I was talking to the dogs this morning on our walk. They don’t talk back. I was struck by an idea: Animals are considered “dumb” as in “unable to speak”. Then I reflected on all of the “dumb” things I read this morning while scrolling on fb that wasted my time and energy.
Dumb has come to mean “stupid”. We say and do dumb things, we follow down or ignore dumb ideas. I am dumb to read anything that disturbs my serenity. Glad I know it, and reset.
I am dumbfounded at just how dumb some people can be. I wish the dumb (stupid) were dumb (silent).
"I Love You", says the coffee
scent wafting up the stairs
"I Love You" says the open book
face down on the table, waiting
"I Love You" sing the birds
flitting through the frigid air
to crack the seeds of life
"I Love You" say the squirrels
bushy flags flicking
as they nosh on nuts
"I Love You" say your eyes as you
spread your arms and lock in for a hug
like a shuttle approaching the mothership
"What was that for?" you ask
as I cradle you, unaware from behind
"What wasn't that for?" I reply
"I love you. That's all there is!"
This song was prompted by a story my daughter posted on social media this morning about a professor she had had while a drama student. The professor is being called out for a series of inappropriate actions with students including sexual and psychological abuse. The teacher is still at the school, but I suspect this latest onslaught of publicity will be his downfall.
As a teacher myself, I am appalled at stories like these that crop up whether it is scout leaders, priests, teachers, coaches, choir directors, relatives, etc. Such power and trust must not be broken, but it is. Over and over again.
How the mighty they fall
they’re not mighty at all
all the good they’ve ever done
has now become undone
he’s in the toilet
Salome’s been unveiled
his actions left a trail
they’re going to spoil it
At the base of the tree
people learned at his knee
they hung on every word of his
cause he knew the truth
he was always certain
no one look behind the curtain
and see the proof
gospel was his word
then the lines got blurred
he stepped over the line
but was safe cause
he was a prophet
but what profits a man to gain the world
if he loses his soul
he directed the show
told you where to go
he pulled the strings
he roped em in, he wrangled
but then the strings got tangled
the wicked web he weaved
was built to deceive
oh….you can’t be trusted
that teacher,he used treachery
to send innocents into therapy
like an actor, sublime
he knew all of his lines
he used them on the people he used
all of the time
everything was scripted
measured and predicted
it’s a crime…
so do the time.
Salome Biblical temptress who dances before Herod II. To the French, Salome was not a woman at all, but a brute, insensible force. The idea of Salome’s dance and the seven veils, originates with Oscar Wilde’s 1891 play “Salomé”. Wilde was influenced by earlier French writers who had transformed the image of Salome into an incarnation of female lust. Svengali …Early 20th century the name of a musician in George du Maurier’s novel Trilby (1894), who controls Trilby’s stage singing hypnotically. Svengali …noun A person who exercises a controlling or mesmeric influence on another, especially for a sinister purpose.
I had a visceral memory the other day. I remembered sitting on the arm of an armchair looking over my father’s shoulder as he read a story to me and I was stroking my father’s stubble. My father was clean shaven for most of his life and at the end of the day his stubble was like sandpaper.
It made me think of a similar situation from years ago when my young daughter was sitting with me as I read to her and she stroked my stubble and said very dreamily… “all the splinters from long ago!”
My dad’s knee made a clicking sound when he climbed stairs. It was from a war injury when his plane crashed near Tufino in British Columbia. He also had a small bump on his shoulder from the same accident. He never talked about the accident or ”the war” either, unless prompted.
I could tell my dad’s mood from how quickly he climbed the stairs from the speed and intensity of the clicks in his knee. His feet didn’t make a sound as the stairs were covered in carpet. If I was “awaiting the wrath of Dad” as in…”wait till your father gets home”…. the clicks had an intensity different from end of the day trudging Willie Loman.
I am from a tradition where spankings were in order if a child transgressed. It was not referred to as a “spanking”, but a “licking”, as in “you’re asking for a licking”. I don’t remember at what age the spankings stopped, but it was certainly before I was ten years old. It’s not that I stopped transgressing at ten, or that dad gave up on me, they just didn’t seem to be working on this hard-headed punk.
