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February 22, 2006

drum and life lessons

The drum lesson was in the back of a music store, the kind of place that's too small for its contents; cymbals and guitar strings spilling over into the aisles, a sense of darkness and clutter everywhere. The teaching room was all the way in the back, a walk-in closet of a space, barely big enough for a drum set and two people.

It didn't matter; when the teacher met us in the back of the store, I knew right away. The tenor of his "hello" told me: this man is not the right person to teach my son. But it would have been rude, an insult, to say, "This isn't going to work out, thank you and goodbye," it would have implied a kind of ethnic or class-related profiling, a kind of stereotyping.

It wasn't. Yes, he was large, with a strong Joisey accent, yes, his black hair was clearly dyed and coated with an oily sheen, but that mattered not at all. What mattered was that he was ten years older than me and exuded a work-weary affect, that he spoke with a kind of brusque heaviness, that he didn't take a moment to let Damian warm to him before entering the jail cell of a drum room. What mattered was that he checked his watch every five minutes while we stayed in the room with him. What mattered was that he was clearly on the defensive from the first moment, explaining and then explaining yet again how he always, but always, has his students work on the practice pad for the first ten or fifteen minutes, that's how he does it and if you don't like it, you shouldn't be there.

Which, y'know, is fine too. Everyone does indeed need room to do his job the way he thinks is best. But it bordered on hostile, this bristly defensiveness, and that's not so fine. Especially when you're teaching my sensitive, shy, anxious child. Who picks up on aggressive, defensive, bristly emotions. Who closes up like a clam disturbed by the rough tide.

He had Damian sit at the practice pad. Had him play quarter note beats. One-two-three-four. Just seeing if he understood rhythm, no problem. Then he had him do two on each hand, left-left, right-right, left-left, right-right. Damian played left, right, left, right. The guy illustrated, playing the beats himself. Damian played it wrong again. Skipping the second beat, sometimes doing it in a half-way sketchy almost-beat not hitting the pad. Blowing it.

Damian was so hesitant, so silent. I knew the guy was thinking, "And she says this kid can play advanced, complex grooves? Man, is she kidding herself or what?" Because right then, Damian not only seemed like a novice, but like a slightly slow one, someone who simply didn't understand the concept of body movement, who didn't process your words. And I think he didn't, in that moment.

They switched to the drum set. The guy asked Damian to play something he knew. He thought about it a bit, then played an 8th note groove. Bumpy, with some faltering beats, but the sound was basically right. The guy's reaction? "He shouldn't be doing such advanced stuff before learning the basics." But he does know the basics! He just froze because you have no ability or desire to create a welcoming environment.

That was the first lesson. Also the last. With this guy, anyway.

The second drum lesson was at our house. The teacher came a few minutes early, walked inside. Soft spoken, young, with long blond hair and a thoughtful demeanor. We – that is, he, Damian and I – chatted for a bit down by the door. Damian introduced him to the cats. We went up to Damian's room and settled in. Damian played from his sheet music. Played quite well, considering how little he's practiced in the past five months. Played quarter note beats with fills, played eighth and sixteenth note grooves. The guy encouraged him to come up with his own fills between eighth note measures. He raised his eyebrows and smiled at me while Damian was playing. He told me, "He's really good, he has a lot of potential. He's doing things easily that students twice his age have trouble doing."

Damian pointed out how two grooves were different from each other (one had an extra snare drum beat), the teacher asked him how a third differed from those two. He was engaging him, he was asking him to think analytically about the music, he was encouraging and warm, though in a quieter way than Damian's wonderful LA teacher. And Damian responded. Sometimes he was confused by a question and remained silent, but once I translated for him, he answered readily. One time he didn't know how to do what the teacher asked, so the teacher illustrated. Damian got it after that. He was the kid I remember from his LA lessons with the ineffable drummer Dan.

