After Adobe: A Book of Joseph

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Today I saw a dove with a twig in it’s mouth fly across the park where Sadie and I were walking. That I thought of Noah in the Bible is a measure of where my head often is these days. Since leaving Adobe, a major focus (when I’m not gardening or playing) is a book-length project I fondly think of as Joseph’s Bible Stories—though I’m pretty sure it’s official main title will be A Book of Joseph. The Joseph of my title is Joseph Smith, the Mormon prophet, which no doubt comes as a surprise to many friends, especially those from my Adobe days. So let me line in a path to this admittedly eccentric project.

My current project intertwines the issue of my parallel lives during the 1980s and early 1990s—as editor/writer in the field of Mormon studies and Ph.d. student in narrative theory and 19th/20th century literature. I grew up Mormon in southeastern Idaho, where pretty much everyone was. As a mother with young kids, I found part-time jobs, first as researcher/writer at the LDS Historical department, then as researcher/editor for an art exhibit in Utah folk art, and finally as an editor/ writer first at Sunstone magazine and then at Signature books, regional publishers specializing in Mormon studies.

By the time I became editor at Signature and graduate student at the University of Utah, I had distanced myself from activity in the LDS church. But my education was only beginning. At Signature “editing” ran the gambit from copy editing to writing/rewriting books and made of me, I like to say, an “accidental” Mormon historian. During this same period, I was immersing myself in varying approaches to studying and analyzing narrative.

Before I left Signature and graduate school, I had begun a project that layered my expertise in narrative onto my growing interest in Joseph Smith’s reading and rereading, or (to use his own term) his “translating” of Bible stories. Joseph’s “translation” of the Book of Mormon tells stories of various groups exiting the Bible—at the tower of Babel, before exile from Jerusalem—and living versions of Old and New Testament stories in America. Joseph later completed what he called a “new translation” of the King James Bible, correcting it, he said, and adding expansive new stories for Moses, Satan, Enoch, and others. His “translation” of ancient papyri purchased with Egyptian mummies contained new stories of the earth’s creation and of Abraham in Egypt. I became convinced that tracing Joseph’s telling and retelling of Bible stories along the textual timeline of his career, what I call a “dictation plot” (because he mostly dictated his translations, rarely wrote in his own hand), would yield a useful view into Joseph’s imaginative economy and the distinctive curves of Mormon thought.

In effect, I put my project on hold during my fifteen years at Adobe Systems. But in the past three years, I’ve excavated my early work and began inching my way forward (it competes, after all, with husband, family, friends, dog, garden, and the beauties of my lovely island). Last year I presented pieces of my work at several conferences. I’m working at posting my presentations and articles on Academia. I’m also hoping to share bits and pieces here. I’ve decided not to spend as much time on conferences this year, but would still love feedback and conversation.

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Brother Foster and End Times

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Robert Dean Foster

I was thirteen years old when I met a man who was convinced that in my lifetime, I could see Jesus face to face, be sealed to eternal life, and live through the end of times. I could become a queen and a god. He knew these things because he lived with the scriptures and talked to God. These were the teachings of Joseph Smith, he said, so unlike the faded words of the Prophet’s diminished successors. This extraordinary man was my ninth grade seminary teacher, Robert Dean Foster. He opened my drab, stolid Idaho girlhood to dangerous and exhilarating possibilities. Until then, religion was something I had been born into. My family went to church and followed Mormon rituals and patterns, but without giving these habits much thought or discussion. Religion animated neither desire nor imagination. With Brother Foster, that changed.

In retrospect I can see that I was a a bit obsessed. I hung on his every word in class. I pled with my parents on Saturday nights to let me go to his house. There a group of likeminded kids would gather to dance, harmonize songs at the piano, eat food prepared by his wife Dorothy, mingle with his family (the oldest of eight children his daughter a year younger than me), and talk around the fireplace until the late hour sent us home. I tried to be brave and righteous—refusing at one point to dress in immodest shorts for P.E.(earning the only B of my high school career). My parents were not the only ones concerned by such strange behaviors. At the end of that year, I learned to my great dismay that Brother Foster was leaving (run out of town he let us all know). Continue reading “Brother Foster and End Times”