(I took the header picture of a Common Loon resting on a pond in Utah on its way north in June of 2015. It was in transition from winter to summer plumage.)

Translate - I dare you. Then make a comment on the funny errors the translator made.

Monday, May 16, 2016


Another of my articles has appeared on the Jung Society of Utah blog today.  Since I always have limited space on the blog there, I decided I'd write a little bit more about my sticks here.

I've finished two sticks in the past year: a sort of baton or wand of apricot for myself, and a walking stick of plum for my sweetie.
Part of the apricot baton . . .

. . . and part of the plum walking stick.

I'm particularly pleased with the plum: it came out looking like a walking stick I might see at a gift shop in a park (except that I finished it with oil and beeswax instead of polyurethane or something like that).  It wasn't complicated to make at all: just took some time and care.  That's the best thing about working with sticks, I think: you don't have to be a master craftsman, you just have to take time and care, and I think it especially helps to be in tune with your inner child.
The wide tip of the baton, showing the piece of sodalite that I mounted in it.
When I was a boy, I loved whittling sticks.  That was part of their appeal: with a pocket knife I could not only shave away outer layers of bark and grime to let the beauty of the wood shine through, I could also sharpen a stick to a crude spear point, and I had a weapon that has cost me nothing. When you're a child on a camping trip, in woods that might be full of cougars, bears or (especially) monsters, this gives a tremendous sense of security.

I think it would be a cheap and nasty dismissal to assign some kind of crude phallic meaning to this fascination with sticks (although I'm open to the idea of symbolic resonance of that sort in wands and scepters). I don't want to get into a rationalistic picking apart of this fascination with sticks in an attempt to explain it. There are some things that it is well to explain, but others it does your soul more good to just do.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

The Provo City Center Temple

This afternoon my sweetie and I attended the dedication of the new Provo City Center Temple.  It was done in three sessions and we attended the third, broadcast into a meetinghouse in the town where we live that isn't Provo: I don't think there were regular church meetings anywhere in Utah today, at least not along the Wasatch Front.

They made such an effort to let as many take part in the dedication because this temple has a unique history.  It was built in the shell of an old building that used to be a tabernacle.

The old Mormon pioneer tabernacles are some of my favorite things.  I don't know how many survive now, but for years I've thought I'd like to take a tour of them.  They're essentially large meeting halls, with two levels of seats, and are often used for cultural events as well as church meetings.  The big dome-topped Tabernacle on Temple Square is probably the most famous, and the biggest (at least before the humongous conference center was built).  But the buildings I'm talking about are more like the smaller Assembly Hall on Temple Square.  Several of them were built with Gothic Revival architectural style or influence.

I loved the Provo Tabernacle, ever since moving back to Provo in 1994 and attending various concerts there.  When I heard the news of the fire that gutted it in 2010 I was devastated, as were countless others.  And I thought: the Church should restore it, but it probably won't.  So I was also glad with countless others when the plans were announced the following year to not only restore it, but to turn it into a Temple.

We went through it during the open house, and I have never been in another Temple that I have found as beautiful or moving.  The stained glass windows, the decorative motif of four-petaled flowers, quartered circles . . . dare we even say, crosses?  And all the wood!  There's wood everywhere, stained a rich warm homey brown.  We call Temples the House of the Lord, and this one really does feel like God's living room.  The pictures linked above don't really do it justice.

I can't deny feeling a certain sense of loss at this beauty - flawless and immaculate, but cozy - being reserved for a Temple instead of in a building kept open to public access.  I comfort myself with the thought of the other tabernacles still standing.  And it's also comforting to see a Temple displaying more hobbit-like charm than the cold white-on-white austerity that has been the norm for so long.  I like to think that it's a sign that the culture of the Church is changing for the better.

It's slow though.  There are complex meanings and signals I see in a place like this.  Mormons love luxury, even when they're indulging in pioneer fantasies, and I see a perfect example of that in the interior of this building.  I believe in comfort, in abundance, in wealth, even - but I believe in it as an ideal to be socially made and shared.  And as I see it, that was the ideology that drove those pioneers to make such improbable structures in their frontier settlements.  For a group of people in a place with no infrastructure to speak of to pool their resources and coordinate their labor to raise the most beautiful buildings they could, in brick or even granite, instead of slapping up cheap board facades . . . I understand and share the indignation that Mormons felt when the railroads brought the Gentile rabble from the east with their piddly, trashy saloons.

The tabernacles stand to me as a signal of hope in the promise of collective and cooperative enterprise, an ideal that our culture has for the most part turned away from with a multitude of blindly individualistic sneers, simultaneously gentrifying and uglifying what was supposed to be a Zion society.  To see those empty brick walls held up and filled with something that is so obviously a tribute to the spirit of those early days (even if the work of building was done by hirelings instead of by community effort), and offered up to God, is another sign of hope in my eyes.