This teacher isn't as exuberant, as delightfully enthusiastic, as Dan was. He's a different person with his own style. But what struck me – what strikes me – is how very different Damian was with each teacher. And I'm not just talking about a quiet, shy boy versus an engaged child, because he was pretty shy with the second teacher too. But his playing. With the first guy, Damian – well, frankly, he sucked. Not an iota of talent visible. With the second, he showed himself: a kid with a natural gift for rhythm.

How much of our lives, our identities, our self-definition results from the ways we do or don't reflect light from other people? The first guy wasn't overtly negative; he praised Damian for getting things right and didn't scold him for his mistakes. But something about him shut Damian right down. The second teacher allowed Damian to be himself. And that makes all the difference.

February 16, 2006

four things

Yes, a meme. What, you want to make something of it? Diane tagged me. It's fun. Why not?

(Maybe it'll get me posting again. We'll see...)

Four jobs I've had:

1. Heath food store employee. My first paid job, aside from occasional babysitting gigs. On my very first day, I said I'd do anything except sweep the floor. Guess what I did at closing time? Yup. Should've kept my mouth shut.

2. Payroll clerk. I also kept the books for various parts of the mostly-student-run business. Lots of camaraderie in that small basement office. A mix of college students with two middle aged accountants keeping us honest.

3. Dorm crew, cleaning up after students go home for the summer. Also cleaning bathrooms. Tip: Do not take a job which involves cleaning the bathroom of the freshman football team after a home game.

4. Assistant film editor. My previous career trajectory. On the first day on my first low paying apprentice job, I broke my pinky on the rewind, got it caught in a spoke of the take-up reel. Wrapped my hand up and kept going. Wondered why it never stopped hurting. Unwrapped at it at 7 pm. It was bright red and HUGE. Went to the emergency room. Owie.

Four movies I can watch over and over again:

I don't generally watch movies again. How about movies that resonated when I saw them? Movies I saw more than once back when I had the leisure to see movies more than once?

1. Gallipoli. I love Peter Weir's early films. They had a lyrical, poetic quality to them. And even though Gallipoli has a war at the heart of it, it's really a gentle, heartfelt movie about friendship.

2. Spirit of the Beehive. I adored this movie as a young teenager. It still haunts me. I want to see it again. Finding beauty in the heart of a terrible time in Spain's history. It has a quiet magic.

3. Midnight Run. Light fluff but perfect tight plotting and tons of fun.

4. So many choices…. How about Bringing Up Baby? That was a fun one.

Four places I've lived:

1. Brooklyn, NY

2. Somerville, MA

3. West Hollywood, CA

4. Montclair, NJ

Four TV shows I love:

1. Veronica Mars. Got involved late last season. Got thoroughly hooked. High school noir. It's sometimes uneven but always sharp and sassy and, at its best, brilliant.

2. Homicide. Andre Braugher rocked. So did the writing of Paul Attanasio.

3. thirtysomething. Or, well, just about any series produced by the remarkable Zwick/Herskovitz pairing. My So-Called Life, Relativity, Once and Again. They impart more subtext and truth in their work than anyone.

4. Homefront. Short-lived but wonderful.

(What? You wanted all current shows? I don't watch much TV these days, but okay, I get a kick out of Lost, I'm getting hooked on Gray's Anatomy and am extremely intrigued by the episodes of Prison Break I managed to catch.)

Four places I've vacationed:

1. Germany. Munich and surrounding towns. I was traveling solo, I was 20, and I was homesick, but I had fun anyway.

2. California central coast. Something I'll miss about living in LA: easy access to Cambria, Big Sur, Point Lobos, etc.

3. British Columbia. Vancouver, Victoria, and a close encounter with a black bear.

4. Louisiana. To visit Toni, of course.

Four of my favorite dishes:

1. Bread pudding. The best ever was at Mother's, a no-atmosphere dive in New Orleans with great red beans and rice and absolutely sublime bread pudding. Cooking Light has a less lethal but extremely tasty version.

2. Brisket, cooked slow and juicy, falling off the bone. Yum.

3. Fresh-caught steamed blue crab right from the shell. Dipped in butter, of course. Just blue, no Dungeness or King, thank you very much.

