Hamell on Trial

I realize that the few people who actually read my blog probably lose interest fast, because it’s not about any one thing, but they’re wrong. It is about one thing: me. It’s about me and I’m a random guy, my interests and pursuits shifting between art and science, cooking and comic books. Allow me to change the subject once again and talk a little about music. I love music and it makes up a big part of my life, a constant stream of music echoing through head by an internal radio station that plays 24/7. I’ve mentioned my susceptibility to the dreaded ear worm and how I constantly make up little songs about everyday things that make up the bulk of my existence. Now I’d like to talk about one of my most profound musical experiences.

This was roughly 30 years ago and I was finishing up my undergraduate studies at the University of New Hampshire in Durham. On this particular evening, I was in Portsmouth, NH, at The Portsmouth Brewery, because my favorite local band, Groove Child, was playing. I got there early, mainly because I like to grab a good seat and order my beer before the masses arrived, and partly because I always get to where I’m going early. The basement room where the shows went on was not big. I doubt it could hold 100 people, 60-70 being a more realistic estimate. Of course, this was several decades ago and memory is a fickle thing, so take much of what I say with a grain of salt. This is more about how I perceived this experience that a factual account, so get the hell off my back. Suffice it to say that I had a front row seat at a rather intimate music venue when the show began.

I’m eagerly awaiting Groove Child, the main attraction, when the opening act comes out. He’s a bald, white guy, a bit stocky, a bit Uncle Festerish, in a faded, black tee shirt and well-worn jeans, with an acoustic guitar that looks like it’s seen better days. Walking out and assessing the crowd, he opens with a joke. It’s a dumb joke, a dad joke. He delivers the predictable punchline and pauses for the inevitable chuckle that such a bad joke brings, and then, so abruptly i nearly gives me whiplash, launches one of the most powerful live performances I’ve ever seen. It started with a thundering, staccato guitar strum with enough bass (I later found out he tuned his strings down an octave to make his sound bassier) to push me back in my seat and lyrics delivered with the speed of a rap star freestyling on the mic. Following this explosive opening was a roughly 45 minute set that simply blew me away. His material shifted between hard punk rap and slow, heartful ballads, from more dumb jokes to poems about drug dealers getting stabbed to death. No joke, I was so affected by his set that, after he was done, I simply paid my tab and walked out. No one could have followed that act and not looked dull by comparison.

Ed Hamill, also known as Hamill on Trial, was born in Syracuse, NY, but got his big break on the Austin music scene. I still don’t know all the specifics of his life, but both his stories and his songs speak of a history of drug use, hard times and heartbreak. I recall him relating a bad car accident that nearly killed him and left him with chronic pain. After his marriage of 22 years ended, he wrote a song a day for a year. They’re on his YouTube channel if you’re curious enough to take a look. He is brash, honest and outspoken, with several songs commenting on political and societal issues. He put a few albums out on Ani Defranco’s record label. I’ve seen him a handful of times and own several of his albums. His music is easy to find online, but, trust me, none of his recordings can match the sheer intensity of his live performance. I always appreciate a live performance, particularly because of the bravery it takes to get and share a part of yourself with an audience, but Ed Hamill shines on stage. He has a stage presence that is large and commanding and if you, at all, like what you hear on this blog post, I encourage you to see him.

Time

I’ve been thinking about time. Part of those thoughts are how long it’s been since I’ve posted on this blog and I mean to remedy that. One of the reasons for that is that there are so many things to take up one’s time, such as goats. Two of our goats gave birth this summer. One of our goats, Moon Pie, gave birth to two baby boys (bucklings) right around the Fourth of July. I remember we were worried that the goats might go into early labor because of the frightening nature of the fireworks, but that didn’t happen. Keeping in line with our tradition of naming our goats after superheroes, the two boys were named Starlord and Drax. About four days after that, our other goat, Colleen, gave birth to another pair of bucklings, which we named Apollo and Midnighter.

Apollo and Midnighter
Drax

 

Starlord

Four young bucklings are enough to distract anyone, and I certainly have been no exception. They are playful, rambunctious and irresistibly easy to pick up and hold in your arms. And, like many of the best things in life, were only around for a limited time, because we do not have the room for 7 goats. We knew we would have to sell them off, so we had work to do. Their horns needed to be disbudded, they needed shots and, given that they weren’t really breeding stock, they needed to be castrated. We also spent a fair amount of time crafting an ad to put on Craig’s List, because we didn’t want them going to just anyone. We had to emphasize that they were NOT meat goats, that they couldn’t be sold individually, unless as a companion for an already existing goat and, preferably, each pair of brothers would be kept together. Happily, that’s exactly what happened, each pair of brothers going to lovely new homes. One of those homes with llamas, which should be interesting.

