Thursday, March 22, 2012

Form and content

When I was a kid, I spent most of my time in the parallel reality of my imagination. Which I could access most powerful by means of either a) the scriptures or b) my bicycle.

The scriptures were amazing to me, better than any other books because they contained world after world after world with no clear dividing lines. During sacrament meetings, I would stare at the maps and move from place to place and era to era in them, or else flip through the verses looking for scraggly-thin, intense, long-bearded prophets like Elijah and Abinadi (who were so caught up in God they didn't seem to experience ordinary fear) and for clever, long-sighted women like Rebekah and Abigail who could feel what was coming and change it with their words.

On my bicycle, I was both free and potent. I'd ride across the school grounds and up a hill and imagine myself somewhere in the middle of Asia where the people looked like me. My bicycle was my steed, then, and I wore a turban and carried a sword and led my troops over plateaus and steppes and then stopped to eat by rivers on fertile farmland.

This is almost, but not quite, a normal way for a Mormon boy in Utah to grow up in the mid-late 1980s and early 1990s when I was there. I mean, I'll bet there were plenty of Mormon boys around me whose imaginations were best unlocked by the scriptures and their bikes, but I'll also bet they were thinking about Nephi instead of Elijah, and about wearing cowboy hats instead of turbans. The difference is pretty subtle, I think, but somehow has meant a lot to me. I'm still, in many senses, an untypically typical Mormon boy.

Which may explain why the current Everyday Mormon Writer combination of Nick Stephen's "The Garden Gate" and Jake Balser's "Beginning Ghazal" means so much to me. There's something that just feels natural to me about seeing two Mormons explore one of the stories we Latter-day Saints value most by borrowing old Iranian motifs and forms. And yet--I don't think I ever would have expected to see it. Never would have expected to see two grown-up Mormon boys, each within a few years of my own age, letting their imaginations mix Sunday School with styles from lands in the middle of Asia.

I know there are plenty of troubles in this world of ours...but it's a fun time to be alive.


  1. I guess I'm the atypical Mormon then. I wasn't as drawn to the scriptures as a child, but to fantasy novels. I still am drawn to those, but the scriptures seem to be gaining a greater foothold in my soul. I'm starting to make connections I never have before, and I'm seeing things in technicolor instead of monochrome. Sometimes, growing up with your love in other places can still bring you back to the scriptures again.

  2. Fantasy novels are also pretty common in LDS childhoods I think. There was one my mom read to us when we were very young and I still remember a few lines verbatim: "Silver hidden in the gold/ young man hidden in the old/ laughing lord with weeping eyes..." and then the verse clue ended. I think the book was called The Great and Terrible Quest.
    I also remember Lloyd Alexander books, which were wonderfully otherwordly, Susan Cooper's Dark is Rising series, Diana Wynne Jones, Terry Brooks' Shanara series toward the end of elementary school...
    I don't remember imagining myself in those fantasy worlds very often though. They were beautiful, and I think they changed the way I see this world in important ways, but I think I imagined myself into the map of Abraham's journeys or the mounted warrior world of my bike more.
    Interesting to think about.
    Ah...nostalgia. :)



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