Seattle, Washington A Sober Assessment of my Douchiness

Hello Matt!

I am interested in obtaining a photograph of you for use in the second season of a series called Is She Really Going Out With Him? on MTV.

To give you an idea of how the image will be used, below is the voiceover that introduces the image of you.

VO:  DANCING DOUCHEBAGGERY IS MOST PREVALENT ONLINE, INCLUDING “EVOLUTION OF DANCE” CREATOR JUDSON LAIPPLY, “WHERE IS BLEEP IS MATT?”’S MATT HARDING, AND EVERY FREAKIN' DANCING BABY.  CURSE YOU, INTERWEBS!

If the proposed use is acceptable, please sign the attached reuse release and fax back…

Thanks for your time and consideration!

__________

Dear MTV

I will consent to use of my image on your show if you can kindly meet the following conditions:

I would like MTV President Van Toffler to sign a consent form agreeing to change the network's name from "Music Television" to "Crappy, Condescending Reality Show Television." I would like him to then issue a statement apologizing to our nation's youth for making them lazy, stupid and pregnant.

Also, please ask Van to get a less douchebaggy name.

__________

The above correspondence happened back in November, while I was in Rwanda teaching a video production workshop to university students in the Orphans of Rwanda program. I know, total douchebag thing to do, right?

The request caused me to do some real soul-searching over whether I am, in fact, a feminine cleansing device. I mean, that's a pretty firm declaration MTV is making, and I have to accept them as a fairly credible authority on the subject. I came to the conclusion that, while I am many things, I am far from the traditional archetype, and neither is Judson, whom I have found to be a thoroughly decent fellow. It is my belief that the show's writers should seriously rethink their definition of the term.

The workshop was a project I'd been wanting to do ever since my brief visit to the country in 2006, when an experience shooting a dancing clip with some kids in a small village gave me the idea to make the most recent dancing video, which of course transformed my life and brought a whole mess of good things my way. I felt kind of crappy about using what those kids gave me and then walking away while they held their hands out asking for money.

Okay, really crappy.

A sizable donation from the folks at Stride to a relevant charity balanced the karmic scales for me on a financial level, but I wanted to put some of my own time in as well. Having limited skills that are worth imparting, I figured I could at least teach a few students how to make short videos and upload them to YouTube, and that learning to communicate in that way might be of some value, so I bought a half dozen Flip cameras and took them with me to Kigali. The ORI folks made arrangements and selected 18 of their students to attend the workshop. With Stride's generous donation, I probably could have made the kids play Mario Kart with me all week if I'd been determined to do so.

The students are all attending university on scholarships from Orphans of Rwanda. They come from backgrounds that we would call "underprivileged" if we were being very polite, and have made it out through natural ability and an intense drive to rise beyond their circumstances. ORI provides tuition, housing, meals, and a stipend for their relatives to account for their absence. Without the stipend, many of them would be kept at home to work.

I happen to come from a background that we would call "priviliged" if we were being very polite, and I made it out through natural lethargy and an intense drive to not do anything useful with my life. So getting up in front of those kids and trying to teach them felt, at first, somewhat obscene. I stumbled through day one until I realized two important things:

1) I actually knew a lot about what I was trying to teach, and

2) The students were genuinely motivated to make use of the time. They actually wanted to be there.

P1010080 P1010090

P1010149

At the end of the week, each of the six teams had shot and edited a video — some of them actually made several. I put together a 30 minute film festival on the classroom projector. We turned off the lights, blocked the windows, and the students got to watch their work with an audience on a big screen. I got the sense that experience was the most meaningful for a lot of them. I'd been warning them all week, but I don't think they really understood what it would be like to have their work presented like that.


We walked through how to upload their videos to YouTube, but to date I only know of this one, conceived by star student Nicholas Rutakanga.

Nicholas is an incredibly bright kid and a sponge for knowledge. He got himself a job and saved up to buy a Dell laptop, which he carries with him everywhere. He was rendering out his own videos on the first day. He wants to be an airline pilot.

Toward the end of the week I took Nicholas and Janvier, another top student, aside and they helped me make my own contribution to the film festival. It took about 8 hours to shoot and edit, with a budget of $1 for bottled water.

After the festival, I asked the class who the best traditional dancer was. Everyone pointed to Janvier, so I made him get up and show me some moves. For musical accompaniment, he played an mp3 from his computer, but he found that unsatisfactory, so the class spontaneously began singing and clapping for him instead. The sound that emerged sent the ORI staff rushing in from surrounding rooms. It knocked the wind out of me. My eyes got all welly-uppy. Holy crap those kids could sing.

We went outside to the courtyard and they taught me to do the dance as best I could. We shot the first clip for the new video.

