Justice of Desire

Several months ago, a student of mine fell in love, as teenagers are apt to do every so often.  He thought he was doing everything right: writing songs for her, learning to play the ukulele for her, buying her stuff, flattering her, taking her on walks, and all sorts of things a young hopeless romantic assumes will build a case for his courtship.  For a time, she humored him, and then abruptly dumped him for the guy who had just moved in next door.  To this day, they watch endless television and giggle the hours away, with neither song nor ukulele serenading their union.

Never in my life have I witnessed someone cry as much as my heartbroken student.  For days out of months I would sit there in my classroom handing him tissues, listening to endless, “I love her!”s and “I would do anything for her!”s and “I would’ve died for her!”s and “What did I do wrong?!”s.  And all I could offer was, “I know, she knows, you know, and you did nothing wrong.”

How can I tell a young, hopeless romantic the horrible truth I have yet to truly learn myself? – No amount of wanting something makes it happen if it just wasn’t meant to be.  Just because you want it, even if you want it with every fiber of your soul, doesn’t mean you get to have it.

It seems like a matter of justice: to want something so much and to not get it, for in our stories, those who seek shall find, those who want shall receive, and those who persevere shall conquer.  I speak of beyond just love, but also of dreams.  Sadly, here in life, outside of our imaginations, desire is a comedy, and rejection, its punchline.

I remember my college days – I engaged in a three-year pursuit of a colleague of mine, to no avail.  I thought, if I never give up, then fate will reward me for my loyalty, and over time, I fooled myself into believing it my right to be happy, to be fulfilled by this fruitless pursuit, and perhaps the longer I wait the better, without really considering the cold hard fact that maybe she just didn’t want me and never would.  That’s not how it works in the movies, if I am to believe myself to be the protagonist.  Desire always prevails.  I refused to believe it would end in empty loneliness.  Not after all I put into it for years on end.

I was a fool.  With no consideration as to the whims of the would-be lover, I believed in my right to be loved…

…and I was, albeit by other people for whom I did not care.  An endless circle of rejection and heartbreak – Comedy gold!

Perhaps I was the villain after all.

Tonight, years later, I am lonely.  I have been lonely for a long time, for nearly all of my twenties in fact.  And yet, I know of people who would fly halfway across the world to be with me, people who would write songs for me, just as I might write songs for someone else.  Some have cried for me, as I have cried for others, being to each other nothing more than unfortunate annoyances.  Where is the justice?

My Dear Student: We are not entitled to the affection of others just because we want it so badly.  We have no right to it, nor can we earn it.  Sure, we can put ourselves in a position to receive it, much like we can climb a mountain to best catch the wind, but that does not mean the wind must necessarily blow.  To think otherwise is to fail to understand that love requires enough empathy to know that at a point, effort is powerless to change the chaotic and often arbitrary weather of feeling.

Days ago, while looking around in frustration at those rivals who enjoy loving relationships, my student exclaimed to me: “I work so hard at this, I go to the ends of the earth, I try everything I can, and all these guys have to do is put their dick in their hand and tell a funny joke!”

It made me laugh, because looking around at Teenageland with all its senseless and seemingly arbitrary pairings, he’s right.  But he should not mistake it as a matter of justice, for perhaps that’s all some of them need right now: funny jokes and dicks in hand, with or without ukulele.  I cannot judge; to each their own.  We cannot create wind, nor can we change its direction.  We can only hope to catch it as it blows by.  Some of us are fortunate.

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Three Minutes as a Woman

When I moved to my current rustic, foothill town for work back in June, I had no friends and no family, so I did what any sensible twentysomething would do and joined a social dance group.  West Coast Swing on Wednesdays became my scene, and until my job started in August, it was the only thing that connected me with others in an otherwise bleak social environment.

I started as a timid, apologetic beginner, but as I danced more and more, I developed a certain confidence in my dancing ability that bled into other aspects of my life.  I felt better about my interactions with others, more physically present in the world, and more self-assured that, since as a dancer I might be worth something, so too as a person might I also have worth.  I began walking with my chest out instead of collapsed, my shoulders rolled back instead of trying to hide within myself, and I was no longer ashamed of my presence.  Dance posture, one could say.

