Why I want my kids to have “dirty” jobs

Currently, my 18-year-old daughter has the crappiest job in town.

She’s helping clean the filters at our town’s sewage treatment plant. She gets outfitted head to toe to plastic slickers, then helps in the once-every-four-years-task of scraping off the “cake” (it’s not really cake) from filters, runs the filters through a washer, and puts them together again. It’s monotonous but easy work, and it’s a good temp job at $12/hour, which is more than any other job in the valley for unskilled labor. And since she’s interested in processes, it’s giving her some insights as to if she wants to pursue engineering in college.

But it’s far from glamorous. In fact, she rushes home from work and takes a hot shower for 20 minutes. One afternoon she said, “I know I asked for spaghetti, but can we have something else for dinner?” I told her I was planning on ravioli, and she said, “Good, because today I learned what a parasite looks like, because I found one: long and red and wriggling, like spaghetti in sauce, come alive.”

I don’t think we’ll be having spaghetti for a very long time.

You may be thinking, “Why do you let her do this job?!”

Because I want all of my kids to have a dirty job at least once in their lives. Mike Rowe has commented extensively and beautifully on the merits of hard, filthy work, and here are my two cents’ worth: my daughter will, in her future, encounter nasty, vile things: family will get sick all over her, disasters will occur in her house or yard, and she will run headlong into manifestations of “Yuck!” that only she can resolve, because she’s the only capable adult around.

Life is revolting and disgusting, and we can’t run away from it. Being a grown-up means handling the hard stuff. And it helps to have some early practice in it.

I won’t detail the horrors I’ve had to mop up, but I knew I could do them because when I was a newlywed, my husband and I worked at a hospital in an east coast city. Back in the 1980s, this facility struggled to follow protocols, and there was contamination everywhere. (It was later temporarily shut down.) I discovered these messes the hard way when we were contracted to take out the trash while the regular trash guy had an extended vacation.

I never before realized how disgusting surgical trash can be. Nor will I ever forget the sound of wet, bloody bags splatting, and breaking, in labor and delivery. I think I wore a permanent wince for those weeks, and also rushed home to take very hot showers, especially when we encountered incorrectly disposed of “sharps.”

But because I endured that bloody crap (literally) I knew I could handle anything else adult life would throw at me.

That’s why I let my two oldest sons work in the oil fields of North Dakota as roustabouts. They’ve been covered in oil, worked in weather -20 degrees below zero spraying salt water to clean rigs, labored in 90-degree weather climbing into slimy pipes, and lived to tell about it.

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My second son learned on his first day at work as a roustabout to NOT take off the protective gear too early. The work’s not done until it’s COMPLETELY done.

In fact, nothing built in them more confidence, which they needed before joining the military or becoming LDS missionaries.

This is crucial confidence, not some fluffy, fake self-esteem too many teenagers and adults are laden with, but well-earned, struggled for, “Look at the work we’ve accomplished!” worthy kind of pride. They’ve learned at an early age that they can do hard things.

Which means they can do just about anything.

Everyone deserves to have those moments, to feel that sense of accomplishment of having done something necessary for society, something not everyone else would readily step up to do. I have to admit I’m proud of my kids not running home after the first difficult day on the job, whining that they never want to go back, although I’m sure they wanted to. Overwhelmed, I’m sure each wanted to quit their jobs, but they stuck with it, until they rose to the challenge.

Gordon B. Hinckley rightly said, “There is nothing in all the world so satisfying as a task well done. There is no reward so pleasing as that which comes with the mastery of a difficult problem.”

My oldest daughter spent a long, hot summer on the Utah-Arizona border digging up Native American artifacts in 110-degree heat, drinking gallon after gallon of water to keep hydrated as she shoveled for hours in the dirt. Weeks later she still found dust in her gear.

Image may contain: one or more people, child and outdoor

(In archaeology, the office is outside.)

My second daughter is in her final year for her bachelor’s of science in nursing, and there’s no dirtier work than nursing. She’s been covered head-to-toe in, well, everything, and when she becomes a labor-and-delivery nurse, it’ll only continue.

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(White scrubs don’t stay white.)

We have four more children who I also hope will have demanding and dirty experiences. We’ll be moving to the coast of Maine this summer, and already my husband is looking for lobstering jobs for our 16-year-old son and investigating what “seaweed harvesting” entails. Then there’s the blueberry harvest.

