Coping through Imaginary Friends

(warning, this post contains Inside Out spoilers)Bing Bong

I cried while watching the new Pixar film, Inside Out. It’s a tearjerker, full of childhood nostalgia and coming-of-age emotions. But there’s one part that I didn’t cry at and I’ve discovered from reading others’ reactions is that I must have a cold, hard heart.

I didn’t cry about Bing Bong. Bing Bong’s demise didn’t tug at my heartstrings. I mean, I know what it’s like to have imaginary friends. But the thing is, they haven’t disappeared into a “Memory Dump.” I still interact with them, probably every 1-2 days.

Now, they aren’t what you’d think of as a stereotypical “imaginary friend.” In fact, I didn’t really think of them as “imaginary friends” until after I was trying to figure out why I didn’t like Bing Bong in the movie. He’s not representative of the sample of the characters I talk to in my head. He’s a caricature of what adults thinks children’s imaginary friends look like, not what they really are.

So how does an adult end up with “imaginary friends?” Mine started in books I read in my early teen years. As a form of escapism, I would try to imagine myself in the books I read, interacting with the characters, having conversations. The ones I enjoyed most turned got turned into various story lines and I’d “act” them out or speak the conversations in my head while walking home from school or driving to work. My favorites suck with me and now I have a few regular characters in a story that I play in my head when I want to: while commuting to/from work, while doing dishes, while falling asleep at night.

I kind of imagine this is how people write fanfic, though these little story lines in my head aren’t anything that would be publishable. Mostly they are self-indulgent and escapist. As a teen, whenever something big happened that I couldn’t handle such as 9-11 or major family emergencies, the story lines and characters would change. They change less often now, but if there is something coming up in my life that I anticipate be stressful, I’ll imagine the characters showing up dramatically in the middle of that future event and asking me to run off with them and saving the world. There are other stories, but that’s the main one.

So it’s absolutely a coping mechanism. Maybe it’s not healthy, but I figure it’s more healthy than other coping mechanisms. And I know they aren’t “real” and they are just characters in my mind. But I like having them around. I can’t imagine not having them around.

It was only recently that I told my husband about my “imaginary friends.” It’s not something you really talk about! When I was in my late teens, I tried asking my mom if she ever “imagined things” and she said no. I felt like an anomaly because even at that age, I couldn’t imagine “growing out” of imagining these characters. And so far, I haven’t.

In an effort to make myself feel more normal, I found this Ted Talk titled “Adults Need More Imaginary Friends.”

And in an effort to make the rest of you adult-imaginary-friend-havers feel more comfortable, I wrote this post.

 

Do you have “imaginary friends?” Do you use escapism to cope with the unmanageable parts of life?

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July 2015 Visiting Teaching: Divine Attributes of Jesus Christ: Forgiving and Merciful

Guest Post by Hope

 

I’ve been exploring the language game surrounding the word “mercy”.

 

Last month a member of my family died after battling a very painful disease. My grandmother called us while he was on his deathbed, and all I can really remember is her saying, repeatedly, that we should all pray for mercy. We should pray that God would have mercy on him, and take him home; he was ready to die. He had had a difficult life, and though he was a good man, he made controversial decisions and some might believe that he did not deserve any such clemency. But she called the next day to tell us that God had indeed extended mercy, and he had passed peacefully with his family. 

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Who are these children?

SaturdaysWarriorORIGINALCOVER“Mom, you have to hear this.” I lean closer to my son’s phone as he turns the volume up on a song. He and I like similar music only his is about forty years more cool. Luckily he shares. “What does that sound like?” It sounds familiar but I can’t place it. He looks at me expectantly. I shake my head. No idea. “The chorus sounds just like ‘Who are these children coming down . . .’ that Saturday’s Warrior song.” It totally does. “Is it a sample?” He often plays music that combines parts of other songs. But no, it is simply one of those cosmic moments when an indie band reaches out into the universe for inspiration and channels Lex de Azevedo.

