the golden gate. They that knock with study and faith’s assurance have the narrow way opened to them and are received into communion with the Infinite Father and Mother.”[6]

That sounds fantastic to me, so I started looking a lot more closely at the Gospel Topics essay about Mother in Heaven. There are multiple doctrinal statements in it, and there are 17 footnote references that include scriptures, general conference talks, and extensive historical documents.

I want to point out footnote 2, which includes a BYU Studies project titled “A Mother There.” In 2008-9, a team at BYU did extensive research into Church history to document when leaders have taught about Heavenly Mother or referred to Heavenly Parents. Their findings were published in 2010, and they had located more than 600 references to Mother in Heaven from Joseph Smith through 2010. There have been more since then. This paper was the basis of the Gospel Topics essay.[7]

So let’s read it.[8]

Paragraph 1: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints teaches that all human beings, male and female, are beloved spirit children of heavenly parents, a Heavenly Father and a Heavenly Mother. This understanding is rooted in scriptural and prophetic teachings about the nature of God, our relationship to Deity, and the godly potential of men and women. The doctrine of a Heavenly Mother is a cherished and distinctive belief among Latter-day Saints.

We learn from this paragraph again that we have heavenly parents – Father AND Mother. ALL people are their children and can have a relationship with them. We are loved by them. All people have eternal potential for progression. This is most definitely a distinctive belief – recently a Harvard professor, who is Jewish, was interviewed by some LDS podcasters, and the professor said that the doctrine of Heavenly Mother has the power to be our most effective missionary tool. People want to know about the feminine side of God, and we are one of the few faiths that even believes that it exists.[9]

And this is cherished. How do you cherish things? Some people keep their cherished things very personal and private, other people splash it all over social media with poetry and visual arts. My kids are starting to get annoyed that I cherish Heavenly Mother with art – I just got another one? Yep. When I was a young adult, church members were encouraged to cherish the temple by having art of the temples in every room of our homes. I see this as no different.

Paragraph 2: While there is no record of a formal revelation to Joseph Smith on this doctrine, some early Latter-day Saint women recalled that he personally taught them about a Mother in Heaven. The earliest published references to the doctrine appeared shortly after Joseph Smith’s death in 1844, in documents written by his close associates. The most notable expression of the idea is found in a poem by Eliza R. Snow, entitled “My Father in Heaven” and now known as the hymn “O My Father.” This text declares: “In the heav’ns are parents single? / No, the thought makes reason stare; / Truth is reason—truth eternal / Tells me I’ve a mother there.”

Paragraph two confirms that historically, this teaching goes all the way back to Joseph Smith. We of course know of the Eliza R. Snow poem that became the hymn “O My Father,” but did you know that W. W. Phelps, who wrote the hymn “Come, Come Ye Saints,” also wrote poetry stating our belief in Heavenly Mother. It’s in the essay footnotes.

Paragraph 3: Subsequent Church leaders have affirmed the existence of a Mother in Heaven. In 1909, the First Presidency [Joseph F. Smith, John R. Winder, Anthon H. Lund] taught that “all men and women are in the similitude of the universal Father and Mother, and are literally the sons and daughters of Deity.” Susa Young Gates, a prominent leader in the Church, wrote in 1920 that Joseph Smith’s visions and teachings revealed the truth that “the divine Mother, [is] side by side with the divine Father.” And in “The Family: A Proclamation to the World,” issued in 1995, the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles declared, “Each [person] is a beloved spirit son or daughter of heavenly parents, and, as such, each has a divine nature and destiny.”

Doctrinal points here: we are the children of God, and we are created in the image of Father AND Mother. This is HUGE in a world that treats women’s bodies as property and commodities, and women’s feelings about their body image start to decline at about age eight. But we are created in the image of our divine Mother, who is GOD. The Father and the Mother are side by side – a crucial point that we’ll get into more in the next paragraph.

