book reviews, LDS, religion

Repost: My review of Bringing Elizabeth Home…

Here’s a repost of an Epinions review I wrote in 2004. It appears here “as/is”. A whole lot has happened since 2004– to include Ed and Lois Smart’s divorce and Ed’s coming out as gay. I’m reposting the review for the sake of history, and because I think some people might find it interesting.

The first time I saw Ed and Lois Smart’s 2003 book Bringing Elizabeth Home: A Journey of Faith and Hope, I was tempted to purchase it. Their beautiful fourteen year old daughter Elizabeth was kidnapped from their Salt Lake City, Utah home on June 5, 2002. The Smarts’ other daughter, nine year old Mary Katherine, witnessed the abduction and alerted Ed and Lois Smart after Elizabeth and the kidnappers, later revealed to be Brian David Mitchell and Wanda Barzee, were gone.

I remembered how the summer of 2002 was a summer plagued by a rash of child abductions. A couple of those abductions had ended tragically– five year old Samantha Runnion was killed soon after she was taken, but not before she was brutally molested by her captor. Elizabeth Smart had, against all odds, survived her abduction, reuniting with her family in mid March 2003. And Elizabeth Smart’s story is a bizarre one indeed. Brian David Mitchell and Wanda Barzee were revealed to be believers of a fundamentalist branch of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. According to news reports, Brian David Mitchell meant to make Elizabeth one of his wives.

The Smart family fascinated me. On the front cover of Bringing Elizabeth Home: A Journey of Faith and Hope there is a lovely picture of Elizabeth and her parents, and on the back cover, the whole family of eight is pictured. The Smarts seem to espouse the epitome of the American Dream. Ed and Lois Smart are well off financially, and they have six beautiful children. I wanted to know what lingered beneath the surface of the Smart family’s attractive facade. Nevertheless, I had read negative reviews about Bringing Elizabeth Home: A Journey of Faith and Hope, so I passed up the book.

Then last week, my husband went out of town for a meeting and I found myself with some extra time to do some reading. It wasn’t long before I found myself purchasing Bringing Elizabeth Home: A Journey of Faith and Hope. I finished the book in a few days and am left with my own feelings of ambivalence about the Smart story. On one hand, Ed and Lois Smart are not professional writers and they were telling the heartwrenching story of their daughter’s abduction. On the other hand, Bringing Elizabeth Home: A Journey of Faith and Hope was ghost written by Laura Morton, who, according to information on the book jacket, has written a total of eighteen books, six of which were New York Times bestsellers. Unfortunately, I would have expected more from someone who has had such an auspicious career in writing.

While at times, I found Bringing Elizabeth Home: A Journey of Faith and Hope to be a warm, touching story, the writing is sometimes awkward and repetitive. Also, although the book is supposed to be written entirely from the Smarts’ point of view, the authors don’t seem to be very selective about their usage of pronouns. For instance, the chapters that are supposedly written by Ed or Lois as individuals read like personal narratives and employ the pronoun “I”. In other chapters, “we” is used, but so is “Ed and Lois”, as if the story is being told from a different point of view. It makes for awkward reading.

This book doesn’t shed a lot of light on the case, either. Bringing Elizabeth Home: A Journey of Faith and Hope doesn’t offer many more details than what was already printed in the news or portrayed in the television movie that was made about Elizabeth and broadcasted last fall. There are, however, a couple of interesting chapters about Ed and Lois Smart’s extended family. There’s also a lot written about Elizabeth’s love for playing her harp. Mary Katherine also plays the harp. I don’t know of any kids who play harp, so it was interesting to read about that. The book also offers some very nice pictures of the family. Again, however, it seems like I had already seen some of them in magazines.

The thing I liked the least about Bringing Elizabeth Home: A Journey of Faith and Hope was the “preachy” tone in the book. Yes, I understand that the Smarts’ faith had a lot to do with keeping them sane while Elizabeth was missing, but the book, particularly at the beginning, is very heavy on quoting scriptures from the Book of Mormon and the D&C (Doctrine and Covenants), which is another LDS document. If readers aren’t members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, they might not understand some of the significance of the quotes.

Speaking of quotes, the Smarts start most chapters off with one, and they are generally from LDS sources– either the Book of Mormon, or the D&C, or perhaps from a well known LDS leader like church president Gordon B. Hinckley. Again, it seems to me that the Smarts might have forgotten that they might have readers who have no understanding of the LDS Church. On the other hand, the inclusion of the LDS quotes may have been by design– to get more people to investigate the church. All one has to do is contact LDS missionaries and they can start learning about the church and possibly become a member. In any case, it seems to me that some folks might find all the LDS stuff included in this book off putting, particularly if they don’t believe in God or going to church. That said, I will also mention that before I picked up Bringing Elizabeth Home: A Journey of Faith and Hope, I figured I would be reading something about the Smarts’ faith, so this aspect of the book didn’t surprise me much.

The Smarts continually contend that they want to protect Elizabeth’s privacy, and I respect that. On the other hand, I do find it curious that they published Bringing Elizabeth Home: A Journey of Faith and Hope, if they truly wanted to protect Elizabeth’s privacy. They write that they were hoping to put some of the false information to rest. It seems to me that the Smarts’ book is really more about how Ed and Lois Smart dealt with Elizabeth’s absence than Elizabeth’s ordeal, and to the Smarts’ credit, they do seem to convey that idea in the book. However, they had to know that people would buy this book expecting to read about what really happened to Elizabeth. The Smarts include a few details, but those who want to buy Bringing Elizabeth Home should realize that they won’t get the whole scoop.

I don’t think that Bringing Elizabeth Home: A Journey of Faith and Hope is a terrible book. It’s just that it doesn’t reveal that much more than what the public already knows about the Smart case. The writing is not as strong as it should be and there’s some preaching in this book that might turn some people off. Nevertheless, the Smart case is fascinating and if you want to know everything that’s out there about the Smart family, you might find reading this book worthwhile. On the whole, however, I think that most people would probably do well to skip it.

