Wednesday, April 8, 2009

The Invisible Teacher

Or: Seriously, Am I Even Here?

I teach elementary school music. I have students from first grade (age 6-7) up to 5th grade (age 10-17, depending). Until Princess was born, I taught secondary level choir (grades 6-12), where I enjoyed a level of respect worthy of my expertise and general greatness:

Or, perhaps:

Well, perhaps not. But, my top choir was a really sharp group of kids who adored me and threw me surprise parties. I loved my job.

Elementary is a different story...

The Following takes place between 10:55 and 11:35 a.m.  This is not a typical day; this is a day in which Deb's allergies have attacked her vocal cords, making them painful and useless.


Deb: Okay, guys, please listen.


Deb: Sit down, please.  Get your hands out of that.  Wipe that off.  No, on the paper towel.  All right, is everyone okay?  All right, now, please listen. Here's what we're doing today. Everyone needs to get a book off the shelf. Then, get your music puzzle packet and a pencil. We're going to be listening to a lot of different kinds of music while you work, the titles are all on the board. See? The pencil sharpener is at the back of the room, just use it if you need to. There it is. You may work with a partner, but keep your voices low. Are there any questions?

Johnny NoHear: Miss? Can we work together?

Thomas Ne'erAttention: Can I get a book so I have something to write on?

LaDawn McTalksalot: Can we work together?

{This continues until each child has asked at least two questions.  Deb patiently answers them until they begin repeating questions they themselves have asked.}


Deb: All right, if there are no more questions, let's get started.


Isaac Goaway: Miss? Can I sharpen my pencil?


Tootie YourKiddingMe: Miss? What is this song called?  It's tight.


Deb: Students, the packet is due at the end of the period.  Please focus on your work.

General Uproar: You didn't say this was for a grade!  (Please note: this is said in tones one might imagine being appropriate for "You didn't tell us this building was radioactive.")


Deb: No more discussion!  Please finish your work as best you can.

{At this point, the idea that work is being done for a grade, though it was a topic of hot debate thirty seconds before, has exited the mind of every student present, and they resume their discussions of who is "going with" whom, who is about to fight whom, and who has the best four-wheeler.  Deb contemplates a career in marketing.}


Deb: All right, please make sure your names are on the packets.  Bring the packets to me, return your pencils to the jar, the books to the shelves, and line up.

Class: Silence.  No one moves at all.

Deb: Really, please start picking up.

Tootie: (tentatively): Is it time to go?

Deb: Yes!  I mean, yes, please begin clearing up.

Isaac: Can we keep the pencils?

Thomas: Do you want us to put away the books?

Johnny: Where do we put the packets?

LaDawn: This isn't for a grade, right?


{All of the students are in line.  Deb is fantasizing about the miniature bag of peanut M&M's in her desk.}

Thomas: Miss, was that for a grade?


{Deb, weeping silently, consumes the miniature bag of M&M's.  These are tomorrow's leaders, she tells herself.  These are the ones who will be taking care of you in old age.  One of these children could be the President of the United States one day.

One mini bag won't be enough.}


The Truth: A Perk Deficiency

The other day, I was relaxing at home, watching some educational television, when I experienced a very hard truth: I will never be a television news anchor, correspondent, on-camera expert, or, worst of all, weatherreporterperson.

The educational program I was watching was Celebrity Plastic Surgery Revealed on VH-1, one of my many sources for edifying and uplifting programming.  E!, Bravo, Lifetime, and Comedy Central often have such enlightening fare.  During the course of this particular program, however, a particular segment of celebrity culture was referenced to which I never give much thought: celebrity network news anchors.  As I thought about it more and more, it became clear:

I can never be a celebrity network news anchor.  I am seriously lacking in the one thing they all have in common: perk.  I am not now, nor have I ever been, perky.  In fact, my efforts to appear perky at work are routinely mocked.

"That's hilarious!" Coach Longhorn will laugh as I smile and give a thumbs-up.  My sincere effort to appear as though I'm perky and carefree comes off as hideous parody.  But it's getting laughs, so I'm rolling with it.

