Sunday, April 26, 2015

Looking Beyond the Pro-Forma of Life

In the early years of my marriage, I occasionally wrote in my journal about my struggle with homosexuality – though I invariably, at some point or another, would go through and redact these passages for reasons I explain below. My journal was reflective of much of the rest of my life:  keeping it was a commandment (of sorts), so I sought with zeal to fulfill that commandment.  

Keeping a journal is something that President Spencer W. Kimball - who was president of the Mormon Church when I joined in 1983 - greatly emphasized as a commandment. It sprung out of a Mormon tradition to be a “record-keeping people” which finds its origins, in part, in the mythic tradition of the Book of Mormon. Though still taught in the LDS Church, however, journal writing (like other things taught by President Kimball, such as the importance of gardening and the abominable nature of homosexuality) is not emphasized today the way it was 30-40 years ago.

My journal was voluminous; I kept it faithfully for over 25 years and it filled several shelves of binders. However, it was, generally speaking, as dry as the paper on which I wrote, devoid of life. I was going through the motions; even though I loved to write, this love was masked and controlled by my overarching desire to “do what is right” and fulfill the commandment, regardless of whether doing so brought joy.  

I also always had President Kimball’s admonition in mind to only write things that would be edifying to my descendants when, someday, they would read my magnum opus and find therein inspiration as they faced struggles in their own lives. This of course only encouraged me to be more wooden and stilted in my journal-writing. I omitted many thoughts and feelings, e.g., those dealing with the constant marital difficulties my ex-wife and I experienced and those dealing with homosexuality (and redacting those I occasionally wrote). I also colored what I did record to be suitably appropriate for other eyes to possibly read someday.

I came to see how journal-writing was a metaphor for much of my adult life after joining the Church.  I sought with zeal to fulfill the commandments, regardless of whether doing so brought me joy.  Frankly, it never brought me joy. 

Of course, I told myself that there truly was “real” joy underneath the layers of unhappiness that I only dimly allowed myself to feel. I told myself that if I applied myself with even more fervor to living the “Mormon life,” I would indeed experience the joy and happiness that comes from “living the Plan of Happiness.” If I only persisted in applying myself day in, day out, the mere act of doing so would produce – somewhere, sometime – happiness. 

Until that happened, I had to exercise faith and “do my duty” (as we men were constantly admonished to do), always living my life for others, for externals, believing that in doing so, my internal self would – in some mysterious and indefinable way – be blessed and benefitted and I would find fulfillment and the ever-elusive purpose of life (according to Nephi):  to have [experience] joy.

Which brings to me to the second way that journal writing was a metaphor for my life, i.e., President Kimball’s admonition that we write only those things that could be edifying. Even in recording the things of our soul, we were encouraged to not be in touch with our feelings, with our real selves, but to put up the “Mormon wall” between the person whom we were supposed to be and that whom we really are. 

Furthermore, members of the LDS Church are encouraged to live for the benefit of others, their lives finding their truest and most sublime meaning only with reference to what we do for others. There is no value, per se, in merely being, or in our unique individuality. One's purpose is defined in terms of doing, and that doing must meet a suitability test.

And so, my dry (mainly dry) journal was really a reflection of and metaphor for my (mainly) dry life.  

About the time I came out, I stopped keeping a journal and instead took up blogging. On my blog, I truly did write the “things of my soul.” Will it be for the “profit of my children”?  I don’t know; perhaps. It will most definitely (I hope) convey to them – or at least some of them - should they ever read it, that their father finally became a real person and set out on a journey for true meaning and authenticity after living most of his adult life as a cardboard cutout; and that he sought – finally – to give expression to his true thoughts and feelings. 

I have continued to blog over the years since then, but I also started keeping a journal again after I met Mark. He had kept a (real) journal for years and inspired me to begin anew. This time around, however, the journal would not for the benefit of my children nor would it be kept to fulfill any kind of commandment. Rather, I would keep it willingly as a means of meditating upon my life, of discovering myself, of coaxing answers and eliciting questions.  

That was the theory, but I have still had to work at overcoming a legacy of merely looking at life instead of seeing it, of merely chronicling life rather than querying it. I rediscovered, when recently in San Francisco, that blogging helps me to do these things. As I wrote in my journal, 
"Blogging forces me to look beyond the pro-forma of life, to behold it, to engage with it. In that engagement is found life, insight, truth and humanity. In the past, I have told myself that I needed to 'stop writing about life and start living it'; but I have realized that, for me, that is not true. In order for me to see and truly live life, I need to write about it. And so I shall continue to try."


  1. As I am sure there will be many "arrivals" in your life as described above. Finding the authentic self takes patience and practice and it can be so light and freeing. Your journaling has served you well. Besides marking time, you have created "your life, your legacy." Thank-you for sharing and being instrumental in reminding us we all have a life worthy of recording.

  2. Thanks for your comment, Richard. Yes, we most certainly all have a life worthy of recording.