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LDS, mental health, psychology

Please don’t smile when you say that…

You know that old cowboy movie saying, “Smile when you say that”? It’s an idiom meaning that you’d better be joking. If you said something shitty and actually meant it, you’re due for a beatdown of some sort. At the very least, if you’re not joking, the other person is going to be very angry or offended by what you dared to say with a straight face. Today, I want to explore the opposite of that saying. Some things aren’t really laughing matters.

Trigger warning– this post is going to be about suicidal ideation.

Recently, I had a rather unsettling experience while witnessing a video call with someone. I wasn’t actually the primary conversant on that call; I just happened to be in the room when it was happening. Bill was talking to his daughter, who was talking about some pretty personal stuff. As she was revealing some painful things about her past, she was laughing and smiling.

At one point, the topic of suicide came up, and she was giggling as she talked about it. There she was, talking about being so aggrieved at more than one point during her childhood that she wanted to meet Jesus. She felt Jesus was the only one who loved or cared about her, and had actually taken steps to make the meeting happen. And as she talked about this painful memory, she was smiling and giggling… which I’m sure she did because she needed Bill to know about this, but didn’t want to upset him. Or maybe it was just too painful and surreal a subject to talk about with a straight face.

Days later, Bill is still a bit apprehensive about that conversation. It didn’t escape either of us that it seems like it would be unexpected for a person to laugh while talking about suicidal ideation. Bill is understandably concerned. So am I. In fact, I wish he could have had this conversation with her in person, preferably in private. Ordinarily, he would have been talking to her with headphones and in a different room. But her call came late and Bill was thinking it wasn’t going to happen, so he didn’t have his laptop handy. He talked to her on his iPad, and was sitting at the table with me when she Skyped. I suppose he could have Skyped her back and spoken to her privately, but he chose not to… and most of the call was mundane, anyway. It was about the usual stuff. But then that topic came up, and it got a bit awkward.

My theory is that many people in Bill’s family, to include Bill himself, have this innate tendency to put others before themselves. They will sacrifice their own needs to make someone else happy or more comfortable. I’ve seen Bill do it many times. I’ve seen his mother do it, too. And now, I think I saw Bill’s daughter doing it, needing to talk about this very deep and painful memory, but not wanting to upset us or herself. Or, it could have been that she was embarrassed about or ashamed of this trauma and wanted to make it seem less serious than it clearly is. I think the laughter could have even been a form of self-protection… a tension breaker of some sort.

I see from reading Psychology Today that laughing about psychological pain is actually not an uncommon phenomenon. In fact, it’s possible that she didn’t even realize what she was doing. This was a very scary, traumatizing, and triggering memory for her, but talking about it with laughter was a way to minimize it somehow. I told Bill that, to me, it seemed like she needed to talk about this, but maybe she was afraid to bring it up because it might traumatize us. That would mean she was at least partially focused on someone’s needs other than her own, although I will say that overall, she’s proven to be very resilient and self-reliant. She couldn’t bear living with her mentally ill mother, so she did what she had to do to escape that environment. But before that happened, she obviously learned to put others before herself, likely to prevent more pain. I also think she comes by that naturally, to some extent. As I mentioned before, I’ve seen that tendency in Bill and his mom. But I also think younger daughter’s mother exploited that tendency and reinforced it. Her older sister reportedly has the same tendency, which is probably why she’s still living with her mom at age 30, taking care of her severely autistic brother.

I heard younger daughter explaining how her mother was “deep down a good person”, as she also talked about how her mom did things like deny her access to her family, force her to take out student loans and give her mom the excess, compel her to change her last name and call her stepfather “dad”, send her off to college and on a church mission with no support whatsoever, deny her medical care, and use money and empty promises as a means of controlling her. I can understand why she does this. It’s not easy to accept that a close family member is not a good person, especially when that person is a parent. When a parent turns out to be a “monster”, the person wonders if that tendency to be monstrous is hereditary. They may try to overcorrect by being overly considerate and kind.

I don’t think younger daughter needs to worry that she’s “monstrous”, like her mother is. I take comfort in knowing that the more younger daughter gets reacquainted with Bill, the more she realizes that she has a lot of him in her… she has a lot of his goodness, kindness, and empathy. But she also has a mother who is truly a selfish, cruel, and abusive person. Her mother didn’t take care of her, and she didn’t have access to her real father. So she’s had to learn to take care of herself by denying herself some basic needs and not speaking up when she urgently needs attention or assistance.

I am pissed at Ex for not taking care of her children properly. It makes me very angry that these things were going on, and Ex apparently knew, and she didn’t speak to Bill about them. She also didn’t do fuck all to help her child. In fact, she even denied her healthcare, even though Bill’s daughters had full access to health insurance through Tricare. Meanwhile, she was telling Bill what a terrible parent he is, and labeling me a homewrecking whore. But this isn’t a surprise. I don’t think Ex is a good person, and I’ve felt that way for many years. I don’t have a connection to her, other than being the wife of her ex husband, so I can safely have these feelings. But her children don’t have that luxury, because she’s their mom, and she’s the only mom they will ever have.

Although people can and do disconnect with their parents, it’s actually a very hard thing to do– to completely cut them off and go no contact. Even if a person dies, as long as any thought of them is in a person’s conscience, the relationship continues on some level. Hell… even many adopted children with excellent adoptive parents wonder about their birth parents. A lot of them do what they can to seek out their birth parents because they want to know their origins. They want to know why their birth parents– particularly their birth mother– didn’t raise them.

Sometimes, the stories adopted children unearth about their birth parents are comforting and reassuring. Birth mom desperately wanted to keep the child, but couldn’t because she was too poor or too young and it was just impossible. But sometimes the stories are painful. Ex was adopted. We heard in Ex’s case that her birth mom was married and had been having an affair with another man. She chose her marriage over keeping and raising Ex. Making matters worse was the fact that Ex’s adoptive parents were abusive, neglectful, and treated her like a second class citizen compared to their natural children. Or, perhaps the adopted child finds her birth parents and neither wants anything to do with him or her. Younger daughter wasn’t adopted. She knows her mom, as well as the truth about her. But that doesn’t mean she doesn’t wish it weren’t like that, and have some hope that somehow, someday, her mother will change into a different kind of person.