Each of the major female celebrity network anchors has her own special brand of perk:

Katie Couric: The Classic Perk

Those of us old enough to remember the days when Jane Pauley defined morning television will also remember when Katie, through sheer perky force of will, rescued the Today Show from obscurity and disgrace.  Now, she peddles her perk on the CBS Evening News, where the force of her perk is so powerful it causes network executives to ignore basement-level ratings and pay her a huge salary.  Perk on, Katie. Perk on.

Diane Sawyer: The Sultry Perk

I've been a sucker for Diane Sawyer since she became the female co-anchor of Good Morning America, as the "sexy neighbor" to Charlie Gibson's "tipsy uncle."  However, Diane proved that subtlety can be as effective, in the world of perk, as the obvious.  (Or, to use a totally unrelated analogy, Diane showed that "botox" injected "regularly" into her "face" could be as effective as an "eye job" which Katie Couric absolutely did not have.  Probably.)  Though the gig was supposed to be temporary, Diane still rules the GMA roost and gives totally nonsensical interviews that we all ignore, because we're hoping she'll wink at us.

Robin Roberts: The Plucky Survivor Perk/The Athlete Perk

I have absolutely no snark towards the wonderful Robin Roberts.  I think she's awesome.  I loved her before she battled breast cancer, but the courageous way she fought the disease and let America see her struggles was sincere and not exploitative at all.  Furthermore, I love that she's never played the "sassy black woman" card.  I will, though: You go, girl!  Sorry.  I shan't do that again.

Meredith Viera: The Unpredictable Perk

Here's what I love about Meredith Viera: you never know which you're going to get: a thoughtful, intelligent journalist, or a giant heaping bowl of crazy.  This is a woman who can intelligently discuss political issues one breath before confiding all of the details of her husband's digestive habits.  Wow.

Today Show Fourth Hour: The Train-Wreck Perk/The Bat-Poo Crazy Perk

What can I say about this magical combination?  When I heard The Today Show would be extending into a fourth hour, I thought, "Why?" and "Really?"  But then, I heard the delightfully insane Kathy Lee Gifford would be co-anchoring, and I understood: NBC understands that every day must contain at least one hour's worth of stumbling, awkward hostility, and though we may be uncomfortable, we can't look away.  Hoda Kotb, Kathie Lee's on-camera victim, stands in for all of us as she gamely tries to follow Kathie Lee's strange stream-of-consciousness style.  I just know that one day, Hoda's going to snap and strangle Kathie Lee with her own knee-high, and I just hope the cameras are rolling when that happens.

Not that I'll be watching.  I'll catch it on The Soup.

All The Wrong Reasons (Serious)

Or: The Saddest Person I Ever Knew

I always like hearing stories about how people chose their careers. It's usually a pretty interesting story, but I've known some weird people. As a music teacher, a lot of people assume that I chose my job because I want summers off and get to do nothing more complicated than singing all day. Nothing could be further from the truth.

I didn't choose to be a music teacher. It chose me. I am absolutely serious. By the time I finished high school, I was absolutely resolved not to be a music teacher, because I had one of the worst choir directors imaginable between grades 6-8. This man was awful. By the time I finished the 8th grade, I never wanted anything else to do with music, ever. Despite a couple of good years in high school choir, by the time I graduated high school I was resolved: no way would I have a career in music.

No matter how hard I tried in college, I couldn't stay away. I fought it, though! So, 10 years after high school graduation, I found myself a full-fledged music teacher. It wasn't an easy road, though, and I learned a lot of lessons on the way.

One lesson I learned is that you can learn something from every experience, even a terrible teacher. What I learned from my horrible awful bad middle school choir director was everything not to do. Part of what motivates me to this day is the knowledge that I am preventing my students from having a teacher like him destroy their love of music.

Another lesson I learned through a simple conversation when I was a student teacher, and it has stuck with me ever since. I was having lunch with a choir director. She had been teaching at the same school for over 25 years, and I was looking forward to soaking up some of her wisdom. Imagine my surprise when she made this statemet:

"If I could change anything about my life, I would only change three things: I wouldn't have been a music teacher, I wouldn't have gotten married, and I never would have had children."