The male half of the wedding party

I also got to perform a wedding. The second one I’ve ever done. It’s a habit of mine to prepare myself to death and this was no exception. I had to walk a fine line, because one side of the family is ultra-religious and they basically wanted a full on Catholic ceremony, whereas the other side of the family cares not for religion. I met with the couple twice, took notes, watched YouTube videos and studied up on wedding ceremonies in general. Getting ready for that ceremony took hours and hours, but an event like that you want to be just perfect and I think my hard work paid off.

And then there’s the garden, which got me thinking about how glorious it is for something to be ephemeral. Our bumper crop has been tomatoes and we’ve been struggling to keep up with them. My wife canned a ton of them up, which is fantastic, but there’s just nothing like fresh tomatoes from the garden. They’re so good that I don’t really eat any other tomatoes. I don’t care how good a restaurant or grocery store is, if they aren’t in season, it’s just not worth it to me to eat them. And that makes them all the better. The same with berries, the same with apples, the same with corn. Portland has such a bounty of great produce that we are blessed and it makes one realize how good fresh produce is and makes anything out of season taste like crap. If it’s even available at all.

I just watched the Netflix show, Glitch, and one of the characters says, “The beauty of life is that it ends.” This is the glory of time. That’s there’s simply not enough of it. Knowing that there’s an end makes it all that much better.

Outsider Art


“Slotin Folk Art Auction (2017)”by Marcus O. Bst is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

I’m not sure if my art can be considered “Outsider Art” or not. Ordinarily, I wouldn’t care one way or another. I don’t like labels. I am who I am and the art I create is just what happens when I create and I neither know nor care what others call it. The public at large, however, demands labels, thrives off of what others identify with. People don’t like what they can’t define and, more pragmatically, they can’t buy and sell things that have no description. So, while I don’t really care, if I want to make a living as an artist, I need to label my art, my style.

When I first heard about outsider art, I gravitated towards the term. Mainly because, at a fundamental level, I’ve always felt like an outsider. I learned very early in life that I think differently than most others and that, on the rare occasion that I have dared to voice my opinions, the reaction from the hoi polloi has been swift and punishing. Hence, I became a chameleon, blending into whatever group was convenient. It made an identity fairly useless to me, even burdensome at times. Now that I’m trying to grab at least a little of the spotlight, I must acquire an identity, but which to choose?

“earth totem”by artyfishal44 is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

The term “outsider art”, according to the magazine, Raw Vision, was first coined as the title of a book written by Roger Cardinal in 1972. Even with a whole book about it, the term outsider art continues to be very loosely defined. At its most basic meaning, the term can refer to someone who is simply untrained. I certainly fit into that category; I’ve taken one drawing class in my whole life and have taught myself everything I know about painting, color theory/paint mixing, digital art, etc. It also often refers to those who suffer from mental illness and I would contend that I can check a box in this category as well, though I will be appropriately vague on the details.

On the other hand, I’m not sure I would describe myself “on the margins of society”. I had a relatively normal, middle class upbringing. My education is pretty extensive and I’ve been going to museums and galleries for as long as I can remember. I’ve even lived vicariously through several artist friends in college. I am, as I have claimed, self-taught, but in gaining this knowledge, I have followed the advice of several art books and YouTube tutorials. Hardly an esoteric education. If anything, I have immersed myself in pop culture to advance my training, though I’m not sure if anyone would guess that, given the bulk of my art.

“Slotin Folk Art Auction (2017)”by Marcus O. Bst is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

So, I continue to ponder the outsider designation. Oddly, I don’t think my art is “out there” enough to really earn the title. My search for a label goes on, though my lack of enthusiasm will probably mean that this will be a long and meandering endeavor. But that doesn’t really bother me, since I’ll still be doing art throughout the whole process. By the time I’ve decided on a box to fit myself in, my style will probably have completely changed anyway.

Teaching

Okay, pop quiz! No seriously. I’ve already talked about my love of anatomy and my love of comic books. When I used to teach the class, I was able to combine the two in the form of test questions that would be an endless source of amusement to my students. Not really, but one can dream. So, here’s a few questions for you. Answers are at the end.

  1. Doctor Midnight has his hands full looking after the Justice League and today is no different as he assesses Wonder Woman and her swollen hand. “That must have been some punch,” he says, holding up an x-ray, “ you have a boxer’s fracture, a fracture of the 4th and 5th metacarpal bones.”With your physiology, you’ll heal in no time, but it’ll still be painful, because you have some important muscular attachments there. Do you know what they are?”

Wonder Woman’s correct reply would be:
A) “By Hera’s Bodice, the flexor carpi ulnaris attaches there!”
B) “By Zeus’ codpiece, that’s where the the extensor digitorum attaches!”
C) “By all the popcorn shrimp in Poseidon’s galley, the extensor carpi radialis has an attachment there!”
D) “Oh, I’m just a girl. How would I know of such things?”