Younger daughter was told many falsehoods when she was growing up. She was told some outrageous lies about Bill and me, and the nature of how we met. Meanwhile, Ex gaslit her into not seeing what she was seeing with her own eyes. As Ex labeled Bill a philanderer and me a whore, she was shacking up with her now husband while still married to Bill. And they were having a sexual relationship, even though they weren’t married and she was supposedly a devout Mormon. The church teaches that premarital sex, particularly if one is still married and “sealed” to someone else, is morally wrong. The church was used to break up Bill’s relationship with his daughters– Bill was no longer “living the standards”, so he needed to be discarded. But Ex was also not living the standards, and somehow that was okay. The cognitive dissonance was probably incredible for the kids.

Incidentally, younger daughter is still LDS, and the LDS church is good at guilt, too. People are expected to “endure to the end.” I have heard countless stories about people who have wanted to do something for themselves– say stepping down from a church calling or tithing less money– and they were guilted and shamed for that. I suspect that the church has also, in some way, reinforced that tendency to deny problems and minimize or discount them. It’s easier for others when we’re “strong”… at least until it gets so bad that the strength gives out and the strong person finally collapses. And since younger daughter is now a mom herself, she can’t really afford to fall apart.

Is it any wonder Bill’s daughter is so traumatized? Is it any wonder that she laughs and smiles and giggles when she talks about something as serious as suicide, suicidal ideation, or other traumas? I suspect she fears being too “heavy” and turning off her dad, who has been wanting to have a relationship with her for so long. I also suspect that she was trained not to bring any problems to her mom or her stepdad. In fact, I’ll bet Ex’s reactions to her daughter’s pain included anger, derision, or even laughter.

My heart goes out to younger daughter. When I was younger, I had similar thoughts about self-destruction. I didn’t think I was ever going to be able to launch. I didn’t think I had anything to offer the world and I didn’t think anyone cared about me, even though there were obviously people who did love me. Adolescence is hard, though… biological processes during that time can be pure hell. Childhood is hard, too. You have no control over anything, and adults are telling you to be quiet… “shut up before I give you something to cry about”. Being a young adult is hard– trying to find one’s way in the world and make enough money to support oneself. I think the phase I’m in now may be the easiest for me so far, but I am about to be menopausal. We’ll see how that goes.

Sometimes I still feel shitty about myself and want it all to end. Now that I think about it, I’m pretty sure that when I admitted having these feelings to my own therapist years ago, I probably laughed too. It’s just not easy to talk about it, and laughter somehow makes the task easier, especially when you don’t know how the other person will react. My therapist was a doctoral level psychologist with many years of experience. He was in the prime of his career when I saw him. But he’s still a flawed human being with feelings and thoughts. Despite the fact that I was paying him to counsel me, I wasn’t sure what his human reaction would be to my comments. Fortunately, he was a professional and talked me through the pain.

I do remember telling my mom, at one point, that I felt suicidal. I don’t think I put it that way, but I did express to her the desire I had for ending it all. Her response was to get angry and say, “I know you won’t do anything ‘stupid’.” It was absolutely the WRONG thing to say. She basically discounted my pain and practically dared me to make an attempt. I have never forgotten that she said that to me. If I’m honest, it kind of lowered my opinion of her, although I do love my mom and I don’t think she meant it. I look back at that time and realize that she was under a lot of stress. So I forgive her for saying that, although I haven’t forgotten that she said it. I can’t forget it because it’s shocking to hear your mom say something like that, even if you kind of know why she said it.

I don’t know what Ex said in that situation… but I suspect it was a lot worse than what my mom said to me. My mom is not a narcissist, nor is she mentally ill. My mom has compassion. Ex has compassion only when it makes her look good to other people. And I truly believe that she sees her children and grandchildren as extensions of herself– objects to be manipulated and owned, rather than nurtured, loved, and cherished. I’m sure if younger daughter had succeeded, Ex would have simply felt abandoned. She would have been angry at the imposition and the inconvenience. And she never would have thought to tell her daughter’s other parent, a loving father who would have done whatever he could to help her and ease her pain. Ex was much too “prideful” and vengeful for that.

I really think that younger daughter’s tendency to “laugh” at trauma is a combination of a few things. One is that she’s been conditioned to minimize her own pain, either because no one would comfort her anyway, or because she would be shamed for it. Another is that talking about these feelings is embarrassing for her. Another is not wanting Bill or me to think there’s something “wrong” with her (which we definitely don’t). And then there’s the need to reduce the tension that comes from talking about trauma and pain. Laughter is good for that. It’s close to crying, but crying is kind of “taboo”– many people see crying as “weakness”. So we laugh and that kind of breaks the tension, even if we really just want to break down in sobs and tears and have someone hug us and tell us it will all be okay.

I know my husband well… and I know that if he was in a room with his daughter and she was talking about this subject, he would give her a hug and stroke her hair. He would encourage her to lean on him and cry as much as she wanted. I know he would comfort her for as long as she needed it. I know this, because this is how he treats me. It’s an absolute tragedy that his children were denied this love and compassion that he’s been waiting to give them freely– without any strings attached.

The good news is that she has him now. She’s out of her mother’s house and can heal. No one can tell her what to do anymore unless she gives them permission.

On the other hand, right now Noyzi is telling me to get off the computer and walk him and Arran. So I guess I’d better wrap this up before he has a conniption. I’ll have to give this some more thought. For now, I told Bill that I think he should tell his daughter that he’s here for her and if she needs to talk to him, she can depend on him. He’ll hear what she has to say and won’t laugh at her, judge her, rage at her, minimize or discount her feelings, or treat her like she owes him… or he owns her. I hope that will help so she won’t have to laugh at her own pain anymore when she speaks to him.