Hard, dirty work also puts all other kinds of work into perspective. Recently my nursing school daughter commented that her current lab analysis job, which is so monotonous that she can watch Netflix while doing it, is wearing on her because of its dullness. But it pays for college and, she was quick to add, “I remember working at scout camp making three meals a day for 300 scouts in a substandard kitchen with faulty equipment all summer. THAT was much worse and paid far less. No, this is a good job and I’ll continue it until I graduate.”

My oldest son, a former roustabout, works every morning cleaning a fast-food restaurant. It’s easy, comfortable indoor work, he says, compared to cleaning oil rigs outside in the winter.

You just can’t buy that can perspective for your children. They have to earn it on their own, and it’ll be theirs forever.

Nor can they learn respect in any other way for those who do these kinds of hard, dirty work ALL THE TIME. My sewer-working daughter loves to hear the stories of the men who work in the treatment plant, and they’ve shown her their clever solutions to problems when the “expert” engineers said their requests weren’t reasonable. They take great pride in their work, and she’s proud of them. My sons are still in awe of the men they worked with in the oil fields, who are still there, year after year, in all kinds of weather.

We’ve been trying to instill respect for work in our kids. Our youth are growing up in the laziest generation ever, with few jobs for kids under sixteen to do, and not a lot of options available for high schoolers, either, depending on where you live. Even lawn mowing jobs have been taken over in many areas by “lawn care professionals” with trucks and trailers and expensive equipment.

It’s up to parents to point out important work happening all around us and teach kids to appreciate labor and how it benefits us.

Recently our furnace died, and two men came to install a new one. My five-year-old watched in rapt fascination as they maneuvered the old furnace up the stairs, brought down the new one, then cut and pounded and made quite a ruckus to get the new one into position. My son whispered reverently to me, after the noisiest work was over, “That was cool!” I told him I agreed, and that he could train to do that kind of noisy work when he grows up, too. He was delighted.

When the power went out this past winter, it was during the coldest days we’ve experienced in decades. After a few chilly hours, the power was restored and I checked online to see what had happened. In local social media circles, there were predictable complaints from disgruntled customers. I told my thirteen-year-old about that, and before I could comment, he said what I was thinking: “But it’s -15 degrees outside and windy! Those guys must have been freezing trying to fix the frozen lines. I bet none of those complainers had any idea how hard the job was, and they just sat at home wearing extra sweaters.”

I’d never been so proud of my son for appreciating the hard work of others in terrible conditions. I’d be even prouder if one day he did that same kind of work.

Nearly every work is worthy work (drug dealing, prostitution, and like excepted). There is no such thing as a too-lowly job. Every time I had a baby, I made a point of thanking the lady taking out my trash because I remembered doing her job.

Everyone who works deserves respect. I had an older relative who was notoriously rude to service workers of all kinds, until her own niece began working fast food. After watching the frenetic hustle of a lunch rush, my relative realized she could never do such laborious work simply because she didn’t have the stamina, and she began to be more civil to every worker she encountered.

One year, just a couple years ago, I worked as a “washing tech,” meaning that I sorted, washed, dried, and folded laundry for a large facility. Both my husband and I were underemployed at the time and were taking whatever work offered to us. As dirty work goes, it was relatively clean.

A couple of friends commented to me that they were shocked that someone with my degrees and experience was “only” doing laundry. I told them that while it was “only” $9/hour, no other jobs had presented themselves, and we had bills to pay and children to feed. It was good work, my arms became stronger, and I learned that I’m really lazy about getting our clothes clean at home. (I still am, but I’m much better at folding now.) I was grateful for the opportunity, and also glad that my kids could see that work is work, that you take what you can get because any kind of work is more ennobling than sitting around doing nothing and waiting for handouts. 

Hinckley also said, “It is work that spells the difference in the life of a man or woman. It is stretching our minds and utilizing the skills of our hands that lifts us from the stagnation of mediocrity.” (“Articles of Belief,” Bonneville International Corporation Management Seminar, Feb. 10, 1991).

My third daughter with the crappiest job may not wholly believe this yet. When she comes home from the sewer treatment plant each day, I remind her (after her shower) that nothing will be too gross after this experience. She shrugs and says, “I hope not.”

But I already know she’ll be pulling memories from this job for decades to come. That she’ll remember how more than once something brown flicked onto her unprotected face, and that she did not die from it. That she learned what real, solid work looks like, and that after this, everything will be a piece of cake.

