All posts by Kellie

About Kellie

(Blog Team) lives way on the other side of the planet in her native Australia and gives thanks for the internet regularly. She loves books, her boys, panna cotta, collecting words, being a redhead and not putting things in order of importance when listing items. She credits writing at selwynssanity.blogspot.com as a major contributing factor to surviving her life with sanity mostly intact, though her (in)sanity level is subject to change without warning.

It’s Not A Vanilla Gospel

I stood up in front of over one hundred women, and started talking about my first contacts with the gospel and Church.

“I knew being baptised was the right thing to do, and I was prepared to do it. But the women in Relief Society? They terrified me.”

A laugh washed around the chapel, and I continued. I explained how the friendly women of my first ward loved to quilt, and craft, and had heaps of kids, and knew one hundred different things to do with potatoes but all told me they “didn’t have time to read”.

I looked out at the gathering of women, together to celebrate Relief Society, and told the truth. “I didn’t want that, didn’t understand that, and while I was certain the gospel was where I wanted to be, I was pretty sure there was no place in Relief Society for a freak like me.”

I saw a wave of heads nodding all over the room as I continued to specify my differences. That I would regularly choose to read a book instead of mop my floor – and still do. How, when I was called to be the “Enrichment” counsellor in Relief Society, I hot-glue-gunned two of my fingers together at the very first enrichment evening. That I don’t quilt, have never scrap-booked, and was a spectacular failure at being “a normal Latter-Day Saint woman.”

I laid it all out: my efforts to become a “proper” LDS woman, and the end result. “I… SUCKED… at being a Mormon women like the ones in my wards” I told the women sitting before me, only to wince realising the Stake President was sitting directly behind me on the stand. Eh, too late, and it’s true, right? “And the truth? I don’t want to be. And the bigger truth? The church, and God, and our wards don’t need us to be. They need us to be ourselves.”

Because one thing I’ve realised in the past fifteen years since being baptised is that this is not a vanilla gospel. This is a gospel with flavours and chunks nobody in their right mind would willingly choose – except that their personal favourite is right there as an option, even if it is sitting beside the tuna-enriched lime sorbet (which may very well be someone’s personal nirvana). There’s ice-cream, gelati, sorbet, ices, tofu-mousses and each in countless flavours and variations – exactly like us, our histories, preferences, fears, hopes and efforts. The gospel doesn’t demand everyone choose vanilla in and as their worship, though sometimes the people we know through church expect us to like their flavour, and to choose it as well. Continue reading

Ghosts of Me Then, Now and Yet To Be

It must have been how high above the world I was sitting. One minute I’m in my mid-thirties, dressed for a hot summer day, on a train into the city and see a cement pipe down low -

- then I’m thirteen or fourteen staring stiffly out of the school bus window at the farmed hills and valleys trundling past. Below in a paddock is a fallen tree trunk, and something’s in the end of it. The bus groans down another gear to take the corner, and from my raised perch, I can see there’s something (a cat?) curled up in the rotted out end -

-then I’m back on the train, gulping air. I can feel the loneliness and dejection of my old self as thick as a tidal rip around me, and I’m lifting my face upwards as I fight the pull of the sudden time lurch. The memory of how miserable and forlorn I was back then swamps me; I can feel the itch of my winter uniform, see my breath condensing on the window, as I ignore the taunts and backstabbing going on elsewhere in the bus while I work out how many days until I can leave home…

The train waddles through another couple of stations as I’m considering how much intense feeling has crashed down all because of elevation over industrial plumbing. Oh, you poor, bewildered thing, I think back in time to Me-Then – to the little glimpse of that girl unknowingly still riding a bus inside my forgotten years – oh, life gets so much better! I pause, wince a little, And, admittedly, at times terribly more awful too. But you have so many brilliant things to look forward to: books and boys (yes, someone will eventually kiss you of their own volition) and perfect glass water-skiing mornings. Seeing that cat again, smiling every single time deep down in your hopefulness. Desserts you don’t even know exist and a change in faith which will set fire to your heart. You’ll swim in the Atlantic Ocean one day, and will call it your boyfriend because it so joyously feels you up as you laugh. You will have children, and ideas, and see your name in print. You will be incredible. Really. You absolutely will. You are the most stubborn person I know, and that will take you to the life waiting for you.

I remember, dimly, a letter I wrote to my older self at the time, demanding that I be a journalist and visit Paris and live in Sydney – to be far, far away from the warped country town and family I was suffering through. I remember so much detail and the vehemence I felt in writing that letter, and I’m still sitting on a train decades and states away from who I was then, while also being a weird redheaded girl nobody understood or liked, sitting on a school bus in winter.

