Interviewing

There is only one thing that makes a dream impossible to achieve: the fear of failure.
Paulo Coelho

After I graduated with my bachelors, I strongly considered finding a job that was not at all teaching-related (to the point of sending out resumes to museums and theater houses because porque no).  This was in direct opposition to the voices that spoke through their lapels with bad PowerPoint backdrops that said, “find a way to stay involved in teaching, and you will be more prepared when you finally do get that teaching job.”

Yes, teachers think that way: you will not get a job.  Es la verdad.  But there is always a subbing temp agency with a smiling face waiting to call you at 6:00 am and send you off to magical places.

The reality of substitute teaching (at my particular temp agency) was that we had to call them.  Talk about a strange conversation.

“Thank you for calling __________ ____________,” she said, in a happy tone.

“Hi.  This is Linus.  Reporting for, er, calling.  Calling in.  Calling in for work.”

“Hi Linus,” the voice suddenly became dry and ill-humored.  The weight of her oppressive morning — reporting to work at 5:00 AM or earlier, listening to hundreds of voicemails from schools asking for subs, and dealing with subs de mala leche who had petty excuses to skip work — shone through that voice like a Lite Brite.  “Nothing yet.  We’ll call you back as soon as that changes.”

“Okay, thank you.”

Hallelujah!  Now I could continue eating my cereal, or continue lying in bed, or whatever activity that did not involve preparing myself for a long day of educating young minds.  Glory be!

Unfortunately, they usually did call back; but, there were those wonderful days when the phone never rang again.  And I never pushed it by calling them myself to find out if something went wrong.  Too much cat petting was at stake.

At the end of spring, I went in for two job interviews in my campo of music teaching.  One was for high school and junior high band (yay for waving a baton around!), the other for bilingual elementary-general music (yay for practicing my Spanish!).  The first interview was at the elementary school, an urban school with plenty of that savory diversity that I could just sink my teeth into.  Both principal (USA) and associate principal (Colombia) were present, though the principal did the majority of the talking, including the questions in Spanish.  Aunque no sabía mucho español, me puso nervioso porque lo intentó al menos, without fear of failure.  Although my Spanish was decent, my fear of failure was too.  And elementary music was not what I wanted for my life.  Was speaking Spanish worth the intimidation of lying about confidence?

I left in that type of daze “that-they-never-teach-you-about-in-college.”  Several days later, I interviewed for the band position.  This was a subject that was more familiar to me.  I could talk your orejas off about band.  Everything seemed to go well, I think, maybe, whatever, it was systematic and quick and clean and, well, I had no sense of fear in my stomach throughout any of it, though, well, maybe, I think, I wish I had, I wish I had fear, I missed it, I missed having fear, having fear, having fear was more alive.

I was asked to return to the elementary school to teach a mini-lesson.  To second-graders.  On the penultimate day of school.  For fifteen minutes.  If you know niños, or enseñanza, you know that it was going to be a fifteen minute classroom management nightmare.  Which it was.  Pero me dijo que mi español was great.  Then, I had a small post-interview interview thing.  What I did not tell the principal (USA) in that post-entrevista entrevista was that earlier that day, while I was subbing for a fired Spanish teacher for the third day in a row, I received a call from the high school and was offered the band job.  I did not tell the principal that I would not give a direct answer until after teaching the fifteen minute lesson.  I did not tell her that I wanted that band job more than I wanted to feel alive and intimidated and afraid.

No le dije que sentí un miedo que quiero.  Hay un miedo que quiero experimentar de nuevo… el miedo de viaje, de no saber qué or quién or cual… de ponerme en puestos imposibles y luchar a liberarme.  Soy un hombre sentimental y egocéntrico, y nervous, y afraid, porque I’m in my 20s, porque I received advice about nothing but how to better yourself, Linus, because you’re in your 20s and need to find balance.  Linus, oh Linus, you need to.  Then, turn around and say: but it’s not all about you.

When put in such a corner, how can one fear appropriately, productively?

charlie-brown-sigh

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How We Look at Change

Hello.

