Inner Geographies: A New Beginning

This website is newly created, but I’ve been working with Inner Geographies for nearly a decade.

Let me backtrack a bit.  I was a devout Mormon (Latter-Day Saint, or LDS) for the first 33 years of my life.  I was REALLY Mormon.  I grew up within 20 minutes of the Salt Lake Temple, I am a descendant of polygamist great grandparents, I went to church nearly every Sunday, I worked at various “callings” or jobs in the church, I served an LDS mission to Florida, I won a baking contest, I married a man in the Salt Lake temple, and I gave birth to an amazing daughter.  I did everything I was supposed to do as a good Mormon woman.

And, I was miserable, even though I couldn’t admit it to myself.  Then, during my time in Georgia pursuing my PhD,  I fell in love with a woman in my congregation.  After the mud settled, I realized I was not meant to live an LDS life.  So, I chose to be with Panther, divorced my husband, and was, of course, excommunicated.

The day the excommunication letter arrived, I decided to throw out everything that reminded me of my Mormon roots.  I gathered my carefully kept journals, my scriptures, my LDS memorabilia – all evidence I could find of who I had been -and tossed it all into a dumpster.

Some things are not, however, so easily discarded.   I found, and am still finding, that it is much easier to remove the woman from Utah than to remove Utah from the woman. I refer to myself as a “recovering Mormon”.

I stayed in this flavor of denial for years.  I focused exclusively on who I was becoming, my new family, and my new job –  successfully avoiding the woman I had been.  I even quit talking to my birth family.  I had things safely compartmentalized until, one night in 2006, I dreamed of my grandmother.

In the dream, my mother’s mother, who died just before I married my husband in 1992, calmly walked toward me wearing a one of her light blue house dresses with pink and white flowers embroidered on the yoke. Her weathered hands clasped the handles of two wooden boxes.

She stopped several feet in front of me and held out the first box – a box with brass hinges and clasps and a black wooden handle.  The box was fashioned from light wood, probably pine.  The case was about twice as big as a regular sheet of paper and only a few inches deep.   She opened it.  Inside were tubes – like mailing tubes but made of opaque plastic – each tinted a different primary color.  Kind of like the red and black tube my diploma from the University of Georgia came in – the tube that had been opened and refastened by the US Postal Service, with a note of apology, because it looked “suspicious.”

Grandma opened one of the tubes and emptied the contents into her hand.  Her cupped palm held small objects.  Things I had made in Primary Class in the Mormon Church.  Jagged cut-outs of animals, pictures of Jesus helping the children (colored outside of the lines with one color of crayon), and small rocks and twigs and egg shells gathered on nature walks.  She replaced the contents of the tube, capped it, closed the case, and placed it on the floor in front of me.

She slowly opened the second case, made of the same color wood, but smaller – designed to keep papers, not objects.  It contained documents from my time in the LDS church.  Primary drawings, my baptism certificate, invitations for daddy-daughter dates, goals I had set, forms I’d filled out, my mission calling, my temple recommends.

Grandma looked at me and said in her pleasantly raspy voice, “you may want to go through these now.  You might want to keep some of it.  I’ve been holding onto it for you.”  Then she gave me both boxes.  I took one in each hand.  She turned to walk away, then looked back at me, smiled, and said “goodbye dear.”  She always called me “dear….”

That morning, I told my partner my dream.  We often share our dreams over coffee.  She said it wasn’t a dream, it was a visitation.  I told her that I knew that.  The images were too vivid and too easy to remember to be only a dream.  I had spoken to my dead grandmother.

My partner looked at me, steam rising from the coffee cup like bog mist and said, “Heidi, your grandmother visited you… as a lesbian.”  Some wall broke inside me. I almost cried.

For a long time I had been nursing the fear that I had irrevocably pissed off my ancestors (which most cultures agree is not wise to do) by leaving the Mormon Church to live the life I know is mine.  The selfish life.  The excommunicated life.  The life divorced from my Mormon husband.  The life where don’t talk much to my birth family.  The supposedly sinful life I’m living with Panther.  The life outside of my birth culture.  The life outside of a religion I vowed I would never leave, never deny, never denunciate.

My grandmother visited to remind me that some of my Mormon life was worth keeping.  That my life prior to 1999 should not be so easily dismissed. That the Mormon and Ex-Mormon eras of my life must somehow be reconciled.

Inner Geographies is my attempt at this reconciliation. I decided to revisit my past through through lenses that are familiar to me – science, art, and creative writing.  From the visitation of my grandmother onward, Inner Geographies began forming as an idea, then as artwork, then as a class in the Hutchins School of Liberal Studies at Sonoma State University, then as community workshops, then as a memoir in progress, and now, as this revamped website.

Fortunately, many of my students – who have taught me more than they realize by sharing their lives in our small seminar classes – have given me permission to share their artistic explorations on this website.  I am grateful for their generosity and courage.

This site, like most of us, is a work in progress.  My interpretations of my life are just that – interpretations based on observation.  Science has taught me to refine my analysis when better evidence emerges. Art has taught me that some things die if compressed into words.  Creative writing has given me a vehicle to express what words are able to describe.

One of my colleagues, Dr. Francisco Vazquez shared this quotation during LIBS 102 In Search of Self.  It became one of my first LifeSlices in my LifeCore:

gramsci core

Inner Geographies is my way of taking inventory of these “infinity of traces.”

I hope you enjoy looking through the site.  Please leave comments/feedback and subscribe to the blog if you are interested in these ideas.  I will be adding more artwork, descriptions of inner landscapes, and projects in the near future. I hope that people beyond Sonoma County will begin to use these tools for self-exploration and then share their process with others.

Thanks for taking the time to read this message – especially in this age of information saturation.