I felt like a better man.  A quality man.

Then one of my dance friends, a strong woman and conscientious follow, an excellent physical communicator who never breaks a solid sense of connection while dancing, asked if I wanted to follow for once.  She was working on her lead, and I had never followed before, so why not?

For those of you who know little about social or ballroom dance, there is usually a lead (who is male) and a follow (who is female).  The lead leads the follow through the dance with the use of tension and body language, and the follow reacts and responds to the lead’s cues.  Leads don’t have to be men, and follows don’t have to be women, but traditionally this is how it is.

And so, for three minutes, I assumed a woman’s traditional role on the dance floor.

It was horrifying.

I’m not saying my friend was a bad lead.  For all I know, she was excellent.  But I do know I was a terrible follow.  My experiences as a woman for those three minutes on the dance floor were disturbing to say the least.  Any sense of self-assurance I felt that I was doing something right in this world was threatened.

For three minutes, I was being whipped around, pushed and tugged according to somebody else’s plan, trying my best to make it enjoyable for my partner, and yet completely clueless as to how to behave in such a way as to make it a fulfilling experience for anyone involved.  As far as my partner knew, she was leading me through an intuitive and pleasurable dance, and yet I was completely failing at my end of the bargain to respond in such a way that worked for either of us.  I was awful.

This is not only about my level of skill and experience.  Relinquishing any sense of control over the situation and putting myself at the mercy of others made me feel pathetic and emasculated.  I felt powerless.

And for a brief moment, I felt like I knew a little better what it is like to be a woman living in a society where they are often objectified, at the mercy of men who think they know better, a society whose rules are written by those oblivious to the challenges faced by a population trying desperately to secure a voice.  There I was: being pushed and pulled by someone else’s design with little else to do but smile and pretend to enjoy it lest I break down and embarrass myself or others.  Social dance is a microcosm of society.

Make no mistake: It wasn’t just the experience of being forced into submission.  It wasn’t just the psychological challenges of relinquishing control.  I can’t suddenly claim to understand what women go through in life using three minutes of dance.  My empathy, though well-intentioned, is foolish…

…It was that I had suddenly understood my own leading, my own traditionally masculine role, from a different and more honest perspective.  For months, I had been leading under the assumption that I knew what I was doing, and that my follows were enjoying it.  And now, from the other side, I knew this likely to be untrue.

I was going through the motions, smiling and laughing, all while secretly hoping for it all to end.  This is no longer just about dance.

I, as a lead, am a reckless buffoon.  I, as a follow, am a deceitful manipulator.  I, as an observer, see myself as two people dancing, enjoying each other’s company, none the wiser.

How could I then go back to the role of a lead and be secure in knowing that what I’m doing is good for the follow, when as a follow, I now know that I might be terrible?

I stepped away from the dance with my confidence shaken, full of self-doubt, with just a hint of paranoia.  I couldn’t figure out why anyone has ever agreed to dance with me.  In fact, I couldn’t figure out why anybody dances at all, ever, especially women, if they are to be subjected to the misguided whimsies of strange men like myself.

If you go through life overcoming that unwelcome shred of doubt about your interactions with people, knowing consciously that they probably do enjoy your company as much as you do theirs, and yet carrying with you a suspicion that they are just placating you, pacifying you, tolerating you, but secretly wanting to get away from you, and then you find out through three minutes of a role reversal that your suspicions might be right?  That all of your intimate moments might have been a lie?  That every passionate moment of your life might have been a dance wherein the follow is patiently waiting to leave quietly lest they break your heart?  How do you rebuild the pathetic shambles of your once proud self?

I couldn’t dance for the rest of the night and went home early.  I still have a hard time going back.

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Teacher Gibberish

I underestimated how bizarre of a profession teaching would be.

Prior to this year, even though teaching was a consideration of mine since I was in high school, I was always mildly annoyed by how much teachers lamented being teachers, complaining of low pay or being under-appreciated or having to deal with terrible students and terrible parents while simultaneously proclaiming themselves to be the saviors and martyrs of society, lest we raise a generation of idiots.