Pause for thought
A funny thought occurred to me the other day while standing at a urinal in Chapters Book store. I wondered if the slit in the front of my underwear was biased for right handers.
I am left handed and usually just pull the top down and under. For some reason I used the fly on this occasion. I looked it up on Google and lo and behold, I am not the only lefty that pulls the underwear down rather than use the fly…. The design is meant for rightys as is the zipper on pants. The stuff one learns…..
I recently had a disturbing dream about a very nice girl I knew in my early years (elementary school through grade nine) until my family moved away from the area.
In my dream, this girl I remembered was as vivid as anything, except that in it, we were both adults, and I was in my role as a teacher,and she, a visitor. Perhaps it was a parent-teacher night. It was an unusual situation, It was nighttime in a school that I never taught at. The room we were in was like a classroom I may have been in before at Roslyn School in Westmount. Not that exact room, but it had that same vintage (ancient) smell, and feeling. Both of my girls had attended Roslyn, so perhaps it was from those drawers in my memory let loose seemingly at random in my dream.
I don’t recall what it was that she and I were talking about, but out of the blue I asked her if I had ever been mean to her when we were kids. She astonished me by saying “as a matter of fact, you were!” Then she disappeared as the scene shifted and I was scrambling to find my day book and a pencil because I realized I was going to be late for another class and someone kept kept turning the lights on and off in the classroom making the search more difficult.
I woke up. I desperately wanted to find out if and how I had been mean to her, and to make an amend. I had been rocked by her quick response in my dream, as I had no recollection of ever being unkind to her. I realize it was only a dream, much like my entire childhood is dreamlike to me now.
I remember all sorts of foolish things that i did as a kid that I would never do now. Saying racist things like calling french kids “pepsis” and saying insensitive things to kids with handicaps, etc. Laughing at racist or sexist jokes that weren’t funny. I chalk it up to childishness and ignorance and just selfish unawareness. My parents did not teach me to be a little dickhead. I don’t beat myself up over it, but being aware of it now has helped me evolve into a kinder and more tolerant and open human being.
My music teaching career has provided me with many opportunities to observe and challenge similar behaviours and try and teach children to be empathetic and aware of the harm and hurt that such loose and thoughtless language and behaviour causes. Music is an amazing resource for teaching (as Elvis Costello wrote) Peace, love and understanding.
It was only a dream, but there was such clarity about what she said, and it was definitely her, not some vague composite memory like the room and the situation was.
It has been 50 years or so since we were classmates and Sunday School mates as well. I hoped that if I did or said something to her in those early years that caused her any sort of pain or anguish, I wanted her to know I was deeply sorry and I would ask her forgiveness.
In my conscious memory, she was someone smart, friendly and pretty who I genuinely liked and my father teased me about. I think I may have let slip that she and I were friends. Maybe she was the only girl on a birthday party list or something else very innocent. He would embarrass me on purpose calling her my “girlfriend” in a mocking tone. He was teasing, but i remember the shame and embarrassment I felt at that tender age. Just writing this now evoked that visceral memory again.
The cruelty of waking up with this shame and this mystery unanswered is why I sought her out on social media and wrote her with pretty much this same story.
My friend promptly replied in a beautiful letter which I have abridged here:
“Oh my goodness Ian! I had a huge crush on you in elementary school and you were never, ever mean to me!!! I remember your infectious sense of humour.
I remember how kind your mom was. I think I went over to to play at your house a couple of times. And you invited me to your birthday party which was very cool for me.
That day, your mom gave me an empty red velvet Valentine’s box that I kept for a long time to put my stamps in.
While your dream got it all wrong, the timing is interesting.
Thanks for reaching out and rest assured, you were a really nice kid.”
Perhaps bizarre dreams are a part of the aging process where we look back and try and make sense out of the voyage we have all been on. Seeking affirmations or refutations of memories, decisions, choices, roads not taken, successes, regrets…..
Truth be told, I had had a crush on her as well, and my birthday falls on Valentine’s Day. I am relieved that my dream had some truthful memory in it, but that I am absolved from being a jerk. At least, in this case.