"But," I responded in a timid voice, "that's everything. You would change everything."

"Right," she said.

She was the saddest person I ever knew. But the lesson I learned from her was profound: make sure when you decide to do something, you're doing it for the right reason. And the best reason of all is your own happiness. Not pleasure, or temporary enjoyment, or appearance, but deep, abiding happiness. It's not selfish to keep your own happiness paramount, and you may make long-term decisions that make you unhappy in the short-term, but as long as your happiness is at the forefront, your life will be full. That may sound selfish, but I don't think it is.

I believe this works because one of the things that makes me the happiest is my family's happiness. Living my religion makes me happy. Doing well at my job makes me happy. Sometimes I miss out on some fun, but I think it's okay to pass up fun for real happiness.

It's really nice sometimes to be able to look in the mirror and say, "I'm happy."

Next entry: Why I will never work as an on-camera journalist. Laughs around every corner!

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Dear Deb

Since I haven't received any nibbles from my Life-Coach Resume, I thought I'd put my amazing wisdom and shocking wit to use as an advice columnist. I have all of the attributes necessary to become a nationally syndicated advice columnist. I:
  1. Own a computer, and

  2. Like to judge people
I'm not aware of any other qualifications, other than having a twin sister and/or advice columnist mother. Unfortunately, I have no twin, and my mother chose to fritter her life away being a terrific mom and a scriptural scholar. If only she'd had the foresight to do something really valuable with her time, like advising brides on which side of the reception hall should house the bidet for European guests! Thanks, Mom. I shall persevere regardless, and answer letters from my adoring and imaginary public.

Now, all I have to do is sit back and wait for the letters to pour in. Ah! My first one is here already!

Dear Deb,

I am a handsome, charismatic, sexy, succesful actor. I am in my "middle years," so to speak, yet have never found real love. I have dated a succession of young, gorgeous women whose careers have ranged from model to reality-show contestant. Why can't I find true love?


George C.

Dear George,

I feel your pain. I understand how difficult it is to find your one true love when the entire world adores you. I have been there. This is what you need to do: develop a completely platonic but utterly dependent relationship with a wife/mother closer to your age. I'm sure you can think of someone.
 Hang out at her house, mow her lawn, wipe her fevered brow. She will show you where true happiness lies. It is not in perky bosoms and round rears. It is in the gentle folds of loving arms and chin hairs that defy plucking. You'll see. I've e-mailed you my address, please hurry, the lawn is really getting out of hand.


Wow, that was easy! I think now the letters will pour in. With advice like that, how can I fail? I expect to be syndicated very soon.

Monday, April 6, 2009

My Musical Legacy

I often reflect on how different my two children are from each other.  I have a three-year-old daughter, Princess, pictured below:

I also have a 16-month-old son, whom I have been referring to as Sven, Jr., pictured here:

I have been reflecting on Sven Jr.'s blog name, looking for a defining characteristic that can be summed up in one descriptive term.  This weekend, I believe I found it: Dexy.  As in, Dexy's Midnight Runners?  As in, the band that recorded one of the greatest '80's songs ever, "Come On Eileen?"  Let me explain.

I believe I have referenced before on this blog my love for countdown-type shows, often featured on VH-1.  I Love the '70's, I Love the '80's, I Love the '90's, I Love Toys...these all fill me with varying degrees of delight.  However, I really love the ones with titles like "100 Greatest Songs of the '80's."  Those occupy me for days, as I track down song after song on iTunes.  I especially love the '80's countdowns because they show video clips, which bring back memories of me sneaking out to the living room to watch a brand-new station called MTV, which only showed music videos, and which my mother was convinced would send the entire nation into a seething mass of immorality, hence the sneaking.  Fortunately, my dad really liked MTV, too, so I got to watch a fair amount of it after Mom went to bed.  (Sorry, Mom.  In his defense, Dad only let me watch if I was quiet enough that he could legitimately say he hadn't noticed me there.)

The newest compilation countdown to appear on VH-1 could only have been designed for me, so rapturous was my reception of it: 100 Greatest One-Hit Wonders of the '80's.  So this weekend, Sven, Jr. and I sat together and watched commentary on some of the best music ever produced.