Almost a year has passed since we’ve seen each other. And to make my post interesting to you, I have made it interactive. You will have the opportunity to participate. Can I have a thumbs-up?

(Now you give me a thumbs-up.)

(That’s how this works. Nice job.)

Even though Linus has been quiet in the blogosphere, a lot of change has been occurring outside of the closed laptop. How we each look at change is amazing. Both the change around us and the change inside ourselves. (Nod.)

On the night of our recent presidential election, I was watching the news coverage in a bar with friends. Each television had a different news channel: CNN, FOX, and MSNBC. We scanned our eyes across the screens as we drank our beer and ate our cheap pizza, talking about the drastic changes that would happen if HE won, or the even more drastic changes if, God forbid, HE won. In those few hours, I realized that I had never actually created a mental image of my life in the next few years. Would I be a victim of losing my healthcare? What job would I have? Where would I even live? Would either of these men on TV actually send any ripples my way? Not metaphorical ripples that I would see from afar, but ripples that I would physically feel. (Look ponderous.)

Change takes many forms. Sometimes the world doesn't change when we need it to, and that's when fires are lit. Taken from my trip to Valparaíso, Chile, 2011.

Students protesting high tuition costs. The world may not change when we want it to. Valparaíso, Chile, 2011.

Blanket statement: In recent months I have seen a lot of change. (Applaud.)

Examples:

  1. I moved out of my home city, Minneapolis.
  2. I slept on the couches of generous strangers.
  3. I lived in Spain and experienced life as a teacher.
  4. I came back and experienced life as a teacher in the States.
  5. I graduated from college.

This is when I started to reflect. Because, as you already know, we never know that something has changed until we reach into the past bag, pull out its contents, and lay them on the table: the present. My reflection told me that I was not feeling anything different. I actually desired to feel the same. Why? (Shrug. Because you don’t know.)

When I realized that the world kept spinning without me, I panicked and pushed against its rotation.

Plaque reads, "In memory of gays, lesbians, and transsexuals, who have been persecuted and repressed throughout history." When the world doesn't see the change the way its people do. Barcelona, Spain, 2012.

“In memory of gays, lesbians, and transsexuals that have been persecuted and repressed throughout history.” When the world doesn’t see the change the way its people do. Barcelona, Spain, 2012.

Note to self: pushing against the Earth’s rotation is actually impossible. (Shake head.)

Perhaps life outside of college is ferociously fast, something like a train. And leaving college was like jumping on. You don’t jump on a train by just jumping. You jump on after you’ve run a little first. Another impossible thing.

What’s funny is that I had been encouraging students to accept change and not be afraid of vulnerability. They even wrote songs about it. Be the change you want to see in the world! they belted, quoting Gandhi, standing as a choir with myself on the piano. With their passionate and pining voices, they praised peace and respect and acting out against violence.

In that moment I found what I needed, and what it took 100 fourth graders singing on choral risers to show me. (Cutsie face. Little kids.)

Our buildings can be an image of our own emotions toward change. Do we want it, or not? The Hague, Netherlands, 2011.

Our buildings can be an image of our own emotions toward change. Do we want it, or not? The Hague, Netherlands, 2011.

Stress due to change seems to come from reaction, not proaction. And a negative reaction, like stress, comes from resistance to the unknown. (Yikes, what is he talking about?) A person who does not make themselves vulnerable enough to accept those changes is essentially tensing their muscles every hour of the day. 

Do you consider yourself easily accepting of change? Or not? Why?

Do you think we need to be vulnerable? Or protective?

(Bye.)

(Wave.)

St. Paddy’s Day: Six Songs about Drinking

It’s St. Patrick’s Day! Time to celebrate that good ol’ English saint who came to Ireland to spread the dominating religion of Christianity!

For some interesting misconceptions about this holiday, check this website out: http://paddynotpatty.com/.

Whether or not you are celebrating St. Paddy’s day as a reflective Catholic holiday, or crowded around your family and an Irish soda bread, or out with friends getting completely un-Irish, friendship and hospitality are valued by all of us. This are a few of my favorite songs about that people-connector, socializer, and friend-maker, the drink.

