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The Oprah Trap

Although she never said it out loud, I could tell my mother had a real problem with soap operas. I suppose she didn’t want to denigrate most of the other moms I knew who watched them, you know, while ironing and doing laundry — really slowly. Still, there was this scrunchy look she got on her face whenever they were the topic of conversation.

So, without her saying a word, I knew that there were better things for a stay-at-home mom do do with her laundry time. And since the Big Money Movie wasn’t on anymore, I would have to take this journey of discovery all alone.

When Jessica was born, I became quickly aware that nursing a newborn took every waking moment and then some. I tried to think of ways to fill the time productively. Of course, there was the fawning and cooing. But 21 hours straight of that seemed excessive even to a me. And I did read some decent books, but worried about the large depression being left on my baby’s skull by the library bindings.

Then I realized that Hour Magazine, with host Gary Collins, was actually televised every single day! All I had to do was make use of my VCR, and I’d have at least 60 uninterrupted minutes of homemaking tips. Gary could give marriage advice with Mary Anne, Carol could show me how to make an origami plant stand, and Kitty could show me how to use old jeans and fast-food ketchup packets to make darling nursery drapes. What a team we made!

But one day, the unthinkable happened. My backup tape came to an end and began to rewind before I’d even drained the left side. And there, right on network TV, was something I’d never seen before; a new show with an articulate, personable, and slightly edgy host. It was Oprah!

Soon I was hooked. Nursing and laundry were scheduled around her show. I didn’t want to be without her wit or wisdom. And my friends agreed. She was everything we wanted to be. She was smart, independent, caring, successful, respected, and rich. Well, sure, she didn’t have the gospel, but it was only a matter of time for someone who had everything else.

Her latest show was the topic of playground chat, she was quoted at church as an authoritative figure, and even her very public struggles simply endeared her to us. This was in the late 80′s, long before her plunge into the tabloid, when her topics seemed relevant and helpful, as well as entertaining. We were learning and growing and becoming so much better!

One day, however, while getting my daily dose, it hit me. We all sat around watching Oprah live, while Oprah was actually doing the living. She didn’t have the platform and position she did by sitting on the couch, swooning over Donahue. She did it by moving on her dreams, by taking action every day to get where she wanted.

That day she convinced me to tune out for good.

As “women of God” we have much to give to the world. Are we giving and living, or are we passive observers, watching life go by?

{ 25 comments… add one }

  • SilverRain May 23, 2007, 8:06 am

    I’m still laughing about the library book dent. It takes the concept of “reading osmosis” to a whole new level.

    I think you’re right about watching life go by. It used to be that communities of women came together in their daily lives. They were able to watch each other deal with life actively. Now, we don’t have that as much. We live further away, in larger communities. We aggregate with people like us and lose the chance to observe other ideals. We haven’t lost the need to see. Maybe watching should be done, as long as it is done sparingly.

  • mlinford May 23, 2007, 11:31 pm

    Hm. I think you make a good point, but the only thing I struggle with with this concept is that Oprah could go follow dreams that were big because it’s always just been her. Mommas don’t have the same kind of ability to just drop everything and follow a dream. Sometimes we have to put some of those things on hold for our little ones, or sometimes at least realize that our actions are going to have less visible, less dramatic results (usually, anyway). Know what I mean?

    I say this as a dreamer who wants to “make a difference in the world.” But who realizes that those who rock the cradle rule the world and all of that.

  • Alison Moore Smith May 24, 2007, 2:29 am

    Oprah could go follow dreams that were big because it’s always just been her.

    Why would we assume that Oprah has achieved big dreams because it’s genetic, or inborn, or a result of the stars aligning for her? Does it let us off the hook because we, well we are just so ordinary? How can such things be expected of us?

    I truly believe that we are all extraordinary, that we have greatness in us. I don’t mean that we are all destined to be TV stars–or destined to anything at all. But I mean that we all have the ability to do amazing, truly unique things, even beyond the raising of our children, which should also be amazing. I do not believe any of us has been foreordained to ordinariness. :)

    I refuse to believe that being a mom precludes us from that greatness. It may temper our reactions and determine a particular course, but it doesn’t mean our dreams are derailed or that we are destined to watch the world go by. Pursuing our dreams doesn’t require that we “drop” our responsibilities. (Sincerely, I think that motherhood opens many doors to our dreams, but that’s another post for another day.)