Friday, March 11, 2016

Typecast: a musical fantasy, Baroque this time

I wrote this while looking after a toddler, so if it's disjointed and ends hastily, you'll know why.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

My latest post for the Jung Society of Utah

I've got more posts lined up for this blog, coming soon.  But right now I want to share a link to the latest post I contributed for the Jung Society of Utah:

Pop Psychology? Jungian Concepts in Popular Music: The Shadow

This is the first in a series of posts I've got planned for the Jung Society.  In this post I look briefly at a song by Death, and in the next one I'll look at Nick Cave.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

The Chocolate Project, episode 3: Baker's unsweetened, part 1

(This picture is a link: you can buy this chocolate on Amazon.)

I wasn't going to do this at first, but then I figured, why not?  After all, this is what I used when I first started making hot chocolate the old-fashioned way.  For a long time, this was practically the only chocolate I used.  And despite what I wrote about not knowing better, this chocolate is not bad.  It's a decent, nice everyday chocolate, if you're into drinking this kind of stuff frequently -

like 17th-century Spaniards.  In A New Voyage Round the World (that link will take you to a free ebook) William Dampier wrote:

The nuts of this coast of Caracas, though less than those of Costa Rica, which are large flat nuts, yet are better and fatter, in my opinion, being so very oily that we are forced to use water in rubbing them up; and the Spaniards that live here, instead of parching them to get off the shell before they pound or rub them to make chocolate, do in a manner burn them to dry up the oil; for else, they say, it would fill them too full of blood, drinking chocolate as they do five or six times a day.

I'm not to the point of drinking chocolate that often - not yet.  And I'm sure that Baker's, as cheap as it is, isn't made from high-quality Venezuelan beans.  (I'm guessing that it's made from forastero beans grown in West Africa.)  This chocolate strikes me as a good one to use for backpacking trips or something of the sort.  I say this because I'm thinking of the Dominguez-Escalante expedition, which carried chocolate as part of its provisions.  I don't know for sure what kind of chocolate they had in Santa Fe to outfit overland expeditions like that, but I imagine it might have been relatively cheap, rugged stuff like this.

So, to establish a baseline, I whipped up some of this stuff for the family the other night.  Here's the recipe:
  • 4 ounces chocolate
  • 4 Tablespoons raw cane sugar
  • a little splash of fine vanilla (my sister taught us how to make it by soaking vanilla beans in brandy)
  • 1 cup boiling water
I'll try other sweeteners later; I think the raw cane sugar works very nicely with the flavor of the chocolate.  Baker's doesn't taste as "dark" as others, with what I consider more mid-tones than low or high.  Even the color is paler.  So the more caramel-ish character of the raw sugar fits it nicely.

My sweetie described the flavor as milder and subtler, and that for some reason it reminded her of trees.  Our seven-year-old found it rather bitter, while I found the sweetness level just about right.  The baby thought it was grand, as always.
Detail from Le Dejeuner by François Boucher; the full image is at the bottom of this post.
In conclusion, Baker's unsweetened chocolate makes a good drinking chocolate for common use.  And since it's usually very affordable (right now you can get a box on Amazon for a little over $2, which is as good a deal as you usually find in grocery stores), it's a good one to start with if you're interested in learning how to make it this way.  It's sad that they don't sell it in eight ounce boxes anymore: they're only four ounces now.

Image courtesy of Wikimedia commons.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

My Sigur Rós fantasies, part 2 (or, brass buttons)

Brass buttons!  I have a navy peacoat that has brass buttons.  My sister gave it to me over 20 years ago and it used to fit me very nicely.  The thick wool is like armor.  It's shapewear, really: can you tell in this picture that I was overweight?

In Boston, at the birthplace of a great-great grandfather, 1998
Trench coats or dusters are a standard nerd uniform, but they don't have anywhere near the panache of thick wool and brass buttons.  I've decided that if I'm going to be odd, I'd rather do it in a way that aspired to an absolute elegance.

When Sigur Rós released Kveikur in 2012, I held off from getting it for a while, because I was sad that Kjartan had left.  But it's become one of my favorites - especially "Stormur" and "Bláþráður" which share a very similar sound.

In the video for "Glosoli" from their 2006 release Takk, a drummer boy in an old military-style coat leads a group of children.

And the band members have sported costumes reminiscent of military uniforms (or marching band - anyway, with lots of buttons):

Maybe that's why, when I listen to "Stormur" and "Bláþráður," I feel like some kind of fabulous cosmic dragoon, decked out in a splendid coat of sober color, with the thick wool covering a body formed in appropriately manly proportions.  Somewhat like that drummer boy, I imagine myself soaring above the landscape, taking in the vastness of it, or marching along on some purposeful errand - or maybe just on one of my hikes (I'll write more about that later).

