s Thoughts from the Physics Chick: August 2006

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Disorganized thoughts after visiting the Art Institute of Chicago for the first time

It turns out that I don’t actually like art. Illustration? Yes. Design? Absolutely. But not so much art.

I just don’t get it, I guess. I look at it, and I’m supposed to have some sort of emotional reaction, apparently, and I keep looking at it and my mind starts wandering and I wonder how long I have to look at it before I’m allowed to give up and move on.

I like illustration because I figure that I can just like the picture without being monumentally affected by it, and I like design because there’s usually something to “figure out” about why it’s put together the way it is, but pure art is just confusing.

My only stipulations on visiting the museum were that we allow for ample time at the gift shop, and that we see Seurat’s most famous painting. Otherwise, Melyngoch and I traipsed around from room to room, her appreciating art all willy-nilly, me hoping there was an illustration or design exhibit hiding somewhere.


An actual quote from the day’s conversation:

Melyngoch: Do you like this painting?
Katya: I like the frame . . .

I also liked the parquet flooring, point of fact. I noticed three different patterns. (Two sort of looked the same but they actually weren’t)


In addition to not liking art, generally, I specifically dislike impressionism. However this may have less to do with the school of art, itself, and more to do with the clique of snobby girls in my junior high school who had all been to France and who all claimed to adore impressionism.


I saw the original of
Sunday Afternoon on the Island of la Grande Jatte, which was amazing. It’s a cliché to say that reproductions don’t do justice to original art, but if you figure that the sample rate in most reproductions is necessarily a small fraction of the dot-rate in the original pointillist painting . . . you end up missing the entire point of the work in a postcard-sized reprint. (Of course, this didn’t stop me from buying a postcard of the painting, anyway.)


Melyngoch and I had contrary reactions to almost every painting. I found the ones she liked overwhelming and disorganized and she found the ones I liked cold and sterile. We did, in sum, both like two paintings (or one painting and one board with nails hammered into it), although I suspect that we liked them for contrasting reasons.

Near the end of our trip, we came across a gallery devoted to the architectural design (!) of Frank Lloyd Wright and Louis Sullivan. I spent a happy half-hour gazing at balustrades and elevator screens. (So rapt was Melyngoch that she excused herself to visit the ladies’ room.)


I don’t adore Frank Lloyd Wright. I prefer his work to that of a lot of artists, but he’s well behind Charles Rennie Mackintosh and the (newly-discovered) Louis Sullivan on my list of favorite designers.

(I don’t know how much of this is a snobbery based in obscurity, since Wright is fairly well known.)


The gift shop was fabulous.

I’m a big fan of gift shops in general, often preferring them to actual exhibits. (Even though they obviously contain images of a lot of the same artwork, it’s somehow more manageable when it’s scaled down and reproduced en masse.)

I bought a card for my grandma and a postcard for my brother and a set of little magnetic block-y things that you can use to make designs. And I flipped through a bunch of art history books, and later remembered a set of books that my mom has always wanted, so I think her Christmas present is probably taken care of.


Ferris Bueller’s Day Off is a classic, for many reasons. One of them is that a significant portion of the movie takes place in the galleries of The Art Institute of Chicago. Another reason is that it features Matthew Broderick lip-synching to The Beatles’ version of “Twist and Shout” in what is probably the second best Chicago parade scene in film history. (First prize goes to The Fugitive, of course.)

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

As per Theric's request

Here is the talk I gave last Sunday:

I was asked to talk about the characteristics we need to love others. In doing research for this talk, I came up with six core ways that we can express love for each other. I don’t mean to present them as a grocery list of all the things that we “ought” to be doing. Rather, I think they reflect the different ways in which we, as unique children of God, express our love for each other. We might do well to pay attention to the areas in which we are lacking, but we would also do well to recognize the great value of our strengths.

I. Cheerfulness

The first way to show love to others is by having a cheerful attitude. We all know people who are like the human embodiment of sunshine – when they walk into a room, they light everything up with their presence and personality. Approaching a task with a positive attitude shows love for others by being easier to get along with. It shows love for God because being cheerful is, in fact, a commandment.

