Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Health Care "Reform"

So, Sen. Max Baucus and his "Gang of Six" have finally delivered a bill proclaiming itself to be health care reform. Uh…this may be the most emaciated, worthless piece of junk that has come down the pike in quite awhile. It looks like it'll help almost no one, hospitals and drug companies are happy with it (sure to be a bad sign, when big-biz is happy with a piece of legislation!), and it does nothing to reform tort laws and malpractice suits. It looks like empty posturing by people who want credit for "doing something," even when that something borders on Orwellian doublespeak.

And I just had this thought today: why is this Gang of Six coming up with this legislation in the first place? Who appointed them to put this together? Iowa, New Mexico, Maine, Montana, North Dakota, and Wyoming. Those are the states these Senators are from. Notice anything about that list? I did, the first time I ever saw it put together in that fashion. That's RIGHT! These are states with ALMOST NO PEOPLE IN THEM!!! Iowa is the most-populated, at 3 million people, and is 30th in a ranking of most-to-least populated states. Wyoming is dead last, with just under 533,000 people. All together, the six states represented by this Gang have 8,441,000 people living in them. That total - TOTAL! - is less than each individual state in the top 11 on the list. It's roughly equal to the population of New York City alone. Why are these Senators, who represent almost no one (sorry to the inhabitants of those six states, but it's true by ranking), making up legislation that'll affect everyone?!? Just sayin'.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Positive Reinforcement

Miss Tessmacher and I were having a good discussion on the way home today about positive reinforcement. (Yes, we're commuting together two days a week again. Ahhh, my travel partner is back!!) The basics of our discussion revolved around the idea that there are people out there in the world who seem intent on doing their jobs to the effect that they end up discouraging people from pursuing their…oh, their dreams, for want of a better concept.

In my time, I've certainly come across people who don't really have the necessary skills and/or talent to be what they dream of being. And, you know, it's tough. Somebody really wants to be a killer lead guitarist, but lacks the necessary coordination to play the instrument at that level. Even given that situation, however, I find it very difficult to just shoot the person right out of the saddle. I've DONE it - by virtue of assigning students the failing grades they earned at the end of a semester. And, of course, I usually bear the blunt of the "blame": "That supreme cocksucker Dr. Animal failed me!" Not so, of course; the student himself failed, for whatever reason, and it fell to me to put that grade into the system. Sadly, they rarely see things from that perspective…

But I still don't come out and tell that person "Look, you don't have what it takes to be a good (fill in the blank)." I'll probably do the sidestep wherein I ask the student to contemplate a career in a thing that he shows no aptitude for; does this seem like a happy life? That sort of thing. So, it saddens me that there are people out there, in my basic profession, who routinely tell their students exactly that. "You don't have what it takes, give up!" So harsh. As if, to be a performer, we all need to try to be Yo-Yo Ma. Tess said it this way: "Pretend there's a continuum, with amateur musicians on one end, and Yo-Yo Ma on the other. Should we ALL try to be Yo-Yo Ma?" And, ultimately, the answer is no. I think, anyway; I'm sure there are high-octane folks out there who gogogo! all the time and feel super-competitive and driven to be the best, dammit! But, in reality, the continuum dictates that, while there WILL be some folks at that high end, there'll also be people all the way at the other end…and filling all the space in between.

And that's kind of where positive reinforcement comes in. Sometimes, you just gotta look at a student and say "Hey, you may not be Yo-Yo Ma (or James Galway, or Leonard Bernstein), but there's a place for you. Go out there, do your best, and your best will fit somewhere on the continuum." I played in a community concert band for 12 years. It was filled with a variety of people: regular giggers, retired band directors, and, yes, people who took their horns out of the closet, blew the dust of the cases, and saddled up for a 10-week season. The ones at the high-achieving end did it mostly for the money…musical prostitution at its finest. The ones as the low end just had a good time. But they all fit; there was a place for everyone. So, when a person comes to you looking for a little positive impact…give it to him. A person's best might not fit YOUR worldview of what constitutes "excellence," but chances are he'll rise to his own level, and that level will be good enough somewhere. And sometimes…being good enough is good enough.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

I Need Three Lives

I do. I know that sounds selfish, but what with work starting up again for the semester, I'm feeling particularly swamped. Yeah, yeah, I know: whiny bitch, right? Ptooey on you, my friends! I just have enough interests that I feel like I could live three lives and make the most out of each one.

1) The Composer. I love to compose. I really do. When I was a percussion performance major in the mid-/late-80s, I was not happy. My entrance to college went something like this: "Well, I need to major in music, but I don't want to be a band director like my parents were, and I discovered I can major in playing this instrument that I love. SWEET!" Then, the rigors of REAL practicing set in, and I was no longer the big fish in a tiny pond. In fact, I was pretty much a cup full o' suck. Oh, I was a fine percussionist, when I put my mind to it…trouble was, I had a hard time keeping my mind ON it. I liked playing "Axis & Allies," and hanging out, and partying…things that percussion performance majors at my school rarely did. Social ingrates, the lot of 'em, they mostly had keys to the music building so that they could practice a few hours before their 8:00am theory class. Ugh. No, THANKS! I loved marching band, and basketball band, but unfortunately those performance outlets offered very little in the way of career advancement. When I found out I could major in composition, I leapt at the chance. And, I finally found my home. So, I'd love to pull a David Maslanka, shun my job at the major university and move to B.F.E. (or, in his case, B.F.M.) and just write. Sadly, my music doesn't really pay all those pesky bills and eBay dues that keep coming in every month, so being a full-time composer is out of the question.

2) Which is somewhat okay, because I also love songwriting. Yeah…The Songwriter. I've been writing songs since I'm 15 or so, and while early efforts were mostly vapid "When can we fuck?" anthems, I've matured a lot since, say, 1-800-HOT-LOVE. Seriously. I'm presenting a paper on metaphor and allegory in lyric construction in a few weeks, and I'm totally psyched about it. I've been poring over lyrics from everyone from Hart and Porter to Diamond and Steinman, and I realize that I just really, really love a good song. My current crop of tunes are mostly autobiographical, sort of like diary entries. I have a song about how much I loved the summer of 1978. A song called The Journey which describes how we all move from childhood to having children of our own. I'm even writing a Thanksgiving song…since there's such a dearth of those, right? But, I'd love to be a lyricist for someone really big, a Holly Knight to Steven Tyler, or a Desmond Child to…well, to pretty much everyone. *sigh* Same problem, though: doesn't pay the bills.

3) The Stay-At-Home, Puttering Dad. I've been working on painting the porch this summer. It's a cement floor, but ringing the space are about 1,000 spindles. I like the painting. It's agreeable work, and it just sort of rolls along. I'm also noticing that I miss having hours & hours to spend with The Rozzle since school has started. So I'd love for Miss Dr. Tessmacher to land a full-time job and I could, say, stay home with Roz and paint. And finish a basement. And write songs during her naps, without worrying whether or not they make any dough.

Yeah. I need three lives. Whoops! I forgot about nascent treasure-hunter! Let's see, where did I leave that metal detector…?