Posts by Arthur Thelesser

Human becoming. Likes making pies.

Saturday Songs and Stories

Can we talk about making room for a moment, and also, how big of nerds musicians are?

Note: I grew up in a house wherein my mom taught piano for three hundred hours every day, and my step-dad was (and still is) a professional trumpet player and teacher, so you know, we grew up flush with cash, is what I’m saying.

The piano’s keyboard seems enormous, until you get to a duet, and then, that little cushy bench becomes a little hazardous. Add a third person (why though) and it’s worse. Add another after that–and you’re probably playing Lavignac’s Galop-Marche, which is kind of tacky and kind of cheesy and absolutely wonderful.

Here’s four pianists at one… or two pianos.

I’ve found three recordings I like, and have put them all in this post. This piece is frantic and manic and hits that sweet spot of, “Is this guy serious?” All in all, it lends itself to comedy pretty well–even if we’re trusting musicians to do what they think is funny.

Here’s twelve pianists at one piano playing it.

I think I like this the same way I like amateur wrestling and drag shows–there’s something intentionally out of place here, an invitation to participate in the absurd, even as an audience member. What does it mean to pause and gesture for a man to come out–I’m assuming he’s the big name at this recital of beautiful people dressed in black–and then run in a circle to play a chromatic scale?

Dare we just have… fun, sometimes? Do things just for joy?

Eight pianists, 2 pianos–performed by eight champions

Don’t we need these invitations to the absurd, so that we do not take ourselves too seriously? Not always, surely, but every now and again?

I struggle in these times, because I am an absurdist. We need to have serious, intentional conversations and take good hard looks at ourselves and make lasting, systemic changes. And I do not wish to distract from nor detract this important work.

But also, we will destroy ourselves if we cannot access the resilience that comes from the occasional pause for joy. Breathe, friends. Get on the floor and play the trill, just for a second. And then go back to Chopin and Rachmaninoff and Bach, please–the world needs it.

Wednesday Weigh-In #2

I’m at 223.2 pounds, which is less weight than two weeks ago. It is the same as the last three days. It is my second lowest weight recorded–I was at 222.7 on Friday, I think, of last week?

Weight is not the only indicator of health. I’m trying to get to or below 220 this month, though, because I have a goal for my thirty-sixth birthday.

C’est la vie! I’ll keep walking, eating right, and doing bodyweight exercises. Change is happening; there are other indicators. I look better, I feel better, I sleep better. And I’ll take it.

Monday Mull: John 14 and Hosea 11

Harmonia Rosales, The Creation of God

Doing this Names of God thing is a little different this summer, though, I shouldn’t be surprised; nothing is going as planned this year, and it is most certainly a gift, no matter what anyone tells us. This is the moment of awakening, it seems, for far too many people far too comfortable with hegemony and the default.

I am one of them, actively trying to stay awake and keep momentum. I have let my sibs and folx down. I reaffirm my call to do justice, to preach bravely, to love mightily.

This Sunday is Father’s Day, and since we’re doing “ways to refer to God,” it makes sense, I think, to talk about patristic language for the Divine. I’m using John 14–already a problematic text because of bad interpretation of Jesus as Way/Truth/Life–and of course, there’s this idea of Jesus running interference to keep people away from God who he calls Father.

Hosea 11 presents God in maternal, traditionally feminine strength and concern. Are these the same God? Of course.

I have no problem with father-language for God, if it is done in conjunction, in intentional balance, with mother-language. A friend once told me that removing paternal language and replacing it with gender-neutral language still excluded women, just from a different approach, and I seek to balance that. I think of the community herchurch in San Francisco, that only uses feminine language for the divine, but will be more accommodating for male language when all the churches using male language first accommodate. (And I love that.) But maybe my beloved community isn’t there yet.

Something to work towards, surely.

The Moment Passed

I filled up my car today for the first time in three months. On March 13, as things were getting a little hairy (and everyone else was stockpiling toilet paper), I filled my nearly empty tank of gas and, like many folks, stopped driving for a while, except when necessary.

I paid $16 for nearly ten gallons, and only used a twenty-cents-per-gallon discount, so it’s still rather weird. (B has used up to a dollar a gallon, but he drives far more.)

I have an orange book in which I’m tracking 2020–I think I’ve alluded to this before, but it may have been in another iteration of this blog. There’s ideas and reminders and checklists, and also little things–where am I in the grand scheme of 1 Corinthians? What exercises am I doing more of, fewer of? What books have I read? And it’s the middle of June, and nearly the end of the year, and I’m almost done with another chunk of a section…

I’m at the church right now, having finished prep for Bible Study and worship, for the most part. I’m looking at stacks of books. At upcoming continuing education leave, and the work I need to do to get ahead of it; at the vacation time I need and have made notification of (I do like my church doesn’t say request, as I don’t technically need permission)–and I think, “Ah, it’s too much,” but that moment’s passed.