Flashback to 1974. I was eleven or twelve when my family moved to San Jose, California from the Midwest. We were recent converts, in our first real Ward, and the members lovingly adopted and shepherded us through the newness of being Mormon, Californian and Suburban. As part of this tutelage, we were swept up in a church field trip to see the original traveling production of Saturday’s Warrior. I had never been to a live musical before and the stage and orchestra alone were transporting. Then the play started. In the two years since being baptized, I had listened to every missionary lesson, read every church book I could find and steeped in the grand scope of the Plan of Salvation. Yet, watching it depicted in story and song was like having a vision. A personal glimpse into heaven. Nothing had prepared me for this complete and perfect version of tween theology. My parents bought me the record album and my sisters and I reenacted every scene, sang every song, for hours and days and years. It shaped my view of the world and like many of my peers, I showed up at BYU humming “I take some paper in my hand . . .” and scanning the crowd for my Tod.

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Relief Society Lesson 13: Priceless Blessings of the House of the Lord

I prepared another lesson on temples several years ago which began with a sentiment that I still find relevant today: We talk a lot in the Church about the blessings of the temple and all the peace, beauty, knowledge, truth, etc. that participating in temple ordinances can bring.  Unfortunately, I think we too often fail to dig deeper into the meaning and our experience with the temple because we have set the temple up to be a tricky thing to talk about. This is a difficult lesson to teach precisely because it may be hard to get deep and meaningful discussion about the temple and our relationship to it.  As a teacher, you must be aware of some class member’s discomfort in talking about something they might consider too sacred to talk about.  You also need to be sensitive to the fact that everybody has a very different and deeply personal relationship to the temple.  Many members of your class will see the temple of a place of peace and comfort. But you might also have sisters who have either not gone through the temple or have experienced very real pain and confusion there.  This is not something to be afraid of or run away from, if anything I would highlight the beauty in our individual journey towards the divine.

In preparing this lesson, strive to avoid the usual rhetoric about the temple and instead focus on each sister’s individual experience. Ask questions that will lead to deep and meaningful conversation on this topic. Also, this is a Relief Society lesson, try to highlight Mormon women’s voices, stories and relationships with the temple.

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“Home Church”

I’ve lived rurally before. And I will probably live rurally again. But right now, this rural is different. The last ward I attended, it took an hour and 45 minutes to get to the building. But we still went for a time, as I wrote about in the May visiting teaching post here. Now we are a good two hour drive from the nearest fellow church members’ house, where there is no building, no relief society president, no primary.

 

I have not yet met the fellow members of the branch we are in; the District President (the presiding church officer over the 5 branches in this regional area) is the acting branch president for us because the branch is so small.  I wondered if the powers that be might assign my husband to be branch president, and me as relief society president. I had heard about this practice from fellow church members who had for a time lived in regional areas without chapels, church members or even missionaries. This branch assignment was gratefully not the case for us; I say gratefully, because if we were assigned these positions, we would likely spend a significant amount of time in the car attending regional leadership meetings, and possibly be assigned to “visit” (i.e. “reactivate”) less active (if they are still around) church members who have not been in communication with the church in years or even decades.

 

About once a month or more, we attend a branch that is about a 3 hour drive away. We chose to latch onto this branch mostly because they instantly welcomed us, and asked us to participate. Even though we do not attend activities, we are still alerted to them. In the end, and for the most part, we do “home church.” Or at least that is what we call it.

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Honoring Scriptural Villains

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By Jenny

Sitting around a campfire with other Mormon feminists until the early hours of the morning this last weekend, I realized how deep the conversation gets late at night when the embers glow crimson.  It reminded me of testimony meetings around the campfire at girl’s camp.  Late at night we would share deeply of our stories and listen to each other, crying with love and understanding.  A powerful bond is created through the telling of stories.  I used to feel that bond with the heroes in the scriptures as I read their stories.  But lately, especially as I have thought more about scriptural villains, I have found a lack of depth to the scriptures.  I write my post today in honor of scriptural villains who did not get the chance to tell their own stories.

First up are two of the most familiar villains known to our Mormon family:  Laman and Lemuel.  We know them as the murmuring older brothers to the ever-faithful, ever-perfect Nephi.  They were riotess, godless men who abused their younger brother, gave their parents grey hair, and created an entire civilization of wicked people who fought against the civilization created by Nephi and his righteous brothers.  That is their story…or at least the story we know, written from the perspective of a younger brother.  I wonder what kind of story my brothers would write about me.  What kind of story would my enemies write about me?  Would it align with my own story about myself?  I can answer that with an emphatic “NO!”

