Sinister Regard : March 2001
            

[from my ongoing memoir]

There was one group we tried not to tangle with, though: our archenemies, the Jehovah's Witlesses—er, Witnesses. If we were dogs, then the Jay-Dubs were cats. If we were water, they were fire. If we were Superman, they were Lex Luthor. We did not get along. I think the antipathy stemmed mostly from the fact that people were always mistaking one of us for the other when we knocked at their doors. In fact, I recall once later on my mission when I had just been transferred to a new area. My new companion and I were walking down a quiet, shady street doing callbacks on a sunny spring day when suddenly he stiffened and went pale.

"What's wrong?" I asked.

"See that guy a few houses down, out watering his lawn?" asked my companion.

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Chapter 43: "Shazzmatazz"

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Bringing the grand total to 859 ms pages. Shoot me now.

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[Looks like marriage is in the air. For more info on what the heck is going on here, click here.]

The modern church has plenty of embarrassing historical specters hanging around, but few haunt it the way polygamy does. The church has tried to distance itself from the practice in the past century, but with mixed results. If you ask most Mormons today whether or not they believe it's proper to practice polygamy, they'll tell you no. But if you ask them whether or not it's a correct principle, they'll say yes.

In fact, the practice of polygamy is an excommunicable offense, and has been for many decades. This has not always been the case, however—polygamy was once, deservedly (and still is, erroneously), the chief distinguishing characteristic of Mormonism in the minds of most Americans—and many Saints believe it may not always be the case in the future. They look forward to the day when the moral and political climate in the United States and other nations has cooled enough to permit the church to reinstitute the practice—though the more reasonable of these don't expect it to happen until Christ's Millennial reign on Earth. (Note that I specified "the more reasonable.")

So, what is polygamy, and how did the practice arise?

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The subject of the new chapter is, of course, in part, polygamy in the early Mormon church. This one was a long slog, and brings the stack to 835 ms pages.

I got email from my agent this morning. Sophie Harrison at Granta passed on the manuscript, saying:

Thanks for your note, and thank you for letting me see William Shunn's manuscript, which I've now read. It's an interesting story with an appealing narrator, and I've certainly never come across anything that gives such a clear insight into the Mormon philosophy and way of life. However — regretfully — I have to say that I don't think it's a book for the UK market; I suspect that it would be much more meaningful in a US context. But it's an intriguing book and I wish you and the author all the best for it.
Okay, girding up my loins for the next foray.
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...and this one to 801 pages.

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Two chapters born at pretty much the same time, strangely enough. This one brings the total to 778 pages...

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Chapter 39: "Great Falls"

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Boy, where has the weekend gone? Just finished another chapter of the memoir, and the count stands at 770 ms pages.

My agent's gonna fuckin' kill me.

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Laura's in Wisconsin, the upstairs has laid off the piano, I have Robert Plant on the stereo, and I'm starving. I've been sitting here at my desk all damn day. Time to rustle up some food and go to Laura's to feed the fish.

Oh, yeah. The count stands at 756 ms pages.

Curmudgeon and co., I'll fill you in soon on those other details. I promise. But right now I have a weekend alone to myself to write with!

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In my junior year of high school, I signed up for an advanced humanities class that encompassed history, literature, art, music, and drama from the beginning of recorded time. This daily seminar was presided over by the legendary Mrs. Vivian Beattie, an extraordinary teacher amongst what for a public school was a remarkable slate of extraordinary teachers. (Remind me someday to tell you stories about my math and computer science teacher, Lenzi Nelson. When you ask, tell me you want to hear about the teacher who threw chalk.)

We adored Mrs. Beattie, a ferocious old iconoclast whose demands on her students' intellects and attention pushed most of us as far as we'd ever been pushed by a teacher in our lives. She asked us for all we had, but in return she conferred upon us the gift of critical thought, not to mention the kind of respect most adolescents never feel from adults—the respect that says you are a worthwhile generation, no matter what anyone else tries to tell you.

That's usually how it worked, anyway.

If there was one thing Mrs. Beattie would tolerate, it was muddy thinking. I ran afoul of her cruel, casual dismissiveness in this regard one morning during our unit on 19th-century art. The topic was visual composition, the subject under scrutiny Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres's famous portrait of a nude harem girl, "La Grande Odalisque." Surely you've seen it—it's Ingres's best-known painting. The Rubenesque slave girl (the titular odalisque) reclines amid the various appurtenances of a fantastic Turkish harem—veils, silks, furs, pipes, jeweled belts, feathered brushes—with her inhumanly supple back to the artist and her face turned to gaze mildly back at him over her right shoulder. The ripe globe of one breast can be seen in partial eclipse, shadowed by her right arm. The painting was reviled in its time, but is today considered a masterpiece of French neoclassical portraiture.

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741 ms pages. Laura's in Wisconsin. Time for bed.

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