HBM113: The Last Ones

Bethany Denton’s been thinking about grief a lot lately. In 2017, two of her friends, a mother and a daughter, died unexpectedly just two months apart. Since then, Bethany’s started seeing grief in just about everything, including a caribou at Woodland Park Zoo that dropped her antlers after a miscarriage.

Content Note:
Death and Language

Bethany’s good friend, Jesse Brenneman has also been thinking a lot about grief. It was his mother and sister who died in 2017. And shortly after that, his grandfather and father died too. So over the span of a year and two months, Jesse lost his entire immediate family.

When Bethany told Jesse about the grieving caribou mother who’d dropped her antlers after miscarriage, Jesse suggested contacting his next door neighbor Ben Long. Ben is a writer and conservationist with an affinity for caribou.

On a snowy January morning, the three of them drove out to the Flathead National Forest outside of Kalispell, Montana for a walk in the woods. They hoped to find caribou tracks in the snow. Caribou used to be plentiful in northwestern Montana and throughout the continental United States. These days, due to deforestation and destruction of their habitat, the caribou population in the lower 48 could be as low as three animals.

You may recognize Jesse’s voice from his time as a producer for WNYC’s On The Media. Today he is a freelancer of many disciplines living and working in Missoula, Montana.

Further Listening: HBM064: A Shinking Shadow, in which Bethany talks to Jesse’s sister Erin about her eating disorder.

Producers: Jesse Brenneman and Bethany Denton
Editor: Bethany Denton
Music: Jesse Brenneman and The Black Spot

HBM071: The Evangelists of Nudism

HBM071.jpg

Growing up Mormon in Montana, Bethany Denton had a phrase drilled into her mind from an early age: “modest is hottest.”  To her, it became a mantra even while many of her friends, especially other girls, struggled with Mormonism’s strict modesty standards. But never Bethany–she was fat enough to know that no one wanted to see that anyway.

By the time Bethany moved to Washington State for college, she had rejected the church and was looking for new, broader experiences.  She got a job as a campus security officer, started drinking, and began wading into feminism.  She looked for new, non-Mormon role models to help her find adventure. That’s when she met Helen, a punk rock pirate who invited Bethany to join her for an all-expenses paid nude vacation, courtesy of an eccentric tech millionaire who evangelized the merits of nudism.

Bethany said yes, and went with Helen to California to bake in the sun for a week, and to learn about the body she’d been hiding for the past 20 years, learn to decouple nakedness from sexuality.

And when she returned, she felt utterly changed.  But she’d soon tearfully discover she was not entirely untangled from childhood guilt.

Names in this story have been changed.

"Artist's" Renderings of what Bethany Saw
Photos by Jeff Emtman

This episode was written and produced by Bethany Denton, and was edited by Jeff Emtman. Nick White is HBM’s editor at KCRW.

Music:  Nym | | | Half Ghost  | | |  Lucky Dragons 

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HBM064: A Shrinking Shadow

Erin was fat as a kid. Since middle school, she tried all different methods to lose weight. From a young age she developed the idea that the most important thing she could do with her life was lose weight.

Content Note: Explicit Content

That's part of why she and HBM producer Bethany Denton were such good friends in high school. They were both fat, nearly the same size. Both tried and failed to lose weight since childhood. Together they felt safe to enjoy food without judgment.

Bethany (left) and Erin (right) as teenagers.

But they parted ways after high school.  Bethany moved to Washington State and Erin to Indiana for college. They fell out of touch, observing each others’ lives mostly through the distance of a Facebook news feed.  

And there, Bethany began to notice changes in Erin.  She looked thinner, but also more hollow.  Her eyes sank into her head.  Bethany was ashamed that she felt jealous.  She also thought her old friend might be gone...turned into a shrinking shadow of her former self.

On this episode of Here Be Monsters, Erin explains how she developed her obsession with exercise and her intense desire to lose weight.  She explains how she descended into a dangerous place with her eating disorder.  She would later understand her symptoms of anxiety, insomnia and irrationality to be typical of starvation, as observed in a 1940s experiment known as the Minnesota Starvation Experiment.