    Take Rebecca for example. I know her “in real life.” She’s actually pretty reserved and gentle and tender-hearted (and it’s amazing she can stand to be around me). She isn’t a show-off or a loud-mouth or someone who tries to be the center of attention. But she is brilliantly adept in service. And she doesn’t just sit quietly and take care of her family and the women she is assigned as a visiting teacher. She looks for ways to bless and serve others and she does it ALL the time. Big things like creating trees and donating them to Festival of Trees and little things like calling to see if you’re OK because she didn’t see you somewhere. She’s always doing something and she blesses so many people. (I have not only observed this, but have benefited directly form it.) And she is home with four kids whom she homeschools.

    But all that aside, if we are sitting on the couch watching talk shows, we are NOT watching our children anyway. And if we have time to do something other than play peek-a-boo, why not spend it DOING great things, instead of watching OTHERS do great (or mediocre) things.

    At very least, can we consider how much greatness we are willing to give up in order to soak in another show? Opportunity cost and all that…

  • PlaneJain May 24, 2007, 3:40 pm

    Oprah? Eh. I’m apt to lose my time in a good book. But it’s an interesting question, Alison, whether we are giving and living. Do we necessarily have to be giving to be living?

    I’ve thought a lot about service the past several years, and my testimony about it has only grown. For example, a while back I was reading a spectacular obituary and it struck me that mine wouldn’t have half as many “accomplishments” as the admirable deceased. What would I want mine to say? I wasn’t being morbid at all, but I really did think about it. As I did, it got shorter and shorter: birth, marriage, and death dates, of course; kids (their future spouses and my future grandchildren, naturally); survivors; and date of the funeral. This type is the most boring to read, but I’d just want added that I loved my Heavenly Father, husband, and children and served them and others well. Other than that service, what else matters? Now let’s just hope that I can live up to my death-notice dreams. :-)

    For another example, I’ve found that the times when I’m happiest in life — in living — is when I’m not thinking about myself. Let’s face it. Myself is a pretty boring subject. Life is much more invigorating when I’m thinking about my family, about what I can do to help them (by Doing Laundry! Washing Dishes! Changing Diapers! Relaxing with Kids for a While!) rather than going the “poor me” route when there are things to be done. Giving is living, in my experience.

  • facethemusic May 24, 2007, 4:50 pm

    I think what Michelle meant by “Oprah could go follow dreams that were big because it’s always just been her is that Oprah doesn’t have children to be caring for. Not that being successful is “just her” as in, “that’s just who she is”.
    — Or did you already realize that?
    I agree with what everyone is saying here…
    We all have our “big dreams”– even ones that have nothing to do with family.
    I’d love for some famous singer to pick up one of my songs and it put it on their next CD. I’d love to hear one on the radio and be able to say “That’s my song!!!”
    But in reality, that dream truly is a very, very, very long shot. And it’s not a dream that’s really important to me. If it happened it would be WAY cool of course, but it’s not something I think about all the time or even put a lot of effort into, because other things are just more important to me and they take up the bulk of every day. It’s also a dream that requires a lot of money put into it, and I spend my money on things that are more important to me.
    And I think we on this list are probably all that way.
    I do have other dreams that aren’t as big and glorious, but they’re more important to me, so those are the ones I actually put my time into.

  • facethemusic May 24, 2007, 5:23 pm

    By the way… I can’t help but tie this thread to the other one about “the abundant life.”
    Oprah is a good example of some of the things we talked about there.
    She had a dream and a passion, and she went after it. Her drive to acheive her dream made her one of the wealthiest people in America. Her fortune has allowed her to do ALOT of good in the world. She’s gives away a very significant portion of her wealth. Don’t misunderstand, I’m not necessarily a huge Oprah fan– I honestly can’t remember the last time I’ve seen her show– it’s probably been a few years. It’s clear however, that she’s a very good person with a good heart, who uses her money to bless the lives of others. Unfortunately, I think she’s sacrificed a few of the more important things.
    Then again, maybe not. Maybe she just hasn’t found them yet.

