Why is my blog called Inhuman Swill? Because you can unscramble the pieces to make William Shunn.

A previous outtake from my memoir The Accidental Terrorist ended with these lines:

Women wield a strange power over the male missionary—even women who don't exist. Perhaps especially women who don't exist.

There's another scene in the book that addressed what I was alluding to there—at least, I thought there was. When I went looking for that scene, I couldn't find it. I had to dig way back to the second draft of the book to locate it, and now I'm not sure what possessed me to take it out. Believe me, it's going back into the latest draft.

Names, of course, have been changed.

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In a message exchange a few months ago, a friend and former colleague from my missionary days reminded me of a funny story from 1988 involving the elder who was then my companion.

I didn't immediately recall the incident, but then when I was rooting around the other day in a very old draft of my memoir The Accidental Terrorist, I found that I'd remembered it well enough a dozen years ago or more to include it.

Here's that deleted excerpt. My friend who reminded me of the incident is the "Sister Evans" who appears below, by the way, and the Word of Wisdom is the strict Mormon commandment against using alcohol or coffee.


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I've always believed that I have a pretty good memory—in particular, that I can recall formative events and conversations from years or even decades ago in reasonably good detail. When I started work on my memoir The Accidental Terrorist, I made a list of incidents, events, and bits of lore from my mission that I wanted to include. The more of these that I wrote down, the more others I started to remember. My notes ran pages and pages and pages.

I'm now working my way through a revision of the book with notes from my editor, Juliet Ulman. The occasional query scrawled in the margin questions details I seem to recall clearly. I've started wondering how much I can trust those old memories, especially the smaller moments I could easily have misremembered or invented. I've started looking for bits I can actually confirm.

Last night I came to the passage below, which seemed like it should be eminently verifiable. The scene is southern Alberta, October 1986:

On Friday of that week, we were talking heavy metal when I mentioned that the only band I liked of that sort was Rush.

"Ah, so you're one of those," said Fowler. "Same as every other missionary in Canada. You know last winter they had a concert scheduled up in Edmonton?"

"That was the Power Windows tour. What a great show. I saw it in Salt Lake."

"Well, I was serving in Edmonton at the time. I swear half the elders in town must've had tickets."

I gaped. In my civilian life, I had the right to choose to see a rock concert if I wanted, whether or not the Church or my father approved. But for a missionary, ordained and set apart as a representative of Jesus Christ, the rules were different. No music, especially not rock music, and especially not live rock music. That was just handing Satan the keys to your soul's front door.

"Including you?" I asked.

"Naw, Rush ain't my thing. But anyways, the day of the show this massive blizzard hits. No joke. Shuts everything down. No planes in or out. Concert canceled."

"Whoa."

"You're telling me. You think God wanted all those missionaries rocking out in clouds of dope smoke? No way. It would have killed the Spirit dead in Edmonton for a month."
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Mormon Stories Podcast
As reported yesterday in the New York Times, Mormon podcaster, critic, and activist John Dehlin faces excommunication at a church disciplinary hearing later this month. Dehlin runs the Mormon Stories family of podcasts, which cover topics important to members struggling with doubt, identity, mental health issues, and more. The charges against him essentially boil down to teaching "false doctrine," but there's of course more to it than that.

Dehlin is a Ph.D. candidate in psychology and counseling who has researched the effect Mormon teachings have on gay members. And despite his embrace of those whose beliefs and/or lifestyles clash with Mormon doctrine, his default stance seems to be to help those folks find a way to stay in the church.

I'm sympathetic to the effort, though it's pretty foreign to my own experience with Mormonism and doubt. My response, when I could no longer deny the overwhelming historical evidence that the claims of the church were false, was to get the hell out. When I started writing about my questions and conclusions, my goal (besides venting a lot of anger) was to help people who were miserable in the faith or damaged by its oppressiveness to realize that they could leave. They didn't have to stick around and hide their true selves and feelings. They could just walk away.

Of course, I also learned that this isn't so easy, or even possible, for everyone. Some of those who come to have crippling doubts about the church must choose between following their consciences or losing their families. Some value the sense of community they get as church members, or their cultural identity as Mormons, too much to want to give it up. And why should they, really?

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SPOILERS

Yep. As predicted, I was.