A good video for people who have had a narcissistic mother.

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book reviews, LDS, true crime

Repost: Elizabeth Smart’s My Story…

I wrote this post for my original blog on October 12, 2013. It includes the Epinions.com review of her book, My Story, which I posted on the same day. It appears here as/is.

I really hesitated before reading My Story, the book Elizabeth Smart wrote about her experiences being kidnapped by Brian David Mitchell and Wanda Barzee.  I have written a review, posted below.  This post is going to have less to do with the book and more to do with some things I realized while reading Smart’s book.

First off, Elizabeth Smart endured hell for nine months.  There’s no sugar coating it.  Brian David Mitchell and Wanda Barzee put that girl through sheer hell.  When I think about what it must have been like for Elizabeth Smart to endure daily rapes, constant threats on hers and her family’s lives, the outdoor elements while wearing filthy rags, and, in fact, the very loss of her identity since Mitchell forced her to change her name, I am truly amazed that she has been able to recover as well as she apparently has.  I have some new respect for her.  She is certainly a strong and courageous woman.

Secondly, it occurred to me as I read her book that she was kidnapped at age 14, which is the age Helen Mar Kimball was when she “married” Joseph Smith.

I don’t know if that has to do with Brian David Mitchell’s decision to kidnap Elizabeth Smart when she was fourteen.  Certainly, at fourteen, Smart was still very much a child.  She was especially naive and sheltered and was, no doubt, easier to control than she might have been had she been older and more worldly.  Smart reveals that Mitchell planned to kidnap more girls and make them his wives.  Elizabeth Smart calls him a pedophile, but I think it’s more likely that he just wanted gullible, obedient, easily controlled girls who had not been defiled by anyone else. 

Certainly, it was easier for Barzee if Mitchell had younger girls around who didn’t compete for her place as the alpha bitch.  In any case, though, it did occur to me that Mitchell, who had proclaimed himself a “prophet”, was doing something very similar to what Joseph Smith did.  Yes, Joseph Smith did it many years ago.  Does it make it less wrong that he was fucking fourteen year old girls and “marrying” the wives of other men?  Why should anyone admire Joseph Smith on that basis alone?

Finally, once again, I couldn’t help but feel horrible for Elizabeth as she described feeling like a beautiful vase that was shattered.  I had read an account of a speech she had given some time ago about feeling like a “chewed up piece of gum”, in part because of an object lesson she had taken part in at church.  She was taught that no one would want her after a man had put his hands all over her.  As a fourteen year old girl, she certainly had no choice but to let Brian David Mitchell defile her.  Of course he overpowered her, though she is careful to point out that she did try to fight him off.  I’m sure that line was added for those who might fault her for not fighting harder to protect her virginity.  Anyone who would fault her for that, by the way, is an enormous asshole. 

In any case, Elizabeth Smart felt like a shattered vase or chewed up piece of gum after Mitchell forced her to “marry” him and then raped her.  She felt like she no longer had any value.  That rape took away her self-worth because she was taught that sex before marriage is filthy.  Certainly being raped can be described as filthy, but a person doesn’t lose their intrinsic value as a person because they have been raped or because they have had intercourse before marriage.  Plenty of good people have been raped.  Plenty of good people have had premarital sex.  What happened to Elizabeth Smart was not her fault.  It grieves me to think that even for a moment, she felt worthless because she was victimized.  I think many religious organizations need to do a better job instilling self worth in girls.  That goes for any restrictive faith that places a high premium on chastity and modesty.

One other thing I noticed in Smart’s book was her description of the food Mitchell would steal.  I have never been LDS, but I have read a lot of accounts of the type of foods many Mormons eat.  They seem to be big on casseroles, Spam, and Jello.  For instance, Utah is the world’s leader in green Jello consumption.  Here’s just one thread on RfM about odd cuisine.  Mitchell apparently was very fond of mayonnaise and would mix it with carrots and raisins.  Just the thought of that makes me want to retch.  And Elizabeth washed it down with warm water from a plastic canteen shared by her captors… when she wasn’t forced to drink cheap wine or beer or liquor… Or smoking cigarettes…  Yeah.  I can see why she’d want to forget that time in her life. 

To add insult to injury, when she was finally found, the cop handcuffed her before he took her to the police station.  Why he cuffed her, I don’t know.  It must have been procedure.  Maybe he thought she’d have some kind of Stockholm Syndrome and might bonk him on the head.  Poor Elizabeth.  That was just one more thing she never should have experienced.

Anyway, I think the book is worth reading if you want to read Elizabeth Smart’s perspective of the horrible experiences that made her famous.  It’s definitely gotten me to thinking.   

Below is my reposted review.

I really debated purchasing Elizabeth Smart’s 2013 book, My Story.  I have read other books written by crime victims and, generally speaking, have found that victimhood does not necessary make one a good writer.  But Smart had help writing this book from ghost writer, Chris Stewart, and having seen her in the media in the eleven years since she was abducted from her home in June 2002, I figured I might as well. 

I managed to read Smart’s account of her abduction and nine months in captivity at the hands of Brian David Mitchell and Wanda Barzee in one sitting.  The book is written in the first person, as if Elizabeth Smart is standing at a lectern relating her story.  She begins with the story of the first time she laid eyes on Brian David Mitchell.  It was a chilly day in November 2001 and Mitchell was on a Salt Lake City street begging.  Elizabeth Smart was out shopping with her mother and a couple of her siblings.  Smart’s mother, Lois, felt sorry for Mitchell.  She gave him five dollars and her husband’s cell phone number so that they might offer him work.  Elizabeth Smart explains that she made eye contact with Mitchell and gave him a slight smile.  She, too, felt sorry for him.  At that moment, Mitchell determined that Elizabeth Smart would be his “second wife”.

Many people already know what happened next.  On the night of June 5th, 2002, Mitchell broke into Smart’s home and awakened the sleeping fourteen year old by pressing a knife to her neck.  Smart, who had been sleeping next to her younger sister, Mary Katherine, silently got out of bed and, wearing nothing but her red satin pajamas and a pair of running shoes, left her home with Mitchell.  She was gone for nine months.