  • mlinford May 24, 2007, 6:56 pm

    OK, well what I said obviously didn’t come across right. You are right that we are each destined for greatness, but I don’t like using Oprah as an example. She inspires me but also frustrates me because she deliberately chose not to be a wife and mother and that bugs me. I appreciate all the good she does, and I have been inspired by a lot of it, so don’t misunderstand. So, yes, use Rebecca as an example. Or other people we know who are living both the gospel and finding ways to also get outside themselves and their lives.

    And yet, I think we ought to be careful about assuming we HAVE to get outside our lives to do good. Ya know? I sometimes find it hard to figure out what my mission is, because dreams won’t always be God’s will/plan (back to abundant life discussion, yes?) and missions won’t always be big. So the key to me is to figure out through the Spirit what “greatness” God has in store for me. Like SilverRain said in that other thread, that could just be being a really cool neighborhood mom and touching lives of those children in our day-to-day. Or maybe it will be in some other way. Maybe some of my personal dreams and passions were given to guide me toward my mission. And maybe they weren’t. It’s just not always easy in my mind to figure out my will vs. His will and that whole balance thing. But I’m not advocating sitting and doing nothign else but house and home stuff, or settling because we are wives and mothers if there is something more we can do for God’s glory. But that’s the key to me — is it for HIS glory? That is what to me will bring true greatness. And I’m not saying that anyone here would say anything different. And I’m rambling, I know.

  • Alison Moore Smith May 24, 2007, 7:11 pm

    I’m with you on the book angle, Jane. My Oprah stint was in 1987. I’ve reformed. :) And I agree. Giving is living. Thanks for your comment. You inspired me. I began responding to your post and it ended up on the blog. You may be the greatest cure for writer’s block, yet. :)

    Yea, I did misread you Michelle. So that first paragraph doesn’t apply to your statement. It’s germane to the topic, however, because so many people simply put success out of their reach mentally, but assuming those who are successful have something magical that can’t be duplicated.

    To what you actually said and to add to what I already wrote, sure, people without obligations have fewer, well, obligations. But I don’t think that matters in the grand scheme of things, because I think it adds to our greatness, rather than being a limiting factor.

  • partone May 24, 2007, 9:50 pm

    There are lots of things I want to do, but I’m really scared to try most of htem. I don’t think I’m smart or talented enough to do something big, like other people.

  • Alison Moore Smith May 24, 2007, 10:19 pm

    Sorry, Michelle, I missed your last post. Looks like we were writing at the same time.

    Posted By: mlinfordI don’t like using Oprah as an example.

    To clarify, I’m really not trying to use Oprah as an example of how any LDS woman should be. It just happens that I did have this epiphany while watching her show 20 years ago this fall. Remember, too, that at that time she hadn’t made any lifestyle statements. She was simply a personable, down-to-earth woman, who was strong and successful.

    FWIW, over the years I peripherally noticed Oprah’s shows becoming very tabloid for a while and then becoming very new agey. I was disappointed to note some of the things she supported both on her show/magazine and in her very public, personal life.

    To clarify further, my thoughts about turning off her show were not a statement about the show itself. (At the time I remember only shows about women’s safety, health, education. Decent topics.) But it was a statement about how I spent my time and whether that was going to propel me toward…well…anything worthwhile at all.

    And yet, I think we ought to be careful about assuming we HAVE to get outside our lives to do good. Ya know?

    Actually, no, I don’t. Of course you can do great things in your home. But I really don’t think we can live the kind of lives we should…or at least could…live by staying exclusively in our homes and within our families. I think the fact that we are given callings–even in the midst of child-bearing and rearing–is indicative of the idea that we need to stretch and move outside our comfort zones (and even homes).

    It’s just not always easy in my mind to figure out my will vs. His will and that whole balance thing.

    Ah, yes. There’s the rub, eh?

    My very non-scientific observation, however, is that we are often much more worried about our own comfort than we are about God’s will. It’s not so much that we are pretty sure our hair-brained wish is contrary to what God wants, but we’re pretty sure we’ll make fools of ourselves trying to achieve them or that we won’t succeed anyway, so why bother. We have dreams and we have gifts, but using them in some big way is so hard, so uncomfortable, so risky.

    I mean, how many of us sit around pondering whether or not organizing a drawer or buying this t-shirt or reading a novel is “for God’s glory”? I’m pretty convinced that if we were really planning our lives this way there would be a lot less scrapbooking and a lot more real family history being done by Mormons. And there would probably be less blogging, too. And if we’re not living in glory every second, then why not use some of those unglorified moments to do something really great, rather than doing something like…well…like watching Oprah live her life?

