Book Review: The Testaments by Margaret Atwood
A Choice that Bolsters All of Us: My Thoughts on Simone Biles and The Tokyo Olympics Team Gymnastics Competition

There Where You Have Landed, Stripped As You Are

You aren’t what they made you to be; does that negate what you are?

I have been reading N. K. Jemisin’s The Stone Sky during my surgery recovery, the third book in her The Broken Earth trilogy. Yesterday, I read that sentence. I keep reading for a few more paragraphs and then I thought wait, what is hurting me? and then I went back and read it again. And again.

To orient you within the story, but without really spoiling anything, at this point we are learning the origin story of Hoa, the stone eater who has become Essun’s…travel companion, sort of. Hoa and the other stone eaters were, at their beginning, bioengineered life forms created to help with a massive project that would provide endless, pollution-free energy to humanity. But the humans who created these beings don’t really understand much about who they really are. In this scene, Hoa is starting to understand that it is OK that he is not what they wanted him to be.

“I’m not what they made me; I’m something different. I am powerful in ways they did not expect. They made me but they do not control me.”

This is what I love about fiction, how a story, created by a person I’ve never met and who likely never considered a person like me in her writing, how just a few sentences within the context of the book itself, can reveal something I didn’t know about myself, but needed to know.

(I am glad I read this book now, instead of in 2017 when I bought it. I needed those words now. Then they would’ve just been part of the character arc.)


For many years, I struggled within my self-defined role. After my years of adolescent rage and rebellion, I went through a traumatic experience that, for lack of a more elegant phrase, scared me straight. I started going to church and I did everything I could to earn the “good” label within the rules of the LDS church. I went to the temple, I wore underwear I hated, I tried to ignore all of the ways that the teachings felt dissonant to me.

I wanted my mom to think I was good in these ways so she didn’t have to be ashamed of me. I wanted my neighbors to think I was good so they would be my friends. I wanted to teach my kids these good ways of being so that they could be blessed in ways that I, with all those mistakes I made in my past, would never be. I wanted to be good so that my marriage would be happy, so that my kids would be healthy and never have heartache, and so that I, too, would have a big beautiful house on the hill.

I was 18 when all of this started. So young. Still so malleable, so raw. And the church was happy to take on the making of me. It told me the things I could be: a stay-at-home mom married to a successful husband. It told me how to accomplish these things: paying tithing, going to the temple, going to church, accepting the callings, teaching my kids the gospel. Being in the world but not of it. Wearing modest clothes. Voting Republican. Not worrying about the environment because God would take care of that. Praying. Fasting. Reading the scriptures.

I tried. I tried so hard to do all the things. But despite that, I didn’t get the blessings. Not the real ones that matter to the actually “good” members of the church. My marriage is stressful. I never got that house on the hill (which is the external proof of God’s love for you, of course.) One by one, my children lost interest in the faith of their childhood, which is the ultimate proof of how not-good I was, because good mothers create children who go on missions, go to BYU, get married in the temple.

There have been several turning points in my journey away from the church. One was when a family member asked me “where is your compassion?” during a stressful time when I was literally doing everything I could to make things better. That what I could do wasn’t enough, that I still lacked compassion in this person’s eye: I turned then. I realized that my best would never be good enough, and so I would never be good enough, and maybe it was time to stop fighting that. To accept who I was, whatever goodness I might have despite my flaws, instead of always trying to be better. Always trying to achieve “good.”

The church was never my skin, but a dress I put on. A role I performed. (There are some of you who will we judge me for not being authentic. There are some of you who will judge me for not trying harder, for not making it my skin. Both ways I have castigated myself.)

Eventually I was too chafed, and I took it off. Here I am: I don’t go to church anymore. I wear regular underwear. I have turned away from “follow the prophet” and “God’s plan for you” and yes, even “the covenant path” to simply thinking for myself. To not letting someone else shape me, but to making myself as I go.

But in many ways, I am still what the church made me. Strangely enough, the times I have felt closest to God were the times when I was breaking the mold—tearing the skirt or the bodice. As, for example, when I took my teaching job, even though what I wanted to do was magically erase our financial troubles so I could continue being a stay-at-home mom. God (or the universe or whatever you want to call them) told me, in a nearly-audible voice, that I needed to do that work, and one day I would understand why. I clung to that when people criticized my working-mother status and reminded me that if I had more faith I would stay home with my children.

But I am still where the church wanted me to be, at least as far as my career goes. Middle-aged and with just enough education to hold a job, but not a job that could actually support me without my husband’s career. (Definitely not a career that might provide me with that house on the hill.) More of a hobby, really, than a career. An indulgence. Dependent, frankly, on my husband. Not independent. Not equally powerful. Not someone who matters much in the world, just a quiet, pointless person in a support position.

