To begin the day, (my day, at least, I got there late again) author Brian Evenson spoke of the tension between trying to be dedicated to both your art and the church, which I think is potentially a very interesting topic, but I must say I was underwhelmed by his story. It’s one thing, I think, if you really feel divinely inspired to create your work and that it is of great spiritual worth, but then are faced up against church leaders who believe it’s inappropriate for some reason. I didn’t get the feeling that such was the case with Evenson. Rather, he was already inactive when he up and decided to leave the church because he felt that, despite his inactivity, his membership in the church was still leading him to a bit of self-censorship.
He said it was a difficult decision, which I don’t doubt, but it didn’t seem like much in the way of a real art/church conflict. He just plain felt his work was more important than anything else – including his marriage. He said that after making a decision between his art and his religion, he also had to make a decision between his art and his marriage. He chose the former and is now divorced. Evenson also spoke of being worried that someday he will have to make a choice between his art and his two children. For their sake, so am I.
I next attended The Sugar Beet session, which was fairly sparsely populated, as they had to compete with Richard Dutcher talking about Big Love and Armand Mauss talking about…whatever it was they were talking about. But I bet the people in all the other sessions combined didn’t laugh as much as we did. These Sugar Beet guys are really genuinely funny people.
Christopher Bigelow began with the origins of The Sugar Beet and his surprise that it was more widely accepted than they thought it would be – even though they did get emails calling for their excommunication. He mentioned some of the boundaries that the Sugar Beet writers set for themselves, such as not talking about temple specifics and generally not using the names of current G.A.s in stories. Todd Petersen noted that a lot of the stories were based on real experiences, and that those stories often generated more angry letters than the stories which were completely fabricated.
Eric Samuelsen had some really good things to say about the value of humor, particularly in Mormon culture. He mentioned that after he started writing for the Sugar Beet, he started seeing things in a different light. Where previously he might have been angered or frustrated by a crazy Sunday School teacher, now he would ask questions trying to get more out of them – it was funny. He spoke of sitting next to a nutty fan at a BYU football game and became more interested in this guy than in the game. Thus was born Samuelsen’s regular sports column by “Iron” Rod Zeier.
Bigelow has compiled a “best of” collection of Sugar Beet articles that will be published in a book titled The Mormon Tabernacle Enquirer, due out in November.
John Dehlin offered a nice presentation on the internet and Mormonism and made a couple of points I thought were particularly valuable. He spent some time showing people some of the information available to the owner of the blog site you visit just by visiting, such as location, referrer and even the search words you typed if that was the case (then showing a list of humorous searches that had brought people to mormonstories.org). The point he was leading to was that it’s pretty difficult to maintain total privacy on the internet, so just give it up. He pointed out that when people blog and comment by their own names, they are somewhat more civil because they become responsible for what’s under their name.
He also shared his bloggernacle experience of deconversion from total openness. He was originally put off by the moderation of some ‘nacle blogs and so tried to establish an atmosphere of openness on his own blog. Except that total openness led to chaos. Thus, he concluded that moderated forums are necessary in order to establish an environment where real dialogue can take place.
Dehlin also mentioned a need for a blog aggregator that includes ratings and filters to aid navigation. I think we may be a bit young for that yet, but before too long, I agree that such a think will become very valuable. Dehlin – and then responder Kevin Foxe – mentioned the need for members to participate on the internet by creating their own blogs, podcasts, and videos, especially in light of the growing presence of anti material on the net. Incidentally, lots of ‘nacclers came to this one. I met Dallas Robbins, John Fowles, Kevin Barney, and we think we spotted Christopher Bradford.
The last session of the day I attended was probably the most interesting, but also the most difficult to write about, as it was largely a Q & A that briefly covered a lot of different topics. The primary theme, though, seemed to be the tension between art and the church as experienced by Richard Dutcher, Brian Evenson, and Neil LaBute.
Evenson shared the story of his leaving the church he had told earlier and then LaBute shared the story of his disfellowship after his play Bash, but I still would have been interested in hearing more about it. He said that in the “court of love” he was at, the council explained that Bash would likely be a first contact that many people would have with Mormons – and that it wouldn’t be a good one. LaBute said he understand the rationale and even agreed not to write anything more with Mormon characters. I don’t really understand why he was still disfellowshipped if he had complied with their request, but there must have been more to it. In any case, he said that some time afterwards, he just removed himself from the church completely.
Dutcher insisted that he will in fact make The Prophet someday, but that he first needs to make a crappy movie that will make some money to get the funds.