(Umm, the real kind of cake, not the “sewer cake.” Maybe.)

He lay in his cot, tired but not as exhausted as the other new recruits. There was something to say for having been raised on an orchard and cattle ranch. He knew how to work and it showed. He completed every physical requirement in near record time while the other flabbier, weaker young men stumbled and flailed.

~Book 6, Flight of the Wounded Falcon, coming later this month!

 

Why I choose to be a Mormon

I haven’t been haven’t been coerced or brainwashed, nor am I stupid and delusional to believe what The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) teaches, despite what commenters on social media and articles about Mormons like to claim.

Instead, I’ve chosen to believe, and here are my six reasons why:

  1. Mormonism makes sense to me.

Straight off, I like what the LDS Church teaches.

Mormonism rings true in my mind and heart, more than any other philosophy, religion, or belief system I’ve researched. And yes—I’ve researched a lot of them, starting when I was a teenager. Even then I agreed with Socrates when he said, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” 

While I was born into a family that was Mormon, I took it upon myself to make sure I wasn’t duped into believing all of this stuff. At the age of 16 I started a serious, focused study of the Bible. I didn’t tell anyone what I was doing, but I read every single word—even the entire Old Testament, and boy was I happy to get to the New Testament—to make sure I knew what was in there.

And I decided that I wanted to believe in it. Belief is a choice, after all. While I think that some of the Bible is figurative, I believe that most of it is literal as far as it’s translated correctly, and I believe in Jesus Christ as my Savior, making me firmly a Christian.

But still I wanted to know what else was out there.

So beginning in high school when I had to read Siddhartha, I’ve researched over the years the main tenants and theories of the major belief systems, from Atheism to Zen Buddhism, and just about everything in between.  In each sect and philosophy I found elements that rang my inner “truth bell.”
(Except for Karl Marx and Christopher Hitchins; they barely clanked my brain.)

But my inner truth bells rang constantly when I read The Book of Mormon and Doctrine and Covenants, and when I studied the ideology of Mormonism. All the truths I found in the other religions and philosophies were represented in the LDS Church along with so, so much more. It’s that depth that won me over, because . . .

  1. Mormonism is the kind of life I want to live.

I’m baffled when others who don’t even know me, or any other Mormons for that fact, take it upon themselves to mock and deride our decision to follow this way of life: to be morally clean, provide charity to our friends and neighbors, pay tithing, actively worship Jesus Christ, observe the Sabbath Day, and make covenants in temples in order to perhaps in some distant epoch of time eventually grow, develop, and mature to become even like God himself.

I would never, ever make fun of the way another person lives their life—it’s their life; why would I be so arrogant as to criticize their decisions?—so I’m not sure why it’s always open season on Mormons.
(By the way, “The Book of Mormon” musical is not written or endorsed by Mormons. Trust me.)

But I’m a Mormon because I want to live a deliberate and purposeful life, and the teachings of the LDS Church provide me with the most logical and inspired guidelines to do so.  

The way I see life is that I have such a short time to be here, and I want to do as much and as best as I can.

I look it at this way: I’ve always wanted to visit London, England. In my mind I’ve fantasized and romanticized about what London would be like and secretly wished I were British. (I’m German, may the Brits forgive me.)

Now, if someone came to me and said, “You will have 24 hours to spend in London next week,” I assure you I wouldn’t just step off the plane in Heathrow, buy a six-pack, and sit on the banks of the Thames watching the boats go up and down for the day.

No, I’d start planning now for the best 24 hours ever. What would be the best and most important places to visit? Once I got there I’d ask the locals, where should I eat? What tourist traps should I avoid? Is Shakespeare playing in the park? Where’s the park? I wouldn’t want to waste any of my time idly.
(As you can imagine, my idea of a vacation isn’t the same as everyone else’s. We once vacationed at the beach, and by lunchtime on the second day I was bored out of my mind. “Isn’t there a museum or national park anywhere?!”)

I see my entire life in the same way. I get the feeling that my soul is very, very old, and that I waited for thousands of years to come to this earth. My existence after this life will also extend for thousands of more years, and beyond.

The line, “We are not human beings having a spiritual experience, but spiritual beings having a human experience,” by the Jesuit priest Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, also rings true to me, as does C. S. Lewis’s statement that “You have never talked to a mere mortal.”

Because this is my ONE shot at life (I couldn’t get behind the idea of reincarnation, unfortunately), and I’m sure I’ve been waiting for this chance for several millennia. I don’t want to waste it.

