q&a One of Everything

It is said that everyone has a story. What sets yours apart? And what do you hope readers take away from reading your book?

Sheer volume of experience sets my story apart from most as well as its dizzying variety, each sparkle of which lives on in some fashion inside me.

Tennyson says in Ulysses, “I am a part of all that I have met.” What I love about my journey is that all that I have met is part of me. I’ve moved on from people, groups, religions, and ideas, but I lived them fully at the moment and bring with me the best of their essence. Having experienced so very much, my satisfaction with where I am now is real. I know where I’ve been, I know where I am, I know I’m where I want to be.

I hope readers take away that you can quit smoking without becoming a born-again smoker. You can disagree without becoming disagreeable. And even if you make some people mad, nothing feels better than being real.

How do you anticipate the gay community will react to your story? How do you think your Mormon community will respond? Do these responses matter to you?

I think gays and Mormons fall along the same bell curve that every other group does. I expect there will be some gays who appreciate my sincerity and love for them, some who categorically reject a Mormon who they feel rejects them, and the rest will fall somewhere in between.

I expect the vast majority of Mormons will be intrigued by my unlikely conversion to their faith, many will find my honesty refreshing, and some will turn away from me because either my story or the way I tell it makes them uncomfortable.

I would be lying if I said the responses don’t matter to me because I love both communities so much. The truth is, by telling my story, I will be rejected by many in both groups, and yet the telling is what sets me free. I keep thinking about André Gide’s statement in Autumn Leaves: “It is better to be hated for who you are than loved for who you are not.”

How do your husband and children feel about you exposing your life and theirs in your memoir?

My husband is a remarkable man. I asked him once why he was willing to give me a chance when I had so much baggage, and he said, “Because I believe in the Atonement.” He believes in me, also, a major reason why I have the confidence to tell my story. He’s only human, so he acknowledges that he has to take a few deep breaths as the book becomes public, but he has encouraged me harder than anyone to take this leap.

I asked my nineteen-year-old son how he feels about me exposing my life and his, and he said, “I don’t care. It’s a great story.” High praise indeed from a recent high-school graduate. He could talk his siblings off a cliff, so if it’s okay with him, it’s okay with them.

Who has been the most influential person in your life? In what way did he or she impact you; what changes came about as a result of their influence?

Gregg Prettyman is hands down the single greatest influence in my life because through his friendship, I experienced unconditional love and found God.

We are shaped by our experiences, and you have definitely had experiences? What are the most profound ways in which yours have shaped you?

Empathy. I can talk to anyone about anything, can see virtually any point of view. When I was a young child, I felt like I could slip inside someone else’s head and feel what they were feeling. My experiences only reinforced that sense of connection, and it has given me a great deal of compassion for others.

What growing pains did you experience as an adoptive mother that you believe biological mothers avoid? What advice would you give to a person seeking to adopt?

Mostly the sacrifice of ego. When you adopt, your child is not a chip off the old block. You have to accept that you are not the ultimate source of your child’s life, that you owe an obligation for that to another woman, which can be particularly painful if that woman hurt your child in any way.

Older child adoption presents an exponentially greater degree of difficulty because your child thinks of someone else as the “real” mother, has ongoing loyalty to her even though you are the one on the front lines dealing with the repercussions of her failures as a mother.

Older child adoption is not for the faint of heart. You have to be prepared for some pretty rocky years. The plus is that once you’ve weathered the worst of the storm, because you know how far behind the eight-ball your children started, their successes are thrilling, far more thrilling I suspect than the usual pride in, say, a high school graduate. If your child makes Eagle Scout, look out! Fireworks for days!

If it was suggested that adopting three abused siblings was, in effect, a way for you to come full circle and experience closure, how would you respond?

My family’s story is more dramatic than most, but children are always presented as an opportunity for parents to come full circle and experience closure. In my case, my children called forth my healing so that I can call forth theirs.

Your memoir tells us what you gave up in embracing your faith. What did you, personally, gain?

I spent my whole life looking for where I belonged, trying round peg after round peg in square holes. When I found my way to the Mormon faith, everything slid into place for me, and I felt peace for the first time in my life.

The longer I live my faith, the stronger I feel in myself and the kinder I feel toward others. I am sincerely and deeply happy.

