Friday, April 18, 2014

Quick Thoughts on Good Friday

Hastily written thoughts... Holy Week actually came and found me this year rather than the other way around. I'm sad to say that until recently, I have allowed my time to be preoccupied with all kinds of other (good) things to the point where Easter has really been off somewhere in the back of my mind. Fortunately, the goodness of God prevails once again and has drawn my attention back to himself during an especially holy time.

A little more than a week ago, I felt this strong inward desire to spend time with scripture, but being pretty terrible currently at balancing family, work, freelance stuff, band stuff, etc., I have been pretty slack in reading my bible. It then occurred to me that we live in the 21st century and that there must exist some way to listen to the bible while I do other things (like try to make our yard less of an embarrassment to the family). I found a free audio version on Amazon, and though it's dramatized (i.e., kind of cheesy), it's been great. I've been listening to it in the yard and in my car, and I'm glad to have it.

So while that's been going on, it's also been a really strange week. Sunday evening I spent some time at the hospital where a family member needed surgery for a broken ankle. This family member wrestles with an alcohol addiction and managed to nearly bleed to death at home alone (thankfully my brother was close to his phone). On Monday, I helped get this person home, and I cleaned up the blood that was spread all throughout the living room and through the kitchen. It was kind of surreal, like I was in a Law & Order episode or something.

 Also on Monday, I got word that a great friend's mother AND grandmother had both passed away within a few hours of each other. I called my friend, and it was very clear how hard this was for him. It kind of sucked that I was so far away and couldn't give him a hug in real life, so I made plans and drove down Wednesday night for the funeral on Thursday morning. I'm sad for my friend and for his loss and for the holes that are left when those we love are gone. I have these kinds of holes, too.

I spent Thursday afternoon on the road and got home to find my neighbor and his little daughter playing in our backyard with our kids. Making pleasantries, I asked him how things were going, and because my neighbor is straightforward (which I love about him), his answer was,"Well, my wife took all her stuff and left. I thought she had just gone out on an errand or something, but she's gone. We have a custody hearing tomorrow." What do you say to that? Just an otherwise normal Thursday with a guy in my yard whose marriage just fell apart watching our kids play with sidewalk chalk.

So here we are on Good Friday, and through the trips to relative's homes to cities across Georgia and back to my own home, I have listened to recordings of the biblical accounts of Jesus' betrayal and crucifixion - albeit, kind of cheesy versions - in my car all week. All the while, without consciously doing so on my own, Easter has come to me in my circumstances, and as I got ready for work this morning, I thought some things.

Anxiety. Depression. Addiction. Death. Divorce. Bitterness. Loneliness. These things are present in a world in which sin entered and broke the perfect mirror that humanity was supposed to be - a clear reflection of God's own image. Now, when I suggest that the world is sinful, I do not mean that my family member is an alcoholic simply because he or she is sinful or that sin directly killed my friend's mother; no, I would not suggest this. It's worse than this, actually, for there is no easy, tidy explanation for the destruction sin levies on anyone. In some ways, it would almost seem just if you could point at someone with certainty and say, "Oh, well,it's clear he was punished for all the horrible things he did. He stole from others; he beat his children, whatever." You know, that's karma, we say. "You get what you deserve." "You reap what you sow." But in truth, there is no such thing as karma and no existential tit-for-tat and sin offers us no convenient explanation.

For all have fallen short, and we all share in the worst that has come about from the day sin entered the world. So you share in the repercussions of my sins, and I in yours, and if we all got what deserved, there would be no kind eulogies from which to remember any one of us. So you reap what I've sown, and I reap what you've sown and we reap what we've sown. We don't like the word "sin," because we think it means "bad things" as determined by others; to me it's more like cancer, which is much harder to point a finger at.

But while we all share together in a broken and fallen place, take heart, the scriptures say, for there is a power greater than this. Because of the events of my week, I think I feel this Good Friday is heavier than the previous ones. The culture of this broken place brought about the death of a Savior because of jealousy and envy and spite and lust for power and misunderstanding and fear and greed. But I take heart, because though all was made wrong on the day we crucified God himself, he himself made a way when no one else could.

And despite the spit I cast on him myself - and despite the addiction and depression and loneliness and pain and suffering of this darkened place - there is an Easter on the other side of our Good Fridays whenever we find them and a God who has gone through the depths himself and simply says to me, "You will not find the living among the dead, but come to me that I may give you life." I'm paraphrasing there.

So I say, thank God. Thank God. Thank God! Praise be to God, who was, and is, and is to come. He is risen! (well, almost... Sunday's coming).