I’ve also decided (a choice, again) that Jesus Christ was the best example of how to live fully, and no other religion or ideology I’ve explored follows His example closer than the LDS Church.

Follow the teachings of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the way I want to spend my life.

  1. The LDS Church doesn’t require blind obedience.

This is another trite, overused cliché leveled against those who are Mormons: we’re non-thinking and gullible.

One man, trying to point out how stupid I was for following Mormonism, claimed that if the prophet said to jump, I’d ask how high.

I shrugged and said, “I thought that was only true in the armed forces.”

Silly me, I’d forgotten he was career military. What ensued next was a brief but lively conversation about the difference between commanders expecting absolute obedience to commands, versus people obeying prophets of God.

When I pointed out that the LDS Church never requires blind obedience as the armed forced did, the gentleman changed the subject because he really didn’t know that much about Mormons, which is my experience with most detractors.
They know hearsay, and little else. 

The truth is that the LDS Church emphasizes, again and again, the importance of individuals discovering truths for themselves; “gaining a testimony” is how it’s frequently phrased.

Here are some of the most often quoted scriptures in the church:

“But, behold, I say unto you, that you must study it out in your mind; then you must ask me if it be right . . .”

“And when ye shall receive these things, I would exhort you that ye would ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true . . .”

“If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God . . .”

It’s a church that encourages its members, and those investigating it, to ask, ask, ask; to find out, find out, find out for themselves.

No blind faith. Put God to the test. Try it and see.

Back to my military friend; one thing he did admit was that the reason the soldiers obeyed their commanders was because they trusted them implicitly.

I likewise trust the leaders of my church. Their admonitions and suggestions have been correct again and again, and I’ve decided (choice, again) that they are prophets who receive revelation from God.

Here’s one example of thousands I could give. A president and prophet named Gordon B. Hickley said these words in a general conference of the church: Hinckley 2

“I am suggesting that the time has come to get our houses in order.

“So many of our people are living on the very edge of their incomes. In fact, some are living on borrowings.

“We have witnessed in recent weeks wide and fearsome swings in the markets of the world. The economy is a fragile thing. A stumble in the economy in Jakarta or Moscow can immediately affect the entire world. It can eventually reach down to each of us as individuals. There is a portent of stormy weather ahead to which we had better give heed.”

He said this in 1998.
He was right.
It’s been storming for 17 years now, with little relief in sight.

You can see what Mormon leaders have been saying for decades by clicking here and doing a search. Try it for yourself.

So yes, if the prophets of the LDS church says jump, I will, because I already trust their judgment.

And not blindly, but with my eyes and ears wide open.

  1. The LDS Church gives me great comfort.

No other religious organization or philosophical ideal I’ve encountered can provide the depth and breadth of explanations about life and death than the LDS Church. They literally have the meaning of life.

This understanding—that life is a brief but a very important point in our eternal existence—helps me understand why I’m here, what I’m supposed to be doing, and where I want to go afterwards.

This life is a test—a critical, calculated examination—of the nature of our hearts. What do we really, really want? Placed in this mortal state, with problems and struggles, we can truly see what we’re made out of based on how we treat our brothers and sisters.

We’re here to be tried, not to be partying. 

Years ago I worked with a woman who asked me, with the obligatory sneer, why I wanted to be a “good girl” to go to heaven where it undoubtedly would be boring because all anyone ever does is sit around strumming harps and singing. She was planning on going to hell, where all the “cool” people would be.

Befuddled by her overly simplistic ideas of heaven and hell, I hemmed and hawed for a minute before explaining that I believed heaven is a extension of this life where, with our friends and family, we continue to grow and are given greater responsibilities and abilities, whereas hell was a place where all of our regrets and failings torment us with what could have been.

She blinked at that, never having given any real thought to heaven and hell beyond what she saw in Saturday morning cartoons, and never again disparaged my beliefs. In fact, she asked about a few more details over the next few months, and I sensed she was looking for comfort for a pain she couldn’t yet admit feeling.

I recall the song by Eric Clapton called “Tears in Heaven” about the loss of his 4-year-old son. The lyrics are heartbreaking: “Would you know my name/if I saw you in Heaven,” as if the relationships we have on earth would somehow be lost in the next world.

Mormons know that not only will we recognize each other when we die, we’ll know far more about those we love because we’ll remember our relationships we had before we came to this earth.

