In Defense of Running
on Writing: Tearing Down the Dam

Eau de Good Mormon

[This post is long and touches on religion. In fact, it sparked me making a new category, because it is a topic I would like to explore more even as I know it's not a topic that most people care about reading. I wanted to put a name to where I am at with my religion right now, and I ended up with "Mormon Fringe." As in...that is where I am. Still thinking about Mormonism but not really IN the church.]

As we reemerge from our shutdowns and quarantines, blinking again in the light of interacting with people in the same space, I am remembering that there is something I still have to process. I put it aside during the pandemic because I could, because my world was comfortably small: home with my family, and a few stints at work, passing people during a hike but not really engaging with them. Now I am out in the world a little bit more, I am rediscovering this. It didn’t ever get better, I just put it away because I wasn’t forced to pick it up, examine it, figure out what to do with it.

The thing is this: I don’t really fit here anymore.

(It’s also that I never really fit, but I didn’t clearly see it. Now I do.)

The reason I don’t fit in here (and by “here” I mean: deep in the heart of Utah County, where some ridiculously high percentage of people is staunchly LDS and so the majority is safe to assume that everyone is staunchly LDS) is mostly because I no longer go to church. There are many stories I could tell to explain why. Many experiences and realizations, so many months of grieving and aching and crying and then finally coming to a sort of peace and a sort of acceptance. Some things I have shared on my blog, but most of them I haven’t. Not because I am ashamed or don’t want to talk about it, but because most of the people in my life don’t want to listen to it.

One of the last public things I did in 2020 was a sewing class. I got a new sewing machine for Christmas in 2019 and it came with a free class, so I spent a Saturday at the Bernina shop, learning about my machine. I arrived with my machine and my hydroflask and my always-present hope…maybe I’ll find a new friend here? But, nope. I learned a ton that day about my machine, but I also learned something about myself. I had already not been going to church for a year, so honestly it had been awhile since I’d hung out with people from the UC at all. So as I watched and listened to the other people talking, laughing, and connecting it felt like anthropology. Like observing a society from the outside. That was my realization. I really don’t fit here, there is something different about me.

It was like…there is something they can read about each other’s body language that is an invitation. They just immediately find their connections: a son and a cousin who actually were mission companions in Guatemala, they are both primary presidents,  they each bought their machines because they wanted to learn how to sew ruffles to skirts to make them modest enough. My personal favorite were two women realizing they live only three blocks away from each other, in one of the fancy neighborhoods in Orem, on the east side of course. “Oh, don’t you just love living in there? The views are so amazing and the air is so clear and everyone’s landscaping is gorgeous!”

(And meanwhile I’m like…well, thank God they won’t even ask me where I live because I’m just down here on the flat part of Orem with the dirty air and the views of everyone’s trash landscaping and if I admitted that to them then they would know I am NOT seriously so blessed like they are.)

(I’m not bitter.)

Here in the Provo/Orem area, what it means to be LDS is to be a person who is ALWAYS and WITHOUT A DOUBT LDS. They prove it with their big east-side houses, with their top-of-the-line Suburbans (to carry their seven children of course), with the mission references and the temple-wedding references and the this-is-my-calling references. With their blonde hair and their modest clothes and the occasional flash of garment just so everyone knows they follow The Rules. They talk about it. (It seems it is all they talk about.) They assume everyone knows the cultural language they speak. They never have a thought enter their heads that someone else might be different than they are. And if you do happen to be different, it’s like they can smell it. They know there won’t be any connections to be made with you, so there is no reason to be friendly.

Even when I was trying my hardest to fulfill that appearance of “perfect Mormon person” I still didn’t really fit. They could still smell my wrongness. I was accepted on the surface, but actual, real relationships with my Mormon neighbors were few. And then as life progressed and I didn’t “earn” all the righteous blessings they did—I mean, it’s OK to start on the west side, it’s never being blessed enough to move up that proves your worth, and then none of my kids went on missions and actually none of them are even interested in the church and my husband was never a bishop and I was never a Relief Society president—my lack of those “blessings” proved I had earned the way I smelled. I didn’t do it well, I wasn’t righteous enough, I didn’t get the blessings I wanted because deep down I wasn’t good enough. If I were I would’ve earned those “good things” and would be happy.

Finally accepting that in part they were right—deep down, I am different—was one of the most freeing, if painful, processes of my life.

After that sewing class, I confess: I went home and cried. Honestly, every time I sit down at my machine I feel a little bit of a scrap of that feeling, that realization: I never fit because I don’t fit. I tried to fit for two decades, but just broke and tore and cut and scarred. It was a turn in my path, a realization and acceptance: stop trying to be someone you are not.

Of course, church members would say “no, there’s a place for you here, too. And maybe if you come and work harder, if you pray more and do more and believe more, if you stop being a lazy learner and just have a little faith, your children will turn around and everything will be OK, you just have to not give up.”

But here’s the thing.