Friday, December 21, 2012

Merry Christmas from the Harwells

Friday, September 23, 2011

Songs About People I Love: "(You're Stuck With Me) Forever"


This weekend, my great friend Al is getting married to our new great friend Meghan. Here's a song I wrote and recorded for them because I love them:


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Friday, July 29, 2011

The New Yorker: A Conversation on Technology

The New Yorker: A Conversation on Technology

by Russ Masterson

From The New Yorker’s recent article, The Visionary, about leading technology creator and critic, Jaron Lanier:

Jaron Lanier

Lanier says social sites like Facebook and Twitter dehumanize people and create shallow interactions. He says we maintain an image of ourselves and give interest to other people’s image without real concern for true identity. “It’ll just create a more paranoid society with a fakey-fakey social life — much like what happened in Communist countries, where people had a fake social life that the Stasi could see, and then this underground life,” says Lanier.

Lanier is saying it will only become easier to have two lives: Our online life, one of veneer that creates shallowness and even fear, and our second life, the real one that we let few see. This sort of dichotomy in life and relationships will only create dishonesty and conflict. Yet freedom only comes when we are no longer fearful of being who we are all the time in every place with any person.

This is what I've been trying to articulate (only these guys are much smarter and well, articulate).

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Thursday, June 16, 2011

Creating, Hiding, and A Plea for Error

Beginning in January, my band - the Warm Fuzzies - began releasing a song a month. We appropriately called this process "The Fuzz of the Month." 

I've thoroughly enjoyed it. Throughout, we've been recording essentially in real time (meaning that we're always dashing to finish the next month's track before its release date), and we're doing all the tracking in our practice space here in Athens with some mix magic afterwards from Mark Tulk and Joel Hatstat.

Nothing about our recording process is perfect - time, equipment, environment, and experience are not on our side - and there are certainly some moments here and there on these recordings that I wish I could do over. But for the most part, it's been a liberating creative experience simply because our deadline of releasing a new song on the second Tuesday of each month leaves precious little time to sit around and obsess over things too much. By necessity, our attitude is this:  If I didn't get it, well, we didn't get it. There's always next month.

Take last month's track, All Summer Long, for example. While trying to finish up the track in April, I was on deadline for three weeks with various work projects, sick for five days, and traveling around for the the Easter holiday. As such, we hit the first week of May with no vocals done and only one window on the calendar to make it happen. Naturally, that would be the same day that the doom metal band down the hall in a separate practice space would hold a marathon practice. At one point, Laura stood waiting at the mic while I sat perched at the board so that when we heard them stop, I'd hit record and Laura would try to get a take done before they turned up the doom once more. It was not ideal. I wish I could have that one back; we could do it better.

So do it better next time, I tell myself. And I think we did with this month's track

But more to the larger point, I've got to learn to embrace my errors, to let them exist out in the open for all to see. To quit pretending I'm not human. I think this is better than the alternative, which would be to sit at my computer and endlessly polish the tracks until all the errors have been eliminated and the surface becomes as smooth as a mirror. But what would this mirrored surface reflect? Certainly not myself, for I will have waxed all the humanity right off of it.  

Now, maybe I'm wrong (I feel that way any time I write down my opinions). Maybe I'm trying to justify to myself that my lesser-fi recordings are supposed to be this way. But then again, I'm not trying to make mistakes; I'm just attempting to document some sort of authenticity in an increasingly processed reality (setting aside any discussions of what terms like "authenticity" and "reality" mean). I'm also not against using the tools we have. In fact, I've tuned my own vocals here and there during this project, so I'm participating even as I'm railing against the practice. 

The kicker for me, though, is that my attempts to clean up my vocal tracks aren't really that much different to me than the ways we polish our lives online (whether we're talking about Facebook or Second Life or Worlds of Warcraft or whatever), and as creative people, we have to guard against this desire to do this with our art (at least if we want to make great art). 

Culturally, we have become self-aware to a point where we allow our creative process to be affected by our own perception of how our works-in-progress will be received by others at some point in the future. We're making bets on what we think people want from us, and we're trying our best to craft whatever we think that is. We're hedging, but with question marks on both sides. This is fine if you're reducing your work (and by some extension, yourself) to a product or commodity, but less so if your desire is really to make good art. The two aren't mutually exclusive, but nowadays it's easy to be both the artist and the Big Bad A&R man who comes to the studio and tells you to write more hits.

You are your worst critic and your worst enemy. You are trying to stop you from making something great.