  • mlinford May 25, 2007, 12:27 am

    But I don’t think that matters in the grand scheme of things, because I think it adds to our greatness, rather than being a limiting factor.

    Agreed, in a big way.

    Actually, no, I don’t. Of course you can do great things in your home. But I really don’t think we can live the kind of lives we should…or at least could…live by staying exclusively in our homes and within our families.

    Actually, we are miscommunicating again because “our lives” in my mind includes callings. For me, it also includes my current sphere of influence, which even gets outside my ward with some other projects. I’m never one who thinks we should JUST focus on family and NOTHING else. Nope, not this girl.

    We have dreams and we have gifts, but using them in some big way is so hard, so uncomfortable, so risky.

    Hm. Now I see why we are talking past each other a bit, because to be totally honest, this isn’t how my brain works. I’m a dreamer and a big thinker by nature (drives hubby crazy sometimes, actually). Risk in this regard isn’t as much a barrier for me. My challenges come in balance and really wanting to check those dreams against heaven’s plans. :) And, oh yeah, to figure out how to discipline myself better. Ah, yes, THAT is an issue for me.

    Thanks for clarifying. I really do agree with what you are saying. We probably are a lot more bundles of untapped potential than we can imagine! So, here, here to the idea of removing barriers to that potential, whatever they may be! Woohoo! Let’s go girls!

  • Alison Moore Smith May 25, 2007, 3:27 am

    Discipline is a great deal of what I’m talking about when I say “discomfort.” Dreaming big isn’t the hard part for many of us, it’s acting big that causes the problem.

  • SilverRain May 25, 2007, 7:07 am

    Good point – For example, I have this burning desire to write a book (several, actually,) and haven’t yet started working on it. It’s too easy to put it off because I can’t believe that what I do will make any real difference, so there’s no point in trying.

  • facethemusic May 25, 2007, 8:14 am

    When I first started songwriting, and started getting all the compliments and suggestions for which “big name” artist I should send my songs to, I thought…”wow… could this really lead to something?” Then I actually started making some headway– (very MINIMAL headway, but meaningful to a no-name writer like me). I won some writing competitions, signed a publishing contract, and thought “hmmm, maybe this really COULD lead to something”.
    Then the truth reared it’s ugly head. It’s incredibly difficult to even have them heard. The record labels have their own salaried writers. It’s near to impossible to get your foot in the door unless you actually GO to Nashville– and go frequently. Many fledgling writers actually MOVE there, because it’s near to impossible to make the connections you need unless you’re there often.
    And believe it or not, the LDS market is just as difficult to break into. You have to be in Utah, to make all the necessary connections, or you can just forget about it. And LDS artists are extremely narrow in their song choices– they only record their own songs. This seems to be a uniquely LDS phenomenon. (Except Kenneth Cope– on his last album Hear My Praise he recorded a few songs from other writers, some of my favorite writers by the way, and it was by FAR his best album.)
    When we have discussions about all this on the LDS musicians list you can see a discrepency between the different members. Some say you absolutely CAN break into the market if you just try hard enough, don’t give up, pester people until they DO listen, and make your music good enough and marketable enough. If you have to move to Utah, move to Utah. If you have to move to Nashville, move to Nashville. You have to spend money to make money. If you want it badly enough, you can have it, you just have to MAKE it happen. You have to do a lot of gigging, and if that means playing in a bar, then you play in a bar. YOU don’t have to drink, etc, etc.
    But there are many of us on the list who honestly DON’T want it THAT badly. I am NOT moving my family to pursue a songwriting career. I am NOT going to perform in a bar. I am NOT going to spend thousands and thousands of dollars in a recording studio, on having CD’s made, on paying a graphic artist for a CD cover, on manufacturing and distribution,etc.
    So then you get stuck and think– okay Heavenly Father, YOU gave me this gift, YOU gave me this desire, YOU give me the inspiration for the songs. If I can’t pursue a career in this without compromising things that are more important… what in the world do you want me to do with it?
    The funny thing is, is that while I was having this far off, seemingly hopeless dream in my head, and wondering what to do, something else started happening. The Stake asked me to do a youth conference workshop about music. Then word spread and another local Stake asked me, then another. The next thing I knew, I was being flown out to Utah to do it there. And now, these workshops are my passion. I still LOVE writing music and wish I had more time to do it.
    But talking with the kids about music and it’s power for good or evil, really getting into depth and detail about the specific songs that THEY’RE listening to and seeing them finally “get it” is amazingly wonderful. Hearing from their parents and leaders that 2 years later, the kids STILL talk about the workshop, and that every year, they ask if I can come back– that’s really awesome.
    Then I started getting requests for songs to be written FOR something… “can you write a song for our Stake women’s conference?” “Can you write a song for our Youth Conference?”
    So it took awhile, but now I feel like I finally know what He wants me to do with the talent He gave me. I think first and foremost, he wants me to use my knowledge about music and my ease with teenagers– even the rough ones– to help them to make better listening choices and REALLY understand the how’s and why’s of the prophet’s counsel on this subject.
    And I think he wants me to use my songwriting on a more “scaled down” level… not necessarily recording albums or trying to “break into” a market anywhere, but writing arrangments for the ward choir, for the primary, writing an theme song for a Stake women’s conference, for a youth conference,etc. If anything “big” were to happen, that would be great, but it’s not the goal.