I don’t want to sit in church and continue to feel bad that my kids didn’t turn out like everyone else’s did. I don’t want to be in a supposedly-holy place that demands I feel that way about my own children. I don’t want to pray that they will want to “go back” to church. I want to pray that they have happy lives. That they find relationships that fulfill them, careers that give them confidence and purpose. I want them to have meaningful experiences, to help others, to be healthy and safe. If they choose to get married or have families, I want them to do that because it will be a part of them being happy, not because it’s what a religious institution told them is the path to happiness.

All told, what I want for them, what I pray for and hope for, is that they don’t have to live their lives this way. Feeling like they are odd, like they don’t fit. Like they smell wrong.


So, here we are, more than a year after the start of the pandemic. I’m starting, just a little bit, to go out into the world again. Last week, I reluctantly started going to PT again. Reluctantly because while I trust the PT I’ve been going to now for seven or eight years, I don’t love going there. My not-a-good-Mormon smell is especially potent there.

I knew to expect it so I was pre-hardened.

But this morning I struggled. Everyone talked about their weekends. “My nephew was ordained.” “I got to go to in-person church for the first time!” “I went to my cousin’s baby blessing.” One woman and her tech discovered they both went to the same mission in Switzerland, twenty-odd years apart, and then she glistened and glowed about her husband, a BYU professor who served in Belgium and also speaks French and so they decided to move to Provo instead of Orem so they could put their kids in a school that does French immersion and “of course it didn’t hurt that we’re only a few blocks away from the temple” (ie, east side on the hill) and now they only speak French in their home. (“Home” is spoken with a special reverence in LDS parlance, an extra-rounded O and a drawn-out M. It is never a house.)

I listened to them, patients and techs and therapists, speak their Mormon language, smell each other’s correct and pleasing smell. I started wishing again—wishing I could speak it, too. Wishing I had the right smell. Wishing I could laugh and start conversations easily and just…be involved, wherever I go.

And then I wondered: what do people outside the Book of Mormon belt talk about?

I don’t even know.

(Like, literally. I don’t know.)

I looked at Mrs. We-Only-Speak-French and young I-Know-Everything-About-BYU-Sports dude and the lady talking about how sweet it was to go back to church and hear signing again and the tech expounding on the church’s policy with polygamous families and how gracious it is. The guy getting his knee massaged with 4 inches of garments hanging out from his shorts and the older woman working on her shoulders, her g top exposed with each weight lifting.

I thought you are all insane. They don’t know what to talk about or how to be outside of their religion, and even more disturbing is they don’t know how strange that is. They fit because they fit here, so nothing hurts because why would it? Round pegs, round holes.

And I stopped with the wishing. I can wish this thing away all I want, but it isn’t going anywhere: I don’t fit here. My shape is spiral and convoluted and angles, and that is who I am.

And maybe if I were at another physical therapist’s office in, say, Seattle or Helena or Orlando or Detroit, I still would listen to the easy conversations around me and not know how to be a part of them. Maybe there is no place my shape fits.

(Actually, strike that “maybe.” More than likely.)

But I want to write this thought anyway, this thought that I had as I came home, again in tears, to write this post. The thought I had after putting into words this thought: I hope my kids don’t have to live this way.

Do I have to?

Is there somewhere I could fit, some place where I am the missing piece?

I’m not sure. But I am sure I don’t fit here. I could ignore that during the pandemic, but I don’t think I will be able to for much longer.


Cindy deRosier

The world you are describing is so foreign to me. I felt it one time though. Our family visited your area a few years back and while everyone was very friendly, somehow they all knew that we weren't LDS. It was baffling. How did they know? (We were dressed conservatively, no tattoos, nothing like that. We weren't smoking or drinking or swearing or anything. Maybe because we only had one kid with us?) It was weird.

Is there somewhere you could fit? Yes, you would fit in beautifully where I live (halfway between Sacramento and San Francisco). I'm sure of it.

Carmen Pauls Orthner

I’m with Cindy - it’s all so foreign to me! What is this garment that hangs outside someone’s clothing?? (Seriously - I have no idea! Is it some kind of extra underwear?) I feel your ache of feeling out of place, though - I have lived cross-culturally most of my adult life, and I grew up with little exposure to pop culture (music, etc.) so I don’t understand a lot of references and lingo. I hope you are able to find a place/space where you can feel comfortable and SEEN.