After losing over 100 lbs, Erin hit rock bottom the summer after graduating from college. Her anxiety became intolerable, she was constipated, and her hair was falling out. After months of living with every characteristic of anorexia nervosa, she was given an official diagnosis once she became underweight.

"I felt like a shell...I felt so hollow."

In 2014, Erin sought treatment. The first step in her recovery was a process called refeeding. It's the process of replenishing a calorie deficit, providing a starving body much-needed energy to repair internal damage.

Erin has since made nearly a full recovery. Today she lives in Portland, Oregon and works at a bakery. She keeps a blog about her experiences with anorexia.

If you are suffering from an eating disorder, you can get help today. A good place to start is Eating Disorder Hope. Erin also recommends the website Performing Woman; she personally found it inspiring to her recovery.

This episode was produced by Bethany Denton, and edited with help from Jeff Emtman and Nick White.  

Music: The Black Spot  |||  Serocell

HBM057: Impostor in a Pink Pinstripe Suit

Growing up in small-town Montana, Bethany Denton's parents and teachers told her what she knew already: she was brilliant.  Bethany couldn't help but feel destined for something big, even though she often skipped her school readings and phoned it in.  Why try hard when you already know everything?

Content Note: Explicit Content

Bethany in her pink pinstripe suit at her final tournament. Photo by Katy Allen-Schmidt.

Bethany in her pink pinstripe suit at her final tournament. Photo by Katy Allen-Schmidt.

In high school, Bethany joined the speech and debate team and started winning medals in an event called Serious Oral Interpretation.  One afternoon Bethany went to the bookstore and stumbled across a monologue by American author Joyce Carol Oates entitled Nuclear Holocaust, from her play I Stand Before You Naked.   It's a first-hand account of a religiously devout and mentally unstable Southerner who eagerly awaits the world's destruction. It was the perfect kind of material for a Serious Oral Interpretation monologue, so Bethany bought the book. Her dramatic performance of this piece soon won her a trip to Las Vegas to compete against teenagers from across the country.

Bethany spent the next couple months slacking off, per usual.  Later that summer in Las Vegas, Bethany steps in front of a room full of strangers and realizes that she's made a huge mistake.

Bethany Denton wrote and produced this story, with editing help from Jeff Emtman and Nick White from KCRW. Track image by Angie Foreman.

Music: The Black Spot ||| Flower Petal Downpour

HBM051: Sister Bethany, Proxy for the Dead

Bethany Denton was about five years old when she learned that she was a Mormon. When she was eight, she learned that she was an eternal spirit destined for an eternal afterlife.  The idea of eternity terrified her, and made her afraid to stargaze into the boundless universe.

When she got older, Bethany was allowed to enter the Mormon temple in Billings, Montana to act as the proxy in baptisms for the dead.

"Mormon Baptism" by Frederick Hawkins Piercy (1830-1891), a Mormon artist.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints was founded in 1830, and has practiced baptisms for the dead (or "baptism by proxy") since 1840. This practice intends to give dead people the opportunity to join the church in the afterlife from Spirit Prison, where all souls wind up. Mormon teenagers are eligible to serve as a proxy when they turn twelve years old.  Over the course of her adolescence, Bethany was the proxy for about 30 dead people. 

When Bethany was seventeen, the late prophet Gordon B. Hinckley tasked the youth of the LDS church to read the Book of Mormon cover to cover. Bethany took him up on his challenge, and started noticing inconsistencies that made her question (and ultimately lose) her faith. She doesn't go to church anymore and hasn't for almost ten years, but she's still a member of the church, and always will be...unless she sends a formal letter of resignation.

Today, Bethany Denton is the Managing Editor of Here Be Monsters and loves to marvel at outer space.  She co-produced this piece with Jeff Emtman, along with help from Nick White, our editor at KCRW. Track image by Kyle Keenan.

Music: The Black Spot