Paragraph 4: Prophets have taught that our heavenly parents work together for the salvation of the human family. “We are part of a divine plan designed by Heavenly Parents who love us,” taught Elder M. Russell Ballard of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. President Harold B. Lee stated, “We forget that we have a Heavenly Father and a Heavenly Mother who are even more concerned, probably, than our earthly father and mother, and that influences from beyond are constantly working to try to help us when we do all we can.”

Our Heavenly Parents work together, they designed the divine plan of happiness together, they are influencing us from beyond and constantly working. This is not, as some naysayers think, a situation in which our Mother is insignificant or not essential. She’s right there with Father, active in our lives, whether we realize it or not.

This is so important to understand because it can and should affect how we treat each other now – in our families, in our church assignments, in our jobs – everywhere there is interaction between men and women. President Ballard has been talking for years about counseling together and listening to each other.[10] Sister Jean Bingham, the Relief Society general president, gave a talk in April 2020 about men and women working together in the Church.[11] And here we have multiple doctrinal statements in a row stating Heavenly Father and Heavenly Mother are side by side, working together, designing the plan of salvation, and working for our good all the time.

Paragraph 5: Latter-day Saints direct their worship to Heavenly Father, in the name of Christ, and do not pray to Heavenly Mother. In this, they follow the pattern set by Jesus Christ, who taught His disciples to “always pray unto the Father in my name.” Latter-day Saints are taught to pray to Heavenly Father, but as President Gordon B. Hinckley said, “The fact that we do not pray to our Mother in Heaven in no way belittles or denigrates her.”

I’ve had lengthy discussions about the instruction to not pray to Heavenly Mother, and I believe it’s important to note that we do not pray to the Savior either. We pray in the name of Jesus Christ to Heavenly Father, but we are still encouraged and expected to have a testimony of and relationship with Jesus Christ. The same can be said and done with Heavenly Mother. I have a friend who feels very close to Heavenly Mother when she cooks for her family. Another one when she dances. Another when she studies Wisdom in the scriptures. I feel a connection on clear sunny days when the sky is very, very blue. There’s no way anyone can get up in church and say, “Everyone will connect with Heavenly Father and Mother like this.” What I will say is – think of what makes you YOU, what makes you feel complete, what brings you joy – focus there and see if you can sense and connect with both of our Heavenly Parents through that thing.

Paragraph 5 continued: Indeed, as Elder Rudger Clawson wrote, “We honor woman when we acknowledge Godhood in her eternal Prototype.”

So here’s the ultimate Mother’s Day honorific – to acknowledge that we have a Mother in Heaven, and She is our eternal destiny. Elder Glenn L. Pace said at a BYU devotional,

“Sisters, I testify that when you stand in front of your heavenly parents in those royal courts on high and you look into Her eyes and behold Her countenance, any question you ever had about the role of women in the kingdom will evaporate into the rich celestial air, because at that moment you will see standing directly in front of you, your divine nature and destiny.”[12]

Paragraph 6: As with many other truths of the gospel, our present knowledge about a Mother in Heaven is limited. Nevertheless, we have been given sufficient knowledge to appreciate the sacredness of this doctrine and to comprehend the divine pattern established for us as children of heavenly parents. Latter-day Saints believe that this pattern is reflected in Paul’s statement that “neither is the man without the woman, neither the woman without the man, in the Lord.” Men and women cannot be exalted without each other. Just as we have a Father in Heaven, we have a Mother in Heaven. As Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles has said, “Our theology begins with heavenly parents. Our highest aspiration is to be like them.”

It is true that we don’t know much about our Mother in Heaven. It is also true that we don’t know much about Father in Heaven. If you look through the scriptures, the only time we have record of the Father’s voice is to introduce Jesus Christ – “This is my beloved son, hear him.” So if Father and Mother are working together, side by side, in a divine pattern that says men and women must be exalted together, I think it would be safe to acknowledge that Mother would also say, “This is my beloved son, hear him.”