This is my first Rentrée sans rentrée in many, many years. The last time I felt like this was in my twenties when I took a semester off from University. August for teachers and students is like one big long Sunday night. For the past 19 years I have worked full time in July at a day camp for exceptional children, so my Augusts have usually meant only two weeks of vacation and around ten days of “Sunday Night Syndrome”.
As I write this, my former colleagues are in meetings to plan out the year ahead (like last year’s plan ever panned out…). I am not among them. I had chosen 2020 as my retirement year four years ago. I progressively cut down on my hours and teaching load from 100% down to 80% (4 day week) for two years. This was just a leave of absence because the school board only allows a 2 year progressive retirement. Same dif. The last two years were officially progressive retirement at 60% (legally I was still 100% status so as not to affect my pension.
Last school year, of course, came to an abrupt end a week after returning from March break. Confusion, fear, more confusion, anger, disappointment, more confusion. It seemed like no one in charge had any clear idea of what to do besides shutting down. Initially I was presumed to be excused from work in that I was over 60 and have an underlying condition. Then the “suits” decided that 70 (who in their right mind would teach young kids at 70?!?!?) was the cut off point and I was to report for duty. The “suits” decided that “no matter what”, music and phys ed were not going to be taught. Other teachers at the school had to Zoom their classes to mixed results. We (the specialists) were instructed to phone the kids on Individualized Education Plans to engage them in French conversation for a few minutes each week (Smell busy work?). This, in my case was pointless, useless, fruitless…need I go on? My calls ended up being a chat with the parents of the kids and some very distracted conversations with kids who would rather be playing video games. I would go into the school building once a week with mask on just to shuffle some papers, pack crap and catch up on “the latest” which was usually pretty lame.
So, the final concert I would have prepared never got done. I had carefully planned a series of interesting songs and even had the kids pre-prepared in some cases. It was to be a swan song for my teaching career. Didn’t happen. The grad ceremonies were weird and disjointed. Last year’s grade sixes I had known since Kindergarten and I am particularly fond of them. Of course I showed up for their “Grad” even though attendance was not mandatory.
I had been dreading the whole rigamarole around retirement anyways. Speeches from people who barely know me (we had a new principal) and empty platitudes from people who talk shit about me behind my back. That part I wouldn’t miss. At the online graduation there were a few words spoken by my friend Stephanie, but in the itinerary my name was spelled wrong. Mr. Hatchet. This rankled me, as I had been at that school for nine years. My name pronounced in English sounds a bit like Hatchet, but in French (which is how I was addressed at this school it sounds more like Hawn shay. I pointed it out to the staff before the grad, and the teacher responsible for the agenda blamed spell-check. What a maroon….We are teachers. Spell check my level of being offended. I said “You did a real hatchet job on my name.”
I do have some fine friends on staff, however who had been secretly planning a send off with my daughter returning from NY and people who I loved from across my career. I learned about this afterwards, because obviously it was cancelled. My friends on staff did treat me to a brunch without fanfare and a parent made a lovely cheesecake. Perfect. I was content with that, but I was still feeling a bit sore that my send-off was pretty lame. Then came the surprise.
My wife is a shutterbug. I pose for photos all the time. She called me outside on the Saturday morning after my last day at School. She claimed there was something weird in the ditch at the front of our home. I played along cluelessly even though there was nothing weird in the ditch besides her and her camera. She got me to make silly poses for about five minutes, and just as I was finally getting fed up with “just one more” a parade of honking cars with kids yelling and balloons and placards streamed by. they drove by, but I say streamed because I had tears streaming down my face. this was such a kind and meaningful gesture. There were gifts, cards, videos, a cross stitch image of Bob Dylan! Many, many, many wishes and love.
A few of my friends and former colleagues made videos. Two sang me personalized songs. It was a bit overwhelming. I realized that I HAD made a difference in some people’s lives and that was so much better than the chore of a retirement speech…..