Therefore, dearly beloved brethren, let us cheerfully do all things that lie in our power; and then may we stand still, with the utmost assurance, to see the salvation of God, and for his arm to be revealed. (D&C 123:17)

He which soweth sparingly shall reap also sparingly; and he which soweth bountifully shall reap also bountifully.
Every man according as he purposeth in his heart, so let him give; not grudgingly, or of necessity: for God loveth a cheerful giver. (2 Corinthians 9:6-7)

Now, I should point out that I’m not an advocate of fake cheerfulness – if we reap what we sow, then we can only reap fake happiness from fake cheerfulness* – but I believe that if we have a good attitude when we keep the commandments and do service, this attitude can improve our overall experience in the matter. The manner in which we approach a task can be as important as the task itself.

II. Integrity, holding to principles

The second way in which we can show love is by having integrity, or by holding to our principles. This form of demonstrating love is in marked contrast to having a cheerful attitude, because sometimes holding to our principles makes other people annoyed or angry. However, by avoiding compromising situations and actions which we know to be wrong, we also shield others from the effects of those actions, and show love to them in the process, even if they get irritated.

My lips shall not speak wickedness, nor my tongue utter deceit.
God forbid that I should justify you: till I die I will not remove mine integrity from me.
My righteousness I hold fast, and will not let it go: my heart shall not reproach me so long as I live. (Job 27:4-6)

I find this passage of scripture to be especially moving, because Job was talking to people who were theoretically his friends, and who thought that they wanted what was best for him. All the same, he knew what they were asking him to do was wrong, and he would not budge from the position of doing what was right.

III. Doing things, (active love)

The third type of love is active love, often demonstrated by doing things for each other. We can show love for each other by the things we do for them, and we can show love for God by actively keeping the commandments. This is a type of love which is strongly emphasized in Mormon culture, since we are often reminded of the importance of “service,” and since we tend to equate service with “doing things.” I happen to think that any one of these types of love could be considered a form of service, but I also recognize the importance of “good works.”

D&C chapter 6 is one of my favorite passages of scripture. I particularly like verse 33, which says:

Fear not to do good, [my sons,] for whatsoever ye sow, that shall ye also reap; therefore, if ye sow good ye shall also reap good for your reward. (D&C 6:33)

I like this scripture because I’m definitely someone who can let fear get in the way of doing the important things in this life. I also like this part of the Book of Matthew:

Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven. (Matthew 5:16)

This is a reminder that our actions are not their own ends, but means to accomplish the higher purpose of glorifying God. Remembering this helps me to judge which things in my life are genuinely important, instead of just going through familiar motions or doing things out of habit.

IV. Peacemaker love, resolving tensions

The fourth type of love is peacemaking love. Jesus said, in the Sermon on the Mount:

Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God. (Matthew 5:9)

I have to say that I don’t equate “peacemaker” with “one who has a pathological fear of conflict and confrontation.” I don’t think the latter is healthy, and there are certainly times when it’s important to confront people or to stand up for your beliefs, as I mentioned when talking about integrity. In his great address, King Benjamin offers a number of promises to those who remember God, including this:

And ye will not have a mind to injure one another, but to live peaceably, and to render to every man according to that which is his due. (Mosiah 4:13)

This verse makes clear that those who live peaceably with others do so because they have no desire to injure each other, which is perfectly compatible with having integrity in one’s actions. Furthermore, one might say that peacemakers are the ones who not only live honestly and righteously with their neighbors, but who also help their neighbors to live peaceably with each other. It is no wonder that those who create such harmony in their surroundings are to be called the children of God.

V. Self-love

The fifth type of love is self-love. This is not to be confused with selfishness or self-centeredness. Being selfish means putting your own interests first, to the detriment of others. Self-love, on the other hand, is treating yourself with proper respect and care, such that you are better equipped to do the work that God would have you do.