President Nelson said, “My dear brothers and sisters, Jesus Christ invites us to take the covenant path back home to our Heavenly Parents and be with those we love. He invites us to Come, follow me.”[13]

One of my favorite quotes from Joseph Smith is this about Jesus Christ:

“The fundamental principles of our religion are the testimony of the Apostles and Prophets, concerning Jesus Christ, that He died, was buried, and rose again the third day, and ascended into heaven; and all other things which pertain to our religion are only appendages to it.”[14]

Jesus Christ is the way, the truth, and the life, to return to our Heavenly Parents. Everything He did and continues to do is so we can become like THEM.

I am grateful for the Savior. I am grateful for Heavenly Father and Heavenly Mother. Sometimes in a testimony, I don’t KNOW a whole lot, but I HOPE that we will be with all of them, and with each other, in joy and love in the next life. I am confident that we can develop relationships with individual members of Deity and each other in joy and love in this life. I believe that Zion is not some lofty goal of the future but a boots on the ground project that we’re working on right now, and a major component of that is to respect and care for all people as the children of God that we are.

“Until one day, like a bolt, we will race toward the Light and meet Her embrace as we did on this side of the veil with our earthy mothers, and the joyful recognition of Her will be as a mirror. She was there all along.”[15]

Hartford Temple, April 2019

reading list: Broadway

Book one for 2023 is notched on my Goodreads scorecard! I read Hooked: How Crafting Saved My Life by Sutton Foster.

She’s apparently been a major actress for a few decades, winning multiple Tony awards and acting in TV shows. But I don’t watch TV and only recently started paying attention to theater, so the first I heard of her was when she was cast opposite Hugh Jackman in the Broadway revival of “The Music Man.”

So when I came across her book at the library, I picked it up. It was less about crafting and more about her life offstage, particularly her relationship with her mother. That had to have been hard to write – it was very vulnerable and candid, and even though she didn’t trash on her mother, I was kind of glad that her mother didn’t ever see this because she has passed on.

The book had an awful lot of name dropping – actors and singers throughout. But hey, that’s who she’s been associating with since she was 17, so what else is she supposed to do? Those people really are her friends and coworkers.

The name dropping that annoyed me, however, was the restaurants and clubs and other odd locations. “We ate dinner at [location] and then went to …” It added nothing to the story, and was an annoying distraction in a lot of cases. I have no idea what all these places are, so there’s no reason to list the name of the restaurant unless it’s to brag that you ate there. And sometimes, it could have been assumed that she ate dinner before she went to such-and-such event because it was an unnecessary detail – she didn’t need to tell us every time she had a meal.

Overall it was a good book – I would rather give it three stars than four, but there’s no half, so I rounded up.

Eagle or bust

You know how sometimes a person decides to do a crazy big project that’s completely out of their element, and blog as they go, and then publish their adventure in a book? I found my crazy, big, long-term project to write into a book:

I’m going to earn my Eagle.

Yeah, the Boy Scouts Eagle.

Scouts was created for teenage boys, which I most definitely am not. Let’s just be blunt. I’m a 50-year-old woman who is 50 pounds overweight and a total wimp. Not exactly Scout material here.

But I’m going to do it anyway, because I wanted to be a Scout the entire time I was growing up.

When I was a kid – third grade maybe? – I was briefly a “Campfire girl.” I vaguely remember that my adventure lasted only a few months and I have no idea why I stopped going. (Did my parents pull me out? Did the troop disband? I don’t know.) My brothers, on the other hand, were in Cub Scouts with all the meetings and accoutrements and camps that came along with it. Our mom was the den leader for awhile, so the meetings were even at my house. I can still, forty years later, rattle off the Cub Scout oath from 1982:

On my honor, I will do my best to do my duty to God and my country, to help other people, and obey the Law of the Pack.

For decades, Scouts was the official youth program in the LDS Church for the boys. When my brothers moved up to Boy Scouts, they went to summer camp in the mountains with horses, a shooting range, and even a lake with water skiing. They did all kinds of activities all over the place, and all three of my brothers reached Eagle before they were 16.