2) Hannibal loves it when a plan comes together, but it doesn’t always come together the way one plans. That what he was thinking as they go visit Face in the hospital. The surgery to remove the bullet was a success, but now Face is complaining about his eye. “I’m glad to be out of surgery, but now it feels like I have something in my eye all the time. It’s all gritty and watering. I can’t run a con like this.”
Hannibal pats him on the back. “Ah, it’s just a corneal abrasion, Face. Man up, you’ll be fine in a few days.”
“That’s easy for you to say. It’s driving me nuts. I just want to scratch my eyes all the time.”
Which one of the following would be the most appropriate response from Mr. T?

A) “Well, don’t scratch it, fool! That sensation travels along the oculomotor nerve to the Edinger-Westphal nucleus. You’ll mess up your pupillary reflex!”
B) “Stop it with all your jibber jabber! If you scratch that, the sensation will travel through the facial nerve and you’ll develop ptosis.”
C) “I pity the fool that don’t know the sensations of the cornea travel through the trigeminal nerve!”
D) “You’d be a fool to scratch your eyes! Your watery eyes would overload the nerve signals travelling through the optic nerves themselves!”

3) It was a rousing game of quidditch, but now Harry Potter is in Hogwart’s medical center, along with Ron and Hermione. “Oh, why can’t they pad those broomsticks a little better?” moans Harry, clutching his groin.
“Just try and not move around too much. They said your pubic bone is fractured.” Ron offered, obviously uncomfortable with Harry’s anguish.
“That’s going to affect every muscle in the adductor compartment of the thigh.” Hermione observed.
“No, it bloody will not!” Ron countered, “the adductor magnus has a different attachment.”
“Well, here comes Professor Snape. Let’s ask him who’s right.”

What is Professor Snape’s answer?

A) “Oddly enough, Ron is correct for once; the adductor magnus has no attachment to the pubic bone.”
B) “You’re both wrong; only the gracillis, adductor longus and the pectineus have attachments to the pubic bone.”
C) “Hermione, as annoying as she is, is right. All the adductor muscles of the thigh have attachments to the pubic bone. Young Harry here is in for a world of pain.”
D) “Leave me alone, you vile, little children. It is the posterior compartment of the thigh that has attachments to the pubic bone.”

4) Finn drew his sword and leveled it at the Ice King. “Let Princess Kandy Korn go, Ice King, or we’ll have to get rough with you.”
“Ha, I’d like to see you try.” said the frosty monarch, “I’ve enchanted my castle. You can’t get in without answering a question.”
“Name it! What’s your question?We’ll answer it and then rescue the princess.”
“Alright, smarty pants! Tell me which one of the following nerves is a nerve of the sacral plexus. Is it the genitofemoral, the iliohypogastric, the obturator or the pudendal nerve?”

What is Jake’s (let’s face it, Finn and Jake always take on the Ice King together) answer?

A) “Aw, come on. That’s an easy one, man. It’s the pudendal nerve. Totally lame question.” 
B) “That’s a trick question, ya big dummy. None of those nerve come from the sacral plexus.”
C) “Everyone knows it’s the genitofemoral nerve, dude. Now quit rustling our jimmies and let the princess go.” 
D) “What? You think ‘cause I’m a dog, I don’t know human anatomy? It’s the obturator nerve, ya stinker.”

I love teaching. For me, teaching is like telling people, “Hey, I know this really cool thing. Let me share it with you!” The first time I realized this was right after I had earned my black belt in Kenpo Karate. One of my instructors came up to me and started talking me up. Dominic, you seem to really know your stuff, you have a great ability to relate this material to others, you have a natural talent for this, how would you like to be in charge of teaching some of your own classes? I leapt at the opportunity. Great, he said, you’re in charge of all the kids’ classes. Open the studio at 8AM next Saturday.

I knew I had been conned, he hated teaching kids, but I didn’t care. I was an instructor. I don’t know how I did it, I was only 18 at the time, and completely inexperienced, but I knew enough to make it fun. The parental units weren’t paying us to turn their children into deadly kung fu masters, they wanted an hour of peace and quiet while we tired their little darlings out. The youngest student I’ve taught was 2 ½ years old and the oldest, when I started teaching all the classes, was around 60. I co-ran a studio in Concord, NH for about 2 years, before leaving to go out to school in California.

After that, I tutored calculus, chemistry and anatomy in college, earned a teaching fellowship in medical school and taught anatomy for 8 years at a naturopathic medical school. Whatever form it has taken, I have always found teaching to be one of the most gratifying activities I have ever known. The experience of being able to expand one’s understanding of a subject is indescribable, and I am eternally grateful that I have been able to do this. It’s tough to judge one’s self, but the feedback I have received about my teaching has been for the most part favorable. I attribute this to two techniques I use while teaching. I’ve already said the first one, keep it fun. The second is to use stories.