Last week I read a book where the main character writes letters to himself (now) from his future self, to help him survive the present and make it beyond the next week/month and (hopefully) year. While Future-Him states the world’s been decimated by nuclear war, He-Yet-To-Be also lives on a lighthouse, with his wife and family doing a job he loves, and scuba dives for fun to the cities far beneath the ocean. He builds himself a loving relationship, a pet animal, purpose and direction far beyond what he currently experiences. It’s a scraggly, whisper-thin thread connecting him to a better place and time, even if it is (at least temporarily) imaginary. It’s a beautiful, wrenching and hopeful exercise all at once.

The tide recedes down my chest, until I am yet again a thirty-plus year old woman on my way to the city, looking through the scratched windows to the landscape rolling past. But I’m also composing a letter to my decade-older self (You’ve been to Paris, right?), and composing a love note (on thick, imaginary, silken paper, scrawled loopily in rich blue ink, because why not?) from Me-Yet-To-Be to the woman on the train biting her lip and smiling as she wonders what the future’s going to hold this time.

Stay stubborn. Just wait – it’s going to be AMAZING.

*#*#*#*#*#*#*#*#*#*#*

What has shoved you hard back into a memory? Which memory? What would you say to your past self? What would you write to your future self? What would you want your future self to tell you about You-Yet-To-Be?

Jennifer Quist’s “Love Letters of the Angels of Death” (Book Review)

In every romantic relationship there are unspoken understandings and expectations. Who will do the dishes, who will choose Christmas gifts, who will kill the spiders, who will use all the hot water. Whose heart will be the heaviest at the end.

 “Even though you’re not quite a full year younger than me, neither of us doubts for an instant that you will outlive me. Maybe it’s based on nothing more intuitive than the fact that I’m the male in this marriage. But somehow, we both know that eventually you will be left alone with the two-hundred-pound unanswered question of my corpse.” (p.11)

Jennifer Quist’s “Love Letters of the Angels of Death” is (contrary to the Gothic-sounding title) a lyrical, rich love story between a husband and wife. The characters are full-blooded, incredibly vibrant and above all firmly, undeniably relatable. Nobody has piercing eyes, or heart-stopping features, this is real life. The wife is pregnant in several of the stories told, they argue, sneak kisses when the kids aren’t watching, they each have their pet peeves and morbid fascinations. What they have is each other, and an obviously deep, committed relationship which is their support and anchor through ordinary, difficult, crushingly difficult experiences.

 “He can’t speak but I hear him struggling – all breath and tears – miles and miles away.  And somehow, you know it all even though you can’t hear any of it. You’re leaning over me at the kitchen table while I’ve still got the phone held to my ear. Everyone knows angels lost their wings ages ago – back in the Renaissance, I’m pretty sure. We’ve outgrown the need for them ourselves and we’re each left with two arms in their place. You fold yours around my shoulders. They draw me against you. And you’re whispering my little brother’s name like a warm, wet prayer, your face pressed into the side of my neck.” (p. 55)

In our emailed interview , Quist wrote of the closeness of the relationship between the two main characters: “We talk about being “one” with our spouses but I sometimes wonder if many of us believe it’s something that can happen to us as we exist right now.  I think it can happen and I was hoping to write about what that kind of unity looks and feels like using these characters.  Oneness is among the deepest, most mystical aspects of our beliefs.  It’s a miracle we call down on ourselves.  And it eludes a mere intellectual explanation.  Fiction and storytelling help say what can’t be said.  Maybe that’s what ties them together — a miracle.”

Quist has a deft spin of phrase, humour and evocative imagery which lingers and chews on your imagination long after you have turned the page: Continue reading

When Life Is Burning Down

Less than seventy-two hours after my husband told me he didn’t believe in God anymore, and that he also wanted a divorce, I sat on a pew at church and waited for the combined Relief Society/Priesthood class to start. Turns out, the lesson was about celestial – eternal – marriage. I lasted just under three minutes before I picked up my bag, and carefully walked out to my car. It was a violently clear, sunny day in the tropics, my hands burning on the door’s edge while the sky’s breath and heartbreak boiled my tears.

A couple of minutes lost to sobbing, then a shadow, carrying a very hesitant and unsure “Hey… Kellie?” It was a woman freshly moved into the branch, newly called with me as a counselor in Relief Society, who only an hour before had sat astounded as I explained to her and the RS president how my world had crashed in the course of a few sentences just days previously. I didn’t even know her first name.

She crouched down next to my open door, in the glare of the sun and in the sauna humidity of the day, and let me cry. I bawled for a long time. She stayed for all of it. She didn’t say anything. No words, just a quiet, sweating, tissue-passing witness to my grief and desolation.

I pulled myself a little bit together five minutes before Primary and my sons would be released back into the wild. I smiled soggily, disastrously, at her and shrugged. “It was just that topic,” I tried to explain.

