Tag Archives: white mormon kid

in which I bid farewell to the Friend

Before we begin, don’t forget to read the Four Book Friday Wrap Up and enter my very first GIVEAWAY where you could win one of the Four Book Friday books and a $10 gift card! Click here to enter. 

As of last Tuesday, I am back in BOSTON!

It’s taken me a while to get this news on the blog because I have been occupied by the actual act of moving to Boston and getting things in order here. But I’m officially back on the east coast and excited to be here.

But before we talk about the return to Boston, we have to talk about what happened before the move back to Boston.

So you may remember about five months ago, I posted my “big news” about getting an internship with The Friend Mormon children’s magazine. And if you’ve been hanging around the blog at all this summer, I’ve told a few stories about working there. A few, but not too many. When I was first offered the internship, I was pretty excited, mainly because it meant I could save money while living at home and not have to cook for myself all summer, and I wouldn’t have to battle the humidity in Boston. That’s it. Sure, it would be cool working on a magazine, but I’m not a super churchy person, so I wasn’t excited about that. Honestly, I didn’t think working for the Friend would be particularly different than my other internships I had—a few months of some interesting work that doesn’t leave much of an impression. I especially didn’t think it would be life changing.

Surprise—it was.

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Part 1 of the amazing parting gift the staff made me–a fake copy of the magazine with my picture on the cover!

Working for the Friend ended up being the most all-around amazing thing I’ve ever done. I got to do real work—not just usual intern work that could be screwed up with minimal consequences. Every day I got to throw myself into projects that directly contributed to the on-time publication of a magazine with over one million readers worldwide1. And I got to work on them with the most talented group of people I have ever worked with. I was in daily awe of these people, and equally amazed by their intelligence and their dedication to quality children’s literature.

I did not have a bad day at the Friend. I hardly had a bad moment. I had four months of hard work and happiness that I would never have guessed were coming my way on that rainy night five months ago when I got a phone call from Salt Lake City.

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Part 2 of amazing parting gift–the back cover!

I’ve been staring at this open Word document for like ten minutes because it really is just impossible to put into words my experience at the Friend. All you have to know is that when it was all finished, I went home and just cried for a while. I’m crying a little bit now as I write this because a part of my heart is still back in the corner cubicle on the 24th floor. The Friend gave me so many things, some of which are too personal to write about here, but mostly confidence in myself and my work, validation that I am in the correct field, and an arsenal of people on my side to which I wish I could offer some eloquent gratitude, but the only thing I can think to say is “I’ll eat you up I love you so.” And I think they’ll recognize what that means coming from me.

Thank you to the Friend and its marvelous staff for an outstanding summer, for letting me work on things I was passionate about and allowing me to bask in your brilliance. Here’s hoping some of it rubbed off on me.

 

  1. I also got to spend a fair amount of time on Pinterest and read a lot of picture books. Seriously, dream job.
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in which I solve a Maurice Sendak mystery

When I was a kid, I wanted to be a detective.

I think every kid goes through this phase at one point, and I remember mine very distinctly. I read detective books. Played detective games1. Had a detective club2.

But I was never good at solving mysteries. Not even the really obvious ones that all my friends claimed they had figured out from page five. I combated this by mostly reading mystery books that were billed as unsolvable, like Westing Game and And Then There Were None, so I didn’t feel so stupid when I couldn’t figure them out.

I’ve always loved mysteries, but real life mysteries are not like books. The clues never appear as conveniently or fit together as neatly as they do in books. And mysteries, contrary to what Nancy Drew led me to believe, do not happen every day.

But this week, I got to solve a real-life mystery. And not just any mystery—a kid lit mystery!

The story of my kid lit mystery begins yesterday morning. I was very grumpy yesterday morning. The hard drive on my work computer died, and thus I couldn’t do any work for a while. The only non-computer assignment I had was one my editor had given me a few days ago: a man had called and asked us to find a song he thinks was maybe in the Friend sometime between now and forty-five years ago, and he didn’t know the title, just the first line3. Seriously. So my job was to go through old copies of the Friend from the sixties and find the song.

I was not looking forward to this job, so I grumpily pulled up a stool in our archives and started grumpily going through copy after copy after copy of vintage Friends.

And then I found this:

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The cover of the November 1969 issue.

And I immediately thought to myself, “That looks a lot like Maurice Sendak art.” And I opened the cover and found this. Image

And then I freaked out. Maurice Sendak, my favorite artists ever, one of my favorite kid lit writers, had done a cover for our little LDS children’s magazine! I immediately ran to tell my editor, who shares my passion for children’s books. We had a moment of surprise and celebration, and then she said, “What else do you know about it?”