Note: These are not “drinking songs.” These are songs that sing about drinking, and the social life surrounding it. If you have any songs you would like to share, please do so in the comments!

FUN.: We Are Young

Mason Jennings: Drinking As Religion

What Made Milwaukee Famous: Cheap Wine

Big Bad Voodoo Daddy: You and Me and the Bottle Makes 3 Tonight

Billy Joel: Piano Man

This last is my favorite. The recording by Liam Clancy is probably the most evocative and true to the lyrics of the song. Folks like Loreena McKennit and the Wailin’ Jennys have recorded beautiful, whispering renditions, but this is not the type of song that is meant to be sad. The character is content with himself and happy to be surrounded by friends, which I hope you yourself will be tonight. Slainte.

Liam Clancy: The Parting Glass

Does Band a Scandal Make?

A quick blog post today, while I’m waiting for my frozen pizza to cook.

I saw this article on NPR’s Twitter feed, titled Southern Miss Band Hurls ‘Where’s Your Green Card?’ Chant at Latino Player. It’s a short article, describing a recent event at the free-throw line during the first onslaughts of March Madness. According to the article, “Rob Cassidy, who covers Kansas State for Yahoo!, was in the stands and pinned the chants on the Southern Miss band.” If I were in the crowd, I would silently be seething while this chant was happening, but the article brings up another issue beyond the chant itself, and that is the portrayal of bands in media.

As I have typically seen it, bands are brought to the public’s attention when something bad has happened. Most of us will remember the attention drawn to Florida A&M’s marching band after the death of a hazing victim, which, I might say, is a horrific event to happen in any institution. What concerns me is the image of the band that this casts in front of the eyes of the public.

Often (at least what I have noticed), if an article comes out about a teacher who sexually harasses a student, the subject area that the teacher teaches is not revealed unless that subject is music. Are we taking our love for drama in Hollywood entertainment and associating it with our music students, only because of the correlation with the performing arts?

I do not want to sound as though I am in favor of sexual harassment, violent hazing, or any other such inhuman and incomprehensible cruelties with our students. What I am excited to see is that one day, our future media will ALSO promote instrumental classroom music as a positive and essential part of our American culture and a child’s social upbringing, just as highly as we loft beautiful friendships or dinner with family.

Creativity: A Ghost Story

I read many a ghost story as a youngster. In my elementary school’s library, I migrated towards the supernatural and scoured through the haunted. They would end with just a touch of mystery; story lines that never found closure.

To this day, no one enters the old house… All he heard was the faint scratching fade down the street… The figures are still said to be seen on the property…

And, on I read. Each story ended as though the final sentence on the last page was incomplete. The voices were never silenced in the hallways, and so the nail marks will reappear on the door, but if the white lady is left wandering the beach, then the black dog continues to bay, and eventually the dancing child will find his playmate, though not if the servant hides… while the door can never stop… an innocent traveler can still hear… she will always be screaming… when the moon is out, they… but until he returns… and… to this day… while… still… yet…

They pulled and pulled and pulled me along. Would I find out if the man in the suit found happiness? Let’s read on, and maybe the next story will offer some satisfaction. But the family hasn’t made peace with the gnome in the attic. Could they still? We can’t stop now. The sound of the ghost train is still heard. Could I, one day, hear it for myself?

Leading up to writing this post, I was reading through a few lists of documented mysteries and unsolved crimes on Listverse; a pastime of mine when I have such wonderful nights of no work or school the next morning. As I read, I found myself reflecting on these childhood fascinations by an old and familiar feeling: a fuzzy sensitivity on the back of my neck, a slowing and shallowing of my breath, a heightened listening. This was accompanied by occasional head-twitches—you might call them “fearful glances”—to the corners of my apartment that lay behind me. Was I, at my age, becoming…becoming…spooked?

Just to make sure that this couldn’t have been happening, that it was in no way possible for my neck hairs to be rising, I left the website and pursued Facebook and listening to music. There, I thought. I’m not scared. It’s not even crossing my mind. Not one iota. No big deal. I’ll just turn my music up. But it’s because I like it. I like my music. I want it louder. It’s an Argentinian band.

