Learning To Fall

This is where Laurie Anderson learned to crawl

Walking and falling

The muses are calling,

“This is your captain

speaking with his voice

We all have a choice:

Sink or swim?

Walk or fall?”

Voices in a frame

spell my name

smell the same

speak the flame into being

The pictures I’m seeing

Are talking and calling

rising and falling

Learning to crawl

Crawling to the starting line

Crawling to the finish line

 

This is the date

This is the debt

This is the gate where Jesus wept

Take me to Pilate

Take me to Macbeth

I won’t wait for fate to flog me to death

 

I put all my eggs in one basket,

set my basket on a wall

where it was sure to fall

All the king’s horse

and all the king’s men

with sword and with pen

Struck down the basket

scattered the nest

burned down the rest

 

Walking and falling

The Tweeling is bawling

I speak and swell

but cannot spell

the broken frame

that knows my name

Things crawl apart

The centre cannot mould

Waiting for the crash

Slouching to The Clash

 

The distance between us is certain to fall

like time in a bottle, an egg on a wall

But no one comes close to learning it all

 

My blood is congealing

My brain is concealing

the past from the present

(It’s not very pleasant)

Yet on to The Tweeling

We march

We march

 

Be still, my soldier

Lie still

Lie still

 

The Tweeling is coming

I can tell

And nothing could suit this time so well

With infinite feeling

this forthcoming Tweeling

is dragging us all to hell

 

At least we’re talking

talking and telling

speaking and spelling

bit by bit

putting it all back together

all

And all will be well

All manner of things will be well

Fear not

Fear not

Monday Night

From where I sit, I can see into our kitchen. (Actually, from where I sit, I can see most of the apartment, and from almost anywhere in the apartment, I can see into the kitchen.) There is something flying in the kitchen, but I don’t feel like pursuing it. My wife and I just split a slice of cake from Whole Foods. It was delicious, but we didn’t need it, and now I’m regretting having eaten it. I’m trying to lose weight, and cake slices aren’t helpful in that project.

Earlier this evening, I went for a walk and a car whipped out of a parking lot without looking or slowing down, nearly taking me out of the game. A young guy on a motorcycle can be heard tearing up and down our street. He likes to go as fast as possible on his crotch-rocket, making an ungodly amount of noise. He thinks because he is very loud he is very cool. He is not cool; he’s just an asshole.

I shouldn’t say that. Maybe he’s not an asshole, just young. I was a jerk in a hundred ways when I was young. Boys like noise. In grade school, we put playing cards between the spokes of our bikes to make them louder. When I got my own car in my 20s, I liked to play the radio at top volume so everyone could hear how cool I was because of my fine taste in music. Now I’m still a jerk in a hundred ways, but they are different ways.

It would be great if none of us were ever jerks. I try to be one of the good folks, but don’t always succeed. I’m not a big fan of Paul of Tarsus, but I understand him when he writes, “The desire to do good is inside of me, but I can’t do it. I don’t do the good that I want to do, but I do the evil that I don’t want to do.” (Rom 7:18-19, CEB)

So tonight, I’ll try not to hate the lady who nearly ran me over, the guy on his obnoxious bike, politicians on the other side of the fence, and even my grade school gym teacher, whom I have a hard time thinking about even after all these years without loathing. Maybe we could all try this.

Quiet That Niggling Doubt

For of all sad words of tongue or pen
The saddest are these: ‘It might have been!’

– John Greenleaf Whittier (from the poem “Maud Muller”)

Regret is an unpleasant emotion. It’s that niggling doubt, that suspicion that you should have played your hand differently in a certain situation. By far the biggest regrets I have are for those times when I knew deep down what I should do but ignored that inner voice and did something else. Most often, it’s been because I chose to take the easy road. I did not what I suspected I should do, but what I thought other people—maybe family or friends—would want me to do, or because I was trying to fit in with my peer group or society as a whole. Those are the big regrets.

There are also little regrets, usually for times I held back and did NOT do something. In general, I think it is better to go for the gusto and possibly fail or look foolish than to hold back, trying to maintain a cool detachment. Far too often, I have chosen the latter course.

Here’s a story about a time I did not hold back. I was alone at a bar (always awkward) and I thought I saw a girl I knew from way back in grade school. The bar was dark, and she was on the far side of the room, so I really didn’t get a good look at her. Furthermore, I was sitting at a bar in Boston but had gone to grade school in Des Moines, Iowa. The person I was looking at would have been someone I hadn’t seen in over 10 years, and I had to mentally age the girl I knew in grade school into a young woman. In other words, there was a good deal of imagination at play on my part. Still, she looked attractive and I spent quite a while nursing my drink, wondering if I should approach her.

