Teacher’s Circus And The Seeming Disconnect Of Events In TIme

Hello all!

It’s been a bit since I’ve posted anything.  KoriSoron has been more active and we’ve been playing more shows and working on new material and it’s been great for my acoustic playing.  Working with players like Farzad Golpayegani and Dean Mirabito lights a fire under my seat because if I’m coasting on something – they’ll run right over over me.

I find that pushing myself live and coming to gigs without preconceived licks or approaches and trying to make something happen in the moment brings out the best and worst moments in my playing.  Typically it either sounds great or I wipe out and have to try recover as quickly as possible.  It highlights the chasm between the things I can imagine and the things I can execute in a live setting and gives me a lot of things to add to my “to do” list of things to work on.

I found myself getting frustrated with one particular idea that wasn’t coming together this evening and I thought of a particular event from my wayward youth that reminded me of a lesson I learned about the perceived disconnect of events in time.

Teacher’s Circus

I went to a small town high school.  I think this happend whenI was a sophomore….maybe a junior.  We weren’t seniors so we had some status in school but we were pretty far down in the pecking order.  There was a lot of trying to look “cool” around the “cool” kids.

We had a small computer lab at the school.  I don’t remember the deal, but if you took a programming language or a class that involved the use of said computers, you could get a pass that would allow you to hand out in the computer lab with your friends rather than study hall, which was just a large room with everyone in it.

It was a status thing and, it’s worth mentioning that the administration hated the computer room.  They didn’t hate the room itself but they recognized that the people that were hanging out there were going to be the type of people that were smart enough to clean up after the mischief that they created and make it more difficult to catch them in their troublemaking.

So one day I, again wanting to be cool and being one of the people who thought he was funny, went on the computer and in about 10 minutes wrote up a little ditty called, “Teacher’s Circus”, which invited people to come out to an imaginary circus featuring several faculty members, the superintendent and a fellow student engaged in unnatural and illicit acts for public amusement.  One of the older students thought this was hilarious (as did my friends) so she asked me to print out a copy.  No problemIt’s funny right?  We all had a good laugh.

Fast forward to about 2 months later.

I’m in a choir rehearsal on a Friday afternoon just waiting for the day to end as I have some friends coming over later to watch horror movies.  In the middle of the rehearsal, the superintendent comes in and says he needs to see me.  I walk out with him and ask what’s wrong.  I didn’t do anything wrong that Friday, so I figured whatever the issue was –  it wasn’t something I did so it would get resolved.  He doesn’t say a word until we get to the office.  He closes the door and pulls out a well worn and wrinkled  piece of computer paper and starts to read, “Come one come all to the Teacher’s Circus….” and I feel my heart sink to the floor because I’m busted.

I try to interrupt him (and avoid further humiliation) by saying, “You don’t need to read anymore – I know what it says.”  but he reads the entire page and concludes by saying, “We know you wrote this.”

I should mention a few small facts here:

1.  My school size was something like 800 students K-12.  Our graduating class had over 90 people and some of the staff were freaking out and wondering how they were going to graduate a group that size.

2.  The town I grew up in had about 2,000 people.  Everyone knew everyone else’s business.

3.  My father was a teacher in this microscopic public school system.

4.  My love of books had, at this point in my life, extended to philosophy.  In particular, I was reading what I could about Stoicism and somehow (probably through a comic book) got very interested in the code of ethics surrounding the Samurai.  I had read the Book of 5 Rings and the Hagakure and there were a lot of thoughts in my head at the time about concepts like honor.

So, I didn’t deny it.

“We know you wrote this.”

“Yes I did.  I wrote it.”

At that point my dad was brought in.  He wasn’t sure why he was summoned to another building in the middle of the working school day but when he head the thing I wrote he slapped the glasses off of my face.  Then he backhanded me and I saw the superintendent smile, and I was enraged that he was taking delight in my misfortune.

The rest of the story I’ll leave out here.  Let’s just say that the situation deteriorated from there and after I got home, certain disciplinary methods were employed that he’d likely be arrested for employing today.

In the recovery period from said discipline, it was then revealed to me that my punishment would be my dad driving me to each one of his co-worker’s houses that weekend where I would then apologize to all of them in person.  That was done on Saturday.  We spent about 4-6 hours driving in the car over that day and not talking.  Finally, at one point he said (in complete seriousness), “Well I guess it could have been worse…you could have murdered someone.”  In his mind, that was the enormity of the crime that I committed. I was embarrassed and felt dumb and was also well aware that if this was anyone else – they would have been suspended and that would be the end of it – but as my dad taught there – well – we had to make a Federal case out of it.

Now let me tell you something.  That experience really screwed me up for a while.

The big lesson that I learned at the moment was that I needed to be paranoid   because there was a complete disconnect in my head from the thing I did and when I got busted for it.  Whenever someone asked me a question after that day, the first thought that went through my head was, “What did I do now?” and then a running inventory of any real or imagined thing I did would cause extreme nervousness.  This went on for decades…

Now perhaps I’m just rationalizing a pretty horrific memory with my dad, but this event may have been one of the first things that got me to start to think about long term implications of things.

So what does this have to do with guitar playing?

As the thing I was practicing this evening was getting frustrating I thought about this story and my perception of disconnect of events in time.  You don’t always get rewarded now (or punished now) for the things you’re doing right now (unless you post them on YouTube).  Those things generally happen later.  Sometime, much later.

The things you play live don’t just magically happen.  They come from years of concentrated work to develop the skill set to a level where the execution is innate.  The gigs that people get generally start with connections that have been developed over time and are kept based on the well honed skills that have also been developed over time.  Yes – sometimes there’s luck – but the purely lucky fade almost instantly.  The overnight success is a myth that usually built on a foundation of years of work that seems fruitless and unfair at the time.

So the reminder to myself?  Don’t get frustrated.  It’s a temporary setback.  Show up.  Put the work in now and see the benefits later.

It’s good advice.  (I’d also recommend not saying or putting anything in print that you wouldn’t want to be quoted on later. If something you say can be taken out of context and used against you – be prepared to address it later on.)

Back to the shed.  More things coming soon and, as always, thanks for reading!

-SC

One thought on “Teacher’s Circus And The Seeming Disconnect Of Events In TIme

  1. First of all, I commend your bravery for posting this story. It resonates with me for a similar incident from my youth which I shall not detail but it involves some kids in a computer room making loud inappropriate remarks (screaming obscenities, actually) with a maths class right across the hall, and being evicted from the room with the entire class watching. You think people forget, but, even if they do, they formed an opinion about you from an incident and… you know the rest.

    Anyway, just to take it down a different path, it’s true that things you do come back to you — after some 40+ years of playing guitar there are things I learned (or failed to learn) along the way that make a difference in my playing today, especially the enjoyment. The best part is the bits of music I created 20 or 30 years ago that have stayed with me almost like little friends, and they even change over time. I think your lesson here is not only that it takes years of work to produce something that appears spontaneous and easy to an audience, but that in order to advance you have to let the process transform you. Then, as you transform, over the years the things that transform you are themselves transformed. Maybe an embarrassing mistake is not something we carry forward with joy, but these things transform us and enable better decision-making down the road. Being creative does not come without a price.

    My takeaway from your posting is that it can be challenging to deal with a heavy situation and remain mentally light and agile enough to improvise in a live music situation. You realize that you will probably survive the experience. It’s still hard work, all the same.

    Cheers!

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