The girls, on the other hand, got no such attention at church. There was no activity program at all for girls under age 12. When I moved up into the youth program, the girls did have weekly activities but I don’t remember a single thing about anything we did. Probably crafts or cooking or talked about the scriptures. I do remember that our weeklong summer camp was in tents in the middle of an empty field and we all had to walk out to the road where two little outhouses stood next to some brush for our “facilities.” We did crafts and talked about the scriptures. At camp.

Personal Progress and the Young Women medallion – our goal and achievement programming – was supposed to be the girls’ equivalent of an Eagle but I was never convinced. I did complete it, but by the skin of my teeth because I just didn’t care. It was boring – mostly reading scriptures and writing in a journal, and service. I would rather have been in Scouts having outdoor adventures.

(Sidenote: I was a Personal Progress advisor as an adult, and got a lot more out of the program then. It did turn out to be a good thing, before it was replaced by new programming in January 2020. But as a kid? Nope. In part, because it was so inequitable.)

Fast forward a whole lot of years and I married an Eagle Scout. He was a Scoutmaster for a couple of years (only left it because we moved), and has done all the adult training, including Wood Badge. We are the parents of a bunch of girls, no boys. Sooo … no Scouts.

When our oldest turned 8, (the same age boys were enrolled in Scouts in our church), I made darn sure there was a girls activity program. They had activity nights but no structure beyond some vague guidelines in “Faith in God.” So I created it myself. By sheer force of will, my daughters and their friends did have fun activities and summer day camp and a structure for consistent and frequent awards for reaching goal benchmarks with Faith in God. We played and made and learned.

People asked why I was so adamant about the girls’ program doing a lot “because other girls around the area and around the world don’t have this type of activity.” I responded that I did not care what other girls around the area did or did not do – my concern was what my daughters saw the boys down the hall at church get to do, and the girls were going to get a program as equal as I could make it. My strongest measure of success was when parents told me that their little girls could not wait to be old enough to join my group – they were so excited, because we had so much fun.

Four years ago, at long last, BSA opened enrollment to girls. I was STOKED. My girls could do what I could not! We would have located – or formed – a girls’ troop and registered them immediately, except they didn’t want to do it. Outside with bugs? Ewww! Sigh. Adam and I quietly put all of his Scout gear in the back of a closet and didn’t talk about it.

But we have more kids … Last summer on a road trip, we watched the old Disney movie “Follow Me Boys” and our 4th kid – who was now ten (and had been too young at the initial announcement) – said, “I want to do that. Can I be a Scout?” Why, yes you can! As soon as you turn eleven. “I want to earn every merit badge!”

Well, then …

2022 in review

January: It snowed, and my whole family got Covid. I read a couple of books while I was starting to get better but that’s about it. We didn’t do much. Certainly no editing or writing work.

Adam and I had decided at Thanksgiving to move from Connecticut to the Washington DC area in the summer, so we started searches for jobs and school districts and houses.

February: I helped Richard Ostler get his website correlated better with the Listen, Learn & Love books, and started a new project with McArthur Krishna – indexing and doing a line edit for A Couple’s Guide to a Divine Marriage.

March: I conducted multiple interviews for the LDS Women Project to try to frontload my publishing schedule through the summer, because I suspected I would not be focused on writing or editing while in the middle of moving.

I participated in the first half of a nonfiction writing workshop presented by the LDS Publishing and Media Association. It was twice a week, all online. It was great for my schedule, great that I didn’t have to be IN Utah for it, and I really liked my writing group. I worked on a book idea I have about celebrating Lent.

April: Part two of the workshop, and ultimately, I didn’t get very far with my Lent book. It wasn’t what I wanted to focus on. I kept the draft writing and I plan to pick it back up at some point. But it’s not the right time yet.

I started weekly phone calls with McArthur and Ashli Carnicelli, the three of us a co-credit team on a book about Heavenly Mother. We made a lot of major decisions about the book in April and May – the how and why behind the whole thing affected the target audience, the title, and the structure. And that’s before we get to the actual words on the page. The title we settled on is Cherish: the Joy of the Doctrine of Heavenly Mother.