Men hold all the power. Women do the laundry.

I am where I am because of my choices. But undeniably those choices were influenced by the church in its striving to shape me. To make me into the person it wants all women to be.


So I guess that’s why Hoa’s realization gutted me. He, too, was made to be a cog in the wheel, to perform a function that supports other, more powerful ideals. Not to think, to create, to feel, to act, but just to do. To work. To be acted upon.

And he is more than his creators created him to be.

Does that negate who you are?

I tried to be who the church was shaping me to be, but I am something different. Their opinion of who I am becoming no longer concerns me. It doesn’t negate me.

But if I am honest, I also know this: I don’t know who I am.


There it is. That ever-present Mormon Man Voice, telling me that I don’t know who I am because I’m not following the prophet, the plan, the path. That I will only find who I am at church.

I reject that voice.

But I put my book down, I found myself crying an absolute river of tears, because…what is there for the church to negate anyway?

I gave all my years of self-formation over to an institution. A patriarchal institution.

And now, here I am. Naked, whatever underwear I might wear, but without enough time to make a self. Without the courage and self-belief from my twenties. Forty nine, which is basically 50. Tribeless, not acceptable to my family of origin, almost an empty-nester. I don’t know where to start. I do know where I want to start, but I don’t think I have enough time to do it.

When I was deep within the church, even knowing that I didn’t quite fit, I felt like I was at least part of a group. Like I had friends. But when I left, I learned I didn’t, mostly. Aside from a few very excellent friends, everyone I knew at or through church was only a church acquaintance. I wasn’t essential in their lives at all.

And now that I am outside of the church, I don’t really fit within the post-mo groups either. I’m not going to start drinking (addiction just runs too deep within my genes) and I don’t want to mock the faith I used to hold (because it feels like mocking myself, and I can’t, I just can’t add that to my list of ways to dislike myself) and I don’t want to convert a single person to my way of thinking.

(I’m not really a good post-mo either.)

There really isn’t a place that I fit.

I find myself thinking backward: who did I want to be, when I was strong and brave and rebellious and seventeen? Writer. I wanted to be a writer. If you’ve read my blog for very long you know that. I wanted to be a writer. I never really wrote. Laziness stopped me. Fear stopped me. Wanting to be “good” stopped me. I wanted an MFA, I wanted a PhD, I wanted to teach at a university while I wrote books that somehow saved some other person, as other’s work had once (and continues, as with today’s post about a novel) saved me.

And all those years I had when I could’ve been writing, instead I was trying to be good.


When I stopped crying, when I wrote some scribbles in my book about my response, I found myself thinking of a line from a poem by Adrienne Rich: there where you have landed, stripped as you are.

I landed, naked. I, to twist a common Mormon saying, left the boat. I swam on my own to shore while they floated away to whatever eternal celestial happiness they are guaranteed.

And here I am.

I am fighting this idea: there isn’t anything left for the church to negate. I lived all the best years of my life within the church, and since I left there isn’t anything that’s actually worth the act of negation. Because I gave up, for church-approved goodness, who I was.

Maybe under the dress I was wearing, I withered away. Maybe I am nothing but a femur and a ribcage and a few strands of hair.

Maybe I will figure this out. Who I am. Who I can be with the time I have left.

But today? Today, on this shore, I am feeling lost. I am feeling like nothing. I am feeling like I lived an entire wasted life.

And what I am thinking is that I didn’t know this was here, this magma under my surface. I thought I was OK with my leaving. I didn’t know, until I read those words, that I had all these tears, all of this sorrow, so much regret. I don’t want to go back to the church. I don’t want to put the dress back on.

But I am not sure if there is anything left to make of me.



That was extraordinary. To bare your inner self and while doing so, resonate with me and probably others out there. I too come from a deeply Mormon family and some are modern and accepting of those who choose another path and others are not. I find a deep closeness with those who love genuinely and with the soul of their faith and not let the trappings of that faith discourage them from loving those who have chosen other paths. My father's family in particular are deeply faithful and live close to the church, but love me and my family with all their hearts and souls. (Within the larger family are divorces, homosexuality, addictions, mental health issues: but all those family members are worthy and lovable souls to them) They do not care what I practice or how I choose to live and raise my family, their belief that I am a good person just because is the foundation of who they are. It is their unconditional faith and love for me and my family that helps me keep the ties to Utah and my family (I live in NH). I understand where you're coming from because of my own story. I wish for you comfort that you are worthy and lovable just as you are. God bless.