Nothing, I said. I didn’t know anything. I didn’t know if the painting was commissioned by the Friend. I didn’t know where it was now. I didn’t know how a Caldecott-winning artist and outspoken atheist had come to do art for a Mormon magazine.

So I decided to solve the mystery of the lost Maurice Sendak painting4.

I started with the Google, and found exactly one other place that the painting appeared: there was a grainy iPhone photo of it accompanying a Sendak obituary. I tweeted the author of the article about it, and he directed me to the Rosenbach Museum, where all Sendak’s art and papers were collected after his death.

The curator at the Rosenbach was very helpful, and emailed me back in minutes. He said:

“I know only a little about that piece, but basically I think you’re correct that Children’s Friend (as it was called at the time) commissioned the art from Sendak.  His usual process was to do an unknown number of doodles or sketches, then compose them in pencil on tracing paper, usually using a light table.  I believe we have this preliminary drawing at the museum.  The “final” artwork…is privately owned in the hands of Sendak collector Justin Schiller.”

To Justin Schiller’s website!

He replied this morning:

“I purchased the original watercolor for “The Children’s Friend” magazine (as it was then called) directly from the artist in early 1970.  All I can recall was that Maurice told me at the time he had a friend associated with the magazine who asked him to illustrate a cover design.  I do not recall the name of the friend ever being mentioned.”

Dead end, it would seem! But I had to know who on staff of the Friend had known Maurice Sendak! What ties did he have to my weird little Church. So I took a different approach.

One of the many strange things about the LDS Church is that they really keep tabs on their members. Not like CCTV or hidden camera tabs or anything creepy like that, but they know where you are and what you are doing and how to contact you at all times through pretty comprehensive membership records5. The benefit of this is that I was able to take the staff names from the table of contents in the November 1969 Friend and send them to our secretary, who was able to get me their records. Turns out they were almost all dead. But I had their posterity’s phone numbers and addresses. So I swallowed my crippling fear of talking on the phone to strangers6 and began to call.

I called probably ten people. No one knew anything about their parent’s work with the Friend, and less about a connection with Sendak. I was starting to despair. Perhaps I just would never know the origin story.

Then I got a phone call on my lunch break today from a man in Virginia. “You left a message for me,” he said. “About the Friend.”

I told him my problem. “I’m trying to find out who on the Friend staff would have known Maurice Sendak,” I explained. “Do you have any idea?”

And he said simply, “It was my mom.”

So here is the story. It’s maybe not novel worthy, or really that dramatic at all, but I solved it. I followed the trail of clues and I found my answers7.

In the 1960s, Gladys Daines was the managing editor of the Children’s Friend. In 1962, she had bought herself a copy of Where the Wild Things Are and fallen in love with its boxy, whimsical art. So, bold as brass, she called up Maurice Sendak and asked to visit him. She flew to his house in New York and they had a good chat and hit it off. She then asked if he’d be willing to do some art for the Children’s Friend. Apparently, he was more than happy to do it. They collaborated on the initial ideas, he sent her sketches, she approved them, and then in November 1969, the cover was published. Though at the time the Friend kept most of the art they commissioned, Sendak kept his painting because he was such a prominent illustrator. He sold it a few years later to collector Justin Schiller, who owns it today. The sketches Sendak sent to Gladys are in the Rosenbach.

And this is now featured prominently on my desk.

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My first real mystery—solved. Ten year old me would be so proud, and current me is ecstatic.

  1. Which did not work, because I was both creator of the mystery and solver of it.
  2. Which did not work because there were no mysteries in my neighborhood, though books led me to believe that if I had the intention of being a detective, mysterious things would start happening. Children’s lit lied to me.
  3. This is not the mystery I solved. Just FYI.
  4. Not technically lost. I sort of hoped it would be, and I would have to crawl through the bowels of the Church Office Building, fight some corrupt art dealer, and then eventually would have a write up in the paper after the painting was recovered with my photo under the word “CHILDREN’S LIT HERO.” None of those things happened.
  5. Don’t think too hard about this or it all starts to feel vaguely 1984.
  6. FOR SENDAK! *raises sword and charges into battle*
  7. You really do get a rush from detecting. This must be how Sherlock Holmes feels all the time!
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in which I start anew

If you are here from The Writer’s Voice, bless you. Also, that entry is one post down! 

In the past week, two big things changed in my life.