Now that I am a teacher, I don’t know what to say, because I know if I start talking about teaching, if someone starts me down that meandering path, then I won’t be able to stop blabbering about it, often in terms of nonsense, because when the whole job is stirred up and spat out before me, it looks a little like gibberish.  Perhaps it’s best for my company if I just stay silent, but I am often unable to help myself.

So here is my gibberish:

We teachers are here because society decided we are not just valuable, but indispensable. Every child in the nation is required to have an education of some sort.  That’s what childhood is: a period in life where one can do little else but be forced to learn in state-mandated educational captivity.  This notion is fairly recent in the history of civilization and rather unprecedented, and yet today we take it with a grain of salt. Of course schools are necessary. Of course children need to be in schools. Of course we need teachers to teach them. Has it ever been any other way?

Whether the original rationale for public education be nation-building, economic prosperity, or public safety, who knows what it is anymore if none or all of the above? English-learning makes sense; we want people to communicate. Science makes sense, we want people to bail us out of our foolish mistakes with new discoveries or build new ways to make our lives lazier. But somehow I, as a music teacher, have to prove to the world that it is worth it to the taxpayer that my students can subdivide eighth notes or read a scale. Of course I know this is valuable, but what does Sacramento care? What does Washington care?

Music is often justified by how it enhances performances in other subjects, as if my best clarinet player is going to become a biologist because of Holst’s First Suite. Every time I hear about how math and music are conflated, I just about burst a blood vessel. Math and everything are conflated. That’s what math is. Counting in 6/8 doesn’t get you any closer to mastering Calculus.

Music is important because of the things that don’t make it math: expressivity, emotion, understanding teamwork, building friendships, and establishing human connection. If I got to rename my classes, I’d call Orchestra “Showing Up and Being Accountable.” I’d call Choir “Courage.” I’d call Band “Applied Emotions.” To me, music is little more than a vessel to bring out a broadened spectrum of emotion expression.  Through it, one learns responsibility, inner peace, the value of hard work, how to have fun, and so on and so forth. When I teach music, I teach catharsis.

And yet, being a teacher, especially at an underprivileged school, is really about none of that. Many of my students are from group homes, or foster care, or have fathers in prison or mothers chasing men in far away states. Some come from situations of abuse, or from parents who had them as teens themselves, who, unable to care for them, dropped them off with a reluctant aunt or grandparent. One of my students found out his estranged father died in the middle of my class. Another has a neighbor who raises my hackles because I’m legitimately afraid he’ll harm her if given the chance. Some cut. Some abuse drugs. Some just cry in the middle of class, for no reason to which I’m privy, but for perhaps all of the weight of existence on their shoulders.

Of course there are more.  The stories are endless.  They are all in good company.

I am not just a teacher. Perhaps being a teacher is the least important of my duties. I am a stable adult.  I am a role model.  If this dysfunction is how you come into this world, if this is what you see when you open your eyes to the light of existence, then you assume it’s normal.  It’s just how things are. It’s my job to say: “What you know of as normal doesn’t have to be.  You don’t have to be the vicious cycle.  You have the power to define what normal is for yourself, and it doesn’t have to be destructive.”

But I’m not just a role model either. I am also a confidant. I occupy a vague and ambiguous space between father figure and bureaucrat, between authority and friend, between avatar of the state and a fellow human being just trying to make it in this world.  And these roles are by no deed of my own, but are merely because society declared that I should exist, and so I do.

Yet, I am neither father nor friend.  At 3:00, I wave goodbye.  I go home to my apartment, cook myself a meal, check Facebook, and await the next day when I can fulfill key learning objectives based on California State Standard 2.4 and counsel someone through their breakup, or their crumbling home life, or a death in the family, or whatever else decides to get thrown at them that day. Music is a tool, life is the learning objective, and teaching life is more about listening and empathy than anything.

