Reduced to a
by Marvin Payne

A couple of conferences ago, President Hinckley marveled at how we’re all being reduced to “dot-coms.” I’m not sure how he came to choose that word “reduced.” A few years ago, the adolescent son of a friend of mine built for me a personal website called:
/turnleftatkohlersmarket /flagoutfront

This is someone’s idea of “reduction”? I used to just be “Marvin Payne”! But I’ve fixed that. I am now (You see? I even went so far in the direction of “reduction” that there are fewer capital letters in me now than before.) There are two reasons for my having done this cyber-deed. The first reason (not in order of importance, as you will shortly see) is that the only response I ever got from the nine people who “hit” my old site was a complaint that when they drug their mouse around on the site, cobwebs gummed up their cursor and they had to double-click on the utility “CursorScrub” before returning to, which is squeaky-clean and updated every forty-seven seconds. The second reason (and by far the most important, as I suggested you would shortly see) is to follow the prophet. (I mean, when he said “we”re all” he meant me. Didn’t he? Always figure he’s talking about you, and you’ll be okay.)

I’m on an Internet email list of Mormon literary types–laureates, elite artistes, writers-in-residence, people who call Orson Scott Card “Scotty,” people like that. My unofficial role on the list is “mascot.” I’ve read there in recent days a fascinating thread that began with the question, “Why should I write a journal, when my children already know my thoughts?” Well, it’s the kind of list that wants a little longer answer than “Because a prophet said so.” Not enough words, you see. It’s a literary list. So I finally tossed in my two cents worth, being an internationally published journal guru and all. I used lots of words. As follows.

“I think the primary purpose of writing a journal is to bear testimony to one’s posterity in very specific ways. I suppose I could write, once and for all, that I know the Lord loves me and leave it at that. For that matter, the Lord could tell me on some particular Tuesday that He loves me, once and for all, and leave it at that. But He keeps on telling me, by sending His Spirit, by answering my prayers, by guiding my thoughts, by honoring my priesthood, by respecting my agency, by striking my senses with the beauty of His creations, which includes the beauty of His children. These dollops of grace drop daily.

“Writing a journal has become a little bit habitual for me, a fun place to exercise my writing bones. But the question that drives me most often to write is ‘Have I recorded that most recent evidence of the Lord’s love for me?’ I feel an obligation to do it. I feel like it’s part of my responsibility as a father and grandfather. And I feel a passion for it. It’s still good writing exercise, because the importance of making these recurrent testimonies clear and memorable is greater than in anything I might write for the public. And I am helped by being allowed to be more intimate and direct (less artful?) than public audiences would allow me to be. When this reflection of divine light is my primary aim, then all the shadows and foibles and failings that characterize much of my life become the context that throws the grace into more dramatic relief. All the ‘bad parts’ suddenly mean a lot more than they did before, and serve a pretty useful teaching purpose. Does the journal then become a soapbox? Maybe a little, but what makes it powerful to posterity is not that ‘soapbox’ tone, but the fact that it reads like a journal, a guy genuinely fearing, goofing up, yearning, discovering, learning, and occasionally being almost painfully pierced with light.

“My children have only the merest clues of the thoughts in my heart. Five of them live out in the wide world and we don’t have family home evenings or family prayers or mealtimes together. The two that are at home don’t speak English real well yet. Will any of them ever really be the audience for my journal that I’m announcing them to be? Maybe not. But as odd as it may seem to imagine, they will give me hundreds and thousands of great and great and great grandchildren. Among those thousands will be a few who will look for connections with their Heavenly Father through somebody who shares their name and peculiar jaw line and heirlooms and affinity for mountains and tortillas. They will be the ones who share my disappointment over the stingy-ness of Edward Payne (my pioneer ancestor who didn’t write) and my delight over the generosity of John Brown (my pioneer ancestor who did). Beyond the actual writing, which I enjoy doing, journal writing is, for me, one part the answer of a grateful heart and one part church work. I just wish that on my mission I’d been testifying every day to an audience that was so genetically prepared to hear me, and an audience that I was so pre-disposed to love.”

Or, in other words, “You”re history, Dude!”

Hey everybody, thank you for the kind responses to last month’s column. I guess September 11th focused our feelings more than most days do, and we enjoyed a certain connection of hearts that I’m grateful for. In that column I shared the observations of my stake president in the priesthood meeting following the attack. Let me give you some more of the meeting, because it has to do with why it’s good to write a journal.

“…a brother led us to the first few verses of Joseph F. Smith’s vision into the Spirit World. It was the day before general conference, the prophet had only a few months left to live, and, according to the scripture, had been reading the word of God and pondering the life and atonement of the Savior. Then came the vision. His uncle Joseph had similarly read and pondered, repeatedly taking time away from the endless circuits of business to consider the will of God for his young life. Then, having gone where he ‘had previously designed to go,’ he did battle with the Prince of Darkness, was taught by the Creator of the Universe, and heard the Father of Light speak his name.

“A journal will help with the ‘pondering’ part. I have a friend and fellow theatre guy who is beset with a pretty scary cancer. He writes about it. All of it. I told him, “Scott (Bronson), you’re the only guy I know who would reflexively think of his cancer as “something to write about.” But it’s good to do. Good for him, good for us. The brother who spoke to us in priesthood meeting also told us about a difficult fast in the mission field. He’d closed his fast and received sweet and helpful counsel from the Spirit. Then he joined his missionary district for dinner, and after dinner was appalled to realize that he couldn’t remember any of that counsel. He simply hadn’t written it down, and he told us in tears how he felt about that inspiration being forever lost.

“When we researched the rescue of the Willie and Martin handcart companies as we wrote the play The Trail Of Dreams, I thought I would get some good understanding from the journal entries of my beloved great-great-grandfather John Brown, a prominent pioneer. This time he let me down. All through the autumn of 1856, not a word about the rescue. He wasn’t involved, I guess. But I know something of his heart, and I think he wasn’t involved in precisely the way I wasn’t involved in lower Manhattan or Washington D.C. That is to say, he was real involved.”

On my new website, there is a feature called “Buystuff” where people can find, among other things (say, beachfront property in Alpine, fake Rolexes, options on the film rights to “Backstage Graffiti”) CDs of songs I wrote in ancient days. I had the choice of allowing people to fill up cyber-shopping carts and type in credit card numbers and instantaneously download holographic images of me and my guitar with clickable MP3s galore. But instead I wanted to feel involved. It’s a habit, I guess–involvement. I wanted to know I was sending stuff to people who had ink on their fingers from writing checks and the taste of glue on their tongues from licking stamps. I wanted at least the hint of touching, rather than the mere rattle of clicking-on.

I mean, we’ve been through stuff together, you and me. Together we’ve watched airplanes pierce skyscrapers, as friends fall. A force of shadow. Together we”ve watched a stone cut from the mountain without hands rumble across the face of the earth. A force of light. And together we’ve watched, in our laser-sharp imaginations, the heartbursting drama set in a midnight garden, on a bloody hilltop, and against an empty tomb. A force beyond words.

Maybe we should more than click at each other.


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