Smart explains that after being forced to “wed” and then repeatedly raped by Mitchell, she felt like a priceless vase that had suddenly been smashed to bits.  What do you do with a shattered vase?  You sweep up the pieces and throw it away.  Smart writes that Mitchell had defiled and demoralized her to the point at which she felt like her life was meaningless and no one would ever want her.  Smart writes that Barzee treated her like a slave and seemed to have no empathy whatsoever for Smart’s plight.  In fact, Smart writes more than once that Barzee had “given up” her six children so she could be with Mitchell.  I’m not sure that giving up access to one’s children automatically makes someone *bad*…  After all, in divorce situations, men are asked to do it all the time.  However, I definitely see how Elizabeth Smart made that determination about Wanda Barzee, under the circumstances.

Aside from the cruel treatment and neglect she received at the hands of her captors, Smart writes of the very uncomfortable living conditions she was forced to endure.  Mitchell and Barzee were derelicts who lived outside; consequently, Elizabeth Smart, who had grown up privileged and comfortable, found herself going days without eating, going thirsty, and wearing filthy clothes that were cast offs from other homeless people.  Mitchell also forced Smart to drink alcohol, smoke, and view pornography, activities that were strictly against Smart’s Mormon beliefs.

My thoughts

I had read Bringing Elizabeth Home, a book written by Ed and Lois Smart in 2004.  I wasn’t very impressed with that book because it was very sanitized and offered little information that wasn’t already in the news.  Moreover, it also included a lot of religious “preaching” related to the Smarts’ belief in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  I was a little afraid that Elizabeth Smart’s book would contain more of the same, although I had read that the book was going to focus much more on what went on during her actual captivity.

My Story is, in fact, about what happened to Elizabeth Smart during those nine months she was away.  I have to admit, after reading this book, I have new respect for Elizabeth Smart.  Brian David Mitchell and Wanda Barzee put her through hell.  Smart makes it clear that given a choice, she would certainly favor Barzee over Mitchell, whom she describes as a narcissistic pedophile who was unspeakably cruel to her. 

I finished this book in a couple of hours.  It’s printed in large type and written in a conversational style that includes a lot of sentence fragments which I think was supposed to be engaging.  Personally, I find one word sentences annoying.  I also noticed at least one instance in which Smart’s captor was referred to as David Brian Mitchell.  That’s not a big deal, but I did catch it.  There are no photos, not that I really expected Smart to have pictures from that time period.  This book is not nearly as graphic as it could be, which is certainly understandable.  For many readers, I’m sure the lack of graphic details will be a relief.   

Overall

I don’t think the writing in My Story is the stuff of Pulitzer Prizes, but it’s not bad.  The book was a quick read and doesn’t include a whole lot more information than what has been printed in the media already, though it does give Smart’s perspective more so than any news article could.  I admire Elizabeth Smart’s fortitude during that ordeal.  I think My Story is worth reading if you’re interested in what really happened to Elizabeth Smart.  The writing could be better, though.

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book reviews, LDS, true crime

Repost: Joyce McKinney and her unwilling LDS sex slave…

This is a repost of a review I wrote for Epinions.com on Anthony Delano’s book, Joyce McKinney and the Case of the Manacled Mormon. This review was written on January 15, 2010, and appears here as/is.

This book review has the distinction of once earning me $54 in one month.  $54 from Epinions on a book review is amazing, especially when it was earned in one month.  Book reviews didn’t typically make a lot of money on Epinions.  Anyway, it was my most popular book review… it was probably my most popular review, period.  So I have to repost it.  

Back in 2008, a weird news story was circulating about an American woman who had gone to Seoul, South Korea and had her pet pit bull, Booger, cloned. South Korean scientists took a piece of Booger’s ear and turned it into five cloned puppies. Booger’s owner, who was calling herself Bernann McKinney, was strangely familiar to a lot of people in Great Britain. British author, Anthony Delano writes in his 2009 book Joyce McKinney and the Case of the Manacled Mormon that McKinney was a bit frumpy and middle-aged, but the face was unmistakable.

It turns out that Bernann McKinney, owner of the cloned pit bull, was actually Joyce McKinney, a former beauty queen and notorious perpetrator of a sex crime that occurred in England in 1977. There was a time when Joyce McKinney was big news in Great Britain; she had been accused of kidnapping a Mormon missionary named Kirk Anderson, chaining him to a bed, and raping him. McKinney and her male accomplice, Keith May, jumped bail before they were tried and went back to America, where McKinney has continued to live an odd life.

As it so happens, I was actually living in England in 1977, though at that time I was too young to know or care about this case. I found out about Joyce McKinney by reading a messageboard for former Mormons. It seems that the story of Joyce McKinney and Kirk Anderson had become missionary lore among Mormons. A regular poster on the messageboard brought up McKinney’s story along with a link. I found out about Delano’s book by following the link to a news article about the case.

Joyce McKinney and the Case of the Manacled Mormon was priced at $17 and appeared to be published by a small time outfit. Nevertheless, I was fascinated by the story for many different reasons and that is what led me to purchase this book, which, I will admit, has sort of a tabloid feel to it.

A brief rundown of what happened

Joyce McKinney, who was called Joy back in the 1970s, had grown up in Avery County, North Carolina. She was an attractive natural blonde with a thick southern accent, big boobs, and a flair for drama. Indeed, before she got involved with a Mormon missionary, she had earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in theater.

Joy converted to Mormonism after living with a Mormon family and observing how close and loving the family was. She had lacked that connection as a child and thought that becoming a Mormon would allow her to achieve that same closeness with other people. After Joy converted to Mormonism, she moved to Provo, Utah to attend Brigham Young University (BYU) and study for her doctorate in theater. It was at BYU that 27 year old Joy met 19 year old Kirk Anderson.