First, I returned to Salt Lake. On a plane that took off late, with only my Dixie cup filled with Diet Coke to soothe my aching hunger resulting from eating nothing but twelve Red Vines for both lunch and dinner. If you couldn’t tell, it was a very long flight. But I survived. I am back in the great valley of the Salt Lake. Don’t get confused, even though the blog is still called looking for Boston. I’m in Salt Lake. As in Utah. Looking for Salt Lake just doesn’t have the same ring to it, frankly. On that note, if you are also in Utah and want to party, hit me up1. I’m here until September.

Second, and the reason that I came to Salt Lake to begin with, is that I started my new job, which is writing for the LDS Church’s children’s magazine, The Friend. So far, it is awesome. The whole deal is much less churchy than I anticipated, which is actually a relief. Though we are writing about Jesus, the place still feels like a normal office. Albeit a very conservatively dressed2 office where the men all open doors for you3 and everyone is alarmingly polite and there are a lot of people in little black nametags.

But the new job seems like it’s going to be a hit. I have been treated as a bit of an exotic flower since I arrived. I am a source of fascination to both the staff and the other interns, as I am neither from BYU nor an undergrad. I am apparently interesting both because I have worked out in the big, wide world in a variety of exciting settings,and because I am not coming to work directly from Provo5.  Our managing editor is also thrilled to have an intern that is actually making the focus of her academic study writing for children6. She even wants me to give weekly presentations to the staff on things I have learned from my program. No pressure.

Overall, it’s been a full week for me with a lot of big changes. Good changes, though. I also don’t anticipate blogging as much this summer, since—spoiler alert—having a full time job sort of eats up your social calendar. But I will be here. And I will be sharing with you all the many splendors of a life inside the LDS Church7.

On a semi-related note, my blogiversary is coming up – Looking for Chicago/Boston is turning the big 1! How would you all feel if I did a giveaway to go with it? Would you enter? What would be an awesome but also shippable prize? Leave ideas in comments!

  1. And there ain’t no party like a Van Engelenhoven party cause a Van Engelenhoven party includes cookies the size of your face and everyone arrives early and then has high social anxiety the whole time.
  2. I have worn skirts to my knees and sleeves every day and I still feel myself to be the most scantily clad person there.
  3. They also always let women walk into an elevator first. I’m sure this is a courtesy thing, but it could be nefarious. Send the women in first to make sure there’s no crouching lion hidden in the blind spot.
  4. They all knew what “Wait Wait…Don’t Tell Me” was and were jealous of Carl Kassel on my answering machine! Phew.
  5. Do not pass Go. Do not collect $200.
  6. When I first arrived, we had a very happy conversation about Extra Yarn and Marla Frazee, and I knew I was in the right place.
  7. Unrelated—by far the greatest part of my job so far is that my cubicle has been decorated with art children have sent in that has been rejected for various reasons, mostly because of their more creative tie in to the Church. They are all hilarious and awesome and delightful, and I wish I could post them here, but I think that’s a breach of confidentiality. Ah well. You will just have to imagine how hilarious they are. Or come visit me at work.
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in which I see Book of Mormon: The Musical

Last night, I won the lottery.

The theater lottery, which might actually be better than the real lottery. I was one of 25 lucky people who had their name picked out of a recyclable bag and got a $25 ticket to see the touring production of Book of Mormon: the musical at the Boston Opera House, making me the first person in history to see this show for less than ten million dollars.

I asked the box office if I got a discount for being an actual, real-life Mormon. They said no.

There’s a high chance that I was the only actual, real-life Mormon in the crowd, mostly because this show, written by the guys who write South Park, has a reputation for being irreverent and offensive. Maybe not the most orthodox choice for someone who is about to be the central focal point of all jokes to attend.

But I really, really enjoyed it.

And here’s why.

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First of all, I think it’s important not to take yourself too seriously in anything, and religion is no exception. It’s important to be able to laugh at yourself, and that’s exactly what the show gave me the opportunity to do. It also helped that I knew what I was getting myself in to. I was prepared for offensive content and excessive language. Were there some parts that still made me squirm? Absolutely. But not because they were slandering my faith.

While the show is wildly offensive, it isn’t mean. I never felt like the show was attacking my beliefs1 or saying “Look at how stupid these Mormons are!” Instead, the show is universally offensive to everyone—organized religion in general, rich, poor, minorities, men, women, children, whites, blacks, Americans, Africans, Asians. Really, nobody gets out of this one without a few blows landing. It is a satire, and satire by nature is biting. But I never felt like it was mean2. And it was never technically wrong about any doctrine3. There were actually jokes I felt like I got that no one else did because I was a Mormon, and I certainly related in a way I’m sure most people didn’t.