Dancing2010

I managed to sort out a way to get home in only two flights. I was able to fly direct to Brussels, and then from Amsterdam straight home to Seattle, leaving only the dilemma of my transit from Brussels to Amsterdam. I had planned to catch a train, but discovered the day before leaving that there was no Sunday morning train. That left either a rental car or a bus for the 3 hour journey. Both seemed like too much of a pain in the ass.

It was at this point that I remembered I have a database of 500 people in Belgium who want to dance with me. I scanned through it for the 5 least crazy-sounding people, wrote to them, and within a half hour I had two people willing to take me on a cross-country road trip the next morning.

Andrew's wife is eight months pregnant. She suspected him of making up a ridiculous story as an excuse to escape from the house. She made him take a photo of me for evidence.

I bought him a traditional American breakfast near the Dutch border.

Photo
 
I've been taking dance lessons for three months now, working with a local Seattle teacher and choreographer named Aiko Kinoshita. I feel like a stroke victim learning to walk again, but Aiko is a patient teacher and she gets the big picture.

I am also, by the by, taking piano and drum lessons in my spare time. After 30-some years, I'm learning to understand music and movement. Feels like I'm in art school. It's strange and hard and fabulous. I've let go of thinking I have to be great at any of it, and I'm just letting it happen.

Aside from that, been playing a lot of videogames. Over the Christmas break, Melissa and I got all 231 Star Coins in Super Mario Wii, which resulted in a physical condition we call "Mario claw." We've also been watching a lot of Hulu, which got really fun when I suddenly started showing up on it during every ad break.



Community. "Hey, there's me!" The Office. "Hey, there's me again!" Modern Family. "Melissa! I'm on the computer!" 30 Rock. "Look, hon! Me!"

I found someone to take over management of my site from the previous stewards. I put an ad on Craigslist and heard back from a guy named Joel, who was actually dancing with his wife in the Seattle clip of the 2008 video. Anyway, we're working on getting the sign-up page back online, fixing the book store a bit (250 copies sold), and re-jiggering the Videos page. As I start traveling for the new video, we'll be beefing up the mapping page with a lot of the neat stuff Google has made possible since the last big trip. We had a phone call with them this week and there's excitement on both ends about showing off some fancy tech.

As of now, you can see a live display of my current location on the front page, taken from the current GPS coordinates of my iPhone, and at last conclusively answering the question posed by my site's name. I've set it to only show my location at a city level, so I (hopefully) can't be hunted down on a street corner somewhere. That would be really weird.

Tomorrow we head over to South Africa for work/vacation. The tourism board has invited us to shoot a video and they're taking good care of us while we're there. Life continues to be ridiculously amazing, and I continue to worry that I am trapped in some Matrix-like fantasy simulacrum while the real me languishes in the jelly-filled pod of a giant harvesting cylinder.

47 Responses to Seattle, Washington A Sober Assessment of my Douchiness

  1. Steve

    Good to hear that all is going well! Was wondering when you’d post again, but it’s understandable. I’ve got a page myself that hasn’t been updated in too long to mention…myspace, etc is another story.

  2. Kay (Worcestershire, UK)

    Finally, an update! Great to hear about your amazing work Matt.

    Think I have an idea of your new video, sounds like it’s going to be as fabulous as the others.

  3. John O'Halloran

    Love the student videos and what teaching them to be able to create them means to them.

    As someone who grew up with MTV when they did music, I whole heartily agree with the proposed name change.

  4. “Life continues to be ridiculously amazing, and I continue to worry that I am trapped in some Matrix-like fantasy simulacrum while the real me languishes in the jelly-filled pod of a giant harvesting cylinder.”

    Wow – big words! Matt, You’ve grown so much over the past six years. I’m happy for your success and how a single dance could grow into this phenomenon . Best wishes, keep up the good work and take whatever life throws your way.

  5. Duke

    “Van Toffler” is quite possibly the douchiest name ever in the history of the planet. I want to punch him out, and I’ve never even seen him.

    Glad to hear from you again, keep us up to date on your new project!

  6. Nando

    You never cease to amaze us, Matt. Great job.

    Good to hear all you’ve been doing for those kids in Rwanda. You are a truly good person.

    Any intelligent being can see that you’re definitely not a dancing douchebag.

  7. Matt & Melissa. Welcome to South Africa. I hope you enjoy the beauty and diversity of our people and our country. It was great to meet you. Wishing you all the best!

  8. Mike Franks

    Rwandan GP was great. Good to hear you’re back traveling and dancing. Looking forward to the stories and the final video.

  9. Rich

    Great to hear from you again Matt! Talk about MTV calling the kettle black as far as douchebags!! K’mon! I feel my brain cells dying just seeing the letters MTV all together!