While they were in Utah, Joy and Kirk apparently had a “fling” that included sexual intercourse. Kirk felt guilty about the premarital sex and confessed to his bishop. The bishop’s solution was to get Kirk sent off on a mission for the church. Kirk was originally bound for California, but in light of his problem with Joy, the church sent him to Britain instead.

Joy was obsessed with Kirk. Evidently, he was the one man who wasn’t willing to have sex with her. Oh, I’m sure there were other men out there who wouldn’t bed Joy, but apparently in her mind, Kirk was the one man she couldn’t have. So Joy resolved to fly to England and make Kirk marry her. She found a willing accomplice in Keith May, a man who had answered an ad she had placed for a “free trip to Europe”. They went to the little town where Kirk was doing his missionary work and, using a fake gun, managed to kidnap him and take him to a secluded cottage.

Joy McKinney and Keith May chained Kirk to a bed and held him hostage. Joy made him wear silk pajamas and then tore them off his body. She played sexy music, wore negligees, plied Kirk with liquor, and sexually assaulted him in an attempt to get pregnant. When Joy and her accomplice loosened the chains on Kirk Anderson after he had agreed to marry her, he escaped. Joyce McKinney and Keith May were later arrested, but when they got out of jail on bail, they fled back to the United States, where McKinney has had a few more scrapes with the law. She was later found in Atlanta, Georgia, but Britain declined to extradite her.  Shockingly, she was never punished for kidnapping and raping Kirk Anderson, though Britain did sentence her to a year in prison in absentia.

My thoughts

Author Anthony Delano presents the story of Joyce McKinney and the Case of the Manacled Mormon in a distinctly “cheeky” way, using a writing style that is unmistakably British. I could practically “hear” a clipped British accent as I read this bizarre tale. Besides writing the story of what happened with Joyce McKinney and Kirk Anderson in the 1970s, Delano adds some insight into the workings of the British press and photographers, which had a field day with this story. He also explains a bit about Mormonism and what members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints believe. He includes snippets from books about Mormonism as well as articles about McKinney.

In addition to her obsession with Kirk Anderson, Joyce McKinney was also preoccupied with Wayne Osmond and the Osmond family. Delano actually includes some quotes from Olive Osmond, the late matriarch of the famous Osmond clan. Evidently, Joyce McKinney tried very hard to soil the Osmonds’ squeaky clean reputation. McKinney tried to pass herself off as squeaky clean herself, but thanks to digging done by the press, McKinney was revealed to be anything but a typical Molly Mormon. Delano includes some of these juicy revelations in the book.  Apparently, McKinney now denounces Mormonism and considers it a cult.  Some of her quotes may be very offensive to Mormons.

The whole thing is presented in a very gossipy, tabloid way that I have no doubt will be very titillating and entertaining for some readers. After all, it’s quite a juicy story that had a lot of Britons wagging their tongues back when it was current news. Even today, it’s an amazing story that is almost too weird to be true.  Delano mostly treats McKinney like an oddball character rather than the criminal and liar that she is.  I will admit, though, that many people probably see her that way, rather than someone who ought to be avoided.  She has actually been rewarded for her criminal misdeeds and, in fact, did try to profit from the story back in the 1970s.  What’s more, according to Delano, this case supposedly caused a number of Britons to investigate Mormonism and later become members of the church.

That being said… as titillating and fascinating as this story is, part of me was rather disgusted by it. Let’s face it. There’s a huge double standard when it comes to men and women, particularly regarding sex crimes. Had Joyce McKinney been a man who had kidnapped a sister missionary back in the 1970s, she would have certainly been prosecuted and, if convicted, might even still be in prison. No one with any class would be acting as if this case were a big joke. As it stands now, the seriousness of McKinney’s crime has been reduced to locker room fodder. I couldn’t help but feel sorry for Kirk Anderson, who had made it very clear that he wasn’t interested in having a sexual relationship with Joyce McKinney. He was a victim of sexual assault and kidnapping, yet people behave as if he should have enjoyed the experience. Few people would have taken that attitude if he were a woman in the same compromising position.

Still…

I do think that Anthony Delano did a good job writing this book, even if it is billed as the “ultimate tabloid story” by Trashfiction. It is well researched and entertaining to read.  Though I feel sort of ashamed for enjoying this book, I think it’s worthwhile reading for those who are interested in this case.  At the very least, Joyce McKinney is a fascinating character, particularly for those who are interested in true crime or psychology.  My money is on her having at least one, possibly two character disorders.

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complaints, condescending twatbags, language, LDS

“Triggering” things you shouldn’t say, according to ivory tower “intellectuals”…

Last night and this morning, Bill and I have enjoyed a stimulating discussion, partly inspired by an article I read in The Atlantic yesterday, and partly inspired by my being “triggered” by something that popped up in my Facebook memories. The article in The Atlantic was entitled “Even Trigger Warning Is Now Off Limits”. It was written by John McWhorter, a man who doesn’t mind that people are now being encouraged to refer to everyone as “they”, rather than referring to them by their apparent gender. McWhorter is fine with replacing gender specific words like “actress” and “waitress” with “actor” or “server” or maybe “waitron”. But he stops short at forbidding terms like “trigger warning”, “walk-in”, “insane” or “dumb”, all of which are now deemed “oppressive” by some people.

Mood music for this post. I must offer a “trigger warning” though, for those who don’t like profanity.

Brandeis University’s Prevention, Advocacy & Resource Center (PARC) has taken the time to compose a list of “oppressive language” terms that need to be replaced by the considerate and “woke” among us. And McWhorter, who clearly thinks of himself as a thoughtful and considerate person, has taken issue with some of the words on the list. As I read his article yesterday, I let out a big groan and said, “That’s ridiculous.”

Then I started ranting to Bill about how it’s unreasonable to expect people to completely change their way of speaking– the way they’ve been speaking and writing since birth– just to appear to be more “sensitive” to supposedly oppressed people. What right do these “woke” types have to pressure people into changing their language, as if they are the authority on what is, and what is not, respectful? What about people doing the best they can to show consideration for each other?