While many of our commandments focus on our interactions with others, we have a surprising number of commandments which affect us, individually. The Word of Wisdom and parts of the law of chastity affect us much more strongly than they affect others. One might say that we take care of ourselves only so we can serve others, but I think that God also wants us to take care of ourselves simply because he loves us and cares about our well-being. Furthermore, the idea of good stewardship also applies to self-love:

What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own?
For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s. (1 Corinthians 6:19)

We think of stewardship as taking care of things and looking after people whose well-being has been entrusted to us. It’s not a matter of ownership because we believe that all things on this earth are God’s, and that we, too, belong to him as his children. In this regard, taking care of our bodies is one of the most fundamental ways in which we can practice good stewardship. If we saw ourselves as stewards of our own bodies, which are as holy as temples, instead of merely owning them, we might better remember to keep them healthy and well-rested as well as free from damaging substances and behaviors.

VI. Sacrifice / atoning love

The sixth is the greatest love of all: it is the love that compels us to sacrifice; to give up something precious for the sake of a greater good. Christ’s life was the perfect embodiment of this type of love, as he gave his time, energy and finally his life for us. We are commanded to love each other in all these ways, but most particularly to be willing to sacrifice for each other.

Jesus said:

This is my commandment, That ye love one another, as I have loved you.
Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. (John 15:12-13)

Jesus said that the two greatest commandments involved love. However, our best attempts fall to love God and each other, fall short; we are none of us perfect. It is fitting then, that our inability to love perfectly is overcome by the perfect love that God has for us:

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. (John 3:16)

It is my hope and prayer that we can better love each other, etc.


*This line got an unexpected laugh.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Book: The curious incident of the dog in the night-time

Every time I read a book or an article about autism, I come away thinking I’m autistic. It’s all so familiar: the difficulty in social situations, the calm of being alone, the fascination with patterns. (Of course, whenever I read The Joy Luck Club, I think I’m Chinese, and whenever I read Watership Down, I think I’m a rabbit.)

Mark Haddon’s book was hot stuff when it came out, two years ago, but I’ve only just gotten around to reading it. (You don’t get around to bestsellers right away when you prefer checking them out at the library to buying them.) I thought it would be interesting to read a novel with a narrator who’s autistic and I wondered if the gimmick would live up to the hype.

Even if there were 50 other novels with autistic narrators, this would still be a really good book. The mystery aspect is compelling (even if the “murder” is solved halfway through) and Haddon pulls off the amazing trick of making you care more about the narrator than he does about himself. I was worried that some of the larger issues in the story wouldn’t be resolved by the end, but I came away very satisfied. The book is highly recommended (and short).

(Also, I have to add that I feel smug for knowing how to pronounce “Siobhan.”)

Sunday, August 06, 2006

P is for Potatoes

When my brother was little, he thought that the potatoes in our house belonged to him. Or, at least, that they were his to do with as he pleased. (We kept them in a low kitchen drawer and they were easy for him to get at, which may have been the source of his Yertle the Turtle-esqe sense of ownership.)

The potatoes were fairly large (probably Idaho russets) and he was quite small (only a toddler), but he could just carry one if he used both arms. He used to deposit them in various places around the house – under the table, behind a door, in his toybox. (Cleaning up his room involved putting his toys back in the toybox and simultaneously taking the potatoes out of it.)

Usually we came across them not long after he had “hidden” them. Occasionally . . . we didn’t. (Rotten potatoes are not pleasant.) We never found out why he liked carrying them around so much, because by the time he started talking, he had grown out of it.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Ritter Sport Dark Chocolate with Marzipan

contains neither milk, potatoes, nor corn in any form.

This is a very happy discovery.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

S is for Sandals

My dad is on the short side and my mom’s tallish, so my parents are roughly the same height. When my parents started dating, my mom thought that (a) she might be taller and that (b) this might bother my dad, so she always wore sandals, because those were her only pair of shoes without heels. Her roommates always knew when she was going out with my dad, because she would be wearing sandals . . . in the middle of winter.