As humans, we have an innate affinity for stories. We remember them better than just dry facts and figures, and they attach a narrative to knowledge imparted this way that allows one to extrapolate upon this knowledge better. If I just tell my class that the gluteus medius muscle is innervated by the superior gluteal nerve, how the hell are they supposed to remember that? But, if I talk about the police officer I knew, who shot herself in the ass, damaging her superior gluteal nerve, now walked with a limp and had a positive Trendelenburg’s sign, well that’s a story to remember. This story describes the innervation to the gluteus medius, as well as the action of the muscle and the physical exam finding (positive Trendelenburg sign) if there is dysfunction. If I can get the students themselves to come up with a story that relates to them personally, then I know the knowledge will stick with them, though I truly hope all of my students’ superior gluteal nerves are intact.

But, enough about teaching; how about them answers:

  1. A
  2. C
  3. C
  4. A

Keep Your Eyes on the Seatbelt Sign

I make up songs all the time. My wife does it, too, thankfully, because if she didn’t I’d probably drive her nuts. It’s often unconscious, I’ll simply sing something instead of say it. “I’m going to pick up the milk.” “I gotta go to work.” “David’s coming to dinner tomorrow night.” Almost any phrase can be sung instead of spoken. I know I’m not alone in this, although, admittedly, I have not met anyone other than my wife who does this. Many are the times that I considered writing jingles for commercials, but I have no idea how one would go about breaking into that field.

One of the drawbacks to this idiosyncrasy is that I am highly susceptible to earworms. An earworm is defined as “a catchy piece of music that continually repeats through a person’s mind after it is no longer playing.” It could be anything, a song, a jingle, the theme song of a television show, if it’s got a tune, it can stick in my head for weeks. It’s one of the reasons that, despite being a hardcore Star Trek fan, I couldn’t watch the TV show Enterprise. Note to television producers, a theme song should never have lyrics. One time, I made the mistake of visiting the website www.tunnelsnakes.com. If you are as susceptible as I am, I will warn you right now, DO NOT visit that site. I would wake up hearing that song for months. It would not leave and almost drove me insane. Perhaps it did; who am I to judge?

This background sets the scene for the creation of my latest song. Or earworm, because I hear it in my head all the time. It should be noted that I hate flying. The whole process makes me feel like livestock being herded and then trapped in a tiny seat for hours. I can feel the impatience and anxiety of every passenger on the plane. The last time I flew, it was a short flight, but there was some delay on the tarmac and we sat around for what felt like forever. As I sat, stewing in my seat, trying to distract myself with a book, the pilot’s voice droned over the intercom. “Ladies and gentlemen, we apologize for the delay. We’ll try to have you disboarding as soon as we can. In the meantime, please stay seated with your seatbelts fastened. Keep your eyes on the seatbelt sign above and, when it turns off, you’ll be free to move around the cabin.”

It was so bland and rote that it was little more than background noise. Not a single one of the weary, jaded passengers even gave it notice. Everyone, except an energetic, five-year old girl. I can’t imagine how much pent up energy she had inside her, but, right after that message, she leapt up onto her seat, eyes sparkling and fists clenched tight and chanted, “Keep your eyes on the seatbelt sign! Keep your eyes on the seatbelt sign! Keep your eyes on the seatbelt sign!”

That’s all it took. I hear that little girl’s chant, like some punk rock anthem, playing in my head so frequently that it feels like my theme song. The tone is some combination of Rage Against the Machine ferocity and the upbeat poppiness of Pretty Reckless. I made it into a fuller song in a futile effort to purge it’s insane catchiness from my mind, but it’s only been partially successful. I know that, since I can’t sing it for you, something will be lost in translation, but I just wanted to share.

Keep your eyes on the seatbelt sign
Keep your eyes on the seatbelt sign
Keep your eyes on the seatbelt sign
Keep your eyes on the seatbelt sign

We’re waiting on the runway
Trapped here in our seats
I need to go to the bathroom
And I want something to eat
At the mercy of the pilot
Stuck here on his plane
And his only words of wisdom
I sing in my refrain

Keep your eyes on the seatbelt sign
Keep your eyes on the seatbelt sign
Keep your eyes on the seatbelt sign
Keep your eyes on the seatbelt sign

That’s all that I can think of
My eyes focused on that sign
Trying to will it to go out
With the power of my mind
Claustrophobia starts to grip me
And the rest of the passengers, too
All of us desperate to escape
But there’s only one thing we can do

Keep your eyes on the seatbelt sign
Keep your eyes on the seatbelt sign
Keep your eyes on the seatbelt sign
Keep your eyes on the seatbelt sign