I am on the shore waving good-bye to several boats steaming away from me, never to return. Or is it the other way round? I am on the boat slowly slipping out of harbour leading to new adventures.
My younger brother goes out for lunch about every second week or so with a friend and colleague who has recently retired. This friend is also a grandfather and like many patriarchs nowadays, his family is spread out across the continent. He described his present life as: “a constant struggle for relevance”.
This came up in conversation with my brother recently as I was complaining how my progressive retirement was evolving, my job as a dad receding and my music reaching fewer and fewer ears. A constant struggle for relevance.
I have been, and for the next year and a half, will work at 60% (3 days out of 5)at a music teaching job that used to be 100%. This means I am done my week when my colleagues are celebrating hump day. They ALL comment. There is a growing resentment or perhaps envy and quite possibly hatred. Like anything there are up sides and down sides. On the up side I have a four day week-end. Down side is a pay drop. 60% minus still getting deductions as if 100%. Learning to live with less is not a problem yet.
I feel lower on whatever grapevine there is. I miss out on many of the social activities that fall on days when I don’t work. I am not lamenting this as missing the activities (I don’t) I get whatever gossip there is when it is already history. Just don’t feel “a part of” I feel “apart from”. I feel “a part of” many other things in my life, so no big deal….
The marginalization at work of being essentially a part-time worker, in my case is compounded by the physical necessity of our school needing to open 2 new classrooms this year. Guess which subject had to move? They wanted me to travel class to class with a cart like a musical Dim Sum cart pusher. Just call me “Squid girl”… or maybe a homeless person with all their worldly possessions in a shopping cart.
So…piano into storage….no smart board, no sound system, no place to store the roomful of instruments (most of which are mine anyway…congas, drum kit, synthesizers, etc. No office to retreat to for silence, no place set up to research new music for the kids. Homeless. Oh, and put on a concert that is as good as before with virtually no resources and due to travel, reduced instruction time…. all while feeling de-valued, disconnected, demotivated, and increasingly irrelevant.
I know in my career I made a difference in many lives. I am pleased for the most part that I have been able to spark imagination and foster creativity, and be inspired by thousands of kids over the years. I genuinely love teaching, music, and kids. This was the right field for me.
I have been particularly drawn to the children with “special needs”… I hate that phrase… the kids (some dyslexic like me) whose learning was not in a straight line, but an oblique and original, phantasmagorical way of seeing the world. Others whose physical, social or mental processes required empathy, humanity and patience.
I wanted to end my career feeling that I made a difference right up to the end. Now it appears that I am just a ditch digger making the same old trench that has been in construction since schools were invented. Grin and bear it. A constant struggle for relevance.
The other main area where I feel like a footnote are my own children. Now in their twenties, the girls are off on their own, living full and creative, useful, independent lives. One in Spain and the other in N.Y.C. On the one hand I am so proud that they have the tools to survive in an unforgiving world, and are resourceful enough to create opportunities for themselves. The other hand… is heavy with my decreased presence and relevance in their lives. From 24/7 daddy to a few texts and a phone call. A constant struggle for relevance.
I know they love me and I see lessons they have learned from me guiding them. This will never fade, but I know that time and distance erode even the fondest of memories. My dad has been dead for 17 years now, and he is still the principal influence on my life. I don’t think about him often. I can go days, perhaps weeks without thinking of him, even with his picture here in my office. Today I said “Hi, Dad” to his picture as I sat down to write, but this is a rarity. He never replies. That is constant.
I wish I had spent more time with my Dad. I got caught up in career, kids, marriage, the works. Dad always wrote to me if I was away, and I have mental images of him and my mum waiting around weekly for the phone to ring at the pre-determined time. I witnessed this several times when I still lived at home and there was a sibling who was going to call. Needing to be needed. Struggling to be relevant.
Most of the music I listen to and play is music that has enormous meaning and relevance to me and is rooted in styles from the previous century. My tastes change, but lie within the parameters of pre-determined styles and forms. It happens, but it is rare that I hear new music outside of these parameters that I would return to.
I find myself being ill-equipped to say anything positive about some of the popular styles of today. I hate those songs that start as a slow four beat, four measure piano sequence that segues into some artless plaintive vocals that eventually become what is considered a “Rock Ballad”. This seems to be ubiquitous. To me it is contrived and lacking in originality and authenticity. Then there is auto-tune….just NO! I don’t get the kind of songs that are extemporaneous disjointed phrases over loops that may or may not be in “time”. I need groove. I need swing. I need dynamics. I need surprise. How can a guy who spins discs sell out the Bell Centre? As good as he may be at what he does, what the hell is that shit?
Am I my grandfather dissing the Beatles? Am I a music snob from another era? This used to be my era…. This is still my era until I am dead. I have a constant struggle for relevance.
Why is everyone staring at a rectangle in their hand?
Have I missed the boat?