I mentioned that my coat feels like armor.  In fact, I credit part of the impetus for my novel in progress to that coat: the refinement and elegance of industrialized aesthetics that produced the clean lines of such a coat (instead of the sweeping curves of 18th-century military dress) attract me greatly, but I wanted to visualize a society that could achieve this sort of thing - and early industrial technology - but without the dehumanizing weapons of modern warfare.  I imagined trains, wool coats, brass buttons and sabers - without firearms.

This was in my head long before I ever heard of steampunk - and my vision was of a cleaner look than the clutter I often see in steampunk illustration and cosplay.  It's been interesting to observe emanations of my teenage visions appearing in contemporary fantasy - from the Mistborn Trilogy to Frozen.

Frozen: Scandinavian aesthetics.  Is this my Danish background coming through?  I saw Babette's Feast for the first time in college, and those snappy military uniforms made quite an impression.  (One of my favorite scenes also is where the storekeeper puts on his postal hat to deliver a letter.)  I grew up in a household with Danish furniture and utensils and so maybe I imbibed an appreciation for Nordic design that way.

I also grew up in a family where we were expected to dress up for many occasions.  This meant that I quite often wore a blazer - and hated it.  I think back on this as something like the way I hated math, even though I was good at it, and for a time even was a member of a competitive "Math League" in junior high.  It turned out that wearing a navy blue wool jacket - with brass buttons - was ideal for playing soldiers after church.  Perhaps I would have been mollified more often in my father's dress code requirements had he appealed to that sense of fantasy - you don't have to dress up, you get to do cosplay.  After all, I did find his old military gear and regalia irresistible, and I have enjoyed dressing in olive and khaki, despite my pacifism.
Minneopa State Park, Mankato, Minnesota, 1999

But that's another story. 
 (This post contains affiliate links, which I put in whenever and however I like.  Click or don't, as you wish.)

Sunday, February 14, 2016

I can't quit science fiction: LTUE 2016

(This post is quite unpolished, but I'm putting it up anyway, because if I wait too long it won't be as relevant.)
I just got done with another year of Life, the Universe, and Everything, the annual science fiction and fantasy symposium held in Provo every February.  I've been involved with this on and off over the years ever since attending my first one in 1995.  While in college in the late 1990s I served on the planning committee, and now that I'm living in the area again I hope to serve on the committee for next year's meeting.

This thing has been going on since 1983.  It's a symposium, or supposed to be.  I haven't observed it continuously for the past 20 years because I've been away for such large gaps, but when I think back on the times I attended in the 1990s and the last few years, I perceive some differences.  Subcultures of science fiction and fantasy appreciation have grown immensely since I was a teenager, with people scrambling to claim the title of "geek" as a badge of honor.  My memory might be distorted, but from what I recall, this did not happen in 1994.

Now there are multiplying fandoms burgeoning with eager new geeks.  I have relatives who number among these, but they're nowhere near as hardcore as the people at LTUE.  Here you see the older generations of nerds: people who were nerds before it was cool.  And now they bring their children.  Fandom and geekdom might be getting popular, but these people are the real deal and they still don't blend in to the mainstream.

I'm reminded of a Cory Doctorow essay I read:

Standing in Melbourne airport on the day before this year’s World Science Fiction convention, I found myself playing the familiar road-game known to all who travel to cons: spot the fan. Sometimes, “spot the fan” is pitched as a pejorative, a bit of fun at fannish expense, a sneer about the fannish BMI, B-O, and general hairiness.
. . . 
Looking for fans isn’t just about looking for heavyset people, or guys with big beards, or people who are sloppily dressed. Looking for fans is about looking for people who appear to have given a great deal of thought to how they dress and what they’re doing, and who have, in the process of applying all this thought to their daily lives, concluded that they would like to behave differently from the norm. It is about spotting people who are dressed as they are not because of fashion, nor because of aspiration, but because they have decided, quite deliberately, that this is the best thing for them to wear.  ("A Cosmopolitan Literature for a Cosmopolitan Web," from Context, available here for free download)

I've thought a lot about wearing costumes to LTUE - some people do.  It's nowhere near as extreme as, say, DragonCon.  It's really not a convention, but I perceive an entropic sort of impulse to devolve it into simply a time and place for misunderstood people to geek out.  I've seen these forces operating since I started attending, and that's part of what drives me to want to stay involved: I want to help maintain its academic mission, keep it focused on and aspiring toward academic rigor.  Along with that goes a recognition of what Cory wrote, and a realization of why I can't stay away from speculative fiction: in its purity, this isn't about pumping out infinite pulpy repetitions of predictable escape fantasies, it's about exploring ideas - and for me, ultimately, it's about imagining how this world might be different - better.

Mormon SF/F fandom - the old kind - is a strange and wonderful subculture.  I don't wholly fit in, and I have my frustrations with it, but I feel at ease there (more at ease than in mainstream Mormon culture for sure).  Despite the many ways I see the culture falling short of what I see as its potential - or because of them - I am drawn back again and again, and after attending LTUE this year I feel even more strongly oriented to who and what I am.