Sunday, February 09, 2020

How and Why I wrote ACID TEST: LSD vs. LDS

This post first appeared on the Association for Mormon Letters blog.

“Can YOU pass the Acid Test?”
—Merry Pranksters, quoted in The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test
Acid Test: LSD vs. LDS is a memoir of my mid-1980s spiritual journey. The book relates my experience with what I eventually figured out were the dark and light sides of an unseen spiritual dimension. At first, I was just going to tell the tale of my wild years and then have a concluding chapter about getting spooked by the dark side and retreating back into Mormonism. As I wrote, however, and received high-quality feedback from pros, I found myself equally interested in portraying my struggle to find palatable ways to embrace Mormonism. Some readers enjoy the book’s initial dark half better, and others prefer the light side in the second half, but I see the two sides as necessary to explore together, in the correct order. As the title and cover suggest, this book is propelled by duality and juxtaposition. I appreciate what D. Michael Martindale wrote: “The tale seems to ramble from one disjointed thing to another at first, but slowly over chapters, you notice a pattern emerging, a plot arc arising from the punk chaos, and you realize [Bigelow] is an accomplished storyteller who knows what he’s doing without letting on.”
With Acid Test, I wrote a book that I would want to read, rather than trying to target a certain readership or market. I call it a memoir, but it could also be tagged as an autobiographical novel. The reader goes through the story as if in real time with the protagonist (my late-teens self), rather than receiving it filtered through a present-day interpreter and judger. But I don’t like the term “novel” because it implies the book could be mostly fiction, and I definitely consider this book nonfiction. Like any memoirist, I reconstructed things, especially dialogue, but I did so to the best of my memory, refraining from consciously fictionalizing. (In a couple of cases, I couldn’t remember where an event fit in the chronology, so I placed it where it was most dramatically useful.) I learned that when you reconstruct a memory, your brain starts to turn the reconstruction into what feels like real memory, and you can never again be sure which is which.
Sometimes I think writing a memoir is simply a way to crowdsource your own psychoanalysis. I can be a somewhat exhibitionistic person, and my aim was to make Acid Test a fully confessional account, an exercise in “radical disclosure,” as I’ve heard it called. Not only is Acid Test somewhat of a passive-aggressive response to repressed Mormon culture, but I’m also admittedly influenced by today’s mega-transparency and micro-shame (for me, exhibit A would be the comedian Louis C.K.). I’m also inspired by my favorite author, John Updike: “I’m willing to show good taste, if I can, in somebody else’s living room, but our reading life is too short for a writer to be in any way polite. Since his words enter into another’s brain in silence and intimacy, he should be as honest and explicit as we are with ourselves.” I included almost no profanity and not a single dreaded F-word, because I didn’t want to give Mormons such an easy excuse for not reading it, but I did include some drug experiences and nonpornographic accounts of sex, the most notorious of which involves Crisco. I wanted readers to go through the dark side with me and experience how it impacted me, so I could dramatize why a Mormon kid could get caught up in such misadventures and explore reasons—and perhaps suggest some blame—for his spiritual confusion and alienation. Unless a reader finds the content provocative in an entertaining way, perhaps similar to how true-crime stories can be compelling, it may be a challenge to get through the book’s dark first half. Personally, I think some of the book’s most disturbing and most funny parts both have to do with sex.
I consider Acid Test as ultimately an expression of faith, a bearing of testimony. Nonetheless, I haven’t yet had an “active” Mormon outside my family express robust appreciation and acceptance of the book, although it’s still early days. However, I have started getting fans from outside the faith, and maybe that’s where the book’s readership mostly lies, if it has one at all. “An honest, entertaining, and moving expression of what it is like to be a human being,” wrote the director of the Institute for the Advancement of Psychedelic Christianity (I love that this organization exists). “I felt happy while I was reading it.” As I tested earlier drafts, my most enthusiastic proponent was a novelist who grew up Mormon but later became an atheist. My drug-pusher friend depicted in the memoir said the book spoke to him as, thirty-five years later, he now tries to move forward with his long-time girlfriend who recently returned to Mormonism. I also appreciate what Kirkus Reviews wrote: “While the author is an able storyteller with plenty of colorful anecdotes, his interest in morality provides a unique ballast in what would otherwise be a typical but entertaining tale of adolescent mischief. His evocative depiction of the time and its subcultures helps make this a memorable and ultimately quite surprising autobiography.”
I plan a follow-up volume called Zion Test, in which I try to find a place within corporate Mormonism and then branch out into independent, alternative Mormon avenues, ultimately meeting a guru who extrapolates from the Joseph Smith Papers to show how the LDS church could decentralize its structure and thus transcend its corporate and cultural failings. Earlier, I was planning a memoir trilogy with Mission Test as the middle volume, but I decided I don’t need a whole book about my mission—though it would be fun to write—because so many others have already depicted that experience.