    Props to you for doing what your heart tells you to. I have crazy respect for you!

    All the best,

    Rich

  10. Dogbreath

    Yay! yay! yay! yay! yay! yay!

    Yay to all that!!! To a new video to look forward to, to my vicarious inspiration from your unfolding adventure, to the awesomeness of life’s unpredictability.

    Yay Matt!

    !!!!!!!!!

  11. Don’t let anyone call you a douche bag. What you’re doing in Rwanda is so awesome.

    MTV is just a piece of crap. Love your response to them!

  12. Kim

    Thanks for the post, again. You continue to humble me. I know with the same opportunities I would have squandered them and not brought the much needed attention to programs like Orphans of Rwanda. You’re living a truly great life.

  13. How wonderful to see you in action again!! I think you are terrific, you are my hero. I am totally looking forward to your next video. You just plain bring a smile. Good for you that you are actually using your gifts to bless others.

  14. JD

    Good luck with your travels. My little Joel juniors kicked a beat when I read your shout out to his new gig working on your website.

    Looking for more exciting tech things to come in the future!

    The wife.

  15. Jason

    My friends and I did the same in Super Mario Wii this christmas break. That little notification screen of full completion and five shiny stars was so worth it.

  16. JimmyTheCloud

    Yeah Matt – come to Sweden! We are rich and bored. Inspire us to inspire others! Also we wanna dance!

  17. Barbara

    Sorry to hear MTV was so rude to you….not that I didn’t expect it of them but that you didn’t deserve it. I have had a blast watching your dances around the world and was happy to read your post about your work in Rwanda. Keep it up.

  18. Dani

    Hi Matt!

    Great to see a new post and read that things are going so well. Thanks again for all that you do. My presentation on you and your 2008 video helped salvage a less-than-stellar grade in a class I had last semester. It was one of the biggest and most daunting projects I have ever done, but so worth it and so enjoyable given the subject matter.

    Happy trails and remember, Boise beckons! 😀

  19. jmacz

    Hey Matt,

    I just keep finding your work inspiring. Keep going and dont let your self caught thinking too much about it. Responsability and commitment are great things as long as you don’t end up carrying the world on your shoulder, and meaningful things like teaching to others, are what the light of are these days are made of.

    BTW, what matters the most (IMHO), is that you keep loyal to yourself and to what motivated you to do all this (Will to travel? Sense of freedom? Don’t know, but was and is a good thing). A lot has passed since, but hey, you are still here sharing some great life experiences upon it.

    Finally: I loved the Rwandan GP Video!!! It’s amazing how much you can do with little things, lots of work and lots of effort and will.

    I also loved the irony in the answer to MTV he he.

    Cheers from Colombia.

  20. Rosemarie Hogan

    So good to get an update! Good work in Rwanda, that is the coolest. giving back is always a good thing, good on you!

    MTV, WTF! Loved your response to them. Enjoy S. Africa!

  21. Victoria

    Love the vid by Nicolas and Janvier. Neat that you are picking up music and dance. It’s like you get to experience the world in a whole new way when the notes and the moves come together. Keep practicing!

  22. Ali B.

    I love this post! MTV couldn’t be more detached, ridiculous or mixed up. Keep up all the great work you do.Your video inspires me whenever I feel blue or any other kind of blah :)

  23. JoJo

    I haven’t read your whole post yet (will later). Just read your letter to MTV. HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAH — I LOVE LOVE LOVE it. HAHAHAHAHAHA !!!

  24. The Rwandan Grand Prix vid is quite possibly the most creative and fun video I’ve seen, ever. Certainly this year! Esp love your Hitchcockian cameo, as well as the crashes. Very very sweet. What a great project.

    Thanks!

  25. Simon

    Hey Matt,

    I can completely relate to the learning of an artistic expression. In my world I’m a relatively “square” guy, with a few flashes here and there of creativity, but it has always been a mental one, never one that can leave tangible representations. Recently I took up pottery, and the first few sessions sitting at the potter’s wheel I kept wishing I could do what the lady across the room from me was doing. It’s taken some time to get to a point where I tell the lump of clay what it is that I want it to be instead of sicovering what it is that the clay is hiding inside of it, ya know?

    But I applaud your new artistic endeavors. I know that dancing badly comes natrual to you. It is the challenge of creating something beautiful that is the true art.