As soon as I woke up this morning, I downloaded the final episode of Serial. I listened to it while making coffee and feeding the dog and fixing a lunch for Laura. Besides the tantalizing and ultimately frustrating mention of the thin possibility that Hae was murdered by a known serial killer, the episode unfolded without any surprises, right down to Sarah Koenig's admission that, while there probably wasn't enough sufficient evidence for a fair conviction, she can't really make up her mind about Adnan's innocence or guilt.

Maybe this wouldn't have felt like such a letdown if the series hadn't been stretched out to such a length that even vague, unrelated rumors become fodder for investigation and interminable discussion. Serial was certainly worthwhile as an examination of what can happen in our legal system when a crime is prosecuted without rigor, but for me that aspect of the story was undercut by all the tedious minutiae.

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Tomorrow morning I expect to be disappointed.

Like many of you, I've been following the Serial podcast for the past few months. My reactions to the previous eleven episodes have ranged from bored to enthralled to confused, but I'm pretty sure that tomorrow's final episode will leave me feeling disappointment.

I'd love to be wrong. I'd love for Episode 12 to pull everything together, to fill me with a transcendent sense of the ephemeral nature of truth, or to turn up the final damning piece of evidence that either implicates or exonerates Adnan Syed. I don't have much confidence in either outcome.

Maybe part of this comes from my own unreasonable expectations. When I first started listening to this true-crime story, I assumed that Sarah Koenig was well ahead of the game and had unraveled the mystery already. I assumed from the very title, Serial, not just that twists and turns and cliffhangers and reversals lay ahead, but that a sure hand on the tiller was guiding the ship to a known destination.

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Newtown Literary Issue 5
Newtown Literary is our homegrown literary journal here in the borough of Queens. Its fifth issue, devoted to speculative poetry and prose, just appeared, and features my new short story "Sparkler." The issue can be purchased now at The Astoria Bookshop in Queens, and will soon be available for ordering online.

In celebration of the new issue, Newtown Literary will be hosting a launch party on December 17. The event takes place at Terraza 7 Train Café in Elmhurst, Queens. The lineup for the evening also includes Laura Grow-Nyberg, Jennifer Morell, Crystal Rivera, Joan Willette and more.

Wednesday, December 17, 7:00 pm
Newtown Literary #5 Launch
Terraza 7 Train Café
40-19 Gleane St
Elmhurst, NY 11373

Terraza 7 can be reached via the 7 train to 82nd Street in Queens, or (a bit less conveniently) via the M train to Elmhurst Avenue. I hope to see you there!

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Ella-Phantile 2014 13-Month Calendar
Hi, gang! Laura and I are happy to announce that the new Ella calendar for 2015 is available now from Lulu.com. It features thirteen months of all your favorite Ella photos from from the past year—all right, all right, our favorites—and for a limited time you can get it for the discounted price of only $11.99 plus shipping and handling. What a fetching bargain!

Click below to buy now, and you can keep Ella-porting around NYC with your favorite soft-coated wheaten terrier all year long.

Ella-Portation 2015 13-Month Calendar

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Tonight, Thursday, November 13, I'll be appearing here in Queens at Boundless Tales, a series that features poetry, prose, and more. I'll be reading a personal essay that encapsulates the whole of my forthcoming memoir, The Accidental Terrorist. The lineup for the evening also includes Jennifer Baker, Susana H. Case, and Aaron Poochigian. This event takes place at 7:00 pm at The Astoria Bookshop, near the Broadway stop on the N/Q line. I hope to see you there!

Thursday, November 13, 7:00 pm
Boundless Tales
The Astoria Bookshop
31-29 31st St.
Astoria, NY 11106
www.astoriabookshop.com

The Accidental Terrorist (red cover concept)
There seems to be some confusion out there about the title of my memoir. Hey, don't feel bad about it! I brought it on myself.

In a blog post a few weeks ago, I let casually drop that I was considering changing the title from The Accidental Terrorist to Missionary Man.

You'd think I suggested that Sesame Street should change Big Bird's name to Lysander Lemonbeak. (Though it does have a certain ring.)

Let me back up a bit and give you some history. When I started work on the book, Missionary Man was my working title. The Eurythmics single of the same name had dropped in the summer of 1986, just two months before I entered the Missionary Training Center to start my two years of service. Rumors abounded (in Utah, anyway) that Annie Lennox had written the song after two Mormon missionaries knocked at her door. For a lot of us leaving on missions around that time, "Missionary Man" was our anthem.

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