Time is weird. My regular markers for it have mostly vanished; my new ones–walks! prayer! reading!–don’t really tell me what time it is, but where I am. Who knows, anyhow.

Saturday Songs and Stories

Can we talk about Nirvana for a second?

Kurt Cobain died when I was nine years old, in the fourth grade. By the time I got to middle school, Nirvana was still very much a thing, and though I had no idea what the song was, I heard Smells Like Teen Spirit a thousand times every year for the three years at Southwest Middle.

I think about Marcus, from About a Boy, and his attempts to understand why Ellie loves Kirk O’Bain.

I became more familiar with the song when Weird Al covered it. My friend Shelly told me, eons ago, that Nirvana was honored to be covered, and that they were surprised there was no mention of food. (This is in the food-heavy, early days of Mr. Yankovic, and before his policy of asking permission of/informing bands of impending parody.)

It is the best Weird Al parody, in my opinion.

This song is ingrained into Generation X, and we early Millennials. It lends itself to covers, like from the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain…

Smells like… you’re a teenager in love…

To mash-ups, like this one (notice the speed shift!)…

Destiny’s Child x Nirvana = Smells Like Bootylicious

to re-genrefication, like by Paul Anka…

On the album cut, he actually gets the lyrics correct.

I love this song, in all its forms. Is it interpretation or irony? Tribute or teardown? Where’s the line?

I was told I wasn’t cool enough to listen to Nirvana, which I believed, and still maybe do. But is it about being cool? I think not–look at how much fun Dave Grohl has, look at his passion. Is he passionate AND cool, or cool because he’s passionate, or in spite of it? What is hip, anyhow?

Workout Wednesday (6/10/20)

I’m still walking. Brian and I are getting up at five–as mentioned in yesterday’s discourse on woodland creatures and rain-capture barrels–and we do two miles or so as the start of our day. We’ve only done this for three days, but it’s what I’ve wanted and I love it.

We’re figuring out what walks in the evening look like–if it’s too hot for the dogs, can we do different routes, etc.

The other part of these workouts is bodyweight exercises, per the recommendations of the health app I’m using, and, you know, common sense. I must commend unto you the workouts from Darebee, as they’re made for people like me: complete novices who are also nerds.

I think I’m using an old workout, or at least, I can’t find it quickly because I don’t remember the name specifically–but it’s simple. There are six exercises: sit-ups, push-ups, jumping jacks, jump-in planks, hop heel clicks and squats. Each rep is worth one point. Get to 1,000 points.

I’ve broken 200, doing this for about a week. I think the challenge is to work out numerous times during the day, and I may or may not. But this is me trying, at least. My goal for the next ten days is 250–with as many jumping jacks and squats, and more push-ups and sit-ups. (I did thirty sit-ups today. That’s way better than my regular zero.)

And there you have it.

Water Barrels and Raccoons

Brian and I got up at five this morning, on purpose. Part of our commitment to being healthy is walking, and it’s much cooler at five a.m. than five p.m. We can take the dogs, and grit our teeth through their zigging and zagging the first mile.

Upon returning home, we did not even get the harness off June before she and Oscar were on the deck growling. Next to the deck in the corner of our yard is a rain barrel, there from previous owners, and on the rain barrel was a gangly baby raccoon, making a lot of noise.

When I say gangly and baby, I really mean the equivalent of a middle schooler–all arms and legs, little body, big head. (Sorry, middle schoolers I know.) I’m going to call this one Judd Nelson, for the sake of clarity.

Judd Nelson was not just reacting to the dogs–Oscar and June are really good at protecting us from possums, raccoons and joggers. None have entered our house since we got them. They haven’t ever attacked anyone, they aren’t vicious–they just bark. A lot. Judd was worried about something, and Brian figured it out first.

“There’s one in the barrel.”

So I grabbed a broom; Judd scuttled over the fence to be with his momma. We got a stick, put it across the opening, and sure enough, here comes a soaking wet, terrified adolescent raccoon (all arms and legs) who gets to the top and sees Brian and I, and he just freezes.

(I’d put the dogs inside by this point; they watched all this from the dining room.)