La Parca estuvo cerca,
Me miraba con cariño,
Asomó por la ventana y sonrió.

“The Grim Reaper was close,
She was looking at me caringly,
She leaned in the window and smiled.”

Damn you, neck hairs.

For most of my life, “to this very day,” I attribute this sensitivity to an active imagination, and this imagination to my creativity. It came from the focused energy that I put into my personal protection from the wolf in my closet (yes, that’s what was in my closet. And a man in a top hat was outside the front door. And a black cat was on top of my parent’s dresser.). If my own memories and work have taught me anything about kids, it is that they have the capacities for energetic, unmitigated imaginations that could send the kettle whistling.

I believe that we adults find it difficult to be as freely creative as a child. We find something—anything—to inhibit the flow of ideas that electrifies us from mind to fingertips. Barriers are set in place to try and reroute the flow which are euphemized with words like “logic,” “realism,” and “discipline.”

The creation of something new is not accomplished by the intellect but by the play instinct acting from inner necessity. The creative mind plays with the objects it loves.

— Carl Jung

We as adults have the gift of reason, in that we understand when an idea is impossible due to such things as the laws of gravity and mechanical motion. What we consider to be our “logic” should not hinder the creative process, but be the cardinal advantage to seeing it through. We should not only be free enough to welcome the idea, but wise enough to bring it to creation.

Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up.

— Pablo Picasso

Now, I’ll leave it to your imagination as to how I unabashedly equate this same idea to the failure of argumentative governments and beloved religions. Perhaps they ought to freely and uninhibitedly welcome ideas, welcome friends, welcome enemies, welcome peace, welcome questions, welcome answers. If not, then perhaps their neck hairs ought to be standing.

I leave you with a fragment of my imaginative 6-year-old self. This is a song I listened to from the narrow bench seat in the back of an old blue Ford truck, a recording by Caryl P. Weiss. Hopefully it won’t give you the spooks…unless…

Song of travel

From this valley they say you are going,
We will miss your bright eyes and sweet smile.
For they say you are taking the sunshine
That has brightened our pathways awhile

Come and sit by my side, if you love me.
Do not hasten to bid me adieu.
Just remember that Red River Valley
And the cowboy who loved you so true. 

“We are approximately 110 miles away from Minneapolis, and we should touch down at a quarter after the hour. The weather today is…”

We were about to fly 110 miles in 15 minutes. I stopped focusing on my Sudoku while I tried to figure that out. It is roughly 440 miles an hour, or 7 miles a minute. Technology is amazing.

My main mode of transportation is my bicycle, and when I clock my travel time, I round off to tens and fifteens. A normal bike ride is 10 minutes. What I consider a “commute” is 45 minutes. Anything beyond that is categorized as frustrating. If I’ve done my math correctly, my average pace is about 8 miles per hour; 12 if I’m late.

I find that I imagine what life was like for humans without such high-speed travel. My questions were partially answered over my weekend in Pennsylvania where I got significant doses of history. I saw large Amish communities (represented nobly by enormous gift shops), visited Gettysburg, and went on a tour of the Army War College in Carlisle. Civil War soldiers, obviously, were not flown into the action and dropped into the dirt like they are today on Go Army commercials. They walked, from all over the country, eastward. It is no wonder that the majority of these soldiers did not perish from battling each other, but from disease.

As our technology of travel developed, it carried ideas and spread skin colors. It dropped off languages and picked up religions. The dauntless ocean liners, the great railroads, the jittery automobiles, the miraculous airplanes. America became a melting pot; engines were the ladle that served the stew called the American Dream. Today, the amount of interchange is exponential, but something seems to be different. Ingredients are not mixing. Engines that once stirred a stew now stir a tossed salad.

Is it bad? Is it even real?

Based on what I learned as a child, I do not see a difference between melting and tossing. What it shows is that America is opening its eyes to itself in the way that a tree moves into autumn: there are many shades of color that might try to be concealed, but cannot stay that way. Communities have every right to maintain their own traditions. Individuals have every opportunity to step onto the hillside and look out over the trees. Funny how so many different colors appear to melt together down there.