And quite frankly, I need my students just as much as my students may need me.  Perhaps even more so, for when they are outside of my classroom, they have other classrooms and other teachers, or they have their friends, or some sort of family life.  I, as a new teacher, am struggling to figure out how to navigate this day to day existence, still without any idea as to how someone working as a teacher could also raise a family, or spend time with friends, or date, or even have hobbies.  At this point, my students are my social life, although they can’t truly be so, for they are first and foremost my students, my professional associates, and my interactions with them can only remain within that context.  At the end of each weekday, I can ignore this social disconnect as I unwind from exhaustion and enjoy the relative silence of my apartment, feeling good about whatever impact I have and whatever my students might have achieved that day.  But on Saturday afternoons, the specter of loneliness begins to rear its ugly head once again.

Anyway, I imagine, like most forms of social work, or any career I suppose, you can talk about it all you want, but nobody is truly going to understand it unless they’ve been there. So why bother?

So when someone asks how teaching is going, I often say, “It’s exhausting, but I enjoy it,” or “It’s a mixed-bag,” or “I’m still getting used to it.” But those are just empty mouth noises, a replacement for a loss of words, or at least a whole lot of gibberish.

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Moments with Trees

As I sat on my porch this evening watching a rare torrential downpour fall on my town, I momentarily connected with the oak tree twenty feet in front of me, standing majestically over the manicured yard, surely too enjoying the rain.

Hello, Tree.  We are none too different, for we both enjoy rain.

The tree said nothing, as trees are apt to do.

You were planted here, Tree, by no choice of your own.  But alas here you reside.  This is your home.  I, too, was planted here.  One might say, unlike you, I moved of my own free will, but perhaps that will was an illusion.  Like you, I was planted here by a series of chance circumstances beyond my control.  And here we are, staring at each other, sharing the same thunderhead.

Again, the tree said nothing.

You are my closest neighbor, Tree.

It occurred to me then that the tree would not mind if I moved away, and yet I would be deeply saddened if the tree were cut down.

So then who is the more powerful?  The tree, at whose mercy I am, or I, to which the tree is indifferent?

Surely Man is greater than Tree.  I could always cut the tree down, but the tree could do little to harm me, at least intentionally.  And yet, if such were to occur, perhaps I would kneel, sobbing, clutching the tree’s dismembered branches, as if a crime of unforgivable passion had unfolded, cold sap draining from its lifeless limbs onto my guilty fingers, screaming, “Oh Lord, have mercy!”s and, “What have I done?!”s and so on and so forth until my neighbors come out confused and my landlady calls the police on a tenant gone mad.

And yet, if this tree lost a branch whilst I stood beneath it, and the branch happened to strike me in the head and break my neck?  The tree would feel nothing.

And so, Tree, in the timeless war between love and power, though armed with the weapons of cold indifference, who is mightier: the passionate or the disinterested?

The tree did not respond.

I felt cold, so I went inside.  The rain continued without me.  I have dishes to do and a carpet to vacuum.  There is no longer time for petty squabbles with unsavory neighbors.

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Blind Men in a Dog World

If dogs had national parks, they would be for scents, not sights.  They would be everywhere, ever-changing and often fleeting monuments to all the world’s odors.  The dog-president and dog-congress would upgrade every being, living or dead, to national park status, and every day would celebrate free admission to the country’s greatest natural treasures.

Puppies would eagerly ask their families when they could revisit Dirty Hole in the Neighbor’s Yard and roll around in it for perhaps four or five minutes (backyard permits required), and maybe, just maybe visit Dead Squirrel at Curbside later on vacation.  The Department of the Interior would set up billboards every five feet: “Stunning Amazing Wonders, four feet ahead!  …and behind!  …and to the left and right!  …oh my god they’re everywhere, the world is amazing!”  And of course, souvenir park passports would be locked in the depths of every dog’s mind, instantly stamped at no cost.