And additionally, Mormons know that all pain in this life is temporary. 

All frustrations, all troubles, all disappointments will be rectified in the life to come. 

I can’t imagine how I’d live without that understanding. I think I’d be constantly depressed, like the older woman I met at her mother’s funeral.  She knew—knew—that everything about her beloved mother was gone forever. The Mormon bishop conducting the service for the family (because they weren’t affiliated with any religion) tried to assure her that her mother’s spirit was alive and well, and they could be together again someday.

But this woman shook her head and said, “That’s just too good to believe. I can’t accept it.”

Heartbreaking.

She didn’t dare take the comfort, too broken down by this life to imagine any other. I couldn’t live like that.

I need comfort to survive.

  1. What I “sacrifice” to be a Mormon is no sacrifice at all.

You’ve heard it all: Mormons don’t drink, don’t smoke, believe in chastity, fidelity, modesty, charity, and are focused on keep families strong.

Boooorrrring.

When I was 19 I worked in a mall on the east coast where I was the only Mormon among a lot of college students. Frequently they came to work with hangovers, slipped outside to smoke, and complained and fretted about their one-night stands.

I listened to the conversations but never said anything because it wasn’t a world I was part of. Dutifully I’d fold shirts, help customers, and just do my job.

One day a huge shipment came into the store, which meant pizza and beer as we unloaded. After a couple of hours most of the staff was impaired, and when customers rushed the store for the new products, I was the only one sober to deal with them.

The next morning we had to clean up the mess left behind the night before (the manager was as undisciplined as the kids he managed), and as one employee threw up in a trashcan and on a woolen sweater, and another sobbed uncontrollably in the corner because she and another worker had become “too involved” in the back room, someone asked me if I regretted being a Mormon and missing out on all of the fun.

I laughed until I realized he wasn’t being sarcastic.

I glanced around at the chaos and the employees still quite impaired, and said, “I have yet to see any of you have any fun.”

There was a full minute of silence in the store as they contemplated my statement, and since that day I’ve realized that what the world considers a sacrifice to be a Mormon isn’t any sacrifice at all. 

While I may have given up what the world considers “fun,” what I’ve gained instead is peace of mind.
Purpose.
Joy.

If you’re considering investigating the LDS Church, but worry about how difficult transitioning to that life may be, consider this weak but parallel example.

Over a year ago I was tired; bone-weary, deadly tired every single day and needing a two-hour nap just to get by. My brain was also fogged so much that I couldn’t think. I was forgetting important things, such as my 6-year-old out at a friend’s house until they sent her home at 9pm. Plagued also with constant bowel issues, I began to search for some solution to this daily misery that was robbing me of life. I was growing desperate and deeply worried.

I discovered that I was gluten intolerant, and I willingly gave up—for just a week—all the bread that I so dearly loved. In only two days I noticed everything in my life improving, and I made the change permanently. No, it wasn’t easy at first, but it was definitely worth it.

Fast forward to a dinner I had with some friends last month. One of them, enjoying a fluffy roll, apologized to me and said, “I don’t know how you gave up bread.”

“Because once I gave away bread,” I told her, “I got back my brain and my energy. Whenever I’m tempted to eat something I shouldn’t, I think ‘Do I want bread or my brain?’ Even though I’m not a zombie, it’s an easy answer: brains! And while I occasionally miss all things containing gluten, I’d give it up again in a heartbeat.”

Then it hit me: What I gave up at the time seemed like a sacrifice—I still struggle to find worthy equivalents to the food I loved, and would kill for a slice of thick, chewy pizza. But what I got in return was much, much more. I literally got my life back, and I feel 15 years younger (and have even lost weight to boot).

I invite you to find someone who joined the Church, and ask them if they miss what they gave up. Like my mother, they’ll likely say they had to give up alcohol, smoking, or something else, but what they received in return more than made up for what they lost.

In fact, they’ll wished they had “sacrificed” earlier to enjoy sooner what they have now.

  1. I love what I believe.

Some will still think that I’m delusional, that choosing (choice, again) to believe in golden plates and additional scriptures and visiting angels and temple worship and the notion that God still speaks to people is all absurd.

But you know what?

I love all of that.

And this is why Mormons want to tell you all about their religion: we want you to love it as well. 

Think about this: if you find a fantastic restaurant, or watch a movie that blows you away, or read a book that rocks your world, you tell everyone you know about it, right? You want them to share in what you’ve discovered.