We set up planks to get him either off the barrel into the yard or onto the deck. I at one point grab gloves, but practice better judgment and do not try to grab a scared, baby raccoon and contract scared, baby rabies. (Brabies?) He eventually, after we retreat, got onto the deck, into the yard, and then up a tree. Then down, then over the fence, then up our neighbor’s tree.

We hope he found his momma; I thoroughly searched the yard before letting out the dogs. (Copperfield, our wonderful, handsome, kind of dumb and super chill tabby cat, just emerged from the bushes–how long was he in there?) I believe all will be well, that the world can be both hostile and beautiful to a baby raccoon.

Imagine what would happen if I took this kind of care with every human I met.

Monday Mull: 1 Kings 18:20-40

There was some 1970s Bible cartoon that told this story–I think if you’ve seen one of them, you’ve seen them all. I guess you either know what I’m talking about or not, in all this.

Anyhow, in this cartoon, they had to add dialogue to fill the time up, and as the priests of Baal (who looked really European, in hindsight?) poured gallons and gallons of water on Elijah’s altar per his instructions, someone–possibly King Ahab–said, “It is so very valuable,” or something close to that.

I’d never connected that. Prior to the story, there’s been years of drought. It seems that the water poured onto the altar of Elijah is not only to mock the whole process–calling fire from the heavens is one thing, but onto damp wood?!–but because God’s action in this world requires sacrifice.

Not necessarily burnt offering and sacrifice–I know, I know, mercy not sacrifice–but rather, giving up something, tearing down something, living without something in order to make room for God.

Even when it’s fire that evaporates, that singes, that burns, that licks up what we hold precious.

I have issues with this story, especially the whole “slaughtering people who do not worship the way one does,” but this isn’t about other religions, it is about idolatry. About our completely ridiculous belief we can control things, command things, contain things.

This is, of course, just the beginning of work on this text. I am getting ready–Sunday’s coming!

Saturday Songs and Stories

In one of the countless attempts to get in shape, my friend Riggs and I tried going to the Fitness Center at TCU (Go Frogs!) at like, 5 a.m. when it opened. This lasted… three tries, I think.

Riggs drove a Mercury Marauder, which is somewhere between a muscle car and a cop car. It was one of the best cars I’ve ever sat in–one just felt cool in the leather seats and dark interior. The Marauder was totaled by a drunk undergrad. We can’t prove it, but a yellow Jeep that was across the street from where Riggs’s car was parked disappeared the very day the car was destroyed with yellow paint streaks all over it. Go figure, I suppose.

But I digress. Riggs loves jazz, and I love jazz. He introduced me to a lot, including this song by Frank Sinatra, The Coffee Song.

It has a good Latin beat, and the fun lyric, “They put coffee in the coffee in Brazil,” which I have always found funny. And yet, the question always sits in the back of my mind: is this song racist?

It’s a song about an actual place, and actual people inhabiting that actual place. It’s also a novelty song–meant to be a novelty, and speaks more of Brazil’s coffee surplus rather than making direct claims about Brazil’s culture, people or heritage. Yeah, the politician’s daughter was accused of drinkin’ water, and was fined a great big fifty dollar bill–but fifty bucks was a lot of money to anyone then, and it’s because she was drinking water, not because she was inherently corrupt?

I don’t know. This song walks a line for me, and perhaps others? I don’t want to create controversy where there is none; I do not want to ignore controversy if it is there.

One time at karaoke, I wanted to sing this–they did not have it, but I thought they did, because I selected Brazil in the Frank Sinatra section. They are not the same song. I always post at least two songs in this post, so I’ll close with Pink Martini’s cover of Brazil, which for three years was my happy song. More on that, I suppose, another time!

Note to self for the inevitable Pink Martini post: Storm Large is amazing live and also, China Forbes is amazing on every album she recorded. Keep that in mind, future Arthur.

Oh No, the Wontons!

This is from a great wonton recipe, on Spruce Eats. If you would like to make wontons, I recommend following this recipe.

I have a deep appreciation of food television–it’s essentially psychological comfort food. It’s familiar, it’s predictable (though, not always), it’s constant and easily available at any hour of the day.

A friend of mine introduced me to Chopped when she used it in passing as a sermon illustration. It became my go-to for background noise and time-wasting. (It sounds like I don’t like it; the opposite is true.) Anyhow, I saw a Vine taken from the show, which is:

And it’s beautiful. Chris Santos loves his job, Chris Santos loves people cooking for him, Chris Santos loves wontons, and it is all on the table. “*gasp* the wontons!” is a call to all of us to consider the passion with which we approach our vocations, our communities, and our expertise.

I am thankful for passion, even when it is a little ridiculous. In fact, it’s the kind of passion I think I enjoy and embrace the most.