  • Alison Moore Smith May 25, 2007, 11:43 am

    Silver, I do know what you mean. I’ve got three books in the works, two with substantive progress. But it’s much harder to motivate myself when I don’t know if a publisher will accept it. Sheesh, what a waste of time that would be, eh?

    Recently, however, I’ve been looking at print-on-demand technology. It allows me to self-publish without all the former costs of self=publishing. Basically, they don’t charge you unless a book sells. That has given me some motivation to continue. (I was working on one of the books last night.) But I still get caught up in other, easier stuff.

    Tracy, great input. Thank you. I understand you on the music issue so well. When I was 12 years old I saw The Magic Flute and knew that I wanted to be a singer/performer. I began a run of musical theater and regular theater roles in community and school productions. I competed in pageants. I majored in musical dance theater at BYU and toured with A Cappella.

    When it all came down, however, I changed my major and graduated with a business emphasis university studies major. It was official called “theater management.” But I just couldn’t figure out how to fit musical theater, which I am so passionate about, into the life I wanted and the life I have been taught I should have. Is New York a great place to raise kids? Is the instability and schedule of a performer conducive to a decent home life? How many possible roles could I actually accept (assuming I could get them) that wouldn’t require a violation of my standards? I couldn’t figure out how to reconcile what I wanted with what God wanted, as presented by our prophets.

    Even my patriarchal blessing addresses this desire, and encourages it specifically, but it doesn’t really point much to a resolution.

    I tried teaching voice lessons for a few years. It was OK, but I don’t really want to teach, I want to sing, even at this old age. I sang in a great community choir called Exultate. Got to perform in the closing session of Women’s Conference a few years ago. Great, but not my style preference. I directed a youth choir in Florida and direct a teen choir here. That has been gratifying, but still not what I really want, either. And, of course, I’ve done the ward and stake choirs. Um…

    My sister’s in the MoTab, which in many ways sounds like a wonderful experience, but I really have done my dues with classical music and it’s not really what I love. I love torch songs and 40′s music and gospel and broadway. Give me something to belt out and I’m in heaven.

    I have one daughter who has an amazing voice and loves, loves, loves to perform a combination that had thus far eluded me. (Another looks like she might be heading there.) Lately I’ve thought we could form a duo. (The only similar example I can think of is the Judds.) She’s all for it. I just have to figure out how to go about it, since I really have no clue.

    Anyway, that’s one of my dormant dreams that I’d like to act on before my voice is totally shot. So, Tracy, do you have any songs for a mother/daughter team? :)

  • Lewis_Family May 25, 2007, 9:27 pm

    I stopped watching Oprah when Dr. Phil became a regular:shocked: and it was for the better, I used to watch religously with my mom.

  • Alison Moore Smith May 27, 2007, 6:28 pm

    Hey, Tracy, are you avoiding me? :)

    I just played More Excellent Way for my singer daughter. She loved it.

  • facethemusic May 27, 2007, 6:42 pm

    he he… not avoiding…
    I have songs about being a mother, but no mother/daughter duets, sorry.
    But, I should work on that!