Wednesday, April 01, 2015

My Latest Thoughts on LGBT Issues

In a word, I'm now a lot more agnostic about LGBT issues than I used to be. I have gone through phases where I've been opposed to gay marriage, but that ship has sailed.

I've never really had any secular case against gay marriage. I have made a religious case against it among fellow Mormons, but I've sort of lost interest in that now. I simply don't know what to think anymore. I really don't understand what God expects of those who feel the same way about their own sex as I do about the opposite.

I think legalizing gay marriage is a huge, complex experiment, and now I'm more of a spectator than anything. In fact, I don't even really follow the news on it anymore. I do still wonder sometimes what the long-term effects will be. Nobody knows.

As a Mormon, I think all kinds of casual sex are wrong, whether hetero or homo. I don't know about homo sex within a committed relationship—I'm now thinking it's simply not my issue or my business, so it's not a question I expect to have answered anytime soon, and I don't feel any pressing personal need to have it answered. I also no longer feel much, if any, need to shelter my kids from homosexual couple examples—that ship has already sailed, too.

So now my thought is: live and let live, good luck with your journey, I have no idea what the long-term results will be, and I don't understand what God realistically expects of gay people.

At the same time, I still don't think Mormonism should start performing eternal gay sealings in the temple without a specific, clear revelation. And if Mormonism did receive such a revelation, I would be confused because its entire theological system is based on eternal heterosexual coupling with endless spiritual progeny.

However, a Mormon bishop performing a gay civil union in a public LDS meetinghouse? Eh, whatever.

Friday, August 29, 2014

My comments on the new polygamy ruling

Here's a Q & A I did today with the International Business Times:

In your opinion, how will the latest ruling effect the way the general public views the LDS? The church has been trying to distance itself from its polygamist past. Will this threaten that goal?

Overall, this is bad news for the LDS Church and its public image. There's already so much confusion between the mainstream LDS Church and the rogue fundamentalist polygamists. As polygamy becomes legal, the LDS Church will likely come under pressure to accept polygamists back into its membership ranks (currently, polygamists are excommunicated). With the law on their side, polygamists could ratchet up a "civil rights" campaign within the church along the same lines as we're currently seeing with the church's gays and feminists. All this will no doubt blur the lines even more in the public's understanding, as polygamists gain more status in society.

Do you think the LDS will address the ruling with its congregants? Will it be mentioned in sermons, teachings, newsletters etc?

The more the media covers this polygamy issue, the more likely it will be mentioned in church communications as a countermeasure. I predict that the church will increasingly identify modern-day polygamy as a threat to the mainstream church and its members, along with things like gay marriage, extreme feminism, pornography, and other recent social changes.

Right now, American LDS temples are used to perform both legally recognized civil marriages and eternal sealings of couples and families. As the definition of marriage changes in America, I expect that LDS temples will no longer be used for civil marriages but only for sealings, which are purely religious in nature. I'm sure the church will rather stop performing civil marriages altogether than face increasing legal and social pressure to perform gay or polygamous marriages within its sacred temples.

In what ways will this affect the LDS’ missionaries? Will it be harder to bring new people into the faith? Or is the fact that the ruling is restricted to Utah help them in that regard?

Again, it depends on how the media covers it. If the story stays alive and grows, and if other states and nations start changing their laws too, missionaries will no doubt need to do a lot more explaining. Much also depends on whether polygamists themselves become more vocal in society, claiming their identities and rights as Mormons. Any stronger connection between Mormonism and modern-day polygamy will no doubt scare more people away from the church.