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Here’s why I loved the show: it weirdly had a great message. The whole show culminates in the idea that if you find something you believe in, whether that’s “right” or “wrong,” if it makes you happy and makes you a better person, who cares? Believe in things that make your life better. For me, the LDS Church has always been one of those things, and for the characters in the show, it’s the same.

So we think the Garden of Eden was in Jackson County, Missouri. Okay. Moving on.

Being part of this Church inspires me to be a better, more compassionate person, and gives me direction. And that’s what matters.

I think the LDS Church also deserves points for how well they’ve reacted to all this. When the show was first announced, there was a lot of whispering and wondering if the Church was going to react the same way the Catholics did to Da Vinci Code. Instead, the entirety of the Church’s response was, “Meh. Okay.” Not only that, but the playbill for last night’s show featured three very prominent ads for the Church, tagged, “You’ve seen the play, now read the book!” and “The book is always better!4” It takes a lot of confidence to react that well, and I think the Church’s response should guide it’s people’s response. This show is not intended to undermine us, or to make Mormons look like fools. It’s a loving satire, and we should make the best of it5.

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In the end, I saw Book of Mormon: the musical. Did I love it? Yes. Did I walk out of it with my faith still intact? Yes. Would I recommend every Mormon go see it? Absolutely not. But I don’t think they should waste time being offended by it.

And in the end, being offended is just a waste of time. Save your venom for something that really matters.

  1. They just phrase things in a way that provides for maximum ridiculousness. That being said, my favorite line in the show is still “And I believe that in 1978 God changed his mind about black people!”
  2. I really appreciated that they didn’t take any cheap shots—no mention of polygamy or abstinence or green Jello.
  3. The only line I took issue with was “Those we’re Christian missionaries, we’re Mormons.” Because Mormons are Christians. Duh.
  4. Which I thought was hilarious and brilliant. Also, if you’d like a copy of said better book, please send me an email!
  5. If I had thought of this ahead of time, I would have worn a sign that said, “I’m a real Mormon—ask my anything!” Missed opportunity. But the offer still stands.
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in which I announce my big news!

I don’t have many skills, but one of them is avoiding the thing I am supposed to be doing.

Which is right now I’m watching the 25th Anniversary Concert Edition of Les Miserables, which is conveniently on PBS, and which is the best1 of all the Les Mises2. Also, I’m blogging. Which, in reality, is just a massive avoidance of doing what I should be doing.

…Sorry, I was captivated there for a moment watching Ramin Karimloo burst onto the stage for One Day More and I totally lost my train of thought.

What was I going to talk about? Oh yes, I remember now. The big news of last week.

It should be noted that my life is fairly uneventful and mostly boring, so the scale of “big things” is really distorted. They add a new hot beverage at the Simmons Café and that’s big news. So keep that in mind that big news in my world probably isn’t really that earth shattering to anyone else.

But the big news of last week is that I got a job. A sort of fancy new job for the summer that is well paid, in my field, and, in a surprising twist, near my family. So starting in May, I am going to be working for The Friend magazine, a publication put out by the LDS church3 that is targeted towards 4 to 12 year olds. That means that for four months, May to August, I will be leaving my life here in Boston to return to the great city of Salt Lake, my homeland. Do not worry—I will return to Boston come September to finish out my MFA. But for now—summer job! In my field! At an awesome publication! I really couldn’t be happier about this.

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it’s so cute I just want to squeeze it!

Though my mother pointed out that who I worked for last summer (NPR) and who I will be working for this summer (the Mormon church) really could not be more different.

Examples, you ask? Well, don’t mind if I do4.

NPR: Known for its liberal swing.
LDS Church: Is not.

NPR: More specifically “Wait, Wait…Don’t Tell Me” is all about making fun of people.
LDS Church: All about lifting people up.

NPR: Profanity was casually tossed about.
LDS Church:  I would be casually tossed out if I used any.

NPR: I frequently wore shorts to work.
LDS Church: Requires me to dress like I’m going on a mission. So basically Edwardian standards5.

NPR: I dyed my hair pink and everyone said, “Looks awesome.”
LDS Church: Would be much less okay with that life decision.

So it’s going to be a big change. A big change that I’m really excited for. I’m also excited to get out of Boston. I’m getting a little antsy here. I think the fact that in the past four years, I haven’t lived in any one place longer than eight months has given me an unreasonable standard of what it means to live somewhere. When the scenery doesn’t change in four months, I get bored. Plus Boston and I still aren’t getting on as well as Chicago and I did, or England and I did, and I could use a break from Beantown.

So I am returning, Salt Lake. Prepare thyself.