What do people in other areas talk about? Kids, cooking, recipes, politics (in my part of Southern California we have some pretty lively debates!), work (I'm lucky to love my job but everybody needs to bitch about the boss once in a while), holidays, retirement worries, catching up on family news, travel plans, mood swings, what's worrying us (depending on the degree of intimacy between the conversants), what's on sale where (we're all a little worried about the soaring food prices), and yeah, sometimes we talk about church/faith/religious affiliation too. But I think here's the difference: There's very little "code" or "insider talk" among most people. My lapsed Catholic friend is just as happy to hear about my life in the Episcopal world as I am to hear why she's disenchanted with the Catholic church, and our other friend (a former evangelical Protestant finding her way to Episcopalianism) is equally happy to chime in with her thoughts. Our Jewish friend cheerfully shows up at the Christmas cookie exchange every year, high-fiving with our Muslim friend as they (gently and with love) tease us about our inviolable Christmas traditions. Our pagan friend usually brings something "Yule-themed" and one year gave me a beautiful little needle-felted wool donkey that she'd made because she knows I love a certain song about the donkey that carried Mary into Bethlehem. Maybe the key difference is that we have almost no expectations of what others are "supposed" to do (well, show up, be civil, listen thoughtfully, and be available when somebody needs a listening ear or a 3 a.m. pizza)? I wish you were here. I love reading your stuff and I would love to be your friend.


I so hear where you are coming from. Many times I felt like that in Utah or here in the northeast. I'm from Utah and grew up quasi-Mormon, sometimes in, sometime out. My parents stopped once we moved back east. I identify as a Mormon, but do not practice. My family has a deep and rich pioneer heritage which I treasure; it's a heritage I honor and learn from. However, here in NH we just talk, laugh and often eat together. Talk about sports, politics, kids, cooking/recipes, yards and gardens, vacations and dream vacations. I am quite an introvert and do not mix well so I know how you are feeling. I am blessed to live in a neighborhood with all different people and we are all friendly. Mt feeling is that there is faith and spiritual blessings in everything we see and do, the people in our lives, the people we touch and those that touch us, the beauty that surrounds us, and the simple things like a hug from your 19 year old son on his way out for work. I feel that you touch on and feel deeply spiritually in a natural, honest way. Your writing and reflection often resonates with my experiences. If you lived here, I would most definitely be your friend.

Kristin Johnson

Your post resonated with me on several levels. This is the exact reason that Tyler and I moved away from Utah 19 years ago. I grew up in a non-practicing LDS family and it was ROUGH. Saying it was rough is actually quite an understatement. I did end up finding a group of friends/neighbors who loved me and my family for who we were and that was a turning point in my life although still not enough to join them in coming to church with them. No thanks. I was reacquainted with the church as a high school senior and had a completely different and positive experience with the church and it's members in Kansas City. I was excited to attend BYU and while enjoying not having to explain my beliefs to people constantly (that is also a drag); I found it to be filled with many of those same types of people who made my life as a child miserable. But I ultimately found people who thought/acted more like me and I was able to truly enjoy my time there. After marrying and being in several Utah wards Tyler and I found ourselves "on the fringe" and asking ourselves what we truly believed. I was never comfortable in a Utah ward. I came home from church desperately unhappy every Sunday. Even Tyler who grew up an active member his whole life in Orem was not comfortable with our experience. We knew we had to leave. Moving to Spokane we slowly eased into going to church here and once again I had a completely different experience. Moving away was the best thing that we have ever done. I still can only handle Utah in small doses. I don't like feeling like I have to keep up the the Jones... be that financially, spiritually, stylishly, achievement wise etc... It makes me feel unhappy and small and less than. I cannot live my life like that. I have found great peace living here. Yes, there are annoying small minded people in my ward and stake. But everyone here has friends, coworkers, neighbors, relatives, teachers, coaches who are not LDS that we love and adore. There is a different mindset outside of Utah/Southern Idaho/any largely LDS populated place. We know good people come from all kinds of circumstances... and not everyone who is LDS is good and not everyone who isn't is bad. It is refreshing. My children all have nonmember best friends and friend groups who they spend large amounts of time with in their homes and these kids spend time in ours. Our children go to church and youth group with them sometimes and they come with our kids. My friend group is expansive and not all LDS. It's just a different vibe and there seems to be more of a mutual respect and acceptance rather than judgement. There cannot be the kind of separatism here that is found in Utah. No us vs them mentality. Although it isn't perfection here... it is better. One of my kids says the church isn't for her and lives with her boyfriend. One of my kids is serving a mission. The people in my ward and stake love each of these children deeply and ask about them and care about them equally. There is no shaming or shunning of the nonpracticing child...and she feels that love and acceptance... and she feels tremendous love for them as well. I appreciate that more than I can express. I know that "move somewhere else" isn't usually an option nor is it always the answer. Church culture is church culture. I've learned that there are many similarities whether you are LDS, Baptist, or Lutheran. I know that faith and finding our own way spiritually isn't an easy one. It is a very personal one. What works for me isn't necessarily what will work for my child, spouse, friend, or neighbor. I think we all should be examining our faith and beliefs deeply and regularly. I appreciate you sharing your thoughts. I hear you. I have shared/do share so many of them. I hope you find your place where you can be Amy and be loved and appreciated for who you are exactly as you are. I think you are pretty terrific and enjoy my visits to your blog. And... yes!...there is great joy in talking about all kinds of things with people and I can honestly say I very rarely discuss religion! LOL.

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