On a personal note, Adam and I started working on the closing part of our potential move – prepping our house to sell, sorting through everything we owned, and packing.

May: I met McArthur in person! And Liz Ostler! And Bethany Brady Spalding! The LDS Women Project presented an in-person fireside for McArthur and Bethany to talk about Heavenly Mother in New York City. My house was only 90 miles away, so of course I was going. It was Aster’s 16th birthday, so the two of us headed to NYC for the day. The fireside was small but a great conversation. And it was so great to meet all of these women in person who I’ve been working with for the past couple of years within the LDSWP.

I hosted/chauffeured McArthur for two more events. We had a brunch at my house the next day with some women in the Hartford area, including Jennie Loomis who is another Heavenly Mother writer. And we went to Boston for another fireside discussion hosted by Zach Davis, executive director of Faith Matters. It was a busy 48 hours!

Adam received two job offers this month, so that part of the move was finally taken care of. For Memorial Day weekend, our family went to DC for the DC Temple open house, and to drive around and scope out neighborhoods. We didn’t find where we DID want to live, but we definitely found where we did NOT want to live.

June: Writing and editing work did not happen this month. I was painting our entire house. Including the ceilings. We had it ready to go on the market on June 28 as planned, but the new job paperwork was lost in transit somewhere.

July: So we were in a holding pattern and our family had to take a break. Vacation 1 was to Western New York: Niagara Falls, Watkins Glen, some other state parks with waterfalls, and the Women’s Rights national memorial in Seneca Falls.

Vacation 2 two weeks later was the Palmer family reunion in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, where we stopped playing board games only long enough to hike through the Luray Caverns.

I squeezed in an interview for the LDSWP between all of the drama, and occasionally checked in with the Cherish manuscript.

August: The move was excruciating. Adam had said that he felt we needed to be ready to turn on a dime – things were going to happen fast. We didn’t think it would be more than two months of waiting and then the entire move would happen in less than two weeks. But that’s precisely what happened. That is a whole other story.

September: In our new house in Virginia, I have an actual office! I’m not sitting in the corner of the living room!

Back to work on Cherish to get it finalized for the publisher submission. It is such a fantastic book and I’m so excited for it to be released to the world in April 2023. That was the priority for about eight weeks.

Marci McPhee, my Listen, Learn & Love co-editor, was in the DC area to visit one of her sons, and we got together for a lunch date. It is wonderful to be able to work with people online and get to know them through the magic of technology, but even better when you meet them in person. She’s much taller than I thought – she towers over me. I didn’t think I was THAT short.

October: Cherish went to the publisher on the 15th. I worked to get the LDSWP interviews geared back up because they’d been quiet since July.

November: I did a full manuscript review for a memoir of a transgender woman, who is planning to self-publish it. I continue to be astounded, in a bad way, at the emotional abuse people in my religion inflict upon LGBTQ people – it is the exact opposite of faith and love.

December: It’s like brackets! We got sick from Covid about 10 days into the year, and sick from Covid about 10 days to the end of the year. It was not how I had planned to spend Christmas, but here we are.

Listen, Learn & Love book 3 is now in the works, and I got the first chapter to work on the week after Christmas. Richard has already been working on it for awhile, and now it’s my turn with Marci.

Plans for 2023: 1 – I want to FINALLY hit the target of publishing every month for the LDS Women Project.

2 – the Cherish launch is going to be AMAZING. McArthur, Ashli and I will all be meeting in Utah for a couple of events in May. It will be the first time all three of us meet!

3 – I have a couple of other ideas for books that I’m tossing around in the back of my mind. We’ll see when they come to the forefront.

7 random things I’ve done

I have a lot of new followers on the Instagram account, so I wrote an introduction post with 7 random things I’ve done:

1 – Adam and I were balloon wranglers in the National Independence Day parade in Washington DC. We were on a team of five that steered an Uncle Sam hat down Constitution Ave.

2 – The first time I ever went to a symphony concert, it was in the auditorium of the Sydney Opera House in Australia.

