I work three days a week in my school’s after-school program.
For the uninitiated, after-school programs have a bit of a Wild West feel to them. Kids tend to feel unencumbered by the rules of the regular school day as they roam the late-afternoon playground prairie. Staff do their level best to round up the varmints, hoping to corral them back into their classrooms. And at the end of each day, the school is a ghost town, tumbleweeds of balled-up paper scattered in the halls and forgotten winter gear hanging askew from coat racks.
You do what you’ve gotta do to keep the train on the track from 3 to 5 p.m., and this past Monday, what I had to do to appease a group of eight middle schoolers was offer to take school-appropriate requests to play on my Spotify account, algorithm be damned.
If you’ve raised or worked with kids in this age range – or if you remember yourself at that age – you know that musical tastes are usually wonky at best and just plain terrible at worst. Which is why I found myself absolutely delighted when one student introduced me to a musician and song that I feel in love with immediately.
“Can you play Lemonboy by Cavetown?” they asked.
“Uhhh … what?” I asked back.
“Trust me, Mr. Ethan. You’ll like it.”
And I did. To the point that I’ve shared it with my own kids and Alison. My daughter thought it was great, and my oldest son was already a fan. Alison was taken in by it as easily as I was.
Yesterday morning as the school day began, I saw the student who requested Lemonboy. I called to them as they passed.
“Hey, thanks for introducing me to Cavetown and Lemonboy,” I said. “That’s really good stuff.”
“Really?” A big smile spread across their face. “Oh. That’s really … well, that’s cool. I’m glad you liked it.”
And we went our separate ways, both our days a little brighter.
Alan Watts is one of my heroes.
This morning I saw a quote from him that really hit home: … When somebody plays music, you listen. You just follow those sounds, and eventually you understand the music. The point can’t be explained in words because music is not words, but after listening for a while, you understand the point of it, and that point is the music itself. In exactly the same way, you can listen to all experiences. (Still the Mind: An Introduction to Meditation, 2002)
There’s a big difference between hearing and listening. I hear a lot these days, but I haven’t done much listening.
Over the past month or so, I’ve gone through the cacophony of each day, aware of the noise that fills my head, adding my own noise to the mix, and bothered that none of it makes sense. But I haven’t really worked that hard at listening to the individual bits that form the whole of the noise.
Growing up, the adults in my life were constantly dismissing the music I listened to. Heavy metal, punk, and rap were “just noise” that didn’t make any sense. I was forever pointing out that there was more to it. Now it’s time to have that conversation with myself and start listening to everything around me.
It’s always nice when something comes along and reminds me that, at the very least, I haven’t lost complete touch with reality.
I’m selling a small portion of my comic book collection, and I posted the books online this past week. Some dude commented that I was funding terrorist organizations by selling comic books.