An American Idol Safari: Musical Language

You might believe there to be two universal languages: math and music. I had always thought this was true since I first heard it, and have used it for my own purposes to justify music education (yes, in my teaching classes we learn tactics to save our jobs. Sad). But recently, a friend of mine brought something new to my attention. There are musicians who often cross cultural boundaries — ethnomusicologists and such — that claim music is not a universal language whatsoever.

Wait, what?

Music as a universal language seems like an easy enough idea. We believe it to be so globally understood because melody and harmony illicit physical responses that do not require the weight of words. We can listen to Spanish pop, Italian opera, Mexican mariachi, or Canadian folk and understand the emotional message. So there’s your background. Moving on.

Music is a language, and as a language it evolves, degrades, blends, expands, etc. etc. I think a great example would be American Idol. For the last ten years, it has been at the peak of popular culture in our country and exemplifies — if not pioneers — the way we listen to popular music and popular music’s changing culture. So, rewind to when you were a pre-teen and listen to Kelly Clarkson’s winning performance in 2002:

Mm! Such good memories. Now it’s time for observations. We’re going to act like ethnomusicologists now. Ready?

This American Idol concert is now our “field,” so let’s make some field notes. Start simple.

She sang in English (duh), she was emotional (again, duh), she interacted with the audience, the backup band was a recording (either that or they’re very sneaky), the audience made noise verbally and non-verbally in support, and they were fairly well lit. Let’s stop there.

Make sense? What we’ve observed are “cultural codes.” According to author Mat Schwarzman,

All communities have cultural codes to signify their most important shared agreements and values — “I will cross at the crosswalk because that’s where drivers agree to stop for pedestrians,” “I will go to school because I believe it leads to a more fulfilling career,” etc.

These codes include many things, from team mascots (Go, [Gophers]!)  to historical community incidents (Were you around when…) to maps (That’s where the [Mississippi] river is) to well known individuals. Cultural codes can be expressed through a song, a statue, a phrase, or any image that sparks strong feelings and associations.

Cultural codes are powerful. They shape our thoughts, our dreams, what groups we identify with, everything down to our most basic sense of reality.

You might not realize it, but any concert audience you’ve been a part of has gone through steps that are culturally specific. We know the appropriate moments to applaud, the appropriate way to applaud, the appropriate action to take when the lights dim, etc. (I did lights at an all-Somali high school graduation recently, and realized that very little of the audience had any sense for what to do when the houselights dim. Suddenly, my entire job had no purpose!). The concert-going atmosphere becomes our tiny “reality” and most of us don’t think about how anything else could be different.

Okay? Okay. Now we compare. Here’s Nevena Covena’s winning performance in the first Bulgarian Idol of 2007:

Did you “get it”? If not, that’s okay. We’re talking about music as a language, and if you haven’t grown up hearing Bulgarian music, you just listened to a foreign language.

Field Notes: She sang a Bulgarian folk song in Bulgarian; there was a live bagpiper, positioned equally onstage with Nevena, though not lit equally; the audience’s reaction was non-verbal; only a specific section of the audience was standing in the beginning, and the rest was sitting (did you notice that?); the seats were not positioned in a way that would let the Nevena interact with the audience, and they were poorly lit; outwardly, Nevena’s emotions were in check.

All of these fall under “performance practice” that make up the structure and exercise of a performance, which goes beyond what the musician is doing. It would seem that the Bulgarian Idol focused more highly on the accompanying instrument and less (very little, actually) on the audience’s reaction. Does this mean that Americans are more interested in critical response?

There are other cultural codes that are at work also. We could also talk about the stage, the lighting, the camera movement, the specific audience members seen on camera, the use of the microphone, and Kelly’s clothes, not to mention the actual music they sang.

Maybe music isn’t so universal as we thought. Maybe music is like a language, and it needs patience and practice to understand, both as the performer and as the listener. So, what do you think? Is music still a universal language to you, or not? And is that good or bad?