3 – I have driven coast to coast across the US twice, Oregon to Washington DC both times.

4 – I was an extra for the movie “Sister Act 2,” in the competition auditorium scene at the end. No, you don’t see me on film. Yes, I saw Whoopie Goldberg and Lauryn Hill and the rest perform “Oh Happy Day” live.

5 – When I had two toddlers, I read 1000 different picture books to them. When I had three more toddlers, I read another 1000 different picture books to them. No repeats allowed.

6 – I showed up once to a wedding reception in jeans and a t-shirt because I was just dropping off a gift, but the groom greeted me in a bit of a panic. No one knew how to cut a large round wedding cake to plate for the guests … except me. (Rule 1: No triangle wedges like a pie.) I managed their cake table for over an hour. In jeans and a t-shirt.

7 – Adam and I went to DisneyWorld for our 1st anniversary and wore the bride/groom mouse ears. When we walked in the gate to the Magic Kingdom, we were asked to be the Grand Marshals of that day’s parade (we had to promise to wear the ears). We rode at the front of the parade in a car that had been owned and driven by Walt Disney.

reading list: birds, but not birds

I decided a long time ago to homeschool myself further into the writing and publishing world. Class is in session.

Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life
by Anne Lamott

The fun part is that this book starts off with “When I teach a writing class,” and she refers to her students throughout the whole thing. So this book kind of IS taking a writing class!

SECTION 1: Writing

  • Good writing is about telling the truth.” Even if you want to write fiction, you can find the fiction in your own memories and experiences.
  • Short assignments in a “one-inch picture frame.” When feeling overwhelmed, focus on one memory, one description, one page, one tiny detail.
  • First drafts are supposed to be bad. Brain dumping, rambling, all emotion.
  • Overcome perfectionism.
  • Write your stream of conscious about what you remember of something – a one-inch picture frame about lunch in elementary school was her specific example – and see what you can extract from it for a fiction story. You will be surprised.
  • Polaroid development of a story: first of all, what’s a Polaroid? There used to be a type of camera, well before digital, that eased the actual piece of film out of a slot in the camera as soon as you took a picture. It was watery and murky, and gradually settled into focus over a few minutes. Do that with writing – keep going through the watery, murky phase as things gradually come into focus.
  • Characters: start with the people – who are they, what are they doing, and why?
  • Plot grows out of character.” Let the people do their thing, rather than trying to box them into a predetermined plot.
  • Dialogue: this should also be character driven. Read it aloud for flow and to make sure it makes sense for the character.
  • Settings: do your research, get it right. Don’t write about gardening unless you know about gardening, or ask a lot of questions of someone who does.
  • False starts are common. Start over, keep going.

SECTION 2: The writing frame of mind

  • Make observations. Pay attention to the real world, be a noticer.
  • Care, and write about the things you care about.
  • Use your intuition. When you don’t know what to do, get quiet and listen to your intuition.
  • Figure out how to work around your inner mean dialogue. There will be a voice in the back of your head telling you that you’re a failure. Learn tactics to get around it or to silence it.

SECTION 3: Help along the way

  • Take notes. Carry around something to write on and with, and write ideas down as soon as you think of them. This book was published in 1994, well before smartphones made this considerably easier. But the principle is still the same – type into a Notes app, a voice recorder to talk to yourself, take a photo, whatever … just make some kind of note so you don’t forget the idea.
  • Call people who know. We have Google now, didn’t when the book was published. But again – I think the advice still holds. Calling someone to discuss something you could find out on the internet is about the interaction as much as about the information.
  • Writing groups and writing conferences. In the past two years, we’ve obviously had a substantial increase in online conferences and groups, which is GREAT because it means that networking is even more accessible!
  • Get beta readers you trust. Again, “beta reader” wasn’t even a term when this book was written, but that’s what she recommends – a couple of people who you trust to give you an honest assessment of the status of your work.
  • Write a letter to one of your kids or a friend – an honest to goodness old fashioned letter – and tell them something that you remember.
  • To break writer’s block: write 300 words (or some kind of baseline), then go take a walk.

