2014 began on crutches, as I recovered from knee surgery after a beer-league hockey accident. The highlight of the experience was having Caps defenseman Mike Green hold the door to Kettler open for me, and without thinking, I said, “Aw cheers, Greenie!”
…Cheers Greenie. I’m such an idiot.
Since I couldn’t skate much, I was left in the stands while my team played without me. I took pictures. I took notes. I played defenseman in my head, imagining the feel of the choppy ice underfoot, correcting for bad habits acquired under duress, like using my bottom arm to power the shot instead of the top and stopping only on one skate.
Strangely, the surgeon prescribed no rehab, no regimen to get back my strength and mobility. I consulted the internet and made my own, with some yoga, pilates and weights. Like a fencer, my right leg got big, compensating for its atrophying, permanently bent partner. It seemed like that knee would never fully straighten again. Like, I considered what life would be like with a weird little elbow-y leg. It felt so wrong to force it straight, but eventually, it found its way.
After the holiday break, I went back to the college, teaching a few sections of EN 102, including one at 8am. I got to see a bunch of sunrises. It snowed a lot. Attendance was sparse. Half the class either withdrew or failed.
I saw one of the students I failed a few weeks ago at Target, where he works. He called out to me from across the store and offered me a warm hug and a smile. I was glad to see him, and said something to the effect that his demeanor made it very hard to give him such a tough grade. He said, “Man, your class was hard…really hard. But it was the best class. I learned so much.”
I love teaching, and I love writing, but it sometimes feels like a surrendering of my identity as a musician to acknowledge how much of my time it takes up. It was wonderful to have friends like Alexis, who came by after a flute event to read through The Jet Whistle and let the wisdom contained in prosecco bubbles burst behind our wide grins.
It snowed some more. I got into cooking with new ingredients. I tried to skate again too soon.
Part of seeing the world as a teacher is a constant need to find lessons, to find something teachable and productive in every experience. I try to make this blog walk the line: I refuse to turn this place into a curated bunch of photos depicting some unrealistically fabulous life and a career in music that is glamorous and never dicey. I also refuse to allow myself to complain without purpose, to make this my own little dumping ground where I can make sure that all I add to the internet is more crummy entitlement, less insight, less restraint. This stupid blog has been so good for me because, even though the readership ebbs and flows, I have a sense that I should work through things as if someone is watching, and in doing that, I am reminded that there is a better me available, should I only pause to ruminate a little while and wait for her to appear.
Looking back at the first part of 2014, the thing I came away with is to listen to the discomfort that remains after you’ve done your best to be reasonable, tolerant, decent and kind. I pushed myself hard last winter and was at first convinced that my discontentment was a result of a lack of character, intestinal fortitude and virtue. Upon reflection, I was just stocking up on the fuel that powers nearly all concentrated artistic venture: deferement of purpose. I like to think of these early months of 2014 as insurance against entitlement to happiness.