Sven Jr. loved it.  Remember his instant reaction to Beyonce's "Single Ladies (Put A Ring On It)"?  That paled in comparison to his instant affinity to the song "Mickey".  His thumb popped out of his mouth as a wide grin stretched across his face, and his little foot began to stomp as those timeless lyrics wafted out over us:

"Oh, Mickey, you're so fine,
You're so fine, you blow my mind,
Hey Mickey!  Hey Mickey!" 
         -(William Shakespeare, As If You Liked It Or Something, Act IV, Scene 25)

Okay, so it's not Shakespeare.  It's Toni Basil, a choreographer who still works with such red-hot celebrities as Bette Midler and Reese Witherspoon.  The point is, as each of these songs from my youth spun out, Sven Jr./Dexy got more and more excited.  The high point, though, was that song that VH-1 determined was the greatest One-Hit Wonder of the 80's: "Come On Eileen."  That song has always just made me happy.  I remember when I was in my early 20's, I would listen to that song (which was already an oldie) just to feel good.  I actually made a mix tape that featured that song four or five times per side.

It would seem, then, that little Dexy's affinity for '80's music is come by honestly.  I plan to encourage this, as I have encouraged Princess' love for Andy Williams and the score from Hairspray.  I think I'll have a lot more fun encouraging Dexy, this time, though...

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Real-Life Crime Drama: Denied

As I mentioned briefly in my last update of my battle against the universe, I was recently subpoenaed to appear as a witness in a criminal trial.

{Cue Law & Order-style sound effects: chung, chung!}

My first thought was, naturally, "Oh, poop."  But the more I thought about it, the more I decided being subpoenaed wasn't a bad thing.  It would be just like guest starring on Law & Order, Law & Order: SVU, or Law & Order: Criminal Intent.  This version would be Law & Order: Traffic Court.

{chung, chung!}

Normally, a celebrity of my status wouldn't deign to do television, but a cameo as a witness on a well-rated crime show is acceptable for even megastars like Oscar-winner Julia Roberts or two-time Oscar-winner Hilary Swank's ex-husband Chad Lowe.  So here is the screenplay for my episode of Law & Order: Traffic Court.

Voice Over: In the criminal justice system, there are two separate yet equal entities responsible for the fighting of minor traffic violations.  The police, who nod a lot, and the prosecutor, who has voice mail.  These are their stories.

{chung, chung!

Title: 4:35 p.m., Garth Road, Buttville, Texas

Handsome Detective: What have we got?

Beat Cop:  Um, some guy pulled out in front of another guy.

Handsome Detective: Any witnesses?

Beat Cop: Yeah, she's filling out a witness report over there.  [Indicates stunningly beautiful lady in battered Honda Element.]

Grizzled Veteran Detective: What a way to start the week.

Beat Cop:'s Wednesday.

{Chung, chung!}

Title: Traffic Court Part 453846

Smarmy Defense Attorney: Please identify yourself for the record.

Deb: I'm Deb.

Smarmy Defense Attorney: Deb, why are you here today?

Deb: I witnessed the accident.

Smarmy Defense Attorney: And what, exactly, did you see?

Deb: I saw one car hit another car.

Smarmy Defense Attorney: How convenient.  Yet, isn't it true that you were listening to your iPod at the time?

Deb: Yes, but-

Smarmy Defense Attorney: Please tell the court the name of the song you were listening to at the time of the accident.

Deb: I don't remember, I think it was Supermassive Black Hole-

Smarmy: And yet you expect us to believe that you remember seeing a car hit another car right in front of you, when you can't even be sure about the song that was playing on your iPod?

Prosecutor: I object!  The witness is beautiful.  She shouldn't have to answer these questions.  Her eyes aren't even glistening with unshed tears.

Judge: Sustained.

Smarmy Defense Attorney: Oh, come on!

Deb: Wait, I can glisten!

Judge: You may step down.

{chung, chung!}

Unfortunately, I'll never know the glamour of testifying as a witness in small-town traffic court.  I received notice that the case has been settled, making my testimony unnecessary.

They'll never know what they're missing.