Add to the mix the fact that Nephi was painstakingly engraving this story on plates.  If I was going to that much effort to tell my story, with the intent that it would be around for future generations everywhere to read, I would make every effort possible to make myself look good, even if that meant making my enemies look worse than they really were.  In effect, I as an imperfect human would not have the capacity to tell another person’s story accurately.  It would only be my story from my perspective.  So what we have is not so much Laman and Lemuel’s story, but Nephi’s story about them.  And for over a century, we as members of the church have condemned these complex human beings based on a simple story that is missing millions of pieces of information, as well as multiple perspectives.

I spent my life condemning these characters that I barely know.  But now I honor them for their humanness.  I have compassion for them and I know that I can’t judge them based on the little information I have.  They may not have had the faith (nor the arrogance) of the hero Nephi.  But they had the courage to live their own story instead of living within Nephi’s story of them.  They broke away from family and tribe to live authentically according to the dictates of their own consciences.  They had the courage to be the villains in Nephi’s story of them.  I know how hard that is.  I have also had to become okay with being the villain in other people’s stories and not to let that affect my own story about myself.  I know people talk about me.  I know they are still perpetuating a story about me as an apostate who needs to be avoided because my ideas are dangerous.  That is their story and I can’t do anything about it, but live my own story that doesn’t involve apostasy or dangerous ideas.

The other scriptural villain that I love is the lesser-known Noadiah, the false prophetess.  One of the reasons she is my favorite is because this is all we know about her:  “My God, think thou upon Tobiah and Sanballat, according to these their works, and on the prophetess Noadiah, and the rest of the prophets, that would have put me in fear.” Nehemiah 6:14.  After reading that a few years ago, I closed my eyes and wondered, if only one line was written about me and my life, what would it be?  It would depend on who wrote that one line of course.  If it were my current bishop, I imagine that he would write, “Jenny was a strong and faithful member of the Church until she got into things she shouldn’t have online and fell down the slippery slope to apostasy.”  And just like that, in one line, I would go down in history as a villain, an enemy to God.  I crave more information about Noadiah.  Nehemiah wrote his memoir as if he was doing the work of God in rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem.  We don’t know many details about how or why Noadiah tried to thwart him.  We only know that from Nehemiah’s point of view, he was right and she was wrong.  He was with God and she was against God.  And in the span of history, he had the power because he had the pen.  So now people of our generation, taking the Bible to be the word of God, caste Noadiah as a false prophetess.

I wonder if Noadiah was fighting for something that was beyond her lifetime.  Did Nehemiah’s anger come from a power struggle because of his status and authority?  Was Noadiah a threat because she knew she was not inferior to men and she refused to be subjugated by their authority?  Ultimately, I think Nehemiah’s issue with Noadiah could probably be boiled down to the fact that he wasn’t willing to listen to a difference of opinion.  He thought he knew God’s way and that was all he needed.  Anyone who opposed that was an enemy.  Not much has really changed in human nature since then.

I wish I could sit up late, watching the glowing embers of a fire, feeling the night breeze on my face, as Noadiah and I discuss her life and what she fought for.  I want to understand her disagreement with Nehemiah on a deeper level.  I don’t even care if I would disagree with her.  I just want to hear her story of herself.  I want to know what made her a false prophetess.  I want my people to stop seeing the world in black and white.  I want us to stop making flat characters of complex human beings.  I want the Mormon church to be like those late evening testimony meetings at girl’s camp, as we shared our stories and discovered the depths of each other’s souls.  We condemn the villains in our scriptures, we condemn the villains in our present church.  But if we could sit down and talk to all villains past and present, we might discover that the only real villain is our condemnation of people before we truly and deeply know them.

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Compromises, An Update

In my last post when mentioning the state of my church belief and testimony, I wrote:

“My testimony, though strong, is at its basic level–– my recommend expires in seven days and I have no plans to renew it, nor do I plan on paying tithing (wedding season is coming up, however, so I may have to revisit this topic….)”

Well, wedding season has arrived. Two of my very best friends are getting married in August within a week of each other out west. And I’m a bridesmaid for one of them (the other isn’t having bridesmaids, but she mentioned that if she did have them, I would be one of them–– so, honorary bridesmaid?). I already requested time off of work. I’m going. I’m also going to their sealings.

I renewed my temple recommend.

temple

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