I’m all for being respectful and kind to others, and if someone tells me they’d rather I refer to them with different pronouns or adjectives, I’m happy to try to oblige. But some of this stuff is just plain lunacy. PARC is hoping people will, for instance, stop using terms like “triggered” (because of gun violence), “rule of thumb” (because of an old British law that permitted husbands to beat their wives, as long as the implement used was narrower than one’s thumb), or “freshman” (first year student is supposedly less offensive). They don’t like the term “walk-in”, because not everyone is able to walk, nor do they like “crazy” or “insane”, because those words might offend people who have psychological problems.

PARC wants the word “slave” to go out of style. Instead, we should say “enslaved person”, because it puts the person first and recognizes that the condition of slavery was imposed on a person, and shouldn’t be used to define them. And they also claim it’s wrong to refer to “African-Americans”. Instead, we should refer to them as “Black” (with a capital B) because the term African-American can be interpreted as “othering”– as in not recognizing that a dark skinned person who has never been to Africa may not want to be grouped in such a way.

But doesn’t it also hinder communication to take the time to worry about such things to excess? Why should we assume that a person will be offended? Isn’t that kind of presumptuous, in and of itself?

Personally, I don’t like the trend of capitalizing the word “Black”, but not doing the same for the word “White”… because I think people should try to think in terms of equality as much as possible, even if equality is still a long ways off. We’ll never get there if we’re granting special conditions to certain groups… not that I expect to see true equality in my lifetime. I appreciate that the Washington Post does capitalize both “Black” and “White”. I wish The New York Times would do the same. No one can help what racial group they were born into, so no group should be granted special deference. If you’re gonna capitalize the word “Black”, you should do the same for all racial groups, as far as I’m concerned. I realize that some people may feel the need to try to “correct” my opinions about this, but I doubt my mind will change. Maybe I’m just too old and rigid. 😉

The African-American designation, in my opinion, really never should have been in style. I have always resisted it. When I was growing up, Black people were referred to as “black”. But then that became problematic, because some folks felt that the term black was offensive, since the shade black sometimes has negative connotations. For instance, if you watch old movies, the good guys wear white and the bad guys wear black. So, back in the 90s, it was considered better to refer to Black people as “African-American”, even if they had never been to the continent or, in fact, weren’t American. And it also didn’t take into account that there are people from Africa who are not dark skinned. Actually, according to the intellectuals at Brandeis, it’s also wrong to generically refer to “people of color” when one is referring to specific groups. I’ll be sure to make a note of that.

The people at PARC also want you to stop saying “Long time no see” or “No can do”. Why? Because those two expressions are “broken English” that originated from making fun of non-English speakers. I think that’s interesting, but I also think it’s ridiculous for people to be seriously offended by those expressions. Not when there are people who don’t have enough to eat, adequate healthcare, or a roof over their heads. Overly politically correct people are not much fun to be around or talk to, in my experience. They’re usually too busy being focused on the language used and its style, rather than the substance of what is actually said and the overall context. That means the politically correct among us usually miss the point.

Frankly, I would love to see the end of the word “douche” used in a pejorative way. In many parts of the world, a douche is a shower… and even in the United States, a douche is really a box of cleanser used mostly by women on a certain part of their body. To me, it’s illogical to call someone a douche, so I refuse to do it. Some people hate it when someone says something “sucks”, which was originally an offensive sexual expression that really only applied to women and gay men. Of course, so many people use the words “douche” and “sucks”, that they are now kind of removed from their original meanings. The same could be said in reverse about words like “faggot”. In some parts of the world, a faggot is a sausage or a bundle of sticks. A fag is a slang term for cigarette. But a group of Americans have deemed that word “offensive” and “taboo”, so we can’t use it… or the word “retard”, for that matter, even though “retard” is a perfectly useful word when it’s not being used as an insult that refers to a person’s intelligence level or lack thereof.

I don’t have a problem with the concept of being more thoughtful and kind about one’s language. However, I do have concerns that too much emphasis on language policing can have a chilling effect on communication and the sharing of ideas. I think people should be encouraged to communicate. Yes, they should also be encouraged to be kind and sensitive about offensive language as much as possible, but it’s more important that they talk, even if what is said is uncomfortable. Effective communication leads to mutual understanding and, hopefully, ultimately some respect.

I read some of the Facebook comments about how PARC may be overdoing it in the politically correct language police arena. Quite a few people seemed to have the same impression I did, which was pretty much a big sigh and rolling of the eyes. It takes time and effort to change language. Some people will resist it, because it’s annoying to have someone– particularly if they’re young and academic– correcting language one has been using since toddlerhood. Moreover, Brandeis University is a famously liberal school in Massachusetts. The thought police residing there don’t represent all people from around the world. I’m aware that there are groups in the United States and Europe who think it’s important to stop referring to people as “he” or “she”, but I also know that there are many people who are simply focused on survival. The last thing they give a fuck about is whether or not someone is offended by gender specific pronoun use. There are also a lot of languages that have feminine and masculine words as features of the language itself. It would be a hell of a chore to change those constructs simply to make politically correct people happier.

So then, once Bill and I were done with our conversation last night, we went to bed. I woke up this morning to look at my Facebook memories. This time of year is actually kind of historically shitty for me, as July is a month in which I’ve endured a number of setbacks. In different years, July has been the month during which I lost my dad and my grandmother (the only grandparent I ever really knew personally). It’s also been a time of year when we’ve had to move, or gotten terminal diagnoses for beloved pets of ours. I probably shouldn’t look at Facebook memories in the month of July… but anyway, I did look this morning, and was immediately “triggered” (there’s that forbidden term again).

One year ago, I posted this:

“Why do people send memes via PM? Especially without comment?”

I don’t like getting PMs from people unless the PM is regarding something important. I find PMs distracting and annoying. Historically, I’ve gotten abusive or obnoxious messages from strangers via PM. If it were up to me, I’d turn off that feature or open it only to certain people.