Was leaving behind the life you were living and becoming a Mormon yet another extreme? What was the catalyst that made you even consider such a drastic change?

Becoming a Mormon was an extreme change looking at my life as a whole, but it happened as part of a gradual evolution so that the actual decision to be baptized was just the logical next step on my path. I am as shocked as anyone that I became a Mormon, and the only reason I considered it is the quality of human being Gregg Prettyman is, the friend who introduced me to the Mormon faith. He was so accepting of me in all of my hot mess. He was happy, and I loved how he treated his wife. He never tried to convert me so I knew he was a true friend. It made me want to learn what made him tick, and a large part of that was his Mormon faith.

Most children rebel; many experiment. What made your rebellion and experimentation so extreme?

It’s funny, but the last word I would use to describe myself is rebellious. I’m usually quite obedient to legitimate authority, but I do have an extreme personality, and I live for new experience. There is no half-stepping. Anything I’ve ever been interested in or tried, I’ve thrown myself into body, mind, and spirit. As I’ve found the connections and belonging I craved, my life has become more settled, even serene at times.

During college, feminism became a huge part of your life. How would you define the feminism of your youth? What vestiges of it do you still carry with you?

My first exposure to feminism taught me to see men as the enemy, the oppressor, the obstacle, a kind of “hey, wait a minute, I didn’t know that was going on!” Paganism was appealing to me in large part because it sidestepped men.

I still carry the knowledge that discrimination exists in varying degrees, but life experience and a little bit of wisdom have taught me that men aren’t the enemy, they’re just different, and those differences are mostly a good thing, complementary and beautiful.

I’m grateful to early feminists for the wide open world they have helped to create, one in which essentially no but me determines who or what I will be.

Was your high school affair with another female student the result of rebellion, of sexual experimentation, or of bisexuality? In retrospect, how should the adults in your life have responded?

I wish the adults had simply talked to me, asked me how I felt, what I needed, why I wanted to be with another girl. I was really looking for connection more than anything, just wanted to feel seen and special. I would have spared myself, and others, a whole lot of heartache if I had found that connection without sex at thirteen.

As an adult, do you believe that there are any families that truly avoid dysfunction?

I don’t see how. It’s like asking if there are any truly perfect families, and as my mother carped to my father once, “nothing is perfect.” He in turn asked, “What about a flower?” I think dysfunction is a continuum and families, like individuals, can range from low to extremely high levels. The real key is in recognizing the dysfunction and committing to mitigating it with each succeeding generation.

You grew up with a certain amount of dysfunction in your home. How would you describe that dysfunction? What was its impact on you?

The dysfunction in my home arose from the same source from which I think all dysfunction arises, namely the unresolved pain of my parents. They had each passed out of childhood without experiencing close, loving relationships with their parents, and they couldn’t give me what they didn’t have. Like my parents, I have found it hard to give to my children what I didn’t have, but I know from my own experience how badly they need it. I recognize that I have a choice, and I work hard against what is comfortable and familiar—emotional distance—to form close, loving relationships with my children. I am a work in progress.

In Chapter 3 of your book you state that, “Pretending takes on almost life-or-death importance, a Stockholm syndrome allegiance to the people I depend on for survival.” As a child, how was that manifested in your home life?

What we grow up with is what we know; it is our personal normal. I find it interesting that children fight to stay with even the most abusive parents because that’s all they know. My parents were not abusive, merely damaged, but I knew nothing different and adapted myself to their limitations as a matter of unconscious survival. It felt disloyal and mildly shocking to realize later, much less admit, that they had failed as parents in a number of ways.

Not many people would have the chutzpa to share a story like yours. When did you decide to write a memoir, and why did you write it as memoir and not fiction?

I fell into writing a memoir by accident when I read something in a read & critique class at a writer’s conference that I had written as a lark about how weird it is to be a Berkeley grad living as a Mormon in Utah.

I decided to write the entire story as a memoir because finally acknowledging my past set me free from a lifetime of hiding different parts of myself from different people. Truth is, it has been liberating to tell my story, albeit on paper. I also believe that to make any experience meaningful, especially suffering, we need to use it to help others. I’m hoping that my willingness to come out of hiding, to speak to all facets of my life, will help someone else do the same.