Besides a press release reinstating the fact that the LDS does not practice polygamy, are there any other ways that the church can help distance itself from this part of its past? Do LDS members even care that some think they practice polygamy?

In my experience, many LDS members find it very uncomfortable that some people think we still practice polygamy. Many members feel very uncomfortable that the church ever did practice it. On the other hand, some LDS members may deep down feel sympathetic toward polygamy because of its role in our past history and in our theology. With the legal prohibition removed, some mainstream members may become more openly tolerant of polygamy, start putting pressure on the church to accept it, or even convert to a polygamous lifestyle themselves.

I think all the mainstream church can do is keep making clear that we view polygamy as a grievous sin when it's not authorized by God through his appointed prophet, as it was in Old Testament times and the early days of the LDS Church. As the issue grows, I think the church will become increasingly vocal about lumping polygamy in with other latter-day social trends that the church opposes, like gay marriage, extreme feminism, and pornography. Many members see these trends as influenced by the devil in order to undermine the foundation of families and this American nation.

What is the LDS’ view on the FLDS? Do they live in peace with one another? Or does the LDS see them as a threat in any way (especially with shows like Sister Wives)?

In my observation, the LDS Church strives to avoid any engagement with any polygamous groups, as no good could come of it. I believe LDS church members have been a driving force in trying to make and enforce laws against polygamists, so the new ruling is a blow to many LDS people, including LDS professionals in Utah politics and law. Many members see polygamists as a threat to our good name—they're like crazy, uncontrollable relatives who publicly embarrass us. The LDS Church tries its best to distance itself from polygamists, but everyone knows we have common historical roots and still share some religious DNA.

Wednesday, March 06, 2013

Advice to Someone Considering Taking Mind-Altering Drugs

Here's an interesting note I received, followed by my reply:

I'm interested in your new book due to a personal situation. It's the memoir Mormon Punk: From LSD to LDS. I'm willing to donate to help get your book published if you help me.

I read the sample chapter about when you were on LSD at a concert, and felt like your thoughts could be a trap, and i am intrigued. I want to know about what caused you to flip 180 degrees, about your experience "meeting the devil" and your thoughts on psychedelics.

I am strongly considering taking a mild dose of psilocybin mushrooms for therapeutic purposes. I've done them a couple times several years back and only had positive experiences. This is paralleled by recent experiments done with them at top medical centers around the country (i.e. UCLA) and their long history of use by native tribes, along with peyote and ayahuasca.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Back My Kickstarter Project?

So, I've long been fascinated by Kickstarter, the website that helps people find financial backers for their creative projects. Now that I'm currently freelancing for a living, I thought it was a good time to give Kickstarter a try. So read about my memoir project here, and consider becoming a backer by essentially purchasing a copy of my book in advance. Oh, and please help spread the word!

Sunday, May 27, 2012

My Thoughts on Two Recent Mormon Memoirs

Emily Pearson’s Dancing with Crazy and Joanna Brooks’s The Book of Mormon Girl

I first heard of Emily Pearson in June 2007, while I was riding in a nearly deserted Manhattan subway car. Only two other people were on board with me: my wife, Ann; and well-known Mormon writer and gay activist Carol Lynn Pearson, the mother of Emily.
            I was visiting New York on the dime—er, shilling—of a British publisher who wanted me to join him at a book convention. Ann decided to come along for a long weekend of theatergoing. We both enjoyed Vanessa Redgrave’s one-woman dramatization of Joan Didion’s perhaps slightly overrated memoir The Year of Magical Thinking, although the play was so quiet that you could hear the traffic outside, and at one point a cell phone shattered the spell for what seemed like several minutes. I loved Spring Awakening, but Ann found it too raw and sexual. We also saw the tourist-friendly 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Agent Rejection and Starting Over

More than a year ago, I started writing a new memoir titled Mormon Punk: From LSD to LDS. I have read conflicting opinions on whether one can sell a memoir on proposal with sample chapters and a synopsis or whether the whole thing needs to be written first, as with a novel. I decided to try selling on proposal because I already have a track record with seven books published, and I felt that the topic of Mormonism was (and still is) timely, for obvious reasons.