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/

Caring for the Muse in a Troubling Time

As a result of COVID-19, I lost my job back in March. I had a small cushion, but have now reached the point where money is going to get very tight very soon. This is, unfortunately, not a unique position to be in these days, but in this case having lots of company doesn’t make the situation any less miserable.

Ideally, I would be doing a lot of writing, making art, and composing music. After all, these are all things I love, and I have often found myself wishing I had more time in which to do them. Well, now I have the time, so why am I not doing them? Truth is, I’m having a hard time concentrating on any creative pursuits while my mind is preoccupied with worrying about trivia like rent and food.

Here are a few things I’ve been doing to try to keep the muse alive, even if it isn’t currently being very productive:

  • Reading. I have to be careful of this one, but I am a real book nerd, and I can easily find myself reading to the exclusion of all else.
  • Walking. Serves the dual purpose of providing some much-needed exercise as well as giving me a break from sitting in my apartment. Also: I sometimes get good song/story/art ideas while walking. Sometimes.
  • Trying to write a page of lyrics a day, even if they are really terrible lyrics, which most of them are. Collaborating long-distance with a friend in Canada on some new songs.
  • Free improvising on an instrument (mine happen to be piano and trombone). If anything sounds worth keeping, write it down or record it.
  • Listen to music and/or podcasts that inspire me, or at least things that I enjoy.

None of these are terribly original suggestions, and none of them has solved the bigger problem of income and lack thereof. But by tending even minimally to my inner artistis spirit, I am keeping myself back from the brink of despair.

So We Beat On

To call 2020 a dumpster fire feels like a drastic understatement. It’s hard not to feel disgusted with…well, just about everybody these days. I’m disgusted with bad cops abusing their power, but I’m also disgusted with demonstrations that turn into property-destroying riots. I’m disgusted with racist politicians and the racist constituencies that keep reelecting them, but I’m also disgusted with calls for anarchy because that’s no solution at all. I’m disgusted with “open the economy now” protesters who gather in large COVID-19 spreading groups, and I’m disgusted with “justice for George Floyd” protesters who gather in large COVID-19 spreading groups. I’m disgusted with a president who is more interested in protecting his own ego than with the well-being of Americans, but I’m also disgusted with “clicktivists” who Like a few select FB posts and pretend they’re done with their civic duty.

No doubt I will wind up disgusted with myself for posting this, as I historically have been every time I post anything remotely political online and find myself embroiled in an ugly comment battle. I wish I had solutions. I wish I knew how to stay informed without going absolutely f***ing bonkers. (“I wish a lot of things!” – Cinderella. Sorry for inserting a music theatre reference in the midst of all this.)

I do know something that won’t work: Doing nothing. It has become commonplace to blame God for the situation (“It’s God’s will,” “God is punishing us for [insert pet prejudice here]”) and then dump the whole mess onto God’s lap to solve (“It’s all part of God’s plan,” “God will provide”). I don’t think it’s God’s plan for us to be lazy or to abdicate our responsibility to take care of each other and the planet we live on.

So what’s the right thing to do? We make ethical calls all the time; we have to. Failure to make an informed ethical decision is just a bad decision. (“I know what my decision is, which is not to decide!” – Cinderella again.) Sometimes we’ll get it right, others times not. I’d like to end with the famous final line of The Great Gatsby: “So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.” But I don’t think that’s the right message either. We’ll beat on, boats against the current, all right, but let’s not try to recreate an imagined perfect past. Let’s go forward.

(NOTE: I intended this to be a relatively short Facebook post, but it somehow expanded. Thanks for sticking with me.)

Today I stopped to get gas…

Today I stopped to get gas. While filling my car—okay, I confess, it’s an SUV—I was not alone. The pumps were all occupied, and the convenience store at which I was stopped seemed to be doing a good business. Of all the people I saw, I was the only one wearing a mask.

Back on the road, I couldn’t help but notice how much more traffic there was this week than there had been last week or a month ago. Restaurants with outdoor seating were hopping. Parking lots were full. Groups of people were gathering with circles of tight radii. Anywhere I looked, social distancing was not to be found.

Iowa is open for business. Is it too soon? Only time will tell. What is not debatable is that a lot of people don’t seem to care whether it is or isn’t premature. Many folks obviously aren’t concerned about what health officials and disease experts have to say.

I too am anxious for a return for normalcy. I too am going somewhat stir crazy. I too am concerned for the economy. But I am not willing to put of my fellow American at risk because I want a haircut. That’s not an exchange I’m willing to make, and the chance that reopening at this time might turn out fine is a gamble I’m not willing to make.

In lieu of any clear message from our leaders, it is up to each of us to make wise decisions. We—all of us—need to put the greater good first. We—all of us—need to exercise good judgement and caution. That means seeking out reliable information and acting from a place of knowledge. It means basing our decisions on concern for others. Anything less is foolish, selfish, short-sighted, and potentially dangerous.

Here’s one YouTube channel I have found helpful: Healthcare Triage.

In down-to-earth language, Dr. Aaron Carroll explains what’s going on in today’s health news, and answers some of the questions surrounding COVID-19. Am I suggesting you take every word he says as gospel truth and end your search there? No, but this is a good place to start.

Be safe. Be kind.

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.

Help for Troubled Times

I am 55. Getting older is hard. Things hurt that never used to hurt. I have less energy than I used to. I also have less optimism about both my own prospects and the prospects for the world at large. Now we find ourselves in the middle of a global COVID-19 pandemic with no clear end in sight. Here in the USA, we have a leader whose sense of obligation doesn’t extend past his own skin, and our elected officials don’t seem to have any interest in reigning him in, or really in doing anything other than continuing to amass more wealth and power for themselves. It’s hard not to feel helpless.

I intend to step into all of this bad news and try to come up with some ways to cheer myself up. With any luck, I’ll be able to help at both individual and global levels. It’s a tall order. That’s what I’ll be chronicling here.

To start with, during this time of closures, cancellations, and quarantines, there’s never been a better time to read. An organization I support and believe in is Library of America. According to their website, “Library of America, a nonprofit organization, champions our nation’s cultural heritage by publishing America’s greatest writing in authoritative new editions and providing resources for readers to explore this rich, living legacy.” Think of them as the good guys in Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, making sure great writing is preserved in high quality books so that the history, knowledge, and learning preserved in them doesn’t disappear. You can buy directly from them, or make a donation to the cause (they are a non-profit) at their website. Even better: You can buy their books through your local bookstore, which accomplishes two good deeds at the same time!