Many people ask me “what are you going to do in retirement?” If only they knew what it is like to be blessed and cursed with being a creative person. I won’t have enough time to do it all, but I will enjoy each day doing what I love doing. Living is a gift. I am glad that I was an effective teacher for most, sorry for the ones I couldn’t reach. I will miss the eager tentative faces that will congregate in a few days, but I won’t miss the bullshit of office politics, the bloated, dysfunctional School Board or the dance of explaining what it is I do in the classroom to clueless drudges.
My friend Nathalie sent me this message last night.
“I know, I know, it was technically in June. But for me, it’s today that it really starts. The evening when you go to bed and don’t have to think that TOMORROW you have to go back for another year. I’ve seen you with the children and you fitted(sic) right in. I know that there are a lot of little ones who will miss you this year and the ones after. Enjoy the coffee tomorrow morning, the one you won’t have to bring in a travel cup! Remember, while you are listening to your music, there will be a bunch of us listening to those long-ever-lasting-f…en-meetings! Happy retirement!”-Love,Nath
I just read an obituary for a beloved High School Phys Ed. teacher who touched so many lives in a positive way. One of the testimonials from one of his former students stated that “Chuck” had stood up for him twice to prevent his expulsion. I never knew “Chuck”, but the stories in the comments generated by his obituary and the personal testimony of some of my friends and acquaintances who knew him made me think immediately of Miss Duke.
I attended three different High Schools (sequentially….). The second High School I went to was a big rural “Regional” high school. My classmates came from very diverse communities. People from my region tended to come from educated parents who had recently quit the urban scene but still commuted to the city (an hour away). my region was also a ski resort, so many outdoorsy families as well. Other stops on our school bus route picked up regular kids whose parents (or parent) perhaps worked in retail, or trades or other jobs that one would expect to find in a small village or town. Other buses that fed the school had kids that came from very rural communities where farming and occupations like well-drilling and/or septic tank maintenance or tractor repair were the norm.
Miss Duke was not that much older than us grade ten students. I believe it was her first posting out of teacher’s college. She was very prim and proper. In a way, like Mary Poppins. She came from a small farming community herself and was perhaps the first one in her immediate circle to get a college education. She was passionate about books! She got excited about poetry. She loved to invite opinions from her students and was very disappointed in students who were apathetic, dull, or unthinking.
I was also passionate about books and poetry and finding meaning in the seemingly meaningless. My lifelong friend Jon describes himself and me as “searchers, seekers, on the road”. Not just passengers. I also really liked hallucinogens and pot. Miss Duke was the epitome of sober, (but I digress).
I was a royal pain in the ass to some of the other teachers who I deemed to be “assholes” whose classes I treated as non-compulsory, but in Miss Duke’s class I was attentive and contributed to the class discussions in a way (so I am told) that was beyond my years. I never skipped her class. Miss Duke inspired me. She stood up for me when “the suits” wanted me gone from the school for spotty attendance to certain classes and the various shenanigans and general mayhem that my cohorts and I fostered through our increasingly counter-cultural behaviour via music, dress, attitude and drugs. Rebel without a cause.
One of these events was “Mandrax Day” (which was never pinned on us) which caused the school to close early one day as there were dozens of us completely, howlingly bent…. It has reached legendary proportions by now, so you can’t really believe a word I say about it, except that a buddy of mine swiped a huge pile of Mandrax from his granny and gave them out to the adventurous (quite ignorant and stupid, actually) like me. Mandrax is sort of like Quaaludes…. a tranquilizing effect if taking properly, but quite a bit of fun if abused. Naturally, we abused them.
Many (40) years later as my generation’s parents started to die off, I got re-acquainted with one of my cohorts and one of my best friends as he returned to Quebec to attend to his ailing father. We had a great visit and his wife snapped a picture of us at one of the lookouts on the mountain that dominates the Montreal skyline. It was great to see him as we live very far apart. I didn’t know I’d be seeing him two weeks later when his father died and he had to fly back.
I attended the funeral with my buddies and it was great to get reacquainted and reminisce about things. Miss Duke was at the funeral as well, and I was delighted to catch up with her after four decades had passed. I was talking with her when my friend’s wife interrupted us to give me a gift that she had brought from Winnipeg. I unwrapped a coffee mug with the image of us that she had taken two weeks previously on it. Underneath the photo were three letters: BFF. I jokingly asked my friend’s wife if it stood for “Big Fat Fuckers”? Probably shouldn’t have done that in a church hall with my former English Teacher present…..
