Interviewed by a Norse god

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It is a meme. It is the five questions meme. Here's how it works:

1. Leave me a comment saying, "Interview me."

2. I will respond by asking you five questions. I get to pick the questions.

3. You will update your journal with the answers to the questions.

4. You will include this explanation and an offer to interview someone else in the same post.

5. When others comment asking to be interviewed, you will ask them five questions.

I was interviewed by none other than Norse-god-in-hiding Greg van Eekhout, and I will follow his lead by limiting myself to six, no, seven, seven respondents. Because if Greg had stuck to his stated six, he wouldn't have had room for me! And these are good, chewy questions. Here we go:

1. If current Bill had a time machine and went back to vist 17-year-old Bill and described current Bill's life to him, would past Bill be horrified? Relieved? Violent? What?

For all his pretense of devoutness, past Bill's biggest concern was science fiction, so from that point I think he would have been disappointed that I hadn't yet published a whole stack of novels. But the publications I have made would have thrilled him no end.

I know he would be stoked to see current Bill's wife, too.

As for religion, I honestly don't know. I like to think that past Bill would be relieved, but I don't think that would be the case. I think he would be horrified. True, past Bill would wish fervently that Mormonism weren't true and try to come up with scenarios where he could circumvent certain commandments without incurring any sin, but the bottom line is that he had to do that because he couldn't let himself imagine the church to be false in reality. In some ways, I think he would have to get to current Bill's point of relief by following a similar path, and it wouldn't happen overnight.

But my hope would be that a glimpse of current Bill's life would start the wheels turning faster sooner. After all, much of the writing about religion I do is aimed at an audience of 17-year-old-or-younger Bill. I write what I wish now I could have read then.

2. What's the best concert you ever saw? You get to pick the criteria.

I've seen a lot of memorable concerts, and I'm going to have to enumerate a few of them just to get them out of the way: Tom Waits at the Beacon, David Bowie at the Beacon, Spyro Gyra at Snowbird (yes, I'm serious), Oingo Boingo outdoors in Park City (wait 'til you hear my Danny Elfman story in the podcast!), Sting and the Blue Turtles outdoors in Park City, Barenaked Ladies at a tiny club in Seattle in 1995, Pat Metheny at Kingsbury Hall in Salt Lake City, Michael Brecker at Kingsbury Hall. Sleater-Kinney at Irving Plaza. Living Colour at Irving Plaza. Any Dismemberment Plan show ever.

Front-row seats for Prince at MSG on the Musicology tour was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Rush on the Vapor Trails tour was amazing, and my friend Geoff and I felt like we were teenagers again for three hours. Mannheim Steamroller (yes, I'm serious again) was a great concert just because I was 15 and it was my first. Joe Jackson at the Bottom Line was great, even though I was sitting right underneath his piano and Laura got sick and had to go outside and throw up. I acquired a bootleg of that show, and I can hear myself on it! And Fiona Apple's legendary meltdown at Roseland was an event I feel privileged to have witnessed.

But I think the greatest concert of them all was Rush at the Salt Palace in Salt Lake City, on the Power Windows tour. What makes this one better than the others? The illicitness of it. My father never approved of rock music, and it was dicey for me to even smuggle records into the house. But when he found out I was going to Rush, he flipped. He forbade me utterly. I tried to make the case that it was an college assignment for my Music Appreciation course. I typed up all the lyrics to their new album in an attempt to demonstrate that there was nothing unseemly going on in the songs. My efforts went nowhere.

But I went anyway. I was 18. And the fact that I wasn't supposed to be there made it all the sweeter, eh?

(Not to mention that I got to see the Fabulous Thunderbirds open.)

3. Would you take more jail time to make your terrorist anecdote just that much better?

You know ... I do believe I would. I've always felt vaguely guilty that I got off as lightly as I did, and, say, 30 days in the clink would definitely make the story even more fun to tell—and, of course, for people like us having a good story to tell is as important as anything.

Had I gotten more jail time, I would have served it in minimum security at Spy Hill Provincial Jail. While I can't imagine that would have been exactly pleasant, I'm sure it wouldn't have been the end of the world either. And almost from the moment I was sprung I was inordinately proud of the minuscule amount of jail time I'd done.

But I'd have to draw the line at, say, 90 days. And that's pushing it.

4. Is there anything about the practices of your former religion that you find beautiful, uplifting, enobling, or that you still observe?

The best practices in Mormonism are those that build a powerful sense of community. When you're a Mormon, you do everything you can to help your fellow parishioners, and you know that they'll be there for you if you just say the word—or even if you don't. I always felt part of something bigger as a Mormon, and sometimes now the fact that this is missing makes me wish for it again. For me, that's the essence of Christ's message, and if just that much of Mormon practice could be exported to the world at large, I think we'd all be better off for it.

But that comes at a price, as well, which is that it tends to exclude those who aren't part of the tribe. The practice I have tried to cling to, and which I recommend wholeheartedly, is the fervent Mormon belief in education and self-improvement. A line from the Doctrine & Covenants (one of the church's four books of canonized scripture) sums it up thus: "The glory of God is intelligence." The way I always tried to think of this is not that you have to be a supergenius to be holy, but that you should certainly value learning and critical thought.

(Ironically, that's part of what helped me leave the church, but what can you do?)

But Joseph Smith was a great proponent of education, even if he didn't always garner his learning from the most reputable of sources. One of my favorite quotes from him, and one that I used to think made the writing of science fiction fall right in line with my former beliefs, goes like this: "Thy mind, O man! if thou wilt lead a soul unto salvation, must stretch as high as the utmost heavens, and search into and contemplate the darkest abyss, and the broad expanse of eternity."

I later learned I had read that quote out of context, at least for the application in which I was using it, but I still think it allows the Mormon mind much greater leeway than the church seems to want to grant its members today.

5. What do you like best about your neighborhood?

The food, hands down. Greek, of course, but so much more as well. Astoria is a little culinary paradise tucked quietly away in the corner of Queens, and the only foodie reason to leave is to make the occasional pilgrimage to the temples of the superstar chefs of Manhattan. You could have an excellent meal every might of the month in Astoria and never duplicate the same country's cuisine.

This is not to say that there aren't many other great things about Astoria, but you can't go wrong with the food. The electrical service, well, sometimes it's a little shaky.

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This page contains a single entry by William Shunn published on July 25, 2006 3:24 PM.

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