So do Mormons. That’s why we send out missionaries (my third one is getting ready to leave at the end of the month for two years), make videos, extend to you invitations, and write blog posts about what we believe.

Now that doesn’t mean you have to embrace what we do. Maybe you don’t like that restaurant your friend recommended because you aren’t keen on curry, and that chick-flick doesn’t have enough car chases, nor do you like to read long books without pictures. No problem. Appreciate that your friend wanted to share with you something they love, then move on.

Same with those trying to share Mormonism with you. Just tell us you’re not interested, and we’ll still be your friend. 

But I’m warning you now–we may try to wave that curry bowl under your nose again every now and then, not because we don’t respect your decisions, but because we have hope you might change your mind someday.

Forgive us. We’re just too darn enthusiastic sometimes.

All people are free to choose what they want to believe—how, where, or what they may. We don’t want to infringe upon your right to believe what you want, nor do we want you to infringe upon our rights. We’re a “live and let live” kind of folk. Works best that way, we think. Let’s just all do what we think is best, and let God sort us out later.

Yet deep in my soul, I feel—scratch that, I know that being a Mormon is the best way to go, at least for me.

Call me delusional, I don’t care. 

But if—if— I wake up dead some day and discover that all of what the Mormons teach was pure nonsense, I still would have believed, because this “nonsense” gives me great joy, and I’d rather eke out my meager existence in delusional joy rather than in the quiet desperation I see ruling the lives of so many that I know and love.

That’s why I choose (choice, again) to be a Mormon. There’s simply nothing better in the world for me.

(7. Bonus reason: The LDS Church makes cool memes; I got all of these from lds.org.)

Don’t read this, don’t write that

Like every indie writer, I’m hoping that my efforts to self-publish will someday be enough that I can pay a bill or two. I have no fantasies of big J.K. Rowling bucks (ok, not realistic fantasies), but I’m always looking for ways to knock down my car loan a bit. 

So when an indie publishing company sent me YouTube testimonials from their best-selling authors, I eagerly watched to see what the grand secret is to making money.

Turns out, it’s writing smut.

Now, to be fair, I didn’t watch every last testimonial, but after the third one I began to see a distinct pattern, and it made me very uncomfortable.

The videos were well done, predictably following around the authors as they walked in grass, or along a beach, and maybe sniffed a flower or two, while the voice-over discussed how frustrating their former lives were (interestingly, most were school teachers) and how after independently publishing they had enough cash flowing in each month to not only take care of their children and pay their bills, but to quit their former jobs and take exotic vacations.

At some point I began to feel like I was watching an infomercial, so I wrote down the authors’ names and looked them up.

And my jaw dropped. 

Women’s porn.
That was what each of them was writing (one even with her husband; I wasn’t sure if that made things better or worse). Now, I realize that genre of books goes under tamer titles, such as “graphic romance” or “erotica,” but the snippets I read in the previews—before I looked away after only a few lines—fit my definition of porn.

Not only did the subject matter shock and disappoint me, so did the books themselves. Many weren’t even 50 pages long and priced at over $5 for the e-book, which is hardly a bargain.

There were dozens of titles from the authors, all on the same themes of lonely women finding unrealistic men who are obsessed with, well . . . you know.
And the reviews were also disturbingly the same. I’ll spare you the details, but it was obvious by the hundreds of reviews that not one of the gushers cared about literary merit. 

Occasionally I ran across a one-star review, and it was filled with dismay. “What a piece of trash! I can’t believe people are writing—and buying—this crap that reads like the notes we passed in 7th grade. Write the word ‘boobies’ and everyone gets all in a titter. Is no one noticing this?! What’s happening to books?”

I don’t know, but I agree—literature is taking a nosedive.  I’m sorry—I shouldn’t even call this literature. Let’s stick with “smut.”

These books are in the same vein as Fifty Shades of Gray, which is all about a woman repeatedly “achieving” something, and sold more copies than the Harry Potter series.

Really.

Our society is fond of believing that reading is good. Hey, it’s better than (fill in the blank yourself). In fact, it’s quite difficult to find anything that encourages against reading (I know—I’ve been looking). Because . . .

Reading is empowering!
Reading let’s you escape!
Reading improves your mind!

Not always.

What you read changes you, for good or bad. And novel reading hasn’t always been held in great esteem. For many generations, calling someone a “bookworm” was an insult; you should be out working, laboring for your family, instead of lazing about the house with your nose in a book.