And the battle for me is in the minutiae I mentioned earlier. It's the "busyness" problem he have these days where we feel that if we're busy, we must be doing something important. Therefore we must be important. If I never finish my record, then, I'll always have something to feel busy over, something to talk about. I can seem like a really great artist because I seem to care so much, and I never have to actually put something out and risk losing that status. But I am sabotaging myself, and it's really stupid.

Let me say that again. It's really stupid. And why do I do this? So that no one will know the truth that I'm fallible? That sometimes (okay, most times) miss the correct pitch of a note? That I'm capable of sucking every now and then? Good grief.

So don't be stupid. Go make things, especially mistakes.

 Be human, dang it. 

(This was actually supposed to be a simple post about the Fuzz of the Month. I can't do it, people; I just can't do it.)

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Wednesday, April 27, 2011

"Yeah, but what does this have to do with anything?" Umm...

During lent, I tried to take a bit of a step back from the internet. Some reasons for this were in line with my great friend David's decision to drop social networking for a season; others were not nearly so conceptual (i.e., I'm was either working a lot or watching the NBA playoffs or just being lazy). So if you're one of the dedicated souls who follow this blog, please accept my humble apology. It's not you, it's me.

I've been thinking a lot about the Church, about how sometimes in the body of Christ I can be the "ass," and how I don't normally use such words on my blog. I've been thinking of the imperfect nature of being human, of how two people with hearts inhabited by Jesus can still hurt one another, and of how such hurt doesn't disappear with the stroke of a magic wand. We're all spinning gears in some respect, and when the gears don't mesh, things can get pretty nasty.

It seems that in realizing still more how deeply flawed I am there is a simultaneous realization of just how remarkable this Jesus is. That with every failure, every flaw, every bitter word that comes out of my mouth (not to mention the ones I only mutter in my heart), even moreso have I been made clean by the sacrifice of the Creator of the Universe. That when he thinks of me, he only sees the umblemished me. My head explodes when I think of that, and maybe being "successful" means coming to grips with this reality.

I've been thinking of how "prayer" is probably supposed to be my life's work (while hoping upon hope that setting business cards and invitations is not) and of how the Atlanta Hawks are always - and I mean always - a game of chance. There are no sure bets, save a few.

During these last few weeks, I've also been trying to articulate this thought that's been on the edge of my mind about the value of smallness. We have two existences these days - our actual selves and our constructed selves that we create online - and while one is limited by the constraints of geography and time and responsibilities, the constructed us is this ethereal, "anywhere" us. And I imagine our constructed selves to be a drop of ink in a big glass of water, that we dissipate and spread with the current inside the glass; that we have so little control over it. We think we do - after all, we created it - but do we, really? It is, after all, weightless. And if it carries no weight, then what strength does it possess? What does it matter?

So in music I keep wondering if there's much more weight in not trying to change the world at large, for it's always been a difficult proposition that's recently been made much, much more difficult in scope. How can you possibly reach everyone, everywhere? Is there room for an artist to write songs that are designed to impact the few rather than the masses? Should we, as Christians, be hell-bent on achieving a large audience for our art? Is there equal value in small audiences? What does God think? Does he care how many people heard a song I wrote or is he just happy that I was doing my best to be obedient to the gifts and talents he has given me, according the grace given me?

The constructed me can be anywhere, anytime. I can put my music online, and like ink in a glass pitcher, it can potentially go anywhere, anytime. I think that's great (especially now that I'm not really trying to sell any of it). But that's not the real me. The real me is going to go to one of my part-time jobs here in a couple of hours, and I'm going to set business cards and invitations and type people's resumes and things like that. But while I'm doing this, I will interact with this strange collection of interesting, ecclectic group of co-workers who are very much different from me. Does my online self matter there? Not really. This blog absolutely does not matter there. All my self-satisfying ruminations and attempts at being clever do not translate into the real world around me. They carry no weight. So how can I use the gifts and talents I have been given (and by now, I'm fairly certain the only things I've got are music and visual art. I can also still remember the code to Mike Tyson in Punch-Out, but I don't think that's a spiritual gift) in the real lives of the real people that I'm living my life with?

What the heck am I talking about?  I don't know!

I'm trying to figure that out. I guess I hope that there is a place for music in my life because I'm drifting farther and farther away from the stage lights but am finding that I am more and more inspired to create.

But what, and for whom?  And does it matter?

What do you think?




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Monday, March 07, 2011

Why I Never Get To Watch the PBS News Hour


This is what my house is like at 6pm each day. My wife would like you to know that the house was clean five minutes earlier.

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