But anyway, what happened was that a year ago, I was complaining about face masks. It wasn’t that I wasn’t following the rules. I have never not worn a face mask when one was required. I was simply complaining about them on my Facebook page. If you read last year’s blog posts, you’ll find that I bitched a LOT about masks, which apparently led some people to think I needed “re-education” on this matter. For the record, I don’t. I have a master’s degree in public health and am quite well aware of science. Science told me to STAY HOME and away from other people, which is what I did. So far, it’s successfully kept me well. I’m also fully vaccinated and, even though Germany is finally opening up, I still stay pretty socially distanced, mainly because people annoy me.

A person– supposedly a friend– passive aggressively sent me a meme about wearing face masks and how selfish “anti” maskers are. She didn’t comment on the meme. She just passed it along to me via PM, leaving me to wonder how I should take it. Was she trying to share a funny meme with me, or was it a dig? Frankly, the fact that she sent it without comment pissed me off, so I posted about it. Another “friend”, whom I promptly unfriended that day, continued the passive aggressive trend by leaving a cryptic comment and “laughing” at me. This “friend” left the impression that she and her meme forwarding pal had been talking amongst themselves about what was on my page. And instead of actually acting like friends and addressing it directly with me, felt the need to send me their passive aggressive crap via PM.

A year ago, I was pretty much fed up with everything, so I was happy to remove a lot of people from my social media. Seems odd to me that such evolved people wouldn’t have taken it upon themselves to spare me the trouble by unfriending me themselves, since they didn’t like what I had to say, and didn’t want to talk to me about it. And yes, I did rant about it. I’m childish that way.

I see in last year’s post, I ranted about how the woman I unfriended also used to give me shit because she was offended by my comments about the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I suspect she assumes I’m a bigot because I don’t like the LDS church. But instead of talking to me about why I have these opinions and hearing what I have to say, she just dismisses me as a “bigot”.

I have what I think are very good reasons for my negative opinions about the church. And my feelings are about the church and its doctrines and practices, not so much the specific members within it. My opinions were also not formed in a vacuum. I didn’t just decide that I “hate” Mormons… and I don’t actually hate them, by the way. I just have a problem with the way many of them behave, particularly when someone decides it’s no longer for them and they want to leave the faith. I also realize that Mormons aren’t the only ones who do this. They just happen to be the specific group who affected me personally.

I don’t like that Ex used the LDS religion in her parental alienation campaign against Bill. While the church may not specifically encourage divorced people to engage in alienation, many of its practices do encourage it to happen. It doesn’t take a genius to see it. Non members can’t, for instance, see their faithful children get married in the temple. People have gotten custody agreements amended over whether or not a parent takes their child to church. People– including children– have even killed or been killed over this issue.

The fact that LDS teachings and practices can easily be used in parental alienation tactics is one reason why I don’t like the religion. I should be allowed to say that, especially since what I’m saying is based in reality. I’m not picketing or writing letters to get Mormonism outlawed. I still respect everyone’s rights to believe whatever they want in terms of religion. But I should have the right to say that I don’t like Mormonism without someone automatically making negative judgments about my character. Have the basic decency to actually listen to and consider what I have to say before you decide that about me– especially if you’re going to lecture me about being respectful and considerate toward others.

I also know that this particular former online “friend” has issues with Scientology, which is also considered to be a religion by some people. She was fine with criticizing Scientologists, openly claiming that their beliefs are “nuts”. But she doesn’t want to hear criticism of Mormonism because it’s more “mainstream”, and she thinks that criticizing religion is “disrespectful”, even if there are some legitimately fucked up things about said religion that people are discouraged from openly discussing, for fear of alienating or offending them. And she assumed that she was more evolved and “woke” than I am, simply because she believes she’s more open to religion than I am.

I highly doubt this woman knows nearly as much, or has as much personal experience, with the fallout of leaving Mormonism as Bill and I do. It would be one thing if I had simply decided not to like the LDS church without knowing anything at all about it. But I know a lot about Mormonism, and my feelings about it are based on things I’ve personally seen and experienced.

I’ve actually spent years studying the church, and I know many members and ex-members. My opinions weren’t formed out of ignorance. But this former online acquaintance treated me like an ignorant person and didn’t bother to hear me out. Instead, she lectured, shamed, and engaged in passive aggression. That’s not how a friend behaves. Moreover, if she had taken the time to have a serious discussion with me, rather than just assuming I’m a bigot, she might find that my opinions make some sense. Or she might not… but at least she would have granted me the consideration of trying to make my case without just dismissing me as ignorant, inconsiderate, and ill-mannered.

I’ve found that the older I get, the less time and interest I have in engaging with people who want to tell me how to think, what to say, or how I should behave. If the snarky chick from last year had enough respect for me to hear and respect the reasons why I feel the way I do about Mormonism, maybe she’d understand me better. Maybe she might have even found and been a real friend, rather than someone who lurks and stirs up shit on other people’s social media accounts, and then acts holier than thou about showing “respect” for people’s religious beliefs and COVID etiquette. I find her behavior to be hypocritical, at the very least.

The bottom line is, people should certainly try to communicate with each other. We should listen to each other and show as much respect as we can muster, whenever possible. But respect is a two way street. Being overly concerned about certain so-called “outdated language” being offensive to other people is as much of a barrier to communication as being overtly offensive is. Sure, it’s ineffective to swear at people, because they’ll just tune out your diatribe. But I think it’s also ineffective to nitpick at what people say, calling their words offensive when it’s clear that no offense was actually intended. I think it’s important to listen to what a person is actually saying before dismissing what they say as “offensive”, “bigoted”, or “ignorant.” In other words, some woke people aren’t really that woke, if you know what I mean.

As for the existence of ivory tower intellectual infested PARC, I’m sure if my hero George Carlin was still alive, he’d be having a field day with that. As one Facebook commenter wrote yesterday, “That’s absurd. Fuck those people.” Ah, what the hell… here’s George. I know I’ve shared it before, but it bears repeating.

God, I miss him.
And more on cultural crapola…
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