Tuesday, March 31, 2009

the objective observer

At the Sunstone West conference in Cupertino on Saturday, I felt like a bit of an outsider. 

It was my first time attending a Sunstone event, and unlike any number of the other people there, I am neither a scholar of church history nor a Mormon artist nor a particularly vocal dissident nor a visible participant in the Bloggernacle. While FoxyJ and Th. happily got to meet the people behind some of the big names in the Mormon blogosphere (who were in turn delighted to meet them), I watched from the sidelines.

That's not to say that I felt out of place. I felt comfortable in the company of intelligent and inquisitive people representing a wide range of wavelengths on the spectrum of Mormon-ness. I walked away from the conference with the sense that there is room in the church for heterodoxy in an infinite number of iterations: there is a place for everyone.

While I was a bit disheartened by the fact that many participants are no longer active Mormons (some never were but are just interested in the curiosities of Mormon history & doctrine), I was however put at ease by the fact that I witnessed no hostility. As far as I could tell, everyone there was very respectful, there for no malicious purpose but rather for personal enrichment and to exchange ideas and connect with other people (which, if you've been here before, you'll know is a pet theme of mine): unique individuals with beautiful minds, sharing and comparing the elements mined from our common ground. And then I was all the more encouraged to find active Mormons who have not only successfully reconciled their membership in the church with unconventional views and interests in other traditions, but have managed to integrate them in sort of spectacular ways.

When I briefed my mom on the conference, she said she imagined that talks by non-Mormons would probably be more interesting because the presenters ought to be disinterested personally. I think what she meant is that their views would likely be more objective than those of people formally affiliated with the church, which may or may not be true. I'm inclined to say that a purely objective point of view does not exist. Anyway, I've found that the more obviously "subjective" presentations are indeed more interesting precisely because they have personal implications. Theory and history and math and science are necessary, but as far as I'm/we're concerned, they are missing something until they are applied and understood in the context of the human condition.

Highlights from the day include a panel on personal spiritual journeys (away from, back to, parallel to, and interweaving with Mormonism), Th.'s "Saturday's Werewolf" paper (which I thoroughly enjoyed even though I've neither read the Twilight books nor watched Saturday's Warrior), House of Falafel falafel, a series of NPR-inspired "This I Believe" segments, and the excellent documentary film The Constant Process (read here the article that appeared in February on the front page of the LA Times).

In Saturday morning's discussion of neuroplasticity and quantum dynamics (with the intention being to explain how people can change their behavior), the presenters cited the observer effect as it relates to the Heisenberg uncertainty principle. Don't ask me to explain it (at least not at 4 a.m.), but their point was that the observer's desire can determine the outcome of the experiment—he will find what he wants to observe. I think it's not really as simple and mystifying as they made it sound, and in that sense I don't really buy it (i.e., it may have more to do with measurement technique than anything else, and I'm not a quantum physicist so I don't really get it). But still, it raises the question: is it possible to remove that desire for a particular outcome, becoming a truly objective observer? When I go to church with a bad attitude (though not so bad that it kept me at home altogether), does that become self-fulfilling prophecy, my experience confirming my doubts and sending me off after sacrament meeting because I "wasn't really feeling it" (from the moment I arrived, or even before)? Can I ever be entirely stripped of self-interest in my interactions with the world and the people around me? 

Yesterday I rode my bike to church and sat alone in the corner. Some days I might be more willing to break out of my shell and participate more actively, but yesterday was one of those when I wanted only to watch and listen, to observe unobserved. Also, to render a sketch inspired by a scene from the previous night/morning's dreams.

On my way home, my skirt got caught in the spokes of my back wheel. My white skirt. Lessons learned: (1) flowy fabrics and spinning wheels should be mingled with great care, (2) stain remover is my friend, (3) bike shorts may be a smart addition to my wardrobe, and (4) had I actually crashed, I'd be grateful to find several friendly Palo Altans out for a two-wheeled spin on a sunny-Sunday afternoon who, far from being cold objective observers, would, I believe, be happy to help me up, ask me if I were okay, call a medic, and/or laugh with me at my humiliating stupidity, as appropriate. 

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

spotted at whole foods last night

Sometimes, when I am at the grocery store at night, I see things that amuse me enough that I must record them.

Remember the Coca Puffs in Utah? Well, here in California I've found a milk substitute called Hemp Dream. Pour those two into a bowl, and that's part of your complete breakfast trip. 

I know, hemp itself isn't a drug. 
Neither is coca. 
I'm just having fun. As were, apparently, the Hemp Dream package designers:

Subtle, yet effective.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

probably made of toothpaste

It has come to my attention that the ghost in my bathroom sink was not so readily apparent to others as it was to me. 

O ye of little faith.

This should help.

Friday, March 20, 2009

ghost in the bathroom sink

Okay, so he's not technically in the sink, just hanging out on the faucet handle.

At any rate, please say hello to my new friend. Just discovered him this evening:

What shall I name him?

Friday, March 13, 2009


Fruits of my first night in Toronto (thanks to Claire for naming them).

Sunday, March 8, 2009


Last Sunday I walked three and a half miles in the rain.

Somewhat drowsy from skipped breakfast and a week of late nights, I experienced my surroundings as in a dream:
cheerful yellow daffodils alongside a shadowy asphalt river

pumpkin-orange doors centered on a silver-gray fa├žade

blushing petals discarded in circular patches on delicious green rain-soaked lawns 

all shining dully in this translucent blue-gray light sailing on cool gusts of freshly washed air
and everything was so achingly beautiful.

And it occurred to me that I am in a stage in my life that is largely dominated by aesthetics.

(No doubt you'll have noticed, if you have been following my recent musings here.)

And I don't think that's a terrible thing.

The aesthetic quality of any entity is an essential part of its being. I'm not saying that everything should be judged solely in terms of aesthetics; indeed, this would be limiting almost to the point of ridiculousness. Ignoring aesthetics entirely, on the other hand, would be just as tragically laughable.

Within biological systems, aesthetics play a key role in perpetuating any given species. Aesthetic beauty holds amazing potential to inspire the beholder, and artistic creation—which exists not without the aesthetic—can easily mimic the divine. Aesthetics are not everything, to be sure, but certainly they merit our consideration. 

At the moment I have nothing more profound to say on the matter, except that we ought not overlook that which is here to be looked at.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009


I just want to take a moment to share with you a few of the songs that are making my world go 'round these days. No commentary today, just the goods. Enjoy.

Son Lux: "Throw"

The American Dollar: "Anything You Synthesize