  • Alison Moore Smith May 27, 2007, 6:46 pm

    How about any duets that COULD be sung by a mother/daughter without being stupid?

  • facethemusic May 27, 2007, 7:30 pm

    You know, I haven’t written any duets, period! Well, that’s not true. I wrote one that my husband and I sang together at our reception, but I haven’t written any duets since then.
    Almost all my songs have harmony parts in the background, but none of them are actually meant to be sung by two lead voices.
    The Judd’s ROCK though! (So sad when they went their seperate ways). So I totally understand your desire to do something along those lines. You even have that gorgeous red hair to go with it!

  • Sharilee10 May 29, 2007, 4:44 am

    Wow! Lots of incredible dreams out there, and they are all possible and bound to happen. Keep talking about them, visualize them, and become really clear about what you want and expect to happen!

    As for the article on Oprah, I have two comments:
    1. Alison, you are a really, REALLY excellent writer! If you send an email to me at Sharilee@americatakingaction.com I will send you some information on getting your work published. Actually, anyone who is interested in getting published can email me.
    2. This concept reminds me of John Bytheway’s cd Turn Off The TV and Get a Life! He also talks about sitting and watching others live life or turning it off and living your own dreams. I think you both have really good advice!!

    As far as the comments on service, one of my favorite quotes is by Winston Churchill, “We make a living by what we get, we make a life by what we give.” Another favorite is by Leonard Nimroy, “The miracle is this– the more you give the more you have.” I agree with Alison that the Lord does expect us to be anxiously engaged in many good causes within our homes and outside of our homes, within our wards and outside of our wards, and within the Church and outside of the Church. The Lord has given us all talents to use in blessing others’ lives. I believe that He is far more open to us choosing which dreams we follow and allowing those dreams to become reality than what we often give Him credit for. As long as we are focusing on building the kingdom; as long as we are doing the right thing for the right reason, go ahead an dream BIG! Dream of getting published, dream of hearing your song on the radio. Put it out there, visualize it and think about it and become clear on what you want and then don’t worry about it. Just let it happen. Maybe it will be Alison and her daughter singing your song on the radio, maybe it will happen in a way none of us could even imagine in our wildest dreams, but if you put it out there and your energy is in harmony with God’s energy and it is doing the right thing for the right reason, it will happen.

    Dream BIG everyone. In fact . . . I’m going to go start a new thread where everyone can share their dreams. That will be a first step in making them happen!

  • Alison Moore Smith May 29, 2007, 2:57 pm

    Sharilee, thanks for more kind words today. Sure, send me info on publishing. If I ever finish a book it could come in handy!

    Shoot about Bytheway. I wanted to write about it first!

  • Sharilee10 May 29, 2007, 6:34 pm

    I don’t know what books you are working on, but I think you ought to consider publishing a Best of Mormon Momma book. I’m sure I’ve only seen a fraction of your work, but you are really gifted in writing! Anyway . . . those are my thoughts! Go for it! Create it! Let it happen!

    Speaking of publishing . . . we really should put our little story in the Ensign. I think there are some pretty important lessons to learn from it about callings and Who is really in charge and making the decisions. I have a little ditty in this month’s Ensign (just a little Q&A) so I have the email of the girl to send it to. We should figure out how we want to combine the two parts and then email it to her. Let me know what you think.

  • Alison Moore Smith June 1, 2007, 9:54 am

    That would be a fun thing to try. Let’s do it.

  • Sharilee10 June 1, 2007, 12:16 pm

    I assume you are referring to putting our little story in the Ensign since the other one would be something you do, and I really suggest you do!

    Your writing in the article is so beautiful I don’t want to change a word of it. I also think that part of the lesson is in how the information came out so unexpected. There was no plan, no ulterior motive– it just happened to unfold through normal conversation. I think the lesson in that is that you never know how far reaching your influence is. I had no idea that following (if hesitantly at first) the Lord’s will had had such major impact in your life, and I doubt you knew that your service to me had such a huge impact in mine.

    So, the question is, what is the best way to capture the unique way the information unfolded while maintaining absolute integrity of the writing itself. The other question to ask is if we want to add additional collaborative information and comments, etc. Maybe we could both think about it and send some thoughts and roughdrafts back and forth via regular email. When we have it ready we can email it in.

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