“I know,” she said, shrugging herself. “I saw you leave, and didn’t want you to feel alone.”

She texted me that night. Her name was Kim.

I realised later that the chapel had held people I’d known for years, people who knew some or none of my catastrophe – friends and vipers both – but only one person came looking, and she didn’t even know me. Later still I realised it wasn’t because of indifference that my friends didn’t come out, but because they were stalled, immobilised by doubt and indecision.

I’m afraid of the space where you suffer

Where you sit in the smoke and the burn

I can’t handle the choke or the danger

Of my own foolish, inadequate words

I’ll be right outside if you need me

Right outside

The thing is, when our lives are an inferno, someone being outside is useless. It’s like the oft-used and absolutely still-born “Let me know if I can do anything” – so full of potential, while also so tragically lifeless.

What can you do? What can any of us do? Maybe acknowledge that life, this moment, this cruel and carnivorous and devastating inferno is eating someone (ME! YOU!) alive. Recognise it, and maybe do something about THAT. Whatever ‘that’ is.

What can I bring to your fire?

Shall I sing while the roof is coming down

Can I hold you while the flames grow higher

Shall I brave the heat and come close with you now

Can I come close now?

I’ve had all sorts of fires in my life. I’ve wanted and needed different things at all sorts of times during each blaze. I’m incredibly blessed to have two friends who are trained, glorious singers, and there have been periods when I’ve wanted them to sing some gut-wrenching, Valkyrie inspired aria to accompany the disaster, burning out to sea. When I needed to tell someone about how much my Poppy Col loved me, and how loudly he blew his nose. There have been moments when my deepest, most sincerest heart’s wish is for someone to come to my fire hauling a Molotov cocktail or seven. And a Tazer. With a fire-breathing, PMS’ing dragon to add a little extra flourish to the proceedings. One night I wanted someone to venture close, sit beside me, and watch the sparks of my old love letters dancing up to meet the stars.

So we left you to fight your own battle

And you buried your hope with your faith

‘Cause you heard no song of deliverance

There on the nights that followed the wake

We never thought to go with you

Afraid to ask

Months – even years – after my marriage ended, people have approached me to say they wish they’d done things differently. I’ve approached people to apologise for not doing something, anything, even if it was a simple “I have no idea what to say – just I’m so sorry this has happened.” I have to wonder sometimes if with so much perfection and Pinterest enthusiasm and posed Ensign photographs we fetter ourselves from doing a tiny something because it’s not more… well, significant, well-prepared and amazing.

I wasn’t left to fight my own battle in the car-park that day. Kim was nervous, and obviously uncomfortable, yet still settled herself straight down in the middle of the mess regardless. At that moment I had faltering faith, there was no song of deliverance as I realised that cherished covenants were busted, and hope was a charred, broken thing without wings. We know of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego being tossed into the furnace and being protected, unscathed. But life can savagely and enthusiastically remind us that sometimes it’s the innocent, the loved ones, the ordinary are thrown into the fire, and left there.

Lay down our plans

Lay down our sure-fire fix

Grief’s gonna stay a while

There is no cure for this

We watch for return

We speak what we’ve heard

We sit together

In the burn

Kim didn’t offer to fix anything. She gave me no platitudes, no promises, no scriptural recourse or plans. She was Christlike, as when Christ – just minutes from raising Lazarus from death – first mourned with Mary and Martha, recognising their world burning to ash and ruin. While Christ had the miraculous cure for Mary and Martha, we’re not expected to raise anything, phoenix or otherwise. We are simply asked to mourn with those that mourn, comfort those in need of comfort (interestingly enough, which are detailed as being two entirely separate times, not a onetime deal), to bear one another’s burdens that they may be light. We’re not asked or expected of the Lord to take all the pain and flames away – just to lighten the burden, to sit together, in the burn. Please, to be there; in the ash, within the blaze, amid the life burning down.

What can I bring to your fire?

Shall I sing while the roof is coming down

Can I hold you while the flames grow higher

Shall I brave the heat and come close with you now

Can I come close now?

The quoted sections are the lyrics to “Come Close Now,” by Christa Wells, a song which has given me a poetic guide alongside my own determination to not be “right outside”, but to brave the heat, bring something, or even sing, if that’s what someone needs of me.

How have you braved the heat, to be with someone in the fires of life? Has someone done something for you, which reminded you that you were loved, thought of, not forgotten or abandoned in the flames? What do you wish someone would bring to YOUR fire? What shall I sing, while your roof is coming down?

Stories of Survival: Unbroken (Laura Hillenbrand) and The Arrival (Shaun Tan)

An unstoppable prankster as a child in California, an unbeatable runner in the Berlin Olympics, a bombardier in World War Two, Louie Zamperini was always a force to be reckoned with.

