I played my first shows in well over a month this past weekend, and, as expected, I was as rusty as sheet metal set adrift in the Amazon River basin. It was so good to play live, in front of actual, real live people again.
I tried playing as much new stuff from Chrome as I could fit in. After all, I have yet to tour with the new record, and at some point I have to summon the courage to start playing these songs in front of people. Sunday morning's event was small and casual in Birmingham, AL for a kind group of folks who allowed me the dignity to publicly fumble my way through a smorgasbord of the new material. They clapped, nonetheless, and requested an encore. Or at least one man did, anyhow. A pleasant surprise.
That night I played in Huntsville, AL for a large group of high school students in a building that more closely resembled a hunting lodge what with the stuffed heads of sundry wild animals decorating the walls. A comfy and snug venue. On stage with me was a frumpy, red upright piano which reminded me of the piano in Ben Shive's beautiful song "Out of Tune", along with a rusted 5-foot-tall metal rooster which looked like it had been constructed out of my great grandfather's backyard chicken coop. I sang to a group of adults and mostly high school students, many of whom had their faces buried in the glow of their cellphone screens texting away the evening. LOL. JK. :)
Monday morning bright and early, I was back at my day job, temporary though it may be, posing as a high school History and Ethics teacher. I had been dreading the student-led parent-teacher conferences looming at the end of the week, and, though the event was intimidating, I felt a natural ease in speaking positive words into each student's life. It is my regretful belief that we (all of us) fail to speak into one another's lives the things - the Good things - we see in people, loved ones, family, friends, even strangers. These things should and must be spoken, and most days we need to be reminded that we are worth so very much to someone, that we are needed, and that we matter. Some of these students, I fear, fail to receive such affirmation at home, the blinding focus being on letter grades. I may be one crummy teacher and class facilitator, but I recognize a natural desire in me to build people up. For me in high school - and really any other time in life - encouraging words and observations about my character, about the traits that make me who I am, have been a balm if for no other reason than to make me walk a little taller knowing that an adult saw something good in me.
At least once during the conference I noticed a mother's face and outward demeanor visibly change as I (along with the other teachers) told their daughter or son how glad I was that they were in that particular class, how much they offer and bring to the table, possibly in spite of their low self-esteem, learning challenges, or what not. The pinnacle of the two days of meetings came late on Friday when a mother whose son obviously struggled on a particular history project, seemed prepared to pinch my head off as a result of a "D" on said assignment. I understand her deep frustration, but I left that meeting hollow and in a daze while recalling that I never had the chance, as I had with the other students, to tell this boy how much I appreciate his presence in 4th period, how much I am grateful for his offering me his respect, even as I am a temporary part of his school year. All this sophomore heard in that hour-long meeting was negativity from his mother, and for that I left deeply distressed. I hope I can bring these experiences to mind as I myself am the parent at one of these conferences, perhaps frustrated by my son's academic record, but able to remember that the sentences of the heart matter far more than any letter grade.