SECTION 4: Reasons to write

  • Write for an audience of one or two, to give it as a gift. Sure, it can still be published for widespread readers, but write for the one.
  • Write your truth in your own voice.
  • Be a giver, and give your best every day. If you hold back, it won’t work as well.
  • Publication: “If what you have in mind is fame and fortune, publication is going to drive you crazy. If you are lucky, you will get a few reviews, some good, some bad, some indifferent.” (p. 214) There is a sense of accomplishment and joy, “but you pay through the nose for this.” (p. 216)

SECTION 5: The last class

“So why does our writing matter, again?” they ask. Because of the spirit, I say. Because of the heart. Writing and reading decrease our sense of isolation. They deepen and widen and expand our sense of life: they feed the soul. When writers make us shake our heads with the exactness of their prose and their truths, and even make us laugh about ourselves or life, our buoyancy is restored. We are given a shot at dancing with, or at least clapping along with, the absurdity of life, instead of being squashed by it over and over again. It’s like singing on a boat during a terrible storm at sea. You can’t stop the raging storm, but singing can change the hearts and spirits of the people who are together on that ship. (p. 237)

WYS: nature

WRITE YOUR STORY prompt: what is your favorite thing in nature?
My answer: Waterfalls. I love the noise of the rushing water, the mist coming off the cascade, how the light sparkles and makes rainbows. There’s even a smell to them, with wet plants and rocks. The full sensory experience of sitting at the base of a waterfall seems to be a mental massage, washing away stress and angst, taking it away downstream. And I feel refreshed.
It’s even better when you can swim under the waterfall, but the waterfalls I like to sit by are much too dangerous for that.
We hiked to Sabbaday Falls in New Hampshire last week, along the Kancamagus Highway through the White Mountains. A friend told me a fun family history story of her own about that fall: her dad baptized someone in the creek at the falls in the 1970s.

WYS: camp

WRITE YOUR STORY prompt: were you a kid camper? Are you a kid camp leader now?
My answer: When I was a kid, church day camp was for boys, not girls. I never got to go but had to hear my brothers talk about all of their adventures. I was never okay with that.
I still remember the year my mom went as a leader with my brothers, so my sisters and I had to go to someone’s house for childcare that was literally a construction zone. I read the entire book – really, the WHOLE thing – of “Little Women” by Louisa May Alcott that week, and my favorite book from Alcott has always been “Little Men” because the boys in the story had way more adventures than the girls, like my brothers had more than me.
By the time my oldest child was 8 and in the usual age bracket for day camp in our church (ages 8-11), I had five daughters and zero sons. There was still day camp for boys and nothing for girls, and I still wasn’t okay with that. So I started it myself.
It took a couple of years to jump through the hoops but when my oldest was 10 in 2016, we had a three-day day camp for girls in my church region. We went hiking and swimming, did crafts and engineering games, and had an entire day devoted to the upcoming open house of the Hartford Temple (Oct 2016).
Church day camp for GIRLS is now part of our summer every year. My two oldest have aged up to the youth program, and this year, all three of the younger girls attended – this was the “baby’s” first year.
Day camp planning and leadership has been passed to other people but I’m still here as a parent guide. I’m grateful that that girls day camp has taken off and is now expected here. ❤️❤️🏕️

WYS: beach

WRITE YOUR STORY prompt: what are your beach memories?
My answer: I have always lived within 100 miles of the ocean on both the west and east coasts of the US so I could write for a long time about beach memories. Growing up, my honeymoon, and with my kids.
The two beaches that stand out especially are when I traveled – the white sand of the South Pacific 🤍 at Sydney Harbour in Australia, and the red sand ❤️ of Prince Edward Island.
My family spent time this summer at the Maritime Aquarium in Norwalk, Meigs Point beach, and the Mystic Seaport. We were hoping for a visit to the beluga whales at the Mystic Aquarium, but wow, that was crowded this year! We’ll catch up with them another time!