  26. Hi Matt:
    I use your videos, all three in succession, in my final lecture of World Regional Geography. We spend the semester discussing the problems and joys of the entire world… but this is a tough place and often the problems seem to overtake the joys… at least on a global scale.
    You first two videos show the simple joy of personal growth through travel and experience. This is a wonderful lesson for young college students to learn.
    But your final video shows the unity of every human being to each other – the joy of children, the joy of movement, the joy of sharing with others, and simply the joy of joy.
    Rarely is there a dry eye in the room – people are moved, people are inspired and people are changed.
    I think MTV has it all wrong.
    Keep up your good and inspirational work.

  27. ferris

    Heh MAtt, Thanks for the original video of the world and the inspiration of dance. I am intending to use it and others of your videos and stories in my 9 and 10 year old class in New Zealand. I wonder if there is anyway of meeting up , skype or something with our class as we work through the lessons. We are focussing on GLobal action, resposnsibility and using our passions, which I beleive you have done to make a difference. Serious stuff you are doing and although it does make me feel good inside I want to take it further than just feelings but action. Cheers for listening.

    School teacher

  28. Chris

    Dear Matt,
    first of all sorry for my english. I am French (from Nice) and I don’t practise it every day!
    I discovered on my Face book your video “dancing 2008” and this brought me so much happiness, looking at these wonderful project you led!
    i just wanted you to know how much brightness you may lead….
    thank you for sharing your trips
    impossible to send you a mail…so I comment!!!
    please keep going ahead!
    very sincerely

  29. Sarah

    Leave it to MTV to find something “douchey” about you going around the world dancing with people. If they’re looking for douchebags they don’t have to look far — their own casting departments can dig up some a-holes from their own stupid shows to use as prime douche examples. Or, more aptly, from their own development staff.

    I loved the Rwandan Gran Prix, that was so much fun to watch.

  30. Scott

    Keep on dancing, Matt. Your site serves as a inspiration for me, a sometimes frustrated former world traveler. I find myself returning every year or so for a great reminder of how completely awesome the world and all the diverse people in it can be. Good luck with the next video.

  31. Sarah

    Hello matt. This is really cool. I wanna recommend that you go to La Estrella Arriba numero dos! mostly cause I went there and I wanna see those kids dance with you!

  32. HappyGuy

    Matt,

    from us here in The Netherlands: we support you, your ideals and your work.

    Keep up your good spirit and feel our positive vibes coming your way!!

    BIG hug from us here!

    p.s. still practicing the first dance.. now we have to do an second one… 😉

  33. Hi Matt.

    I wanted to Congratulate you, I nominated you for the Sunshine Blog Award!
    It is basically award for bloggers to tap themselves on their shoulders.

    link to theletter.makingfaces1.com

    I love your writing and your story. I love the journey you made, not just the physical one, but mostly the one of starting as a dancing funny lucky guy and ending a conscious contributing person.

    Thank you for sharing it.

    Danit

  34. Meredith

    Hi Matt,

    First, seems like you have a good perspective on the whole MTV thing…what a joke – you’re working with Orphans of Rawanda while they’re looking for the cast of their next ‘reality’ show about drunken debauchery. They are not worth your time.

    Second, I just wanted to tell you that I love what you’re doing. I came across your latest video because my friend sent me the link, and it made me want to cry. So often we think about the things that divide us, so it’s heart warming to see people all around the world brought together dancing badly. :0)

    Best to you, and keep up the good work.

  35. Kamilla

    Hey there, I was introduced to your dancing videos in my interactive marketing class. I love your awful dancing! I don’t dance at all but props to you for at least trying. And that racing video you did with your students is hilarious! Anyway, good luck with everything and keep dancing! You really have something special here.

  36. Rebecca Baltzer

    THANK YOU so much. I smile everytime I think of the name MATT. I think you may have started something really really good . Blessings to you and all who helped you. If you are ever in North Caroline Look us up you can stay at our house. YOu can find me on face book. Rebecca Baltzer

  37. Dale Thornton

    Thanks Matt for the great ideas and the fortitude to carry it out. The 2008 dance gets me smiling every blue day and I share it with many folks that can use a lift, it always works. The combo whole earth melody and the fun you show with all different types of mother earth’s family members is just what makes it tick. Good luck in your new production, I wish I had a talent to share that could help you out! Farewell from Tri-Cities WA!

  38. Hilary

    “to worry that I am trapped in some Matrix-like fantasy simulacrum while the real me languishes in the jelly-filled pod of a giant harvesting cylinder.”

    I had just the same thought the other day. I was snorkeling around the rocks that form the far end of our closed in swimming area at the beach in the gorgeous Mediterranean beach resort town I now live in, where I’ve just moved into a beautiful 3 bedroom flat with a terrace, surrounded by palm, olive and lemon trees.

    “Wait,” I thought, “isn’t life supposed to really suck? This can’t be real.”

    Hope you can make it to Italy this time round, and that no one steals your wallet again.

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