Educational roadside exhibits would read: “On June 28th, 2016, Bill Johnson dropped an ice cream cone on this street corner.  The sticky residue continues to froth in the sun, a staggering ten days later!”  Brochures would describe the scent profile of First and Main Hydrant: 4% rust, 10% toddler snot, 22% pee from large breed male dogs (dating back generations), and so on and so forth. Dog park rangers would give tours of Sally Smith’s crotch, particularly when she exits the gym, for that is when her scent is the most pungent. Mythology would arise, as told by campfire beneath the stars: “They say that the native cats still claw at the carcass of the hawk every full moon, keeping its scent fresh as if run over just yesterday.”

Of course, every dog would sleep satisfied knowing that the nation’s greatest treasure is the one deep within their own butthole.


 

In Prague last summer, I was fortunate enough to make the acquaintance of a good-natured soul, a sharp-witted optimist, a master pianist and composer from Israel.  This young man was also blind, although not entirely.  He could make out light, darkness, and color, but struggled with any sort of definition.  We often needed to help him walk outside, lest he trip over a curb or walk in front of a tram, and it was always a pleasure to be in his company.

Yet while walking in one of Europe’s most beautiful cities, about what else could we talk but beauty?

Oh, can you make out that cathedral?
Yes, perhaps.
It is beautiful isn’t it?
Yes, very beautiful.
There is the Vltava; can you make out its sapphire shimmer as it weaves by the pillars of the stone bridges?
Oh yes, I think I can, it’s very nice.

And what we see as ripples of water pushing against garden-like embankments with people picnicking beneath an Old World cityscape, he sees as a cloud of blue meeting a cloud of green with a cloud of red hovering somewhere above a cloud of gray.

Among us internationals was a beautiful Russian woman of astonishing talent and pure heart.  She spent every day at his side, helping him across the city, up staircases, and into and out of restaurants.  As our time together drew to a close, we dined in an underground pub with live folk musicians performing at the end of an otherwise crowded dinner hall.  She asked him to dance.

Nobody was dancing.  There wasn’t a dance floor.  This was an act of courage.  And clearly, he was not a dancer.

But they danced the night away, her guiding him away from chairs and walls and guests and occasionally the musicians themselves, and the whole restaurant looked on jealously as the clumsy blind man danced with the most beautiful woman in the room.

But to him, she must’ve looked not unlike everybody else: a blur, a cloud of flesh and clothes, some more colorful than others, but none too distinct.  His lack of sight allowed him to experience other beautiful traits of hers: her attentiveness to his needs, the feeling of her hand touching his arm guiding him to where he needed to be, the comforting sound of her voice, the smell of her hair, the feel of her breath, and other such things [that perhaps sound kinda creepy to a sighted person, but surely we are missing out on the whole experience a human being has to offer by relying solely on sight.  After all, do we not have five senses?].


 

What would the Grand Canyon be to a blind man?

Not too long ago, I sat atop my favorite oaken knoll looking out over the San Francisco Bay, and I thought about how beautiful I found this place of respite and meditation.  The golden grasses waved waist-high with the wind, and gnarled oaks dotted the landscape until, towards the West and South, it morphed into a forest littered with redwood groves, and to the East, it infiltrated the suburbs down to the bayshore (and beyond, the stark brown Diablo Range to the horizon, sometimes green with the winter rains).  To the North, one could barely see San Francisco and Oakland, and a series of bridges connecting the two opposing halves of an otherwise unwieldy metropolis.

And to a blind man, it all means nothing.  So I closed my eyes.

I could hear the surrounding birds chirping, interrupting the sounds of crickets, cicadas, flies, and whatever other insects help weave the fabric of sound which engulfs us.  There was an electric hum, cars drove by, wind blew, and people chattered in the distance.

And to a deaf man, it all means nothing.  So I stopped listening.

I felt the cool wind against my skin. It was crisp, dry, and refreshing.  The sun was warm against half of my face, but my skin soon felt as though it were burning.  My feet pressed in my shoes on uneven ground.  I felt a tree, and the bark was rough.

And if I were numb?

It smells like dirt.  Maybe some horse manure.  It surely tastes like something inedible.

And without taste and smell, it becomes nothing.


 

As we come up in this world, we evaluate it according to our senses, for what other choice do we have?