I actually thought nothing of it until the next day when my phone rang. “Ian!” barked the oh so familiar authoritative voice from a different age. “Miss Duke” I meekly replied, knowing I was in deep shit. She exclaimed:”I have a bone to pick with you”… I replied desperately: “I am so sorry to offend you by swearing yesterday….” She replied, cutting me off, “I don’t give a shit that you swore,” she continued “Don’t you Ever, EVER put yourself down!” Then she said “Now, please give me your mailing address”.
My eyes welled up as I hung up the phone, and I felt so amazed that she would take time out to guide me after all this time. It was a balm in a particularly hectic time in my life. I felt loved.
Three days later, a package arrived in the mail. I received perhaps the best note anyone could receive from a mentor.
Along with the note, she sent photocopies of my correspondence with her from the mid-to-late seventies. She kept the originals!!!!! I read them aloud to my eldest daughter who was sick at the time. We both wept with joy.
Dear Ian, Your ingenious ability to compose brilliant thoughts, always tempered by your magnanimous heart, Still (almost forty years later) Takes my breath away!!
Enjoy your “diary” Louise
Which, in turn, inspired this poem….
Duke had my back Back in the day When not much Went my way
She stood up for me When it counted A teacher, a mentor who really cared
She laughed at my confounding questions and deflected my Angry Young Man Into words and Self-esteem.
Protected me From the suits And the jokers who spat, who never understood
She got me. She had my back. I wrote. She wrote back.
Even now, When fallow years And other roads Diverge, She has my back Still
Everyone should Have a hero like My Miss Duke. I hope she knows.
As a postscript to this poem which I sent her, and may have slightly embarrassed her, She knows.
It is important to let people know how much they mean to you. It takes next to nothing to say kind, real, heartfelt things to make the world a slightly better place for people that matter.
One of the best things about this social distancing phenomenon has been the amount of time freed up for other pursuits.
Most days, I wake up in the morning, and after my basic values and chores (change the feed and water for the birds and walking the dogs) I assess my energy level and plot my day. I always make time for practicing, messing around on the internet, some days I write, some days I read. I have done lots of work in the garden, I have been steadily re burning the CD’s I own onto a hard drive, I have organized my files and catalogued my own music compositions. Some days I record audio or prepare a video. I transcribe and learn music that I have always wanted to get to.
Some days (or parts of days) it seems that I can’t do anything. My head is just not cooperating. This morning is kind of like that. Rather than beating myself up, I decided to listen to music I haven’t listened to in years.
My first selection is an album called “Sphere” by a group by the same name. I haven’t listened to this album since my kids were young. The last time might have been while napping on the yellow ez chair with toddler Ema Jean also napping on my shoulder. She is now 25, so it was the mid to late 90’s.
This is a “straight ahead” jazz group named after Thelonious Sphere Monk (coolest name ever). The players are all top notch Jazz cats. This version of the band has Gary Bartz on alto. He replaced Charlie Rouse (veteran of Monk’s band)in the group. The rhythm section has Kenny Barron on piano and Ben Riley on drums and Buster Williams on bass. All of these highly intelligent and accomplished players combining to create jazz of the first degree.
The tune that got me to start writing just now is a blues written by Bartz called “Uncle Bubba”. The statement seems at first like a Monkish calisthenics exercise, but quickly becomes a very swinging blues. The whole band is swinging, and I honed my listening in to the superb walking bass of Buster Williams. It reminded me of what brought me to jazz music in the first place. For me there are few experiences as pleasurable as listening to (and/or being in) a dedicated,swinging rhythm section that is attuned to each other and swinging their butts off to create a collective thing of beauty that can never be exactly replicated.
I am thankful for the gift of rediscovery today. Thankful I “have ears” for this kind of music, thankful for my musical training and my mentors, and thankful for the memories that this music evokes in me. For those of you that have read this far, I am grateful that I was able to share this with you.