We’re all influenced by the books we read, some more than others. I can tell what kind of stories my children are reading based on their behavior that day. It’s not rocket science; it’s human nature. If we weren’t influenced by what we read, why would we bother?

There is something sacred, I think, about a great library because it represents the preservation of the wisdom, the learning, the pondering, of men and women of all the ages accumulated together under one roof to which we can have access as our needs require.  ~Gordon B. Hinckley (emphasis added)

Books can uplift and motivate us, but they can also send our thoughts into despair and fear, and everywhere else in between. There’s a certain magic there; but according to every fantasy book out there, magic is temperamental, and can go in any direction.

I’m anxious when I see how many sexually explicit and graphic books are now being written by women and for women. I can’t help but wonder, what does such an adolescent fixation on sex do to a person’s psyche and relationships? 

There’s been truckloads of research done on the negative effects of porn on men, but I’m beginning to think we need to start evaluating women as well. According to the book reviews I marveled at,  some of these readers do little else than indulge in these pubescent stories. I personally know of two marriages that suffered when the wives became too obsessed with a particular book series dealing with vampires and werewolves; so what’s happening in the lives of those who read books that are far more explicit and unrealistic?

Now, I’m sure there are those who will say I shouldn’t judge books and their contents. But to that I say, why not? Look at the reviews for any item on Amazon—those are judgments. Any time you think about reading a book or going to a movie, you ask for other people’s opinions (judgments) about it.

But what those who play the “don’t judge” card really mean is, Hey—you’re hitting a bit too close to home, and I don’t want to think about that right now. I’ve got another novelette about fat girls and their “achievements” to read.
The “don’t judge” argument is usually a front for, “stop making me feel guilty.”

This post is certainly not to say that all indie writers fall into this hole of smut. I’m acquainted with many self-published authors who create marvelous pieces of fiction and fantasy, who enjoy controlling their own work, and have written books that earn the title of “literature.”

In fact, I’m writing this rant in defense of the rest of us indie writers—the majority of us laboring to develop stories with character and purpose—to demonstrate we’re not all out to make a buck off of “low-achieving” women.

Our books are as different from these smut-o-grams as homemade, hand-breaded chicken fingers are from Chicken McNuggets. They may have similar names, but one is carefully prepared, finely balanced, and tastes marvelous, while the other is nasty chicken sludge boiled in oil.

That’s why I promise, right here and right now, that I will never make nasty chicken sludge, or write smut just to pay the bills. Some time ago a beta reader suggested that if I made my books more “interesting” (i.e. add some salacious details in the first chapters), I could really “make something of myself.”

That left a horrible taste in my mouth, and I told the reader I didn’t need them as a reader anymore.

Because how you feel after consuming something I created is far more important to me than my paying off my student loan debt. (And if you knew how big that is, you’d be even more impressed.)

“When she was young, she thought sarcasm was the sign of true wit.”

“But as she aged, she realized that sarcasm was just easy and lazy, and more damaging than enlightening.”

I’ve been thinking a lot about sarcasm lately, since it’s been such a dear friend of mine over the years.
–See that? Putting such in italics? I can even write in sarcasm! irony mark
(Back in the 19th century they even experimented with a sarcasm/irony mark as above. Can’t find it on my keyboard, though.)

Sarcasm is everywhere, and in meme form, it’s a virtual epidemic. (Just try searching on Pinterest for Sarcasm, then stand back and shield yourself!)

sarcasm2

Then . . . I heard the sentiment above, that sarcasm is just easy and lazy and damaging.

And I thought . . . Oops.

Good old Wikipedia gave me more insight (and I mean that sincerely—I DO like Wikipedia, no snark intended). Look at the meaning:
The word comes from the Greek σαρκασμός (sarkasmos) which is taken from the word σαρκάζειν meaning “to tear flesh, bite the lip in rage, sneer”.  (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sarcasm)

Tear the flesh?! No, I don’t mean to do that! I just mean to be a bit snarky, but validate it by saying I was only being sarcastic . . .

“Sarcasm I now see to be, in general, the language of the devil; for which reason I have long since as good as renounced it.”
That’s from Thomas Carlyle.
That’s piercing me to the core.

Language of the devil? Uh . . . maybe. Consider all of those angry cat memes. There’s definitely a connection. (I heard this cat’s name is Beelzebub . . .)

angry cat

(And I hate myself for sniggering at this. Funny, but . . .)