We desire to revere beauty, to praise fine cuisine, to spend good money on massages, silk and satin, mud bathes, and music, and to surround ourselves with a collection of handcrafted candles.  These things are good because our senses declare it to be so, but why do we accept our senses as an objective truth?

I would like to think that most conflict in this world is a matter of aesthetic differences.  You displease me because you prefer spicy vegetables, whereas I prefer mild dairy products.  You displease me because your preferred music involves steel guitar, whereas my preferred music involves electric guitar.  Your culture displeases my culture because your culture wears baseball caps, whereas my culture wears scarves.  Your nation displeases my nation because it speaks with a language that contains too many consonants and our nation prefers a higher ratio of vowels.

But if we take away our senses, we stand as nothing more than pillars of a mysterious, indescribably dark consciousness, lost and alone.  Our ability to perceive beauty is what allows us to also be offended by our differences.  Disgust and disdain are mere side-effects of having the gift and pleasure of perception.  Let us not speak too ill of them.

I do not find comfort in knowing that the beauty of my little oaken knoll is not universal.  My senses are the only truth I have.

There has to be something beyond what we can perceive, something beyond what our five measly and superficial senses can evaluate.  Whether this be God or Cosmic Energy or some sort of ethereal resonance shared between all things, I don’t know, but I wish I could devote my life to its revelation, or rather devote whatever life is left beyond the daily distractions of work, sports, cartoons, food, shelter, health, and other such trivial matters.  Perhaps these distractions are designed to keep us away from pursuing what might be such uncomfortable truths.

But no.  I insist: we must seek to find something valuable in us, in our surroundings, in our existence beyond what our senses can perceive.  I refuse to believe that this which I can touch and taste and see is all there is, that with us so too vanishes the world as we deem fit to cherish.  Perhaps this is the pursuit of divinity, of spirituality, or meaning, or purpose, or love, or peace, or something for which we do not yet nor should have words.

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Confessions of a Music Student-Teacher

Last Thursday night, on a high school stage in the outskirts of a Wine Country town, I cried.  In front of eighty students and dozens of parents and faculty, I lost my composure and broke down.  It was the first time I’ve cried in over a year.

My students would like to think they were tears of joy, and to a large extent, they were.  At the conclusion of our final concert, they had just gotten through presenting to me a gift of gratitude for my year of service as a student-teacher: a job required of me by my credential program, a thankless job many would see as nothing more than an obligation, a hoop to reluctantly jump through on the way to the big bucks and grand fortunes of teaching.  Surely, I was moved by their sincere expression of thanks to a man they had met not even a year ago.  It’s nice to be appreciated.  But that was only part of it.  I was moved by a profound sadness as well.

You see, at the heart of each human being rests two desires: to love and be loved.  I wanted desperately for my students to love me, and I believe many of them do.  And, likewise, I love my students.  But only because I had the luxury to do so.

I worked hard.  I worked so damned hard it ate away at my life.  When I got home at the end of each day, I couldn’t think.  I couldn’t write.  I couldn’t blog or compose.  I couldn’t even play music, even though I was teaching it.  In March, I even started seeing therapy.  Throughout my year, I felt as though I were losing an integral part of myself; some melancholic introspective thread of thought, of which I have always been proud, was being shrouded by a concrete goal: get your credential (and a job and a living and a future), as well as some abstract goal: love and be loved.  My identity was a sacrifice I had to make for these goals.  For a year, I loved Rock ‘n Roll because my students loved Rock ‘n Roll, even though I’m a Classical man.  I played guitar because my students needed me to be a guitar player, even though I don’t know jack about the guitar.  I was always joyful and optimistic because my students needed an adult in their lives with a smile on their face, even though I’m often lonely and possibly depressed.

It was exhausting.

And yet, being exhausted was a choice I had made.  I wanted to be exhausted.  No, I needed to be exhausted.  And fortunately, I had time to be exhausted, and this time made all the difference.  I was available for my students.  While my mentor was MCing a concert, I had the privilege of being backstage with them, counseling them through their crises.  While my mentor was coordinating with other directors during field trips and other such excursions, I had the opportunity to take my students out to lunch or dinner, to listen to their stories, to sympathize with their plights, to offer my limited insights and lofty words of wisdom.  I had the privilege of being an adult who not only cared, but was also present and available to them, and eventually loved by them, just as I had always wanted to be.  And of course, the more I learned about them, the more I loved them back.