Eventually I worked up the courage and began making my way across the crowded room to where she and her friend sat. As I neared them, I could plainly see that she was not the person I thought she was. This was not Ellen from Woodlawn Elementary School. I felt powerless to stop myself, though, as if once in motion this body had to complete the task at hand. So I went up to her and said, “Excuse me, are you from Des Moines?” which is probably the only possible pick-up line dumber than, “Hey, baby, what’s your sign?” Happily, she didn’t laugh in my face or throw her drink at me. She just replied, “No.” I apologized for interrupting, forced a smile, and slunk back to my spot. I’m pretty sure I paid my tab and left as quickly as possible.

BUT…do I regret doing it? Not at all. I may have looked foolish, and I certainly gave the woman and her companion some fodder for giggles, but I am glad to this day that I didn’t pass up a chance to connect with someone, even though the someone wasn’t who I originally thought she was and the connection lasted about ten seconds. If I hadn’t gone over to her, I would still have that niggling sense of doubt. This is a small and silly example, but it’s one I need to remind myself of from time to time. Go for it!

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”

– apocryphally attributed to Mark Twain (https://marktwainstudies.com/the-apocryphal-twain-the-things-you-didnt-do/)

The 1970s, Sally Field, the Bandit, and Me

Normally, I listen to some strictly instrumental background music while writing. Today, however, I feel like country music, so I have Jerry Reed serenading me. Maybe next I’ll turn to some Glen Campbell, or Roger Miller. You see, I love the country from the 1950s-70s. There are some contemporary country artists I like, but I’ll save them for another post.

In 1977, every boy my age loved two things: the Trans-Am Burt Reynolds drove in Smokey and the Bandit, and Sally Field in the same movie. I must admit, though, that I wanted my Trans-Am to be orange. I even had a Trans-Am model I’d put together and painted bright orange, with the Firebird decal on the hood of course. I could see myself driving that beautiful 70s muscle car around town, even though I was still too young to drive. In the seat next to me would be Valerie Bertinelli. I was sure she’d love me if she ever met me. (Sally Field was already taken by Burt Reynolds, and I was pretty sure he could beat me up.)

In some ways, I consider myself a product of the 1980s, because that was a very good decade overall for me. But in reality, I am a 70s child. That decade was my period of growing up. It takes very little to put me into a nostalgic 70s mood. And if you think That 70s Show captured it in any way, you are wrong. Its presentation of the 70s was probably about as accurate as the 1950s as portrayed in Happy Days. I know; I was there.

I sometimes play a game with myself, trying to pick my favorite decade of music. The 1920s had a lot of fun stuff, including Paul Whiteman and some early jazz. The 1930s had all the great Depression-era movie music. The 30s & 40s gave us much of what has become enshrined as The Great American Songbook. And I could make arguments for other decades as well.

It always comes back to the same conclusion, however. If the rules can be bent just a smidge, I’d chose to split a decade. My favorite 10-year period of music would be 1975-85. I would get punk, disco, New Wave, No Wave, synthpop, and a lot of great jazz. For a great book that covers the first part of this period, check out Love Goes to Buildings on Fire: Five Years in New York That Changed Music Forever by Will Hermes.

Art FOR and BY Non-Artists

Impossible-Party

In the early 2000s, I went through a spell of making all sorts of strange art. It began with simply making footprints with milkpaint, my feet, and found boards. (Really. My first creations were made using wood rescued from a discarded pallet.) I put together a collection called Art by the Foot and an accompanying exhibit called “Barefoot in the City.” As unlikely as it seems, I even sold a few pieces. From there, I did some more experimenting with milk paint, and eventually added markers on paper to my media. When I found I’d exhausted my limited drawing ability, I turned to digital art. This piece, Impossible Party, is an example. It’s a mix of marker, colored pencil, and milkpaint footprints, all collaged together on a Mac in Photoshop.

I still enjoy tinkering around with making my own art, often again in the digital realm, but now using Gimp, which is similar to Photoshop in its capabilities but FREE! (https://www.gimp.org/). More than making my own art, however, I still love art in general. My own skill as a visual artist is so minimal as to be frustrating, but I can really nerd-out on other people’s art, and getting into deep philosophical discussion about the meaning of art. What is it? How do we measure its worth? (“Just by the pleasure it gives here on earth?” Thank you, Burl Ives and Johnny Marks!)