But is sarcasm really that awful? I mean, come on. People bug us, so we MUST retaliate, right?

sarcasm

Then I read this article about “No Corrupt Communication,” (read it here) by Jennifer Grace Jones: “Not all sarcasm is intentionally sinister, but it has a hypocritical edge because it requires us to say the opposite of what we mean. Some use it for humor, but it often damages our relationships.”

I’ve known families that communicate only in sarcasm, and there’s very little genuine love expressed. In fact, there’s very little expressed at all, except thinly veiled contempt, when I suspect they actually feel much, much more. But they’ve never learned to speak in any other way.

In another article I found this painful little nugget: “Sarcasm . . . is usually based on inordinate pride and is usually aimed at some person or group thought to be inferior.”

Erg. Yes. I may be guilty of this . . .

All right, I am. And I know it, because when I employ a little snarky jab, or laugh at yet another sarcastic meme, I always feel a twinge of regret later, as if I just ate the last of the cookies and told my kids I didn’t know what happened to them.
Initially, I enjoyed gorging myself, then afterwards I remind myself I could have done something much better.

The words of a fantastic and inspired sweet old man, gone now from this world, put it like this:
“Everywhere is heard the snide remark, the sarcastic gibe, the cutting down of associates. Sadly, these are too often the essence of our conversation. In our homes, wives weep and children finally give up under the barrage of criticism leveled by husbands and fathers. Criticism is the forerunner of divorce, the cultivator of rebellion, sometimes a catalyst that leads to failure.”
~Gordon B. Hinckley

Hickley 1

Look at that face. That’s a man who never uttered a sarcastic word in his life. I want a face like that. (Except female. And a bit younger, and . . . but you know what I mean. And the hat–the hat’s awesome!)

But then I found this nugget by Dostoyevsky and, like any person forced to make a life in Russia, he sees things a bit darker, a bit harder: “Sarcasm is usually the last refuge of modest and chaste-souled people when the privacy of their soul is coarsely and intrusively invaded.”

Is there a place for sarcasm? It’s not always hurtful; occasionally we use it in our family in what I think are gentle, teasing ways . . . until my 5-year-old says, with sad eyes, “I don’t like it when you tease me. I feel confused.”

Ooh. Sorry.

Maybe sarcasm is ok only in limited circumstances, when the only other option is violence or rage.
Maybe it’s the only way to deal with disappointment.
I find myself leaning on it as a crutch when I deal with toddlers. For example, when I found my 19-month-old had colored again on the walls with “washable” markers (Crayola and I need to have a talk about the definition of “washable”), I looked into his big proud eyes and said, with all the sincerity of heart I could muster, “Why thank you. You know, when I was hugely pregnant with you and painted each one of these a nice pale blue in anticipation of your arrival, I hadn’t expected that you would want to augment the color with purple, brown, and pink. It’s just . . . lovely.”

Either that, or rage at the poor little guy even though it was my fault for thinking I had secured the markers, but failed to hide every chair in the house to keep them out of reach.  Sarcasm saved my little guy, calmed my frustration, and made me chuckle at myself as I uselessly scrubbed.

No, my soul wasn’t exactly “coarsely . . . invaded,” but something inside of me was pinged, and sarcasm saved us all.

But I think these are rare circumstances. Consider this meme:

rude

Sarcasm, at its heart, is simply sheer rudeness to those we feel we’re superior to.

All of us are better than that, surely!

Again from Jones’s article: “I’ve noted that those who use [sarcasm] tend to underestimate its negative effects because they assume that what they say is humorous instead of hurtful. People who use sarcasm often think their targets are too sensitive or naïve when feelings get hurt. “She just can’t take a joke,” they say. In more disturbing cases, sarcasm communicates contempt for others and gives people the “dishonest opportunity to wound without looking like they’re wounding.”

I want to be better than that, so I’m attempting to put myself on a sarcasm diet. I’m going to parcel out my servings of sarcasm, or indulgences of snarkiness, as judiciously as I should be eating cookies. Sparingly, appropriately, and avoiding it as often as possible.

Another gem from that sweet old man, Gordon B. Hinckely: “I’m asking that we look a little deeper for the good, that we still our voices of insult and sarcasm, that we more generously compliment virtue and effort.”

Hinckley 2

Sarcasm is easy, lazy, and “the imitation of strength.”

I want to be stronger—truly stronger. And not eat so many cookies.