We don’t own the world. At best, we’re tenants with rent to pay and a promise to not trash the place. Regrettably, if we screw things up, it won’t be we who pay. And somebody else will have to cover the security deposit.
It’s more than enough.
Sufficient to itself, of course, the world doesn’t need us. It evolved us, so we fill a niche, but without us that niche will fill as fast as a hole in the ozone. Oops. Bad example. We keep making that one bigger.
I suspect that within a few generations the earth will shrug us off like a bad virus and thrive once it’s rid of us.
Meanwhile . . .
While we’re here, the world—its systems in all their complexity, its people and cultures, its rich diversity—is more than enough to occupy our time, fruitfully, wastefully, however we wish to squander it.
I’ve never taught in the Wilson building. It might as well be New Zealand. (Where is Old Zealand? I’ll have to look that up.*) I came back this morning to retrieve this item I had left behind in our classroom.
The other side says “HODGES,” as you might have guessed. I retrieved it this time, but if you ever see it in a place distant from me, please reunite us. It contains your photographs among other precious data.
A few feet from the entrance to Wilson Hall, I encountered this unprecedented item:
Intrigued and uncertain, I asked the first person I saw, “Is that a musical notation white board?” She wasn’t sure, and I thought, “How can you work in this building and not want to know?”
Want to know.
This may be the only advice I have for you that matters: Want to know.
The world is so rich in its complex diversity and wonder. It will exhaust you if you try to comprehend it. Or it will bore you if you think you know something.
You don’t. I don’t.
If you’re bored, you’re boring. Look around. The world is far more fascinating than you or me.
The Blues in F
Two doors down the hall from where I retrieved my thumb drive, I heard violin music, immediately followed by piano music. I knocked softly and repeatedly on the door and was ignored, so I opened the door and entered.
This is my second piece of advice: When you knock softly and are ignored, open the door and enter. Apologize if necessary, but enter.
Jacob was seated at the piano. Atop the piano, a violin. “Play that for me, please,” I asked him, if that’s a question. “Forty years ago I heard a classmate play a blues progression like that, and ever since I’ve regretted not learning how to do it.”
I love Jacob, now and forever, because he didn’t ask me why, or object, or hesitate. He just did this:
I don’t know why he did it for me, but I know he wouldn’t have if I hadn’t asked him.
This is my third piece of advice: Ask. People are amazing. They will astonish you. They WANT YOU TO ASK!
So now, forty years later, I know how to do that. I’ll need practice, but you can ask me at the end of the semester, and I’ll show you what I’ve learned. Because I haven’t stopped learning.
On my way out of the building, thumb drive in hand, the Blues in F in my head, I heard a piano being tuned, so I followed the sound through an open door because of Rule 2: Enter and apologize later if necessary.
The piano tuner couldn’t explain my peculiar ability to start singing the Counting Crows’ “Round Here” at precisely the right note without knowing the name of the note, but neither did he call the police on me, nor insult me, nor object to my question in any way, so the Rule abides: Enter, Ask, Engage, Want to Know.
People are flattered to be approached for their advice, wisdom, expertise. They may actually have something to share. If not: who cares? If so: you win.
The Music Student
Emboldened, I may have pushed my luck. I said, aloud, to a space that only two occupied, “Are you a music student?” and the music student replied, “Yes.”
I asked her about Perfect Pitch, and Relative Pitch. She didn’t help. So I asked her, “What song shares a melody with the Alphabet Song: ABCDEFG, HIJKLMNOP”? She didn’t know, so I hummed the tune to “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star.” She got it. I felt as if I had taught her “The Blues in F.”
Leaving school, I was following a car from the parking lot whose license plate was G30 JFK.
JFK puts a dagger through my heart, so I saw that first, but quickly recognized that G30 is the name of the Group of 30 nations that meet regularly to advise the world on monetary policy.
What did I do? I knocked (by flashing my lights) and entered (by exiting my car and approaching the driver’s window).
He got it. He knew how amazing his license plate is. And while he may have been a little bit freaked out that I flashed my headlights at him and took a photograph of his license plate, he didn’t call the police.
And that’s all that I ask of the world that has offered me so much entertainment. Don’t put me in jail. I’ll keep paying the rent and try not to screw things up.
[Comp II students, I will always “put myself out there for you” whether you encourage me or not, but engagement is essential. Positive or negative, I thrive on your Replies.]
*Home to the city of Copenhagen, Zealand is the most populous and one of the larger islands that make up Denmark.