4. Sushi, particularly yellowtail, albacore, and toro. When it's stunningly fresh, it gets almost buttery.

Four blogs that I visit daily:

1. Daily Kos

2. The Housing Bubble

3. Baristanet

4. Smart Bitches, Trashy Books (What? They're fun. Smart. Snarky. Shut up.)

Four places I would rather be right now:

Is "nowhere" a legitimate choice? No? Ah well.

Okay, call it four places I'd like to visit soon.

Oh hell, let's split this. First, four places I would like to revisit:

a1. Zion National Park in Utah. One of the two highlights of our cross country drive this past September.

a2. Cinque Terre, four tiny fishing villages perched among the hills right on the Italian coastline. Picturesque and charming without being cloying. Great hiking and Italian friendliness.

a3. The Berkshire mountains in western Mass. My childhood summer home. Haven't been back yet. Looking forward to it. Birch trees, gentle hills, Tanglewood concerts and outdoor Shakespeare.

a4. Rome. Second to New York, the city that most intrigues me with its layers of history and vibrant life.

Okay, now four places I've never been but would like to visit:

b1. Greece

b2. New Zealand

b3. Grand Tetons

b4. Japan

Greece and Japan have always intrigued me. History, culture, natural beauty. New Zealand? Lord of the Rings, wow, it's gorgeous. Grand Tetons? Our cross country trip. Didn't care that we missed the Grand Canyon, etc. Did wish we'd been able to visit western Wyoming instead of the dusty eastern edge.

Four bloggers I'm tagging:

My mom
Tiny Coconut

February 03, 2006

cocoa the dapper

So this is why I started to blog again. Because where else can I show off the sublime and the ridiculous?

A couple of weeks ago, I was sitting in the armchair, laptop appropriately enough in my lap, working on my novel. I heard a rustling noise. It was coming from the basket by the coat rack, the one where we stash scarves and mittens and earmuffs. Cocoa was in there, digging around for who knows what. I shrugged, amused at cat priorities, and turned back to my writing.

A few minutes later I caught a glimpse of pale blue sauntering -- yes, sauntering -- across the floor.

Seems Cocoa had some sartorial aspirations in mind when he pilfered the basket:

dressed for success

(For more cat pictures in a more artistic vein, check out the images I posted today on Flickr, starting here.)

February 02, 2006

sunrise over Manhattan

I don't usually wake up early enough to see the sunrise. I'm glad I did yesterday. I threw on some clothes, grabbed my camera, and walked out my door, across my driveway, up a tiny hillock on the property, and took some pictures. Ain't it pretty?

sunrise over the city

February 01, 2006

me, a tour guide

I keep mulling over the existence of this blog. Missing writing here, not missing it, missing it again, wondering what form it should take if I do continue with it.

Feh. If I have something to write, I'll write it. Hope you guys stick around!

I led two school tours this morning, took groups of parents around Damian's school. "Here's the gym, here's the Spanish class, hi Damian, here's the recess yard, no, I don't know if they have fruit in the school lunches, yes, all the kindergarten classes do have building blocks." Kind of fun. Very odd. I toured this school in late June, now it's February 1 and I'm giving a tour? How can I possibly know enough to be a guide to this so-important decision process? But the PTA sent out a desperate call for parents and I'm a parent and I love the school and I'm home working and really, I need to be out and about and among and why not?

It was kind of cool. Also interesting to see what people think is important for their kids. Everyone wanted to know how the children spend recess on inclement/freezing cold days and if the kids get their choice of foreign language and if there were bathrooms in the kindergarten classes. But nobody asked about the academics, nobody wanted to know about the teaching philosophy. Nobody asked about the emotional tenor of the school. The subject of bullying never came up.

Is it that they're parents of preschool-aged children? Or am I influenced by who my child is? I want to know about academics because I want to make sure he's stimulated in class, that he will continue to love learning. I want to know about the social environment because he can still be so tentative. Do I really see things so differently from other parents?