Curator/author Sarah Urist Green is fond of saying a person should not let a lack technical skill prevent them from making art. In addition to her YouTube channel, “The Art Assignment“, she has recently published a book called You Are An Artist: Assignments To Spark Creation that offers encouragement to the inner artist of even the most inept of us. I also recommend The Art Spirit by Robert Henri. (This was apparently Keith Haring’s bible.) My favorite art-related how-to book is Paul Fata’s 101 Rules for the Starving Artist. This one might be difficult if not impossible to find, because I’m not sure if it was ever published as anything more than hand-made copies.

Podcast Recommendations

Podcasting is like radio for the 21st century, and after initial skepticism, I have become a big fan. Some podcasts I especially enjoy are:

Bible for Normal People

Pete Enns and Jared Byas discuss the Bible with open and inquiring minds. Guests have included Rachel Held Evans, Austen Hartke, Miguel de la Torre, Xavier Ramey, Wil Gafney, and dozens of other Biblical and theological scholars, writers, bloggers, preachers, and speakers. Highly recommended for anyone who is on a faith journey but who also appreciates intellectual rigor.

Queerology 

This is another religion-related podcast. The tagline is “A podcast about faith and being.” Matthias Roberts begins every episode by asking his guest(s) this question: “How would you say you identify, and how has your faith helped shape that identity?” It’s a great way to get the conversation rolling! Matthias and his guests primarily talk about faith and queerness with intelligence and compassion.

Clear+Vivid

For the past twenty or so years, Alan Alda’s focus has been on science communication, and that is the primary theme of his podcast. His guests include an array of scientists, professors, actors, communicators, and of course som appearances by his co-actors from M*A*S*H. Enjoyable, informative, and frequently quite humorous.

Dear Hank & John

This is a collaborative venture between Complexly (makers of educational YouTube content like Crash Course, SciShow, and Healthcare Triage, just to name a few) and WNYC (New York Public Radio). Brothers Hank and John Green “answer your questions, give you dubious advice, and bring you all the latest news from Mars and AFC Wimbledon.” How many others podcasts bring you all that? Mostly light-hearted and sometimes very silly. Even though entertainment is the main goal, there is a lot of genuinely good information here. Oh, and Hank likes to talk about poop.

The Anthropocene Reviewed

Another Complexly production, this one is considerably more serious than Dear Hank & John. Author John Green reviews “facets of the human-centered planet on a five-star scale.” In every episode, John brings together two different (and I mean REALLY different) things to review. Examples: Hot Dog Eating Contest and Chemotherapy, Prom and the Stanford Marshmallow Experiment, Tetris and the Seed Potatoes of Leningrad. Be forewarned: John can make you cry. The episode “QWERTY Keyboard and the Kauaʻi ʻōʻō” really had me in tears for both its strange beauty and its sadness.

My Reading Addiction

A few days ago, I recommended reading as good therapy for a troubled time, in which many of us are out of work and stuck at home. I also offered this caution:

I have to be careful of this one, because I am a real book nerd, and I can easily find myself reading to the exclusion of all else.

This is absolutely true. Growing up, the family joke was that the house could be burning down and I would refuse to leave until I came to the end of the chapter I was reading. If there is any exaggeration at all in this joke, it is slight. I love reading. If I am ever given 24 hours to live, I will probably spend most of them reading. In that situation, I would buy a good bottle of Cognac and some chocolates, cheese, and olives, and I would sip and snack my way into the next world with a volume of Dickens or some such on my lap.

I always buy more books than I read, and frequently patronize libraries as well (or at least I did before COVID-19 struck). Every time I’ve moved to a new city (and I’ve done this more than I care to admit), one of my very first steps is to secure a local library card. I still have most of them, although many are, I’m sure, long-expired. My point is that I am surrounded by books. Our small apartment is fairly bursting at the seams with them. That’s okay. There are certainly worse addictions in the world.

This will show you how I operate:
I recently started reading Stephen King’s Dark Tower series, which according to Amazon is 4,720 pages on its own. Those last three words are important; I will not be reading The Dark Tower on its own. Being a nerd, I poked around online and found some suggestions from other nerds on the best way to read the series. Turns out good ol’ Stephen King has worked aspects of some of his other books into The Dark Tower, and I found a site which shows me the best reading order for everything. To be thorough, I will need an additional eight books for the full Dark Tower experience. Heaven forbid I should settle for anything less than the full experience. I already have those other eight books (a few thousand more pages) on order!