  1. With the exception of the dead fish that is Joe Jonas. Nick Jonas? Which one is it? The Jonas brothers are all interchangeable in my opinion.
  2. What is the plural of Les Mis? Slash has anyone ever asked this question before?
  3. To which I belong, if you’re new here.
  4. I knew all my compare and contrast essays I wrote in high school would someday come in handy!
  5. Though if Downton Abbey has taught us anything, it is that Edwardian fashion can be HOT.
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in which I compare myself to a centaur

If I had a nickel for every time I was told that being a student was the best time of your life, I would have enough nickels to have paid in full for those very expensive best years1.

And yes, I am the first to admit, being a student is great. Being a grad student is better. You immerse yourself in something you are passionate about, study it, improve yourself and expand your knowledge about it. You surround yourself with people who push you, and compete with you, and make you better.

But at my age, being a student also presents some difficulties. Namely, limbo.

Now what I mean by limbo is that, as a student, I exist in a state where I occupy two spheres. A piece of me still lives in childhood, in the way of life I have always known, namely relative comfort and financial stability where I could afford to spend my limited funds exclusively on social engagements. But another piece of me has slipped out of that world, and trespassed across the borderlands into adulthood, where suddenly nobody is giving me food or a place to live.

And really, it’s not that one is better than another, or even that one is easier2.

What bothers me is where I am right now – stuck in a weird half-way point that is simultaneously neither of them, and also both.

Some examples:

  • I’m tired of calling my parents to ask their permission before commit to an apartment, but I’m glad they’re there to go over things when the landlord emails me the lease.
  • I’m tired of my parents going over my debit card statements, but when they offer to give me some financial support, I don’t say no.
  • I’m tired of tired of working jobs that aren’t my profession, but I don’t feel ready to commit to a real, full-time job yet.
  • I’m tired of sitting in classrooms learning about the work I’m someday going to be doing, but I’m terrified of the day when I’m actually doing that work with the possibility of real failure at it.

So as you can see, limbo is a state of perpetual dissatisfaction.

Right now, I have virtually no money, yet I am participating in a lifestyle3 that requires spending a great deal of it. That lifestyle dictates I live in an expensive city, and that I pay a lot for my education with money I do not have. I have a good job, but at 20 hours a week, I’m not exactly rolling in the dough. You see? My life is one giant contradiction.

Sometimes, I feel like I am shouldering the burdens of both an adult and adolescence. My weight feels twice as heavy because not only do I have to do things like pay bills and file my taxes, I have to learn how to pay bills and file my taxes, all the while trying to swallow the feeling that I am too young to be worrying about paying bills and filing my taxes. It’s not just the weight of a new responsibility, but it is the pressure of having to learn and have it perfect without practice.

Which makes me wonder – all those days in public high school, when I spent hours of district-required credits getting dodge balls thrown at my face or learning how to balance a chemical equation, where was the class where they teach you how to not freak out the first time somebody hands you a lease? Where was the class about learning to grocery shop in a way that didn’t end in overpaying for milk and then throwing it out a week later because you can’t drink it that fast? Or what to do when you’re living with crazy people who eat your ginger snaps, or what to do when the money runs out, or how to keep yourself on task at work when no one’s looking over your shoulder. Why the hell was I wasting space in my brain on syntax and differential equations4 when there were so many scarier things I needed to be learning about?

This is not meant to be a poor little rich girl post5. I appreciate my middle class upbringing, and the support my parents are giving me to help me get where I want to be. All I’m saying is that there are some days – many of them – when I resent the duality of my current state in life. I do not want to be half child, half adult – I don’t care which I am, I just want to be something, and know what I am. It’s like being a centaur – half of two things, but neither of them. And nobody likes a centaur6. I do not want to be half student, half professional. Half reliant, half self-sufficient. I want to stop walking the line between dependence and independence and stop feeling like a fraud in both worlds.

I am tired of being aspiring. I want to be.

  1. I’m not sure how the government feels about paying off student loans in nickels. Hold on, let me get back to you on that.
  2. It always bothered me as a kid when adults said kids have it easy, because really they don’t. Maybe they don’t worry about mortgages and debt, but they have other problems that in their world are just as earth shattering. As a writer of children’s lit, it should be no surprise that I subscribe to this category of thought.
  3. By which I mean grad school.
  4. That’s a thing, right?
  5. Only two of those words describe me, and they are not ‘little’ or ‘rich.’
  6. Speaking of things that are half animal half human, once at NPR during a table read for Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me, the staff indulged in probably a good hour of discussion about the reverse mermaid, which they named the fishtop. They were all hysterical by the end of this. And I just remember sitting at the end of the table, thinking, “These people are the finest of American media.”
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