“All he could see, in every direction, was water. It was June 23, 1943. Somewhere on the endless expanse of the Pacific Ocean… Louie lay across a small raft, drifting westward. Slumped alongside him was a sergeant, one of this plane’s gunners. On a separate raft, tethered to the first, lay another crewman, a gash zigzagging across his forehead. Their bodies, burned by the sun and stained yellow from the raft dye, had winnowed down to skeletons. Sharks glided in lazy loops around them, dragging their backs along the rafts, waiting.

The men had been adrift for twenty-seven days.” (p. xvii)

Laura Hillenbrand’s ‘Unbroken’ is a true life, non-fiction title which relates the childhood, teen years and Army Air Forces training of Louie with affection and clarity, with the strength of the story coming to the fore when Louie is captured by the Japanese as a prisoner of war (POW). Louie’s treatment as a POW is clearly detailed, focussing on his determination, friends, mental athletics and personal acts of rebellion through the war.

While that may be more than enough to fill a book, Hillenbrand continues to chronicle what happened in Louie’s life on his return from the war. Louie shared with Hillenbrand the coping mechanisms he used – alcohol, temper, marriage, family, revenge – to readjust and, when that failed to work, survive each day. What happens next in Louie’s tale is as astonishing and courageous as what happened on the other side of the Pacific from his home. It is about faith, hope, revenge, forgiveness and being absolutely, terribly, humanly breakable, yet still unbroken.

Hillenbrand includes in the epilogue a summary which gives a great summary of Louie’s attitude towards life and how he lived it:

“When Louie was in his sixties, he was still climbing Cahuenga Peak every week and running a mile in under six minutes. In his seventies, he discovered skateboarding. At eighty-five, he returned to Kwajalein on a project. “When I get old,” he said as he tossed a football on the Kwajalein beach, “I’ll let you know.” When he was ninety, his neighbors look up to see him balancing high in a tree in his yard, chainsaw in hand… Well into his tenth decade of life, between the occasional broken bone, he could still be seen perched on skis, merrily cannon-balling down mountains.” (pp. 383-4)

‘Unbroken’ is slow-paced in areas, however it is possible to skip forward to specific parts and chapters (as detailed in the contents) and it is worth it for the POW and post-war sections alone.

 

Shaun Tan’s ‘The Arrival’ is the only picture book I cry reading, and I sob every single time I revisit it. Considering there are no words at all within its pages, it’s quite a feat. ‘The Arrival’ details a man’s escape/immigration from a war-torn country (leaving his wife and daughter behind) to an unknown land. The story charts his struggle to leave his family, then his country, the stress given by the immigration officials, then entry into a totally foreign landscape. As co-gazers on this strange and baffling country (curling architecture, what looks like a kettle is some sort of incendiary torch, bizarre and fanged creatures at your window, challenging customs), we are scared and worried and lonely with him, hoping for rescue, comfort, relief, a safe haven and friend, frame by tiny or double-paged frame.

Shaun Tan has created an intimate, whimsical and touching story using no words at all, just expressions, a tree through seasons, a child’s smile, a folded piece of paper, the flight of birds – just to name a few. ‘The Arrival’ is a literally wonderful book, suitable for readers and early-readers alike. The art is beautiful, and pulls on my heartstrings and empathy on every page.

‘The Arrival’ is about surviving in unexpected places, wherever you may find them, however you got there, placing the reader in the position of main character, into every other character encountered, and pushes what we learn about belonging into our own lives after we’ve closed the cover.

‘The Arrival’ is an essential addition to any bookcase.

Unbroken, by Laura Hillenbrand (2010)

 Recommended to:

  • Enjoyers of non-fiction
  • Anyone with an interest in the Pacific WW2 events
  • Anyone wanting to be uplifted

Not recommended for:

  • Anyone afraid of the ocean, sharks, running, war or hope
  • People who don’t like to read about sad or difficult situations

Rated: PG15 – Louie’s time as a POW is given in detail, he was not treated well. Themes of war brutality, survival mentality, alcohol abuse, revenge, hope, redemption.

The Arrival, by Shaun Tan (2006)

Recommended to:          Anyone with a pulse

Not recommended for:

  • Kids under the age of about 8 (symbolic drawing of war as long monster-type tails, or giants with flame-throwing machines may upset young children)
  • Possibly people (adults or kids) with separation anxiety

Rated: PG for under 8’s. Gently handled themes of war, family upheaval and separation, differences, new beginnings, confusion and belonging.

Which books about survival do you love and recommend? Do you read non-fiction? Graphic novels or picture books? Is there a book which inspires you (or makes you cry) every time you read it?