You are amazing Amy and I have always admired and love you and will continue to who ever you decide to become. Thank you for sharing. It makes my struggle with “thee church” feel less deplorable.
Not that you want to know but
Sam worked for “the church” for 12 years. There was a lot of stuff I really really struggled with and still do. It finally came down to him finding a new job or a new religion. Since he had to have a temple recommend for his job, finding a new religion was out.
My struggle with “the church” is one of the reasons we left Utah. When I remember the triangle (the actual gospel teachings at the top, middle being guidelines to make the church function and the bottom being church culture) I don’t have a problem with the Christ centered teachings at the very top of the triangle that are supposed to be the focus of the church. I start to waiver a bit when the gospel starts to blur with functioning guidelines that are written by imperfect people. And church culture for the most part is totally different outside Utah. But a lot of the weird “rules” like bishops can’t have beards, white shirts to pass the sacrament are a must (it says Sunday best), roles in meetings etc are all no where in the actual handbook they are made up cultural things. The church cultural and horrendous judgment looses me. In your writing you say church approved goodness, I’m just guessing that’s church culture approved. (I guess part of it could be temple recommend goodness which is a whole other thing) The simple teaching Jesus said love everyone and treat them kindly too is where is should stop. Not the way the song goes others will love you. You don’t do it for others to love you. You do it to be like Jesus and a decent human being. The standards of perfection and keeping up with whatever and and and just isn’t healthy. But that’s not gospel that’s culture.
When I was really deciding what I was going to do I realized I did still struggle with some of the current teachings (I really struggle with Elder Oaks, and there is a talk by a Sister about coffee that really frustrates me, and much in the past) but I didn’t struggle with the actual gospel. I didn’t struggle with the promises I made when I took the sacrament. I didn’t struggle with my relationship with my Heavenly Parents. When I quit worrying about the church culture and started remembering that the leaders are imperfect just like I am, even the apostles, not everything that comes out of their mouths is divine inspiration. I started having a better relationship with myself and my Savior. Because when I let them have some grace I let myself have more as well. It’s hard because I’m just leading my family and they are leading a world wide church. But, I started caring less about what everyone else thought at church. Because I wasn’t there for them anymore, I had made the decision to be there for me. The only person’s opinion of me that mattered was my own and my heavenly parents. There are sometimes it creeps in and I find myself worrying about stuff like I just brought a bag of chips and not some fancy homemade whatever to the linger longer. But I have to remind myself that the chips still get eaten and the time I spent doing something else was used to do something more valuable than putting on a show and let it go. I also started saying no, I don’t have the same inspiration for that calling if I don’t. Just because they are desperate doesn’t mean I can’t have boundaries.
It’s hard. Because culture is a big part of church, especially in Utah. With all the judgement it makes it really challenging.
If what works for you and helps you be mentally healthy, is jumping off the boat and swimming to shore. Then do that, spend a Sunday hiking along the Oregon coast:). You are as much a child of your heavenly parents as anyone else. And you are loved as much as anyone else. That boat is not making any faster to heaven than you on shore.
I know you said you wanted to write and change lives but didn’t get to the way you wanted to. But know that you changed mine. I can’t tell you how many times I sat home feeling isolated and alone, being a horrible stay at home mom. I would read your blog. I love your writing. I would use book recommendations. I would use recipes. I would connect with so many of your stories. It made me feel so much less alone. It saved me more than once when I was ready to be done.
And when you were wearing your dress, the weeks you taught relief society/Sunday school, those were the only weeks I would go. The rest of the time I had my own class in the foyer. I loved your lessons. They were real. They were relatable. Not a show of random higher out of touch doctrine to try to prove how smart you were. They were real lessons that made a difference. And more than once you came to my class in the foyer and just talked to me, you asked how I was. Not because you were my visiting teacher or it was part of your calling but because you are you. I know you say you don’t know who you are. But whoever you are is amazing and fierce. Know that you did make a difference least in my life.


Amy, of course you still have time. You've been saying for years on this blog that you want to do something different - so just start. Otherwise, we will be reading this sort of post next year too. You CAN do something small: take one exam, write one story for publication, write one chapter of your book. Take one step. And if it doesn't work, take a different step next. And I suspect it doesn't really natter what step you take, you just need to take one step to prove to yourself that the world will not stop if you do something for yourself. Another great post, and two lovely comments. There are obviously people out here who love you, and think you are worth reading. Just smiling at others makes their day better. Be brave again, be more Simone. :)


Amy, thanks so much for being brave and honest. I am nearly the same age as you and relate with a lot of what you have written about your choices in life and not quite fitting in or being who you thought you would be at this strange stage of life. I'm not sure if there is a perfect age, each one comes with its own challenges and blessings. I listened to a podcast recently that was helpful for me, maybe you would enjoy it as well. It is the "Experience 50" episode #229. I will link it here. Wishing you much joy on your continued journey.

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