By Way of Introduction
Last night I pulled a pale pink issue of Dialogue off the “Mormon Women” section of my bookshelf. (Do yourself a favor and buy the Fall 2003 edition; it’s devoted entirely on women’s voices, with articles by Carol Lynn Pearson, Linda Hoffman Kimball, and Claudia Bushman among others.) Since I’ve agreed to participate on this blog, I reread with interest Claudia Bushman’s essay “My Short Happy Life with Exponent II.” As she notes, “Exponent II was born in one of those times when the world turned upside down.” I was born a couple of years later.
The world was not upside down when I discovered this paper. The Berlin Wall had collapsed and the Twin Towers hadn’t. It was about 1990, and I was a teenager bouncing between exuberant devotion and exhausting questioning. I was a BYU brat, and my older siblings were at various stages of extrication from the church for reasons I empathized with even then. However, I loved prayer and believed fiercely that I had a voice and that God listened to my voice – as they listened to billions of individual voices.
Still, I found myself upset . . . a lot – after a seminary teachers’ rant against homosexuals, after a young women activity on housework, after reading a book on the ERA. While I was generally outspoken, I mostly kept quiet about my religious concerns; concerns that revolved around the role(s) of women in the church. At that age, it was too scary to doubt and too painful not to.
And then I discovered my mother’s stash of Exponent II’s. We had a teeming family library – neat rows and sloppy piles. Mixed in with Richard Feynman and Charlotte Bronte were back collections of several LDS-themed periodicals. One summer, I methodically read each copy of Exponent II. In the corner of my bedroom, in the hammock, under the birch tree. This isn’t the “discovery narrative” that Nate Oman has described. I wasn’t looking for confirmation of truth or doubts – I was responding to women’s voices; women who spoke with frankness and faith. As Bushman writes, “Exponent II has taken on hard topics, publishing anguished, angry, and triumphant words. Laurel [Thatcher Ulrich] once said that it was like a long letter from a dear friend.”
As much as it was an enlightening read, it was . . . fun. The essays gave me much more confidence in my ability grow up into the woman — and the Mormon woman — I wanted to be. Fifteen years later, I feel the same way. In Shadowlands, the C.S. Lewis character says, “We read to know we’re not alone.” In essence, that’s why I read. And, because there are other women looking for that same connection, that’s why I blog.
(If any of you Exponent II readers are lurking, feel free to post your own thoughts/memories. For those who have found have recently found us, please visit the paper’s website and read a couple of issues. My fellow bloggers and I hope this web-log offers one more way to fulfill the paper’s mission to “provide a forum for Mormon women to share their life experiences in an atmosphere of trust and acceptance. This exchange allows us to better understand each other and shape the direction of our lives.” )