A memory is like a still-frame portrait… with wet paint.
Memoirs, 130 memoirs… I’m a new English teacher at a local high school and the last four weeks were spent reading and writing memoirs. At first, I shrugged at the idea, maybe I hadn’t been exposed to any relatable pieces. Maybe I was so terrified of these 130 greasy faced little humans that I didn’t have time to reflect on the true purpose of writing in such a way. But either way, I missed the mark. I had an opportunity to teach an impactful, relatable lesson, to children who are just developing the mental capacity for empathy and self-reflection. What I wound up doing was teaching a lofty unit of incomprehensible instructions and irrelevant information. That’s not to say that there wasn’t any learning taking place, but I knew after reading every single one of those little mutants’ memoirs that I had deprived them of an opportunity to learn how others think and feel.
It’s not that the memoirs were bad, 13-year-olds don’t have much interest in self-reflection and contemplating the thoughts of others. Some, in fact, were quite good. Very advanced young writers sharing the intimate details of profound memories, while others were vapid, poorly composed snapshots of a good Fortnite game. I did see growth in their writing abilities, and with some solid samples, I know what I need to work on to improve overall understanding. But, such is life for a first-year teacher.
I wound up going to a concert that week. It was the Ben Folds and Cake tour that I had purchased tickets for several months ago. It’s nice to buy yourself gifts in advance, you spend the money, then forget about it until, one day, BOOM! You have a show to get to. I arrived alone, nobody else I knew had tickets for the event and the ones I had purchased were quite expensive. 30 feet away, I stood from one of my musical heroes, huddled into a mass of strangers. There were some nice people next to me, who engaged in a brief conversation. Overall, I was Nobody in this crowd, but I was connected to the music in an intimate way, so who cares?
When the music started playing, the crowd got denser. I could hear the subtle hum of die-hard fans singing along with every lyric. Folds put on a rousing performance, he engaged with the 3,000 people like they were all sitting in a small room together. As he continued to play, the swell of those voices began to rise. I could feel the weight of the people singing behind me pressing me forward into the wall of sound coming from the stage. By the last song, there wasn’t a quiet voice in the audience. We were all connected by this cacophony of sound. Each person’s sentimental attachment to this song. Each tied to a memory with hitch knots, weaving a tapestry of connectivity among strangers.
Ben received a standing ovation. He jumped on top of his piano, his shirt dripping with sweat to where you could see his olive skin gleaming through the opacity of the cloth. He bowed to his adoring fans, each one of them connected to him through his personal expression of his memories. Then he conducted the audience like an orchestra. Arranging the bass, altos, and tenors to harmonize. He toyed with his power on the stage, crafting an impromptu game of Simon Says. He left the stage with a red face full of emotion and tears streaming down his cheeks. No doubt, this concert had meant something special to him too.
During the intermission, the audience had grown cold. Frat boys had ample time to slug down their beers and the crowd became rowdy with anticipation for the headliner. With the performance I had just witnessed, I couldn’t imagine what would happen with the Cake show. Unfortunately, due to some factors that had worked against the band, the show to turned south quickly. They opened with a cold set. No major label hits, they started with one of my favorite songs, “Frank Sinatra,” but proceeded to try and plug their latest album. Hecklers begin to shout out requests with blatant disregard for others. When John McCrea (the lead singer,) attempted to engage with the audience, he was drowned out by the shouting of belligerent assholes and the sharp toothy whistle of some deplorable mouth breather. The band reacted poorly to the interruptions and the performance suffered.
I left about half-way through the Cake show. I found myself getting increasingly frustrated with the 10 or 11 loud-mouthed idiots who wore their social insecurities on their sleeve like a swastika armband. As I was walking away, I could hear McCrea still pleading with the audience.
I stopped at the merch-tent on the way out, (another advantage to prepurchasing tickets.) The vendors were sold-out of most of the shirts that I would consider buying. I wanted to leave with some memento, so I shopped over the stickers until something caught my eye; it was a book. “A Dream About Lighting Bugs” by Ben Folds. I made the transaction and walked away thinking that I had purchased a signed copy. About 100 yards from the tent, I flipped through the pages and saw that the signature wasn’t there. I stopped still and considered if I really wanted to walk back there and exchange it for a signed copy that would likely cost significantly more. Something pulled me back, my feet shifted around and I found myself marching towards the tent. I left that vendor with a signed copy of the book and a neat little tote bag with some merchandised magnets.
When I got home, my ears still buzzing from the self-inflicted cochlear damage, I went to my room and collapsed onto the half of my bed that wasn’t covered in unfolded laundry. I smiled as I looked at the signature, I relaxed my brow and began to read the first chapter. A brief 3 pages. It was a book of memoirs… divinely crafted into a story about his life. I read 30 pages before falling asleep. The next day, I read that first memoir to every class that I had, sharing my experience with the students and solidifying their understanding of what it means to reflect on a memory.
Professional Nobody- Signing off.