Recreating a Famous 70s Poster

Let’s dig into my “Caring for the Muse” list a little deeper. One of my suggestions in yesterday’s post was to:

Take your smartphone or camera and take some pictures. Take anything. Make it silly or documentary or sexy or weird or whatever you want. Try out some of the strangest filters on your phone, or on an app like Instagram.

I’ve been doing this recently, and the results have been…er…mixed. Some of the pictures have come out terrible, some bland, some comically unusable, and some simply comical. Case in point—

Farrah Fawcett and Brian Hutzell
My not-terribly-serious recreation of Farrah’s famous 1976 poster, the best-selling poster of all-time

The beautiful lady on the left is, of course, Farrah Fawcett, who was one of the iconic stars of the 1970s-80s. The not-so-beautiful guy on the right is me. This all came about as the result of a crack my wife made about my hair getting too long. “You look like Farrah Fawcett,” was her innocent enough comment. That was enough to make me wonder if there were any way I could recreate her famous 1976 poster. When I spotted a red, white, & blue striped blanket tossed over a chair, I knew what I had to do: Make that photo happen! While the result may be cringe-worthy, I got a lot of laughs out of it on Facebook (see the original post here). It was also a fun, off-kilter way to exercise a little creativity.

My point is that you should not be afraid to try even a silly, outside the box idea. I was not in a great headspace going into 2020, but I was at least cautiously optimistic that things might be on the upswing on a personal level. Then COVID-19 came along, and all bets were off. For the past four months, staying healthy, happy, and sane has been a struggle. Trying new things, finding ways to be creative helps me. Maybe it will help you too. If anyone asks what you’re doing, tell ’em Farrah sent you!

PS: Farrah Fawcett died of cancer at age 62 on June 25, 2009. The Farrah Fawcett Foundation is dedicated to cancer research. You can visit their website here: https://thefarrahfawcettfoundation.org/

Lots o’ Links

What-Is-This-Thing

Nothing too exciting for you here today—just a list of links to other places where you can find me online. Really. That’s it. Just a list:

Facebook https://www.facebook.com/brian.hutzell

Twitter https://twitter.com/brianhutzell

YouTube https://www.youtube.com/channel/UClMSEFXuMLAr3uJNwWgODaQ

LinkedIn https://www.linkedin.com/in/hutzell

Tumblr https://voosk.tumblr.com/

Instagram https://www.instagram.com/brianhutzell/

Pinterest https://www.pinterest.com/brianhutzell/boards/

I have not yet made the TikTok plunge. I’m old. I can’t keep up with all the latest trendy social media sites!

War On Whatever

The latest issue of The Christian Century arrived in my mailbox today. In it is an article that ties in nicely with my blog post from yesterday: “Are we really ‘at war’ with the coronavirus?” by Jason A. Mahn.

“War language is the language of power,” writes Mahn. I share Mahn’s misgivings about using war language to describe the current situation with COVID-19. As I mentioned yesterday, war rhetoric without a clear enemy is dangerous, because the passions ignited by such rhetoric can be too easily aimed in the wrong direction. When Trump calls COVID-19 “the Chinese virus,” the target becomes not the disease but an entire body of people. Furthermore, by painting Chinese people as the enemy, Trump also inadvertently (or not?) lumps all Asians into the same boat, because many xenophobic Americans see all Asians as Chinese, including Japanese, Korean, Thai, etc. In other words, Trump’s racist portrayal of COVID-19 incites further racism and stereotyping.

Beyond the possibility of misdirected anger, war language can hurt us all by encouraging false bravado. After the Boston Marathon bombing on Patriots’ Day, April 15, 2013, the phrase “Boston strong!” rang out not just in Boston, but throughout the country. The slogan initially instilled a warm feeling of community solidarity but very quickly evolved into a cry for bloodthirsty revenge. I’m all for patriotism, but rallying around “My country can beat up your country” jingles is not always healthy.

What would be a better way of talking about COVID-19? Well, for starters, let’s not pin the blame on a nation or an ethnicity. Let’s focus on solutions and working together for the good of all. Let’s make sure the public is informed, not misled. Let’s stop playing war games.

Humans are resourceful and resilient. We can get through this, but let’s try to get there in one piece.