Because again: at the heart of each individual is the need to love and be loved.  I have this need.  They have this need.  We are no different.

And yet, time moves forward.  Today, I am a student-teacher.  Next year, I’ll be whisked away to a real job as a real teacher, with a salary and benefits and all those other fancy symbols of a functional adulthood.  And surely, one would think, I’ll establish the same connections with my future students as I did with my present students.

But what if I can’t?  What if I’m not available to do so?

Today, when I go home, I go home alone to a studio in a large house with three strangers from Craigslist.  I have no available friends, I have no available family, leaving me available to commit myself to my students.  Whatever loneliness I had felt was eventually eliminated by fulfilling the teacher role.  I was no longer lonely because I had students who enjoyed my leadership, my insight, my wisdom, my company, and so on and so forth.  And my students had an adult they could count on.  Everybody wins!

But what about when I have a wife and kids?  Will I have the time and energy to know each and every one of my students as I do now?  What about five years from now when I have five graduating classes all coming to visit me while I’m struggling to focus all my efforts on the current year?  Or fifteen years from now when I’ve had eight-hundred students, half of them with names like Tim or Sarah (The one who played horn?  No, the one who played trumpet.  Graduated in 2022?  No, 2026.).  To them, I will always be their music teacher, the torch-bearer, leading them through the darkness into the light.  But to me, I fear they will blend into the fabric of students past and students future, just as I too blend into the fabric of my own revered music teacher’s thirty or so graduating classes.

And I don’t want them to be a fabric.

Perhaps I am naive.  Give me years of experience and surely I will scoff at my current self and my melodramatic naiveté.  Regardless, I am afraid.  People you love, people who love you, these people shouldn’t become part of a fabric.

There, on that stage, for a brief and powerful moment, I fathomed the impossible strength it must take to be a great teacher: to see hundreds if not thousands of individual faces and to love each and every one of them as they deserve, as long as they need to be loved as the individuals they are and always will be.  In awe of that unfathomable strength, I felt weak.  I felt overmatched.

And I cried.

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Young Man by the Creek

Swollen was the oft dry creek bed with the rains of El Niño.  Turbulent brown waters were tugging at the brilliant broad leaves of trees often too high to be bothered.  Humble caps of mushrooms were pushing through the riparian mud, droplets of water repelling off their shiny domes.  I, too, uncovered my head to the rain.

Out of the bushes beyond the redwoods sprang two girls: barefoot, soaked, and covered in mud.  They were giggling, and seeing a fellow human in me, they beamed.

“This is so cool!”
“It certainly is,” I said.
“There’s a waterfall up the path that way!” one pointed behind them.
“It’s a small waterfall though,” the other one found it important to add.
“I’ll be sure to check it out,” I replied.

And they disappeared.

Their unbridled joy brought out something poignant in me.  I thought about my own youth, when I used to walk through the dry creek bed at the south end of my childhood town with my friends, picking blackberries.  In the winter, we would wade through that same then flowing creek to the redwood grove that felt no less than miles away, in spite of being a mere stone’s throw.  Surely that only happened once or twice, but the way I remember it through the murky waters of nostalgia, it happened every other day.

I looked down at my attire: a rain jacket, rain pants, hiking boots, all covering the gym clothes I had on underneath, with which I often move heavy objects for fun, before I had decided to go on this small detour to check out the creek on my way home.

I feel imprisoned by my age.  Imprisoned by my status in this world of Young Man.  Imprisoned by a need to stay dry, a fear of catching a cold, an obligation to abide by the rules of acceptable human behavior, a resignation to the idea that this is the world as it has been assigned to us, as we have chosen it, as someday we might grow to love it and look back on our coats and boots with the same loving nostalgia with which we look at muddy feet.

Posted in Autobiography, Uncategorized | Tagged , | 3 Comments